Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Finding words of hope in our mourning.

I had a funeral this morning. I hate funerals. I know I am not supposed to say that. I am the one who is called on to comfort people and remind them of our faith. My job is to read the scriptures and connect people with God so that God can wrap his arms around them. My role is the mediator between God and his children at the time of their greatest vulnerability. I hate it because I never feel adequate enough. Can words really bring healing?

I think I do a good job at most funerals. I pull together a nice selection of scriptures, prayers and add a nice eulogy. I personalize the services and lift up the hope of our faith. People like that. But when all is said and done, when we leave the church or the grave, we leave with a hole in our hearts for the person who died. That is the part that gets me.

I weep for the families. I can appreciate what Jesus felt when he went to see Mary and Martha after Lazarus had died. The difference is that Jesus could resurrect him and I can't do that for my families. So I try my best. I cry with them and hold their hands. We walk through the scriptures and remind ourselves of God's promises. Then we simply trust God to be good to his word.

The good news is that God is as good as his Word. He does comfort those who mourn. In time we all heal with God's help. Think of the Brockway family tonight. Pray for God's comfort to come to them all.


Monday, December 29, 2008

True Christians share God's love

I usually don't venture into the realm of making negative comments in my blogs or in my newspaper columns. I try to focus on the positive. There is enough negativity out there and I don't think God likes it. Jesus once said that he came to give life and to give it abundantly. He wants to bless us and all we need to do is come to him.

You can see that throughout the pages of the New Testament as Jesus cozies up to prostitutes, tax collectors, robbers and revolutionaries. He loves them all and invites them to turn around and follow his lead so they can have a satisfying relationship with the Father. He doesn't berate them or condemn them. He simply reaches out to invite them into something that will change their lives.

Today that's my job and the job of all of us in ministry. We are called to share his love and to invite people into a relationship with God that is fulfilling and life saving. As Christians we believe that God so loved the world that he sent his son to save us. We know that all of us are sinners and all have fallen short of the glory of God. That includes those of us wearing clerical collars and vestments and those of us sitting in the pews of the local church. So we are called to reach out with the same grace we have known.

Yet there are some who missed that lesson. They feel called to pass judgment on others and condemn them. They feel that they are so righteous and so blessed that they can stand in God's place and pronounce judgment. The truth is that they will be judged by the same measure that they judge and I pity them.

I bring this up because I was totally appalled by a video that came across the Internet this holiday season. It was put out by Rev. Phelps and members of the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas. I am embarrassed to even say I am a Baptist after seeing this. I can only say that his church (if you can call it that) is as far from the Baptist origins as the Baal worshippers in the Old Testament. This is the same group that declares "GOD HATES FAGS" and celebrated the death of Matthew Shephard. This is the group who made the statement after September 11 that this was God's retribution for America embracing the gay lifestyle. This is the group who protested with hateful signs at the funerals of those who died in Iraq and declared that this was God's vengeance. The truth is that even if you do not believe that the homosexual lifestyle is compatible with scripture, this kind of hatred is as equally out of line with scripture if not more so in light of the way Jesus dealt with people.

This Christmas the Westboro group ratched up their rhetoric a notch with this new video. A group of children are front and center singing a song that declares that Santa Claus is leading everyone to hell. The song is sung to the tune of Santa Claus in Coming to Town. The kids are having fun and ringing bells as they declare that everyone who believes in Santa is on the way to hell. It is pure hatred and filled with venom. It reeks of the serpent himself. This is without a doubt, the work of the devil. He has blinded these people into believing that they are so righteous that they can say and do anything. I feel sorry for them. For they will be judged.

The truth is that God has often used every means to bring people to him. As Christians we have the opportunity to share the greatest love story of all time with our friends and neighbors during the holidays. We can tell them that behind Santa, Rudolph, Frosty and the other icons of the secular version of Christmas, is the love of God we see in the manger in Bethlehem. Like the Apostle Paul, we can take the appealing elements of this culture and speak to the hearts of a new generation. This unknown God became known in Bethlehem and today we can tell his story. And like the old song says, "They will know we are Christians by our Love."

I pray in the new year that all of us can be ambassadors for our God. I pray we can share his love and point people to the Lord of Lords.

God bless. Happy New Year.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

The secret to a better relationship

We are in New York City for a couple of days. Talk about culture shock. On Friday night I walked thirty blocks up 3rd Avenue to our hotel on 42nd Street. It was great. Along the way I enjoyed the sights and sounds of the city. A couple of thoughts came to mind.

