Saturday, October 30, 2010

A fall day; not a day of the fall

What is it about crisp, cool weather that brings out the joy in me? Take away the humidity and this part of the world is a testimony to deep thinking and meditation.

This morning, for example, we had an ample breakfast with toast, fried eggs and turkey bacon as well as a couple cups of strong coffee. After a bit of late night with high school football, it was a great way to start an autumn Saturday morning.

I wonder what it was like for, say, David as he sat out to watch his sheep or later in life to lead his people? The temperatures in Israel aren't much different than our own, except for the aforementioned humidity that I never noticed when I was there in winter.

I imagine David, as the fragrence of breakfast drifted away from the fires of morning, sat waiting, watching and wondering what the day would bring. The fire smoke wafted into the Jerusalem sky as the morning's reds, pinks and lavender's colored the thoughts of the king. Battle came in the spring. Fall? Fall was for building, or rebuilding the walls to make them more secure.

Or watching children playing in the hard streets of the city. Or going to temple. Or simplying being.

David wrote of his God, and his world, and his day, "O my soul, bless God. From head to toe, I'll bless his holy name! O my soul, bless God, don't forget a single blessing! He forgives your sins—every one. He heals your diseases—every one. He redeems you from hell—saves your life! He crowns you with love and mercy—a paradise crown. He wraps you in goodness—beauty eternal.He renews your youth—you're always young in his presence."

Always young in his presence.
Aches? Gone.
Pains? Gone.
Worries? Nada.
Most importantly, sins? Gone. Washed away by the lamb's blood.

Don't forget a single blessing, he wrote. A morning's fire, kids running around squealing, playing, with joy exceeding even the blessing of a new day.

It's a new day. A fall day. A day God has made. Let us rejoice in it, feeling the blood of youth pouring through our tired veins.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Comfortable in our skin

The apostle Peter wrote to some early Christians and his words strike a very familiar pose:

He wrote: "I have a special concern for you church leaders. I know what it's like to be a leader, in on Christ's sufferings as well as the coming glory. Here's my concern: that you care for God's flock with all the diligence of a shepherd. Not because you have to, but because you want to please God. Not calculating what you can get out of it, but acting spontaneously. Not bossily telling others what to do, but tenderly showing them the way.

"When God, who is the best shepherd of all, comes out in the open with his rule, he'll see that you've done it right and commend you lavishly. And you who are younger must follow your leaders. But all of you, leaders and followers alike, are to be down to earth with each other, for — God has had it with the proud, but takes delight in just plain people. So be content with who you are, and don't put on airs. God's strong hand is on you; he'll promote you at the right time. Live carefree before God; he is most careful with you."

Let's break it down:
If you are in any way a leader in a church, Peter tells you to
1) Care for the flock;
2) Do it because you want to, not because you have to;
3) As you lead, also be one of the team, one of the "guys;"
4) Be content with who you are, content in your own skin.

Being content with who you are is the secret to much success, I believe. If God is comfortable with you as you are, and scripture says he will meet you right where you are, it seems you should be also though I know that is often not the case.

Many of us want to look better, feel better, have more money, have more things, have more, be more, try more, work more. We want to be younger, be more athletic, be more able.

This is why instead of a chicken in every pot, today we have a treadmill in every home. Mostly they are used as coat racks.

In Ephesians 2:10, NLT, the Bible says you are "God's masterpiece." That being true, doing all that we do to change seems a bit blasphemous, doesn't it? How can we improve on a masterpiece? Why should we? Doesn't that speak to our own lack of confidence, our own lack of comfort in ourselves.

In other words, if God is satisfied, who are we to remake ourselves in a selfish manner?

It is imperative that we become comfortable in our own skin. The reason bullying of gay people -- or black people or skinny people or fat people or bald people or old people or whomever -- causes such harm is that the person being bullied isn't comfortable in his or her own skin for any number of reasons. They've grown up feeling inadequate, taught they're inadequate, taught they are worthless in many cases. If you're told that enough, you believe it.

Just that bit of uncomfortable-ness exploited by the bully is enough to cause suicide attempts with some. It causes fear in others. It causes hiding in still others. It does not cause repentance in most cases, as some need to do.

Job says, "It's true that God is all-powerful, but he doesn't bully innocent people. For the wicked, though, it's a different story— he doesn't give them the time of day, but champions the rights of their victims. He never takes his eyes off the righteous; he honors them lavishly, promotes them endlessly. When things go badly, when affliction and suffering descend, God tells them where they've gone wrong, shows them how their pride has caused their trouble. He forces them to heed his warning, tells them they must repent of their bad life. If they obey and serve him, they'll have a good, long life on easy street."

In the Proverbs book of wisdom, we read, "Don't walk around with a chip on your shoulder, always spoiling for a fight. Don't try to be like those who shoulder their way through life. Why be a bully? "Why not?" you say. Because God can't stand twisted souls. It's the straightforward who get his respect."

And "Whoever sows sin reaps weeds, and bullying anger sputters into nothing."

Be comfortable being who you are. God reaches down and captures you, as you allow Him to, exactly where you are and who you are. He expects you to change over time, becoming more Christ-like, but He does not demand that you change immediately. Change, by the way, is not repentance.

We are saved (changed, given a new destination eternally) by the grace and mercy of God. We repent -- turn away from our sin -- by accepting that grace and mercy.

Today understand that as ministers of God, as we all are, we are to watch over the flock. Watching over means understanding, means loving, means demanding that the bullying stop, means being comfortable in our own skin so that others my be comfortable in their own skin. Again, it doesn't mean that the person doesn't sin or that the person should be comfortable sinning. It means that despite our sinfulness, we understand that God loves us. Leighton Ford says, “God loves us the way we are, but too much to leave us that way”

God so loved the world, the scriptures tell us. Even those whose sin makes it impossible for God to look upon us. He gave us Jesus for that very reason.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

No embarrassment here

When I was a child, there was a halloween carnival at Northeast Lauderdale. I believe I was in the fifth grade, but memory like hair is missing now.

My friend Kenny Suire and I talked our costumes over, and I came out a hobo. I had a painted face, with the dreaded lipstick circled on my cheeks, a fishing pole broken in half (to my father's dismay and disgust) with a cloth stuffed with paper tied to the end of it. Kenny? I don't remember, but he was duded up as well.

We got to the carnival, and I remember distinctly seeing persons going in who were not costumed. At first I was embarrassed for them. Soon, however, I watched and watched with my mother pleading for us to leave the car so she could go and the pinkness in my cheeks began to have nothing to do with rouge. I refused to go out till I figured this out. My mother finally agreed to investigate (for me, Kenny didn't care) and entered the school. She came out what seemed like 30 seconds later with the answer.

This wasn't a costume carnival. Kenny and I were the only ones who had mistaken the message. Well, I was the only one who had mistaken the message for I told Kenny it was a costume carnival.

I discovered on the spot, as I refused to go in, that embarrasment was my greatest fear.

Still is.

I detest doing something that will cause someone to laugh at me without my intention being to gain a laugh. My temper flares most quickly as being embarrassed. The fear of embarrassment has kept me from taking risks from time to time, risks that should have been taken.

I didn't want to be an embarrassment, to myself, to my parents, to my teachers, to my coaches, to my wife, to anyone. Sometimes that was good. Mostly it was bad.

The Bible says in Proverbs, "Intelligent children make their parents proud; lazy students embarrass their parents."

I believe one of the main reasons fewer and fewer people are telling others about Christ is they worry about being embarrassed. They know what they know, but if you ask them how they know, they can't tell you. You know, that feeling that you can't defend an argument of "well, he was born a virgin,uh, somehow" or "he came back from the dead, somehow," or "the sun stopped in the sky, somehow," or even defending creation "theories."

But Jesus spoke to that. He said, "If any of you are embarrassed over me and the way I'm leading you when you get around your fickle and unfocused friends, know that you'll be an even greater embarrassment to the Son of Man when he arrives in all the splendor of God, his Father, with an army of the holy angels."

If you're embarrassed about Jesus, he will be embarrassed about you. Tough sailing, that one.

Paul understood that it might come to that. He told us,"So don't be embarrassed to speak up for our Master or for me, his prisoner. Take your share of suffering for the Message along with the rest of us. We can only keep on going, after all, by the power of God, who first saved us and then called us to this holy work. We had nothing to do with it. It was all his idea, a gift prepared for us in Jesus long before we knew anything about it. But we know it now. Since the appearance of our Savior, nothing could be plainer: death defeated, life vindicated in a steady blaze of light, all through the work of Jesus."

