Friday, June 29, 2012

Slithering down the wall

Did Samson reach a stage where his body just wouldn't do what he wanted? Did he reach a stage where the aches, the pains, the amount of damage to muscles that weren't used to, er, muscling just got to be too much? Well, sort of.

You remember ol' Samson, right? Big guy. Lumbering guy. Guy who could kill a 1,000 with the jawbone of an ass. When I was young, that sentence alone could make me go into giggles. But I digress.

Here in the real world, I have found the wall. I found it when I hit it. Limping along at a mile a minute (or a box a minute or a next new thing to plug in, pull out or life), I found the wall. Walls are us, I'm afraid.

Sometime last night after a fabulous day of working on a sermon for Sunday, getting a call of encouragement from a dear friend in the ministry, meeting a gazillion folks I couldn't name again with a gun put to my head, turning in my second religion column for the Eunice News, meeting with a reporter for a story in Sunday's newspaper about me, working with my new staff (did I write that correctly? I have a staff?) on Sunday worship, viewing a VBS that featured 118 kids bouncing off the wall (my wall as it were), and then watching a youth group from Shreveport playing and singing some of my contemporary Christian praise songs, well, I just flopped.

I slept late, past 8 a.m. I'm still groggy. I still hurt. I still wonder where all those boxes that we've put outside are going to go. I still wonder where all the boxes that are still inside the house are going to go. And I don't want to lift anything. Again. Ever.

But there's work to be done. There's no question about that. No. The question is whether I can do it or not. Today we must get in the car and find, literally find, the other two churches in this three-point charge. It wouldn't hurt simply to get out and about since I know one road right now. One road into Eunice. One road out. I understand in my gut there will be more than that. I just haven't had time nor energy to find them.

Samson's ego and pride were the death of him, eventually, as you might recall. Samson was beaten, blinded, humiliated. The ol' Philistines had done a number on him. But in the end (literally), God provided him with enough strength to pull the curtains down on those villains.

I'm beaten, but not blinded. I'm humbled but not humiliated. I'm stretched, but not overcome. God provide me with enough strength to do my thing come Sunday.

If the first Sunday in a new place forms a lasting impression, I'm terrified my impression to the congregations will be forever one of a man who certainly knows his physical limitations.

As my wife said moments ago, "I've hit the wall, and now I'm slithering down."

Thursday, June 28, 2012

A God who stands by us

One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret, with the people crowding around him and listening to the word of God, he saw at the water's edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat.

There you have the Gospel.

Jesus stood with the crowd. The crowd stood with him. The crowd listened to the word of God (which could be read as John said that Jesus WAS the Word or it could simply mean that Jesus' teaching was direct from God.

Jesus saw those he came in came in contact with. He drew crowds because of the Word he was teaching. He loved them all.

Today, with all the incredible advances in technology and such, we still haven't figured out a way to top the Gospel. The Gospel is love, the message is love, the Word is love. Love trumps all, doesn't it?

Jesus, suffering and beginning to die as surely as the sun begins to set each evening, took the time from the cross to ask the heavenly Father to forgiven them (us) for "they know not what they do."

Jesus, hated by many for doing nothing more than teaching a different message, a different bit of good news, continued to love when others (me, you?) would have thrown in the towel and stopped loving, paying bad for bad.

My point is this: We love a God who was completely, totally, without question fully human. He lounged with us. He worked with us. He taught us. He WAS one of us, like that song of the 90s tried to tell us. Just a slob like one of us, that's the God who forgives when forgiveness would seem to be impossible to manage.

That's our God. That's who we love. That's the Jesus who was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Overwhelmed, not overboard

So ...

I'm overwhelmed. Look in the dictionary and next to the word overwhelmed, you will find a picture of me. I'm overwhelmed. Flat out overwhelmed. Like a deer in the headlines overwhelmed. Like a man with a dinner date that he's 30 minutes late for overwhelmed. Like it's pouring down raining and my umbrella is in the trunk of the car overwhelmed. Like a woman behind a curtain with 30,000 fans chaning her name, and it's her first concert she isn't the opening act for and she suddenly realizes she left her guitar in the hotel overwhelmed 

It's Wednesday, I think, and I've finished my sermon, as always on this day. But when I began the process of printing it, there was no ink in my new church office printer. I could find none, nor anyone who knew where any was.


I'm overwhelmed. Like a teenager caught in the process of opening the door to his house and he's 20-minutes past curfew and the lights suddenly come on in the living room overwhelmed. Like a 13-year-old girl who was practicing her pitching against the stone wall of her house till one got away and went through the back door, the glass back door overwhelmed. Like a guy on a first-date and he spills a drink -- all of the mountain sized drink -- on her new blouse overwhelmed.

So ...

I'm slowing down. I still have the sermon to print, somehow. I still have the bulletin insert with my sermon notes to print. I still have....

All my work to give away.

Bu I'm slowing down, gathering myself. Paul says this in his letter to the Philippians:  Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.   And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Now, if I could simply find my prayer shawl ...

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Boxed in

I've heard of thinking outside the box, but I can't remember when my life has been overcome by boxes. We moved two years ago, and what I remember of the move was a lot of heavy lifting. This time, we had professional movers who moved the heavy stuff, the boxes and everything that wasn't breathing.

Then we arrived, and what I will remember, along with the cramps that came during the middle of the night, was boxes. Boxes and boxes and more boxes.

