Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Ever Feel Trapped?

Reagan At Seven Months

Slap The Water (2 Kings 2:1-18)

In the fall of 1980, some thirty four years ago, I was a long haired, lonely night clerk at a Minneapolis 7-11 convenience store in search of God’s direction for my life.  I spent most of four months that fall reading, praying, fantasizing about a more musical life, writing bad poetry and walking Minneapolis streets in search of God and myself.  Many of my long walks brought me to downtown Minneapolis, often Hennepin Avenue, where the conversation and the people were always much more interesting.  Hennepin Avenue was a lot nastier then than it is now; pornography, drugs, crime and prostitutes were much more common and obvious.  But nobody ever really bothered me since I looked just as strange and lost as anyone else on the street…

One Sunday morning after getting off work, I took the University Avenue bus downtown, bought a paper and got a leisurely breakfast.  I liked downtown Minneapolis early on Sunday mornings; it was quiet, serene and almost eerie.  But that morning, I wandered into the early morning worship service of the Jesus People Church, which at that time was a large, boisterous charismatic congregation meeting in the old State Theater on Hennepin.  I arrived just as the worship band was finishing up and one of their feistiest pastors stood up to preach. 

He turned our attention that morning to an ancient story from the second book of Kings.  He excitedly retold the story of an old prophet named Elijah passing his mantle of leadership to an aggressive, younger prophet named Elisha.  It was a great Bible story and a great sermon!  It was a sermon almost surgically appropriate to the transitional, deeply searching condition of my soul; a sermon that absolutely changed my life.  It was a sermon I’ve never forgotten. 

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Prayers In The Desert (Job 23)

On my birthday eleven years ago, while pastoring at the Ely Baptist Church, I began a four week sermon series on the great problem of suffering.  We studied four different biblical characters in the series, but the first and most important character was an old man named Job.

          We all know the story of Job.  While even the pagans claim to know the story of Job – let’s stop for just a second anyway to remember exactly what happened and why.  In the first chapter of the book of Job, we read this utterly inexplicable and very troubling introduction:

One day the angels came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came with them.  The Lord said to Satan, "Where have you come from?"  Satan answered the Lord, "From roaming through the earth and going back and forth in it."  Then the Lord said to Satan, "Have you considered my servant Job?  There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil."  "Does Job fear God for nothing?"  Satan replied. "Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has?  You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land.  But stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face."  The Lord said to Satan, "Very well, then, everything he has is in your hands, but on the man himself do not lay a finger."  Then Satan went out from the presence of the Lord.   

And we all know what happened next, don't we?  

Thanks a lot, God!  Thanks for the compliment!  Job lost almost everything of any value to him and then spent the next 42 chapters complaining to God, arguing with some very unhelpful, very religious friends and, finally at the very end, having a blunt encounter with God that clarified everything for him – at least the stuff that could and should be clear for all of us. 

And yet we still struggle to understand suffering.  And some folks don’t think the book of Job helps much…some say Job is as mysterious to us as the problem of suffering it discusses. 

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Poisoned (James 3:1-12)

Last week, I was getting gas near our home in Madison as a large, black SUV getting gas next to us was blasting music through its open doors.  I was prepared to write it off as just another minor, city-life annoyance when the lyrics of the song turned ugly; the language was horrible, the vile disrespect of women absolutely staggering and the nastiness just went on and on.  Finally, with my Monica sitting right there in the car listening to all this garbage, I’d had enough.  I quite angrily told the man I thought his music was filthy and entirely too loud for a public place.  And predictably, the whole thing descended into a shouting match.  It was awful.

          On the evening of the election this week, Monica and I were at Anytime Fitness and, for some reason, I noticed again that someone had blocked out Fox News on the televisions.  The channel was listed, but the channel had been blocked.  This has been going on for months, but for some reason, wanting to watch just a little election coverage that night, it irritated me and I spoke up about it.  I didn’t yell, I tried to be nice, but I was bothered and I spoke up.

          Years ago, I was coming home from a movie one evening in San Francisco and I came across a man mistreating a pretty young woman on the city side street in front of me.  I spoke up.  I know people say that’s a risky thing to do, but it is not within me to be a bystander.