If you don't have a proper defense or the basic tenants of Christianity, and the most basic is that Jesus Christ was dead, and three days later he was raised from the dead and ascended into heaven where he sits at God's right hand, you need to practice till you have one. Not that Jesus needs defending, but that your belief will need defending.

It is okay to say you don't know how some of this works, but that you know it works. I use the telephone app. I didn't know how it worked with a land line, I don't know how it works wireless, but I'm sure it works because I talk on the phone all the time.

Peter told us to be prepared to offer a defense of the gospel, and we should, but not so that we will avoid embarrassment, but so we can offer the gospel freely and securely.

If you believe in Christ's resurrection only among those who believe it equally, what good is that belief?

John Wesley offered the gospel among pub crawlers and the poor who had no church and among those in the fields. He believed so strongly that though he was thrown out of church after church, he continued to preach at the top of his lungs to crowds seeking answers, and on occasion to those who were not.

Don't think that an argument with a know-it-all who has science on his side is a one-sided argument. No, sir. Science can't answer everything. Evolution is a theory, after all. Creationism is given by faith, and no matter what anyone says, evolution must be accepted on faith as well for conclusive proof (a missing link to begin with) does not exist.

I have never seen Abraham Lincoln nor have I seen Jesus. Does that mean Abraham Lincoln didn't exist? No. It means I didn't see him. That is all. I am not embarrassed to say Abraham Lincoln did some remarkable things when he was alive, his life was cut short, and he died an unpopular person who could have done plenty of other things had he lived on. Did I witness any of that? No. I read about it.

I'm not embarrassed to say so.

Do I know how Jesus did miracles, walked on water, ascended into heaven, came back from the dead and on and on? No. Doesn't mean he didn't. Means I'm not privy to the mechanics.

My car runs; I don't know how. Does it means cars can't happen? No. Means I don't know how it works.

I'm not embarrassed to say so.

Jesus saved me, changed me, helped me, taught me, loved me. Do I know how that worked. No.

I only know it did. What once was lost is now found.

I'm not embarrassed to say so.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Earthquakes happen

Here's Paul's woe is me list:
"I've worked much harder, been jailed more often, beaten up more times than I can count, and at death's door time after time. I've been flogged five times with the Jews' thirty-nine lashes, beaten by Roman rods three times, pummeled with rocks once. I've been shipwrecked three times, and immersed in the open sea for a night and a day. In hard traveling year in and year out, I've had to ford rivers, fend off robbers, struggle with friends, struggle with foes. I've been at risk in the city, at risk in the country, endangered by desert sun and sea storm, and betrayed by those I thought were my brothers. I've known drudgery and hard labor, many a long and lonely night without sleep, many a missed meal, blasted by the cold, naked to the weather."

That's a resume of suffering I can't match, nor would want to.

Jeremiah was at it, however, earlier than Paul. He wrote in Lamentations: "I'm the man who has seen trouble,
trouble coming from the lash of God's anger.
He took me by the hand and walked me
into pitch-black darkness.
Yes, he's given me the back of his hand
over and over and over again.
He turned me into a scarecrow
of skin and bones, then broke the bones.
He hemmed me in, ganged up on me,
poured on the trouble and hard times.
He locked me up in deep darkness,
like a corpse nailed inside a coffin."
He shot me in the stomach
with arrows from his quiver.
Everyone took me for a joke,
made me the butt of their mocking ballads.
He forced rotten, stinking food down my throat,
bloated me with vile drinks.
He ground my face into the gravel.
He pounded me into the mud.
I gave up on life altogether.
I've forgotten what the good life is like.
I said to myself, "This is it. I'm finished.
God is a lost cause."

Wow. Makes my pitty-party seem so little it should be ignored.

For a contemporary outlook, though, I turn to Indonesia. First, a volcano erupts, then a tsunami pours in, then an earthquake is triggered. All in a little area of islands near Cambodia. People are dying, and people are suffering and the questions pour in.

So, the question today is how do we handle suffering when it falls on us so vividly and makes the next day so difficult to wish for? The answer is not that all our circumstances will be changed so that we have wonderful days and glorious nights from the minute we believe in Christ as our savior. That simply is a lie. The answer is we pray for peace and accept that as the answer.

The Bible tells us this: Jesus said to his disciples on the last night he would spent with them, "Do not be worried and upset. Believe in God and believe also in me. There are many rooms in my Father's house and I am going to prepare a place for you. I would not tell you this if it were not so."

The circumstances do not change necessarily. We do.
Earthquakes (financial problems), tsunamis (marriage breakups, death of loved ones), and volcanos (separation of child and parent, decisions and choices made that are life-changing) happen. Jesus doesn't change that. But I believe the choice of trusting in God means we can make it through those elements in a peaceful manner that no one outside of the Lord can possibly understand. God calls it a peace that surpasses understanding. Watching a Christian go through earthly hell with a smile causes much surprise by those who do not know Jesus.

Peace, be still. Be still and know. These are the commandments that cement our joy, even when happiness can't be found. We are a surprising bunch, we Christians.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

If not for us, then against us

Where are the gray areas in your life?

You know what I mean. Those areas that are not exactly of Christ and don't seem to be of the world.

Areas like:
You don't have time for prayer.
You don't have time to volunteer to help the poor.
You don't have time to help at the church.
You don't have time....

Luke tells this tale in the ninth chapter of his gospel. "John spoke up, 'Master, we saw a man driving out demons in your name, and we told him to stop, because he doesn't belong to our group.' 'Do not try to stop him,' Jesus said to him and to the other disciples, 'because whoever is not against you is for you.' "

As I read that, then, the ones who go to our churches but don't have time to help in any means or manner are still for us because they're not against us. Or... those who don't have time to help in any means or manner are against us because nothing they're doing is actually for us. You decide which it is.

The United Methodist church speaks to this when people join the church by asking if the person will support the church with their time, their gifts, their service. It's not enough to say you believe in Christ. The Bible says even the demons do that. But if you are FOR Jesus, then you must be For Jesus, it seems to me.

If you want to do something to help your fellow man, then do it. Do it now. Do it quickly. Do it for Jesus. The UMC says we are to make disciples for the transformation of the world. That is our pledge. That is our goal.

Yet we're too busy to do the job. That simply doesn't calculate.

Monday, October 25, 2010

How Great Thou Art

Whom do we serve?
Who is this God we worship?

Chris Tomlin writes this: This is our God
He will wipe away your tears and return your
wasted years
This is our God
So call upon His Name
He is mighty to save
This is our God

A father to the orphan, a healer to the broken
This is our God
And he brings peace to our madness and comfort
in our sadness
This is our God
So call upon His Name
He is mighty to save
This is our God

Who is our God? Who is this living being we surrender to?

In the old hymn, How Great Thou Art, God is described this way:
When through the woods
And forest glades I wander
I hear the birds
Sing sweetly in the trees;
When I look down
From lofty mountain grandeur
And hear the brook
And feel the gentle breeze;
Then sings my soul,
My Saviour God, to Thee,
How great Thou art!
How great Thou art!
Then sings my soul,
My Saviour God, to Thee,
How great Thou art!

The prophet Isaiah wrote this: "No one has ever seen or heard of a God like you, who does such deeds for those who put their hope in him. You welcome those who find joy in doing what is right, those who remember how you want them to live."

God is God, greater than our greatest imagination says He is. God is life, and breath, and love, and those beautiful sunrises and breath-taking sunsets. The purple mountain majesty? God. The Lord says to Isaiah, "Heaven is my throne and the earth is my footstool. What kind of house, then, could you build for me."

He is laughter and He is tears. He is joy and He is discipline. He is the warmth of mercy in the morning, and He is cold, cold night. God is God, and with that comes power and majesty beyond our explanations and even our thankfulness. Out beyond the picket fences we build ourselves, God is waiting for us, waiting for us to worship and to bow in obedience. God is simply God.

Praise Him, praise Him for who he is as much as we praise Him for what He does. Paul wrote of who God is in the opening portion of his letter to the Romans: "Open your eyes and there it is! By taking a long and thoughtful look at what God has created, people have always been able to see what their eyes as such can't see: eternal power, for instance, and the mystery of his divine being. So nobody has a good excuse. What happened was this: People knew God perfectly well, but when they didn't treat him like God, refusing to worship him, they trivialized themselves into silliness and confusion so that there was neither sense nor direction left in their lives. They pretended to know it all, but were illiterate regarding life. They traded the glory of God who holds the whole world in his hands for cheap figurines you can buy at any roadside stand."

