Tuesday, December 31, 2013

God of wonders, you are holy and you are mine

God of wonders beyond our galaxy
You are holy....

This morning, around the globe, deep into the mountains in Appalachia, high on the rivers and lakes of the Midwest, through all there are people who have no homes, who have lost it all through no fault of their own. This morning, as the bitter cold of the Northeast mingles and mixes with the bitter feelings of the jobless, the tender faces of children who wonder why their parents are screaming at each other grow pale and hopeless.

It's another morning in America, as we wait for something to get better. Oh, there are many, many who will tell you things are going great, but those are the ones who feel no true hopelessness. And they don't have the eyes of God who see the hungry, the poor, the imprisoned as real humans to be touched and mourned when they pass.

While we fuss and fight about Duck Dynasty and such, the world slips a day further from the one who loves us the most and refuses to give up on us, all of us, each created in God's own image.

This morning, for some incalculable reason, I'm tired. Sometimes, even when I never meant it to be, I've let being tired be an excuse for being negative.

Not today. No, not on this last day of 2013.

I have decided that though I can't celebrate 2013 in any way other than another wonderful turn around the sun given by my Lord and Savior, not physically, emotionally, heck not even mentally, I can still honor Him.

Early in the morning,
I will celebrate the light ...

This morning I will turn to a God who loves me despite my worst intent, despite my biggest mistakes, despite my choices. This morning I will creep with the creeping things, soar with the largest wings. This morning, oh my Lawd what a morning.

The universe declares your majesty
You are holy ....

This dark, cold morning, Psalm 70 captures my feelings. It reads in part from the NLT, "But I keep praying to you, Lord, hoping this time you will show me favor. In your unfailing love, O God, answer my prayer with your sure salvation. Rescue me from the mud; don't let me sink any deeper. Save me from those who hate me, and pull me from these deep waters."

The writer continues toward the end of the Psalm. "Then I will praise god's name with singing, and I will honor him with thanksgiving. For this will please the Lord more than sacrificing cattle .... The humble will see their God and world and be glad. Let all who seek God's help be encouraged. For the Lord hears the cries of the needy; he does not despise his imprisoned people."

This morning, no matter your emotions, no matter your checkbook, no matter your plans successful or impractical for 2014, stop what you're doing and praise the name of God, Jehovah, Jesus, Spirit, with all your being and strength and soul.

The mystery of the Godhead fades as we approach the throne room with the bit of love that he secreted into our makeup.

You are holy, O God, maker of me and mine; you delivered me when I was ill; you saved me when I was being attacked; you give me hope when I worry. You are holy, O God.

Monday, December 30, 2013


Have you ever seen a moment when you knew, absolutely knew, what you were about to do because you believed you were shown the way conclusively?

Yeah, me neither. Not exactly.

Which brings me to one of my most intriguing moments in Scripture, and the most amazing thing begins with the little two letter word, SO.

Look at Genesis 12 sometime as you plot your course into the wind or with it.

It begins so innocently, just like all that God calls us to, I think. It begins, "The Lord had said to Abram, 'Leave your native country, your relatives, and your father's family, and go to the land that I will show you. I will make you into a great nation. I will bless you and make you famous, and you will be a blessing to others. I will bless those who bless you and curse those who treat you with contempt. All the families on earth will be blessed through you."

Wow. Wonderful. Exciting. Gratifying.

And, uh. Notice what's not there. A destination. An itinerary. A compass. A wish list. Just "Leave" everything you've ever known and go where God WILL SHOW you.

Then the explosion of faith is summed in two letters.

The Bible reads, "SO Abram departed as the Lord had instructed..."

No questions. No moment of doubt. No fighting, arguing, demanding. Just 'leave' and 'so.'

What are we to make of this?

How many of us would leave behind everything that is familiar to us and just go without knowing our destination? The concept of family meant everything to a person living in the time of Abraham. In that time, family units were strongly knit; it was unusual for family members to live hundreds of miles apart from each other. In addition, we’re not told anything about the religious life of Abraham and his family prior to his calling.

The people of Ur and Haran were pagans who worshipped the ancient Babylonian pantheon of gods, in particular the moon god, Sin. Given that fact, it seems reasonable that Terah was a pagan idolater. There is no biblical evidence that the line of Shem (son of Noah and Abraham’s ancestor) were worshippers of the true God. Yet somehow, by God’s providence, Abraham knew and recognized the call of Yahweh, the LORD, and obeyed willingly, not hesitantly.

The question hanging in the air this morning is without any of those promises in such detail, but with much more of a knowledge (in theory) of the true living God, what are we willing to do? What are we willing to give up? What are we willing to fight for?

Where are we willing to go?

As the New Year dawns, perhaps those answers will become more clear to all of us.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Nutribulleting for Christ

The smell of bacon floated on the air of the parsonage this morning like gold at the end of a difficult rainbow.

I, on the other hand, was drinking a shake, a nutribullet shake, a shake made up of (I'm not kidding here) spinach, apple, blackberries, strawberries, Satsuma, pecans and water, oh and Greek yogurt. I just remembered I forgot the honey. In any case, I downed it with relish, though come to think of it some hot dog relish might have been pretty good in it, also. And for those Louisiana readers, make sure you read that as nutri-bullet, not nutria-bullet. Talk about one letter making a huge, huge difference in a word.

Our dear daughter Shanna gave us this wonderful gadget for Christmas, and we've plowed the field ahead, dumping something called Kale into the bottom of this concoction or something called chard or who the heck knows what next. The book that came with this gadget tells me that I can fight the oncoming (or too late for some things) joint pain, cancer, hemorrhoids, constipation, lack of sleep, hairlessness (okay, I made that one up) and such. So, we're shredding Kale. Yes, the Kale you say.

With the grand boys in the house, however, one must cook bacon, for their four food stuffs include bacon, bacon, bacon and something else.

I sat there pondering the news of the day, smelling bacon, drinking a green shake.

I was reminded of Paul writing this: "All things are lawful for me," but not all things are beneficial. "All things are lawful for me," but I will not be dominated by anything.

The punctuation is Paul's by the way. No idea why all things are lawful takes quotes but the rest does not, but I digress.

Here's what I see from this. We, as Christians, are called to make a difference. If we're dropping dead because of _____________ how can we be making a difference?

