Friday, August 31, 2012

Despite it all, two people died

Still recovering from watching a few minutes of Clint Eastwood's, uh, speech, thing, talk.

Anyway, today is a day of recovery for me. Recovery from the storm that didn't but did. It still lingers, as rain falls outside my office window. While we were spared even a five-minute period of being without electricity, others were devastated with waters that came from who knows where. Hundreds of thousands still are without electricity, and I write for you on a laptop that has never gone a minute without power.

In those times, we pray. Don't we? Isn't that about all we can do? I sit here by myself with little to do and less help that I'm giving. I think the moment that it hit me the hardest was reading on my I-pad this morning about the couple found in Braithwaite.

How can that still be? The bodies of a man and a woman were found inside their home, their flooded home. How can in this day and age, with all the coverage of the storm that we have and all the modern weapons we have to fight it, how can two people die in a rage of water?

I kept hearing over and over, "well, it's just a Cat-1 storm," and my thinking now is that labeling these things just doesn't help, it hurts. People need to get the heck out of dodge when these things come, and we simply don't.

I have little words of wisdom today, because there isn't much to say when this happens. I feel so much sorrow for these two unnamed individuals, and their families. They drowned while I sat with my pets and my wife and watched television.

I can't get around that fact this morning. But there is nothing I can do about it. Nothing. So, I write.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Blue tarps and Job


As the lights flicker over my head of the church office this Thursday morning, as if someone were jerking out the fuse and cackling, I read about the power of God from the 37th chapter of the book of Job:
"He lets loose his lightnings from horizon to horizon, lighting up the earth from pole to pole. In their wake, the thunder echoes his voice, powerful and majestic."
This morning in Laplace, a burg in the River Parishes between New Orleans and Baton Rouge, where football is king and fixing jambalaya for Friday night games is the norm, my great friend Regina Hickman's church is under water. Two to three feet of water, and I assume some loathsome varmints who wished they were anywhere else but the house of God, cover the wonderful area I've had many ministerial meetings before.
The questions, probably, began as soon as the water began to rise. How? Why? What? Heroic Job was asked to fire them off one by one as his family was taken from him. His wife tried to get him to curse God and die, but he refused.
Tuesday night we went to bed in Eunice, three hours or so away from our daughter's misery, with visions of sour plumbs and rain drops and wind dragons flopping in our minds. We were assured the storm would come a visiting here like some sort of unwelcome house guest on Wednesday. Instead, the storm stayed atop my daughter's quickly leaking home, clinging to the area with terribly horrific fingernails, like some Wicked Witch of the West Bank.
Wednesday the wind raked across the roof of our daughter's house and shuffled the tiles of the roof like a dealer at Harrah's and dealt a losing hand out into the yard. She and friends took the dreaded blue tarp, the one that had made a home for itself in that shed since Katrina's house-party, and attached it to the roof to await the insurance guy and electricity, whichever comes first.
As we ponder what all this means, and I feel that somehow we should, we can turn to the book of Job, the oldest book in scripture or at least to a friend of Job named Elihu, and consider as he did, the wonder of it all.
"Job, are you listening? Have you noticed all this? Stop in your tracks! Take in God's miracle-wonders! Do you have any idea how God does it all, how he makes bright lightning from dark storms, how he piles up the cumulus clouds -- all these miracle-wonders of a perfect Mind? Why, you don't even know how to keep cool on a sweltering hot day, so how could you even dream of making a dent in that hot-tin-roof sky?
The bottom line is we don't have the faintest idea why a forest fire devastates family after family and leaves one without a so much as the smell of smoke, or why a much more powerful storm leaves a house untouched but the less powerful one sucks up roof tiles like a Hoover. Why a person in seemingly perfect health who attends every church service imaginable drops like a stone and a chain-smoking, beer-drinking, fat-eating, caffeine swilling insomniac lives to be 95. I simply have no idea. None. It's way, way above my pay-grade.
Ultimately, it's in His hands, this whole world thing. Elihu reminds us, "Who can understand how he spreads out the clouds, how he thunders from his pavilion?"
Not I. I assume not you. Certainly not Elihu nor even Job, the main character in this look at human tragedy. Loss and heartache and pain come, unwelcome guests all. Joy rains down on the just and the unjust, and we slump to the muddy ground and say, "Why?" And even at the end of a book about human frailty and the pain of suffering, the answers never come. Only the return of blue tarps.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Here we float again

Absence makes the heart grow fonder, but it also dumps a tremendous amount of fear onto you. Seven years ago today, I rose to a dark morning, very similar to the one in which I find myself enduring now.

Seven years ago, I rose to a home without power, though the electricity seemed to come on and go off at will, till it went and didn't come again for more than a week.

We had evacuated two days earlier, to my mother's house in Lizelia, Miss., to escape Hurricane Katrina. We could have gone anywhere in America, but we went there only to see wind blowing trees nearly out of the ground.

As the power began to go, the temperatures rose. Of all that I remember about the evacuation days, I remember how hot it was and I remember eventually renting the entire first season of the television show Lost, which we had never seen.

Cell phones worked on occasion, though getting dropped was frequent. When the phones didn't work, texting did. I had little experience with texting at the time. I learned.

My girls were separated, one in Houston and one in Baton Rouge. My fears for them were the greatest thing all during the week of Katrina. But, turned out though they were far apart, they were safe.

Today I'm in Eunice, La., miles and hours away from the New Orleans area. We have power, with the wonderful gift of air conditioning. The girls are together, but they've had no power since early last night on the West Bank across the river from New Orleans, and Shanna's roof has sustained significant damage. Ironically, her house had little damage during the greater storm while she was in Houston.

Lessons? Though this scribbling is usually about what one can learn, what lessons can be obtained from life, from scripture, from the combination, I'm not sure as we go through this what one can sop up like white gravy after some chicken friend.

Rescues from roofs? Check, here we go again. Levees leaking? Check, here we go again. Boats motoring up to houses to pick up people and pets? Check, here we go again.

Has anything changed? Has anything really changed? Here we are blaming God's will again. Here we are talking up Mother Nature one more time.

The lessons learned are  pretty difficult to find. I would like to simply say we've learned this and that, but we haven't. Evacuate? Maybe. Levees breeched? Yeah, but what the heck should we do about it?

Seven years ago we struggled, we fought and we failed. Seen years later, we're struggling, fighting and we're failing again.

I simply pray. I'm pretty sure we will be losing power later this morning. I know little more than I did seven years ago when Katrina impacted our lives so much.

So, I guess I can say this: It is more important to be in the eye of the Lord than the eye of the hurricane. It surely is.

The power of the storm is tremendous. The power of the Lord is, as well. When one becomes before the other, or without the other, I suspect these things are hard to survive.

God be with you all.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Talking up a storm

This morning, I -- like thousands -- turned on The Weather Channel to watch, well, to watch men and women standing in front of Lake Ponchartrain's waves, demonstrating once again that lake water does indeed flow to shore. I watched men and women show off their arm muscles in tight tee-shirts and offer a living testimony to abdomen crunches, showing their dedication to the task at hand by tying bright blonde hair into a ponytail and stuffing the carefully coiffed rest of it into a hat. How dare they muss that mug?

I watched the Gulf of Mexico's strangely liquid mud begin that slow crawl to less than pristine sand, dampening the feet of those "brave" souls who were wading and wandering. What wacky fun.

The talking heads spoke about the "angry" Gulf, as waves -- the like of which I haven't seen since the last time the grand kids stayed over and took a bath -- crash-landed into that land mass between Mobile and New Orleans that I can't quite name right now.

They spoke about how things don't look that bad as the show aired, (8:45 a.m. Tuesday), but that they will undoubtedly get worse. Ain't that the truth?