Who is God? He is power and He is light. He is invisible and yet his power is seen daily in the falls of Niagra and the vistas of the Grand Canyon. We have no excuse for not worshiping him with all that we are. We need merely to open our eyes, allow our nose to do its God-ordained job, and feel the minutes as they pass.

Who is God? Beauty for ashes. Fragrance of joy for hint of failure. God is simply God.

How great Thou art.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

A praising heart

I've done a lot of musing, which is what these things used to be called, about how to build or at least refurbish a church. Bring people in and such. What I've figured out, after much research and prayer, is it takes hard, hard work. Whew. And I thought this would be hard.

The good thing is I, we, have help. God is on our side, and the Bible makes clear that if he is, then who can be against us?

In Isaiah's writings, we find this: "1 "Arise, shine, for your light has come,
and the glory of the LORD rises upon you.
2 See, darkness covers the earth
and thick darkness is over the peoples,
but the LORD rises upon you
and his glory appears over you.

3 Nations will come to your light,
and kings to the brightness of your dawn.

4 "Lift up your eyes and look about you:
All assemble and come to you;
your sons come from afar,
and your daughters are carried on the arm.

5 Then you will look and be radiant,
your heart will throb and swell with joy;
the wealth on the seas will be brought to you,
to you the riches of the nations will come."

And in the New Testament there are those words about newcomers being added daily.

See, it seems to me that adding persons to our churches, to the body of Christ comes when we are attentive to the needs of those persons, when we love those persons intentionally and without reservation and when we are there for them in their hours of need.

I do not think we add persons to the body when we picket, bully or show our distaste for the sins of others while overlooking our own planks of sin.

How do we add persons to the body?

In the 61st chapter of Isaiah, there are those wonderful words, "1-7 The Spirit of God, the Master, is on me because God anointed me.
He sent me to preach good news to the poor,
heal the heartbroken,
Announce freedom to all captives,
pardon all prisoners.
God sent me to announce the year of his grace—
a celebration of God's destruction of our enemies—
and to comfort all who mourn,
To care for the needs of all who mourn in Zion,
give them bouquets of roses instead of ashes,
Messages of joy instead of news of doom,
a praising heart instead of a languid spirit."

Jesus used those words, or words like them, to announce he had come to supply Israel with a bountiful message of joy instead of news of doom, a praising heart instead of a languid spirit. Can we do less? Can we do differently?

Well, we can, but it won't work.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Protests and such

Here's the story I read yesterday:

KING, N.C. – The Christian flag is everywhere in the small city of King: flying in front of barbecue joints and hair salons, stuck to the bumpers of trucks, hanging in windows and emblazoned on T-shirts.

The relatively obscure emblem has become omnipresent because of one place it can't appear: flying above a war memorial in a public park.

The city council decided last month to remove the flag from above the monument in Central Park after a resident complained, and after city leaders got letters from the American Civil Liberties Union and Americans United for the Separation of Church and State urging them to remove it.

That decision incensed veterans groups, churches and others in King, a city of about 6,000 people 15 miles north of Winston-Salem. Ray Martini, 63, an Air Force veteran who served in Vietnam, launched a round-the-clock vigil to guard a replica Christian flag hanging on a wooden pole in front of the war memorial.

Since Sept. 22, the vigil has been bolstered by home-cooked food delivered by supporters, sleeping bags and blankets donated by a West Virginia man and offers of support from New York to Louisiana.

"This monument stands as hallowed ground," said Martini, a tall, trim man with a tattoo on his right arm commemorating the day in 1988 when he became a born-again Christian. "It kills me when I think people want to essentially desecrate it."

The protesters are concerned not only about the flag, which was one of 11 flying above the memorial when it was dedicated six years ago, but about a metal sculpture nearby depicting a soldier kneeling before a cross.

"I won't let it fall," Martini said. "I have already told the city, before you can take it down, I'll tie myself to it and you can cut me down first."
The identity of the resident who complained about the flag, a veteran of the Afghanistan war, has not been made public. But the state chapter of the ACLU has no problem with the vigil.

"We were concerned when the city was sponsoring the Christian flag, but we don't have any concern with veterans groups displaying the flag," legal director Katy Parker said. "We think it's great the city is offering citizens a chance to express their opinions."

The protesters, though, aren't satisfied with the vigil. They're planning an Oct. 23 rally in support of their ultimate goal, which is for the city to restore the Christian flag to the permanent metal pole on the memorial.

There is no part of me that understands the way the veterans feel because I've never been a veteran, never fought in a war, never been shot at. I don't know the attachment the persons feel about the flag or the monument. To offer opininon aobut that would be dumb.

But this I know: We have to reach a point, it seems, that we understand what the courts are trying to do and to operate within those laws. In other words, if they won't let us -- us being Christians -- operate within the grounds of city, state or federal law, then we must as individuals do it ourselves. As near I understand it, constitutional law can not and does not interfere with me praying, reading scripture or whatever as long as the state does not sponsor it. That goes for schools and such as well.

So we must stand up on our own. Buy flags for every grave in that cemetery and plant them there. There's nothing anyone can do about it. We must stage our rallies and our protests individually. They can't stop that.

But in the end, I believe Jesus would just as soon we spent our time praying for those who would stop us, praying for those who are our enemies, praying for those who would be offended by such.

Loving those who oppose you is the more difficult knot to tie, but it is the one Jesus would have us do.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Being poor is...

God says: "The kind of fasting I want is this: Remove the chains of oppression and the yoke of injustice, and let the oppressed go free. Share your food with the hungry and open your homes to the homeless poor. Give clothes to those who have nothing to wear, and do not refuse to help your own relatives."

Seems pretty clear, huh? We are to forget about the rule-making in our lives, that which we do because we feel we have to, and concentrate on the heart issues: feeding the hungry, helping the poor, clothing the ones who have none.

As clear as it is, though, we fail to do so.

A man named Jon Scarzi wrote this about being poor: Being poor is knowing exactly how much everything costs.

"Being poor is hoping the toothache goes away.

Being poor is knowing your kid goes to friends’ houses but never has friends over to yours.

Being poor is going to the restroom before you get in the school lunch line so your friends will be ahead of you and won’t hear you say “I get free lunch” when you get to the cashier.

Being poor is living next to the freeway.

Being poor is coming back to the car with your children in the back seat, clutching that box of Raisin Bran you just bought and trying to think of a way to make the kids understand that the box has to last.

Being poor is wondering if your well-off sibling is lying when he says he doesn’t mind when you ask for help.

Being poor is off-brand toys.

Being poor is a heater in only one room of the house.

Being poor is knowing you can’t leave $5 on the coffee table when your friends are around.

Being poor is hoping your kids don’t have a growth spurt.

Being poor is stealing meat from the store, frying it up before your mom gets home and then telling her she doesn’t have make dinner tonight because you’re not hungry anyway.

Being poor is Goodwill underwear.

Being poor is not enough space for everyone who lives with you.

Being poor is feeling the glued soles tear off your supermarket shoes when you run around the playground.

Being poor is your kid’s school being the one with the 15-year-old textbooks and no air conditioning.

Being poor is thinking $8 an hour is a really good deal.

Being poor is an overnight shift under florescent lights.

Being poor is finding the letter your mom wrote to your dad, begging him for the child support.

Being poor is a bathtub you have to empty into the toilet.

Being poor is stopping the car to take a lamp from a stranger’s trash.

Being poor is making lunch for your kid when a cockroach skitters over the bread, and you looking over to see if your kid saw.

Being poor is people angry at you just for walking around in the mall.

Being poor is not taking the job because you can’t find someone you trust to watch your kids.

Being poor is the police busting into the apartment right next to yours.

Being poor is not talking to that girl because she’ll probably just laugh at your clothes.

Being poor is hoping you’ll be invited for dinner.

Being poor is a sidewalk with lots of brown glass on it.

Being poor is people thinking they know something about you by the way you talk.

Being poor is needing that 35-cent raise.

Being poor is your kid’s teacher assuming you don’t have any books in your home.

Being poor is six dollars short on the utility bill and no way to close the gap.

Being poor is crying when you drop the mac and cheese on the floor."

