Tuesday, August 27, 2019

The Bible – For Mature Audiences Only

Recently I have been preaching sermons on topics submitted by the members of the church.  I thought that was a good idea until someone requested I preach from Genesis 38. It’s not your typical children’s bedtime Bible story. It’s more on the lines of a scandalous storyline for a daytime soap opera.

Read it yourself, but here’s a brief synopsis: A man, Judah, has a wicked adult son who is put to death by God leaving Judah’s daughter-in-law, Tamar, a young widow.  As culture would have it, the man’s brother was responsible for taking his brother’s widow as a wife, but he refuses. Tamar, desperate to have a child, disguises herself as a prostitute and seduces her unsuspecting father-in-law to sleep with her. She becomes pregnant and breaks the news to her father-in-law that he is the father. Talk about an awkward conversation!

To top it off, Judah is the great-grandson of the father of the Jewish nation, the great man of faith Abraham. This is not the news that you post on social media: “So proud of my great-grandson who is expecting a child with his daughter-in-law. Oh, by the way, he didn’t know he was sleeping with his daughter-in-law; he thought she was a prostitute. The couple is registered at your local ‘Oops-a-Baby’”.

To top it off even more, this prostitute-soliciting Judah and disguised-prostitute Tamar are included in the genealogy of Jesus! The Gospel of Matthew makes a particular point to include Tamar in Jesus’ genealogy. This story is part of Jesus’ family heritage. These are Jesus’ people!

Why is this story in the Bible? Shouldn’t this have been one of those family secrets swept under the rug?

The interesting thing is that this isn’t the only story in the Bible where the faults of biblical luminaries are revealed. Israel’s great king David slept with a married woman AND arranged for her husband’s death! Ark-building Noah got a little tipsy in the days after the flood. Israel’s strong man Samson had a weakness for women and an anger issue. The apostle Peter lied about knowing Jesus to save his own hide. The Bible is the story of a bunch of sinners and mess-ups!  But why?

I suspect that God included these less-than-complimentary stories in the Bible to remind us all that God uses less-than-perfect people to carry out his work.

Never should we allow the failings of others or God’s grace to be a license to sin, but neither should we allow our weaknesses and sin to lead us to believe we are outside of God’s plan and his grace. Stories like Genesis 38 remind us that God uses imperfect people. Stories like Genesis 38 remind us that even imperfect people are Jesus’ people.

Don’t we all have skeletons in our closets? Don’t we all have stories we’ve swept under the rug? 

Whatever you have done; whatever salacious story you have; whatever failings are in your past; whatever sin you’re dealing with right now; whatever failings await you in the future – there’s nothing you’ve done that hasn’t been done before; no confessed sin that can’t be forgiven; no person who is outside of God’s love and his purpose.  God can use you - imperfect you. He really has no other option since we are all less-than-perfect.

Thank you, Lord, for you grace and forgiveness. Even as I try to live a holy life, remind me that your love and purposes are greater than my sins and faults. Remind me that you use imperfect people like me to carry out your perfect plan of redemption.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

A World Without the Beatles

Today allow me to mix in a little movie review with this installment of Moments with the Minster.  Not long ago I went to see the film Yesterday.  It’s a delightful and heart-warming story of a struggling musician who mysteriously is brought to a world where the Beatles never existed. No one else but himself knows these songs that defined rock n roll in the 1960’s. Once he realizes this, he makes himself famous singing all the tunes of the Fab Four. He becomes an overnight sensation. Of course, he faces the moral dilemma of essentially stealing these songs as well as trying to balance a love interest. There are also some other amusing and interesting peculiarities of this modified world. It’s definitely worth the price of admission especially for those of us who grow up idolizing the Beatles.

Now here comes a little spoiler, so if you don’t want to read on and are frustrated that you came to this column wanting some spiritual insight, then I suggest you just put down the paper and read the Bible. It’s much better than anything I ever write anyway. With that said, let’s proceed.

Throughout the main character’s rise to fame there are two people who obviously know what’s going on. While the rest of the world is oblivious to this altered reality, these two remember John, Paul, Ringo, and George.  They recognize these songs. They know he’s a fraud. As these two insiders are followed throughout the movie the audience wonders what they will do.  Will they expose the scam? Will they threaten blackmail demanding a piece of the profit in exchange for their silence?

