Monthly Archives: April 2012

Journey to Hope: Money

In our Journey to Hope (which admittedly, was supposed to end at Easter, but I’m a little behind), we have explored several surprising places we may find hope.  This is Week 5 of the series Journey to Hope, a Rethink Church study.


Week One: Relationships

Week Two: Self-Esteem

Week Three: Work

Week Four: Temptation

The opening question of the discussion is “Are you indebted to banks or to people?”  When leading a discussion about money with my youth, I framed the question slightly different.  “Do you own your stuff or does your stuff own you?” We listed some of the things we own, and what they spend their money on.  We had a list of things like clothes, phone, entertainment, food/snacks (beyond what their parents provide), video games, and books.

It was an interesting discussion, and they seemed to understand the question, “Do you own your stuff or does your stuff own you?”  We didn’t watch the video that was suggested by the study.  Although I love Pink Floyd, the discussion didn’t need the added media to get it going.  For the purpose of this blog though, I thought of a different song.

When thinking about the love of money, I think of the song “If I were a rich man.”

We all like to throw around cliche’s like “money can’t  buy happiness,” but money can be a powerful tool.  I don’t believe that money in itself is an evil.  It is a catalyst or an exclamation point.  Money magnifies the character of the one that possesses it. It can be used for terrible harm and it can be used for a great deal of good.  The reason I love “If I Were a Rich Man” is because it is so honest.  Tevye doesn’t just say, “I’m happy as I am.”  He knows that being wealthy could change his life.

He also admits that he might be a little extravagant with his money.  He would strut and preen.  He likes the idea of people treating him better.  He would get a bunch of animals so that they would make a lot of noise and point out to everyone that “Here lives a wealthy man.”  Part of the song speaks of the kind of frivolousness that many of us dream of a little.  I would buy a Jaguar.  Tevye would buy one staircase going up, another even longer going down, and another going nowhere just for show. I appreciate the honesty of that kind of wishful thinking.  There’s no sanctimonious piety.  Then, he starts to sing about other, more valuable things.

He starts to ponder the meaning of wisdom.  He starts to dream of spending time in Synagogue.  He dreams of sitting on the Eastern Wall.  His passion and deep commitment to God starts to grow apparent has he dives deeper into his fantasy.  Finally he comes to the ultimate fantasy – being able to sit with learned men and discuss the holy books for seven hours everyday.  The mere thought of it gives him pause.

That moment of the song – when he stops singing – is my favorite.  To me that moment reveals so much of the character of Tevye.  If you don’t know much about “The Fiddler on the Roof,” I apologize.  You should go out and watch it (and I’m really excited that it is coming to Davenport this season).  In this moment, I see the difference between the love of money and the love of what money can do.  Herein lies the difference between owning your stuff and allowing your stuff to own you.

When it gets down to the heart of the matter, it’s not the great staircases or loud animals that Tevye wants.  It is the chance to get closer to God.  Of course, if I were Tevye’s pastor, I would suggest to him that he can grow closer to God without money – but his heart is in the right place.  For too many, money is an obstacle.  It gets in the way of generosity, risk-taking mission, and genuine relationship.  These are the things in life that are of value.  It is very easy for the things we own, that we think are supposed to be serving us, become the instruments of the oppression we are trying to avoid.

People claim that wealth is a sign of God’s favor.  I don’t believe that.  Others claim that God is on the side of the poor.  I’m not sure when God chooses sides.  I think what God wants is for us all to be in relationship with God and with one another.  I think money can be related to that, but I think simplicity has more to do with it than a checkbook balance.  Simplicity in life goes a long way, and often with money there are complications.

Still though, I can’t help but wonder what it would be like to biddy biddy bum all day.

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Walk of shame, interrupted

When I was a sophomore in high school I was kicked out of a football game for kicking someone.  It was a stupid.  I was near the bottom of a pile, and I felt like the guy on the other team that was on top of me was taking his sweet time in getting up.  Instead of just waiting for the guy to get off, I got mad, and started kicking.  I don’t think I actually kicked anyone.  I wasn’t aiming at anyone in particular.  I was just mad and reacted.  Unfortunately the ref saw me and said “You, 62 – you’re out of here.”  I couldn’t believe it.  So I stormed off the field in anger and sulked on the sideline for the rest of the game.  Strangely, none of the coaches even said anything to me.

