The Altar of the Woo Pig Sooie

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“If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.”~~ 1 Corinthians 15:19

Abundance of blessings pouring from the heavens! The easy path and the smooth highway stretching out before us! Crowds cheering our names! Green meadows for taking our ease and rest. Puff pastries on silver platters for our dining pleasure. Our beverages of choice flowing in rivers unceasing as we celebrate the good life of the true believers who have put their faith in the one true God, and given their heart, soul, and life to the cause.

This is the theme of the sermons we can hear most Sundays in many Christian churches that follow the false doctrine we know as “prosperity theology.” Those of us who bleed Razorback Red, rather than anthracite grey, have also fallen into this sickness, for we have fed on this swill at the hog trough/altar of the woo pig sooie.

Prosperity theology teaches that if one has faith and behaves appropriately toward the god, one receives rewards in this life as well in the life beyond.  Prosperity theology had its roots in the Old Testament before belief in the afterlife became fashionable, for rewards and punishments in this life were the only measure of retribution that the deity had to control the faithful. The book of Job is a commentary on prosperity theology, for the Accuser suggests to God that Job only remains faithful to God because of the blessings that God provides to Job, and Job would lose his faith if these blessings were removed.  The Accuser loses this round too, because ultimately evil always loses to Good.

The problem with prosperity theology is that it focuses too much on this world and this life. As Paul reminded the Corinthians, “If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people the most to be pitied.” If we are putting our trust in Christ to get the goodies of this world: cars, houses, gold chains, 401ks flush with profits, etc., then we have made the Lord of heaven and earth into a Candy Man who offers his favorite children treats from his deep pockets.

Now God knows that our Hogs need a Candy Man, but sweet treats are given only to children in costumes on Halloween night and by Santa on Christmas eve into their stockings they left hanging by the chimney with care.  If there is no Candy Man or Santa Clause for the Hogs or for the Hog Nation, can we still be believers? How can we have faith in a good God when the evil seem to prosper, when the faithful get cancer, when the innocent are killed in a convenience store robbery, or when the robber barons of this world get rich at the expense of the poor and the middle class? Is our theology, our thoughts about God, rich enough and robust enough to wrap around the inherent inconsistencies of this absurd world?

Take the poor, for instance, and the ill. If one is both poor and ill, does prosperity theology have a place for them? No! It excludes them, for they are not “living righteously, therefore, God doesn’t bless them. Otherwise, they would be well and rich.” Since a great part of the world is both poor and ill, prosperity theology has difficulty explaining why God sent his son Jesus into the world to heal the sick and speak tenderly to the poor:  “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God” (Luke 6:20).  Prosperity theology is retribution theology, or reward theology: tit for tat theology.

What of the Gordon Gekkos of this world for whom greed is good and whose god is money? His prosperity certainly isn’t a blessing from God, for a just God wouldn’t reward a rapacious robber baron. Job’s observation rings true in this world: sometimes the tents of the robbers prosper (Job 12:6). If we hold that God is the source of all blessings, then we are stuck with the unfortunate conclusion that God rewards the unjust as well as the just. That conclusion denies both the goodness and the justness of the God we honor and love in the Razorback Nation.

When we are faithful in our walk before God, and the blessings don’t flow, we are tempted to question God’s love for us or his faithfulness toward us. Likewise, when we faithful and passionate Razorback Nation Fans don’t get the wins we expect from our team, we question the faithfulness and love of the University, the Coach and the Team for US.  We buy tickets, dress in team colors, tailgate with friends at the stadium and at home, spend a fortune on tickets and junk food, and park our bacon parts on a cold damp seat. Surely, all that commitment should earn us a blessing from the football gods. Our faith gets dashed into itty-bitty pieces. Just like Humpty Dumpty, it can’t be put together again. We want to sell our tickets on eBay as evidence of our crisis of faith, for we are fair weather fans even as we are fair weather lovers of God.

One of our problems is that we follow the One Armed Bandit of Prosperity Theology: We puts our money in and we expects our flashing lights, bells, and spinning wheels to line up three red razorbacks and bright red coins to spill out of the machine! Yes! We are winners! Each and every time we pull the handle!  This is fantasy thinking, and we should recognize it as an imaginary magic eight-year old thought process.