The day comes when these two confront the now famous singer. And their reaction is unexpected. Instead of criticizing or threatening they embrace the singer with overwhelming expressions of thankfulness and gratitude for giving them back the songs they remember and love. A beautiful piece of their world that was taken away has been restored and for that they are grateful. It took these songs being taken away for them to truly appreciate them. Their absence accentuated their brilliance.

That scene made me think about all the beautiful pieces of my life that I often take for granted. I thought about a world without my wife and children.  A world without my friends. A world without my faith. Do I truly recognize all the beautiful things of this life? What would my world be like without them?

I suppose every movie leaves each member of the audience with a somewhat different message, but this one reminded me to be grateful. It reminded me of all the songs people have sung into my life and how each one of those songs have made my world a better place. It made me wonder how less the world would be without them and how I need to live in daily appreciate for what is.

Too often we are resentful for what we don’t have rather than grateful for what do have. Without a doubt, the world would be a lesser place without the Beatles but how much more would the world be a lesser place without so many of the other splendors of this world? We are indeed blessed.

So, let’s not forget to embrace with overwhelming expressions of thankfulness and gratitude those people who make our yesterday’s, today’s, and tomorrow’s so fabulous.

A Tale of Two Trips

Last month I got to take the trip of a lifetime. I got to go to Israel which, especially for a minister, is like letting a kid loose in a candy store. I ate up every single artifact, ruin, and historical site.  I have read about these places for decades, but to actually be there - to see these them with my own eyes - is beyond description. There it was all right in front of me. I walked through the holy city of Jerusalem. I looked down upon the ruins of ancient Jericho. I prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane just down from the Mount of Olives. I sailed on the Sea of Galilee.  Capernaum, Bethlehem, Nazareth, Dan, Beersheba, the Jordan River – all of them - I was there. My eyes have seen what only my ears had heard. All of those places mentioned in the pages of the Bible actually exist.

One critique of Scripture is that it’s just a book of myths and fairy tales.  Stories created to provide a history and legacy for the Jewish nation.  Fables of a Jewish rabbi invented decades later to provide a foundation for a new religion. Sure, there are some wonderful truths contained in this ancient book, but to actually believe that the stories have any historical basis is asking people to suspend their sense of reality.

Last month some of my family got to take a trip of a lifetime. They got to go to London. In addition to taking in all the customary sites of the old town they took a side trip to the Warner Brothers Harry Potter Studio tour. Here were some of the sets where the blockbuster movies were filmed. They saw Daigon Alley, The Great Hall, Gringotts Wizarding Bank, walked through the Forbidden Forest, and saw the Hogwarts Express.  What an experience for those Harry Potter fans. Yet as mesmerizing and spellbinding that visit may have been, the fact of the matter is that all those places are fictional. There is no Hogwarts Express. There is no Wizarding Bank. There is no Daigon Alley.

That’s the difference between the Bible and Harry Potter. The world of Harry Potter is made up. It’s not real. And that’s okay because never does the author imply that her books are history. The world of the Bible is not made up. And that’s important because the Bible does make the claim that it’s talking about real people and real places. The Bible talks about Abraham, David, Jesus, and Paul as if they were real human beings who walked the earth. The Bible talks about Ur, Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and Capernaum as if they are actual places on a map. And although not every person or place mentioned in the Bible has been verified archaeologically, enough have been to lead to the undeniable conclusion that Scripture’s claim to be the story of real people and real places cannot be reasonable disputed.

To believers, this adds a deeper layer to our faith. Since we can trust the Bible in regard to the historical and geographical details, we surely can trust it in matters of faith.  To non-believers, it gives an air of credibility to an ancient text that many simply dismiss as being a work of fanciful fiction with little or no basis in history. The message of the Bible is too important to ignore based on the assumption that is on the level of Harry Potter.

I believe the Bible to be true. True in matters of history and, more importantly, true in matters of life and faith. The Bible is the true story of our God who created us and redeemed us. And I’ve seen it with my own eyes.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Miracles for the rest of us

Don’t you love all those Old Testament stories? Oversized arks being built. Seas being parted. Walls tumbling down. Lions mouths being shut. Prophets evacuating earth on chariots of fire.  And certainly there’s no shortage of jaw-dropping stories in the New Testament: the blind see, the lame walk, the dead live.

