Friday, May 31, 2013

The time at the end

In Daniel's prophecy, we read, "When I, Daniel, had seen the vision, I tried to understand it. Then someone appeared standing before me, having the appearance of a man, and I heard a human voice by the Ulai, calling, "Gabriel, help this man understand the vision. So he came near where I stood; and when he came, I became frightened and fell prostrate. But he said to me, 'Understand, O mortal, that the vision is for the time of the end."

Don't you love it? For the time of the end, not the end of time. The prophecy strikes like summer evening lightening, and we go down, prostrate on unlevel ground. One moment we're standing, peering into the dark skies with anticipation, and the next we're down, literally down before the living most-powerful God.

Daniel finishes the thought by writing, "At the end of their rule, when the transgressions have reached their full measure, a king of bold countenance shall arise, skilled in intrigue. He shall grow strong in power, shall cause fearful destruction, and shall succeed in what he does. He shall destroy the powerful, and the people of the holy ones."

As I type this morning, a strong dry wind is swaying the tall green bushes that reach out to shake the hands of visitors to the entrance to the side door of the church. Like a couple of gargoyles, the thick bushes flank the open door as if they were hiding clues to entry. These are soldiers of the cross as it were, keeping secret their entry codes. Water, earth, sky are the secret passwords that will open the double-doors to the hallway that leads to my office. The Universe declares mortal entries dancing down through the double doors into the laminate-covered floorboards. I await the next command from these entry stallions.

Today is Friday, and I'm tired from a long week of activity. This evening we, eight of us, take 28 or so youth on retreat. We will be firing up these kids with hot dogs and smores, with ultimate underground church, with rock wall climbing and ropes work and swimming and devos galore. We hope that at the end of their rule, when their transgressions have reached their full measure, a king of bold countenance shall arise. Or something like that.

Interestingly, I never went on a retreat when I was these kids' ages. This is all so new to me, in a way. While the heat builds and the prayer circle builds in power, I ask that God's will be shown to us, and (here's the key I reckon) we do His will.

God's love is better than life. Life is better than death. Death is better than a million years without God.

As May morphs into June, as dark thirty turns into light 60, as the beauty of The Lord makes us stand in silence, I know that God's love will lead someone to repentance this weekend. Let us be worthy of God's calling. Let us be worthy of God's love. Let us be worthy of God's mercy.

Open up the skies of mercy, O Lord, As the healing waters surround us, O God, let us be the messengers of Good News. 

Today, O God, send us out with a bucket-full of living water. Send us out with a deep need for each other. Let us, O God, be glorified so that we might show the glory of the Father to the world. 

Protect us. Keep us. Let your face shine upon us., like a mother hen looking out on her playing brood.

I can only imagine. 

Thursday, May 30, 2013

The silence tapers off

God says to Isaiah: "For a long time I kept silent; I did not answer my people. But now the time to act has come; I cry out like a woman in labor. ... I will lead my blind people by roads they have never traveled. I will turn their darkness into light and make rough country smooth before them. These are my promises, and I will keep them without fail."

I think, in this wonderful prophecy, the key phrase is "I will lead my blind people by roads they have never travelled."

Oh, are not the paths we're traveling so new to us?

About an hour and a half west of us, in Beaumont, Texas, a Southeast Texas school district is appealing a court ruling that allowed high school cheerleaders to display banners that featured Bible verses at football games.

State district judge Steve Thomas ruled the banners were allowed under the U.S. Constitution. But the school district's lawyer, tom Brandt, said the cheerleaders' legal advocates were reading into the court's decision rights that weren't there, or shouldn't be.

One of the banners used to spread between the goal posts so that football players could run through the paper featured the words, "Let us run with endurance the race God has sat before us."

Well, there you go. The world must be coming to an end, huh?

This fight won't stop, friends. It will pick up the pace each year until God is forcefully removed from the public square. That's simply true. We are going to be waging spiritual battle until we surrender.

How one views these battles will be governed by how one views freedom in this regard. Well-meaning folks on both sides of this will continue to squabble and fight until, well, until the battle is decided. I suspect that one day any quoting of scripture will be outlawed in these types of situations.

I read this week that in Kentucky, a one-sentence prayer at a graduation caused another of these fusses. ACLU folks came running from the hills to join the fight. How dare a senior in high school thank The Lord for making it through his studies?

For a long time we've all sat silently. Now is the time to act, to speak, to pray loudly. Now is the time to be led by a God who will not be silenced. Now is the time to seek out the one who loves us most. Now ... is ... the .... time.

Isn't it?

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Shock and awe(some)

When is the last time you were really wowed by your faith? That's the beginning of Sunday's sermon, called "The Wow Factor." I'm exploring what it really means to be wowed, surprised, shocked, changed, pushed, pulled, upset, or any other expression that describes the joy that can be found when God shows up unexpectedly.

Psalm 68: 20 tells us of Jehovah, who comes around every so often and takes the mistakes we've made and fixes them like a  -- "Our God is a God who saves; from the Soverign Lord comes escape from death."

It's a very warm morning here in Acadiana. I hear the sounds of a riding lawn mower doing it's thing. The smell of freshly cut grass permeates the area around our church, like the fragrence of watermellon on an early Spring  evening. 

Elves and angels are dancing to an old Bruce Springsteen tune as Eunice dresses up for the beginning of summer, and sweat has formed a crown of gold on my forehead. The sights, smells, sounds take me back to a time when each day was in itself a wonderful surprise to a kid who spent much of the days by himself before the evening spent at a baseball game or a practice.

Sleeping late after school ended for the summer, I drank in the country air when I arose, and each day -- I promise, each and every day -- was a map of where to find the surprises of the day. Like a treasure map found by some lost soul, I got dressed with excitement, for I knew, just knew that there was something ahead that would squeeze joy into boredom.

I find it surprising that the Israelites didn't talk about miracles much way back when. the notion of a miracle as a divine intervention, ironically, is a fairly new happenstance. Back then (around the time the calendar spread its wings and started over at zero), before modern science tried its best to flatten the wows out of our day-to-day existence, little was known about laws of nature. Kind of like what I knew of Algebra and such in school.

So, the Israelites pretty much decided God had a hand in everything. From blades of grass shooting up in the foggy days of Palestinean Springs to the droughts of late Summer that fried the same blades of grass, God was involved. God was active in everything. God simply showed up, often.

In Jesus, the activity continued. A God who walks on water? Check. A God who brings kids back from the dead? Check. A God who walks in worn sandals and repairs wooden cribs and washes feet and casts away stones while writing in the dirt? Check, check, check and check.

Every day was not only a celebration for the disciples, it was a wealth of surprise, a covey of awe(some)ness. 

Who knew what would come next? Surely that made rising with the Son a great, great blessing for some retired fishermen whose routine had been just that, routine.

I'm preaching this weekend from Luke's Gospel, about the Roman Centurion who comes to Jesus and shocks the sandals off him by asking The Lord, a Jew, to save the son of one of the Centurion's slaves. Jesus gets all smiley faced and says, "I say to you, I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel."

Shock and awe(some) it was.

So, when was it that you felt something akin to that? 

