Sunday, November 27, 2005


Have you ever watched the 2005 movie version of War of the Worlds? There is one scene where Tom Cruise's character is running through the streets of the city and the tripod robot aliens are shooting people with their lasers. The instant the laser beams hit a person, their clothing goes flying off as they are instantly vaporized. One second they are there, the next they are gone. Vanished, like a vapor.

"How do you know what will happen tomorrow? For your life is like the morning fog (vapor)--it's here a little while, then it's gone."

James 4:14 NLV

Several years ago my dad's brother had prostate cancer and is so far, now cancer free. My aunt had cancer a while back and recieved treatment. Thursday she has had subsequent bowel surgery due to the treatment. Three weeks ago a family friend tried to take their own life. On Wednesday my parent's close friend of over two decades just died from liver failure due to Hepatitus C. This Sunday night a friend from a former pastorate is on his death bed after a stroke. He has lived most of his life with no legs and one functioning arm. He is spending his last days withering away in a V.A. hospital. Last month a 13 year old boy in our church was diagnosed with bone cancer and another friend is waiting for a liver as he has liver cancer. These are examples of people that you would say are "close" to me, either through a family connection or church connection, that are suffering from life-threatening or life-ending health issues. On top of that I've seen close friends and relatives die, I've buried an infant and a thirteen year old boy. I attended the funeral of an 18 year old freshman college classmate tragically killed in an auto accident. It doesn't seem like it's supposed to be this way. Life really is like a vapor.

"And if God cares so wonderfully for flowers that are here today and gone tomorrow, won't he more surely care for you?"

Matt. 6:30 NLV

Life is short. Make it count. Live like Jesus. And don't forget, God really does care about you and all that you're going through.

America's Ugliest Bathrooms

Right now I'm watching "America's Ugliest Bathroom" on TLC. The whole point of the show is to discover the worst bathroom in America, gut it and remake it, brand new, from scratch. When the host enters the bathroom they are met with toilets that used to be white, shower stalls with scum, mold, mildew and the works. Basically a health hazard. I'm wondering if these people even see it or have ever thought about cleaning their bathroom! I'm shocked at a couple of things.

1. People tolerate some pretty bad bathrooms.
2. People have no shame or embarrassment at millions of people seeing it.

When it comes to Christian spirituality I see some parallels here. I think all of us have a propensity to acclimate to our messes. It may be the stuff in the car, the clutter in your house, the mess your schedule is in etc. When it comes to our spirituality it may be things like our vices, our "secret sins" and their results. It may be our toxic relationships or our habits. We humans, if we look at our lives at some point, have tolerated some pretty bad "bathrooms" in our time. Because we've been so used to it we haven't even had the shame or sense to hide those things.

The great thing is, that like all bathrooms can be introduce to "Mr. Clean" or even a complete makeover, our lives can experience the same thing. The Bible says to be "washed with the water of the Word." It says that through the word of God we can be "transformed by the renewing of your mind." The word of God can and will do you a great service if applied on a regular basis to your life. There are those who seem "stuck in their stuff" all the time. They tolerate their situation, their circumstance. I think my wife said it best when she said, "You deserve what you tolerate."

Bathrooms are supposed to get "used". The fact that there is traffic in and out of there is a given. And likewise we get "used". We live in a fallen world. There is traffic all around us, things going on, temptations, triumphs, falls and failures. What do we do with all of this stuff?

Well, we're not bathrooms but we all have souls to be cleansed. I guess the prophet Isaiah (1:18) said it very well when the Lord through him said, "Come now, let us argue this out." says the LORD. "No matter how deep the stain of your sins, I can remove it. I can make you as clean as freshly fallen snow..."

So I guess we all at some point have "America's ugliest bathrooms". We just don't have to tolerate it!

Friday, November 25, 2005

This is My Idea of Going to Church

This Thanksgiving holiday I was finding myself clearing a Thanksgiving Day blanket of snow from the front walk of our church. Wanting to get a bit warm I went inside. There I saw a couple of ladies who had been setting up about a dozen or so round tables, cloths, centerpieces, place settings etc. Why was this all going on? What would compel two ladies with families, as well as the other expected volunteers, to come in, work and give up precious hours on Thanksgiving day? Well in the words of Connie (one of the ladies) it's simple. As she walked by me setting some things up she said, "This is my idea of going to church".

