September 17, 2007

Monday Morning Message - Marriage and Gay Pride

This Monday Morning Message is a little different as I did not preach yesterday. My Beloved and I were returning from beautiful Savannah, GA where I had the privilege of marrying two wonderful people. It was a nice trip that gave My Beloved and I the opportunity to celebrate, a little early, our 19th wedding anniversary. We had a wonderful time together as we reminisced, laughed, ate way too many pralines, and saw some beautiful places. It was a reminder of why 19 years have gone by so quickly, we are definitely having fun!

In the midst of all our personal celebrating and helping the families prepare for the wedding there were a few experiences that struck me simply because of their contrast. If you'll bear with me I'll try and relate them succinctly.

The first was on the day of our arrival in Savannah. My Beloved and I boarded the elevator with some other guests and entered polite conversation with them (I detest not talking with people in an elevator! How dare we not acknowledge each other's existence! But I digress...) and we shared that we were celebrating our 19th anniversary. I was saddened by their response of shock and surprise. One even indicated they were now in their 3rd marriage. My Beloved and I entered our marriage with no back doors. Ours was a commitment "till death do us part" even if it meant one of us killed the other! It is sad that the expectation for so many marriages has been cheapened. Instead of being one of the finest and most treasured commitments of life, it is all too often a disposable commodity.

Another moment that struck me was immediately following the wedding. I was talking with a member of the bride's family and she stated, "I wish my husband had been here. He needed to hear that. We've been married for three years and I think he's forgotten what he promised." I tried to offer her words of hope and encouragement but inside, my heart was breaking for this beautiful young woman. Her story is repeated far too many times in this world that thrives on broken promises. I will never forget counseling a man who was having an affair and he asked me how I kept from doing the same, "After all, you are a man." My reply was simply that I had made promises that I intended to keep.

One final event was happening a couple of blocks away that stood in stark contrast to the joy-filled celebration of God's design and plan for marriage and this wonderful couple . At the very same time this couple was affirming before God their desire to live in a way that honored Him, a Gay Pride event was taking place. It was quite the picture of contrasts to have this bride and groom in all their wedding finery walking across the square where drag queens were performing for a couple of hundred people celebrating Gay Pride. I could not help but think of the words I had shared with the couple only moments before, "Your marriage is a picture of Christ's love for the church. Put it on display for all to see." They had the unique opportunity to do just that immediately following their pronouncement as husband and wife.

To all of you who are married I say, love your spouse. Treasure them. Be certain they know it today. Keep your promises. Be that picture of Christ's love for His bride, the church.

To those of you waiting or preparing for marriage, I challenge you to consider the weight and responsibility of joining your life with another. It is not something to be entered into lightly.

And finally, to those of you involved in a homosexual lifestyle, I ask you to examine your life in light of God's word and in so doing, discover a love and mercy deep and rich enough to truly satisfy your soul.

September 10, 2007

A Shepherd's Tale - Beginnings

"For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. How precious to me are your thoughts, O God!" (Psalm 139:13-17)

I don't much remember those first days, but what a marvel they were! Just imagine, an egg and a sperm got together and the result of those two tiny and unremarkable cells linking up is me! Oh sure, there are 40 years and 9 months of growth, learning, and experiences thrown into the mix now, but it all started right there! What a miraculous and wonderful process got started at that moment! I found the following information on the National Library of Medicine's website. It is amazing all that was going on with me in those early days...

Week 3

  • My brain, spinal cord, and heart is beginning to develop
  • So is my gastrointestinal tract.

Weeks 4 to 5

  • My heart started beating in rhythm
  • Blood started flowing
  • My eyes and ears got their start
  • My brain developed into five areas and some cranial nerves began to be visible
  • My arms and legs start growing!

Week 6

  • My lungs get their start this week
  • And my arms and legs are longer. Guess what, I've got feet and hands now complete with toes and fingers!

Week 7

  • This week you can see my elbows!
  • All my essential organs are starting to form.

Week 8

  • My dashing good looks are taking form as my face continues to develop.

Weks 9 to 12

  • I've got a big head right now. It's about half of my body!
  • No mistaking it now. I'm definitely good looking! My face is fully formed.
  • Getting ready to have teeth too. My tooth buds are forming but they won't show up for almost a year!
  • Guess what I can do now! I can make a fist!
  • And look at that! I'm a boy!

Weeks 13 to 16

  • I'm almost 6 inches long!
  • My muscles and bones have developed too!
  • I'm beginning to move around some.
  • I've learned how to suck. Gotta' be ready to eat!

Week 20

  • To complete my boyish good looks I now have eyebrows and eyelashes!
  • Oh yeah, my toenails and fingernails have started growing.
  • Mom felt me kick her this week and the doctor heard my heartbeat with his stethoscope.

