Santa Claus is coming to town. He knows whether you have been naughty or nice so be good for goodness sake. We know these words well, we all grew up with them and they are still heard on the radio every year at this time. Everyone is excited about Santa coming but if you look at the words also a little fearful. What if you weren’t nice enough? What if you are on the naughty list this year? Are you going to get a lump of coal in your stocking? For the most part with Santa, if you are naughty, you will not receive anything for Christmas from him. You don’t have to worry that Santa might take you out while you sleep, or instead of coming down your chimney, set your house on fire. We hope he comes and if he does we greet him with milk and cookies, but if he doesn’t you can always use that lump of coal for barbecuing.
Jesus is also coming to town this Christmas, actually this Advent and Christmas. A lot more is at stake with Jesus though. He also knows whether you have been naughty or nice and if you are on the naughty list when he comes for the second time, being taken out or having your house burned down is the least of your worries. The season of Advent prepares us for Christmas and beyond. The first Sunday reminds us that Jesus is coming back a second time sometime in the future; we wait for that with great anticipation. The second and third Sunday reminds us that Jesus has come to preach and proclaim the kingdom of God and also comes to us every day in our lives now. The fourth Sunday prepares us for his first coming as a baby at Christmas.
When it comes to naughty or nice we know what group we fall into there, the naughty group, the sinful group, the group deserving the fiery lump of coal. And yet we can wait for our Lord with confidence and peace because, unlike Santa Claus, Jesus gives gifts to those on the naughty list. In fact it is the naughty that he has come to save for himself. See Jesus didn’t come for the nice people, no on the cross Jesus died for all the naughty boys and girls in the world, instead of a lump of coal they get forgiveness and eternal life. The naughty or nice list has been replaced by the unforgiven or forgiven list. Through your faith in Christ you are on the forgiven list. So Merry Christmas, Jesus is coming to town!
Posted on December 16, 2018 9:25 AM
Tuesday October 30th was an exciting day for me. I couldn’t wait until 7 P.M. I had thought about it all day. I made my predictions and just hoped I was going to be right. At 7 P.M. I turned on ESPN and held my breath; it was the release of the first College Football Playoff Rankings for this year’s season. The theme of the show is, “Who’s in.” I am a Michigan and Notre Dame fan and I am also following Washington State University this year because it is just 8 miles down the road from where I went to college at the University of Idaho. I was particularly interested in the top 6 because those are the ones that are “in” competition for big playoff games in January. As it turned out, my hopes were fulfilled. Notre Dame is currently ranked 3rd, Michigan is ranked 5th and WSU surprisingly is ranked 8th in the nation. There are still many games to be played and those rankings very well may change, but it was a good first poll.
What are you excited about? As of this writing there are only 55 days until Christmas. Are you excited about that? What is “in”, for you? How about Thanksgiving that is even closer? If you are excited about Thanksgiving and Christmas what is the reason; the family dinner, turkey, stuffing, spiral ham, eggnog, and pumpkin pie? Maybe it is the presents, or relatives coming to visit. Then again maybe it is a big vacation that you have planned next year or some other thing you are doing. We can get excited about a lot of things and that can be a good thing. It is nice to have things in our lives that bring happiness and pleasure. The question we have to ask ourselves though is what is the purpose of it? What should we really be excited about in other words?
I like college football and I do get excited about it, but I also know that it is just a game and in the big story it is a just a fun distraction. Michigan winning the national championship in January would be great, but again not of great importance in the grand scheme of things. So what is really important in the grand scheme of things? How about your eternal salvation? That is something to be excited about and to focus on. Your relationship with God is the most important thing that you have. In the poll of all things that you get excited about where does God rank? It is a question we all have to answer.
The good news is that God has a championship playoff ranking as well and not only are you ranked number one in his poll but you are also already declared the champion. You are God’s most important priority and he is always excited about you. He always has the You show on his eternal TV and you are also always “in” with God.
Posted on November 08, 2018 7:11 AM
There is a picture from our summer vacation that is confusing to look at unless you know where the picture was taken. My kids are standing off in the distance on what looks like to be a thin layer of snow. The picture is confusing because they are wearing shorts and the sun is very bright; in other words it is obviously very hot. The confusion is cleared up when you learn the picture was taken on the Salt Flats of Utah in July. The white stuff is not snow, it is salt, and it goes for miles.
Salt is throughout Scripture. In the Old Testament countries would salt their enemy’s field, thereby making it impossible to grow anything. We also hear about Lot’s wife being turned into a pillar of salt. In the New Testament salt is used in a good way. We are told to be salt to the world. Matthew 5:13, “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.” And in Colossians 4:6, “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.”
In the Matthew verse we learn that we are the seasoning of the world. Right after this verse Jesus tells them they are also the light of the world. We are to bring a pleasant taste to those around us. Our life lived by faith adds goodness to other people’s lives. Salt for instance makes us thirsty and so as we live out our Christian lives in front of others we make them thirsty for the Gospel, for Jesus. In the Colossians verse we see that salt also brings a pleasant taste to the ears. Our conversation should always be tasteful and gracious.
