Thursday, January 31, 2013

Little isn't a reason to stay small

On the day I passed 20,000 page views of this blog, I thought it would be a good time to steer clear of all controversy and go straight to the praises of scripture.

You don't have to be a major blogger to be used by God. Little Micah, what was called a minor prophet (as if anyone being used to tell the word of God could possibly be minor, had this to tell us:

"But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from old, from ancient times."

Though you are small is such a wonderful expression coming from God. God has a real habit of using the unusual, making do with the less than well-to-do, having a plan for the planless. If we could see ourselves through the eyes of God, I suspect we would see someone who is truly different than the one we see in the mirror each morning.

God calls, and whom God calls, God equips. I believe that, even when I have a bout with depression, even when I can't see the results of what He has called me to do.

I know without question that I can't do much without him. I have no real results to show of that period I didn't have a relationship with Jesus. The results I have, in whatever those results might be, aren't great with Jesus, but I suspect that's more to do with how I view results than God does.

So, today, raise your hands, sing Alleluia, glorify God because He certainly has glorified you.

Think of all the wonderful things God has given you, and praise Him.

David wrote, "Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path." Maybe your calling isn't to preach or even teach, but I guarantee you it's to seek. Maybe you're called to give someone a ride to the hospital. Maybe you're called to teach a group of young persons. Maybe you're called to simply go to a Bible Study and become closer to the one who gives you all good things.

Today, stand in awe of the goodness of God.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Another in a long line

I could write about the story that broke yesterday: Shane Windmeyer is the founder and executive director of Campus Pride, a gay activist group that has spearheaded a national campaign against Chick-fil-A for the millions of dollars it donated to pro-family organizations. Windmeyer’s work is deeply personal for him as he himself is a homosexual and “married” to another man. Last year, the owner of Chick-fil-a, Dan Cathy, reached out to Windmeyer. Nothing public. Just private conversations over the phone that led to several meetings and culminated in Cathy inviting Windmeyer to be his guest on the sideline at the recent Peach Bowl in Atlanta.
None of this was public until yesterday. Windmeyer revealed the unlikely friendship in a fascinating article for the Huffington Post. By Windmeyer’s own account, it’s clear that Cathy has been reaching out to him not as a publicity stunt or as a manipulative ploy.

But I won't. Not today. Today?

God's Spirit makes us loving, happy, peaceful, patient, kind, good, faithful. — Galatians 5:22 (CEV)

I could write about the story that broke yesterday: Leaders of two United Methodist agencies — United Methodist Men and United Methodist Board of Church and Society — welcomed news that the Boy Scouts of America is considering ending its decades-long ban on gay scouts and scout leaders. The proposed change would remove a national membership requirement dealing with sexual orientation and allow local charter organizations to decide. United Methodist Men promotes the use of scouting ministries and civic youth-serving agencies across the denomination. The Board of Church and Society advocates for the denomination’s social witness.

But I won't. Not today. Today?

God's Spirit makes us loving, happy, peaceful, patient, kind, good, faithful. — Galatians 5:22 (CEV)

I will simply say, without taking positions on any of the above other than what faithful readers will recognize as my positions I've taken in the past, that Jesus told us to love God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength and our neighbor as ourselves. When asked who their neighbor was, he told a story about a group of people who were looked down upon at the time of the telling of the story, and that group of people produced the hero of the story. In other words, all of us are our neighbors.

Seems to me if we keep that in the forefront, we're doing the Gospel. If people becoming friends despite their differences is news, we're missing the boat in some way.

The point of all this, I guess, is that daily there is news about our gay friends. I long for a time when stories about the love of Christians match the stories in the Gospels about the love of our creator. Maybe I'm looking at it all through glasses stained with Christ's blood, but I believe we can, really can, love each other. We, in my opinion, simply choose not to.

Am I perfect? No. A thousand times no. I admit it. I scream it to a forgiving heavens. That's all I can do. But in acknowledging my imperfections, I also reach out to the perfect one. I do not rewrite, or try to rewrite, that which names my imperfections. I'm a sinner in need of a savior. Thank God He sent one.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Viewed through a smoky glass

Remember when, no matter the issue, the church was on the right side of it? Well, me neither, exactly. The 50s, those good old days before (fill in whatever you want to fill in here depending on your side of the argument), weren't really so darn good.

The 60s, a time of free love, weren't so lovingly played out in some parts of the country, and the split in some churches began during this time.

The 70s were miserable for some, and more issues boiled to the top of the church debate scene. The 80s? The 90s? The past decade? Mega churches, non-denominational mega-churches, grew like weeds in the field, but mainline denominations began to lose the very breath of God and their numbers crashed like the 2008 recession.

Where did the church lose its edge? Where did the church lose its fight? Where did the church become so splintered that no one knows what is the right side of any argument? And when did the church simply give in so as to not lose more numbers?

There was a time, though, when the giants of our lives didn't scare us. I was reading this this morning and I thought of what exactly David was saying here:

34 But David said to Saul, “Your servant has been keeping his father’s sheep. When a lion or a bear came and carried off a sheep from the flock, 35 I went after it, struck it and rescued the sheep from its mouth. When it turned on me, I seized it by its hair, struck it and killed it. 36 Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, because he has defied the armies of the living God. 37 The Lord who rescued me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will rescue me from the hand of this Philistine."

The armies of the living God don't scare anyone any longer because the armies don't stand against the giants any longer. The question is why? When did the church become placid in its ability to take stands?

I think it was soon after the church became the church.

