I am afraid to write what is hurting my heart this morning because it will likely bring comments and reactions that add more hurt.
My issue is my own lack of understanding of my brothers and sisters in Christ. I run the risk of judging hearts and coming out with me being superior and more godly … and that’s baloney. I am not those things. When I hate those I want to label “haters,” I become a hater.
My opinion is that many in my Christian ranks are reacting in fear and that is at the root. The old book I study speaks of fear quite often. As, I read it, I am not to live in fear of man when I am trusting in my God.
When immigrants to our area were Muslim, the fear was that they would bring personal harm. All were judged by the actions of the radical. I get that because, as a Christ follower, I am often tied to the parts of our Christian ranks that picket funerals and spew venom though I am nothing like them. They use the same book I love to somehow justify their actions.
Now, the asylum-seekers are here because they chose Portland, Maine as a welcoming place and they have heard positive things about our state. They are here from the Congo which is 90% Christian. But, rather than welcome our brothers and sisters in Christ, many Christians are again reacting in fear.
I see fear that they carry disease and even E-bola (with its 2-21 day incubation period) despite them having been travelling 5 months or more. I see fear that they are going to take our stuff and eat our food and take our housing and rob our resources. And then I read Acts 2:44-45 about the believers being together, sharing and even selling their stuff to help other believers.
The “my stuff” fear doesn’t fit my theology because I see myself more as a manager of resources God has provided. In my paradigm, all I am and all I have is God’s.
I’d like to propose that we separate people from policy. Punishing people because we disagree with policy is, in my opinion, in opposition to the scriptures we claim to hold dear. Continue to debate the government policy you dislike with all the passion and vigor you want, but love the people in front of you with the love of Jesus. I believe that’s our clear calling in Christ
The bible is a difficult book. Love our enemies (read Matthew 5 for fun). Take care of widows and orphans (James 1:27). Our book also has a lot of guidance about how we are to treat aliens and strangers. It is also clear on how we are to handle people who refuse to work when they are able. In my personal dealing with immigrants I have always found them willing and expecting to work.
What would you do if war and violence were killing all around you and threatening your family? Would you choose fight or flight? What if your fight was impossible to win? Would you fight knowing your children would certainly be killed as well or put into slavery? I’d choose the Sound of Music, Von Trapp family route. I would do all I could to try to find safety. If we stay, we die. If we flee, we maybe die.
My plea is simple … see the people. See the children. And though it is near impossible for us Americans to even imagine, try to imagine yourself in their shoes. Please don’t blame them or punish them for the policy that brought them here. The policy is not their fault.
They are people.
My Christian brothers and sisters, I beg you to spend some time in what we call the “Word of God” and test your attitudes and actions based on its teachings. Decide who the “neighbor” is that you are called to love. Search its pages for direction on how we are to respond to strangers and aliens who end up in our lands.
Debate policy, shape policy, vote policy changes and legislate policy but please, for the love of God, love people.
Allow me to gush about this woman … the mother of my children.
I met her in college. She was a science major on a pre-vet track. She was heading to classes and labs all day and studied like a madwoman. She was rocking biology and physiology classes and cruising through organic chemistry. Well, no one “cruises through” organic chem but it didn’t bury her like it does so many others. She was dissecting cats and sharks and her perfume was a lovely scent of formaldehyde.
Me? I was a journalism major that someone placed in a science dorm with all the pre-med students and future veterinarians. I wrote papers while they studied genetics and memorized muscles and bones. No one had much time to play with me and I was a pest.
She wanted to work with large animals, not be a doc for doggies and kitties. I couldn’t picture this 5’1″ peanut wrangling livestock.
Then, after a 2+ years of study, and meeting me, she decided to change majors to Early Childhood Development with a concentration in Developmental Disabilities. (I tease her that she knew she was meant to develop my children!) She rocked that too, of course. Our conversations shifted from carbon compounds and the nervous system to Piaget and Erikson. I went from having no idea in one field to being totally clueless in another. The constant was that this woman amazed me with her discipline.