We know that we do not always live up to this. Sometimes we are a little bland and tasteless to those around us and at other times our speech may be a little too salty if you know what I mean. You need just the right amount of salt. Thankfully there is forgiveness and Jesus continues to fill us with salt. That Jesus fills us with salt is important to remember, we don’t manufacture the stuff ourselves. It is through our faith in Christ that we get the salt we need and the ability to use it. So be salty my friends, in a good way.
Posted on August 26, 2018 3:51 PM
In memory of Charlie “Malarkey” Hearn
I remember growing up following my dad as he led construction crews that built roads into the mountains of Montana, Idaho and Wyoming. This was not the type of road construction you see along I-75. My dad and his crews blew holes through the mountains with dynamite and took down trees. He built roads into the sides of mountains so high that if you went off them you would plunge hundreds of feet to your death. The roads would later be used by logging companies to haul trees out of the forest. Today people use them to get to picnic grounds or hiking trails. It was hard and dangerous work. My dad and the crews that worked for him were by and large from the greatest generation. They had fought in World War II but when they returned home they didn’t do the thing that you hear in the 1950’s newsreels of using the GI bill to go to college and then start businesses and move to the suburbs. Most of my dad’s crew like him had been loggers and construction workers before the war and so after the war they headed right back into the mountains of the Northwest. There were also a number of them that after the war didn’t want anything to do with normal society. Many of them lived on the edge of it and my dad spent countless hours counseling them and taking care of their families, sometimes taking money out of his own wallet so that their kids wouldn’t go hungry.
What I remember most about all these men is that they were great story tellers. My dad was one of the best. He could tell a story, a lot of them semi-true that would hold you captivated. My mom and I would live with the crews in the mountains during the summer and I would sit around the campfire and listen to these guys. I realize now that many of their stories were exaggerations and tall tales and they would regularly call each other out on them and then laugh about it. My dad’s nickname was Malarkey, because of all the stuff he would add to his stories. Even though they knew he was lying no one could stop listening. I still remember the story he told about his spaghetti trees; there was one guy that actually believed it. A good story is an amazing thing, it can make you laugh, but it can also teach and make you wonder and think. It puts things in perspective and in many ways forms how we live.
This Summer I plan to tell you some stories, but not the ones my dad told me, but the ones my mom read to me at night. The stories my mom read to me made me think and wonder. They were stories about men like Naaman who as a Syrian war general was healed by an enemy prophet and shown the grace of God. Stories of women like Esther who saved her entire nation by an incredible act of courage that would result in a Jewish festival that continues to this day. Then there is Ehud who carries out a Seal Team Six like mission and lives to tell about it. Stories about a guy named Balaam and his talking donkey. These stories are amazing and thought provoking and in the end point us in different ways to Jesus himself. So this summer pull up a pew and get ready to hear some true stories from the Bible, a few of them you may not have even known about. Listen as the story points us ultimately to Christ. God loves stories, he tells a lot of them. Let’s take them in together. Here is the schedule. You may notice there is nothing for July; that is because I am going back out to where my dad built all the roads and where all those stories were told so many years ago. I plan to tell some of them to my own kids, particularly the one about the boy named Falling Rock… Oh well that is another story in itself.
Posted on June 03, 2018 10:28 PM
I posted a picture of one of my trees on Facebook the other day. It was full of flowers and looked beautiful. I wrote on my post that, “One of my trees says it’s spring.” This past Saturday our family was up in Rochester Michigan for a track meet. It had to be one of the coldest track meets I have ever been to. It was absolutely miserable all day. I felt like I was in Siberia. It was so cold that even my competitive daughter wanted to go home instead of compete. I was still recovering on Monday from being out in the wind and cold all Saturday. So when I saw the tree on Tuesday morning I had to take a picture. It was sunny, the tree was full of flowers and it was projected to be 82 by the afternoon. The contrast between Saturday and Tuesday was like night and day.
The contrast between Good Friday and Easter morning was just as stark. Good Friday everything was black and cold and depressing. Jesus had died on the cross and been buried. The disciples didn’t know what to do, they suffered great anxiety and depression and even went into hiding in an upper room. Easter morning though brought the resurrection, it brought life. The Son rose and everything changed. Spring was in the in air.
Life can be like that at times. Our sins can bring us down and remind us that we don’t measure up. Everything can appear to be cold and darkness with no hope. We do have hope though, it isn’t found in the flowers of spring but in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We have our hope in our forgiveness and eternal life. The empty tomb says it’s spring in God’s world. It says that salvation is ours and the future is sunny.
