Thursday, September 29, 2011

Setting those prisoners free

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free ...

Jesus opened his ministry with these words. As I begin to get ready to go to Raymond Correctional Center for my third ministry there, I ask for prayer for these efforts. I go there with heavy heart, having sinned greatly yesterday, losing my temper for the first time in forever, but losing it all the same. For no real, good reason, I lost it. Lost IT. Acted a fool. Acted a simpleton. Acted, well, me.

What did Jesus mean with these words from Isaiah, by the way? He was certainly anointed. He certainly talked about the poor often, and surely we will be met with the living poor in prison. He certainly gave sight to the blind, physically and metaphorically. He certainly set the oppressed free, those who had ears to hear. But what prisoners did he give freedom to?

Fact is we are all prisoners, friends. Prisoners to our desires, our wants, even our needs. Prisoners to our angers and our wants. Prisoners to those things that keep us from being, well, like Jesus. Every single time I think I'm closer, I'm farther. I fell apart this week for reasons that have no logical bearing on my life. I fell apart because I felt I was so very much closer to being Jesus. In other words, every time I'm close, I drop in a big hole of sin. If that isn't a prisoner, I don't know what is.

This week, the remainder of the long week, let us all pray that we can be more like Jesus. That we can set and be set free. That we can help, as well as being helped. That we can pray for, as well as being prayed for.

I've been forgiven. But can I forgive, myself?

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Things don't understand, Part II

The second edition of "Things I don't understand."

I don't understand why they put that stupid cotton ball-ish stuff in the Tylenol when there is none in any prescription medicine. All it does is make it impossible to get to the Tylenol.

I don't understand why our leaders can't lead. As nearly as I understand it, both sides have tried the same old stuff and neither has worked much. Correct me if I'm wrong, as people normally do, but couldn't we ask people who have done it before when "it" worked how to do "it" and just do it that way? I'm talking about everything. I have my own things I'm worried about, but overall, I'm worried about overall and that takes precedent over politics.

I don't understand God's will, though I'm teaching a Bible Study on it. Wouldn't it work better if He just let us see the plan so we could try to do the plan? Just saying.

I don't understand the failure of some to try to love. I understand the not-loving, but that's just another of the failures we're accomplished at. But the failure to try...

I don't understand anyone who would hurt an animal, or allow someone to hurt an animal, who would look the other way when animals were hurt. I don't. I really, really don't.

I don't understand portions of scripture, though I am so brilliant despite this topic, but I know God wants me to read them anyway. I don't understand those who never read it at all. Is there some part of us that thinks He doesn't care if we do?

I don't understand those who make fun of those who believe. If one doesn't choose to believe, God help them. If so, why would one make fun, laugh, ridicule? If they're right, well, I'm wasting my time. If I'm right, they spend eternity in Hell. Uh, which might be rightfully called worse? Just saying.

Finally, I don't understand if I paid massive amounts of money into Social Security over the years, why someone might be talking about cutting my Social Security. Isn't it mine? Do I not get the total I put in? Can one take my money and throw it away?


Tuesday, September 27, 2011

For a lack of mercy we fall

Oh, what mercy we are given. I know someone who has great difficulty in finding it, or giving it. He went on a four-day spiritual event, and found it completely lacking. He doesn't want others to experience the grace and mercy of God either, telling them he wouldn't go again even if a gun were put to his head. He was quite happy to tell others he would never bake cookies for prisoners because, well, they're prisoners. He simply has forgiveness issues.

The Bible describes it in various way at various times. God said this in Exodus:  “I will make all my goodness pass before you, and I will call out my name, Yahweh, before you. For I will show mercy to anyone I choose, and I will show compassion to anyone I choose."

The part about you will be forgiven as you forgive doesn't register with him at all. Jesus, after telling the very famous parable of the Good Samaritan said, "36 “Now which of these three would you say was a neighbor to the man who was attacked by bandits?” Jesus asked.37 The man replied, “The one who showed him mercy.” Then Jesus said, “Yes, now go and do the same.”

Mercy. It's all about mercy, wrapped with grace, with a bit of love inserted for flavoring.

The man, whom I like a great deal, should read these sentences from Paul's letter to the church in Rome. He wrote, "They are backstabbers, haters of God, insolent, proud, and boastful. They invent new ways of sinning, and they disobey their parents. 31 They refuse to understand, break their promises, are heartless, and have no mercy. 32 They know God’s justice requires that those who do these things deserve to die, yet they do them anyway. Worse yet, they encourage others to do them, too."

Monday, September 26, 2011

Little stuff counts

From Paul, a slave of Christ Jesus who is called to be an apostle  and who is set apart for God's good news.