After the game, none of the coaches said anything to me.  When I was back at school, had changed and was ready to go home, none of the coaches had said anything to me.  I was a little perplexed, but also pretty nervous.  I knew I wasn’t going to escape punishment.  They must be letting me stew.  I figured that at the next practice I’d be running laps around the field for the duration.  I started to walk home, despondent.

I didn’t get far when Mr. Selke pulled up and asked me, “Do you need a ride?”  Mr. Selke was an intimidating guy.  With his hair slicked back and suit on, he looked like he could have been cast as an associate of Joe Pesci.  He didn’t give sophomore football players rides home.  He was not a coach.  He was the Athletic Director.  I lived about a half mile from school.  I didn’t really want a ride.  I just wanted to sulk my way home.  “No thanks,” I said.  “No, let me give you a ride,” he said.  I realized that this was an offer I couldn’t refuse.

I’d say we had an interesting conversation on the short ride to my house, but that would imply that I said something.  He didn’t raise his voice.  The power of his words did not need volume.  “You will not do something like that again,” he said simply.  “Your family is too good for that.  Your Mom, Dad, brother, and sister have given you a good name.  And you will not do anything like that again.”

I didn’t run laps at practice on Monday.  None of my coaches ever said anything to me about it.  It was like it never happened.

When I think of that interrupted walk home, I am reminded of another interrupted walk of shame.  In Luke 24 we find the story known as “The Walk to Emmaus.”  The walk to Emmaus was a walk of defeat.  It was a walk of devastation, confusion, and anger.  Two men were going home – back to Emmaus.  They were leaving Jerusalem after a tumultuous week.

They were devastated, because the man that they thought was going to redeem Israel had been crucified.  We don’t know how long they had been following Jesus.  We don’t know how much they had given up, but we know that as the walked home, they were walking in shame.  they were walking in confusion, despair, and anger.  Their walk to Emmaus was a walk of shame.  And then they were interrupted.

They were interrupted by the living Christ.  They were interrupted in their despair, and at first, they were annoyed by this stranger that didn’t understand their pain.  “Haven’t you been paying attention?” they ask him.  “Have you been paying attention?” he responds.  He does two things for them after their encounter.  He allows them to tell their story, then he tells them his version.  Their version went like this:

“Because of [Jesus’s] powerful deeds and words, he was recognized by God and all the people as a prophet. But our chief priests and our leaders handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him. We had hoped he was the one who would redeem Israel. All these things happened three days ago. But there’s more: Some women from our group have left us stunned. They went to the tomb early this morning and didn’t find his body. They came to us saying that they had even seen a vision of angels who told them he is alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found things just as the women said. They didn’t see him.” (Luke 24:19-24, Common English Bible)

It was a story of despair, loss, and confusion.  Jesus responds by telling them the story again.  This time he starts with Moses.  He tells of God saving the people from slavery.  He tells of the giving of the Law.  He tells them about the Land that God provided the people.  He tells them about the Prophets that spoke the truth to power.  He reminded them about the God that saves.

Eventually it was time to eat.  So they gathered at a table, and Jesus broke the bread.  When they saw him break the bread, it all came together.  They knew that were in the presence of Jesus.  They knew that Jesus had risen.  They knew everything had changed.

While they gathered at the table, their story was no longer one of despair and fear.  Their walk was no longer a walk of shame.  It was a walk of triumph.  In the breaking of the bread, this act of friendship, companionship, and relationship, they knew that they were in the presence of the living God.  He re-framed the story.  He re-presented the bread.  He re-newed their hearts.

Like Mr. Selke did for me during my walk of shame, Jesus reminded them of who and whose they were.  All of us need that reminder every now and then.  All of us take long walks of shame.  We take a wrong turn.  We veer off the path.  We forget who and whose we are, and suddenly we find ourselves someplace we never intended to be.  We find ourselves on a path of shame – somewhere God never intended us to be.  It is in the midst of such walks that Jesus has a funny way of showing up.  We may encounter Jesus on our path when we are least expecting him to show up.