God says we should do something about this. Have we? Will we? God says "if you put an end to oppression, to every gesture of contempt, and to ever evil word, if you give food to the hungry and satisfy those who are in need, then the darkness around you will turn to the brightness of noon."

That's a promise God will keep. That's a promise we need to explore. Remember what you've been given, and act accordingly.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Leaving Babylon

I read this morning that voters in this country still are seeking change. The change they sought in 2008 has not been satisfied. In fact, we're more depressed than we were then. And we were very depressed as a country then.

Change is a difficult thing to pin down, of course, because it is unknown. People want change, but they want change they can name, change that comes without a price. They want change they can foresee. They want no risks. They want no jeopardy, unknown or not.

In Isaiah's time, the Israelites desperately wanted change. they had been held captive. They wanted to go home. They wanted to leave Babylon. They wanted out. Though they didn't know what might lay ahead, they felt it had to be better than captivity.

They were depressed as they lay captive. In the Psalms, someone wrote, "
2 There on the poplars
we hung our harps,

3 for there our captors asked us for songs,
our tormentors demanded songs of joy;
they said, "Sing us one of the songs of Zion!"

4 How can we sing the songs of the LORD
while in a foreign land?

God heard them, and God promised change.

Through the prophet, God told the people, "You will leave Babylon with joy; you will be led out of the city in peace. The mountains and hills will burst into singing and the trees will shout for joy."

Sounds wonderful, doesn't it? Even the trees will shout for joy. Makes you think of Jesus saying even the rocks will cry out.

Promises of change. Sort of like the change we were promised. But did we think there would be bailouts and health care promises and such? Did we think government would not become just a best friend but a big brother?

Fact is that change of heart and change of mind can be and should be necessary. Clearly we are a country that is peaking and once that happens, downhill is the only direction left to us. Unless we change. Dear God let us change.

The Bible says of God's people: "When they sin against you—for there is no one who does not sin—and you become angry with them and give them over to the enemy, who takes them captive to a land far away or near; 37 and if they have a change of heart in the land where they are held captive, and repent and plead with you in the land of their captivity and say, 'We have sinned, we have done wrong and acted wickedly'; 38 and if they turn back to you with all their heart and soul in the land of their captivity where they were taken, and pray toward the land you gave their fathers, toward the city you have chosen and toward the temple I have built for your Name; 39 then from heaven, your dwelling place, hear their prayer and their pleas, and uphold their cause. And forgive your people, who have sinned against you."

If they will change...
If they will repent...
If they will go a different way...

That's what change is and what we must do. We have to change, not back to Republican from Democrat so that two years from now we can change back to Democrat from Republican and on and on.

No, we must change at a fundamental level. We must begin to care more for others than we do ourselves. We must begin to change who we really are. We have millions who are hungry and we have food enough to feed the world. We have millions who are poor and we have resources that would change their lives without ever borrowing from our children's children or from a foreign goverment.

All it takes is change; pure change. Change of heart and mind.

The Lord says, "come, everyone who is thirsty -- here is water! Come, you that have no money but grain and eat...Listen to me and do what I say, and you will enjoy the best food of all."

What we have as Christians is the best food of all. It is time we share it, not so that we can be right, but so that our neighborhoods can be safe, our cities can be renewed, our state's can begin to afford their own budgets and our nation can get back on target.

"You will leave Babylon with joy," God said.

Oh that we could leave our current Babylon with joy. Oh, that we could pack a spiritual bag, like the 72 who were sent out by Jesus, and travel lightly into the souls of all those who refuse, flat our refuse, to come to Jesus.

Oh, that we could change.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Bigoted? Hardly

My wife eats ice. If you're going to survive in our house, you have to get used to the crunching sound. Click, click, click the ice goes as it leaves the bottom of the cup, enters her mouth and the remainder falls to the bottom of the cup again. Clang, if it's a glass cup. Thunk if it's plastic or some other substance.

I detest the sound; It drives me up a wall or two. But after 25 years, there apparently is nothing I can do about it. I've tried to say the right word or two, but she is addicted to ice. It is a powerful sound.

Imagine, however, if some sound you made, some noise, some word came from your mouth to the heart and soul and mind of another. You say something about how your life has changed. You say something about what changed your life. You say something about the mystery of scripture, about how you read it and read it but one morning it becomes as clear as clean glass. A new word. A new teaching.


The Bible tells this tale: "Now an angel of the Lord spoke to Philip, saying, "Arise and go toward the south along the road which goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza." This is desert. So he arose and went. And behold, a man of Ethiopia, a eunuch of great authority under Candace the queen of the Ethiopians, who had charge of all her treasury, and had come to Jerusalem to worship, was returning. And sitting in his chariot, he was reading Isaiah the prophet. Then the Spirit said to Philip, "Go near and overtake this chariot."

So Philip ran to him, and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah, and said, "Do you understand what you are reading?"

And he said, "How can I, unless someone guides me?" And he asked Philip to come up and sit with him. The place in the Scripture which he read was this:

"He was led as a sheep to the slaughter;
And as a lamb before its shearer is silent,
So He opened not His mouth.
In His humiliation His justice was taken away,
And who will declare His generation?
For His life is taken from the earth."

So the eunuch answered Philip and said, "I ask you, of whom does the prophet say this, of himself or of some other man?" Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning at this Scripture, preached Jesus to him. Now as they went down the road, they came to some water. And the eunuch said, "See, here is water. What hinders me from being baptized?"

Then Philip said, "If you believe with all your heart, you may."
And he answered and said, "I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God."

So he commanded the chariot to stand still. And both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water, and he baptized him. Now when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught Philip away, so that the eunuch saw him no more; and he went on his way rejoicing. But Philip was found at Azotus. And passing through, he preached in all the cities till he came to Caesarea."


Somehow the idea that we would talk about Christ to someone, even my goodness gracious a Muslim or a Jew, about Jesus has become a bad, bad thing. We've given it a name: prothletizing, and when someone says we are doing that, it is a bad, bad thing.

Problem is, we must accept all religions today. We must accept all beliefs. We must, or we are called a bigot. And if there is anything on this planet today you do not want to be called it is a bigot.

Jesus was the most accepting, most liberal (in desire to change the status quo), most impartial judge, most tolerant person of all time. He got rid of masssive rules that were being worshiped instead of the creator God. He changed the way the people of his time looked at women, children, those outside his own culture. He even touched the untouchable.

But he was quite the non-accepting, conservative, partial, intolerant and even bigoted person when it came to this: In the 14th chapter of the gospel of John he said, "No one comes to the Father except through me."

The debate about what that means or what that meant probably started quickly after he said it.

In Isaiah's writings, Jesus is described this way: "he willingly gave his life and shared the fate of evil men. He took the place of many sinners and prayed that they might be forgiven."

As far as I can tell, Jesus is the only one who ever died in place of many sinners. He is the only one who ever claimed not just to be a grand prophet of his religion, but God himself. He is the only one who said he was the only way to the Father.

Bigot? He loved everyone including his enemies, of which there were many.
Bigot? He died for everyone, while they were yet sinners, of which there were and are many.
Bigot? He never claimed to be anything but a Jew; the word Christian wasn't used while he was alive.
Bigot? The Bible says God said he gave him a place of honor in heaven itself.

Jesus gave us a command to make disciples. He didn't tell us how exactly and that has plagued us. But he did leave directions when he told the 72 to go out in his name. If we but follow those directions, perhaps we can be Phillip to a world that needs Jesus.

It isn't bigotry to tell someone about how Jesus changed our lives, friends. It is the most wonderful thing we can do.


You, me, all of us are the guides. It is our job. It is our way. It is the truth. It is our life. Love them into submission.

Monday, October 18, 2010

A glorious morning

What a glorious morning, the beginning of a glorious day. I slept in, after a Fall Festival at our church that was well attended and well intended.

I read this morning, though, continuing in a study of Isaiah, "It was the will of the Lord that his servant grow like a plant taking root in dry ground. He had no dignity or beauty to make us take notice of him. There was nothing attractive about him, nothing that would draw us to him. We despised him and rejected him; he endured suffering and pain. No one would even look at him -- we ignored him as if he were nothing."

The connection to Jesus on the cross is too much to be coincidence, so most believe this is a prophecy about the coming Christ.