I remember a few years back when my dear wife, Mary, and I went to Cursillo and things went on at that retreat that set my heart a flutter with awe(some) ness. Those kinds of moments when you're simply living as hard as you can, and The Lord of Life comes sneaking up with a wonderful joy to give away.

I would propose, frankly, that no matter how strong our faith is, God is still a surprising God. Look at Abram, who would father a nation though he had great difficulty fathering one child. Look at Joseph, who was sold down the road by his brothers only to find himself near the top of the food chain in Egypt.    

The list goes on like a spark in dry pasture. 

God, of course, knows exactly where He is headed, knows exactly where we're going, and knows the general plan. 

Henry David Thoreau once said wonderfully, "Men who talk about Bible miracles, do so because there is no miracle in their lives." 

Maybe the answer to Thoreau is that every day is a miracle, Biblical or otherwise. What a shock.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Feeling younger all the while

Oh, what a beautiful morning. There was a sweet smell in the air, a distinct lack of humidity, a sense of purpose perhaps after taking a day off. The youth of the church raised 2m412,63 for tornado victims in Oklahoma, with 20 or so using their first day off from school to do something for someone else.

It was a testimony to, uh, something greater than theirselves. It was a testimony to what the human spirit can do. It was perhaps, just perhaps a great, great testimony to a future influx of some might good kids into the church universal.

As I was pondering this morning, fretting over my sinfulness and my lack of growth and whatever morbid thing I could think of, I was greatly, greatly encouraged by the youth of the church. Then I to thinking about how there was no youth group in Jesus' ministry. With all the attention on the United Methodist Church's efforts to get younger or else...isn't it instructive that there was no youth mentioned in the scriptures?

Oh, maybe Timothy.
Maybe this that and the other.

But no UJY (United Jesus Youth) or whatever.

What does all this mean to us? I'm not sure, but I believe that raising a child up in the church still is the preferable course of action in all our lives. I'm pretty sure that because I was, raised up in the church, when my moment of difficulty came, I went scurrying back to what I knew. I suspect that's how this is all supposed to work.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Being the church, on Memorial Day

Today the church becomes the church, again. Today we collect funds to send to Moore, Okla. 

Of course, it's Memorial Day and we could be doing something else. But today, the church becomes the church again.

It's interesting to me that we have few vivid stories in Scripture that show these kinds of random acts of kindness.

My favorite is when Peter goes to the Temple, is asked for money by a beggar at one of the gates and says words to the effect of "Money I have little; but what I have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ, rise and be healed."

Uh, wow.

That's what the church must do today, and other sun bleached days like today. Be, in the name of Jesus Christ, willing to give whatever we have to whomever we come in contact with.

We'll never meet the ones who benefit from our gifts, either taken up yesterday in church or in boots of the fire department today. But we know them, anyway.

What we have, we give, in the name of Jesus Christ. Today.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Jesus withdraws, as do I

There are 320 references to Jesus withdrawing in the Gospels. As an example, Luke 5:16 reads, "But Jesus often withdrew to the wilderness for prayer."

He withdrew to the seaside, to the wilderness, to the mountain tops. He withdrew from crowds, from small groups. He withdrew.

When the stuff got to be too much, he withdrew. When Jesus heard John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. After feeding the 5,000, he withdrew to a boat to be alone. He withdrew to Bethsaida after the disciples had come back all full of themselves after their first evangelistic endeavor. He withdrew.

Why is this important?

For me, it's about attention to the inner me, and the other...God, Jehovah, Jesus.

Jesus said, "Come with Me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest. ''Mark 6: 31''

 I don`t know how this translates for you, but for me it means that I need to spend some time alone with Him to get my mind in tune and my will surrendered each day. For me, the morning is the best time. Then sometimes, I need to spend some extended time with Him . . . a half-day or a day at least once a month. When I first thought about doing that, it was kind of a daunting thing.

I thought: The next time I have a free day, I`ll spend it alone with God.

Do you know how long I waited for that day to come? And then I had to write it down on a calendar. I was reading this week that if you live to be seventy years old or so, you will get twenty-five thousand days. You will have twenty-five thousand of these jars. It would be ironic to get to the end of them and say: I never had a chance to spend time with you, Lord. Just never did.

In a couple of weeks, we're going, almost as a total family, to Orlando. I must admit I do so with trepidation. I haven't really been on a vacation in a couple years, and I'm in a rut. I know it. Probably everyone around me knows it. But still, going for eight days anywhere on the planet seems a lot to me. Dogs. Cats. Bills. Worries remain here.

But I also know that if I don't withdraw from those things, somehow, someway, and spend some alone time with He who loves me most, I'm doing no one any good. I doubt it will come at the top of a roller-coaster, but perhaps it will come when I stay by the pool one day and dream of things to come.

What say you all? Are you withdrawing enough with Him? Withdrawing period? Taking some alone time? Resting properly?

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Moore on the whys of faith

I'm forever trying to spark good conversation, and Tuesday's piece about the storms in Moore, Okla., seem to have done a bit of that.

I got two whole comments, which is about twice more than normal, and they were this:

From someone I believe I know well, Sometimes -- like now -- I think we're just plain wrong to ask "Why?" so dang much. But we humans just love things to have a meaning that our simple minds can grasp - which leads to superstition, the stupidest sort of fundamentalism, and all sorts of easy and wrong answers. The world is what it is; that's just what the deal is! Maybe the only meaning we can give to some things like unfathomable suffering is by responding to it with the Love and Grace God provides. Seems like THAT's what God

From someone I don't know the identity of at all: Events like Moore Oklahoma are why I lost all faith in a personal God many years ago. Is there even a God? The question transcends our ability to understand. All religions were started to give an answer to a question that cannot be answered.

I wanted to deal with these individually, but I also want to make sure anyone reading these know that God allows any and all conversation and so do I. Feel free, as I've written many times, to disagree.

Why is a tough question. I tried to deal with it in this context: When these things happen, and writers write in real time (as it is happening), you get the why question often with suffering. My point is that some of the answers are never going to appear on this side of eternity. Just aren't. Further, my point was that some of the quick answers we try to give are so very shallow we'd be better off not saying them, i.e., God must have needed more angels, I'm sure there is a reason for this, we'll know the answer by and by. Stuff like that simply doesn't help those grieving, no matter how well-meaning the statement might have been.

This whole notion of God spared me -- to me -- is like the one where a football player scores and points to the heavens in thankfulness. Does that mean God favored one team (or one player) over others? Of course not. But we can be thankful to God for our lives, everything in our lives, without saying anything that might not be that comforting to those who were one house over and lost their kids. Why this happened? Well, stuff happens. It really does. God doesn't necessarily pick favorites as near as I can tell, and if God saved everyone, every time we prayed for that, no one would ever die and we'd run out of food and supplies very quickly.

Adam Hamilton of the Church of the Resurrection wrote this of some tornadoes a while back: To find the answer to the "Why?" question, these pastors will suggest, one must turn not to a theologian or to the Bible, but to a meteorologist. The meteorologist explains that tornadoes are naturally occurring events that can, with varying degrees of accuracy, actually be predicted (it was the prediction of the tornadoes by meteorologists that saved hundreds if not thousands of lives last Wednesday night). These pastors may even take the time to explain the weather conditions that give rise to tornadoes. It is not God, they will say, but the collision of hot and cold air, that is the answer to the question, "Why?" ... They will note that a religion whose founder was crucified cannot be construed to teach that God's people will never suffer. God seldom suspends the laws of nature, just as God does not remove free will to keep evil people from doing evil things. ... Many Christians do not believe God sends tornadoes. But they do believe that God walks with his children through the storms, that he sends his people to help after the storms, and that with and through God there is always hope."