Now, that doesn't mean I'm nutribulleting for Christ. It simply means since the body has all but quit, I should be worrying about keeping it in shape.

Besides, I watched Rocky Balboa last night. There's still fire in the furnace.

And a bit of apple debris.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

As Ahnald once said, "I'm back"

Whew. Glad I got that off my chest (and neck). Christmas Day washed away a lot of stuff, and I guess that I will continue this old thing. I never meant to cause a stir, but then I guess Phil Robertson didn't either and we all know how that turned out.

This morning, back in the office running off bulletins, back in what passes for the flow (whatever that means upon reflection, I switched on Pandora and found some 60s folk music and there I was again, with words pouring out of pours.

I've said this before, but I'll say it again with relish. Writers must write. Apparently, for good or bad, I must. I must though I'll try to remember that there are things that I've written that hurt unintentionally, but hurt all the same. I've also been hurt, and that's just a sort of occupational (though this is not my occupation) hazard. Sharing emotions and heart comes with the implicit idea that there might be blow back.

I saw a young blogger's incredibly powerful work and saw that he had 1.2 million hits on that one piece, and suddenly it seemed to me that my work was worthless. I have no unique ideas or thought. I just pour, and things come out. They came out.

Lots of folks commented or sent texts or messages or carrier pigeons or such when I said I was heading toward the ends of these blogs. I appreciate the feedback. I really do. And it reminded me why I write. Perhaps it's not for you, but for me, one reminded me.

But one struck me immensely. A fine man I used to work with, er, for, I can't remember how all that went, back before we shut down a PM newspaper together, wrote this: (It's) hard to keep an inspired writer quiet for long and the passion for it will come again, in this blog, your column or your sermons. And you will.give people the words you've been given, and that's all you can do.

I would question only the inspired part of that, but that's just me.

Truth is we've had some difficult family stuff that I've taken way, way too personally and conflict I never saw coming and pray that I never experience again nipped me on the behind. That's all, but that's enough.

But yesterday, playing around with my gift (a Ukulele ... which would mean I now have four instruments I can't play well, but I digress), something dawned on me.

Thirty years ago I was, according to some, a hot inside management type for sports journalism. I had six offers from newspapers across the country including USA TODAY. I turned them all down but one, taking the executive sports editor position for two newspapers in Reno, Nev. I was sure I could turn them into a force the way my mentor Tom Patterson did for the two newspapers in Jackson, Miss., where I worked.

I couldn't. I didn't. I failed, and I knew it about six months in. But by then I was 3,000 miles from "home" and like the Life of Pi, there I was floating away with a tiger in my boat.

I was down, depressed and nearly out for a while, for I was certain I had made a horrendous decision and would never find myself or home again.

Then the Jackson newspapers allowed me to return, this time in news. I had given away a career to find happiness.

What I found was the dearest person in my life, my wife of the past nearly 29 years. And a couple years later, I became the Deputy Sports Editor of those papers. Then I got hot again and a New Orleans newspaper hired me, again as Deputy Sports Editor. Eventually I found out that there was much more to life than what I was living, and I found the dearest being in my life, my dear Jesus, and I gave up all the rest to go into ministry.

And here we are at this computer keyboard.

The point, if you didn't see it, is we have to but trust that all this is for a reason, or my goodness what reasons are there. This might be a rough patch for any of us, health or finance or personal or ministry or you name it.

But God is good...not just some of the time, but all the time. Whatever led to the past four months doesn't necessarily mean it will follow like a dog lost in the neighborhood for the next four months, or forty.

I don't know what the next year of ministry will bring, but after reflection I know this: He will be involved, so I must, must sit back and enjoy his presence.

That might not seem like much, but it wipes away the most difficult times of ours like monstrous bugs on the windshield.

Simon and Garfunkel are singing as I prepare to sign off, the last of many that have sung in the past few minutes.

I've built walls,
A fortress deep and mighty,
That none may penetrate.
I have no need of friendship; friendship causes pain.
It's laughter and it's loving I disdain.
I am a rock,
I am an island.

Nah. It seems to me upon pondering that all of relationships, hence all of life, is about allowing the pain that flows from relationships. Sometimes we win. Sometimes we lose. But the answer is always blowing in the wind, and it's our responsibility, nah, our hope, to experience it. Seems to me you're not alive if you're not experiencing the fear, the rush, the pain, the exhaustion, the sheer and pure joy that is living.

Or as I've said through 1,086 previous blogs, and 31,471 hits on those 1,086 blogs, and 1,270 hits in the past month...

That's Life.

I'm back. And I ain't goin' anywhere.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

A decision made, a heart exposed

It's Christmas Eve, on a cold, cold morning in middle Louisiana, and I've come to a decision.

I'm heading toward the end of these blogs, I believe. I've read in the past few days many blogs that are much better than my own, much deeper, much better written, much better read. So, I'm signing off on Dec. 31 of this year after four plus years of five-day-a-week writing.

It's been a difficult year, for a thousand reasons. No one in my own conference cares about this blog, to speak of, and it takes more time and thought than it appears, so I think I need to be concentrating on things other than babbling. I've no more to say than the next person, no more insight and less theological background than most. This blog, then, serves no real purpose.

I've enjoyed every bit of it, actually, for this is what I've always been, a writer. But I'm not called to be a writer any longer. I'm called to be a pastor, at least I'm fairly certain still that's the case. So, I'm going to concentrate on that as best I know how. I'm going to pastor my flock, and I'm going to stop offering opinions that often insight nothing but folks talking about me somewhere other than to my face. I never meant this to be this way. It was never my intent, but sometimes we don't get what we intend, now do we?

I'm reminded this morning of a time when I was eight and we went to West Virginia for Christmas. It was bitterly cold as I recall, which is amazing since often I can't remember where I was 30 minutes ago but I can snatch a memory of 52 years ago out of the blue.

But it was also the only white Christmas of my life, really. Snow was falling all day and there was a foot on the ground when night came.

I remember Santa was said to be traveling despite the conditions, and the Fairmont, W.Va., TV station gave a report of where he might be.

I was sent to get something out of a suitcase, and I found the transistor radio in the suit case that I had asked Santa for. Gears clicked in, thoughts secured a hold and suddenly life and Christmas changed. The innocence in which I lived then is simply not the innocence I know now -- or don't, as the case may be.