We were simply overwhelmed with boxes. Who coule be overcme by boxes? Well, we have been. We're in a box canyon. We're boxed in. I've always been a brief kind of guy; now? I'm boxers all the way.

My feet hurt. My finger (cut) hurts, my fingernails (ingrown) hurt on the left hand, and my muscles ached, really, truly ache, all over. Did I mention it was 100 degrees today, in June?

But through it all, God is so acheingly good. God has changed everything, and it's so good. Eunice had 104 kids in VBS on Monday. I had nothing to do with it, so I can see for myself rather than thinking it had anything to do with me. God is walking this church outside the box(ex) and it has nothing to do with me. I pray not that I can change things, but that I can hold on as change happens.

I'm happy to say God works this way all the time, but we seldom notice. He is a God who takes the tired and aching and lifts them up long enough to see Him. Me? I've been dripping with sweat through it all, and through it all He lifts me, encourages me, sets the ball arolling and tender love captures me. I'm overcome by boxes, but they too can be overcome.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Come Monday, it'll be all right

For more than 700 posts, 500 or more that have come from this room, I've written. I've written of the death of two dear pets. I've written of about every moral-political idea you and imagine that has been in the news. I've written of the death of a newspaper I've loved. I've written of a football team I've loved that has had a near-death experience, as well. I've written, slitting a figurative wrist as Red Smith once wrote, and letting the words flow.

Come Monday, as the noted philosopher from Margaritaville Jimmy Buffett once wrote, it'll be all right.
Come Monday, the movers come, life changes, and we pack up all our cares and woes and here we go.
Come Monday, we head to a new town, a new house, a new environment, a new culture. No more country climate; now we'll head to crawfish fields and something called boudin, and people called Cajun with a dash of French (I still have two, maybe three sentences in me from four semesters at Mississippi State).
Come Monday, my accent begins to clash with theirs.
Come Monday.

I was continuing my reading in Isaiah today when I came across these words (which are hard to read because my desk lamp went capooie this morning in a wave of symbolism); "Listen to me, distant nations, you people who live far away; before I was born, the Lord chose me and appointed me to be his servant."

Oh, do I believe that. Oh, am I unworthy of that.

There are dear people we're leaving behind. The list, I'm afraid, is much too small, those folk who we will never, never forget. But one can't lead if one is too close to the flock, someone said. I've tried hard to believe that, failing at times, becoming too close on occasion. I pray I did all I could in this ministry, but I leave it, literally and figuratively, on Sunday.

But come Monday everything changes. We drive like some modern Gypsies, headed not into the unknown as someone told me, but into the mission, into the calling that is what we do as ministers, pastors, preachers, teachers, lovers of the flock, leaders of the flock, shepherds of the meandering, murmuring, flock.

Come Monday, we see if what has worked, works again; or do we change as the environment changes? Come Monday, we keep on keeping on keeping on

I'm writing these final words of the blog from the 42-year-old desk in Blond, La. I've written blogs read by persons from all over these United States, to Russia, to Australia, to Nigeria, to the Solomon Islands, to Turkey to as far as I know Mars and the outer planets featured in Firefly.

The next time this blog will be read, it will have been written from this 42-year-old desk in Eunice, La. Life will have changed; patterns and flow and such will be different.

But the constant in my life, in all our lives, will be the same then, and forevermore. Jesus, whose DNA sequence has powered these thoughts since they began the day after I retired from the local newspaper (which itself will cease to exist in September), never changes.

We go on, together. Five days a week we the blood of life pouring forth like rain on a deep, dark cloudy day.

In the end, that's about all I have. For...That's Life.

Till Tuesday ...

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Blessings roll in like waves from the sea

I finished a box of Honeynut Cheerios this morning. I drank the last of the tomato juice. I pitched both containers into the garbage, which I took to the large container outside in preparation for the last time we'll put the garbage out.

I'm going to visit Miss Ollie today, for the last time. Last night I brought the new pastor, my friend Mike Palermo, out to Fitzgerald and we wound up at the altar praying for each other and each other's ministry. Sunday I'll preach from that pulpit (or somewhere close to it) for the last time.

I feel like a graduate, somehow, and I also feel way too ungrateful for the many blessings I've received.

The record is like this: Somehow God made a way for me to be the pastor at Lacombe, when I was without an appointment because of Hurricane Katrina. Somehow God added Fitzgerald to the mix a year later. Somehow ...

In the book of Isaiah, I read this morning of God's statements to Israel:

"Listen, Jacob. Listen, Israel—
I'm the One who named you!
I'm the One.
I got things started and, yes, I'll wrap them up.
Earth is my work, handmade.
And the skies—I made them, too, horizon to horizon.
When I speak, they're on their feet, at attention."

See, I believe all this is not preordained. I believe I could have said no to any and all of it. I believe, however, that God does offer to me the best for me, and I believe that the best for me is to pack, move, pastor in Eunice. I believe it is hard to leave those persons who I grew to love over the past five-six years, but (and it's a huge, huge but) I believe we're called, actually called by the One who named us.

I believe that he has plans to prosper us.
I believe those plans are offered to those who listen and obey.
I believe that God started things, but didn't just stand by and let it work itself out from there.
I believe God made everything.
And I believe that when He speaks, all we can do it pay attention and act upon what we hear, feel, sense, absorb.

When God declared the time of captivity done in Babylon, He used a man named Cyrus -- who defeated the Babylonians and obtained Israelite slaves at the same time -- to do so.

