Friday, August 30, 2013

The strength of God

Imagine receiving snail-mail that reads, "I have not stopped giving thanks to God for you. I remember you in my prayers and ask the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, to give you the Spirit, who will make you wise and reveal God to you, so that you will know him. I ask that your minds may be opened to see his light, so that you will know what is the hope to which he has called you, how rich are the wonderful blessings he promises his people,and how very great is his power at work in us who believe. This power working in us is the same as the mighty strength which he used when he raised Christ from death and seated him at his right side in the heavenly world."

These thoughts were coming from the quill of the apostle Paul.
These thoughts were coming from the greatest theologian of both his and our times.
These thoughts were coming from perhaps the greatest of the many great minds of scripture, from one who was provided with magnificent thoughts by the very Spirit of God.
These thoughts were not Paul's own, I believe, any more than mine are my own. I pray for thoughts that will reveal Christ to the world, not the world to Christ. I pray for revelation that opens the Word of God to the understanding of man.

But mostly, I pray that the incredible strength God used to change Jesus from frigid connected parts to a warm, beating heart will be used by any and all readers to see the next right thought put into action.


God has made us what we are, and in our union with Christ Jesus, he has created us for a life of good deeds, which he prepared for us to do before we were born; heck, before we were ever thought of. God created us to make a difference, in life and in thought and particularly in deed. He did. The Bible says we have been saved through faith, by grace. Like tearing through beautiful wrapping paper, we have ripped our covering apart and shown what was underneath. Sometimes the beauty of the outside must be torn open and apart.

We were spiritually dead at one point, washed ashore on the worst of spiritual beaches, covered in those little rocks that slip into shoes and poke holes into our existence. We were casually crawling with seaweed and other things that we simply won't name. We were without spiritual worth, poured out from waves onto the shore for collecting. God let us live, one mere lucky moment in a lifetime of unlucky ones.

Paul described our lives this way: "At the time, you followed the world's evil way; you obeyed the ruler of the spiritual powers in space, the spirit who now controls the people who disobey God."

The old, weathered and worn boat at the edge of the sea we were traveling was filled with one too many passengers, none of whom were doing any paddling or baling or even any sopping of slimy, dirty brown water. We were lucky, so very lucky, just to have washed ashore. We were lucky to the nth degree just to have found something someone would call land. That we could call it shore, that we could say we had landed, well, that was just miracleous. We should be dead, as in gone. No heaven. No land without tears. Just a bit of stubble and a slice of the next life.

This morning I pray that whatever is next be opened to you. I pray that whatever is next be shown. I pray that whatever is life be shown to you as if the birthday party or Chrismas morning were wrapped into one glorious moment. I pray that you have cried tears of joy until your ducts are dry. I pray that understanding is yours.

And I pray that all the answers to those many questions are yours.

In the interim, I pray that all those answers were enough. Why, why, why does it go this way? That's the strength of God, in the long run. Somewhere down the road there will be mighty arms reaching for you. That's enough, in the long run. That's enough, for you, for me, for us.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

The beginning or the end?

So, I checked into the hospital for a 1,000-mile checkup, and after sedation and sleep, much, much sleep, I'm back.

I find I missed, basically, a day.

And what did I miss? Well, apparently the beginning of Armageddon.

From the religion news network this morning, I read:

For these Christians and Muslim, the civil war in Syria heralds nothing less than the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.

Before you label the premise as a conspiracy theory, consider that there are a number of Muslim videos and several Christian websites — not to mention conservative talk radio shows — all making promoting versions of this unfortunate connection. And that’s wrong.

The Judeo-Christian and Muslim texts mention Damascus as an important landmark in the geography of the Second Coming. To some Christian and Muslim scholars it was only a matter of time before the conflict would reach Damascus. So keen are they to share their analysis that the moment you say, “Damascus,” they say, “Ask us!”

Ask any Christian friends and they quote Isaiah 17:1: “Behold, Damascus will cease to be a city and will become a heap of ruins.” Note the language. It does not talk about destruction. It suggests annihilation after which Damascus will cease to exist as a city.

Isaiah 17 then ends with a vision of Armageddon, which brings Jesus Christ on the scene. Jeremiah 49 and Zechariah 9 make similar violent references regarding the fate of Damascus.

Muslims they quote Chapter 4 verse 159 of the Quran which indicates the Second Coming of Jesus. Prophet Muhammad prophesied “Allah would send Christ, son of Mary, and he will descend with the white minaret, east of Damascus, wearing two garments lightly dyed with saffron and placing his hands on the wings of two Angels,” thus directly linking Damascus with the Second Coming. Surprised?

I sure was. I missed the opening of this volley because I'm, well, was not paying attention. I missed the middle because I was heedlessly not paying attention. More than 100,000 have died in this civil war in Syria, and I never noticed. Till we started talking military strikes, and I began researching a piece for this blog.

But here's a thought: I should, and I will pay attention. My prayer life must change. It must include those nameless and faceless individuals who are dying over, uh, what?

I pray for peace, because it's an entity we know little of.

In Syria, the ‘West’ is backing (and very likely arming) the rebels, who have been cutting off the heads and otherwise executing captured Syrian soldiers, and these soldiers opposing them are only fighting because, if they don’t fight, they’re going to be shot by their own side, or because they’ve heard stories about the soldiers on their side having their heads cut off, so they’re so incensed and afraid and compelled to kill these people who will, they believe, cut off their heads, if they’re captured.
The ‘East’ is backing (and very likely arming) the Syrian ‘regime’, which is fighting against perceived rebels that are cutting off the heads or otherwise executing captured Syrian soldiers.

The thing is, the ‘West’ is backing (and very likely arming) many of (not all, by a long shot) the same sort of people they’re fighting in Afghanistan, and have been fighting in Iraq… just as they did to groups in Libya, when they decided that Gaddafi was no longer their friend, after being his friend and taking his oil in the decade previous - until which he wasn’t their friend - despite knowing his record of dictatorial abuse against his own people.

It's time we stopped the merry-go-round because we need to get off.

Is this the end of the beginning or the beginning of the end? I know not. I do know that we should pray that the God of all power, the head of heaven's armies, come when it is time, and not before. We should keep an eye to the skies, with a heart to those who do not believe.

And then, what happens, happens.

On a day off, or not.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Sopping eggs with bits and bites of toast; dipping rare steak in runny eggs; my Lord what a morning

Later the Lord sent this message to King Ahaz: "Ask the Lord your God for a sign of confirmation, Ahaz. Make it was difficult as you want -- as high as heaven or as deep as the place of the dead*"

"But the king refused. "No," he said. "I will not test the Lord like that."

But Isaiah said, "Listen well, you royal family of David! Isn't it enough to exhaust human patience? Must you exhaust the patience of my God as well?All right then, the Lord himself will give you the sign. Look! The virgin* will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel (which means 'God is with us'). By the time this child is old enough to choose what is right and reject what is wrong, he will be eating  yogurt and honey."

So, there you go. From the prophet's mouth comes Immanuel. From the prophecy itself comes God is with us.

This morning -- a dreary, mopey, gray day that features little hope and even less yogurt (or curds) and honey -- we're teetering on the brink. The prophet Isaiah tells us, commands us to wait, squeezing all the human patience we can of  the prophetic toothpaste from the prophetic tube. Isaiah rewards us all with a sign, God with us, but still we must wait, and wait, and wait.

Till when it seems that we've exhausted all the patience we can ever call on, a sign, the sign is given, the gift is rewarded, the moment comes shockingly and surprisingly. The Bible tells us once and perhaps for all that by the time this child is old enough to choose right and reject wrong, like some cosmic election day, the Lord will start whistling up an army or two.