Week 24

  • I'm almost a foot long this week!
  • Everything I will need to see is now in place. My baby blues are ready to take a look!
  • Things startle me now. My reflexes are coming along.
  • There is no longer any mistaking me for someone else, I've got fingerprints!

Weeks 25 to 28

  • I'm starting to pack on the pounds now. I'm weighing in around 2.5 pounds.
  • I'm getting smarter too. My brain is getting its act together for my debut!
  • I'm learning how to wink as my eyelids are opening and closing.
  • If I was born at this time I could survive. It would be tough but possible.

Weeks 29 to 32

  • I'm a foot and a half long and still growing!
  • Mom has been eating good so I'm getting fat.
  • My breathing is regular now and my bones are fully developed now.
  • I've started storing iron, calcium and phosphorus as I get ready to take on the world.

Weeks 37 to 40

  • I'm now 18 to 22 inches long and about 7 pounds.
  • My fingernails may need to be cut as they are past my finger tips now
  • And I have a beautiful head of hair now!

On February 1, 1967 (I'm 40, just to save you the math) around 5 p.m. I came wailing into this world. What a miracle! Something even more astounding is that God loved me from long before I got my 2 celled start in life. In fact, the Bible says that He has loved me from the foundations of the world. Since before time began, He's been loving me. What's more, He's got plans for me! He told Jeremiah, "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations." (Jer. 1:5). Sure, God was speaking to Jeremiah, but if He knew Jeremiah and had plans for Jeremiah's life I believe He also knew me and has had plans for me from before I got my two celled start. How cool is that!
At this first stop on our pilgrimage you may want to take a moment to simply take in the wonder of your own birth. It might be an opportunity for you to remember your wondrous worth to God. You may feel pretty worthless, but discovering a God who loved you even before you got your start can change all that!

Monday Morning Message - Welcome to the Neighborhood

(Sing along if you like!)

It's a beautiful day in this neighborhood,
A beautiful day for a neighbor.
Would you be mine?
Could you be mine?

It's a neighborly day in this beauty wood,
A neighborly day for a beauty.
Would you be mine?
Could you be mine?

I've always wanted to have a neighbor just like you.
I've always wanted to live in a neighborhood with you.So,

Let's make the most of this beautiful day.
Since we're together we might as well say:
Would you be mine?
Could you be mine?
Won't you be my neighbor?
Won't you please,
Won't you please?
Please won't you be my neighbor?

I can't tell you how many times I watched Mr. Rogers walk through his front door and change his sweater and shoes while singing this memorable tune. I find myself humming or singing these lines at various and unexpected moments in my life. They always bring a smile to my face. You are likely to be singing them today as well (you can thank me later ;-)). (For my international readers who may not be familiar with this piece of Americana you can listen here)

The final plea of Mr. Rogers' little ditty has turned poignant for me. I think everyone desperately wants a neighbor. So, just who is my neighbor? It's a good question, but not a new question. Jesus was once asked this very question by a well educated and well to do man. The story Jesus told in response to the question is among the most famous stories ever told. We even have laws in our country based on this story called "Good Samaritan" laws. (You can find the story in Luke 10:25-37)

The question the man asked was, "Who is my neighbor?". Jesus never answers this question! I know, it astounded me too when I finally realized the impact of what Jesus does here. I am very much like the man asking the question. I want to identify who it is I'm supposed to treat nicely and in so doing I can exclude everyone else without my conscience bothering me. Jesus doesn't give us that luxury. Rather than identifying who is and who is not a neighbor, Jesus, in essence, tells the man (and us) to be a neighbor.

Glandion Carney tells a moving story of his return to the inner city neighborhood where he grew up. There he met a middle aged woman whose personal and family life was in a terrible mess. After listening to this woman share her story Glandion asked her, "What is your greatest need? Glandion says, "In labored but clear words she said, 'I need someone to tell me that I am worth something. I need someone to look me in the eye and say that I am a a person of dignity, that I have worth, that I have value in this world.'"

It strikes me that this is exactly what Jesus has done for us. In Eugene Peterson's wonderful rendering of John 1:14 it says, "And the Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood."

Jesus says to the man asking the question, "Who is my neighbor?", "Spend less time determining who your neighbor is and more time loving them." After all, my friends, the commandment is to love our neighbor, not to identify them.

September 5, 2007

This Shepherd is with His Flock

Please pardon my absence. I have been intending to post and I even have a couple of posts in draft form just not ready to show to the world. The Monday Morning Message this week may be a Friday morning dispatch and the first stop on the pilgrimage (A Shepherd's Tale) is just around the corner. I am simply with my flock right now. Numerous people and families dealing with numerous issues from births to deaths and all the things in between.

If you have moment pray for me it would be appreciated - strength, endurance, and a sensitive spirit for what looks to be a long run of intensive ministry.