On the way to Sunday …. The End is Coming!

Although well used to ghostly company by this time, Scrooge feared the silent shape so much that his legs trembled beneath him, and he found that he could hardly stand when he prepared to follow it. The Spirit pauses a moment, as observing his condition, and giving him time to recover.

But Scrooge was all the worse for this. It thrilled him with a vague uncertain horror, to know that behind the dusky shroud there were ghostly eyes intently fixed upon him, while he, though he stretched his own to the utmost, could see nothing but a spectral hand and one great heap of black.

“Ghost of the Future!” he exclaimed, “I fear you more than any spectre I have seen. But as I know your purpose is to do me good, and as I hope to live to be another man from what I was, I am prepared to bear you company, and do it with a thankful heart. Will you not speak to me?” 

It gave him no reply. The hand was pointed straight before them.

“Lead on,” said Scrooge. “Lead on. The night is waning fast, and it is precious time to me, I know. Lead on, Spirit.”  excerpt from A Christmas Carol: Stave Four by Charles Dickens

Like Scrooge, what is it about the future that we so fear?

As a society our entire focus on the future has become one of doom and destruction. The fiscal cliff is pending – Economic collapse is upon us! And as chicken little once put it, “the sky is falling!” – Aliens are coming from Mars!

No wonder we fear the future. And like Scrooge, we so want the future to speak to us and yet it remains silent and so our fear grows.

But what if we could get past our fears (like Scrooge) and declare: I know your purpose is to do me good, and as I hope to live to be another man from what I was, I am prepared to bear you company, and do it with a thankful heart.

Perhaps we could, if like Scrooge, we lived on the pages of fiction.  But wait, I hear another voice from the past speaking …

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?  And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.     Matthew 6:25-34 NIV

Jesus Christ, the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, the past and the future, has spoken!  Stop worrying and live as God intended you to live:

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.  
John 13:34-35 NIV

Should Sunday come … I’ll see you at church … until then …. love one another

On the way to Sunday …

It was a long night, if it were only a night; but Scrooge had his doubts of this, because the Christmas Holidays appeared to be condensed into the space of time they passed together. It was strange, too, that while Scrooge remained unaltered in his outward form, the Ghost grew older, clearly older. Scrooge had observed this change, but never spoke of it, until they left a children’s Twelfth Night party, when, looking at the Spirit as they stood together in an open place, he noticed that its hair was grey.

“Are spirits’ lives so short?” asked Scrooge.

“My life upon this globe, is very brief,” replied the Ghost. “It ends to-night.”

“To-night!” cried Scrooge.

“To-night at midnight. Hark! The time is drawing near.”
excerpt from A Christmas Carol: Stave 3

The story A Christmas Carol is the type of story that is so ingrained in our culture that it is just assumed that you know the story.  I must admit that I have watched too many productions to count of the story on both stage and screen and yet I never read the story until now with apologies to all of my English Literature teachers of the past whom I faked my way through any assigned readings.

So, I must say that I was stuck by the sadness of the words of the ghost of Christmas present:

                  “My life upon this globe, is very brief,” replied the Ghost. “It ends to-night.” 

Christmas is that wonderful time of the year when everyone is more kind – more generous. Unfortunately, like the ghost states, it all seems to abruptly end at midnight.  Just ask any store clerk working at a return desk the day after Christmas and they will tell you the spirit of Christmas is dead.

What happens? Why does the spirit die?

Perhaps more important, does the spirit have to die?

If in fact the Spirit of Christmas lives in each of us, then it is up to each of us to keep it alive.

What will you do in the days, weeks, and year ahead to keep the Spirit of Christmas alive and well?

See you Sunday …

Happy Thankgiving

It is that time of the year when we take time to count our blessings and give thanks.

And yet our ability to be thankful is often reduced to our ability to respond.

We often wait to respond with gratitude after a tragedy in the world.  Gratitude for our own health comes after learning of somebody else’s illness.  Gratitude should come not from that which makes us feel better. Tommy Newberry in his book the 4:8 Principle refers to this type of thanksgiving as regular gratitude.