In one commentary I read about the 53rd chapter of Isaiah, it was written, "A MAN OF SORROWS: With an unsettled, transient existence (Luk 9:58); he was opposed and menaced (Luk 4:29); he suffered the indifference and the maligning of his own kindred (John 7:5; Mar 3:21). He often worked himself to exhaustion (Luk 8:46; John 4:6; Mar 4:36). While others slept, he spent whole nights in agonizing prayer."

This I know: Crowds were attracted to Jesus, yet Isaiah said we barely looked at him. People somehow knew Jesus was the Christ, yet he told many not to say a word.

While we slept, he suffered.

Isn't that always the way? We have been walking past the suffering Christ, not looking, not seeing the poor, skipping over the needy, climbing the hills of rejection and going into the valley of the shadow of death. Why? Because we are incapable of doing more, without that same Christ in our hearts and our eyes and our lives.

We thought his punishment was sent by God, but instead, Jesus took our sins on his back, because of what WE did, not what HE did.

This morning, a glorious morning, with the temperatures perfect and the humidity low and forgiving, I think of Jesus. Oh, I do not think of the good shepherd or the doorway or the gate or even I am (God). I think of the cross, the beating, the pain, the bruising, the bloood and I am reminded that He never said a word of complaint because he did it all for me. And you. And all of us.

Isaiah says, "he was put to death for the sins of our people."

Oh, what a glorious morning.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Proud moments

The Lord says, "Listen to me, you that want to be saved, you that come to me for help. Think of the rock from which you came, that quarry from which you were cut."

I talked to my aunt recently, who will turn 91 early next year, and she said, "Your mother and father would really be proud of you."


In Isaiah's writings, among the most beautiful in all the Bible, God tells his people that he will allow them to return home one day, and he tells them that they must listen to him. "Listen to me, my people, listen to what I say: I give my teaching to the nations (gentiles); my laws will bring them light. I will come quickly and save them; the time of my victory is near."

My father never attended church. My mother was very religious, but not very spiritual. Would they really be proud of the way I've turned out? Heck, am I?

I think this whole idea of pleasing our parents is ultimately dangerous. I've written and spoken many times about how my father never told me he loved me, and how that has distorted my desire to please others. So, I wonder whether my father indeed would be "proud" of me.

Ultimately, of course, it matters not. But since I talked with my aunt three or four days ago and her sentence has stuck with me since, clearly it meant something.

Imagine God looking down and saying, as he did over Jesus, "This is my son of whom I am well pleased."

Can we want no less. Can we not want our heavenly Father to look down and be motivated by what we have accomplished to say, "Good job. Atta boy?"

Can we not desire him to say, "But the deliverance I bring will last forever; my victory will endure for all time."

Today strive to do whatever you can to make your Heavenly Father proud of you. See the poor. Help the poor, the disadvantaged, the least of all these. Clothe someone who is cool in this crisp air. Feed someone who is hungry for the bread of life. Give someone a cool drink of both living and "normal" water.

But do none of that simply to be saved. God already has taken care of that. That's not what making him proud of us is about.

Therein lies the difference between heavenly and earthly father. "The Lord says, "Why should you fear mortals, who are no more enduring than grass? Have you forgotten the Lord, who made you, who stretched out the heavens and laid the earth's foundations."

A deep voice echoes, the clouds part, the sun shines through and God says, "This is my son...I am well pleased."

Can't think of anything more wonderful.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Teen angst

I love mornings. Not too early, but rationally early. A crisp morning is fine. Good coffee, smelling all wonderful and hot going down. A newspaper. Always a newspaper. Prayer. Moments of bliss.

But on occasion, it's not quite so lovely. Take this morning for example. I'm reading away and I happen on these headlines in my morning newspaper: Pair of teenagers arrested in Harvey man's killing; N.O. teen stabbed to death and there was a photo of a 15-year-old girl from Terrytown who has been missing for three days.

It's a tough, tough thing when life, bad life, comes so early.

What has happened in this worn economy, dark cultured society is that we've made adulthood a teen kinda thing. Doing a bit of research for this blog, I read this, "Teens today don't fear the law because they don't think they will get caught. And if they do, they know they have a good chance of getting off because they are tried as teens and not adults. We have to get tougher on crime. There should be a law that everyone over eleven years old will be tried as adults. That way more teens would be discouraged from committing crimes. They would know that murder would get them a very long sentence instead of staying in juvenile hall until they are eighteen. If we want to cut down on teen crime, we have to have tougher laws."

Just the phrase, teen crime, is enough to send me into passive delirium.
"There should be a law that everyone over eleven years old will be tried as adults" simply saddens me.

I'm not sure there is an age that is more likely to abandon God than the 18-30 year olds. Perhaps we need to take that to "everyone over 11."

God knew this when he told Isaiah, "Do we dare say to our parents, 'why did you make me do this?' You have not right ot question me about my children or to tell me what I ought to do (God says). I am the one who made the earth and created human beings to live there. By my power I stretched out the heavens; I control the sun, the moon, and the stars."

That's so true. But getting a teenager to surrender when they're just trying to understand how to be in control is a difficult thing even for God. So God allows them to make their own mistakes.

I was reminded yesterday that my youngest daughter, who was so adamant that she be allowed to make her own mistakes when she was a teenager, is now a mother who won't even allow her 1-year-old plus daughter to sleep away from home lest she be troubled.

It's a difficult thing this teenagerdom, for both the teens, the parents, and what now appears to be their attorneys.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Mama's prayers

Thanks to everyone for the stats: 41 page views, a record; two comments, tying a record. I can pass that along to the powers that be.

Now, on to musing...

The Lord says, "Israel remember this; remember that you are my servant. I created you to be my servant, and I will never forget you. I have swept your sins away like a cloud! Come back to me; I am the one who saves you." Isaiah 44: 21-22, TLB

Come back to me, the Lord tells us, meaning we've gone away.

We had a great discussion about prayer and its merits last night at a Bible study. The question was how much does prayer move God to move or simply does prayer really change God's mind?

Good questions. All we have to go on is our faith, the scriptures and our experience.

In my experience, God waits a long time to do some of what I ask.
In my faith, God always does what I ask.
Somewhere in between probably lies the truth.

My answer to whether prayer can change things came from the scriptures, particularly Jesus' time in the Garden.
We read in Matthew 26, "36Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, "Sit here while I go over there and pray." 37He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. 38Then he said to them, "My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me."
39Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, "My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will."

Clearly Jesus thought his prayer could change things. He prayed that what was about to happen would not to him. He prayed so hard that he sweated blood figuratively or literally. The key to the peace is that he accepted God's will for him, and for him that was enough.

My experience is that my mother's prayers were answered. For 20 years she prayed that I would change, that I would have a relationship with Christ and that I would be saved. I finally did. Did my mother's prayers accomplish that or did something in my life change me? Again, experience (I changed), scripture ("But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.") and faith (my mother continuing for 20 years) often times leads to something very special.

Does every prayer heal? No. If it did, this world would overpopulate because none would die.
Does every prayer end the way we demand? No, for every quest touches other and we can't all pray for the kick to be good or all our teams win.
Does prayer change things?

I can only say that for me, prayer changes things, but it starts with me. Am I the greatest prayer-er ever? Nope. Do I go off and pray as much as Jesus? Nope. Do I pray daily? Yep.

And I came back to Him, because like Peter it one day dawned on me that I had no place else to go.

Was that me or was that my mama's prayers?

Only God knows. I'll leave it there. His will, not mine.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Wonderful old words

I came across a story (photos and such) about child (movie and television)stars and where they are now.

It got me to thinking (something usually has to) about what it means to peak, if you would, at an early age.

What must it be like to have starred in a movie when you haven't reached adulthood? How do you handle life when they're not calling you on the phone for jobs? Is that measurably different from accomplishing your many goals at the age of 25, 30, 40?

What then must retirement be like?

All the answers can be found in what gives you peace. Does your job fulfill you? Does your recreation, that must be paid for by that job, give you peace?

Where does the average, and I guess people who starred in movies in their teens and younger don't necessarily qualify, person find peace?

It simply depends upon what they believe, I'm afraid.

I tend to be moody. I had one of those days Monday. Sports teams gagging always tend to make me moody. My sports teams, I mean. I have various aches and pains that won't go away and will be with me till the end (sounds like a country song). And we're as poor as dirt, very, very dry dirt. I said, almost without thinking about it, "what do I do?" My wife, who listens in on these darn self-conversations, said, "Read more scripture."

Reading isn't the answer, though she is close. I read more than most folks. But believing and allowing the "vine" to remain close to me,or better yet me to the vine, oh baby is that the answer.