Let's take a minute today, this Monday morning, this last Monday of September, to recognize the identifiers here:

Paul, the man previously named Saul or previously called Saul.

A slave of Christ Jesus. Sounds terrible in the short run, wonderful in eternity. A slave? Really. I have this job, this preaching gig, this important thing to do. Am I really a slave? Well, only on the good days, the days that Billy shrinks and Jesus grows and I understand that I'm capable only when that is preceded by my willingness.

An apostle. The gentle definition is "person sent on a mission." The narrower definition is the 12 men chosen by Jesus plus Paul. It gets a bit more complicated with that old Judas thing and the fact he was replaced, but we'll go with person sent on a mission. Paul, without question, was that. He struggled with the notion that he didnt' know Jesus during his lifetime, but of course we have the Damascas experience where Jesus apparently separated Saul from his ride.

Who is set apart for God's good news. Well, this friends is Paul, and it is us. We are set apart. We are called to deliver the good news. It's called the Gospel, and it is certainly that which sets us apart.

Now, these first few words from the book of Romans were designed by Paul to let the readers from Rome know who he was.

I believe they let us know who we are as well.

So, today when you go to the grocery, you're going as someone set apart. When you go to the hairdresser, you're going as someone with good news. When you go to the get the oil changed, you're going as a person on a mission.

You might not be Paul. No one has ever been. But you can be the best Margie and John and Ricky and Mary and whomever you are. Every little thing counts. Everything.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

The blessing

Nothing funny. Nothing strange. Nothing unusual today. Just a prayer.

We are so very blessed. We are so very blessed. Can you feel the blessings of God coming down today like sweet summer rain?

We were so close to missing the boat. We were so close to the final stay of execution. We were so close to missing out, missing it, missing all.

Then God, in his infinite wisdom with his unfailing mercy, delivered us. Lifted us. Changed us. Loved us.

We are so very, very blessed. In our marriages. In our parenthood. In our grandparenthood. In our loves and our misses, in our joys and our frailties. We can feel the blessings of God coming down like cold fall rain.

Today, let everyone who has breath praise Him. Don't worry about sour circumstances in lives half-lived. Praise Him. Give Him praise. Let Him know that though there are times we don't understand, times we're exhausted, times we're sick, times of pain when it seems we can't go on, we understand He's there with us, lifting us, cherishing our actions.

Today we are blessed.

Go out and bless someone else.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Nickel back

Well, here you go; here's a story on today's Internet:

For many people, believing in God comes down to a gut feeling that a benevolent deity is out there. A study now finds that gut feelings may be very important in determining who goes to church every Sunday and who avoids the pews.People who are generally more intuitive in the way they think and make decisions are more likely to believe in God than those who ruminate over their choices, the researchers found. The findings suggest that basic differences in thinking style can influence religious belief.
"Some say we believe in God because our intuitions about how and why things happen lead us to see a divine purpose behind ordinary events that don't have obvious human causes," study researcher Amitai Shenhav of Harvard University said in a statement. "This led us to ask whether the strength of an individual's beliefs is influenced by how much they trust their natural intuitions versus stopping to reflect on those first instincts." Shenhav and his colleagues investigated that question in a series of studies. In the first, 882 American adults answered online surveys about their belief in God. Next, the participants took a three-question math test with questions such as, "A bat and a ball cost $1.10 in total. The bat costs $1 more than the ball. How much does the ball cost?" The intuitive answer to that question is 10 cents, since most people's first impulse is to knock $1 off the total. But people who use "reflective" reasoning to question their first impulse are more likely to get the correct answer: 5 cents.

Okay. That's the story. Here's the confession. I don't have any idea whatsoever how they get 5 cents as the correct answer. Given the answer, I can't come up with the answer. That, according to the research, makes me impulsive rather than reflective. It means, according to the research, I'm much more likely to believe in God.

Except, most of my life I didn't. I thought through everything. I damaged everything in my thoroughness of thought. I damaged everything I contacted. Then I came to a point where I couldn't go on and God saved me, changed me, made me who I am. Why? Because I was worth more than 5 cents to Him.

Studies will never figure out who believes in God and who doesn't. There are rich who do. There are poor who do. There are white, black and inhuman. By inhuman I mean the scriptures say the demons believe in God so there is no real adventure in who believes in God. When it comes down to it, most do. If a person doesn't, I wouldn't give them a plug nickel's chance of heaven.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

I'm flying...

So, I had the dream again last night. Oh, it's not exactly the same. Never is. But there's always one element that doesn't change. I fly in those dreams. When I was young, I flew on objects. A tire once was the flying mechanism. Some kind of can another time. Last night, I flew in a gym and in a very, very large church sanctuary. I flew in my old high school gym where my best friend from the age of 10 to say, 30, had taken the head basketball coaching job. I flew in a former church.