I love my wife. I love my children. I adore my grand children. I love my churches, and the folks in those churches. I love good coffee, and I adore fast food. I like a good newspaper in the morning, good writing all day long. I love my Saints. I love and rescue pets of all kinds, and if I had my druthers, there would be no homeless folks or homeless animals in the world tonight.

I'm too negative, and not nearly as filled with faith as I should be, but that's just who I've always been (though I detest that expression for it admits defeat all too easily).

But I've come across things in our lives that even a writer can't write about, feelings even a vulnerable writer can't describe, and the pain and the loss and the unknown is just too much. I'm just, flat done.

I'll finish this up on a final note of the next few days, and I'll continue to write a column for a couple of papers around here (which like this I do for free and wonder why), but I'm just flat done.

I wish you all a Merry Christmas. I'll take tomorrow off, come back Thursday and begin the countdown. During the past four years I've been to Israel, seen beloved pets die, gone through moves and career change. But nothing actually comes as close to having a kidney removed than stopping this thing.

But we'll both get used to it, reader. I love you guys. I've tried to make this work. It's been called That's Life for 15 years since this "blog" started as a bulletin insert in the Gretna United Methodist Church bulletin when I was a lay person trying to figure out how I could help and serve.

It's still about life. But life is hard. Paul said it this way in his letter to the church in Rome all those years ago. "We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose."

I could go on and on, but I won't. What I want to do is wish you the best day you can possibly have, the best coming year, the best health, the best work in the church, the best moments with your families, the best meals, the best of the best. That's ultimately what days like these, with snow or without, with family or even without, are all about.

Merry Christmas.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Time, and the Lord's help, heals

What I'm going to say, I wonder why I even try. But this is a blog of humility and vulnerability, of opinion, but certainly not one in which I would ever tell you I have the answers. I don't. But I'm desperately trying to understand the questions.

Let's begin by saying Phil Robertson is 67, and he grew up dirt poor in the white South. In remarks to a national publication (has anyone not heard or read this?), he said, "I never, with my eyes, saw the mistreatment of any black person. Not once. Where we lived was all farmers. The blacks worked for the farmers. I hoed cotton with them. I'm with the blacks, because we're white trash. We're going across the field … They're singing and happy. I never heard one of them, one black person, say, 'I tell you what: These doggone white people'—not a word! … Pre-entitlement, pre-welfare, you say: Were they happy? They were godly; they were happy; no one was singing the blues," Robertson said in the interview.

Those remarks were missed by many because they were concentrating on Robertson's GQ interview in which he said things about homosexuality.

I couldn't let it go without commenting, however. Let me say this to begin: I'm 60, white, male, and grew up in the South, although I wouldn't describe us as dirt poor or if we were, I didn't know it.

And I must tell you, never, with my eyes, did I see the mistreatment of any black person. Not once.

There. For all the liberals out there, understand this point. If that sentence is enough to have me condemned, so be it. It wasn't because my eyes were shut, or that they were focused on such things as growing up and playing ball, though they were.

But that's not even close to the whole story.

I read this morning of a story by Jemar Tisby, president of the REformed African-American Network, in the Christian Post.

Tisby, who lives in Jackson, Ala., said that he personally found Robertson's comments frustrating because of the disparity between his remarks and his wife's grandmother's experience growing up in the same time and place where the "Duck Dynasty" patriarch lived.

Tisby interviewed his grandmother-in-law to learn how find how she had felt toward her white bosses growing up as a sharecropper in Louisiana, clarifying that her animosity toward whites eventually subsided because of her "faith in Christ."

"Oh, I hated [the boss man and white people.] I really, really did," she told him. "I was mad at what they did to us. I had to walk eight miles to school each way. Rain, cold, hot, whatever. The school bus used to pass us by. We couldn't ride it because we were black. Sometimes there'd be this big 'ol bus and only two white children riding it. The bus would pass by close enough to splash water on us, but they wouldn't pick us up."

Tisby attributed the differences in interpretation to the impact of centuries of segregation.
"[Segregation] makes it that much harder for us to see life from the other person's point of view and that is even more complicated when you're talking about the dominant or majority culture, trying to see from minority or subdominant culture," he said.

I could not agree more. If you're not seeing the other person, you're not seeing the other person's pains and suffering.

I seriously, seriously doubt Robertson meant for a national debate to begin on sexual orientation and race, but maybe, just maybe that could happen.

Much of what it takes to understand the other person, it seems to me, is to attempt to the best of our limited ability to see things through "their" eyes.

I've tried. I played in an all African-American basketball league when I was 19. Learned a lot after being cussed at and asked why I was there. But I can never totally understand what it was like to be my black friends who are of the same age as I am or maybe a bit older. I can't understand because I didn't go through what they went through. And we were segregated. Two races, two churches in my denomination, two this and that.

But understanding comes through talking, seems to me. No, I didn't see any of the atrocities that were happening in the state I grew up in, but I'm not an idiot. I understand they were happening. My question, once again, is how do we come together if we continue to have white churches and black churches. Just asking.

My mother, who died six years ago today, would have been 86. I never really understood her in terms of race, but I do know they were dirt poor. I do know they didn't have much. They truly lived through the Jim Crow era, and never much understood the other race, and I reckon never tried. And yes, I heard the N-word often growing up, even to describe a part of town (Meridian, Miss.) that I was driven through quite frequently, it being down the hill from my aunt's house.

She died with a bit of understanding and love for everyone. It can, and has, happened. It is really disconcerting, however, for folks who didn't grow up where I grew up to make judgments about those like me, or heck, even my parents. I judged them enough for both of us.

Time, and conversation, and a baby named Jesus changes everything. Did those of us in the white south understand that one day we would have black mayors of major towns in Mississippi. No.

But let me end with this. My senior class in high school was the first to integrate. It was a hard transition. But we came together in sports. The linebacker behind me, playing middle guard badly on defense, was Edward "Killer" Mosely. First black friend I ever had, I guess. Years later, he became the principal at my high school, his high school.

Time heals. I suspect it will for race, for sexual orientation, and for sinners just like me.

Let it be so, Lord. Let it be so.

Friday, December 20, 2013

A final word on the subject

I'll not dwell on yesterday, but instead look to tomorrow.

