Monday, November 30, 2009

There are no coincidences

We often miss one of the great stories of the Bible, the story of John and his birth. Remember Elizabeth? Remember Zachariah? A childless couple hanging around, doing the right thing before God?

Remember Zachariah carrying out his job before God, working a shift in the Temple? Remember the angel of God appearing to him?

That's the kind of stuff I miss, by the way. The angel of God stuff, the appearances, the flat-out assuredness that God gave some in scripture. I WANT YOU TO DO ...

That would be kind of swell, wouldn't it? No guessing. No possible mistakes. Just an appearance by God, Jesus, an angel of the occasional talking donkey and whap, a person goes about God's business.

Except, even the appearances didn't always work. If you really remember the Zachariah story, you remember Zachariah saying, "Do you really excpect me to believe this?" or words to that effect. Then you remember Gabriel saying, shup up yo mouth, or words to that effect and Zachariah did, literally, for months.

This doing God's will stuff is not the easiest of all missions, friends. Sometimes we veer off path without a single prompt. Sometimes we do the wrong thing absolutely without provacation. Sometimes we are just unmistakedly, unwarrantly human. And in our humanity, like Adam, we fail and we fall.

That's why Elizabeth had John so that John could point the way to Jesus. Like the blue lights at an airport, John was here to land the Jesus plane.

A couple who was childless had a child who one day would say, "Behold, the Lamb of God."

There are no coincidences. Take note.

Guess who's coming to dinner?

Saturday, November 28, 2009

The important stuff

As I write this, it is less than a month till Christmas, amazingly enough.

I'm struck by the fact that God is so near at this time of the year, seemingly.

But then I read in Psalm 139, God, investigate my life, get all the facts firsthand. I'm an open book to you; even from a distance, you know what I'm thinking. You know when I leave and when I get back, I'm never out of your sight. You know everything I'm going to say before I start the first sentence. I look behind me and you're there, then up ahead and you're there, too -- your reassuring presence, coming and going. This is too much, too wonderful -- I can't take it all in.

Is that the way we live? Do we stay in the essence of God? I'm afraid God never moves, we do. We seem, certainly I do, to ebb and flow, and though I should be flowing, I'm ebbing right now, I'm afraid.

Luckily, the most important part of the verse isn't about where WE are, but where God is. The verse says, YOU know when I leave and when I get back. I leave is the key.

God knows us. When we have given ourselves over to Him, he knows when we will ebb and He's there for those moments when we ask for forgiveness and mean it and the relationship that He wants with us more than anything is restored to its completeness.

See, no matter what we think about those infernal rules in scripture and what we've been taught about them, God isn't about rule-keeping. We share in that, you know, He and I. He's about relationship, and the relationship He wants more than any is with, uh, you. Oh, and me, too, but mostly with you at the moment. He love us so much that He took a period of time to give us 1/3 of the circle of relationship He has with His Son and HIs Spirit to give us Jesus. And those scars? Jesus wears them to remind us that He truly did care. There was no giving for a moment and taking it away. That gift of grace was forever.

Psalm 139 continues: Oh yes, you shaped me first inside, then out; you formed me in my Mother's womb. I thank you, High God -- you're breathtaking! Body and soul, I am marvelously made; I worship in adoration -- what creation.

Take some time over then next four weeks or so to do you best to "worship in adoration." When you go to church, don't go to be going, go to wor-ship. Let Him know you want to care, really care, about your relationship with Him, with Them. Make this season be about what Jesus did, not about what you bought.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Remember when?

Last weekend, as I prepared to watch the final high school football game of my journalism career, a gentlemen who knew my retirement plans asked me, "What was the best story you ever wrote?"

I thought a while and answered something about the one I did about Drew, Miss., but the truth is I have no idea. I should have answered, "the next one," except there is no next one now.

We spend an inordinate amount of time looking back. Yesterday was a difficult one for me because we always spent our Thanksgivings at my mom's house, and now there's no mom, there's no house and my past is swept away into fading memory.

In the 137th Psalm, the writer is doing some of that when he writes (from the Message), "Alongside Babylon's rivers we sat on the banks and we cried and cried, remembering the good old days in Zion. Alongside the quaking aspens we stacked our unplayed harps; That's where our captors demanded songs, sarcastic and mocking: 'Sing us a happy Zion song!'

"Oh hou could we ever sing God's song in this wasteland? If I ever forget you, Jerusalem, let my fingers wither and fall off like leaves."

The Israelites had, of course, been taken captive to Babyalonia, and they were thinking back to better days.

We often do the same; or at the least, I do. Thinking about what we did, what decisions we made, what factors led us to where we are now.

Often, if I am going to be depressed, that's the thing that gets me. Why did I....

The truth is, according to scripture, the best is yet to come. The Word is clear on this that whatever we've done, if we have a relationship with Jesus the Christ, the best is yet to come. We might go through a wasteland to get to the other side, but the best is yet to come. We might endure long nights of pain but the best is yet to come.

Reading the Shack for a second time reminded me of the wonderfulness of God's vision for us. We have been called to be in relationship with Him, and none of the rest of this stuff matters a whole lot.

That's what I should be reflecting on. This morning, on a cold, November day when I miss my mother, instead of looking back what I should be doing is looking ahead to that glorious day when I will be reunited with here.

So, I think I will.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Lord, I'm thankful

It's a cold morning in Lacombe, Louisiana. The sun escaped it's lodging early this morning. It will be a colder night.

But through it all, my heart is warmed today. Oh, it's Thanksgiving, and someone, somewhere, somehow decided we should be thankful today. But I truly am grateful today to my Lord, who has seen me through most of another year.

David writes this (from the Message): No doubt about it! God is good -- good to good people, good to the good-hearted. But I nearly missed it, missed seeing his goodness. I was looking the other way, looking up to the people at the top, envying the wicked who have made it, who have nothing to worry about, not a care in the whole wide world.

You're all I want in heaven. You're all I want on earth. When my skin sags and my bones get brittle, God is rock-firm and faithful. Look! Those who are falling apart! Deserters, they will never be heard from again. But I'm in the very presence of God -- oh, how refreshing it is!