First I thought about the character, Mark, in the hit Broadway Show "Rent." He was the videographer who captured images of the city. As I walked by myself I listened in to several conversations. I tried to pretend that I was a resident and to figure out what life in the city was really like. Were people leading quiet lives of desperation? Or were they living life to its fullest?

One woman was worried about her friend and the guy she was going out with. He always bossed her around. Another girl was talking to her boyfriend on the cell phone and she said, "Were you drunk when you hit your heard?" A third couple was holding hands and trying to decide where to go for dinner. As I listened in it hit me that so much of these conversations were about relationships. I chuckled as I thought about that television show "Sex and the City." I've only seen bits and pieces of the show. From what I have seen, the story lines are all about these ladies relationships as they make their lives in New York. It dawned on me that the creators of that show were onto something. In my brief walk down Third Avenue, I felt I was in the middle of a typical episode.

Of course so much of our energy is put into our relationships isn't it? We are constantly dealing with our spouses, children, parents and co-workers. Relationships make up the fabric of our lives. Learning how to get along is an ongoing process. I like what Rick Warren says in the Purpose Driven Life. God created us to be part of God's family. We need to learn to get along. He suggests that if we can get along with each other in the church, then we can get along with anybody.

He goes on to suggest that it can only happen if we begin with a relationship with God. I think he is right. Maybe that is why so many relationships are in trouble. We don't put God first and it affects everything else in our lives. When we practice the things God calls us to do the way in which we relate to others begins to change. We become more forgiving, more patient, more loving.

It seems like a good thing to me. So as we look ahead to a brand new year, I recommend making it a point to spend a little more time with Jesus. Everything else will flow a little better from there.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

The birth of our Lord

I think there are so many wonderful images of Christmas out there this year. They inspire us and help us remember what Christmas is all about. Rather than me telling you about it, I'd rather pass them on to you. so here is Josh Grobin singing "O Holy Night" while the story is played out on video. It's very moving.


Saturday, December 20, 2008

O Holy Night

Here is something to get you in the mood this holy Christmas week. I came across these gentleman named Il Divo and they have blessed my Christmas already. Enjoy!


Thursday, December 18, 2008

Moments in prayer

Prayer is like oil in the lamp of life. As we pray we let God fill us with His Spirit. It energizes our soul. It gives life to our being. It connects us to the source of hope and power. Sometimes people think prayer is all about asking God for things. That couldn't be farther from the truth. Prayer is communion with God.

The truth is that when I pray I allow God to use me to fulfill his will for me and others around me. It isn't so much about us, as it is about God. It is unlocking God's power. Jesus understood this very well. He always gave God the credit for the amazing things he was able to do. Then he told us that we would do them too.

So what are you waiting for? Unleash the power of God in your life today. Stop and spend a few minutes in prayer.


Tuesday, December 16, 2008

A new Voice in Biblical studies

Several years ago I sat in the audience for a presentation of a one person play at the Mystic Union Baptist Church. For two and a half hours the actor shared the story of Jesus. It was an incredible performance that covered his birth up until his crucifixion. The actor had us sitting on the edge of our seats. The characters came to life and you could see the Pharisees as they spat venom at Jesus. You could hear the murmur of the crowd as Jesus walked among them on his way through town. You would never have known that this entire script was simply a presentation of the Gospel of Mark.

The actor read the story verse by verse. It came to life when he added dramatic emphasis in just the right places. He changed the tenor of his voice to bring out the various characters. He added sound and depth by banging and stomping and moving across the stage. The Bible has been called stuffy and hard to read by some outside the church but that night it became a living, dynamic testimony to the love and grace of God.

I was reminded of this a few weeks ago when I picked up a newly published version of the New Testament called "The Voice." As I opened the book of Matthew I immediately noticed that the pages were laid out and set apart as if I had picked up a screenplay script. I hadn't seen anything like this since I picked up a red letter edition of the Bible as a teenager. "The Voice" takes it a step further and allows the whole dialogue to stand out and come alive. Forget the words of Jesus. This Bible brings out the chatter between actors, the conversations between Jesus and his disciples and the call of the crowds as they seek Jesus' attention. I loved it. I've dreamed about using dramatic sketches from scripture to illustrate a sermon message. I just didn't know how to frame them. This Bible does it for you.

