Wednesday, December 26, 2012

By another road

Reading, and re-reading, the Christmas story always brings new, fresh insight.

Today, preparing for Sunday's look at the wise men and Herod, I tripped over this line in Matthew's Gospel: "When it was time to leave, they (the wise men) returned to their own country by another route, for God had warned them in a dream not to return to Herod."

So much there in so little space.

First, the wise men stayed for a certain amount of time, then left for home. They weren't those relatives whom never seem to get the hint that it is time to go home.

Second, they were touched by God in their worship, so much so that they returned by another route. I think that when we actually come in contact with God, particularly during worship, the route (of life) we were travelling often changes. I know that from the moment, literally the moment, I came in contact with God (not for the first time, but for the one that counted), I began to travel a much different road than the one I had been on.

Finally, God warned them in a dream. How often I wished that God would come to me in a dream and warn me of all thing treacherous things that lie ahead of me. Then I think that the scriptures and his own small voice warn me all the time, yet I fall to the same temptations so often.

What do we have here? We have three or more men who came hundreds of miles to simply worship the little king. They worshipped. They left. They went home. There is no journal of their travels. There is no record of their coming or going. There isn't much of the tale here, no names, no agendas, no listing of home towns.

They came. They worshipped. They rode back into the back drop of history.

They, like the shepherds before them, were vital in some ways to this tale, yet we never learn their names, nor do we find out what seeing the baby meant to their lives.

They, like us after them, had their lives changed, but if they told the tale, we don't have that account.

What does it all mean? I think it means that God is with us, as the scriptures tell us. That God changes us, as the scriptures say. But it doesn't have to be a public telling of the tale. One person telling one other is quite enough.

We have thousands of Christian books published every year. Does that make us any close to Jesus? I'm afraid not. It's still about one person coming into contact with the King of Kings and telling one other about it. That's how churches are built. That's how faith works.

We come in contact with Jesus, then we take another road. That's the Gospel.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Come, Lord Jesus, Come

And if today was the end ...

I was driving yesterday and listening to a radio preacher talking about Jesus' decision to give himself up for us all. He said words to the effect that Jesus was the only person ever to willingly die. I, being a smartly kinda guy, thought instantly of suicides. The preacher said seconds later, "I bet you're wondering about suicide bombers. Well, they only decided the time of their death, not the fact they were going to die. Everyone," he said, "is going to die. We don't decide we're going to. But Jesus did."

Sort of makes sense to me. I just know that as far as I know or can remember, Jesus is the only one born to die, born specifically for the purpose of dying.

And even he tried to avert it as the end neared.

Near the end of the Gospel of Matthew, in the Garden of Gethsemane, we read, " Going 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.”

40 Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Couldn’t you men keep watch with me for one hour?” he asked Peter. 41 “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

42 He went away a second time and prayed, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.”

All of that leads me to today's end of the world saga. If, indeed, today was the last one we would spend alive, how would you rate your life? What you've done? What you haven't? The good, the bad, the in-between?

I must tell you that overall, despite my many, many failures that still happen far too often, I'm pleased. Pleased that I'm loved by a wonderful woman, three great kids who all have made me proud of who they are and whose they are, a couple of wonderful spouses who love their mate, grand-children who have been blessed with great health and intelligence and quick wits.

I'm pleased that I, for many, many years, did the thing I most wanted to do in life, from the age of 13 on. I was paid to write, to edit, to design, to be a newspaper person in all that the term meant. I loved it. Still dream of it.

But more importantly, particularly since today is the last of the days, I am pleased that through my own failures I was able to find Jesus. He was always around in my life, but I was far, far to ego-filled to accept his love and direction. Until I hit bottom. And there He was, arms reaching out to me.

I'm pleased that my life changed almost instantly, in a myriad of ways. Eventually it changed so much that what I had always wanted to do, write sports, became second, then third, then way down the list of wantabees. So, I became a preacher of the Gospel. Again, pleasing myself because of the privilege of talking about the one who saved me in all the ways one can be saved.

If today is the end, I'll go on. Life will change, but eternity is waiting, and Jesus' arms are extended again. I am pleased that I never felt I was settling for new directions, but instead was constantly given new directions, new paths, to go down.

If today is the end, friendships made over time will end, but with many, many, many of those friendships, they will continue across the River Jordan.

If today is the end, bills will cease, pain will forfeit, smiles will last for days, and days with our Lord are like a thousand years.

If today is the end, I won't do the writing thing any longer, but I will be perfectly willing to be a scribe for our Lord, if He needs one of course.

If today is the end, the Saints will no longer be worrying about any bounty tales, the Braves won't blow another season at the end, and Mississippi State will win in the end.

Life really is pleasurable, even at the end. I do not choose to have it end, but if it is ending today, I'm so very glad the one person who chose to die, did so for me, and Mary, and Jason, and Shanna, and Carrie, and Becky, and Blaine, and Mia, Gabe, Karli, Parker, Gavin, Livvy, and Emma, and every friend and even every enemy I've ever had.

That's a pretty good life; Jesus called it abundant.

So the point is if this is the end, Come, Lord Jesus, Come.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Mary kept it all to herself

Luke's gospel says, "As the angel choir withdrew into heaven, the sheepherders talked it over. "Let's get over to Bethlehem as fast as we can and see for ourselves what God has revealed to us." They left, running, and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger. Seeing was believing. They told everyone they met what the angels had said about this child. All who heard the sheepherders were impressed. Mary kept all these things to herself, holding them dear, deep within herself. The sheepherders returned and let loose, glorifying and praising God for everything they had heard and seen. It turned out exactly the way they'd been told!"

There is the birth of the child. But there are two key lines this morning. First, "They told everyone they met what the angels had said about this child." Second is "Mary kept all these things to herself, holding them dear, deep within herself."

What does that mean, you think? We've got men sharing and a woman caring.

First, the shepherds made the story known. So why isn't that tale in all four gospels? Why wasn't that tale told throughout Palestine the next day? Angels singing in the sky would get my attention. Well, I believe the tale was told. I believe the shepherds were the talkingest bunch of sheep wranglers you ever saw. But there was one big ol' problem. The obvious answer is the people simply didn't believe the shepherds. There were ignorant people who didn't get the message. Imagine that. People are told the greatest news of all time and they choose to ignore it. No one would do that today would they? Uh, huh.

Second, only Mary knew what she knew, if you know what I mean. Gabriel told her, remember, "He will be great, be called 'Son of the Highest.' The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David; He will rule Jacob's house forever— no end, ever, to his kingdom." So that was in her mind, I'm sure, when shepherds show up to bow down before this little king. Do you think this was early fear for her baby? It might not have been such good news to some, including the blood-thirsty Herod, that the Son of the Highest had been born. The whole Messiah thing apparently wasn't such good news for those in the business of religion.
My mother, Delores, died six years ago Sunday. Six years that seems like yesterday, really. I will never, never forget her being in a lost state of mind, looking up to my son and I and saying, "Mamaw sick." Just like that. So sad. So long. Seems like just a few long minutes ago, really.