Today, I'm thankful God has been patient with me, with my half-filled attitude and my half-filled praise. I'm thankful for our relatively good health (Knees and back screams into the night, but nothing vital is harmed at the age of 56). I'm thankful for great kids, who fought off early role modeling and turned out fine. I'm thankful for grandkids who are smart, beautiful and healthy. I'm thankful for the old dogs who have made my aging together with them so wonderful. I'm thankful for my churches and the people who make them go.

And I'm especially thankful for my Mary, who saved me when I needed physically saving and presented me as whole as she could to the Savior who saved me emotionally and eternally.

The Bible says, again from Psalms 73, When I was beleagured and bitter, totally consumed by envy, I was totally ignorant, a dumb ox in your very presence. I'm still in your presence, but you've taken my hand. You wisely and tenderly lead me, and then you bless me.

More than anything, I'm thankful to God for the live I've had, up and down, sideways and unsure, but through it all, He stuck with me. That's something to be thankful for.

Have a blessed one, if there are readers out there.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Mystery begins

And now the mystery...

I awoke this morning, a cool November day, before the sun came roaring up the sky in old Lacombe. I awoke this morning a new creature, as Paul said, having died to a career and headed off into what God so wonderfully decided was my calling.

From the Mesage and the prophet Micah: I'm sitting in the dark right now, but God is my light. I can take God's punishing rage. I deserve it -- I sinner. But it's not forever. he's on my side and is going to get me out of this. He'll turn on the lights and show me his ways. I'll see the whole picture and how right he is. And my enemy will see it, too, and be discredited -- yes, disgraced! This enemy who kept taunting me, "So where is this God of yours" I'm going to see it with these, my own eyes -- my enemy disgraced, trash in the gutter.

It is one thing to talk about trusting God, and quite another to actually do it. I know. I've preached trust for 10 years. I'm living trust, actually getting out there and doing it, only truly for the first time. There always was a safety net. There is little cords to catch me now.

I trust you, God, in all things. I flee from my cave of indecisions. I leave my land of career. I set out from Haran to Canaan with you as my only walking stick, you as my only guide.

From whenceforth comes my strength. I look to the hills (and the district superintendent and the Bishop).


Tuesday, November 24, 2009

A call for perspective

So, I forgot her. Left her right there at the church.

Now, in my defense, she usually takes her own vehicle, but the truth is, I fogot her. Left her right there at the church.

And when she called, "Did you forgoet me?," my firt thought wasn't, "Oh, my, what have I done," but rather, who is calling me during the game.

Some perspective: The Saints, as of this writing are 10-0. That's 10 wins and zero losses. That's 10 wins and a lifetime of hurt, pain, discomfort, unhappiness and general weirdly half-glass filled living. We are, er, the Saint are unbeaten as of this writing, though all of the area covered in black and gold is waiting for the next shoe (the next problem) to emerge that will stop us, er, them in our, er, their tracks.

The games often being at noon. Church services, of which I have to take part seeing as I'm the pastor an all, end at noon. Though I have two, count 'em, two DVRs, still I rush home to start the tape as quickly as I can, somehow reasoning that if I get to the shirt I've won every Sunday during this streak I can somehow change things to the good.

That's the thing that's going on in this area, as of this writing. People have lost, well, lost their minds. Those people have. They meet the Saints at the airport, clogging roads and such. Don't even mention what you can get for your tickets should you decide to sell them. The area, as I've mentioned, is covered in black and gold and we, er, they are buying up shirts and hats and key rings and pet shirts and you pretty much can name your own favorite memorabilia right here.

So as I gave the benediction, no, let's say it right, after I gave the benediction, I carefully blew out the candles, I carefully locked up and shut off the lights, I checked to see that someone was properly counting the offering and I set off toward the 10th victory in a row.

And I forgot her. Left her at the church.

My wife, I mean.

Now, so far this season, she has watched the game from the bedroom, because she happened to be in there when the Saints scored a touchdown. She has watched, er, listened from the porch because she was out there when the comeback against Miami began (I wouldn't let her come in even though she needed to use the facilities, if you know what I mean). She watched Sunday from the kitchen, after she caught a ride home. She has been put upon and she understands, though she doesn't let me forget it.

Still, till Sunday I had never forgot her.

The Bible doens't say much about this insanity that has overtaken me, er, them. It does talk about perspective rather often, though.

It talks about first loves and remaining tru. It talks about maintaining our love for Christ above all other things. It even talks about being faithful to Him and Him alone. Above all else, it talks about idolatry, and the love of the Saints could, could mind you, flow into that area.

For now, though, we have to hope He understands. After all, the Bible does talk about the saints who have gone before us, too.

I have a feeling, that for the downtrodden everywhere, there's cheering in heaven. I sure hope, because my knuckles are hurting from having knocked on wood so often......

Monday, November 23, 2009

What if?

Today we venture into the world of the what if?

What if we ...

run out of money, run out of time, stay in pain, have no place to live, you-name-the-problem?

The Bible is fairly clear about this. Look at young David. He had been told he would be king, and he found himself living in a cave. Now, that doesn't sit right with my ideas about what king-ship should be. I would have doubted just what God was up to. David?

(From the message) What a beautiful home, God of the Angel Armies! I've always long to live in a place like this. Always dreamed of a room in your house, where I could sing for joy to God-alive. Birds find nooks and crannies in your house, sparrows and swallows make nests there. They lay their eggs and raise their young, sining their songs in the place where we worship.

Truth is, I've lived a life without need. I've never been far from a fairly large paycheck, never been without whatever I wanted. If I couldn't buy it, I could charge it and I could pay my bills. I lived in no cave, though I could have taken care of my home better.

Now, I strike out into the world of no credit cards and no large pay checks and I wonder if I've created a self-imposed cave?

Then I read: God of the Angel Armies! King! God! How blessed they are to live and sing there.

In other words, in the only area that matters, I'm blessed beyond belief. Better is, as the song goes, one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere. I don't know what the future holds, but I hold tight to the one who does. That's really all we have in this life. That's really all we need.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

The last stand

Last night it all came to an end on a cold, wet football field in something called Breaux Bridge, out in the sugar cane fields, out with a Cajun announcer making me laugh ("there ain't no fat ladies in Breaux Bridge," he kept calling out late in the game.).

