Thursday, October 31, 2013

What would you say?

I have an app, and that saying is about to take over all our lives if it hasn't already, that flashes me little messages. I'm not exactly sure what the point of it is, but it's quite friendly and positive and tells me where I am most of the time and what I've got ahead of me so I don't talk back to it.

But last night, for some reason, it popped a question on me.

Out of the blue, this appeared: "If you could, what would you tell yourself 10 years in the past?"

Oh, ugh, ewe, I hate it when questions pop in and won't leave.

This one didn't leave. I pondered. A lot.

I first went to finances. Buy stock in Google and Apple, I thought. But then I figured I would mess that up somehow so I thought I would simply pass some mega-lottery numbers along. That seemed rather selfish, so I journeyed on.

I figured I would talk to myself about the mistakes I have made, and try to correct them. But then I pondered that those mistakes led me to grow almost every time, and they've got me right where I am.

I pondered telling myself something about children or grand-children or correcting something I would have said but didn't or something I said and shouldn't have.

Then I latched on to the biggest event in my life that wasn't dealing with Christ, the automobile accident that hurt my back, or maybe Hurricane Katrina stuff, or maybe ....

Would I have changed jobs? Would I have stayed where I was or moved where we moved or would I be at churches I left or just what the heck would I have done?

It began to dawn on me that these 10 years have been the biggest in a life lived in more then six decades as I type. We lost a couple loved ones within months of each other. We gained rescued pets and loved them as best we could. We gained a passel of grand-children, and we gained in-laws. We lived in two houses and two parsonages, and I left one career to embark on a calling.

I don't know what I would say, exactly, after giving this all sorts of thoughts. But this I do know, I would tell my mother how much I cared for her though I failed to show it enough before she died. I would be kinder to my wife and children and try to be a better grand-father.

I would be a better friend. I would be a better worker. I would be a better writer. I would be a better, well, person.

What would I say? "Love God, love your friends, love your enemies, love your pets, love your congregations, love your God. Be sure they all know it."

There. Said all I could say, or needed to.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013


I called up the reading from one of the devotionals I ponder from time to time, and I read this: "Thank God! Call out his Name! Tell the whole world who he is and what he's done! Sing to him! Play songs for him! Broadcast all his wonders! Revel in his holy Name, God-seekers, be jubilant! Study God and his strength, seek his presence day and night; Remember all the wonders he performed, the miracles and judgments that came out of his mouth."

Now, that was written (spoken?) to the Israelites in 1 Chronicles. But goodness, doesn't that speak wonders to those like, uh, me?

This morning as we ponder another day, let's be about remembering how we all got to this point where this thing is read.

Sometimes in our lives, we've suffered.
Sometimes in our lives, we've been kinda, sorta happy.
Right now, we might be hurting, or full of joy, or somewhere in between.

That's life, to coin a phrase.

But through it all, despite it all, within it all, there's this notion that we can call on him, talk about him, sing to him, play songs for him, or my favorite, REVEL in his holy name.

Man, I love that thought.

I can revel, which by the way is a short, short way of talking about revel-ation.

Today I'm not going to look at all the ways this country is running away from God. Today I'm not going to look at how much or how little this family has. Today I'm not going to think about back pain or front pain or pneumonia or COPD or whatever the next thing might be.

Today I'm going to look the Him, revel in Him, thank Him.

And I believe things are going to be, well, Godly.

He said to come to him when we were weary and he would give us rest, and that's a wonderful thought. But I think it actually gets better than that.

It gets not just restful, but it gets revel-ful.

And that's something I can get behind.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

And here we go (again)

Oh, sweet goodness.It's Tuesday, and I stayed up too late. So, I went searching the news wires for subjects. And I found ...

On Friday, officials at the Colorado Springs, Colo., campus announced its 4,000 current cadets would be allowed to opt out of the final phrase of their honor code, which they reaffirm each of their four years of study and training. “Here at the Academy, we work to build a culture of dignity and respect, and that respect includes the ability of our cadets, Airmen and civilian Airmen to freely practice and exercise their religious preference — or not,” said Lt. Gen. Michelle Johnson, the academy’s superintendent, in a statement. “So in the spirit of respect, cadets may or may not choose to finish the Honor Oath with ‘So help me God.’”

And so you'd know: The United Methodist Church’s highest court issued three rulings this weekend that do not change church policy toward gays and lesbians but allow bishops to accept resolutions expressing dissent from church teachings. The Judicial Council affirmed a resolution approved by New York Bishop Martin McLee that celebrates congregations and individuals that “provide for the pastoral needs of same-sex couples within the United Methodist Church.”

The court also affirmed a California-Pacific Annual Conference resolution that calls for operating as if church law regarding homosexuality does not exist. The court also required Bishop James Dorff of Southwest Texas to rule within 60 days “on the merits” of a question about the ordination eligibility of a lesbian clergy candidate. The case does not address the candidate’s sexuality. But the court also voided a resolution calling for a 24-hour suspension for bishops that ordain gays, which the denomination does not allow. According to the Book of Discipline, the trial court jury has the exclusive right to set penalties for those found guilty of chargeable offenses.

In the Southern Baptist denomination, which considers baptism a key marker of Christian faith and also denominational vitality, tallied 314,959 baptisms in 2012 — a low not seen since 1948.

Finally, collection plates are growing even lighter as Protestant church member giving reached new lows in 2011, and tithing probably will not recover from the recession, according to a new report by  a Christian research group. The percentage of a church member’s income given to the church dropped to 2.3 percent in 2011 (the latest year for which numbers are available), down from 2.4 percent in 2010, according to the Empty Tomb study.

I leave all this to the reader without comment today. But I have a question. My question is why would we think that collections and baptisms would be up when it seems the church isn't? When there is acrimony in the evangelical community, in the mainline churches, in the charismatic movement, in the reformed community?

Monday, October 28, 2013

Even in times of dispute, trust God. He's got this.

Someone once said, "All things come to him who knows how to trust and be silent."

A know a couple who recently ran into financial hardship, through fault mainly of the husband's ability to keep up with the finances as much as anything, as he tells the story. They were, in a word that used to mean more than perhaps it does today, broke. Not even gas money. He prayed yesterday, as he tells the story, and not only did he receive an unexpected check, some dear soul gave the couple a substantial gift.

I realize and admit that most prayers aren't answered within the hour of making them. I realize and admit that skepticism might come with this reading.

So what? I believe it to be true.

What will it take, what does it take, for us to realize how much we can trust the living God?

This weekend, a potential red-mark in United Methodist history, two men were married by a retired Bishop in Alabama, against the wishes of the Council of Bishops and the sitting bishop in the Alabama conference, as well as the Book of Discipline and, well, the law of the state of Alabama.

Hand wringing ensued. Rhetoric flew both ways, from both sides, sometimes even very hurtful rhetoric from those less enamored about learning to love neighbors.

What will come next? What must come next? All this was passed back and forth like commentators on ESPN passing judgment on what one game's outcome might have on the rest of football seasons.

This, I'm afraid, is no game. The consequences will indeed be felt far and wide, literally around the nation and even the world, especially in very conservative areas in Asia and Africa where Methodism continues to grow like newly planted (and it was) greenery.

But here's the deal; here's who I trust, more than any governing body, or denomination, or church.