I was a flying fool, in short.

I've never done this before, but this morning I looked up what flying dreams mean, according to someone who spends times on dreams.

At (of course it is), I read that flying dreams are often unpleasant. Mine have never been. I always fly. I always stay way above ground. I am not, as I am in reality, scared of heights. According to, "Flying dreams fall under a category of dreams known as lucid dreams. Lucid dreams occur when you become aware that you are dreaming. Many dreamers describe the ability to fly in their dreams as an exhilarating, joyful, and liberating experience. If you are flying with ease and are enjoying the scene and landscape below, then it suggests that you are on top of a situation."

At a final website, I read, "Generally speaking though, when we dream of flying it represents our spirit being freed from limitations and boundaries. It can also mean that our mind is trying to reach new heights or it is searching for something, possibly a new challenge.When we dream of flying it could be during a time when we are given the opportunity to advance or when we feel more optimistic that change is about to occur. Yet, there are other suggested reasons as to why we dream of flying such as:
The act of flying serves as a way to rise above the mundane aspects of our lives. By rising above, we may be able to achieve a better view of our lives as a whole."

Okay. My mind is trying to reach new heights or is searching for something. Or...Or...Or...

I don't know. My research has made me sleepy.

But this I know from reading scripture: God spoke through dreams when God chose to. I do know have the slightest idea if God is speaking to me now through dreams or has ever chosen to. I don't know a thing about lucid dreaming because I've never reached a stage where I knew I was dreaming that I know about. Flying or otherwise.

I only know this: I sure like 'em when I have 'em. It's the only time I like to fly, and I'm darn good at it in my dreams.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Forgiveness is hard, very hard

Okay, I've been gone a couple days getting rid of the crud. Here I am again, and I'm right back into the tough issues, foremost being this idea of forgiveness.

As a mentor once said, "It's the toughest knot to tie." It is.

Monday night I watched a half of the Atlanta-Philadelphia game. Know this: I'm a New Orleans Saints football fan. That means I always, always root against Atlanta. Till Monday night. They were playing against the Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick, who was the Falcons quarterback until he was found to be torturing dogs in a dog fighting ring and was sentence to two years in prison.

I have had tremendous difficult forgiving this man. While others fall at his feet, loving everything he does on the football field, all I see is a dog torturer. I can't forgive. There I admit it. Though I talk a good game about forgiveness, teaching it and so forth, I've had a real problem with forgiving this man. Now, I want no harm to come to him. But I don't see how you go right back to where you were as a person for what you did. Was it humans he was torturing? No. It was helpless creatures. For fun and money. Ughhh.

Then I read this morning this story: A kindergartener in rural Sweet Springs, Missouri, brought a bag of crystal meth and a crack pipe to school for show-and-tell, but an alert teacher kept the boy from sharing his treasure with others at the school, an official said on Tuesday.
"He was very excited when he got to school," Superintendent Donna Wright said of the September 6 incident. "But I don't think he knew what he had."
A teacher recognized the drugs and pipe and police were called to the elementary school. "It didn't ever get into the classroom," Wright added.
"That was a first for show-and-tell in this town," Police Chief Richard Downing said. He added that the boy's mother, Michelle Cheatham, 32, was arrested later on drug charges and released on bail.

How does one forgive a mother who would put her child in that position? How does one? And Jesus said we are to forgive that famous 70 times 7.

Jesus never said it was easy to follow, only to follow. Pick up that cross and follow. Forgiveness might just be my cross.

Friday, September 16, 2011

God of the messes, er, masses

One of the top quarterback prospects in Virginia is facing a difficult and uncertain future that will almost certainly not include college football after he was forced to amputate part of one of his legs at a hospital in suburban Washington, D.C.

As first reported by the Charlottesville Daily Progress,Woodberry Forest (Va.) High School quarterback Jacob Rainey had part of one of his legs amputated on Saturday, just more than a week after he suffered a freak injury in a final preseason scrimmage against Flint Hill (Va.) High School.

According to the Daily Progress, Rainey suffered a broken knee cap when he was cleanly tackled from behind by a Flint Hill player. After he arrived at the nearest hospital, doctors discovered that he had suffered other complications from the injury, most drastically a ruptured blood vessel.

In a statement released by Woodberry Forest officials it was revealed that Rainey was moved to Fairfax Inova hospital when his condition failed to improve. There, Inova doctors determined that he had severed the main artery in one of his legs and that he had to immediately undergo vascular surgery to avoid further serious health issues. The only solution was to amputate part of one of his legs, a procedure that was carried out on a Saturday,  just a day after Woodberry Forest opened the season with a 16-13 victory at Richmond (Va.) Benedictine High without its expected starting quarterback.

