Agents 86 & 99–Kaos or Control?

Some of you will remember a sixties TV show called “Get Smart.” It starred Don Adams as Maxwell Smart, A.K.A. Agent 86, his partner Barbara Feldon known only as Agent 99, and Edward Platt who was always referred to as, “The Chief.”

It was a comedy spoof that ran from 1965-1970. I thought it was cool and funny. Max had secret-agent gizmos that he struggled to operate, but one that he used every week was his shoe phone. Yes, Agent Maxwell Smart had a phone in his shoe.

 

get-smart-tv-show
Secret Agent Stuff–The Amazing Shoe Phone. We All Wanted One!

 

Each episode was about a Washington agency named CONTROL doing battle with an evil empire known as KAOS. Agents 86 and 99 were sent to thwart whatever plan of tyranny KAOS had derived for the week. Of course, each mission was dangerous, and the intrepid agents would come close to falling or failing, but they never did.

Control and Kaos

Somebody once said that chaos and order aren’t enemies, only opposites. That they live side by side and are connected as if one couldn’t exist without the other.

Is there evil that results in chaos? Is there goodness that produces order?

By chaos and order, I’m not referring to organized versus unorganized. I’m referring to the conflicts and destructive impact of a life lived sinfully versus the peace and constructive value of a life lived in the Holy Spirit.

Unrighteousness leads to chaos while righteousness leads to divine order.

Jesus, our Messiah, said this:

“The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness how great is that darkness?” 

Darkness and light or chaos and order. How are your eyes today? Have they allowed the light of Christ to shine within, or are they closed to keep your heart in darkness?

Are you living in the light of divine order or in the darkness of sinful chaos?

We live in a world that is referred to as fallen and broken. How did it fall? What broke it? Are we also fallen and broken? Is the darkness within us a great darkness?

Either we exist in chaos by our separation from God or in order by a divine connection. Either in darkness by sinful disobedience or in the light by divine holiness.

TO CLOSE

CONTROL and KAOS were elements of a thirty-minute show in the sixties. The light of holiness and the dark of sinfulness are elements of life today, of divine order versus human chaos.

Perhaps we all need some kind of shoe phone—something heavenly to keep us connected with the divine. Actually, we do. It’s the Messiah, it’s Jesus, our Lord, and Savior.

Have a blessed day.

A Grandmother & Five Grandkids

This past Saturday, I was at an event that was full of love, compassion, and generosity. We partner with a nonprofit called Hope Active. They exist to serve those in need, and their goal is to alleviate some of the sufferings of despair and poverty in Jesus’ name.

Some events that we have partnered:

  • A basketball camp for autistic children with Houston Rocket’s players
  • An annual day to give backpacks and school supplies to families in need, typically serving over 700 children each year.
  • An Angel Tree, gift-wrapping event to bless families for Christmas
  • Three times in the last two years, we have hosted Hope Active events in our gym.
  • Many Southeast members volunteer for these events.
  • Janel Hopper, our Children and Family Minister, is on the Hope Active board.

What I found most gratifying was how they served in the name of Christ. Because of Covid, the people who came remained in their cars, and when they reached the gift station, volunteers gave them the backpacks and supplies. It was a drive-through event.

Janel, along with her family, were outside serving. She told me this story.

A car pulled up with a woman and her five grandchildren. As I greeted her, she became emotional and began to weep. She talked about losing two of her sons, one a few years ago to a gunshot wound and one to leukemia last year. She was the sole care-provider for her grandchildren, and money was tight, and life was hard. But she was thankful that her son passed before the pandemic because it would have been so much harder with him being in isolation. I offered to pray with her and she immediately said yes. I asked God to help with her grief and anxiety and for her grandchildren.

She left with five new backpacks with school supplies. But also having been touched by the blessing of someone who cared. Someone who cared enough to pray for her.

Jesus said that we will always have the poor with us, John 12:8. It’s a verse often misquoted, misapplied, and misunderstood. I have heard Christians reference the verse to justify not helping the poor, as if to say,

“Well, there’s no shortage of poor people, we can always help later.” 

Not at all sure that is what Jesus meant.

IN CLOSING

I wasn’t outside in the heat ministering to those in need. I was inside with air-conditioning doing data entry. It’s okay, it all has to be done. But I was one of four who were doing the data entry. The other three were women, African American women, and Hope Active is their primary ministry. They volunteer a lot, they want to help.

I spent a couple of hours with them and was blessed by their conviction. They genuinely desire to help the least of Christ’s brothers and sisters.