From the highest of heights to the depths of the sea
Creation's revealing Your majesty
From the colors of fall to the fragrance of spring
Every creature unique in the song that it sings
All exclaiming

Indescribable, uncontainable,
You placed the stars in the sky and You know them by name.
You are amazing God
All powerful, untameable,
Awestruck we fall to our knees as we humbly proclaim
You are amazing God

Here's what we do, friends. We trust that the God who set in motion the incredible, the impossible, the indescribable, the uncontainable will have the judgment seat here on all that has happened, from both sides, and both parties, and all circumstances. I trust that. I must.

My circumstances in October have teetered on the brink. But my God, who I trust with not only my life but my afterlife, is there at the brink before me.

I'm not saying everything is going to be all honky dory (which, by the way, I have no ideas of its definition). I am saying that God's got this.

If we believe that something in sin, then give it to God.
If we believe love conquers all, even sin, then give it to God.
If we believe something isn't sin or never was, then give it to God.

Give it to God. Trust God in this.

In fact, test God in this, and He says he will open up the windows of heaven.

I, actually, believe he still, still, still does.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Just what is it?

What is it?

It was discovered millennium ago, wrapped in a protective covering, cherished for what it means, and examined for what it means. In fact, nothing ever created by God has been examined by or lived with by humanity more than it has.

It is useful or it is useless, and we get to decide It is neither hot nor cold nor high nor low. It simply is. Heck, physics can't explain it. Science has little to do with it actually.

I've been given more than a few, though I can't actually remember the first time I had one. I've wasted a few and used some in their entirety.

What is it?

To God it is useless. To us it means, or could mean, everything. It is viewable, or the reaction to it is viewable, or it can be completely invisible, going unnotice and unmentioned.

We decide how and when, but never what it was, which by the way is one way to measure it. What was doesn't mean what is nor what will be. Past sometimes corrects our use of it, and sometimes it has no bearing.

God has thousands of them, but chooses to use none in the way perhaps we would.

It is scientific, and yet there is a spiritual quality to it. It is as rigid as stone, and yet there is a looseness about it.

The worst of us all, the Hitlers of the world, are given more of these sometimes than the best of us all. And in that we wonder.

What is it for? It is where we live. It is our wake-up call. It is our joy, and it is our sadness.

Heaven itself celebrates it with shouts of joy and songs of praise, but Hell is watching it, too.

It showed up in Genesis, and will end in Revelation.

What is it?

It measures us, challenges us, excites us, tires us, makes us mature in some cases.

It served the Condor and the Groundhog and even Ferris Bueller. It participated in Independence and worked with the Longest of all.

What is it?

It isn't the wind, but it is filled with it. It isn't the flowers, but it is needed for them to grow. It isn't the mountain, but it commands the mountain and the mountain often responds over many of these acting in unison.  It is an eye-opener, and heart softener, and by each one of these does love grow.

Now, even when we figure out what it is, we have to figure what are we, us, all of us, going to do with it. Will we us it to our own advantage? Will we use it for others?

What have we planned for it today? What will we do, what can we do? Are there actual plans?

Do we take it one of these at a time? Do we understand that God doesn't?

Here's the bottom line, friends. Every reader has been given one of these for safe-giving. Every one has been given one of these to make a difference. Everyone has the ability, the gifts from God himself. The only thing that keeps us, all of us, from feeding all the hungry, from touching hearts everywhere, from helping the poor, is our misuse of one of these. Government can't do it. The Red Cross can't do it. Habitat can't do it without us. You name it, it comes down to us, and our decision on what to do with one of these.

Not 10 of these. Not 20. Not 100. Not a 1,000, which by the way is what one of these equals to God. One. It begins with a soft heart and one of these.

There is always going to be someone who wants us to fail, because in some ways in their minds if we fail, they succeed. But that's simply wrong. What is right is that we're given one of these, and how we use it, how we give it away to someone in need, how we work it, is everything.

Are we all going to drown in shallow water, or are we going to walk out in the middle and respond to the gift of one of these?

Feel free to offer your explanations of what it is, and what you've done with it lately.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Power of the Word

Everywhere you drive around these little towns in central/southwest Louisiana in which my wife, Mary, and I have found ourselves, you will see at this time of the year (and most others) these huge machines with huge tires and huge mechanisms for something or other. They are larger than one side of the little highways around the area, and one must get off the side of the road less one become plowed under much like the fields of the area. Heaven forbid one gets behind one of these Hulk-smashing machines or one will spend the greater part of a day getting around.

I thought of these big green machines this morning as I pondered some stuff. These machines, it seems to me, are used successfully in the fields round here. They are their size for some reason, and they produce or farmers wouldn't use them.

But they are heck to pay machines on the open road, and used improperly, one would think they would be nigh on disastrous.

They are the "words" of the farming community. Words are used millions of time in millions of ways every single day, and nothing bad comes from it. But use words improperly, and things fall apart. There is nothing, it seems to me, more harmful than words used incorrectly.

I've lived my life with words as my tools. I wrote or edited in newspapers for 34 years, and was published in a newspaper when I was 15, which is **^^^))(*)*(  years ago. Then I retired, and immediately began a five-day a week blog of which I've done literally hundreds.

I've written things I didn't mean to write, and by that I mean the intent was one thing, the reaction another. I once wrote what I thought was a funny high school football picks column (saying who would win and why), and a football coach called me at home on the afternoon before the game incensed that I had used (what I thought was a throwaway line) something negative against his team. All I could do was say over and over I didn't mean anything badly and obviously (though that wasn't the case with him) it was satire.

One person's satire is another person's negative. One person's negative is another person's attack.

Social media being what it is, people get hurt often when the intent was never to hurt. Then there is those who are meaning to do so, but that's another blog at another time.

My point is found in the Bible, of course. Jesus' brother (imagine the sibling rivalry found there) wrote these words: "If you claim to be religious but don't control your tongue, you are fooling yourself, and your religion is worthless."

He adds, "...a tiny spark can set a great forest on fire. And the tongue is a flame of fire. It is a whole world of wickedness, corrupting your entire body. It is a whole world of wickedness, corrupting your entire body. It can set your whole life on fire, for it is set on fire by hell itself."

In the long run, it's simply best to follow what our mamas taught us: if we can't say something positive, we should be quiet. That's difficult for a columnist, which is essentially what I've been doing since I was 21, to do as columns are based on opinion.

But then I must remember that no one hired me, appointed me, wants me particularly for this blog. I'm just an isolated voice out there in a big, ol' hurricane wind. I'm just a sinner in search of redemption. I'm just a person with a big target on his back because that's what Jesus said anyone who preaches love for his glory will be targeted. Right or wrong, that's what I've tried to do. There are hundreds of people who think I succeed most days. There are those who I harm every once in a while. When I do, it literally hurts me, even if everything I wrote was true, factual, needed to be written.

If there is anyone who understands just how powerful words are, or how deeply in trouble they can get you, it was the Master, Jesus, who warned about gossip but kept on preaching the Word because He was the Word.

My prayer is as  the Psalmist said, "Lord, help me control my tongue; help me be careful about what I say." But give me the Word to keep on preaching the Word, blog, Sunday column, Sunday sermon, Sunday Bible Study or just on the occasional phone call.