No matter where you may be on your path, no matter how lost, no matter how hurt, no matter how bitter, an unexpected encounter with the Divine can bring you back home.  Be open to the Scriptures, and the story of God’s salvation.  Be open to breaking bread with those that might surprise you.  Be open and know that you never need walk this path alone.  You never have to make a walk of shame again.

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Opening Day

Busch Stadium in St. Louis, one of my favorite places on earth.

I start to get excited as soon as I can see the lights of the stadium.  It doesn’t matter which stadium – Wrigley, Busch, Comiskey (I don’t care what they’re calling it now. It will always be Comiskey).  I start to get excited as soon as I can see the lights.  Approaching the stadium, the excitement builds.  People are coming in off the El or crossing the street in hoards.  I always buy my peanuts from a guy outside the stadium because it’s a buck cheaper.

I love the colors of baseball.  Blue, gold, white, and green.  These are the colors of baseball for me.  Blue sky.  Green grass.  Golden infield with crisp white lines.  I always pause at the first site of the field.  Everything is perfect.  Nobody has kicked up the batter’s box.  Nobody has groomed their own place in the field.  The rubber and the bases shine.  The scoreboard is big and bright and full of information, but right now there are only zeroes on it.

I love the smell of baseball.  The cinamon from the churro stand.  Onions caramelizing on the grill.  Hot dogs sizzling on their roasters. I breathe it in.  I don’t bring my glove to games (because I’m a grown man), but I can still smell the leather. I’ve buried my face in my glove enough times to recall the smell – especially at a ballgame. I find my seat and evaluate my odds of getting a foul ball. I fill out the lineup card and let the sun pour over me. I look at the names on my scorecard and wonder, “Who’s going to hit a home run?  Who will get the first hit?”

I love the sounds of baseball.  The vendors are hawking their $9 beers. The crowd is a low murmur, ready to explode in an instant. The organ plays tunes that were not meant to be played by pipe organs, but somehow they fit. The game starts, and I wait for the greatest sound of them all: bat on ball. The crowd comes alive. The players move in perfect synchronicity to the place they need to be – covering every possible angle that the ball may travel.

I’ve never been to a game on Opening Day, but I can only imagine the sense of excitement. For those in the city that that celebrated just a few months ago, or those in places that have been waiting generations, the excitement of Opening Day is connected directly to hope.  Hope springs eternal on Opening Day The team hasn’t lost a game yet.  Everyone’s in first place. Every team has a chance. Every fan knows that on Opening Day, anything can happen.

For those of us that love the game, baseball is the soundtrack of the summer.  It will be on the radio and TV.  We will check scores from phones, and open up the agate page in the sports page.  Phrases like “rubber match, games back, get-away day,” will reenter our vocabulary.  Every fan hopes that what begins with a cool day in April will end with a cool celebration in October.

The season will be filled with ups and downs. There will be winning streaks and hitting streaks; losing streaks and slumps. There will be lazy fly balls and screaming line drives. There will be thrilling comebacks and heartbreaking losses. Our team will win. Our team will lose, and the summer will move on. Eventually, the season will be over, and we all want it to end with a parade through our city.

Isn’t that what life is all about? When I die, I don’t expect that there will be a parade, but I have assurance to know that there will be a great celebration. Jesus gave us some simple instructions for life, “Follow me,” he said. Follow him in service, compassion, grace, and love. He told us to love ourselves, love our neighbors, and love our God. He told us to break bread with each other, forgive and be forgiven, and be willing to sacrifice for the sake of others.

We go through this season of life and surely there are going to be slumps, bad outings, and losing streaks. Everyone faces the dog-days of summer and the nagging insecurities of a fallen world and a sinful nature. Today though, we have hope. Today can be Opening Day. There are a lot of questions we have to answer. There is potential that we can still unlock. There are stories to be told, and lives that we can touch. There swings to be swung, pitches to be pitched, and games to be won. Today is Opening Day.

Play Ball!

Why I love baseball

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Journey to Hope: Temptation

This is Part 5 of the series Journey to Hope, a Rethink Church study.