Posted on May 03, 2018 10:54 PM
IN THE MOMENT
About 4 A.M. the other morning Sky, our dog, started barking. Sky only barks when there is something outside so I got up and found her in our front room standing on a chair with her paws on the window. I went over to where she was and looked out and saw three large objects walking in our yard. There was enough light from the street lights to see that they were deer. I then saw two others for a total of five standing in our yard and one was walking toward our porch. One deer literally had his hooves on the first step and was looking in the window at us. I grew up in Montana and Idaho so I am used to seeing deer but this scene was special. First of all we are in the city where there is a lot of traffic, but also because these deer seemed as curious about us as we were about them. They were looking right at us and yet did not seem the least bit afraid. I lifted up my hand to wave at one and it looked startled for a second. I put my hand down thinking, “What in the world are you doing trying to wave hi to a deer, are you going to invite it in for coffee or something?”
I was also filled with a desire to go and grab my phone and take a picture or film it. I think we all feel that way when we see something interesting. It is almost like we can’t help ourselves. I remember the 1980’s when everyone was carrying those huge video cameras on their shoulders. People spent so much time filming their vacations that they forgot to actually enjoy their vacation. It is even worse today because if you have a phone you have a camera. We are obsessed with filming everything so that we can see it later. As I began to turn to go get my phone I caught myself and thought no I just want to take this in. I want to enjoy this right now in this moment. I want to be in the moment. So I just stood there with Sky, who had finally calmed down, and we watched the deer as they watched us. At some point the deer decided that we were not doing anything interesting so they left. The dog and I looked at each other and we both went back to bed. I don’t know about the dog but I left with a good memory.
Many times as Christians we like to take pictures of God or film him instead of just enjoy him. We like to read our Bibles and study them, we like to read devotionals and commentaries so that we can figure out every detail of what God meant by that particular passage. This is all good stuff and we should do it, we should study God’s Word deeply. At the same time sometimes we just need to be in the moment with God and his Word. We just need to read it. In addition to my prep work for sermons and other things, I like to daily read five chapters of the Bible. I just read them and drink them in. I don’t consult commentaries I don’t read the notes in the Bible. I just read the words and enjoy them. I will run into things at times that make want to investigate it more, but I always stop myself and say no not now just read, you can study it later.
I would encourage you to try this. Just read the Word, be in the moment with God. Watch how he moves through Scripture to accomplish his plan of salvation for you. You will be amazed at how relaxing and freeing it is.
Posted on April 14, 2018 10:29 PM
People have asked me what CPE is. I tell them it is Clinical Pastoral Education. Then they ask me what that is? So then I tell them it is learning how to do pastoral work in a clinical setting. At this point they usually look at me like they are even more confused. So then I say it is really a discovery of self. The conversation ends there most of the time and they walk off more confused than when they first asked the question. To be honest it is hard at times to explain but let me try. The unit I am in involves 125 hours in the classroom and 300 hours on the floor of the hospital working with patients, doctors and nurses over a six month period.
The 125 hours in the classroom involves around five and a half hours a week in the classroom, which for my unit is held on Thursday afternoons. There are a variety of things that happen during that time. We have books that we read on ministry and grief and other subjects and we write reports on these and present them in class. Sometimes doctors from different areas in the hospital come in and talk about their specialties. We have others come in and do demonstrations about how to deal with people who have just lost loved ones or who are dying themselves. We even have classes on how to deal with minority patients and how to calm people down when they are angry. We also present verbatims which are conversations we have had with patients. The rest of the class listens to them and debates how we could have done it better, what we could have said differently. We present theological reflections about our work at the hospital and those also get evaluated by the class. We spend a lot of time talking about ourselves and our reactions to situations in the hospital and getting feedback from students and staff. There are both tears and anger expressed around the table for and at each other. It is part of the process of learning about ourselves so that we can serve others.
The 300 hours on the floor involves visiting with patients in their rooms and addressing their needs. We listen to them and pray with them and deal with their families. We also do advance directives like powers of attorney and living wills. We spend time working in the emergency room taking care of families of loved ones who are brought in and many times die there. We deal with doctors, police officers, coroners and grieving families sometimes several times a night. We also deal with strokes and heart attacks and people being extubated. You may ask what an extubation is. Basically it is when the doctors have concluded that the person is not going to make it and they remove the breathing tubes from the person. Chaplains prepare and stay with the family until the patient dies.
We take all of these experiences and present some of them in class as verbatims and case studies. One of the questions we ask of each other is how did you identify with the patient and the family and what counter story was going on within you the whole time? These are important to identify because they can reveal things in our past that we have suppressed and are now being brought to the surface. These things can also get in the way of taking care of the patient and their family. The goal is get it all out in the open so you can deal with it honestly and put it behind you and learn how to focus on the patient instead of yourself. Needless to say all of this is emotionally exhausting but also very educational and helpful in dealing with others. I think this is a good program for a parish pastor because it teaches you how to talk to people at a different level and gives you experience working with people who are in distress and sometimes questioning God’s existence or his love for them.
The program I am in started October 12th of last year and ends April 5th. So we are about a month away from the end. I have enjoyed the class but I am looking forward to it being done, although I will miss working in the emergency room or ED as they call it at St. Vincent’s, it was both terrifying and exciting. So that is Clinical Pastoral Education.
Posted on March 17, 2018 6:40 PM