Within a 100 years of the church becoming the church, already Jesus was having to correct. To the church in Ephesus, they forgot their first love. To the church in Smyrna, they were told to welcome persecution. In Pergamum, they were told to repent. Thyatira was told they had a false prophetess in their midst. Laodicea had lukewarm faith. Only Philadelphia was doing exceptionally well and had endured patiently.
And where are these churches today?
Now, I'm not talking about the debate over worship style or what one MUST wear to church, or coffee hutches built into sanctuaries or whatever the latest craze might be. Not disputing that argument, I'm simply saying that's a fight for another day. What I am saying is that in a world where disagreement equals hate, we at least need to discuss what are those issues that we must reclaim as a church, the church universal at that.
What we need, I believe, is a concerted effort to have discourse about the big issues of the day and come to a consensus about what the truth is? I also believe, rather strongly, that without the Holy Spirit, we have no chance of ever doing that. That's what leadership does: in love without fear, we speak out about what is wrong. Church leaders did that in the 50s and 60s about civil rights. Church leaders are doing that today about both sides of some very contentious issues today.

The problem is, as I see it, that neither side is willing to listen to the other, and the world is simply chuckling as more and more come in the front doors of our churches and leave more quickly out the back.

We can't answer the simple questions about loving our neighbor without a discussion about who our neighbor is. We can't tie the harder knot, loving our enemies, till we address the simpler one.

Today, we simply facebook vocal shots about the opposition and call each other names. If one disagrees with an issue, one is immediately a hater or someone attaches a -phobe to the end of the adjective that subs for the name of the individual.

Oh, you have your Mark Driscolls out there and your Rob Bells and those folks who believe so strongly in their own beliefs that they will tell you without question that what they believe is not only right but the only way to think on ANY subject. But too many simply ignore the tough subjects in favor of preaching and teaching the easy ones.

I believe that one must figure out ones own theology, but the Holy Spirit makes adjustments all along. The simplest of facts is that not all the denominations, all the faiths can be right if they are all in disagreement. Truth is truth. Jesus is Jesus. And the rest is man's arguments.

Clearly times are changing fairly quickly now. How we deal, as a church, as a faith, with changes in culture will decide in many ways what the future of the church is.

In other words, do we compromise on everything, or is there a line in the sand that must not be crossed? I'm not in any way saying I have all the answers. I don't. I'm just a simple ex-sports writer who is grateful that God's grace covered even this foolish one. But I'm committed to prayer, study and discussion to attempt to find enough common ground that we can say this is what the church believes and commit to it. The United Methodist Church has such a vehicle, by the way, called the Discipline. The only problem there is though the Discipline continues to evolve, groups have decided to ignore the portions of this book they believe to be wrong despite the majority disagreeing. What good is a discipline if it is ignored.

I know only this: Jesus said of Laodicea, he would spit them out of his mouth because of their lukewarm attitudes and actions. While Bible study numbers fall to the ground like Icarus seeking the sun, while Sunday Schools go the way of black and white television, while youth's are allowed to decide when and how often they go to church, we fail as a church.

One must commit; with prayer and with much thought, one must decide on a side. Eventually that's what we have. And without true study of the scriptures, we have little to go on.

Whether Facebook friends like it or not.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Like a lion at the well

It's Monday morning. I'm tired. Things are normal here in Eunice-land. A full Sunday, with three services at three churches in three towns, a choir practice of an hour and an hour of Bible Study and I'm sore and tired. My thirst for God has grown even as I stumble around looking for that living water and that God-filled well.

So, I reach for inspiration, as if I could dial it up and get the answers I seek simply through concerted effort (and listening to Casting Crowns talking about something deep: The light began to fade on the city on the hill. Each one though they knew better; that they were different by design," Mark Hall sings.

 And I reach for inspiration like a Red Bull so-filled with caffeine to the extent that it floats on the top of the liquid like BP's oil sheen on the Gulf's waters.

A year from now, I (God willing) will lead a troupe of folks from Louisiana and beyond to Israel. It will be my wife Mary and my's second trip. Since I have much more of an idea of what to expect, and the history of the buildings is much more known to me, I pray I will be able to use the time as more of a worship-filled 10 days.

The single moment I recall where I felt God's heavy hand on me was when we were floating on a boat on the Sea of Galilee. Ultimately, when you get out there on the lake, it's a lake, albeit a lake surrounded by mountains, but a lake. We have lakes in Louisiana. The water looked quite a bit like lake water in Louisiana.

But as we sat there, floating gently, Rich Mullin's Awesome God began to play, and I felt an instantaneous connection with the Father I've always wanted to touch, to see, to feel, to be inspired by. When Shout to the Lord followed, I began to tear up.

No matter what people say, the Lord is a fleeting acquaintance, coming and going like a relative at Christmas time. I'd love to say I could Narnia-like call upon Aslan and the great Lion would come and we'd have barbecue together on Sunday afternoons. But I haven't found that to be the case. The great mystery of God is how He is here, there and everywhere and yet there are times, dry times, when He seems to be nowhere at all.

I know that's on me, more so than him, but still...

Mark Hall is singing now, "leave it all behind and come to the well." That seems to be a practical way of living, I suspect. "Running on empty, can't find the remedy, come to the well."

When nothing can satisfy, and the world leaves you high and dry, just come to the well."

If there is any reader out there who would like to take this journey to Israel next January, trying to satisfy the unquenchable thirst, contact me at 985-640-9009 or We'll set you up with the details, costing somewhere around $3,500 per person, flying out of Baton Rouge, with trip insurance. I'd love to be your host on the journey, not of a lifetime, but one that will help fill that thirst.

Friday, January 25, 2013

The pranks are on

Let the Hunger Games begin...

The epic life was anything but over, instead ...

John Wesley was born in 1703 in Epworth, 23 miles (37 km) northwest of Lincoln, the fifteenth child of Samuel Wesley and his wife Susanna (née Annesley). His father was a graduate of the University of Oxford and a Church of England rector.

In 1689, Samuel had married Susanna, twenty-fifth child of Samuel Annes minister. Wesley's parents had both become members of the established Church of England early in adulthood. Susanna bore Samuel Wesley nineteen children, but only ten lived. In 1696 Wesley's father was appointed the rector of Epworth.

At the age of five, Wesley was rescued from the burning rectory. This escape made a deep impression on his mind and he regarded himself as providentially set apart, as a "brand plucked from the burning" quoting Zechariah 3:2. As in many families at the time, Wesley's parents gave their children their early education. Each child, including the girls, was taught to read as soon as they could walk and talk. In 1714, at age 11, Wesley was sent to the Charterhouse School to increase their knowledge.