I have no idea why I can't shut my mind off, but I can't. I remember Friday nights with no deadlines missed for years. I remember the 92 Olympic Trials where for the first time I felt things were over my head.

I remember the 97 Super Bowl where things weren't over my head but I wasn't allowed to do what I used to do, pretty well. I remember.

And on a pocked field that had seen one too many pairs of cleats, I watched a game, like so many other games and I write a story, like so many other stories, on deadline and without much real thought (so you all know), for the last time. I guess that's where the thoughts are, and where they'll be for a while.

The bible tells me this: He is a shield for all who take refuge in him. For who is God besides the Lord? And who is the Rock except our God. it is God who arms me with strength and makes my way perfect. he makes my deer like the feet of a deer; he enables me to stand on the heights.

As the clock ticked down, I took one last look into the stands, starting briefly at a bunch of Cajuns I would never see again and even taking a quick glance at the Salmen side. When the final horn sounded, one team celebrating like tomorrow will never come and another crying tears of absolute gut-wrenching certainly they didn't want tomorrow to ever come for it would remind them of this night when they left everything on that old field except victory, I was reminded that nothing I've ever done mattered.

Salmen will play next week, just as if I was there. Writers will cover the games, as if I was there. Radio will do the same. People will graduate, go on to lives and so be it all.

But I will remember this: As I made my way to the car, with the light rain now wetting even my Saints leather coat, the Salmen quarterback, a tall young man named Matt Lipham, came running by. He stopped, came back and patted me on the shoulder. He said, "Good luck with the ministry." And suddenly everything I've ever done, everything I've ever written, all the things I will do and say and write in the future came down to one little sentence, or essentially two words.

The ministry.

We are all called to do ministry, even on wet fields of little glory, on Friday nights when the lights are still on, long past the time when we could put on pads and legally hit someone and even be congratulated for it. We are called to do ministry. Why? Because who is God besides the Lord? And who will know if someone doesn't tell them?

And the walk to the car was just a little shorter and a little less wet.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Where's the gold watch?

Then Moses climed Mount Nebo from the plains of Moab to the top of Pisgah, acros from Jericho. There the Lord showed him the whole land ...And Moses the servant of the Lord died there in Moab, as the Lord had said.

David son of Jesse was king ovr all Israel. He ruled over Israel forty years -- seven in Hebron and thirty-three in Jerusalem. He died at a good old age, having enjoyed long life, wealth and honor.

Well gentlemen, you are about to see a baked Appel. -- George Appel, moments before he was executed by electric chair in 1928.

Last words are fickle. You might convey what you want, you might not. So bear with me if there are readers.

Tonight ends, for all intents and purposes, what I had fashioned to be my career. Funny thing is I ended it by doing exactly what started it. Lo those decades ago, I covered a baseball game and wrote what I saw. Tonight in a place called Breaux Bridge, I cover a football game and write what I see.

No big deal. Lots of people end their careers. They do it every day.

What I can't get most to understand is this is not an end, it is a beginning. I pray God has heard this message, for I didn't do a lot of financial planning and I love my Mary and want her to have food to eat. But I digress.

The end is near, the signs tell us, and by that I mean more than the cardboard ones. We might be counting down on this old world. Wars and rumors of wars and such.

But this remains true: There is always someone to replace you. No one is irreplaceable. No one. Except, except one: Jesus Christ. See, Jesus is the only one who was never replaced. No one else, not Mohammad, not Buddah, not Jimminy Cricket, no one ever said he was God. Except, except one: Jesus Christ.

That's what makes him remarkable, among other things. Not as a teacher, though he was the best. Not as a loving person, though he was the best. Not as a water walker, though I can't find many of those around. He was God, he said. In that declaration, he became unlike Moses, David and even me. He became irreplaceable.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Jingle tells

I was driving down the road texting away on my I-phone while I waited for Facebook to load and I noticed something: It's Christmas time in the city.

Clearly I haven't been focused lately, what with being suddenly of retirement age and such and having my new best friend I-phone to play with, but somehow I missed Thanksgiving. There were lights flashing, trees standing, dang near everything but carollers carrolling, and somehow it slipped past my eyes until it was in my eyesight.

How have we come to this point. Now, I have become more forgetful in my old age. Just last night I forgot an ecumenical service I was supposed to attend; just forgot. No excuse. I forgot. But how could I forget Thanksgiving. In fact, when was it we voted that Christmas would begin 30 minutes after the candy from Halloween was stored away? Don't remember that vote coming in the mail or anything.

The Bible speaks of this, sort of: In Jeremiah 10 it says: Do not lern the ways of the nations or be terrified by signs in the sky, though the nations are terrified by them. For the customs of the peoples are worthless; they cut a tree out of the forest, and a craftsman shapes it with his chisel. They adorn it with silver and golf; they fasten it with hammer and nails so it will not totter. Like a scarecrow in a melon path, their idles cannot speak. They must be carried because they cannot walk. Do not fear them; they can do no harm nor can they do any good.

"No one is like you, O Lord; you are great and your name is mighty in power."

When our idols, our Christmas gift buying and tree decorating and Snoopy flying a blowup plane around blowup presents and you name it, begin to take the place of what is true and what is right and what is meaningful about the Christmas season, which should still be at the most the week or two before the actual date of Dec. 25, we hve a problem. Our idols are trying to speak to us and what most of them are saying is SPEND.

The jingling you hear today isn't the coins in our pockets, for most of us have none. The jingling you hear is the marbles rolling around in our idolistic heads.

The writer of Jeremiah concludes here in this chapter: Tell them this: These gods, who did not make the heavens and the earth will perish from the earth and from under the heavens.

Try writing that into a Christmas card.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Today's clog, er, blog

Houston, we have a clogger.

This morning Mary called so delightfully up from the bottom floor, "Billy, you put a plate full of grease into the sink and now it has clogged up the pipes."

Now, I won't go into why we had a plate full of grease because I don't know. But I know that putting it into the sink was a bad thing, and if I did that (and the jury needs evidence, my friends) I did a bad thing.

So our plumbing is stopped up. My plumbing has been stopped up for a while, but that's another issue for another day.