All these miracles do impress me and remind me of God’s awesome power, but they also can make me feel pretty insignificant. I’ve never built an ark, brought down a wall, shut a lion’s mouth, and I don’t expect to leave earth on a flaming chariot. I’ve never healed the sick or raised the dead.  So, in this biblical world of superheroes and miracle-workers, where do I fit in? Is there a need for an ordinary Joe like me? What about the rest of us?

That’s when I turn to this Old Testament story. The full story is in 2 Kings 5, but here’s a quick synopsis.

A powerful general named Naaman has been afflicted with leprosy. A Jewish servant refers him to Elisha, a prophet known for his healing power. He makes the trip to Elisha expecting the prophet to perform some great show to heal him, but instead is told to dip seven times in the muddy waters of Israel’s Jordan River. Naaman is insulted. How dare the prophet forgo a full-scale miracle-making production? He’s about ready to go back home until a servant boldly confronts the powerful commander with these words, “If the prophet had told you to do some great thing, would you not have done it?”

The implication is that we often buy into the lie that God only works in the spectacular. The lie that God only works through mind-blowing special effects. Anything less certainly isn’t from Him! Because God asked for something simple, Naaman almost missed out on a miracle!

Could it be that God is working not only in ark-building and sea-parting and dead-raising but also working in simple acts of obedience? Could it be that we walk away from the miraculous because it doesn’t look miraculous? Could it be that we bypass simple acts of service because they are just that, simple?

No disrespect to the miracle workers of Scripture, but the Bible speaks just as highly of giving cold glasses of water to the thirsty; poor widows giving pennies to the temple fund; and boys sharing their meager lunches. These are all reminders that we will not be judged by the magnificence of our work but by our willingness to do what we can.

I may never be called to a starring role, so if I wait to do something remarkable I might just miss out on the small miracles all around me. How sad it would be to have walked away from what God is calling me to do simply because it wasn’t impressive enough?

Maybe God doesn’t need more ark-builders and sea-parters. Maybe he needs more people who are willing to humbly do the unremarkable and less spectacular work of loving and serving others even when no one else notices. These simple and meek acts of service are the miracles for the rest of us.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

The Father You've Always Wanted

What a great Easter Sunday we had at the church I preach. Easter is like the Super Bowl for churches – biggest crowds of the year, families getting together, a little extra oomph to the service.  On my way to church Sunday I stopped at a convenience store for a little pre-game, I mean pre-worship snack and the clerk, seeing me all dressed up, asked me if I was going to work.  I told him “You bet. I’m a preacher and this is my big day!”   Easter Sunday is a celebration, and rightfully so.

Celebrations are great. Family reunions, special vacations, weddings, graduations, landmark anniversaries are all special occasions which deserve a little more attention and a “write-it-in-pen” designation on our calendars. And I’m glad to see everyone at church on Easter. It’s a good Sunday, but just like moms and dads want to hear from their children more often than those special occasions, so does God.

God is described in many different ways in Scripture but one predominant image of God is Him being our Father. It’s a term loaded with meaning but, more than anything, it’s a relational term. It implies a degree of intimacy that is established and maintained over the course of time through regular interactions. A good father-child relationship doesn’t happen in a celebration-only relationship. It’s in the day-to-monotonous-day, moment-by-tedious-moment interaction where deep love and lasting bonds etch themselves on our souls.

And that love and that bond doesn’t eliminate the need for celebrations, they only make those celebrations more meaningful and powerful. It’s like the difference between a Super Bowl when your team is playing and one where you have little rooting interest. They’re both Super Bowls but the game involving your team that you’ve been following week after week, year after year is more thrilling and more exciting.  Easter becomes even a greater celebration when you’ve been with your Father day in and day out.

Father God wants to be in our lives - every day, not just the celebrations. He’s been like that from the very beginning. In the Garden of Eden God walked with Adam and Eve. He has this thing – he created us and wants to be with us. Yeah, that can be uncomfortable since as a Father he sometimes needs to correct us and even discipline us, but his end-game is to develop a relationship with us that will not only bring him joy (yes, God delights in being your Father) but will bring us joy. And that type of relationship is not accomplished at celebrations alone – it’s the product of a daily relationship.

Maybe if we consider church attendance, prayer, Bible reading and other ways we connect with our Father as relationship building activities rather than legalistic rituals that get us to heaven, we may be more inclined not only to invest in these activities but actually anticipate them. Perhaps if we viewed religion as a path to knowing Father God rather than a series of unrelated and meaningless obligations, maybe we would long for that time together with him like an overseas soldier longs for communication from home.