Today, as I read more and more about John, and his talented, gifted brother Charles, I'm reminded of what John Mellencamp had to say of the brothers. Almost no one could recite one of John's sermons. Almost everyone could recite and/or sing one of Charles singing. That's just the way it was. Charles' work was memorably written. John's work was written, memorably.

Let's begin our work together, piecing together memories as if they were grains of sand to be conjured. Charles was a craftsman, a Sears I-pad/pod/puddle pensively pranking

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Let the joy of the Lord be your strength

 "Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. 3 And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. 4 Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should. 5 Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. 6 Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone." -- The Apostle Paul, giving instructions to the churches in Colossia.

Isn't that a wonderful plan for today? Devo, prayer, gratitude, being wise ... that seems to be a grand plan for achievement.

When you arose this morning, a fine if foggy Thursday, did you see the opportunity of a lifetime in front of you? I think I did. The truck is being repaired. The car has been fixed. We're headed off in a manner that indicates our conversations will be full of grace and sprinkled with glory and love. We're prayerfully devoting ourselves to prayer, being watchful and thanking our Father for all good gifts.

That being the case, we're blessed by the Father of lights, as the universe declares His majesty.

Why, just yesterday Tennessee students Jesse Cooper, Drew Gibbs and Zeke Grissom were nominated for homecoming king at their Community High School's basketball homecoming ceremony. The teens got together and decided that the winner would turn over the honor to junior Scotty Maloney, who has Williams Syndrome, a neurological disorder that inhibits learning and speech. "I've been blessed with so many things," Cooper told ABC News' Nashville affiliate WKRN-TV. "I just wanted Scotty to experience something great in his high school days." "He's always happy, so he deserves some recognition for who he is," Gibbs said.

Always happy, always deserving. That's the story of the day, mashed together and triumphant, the wonder of the joy of the Lord being displayed.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

In a fog this morn

Like clammy hands, the fog rolled in this morning, darkening the skies, dampening the large oak limbs, pressing down on the trees that line South 5th Street in Eunice.

Paul writes to the church in Thessalonica, "Be at peace among yourselves. And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone."

This morning it is foggy; I mean, foggy. I can't see much beyond the back door, into the yard, because it is, foggy. I thought it was dreary and rainy again when I arose, but turns out instead that it is foggy. Outside the window of the home office, the fog is something from a John Carpenter movie, as it creeps hither and yon. Heck, the fog seemingly takes away that peace Paul is writing about, takes away the encouragement and even makes me more fainthearted with a dollop of weakness thrown into the pot for good measure.

In Chapter 5 of Paul's letter, he writes of the Day of the Lord. He tells the church that "for you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. I imagine Paul is telling us that the day of the Lord will slip in, leaving us unaware of what is coming. He adds, "While people are saying, 'There is peace and security,' then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape."

Slipping onto us.
Sneaking up on us.

That's the day of the Lord, that day of judgment Paul is writing about. Paul tells us clearly that we must keep awake and "be sober." Keeping our eyes open would be another way of watching the watchers.

Here's the point: When Jesus comes again, riding high in the sky as it were, He will do so so that we belong to the day, to the light. Paul tells his readers to put on the breastplate of faith and love, and "for a helmet the hope of salvation."

Paul tells the Thessalonican church God has not destined us for wrath, but for salvation. That sounds like a plan to me. The apostle tells us to encourage each other.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Who would you raise from the dead?

I was studying the 11th chapter of John's Gospel yesterday for a Bible Study last night at one of the churches. The chapter, of course, is the story of Lazarus' being brought back from four days of death.

The Bible I use for all studies I teach, the Serendipity Bible for groups, posed a strange question as part of the study. It asked, "if you could bring anyone back from the dead, who would it be? Why?"

Oh, let the pondering begin.

I gave that g-normous amounts of thought about that question (questions), maybe far more than it really needed.

At first, I went the obvious route, with family members who have passed ... mother, father, favorite aunt. I even wandered off the path some, with pets popping into the equation. But the why kept calling to me even as I thought about the who.

Then, with the only true reason for some of my answers being love, I moved farther away ... into the land of the true need. In other words, I gave lip service, serious lip service, to raising Martin Luther and/or Martin Luther King from the dead. I thought about JFK, I pondered Lincoln, I thought about the George Washington, maybe Sam Dale (ask me sometime about ol' Sam). I gave some idea making time to those beings I figured would make a difference the second time around, if given one. On a lighter note, I focused on sports figures like Vince Lombardi or Stan Musial or Wilt Chamberlain.

On and on I traveled the route, looking at the plants that had died on the side of the road for a loss of water and light, thinking about who could help, if given a new lease on life. Who could make the biggest difference imaginable?

And so, again after giving it way, way too much thought, I stopped at the name I figured was mine and mine alone to give.

If I could bring someone back from the dead, just the one someone, I would give new life, second life, to the one person who would make the most difference in my life, who could explain so many inexplicable subjects, who could show me what I needed to work on and against and for and all those things.

Who? Why, the Apostle Paul edges Lazarus who edges Judas who edges Noah who edges Abraham. Nah. Nah. Paul it is.

Why? Because there are so many questions I want to pour out like water from the Jordan. What's with the women and worship questions? How did he grow grace like flowers in spring? How did a man stuck with and stuck on the law find grace in the first place? How did a man who had not spent great amounts of time with the man named Jesus come to love him so intently? And on and on we go; questions in need of answers.

Can you imagine the greatness of the time we could spend with Paul? I can. I really, really can.

How about spending a Tuesday afternoon with a hot, luscious Vanilla Latte and a couple of hours of talk about the deep subjects of the day, a slight breeze caressing our faces as we talk theology like it is the evening news? Or a Thursday morning with Paul at Barnes and Noble, talking about the Holy Trinity as we wait for our Cinnamon Coffee Cake? Or a Friday lunch with Paul, who just happened to bring along Luke, as we talk about memories of Jesus, plum giddy with tales of evangelism on the shore of the Lake?

