Thursday, May 31, 2012

Chasing fads

Preach the word of God. Be prepared, whether the time is favorable or not. Patiently correct, rebuke, and encourage your people with good teaching. 3 For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear. 4 They will reject the truth and chase after myths. 5 But you should keep a clear mind in every situation. Don’t be afraid of suffering for the Lord. Work at telling others the Good News, and fully carry out the ministry God has given you.

Paul writes this to Timothy, his student, but he might as well be writing to all of us. I mean that ... all of us. There will come a time when people won't listen to sound and wholesome teaching. There will come a time when desires are more important than anything else. There will come a time when truth is rejected, and myths are the more valid endeavor. There will be, and has been, a time when suffering for the Lord is not only frowned upon but absolutely discouraged. And the whole notion of correcting, rebuking and encouraging with good teaching will be done away with.

In other words, the time in which we NOW live sure seems to be the time in which Paul was writing. The time is now, as they say.

Further down in the same chapter, however, is the line that speaks to me the most. Paul writes (in the NLT) "Demas has deserted me because he loves the things of this life and has gone to Thessalonica." In the Message translation we read, "Get here as fast as you can. Demas, chasing fads, went off to Thessalonica and left me here." In the NIV it reads, "Do your best to come to me quickly, 10 for Demas, because he loved this world, has deserted me and has gone to Thessalonica."

We know almost nothing of Demas. In Paul's letter to the Colossians he wrote, "I vouch for him that he is working hard for you and for those at Laodicea and Hierapolis. 14 Our dear friend Luke, the doctor, and Demas send greetings." In Paul's letter to Philemon, we read, "Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends you greetings. 24 And so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas and Luke, my fellow workers."

That's it. But there's a lot to be found here. Demas was a great friend with the Apostle Paul, with Mark (the writer of the gospel bearing his name) and spent time in prison with them. I've got to tell you, spending time discussing the Gospel, talking about Jesus, thinking out-loud about miracles and the day of Pentecost and things like that, to me would be greater than watching the Saints win another Super Bowl. These guys were THE guys in Christianity. It doesn't matter that Demas didn't get a book named after him. Demas was one of the top guys. Period. He loved the Lord. He loved his fellow Christians.

Then...apparently.. he didn't.

But there is this notion that Demas fell to fads and lost his spirituality. Now, what fads could have knocked him off his perch? What worldly ideas could have taken away his love of Christ? What could possibly have happened to him, this leader in Christianity? More importantly, if something like this could happen to him, what could happen to us?

Is it possible that Demas went to Thessalonica for other reasons than this awful place below the city? Maybe, but the fact that this underground system of brothels was mainly what that city was known for is a good reason it must figure prominently in our conclusions. We can say that it was a strong possibility this is what appealed to Demas.

Throughout Scripture we find examples of those who profess Christ, but later turn out not to be saved. Do you know anyone who loved God, but then left? I, uh, do. I loved God from an early age. Then I walked away. My transgression, my chasing after fads was loving television far too much, loving baseball far too much, loving the world far too much.

I walked from those fads into what? I didn't love reading scripture. I didn't love praying. I didn't love discipline. I was too young and too immature to fight through those things into a deeper sense of God.

 I would have absolutely loved to have been able to talk with Demas, to talk to him about what was troubling him, to talk to him about Paul. I believe Demas must have been a great disappointment to Paul, and I believe Paul had little trouble talking about his disappointments to others. Demas must have been greatly hurt by Paul's accusations, for one can't spend time with the Lord and simply walk away without it weighing heavily on one's heart.

I suspect if Paul had simply waited, Demas would have returned. If Paul had simply read these words: "The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up. I truly delight in God's commands, but it's pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight. Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge. I've tried everything and nothing helps. I'm at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me? Isn't that the real question? The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does. He acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different."

Sounds an awful like what I image to have been going on in Demas' life.

The writer of those words?


Wednesday, May 30, 2012

No. 1 with a bullet

What a difference words make. I wrote yesterday (one can read it on this site) about the power of words.

Today the president of the United States is finding out just how powerful.

President Barack Obama "misspoke" when he called a Nazi facility used to process Jews for execution as a "Polish death camp." The verbal gaffe came as the president was honoring a famous Pole, Jan Karski, posthumously awarding him a Presidential Medal of Freedom, the country's highest civilian award. Obama referred to him being smuggled "into the Warsaw ghetto and a Polish death camp to see for himself."

 Apparently "Polish death camp" is what renders the item invalid. The phrasing is considered hugely offensive in Poland, where Nazi Germany murdered Poles, Jews and others in death camps during World War II. In other words, they weren't Polish death camps because they were German death camps being run in Poland. That's a substantial gaffe, actually.

The president's remark had drawn immediate complaints from Poles who said Obama should have called it a "German death camp in Nazi-occupied Poland," to distinguish the perpetrators from the location. Polish Foreign Minister Radek SIkorski called it a matter of "ignorance and incompetence."

During an East Room ceremony honoring 13 Medal of Freedom recipients, Obama said that Karski "served as a courier for the Polish resistance during the darkest days of World War II. Before one trip across enemy lines, resistance fighters told him that Jews were being murdered on a massive scale and smuggled him into the Warsaw Ghetto and a Polish death camp to see for himself. 

Poles were considered an inferior race by Hitler and had no role in running the camps. Sikorski called Obama's words an "outrageous mistake."

Some one would say it was a different time, a different place. No one today is gassing anyone. One would be wrong, of course. There's always another time, another place, another aggressor versus another peace-lover.

That's our world, folks. That's our world.

We live in a world today that takes exception to being called something so much the ones called names will retaliate with bullets. That's quite a scale, huh? Name-calling on one side of the scale, bullets and guns on the other.

We live in a world today in which you can get an Internet special order of bullets ...purchase 5,000 rounds and receive 1,000 rounds free. (Cannot be mixed bullets).

In my world today, people shoot up birthday parties and kill 5-year-old children.

We live in a world today in which a bullet company exists, dedicated "not only to each other, but to the tens of thousands of good folks that we have had the pleasure of serving for many years. It’s pretty simple. We honor our history by honoring our customers – and all those who support our heritage….America’s Shooting Heritage." America's shooting heritage. I swear we have a shooting heritage. We honor those bullets that keep us free, apparently.

I'm not suggesting in any way that the good people of that bullet company would be the same type of persons who helped build the death camps of the Poles. What I am suggesting is that honoring our past sometimes is a delicate, problematic state to be in. What some people did that is to be honored is another man's horrific deed to be protested. 

In other words, what was a wonderful, honorable, celebratory, deed  is another man's terrible, cowardly, punishable deed. Flying airplanes into towers is horrific in some worlds. Being a martyr is another person's deed of honor. Whether one is celebrated or cursed for dropping huge "smart" bombs is completely dependent upon where you were at the time of the dropping. The ones in the plane have a completely different viewpoint that the ones in the bunker. That much I can tell you without question or without risk of misspeaking.

Who gets to draw the line? The ones who win the war. It's that simple. That simple indeed.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Headlines, anyone want headlines?

Today I feel like Jay Leno, famed comedian and host of the Tonight Show, though I do no have any antique cars merely cars that are old.


Today I'm reading Headlines, one of Leno's favorite gags in which readers send in headlines with a mistake or a problem or something amiss that Leno's gang of comedic writers can add a bit of punch (line) to them.

I'll not even do that today. I'll just grab the headline and let you do the work.

For example:
Radioactive Tuna Found Off California Coast
(Captain America says, "Charlie, smash."

Is This the Next Trend Everyone Will Be Wearing?
(Subhead)The animal fashion craze has hit an all-time high.
(I didn't know that, but then I'm so old-fashioned, I wouldn't use "all-time" and "high" in the same subhead.)

Madonna disses Lady Gaga
(I'm not making that one up; really, I'm not; I guess the main thing of note is this proves they're not the same person.)

Police shoot and kill nude man to stop him from chewing on the face of another nude man
(My wife actually asked if they really had to shoot him to stop him; I said truthfully that is the only way to stop a nude zombie).

This is an actual paragraph from an actual biography from an actual person: [He] was later spotted dining with a go-go dancer in a miniskirt and plunging neckline. I am assuming the writer mean that the go-go dancer was wearing the miniskirt and plunging neckline, but I can only assume.

Why is this even semi-important? Because words are important. They might even be more important today than ever, in a world of 24-hour-a-day (semi) news.

Why can't we simply have candidates who explain simply and completely they're economic policies. Then we can make a decision. Right? Maybe not.

Presidential candidate Mitt Romney says he's "haunted" by the verbal gaffes he's made during his second run for president but says he's the victim of a media environment that encourages "spontaneous" actions, yet pounces on mistakes. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal's Peggy Noonan, Romney acknowledges that he's forced himself to "be a little more careful in what I say" after mistakes that "make me want to kick myself in the pants." Among his gaffes, Romney cites his comment at a New Hampshire luncheon in January when he said, "I'd like to be able to fire people." He said he meant health care companies that provide inadequate services, but the remark has been used against him in Democratic attacks ever since without that kind of context. In the current media environment, Romney says, "you will be taken out of context, you'll be clipped, and you'll be battered with things you said."