What yesterday, Dec. 19, 2013, showed me is the notion that we can ever come together about an issue such as homosexuality is simply wrong. We can't. It is a barrier that none can cross. I had hoped, and still hope, that we could come together as a church, as the body of Christ, and understand that though we might always disagree with each other on a whole range of theological and doctrinal ideas, we could be civil.

We can't, if yesterday's social media blitz was an example.

After the Chic-fil-a day a while back, after other such flair-ups, I wanted to believe there is a place at the table for moderate liberal and moderate conservative persons in my denomination, heck in all of the body of Christ. I'm not sure that works, any longer. The United Methodist denomination seems to be splitting apart as those on the far left and far right lob bombs at each other, with each digging in deeper in their positions.

Well, let me state it clearly. I believe that homosexuality is a birth happenence. I believe that it is also incompatible with Biblical teaching. How those two things could be equally true troubles me beyond belief. How can a loving God allow someone to have feelings that are incompatible with the Bible's teachings from birth?

Oh, wait. He allows all of us to have that. All. We're no different.

All have fallen short, Paul so plainly tells us. All. He allows those feelings toward sin, toward temptation, toward lust, toward gossip, toward cruelty, toward the dark. He does. Why? That's way above my pay grade. But he does.

So, how do we equate that with homosexuality? The difference is Jesus. All who come to Jesus are welcomed in, as long as we repent and fall before him in surrender. The gay community simply says what it is doesn't equate with sin. They want to change the perimeter. I don't believe they can.

Still, I'm a pastor. I must pastor persons who are gay, who want to find happiness with a partner, and believe that without that they can't be happy. I must be able to say something to them other than they're morphing into bestiality.  If I can't say to a person you are loved by God for who you are, then how do I pastor that person? That's what is the bottom line here, I think.

So, what do I do? Mostly, I ignore it. I don't preach about it. I understand and love friends who are gay, even while believing their lifestyle is wrong, and I never get around to the discussion because I can't come to words that will work.

Robertson in his  words about gays, sex, and black folks back in his day did conservative Christians no favors. He made those of us who wished there was some true leadership on this issue to think about how on earth we're supposed to pastor to those who don't want to be hurting, and if we can't do that, then what are we doing here?

The irony is he included drunks in the same sentence with terrorists and homosexuals. I am a recovering alcoholic. I take no offense to what he said there. I was born an alcoholic. It's in my genes, the way other things are in what makes us, us. I can't rewrite the scriptures to make it okay to be drunk. If I could, there's a chance I would. If it was okay for me to drink, still after 18 years, I would probably drink to get rid of problems. I discovered that was an upside down logic, and that the drink was just another of the problems.

But I am a sinner, a person who needed a savior. I found one in Jesus. I believe that with all my heart that If I had one drink, just one, I would revert to where I was. I was born a drunk, I'll die a drunk, but I don't have to drink because I accepted Jesus as the way, the truth and the giver of life. Phil Robertson can group me with all the sinners in the world he doesn't judge, and he would be right.

I read tons of opinions yesterday on blogs all over the U.S. Some were much better than mine I say humbly but reluctantly. Some were not very nice.

I simply want to sign off on this subject by saying this: If I, we, can't seek and save the lost and the least, then we should quit using Christ's name. Does that mean we ignore scriptures? No. We can't. It means we can talk this thing through if we quit hurling bombs. In some ways, I suspect, it is about how you say it, not what you say.

Jesus ate with sinners. Can we not talk to them?

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Robertsons, Fox News, Youth: It's all there in one place

I was the leader during a youth group discussion last night. I led with what I thought had been a really interesting if not outright funny national discussion last week when a Fox news person made the statement that Jesus and Santa were white.

I thought I could lead our mixed group of youth into a discussions about that topic, leading to whether images have ever been important to them, while the color of Jesus and Santa were less than important on one hand and yet have been used to make some feel less than worthy. I wanted it all to lead to an image I had captured off the Internet of a study of CSI types of facial reconstruction of what a male from the time of Jesus might have looked like.

Mostly, it crashed. They had not heard of the topic, didn't know anything about Fox news or some woman who said it. And they wouldn't let me take them past the notion that they feel everyone is created equal so none of this matters. Even the African-American kids, who said Santa was always white in their house and they figure Jesus is, too, had little to say about the images they had grown up with.

The only reaction I got from the final photo of the day was "man, that guys is scary."

My reactions are these: 1) the youth don't watch or listen to much news, Fox or otherwise; 2) they truly don't care about color of skin; 3) they don't want to say anything in front of the group.

All three could be true, and probably to some extent. I suspect they knew little about the top topic yesterday, not even on facebook. Their world is a closed one for the most part.

This leads me, in a round-about way to today's real topic. Phil Robertson.

The Robertson family, Duck-Dynasty and all, are attractive to enough of America for what they do, say, believe, that theirs is the top-rated reality show on television. Their massive appeal has led to major deals with tons of companies with their images placed on everything from tee-shirts to slippers to cups and more. Their recent Christmas Special hauled in a 37-percent increase in ratings over last year.

Willie Robertson, the son and CEO of the firm and I strongly suspect the genius who has gotten them everywhere you turn, has been on about every sideline of every sporting event I've seen recently. Other son Jase, same thing. They love baseball, they love golf, they love the Lord.

But I suspect in some ways that the major reason they are so loved, and numbers don't lie folks, is they don't mind saying whatever they say on whatever they feel in whatever atmosphere they want to say it.

And that's something I feel we've lost, even on these social media things. Phil Robertson, the father of the clan, was suspended yesterday from the program for an undetermined about of time, for saying what he believes the Bible teaches about homosexuality.

He did so in a magazine interview. He did so because he believes he has a pulpit that most don't have in which to say what he feels about what he feels.

No, it wasn't a question of freedom of speech, as most said in remarks I read yesterday on blogs announcing the suspension. A&E has ever right to do this. They own the show. They own the network. I question the sanity of doing it, but not their right. Phil had every right to say what he said, wrong or right, and he invoked that right by saying it. I do not doubt his sincerity or his honesty. His remarks, we'll get to.

No, the question I have today is was it the right thing to say, and ultimately because he is a passionate lover of the Lord, does he believe Jesus would have said it?

I won't repeat the remarks simply for space reasons, but suffice to say Phil seemed to be equating homosexuality with bestiality and with adultery -- I think.