Me? I was a crammer. Thankfully, I had the type of brain that could read and retain just about anything because my study habits were awful. My hyper-focus kicked in about 12 hours before my exams and pulled me through. Thankfully, that changed in grad school!
Anyway, I married this straight A, incredibly smart woman with her desire to shape young minds and make changes in the way kids with developmental challenges were educated.
I still remember the day she came home from teaching her class of 1st graders or kindergarten kids (I don’t remember which) and told me that we would be teaching our kids at home. It was one of those frustrating teacher days that all our teachers deal with but this one pushed her over the edge. I thought it would pass but it didn’t.
I agreed to the homeschooling thing a bit hesitantly with the agreement we would reenter our kids in the “real world” at 6th grade. That didn’t work out when the school tested Josh, our first, and wanted to put him with 8th and 9th grade at 11 years old. Nope! I worked with 14 year olds and there was no way that would fly with me! I think I saw a smirk on Robin’s face. We didn’t even try with Shara because she was the same or stronger.
Robin taught me the difference between rote memorization for tests and training true learners to be problem solvers. I went from being impressed by the kid who could recite the Declaration of Independence to being more concerned that my kids know the philosophy and purpose behind it. She educated me while educating our kids.
She gave in and let Josh take honors biology in the school system. We never saw him open a book. The next year she said he would be learning chemistry at home and I thought she was nuts. (I forgot her background included organic chemistry.) I guess she did okay because today he’s an MD, with a PhD in chemistry.
I watched this incredible woman design and write custom curriculums for each of my children based on their interests and leanings. Each of them graduated at the top of their class of one and went on to thrive.
She never blows her own horn so I need to do it for her. She is an incredibly intelligent woman, a phenomenal mom and now, a spectacular Nana. She is always teaching.
When we are walking behind our kids with their kids and watching them interact, I like to pull her in close and say, “you did a great job, Mama. You built a wonderful family.”
She tells me I had a part in building it too. But, without her, this little pots and pans chaos parade would not be what it is today. She’s the core.
She’s quiet and unassuming and humble. I think people have no idea what’s wrapped up in that little package. She could easily be teaching chemistry or math. She could have been an RN with another handful of classes. She could have been a great veterinarian. But, instead, she chose to be Mom first and foremost and is still doing so today.
If you’re a child behaviorist, like my BCBA daughter, or an educator or even a biology or chemistry nerd, pull her aside and watch her eyes light up while you toss around the jargon that I don’t understand. This amazing woman goes far deeper than board books, puzzles and Duplo blocks.
I’m blessed to have my children call her Mom and blessed to be coming up on 35 years of marriage June 2.
Happy Mother’s Day weekend, Robin. I know you are embarrassed that I wrote this but, if there’s one thing you know after our 37+ years together, it’s that I am embarassing!
“What would the world be like without Captain Hook?”
“What if Clarence never jumped into the river to save George Bailey and Zuzu’s pedals?”
It’s the age-old, “what if I wasn’t here” question that mankind has wondered for years. It crosses my mind every Liver Day.
Liver Day is my liverversary – marking the occasion of Josh giving me 60 percent of his liver to save my life.
If the surgery hadn’t been successful, my smoking hot wife would never get a moment to herself. Male suitors would be after her like bill collectors after college grads! Instead she gets the joy of me going shopping with her and reminding her of my love with pool noodle love taps.
Emma wouldn’t be masterfully wrapping me around her finger and Ethan would not have a short-enough grandpa to headbutt in the groin. Calvin would eat less green muffins and lack his time of asking the Reverend deep, theological questions while negotiating five more minutes on the playground. And Chloe would not be growl-whispering “grumpaaaa” with her mischievous smile. And ice cream establishments might be out of business.
