Friday, June 26, 2009

Too much I

I was thinking about Debbie today. The 30+ year memory of her came suddenly into my consciousness. Debbie was in my youth ministry program. She committed suicide.

Debbie was not a pretty girl. She was short, bulky, and had zits. She wasn’t a great socializer. She was on the fringes. I liked her.

If memory serves me well she had a great experience on a retreat. It was an experience of community that lasted, unfortunately, only as long as the car ride home. I knew she longed for a carry over experience. But true community proved elusive for her.

After high school Debbie went away someplace for school. She found a drug crowd. They accepted her. She found that if guys got high enough they found her attractive. The sexually intimate exchanges that followed gave her a sense of belonging and love. She wasn’t being loved. Just used.

For some reason or another Debbie came home. The changes in her exasperated her parents. One night they had enough. They kicked her out. I remember a phone call “Please come get me.” And on a very frigid Minnesota winter night I found Debbie. She was alone and afraid.

I helped her get into a treatment center. Her drug use was killing her. She was getting better but something happened and she ran away. When I tried to find her word came back that ‘she was ashamed of what was happening in her life and she didn’t want to face me.’ I sent back word ‘tell Debbie that I care about her no matter what.’

Late one evening a few weeks later a phone call came late at night. “Mike, we found Debbie. She’s dead. She found an abandoned barn and hung herself.”

At the funeral I remember someone coming to me and saying something along these lines. “Wasn’t that a horrible sin that Debbie committed?”

I lost it a little.

I remember saying something along these line.. “I think we have to take responsibility for some of this. Debbie was part of our church, our ministry. She felt alone. Not included. The only place she could find community is with people who wanted the drugs she could buy. It’s not right. Debbie died of loneliness. She felt abandoned. Her life couldn’t get traction. Suicide wasn’t the answer. Never is. But she felt she had run out of options. Why did she feel so alone when so many of us were all around her? Is there anything we need to own in this?”

Debbie came to mind today. I’m reading a book that I’ll write more about in the days ahead. Part of the author’s discussion revolves around the individualism that runs rampant in today’s church. Individualism stakes out the territory of ‘I’. As long as I’m OK, and me and Jesus are good …then it’s all good. Unfortunately the gospel says a whole lot about ‘we’. That’s hard for us to grasp.

Debbie longed for community. She found it once on a retreat but the mountaintop became a valley. She found it in ‘drug friends’ but she was being used. She couldn’t find it in her family. And at her death some in the church wanted to talk about what they perceived to be her sin, not her life. And it was clear that we didn’t want to use her death as an opportunity to repent of our lack of caring.

That was a long time ago.

Community is still elusive for so many. We capture it occasionally on a mountaintop. We desperately need it in the valley below.

I serve at a big church. People say ‘hi’ all the time. And I wonder. How many Debbie’s are here? Who’s close to losing it? Who’s afraid to come out of hiding? Where are the models of transparency? Where’s the ‘we’ in our definition of community?

Monday, June 22, 2009

Hide and Seek

In the book of Jonah, we read about a man who wants to play a game. The game is called Hide. He thinks he’s a really good player. But he’s playing his game against someone who plays a game called Seek. And he’s the best there is. There’s no one he can’t find …no one, absolutely no one. And He won’t stop until He finds whoever is hiding. It’s not in his nature to quit.

Jonah is the hider and from my perspective is kind of a punk. I don’t know if I’d like him if he moved next door to me. He’s trying to second guess God all the time, he’s disobedient, he thinks he can fool God, and he thinks his game of Hide is better than God’s game of seek. Jonah gives half-hearted effort and when he doesn’t get his way he gets all pouty and throws himself a pity party.

I identify with Jonah. That probably makes me a bit of a punk too. No comments on that please. I like to hide from God. Sometimes I don’t go all out. And I’ve been known to get all sulky and pouty. I'm not proud of this identification. It's painful to write the words. It is accurate however. Thankfully ... hiding, half-hearted effort, sulky and pouty is only an occassional description. I have better moments.