I fear their mommas and their daddys, watching with shrimp-baited breath, were concerned not about how bad it was going to get but how much they spent on a college education that allows their children to stand in front of a camera and talk for hours on end about, well, nothingwhatsoever.

Respectfully, these folks are were doing a job, a job I fear they were paid handsomely for. But, again respectfully because they are some momma's and daddy's children, apparently one's looks are enough to get one a job standing in front of a Gulf  that can become real, real angry in the matter of 24 hours and talking about, wishing for (it seems), that aforementioned Gulf would just as soon blow into a murderer so that they could justify their, uh, standing there, muscles bulging, straight teeth gleeming, quality information blowing all around them.

Later in the day, when the wind started its line-dancing and those TWC hats started flopping and fliping like a skewered shark till they blew slam off, it wasn't nearly as funny. When the tropical weather becomes a punch-line in a Bruce Willis' movie, you know you've hit the big time.

I guess that's the whole and real point this morning. This is some serious mess. It had been packed away in someone's attic for seven years, and someone ripped the packing tape off it and suddenly it's not so dang funny any more.

It might seem as if I shouldn't find humor in this time. I know, I know. Gallos humor and such, right? Hey, college girls' humidity-hair gone bad almost always does run the risk of stepping over the line. Understand me please. I know that my wife, Mary, and my lives were never the same after Hurricane Katrina. I don't know where we would be if it hadn't happened, but I know we would be closer to our children and grandchildren. Absolutely.

Does that mean our lives would have been better? I'll let God handle the big stuff. Those kind of things are far above my pay grade.

Till then, I'll laugh, and I'll cry.

People died in Haiti. Died. Gone. Sadness invading like kudzu. People who were loved, who lived glorious or munane lives and were far too quickly gone. Picked up by angry winds. Drowned in angry seas. Never to reach those goals they were never going to reach in the first place.

That's life. That's what we do, all of us. Anyone who says differently, tells you it's easy or it's simple or it's absolutely stone-cold full of blessing is misreading the wonderful scriptures or is a bit teeched, as my momma used ot say.

Theologically, I could shout into the coming storm to stay away. Heck, some probably have prayed that it go to, uh, Georgia. But they are simply misguided folk. I could shout some stuff about God testing us in our hour of grief, in our time of storm.

But what I think I will do today, this cloudy, dreary, soon to be remarkably ugly day according to the lass with straight blonde hair that I could pay to scalp and put just a smidge on my old bald head, is just point out that through the storm, through the rain, we're all in this together. Wonderful, so wonderful, is his unfailing love. His cross speaks to the clouds, to the streaks of power across the sky, to the loud hammering of thunder. He loves, powerful works displayed for all to see.

It might not seem that way. It might seem as if we're scattered to the points of the compass. It might seem as if we're as lost as that 100th sheep on a deeply disturbed Tuesday.

But we're not lost. We're searching. We're not scared. We're concerned. We're not anything more than what we truly, truthfully are. We're sinners in need of a glorious, marvelous, Savior. His hand reaches above the wave, life preserver being his very blood.

Through the storm, we're simply shown His love. Nothing more. Nothing less. Let the river flow, the wind blow and the people of God go. That's beauty in the night.

Monday, August 27, 2012

The Word with Friends

Have you heard about this game called Word with Friends? You can play this thing on your Android or your I-Pod, Pad, smart or dumb phone. A Texas-based company called Newtoy, founded in 2008 by brothers Paul and David Bedttner, developed the Games with Friends franchise, including Chess and Words with Friends. They sold the whole thing in 2010 to Zynga. They then launched Hanging With Friends, Words with Friends on Facebook and such.

Words are, as one can imagine, powerful things. Just ask Alec Baldwin, who was famously playing Words With Friends while seated on an airplane that was resting on the tarmac before takeoff. Asked to stop playing, Baldwin, uh, said some words that got him toss from the plane.

Let's look at some Words with Friends that are more powerful than even those.

"In the beginning," John's wonderful Gospel begins, "was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God."

This man, this writer, this John (as far as is really known) was a fisherman. Yet...

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God."

I'm constantly reminding, or at least it seems like it is constant, people I come into contact with that the gentle but insistent teaching of the Holy Spirit is every bit as important, every bit as beneficial as any seminary in the world. Some of that is self-serving, of course, since I've not been to seminary nor am I ever going, so therefore it would be in my own interest to say something that would eliminate the need for seminary.

Still, I believe at my core that there is more than a seminary-education to all this.

In the beginning was the Word, not Perkins. That incredibly deep theological statement was written by a fisherman. What a line in the water...

What else can we find trolling in the water here?

"The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth."

The Word...
became ...
flesh.

The Word, which existed, lived with, lived as God ...
became flesh, us, one of many, common but uncommon ...

The Word, who was God, became Jesus, who was human.

Now, nothing against someone whose job it is to bait hooks, throw them into the deep, murky waters of the Sea of Galilee or whose job it was to toss large, heavy nets over the side of a relatively small boat and let the God of Fate decide whether fish would be taken from those same waters. Nothing against any of them, who were born into the battle of the sea and knew nothing else. Some of the descendants of those fishermen still live on the shores of the Sea or Lake of Galilee outside of Tiberius in Israel, or they fish the Mediterranean with GPS tracking and such. They're fiercely independent workers, without union or back-up if their boat springs leaks or such.

But they do not, as a rule, write "In the beginning, was the Word," or "The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us."

Not saying they couldn't, but, uh, saying it's not likely. I've been writing for some sort of publication since I was 14 years of age. I've been gifted, small or large, with that ability without some benefit of schooling. God is the lone agent of inspiration, as near as I can discover. I'm not self-taught, but it's something akin to that.

I have tons of experience. I've written nearly every day of what is becoming a long life.

And there is no "In the beginning, was the Word," found anywhere in my scribbles. There just isn't.

The point of all this is, God takes care of his own. He makes sure we read, hear, discuss what we need to read, hear, discuss. God spoke, I believe, through this simple fisherman every bit as much as He did through John Wesley, through Calvin, through Augustine, through Luther, through Paul and certainly through the apostle John.

Looking for a miracle? A fisherman whose descriptive powers are marvelous, whose theological understanding of the most complex ideas such as Jesus being fully God as well as fully human is as big as Red Sea parting to me.

Hey, John must have played a lot of  Words with Friends, classic edition.

Friday, August 24, 2012

It was just a hooooooovvvverrring

"After much discussion, Peter got up and addressed them: 'Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and belive. God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us."

Let's go back a bit, well, go back a lot. It was early. I imagine the humidity was high, but the sun wasn't. It was, for lack of a better term, the "beginning." Scripture tells us that God was busy, busy, busy, creating and all.

In Genesis I, the second verse, we get an idea of the agenda. "Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters." For lack of a better idea, the notion of a more superb action plan, God's Spirit was HOVERING.

Years ago during the midst of a particularly action-filled spat of UFO sightings, a craft allegedly was sighted near Pascagoula, Miss. I remember little of the details, except a TV reporter interviewed one lucky (or unlucky) soul who supposedly had seen the craft. "It was just a hooooooovvvverrring over the trees," the eye witness said.

I have to tell you, that seems to me to be the best way to describe what is life. We're born. We live. We work. We fail. We succeed. We die. And all the while, God's Spirit is hooooooovvvverrring about us, watching, admiring our moments of gratitude, shaking His head at our messes we create with relish and with sorrow.

In John's Gospel, Jesus comes and stands before the disciples after having jumped out of the tomb. He shows them hands and feet that have holes or at the least have scars forming. He says to them, "Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you." And with that he breathed on them and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit. ..."

With that he breathed on them ... and the Spirit of God, the very breath of God the Father, which had been hoooooovvvvvverrrring around the lungs of the Son, blew forth into a peaceful easy evening of discipleship. The rules, the regulations, the roaring Lion and mewing Lamb have never changed that breath, that wind.