Now, I'm adopted and was not flesh of her flesh, but in all ways important, she was my mother just as I'm sure Joseph felt about his son. A greater love hath no woman for child. But she, like Mary would with Jesus, tried to keep a rein on me all her life. The creative beast that lies inside me always wanted to pour out, and it showed itself in increasingly insane and inane ways. But my mother did what Mary did all those years...she prayed for her child. Mary's specialty was praying that her child, flesh of her flesh, love of her life, would one day do what God had called him to do, prayed that he would be great when called to be great. But I'm not at all sure she did it completely willingly. She merely prayed that God's will be done in her child's life.

My mother had an eighth-grade education, wasn't sure about a lot of things in her life that I was absolutely sure about, but she was loved by many. She prayed over many years that God's will would be done in her child's life. My mother was no Mary, but she was a mother equal in tenacity for child. But she could never have kept things inside the way Mary did, for she spent way too much of her time being like the shepherds and telling all about her baby.

The point?

A mother's love is unique in this world. True love wasn't known in this world till Jesus came. Therefore, the love between Mary and Jesus could not be equalled, though it is our everlasting aim to try.

But I must tell you that for good or bad, my mother's love must have been close. When I was born, no shepherds showed up, no wise men came riding in, and there were no celebrations in the sky. But when I was adopted three months later, a mother's love was born in a heart and it wasn't extinguished until she passed about 1 a.m. on Dec. 23, 2006.

When the baby born in Bethlehem bled from the cross, it is instructive that no one from the Nazareth Day Care was there. There was no one from the Nazareth Elementary or the Nazareth Middle School or even those close friends of Jesus' from Nazareth High School there. No friend. No enemies even. No, not one as they sing.

But there was Mary. Mother Mary. All of Rome, all of its soldiers and its might, all of Herod's brood, all the Sadducee's and those remarkably religious Pharisees could not have stopped her from being there.

Christ's love is amazing. The closest we can come, I suspect, is a mother's love for a child -- a good child, a bad child, a child who returns that love or one who is cold as December's heel.

We call that love, unconditional. It is how God chooses to love you, me, us, all of us even those who choose to never return that love to Him.

We could call it a mother's love and be done with it. The strength of the link isn't weakened by death. Perhaps, just perhaps, it is strengthened. I miss my mother in death much more than I ever missed her in life, sad to say.

I wish she could see my churches. I wish she could see her grand-children growing up. I wish she could have met her son-in-law, Blaine. I wish she could see Blaine and Carrie's daughters, Mia, Karli and especially little Emma who is bright and caring and wears her emotions on her face in the most darling of ways. I wish she could have met Jason and Becky's daughter Livvy and seen a grown up beautiful Parker, her older sister. And I wish she could have met the wise and funny Gavin. She loved the oldest of the lot, Gabe with an intensity that only grand-mothers can show.

I wish she could be here for this Christmas.

"Mary kept all these things to herself...."

Do you realize that Mary out-lived that child she knew would be the Christ?

And we sing "Mary did you know?"

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

And in the end ...

So, here we go...
Chinese police have detained more than 500 people from a fringe Christian group for spreading rumors about the world's impending end, state media reported Tuesday.

In western China's Qinghai province alone, police arrested more than 400 members from the religious cult group, state-run China Central Television said Tuesday.

Police seized leaflets, video discs, books and other apocalyptic materials in the recent arrests of more than 500 people across eight provinces and regions, from the prosperous east coast to less developed western China, state media reports said.

The detentions come ahead of Friday, Dec. 21 — a date some say the Mayans prophesied would be the end of the world and which was the subject of the apocalyptic movie "2012."

Those detained are reported to be members of the group Almighty God, which is also called Eastern Lightning, after a phrase from the Bible's Book of Matthew. Widely regarded as a heretical Christian sect, the group preaches that Jesus has reappeared as a woman in central China. It has been accused of targeting Christians, kidnapping and beating them to force conversions.

Let's remind ourselves of what scripture says, briefly, and continue on.

The Bible says Jesus said, "Watch out that no one deceives you. 5 For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah,’ and will deceive many. 6 You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. 7 Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. 8 All these are the beginning of birth pains.

9 “Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. 10 At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, 11 and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. 12 Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, 13 but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. 14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come."

Notice what it doesn't say. It doesn't say Dec. 21, 2012. Nope. Nowhere. Although many of the conditions are indeed happening, they have been happening for much of the 2,000 years-plus since Jesus said this.

Let's get a grip, hold on, and Saturday will be here soon enough. Or, at best not worst, Jesus will come again and all the pain and suffering of a world in turmoil will end.

Either way ....

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

That's the great and glorious plan

This morning was wonderful. My pains are few, or fewer. The temperature has just a tinge of cool, just the right portion, like Goldilocks was dialing it up. I sat outside, thinking, with a cup of coffee (pumpkin spice) filling the air with steamy smoke.

Again, I'm thinking, thinking. What ifs have come running through my mind so often that I've stopped (God God, I nearly wrote killed) a sermon series I was delivering because it just seemed so inappropriate, or at least my mind and heart weren't in it any longer.

Instead, I thought I would talk about what it actually means that God is with us. Sunday I basically adlibed a sermon, with drippings of thought from what had been prepared, because I just couldn't go through a Sunday without delving into what had happened on Friday.

I watched Adam Hamilton do a much better job of the same thing on video yesterday evening, and I suspect there were many such efforts across our country.

In the past week, I've had opportunity to talk to a few  persons who sought out someone to listen to them. A few weeks past, a person called to ask if we could talk about why he couldn't find happiness, and after two tries to hook up and failing, he quit calling.

My point is this, I guess. We are just a bunch of folks with regular woes and worries. We pray, but many of us don't expect that miracle to come racing around the mountain to us. I looked at the back of a church bulletin at one of my churches and my step-father-in-law, who died weeks ago, is still listed for prayer. Don't think it's gonna help that much now.

We talk, hoping someone will hear us. We seek, not really expecting to find. We find, but it's not the right find, and we go on up that old mountain of worry.

But sitting outside, with just the right tinge of cool, and a hot coffee for fuel, I thought about what it truly means to see the baby Jesus come into the world. A baby. That was God's great plan? A baby. Innocent, well, sure, but more than that, frail possibly, and certainly weak. That was the great plan.

He -- and we -- would come together, and the trial and the travails that would come would come, together. The morning pains of those over a certain age (and my memory doesn't allow me to remember what that certain age was) are just what it is. The lack of for many, many is what it is.

But through the whole dang thing, He is WITH us. Absolutely with us. Through the hallways and classrooms of Sandy Hook Elementary, He walked. He walked to the school with the shooter. He walked in with the shooter. He walked the way He has always walked, allowing us to freedom that separates us from the animals, the freedom to choose.

And we, heck I, have the audacity to ask God where He was. He was. He is. I am.

That's the great and glorious plan. He is WITH us. He hurts, he cries, he needs...Yeah, the unneedable needs, us. He wants us. He wants our love, because that is the computer language He gets. Love.

It doesn't conquer. But it sure does heal.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Guns and crosses

I am seldom out of words. But the words that I have today, after a weekend of deep thought and prayer, are scattered. I will try my best to put them into perspective. I'm not sure I will be clear, but I pray for clarity.

I watched the service from Newtown, Conn. on Sunday night. I was moved far greater than I imagined I would ever be from a service for people I didn't know. I'm not, or my heart isn't, wired that way. But I kept thinking of the times I've lost loved ones, and I put myself into the hearts and bodies of those in that auditorium, and heard their tears and wails quite loudly as various clergy and politicians spoke or said prayers.