I also noticed that there were outlined boxes on nearly every page, As I read what was inside them I realized that these comments amplified what was said in the text and highlighted significant points. The comments added depth and meaning to the what I was reading. Sometimes they lifted up customs and traditions which the original reader would have known. In other places they explored what was being said and helped draw some logical conclusions. I liked this because these comments were not buried in the footnotes. They were right there in the text.

We live in a different day and age. The Bible has lost some of its reverence for the younger generation. Why? Because they don't understand it. I think that may change once "The Voice" begins to get a wider circulation. This is a gift for the twenty somethings in our congregations. Yet the truth is that it is a gift for all of us.

And before you write it off as just another translation, believe me, it is so much more than that. "The Voice" does what the Bible was meant to do. It recreates the narrative that was part of the early church experience. It engages the reader and invites him or her into the discussion. It is a true living Bible for the next generation.

If you want a gift for someone who is just beginning their Christian walk this Christmas, give them "The Voice." If you want a gift for someone who really loves to read the Bible, give them "the Voice." If you want to surprise someone in your Bible study with a gift they will thank you for, give them "the Voice."

I love it and and so will you.


"The Voice" New Testament is offered by Thomas Nelson Publishing House

A Christmas Poem

One of our members here at First Baptist writes poetry. She passed this one titled, Is It Really Christmas? on to me and I used a few lines from it in my sermon this week. It was well received so I thought I would pass on the whole poem. So here it is.

Is It Really Christmas?
by Trina Edwards

Lights twinkle, bells jingle in preparation for that day.
And children all across the land hear Santa's on his way!
Trees go up and are adorned with trimmings all aglow.
Sparkling tinsel graces doorways, along with Mistletoe.
Malls are crowded wall to wall as people push and shove,
Searching for those special gifts to give to all the ones they love.
Presents wrapped in pretty paper, a bow attached with care,
Quietly waiting to be discovered when the family all gets there.
Cookies baking, candy making, sweet smells in the air.
Families making memories that they'll forever share.
The trees! The lights! The pretty gifts! What is it all about?
Is this really Christmas or have we left something out?
Have worldly frills and pleasures dimmed the glory of that day?
Instead of looking upward have we looked another way?
Where is the angel who declared the blessed Christ Child's birth
And proclaimed that through Him there would be goodwill and peace on earth?
Where is the star that brightly shone up in the sky that night,
And directed three wise men to that great and miraculous sight,
Where inside a lowly stable, in a manger filled with hay,
Surrounded by all of heaven, our blessed Savior lay?
A babe sent down from glory, a gift from God above.
Wrapped up in grace and mercy - the epitome of love.
For by his life and death, this babe would save our souls from sin;
Loose the very hold of death and give us life again.
"He's the reason for the Season" our lapel pins boldly say,
But what is truly in our hearts on this Christmas Day?
It's OK to have your Christmas trees, and your gift exchanges too,
But don't forget the one who came and gave his love for you.
Let's keep our eyes on Jesus, and be sure His love to share;
For it really isn't Christmas if Jesus isn't there.

Merry Christmas!


Monday, December 15, 2008

Sharing love in little ways

A good friend of mine sent me and e-mail introducing me to St. Therese, "the little flower." I'd never heard of her before but as I began to check her out, it struck me that what the world needs today is more people like her. This past week so many people made a big difference in the life of one family by doing little things to make the Extreme Home Makeover a blessing for the Girard family. I pray that everyone who helped there and everyone who didn't but wanted to, will catch the spirit of St. Therese and let it guide them in their actions.

young Therese

Therese Martin was the last of nine children born to Louis and Zelie Martin on January 2, 1873, in Alencon France. Her mother died when she was 4 years old. As a result, her father and sisters babied young Therese. On Christmas Eve in 1886, at the age of 14, Therese had a conversion that transformed her life. From then on, her powerful energy and sensitive spirit were turned toward love. At 15, she entered the Carmelite convent in Lisieux to give her life to God. She took the religious name Sister Therese of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face. Living a life filled with prayer, she began to serve others by doing simple things to make their lives better. She lived each day with an unshakable confidence in God's love. "What matters in life," she wrote, "is not great deeds, but great love." She lived and taught a spirituality of attending to everyone and everything well and with love. She believed that just as a child becomes enamored with what is before her, we should also have a childlike focus and be totally attentive to those around us through our love. You might say that Therese's spirituality is of doing the ordinary, with extraordinary love.