We're born. We live. We work. We fail. We succeed. We die. And God's Spirit rests easy or hard on everything we do, we think, we ponder and plan, Gentiles and Jews, Muslims and Mormons, red and blue, white and black, saints and sinners all.

"It was just a hoooooovvvvvvvveerrrrring."

From beginning to the very end.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Tiaras and Trampires

Last night we watched 62 youth at our church learn more about scripture, more about the coming Back to Church Sunday activities we have planned and more about the art of water wars (don't ask, don't ask).

Then we came home, tired and hungry. We ate a late dinner, which left us (oh, the agony) with 20 minutes before the top of the 9 o'clock hour. At our house, much of what we do comes from awaiting the next television show we like.

So, we switched to a program Mary often tapes and watches (for reasons I'm not at this time sure of). I had never seen it, the topic being unimaginably not interesting to me, being I don't watch reality shows. To me, if one can't write a fiction show, then there just shouldn't be a television show to begin with.

I wipe all sorts of swamp people, overweight people, dancing people, singing people, auction people, swamp people with weight problems, Kardashian people, swamp Kardashians with weight problems while singing and dancing and any other type of non-fiction show -- CSI Kardashian -- there might be right off the map. I've seen, I think, bits of two American Idol shows (I thought that was about Drew Brees, but apparently not) and none in their entirety.

Anyway, the show was called Tiaras and something or other, and it was about "beauty" pageants for kids.

Having now seen 20 minutes of it, I firmly believe there should be arrests: parents, relatives, trainers, especially the judges, and maybe even a few five-year-olds.

I can't begin to tell someone how repugnant I found this show to be for reasons that can't be discussed in a somewhat family blog. This ain't my cup of reality, if you get my drift.

Mary says this was an unusual show. Mary says this is normally as family-oriented. She says that these little girls beauty pageants are no different than little boy baseball. I point out that it's not required to wear tons of makeup, apparently do something inside the mouths of these precious little girls to make their smiles seem so fake I wondered if they were indeed human. I also point out that the umpires were not cross-dressing, very fake celebrity impersonators, or at least their wearing umpire duds not dresses and were merely bad umpires not bad Chers or Britneys and nowhere on the baseball field were the kids required to shake their, uh, assets, in order to make a play. For gosh sakes, give the kid a bath and a softball bat.

Heck, I felt a need for a shower when the program was over, and I wasn't even there. Made me question the entirety of Direct TV, not just the station that aired this program. There weren't any dog whisperers or cat scratchers or some dang Animal Planet thing they could have put on?

Mary tells me, and she's my guide to such things, that these pageants are often family-oriented things in which talent is the key to victory. All I know is one little lass was disappointed because she won something akin to the personality award and she proclaimed to all -- through a fake smile that wouldn't become unfake for some reason -- that she had "worked" too hard to win such a measly award. She was 5. FIVE years old, with eyes the size of Pluto (the planet, or former planet, not the Disney dog. Should have been in VBS, not on stage doing the splits like an Olympic event gone haywire. Made me long for someone chasing a hog through Texas or Arkansas or some dang place that teeth work is optional. Clearly teeth work is mandatory on this television show. I saw bigger smiles than the federal deficit.

Where on earth have we gotten to when this is what is leading my television choices? Some good clean (that word keeps popping up) HGTV was needed where some lying realtor is leading some lying home buyers in some fake effort to buy a home. Where have all the flowers gone, indeed? These kids will one day be stars in the Hungry Games or some dang 2020 version of Trampires.

Look, I'm not a property virgin here. I've been around the bad TV block a time or two. Hey, I watched my share of ALF a few years back. My mother was a car for an episode or two.

But never in my life have I seen twins dressed up to be Madonna Madonna before the age of T-Ball players come bouncing on my big screen before.

 Mary says that this is no different than, say, the Little League World Series, which is currently playing on ESPN. Get that dang thing off my tube, too. No, wait. Baseball clearly isn't reality any more.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The fiery forge of forgiveness

One can get a bit of an idea about the importance of a subject in a book by how many times the idea (in all its forms) is used.

For example, Jesus never utters a word about abortion or homosexuality. Nada. There are some extenuating circumstances and certainly the culture and such played a role in that finding. But still, the New Testament isn't exactly rampant with those ideas. Paul is the one who brings us deeply into the discussion about homosexuality. No one talks about abortion. Maybe they were all too busy killing the kids after they were born.

But if you're looking for a dominant theological, moral or ethical subject in both testaments, try "forgive or forgiven or forgiveness." It is second only to the word love. Imagine that. They seem to me to be relatives at worst.

The word forgive appears 56 times.
The word forgiven appears 42 times.
The word forgiveness appears 7 times.

Love appears 310 times. God is love, by the way.

Clearly our ability to forgive was high on Jesus' list of key attributes. Being forgiven, and in return, forgiving others was taught, preached, simply talked about more than anything but two other subjects -- besides love.

I know what you're thinking. I know you're reasoning that Jesus must have considered sermons about Heaven and/or Hell the key to his journey, the motive for his being a prophet, the gel to his Gospel.

Uh, no. The subject he talked about the most was the Kingdom of God (or Heaven, or any variation thereof). That was far and away the thing that motivated him most.

Second? You'll be surprised a bit, I imagine.

Jesus talked about money more than He did Heaven and Hell combined.
Jesus talked about money more than anything else except the Kingdom of God. Eleven of 39 parables talk about money. One of of every seven verses in the Gospel of Luke talk about money. He was enamored with caustic clashes over cash. He was motivated by messages about money.

Money, money, money.

Throw in some talk about the Kingdom's usage of money and the forgiveness fought for by financial finks, well, Jesus spent a lot of time on the subject, more than even my dreams about the stuff.

But let's get back to forgiveness and leave the finances to the politicians.

Jesus taught this and he lived this subject. Hanging bloody and bruised from a terribly painful piece of old wood, he said, though the very effort to talk was a great one because he was losing the ability to breathe while nailed there, "Father, forgiven them, for they know not what they are doing."

Jesus' parables about money, giving of the tithe (10 percent), taking care of money given as a blessing by God, being a good steward of our money were all wonderfully lessons.

But the notion of forgiving that which has been done to us? Forgetting about the insult? Letting go of the perceived penalty? Letting God be in charge of the judging? Well, who wouldathunkit?

There's power there for the taking, by the way. True power, and a resulting peace. It was the very act of forgiving sins on Earth that showed who Jesus. In Luke's Gospel, "the Pharisees and teachers of religious law said to themselves, 'Who does he think he is? That’s blasphemy! Only God can forgive sins!' ”

Those watching, and paying attention, were convinced not by the miracles but by the forgiveness. Walking on water paled in comparison to loving an enemy. They were not changed nor were they saved nor were they made new by even watching the raising of the dead, but someone calling for forgiveness when harmed and hurt instead of crying out for vengeance and retribution? That was truly transformative. Still is.

Try it for yourself. Take the hurt and transform it to healing and watch carefully the person who has hurt you.You can change the world by allowing God to change you into someone who forgives the injury.

See, for Jesus, forgiving sins was a continuation of or the completion of healing. It was this that made the broken pieces of this vast puzzle we call life from time to time become whole again. Forgiveness is the glue that cements those pieces together. Love is but the glaze that makes the puzzle last, the final step in the wonderfully imaginative process.

In the time of the sword, Jesus changed the fiery forge to the sweetness of someone offering forgiveness. Grace and mercy are compadres to forgiveness.

Over 2,000 years or so later, we've never again reached a moment such as the one that brought tears to his mother's eyes from the cross. I imagine she never truly forgave those who killed her son. Could, would, you?

It would take a God to do that, or the fabulously fortunate human who has been transformed, saved, put back together again by someone named Jesus.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

That's enough; it has to be

Do you ever wonder what a person who has given all of himself or herself to the God who loves us so much?

