Saturday, January 30, 2010

Surrender happens

It's cold this morning as the sun fights the clouds for space in the sky. It's quiet before dawn, quiet before the storm, quiet before my mouth begins its daily routine.

Jesus loved those times, those quiet moments. He suggested we all find a quiet, secluded place so we won't be attempted to role-play before God. Jesus wanted us to just be there as simply and honestly as we could before God. Peace, be still, he told both the storm and us.

Today is Saturday, but for the retired it could be Tuesday for the days begin to blend, except for Sunday of course. Today is a perfect day, however, for spending time with our Lord. It's cold. It's dark. It's not a day one needs to be partying (that's next weekend, of course).

So, let's pray:

Father, reveal who you are to us today. Set the world spinning correctly and take away those who would deny others peace. Keep us alive, in all that means. Let us think more of you than we do ourselves and thus think more of others. Keep us safe, but let us not worry about safety. Let us risk where risks are necessary for that abundant life you talked about while walking around the Sea of Galilee.

Lord, this is your world and we simply get a few moments on it. We relinguish our thoughts of superiority this day and acknowledge your soverignity. Most of all, Father, Son, Spirit, we ask only for more of you. Reveal yourself to us today. As the gray skies and cold wind fill our day, let yourself fill our hearts.

Now...Take that prayer and walk to somewhere that you know you will be alone with and ....throw that prayer down and listen for God. See, much of the time we talk too much. God has plenty to say to us today, if we will but listen. He doesn't mind all those words, but I believe He would rather the pulse we have bring Him closer to our hearts than us rattling on about how much we understand of Him.

Today, Lord, we surrender. What more can we do to find happiness?

Friday, January 29, 2010


Psalm 138 (The Message) says "Thank you! Everythingin me says, "Thank You!"

Angels listen as I sing my thanks. I kneel in worship facing your holy temple and say it again: "Thank you!"

Thank you for your love, thank you for your faithfulness. Most holy is your name, most holy is your Word.

When I walk into the thick of trouble, keep me alive in the angry turmoil. With one hand, strike my foes, With your other hand save me.

FINISH WHAT YOU STARTED IN ME, GOD. Your love is eternal -- don't quit on me now."

In the midst of my trials, the sun broke out yesterday. It was a mild winter day in Lacombe, and after my daily search for something Saints, and after my daily look into my loneliness that has become retirement, the day turned pleasant. We raked leaves. I cleaned some in the attic. We just DID. And things were better, just that suddenly. The grief of my loss began to evaporate. Things simply were nice outside and inside and suddenly I could see where God moved again.

There is a notion around New Orleans right now that seems to have taken over. It is the notion that it isn't enough to start things. It isn't nearly enough to talk about what you're going to do. You must FINISH, preferably strong.

Sunday night in the dome, after a time out was called to ice kicker Garrett Hartley before his history making field goal, a chant began in the end zone that soon encompassed much of the Dome. FINISH STRONG, FINISH STRONG, the fans were shouting. It was the first of many tear moments for me. How could a bunch of folks who have faced storms (not just Katrina but the evacuations that followed), who have lost jobs through a wretched economy, who have lost friends who moved away, who have lost all our lives with this football team, talk about FINISHING STRONG.

We have no experience at this finishing things. Even our own recovery as a city is half-hearted at times it seems.

But here we are talking about finishing.

The Psalmist says to God: "You started this thing in me. You started me down the road to love. You started me caring for others even though it is in that caring that I'm hurt most. Now FINISH IT.

I'm telling you that most of the country is feeling for New Orleans right now. But what most of the country doesn't understand is a team that started things is now interested in only one thing: FINISHING.

Though given little hope by the national media, it's time to FINISH boys. God finish what you have seen grow in me. Thank You, again.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

a Song for the City

For those who play -- guitars -- and otherwise:

For those who play the guitar and want to reflect:
c g
There is a house in new Orleans
They call the Superdome
c g
And it's been the ruin of many a poor team,
And God I watched me one

g em g EM
g em

I watched the snap
of the winning kick
and I sat down in my seatI
listened for the crowd sound
to tell me when to weep

I thought of 43 long years
and my daddy long gone
he never said he loved m
ebut he loved his black and gold

I cried for those left behind
I cried for those who are here
I cried for my boy Brett on the ground
But I'm glad we put him there


The moral of this story
Is not to do what I have done
Don't shed your tears too early my friends
For there's one game left to win


A new day

Do you ever feel you've stepped off into a new world, a new time, a new life? Peter must have thought that. Like so many fishermen who grew up in the area around the Sea of Galilee long ago, his life was pretty much preordained. He would fish until he was too old to fish. No more, no less. Nothing about colleges and businesses and such. Fish or starve was his lot.