After a long struggle with tuberculosis, she died on September 30, 1897, at the age of 24. Her last words were the story of her life: "My God, I love You!" The world came to know Therese through her autobiography, Story of a Soul.


Sunday, December 14, 2008

Ya gotta believe!

When does faith take over for doubt? My Pittsburgh Steelers are having a memorable season. They clinched the division today by beating the Baltimore Ravens. Yet they have not been a dominant team all year long. Yes their defense is the best in the League. They have shut down almost every team they played. Yet the games have all been close and won late in the contest. The offense has just been good enough to score points when needed. The last three games were won in the waning moments with key plays made on defense. I want to believe that they are good enough to go to the Super Bowl but I am still not convinced. They haven't had an easy game yet.

It made me think about our faith in God. What is it that helps us step over that threshold into belief? When did we start believing in God with all our heart? Was there a moment? I have believed in him my whole life. When do we stop doubting and just believe?

The truth is that there are still moments when I have my doubts. No, I don't doubt God is real. But I sometimes wonder if God really is there when I am going through tough times. We all do. Then we pass through and look back and see it was God's strength that carried us. We say we should have known.

The same is true of my Steelers. I guess my problem is that I was comparing them to last year's edition of the New England Patriots who slaughtered every team they played during the regular season. They made it look easy. That is how I measure a great time.

We do the same thing with God. We set up certain markers and believe He has to do certain things to be called faithful. When he doesn't fit our idea of what faithful looks like, we begin to doubt him.

The truth is that God is God. He has shown that He is faithful time after time in our lives and in the scriptures. Maybe its time we simply let go and believe.


PS Go Steelers. This is the year we win number 6!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Who is your audience?

I watched the worst movie of my life on Tuesday. It was called Step-Brothers and despite the big names in the show, it fell flat. I almost couldn't watch it. Yet I was fooled into thinking it might get better.

I fell in love with Will Ferrell when my daughter, Rachel, and I went to see Elf in the movie theaters a few years ago. Ferrell was so big and lovable that I thought he was a can't miss star. I never saw him on Saturday Night Live so this was my first exposure to his comedy. Yet I have to admit that none of the movies he has made since have really sparked my interest. The trailers look funny but from Kicking and Screaming, to Talledega Nights to this one, I have watched the DVD's and each time came away disappointed.

What's worse is the fact that I noticed Ferrell either produces, writes or is intimately involved with the production of most of these shows. So it isn't simply that he is making bad choices. They seem to be conscious choices that represent his type of humor.

What's sad is that young boys and girls see some of the humorous clips of him from these movies and want to see more. Yet the movies are not appropriate for them. Step-Brothers was rated R. I was embarrassed when my twenty year old daughter wanted to watch the movie.

It got me thinking about what I say and do and how it reflects on who I am. I can be pretty silly and sometimes I joke around with my friends. I remember an afternoon when I was kidding with one of my best friends about something. He had just started coming to church and I was so happy. We had reconnected and we were having a good time. But my joking around hit him the wrong way. Afterwards he told me that he could not go to church with someone who believed what I said.

Now I have to tell you I was just kidding around, but it made a deep impression on him. It colored what he thought about me. The same is true for all of us. We have an image that we project. When we belong to Christ, it isn't the image of perfection, but it should be the image of a compassionate lover of God and neighbor. When we put others down and show signs of bigotry, hatred and mean spirited behavior, it leaves its mark on the people who see us.

It's not fair to think that we have to be "perfect" all the time... and I'm not talking about pretending to be something you are not. We are called to be more like Christ. To be a Christian means that day by day we grow more like him in our attitudes and actions. As we spend time with Jesus, we begin to reflect him in all we do.

So that's my goal. I know I will mess up once in a while but I hope when people look at my body of work they will see something that inspires them. I hope they will see God's love. May the same be said for you as well.


Friday, December 12, 2008

The perfect gift

What will they think of next? I got a flyer in the mail today for a Heattrak Walkway mat. It is portable, waterproof and electric and designed to lay on top of any surface. The advertisement suggests that it can be left outside all winter and it will melt snow and ice for you. It sounds too good to be true.

What amazed me most is the ingenuity that it took to come up with this device. Someone saw a problem and then went about finding a solution. As I sat there trying to decide if we should buy one or not, it struck me that I was trying to answer the same question many people are asking themselves this Christmas: Do I really need Jesus in my life or not.