We claim we want to praise God in all things, but when we walk the valleys of the dark shadows of death, we think God isn’t with us. We forget that he is near to the broken hearted (Psm 34:18) and the defender of the Nation (2 Mac15:30).  In the fat and easy times, we take God for granted. In the times of famine and drought, we should count on God all the more: “Though the fig tree does not blossom, and no fruit is on the vines; 
though the produce of the olive fails
and the fields yield no food; 
though the flock is cut off from the fold and there is no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will exult in the God of my salvation” (Habakkuk 3:17-18).

Win or Lose, Grey Helmets or Red Helmets, Home or Away, God Loves the Razorback Nation! WOO PIG SOOIE!!!!!!

A good project this week is to make a family altar: mine is a tongue in cheek “altar to the woo pig sooie”:  Fancy red pig elevated upon the purple amethyst mountains, handmade cross stitch, Christ of the Ozarks souvenir, clay art pieces (girl cheerleader, snowman yell leader—may be a cold day before we win a game…)

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Gifts for Everybody!

at risk kids, Children, Creativity, Evangelism, Food, generosity, Holy Spirit, home, Meditation, Ministry, photography, poverty, Prayer, purpose, Spirituality, Uncategorized

“Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit, and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord, and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone.” ~~ 1 Cor 12:4-6

In my actively practicing carboholic years, I loved going to the mall because there I could indulge my addiction at the candy stores. The various colored jelly bellies in clear plastic boxes lined up against the walls of the small shoebox stores brought me inside as if they were a rainbow leading me to a pot of gold. I would select my stash of varied flavors & colors, making sure to make a double purchase of my favorite black liquorish beans.

Once I had those treats in hand, I might peruse a bookstore, but if I were truly pressed for time, I went straight for the chocolate shop. There I bought my favorites: the turtles, brownies and the chocolate covered strawberries. These last I ate before I left the store, for fragile fruit wouldn’t travel well and I needed something for the road.

On the way home, I might purchase a Route 44 Diet Lime aide at the Sonic and eat a couple of the brownies. Diet drinks do cancel out the sugar calories, right? It’s the mantra of every dieter in denial, who has had his or her passport stamped many times over at that famous river in Egypt. The boredom of the drive home and the temptation of my treats in their pristine white sacks were usually too much to resist, and they often met their untimely ends before I met my driveway and my kitchen counter at home.

I can just imagine the Corinthian church, fragmented as it was, arguing over desert choices too. Brownies! Blondies! Red velvet Cake! Pineapple Upside Down Cake! Apple Cobbler! Fruit Salad! Donuts! Jell-O Pudding! Coconut Pie! Etc.!

Paul would have written them a letter saying, “There are varieties of deserts, but only one Cook, varieties of ingredients, but only one Spirit, and varieties of service, but only one Lord…”

Instead, they argued about spiritual gifts, ways to serve Jesus, and how God acts in the world. In this they sound like very modern people. We value and understand what is most like ourselves for we can recognize this in others, as if we are looking in a mirror. This is why when we get excited about a program or a ministry opportunity, we have a hard time understanding why others aren’t also enthusiastic about the same thing.  We sometimes don’t realize that others are just more eager about a different service experience and are putting their energy elsewhere.

If we stopped to think about this, if everyone did the same ministry within the body of Christ, many needful works would be left undone. If we were all “preaching,” it would be a cacophony of sound, or we might get only an occasional week to practice our gift. A better use of this group’s one gift would be to send them all out into the world to spread the good news of Christ with other congregations who had no one with the gift of “preaching.” Disbanding this group would be best, for it doesn’t have the variety of gifts, services and activities to sustain it.  Likewise in a community, not everyone will serve in the same arenas, for some will support the arts, others will feed the hungry, others will champion the children, and others still will want to make sure justice is served for all, rich and poor alike.

This is why the Holy and Triune God in his wisdom assigns a variety of gifts, services and activities to the body of Christ that we call the Church. While we may think that our congregation isn’t “gifted,” we aren’t trusting the faithfulness of God, for “it is the same God who activates (these gifts, services, and activities) in everyone” (1 Cor 12:6).