This activity was one of the most recent accounts of unselfishness I've seen in a while. These people were setting up and throwing a Thanksgiving Day feast for truckers who are not able to be home for this holiday. The holidays are an ironic time of year. In Christian speak we say things like, "It's a time for giving and sharing" or, "It's a time to remember those who are less fortunate and be thankful for what you have." That's all true and great but for the most part, it's always said and never actually done! How many of us actually find ourselves imersed in a private or organized effort to give and share? Well, a lot of us do it once a year. That's not a bad thing.

The striking thing about the lady's idea of going to church, ie. serving people a meal that they otherwise wouldn't get, is exactly what the teachings of Christianity tell us to do. Jesus was constantly eating with his disciples and providing food for the thousands who followed him to hear him. In James 1:27 it says, "Pure and lasting religion in the sight of God our Father means that we must care for orphans and widows in their troubles, and refuse to let the world corrupt us." Taking care of people without family is what it's all about. In Mark 12:30 Jesus said to love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and also to love your neighbor as yourself.

So, to the ladies who gave up time with family and friends to provide a meal for and be with some people who had no family or friends around them, I salute you! Thank God for people who don't want to just go to church, but rather, want to BE the Church. And thanks also for reminding all of us that we really can do more...when we realize it doesn't always have to be about us.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Starbucks Can Teach Churches a Good Lesson

I love Starbucks. Some people are Dunkin Donuts fans but not me. Starbucks is the greatest thing that ever happened to coffee, and maybe even the country. If the Bible was written today and the Israelites were looking at going into Canaan and I was one of the people who spied out the land, I'd come back and say, "Tis a land filled with grande-non fat-no whip-mocha". Now that's a Promised Land!

On my day off I have a routine. I drop the kids off at school, go to the bank, fuel my vehicle and treat myself to one of the reasons for living...the grande-non fat-no whip-mocha. This past day off I did my usual and took the disposable holy grail afixed with the sleeve as to not burn my hand, and drove to run an errand. I let my beverage cool for a few minutes while I drive down the road. Then, the moment, like a kid at Xmas, like a couple on their wedding day, like... OK maybe I'm overdoing it here...I took the sacred sip! Instead of enjoying what I expected to be my chosen drink, I had a cup of hot chocolate that cost me $3.68! Not that I don't like hot chocolate. I just didn't expect that after I ordered it. The problem was that there was no espresso. What's a man to do? Don't be messing with a guy's espresso.

So as I drive to my errand I remembered another Starbucks location that I would pass (the Lord provides our every need). I stop and go inside. I explain to the nice lady at the counter what had happened. When I asked how much a shot of espresso would be, she said, "We'll just make you another drink" (insert kid at Christmas analogy here). I almost could't believe it. It was a chance for a profit. An opportunity to capitalize on my dilema for another $3.68 but she didn't do it. I felt so taken care of. So appreciated and honored that inspite of a mistake at one place, it was important to the company to make good on my expectation. It was so important that the face at the counter made sure it happened for me.

Why is it that more churches can't be like Starbucks? We have people who attend some churches and are offended and hurt only to leave and find another church where they get offended and hurt. There are some people who say that "these people just need to stop being so easily offended." Then when these offended people leave it seems to never be the church's fault. There is never a person involved beside the offended one. The apostle Paul in his writings in the New Testament ALWAYS put the responsibility of not offending people on the MATURE believers. He didn't blow off or dismiss the offended ones.

My church isn't perfect (seeing that I'm there and I know who and how I am) but it's vision to bridge gaps, repair breaches and reconciling people back to God sure does make a difference. I see it every week. We have made it a soft place to land, a place for hurt people to heal, offended people to grow, burned out people to regroup and wandering people to land. What makes it this kind of place? I think it's like Starbucks. It's the face(s) behind the counter. The people are more concerned that people come here and are honored, taken care of, cared about and encouraged. Whether it's one of the pastors, the greeters, the ushers, the welcome center people or whomever, they all speak the same thing...we love you. We want you taken care of while you're here, however long that may be!