And apparently you will somehow want to kick yourself in the pants, although I would actually pay to see that feat more than any of the oral legerdemain.

There was a time when headline writers were special, special people. There was also a time when headline writers worked for newspapers. Now? Not so much.

Fatally Stabbed Woman Runs Over Alleged Assailant’s 2-Year-Old Daughter
(I'm not sure a comment would do this justice, but I must inform you the headline actually was better than the story itself.)

The story reads like this:
An Ohio woman who was allegedly stabbed by her best friend as she sat in a running car, stepped on the gas before she died and ran over her alleged attacker’s two toddlers, killing one, police said. The bizarre chain of events began with an argument Thursday between Kimberly Black and Sharice Swain, both 29, as they were sitting in a car outside of Black’s Cleveland home. Police said it was unclear what started the argument between the two old friends. According to police, Black got out of the car, went into her house and came back with a knife, and then stabbed Swain several times in the face and neck. Swain stepped on the gas pedal, apparently trying to escape her attacker, and instead hit Black’s two children and a house. Kimshia Ruffin, 2, was killed, while 1-year-old Taraji Ruffin suffered injuries police described as not life threatening. It was unclear whether Swain intentionally struck the children, however, one neighbor who came to help Swain believed she had a different target. “It was on purpose. She was actually trying to hit the mama,” Nikki Randall told The Associated Press. Black removed her clothes and fled the scene on foot. She was arrested blocks away from the crime scene. Black was charged with murder and is scheduled to appear in court Monday morning.

I'm under the assumption that the nude woman running from the scene of the crime as the give away, the uh, dead give away.

The writer of the story makes it plain that the stupidity Black showed was not limited to those involved in the story. The writer had some of it on them, as well.

What does all this mean to those of us who got up this morning believing we were spiritual beings who loved the Lord? Words about words are so hard to find in Scripture, aren't they? Well, aren't they?

Not so much.

In the Psalms, we read, "His talk is smooth as butter, yet war is in his heart; his words are more soothing than oil, yet they are drawn swords."
Then, "They sharpen their tongues like swords and aim cruel words like deadly arrows."
Finally, "Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path."

In Proverbs, we read, "Get wisdom, get understanding; do not forget my words or turn away from them."
and your ears to words of knowledge."

In Ecclesiastes, we read, "Words from the mouth of the wise are gracious, but fools are consumed by their own lips." 

In Isaiah, we read, "Then the LORD reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, “I have put my words in your mouth."

In Jeremiah, we read, "When your words came, I ate them; they were my joy and my heart’s delight, for I bear your name, LORD God Almighty."

God's words are instruction, they are vital, they are wonderful, they are pleasing, they are soothing. One needs only to, uh, read them.

I could go on an on and on, actually. I will use Matthew's Gospel for the closing argument: "Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock."

Though the Scriptures are indeed readable, hold-able, seek-able words, and the written word is a wonderful thing, still, God's Word is a living being. There are seldom times when I read a block of scripture, heck even a chapter, where it doesn't seem as if it is the first time I've read it. It is a living being, a living Word.

Paul ends his letter to the church in Ephesus by calling the word of God as the sword which the Spirit gives you. In another place, Paul says that word is more life-giving than bread, is a valuable seed, is an object of blessing, is a device of grace that lifts you up, is an indispensable weapon.

Clearly none of the headline writers were attempting to pass along the Word of God, but words in and of themselves have value, as well. When I wrote headlines, back in the day, at the end of the day, all those years ago (and any other cliche you can think of), we cared more. But that's not the point. The point is the living Word is a real, viable, almost hold-able entity.

The writer of John's Gospel tried to capture or encapsulate the word of God like this:

The Word was first,
the Word present to God,
God present to the Word.
The Word was God,
in readiness for God from day one.

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,
Generous inside and out,
true from start to finish.

Eugene Peterson's The Message said it that way, the best way, "the Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood."

Great headlines move into the neighborhood, YOUR neighborhood. The Word became flesh and did the same.

Monday, May 28, 2012

A thousand years equal one very fine day in God's sight

We've gone past the inglorious month remaining till we move from the parsonage in Covington, La, to the one in Eunice, La. We're awaiting this move with the glorious breathlessness of spring's pollen. The days are moving as slowly as water freezing; oh, oh, so slowly do they move.

The Bible says of this time in a bottle: "But do not forget one thing, my dear friends! There is no difference in the Lord's sight between one day and a thousand years; to him the two are the same. The Lord is not slow to do what he has promised, as some think. Instead, he is patient with you, because he does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants all to turn away from their sins." 2 Peter 3: 8-9.

‘But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.’

The first thing to note is that the context has nothing to do with the days of creation. Also, it is not defining a day because it doesn’t say ‘a day is a thousand years’. The correct understanding is derived from the context—the Apostle Peter’s readers should not lose heart because God seems slow at fulfilling His promises because He is patient, and also because He is not bound by time as we are.

Time is such a difficult thing to measure that we are given this bit of work here to help us. A day like a thousand years. That's a long, long day. Long enough to be a thousand years, a day is quite long enough. Somehow, the measuring stick is long enough. I've had a couple days like that in the past, long enough that they seemed very, very long. In the end, the seconds passed so slowly I could feel the hair on my head growing, piercing scalp like the sharpest of knives.

Long, long, long enough to sense the point, er, end of the scalpel.

Genesis 1:11 reads, "Then God said, “Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb that yields seed, and the fruit tree that yields fruit according to its kind, whose seed is in itself, on the earth”; and it was so."

Genesis 1:12 reads, "And the earth brought forth grass, the herb that yields seed according to its kind, and the tree that yields fruit, whose seed is in itself according to its kind. And God saw that it was good."

Genesis 1:13 reads, "So the evening and the morning were the third day."

Remember that the day of the Lord is not 24 hours as mistakenly thought by other religious groups like the 7th day Adventist. So when God rested on the 7th day, so they are.

2 Peter 3:8 reads, "But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day."

The second day when God said let the earth bring forth grass, herbs and trees, can not be construed that the bringing forth of the fruit or a seed only happens in 24 hours.

By nature, a mango, for example, bear fruits between 3 - 5 years and although some bamboos flower every year, most species flower infrequently. In fact, many bamboos only flower at intervals as long as 60 or 120 years. The longest mass flowering interval known is 130 years, and is found for all the species Phyllostachys bambusoides. In this species, all plants of the same stock flower at the same time, regardless of differences in geographic locations or climatic conditions, then the bamboo dies.

The world is highlighted in red to stress that such series of event happens in a season of time not 24 hours.

John 5:28 reads, "Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice."

John 5:29 reads, "and come forth—those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation."

Revelation 20:4 reads, "And I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was committed to them. Then I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their witness to Jesus and for the word of God, who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received his mark on their foreheads or on their hands. And they lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years."

The point is that God is a very, very patient being, and we are often not. That being said, we need to be more patient. We need to wait. We need to accept what God has done. We need to accept his reign. We need to let the days pass as slowly as God would allow them to. Even a 1,000 year day is better than no day at all, huh?

Friday, May 25, 2012

Mourning the T-P

Did you see the photo of the one dog grieving and refusing to leave the dog who had died after being hit by a car? That's what being a friend sometimes amounts to. Sometimes all we can do is grieve, privately or publicly.

My training tells me this of grieving:
It is hard.
It is long.
It never ends till we move on, and there is no set time and date for moving on.
It is something we hold on to because we're terrified of being disloyal by letting go.
It is common in all our loss.
It, to quote someone, somewhere, sucks. It always has. It always will.

I believe my friend Jeff Duncan said it best: We lost a friend yesterday. Oh, this friend didn't suffer at the end, and the end came quickly despite the friend being ill for quite some time. Even though we absolutely know it is coming, it always shocks us how quickly it comes. We're never, never prepared.

Like Icarus, we fly too high., then we crash and burn.

But beyond losing a friend, yesterday, there was a loss of a way of life. Oh, how hard that is to get past, to grieve, to mourn, to feel like shards of ice on a bare hand.

I've had a subscription to a newspaper, a printed newspaper, the kind of item one can hold in one's hand with one's morning coffee, since I was, well, counting the years of the afternoon newspaper The Meridian Star, all my life. Daily. For 40 years, I've missed maybe a day or two at a time of reading a newspaper, of home delivery, of treasuring good writing and searching into the small print for box scores and such. Heck, I learned to read by studying baseball box scores. Really. I did.

I wrote my first story for a newspaper when I was 15. I wrote roundups for the local newspaper as a senior in high school, still playing football at my high school. I did my own sports newspaper for my high school because I felt the campus "newspaper" we had wasn't good enough. I was paid for my first story in the spring of my senior year.