Pompom would be living with some other family and be named something lame like Snowflake or Miss Beardie. She wouldn’t be named for two great surgeons, Jim Pomposelli and Liz Pomfret.
My lawn definitely would not look so good and our $12 each fresh tomatoes grown in my garden would not be a summer treat. (I figure, with the amount of cash and labor I spend on my garden, it comes out to about $12 per tomato.)
There would be no daily Facebook drivel seen by 5% of the people that I have on this 21st century odd phenomenon called a “my friend list.”
And all my friends with cats would not be aware what a terrible pet choice cats are. They would have no one trying to set them free from feline mind control.
It’s Liver Day. It was 7 years ago today. Today I will eat a couple fried eggs, over easy, 3 strips of rubbery turkey bacon and some peppers and onions. I’ll drink 2 cups of froo-froo coffee, volunteer with my first-grade reading pals, go to my Rotary Club meeting and then spend my afternoon assembling a 5th annual report for the church that God plopped me into. Then, I’ll spend my evening pretending to help Nana babysit our four rugrats while their moms and dads have their LifeGroup.
It will be a great day. Pretty much all my days are great in one way or another. Even sick days, grumpy days, conflict days and hard days are great days when I consider that I nearly didn’t get the chance to have any more days.
Every day is a bonus day. It really is true. “Hey, I’m glad to be alive to have this crappy day,” is what I try to remember when crappy days come around. But, thankfully, most of my days are awesome and I try not to take any of them for granted.
Have a fantastic Tuesday. Write to your Congressman and try to get May 7 to be made a national holiday. Then, we could all get another day off and spend it enjoying each other. I’d like that a lot.
Do you need some resurrecting? On Saturday, all was quiet while Jesus was in the grave. Friends and supporters sat weeping with loss and dashed dreams.
Detractors were gloating and feeling some relief at finally being proved right and getting what they wanted.
Middlemen were glad to be out of the middle. Bystanders who never were quite sure what all the commotion was about anyway went back to their regular routine.
Who are you in the story? Bystander? Middleman? Detractor? Supporter? Crucified?
The crucified one lay in the grave. Just days before today they had a huge parade to welcome him into the city. The celebration was huge … hosannas lifted … coats and palms laid on the street. It was big. But, he knew.
The detractors were not happy. Detractors are rarely happy. They celebrate brief victories before moving on to their next target.
Supporters were at their peak thinking all they had dreamed about and planned for was finally coming into place after 3 and a half, long, often-difficult years.
Bystanders came out to watch the parade before going back to their regular tasks.
And the middlemen? They were just hoping not to have this spill into anything else bringing more work for the weekend.
Which are you?
Many of us have experienced some of what the crucified one experienced.
We remember the big celebration when we got the new job and everyone was thrilled to have us on board. And then we remember the conversation gradually changing around the water cooler over the next two years. We remember the feeling of friends changing sides to join the detractors and feeling betrayed. And then, we remember the end and giving our notice feeling numb.
Or, we remember the huge wedding celebration and being so much in love. We remember the talk of the future and building a life together. We remember the spouse who never had a harsh word, gradually moving to the other side of the spectrum and speaking only criticism. And then, for some of us, the agonizing pain of betrayal and the death of our dream came with “crucify” translated to “divorce.”
It has happened to the athlete who was the star. Gradually he stopped wowing his adoring fans and saw his Twitter feed change from “best ever” to “trade him” and “overrated.” “Crucify” in different language.
Or, you had the college graduation party, summa cum laude, with big dreams and bright future. And then, that changed as your biggest fans and biggest supporters, transitioned to telling you that dreams are fine but reality demands that you settle and “just get a job, any job.” And now you hear the beep of barcodes scanning 8-10 hours a day.
The pain of crushed dreams. The pain of betrayal when friends move to detractors. The pain of seeing that all your efforts apparently were not enough. The shouts of “crucify” translated to “you’re fired” and “you’re done.”