Friends, out on the street corner, screaming for an eternal being to be with us, the sign is with is, given to us, rewarded to us. As we are near that blessed moment, sign-giving what it is and all, the Bible fairly shouts, "You wanted it, now you've got it."

Little bitty pretty one, we sing, we dance, we chatter with teeth endlessly rattling on. What a special, special moment ... God is with us, in us, by us.  God is refreshingly lifting us higher than we've ever been lifted before, and it just doesn't seem to want to stop. Higher. Higher. Love lifting like we're not going to ever let it stop.

Depression, gone.
Anger, wiped away.
Love keeping on lifting higher and higher. Horns blaring, high notes screeching like, well, like Screech.

Chewing yogurt and honey like they were steak and eggs. ... curds and whey like they were bran flakes and sweet milk ... syrup and a dose of pancakes like they were the last bite we will ever take.

Work it out. Mash potato. Do the twist. Tell me baby, do you like it like this?

Seems the morning gray is burning off rather smartly.

My Lord, what a morning.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Let it rain, and let us dance

Remember when we could see  rain come tip-toeing across the pasture toward us, and we didn't run like an old fox in a field? We just stood there for the longest time, till that shower finally reached us.

Remember when we could see streaks, huge streaks of light and dark reaching from what the Bible calls the heavens down to what the Bible calls the earth and that always let us us know that rain was happening across the way?

Remember when it not only wasn't something that bothered us, this getting wet thing, but it was in fact actually pure fun? When the rains came and we liked it?

 In many ways, that was as close to pure worship as some of us will ever get, that moment when we danced in a summer rain. Threw down a few steps with God himself leading. Laughed, cackled, danced as our hair got wet and our day got dampened. It was worship, with no building, no plan, no book. Just us, and the rain of God that pointed us to the reign of God. It was a thank you from God to his over-burdened and self-absorbed and self-stressed creation. It was a a dance order for the serenity of wetness awarded to us by a God who dances equally, joyfully with us. He splashed in puddles of his own making. And we surrendered to him who made us but has been looking for us in a battered Garden ever since.

We let the rain pelt us, and it mattered not. Let it melt us, and it didn't disillusion us. We stood there, swinging to an unknown rhythm from an unseen music-maker and we let there be a spiritual deluge. No calender. No to-do list we were falling behind on. No bills. No diagnoses. No jeopardy. No worry. Just us and the dance master.

We let it teem down, beat down, shower down, roll down our body as we turned around and did something we never do anymore because we're so full of stuff we have to get done. We laughed out loud, and never once looked around to see if people were in on the joke or not. We let the emotional and mental cats and dogs come sheeting down from the skies upon us, your people, your children, your needy, your hopeful. We let it rain.

Today, I feel like dancing again. Today I see the two or more of us, standing stand out on a country road, green shrubbery and trees and lush bushes on either side of the road, shade blocking the sky. I see the rumpled clouds starting to open like that wonderful scene in Independence Day that was stolen right out of Close Encounters when the space ships settle down after ripping through our atmosphere turning clouds into giant pink cotton candy beings. I see the rain start, with drops as big as 50 cent pieces hitting the dusty back road ... plop, plop, plop onto the dirt, causing a screen of dust to drift heavenly with each large drop plowing the road.

I see it like it is happening right now, but it was back when we were little kids with matted hair years away from the pressure of daily combs and brushes as a matter of routine,. We wait for the rain like Christmas Eve, wait for it and wait some more till the rain picks up pace and production and soon we just allow an hour of our busy lives to pass swiftly by as we just stand on that dirty gravel road of time, and we let the soaking rain come.

And we just don't care. It just doesn't matter that we're starting to get wet. Then we get wet. Then we get soaked. And you know what we do? Not a darn reasonble, adult-like thing. Nada. Nothing.

You really want to know what we do?

We dance. Together, or even alone. We dance in the summer rain, and the world not only accepts it, it rejoices in it. We dance away our cares, and what's for lunch or dinner and what's the next thing on our PDAs we have to accomplish.

Like Prince on a Super Bowl night, we sing...  never meant to cause you any sorrow
I never meant to cause you any pain
I only wanted to one time see you laughing
I only wanted to see you laughing in the purple rain.

:Like Ian Hunter we dance in the summer rain and sing ... Billy said this town is dying,
It’s dying just to be like me.
He was fighting everything in sight,
Died when he was 23.
I used to meet him down at his cafe,
He had one eye on the door
And the other on the writing on the wall.
He’d get restless and angry and we’d all laugh
’cause we weren’t really scared,
We was his friends, he wouldn’t hurt us at all
And all he’d say was rain, rain, rain.:

Like the Temptations, we danced and we tell the world we it would rain; Like Milli Vanilli, we lip-sync the words about blaming it all on the rain. The rain increases and we joyfully listen to the "Rhythm of the Rain.

Oh, we will sing. We will dance. We will carry on, as my Mama used to say. Heck we might even take time to discuss the book that Garth Stein wrote about the Art of Racing in the Rain that has little to do with art or racing or rain but has everything to do with living and dying and sharing along the way.

Still, through it all, we ask that it keeps raining. Because somewhere along the line we grew up and supposedly grew wiser, and somewhere along the line we started taking colorful umbrellas in case it started to rain, and we put on rain coats just in case, and we started putting rubber boots into the trunks of our cars just in case. And somewhere it all just got boringly dry, and we squeezed all the life out of living, If it started to rain, we went inside. If the cool, sweet-smelling breeze coming off a summer rain happened to embrace us, we shut the windows.

Oh, Loving, Magical, Miraculous Father, eliminate the bitter clutter from our lives today, and let it rain again. Come to us a in a tsunami of love, racing into our leathery-dry lives. Oh, let it rain, my Father, my Papa, my Abba, My Jehovah, My Adonai.

Let rain return to gushing down like when we were so desperately young; let the type of rain that so seldom comes anymore because we looked up and we were painfully old come again in bucket fulls.

Father, treat today as if it were a glorious mystery solved only by the greatest of detectives, and let life be elementary again.

Let the rain of eternity's prom begin again, letting us slow dance as if we had all the time in the world because we do in God. Let us love each other with the sweetness of first love, all anticipating and shyness and coyness and exploration as the rain begins for us again in the corners of mediocrity. Let God's Spirit spark the morning sun's rays, with clouds of steam rising all around us. Let the Spirit of God draw the moon's fullness and cool beauty to us like magnet to iron, and again let your rain flush us from disturbed sleep.

While men and women squabble about what they deem to be important moral matters, help us remember that you God just shake your head and you DANCE. Let's join the Lord of the Dance in what really matters. John Fogerty wrote two rain songs, one of which reminded us that it's possible to see the rain falling down on a sunny day.

So, let the rain of the Lord come down this Monday, let it drizzle this Tuesday, let it pour this Wednesday, burst from seeded clouds of mighty joy on Thursday. Let this week of magnificence flow like water from the streams of mountains He carved. Let the shouts of triumph come racing through the valleys between those same cold rocky mountain tops of Israel. Let the writer of mountainous love stories pen again epic tales of nation's created, families founded and generations begun all based on where the rivers flow.

Let 10,000 prayers of beauty sing out; let 10,000 songs of grace meet and diminish 10,000 songs of pain; let 10,000 blessings rain down on God's people today.

My Love and Adored one, let your Spirit envelope us, cover us, immerse us in re-invigorating God-water. Like water for a thirsty pet, let us dive down, down, down into the darkness and coldness of the deep pool, and come back up refreshed, ready to dance again.
As the music flares, soften us like newly stirred dirt, pat, pat, patted with rain water. Let us stand in needy wonder, in rows of plowed earth anticipating the slow, life-sharing, life redeeming rain. Let us dance as the moving soybeans.
As the ground shifts, and the the freshness crumbles, as the earthworm crawls somehow through the very ground that had seemed so impossibly hard just hours earlier, as the clouds turn in handfuls of gray and somehow the wind lifts and places down by the hand of intelligence not accident, and the flow of God's tears race down the grandest of faces in the soon to be grandest of skies, let it rain. Let us dance as wheat and cotton and corn.