God said, "I, God, love this man Cyrus, and I'm using him
to do what I want with Babylon.
I, yes I, have spoken. I've called him.
I've brought him here. He'll be successful.
Come close, listen carefully:
I've never kept secrets from you.
I've always been present with you."

Listen, listen, learn, learn, love, love.

It's all there for those who hear that still, small but important voice.

"I am God, your God,
who teaches you how to live right and well.
I show you what to do, where to go.
If you had listened all along to what I told you,
your life would have flowed full like a river,
blessings rolling in like waves from the sea."

We are loved. We are blessed. We are His.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Look away, preacher man

"Listen to me, Lord, and answer me, for I am helpless and weak." Psalm 86: 1

I've officially reached the stage of "what if they don't (fill in the blank here)." My candidates roam from like, listen, follow, feed, find me sane. Any will do, depending upon the time of day and the rash that springs up from wondering if they will (fill in the blank here).

They are new churches, er, new congregations. New folks who don't know me, us.

This starting over is a bit (fill in the blank here) My candidates are exhilarating, scary, insanity producing.

We're so close to being packed we will finish it all Saturday. But the panic is setting in. Driving our menagerie of pets for three hours, pulling a trailer full of stuff with the corresponding addition of weight, and simply moving in with pets outside and no one knowing the dogs and all those things is just plain (fill in the blank here). My candidates are exhilarating, scary, insanity producing.

There are people I'm leaving behind, good people, friends for life kind of people, who have much more to be worried, scared, insanity producing about. Health. Kids they don't see. And on and on the world goes.

So, what is the lesson from all this (except never, never move)?

David, who wrote so wonderfully about having nothing but nothing in Psalm 89, wrote this in Psalm 90: "O Lord, you have always been our home. Before you created the hills or brought the world into being, you were eternally God and you will be God forever."

God goes before us. God can handle this. God will handle this.

A friend wrote the other day, "Billy, you will be fine. You have someone looking over you."

I pray that we all do. That friendships never die. That old times there, won't be forgotten. Look away, look away, look away ol' preacher man.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Are you sure, God?

In less than two weeks, I will step into the pulpit in a little town, sleepy or otherwise, called Eunice. I am in the terrified to glorified stage of the move, about three hours away from where we currently live.

I will preach, serve communion, baptise a baby, then after church, I will marry a young couple. If I live through that service, and the two before it, I will settle into a recliner or a bed and fall into a sleep that will rival sleeping beauty's.

Are you sure God this is where I'm supposed to be?

I praise God for the opportunity, and I ask him continually that age old question that Abram must have spurted out one dark night as he prepared to head out with wife and livestock in tow: "Are you sure?"

Are you sure? God, really? Are you really, really sure?

We say that question in the dark night of the soul. We express ourselves even in the daylight. We ask of Him about his sure-ness when the diagnosis is cancer. We inquire about His being sure when our finances are defunct, when we're laid off from the only job we've ever known, when things are going well and when they're going so poorly the tears come when our spouse isn't looking or our kids are playing and we know they will have to undergo another round of chemo in the future or even when our parents don't seem to remember us anymore.

David wrote: "I will always thank the Lord; I will never stop praising him. I will praise him for what he has done; may all who are oppressed listen and be glad!"

Are you sure, God? Are you certain, Lord? Jesus, remember me...because you are sure you're going to leave this cross and journey on.

Peter struggled and fought and doubted and trusted and all those things rolled into one big, "are you sure, Jesus?"

David wrote, "The Lord is near to those who are discouraged; he saves those who have lost all hope."

Are you sure, David? Are you certain you're right? After all, you wound up in a cave, hiding from a king who wanted you dead?

Are you sure, God? Are you absolutely, totally, without question sure this is the way you want me to go?

Today is my dear wife Mary's birthday. I can do no more than praise God for her dedication to Him, His gift of her to me. She is a blessing. And she is sure we're doing the right thing.

Me, I'm mostly, sorta, maybe, certain. Are you sure, Lord? Are you certain? Is this the path? Is this the way? Is this what I'm supposed to be going?

David wrote, "the Lord will save his people; those who go to him for protection will be spared."

I guess that means you are. Whew. That's a relief.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Saying goodby to a real newspaperman

Today I write about a friend, mentor, boss, who passed away last week. He was a mere 61 years of age. I feel a sense of age as I write this, because it's hard for me to believe Tom Patterson is gone.

He was always strong, too strong for such as death. But he somehow contracted a rare lung disease most likely associated with his summer work in coal mines while attending Western Kentucky University.

I met him when he hired me in 1981 at the now defunct Jackson Daily News. I remember one of the first times I designed the front page of the sports section and was in charge of its output, what we called working slot. I had never actually done something like that, having worked on small papers where the person "putting out the paper" was basically by himself. I wasn't used to the way larger newspapers worked. I stunk. The product that day stunk. I remember Tom telling me that he thought he had hired someone better than that. I was.

The fact is that Tom always saw more in me than even I did. Once when I was panicking about my lack of editing skills, he told me that good writers make good editors. I didn't even know he knew I wrote.

Everything I was, any success I ever had, was due to Tom and his incredible ideas, incredible talent. When the Reno Gazette-Journal was interviewing me, one of eight newspapers in an incredible year that wanted me, I called Tom. He had left Jackson for greener pastors in Denver, Colo. I asked him pertinent questions to ask, then the biggie: Should I take this job. He gave me great info, great ideas, and guided me like the mentor he always was.

