Monday, April 30, 2012

The Council for Short Buildings and Rural Habitats

In the I can't believe what I just read department, police say two teenage girls who fell asleep while sunbathing on a rural Pennsylvania road were struck by a car. The Beaver County Police Department told a local television station that 13-year-olds Samantha Schermanhorn and Kaylie George were hit by the vehicle Sunday afternoon. Two of Samantha's cousins said that their 19-year-old brother had stopped at a stop sign and made a turn before striking the girls with his car. Nicole and Nicholas Beck say the girls were conscious and told them that they had fallen asleep while suntanning. The cousins say their brother was questioned by police after the crash.

Sunbathing ... on a road ... asleep ... struck by car.

Now, I know you're thinking that I can't possible get something spiritual out of this, and perhaps you're right, but let me try.

Have you ever (and I mean ever) felt you're running out of time and time is gaining on you? I mean, really gaining on  you?

I look around sometimes and notice all the things I'm not getting done, and without getting depressed about it or overly maudlin, I think there are plenty of those things I will never get done. I just don't have the time. The time, thus the list, is growing shorter for all of us. Well, not all of us ...

 One World Trade Center, the giant monolith being built to replace the twin towers destroyed in the Sept. 11 attacks, lay claim to the title of New York City's tallest skyscraper Monday. Workers will erect steel columns that will make its unfinished skeleton a little over 1,250 feet high, just enough to peak over the roof of the observation deck on the Empire State Building. The milestone was a preliminary one. Workers are still adding floors to the so-called "Freedom Tower" and it isn't expected to reach its full height for at least another year, at which point it is likely to be declared the tallest building in the U.S., and third tallest in the world. Bragging rights, though, carry an asterisk. Crowning the world's tallest buildings is a little like picking the heavyweight champion in boxing. There is often disagreement about who deserves the belt. In this case, the issue involves the 408-foot-tall needle that will sit on the tower's roof. Count it, and the World Trade Center is back on top. Otherwise, it will have to settle for No. 2, after the Willis Tower in Chicago. "Height is complicated," said Nathaniel Hollister, a spokesman for The Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitats, a Chicago-based organization considered an authority on such records. No, it's not. Height is scary, period. There's nothing complicated about DON'T LOOK DOWN.

First, I'm stunned there is a Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitats. Second, who considers this an authority? Third, what does one do when one is not speaking for Tall Buildings and Urban Habitats. Finally, is there a Council for Short Buildings and Rural Habitats? Does the one council constantly pick on the other? Is the CSBRH depressed much of the time?

Just wondering....

Ever since I saw that Bucket List movie with Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman, I've been walking around with a bucket on my shoulder. After finally figuring I would never do all the things I've never done, I began preparing another kind of list.

Today I debut my kicking-the-bucket list. In honor of the Council for Short Buildings and Rural Habitats, it is a short one.:

1) I don't have time nor money to check off vacations to Hawaii, the Rocky Mountains, a trip to Europe, one of those ship-trips to cover Paul's journeys, one to Washington, D.C., one to New York City, etc. So, if I were to pick one more huge vacations, and the cost estimate alone didn't kill me, Mary would decide where we would go. I imagine she would choose to go be back to Israel, where we flew together in 2009. I remember getting up early on our second day there, walking down a hill from the hotel, sitting on a huge square plank near the Sea of Galilee (or Sea of Tiberius or Lake Galilee -- what's with the multiple names of everything over there anyway?) and watching the mists rise like an ascending Jesus. You can never duplicate a perfect moment, even trying to. But If I could, oh, if I could, that would be one of those moments (like our wedding ceremony) I would try.

2) If I was creating a kicking-the-bucket list of things I haven't done and might, just might be willing to try, I don't have time nor money to check off bungee jumping, airplane door opening out the side etc., highest and fastest roller-coaster ride, etc., rides. Since I have no desire to do anything that involves heights more than my knee, I guess what I would choose in that grand category would be none of the above

3) And finishing the top three of my mini-kicking the bucket list is bank robbing. I understand that some folks believe armed robbery is a "rush." I am not in that category. I want nothing to do with guns, robbery, running from police or anything to do with anything that has anything to do with guns, snakes or knives. If a robber is holding a snake that has a knife in its mouth, I will die of something akin to heart attack before the gun is fired.

So, there you have it all. My kicking-the-bucket list. My fears, condensed into a small list. However, sunbathing on a county road (which sounds an awful lot like a country music song title), would be in the honorable mention actions.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Completely confident in what?

This morning, what do you have complete confidence in? Anything? Anything at all?
Have you complete confidence in the economy? Home prices continue to fall, jobless rates continue to swim in the depths, and gas prices are as high as the pie that I can't buy in the sky.

Have you complete confidence in the government? Take a stroll down either side of the side of the aisle in any of the Federal buildings, and you're going to get plenty of argumental nonsense but far too little answers.

Have you complete confidence in anything, anything at all? I suspect the answer (or answers) is no. And yet, we continue to work on the answer, continue to reach out, continue to cry out for hope, help and even a bit of quaint happiness.

In Paul's letter to the church in Rome, he writes, "I have complete confidence in the gospel; it is God's power to save all who believe, first the Jews and also the Gentiles. For the gospel reveals how God puts people right with himself: it is through faith from beginning to end. As the scripture says, "The person who is put right with God through faith shall live."

Complete confidence in the gospel. That sounds, well, right, doesn't it?

From a summary graph on the book "Complete Confidence" I read this morning: Renowned psychotherapist Dr. Sheenah Hankin points the way to a confident life free of self-criticism, anxiety, and immature anger. Her Winning Hand of Comfort technique is a clear, concise, and powerful prescription for dealing with everyday situations—from resolving conflicts to ending unhealthy habits like overeating, complaining, and procrastinating. This essential handbook will teach you how to retrain your brain to manage your emotions and put your problems into perspective. You will learn how to calm down, clarify your thinking, challenge your blame habit, comfort your negative feelings, and achieve confidence. That is Dr. Hankin's promise.

Dr. Hankin has complete confidence in her ability to get rid of blaming and negativity. That's her plan.
Paul's plan was to lean completely upon the gospel of Jesus the Christ.

There's substance in both plans, I think, but only one of the plans ensure not only joy but eternal joy.

I have complete confidence that Jesus can overcome all, which in this day and age is some really, really good news.

Friday, April 27, 2012

The one you HAVE to read...

Paul says this was Jesus' attitude: "He always had the nature of God, but he did not think that by force he should try to remain equal with God. Instead of this, of his own free will, he gave up all he had and took the nature of a servant. He became like a human being and appeared in human likeness."

Imagine if you will that you've never heard any of that. That you have never even heard of this man Jesus.

Take those phrases apart one by one:
1) He always had the nature of God.
That mans he was, among other things, loving beyond measure, powerful beyond imagination, eternal beyond thought.
2)  ...but he did not think that by force he should try to remain equal with God.
That means he didn't keep his power or his eternal being. He could have, with loads of angels at his beck and call, but he chose not to.
3) ....of his own free will, he gave up all he had and took the nature of a servant.
A god who serves. What a wild, unbelievable to some, idea.
4) He became like at human being and appeared in human likeness.
I could get heavily involved in this statement, but I won't. I will simply say that to my understanding, Jesus became human. Fully human.

The question before all of us daily is what does that mean to us? With all the hubbub about WWJD, did we ever read this one little phrase here? Jesus, equal with God, gave up power and became a servant.

Jesus = God.
God serves.

What a concept. How much have we ceased to understand or at the minimum do?