Let it all begin with my one prayer for rain. Let it rain, and let us dance.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Batting 1,000 ... and the summer flies

Today is my 1,000th post. My wife, Mary, asked if I was going to do something special to mark that nice round number. My answer: Nah.

I pray they've always been special in some way, though I know that's a bit presumptive.

So, I go back, back, back. To the first one, on the seventh of November, 2009. It read:

Life, I believe, comes at us in seasons. Nothing is stagnant. Change is a part of all we are, all we do. Nothing stays the same. What happened in winter doesn’t last till fall.

There’s a song on the radio as I write this that has a line something like this: The batter swings and the summer flies.

Sure seems that is the way it happened. One day I sat down in the rocker on my porch and the next, the winds were blowing cold and it was almost time to take the rocker in for the dead of winter.
It seems that it was really just a day or so ago that I was young enough to swing a bat and run like the wind. A slow wind, admittedly. The joints were flexible.

Summer was fun.
Seasons change.
The summer flies.
And I’m here. Looking back.

God is there through the seasons. There’s the freshness of spring where God works to help us understand our newness in him, where the rains are sweet and we don’t mind being damp one bit.
There’s the white-hot excitement of summer where God leads us into territory with Him we never knew or dreamed of. We long for the mercy that comes with each morning. We long to grow. We want to know him, and we don’t know how to pull that off.

There’s the peace of fall, where the wind is gentle and the air is light. There is no peace, no love like God’s. We begin to understand what the relationship with Jesus really means. How do we live with daily contact with a savior who we can’t see or feel? How do we live with a relationship with the unseen?

And there is the winter of bleakness, where we struggle with death and loss, where things aren’t what we thought they would be, where that relationship we so longed for simply can’t be found.
Each step of the way, there is God. God in the days. God in the nights. God with us in our loneliness. God with us in our joys.

His footprints are easy to see, but more often than not, we see them after we’ve walked through the season.

This blog is my effort to look at all the seasons through which I’ve, those around me have passed through, in the past few years. It covers all seasons, and I suggest that it covers all persons. I will be blogging five days a week as I move from the season of the Times-Picayune (New Orleans newspaper) to the season of full-time ministry.

Perhaps you can find yourself in the stories, in the line at Burger King, buying a new car, having kids, grand kids. Perhaps you’ll laugh. Perhaps you’ll find insight.

Not everyone has my background, my problems, my worries, my woes. Not everyone has gone through the pain of alcoholism, lived through Hurricane Katrina’s aftermath, lost love ones to cancer.

But everyone has someone or been someone who has had some problem like those in a dark time and come screaming into the sunshine of joy on the other side.

Somewhere in the balancing of the pain of life and the love of God is where we live, not as stained glass portraits but as flesh-and-blood it’s happening to me today God people.

On the porch, rocking away, watching the summer fly by.

Let me introduce you to the seasons I’ve experienced. Perhaps you’re in there with me. I suspect you are. Maybe you will laugh. Maybe you’ll recognize God in ways you never dreamed. Maybe you will recognize yourself.

Read them daily if you will, the way seasons are felt, absorbed, lived.

Feel the joy of the Lord, the dryness of a desert, or the warmth of a winter fire as I did when I wrote them over the years.

Nine hundred ninety nine blogs have followed, mostly Monday through Friday. We've explored whole books of the Bible. We've explored one or two line passages, lifting entire morality plays out of a word or two in scripture, and we've explored today's headlines. Together.

I've lost two great pet friends, moved from one charge (one or more churches strung together and served by one pastor) to another, this time with three churches. I've moved from a home we were buying, to our first parsonage to our second. I've seen and commented on the New Orleans Saints winning a Super Bowl and the New Orleans Saints being involved in one of the biggest scandals in NFL history, Bountygate it was called.

The blog have become a bit more famous, a bit more read, and even have become fodder for a Sunday column that is now in two newspapers in the Acadia portion of Louisiana.

Mary and I have been to Israel, and we're trying desperately enough to gather enough money to make a second trip (donations are certainly accepted).

Our grand-children have grown; our number of pet rescues have, as well.

What has passed, mostly, is time.

I've set no goals on the number of page views or number of blogs written or whatever. I've had more than 25,000 page views in these four years and/or 1,000 blogs. Somewhere in the vicinity of 50 hits per day generally has been the norm. Some days were much bigger, like when I called for New Orleans Saints football coach Sean Payton to come clean about his role in Bountygate. Some were much, much smaller as when I taught from the book of Nehemiah about leadership.

A high of 241 hits to a low of about 20, the days ranged.

But not for a moment did God ever forsake me. Through 1,000 blogs, God was constant, even when I was not. He was holy each morning, righteous each evening, whether I was blogging from the woods or from the beach, blogging from a joyful existence or blogging from a pained one, pondering from Israel's mountains to Florida's sands.

For a 1,000 miles of wordy expression, God was only good, was only sovereign, was only God -- trustworthy, forgiving, forgetting -- walking each step with a stumbling, sinful fool alongside.

Even when it was hard, maybe especially when it was hard, God comforted, loved, held on to, willed me into submission as if I was a training pup.

Till we arrived here, together. One thousand strong (and occasionally weak), I believe this has been the quest, to go together into the unknown where we most often find God.

The scriptures say Job (beaten and beaten up, worn and worn out, wanting and wanted) listened to God say, "Do you still want to argue with the Almighty? You are God's critic, but do you have the answers?"

Job squared his shoulders, looked into the heavens, into the throne room, into the arms of God himself and responded, "I am nothing -- how could I ever find the answers? I will cover my mouth with my hand. I have said too much already. I have nothing more to say."

God said to Job, "Brace yourself like a man, because I have some questions for you, and you must answer them...ARE YOU AS STRONG AS GOD? Can you thunder with a voice like this? Al right, put on your glory and splendor, you honor and majesty."

Job answered these and many other questions from the Lord. "You asked, 'Who is this that questions my wisdom with such ignorance...You said, 'Listen and I will speak. I have some questions for you, and you must answer them.' I had only heard about you before, but now I have seen you with my own eyes."

The batter swings and the summer flies.

Till the next 1,000 or so.


Thursday, August 22, 2013

When we're done, we go home

The previous career, that whole journalism thing, provided a rather interesting spiral of life (not necessarily circle, but a spiral. Because of my life's journey, in which I found a God who loved me so desperately much while I was at an advanced age, there are people who once worked for me who later became people for whom I worked. In other words, I kept demoting myself over the years so that I might do more and more ministry. I literally passed some folks going up and coming back down in my career.

A couple nights ago, I received a call from one of those persons, a delightful guy whom I've known for well more than 20 years. He was looking for career, and as he called it, moral advice. Over a few minutes of a phone call, he described a job offer from a newspaper in Louisiana that included full-time pay and full-time benefits and a full-time move versus what he's doing now, correspondent or springer pay for stories done from the house he and his family share in Slidell. He told me how much he loves writing at home, getting what is the inexplicable rush that comes from doing a job well, from seeking and finding inspiration from people sharing their stories with someone who at some point found out they loved telling those stories as a way of making a living.

I listened, an acquired gift not sought, and finally told him that it seems to me he had been offering himself the answer all along. I told him that happiness can not be bought and sold and though insurance benefits seems to be the key to life these days, they really aren't. A breath of silence on his end was followed by, "I guess I really have known what I want to do all along."