I must confess that I wasn't happy to have a hodge-podge of clergy there, but the more prayers were said from various faiths, the more I thought how wonderful this was. I wasn't happy that the president was speaking from this event, but the more I heard, the more wonderful I thought the message was. The comments I saw on Facebook today about the fact NBC didn't show a quarter of a football game leads me to think that we have bigger problems than I even realized.

How anyone, anyone -- hear me -- can think that we should not do more to prevent this, or at the very, very least to prevent these kinds of things is without question or doubt wrong. I'm seldom this clear on something.

Moments before we got into our truck to journey to begin a journey to New Orleans the day of the event, I saw the number of children who had died and while on the trip, I tried to find a news station for further updates. I came across a conservative voice on the radio, and minutes or even seconds after saying how terrible this heinous act was, he started talking about how he was sure that there were liberals at that very moment trying to blame the conservatives. AT THAT VERY MOMENT? The callousness of that statement is beyond my comprehension.

It is at these kind of times that we need to step back and not be left or right, not be conservative or liberal, not even all Americans. We should simply be decent, caring, parents and relatives and friends. Just people would do. If we are all Christians, whatever in the world that actually is today, so be it. But it doesn't take much brains, it seems to me, to retaliate on the other side oof whatever side one comes downon guns, or on violence, or whatever the heck the case might be in these turbulent times.

When will enough be enough? Is that really an argument? If the answer to these things is putting a gun into the hands of children or teachers so that they can be called safe, then I'm afraid what I've been afraid about for our country is indeed coming true. Our society is the most dangerous in the world. It is our very freedom that makes it so.

Putting God back into the schools isn't the answer, for those who have the Lord in their heart have never allowed Him to be taken out. The only place we have the power to keep God out of is our hearts. If loving God, as a band I once followed wrote, is a crime, I'd be an outlaw. That, to me, is not the issue. Of this, I'm sure. But putting love into schools, and more importantly into homes, is. Government can't do that. It simply can't. There are some things individuals must accept as their role in this society. I heard this week that with 50 million or so children in public school in this country, they are much more likely to die in an automobile accident than in a shooting such as this. That really doesn't comfort me right now, frankly.

The ultimate answer isn't in me, I'm afraid. It might well be out of the prevue of anyone. But don't we owe each of our children, or the adults just as vulnearble, an effort to try? Or do we simply sweep this into the Columbine, Pearl, Blacksburg, Aurora closet until the next time when we weep for the children again?

The scriptures described a time when Herod told soldiers to kill every boy child under the age of two. God allowed this to happen. It still troubles me to this day that He allowed that to happen, when the God I love and follow could have done away with this so easily.

The scripture, the prophecy that was fulfilled, reads, "A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they were no more."

That's it, I'm afraid. That's all the explanation we get. It had to happen to fulfill prophecy. Sometimes, frankly, it isn't enough. The curtain needs to be pulled a little more open. I need, we need a little more, Lord.

Let this time be the time we refuse to be consoled, and actually come together to do something -- anything -- about the loss of our children.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Love came down at Christmas

Let's talk carols today, Christmas carols.

This is from a carol that I've actually never sung, to my knowledge, but I thought would be good fodder for conversation.

Love Came Down At Christmas, a tune written in 1885 by Christina G. Rossett says this:
Love came down at Christmas, Love all lovely, Love divine;
Love was born at Christmas; star and angels gave the sign.

Worship we the Godhead, Love incarnate, Love divine; worship we our Jesus, but wherewith for sacred sign?

Love shall be our token; love be yours and love be mine; love to God and all men, love for plea and gift and sign.

The notion that God's love was never more felt than in two events, the birth and the death of Christ, is one that really appeals to me.

Today we head to New Orleans to spend about 24 hours with our kids and grandkids. Circumstances dictate that this is part of our Christmas gift exchange. The love I feel for these kids, now adults, and their offspring, I can't begin to even try to tell you.

But I know, somehow in my innermost being, that the love I have is nothing compared to the love shared when Jesus was born.

Love did come down at Christmas. How can we doubt that in a world where there are shootings at elementary schools?

Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Light blazes in a dark world

I've got the Pandora radio Christmas station playing, still desperately grabbing at some Christmas cheer or a Christmas feeling.

And on comes Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas, sung by John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John. One of the world's most famous Scientologists is singing Christmas songs. Am I the only one who finds that a bit, uh, weird?

Things are so difficult right now around the world. Difficulty and pain doesn't take a holiday for holidays.

Heck, even Storage Wars is faked, according to Dave Hester, one of the main "stars" of the reality show that was recently let go.

"Storage Wars" is the most watched show on A&E, and one of the most popular shows on television. It's one of the highest-rated programs on cable, and has been on for four seasons. The show "follows an eclectic group of modern day treasure hunters who earn their living attending public auctions of the contents of abandoned storage lockers in the hopes of finding buried treasure in those lockers, which they can then resell for a profit," according to the lawsuit filed by Hester.
What next? Duck Dynasty beards are fake?
Seriously, we've got another shooting, this time in a mall. We've got a Fiscal Cliff coming up soon. Times are still exceedingly tough.
Where is the reason for the season in all this?
John's Gospel tells us this: Everything was created through him;
nothing—not one thing!—
came into being without him.
What came into existence was Life,
and the Life was Light to live by.
The Life-Light blazed out of the darkness;
the darkness couldn’t put it out.
Christmas spirit comes from acknowledging the Light came to blaze out of darkness, and it still does.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Nothing Town

Part of what this blog is, I guess, is a personal journal of where I've been, where I am, where I'm going. Just part of the gig.

It's time, I think, to write about someone very close to me who gives me such pride in his achievements, and perhaps more so, his tenacity.

My son, Jason Turner, is a singer/songwriter/musician. He and millions of others have had dreams, dreams of stardom, dreams of getting their "music" out there...somewhere. He turned 34 the other day, and obviously knows better than most of us that time is slipping, slipping away. His only "job" is singer/songwriter/musician.

He's driven millions of miles across the South to play. To sing. To do what he can to be seen and heard. Nashville? Sure. Pensacola? Why not. Auburn, Ala., Austin, Texas, and on and on the wheels turn.

He's self-produced three albums, and sold enough of the last one to help his family stay in food and in their home, with the help of his loving and patient wife.

But yesterday, a bit of a goal was reached. Still without a contract, Oxford Sounds from the Tweed Recording Studio in Mississippi released an EP, a short version of an album, which features only Jason and not his backing band. It's his first release on a label. From the album 13 years, which came out in 2011, he included Nothing Town, tonight, Hotter Than the Sun and Imperfect and True. From his forthcoming album, due out in the Spring, he included Lose You and Summer Time.

Yesterday the album was included in the Blues genre (blues because of the subject matter on some songs rather than the sound itself) on I-tunes, and it was in ninth place in the genre nationally. Nationally. You can buy it, by the way, for $4.99 on I-tunes. Just go to genre, blues, and it's under new and noteworthy.

We couldn't be more proud. He continues to improve on his craft, and we pray that one day all his effort will be met with national exposure. Again, millions want the same thing. But tenacity is his key.