I stopped writing two plus years ago, taking what they call a buyout and early retirement to pursue my true love, being a pastor. But I've never stopped reading. I thought I never would. Perhaps now, with the loss of that friend, I will. I can. Perhaps even I must.

Yesterday the local newspaper, The Times-Picayune, announced it was ceasing to be a daily come the fall. No more Mondays with the Saints, learning what was said inside the locker room and such. On days of wins, which were much, much more frequent lately, those were my favorites. I worked for the newspaper in management in the sports department for 14 years, then demoted myself to return to writing and did that for another five or six. From the first time I went there, looking out at the Blue Plate sign in its blue brilliance late at night, I felt a sense of home that I didn't at places like USA Today, the Reno Gazette-Journal and even Jackson's Clarion-Ledger. It was where I thought I would be till they pried my arthritic fingers from my PC or my laptop.

Oh, the material will probably be on-line. Probably. But it's just plain different. It's like finding another friend after losing the one you loved. Sure, it's great to find another friend, but no one could possibly replace, nor should they try, the one we had.

And that's just the newspaper.

Dare I say I felt more sorrow for what this probably will mean for real, human, feeling, friends? I know they must be filled with great fear about what will come to their jobs, their lives.

I can only say that this too shall pass. I truly believe that. No matter the fear of change, change will come. No matter the fear of loss, loss will come. It's what we do with our lives after the change, after the loss that will prove how well we've lived.

I, of course, believe that God will no put on us more than we can handle, though that phrase isn't exactly Biblical. Still, its theme is carried out throughout the Bible. Mother Teresa, however, used to say that she and God were constantly involved in an argument about how much she could handle.

I believe we, they, those writers, ad people, editors, delivery persons, can come back from tremendous pressure, fear, distortion of what they perceived to be their future. They can. Jobs are jobs. They are not life. I believe for many of them, who this morning are wondering what else they can do professionally, will find new avenues of work. I do. Believe, I mean.

We will all go on. We will. Talent and hard work are not exclusive to journalism. Some will go into the digital age, despite no one being sure how to make a profit out of it. Some will go into radio, into television. Some will go into insurance sales or some such. Each of thems, to various degrees of newness will go on.

I know how blessed and fortunate I am that there was a God waiting with a different calling for me. I'm not dumb enough to think I had anything to do with it. Others have the same God, if not the same opportunity. But all must walk that new road, away from the known, into the darkness of the unknown. It is that lack of the sureness of the future that is so frightening. But the Bible tells us that none of us know what tomorrow will bring, so worrying about it is quite useless.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

The long odds of success

The Apostle Paul wrote a very intimate, personal letter to a series of churches (perhaps) in Galatia. Among the words he wrote were these: "Earlier, before you knew God personally, you were enslaved to so-called gods that had nothing of the divine about them. But now that you know the real God—or rather since God knows you—how can you possibly subject yourselves again to those paper tigers? For that is exactly what you do when you are intimidated into scrupulously observing all the traditions, taboos, and superstitions associated with special days and seasons and years. I am afraid that all my hard work among you has gone up in a puff of smoke!"

I've been in a pensive mood of late. We're going down through our checklist of those we want to say "goodbye" to as we prepare to move to a series of churches in the Lake Charles district of the Louisiana Annual Conference. I've had lunches with three great friends, time spent with others. As I've pondered all this (as I do often), I've thought about how much I've made a difference in the lives of those persons at these two churches in which I now serve.

I've come to the conclusion that I've actually made little difference. The ones who were spiritual when I arrived are spiritual now. The ones who weren't, still aren't.

I've wanted to change lives. I changed, well, little, in my opinion. I'm pretty sure when all is said and done, there won't be a building named after me. But that's okay, because I know I've tried. Gandhi once said, "My imperfections and failures are as much a blessing from God as my successes and my talents and I lay both at his feet."

My God is great. I know this. I know that He makes things the way they are or allows them. I know that the very act of attempting to make a difference is sometimes the ultimate step in hubris. It is not, nor should it be, about me.

When my soul sings about a Savior God to thee, it sings to the greatness of He who is me versus he who is in the world. I know this from the tips of my typing fingers to the ends of my toes.

Still, I look at the resume sometimes and I see, well, I see a couple of books, a few hundred sermons, a bunch of newspaper stories of which I was proud of about 10, a bunch of these musings in the past 14 years that might number more than 1,000 and, and, and, the dearth of human lives changed.

Someone else said, "Failure is not a single, cataclysmic event. You don't fail overnight. Instead, failure is a few errors in judgment, repeated every day."

 I think we only fail if we believe we fail because we were born to fail on our own. In other words, I have succeeded in some eyes, but not my own because what I view as success is different that most. I want only to see Christ raised up. When people come to church without a thought of what worship is, I fail. When people come to church when it suits them, I fail. When people choose to quit coming to church, I fail. When Christ isn't first in the lives of my congregation, I fail. When holy hands aren't raised, when shouts of joy aren't offered, when the number crunchers don't see growth in my churches, I fail.

The odds of my failing are much, much greater than those of my succeeding.

Thus there is only one answer. "I can do all things THROUGH CHRIST, who strengthens me."

Ultimately my score card will have one success: Christ found me, having died for me while I was yet a sinner." Other than that, I fail because I am a born failure who can only succeed through Jesus. The odds of my succeeding in the field I call my own are about the same as a man coming back from death. One to a gazillion. But oh, what a one.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The act of leaving

Departure - 1. The act of leaving, 2. A starting out, as on a trip, 3. A divergence.

Another landmark passed last night as we said goodbye to the clergy of the New Orleans District of the Louisiana Annual Conference, or in other words almost all the clergy I know. It was a dinner date, and though the two closest persons I know in the clergy of the district weren't there, it was a fun night -- mostly.

The act of leaving: We're picking up and packing up and preparing. A month from Friday the movers come.

A starting out, as on a trip: If you don't look at this leaving, cleaving, being gone as a new start, then indeed you will turn maudlin and that's no good for anyone.

A divergence: To deviate, as from a norm. I'm praying that I look at this move to a new church, to new persons in the congregation, to new clergy in the district to meet, to new (everything) as a only a deviation in my norm. I'm praying that I see newness as a great thing, not a challenge, not a mistake even.

Every departure involves putting one foot out in front of the other. Every departure is taking a step forward. Every step forward is a departure. Can you see what a delightfully delectable word departure is?

Imagine sitting in a train at the station. You are dressed in your finest for you are embarking on an important and momentous trip. You sit at the window looking out at all the people milling about in the train station. You are filled with emotions but, more importantly, you are filled with feelings (and therefore your memories of the event are forever burned upon the skein of time and space). Excitement fills you as you imagine unimaginable new worlds. Sadness, also, tugs at your sleeve as you think of things left behind. As the train starts moving.... depart.

You leave. You keep going.

Someone last night talked about retiring to their home. I joked, "I would but I don't know where that is." Home is such a quaint idea. Mary and I have moved seven times in 28 years. And that doesn't even include what I would think of as home, my parents house in Mississippi, because we sold it and we couldn't go there even if we wanted.

When it comes down to it, home isn't what I know.

Luckily, the book I treasure most shows me others who knew this way to live.

God told Abram: "Leave your country, your family, and your father's home for a land that I will show you. ... So Abram left just as God said...

Abram passed through the country as far as Shechem and the Oak of Moreh. At that time the Canaanites occupied the land. 7 God appeared to Abram and said, "I will give this land to your children." Abram built an altar at the place God had appeared to him. 8 He moved on from there to the hill country east of Bethel and pitched his tent between Bethel to the west and Ai to the east. ...

Abram kept moving, steadily making his way south, to the Negev. ...

 Then a famine came to the land. Abram went down to Egypt to live;

Pharaoh ordered his men to get Abram out of the country. They sent him and his wife and everything he owned on their way.

God moves us. Truly moves us. And every departure is an arrival.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The awesomeness of our God

"When he rolls up his sleeves, he ain't just putting on the ritz, Our God is an awesome God..."
Rich Mullins, 1988.

Awesome is defined as inspiring awe, showing or characterized by awe, or as a slang term meaning very impressive. What better word to describe the creator of the Universe is there than awesome.

Deuteronomy 7:21 says; Do not be terrified by them, for the LORD your God, who is among you, is a great and awesome God.

This morning I feel so wonderful, though I hurt. Isn't that awesome?
This morning there still is a degree of coolness in the air though it will be hot and humid later. Isn't that awesome?
This morning I feel so inadequate, though He is worthy enough for both of us. Isn't that awesome?

In this country today, as the sun crawls over the horizon, there are so many inadeqequicies. I read recently the General Conference of the United Methodist Church spent more than 2 million bucks on its every-four-year meet. Seems that as we try to figure out what we're doing as a denomination, and what services we need to be cutting to make ends meet, we could start with that, doesn't it?

But while our methods are questionable, this I know today as I knew yesterday and as I pray I will know tomorrow: Our God is an awesome God.

There is none like him; He is an awesome God. We've gotten way, way too wrapped up in our religion, I'm afraid, to notice our God. His face is matchless. His feats still are beond explanation. He should inspire quiet reverence, grateful hearts, moments of silence and days of awesome fear.