While I'm sitting here, the dog is barking at the back door to be let in and the alarm clock is going off, which since I'm sitting here typing is a superfulous thing in the first place.

Breakfast is being cooked and the wonderful aroma of bacon is crawling up the stairs to snare me.

It is another morning, another try at a day.

The Bible speaks of this: From the rising of the sun to the place where it sets, the name of the Lord is to be praised. The Lord is exalted over all the nations, his glory above the heavens. Who is like the Lord our God, the One who sits enthroned on high, who stoops down to look on the heavens and the earth?

I awoke this morning and tried a technique described by the wonderful Tony Campolo in a conference I attended this past weekend. I lay there, essentially staring at my ceiling (which needs painting by the way) and tried to force all thoughts but Jesus out of my head. It's called a centering prayer and the wonderfulness of its description suggests all should try. But all I got, frankly was sleepier.

My world, the world in which my Jesus lives, is not a world in which no thought but Jesus resides. My world, the world in which I praise my God from the rising of the sun to the place where it sets, is a world in which I put plates full of grease (theoretically, not a confession) into the sink and it gets washed down the old pipes and the old pipes groan in protest and stop working and water backs up into a sink of dishes I should have washed late last night when the evening was done and my last basketball story was written and I fell into bed a tired old man.

That's my world, the world in which my Jesus not only lives but brings a peace that surpasses all understanding in. See, if Jesus only gave me peace when all thoughts but Jesus were erased somehow, that wouldn't be the world I, or we, live in.

I need Jesus when the tires go flat. I need Jesus when death occurs. I need Jesus when sickness and fear creeps in. I need Jesus when the money to buy the bacon that smells so wonderful doesn't exist any longer.

I praise Jesus in the morning, love him at noontime, and cherish him at the end of the day. That will have to be enough.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The final column

In case you don't have access, the final TP column (Nov. 19, 2009)

It began so innocently. I was 17, a senior in high school who was producing his own sports “newspaper.” I was asked to write roundups for the Meridian Star for the Sunday editions about the Sam Dale Conference.

I did, and like an alcoholic taking his first drink, I was smitten. The words were shots of adrenalin. I remember writing a short story that fall that used the sentence: He used metaphors like others used a revolver, similes like others used a knife.

Though over the top, clearly I was in love with the written word like others were ogling cheerleaders. To write one sentence per piece that was clearly mine, something no one had written before was enough of an incentive to keep me going. Still is.

The following spring, I was asked to cover a baseball game. I came into the newspaper, sat down at the typewriter (yes, you read right) and typed for what seemed to be an hour. I wrote five inches. When I was done, they told me to take a message back to someone I didn’t know in the printing room they called the back-shop. I ran. In those days the method of operation still used “hot” type, metal engraving. I ran into a man carrying a page of those things that would have been a page in the newspaper.

Such screaming.

I nearly didn’t make it to another day in the business.

Though some have wished that had been true, here I am, 39 years later, saying goodbye. Like holding grains of salt on a windy day, this is hard, hard to do.

It’s hard, as so many of my friends have told me lately, to say goodbye to what you’ve known and, quite frankly, loved for so long, to say goodbye to friends, co-workers, readers.

Granted, I’ve been so lucky for these many years. I’ve covered Super Bowls, sat next to Muhammad Ali, talked with Bear Bryant one on one. In management, I’ve led some of the best sports staffs a manager could have and for 12 straight years they won national awards at three different newspapers.

Still, I’ve gotten just as much pleasure from watching Salmen’s Jay Carlin and Northshore’s Rick Mauldin win state high school titles.

I’ve been privileged to see some of the best in sports and I’ve been horrified to see some of the worst.

I worked inside, outside, done design and done agate. If it could be done either in sports on news, I’ve had a shot at it. I worked at startup of USA Today, and I’ve written some of my best stuff for the couple thousand readers of the Picayune sections.

I’ve looked into the eyes of some of the greatest of this generation and help tell their stories and I’ve written about junior high athletes who you might never hear of again.


(You knew it was coming if you’ve been a reader.)

Here’s what I’ve learned.

This is a job. No matter how important I might have thought it to be or how much I loved it or even how much it paid (which will soon be a distant somewhat pleasant memory), it was and is a job. I’m just the next guy, to paraphrase a friend.

It is not life. Mine or anyone else’s. The greatest thing I’ve done in the past few years is demote myself twice for a much greater calling.

Still, I’ve met and, quite honestly, befriended so many of the coaches of this area I will have the hardest time not calling them on Sunday evenings and Monday mornings as I’ve done weekly for four years. It really was a pleasue.

But what I did was a job, not glamorous, not something that brought fame. A job.

My life?

Much, much more. I’ve found life in the past 14 years of a 35-year career, found meaning, found direction, found love, actually as full of cliché that might be.

I’ve found that helping others isn’t a chore but a privilege. I’ve found that caring isn’t an albatross but a dove. I’ve found that loving even those who are hard cases and think the press is something to be hated isn’t all that difficult, amazingly, because I’ve found the ultimate love one can find.

I’ve tried to help along the way. I’ve tried to gently push through opinion those who needed gently (and sometimes, I admit, not so gently) pushed. I’ve tried to point out that winning isn’t everything, though indeed it is sweet, and that losing is one of our greatest teachers, though it is bitter. I’ve tried to point out that anger puts salt in the wound of so many in sports. Mostly I’ve tried to make you laugh. Maybe I did. Maybe I didn’t.

And now I go, full-time ministry, full-time into life. The story telling continues in a different venue.

I want to thank all those coaches and players who took the time they didn’t want to take to answer questions they didn’t necessarily want to answer. I want to thank the kids of the past four years who ignored my problems with spelling their names. I want to thank the co-workers who fixed the majority of the spelling of those names.

To coin as many clichés as I can in a final piece of work, at the end of the day all this will go away. We will be left with paperless newspapers and we will have tweets and blogs and Facebooks and you name it all. Perhaps as someone once wrote we’ve not even glimpsed the glory to come.

Perhaps the newspaper will silently, like me, slip into that good night. But we will know we were here. The evidence remains. A column here and there stood out, they tell me. A story here and there hit the right note, and tears were shed or someone laughed out loud or a couple words resonated and stuck in someone’s mind.