Week One: Relationships

Week Two: Self-Esteem

Week Three: Work

Temptation is an interesting subject for a study about hope.  It doesn’t seem like it really fits.  Where is the hope in temptation?  I think that over the last six weeks I’ve discovered it.

Hope does not dwell in temptation.  Hope dwells in knowing temptation does not have to win.  According to this week’s Journey to Hope, a 20011 survey listed some of the biggest temptations that people face.

1. falling prey to worry or anxiety
2. tendency to procrastinate
3. desire to overeat
4. desire to overuse technology and other forms of social media
5. laziness
6. lust
7. lying
8. cheating
9. anger

This list is a mix of some of the standby temptations – cheating, lying, anger, lust; and some very new, like the overuse of social media.  Some of them have probably been around awhile, but I can’t help but feel that overeating, laziness, and procrastination have only recently ascended to such a high level.

I’m not interested in posting an online confessional.  I can say that some point in my life I have struggled with all of these temptations.  Today some are stronger than others, but everyday we are all faced with strong temptation.  The one that I’ve been working on the most lately is overeating.

Temptation, thy name is Doritos.

This is a picture of my strongest temptation.  I remember once as a kid I ate an entire bag of Doritos while watching He-Man.  I cannot tell you how much I would enjoy doing that exact same thing right now.

But I’m not gonna do it.

Over the last six weeks I’ve discovered a couple of things (that I already should have known).  One is, I don’t have to eat Doritos to be happy.  I can eat a lot less than I had been eating.  About six weeks ago the Lose It! app came out for my Nook.  I began using the app by giving it my weight (329 pounds as of 2/15/12).  Then I gave it my goal weight.  Then I told it I wanted to lose one pound a week.  It then gives me a calorie budget.  Everything that goes into my mouth goes into my app.  For six weeks I’ve logged everything, and I’ve only been over my budget three days.  It turns out, I can eat less.  I’ve known for a long time that I ate too much, but I just couldn’t stop – at least that’s what I thought.

In 2008 I started my blog when I was shocked to find out that I weighed 301 pounds.  Ever since then, my weight has slowly crept up.  I’ve gone through three sizes of shirts, and literally broken several belts.  Over the last three years I have worked out sporadically, but the times I went to the gym simply slowed the gain.  I think that the last time I lost any significant amount of weight was 2006, when I ran a 5 mile St. Patrick’s Day Run in St. Louis.  Ever since then, it has been a steady climb.

Finally though, I feel something has clicked.  I’ve had a turning point in my life, and it started with using that app.  It has changed my relationship with food.  I am still tempted by the bag of Doritos and the brownies and the second helping, but I’ve said “no” to temptation more times in the last six weeks than I had – maybe ever.

On February 28, about two weeks into my Lose It! experience, I set a few goals that I wanted to achieve by June 1.  I wanted to weigh under 300, bench press 300 pounds, and run a 5K in under 40 minutes.  Today at the gym I weighed 303 and I ran 3 miles in 40 minutes and walked the last .1 mile, finishing a 5K on the treadmill in 42:00.  I’m so close.  Yet I’m so far away.

I have a long way to go, but I know that I am going to succeed.  I’ve invited God along with me on this journey.  My wife has also dedicated herself to our new lifestyle.  I have a whole group of friends at church that are doing a 90-Day challenge with me.  I also have about 1000 “fans” on Facebook that encourage me every time I post something about my workout.  I think this is the key to fighting temptation.  The people on this journey with me have been instrumental in my recent success. Doing it alone is a formula for failure.  We are called to be in relationship for many reasons.  Accountability, inspiration, motivation, and support are just a few of them.

When we look to God to help guide us through the temptation, it becomes possible.  When we realize that we are all in this together, it becomes a little easier.  1 Corinthians 10:13 tells us:

“No temptation has seized you that isn’t common for all people.  But God is faithful.  He won’t allow you to be tempted beyond your abilities.  Instead, with the temptation, God will also supply a way out so that you will be able to endure it.”

Watch the interview with George Acevedo on the Journey to Hope page.  He has built a recovery ministry for those struggling with chemical dependence.  He has helped thousands deal with temptation, and he provides this message of hope, “God provides a way of escape.  The creator of the universe that loves us most and best gives us tools… There is hope in the midst of temptation because [we’ve] discovered this way to escape.  We have discovered that God says it is available to us.”