Though I am not adept at making plans, particularly plans that I will adhere to over a great deal of time, I'm particularly interested in discussing the idea of plans. From early on, I had a plan, a plan for a career, a plan for life as it were. I sort of still do, though the plan has really, really, really changed.

Now I know who the planner is, whereas I once was sure that I was that person.

God says to the prophet Isaiah in one of my favorite verses, "For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope." Does that mean God has planned each day of our lives and we're simply tasked with accomplishing that plan, and if we do not handle it daily, we've failed? Do we get a cosmic to-do list at the beginning of each day and are given the task of checking off boxes (talk about a "magic-marker" indeed).

I understand the school of thought that believes that. I disagree, though. I believe rather handily that God has plans for us, with the ultimate plan being we receive the grace (and thus salvation) He has designed for us. I don't think the Devil is necessarily in the details. Actually, I think that's where life is lived, out there in the details.

I believe God's plans include our living to the fullest, living sacrificially, living well. Does that mean that if we attempt to achieve the plan (and will) of God we will be rich, in good health and things will always go swimmingly? That, I'm afraid, I don't believe and I don't believe scripture teaches. Heck, Jeremiah himself -- who had those remarkable discussions with the master planner of master planners -- struggled with career choice and career outcome.

So, what's the idea of all this plans business?

About four years ago, right at 1,000 blogs earlier (this is the 998th), as my life changed measurably from one arena to another, we began pondering a trip -- Mary and I. We began to look into traveling to Israel as more than a mid-life moment. Seemed like a notion whose time had come. Seemed like the impossible would be achievable.

As August, 2009's flaming heat turned to the more manageable September and October and November led us into the holiday season, we planned for moving from our house into a parsonage for the first time, and it seemed every day brought new, unique challenges. It was a slow-burn life's arson.

I retired -- (from a career in journalism, writing, editing, designing for 34 years) at the end of September, with the official date being Nov. 24,  then I waited for the slow walk out through paper work and vacation day burn offs and such.

I retired -- (from what I once thought was the only life and only "plan" I would ever know) then when person after person asked what I was going to do after I retired, I kept telling them I was going to climb the hills around the Holy City, something I knew nothing about.

I retired -- (from what I knew, to what I would know, the daily routine, from interviewing subjects, from the thrill of feature writing, from "job" and from "career") then got busy, busy, busy.

I had not given a great deal of thoughts to planning before the Times-Picayune suddenly decided it would give those of us who were desirous of life-change a year's salary, a year's benefits, a year's slide into retirement, and I was the first person at the New Orleans newspaper to say "yes" to what would become the dish called difference served cold, like revenge and justice.

That was four years ago, and the trip to Israel was as memorable and wonderful as anything we've ever done. The trip into full-time ministry has been alternatively exciting and/or stressful, then boring and/routine.

There have been days and even weeks where I'm completely out there on my own and days and weeks where I'm wondering just how much of God's will and plans I really do know. I had gone into this thinking people simply wanted someone who was so devoted to them as their pastor he or she would do just about anything for them. I assumed if I was that person they would be renewed and inspired and they had just been hanging around waiting for the new, next Great Awakening that was coming roaring down the ol' spiritual tracks.

Well, no.

I found that in many churches people are accomplishing exactly what they want to, no more, no less. I was surprised to discover that some really, really don't want more ministry than what they have, don't want to serve more than they're serving, and they've been getting along famously without this new (old) full-time minister and no amount of teaching, continuing education, new programs, etc, will make a difference to them. I found that I wasn't the answer they'd been waiting for, in other words. I found that the hardest part of this new "career" was getting volunteers to do what they've been asked to do and that is the job, in many ways. In the old "career," I could boss persons into movement. In the new one, I could not. I had to lead. I had no real idea how to achieve that, either.

Now, we are following the same path as then. We're, Mary and I, actually saving to repeat the trip to Israel, and again we're making sacrifices and such as we explore avenues of earning money. I'm not sure at all we will be able to put away enough money to pay for this. I simply pray about it, pretty much every day, and try to do my best.

Slowly, we're discussing, Mary and I, the notion of retiring -- this time from the ministry at some point in the future. We're praying about paying bills off, changing the way we do things, thinking about what happens if we do this, that and the other. We're talking about burial insurance and things that I certainly never paid attention to before. As time passes, we're exploring more and more what seeking God's plan for the final parts of our lives means.

While doing all this, I came across (as I always do) some pertinent scripture. The story here in Luke's Gospel is of a man in the ministry, Zachariah, who has been called to perform priestly duties. He does, then receives a word from a heavenly visitor:

" But the angel said, “I am Gabriel, the sentinel of God, sent especially to bring you this glad news. But because you won’t believe me, you’ll be unable to say a word until the day of your son’s birth. Every word I’ve spoken to you will come true on time—God’s time.” Meanwhile, the congregation waiting for Zachariah was getting restless, wondering what was keeping him so long in the sanctuary. When he came out and couldn’t speak, they knew he had seen a vision. He continued speechless and had to use sign language with the people.

"When the course of his priestly assignment was completed, he went back home."

I think that ultimately describes life. It's chunks of doing our jobs, then finishing, then going back home. Do I want folks to ultimately say about all these things I've tried to accomplish they were done with great spirit and intent? Sure. Do I want a sense of accomplishment strung together like Christmas lights around the roof as a beacon to what has been and what will be? Absolutely.

But I think probably it's more like this in the end: When Zachariah was done, he went home. He packed it up, and went home. He couldn't talk about it all, but he put some things together and went home. He finished his calling, he went. Home.

Maybe in the end, at the end, during the end, life's plans come down to that moment when we simply do all we believe God has called us to do -- which invariably means teaching, preaching, praying, loving, passing along, and offering the Gospel as best the talents and gifts of God allow us to -- and when we're done, we go home. No more. No less. No beauty of perfection heaven and no firey brokeness hell. Just home, and not home. With God. Without.

Knowing home is where not the heart, but where God is, is a secret well kept and met.

When we're done, we go.



Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Deadly boredom

He was jogging along a road. Just jogging. Doing nothing to provoke. Just jogging. Pumping legs slowly, not running from nor to anything, as if time was a play thing he owned a hunk of in ways some of us never will. Till they took time away, stole time like it rested in a wallet chock full of tomorrows.

The teens couldn't find anything to do, apparently, so they did whatever came to mind., and a handgun was what came to mind. A gun. A bit of death warmed in a barrel of boredom and pain and death. Boredom reached up and grabbed them by the throat, and they surrendered to horror's seduction, to evil's desires, as if they had picked them up at a bar or something sinister.

The guy, just jogging on an Oklahoma August evening, was 22. Twenty two, with sunsets and sunrises right there waiting for him for the rest of his life. Yep, he will forever be 22, because he chose to go out jogging, and three imbeciles decided to fight boredom with murder.

I know some folks see them as kids, and think they smell teen spirit or something, but ultimately what they smell is the stink of stupid choices. They're 17, 16, 15. Ha. Teens. Read that slowly. SEVENTEEN YEARS OF AGE AND SIXTEEN YEARS OF AGE AND 15 YEARS OF AGE. Teens. And teens need to have things to do, as if playing chess would have kept the evil at bay.

What is the cost of boredom, plain boredom, sheer boredom, frightening boredom? Little to nothing to do boredom? Life lived cold and dead, lived empty and threatening, lived boring and useless?

Boredom reached up and grabbed four men, ended one life and ruined three.

Boredom speaks to futility, to emptiness. As Christians, to be bored, to own up to being bored, shouts into the winds of worship and says that even in the possibility of worship, we are empty. If we can find nothing else to do but praise God, that praise should never be boring. If we do nothing else but thank God, that gratitude should never be filled with boredom.