I can't imagine the suffering, emotional and physical, that Rainey must have under-gone. I can't imagine going from someone thought to be one of the top quarterbacks perhaps in the nation, certainly in the state to someone who will not play football again. Just can't fathom that fall.

The apostle Paul described it this way in his letter to the church in Philippi: "7 I once thought these things were valuable, but now I consider them worthless because of what Christ has done. 8 Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ 9 and become one with him. I no longer count on my own righteousness through obeying the law; rather, I become righteous through faith in Christ.[c] For God’s way of making us right with himself depends on faith. 10 I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death, 11 so that one way or another I will experience the resurrection from the dead!"

" way or another I will experience the resurrection from the dead!" That's beautiful, without the buildup or the fancy language. That's true, matter-of-fact religion, isn't it?

In fact, later in the third chapter of that letter, Paul completes the thought this way: " I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. 13 No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it,[d] but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us. 15 Let all who are spiritually mature agree on these things. If you disagree on some point, I believe God will make it plain to you. 16 But we must hold on to the progress we have already made."

That's wonderful theology. If you disagree on some theological points, big or small, Paul writes that God will clean it up for you (and me). But even while we stew about things, even while the Jetspray is doing its job, God will ensure that we keep the progress we've made while He clears up the little messes we make.

Again, that's remarkably beautiful. We make the mess, God cleans it up. Paul describes the process this way: " Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us."

Getting rid of the messy past, looking so forward to the cleanliness that lies ahead, Paul keeps on trucking. Oh, baby, that's great.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Power in the blood (sugar and otherwise)

Research shows that the trace mineral chromium helps maintain proper blood sugar levels by increasing cells' sensitivity to insulin, steeling your body against type II diabetes. Swallow 200 micrograms a day of chromium polynicotinate.

First let's note that I don't know what a microgram is. I also don't know what chromium polynicotinae is. Heck, I barely know what minerals, blood sugar, insulin and/or cells are. But I can read, and  my reading tells me that if I can pop a top on 200 micrograms, I can increase my chances of living.

I bought some of those pills. They led me to this email written by a dog owner:

Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!! My nine year old little West Highland Terrier, Festie, has been given a new "leash on life." He was diagnosed approx. 6 mos ago with arthritis in both of his hind legs. I knew something was wrong when he no longer was playing and jumping up and down on his hind legs.

Well, I can't tell you how awful it is (you have to be a dog owner to experience it) to see your dog suddenly turn lethargic, and not even wanting to play or watch TV. Not being able to jump up when you call him/her. Or even go up and down the stairs without great difficulty. When I finally took him to the Vet and discovered the arthritic situation, I was determined then, not to use prescription medication on him; but to find something that would keep him out of pain and restore his quality of life.

Through a silly little use of some search words in Ixquick, the Vital Pet 
name came up with your site. I knew after reading nearly all the info on the site, along with most of the articles, that your
products were the way to go, not just for him, but one day possibly for me too. HOWEVER, skepticism did stand in the way from getting anything for me also.

I got the supplements, but I really can't tell you when he started getting better because it did appear to happen so fast. I know it had to be within a 3-6 month period with him taking one pill a day. All of a sudden one day (and I am sure this surprised him too) he went flying down the stairs in his old form, which is where all fours are hardly touching the stairs. He was surprised there was no pain and so was I. Even though SHOCKED is a better word as I stood there with my mouth wide open. No more pain. So, no pain pills. Just the one Vita Pet pill a day. So, I am informing everyone I come across of your supplements including the animal hospital that he goes to and any of its customers that will listen to me. The joy I am getting out of my little man getting his life back is more words than I can share with you in this email."

HOWEVER...(and) SHOCKED were capitalized by the owner of the pet, not me. But, and here's the point that got me. The dog had no more pain after just one Vita Pet pill a day. We'll see how it goes. Maybe I'll buy those pet pills even as I have bought the people pills. I know my pet would be grateful forever if that proved to be true. Again, we'll see how it goes. If the one product works, I'll order the Vita Pet pill. .

All this speaks to one point: God's granting of freedom to his people despite, or maybe because of, our many, many mistakes, mishaps and memorable flops.

We mess up because God allows us to mess up. He allows us to foul the scene with our pregnant possibilites. Though He could, he does not put any robot in us. We mess up because we can.

But there seems to be a limit to what God wants us to mess up. The Bible constantly speaks to that condition -- the messed-up condition. Though God allows us to make putrid that which began as pure, He would prefer that we choose to create pure. That is Jesus' role in all this. His blood washes clean that which we never could. But we can try. God would prefer that we at least tried.