I walked into the living room last night and Mary was watching her beloved HGTV (while I was watching my beloved ESPN in another room). There was a program on called Million Dollar Rooms. ROOMS. The one they were featuring was a closet. A CLOSET. A MILLION DOLLAR CLOSET. It featured a $10,000 rug. It featured a $35,000 chandelier. Those items are worth far more than my base pay, but that's not what I thought. What I thought was how Jesus came to serve, how many could be served with the money spent on those two items, and how we're called to do so.

I do not judge this woman I've never met who had this closet built. But I do judge a system that argues government is supposed to help the poor, the hungry, the outcast when in fact it is US who are supposed to. When the culture says we can spend over a million bucks on a closet and feel perfect about it (the woman said, "I wished every woman in America could have a closet like this), then we're not long for this planet I fear.

We should have the attitude of Jesus, but be mindful of the attitude of the Jesus who is coming back and who will ask how well did we love when He gets here.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Are you blessed?

Paul tells us this morning there is reason to celebrate. In his letter to the church in Ephesus, he writes, "For in our union with Christ he has blessed us by giving us every spiritual blessing in the heavenly world."

I named this blog (before there were blogs and I simply wrote them for inserts into Sunday bulletins 15 years ago or so) That's Life. Note where those blessings Paul is writing about occur, however. In the heavenly world, he writes. Therefore, one can conclude they don't occur in this life.

This notion of blessings is an old one, back to Genesis. But I like what Paul wrote to the church in Rome about the subject. He wrote, " For Macedonia and Achaia were pleased to make a contribution for the poor among the Lord’s people in Jerusalem. 27 They were pleased to do it, and indeed they owe it to them. For if the Gentiles have shared in the Jews’ spiritual blessings, they owe it to the Jews to share with them their material blessings. 28 So after I have completed this task and have made sure that they have received this contribution, I will go to Spain and visit you on the way."

Two types of blessing, huh? Spiritual blessings. Material blessings.

So, the obvious question this morning is, do you feel blessed? I know some folks who when asked how they are always answer, "I am blessed." By that they mean that everything in their life is a gift from God and they are blessed.

In this world today, the word blessing often means "good" stuff. In other words, many folks wouldn't understand if someone who has very, very little were to say they were blessed.

Doesn't mean it isn't true. It means the world can't understand it. Paul wrote, "To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings."

So, tell me about your blessings this morning. Take only a few minutes. Reply below or on Facebook. But tell us all about how blessed, or not, that you feel.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Where else would I go?

When I was an infant, before going to my forever home with that young couple called the Turners, I was called Peter by the nurses who oversaw my baby days. There are days, oh, long days that drift into weeks sometime, when I feel so Peter-like, before he stood and preached and converted many. Just a man, a flawed man, with a family who never sought a life in ministry but who found himself there to his own amazement. No rock, just a rolled-over man of good intention who couldn't find fish when the lake was filled. No water-walker, just a man who couldn't hit a lake with a rock if he tried. No perfect disciple but a man with so much to learn. This Peter, oh, this Peter.

I imagine such a connection to him, this Peter I know only through the scriptures and have no idea how big or small, how ruddy or how fair or whatever he was. I don't know eye-color, hair-color, ambitions or likes. I know only what I read, and the words are so few. Still, I feel I know him, and him me, this Peter.

And when I come to die, and when I come to die, give me Jesus. Give me Jesus, Give me Jesus, You can have all this world, give me Jesus. This morning I sit and listen to this modern hymn sung by Vince Gill, though it's been sung by many, as I write. I sense this Peter sitting beside a consuming fire burning both near and in him as he tried to figure just who was this person, this friend, this mentor, this Rabbi Jesus, and people are saying to him, "Aren't you with him?" And he's trying to figure out just what is his answer to that as fear crawls down his back, this Peter.

The point of it all is through this long journey I'm on, I could have many, many more things but ultimately all I need, all I want is this Jesus, this man-God who changes lives. Peter felt the same, but had such a difficult time not only expressing it, but even understanding it.

Peter, a fisherman who became an apostle, said it best perhaps. "We have given up everything to follow you. Where then would we turn?"

This Peter, who tried to walk on water and sank, but oh, this Peter was the one to try, wasn't he?.
This Peter, who recognized the Messiah as the Messiah.
This Peter, whom the Messiah said would be the rock upon which the church would be built.
This Peter, whose first reaction to a group of Temple guards coming to arrest Jesus was to draw sword. Oh, and he was the one to carry it, wasn't he?
This Peter, who denied the Christ three times.

The music pours flame unto my sleepy, over-fed body. It's all because of Jesus I survive Casting Crowns sing, and I follow on the wave, drawn by the words, pushed by the tune.

This Peter must have felt that as they walked those dusty trails from Galilee to Jerusalem.

This morning I want to be closer to Jesus. I want to sit on his right hand. This morning I want to feel just a sliver of perfection. This morning I want to seek His will for me this day, just this day, just this one day but all I feel is sleepy. Oh, and so did this Peter in the Garden of Gethsemane. As his Lord prayed with blood pouring out, this Peter went to sleep. Jesus asked of him, "Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Couldn’t you men keep watch with me for one hour?” he asked this Peter, this friend, this disciple. Peter, who couldn't ... that's me. Oh, that's me.

 Big Daddy Weave is shouting into the mike, "I want to shout like a prisoner who feels like he has been set free, as I examine both my life and my surroundings, I see a dear son-in-law beset with problems not wholly of his making. I see a dear daughter for whom I pray who has those same issues. Neither know what to do with their problems, and I suspect they haven't turned to what and who I believe has the only answers. I see a dear daughter for whom I pray who raises two boys with all that means and does so by herself and works all the same. I see life, passing both before my eyes, and as slowly as cold syrup and I feel I know this Peter a bit better.

This Peter saw all these things. He had a wife, a mother-in-law and enough life to squabble about. Yet he left his nets to explore following this man-God, Jesus. I wonder what did he tell his family? Did they go with him? Did he have to leave them?

I have so few answers sometimes I sweat the small stuff. But through it all, through it all...

And when I come to die, and when I come to die, give me Jesus. Give me Jesus, Give me Jesus, You can have all this world, give me Jesus.

It's the only answer I have. Some say it is the only one I need. Truth is, in Peter-like fashion, I agree. Where else would I go?

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Kidney stoning

In the Living Bible, Galatians 6: 9 reads, "So let us not become tired of doing good; for if we do not give up, the time will come when we will reap the harvest."

Doing good, not for salvation but simply to be doing good, is a fine thing but sometimes we feel we've done good and got nothing in return.

For example: A New York Long Island woman said she was fired after she donated a kidney to help save the life of her boss. Debbie Stevens, a 47-year-old divorced mother of two, filed a formal complaint with the New York State Human Rights Commission last Friday, claiming her boss used her for her organ then fired her "after the woman got what she wanted."

But here's the issue: God looks not at the good deed but at the motivation for the good deed. Any reward He might decide upon is based upon the why not the what.

And there is reward, as declared in both the Old and New Testaments.

Genesis 15: 1: "After this, the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision:
“Do not be afraid, Abram.
I am your shield,
   your very great reward.”

Matthew 6: 3-4: "But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you."

Here's the deal as I understand it: Christians are told to expect abuse and persecution for their faith. When they are persecuted, they are not to respond in kind, but should be patient and gracious, knowing that God will reward them for the suffering they experience in His name.  

It is about the good deed done in good faith that produces good circumstances, perhaps not on this earth but in heaven.

Jesus explained, "But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal."

Even kidneys would suffice.