Paul talking worship. Paul talking love as it was meant to be talked abut. Paul healing the hurts, filling the holes in life, salving the mistakes, solving the riddles, saving the lost of my -- our -- lives. Paul explaining pre-destination as if it were two plus two.

Paul. The Apostle Paul.

Could he make a difference today? Of course he could. His devotion to Jesus would come through just as plain and evident as it ever did. That would be something worth seeing, wouldn't it? Maybe we could even have a logical, reasonable discussion about all those totally illogical, completely unreasonable ideas that separate us today... Jew and Muslim, Muslim and Christian. 

If breaching the gap caused by hatred wasn't a good enough reason for Paul's return, then healing the incurable disease of jealousy, pride, ego that continues to stalk humanity.

He could even explain the whole resurrection body theology, since he would have a, uh, resurrection body.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Jesus disguised as youth

She didn't have much, but what she had, she treasured. When we arrived, four adults and 12 youth, to her home -- a small  rental out from our little town of Eunice -- she was flabbergasted that so many would come to help her. We were on a mission, as it were, to help someone who had seen the water rise last week and not stop until it joined her and her son, an autistic 43-year-old in their little house.

The first thing I noticed was the photos. Photos and photos, all wet, all likely ruined beyond repair. Then, the smell, that smell of mildew and rot that I had become so familiar with after Hurricane Katrina. Life used up and thrown out by a strange rain in January. Moments of happiness, the occasional smile and still-life takes us back.

We dumped, pulled, yanked and carried stuff to the "road" where, I presume, the garbage folks would do their thing.

We scrubbed, mopped, swept and carried more stuff (including dressers, entertainment centers, box springs and such) away. Always away. Always gone. That's what the smell represents. Life as it was no longer is; what is is the smell of mildew, and the occasional visiting mouse.

I was hesitant to ask if she had renter's insurance, but I don't really think I needed to ask. As she lit one cigarette after another, all she could do was hold her very old dog and smile.

When we were done, a couple hours out of our lives and lifetime out of hers, she cried. In her husky deep voice, she kept saying she couldn't believe we had come to help.

I was drawn to that passage in Matthew 25 that says:

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

Look, we didn't change the word Saturday. We didn't even change her world. Her stuff, collected forever (magazines featuring the death of Michael Jackson and other such), was gone. We didn't bring it back. We didn't bring in new box springs. We didn't fix her son, who seemed to be scared through a tight grin as we, strangers all, came roaring into his life.

But ... and I really believe this is the key to everything the church does today ... we showed her Jesus, what an actual functioning Jesus looks like. We didn't preach, though we prayed together. We didn't try to convert. We just helped. And she got to see youth, exuberant and smiling, wash dishes and floors equally enthusiastically.

I'm terrified from time to time that through all my efforts to reach what Wesley called perfection I'm actually losing ground instead of gaining it. But every once in a while, I see what others do for others and I know I'm in the company of angels. And by their stripes, I am healed just a bit. Jesus lead me on, hard-head and all.

Friday, January 18, 2013

It was just a little lie

The first Brandon Heath song I heard was one called, "I'm not who I was." Some of the lyrics include, "I write about love and such, I guess because I want it so much..." Substitute truth, and there I am. I write about truth, and I try, try, try to leave my variety of the truth out of the equation.

So, yesterday was a difficult day for me, because truth was so hard to find.

First, there's the Manti T'eo saga. Notre Dame football star loses girl friend and grandmother within days of each other to cancer. Goes out and wins game at Michigan State on their behalf, pausing in the end zone to raise his fingers to heaven. Says he'll see them again some day. Truth: There is no girl friend, he's never seen her, so he can't see her again. She didn't exist. It was a hoax. Only who the hoaxers were is still to be discovered in their entirety.

Then there's Lance Armstrong, the multi-race winner in cycling. He overcame cancer, battled through everything, won seven Tour de Frances. Never cheated, never caught. Yay. Truth: He doped just like everyone else. Cheated like a seven-timing husband. Oh, the cancer was real this time.

Then to top the day off, Subway's foot-long sandwich is 11 inches. Oh, the depravity and lies. Truth: If you squish it just right, you can make it a foot long.

Jesus told us he was the way, the truth, and the life. Problem is, we just can't understand that, can't apply that, can't even seek it.

I know. I've told this in a book before, but I messed with my resume when I was hired at a newspaper in Nevada. I was already hired when I discovered they only hired graduates of college. I wasn't. My work record had them all aflutter, however, so, I just adjusted the final 27 hours I needed. I didn't do that before or after, but it haunted me a while.

Truth is such a valuable commodity. But what I've learned is one little lie becomes a bigger one that becomes a bigger one till you've got girl friends you've met, though they don't exist, and you've got rationalization for doping (it made it a level playing field), and you've got short sandwiches for no reason.

Pilate asked Jesus what is truth. Jesus stood before him, glaring, without answering. I think the answer was standing before Pilate glaring.

I can't be truthful, when I hide my sin. I can't be truthful when I try to be something I'm not. I can't be truthful without admitting my glaring problems to a God who wants simply to forgiven them.

It is in the grace I receive that the truth is born. I wish it for all of the above, and for me today when a little while lie threatens to bubble up for no good reason other than I'm a sinner who still, still, still needs a savior.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Crying out to the Lord

I feel an awful lot like what I perceive Lazarus to have felt. Back with a cold, back under the weather, back, back, back. But I've popped my head out of bed to do some work, including this epic.

I'm teaching three different Gospels these days at three churches, and truth is I love that. I love that people want to talk about the Gospel, and talk about what it means to them today.

I'm reminded of Nehemiah's writings about when Ezra read the law for the first time since they had returned from exile to Jerusalem.

The Word of God says, "Ezra opened the book. All the people could see him because he was standing above them; and as he opened it, the people all stood up. Ezra praise the Lord, the Great God; and all the people lifted their hands and responded "Amen! Amen!" Then they bowed down and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground."