God says to his children in the prophet Malachi's writings, “... Instead of honoring me, you profane me. You profane me when you say, ‘Worship is not important, and what we bring to worship is of no account,’ and when you say, ‘I’m bored—this doesn’t do anything for me.’ You act so superior, sticking your noses in the air—act superior to me, God-of-the-Angel-Armies! And when you do offer something to me, it’s a hand-me-down, or broken, or useless. Do you think I’m going to accept it? This is God speaking to you!"

But if we can't find a single redeeming thing about praise, gratitude, worship, prayer, conversation with the living God who created us, if life is so worthless that it is boring, perhaps then we can see where this can lead.

They could find nothing to do in their lives, so they took someone else's. How sad, really sad, is that?

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

What saith the Lord?

One of the more instructive sentences about the true human condition, that really doesn't mean to be so instructive, comes when the Apostle Paul writes this in 1 Corinthians 7:10, “But to the married I give instructions, not I, but the Lord, that the wife should not leave her husband.”

But only two verses later in verse 12 he writes: “But to the rest I say, not the Lord, that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he must not divorce her” (emphasis added).

The human condition includes those moments when WE feel the real urge to go ahead and run ahead of the Lord, particularly in instruction.

Does Paul issue the Lord’s command in the first instance, but only offer a personal opinion in the second? Do we have to obey the first instruction but not the second since Paul says that the second comes from him rather than from the Lord? Do we teach that way today?

My mom used to quote all sorts of scripture that wasn't, scripture I mean. Over and over "cleanliness was next to Godliness" in her Bible only, as an example.

The three sources of authority for the earliest Christians were: (1) the teachings of Jesus passed on orally by the apostles; (2) the instructions of the apostles (cf. Acts 2:42); and (3) the words of the prophets, that is, the Old Testament Scriptures. These three streams of authority were different from each other stream, but each of the three was binding on early Christians.

But are they on us? Do we need to follow Rick Warren or Paul? Do we need to listen to Kay Arthur telling us what the scriptures say, or what they mean, or what they should have meant?

There's a real danger here, and it has always existed, that we justify all sorts of things that the Bible never really says because we're readers not students of the Bible. We don't attempt to understand what the writing meant then and what it means to us now, in many cases.

We simply go ahead say, "Well, I believe ..." or we say conclusively, "God says..." when speaking for Jehovah is always very dangerous.

The prophet Jeremiah warned, "You should keep asking each other, ‘What is the Lord’s answer?’ or ‘What is the Lord saying?’  But stop using this phrase, ‘prophecy from the Lord.’ For people are using it to give authority to their own ideas, turning upside down the words of our God, the living God, the Lord of Heaven’s Armies."

Seem to me that we must be very, very careful, how often we feel the urge to and then act upon the notion of saying "thus saith the Lord" on things concerning which the explicit teaching of Scripture is clear and especially those things when it is not.

Course, that's what I say, not the Lord.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Fact is, wisdom is granted not gathered

There was a time, years (and years and years) ago, amidst the reading of Marvel Comics, that I read books...Hardy Brothers, the occasional Nancy Drew and another boy named Leroy Brown, nicknamed "Encyclopedia" for his intelligence and for all the stuff he knew how to do that most kids simply wouldn't.

I was impressed that apparently reading and retaining encyclopedic (what big words you have Grandma said Red to the wolf) amounts of facts could help one solve crimes.

When my mother bought me a set of  Britannica encyclopedias, there I went.

The idea at the time was buy the complete set, and year after year there would be a yearly update book sent right to your home. I'm aware of what I'm about to say being I guess a bit wacky, but I was fascinated by them. I poured over them. Seems in my distant memory I read them every day, or night as it were. Poured over pictures. Reflected on the facts (in alphabetical order in fact).

At one point, I was fairly certain that mysteries were arising around the house and the woods and pastures that surrounded the house. Holes that shouldn't be there were created most often by aliens (or cows). And on and on. I swam in the imagination of the knowledgeable creative mind.

I graduated to the public Library in Meridian, Miss. I was particular fond of modern day mysteries, true mysteries. Judge Crater, I remember, fascinated me. How one could just disappear, never to be seen again, was wild. True crime, the anti-heroe crime bosses of the 1930s in another book I remember. And always, it seemed, they were caught by people with more knowledge than the bad guys, like Dillinger and Pretty Boy Floyd and such, had.

Today, as wacky as it seems, I'm a big fan of Wikipedia, the internet encyclopedia. Many's the time when I have no book, magazine, newspaper to read, I crank up Wikipedia on the I-pad. When I'm watching a television show, I often look up an actor or explore the making of the show. I'm fascinated in reading about how something came to be, what little bit of information caused this little reaction which led to JJ Abrams coming on to a program that would be called Lost at a late date. That kind of stuff.

I guess in the long run then, it wouldn't be wrong to say I'm a fan of knowledge, of facts, of stuffing all the trivial or trivia into my brain that I can.

In doing so, it's come to my attention how far knowledge is from wisdom. I'm full to the hairless head with facts. My wisdom is lagging like a tired, thirsty puppy on a long summer walk with his master.

The Bible, of course, speaks of the wisdom of Solomon. From the Message, his bio -- as it were -- reads, "God gave Solomon wisdom—the deepest of understanding and the largest of hearts. There was nothing beyond him, nothing he couldn’t handle."

I love the way that first part reads: God gave Solomon wisdom -- the deepest of understanding and the largest of hearts.

Understanding (the mind) and passion (the heart).

Clinically, the difference in the two lies in the definitions. Knowledge is information of which someone is aware. Knowledge is also used to mean the confident understanding of a subject, potentially with the ability to use it for a specific purpose. Wisdom is is the ability to make correct judgments and decisions. It is an intangible quality gained presumably through experience.

Proverbs tells us more. The Bible says God is responsible for the wisdom allocated to us.
We read, "by wisdom the Lord laid the earth's foundations, by understanding he set the heavens in place; by his knowledge the deeps were divided.: And "by wisdom a house is built, and through understanding it is established; through knowledge its rooms are filled with rare and beautiful treasures."

And Paul wrote, "It is easy to think that we know over problems like this, but we should remember that while this knowing may make a man look big, it is only love that can make him grow to his full stature. For if a man thinks he "knows" he may still be quite ignorant of what he ought to know.

Seems to me, (wisdom trying to work) that we can be filled with a great amount of knowledge, and fail the world around us miserably. I can know how to shoot a gun, but I must have the wisdom not to.

Furthermore, it seems to me (wisdom working in the cracks) that the gun we hold as Christians is the Gospel. We know what the Gospel is. The question is, the question has always been, what do we do with that knowledge, how do we do what we do with that knowledge and what is holding us back?

The answers like with God, I believe, who answers us."If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him."

I know I should ask for wisdom more; I'm wise enough to know I need him. Encyclopedia's won't help me there.

Friday, August 16, 2013

To my knees I wobble

In a previous church, every time we would finish a service, a dear elderly lady who always sat front row left would say, "Praise the Lord." I never asked if she was in a praising mood because she liked the worship we had done or because she was happy I had finally finished.

Songwriter Laura Story says this of praising the Lord: Praise the Lord, oh my soul
I will praise the Lord as long as I live
I will sing praises to my God
Even with my dying breath
He is the One who made Heaven and earth
The sea and everything in it
He is the One who keeps every promise forever
He gives justice to the oppressed
And set the prisoners free

Russ Taff sang:
When you're up against a struggle
That shatters all your dreams
And your hopes have been cruelly crushed
By Satan's manifested schemes
And you feel the urge within you
To submit to earthly fears
Don't let the faith you're standing in, seem to disappear
Praise the Lord
He can work with those who praise Him,
Praise the Lord
For our God inhabits praise,
Praise the Lord
For the chains that seem to bind you
Serve only to remind you that they drop powerless behind you
When you praise him

As the hymn states: Praise Him in the morning, praise Him at the noontime, praise Him at night.