Instead, we argue and fight over religion, over sexuality, over government, over stuff. We should marvel at the awesomeness of God, but we fall instead to idols of money and such.

Even those who do not believe must admit that if God exists, He must be awesome. That's how awesome is the glory of God.

One day, the Bible says, every knee shall bow. But in the meantime, those of us who believe should practice falling before the awesomeness of our God.

Let the redeemed say so.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Which cliff-hanger was best/worst?

How did we get here from there? Recently Mary, my dear wife, and I watched season-ending television shows, cliff-hangers all, for NCIS, NCIS-Los Angeles, CSI, Bones, The Mentalist, Person of Interest, Grimm, Castle, Hawaii 5-0, Fringe, and a few more that escape my memory.

Aside from noting that we watch too much television (what did people do before DVRs?), I noted that I'm sick, sick, sick of the season-ending, cliff-hanger.

I began to think, clearly differently that most, what started this trend (as well as what can we do to stop it). Television shows in May, now, must have someone appear to die, someone appear to quit whatever team that someone is on, or someone blow up something that might or might not leave someone in the first-mentioned state (of death).

The rules state that by the second show of the coming television season, the teams will be back together, no one will have died, and whomever was blown up was so inconsequential to the story that it never mattered in the first place and/or you wonder just who was this character in the first place.

Again, who was it that started this? Or should I say, who shot J.R.

In the US, it was the phenomenal success of the "Who shot J.R.? season-ending cliffhanger on Dallas, which closed the show's second season, that led the cliffhanger to become a popular staple on television dramas and later situation comedy series as well. Another notable cliffhanger was the "Moldavian Massacre" on Dynasty in 1985, which fueled speculation throughout the summer months regarding who lived or died when almost all the characters attended a wedding in the country of Moldavia, only to have revolutionaries topple the government and machine-gun the entire wedding party. The "Best of Both Worlds" episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation in 1990 is also cited as a reason that season-enders are popular today.

 There was a time when television actually seemed creative, when things didn't have to be manipulative. But that's gone now.

So, there you have it. J.R., who comes back to television this summer before ending the short-season I'm sure with an episode that features "who gave the warm milk to J.R.?"

Friday, May 18, 2012

Celebrating "lasts"

I was reading Facebook recently, and I ran across an item by Pastor Brady Whitton..."Experiencing a lot of "lasts" these days. Tonight will be my last Gathering as pastor of First UMC Amite."

I can more than relate. "Lasts" are everywhere. I had lunch with a former colleague from The Times-Picayune (a friend is more like it, especially since I detest the world colleague) on Wednesday. Sunday is my final "homecoming" event at Fitzgerald. The list could go on and on.

It's the recipe most, many or all United Methodist pastors go through. We come. We built up relationships. We go, releasing those relationships to others. In a word, it sucks.

Mary and I even went to a "transition" seminar a couple weekends back. It told us how to leave. It told us how to go. I hope it was my last "transition." Many have asked that, by the way, whether this will be our last charge, our last move within the church. Since I didn't really anticipate this one, I certainly won't try to anticipate the one to come. I'll preach till I can't. This is a second life, a second chance to do what I think God wanted me to do all my life.

Paul wrote this to his student, Timothy. It is an amazingly clear edict. "As for you, my son, be strong though the grace that is ours in union with Christ Jesus. Take the teachings that you heard me proclaim in the presence of many witnesses, and entrust them to reliable people, who will be able to teach others also. Take your part in suffering, as a loyal soldier to Christ Jesus."

Since none of us know what tomorrow will bring, that's about all we have. Be loyal. Be strong. Teach. Suffer for Christ. That's it. That's life's timeline, to steal again from Facebook.

Five years ago today, we lost a part of our lives. We've all moved on to an extent, one or another, one to another, but it has never, never been easy. I strongly suspect it never really will be. A hole in our lives will always exist, no matter what the future brings for Shanna. When I saw my grandson play baseball last night, I saw some of his father, a whole lot of his mother. Suffering is an easy teacher, friends. Suffering commands. Suffering demands. Suffering is more than words, and it never gives up or lets up.

The point is this: "Lasts" are all around us and we never notice, never pay attention, never celebrate them. What life should be, truly should be, is an effort to make sure we live so that each "last" we come across is noticed, loved, embraced, for we never know when or if we will pass this way again.

If last night was the last time I see Gabe play, or Gavin watch, or Emma walk around the playground hand in hand with another small child, or Shanna worry about Gabe, or Carrie watch it all, or Blaine talk baseball, or even Karli celebrate a  birthday cake, then it as a fine "last." After all, I wasn't guaranteed another morning to rise, another day to begin, another trip around that ol' sun.

If this is the last blog I write, well, I as I want on my tombstone, "God knows, he tried."

Thursday, May 17, 2012

What is your gift?

"Each of you should go on living according to the Lord's gift to you, and as you were when God called you." Paul's letter to the church in Corinth.

Gifts? What gifts? Do you ever feel you have no gifts?

The Roman Catholic writer and scholar Thomas Aquinas discussed in Summa Theologica, ,II.2 spiritual gifts. He founded the main tradition for gifts of the Spirit in the Catholic Church of Middle Ages Europe. He drew his approach from Isaiah 11: 1-5, where it speaks of these gifts : wisdom, knowledge, counsel (right judgement), understanding; strength (courage, fortitude), reverence (piety), and fear of the LORD. Through wisdom, knowledge, counsel, and understanding, the Spirit shapes and steers the mind, creating change in the way a person thinks and puts information together. The Holy Spirit provides perspective, reminds us of the right past events, and reveals new opportunities. Through the gifts of courage, reverence, and fear of the LORD, the Spirit shapes your will, so that you choose to use what you learn and think for the purposes God is calling you to do.

Paul wrote of spiritual gifts in the same letter to the church in Corinth. His gifts were given by the Holy Spirit. They included words of wisdom, words of knowledge, faith, healing, miracle working, prophecy, distinguishing of spirits, tongues, and interpretation of tongues.

Gifts, what gifts?

Other gifts include mercy, giving, equipping, leadership, teaching, exhortation, grace, peace, rest, eternal life, children, a new heart, celibacy.

Somewhere in there I believe we will find ourselves, for I believe God has gifted each of us with at least one gift. At least. We are given a gift. Period.

I think much of what is labeled problems in the Church today is a lack of discerning what gifts people have been given, then giving them a venue to use that gift.

So today I pray that you will read this (as readership is falling for some reason), then go out and attempt to ascertain what gift you have. In the coming days, I pray you then try to use your gift.

The fact is that places where ministries flourish: Identify peoples' gifts as well as their talents and skills; Refine and train their gifts and talents; Make opportunities for their use; Work hard to support them in their ministry.

If your church isn't doing that, heck if you're not doing that, let's get started.

Churches that try to take command of the gift forget that while the gift is given for others, it is not given to the organization, but to a person. That's how the Spirit chooses to operate. They can practice discernment and perhaps even provide discipline at times. But discipline is something on the edges; it is always to be placed within the context of who's giving the gift and who's getting it. A wise church leadership spends time and effort at finding spiritual gifts, and letting them blossom.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Hot dog, what a quandry

It would seem that one of the major, if not THE major trends or areas of differences in the coming election is the question of equality of wealth.

One side apparently believes that it is okay to make as much money as possible, particuarly if one does it through legitimate means. The other side apparently believes that sharing that wealth is a better idea.

Which leads me to hot dogs. Let me say up front that I like hot dogs. I like them all sorts of ways. I do not like them this way:

  A hot dog in Arkansas is a little more expensive than your typical dog. Selling for more than $1,500, it is the world's most expensive hot dog. It was made with a quarter pound of premium beef with lobster tail, saffron and gold flakes. The vendor managed to sell four of them for a $6,000 profit. The money was donated to a non-profit group that supports the homeless. The vendor of the pricey dog broke the world record for the most expensive hot dog.

I immediately thought of the idea Jesus proposed: "Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

It is true that the top 10 percent of people in this country control 2/3 of the nation's wealth. It is also true that the super wealthy in this country have grabbed the bulk of the nation's gains in wealth in the past three decades. The question before us is whether this is a bad thing, and if so, what do we do about it.

Over the past 30 years the rich in America have become a lot richer, while many millions of Americans have seen their income stagnate or decline. As Warren Buffett, the second richest man in America, said, “There’s class warfare, all right, but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning.” Wealth and income inequality today is by far the worst in the industrialized world and has fallen in line with many Third World countries. Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph E. Stiglitz explains why this is bad news: 

Some people look at income inequality and shrug their shoulders. So what if this person gains and that person loses? What matters, they argue, is not how the pie is divided but the size of the pie. That argument is fundamentally wrong. An economy in which most citizens are doing worse year after year—an economy like America’s—is not likely to do well over the long haul.

