God Is Watching Us

kid cookie

The children were lined up for lunch in the cafeteria of a Catholic elementary school. At the head of the table was a large pile of apples. After watching them for a while, the supervising nun wrote a sign and posted it on the apple tray:

“Take only ONE. God is watching!”

The children kept moving further along through the line, where at the other end of the table was a large pile of chocolate chip cookies. One of the children looked at the cookies and then wrote a sign that read: “Take all you want. God is watching the apples.”[i]

It is amazing how do not change as we get older. We fool ourselves into believing that God is only watching certain sins. We arrogantly like to believe God is only watching those sins we have self-righteously assigned more weight to, namely, the sins of those people.

Jesus once asked a very good question: “Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye” (Matthew 7:3)?

[i] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/08/marlo-thomas-laugh-of-the-day-apples-cookies-and-a-nun_n_1757718.html

Grateful for My Injuries

Running the OBX Marathon in Bo’s Memory

Last November, I was registered to run the Richmond Marathon. Then, I injured my hip. I notified the Richmond Marathon of my injury, and they graciously allowed me to defer my registration to this November. Then, I injured my knee.

Many people have told me that they are praying that I am able to run the marathon next November.

I began running marathons in 2007 with a group from the Oakmont Baptist Church of Greenville, North Carolina who proudly call themselves: “Oakmont Runners for Bo.” Bo was the only son of Rev. Beth and Tommy Thompson. Bo, a high school track star, was tragically killed in a car accident shortly after I took up running. I ran my first marathon with the group wearing a shirt bearing Bo’s name.

Running in Bo’s memory has helped me to keep life in perspective. It has also influenced my prayer life. Having been given the gift of nearly thirty years on this earth longer than Bo, thirty undeserved years, it is very difficult for me to pray for a pain-free hip or for comfortable knees.

Instead, I pray thanking God that I had the health and the ability to run and to risk injury. I pray thanking God that I have lived long enough to run almost 20 marathons. Instead of praying that I may be able to run another race, I pray thanking God that I was ever able to run any race.

I am afraid that too much of our prayer life is about asking God for more things, instead of about thanking God for the things we have. More often than not, we pray for God to keep us safe and secure from all alarms, instead of praising God for the inexplicable gift of life where risk and injury are inherent.

This Thanksgiving Season, may we truly count our blessings and name them one by one: life; breath; mobility; sunrises and sunsets; cups of coffee with a friend; sitting on the porch watching the rain; a warm embrace; love; and the list goes on and on and on.

Prayer Works. So Let’s Go to South Carolina!

Missions TrailerEastern North Carolinians, including myself, know the devastation of flood waters all too well. That is why we have been praying for our neighbors throughout South Carolina. We pray, because we believe prayer works.

Pope Frances once said this about prayer: “You pray for the hungry. Then you feed the hungry. That’s how prayer works.”

Prayer works, and prayer creates work.

Prayer generates empathy and sacrificial efforts. Prayer fosters unreserved love and extravagant acts of grace. Prayer encourages boundless compassion and generous acts of mercy. Prayer creates risk. Prayer creates responsibility.

So you know what this means, don’t you? If we have been praying for South Carolina, and we believe prayer works, then we must go to South Carolina and work!

First Christian Church recently purchased a missions trailer that we are currently stocking with tools, materials and supplies to help our neighbors in times such as this. We are planning to lead a mission trip to South Carolina November 15 – 21. We welcome all who have been praying for South Carolina to join us.

If you are interested in donating or participating in any way, please contact our church office at (252) 753-3179. You may also contribute by supporting our Fall Festival for Missions on November 7.

And please, keep praying!

God Wills Diversity

subwayOriginally Published in the Farmville Enterprise, August 2014.

