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May 6, 2013

God Wants You In His House, Little League, and Cakes: Monday Morning Coffee

by Rev. A. J. Iovine

morning coffee graphicLate in the afternoon yesterday, I was talking with a couple at a local hospital who had “fallen away from the church” when the priest sex scandal rocked the Roman Catholic Church. They claimed that they never wanted their children to be around pedophiles and hypocrites, so they left the church. And they used a most-often quoted phrase that makes my stomach churn: “But we have God in our hearts, and that’s all that counts.”

Considering it was late in the afternoon, I debated within myself whether to open my mouth or not and challenge this outrageously wrong statement. It was a long Sunday afternoon and I wanted to go home and get out of the clergy uniform and unwind. But…

Let’s be honest: These types of statements that minimize the importance of being with God are just a continuation of the post-modern times we live in where being a Christian is not as important as having a higher power lurking inside. This understanding of God is garbage. It is junk theology. But because it sounds nice, more and more people are latching onto this cultural idea that claims God just wants us to believe in Him in some generic, non-specific way…and that makes Him happy.

Garbage!!

I say to those who believe this — get back to church!!

Where in God’s Word does it say that it is only important to have “God” in your heart? Anyone with even the slightest bit of knowledge about the bible from Sunday School (and actually paid attention as the teachers taught) knows that God wants to be with us to impart to us His love, mercy, and grace. He calls on His people to worship Him, not to sit at a Little League baseball field or on a softball diamond or in some electronics store somewhere and meditate on some dopey “Oh, God is in me. He loves me. Now today would perfect if my son would just get a hit.”

When we worship Him in His House, we receive God’s love and forgiveness and the strengthening of faith. The notion that “God wants us to be happy” is a nice thought, but by ignoring God, does this truly make us spiritually happy?

Our sinful natures cling to the world, but our spiritual faith clings to the cross of Christ. If we only feed our sinful nature, our spiritual faith gets weak. By ignoring being fed by the love and grace of God, we are giving a stronger leg up to our sinful natures. And when our sinful nature wins this war, the devil dances.

This is why the church must tackle the problems of culture head on. We need to take on junk theology without wimping out, trying to come up with glossy language that skates over the more obvious problem that our world faces: Without being fed by our Lord, souls are lost.

This challenge is one many people from within the church know exists, but we all tend to sit around and stare at each other, wondering how to tell the Gospel story without “offending” people’s understanding of God. The glorious fact is the Gospel offends the sinful, but the Gospel is what the sinner needs!

So on Sunday, after my little internal debate, I decided to make my Sunday last a little longer and went on my Gospel rant. The couple from North Carolina were a little surprised that I challenged their wrongful understanding of God by using Jesus Christ as my spiritual hammer. The husband said that what was wrong with the church was people like me, forcing my understanding of truth down the throats of people. Or as I told him, paraphrasing myself: “Jesus Christ died for you and me and rose from the dead to win me reprieve from my sins. You can spout all your complaints about priests and the Church and the hypocrites that fill the pews, but you can’t change the fact that Jesus loves you and wants you to be with Him. Repent and return to the Lord. He loves you. He is there for hypocrites like me and blind hypocrites like you. Repent. Be forgiven. Be loved by God.”

Driving home from the hospital, I said a prayer hoping that the words I spouted would resonate somewhere within this couple’s head. I hope. I pray.

Just a Little Crazy

This weekend, the local Little League was out in force, raising money by soliciting outside of stores throughout New Milford. Of course, I plopped a few bucks in the batting helmet held by the kids outside of Shop-Rite. I was a Little Leaguer at a kid. I loved Little League. While everyone else used the cruddy aluminum bats that the league gave to each team, my coaches always allowed me to use the wood bat I received at Bat Day at Yankee Stadium.

Leagues are always looking for financial help. When I was a kid, my Lud-Dale youth league never had us kids stand in front of supermarkets or drugs stores or, what gets me, run into traffic at red lights to ask for cash. Oh, they wanted to send us to do this “noble work.” They did send the youth football players to stand in front of the C-Town supermarket each fall. But baseball parents would not agree to it. The league always solicited money at Opening Day. They even had us sell candy. But overall, fund raising was left to the league directors. My parents paid a fee so my brother and I could play, the league raised money from local businesses, and with the city of Yonkers picking up the tab for keeping the fields in tip-top shape, Lud-Dale did a lot with the little money they raised.

But today — having kids and adults standing at street corners, darting into traffic when the light turns red is getting a little crazy. New Milford is not some quiet burg any more. Traffic on Saturday mornings is pretty bad in town as people drive to shop and get to youth events. To see adults and kids standing in the middle of the street as traffic flies past them, to me this is a little nuts.

If you want to support the league and the children, go to the field during the week and make a donation. Buy a few things at the snack bar. Tell the kids they are playing great. Say a prayer for all the people involved.

Thank you.

Yesterday, our little cake exchange at church went better than I envisioned. The cakes and pies that were baked were out of this world. OK – I admit that there were no low-fat vegan cakes on the tables. But from what everyone said yesterday, the desserts were outstanding! Thank you to everyone who brought items to share.

Also, I would like to thank our guest preacher yesterday morning, Deacon Frank Gonzalez from the Atlantic District. His words of hope in Christ that are most clearly found in Jesus’ own prayers for us was a wonderful message for all of us to hear!

Today I Have to Take Time Off

Monday is my scheduled day-off in the week. While I usually fail to take the day, I think this Monday has to be an exception. Honestly, I am feeling run down. I need to unplug.

 

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