Friday, September 09, 2016

Raising the dead

I stood before the room full of people, knowing only a handful of them personally. They were seated on less than expensive stackable chairs. You would think funeral homes could do better. There was nothing fancy here, save the antique glass-enclosed hearse from the early 1900's on display near the lobby. That was clearly the single most magnificent item in this sad old enterprise.

The people seated on the chairs were grief stricken. I had visited with the core of this family a day earlier and they had surprised me at how cold they seemed. Speaking to them was akin to addressing iron statues. My words had seemed to reverberate back at me, having little effect. Honestly, little effect seemed to be needed. The sadness in the room seemed to come more from my taking up their time than from the purpose for our gathering.

Today was different. The one hundred or so people in the room emitted groans, sobs, and semi-stifled cries. I have long believed that ministers live for the moment of crises. That is when our presence is needed and our words are, perhaps, heard. The crises was palpable today.

I stood before them knowing that all of the songs had been sung, the personal words of eulogy had been shared, the scriptures had been read, and it was now my turn. I stood for fifteen quiet seconds before saying anything.

"On days like this one, pastor's know what to do. We have our speeches that we give. Our stock words that we share. They are all as true as they are predictable. But today I am putting those words away. I am folding up my notes. I can taste your pain. I can hear your agony. Clearly you are hurting because of the loss of your husband ... Your father ... Your grandfather ... Your friend. And you deserve more than the standard speech. The man whose body rests in the casket behind me made a decision in his teenage years. He decided to trust God to be the master of his life. He decided that he would live that decision out to serve God by serving people. He was very imperfect at it. Yet your tears are a testimony that maybe he achieved more than we thought he did in the spiritual realm. He loved you. For real. And you know that. And I want to tell you what happened to him three days ago, after he took his last breath.

And then I gave my best description of what heaven is like as I understand it. I am certain that upon reaching that place myself I will learn that my attempt was woefully under-powered. But I did my best to paint a picture of what life in my Father's house would be like according to the scriptures that we have. They kept crying but every eye was focused on me. They were not only listening ... They were hearing.

Do you know just how rare that is? Pastor's are used to speaking without anyone really hearing. We know when you are zoned out in your seat, counting the minutes until lunch. We are not blind. But we speak anyway and whether or not you pay attention is between you and God. On this day ... They heard.

And then I heard. I heard a voice that was not my own. It was really a whisper. A gentle nudge. Nothing actually audible. Just an interior impression. I have heard that whisper-nudge-impression before. The Holy Spirit of God was giving me instructions.

"At the end of your words, ask them if anybody wants to know Jesus. Ask if any of them are willing to acknowledge it here and live it out, serving God by serving others."


Really. At a funeral. Attended by hard nosed sinners. Hard nosed sinners in jeans and vests and Harley Davidson T-shirts. Here. God wanted me to do it here.

Or maybe I can just invite them to church. Maybe I can give them my business card and ask them to call me if they want to talk. You know ... Don't get too preachy on them. That might scare them off. Just nudge the door open for them.

And then I could hear my own voice closing out the service. I was out of time. I had to make a decision. NOW.

"Do me a favor, guys? I want to pray for you. I know you hurt. I want to talk to God about that. Would you mind just looking at your lap and closing your eyes while I do?" Heads went down. "Guys, you've heard about heaven. And you know this body in front of us is empty because its long-time occupant deserted it in favor of a better place. And that happened because of a decision he made about Jesus. Would YOU like to make that decision today? Just like he did? If you would ... Would you mind looking up at me for just a second? Right now?"

As I scanned the room I briefly locked eyes with seven faces. I smiled. I nodded. I told them they could close their eyes and look down. And I prayed for seven souls that decided to come to Jesus at a funeral. Later we served a meal for everybody at our church. I put brand new bibles on an empty table with my business card placed at Mark 1: 1. I got their attention over the chicken-chomping that was going on. I told the crowd, "Those of you who acknowledged a desire to know Jesus will find a bible on this table. It is for you. My phone numb
er is in it. You can learn more about Jesus by starting to read at the spot where my business card acts as a bookmark. I'm here if you need me."

As I sit and reflect on that moment today I realize I kind of thought ... Or at least acted ... Like God is out of the miracle business. I could not have been more wrong. Jesus still raises the dead at funeral services. He doesn't do it so much to the body in the casket any more. Now He does it to the bodies in the chairs.

And I'll never get tired of listening to Him and going on the adventure of doing what He says to do.  Occasionally ... just occasionally ... the benefits are eternal.

Saturday, September 03, 2016

It's Not Ok..

I've been thinking about it since I shared thr pool  with a snake at golds gym recently. And here's what I have decided ...