When scripture makes a blanket promise of “everyone,” it means “all,” not “some or a few.” If we are trusting God for our lives, since he gave his only begotten Son for us that we might live with him forever, then we also need to trust the Holy Spirit to make that promise of “everyone” true in our life also. Each of us has some gift, service, or activity that we can do well. Our gift may be something we learned growing up, like how to make biscuits the old fashioned way. Making biscuits for potlucks is just an activity to some, but it is a gift of hospitality when done in the Spirit for the Lord. Teaching the next generation this skill is a service not only to the body of Christ, but also to human kind, for we no longer know how to cook, but merely heat our foods in this generation. The next generation will only know how to eat at the drive through or from a can or a box, and that is a loss to our humanity.

As we live out our lives this week, we creative people should consider how we use our giftedness in the service of the Lord Jesus Christ. If our gifts are from the one Spirit, and our service is to the one Lord, and if all our creativity is activated by the one God who works in each one of us, how are we using these gifts in God’s world today? Do we stay in our studios creating only for ourselves? When we come out, is it only to do errands, exercise, party, wash clothes, or attend to the other details of our lives? What have we done for the good of others?

I have a young friend how has answered the call to be an urban missionary to the homeless. He is using his art and music background in his ministry with these men and women of the streets. He used to be a musician in the church. My health keeps me from being a full time pastor, but I can teach art in the church day care one hour each week on Awesome Art Tuesday. I get paid with hugs and excitement when I arrive at the door. Each of us has a call from God on our hearts if we will but listen in the silence to hear his voice. What is God calling you to do with your giftedness? Journal about this and do some research on arenas in which you might serve.

This week attempt a self-portrait, which will be difficult, for the face has more planes than the ordinary still life or landscape.  If the drawing or painting is beyond your skill level, pose yourself and capture your inner spirit. This isn’t an “Olin Mills” portrait or a school photo or even a mug shot with numbers under it.  It’s not the idealized photo most of us put on our Facebook pages.  This photo should carry the freight of your personality and your inner heart and soul.  Good work will come of this if you let God work within you!

Hard Work, Community & Individual Success

at risk kids, Children, Creativity, Holy Spirit, Imagination, Ministry, photography, Physical Training, purpose, Spirituality, Strength, Uncategorized, vision, Work

“To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”          ~~ 1 Corinthians 12:7

“If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.” President Obama lit up the ratio and TV talk shows a while back with this statement because 60% of Americans believe that hard work brings success more than lucky breaks, inheritance, or connections (2012—What Americans Believe: American Values Survey by the Atlantic/Aspen Institute). Not even a prolonged and hobbling “recovery” that still seems like a recession to those of us used to fatter times seems to shake this idea that the virtue of individual hard work will prevail.

Yet I am noticing a culture change among athletes, especially those who play team sports, but even among those who are individual “players” but have a support team of coaches, trainers, nutritionists, equipment handlers, bus drivers and press people or agents. In these lean times, when sponsors are most appreciated and not taken for granted, the athletes are thanking them for their support, and not just for the financial gifts, but also for the emotional assistance a name brand brings to their effort. When they begin to look beyond themselves, they realize how many people give their time and energy to help make their individual achievement a success. This is a humbling moment for sure.  Neil Armstrong, who passed away this week and was the first man to walk on the moon, said as he touched that alien soil, “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind!” Yet he never took the sole credit for his efforts, for he knew he only went as part of a giant team representing a great nation that willed him forward by adding its corporate strength to the thousands of gallons of rocket fuel that powered his tiny capsule into the highest heavens.

Indeed, an athlete, an artist, a writer, an engineer, an astronaut, or a mechanic doesn’t get to the top of his or her field without dedicating their heart, mind, soul and body to the perfection of their craft. We each have a calling to our work, a desire to be the best or to give our best every day, and this attitude gets recognized by the masters of the generation before us. They share their knowledge with us, like Obiwan shared his with young Skywalker. If we are given to wisdom, we will remember our old masters and give them credit when we surpass them, for if we say, “I did it all by myself,” we are showing our two year old brain to the world.

The culture change of which I speak is the value of the community over the individual. When I was young, boys were expected to work and girls were expected to marry. It’s no wonder that 61% of Americans aged 65+believe our “free enterprise system contributes to America’s having stronger values than other places in the world.” Only 36% of our 18-29 year olds think this way, for freedom of speech ranks highest with them (64%) (2012—What Americans Believe, p. 15).