Oh, what a worship service. Just hearing the Word read was enough to plant them on their faces.

Is that your prayer, reading, worshiping life? Does God still move you after all these years? Or is it only the ones, the newbies, among us who are moved to tears to hear from God?

If you're missing something in your relationship with the heavenly Father, there will never be a better time to bow down and worship. The Israelites confessed their sins, cried out to the Lord and read from the Book of Moses. What more can we do? What less can we do?

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Things you never want to hear said

It is a miserable day in the neighborhood. Rain, temps in the 30s, rain, temps in the 30s. Did I mention rain?

But through it all....

There's some, if not sunshine, at least maybe something to smile about.

Let's talk this morning about things you never want to hear:

 "Move a little closer to the rhino" -- Did you see the story about the animal guide in Africa who told the couple to "move a little closer to the rhino." The woman did. The rhino did, charge, from about two feet. The horn (of plenty big and dangerous) pierced her back and collapsed her lung.

"We're in a warming climate." -- The recent, rare snow in Jerusalem and parts of Lebanon, along with freezing temperatures for Southern California have not nixed the reality of climate change. The planet is warming, and chilled weather doesn't negate that fact, say climate experts. Did I mention that it's raining with temps in the 30s where I sit typing with cold fingers? Rain. Thirties.

"Some restrictions can be made." -- In the European Court of Human Rights, a ruling was made Monday that said freedom of religion is "an essential part of the identity of believers and one of the foundations of pluralistic, democratic societies." Sounds right. But the court went on to say, "However, where an individual's religious observance impinges on the rights of others, some restrictions can be made." Uh, you're free to believe whatever you want unless it is contrary to what I believe. Oh.

It depends on what you like.” -- Never want to heard this when you ask the waiter for a recommendation.

"But I'm hot." -- Says the choir member who is the loudest of all in the church when the rest of the church is putting on blankets and finding their coats as the air conditioner blows on a mild day.

"There's no easy way to say this." -- Guess what? There's no easy way to hear it, either. This can precede any number of events, from you're about to get fired or your top employee is quitting on you to your biggest customer is bolting for your top competitor. It's all bad.

"You'd better sit down for this." -- See above.

"Can I have a word with you in private?" -- Not that good news is always delivered in public, but even when someone wants to chat with you about something innocuous, he won't say it like that. He'll opt for something like Where can we talk or You're not gonna believe what I heard. No good is ever coming from this.

"It will never work." This works in many ways in many places.

"Folks, We just lost one of our engines, but everything's going to be OK."-- I wouldn't have to worry about the crash, because my heart would quit at this sentence.

Finally, "Did you really mean to say that?" (substitute "write that" or "do that" and it is just as bad) Nothing good is ever coming from that question either.

Honorary sayings that need to be retired at once: "Got Milk?" "It is what it is." "Go with the flow." "OMG and LOL" "Git er done" "You go girl."

Any and all must, uh, go.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Just a Giglio

I don't go searching for controversy, but it does seem to find me on occasion. I want to comment on this, but it's getting to be old hat for this subject. Still ...

Here's the story as it was displayed on the LGBT website:

Louis Giglio, the anti-LGBT pastor who had been announced to perform the benediction at President Obama’s second inauguration, has been removed from the program , ABC News’s Jonathan Karl reported Thursday. The Giglio I've read about for years is not, in my opinion, anti anything except slavery and he wasn't removed, he removed himself.

The move came after ThinkProgress reported Wednesday that in the 1990s, Giglio had given a lengthy sermon in which he advocated for dangerous “ex-gay” therapy for gay and lesbian people, referenced a biblical passage often interpreted to require gay people be executed, and impelled Christians to “firmly respond to the aggressive agenda” and prevent the “homosexual lifestyle” from becoming accepted in society.

Giglio voluntarily withdrew from the program, and a spokeswoman for Giglio sent ThinkProgress this explanation:
I am honored to be invited by the President to give the benediction at the upcoming inaugural on January 21. Though the President and I do not agree on every issue, we have fashioned a friendship around common goals and ideals, most notably, ending slavery in all its forms. Due to a message of mine that has surfaced from 15-20 years ago, it is likely that my participation, and the prayer I would offer, will be dwarfed by those seeking to make their agenda the focal point of the inauguration. Clearly, speaking on this issue has not been in the range of my priorities in the past fifteen years. Instead, my aim has been to call people to ultimate significance as we make much of Jesus Christ.
Neither I, nor our team, feel it best serves the core message and goals we are seeking to accomplish to be in a fight on an issue not of our choosing, thus I respectfully withdraw my acceptance of the President’s invitation. Our nation is deeply divided and hurting, and more than ever need God’s grace and mercy in our time of need.
The Presidential Inaugural Committee also offered its own view on Giglio’s decision to withdraw, promising to select a new person for the slot whose “beliefs reflect this administration’s vision of inclusion”:
We were not aware of Pastor Giglio’s past comments at the time of his selection and they don’t reflect our desire to celebrate the strength and diversity of our country at this Inaugural.   As we now work to select someone to deliver the benediction, we will ensure their beliefs reflect this administration’s vision of inclusion and acceptance for all Americans.
On another site, there was this tidbit: The Rev. Louis Giglio, who called homosexuality a "sin," has backed out of Obama's inauguration ceremonies

That's the story. Here's the problem as I see it: I, too, disagree with some of the wording in Giglio's sermon from "15-20 years ago," but last time I looked, we were able to disagree with anyone and anything and any subject. Giglio is not the one responsible for calling homosexuality a "sin." Nah. That came from writers in the Bible, for better or worst.

The headline that was on this piece, by the way, was Anti-Gay Pastor Withdraws From Inaugural Program

Therein lies the difficulty in this subject. If one uses scripture to found one's beliefs (and no matter what anyone says, we truly don't know what Paul meant in his writings about homosexuality; maybe abomination meant temple prostitutes, maybe not), then they are branded immediately as "anti." As far as I can tell, just as an example, the only thing I'm anti about is I really, really don't want the Atlanta Falcons to play in the Super Bowl in the Super Dome.

