Marshall’s Rakeem Cato on Gameday at WVU

I am a WVU fan.  I went to WVU and graduated 100 years later from the Parkersburg branch of WVU.  I have friends, some of them very good friends, who went to Marshall, currently go to Marshall, and/or are huge Marshall fans.  I get the whole WVU-Marshall thing, even if I don’t see it the same way as my Marshall friends or fellow WVU friends see it.

This morning I saw talk that Marshall QB Rakeem Cato will be on ESPN Gameday which will be live at WVU Saturday.  People think he will be at the table with the Gameday crew in front of thousands of WVU fans, primarily students.  And the WVU fans are not receptive.  And that’s an understatement.  There are lots of tweets and posts from WVU fans that are mean spirited and some that are really nasty.  The WV Gazette says that Cato will be interviewed on another set somewhere in Morgantown.  It would be a set-up and irresponsible for ESPN to bring him up in front of the WVU students.

Now some Marshall fans are bad-mouthing and making sarcastic remarks about how WVU fans are reacting to the “Cato in Morgantown” news.  And don’t get lost in this story.  I’m going deeper than the surface pettiness.

I was going to title today’s blog “Self-righteousness is so easy and so tempting”, but thought the point would get to more people if I went with the selected title.  I expect today’s blog post to blow up with the WVU/Marshall title.  Today is one of those blog posts where I speak about everyday things I see or experience and then look at them through a Christian lens – a modern day parable.

The definition of self-righteousness is “a feeling or display of moral superiority”.  When the Marshall fans are making snide, sarcastic comments about “expecting that kind of behavior from WVU”, they are being self-righteous.  And I’m trying not to be self-righteous about them.  I know full well that if the roles were reversed and ESPN was at Marshall Saturday, and Kevin White and Clint Trickett were going there to be interviewed, the Marshall fans would most certainly be blowing up and the WVU fans would most certainly be the self-righteous fans talking about how Marshall fans were treating the WVU stars.

And to see this in sports is not surprising.  Every high school, college, and professional team’s fans (most, if not all) are self-righteous.  Every team’s fans act like they take the ‘high road’.  And when we see it with Christians, it’s not surprising either.  When I see it in sports teams, I just chalk it up to irrational fervor.  When I see it in the church, it’s sin.  And I’m trying not to be self-righteous in saying that, because I admit that I do it, too.  I act as if I take the moral high road, yet one way I am self-righteous is when I find myself looking down on the people who look down on certain people in the church!!!!!!  (I’m self-righteous when I look at myself as better than the self-righteous!!!!!!)  And entire denominations and non-denominational churches do it, too!  It is so tempting and so easy.  And we need to be careful of it, but especially we who represent Jesus – and if you call yourself a Christian then you represent Jesus.

I’m glad Cato is coming to WVU.  I’m also glad that they are doing his interview at a side location.  It would make WVU look bad on National television if they brought him in front of the WVU students.  And all the self-righteous Penn State, Pitt, Maryland, and Ohio State fans would be looking down on us. ;)

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A difficult part of being a pastor

I spent my first six years as a pastor (from 2007-2013) serving the church/community in/around Mason WV.   The first year or so I did nursing home visits with and funerals for people I did not really know.  Then after a couple of years, I grew to know most of the people in the church and in the community pretty well.  Since I’ve moved to Short Gap, the pastor who replaced me has done nursing home visits and a half dozen funerals for people in Mason County that I knew very well, but he more than likely barely knew.  And likewise, I have been visiting people in nursing homes and doing funerals here for people the previous pastor knows/knew very well and I don’t know much at all.

It’s one of the difficulties of being a pastor moving to a new place.  This is on my mind today as I visited someone in the hospital yesterday that I don’t really know.

Most of the time, I make you think or challenge you to do something in my posts.  I didn’t really know what direction to take today’s blog.  However, I think I’m supposed to remind you that while a pastor going to see someone home-bound or in a nursing home or hospital is always welcome, whether the pastor knows the person well or not, a visit from an old friend means even more.  What old friend do you know that you need to go visit or call?

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Unpredictable, uncontainable, and uncontrollable

“How frightful a thing it is when the preacher becomes too accustomed to his work, when his sense of wonder departs.” ~AW Tozer

My wife and sons are huge Pittsburgh Penguins fans.  (They are a professional hockey team).  I like the Penguins, but not like they do.  The other night the Penguins had a 2 goal lead against the Detroit Red Wings with just a few minutes remaining in the game.  When a team is behind late in the game they frequently take their goalie out of the game and put in an extra skater to try to score a goal to catch up.  They strengthen their offense by compromising their defense.  The Red Wings ended up scoring two goals to tie the game, and then won in overtime.  What I love about hockey and about sports in general is that you never know what is going to happen.  I love the unpredictability.

IMG_2042Sometimes I worry that too many people (pastors and congregations) are too accustomed to church and to Jesus that we no longer expect anything amazing.  I am always self-evaluating and checking my pulse worried I will fall or have fallen into that trap or rut.  I think it can happen to anyone.  Oswald Chambers says it can happen even for the people doing amazing work on behalf of Jesus.  It could happen to my friend Carrie who has been serving in Haiti for three years.  Chambers says that the sympathy for the needs of the people can overwhelm the miracle of being sent by Jesus.  And I believe the Christian life here in the comfort of the United States can make us lose our sense of awe and wonder of who Jesus is and the privilege (and cost) of following Him.

