Tuesday, August 26, 2014

I don't...but I want to...

Last night I had an interesting conversation.  One of my friends recently lost the A/C in their car.  Since they know that I have been without A/C in my car for some time now, they complained to me about how much it sucks.  Cause to be honest, it does.

           But as we were talking, at one point they go, “How does it not just make you so angry to drive around when it is so hot!?  How are you not just angry all the time?”
Fair question especially considering the record high temperatures and the heat index that is averaging about 300 thousand degrees with a humidity percentage of about a million.

But, how does that not just make you so angry to deal with day in and day out?

For people who know, you may just be thinking, well it’s Matthew…that’s why he doesn’t get mad…have you seen him really get mad?

Well, that may be true, but it hasn’t always been that way.  It took me a while to learn this great lesson on how to do with certain things.  And I will tell you…in a minute.

First, I wanted to start with some information from an article published on Health.com.  The article is called 10 Things You Should Never Do When You’re Angry. 
1.       Sleep
2.       Drive
3.       Vent
4.       Eat
5.       Continue arguing
6.       Post to Facebook
7.       Write emails
8.       Drink alcohol
9.       Ignore your blood pressure
10.   Ruminate

Well, that list cancels out a lot of what I feel we as humans naturally do when we are angry.  I also have heard that when some people are mad, they like to “subtweet” about them…similar to the posting to Facebook thing...I’d say this is something you should probably avoid.

But anyway, let’s try something…

You are driving home from school or work, or from a friend’s house… on the way home, you unexpectedly get a flat tire.  It’s rainy outside so you call AAA so that they can come change your tire.  Once they get there you briefly have to get out to show them your card and that it is actually you.  While you are getting back in the car, you accidentally drop your phone…into a puddle.  You get back into the car and you are furious.  The world hates you.  This now leads you to also be rude to the guy who is currently changing your tire…in the rain.  Because you are mean to him, he is now a little upset and therefore is a little short with the next customer that he sees.  So on and so forth…

It’s kind of like those old Coke commercials about sharing a smile or that State Farm commercial about spreading happiness…except a sadder more depressing one that leaves you feeling not very great about things. 

Now, think about any situation you have ever been in… just in the past week, what have you had to do or what problems have you dealt with?

There is always one common factor in every single situation you face…


The only thing you truly are in control of is how you respond to a situation. 

One thing I always think of when I think of this example comes from a sermon by Pastor Johnny Ray Youngblood.

You may have thought the made up story above sounds pretty bad, but now imagine this…

You have been barely eaten, had a drink of water, or slept in nearly 24 hours.  You have just spent the past few hours being beaten, whipped, mocked, and stripped naked.  After all of that you are forced to carry a huge, heavy wooden cross for miles.  You are then nailed to the cross and lifted up.  People continue to yell and mock you as you simply hang there and wait to die. 

Yes, this is the story of the crucifixion of Jesus.  

While he is there on the cross, he speaks seven times.  The very first thing Jesus says is, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.”

In spite of everything Jesus has been through, he responds with love.  Father….forgive them.  He asks God to forgive the people who are in the middle of murdering him…in the face of death, he chose love.

Right after this, Jesus speaks again…

Between two criminals, one of them is mocking Jesus, challenging him to free them.  While the other one simply asks to be remembered.  A very simple request, especially given the situation.  Just remember me.

After all of this, Jesus looks at the criminal and says, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”


I mean, can you even imagine! 

This reminds me of one of those cliché sayings we have all heard…

Walk the walk, don’t talk the talk.

It is easy to only talk the talk.  Talking is so easy to do.  When we are upset or angry, we can easily put on a fake smile and say, “Oh its ok!”  “No worries!”  “Oh, I forgive you, it’s all good!”

But after saying that we go bad mouth them to our friends, or continue to let it fester and grow.  We can follow Jesus’ example when it comes to the first thing he says on the cross.  We can say it.

The problem is the walking.  Immediately after asking God to forgive the people…he actually forgives someone!  His first action is to live out what he asked for just a minute ago.

Recently, I was reflecting on another “sermon” I had heard.  It was on piety.  What is piety reality?  It is difficult to really define.