Monday, April 23, 2012

A prisoner set free

I'm sure you saw it the other day, but it's worth delving back into. Chuck Colson died. But what I want to do this morning is reverse engineer (the wildly popular term these days) his obit.
Most obits that I looked at talked about his days as part of the Watergate conspiracy. Surely Colson was part of that infamous part of our history.

But there toward the end, we read: Before (his) plea (as part of the conspiracy), Colson read C.S. Lewis' "Mere Christianity" and pledged to become an evangelical Christian. Opponents sneered that his conversion was phony and only designed to win him sympathy.
But for the rest of his life, Colson worked to bring Christian messages and Bible study to prisoners and their families. In 1983, he helped found Justice Fellowship to rehabilitate prisoners and bring about prison reform such as better job training for inmates.
Time magazine named Colson one of the 25 most influential evangelical Christians in America in 2005. At that time, Time said his Prison Fellowship Ministries was a $50 million organization with operations in 110 countries.
‘His famous redemption story and tireless advocacy on behalf of the marginalized and the outcast have called all of us to a deeper reflection on our lives and priorities," Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said in a statement. "He lives on as a modern model of redemption and a permanent rebuttal to the cynical claim that there are no second chances in life.'

I will be willing to bet that he would said they buried the lead. What was most important in his life was the fact he has been born again, quite literally.

Colson was a perfect look at how we all get second chances. God is so willing to do this through his grace and mercy.

The past two weeks I've offered what amounts to United Methodist altar calls at one of my churches. What has been very interesting is no one (NONE) has taken me up on it. No one has wanted to talk about their life, their circumstances. Nothing.

Now, I'm not in a position to judge anyone, but the fact that everyone is absolutely sin free, absolutely pain free, absolutely worry free is really special. No one in this church has ever come and knelt at the altar. Not once, even during communion. The odds of that, well, wow.

Colson, I believe, would have had no problem kneeling at the altar. In fact, his life was one big kneel. I understand his love for prison ministry because there is always someone who has that same be washed by the blood and given a fresh start, even if they are still imprisoned physically.

God speed, Chuck.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Heading home

I'm interested this morning in the story of Abram, again, for I've had two days to reflect upon our massive, long, injurious trip to Eunice, Kinder, Iota and all crawfish paddies in between. For those not in the know, my wife Mary and I, who celebrated 28 years of, uh, bliss yesterday, drove to see our new parsonage-church-parish-place of worship and such. We spent 14 hours on the trip and I believe I've pinched a nerve in my shoulder blade at some point, but such is the way of Turnerdom these days. Body parts break, but I wander on.

I'm not quick, but I sense a pattern in Abram's life, and the lives of Abram's blood-line. Check this out:

Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. As people moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there.

Generations later, we find this: Terah took his son Abram, his grandson Lot son of Haran, and his daughter-in-law Sarai, the wife of his son Abram, and together they set out from Ur of the Chaldeans to go to Canaan. But when they came to Harran, they settled there.

Seems they followed the rainbow where ever the winds blew. But what they were looking for was a place to settle, a place to call their own, a place that they could be fulfilled in.

Till finally: So Abram went, as the LORD had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he set out from Harran. He took his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, all the possessions they had accumulated and the people they had acquired in Harran, and they set out for the land of Canaan, and they arrived there.

I was thinking today about where I have come from, as much as where I am headed. I barely know how I got to this place, and I thought perhaps I had settled, but here we go again. Don't know if that's the last place, in fact it probably isn't, but this I know (and Abram learned), God already is there. We pack, we go, we establish, we pack, we go.

The key in all of the above is Abram went, as the Lord has told him.

Life isn't exactly blind staggering until one finds a morsel, but it is making decisions about where and when we go that turn out to be good or bad. I've had many great friends lately who have decided their business can't hold them any longer. So in their late 50s, they've struck out again, away from the newspaper business into futures that are unclear.

We, none of us, know -- absolutely know -- what lies ahead. But clearly if one is led the path is much, much easier. How one could argue that, I don't know. I only know I am a ship on a foggy night, but on occasion, really just on occasion, I see the lighthouse shining a light so bright I know I can get home safely.

That's my life. That's our life. That's where we're headed, home, and we're closer today than we were yesterday. Home, like it was to Abram, is where God is. Heaven isn't Iowa, friends, it's where God is. And one visit to Eunice, Kinder, Iota leads me to believe God is there.

Isn't that what most of us need? Isn't that what most of us want, really? That's home, and we're heading there.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Being transformed

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. ... Romans 12-2

There's a lot of information out there about doing God's will, finding God's will, seeking God's will, knowing God's will. But I'm especially taken by these two simple sentences. Why? Because of what I see here as an absolute release of my own work in the matter.

Be transformed... God's work.
Renewing ... God's work.

God renews my mind so that I can be transformed. When I am transformed, again, something I can't do myself, something outside of myself, I can then test and approve his will, which is GOOD, PLEASING AND PERFECT.

Wow. And then some.

Now, one could argue that it's on us to stop the conforming, but I've found that without God in my life, without that ol' Jesus take the wheel stuff, I can't stop the conforming. Oh, I can try, but just as when I try to find God's will without a God compass or a God flashlight (the word lighting the path and such), I can't. I just can't. I'm sure there are folks who can; I'm just not one of them, apparently.

Bible teacher John MacArthur tells this story:
A young lady approached me last week when I was at a conference speaking, and she was very tearful and very distraught. And she said to me essentially what I have heard in different words many times in my ministry. She said, "I just can't seem to live the Christian life the way I should." She said, "I am frustrated. I am without victory, without a sense of accomplishment. I struggle seemingly with the very simplest forms of obedience in my Christian walk. I'm constantly defeated. Can you help me?"

I said, "Well, what has been your approach to solving the problem yourself?"

She said, "I have tried everything." She said, "I...I've been going to a church where they speak in tongues, where they have healings, where they have all kinds of spiritual experiences." She said, "I've entered into all of them. I've spoken in tongues. I've had certain ecstatic experiences, gifts of prophecy, certain supposed miracles. I've been slain in the Spirit. And in spite of all of this, I am not pleased with my life." And she said in a rather telling remark, "I've tried to get all I could get out of God."

And I said, "That's your problem." The key to spiritual victory is not getting all you can get, but giving all you have. There's a big difference. And there are people literally flocking into churches and spiritual experiences to get more of God when the issue is not what they need to get but what they need to give. And that's the essence of this tremendous passage of Scripture.

Having concluded eleven chapters of profound and thrilling doctrine that defines what God has done for every believer, Paul does not say, "Now here's what you need to get." He says, "Now here's what you need to give." The key to powerful living is not getting something more, but giving all we have. And I'm somewhat admittedly frustrated by that particular idea that is so prevalent in Christianity that what you need to be successful in living the Christian life is to get something...when the real issue is to give.

Giving, not so one can receive but because it is a right and just thing to do, is the one constant all of us can (sometimes very forcefully and intentionally against our very will) do. We can be transformed by simply giving more... more love, more time, more money (yes, it's a requirement, too). We can be transformed not by trying to read tea leaves or ashes but simply giving to another human being something that takes effort.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

John 20:24-29
24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin*), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’ But he said to them, ‘Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.’
26 A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ 27Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.’ 28Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ 29Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.’

I’m struck by the loneliness of Thomas, completely apart from his doubting. Imagine a week spent without the one you love most in life, and also apart from those who are “mere” friends.
Perhaps there is no greater image of sin in scripture, literal or symbolic than Thomas’ journey from one week’s beginning to another.

Thomas is a wanderer. He leaves those who care for him, and by his own actions, he separates himself from help. Isn’t that what sin’s role is? We make one lousy choice, just one, and we slide off the soft, centered path, looking for holes in hands and side or simply something that will tell us something concrete we can latch on to, till one day we look up and have no idea where we are or how we got there.