And he had some remarks about human sexuality that I don't think were needed in polite conversation.

Finally it seems, he then paraphrased 1 Corinthians 5. He said "Don't be deceived. Neither the adulterers, the idolaters, the male prostitutes, the homosexual offenders, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the swindlers—they won't inherit the kingdom of God. Don't deceive yourself. It's not right."

Now, I'm not at all certain what translation Robertson uses normally, but I would gather it's close to this one, the NRSV, which says "Do not be deceived! Fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, sodomites, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, robbers -- none of these will inherit the kingdom of God." Seems he did a pretty decent job of quoting, to me.

I read one story, in trying hard to find his remarks by the way, that said he equated gay persons with drunks and terrorists.

Well ...

Two observances: If the conservative side of Christianity, the evangelical side of Christianity, had picked a more unlikely spokesperson to serve as its own, Phil wouldn't have been the choice probably. But then I noticed Sara Palin was voicing her freedom of speech for freedom of speech. Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal said that much of what he sees and reads in TV and magazines is offensive, and he linked Miley Cyrus with Phil Robertson, something I certainly never saw coming.

Second, who actually is the spokesperson for the conservative side of Christianity, and can there be a spokesperson for the moderate-conservative? But that's not the point here.

The point is this: For those who love the Robertson's show, and there are obviously millions, nothing Phil said comes as a surprise. For those who can't stand them and the family, and there are more millions that love it I would say simply because it is one show against hundreds and hundreds and if you add all those who love retched shows like virtually anything by Chuck Lorre (my opinion), you have more millions on that side, they were probably shocked that there are still folks who feel the way Roberson does.

Is there? And if there is, do they speak their mind as openly as does Phil and the boys?

We get back to the original questions:

Was it the right thing to say, and ultimately because he is a passionate lover of the Lord, does he believe Jesus would have said it?

There are many ways to read and interpret the Bible. If the quote by Robertson was taken out of context, that would be one way.

For example: In the second letter Paul wrote to the church in Corinth (which had some great difficulties), he said in the NLT, "Don't team up with those who are unbelievers. How can righteousness be a partner with wickedness."

Taken out of context, that sentence might lead Christians to believe we are not to do things with unbelievers. Granted that would make life for those of us who have pledged to complete the Great Commission, but I don't believe it is what Paul or Jesus was saying.

The problem the church has to argue and get around is there are many on both sides, good competent thinkers and theologians (which I believe is everyone who things about God), who believe the Bible teaches homosexuality is a sin. It just does, or seems to. The ones who are on the left are normally the ones who have doctor of theology beside their name, but I'm not sure schooling is the deciding factor here.

What Phil said, I wouldn't and maybe couldn't have said. On about the same day in this country, the United Methodist church had one bishop say she wouldn't have church trials any longer and the United Methodist church defrocked a pastor for officiating at a wedding of his gay son. We are not united any longer.

But what I'm arguing for is what I believe Jesus would have said, not Phil, not Adam Hamilton so much, not those who say the United Methodist Book of Discipline is outdated and has language in it that must be changed or even those who would argue that the Bible read through the eyes of its culture and its language really doesn't say what it certainly seems to say.

I'm arguing that it is still okay to say what you believe without being condemned or called stupid or whatever. It is.

Would Jesus have said it? I certainly don't know. But I believe if he believed it necessary, he would have for he feared no man. And here's the rub: He never did. Not once. He didn't condemn homosexuality. He never even talked about it. He did, however mention that log in our eye thing a couple times.

I believe what the Roberson's ultimately represent are someone who believes in the Lord and is or was saying it. I believe what we need is many more like that, but I also believe we need to be very careful in what we say.

So what now?

I have yet to see a statement from Willie. I'm not sure that a family that says what it feels can accept that apparently there are certain things you can't say. Phil's apology certainly wasn't sufficient to me. How can the Dynasty continue without the one who began the Dynasty. Do you as a family believe what he said was truth. If so, why are you continuing?

These are questions I can't answer nor will I try.

I will ask this one question to the Robertsons, though.

Would those statements bring one person to the Lord? I'm sorry to say, no, I don't believe they would. And that's what the bully pulpit lost yesterday. I'm sorrowed that the opportunities to show a family that prays together (as does the Reagans on Blue Bloods by the way) could be compromised.

There isn't enough of that on TV or in life. We need it desperately now. We just can't brow beat the "opposition" in the way the "opposition" brow beats Christians.  We're trying to love, not order. It's a hard business, especially without real details on how to touch others.

I'm reminded that a woman in Houston died in the doorways of a church, a United Methodist Church, on a cold, cold night.

And we're worried about everything else.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

You got this?

I heard this story yesterday. The Baltimore Ravens, a professional football team that won the Super Bowl last year, had possession of the football and were moving the ball down field with only a couple of minutes of regulation play remaining.

They reached their opponents' 44-yard-line where they faced a fourth-and-10 yards to go situation. They could attempt another play, of which the odds were very much against them making the 10 yards needed or they would turn the ball back over to their opponent. Or they could attempt a field goal. Field goals are spotted seven yards from where the line of scrimmage is, so from the Detroit Lions' 44, the kick would be placed down at the Ravens' 49. The goal posts are 10 yards from the goal line, making the kick one of 61 yards.

Baltimore Coach John Harbaugh, pondering all the questions in  the few seconds he had to think this over, asked his kicker Justin Tucker what he thought. Kickers practice before games begin, particularly on the road, and come to a conclusion about how far they could make kicks from. Sometimes when asked during games they actually tell the truth, which would be something like this: "Coach, in this dome I figure I could make it from ...."

Tucker, when Harbaugh asked, said, "I got this, coach."

"I got this," he said.

The interesting thing, to me, about this, "I got this, coach," is the authority in which he spoke. I assumed many kickers would have said something close to this except for one startling fact. No one had ever kicked a field goal of that distance to win a game, something Harbaugh was asking Tucker to do.

"I got this, coach." With fire roaring out of his mouth, with the power of Heracles in his leg, with the brains of a rock, Tucker said, "I got this, coach."

We are a week away from Christmas Eve. The question I ask is a simple one. Do you have this?

I must tell you this is the most stressful Christmas we've ever had as a family for a thousand reasons. We've got money issues, family issues, health issues, ministry issues.