For this sermon giver, it was simply defined as a labor of love.  He told a story about how much his mother had sacrificed to be there and take care of his little brother.  In his eyes, the only motivation she had to do all of this work was because she loved him.  To him, that is piety.  When we live piously, everything we do is out of love for Christ. 

This can’t be a part-time thing, it is an all the time thing.  In the book of Joshua, he makes the Israelites promise that they will fully give themselves to God at all times.  It is not a half-hearted decision; it is not when it is convenient thing. 

It hasn’t changed.  When we allow things in our lives to affect our outlook and our attitudes, we are not living out our lives in love.  We are not being pious.  We are not being true to ourselves.  We are covering up that amazing person that God created in his own image.

We may be able to put on a mask and speak the words of forgiveness… but unless we are able to follow that up by truly forgiving, then it is pointless.  It is fake, “for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness.” (James 1:20)

By no means would I say I am walking the walking when it comes to this…but I want to.  And I think that is a good place to start.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Faith is Hard

Dang it, Aaron!  Do you get it?  Like because….Aaron had one job….and he didn’t do it…You know, that story in the Bible…

If I had to guess, you probably are not too familiar with this story.  To be honest, neither was I. 

For some background information, this reading comes to us from the book of Exodus.  Before we get to this point we have Moses gather all the Israelites and leave Egypt.  They have witnessed a pillar of fire and a pillow of clouds lead them and protect them, they have seen the waters of the Red Sea part and allow them to cross on dry land, they have been fed by the manna from heaven, Moses turned a rock into a faucet by tapping it with a stick!  Through all stuff, they believed.  Through all of these things they saw, they had faith.

But what happens when we can no longer see it?

That is what this story is about.  Throughout the whole time God is leading the people, they get to see these miracles.  God tells Moses, I am going to do this.  Moses tells the people that God is going to do this through him.  It happens.  The people see it and they believe.

It is a very common thing.  We tend to believe in what we can see but struggle to have faith in what we can’t.  That is why faith is so hard. 

So here is what happens…God makes a promise to the Israelites, they follow Moses, they doubt Moses, Moses goes to God, God gives them a sign.  Repeat.  That just about sums up Exodus and parts Deuteronomy and if you sub Joshua with Moses, parts of Joshua.

So what is going on at this time is God is laying out the plans for the Israelites to enter into the Promised Land and they all have questions.  God calls Moses up on top of the mountain and directs the elders and Aaron and Hurr to all do different things.  While Moses is on the Mount Sinai receiving the laws directly from God, the people begin to doubt.  They do not know what is taking too long.  They think Moses is gone.  They all go to Aaron and ask him who they should worship now.

Moses, the guy who lead us out of Egypt has gone…we need another god to worship.

Naturally, Aaron melted down all the gold rings that the people had and sculpted a little calf.  He gave it to the people as their new god that lead them out of Egypt and they built an altar to it and worshipped it. 

Of course God sees all of this happening and tells Moses, dude, they messed up again!

Dang it Aaron!  You had one job!

You may be like me after reading this story….wow, the Old Testament is weird.  But then I thought about it some more.  And I saw this exact thing happen all over the place.

Have you ever gone to the store to buy one thing and left with about 30 and still forgot to get that one thing you went for?

Have you ever had a really good friend that you kind of stopped talking to after they changed schools or moved?

This kind of thing has become so common it is cliché.

Out of sight, out of mind.

In this story, the Israelites are lost and confused.  They have put all their faith into one person and they don’t know where he went to.  They need direction and guidance and their leader is MIA.

What do we do?

More often then not, we find something us to keep us busy.

It is really easy to believe and to keep faith when you see the signs.  When it is obvious and right in front of you, it is easy.  There is no challenge, it does not require much faith.

It is when we feel alone and lost.

When we feel our guidance has gone off and we don’t know where to go.

When everything is going bad and you are completely lost.

That is when it is difficult.  That is when our faith is tested. 

It is hard to have faith in what you cannot see.

