Monday, September 25, 2017

What Are We Gonna Do?

There seems to be a lot of dissention, conflict and protest going on these days. Riots and protest are common on the streets of St Louis. Athletes and others are taking a knee or displaying some type of disobedience during the National Anthem. Relationships are severed over political views. It just seems than division and conflict has infiltrated our daily lives. Even our churches are not immune. It is in our human nature to be right. We all want to win. We all want to be right. We all want things the way we want them and we will go to various lengths to convince others to join us. Sometimes we try to discredit the truth so it fits our agenda. Sometimes we withhold money, affection, or care because the other person is not on the same side of the issue than us. Sometimes we can't help ourselves and get dragged in.  In our society, publically we can just delete, unfriend, unfollow, and sever all relationship with someone if we fail to get them to see our view point. We easily disguise our need for control under the banner of longevity, loyalty, and entitlement. In the end, we usually end up hurting the one thing we confess our love for the most. 
   So what do we do and where can we go? When we take a position of protest we only have two options: to attack or defend. When conflicts arise we are forced to attack the opposition and defend our own stance. When we are constantly on offence or defense there is no room for resolution or reconciliation. So we first must listen. We must listen for understanding, compassion, and insight. Most of us listen to respond, rebuttal, or to find loopholes to prove our point. So we need to be aware of our motive and ability to truly listen.
   Conflict most importantly is a spiritual problem. Conflict is a love issue. We all can love and still disagree. We all will have different of opinions, tastes, and preferences. That is the beauty of love and diversity. To each is their own, with no pretense or jealousy, which enriches both sides but diminishes neither.  Paul warns us in Colossians 3:13-14 “Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on LOVE, which binds us all together in perfect unity. When we feed into conflict we forget that God has forgiven us. We damage the Body of Christ known as the church. We tarnish what we confess to love so dearly. We allow the one thing that attracts us to one another be the thing that attacks us.
   One thing we can all agree on is no one really likes conflict. It is exhausting and comprises our character. As a faith community we can all do better. As a nation we can do better. As a community, we can do better. As followers of Christ we can do better. We all must be willing to listen for reconciliation, exhibit compassion, and humble ourselves so that pride can allow forgiveness to heal. We can fight to be right but be all alone at the end of the day. We can fight to protect and destroy what we cherish. We can forsake all others and never experience diversity. We can protest and miss opportunities to grow, learn, and understand each other. We can nurture conflict but never experience the fullness of God’s love blossom in unity. What is attractive to all people? A faith community where people listen to one another, where conflict is resolved respectfully, where everyone is valued and cherished, and where love and unity wins out. That place is the church. If we strive on conflict, we just might lose the one thing or one person we love the most.
Take Care of Yourself and Love One Another:
Tommy


Monday, January 9, 2017

Into this Crisis

In my opinion, the word “crisis” is one of the most overused words in our society.  One doesn’t have to look far to hear about the economic crisis, immigration crisis, Russian cyber hacking crisis, Healthcare crisis, fake news crisis, employment crisis, and even weather crisis. I am not trying to make light of serious issues that need to be addressed, only that every situation is not at crisis level. We have overused the word publicly so frequently it has lost it power.  Crisis literally means a time of intense difficulty, trouble, or danger, a time when a difficult or important decision must be made, or the turning point of a disease when an important change takes place, indicating either recovery or death. When we look closely at the definition, we have all faced a point of crises in our life.  We have all lived through a time of intense difficulty, trouble or danger. We all have felt scared, uncertain, and fearful about something that was going on in our life. We all faced a time when a difficult or important decision had to be made.  Even some of us have faced that critical point in a disease when the illness went one of two ways.  Regardless of a definition, crises are personal, intimate, and downright petrifying when we are in the middle of our own crisis. So in times of crises, many of us naturally, honestly and humbling turn to God.  We seek God’s word and God’s people for words of hope, reassurance, and confidence that things will be better.  And if God shows up in a huge way, we are grateful, humbled, and renewed. God doesn’t get stuck in the tidy resolutions to our crises that we think end the story. We often believe that if things turn out okay, the story or crisis is over. If we have a few cents in our account at the end of the month, we tend to say, “Whew, that you Jesus that was close!” If we get through a health scare, we are tremendously humbled and grateful.  Yet God is not done. These so called endings are really beginnings, each with a new horizon of possibility. Not for us alone, but for the world God loves as well. Restoration of individuals, faith communities, or even entire families, is never only about that. God’s healing work moves outward, always expanding towards eschatological fulfillment.  Eschatological fulfillment in its simplest form means, that my salvation from my crisis may reach the end of the earth as it is now intertwined in God’s story. God’s story’s is always bigger than ours, holding our stories within God’s life and weaving them into a wide open future. So what does this all mean? Maybe it means when the next crisis hits us, we invite, ask and offer God our crisis. We understand that not only is it about us but also about God’s story to the world. God’s restoration, God’s healing and God’s sovereignty during our crisis is a vital part of God’s presence in our world. Because it’s it true that in our most critical defining moments in our life, God was there working all for good. Even in times we were too sacred to notice.
Peace, Love and Happiness:
Tommy