I’ve spilled no hot type engravings lately, just slit a few veins and let the words spill out as Red Smith once said of writing.

What I’ll miss most is readers, those silent and sometime not so silent readers. I upset them sometimes, gave them joy sometimes and sometimes flat out made them mad. One last time: I didn’t go to a school around here so I didn’t favor anyone over anyone. Believe it or not.

I once wrote to novelist Stephen King when I fashioned myself to be a such a novelist. To my ultimate surprise, he wrote back. His advice: “Writers write. There is no substitution for that. Writers must write. That’s who they are, not what they do.” Maybe it was a form letter, but I’ve never forgotten that.

Even if there are no readers left, I’ll write. That’s who I am. That’s who I will be. Stop by a local church and have a cup of coffee sometime. God loves you, and so do I. If no one else tells you that today, I’ve done my job.

After Russian leader Leon Trotsky was mortally wounded by a man who hated him, he supposedly said, “Do not kill this man. He has a story to tell.”

That’s what I’ve been, I reason. A story teller above all else. With words. With photos. With design. With creative thought. I’ve tried to tell your stories.

I always thought I would probably die in a press box typing a story on deadline. Instead, as it turns out, I have to die to this job in order to live to another. I’ve lived a life in which I was a green bean in a pressure cooker, but that is over now. I’m sadly ecstatic.

Thank you all. Because of you, it’s been good.

To quote Henry Ward Beecher, “Now comes the mystery.

Horeb no more

The Bible says God says this to the Israelites at Mount Horeb, "You have stayed long enough at this mountain. Break camp and advane into the hill counry of the Amorites; go to all the neighboring peoples in the Arabah, in the mounts, in the western foothills, in the Negev and along the coast, to the land of the Canannites and to Lebanon, as far as the great river, the Euphrates. See, I have given you this land. Go in and take possession of the land that the Lord swore he would give to you fathers -- to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob -- and to their descendants after them.

Now, that' a lot of stuff to consider, but I want to make a couple points today that might be helpful other than you looking up Horeb or Amorites or Arabah or even the Negev.

When I was eight years old, which considering how much I write about it must either have been a very eclectic year or eight is a catchall for my stories, we moved from a little two bedroom house to the country, and the house that I still claim as "my" house though I sold it three years ago. We moved from Ricky and Tommy Hardy, my buds, my pals, the old leather motorcycle coach gang. We moved from comfort and where I could play without worrying about safety and such to a whole new world of possibilities and even some terrors. There were actual things to be explored in our new world, including new friendships to be made when I didn't do that very well. I guess I still don't. I struggle till I get to know someone.

Anyway, we made it through that period, against my wishes since I didn't see any need whatsoever to move, and life went on.

The point of the passage, at least the couple points I want you to see if you can stand that much scripture so early in the morn, is twofold: 1) God got tired of the Israelites being so comfortable. They wouldn't have moved on their own, it appears. they were content to stay exactly where they were doing exactly what they were doing for exactly as long as it took.

Is that not our tale? I came to the Times-Picayune 18 years plus ago, and I leave it next Tuesday. I've had little impact and I'll just be replaced by the next person, but still I have terrible pangs of, what, buyer's remourse? I've not had a ton of offers to leave over the years, in fact none since I found Christ lo those many years ago and began demoting myself out of a career, willingly. So for 14 years or so I've not been a hot property in the world of journalism. That proved to be fine with me for my life grew stangnant right where it was. I loved not doing, well, anything particularly new, for without newness there can be no fear.

Then Katrina crawled up and bit me on the leg, and we were flung away from friends again, this time to the north shore. I dreaded it, hated it, despised it, and grew to love it. I got two new churches and settled in again. I love my house, though others might not. I love my buddies, my dogs, though others might not. I've settled in and feel the roots of unchange binding me again, wonderfully.

But like all good Mount Horebs, there is a second point. The second point is not only does God tell us to move when its time to move, but he gives us direction.

I'm moving, on. I'm moving, slowly. I'm moving, somewhere. Like Abram, but not like Moses, I have no earthly idea where I'm headed. Maybe a few miles down the road to a new church, maybe I'll get money to make more of a way in the churches I have now. The point is I don't know.

When we're going through change, it is much more comforting to know where you're headed, but scripture is pretty clear that is not always the case. What is always the case is when you're headed into the unknown, it's awfully good to have Jesus in the back of the boat, God in the front of the pack of humanity, the Holy Spirit resting comfortably inside you as you pack.

"You have stayed long enough at the mountain," might be God's way of saying, I have had something for you all along, but you preferred to be comfortable. Might be God's calling you to step out and really, really do what He's asking.

Ponder that today, in your land of comfort.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Only Jesus

The story caught my attention at 6:15 a.m. this morning

CANBERRA, Australia – Prime Minister Kevin Rudd issued a historic apology Monday to thousands of impoverished British children shipped to Australia with the promise of a better life, triggering calls for compensation for the abuse and neglect that many suffered.

The British government has estimated 150,000 British children may have been shipped abroad between 1618 and 1967, most from the late 19th century onward. After 1920, most of the children went to Australia through programs run by the government, religious groups and children's charities.

The programs, which ended 40 years ago, were intended to provide the children with a new start — and the Empire with a supply of sturdy white workers. But many children ended up in institutions where they were physically and sexually abused, or were sent to work as farm laborers.

A new start? How many of us, young and old, can't help but wish for a new start. What we have is too expensive. What we have is too painful. What we have is too, too, if you know what I mean.

These kids, one would assume, were orphans or else their parents had great need of a new start as well, one that includes forgiveness.

But isn't that the point of it all? At the end of it all, don't we simply need forgiveness and isn't that the way to a new start?

Theologically, one can argue the basic merits of the ol' works versus grace stuff, but it still will come down to who gets to give or get the new start? If my abilities could give me a new start, then they would if I so wanted one, and I know very few who don't. Since they don't give me a new start, one must wonder what else is there, who other avenue.

That being the case, one looks for a new start-er. For me, for us, that new start-er is Jesus, only Jesus. Nothing or no one else makes that difference. See, starting afresh doesn't mean clearing away the debris of the old life, it means completely becoming a new creature, as Paul says. To do so, one needs another one of those re-start-ers. Jesus. Only Jesus can do this.