As Christians, I believe we are called beyond the regular to what Newberry calls extraordinary gratitude. This is the type of gratitude reflected in Habakkuk (3:17-18 The Message):

Though the cherry trees don’t blossom and the strawberries don’t ripen,
Though the apples are worm-eaten and the wheat fields stunted,
Though the sheep pens are sheepless and the cattle barns empty,
I’m singing joyful praise to God. I’m turning cartwheels of joy to my Savior God.
Counting on God’s Rule to prevail, I take heart and gain strength.
I run like a deer. I feel like I’m king of the mountain!

This type of gratitude is not based on external prompting but rather comes from within.  This type of gratitude exists in spite of the circumstances and events of life.

As we reflect this day on all that we are thankful for, I am mindful of the story of the ten lepers (Luke 17:11-19). I wonder what we can learn from this story?  What is our response to be to God’s grace? Will we wait for something extraordinary to happen in our lives before we are grateful for God’s grace in our lives? Or will we learn to be grateful in all circumstances as we are encouraged to do in I Thessalonians :

Be cheerful no matter what; pray all the time; thank God no matter what happens. This is the way God wants you who belong to Christ Jesus to live.   5:16-18 The Message

Will we seek things to be grateful for?

Will we learn to respond in gratitude for the gift of love God has for us or will we walk away thankful that we got what we asked for?

Will we be grateful today that we can celebrate communion without fear of arrest because of the fear that others live in or will be grateful that in this moment we can worship because of God’s grace?

Ask yourself, “Is my life a life of grateful living spent in thanksgiving with the God who made me or do I live accepting and expecting all that I have?”

What if giving thanks was a natural response for each of us in all things of life?

What if our first response, or first thought, was to always return to Christ to say thank you in gratitude for what He has done in our lives and for what He has yet to accomplish?

What if we lived our lives giving and returning thanks in all things?

What if we could make Thanksgiving a daily celebration?

Happy Thanksgiving!

 

Grandpa’s Big Red Truck

Dedicated to Robert Eugene Frieden (my Grandpa)
April 19, 1920 – November 13, 2013
Whenever I see an fuel/oil delivery truck I think of my Grandpa.
For that matter, whenever I smell gasoline, I think of my Grandpa.
You see, I spent many a summer day riding in his big red truck as he made his oil and fuel deliveries. These are some of the words I shared at his funeral 6 years:
There are moments in one’s life that no one wants to experience, but in living them you simply acknowledge that you are honored or privileged to be a part of the moment … my experience with my grandfather’s life was just that … an honor and privilege.
We shared something … a name … more precisely initials … REF.  F – Frieden; E- Eugene; and my R was Rodney. That’s REF like my Grandpa (Robert) like my Dad (Ronald) and like my son (Riley).
I haven’t always embraced that commonality.  There was a time I didn’t want to be a Rodney … I wanted to be Rod and I certainly never wanted to be a Eugene.
The important thing in all of this is that growing up I wanted to be like my Grandpa (not my Dad).
I wanted to drive a big red truck like my Grandpa. 

I wanted to be as strong as my Grandpa.

I wanted everyone to like me like they liked my Grandpa. It seemed everyone knew him and that everyone was his friend.

I hoped to one day know as much about everything like my Grandpa seemingly did.

I even wanted my hair to be wavy just like Grandpa.

My Grandpa was one of the coolest people I knew and I wanted to be just like him when I grew up.

After all what’s not to like about a man that makes ice cream and fudge, hides candy by his bedside, and drives a big red truck!

As I grew older, dreams of driving a truck changed. I even gave up on having wavy hair – the length of my hair became an ongoing debate for me and my Grandpa (it was never short enough for him). I also discovered my own interests and those weren’t always the same as Grandpa’s.  Heck, we didn’t even root for the same baseball team – He the Cubs and me the Reds!  But even as my dreams grew and changed, one thing remained the same – I still wanted to grow up to be just like my Grandpa – honest, caring, selfless, strong of will, gentle of spirit, a man of quiet yet strong faith – a man of integrity.

Today (like most fathers), I struggle with the task of raising a son who thinks his Grandpa is way cooler than his own Dad. But the lessons I learned growing up have become the key to living with that frustration.