In Giglio's sermon, "In Search of a Standard -- Christian Response to Homosexuality," Giglio details Scripture that identifies homosexuality as sinful, and he offers the hope of transformation the apostle Paul offered in 1 Corinthians 6:11.

LifeWay Research indicates 44 percent of Americans believe homosexuality is a sin, said Ed Stetzer, LifeWay's vice president of research. "This Louie Giglio Moment, and the Chick-Fil-A moment that preceded it, and the Rick Warren moment which preceded that raise the question: Where do we go from here?" Stetzer blogged. "Furthermore what does this mean for Catholics, Mormons, Muslims, Orthodox Jews, and so many more who believe that their authoritative religious texts teach something the prevailing culture finds so unacceptable that, even if they are working to eradicate slavery, they are no longer welcome in mainstream context?"
I struggle with the inclusiveness that I believe Jesus would have us demonstrate, but I also understand or at least I think I do that Jesus wasn't always inclusive, either. That whole "no one can come to the Father except through me," business.

This is the point this morning: If we don't find a way to talk, and I really, really mean talk, about these issues, we're not being the church. And if the rest of the world wants to condemn us even while we struggle to find common ground and understanding, so be it. This is the world we live in. Heck, this is the world Jesus said we would live in when he told us that we would be persecuted in his name.

And never, never deny that there is persecution of both mainline and evangelical persons today. While those of a different sexual orientation rightly can claim the persecution that came their way for far too long, neither can they deny the persecution pendulum has swung the other direction. That's okay, our backs are broad enough to include lashes.

Understand, I acknowledged from the pulpit Sunday that it is interesting that of the two "moral" issues in today's culture that we're fighting the most about, abortion and homosexuality, Jesus had nothing to say about either of them. He did say, however, we were to love our neighbor as ourselves. That seems to me to overrule some things that we've made paramount without being told to. He said go make disciples and baptise them. If we're only baptizing the perfect, the one who has never sinned, then there is no wonder the church is shrinking. We must acknowledge that there will be people who come to Jesus who are different than us, different backgrounds, different beliefs, different skin color, different hopes, and yes, different sexual orientation.

The difference on this issue is that I've never claimed my problems were not sin. I've simply said, "I'm a mess. I need help. I must change and I can't." That's why I simply say I'm a sinner in need of a savior. Because I AM. I literally and strongest when I admit my weakness.

We must pray. We must preach Jesus, and occasionally use words. We must preach what we practice. We must. Otherwise, the world will stop listening to us, and any chance of us fulfilling the great commission will be done in.

Till then, simply benedictions will be beyond us all, apparently.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Enter the gate

As I sit to write this epic, something is amiss. There's this light, this very bright light, shining in my home office window. I can't recognize or recall what might be causing this. Oh, oh, yeah. It's the sun. The sun. I remember now, the sun.

This week has been a wet one. A tremendous wet one. Torrential rain has fallen, and one can only hope that this parish and its many occupants have completely survived. I watched the news last night, and so many homes have been flooded that I wonder what we can do as a church. Does it have to be hurricanes and bureaucracy for us to move?

I digress.

Today I wanted to talk, briefly, about a passage that intrigues me.

In the seventh chapter of Matthew, the Bible reads, "Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it."

That verse used to creep me out, scare me half-to-death and all those other phrases that signify fear.


I was convinced even after conversion of my inadequacy. Clearly, too, I want to find the easy way of doing everything.

Today that verse doesn't creep, scare or intimidate ... but not because of any advanced learning about it. I simply know that Jesus is the gate, and I am the lost sheep that wonders in (almost without my comprehension at times) into this thing we call salvation.

Now, that doesn't mean I still have trouble or that the path is an easy one. Oh, to the contrary.

It simply means that Jesus is the way, the gate, the door, and I am the lost one who bumped into the one who was still, still searching for him.

Isn't that what we do when we, as a church, help those who are flooded, or those who had a fire, or those who simply don't understand the very difficult techno-grab called grace?

The way is narrow. But Jesus pulls us through.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Come to me, little children

The lightening raced through the stained glass windows of First United Methodist Church Eunice as if there was nothing in its way.

The thunder boomed like a bass drum, shaking the windows as I watched. Water poured outside from heaven itself, heavy and thick and loud. We were in the midst of some heavy stuff on Wednesday night.

But there they were: 39 youth (nine years of age to 14 or so) who had somehow, someway made their way to the church as they do every Wednesday night. I had debated all afternoon about cancelling what we call Club 316 (you do the math on that), because the weather forecasts were as dire as they get without hurricane force winds and such.

But I never could figure how we could get everyone in the know, so I simply figured we, what amounts to staff, would go and when no one came, then we'd go home through the torrential rains so uncommon for January.

Huh. What do I know?

This thing, whatever it is, this 316 phenom, has been happening for about a year and a half. Youth, oh heck I still call them kids, come each Wednesday night for all sorts of reasons, from all sorts of churches, from all sorts of backgrounds, from all sorts of races, from all sorts of ... you get the idea.

The only thing that truly connects them is, well, each other. Many have come who have no other place to be on a Wednesday at 6 p.m. In fact, with drama that we're teaching, many get there at 5.

The church, led by Youth Leader Dwight Jodon, teaches them, plays with them, feeds them each week. They've learned the equivalent of a religion class each week, gone on a mission trip for hurricane cleanup, gone on an overnight retreat, worked, played, played some more and still they keep coming. No one beats them over the head with the Gospel, as truthfully I was at their age, but instead offers them reasonable thoughts about what and who God is for them.

We tell them, scripturally, they are God's masterpiece, and that they are as perfect as persons can be when they hold onto the love of their creator. That message would be a good one to pass along to adults in this country as well, as we do what these kids never do, which is to be darn sure we're right all the time.

