Spiritual Nudity (or Rated X Marks the Spot)

Adam and Eve were naked. Noah got drunk AND naked. King David danced half naked through the streets. King Saul wore his birthday suit to prophesy before Samuel prompting people to ask, “Is Saul among the prophets?” (Which would cause me to wonder if the prophets ran a nudist colony.)

paradise-146120_1280These are just a few of the Bible characters who were known to run around in the buff. The ones I just mentioned were quite significant, however—our first parents, the man who saved all the fauna on the planet, and the first two kings of Israel (depending upon how you count them).

These people could be the central cast in a new HBO series. They could call it Naked Before God, Naked We Ran, The Nude Dude…(I could go on, but I’ll spare you the groans). The point is… Well I’m not sure what the point is, but you get the picture—and it’s not a pretty one.

With all this gratuitous lewdity (is that a word?), I can’t figure out how we got to be so prudish in the church. I mean, some of the best people seemed to be comfortable going in the all together. What ever happened to us?

Now before you start judging me (although I’m sure some of you already have), I’m not advocating we start worshiping in various states of undress. In fact, I tend to be a little on the shy side myself. Modesty is the best policy as far as I’m concerned (especially with my own body—which is the only one I can control).

My objective here is to bring a salient point to your attention. Biblical nakedness is a symbolic condition. Adam and Eve, for example were naked for a long time before they even knew it (imagine that). Noah got stinking drunk and made a mockery of himself in front of his family. David’s wife got really ticked at him. And Saul…well, he was just nuts.

sin-146121_1280Biblical nudity has a central theme running all through it. When Adam and Eve finally noticed they were, shall we say, unprotected, it was because their eyes were opened by their own sin (always naked and now finally ashamed). Noah’s sons felt the need to cover him up, even though he was in the confines of his own tent. On and on it goes until we get to the sum of the evidence. There’s something unseemly about being uncovered.

That’s where God comes in. Adam and Eve couldn’t find anything that sufficed for a good cover-up. Like Noah’s sons did for him, God provided cover for our first parents. We’re always naked before God. We can either dance before Him like David, or attempt to run and hide like Adam & Eve.

It’s quite apparent that the best course of action is to look for God cover us up. He’s the only one with the know-how anyway.

Are You On Page 65? (or Dream a Little Dream with Me)

thought-bubble-305444_1280I recently read an article by a writer who said he invariably hits writer’s block early in every project. When this happens, he moans and groans to his wife about it. Finally on one occasion after this had happened several times, his spouse asked him, “Are you on page 65?”

She had noticed a pattern. So he looked, and sure enough, he was on page 65. He would start out with a great idea, confidence, and reckless abandon, only to get to a point where he hit a wall. Once his wife pointed this out to him, he knew everything was going to be okay, and he could move on.

Frankly, I think we’re all like that author. We have a dream we think is worth pursuing, then we hit page 65. In other words, something gets in our way. We hit a snag, and we struggle.

The difference between us and our author is many of us quit at that point. We see an obstacle, we become discouraged, and we convince ourselves it’s not worth the struggle anymore.

There’s a famous passage in the Book of Joel that says the “old men will dream dreams and your young men will see visions.” It seems to have been spoken at a time when Israel was on page 65.

board-240136_1280I think at least some of our dreams are from God. These are ones that never really fade away. They always hang around in our subconscious. Sometimes it’s tough to discern which ones are from the Lord and which ones are from the pizza we ate late last night.

But discern we must (at least that’s my thinking). More often than not, we’re likely to look at our situation and pronounce our vision for the future to be a pipe dream, a lark, or impractical. I say, not so fast!

How many lives have lost their luster because dreams were laid aside, never to be resurrected? How many discoveries have been buried beneath fallow ground because we refused to dig? How many profitable ventures have never been realized?

As I enter the waning years of my life, I have purposed to begin living out some of the dreams that have lain dormant in my psyche. I figure, what the heck! I may as well go out with a flash. Even if they turn out to be from somewhere other than God, I won’t be any worse off than I am now. Plus I’ll always wonder what would have been.

The profit Joel told his people to “sound the trumpet in Zion!” In other words, wake up. Live the dreams that Yahweh has given you. Get past your moaning and complaining and just do it.shield-293172_1280

I’m excited about my remaining years, because I think they’re going to be dynamite. I implore you—come and live the dream.

