Category Archives: Pastor
Grace and Work –
Someone asked me today; “So, is it grace or works which get us into heaven?” My answer was; “Yes.” After a moment to let the words sink in I went on to explain that grace is God’s “unmerited favor” or “God’s love for us is absolute even if we never love God in return.”
“Grace is given to us and then we give it to others. This is the ‘work.'” We are blessed to receive God’s spirit of love, forgiveness, and kindness and in return, we give it to others. When grace touches the deepest part of us our worldview, the reason for living and being, come into focus. We are placed here, at this time and place, to give God’s love, forgiveness, and kindness to others.
Too often; “work” is made out to be dogma, discipline, dutiful acts of trying to be good and acceptable to the God who alone is good and has already accepted us. “Work,” should be a celebration. We freely give to others what we have freely accepted.
“If, as adults, we are only preoccupied by the security of our borders we have not matured as human beings capable of real freedom, of seeing the happiness of being citizens in the world of virtue – goodness, kindness, humanity, compassion. In this world of grace there are no borders.”
Above is a portion of my morning reading this Lenten season devotional of 2017. It speaks to one of the most difficult battles we fight as people, a nation, and a community of faith.
It’s easy to separate ourselves from the world. To erect borders, laws, litmus tests, even vote for silly ideas such as a border wall which also includes 800+ miles of the Rio Grande river. We pull away from strangers and those different from us because we’re afraid. We’re afraid of losing things, being infected by things, having our normal lives disrupted and changed forever.
The last couple of months I’ve been on a Jars of Clay binge. In the house, on the lawn mower, in the truck, it’s all I’ve been listening to. Moving from one album to another, no particular order. This week it’s been; “The Long Fall Back to Earth. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Long_Fall_Back_to_Earth)” The album is a unique one for the group as they experiment with a break from their usual sound. There is a song entitled on the album; “Headphones” that speaks to the temptation to stay in our own world as the rest of the world goes to hell. Its poignant and has resonated in my spirit the last few days.
I awoke this Palm Sunday to the news that cowardly suicide bombers had killed at least 50 people in two different attacks as they worshiped this last Sunday before Easter. My heart hurt for my brothers and sisters. There are no borders when it comes to pain, empathy, hope and help.
“In the world of grace there are no borders.”
I Can’t See –
This morning, in a worship service, Beth and I picked out our chairs, made ourselves comfortable and joined in on the song the praise team was singing. A mom with a boy was in front of us also worshipping. I wondered if they were new to the church we most often attend because I had never seen them before and oftentimes parents who are visiting a new church are hesitant to leave their child with the unknown folks who teach Sunday school and Children’s Church. A few songs into the worship team’s set her husband joined her standing directly in front of me. She was petite he was tall, at least 6’4, broad-shouldered, a mountain of a man.
A few moments passed and he bent down and picked his son up so he could see the worship team which means I now couldn’t see most of the stage. It wasn’t the end of worship but it was different not being able to see the team and the screen with the words. So, I closed my eyes and listened to the words being sung, allowed the music to direct and guide me. It’s always interesting when, for whatever reason, you are quiet in your spirit and simply listen, allowing a song to resonate in your soul. You move from performing in worship and it becomes something more.
“O’ Lord, may our silence be your praise,
and our stillness dancing.” #BrianLoging
The lawn caretakers for the church next door came early this morning, before 7AM. Luckily I was already up and taking the dog outside for his morning routine. As I stood there, in my bathrobe, I heard a noise over the sound of the zero turn lawn mowers. At first I couldn’t make it out but as I focused on the sound it became clear someone was singing. It was one of the men on the mowers. He had headphones on and whatever song was playing he was singing along with it. I began to smile. He hadn’t seen me and continued for a while bellowing at the top of is lungs. Before long he noticed me, quieted down until me and the dog went inside.For a lawn jockey he was a decent singer. He didn’t need to be any more talented than what he was because his purpose was to mow grass, take care of lawns, not entertain folks with his musical abilities.
The incident reminded me of a professor I had in college. I asked him one day; “How can we, who are so frail, weak, selfish, short-sighted and sinful, so human, ever please a God who is so good?” He smiled and took a pen from his shirt pocket and pointed out the scratches, dings and dents, faded color of the imitated gold casing and asked me; “What is the purpose of this pen? Is it to look good? Impress by its shine? Cause awe to all who behold it? Or, is it to write when pressed on to a piece of paper?” “To write.” I said. “Then it is a perfect pen because it fulfills its purpose. As long as it writes, its perfect no matter what it looks on the outside. In the same way our purpose is to love and be loved by God. Oftentimes we aren’t much to look at but if we desire to love and be loved by our Heavenly Father we are fulfilling our purpose and His love is what makes us perfect.”
He was a wise man.
This morning an elderly man chose the pew in front of me for the worship service. His choice of place was based on it being near one of the large wooden decorative beams located in the sanctuary. He had great difficulty sitting and standing so he used the beam
to steady himself. The church building itself was supporting him. When it came time to go to the front of the sanctuary to receive communion he slowly raised himself and made his way forward. The older gentleman couldn’t bend his knees at the railing as the priest served the body and the blood so the priest reached out to him to make sure he was served, included.