Jonah was being asked to be a prophetic voice, to go into the proverbial lions den and let the meanest, baddest people in the middle east (the Assyrians) know that they had ticked God off and God wanted them to change. Jonah was to remind them of their wickedness and turn their attention to a good God. It’s like one of us being asked to walk into Bin Liden’s camp to tell him and his friends God’s not happy with them.

Jonah didn’t want to go on his ‘mission from God', a mission that was going to require him to use words and not merely be a presence. I get why he wouldn’t want to go. I’d probably say to God

“You want me to go where and tell them what?”

Jonah knew if the Assyrians took God’s message seriously that God would have a big enough heart to give them a second chance. Jonah wasn’t so sure that a second chance is what they deserved. Jonah, I think, thought that God was for the Jews, not for those people over there. And so instead of going into a hostile environment to deliver a hard message that might result in the Assyrians getting a second chance…Jonah decided to run and hide.

Jonah heard pretty clearly from God. He decided not to act on what he heard. Because whatever he heard wasn’t what he wanted to hear.

I don’t know what Jonah was praying about on the morning he heard from God but it wasn’t about Ninevah I don’t think. What Jonah had on His mind wasn’t close to what God had on his. I learned a long time ago that God just might ask us to do something we’re equipped to do but not be something necessarily something we want to do.

That's something to file away. If you find yourself going through life only doing what you want to do …stop …because if you’re only doing what you want to do… well, that doesn’t sound like someone listening to God. Think about it. God has a history of calling people to things beyond what they ever imagined possible.

Noah, build me an Ark.

Moses, confront Pharaoah.

Esther, risk your life.

Mary, bear my son.

Peter, feed my sheep.

Jonah, go to Ninevah

It’s a pattern.

So, if you’re praying tonight and you’re asking God whether or not you should buy a Mercedes, or help in choosing your next outfit to buy, or what you should do with your life don’t be surprised if God says:

"Nope, not a Mercedes. You’ve got too much already. Buy a junker. Take the money you’d save each month and give it to the poor."

"No new outfit. You can’t wear everything you’ve got as it is. No, the reason I’ve got you hear at Nordstroms is because of this salesperson. She’s hurting. Needs a friend. She’s broke. You’re here because I want you to go to her, love her up, tell her about me."

"What you’re doing is fine. But I’ve created you for something more. Make a choice. Do you want your way or my best?"

These aren’t the answers we want. What we want God to say is "shop till you drop, live extravagantly even at the expense of ignoring people I put in your path. And of course, …do your will not mine."

I think Jonah wanted God to say. “I’ll let you go. I’ll find someone else. Spain is lovely this time of year. You deserve a break today.”

God loves us too much to tell us stuff that won’t make us more like Him and advance His purposes on this planet of ours. Our problem is that we’ll pretend not to hear and just go ahead and do what we want. That’s hiding. And God will find us, doing whatever is necessary to get our attention.

Slowly, but surely, I’m learning that it’s better to listen sooner rather than later. The truth of the matter is that God is good. Whatever He asks is His best for me you that moment. Why hide from that?

Dad's Day Musings

Comedian Ken Davis, I believe, is the one who told this story.

One day, while holding my baby daughter in my arms, I made the biggest mistake of my life. I closed my eyes. When I opened them, I was in a dorm at a college helping her to arrange her room. And then, kissing her good-bye, I got in the car and left wondering how all this could have happened so quickly.

On Dad’s Day one remembers stories such as these. They remind us of the quickness of life. One day we’re placing kids in car seats, the next day they are in the drivers seat, and in a heartbeat those children hold their own son or daughter in their arms and we pray they don’t blink. The cycle continues, moving at what seems to be the speed of light. .