The top 1 percent have the best houses, the best educations, the best doctors, and the best lifestyles, but there is one thing that money doesn’t seem to have bought: an understanding that their fate is bound up with how the other 99 percent live. Throughout history, this is something that the top 1 percent eventually do learn. Too late.

So, what do we do? How do we do it? Who does it?

This is all above my, uh, pay grade. But this I know. If even a few of those families are church goers and even a few of them tithe, whew, there's some hot dogs for the Sunday potluck.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Plan your work, work your plan

1 Peter 5: 6 - "Therefore, humble yourselves under God's power so that he may raise you up in the last day. Throw all your anxiety onto him, because he cares about you. Be clearheaded: Keep alert."

Let's check out plan:
1) Be humble
2) Release of anxiety
3) Be clearheaded
4) Keep alert

Let's see how we're doing:
1) On occasion
2) seldom
3) depends on how much caffeine
4) usually.

What about you? Do you have a plan, and do you work the plan? Do you care about how each day goes or do you simply exist, rising early, going to bed late, and Monday is about the same as is Friday and don't even mention the playing that goes on Saturday, and the sleeping in that comes into play on Sunday.

Is that life? Is it truly life if one doesn't understand or recognize the shed blood that went into us having life, true life, meaningful life?

I suggest that it's not. I suggest that it's all because of Jesus that I'm alive. I believe that to be true, and I believe it is my job, my profession certainly, but more than that it is my life to tell others about what that might mean to them. I've learned that one can love Jesus and do it differently that do I. But that's okay.

Peter believe the devil was roaming the land, figuratively certainly and quite possibly literally, and that ol' liar was aimed at taking our focus, causing us ego problems, smashing through out defenses, making us anxious all the time. I pray most of the time that he be kept away, from me, from my family. But when I give up to anxiousness, I'm giving up to him. When I'm ego-filled, I'm turning it over to him. When I have no morning plan, and no plan for scripture reading, and no plan for prayer, I'm wasting it all.

So, what's your plan?

Monday, May 14, 2012

Ride the bucking bull

"But God's mercy is so abundant, and his love for us is so great, that while we were spiritually dead in our disobedience he brought us to life with Christ. It is by God's grace that you have been saved." Ephesus 2: 4-5 Good News Bible.

Every had a weekend where things were so right you wondered what's going to happen when the pendulum swings the other direction?

Yeah, that's right. I had one this weekend. Perfect? Probably not. But it was right up there with the best.

Great dinner Saturday night with the best boys on the planet and my wonderful oldest daughter. Great worship Sunday morning at both churches, I thought. Then a movie with my honey followed by frozen yogurt on the way home.

Obviously it doesn't take much to please me.

But I have a point here.

The beauty of the weekend was its simplicity. In Christ, with Christ, because of Christ all things work to the good. So when we have one of these weekends, or days, or hours, we need to do one thing: Praise Him.

But, in answer to one commenter from a piece I wrote last week, one also must Praise Him when one doesn't have those types of weekends, or days, or hours. For the same Christ who saved me, the same God whose mercy works in me while I am spiritually dad, is responsible for all my life.

In other words, when the beauty comes, it's Christ. When the pain surfaces, it's Christ allowing. But the pain is a temporal thing. The beauty lasts forever.

It's that simple in the short and in the long run.

If one can be as the apostle Paul, content with and without, one can takes these painful moments and ride them like a bucking bull at the county fair. I know it's hard. I know the pain makes for unbelief. I know the suffering is sometimes even tragic. But it truly is what it is. Does God want us to suffer? No, not at all. And clearly He can stop it on a dime. But there are more reasons and rhymes to life than stopping every ounce of pain and I believe we simply don't have all the answers. I know that sounds like unreasonable tripe at times. But I believe, truly believe, that God turns all things to the good of those who love him, even pain, even suffering, even tragedy.

If one doesn't believe, well, God's mercy extends even to that person.

On near-perfect weekends, all I can do is pray for those who don't know that.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Need some Good News?

This is open association Friday. In other words, open the Bible, look where I've found myself and comment. (We'll see where this takes us).

Let's see, open saysme....NAHUM 1. Uh, seldom been there. What do we find there? Let's see, oh, how about verse 15..."Look, a messenger is coming over the mountains with good news! He is on his way to announce the victory." From the NIV, it reads, "Look, there on the mountains, the feet of one who brings good news, who proclaims peace! Celebrate your festivals, O Judah, and fulfill your vows. No more will the wicked invade you; they will be completely destroyed."
Let's think about it for a moment, just a moment this day, about the Good News as opposed to the good news.

Good news. Wonderful news. A peace is in the making.

Let's paint a picture here: The battle, heck, even the war is over. Then, as a worried populace waits, behold upon the mountains, the feet of him that brings good tidings, that publishes peace comes running. From mountain-top to mountain-top the beacon fires are lit. They spread the glad tidings like angels from on high. The war is done. We've survived, even won. Judah, before hindered by armies from going up to Jerusalem, its cities taken may now again "keep the feasts" there, and "pay the vows," which "in trouble she promised;" "for the wicked one," the ungodly Sennacherib, "is utterly cut off, he shall no more pass through you;" "the army and king and empire of the Assyrians have perished."

There's something wonderful about someone who brings good news, isn't it? The writers of scripture certainly thought so.

The prophet Isaiah wrote, "How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, "Your God reigns!"

The apostle Paul took this verse and put it as part of the salvation plan. He wrote in Romans 10:15, "And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, "How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!"

Paul said it another way: Rejoice, he told the Philippians. Rejoice. Rejoice.

The Good News has come.

Oh, but that we could proclaim Good News from on high today. Oh, we can. Got to remember that, huh?

Andre Crouch, that noted songwriter, put it this way: "Through it all, through it all; I've learned to trust in Jesus, I've learned to trust in God."

Today that's the Good News. And I'm the one with those calloused and ugly but ultimately beautiful feet to tell you: Come on home. The battle is over. Jesus has won. Come join us for the feasts of bread and wine. Come.

That's the Good News for this day (suddenly I'm exhibiting my inner Paul Harvey), May 11, 2012.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

The elephant of Genesis

About a month into my ministry, 14 years ago or so, I got a call from a woman, ex-military, who wanted me to baptize her child. After we had talked for a while about the United Methodist view of baptism (everyone has to have a view, you know), she said there might be a problem. She said she lived with someone and wasn't married.

I told her that we would work around that. I told her everyone sins, but I didn't want that held against his child so if she wasn't comfortable with church, I said her grandmother (the connection to my church) would come forward and speak for the child, saying she would make sure the child was brought up in Christian manners and ways, I would still do the baptism. She agreed that would probably be alright.

I asked her if she had thought about coming to church. She said there would be a problem. I said no one would have to know she was living with someone. That was her business, she said. There was silence on the other end of the phone. She then said, well, I'm living with another woman and I think they might know.

I paused only slightly, then said, "Well, I still believe church would be the best place for you to be, and we would welcome you."  I never met her after that phone conversation. I meant that then, and I mean that now.

If we're going to empty our churches of all sinners, we're going to empty our churches. One sin, I believe the Bible teaches, is not greater than others. We all sin.

The difference, I believe (and let me stress, I believe) is some groups are trying to say the Bible doesn't teach that their actions, or their sins, isn't sin. I disagree, as is my right as a Christian believer and reader of scripture. I accept that I committed sin when I was divorced and married another woman, for example. I do not try to argue that wasn't sin any longer because culture has changed. I accept my sin, and I have prayed for forgiveness and believe I have been forgiven.

I guess it's time to get the elephant out of the room, as they say, now that our president has made his declaration public. I would not and will not marry two persons of the same sex. That doesn't mean I don't believe in their civil rights or I condone any actions against them or anyone else. Doesn't mean I don't understand the possibility of love between two persons of the same sex. That is what it is. But it does mean I won't do this because I believe they commit an action that is contrary to what the Bible teaches, and I know all the contradictory discussion, all the debate about the various texts both Old Testament and New.

I know what I'm saying and why, and the fact is that I believe Jesus believed, and I used the quotation each time I do a marriage, that passage from Genesis where God says, "That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united with his wife, and they become one."

I know and understand that I am basing my beliefs on a line of scripture that comes from the same section where there is a talking reptile. I understand I'm basing my beliefs on a book of the text that talks of creation in seven days, and man being created from dust, and man naming all animals but finding no time to name dinosaurs. I understand all that. And I still say a man is united with his wife and they become one. I do not see where believing that means I hate others.

That is my right, as a pastor of the United Methodist Church, till it's not. It does not, I believe, make me a bigot or backward or whatever the latest thing shouted from the left. It does not mean I do not love my gay brothers and sisters, and I am not condemning them to an eternal separation from God. I also believe that scripture teaches that if one believes in Jesus Christ, believes he was raised from the dead, confesses that he is Lord openly, repents of his or her sin, and is baptized, one will be saved. It is the acknowledgement and turning from sin that is an active component of that formula. It is not enough to believe. The Bible says the demons believe Jesus is the Christ.