It was an event full of love, compassion, and generosity. I was blessed just to be there.

 

 

 

The Cold, Dark Lens

I stand in my usual spot. Some call it a stage, and some have called it the pulpit. Either way, it’s where sermons are delivered, lessons taught, and messages shared.

My usual spot is where I preach on Sunday mornings. Two sermons a week, one for each service. But not lately. The last Sunday that we had two live services was March 8. 

Now I deliver my sermons on Wednesday afternoons. That’s when they are recorded and then live-streamed from our website. Each Sunday, 800-1000 people will watch the service on their phone, computer, or big screen TV and do so from the comfort of their homes. I see none of them.

My spot is in the Worship Center designed for hundreds of people. But instead of looking at a congregation of familiar faces, I look into a camera lens. It’s a hard thing to do, to record in a big, dark, empty space. Looking into a lens is not warm and fuzzy; it’s lifeless, and it gives nothing back, not a warm smile or rich laughter. It is an empty experience, unrewarding, and unfulfilling. 

Camera lens

It’s the way it has to be. We call it the Corona Virus, or just virus, Covid-19, or the pandemic. Twice we have planned to reopen the church, and twice we have canceled due to an upsurge of new cases in the greater Houston area. So, we record a worship service with the praise team, prayer leaders, and commuion.

But it’s not the same, is it? 

Church family, I miss you. I miss shaking hands and hugging and seeing you love each other. I miss our Youth Group and all of our kids and sharing the Lord’s meal. 

You are prayed for and lifted up before the Father.

TO CLOSE

I’ll end with the following hope:

“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

“I can do everything through him who gives me strength.”

Philippians 4:4-7, 13

 

When Silence Speak Volumes

Someone once said that Jesus was color blind. Was he?

From an unknown source:

“Jesus didn’t see color. He only saw people. He saw everyone as a person first and then the other things second, if at all.

In his presence, people felt empowered by a love that was freely given, that wasn’t based on their appearance. People were his invention, made in his image, from every race and color.” 

AND ME?

I was raised to give respect and kindness to everyone, regardless of who they were. So, it was quite a surprise the first time I witnessed racism, and it affected me deeply.

It affected me like it did the first time I saw kids hurt another kid because he was different. It was at school.

Years later, I would see Christians offend other Christians because they were different. It was at church. 

I discovered that people could be cruel to those who were different.

 

AN OLD PROBLEM?

Some say that racism is something that happened long ago and no longer exists. 

Last week a friend told me that while serving a church in Alabama, her husband baptized an African American woman. The elders ordered the baptistry drained and scrubbed. Then he was fired.

I vividly remember the KKK marching close to the church I was serving, it stunned me.

Perhaps racism isn’t as widespread or as overtly violent as it once was, but it still exists, there is still violence, and it’s still a problem.

IS RACISM CHRISTIAN?

It isn’t Christian, but that hasn’t stopped it from happening. Here’s a question:

Is racism more of a social issue or a moral issue? 

Racism often gets parked in a social context, which can hinder believers from connecting it to Christ-centered truth.

An Illustration: Most Christians believe that abortion is sinful. They view it as a national stain and stand against it on moral grounds. 

Other Moral Issues:

  1. Sexual immorality
  2. Abuse of women and children
  3. Pornography
  4. Corruption 
  5. Discrimination 

These are identified as moral issues, but not racism.

It’s a sensitive and prickly thing, with plenty of piercing thorns that many preachers try to avoid. I’ve been preaching for forty years and have never delivered a sermon about the sin of racism. Why is that? Have I been afraid? Has it not been relevant to the churches I serve? 

Perhaps I’ve never accepted it as truly immoral. As a Christain leader, I’m to stand against immorality. If racism is sinful, then it’s a moral issue, and I should stand against it on those terms.

“Rather than build a bridge of connection, I created a bubble of silence.” 

I’ve sympathized with African American people, but not empathized. Sympathy allows me to feel bad, but not have to do anything. Empathy allows me to feel bad, and then to engage in their experience, to come alongside and be part of their story.

It can be complicated. Both sides eagerly list the sins of the other and willingly point the fingers of guilt and shame. It can be confusing.

A JOURNEY

I’m asking, “What would Jesus do, and what would he want me to do?”  

I’m reading books about race relations and discussing the problems with people of color. I participated in a webinar on black-white issues. I’ve met with two African American Pastors, saying that I had come to learn and to ask them to teach me.

I don’t have the answers. Frankly, I’m still learning the questions. But I know we must work towards peace. We should strive for the equality that Jesus died to provide, that there be no sides, only his sacred community.