Someone said if it ain't broken, don't fix it. No problem, friend. But what does one do when everything is broken? Have you got this?

I came across these ideas about stress at Christmas and I'm sharing.

Everyone can get all pushed out of shape by the sales and lists and parties at home and the office. So be proactive and get your focus right before you get sucked into the stress of the season.

First:  Choose to "do all to the glory of God". Whatever is on your list do it for HIM!

Second: Plan your giving without any regard to receiving in return. Lower your expectations and don't expect others to give back to you.

Third: Focus on the purpose of Christmas and remember that it is HIS BIRTHDAY and not yours.

Fourth: Prioritize your list so that God is put on top as the first of importance.  This means putting God first in giving and going to worship HIM.

Fifth: Pray about everything as it says in 1Thes.5:1.  Prayer is great at relieving stress every time. IF you are still stressed then PRAY all over again and again until you finally turn it over to GOD.

Sixth: Complaining is a terrible thing and it adds so much stress to our lives. Above all else stop it and go back to praying again. Replace grumbling with prayer. It really works so go ahead and do it.

Finally:  Just relax and rest in God. He invites you to come to HIM and receive His peace. Remember at Christmas He is the Prince of Peace. So let HIM be your Prince.

Mark Hall of Casting Crowns tells us all this:

I have what you need,
But you keep on searchin,
I've done all the work,
But you keep on workin,
When you're runnin on empty,
And you can't find the remedy,
Just come to the well.
You can spend your whole life,
Chasin what's missing,
But that empty inside,
It just ain't gonna listen.
When nothing can satisfy,
And the world leaves you high and dry,
Just come to the well
And all who thirst will thirst no more,
And all who search will find what their souls long for,
The world will try, but it can never fill,
So leave it all behind, and come to the well
So bring me your heart
No matter how broken,
Just come as you are,
When your last prayer is spoken,
Just rest in my arms a while,
You'll feel the change my child,
When you come to the well

Have you got this?

Tucker did, by the way, kick a 61-yarder to win the game. He had this all the way. Never a doubt.

Uh, huh.

This year, and every year that follows, relax. He's go this.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The feel of bleak-ness

Is there another word that "sounds" so much like it, uh, reads as does the word "bleak?"

Seriously. What other word in the English language sounds more like the word's meaning than does "bleak?"

In the darkness, there lies bleak. In the midst of powerful pain, there is bleak. Below the deepest layer of financial difficulty there is bleak.

Bleak is a man clinging to a buoy after a hurricane-induced tsunami. It is a field of sun-crisped plants, so lacking in water one can crumble the plants with a touch. It is that moment where those who have loved us in spite of ourselves somehow in the end, in the very end, have given up on us.

It is bleak.

Bleak is, bare, desolate, cold and piercing; without hope or encouragement. It is sinking sand that is the world without Christ.

It is, well, bleak. It is black way out beyond the color black. It is warfare without conscious or guilt, in a land where children are warriors.. It is laughter-less night, without the thought of any games or grand talk or wise notions.

You can almost "feel" the desolation in that world, almost sense the bareness, really know the piercing. It is a land of shadows, a plain of grayness, a lake of salt. I know no other word quite like it in that regard. It is austere, chilly, bone-breakingly dreary and grim, climbing onto our backs like impossible weights and furious stress and never getting off or giving up.

It is bombed out, blighted, bulldozed, deforested, deserted, exposed, flat, given way to for lack of a better description. It is gaunt. Raw. Scorched. Wind-swept, weather-beaten, unsheltered. It was and is exposed.

It came, and like a visitor who never stops talking or never pays for food or never puts the toilet seat up or down, it never leaves.

It is, above all else, you guessed it, bleak.

It was to this word and to this description that hymn-writer (and by the way is there really such a thing since no one sits down to write a hymn does one?) Christina G. Rossetti gathered herself to write a poem like some of us would write a letter.

She wrote this:
In the bleak mid-winter / Frosty wind made moan, / Earth stood hard as iron, / Water like a stone;/ Snow had fallen, snow on snow,/ Snow on snow, / In the bleak mid-winter / Long ago.

Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him / Nor earth sustain; / Heaven and earth shall flee away / When He comes to reign: / In the bleak mid-winter / A stable-place sufficed / The Lord God Almighty, / Jesus Christ.

What can I give Him, / Poor as I am? / If I were a shepherd / I would bring a lamb, / If I were a wise man / I would do my part, / Yet what I can I give Him, / Give my heart.

In verse one, Rossetti describes the physical circumstances of the Incarnation in Bethlehem. In verse two, Rossetti contrasts Christ's first and second coming. The third verse dwells on Christ's birth and describes the simple surroundings, in a humble stable and watched by beasts of burden.

I love the fact that the journey she takes us on goes from frosty winds to giving the God of heaven and earth a gift, her own heart.

That journey is in one case austere and plain, and in the other so colorful.

Hear it briefly again:

In the bleak mid-winter (ever had a better use of the word bleak?)
Frosty wind made moan (can you feel that wind taking the edge right off your morning coffee even as the steam swirls like wind in a football stadium?)
Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone; (in this word description, she paints the scene with hard, frozen earth and water so cold it is like a stone in contact with the skin)
Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow (again, can you feel the wind dancing mid-winter's tune, as snow on snow literally paints the country-side white, the sun's rays gray?)

In the coldest movie I know (in every way you can be cold), Jeremiah Johnson, one of the things I remember most about the film is the bleakness of the winters for that mountain man.  Wind whipping snow over snow over snow. But the bleakest part of that movie, starring Robert Redford, came when a series of events took his loved ones from him.

Bleak is alone. Bleak is depressed. Bleak is lonely.

Rossetti's life as a poet wasn't joy-filled. Certainly she wasn't as recognized as much as a contemporary like Elizabeth Barrett Browning. I'm no judge, but to me they might be a French loaf to a slice of cornbread. Both are fine in their setting.

To me there is an irony that of the two poems she is most famous for in terms of them being turned into Christmas hymns, there's this bleak, difficult, longing piece, In the bleak mid-winter.

Then there is another that cries out to what Christmas is all about, written 13 years after the bleakness of mid-winter had passed for Rossetti.

The hymn? Love Came Down at Christmas.