Perhaps you know someone like that. I suspect a know a few persons. But I know for sure one whose writing I would be best served trying to emulate.

He wrote this: I meet the predawn light and cry for help. I wait for your promise. My eyes encounter each hour of the night as I think about your word. Listen to my voice, according to your faithful love.

This is a man who sold out for God. He waits on Him. He talk s to Him. He looks for Him. He is nothing without Him.

Wonder where that devotion comes from? Is there something inside us that makes us long for Him?

Let's go at this from another angle.

There's a story in Mark's gospel we can examine..."A large crowd followed and pressed around him. And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, because she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.” Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering."

Do you think this woman, from this moment forward, didn't sell out for God. She waited on Him. She talked to Him. She looked for Him. She was nothing without Him.

I went to the doctor yesterday without expectation of diagnosis. I've had issues, not for 12 years, no bleeding certainly, but issues for months. Good news was I don't have cancer, according to the doc. Bad news is, well, he doesn't know what it is, which only clarifies my position on most doctors. But he's treating, uh, something. He made sure I knew it wasn't life threatening. I hadn't really thought it was and I didn't spend all that money on doctor school.

The point is, and there is one, I was prepared to thank God for whatever He said or did. I have had a blessed, happy life. I'm more than content with what He has given me, and that's not always been the case.

Do I lay awake at night pondering his precepts as David, the writer above, did? Nah. Must admit I don't. But when awake, He's never far from my thoughts.

If my issue never clears up, if my back never stops hurting, if the ministry goes in the can, if I lose my ability to type, write, think (uh, let's talk about that last phrase, Lord), I still am more than blessed.

We call that grace, those of us who truly love Him. Not for what He did, or even what He does, but for who He is.

That's enough. It must be.


 

Monday, August 20, 2012

From soul, to heart, to head

At night, I long for you with my whole being; my spirit within me watches for you. When your judgments are at work in the earth, those living in the world learn righteousness. Isaiah 26:9

There's a large minefield of whammo in that couple of sentences.

1) Longing for Him with our WHOLE being.
2) Our spirit within watching for Him.
3) Judgments at work in the earth
4) The notion of LEARNING righteousness.

Let me ask a serious question: Are you longing for Him with everything you have? I must admit, I seriously doubt that I am. Oh, I want to. I wish to. At times I pray to.

But the evidence that I'm doing everything I can to long for Him is not there. I still sin, make mistakes, fall. Oh, not nearly as much as I once did. But I can't proclaim a Gospel that says I am not fully capable of falling apart again.

I suspect I know persons who can long for Him with their whole being. I suspect those folks are out there. I want to be like them. Perhaps one day.

The idea that intrigues me the most here is that my spirit is watching for him.

I think I'm that way. I believe that inside me, that spirit (little s) is watching for Him. His return. His being here with me, not for me. Perhaps that is the longing that the previous phrase was talking about. I must say that I would be far better at all this if He would just give me a push. A shove. A nudge, even.

Then His Spirit lets me know He has done so.

It's not his judgments, as awesome and fearful as they might be, that guide me into righteousness, I fear. It is my absolute desire not to disappoint Him. Cause Him pain. Cause Him tears about my behavior, or my lack of trust, respect and flat out faith.

Am I learning righteousness? In absolute truthfulness, I don't believe that I am. If it was about learning righteousness, I suspect most who grew up in church and then left it as soon as college came around would know far more than enough to be righteousness.

No, I believe it all comes back to that inner spirit. Inside I know I'm not far enough along this walk. Outside I clean up good. Inside, not so much.

But I'm progressing, as many I see are. How? We long for it. We won't settle for anything else.

In the end, as Isaiah notes, that's a learning process. From soul to heart to head, not head to heart to soul. That's just the way it goes, at least in my experience.

Friday, August 17, 2012

What would He say

It's Friday. It's been a long week. It's been a long day. Heck, it's been a long summer, and my wife, Mary, and I have not taken a real break. That was a mistake.

I'm freaking about the paperwork we got late yesterday for what United Methodists call Charge Conference, a bunch of work that I truly love (that's for any UMC hierarchy that happens to be reading this).

I'm tired. I just discovered the curriculum I ordered for our Youth this Fall on Sundays really won't work, and I detest sending anything back.

I'm looking over at a small stuffed clown that a dear friend gave me to remind me to laugh when it got tough, but laughter isn't coming, only indigestion. I've got doctor appointments and clergy appointments all over Acadiana next week and I'm already worried about losing the time.

And ...

I saw a video yesterday that featured Johnny Cash's sister talking about a conversation she and he had a few years back.

Here's the premise: You're walking along the shores of the Sea of Galilee, and Jesus comes walking toward you. What one sentence would He say to you?

Whew. I can't get it out of my mind. What would He say? I'm not a psychologist, but I reckon that your answer will say a lot about how you see yourself, how you see your walk, how you see your life.

Cash's answer was Matthew 11: 28 -- "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest."

I see that, and I raise you the 30th verse: For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."

I know down at my core that there is only so much I can do, but I get this feeling I'm running as fast as I can and I'm the Wily Coyote and the world is the Road Runner. I'm never going to catch up. Never.

Jamie Grace's latest single, "Come to me" is based on that notion.
I  had a dream I was standin' on the shore
Two feet planted in the sand
Soakin' up Your glory yeah
Saw You walkin' from a distance
Without a hint of resistance
Had Your arms open
And a warmth in your eyes
You took my hand and You whispered

Come to me when
You're weary and
I'll give you hope when you're hurting
I'll give you rest from your burden


It's a rich, rich idea. It's what I hope He would say, but I also long for "Well done, my good and faithful servant," but my weary mind says would be something like "Was that the best  you could do?"


Thursday, August 16, 2012

Judging judging

During the chicken wars a while back, I read several comments in the neighborhood of "we shouldn't be judging," and "what someones does in their own home is their business," and things like that.

I was talking to a friend about another subject, no chicken to be had, but the thoughts came back to me about this notion of judging.

Jesus clearly said we were not to judge, or at least He told us that we will be judged as we judge, which says to most folks, "uh, oh, the pressure is on."

But this morning as my eyes moved across the page to Galatians 6, I read this, "My friends, if someone is caught in any kind of wrongdoing, these of you who are spiritual should set him right;"

Whattha?

How do we set someone right if we can't judge whether they are right in the first place?

This is a serious question, I figure, deserving of serious discussion, and I've read little about this in the past.

First, the rest of the sentence adds ... "but you must do it in a gentle manner."

So, Paul tells us that if someone is messing up, we're supposed to tell them in a gentle manner.

Martin Luther said of this sentence (in another translation, of course), "If we carefully weigh the words of the Apostle we perceive that he does not speak of doctrinal faults and errors, but of much lesser faults by which a person is overtaken through the weakness of his flesh."

A commentary on Biblegateway says, "The responsibilities of those who are spiritual are directly related to the problem of division in the Galatian churches."

Finally, Matthew Henry's commentary says, "We are to bear one another's burdens. So we shall fulfil the law of Christ. This obliges to mutual forbearance and compassion towards each other, agreeably to his example."

In other words, Paul is writing the church members, church goers, believers, persons involved in the church, not the unchurched. I'm not exactly sure (being the deep thinker that I am) why that makes a difference, but apparently it does.

Then I read the next sentence in Galatians, and some clarity comes. "And keep an eye on yourselves, so that you will not be tempted, too. Help carry one another's burdens..."

To help someone in their low moments, to share in the mistakes someone makes, to be gentle in telling them about what they're doing wrong only will be accepted if we, too, are wary of our own low moments, mistakes and doing wrong. If we don't, we're just sign-carrying misfits who don't really worry about the whole judging thing.