God wants to be your Father and that’s a good thing. And like all fathers he loves those celebrations but oh how he loves those quiet and ordinary days when he can just sit and be with you. Father and child hashing out the problems of the day; laughing along at life’s eccentricities; sharing the common joys of the world; sharing advice for life’s mysteries. And the best thing, there’s no need to wait for a celebration because Father God is always there. That’s just the way he is.

Monday, March 11, 2019

The Ever-Present God – Nuisance or Blessing? (or both)

I‘ve been studying and preaching from the Old Testament book of Ezekiel. I know, everyone’s favorite book of the Bible, right? But wait! I’ve found so many gems in this book that are so often passed by. You really should give it a chance.
The basic message of the prophet is that Jerusalem will be destroyed because of Israel’s prolonged and brazen disobedience. Before you get to thinking that God is impatient and intolerant, read through the book and see all the atrocities going on in the temple. It’s pretty bad. The issue is not that God is angry, it’s that the people have drifted so far away from who they promised to be. They had an agreement with God, and they hadn’t kept their end of the bargain.  
The real mystery is not that judgment is coming. It’s how did it get this bad? How do people become so insensitive to sin? How do people become so blind to their rebellion? Ezekiel addresses these questions - questions that are not only applicable to 6th-century BC Israel, but also to us in 2019. God forbid we become indifferent to sin as they did.
There were many contributing factors, but one that seems especially significant is that they thought that somehow God didn’t see what was going on. They thought that God was oblivious to what was going on behind closed doors. They forgot, or at least chose to forget, that God knows all and sees all. If God didn’t see everything, then there was no problem with them getting away with a sin here and there.
How do you feel about that? How do you feel when you think about God seeing everything you do? How do you feel knowing that everywhere you go God is with you?  How do you feel that God even knows what’s going on inside your heart and mind? It’s troubling to think about, but a failure to do so will lead us down the same road Ezekiel’s audience took - a road that leads to destruction.  
I must admit the idea of God being all-present is disturbing to me. There have been times, and still are, when I’d really like God to run some errand and leave me alone for a while. There are times when I’d prefer God to turn his head away from me for a little privacy. Yet, at other times the idea of his always being there is comforting. It strengthens me to know that whatever I may go through that he is right there beside me. It’s reassuring to know that he’s always available to hear my thanks and my requests. He never puts me on hold!
God’s ever-presence is a double-edged sword, so to speak. But you can’t have the benefits of his presence without the perceived draw-backs. Our ever-present God will be there both to confront our sin and comfort our sorrows. Our ever-present God will be there both to discipline us and bless us.
Do we really except God to hide his face from our sins? What kind of holy God would that be? Do we really expect God to desert us when we really need him? What kind of loving God would that be?
He is both holy and loving and we can’t have one without the other. Knowing that, I prefer to embrace this ever-present God who will love me enough to expose my sin and still love me enough to walk every road with me.

Ezekiel has one of the best endings of any biblical book. With his last words he gives God a new name, Jehovah Shammah-The Lord is There.
God forbid we ask God to leave us alone. A life without God leads to destruction. A life with God leads to glory.  

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Worship: Entertainment or Encounter

I’m a minister. I preach just about every Sunday. I’m involved in the planning of our Sunday service. I’ve been doing this now for over 25 years. And I love it.  Sure, there are Sundays my tank isn’t as full as others. There are some services that seem to fall flat. But I must admit, I enjoy worship. I enjoy the songs. I enjoy the sacred moments. I enjoy seeing everyone. I enjoy the buzz of people making their way into the worship center. And I enjoy preaching. 

I suppose within every preacher and worship leader there is a bit of a showman. Most of us want our services to entertain. We want people to experience some emotional highs and lows. We want to elicit laughter and tears. We want worship to be an experience. And it seems that’s what people want as well.

Go to just about any larger than average church this Sunday and you’ll probably find a nicely decorated lobby, a colorful childrens’ area, a worship center equipped with lights and video equipment.  You’ll probably be welcomed by some charismatic greeter and, when worship starts, there’ll be music.  Good music lead by a dynamic worship leader perhaps even accompanied by a group of background singers. And in many churches, you’ll have a well-rehearsed band charged with bringing the worshipper into the presence of God.

In 2019, worship has never been so good.