I’ve always thought the line in a hymn that sums my journey the best is “Prone to wander, Lord I feel it. Prone to leave the one I love. Here’s my heart, oh take and seal it, seal it for thy courts above.” I feel Robert Robinson’s pain, the same pain that Thomas felt, the same pain that I often find myself in. Nagging. Throbbing pain.

We are more than conquerors, Paul wrote, but often I am simply a wanderer, bouncing here and there, leaving the only one I can find peace with for who knows what.

Where did Thomas go? What did he do? The Gospel writer tells us none of this, essentially deeming what I feel is vital to the story to be inconsequential. All I know is Thomas made one right decision in this tale, the decision to come back to the group. He is saved not by his faith, but by his loneliness, by his pain, which calls out to him in a week of wandering and tells him to come home, come home.

All fall short, Paul tells us. Thomas walked the dirty streets of Jerusalem as I walk the dirty streets of my community, suffering not because of want but because of my own actions, my own choices, my own disbelief.
But the gift Thomas is given, the gift we’re all allowed, is God’s love translated as grace. Prone to wander, but prone to receive … that’s my life. That every week-day journey away from the safety of the group (the body of Christ) is rewarded with the inexplicable peace Christ gives me.

I see no holes, I see no body, I see no blood, I see no crown, I see no spear. But what I do see is a humbled wanderer given grace one more time.  

Today Mary and I get a glimpse of our future, travelling to our new home, Eunice, La., for a day, meeting people of the new churches, seeing our new parsonage, seeing our new churches. I pray we remember that humbled wanderer's grace all day long.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

A Titanic dog pound

I know folks who do not like pets. I have one daughter who has no pets, though I dearly would love to give a dog to her boys. I do not understand those people, as they do not understand us.

I like many share a fascination with the sinking of Titanic. I was reading this morning about the dogs that were on board, 12 I believe, and the three that were saved.

Then I read this: "One particularly sad story involves a Great Dane owned by 50-year-old Ann Elizabeth Isham. Miss Isham visited her dog at the ship's kennel daily and when she was evacuating, asked to take him also. When she was told the dog was too large, she refused to leave without him and got out of the lifeboat. Several days later, the body of a woman clutching a large dog was spotted by crew of the recovery ship, Mackay-Bennet, and dinghies were dispatched. Eyewitness accounts by crew and ship's log confirm the sighting and recovery, and the body recovered is assumed to be Miss Isham."

I never say what I would do in those situations. I only know how wonderful and beautiful I believe this story to be.

I've written before of the genuine and unconditional love our dogs and to an extent (I think) our cats give us and we them. The fact that almost all have a story attached to the way we got them, mostly rescues and such, only makes them the more special.

I would save them all if it was in my power. Heck, just moving them to the next parsonage is a chore we have to figure out. But it is all worth it, the expense, the cleaning, the you name it. All of it is worth it.

I believe they are gifts from God, friends I can never forget. Would I go to the deep for them? I don't know. But I will go through most anything else. I am their good shepherd as Jesus is mine.

Monday, April 16, 2012

While it was still dark

Early on Sunday morning while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been taken away from the entrance.

I'm struck by two things here: 1) Mary went while it was still dark and she saw that the stone had been taken away.

This morning I want to talk about darkness and the stones in our lives that lead us to that darkness.

Who among us hasn't felt that tinge of darkness in our lives from time to time? Just yesterday, as I read the final sports column from a Mississippi icon, Rick Cleveland, as time and the disappearing of our newspapers led four more friends to accept buyouts and head on with their lives as positions are dropped from our nation's print journalism ranks, I felt that sorrow that comes with darkness.

Oh, what we all were at one point, 35 years ago or so, starting in the business together, changing the way the local sports newspaper would be seen for decades. I was the first to leave, and had I to do it all over again ... I would do it because those steps led me to where I am, strangely enough. I came expecting much, and much was granted by a loving God who gently shepherded me down the right path.

Mary headed to the tomb expecting nothing. Nothing was all she had known since her mentor, the man she loved as a dear, dear friend had died. Nothing was all she ever expected to receive again. The one who had saved her, helped her, molded her was gone. What could possibly be right about the world in the future?

Darkness needs a cure. Darkness needs to have stones rolled away before it can be dealt with. Darkness needs, well, light.

Mary did nothing at all to bring the light back to her life, it's important to note. No self-help classes. No fervent prayer. Nothing.

The light came back verses later when Jesus appeared again.

That same Jesus saved me 16 years ago, changed me, rolled the stone away in my life. I am kin to Mary that way.

Do I regret not taking more advantage of the gifts God gave me in that other life? Sure. But I know this without question .... my life is abundant because of Him. I was in darkness; he provided the light.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Who are you pleasing?

There's this intriguing verse in John's Gospel in which Jesus is speaking about himself, but I submit will work quite nicely for any and all of us. Jesus says, "By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself but him who sent me."

This is a fine, fine work mantra for those inside ministry and out. I believe we get into more trouble trying to please those around us at work and in our homes than anything else we do. It is my worst problem, amid a myriad of woes.

The world has this wrong. As David Brown once said, the world says, "“Don't worry about growing older or pleasing others. Please yourself."

The world has this wrong. Life isn't about pleasing yourself, it is about pleasing God. It is why we have spiritual disciplines in the first place. We are trying to develop a close relationship with a God who loves us and we're trying to please him -- but not in a legalistic manner.

The issue is what our motivation is. It shouldn't be to earn our salvation, because we can't. It shouldn't be to show off to others, because that is pride. It shouldn't be so that we don't feel guilty or to make God love us, because God already loves us, accepts us (if we have received Jesus as our Saviour) and has forgiven us.
Instead, it is a simple declaration. I can't do anything without Christ. Anything. But I can do all things through him who strengthens me. Everything I do should be about pleasing God.
As Stephen Curtis Chapman wrote, "So many different voices call, and I try hard to please them all; I run in circles 'till I fall So I'm falling on my knees and praying
Please, Please Please only You , only You
Please, Please, Please take my heart, and make it true
Let everything I say and everything I do
Please, Please only you
Please only you

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Free The Truth, Sean Payton

The Bible does not go out of its way to rank sin, as each sin is equal in weight according to the overall text, but if the 10 Commandments are in any way a list of the top 10 so to speak, then it is interesting to note that lying or bearing false witness is just a couple of rungs down the ladder from murder. they're in the same community, so to speak.

Most of us have little problem with the murder part. That hasn't popped up in our lives often or in other words we haven't committed it often.

But most of us have more than a little problem with the truth part. The opportunity to speak the truth or not comes up every day, maybe every hour.

Maybe we haven't lied on a resume (do they still check those things?), or told a fishing story (the one that got away can come in many sizes, can't it?), or told a story about a neighbor or even a friend (it's called tweeting today but it was called passing rumors in other ages). Or maybe we have.

What I have noticed, particularly recently since it is a political campaign season, is that telling the truth is truly in the eye of the candidate. What would be truly great for the country is to simply tell us not what we want to hear but tell us how your candidacy would be different than the other candidate and tell us what it will mean to us. Don't worry about the consequences of the truth. Simply tell the truth.

But it is not just politics. No, way. Truth or lies comes in various sizes, shapes and realties.

Here's a recent roll call just in sports:

New Orleans Saints head football coach Sean Payton was suspended for a year by the NFL Commissioner Roger Goddell because his defensive coordinator and coaches ran a "bounty" program. Essentially they, reportedly, paid cash rewards for hits on other teams' players that injured them. The Saints were questioned about that two years ago and reportedly lied about it then, then repeated the lies earlier this year when questioned again. Most people believe that if Payton had been truthful and stopped the program two years ago, his penalty would have been far less severe.