I think that says it better than I did, or could.

As for the second comment, we must agree to disagree. I believe so very strongly in a personal God who loves me, because He created me, because He loved me first, because He sent a savior, because, because, because.

I know how hard that might seem to believe if you don't, for I was in the don't column for a long, long time. But I know what I was. I know what I am. And I am reasonably certain through faith of what I will become.

Those things don't change, even when I'm devastated by scenes on television. I can grieve without knowing the whys. That doesn't necessarily stop the whys from coming. But it does provide what we Christians declare to be hope.

Don't stop commenting. Don't stop thinking. The notion that Christianity means checking your brain at the door is an invalid one.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Till they listen

"But how can they call to him for help if they have not believed? And how can they believe if they have not heard the message. And how can they hear if the message is not proclaimed. And how can the message be proclaimed if the messengers are not sent out. As the scripture says, 'How wonderful is the coming of messengers who bring good news.'"

Karl Barth once said, “We have to read the Bible in one hand… and the newspaper in the other.”

I guess I write a bit more than most blogs, this 5-days-a-week thing, but it is my way of connecting. I also write a column for very small newspaper here in my town, and this past week a couple came to the church simply because they read me every week and wanted to hear me preach.

That makes three people in a year, but who is counting?

The point this morning is that limited though the readership might be on these things, I hope they at least stir some limited amount of discussion about what it means to live in the Kingdom in American in whatever year you're reading them.

When disaster's strike, I'll comment.
When politics wander into religion, I'll comment.
When right invades left and left invades right and we flounder, I'll comment.

Doesn't mean I'm right. Doesn't mean I'm more knowledgeable about all these things because I'm not. But how can we call to him for help is someone hasn't pointed the way. Near as I can understand my role, limited though it might be, that's what I will try to do.

One of the best things I've read recently is a Q&A with writer Shane Claiborne who says, "The best critique of what is wrong is the practice of something better. So let’s stop complaining about the church we’ve experienced and work on becoming the church we dream of. Let’s keep refusing to accept the world as it is and insisting on building the world we dream of. Don’t let the haters have the last word. There are folks who burn the Koran and hold signs saying, “God hates fags” and all sorts of sick things — and they often hijack the headlines with hatred. We know that is not what Christ was like. Jesus has survived the embarrassing things Christians have done in his name. So let’s get back to a Christianity that looks like Jesus again. After all, he said that they will know we are Christians — not by our bumper stickers and T-shirts—but by our love."

Seems to me the direction to head in the storm of storms. Love has to be the answer to it all, the whys we do we do as it were.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

And where was God in Moore?

This blog is called That's Life, because it is, life I mean. But there are times when it succumbs to the pain and suffering that covers us all because that surely is life, too. Today is such a day.

Yesterday I wrote about being worn, worn by life, worn by effort, worn by illness, worn by weight loss (and subsequent great tiring of eating low carbs for two months). I filed the blog in the morning. I had no idea how later in the day that message would become even more impacted.

While watching my two-hour block of sports programming yesterday, hell came to visit in Oklahoma City suburb Moore, Oklahoma.

When the message scrolled onto my I-pad, I turned to the weather channel. The effect on my afternoon was chilling. Such destruction I've seldom seen. Even going through Hurricane Katrina seemed to actually shrink before the storm damage I was watching. Hurricane Sandy? A blip on the radar it seemed. I do not mean to denegrate the suffering caused by these two events, for they were more deadly actually.

But what it brought it all home to me, to my heart, to my eyes, was the two schools hit. I can't, simply can't imagine a more devasting moment than that.

I watched a man and a woman running to grab on to a kid who had seen them and come running through a debris field. I saw other hugs and kisses from the air and wondered their story. I read that "all you could hear was screaming," and I imagined once again what that must be like, and I went back to Newtown, and I went back to Pearl, and I went back to Columbine.

As Marshall Ramsey, a funny commentator and artist who lives in Jackson, Ms., put it: "That (Plaza Towers Elementary) is our worst nightmare when we send our kids out from our doors each morning."

Trying to put it all together, which is something I do quite a bit it seems, I was taken by a comment from an unknown 72-year-old who lived through the chaos. "The Lord took care of us. My security is not in my hands. It is in the Lord's." I ponder this because I wonder if he understands that saying that, as innocent as it might seem, says something horrific to those who lost children this mournful Monday? If God saved him, then why didn't he save their young? What did they do that would cause God to allow this sort of thing to happen to them?

Then I saw the hundreds of well-wishers on Twitter and Facebook, all saying they were sending prayers. I wondered if the day before they were praying for anything at all? The cynic in me, which rises far too often, says probably not.

And I thought of what God actually says about suffering. I teared up thinking that the answers are so very meaningful, but would seem so shallow, I think to someone pulling bricks and mortar and even a car off a school teacher who had three small children under her when she died  the answers might seem so innocuous.

And James said: Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
And Peter said: And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.
And Paul said: For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.

Intellectually, I understand finite versus infinite, short sufferings vs. eternal glory. But in my heart of hearts, I suffer for the lost and the least, seeking answers, not peace, not now, not yet, and certainly I suffer for those people who lost the dearest things in their lives, and I'm not talking homes, cars or even the terrible loss of those horses in the destroyed stalls..

And I sit and I ponder while workers are frantically pulling children out of the wreckage, passing them one adult to another, as if they were some sort of human barricade against fear. I sit and ponder with TV reporters breaking down describing the scene, and I can't help but wonder, God forgive me, "Really. Uh, really? This is what we do? This is what you meant when we fell? This is how you show your soverignty?"

And I think of Jesus lifting his deadly heavy head so he could cry out from a deadly heavy heart, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"

And it gets dark in Oklahoma, and I ponder some more.

And I finally remember Job. Ol' Job. Who lost everything. Who would not curse God and die, though that would have been the convenient way out of it all. After everyone around him tries to tell him he, HE, is the reason for the calamity that has befallen him, he keeps asking for justice for himself because he has remained righteous. In other words, I've not done anything and this is my reward?

And finally, God appears to Job in a storm and gives a stunning account of his majestic works and power. Job, humbled and overwhelmed, acknowledges God's right as Creator to do whatever he pleases. God rebukes Job's three friends and orders them to make a sacrifice. Job prays for God's forgiveness of them and God accepts his prayer. At the end of the book, God gives Job twice as much wealth as he had before, along with seven sons and three daughters. After that, Job lived 140 more years.
And it is all neatly wrapped up with a bow on it, right? Well, actually God never answers the question that is before us...why this suffering of the innocent?

So, I do not know why this happens, why it keeps happening, why in a world with so much technology and such, nature can take it all away in a few minutes, leaving holes in lives that will never be filled. Never. Like love, pain can go on forever.

My answer then, as slight and easy as it might seem to anyone who actually is going through the suffering as opposed to someone hundreds of miles away writing in a nicely lit office, is that this too shall pass. And I feel guilty simply thinking that, but I do. It is the only thing I know that gets us through.

