Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Hope: Going to Seed

June 24, 2017

dandelion-flowers1My youngest daughter loves dandelions, particularly in two different stages. There is the blooming stage, when it can be applied like makeup to her face, and to the poor unsuspecting dog. And then the most fascinating stage when it goes to seed and just begs for children everywhere to blow the seed to all the neighboring lawns. When I hear the phrase, “going to seed,” I think that is the end of something. But what if we reversed that? What if the end is really the beginning?

In Christianity there are lots of reversals. In creation, a “day” begins at sundown, “And there was evening, then morning – the first day” (Gen 1:5). Jesus says, “The last will be first and the first will be last” (Matthew 20:16). So, when I think of hope as defined in Christianity I think the same metaphor applies.

Hope is sometimes defined as a wish like, “I hope I win the lottery,” or “I hope it doesn’t rain today.” There isn’t a lot invested in it, and the outcome, though disappointing, is not of great despair. However, this type of hope will not sustain you in crisis and adversity. And when I come to the end of my life, or just the end of a life-stage, this definition of hope leads only to depression, gloom and well, hopelessness.

4005f6afce37a7bdf7ade0c3677497ffWhen we hope, we are looking toward the future. But what happens as we age and “who I am” is more “what I was?” I think back to that dandelion in my daughter’s hand. I see her reach for the yellow ones, brushing them lightly upon her cheek. She chases the dog to rub the yellowy powder into her furry face. In a couple weeks, she will be just as happy to go out when those blooms she didn’t pick have turned to white seeds.

I think some of us believe life is at its best when in bloom. We can’t wait to grow: from shoot to bud then bloom. But we aren’t so attracted to the seed stage. We pick flowers right before they blossom for our loved ones and dry them to cherish their memory before they wilt too far. But what if in the end is the beginning? What if evening is the beginning of the new day? What is the last is the first?

o-grandparent-and-grandchildren-facebookSee, a flower, “blooms where its planted.” But the dandelion seed has the greatest adventure dancing upon the traces of the wind looking down from the sky to find a new green place to color with patches of gold. Do not despair. Have hope. The best is yet to come. When you come to the end of something see the beginning that will sprout from it. The potential in your seed outweigh the beauty of your once perfect bloom. When you feel that you are more defined but what you were think of the dandelion and have hope. A flower’s job is to make the next season brighter.

Redefining Fruitful Bible Study

April 1, 2017

peppersvegetable_94065_pepper_green_half-mMy daughter was working on her first grade class project about fruits and vegetables. She chose one of her favorite vegetables to study, the bell pepper. Come to find out her beloved vegetable was in fact a fruit. Which lead to the discovery that cucumbers, eggplants, sunflower seeds and others are also fruits. Simply defined, fruits are the seed bearing part of a plant. My salad has never been more confusing. I have been misled my entire life.

Often there are three responses to new information:

1) We will lose all faith in those who gave us misinformation, even if it wasn’t their fault or intent.

2) We will not accept the new data as true, holding fast to our old tradition.

3) We adjust our lives according to the truth.

Of course, all three options might have you going through the five stages of grief.

184112978For my family, this information excited and encouraged us to dig deeper into botany. Did you know there are some plants that can figure out the type of caterpillar eating its leaves by the saliva, and send out an effervescent distress call to insects that like to eat that particular species of caterpillar? That would have been cool to learn in school! A botanist on one of the nature shows said concerning plants being able to communicate, “most people will say I’m crazy; most scientists will say I am wrong and crazy.”
nixvhedden.001And then I read that in 1893 a unanimous Supreme Court decision concluded that for import tax purposes a tomato was a vegetable even though it was proven botanically a fruit. At that time fruit did not have an import tariff
whereas vegetables were taxed at about 10%. The court dismissed empirical evidence instead relying on the popular ordinary word usage and (I’m not making this up) that they were usually eaten during the main course of the meal and not as a dessert.