Arkansas football coach Bobby Petrino was fired this week after a motorcycle wreck that injured him disclosed he had a rider on the bike. Petrino lied about that initially, then it was discovered he had had an affair with the rider, a 25-year-old, and had hired her to be part of the football program essentially because of the affair. His lies to his bosses were enough to have him be fired for "just" cause, costing him his job and millions in pay. Had he told the truth, most feel he would have kept his job, but perhaps not his family. Now...he has lost his job, his pay and probably his family.

The Bible has much to say about lying. I like a couple particularly.

Proverbs has this to say about those who lie:
16 There are six things the LORD hates,
seven that are detestable to him:
17 haughty eyes,
a lying tongue,
hands that shed innocent blood,
18 a heart that devises wicked schemes,
feet that are quick to rush into evil,
19 a false witness who pours out lies
and a person who stirs up conflict in the community.

In the things that God hates or those things that are detestable to him, lying is there twice. A lying tongue, a false witness. And if those lies stir up conflict, then it is there three times, murder once. Again....

We tend to think (and to say) that little white lies don't hurt, but they do. They crush, and those that do them are crushed, sooner or later.

If this notion of Free Sean Payton continues, I suggest that no lessons are learned here, and the arrogance and haughtiness that helped fuel this "bounty" program will only continue. Payton, and others who think that turning to lies to help defend their positions or their jobs or their way of life or whatever, will never learn otherwise.

I've heard and read that the Commissioner needed to send a clear message to everyone connected to the game of football that the "bounty" type of thing can't continue. He needed to let even kids playing the game know that wouldn't be tolerated.


The greater lesson we can hope that our children take from this is not to stop attempting to hurt people when you "hit" them on a football field. That has been the defense's goal all the way back to when I played football. You want to do that. You want to impose your will on them, as they say, and if they are carted off, you want to be remorseful, but you want to feel you've done just a tiny bit of your job. It is not your intent to injury but it is darn sure your intent to hurt. That will not change. You do not intentionally want to injure anyone in the game of football, but as a defender, you want to hit them just as hard as you possibly can and if they can't play the next play, so be it.

No, that's not the lesson that can be and should be learned here.

The lesson that can be learned is and should be that lying about a mistake or an action or a statement is far worse than telling the truth could ever be. Just tell the truth and take it, not as a man, but take it as a person who believes and understands what they did was wrong and wants to (as they now say) own it.

Is safety Malcolm Jenkins going to hit a receiver coming across the field any differently than before? I suggest not. Those hits still will be shown on ESPN. But perhaps, just perhaps, if he does something wrong off the field, perhaps he will be more inclined to be truthful if he talks about it. So far, the only lesson we've learned is that you have to be remorseful if you're caught.

Payton has yet to come clean about what occurred. He has yet to hold a press conference and tell us times and dates and what he did to try to stop this, if anything. He has yet to discuss his side, if there is a side, of this. He has yet to really say anything to the public, and yet Saints fans continue to be supportive. One can only guess, based upon Goddell's statement's, that he was less than truthful about anything to the commissioner. So far, he has been anything but truthful with the "fans."

Therefore, that's the lesson that he's giving. Not something about tackle football.

That lesson about telling the truth even it hurts, maybe especially if it hurts, could change us all. Maybe this is the moment when truth-telling becomes a wave of the future. Maybe the entire city of New Orleans would be changed, since we hang on every word Payton and Drew Brees says. Maybe the police department would start telling the truth, and corruption would fade. Maybe the city council would start telling the truth, and potholes would disappear. Maybe the school system, the parish officials, maybe even the clergy would start majoring in the truth.

UGGGGGHHHH. The possibilities boggle the mind.

We have a (black and) golden moment here, folks. We can't let it pass us by. We can even make tee-shirts.

It's not Free Sean Payton (which by the way are anything but free). It's Free The Truth, Sean Payton.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Compassionate conversion

The story had a bit of play on some news outlets:

Two months after he threatened to sue a Texas county for allowing a Nativity scene on public property, longtime atheist Patrick Greene has announced that he is not only converting to Christianity, but also plans to become a pastor, the Christian Post reports.

Greene, an Air Force veteran from San Antonio who has a history of activism, threatened in February to file a lawsuit against Henderson County, Texas, if they did not remove a Nativity scene in front of the courthouse. But he was forced to drop the lawsuit after doctors told him that he had developed eye cataracts and was in danger of losing his vision.

His failing vision forced him to quit his job as a taxi driver.

That's when Jessica Crye,  a Christian woman who read about Greene's troubles in the paper, went to members of her church and asked if they would be willing to donate money to help Greene. They raised $400 in donations for Greene, which left him "flabbergasted that Christians would help atheists," the Athens Review reported at the time. Christians and atheists alike ended up donating to Greene through a fundraising account he set up. It's that compassion that Greene says compelled him to start rethinking his religious beliefs.

This seems to be a startling quick conversion, but it's not uncommon. I've always been flabbergasted about that moment when the light switch is flipped and those who did not believe suddenly believe.

Saul's knock-down, drag-out with Jesus on the road to Damascus comes to mind, but there are many, many others.

In C.S. Lewis' autobiography Surprised by Joy, Lewis writes of his "moment." Lewis was a noted aethiest broken down by the pursuit of God.

Although in 1929 Jack was already on his knees and had prayed to God desperately and reluctantly, it was J.R.R. Tolkien's (author of the Lord of the Rings series) friendship that brought him to the encounter with Christ. On 19 September 1931, Jack and "Toilers" (as Tolkien was called by his closest friends), together with their common friend Hugo Dyson, were taking their usual after-dinner stroll in the grounds of Magdalen College and began discussing ancient myths and the Truth "hidden" in these legends.

Lewis wrote, "I have just passed on from believing in God to definitely believing in Christ, in Christianity.... My long night talk with Dyson and Tolkien had a great deal to do with it", and that he would explain it at some other time.

In Surprised by Joy, he wrote "Really, a young Atheist cannot guard his faith too carefully. Dangers lie in wait for him on every side."

Isn't that true for so many of us? We are going along, minding our own business, when suddenly a God moment pops up, we see the compassion of God in a million different acts of those who say they are Christian and we're overwhelmed by joy, battered by love, stomped by grace. And we fold, suddenly or slowly, but we fold to the same passion that caused a rumpled Father to run headlong down the road to a prodigal son.

The list is a long one of those who were least likely to be converted becoming a conversion statistic. Many of the leading atheists in the world surrendered to the loving touch of the Master. No one is safe, it would seem.

One of my favorites is of this man who was wondering home one day. He found a small chapel and wanted to know how to be saved. The minister was missing that day and a shoemaker or a tailor got up to speak. He was not not well spoken or well prepared. He stumbled over the text and spoke for just a few moments. And in those broken moments God moved. As this unknown soul read from the scripture he recounted a verse about looking to Christ. He called people to look. Just look. Nothing more.

Anyone can look. The poor can look. The weak can look. The blind can look with imagination. There is no waiting for the Spirit to move. Just look. In the midst of this, the man looked out at young C.H. Spurgeon and called him to look. Obey and look came from the pulpit. If you don't look you shall live in misery. LOOK AND LIVE. And, as if by magic, salvation become real to Spurgeon where it had not been before. He passed from darkness to light in one moment.

And the results? Spurgeon become known as the prince of preachers. He spoke to crowds of thousands. He become one of the best loved pastors that London ever had.