Preach, in love. Preach, in practice.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Doctrine of Dachsunds

Have you ever seen a dachshund getting ready for a slumber? He (or she) circles, and digs and digs and circles as if the bed being prepared is some long ago earthen one. When the field is finally prepped (though nothing whatsoever has changed), he lays down with a sigh as deep as the core of the earth from Mount Hood. Fixed that thing, the dog apparently thinks.

This morning, prepping for another Wednesday after a long, long Tuesday, it occurred to me just how old I am. When I was young, milk came in bottles and water from a sink. I'm so old that when I was a kid watermelon had seeds and catfish came with the bones it was born with, and we never bragged about that on a sign outside a restaurant.

It occurs, that those of us in the daily work of the church have been doing some pondering about where all the folks went for a while now. In the past 20 years, give or take a year or a decade or some such, folks have gone elsewhere or, really, no where.

All but the rare few denominations or in fact those who call themselves non-denominational (which in itself is a denomination but we won't cause heads to explode here) have suffered great and grand losses of people, and the ones who check none what religion are you out-number those who attend churches and affiliate with any denomination whatsoever.

So, what comes next is a viable question.

I strongly suspect that what will work is what has always worked, just packaged differently. What will work is the Gospel preached.

The Gospel is and has always been about the least and the lost. The Gospel simply has moved outside the walls of our fine buildings, or it must.

In Luke's Gospel Jesus gives us his mission statement, formed I might add without the use of a committee. He said, "For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost." Showing that on TV screens with modern music and using Power point or Keynote presentations does not change the message. It does not diminish it, and it does not add to it.

The message is the message. We simply need to make sure we're giving the message. Louisiana Annual Conference Bishop (the boss of all United Methodists as it were in the state) says we must hold nothing sacred but the mission.She says that we must be open to the creative movement of God's spirit, not institutional priorities, in order to serve the mission.

Again, and again, a thousand times again, what is the mission? Jesus whispered, "Those who are healthy do not need a physician, but the sick do." He shouted, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor."

Jesus added these words of encouragement and demand as his last on the planet. He said, Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20).t

The key word or phrase, it seems to me, is not baptizing, or Holy Spirit, or commanded or even the fact that he is with us always. No, the key word it seems to me is "GO."

Tuesday I had the privilege of sharing once again the glorious message of the Gospel. I had the opportunity to look deeply into pained and hurting eyes and speaking ancient truths to that heart. I told that person, and reminded my weary mind and soul, that whether or not that person believed in Jesus the important thing it seemed to me was how much Jesus believed in that person. Looking at someone whose heart is breaking even though they won't admit it for fear of showing weakness, and trying to explain the supernatural and the often logically inexplicable Gospel, stumbling for a few incredibly long moments, I finally said this (or something close to it): "I don't know how it works, but I know it does. The Gospel works because when I couldn't save myself, when I couldn't find a way, when I hit bottom, Jesus was there to pick me up, put a loving arm around me and begin our walk together." I mean that with all my heart.

This morning I read David's words: "God, the one and only -- I'll wait as long as he says. Everything I need comes from him, so why not? He's solid rock under my feet, breathing room for my soul ..."

Breathing room for my soul.

I believe the answer for the church, all churches, lies somewhere in the midst of understanding the dachshund's behavior, I'm afraid. I suspect that if we keep circling and digging and digging and circling as if the field to be plowed was the same one that existed so long ago, then we're going to lay down with a sigh as deep as the core of the earth from the heavens above thinking we've fixed that thing when all we've done is circle and dig.

I'm so old that there was a time when my family ate bread that had been baked that day at home, and hadn't been sliced and placed in a package. Same good bread. Different look, different feel, different texture, different sizes of slices, different. But bread. Good bread. Turnip juice sopping bread.

That is, as they used to say when I was a kid, "the Gospel truth."

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

It's 5:30 dark time

It's 5:30 in the morning, dark as dark gets, and I'm up. We must leave within the next 30 minutes to drive a couple hours to spend 30 minutes or so with a man in prison in a place called St. Martinville. Jesus said something about freeing the prisoners. I can't get him out, but for 30 minutes I can listen to his dreams, apply some of the balm that Jesus has placed on my boo boos for so long, and maybe, just maybe help his mother heal as well.

I anticipated writing this morning, with it being 5:30 and all, so I dropped a piece on more than 30 United Methodist pastors from Eastern Pennsylvania agreeing to jointly officiate a same-sex marriage next month.
Schaefer's fellow pastors call that an act of love, not a prosecutable offense. They gathered Thursday at a Philadelphia church and, after more than two hours, agreed to preside as a group at a same-sex marriage, a step they hope jolts the larger church.

I was going to comment on this, but frankly, it's 5:37 a.m. and I must be moving on to do the Lord's business.

However, I will say this. We have, us United Methodists, a book of discipline. We have, us United Methodists, a method to our madness, and we meet ever four years to have a general conference in which that book of discipline can be amended. We had language in that book that makes this act they're committing a prosecutable offense, and calling it anything else is simply in correct.

By writing that paragraph it doesn't mean I agree with what they're doing or I don't agree. It simply states a fact.

I believe the language in that book will be changed at the next general conference or certainly in the one after that. I could comment on how I feel about that language, but at 5:40 in the morning, I couldn't give it proper time.

Except to say this: there are many thing I don't like about the book of discipline, including I guess the fact that we have a book of discipline when discipline is such a difficult commodity to find for me. But having one is part of, just part of, what makes me a United Methodist. If I don't like it, seems I can go become, oh, a Baptist or some such. I don't mean to type that easily. It's simply true.

To get things changed simply means to get enough votes. That's the way it works. Always has, even during the dastardly days of the Central Conference when the United Methodists weren't. At 5:42 in the morning, I won't take time to take on the idea of the Central Conference.

Bottom line is this. Protesting is a time-tested way of bringing about change in any denomination. But protesting only works in terms of change of a book of discipline or book of order or whatever the operating manual for a denomination is.

The book that the protesters must really work on is that book we call the Bible, and protests and votes don't really work there.

At 5:44 a.m., that's all I have to say.

The beginning of this day is dark, dark, dark. In prison and out.

Monday, October 21, 2013

I know He is near, and the fog clears

A dear friend, who seeing need in me, gave me a book yesterday called Streams in the Desert, a classic devotional. This morning, it being Monday all day and this weekend being what it was, I grabbed it and read from it, like living water in the dryest of lands.

Stuck away there was a bit of a bit of a poem that seemed to speak to me, so I share willingly:

Let us go singing, then, and not go crying:
Since we are sure our times are in His hand,
Why should we weep, and fear, and call it dying?
It's merely flying to a Summer Land.

For daily readers, and I believe those forlorn creatures are still out there, one might have noticed I didn't write Thursday or Friday. That's unusual, apart from the occasion vacation (not nearly enough of them, thank you). Truth is (and I give way, way too much of that away on this blog as I'm about to do) I was simply overwhelmed.

Health: They're still trying to figure out why I have bouts when I don't get enough oxygen to my brain and why I get loopy. Pitched softball for four innings of a youth game Wednesday night, and by the middle of the night all thy way through Friday morning I was, literally, breathless and quite listless and quite, well, loopy.
Family issues: About the same time a family issue popped up that my mind and my heart had great difficulty dealing with. The darkest nights of the soul often involved family, do they not?
Finance: Thought it was good a month; it wasn't. It isn't. And fear about our rental home continues to escalate despite all I know about what worry is and shouldn't be.