Tuesday, November 29, 2016

The Light of Christmas

One of my favorite things this time of year is the lights: Christmas lights. Maybe it’s because it gets dark so early now. Maybe it’s because I don’t generally like things dark. But I do enjoy sitting with no lights on in the house but the Christmas tree lights on. I like driving through Foundation Park and looking for Wanda. I like seeing the light poles adorned with twinkling lights. With the most hectic schedule I eagerly anticipate the candlelight singing of “Silent Night” in the church lit only by candles. Perhaps I like the lights so much because they are a reminder of Jesus, the Light of the world.
The prophet Isaiah says that “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.” (Is. 9:2). When the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, St. John writes that He is the “True Light coming into the world. The Light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it.” (John 1:5). Later, Jesus says of Himself, “I AM the Light of the World.” (John 8:12). Jesus is light: dispelling darkness, making things bright, even brighter than Christmas tree lights. Brighter than Rudolph’s nose. A Light so bright it destroys the shadows and darkness even of hopelessness, despair and death.
If we are honest we must admit we live in a pretty dark world at times. It’s dark with evil, however you define evil. We live in a world dark with sadness, suffering and sickness. We live in a world dark with despair. Some people are so hurting that they see nothing but darkness all around them. A darkness they so much want to fall into and maybe, seeing no hope, will try to plunge themselves into. We live in a world glaring with the harsh lights of a holiday that few understand. Outwardly, the world cranks up the wattage until it can match the Griswold’s house from “Christmas Vacation” while inwardly it is dying of sadness and gloom with bah-humbuggery and disgust at the whole thing.
Let us remember that into that darkness, angels appeared over Bethlehem. Into that darkness, the Word-made-flesh shows His face from a manger. Into that darkness, the Father places a star to guide magi. Into that darkness Jesus walks, head on. To shine the light of Himself to send our fears and hopelessness scurrying, retreating, fading, and wiping out shadows.
Jesus lights into your darkness too. Whatever that darkness may be: despair, doubts and unbelief. Just when it seems too much to take: families falling apart, death stealing our friends, hurt and sorrow around us. The great emptiness of the world’s Christmas. Into all of it, the Light of Christ shines for you. It is here when the Light of the World begins to glow and radiate forgiveness. Peace, light with no shadows, these are the gifts of the Light of the World. Jesus is the Light of the World. His gifts bring Light to rescue us from every darkness there is.
Maybe that’s why I like Christmas lights. They remind me of Jesus. And whether they give you a sense of wonder and peace or not, whether the whole Christmas extravaganza is something you relish or could do without, know this: Wherever there is darkness, the Light of Christ shines. Nothing can put it out. For He shines to bring His Light to you that you may be forever comforted and never afraid of the dark.
Peace, Love, Joy and Hope:
Tommy 