That got me to thinking about Bible study. How do I process new information either from the study of language, culture, history, etc. or from reading devotionally? Do I become forlorn, dismayed or even angry with my past spiritual teachers? Do I dismiss it in favor of the court of public opinion? Or do I embrace God’s revelation, dig deeper and, reform my thinking and living in light of this new discovery?

The 1950’s changed our understanding of covenants after the discovery of a treasure trove of ancient tablets. We now know that the ten commandments were small stones which do not resemble tombstones. And there were two stones, not to bifurcate the list into two categories but to act as a carbon copy one for each party.

shutterstock_222869548I hope we keep discovering and learning and reforming in our theology without being dismissive or lose faith. Keep reading your Bible, and when God speaks may we have receptive ears. Who knows when that, “still small voice” might become a, “crushing clamorous sound” calling us to redefine our beliefs.

Grace Demands a Response

January 7, 2017

honorgodGrace demands a response. Well, at least ancient grace. That is, the auction-gavel-2kind of grace in a honor/shame culture of the biblical era of the middle east. We live in a rights-driven culture. Our transactions are judicial rather than personal. Modern grace has a narrower definition.

The church accurately defines grace as, “a free gift of God, that you did not earn and do not deserve.” What is missing in our culture is the patron.

hqdefaultThe patron is the one who grants the gift. It is based upon favors and loyalty. Consider Don Corleone and the opening scene of The Godfather. This is an unequal partnership where the one granting the favor (the patron) expects absolute loyalty from the recipient. Grace demands a response of loyalty by way of respect in demeanor and action as well as publicizing the benefactor’s gift and gratitude. This Sicilian grace is similar to the other ancient Mediterranean cultures.

In our society, we also have something that resembles grace. When someone is laid-off or hurt on the job or has an issue that prevents them from being an active part of the workforce the government offers assistance. It too is a gift that “you did not earn and do not deserve.” It is a kindness. But the patron is lost in the mix. And in a rights-driven culture verses an honor-driven one the gratitude diminishes or altogether disappears. And soon people feel entitled to assistance so that the benefactor becomes the slave and the recipient becomes the deity-like patron.

But this is not a column concerning welfare. I am speaking to those of the faith who take their God-given grace cheap, doing as little as possible to show loyalty and gratitude to our Heavenly Patron. When we forget that grace in the Bible is a free gift that demands loyalty we become our own god expecting answered prayers or we walk away.

offerings-articleGod gave his all in his Son on our behalf. How can we not give our all back in gratitude? Isn’t that the meaning of baptism? There is a difference between paying someone back and paying them homage and gratitude. But I’m afraid little honor culture left in the Americanized church. We are not consumers and worship is not for us. In days of yore they to worship giving expensive sacrifices and long pilgrimages. Now many churches go to extreme expense to encourage and maintain memberships. Once sacrifices and gifts were turned away if they were not without blemish. Now the church welcomes hand-me-downs when members upgrade their own living-room idols. footballSunday used to be the Lord’s Day, now, as the movie Concussion says of football, “You’re going to war with a corporation that owns a day of the week.” From the fatted calf to the pigskin.

God’s grace demands a response, even a sacrificial one. We are indebted to Him. Begin this year right by demonstrating gratitude and loyalty to Christ above and beyond all other things.

Christmas Tree Symbolism

December 3, 2016

Anyone who knows me will know that I am a sucker for symbolism. The language of metaphor and symbolic expression is employed heavily during Christmas and has a rich history. Which is good because I’m also the type of guy that needs a good reason to wrestle a fake fir from the attic once a year and test myriad bulbs to find the one that is burnt out. If I am going through all this tedious work, there better be a good reason lest I become a Grinch.

The tree as a Christian symbol starts in the Garden of Eden where two trees resided, one that gave life and the other death. The New Testament begins with the Gospels and Christ’s death upon a cross (which Paul symbolically calls a tree) and ends with the Tree of Life in the book of Revelation. Similar symbols include the burning bush replicated in the Temple as a candelabra, and Israel as often depicted as an olive tree. It is no wonder that non-Jewish Christians erected Christmas trees as they interpreted the prophet Isaiah’s words, “The glory of Lebanon will come to you, the juniper, the fir and the cypress together, to adorn my sanctuary” (Isaiah 60:13).