Some of you may remember the infamous response of a Atlanta Braves pitcher when he was asked in 1999 by Sports Illustrated if he would ever play for the New York Mets or New York Yankees. He said:

I’d retire first. It’s the most hectic, nerve-racking city. Imagine having to take the No. 7 train to the ballpark looking like you’re riding through Beirut next to some kid with purple hair, next to some queer with AIDS, right next to some dude who just got out of jail for the fourth time, right next to some 20-year-old mom with four kids. It’s depressing… The biggest thing I don’t like about New York are the foreigners. You can walk an entire block in Times Square and not hear anybody speaking English. Asians and Koreans and Vietnamese and Indians and Russians and Spanish people and everything up there.

The story of the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11 teaches us that what the baseball pitcher said “racked his nerves” in the world, is what God, in fact, wills for the world.

In verse 4 we read that the purpose of building the tower was to avoid what depresses some on the No. 7 train leaving Manhattan for Queens, and to avoid what can be heard in Times Square. The purpose of settling in Shinar and building that tower was to live in a world with no foreigners, no confusing babbling in the streets, no queers or kids with purple hair to encounter on the way to work, no eating in the marketplace with people on strange diets, no rubbing elbows with people wearing weird clothes, head coverings or dots on their foreheads. So they came together and said, let’s build a tower of unity “to not be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”

And God responded to their fear by “scattering them over the face of the whole earth,” by creating a world of diverse languages and cultures, by creating a world of foreigners.

God was only accomplishing what God had always willed for the creation: diversity. In chapter one of Genesis, we read that the original plan for creation was for humankind to “multiply and fill the earth.” And after the flood in chapter ten we read where God sanctions and wills all nations to be “spread out over the earth” (Gen 10:32).

Simply put, from the very beginning of time, in spite of our will, in spite of our fear, God wills diversity.

Therefore, if we ever act or speak in any manner that denigrates or dehumanizes another because of their race, language, nationality or ethnicity, we are actually disparaging the God who willed such diversity. According to Genesis, diversity is not to be feared or avoided. If we want to do the will of God our creator, diversity is to be embraced.

In other words, if we love God, we will also love our neighbor.

Rain, Faith, Hope and Love

too much rainRain is good. We need rain, but we don’t need so much rain. There is such a thing as too much rain.

I suppose that rain is like most things in life. Moderation, they say, is the key. Eat and drink, but don’t eat and drink too much. Have a little dessert, but have a little dessert. Don’t overdo it.

The same thing could even be said about faith. Muslims and Christians calling for the deaths of one another is an example of extreme faith or too much faith. Too much faith, one could argue, leads to closed-mindedness, bigotry, self-righteousness and even violence.

So have faith, but don’t overdo it. Always respect the freedom of those who have different faiths and even those who have no faith.

What about hope? Have you ever known anyone who hoped too much? They hoped so much that they literally lost touch with reality or got stuck in the past. It is one thing to hope for the possibility of good new days, but it is quite another to hope for the return of good old days.

So hope, but don’t overdo it. Be real with hope. Hope for the future; not for the past. Elvis is not coming back.

What about love? Can we love too much? Can we overdo it with love?

One who has experienced the heartbreak of grief may quickly answer: “Yes.”

However, after thinking about it, I believe most would answer: “No!” Because although loving another will inevitably bring some pain, never loving another, and never being loved by another, is unthinkable. Overdoing love may lead to heartache, but restricting love leads to something much worse.

Garth Brooks once sang, “I could have missed the pain, but I’d have had to miss the dance.” In other words, the only way to miss pain in life is to miss love in life. But to miss love in life is to never really live.

So love. Love freely, unconditionally and unreservedly. Overdo it. Never limit love and never moderate love. Never love “a little.” Love until you think you can’t love anymore. Love until you realize that you can never love too much. Love until it becomes clear that love never fades, and love never fails.

And now rain, faith, hope and love abide, these four; and the greatest of these is love.

Hating on the Pope

pope francisMany people were shocked when they learned that there are people in the United States calling for the assassination of Pope Francis as a response to the pontiff’s call for European Catholics to shelter asylum seekers from Syria. Someone wrote, “White people need to be protected from the genocidal anti-white Pope and the genocidal anti-white religion he pushes.” Another wrote: “The pope deserves to be executed for crimes against the White race.”