The Bible says this: "Try to learn what pleases the Lord. Do not use harmful words, but only helpful words, the kind that build up and provide what is needed, so that what you say will do good to those who hear you. And do not make God's Holy Spirit sad; the Spirit is God's mark of ownership on you, a guarantee that the Day will come when God's will set you free. Get rid of all bitterness, passion, and anger. No more shouting or insults, no more hateful feelings of any sort... Instead be kind and tender-hearted to one another."

In other words, be careful how you live. Try to live well, good, pure. It makes a difference. It really does. Even if we fail, maybe when we fail, God is there for us. But the point is we tried.

A number of things strike me.

First, the notion that I must get rid of all "passion" seems too much. Am I not supposed to cry at sports movies? Really?

Second, the Spirit is "God's mark of ownership," seems to be a reading without meaning. God "owns" us? I acknowledge His "ownership" of us as a weird notion that signifies giving up rights, civil and otherwise, that we've fought so hard over such a long period of time to obtain. Remember, we tried.

Finally, "no more hateful feelings of any sort" is a portion of a sentence that says to us you MUST NOT fail, though Paul has already written that WE WILL fail but the point is to TRY.

God's love for us is such that when we finally love him in return, it's forever. Unique forever. Never been done before kind of love.

Here's the issue though: If God loves us, do we have to love him in return or do we remain free to love him in return? And if we remain free to love him in return, what happens to our choices then?

I believe that God's love doesn't coerce. God's love changes us. We are loved and in return our quibbling begins to change over time. We are to be free of hateful feelings of any sort. But it's not a test. Or if it's a test, it's an essay, not a true-false.

Our bodies must be free of hateful feelings. Our minds must be free of hateful feelings. Our emotions, our creativity, our being. All free. Period.

Why? Because God owns us and whatever God owns must be holy as God is holy. Paul writes, "Your hearts and minds must be made completely new and you must put on the new self, which is created in God's likeness and reveals itself in the true life that is upright and holy." That's just the way it is. It is what it is. We are free indeed. But how does this happen?

It happens because God's holiness is the chromium polynicotinate of our lives. God's holiness goes into our bodies and corrects -- our blood sugar, our weight gain, our cells' sensitivity to insulin, which in turn steels our body and our mind against sin. (Bet you thought I would never get back to the lead paragraph)

So let's pour those micrograms down our throats; let's absorb 200 micrograms a day; let's get chipper quickly and with purpose. Let's renew our minds with the Word and transform our bodies with the Chromium, cause the Day of the Lord is minutes closer.

There is, (wait for it, wait ...wait .. okay, pour it home) there is power in the blood. There is power. indeed. Chromium and sin-saving power.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Enough for us

Imagine receiving snail-mail that reads, "I have not stopped giving thanks to God for you. I remember you in my prayers and ask the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, to give you the Spirit, who will make you wise and reveal God to you, so that you will know him. I ask that your minds may be opened to see his light, so that you will know what is the hope to which he has called you, how rich are the wonderful blessings he promises his people,and how very great is his power at work in us who believe. This power working in us is the same as the mighty strength which he used when he raised Christ from death and seated him at his right side in the heavenly world."

These thoughts were coming from the quill of the apostle Paul.
These thoughts were coming from the greatest theologian of both his and our times.
These thoughts were coming from perhaps the greatest of the many great minds of scripture, from one who was provided with magnificent thoughts by the very Spirit of God.
These thoughts were not Paul's own, I believe, any more than mine are my own. I pray for thoughts that will reveal Christ to the world, not the world to Christ. I pray for revelation that opens the Word of God to the understanding of man.

But mostly, I pray that the incredible strength God used to change Jesus from frigid connected parts to a warm, beating heart will be used by any and all readers to see the next right thought put into action.


God has made us what we are, and in our union with Christ Jesus, he has created us for a life of good deeds, which he prepared for us to do before we were born; heck, before we were ever thought of. God created us to make a difference, in life and in thought and particularly in deed. He did. The Bible says we have been saved through faith, by grace. Like tearing through beautiful wrapping paper, we have ripped our covering apart and shown what was underneath. Sometimes the beauty of the outside must be torn open and apart.

We were spiritually dead at one point, washed ashore on the worst of spiritual beaches, covered in those little rocks that slip into shoes and poke holes into our existence. We were casually crawling with seaweed and other things that we simply won't name. We were without spiritual worth, poured out from waves onto the shore for collecting. God let us live, one mere lucky moment in a lifetime of unlucky ones.

Paul described our lives this way: "At the time, you followed the world's evil way; you obeyed the ruler of the spiritual powers in space, the spirit who now controls the people who disobey God."