St. Boniface used the symbolism of a fir tree to evangelize the Germans in the 8th century. By the 11thcentury churches put on plays in the churchyard decorating evergreens with apples and the children would act out the story of Adam and Eve’s fall. They also acted out the Nativity, Epiphany, Passion, and Pentecost, to teach the gospel in fun and creative ways since most people couldn’t read. Martin Luther in the 16th century brought the tree indoors and lit it with candles.

swirlychristmastree2cardFrom Boniface to Luther the tree took on specific meanings. The lit evergreen speaks to the light, life, and eternal love of Christ, especially in the stark winter where everything else seems dead. It points towards heaven and its triangular shape represents the Trinity. We top it with either a star or an angel, the first messengers of the Gospel to magi and shepherd, imploring us to spread the message as well. So we spread the message faithfully. God even describes himself as this festive conifer saying, “I am like an evergreen cypress, your faithfulness comes from me.” (Hosea 14:8)

I also want to remind you of the power of symbolic language. Not only can a picture convey a thousand words, it can also conceal that same message when it is in danger. Christianity has not always been welcomed and the church has often needed to communicate with stealth. We Christians may be returning to a new era of disdain and our public discourse may be challenged. When the blatantly Christian images are stripped from the public square we can still gather around the fake tree and whisper the truth when our children ask, “why does Daddy wrangle with that tree down two flights of stairs and fiddle endlessly with those lights?”

Bee Positively Encouraging

October 29, 2016

Exif_JPEG_PICTUREI love autumn and watching God’s creatures go about their business. There is plenty we can learn observing nature. While doing yard-work this week I witnessed Canada geese in formation hastening noisily to their southern retreat. Around the house my wife’s purple asters are filled with foraging bees. My kids enjoy watching the bees, (my dogs enjoy snapping at them). Sometimes we like to look at them with a magnifying glass. The whole family loves to watch the hive installation at the Franklin Public Library as well.

This past weekend while visiting Pittsburgh we happened to catch a lecture on bees at the Heinz History Museum. It was fascinating to learn about the behavior of bees in the hive. I have heard of the “waggle dance” which is their way of telling others where they just found some great pollen and nectar. We have seen the dance many times at the library. But what I didn’t know is that they also have other “dance moves.” They have a grooming dance which is their way of asking for help from the hive to either take care of mites on her back or clean some pollen off some hard to reach areas. There is also the tremble dance which is akin to a coach’s huddle encouraging each other with a vigorous pat on the back to get out there and produce for the good of the colony.

animals20waterfowl_wild20formationPositive communication goes a long way. Just as the bees use positive and helpful dialogue so do those geese flying overhead. Have you ever wondered why they are so noisy? I thought maybe they were complaining, “Are we there yet?” or, “He should have taken a left at that second cloud.” What researchers have discovered is something the opposite of the ways human talk and travel – they are encouraging the leader. See the geese use the formation to reduce air resistance for the flock but the one in the lead thus must work harder than the others. They aren’t complaining, they are cheering their champion through the resistance.

I think humanity needs some encouragement these days. Everyone seems to be bashing, muttering, complaining, and posting on social media. When the company is going well the praises are few and far between because well, it is supposed to be that way. Once production decreases then the meetings begin with reprimands. The Country, company, church or couples need plenty of positive communication.

This country needs a morale booster. Your neighbor, your church volunteer, your young and old need some tremble dancing. They also need to know that a grooming dance won’t receive ridicule but rather a faithful friend to help. And it starts with one to set the example.

teacher20stamp20kitWe are on this faith journey together. Let us, “encourage one another daily” (Hebrews 3:13). Those receiving the most resistance need our honking approval. Let’s goose our flying V with encouragement. Where others bicker and complain let us “be the bee” cheering on the hive. We’ve got this!

In God’s Image – Creator or Consumer?

