Today I want to share something that I recently stumbled upon and found powerful. On April 17, 1970 Johnny Cash found himself invited to sing at the White House for then President Nixon. Of course it was an honor, but the fuller context was the fact that Johnny found himself caught between a president who was trying to leverage Cash’s credibility and fame in wider America to further his presidential agenda, and Cash’s personal desire to still be a patriot of his country in very troubled times at the height of doubts about the Vietnam war. What do you do in times like that? Johnny Cash wrote a song called “What is truth?” and he sang right in front of Nixon at the White House mere months before the lies and deceit of the Nixon administration brought it down. It’s an interesting song at an interesting point in history which I think serves to help us see how we too can stand up between strong political polarities and still represent truth. This video is Cash’s performance of that song on his once popular TV variety show. See what you think?
Mondays are funny days for pastors because it’s the day right after so much human interaction at a Sunday worship gathering. Therefore, Monday are usually filled with lots of feelings for pastors, and usually in the extreme. You’re either high based on what you feel went well the day before, or you’re low based on what you feel didn’t go so well. I still remember hearing one of my seminary professors say, “All pastor’s feel horrible on Mondays. So don’t take Monday’s off and take it out on your family. Work on Monday so that you can work through your dark feelings.” So I took his advice and I’ve worked on Mondays, and I’ve taken Friday’s off, ever since I started pastoral ministry.
There was one other sage bit of wisdom from another seminary prof. He said, “Feelings don’t authenticate truth, but they do authenticate our understanding of the truth.” Allow me to translate. What I feel at any given moment does not necessarily square with reality. For example, I may feel like airplane travel is unsafe but that doesn’t mean it actually is unsafe. Feelings instead authenticate (or reveal) what we’re actually believing, whether or not that belief is true. So when I face, or you face, a Monday loaded with uncomfortable feelings we have to use those bad feelings as an opportunity to explore what we’re truly believing, and then if we’re way off from what is true, take it as an opportunity to get back to what is true.
We’re living in a time when we’re all thinking about power and, most recently, the misuse of power. We’re seeing power abused in politics, business, systemic oppression, #metoo stories, and pastoral leadership. Here’s a very thoughtful quote for all of us who have been given some form of power by God, that He’s asked us to steward in the best way possible.
“Power is a gift—the gift of a Giver who is the supreme model of power used to bless and serve. Power is not given to benefit those who hold it. It is given for the flourishing of individuals, peoples, and the cosmos itself. Power’s right use is especially important for the flourishing of the vulnerable, the members of the human family who most need others to use power well to survive and thrive: the young, the aged, the sick, and the dispossessed. Power is not the opposite of servanthood. Rather, servanthood, ensuring the flourishing of others, is the very purpose of power.” – Andy Crouch “It’s Time To Talk About Power”
This morning I’m waking up to a strange brightness on the horizon. There’s this bright, brilliant light casting beams of yellow and orange over my back fence. I’m also looking up at a sky I haven’t seen in two months. The sky isn’t grey but this strange, yet lovely, color of light blue. What is happening? We’ve had the longest two months of grey, drizzle, downpours and storms in our part of the world that any of us can remember in quite some time. They grey skies and drizzle have been going for so long that it’s strange to see the sun this morning. It is kinda weird but I’ll tell you one thing – it’s nice to see the sun! I guess don’t realize how much I take for granted how frequently I get my needed vitamin D from California sun exposure. I guess when things get taken away, you start to realize how wonderful, how blessed, and how necessary those things are in your life. As George Harrison once sang, “Here comes the sun . . . And I say – It’s alright!”
Today is Ash Wednesday, the day Christians enter into the season of Lent. It’s a day when many of us enter into thoughtful introspection about the reality of our condition (called sin) which prompted God’s final solution through the death, burial and resurrection of His Son Jesus. It’s also a time many of enter into a time of fasting as we await the celebration of Christ’s resurrection on Easter. Why do we fast, be it from food, technology, or certain activities?
Here’s a great explanation by NT Wright: “We need to take time and make the effort to bring our lives into line with the new reality. We do not fast because we commemorate some great national disaster. We fast because, as those already caught up in Jesus’ kingdom-project, in God’s new world, we need to be sure that we are saying a firm goodbye to everything in us that still clings to the old.”
I just got back from speaking at a men’s retreat this past weekend. Obviously I go into these times of ministry praying that God would use me to help others, but this weekend I don’t know who was encouraged more – the men I spoke to, or me. I think I was the one who was more encouraged because literally every man, who spent a little time with me, told me amazing stories of redemption, stories that were living examples of Jesus power to completely transform lives! When you hear stories of men putting needles in their veins, beating their wife while their kids watched, and then after meeting Christ become a pastor on the streets of a large city, with the son who watched your dark side serving by your side to reach homeless teens – you find yourself amazed. When you hear about how God can meet a man in prison and turn his life from meth addiction, and hear about meeting Christ in lock down, and hear about men’s hopes and dreams to serve Jesus – you find yourself marveling at the power of God. When you hear all of these stories coming out of different churches, in different communities all throughout Northern California, you walk away with a renewed awareness of the fact that God is moving powerfully in people’s lives. Sure God’s work may not be working on the scale I’d like but I cannot say He is not at work!
For a long time in my life I’ve asked the question, “Why me Lord?” when things weren’t going my way. An unexpected car repair, illness, and conflicts all tended to lead me into a head space of whining out loud to God, “Why me Lord?’ But in the last few years I’ve been trying to reframe the question and ask it in a different way in a different context. These days when I get a nice tax refund, I can pay an unexpected bill, I enjoy good health, and the love of my family with whom I enjoy that good health, I’ve stared asking “Why me Lord?” In this way I’m learning to stop complaining so much, and learning deeper levels of gratitude by recognizing the many ways God continues to prove Himself so good towards me. Who am I to enjoy the health God has given me thus far? Why do I, of all people, get to experience the amazing wife God has brought into my life? How is it that God made it possible to give me three amazing kids, the home I live in, the church I get to serve and the long list of blessings God has given me? Who am I to be given eternal and abundant life, and my eternity is secure, when I haven’t in any way earned such grace? Try it today. Instead of asking “Why me?” as a complaint, ask “Why me?” as an act of praise.