John Wesley had his heart-warming experience. St. Augustine had his own bout with Christ.  From deathbeds to prison tables to movie houses, God moves as God so desires and hearts that would seem to have or want nothing to do with Him, suddenly are changed (in the winking of an eye, or some such).

That makes it all the more imperative that we, those readers of mine who claim The Way as the way, walk their talk. No one is beyond him. But the No. 1 reason, I believe, that atheists still exist is Christians ... Christians who claim the name but do not walk with the flame.

Compassionate, truthful, loving persons exist who do not know Christ. But those who know Christ, who are filled with His Spirit, are changed daily and charged daily and can not be defeated in the world of spiritual warfare.

Study the life of one John Newton, who was lost, but then found, who was blind but then could see and you will find conversion is real.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The theory of calls and effects

I finished work early yesterday, and though I didn't take a day off as my lovely wife, Mary, suggested since I had so much work last week on Holy Week activities, I took an afternoon off. What a wonderful choice.

It was one of "those" days; like in Genesis, God walked the garden in the cool of the day, gently lifting and moving leaves and limbs. The birds were mocking each other in outrageously beautiful tunes; squirrels were afoot without much care or security in their actions; the two cats who adopted us upon our arrival to this parsonage were play-fighting over my attention and were completely against the use of my time to read; and the book I was reading was joyous as I read it first in the front then the back yard.

It was one of "those" days, a gentle reminder that there are still "those" days to be found in a life that too often registers what we "do" as visit the lonely and the physically incapable. In return, it seems often we check our joy at the door and leave it there in the umbrella holder somehow.

I got away, deep into thought and reading material, leaving bills and plans behind as a journeyer on the road less-travelled must.

As time crawled, I carelessly watched a Cardinal hopping and a Blue Jay fluttering and flashdancing with a mate. They were dressed in their finest, particularly for a Monday.

The dogs were interestlingly quiet, though occasionaly they ripped across the yard for only God knows what reason, chasing or being chased by the unknown and the unseen, then settling into a slumber. (our grand child Gavin calls them "dead-sleep naps")

While sitting and enjoying the occasional paragraph of Illusion, Frank Peretti's latest foray into fiction, I received a visitor, the pastor from the huge Southern Baptist church down the road. He and I share much: We both went to Mississippi State; we both love animals (his father in Picayune is a vet; we certainly both love the Lord and have taken that love to the extreme of pastoring churches. He is a really nice guy and powerful preacher, and his church shows that. He has 500 plus come to his church each Sunday. I, of course, have that same number but it's over about six weeks.

We have preached three of the past five ecumenical Thanksgiving services in Blond, and I have been greatly impressed with his talents. We talked about going to something together at Mississippi State sometime, but I believe that time, like the remainder of my hair, might have passed.

He had heard about our move -- again, in United Methodism we serve the pulpit under an itinerant method in which we are called to move every so often. I am ending my fifth year at Fitzgerald and my sixth at the other church, Lacombe. I reasoned before the call that the call might come. I had prayed, daily, that we might be moved closer to our grandkids, but I ended each prayer with the notion that God's will be one on earth as it is in heaven. I meant that.

Brother Steward, Clark as I call him (someone told me last week I was the first pastor she had ever known that she didn't use the title of Rev. each time she addressed him or her -- I thanked her for that as I'm not a title kind of person), asked, as have many, whether I had a choice in this.

Could I have said, "No. I don't want to move." Or "No, not at this time." Or even "No, I want to move to Belle Chasse and no where else will do."

I replied to Clark as I have each time: yes, and no. I personally haven't talked to anyone who said no. I assume that no can be bad for your ability to move if you one day decided you really needed or wanted to. In other words, if one says no, I'm told that goes into some kind of mega-file and is never, ever forgotten. So, once having said no, one never gets asked again. Whether this is true or not, I have no way of knowing. Did I mention that I haven't talked to anyone who has ever said no?

Also, I believe God leads those making these "appointments," and that being the case, God is leading my call as well. So, yes seemed the right thing to say.

Besides, I believe in accepting challenges, I believe God is the bus-leader on our journey, pointing out the landmarks here and there, and it seems Eunice (and Kinder-Iota, the two small churches that come with the deal) is an excellent opportunity. They have more youth at a Wednesday night meeting than my two current churches have in totallity at their off-Sunday activities.

Is it much farther from our grand-children? Yes.
Is it in an area we know nothing of? Yes.
Is there some degree of fear involved in moving this far into a completely new situation? Yes and Yes.

Does that mean we should not do it? No.

Think Abram, only to a much, much smaller degree. Most folks forget that Abram had moved before he made his big move. They think that out of the blue, God called and Abram charged. Not, uh, exactly.

In Genesis we read, "Terah took his son Abram, his grandson Lot son of Haran, and his daughter-in-law Sarai, the wife of his son Abram, and together they set out from Ur of the Chaldeans to go to Canaan. But when they came to Harran, they settled there."

The sentence that I fear more than any in ministry is ..."they settled there." If we did something one way last year, we should do it better this year. I've always believed that, in the newspaper business or in ministry.

Look at the next line in Genesis: Terah lived 205 years, and he died in Harran.

The sum total of Terah's achievement is he moved then he settled. That's it. That was his accomplishment. That's what he added to the equation. He lived, he settled, he died. That's simply not what I want to have happen in my life, in our lives.

I've told Mary that what I want on my tombstone is this: "God knows, he tried."

But the next portion of the tale of humankind is this in chapter 12 of Genesis. The Bible reads:

1 The LORD had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.
2I will make you into a great nation,
and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
and you will be a blessing.[a]
3 I will bless those who bless you,
and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
will be blessed through you.”[b]

4 So Abram went, as the LORD had told him;

God called. Abram, the Bible tells us, "went." I see no check lists, those things where we weigh the good against the bad. I see no discussions with wife, Sarai, about what to do next. I see no moving van estimates. I see only "Go followed by went.

My friend, the pastor of New Zion, and I spent 30 minutes or so talking on a beautiful Monday afternoon. He asked me if congratulations were in order. I said I wasn't completely sure, but I was sure God was calling again, and Mary and I continue to answer and I said I wasn't sure if that completely answered his question but that was the only answer I had at this time. God still has need of us is about all I can tell people. I've had persons ask if they could start a petition to keep us here. I've had persons who actually tear up talking about this.

All that is well and good, but what must Abram have felt? The family had moved everything to go to Canaan, but they stopped midway through that journey and settled in Harran. That seems to me they were happy as Blue Jays flapping in the trees. They had no intention of moving again. Ever. Terah died at 205 years of age, happy he was home, happy he had found home. Harran was HOME.

I related a bit of those thoughts to Clark, he laughed and said, "You know, you have to be careful when you tell the Lord you will do whatever he asks of you because he takes you up on that."

There is no record of Abram saying such a thing to God. In fact, his father was an idol worshipper, so one could reasonably conclude so was Abram. There is no Biblical record of Abram's exquisite prayer-life, like David's. There is no record of God and Abram being even acquainted. Abram, for all we know, might have worshipped at the feet of Satan for some of his life.

But when God called, Abram answered. He packed (one supposes) and he went.

Ultimately that is the joy of what we do as pastors and as laity, isn't it?. God calls (often to small and what we see as insignificant roles) and we answer. It's not rocket science, here.

It's what I call the theory of calls and effects. He calls and the effects of that call will be evident the rest of our lives, no matter our answer.

Monday, April 9, 2012

The new Christianity: Tebow and the Pope

You don't get to read statements like this often: "When it comes to Christianity right now it's the Pope and Tebow." The question, then, is how do you feel about that? Is that not a statement about the world today? I mean, come on, the two figures who, apparently, lead people to think most about Christianity are a football player (a second-string football player at that) and a perfect human who leads the world's largest denomination but who at 85 can barely get around.