But who ever said having faith was easy.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

God was There

For those of you that don’t know, earlier in the summer I lead a group of 21 high school students on pilgrimage to Germany.   While on our journey, we followed along with the journey of the Israelites as they left Egypt and wandered through the desert.  Many hours were prayerfully spent making sure that we had a great spiritual plan for our pilgrimage.  There was only one thing that we were unsure on how to treat it.  Our last day in Germany we were going to Buchenwald Concentration Camp on Etter Mountain.  Buchenwald was one of the first and largest concentration camps on German soil, opening about 4 years after Dachau.  No matter how we looked at the spiritual overview for the trip, we always came back to one question, “What do we do with Buchenwald?”  We knew that after spending nine days learning about God and then going to Buchenwald would be a very difficult experience.  “Where was God when that was going?”  If we were asking that question, we knew that everyone else would be thinking it as well.
Often times in our lives we are faced with difficult challenges or we hear things that just don’t seem fair. 
We may find ourselves asking that question a lot sometimes.  Recently, that is a question that has been on my mind.  Not very long ago, I learned that a friend of mine, a very kind, and caring, young man…the kind of a person that is just fun to have around…was diagnosed with leukemia. 

Where are you God?

These things happen…and we immediately ask why….why would something like this happen, how could God let this happen!?  It’s not fair!  It doesn’t make sense!  Where are you God?!
This question is not a new one.  It has been around for many many years.  Since the beginning of evil, people have probably been asking the same question.

It is always tricky to answer this question for many reasons.  One, because anytime it comes to religion it is a very personal, sensitive subject.  Secondly, because answering a question like this may not be a shared belief and then it can spark a very long complicated theological argument (that unless you are so good at arguing and you can completely change someone’s belief system in a matter of minutes while keeping a calm head and being respectful and understanding their position all the while backing all of you sources and information with names and citations and avoiding the cliché response of ‘because the Bible says so’, because depending on who you are arguing with, that response doesn’t mean anything, and so on and so forth…)

Anyway, so one of my good friends is an atheist.  As a cradle Episcopalian who has been a “professional Christian” for close to three years, we have had a number of conversations regarding religion.  I will always remember one “conversation” we had a few years ago.  “If you can tell me why God would allow something like the holocaust to happen, then I will be a Christian.”

Jump forward a few years and I find myself in Germany, at a concentration camp.  The home of where true evil existed in the world…and I was still asking that same question.

Where are you God?  Why….Why would you let that happen?

I have heard many different responses to these questions.  The Rev. Sandy Webb preached on this topic during the final Eucharist of our pilgrimage.  He preached on the image of a New Jerusalem ‘coming down out of heaven from God’ and defeating all evil and making everything new (Revelation 21).  His concluding thoughts on the passage were that he did not know why.  We don’t know why these things are allowed to happen but we can take faith in knowing that in the end, good will win.  Evil may win a battle every now and then but ultimately God will always win.

I had these questions and that response on my mind for a few days after returning from Germany.  I had a very short turn around before I packed my bags again and went to Hendersonville, North Carolina where I would be working at a middle school retreat at Kanuga Conference Center.  About half way through the week, I was still struggling to understand and answer these questions I had from Buchenwald.

Where was God?

Just then, we began to sing in the large group room…it was a song I had sung a hundred times and knew by heart…but as I stood there surrounded by 80 middle schoolers, I not only verbally regurgitated these lyrics that I had memorized and could recite without a second thought… I read the words and actually listened to what the song was saying.

And just like that, I found my answer...

Where was God?

God was there.

Now when I think back to my time at Buchenwald, I know that they were not alone, God was with them, sharing in their pain. 

Now as Adam embarks on his journey to fight leukemia, I know he is not alone, God is there.

God Was There
John L. Bell

Alleluia, alleluia
Alleluia, Alleluia
When the wind on chaos blew, when the world from nothing grew,
When the primal dream came true, God was there.
When the earliest mortals talked, when the virgin land was walked,
When the emergent faith was rocked, God was there.
Alleluia, alleluia
Alleluia, Alleluia
When the tradesmen was denied, when the Savior was decried, God was there.
God was there and not in vain, shielding joy and sharing pain.
Raising life to live again, God was there.
Alleluia, alleluia
Alleluia, Alleluia
In each darkness, cloud, and fire, in the quiet as words retire,
In our lost and best desires, God is there.
Not for what we are or do, not for what we journey through,
But for all you call us to, God be there.
                Alleluia, alleluia

Alleluia, Alleluia