As I watched and reflected on the scene it was a beautiful reminder of what the community of faith should be, what we’re called to do. There are hurt, broken, scarred people who we encounter both inside and outside the church. We aren’t called to heal them, only God can do that. Our purpose is to include, support, serve and love them in every way possible.
Earlier this afternoon I took the dogs outside and noticed an elderly couple parked in a church parking lot that is adjacent to our house. The man was changing a tire while the woman stood over his shoulder watching, supervising (insert joke here). Several cars were leaving their church parking spaces at this time but none of the ones I saw stopped to offer help.
Once the pooches had done their thing we went back inside and I went out the front door to see if I could lend them a hand. However, by that time someone had already pulled over and was assisting them. The person helping looked as if they were headed to a lake or pool.
I was thankful for the good Samaritan but concerned by the perceived apathy of the “Sunday morning crowd.”
The last several weeks I’ve seen plenteous Facebook posts, listened to loud complaints, witnessed brothers and sisters in Christ speaking and acting in non-Christ like ways as they’ve lamented gay marriage, attacked Planned Parenthood, berated the Muslim faith and lambasted politicians on both sides.
Some of these issues are worth our concern, prayer and action to be sure but if we drive past folks who obviously need our help, without even a second glance, I just don’t understand what we’re doing or who we’re actually doing it for.
This morning I put on my “good shoes” for an important presentation to a group of highly respected people. These are my shiny, black, fancy dress shoes that I wear with one of the few suits I own. I’ve had these shoes for several years but they still hurt my feet because they’re not worn enough to get broken in. Mostly they’ve taken me to weddings, funerals, other important services and events. I’d much rather wear a pair of tennis shoes or flip flops but there are occasions when only my “good shoes” will do.
As I reflect upon my journey over the last year and the places my “good shoes” have accompanied me I realized most have been painful, even heart breaking. I wore them to a service when I said; “goodbye” to friends I loved. They were on my feet when I laid my dear friend Mary to rest.
No one’s ever promised an easy journey and sometimes “good shoes” are required.
She was a conservatively dressed, hat wearing, gray haired elder. He was an earring dangling, boot stomping, faded jean sporting country boy, a cross between a hipster and Kenny Chesney. They made an incredibly odd pair. Yet, this morning, I watched as he gently helped her up from her seat and walked her down the aisle for morning communion. I couldn’t help but smile and wonder if they were related, this strange mix of people. Then it dawned on me, of course they’re related because we’re all family, one, human.
It’s easy to forget we’re part of the same species. Our differences in skin color, political affiliations, cultures, languages, geographic locations are used by those in power to rip us apart by trying to get us to focus on what separates us.
Wisdom, however, speaks amid the fractious voices and reminds us that what we have in common is far greater than what divides us. The question, as always, will we listen?
Being kind… So simple, so powerful. I met some kind men today. They helped me and Beth unload a moving truck with all of our stuff….a lot of stuff. Almost twenty five years of co-habitating has generated a large amount of furniture, boxes and memorabilia of our adventures together. The guys showed up early and quickly unloaded all the contents, set up our bed and did it with humor and grace. This enormous act of kindness was greatly appreciated.
Not everyone can move a heavy couch or has a truck to take a left behind entertainment center to the dump but each of us can do something nice, impactful for someone.
Being kind to one another changes the other and changes us…both for the better.
What a fantastic and indicting quote by Thomas Merton…
To love others for who they are not for what we want them to be or for the self reflection we see in them.
I remember when first starting out as a pastor and the image I wanted to portray. I longed for my parishioners to see me as the perfect pastor. It even extended to my wife. I had a picture in my mind of what a perfect pastor’s wife should be and of course it was an image that made me look wonderful.
The problem was two fold. One; no one ever suffered from the illusion I was perfect and two; I made my wife and myself miserable. Neither one of us fit the image of perfect pastor or pastor’s wife. Once we stopped trying to be people we weren’t were we able to love and be loved.
Too often we love others for the us we see inside them or we try to force them to live up to our image of the perfect spouse, parent, sibling, friend, co-worker and end up making everyone miserable.
Only when we allow others to be themselves, find their path, choose to love them for who they are not who we want them to be, will we have true, healthy, and lasting relationships.
(Thomas Merton’s advice to a priest in 1968 reflected his own evolving sense of his monastic and priestly vocation. It also strongly mirrors my own. – bdl)
“Couldn’t you be a sort of ‘underground priest’ in lay clothes? In other words it seems to me that you might be called to a kind of hidden service in the sort of unofficial and informal life you desire.
In short, be like a layman, live like a layman, but do some of the priestly work and service along with it… All the more reason to get out of the ordinary patterns and yet to be a priest nevertheless, and work in a quiet, relaxed relationship with people you can relate to without too much difficulty. After all, you are always going to have to relate to people.
See your priesthood not as a role or an office, but as just part of your own life and your relation to other persons. You can bring them Christ in some quiet way, and perhaps you will find yourself reaching people that the Church would not otherwise contact.”