Jesus spoke these words, "I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid."

Without saying it, he's saying that the world and all its things we acquire over decades of work and play can not possibly give us peace. The world can't heal my back (unless I come up with thousands of dollars I don't have access to). The world can't heal my moodiness. The world can't give me peace.

Neither can my tired old sports teams, because even if they win it all, dang, they make you do it again. And invariably, you lose because you can't win them all. I think Yogi said that.

The point is this: Jesus said to his disciples (and down through time to a reader right this minute) "Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me."

I'm no good at math, but this much math I know: Peace equals trust plus nothing. The amount of peace you have is equal to the amount of trust in God through Jesus you can muster.

It isn't reading scriptures that is important. But it is believing those wonderful old words.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Catching up

On July 25, 1992, Mary, the kids and I attended our first and I believe last game at what was then Fulton-County Stadium in Atlanta. Some of my favorite phots are of the kids in their Braves garb outside the stadium in front of the Hank Aaron statue.

What I remember is it being exceedingly hot and our seats in right field being very much in the sun light at the start of the game. So much so that I was whining for about three innings about how I could have come to have such awful seats.

The game proceeded and in some ways turned into a snooze-fest, at least for the kids who though stoked on goodies still were watching a 1-0 game. I believe it was Steve Avery pitching.

Then came the late innings. Pittsburgh's Andy Van Slyke lifted a ball, well, right toward us. Then from out of nowhere came Otis Nixon who lept incredibly high and made what is still called "Then Catch." Right below us.

I went nuts. The kids sensing somethng had happened went nuts. Mary, nuts. People around us, nuts.

It was a special time in our lives, a time where as a family we were Braves fans. We went to games each year in Houston after that to see the Braves. We wore the stuff. I still have a tomahawk.

Last night was Bobby Cox's final game as a manager of the Braves. Twenty-seasons he had been with them, through knee replacements and great players and such. Fourteen straight seasons with division championships till our great pitching finally got as old as me, or practically.

Everything changes. Everything goes ahead. Everything grows old.

The only person now left on that team from those great years is Chipper Jones, and he might make it one more year. My kids are not kids, but have them of their own.

But one night in July, we'll always have.

By the way, in looking up the catch (which is how I know when it occured since my memory like good joints has gone away), I discovered that Otis Nixon, who had a cocaine problem at one time, works now in youth ministry.

We've all come a long way. I was happy today to have caught most of it.

Monday, October 11, 2010

The real offense

Ah, a new day. A fresh day. A day of recovery.

I'm not going to write about sports today. I'm not. I could, but I'm not. There. Said it. Not gonna do it.

Instead, I'll write, I think, about the kid who was told to take off his cross in the Colorado middle school because it offends.

Oh, that's almost too easy. It offends.

Of course it offends. It offends me. I should offend you. We took an honest, sinless man and crucified him on that cross. Why on earth wouldn't it offend, make me feel guilty, make me feel, well, something?

I now that's not what the issue at the middle school is. But that's piddling stuff. It's not wearing the cross that should be offensive to whomever. It's what's inside the cross, buried beneat clothing and beneat flesh and beneath bone. It's what heart is below that should be offensive. Because the heart the beats for Christ alone should be offensive.

I don't mean it shouldn't love. Above all else it should beat with a rhythm of pure love. But it should offend because that life should be clearly one lived for Christ. Ultimately that's what the world can't stand. That's what the Master of Lies wants to snuff out.

Oh, I could write about how in a two-hour span my sports teams gagged, but I'm not. Instead, I'll write about the privilege of bearing the cross as much as wearing the cross.

Remember what Jesus, who taught us what love really was, said: "On hearing it, many of his disciples said, "This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?" Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, "Does this offend you? What if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before!"

A man came, loved, died, was reborn, ascended. Does that not offend our senses? That's what many can't grasp.

Little crosses on chain? Kid stuff.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Passing the hands

Somehow I won't feel like I'm giving her away today when I take her hands and present them to her husband.

That happened years ago, seems like. Maybe as long ago as that day when she let two hard-hit grounders through her legs at third base then quit sports for good later in the day. She was 12. Twelve?

Or Somehow that happened when Katrina came and she went away from our home.

Somehow that happened when she had a child.

Or perhaps that happened with her first job, or her first car, or her first whatever.

You birth your children (and granted it is easier for me to talk about it than her mother), raise your children, release your children like some sort of fishing television program. And they're gone.

Carrie once told me that she knew I wanted us to be closer as a family, but we just weren't. Sad as that is, it's true.

But this I notice:

She is getting married in the same church that birthed my ministry, that married her sister, that confirmed both of the girls, that gave Bibles for both of them graduating.

She is getting married in the same area that still houses both my girls.

She is going on with life in the same manner, with me reading the same passage, as did her sister.

Close? Maybe not. But we are tethered together with slivers of love. She is marrying a man who loves the same team, the same game, as do I. She is marrying a man who loves dogs, same as I (though if I were the dogs, I would keep my eyes open at night).

There's a closeness that perhaps even Carrie doesn't realize or understand.

So we have another life-changing event today. And with it comes one step closer to the end of all our lives.

If you don't think time is passing quickly for us all, think about this: John Lennon would have been 70 today. What would John Lennon have been like at 70?

The Bible says of children: 2 Hear this, you elders;
listen, all who live in the land.
Has anything like this ever happened in your days
or in the days of your forefathers?
3 Tell it to your children,
and let your children tell it to their children,
and their children to the next generation.

Today my little girl, the one who was so hard-headed, who would never listen to me if I raised my voice, who screamed back at me when I yelled, "glove to the ground," as the balls skipped merrily into left-field, "I'm trying as hard as I can," takes another very adult-like step.

I will pass her to another man, though she has not been mine for so very long. I pray for their marriage, I pray for their parenthood, I pray for their finances, I pray for their choices.

I pray that she keeps trying as hard as she can. For in that is life, as we know it.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Love is...

It's difficult to put into words the range of emotions I feel this morning.

My baby girl will be married tomorrow. Her rehersal is tonight. But yesterday, the pastor doing the service, Tim Smith, called to tell me his sister, five years older than him but a young woman, was dying and he might be called out of town. He and I talked possibilities for his replacement and God blessed us with one of my friends, a man with long ties to my ministry. The Rev. Woody Hingle will step in.

Somehow this all shows just how difficult and challenging life can be. On the one hand, the wedding will go on and that moment of sweet bliss for the couple will prevail. On the other hand, a good man, a pastor who took care of his business before going out of town when the normal thing to do would have been to simply get in the car and go, loses a loved one. How touching and memorable. How seemingly cruel and ironic.

Anyone who sees only good things, who never looks at life as the roller-coaster it truly is, is mistaken. Life is lived in ups and downs, craters and mounds, valleys of death and mountains of transfiguration.

God knows what we go through. He truly does. He loves us enough to allow us to love. And when we love, when we stick our necks out, we have incredible successes and occasionally we have immeasurable hurts.

Listen, please listen, "Under the apple tree I work you, in the place where you were born. Close your heart to every love but mine; hold no one in your arms but me. Love is as powerful as death, passion is as strong as death itself. It bursts into flame and burns like a raging fire. Water can not put it out; no flood can drown it; but if any tried to buy love with their wealth, contempt is all they would get."(Song of Songs, Chapter 8).

Love is as powerful as death, the scriptures say. Imagine that. The moment that ends all moments is no more powerful than the moment that rewards our longing.

Love is so many, many things that despite having an endless pallet to write on, I can't say all the things that love is.

Paul tried. This is his description of love,
"Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn't want what it doesn't have.
Love doesn't strut,
Doesn't have a swelled head,
Doesn't force itself on others,
Isn't always "me first,"
Doesn't fly off the handle,
Doesn't keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn't revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.
Love never dies."

That's so wonderful, isn't it? But the truth there is also profound. We lose loved ones but the love in that relationship -- in the form of memories so real they play like an HD TV -- never dies. We remember those moments, those incredibly special moments where control goes out the window and love crawls in to fill the unplanned gaps.

In our mad rush to have rules to follow in our lives, we fail to understand that at the essence of Christianity, there is love. Scripture, when given the chance to describe God as all powerful or all knowing or all controlling, instead describes Him or Her as "love." In 1 John, we read, "And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him."

In fact, the relationship between Jesus and his church, his followers, is described as bridegroom to bride in the book of Revelation: "For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready."