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Maundy Thursday Liturgy

Maundy Thursday.pngBelow is suited for a sanctuary or chapel.

Maundy Thursday Pot-Luck Liturgy is meant to be shared around food.

Maundy Thursday

Liturgist:     Jesus spent his life teaching us the meaning of love.  Through word and deed Jesus showed us how to love God and to love one another.  He fed the hungry.  He healed the sick.  He invited the women and the children and the tax collectors and the sinners to come to his table.  He broke bread with the least and the lost and shared the cup of redemption with them all.  He crossed boundaries of race, nationality, ethnicity, gender, and class.  He challenged religious authority, and he scoffed at pomposity and self-absorbed grandeur.  He called out the hypocrites.  He admonished the scribes and the Pharisees for their hardened hearts.  He brought a simple message: Love God, love yourself, and love one another.

All:       We gather in the name of Jesus and remember the way that he showed us.  We gather to remember not just his death, but his life.

UM Hymnal #174 – His Name is Wonderful

Liturgist:     The way of Jesus goes through the cross, but we are not there yet.  It is close.  We can see its shadow.  We can feel the cold, dark, night. We know that the enemies of God are conspiring.  They have had enough of him.  He threatens their comfort.  He threatens their way of life.  He threatens their power.  They will come for him.  First though, we will gather.  We gather with Jesus and his closest friends.  We gather with those that called him teacher, Rabbi, friend.  We gather for the Passover meal, to remember that God saved the people from slavery.  God saved once.  God saves forevermore.

All:       God saved the Israelites at Passover, and revealed that it is God who reigns, not the Pharaoh.  Our God saved once.  God saves forevermore.

UM Hymnal #448 – Go Down, Moses

Liturgist:     Even as they were sharing this sacred meal together, the disciples were not of one heart.  Jesus knew that he was asking much from these men, and he knew that they would fail him.  Judas had already agreed to betray Jesus to the religious authorities.  Was he angry at some slight?  Was he disappointed that Jesus would not raise an army against the Romans? Was he upset with the value of the oil that the woman “wasted” when she anointed Jesus?  We will never know Judas’ heart, but Jesus knew that he would be betrayed.  And did Jesus do with the man that would betray him?  He broke bread with him. All of the disciples were deeply saddened, and they asked:

All:     I would never betray you, Lord.  It’s not me, is it?

Leader One:      On the night in which Jesus was betrayed by his friend, he took the bread, gave thanks to God, broke the bread, gave it to his disciples, and said: “This is my body, which is broken for you.  Do this in remembrance of me.”

Leader Two:    When the supper was over he took the cup, gave thanks to God, gave it to his disciples and said, “Drink from this all of you, this is my blood of the new covenant which is poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins.  Do this, as often as you drink of it, in remembrance of me.”

Leader One:      And so, in remembrance of these your mighty acts in Jesus Christ we offer ourselves in praise and thanksgiving as a holy and living sacrifice, in union with Christ’s offering for us, as we proclaim the mystery of faith.

All:       Christ has died. Christ is risen.  Christ will come again.

Leader One:    Pour out your Holy Spirit on us gathered here, and on these gifts of bread and the cup.  Make them be for us the body and blood of Christ, that we may be for the world the body of Christ, redeemed by Christ’s blood.  By your Holy Spirit make us one with Christ, one with each other, and one in ministry to all the world, and we feast at his heavenly banquet.  Through your Son Jesus Christ, with the Holy Spirit in your Holy Church, all honor and glory is yours, almighty Father now and forever.

Communion in silence

Liturgist:     When the holy meal had been shared, the disciples began to argue over which one would be the greatest.  Even here, at the end of their time together, they did not seem to understand what Jesus had been teaching them all along.  He reminded them that to be great in the Kingdom of God meant to serve.  After Jesus’ talk of betrayal, the disciples’ argument, and Jesus’ rebuke of them, the disciples seemed to be growing anxious. Peter proclaimed:

All:       “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death.”

Liturgist:     And Jesus replied, “I tell you, Peter, the cock will not crow this day until you have denied three times that you know me.”