It does not mean I do not sin, as I've said before. It means I'm better yesterday than I was the day before and with Christ's help, I might be better today. It means I'm trying to eliminate all those messy things I still do though I do not want to do them. It does not mean I simply say they're not sin because the culture changed.

I've never written this, and if I offend any of my liberal readers (if I have any liberal readers), I'm sorry I offend but not sorry that I feel the need to write this. When in the same story our vice president is described as devout Catholic and in favor of gay marriage, I can't help but wonder where we're headed.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Heroes do exist

So, that little movie The Avengers is doing okay, huh?
Actually, it's fantastic, but that's not why we're here this morning. Whether intentional or not, this movie brings back an ideal that has so much scriptural meaning I scant even know where to begin.

At the end of the story in The Avengers, the group of heroes is ready to sacrifice their lives to stop the evil force threatening Earth, which is led by the demonic figure from Norse mythology, Loki. In fact, during the climactic battle, one of the heroes will have to risk his own life in order to save everyone else.

This notion of sacrifice has become a frequent theme in many recent superhero stories, from Spider-Man 2 to Captain America and The Green Lantern. In fact, one might say that sacrifice is in the very DNA of nearly all stories about superheroes and heroes.

Actually, it’s such a central motif that one of the people Movieguide helped inspire with our work, film scholar Dr. Stan Williams, wrote that in many stories, not just stories with heroes in them, sacrifice is a key theme in Act 2 and 3 of many stories, including movies like The Avengers.

As such, the theme of sacrifice is part of a narrative structure that reflects the “greatest story ever told”—the story of Jesus Christ’s birth, teaching, suffering, sacrifice, death and resurrection. The whole structure may be outlined as follows:

Promise, Birth, Suffering, Sacrifice and Resurrection/Redemption.

In Luke's Gospel, the final chapter, Jesus makes sure we understand what the plan for his life was all along: “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.”  Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day ..."

Yesterday I read this story: A roofer in New Jersey reportedly jumped into a vat of nitric acid on Monday to save a co-worker who had fallen in. Martin Davis was working at Swepco Tube LLC, a metal tube manufacturing plant in Clifton, N.J., when he fell 40 feet into the tank of acid and became full submerged, fire officials said. Clifton Fire Chief Vincent Colavitti Jr. said that a fellow roofer, 51-year-old Rob Nuckols, jumped into the vat waist-high to pull Davis, 44, out. Three other workers helped Nuckols pluck Davis from the acid, which is used to clean metal tubing. Rescue workers "cut Davis out of his clothes and sprayed him with water to limit burns," Colavitti said.

I believe true heroes are much of what the world is lacking. That's why when we see sacrifice, we should celebrate with all our core. It's Jesus-like.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Take the load off Fannie, and put it on Him

Many of the folks I grew up admiring are getting old and dying. What does that say about me? Recently singer/drummer/actor Levon Helm had the audacity to die on me. I loved his work with the Band, mostly on such Southern Rock tunes like The Weight, which talked about taking a said weight off someone named Fannie and putting it on someone else.

Removing a burden, I took it to mean, though truthfully I barely understood the lyrics, much less their meaning. I first heard it when I altered a driver's license and snuck into Easy Rider as a 16-year-old. Remember when you had to be 18 to go to certain movies. Wow. Another world.

The burden I'm working with is this moving thing. We're packing/transferring/moving across the state to Eunice, a place I have no familiarity with. That would worry me enough, but it's the fact I'm truly leaving all I know, all I've known for 20 years that has me freaking.

We went to the West Bank, a suburb of New Orleans that we lived in for 14 years and where our grown kids and their little ones still live, last night. Jackson Brown sings, "All good things must come to an end." We left there after Hurricane Katrina, against our wishes, and wound up in a house and a life we loved, frankly. But I said yes when God called and next thing I know, we're living in a parsonage and our home is gone.

Now, just two years later, we're gone again, and that phrase, "the last time" keeps popping up. My wife, Mary, went to her last women's meeting at Fitzgerald UMC this past Sunday. Tonight I finish a Bible Study at our other church, Lacombe UMC, that I've taught for eight months. The last time is a constant thought.

We watched two of our grand kids play ball last night on separate fields. Terrytown Playground was where I coached my kids all those years ago, and as far as I know, last night might have been my last visit, gas cost being what it is.

I admire folks like Abram, who was called, and went. No questions, apparently. No tying up loose ends. No good things coming to and end. No weight being lifted or shared. Just go, and he went.

I am amazed at folks like Peter who was called to drop everything and he quit the only job he'd ever known and went.

I am bemused at folks like Philip who was told to leave a revival in Samaria and go South and he went. No turning off the Direct TV or worrying about insurance being transferred. He was told; he went.

I'm simply not programmed that way, apparently. I'm told to go and I look backward like Lot's wife, and though I'm not turning into a pillar of salt, my stomach is turning into mush and the weight is heavy.

So take the load off Fannie and put it somewhere else, Lord. This load is akillin' me.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Oh, fig

Mark 11: 12: "The next day as they were coming back from Bethany, Jesus was hungry. He saw in the distance a fig tree covered with leaves, so he went to see if he could find any figs on it. But when he came to it, he found only leaves, because it was not the right time for figs. Jesus said to the fig tree, "No one shall ever eat figs from you again!" And his disciples heard him."

I've read this many times and each time it is like a stop sign held out in front of me. My initial reaction often is, huh?

I mean, come on. Jesus is so much like me that he will curse a little tree that hasn't produced fruit even when it wasn't time for the fruit to be made and ripened? That's Jesus. Really?

But like much of scripture, the hard lessons are explained elsewhere. If one goes just a bit farther, to the 20th verse, after Jesus had gone to the temple and done some overturning of tables and such, we read, "In the morning, as they went along, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots. Peter remembered and said to Jesus, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree you cursed has withered!” "Have faith in God,” Jesus answered. “Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them.  Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.  And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.”

And you go, oh. Huh?

Jesus curses a fig tree and it dies without bearing fruit. Seems dramatically harsh, huh? Seems, still, so un-Jesus like. I mean, what didn't the fig tree do that it could have done? It couldn't produce fruit because it wasn't in season. It wasn't it's fault, right? It has a proper excuse, right?

Commentaries will tell you the fig tree represented the nation of Israel. That the nation had rejected the Messiah.

But, but how on earth could these fishermen and other commoners possibly get the symbolism? How an we?

I think the key line in all of this is "And his disciples heard him."

Though they might not have understood, they heard. They saw the power of a god who can curse and send away. Further if one notes that the proper order for fig trees is fruit first, around Passover, then glorious leaves, one gets the context.

Let's sum it this way: How many of us as Christians have made a wonderful display but have no fruit to show for it? Isn't that the way of the church today? Could Jesus have been making a comment on us just as much as he was supposed to be making a comment on the Jewish state?

Just saying.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Full of the Holy Spirit, death is quite a sight

"But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw God's glory and Jesus standing at the right side of God. ... With a loud cry the Council members covered their ears with their hands. then they all rushed at him at once, threw him out of the city, and stoned him."

Wow, and uh, wow.

As I was reading from the book of Acts late in the morning, having spent a late night at the movie theater this morning watching comic book superheros save the world, I came across the stoning of Stephen. What interests me is that Stephen has little to do with the gospel, little to do with Jesus himself, before he shows up in the sixth chapter of Acts. He, and that evangelist called Philip I looked into yesterday, were appointed by the 12 apostles to help take care of finances. When the apostles chose seven men known to be full of the Holy Spirit and put them in charge of the bucks, the apostles could then take care of preaching and prayer.

But Stephen is arrested and the next thing you know, he gives one of the great speeches in all of scripture, and finally he is stoned to death with the apostle Paul looking on.

Wow, and uh, wow.

What a marvelous story that stands out in a marvelous book of history called the Acts of the Apostles. You can't read these tales without wondering how incredibly courageous these men must have been. Then you have to wonder what happened to the rest of us, in terms of our courage?

Tradition and scripture has this as being the fate of the apostles:
  1. Peter was crucified head down in Rome, 66 A.D.
  2. Andrew was bound to death. He preached until his death in 74 A.D.
  3. James , son of Zebedee, was beheaded in Jerusalem by the sword. (Acts 12:1-9).
  4. John was banished to the Isle of Patmos, 96 A.D. (Rev. 1- 9).
  5. Phillip was crucified at Heirapole, Phryga, 52 A.D.
  6. Bartholomew was beaten, crucified, then beheaded by the command of a king, 52 A.D.
  7. Thomas was run through by a lance at Corehandal, East Indies, 52 A.D.
  8. Matthew was slain by the sword in the city of Ethiopia about 60 A.D.
  9. James son of Alphaeus, was thrown from a pinnacle, then beaten to death, 60 A.D.
  10. Thaddeus was shot to death by arrows, 72 A.D.
  11. Simon was crucified in Persia, 74 A.D.
All because they came in contact with a man named Jesus.