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Season of Thanksgiving

During the season of thanksgiving we will give thanks for things that have always been and things that have never been; we’ll give thanks for the past and the future; we’ll give thanks to God, who is always showering upon us reasons to be thankful: dinner at a new restaurant, seeing old friends, a niece’s wedding, and even getting my coats and winter clothes out of the closet. I have given thanks for each of these things in recent days, and each has been something new – a change from an earlier condition or a recent addition to the world at large.
Now, I don’t know about you, but for me giving thanks for new things or for things that have recently changed takes up most of gratitude time. The new things jump out at us. They vie for our attention. The things that have always been there remain in the background, quietly making our lives comfortable or joyful or meaningful. Because the things that have always been don’t call attention to themselves, we fail to give thanks to God for them as often as we should.
During this season of Thanksgiving, I invite you to think of something that you can’t remember doing without: it can be as basic as breath or your dog’s earnest affection. It can be the simple fact that you’ve always had clean clothes in your drawers or a hot meal on the table. Think of something you’ve never given thanks for because it has silently endured throughout your life, never calling attention to itself and never failing to make your life better. Give thanks to God for this something-that-has-always-been.
Now take a look at the opposite – thanking God for things that have never been. This type of gratitude is possibly even more difficult than the previous kind because it involves stepping into other people’s shoes in order to appreciate your gifts and blessings. When we stand in another’s shoes, we gain the capacity for perspective. Sometimes, it’s difficult to see things when you’re right up close to them and seeing them from the same angle you always do. To give thanks for something you’ve never had, you might need to view your life from that other perspective. Perhaps you’ll give thanks because diseases that have affected people all over the world for hundreds of years won’t affect you because you were inoculated as a baby. Perhaps you’ll give thanks because you’ve never known a time when your stomach was so empty for so long that you forgot how to be hungry. Perhaps you’ll give thanks because every time you slept outside in your life, you did so because you chose to – and you always had s’mores as the campfire died down.
I ask you to think of something you’ve never experienced, something you don’t want to experience because it is unhealthy or degrading or worse. Now thank God that this thing has never happened to you. But don’t stop there. Recognize that the thing-that-has-never-been always is happening somewhere in the world – maybe next door, or a few blocks away, or across an ocean. How can you help make that thing change from an always is to a never again? Sometimes, blessings are hidden within moments of our past that sure didn’t seem like blessings at the time. When we were living through those times, we never expected to give thanks for them one day. But what we forget is that God doesn’t comprehend our lives in the limited linear fashion that we do. God, I think, comprehends our lives as a whole – not as a series of events. We view our lives as though flipping through the pages of a magazine, one to the next. God sees our lives as collages, in which all the pages are pasted together.
I now invite you to give thanks for something in your past that didn’t seem like a cause for gratitude at the time. Reflect on how this event fits into the overarching narrative of your life. What did you learn from it? How did God support you as you went through it? What do you know now that God knew then?
When we take the long view of events in our pasts, we find the ability to thank God for difficult and challenging times that have led our lives in directions we never imagined. This sort of gratitude accomplishes more than simple thanks to God. By acknowledging that we have no idea how our lives are going to turn out, we practice humility in the face of the expansive unknown that we benignly call “future.”
Give thanks for the future. I invite you to give thanks for the vast expanse of possibility the future holds. This sort of thanksgiving is the birthplace of hope – which is the willing expectation that the boundaries of possibility are far wider than we perceive. So give thanks to God for possibility, for newness, for adventure. And then take a step with God into the untamed wilderness that is tomorrow, knowing all the while that God has already explored this jungle and will lead you through.

The next time you go to the table at your church to celebrate the Great Thanksgiving – better known by its Greek name “Eucharist” – I invite you to hold onto these things for which you have given thanks. As you receive the presence of Christ in the bread and wine, offer your thanksgivings back to God. And in the exchange, know that God is always and forever giving thanks for you. 
Peace, Love and Happiness:
Tommy 

Season of Thanksgiving

During the season of thanksgiving we will give thanks for things that have always been and things that have never been; we’ll give thanks for the past and the future; we’ll give thanks to God, who is always showering upon us reasons to be thankful: dinner at a new restaurant, seeing old friends, a niece’s wedding, and even getting my coats and winter clothes out of the closet. I have given thanks for each of these things in recent days, and each has been something new – a change from an earlier condition or a recent addition to the world at large.
Now, I don’t know about you, but for me giving thanks for new things or for things that have recently changed takes up most of gratitude time. The new things jump out at us. They vie for our attention. The things that have always been there remain in the background, quietly making our lives comfortable or joyful or meaningful. Because the things that have always been don’t call attention to themselves, we fail to give thanks to God for them as often as we should.
During this season of Thanksgiving, I invite you to think of something that you can’t remember doing without: it can be as basic as breath or your dog’s earnest affection. It can be the simple fact that you’ve always had clean clothes in your drawers or a hot meal on the table. Think of something you’ve never given thanks for because it has silently endured throughout your life, never calling attention to itself and never failing to make your life better. Give thanks to God for this something-that-has-always-been.
Now take a look at the opposite – thanking God for things that have never been. This type of gratitude is possibly even more difficult than the previous kind because it involves stepping into other people’s shoes in order to appreciate your gifts and blessings. When we stand in another’s shoes, we gain the capacity for perspective. Sometimes, it’s difficult to see things when you’re right up close to them and seeing them from the same angle you always do. To give thanks for something you’ve never had, you might need to view your life from that other perspective. Perhaps you’ll give thanks because diseases that have affected people all over the world for hundreds of years won’t affect you because you were inoculated as a baby. Perhaps you’ll give thanks because you’ve never known a time when your stomach was so empty for so long that you forgot how to be hungry. Perhaps you’ll give thanks because every time you slept outside in your life, you did so because you chose to – and you always had s’mores as the campfire died down.
I ask you to think of something you’ve never experienced, something you don’t want to experience because it is unhealthy or degrading or worse. Now thank God that this thing has never happened to you. But don’t stop there. Recognize that the thing-that-has-never-been always is happening somewhere in the world – maybe next door, or a few blocks away, or across an ocean. How can you help make that thing change from an always is to a never again? Sometimes, blessings are hidden within moments of our past that sure didn’t seem like blessings at the time. When we were living through those times, we never expected to give thanks for them one day. But what we forget is that God doesn’t comprehend our lives in the limited linear fashion that we do. God, I think, comprehends our lives as a whole – not as a series of events. We view our lives as though flipping through the pages of a magazine, one to the next. God sees our lives as collages, in which all the pages are pasted together.
I now invite you to give thanks for something in your past that didn’t seem like a cause for gratitude at the time. Reflect on how this event fits into the overarching narrative of your life. What did you learn from it? How did God support you as you went through it? What do you know now that God knew then?
When we take the long view of events in our pasts, we find the ability to thank God for difficult and challenging times that have led our lives in directions we never imagined. This sort of gratitude accomplishes more than simple thanks to God. By acknowledging that we have no idea how our lives are going to turn out, we practice humility in the face of the expansive unknown that we benignly call “future.”
Give thanks for the future. I invite you to give thanks for the vast expanse of possibility the future holds. This sort of thanksgiving is the birthplace of hope – which is the willing expectation that the boundaries of possibility are far wider than we perceive. So give thanks to God for possibility, for newness, for adventure. And then take a step with God into the untamed wilderness that is tomorrow, knowing all the while that God has already explored this jungle and will lead you through.