Tebow, the second-string quarterback for the New York Jets, preached on Easter, as did the Pope. Tebow told stories about his own faith. The Pope, er, not so much.

Tebow described how God deserves all the glory. The Pope, er, no so much. Tebow called Pastor Joe Champion at Celebration Church in Georgetown, Texas, to ask if he could preach. The Pope, er, called no one.

The church Tebow preached at rented more than 100 buses to drive people to the service, some of whom arrived wearing Denver Broncos (Tebow's previous team) jerseys. Tebow preached to about 15,000 people. The Pope preached to 100,000.

"Obviously, it's our Super Bowl. Easter is the resurrection of Christ in which we celebrate in our faith," Champion said.

Champion said that despite his famous guest Sunday, the message is still that God is great.
"There will be a sacredness of Easter. It's not a Tim Tebow show; it's not about a celebrity," Champion said. I believe he said it with a straight face, though it was no heard with one.

Not sure if the actions of wearing jerseys and taking bus trips to hear someone who can't speak very well generally speak through a loud-speaker in an oudoor service would agree with that statement.

Maybe that's simply where we are in our world, in our worship, that Christianity can be about the Pope or Tim Tebow. Maybe we've reached a stage in our worship path that the person who should be in that trio, Christ himself, isn't mentioned there. Maybe Easter has been so take over by candy and bunnies that it might as well be taken over by men. Maybe it was inevitable. Or maybe this whole Tim Tebow thing, rating enough of a story that a newspaper with no room for news (like the local Times-Picayune) still would give column inches to the fact that a Christian quarterback would talk about Christ on Easter.

The greater story would be if a Christian did not speak about Christ on Easter, but they probably wouldn't want to publish that story ... unless it, of course, was about Tebow publicly denying his faith in Christ.

Then it would be on the cover of Time or Newsweek. And 24-hour sports channels would be filled with 24-hour Tebow news. Oh, it already is. Sorry, forgot about Tebowing, that action which looks so suspiciously like, oh, praying.

Look, I'm glad Tebow is doing what Jesus said to do: Go and make disciples. He is sharing the good news given him and his family, and they are honest and authentic about their faith, he and his family. I don't doubt that for a minute.

It's the ones who have decided this is news that worry me. Or the fact that a pastor, who I assume believes he has been called by God to deliver the good news, gives up his pulpit whenever a "name" calls and asks him to. That more people came to the service, I do not doubt. Whether more people came to Christ, I wonder sincerely.

In the end, we're to help Christ by being his hands and feet in the world, a world in which Christianity is defined by Tebow and the Pope. The problem is, I don't think that's the world I, or we, live in.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Good (Friday) enough for me

The question is a fair one...

Why is it called Good Friday since the worst thing imaginable happened that day?

My wife says it's like they got the Friday after Thanksgiving and the Friday before Easter mixed up.

The Friday mention is also called in various countries Holy Friday, Black Friday, Great Friday, Long Friday and Silent Friday.

The phrase "Good Friday" does NOT appear in the Bible and neither does the word "Friday." The ONLY day of the week given a name in the Bible is the seventh day, the Sabbath.

The other days are designated as the first, second, third and so on. Good Friday is a fast day created by the Roman Catholic Church in the 4th century A.D. (long after Jesus died). The day is dedicated to commemorating the crucifixion and death of Jesus. The following is the Catholic Church's explanation:
"Good Friday is the English designation of Friday in Holy Week -- that is, the Friday on which the Church keeps the anniversary of the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ.
"From the earliest times the Christians kept every Friday as a feast day; and the obvious reasons for those usages explain why Easter is the Sunday par excellence, and why the Friday which marks the anniversary of Christ's death came to be called the Great or the Holy or the Good Friday. The origin of the term Good is not clear. Some say it is from "God's Friday" (Gottes Freitag); others maintain that it is from the German Gute Freitag, and not specially English." (The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume VI, 1909).
So, that's the technical explanation. I would add to those facts that it is Good because the most important gathering of moments happened: 1) Jesus shed the blood of a perfect, innocent lamb; 2) that shed blood led not only to his death; 3)but  those events were directly responsible for our salvation.

Another source clarifies what is meant by a fast on Good Friday and when the death of Jesus is actually celebrated:
"The Catholic Church treats Good Friday as a fast day, which in the Latin Rite of the Church is understood as having only one full meal (but smaller than a regular meal) and two collations (a smaller repast, two of which together do not equal one full meal) and on which the faithful abstain from eating meat. In countries where Good Friday is not a day of rest from work, the afternoon liturgical service is usually put off until a few hours after the recommended time of 3 p.m.
"The Celebration of the Passion of the Lord takes place in the afternoon, ideally at three o'clock, but for pastoral reasons a later hour may be chosen. The vestments used (by Roman Catholic priests) are red (more commonly) or black (more traditionally)." (Wikipedia, article 'Good Friday')
According to Catholic dogma, which has largely been carried over into the Protestant churches, Jesus was killed on Friday and resurrected Sunday morning (in 33 A.D. usually), with the anniversaries of those dates observed as part of the Easter celebration.

A little research will show that the origin of what we call Easter or the Easter holiday has NO Biblical basis whatsoever! Easter was never taught or observed by the early New Testament church.

In order to move people away from celebrating the Biblical Christian Passover, the Catholic Church adopted and "christianized" a pagan holiday that celebrated the false goddess Ishtar (Astarte). Ishtar was considered the goddess of fertility, love, war and sex by the Babylonians and Assyrians. Her holiday was celebrated around the Spring equinox.
According to some, Jesus was crucified and died at 3 p.m. on a Wednesday (in 30 A.D.), spent three full days and nights in a tomb (72 hours total), then was resurrected back to life by God just before sunset Saturday. In order to fulfill prophecy, Jesus could not have died on "Good Friday!"
(And by the way, for those daily readers of mine who might have noticed there was no Holy Thursday or Maundy Thursday reading, I had a 24-hour virus and spent Thursday throwing up. That wasn't good either.)

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Father, forgive us

Luke 23: 34a -- "Jesus said, 'Father, forgive them, for they don't know what they're doing.' "

His arms are stretched to the point of stabbing pain with every breath. His chest is like a car tire, banged up, beaten down,bruised and leaking air. Jesus is noble to the end, noble beyond comprehension, but everyone human faces that point of no return, that moment when the pain is simply too much to bear any longer. And when the end is moments away, he does the most inexplicable thing of the long, terrible day: he asks his Heavenly Father to forgive, well, everyone there, everyone including you and I. He slowly, as I imagine the scene, takes a deep, deep gulp of tainted oxygen and forces the words out so that everyone near the death device we call the cross could hear. It takes unimaginable strength simply to talk.

"Father, forgive them," he speaks -- talking through parched, damaged lips, as loudly as a dying, ravaged, bleeding man can. "Father, forgive them," he says with breath another one of those pearls of great price. "Father, forgive them," he says with pain-produced tears washing his dirty, bloody face.

After being arrested, scourged, beaten, spit on and mocked, and after his back was flayed open like a fish, after being suspended on a splintering wooden cross, after having all, ALL his clothes taken from him, after he looks down from that instrument of death, that scourge of thieves, that cursed tree, with sad eyes, he looks at the people around the area who have gathered to gawk, to mock, to make fun of and he asks the Father to forgive whom? Pontius Pilate, the Roman soldiers, the Pharisees, the angry mob, whom? Forgive whom? For what? For his death, for rejecting and crucifying Him? For their sin?