But should Christians be shocked?

Over and over Jesus taught his disciples “that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed” (Mark 8:31). I believe Jesus was essentially saying:

When you preach the word of God that cuts like a sword; when you love all people and try to teach others to love all people; when you preach a grace that is extravagant and a love that is unconditional; when you talk about the need to make room at the table for all people, even for folks called “illegal” or “aliens”; when you stand up for the rights of the poor and the marginalized; when you proclaim liberty to the oppressed and say that their lives matter; when you defend, forgive and friend sinners caught in the very act of sinning; when you tell lovers of money to sell their possessions and give the money to the poor; when you command a culture of war to be peacemakers; when you command the powerful to turn the other cheek; when you call religious leaders hypocrites and point out their hypocrisy; when you criticize their faith without works, their theology without practice, and their tithing without justice; when you refuse to tolerate intolerance; when you humble yourself and do these things that I do,” says Jesus, “then the self-righteous powers-that-be will rise up, and they will hate. They will hoist their colors, and they will grab their guns. They will come against you with all that they have, and they will come against you in name of God. They will do anything and everything that is in their power to stop you, even if it means killing you.

Therefore, the hate that is in our world for Pope Francis should not surprise us. But it should raise a few questions. Among them are: “Why am I not hated for my faith?” “Why have I never been threatened for my faith?” “Why do I feel so safe and secure in my faith?”

Get a Life: Six Things the Church Must Get to Live

get a lifeThe Christian faith is essentially about new life. Christ is about renewing, reviving and resurrecting life.

This is why it is so troubling that many churches are dying today, and why it is even more troubling that many more churches, in spite of their buildings, budget and attendance, as far as the world is concerned, are essentially dead.

Here are six things that I believe the church must get in order to get a life:

Get Together

The Christian faith is about coming together as a community. The first thing Jesus did to give birth to the Kingdom was to call together a community of disciples to share the good news of God’s love with others. The Christian faith is personal, but Jesus never intended it to be private. Faith should never be tucked away deep within the soul of an individual. Faith should always be worn in public, out on the sleeves of a community.

Get Down

The Christian faith is about selfless, sacrificial service. It is about God who came down through Jesus, who was laid down in a manger, who crouched down to forgive sinners, who stooped down to heal the sick, who knelt down to welcome children, who bowed down to wash another’s feet, and who bent down to take up his cross. For many, church is about getting uplifted. We need to make church about getting down.

Get Real

The Christian faith is about following someone who preached against the fake piety and hypocrisy of organized religion. In Jesus’ first sermon, he warned us about being judgmental of others who have specks in their eyes, while we have logs in our own eyes. And no one who hears the story of the woman caught in the act of adultery ever forgets Jesus’ words: “Let those without sin cast the first stone.” Therefore, no one in the church should ever act as if he or she is superior to anyone.

Get Serious

The Christian faith is about serious grace. With grace, Jesus always seemed to overdo it. 180 gallons of wine is a serious amount of wine for a small wedding party. The gift of the best robe, a ring, a fatted calf, loud music and dancing is a serious gift for a prodigal son. If the church is to ever have life again, the church must share this serious, extravagant grace with others, even while others accuse us of seriously overdoing it.

Get Up

The Christian faith is about prophetic justice. Jesus announced God’s new Kingdom by quoting the prophet Isaiah, saying that he had come “to bring good news to the poor, proclaim release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind and to let the oppressed go free.” The church must always be willing to get up and stand up for the liberty and justice for all, especially the poor, the disabled, and the marginalized.

Get Out

The Christian faith is about getting out into the world. Jesus was always out on the move, going out to the people. To be a church that is alive, the church needs to get out of the sanctuary and go to the places Jesus went, see the people Jesus saw, and do the things Jesus did.

Will there be folks in the world who will despise us for it? According to Jesus: most definitely; but at least the world will know that we are alive.