May 27, 2016

Memorial Day

As we make this Memorial Day pilgrimage, let us not forget who gave us the freedoms we enjoy. Let us remember:

It is the VETERAN, not the preacher, who has given us freedom of religion.
It is the VETERAN, not the reporter, who has given us freedom of the press.

It is the VETERAN, not the poet, who has given us freedom of speech.
It is the VETERAN, not the campus organizer, who has given us freedom to assemble.

It is the VETERAN, not the lawyer, who has given us the right to a fair trial.

AND THE NEXT TIME WE GO TO THE POLLS TO VOTE, LET US REMEMBER—it is the VETERAN, not the politician, who has given us the right to vote.

Come, Worship
Stay, Learn
Go, Serve

May 20, 2016

The Parable of the Wedding Banquet

One parable of grace is Jesus’ “The Parable of the Wedding Banquet.” The version I offer came not from the Gospels, but rather from The Boston Globe (June 1990).

Accompanied by her fiancée, a woman went to the Hyatt Hotel in downtown Boston and ordered the meal. The two of them poured over the menu, made selections of china and silver, and pointed to pictures of the flower arrangements they liked. They both had expensive taste, and the bill came to thirteen thousand dollars. After leaving a check for half that amount as down payment, the couple went home to flip through books of wedding announcements.

The day the announcements were supposed to hit the mailbox, the potential groom got cold feet. “I’m just not sure,” he said. “It’s a big commitment. Let’s think about this a little longer.” When his angry fiancée returned to the Hyatt to cancel the banquet, the Events Manager could not have been more understanding. “The same thing happened to me, Honey,” she said, and told the story of her own broken engagement. But about the refund, she had bad news. “The contract is binding. You’re only entitled to thirteen hundred dollars back. You have two options:  to forfeit the rest of the down payment, or go ahead with the banquet. I’m sorry.  Really, I am.”

It seemed crazy, but the more the jilted bride thought about it, the more she liked the idea of going ahead with the party—not a wedding banquet, mind you, but a big blowout. Ten years before, this same woman had been living in a homeless shelter. She got back on her feet, found a good job, and set aside a sizable nest egg. Now she had the wild notion of using her savings to treat the down-and-outs of Boston to a night on the town.

And so it was that in June of 1990 the Hyatt Hotel in downtown Boston hosted a party such as it had never seen before. The hostess changed the menu to boneless chicken—“in honor of the groom,” she said—and sent invitations to rescue missions and homeless shelters. That warm summer night, people who were used to peeling half-gnawed pizza off the cardboard dined instead on chicken cordon bleu. Hyatt waiters in tuxedos served hors d’oeuvres to senior citizens propped up by crutches and aluminum walkers. Bag ladies, vagrants, and addicts took one night off from the hard life on the sidewalks outside and instead sipped champagne, ate chocolate wedding cake, and danced to big-band melodies late into the night (Philip Yancey, What’s So Amazing About Grace, HarperCollins, pp. 48-49).

The gospel is more than a set of propositions for us to figure out. The gospel is not a religious hammer to thrash and batter people into submission. The gospel is not a sentimental story to make us feel deeply the pain and grief of Jesus. No! No! No! 

The gospel is God’s invitation to live life and live it abundantly.

Come, Worship
Stay, Learn
Go, Serve

May 13, 2016

A House Divided Against Itself

Friedrich Nietzsche was a provocative, and still much quoted, 19th Century German philosopher. He was a severe critic of religion, especially the Christian religion. He once suggested that “The last Christian died on the cross.” And, concerning Christian evangelism, he said, “If the church wants the world to believe in redemption, then the church ought to look a little more redeemed.”

There is enough truth in that criticism to trouble those of us who have been involved in the effort of evangelism. Most of us could easily recite an occasion or two in which the church has not looked very redeemed. There are extreme exponents of the individualism, who in their determination to “have it their way” all the time, provoke dissension continually. Their failure to get along with others is more often than not a reflection of their inability to be at peace within themselves.

I read about a man who was stranded on a deserted island for several years. The rescue party noticed that he had built three separate huts next to each other. When asked what the huts were for, he said: “I live in the one in the middle, and I go to church in the one on the right.” When asked about the one on the left, he said: “Oh, that’s where I used to go to church.” Some people can’t even get along with themselves.

Another man once noticed that there was a church out on the edge of his town named the “Wego Baptist Church.” Intrigued by this name, he called several of his Baptist pastor friends and asked about the church. None of them knew how the church got its name. Pressed by his curiosity, he stopped at the church one day and asked the church secretary about the name. She told him an interesting story:

Back in the 1940’s there had been a conflict that divided the church’s membership evenly down the middle. Half of the people wanted the church to take one ministry approach while the other half wanted a different approach to ministry. They could not decide. The conflict devastated the church. After much debate they decided to separate. One group said to the other, “We go and you stay.” In order to commemorate this moment in the history of the church, the dissenting group decided to call their new congregation the “Wego Baptist Church.”

Sometime the church does not look very redeemed. It is strange—and encouraging—that God often uses our failures to the purposes of the Kingdom—no credit to our hard-headedness.

Lest my Baptist friends think I am casting aspersions on their great denomination, let me tell you that I have seen a few “Wego” Methodist churches in my time—and Episcopalian, Pentecostal, Presbyterian, etc.

Come, Worship
Stay, Learn
Go, Serve

May 6, 2016

The Mommy Test

One of our alert church members sent this to me and I am thinking it is work the time and effort to read it:

I was out walking with my 4 year old daughter. She picked up something off the ground and started to put it in her mouth. I took the item away from her and I asked her not to do that. “Why?” my daughter asked.

“Because it’s been lying outside, you don’t know where it’s been, it’s dirty and probably has germs” I replied.

At this point, my daughter looked at me with total admiration and asked, “Wow! How do you know all this stuff?”

“Uh,” I was thinking quickly, “All moms know this stuff. It’s on the Mommy Test. You have to know it, or they don’t let you be a Mommy.”

We walked along in silence for 2 or 3 minutes, but she was evidently pondering this new information.

“OH... I get it!” she beamed. “So if you don’t pass the test you have to be the daddy.”

“Exactly” I replied back with a big smile on my face and joy in my heart.

Come, Worship
Stay, Learn
Go, Serve

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