So, well, so ...

I began to notice, late Friday after my wife Mary and I prayed together long and somewhat tearfully about much of the above that the presence of God was more real to me than in a long time. A long time. A long, long time. One could, probably truthfully, point out that I had no where else to turn so of course He would be felt. And the truth is I was more susceptable to listening because I was talked out.

But it was more than that. It was truly Him saying to me in all but audible words that He was with me. It was the beginning of me humbling myself, or allowing myself to be humbled, to the point where what I needed most could come. It was Him reminding me that I had made some wrong decisions (again), and those decisions always come back to haunt no matter how much we pray them away (or try to).

But He was with me. Mistake-filled, though I am. Failing though I might be, He is with me. HE. With ME. What a development.

We had a very tiring wedding Saturday, after an incredibly long Friday of work that included a very tiring rehearsal. I was whipped by 5:30 p.m. Saturday, physically, emotionally, mentally (if there is more, that too was whipped). But we still had a concert at another of my churches. I cleaned the church, repositioned everything for Sunday after having special configuration done for the wedding, removed the tie, cleaned and put away things to the garbage all around and outside the church and against my body (and mind's) wishes, headed to Church Point, La.

Somewhere during the concert, during a song the singer/songwriter said God "gave" her as she drove away from the scene of where her daughter had tried to commit suicide, I felt God very, very literally resting his hand on me. A weight. A good, good weight. On my shoulder. I absolutely felt God telling me that though everything in the world might sit on their on my shoulders right next to his hand, and in this month of October the weight has been enormous, I was not alone. He let me know that He has overcome the world I live in daily, so why was I concerned. I put my hand on Mary's shoulder, and she turned briefly. I believe I saw a tear, though I could see that well through my own.

Every single day for about six weeks I've felt I was failing miserably in my church work because of problems that arose. Every day. Can you imagine feeling that every decision you make will be second-guessed, maybe rightfully so? Can you imagine? My confidence, my trust of humanity, my health, my faith even, has been chipped away. Heck, I ain't that strong to being with, no matter what others think. So, imagine the puddle left outside the door on this rainy season.

And in a song, in a moment, in a breath (Holy Spirit-wise I'm sure), He told me that I'm not alone. I might be serving as pastor, secretary, partial custodian cleaning up cigarette butts from the ground outside the church post wedding, chief cook and bottlewasher for three churches, and again literally quite breathless most days, but I'm not alone. I might be supposed to be a leader, it became apparent again that most successfully I'm a follower.

I know I have Mary, who is assistant all of the above, whom I couldn't possibly work without much less live without, but every other problem I felt that was beating me to the ground was based on the fact I felt alone. It suddenly was clear. As importantly, it was absolutely clear I wasn't, alone I mean..

Whom then shall I fear, the scriptures say.
From where does my help come from, the scriptures shout.

And Matt Redman said this:
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death
Your perfect love is casting out fear
And even when I'm caught in the middle of the storms of this life
I won't turn back
I know you are near

I've noticed that most of the times I meet people in two of the little towns I serve, where I write a Sunday column, people say, "Oh, I read you every Sunday." They think they know me. They think I have some sort of wisdom.

What I've learned in the past week, month, heck last six weeks or so is that I am wisdom-less, but I know Him. I really, really, really know Him. And that is all. I've felt a fear when I've preached that I never felt before. I've felt a fear about the future I've never felt before.

But in a song. In a moment. In a breath, I was reminded.

It's still Monday. But He is here. The valley still is deep and long, but He's here. I know He is here. Bring on Tuesday. Bring it on.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Thank you God

This is the way it was, plain and simple. There is real, remarkable, genuine difference between the gods of some and the gods of others. When things go terribly wrong in our lives, and they do from time to time, the question becomes, what do we do about it? Reading from Isaiah's pondering this morning, searching for some real, true, deep answers, I came across a pattern. What do we do when the bottom falls out of the car, of the marriage, of our health?

We go to the Living God, or at least I believe we must.

The prophet of the Lord said this one time: "It is true, Lord, that the kings of (you name it, but this time it just happened to be Assyria) have destroyed all these nations." Say we went looking for answers, and we prayed and we consulted, and we cried, and we sought.

"And they have thrown the gods of these nations into the fire and burned them. But of course the Assyrians could destroy them! They were not gods at all -- only idols of wood and stone shaped by human hands."

Where is the answer? From where must it come?

The man was as broad as the axe he carried was sharp. It wasn't a weapon as much as it was security.

His shoulders were thick, as thick as his Jewish accent, and his arms were long, hanging straight past his waistline. His arms were muscular from carrying the sword that had saved his life so often. He was ready for whatever the Lord would allow to come his way. He had always been.

His hands were calloused, and even his the nails were broken and uneven. He stood still in a circle of active men, and his brilliantly bright cobalt  eyes locked onto those around him, men and a few women, individual by individual, one by one, checking the faces for perceived threats, dismissing when he decided there .

He sensed fear in the eyes of some, read danger in the faces of others. Every man in this small room was capable of something deadly. He felt they were less capable than him, but underestimating them at this point could get a man killed, made them no less of a threat. Fear motivated in shockingly under-appreciated ways.

These men were younger than he, filled with anger and distrust. That anger could get him killed.

The sun was setting when he received word that King Tirhakah of Ethiopia was leading an army to fight against him, King Hezekiah. So, he did what he always did when he heard a report about an army coming his way. He tore his clothes and put on burlap and went into the temple of the Lord.

War was coming.
Armies were arriving.
 What could he do?

It seems to me, friends, that difficulties that arrive in our lives like foreign armies, must be handled in the same way we would handle an attacking army. When difficulties come in our marriages, in our jobs, in our checkbooks, in a bad diagnosis (you name it, it's gonna come) or two or three, read what the holy scriptures tell us.

"After King Hezekiah's officials delivered the king's message to Isaiah (yeah, that one), the prophet (Isaiah) replied, "Say to your master, 'This is what the Lord says. Do not be disturbed by this blasphemous speech against me from the Assyrian king's messengers. Listen! I myself will move against him,' and the king will receive a message that he is needed at home. So he will return to his land, where I will have him killed with a sword.' "

When difficulties come, go to the Lord.
When pain comes, go to the Lord.
When tears fall, and shock ensues, and we flat out don't know what next to do. Go to the Lord.

After Hezekiah received the letter from the messengers and read it, he went up to the Lord's Temple and spread it out before the Lord.  He prayed, "O Lord of Heaven's Armies, God of Israel, you are enthroned between the mighty cherubim! You alone are God of all the kingdoms of the earth. You alone created the heavens and the earth. Bend down, O Lord, and listen! Open your eyes, O Lord, and see!"

Go to the prophet. Go to the Temple. Go to the Lord. Seek the joy. Search for the light. Let the pure love that is God's flow down the mountain and cover us like nothing ever could or would or ever will.