So the next time you see that green and black circle with the "seductive siren of coffee" in the window of Starbucks, remember how they make you feel. And try to do that same thing wherever you go! People are coming to our churces with an expectation of love and acceptance. They stop by thinking they got burned at the last one so they are bracing for this one. Let's not give them anything else than what they expect of a loving church. If we do, don't act surprised if they go somewhere else.

Starbucks coffee "grande-non fat-no whip-mocha" is the official coffee of Velocity and its director.
No compensation in any form was paid to Velocity or its director for mentioning "Starbucks" in this column although it sure would be nice since he visits so often and spends as much for a gallon of milk he could be using for his kids for one cup of coffee!
Starbucks vs. Dunkin Donuts in a cage match...Starbucks always wins.

God Can Wash it Off

This past week I started doing myself the favor of getting a bit healthier. Having always loved athletics, sports etc. in high school and college, I thought it would be good if I started working out. My friend gets me this pass for a week to a local gym. I go. I work out. I get reaquainted with the phrase "no pain, no gain".

On day one I pumped the iron. I didn't overdo it. On day two I did a few different excercises (so as not to overdo it). On day three, four etc. I cycle through my routine. The part I forgot was that my arms were attached to my body and were used to work different parts of the body. I worked the chest, the biceps, the shoulders, the lats etc. all by doing routines with my arms.

So one day mid-week I literally cannot straighten my arms and when I do reach for something, shake a hand, get a fork, whatever, I am in pain. The Aleve gel caps aren't cutting it, nor is the ibuprofen. At my wits end over the arm pain and lack of mobility, I make a verbal complaint in the kitchen to my wife. The whole point of this story is what happened next.

My four year old son heard me and said, "God can wash it off dad." I then replied, "wash what off?" He emphatically said, "The HURT!" There you have it. What I teach, try to model, emphasize and pass on to my kids has been caught by my four year old son. The simplicity of our faith from the words of a child. God really can wash it off!

How many times do we forget what we have been taught, what we've learned or received? Did we really learn it if we forgot? I mean we learned how to tie our shoes. We've learned how to drive our cars (well in Massachusetts maybe not!). We've learned how to speak using words and articulate thoughts verbally. Has anyone forgotten how to tie their shoes lately? Have you seen someone you work with perplexed with two laces saying to themselves "Now how does this go again?" I didn't think so. I wonder why? I think it has something to do with how much we practice those things.

God help me and you to always practice the habit of asking God to wash off the pain, the shame, the sin, the difficult things, the irritations, the sicknesses and failures. We forget that God can do it perhaps because we simply don't practice it enough. God really can do it! If you don't believe me, just ask my four year old son.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

It's Holiday Time: Let's put Christ back in our lives!

Jesus said in John 8 that "the truth will set you free." He was talking about two things. First he was talking about obeying his teachings (the truth) and secondly being free (from sin). He taught that one can't be free from sin unless he has the truth. Truth is of utmost importance. Incidently, he said that he himself was the way, the TRUTH and the life. No one goes to the Father except through him.

Truth is defined as "that which is factual". We spend so much time in the church world preparing teachings based on "truth". We have pastors that spend hours studying God's word to share the "truth". We really do want people to know the truth, the facts of the faith, in order that they be free. It's really a noble cause. It's OK. It's good.

But now it's holiday time and I usually offend someone inadvertently with, you guessed it, the truth. You see, when I sign Christmas cards and letters, emails etc., sometimes for the sake of brevity I write "Merry Xmas". "Religious" people go absolutley postal on me for taking "Christ out of Christmas". I'm not going to go into a long teaching (this is only a blog). I'm simply going to list the facts around Christmas. The facts ma'am, just the facts! If truth is "that which is factual" then I hope this truth can set us all free from religious bodages and expectations that are just not true.