Introspective sorts of people think about such things. In the thinking and remembering they wonder about how they did as the parent to the children entrusted to them. Different people use different measurements.

Some might ask.

Are my children successful?
Where do they live?
Can they afford to give their children everything they’ve been given?
Can I brag about them?
Are they well educated?

I prefer these.

Do they love God?
Do they give back?
Are they making a difference?
Will they leave a footprint?
Will they sacrifice for the common good?
Will they care about those who lack essential resources?
Will they teach their children well?
Are their passions and abilities being used to meet some important need in our world?
How generous are they?
Will they choose to live where they can make an impact?
Will they have a deep desire to continue to learn and to grow?
Will they confront evil?

Different questions for different people.

If Jesus is to be believed the first set of questions don’t matter much. The second set are far more important. They point to the priorities of the kingdom, not the world.

I love my kids. Looking back, I did some good things. I also did some not so good things. Of course, I’m not done being their dad yet. In little ways I can still influence their lives. Daily I can pray for them. I also trust that God loves each of them far more than I can ever imagine. He will also be nudging, encouraging, and even disciplining their lives.

My kids grew up too fast. I blinked.

Now, as adults, their lives are filled with choices. They will stand at numerous crossroads during their lifetime. The decisions they make at those times will be important ones.

This world will woo them with promises of instant gratification, the adulation of peers and the gratitude of the marketplace. The kingdom of God beckons them to a life of adventure, a long obedience in the same direction and a chance to leave a legacy of faith, of caring, and of deep impact.

May God give my children and yours the wisdom to grab hold of what will last forever,

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Always Questions

One of my favorite stories in Scripture is out of the Book of Mark. Chapter 2. It’s the story of friends who bring a paralyzed man to Jesus. The last time I spoke on that passage some questions came to my mind. How would you answer them?

Do I expect that God is going to move in incredible ways right here, right now? Here’s the truth. I go to church week in and week out fully expecting not much to happen. I talk a good game but when push comes to shove do I really expect God to do something quite remarkable right here right now. Seriously. Do I believe that my God can break out and do something in someone’s life …maybe yours …now, today? My big fear is that I’ve become a spectator at a religious game.

If I really believe God can still move powerfully ...well then, who’s mat am I carrying? Who am I praying for so intently that I’m begging God to do something in that person’s life? And am I willing to be inconvenienced, to push through the crowd, and to climb onto a roof because my love for someone else and for God is so strong I can’t do anything else?

Do people matter to me? Really matter. And do I pay attention to those who interrupt my day and disrupt my patterns?

Am I willing to give up my membership in the religious referees club? Would I be willing to give up my right to declare a penalty when God acts in a way that breaks the mold I’ve created for him or when you break out of the culturally Christian mold of what a person of faith should look like?

Would I be willing to climb onto the mat myself when I’m hurting and allow your faith to carry me? Am I willing to all your prayers to become mine when I can’t find the strength to utter them myself?

And do I really believe that God can heal me inside and out? I’ve often wondered what the paralyzed man would have said …when someone asked him about ‘what happened’ back there. What would he have said about the ‘sin’ thing? Did it feel like Jesus took a backhoe to his insides and cleaned him, put him back on his feet and made him like new? And if he had a choice would he choose that inside healing over the more obvious physical healing? Is that what I really want?

And my answers.

I want God to be bigger than the box I’ve put him in.

I want every gathering of believers be a place where we walk away and go ‘whoa, this is a dangerous place.’ There's a sense that God's on the prowl, always to be trusted but never safe.

And I want my faith to be big enough that someone could hitchhike off it if they need to.

And I want to be the kind of person that’s always looking and praying for people to bring to Jesus.

Just as all people matter to God I want all people to matter to me.

I want Jesus to clean up the junk in my life because all the garbage doesn’t serve me well.

And I don’t want any part of the religious referee’s club. Because I don’t want to be so religious that I’m not real.

How about you?

