Being spiritual and upbeat in a world that is hostile toward believers.
Moses delivered the Ten Commandments, but there was more that the Israelites needed to be taught, and this added material that Moses preached to the People of God is called the Book of the Covenant. I use the example of a drug user who died during surgery to motivate a statement made in this part of Exodus, which says that a righteous person should never be put to death.
We look at Revelation, at the promise of a New Jerusalem, where there is no evil and everything is refreshed, to consider this: at any time we want, we can enter the new Jerusalem. This is because God always forgives. God always lets us wipe the slate blank and start totally over. I learned this lesson myself in my life.
A schizophrenic man once told me how to find the entrance to a wormhole. I use this story as a vehicle for talking about the Lord's command to go forth into the world while depending only on God to provide for us.
I talk about two men who were both caring for chronically ill wives, both sick with diseases that would ultimately take their lives. Both men saw themselves as having purposes in life that would be impacted by their obligations. But the two men had very different attitudes about their responsibilities. I discuss the fact that God has a purpose for all of us - but it's God who decides that purpose, not us.
Once, at the hospital where I work, I had a woman who was an atheist become irate when I introduced myself as a chaplain. I use this story to talk about being a "citizen chaplain", someone who is prepared to help anyone they come across who needs help - even if that person has beliefs very contrary to their own.
When I was a young guy I bought my first car with a steering column lock on it. That lock suddenly engaged while I was going around a curve on a freeway at 75 miles per hour - sending me flying off the freeway. I use this story as a vehicle to talk about how we should all handle those moments of panic, and how it's important that we are prepared in advance for dealing with them.
I had a friend who was terminally ill with cancer and who had to make a decision about whether to continue with agonizing chemo treatments. I use this story as a vehicle for talking about the need for each of us to develop a personal theology that guides us through every decision we must make in life.
I look at the issue of New Testament authorship. There are those who say that because Paul might not have written 6 of the 13 letters attributed to him, or that other books were not written by the people to whom we have traditionally attributed them, the Bible is in some sense partly "fake". But what should be the true standard for including a book in the Bible?
When I was in second grade, I got on the wrong city bus on the way home from school - and found myself very far from home. I use this story to motivate two important teachings of Scripture: 1. be kind to others and 2. don't look for acknowledgement or reward.
As a chaplain, I often encounter homeless people who have been cast aside by society and come to the hospital for medical help - but only when they are extremely sick. I talk about a homeless man who was very grateful that I was willing to touch him. I use this to motivate the lesson learned in the story of the woman who was healed simply by touching the fringe of Jesus' garment. I discuss an easy way to learn to connect wit...
Often difficult events in life can turn into uplifting, even funny moments. I look at the Book of James and the author's command to use "troubles" as a reason to find "great joy." I use a situation where a graduate student from France accused me of hating French people as a stepping stone toward examining this passage from James.
I had a very short Boy Scout career - because I used dynamite to blow up a hillside at a Scout jamboree. I use this story to talk about how a Christian should use their spiritual ears to listen to God. We don't have the benefit that the Old Testament Prophets had: we do not hear an audible voice from God. But if we take our time and use a disciplined approach to praying, we can hear God's voice through our spiritual ears....
When my father's mother, who was a Portuguese speaker, was near the end of her life, she gave me her prized possession, her childhood ceramic-and-leather, hand-painted doll. I use it as a vehicle to talk about giving.
The New Testament does not tell us how Paul died. It also does not answer one of the biggest mysteries of the Bible: Did Paul, as he had hoped, ever make it to Spain, to the edge of their known civilized world? I discuss the evidence surrounding this question, and I relate this question to the corrupt world in which we live. In particular, I talk about my life in the world of arrogant, pompous academics.
In a second story about my time picking citrus as a kid, I use the generosity of the migrant workers I picked with to talk about generosity as a core characteristic of a true Christian. Using a brief tale about my mother, I also discuss the need we all have for our fellow people to acknowledge our kindness.
Jesus taught us to protect those in need, those who are suffering, those who are in danger. God also sometimes will send someone into our lives to rescue us. I use a story about my time as a boy picking citrus with Mexican migrant workers to illustrate this lesson.
I use a story about my mother and her efforts to make sure that I treated all people the same as a way of illustrating that back in ancient times, in biblical times, people were fighting the same moral battles we fight today. In fact, the Bible is certainly no less relevant today than it was thousands of years ago.
I recently met with a man who had a severe form of cerebral palsy. He was ignored and unloved and uncared-for as a child, but he met a woman who deeply loved him. Then, she died. He was confronted with the task of dealing with her death. One of his biggest concerns was that he would not be able to visit her grave, given his disability. I helped him find a solution that would honor her.
There is a story in the Bible where Jesus cures a disabled man. He does it so that the man will never become a victim again. I relate this story to a very elderly man who, very long ago, advised me to remember that I should allow myself to become a victim.
I talked to a man who was dying of cancer. He had had a horrible childhood, filled with deprivation, insecurity and fear. But he had learned to truly trust God. He turned out to be the deepest and truest believer I have ever met.
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