The Facts on Christmas

- The disciples and believers of the Early Church never celebrated Christmas.
- Jesus was not born on December 25.
- The Church clergy chose December 25 to compete with rival Roman pagan holidays.
- Massachusetts law banned the celebration of Christmas in colonial times.
- Jesus was not an infant in a manger when the magi arrived to see him.
- The Bible never says there were "three" wise men.
- The tradition of "kissing under the mistletoe" is from ancient Druid and Scandinavian sexual fertility rites. Slow down! No putting mistletoe's not Christmas yet.
- "Xmas" is not omitting Christ from Christmas as early Christians used the Greek letter "X" (first letter of Christ = Xristos) to refer to Jesus in shorthand.
- Giving gifts was a Roman traditon of giving small tokens for good luck to celebrate the winter festivals. Eventually these gifts became more extravagant and costly.
- The little Lord Jesus plenty of crying he made. The Christmas carol "Away in a Manger" can't negate the humanity of the infant Jesus. I have two kids. When they were born, they cried. They're 4 and 7 now. They still cry.

So there you have it. The truth. So what is a person to do? I'm not a prude. I'm not a stiff. I'll have my Christmas tree and share my gifts and eat lots of food with family and friends. Why? Because it's more blessed to give than to receive. It's good to enjoy the fruit of our labor. It's good to be benevolent to those in need, especially to those of the household of faith.

The fact is that there are all kinds of occasions like Christmas that are not Christian in their genesis but we participate in. New Year's Eve, birthdays, Halloween or Harvest parties and one of my personal favorites...SUPERBOWL SUNDAY (Go Patriots!)! These are good. They are fun. The Bible teaches "whatsoever things are good, pure...if there be any virtue, if there be any praise, think on these things." Things that bring joy to us and others should be on our list of things to do.

So instead of making Christmas an idol that is polished off once a year and injected into our lives for a half a week to placate the religious expectation we've been trained to have, let's look at the facts and realize that this is a great reason to celebrate and gather with joy. But when it comes to Jesus, let's not trivialize him with things that aren't true. Let's put him back in our lives on a daily basis for he is the Way the Truth and the Life and no one goes to the Father except through him.

It's coming very soon...

Merry Xmas everyone!

Monday, November 14, 2005

Male Pattern Mullet Tale

The other day I was walking into a building behind a person. In a millisecond my eyes caught a sight that I had never really seen before. Let me explain.

In the 1980's when I was a teenager the "hair bands" and big country rock stars as well as professional hockey players popularized something called "The Mullet". The mullet was two haircuts in one in that from the front view one could see a short, well-trimmed top and sides of the head where in the back it was as long as one wanted it (oh my goodness, I just got off Billy Ray Cyrus' web site and he STILL HAS ONE at!). Before the eighties were the sixties and seventies where men and women beat the system, stuck it to the man and were at one with the universe. They also popularized long, straight pony tales on men and women. The remnants of these are found in biker populations around the country. Then there is the hair style, not of choice, but of heredity, where the real estate of the top of a man's head loses it's tenants - it's called male pattern baldness. What kind of haircut one wishes to don makes no difference to me, just be prepared for social repercussions should they come.

Now, back to the man walking in front of me. As I followed him I first saw the pony tale. Then I saw the male pattern baldness, then as he turned, I saw the front of the mullet. This guy was obviously locked in some decade. I just couldn't figure out which one. Here was a clear case of preference for "what used to be" current, in style and up to date', over "reality". Now I'm not here to host an episode of "What Not To Wear" or some make over show. However I do want to unveil some spiritual parallels here.

In the religious church world I see "male pattern mullet tales" all over the place. How often do churches use outdated techniques to reach the lost? How many times do we play music that has no cultural relevance? How many church people, board members and/or pastors say "we've never done it that way before"? I mean really, does anyone think that handing out tracts is going to get it done anymore? I'm not busting on churches that don't have the latest technology because they can't afford it. I'm not chastising people for handing out tracts either. What I am saying is that we must constantly be challenging the notion of relevance in our efforts to be the Church. God help us if our music, our ideas and our programs are locked in some decade that people of today wouldn't even recognize! If we don't, someone like me is going to come and see us from behind and write something like this.

