Wednesday, August 10, 2016

God Bless Our Teachers

Today, teachers in Hillsborough County (Tampa, FL) go back to work.  They have been preparing their classrooms, preparing lesson plans, receiving training and getting ready for a new school year. Today, the students arrive!  In a few parts of the country this has already occurred; in other regions it is yet to come. In any case, these dedicated men and women prepare to face a new group of students under increasingly difficult situations.  Many are not paid as well as they should be. Some face budget crunches that force them to purchase many of their own supplies. They will encounter difficult students, difficult parents, difficult school boards...and local politicians who simply don't get it. The simple fact that so many of them return to their schools today to fight these battles should earn them our unending respect and admiration.

It should also earn them our prayers. Wherever you are, whether school has already begun or doesn't start for a few weeks yet, make today a day of prayer for the teachers you know.  Ask God to bless them, protect them, encourage them and inspire them. And then ask the teachers in your life what you can do to help them this year. We count on teachers to make a difference in the lives of our children. Let's use today as a springboard to make a difference in the lives of those teachers. To those of you who continue in this most noble profession- and I am blessed to call many of you, from all over this nation, my friends- may God grant you wisdom, energy, insight and serenity as you go through this school year. You are loved!

Because of Jesus,

Sunday, August 7, 2016

We All Fall Down

The following lesson comes from the ragamuffin soul of the late Brennan Manning. I believe that you- just like me- will be able to see yourself in these words. We all fall down. And then Jesus picks us up, dusts us off, and we start all over again- fresh, clean and new. Have a blessed Sabbath.

“Because salvation is by grace through faith, I believe that among the countless number of people standing in front of the throne and in front of the Lamb, dressed in white robes and holding palms in their hands (see Revelation 7:9), I shall see the prostitute from the Kit-Kat Ranch in Carson City, Nevada, who tearfully told me that she could find no other employment to support her two-year-old son. I shall see the woman who had an abortion and is haunted by guilt and remorse but did the best she could faced with grueling alternatives; the businessman besieged with debt who sold his integrity in a series of desperate transactions; the insecure clergyman addicted to being liked, who never challenged his people from the pulpit and longed for unconditional love; the sexually abused teen molested by his father and now selling his body on the street, who, as he falls asleep each night after his last 'trick', whispers the name of the unknown God he learned about in Sunday school. 

'But how?' we ask. 

Then the voice says, 'They have washed their robes and have made them white in the blood of the Lamb.' 

There they are. There *we* are - the multitude who so wanted to be faithful, who at times got defeated, soiled by life, and bested by trials, wearing the bloodied garments of life's tribulations, but through it all clung to faith. 

My friends, if this is not good news to you, you have never understood the gospel of grace.” 

― Brennan ManningThe Ragamuffin Gospel: Good News for the Bedraggled, Beat-Up, and Burnt Out

Because of Jesus,

Thursday, August 4, 2016

A Trump In the Temple

"Be smart," they told me. "Avoid politics and religion," they told me.  Smart was never my strong suit...

There seems to be a lot of confusion and debate in both the media and the Christian community about why Donald Trump has become an acceptable candidate for the Evangelical church. There should be no confusion at all. It's a simple matter. Since the rise of the Moral Majority in the late 1970s, Christian leaders have been consistent in voice and committed to the idea that real Christians vote Republican. That's nearly 40 years of indoctrination for the average Sue and Joe who fill a pew on Sunday morning. Many of our pastors and leaders have made it very clear- a vote for a Republican candidate is a vote for Jesus. So the logical conclusion- and this reckless course we are now on- was inevitable. The fact that Mr. Trump has nothing in common with most conservatives, evangelicals, Christians or even many Republicans doesn't matter. Trump has no relationship with the church; he seemingly discovered the need for a belief system just in time to run for office and lure in voters. The leaders  have spoken for 40 years, and we have learned. He is a Republican. So vote for him. And based on poll numbers, much of the mainstream evangelical Church seems prepared to do just that - or at least they did until he began once again showing his true colors these past few weeks.

My point? We've spent too many years listening to the wrong voices. We have bought into the thinking that voting for a specific party is the way to "return our nation to God." Many of these leaders may have meant well, but the fact is they forgot the most important thing. Only one voice should speak for the Christian community. And that voice belongs to Jesus.

What would The Christ have to say about The Donald? Obviously I don't know. But there are things we do know. We know that Trump has said that winning is all that matters, that he lives for the art of the deal and that money is power. We know that he singles out specific groups of people that he finds unworthy of love and support. We know that he considers himself as a superior human being to many on this planet. We know that while Jesus said, "Blessed are the peacemakers," Trump responds to every situation with confrontation and bomb slinging. And we know that all of those things are in direct contradiction of the teaching of Jesus. It is true that most politicians (indeed, most people) do poorly when their character and beliefs are compared to the Messiah. Hillary is no exception; her faults are many. But at least she is not pretending to be a Christian for the purpose of being elected, having spent her life as an active part of the United Methodist Church. All of us fall short of the example of Christ. But few fail the test as completely as Trump.