God told the Israelites (in captivity, I might add), 'When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.'
God told the early church through the Revelator, "He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
And Jesus told his disciples (almost all of whom were killed for their beliefs),  "I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

The fact is you believe those light house beacons of hope or you don't.

In Oklahoma, like maybe in Texas today, like maybe Mississippi a while back, like maybe Missouri last year, or Alabama or the East Coast or the Gulf Coast, the darkness grew Monday by leaps and bounds.

But the light of the world has overcome the world, our world, even this ravaged weather world. Our prayers of comfort will continue long past today. Our help will come. Supplies and water and such will be on the way. We'll pray for and counsel and pray some more.

Till we have to examine suffering again the next time or the time after that. And we will remember that when Jesus was screaming to a darkening sky about being forsaken by God, he was quoting from Psalm 22, which ends like this: "All the rich of the earth will feast and worship; all who go down to the dust will kneel before him -- those who cannot keep themselves alive. Prosperity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord. They will proclaim his righteousness -- to a people yet unborn -- for he has done it.:

He has done it. It's just dang tough to remember on days like mournful Monday when the wind came sweeping off the plains.

Monday, May 20, 2013


Ah, Monday and already a doctor's visit in the bag. My home away from home, it seems. Lately. Monday's. Three straight weeks of doctor's visits on Monday. Sinus headaches/infection, back, now I have a rash.

I'm pretty sure I'm allergic to work, but as I told the doc, I'm also pretty sure that's all I'm allergic to. He said it might be poison Ivy. I told him I had been to no forests, glades, woods or any kind, and never have I picked flowers or such. So, it's probably not poison Ivy. And no, I don't know if the p in poison should be capitalized.

So, today I'm starting off a Monday -- cruel, cruel timing -- with little sleep last night for all the itching, and did I mention it's Monday?

Who decided Monday's would be so difficult, by the way. There's little mention of days of the week in the Bible so I think it wasn't Jesus' idea.

I was thinking all morning about how out of it I feel, and somehow that led me to this notion: Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. Matthew 11: 28-29.

I'm not the sharpest tool in the shed, but I'm certain Jesus meant those who are weary and burdened by the awful toll the Mosiac Law took upon people, who simply couldn't do it all, all the time.

Matthew Henry said of this verse: "Those who labour to establish their own righteousness also labour in vain. The convinced sinner is heavy-laden with guilt and terror; and the tempted and afflicted believer has labours and burdens. Christ invites all to come to him for rest to their souls. He alone gives this invitation; men come to him, when, feeling their guilt and misery, and believing his love and power to help, they seek him in fervent prayer. Thus it is the duty and interest of weary and heavy-laden sinners, to come to Jesus Christ. This is the gospel call; Whoever will, let him come. All who thus come will receive rest as Christ's gift, and obtain peace and comfort in their hearts."

But I will say that it also speaks to those times when it all seems to pile up on us like debris from a tsunami. And no matter what anyone tells you, it does pile up. We all need a release. We need something that will lift the worry, pick up the problem, heal the boo-boo. That, it seems to me, is what Jesus brings to the dinner.

Does he fix every problem? Well, I'm a preacher who didn't do much sinning yesterday  and I got the best looking rash you ever wanted to see (or not).

But he is there to talk to about it, to listen to us wail. That's enough, it seems to me.

Christian band Tenth Avenue North has a song out called worn. The lyrics are:
I'm tired, I'm worn
My heart is heavy
From the work it takes
To keep on breathing
I've made mistakes
I've let my hope fail
My soul feels crushed
By the weight of this world
And I know that You can give me rest
So I cry out with all that I have left

Let me see redemption win
Let me know the struggle ends
That You can mend a heart that's frail and torn

I would continue, but I've scheduled a scratching session.

Come to him, all who read this who have heavy burdens of any kind and let us see redemption win.

Friday, May 17, 2013

The best when only the best will do

It was the best of times, and it was, well, it really was the best of times. Waves upon waves of joy and laughter broke against the barrier, shattering like crystal on a moonlit night.

My day, this Thursday with the kids and grand kids sandwiched around softball, baseball and memories thick with joy, was a royal blue as the sun set behind the ball fields at Terrytown Playground, with rivulets of deep purple shooting into the sky all kingly and such, looking for all the world like a trident held by Godly hands.

Perfect? Nah. I've never run headlong into such. But what it was, was, pink cotton candy on a Saturday afternoon in May, the sillouette of my past paving the way to the future's mystery and surprise, with each new grin a happening I never deserved and I certainly never expected.

It was like the stickiness in the middle of some great and grand living sweet roll,  this day, grace-filled, deep and dark and decorated with wow, stuffed with unicorn elixer,  dripping with unique Billy sauce.

The moment gathered itself in a field outside of New Orleans and presented itself to the court of all is well. My wife, Mary, and I came to simply spend a day with grand children, taking in spontaneous joy and then our plan was to drive back this morning, spent but happy.

But even as "that moment," a small and tender page from Sears and Roebuck's Spring Miracle Catalogue, blossomed beautifully, as the outer skin of the evening drew and crinkled like an exceedingly old pair of loafers. It was a moment, an afternoon of them, a wish-dream that produced a wonderful trophy (our lives together) the size of an alligator-gar -- tough as real leather but tender as marinated Alaskan Cod fish..

But in thinking back yesterday's sweetness, it's bittersweet rule on each of us, that afternoon when we spilled what we were onto what we might have been, it was beyond what some strangers might perfect. Perfection, I reckon, doesn't exist I reckon this side of eternity or at the very least has never existed outside of the circle of Jesus.

That's okay. I have no trouble admitting my lack of perfection, nor do I have trouble seeking it in Jesus.

But for a minute or two Thursday afternoon, we danced till we were in silent smiling pain, then we sat quietly. The best of times didn't cover what it truly was, I suppose, nor did it hide what it truly wasn't. It just didn't.

But as the gasps of willowy clouds dotted and shapes the world's landscape, that which  I've come to see in a couple of old grand parents as we've ripped out rot and age, it would simply have to do this day.

The best of times is what we dwell on. The best of times is what we sweat to buy. the best of times is what we get for our buck.

Thursday, that's what we got.

We put the best on, walked around in it, and smiled. That was truly enough for one afternoon.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

We could actually do something about this

It is very evident to me that Evanglicals worldwide still are passionate about what they believe. I would interject, however, that perhaps many are passionate about what could be the wrong things.

From human trafficking and global hunger to religious freedom and homelessness, it isn't difficult to paint a vivid picture of what the good news of the gospel means in practical, human terms. But what we seldom notice is we could actually do something about these things. I mean really do something.

Since it's mostly about money, one has to believe that what we're not doing, what we're not seeing means we've decided not to do it.

“If you think the gospel is about getting people to say the ‘Sinner’s Prayer’ so they can get their ticket to heaven, then your gospel has a hole in it,” said Richard Stearns, CEO of non-profit organization World Vision.

“Jesus sends us to restore and renew our broken world. The great commission was a sprawling vision … of a new kind of human flourishing that would take the world by storm. It was an invitation for all to come in and to live differently.” In other words, Stearns says, we need to spend a great deal more time restoring our world than in restoring our coffers; we need to spend a great deal more time helping humanity succeed, rather than doing what we can to bring down sin in that same group of people.