And that's serious business.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Un-hostile takeovers

My knowledge of hostile takeovers comes down to my intense research -- I watched Pretty Woman a time or two or three years ago.

Heck, I can't even find it on Dictionary.com because apparently it isn't a word, word combo or whatever. Long minutes later, wondering if this was such a good idea or not, I found this: When one company wishes to purchase another, they make an offer to the target companies board of directors, who can then accept, or reject the offer. A hostile takeover happens when a buyer passes over the board of directors and purchases the company without their consent.

There you go. Always trying to be informative.

Though some would argue against my thesis, one hostile takeover that never happens is God doesn't make us believe anything. Anything at all. Not in his Son. Not through his Spirit. He allows us to believe, to have faith, to be blessed with salvation.

That's why the notions of heaving signs onto our shoulders and marching out to proclaim God hating anyone is such a terrible thing, and not just because God doesn't hate but because God doesn't make anyone believe a certain way. Just doesn't. Oh, He will judge. He will proclaim. He will separate the goats and the sheep. He will allow us to one place or another eternally. But He doesn't force us anywhere.

Gander this:

Galatians 5:16 -- "What I say is this: let the Spirit direct your lives, and you will not satisfy the desires of the human nature."

"But the Spirit produces love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, humility, and self-control." Galatians 5: 22

To me, that's the same as saying, "You're a mess, but you've got a chance if allow the Holy Spirit to take over." But look what it says. It says the Spirit will direct, the Spirit will produce. YOU don't do anything but ALLOW the Spirit in. Period.

If salvation were up to me and my habits and my methods and even my beliefs, ugh. What a terrible road I would travel. Just when I'm sure I'm doing it all right and all things will be good till the end of time as we all know it, bump, burp, heavens to Betsy I've fallen again.

But when I get out of the way, when I allow the peaceful, wonderful takeover, makeover, do-over, what do I get in return....peace, joy, patience, .... you get the picture.

Or do you?

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

A few good men

I'm not sure what I'm about to relate to you is scriptural, but I believe it to be true. Maybe in 3rd Thessalonians or someplace. Maybe in Genesis II or somewhere else.

I believe that when things are going real, real, real well, that's when Satan is gonna stomp on your ankles. Just pulverize your kidneys. Bomp your head. Trip your feet. Gonna, gonna just, just you know, hit you below the belt. There, said it. Meant it. So tttthhhhwwwwwwppppp.

Yesterday I was tired. I had worked so hard last week I was actually tired from actually working. Let's face it, though we pastors might work long hours if we're really, really working, it ain't heavy lifting physically no matter what any of us tell you. The hardest thing I did last week physically was jog around an empty piece of land and put ice cream scoops on the heads of children (don't ask, don't ask).

And I typed -- a lot. Did a lot of thinking and reading and such.

But did I work outside? It would kill me. Really kill me.

So I brainstormed so much two things happened: 1) I got tired; 2) the Devil noticed.

Now, liberal theologians might tell you there is no actual Devil, but to do so they have to discount Jesus saying there was and once you take out the parts in red, well, there I draw me a line being on the moderate side theology-wise.

So, I believe the Devil (the D being capitalized because I reckon I don't really know his name though I thought about using Lucifer but since I don't want to seem like I know him all that well though I know his minions and his policies all too well) noticed what was going on in Eunice.

I got tired. And when you get tired, things occur that are, well, not that good. Bad might be another way of looking at it. Evil? Don't know if I would go that far, but on a bad day you can see the big E from there.

Dogs were barking outside. Seemed like it went on for an hour, though Mary said it was five minutes. I stood up to put and end to all this barking that was disturbing the master-mind at his desk in his office doing all that heavy lifting that I told you I was known for and it happened. Just happened.

I tripped. Fell like a, well, like a harpooned whale. You can make your own sight metaphor there.

Fell and took the laptop with me.

The Devil laughed, I'm sure, but he didn't let the worst of all things happen. That's not the way this works. I think that's in Ephesians II. The laptop didn't break. That right-arm of the budding genius didn't shatter like cheap dreams. It stayed together, unlike my dignity.

But ...

And this is the way this works. The cord that allows electricity to crawl into the charger that keeps the battery working somehow, someway, bit the bigun. Broke. Or it bent like Beckham till I tried to straighten it and it broke. Broke. Won't work. Won't give computer life, or it put the computer on life-support for say a few more hours. No more ideas flowing like spring thaw in the mountains. No more great, great inventive things to do at the church. NO MORE wonderfully written pieces to go out to 30 or 40 people a day. NOOOOOO MOOOOORRRREEEE.

I was incensed. The dogs did this. Mary did this. The Devil did this.  Yep. The Devil assaulted me, head-butted me. Me. Saw his opportunity to stop the changing of an entire church. Saw me and assaulted me.

What will I do? What can I do?

Then it hit me. SLAP.

I didn't want the truth. I couldn't handle the truth.

I didn't want the truth because deep down in places I don't talk about at parties, I didn't want me on that wall, I didn't need me on that wall. We use words like honor, code, loyalty. We use these words as the backbone of a life spent defending something. You use them as a punchline. I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom that I provide, and then questions the manner in which I provide it ...

Oh, excuse me. My inner Jack Nicholson comes out every time I go all frenzied for a second. Happens when I get all antzy.

Truth is, maybe the devil (little D because that's who his is beside Jesus) does attack us at those moments of inner success. But the vast majority of the time, the culprit is (drum roll please) US. Me. My.

I tripped. I was uncoordinated as usual and I tripped. ME. I did it. I snapped because I was tired, I reared up in anger and I tripped. ME.

Was I pushed? No so I could tell. Was I shoved? Not so anyone could see, feel, taste, touch or even hear except for the yell I made as I went to the floor.

Point is this: The devil might have done the tempting in the garden, but the folks who did the sinning handled much of that on their own, by themselves, with great relish as they went down.

And we've been trying to put the cord back in the laptop ever since.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Speechless in Seattle

I'm sitting in a room lit by two light facing a secretary's office that is dark and surrounded by a long, equally dark hallway. I will do my work with Pandora radio my only noise. I will in all probability not see many persons, if any, today.

It is a Monday, but it could be a Tuesday, a Thursday, basically any day that ends in Y.

I pray this means everyone is fine. That all their lives are functioning well. That there is nothing they need to, or want to, talk about. That there are no problems, no worries, no malfunctions.

But I wonder.

I see the smiles on the corners of their mouths but the see the worry lines under their eyes and I wonder.

When you love a group of people, you want to help. That they don't talk to you only concerns. It can't worry, or one would worry oneself to death.

It's not the three churches I have now. It's all the churches I've ever served. Very few have ever talked to me in my office about problems or concerns. I can believe they have none, but statistically that would be nigh on impossible.

So, I wait.

I'm not, however, the first.

In Isaiah 65 I read: "I was ready to respond, but no one asked for help. I was ready to be found, but no one was looking for me. I said, 'I am here, here I am!' to a nation that did not call on my name."

I wonder, then, why we keep our council to ourselves? Why do we bury deep inside the pain of life? Why do we keep these secrets that can only hurt us, not help us?

An adverse effect of keeping secrets is that they can ultimately destroy relationships–with family, friends, spouses, and other people you may deem important in your life. Some secrets have been kept for so long and have been carried on through a fa├žade that when it gets out, it takes everyone by surprise and eventually hurts certain relationships. Secret affairs, illnesses, addictions, or past actions can all have this effect.

That, in part, is why Jesus told us "...if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you,  leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift." In other words, go tell him (or her) about it. Clear the air. Let it out.

And if you can't do that, go tell someone. Clergy, laity, someone. 

Part of what Alcoholics Anonymous does so well is this procedure. Step 5 of their 12-step program is :admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs." Their is cleansing to be found in this.