His love endures forever. His grace covers us all. We are saved. We are purified. Oh,

Singer/Songwriter/Worship leader Chris Tomlin wrote this:

I called your name. You heard my cry.
Out of the gray, and into light.
My heart is yours. My soul is free.
Thank you God for saving me. Thank you God for saving me.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Kicking some buckets

 A man named Doug Larson once said, "Some of the world’s greatest feats were accomplished by people not smart enough to know they were impossible." Thus my low IQ finally seems to be paying off.

This morning, as Fall falls all over us, I'm pondering buckets, as in the kicking of them.

I'm pondering the lack of substantial time left in a life not always lived to its fullest. I'm pondering tiny achievements, and pondering the next few dozen steps or so.

At some point recently, the film The Bucket List was shown on television. You might know the 2007 movie, directed by Rob Reiner, starring Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman. The film's plot follows two terminally ill men (Nicholson and Freeman), who go on a road trip with a wish list of things to do before they "kick the bucket." Though that synopsis seems a little maudlin, I actually remember the movie as being quite funny.

At some point yesterday, someone on the television show Bones talked about their bucket list. Among the character's bucket list items on the TV production were going to the real Area 51, being shot out of a cannon, living in a villa in Tuscany, rock cliff climbing, having the absolutely perfect wedding dress, winning the Nobel Prize, and buying a drink for the "guy who did the free-fall from space."

The great and powerful Oz stands at the end of the yellow brick road, but I have no intention of dancing my way down that path. Instead, I simply began to ponder just what I could do with a list of things I should do, must do, could do before I, too, kick that aforementioned bucket.

Mark Houlahan wrote, "If you want your life to be a magnificent story, then begin by realizing that you are the author and every day you have the opportunity to write a new page."

Let's write some pages, dear readers.

My bucket list includes:
A. Going to the Grand Canyon and marveling at what God does in his spare time.
B. Going to a Super Bowl that features a blowout victory by the Saints.
C. Go back to Reno, Nev., with my dear wife Mary. I spent 10 long months there as executive sports editor when I was 30 years old, and I would like to head back to those mountains to see them again as a new man, redeemed by the blood of Jesus. Grace fills me now where disappointment and failure were my only companions all those years ago.
D. Go back to West Virginia. My father grew up there, and there are relatives I haven't seen or talked to since I was a senior in high school, which was around the time Moses came down from the mountain with a new tablet that would knock an I-Pad out of the park. I'd like to reacquaint myself with his side of the family.
E. Have reunions with those friends in the newspaper industry who all are doing other things now.
F. See one or more of the young-uns excel at whatever they want to excel at, so I can wear some kind of ditzy tee-shirt that says something like THAT TINY DANCER IS MINE.
G. Preach at the Louisiana Annual Conference (though doing so before all those elders and local pastors and talented laity would scare me into an early grave, hence messing up the whole bucket list agenda in the first place).
H. Attend a worship service at writer/pastor Max Lucado's church in San Antonio and listen to the Holy Spirit spread the Gospel through his exciting, passionate words.
I. Drive to Hawaii. Oh, I understand that business about water, deep, deep water, being in the way, but I don't like to fly and I've never been on a boat for that long of a trip, so let's get the ol' highway to Hawaii paved. Let the sharks be disappointed.
J. See a brilliant fall morning in New England, with the magnificence of the changing of the color of the leaves.
K. See our son Jason sign a record contract and attend his first concert in a filled stadium.
L. Take a cruise, to anywhere, that is so smooth I never realize I'm on a boat (for reasons, see above).
M. Go back to New York with my family. I last went to the Big Apple when I was 14. I suspect it might have changed in the interim.
N. Live long enough to see my novel published. Since it apparently will be a very cold day in Hades before it is published, I guess that means I will live a long, long time.
O. Take my wife on whatever journey she feels up to, for as along as she desires, so that she be dressed in a joy that surpasses all understanding, the kind of joy that sparkles on dew-covered mornings.
P. Never, never, never go sky diving, no matter how many times I'm asked to go.
Q. Live long enough to see the mighty works of Jesus move people to fill all the churches in all the countries in all the world.
R. See my Aunt Elsie again, who was an adult when Elijah was a kid, smiling and laughing and giggling like she often did when she would come for visits.
S. Throwing out the first pitch before a seventh game of the World Series, featuring the Atlanta Braves as they head to their second championship in my lifetime.
T. Meet Stephen King, and spent an hour or two talking writing, relishing words like they were friends and neighbors.
U. Meet Bill Gates, and spent an hour or two talking about how and why he thought the world needed a computer in every home, and what a giggle every time he mentions hitting control, alt, delete and watching something important disappear from the task manager.
V. Visit the White House and have no terrorists take it over while I'm there, linger long and hard on a misty cool day at Mount Rushmore, look down at the clouds from the top of Mount Hood, touch the monuments in Yankee Stadium and remember the greatness of the Mick, snap a leaf or two from the Ivy in Wrigley Field, and stand on a wrap-around deck that surrounds a log cabin near Denver with a steaming cup of pumpkin spice coffee keeping the chill away as I ponder a couple feet of fresh snow on the slopes that I will never ski on.
W. Find out just who my birth parents were, for the heck of it, and see once and for all if I have brothers or sisters.
X. Go to a worship service at singer/song writer Michael W. Smith's church, and simply let the music played and sung there wash over me like 20-foot waves off the coast of California.
Y. Oh, why not?
Z. See Jesus coming in the sky and finally rising to meet him as if I was suddenly Superman, knowing that I will meet him, his Father, and all those clouds of witnesses just before my last breath happens. No bucket list can be complete without a sincere desire to see Jesus, be held by Jesus, be comforted by Jesus.

The Apostle Paul completes his journey by writing these words:

"As for me, my life has already been poured out as an offering to God. The time of my death is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful. And now the prize awaits me -- the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me on the day of his return. And the prize is not just for me, but for all who eagerly look forward to his appearing."

My God, How Great Thou Art. Let's do some bucket kicking, dear friends.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Expectations in the wrong things can hurt

I want to talk about something that shades our understanding of things.

It's a little thing caused expectation.

Definition wise, it's called prospects, especially of gain or success or eager anticipation.

Someone once wrote, "Our desires always disappoint us; for though we meet with something that gives us satisfaction, yet it never thoroughly answers our expectation."

In the game yesterday, the Saints-Patriots game, expectation caused (for example) great heartache. If someone had asked me three weeks ago, I would have said that if the Saints could split the two-game trip to Chicago and New England, I would be happy. Then the Saints (for example) beat Chicago, and suddenly my expectation level went up. I told my wife, Mary, that beating New England in New England would cause me to buy-in to this team and its overall chances.

All that was true until New England won with five seconds remaining. Once the Saints led 27-23 with just 2 1/2 minutes remaining, well, I expected a victory.

And it stung, didn't it? Why? Expectations.

But expectation doesn't have to be a bad thing. The Bible says, in fact, that's the state we should live in. Peter wrote, "All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is by his great mercy that we have been born again, because God raised Jesus Christ from the dead. Now we live with great expectation."

The other side of expectation is that we can trust the outcome if we trust in the Lord. No expectation of an after-life will ever match what it truly will be like. The writer of 1 John says, "And all who have this great expectation will keep themselves pure, just as he is pure."

To summarize, it seems to me that the way expectations harm us is more about what we're expecting than anything else. Putting our trust in things, (the Saints for example) is a dangerous thing. Putting our trust in people (like anyone including Drew Brees) is a dangerous thing. Putting our trust in places or money or possessions is a very, very dangerous thing.