What I have learned is that if I can teach my son to be proud of his name Riley Eugene Frieden and the stories and heritage that have come before it … If I can remember to teach him about the man who started this tradition — not what he did, but who he was and what he stood for … If I can do that, I will succeed in teaching my son the most important lessons in life:

When you grow up, Grow up to be just like your great grandpa and your grandpa – that’s what I have tried to do. Learn to say your name with pride and hold your head high.

You are a Frieden … an R E Frieden and that means you share a something with the man I have called Grandpa all my life.
Learn to be like him and you will become a man of Honesty, a man of Caring thoughts, a man of selfless action, a man who was strong of will and gentle of spirit, a man of integrity, and a man of quiet yet strong faith.

Some will ask what’s so important about a a name?

The answer is not much unless that name was R E Frieden and then it can mean everything.

Thanks for that lesson Grandpa.

You never taught that to me … you just lived it every day.

Something Good …

Today is James Whitcomb Riley’s Birthday.  If you don’t know who he is – you should.
I Ran across this poem by Riley today and I think it expresses my concept of preaching and the thoughts I try to share in this blog.
Somep’n Good
Somep’n ‘at’s common-like, and good
And plain, and easy understood;
Somep’n ‘at folks like me and you
Kin understand, and relish, too,
And find some sermint in ‘at hits
The spot, and sticks and benefits.
We don’t need nothin’ extry fine;

‘Cause, take the run o’ minds like mine,
And we’ll go more on good horse-sense
Than all your flowery eloquence;
And we’ll jedge best of honest acts
By Nature’s statement of the facts.

So when you’re wantin’ to express
Your misery, er happiness,
Er anything ‘at’s wuth the time
O’ telling in plain talk er rhyme–
Jes’ sort o’ let your subject run
As ef the Lord wuz listenun.

Happy Birthday Mr. Riley and thanks for all the great words and stories!

Searching for the Good Life

I ran across a lost and found box today and it had me thinking … If only the lost and found box was where all that we are looking for could be found … Even if the box existed, could we even find it?

Enter Professor Solomon. He is, according to his biography, a magician with a degree in English from Harvard, but Professor Solomon is also a findologist—an expert at finding lost objects. He has a book about finding lost things and in it he lists 12 principles for finding anything that is lost.

Principle One: Don’t Look for It

Something’s lost, and your first thought— your basic instinct—is to look for it.
You’re ready to start rummaging about.
To hunt for it in a random, and increasingly frenetic, fashion.
To ransack your own house.
This is the most common mistake people make.
And it can doom their search from the start.
I know you’re eager to find that lost item. But not yet. Don’t look for it yet.
Wait until you have some idea where to look.

You can check out the other 11 principles and make up your own mind if it works. I was enthralled with the first principle, especially as it relates to Finding the Good Life.

We all want the Good Life. We all are seemingly searching for the Good Life and so few of us are finding it. Perhaps, Professor Solomon is onto something … Don’t look for it yet. Wait until you have some idea where to look. Maybe in our zeal to find the Good Life … we all have started looking for the Good Life without any idea of where to begin the search? Thank you Professor Solomon for the reminder and the practical advice.

Now before you going telling everyone about how wise the professor is, let me remind you of the words of the Great Master Teacher:

Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things (The Good Life) shall be added unto you. Matthew 6:33 (my addition)

Not only did Jesus tell us how to find the Good Life, but he also told us exactly where to look.

See you Sunday … I’ll be the one smiling … good to know in my search for the Good Life that I am looking in the right place! How about you?

9-11 and 3 lingering Questions

Where were you?
September 11th has become one of those days – Pearl Harbor – JFK – We ask “Where were you?” and we each have a story. We need to tell these stories. By telling the stories we remember and we honor.

We tell our stories and in so doing we discover that life has gone which leads to Question

Where was God?

This is a question that is uttered even today in the midst of destruction and devastation – State Fair Stage Collapses, Hurricane, Tornado, Earthquake, a Car Crash, a terminal illness, and more . . .

But on this day years ago, even one police chaplain working at the site in NYC was overheard to say, “Where is God in this?” I don’t have a problem with the question. I have a problem with the bad theology that often results from the answers.