The next time you go to the table at your church to celebrate the Great Thanksgiving – better known by its Greek name “Eucharist” – I invite you to hold onto these things for which you have given thanks. As you receive the presence of Christ in the bread and wine, offer your thanksgivings back to God. And in the exchange, know that God is always and forever giving thanks for you. 
Peace, Love and Happiness:
Tommy 

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Move Towards a Hot Mess

When faced with a hot mess that we have made or watched someone makes a big mess and wanted to walk away. We see a person who is a total hot mess and say “I don’t know where to start” so we just walk away. Maybe right now in your life or sometime in your life you had someone who was a hot mess that you wanted to walk away from. Someone who had made such a big mess of their life that you just wanted to walk the other way. You watched the decisions they were making, their actions, and you just wanted to walk or run away from their hot mess. That little voice inside of you was saying “Don’t ask questions. Don’t get involved.” Alarms inside of you are going off, and it was so messy that you just pretend you didn’t notice anything and you walk away. Jesus addressed this very topic. One day Jesus and some lawyers were having a discussing with about thirty or so others around. When asked Jesus relied to the lawyer what does the scripture say about that? The lawyer correctly quoted the Old Testament scripture of love your neighbor as yourself. Jesus said, “You are exactly correct. Now go do that!” And as Jesus was leaving the lawyer looking for a loop whole said, “Well who exactly is my neighbor?” Jesus did what Jesus does best, rebuttal with a story or parable to make his point. It is one of the most famous parables we all know the Good Samaritan and it was applicable to the lawyer’s questions as well as to us today. The message in this parable is clear. We don’t have to think hard to understand what Jesus meant or the point Jesus was trying to drive home. But the last sentence Jesus gets us. He says, “Now go and do likewise.” That is a directive that is so much easier said than done. We see a need, we see messy people, and we know we should go and do likewise but it’s so hard. It’s hard to figure out who, the where, the when and the how.  We want to help but there is a fine line between helping and enabling. We all know people in our neighborhood, our families, our friends that when the phone rings and we see who is calling before we answer we already know they are only calling because they need something. What is in us that keeps us from answering. What is in us that as soon as we see the name on our phone we dread the conversation? What keeps us from responding like the Samaritan?
I believe there are three things that keep us from helping. First is inconvenience. Stopping and helping or moving towards someone else mess is inconvenient. Don’t we see people’s hot mess at our busiest time? We live in a busy culture. Being busy is not bad per say but we can be too busy. We can get busy and hyper focused on life so we say to ourselves “I don’t have time for you.” The priest and Levite were busy people. It was not like they were off to do something bad. More than likely they were off to the temple or church for a religious meeting. They were not evil bad people; they didn’t have the capacity of time for this man in their schedule. Sometimes we get so busy that we are too busy to follow Jesus. Here is a question to ask yourself if your life is too busy: Are the people who need you an inconvenience? Do you view them as inconvenience or an opportunity? We are too bust when messy people are inconveniences instead of opportunities to serve God, opportunities to love somebody. The second reason we walk on by is because it’s uncomfortable. Crossing over the street and moving towards a mess or messy people is uncomfortable. We love and walk towards comfort. We strive for our comfort zone. Comfort zones are good but not a great place to live. It we only live in our comfort zone, we may feel safe but we will not be happy. We will never achieve the best version of ourselves inside our comfort zone. We achieve the best version of ourselves outside our comfort zone moving towards the mess. God is using that chaos, that uncomfortable circumstance to help us love and grow. If we insist only on comfort boredom will quickly set in. The third thing that keeps us for moving towards a mess is we are no longer in control. We love control. If you move towards someone else mess you give up control. When you moved towards someone else mess you will learn quickly you could not control their anger, you could not control their drug use, you could control their violent outburst, you could control their very bad decision making. You know it gets frustrating. God doesn’t want you to control your messy person. God doesn’t want you to fix them. God wants you to be there, love them, and walk beside them. So if you are thinking your job is to fix the mess, take some pressure off yourself. God wants you loving and being there. People, especially mess people, are not projects. If you are wired like me, you like to embrace a problem and work until you find a solution. We need to let go and say God you got this. It’s not to address peoples messes the way we think they need to be fixed but to show up, be there, and let God do His thing.
Be nice to one another:
Tommy 