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Questioning Faith

I started my ministry working in the Catholic Church. And one of the first people who really influenced me was a bishop up in Duluth, Minnesota by the name of Paul Anderson. He was a godly man who swore the following story is true.

In the Catholic Church at one time children were being confirmed in the fifth grade. Some bishops liked to ask particularly tough questions. They would walk the aisle way trying to put little fifth graders on the spot and if they missed a question out the door that they would go.

There was a certain bishop who liked to be hard-nosed and seemed to have a knack for picking the child who was most insecure.

One night he found a young man trying to hide behind a pillar. The bishop zeroed in on the boy asking ‘What’s the Holy Trinity?”

And this little boy kind of looked at him in terror and mumbled softly ‘it’s the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.’

And the bishop glared at him and said “I don’t understand. What’s the Holy Trinity?”

The terrified boy mumbled again “The Father, Son and Holy Spirit.”

Again the bishop said that he didn’t understand and asked the same question. The boy answered in his soft mumble. This happened several times.

Finally the bishop said “Young man, one more chance. What’s the Holy Trinity?”

The boy, quite embarrassed by this time once again said “the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”

The bishop, with raised voice, challenged him saying, “I still don’t understand what you’re saying.” The boy, now filled with righteous indignation finally mustered all the courage he could and said in a loud, clear voice …”You’re not supposed to understand. It’s a mystery.”

In our world that sometimes wants nothing but certainty there is a stage of faith that is dominated it seems much more by questions than answers and requires us to embrace the mystery and uncertainty of our belief systems. Consider what Quaker writer Parker Palmer says. “A contradiction in paradox and the tension of opposites have always been at the heart of my experience. I seem tugged in one direction and then another. I had thought that living spiritually required a resolution of all contradictions and tensions before one could as it were gain one’s wings. Perhaps on the other hand contradictions and paradoxes are not impediments to our spiritual life, but an integral part of it.”

When life and faith appears uncertain we live and breathe what we don’t understand and what we’ve learned to be true no longer has the ring of authenticity. This ‘questioning’ stage of faith can happen to anybody. You can have the finest spiritual pedigree, the best of Christian educations, a life filled with blessings and then one day something happens and we find that our spiritual DNA isn’t enough for that particular moment in time.

Every been there?

Have you ever sensed a shift in the firm foundation of what you knew, what you experienced to be true and the faith that felt so secure? It’s a bewildering time.

It happens to the best. Some speculate that Mother Theresa through most of her adult life experienced more of the absence of God than His presence. Did you know that?

Elijah went from a great victory, taking on the prophets of Baal to shuddering in a cave, depressed, not sure of the protection of this God he served.

This questioning stage of faith is not uncommon. It’s not easy. Most don't welcome it. But when it comes our way we have no choice but to experience it. It's where God will meet us.

Sometimes in the journey of faith we run across people who are certain about everything and anything. You might know someone like that. And these kind of folks always have a ready bible verse, a practiced answer for every question, who live in the light of their knowledge, and who know exactly what needs to be said and thought at any given moment.

Usually these people are not the best guides for someone who is living in a ‘questioning’ stage of faith where contradiction, tensions, and paradox seem normative.

The best guides are those who are comfortable with ambiguity, who know that Jesus resides even amidst the shadows of life, and that a good God can use even these uncomfortable times to shape us into the man or woman He desires us to be. These guides are not wishy-washy. Their orthodoxy is lived in plain view. But they are comfortable with the tensions caused by uncertainty for it has helped shape their life. They will always point you to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit - very real, quite mysterious, always loving you.
This is an excerpt from a sermon given at Christ Church of Oak Brook. If you want, listen to the whole thing.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Loser Guy

This is my wife. She’s grinning sheepishly because she just killed me in putt-putt golf. She wanted to look triumphant (which she did about five minutes later) but, at this particular time, she was being kind. Only 90 minutes earlier I remember proclaiming that she ‘stood no chance’ against me. She was a miniature golf novice. I was an accomplished practitioner of the art of artificial surface putting. And then she ‘smoked me’.