From Nothing Town:

"Half my life has gone by and I'm still stuck at a red light, at the crossroads of the choices I've made in my life. I fear I'm running out of time."

"I want to see the big city lights. I want so much more for my life. I am driving fast as I can to get out of this nothing town."

But of all that Jason has done or will do, I take particular pleasure in the fact that recently he became a worship leader at a church near his home in Madison, Miss.

As I get older, much older by the minute, I think some of the same thoughts Jason has from time to time. I stayed far too long at that red light, and made way too many bad choices at that crossroad. But Jesus saved me for this purpose, whatever it is that I'm doing. Little successes, things I don't even know about sometimes, are my lot in life and in ministry.

After two books written that did nothing, I must admit, I've given up. I pray that in whatever form it takes him, that Jason never gives up on his dreams.

Dreaming is still important. I think it's what happens when reality doesn't meet expectation. Sometimes it takes a dreamer to change the world.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Force isn't with them

It's tough out there for any religion these days. Heck, even the Jedi Knights are having a tough time recruiting. In searching for a subject to write about today, I encountered this:

The people of England and Wales may be turning their backs on religion in their droves, with 14 million now saying they have no faith, but the remaining believers appear to be showing greater diversity of belief than ever before. Asked what religion they were, 6,242 answered Heavy Metal, 1,893 said they were Satanists and 650 said they were New Age.

At the last census in 2001 there was a campaign to encourage people to answer the question with Jedi, and around 330,000 did so. But the force is apparently on the wane according to Tuesday's figures with 176,632 describing themselves as Jedi Knights.

Even so, the grouping, named after the fictional good guys in the Star Wars films, remains the biggest single category after the leading faiths of  Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Sikhism and Judaism.

It ranked higher than followers of other established religions, including Rastafarians (just 7,906 in England and Wales), Jains (20,288) and Baha'i (5,021).

Pagans ranked highly with 56,620 adherents, while 11,766 identified their religion as Wicca and 4,189 said they were druids. All of them scored more highly than Scientology, the church whose figurehead member is the Hollywood star Tom Cruise. Despite building high street branches and a major London HQ, only 2,418 people said they followed the belief system. A total of 29,267 people described their "religion" as atheist while slightly more, 32,382, said they were agnostic.

So, there you have it. People are turning to none of the above much more quickly than anything else.

We are all quite blessed that God is patient with his children. Of this, the Bible says in Hosea, "The people of Israel are going to live a long time stripped of security and protection, without religion and comfort, godless and prayerless. But in time they’ll come back, these Israelites, come back looking for their God and their David-King. They’ll come back chastened to reverence before God and his good gifts, ready for the End of the story of his love."

God is waiting for us all to return to Him. We simply have to hope, for the sake of many others, that He remains patient.

Monday, December 10, 2012

The light is coming

This morning around 5 a.m., a fierce storm blew in. The temperatures are going to fall like my bank account on bills day. As the storm struck, lightening attacked. As the lightening attacked, so did one of our dachshunds. He barked every time the light flashed. He was terrified of the light.

The irony of that is completely evident.

Jesus came to give light to the world, to let the light pour forth and set the darkness scurrying away. Yet, for many of us today, we run away from the light and find comfort in the darkness.

the second chapter of Luke we read, "They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger."

In John's gospel, however, the baby, the village, the parents, the shepherds and such are given little attention. They are a means to an end.
In John's gospel, the emphasis, the focus is on light.

"In the beginning the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God.
He existed in the beginning with God. God created everything through him, and nothing was created except through him. The Word gave life to everything that was created, and his life brought light to everyone. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it."

Then it reads, "So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son."

Light into a dark world is the theme.

On that night all those years ago, on a darkened hill, God send moonlight to bathe a group of men. In the fields above a little hamlet called Bethlehem, God then send angels, heavenly beings in all their strangeness and perhaps shockingly scariness, to light up the night sky further. The angels told the shepherds about the magnificent light that was being turned on somewhere in the city below them.

On that night all those years ago, a lot was going on in the sky. The moon shined beautifully, angels lit up a small section in the sky above the city and somehow a magnificent event was occurring as well. A star, the star of Bethlehem as it would one day be known, was more than a dot in the sky. It was a sharp, bright light that someone with knowledge of astronomy would notice fairly quickly. Some men in the east of the city, maybe a great distance east of the city, did notice and they packed quickly and struck out for Bethlehem.

On that night all those years ago, the moon shined, the angels sparkled and the star burned brightly.

But John the gospel writer, the most deeply theological of the gospel writers, was for a moment the most metaphorical as well. In his first chapter, John says that the brightest of all the light that night all those years ago wasn't the moon, the angels or the star. No. It was a baby boy. In the Message translation, John writes, "Every person entering Life he brings into Light. ... The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood. We saw the glory with our own eyes; the one-of-a-kind glory, like Father, like Son."

John added, "What came into existence was Life, and the Life was Light to live by. The Life-Light blazed out of the darkness; the darkness couldn't put it out."

Light changes feelings, ideas, temperaments. Light inches into dark corners and turns them into parties. Light changes grudges into longings, turns temper into patience, fixes mistakes and applies love as band aids. Light is the difference between Eden and Hell. Light is the most physical of non-physical entities that has ever existed.

And this baby, this Jesus, was the light of the entire world.

In two weeks, we celebrate by passing gifts to each other. But the most important gift that ever was passed from one being to another, was the light of the entire world that was passed from Joseph to Mary immediately after it was born into a dark cave of a stable. The light cried out. The light waved pudgy arms in fright and in newness of life.

The light was born, and it was passed.

Today we can do no less. Today please, if you are a daily reader or you came across this blog on google and are reading for the first time, take up the light and pass it to someone you love or someone you've just met.

This light is life ... "The Word gave life to everything that was created and his life brought light to everyone. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it. God sent a man, John the Baptist, to tell about the light so that everyone might believe because of his testimony. John himself was not the light; he was simply a witness to tell about the light. The one who is the true light, who gives light to everyone, was coming into the world."

Friday, December 7, 2012

Worth more than rubies

This weekend I get to perform a wedding, my third since I arrived in Eunice, La., just six months ago. Tonight is the rehearsal. Tomorrow night the event. The church will be decorated for both wedding and Christmas, with flowers and lights dazzling us all, with the warmth of the season flowing over and around us.

I love what I do. I am so very blessed. I get to talk about love being a choice, not a feeling. I get to talk about how important that choice is. I get to talk about what illustrates love.

That is a perfect time to talk about my wife, Mary, again.

Proverbs says of a noble wife, "A wife of noble character who can find?
She is worth far more than rubies.
11 Her husband has full confidence in her
and lacks nothing of value.
12 She brings him good, not harm,
all the days of her life."

Good, not harm, all the days of her life describes what Mary has done for me for the past 28 plus years. She is the one who lifts me, pushes me, helps and prays for me. Without her, well, I can't imagine life without her. She is the be-all for my life. Jesus is my all-in-all, but Mary is the human equivalent of that, though she would argue the point as she is as modest as she is loving.

Mary and I have a problem, though. Our marriage is not perfect. The problem we have, unfortunately, is me. I don't listen nearly often enough. I don't act on what she has said to me when I wasn't listening. I don' a rule.