So how should the Church view the Republican nominee? Here's my take- and I fully confess it is a judgmental one. I think we should recognize that if the Christian community backs Trump, then we are opening the door to a money changer in the temple. You remember the story of how Jesus responded to them. He overturned tables, scattered their followers and threw them out of the temple. If we put Trump in the White House by allowing him into the temple, thinking he will lead our nation on the path of God, we should do it with the full knowledge that Jesus will probably have to throw him out. Or at least remind us that we should...

I wish I thought the Church would come around to understanding that politicians and patriotism cannot save us, only Jesus can- and he came for the world, NOT just for USAmerica. I wish our leaders would acknowledge that Trump may be a good politician but he's a horrible human being, and that the latter is much more important than the former. I wish the believers who scream "SOCIALISM" at every mention of the right sharing of resources in our nation would pause and read Acts 2:42. I wish lots of things. But right now, my biggest wish finds me in agreement with something my old friend Jacob Lupfer posted on Twitter a while back. I wish a year ago we had lined up behind Jeb Bush and given our nation a rational choice in November. Instead, we are starring into the abyss that would be a Trump in the temple. Vote for Trump if you must. But do not do it because he represents Jesus is any way, shape or form. Because he does not.

Because of Jesus,

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Tuesday Playlist: Billy Joel

Can't really explain why (well, I could....but you don't really want to know) but this past weekend I found myself setting my iPod to "Billy Joel" and just letting it play. I even bought a few hidden gems I had been missing since the days when I owned most all of his albums. I have been a fan of Billy since the mid 70's, and my wife is one of his biggest fans. I first saw Billy in concert when he was the opening act for The Beach Boys in Greensboro back in 1974. We have seen him numerous times since, including twice in one week in April of 1994 in NC and with Sir Elton John in Chicago in 2001. We love Billy. 

Listening to so many great songs made me wonder if I could possibly narrow the list to a Top 10. It was quickly apparent that the answer was NO. So instead, I set my trusty iPod to shuffle and let it pick 10 great Billy Joel songs for you today. Hope this will bring back some memories for you as well- or send you searching for some great new (to you!) music! Sing us a song Billy- you're the Piano Man!

  1. Matter of Trust (from the album The Bridge)
  2. The Ballad of Billy the Kid (from Piano Man)
  3. The Longest Time (from An Innocent Man)
  4. Entertainer (from Streetlife Serenade)
  5. We Didn't Start the Fire (from Storm Front)
  6. This Night (from An Innocent Man)
  7. Scenes from an Italian Restaurant (from The Stranger)
  8. You May Be Right (from Glass Houses)
  9. Just the Way You Are (from The Stranger)
  10. Prelude/Angry Young Man (from Turnstiles)

Monday, August 1, 2016

HIMYM Monday: Robin Sparkles

In one of the classic early episodes of the great series How I Met Your Mother (Slap Bet, Season 2 Episode 9) Barney asks the gang to go with him to the grand opening of a new Sharper Image store. Everyone is in- until Robin learns it is at the local mall. She balks, refuses to go, and refuses to tell them why. After a wild series of events in which Barney thinks she was a mall porn star and Marshall thinks she got married in a mall, Ted tries to pin her down- but to no avail. Marshall and Barney make a Slap Bet as to which of them is correct (more on that in a later post). Finally, after much research, Barney discovers a video (which he thinks is porn) and they all sit down to watch together. They discover that to Robin's great embarrassment that in the early 90's she was a teenage pop star in Canada, performing under the name Robin Sparkles. And this was her big hit... 

As the seasons pass, they gang discovers that there are more videos of Ms. Sparkles floating around. Sandcastles in the Sand plays an important role the first time Robin and Barney hook up. P.S. I Love You introduced the world to Robin Daggers, a darker version of Sparkles who "invented grunge music" at the Grey Cup halftime show, years after Kurt Cobain thought he invented grunge. Robin Sparkles was that important to music history. We also learn of her obsession with Paul Shaffer and the wonders of Tim Horton's doughnuts. 

There was one other Sparkles story. Robin and her best friend Jessica Glitter had been on a children's TV show in Canada called Space Teens- a show about math. The big song from the show was called Two Beavers are Better Than One. Seriously. Needless to say, Barney goes back to assuming it is porn. We also learn that Robin and Jessica have lost touch over the years. The gang reunites them a New York's premier Canadian themed bar, The Hoser Hut. And a musical reunion ensues as well...

As I have mentioned many times, one of the things that set this show apart for me was the great continuity. The Robin Sparkles stories, spread out over many seasons, are a huge part of that. And on a personal note, my old friend Steve and I still text random Sparkles lyrics to each other just for fun. Have a "Sparkling" Monday. And should go to the mall. Today.