There has been as many as 62 there  on a Wednesday night, and let me make sure you understand, they're not 62 youth from FUMC-Eunice. There aren't 62 youth who regularly attend FUMC-Eunice.

But like life itself, they wander in, and some stay and some leave and that's the way the Gospel is passed along. They see adults who care in a way maybe some haven't seen adults care in a long, long time. Maybe ever.

I can brag about this event, this staff, because it started long before I arrived, a blessed pastor who still is amazed that this goes on. I've simply grabbed a handle on the bus and held on as great love is shown.

It seems to me that through this all, this is a bit of a look at what Jesus meant for the world to be. These kids don't all like each other, I suspect. They don't all get along perfectly. They've met their share of bullies in time.They've known loss, divorce, pain.

But on Wednesday nights, for an hour-and-a-half, things are good and right with the world.

Oh, they're loud, their rambunctious, they're all the things their age groups can be.

But mostly, they are God's children. That's good enough for everyone.

Anyone from anywhere is welcome with one condition. Come with a smile and leave with one. That's the essence of the Gospel, isn't it?

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

My striving is ....

Yesterday my Facebook pages exploded with the phrase, "My jihad is ..."

And people felt the need to expand upon it. For those who might night know what a jihad is, "It is a religious duty for Muslims." It appears 41 times in the Koran, normally associated with the word struggle. It is about "striving in the way of God."

It is not, as one quickly assumed, always a struggle against the enemies of Islam.

And what the person or persons who began this thing means, I pray, is what is your own striving in the way of God.

After painfully and longingly thinking about this, I don't have a set passion. I want desperately for more to come to Christ, but as the years progress, I wonder just what that means. Just yesterday I had to say goodbye to a friend for all the wrong reason (none of my own), and I wonder just what good I've done, again, in my ministry.

I suspect that as the new year begins, we should probably isolate a passion in Christ, and by that I mean, what will we work hardest on this year as part of the body of Christ? What will be our jihad?

I want to know Christ more. I want to be more disciplined. I want to be more forgiving, and more loving, and more giving. I want ...

And therein lies my problem. After all this time, too often it is about what I want. So, my jihad is to let Christ be more in charge and to have lesser of me.

That should solve some of my striving.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Lonely days and lonely nights

For whatever reason, I've been doing a lot of dreaming lately. I've read that means I'm getting good rest, but I dreamed a lot last night and I didn't get much rest all night, continually waking up.

I suspect what started last night's dreamathon was a sentence by my boss at a gathering we had for dinner in Lake Charles. He was talking to us about what we do, ministers and spouses, when he said, "This is a lonely job."

I hadn't thought much of that before, and didn't really think much of it on the way home, but during the night, my subconscious certainly did.

I dreamed I had been given a job as the managing editor of the Reno Gazette-Journal, a newspaper I worked at 30 years ago this year. Apparently I had worked at the newspaper two times before and left each time because it was so far from home and I was so lonely.

So, the editor or publisher of the paper brought in friends to make me feel more at home (it's a dream, remember). The friends they brought in were from previous churches I've served, friends I miss to this very minute, though truthfully we were never really, really close. But I miss them all the same.

A man I served under years ago as an associate pastor told me that you could not be friends with the persons you're ministering to because you can't be their pastor if you're their friend. I actually thought he was crazy, but as I've grown older and deeper into the ministry I have begun to understand a bit of what he meant (maybe, or maybe he's crazy -- I'm still debating that).

We serve, we listen, we do but through it all we can't really, really become close because in the system in which I operate, I might be gone in June. I know now I wasn't really emotionally prepared for such a happenstance when it occurred this past June. I hadn't ever moved in that fashion, across the state, 3 hours from my girls, and it has been a real, real eye-opener.

Truthfully, I don't meet people easily or well, and not knowing anyone of the clergy to speak of or not knowing anyone, and I mean anyone, of the three churches has taken time and effort on my part to do this. There are times when I feel I'm completely on my own, when my creativity can only take me so far, when the ideas won't come and it doesn't seem we're progressing any longer. I look around and see a plateau -- again -- that a church must fight through. And I get tired of the effort.

Bottom line is in the dream I took the job. In reality, I took the job. No one, not a person, told me it would be easy. From the beginning, in fact, they said it wouldn't be. There are moments of exquisite joy, and there are moments when I feel as if I've been swallowed whole by Job's great fish.

Lord, give me your heart for the ones forgotten, for the lonely, for the ones who find joy so difficult to come by naturally.

And let us all continue to dream.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Cat wrangling

There are some things man simply can't explain. This story is one of them:

Late last week, a cat was detained in the grounds of a jail in Brazil with contraband goods for prisoners strapped to its body with tape. The white cat was apprehended crossing the main prison gate.

The incident took place at a jail in Arapiraca city, 155 miles  south-west of Recife in Alagoas state.
The confiscated items included drill bits, files, a mobile phone and charger, plus earphones The cat was taken to a local animal centre. The jail holds some 263 prisoners.

In what might be the quote of the year when all is said and done, a prison spokesperson was quoted by local paper Estado de S. Paulo as saying: "It's tough to find out who's responsible for the action as the cat doesn't speak." Officials said the items could be used to effect a means of escape or for communicating with criminals on the outside.

Now, I've given this plenty of thought, and if I was in prison, getting any of our dissident cats to do anything to get me out would be nigh impossible. They wouldn't even notice I wasn't there any more if the food continued.

 Harry the refugee I saved from side of the road; Cali, the lost kitty from a RV sales lot; Missy, dropped off as a kitten outside one of my former churches; Trudy, saved after her master (96 years of age) passed away after I promised I would find Trudy a home; Rocky, thrown into the ditch outside another church of mine in the past; and Elsie, the only home-grown, who will not be held for any reason.

You would think with all the saving I've done over time, these guys and gals would be somewhat thankful, but you would be wrong. They live. Anyway they desire, they live. Rocky is the current terrorist in the house, wanting to play with any and all -- except big ol' Harry who doesn't put up with such.