Bob's Burgers got it right.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Stupid Picture Chronicles #67

Well if this doesn't qualify as a picture of something stupid I'll just have to quit at #66.  Because this, my friends, is the picture of a crummy old fake flower in a real vase ... full of water.  If that isn't stupid enough, how about this.  The water is growing algea. Thank you "Tasty's" Chicago fast food 
for making this moment possible.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016


It was the last stop of the day on the last day of the summer for "SOS."  ("Sacks of Summer," or, "SOS" is a cooperative effort of five churches in our community committed to providing free lunches over the summer to kids who are on the free-lunch program in our local schools. We drive into three neighborhoods where public housing apartments are located and provide a sack lunch to each child (and often each adult) who make their way to our vans looking for food.  School begins next week and so this was our churches last day to deliver the meals.) I saw the mommy making her way toward us while she was still 50 yards away.  A little boy clung to her left hand, a little girl to her right.  I kept my eye on them as I continued to hand out lunches and tease with the kids who had already come to get food.  There was just something about this trio that grabbed my attention.  They had been around all summer.  They were not new to the neighborhood or to SOS.  But today I felt an urgency inside I had not noticed before.  As they drew near the little boy looked at me.  And then he saw the blue plastic sack in my hand.  I was somewhat startled as he immediately dropped his mother's hand and darted at full speed toward the food. He did not look at me.  He did not look at the Crayola's and coloring pages others were handing him.  His gaze remained on that sack the entire time.  I handed his sister a sack and I gave one to his mother as well.  I noticed she looked more hardened than usual today. Like she was just barely there.  I've never done this in the years I've gone on weekly SOS runs but I clearly felt a prompt to ask her, "Do they have anything to eat tonight?" She replied with the same "one thousand yard stare" in her vacant eyes ... "probably not."  I grabbed three more bags and gave them to her.  "Make sure they eat tonight."  No reply.  No recognition that I was even there. She took the bags and turned to go back to her apartment, her kids following behind her cradling the only food they would get for who knows how long.

I wish I could fix global poverty.  I cannot.  I wish I could fix the systemic breakdown of racial and economic inequities.  I cannot.  I wish I could cheer every lonely person and comfort every sick person.  I cannot.  I cannot cancel the effects of bad decisions made in countless households, much less countless political administrations. Those are things we have to do together.  And that is not my job.  What is my job?  What can I do all alone and with the families that I connect with at the church we call "The Tower?"  It isn't that hard.  And it is not at all confusing.  We can punch hunger, sickness, racism, and an abundance of issues in its proverbial nose right where we live.

Jesus said it this way, “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’"  And the Bible tells us in the book of James, "Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world."

Honestly, friends, I think we ought to make a huge stink about the mess that is going on in our world ... in our country.  I think each one of us should stand up and make our voices heard about the ridiculous situations propagated by countless politicians and a media run amok.  If we do not put a stop to it we will be held responsible by a Holy God.

But ... and this is a really HUGE but ... I have no time to listen to those who spout opinions and point accusing fingers, and threaten all sorts of bad things if they do not get their righteous way.  And I have no time for those who pretend to be holy and say (or post on social media) all of the right and approved thoughts and opinions and then do absolutely nothing except feel good about themselves for having taken a stand. 

I'm a pastor and people talk to me.  Somebody told me at the gym this week that they would like to please God but they had no idea what to do.  All I could say is ... "Are you kidding me?  Seriously?  Feed a kid!  Give clothes to somebody who clearly is in rags!  That will help restore a bit of their self-worth!  Go to a nursing home and pick a room ... ANY ROOM ... and spend just 30 minutes of your day talking to whoever is in it! Call a children's home ... I'll find one for you ... and call them up and ask what they need ... then provide it!  Find a widow or a widower on your street or around a corner and get to know them!  Tell them your family would like them to come to dinner ... and YOU PROVIDE IT. Do you need more ideas?  Call me after you do those if nothing works out and I'll give you more tips!" Did I really say that?  Yes.  Will they take my advice?  I seriously doubt it.  (They probably won't sit with me in the whirlpool after working out again either.)  But make no mistake ... that is PRECISELY what Jesus expects us to do.  I understand that some agencies do not like to work with churches because we just come in and deal with the immediate need and then move along. Yeah.  Well.  My friends at Southern Baptist Disaster Relief would like to talk to you. They served those stricken by Hurricane Katrina for FOUR YEARS.  And when they are done the Billy Graham Association needs to have a word.  Then Compassion International needs you to come by.  I think you get the idea.