I believe the biggest reason we can believe that Jesus was resurrected was because these men gave their lives for that belief. No one does that if it isn't true. No one. Beginning with Stephen, they saw a wonderful sight, Jesus sitting at the right hand.

What do you see this Friday afternoon? What do you see?

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Senior Pastor at the First Church of the Somewheretheheckother (guaranteed or not)

At the current 2012 United Methodist General Conference in Tampa, Fla.-- a 10-day meeting that helps decide the direction the discipline (the order that is followed by UMC members both lay and clergy) -- it was voted on and passed that no longer would any clergy have guaranteed appointments. Previously the discipline stated that if one graduated from a UMC approved seminary, the appointment (or post or position at a local church as pastor or associate) would be guaranteed. You couldn't be "fired" unless you broke some sort of church law. Local pastors, those who went to license to preach school then on to course of study and who serve on either a full-time or part-time postion, were not guaranteed anything. In the future, all postions will be based upon merit, it is said, going on a matrix of data that show whether the pastor is doing the job well, or not.
So in the future, we will be called.
We will get ready.
We will go.

That's the deal. That's the process. That hasn't changed, and as near as I can tell, won't change because we are called, we must get ready, we must go, and we MUST do the job well in order to stay there. Seems completely reasonable to me. I hope the sermon Sunday is as good as the reading of the text has been to me this week. I'm preaching on Acts 8: 26-40 (Philip's evangelistic work with the Ethiopian eunuch), and it would be good for you to read it, as well.

I am concentrating on a few aspects of this rather long text. I can't get past the fact "an angel of the Lord" told Philip to get ready and go south, and Philip got ready and went.

Simple, isn't it?

I've told many about the phone call I got from Lake Charles District Superintendent Steven Spurloch in late March asking if we would consider the move to Eunice-Kinder-Iota and preach there. Consider, huh? Mary, my wife, and I had 10 minutes to decide if we would take the offer, for the cabinet (the Louisiana Annual Conference Bishop and his eight district superintendents) "needed to get out of there by 4 p.m." It was 3:40. I was 10 minutes from the parsonage in my car after having spent more than an hour talking about the feeding program at my current church outside of Covington, La.

I called Mary, told her what little I knew of the situation we were being offered, arrived at the parsonage still talking, got out of the car, and I looked into her eyes. She and I had talked and prayed for months leading up to this phone call. We had decided that if God was asking us to go somewhere, and we believed that was what the cabinet was about -- receiving God's call, placing a pastor (and his or her spouse) -- then who were we to say no. Could we have said no, I'm often asked? I have answered from the beginning that of course we could have said no, I just didn't know of anyone who had.

I'm also asked often if this is a better situation we're going to than what we're leaving. Somehow that is presumed.

At the time I didn't know the answer. Now, I  believe it is not a better situation but it will be, if that makes any sense. It's like picking (for those of you who watch and follow the NFL) Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck as the No. 1 selection in the NFL draft recently over No. 2 Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III. Luck supposedly is more ready to play right now but has less growth possibilities. He is, as they say, the finished produce. They also say Luck's ceiling is lower than is Griffin's.

In the same manner, Eunice has more growth potential, while Fitzgerald is already there and perhaps has peaked. Eunice will be the better position one day, but it's not there now. Eunice averages 70, Fitzgerald 82. But Fitzgerald was averaging 51 when we arrived, and the church has four or five youth meeting on Sunday evening while Eunice has had up to 54 on Wednesday nights (which includes unchurched kids and kids from other denominations).

In any case, we used those 10 minutes not to decide if we would go, but to simply make sure that this was what God was calling us to. We felt as sure as we could, so we called back (on the phone number of New Orleans District Superintendent RL Bethley -- as that was the number we had been called on)and said yes. Then and only then were dollars talked about and it turned out the new position paid substantially more than the current one. That had not even been in the conversation prior to that.

Again, the order was,
Go (yes)
Get ready (we're trying)
We're going.

"Go" the angel of the Lord said.
Philip got ready and went.

I'm not saying in any shape, form or fashion that I am Philip. I am saying, however, that the call is the same, it always is the same, it always will be the same.

Go south or west or east or north, we hear as pastors.
We get ready.
We go.

That's the process.

But we as a church must also recognize this: When Philip was called to go to the desert road and find this unnamed Ethiopian eunuch, he didn't know why he was being called, he didn't know exactly where on the road he was to find someone, and when he did find someone and was told to chase after him and then he did what he could to bring him home, still he was helping ONE PERSON. When Philip was called to go south and he went, he was leaving behind a good situation. In Acts 8:4-8, it reads, "But the believers who were scattered preached the Good News about Jesus wherever they went. Philip, for example, went to the city of Samaria and told the people there about the Messiah. Crowds listened intently to Philip because they were eager to hear his message and see the miraculous signs he did. Many evil spirits were cast out, screaming as they left their victims. And many who had been paralyzed or lame were healed. There was great joy in that city because of this."

This notion that a pastor who has been granted great success by God should be appointed to a church that is equally successful is a bit of a stretch when one looks at Philip's career here.

If the matrix is correct that only numbers matter, then Philip was called from a place of great success to preach (speak, witness) to ONE. That couldn't possibly be right could it? And would Philip keep his appointment if he only got one profession of faith in his new appointment?

What matters, I suspect strongly, is the ONE who came to Christ because of Philip's obedience. The ONE who was changed then went back to Ethiopia, one suspects, and preached (spoke, witnessed) of this Jesus who he didn't learn about in seminary but on a roadside discussion of the book of the prophet Isaiah that was every bit as important as Paul's Damascus road experience.

And what more do we hear of Philip? I'm sure he went on to preach at the First Church of Somewheretheheckother and he had 500 professions of faith a year and he baptized people left and right, despite having no seminary experience himself. Surely there is a whole book of the New Testament devoted to him. Surely.

In Acts 8, Philip's story concluded with these words: "The Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away. ... Meanwhile, Philip found himself farther north at the town of Azotus. He preached the Good News there and in every town along the way until he came to Caesarea."

Then, in Acts 21, we read, "The next stop after leaving Tyre was Ptolemais, where we greeted the brothers and sisters and stayed for one day. The next day we went on to Caesarea and stayed at the home of Philip the Evangelist, one of the seven men who had been chosen to distribute food. He had four unmarried daughters who had the gift of prophecy."

That's Luke talking (and writing) about his experience with Paul the apostle. And what can we make of this: 1) Philip was the Billy Graham of his day (called the Evangelist because of his work) and he had four daughters who could prophecy. That's it. That's all.

Sounds like an appointment to me. in Caesarea. Go south, Get ready to go north, Leave. Preach along the way until you find the sweet spot and stay there. Unless, of course, God calls again. Then, Go. Get Ready. Leave.

That's the life, and that's the calling.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

In the land of ...

It is thundering, loud and consistently, as I sit down to write this epic opus. A Dachshund called Breezy, so named not for strong wind pouring through trees but instead for a quarterback without a strong arm but who came with reckless abandon to change our New Orleanian lives on Sundays, is resting uncomfortably near my left foot.

I saved Breezy from possible annihilation in October, 2010, from a shelter in Pearl River, Miss. One of our favorite pets, a black-and-white Sheltie named Tweety by our daughter Carrie 17 years earlier, had died. After a reasonable, I thought, few days of mourning and prayer, I began to search for someone I could not replace Tweety with but instead someone who Mary, my wife, and I could help save  if given the chance. We do not replace any lost pets, pets who have gone on to where ever they go. We simply do what we can to save others.

I had seen this Dachshund before on PF, an app I had placed upon my I-Phone. His bio seemed reasonable enough. We had prayed about replacing and placing in the Dachshund category because I had lost my dear, dear friend Frankie in January of 2010 to stomach cancer, and we loved the breed. This bio suggested his owner had run out of room, hence causing "Fred," as he was known, to be given to the shelter in Pearl River. The shelter is not a well-suited facility, from my viewing of it, in terms of money. Whether it is a "kill shelter" or not is not part of my knowledge of it. I do not ask, for I can't take the answer emotionally. Just is what it is.

I drove the 70 or so miles, using my PF finder and my GPS finder, to the shelter. I endured the shelter's educational seminar about pets, I endured the time spent where they apparently gave "Fred" the same lecture and perhaps a shot or two (why would you give the pets the needed meds if it was not going to a forever home?), then they handed me this black and gray dappled (sort of spots over his entire coat) and told me how much fun "Fred" was.

I took "Fred" with me, placing his body on my right leg as I drove away, and we took off into a new life. Though I wrote about not having one dog replace another, certainly his facial resemblance of Frankie was strong and without coincidence.