Only in God can we be sure that our expectations will be met. Or in the case of Jesus, exceeded.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Jesus -- the Prevacid for bitterness

Clarence Darrow, the famed criminal lawyer once joked: "Everyone is a potential murderer. I have not killed anyone - but I frequently get satisfaction out of obituary notices."

Bitterness and unforgiveness are kissing cousins that can tilt the scales of justice until something flies off. The more we hold those cousins inside, the more our insides are in difficulty.

David wrote about it this way: "Then I realized that my heart was bitter, and I was all torn up inside. I was so foolish and ignorant -- I must have seemed like a senseless animal to you. Yet, I still belong to you; you hold my right hand. ... Those who desert him will perish, for you destroy those who abandon you. But as for me, how good it is to be near God!

Defined, bitterness is something with a lack of sweetness.

Someone once said, "Psychologists have shown that certain phenomena, such as regret, are not purely emotional. They involve the construction of specific thoughts that are associated with an alternate reality. Some may think, 'If I had studied more in school, I would have a better job.' The same may be true for bitterness, except that the scenarios involve other people: 'If my colleague hadn't interfered with my work, I would have finished the project on time.'"

I know this, bitterness can not win. Bitterness leads to unforgiveness which leads to, well, unforgiveness.

God makes clear that we should forgive as he forgives, and that if we don't, he won't.

Talk about pressure.

Of all the things Jesus commanded, loving our enemies is perhaps the most difficult.

Here's the truth, as told by Jeff Spite:
· I MAY NOT love God like I should, but I’m determined to get a handle on it.
· I many not love my wife the way I should, but I intend to work at it.
· I may not love my neighbor as I should - but I have nothing against trying.

BUT, love my enemy?

How many of you have had enemies?
How many of you would find it difficult to love them?

OF COURSE YOU have difficulty loving them… they’re your enemies!! If you could love them, they wouldn’t be your enemies anymore, now would they?
· They’ve hurt you
· They’ve spoken out against you
· They’ve threatened your self worth, your standing in community, your finances, your job
· They’ve subjected you to mental cruelty and perhaps even caused you bodily harm

I don’t want to love these people…
AND YET, Jesus says… "But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you."(vs 27-28)

Where do we go to find a Prevacid for our bitter stomachs?

Jesus, of course.

Look at it this way, if you can. Acts tells us the story of the death of Stephen, the 1st Christian to die for his faith. As he lay dying, we’re told that his last words were: "Father forgive them, they don’t know what they’re doing." What is Jesus doing during this travesty? Stephen says: "I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God" (Acts 7:56).

Forgiving in circumstances that are horrible is God-wielding power. Forgiving when you've actually done nothing that would in fact cause the situation is Holy Spirit inspire. Forgiving them they don't know what they're doing is Jesus-given.

I'll never know the actual cost of the cross, but I know my mistakes (which are many) and my problems (which go on for days) and my sins (which are life destroying) were nailed to that cross so long ago.

He's forgiven me. I pray that all humanity can find that same forgiveness. Being human most of the time means I, too, must forgive so that my bitterness be relieved.

As they say in Lizelia, Miss., "I'maworkin on it."

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Down the rabbit hole of government and the Bible

Today, as the government officials enter their 5,000 day of shutdown -- or it seems -- I thought I would go to the Bible and see what it says about politics, thus making this blog about the two things people say one shouldn't discuss. Thought I would live dangerously, though there are no snakes or knives in this one. By the way, I stabbed myself with a butter knife this week, causing blood to flow. Didn't know I was vulnerable to butter knife attacks, but I digress.

Anyhoo, off we go down the rabbit hole.

Psalm 33:12 reads, Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord, the people whom he has chose as his heritage.

Jesus said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me."

Peter wrote, "Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor."

Paul wrote, "But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ,..."

And Luke told us, "But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men."

In perhaps the first visage of democracy, the writer of Psalm 109 told us, "May his days be few; may another take his office!"

There are others, but you get the drift. Personally, I like the one Paul wrote, but feel free to search yourself.

The question becomes, I reckon, are we still a nation under God?

From David Greenberg, a writer for, we read, "Poor Alfred Goodwin! So torrential was the flood of condemnation that followed his opinion—which held that it's unconstitutional for public schools to require students to recite "under God" as part of the Pledge of Allegiance—that the beleaguered appellate-court judge suspended his own ruling until the whole 9th Circuit Court has a chance to review the case.

Not one major political figure summoned the courage to rebut the spurious claims that America's founders wished to make God a part of public life. It's an old shibboleth of those who want to inject religion into public life that they're honoring the spirit of the nation's founders. In fact, the founders opposed the institutionalization of religion. They kept the Constitution free of references to God. The document mentions religion only to guarantee that godly belief would never be used as a qualification for holding office—a departure from many existing state constitutions. That the founders made erecting a church-state wall their first priority when they added the Bill of Rights to the Constitution reveals the importance they placed on maintaining what Isaac Kramnick and R. Laurence Moore have called a "godless Constitution." When Benjamin Franklin proposed during the Constitutional Convention that the founders begin each day of their labors with a prayer to God for guidance, his suggestion was defeated."

Other than the fact I had to look up shibboleth, I couldn't possibly disagree more, but certainly all are worthy of public discourse, unless of course, you disagree with the other side.

That side, represented by the writings of J.B. Williams, include this:

On May 2, 1778, George Washington charged his soldiers at Valley Forge that "To the distinguished character of patriot, it should be our highest glory to add the more distinguished character of Christian." In a speech on May 12, 1779, he claimed that what children needed to learn "above all" was the "religion of Jesus Christ," and that to learn this would make them "greater and happier than they already are." On June 8, 1783, he reminded the nation that "without a humble imitation" of "the Divine Author of our blessed religion" we "can never hope to be a happy nation", as he resigned his post as Commander-in-Chief. Washington's own adopted daughter declared of Washington that you might as well question his patriotism as to question his Christianity.

James Madison trained for ministry with the Rev. Dr. John Witherspoon, and Madison's writings are replete with declarations of his faith in God and in Christ. In his letter to Attorney General Bradford, Madison laments that public officials are not bold enough about their Christian faith in public and that public officials should be "fervent advocates in the cause of Christ." Madison did allude to a "wall of separation," but contemporary writers frequently omit Madison’s own definition of that "wall", which according to Madison, was only to prevent Congress from passing a national law to establish a national religion.
I could go on with the debate, but I'll stop here except to say that the Bible also says, "Only fools say in their hearts, "There is no God. They are corrupt, and their actions are evil; not one of them does good."
Government shut down? When was the last time it worked?

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

An amazing testimony, an amazing God

Psalm 40 tells us more about David. But perhaps it tells us more about ourselves.

It reads, "I waited patiently for the Lord to help me, and he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the pit of despair, out of the mud and the mire. He set my feet on solid ground and steadied me as I walked along.

"He has given me a new song to sing, a hymn of praise of our God. Many will see what he has done and be amazed. They will put their trust in the Lord."

Isn't that an amazing testimony, and an incredible bit of teaching?

He gave me a new song to sing. He -- get that -- HE gave ME a hymn of praise to HIM. And the result isn't just happiness, joy and such for me, but OTHERS will put their trust in the Lord because HE gave ME a hymn of praise.