Psalm 48 tells us a simple, simple message: "Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised."
Psalm 150 tells "everything that has breath, praise the Lord."

God actually commanded us to praise.


I finish the week in the manner I began it. In praise...

I praise Him for accepting me, when I have a great deal of difficulty accepting myself.
I praise Him for loving me, when I'm unlovable.
I praise Him for wanting me, when many said they did not by their words or by their actions.
I praise Him for correcting me, keeping me awake with concern for my inability to grow.
I praise Him for watching over my spouse, my children, my grand-children, my pets.
I praise Him for being the living God, capable of more than my imagination can produce, more than my reason can accept.
I praise Him.
I praise Him for conquering death, and smashing lonliness, for taking my pain and shouldering the burden of worry about it.
I praise Him, God of all things, God of little things, God of the biggest of big things.
I praise Him.

This week I asked for readers to give their praises to God to me so that I could write and share them. No one did.

I pray the reasons no one did had everything to do with me and this blog and nothing to do with my readers and their relationship with the Eternal One.

Who is infinitely more ready to receive my praise than I am to give.

From weak knees I praise Him.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Praise in the yets and the therefores

We've spent the first three days of this week praising God. I pray that you've done so, although none of you actually responded to me with praises as I requested.

Today I want to talk about another aspect of praise. Today, I want to turn the conversation to a couple of words that are vital in our praise of God. We've certainly talked at length about praising Him when things are going badly, about how circumstances can't or shouldn't marginalize our praises or dictate how or when we praise.

But what about these two words....?

What about the therefores and the yets and the sos and the becauses in our lives?

The writer of the letter to the Hebrews tries to describe what we have inherited through faith. He concludes, "The words “once more” indicate the removing of what can be shaken—that is, created things—so that what cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our “God is a consuming fire.”

Therefore -- another way of saying because. God has given all of this to us, so we should respond in praise and gratitude and a degree of thankfulness.

We praise because.
We praise so.
We praise therefore.
We praise Him in the morning, and in the sweet pink-sky filled evening.
We praise Him.

Then there are the yets.

Job said, "Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him; I will surely defend my ways to his face."

And my favorite, from the prophet Habakkuk,"Though the fig tree does not bud
and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
and no cattle in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will be joyful in God my Savior.

The Sovereign is my strength;
he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
he enables me to tread on the heights."
Let's put this simply. God has given and given and given to me, and continually I fail Him. Yet He gives and gives and gives more.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Even in pain

Let's be frank. Sometimes it is very difficult to praise God. Sometimes things aren't what we hoped, thought, had prayed for and all the good stuff just dries up and we find ourselves out there seemingly alone, so alone that being thankful for what we're going through would dang near be sacrilege.

But we can praise.

Meredith Andrews' amazing tune You're Not Alone goes like this:

I searched for love when the night came and it closed in
I was alone, but you found me where I was hiding
And now I'll never be the same
It was the sweetest voice that called my name, saying

You're not alone I am here
Let me wipe away every tear
My love, I've never left your side
I have seen you through the darkest night
And I'm the One who's loved you all your life
All your life

This morning I had the miserable task of visiting someone in the emergency room. This dear soul, like many, too many,  before her, had fallen. She was coming off weeks of rehab of a shoulder that had needed rotator cuff surgery. She was just about done, just about okay, just about rehabbed, just about what would pass for normal, and she fell. Didn't know how, but she fell.

As I offered a prayer for her, her family, her doctor, her coming rehab, her struggles, her pain, for her, tears stained her sweet face. "I'm so tired of this," she said when I had finished.

And I know she is, and what's more, I know I would be as well. My mistakes, when I fall, I am tired of. My sins, when I fall, I am tired of. My failures, when I fall, I am tired of. My pains, I'm tired of. My illnesses, I'm tired of. My sorrows, I'm tired of. My lack of faith, fullness and fire, I"m tired of.

A difficult teaching is this (from 1 Peter)" 6 In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 7 These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed."

When all else fails, rejoice, the writer is saying. Against all odds, against all joys, against all happiness and healthiness, rejoice.

I must say that is exceedingly difficult, this notion, this morning, of rejoicing about all this.

But I say to all who read this, one can still, still praise.

David spends psalm after psalm with the idea.

"Praise the Lord, who is my rock.," he writes.
"Praise the Lord from the heavens!" he writes.
"Praise the Lord! Sing to the Lord a new song," he writes.
"Praise God in his sanctuary," he writes.

Praise God not for the pain, the suffering, the loss, the worry, but instead, praise Him for simply being what we are not...broken. He is above it all, us all, and we must praise Him.

In the home, and in the emergency room. Maybe especially in the emergency room.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

While we have breath, praise him.

King David, wiping sleep from weary eyes, stoked the gentle morning fire, causing a few sparks to float toward the throne room of God, he thought, smiling.

He put his old blanket on the ground, knelt on scarred knees, stretched his arms as far as the east is from the west in his kingdom, and cleared his mind.

He cleared his throat and spoke the first words of the morning. "Praise the Lord!" he said. He breathed in deeply, blew out in strength. "I will thank the Lord with all my heart as I meet with his godly people.

"How amazing are the deeds of the Lord! All who delight in him should ponder them."

And he did as the morning sun crept steadily higher.

And he taught us.

Have you ever pondered the difference between thanking God and praising God? For just a moment, let's do so.

I would say that the difference in the two is often the difference in noticing circumstances. In other words, we often thank God for what He's done, what He's doing, even what He will do. We thank Him for what we have, and what He has kept away from us. It's wonderful to be thankful.

But praising Him can be even more wonderful because one can and needs to praise Him for simply being who He is, not for what He's doing.

In other words, we love our spouse for who he or she is not for what he or she does. We love our kids and grand kids simply because they are breathing.

God is God...perfect, righteous, trust-worthy, loving, gracious, merciful. I praise Him for being those things when I most assuredly are not.

I thank Him for being just and good, and for giving me commandments that are trustworthy. I thank him for the above-mentioned spouse and kids and grand kids and even the challenges and tests that seem to appear constantly in front of a tired path I trod.

What a holy, awe-inspiring name God has, God is, God was and God will forever be.

This morning as the August sun trembles our very paved streets, let me pause and give thanks to a God who has much better things to do, I suspect, than peer in on my piddling little pity party that I create so effortlessly.

And let us, as Rich Mullins suggested,

Sing your praise to the Lord,
Come on everybody,
Stand up and more
Give your praise to the Lord,
I can never tell you,
Just how much good...that it's
Gonna do ya

Just to sing...anew...
The song your heart first learned to sing when He
First gave His you...
The life goes on and so must the song,
You gotta sing...again...
The song born in your soul when you
First gave your Him...
Sing His praises, once more

John Wesley was about 21 years of age when he went to Oxford University. He came from a Christian home, and he was gifted with a keen mind and good looks. Yet in those days he was a bit snobbish and sarcastic.
One night, however, something happened that set in motion a change in Wesley's heart. While speaking with a porter, he discovered that the poor fellow had only one coat and lived in such impoverished conditions that he didn't even have a bed. Yet he was an unusually happy person , filled with gratitude to God.
Wesley, being immature, thoughtlessly joked about the man's misfortunes. "And what else do you thank God for?" he said with a touch of sarcasm. The porter smiled, and in the spirit of meekness replied with joy, "I thank Him that He has given me my life and being, a heart to love Him, and above all a constant desire to serve Him!"
Deeply moved, Wesley recognized that this man knew the meaning of true thankfulness. Many years later, in 1791, John Wesley lay on his deathbed at the age of 88.
Those who gathered around him realized how well he had learned the lesson of praising God in every circumstance. Despite Wesley's extreme weakness, he began singing the hymn, "I'll Praise My Maker While I've Breath."