August 20, 2016

lego_r7_c2Much has changed over the years and yet, “nothing is new under the sun.” The desires of Adam and Eve still drive the humanity today, only with cooler gadgets. This summer my girls participated in a Lego Robotics Workshop hosted by the Franklin Public Library. I was overjoyed to see them bent over Legos and laptops while creating in an air-conditioned room rather than bent over handheld screens, consuming a foreign-made app, and walking aimlessly around town. pokemon_goWe have shifted from creators to consumers. America used to create and consume, now we outsource the creation but continue to consume the products. There are some pockets of resistance like this robotics club and maker’s markets for that I am thankful. But overall we are falling back to the original lie in Genesis: to be godlike one consumes rather than creates.

When we think of the Greek pantheon and other ancient mythologies the gods are crafted in our image. What would we want if we were gods? We would want a lazy life, loyal subjects, and ample food and pleasures. The God of the Bible on the other hand was not created in our image, rather we were created in His likeness a creator who calls us to cultivate his garden.

amt-34-ford-5-window-coupe-model-kit-scale-1-25-unsealed-plastic-car-5f5b15322809a83c799e88733b8b84e2When I was young I played with toys of creation. We had Tonka Trucks, Lincoln Logs, Erector Sets, models, and (of course) Legos. Even the parents experienced the maker’s universe before Christmas as they conquered the chaos of multiple parts, tab A and slot B, building bikes and Barbie playhouses. As I grew I worked for my neighbors, mowing in the summers and shoveling in the winters. Money and extras were earned. My allowance came with dirty jobs like taking out the garbage and clearing the dinner table.

One of the problems with modern America is that there is less emphasis on the making and more on the taking, less on creating and more on consuming. The toys have changed from creating to consuming. Even video games went from level advancement based on skill to advancing based on in-app purchases. Kids aren’t eager to mow or do dirty jobs for an allowance. Afternoon commercials reveal the transformation. When I was home sick from school I saw Sally Struthers encouraging the unemployed on how they could receive new training. Now our afternoon commercials beg us to file lawsuits while staying unemployed.

adam26eveAdam and Eve, even without an iPhone, followed the same mentality. Why work when you can get it by consuming something? They were called to create and cultivate and instead they chose to partake in order to gain the benefits without the work. We forget that the Sabbath Commandment begins, “Six days you shall work…”

As school starts I urge the church and parents to re-cultivate the maker mentality for the next generation. Let us urge them to create more than they consume and therein find the pride of being made in God’s image.

Star Trek, Tikkun Olam, & Tending a Christian Positive Vision

July 16, 2016

leonard-mccoy-leonard-bones-mccoy-6347756-500-379This summer I began watching Star Trek. It started as a Netflix nightcap. I’m not nor have I been a Trekkie. Therefore, I humbly request grace from the Trek Nation. To parody Bones, “I’m a theologian not a astrosciencefictionist!”

Over the past couple years I am disheartened as I read the news feeds or watch the summer blockbusters. The movies are dystopian operas of adolescent angst out to purge some empire. The fiction feed reality as the populace arise in violent protest against whatever imperial aggression a various group is targeting. At night then, Star Trek offers sanctuary to explore new worlds of aliens that remind us being humane is supposed to be a human trait.

Star Trek, as I understand it, takes place in the future where society has improved. Basic needs are met for everyone. Earth is united, and the Enterprise’s mission is to seek new lands and cultures for curiosity rather than domination. This is a Edenic society for men and women of any color, creed, nationality, race, religion, and proclivity.

uhura_chekovOf course, when the original series aired it was the antithesis of 1966. The world was embroiled in a cold war (but Chekov was a navigator on the bridge of the Enterprise). It was the time of the National Organization for Women and the African-American Civil Rights Movement. Yet, before there were female astronauts or military officers in the USA, Star Trek’s Chief Communications Officer Uhura was a black woman. President Kennedy had been assassinated a couple years earlier, we were at war in Vietnam and protesters of various kinds marched the US streets.