When things go awry, it is because of what I have done or have not done. It is not because of who she is or what she has done or hasn't done. I'd like to say that wasn't true, but it is. She is, I am not.

Is she perfect? Well, no. She is allergic to housecleaning, literally. She crunches ice as if the amount of noise she makes is vitally important.

But is she perfect for me? Well, yes.

True story ... before I truly knew Mary, when I was in the depth of my affliction, I prayed (which I seldom did at the time) for God to send someone to me who would lift me out of the loneliness and depression I was sitting in. Like loneliness and depression was a mud hole and I could simply be lifted out of said state, I asked God to send me someone I could love.

Within a week, Mary (who worked at the same newspaper I did) and I went on a date to the Mississippi-Alabama State Fair in Jackson, Miss.

Now, did God send Mary to take care of me? I can't speak for the most powerful being in all the world.

But I can say that God's kindness changed my life. Mary and I went on one date, with one meal thrown in, and we've never truly been apart since. God's favor is my desire now.

Let me put it this way:
Without Mary, I would not be sober.
Without Mary, I would not have found Jesus.
Without Mary, I would not be a Christian, a believer in the way, the truth, the life.
Without Mary, I would not have thought to take our children to a certain church, which led me to meet the pastor who suggested at one point I explore the ministry.
Without Mary, I would not be a part of the ministry.
Without Mary, I would not be the pastor of three churches in the middle of the state of Louisiana.
Without Mary, I believe I would have been laid of or fired from The Times-Picayune when it dropped down from printing daily to three times a week.
Without Mary ...

See, I still believe in miracles. God sending just the right person at just the right time for just the right mission is, to me, a miraculous happening every bit as big as Red Sea parting. I'm not putting myself on a level with Moses. I'm putting the action of God changing lives on the same level as His dragging the Israelites out of Egypt. I was just as much a captive as was any of the Israelites.

A noble wife is worth more than rubies. I see it in her as she seeks the perfect gift for a grandchild, as she searches for the perfect gift for our kids. I see it in her as she speaks out at Bible studies, as she cares for persons at the three churches, as she prays for persons at the three churches.

She is a person of love, worth more than anything. If being a perfect wife has anything to do with making the perfect meal, perhaps Mary falls an inch or two short. But if love has anything to do with it, she's beyond perfect.

God knows her heart. I know her love. They are the same.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

A writer's tale

Let's begin our march to Bethlehem, which we've taken each of the past three years, in an interesting place ... quite a distance from the most interesting thing that has ever happened in this quaint little town.

More than 2,000 years ago, a tourist birthed a baby. Bethlehem is known more for that than anything else. Today it's a fairly large city across the wall from Israel, set apart because of Israeli concerns about Palestinians and potential bombs.

Let's begin beyond the beginning, at the start of Luke's Gospel.

Luke wrote (in the Message translation), "So many others have tried their hand at putting together a story of the wonderful harvest of Scripture and history that took place among us, using reports handed down by the original eyewitnesses who served this Word with their very lives. Since I have investigated all the reports in close detail, starting from the story’s beginning, I decided to write it all out for you, most honorable Theophilus, so you can know beyond the shadow of a doubt the reliability of what you were taught."

What a wonderful calling to have. Luke basically tells us that others have tried to tell the words of Jesus, the actions of the Gospel, but someone has to do it right, so this doctor with connections to the Apostles Peter and Paul decided he would do it.

Luke's Gospel appeals to me the most, right above John's, as it seems to be done in the way a journalist would do it, or perhaps a physician who was used to taking notes.

The most interesting thing to me in this foreword is this persons, this honorable Theophilus. This man was important enough to have both Luke's Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles written to him. Yet we know virtually nothing about him.

It was like Luke decided he would write to cousin Marge the secret recipe of Kentucky Fried's chicken but when the recipe was released to the public, Marge was no where to be found. Important? Vital? Yes, a thousand times yes, but also unknown.

Some think there was no one person, that this was a title for someone. The word in Greek means "Friend of God." So, maybe Luke was writing to several. Some say he was a Roman, and that this his title.  According to Wikipedia, "A growing belief[4] point this person was Theophilus ben Ananus, High Priest of the Temple from 37-41 AD.

Whatever or whomever, we owe so much to this person/position if Luke was writing to him/them to clear up some misrepresentations about the story.

What does that mean to us today? Simply this...we are blessed to have four "different" looks into the life and teaching of Jesus, the most important words put to paper in history. That Luke took the time to do this, never knowing whether it would be indeed printed, much less read, is as inspiring a tale as any in scripture.

A writer writes because there is a possibility readers will read that which he or she has written. He, I suspect, thought this tale was incredibly important; he felt inspired by God to write it; he thought the whole tale, from John the Baptizer's parents to the end of the Acts of the Apostles was worthy of the time and effort.

So must we.

Reading Luke's Gospel gives life to a man who ascended 2,000 years ago. He lives in my heart, and in these words.

Thank you Luke, and Theophilus.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Karaoke night in heaven

We're a little more two weeks from the end of the Mayan calendar. We're a little more than three weeks from we all go plunging off the fiscal cliff.

What can you and me, Joe and Jane citizen, do about any of this? Doesn't it seem like it's time to go to sleep and wake to good news, the bad stuff having been washed away like flotsam after a storm? Oh, no? No good news to be had?

There's only one thing left to do, I'm afraid. It's Karaoke night in heaven, friends. Let us sing, as close to key as we can muster.

Let me explain.

This is from Exodus, the 15th chapter. It is called a song of deliverance.

(From the hand, heart and mind of Moses)
"I will sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously; he has hurled both horse and rider into the sea. The Lord is my strength and my song; he has given me victory. This is my God, and I will praise him -- my father's God, and I will exalt him. The Lord is a warrior; Yahweh is his name."

What a thrilling song to sing to a God who surely hears it all. We sing to him our thanks, our praise. We lift up to him all that we are, all that we have, all that we believe. The melody is thanksgiving. The lyrics are praise. The tempo is trust, and joy. 

Perhaps, just perhaps, we don't sing this wonderful song that goes on for 18 verses, because we haven't felt we were on the ledge, with enemies snapping at our heels and The Enemy trying to push us off. Perhaps we've lost our praise ability, because our thanksgiving is simply habit. Perhaps we've never needed a sea parted, a way out of the deep water, an outstretched hand to lift us out seconds from drowning. Or perhaps we simply don't notice.

Do we have the ability to learn to dance again? Is it possible God's own song will get our feet moving again?

Moses makes it all clearer by the time he reaches the sixth verse. He writes, "Your right hand, O Lord, is glorious in power. Your right hand, O Lord, smashes the enemy. In the greatness of your majesty, you overthrow those who rise against you. You unleash your blazing fury; it consumes them like straw."

Pharaoh's men nipping at our heels? Call on the Lord.
Sea in front of us, no path around, no path through? Call on the Lord.
Egyptians behind, Syrians to the left, Jordanians to the right, Palestinians all around? Call on the Lord.

We've barely scratched the surface of what we're meant to be, friends, and yet many of us are perfectly content to quit, give up, stop what we're doing, heck even give up on what we've planned but not even started. I'm afraid some are quite content to believe that the world will end in a couple of weeks because to go on is too much.

We look around and our pensions are gone, our bank accounts are as shrunk as any head could ever be, and we're trembling in this living nightmare. So let the end come, we say, shouting to the heavy winds of climate change.