But there's more. The program adds "made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make
amends to them all." Then "made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do
so would injure them or others."

Part of growing closer to God, I think, is letting go and giving Him all of us. To do so, one needs to, I believe, talk to another person.

Unless, of course, none of us have any problems.


Friday, August 10, 2012

The glory must go up

Let's talk today about athletics (imagine that) and God.

The Apostle Paul wrote as if he knew a great deal about the Games of his time. He wrote, "Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize." And he wrote, "I went in response to a revelation and, meeting privately with those esteemed as leaders, I presented to them the gospel that I preach among the Gentiles. I wanted to be sure I was not running and had not been running my race in vain." And he wrote, "have fought the good fight, I have finished the  race, I have kept the faith."

These Olympic Games, which finish Sunday, have provoked much writing as any reporter with multiple events and many days on location will strive to do.

One topic which has prompted some discussion is the one of athletes thanking the Lord for their accomplishment, win or lose.

Gabby Douglas won a gold medal in the women’s gymnastics individual all-around, making her the first black woman in Olympic history to achieve this accomplishment.

The buoyant 16-year-old Christian from Virginia Beach thanked God in a live interview following her triumph: “I give all the glory to God. It’s kind of a win-win situation. The glory goes up to him and the blessings fall down on me.”

On Tuesday, another world-famous Christian athlete stared down the possible win of her life. Lolo Jones, the 29-year-old runner who grew up in poverty in Baton Rouge,frequently speaks of her faith in Christ, tweeting as she arrived in London, “I'm overwhelmed with emotions. Thank you Lord for another chance and for holding me as i waited.” As she stood on the line for the 100-meter hurdles, fans could see her mouthing, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

After hundreds and hundreds of hours preparing for this day, Jones saw a dream shatter in .10 seconds. She finished fourth, out of the medals. Afterwards, she tweeted, “In room Singing Desert song by Hillsong. Its on repeat. Lord Jesus please comfort me , guide me & heal my broken heart,” and this morning nearly broke down in a live interview with the Today show.

For Jones’s part, she says she has never “prayed to win a gold medal at Olympics and never will. The Lord is my Shepard [sic] and I shall not want. May His will be done.”

One winner thanking God. One loser (if one can be who made an Olympic team) thanking God.

A better example of what this is all about could not be had.

I think we all could learn something from Jones—to trust God in the depths of Olympic despair as much as in the heights of Olympic glory. We won't always win. That's just the way I've seen life to be. But we can all be thankful.

I'm not sure at all that God watches us to see a wonderful all-around performance in gymnastics or a 100-meter hurdles event. Does God care who scores the winning touchdown or the winning run at the plate? I doubt seriously that he does.

But I know, absolutely know in my heart, that He cares for each of us in His way and His will.

Stephen Curtis Chapman, a wonderful singer-songwriter, wrote of doing everything you do for the glory of the Lord in a song called appropriately enough, "Everything you do."

..."it all matters just as long
As you do everything you do to the glory of the One who made you,
Cause he made you,
To do
Every little thing that you do
To bring a smile to His face
Tell the story of grace
With every move that you make
And every little thing you do"

I will obviously never win an Olympic gold medal, but what I can do is concentrate on everything I do, such as this piddling little 5-day a week blog, to the absolutely glory of God. When it works, it's Him. When it doesn't, it's me, but even then must thank Him that He's provided this avenue for me to continue to write. I would not have that without the grace, glory and inspiration he gave to those who worked on the providing this aspect of the Internet.

I'm not Gabby and I'm not Lolo, but I thank Him and praise Him. The glory goes up.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Running for God's gold


"And when I fed the 4,000 with seven loaves, how many large baskets of leftovers did you pick up?
'Seven,' they said,
Don't you understand yet, he asked them?"

Good question, isn't it?

Do we understand the power of God?
Do we use the power of God?
Have we faith in the power of God?

I fear not, not and no.

Some do, however.

In today's Olympics, in the opening heats of a relay, a South African, Ofense Mogatwane became entwined with Kenya's Vincent Kiilu. Mogatwane fell, and grabbed his shoulder in pain. Double-amputee Oscar Pistorius, who has had these Games in an uproar for and against him, was set to take the baton in the relay but instead he tried to get to his fallen teammate but was stopped by track officials.

On Twitter, he wrote, "Thank you for the support. Hugely disappointed for the team and sorry for Ofentse who dislocated his shoulder. Wish him a quick recovery."

Officials gathered at some point and decided the Kenyans were responsible and reversed their decision to disqualify the South Africans, sending the inspirational runner to the final.

He was surprised at the reversal, which will allow the team to run in Friday's final.

His reply on Twitter, "Thank you Lord! Emotional roller coaster!"

Now, did God shine down on the 4,000 moreso than the ones who that day weren't there? Did God care more for the double-amputee than he did for the Kenyans?

Interesting question that I have no concrete answer for. But what I do know is that thanking the Lord is the proper response for every good measure done to and for us. I also know that thanking the Lord during the sure to come storms is also proper.

In other words, both the Kenyans and the South Africans had reasons to be thankful. Both teams made it to the semifinals of a race for gold. Both had been gifted with incredible athletic gifts. Even the double-amputee, though it would seem he would be bitter for the loss of his legs, had reason to be thankful that the expertise and gifts of doctors who put the artificial legs on him did such a wonderful job that he still was able to run.

All this is amazing and awesome, which is a pretty darn good description of our God.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

A reaction to success

The past five weeks have been among the best and easiest and most wonderful weeks in ministry I've had. The wave of the Holy Spirit is 10-feet high at worst, and all I'm trying to do is ride it with the gusto of a professional surfer, which I'm most assuredly not.

As someone described to me a couple of days ago, "We don't usually have so many people except at Christmas, and we've never had people joining the church and the baptisms like this. Never."

Not really knowing this, I sat in amazement. I told the person sitting in my office that it's the Holy Spirit. The person said, "I know you've got more than a little to do with it." We could debate, since I'm not willing to go that far, but I admit it is more than rewarding to see this happening, to see momentum starting to build.

Club 316, our youth ministry, is becoming front page news, as it will probably be this coming week in the local paper as we have the Ice Cream Olympics tonight. Not exactly sure what that is except I know a local fire truck will come by at the end of the evening and spray the ice cream off young bodies.

I got the go-ahead to go to Kansas City in October for the Church of the Resurrection Leadership Institute. I pray I will be able to bring back plenty of things for that to our churches.

We're planning a huge cleaning/painting Saturday later this month to re-do what has lay stagnant upstairs in this wonderful building for quite a while, prepping for coming Back To Church Sunday and our new Sunday Small Groups.

We've ordered a new coffee maker, and I'm seeking money for tables and such for our new coffee hutch for Sunday mornings.

Ride the wave, ride the wave.

Then it hit me...I had better be careful. We had better be careful. Why?

"The apostles returned to Jesus from their ministry tour and told him all they had done and taught. Then Jesus said, "Let's go off by ourselves to a quiet place and rest awhile. He said this because there were so many people coming and going that Jesus and his apostles didn't even have time to eat."

The wisdom of that fairly drips off the page. I strongly believe that when we're closest to seeing that wave I keep talking about, we need to be most careful. Most of the time the "evil one" doesn't even bother with us, we're so inconsequential to his plans. But let us see the wave and begin to ride it, and the next thing you know, someone will step up to stop it. They won't even realize they're doing it.

That's our enemies tactics.

So, what do we do? Go off to a quiet place and rest awhile. Prepare yourself with prayer. Step outside the success and see where you've come from, which often is from the mundane.

Don't think that's the end of the spiritual success, which always comes from God. Immediately after this, Jesus fed the 5,000, because a huge crowd formed even as they tried to relax.

The point? Go when Jesus sends us. But be prepared for the struggles that can follow those wonderful moments. That's life, too.


Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Tanking the Lord

I'm not sure you're aware, but the Olympics have been going on. I've watched a few things, some volleyball here and there, some swimming on occasion, a horse jumping the London Bridge -- which didn't fall down, by the way.

But I've been most intrigued by what a few athletes have done, some of whom have been sent home because of it. They have tanked. They have not given their "all." Heck, they've not given their some. They didn't try, ostensibly to get a better draw in the next round.

I guess when they weren't sweating at all, it was a dead giveaway of the dead men walking instead of running or women badminton players or whatever.

Contemplating how one doesn't try after spending perhaps hundreds of thousands of dollars to get to London in the first place, I got to thinking (as my readers know, a dangerous thing), what if the church was conducted in the same manner as the Olympics? What if people were kicked out of the church if they weren't trying as hard as they could?

First, who would decide? What would it look like, this not trying? Would they be not trying so they could get a favorable seating at the next level? I'm pretty sure that wouldn't work.

I think you could easily decide if someone was doing all they could to win in a few ways.

First, if they're not tithing, they taking. It's not all about the money, but that is one way of worshiping.

Second, if they're not volunteering somewhere, anywhere, they're not trying.

Third, if they sit as if they're some sort of iceberg that has broken free from the large frozen chosen, they're not into worship.

Finally, if they have no interest in inviting, praying for, being concerned for the lost, the least, the disenfranchised, the unloved or just the neighbor they're not been loving, they're candidates to be sent home.

London Bridge is indeed falling, we have the answer to bulk it up, and yet we do nothing. Perhaps we should all be sent home. But I fear home is the one place we truly, truly won't get to if we don't understand the great edict to love as we love, judge as we will be judged.

By professing Jesus as our Savior with our mouths and believing in our hearts that He was risen from the dead, we will be saved, Paul told us. That's making the team. But after that, the games truly begin. Oh, for a group, a big, big group, that would give their best every day for that same Savior.

Talk about gold medals. We could tank our Lord every day.

Monday, August 6, 2012

By Him I see everything

I began a four-part series on Biblical leadership yesterday. I thought it went well. Truthfully, I never know. Sometimes what I find fabulously interesting, others do not. Sometimes when I am sure I have if not failed at least not succeeded much, someone will tell me how much that sermon meant to them.

At our church, Eunice, it seems God's movement is real. I mean REAL. We've been there six weeks, and I've never been apart of a church with such a wide-range of ages, with so many youth, so many children. It is exhilarating -- at worst -- life-changing at best.

We've talked about in the past week the beginning of three new Sunday School "Small Groups," we've talked about having a Sunday coffee hutch that we're going to call "The Well." We're off to get new furniture and supplies (TV and such) for all this. God is so good.

Then I ran across a C.S. Lewis quote and suddenly I wonder if even that is enough.

He said, "“I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.” 

Do you see the passion? Do you see the, uh, everything that was Christianity to him?

Is that the way we see Christianity? Or is Christianity what we check on the box at the hospital rather than Sikh or Mormon or Muslim or such?

Is Christ really our all-in-all?

I pray that is true, because that is how things change in small churches. That is what makes them vibrant more than statistics and such. That is what brings them back from the brink and pumps rich spiritual goblin into them, I think.

I believe in the end (of the day as every athlete in America now says instead of "you know"), that our churches will only progress as we begin to put Jesus first. Don't tell me we have or that we're already doing so, for I know that not to be the case in some churches. I know. When you have to push and shove and plead and beg to get volunteers for anything, that's simply not a church that has placed Jesus first. Jesus has his place, but he rests among trophies for sports and ballet and music lessons and such.

 I believe that the percentage of people who put Jesus first in the church is the measure we should take for vital churches. If someone can check that as a criteria, and mean it, that is a real measure, isn't it?

Is Jesus your sunshine? Is Jesus your delightful full moon? Is Jesus your pleasure and your pain and your numbingly wonderful love? Do you miss Him when you're gone, as you know you leave on occasion? Is He with you through it all? Is this all real and no fantasy?

I believe if the answer to all those is yes, you're part and parcel to priming the pump at a church near you. I believe all the rest is just committee meetings and failed programs.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Clearing the air a "final" time

This one is a mite personal, so forgive me or pray for me. Either way. When you've written a couple of books about the subject, it is pretty much a matter of public discourse, I guess.

I read a post last night that moved me to the plight of someone who feels they've been completely and utterly discriminated against, particularly by the church. I felt so much for that person, who wants only to feel what he does is completely and utterly normal. He wants what he wants, and he can't understand why someone would stand in his way.

Seventeen years ago, I felt pretty much the same way. What I did with my choices, with my body, was my business and my business alone. Why or how could someone else judge me who wasn't walking in my shoes? My family wasn't complaining, to my knowledge. My job wasn't being affected. Didn't the Bible say something about judging? I was fairly certain, though I hadn't been to church in a great deal more than a decade.

Then God struck, clear eyes discovered there was more to this life than the way I was living, the rules that I detested so much from what I remembered about scripture and such came back to me in a new, fresh, loving way instead of a rigid, terribly restrictive I can't live that way sort of thing.

I hid who I was from the church for a while. Only a few persons knew at work. I was living the anonymous life, like I thought I was supposed to, like everyone said I was. I began to read religious books left and right, read through the Bible from cover to cover like it was water to a very thirsty man. What I discovered was that if I told those around me who I was, they made it pretty clear I would be looked at differently. I actually read in one of the books from a writer I thought was very good as he described some folks in his church that one said of all his mistakes in life, "at least I'm not an alcoholic."

Well, I was. I am. I will always be. A sinner in need of a savior. A problem awaiting a solution. A mistake in need of some white-out.

Then I just gave up. Gave myself to a God who loved me exactly as I was, troubled and messed up as I was, though the only thing of Him I knew was what I had learned in a church that has great problems in accepting those who aren't perfect, at least in their minds. I had left "church" about the time I left high school, as far too many do.

I told everyone, first speaking at the church that we had accepted as home and been accepted as well. Then I wrote the book One Man, One Cross, which was about the struggles of an alcoholic's first year of sobriety. Millions keep this secret every day. I understand this. Thus, I understand the revelatory freedom of telling the world who you are, and who you're becoming by the grace of God.

A good man whispered to me the other night that we had "a mutual friend." I totally missed what he was saying till he said, "Bill W," meaning the founder of Alcoholic's Anonymous. He told me very few persons knew, and I was honored he chose to tell me. But my point in all this is that I really couldn't help who I was. I was a compulsive drinker. I was. If I was to take a drink today, I would be today. Nothing has changed except I don't commit the act which leads to sin. I believe it is genetic, but ALSO a choice. Does that mean God created me that way? Did environment help, hurt? Does that mean God created a defective creature? Does that mean...

Listen, I do well to figure out what my next move is each day. But this I think: I am a flawed creature because of the fall in the Garden, which I admit some don't even believe ever existed. I believe my flaws are no better or worse than any others, just different. However, there is a great, great difference in that there are few civil laws that restrict my very existence. Many of my ilk are living in shame and without hope, but unless they are driving under the influence, most of the time they aren't arrested. Perhaps that is something we seriously need to look at for other flawed creatures, equally sons and daughters of God, from a civil rights standpoint. But from a Jesus standpoint, instead of a religious one, instead of a church one, we have to deal with grace.

However, there is one very serious and great difference in my thinking and in the thinking of some of our citizens. I have not tried to rewrite the rules found in scripture to meet my needs or to change the way those rules could be interpreted. What is says, in context I admit freely, is what it says. No one on the planet, nor God Himself makes anyone believe what it says. But I don't believe it can be rewritten, and some are attempting to do so.

I know that some will cringe when they see I've once again admitted to a whole group of new readers my flaws. So be it. I don't think this message works without doing so.