The last time I talked to him, he was asking me to join him with the national newspaper, The National. He wanted me to move to New York. I was ready to go. He wanted me to run the college football coverage, what I was best at I thought. I called my cousin who lived in Brooklyn and talked about where to live and what the salary they were offering was going to be like with cost of living in the Northeast. Then Tom called back and said they were changing things and he wanted me to run the agate desk (small type with box scores and such). He said it wasn't a bad position, not nearly as bad as it sounded, because they were going to change the way box scores were done.

I thought it over and called him back to say no. It was so hard to do that because I believed in him so.

Years later, a dear friend of both of us called to say Tom was deathly sick. There was a book of recollections of friends being put together, and the friend wanted me to contribute. I had been changed by our God in the years between contact. I wrote a piece about what belief in a loving God means to those who live, and much more so to those who are dying. I never heard whether it made the book or not, and I never heard from Tom.

I never would have been hired by the Times-Picayune without the skills learned under Tom, without the creativity he not only fostered but cherished. I never would have been part of the nation's No. 1 designed sports section without Tom. I probably would still be in Columbus, Miss., or some other small town without Tom.

As we all get older, as we learn that death might be right around the corner, I say again, knowing the love of God is so important, not just for life, but for eternity.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Dem ol' bones

What do we know of this man named John the Baptist? Foremost we know he was not a Baptist, but I digress.
The Bible says Jesus said of him, "Truly I tell you, among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet whoever is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he."

He was an important person, Jesus' cousin was, in the early days of what would become Christianity.

Now, we've found him. Oh, maybe not.

We've found bones, bones that might or might not be him. For all we know we've found George the Presbyterian.

Still, the story this morning from AP reads, "A small handful of bones found in an ancient church in Bulgaria may belong to John the Baptist, the biblical figure said to have baptized Jesus.
There's no way to be sure, of course, as there are no confirmed pieces of John the Baptist to compare to the fragments of bone. But the sarcophagus holding the bones was found near a second box bearing the name of St. John and his feast date (also called a holy day) of June 24. Now, new radiocarbon dating of the collagen in one of the bones pegs its age to the early first century, consistent with the New Testament and Jewish histories of John the Baptist's life."

Where's the news here? That somewhere down the aisles of history there was a man who died, a middle eastern man, leaving bones that were held near a box bearing the name of St. John? That's conclusive. Might be Rex the Methodist for all we know.

There was a time, a very short time, when I wanted to be an archaeologist. I even took a class at Mississippi State. That sounds about right, a class. But again, I digress.

I took a class in archaeology and found it, er what's the word I'm searching for, uh, boring. Yeah, that's the word. I also heard from a teacher there that archaeology is not exactly a high-paying job.

So, I became a journalist. Not the highest paying of jobs.  Then I demoted myself out of the business till I became a preacher, not even close to middle-road in pay checks. I'm going to keep demoting myself till I pay someone else instead of accepting pay.

I digress.

In some ways, however, I'm still looking for bones. I pour over ancient scripture to find the ageless God who created at some dim point in the past. I skim, then reread the scriptures that point to a man who walked the dusty trails of Palestine some 2,000 years in the past when things changed for everyone.

That's not archaeology. That's reading for life, for as a middle-eastern man named Peter once said, "where else would I go?"

So, here's the deal about all this bone stuff:

If they find a box with the bones of Jesus, let me know. Then we have a story.

The problem is, they won't, of course, because he isn't there. No bones will be found of a man named Jesus, the man called Christ, born in Bethlehem, raised in Nazareth, of a carpenter step-father, of a teen-age mother named Mary, out of the blood-line of the King of Israel named David.

No bones.
No way.

He is risen, indeed.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

What I have, I give

Loving God and man is an action, not a theory, not a supposition, not a plan. It is what it is, action.

In Mark's Gospel, we read this, "Jesus and his disciples went away to the Sea of  Galilee, and a large crowd followed him. they had come from Galilee, from Judea, from Jerusalem, from the territory of Idumea, from the territory on the east side of the Jordan, and from the region around the cities of Tyre and Sidon. All these people came to Jesus because they had heard of the things he was doing.."

Swarms of people.
Huge crowds.

Why? Because they had "heard of the things he was doing."


Not preaching. Not showing wonderful power point projects. Not playing modern music. Doing.

The church makes a difference in a myriad of ways, but first and foremost, at least today, the main thing is the main thing. It acts.

It gives sacrificially.
It gives continuously.
It reaches out to the lost and the least and says that though it appears God has blessed us more than you, that's a facade. We're all in this together, giving to each other in ways that words will never be able to convey. We give our hearts, even when we have no food to give. We give our tears when our money is waning. We give our Savior when we have nothing else to good.

I love the story in Acts where Peter and John were going up to the temple at the time of prayer—at three in the afternoon.   "Now a man who was lame from birth was being carried to the temple gate called Beautiful, where he was put every day to beg from those going into the temple courts. When he saw Peter and John about to enter, he asked them for money. Peter looked straight at him, as did John. Then Peter said, “Look at us!” o the man gave them his attention, expecting to get something from them. Then Peter said, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.”

We give what we have, in ways that no other body can give. The Red Cross can help those harmed by storms, but can't give Christ. Be we can do both. When Habitat for Humanity goes out, it goes with hammer and nails but with Jesus, as well.

One without the other is meaningless. With each other, what can be done is endless.

I read a Facebook notation from a hurting person this morning who spoke of her fear about what tomorrow will bring.