There is another latent danger that we must be careful of. If we are totally wrapped up in style, technique and presentation etc. then we run the risk of doing things for a great show on the outside and forget what we are really supposed to be. We run the risk of being an organization called a "church" instead of an organism called the "Church".

So, yes, style is important because it is the first impression. It should be a good one. But let's not forget the substance. And for the record, there are plenty of "male pattern mullet tale" people and churches that are made of great stuff.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Louis Farrakhan Said It Best

At Rosa Parks' funeral Louis Farrakhan spoke for several minutes honoring the great mother of the Civil Rights Movement. I did a double take because I understand that Louis Farrakhan is a Muslim but the words he was speaking was the truth of God.

He quoted the words of Jesus when he said, "If any man wants to be my disciple, he must first deny himself, take up his cross and follow me." Louis Farrakhan was telling everyone in the room that Rosa Parks did just that. She denied herself. She put herself secondary to the greater good of others. She picked up her cross. Louis Farrakhan went on to describe the cross as a symbol of sacrifice. It was also a symbol of rejection. Not only did Rosa Parks sacrifice, but she also was rejected.

The unique thing about the experience was that I felt like I was watching a TV preacher, you know, the kind in the southern churches that get what they call "preachy". He was passionate and deliberate in his words. He told the congregation that we are ready to sacrifice like Rosa Parks but stop when it gets uncomfortable. We don't want to be uncomfortable. We don't want to leave the nice things to accomplish the greater things.

Louis Farrakhan is a Muslim, a follower of the teachings of Mohammed. I am a follower of Christ so we know there are fundamental differences. However I believe that here in America, religious Christianity just got "schooled" by Louis Farrakhan. When it comes to being the real deal as a disciple, Louis Farrakhan said it best.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Racial Purity is Our Nation's Security?

"Racial purity is our nation's security." That is what the bumper sticker on the back of a black SUV said Thursday morning, November 3, 2005 as I was taking my wife to work. In the middle of the bumper sticker was the tell-tale symbol of the Ku Klux Klan. Their motto is "God, Race and Nation. Not only could I not believe someone in central Massachusetts was blatantly racist in a growing African community, but they were flagrant about it! It abslolutely blows my mind that some of the KKK even go so far as to say and do their business all in the name of God.

I am not a black American and I found it offensive. I could just imagine how God thinks about it. The Bible teaches that God has made us 'one blood of all nations'. This points to the premise that we all share something in common. The stuff that runs through our veins is the same. No matter where you go in the world, no matter what color of someone's skin, we still all bleed red. We are one race...the HUMAN race!

So what makes a person so bent on bias against someone different? What turns a person to go so far as to blatantly display a disregard for others, especially of other ethnicities? In Worcester County where I live and work, it is one of the most racially diverse areas AND has one of the highest percentages of interacial marriage in MA. There must be something gone wrong in a person to not be OK with that. Wouldn't you think?

The teachings of Jesus call it sin. The New Testament teaches "How can we say we love God who we can't see when we hate our brother or neighbor who we can see?" When it comes to the subject of racial purity I think we need to realize that racial purity IS what will be our security. But I don't mean purity of an Arian nature. I'm referring to the purifying of the human race. What I mean is that we as the human race need to be "pure". All of us, no matter what ethnicity, need to guard ourselves against prejudice. We all need to behave right. We all need to have character. We all need to have integrity. We need to love each other as ourselves and instead of being divisive about race, we need to bridge gaps, repair breaches and seek reconciliation.

So if you know someone who wants to "keep their ethnicity pure", remind them that there are several billion people on the earth and their family tree probably looks like Sherwood Forest meets South American Rain Forest. And if they give you the God speech, remind them of the interacial marriages in the Bible. Remind them that God let Peter have it when he tried to make Gentiles follow Jewish Law when his Jewish friends were around and was all hypocritical about it.

So Mr. Ku Klux Klan Man, wherever you are out there I hope you have a change of heart. I hope that one day you'll understand that other people are just like you...people.