The old, weathered and worn boat at the edge of the sea we were traveling was filled with one too many passengers, none of whom were doing any paddling or baling or even any sopping of slimy, dirty brown water. We were lucky, so very lucky, just to have washed ashore. We were lucky to the nth degree just to have found something someone would call land. That we could call it shore, that we could say we had landed, well, that was just miracleous. We should be dead, as in gone. No heaven. No land without tears. Just a bit of stubble and a slice of the next life.

This morning I pray that whatever is next be opened to you. I pray that whatever is next be shown. I pray that whatever is life be shown to you as if the birthday party or Chrismas morning were wrapped into one glorious moment. I pray that you have cried tears of joy until your ducts are dry. I pray that understanding is yours.

And I pray that all the answers to those many questions are yours.

In the interim, I pray that all those answers were enough. Why, why, why does it go this way? That's the strength of God, in the long run. Somewhere down the road there will be mighty arms reaching for you. That's enough, in the long run. That's enough, for you, for me, for us.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The truth that sets you free

So here's the story from Mark's Gospel:
  20 So they brought the boy. But when the evil spirit saw Jesus, it threw the child into a violent convulsion, and he fell to the ground, writhing and foaming at the mouth.
21 "How long has this been happening?" Jesus asked the boy's father.
He replied, "Since he was a little boy.22 The spirit often throws him into the fire or into water, trying to kill him. Have mercy on us and help us, if you can."
23 "What do you mean, 'If I can'?" Jesus asked. "Anything is possible if a person believes."
The father instantly cried out, "I do believe, but help me overcome my unbelief!"
When Jesus saw that the crowd of onlookers was growing, he rebuked the evil* spirit. "Listen, you spirit that makes this boy unable to hear and speak," he said. "I command you to come out of this child and never enter him again!"
26 Then the spirit screamed and threw the boy into another violent convulsion and left him. The boy appeared to be dead. A murmur ran through the crowd as people said, "He's dead."27 But Jesus took him by the hand and helped him to his feet, and he stood up.
28 Afterward, when Jesus was alone in the house with his disciples, they asked him, "Why couldn't we cast out that evil spirit?"
29 Jesus replied, "This kind can be cast out only by prayer.*"

The two key verses, I believe, are 23 and 24. First Jesus says "What do you mean, 'If I can'?Anything is possible if a person believes."

Anything is possible if a person believes.
I'm assuming that means what Jesus said.
 So... AIDS can be cured, if a person believes.
High blood pressure? Check. If a person believes.
Bad back? Check. If a person believes.
High sugar? Check. If a person believes.

The key here, according to Jesus (the source of both understanding and the power to fix the problem), is OUR faith, not his ability. OUR faith does the healing, OUR faith is the key, not Jesus' abilities. So then it matters how strong our faith is. For those who believe the time of miracles has passed, this seems to contradict that notion because the time for faith surely has not passed

Second, 24 The father instantly cried out, "I do believe, but help me overcome my unbelief!"

I love this sentence. I believe, but please goose how much I believe. Please help me when I begin to slide toward the unbelief portion of the scale. I believe, but I'm slipping. I believe, but I need your assistance. I believe, but ....

This sentence seems to point toward all our faith(s). All of us have a degree of unbelief sewn into our belief systems. So, all of us have needs, faith needs. All of us need a bit of goosing. All of us need a renewal of strength, weekly, daily even. All of us. All.

So, what do we have here?

We have a father who believes enough to go to the source of faith for the healing of his son.
We have a person of faith who understands that the source of healing is the one and only Jesus.
We have a person of faith who understands that the source of healing, the unique man/God Jesus, can help us even with our unbelief. In fact, the unique man/God is the only way to the life, as well.

And the healing takes place.

Under no other circumstances could it have happened. That is the truth that Jesus brings. Somehow this father knew this to be the way.

Anything is indeed possible if we believe.

If we believe, whole lives can be changed.
If we believe, eternal lives will be changed.
If we believe, future lives must be changed.

The father somehow knew this despite Jesus not having taught him this.

Let that truth settle in this morning, then let the truth of that notion change you.

