Texas Primaries are under way – What kind of Leaders do we need?

Today is the first day of early voting in Texas. I will be honest I have only today checked the ballots to see who is running for what. You can find the ballots for your precinct here. Our democracy depends on citizens who inform themselves and make use of their right to vote. But who should I vote for? What kind of leaders do we need?

Here are a few candidates that I found:

1. The incumbent – I have a proven track record of doing what I always said I was going to do. You know what you are going to get when you keep me in office. So I ask you to keep me in office.

2. The entrepreneur – I have had great success in my own company. I am an achiever and now I set my mind to achieving things in the political arena. Please join my fight.

3. The activist – I am very passionate about my issue. I have always been passionate about it and I know you are, too. Let’s move forward.

4. The anti-politician – I do not like politics. I do not like what politicians do. I want to get in there and tell them to stop.

You may recognize one or two or all of them. They also have powerful biblical precedents:

1. The incumbent – King Solomon had one major qualification for office. He was King David’s son. (1 Kings 2) This is what got him the throne: family legacy, dynasty. Not competence, not vision spirit but tradition. And it worked. Under his leadership Israel has seen wealth and wisdom like never before and never after him again. A solid choice.

2. The entrepreneur – Abraham was a successful rancher with huge herds a livestock. A wealthy business man for his day and age. (Genesis 13) That is why he was a natural leader. As such he became a blessing not just for his own family but for people from every nation. He understood the art of the deal and how to use relationships in business and family.

3. The activist – Dooms day prophets like Amos may not win elections but they sure shape public opinion. When they dig in and get a microphone and a twitter handle they will use them to fight injustice loud and clear. (Amos 2) A great prophet is one who may not get a leadership role, just plenty of enemies. We need their clear voices as a moral compass.

4. The anti-politician – The prophet Samuel warned loud and clear against government overreach: taxation, military service, forced labor, over-regulation. (1 Samuel 8) Politicians tend a amass power and influence and anti-politicians are in important counter weight-counter to balance things out. We need them to rock the boat.

What kind of leaders do we need? Learn about your candidates and use your right to vote!

Of Passion And Ashes

Skoreaandolympicflag

I am usually not good at watching sports. I don’t usually like sitting on the couch watching others move while I’d much rather move myself. There are few notable exceptions though. I will always try to watch the soccer World Cup and the Olympic Games. So, as the Olympic winter games in Pyeongchang opened, there I was on the couch, sitting down. Seeing Korea come together under one flag was in inspirational moment. As a matter of fact, it is those inspirations that bring me to the couch for the world’s super sports events. When international events call, they have a tendency to transcend national and personal identity. I love the stories how athletes grow up in all corners of the world and then come together for this one event with this one shared dream. From World Cup to World Cup, from Olympic Games to Olympic Games, it takes 4 long years of preparation.

For individual athletes preparation takes a lifetime. Most of them get inspired as little children and they keep practicing until they are old and fit enough to compete at the top of their sport. Are you on top your game? That’s the question of sports. It should also be the question of your spiritual journey. At some point you may have seen or heard or experienced the spiritual equivalent of a world record. Someone told you something, you did or felt something that was just out of this world. But then what came from that moment? Did you put it to work? Did you learn to walk the talk? Did you change you heart? Did you change your ways? Did you learn to inspire others? Or are you still – figuratively speaking – sitting on the couch – while others run the race for you? The Olympic Games in Pyeongchang inspire me to no longer be an armchair Christian, but to be on fire like the Olympic Cauldron.

Both the Olympics and the Church call us to be part of something bigger than ourselves. They both call us to a lot of effort, life-long training. February 14th will be Ash Wednesday. At 6pm we will burn the palms of last year’s Palm Sunday service. And there we will begin the intense 40 day training camp of Lent. The goal is not Olympic metal but more spiritual responsibility. All that passion that I have seen or heard or experienced, how can I put that to work in my life? How can you? Lent is not just about giving something up. Lent is about training the muscles of your soul. You have 40 days to grow stronger. In what spiritual discipline do you want to get better?

HELPER for February 2018

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Four considerations regarding cremation

Most of us will eventually die. The only recorded exception to that was Enoch “because God took him.” (Genesis 5:24). So let’s assume for now that we are all going to die. It only makes sense to think about what you want to happen with your remains after death. As a pastor I get frequently asked if cremation is okay with God. Let me give you 4 considerations regarding cremation:

1. Will I have my body in the resurrection life?
I sure hope not. I hope with Paul that things will be different: “There are both heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is one thing, and that of the earthly is another.” (1 Corinthians 15:40) Our heavenly bodies will be different. They will not be plagued by disease, they won’t die. Concepts like growing up or aging obviously do not apply in eternity. Yes, we will still be ourselves, but different.

2. If my remains are burnt won’t I be burnt forever?
No. Even when a body rots under ground it will still be renewed hereafter – not physically or literally, but in a way that is whole: “he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:4)

3. Are their any dangers in cremation?
Yes. As pastor I have seen too often that loving relatives have a hard time letting go of the deceased person. That is normal to an extent. But sometimes families will choose to take the urn home. Sometimes spouses will keep the ashes of their loved one on a shelf in the bedroom or the mantle over the fireplace. That can hinder closure and can delay the process of saying farewell.