Jesus knew and he still walked forward. We had no idea and were taken by surprise but we can still walk forward. How? The same power that rose Jesus from the grave is alive in us.
It’s Saturday and many of us need resurrection. The good news is that Sunday is coming. The good news is that the detractors and middlemen have some major disappointments ahead. The good news is that Jesus did not quit but did exactly what he said he would do. He rose.
You and I are not finished.
“By Your spirit I will rise
From the ashes of defeat
The resurrected King, is resurrecting me
In Your name I come alive
To declare Your victory”
Tomorrow, Sunday, we will gather at 10 AM at 733 Main St in Westbrook to celebrate the resurrection. Join us. And yes, detractors, middlemen and bystanders are always welcome. And, if you miss it? We’ll be there next Sunday doing the same thing, and the next, and the next …
Some of you know that I see more in my photographs than the obvious. Things I photograph often speak to me.
Today, while I walked around a historic train yard, these old padlocks and weathered chain drew my eye. In the shape of a cross, the message of Easter on my mind, I pictured the locks busting open and the chains falling off. I must have looked strange spending so much time photographing the scene.
I thought of the power of the cross and the freedom I’ve found in Christ. “My chains are gone, I’ve been set free. My God, my savior, has ransomed me.”
But then, I thought of how easy it is for us to reach down to pick up those heavy chains. We choose to carry them wondering why we feel so weighed down, so depressed and such strangers to peace.
Drop them. Their only power over you is now the power you give them. Drop the hatred, the fights, the drama. Chill instead of raging. Stop partying in the pity pool and swim away. That faction-focused friendship is dulling you. It will always find a new fight.
Galatians 5:1 “Christ has set us free to live a free life. So take your stand! Never again let anyone put a harness of slavery on you.”
Those are my thoughts today while photographing old trains. I like it when my photography sparks something within.
On Tuesday mornings, I volunteer at one of our local schools reading with first graders. I love doing it. Kids always make me smile.
Back in January, one little girl who is always pretty outspoken, was clearly frustrated. She explained that her teacher was making them write manuscripts and she said, “I don’t know why. I can never be an author.”
I told her she could be anything she set her mind to but she wasn’t buying it. I told her I could write books like the books we were reading and she laughed. “You’re not an author!” she said.
I have self-published some photography books for family and friends so, technically, I am an author but not in the distributed author sense. I was so determined to show her that being an author is not impossible that I found myself saying, “the next time I come read with you I will read a book I wrote.” She just laughed at me. Challenge accepted!
That left me needing to write and produce a children’s book and have it in hand the next time I came to read to the class. Thankfully, I had about 4 weeks to get it done between their school break and my being away for a conference and planning time.
Since the class always teases me about my aversion to cats, I knew my book had to be about dogs. I also knew that I wanted to convince my little friends that they can decide what they want to be in the future. So, “I’m Just a Dog” was born. Fortunately, a dog event was scheduled nearby during my time in Florida giving me plenty of subjects to photograph.
The class was pretty thrilled when I returned and read “I’m Just a Dog” for them because each of the dogs was named after one of the children in the class. The concept was simple, “Eva wants to be an artist but she can’t because she’s just a dog. But you can!”
That lead to wondering if perhaps I could find a traditional publisher for my children’s book and researching the publishing process. Several sources recommended approaching publishers with three projects demonstrating versatility. So, now I have three children’s books ready to go.
The publishing process, if I find someone, will take at least a year but if you simply cannot wait that long, each is available in a one-off printing service online that prints and ships book by book. (That makes them more expensive than they will be if they ever make it to the shelves of Barnes and Noble.)
It has been fun and, even if they never get published for real, my grandchildren will have some keepsakes from Grampa.
If you want to see, just click on the titles. That will allow you to see and read them online.
I’ve been doing some studying … mostly because I’m coming to the end of my six months of messages and teachings for the church I serve and am asking God what’s next. In the process I am looking in the mirror and seeing a change in myself that I do not like.