I can only say what I know to be true: I do not know what tomorrow will bring, but I know who does. I give what I have to her and to all who read: Jesus already is there. In the depth of storms, He's already there. In the winds of change, He's there. In the dark, the light shines. In the sweeping gusts of tomorrow, he's there. He's there. That's what I know. That's what I give.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

New wine and old jobs

The Apostle Paul was considering the end of his life when he wrote words that today are appropriate. He was under house arrest in Rome, nearing a time when he would be given a martyr's death, and he was looking back but he was also very much looking forward.

He wrote, "...but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus."

He's writing about the reward that is given, salvation, eternal life, resurrected life, life with Christ, but I suggest that the goodness of the words that are dripping with mercy and grace, apply to more than even that. These words are the halftime speech of life. These words are the coaching words of a lifetime even.

They speak to every person who has ever had to change course in life, to every person who has faced a hardship and gotten back up, to every person who has ever dealt with tragedy or dealt with pain. They reach and and give a tremendous hug to every person who has ever fought depression or guilt or longing.

They say, "I'm down, but I'm not out. I'm beat up, but I'm not beat down. I'm lost, but I know I can be found."

Just as a bit of example: Did you know that Barack Obama was suffered a crushing defeat in a congressional primary just 8 years before being elected president? Or that Albert Einstein couldn’t find a teaching job? Or that Tina Turner thought she could never be successful without her abusive husband? Or that billionaire Ross Perot got this start by borrowing $1,000 from his wife?

Yesterday was a terrible day for many of my friends who not only were laid off by the local newspaper, but they were told in a massive public blood-letting that could have been worse for one-by-one they came to the stockyards to be told if they were or were not being offered a position in the new company being formed. So everyone got to see the tears, but no one got to see the congratulations because no one could celebrate in front of fallen comrades. Just terrible. Oh, and they have to work till September to collect their severance pay.

But like Paul, each of these persons have the option of coming back, standing tall, pressing on. This is a mighty, mighty setback. This is a terrible, terrible setback, but it is not the end for these people, my friends. doesn't have to be.

The scriptures are filled with second-chance people. The scriptures are filled with persons who were living one life, one kind of life, and then in a burst of action and love, were given another. Abram became Abraham at an advanced age, young David became King David, Saul became Paul.

It's in the hands of God and man to work together to become, not to look back, but to become something new. You can't put new wine into old wine skins and you can't put new talent and ambition into old jobs.

But sparkling new wine, into new wine skins? Ah, the mind boggles.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The T-P and life

I am constantly teaching that one can't do this salvation thing alone. The world need Jesus, as the song goes.
But there is a certain amount of things one must do to become more Christ-like. One of them is to simply, uh, move.

I read this morning: "Some time later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for one of the Jewish festivals. 2 Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades. 3 Here a great number of disabled people used to lie—the blind, the lame, the paralyzed. 5 One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. 6 When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?” 7 “Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.”
 8 Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” 9 At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked."

The man picked up his mat and walked. He didn't save himself, but once saved, he moved in response to what had happened, and to He who had done it.

Today I have a great number of friends at the local newspaper whose professional lives hang in the balance. I'm told that today there will be individual interviews of every editorial employee. I'm led to believe that all will be "fired" or some laid off or some terrible professional calamity. I don't know this for sure, but I believe it to be true.

When this occurs, many of my friends will be in their 40s to early 60s with nothing else they can do professionally, mortgages to consider and families still to be raised and none with immediate job prospects. I'm told they can apply back for their jobs, but at much reduced rates and far fewer jobs to be had. I'm assuming that to most that wouldn't be a sweet deal.

I can only pray for them, and I have, and my church has.

What next, however? What does one do in that situation?

For those who are believers at the local newspaper, the implication is found in the scripture.

1. Believe.
2. Trust.
3. Move

Believe in Him who has a plan. Trust in that plan for their lives. Move in accordance to the plan.

The job is not who they are, none of them. It is the way they have made their living. It is not who they are, though. They are talented individuals who can find other work, perhaps in the same field, perhaps in off-shoots that surely are going to rise. Conditions will never be the same in the newspaper industry, obviously, but there will be jobs. Writers write, Stephen King once wrote to me in correspondence. (Honestly, he did, on a post-card in return for sending him a short story I had written.)

Here's the thing: Today let them be covered in prayer, in a protective hedge that will not allow circumstances to be more than they can handle. Let them understand their families will still love them no matter how the interviews come out, as will their maker, creator, Savior.

There is more to life out there than jobs, even ones you love. Let go and let God, my friends.

Monday, June 11, 2012

What we're for, not against

There's a story in the local newspaper, one that still is daily for now, about a preacher turned atheist. I fail to find the news value there, but apparently they did.

The problem they faced is finding news in the fact that millions of preachers don't lose their faith.


Let the prophet Malachi tell the tale:

"The Lord Almighty says," Malachi wrote, "The day is coming when all proud and evil people will burn like straw. On that day they will burn up, and there will be nothing left of them. But for you who obey me, my saving power will rise on you like the sun and bring healing like the sun's rays. You will be free and happy as calves let out of a stall."

That's some particularly difficult language, granted, but the point is found in the latter part of the verses. It is what His saving power will do rather than what his judgmental power will do that I believe we need to focus on.

For too long, still, the Christian right and the Christian wrong have focused on what We don't believe in, what we are against. It is time, far past time, that we begin to look at what we do believe in, what we're for, and learn that we love a God, through his adorable Son Jesus, who loves us like the sun's rays warm us.