A few days ago I wrote about being dumped into some white water not once but twice. This was a river that I had navigated successfully just a few short years earlier.

So, here I was licking my wounds not once but twice.

OK. OK. You’re right. Losing in putt-putt and getting river dumped is no big deal. And yet, for a short period of time I felt something ‘ugly’ happening in me. You see, I really like to win. I like to beat rivers and have the lowest miniature golf score. I didn’t. I didn’t beat the river and Anita turned out to be the Tiger Woods of putt-putt. But I felt this ‘ugliness’ inside of me. Whenever I sense it I want to know what it’s all about. Ugly doesn’t help me to become all that God wants me to be. In fact, if it isn’t confronted (even in its teeniest manifestation) it gives root to something potentially bigger.

The shorthand version is that goals I had established got blocked. One goal was to stay dry and look good in front of a bunch of guys. The other goal was to ‘win big’ at The Red Putter. Murph had to deal with these blocked goals. What Murph would show up? The 'child' or the 'adult'?

The ‘childhood’ version of Murph makes staying dry, looking good, and winning, pretty big priorities. The adult version of Murph can laugh it all off. So, why does the ‘child’ still show up and why does that version of me still lay claim to so much of my life?

Maybe God uses times like this to humble me. It’s His easy way of letting me know that I’m getting a little too big for my britches. It’s His reminder that I’ve still got some growing up to do. God knows me well enough that I won’t brush ‘the ugly’ away. He knows there’s a bigger dream and purpose in my heart. That dream will never be fulfilled unless I deal with the little things. Wasn’t it Stephen Covey who said ‘the little things are the big things’?

When the ‘child Murph’ shows up God graciously gives the ‘Murph of adulthood’ an opportunity to stand up and be counted. My choice is to recognize the choice before me.

Life is lived in the ordinary experiences of life. It’s in and through the ordinary that things like ego, pride, mean-spiritedness and selfishness reveal themselves. It’s also in and through the ordinary that things like love, peace, patience and self-control stand in opposition to those things that have the potential to tear us down. Which wins out?

I’ve chosen to confront the ugly and give birth to the beautiful. Some days I do a better job of it than others. My deepest desire, my fervent hope is that I can be attentive in the moment to the simple choices that end up defining a life. It’s what helps me to live in the ‘Spirit’and not give in to the 'sin that so easily entagles' us all.

I'm fine. Adult Murph has won out. I will, however, start private miniature golf lessons tomorrow. I can handle being dumped in the river. Losing at putt-putt is another story. Watch out, Anita, a rematch is in your future.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

River Rafting Pin Ball

It's a little hard to see. The guy on the right is me. The guy on the left is my friend Kip. We just hit a rock. We're in a narrow gully. There is no sandy shore line where one can swim to safety. Only rocks, straight up and straight down. There's a nice sized drop at the end of the rapids.

Yep. We went in. Human pin balls. Guides threw two ropes. Kip grabbed both. I decided to develop a personal relationship with every boulder I could find. As an added bonus a couple of rafts decided to run over the top of me.

Just before that drop at the end of the run my brain clicked in and I managed to wedge myself between a rock and a hard place, awaiting rescue.

Unfortunately, that wasn't the last dump into the river. We managed to hit yet one more rock at the very end of the day. That was right at the top of a waterfall (wasn't huge, but water was indeed falling).

My body was indeed bruised. My ego slightly bent out of shape. But you want to know something? It was really fun. I'm inclined to believe Kip doesn't know his right from his left and he's convinced I'm directionally dysfunctional. Regardless, we tipped. We ran the rapids with our bodies. I'm not complaining. Know why? It was a rush. Made me feel alive.