It was written by Gene Roddenberry, a bomber pilot and police officer, who gave us a world where arguments were solved with words rather than wars. Star Trek gave us something better, a utopia to look towards. It was a reminder we are better than this and should strive to be better than this.

Our current trajectory mirrors the late 60’s/early 70’s with Russian conflicts, American rights under scrutiny, and a bogged down war in Asia. The world needs a new Star Trek conscience. We the church should write the script. The church has this future utopian society to share. I am worried sometimes we read the prophecies and focus less on the desert blooming and more on the destruction looming. Roddenberry said, “Star Trek speaks to some basic human needs: that there is a tomorrow.”

tikkun-olamThere is a Jewish saying called, “Tikkun Olam” translated as “Repairing the World.” From Genesis our first commands are protection and cultivation of the whole planet. Israel was a culture-busting nation. What other nation provides cities of refuge for the accused to have a fair trial for instance? Let us tone down the rhetoric and work to repair the world, to provide a vision of the utopia to be had, where the Joel 2 prophecy of male and female, slave and free, is as obvious in reality as it is on the fictional Enterprise bridge.

Mother’s Day in Church: Healthy or Harmful?

May 7, 2016

This weekend we celebrate mothers on a national scale. It began with the intent of bringing healing and has led to silent hurt. For churches it is one of the most quietly painful Sundays. While I believe we ought to embrace and thank our own mother I question how many people suffer silently on this celebrated Sunday?

ann-reeves-jarvis-program-cover-wvrhcLet me begin with its history. Anna Reeves Jarvis in the mid-1800’s organized a “Mother’s Work Day” to gain awareness and bring together mothers who lost children from both sides of the Civil War in order to care for the poor health and sanitary conditions.

After her death, her daughter, Anna Jarvis, sought to create a national, “Mother’s Day.” Following its commercialization, she lobbied for its abolishment saying, “I wanted it to be a day of sentiment, not profit.” She even opposed greeting cards saying it was, “a poor excuse for the letter you are too lazy to write.” Ms. Jarvis died in 1948 blind and poor, never having children of her own.

The holiday we celebrate today has become quite distant from its original intent. If ever there was a time for a holiday to unite the country it would be now. A holiday created to bring grieving mothers to the aid of the less fortunate in their communities; to have a movement of wounded healers, that would be something.

sculpture2_645_469_55On Mother’s Day Sunday I stand in the pulpit and see a different scene than the one promoted in commercials. I see the hurting more than the healing. I see the daughter who still grieves her mom who died too early. I see the empty seats of the lovely woman and her husband who went through many failed pregnancies and the mother of a stillborn who couldn’t find the strength to attend worship today. I see the women who never married, the woman who had to give up her child, the one who had an abortion, and the one who outlived her teen son.

Let us be thoughtful when honoring women for one aspect of womanhood that we do not do greater harm in the church. As I read my Bible I see many strong faithful women who struggled with motherhood for years. Their seats may have been empty tomorrow had they lived in our generation. I see faithful women like Hannah and Elizabeth who were barren for years, Naomi who lost her husband and two sons and her adopted daughter Ruth who lost her husband after 10 childless years. Remember Mary, a pregnant teen due to unusual circumstances. And so the list goes. I wonder how a similar woman feels on Sunday when she gets a consolation door prize though not a mother. This a holiday was meant to bring hurting moms and young widows together and to encourage us to remember our own mothers before they are gone. So let us honor your mother but quietly and not at the expense of other faithful childless women.

