Cardinal at My Window…

cardinal

 Outside my office window is large crepe myrtle. A cardinal has taken up residence in that tree.  Whenever I go into my office, I turn the light on, which apparently wakes the cardinal.  After about five minutes, the cardinal flies up to my window ledge and begins to peck at it.  Then, he will turn, fly off, do a U-turn, and fly straight into the glass. I think he doesn’t like me disturbing his rest. I understand. I don’t like people turning on the light when I’m trying to sleep either.

I can’t figure out what the cardinal wants.  Does he want me to turn off the light so he can get back to sleep?  Does he want me to not talk so loud?  Does he want me to open the window and let him into the warmth of the building?  Sometimes I look at him and say, “I’m sorry, I don’t speak bird.”

My feathered friend is disrupting.  I’ll have a meeting in my office.  We’ll be at very serious moment.  Then we hear, “THUNK.”  The bird has flown into the window again.  Or I will be talking to someone about a very serious issue in her family.  She is crying and I need to offer words of pastoral comfort.  Then I heard, “TAP, TAP, TAP, TAP.”  The tears stop and whoever is in my office says, “What was that?”  I respond, “Just our version of ‘Angry Birds. Please continue.’”

There are people outside the church who run into our windows.  They tap at our window sills. We aren’t sure what they want.  They can be annoying.  Sometimes, we’re not even sure we should let them into church.  Maybe, we think, they simply aren’t church people.  Maybe, they would be better off if they went to a church with other people like them. “Birds of a feather stick together, you know.”

This is not what Jesus had in mind for his church. He never intended his body to be only for the people that fit in.  The invitation is clear: “Whosoever will come, let him take freely of the water of life.” “Whosoever” is Jesus’s heart.  “Whosoever” requires courage; it requires intentionality; it requires empathy; it requires mindfulness.

Most churches deny they put up barriers. Every church I have ever been part of or consulted with, assured me, “We are a friendly church.”  The reality is, they were friendly to people they already knew.  It takes energy to meet new people and to make new friends.  Some churches just won’t spend the energy.  Some churches just don’t have the heart.

There is an easy fix to this: See everyone the way Jesus sees them. Give your best effort at understanding their needs. Invite them to come to church with you.  Speak to strangers at church before you engage your “circle.”

Despite the decline in church attendance, I am convinced people are hungry to be known, loved, and accepted.  Will you listen to the taps on the windows and welcome in people who need to know church is a place of grace?

 

Show and Tell…

football baseball

As best I remember, it began the day Mark brought his new football to Zolfo Springs Elementary.  Suddenly, he was the most popular boy in first grade.  I had previously held the title (at least, in my memory), but Mark usurped my position.  All the kids gathered around Mark at recess.  He was the new king of the playground.

I went home that afternoon and demanded my mother buy me a new football.  I wanted to reclaim my position and I was sure a new football would do it.  My mother was old school.  You could threaten to hold your breath until she gave into your demands, and she would briskly say, “Go right ahead.  I’m cooking fried chicken tonight and your brother will get both legs.”  Manipulating a kid with threats of fried chicken is cruel and unusual punishment, and I caved every time.

The agony of recess continued.  Mark was the king of the playground and I was a has been.  It was a long fall and winter.

Spring came, the orange trees were in bloom, and it was baseball season.  Mama in a spurt of generosity bought me a baseball.  I’m not sure why.  We lived a mile from the nearest neighbors, so there was no one to throw it to.  My dog Moe just ran off with it when I threw it to him.

Lying in bed that night, it hit me: I could bring my baseball to school!  Maybe my baseball was my chance to regain the recess throne.

It worked like a charm.  Mark’s football was forgotten, and we played baseball (or a first-grade version of it) all through recess.  Once again, I was the king.

Aren’t you glad we grow out of such childish thinking?  Aren’t you glad no adult is ever envious?  Aren’t you glad adults don’t compete with each other?  Aren’t you glad no one measures self-worth based possession comparison?

Reality is we compare the size of our houses, the newness of our cars, and achievements our children.   Adults haven’t come that far from recess.

Salvation, among many other things, means you no longer have to play the comparison game.  Jesus comes to teach us a different way to live.  It’s not wrong to want nice things or have nice things.  It is toxic to base your human value on what you own.

That’s why the Apostle Paul said to us, “I know both how to make do with little, and I know how make do with a lot.  In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of contentment – whether well fed or hungry, whether in abundance or in need.  I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”

Your worth is not based on what you have, but who you have.  If you have Jesus, you have everything you need.

Is it time for you to get off the comparison treadmill and be content with Jesus?

My Predictions for 2018

2018

Everyone, it seems, makes predictions for the year ahead.  I’ve heard so far that President Trump will be impeached, congressmen will be revealed to be aliens, and South Carolina will win the SEC football championship.  I don’t know if any of that will happen, but I’d like to offer my own predictions, with the prediction that all of them will come true.

In 2018, people will believe they are the exception to the rules.  They will think they can eat what they want and lose weight; spend what they want and not incur debt; and not be late for a 10:30 appointment when they leave at 10:33. People will then complain about the unfairness of life when reality bites them.

In 2018, people will hunger for connection so much they will hold onto unhealthy relationships, remain in circles that are toxic, and stay in abusive situations. They will tell themselves again and again, “He/she will change.”  They will enjoy a few good days followed months of bad weeks.

In 2018, people will be frustrated that they know the right thing, but are unable to do it.  They will resolve to eat better, exercise more, manage time better, and be emotionally healthy, but old patterns will take over before the Super Bowl.  As John Ortberg said, “Habit eats willpower for lunch.”

In 2018, our leaders will promise to get along, end poverty, lower taxes, stop war, improve the economy, bring justice for all, part the Red Sea, and cure cancer.  None of this will happen.  Our leaders won’t tell us the truth about what they can or can’t reasonably do because they are reasonably sure we can’t handle the truth.

In 2018, thousands of churches will pledge to change the world, while continuing to operate as if it is 1958.  Church members, instead of facing their resistance to change, will blame their pastors.  The pastors will blame their boards.  The board will blame the congregation.  The cycle will repeat.   No one will ask Jesus what he thinks.

In 2018, sexual wounding will continue at high levels.  People will believe sexual satisfaction is the same as soul satisfaction, and thus harm themselves.  Children will be pushed to choose their sexual preferences before they are emotionally and physically mature.  Despite the recent outcry against sexual harassment, harassment will continue.

In 2018, greed will silently drive men and women to avoid rest, work longer, cut ethical corners, go in debt, and stab co-workers in the back.  Justifications will be made that it is for the good of families or in preparation for the future.  No one will want to admit he or she is greedy; he or she will point to someone else who is greedier and proclaim they are not so bad.  People prefer their greed to live in the shadows.

These predictions might sound too pessimistic.  I simply think the most accurate prediction for 2018 is people will continue to act like people, just as they have for thousands of years.

In 2018, however, the Good News is God will still be God.  He will still forgive people when they confess their sins.  He will still help those who call on him.  He will still advocate for the poor and powerless.  He will still call tenderly to people far from him to come home, and find the rest their souls long for.

You can count on God loving you in 2018.  That means you can live this new year in hope.

Hopeful New Year everyone.