The newspaper story said the pastor, er, ex-pastor struggled with, "first, the concept of hell alongside the idea of a loving God. Later, doubts about the authenticity of the gifts of the Spirit over which he presided: speaking in tongues, healings, prophecy," when his doubts overcame his beliefs.

It is hard, sometimes, unquestionably.

It's when we notice not the unanswered prayers but the answered little everyday prayers that our doubts are erased and our beliefs are upheld and we begin to notice the love of God in our everyday life, I believe.

Do I want to move halfway across the state to pastor new churches? Probably not, truthfully. But what I want to do more than anything is follow what I believe God wants. That's what I'm for, not what I am against.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Abundant mercy

We United Methodists of Louisiana recently returned from Annual Conference, a three-plus day of Holy Conferencing and budget cutting and such. Yesterday we were tired, yesterday we were spacey. Today we get back into the world and we, we, we what?

We remember what we're about to do, what we're called to day, who we really are.

The Bible tells us, "...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. In our union with Christ Jesus he raised us up with him to rule with him in the heavenly world. He did this to demonstrate for all time to come the extraordinary greatness of his grace in the love he showed us in Christ Jesus. For it is by God's grace that you have been saved through faith. It is not the result of your own efforts but God's gift, so that no one can boast about it. God has made us what we are, and in our union with Christ Jesus he has created us for a life of good deeds, which he has already prepared for us to do."

That is the Gospel, friends. That is what and who we are called to be. We fall so very short, only to be lifted up again when God reaches down and paints us in his grace.

I fall down. He lifts me up. I fall down. He lifts me up.

He is all I ever try to be, and though I am not what He calls me to be, I am who He loves. That gives me hope in a world that is increasingly without hope.

Perhaps you saw the story yesterday or this morning about the farm dog in Ghana who spent a night protecting a newborn human? Authorities say the dog, along with its two-week-old charge, was found under a bridge in Winkongo (which is near Bolgatanga, the Upper East Regional Capital of Ghana), near the farm where he lives – with the tiny baby snuggled against him.

Now, that has nothing to do with grace as we think of it, forgiveness of sin and the lot, but you tell me that is not God's grace and I will argue with you.

"God's mercy is so abundant and his love for us is so great..."

Today let that mercy wash over you. Forget the stuff of life, the stuff that weighs on you, weighs you down. Forget the bills, the economy, the future. Concentrate on the blessings you have in your life and reach high to the heavens with a quick little prayer.

Let God hear something like this: "Father. I forget sometimes how you're there, watching over me. Let me be more of what you want of me. Let me remember others as Jesus did. Let me walk in grace and give mercy to others. Let me remember your blessings as I remember my failings. Let me love, as you have loved.


Thursday, June 7, 2012

A good kid dies and where is God?

I returned from what I feel was a grueling but nice annual conference through a storm in Baton Rouge and an hour-long traffic jam to find that life, or death, had proceeded me.

A day earlier, a guy I spent a lot of time with in 2008-2009 was drowned earlier Tuesday morning.

I remember Isaiah Tate as a kid with enormous physical talent but a bigger heart. He played football and basketball and played them well. He lacked size for basketball, but he played bigger than he was, and he led Salmen High School to a state championship by playing big.

In football, he was a wide receiver who could go get a pass as well as anyone I've seen despite not having top-level speed. He had jumping ability, but again that big heart let him get those passes that led his team to the edge of the state final, falling just a game short.

And he's gone, days after his 21st birthday.

Drowned in another stupid accident, dead long, long before his time, though that in itself is a stupid statement because we die when we're appointed to die, I believe. I know that many would argue that God's will has nothing to do with these accidents and that He put the world to spinning and stood back and watched and all that. I know that. And somehow, though I don't believe God pushed Isaiah off that boat and let the waters take him, somehow God is involved.

If He's not, if this is all a bunch of accidents, then where are we and more importantly perhaps, where is He?

How can we deal with Isaiah 29:11, where we read 11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. 12 Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you?" If those sentiments are meant for a single time and place, and God has no plans for us, no personal plan laid out for us, then where the heck are we?

When Paul tells the friends he had made in the church in Ephesus, " But as he left, he promised, “I will come back if it is God’s will," was he just speaking church terms and he didn't mean it? Was he as confused and stumped by all this as my friend is or I am or we all are?

When Paul writes to the church in Rome, "in my prayers at all times; and I pray that now at last by God’s will the way may be opened for me to come to you," was he just talking rote terms?

Was most seriously was Paul wrong when he wrote, "And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God?"

If God has nothing to do with this wonderfully wacky thing we call life and death, then why pray, why worship, why have anything to do with Him? Seriously, why? If He has not part in our lives, why we do we have a part in His?

The answer, cloudy and indistinct for me as it is, is God's will ultimately is that I love Him because He loved me first. It is God's will that I do my best in all I do because He is doing His best to have me work out my salvation in a world that has complete freedom to do as it will. It is God's will that the best of everything come my way, with my limitations and my mistakes and my lack of judgment figured into the mix. Does that mean I might go out on a boat at night in rough waters and not wear a life jacket? Probably not. But Isaiah did, and that was his free will do do so.