Love came down at Christmas, Love all lovely, Love diving; Love was born at Christmas; star and angels gave the sign.
Bleak? Only if one is an unbeliever.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Let nature sing again

I sit in an office with a beautiful new window to the left of my desk. Through the window comes shatteringly bright rays of sun, particularly at this time of the morning.

It is a startling reminder of a couple of things:

1) I have no curtains.
2) Days with sunshine are so very much different than the dark, murky days we had so much of last week. The days with the sharp stab of sunshine are strikingly different than the ones with nature's hoodies pulled up over our heads.

It's the same thing, I think, with the way we look at life, through the lens of sadness as opposed to the lens of joy.

Look at one of my favorite seasonal hymns, Joy to the World.

Joy to the world, the Lord is come! Let earth receive her King; let every heart prepare him room, and heaven and nature sing.

Those words speak to me this bright morning. "Let heaven and nature sing." The writer, Issac Watts, perhaps one day looked at the bright rays pounding on the earth and sang a joyous tune. In 1719, he sang a joyous tune.

Notice what is not found in the hymn, written by "The Father of Hymns." There is no mention of shepherds, wise men, angels, or anything found in the Christmas story. That's because the hymn wasn't written to be part of the Christmas canon. The theme of the story is the second coming.

But you can't have a second, without a first.

It's based upon Psalms 98. Listen to the words of that Psalm from the NLT. "Shout to the Lord, all the earth; break out in praise and sing for joy! Sing your praise to the Lord with the harp, with the harp and melodious song, with trumpets and the sound of the ram's horn. Make a joyful symphony before the Lord, the King! Let the sea and everything in in shout his praise! Let the earth and all living things join in. Let the rivers clap their hands in glee! Let the hills sing out their songs of joy before the Lord. For the Lord is coming to judge the earth."

Watts wrote:
"Joy to the world, the Savior reigns!"
"No more let sins and sorrows grow..."
"He rules the world with truth and grace ..."

This morning, as we sail towards Christmas Eve (just a week from tomorrow), we sail toward the kingdom of God. We sail toward the joy that is inevitably provided by the one who was born to die for us, so that we might have joy, ultimate joy.

The strangeness of saving the world through the birth of a baby is behind us now. The plan has succeeded beyond what must have been our wildest dreams. The "glories of his righteousness and wonders of his love" come breaking through foggy glass and reflection.

He has come.
The first time.
Let us wait so impatiently for his coming again.

That's the way this whole heaven and nature thing works.

Friday, December 13, 2013

EMP is born, sorta, kinda

This universe is real, the one in which we live, unlike, say, any other universe, out there, like say the Marvel Comic Book or movie universe, or the DC Comic Book universe or the Warner Brothers movie universe or whatever. Those universes, those un-real universes, seems to exist because of computer generated effects. But they aren't real. Though I'm no scientist of any sort, there is nor has there ever been a Krypton -- for example.
Rather recently, a universe was created for a graphic novel series. The graphic novel series, Empowered, was created. Empowered was a female member of the Superhomeys superhero group and the main character of the graphic novel series of the same name. Empowered's civilian name was Elissa Megan Powers, but she was most commonly referred to by her fellow heroes and friends as “Emp.” Whether this was purely because of it being a shortened reference to her superhero name, or simply a phonetic pronunciation of her civilian name initials was never specified. She was "Emp." Simple enough, right?
Emp was a 20-something super heroin and associate-member of the super homeys superhero group. Her powers and abilities were derived from a super suit of unknown origin and nature (the suit literally "fell out of the sky" in an envelope addressed to her). This suit, while being Emp’s source of power, has also made her a social laughingstock as it often failed when she needed it the most. This was due to the suit’s material, known as a “hyper membrane”, being incredibly thin and incredibly skin-tight, while also being extremely fragile and sometimes uncooperative. Sorta, kinda reminded me of Greatest American Hero, a television show whose theme song was far, far better than the show itself (kind of like Batman in 1966).
Despite these shortcomings, Empowered’s super suit steadily became more useful and resilient with new abilities being revealed as the series progresses. Additionally, Emp’s suit was implied to have been bonded specifically to her, and was shown to be completely useless when worn by other people. The suit's odd behavior and contradictory properties (such as being able to stop bullets and shark bites, yet was also extremely fragile) were at least partially a result of Elissa's psychological difficulties and limitations.
Get all that? Yeah, didn't think so.
The point was this, I sorta, kinda think ... The "suit" was a dream in the making. It seemed to be all we could ever want, but then again it wasn't. Kind of like the Messiah born to be king, who would die instead.
"And when they were there, the time came for her baby to be born. She gave birth to her first child, a son."
Again, with simplicity, with grandeur, with love and with gentleness, with affection, with a niceness ... the baby was born."
He ...
was ...
Not created. Not made. Not substituted. He was born, and that had significance in the Lord's Universe, the one in which WE live.
The baby was born.
The king was drafted.
The powerless became empowered.
That which was without power was granted power, but a power of a far different kind. That which was without was granted the ability to be WITH. The LEAST and the FEW were given equality with the MOST and the MANY. And the cold darkness was warmed and lit with the love of God.
EMP, indeed.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Mary's words, our hearts

As I ponder these words, dripping with love and emotion, we are two weeks, 14 days and nights, from Christmas Day. We are days -- cold and crisp like ample cubes of ice in fresh juice -- and nights -- dark and mysterious like a journey into Jehovah's unknown -- from the wondrous-ness of the birth of a baby whose capability to love was and is unprecedented.

Traveling at the speed of hope, these 24-hour chunks will soon be done up in silver paper and greenery.

My dear friend, John Wynn, writes these words ...

"O God
We are thankful that you have given us
Eyes of Faith.

"We can look at a Star and see a Place

"We can look at a Baby and see the Future

"We can stand at the beginning of a New Year
and see Hope

"For we are the people who know the end of the story as well as we do the beginning.

My friend, John Wynn, captures the emotion of a birth, THE birth, and allows us to come along. Two weeks before the event, we are invited to the event.

Mary said, "Oh, how my soul praises the Lord. How my spirit rejoices in God my Savior."

What a wonderful time, a wonderful moment. He is coming; He is near; He is here.