The love of a young couple is cemented into pledge. The love of a family torn by death is remembered.

Life is lived; death comes.

That's Life, isn't it?

Thursday, October 7, 2010

God so loved

So much to write about, so little time to do it.

Saturday evening my youngest daughter, Carrie, will be married. She will be married to a young man I've come to know and love, Blaine. Blaine is the kind of guy you would want your daughter's to fall in love with. He's responsible, mature, caring and oh, yeah, he's a die-hard who dat. What more could one ask for? No, really.

They have a child already. Despite my longing and what passed for my teaching, my girls have had it backward for a while. They have children, then they are married. At least the second part comes. I can't complain too awfully much because their children (little Emma, brilliant Gabriel and funny Gavin) are the joys of my life. No, really.

But I want to be serious for a moment. If there are readers out there, even those rare beings called new readers, let me say serious and me don't stay together long. But I must take the joking down a notch for a moment.

Let's begin slowly: Recently there have been a number of gay suicides that have resulted, apparently, from bullying that has gone on before the suicide.

Let's be clear: I believe from scripture that homosexuality is sin. I also believe suicide is sin. I do not condone either.


Neither do I condone the horrific bullying that goes on in younger people from straight to gay ...or straight to straight or even gay to gay.

Most of the talk we're having stems from the suicide of Tyler Cleminti, who jumped from a bridge as the result of continual bullying by his college roommate and others.

Clementi's death was one of a string of suicides last month involving teens believed to have been victims of anti-gay bullying. Just days after Clementi's body was recovered, more than 500 people attended a memorial service for a 13-year-old central California boy, Seth Walsh, who hanged himself after enduring taunts from classmates about being gay.

I can't help but think that if someone in some church close to any of them had shown the love of God for those kids, maybe a difference might have been made.

Instead, we seem to make it a duty and a right for those of us who have chosen to accept Jesus as our savior to prove just how right we are. In other words, I don't do this particular act (and you can fill in the blank with what you dislike more than the next act), so I am better than you.

Perhaps it's being homosexual or trangendered or whatever the heck is the next deviant act to come along. Maybe it's having children out of wedlock. Maybe it's smoking, cussing, drinking or you name it as the last thing we tried to get rid of and couldn't.

No one is saying these are not sins. But I'm saying they do not, the performance of those sins, have anything to do with whether God loves them or not. That seems elemental. It is not. There are billions who roam the planet not understanding that God loves them and so do billions of his followers.

We are so ate up with the desire to be right, even in our religion, that we fight over them. How amazingly stupid is that?

I don't have all the answers. I've proven to be something of a deviant in the use of my money (deviant meaning being an exception to the norm), in the use of my time, in the use of my skills. Who on earth am I to question what someone does?

But this I know: God loves us. God wants us to get along. God wants the least of these to be treasured like the best of these. If the least of these are gay, that doesn't extinguish God's love. If the least of these is alcoholic, or a hater or a whatever, God still wants them to come to him and work things out.

We so desperately want rules to go by that we latch onto them, even in scripture, and we say, "well, that's clearly a sin."

But we forget so easily that Jesus came not to condemn, but to save. Jesus didn't mention one word about homosexuality, but he spent volumes speaking about judging and hate and so many other things.

Bottom line is this: No one should feel they are unloved. No one. Because no one is. No one.

We'll work out all the details later. But till then, "God so loved the world that he gave..."

That's enough to start on. In America's youth, in Palestine, in South Korea and elsewhere. "God so loved the world." Not a part, but the whole thing.

"God so loved," not judged or ruled against or condemned.


That's all I need at the moment to carry me through these exceptionally difficult days.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

THAT'S LIFE: The theology of gum

THAT'S LIFE: The theology of gum

The theology of gum

Theology of the gum:

I'm, chewing gum. (I know; fill in your own joke about not knowing I could chew gum and type at the same time).

I tell you this to illustrate a point. I like this new type of gum, called ice cubes, for it is soft, chewy, and filled with taste...for about 10 chews. Then, because it is relatively small, I must add a new piece. Minutes pass and I've noticed that my wad of gum has grown to the size of a ball of yarn.


I can't be pleased with something that last but seconds. I can't. Just can't. Have I mentioned that I can't?

Therein lies a problem. Life lasts a bit longer than a few seconds. What we do with life comes after the goodness has gone, I'm afraid.

After the sweetness has been removed...
after the best has gone...
after the liveliness has evaporated...
after the aches have come and the pains have set in...
after the guilt has arrived and the freshness of joy has packed up and headed to a new address...

There lies life. Just lies there. Doesn't do hoop jumping. Doesn't do back bending. Doesn't do high flying.

That doesn't mean that all of life isn't lived in a freshness that enlivens your taste buds and shows you the way to a goodness you can't explain. No. There's plenty of that still out there, ready to pop open and absorb.

But most of life is lived in a monotony of, well, chewing and chewing and chewing. We are given life and we plug away, plug away, have a great moment, have a bad one, plug away, plug away.

Everyone lives this way. No matter what they tell us about the joy of the Lord, much of the time is spent in the mundane of the Lord. And that's okay. It has to be. See, the Bible is a lot of things, but a daily record of what David did while he was alive it is not. What Jesus did on Tuesday, April 16, AD 31 it is not. So there is a lot of just walking in there. A lot of just packing, moving, washing faces, combing hair, you know...stuff.

That's life. Chewing till the flavor is gone, then chewing till the gum is gone. Those aren't one and the same, I'm afraid.

John Mellancamp wrote, years ago, "Oh, yeah, life goes on, long after the thrill of living is gone." That's pure gum theology. You do all these things for the first time and you're so very excited about doing them, till you do them for the 3,000 time and then they're not quite so thrilling.

Take tying shoes. Someone invented velcro just because they were bored with tying shoes.

Take HG TV. Someone invented these television shows because they couldn't figure out another use for the word space. Remember when going into space was a thrill? Now...every room is a "space." How boring we've become.

In the Old Testament, the writer of Ecclesiastes told us, "The sun comes up and the sun goes down,
then does it again, and again—the same old round.
The wind blows south, the wind blows north.
Around and around and around it blows,
blowing this way, then that—the whirling, erratic wind.
All the rivers flow into the sea,
but the sea never fills up.
The rivers keep flowing to the same old place,
and then start all over and do it again.
Everything's boring, utterly boring—
no one can find any meaning in it.
Boring to the eye,
boring to the ear.
What was will be again,
what happened will happen again.
There's nothing new on this earth.
Year after year it's the same old thing.
Does someone call out, "Hey, this is new"?
Don't get excited—it's the same old story.
Nobody remembers what happened yesterday.
And the things that will happen tomorrow?
Nobody'll remember them either.
Don't count on being remembered."

Wow. That makes gum boredom seem not quite so bad, doesn't it? That's a serious case of "what do I do next?"

Luckily, Jesus spoke to this (in a way) when he said, "You're tied down to the mundane; I'm in touch with what is beyond your horizons. You live in terms of what you see and touch. I'm living on other terms. I told you that you were missing God in all this. You're at a dead end. If you won't believe I am who I say I am, you're at the dead end of sins. You're missing God in your lives."

What we need is a shot of joy into our mundane lives. We need a gum whose sweetness lasts long after the sweetness should be gone. We need a cure for boredom that doesn't include sin. What we need is God in our lives. God is never the same-old for we never know what He will do next. We only say we do.

So today, when you accept the piece of gum your friend offers, know that the gum won't last, but the offer of friendship (which comes from God first) will. Then be thankful. Being thankful is never gummy.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Waiting at the spritual bus stop

I wonder if those folks in scripture who seemed to do so many things for their Lord (OUR Lord, as well), ever woke up on the wrong side of the bed -- as my momma used to accuse me. Did they ever wake up slowly, tiredly, painfully? Did they ever feel especially tired? Did they look for a new mattress or a new bed or did they explore new pillows? What what the Palestinian number bed equivalent?

I debate the validity of the statement, "I woke up this morning" since in fact that though my eyes are open and I can think independently, I am indeed not yet awake. No completely. I'm tired. I would like to dismiss the caffeine I have drank and go back to bed. I would like to forget the minutes I've spent trying to get that substance my mama would call "sleepy" out of my eyes, and plunge myself backward into what was never called a deep sleep last nighty. A deep sleep? You know, the kind where there is no amount of tossing and no amount of turning The kind of sleep that you can come out of eventually but unwillingly. A sleep in which you can stumble into dreams and fall out into reality. A sleep you wouldn't trade for anything because it's so sweet and satisfying you already have everything. Fall sleep; you know, the kind where the temps are in the 40s, and it's just cool enough for a blanket but not cold enough for two or for someone to turn the heat on or enough that the crisp, cool sheets are anything but wonderful.