TO CLOSE

I’m aware of an occasion when a white person refused to take a communion tray being passed by a black person. I’m aware because I saw it.

Folks, if we can’t gather together around the table of communion, how will we ever gather togather around the throne of glory? 

I think someone was right. Jesus is color blind.

Shalom

COVID-19, Lasting Church Changes

There is something I’ve heard a lot. It’s a common theme for church members and leaders:

“I can’t wait until we are back to normal.”

I understand the statement. We eagerly await the day the full congregation returns to public worship, and everything members need.

Some things we want to return:

  • Nursery care
  • Children’s programs
  • Youth classes
  • Adult classes
  • The regular service schedule
  • Seeing everyone together

Some things we want to end:

  • Face coverings
  • Social distancing
  • Checking for fever
  • Everything wiped down
  • Fear of touching or being touched
  • The perpetual talk about Covid-19

However, there is a growing awareness that the “normal” we long for may never materialize. Nobody knows for sure, but as churches reopen across the country, we are learning some things. Here are five things that shape a new normal.

  1. Many churches will not see the attendance they had prior to COVID.
  2. Some members will choose to remain home and participate online.
  3. Some worship services and bible studies will continue digitally.
  4. We became multi-site churches and that will remain on some level.
  5. A heightened sense of risk may stay with us for a long time.

Church leaders need to embrace the new normal instead of grieving for the church they once knew. Smart leaders will view the differences as opportunities and not as disruptions. It won’t be easy. It feels different and strange. But work through it.

New technology can help the church. Most churches haven’t had a large digital footprint, they didn’t need one, but those days are ending. Churches that upgrade their digital capabilities will be able to meet the needs of their congregants and community. The churches that don’t will struggle to catch up.

To Close

Churches that were growing before COVID-19 will continue to grow, even with the new normal. Churches that were declining will probably continue to decline.

Here is a thought.

Proud leaders see something they don’t understand and say, “That’s wrong.”

Humble leaders see something they don’t understand and say, “Please teach me.”  

The church culture has changed. But it’s the same gospel, the same Savior and the same Heavenly Father. May he bless and guide us as we navigate through different waters.

Sunday: Families of Faith

Did Jesus dislike families? Did he have any reason to?

John 7 records that his brothers didn’t believe in him. What about his dad, what happened to Joseph? The family would be used as an excuse for not becoming his disciple. His own apostles, at times, were torn between following him and going back to their homes and families.

Here is a particularly difficult text about this in Matthew 10.

“Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.” v. 34-35

“A man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.” v. 36

A troubling thing for the Prince of Peace to say.

Matthew 10:34-36 is a quote from Micah 7:6. The prophet spoke against Judah and Israel for abandoning their faith. He condemned them for social injustice, the leader’s abusive behaviors, and how those with power brutalized the poor.

Micah 6:14 says that the leaders were attempting to stockpile for themselves olive oil, wine, and grains. But they would not enjoy any of it, for it would be forcefully taken by their enemies and their swords. Jesus’ sword was a metaphor, to illustrate that his presence and his message would separate the righteous from the unrighteous.

Micah spoke of the tribulation that would soon come upon the people. That a season of desperation would lead them to betray and abuse each other. They would steal from each other, even from the members of their own families.

Such was the context in which Jesus spoke against Israel’s leaders. He was about to send his apostles to preach throughout Israel and Galilee. He warned them about hardships, and about their being flogged in the synagogues. Jesus said that the message of the kingdom would divide families.

As it was for Micah the Prophet, so it was for the Son of David. He would challenge the people to return to God, to love one another, and to eliminate greed, injustice, and intolerance from their hearts.

Jesus’ message wasn’t always received with joy.

So, it makes it all the sweeter when I see families of faith. Yesterday, in both services, we had videos of families at home who led us in prayer, in communion, and in the process, touched our hearts and enriched our souls. It was beautiful.

Jesus with families

To Close

Jesus wasn’t born to dislike people. He didn’t come to tear us apart or to divide friends and families. But he knew his message would create friction, for even within the same family, some would believe and some wouldn’t.

I thank God daily for our young families at the Southeast church. Thank you for your faith, and God bless you for sharing it with all of us.

Is It Just A Number?

Today is my birthday. Yep, May 18, 1956, was my entrance to the world. I was born in Moses Lake, Washington, and that makes me a natural-born citizen of these United States. 

The math gets harder, so I’ll spare you the trouble. I am now 64 years old. Here are a few of the ideas that I considered, and rejected, for this blog. 