Upholding the Constitution (or How I Saved the Confederacy)

54fq5mjhiw1wzhj3_580x380I recently moved to the lovely state of Virginia (it was actually eighteen years ago, but time is relative—anyway, who’s counting). Being a preacher type, I had to make sure I was legal (to perform weddings, I mean). After asking around, I discovered I had to go to the courthouse, pay $16, and take an oath to uphold the constitution of the Commonwealth of Virginia.

I felt very proud as I raised my right hand and put my left hand on the… Hmmm… Now that I think of it, my left hand was dangling at my side not participating at all. At any rate, I can now legally perform my duties as a wedding officiant (or celebrant as we like to say in the trade).

These things vary from state to state. In good old PA and MD, I don’t have to do or pay anything (I have a trusting face). In WV, I had to apply “to be placed on the statewide registry of persons authorized to perform marriages…” Their application includes the following:

  1. Prove you’re 18 years of age
  2. Produce certification you’re authorized by a church, synagogue, spiritual assembly, or religious organization
  3. Present documentation you’re in regular communion with said church, synagogue, spiritual assembly or religious organization
  4. Provide at least one of the following:
  5. Official ordination paper from a church, synagogue spiritual assembly, group or school
  6. A document signed by at least two members of a group stating you’re in regular communion with that group
  7. Sign a paper stating the above info is accurate (no worries, however—it doesn’t have to be notarized)

In addition, I had to send along a check for $25 to seal the deal. Interestingly enough, some of these documents just don’t exist to my knowledge. I just fudged or ignored them altogether.g6oi2q0ak48rpwx_580x380

In DC I had to fill out a brief form (the brevity of which was downright shocking considering it was a Federal Government thing). The catch, however, was that it had to be notarized and a $35 check attached. They did send back a very nice certificate of authorization, however. The Feds are first class all the way…

I once did a wedding in Wisconsin where I had secure sponsorship from an elder of my denomination who resided there. That was an interesting experience since I personally knew no one fitting that description.

Then there was the wedding I celebrated in Michigan. The pastor of the local church had to stand beside me and pronounce the couple man and wife at the appropriate time. I guess Michiganders don’t trust my type.DSC_6505 copy

Of course, when a couple is nice enough to give me an honorarium, the government wants a slice. So much for separation of church and state…

Pretty soon they’re going to tell me who I can and can’t (or have to) marry. Maybe I should become a baker.

How I Survived Rodeo Drive (Or Privilege Has Its Rank)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere’s a phrase or two that keeps surfacing lately (at least in my cultural circles) that really catches my ear. It’s generally used when someone begins to complain about an issue that really warrants no complaining.

For instance: You complain about having three cars and not enough space in your driveway to park them. Another for instance: You complain because, of the three dozen shoes in your closet, none of them perfectly matches your outfit for the day.

In response to these and other similar conundrums, one will often refer to them as “first world problems” (FWP). Another slightly lesser used response is, “white girl problems” (WGP). This one, of course, can only be used in certain situations.

I’m becoming more and more sensitive to these unbearable situations that arise in our privileged lives. The more stuff I accumulate, the more I notice these inconsequential complaints arising in my life and the lives of those around me. A third for instance: My darling wife and I live by ourselves in a home that could house three small families. I complain because I have to maintain it, pay taxes on it, and rake the leaves…FWP. For Heaven’s sake, I grew up in a trailer!

I realize it’s somehow in our nature to complain and that many of our complaints are just hot air. But when do we cross the line from petty human reaction into rank behavior?

What’s worse, these attitudes bleed into the church. Recently the congregation I serve held an administrative meeting. Like many meetings, it began with a Treasurer’s Report. The report sparked a discussion about our “Rainy Day” fund. This is money we have set aside to use in case things really go south. The question arose—when is it rainy enough to use this money? FWP?

This is a legitimate, practical question and concern (especially for a Christian congregation, I might add). Here we have a considerable sum of money that might equal the entire yearly budget of some congregations around the world. While it’s not enough to put a down payment on a Bugatti, it could certainly tide us over for a while.


When is it prudent to dip into that fund? I suppose some would say, “Hey, you’re a church. Give it to a worthy missionary!” But is that prudent? Is it practical? Is it the Christian thing to do? FWP.

In the end, the whole money thing becomes relative to the situation I suppose. There’s no easy answer to these questions. Should we as a church (and now I’m speaking of the church universal) downsize? Should we get rid of some of our holdings?

The same general questions could be applied to us as individual disciples of Christ. Should WE downsize? Should WE give at least a part of our nest eggs to missions?