That kind of sleep. The kind where you've had great dreams that leave you longing to go right back to them, and you DO.

Let's explore this idea some more, dipping our toes into the river of sleep.

In the 17th chapter of Proverbs, we read, "22 A cheerful disposition is good for your health; gloom and doom leave you bone-tired." There seems to be a clear-cut difference in gloom and doom and being tired and sleepy. An unwillingness to wake up seems to be different than gloomy, doesn't it? I hope for I am unwilling, but not gloomy (yet).

It's all part of the plan, isn't it? Don't you think? So it seems in the book of Isaiah, the seventh chapter. We read, "So Isaiah told him, "Then listen to this, government of David! It's bad enough that you make people tired with your pious, timid hypocrisies, but now you're making God tired. So the Master is going to give you a sign anyway. Watch for this: A girl who is presently a virgin will get pregnant. She'll bear a son and name him Immanuel (God-With-Us). By the time the child is twelve years old, able to make moral decisions, the threat of war will be over. Relax, those two kings that have you so worried will be out of the picture."

I would have to figure that if things are so long-winded, so boring, so awful that you're even making God tired and sleepy, well, you might want to consider starting over or at least going a different way. The sign that God promised here, by the way, He gave and it still wasn't perceived or understood. You know it to be true: Son, virgin birth, named Immanuel, 12 years old and left at the temple? Heard of that? If you haven't, we need to carve out more time to talk than we have.

Finally, "The Master, God, has given me a well-taught tongue, So I know how to encourage tired people. He wakes me up in the morning, Wakes me up, opens my ears to listen as one ready to take orders. The Master, God, opened my ears, and I didn't go back to sleep, didn't pull the covers back over my head."

A well-taught tongue. That's my aim. To encourage tired people. People tired of the same ol' government, the same tired old elections, the same old day-to-day: murders and mahem, taxes and terribles and such as that. Encourge tired people who want so much more for their lives than they have they're actually willing to work for it. Things are not getting better as we wait at the spiritual bus stop for the driver of the bus to come by and pick them up for eternity so they keep working at it, helping God (who needs no help at all).

To encourage tired people is an admirable goal. We all bought into Obama because we all feared the same old, till the new young proved to be worse than even the same old. To encourage tired people is what we need right now from SOMEONE; to get us past the politics, the division, the problems. We need to come together and look past race and gender and age and all the things that keep us apart and focus on all the reasons for us to come preservation of the species. You know, simple things like that.

How do we do it now, at this late hour?

The Bible says in Jeremiah's prophecy, "23-24A Message from Israel's God-of-the-Angel-Armies: 'When I've turned everything around and brought my people back, the old expressions will be heard on the streets: 'God bless you!'...'O True Home!'...'O Holy Mountain!' All Judah's people, whether in town or country, will get along just fine with each other.
25I'll refresh tired bodies;
I'll restore tired souls.
26Just then I woke up and looked around—what a pleasant and satisfying sleep!"

I feel better already.

Turn to God for refreshment, for restoration, for reclamation and for reward. He will restore tired souls, scripture tells us.

Wake up and smell God's coffee. What a pleasant and satifying moment. My tired body and my tired soul is in need of restoration. Come Lord, come.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Remember the time? I surely do

Let's dig deep for this one, pals, readers, pals and readers (in that glamor category known as followers).

There used to be a time....

when the Atlanta Braves were fully capable of making the baseball playoffs without "help."

There used to be a time...

when the Atlanta Braves could run the bases without doubling up in exhaustion or surprise.

There used to be a time ...

when the Atlanta Braves were favorites in the postseason instead of an after-thought, when bunting toward thiri.

There used to be a time.

See, things used to be different, so very different. The Atlanta Braves celebrated (oh, the joy of winning 14 straight division titles, or deciding which of our Cy Young Candidates would pitch or which of our tough outs would hit third).

There used to be a time.

Remember when? Remember when the bed clothes were just that? Remember when to every season there was a time? Remember when the little things mattered so much? Gee, I do, I really do.

But this isn't that time. Now we're a baseball team, with baseall priorities and baseball sense. Now we will put together our lineup, try to get six innings out of our starting pitcher, try to coax one more inning out of our starter and moan when he can't do it. Now, we're coping and we're trotting out to the mound, but forewarned is fore-prepared. We have travelled across this country since Sunday afternoon, looking at preparation charts and such. We're ready to hit and field and pitch.

Let the games begin, the way they used to when I could remember when.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

The Spirit remains free

The second chapter of 1 John tells us, "Dear friends, I am not writing a new commandment for you; rather it is an old one you have had from the very beginning. This old commandment—to love one another—is the same message you heard before. 8 Yet it is also new. Jesus lived the truth of this commandment, and you also are living it. For the darkness is disappearing, and the true light is already shining.

"If anyone claims, “I am living in the light,” but hates a Christian brother or sister,[a] that person is still living in darkness. 10 Anyone who loves another brother or sister[b] is living in the light and does not cause others to stumble. 11 But anyone who hates another brother or sister is still living and walking in darkness. Such a person does not know the way to go, having been blinded by the darkness."

Let's concentrate on the middle of the passage, "10 Anyone who loves another brother or sister[b] is living in the light and does not cause others to stumble."

That's our role. That's our mission, whether we accept it or not. We should be serving God in such a way that the master of mischief will not be able to steal one of the little ones from his miseery. No, sir. No, way. No, how.

Our mission is to simply tell someone who is probing gently, trying to discoverwhat it means to believe that Jesus is fully God. Jesus is God the Father. Tell someone about Jesus is God, God is Jesus and the Spirit is the other two. Simply put, we have an obligation to everyone to allow everyone to hear the gospel

1 John 2:15 reads: "Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you. 16 For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world. 17 And this world is fading away, along with everything that people crave. But anyone who does what pleases God will live forever."

1 John 2: "26 I am writing these things to warn you about those who want to lead you astray. 27 But you have received the Holy Spirit,[h] and he lives within you, so you don’t need anyone to teach you what is true. For the Spirit[i] teaches you everything you need to know, and what he teaches is true—it is not a lie. So just as he has taught you, remain in fellowship with Christ." John is explaining how we make a difference, and in that making of a difference, well, the Spirit is there teaching us.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Rule bender

Maybe you saw the story.

St. Cloud (Florida) football coach Bill Buldini is back on the job this week while a Florida High School Athletic Association investigation continues into allegations that the coach broke rules by allowing a homeless player to move in with him.

A Bulldogs assistant coach said it his understanding that the school self-reported the violation last week and is holding the player out of games while awaiting an FHSAA ruling.

Buldini was suspended by the Osceola County Schools district last Friday and did not coach in a 20-17 district loss to Edgewater that night. The district returned Buldini to the classroom and his coaching job on Monday, saying he had not violated any county policy.

The player’s name has not been released due to student confidentiality policies.

FHSAA rules state that student athletes may not live on a full- or part-time basis with any school employee, athletic staff member or representative of the school’s athletic interests.

One can only hope that Buldini truly was trying to help the player, but we live in such a cynical time that one never knows.

Someone helping someone else? OH, MY GOODNESS. Let's not get carried away, now.

The devastating Despora, the time in Babylon in which the Jews were confiscated like they were pets, had come. God said to the nation of Israel at the time, "Seek the Lord, all who are humble,and follow his commands. Seek to do what is right and to live humbly."

Seek to do what is right and to live humbly; that's a tall order but a successful formula for which we should strive.

Let's plan this weekend to attempt the near-impossible. This weekend, let's forget our failures, those times we tried to imitate those depraved acts and images. Instead, let's give ourselves over to Jesus and attempt to do the next good and right thing.

This thing we call life is not a morality play. It's not about keeping the rules. There is no reason to look up the Mosaic law in scripture and try to do every single bit of it, primarily because you can't anyway. Jesus took those 600-plus laws and allowed his blood to wash them away, as well as our sins.

Christ bore our sins. Let that sink deeply into our being, into our minds. Seek to do what is right, though not by playing by any rules. Rather, we are to seek to do right through God's strength.