  1. A poem with sixty-four verses
  2. The highlights of my life
  3. The lowlights of my life
  4. Reasons why 64 is better than 63
  5. The things that hurt more today than yesterday

However, none of those seem interesting, and I’m sure most wouldn’t finish reading. So, instead, I’ll ramble for a few hundred words.

Some Facts:

  1. I’ve been married for forty-one years and a dad for 35.
  2. I’ve been a minister for forty years.
  3. Houston has been my home for twenty-two years.
  4. My favorite thing is fly fishing the streams of the Colorado Rockies.
  5. Christmas is still my favorite holiday.  

Some things I’ve discovered about myself: 

  1. I’m not as smart as I thought I was. 
  2. I’ve been wrong about quite a few things.
  3. Change is hard, but it is always the right thing.
  4. I have failed as much as I’ve succeeded.
  5. Believe me, the mind is the first thing to go.

If age is just a number and we are as young as we feel, then half the time I’m confused about how old I am. But it matters not for whatever number reflects my time on earth; it remains just a number. 

I remember when dad bought a color television. It was a massive piece of furniture with beautiful polished wood. I think it was the nicest piece in our living room.

I remember the Beatles on Ed Sullivan and watching Niel Armstrong walk on the moon. 

I got my first bike at eight, my first skateboard at nine, and my first car at sixteen. It was 1973 and the car was a 1962 Chevy Bel Air with 1.6 million miles. 

The Viet Nam war borrowed my dad and then my brother. My other brother spent a dozen years in the Navy. All three served with distinction. 

I’ve learned that life can knock you down, again and again. Life can also present opportunities and open doors when least expected. 

In seasons of dark days with unending grief, I’ve learned it’s best to keep moving forward. Life goes on so we might as well go with it. Life rarely stops to let us catch up.  

As hard as it is to believe, we are never truly alone. All around us are people who have experienced the same troubles. When I feel isolated, cut off, and alone, it’s usually the way I want it. My suffering seems nobler when I brave it by myself, but it’s not. 

I never thought I would get a cell phone, but I did. I never thought I would have more than one TV in my house, but I do. I never thought I would ever drive a convertible, but I am. 

I never thought that being a father would be the highest achievement of my life, but it has. I never thought I would live through a global pandemic, but so far so good.

Life’s struggles, trials, and failures aren’t terrible things. Instead, they have shaped me and enhanced my life quality.

Today is my birthday. I think I’ll go out for lunch. Wait, can I? Should I? I better wear a mask. Will that be awkward? Lower it for each bite, then cover up while chewing, and then repeat? Anyway…

Happy birthday to me. 

 

 

Is This All a Dream?

Guess which television show aired from 1959-1964? Need more information? It ran for five seasons and was hosted by the Emmy Award-winning Rod Serling who wrote 80 of the 150 episodes.

Of course, I’m talking about The Twilight Zone, a show that was a mixture of science fiction, horror, drama, superstition, and comedy. It was sometimes scary, and other times thought-provoking, and often it was just plain weird.

Twilight Zone

I mention this because I feel like I’m caught in the loop of one of its episodes.

Key Words

  • strange
  • unbelievable
  • macabre
  • frustrating
  • unnerving
  • sad

For many of us, it’s a bizarre turn of events that we’ve never encountered.

The Unexperienced

  • home quarantine
  • social distancing
  • face coverings in public
  • empty shelves in stores
  • global pandemic
  • isolation

Face coverings

Some of What’s Been Closed

  • schools
  • churches
  • restaurants
  • businesses
  • sporting events
  • theaters

Virus Outbreak Washington

Feels like I should wake up to discover that’s it all been a dream. But I haven’t.

empty shelves

 

Affecting Everyone

It’s all the sadder when we consider all the High School seniors who will not have a prom or a commencement ceremony, not to mention college seniors.

Plans, events, vacations, business ventures, summer camps and all manner of hopes and dreams have been shut down. It’s just hard.

Are we sure this isn’t a Twilight Show episode?

Some Encouraging Thoughts

I can do everything through him who gives me strength.                                               Philippians 4:13

Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.                                                                                                                                  I Thessalonians 5:16-18

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.                           2 Corinthians 4:16-18

IN CLOSING

No, this isn’t a TV episode, it’s really happening. But this to shall pass. In the darkness, a light will shine. With the heartache will come the tender mercies of God. In the waiting, some surprisingly good things will be discovered.

As a friend of mine pointed this out to me:

“In hurricane Harvey God told us to take care of our neighbors. In COVID-19 God is telling us to take care of our families.” 