Then one day a man who was walking along one of the many beaches of the lake, which is what it is though the Hebrew word translates sea, called to Peter (then called) Simon and his brother Andrew who was in a small boat 50 feet or so out into the lake. This man, whom Simon had heard of since he had moved into the little town called Capernum that Simon called home, was named Jesus. Jesus screamed into the little wind that always blew between the sets of mountains that crowned the lake. "Com with me. I'll make a new kind of fisherman out of you. I'll show you how to catch men and women instead of perch and bass."

Simon would think later of that moment when he was about to be crucified upside down (in humility since his Lord Jesus was crucified rightside up). Simon and his brother hadn't even stopped to think it over when they dropped their nets and pursued a completely new life with this man.

Answering God's call (through his beloved Son Jesus) does that to you. You're never the same, though indeed you might want to be at times.

Peter would prove to be just as human as you and I. He made his Lord's day when he was the first to recognize who Jesus really was. He faltered and failed his Lod by denying him after the cross. He is all that we want to be and all that we are and those two things often don't coincide.

I dropped my nets and followed and look what has happened: The Saints are in the Super Bowl and I'm not working the game, nor even the buildup to the game. There is no doubt I would be, not because of any talent but because everyone at the newspaper is. Yet, I'm on the outside looking in. I'm outside the gates of Jerusalem wishing I was at the temple.

Jesus walked the paths of Galilee looking for a few people only He could see would be those that changed the world. He used synagogues for meting places and taught people God's truth. God's kingdom was his theme. He healed and he changed and he made differences in both Jews and Gentiles.

And one day the crowds go so big that they forced him to climb a heal and teach. He said "You are blessed when you get your inside world -- your mind and your heart -- p;ut right. Then you can see God in the outside world."

Simon Peter had to get his mind and heart right to see the risen Jesus. We have to get our minds and our hearts right to see the plan He has for us.

Life is new every day with Jesus. Live it like that.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

How it feels to be blessed

I'm a half-empty kind of guy. I see what's around me in terms of fact (or at least that is what I tell myself).

When I hurt, I hurt and everyone knows it.

But then I choose to read from the Gospel, and I'm shamed into seeing things more than half filled.

Jesus said (in the Message), "You're blessed when you're at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.

"You're blessed when you feel you've lost what is most dear to you. ONLY THEN CAN YOU BE EMBRACED BY THE ONE MOST DEAR TO YOU."

Oh, I fall to my less than hardened knees.

The fact is that through it all, I see most things through not rose-colored glasses but through Billy colored glasses. It's not about Him most of the time, it's about ME. Therein lies the biggest problem in life. It ain't about us.

Jesus walked up the side of that hill to the top, up from the Sea of Galilee, to a beautiful overlook where he taught the Beatitudes. I've seen it, recently, and it is a wonderful view. The Bible says He said, "you're blessed when you're content with just who you are -- no more, no less. That's the proud moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can't be bought.

We are victims of this half-empty living. We look at our pedigrees and our can'ts and think they mean we won't, when all they really mean is we need more of God and less of us to accomplish the task He has set in front of us. Along the way there will be losses that are so painful and inexplicable that we question what it is all for. But the bottom line is we not only bounce back, but if we understand that with every single loss we're one step closer to having more of what we need most, God himself, we get up, wash ourselves off in redemptive, baptismal water and go on into that tough life.

Half filled?


Totally blessed?

Without a doubt.

God loves each of us with a love that we can't understand much of the time and can't duplicate any of the time.

That's the blessing of God. Let it fill you up today.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

It's Tuesday and life lives

Everyone in the New Orleans area has a story right now. Everyone will always remember where they were when Hell froze over and the kick went through and things changed.

But for every Monday morning after, when we found what heaven was truly like and everyone loved each other and everyone celebrated with strangers and tears flowed for all the right reasons, there is a Tuesday morning when life picks up and starts again.

It's Tuesday all over... where are my shoes?

I read in a book recently, "life is meant to be swam upstream." Seems right to me. For all the joy I felt Sunday night and even for a writer who specializes in details it is a blur, I understand this morning that life won't stay there.

For every mountain, there is a valley.

I'm beginning to get over the death of my dog in fits and stops, beginning to get over my jet lag, though I've been up since 4:30 a.m. I'm beginning to find myself again in a new life, a new world -- one in which Frankie is gone and the Saints are in the Super Bowl. I hesitate to decide just whether it's a world I want to be in.

As I stood on the corner of Earhart Drive, 200 yards from the Superdome on Sunday night waiting for my ride, two men walked by me talking. One said to the other, "I don't know how to act right now."

That's what I feel. Misery and assuredness of being a loveable loser walked with me for all the time since I began watching the Saints and that includes all 43 years minus one season in Nevada where I saw them play once on TV. How do we act in a world in which we too are asked to come to the party? How do we act in a world in which limitations and walls and can'ts don't exist any more?