But Moses wrote, "With your unfailing love you lead the people you have redeemed. In your might, you guide them to your sacred home. The peoples hear and tremble; anguish grips those who live in Philistia. The leaders of Edom are terrified; the nobles of Moab tremble. All who live in Canaan melt away; terror and dread fall upon them. The power of your arm makes them lifeless as stone until your people pass by, O Lord."

Bottom line? What have we to fear? God is with us. If God is with us, who can be against us? Seriously. Who can ever, EVER, be against us? Doesn't that lift the heavy burdens many of us face? Well, doesn't it?

Stop worrying, whining and weeping. Our God, who split the Red Sea like a log, is on our side. What have we to be fearful of? We simply (and although I write the word it's actually not nearly as simple as I make it out to be) need to count on him, rely on Yahweh, trust in the promises, in the Word, in His name. Trust. Rely. Have faith in.

Though we can't see where He's taking us, just leave it in the hands of the Father, in the hands of the healer, in the hands of Jesus and walk on down the path.

A few years back, I began to understand how powerful He was, is, will always be. I began to praise Him for what he's done, is doing, will do. I began ....

Now, I listen. I learn. I love.

"You will bring them in and plant them on your own mountain -- the place, O Lord, reserved for your own dwelling, the sanctuary, O Lord, that you hands have established. The Lord will reign forever and ever."

Moses' sister, Miriam, picked up a tambourine and all the women began to play their tambourines and dance. The night was a long one, with smiles as plentiful as pieces of cooked fowl. They danced and sang and cried long tears of joy. "Sing to the Lord," Miriam sang loudly and cheerfully, "for he has triumphed gloriously; he has hurled both horse and rider into the sea."

Maybe you've not seen that type of action. God hasn't, uh, killed for you. That's not, I believe, the point, which is this: God has taken care of us, taken us this far. He won't forget about us now. He won't leave us to face the army by ourselves. He won't let the waves crash over us because we trusted him in the first place.

He is a God who watches over us, cares for us, is worthy of our songs of praise on a long night of singing and eating or even a dark night of the soul when the only sounds are moans and we fast not out of reverence but because we don't have enough quarters to buy some bread..

This Advent season, let's kick-start our singing, our dancing, laughing, hugging, sharing gifts of memory and of a future that includes our Savior doing the same. He is God. We, thankfully, are not. He is powerful; we are not. Hopefully, we are trusting, and I know He is trustworthy.

He is our God. Exalt Him, praise Him, sing to Him.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Do miracles still exist?

I preached about the miracles of Christmas this past Sunday, referring mostly to the idea that Mary said "yes" to all she was being asked to accept.

I talked about the miracles that still exist today: beginning with the fact that we have breath, that our bodies are miracles in themselves.

Today I read about another possible miracle, and I wanted my various readers to discuss among yourselves.

Here's the story: Tymona Matelborg and her husband escaped from their Hyundai Sonata with relatively minor injuries after a 100-foot diseased fir tree crushed the car while they were inside.

The Canby, Oregon couple had just parked when a nearby tree snapped off at its base and fell, leaving only a small opening for them to crawl out of the passenger window. "If you look at the passenger's compartment, especially the driver's compartment, there's about a space of about two loafs of bread in there. How the husband survived is just remarkable," said Troy Buzalsky, division chief with Canby Fire.

Based on the damage and size of the tree, rescuers expected possible fatalities, but the two survivors were treated for non-serious injuries at Oregon Health and Science University and later released. The Canby Fire and Rescue reported that the tree fell because of a combination of a diseased root system and saturated soil from days of heavy rain.

Miracle or not?

The fact is we have difficulty believing in miracles, until they happen to us. Then we write them off as, what, good luck?

Albert Einstein once said, "You can live one of two ways: You can live as if nothing is a miracle; you can live as if everything is a miracle."

I do both, depending upon the circumstances and the day. But I believe those with the peace of God, that completely surpasses all understanding and explanation, are more likely to live as if everything is a miracle.

We've been given life: miracle.
We've been connected to a family that loves us: miracle.
We've been given the opportunity to accept eternal life: Miracle. ETERNAL LIFE... did you actually get that?

How we live is a choice. To accept that the miraculous still occurs is a fabulous choice.

Paulo Coehlho said, "You can become blind by seeing each day as a similar one. Each day is a different one, each day brings a miracle of its own. It's just a matter of paying attention to this miracle.

A huge tree falls, burying a car and its occupants in a huge weight. They live. Miracle? Only if they see it as one.

Here's what I know: An unwed teenager was visited by an angel who told her she would become pregnant by the Holy Spirit and that the child would change the world. And she said "yes." The easy thing would have been to say no and go about living one of those safe, non-miraculous lives that we see every day. But despite the pain that she must have understood would come, she said "yes."

Trees fall every day. Our savior came once.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Something about that name, always

What a week of dramatic reversals. Loads of life ...and the terrors and sorrows of an untimely death. Moments of real joy ... followed by sadness deep and complete. Life lived in the middle, though the swings would cause one's neck to whiplash if one allowed it.

Wait! That describes life, doesn't it? Life lived in the way, lived with the truth.

I think most of us want to be on that hill top, forever and a day. Barring that, and it must be barred because life simply isn't lived up there, continually, we would all settle for life somewhere in the middle, wouldn't we?  You know the type of day I'm writing of. The kind of day where you get up and nothing serious or painful or sad happens. Of course, nothing terrific, nothing surprising, nothing eventful, nothing special and new happens, either.

The awful mood swings that come with life lived in the middle of Route 66, come with the territory, I'm afraid. If we could do any one thing about those ups and stomach-surrendering downs, we probably would. I, I'm pretty sure, would love to live a straight-line peace-keeping and peace-giving way. Instead, once I was a criminal, now I'm a prodigal.

My God loves me so much He would gather me like a spilled purse and take me home with Him. That's simply the way of our God. He wants to lift and cherish. He wants the spills on God-aisle No. 4 done away with. He wants us to gently pour the cleaner, the blood of the lamb, onto us and be done with it. He wants it that way, and we wouldn't at all mind it either. But it doesn't happen that manner, does it?

Wisdom literature (primarily Proverbs) tells me this:

"Mark well that God doesn’t miss a move you make;
he’s aware of every step you take.
The shadow of your sin will overtake you;
you’ll find yourself stumbling all over yourself in the dark.
Death is the reward of an undisciplined life;
your foolish decisions trap you in a dead end."

Don't you love it when football teams explain why they lost a game? They give every reason imaginable (and they imagine it in many very different ways), and invariably those reasons don't include, oh, "we actually stunk the place up last night," or "we were very clearly the worst team," or even "Did you see the game? They played dramatically better than we are even capable of." Does the losing team ever simply admit they weren't close to being good enough? Seldom, if ever, would be my acknowledgment.

Lt life dictates that sometimes we simply aren't as good, aren't as educated, aren't as disciplined, aren't as worthy as our opponent, our friend, our competition ... for jobs, for grades, for whatever comes next. But we tell ourselves that life has just plain run over us, that we're not to blame, that our parents or our professors, or our competitors or someone out there in a tough, tough word is responsible.
Not us.
Never us.