Wow. And wow again.

Recently we've had the opportunity to do business with a gentleman who has had great physical difficulty to go with perhaps less than superb mental acuity. He ran into a great deal of financial difficulty because he had a stroke, and his ability to work and thus maintain the money he owed each month.

We struggled mightedly this year because of that, each month, heck each day, a reminder that the money he owed each month was coming after the due date.

Monday he caught up. Today I was able to tell the company that was most interested in being paid on time that we had thus caught up and I assured them things would be better now.

I pray that's true.

But what God, and my wife, have taught me over these long 10 months is that trusting God doesn't simply come when things are good.

Through church conflict that is eating my intestines like some sort of flesh eating bacteria, through this financial woe and worry, through whatever is next on the Devil's agenda, we must sing a new song, putting our trust in the Lord because what's at stake is not just us and our own agenda. Nah, nah, nah. The true recipient of our patience, our kindness, our trust in our God is the ones who don't know yet THEIR God.

David continues, "Oh, the joys of those who trust the Lord, who have no confidence in the proud or in those who worship idols. O Lord, my God, you have performed many wonders for us. Your plans for us are too numerous to list. You have no equal."

Oh, yes. He is an awesome God. Mighty. Trustworthy. Loving.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Where does my help come from? And when does it arrive?

Oh, my God, He will not delay,
My refuge and strength always
I will not fear the way, I will not fear the storm,
My help is on the way, my help is on the way
-- Kristian Stanfill
I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
where does my help come from?
2 My help comes from the Lord,
the Maker of heaven and earth.
3 He will not let your foot slip—
he who watches over you will not slumber
--The Psalmist
Oh, uh, er, well, help me, O God
-- Me
Life throws curves, when we're expecting fastballs. So, what do we do when this occurs? Panic? Worry? Stumble? Fall?
Uh, yeah, but that's not the true answer. What we should do is turn to our refuge, our strength, our help, the Maker of heaven and earth. That's what we should do. 

With great confidence I can begin by telling you that God is right there next to us even if the storm is raging and we can’t sense His presence. He promised that He would never leave or forsake us  The key is to figure out how to get our eyes off of the storm, and on the One who can help you calm it.
Do you remember the story in scripture where Jesus came walking on the water? The disciples in the boat were terrified of both the storm and this figure they saw coming towards them. Understandably so. I am sure I would be unsettled as well. So would you.   

However, in the midst of their confusion and fear, Jesus spoke revealing himself and telling them there was no reason to be afraid. We don’t know how the others in the boat responded, but Peter; bold, courageous, impetuous, and dangerous Peter; decided he wanted to walk out to Jesus

And he did…for a while. The storm was raging, but Peter was walking. The water churned beneath Him, but he was so captivated by the One who had given him permission to walk on the water, that he didn’t even notice. At first that is.

After a while, he got a little confident and decided to look around. That is when the circumstances got the best of him. When he took his eyes off of Jesus, he began to sink.

But, Jesus was right there next to him. The Savior of the World picked him up and put him in the boat.

Here's what I know. When conflict in church or life happens, it is absolutely the best policy to stop and look to where God is working.

Turning our eyes to the mountain, to the creator, the lover of us all more than we can possibly imagine, is the policy, the belief-system, that rings not only true but more importantly rings as the only help.

 I know that there are people in life who feel as if the storm is too much for them. Their circumstances are overwhelming and their emotions are telling them there is no hope for improvement and no way they can survive…but that is not the truth. No matter how drastic our situation, God is right there with us, and he will sustain us. But, we have to keep looking at Him. He is the One who can calm our storm. He is the One who can give us hope. And, He is the One who can change any circumstance. 

I stake my sanity on that. 

Friday, October 4, 2013

He'll be coming round the mountain ...

Ever gone looking for one of those cabins on the mountains? You know the type. Cabin sitting in the trees practically, probably in the Rockies or in the Smoky's. Carved from the logs in the ares. Spring rippling behind the house. A bunch of wrap-around decks to view it all. And can I get a hot-tub on one of those decks.

Today signals and end to the most roller-coast, amazing weeks of ministry in, uh, my ministry. This week we've celebrated the business of the church, with a Charge Conference. We've celebrated the sacrament of Baptism of a teen-ager. We're celebrating a wedding this evening. We've had youth events, and the vast majority of those youth don't go to our church except on Wednesdays. And the Bishop came to visit us.

Mountain-top living, or even renting, would be wonderful.

But I strongly suspect that when the day is done and the lights are extinguished, we start another year of work in our churches.

And what do we need to do?

A. We need to get everyone on the same page, with the same vision, with the same attitude, with the same goal.
B. See above.

There was alot of mountain top moments in Jesus' ministry. He was constantly going up on the side of one of those craggy things that surround the Sea of Galillee.

Just for example sake, here's what Mark (the newspaper guy of the Gospels) has to say about Jesus and mountains.

Mark 3: 12: Jesus went up on a mountainside and called to him those he wanted, and they came to him.

Mark 6:46: After leaving them, he went up on a mountainside to pray.

Mark 9:2: After six days Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone. There he transfigured before them.

Mark 9:9: As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus gave them orders not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead.

Here's the deal ... All of us, I believe, would love to live on that mountain with Jesus. But IT JUST AIN'T POSSIBLE.

We go from a mount of jubilation to a valley of humiliation fairly quickly because we live in the valleys most of our lives. Incredible emotional mountain-top experiences often flow directly into the valley of daily life where we meet opposition and failure and, well, unfortunate living at best. Our valleys are filled with unbelief, suffering, joblessness, helplessness, government shut downs, body shut downs, non-affordable health care and on and on we go.

Till our minds (and often our bodies) scream, "Stop the merry-go-round; I want to get off." Then we do. The very fortunate thing for all of us is that the Bible teaches one thing fairly clearly: God will walk with us through the valley of the shadow of death (or oppression, or any of the above). That's got to be enough.

I realize that next week probably won't match this week. But who knows except God? Who knows what will work in the church and what won't except God? Who leads people to churches except God?

Yea though I walk through ....

Ah, you know the rest.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

This is how ....

I was reminded last night when our Bishop Cynthia Harvey visited our church of something important. Er, did I mention our Bishop, the top leader in the state we currently are living in -- the state of chaos perhaps -- came to our little ol' church in Eunice.

What a wonderful blessing to see someone so, oh, for the lack of a better word, personable, drive 1:45 hours to speak to a group of youth that belong to our community who just happen to show up here every Wednesday. What a wonderful and surprising blessing to see someone of her authority come here and talk about missions to a group that has been doing mission.


But I digress.

She was talking about her childhood and she mentioned the fact that she never knew they were poor because everyone around them was poor.

Not surprisingly, that set me to thinking. About my childhood, and some facts I've never looked at. Upon reflection, we just might have been poor. We lived in a small house (that I miss to this day). We had a terrible looking shed in the back. My dad was an iron-worker, tying that stuff all over the place, working his hands to the bone sometimes. My mother worked at the "shirt" factor in Meridian, Miss., which I guess was some kind of seamstress, till she took at job working at Peavey's plant doing something or other.