With a heart that is broken not from the terrible, terrific, tumultuous beating but from being rejected by the very people he came to save, he asks his Father to forgive US, mankind, all of us, of our sin. To forgive as if we were family, forgive as if we deserved it, forgive as if there was one sliver of goodness in a people who would painfully kill their own GOD, their own SAVIOR, their own GOOD SHEPHERD. Just think of the depravity of that for a moment.

The early century flash mob might be yelling and cursing our Lord, but in the theology of the atonement, it is our nails they drove into his hands, our thorny crown they pushed into his forehead. Crucified because we would rather have things our way, crucified because we are sinners who have and will always fall short. And still Jesus asks that we be forgiven. It boggles our minds, or it should. It tramples our hearts, or it should.

Jesus slips the most unbelievable of phrases into history: Father, forgive them, so that every person born, before and after those incredible words, before and after that cry from the cross, be given the most amazing of gifts. It is as if the word awesome was invented on the spot to describe a dying God who asks for forgiveness of his own killers.

The world, those who believe and receive, was instantly forgiven, flash-frozen in time ... forgiveness  that would transcend centuries and generations of humans who would never see the Old Rugged Cross but would feel it eternally was lavished as if God was re-creating Eden in a mega-moment.

In the plains of Africa and the sand of the Middle East, forgiven.
In the mountains of Asia and the rippled tundra of the Arctic, forgiven.
In the peace of the mild-high city and the anger of Wall Street, forgiven.
At the foot of the cross and in the heights of space and the length of time, forgiven. All forgiven

Whether we understand it or whether we know it. Forgiven.

There is a wonderful moment, a wonderful phrase in the parable of the Prodigal Son. When the son has done about all the badness -- as it were -- one could throw into one tantrum of prodigal living, the Bible says, "He came to his senses." Another translation reads, "he came to himself."

One moment he's falling apart, like fat Elvis in a white jumpsuit, the next he suddenly understands, he suddenly knows what a fool he has been. He knows and in that knowledge, he changes.

“Know yourself,” the ancient philosophers admonish us, for in knowing yourself is the beginning of wisdom. To which the Psalmist responds, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” The beginning of wisdom is to come to our senses and know the fearful truth about ourselves, that we have wandered and wasted our days in a distant country far from home. We seek forgiveness then because we know what we do, or did.

Forgive them, for they know not what they are doing, Jesus asks. And when we come to know what we are doing, what then? The answer, the wonderful, glorious answer is, Jesus still asks the Father to forgive us.

I can picture him walking from the garden tomb as in Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ. Holes in his hands. Blood washed away somehow. Smiling because his prayers have been answered.

He is prepared for the coming days and nights before he ascends to the throne room.

He prays, "Father, forgive them, for they now know what they did." And God does, once and for eternity.

Oh, what beauty there is in forgiveness, what joy, what peace, what grace. Jesus, keep me near that cross.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The perfect age

Did you see that survey? The question was at what age are you happiest? The answer was 33, according to Friends Reunited, a U.K. website. It's the age when we seem to have it the most together, when things are just about as right as they can get, when we can squeeze the most out of life.

Despite the fact I can barely remember 33, I couldn't help but notice that age is the one Jesus was reportedly (can't help but use that word though I'm no longer a journalist) crucified.

We tend to forget that Jesus was at an age that most of us would deem to be the perfect one, not too young so that we know nothing, but not too old so that we start that slow (but getting quicker by the day) crawl toward senior-itis.

Thirty-three. I was that age when my youngest daughter was born. It was  grand time. I was a deputy sports editor at my home state's largest newspaper. I had the world by the horns, as they say. Never once did I think about my being the same age as my Lord was when the world decided it would kill him.

Matthew 26:21 reads, "As they were eating he said, "I assure you that one of you will betray me."

The other day I read that the U.S. Army, I believe, held a concert for those who don't believe in God. Seems they wanted to be fair to all those who don't believe. Imagine that. A concert for non-believers. I thought that was taken care of by every concert they held. But I digress.

My point is simple: We betray our Lord, our young, wonderful, caring, loving Lord who chose to die at the perfect age after the perfect life every time we don't do as he would have us do. It's that simple. He died at the age when most would be starting their own little perfect, or so they thought, lives.

He chose to. He allowed it. He did everything but cause it.

Why? Because he loves even those who betray him. Simply put, that's why this week is so special. Clearly it is almost completely symbolic, but still, it is about showing him how much we care. You don't have to be 33 to understand.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Just remember

"This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me." Luke 22: 19b

The power of memory is remarkable.

Our fondest, deepest, favorite memories are almost movie-like, I suspect. We can "see" our memories, can't we? They live, like plants, like pets, like our favorite movies on tape even. Weddings. Births of children. Vacations.

Tops on my list? My family and I went to a baseball game in 1992. Atlanta Braves and Pittsburgh Pirates. A replay of the playoffs from the year before. Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium. It was, as was often with the Braves back then, a pitching duel. We were in the sun in right field when the game began and I whined about the seats.

But in a 1-0 game late, we entered into baseball, or at least Atlanta, lore. Sort of. Well, we were there.

A long ball to right field, seemingly right at us, looked like a tying home run. But at the last second, Atlanta outfielder Otis Nixon planted a right foot into the wall, leaped for all he could, snagged the ball as it travelled over the wall and the next thing any of us knew we were leaping and hugging strangers.

Sure. I was there in the stadium when the Saints beat the Vikings and I was hoisted to my feet by strangers, knowing the Saints were Super Bowl bound. Sure I was in a hotel off Bourbon Street in the French Quarter when the clock ticked down on the Super Bowl, knowing the Saints were going to win that game for the first time.

There have been other minutes, moments, things. Sobriety found and such. I remember riding down a shell-covered road on Dolphin Island, Ala., with a beloved aunt who had had a brain tumor and was told she would never drive again. Laughter shaking my body like some disease. A summer night with that ol' fog machine drifting by. Watermelon and warmth. Days with my wife when time seems to stand still and I love her so much my teeth hurt. Really. Those are times I can't get back, though I ring them up for things like this.

Remember. Remember those times when the kids were kids and your path wasn't clear but you kept running anyway. Remember. Think about all the things that make you smile, about what makes you, well, you. Remember. They're all special.

But the Nixon catch is tops because my family, complete and whole, was there together when it happened. We were young, fairly, and the road ahead seemed so long and filled with promise. When bouncing off the ground and yelling were so much a part of us and drifting apart wasn't even a possibility.

That's what, I suspect, is so special about the best funerals. The loved ones, the friends, even the acquaintances are there to remember those special moments, those times on the boat, those fishing lines dropped into warm water, those days in the winter when Christmas was around the corner and gifts that never quite make it to special were given. Those memories live when the loved one does not any longer.

When Jesus offered bread as an allegory about his body, he offered memories to his crew. Three years of walking the dusty trails of Palestine. Seeing bodies healed. Seeing fish suddenly appearing in nets that were empty. Seeing the dead raised, the prisoners smile. Seeing Jesus. He simply wanted them to remember. When things would get bad, remember. When pain was applied to fearful bodies, remember. When the next step would be so very hard, remember.

With these words, part of our world changed. Jesus gave himself willingly to us. What did he want in return? To be remembered, as He would.

Hank Williams turned that phrase around in a song:
I was alone and drifting on a lonely sea of sin
Nothing but darkness, no sunshine within
I lifted my eyes, to the Lord in the sky
and Jesus remembered me

Take a moment today to remember, first, Jesus and all he did for you. Then take a few more moments and think about your fondest memories. Remember, and smile.