Before he died, though, God worked in him to help others, and Isaiah did. Did God take him home? No, probably not. But I've found it highly irresponsible to speak as if I know for sure either way. My speaking for God gets me in a lot of trouble, and as near as I can figure, that's not God's will for me either.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Reputations go before us

Here's something to ponder: what is reputation and how does one get it? I've walked a gazillion miles in the past two days, up and down the hills of Shreveport. One theme has been constant, people keep telling me one of two things .... either how lucky I am to be getting this wonderful charge of Eunice-Kinder-Iota or how lucky they are to be getting me. Most of the time I wonder how they know anything about me and some of the time I wonder how they know about Eunice. It seems everyone has either been in the church, knew someone who knew the church, knows someone who knows the church or the town or simply has heard great things. I wonder. I trulyy wonder. It seems to me that as far as reputation goes, simply being who you are is the best way to build one. I've never (well, mostly never) tried to be something I'm not. I believe God has blessed me with the ability to speak from the heart and mind in front of people. Call it preaching if you want. Everything else has been a learned skill, taught from the Holy Spirit through people. I'm mostly genuine. I mostly care. I mostly try. I'm myself. I learned a while ago that ultimately that's about all we have. I'm not perfect, in fact so flawed I still wonder how God uses me with so many flaws until I reason every once in a while that the reason He uses me is because of those flaws. We go home this evening, hopefully having done His business. I leave, basically, to go to that new life in a new town in a trio of new churches. I'm scared. I'm full of energy. I'm ready, and I'm not. My reputation preceeds me. Let's hope I'm even a bit worthy of it, or at least let's pray that the reputation they talked about was and is a good one. I never asked. Scared, I guess.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

A little change does me some good

Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away; now it looks as though they're here to stay. Oh, I believe in yesterday. The Beatles I look to the hills, from where does my help come? The Bible. Yesterday in somewhat of a synchronization of my present life and my past, in two cities, but at about the same time, my two worlds were in collision. And in a way, both happened because of two words: money and change. On the stage at the Gold Dome in Shreveport during the Bishop's episcopal address, a young woman danced and sang aboout having too little money. She was illustrating our Bishop's speech about the poor state of affairs in Methodism in terms of money. Without change, the denomination will cease to exist for the most part before that young woman ceases to live. At the Rock n Bowl in New Orleans, a massive rally to "save the Times-Picayune" was being held. The New Orleans daily newspaper, for which I worked for 20 years, will cease to publish daily in the fall, according to a press release from a week or so ago. Money and change. What do we do next? Where will the future jobs come from? Where do we go from here? As they say, that's above my pay grade. I did so poorly with my own money over the years that surviving after retirement will probably mean developing a taste for dog food, though that might be too expensive, too. So, me telling others about what to do with money is a bit outlandish. However, I do know a bit about change. Here's what I know: I hate it. I wish it would go away. It must happen. That's it. That's all. When we all come to grips with the notion that we can't go on living the way we've always done it, life might not seem the same, it might not even be the same, but it will be more peaceful. The greatest change agent in the world has always been the church. Imagine being Peter and seeing food that had always been unclean suddenly declared clean. Imagine Paul and understanding that grace is all that is needed to be saved as applied by the blood of Jesus. Imagine a new religion that was based upon one man's death. Imagine. Just imagine. Then imagine what would happen if the whole world suddenly thought of the collective good instead of the individual agenda. I know, I know. You can only do with so much change at a time.

Monday, June 4, 2012

How much YOU can you give?

what is the most you will give, the most you CAN give? I'm not writing about the most money, but the most YOU. Can you, and I, as a church, give all that we have to make sure all that they need is met? Can we? More importantly perhaps, will we? I'm blogging this morning from Shreveport, La., where the Louisiana Annual Conference began its three-day meeting last night with some intriguing ideas presented by Dr. Adam Hamilton, the senior pastor of the Church of the Resurrection in Kansas. I could run through all of my notes, but I'm working on seven-hours sleep (low for me) and I need to get going to start the second day of this. But the main thing I took from last night's session is this: For our denomination to continue we have to quit talking about church and we must do everything in our power to BECOME the church. Oh, we've paid lip-service to this. But we haven't really done it because we don't really want to change, not deep in our stagnated hearts. Not really. Until we do, well, we're going to keep talking the talk and regrefully walking the way with way fewer folks than we had just a decade ago. SO, what it the most you will give, the most YOU you can give? I think the real answer to that question will determine just how long a shelf life the United Methodist Church, heck the church in general, has.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Assisted living, indeed

I walked down the hall of the assisted living home, stopping to push the plunger of a device that poured disinfectant onto my hands. I rubbed them together as if doing so would keep me from getting old, as if doing so would wash the sting of loneliness from them. The smell of old folks was as real as the darkness that stunned my eyes as I left the brightness of the sunny day outside. One could smuggled a loaded gun inside this building easily, but one can't bring the warmth or the brightness inside. They are locked away as the door shuts behind you.

I smiled at one elderly person sitting in a wheelchair in the hall, walking past as the gentleman spoke loudly, asking about someone I couldn't see. I couldn't help him, even if I knew how to help him. Sometimes you just know these things.

I arrived at the room of my friend, an acquaintance I've grown close to in the five years I've served at Fitzgerald UMC, and I entered without so much as a knock. I'm not sure how this whole privacy thing works when you're living with a roommate, but I've never knocked and no one has ever been dressing. So, I'm safe, she's safe, her roommate's safe. In fact, I've never seen my friend's roommate awake. I assume there are times, but that's truly an assumption not backed by facts or even faith.