Amen. Amen. Amen.

Monday, August 12, 2013

A week of praise

Singer-songwriter Chris Tomlin said it this way:
There is an endless song
Echoes in my soul
I hear the music ring

And though the storms may come
I am holding on
To the rock I cling

How can I keep from singing Your praise
How can I ever say enough
How amazing is Your love
How can I keep from shouting Your name
I know I am loved by the King
And it makes my heart want to sing

The prophet Isaiah said it this way:

How beautiful on the mountains
are the feet of the messenger bringing good news,
Breaking the news that all’s well,
proclaiming good times, announcing salvation,
telling Zion, “Your God reigns!”
Voices! Listen! Your scouts are shouting, thunderclap shouts,
shouting in joyful unison.
They see with their own eyes
God coming back to Zion.
Break into song! Boom it out, ruins of Jerusalem:
God has comforted his people!
He’s redeemed Jerusalem!”
God has rolled up his sleeves.
All the nations can see his holy, muscled arm.
Everyone, from one end of the earth to the other,
sees him at work, doing his salvation work.

This morning, a Monday during the hottest of hot days of summer, how do you say it?

How can you keep from singing? What has God done for you?
How beautiful are the feet of the messenger in your life that is bringing the good news of Jesus.

For the next week, I'm going to concentrate on praise, telling tales of praise, capturing ideas of praise from scripture. If for any reason you've been on the lowly side, this week, prayerfully, hopefully, will lift you.

Here's how a kid named Bella said it:

All my life I have WANTED to let God into my heart, yet it has always been so hard, and it’s often that I lay in my bed panicking that maybe God isn’t real? What if I can never truly believe in him then when I die I go to hell? I would say I believe in Jesus, but it never really clicked.
One day I was on the computer playing my favorite game. I was listening to some Christian songs too—Silent Night, Mary Did You Know, etc. I was in the middle of listening to Angels We Have Heard On High when suddenly I really wanted to write a letter to Jesus Christ. Towards the end of the letter, I decided to say it again.
I believe in you.
But this time, for just a second, my heart felt odd. I started to tear up and cry. I was sitting there writing, “I love you Jesus. I love you Jesus and I will always love you.” Then when I was done I signed my name and put it in my bedroom. I will always read that letter if I start to feel weak, or my connection with God is starting to feel lost.
I love Jesus Christ. Sometimes I still question myself , but I think back to that letter and feel stronger.

Praising Him is about intent, not circumstances; it is about will, not happiness. David said it this way: Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good! His faithful love endures forever.

Praise Him, this week. While the doctor's tests are still out there waiting for you, praise Him. While the finances go in the tank, praise Him. When joy doesn't come in the morning, praise Him.

How indeed can we keep from singing?

Friday, August 9, 2013

People of faith charged with murder

It's particularly disturbing, the story I'm about to share, on many levels.

It reads: A judge upheld murder charges Wednesday against a fundamentalist Christian couple in their infant's faith-healing death, saying things might be different if their toddler hadn't died four years ago "under strikingly similar circumstances."
Their probation in that case required Herbert and Catherine Schaible to seek immediate medical help if another child was sick or injured. But they instead prayed over 8-month-old son Brandon before he died of pneumonia in April, according to their police statements.
Defense lawyer Bobby Hoof argued that Brandon died just three days after he came down with cold and flu symptoms and said there was no evidence of malice, as required for third-degree murder. The judge disagreed.
"They learned in the worst possible way ... exactly what these symptoms could lead to in a child, especially a young child, if not medically cared for," Common Pleas Judge Benjamin Lerner said, referring to the 2009 death of 2-year-old Kent Schaible. "We've been here before ... under strikingly similar circumstances."

What can we say here? Faith as killer?

Looking up how often this sort of thing occurs, I find that about a dozen U.S. children die each year when parents turn to faith healing instead of medicine, typically from highly treatable problems, according to experts. At least one state, Oregon, explicitly banned faith healing as a murder defense after a series of deaths.

Let's explore this without prejudice. Here's what the Bible says about healing, particularly by faith.

He was wounded for our transgressions; He was bruised for out iniquities;the chastisement of our peace was upon Him; and with His stripes we are healed;
(Isaiah 53:5)
The Lord forgives all their iniquities; who heals all your diseases.
(Psalm 103:3)

And you shall serve the Lord your God; and he shall bless your bread, and your water; and I will take sickness away from your midst.
(Exodus 23:25)

He sent his word, and healed them, and delivered them from their destructions
(Psalm 107:20)

 Is any sick among you? let hem call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him
(James 5:14)

Jesus said to the two blind men"Believe ye that I am able to do this?"
Then he touched their eyes saying"According to your faith be it unto you"
and their eyes were opened (Matthew (9:28-29)

What are we to make of these verses, especially in light of what happened on Wednesday? Does God heal all who have faith? As importantly (if not more), what are we to make of those who apparently have very strong faith but are not healed?

Years ago a dear, dear friend contracted a very serious disease. Our Bible study group got together, anointed his head with oil, and prayed as hard as human beings can. He had faith in abundance. We, I believe, had faith in abundance. He wasn't healed. Hasn't been to this day.

So, does having faith mean healing?

I think any explanation has to begin with a bit of translation work. The verses from Isaiah are the ones most often used to describe the connection among Jesus, healing and faith. But they're most often misused, too.

I had another friend, very early in my walk with Christ, who contracted cancer. He once prayed with me over this and he quoted the old prophet about stripes and such. My friend died before being healed.

Here's the deal: The word translated “healed” can mean either spiritual or physical healing. However, the contexts of Isaiah 53 and 1 Peter 2 make it clear that it is speaking of spiritual healing. “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed” 1 Peter 2: 24. The verse is talking about sin and righteousness, not sickness and disease. Therefore, being “healed” in both these verses is speaking of being forgiven and saved, not physically healed.
That's why James 5:15 is so vitale to our understanding, I suspect. It reads, "And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he has sins, they shall be forgiven him
(James 5:15) Here the connection between healing and the forgiveness of sins is made clear.

This much I know: if everyone I prayed to be healed was, the world would soon grow very short on food because no one would die. Clearly that is not the case. I've prayed and prayed and prayed for many persons who were in grave difficulty, and pretty much to a person they have died.

Now, one could argue that it is my faith that is weak, and I wouldn't win that argument probably. But...

It seems to me, and the Lord knows how wrong I often am, ultimately, our full physical healing awaits us in heaven. In heaven, there will be no more pain, sickness, disease, suffering, or death (Revelation 21). If that's the case, and since many of those who have gone ahead of us to heaven were indeed in pain, in sickness, had diseases and were suffering, one can easily see there was some sort of physical healing before they settled in for the family barbeque up there.

Thus, we all need to be less preoccupied with our physical condition in this world and a lot more concerned with our spiritual condition Romans 12: 1-2. Then we can focus our hearts on heaven where we will no longer have to deal with physical problems. Revelation 21:4 describes the true healing we should all be longing for: “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

Remember, the Apostle Paul seems to have had more faith in Jesus Christ than anyone walking around today. He talked about that ol' thorn in the flesh, and although we don't know exactly what that was, I suspect it was a malady that faith on occasion would heal. And what did Paul hear? "Isn't my grace sufficient?"

What the family did about was full of faith, but in my opinion was misdirected tragically. If they had put their faith in a forgiving God instead of a healing God, in a God who honors the expertise and schooling of doctors in their area, they would have -- it seems -- two more children than they have now, two living, breathing, souls.

I suspect God has had to wipe away tears from his own eyes about this misunderstanding of faith and healing.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Quirks and all

Let's talk about quirks today. Not quarks. Quirks. A quark is an elementary particle and a fundamental constituent of matter. I don't have much of that running around me, as far as I know.