I can tell you one thing for sure. Third world Christians don’t have these conversations. Just sayin’…

Ya Gotta See the Baby!

11696292_10200709423934610_8378189400181283580_oIf you’ve ever belonged to a local congregation, you’ve probably experienced the baptism or dedication of a little cutie that steals everyone’s heart. If I recall correctly, the little sweetheart pictured with me here is named Evelyn Elizabeth.

As you can see, she wasn’t too sure about me. My bet is, however, that everyone there that day was sure about her. They don’t come any cuter, and we were all positive that she was as adorable as could be.

We’re all drawn to cuteness, adorability, beauty, and good looks. We’re drawn to happy personalities, generous types, and positive celebrity. If someone’s got it, they’ve got it. They’ve also got us…probably.

The church is no different in that respect. We’re drawn to the attractive, the personable, and the well to do. We like the talented, the gifted, and the effervescent. Of course, we’re simply following in Jesus’ footsteps in that area…NOT!

The Last, the Lost, and the Least

I remember learning in seminary (too many years ago too mention) that the Gospel of Luke is known as the gospel of the last, the lost, and the least. It’s known as that because those were the types of folks Luke focused on as he retold the stories of Jesus’ ministry.

Jesus didn’t seem to hang out with the pretty boys, the luminaries, or the coolest of the cool. It’s not that he ignored them—he loved them too. But he went where he was needed the most. He was reviled because he often wound up with prostitutes, unclean sinners, and all around losers.

For some reason, many of us love to be surrounded by winners. I guess it makes us feel important. I’m no different. I can name drop with the best of them. The bigger the star power, the better we feel.

Hanging Out With Jesus

Yet the reality of the situation is that merely knowing or hanging out with the big boys doesn’t make us any better. For some reason, hanging out with the downtrodden does.

I loved having my picture taken with Evelyn that day (even if she wasn’t totally into it). Holding her made me very popular—for a minute. But there are a lot of Elizabeth’s out there that aren’t as cute, or as clean, or as lovable. They end up being abused, in prison, hungry, or in a bucket to be sold for parts.

What part of society do you totally avoid? Those might be the very ones Jesus is hanging out with today as he calls you to join him. It’s an uncomfortable thought. But if we’re actually going to be the church—I mean REALLY be the church—it’s a thought we need to seriously consider.

If that’s where Jesus is, it might be where we need to be as well.

And the Winner Is… (Or May I Have the Envelope, Please?)

Pat BradyWhen we last left our hero, he was dangling at the end of a participle (sorry…my feeble brain couldn’t come up with a better way to begin). In our last episode, I was offering each of you a chance to win a copy of my new book, The Last Wedding. If you didn’t know that, it means you haven’t been following along very closely (see what happens when you don’t pay attention?).

There were two ways to be a winner. One was to name my newly acquired Jeep. Another was to be the first to fully ID Pat Brady. Both objectives were admirably met, and I’m forever grateful to each of you who participated.

Just so no one gets left out, I also want to thank those of you who at least thought about it. I know what that’s like, because I do it all the time. I think long and hard before I act, and when I finally pull the trigger, it’s too late. The real kicker is, some of you will read the winning name and say to yourself, “my idea was way better than that one!”

Sorry…time’s up.

The King of the Cowboys

Let’s begin with Pat Brady. Pat was a singing cowboy. He was part of a singing group called the Sons of the Pioneers.

I most remember him for his role on the Saturday morning Roy Rogers Show that aired from 1951 through 1957 (make you feel old?). Roy was dubbed “The King of the Cowboys” by someone (most likely himself).

Brady was Roy’s lovable and goofy sidekick. What might be most memorable about him was his trusty Jeep, Nellybelle. While everyone else was riding horses, Pat was buzzing along in Nellybelle. He spoke to her like Steve Guttenberg spoke to Johnny Five (if you don’t know that one, you’ll have to Google it—no time here to explain).


Elaine was the first to identify Pat, but Dennis added that Brady drove a Jeep. For some reason, I’m feeling uncharacteristically generous, so I’m going to send each of them a copy of The Last Wedding. The print version of the book should be in my grubby little hands in a couple of weeks or so.

That brings us to our big winner…our creative genius…the head honcho of Jeepdom. I can honestly say I liked all the entries. I wish I had a couple dozen Wranglers in the garage so I could use some of these names (actually I wish I had a garage that could hold a couple dozen Jeeps).