I walked to the second section of the room, and as usual, my friend is watching television. She watches a black-boxed version of an old television that sits on a small desk. There's no flat screen, no LCD, no plasma version for her. There is a black box, a shiny black box that has no dust on it. I'm reminded that a black box is what tells us of the final minutes of a dying airplane. I'm reminded that this black box is doing the same for my friend. I don't know why, but she watches from her wheelchair, never her bed, as if watching this device from her bed would be an admission of laziness that she will never give in to. Her home was always immaculate when I visited. Her half of the room, I suspect, will always be the same. So she rises from the bed to the chair as if this short "walk" is a devotion to movement, to exercise, to a moment of movement. I do not see her do this, for she is always in the chair when I come, but I assume (again) this is true.

I tap her on the shoulder, walk past her and sit on the bed that is made crisply as if a drill sergeant was expected to make a surprise visit. I set up the communion elements on the desk, in front of the television, ask how things are going, get the expected smile and we begin to talk. She looks sharp this day, with her white hair closely cropped though somehow a wave is in there. She is wearing a red sweater over a denim dress. She always wears a sweater, it seems, though it is -- to me -- warm in the hallways and only moderate temperature in this small room that is split by a curtain I've never seen drawn.  Her face is a monument to wrinkles, like something that would fit in nicely on Mount Rushmore but she is someone who will live her life and affect few.

Still, her smile irons away some of the wrinkles, and her smile is tight at the corners. She moved to this "home," this room last year after I had been visiting her for three years at her home, where she lived by herself except for a big ol' cat that had a bobbed tail and always seemed hungry when I got out of my car and walked by her bowl in the carport. Her house always smelled of freshly canned jellys and such, and she always gave me a jar of jelly, no matter if I had gotten one two weeks earlier or not. I pray her cat found a home, but I've never summoned the courage to ask.

When she had back surgery, then fell for the fourth or fifth time just in the time I've known her, her children talked (commanded) her into moving into the assisted living facility, if for no other reason than she would have someone regulating her meds and if she fell asleep unassisted, she wouldn't do so with the oven or stove eyes blazing away. It was the right choice, but sometimes the right choice isn't all that wonderful for the person whose life is changed dramatically by that right choice. It just isn't.

As I listen to her describe how well things have been going, I look to the left of my friend, and there is a big clock resting uncomfortably in a chair next to the bed, and as we talk, the digital numbers advance. A 45 dissolves into a 46 then transfigures into a 47.

For all of us, time moves, sometimes quickly and sometimes with that unimaginable crawl that comes with advancing age and humiliating pain. If one focuses on the digits, one can find oneself in the dance of life, so I imagine focusing on the game show or the soap opera or the religious offering of that black box is a much better offering than focusing on the slippage of time.

The symbolism of the large, round clock, of advancing time, simply can't be lost on me.Though she does not watch time march away from her, I do. Though she seems to be oblivious about time leaving her like a summer's sidewalk puddle evaporating on a New Orleans' afternoon, I am not so. I see the numbers drain away, I look at her and her pressed (somehow) sweater and I know, just flat know that her time is short. But that is not my part, not my job, to express those thoughts. I simply am there to provide communion, that wonderful moment of pairing of God and subject, of Creator and creation. I am there to share my time with hers, to share my disinfected hands with hers.

I finish with communion, pray for her that God be with her, watching over her. Though I am finished, she sips the juice from the tiny cup as if it were water to a person who has been crawling through a desert, taking a deep, deep pull from the tiny, tiny cup as if a  couple gallon bucket of water was in her arthritic fingers instead of a small vial. She squeezes time every bit as much as if she was putting fingers to those digital minutes and holding them, stopping them. She comes up from wherever she has been in the few seconds between the finish of my prayer and the opening of her old eyes (literally the door to her soul that seems centuries ancient, not decades), smiles and thanks me profusely not just for coming but for bringing her communion.

It is an argument, a strong, strong argument that these elements of stale, unappealing wafer and grape juice are much, much more than that.

I pack up, kiss the wrinkles on her forehead and leave, pausing down the hall to again disinfect my hands as if that would keep me from whatever it is that puts you in one of these places.

The man in the wheelchair still was calling for someone I could not see, but no one seemed particularly moved by this fact. I journeyed on, out into the sunlight, out away from the doors that keep "confused" persons from leaving but seem to have no problem letting them in.

The apostle Paul expressed notions like this: "As for me, the hour has come for me to be sacrificed; the time is here for me to leave this life. I have done my best in the race. I have run the full distance, and I have kept the faith. And now there is waiting for me the victory prize of being put right with God, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me on that Day -- and not only to me, but to all those who wait with love for him to appear."

I'm not smart enough to know much, except, except I notice things.

I notice that time has slowed in placed like these, though that is impossible.
I notice that time isn't necessarily a friendly thing in places like these.
I notice that the days of the week blend into one in places like these. The reason to watch television isn't just to have something to do but to have a measurement of time

There were times Paul couldn't decide if he wanted to stay and do the bidding of his Lord or if he wanted to simply let go and be with Jesus. I notice the potential of those thoughts more in places like these than any other time.

The Psalmist wrote, "Oh, God, my Lord, step in; work a miracle for me—you can do it! Get me out of here—your love is so great!— I'm at the end of my rope, my life in ruins. I'm fading away to nothing, passing away, my youth gone, old before my time. I'm weak from hunger and can hardly stand up, my body a rack of skin and bones. I'm a joke in poor taste to those who see me; they take one look and shake their heads."

I don't want to be like that. But I recognize, as my dear friend does, that all of that is in God's hands. See, life as well as time, is in the hands of our creator. Oops, there goes another minute we won't get back.