I absolutely am certain of one thing, if we don't find a way to love each other, we will all, all fail together. I'm also absolutely certain that we have to go deeper into the New Testament for the rules that are most clearly stated this way in two things Jesus told us.

1) Jesus said, "Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence (heart, mind and soul).' This is the most important, the first on any list. But there is a second to set along side it: 'Love others as well as you love yourself." These commands are pegs; everything in God's Law and the Prophets hangs from them."
2) He told us that if we loved him, we would obey his commands, which seem to me to be those above.

I know He told us that he will bless those who are merciful, those who work for peace, and even those who hunger and thirst for justice. I also know he said that God will bless those when people mock them and persecute them and lie about them and say all sorts of evil things against them because they are one of his followers. He said things about divorce, which many Christians work around without repentance. I failed in that too, and repented and asked for sincere forgiveness. He said things about revenge. He said things about anger. He said things about giving to the needy, prayer, fasting, money and such. I've had to ask for forgiveness for all those things from time to time.

But as near as my studies show, Jesus had nothing to say about alcoholics or druggies that I can find, nor did he talk about homosexuality exactly, nor did he talk about pedophiles nor persons who wed a flock of folks or any of these other serious, serious topics. In fact, he didn't spend a whole lot of time condemning anyone or anything, rather taking much time to point out the rules the Pharisees were putting on persons were often cruel and misused. He did have something to say about loving each other. Therein lies the problem we all must face. How do we look at these things that lie in the gray areas of life, love and especially, apparently, sex?
How that plays out is what we're dealing with in the church, in the country, in the world. How do we love a group of people who refuse to believe in the manner we do, whether that be the Lesbian-Gay groups or Muslims or Mormons or Methodists or anyone who hates or feels they are superior to a race of people? How do we love those who condemn those on either side of the issue, whatever the issue? How do we really live out the love the sinner, hate the sin without falling into the judgment trap? Is it really judging if we state something to be sin when someone else says it is not? When will we decide who sets the rules, if ever? What do we do with the passage where Jesus said marriage was between a man and a woman? What do we do with Paul's writings about homosexuality? What do we do with our own sin?

How we answer these questions will help determine where we go from the chicken wars. I know I have few answers at times. I can read the pain between the words of some who wrote so deeply and passionately about this on both sides, and I grieve for their sincere feelings of pain. I do.

All I know is that 17 years ago I was one person; today, I'm a different one. I had very little to do with that change other than to say, "help" to a God I didn't believe in. It's possible to change, no matter what someone, what anyone says.

I know He loves. Our debate has always been about how do we do the same.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Thoughts on a day of appreciation

It would be incredibly easy but not very sensible for me to ignore the top issue of the week for many.

It is a difficult subject at best, a divisive subject at worst. Certainly media of all types covered it like it was a religious tsunami.

Long story short, Wednesday was Chick-Fil-A Appreciation Day across the nation. I’m more of a Canes kinda guy normally, but this whole thing has blown up into something that intrigues me. The question is, how did we get this polarized?

You probably have heard that last week, gay-rights protesters began a nationwide movement targeting franchises in response to company President Dan Cathy's comments to a Christian magazine.

"We are very much supportive of the family – the biblical definition of the family unit. We are a family-owned business, a family-led business, and we are married to our first wives," Cathy said in the story.

All heck broke loose. Then former presidential candidate Mike Huckabee pronounced on his Facebook page that Wednesday would be Chick-Fil-A appreciation day. And all heck broke loose from the “other side” of the issue.

First, it is Cathy’s right to say what he said in a free society just as it is the right of all who have thrown a conniption fit on either side of the issue to do so. So what we need to do is calm down, first of all. And I would sincerely hope that everyone who went to buy chicken on Wednesday also remembered the poor and the disenfranchised and the emotional and spiritual hurting on Thursday.

I could give you an opinion, formed as a United Methodist minister but above all as a Christian, about gay marriage as a rule. I’ve done that before on my blog. But not here. Not today.

Instead, what I think I will do instead is tell a story, from the Gospel of John’s eighth chapter:

Jesus decided to teach some religious teachers of the day he lived. He noticed they had dragged a young woman caught in adultery in front of them although instructively they apparently neglected to bring the man. “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery,” they asked. “In the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.

Jesus calmly bent and started to write something on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” He didn’t say anything else to them, but stooped and began to write again. The teachers left, dismayed at what he had said. Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”  “No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

Seems there is instruction that should reach beyond painful loud arguing and cursing from one side and chicken eating on the other. Something about being without sin before you fuss up. I might be much more comfortable if all of us who were without sin of any kind might leave those who are with sin to be dealt with by God. Doesn’t mean you compromise. Means you Jesus-ize.

That doesn’t mean I’ve chosen a “side.” It doesn’t mean I haven’t. It just means I know how messed up I am, and how great a Savior He is. That’s enough for me. Or maybe it’s just that I’m chicken.













           

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Can't we just talk?

He can't believe all they're saying about his kind. He never believed it could come to this. That they would be debating "his" life was just too much for him to handle.

He has been this way nearly all his life. He hid it for a long, long time. But when a friend of his came out and said he wasn't hiding any longer, well, he decided it was time.

So he showed everyone who he was, what he had done, what he thought and felt.

Next thing you know, he was shunted, even in the church he had gone to all his life. Maybe especially at the church he had gone to all his life.

Then one day he met someone just like him. There was a spark, a magic, a something that is inexplicable. They went out. They fell deeply in love. They want to marry. But the church he goes to say he can't, or rather the pastor there says he won't.

What can he do?

Is he supposed to hid what he is, how God made him? Really. Was that what God wanted? I know the church says love the sinner and hate the sin, but he hasn't seen a whole lot of that going on when he sees people holding signs condemning him. Him. His life. His lifestyle.

He will grant you he doesn't know whether the way he feels is a lifestyle or a choice. All he knows is the way he feels when it happens. The way it has always felt when it happens.

Then the fight began. Churches splitting. Denominations fighting and some splitting. Heck, political parties taking sides. Even fast-food companies taking a stand for what they believe, the inkless are the only ones who can be married in a church. He doesn't mind the company's president believing that. That's his right. But he would just as soon not be part of a national debate. That's not what he is about. He just wants to be able to be himself, and he can't be the way things are. He understands that there are people who don't believe he should be able to be the way he is. That's their right, too, he figures.

And all because of that sentence in the Bible that condemns him, and Rachel, who is just like him.

If he could just take Deuteronomy 19:28b-c out of scripture: "Don't tattoo yourselves. I am God." That one sentence has black-listed him, made him different, made things terrible at times in his life.

If he could just take back that moment when he got that Iron Man tattoo and it felt so good to him. He even puts up with Rachel's Batman logo. But then came that big Captain America one on his shoulder. Then the one that gets him in trouble the most. He got a big cross tattooed on his lower arm because he loves Christ so much.

But when people in the church see that cross, they think only of the sin, not the sinner, and certainly not the Savior.

If they could just sit down and talk about it. Just talk. Maybe they could begin to understand each other, the tattoeed and the inkless.

After all, Jesus said love your enemy. He can't understand why tattoos undermine that. But clearly it does to some. He loves them anyway.

If he never has another tattoo put on his body, if he admitted it was sin, would he then be accepted back into the fold? Or would everyone remember him by what he's already done? Or is it just his sin they can't accept because they don't have the same issue or problem?

He doesn't know, because no one has ever talked to him about it. Everyone he knows who is like him keeps shouting at the ones who aren't. And most of them don't go to church at all. If he could just get others like him to understand it's not Jesus who is doing the shouting.

He doesn't really have a solution, one that will work for everyone. But he thinks that talk, a little discussion, a little loving of neighbors will start things on the right track. 

Maybe tomorrow.