“With God all things are possible.”

A Woman and a Well

People make attachments, it’s in our nature. Some things that I’m attached to:

  • The couch in the tv room.
  • The right side of our bed.
  • A morning cup of coffee.
  • An old pair of slippers.
  • The tv in our tv room.
These things don’t define me, they don’t determine who I am or establish my value. But I love them. I’m attached.
The question is: Are there attachments in my spiritual life? Are there ideas and beliefs with which I have made secure connections? The answer: Of Course!
  • A New Testament that I’ve used for 42 years.
  • Some traditions that I hold sacred.
  • Close friends with whom I share spiritual affinities.
  • Worship that feels secure, comforting, and expected.
  • Certain verses of scripture that reinforce my beliefs.

There are many, many more.

AN EXAMPLE

Jesus once spoke to a woman with attachments. He asked her to give him some water from a well. She reacted with surprise, if not shock because men didn’t speak to women in public unless they knew them. She had no idea who he was.

Jacobs well

Their conversation moved into the spiritual. When the woman grew uncomfortable, she claimed that the well belonged to the Patriarch Jacob, who was Abraham’s grandson. And in her day, the land they were standing on was Samaritan, not Jewish. To her, the well was a physical manifestation of a sacred heritage.

Consequently, she didn’t need to listen to Jesus. Her faith and religion were well established by Jacob’s well. She was attached to the well, not for its water, but for its spiritual value.

However, he was the Messiah, and when she realized that he was, she went back to her village and told everyone that she had found the Lord’s anointed. She led them to Jesus, and they asked him to stay, and he did, for two days, and many of them believed.

Does it seem silly that she was so spiritually attached to a well? Or is it only a matter of time, place, and culture? Are we connected to anything that defines our faith and spirituality?

  • Sitting in the same seat every week.
  • An unchanging order of worship.
  • Needing to hear specific phrases and words in sermons.
  • How we look, what we wear to church.
  • An inflexible expectation regarding our traditions.
  • Unwillingness to distinguish tradition from the truth.

IN CLOSING

The woman didn’t wake up that day, knowing she would encounter the Messiah. She went to the well to get some water, but what she really needed couldn’t be carried in a bucket. He gave her living water, springing up from within, a wellspring of the Holy Spirit that would never run dry.

 

A Cave In Canaan

Cemeteries have existed for as long as man has been on the earth. Every culture has its customs and burial traditions. Some are rooted in religious beliefs while others are based on mysticism, folklore, and superstition.

cemetary

Regardless of the cultures and customs, we have always required a place for the dead to rest. Cremation is a type of burial, whether the ashes are kept intact or scattered to the winds, its an ancient and modern approach to how we manage our dead.

A BURIAL STORY

Abraham lost his wife. Her name was Sarah and when she died he realized that he had no place to bury her. He had moved his family to Canaan and had yet to face the prospect of death in his family.

So, Abraham met with the Hittites who were the owners of where he had pitched his tents. He asked to purchase a piece of land that had a cave, the cave of Machpelah. He paid them 400 shekels of silver and then laid his Sarah to rest in what became the family tomb.

Eventually, Abraham was buried there as were Isaac and his wife Rebeckah, and Jacob and his wife Leah. Rachel was not buried in the tomb. She had died in childbirth while in the vicinity of Bethlehem and buried there.

THE TOMB

The Tomb of the Patriarchs became sacred to the Jewish people, it was the final resting place for their greatest forefathers, especially Abraham.

The Jewish Mystics believed that the cave was also a portal to the garden of Eden–where Adam and Eve were buried. So, the cave of Machpelah symbolized the creation of man and then the line of the heritage through the patriarchs.

cave-of-the-patriarchs

Jacob’s wife Leah was buried in the cave, she had given birth to a boy named Judah.

From the tribe of Judah came a shepherd boy who would be anointed the King of Israel, his name was David. From David came the lion of the tribe of Judah, the one we call Jesus, the King of Kings.

From Adam to Abraham. From Abraham to Isaac, Jacob, Judah, David and the Christ, the Son of David, the Son of God. From Jesus to you and to me and to all who believe.

IN CLOSING

Cemeteries and burial places can be fascinating places. For those who believe, a cave in ancient Canaan became a tomb representing the beginning of time and the fulfillment of the ages, the Messiah’s arrival.

He came to offer salvation to the world.

It was just a cave, a burial tomb, but for every believer, it represents our spiritual roots and the beginning of our blessings in Jesus Christ.