Monday, September 12, 2011

What a day He has made for you

Today is a special day. Can't you just feel it? It's special. It's a little some...thing we at Fitzgerald UMC like to call, (wait for it) a DAY THAT GOD MADE. Someone told me you should rejoice and be glad in it. Can't wait to do that. In fact, I'll do it now. I'm waiting for the rest of you. Go to the church of your choosing and rejoice. If you're reading this, there's a chance you might be breathing. Be glad in it.
The Apostle Paul's smiles were taken to Athens when he made these remarks:  "Men of Athens, I notice that you are very religious in every way,23 for as I was walking along I saw your many shrines. And one of your altars had this inscription on it: 'To an Unknown God.' This God, whom you worship without knowing, is the one I'm telling you about.  24 "He is the God who made the world and everything in it. Since he is Lord of heaven and earth, he doesn't live in man-made temples,25 and human hands can't serve his needs—for he has no needs. He himself gives life and breath to everything, and he satisfies every need.26 From one man* he created all the nations throughout the whole earth. He decided beforehand when they should rise and fall, and he determined their boundaries."

There lies the darkness,  so beautiful and challenging. We slap together an itinerary and somehow the importance of God crawls under, then through, then out the top for all to see. But God is there, making a day that He has made out there to make something beautiful. So I wait impatiently for God's plans and my own plans to meet at the corner, and when they do, my goodness is it a special, beautiful, challenging day that He has made. What a day He Has Made.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Through it all

And so we remember. And remember. And remember.

Where was I when it happened 10 years ago? I was at home, preparing for work, when my wife, Mary, told me to look at the television we had in our bedroom. I saw the smoke coming from one of the towers. I saw the second plane hit the second tower. I thought they were showing a replay.

Truthfully, I had never thought much at all about the twin towers. Didn't know much about them. Didn't care at all. Till it happened.

Weirdly, I rushed to work, at the newspaper I was an assistant sports editor at, for I used to do some fairly important things at newspapers. When the first Iraq war happened, I designed the front page of the newspaper I worked at in Jackson, Miss., despite being the sports editor.

But this time, I remember, I could do nothing but watch like the rest of the country.

Ten years. Seems an absolute lifetime ago, perhaps because it is. Families change. Babies born. Jobs done. Callings accepted.

But this I know. This never changes. This is eternal. This is world-turning.

"1 God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
2 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
3 though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging.[c]
4 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy place where the Most High dwells.
5 God is within her, she will not fall;
God will help her at break of day.
6 Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;
he lifts his voice, the earth melts."

Without this understanding, 9-11s will always destroy. With this understanding, we can make it through it all, through it all.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Coffee clubs

So, a little caffeine is all we needed to come together. Did you see the story? Starbucks Corp Chief Executive Howard Schultz called on Americans on Tuesday to deluge U.S. lawmakers with demands to end the partisan gridlock that he said is paralyzing Washington. Schultz also urged lawmakers to focus on issues such as job creation and getting the country's finances in order. "This is a moment in time when all Americans can become part of the solution by being heard. Step forward, do not be a bystander," Schultz said at an appearance in New York.

Goodness do we need someone somewhere to listen to this man. Just last week I was writing about whether we could indeed come together. And here we are.

We disagree on everything lately, except the fact that we disagree. Looking at the candidates we have to lead us, I see none who want to govern from the middle only entrenching themselves more deeply into their own right and left ranks.

It has to stop. Or we will.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

A good servant

This morning I was told about a preacher in the neighborhood who had had a nervous breakdown. Prayer was asked for him, of course, and we will be doing some things to help with medical expenses. But it set me to thinking (what doesn't?) about what this ministerial life is about.

I know that being a sensitive, I've had to shut off some of my feelings into some compartment that I won't reach into in order to be able to do the calling. Funerals bother me intensely, though I believe the ones I've done all were about closure to lives that were not going well physically in the first place. But still, I see the loss felt by the grieving loved ones and I feel for them all.

I don't know that much in the long wrong, however. I do think, believe, suspect that to love is to risk. To reach is the possibly meet failure. To give is to risk being taken. One must do all these things in the name of Jesus and then let the work take care of itself in his hands.

Paul says of this work, "If you put these instructions before the brothers and sisters, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound teaching you have followed."

In the end, it is not about us, his messengers. It is about Christ, who strengthens us. I pray this morning that all ministers, which John Wesley believed was everyone, would know that the depth of feeling that one must have about his or her fellow man is a good thing to be relished. Don't let the failures get you. They will come. But one success. Just one person who comes to a saving faith through the work of Christ through the minister is worth all that doesn't work.

I hope the minister in the neighborhood will know this.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Can't we just get along?

We spend quite a bit of time worrying about, debating, arguing, fighting about who is right and who is wrong. We do this in politics. We do this in religion. All of it bleeds into our jobs, our marriages, our lives.

Who is right? Who has the most intelligence? Who displays the most common sense? Who should we follow?

At least some of the bigger problems of his country lie in the fact we've become quit incapable of working together on our bigger problems. There is no centrist thought or action any longer. Whether it is Democrat vs. Republican, liberal vs. conservative, black vs. white, Catholic vs. Protestant, Falcons vs. Saints, (okay, I threw that last one in), we can't get along enough to make a difference.