I’ve been at our little church revitalization work for just over five years now. When I started, I was just on the other side of the liver transplant journey that shook me to the core. It was a process that stripped me back to nothing.
When I started at this historic building on Main Street, I was in a place where I was vulnerable and absolutely awed by a God who I came to know more intimately than I ever before. I had been through difficult seasons in life. but I had never been totally broken and desperate. I always had some core strength or belief that I could do something, make some changes and pull myself through. The transplant journey offered none of that. Everything was entirely out of my control. All I had left was my faith and my people. And even some of “my people” distanced themselves from me because, like Job of the bible, I was too much to look at and too uncomfortable to be around.
When I started with this small group of people, all I wanted to do was worship and show others what I discovered. All I wanted to do was tear down barriers so that people could find the life-giving, always faithful, sustaining Jesus I had come to know so intimately. I remember times of singing songs in our gathered worship service and having to take a few minutes to compose myself before being able to speak. I went to worship. Not much else mattered.
Skip ahead to 2018. I am relatively healthy, just having the normal immunosuppressed challenges of catching most every virus and every bug going around. I am reestablished and financially secure in middle class Americana. I have appointments on my calendar, planning meetings to attend and even long-range goals. I remember not being confident enough to even plan things two months in advance because I didn’t know if I would be in the hospital or even alive. I am not desperate for God and the intimacy of suffering has faded. I’m operating on my own strength.
I have been studying why Americans go to church. I’ve been reading blogs, watching videos and studying church growth resources with their formulas for building attendance. I see things listed like:
attractive children’s spaces
quality coffee, welcome area
comfortable and inviting lobby areas
engaging stage design
practical, upbeat messages
parking lot greeters
I am being offered resources for attractive, targeted, direct mailings promising 1-2% response rate.
I just watched a young man make a very good and passionate plea for Christians attending church for the “right reasons.” It was all basically good stuff:
Because Jesus went to temple and the church is His Bride. He values it.
To contribute and serve.
To give your children a faith foundation.
Community – caring for each other and receive care.
Connections – personal and professional networking.
I’m reading a lot and watching a lot of presentations. There is no shortage of materials aimed at helping struggling churches attract people. That makes sense because the American church is not even keeping up with population growth. The American church is searching for the formula to fill the seats.
Worship, beyond a well-produced musical package, is missing. I am trying to discover when all-encompassing worship left the equation. When was it that gathering to simply worship God moved from the key reason for believers gathering to not even making the list?
I attended a large church service recently with a few hundred others and though the message was strong and the people welcoming, I was bothered. The band was tight and well-produced and the two large screens gave us the lyrics we needed.. We sang about how we can do anything in Christ, about how much God loves us, about our power in him and we sang about God’s “reckless” love pursuing us and chasing us down. I sang “boundless” because I can’t assign “reckless” to anything my God does. It was all good in reminding us of our position and standing in Jesus. But, I left feeling like I had worshipped myself rather than my God. Does that make any sense? It was all about me somehow … or, at least, that was my perception. The energy was great and the enthusiasm palpable. It was so good but I still felt like something was missing.
Worship is missing. Worshipping the living God for who he is, worshipping him for his character, his mercy, his love, his justice and his position is missing. It’s been missing in me.
I’ve been going to teach good Truths. I’ve been going to church worrying about who comes and if this person is happy or why that person doesn’t like me anymore. I’ve been going hoping that people will get something out of it and even hoping people find hope in Jesus. I’ve been hoping our children’s program grows and hoping we can see our music team add musicians in key spots. I’ve been putting presentations together and searching for memorable object lessons. But, I haven’t been going to worship.
When worship is my focus not many of the details matter. When worship is my focus I don’t tend to notice who came and who skipped and I don’t leave wondering if my message landed as a 9 or a 3. When worshipping God is my motivation, other things flow out of it naturally.