And the winner is…

Our golden winner is Dawn who came up with the name “Meggie.” When you read the book (which I can assure you Dawn has not done), you’ll see why she was a shoo-in. Congratulations Dawn. You’re quite intuitive.

To the rest of you, please read the book when it hits the market. It will explain everything.



JEEPERS! (Or How to Win a Copy of My New Book)


Okay. It’s been a short, unproductive week as far as writing goes. So this is a perfect time for a little diversion that might be a benefit to you. As those of you who read this blog with some regularity know, I picked up a Jeep Wrangler when I retired (I use the term, retired, rather loosely since I seem to work harder now than I did before—but that’s a story for another day).

I was giving a brief rundown to someone recently of how my vehicular acquisition was performing, and I referred to the Jeep as “she.” From that simple expression, an entire conversation emerged concerning the gender of vehicles. I said that all good things are females…ships, the church, women, and, of course, vehicles. This in turn led to the question as to what I had named “her.” Then it hit me—I hadn’t really thought about it up to that point.

Over the years I’ve named very few of my modes of transportation. It’s just been a few, however, because I only name the ones that have some character. For the most part, the vehicles I’ve owned have been run-of-the-mill, nondescript, blend-in-with-the-rest-of-the-crowd type cars.

There was that 1981 Tercel that my mechanic dubbed “Lil Red” and an old Dodge I called “The Leopard” (she was gold with a few black primer spots here and there). Other than that, not too many have begged for a name. The Jeep, of course, is a stark exception. She has to have a name. That’s where you come in.

My new book, The Last Wedding, is coming out in a few weeks. So here’s the deal. I’m going to give a copy to the person who comes up with the best name for my burgundy, 2001 Jeep Wrangler Sahara (with 80K miles on her). You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours (as they like to say).

The rules are simple:

Submit as many names as you like

Name(s) should be somewhere within the bounds of decency

You must submit the name on this blog site by way of the “Leave a comment” button at the bottom of this blog post

There are no restrictions as to who may enter. Family members, employees, pagans, and undocumented immigrants may all join in the challenge. Oh wait…I take that back. There is one restriction. You must be a human being. Beyond that, you’re all invited to participate.

Please “share” this post with all your Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Linked-In “friends” and “followers.” The more entries the better. This is going to be a great name—I can feel it!

Oh! One more thing… The judges will not accept the name “Nellybelle.” Pat Brady already has that one. However, if you are the first to fully identify Pat Brady, you too will receive a copy of my new book (you lucky dog).

An Empty Slot in the Lineup

ClementeBy the time I was ten years old, Roberto Clemente had established himself as one of the premier players in all of baseball. There were a few players around with more talent, but none played with a greater flair than The Great One (the nickname given to him by then Pirate broadcaster Bob Prince). When I was twenty-one, he was still playing at a high level, but by the time I was twenty-two, he was dead. There are moments I still can’t believe he’s gone.

The Pirates have since inserted many other players into his slot in the batting order. He pretty much always batted third. They’ve found other guys to bat there, and the game goes on. Such is the way of major league baseball. There’s always a guy on deck.

It’s not always that way in the lower levels of the sport, however. I remember once, when I was playing in a boys’ league, only seven guys showed up for one of our games. For some reason, the opposing coach let us play with no penalties. I actually was positioned to play the first and second base positions as well as right field. Unbelievably, we won that day. We won because we had a really good team, and we were playing a really bad one.

Another big factor in our victory, however, was we didn’t play by the rules. The rules stated that if there was a player missing from the batting order, an automatic out would be recorded each time that slot came up. If the opposing coach had insisted, we would have had to endure two automatic outs during each rotation of the batting order. That would have meant we would have had some innings in which we only were allowed one out. That, my friends, is a big handicap.

In later years, I umpired a lot of baseball games and saw this rule enforced several times. It was often devastating to the shorthanded team as you may imagine. It was never much fun for anyone. It never seemed like a real game when that happened.

This phenomenon is one of the devastating things that has happened to the church over the years. Too often we have played with empty slots in the lineup. Those who show up have the weight of the team on their shoulders, and the imbalanced lineup spells out failure and frustration for everyone. It’s not pretty, and it sure isn’t any fun.

If you’re one of the no-shows, I would encourage you to get in the game. I know that’s a trite, old cliché, but it really fits. Not only do we need you, I suspect you’ll enjoy yourself a whole lot more at the center of the action than you would by watching from the bench. In fact, I don’t think there is a bench in ministry. Don’t you get tired just standing there?