Compromise, which is something our president swore would make a difference in his capability to govern, is now a bad thing. What's next, then?

Mark's Gospel tells us this tale:  38John spoke up, "Teacher, we saw a man using your name to expel demons and we stopped him because he wasn't in our group." 39-41Jesus wasn't pleased. "Don't stop him. No one can use my name to do something good and powerful, and in the next breath cut me down. If he's not an enemy, he's an ally."

Stop. Think. Listen.

"If he's not an enemy, he's an ally."

Where's the common ground? Where's the possibility of making a difference? Where's the next good move?

If we don't learn to use the name of Jesus to do something good and powerful, don't use the idea that we are incapable of doing ANYTHING without him but capable of doing EVERYTHING with him, we're going to fail. Miserably. Completely. Without doubt.

There is no such thing as the religious right. There is only Jesus. There is no such thing as the liberal wrong. Only Jesus.

Allies? Remember when that was a good thing?

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Never been unloved

Like many persons I've met, I've been good and bad, rich and poor, funny and sad. My moods have been as frequent as full moons in a 12-month span. I've been as compartmentalized as a good set of luggage on a bad set of traveling days.

I've been there and done it, whatever "it" might be.

I've struggled with love, having gained and lost loved as much as an old, scuffed quarter. I've fought with pain, emotional and physical, as if it was a wedge of cornbread, light, fluffy and flavorful. I've scrapped with money, watching it flow in and out like the nightly tide off Long Island.

I'm as consistent as a politician is sincere during primary season. I'm all the things you'd like your son to be, except all the things your son might be. I'm who I am, not who I was and God willing not who I'm going to be. Some mornings I feel as if I've been as punched as a movie theater ticket.

I'm me, for better, for worse. But when I look in the mirror, I notice something besides ruts under my eyes.

Songwriter Rich Mullins described me, as well as you, like this:

I have been unfaithful
I have been unworthy
I have been unrighteous
And I have been unmerciful

I have been unreachable
I have been unteachable
I have been unwilling
And I have been undesirable

And sometimes I have been unwise
I've been undone by what I'm unsure of
But because of You and all that You went through
I know that I have never been unloved.

The Apostle Paul described that process this way: "Who will separate us from Christ's love? Will we be separated by trouble, or distress, or harassment, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? ... I'm convinced that nothing can separate us from God's love in Jesus Christ our Lord; not death or life, not angels or rulers, not present things or future things, not powers, or heights or depth, or anything other thing that is created."

It's more than mildly interesting to me that Paul goes from WHO to WHAT in that passage. Who can separate us? No ONE. That means God's love is as close to me as my shadow on a very sunny day.

What can separate us? No THING. The things that rear up and try to shake me off the horse can't. God and I are clinging together like clothes on a wire-hanger.

And Paul closes thissection of life-pondering with the phrase no THING THAT IS CREATED. Since, it seems to me, one of the distinguishing characteristics of man, animal, plant, object and God himself is all but God was created. That is forenics of the highest order.

Christ's love, then, endures all things. We are loved. We have been loved. We will be loved. Water flow down the throne room's steps right on out of heaven right on into our lives. We are drenched, soaked in the living water of which we've had no bearing on its direction, it's path, it's depth or it's quality.

The point, I think, is that when trouble, distress, harassment, famine, nakedness, danger and sword seem to be overwhelming us (as they often do; I think they call that a Thursday in my life), still God loves. He loves through the trouble. He loves despite the distress. He loves even while we are harassed.

He loves. Not that he heals or stops the sun or changes my foot to a hand or whatever the miracle of the moment might be.

The point, I think, is that He will overcome our famine, overcome the nakedness of our circumstances, overcome the danger that seems to be everywhere, overcome the physicality of the swords in our worlds. He will overcome it all.

How? The straightness of love,not the crookness of power.

In other words, when it seems as if God is gone for good, when we are sure we've done something that has run the universe's most amazing weapon-force-quality out of our lives, when it appears all our dire circumstances point to a hollow life to come, God still is there, doing what God does... loving us.

We are never unloved. Never. Not on a cold, cold Tuesday. Not on hump day Wednesday when we are wandering meaninglessly.

Maybe we don't have things, clothes, a roof over our head, a job that supplies all of the above. But through it all (as Andre' Couch would say), we have Him. He (his mercy, his grace, his love) is enough.

No band of angels, no path of righteousness, nothing but the wild, furious love of God. Inseparable. Unstoppable. Unchanging. Joy and sorrow as tied together as a dog and a leash. The reckless, raging fury of the love of God.