Hey, I've not hugged a single tree lately, but I acknowledge the need to be as green as possible. I've never in my life had a discussion about the slave trade, but I know we must start soon and very soon. Ideas about religious freedom have covered me in grace-talk the past couple of weeks. And don't get me started on hunger.

The article, written by Cathleen Falsani for the Orange County Register, pointed this out:

"Do you begin to see what would be possible if the church really took seriously the call of Christ to show the world a different way to live?”

The trick is for Christians to “move from apathy to outrage.”

And what should the moderate Christian be outraged about?
  • How about the hundreds of millions of children who go to bed hungry and don’t have access to clean water.
  • Or the more than 25 million people who are trafficked in our world as slaves.
  • Or an estimated 2 billion people who live in poverty.
  • Or the staggering 20,000 children under the age of 5 who will die today – and every day – of preventable causes, such as malaria and tuberculosis.
“We’ve got to get outraged about the right things in our world," Stearns said. "We’ve got to see the world as God sees it. We need to love what Jesus loves, we need to value what he values. And we need to let our heart be broken by the things that break his heart.”

It is far too simplistic to say Jesus didn't mention some of these topics, didn't preach on them, didn't teach on them, therefore we don't need too, either.

It's flat-out wrong to suggest that Jesus wouldn't be outraged with what we've done to His planet, His children, His resources. Making Jesus political, right or left, is repugnant. Making him loving, sharing and caring is like weeping over Lazarus, still in the tomb. You know he's coming out because you've seen the end of the story, but still, there he lies in a prison formed by stone.

We have the resources, I strongly believe, to change the world. But first, I'm afraid, we must change ourselves (or allow ourselves to be changed) before we start work on this tired, old planet and it's tired, old inhabitants.

Heck, World Vision estimates that the cost of providing clean, safe water to every person on the planet would be about $70 billion. “This one intervention would drastically reduce child mortality, it would allow tens of millions of children to attend school, it would free up millions of hours of productive time for women, and it would change life in rural communities dramatically,” Stearns said.

Jesus, on the last night he would spend in an earthly body, prayed -- yes, yes, yes you read that right -- for each one of us to do something special. He didn't pray for maddening closure of our disagreements, didn't pray that we would finally fix our financial woes, didn't pray that we would shrink our ever-expanding guts and deficit.

 Nah. Nothing like that. But if Jesus simply used his power to fix the things we've wrecked, it would be like painting a big ol' smile on the big ol' frown of the very infamous grumpy cat.

No, Jesus prayed, literally prayed as rivulets of Messiah-blood ran down from his forehead, that somehow, someway, we would be unified. Beyond king and country, beyond white-picket fences and conservative mantras, way out there beyond liberalism's clarion call for change, out there where love comes to mature, there Jesus prayed. Knee on stone pebbles, prayers rivited and focused.

He wanted us, needed us, to be one, as he and the heavenly Father are one. Down through the corridors of time, Jesus walked, asking for the then, praying for the now. One. Unified. Shared deeply.

I mean, come on. That's it? No parting of the Mississippi River? No jettisoning of our friends and family in a pique of remorse? No loss of limb, no loss of dreams big or small? No sacrifice to an angry God?

Be one Jesus prayed. Allow us to be one with each other, with him, with the Father, with the Spirit. As the Beatles' Ringo Starr banged out the rhythm of a generation, wailing "Come Together," so a bunch of harried disciples did and so, too, do we now.

For the article, Stearns keeps counting, giving us a rendition of Mad Mathematicians Gone Wild (or something like that). "...For $370 billion, we’ve covered food and water – and we still would have more than $670 billion left. For $86 billion, we could wipe malaria, one of the biggest killers of children under the age of 5. For $30 billion over 10 years, we could give microloans to start new businesses to 100 million potential entrepreneurs and that would create 250 million new jobs.
We could, as Stearns says, “effectively decimate extreme poverty and human suffering” and we’d still have $454 billion in the pot.

That money exists. So why isn't it being used to eradicate the sin we've grown in political pitre dishes?

Perhaps because we're too busy.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Better duck. There are rumors of Christian dynasties

This week has seen the Facebook world alive with reports that A&E network, which televises the hard to describe but amazingly fun to watch reality show Duck Dynasty, is fussing and fighting with its television show's stars.

The program is about the Phil Robertson family of West Monroe, La. If you don't know the show at all, let's just say there is nothing like it on television; heck, there might never have been.

Recently 9.6 persons watched the Season 3 Finale, meaning more folks watched it than American Idol that Wednesday night. In cable-programming, it's those dead guys over at The Walking Dead on top, followed closely by those gun toteing, Jesus loving Robertson folk.

Typically, the show concludes each week with the family praying for thankfulness over what God has given them as they prepare to eat dinner together. Recently Phil's son Willie, who runs the multi-millionaire operation Duck Commander (which makes duck calls, among other things), tweeted that the show had been renewed for a fourth season.

On Facebook this week, however, one would have thought it was all but over, and one would have seen clearly the reason. Phil Robertson stood up for Jesus.

If you’ve checked your Facebook or email this week, you might have been treated to a surprising story of how Robertson has been fighting the network that airs his show. Mainly, the story says that Phil has taken a stand against A&E in order to keep the two topics in the show. Supposedly A&E wanted to tone down the topics, and Phil said that was what the family does and it wouldn't change for anything. One report even had the network cancelling the show rather than continue to show the clan praying to God together.

Problem is, none of that was true. None.

 To have a show’s star speak out against his own network is a big deal. Take Charlie Sheen for example. No, really. Take Charlie Sheen. Get him off TV. Really.

But especially when it comes to faith and guns, two hot-button issues, sure networks would like to steer clear.

Gators? Check.
Ducks? Check.
Beaver dams? Check.
NASCAR? Check.
Family issues? Check.
Beards the length of a basketball court? Check (to see if there's any remnant of food remaining that one might snack on).
Happy, happy, happy? Check, check, check.

But guns and Jesus?
Uh, no. Not if A&E could help it. Or so we were told.

It's understandable how this would be cringe-worthy for those "yuppy" types, as Phil and his brother Si are prone to say.

But Jack, that's the program. That's always been the program. If one doesn't care for it, doesn't want to laugh out loud, then one need not watch. I'm not sure Phil would mind a whole bucketful of crawfish if there was no show in the first place.

So, the whole thing sounded sideways to me, though one person on Facebook even said he had heard it on Fox News.

So what’s the truth? There’s nothing to it, family member and Phil’s oldest (and non-bearded ) son Alan Robertson said recently.

“The rumor that A&E told the Robertsons to tone down guns and prayer is not true,” Alan said in an email to TheBlaze, adding the description of “false” to the chatter. “We continue to partner with A&E to make a great tv show that reflects our family’s values.”

So, good story that was lapped up like milk for a kitten by the "religious right" turned out to be false.

Upon a quick look at this, there seems to be no harm at all in these types of things. The rumor certainly did nothing but help the standing of the Robertson family among its demographics.

So there's no harm, no foul, right?