I want to stand up and say, “hey, if we’re here for something other than worshipping the living God, we’re here for the wrong reason” because that’s true of me. My God saved my life and preserved me not to revive a little church in Westbrook; that is not my primary purpose. He preserved me, saved my life so that I might worship him, give him all and then stand back and see what he brings out of that worship. This privilege I have to shepherd here in Westbrook is not about me at all, it’s an outflow of worshipping my God.
We’ve been fooled into thinking that our evaluations and our opinions are what matters more than anything else. We give our reviews and feedback immediately on Google or Yelp. Waitress too slow? 2Two stars. Meat overcooked a little? Two stars. Temperature in the theater just right and popcorn good? 4 stars. We really believe our personal opinions, preferences, likes and dislikes are the most important thing. We write our blogs, tweet our thoughts and compose our rants on social media fully believing that our “right to be heard” is tantamount.
And then, we bring that mindset into our churches where we evaluate everything, Children’s program? 1 star. Music, 3 stars. Coffee, 1 star. Decor, 1 star. Preaching, 3 stars. People, 4 stars. It goes on and on. It’s about us. It’s our job and responsibility as reviewers. We are the consumers.
I’ve been doing the same thing. It’s not unimportant to have quality programs. Cleaning is important and comfort is not a bad thing. But worship is to be our primary motivation.
I am not talking about ‘worship music,” if there is such a thing. I am not looking for a 4 star, tight, energetic, get-them-on-their-feet, great lights and sound, “worship experience.” What I long for is a total focus on being in the presence of God to worship him.
I’ve been blessed to worship singing along with a terrible guitar player trying her best. I’ve been blessed to experience powerful, authentic worship inside a large, hot, very uncomfortable big-top, tent. I’ve been moved worshipping with believers with no PA system and no electricity and I have worshipped in a setting with 5,000 others lead by a song-leader who became almost invisible, directing everything to God. I’ve been immersed in worship where the speaker was not polished or funny or energetic. In each circumstance nothing mattered except for gathering to worship the living God.
I’ve gone to our worship gathering for the past two weeks refocused on the immense privilege and mystery of joining with other believers, as the church, to simply worship. It has been good to get back to what matters. I haven’t worried about anything. In fact, I forgot my watch Sunday morning. I don’t know if I finished on time or started on time. But, I do know that I sang my prayers to my God through lyrics that focused on worshipping him. I know that I sang songs reminding me of my position in him as his child. I didn’t really notice much else. And I didn’t worry at all about the teaching time and who would like it or not like it. It was part of worship.
“Worship” is the word we use. But the Greek and Hebrew languages use a bunch of words to describe all the elements of worship: aboda, latreia, latreuo, latreia, leitourgia, proskyneo, shachac, gonu, gonupeteo, histahawa, shachac, proskyneo, homologia, thusia. Somehow we’ve reduced all of it into a 60-90 minute block of time that we attend when nothing better is pulling us away. For many people, it’s reduced even further into just the music portion of that 60-90 minutes. Somehow, worship is now about us and what it does for us. Did we sing songs I like? Was it the right length? Did it move me?
Worship is the response of grateful and humble people to the living God where submission, sacrificial service, praise, profession, testimony and gratitude are freely expressed in innumerable ways. ~ Lee Campbell, PhD
This relationship with God is so much bigger than a Sunday morning event. Worship is saturating, shaping and defining every day. Worship is not about me at all. Worship is my response to an omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient God who holds everything and is worth everything.
Worship is response, praise, sacrifice, obedience, fear, service, adoration. Worship is confession, testimony, study, conforming and bowing. Worship is always.
Sunday mornings are just part of worship. Gatherings of believers is when the supernatural mystery of God’s pleasure, power and presence meld when two or more show up to focus all on him together. He indwells corporate worship for his glory and his purpose.
Worship is not about me at all. And that, in itself, has freed me from so much of the pressure I was carrying.