The truth is that God saw that we had a problem with sin in our lives. It created a rift between Him and us. So He developed a creative solution by coming to us in the form of a child, the babe of Bethlehem. He walked among us and showed us how much He cared. Then God spanned the gap by creating a bridge to God through his own sacrifice on the cross.

Now we are faced with deciding if we really need him or not. We can go on like we have always gone on. Or we can embrace him and know new joy and hope in our lives. The choice is ours. Christmas is here again. There is a free gift for you under the tree. Will you take it or leave it there. It is up to you.

God bless. Merry Christmas.


Monday, December 8, 2008

Go ahead and invite them

Yesterday afternoon I went to a holiday party for the volunteers of the Miss Connecticut Pageant. It was a nice affair. There was music, hors d'ouerves and lots of entertainment.
several of the ladies who have participated in recent pageants performed music selections and dance routines. Three of the ladies even wore the crown of Miss Connecticut in their day, including the current Miss Connecticut, Ashley Glenn.

As I left the party I started thinking about the Organization and all the good people who make it run so smoothly. I remember talking with one gentleman who has been involved for over forty years. He said he loves it because it builds self esteem in the participants and promotes scholarship. The Connecticut Pageant alone gives away tens of thousands of dollars in college scholarships and claims a long list of very successful women in their ranks. He was happy to report that he got involved when that wasn't even happening as much in the schools.

I thought about my involvement and how a simple invitation started it all. Then I chuckled as I thought about the fact that it happened the same way for my faith life. An invitation from a friend is the way that most of the significant events in our lives begin. Someone who we know asks us to join them for something.

It made me think about how important it is for us to be inviting our friends to worship on Sunday. It can be the start of something wonderful for them. So what are you waiting for?


Saturday, December 6, 2008

Go with the Spirit

I almost didn't go. I had planned on going all week but things didn't really go my way and when I woke up this morning I began debating whether or not I should still go. I'm not talking about church. I'm talking about Weight Watchers.

I started back on program last week and I didn't really do that well. I got up this morning and hopped on the scale. After looking at the number I really didn't feel too excited about paying to see the same results.

So I pretty much decided to skip the weigh in and head down to the church instead. But as I took off I changed my mind. I was going to face the music. If I want to lose weight, I'm going to have to stick to it and this might just be what I needed.

I walked into the Center and plopped down my money and then stepped on the scale. I told the receptionist that I didn't think I did too well. Then she said, "Two pounds. Not bad!" I was bummed and she saw my face and said, "I'd give my right arm to lose two pounds. Cheer up!"

I couldn't believe my ears. I lost two pounds. Suddenly I was very glad I came. I was blessed. I think it is the same way with going to church for some people. After a bad week they think feel that maybe they aren't feeling good enough to go. But those who decide to go almost always report they feel so much better after attending worship. Their spirits were lifted and they were blessed.

So don't let a bad week get you down. Go with the spirit and come to worship and let God bless you.


Monday, December 1, 2008

We are all becoming someone new

I've been watching reruns of the old television show, Remington Steele. The show ran from 1982 to 1987 and starred Pierce Brosnan and Stephanie Zimbalist. I rented season one from Blockbuster and have been enjoying it this past week.

It's a sentimental thing. Lori and I were married in 1982 and this was one of the shows we regularly watched together. The funny thing is that watching the show has stirred up a lot of memories. It's like I have been transported back in time. It has been a nice experience.

As a by product of all this I have also been thinking a lot about how time changes so much. For example when this show premiered Stephanie Zimbalist was the headliner. She was a star because of her family connections and some of the things she had already done. Pierce Brosnan was a relative unknown. One of the studio heads almost nixed him because they were looking for someone with a resume.

Fast forward twenty five years and most people don't even know who Stephanie Zimbalist is. But they know Bond, James Bond. They know the man who played him in the 90's. It made me think about the fact that life is a process. We are all in the process of growing and evolving into what we will become. Today is not the end of my life. I am continually growing and learning and becoming that person who I will be.

I think that is why Jesus said we should not worry. We should trust him and live each day as it comes. I know I am not that same man who watched this program 26 years ago. Thank goodness. I am wiser and more deeply connected to Christ today. I am more sure of who I am and what I am doing. So are you. So rejoice in what God is doing in your life and the growth you have seen. For you are truly a new creation and a blessed one at that.