Well, it could be. It’s a “boy who cried wolf” situation. There is real persecution happening all around the globe today, persecution for Christians, even death to Christians for simply believing. There's plenty of truth that shows Christians being able to do less, say less today in this country without someone, somewhere making things up. When things like this happen, it dampens the discussion later when persecution really happens. Non-believers then simply turn a deaf ear to the cries.

Anytime a rumor like the Duck one takes flight, it takes away the focus on real, live, painful persecution.

Christians have been persecuted since Jesus ascended. Don't be fooled. It's going on right now in some part of the world, and though the left would argue, it's going on in some forms in this country.

Not long ago Western Christians used to read about the horrible persecution of the church in Communist countries such as the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. We read about the great exploits and sufferings of Richard Wurmbrand (Tortured for Christ), Haralan Popov (Tortured for his Faith), Brother Andrew (God’s Smuggler) and others who ministered amidst great hardship and opposition in Communist lands. Phil ain't one of them, folks.

Sure, the US does not yet have its own Gulag for those troublesome Christians. But the way things are heading, it may not be all that far off. Increasingly it is becoming very risky indeed to publicly proclaim your Christian faith in the secular post-Christian West. There is no getting around this. In the light of all this, every one of us must start asking ourselves some very hard questions.

Are we willing to pay the price for following Christ publicly and boldly? Are we committed to our Lord so fully, that we would be willing to lose our jobs, be heavily fined, or spend time in prison for the sake of Christ? Are we willing to give our very life away for the sake of the gospel?

But remember, it is always easier to say we will die for our Lord. It is much harder to actually live for our Lord right now. Will we walk with him along the road less travelled? Will we join him on the Via Dolorosa? Will we take up our cross and follow him as he has called us to do?

And will we fact-check each rumor that heads toward us so that the truth is what sets people free, not a made-up story that someone wants us to pass along or say we don't love Christ.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Planning my funeral gets harder every day

I'm the kind of spontaneous guy you know and love. I'm so spur of the moment, I've for years been building my funeral service plans. You know, just in case an asteroid or two fall out of the sky, right on me.

Mary knows my choices. I've given some serious thought about writing the obit, except that falls into the jinx category and I don't want to get too far ahead of myself. Might bring the asteroid on down because of it, if you know what I mean. But scriptures selected, check. Songs selected, check. Preacher decided, check, check and check. Although I don't know what I'll do if Louie Giglio is busy. Maybe just go with Adam Hamilton or T.D. Jakes or David Platt or you know, someone slightly less famous.

But my choices for many things I want to happen at my funeral service -- which by the way I see as a party not a dirge and won't have it any other way if I can help it -- continue to morph slowly as I spend more time on earth that I could possibly have imagined. Like Mickey Mantle was supposed to have said, "If I knew I was going to live so long, I would have taken better care of myself."

Anyway, sometimes God speaks with more volume than at other times. Let me explain. I was doing a funeral for someone I had never met yesterday afternoon. The night before, sort of as a mood breaker or mood establisher, the kind of thing I do to help myself become prepared for the duty the next day, I was playing some videos right before bedtime. I wound up playing several versions of the same song as it spoke with the echoes of God straight to a tired, worn heart still looking for words that would describe a man I hadn't met to those loved ones who had.

I listened because I had begun to love (again) the Vince Gill tune "Go Rest High On That Mountain." I first heard the tune years ago when it was requested by a woman who was dying. As we prepared for what would be her funeral, a couple weeks out of course, she told me she wanted that played and she wanted bag pipes playing Amazing Grace at the end. The combination of those two events at the end of her funeral were staggeringly emotional, I must say.

I really hadn't heard that song again since. Not on radio. Not anywhere. I was as familiar with it as I am with asparagus. I know they exist, but that's about all of my experience with them.

But Gill's song was requested for the funeral of an ol' cowboy, so Sunday I thought about it all day long and somehow it became part of my preparation.

Gill's lyrics are simple, but so, so expressive.

I know your life
On earth was troubled
And only you could know the pain.
You weren't afraid to face the devil,
You were no stranger to the rain.

Go rest high on that mountain
Son,your work on earth is done.
Go to heaven a-shoutin'
Love for the Father and the Son.

Oh,how we cried the day you left us
We gathered round your grave to grieve.
I wish I could see the angels faces
When they hear your sweet voice sing.

Gill began writing this following the untimely death of Country music superstar Keith Whitley years ago. Gill didn't finish the song until a few years later following the death of his brother. Thus, the song is a tribute song to both Keith Whitley and Gill's brother Bob, who died from a heart attack in 1993. Both had histories of problems with addictions, so the song spoke to those kind of lives. Troubled. Work on earth. Angels faces hearing a sweet voice sing.

Goose bumps on weathered skin.

Gill has said "I wrote this song, and I didn't have any idea if anybody would want to hear it, or like it. All I wanted to do was grieve for him and celebrate his life. That's how I always process grief—sit down with a guitar and make something up. Turns out that if anybody remembers any of my songs, it'll be this one."
In my research, I came across some of these tributes to the song. (These are verbatum)
"My Daddy passed away Oct.25 2011, He had just turned 71 Oct.14 he had heart problems for 35 years. But he never complained about anything ,and he never acted like he was scared even when it was time for him to go. He stilled tryed to make all of us ok . I am Daddys girl and it was the hardest thing I have ever had to do in my life to tell my Daddy it's ok to go and we'll all be ok and see you as soon as we get there. Everytime I heard this song it reminded me of my Daddy, so when we were planning the funeral I told my Mom I wanted her to here this song because it was like it was wrote for him. She listened to it and we all cryed like babys . We played it at his funeral. Daddy I Love You and miss you its so hard without you , but I know your not hurting or in pain anymore. Daddy had a voice so deep when he sang , so when I hear the verse I wjsh I could see the angels faces when they hear your sweet voice sing . I know your ok (sig.) now your singing in heaven and your still watching over all of us. I Love You and miss you Daddy so you rest high on that mountain and sing as loud as you can and we will see you soon."
- susan, maryville, TN
"The first time I heard this song was at the untimely death of a close family Teddy. When this song came on everyone went quiet and simply absorbed the words. He loved the country, horseback riding and he enjoyed going to our family house on the highest hill in Georgeville village in the Cayo District, Belize and so this song couldn't have been more for his. I LOVE this song even though when I hear it, it brings tears to my eyes."
- kim, Belize, Belize
So, on Monday when my meager efforts to help the family through the grieving process by giving a few hopefully comforting words were done, I sat down and waited in pained silence. Then Vince Gill's sweet tea and molasses voice, as pure and angelic as any in music, came sliding out of the CD player and the wonderful sound system.
Tears came down like Southern spring rain. My own eyes misted, though again I never met the deceased. Gill's song became OUR song at that moment, and for a few minutes I think we were all transported somewhere else where there is no pain and no loss and no need for grief. A place where we don't need to make sure we've packed heartache and sorrow in our weary baggage.
I now know a song I want added to my funeral choices. Previously I had Elvis' I Can't Help Falling In Love With You, Rich Mullins' Elijah, Van Morrison's Brown Eyed Girl now will be joined by Vince Gill's Go Rest High On the Mountain.
And who knows? Carrie Underwood's version of How Great Thou Art might be making a move on the outside, along with a late contender, Brad Paisley's When I Get Where I Am Going.
I long to go rest high on that mount so much I might even ask my wife, Mary, to go looking for some bag pipe players. Wonder if there is a listing in the yellow pages?