We've stumbled in the dark because someone stole the light. We can't be blamed for the darkness if someone stole the light, can we?

We've fallen because others have caused us to fall. Others have done to us; we've never done it to ourselves. It's their fault, not mine. Heck, blame God, he made me this way, we tell ourselves. And the ridiculousness of that argument is that we actually believe it.

In the debate about government and its role as benefactor, I never read that some simply didn't earn their way, didn't try hard enough, didn't confront the evidence that speaks of failure not as a fault but as a character builder.

Life is lived in gray areas, out beyond the gifts of government and out beyond the gifts of benefits not earned.

What one does in the gray is dictated by many factors, but one of those factors certainly is how our decisions leave us. I'll tell you this: My foolish decisions have almost always trapped me, my spouse, our children. My mistakes have almost always stopped the momentum of life, love, joy and happiness. God forgives, but consequences that come from the mistakes in judgment and errors in effort are bone crushers.

It doesn't mean I can't get back up after I fall. It simply means that if I don't try, I'll remain there on my back and the world can't or won't help. I need to remember, as someone once said, the only difference between Christians and those of the world is that Christians get back up when they fall. I believe that.

There is only one way, one truth, and one life when that happens. At the risk of becoming cliched, that way, truth and life is this man named by a Jewish teen mother and step-father. They called him Jesus.

As we head into still another weekend, remember Him. Remember the smiles of his youth, the lessons of his teaching, the memories of Jesus blessing and keeping close to his mentor, his rabbi, his God.

Jesus. There's just something about that name.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

The blaze of glory shined through the darkness

Imagine the stench. It literally grew on you, like so much fungus. The hills were alive with the, uh, smell of sheep. The stench grabbed the air as if it were carpet to be rolled or grass to be mowed. When you raised sheep, you raised the bar -- on smells, filth, etc. That was sheep-farming in Palestine. There was little glory in raising these creatures.

The shepherds didn't have to imagine. They lived the life. In their homes, where the sheep were housed during long, cold winters. In the caves of the area, where the sheep were kept if space was a problem. On and on -- up those scraggly hills and down those rocky mountains.


When my wife, Mary, and I were in Israel, we visited the field that tradition says the shepherds of the Nativity would have stayed.

The Message Bible says of these guys: "There were sheepherders camping in the neighborhood. They had set night watches over their sheep. Suddenly, God’s angel stood among them and God’s glory blazed around them. They were terrified. The angel said, “Don’t be afraid. I’m here to announce a great and joyful event that is meant for everybody, worldwide: A Savior has just been born in David’s town, a Savior who is Messiah and Master. This is what you’re to look for: a baby wrapped in a blanket and lying in a manger.” At once the angel was joined by a huge angelic choir singing God’s praises:
Glory to God in the heavenly heights,
Peace to all men and women on earth who please him."
The Message says they were singing; the NIV says they were saying. The point is about the same. Praises rang out. Above the cattle lowing and the sheep smelling and the shepherds quaking, praises rang out."
Imagine, please, imagine.
Last night I walked out of the parsonage and into the most beautiful of nights. The moon lay in the sky like a tired pup. Its glory, a laser-bright light that somehow remained a pale, quiet yellowish tint painted light over the town as if a can of moonlight had fallen from God's cabinet. A star rested to the left and a star rested to the right of the moon, somehow reminding me of the Holy Trinity, three in one, all in all.
When we finished with Club 316, our youth program, I stood in the courtyard of the church, letting the liquid-moonshine envelop me like winter's honey. For a brief moment, I imagined that night 2,000 plus years ago. I imagined the sheep and their racket. I imagined the darkness of the outskirts as shepherds tried to guide the younger sheep to the shadows of pens or even up rocky terrain as they searched for a cave they could call their own -- so to speak. I imagined as some of the young sheep lay down under the tumble brush, calling for mama with bleats and maaasss. I imagined the terror of God's glory "blazing," and an angel saying to not be afraid as if saying it would make it so. I imagined and the  very first first-alert message system going into effect, and angels in the air (IN THE AIR!!!!) blaring  over the God-based, angel-Pads the first Christmas carol. Granted getting things to sync back then must have been difficult, but ...
I imagined, letting the night roll over and through me, and like I suspect the first eve of Christmas was, suddenly the glory, the blaze, the light, the singing was done, gone, kaput.
Solidifying angel-lore, blazing angel-speak, sweet-angelic choirs and shaky shepherds being rather thankful that these angels have left the hills sometime during that long night, all these things were given as part of the first gift-swap.
Imagine, just imagine. The shepherds told everyone they met, the scriptures say. Still quite oderous. Still quite shaky. Still wondering what was in store for them.
Isn't that what lies ahead for most, if not all, of us? That's part of the Christmas story, too.
Let this Christmas be about perfect love running our fears completely out of the picture. Our church still has to deal with those types of fears, the kind that blaze and the kind that sneak up on you.
Let's pray: “O GOD, you aren’t impressed by numbers or intimidated by a show of force once you decide to help: Help us, O GOD; we have come out to meet this huge army because we trust in you and who you are. Don’t let mere mortals stand against you!”

"O GOD, let us be those who reflect that blaze of glory; let us be among those who seek your light. Let us, O give the light to those who are still surrounded by darkness this Advent season. AMEN."


Wednesday, November 28, 2012

And everywhere I go, I see you (always)

I was editing a story on a Saturday afternoon in September in 1997 in the New Orleans Times-Picayune newsroom, a massive concrete structure whose greatest memorable attribute was (and is, I assume) a strange tall behemoth  that points to the newspaper's name stripped across the top of the stone structure in blue lettering, when the Associated Press story came across the wire.

It read in part, "Rich Mullins, a popular Christian musician, died this past Saturday morning in a car accident in Illinois. According to the AP, he was thrown from a sports utility vehicle after the car lost control and flipped over. He was then struck by a tractor-trailer as the trucker swerved to avoid the overturned vehicle. Mullins, 41, and Mitch McVicker, 24, who as of Sunday was in critical condition, were on their way to a benefit concert in his hometown of Wichita Kansas when the accident occurred near Peoria Illinois."

Just like that, the man who had begun to lead me through the bitterness and weakness of early sobriety and early Christendom was gone. Over the years since, I've asked God repeatedly why I'm still here and Rich was taken. The world, in my mind, would be a much better place if he was still writing, singing and playing music. I do none of that. I lift up a very small group of loved ones, but I do not touch the numbers this great man did. It's that simple.

But I've come to understand that His thoughts are not my thoughts, and His actions are not my actions. We live and act on different levels.

Mullins wrote, among hundreds of beautifully structured songs that were unlike any before or since in contemporary Christian music, these words in a song called "I See You"

"And the eagle flies and the rivers run
"I look through the night and I can see the rising sun
"And everywhere I go I see you (Ev'rywhere I go I see You)
"And everywhere I go I see you (And ev'rywhere I go I see you)
"Well the grass will die and the flowers fall
"But Your Word's alive and will be after all."

Yesterday came the news via Facebook that Robert Chance had died. Robert was a great guy, a wonderfully loving pastor, the kind of person some of us would hope to become one day. A part-time local pastor, Robert worked at St. Timothy's On the Northshore as an associate pastor. I don't know what he did, but I greatly suspect he did it well. In all my dealing with him, I never knew him to do something half-way. He was committed, to his secular work, his work with the church, but it truly seemed to me he was most committed to this man we've come to truly know who we call Jesus or Yeshua.