But if I was to tape a bunch of things to their side, and then try to tell them to go save Timmy in the well, they would first, look at me like I was nuts, then they would spend the rest of the time trying to get the dang tape off of them.

So someone out there is a great, great cat whisperer. Course, they're in prison, so the reality show might not be coming too quickly.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Back to the Lake

Interesting how these things work.

Two weeks ago, my wife, Mary, and I determined we were going back to Israel in January, 2014. No, we don't really have the money, but that trip was so important to us, and we feel will be again, that we determined we were going. We would save for a year all her paycheck from her part-time job, and as much of my salary as we could.

Plus, if we got 10 persons to go under our leadership, we would go free. Five persons and one goes free. We were told getting 10 persons would be no worry whatsoever. We were set. We put our first month's tally in the bank on Monday.

Then we started getting turned down by people we were assured were all in. So, five be it. On Friday, today, Mary's employer let her go. Business wasn't happening, so neither was Mary. So, without five persons, it will be difficult to go. But not impossible. No, we don't believe in the impossible any longer.

Our reaction has been one to watch. My normal attack on these matters is to get down, disgruntled, woe is me kind of thing. But both of us have taken the tact that if it is meant to be, it will.

I believe that's called maturity in Christ. I never imagined maturity and me would be in the same frame work, frankly.

Jesus' disciple Peter once wrote, "Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation ..."
Paul wrote, "Brothers and sisters, I could not address you as people who live by the Spirit but as people who are still worldly—mere infants in Christ. 2 I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. 3 You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere humans?"

The reason I still teach Bible Studies three times a week is that I still need to learn. But the good news, nah, the great news is it seems from time to time I seem to be growing. I certainly recognize the growth in Mary.

What will happen? Who but God knows? It might take three years of saving. It might never happen. I pray it does, but maybe we need to put our money somewhere else. I only know that I never felt closer to God than when I was on the Sea of Galilee, and I want to be there again.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Putting 2012 to bed

                Part of the draw of time-travel stories, movies, television shows is the notion that we can have a do-over. You know, start again. Change things. Do things differently, hopefully correctly.
                Since it’s taken me most of the holiday season to win (judges’ decision) the MMA title fight I had with the flu, I missed most of my reflection time. I wasn’t able to give proper thoughts to the year just past. I spent Christmas Eve, after a service in which I actually thought I was going to pass out, in bed. I spent all of New Year’s Eve in bed.
                But now, I’m mostly alert, mostly healthy and I’m looking back one more time to the year 2012, the year the world didn’t end.
                This will be one of those, if I knew now what I didn’t know then I might not know what I know no and wouldn’t have done any of it kid of things.
                The year 2012 was the year of the big move for my wife, Mary, and I. We moved away further from my life in journalism (as journalism certainly did for many friends of mine who saw their jobs wither, die and disappear).
                We found a new home in Eunice, with tentacles in Iota and Kinder.
                The year 2012  was a bad one by some accounts:
1.       In February, At least  79 people were killed and more than 1,000 were injured after a football match in Egypt;
2.       In March, after 244 years, the Encyclopedia Britannica (of which I had one as a kid) ceased to publish a “print” edition;
3.       The Pinta Island Tortoises became extinct when ol’ Lonesome George, literally the last of its kind, died. And I didn't even know him.
4.       September was the month for terrorist attacks, particularly the U.S. Embassy Libya; October was Hurricane Superstorm Sandy, and the U.N. officially awarded the Palestinians unofficial status; November was Israeli-Hamas escalation of rocket attacks, December was Sandy Hook.
         Mostly bad, it seems. Things we thought would never go away, went away. Things we were sure would never happen again, happened all the more.  And we came close to going over a fiscal cliff, as if I didn’t do that years ago.
Everywhere you look, if you look, things are going less than great. We need, a do-over. A good, old-fashioned I did it wrong, but I’m better now kind of moment.
The question, however, is would we fix things even if we knew what was coming? Would we love more, try harder, think better?
Or is a do-over simply not the answer? We head all the way back to the Garden to find that Adam and Eve knew what was coming if they ate of the fruit, but they did it anyway. Would they have changed if they could see all that was on its way after they ate the fruit? I suspect not.
So, what do we do? Just let the die roll and what will be will be?
Nah. I think that’s what grace is for. We don’t get do-overs. We get grace after we’ve messed up one more time, one more month, one more year. And he grasps us by the shoulders, lifts us cheerfully off the ground, smiles at us and says, “this is enough for you. This is the best I can give.”
Yeah, his grace is sufficient. I hope to exercise all of it I can manage in 2013.


Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Back in the saddle (now if I could just find the horse)

I missed it, missed it all nearly. I missed saying goodbye to the old year. My sick(weak)ness of the past week just plopped me into bed for what seemed the millionth time, and I basically slept/lay in bed for all of Dec. 31. No party. No food. No friends. No good times.

Well, except for the food part that sounds a lot like much of the past few years, but this time I was in bed as the word's firework's market exploded (literally) around me in Eunice.

I woke yesterday, finally rose from the sleep of the dead and moved my base of operation to the couch, which I stayed the rest of the dreary, wet New Year's Day.

Now? Back to work, with so much to do and so little time to accomplish it. But goodness, I feel better. Other than an occasional cough that would scare a suicide-bomber, I'm okay.

I still, however, need to look back to 2012. As 2011 came to conclusion, I, as always, looked forward. But in my wildest dreams I couldn't have seen a move to Eunice coming. It's been a good thing, with its own set of challenges, as have the other churches in Iota and Kinder. God has guided us through all this.

As 2012 drove headlong into 2013, I again simply bow to God's presence and will. I have no idea where we're headed, what we will do when we arrive or even if I know we will arrive. I'd like to invite any and all of my readers to consider going to Israel on a trip with Mary and I in January of 2014. We'll be saving and planning that trip all year, I'm sure.

But for the most part, let's pray that the things we brought with us into the new year become fixable. Our divisive nature, our violent nature, our misunderstanding of what grace really means, our ability to work together on anything all need to be worked hard on. We need to change. All.