4. What to do with the ashes after cremation?
Find a final resting place! I doesn’t matter whether you want the urn in a grave or a columbarium. You can scatter the ashes on designated sites and return your loved one to the circle of life. The main point is finality. Keeping the urn at home is not a good option. Because when you grow older, your children will have to go through your things and have to decide what happens to grandpa’s ashes. Don’t punt that to the next generations. All too often urns end up in garages or storage sheds.

Since 2016 the majority (50.2%) of Americans have chosen cremation. The National Funeral Directors Association has the projected rate of cremation reaching 78.8 percent of deaths by 2035. I suggest to make sure it doesn’t get in the way of the grieving process or puts undue burdens on following generations.

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The Moon is bleeding, a groundhog can tell the weather and where is God in all this?

What a Week! #SuperMoon2018 #GroundhogDay #ScoutSunday #Souperbowl

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Big things are about to happen in the sky: The Super Blue Blood Moon Wednesday Is Something the US Hasn’t Seen Since 1866. Early Wednesday morning (Jan. 31), a Blue Moon, a total lunar eclipse and a supermoon coincide to create a rare lunar event that hasn’t been seen in North America in more than 150 years. (SPACE.com). Ever since people have gazed at the heavens they have found meaning there – the Sun as a God, the constellations as fortune-tellers. What happens in the sky affects us here on Earth big time. How is your sleep in a full-moon night?

As human beings we are part of the natural ecosystem and we suffer and prosper alongside the rest of creation. We adjust to nature’s rhythm because it is our own. Halfway between the winter solstice in December and the spring equinox in March we ask a groundhog what the weather is going to be like. Since 1792 the Farmer’s Almanac has had all kinds of other folklore and wisdom. Also the Almanac reveals an inconvenient truth: Punxsutawney Phil gets his predictions right only 39% of the time. And while everybody understands that the moon is not literally bleeding, let’s not forget the fact that the upcoming Super Moon is not so super after all: the last supermoon and lunar eclipse combination happened on 27 September 2015 and the next one is just around the corner on 21 January 2019.

Maybe things in the sky aren’t as big as they seem. Maybe our entanglement in natural processes is overrated. Prophets have warned about that for thousands of years:
“And when you look up to the heavens and see the sun, the moon, and the stars, all the host of heaven, do not be led astray and bow down to them and serve them, things that the Lord your God has allotted to all the peoples everywhere under heaven.” (Deuteronomy 4:19)
There is something oddly comforting about being subject to cosmological powers. If our fate is in the stars we are not really in charge. Well, the God of Israel does not allow much room for that kind of thinking: Do not let the sun, the moon and the stars guide you! It is much more important to focus on what is going on down here on Earth among God’s children. When people are hungry, feed them! When children need direction, educate them! Next Sunday at St. John’s UCC you will have opportunities to be part of both: We will be kicking off our month-long food-drive as well as celebrate Scout Sunday. So don’t let the stars tell you how to live but instead, support Boy Scouts so they can camp out under the stars! Don’t let some cosmological fate determine people’s destiny but bring food donations and turn people’s lives around!

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Suicide Prevention Sunday


Each year, the United Church of Christ designates one Sunday – usually the last Sunday in January – as a day to recognize the ministries in health and human services provided by the members of the Council for Health and Human Service Ministries as well as those supported by our local churches, ministries which respond to human need with compassion and justice. This Sunday is an opportunity for congregations to lift up our common ministry of healing and service to others in Christ’s name.

I have been with St. John’s United Church of Christ in Rosenberg, Texas, for 3.5 years now. In this short time frame I have accompanied 5 families who lost a loved one to suicide. It is time we react to this health crisis in our church. That is why we decided to utilize this year’s Health and Human Service Sunday as a Sunday for Suicide Prevention. For our 10 am service on January 28, 2018, I invited Dr. Amy Harkins to co-preach with me.

Dr. Amy Harkins is a licensed psychologist working with Easter Seals of Greater Houston in their Mental Health Program. She is able to meet with adults one-on-one for talk therapy that is goal directed, strengths-based and aims to make small, yet meaningful and sustainable changes to improve the well-being and quality of life of her clients. She has worked with elders, Veterans and their loved ones and is currently responding to the emotional healthcare needs of people recovering from Hurricane Harvey. Dr. Harkins has specialized skills in working with clients who have survived traumatic life events and can assist them in healing the emotional wounds that linger after trauma has occurred. Dr. Harkins earned her Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology from Arizona State University in 2005. Dr. Harkins is a wife, mother of two young children and a Monarch Butterfly Rancher.

Right after church we will have a table talk in the parish hall. Then and there everybody will have a chance to reflect on their experiences with suicide. Also we will learn how to recognize and support people who are struggling. Please come and learn how to safe lives!