Re-start today, if you need to. Center this morning on Jesus. Sing to Jesus. Read a Psalm to Jesus. Shut up and let him wash over you. Only Jesus. Only Jesus. Let our mantra be, re-start us Jesus.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Glorious days

Springstein writes of glory days.

He missed it by thisssssss much.

He should have written about those glorious day, not those days where we won ball games and felt our youth in those games, but days like today where God's grace flows over us and around us and in us like so much spring rain.

I played golf today, and it was another of those typical golf days for me. There was pain and suffering to be found on every other shot. But...I was content with what I shot. That's truly what the Lord gives us, when He grants us peace that is inexplicable -- the kind of peace that could only come from Him when all around us is chaos. It's like my shot on No. 15 at Pinewood today. I hit a towering hook, the kind that brings tears to the eyes of good golfers. It headed quickly toward a huge oak that stood protecting a home to my left. I watched it in misery; another ball so quickly taken in its youth. But somehow, someway the ball hit a limb or God threw it or something happened and the ball came rocketing back across the fairway, winding up in the middle as if this was my intention on the shot.

I stood there quite aware that a good shot had just been made but I had nothing whatsoever to do with it.

That is grace. That's what I've felt today. I have a week left in my "career" and I feel a little shaky about the whole thing, but yet God says to me, "Worry not, for I will never leave you."

That's all I have, all Mary has. A beautiful day is a day that God is there with me from the first achy, breaky moments of morning till the last achy, breaky moments of the evening. The temp might be cold, hot or a wonderful sort of elixir. The humidity might be cutable with a knife or non-existent. The rain might come or go. The wind, who cares?

What makes it a glorious day is My Lord, My God, sweeping away my anxiousness, taking away my worry, eliminating my fear.

Today was a glorious day. I believe it was a Friday. I know it was God's.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Finishing (to steal a term)

I had a boss once who said he liked to sleep because nothing bad ever happened to him while sleeping. Nice idea, but not true.

In a recent newspaper there was a story about a 7-year-old girl in River Ridge who was killed by a stray bullet coming from a shootout. She was struck in the neck, while she was sleeping.
That's the world we live in today, I'm afraid. Shootouts and such happen. Lives are wasted. Seven-year-olds die for no apparent reason. The Bible says of these things: Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.
I pray for the family of the little girl. I pray for the idiots who were shooting up the neighborhood. I pray for those whose anger seems to take over their lives.
When I was nine, my cousin Benny came to stay with us. Benny was the type of kid who irritates you so much you might want to give him directions to the nearest cliff. He disagreed with everything I said. He fought my opinions like he was Irish and I British.
He would take a huddle of friends and the joy that comes with that and turn it into a rainstorm of unhappiness in minutes. One day, though, he was particularly bad. I got more and more frustrated until I, uh, snapped. There we were, flailing away at each other on the ground.
My Mama, God rest her soul, grabbed me by the collar and in a feat of amazing motherly strength yanked me up like I was weightless.
She held me a minute or two before plopping me down. But even then she didn't let me go; instead, she held my collar and put her face inches from mine. She screamed, something my Mama did not do. Something about being a good host. Something about keeping my wits about me. Something about two wrongs not equaling a right.
I was stunned. Benny did all the wrong things, and I got the punishment. In that is the lesson. Sometimes we are the ones who get the punishment though we are not the ones who started it. This morning as a Thursday begins in spots of gray clouds and dim light, let's not worry about who starts the thing. Let's concentrate hard on who finishes.

Calling all cars

I have a new cell phone. It is, frankly, beyond belief. I have downloaded (I think that is what I did) aps onto it. Aps, I have learned, are applications. Applications, I have learned, are things this baby can do if given the time and the, well, money.

My phone is a flashlight. My phone is a guitar tuner. My phone is a GPS at the golf course, telling me how much yardage remains to the left front bunker or the back of the green or the middle of said green.

My phone is a translator. My phone has spiffy new ringtones that play Christian music. My phone displays the Bible in various translations. My phone is a money changer. My phone is a player of my many CDs.

I believe, though there is little proof, that my phone is a, uh, phone.

Heck, I am convinced it can drive my car, if only I knew what to do and I could do it without losing my attention while driving.

The Bible, on my phone as well as in my hand, tells me this: "If God is for us, who can be against us?" The Bible tells me, in the Message and the NIV and the NKJ (all on my phone) that in all these things were are more than conquerors through him who loved us.

That being the case, both those startingly transparent facts, what on earth and above it do we have to fear?

The guy in the wheelchair (and that's an important notation) said we only have to fear fear. The Bible even takes that out of the equation and says we have NOTHING to fear. Not layoffs. Not firings. Not health care fiascos (and by the way I would have nothing to add on the subject so I certainly should not be throwing down criticism like so many bread crumbs). Nope. We have NOTHING to fear.

Christians are the most transparent of hypocrites, by the way. We rail about morality, sing about ethical woes but seldom do we cast our bread upon the waters of trust. Instead, we walk about in our robes of fear, worrying about our next worry.

Paul examined all this on some of those incredibly long walks of his and wrote this: "I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons (not the book by Dan Brown), neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all cration will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord."

Look at this briefly: I love the way he writes this...neither death NOR LIFE. In other words, my death won't stop God loving me and neither will that mess I've made called LIFE. Angels whispering in God's ear won't turn him against me nor will those darn demons. Nothing I do in the future nor what I have done in the past will make him suddenly pack up the shop and leave me in the carpenter's wood dust. Neither NBA post player nor Secretariat's tiny jockey will make God refuse to give me the ultimate present at Christmas.

Nothing that has been created (all of which comes under the call of God), will turn the creator into a Billy hater. That ultimately means neither will Billy be able to do this. Death has been conquered. Life has been overcome. Angels and demons are just those people like NBA Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban: too short to play, too loud to watch nicely.

Go all the way back to the beginning. He called us, all of us, for a purpose. What is that purpose? For all I know it's to prune the garden of heaven. But maybe it's to invent aps, or the program aps or to aps the aps of the next guy.