Monday, May 13, 2013

The memories we create

The memories we've created will last far longer than the path that lies ahead. -- Steve Jobs talking to and about Bill Gates.

I'm writing from a melancholy mood this morning, this bright, cool, wonderful morning when birds are doing a rendition of Amazing Grace and the lingering of memories of Mother's Day's past are just that, past.

Yesterday, a dear lady I used to visit from a former church, Miss Ruth, died. She would have been 104 this year. I had pretty well decided she might as well be Methuselah or some such. She would never die. But she did. A couple of days ago, she slipped away mentally. Her body came following.

I will never forget going into her little house behind her daughter's house one day and she was watching LSU women's basketball, which she loved. In fact, she loved all things LSU and we had fun joking about that.

I was privileged to be able to go to her 100th birthday as her pastor. I was surprised, though, to see two previous pastors from years back there in a real honor that isn't matched often.

The memories we've created will last far longer than the path that lies ahead.

This afternoon I will officiate a funeral in a little Louisiana town called Kinder. Carl Bebee will be laid to rest (which is an interesting phrase as old as burial itself, though he's been resting since Saturday.

Two days before his death, he caught pneumonia, was taken to the ER, and never came out. I have never met Carl, but I bet I know him. He lived, he was a veteran of World War II where he received many honors. He is survived by three sons and two daughters and a passel of grandchildren.

The memories we've created will last far longer than the path that lies ahead.

Reflection, I think, is a good and honored practice. Reflecting on whom we have loved and are gone is like a blood transfusion for the dying. It's not good to do it all the time, but when it happens, it always picks things up.

Mother's Day is kind of like that for me. Every funeral I do or even those I just attend is like that. All that is remembered is the good times, the memories that have been created that seems to linger with us all despite ... well, everything.

You know, in a way, that's what we've been doing with Jesus all these years, remembering. That's what the Gospel really is, remembering, what he said, what he did, who he was, who he is. That's the memories created that have lasted longer than the path that lies ahead for all of us. Get that. All of us.

Jesus said this: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.”

Those words, in the darkest nights of the soul, keep me going. I remember who said them. I remember the circumstances that they were said in. I remember them as friends saying goodbye. I remember then when I have communion. I remember them. That's what reunions, funerals, Mother's Day are all about.

The memories we've created will last far longer than the path that lies ahead.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Thunder falls

Fear. Icy fear. Fear that makes you different some how. Fear that makes you walk the floor. Fear that makes you someone else.

That's the fear that one of our Doxie's, Breezy, develops when the storms start roaring through. And today, during the long, long night, the storms came roaring through. Thunder that sounded like sure destruction. Thunder that didn't clap, but instead pounded. Lightening that made the sky outside look day-like. It was an impressive storm.

But not if you're a little dapple. He was scared beyond scared, out there in space where no one can hear you scream kind of fear.

Icy. Perhaps even deadly.

So... we didn't sleep last night. Breezy didn't either, and I felt for him when I wasn't drifting in and out. Mary doctored him as best she could, taking him outside the room at one point. But his fear didn't leave till the storms did.

I've read in the past couple weeks about this new device called a thunder coat. It's supposed to relieve the anxiety in the dog. I've also heard you can give the dog benadryl. Perhaps.

I can't help but think this morning of the story in scripture where Jesus does some spiritual benadryl handing out.

 Matthew's Gospel tells it this way: Suddenly a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping. The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!”  He replied, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm. The men were amazed and asked, “What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!”

It is instructive that I could do nothing to help Breezy. Nothing I could say or do would help. Only the stoppage of the storm could do the trick. Only Jesus has control over such.

What I needed was a Sons of Thunder coach I suspect.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

What you've missed

Hi mom!

Long time no see, or hear. Six years I guess it's been.

Thought I would update you on how things are going. You've missed a few things.

We'll start slowly. Remember that TV show that we watched while we were evacuated from Hurricane Katrina, the one that kept us from spending even more time with you? Turns out it was my favorite TV show of all time. It went off a couple years back and I've been Lost with out it ever since.

Anyway, you've missed all these grandchildren growing, playing ball exactly like I used to. You missed Carrie's wedding, and you never met Gavin or Emma, or Mia or Karli. They would have liked you I suspect.

You've missed my decision four years ago about leaving journalism and going full-time into the ministry. I suspect that would have scared you a mite. But I also strongly figure you would have supported it, because thinking back there was never a thing I did that you didn't support, even when you shouldn't have.

I miss Lizelia. I miss honeysuckle in the spring. I miss the nights out there. I miss my child-hood home. I miss, well, home. I don't figure I'll ever really have one again. Just the lay of the land, Mom.

I went to Kansas City last year and visited Aunt Berniece. I suspect that would have made you quite happy, for we talked about you quite a bit.

As I sit and type, Pandora radio is playing The Old Rugged Cross. Do you remember when I sang that in Cuba, Ala., at the camp meeting and I froze about half-way through. I was only eight, but I will never, apparently, forget that moment.

You've missed Jason's singing career advancements, and Shanna's professionalism through adversity. You missed her husband Danny's motorcycle accident that killed him and left all of us devastated for quite some time. That anniversary is just nine days away. The last time I ever saw Danny was when they came out for Mother's Day in 2007. Thought you would like to know Shanna has done some wonderful juggling of job and parenting. Gabe and Gavin are, well, Gabe and Gavin. Funny, temperamental, hyper and all the things a couple of boys under the age of 10 should be.

You've missed Carrie's maturation into a wonderful mom. She and Emma are sensational together.

And you've missed Mary making congregation after congregation feel loved because she's loved them with all her being.

You've missed, well, a lot. And a lot has miss

Thanksgivings and Christmases have been so different. Food is different. Schedules and phone calls and such have changed. Now that we don't technically have a home any longer, I will forever regret that you missed seeing it.

Sunday is Mother's Day. But I suspect that for this adopted, only child, every day has always been Mother's Day.

Say hello to Aunt Nita, Blannie and even Dad. Let Jesus know I'm trying, and ask him if on occasion he might just help my unbelief at times with a jolt of faith. And when I sin, ask him to throw a bit more grace on the pile, cause I sure need it.

Talk to you again next year, unless I get there soon.


Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Hope smiles from the threshold

In this era of excessive celebration and muted statements about our beliefs, what would the world make of this little guy out on an island of his own?

It was, an is, a tiny Greek island, this Patmos. Still has less than 3,000 folks living there. About halfway up the mountain, along the road that separates the communities of Chora and Skala is a cave, a grotto, that is supposed to be the one in which John the Revelator, the writer of the last book found in the Biblical Canon, did his best work. Call it an early That's Life, if you will.

I can only imagine. John the Revelator, banashed apparently from his loved ones, his friends, even his own past, having the vision that would settle into our lives like a friend we never understood but never forgot. While there, he had a vision that he recorded. The controversy began probably soon afterwards. Was the vision of the apocolypse for then, for now? What do we do with this? What is the code for all these images? How do we understand this whole piece?

I'm in the I don't know category there.