But quirks...those are idiosyncrasies, or in other words, those things that help make us, well, us.

Let's see: I have at least one. I bite my nails. I've always bitten my nails. I suspect I'll always bite my nails. Especially during New Orleans Saints football games.

My wife, Mary, eats ice. Crunches it. Doesn't matter if there is a solemn moment in a movie or whatever. She's crunching away. While I'm chewing away.

Here are some quirks I know people have close to me:

  1. Carries a large coin which he or she is always rolling over his or her knuckles.
  2. Is a habitual sniffler even when he or she is healthy.
  3. Regularly looks up at the sky to check the position of the sun/moon and comments on it.
  4. Always knows the direction he or she is traveling in.
  5. Corrects people when they use colloquial speech.
  6. Is never seen without a baseball cap (except, of course, in bed or the shower)
  7. Whistles the Scarecrow/Tin Man/Cowardly Lion song at random time and refuses to stop.
  8. Ends declarative sentences with an interrogative inflection?
  9. Is an incessant fidgeter and is always touching his or her face or head.
  10. Dots his or her i’s with a smiley face or heart (respectively or inversely for humor’s sake).
  11. Compulsively interrupts people telling stories to interject facts about the story that he or she only knows because they have been told the story before, not because they were involved with it.
  12. Makes up random lies about unimportant things for no reason.
  13. Has a weakness for rescuing stray animals.
Any and/or all of these things could drive a person to, uh, chew his fingernails.

But here's the thing: Everyone is unique. As long as we allow ourselves to be.

The Bible makes no use of the term quirk, but it does talk about individualism, of which quirks contribute.

In the Message, in Romans, Paul writes of God, "Hosea put it well: I’ll call nobodies and make them somebodies; I’ll call the unloved and make them beloved. In the place where they yelled out, “You’re nobody!” they’re calling you “God’s living children.” Isaiah maintained this same emphasis: If each grain of sand on the seashore were numbered and the sum labeled “chosen of God,” They’d be numbers still, not names; salvation comes by personal selection. God doesn’t count us; He calls us by name. Arithmetic is not his focus. Isaiah had looked ahead and spoken the truth: If our powerful God had not provided us a legacy of living children, We would have ended up like ghost towns, like Sodom and Gomorrah. How can we sum this up? All those people who didn’t seem interested in what God was doing actually embraced what God was doing as He straightened out their lives."

He calls us by name, which means He knows our name, which means He knows us. He loves us. He calls us.

Quirks and all.


Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Forgiveness is special

What is it about forgiveness that sings such a forlorn song? In other words, why do we feel it's so dang hard to forgive?

Read this, please ....

Letting go of grudges and bitterness can make way for compassion, kindness and peace. Forgiveness can lead to:
  • Healthier relationships
  • Greater spiritual and psychological well-being
  • Less anxiety, stress and hostility
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Fewer symptoms of depression
  • Lower risk of alcohol and substance abuse
This comes not from Jesus' teaching, not from the prophets, not from the Psalms, but from the Mayo Clinic.

Yet ...

We struggle. We hold on to the least of the offenses like they were burdens the size of the Titanic.

Jesus, of course, taught this:

Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, "Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?" Jesus answered, "I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.

This answer by Jesus makes it clear that forgiveness is not easy for us. It's not a one-time choice and then we automatically live in a state of forgiveness. Forgiveness may require a lifetime of forgiving, but it is important to the Lord. We must continue forgiving until the matter is settled in our heart.

There's a story about two monks who were walking through the countryside. They were on their way to another village to help bring in the crops. As they walked they spied an old woman sitting at the edge of a river. She was upset because there was no bridge and she could not get across on her own. The first monk kindly offered we will carry you across if you would like? Thank you she said gracefully accepting their help. So the 2 men joined hands lifted her between them and carried her across the river. When they got to the other side, they set her down, and she went on her way. After they had walked another mile or two, the other monk began to complain. Look at my cloths he said. They are filthy from carrying that woman across the river. And my back still hurts from lifting her! I can feel it stiffing up.

The first monk just smiled and nodded his head. A few more miles up the road the second monk griped again. My back is hurting me so badly, and it’s all because we had to carry that silly woman across the river. I can’t go any farther because of the pain. The first monk looked down at his partner, now lying on the ground moaning. Have you wondered why I’m not complaining he asked? Your back hurts because you are still carrying the woman. But I set her down 5 miles ago.

Paul wrote, "Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, FORGIVING each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

Without our forgiveness, there is no forgiveness. That's a rule we can take to the bank. But better still, offering forgiveness even when it isn't expected, when it isn't accepted, when it seems a flighty thing to do, calms the fierce heart we often hold.

Try it. You'll like it.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Repeating history

George Santayana once wrote, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

At the last youth session we had at our churches, I read the closing chapter of a novel I wrote a few years back. The novel was in the vein of Frank Peretti's This Present Darkness and Piercing the Darkness. The characters include two cousins, one a Christian who has lost his parents and who has moved in with his aunt and uncle, the other a kid who has all but swept under the run, who doesn't care of school or fitting in.

The villain, as it were, is a demon named Nimrod who takes over the body of a very large high school dropout named Rod.

Everything that happens in the book, I took from scripture or the headlines. I looked at the use of prayer in school, what can be done and what can't, and I even used the prayer from 1962 that began the slide into refusal to have prayer at any student event.

The final chapter poses the question, what if Paul wasn't writing metaphorically or symbolically in Ephesians 6? What if the armor of God was real, or could be? What if the fiery arrows of the devil were bullets? What if the mighty powers in this dark world, and the evil spirits in heavenly places were real?

The book ends in a Columbine-like shooting in which the Bible is the only but ultimately the best defense for Jack and his friends.

After I finished reading, the youth director of Eunice UMC spoke about some of the serious issues raised.

Then came the kicker: He asked our 32 youth if they had heard of Columbine. And they hadn't. I guess he could have asked about Newtown, Conn., and perhaps they would have known more about it. But I couldn't believe they had no knowledge of Columbine.

So, the question we must ponder is does the Bible speak about repeating of human nature?

We should take careful note of how the nations are behaving on the world scene. The Bible itself sets great store in understanding the repetitive character of human behavior. Jesus Christ understood it very well. He soberly reflected on trends and conditions before the time of Noah’s Flood and plainly stated: “As it was in the days of Noah, so will it be when the Son of Man comes” (Matthew 24:37, Revised English Bible).

As New Testament scholar William Barclay expresses it in his translation, “What happened at the time of Noah will happen all over again when the Son of Man comes.” But exactly how will history repeat itself before Jesus Christ returns to earth? Are we to experience another disastrous flood that will wipe out humanity? No, we have a solemn promise from God that no flood will ever again occur on such a gigantic scale (Genesis 9:8-17).

So what then did Jesus Christ mean? Let’s continue reading what He had to say: “In the days before the flood they ate and drank and married, until the day that Noah went into the ark, and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away. That is how it will be when the Son of Man comes” (Matthew 24:38-39).

Christ was talking about an all-too-common pattern in human nature often evident just before disaster strikes: It tries to shut out the possibility that things could go wrong. It sticks its head into the sand like an ostrich. It blinds itself to telltale trends and events. It says, “This is not happening.”

And the way it is in this country is disaster happens, we get all in an uproar, and the next thing you know time as past and we forget all about it. Whatever happened to gun control discussions after Newtown -- as an example.

But this I believe to be true. The writer of Ecclesiastes wrote, "History merely repeats itself. It has all been done before. Nothing under the sun is truly new."

So, teach your children well, keep them as safe as you can, and even talk to them about the deeper issues. And send them into a frightening world armed with the armor of God.