There was a time when the phone was quite famous for being a device for passing vocal data along lines that were strung across the country. Then like the sheepherder, we became a wireless people. So don't argue with me that we are less than conquerors. Be strong. Be sure. Be confident.

See all this evolution stuff had it wrong. It was just a typo. We are not descended from apes. We are descended from aps. We are aps people.

There, aren't you glad you waited for it?

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Forum for praise

This might come as a surprise to many of you (if there are many of you actually reading this) but the Saints are unbeaten.

To listen to the Saints forum writers on, however, disaster is just around the corner. "arm chair QB's and so called coach wanna be's. A win is a win. I'm just glad a lot of wanna be coaches on here are not working for the Saint's because we would be in a bind." That's but a tasting of the melodrama available for your reading pleasure.

I, myself, having watched the Saints with my dad from the moment of their misconception, certainly still feel the possibility of the wrong ankle turning at the wrong time or some such occurence that would simply devastate me. So to ensure I won't face the ultimate disappointment, I find myself saying things like: All the Saints have to do is play .500 ball down the stretch and they will win 12 games. I've even debated what is most important, winning 16 games or the Super Bowl.

The Bible doesn't speak, as near as I can read, of doing this half-hearted, glass half-empty sort of worship of God, though clearly we do that as well as anyone.

The Bible says this: May their sins always remain before the Lord, that he may cut off the memory of them from the earth. For he never thought of doing a kindness, but hounded to death the poor and the needy and the brokenhearted. He loved to pronounce a curse -- may it come on him; he found no pleasure in blessing -- may it be far from him. He wore cursing as his garment; it entered into his body like water, into his bones like oil. May it be like a cloak wrapped bout him, like a belt tied forever around him.

The he is is, unfortunately, you and I.

I don't think we have to walk around with a Pollyannaish attitude where every thing is so darn perfect all the time, though clearly it is not. Pain is pain. Death is death. Loss is loss. And sadness, though we paint it in hues of brightness, is still sadness.

However, if we simply praise God on a daily (hourly?) basis, some of that will "enter our bodies like water, into our bones like oil."

It seeps in, when we praise. When we praise, the goodness of the moment flows in. Dip a white shirt into a vat of red sauce adn one assumes it will no longer be entirely white. That's the same principal of curses (and of praises).

God has simply carried you this far. Now, you might disagree on how far you've come, but the truth is there is always a moment you could be worse, whether in pain or in sorrow. There is always someone in worse condition than you are. Therefore, praise a God who cares, a God who loves so much He sent his only son to die for you. That's praiseworthy.

The sky might be dark. The wind might be blowing. The boat might be rocking. But the truth is if the boat is rocking, it is still floating. Praise God, from whom all things come.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Tingling ears

1 Samuel 3: 11 says:
And the Lord said to Samuel: See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make the ears of everyone who hears of it tingle.


That's what I want from my God. I want to hear something that will make my ears tingle, my arms shake, my legs quiver, my stomach...oh, you get the idea. I want to be surprised. I want to be challenged. I want to do something that takes courage and a sliver of faith.

I guess that's one of the reasons I know that retiring at such a young, young age is the right thing to do. I'm doing what I think God wants me to do, and frankly that's as big a gamble as putting all our non-existent savings on black No. 21.

Faith that is seen, the Bible says, is not faith. Therefore, I have loads of faith, by definition.

When we deal with the Fort Hoods of our country or the Columbines or the Pearl (Miss.) High Schools, we deal with the worst that humanity offers. When we deal with the idea that God wants this little thing, this one little bitty thing from us that we can't by definition see or hold or even hear, it's more than difficult to have the courage to simply step off the roof and expect God to hold us, catch us, allow us to gently float to the ground.

When terror happens. When tragedy strikes. When humanity fails humanity, there is but one way to go, I figure, and it's not to the bottle. It's to the Bible. And the Bible says: The Lord wa with Samuel as he grew up, and he let none of his words fall to the ground.

Isn't that wonderful. God's word never falls to the ground, never fails to lift us up. We simply have to read it. What a great deal.

Makes my pinky pop, my ears roll and my, uh, behind shake.

Talk about the Spirit moving me...

Monday, November 9, 2009

Not even while sleeping

I had a boss once who said he liked to sleep because nothing bad ever happened to him while sleeping.

Nice idea, but not true.

In this morning's newspaper, a 7-year-old girl in River Ridge was killed by a stray bullet coming from a shootout. Sh was struck in the neck, while she was sleeping.

That's the world we live in today, I'm afraid. Shootout and such happen. Lives are wasted. Seven-year-olds die for no apparent reason.

The Bible says of these things: Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

I pray for the family of the little girl. I pray for the idiots who were shooting up the neighborhood. I pray for those whose anger seems to take over their lives.

When I was nine, my cousin Benny came to stay with us. Benny was the type of kid who irritates you so much you might want to give him directions to the nearest cliff, if you know what I mean. He disagreed with everything I said. He fought my opinions like he was Irish and I British.

He would take a huddle of friends and the joy that comes with that and turn it into a rainstorm of unhappiness in minutes.

One day, though, he was particularly bad. I got more and more frustrated until I, uh, snapped. There we were, flailing away at each other on the ground.

My Mama, God rest her soul, grabbed me by the collar and in a feat of amazing motherly strength yanked me up like I was weightless.

She held me a minute or two before plopping me down. But even then she didn't let me go; instead, she held my collar and put her face inches from mine. She screamed, something my Mama did not do. Something about being a good host. Something about keeping my wits about me. Something about two wrongs not equalling a right.

I was stunned. Benny did all the wrong things, and I got the punishment.

In that is the lesson. Sometimes we are the ones who get the punishment though we are not the ones who started it.