And this isn’t a blog about me needing affirmation from any of you telling me that I haven’t lost that sense of wonder as a pastor.  And I’m not saying any of you have or anyone in my church has.  Today’s blog is a reminder that Jesus, through the Holy Spirit, is unpredictable and uncontainable.  And I invite you to ask yourself if you see Him that way and if your life reflects that.

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Truth in love

I listen to a sermon nearly every day.  I’ve listened to a hundred Francis Chan sermons.  I’ve listened to a lot of David Platt, Matt Chandler, Andy Stanley, Craig Groeschel, Mark Driscoll, John Piper, David Jeremiah, and the list goes on.  Do youtube searches to listen to any of their sermons and they will not disappoint.

As far as people I would call friends, one of the people I love listening to is David Cartwright.  This morning I listened to his sermon from Sunday.  I commend it to you.  You can watch or listen to it here.  He said his job in preaching wasn’t to try to make friends and it wasn’t to try and make enemies.  His job is to preach the truth in love.

As a preacher, it’s fairly easy to stand before a congregation and tell them God loves them.  People love to hear that and need to hear that.  It is more difficult to stand before a congregation and call sin sin and call them to repent.  It is difficult to stand before a congregation and tell them that their lifetime of service to the church without a relationship with Jesus will get them nowhere with Jesus.  As you listen to pastors and listen to sermons from me and from others, I pray that you know how difficult it is to speak God’s truth about sin and repentance when it flies in the face of our world and so few are doing it.  And I pray that as we speak with love that you can tell it comes from love.  It’s easy to preach the sermons that you like to hear.  It takes love to preach the tough sermons we all need to hear.

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Lukewarm Fans

I saw some pictures on Facebook last week making fun of WVU because Marshall was ranked in the top 25 football poll and WVU was not.  This week WVU is ranked ahead of Marshall in one poll, but I won’t gloat because with games remaining at OK State, at Texas, against #11 Kansas State, and #10 TCU, odds are we will lose another game and drop back out.

I have tried to become a less rabid Mountaineer fan over the last few years.  I confess it still bothers me more than I would care to admit when Mountaineer haters post things.  I still watch every game and was jumping off the couch when we stopped #4 Baylor late in the game sealing the Mountaineer win.  I went to a couple of basketball games last year.  I’m still a big fan, but I sometimes worry about caring too much.  Pastor Matt Chandler said one time,

The same goes for following sports. It’s not wrong, but if I start watching sports, I begin to care too much. I get stupid. If 19-year-old boys are ruining your day because of what they do with a ball, that’s a problem. These things rob my affections for Christ. I want to fill my life with things that stir my affections for him.

He’s talking about being consumed by sports.  Some people are.  I don’t want to be.  Matt Chandler has made the decision not to follow sports (and he played college football) because he can’t be a “lukewarm fan”.

I think I can still be a fan, being careful not to care more about the Mountaineers than I do the homeless or the lost.  When my teams lose, it no longer ruins my day.  If that makes me a lukewarm fan, I’m OK with that.  I just don’t want to be lukewarm about Jesus.

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What a difference 20 minutes can make – tough times

IMG_2009This morning I took a picture just before the sun came up.  It was a little haunting looking around the church.  If the church windows had been all busted out it would have looked like a horror movie set.

Yet in just 20 minutes the sun had come up and the sky was gorgeous and it looked like the set for a commercial about attending church on Sunday mornings!  It was literally just 20 minutes.

IMG_2011It reminds me of the difference a few minutes can make – or the difference a day can make – or the difference a week can make – or the difference a year can make.  Sometimes when we’re going through a rough time we cannot possibly see how things would ever be OK again.  But if we hang in there and cling to Jesus, we can make it through.

I remember an episode of the TV show Psych.  When Gus was in a tough spot and afraid, he would repeat to himself, “Low moment.  Low moment.”  It was a reminder that it was just a moment in time and it would pass, just as moments had passed before.  Even when things so difficult that they change the course of your life and things will never be normal again, with Jesus you will be OK.  Cling to him.

I pray that when you feel like you can’t make it through, that you will remember these pictures.  Hang in there and hang on to Jesus.  He will make a difference for you and get you through.

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MSNBC, Fox News, Ebola, Jesus, and truth

In America, we have become experts at “spinning” things.   And by spinning, I mean we twist and contort facts to support/meet our objectives or perspectives.  The other night I was flipping the channel between MSNBC and Fox News.  They were both talking about Ebola, and specifically about the way it has been handled thus far in the United States, including the nurses getting it.  Fox News was blaming the government and CDC for allowing the hospital in Dallas to treat the first Ebola patient diagnosed in the US.  MSNBC was blaming the hospital for not providing the nurses with the right training and equipment, claiming it was primarily because the hospital was merely another big business only concerned about their profits.

Christians in America have become experts at twisting and contorting Jesus.  In my Bonhoeffer devotional this morning it says, “We are equally good at making the disturbing words of Scripture seem reasonable and making the concrete command a nebulous (unclear/vague) attitude.”  For fear of offending, some people are willing to say that all roads lead to God.  You can believe in Allah and I can believe in Jesus and we’ll see each other on the “other side”.  For fear of offending, some people are willing to disregard sin and repentance.  Some people act as if the Good News of Jesus means jumping directly to forgiveness.  It reminds me of the Monopoly game that says, “Go directly to jail, do not pass go and do not collect $200.”  Some people are willing to act as if Jesus’ word says “Go directly to forgiveness, there is no sin, therefore you don’t need to repent”.  Bonhoeffer calls that cheap grace.

When we spin, twist, and explain away the disturbing words of Jesus, we may be well liked and never offend anyone, but we will most certainly never see anyone changed either.

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