Two days later, days of him scrambling to get away from me as fast as his little paws would allow, it began to dawn on me that perhaps the owner or the shelter or both had lied to me. This dog, renamed Breezy for this quarterback who ...., was terrified of me. Terrified. Not just a little bit, but terrified. My voice would send him into shaking fits. My hand -- extended to pet or allow him to sniff) would send the actual fear of God (always wondered what that looked like) into him. He loves Mary to death, just plain loves her. He came to her the first day and every afternoon or night he comes to her with tail wagging, with tongue extended for globs of doggie kisses and doggie drool and now past-puppie hugs of short, stubby legs. When she's sitting on the couch, he is there immediately looking to either be picked up or love onr sitters who are nowhere near her but whom he might coax into picking him up and then pressuring the sitter into giving him to Mary. As long, of course, as the sitter is female. No males is the motto for Breezy. No where. No time. No male.

If someone should happen to say the phrase "You've got mail," Breezy is off, tail between his leg as he runs down the hall, looking for the male in all the wrong places. For a year, he ran under the bed when a voice with a deeper tone entered the home. Since, he has barked loudly and forcefully at such voices, mostly as he ran toward the underbelly of the protective bed toward his lovely and never-to-be touched doggie bed.

I began to understand as early as Breezy's first Turner week, the first one we had him, that someone, almost assuredly a male owner or a male I don't know, apparently had abused this dog. It was my first experience with abuse that I'm aware of, but it was extensive and it was powerful enough to keep the dog petrified. I talked to some folks in the know who told me the fear would go away over time. Certainly I've learned that time is a subjective subject. What is "over time" for some is FOREVER to others, I'm certain. But I was told certain "tricks" that would work, and I've tried most of them to varying degrees of success. He has begun to take treats from me in varying degrees, in varying successes, in varying manners.

But the most powerful "trick" is one that God provides. Did I mention that it was thundering? Well, when Mary (whom the dog absolutely loves) is GONE and thundering, or lightening, or a stiff breeze, or a possible, just possible, front coming through (as he can sense all these things apparently from the doggie bed he treasures on the underbelly side of the bed on which I do not reside), I will DO for protection.

As I write, he has found a sheet of typing paper (why we would have one of those distresses me), he has dug a pretend hole in it (it's what Dachshund's do because some ancestor of his did this when it thundered a hundred or a thousand of years ago), and has settled into protected property. As FFH



him,                                                                                                                                                                                 with calming, loving words, sprayed like graffiti around my office, so much so that I had to stop writing and just LOVE him. Just love. Just trying to get him to forget whatever was done to him all that time ago, trying to get him to center on the love I'm trying to give him. I offer a pocketed treat of faux-Bacon, which among all the other treats we give out for going outside and doing "business" is the most treasured. I hold him with my left arm, cradling him like a Heisman winner would do while extending my right hand with the treat. He watches all this with an eye and a poise that would give him instant response time if needed. There's no need for him to go overboard here. He's scared of the weather and willing to "try" to get along, but that doesn't mean all is forgotten and forgiven. He watches with the focus of a serial killer who whoever or whatever is his trigger is suddenly presented to him. He watches, he waits, he does not over-comitt. But over seconds, not minutes but seconds, he watches the gift appear before him, and he slowly, ever-so-slowly waits until the treat is but inches from his mouth. He still does not grab it in a power-display that the terrier Logan would use. He does not fearfully grab it, as would the non-mini Dachshund Copper. He does not grab and take it as would the mix of something large and wide we saved from a shelter and kept the name, Samantha. And he does do what our fearfully but certain of all actions Chihuahua, Paris, does. No, Breezy waits until the treat, in all its faux-Bacon gloriousness and awesomeness and wonderfulness, in all its flavorful GREATNESS, touches his long, black, gratefully salivating lips. It just touches his lips. Just wounds his pride, his ego, and his determination to punish all these dang male humans the rest of his Dachshund life, for he has instantly decided to accept the gift. After all, it's faux-Bacon. It just touches his lips, like water from the bowl that his other dogs use equally with him. Touches his lips like, oh, I don't know, like, like REAL BACON WOULD. With eyes still on the master, tail still stuck between his legs, he does not lunge, force, or fearfully pounce. He takes the bent piece of faux-Bacon gently and with me in his view-finder/target eyes, even as a clap of thunder sends down his lithe body, instanteous response. He chews attentively until it does not exist, the thunder or the fauxt -Bacon, but he never takes his eyes or his focus away from me (who as far as he knows is the target of his unaffections and long-ago but never forgotten physical pain). Target acquired, target destroyed. When all the chewing is done, kaput, finished, completely fished and wished away, I gently place him on the floor, and he runs steps away with the force of Iron Man's repulsor rays, runs -- maybe four steps -- but instead of barking as he has done for six months, he slides to a stop and does something we now refer to as his grumble. It has the makings of a bark, but it's not. It's more of a grumble. Yeh, it's a faux-bark. It's a Breezy grumble. It starts at the end of his dappled and slender body where other dogs would affectionally call their butts and it bounces the length of his body until it is ready to come out his mouth, somewhat like a regurgitated substance. It's like "gerrrreeeeuuuuummmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmme." Instead of building to several barks that show a ferociousness to the stranger at the door or anger that would chase away darkness on a very early morning (he refuses to go out at night) or even a meanness that would let a burglar know he is not welcome, Breezy squeezes the bark into an almost friendly sound. Almost.

It's like when the oldest grandson comes over. When Breezy first saw Gabe, I promise you this, he barked a few times then silently crept up and pulled Gave's shorts down. Now, he is seen more in the living room when Gave is out to visit than any other tme. He loves Gave and his brother Gavin so much so they're honory Mary's or something.

Oh, what he does to me is still a bark. But it's a bark with a how's-yo-mama-and-'em tied in. It's almost a forgiveness and wait and see sound to it. "You freed me, but let's wait and see how free," it says to me..  living rtime. sort

In a second.
In a moment of absolute grace.

Given for doing, what,

Oh, I'm not dumb enough to think this progress would show itself this way if 1) Mary wasn't away doing her crossing guard thing or 2) the thunder hadn't sent a calling card ahead of itself or 3) Jesus hadn't crossed the dark area before the thing haunts Breezy and began to light candles of mercy and beacons of forgiveness.

When Jesus crossed that no-man's land that Breezy had established and counted on, He made what is left there beautiful, hauntingly beautiful.

Is all we've gone through worth 18 months or so of barking, grabbing spoonfuls of food and sprinting to his bed to munch or running away out of pure fear and anger in Breezy's dark mistrustful eyes? You betcha. of

The spiritual lesson is so easy to spot that I almost don't want to mention it, but I will. God spent a lifetime with me waiting for those fearful, angry, mistrustful eyes to just look at him. The eyes were unable to even drift away when he put a treat out there for me. When I took the treat, chewed on it for grateful hours and hour and hours, he just smiled and waited. This free-will zone took years for me. No manipulation from Him. No guilt-trip from HIm. Just watching. Just waiting. Seeing me inch toward him. Seeing two steps forward and a million steps backward. Just watching. Waiting. Me messing up and faltering and falling, just like Breezy has done almost daily.

But after years of God's watching me and never, ever, judging me with that instantaneous barking that humans still would use, even though as a Pastor I've grown far closer (possibly) than others, one day God saw me inch past where I had been and not go backward. That day. Or the next. Just inches of forward movement, with now new treats for encouragement.

Me and Him. Together. Me in his left arm and his right hand sliding up and down my spine. Inching, not moving rapidly, toward the River Jordan of blood that had initially washed me clean enough so that God could treat me with a smile

I learned I could simply stand and follow WITH HIM as my guide. Saved. Justified. Walking toward Him as quickly as my brain, then my heart, then my soul could accept all this.Walking by willingly acknowledging HIM as not only my guide but the one who set up the trip, executed the plan and made it happen. Did I trust all I read about him? No, probably not. Certainly not all I could read in commentaries and in books.

But in my heart, oh, in my heart I could accept that God had forgiven and forgotten. It was me who couldn't forget the abuse of my master, er, my father.

Breezy has left my side now that the thunder has stopped (you think these blogs  are written?). He plodded away, his little body swaying to the beat of some drummer I can't hear, with his left back leg sometime missing a beat (humorlessly creating a jump, bump and bounce way of walking). I am made aware that whatever front or wind storm or just spring rain that God had planned and/or allowed had swayed to the beat of some drummer I can't hear out of our area.

On I-Tunes, Matthew West is playing hard guitar on a song called A Friend In The World that tells me "when you can't find a friend in the world, love is reaching down, you've got one now." The house is quiet, as early Christian songster Michael W. Smith sings "Friends" telling me "friends are friends forever if the Lord is Lord of them." Other than the I-tunes mystery of music, it is somber as daggers of sunshine plunge through the sliding glass door that is the entry to poopland- in the backyard.

It's a Wednesday morning and I feel, uh, motivated and as Mary says as she arrives back home from the corner she works, it's a "happy day." Breezy has made it home to his bed. Me? I'm headed to the shower to get ready to leave for my home, my church office. Another long day ahead, probably.

Over time, they tell me, Breezy will develop a friendship with me. Seems like a long, long time. But Smith tells me melodically, "a lifetime is not too long to live as friends."

I believe that to be truth.

Over time we'll all get together, and someday I will be with my Master.

It's a Wednesday and it's a good day.