This morning as the week begins, let's not worry about who starts the thing. Let's concentrate hard on who finishes.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Crumpling under stress

Have you ever just crumpled?
Had too much? On your plate, in your life? Just felt like the weight of the world was sitting on you and you didn't know what to why or when or where?
Yesterday Africa and Asia landed on my shoulders.
Came in the form of a letter, but the weight was substantial none-the-less. I have jury duty beginning Monday morning at 7:45 a.m., the letter said. That means I must leave my home at 6 a.m. That means I must be up by 5 if I'm to write these things, read scripture and walk. That means....ughhhhgghhhgghhghghghghgh.
This comes on top of my mother's situation (ill, awaiting word on what and how and where and when), my work (I am the only one who actually does my job, there isn't a backup), my church (I am the only one who actually does my job, there isn't a backup) and the assorted normal bills, kids, bills and kids.
So I took all this and used the training and the patience I have obtained over time in the ministry and through my studies.
I freaked, in other words.
I've said it before but life is a pressure-cooker and we're the green beans. This is just what happens. We are beaten down and beaten up by what life presents us. We can talk about all the giving the burdens over to God we want, but when it all comes down, we get over-burdened sometimes.
We think we have control, we tell ourselves we have control, we act like we think we have control, but we need reminders from time to time that no indeed we do not. And that is the experience of giving the burdens to the one who can handle them.
needed, yesterday and probably many days before that, a moment where I understood once again for the millionth time that I am not the center of my own universe and I can not handle everything, every single little thing, that is thrown my way. I needed a God check, like a blood pressure-check. This is when God is wrapped around my life and the pressure is checked. If God is involved properly, the pressure is low. If my arteries are clogged with worry and a glob of fear, the pressure builds and builds. It is not a heart attack I have, then, but instead it is a letting go of God attack.
In other words, when the pressures build (naturally and normally), I can let God open the ways to my heart or I can let the pressure build.
I have to be reminded this, apparently, fairly often.
Jesus said his yoke is easy.
I forget.
So yesterday I just shut it down. I didn't move. I didn't struggle, because I couldn't...I just didn't have the energy or the wherewithal. Mary had a headache, I had a heartache, and the world stopped.
But God has let taken the cap off, the pressure is shrinking, I'll learn to get up way before dawn and I'll get through this period. Until the next time, when I pray I will remember Him earlier.

Saints win; I'm exhausted

Upon further review, I'm exhausted.

The Saints won their game against Carolina today, and I feel as if I played the full 60 minutes. The Saints are 8-0, the first time that sentence has been written in 43 years of Saints happening. This is becoming so difficult.

And that's the subject of this piece. Stress.

The Bible talks of the end times. In Daniel 12, we read, "At that time Michael, the great prince who protects your people, will arise. There will be a time of distress such as has not happened from the beinning of nation's until then. But at that time your people -- everyone whose name is found written in the book -- will be delivered.

Imagine this, for just a second. The writer goes on to say: Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake (the dead will rise): Some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt. Those who are wise will shine like the brightest of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.

One day, maybe not in the distant future, my daddy will rise up. And it wouldn't surprise me too much if the first words he offers are (you ready for this?) Who Dat?

My father and I agreen on, well, nothing for the final 30 years of his life. We argued, fought (literally) and yelled.

But on one subject, we agreed without question or doubt.

Who dat, indeed?

My father and I latched on with heartstrings to the New Orleans Saints from the opening kickoff till he died. To think that the Saints are Super Bowl favorites right now as I write this brings joy and sadness to my heart. To think they could win it Super excites me. To think Dad missed it brings those tears back like fall rain.

The Saints are bringing an entire city together, right now, and it promises to get even greater as time and victories pass us by. To think they could be 10-0 when they return home in three weeks, and to think my wife Mary and I have tickets to the next home game on Nov. 30, brings some strangeness to my step.

We are living in some strange times, and though these might not be the end times, somehow if the Saints go 16-0 I don't think you could get anyone to say these aren't the end times.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

That's Life: Day 1 in the grotto

Life, I believe, comes at us in seasons. Nothing is stagnant. Change is a part of all we are, all we do. Nothing stays the same. What happened in winter doesn’t last till fall.
There’s a song on the radio as I write this that has a line something like this: The batter swings and the summer flies.
Sure seems that is the way it happened. One day I sat down in the rocker on my porch and the next, the winds were blowing cold and it was almost time to take the rocker in for the dead of winter.
It seems that it was really just a day or so ago that I was young enough to swing a bat and run like the wind. A slow wind, admittedly. The joints were flexible. Summer was fun.
Seasons change.
The summer flies.
And I’m here. Looking back.
God is there through the seasons. There’s the freshness of spring where God works to help us understand our newness in him, where the rains are sweet and we don’t mind being damp one bit.
There’s the white-hot excitement of summer where God leads us into territory with Him we never knew or dreamed of. We long for the mercy that comes with each morning. We long to grow. We want to know him, and we don’t know how to pull that off.
There’s the peace of fall, where the wind is gentle and the air is light. There is no peace, no love like God’s. We begin to understand what the relationship with Jesus really means. How do we live with daily contact with a savior who we can’t see or feel? How do we live with a relationship with the unseen?
And there is the winter of bleakness, where we struggle with death and loss, where things aren’t what we thought they would be, where that relationship we so longed for simply can’t be found.
Each step of the way, there is God. God in the days. God in the nights. God with us in our loneliness. God with us in our joys.
His footprints are easy to see, but more often than not, we see them after we’ve walked through the season.
This blog is my effort to look at all the seasons through which I’ve, those around me have passed through, in the past few years. It covers all seasons, and I suggest that it covers all persons. I will be blogging five days a week as I move from the season of the Times-Picayune to the season of full-time ministry.

Perhaps you can find yourself in the stories, in the line at Burger King, buying a new car, having kids, grandkids. Perhaps you’ll laugh. Perhaps you’ll find insight.
Not everyone has my background, my problems, my worries, my woes. Not everyone has gone through the pain of alcoholism, lived through Hurricane Katrina’s aftermath, lost love ones to cancer.
But everyone has someone or been someone who has had some problem like those in a dark time and come screaming into the sunshine of joy on the other side.
Somewhere in the balancing of the pain of life and the love of God is where we live, not as stained glass portraits but as flesh-and-blood it’s happening to me today God people.
On the porch, rocking away, watching the summer fly by.
Let me introduce you to the seasons I’ve experienced. Perhaps you’re in there with me. I suspect you are. Maybe you will laugh. Maybe you’ll recognize God in ways you never dreamed. Maybe you will recognize yourself.
Read them daily if you will, the way seasons are felt, absorbed, lived.
Feel the joy of the Lord, the dryness of a desert, or the warmth of a winter fire as I did when I wrote them over the years.