I’m a minister and I want worship to be good. I suppose most of my colleagues want the same. We work on our sermons. We look for just the right illustrations to insert at just the right time. We’ve trained in the disciplines of homiletics and hermeneutics. We, along with other church leaders, carefully plan the worship services. We want to entertain. We want you to have an experience.

Some would say that church has become too much of a show, but I don’t think we need to apologize.  The God we want you to experience has put on some awesome performances. Thunder and lightning at Mount Sinai. Rushing winds and tongues of fire on Pentecost. And what about the show he put on for the prophet Isaiah?

In Isaiah 6 we are brought to this breathtaking scene: The Lord seated on a throne. His royal robes extending to the edges of the temple. Six winged angels calling out “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord Almighty.” And then one of those angels delivers a flaming coal to the lips of the prophet.

Certainly, Isaiah was impressed with that display. Imagine recreating that next Sunday? That would be a worship service people would be talking about for years to come! 

Isaiah’s reaction, however, is what is most significant. And this is what every preacher and worship leader have in mind when we bring people into the presence of God.

Isaiah doesn’t give God a standing ovation. He doesn’t pull out his cellphone and give God a 5-star rating on Yelp. No tweets, no posts, no reviews. Isaiah’s response is simple and profound: “Here am I, send me.”

This worship experience leads Isaiah to action, and that’s the goal of every encounter with God. That’s the goal of every worship experience. So, don’t go to church to be amused, go to be altered.

Through the Old Testament prophet Ezekiel, God makes it clear that he is not amused by those who are only amused by worship. In Ezekiel 33:32 God says this about his people’s estimation of the prophet: “Indeed, to them you are nothing more than one who sings love songs with a beautiful voice and plays an instrument well, for they hear your words but do not put them into practice.”

I hope this Sunday’s worship is well-planned; the sermon well-delivered; the music awe inspiring. No doubt, there’s been a lot of thought and planning put into the service. And I hope it’s entertaining. But more than that, I hope that you go not for the entertainment but for the encounter. And may you leave with Isaiah’s words on your lips: “Here am I. Send me.”

Wednesday, December 12, 2018


I’ve been exercising more the last few months.  Going to the gym. Walking around the neighborhood from time to time. I’ve been a member of a fitness center for years, but in most months my monthly fee was more of a donation than anything else. And my neighborhood has always been there. I haven’t moved from a neighborhood that prohibited walking to one that allows it. Back in September I decided I needed to be a little more weight conscious and shed some pounds, but it was a decision not without some provocation.
Each summer I see my doctor for an annual checkup and, since I was displaying some concerning symptoms and given my age, he ordered me to get some tests done.  I went unhappily, but went nonetheless.  Everything seemed to go okay but, as it is, I waited anxiously to get the results from the doctor.  After a day or so his office called and with relief I heard the words, “You passed the test.” It was the next words that set me back a little. “However, Mr. Catteau, the doctor says you’re underconditioned.” 
“Underconditioned.” I had never heard that word before except maybe in a hair product commercial. But since I have little hair, I figured in this context it must mean something else. It meant I was out of shape. Overweight. Chubby. Yes, it was a word I had never heard before, but I knew what it meant. I was then told what I needed to do and I had a decision to make. Would I do it or not?
Our family is planning a trip to Nepal where one of our daughters is living. Nepal is famous for its beautiful and challenging treks through the Himalayan mountains, so my daughter suggested we go on one of these treks. Nothing dangerous or hazardous, but not such a good idea for “underconditioned” people.  I wanted to go but I had a decision to make. Would I get in better shape or not?
I know I won’t live forever, and I know I won’t be able to climb mountains much longer, but I want to live life well. I want to take control of those things that I can control – those things that will enable me to live my days most effectively and allow me to enjoy the days that God has given me. Sadly, I haven’t always done that. I had allowed myself to get “underconditioned.” It happened without me really even knowing it. But that’s how things like that usually happen, don’t they? Slowly but surely without us even realizing it.
Have you allowed yourself to slip into an underconditioned state? And what’s worse than hearing those words from a doctor’s office is hearing it from the Creator’s office. Maybe like me you need a checkup. A spiritual checkup. Maybe someone can warn you before it’s too late. Maybe it’s happened without you even knowing it. Maybe you’ve drifted further and further away from the person you want to be, the person you were created to be, to the person you are. If so, you have a decision to make.