I'm 59 years old in a couple of weeks. Had a defibrillator installed two months ago. More of my life is in the rear view mirror than is out in front of me. And I got to go white water rafting and run the river with my body instead of a raft. That's living. Really is.

Those who know me have heard me argue, in Eldredge influenced fashion,that God has built men in a certain way. Men gauge their worth against some time tested standards. Do men need battles to fight, adventures to engage in and women to show off for? I say 'yes' althought taken to an inappropriate place these kind of standards are only a hop, skip, and a jump away from a man becoming a chauvinistic neanderthal. Taken seriously, appropriately and prayerfully a man comes in touch with some God-given creative energy. Find a man who's not fighting any battle, who's not hoping an adventure might be coming down the pike and doesn't want the woman in his life to really notice him and you've got a man who's probably struggling.

Think about it. How many men do you know who are really alive? By alive I mean they're seeking God, standing up for what's right, lovin' on their families, and are passionate about Kingdom priorities. These are men you can count on. How many?

It's not enough. We know it.

Sometimes I worry about men. Have too many guys become afraid to test themselves against something that's not in their comfort zone? I understand that. Been there and done that more than once in my life.

But here's the thing that I always come back to. Doesn't Jesus call us our of our comfort and into the adventure? Could too many Christian guys be retreating to what is staid and predictable and in the process being wildly disobedient to God?

Alright, I know. I'm making too much of all this. A rafting trip is a rafting trip is a rafting trip. But it got me thinking. I'm glad I did it. The river beat me this time. But I felt I was alive. That's a good thing. In the end, it reminds me of some God ordained longings deep inside. That's another good thing.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Sense of Curiosity.

I like to find out about people.

For instance, at dinner tonight Anita and I were sitting in an outdoor cafe in Fish Creek, WI. We met three different families. Family #1 was a husband and wife from Southern California. They were in Door County for a month of vacation, RVing it at Penisula State Park.

Family#2 lived in West Chicago. I'm guessing they were Muslim (didn't get far enough into the conversation to know for sure but the wife's head covering got me wondering). He was born and raised in Egypt. She was born in suburban Chicago. Nice kids.

Family #3 lived in San Jose, California. He was from Sturgeon Bay, WI originally. This was their annual visit back to the midwest.

I suppose to a lot of people this information doesn't amount to much. To me, asking questions and trying to find out about the people I'm around (even for an hour) helps to create a sense of community in a world that is finding itself more and more isolated.

I'm amazed at how quickly people open up and are eager to tell a complete stranger something about their life. There's something about asking questions and being eager to hear another person's story that creates a bond of good will.

Tonight was nice. I asked questions. They asked questions. That doesn't always happen. You see, the art of being inquisitive is fast becoming a lost skill. Too bad. We miss opportunities to make friends and to build bridges.

Try it next time you're out.

Find out about your waitress or bus boy. Make eye contact with the people at the table next to you. Ask them if they're local or not. See what happens.

Once in Paris in a quintessential French bistro I had a hunch that, other than the waiter and cook, no one in the restaurant was a native Parisian. So, I started asking. I was right. Two table of Chicagoans, a family from New Jersey, a couple from the deep South, and assorted Floridians and Dakotans. It was a hoot. We had a good time. It made for an even better dinner.

I think we've lost our sense of curiosity. Maybe it's because we're afraid to offend someone. I'm finding people don't get offended. In fact, just the opposite. They enjoy being included. It puts a smile on their face. Nothing wrong with that.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Pete Seeger Inspired

The other night we watched a dvd, a look at the life of Pete Seeger. Whether he is a believer or not, I’m not sure. But the story of his life sparked something in my own faith. Seeger is a song writer. He’s old now. His songs were sung by the labor movement, around campfires, during civil rights marches and in protest against the war in Viet Nam. He used the power of interactive music to draw people to peace issues, to care about the environment, and to free the prisoners. He was and is ‘very interesting’. He’s not bored. He’s not boring.