That's what we will explore in the next couple of weeks. I know only this: I say that Philippians 4:13 is my motto, my belief. It says, "I can do all things through Christ (or him) who strengthens me." Do I believe that or not is the pertinent question. Do you?

The Saints victory Monday night was about more than a football game, and I know that's hard for people to understand. Had Katrina not happened, it would STILL have been about more than a football game. It was about, in my opinion, all those of us who have never done it all, won it all, been through it all. Those of us who are not only the middle class but the middle of the class. Those of us who dreamed that one day we could be up there looking down instead of always looking up. It was about wanting to be...something.

The irony is that we've always been something in Christ, we just forget. Winning a football game doesn't change that. But what I learned Sunday night is that we are all, every single one of us, in this together. We love and we hate and we win and we lose and we watch our loved ones die and we live on and somewhere in all of that, God is walking in the garden looking for us.

It's Tuesday and time to come down from the mountain where life lives.

(at least till Feb. 7)

Monday, January 25, 2010

Pigs taking flight

Okay, let me go slowly for those who aren't used to these ramblings.

The kick left the foot of Hero Hartley and as it lifted into the air, I sat down in my seat in the Superdome. Honestly, I thought of my father with whom I had a less than perfect relationship but with whom I shared a love of the New Orleans Saints. I thought of my dog who died last Wednesday. I thought of my wife, I thought of my kids who have lived with my obsession. I waited for the sound to surround me, and it did, and I knew the long, dark period of my love of the Saints had ended.

See, this was never about winning the Super Bowl, though that would be wonderful. This was always about belonging. The NFL was a little club that didn't allow us to belong. The Super Bowl was always about other teams and commercials. No passion. No worry.

But as the football went between the uprights, I knew that we belonged, I belonged and folks like Danny, my dear son-in-law who went to the championship game in 2006 and was pelted with snow balls in Chicago and who died in a tragic motorcycle wreck less than six months later, belonged and all of us in this city that nature tried to wipe out belonged.

We are going to the Super Bowl, and this morning I'm dripping in tears. Stupid? Probably.

Best story I heard: my good friend Keith Peneguy called home five minutes after the game. His 12-year-old daughter answered. Keith: Did you watch the game? Daughter: Yes. Did your mom watch the game? Daughter: Yes. Can I speak to her? Daughter: No, she's busy screaming.

A city still in pain is screaming this morning. But it's not the pain talking. It's the joy.

Who Dat indeed?

Friday, January 22, 2010

We go on

Jerome K. Jerome said, "They are superior to human beings as companions. They do not quarrel or argue with you. they never talk about themselves but listen to you while you talk about yourself, and keep up an appearnce of being interested in the conversation."

In the past four years, Mary and I have lost a home due to Hurricane Katrina, but we believed Paul when he said God turns everything to the good for those who love him. We found another home, not a house but a home, but we lost close contact with our kids if we ever had it.

I lost my Mom three years ago in December. Shanna lost her husband, Danny, the following May. Mary lost her dear beloved Buttons, our cat of 18 years, last year. I lost my career to the turns of a ravaged economy, by my choice, but it is gone, anyway. And now, while away on a trip to Israel, I lost my best male friend, the best dog I ever had in a large group of wonderful dogs, Frankie.

Life, someone tells me, is about loss: how you deal with it when you inevitably have it. I guess that's true. If so, I'm terrible at it, life and stuff. I'm devastated, once again, and I can't (literally) quit crying. I know I'm an adult, and the aches and pains of my body tell me I'm an old one at that. Yet I'm crying like a kid again just thinking about my dear Frankie.

In the Message, Job says: Human life is a struggle, isn't it? It's a life sentence to hard labor. Like field hands longing for quiting time and working stiffs with nothing to hope for but payday. I go to bed and think, 'How long till I can get up? I toss and turn as the night drags on -- and I'm fed up.

"God, don't forget that I'm only a puff of air," Job cries to the sky. "And so I'm not keeping one bit of this quiet, I'm laying it all our on the table, my complaining to high heaven is bitter, but honest. Are you going to put a muzzle on me, the way you quiet the sea and still the storm?"

Honestly, I was hurt most that I wasn't there when Frankie died. I wasn't there to hold him as he took his last breath. I'm fully wracked with guilt that as smart as he was, he might have wondered 'where is he? Where is my master.' And I wasn't there. I wasn't. For all my talk to him about how much I loved him, I wasn't there when it counted most.

Then I thought this: God must have wanted me to go to Israel for a reason, for if Frankie had been diagnosed with cancer two weeks earlier, I would not have gone. For some reason the vet missed it. Maybe I'm actually supposed to have gained something for this trip other than bitter memories of grief.