So, anyway, I guess it just took a nasty social environment and a little hungry three year old to get me out of my blog hibernation.  The look I saw in his eyes isn't going to leave me anytime soon.  Let me just end this way.  My church and I ... we are not perfect.  Oh, no.  Far from it.  But we've got dirt under our fingernails.  We've got faces soaked in sweat from a hot summer afternoon of serving those Jesus told us to go look for.  Most people just have a sore throat from talking too much or sore fingers from typing too much.  Okay, fine.  But ... as for me and my house ...

Saturday, August 06, 2016

Stupid Picture Chronicles #66

Life is about choices. Some are easier than others. 

Tuesday, April 05, 2016

News From The Hood

It has come to this.

I went to Gander Mountain to make a few purchases and as I was leaving a clearance rack caught  my eye.  Clearance racks do that.  I am, at my core, cheap.  While browsing through the rack I came up with a sweatshirt that I really like.  Right size.  Acceptable color.  Trendy brand.  (Did I mention I'm totally hip?)  Excellent price.  I took it with me to the check-out. That is where things got a little weird.



"Thank you for shopping with us.  Will this be on your Gander Mountain charge card?"

"No.  This will be cash."

"Alright.  (begins scanning my items.  Eventually comes to the sweatshirt.)  And would you like an extended warranty on your clothing?"

"Huh?"  (I'm so witty.)

"Would you like an extended warranty on your sweatshirt?"

"You are kidding, right?"

"No, sir.  Not at all.  If you rip it or stain it, you just bring it back and we will give you a gift card for the price of the sweatshirt."



"Who does that?"

"A lot of people purchase a clothing protection policy."

"Uhhhhhh.  No.  No, I think I can self-insure my clothes."

"Are you certain?"

"Let me think ... YES."

"Well.  Alright...."

What happened?  I just took a short nap and the world changed.  My life is insured.  That is so Debbie can dispose of my carcass legally and have enough left over to serve potato salad to anybody who might come to the funeral.  My house and my car are insured, in part because the state (and the lien holder) requires it.  But a sweatshirt?  Never mind  a CLEARANCE sweatshirt.  I think there is probably a deep point to be made here.  Something about our culture going wonky and nobody being willing to accept responsibility for their own stuff or their own actions anymore.  But if I make those points here I'll wind up sounding like a cranky grandpa.  (No matter that I am a cranky grandpa.  Shuddup.  I've earned the right...)  So I will just let you come to your own conclusions.

Oh, by the way.  When I got home I looked at the receipt.  She failed to ring the sweatshirt up as clearance.  I returned it that night and they argued with me about the price.  I asked for a refund.  I wonder ... if I had taken out sweatshirt insurance would they have refunded that too?  Do I need insurance against sweatshirt fraud?  This cannot lead anywhere good....

Friday, March 25, 2016

Stupid Picture Chronicles #65

Why is this stupid? Maybe it isn't. Maybe I am stupid. For driving 70 MPH next to this guy for far too long...

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Life Insurance and My Imaginary Friend

I cannot die. I have great confidence in corporate America. If I die it will cost them money.

Debbie came home from work today wanting to talk about life insurance. This immediately got my interest. She recently passed her conceal carry class. As far as I know she does not own a firearm but I did see her coming out of Gander Mountain recently. Neither of these things concern me greatly but gaze at one through the lens of the other and it is enough to make a man take stock of his marriage. 

But back to corporate America.

As a man with life in his limbs and breath in his lungs I am worth relatively little. Once I assume room temperature my net worth increases dramatically. You see, corporate America is betting that I will live a long time. And I am betting that I will die sooner than later. This is how the insurance industry works. Living, I buy my blue jeans at Target. Dying, I get a nice new suit from Brooks Brothers.

Today a man told me that I have an imaginary friend. We were at the gym and he had worked out much harder than I had. But that's because I'm much older than he is. These things have a way of balancing out. But as we rested in hot bubbly water he asked me what I did for a living. He looked much too smart to believe that I was a test pilot for Boeing and so I decided to go with the truth. "I am a pastor." His response was to look at me cynically and say, "Oh, you have an imaginary friend." I tried to respond with a confident look as I replied, "You bet your eternity I do." We smiled and left the conversation there. For now.

My insurance company is pretending that I'm going to live forever. The man in the hot tub is pretending that I won't. They are both right. And they're both wrong. I will live forever. But this body won't.

As for my wife, she would be much better off without me. But let's not tell her that. I promised my doctor I will live to 80 and Die of a pizza overdose. I am a lot of things, but I am not a liar.  Clearly I plan on making it. And if I don't, Debbie will be able to buy one with pepperoni for everybody.

Bon appetit!