We live in a world where far too many are both bored and boring. You can see it in their eyes. They’re busy but not fulfilled. We’re created with longings for something more than busyness. Patterns of boredom weigh heavy, creeping inward, separating us from those deeper things. Boredom is rarely intentional but it does become habitual. The pursuit of longings must become intentional before it lingers as a habit.

Boredom declares that life is no longer interesting. By default it declares our own lives lack the capacity to spark either our own imagination or the wonder of others.

We are in great need of men and women who will be used by God to make life interesting again and to awaken in us a desire to be interested in all those people and things placed in our path. That’s what is required of all who claim to be 'kingdom people'.

Interesting people are involved and engaged. Involvement and engagement leads to a discovery of meaning. Meaning opens us to the possibility of being surprised by purpose. Purpose travels the road of adventure which we know to be a narrow path populated by only a few. But a few are enough company for the journey. Waiting for the multitudes and a wider road is not what the Gospel demands. The ‘company of the few’ walk together toward the hope and promises of Jesus. The journey becomes the destination. The Kingdom promised is experienced. And boredom becomes a far off memory.

So it begins. One here. One there. Waking up, each admits the truth about tedious existence. Longing for more, one listens. God calls. He asks us to become both interested and interesting. Our personal world changes. And when we move from passivity and predictability into the world of purpose and Kingdom alignment the greater world around us is changed. That movement towards purpose is never boring nor does it create boredom.

So, why do so few desire it? It requires change and sacrifice. Anyone answering the call away from boredom and towards purpose pays a price. Seeger was blacklisted. Others have been killed. Some move from mansions into ‘ticky-tacky’ little houses. Many are inconvenienced. More than a few look foolish. Fear is confronted. Dreams become altered. Friendships are lost.

And so, boredom becomes OK. No blacklists. No worry about inconvenience. No countercultural discomfort. No silly dreams. No life altering decisions. The status quo remains.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Funny Thing

Jesus tells a story about sheep, goats and judgment toward the end of the book of Matthew. It’s a story about two groups of people. Each group say they believe. Now they’re being judged.

It wasn’t a good day for one group.

Basically, the story tells us that Jesus is walking around all the time in a distressing disguise (thumbs up to Mother Theresa). He’s disguised as someone hungry, someone thirsty, someone without clothing, someone sick, and someone in prison.

And for those who notice him, feed him, gave him a drink, clothe him, nurse him and visit him there’s a kingdom waiting for them. And for those who don’t notice and care there’s eternal punishment.

Tough words.

It’s a hard, hard story. In the narrative people argue about the decision reached. “Hey, when did we ever see you hungry, thirsty, naked, sick or imprisoned?” And Jesus basically says “ If you would have opened your eyes for half a minute you would have seen me. Come on there’s people in need all around you and if there aren’t you don’t have to go very far to find someone. You didn’t do. I’m sorry. Some of you are in. The rest of you aren’t.”

This all throws me for a loop. I don’t like it. It puts responsibility on my shoulders. It makes me realize God isn’t messing around. I’ve got to do more than go around singing “This little light of mine …” He’s saying there’s a role He wants me to play and it’s a non-negotiable.

Some people might say. Well, it sounds like God is saying ‘you’ve got to earn your way into heaven.” I don’t think so.

I think we can always hang our hats always on the doctrine of grace and its message of unmerited favor.

The whole counsel of God reminds us, though, that when we belong to Him that people will be able to look at how we act and see someone who cares. Grace filled action accompanies real faith.

I preached all this on Sunday.

Yesterday, I was driving down the highway in the heart of Chicago.. I was late for a meeting. There was car on the side of the road. Abandoned. A quarter mile ahead there were five people walking down the busy road carrying a gas container.

I almost stopped but didn’t. I almost decided to take a 15 minute detour to go back and offer a ride. But I didn’t.

Funny thing. I was rushing to talk with someone about helping those in need.