And then I thought of the book the Shack, which if you haven't read it you've missed greatly. The bottom line of a man's grief in the book is that he wasn't able to save his little daughter in her greatest moment of peril and fear. That she died alone.

And Jesus tells the father, "She didn't die alone. I was there with her to her dying breath."

Frankie didn't die alone. As maybe trivial it is to some readers, if there are some readers, is that God was with him when he passed. God was with our dog Scrappy all those long years ago when he passed, alone.

God was with my mother, with Danny, with all those folks in the stairwells of 911 and in the earthquake in Haiti and with my father-in-law and on and on.

We do not die alone, though we all die.

Through it all, we go on. We pick up the pieces of our grief and ball them together into something we can throw into the sky one day and say, 'Okay, Lord, what next? You've watched me boil down to my core and somehow go on. Now what?'

That's where I am. Not where I want to be, not by a long, long shot. I would rather have Frankie than anything God has for me to do or learn or whatever. I would. I think God understands that and I think probably He grieves with me, even as he is licked in the face by a little black dog that never did anything but listen and love.

Oh but that I could be Frankie to my wife, my kids, my grandkids, my friends, my enemies. What a much better world this would be.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

The Words that create Amens

When Nehemiah finished his work on the walls of Jerusalem, and the gates that completely shut off the inner city, they held a worship service.

Imagine, if you can, this at your church:

"Ezra (the prophet and scholar and for this day the worship leader) opened the book. Every eye was on him (he was standing on the raised platform) and as he opened the book (the revelation of Moses that had been found but not read), everyone stood. Then Ezra praised God, the great God, and all the people responded, "Oh Yes, Yes! with hands raised high. And THEN THEY FELL TO THEIR KNEES IN WORSHIP OF GOD, THEIR FACES TO THE GROUND.

This was some serious worship, huh? I can't get an Amen most Sundays.

Where did we lose our absolute love of worship and when did it go away? When did we lose the passion that existed at one time during worship, when the Sabboth, Sunday, was something to be treasured and waited on? When did it all become rote and boring and all those negative terms?

Nehemiah continues: Nehemiah the governor, along with Ezra the priest and scholar and the Levites who were teaching the people said to all the people, 'This day is holy to God, your God. Don't weep and carry on.' They said this because all the people were weeping as they heard the words of The Revelation.

They wept as they heard the words of scripture. Oh, oh. Oh. They wept as they heard the words. Now we sell those same words on a hundred bookshelves in a hundred thousand book stores and nobody weeps for joy.

Almost nobody.

This year, let His words meet your actions. Understand, maybe for the first time, that many died so that we could hold those words in our hands, those words that have taken thousands of years to reach your hands.

Seems like that might be worth an Amen on occasion. Or maybe even a tear.

Friday, January 1, 2010

The saints are coming

Ah, the first day of a new year, a new decade, my seventh amazingly enough.

I've done a lot of studying this past month that I've spent as a retiree (as such), time in scripture, time in prayer. I've learned a lot, I think, about how the Spirit works. At least I pray I have.

I wound up in Nehemiah recently, as I've planned a month series of sermons on The Church Moving Forward, and I read this:

Nehemiah was leading a team committed to rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem despite tremendous odds. At one point he said, "Face it, we're in a bad way here. Jerusalem is a wreck, its gates are burned up. Come -- let us bild the wall of Jerusalem and not live with this disgrace any longer. I told them how God was supporting me and how the king was backing me up."
The ones he was giving the uplifting speech to said, "We're with you. Let's get started." They rolled up their sleeves, reading for the good work.

I see so many instances of churches in my area, and I suspect in all areas, having great difficulty financially these days as the recession lingers. People held out for a while but eventually they began to cut back on giving.

The Bible seems to instruct that's the opposite approach to take. Nehemiah, one of us if you will, sure seemed to indicate that having the odds against a project is no reason to not commit to the project. When some of the officials in Jerusalem actually had the nerve to laugh at the project, Nehemiah said, "The God of Heaven will make sure we succeed. We're his servants and we're going to work, rebuilding. You can keep your nose out of it. You get no say in this -- Jerusalems' none of your business.

God's business is making us feel the joy he feels when he hears us worship.
God's business is making us equipted to handle the load he has put upon us.
God's business is making us see what his will is.
God's business is making us all know that He is God.

That being the case, 2010 is the year where we finally...
Get closer to God
Quit making excuses about not giving all to him.
Start looking for those persons around us that God has pointed to who need Jesus right now.
Spend more time in prayer, as a way of getting closer to God.
Spend more time in scripture as a way of simply seeing Him for who He is and eventually seeing what my purpose, my special purpose, is.

That's where I see this year headed. That's what I pray you will try. The only thing that is keeping all of us from success, the kind of success that God wills for us, is effort.

Surrender and let 2010 be special (hear that Saints and saints?)