Robert had led or helped lead a St. Timothy's group to Israel when he had a stroke. The fight for life then began, with the power and grace Robert had been given by the God he so dearly loved committing itself. Words, my understanding is, were hard to grasp after the stroke, and the operation to help take the pressure off his brain like many a notoriously dry field in Israel or a vein difficult to find. Once a wonderful and thoughtful preacher and teacher, I understand those words he spoke so charmingly were all but useless to him.

Again the suddenness of death, the quickness of tragedy, the swiftness of loss seems overwhelming, even as it did what is now 15 years ago amazingly enough. It is shocking that more than a decade has passed since Rich was taken from us. It is even more shocking that Robert Chance has crossed that River Jordan, figuratively and literally.  In the end, he was in an Israeli hospital with a few friends surrounding him, awaiting his family's arrival. He was ready for the end, an e-mail read.

A couple months back, I came across a story about Rich, a wonderful Christian who gave so much from his earnings that he lived in a small trailer on an Indian reservation in Arizona when he died. He gave and he gave, till cold, even cruel, death took.

Robert, at each and every opportunity I had to observe his tendencies, his warm smile, his gifts from a caring creator, mimicked much of those Mullinsian actions. He came, he loved, he gave, he left us to deal with loss of another dear fellow.

And Mullins wrote, "Lord You're leadin' me with a cloud by day
"And then in the night the glow of a burning flame
"And everywhere I go I see You...
And everywhere I go I see You
And You take my hand and You wash it clean
I know the promised land is light years ahead of me

And every-where I go I see you...."

Robert saw the murky catfish-filled waters of the Jordan before his death, I think. He saw them after his death. He sees them now. He will see them as we race after him. That's the promise ... every-where I go, I see You. That promise keeps me going on these dark, cold days of grief. Every-where I go. Every-where.

I see Him.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

To whom would we go?

The writer of John's Gospel wrote these words to describe the confusion of the crowd of people who were listening to Jesus teach:
"...Then the People began to murmur in disagreement because he had said, 'I am the bread that came dwon from heaven.'
"...Then the people began arguing with each other about what he meant. 'How can this man give us his flesh to eat?' they asked."
"...Jesus was aware that his disciples were complaining, so he said to them,' Does this offend you?'
And finally, "At this point many of his disciples turned away and deserted him. Then Jesus turned to the Twelve and asked, 'are you also going to leave?' Simon Peter replied, 'Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words that give eternal life.' "

There are times when I am a pragmatist, or by way of the dictionary, a practical man. Not often, mind you, but there are times. There are times when logic grabs my collar and shakes me around and says to me that men don't die and rise again. There are times when it all seems to much, that desertion is a thought simply because I can't be what I think He wants me to be.

There are times when I look around me and know without question or doubt that I have wasted days and wasted nights, that I have wasted great sums of money, that I have wasted great opportunities. Wasted. Seen them come and watched as their backs were turned to me as they ran screaming from the arena I was playing in.

Jobs. Family. Times of great rejoicing gone in a millisecond with little to show for it. It just is or it was. There was a time, long ago, that I was something completely different than I am.

I watched the New Orleans Saints-San Francisco 49ers football game Sunday afternoon. The 49ers quarterback was a youngster who played collegiate football at what is now the University of Nevada. But 30 years ago it was known as the University of Nevada-Reno when I was a 29-year-old executive sports editor in Reno, Nevada. I was, according to the column written about my leaving in the Jackson (Miss.) Clarion-Ledger, one of the hottest young journalists in the country. I had six job offers in one year, and for reasons I don't actually remember clearly, I chose that one. Ten months later, after a real crash and burn caused by loneliness and my inability to handle a town that never closed shop (24-hours per day you could get into all kinds of trouble), I limped back to Jackson, taking a job as News Editor of the Jackson Daily News (an afternoon paper).

Sunday afternoon I wondered how those persons I worked with and for during those 10 months are today. I'm absolutely certain they would be shocked to see the transformation Jesus has made of and in my life.

I thought about who I was then, who I am now and who I will one day be judged to be by the Lord of my life, the one with the words of eternal life, and I thought about how little any of that meant to me back then.

It was about the career, having what I perceived to be fun, and struggling each day to not only make it in to work but to make it through work before the cycle started all over again.

The farthest thing from my mind was the Lord of Life, the beginning and the end, the King of Kings, the Lord of Lords, the Alpha and Omega. The farthest thing from my heart was the precious blood of the Lamb, which would one day save me for eternal worship of that King. The farthest element from the planning of my days was the idea that the bread of life was being offered to me; that the eating of the flesh would profit me; that the drinking of the blood of the innocent and perfect blood would enlist me in the loving army of Jehovah.

Nah. I had no family. I had no friends. I had nothing that would be of benefit to anyone else, including my own belief system. I was living an eternally damnable life.

I murmured, I complained, I regretted, I argued. The teaching was too difficult. The requirements too many. The changes desired too much to ask.

I was wracked with guilt but unable to do anything about who I was or what I was.

What is missed, I think, in this moment in Jesus' life (which might have been many such moments crafted into one chapter of John's Gospel) is what the bread of life truly is. In my mind, it's not about bread, sustanance, or teaching. All this is about Jesus. The man. The relationship. The love.

He feeds me with love.
He holds me in love.
He guides me by love.
He is love.

When I finally came to my senses, as the prodigal son did in scripture, I came back to earth and back to the South. Eventually, on my 42nd birthday, I came back to the one who treasured me the most.

Simon Peter said, "Lord, to whom would we go?"

I've never found an answer to that question that doesn't begin and end with Jesus.

Monday, November 26, 2012


Another day, another religious survey.

Evangelical Protestants have become more devoted to their religious beliefs over the last three decades, even as Catholics have become less attached to their faith, new research finds. The denominational differences come even as religious affiliations have decreased in America, with the number of people who claim no religious affiliation at all doubling from 7 percent in 1990 to 14 percent in 2000, said study researcher Philip Schwadel, a sociologist at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. Nevertheless, Schwadel said, these unaffiliated individuals seem to be dropping out of religious institutions that they were previously ambivalent about. People who feel strongly about their faith are as numerous as ever. "The proportion of Americans who say they have a very strong religious affiliation over time is very stable," Schwadel told LiveScience.

What's it mean? 

Depends on how you approach the word devotion, I suspect. And other terms must be explored, as well. First, there is nothing on Mainline Protestants, of which my denomination resides in. We're falling like flies, or at least the last survey of "us" said we were.

But again, I think it depends on what you mean by devotion. We're simply not as, uh, committed as we once were, I suspect. I've taken no surveys, done no research, just done some observation. And what I've observed isn't always beautiful.

We're heading into one of the two most important Christian times of the year, of course, and it will be interesting to see what that does for attendance in my three churches, since it is my first time here during the Advent/Christmas season.

Devotion is as devotion does, I reckon. But how devoted are we in a lifestyle in which we can gather the Internet into our hands with Smart phones and even watch football games on the thing? Everything we've done takes us away from the devotion we once had. 

I'm reminded of the Olivia Newton-John song, "Hopelessly devoted to you." Once we were.