I Used to Bat Cleanup

When I was knee high to a tsetse fly, I fell in love with baseball. There were a lot of reasons for that (which I won’t go into here), but it’s been a lifelong, love-hate relationship with what used to be the national pastime. When I was a kid, I built a makeshift wall of cement blocks and would stand for hours throwing a rubber-coated baseball against it so it would rebound in different directions back to my general vicinity.

I was too shy to try out for an organized team until I was fourteen. By that time, my love for the game (and the insistence of my friends) made it impossible for me to refuse anymore. I landed on one of the local Babe Ruth League teams (the Giants as I recall) and was an instant hit—the latest phenom—a big fish in a little pond—a star among…well…mostly less than all-stars (let’s just say, none of us were major league ready). We had a great time, though, and (as far as my baseball career goes) those were my glory days.IMG_0992

During the summers of my fourteenth and fifteenth years on this planet, I batted cleanup. For all you non-fans, that meant I was the go-to guy—the RBI man—the power hitter—the centerpiece of the line-up. I really thought I was something.

But then an evil thing happened. I turned sixteen and had to move on to play Junior Legion baseball. All of a sudden, everyone around me was a Babe Ruth League all-star. I was no longer cleanup worthy. I did bat in the leadoff position, but only because I could run fast and steal a few bases. I couldn’t hit a lick against the big boys. I could now drive a car but could no longer drive in runs. I was a has-been. By the time I was nineteen, my baseball career was over, and dreams of playing for my beloved Pittsburgh Pirates were a faded memory.

That extended experience, like a lot of others, prepared me for adult life. I have now been a pastor for thirty-five years. And guess what… As a pastor I could easily consider myself a big fish in a little pond and a theological star among people with a little less theological training. I don’t, however, because I never made it to the big leagues. I never played for the Pirates (or even the Durham Bulls). When I arrive early for services on Sunday, I’m not looking to tell someone else what to do or even what to believe. I’m usually sweeping the walks, adjusting the heat, or supplying the restrooms with toilet paper.

When it comes to serving Jesus, none of us are cleanup hitters. He’s the cleanup guy. We all do our parts, and we’re all important to the lineup. The cool thing is, none of us has to sit the bench.

SPF in Antarctica?

polar-bear-404314_1280As I write this, I’m seated on the balcony of a home in a tropical paradise. The house is located in a place called Duck Key off the southern tip of Florida. The sun is shining, the breeze is gently blowing, and I am doing the most relaxed work possible. This is the life. No wonder Earnest Hemingway lived near here. It’s a writer’s dream. I could really get used to this place and living like this.

But unlike Hemingway, I’m on vacation. I have to leave here in a few short days. If I had the money, I could buy a wild Hawaiian shirt, let my bead grow, and actually get a tan (if my pasty, white, Northern Italian skin would allow it). I could stay here, get to know the natives, and do some “beach ministry.”

Alas, I don’t have that kind of money. Even if I did, I’m not sure I would buy a wild Hawaiian shirt anyway. Maybe I would…maybe I wouldn’t… Either way, I’d be a tad out of place here. I don’t even swim. I suppose I’d have to learn if I stayed. When in Rome…right?

The truth is, I’m quite adaptable. I could live almost anywhere. The stark exception to that would be one of the Poles (North or South). You can have those. But if the Lord sends me there, I guess I would adapt to that as well (but He’d have to make it perfectly clear it was His will…my will is pretty strong in the area of weather—a sledge hammer might work). At any rate, the old saying is “bloom where you’re planted.” I just prefer being planted in a warm climate.UntitledThis whole planting stuff applies to a lot more than weather, however. Could you serve the Lord in the inner city? They need a witness or two there. Could you serve the Lord in the farmland of Pennsylvania where the farmhouses are miles apart? They could use a witness or two there. Could you serve the Lord among the Valley girls of California, the Hell’s Angels (wherever they ride), or the coal miners of Kentucky? They all could use a witness or two.

The point is this. Our travels, and the Lord, put us in a wide variety of places, cultures and mindsets. We’re not always as comfortable as I am in this temporary tropical paradise. In fact, when we’re doing the Lord’s work, we’re seldom comfortable at all. The only real comfort we have is in the fact that we’re doing what He has called us to do.

We often hear about getting out of our comfort zone to serve people (and consequently, the Lord). We hear it, give lip service to it, and often even believe it’s what we should do. But seldom do we actually follow through. It’s just not the tropical paradise we were hoping to be called upon to serve. Where (and who) are we called to serve?