Thursday, September 17, 2009

Are you happy?

Are you happy? Are you happy 50% of the time? Are you happy 25% of the time? What makes you happy? What makes you the happiest? Despite the last year of financial melt down, our standard of living and average wages have increased greatly in the last 20 or 30 years. Despite this increase, our happiness scales have not increased at all. In fact, on average they have decreased slightly. With all due respect to the millions of dollars spent daily on television, radio, and print ads telling us to have more stuff, take newer and better pills, and eat new and varied food, doing these things isn't enough to make us happy.

A majority of the people I see are grandparents or great-grandparents. What do you think is the number one thing that makes them happy? It's grandchildren, right? My youngest daughter, who turns 4 this week, stands in every Sunday as a proxy grandchild for many of them. They see her and their eyes light up, they start talking in gibberish and acting silly just to get her attention for a few fleeting seconds. It's a joy to watch, and a joy for them to participate in this relationship with her. It's also a joy for her to feel so loved and appreciated.

My daughter doesn't care how much money these people have. She doesn't care how many cars they own, the square footage of their house, or the size of the 401k. It's the relationship that is important. Jesus, in his ministry, was all about relationships. He didn't just sit in the synagogue and teach, he went out, walked among the crowds, picked people with whom to have a meal. What was the response of the people? They followed him in droves of thousands. They yearned for a relationship, any relationship. Because of Jewish purity laws, many of them were outcasts, separated from good society, and forgotten. What Jesus offered them was a God who could and desperately wanted to relate to each and everyone of them.

Joy comes from our relationships. It's what John Wesley, the creator of Methodism, called social holiness. He understood that our faith development and our relationship with God is tied to our relationship with those around us. Since Jesus spent most of his time with the outcast, and the poor, John Wesley also surmised that our social holiness needs to be directed to poor and outcast of our day.

Are you happy? Are you willing to open your hearts to others, thus allowing an opening for happiness to get in? Stop and talk to your neighbors. Stop and talk to the people you pass along the street. Stop and talk, laugh, love, and live. Experience true joy and happiness.

God Bless
Pastor John

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Who Is My Neighbor?

"Who is my Neighbor?" Jesus was asked this question more than once. The most memorable time was when he responded with the story of the "Good Samaritan." If he was telling the story today he might call it the "Good Muslim." After the evangelical preacher, and the Catholic priest, and the mainline denominational pastor all passed on the other side. It was the Muslim who stopped and cared for the man. Who was the neighbor?
We have defined neighbor as those living around us, those who look like us, and those who act like us. Jesus defined neighbor on a higher plane. Neighbors show mercy. Neighbors don't just show mercy based on geography, race, gender, or moral standing. Neighbors show mercy to everyone. Evangelicals and mainline denominations alike have watered down the radical nature of Jesus' message, or one might say "lowered the bar."

Our theology is a theology of fear. We fear judgment so we either convince ourselves that the bar is easy just say the right words and you're in, or that there is no bar at all. The reality of Jesus' message is neither. It is, in fact, a very high bar. To date, the punishment for not attaining that bar has been 2,000 years of suffering, 2,000 years of war and poverty, 2,000 years of denial and self-righteousness, and 2,000 years of scapegoating and blaming. It's time to stop. It's time to step beyond the fray, beyond political groups, beyond religious bickering, beyond political power grabs, and beyond self-centeredness.

"Who is my Neighbor?" Jesus doesn't call us to blame others for not being good neighbors. Jesus calls us to the much more difficult life- changing experience of becoming a neighbor to everyone. In the Kingdom of heaven that Jesus came to proclaim, mercy reigns, not power, not control, not political influence, mercy. Don't ask, "Who is my Neighbor?" ask "To whom can I be a neighbor?" Then everyone will be your neighbor, and mercy will reign.

God Bless
Pastor John

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Fear and Faith

Mark 4:40 "[Jesus] said to his disciples, ‘Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?’"

“So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself -- nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” FDR

These words spoken by President Roosevelt came at the deepest darkest point of the Great Depression.  Perhaps, however, as we see ourselves in a similar economic situation today, these words need to be resurrected, and the connection between faith and trust restored.

Like the raging forest fires of recent days, fear is a destructive force that travels at will, and destroys everything in its path.

Which of these fires of fear are in your heart?

  • I fear losing attendance and budget, so my church has become irrelevant.

  • I fear Democrats/Republicans, so I fear anything the government does.

  • I fear strangers, so I scapegoat my fears upon their shoulders.

  • I fear my neighbors, so I suffer from isolation.

  • I fear homosexuals, so I create special categories to label and isolate them (within and outside the church.)

  • I fear for my safety, so I spend hundreds and thousands of dollars a year on security.

  • I fear the President of the United States, because he’s a Democrat, progressive, black.

  • I fear an imminent terrorist attack, so I live with constant anxiety, worry, and stress.

In the midst of all this fear, we must remember the words of Jesus from the Gospel of Mark, “Why are you SO AFRAID?  Do you still have NO FAITH?” (Mark 4:40 NIV, emphasis added)  Is our faith so strained, so shaken, so decayed that fear is the primary emotion driving our lives?    It’s time to face our fears, to strengthen our faith, to trust in God’s love, and to fight the flames of fear with the greatest of all fear retardants, unconditional love (Grace).

Like the fires that are still burning today in the mountains above Los Angeles, it is easier to start fear than to extinguish it.  But we must show at least as much dedication as the brave firefighters and smoke jumpers, in our untiring efforts to fight fear on all fronts, to build a containment line of love and faith around them, and stop their unquenchable rage of destruction.

God Bless

Pastor John