Tuesday, October 4, 2016

BEST Mess

The one thing we all have in common is we have all made a mess.  Some of us have messed up so bad that we feel that it can never be whole again. Maybe in our finances, marriage, relationships, career, school we have made a mess. We might look good on the outside and still functional, but on the inside we are a hot mess. We say to ourselves “I don’t know where to begin. I’m not sure I can do this.” We have all ignored our own conscious, our own advice and the advice of others. At some time in our life, we have ignored our friends and families members when they warned us. We blew through every stop sign of caution there was and we are left with one big hot mess. There are messes we inherit or just happen upon us but there are also hot mess that is 100% our own fault. Hot messes are what can bring us together with others is the same mess that brings God near.  We have all heard the scripture John 3:16 about God so loving the world that he sent his son Jesus. But many of us stop there. Verse 17 is the most important part. It says that God did not come to condemn the world but to save it. Jesus did not come to get into our face and say look what you have done. He didn’t come to say look at the hot mess you made of your marriage, your finances, your relationships, your children, your parents, your family, your career, your friendships, your reputation. God came into our mess to rescue us from our mess. Therefore, if we are behind or responsible for our own mess, then God came to rescue us from ourselves. The gospels are full of stories of this playing out in the most intimate of ways. Remember the day Jesus was in the temple. They brought to him a woman who was committing adultery. Her life was a hot mess. Her adultery had been publicly brought out. Everyone in town if they didn’t know before, they knew now. Jesus stands up to this woman who had made a total mess of her life and said, “Look at me. I don’t condemn you. I am not going to sentence you to what you deserve.” There was also a time a tax collector was hiding in a tree. What the story usually leaves out was this little tax collector would have had body guards with him. His first mistake was working as a tax collector, over charging people; he had become rich off the hard work of others. Jesus walks along, looks up at this mess of a man and says, “Come down to me. I am coming to your house.” In private, Jesus tells this messy man to leave this life of sin and follow me. But Jesus told him you just can’t walk away. You must first go make things right. Payback what you took with interest times two. The guy paid back the interest and even added more than the law allowed.

Here is what Jesus offers these messy people that he offers to us as well. It doesn’t matter how big your mess is and no matter how big of a hole you dug yourself in. Jesus offers himself. Jesus offers himself as a solution. The clearest picture we have of God is Jesus Christ. If we want to know what God thinks, read what Jesus said. If we want to know how God responds, then look who Jesus responded. Jesus said the father and I are one. Want to know what God is like; watch me. Every person Jesus invited to follow him was messy. Jesus said “I am the way and the light. I will show you the way forward and the way out of your mess.”  Any one of us, who has made a mess in our life, if totally honest, will admit they are in a dark place and need a light. They will admit they are in a mess and need a way out. Jesus did not pull away from messy people he invited them closer. He invited them to follow. In reality you cannot pray your way out of a mess that you behaved your way into.  There is no silver bullet, magic words, or perfect prayer. It is not that God is silent. God provides the light and if we follow that light we would avoid the mess. Our mess was avoidable but we stepped into it not by following Jesus but by following something else that was not God. God invites you to follow his son Jesus out of your mess. God will meet you in your mess. God is not offended by your mess. God will not condemn you for your mess. God views your mess as an opportunity to invite him into your life as He will draw you closer.
Be nice to one another:
Tommy