But I'm in the this is the most hope-filled of the books after the Gospels to make the Canon category, as well.

In the 22nd chaper, the last by the way, we read this:

"Then the Angel showed me Water-of-Life River, crystal bright. It flowed from the Throne of God and the Lamb, right down the middle of the street. The Tree of Life was planted on each side of the River, producing twelve kinds of fruit, a ripe fruit each month. The leaves of the Tree are for healing the nations. Never again will anything be cursed. The Throne of God and of the Lamb is at the center. His servants will offer God service—worshiping, they’ll look on his face, their foreheads mirroring God. Never again will there be any night. No one will need lamplight or sunlight. The shining of God, the Master, is all the light anyone needs. And they will rule with him age after age after age."

Through it all, through it all there is hope. Not a flimsy hope, but a hope that surpasses all the stuff we go through.

Emily Dickinson said of hope, “Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul
And sings the tune without the words
And never stops at all.” 

At the time the writer of Revelation wrote, people were "truly" being persecuted. Death was often a real deterent to vocalizing what one believed. Banishment to an island wasn't far behind. That isnt' what we in this country face. We're still able to worship. We're still able to speak. If someone makes fun of those choices, so be it. That can never stop hope. You think John Wesley, speaking to hundreds out in a field, didn't get some who said he was daft?

But to have hope, when the world seems hopeless and unsavable is, well, the ultimate courageous statement, I would think.

Alfred Tennyson said, “Hope
Smiles from the threshold of the year to come,
Whispering 'it will be happier'...” 
Sometimes that's all we have, you know? But in the darkest of nights, all we need to do really is look up and see the stars of the Creator. I believe God is the ultimate true source of hope. I believe that God has made it possible for us to hope. I believe that's what politics squeezes out of the conversation. Hope. Real hope.

How do we hope things turn out for our children and their children is a question every single person in the country should ask themselves, and take our own unworking solutions and political beliefs and start the hope over.

The answer for many, not all certainly, is to have God in our lives so that we can hope for more than we ourselves can ever possible provide. I recognize that not all will feel this way.

Someone once wrote, "When you have lost hope, you have lost everything. And when you think all is lost, when all is dire and bleak, there is always hope.” 

I think that's what John saw. Dire-ness and bleakness all around him, the day-to-day gone bad, but when all seemed lost for the early church, how great thou art.

I think all of us need a little hope this morning. I offer this as my share.
Smiles from the threshold of the year to come,
Whispering 'it will be happier'...”
Alfred Tennyson

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Westboro goes to the Grove in Oxford

I was looking for my next subject yesterday afternoon when I came across the notice on Facebook that the good folks from Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas are going on a field trip. These guys are the protesting bunch, an American Independent Baptist church. This time, they're agenda includes making pretty darn sure most of us are going to hell without even the benefit of a handbasket.

On May 18, they're going to protest in Oxford, Miss. Now, having attended Mississippi State, I reckon there is a lot to protest in Oxford, but this group is going to be hauling signs around with rather vile words on them, having decided that God hates this and that.

Their Website statement says, "Another idol of Doomed USA is Ole Miss, your football idol, featured in movie, "The Blind Side." Did we tell you, God hates idols?! Shortly, God will cast down all the idols of this nation, and in that hour, you WILL get an understanding of the Blind side -- just before God drop kicks you rebellious, idolatrous back sides directly into hell! All the players will be there, and you can get up close and personal with them, as you curse each other FOR ETERNITY. That is a LONG time!

"When God turns his hand to destroy Doomed USA, pursuant to His plain word, He will destroy all your false gods. Exodus 12:12 For I will pass through the land of Egypt this night, and will smite all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgment: I am the LORD. You should have heeded our warnings, and put away your idols and feared and obeyed your God!"

Wow. My first reaction is they should spend some time studying grammar, but I digress.

That's a mission statement that is a whole lot to process. The fact eternity is a LONG time is strangely new to me. Quoting a portion of Exodus about the Passover as rationale for protesting football is extremely new to me. I assume they're against the spread offense that Coach Hugh Freeze is using at Ole Miss, with all that passing and such.

Anyway, evidently they never heard of Ole Miss before seeing this movie about four years after it came out or else they've confused Ole Miss with LSU or some other recently championship program (oh, they're going to Tuscaloosa, too, I see).  Gee, the Rebels have one lousy winning season and all Westboro goes nuts.And they apparently don't have much of a football calendar or they would know that this isn't football season, even spring football season, so the players and fans won't be paying much attention.

By the way, Westboro is pretty well convinced all us Methodists are joining all football players in hell, so we can commiserate with Rebels fans.

This all got me to thinking about this judging thing. Let's look it over in scripture and come to some conclusions.

First, there's the very famous Gospel rendition of Jesus' sayings about judging, which everyone whips out if someone says something about whether they're sinning. It's very popular among the sinning class for some reason. Matthew's version reads, "“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye."

But James, Jesus' younger brother, gets in on the act. "Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?"

The Apostle Paul travels the same path: "Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things. We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things. Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God?"

Seems fairly conclusive, although we must add what Paul said to the church in Corinth to make sure we cover this entirely. "It isn't my responsibility to judge outsiders, but it certainly is your responsibility to judge those inside the church who are sinning."

So, this notion of making random judgments about who the heck is going to hell seems rather misplaced. Jesus made a pretty big fuss about it, always noting that there is ONLY ONE lawgiver and judge. He also said time and again that we are not to judge so we wouldn't be judged the same way.

That doesn't mean we can't judge what sin is based on scripture, but that it's really none of our business who is doing that sin in private. That's between the ONE lawgiver and judge. And Westboro, or me and you, isn't the ONE.

Finally, if football is going to be the idol we condemn, well, they better get a whole lot more signs ready, I'm afraid.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Excessive celebration


I feel like Michael Corleone... just when I think I'm out, they drag me back in. I even wanted to skip this subject when my wife told me about it, but it now has moved to the top of my favorite search site on the Internet.


Here's the story:

A Columbus (Texas) High relay team was disqualified for one of their member’s heavenward gesture. The incident occurred in Columbus, where the track and field team was hosting a meet with the goal of qualify athletes for the state championship meet later in May.

The school’s 4x100-meter relay squad achieved just that in winning its race decisively. The anchor of that 4x100 squad was junior Derrick Hayes, who ran a particularly blazing split and celebrated the team's state qualification by pointing a finger toward the heavens.

Then things broke loose. The simple act was deemed to have run afoul of a University Interscholastic League (UIL) regulation barring excessive celebration.

Once officials at the Columbus meet determined that Hayes had violated the excessive celebration rules, the entire 4X100 foursome was disqualified and effectively barred from the state championships.


Now, I actually believe this is about an organization trying to stem the rush to do all sorts of things as celebration, but still. A finger toward, uh, what?

We've reached the stage, it seems, that we can't acknowledge who we think gives us all we have, we have a problem, Houston.

“He put his hand by his ear and pointed to the heavens,” Hayes’ father, KC Hayes, told a local television station. “It was a reaction. You’re brought up your whole life that God gives you good things, you’re blessed.”

You're blessed unless you offer a preference to God, then you will be persecuted. That is the message, meant or not, that this act confers.

Sigh. We've got to get a grip, soon, or all will one day be lost.