          I speak up.  I always speak up.  I spoke up in school and in my children’s school.  I spoke up in the Army.  I speak up at work, in my family and I’ve spent decades doing my best to speak up in church.  Sometimes I speak up nicely/politely and sometimes I speak up badly, sometimes I accomplish good things and sometimes I make things worse, but it is just not in my DNA to keep silence when I believe there is something that must be said.  I speak up.         

          Then there’s my little Monica.  If you’ve hung around me for any length of time, you’ve heard me regularly refer to my little Monica as my “hundred pounds of meanness.”  The phrase always makes us laugh because 1) it is almost impossible for a hundred pounds to be mean (and she always needs to clarify that she’s actually 105 pounds), 2) she’s the sweet, kind and gentle one in the family and 3) the only person in the world she ever speaks forcefully to is me!  The only time my sweet girl ever speaks up is when I’ve got a donut or a Circus Peanut in my hand!  And she has no problems whatsoever speaking up to me when she feels the need…

          Initially, when I looked at our Scripture passage for today, I found myself tempted to pronounce this passage a lesson for me, but not for Monica.  When James speaks forcefully about taming the tongue, he’s only talking to those who regularly use and misuse it.  Right?

          But that isn’t the case.  As always, this passage is much, much bigger than that.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Here Am I (Isaiah 6:1-8)

Almost 35 years ago, I was asked to preach at a campground service outside of Colorado Springs, Colorado.  It had been raining and miserable all day and our team had been very busy doing work projects since the early morning hours, leaving me only 15 minutes to prepare my message for the evening.  It was a completely ridiculous situation, so the first thing I did when I sat down to prepare was pray.  I prayed God would stop the rain so we could have the service.  I prayed God would give me whatever he wanted me to say that evening.  And then thirdly, I prayed lots of people would show up.  No sooner did I say amen on my prayer than a Bible passage, illustrations and sermon outline began to flood my mind.  Within five minutes, I had my text, my outline and my illustrations staring back at me from the notebook in front of me.  It was like taking dictation.  Five minutes after that, the rain suddenly stopped and within a few short minutes of the rain stopping, almost every campsite emptied out and our worship service grounds filled up.  We ended up having more people attend that service than any other all summer!  So I just knew God had plans for the evening.  I wasn’t disappointed…

Sunday, October 26, 2014

The Madness of Mercy - Deuteronomy 4

Mad City Sales on the Beltline in Madison, Wisconsin wants to be your car dealer!  I’m crazy Bob, and he’s crazy Tom, and we’ve got some crazy good deals for you!  We’ve given so many people such spectacular deals on outstanding preowned vehicles and taken in so many thoroughly excellent trades, now we’ve got a crazy number of used cars available at crazy good prices.  This is an absolutely spooky good time to buy a car at Mad City Sales – home of crazy good deals!  Come on down to Mad City Sales today, right now, this minute, and get rid of that old junker you’ve been just dying to unload.  Mad City Sales – where the deals are just crazy!

          Don’t you just love commercials like that?  Aren’t we all just sitting around our radios anxiously waiting for the opportunity to buy a used car from a couple of crazy guys?  Because everybody knows crazy people offer the very best overall used car buying experience, right?!

          Ludicrous!  Yet I think we try to sell God and his lavish, loving grace and mercy the same superficial way.  As I watch what is going on in churches around the world, sometimes I think we advertise Almighty God in much the same high pressure, high emotion, crazy huckster shilling a used car sort of way.  This merciful God is crazy!  All grace and mercy all the time!  All the holy without any of the heartache!  Come on down to the First Baptist Church of Iron River where crazy, constantly weepy and crazy wonderful Pastor Kevin has a spectacular deal for you on the crazy good grace of God!  Can I get an amen, my crazy brothers?  Let’s get crazy!

          While the grace of God is truly amazing in every good sense of the word, while we can and will talk about the staggering madness of God’s mercy this morning, there is a fuller story to be told.  There is a bigger story making the madness of God’s mercy even more amazing…

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

A Shot From Bucky...

Never underestimate what a small seed with time and perseverance can accomplish!

Ice Lake Quiet


A Baby Update...

I thought you all probably needed a baby update right about now.  She's doing great!  She learned to pull herself up and promptly fell out of her playpen!  Ah, the worry years have now officially begun...