The answers like . . . God punished America or this was God’s wake up call to us or all things work for the good of God; therefore, God must have caused this to happen. Really? We needed a wake of call. God used this as punishment . . . all these thoughts leads us to affirm that somehow God wanted this to happen. Too many good people died that day for it to have been a good thing . . .

This was a tragic and sad day for everyone . . .

So, how do you reconcile a loving God with the events of 9-11?

First, I do not believe God caused 9-11. These events were not meant to teach us or America or the world nor were they meant as a means of punishment. We may not completely understand what motivated the individuals involved, but we certainly know a lot more about terrorism and what motivates terrorists. We don’t have to agree with them, but at least we have an idea of what motivates them. The events of 9-11 were driven by the actions of these individuals.

But that can somehow lead us to believing then that God was absent on this day. But, if we completely remove God from the equation we are left with an empty and hopeless situation. This event was not empty and we gather today because I believe it was not hopeless . . .

I saw God in the many people that responded that day treating people in the midst of the rubble and chaos . . .

I saw God in the medical and rescue teams who were moved by the tragedy and immediately left their homes to go and assist . . .

I saw God in the outpouring of supplies, prayers, all for the people we did not know . . .

A story that emerged from the rubble came from one of the rescue workers who found a cross two days after the collapse of the twin towers. The cross was from World Trade Tower One, and was found in World Trade Building Six. He actually found several crosses standing upright in the smoldering wreckage days after the attacks. Crossbeams that had fallen from the top of the collapsing north tower landed in this unusual position. “The crosses were just shards of steel that came from Tower 1, and went right through the roof of Building 6 and destroyed the entire center of it,” he explained. He marked the site by spray-painting on a nearby wall the words “God’s House,” and a directional arrow. In the days that followed this site became a place of quiet comfort and strength to all who entered.

God was not the source of the events. But God was the source of generosity that saw the outpouring of people giving to aid the victims.

God was not the source of the events. But God was the source of comfort and strength for those who lost loved ones and waited for news.

God was not the source of the events. But God was the source of the comfort and the hope that people found as they buried their dead.

God was not the source of the events. But God is the reason we gather as church communities united in faith to remember the sacrifice by so many

You see, if you take God completely out of the equation of 9-11 – – – you still have all the death and destruction, BUT you will have removed the single most important source of comfort and hope!

We need to be reminded: That no what happens or what we have done we cannot out distance ourselves from God.

I believe then as now, God was there every bit as much as He is here with us this day. But even the discovery of God in the midst of tragedy leads us to one final question.

So what? What difference will it make?

We each are left with a need to respond. That need to respond in part brings us together this day. What will come of this day? How will we be different because of this day? What will we learn?

My hope as we gather this day and as we continue to seek an appropriate response to the actions on 9-11-01 is that we will continue to:

1. Show Respect and Gratitude for those that run towards and not away from danger. We are thankful for the safety and peace we have each day. To sleep at night. To live in relative peace. We are more apt to say thank you to those who serve and have served to keep this peace.

2. We continue to remember. The tragedy would be for us to not learn and to just forget. The tragedy would be to forget and not be changed the events. The events of this day 10 years ago give us perspective; help us to recapture hope/resolve for a better tomorrow; and they strengthen our need for community and unity.

3. We continue to Respond

We Pray for those who protect us, give us a sense of peace.
We Pray for peace, the end of war (that has been in part our on-going response).
We Pray for wisdom and unity as we continue to respond as a country.

We Act by volunteering to make this world better.
We act by sacrificing our time for the greater good.

We Give by living even more generously.

One last personal observation as we seek to respond:

This day provides a stark reminder this day for Jesus’ words in John 15:13

“Greater love has no friend than to lay down his life for a friend”
When I visited NYC I was drawn to St. Paul’s Chapel right by the World Trade Center.
In that Chapel that became a resting place for the rescue workers is a memorial plaque right by the entrance:

May it be said of us all that we died in the midst of our usefulness …

As Christ died for each of us might we live for Him …

Never forget the great sacrifice made on your behalf.