Having an honorable witness & positive difference

February 26, 2016

Since our nation’s origins Christianity has played a major role in the public square and the marketplace. When I lived in New England it was plainly evident in the design of their towns. Thinking of America as the new Promised Land they laid out their streets and property in a similar manner of the Israelite camp around the Tabernacle. Instead of a Tabernacle in the center, the central town square was home to the Meetinghouse which was the government building during the week and where the church worshipped on Sunday.
The Puritan worldview also produced laws concerning morality and prohibited certain activities on Sundays, later known as Blue Laws. After a while these laws waned until the suffrage and prohibition movements in the 19th century. Even today in PA certain blue laws remain including no hunting or purchasing vehicles on Sundays. Some of the older generation may remember a time when restaurants and stores were also closed.
The laws’ intentions were to create an opportunity to witness to non-Christians about our care and concern for their body and soul. The ordinances were based upon the Sabbath law of the Ten Commandments requiring a day off from work for everyone including slaves and beasts of burden. Sadly, what began as a blessing became a burden as the intent became lost in the enforcement. So instead of a way to say thank you to unbelievers and a enter into dialogue about why we care it became a prejudicial demarcation of, “us vs. them.” People were turned off by the restrictions and the religious rhetoric of condemnation along with the public disgrace and fines for breaking the laws. The law was meant to give grace but it was received as a punishment.When restaurants were closed it was so that the employees could attend church but they didn’t want to go because the church was so legalistic. So in time the laws changed and now restaurants happily serve on Sundays.

But is it better? The Blue Laws were meant to put God and the church in a good light and failed because we focused on the breaking of it rather than on the blessing of it. The lifting of the Blue Laws gave the church a chance to be a blessing. However, I wonder if you ask restaurant workers if they feel serving Christians on Sunday is a blessing.

As Christians when in the public eye we should be an honorable witness that leaves a positive difference. 1 Peter 2:12 says our behavior should be excellent among those different than us, “that they see your good deeds and glorify God.” I hope that when we visit a restaurant or store en mass Sunday afternoons that those employees are glad they waited on us because we tip better, complain less, are more gracious when the place is busy, and ask how we might brighten their stressful day. Philippians 2:14f encourages us to, “do everything without grumbling and arguing… shining like stars in the sky.”

Planet Nine & the Christian’s Orbit

January 30, 2016

       Recently a credible new scientific paper came forth suggesting the existence of a “new planet nine” in our solar system. It’s the new nine because a few years ago Pluto’s status was demoted to “dwarf planet.” If this was a German publication I could start a whole pun run, but it isn’t and I’m not supposed to write as a pundit in this column anyway. Oops, one of those puns got away from me. But I digress.
      I’m excited by this planet nine theory. Interestingly we have evidence of it’s effect but no actual visual evidence of the planet itself. We have no pictures of it and no verifiable data it is there as of yet. Even Pluto in its diminutive state was visible long before the New Horizons probe gave us amazing close-up pictures this past year. This new planet nine is projected to be 10 times the size of Earth (whereas Pluto is 1/6th our size). We assume this large planet exists by the orbits of smaller objects.
     What we know is that there are six objects that are aligned on the same axis and have their orbits affected by the same gravitational pull best explained by that of a nearby planet. Emily Lakdawalla, Senior Editor of the Planetary Society, says that for this to happen by chance would be 0.007%. Scientist Journalist Bob McDonald says, “It’s like seeing a disturbance on the surface of water but not knowing what caused it. Perhaps it was a jumping fish, a whale or a seal. Even though you didn’t actually see it, you could make an informed guess about the size of the object and its location by the nature of the ripples in the water.”

     As a pastor and, more simply, a Christian this intrigues me. Scientists are now going to study this phenomenon with great interest and have calculated quite a bit of info from something we don’t actually know exists. They believe it exists (by a margin of 99.993% no less) because of how this invisible heavenly body affects just six small objects by its orbit out of a gazillion in the Kuiper Belt. Yet some would mock that Christianity is a myth about a heavenly body that affects the lives of those who follow God’s orbit, if you will.

     The Bible did say, “The heaven’s declare the glory of God.” And my prayer is that the more Christians actually align their orbit faithfully with God that others will see our data and look for that mysterious and wondrous Lord at our center.

       It reminds me of a scene from the movie “A Beautiful Mind” between genius John Nash and his fiancé about love. He says, “I need some kind of proof; verifiable empirical data.”

“Well, how big is the universe?”


“How do you know?”

“Because all the data indicates it.”

“But has if been proven?”


“Have you seen it?”


“How do you know for sure?”

“I don’t. I just believe it.”

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