When older people say, “Kids don’t know how to put in a full day’s work anymore,” I wonder if we taught them the meaning of hard work or if we wanted to spare them the pain of our struggling. We no longer teach cursive writing in schools anymore because almost everyone uses the computer. I’ve noticed that some seven year olds can barely write their names legibly in print, so they aren’t teaching basic writing skills in schools either.  When I came home with my puny first grade letters, I asked my mother how I could make them better. She said, show me how your teacher told you to make the letter. I said, “The form of b is a stick with a ball.” Yes, so got to your desk and fill a whole page of paper with b until you can make a good straight stick and a nice round ball. My mom knew that practice makes perfect and training my little hands was training me to have a work ethic.

In the same manner, when cursive came to town, I already knew my task.  If I wanted pretty handwriting, I needed to fill my pages with theses newfound shapes until my hand automatically produced perfectly formed script.  I was developing my small motor movements and my hand eye coordination both.  I thrive on details, but I’m not good at yanking heavy weights up and down. We all have our callings!

When seven-year-old “Alberto” says he can’t write his name on his artwork, I look at him and say, now is the time to learn! What letter does Alberto start with? “B?” Al? Does Al sound like B? “A?” he says. Yes, so write A. Now what? “L?” Yes. And so on we go, sounding out his name letter by letter.  I am sad that his parents and teachers and the many people in his community haven’t taken the time to make him successful in the one place that has real meaning: his unique name that identifies him.  The struggle to learn and to achieve is something each of us must undergo if we want to be the best, for we will all hit a wall of defeat or failure to improve at some point in our lives.  All learning involves a certain amount of failure, for we have to discover what we don’t know so that we can reteach/relearn that area.  In this sense, learning is just a “going onto perfection” or a smoothing out of the imperfections/failures along the way to our destiny of greatness! We all need to use our gifts of hard work and our Spirits of courage to fail over and over until we succeed. For people like us, we will climb over, tunnel through, or redefine (Kobayashi Maru maneuver) all the obstacles in our paths.

We all would do well to understand what this scripture means: “To each is given the Spirit for the common good.” We each receive spiritual gifts from God, but not because we are hard working and have earned them. We each receive unique gifts from God, but not because we are already born into a spiritually wealthy family and therefore we too participate in our family’s blessings. God chooses freely to whom God will give the gifts of wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, prophecy, discernment of spirits, various kinds of tongues and the interpretations of tongues (vs. 8-10).  These gifts aren’t for the purpose of an individual’s success (one doesn’t make a living by healing or divining the spirits), but the gifts are for the common good of the body of Christ, the church that gathers in his name.  Some of the gifts are more exuberant and “flashy” so they brought more attention to the recipient, who began to claim more status and success in the body. However all these gifts are equal and all are useful. We need them all to succeed as a whole, so we need to not only credit one another, but also the give of all good things, our God who activates these gifts in us by his Holy Spirit.

As creative people, we have many people to whom we owe our lives. As I list mine, you should think about listing yours in your journal this week. My grandmother DeLee was a portrait and still life painter, so I wanted “to be an artist when I grew up.” I don’t remember my teacher’s name at the Shreveport Parks and Recreation Saturday Art Classes, but as soon as I could write my name in cursive, I could enter her class and learn the secrets of light and shared, color and value, and begin not only to draw but to paint in various media.  I’m thankful for my parents who encouraged me and paid for my art lessons all those years. I give credit to my crazy college professors who pushed me and the agents who worked with me in the first stage of my art career.  The twenty years I spent in ministry prepared me spiritually for the work I’m doing now: how many lives, deaths, joys and griefs are there in those 7,300 days? Words will not express these feelings, but the power of the visual image will unpack the potency of the unspoken cries of the heart.

As I think about a visual image to express this image of the community supporting the individual’s success and the individual’s gifts supporting the community, I think that if God’s light didn’t shine into the world long ago, we might still be looking for a savior. If the sun didn’t rise each day, we would know the beauty of God’s world. If we didn’t paint or draw this world as God gives us the gift to see it, then the world would be a duller place indeed.  Bring to life with God’s gift to you,  your vision of God’s light breaking into the world. This may be a sunrise or a sunset, or a scene with light and shadows. Share it with someone who has helped you along the way.