The Faith We Sing, Hymn #2112 – Jesus Walked This Lonesome Valley

Liturgist:     Afterwards, Jesus led his disciples to the Garden of Gethsemane.  He asked them to pray for him, for he wanted to be alone.  There, Jesus prayed.  He asked his friends to keep watch, but they kept falling asleep.  He prayed for another way out.  He prayed in anguish.  He prayed as a man who could feel pain, who would be hurt by betrayal, who would be scarred by the scourge, and would bleed when nails were driven into his arms and legs.  He prayed as a man who knew that if he followed God’s will, he would be charged, convicted, mocked, humiliated, abandoned, and nailed to a cross.  Knowing all of this full well he prayed, “Not my will, but yours.”  Then he stood up for all that he had lived for.  When he got up from prayer, he came to the disciples and found them sleeping, “Why are you sleeping? Get up and pray that you may not come to into the time of trial”

All:       Judas said to Jesus, “Rabbi” and kissed him.  Then they came and grabbed Jesus and arrested him.

UM Hymnal #290 – Go to Dark Gethsemane (verses 1-3 only)

Liturgist:     There was a brief skirmish at the arrest, but his disciples quickly scattered.  Peter, who had only hours before promised to go with Jesus to prison, even death, followed from a distance.  During the trial, Peter remained hidden in the shadows.  First a servant girl saw him and said, “This man was also with him.”

All:       “Woman, I do not know him.”

Liturgist:     A little later someone else, on seeing him said, “You also are one of them.”

All:       “Man, I am not.”

Liturgist:     Then about an hour later still another kept insisting, “Surely this man was with him; for he is a Galilean.”

All:       “I do not know what you are talking about.  I do not know Jesus.”

Liturgist:     At that moment, while he was still speaking, the cock crowed.  The Lord turned and looked at Peter.  Then Peter remembered what Jesus had said to him, and he wept bitterly.

UM Hymnal #288 – Were You There

Stripping of the table (All of the items that adorn the Lord’s table, and all of the liturgical banners are removed in silence)

There will be no sending forth or postlude.  People are asked to leave in reflective silence, and return for Good Friday service and Easter Sunday service.

Good Friday Stations of the Gospel through Luke

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Some people see the weeds

Many years ago for Mother’s Day my brother built a flower garden for my Mom.  He was sort of the family gardener, and it was common for us to plant flowers for my Mom for Mother’s Day.  The garden was usually his place to plant fruits and vegetables.  We usually had a few big pumpkins, and I remember trying sweet corn one summer.  It was his little corner of the yard.  This was his senior year in college, so he decided to convert the vegetable garden to a flower garden for Mom.  He knew it would probably be his last year doing the planting, so he wanted to leave her with something that would last.

He planted all perennials.  He planned it out meticulously and worked hard at giving her a beautiful garden full of depth and color and variety.  It was the most beautiful gift I have ever seen.

My Mom was a teacher at the time, and the next day at school she was telling all of her friends about the beautiful gift her son had given her.  Most of her friends agreed that it was a beautiful gift.  One co-worker (I’m not sure that they were really friends) only commented, “Well, who’s going to pull the weeds?”

Don’t you know people like that?  Some people see the flowers.  Some only see the weeds.

That garden is still beautiful.  It has changed some over the years.  Another friend gave my Mom a bird bath.  There was a flower added that was her sister’s favorite.  The maple tree in the corner has grown quite big.  Each spring it comes back and the gift is renewed.  I’m not sure my Mom has ever pulled a single weed from it.

Some people see the flowers in the garden.  They enjoy the beauty in the world.  They gaze at sunsets and marvel at the ocean.  Some see grace and joy and love.  Some appreciate their many blessings, and hope that somehow they can be a blessing to the world.  Others see the weeds.

I don’t deny the weeds are there.  I know that there is pain in the world.  All of creation has fallen.  I know that we have a lot of work to do as a people of God.  There is injustice to fight and there are souls to save, but when presented between the choice to focus on the flowers or the weeds, I choose to rejoice in the flowers.  When given the choice to focus on God’s grace or the Creation’s fall, I guess I choose to err on the side of grace.

Read about another gardening adventure

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