But here's the thing. I never remember my needs not being met, nor did I ever really have my wants not addressed except (and my wife will be shocked when I write this) for that desire for a horse. The stick horse didn't count, at all. But as far as I remember, I never had bad clothes, or at least none that I hadn't destroyed playing in. I never went without food, often from our garden. I never lacked for, well, anything.

So, if we were actually poor, I never noticed at all. Heck, when I slept over at my friend's houses, theirs were in much worse shape than mine ever was. But we all survived. We all had, again, everything we needed to play whatever was the next sport.

Today's reading on my Youversion Bible says this of the path we walk together: "This is how we know we’re living steadily and deeply in him, and he in us: He’s given us life from his life, from his very own Spirit. Also, we’ve seen for ourselves and continue to state openly that the Father sent his Son as Savior of the world. Everyone who confesses that Jesus is God’s Son participates continuously in an intimate relationship with God. We know it so well, we’ve embraced it heart and soul, this love that comes from God."

As I read that this morning over coffee, I stuck on the words "living steadily and deeply in him."

Seems that's the formula for even the rich to get along. Living steadily and deeply in him would seem to be an answer for everything.

This morning, if you're not too far into work, pause for a second and reflect that if we're living steadily and deeply in him we have everything we would ever possibly need.

We're the woman washing his feet with our tears.
We're the woman at the well being presented water she couldn't understand.
We're the woman being he came for the Jews, not for her, till she says she could use a scrap or two, which prompts (in my version at least) a guffaw from Jesus and a way-to-go from the Master.

We're the disciples who need so much of the Spirit to understand just what the heck he's talking about. We're Peter whose eyes fell away and who sank like a stone. We're John, the beloved one, saying nothing as his friend was nailed to a cross. We're Stephen looking into heaven before those stones started flying.

We're Paul or better yet, Saul, who rode a horse, my horse, into infamy and blindness and yet came out the other side filled with the Spirit of God so much that he wrote much of what would become the New Testament.

What does this all mean? It means He is who He is, and if we live steadily and deeply in him, poor becomes a badge of love instead of a badge of embarrassment.

By the way, this reading follows 1 John 4: 10-12 which explained what the beginning, This is how, I reads, This is the kind of love we are talking about—not that we once upon a time loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to clear away our sins and the damage they’ve done to our relationship with God. My dear, dear friends, if God loved us like this, we certainly ought to love each other. No one has seen God, ever. But if we love one another, God dwells deeply within us, and his love becomes complete in us—perfect love!"

Poor. Nah. Rich in all things.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Wacko Wednesday

As far as I'm aware, we are entering our second day of a government shutdown. Wacko Wednesday indeed.

Along the lines of that theme: Did you see the recent story about a company's plans for space travel?

The Dutch-based Mars One venture says more than 165,000 people around the world have voiced interest in a one-way trip to the Red Planet .

"The response to the first round of the astronaut selection program has been tremendous," Norbert Kraft, Mars One's chief medical officer, said in a news release updating the tally. "We now have a large group of applicants from where we can start our search."

After the Aug. 31 deadline passes, Mars One will review the applications to decide who goes on to the next round of the selection process.

"We'll select the good ones for Round 2 — this will be the job interview round," Bas Lansdorp, the venture's co-founder and CEO, told NBC News in an email. "There is no fixed upper limit. ... We expect to announce who passes to Round 2 within two or three months, depending on how many people apply in these last 10 days."

Now, did you notice in that story a rather key item? ONE-WAY TRIP was the little item that struck my attention. And they have a large group of applicants. And there will be job interviews.

"So, have you been drinking a lot of Drano lately?" I imagine some of the questions must be like. More than 150,000 folks have thought it a real good idea to strap themselves into a rocket of some sort that will take off from Earth and land (run into) Mars. Might even run into that little feller that used to pester Bugs Bunny on occasion. Heck, might even run into Bugs Bunny, taking into account that anyone purposefully taking a one-way trip to another planet is somewhat buggy in the first place.

Some folks have noted that there are not more than, oh, 500 or so congressmen, Senators, and a president that Mars One might want to take along as well. But not me. No, not me.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

God is good all the time, or so Freddie told me

What do we, we being humans, you know -- folks, people, us guys and gals -- want more than just about anything?

I think most of all, we want to fit in. We want to be welcomed in, to whatever we've tried to be a part of. Some are better at it than most. Some of us are bad at it, but want so badly to be good at it. Some of us struggle to fit in. Some of us struggle to belong. Some of us struggle, period.

I've heard some talk about the exclusivity of Jesus. I've heard some, like those long-lost-from-history disciples who began to follow him after a sermon or two on the mountain side because the teaching was "too hard."

I know. I've been that person, at an early age. I didn't want to do this because I would have to give up, well, you name it. My potential sacrifices were no different than many lists of many people.

I never stayed around to hear Jesus say, "Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest" primarily because my burdens simply hadn't gotten that heavy. They had to have the added weight of life lived wrongly to ever get to the weight in which I could hit a bottom and look toward heaven. Simply put, but true. Ashamedly put, but true.

I tried to fit into that other crowd, and never felt at home there. I did all I could, tried all I could, did all I could, and I never felt I fit in.

I hit that bottom and I looked heaven-ward, and suddenly it became clear to me that Jesus was standing on the other side of the River Jordan with one of those signs with a name on it, my name on it, and beckoning me toward him.

"Come to me," he said.
"Come fit in," he might have said.

So, today I was thinking -- over a Saints hangover from a late night (for me) bedtime because of Monday Night Football -- that is what the suddenly late, but way too early Freddie Henderson gave me that few ever have.

I try to fit into this crowd, those who love Jesus so desperately, but sometimes I don't feel quite at home there either, frankly. I don't know that I fit into the clergy crowd, because I feel so very much like laity still. I don't know that I fit into the laity crowd, because I'm clearly clergy.

But Rev. Freddie Henderson, who died late last week, always, always made me (and everyone around him) feel they've finally come home. He made us, all us Ragamuffins out on a wilderness journey, feel we'd found a really nice outpost to relax in. He made us feel that no matter what life was providing. His smile alone could send angels to guard our doors, or at least I felt that way after calling him with all my dang troubles from time to time.

No black. No white. No denominational wonderment or separation. No clergy, laity, none of those strange mutant beings who find themselves somewhere in-between. No different colored name tags at conference. None of that nonsense. He always, always made me feel that there was very simply a lot of ministry to be done, and we needed to be about it for Christ's sake.

When I first met him, oh, 14 years ago I believe, he welcomed me into his office, and we talked baseball. BASEBALL. I was all nervous, finding my way, trying to fit in and feeling like my hair was on fire, and he, knowing what I then did for a living, wanted to talk baseball. BASEBALL. I was all fidgety and wanted to talk about the newly (two years) found case of Jesus fever I had and wanted to share with the world and change the world and I wanted to be this and I needed to be this and, and, andandanddddddd.

He wanted me to calm down.

And fit in.

Paul wrote these words, which have often comforted me in my most moody of times, "And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord." (NLT)

That being true, and I've staked my whole life on it for 18 sometimes turbulent but always wonderful, it dawns on me that I fit in, sometimes despite myself.

Freddie would have heard that, grinned as wide as all of outdoors, and said, "God is good all the time. All the time, God is good."

And cliche though it might be, it always, always made me feel at home. God speed, Freddie.