I was reading this gloomy cool December morning that the practice of putting up special decorations at Christmas has a long history. In the 15th century, it was recorded that in London it was the custom at Christmas for every house and all the parish churches to be "decked with holm, ivy, bays and whatsoever the season of the year afforded to be green." Wow. Things would be colored to symbolize the coming to earth of our little Savior, this child Jesus.

The heart-shaped leaves of ivy were said to symbolize Jesus' coming to earth, while holly was seen as protection against, well, pagans and witches. It's thorns and red berries represented the Crown of Thorns worn by Jesus at the crucifixion.

As early as 10th-century Rome, nativity scenes were made popular. My man, Saint Francis of Assisi, helped spread them across Europe, like some lively and unknown X-Box of the middle ages. Decorations for trees and such were used, with the first commercially produced decorations appearing in Germany in the 1860s.

I think we have some of those in some old boxes in our parsonage. No, really, we do. Or something like that. There were times when we had much, much more things and they all came out at Christmas time and made their way onto trees.

All in all, these decorations, these lights, all this stuff we put in attics and such for much of the year, are about Him. Nothing less. Nothing more.

"Oh, how my soul praises the Lord. How my spirit rejoices in God my Savior." Mary's words. Our hearts.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Shine on me

I crawled out of a semi-warm bed this morning around 6:15, and let the dogs out to go explore the world. When I opened the back door, I was surprised to discover that the wind was cutting like a very sharp blade, the sun was no where to be found, and clouds were covering every portion of what could be the shreds of dawn. I had thought today was going to be warmer and sunny. Perhaps it was that thinking part that let me down.

This surprising start to the day led me to ponder more, always as you know a dangerous undertaking.

Think of it this way: When we call on the Holy Spirit for guidance, for teaching, for clearance to the will of God, we often ask Him to do one particular thing. We ask for the Holy Spirit, beloved of our souls, to enlighten us. Enlighten us. Give us light. Give us help. Give us guidance. Give us inspiration. But mostly, give us some light, please. Please. Please.

Last night as we were driving to Church Point, another of our towns, another of our churches, to teach a Bible Study, on one of the many little roads we travel to do that, there was a car with its emergency lights flashing on the side of the road. It was past sundown, and I told Mary that I would stop except it was dark and that was like a scene from Criminal Minds or something. I stop in the dark, a serial killer jumps out and I'm Billy Jerky somewhere down the road.

Darkness at the edge of town, Bruce Springsteen sang. Darkness, darkness, darkness. It's the area of evil, the slips of Satan, the moments we are least enlightened.

And what is the remedy for all of it?

I believe John's Gospel sort of spells it out completely, or as completely as it can be said.

He wrote, "There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came for testimony, to bear witness to the light, that all might believe through him. He was night the light, but came to bear witness to the light. The true light that enlightens every man was coming into the world."


The true light (not false teaching, or false bravado, or false sales pitches)...
that enlightens (gives the dark side the light side) ...
every man (and woman and child) ...
was coming into the world.

This morning was as dark as a coal miner's wallet.

But the forecast is for sun to arrive this afternoon, enlightening everyone the rays come in contact with.

We will bear witness to that light. We will talk about how warm and wonderful it is, after darkness had been with us for so long.

And we will remember. The light is our friend.

Holy Spirit, beloved of our souls, enlighten us, guide us, strengthen us, console us, tell us what we should do.

Shine, Jesus, Shine.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Bloggy mountain breakdown?

I'm going to take another shot at what this piece of work is, and why I do what I do. This blog is about humility, vulnerability, honesty, and perhaps most of all, it is about a sincere love of God and what that looks like in a humble (arguable), vulnerable (unquestionable), honest (arguable) and sincere (without question) servant of the God most high.

Whew. That's a long-winded piece of work to say, this is how I feel. I've begun to see and hear that some folks don't like this work. Interestingly, I'm told that some don't like it and they've not read it.

Here's the deal: I understand and accept those who don't like what I write or even that I write but only if they read it first. I understand that sometimes people read it and don't seem to get what I am writing. I still believe the Apostle Paul suffers from some of that, and no, I don't equate what I do with what he did. I'm simply saying that what you mean to say when you write a sentence is sometimes misunderstood. It's the way of the writer.

I take on difficult subjects sometimes, I take on personal subjects sometimes, I take on happy, happy, happy subjects sometimes. I use scripture as a basis, I use a newspaper as a basis, I use life (after all, that's the name of it) as the basis.

And through it all I mean only the best. I really do. The notion that I am cruel, or that I am judgmental in a personal manner is just not who I think I am or have ever been.

Understand this: I've written more than 1,000 blogs over four-plus years with more than 30,000 hits on the blog. Before that, I wrote thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, of words for newspapers across the country, and that doesn't take into account the hundreds of thousands of words I edited for newspaper across the country or the many, many pages I designed for even the nation's largest newspaper, USA TODAY.

And during all that time, I remember only a couple of persons ever getting verbally upset with me. And those folks were anything but Christians, believe me.

I was reading scripture this morning, which led to some of these words, and I read this:
About a year after King Josiah of Judah had turned the nation toward repentance from the widespread idolatrous practices of his father and grandfather, Jeremiah’s sole purpose was to reveal the sins of the people and explain the reason for the impending disaster (destruction by the Babylonian army and captivity), “And when your people say, 'Why has the Lord our God done all these things to us?' you shall say to them, 'As you have forsaken me and served foreign gods in your land, so you shall serve foreigners in a land that is not yours.'" God’s personal message to Jeremiah, “Attack you they will, overcome you they can’t,”was fulfilled many times in the Biblical narrative, Jeremiah was attacked by his own brothers,beaten and put into the stocks by a priest and false prophet, imprisoned by the king, threatened with death, thrown into a cistern by Judah’s officials,and opposed by a false prophet.

Now, nearly as I can figure or best I can remember, none of that has happened to this pastor/blog writer. And Jeremiah was, in a lot of ways, a very early blogger.

Listen, I know I've ruffled feathers, and I've made some dear folks mad, even as I've given general support and love to other dear folks. Sometimes in the same blog.

For those whom I've ruffled, there are times I mean to. There are times I mean to make you think, reason, even hurt. For those I've supported your position on things, hang around long enough and I might take the other side.

None of what I do is done without love. I really, really, really mean that.

I remember once a dear woman said of my ministry, preaching, etc.; "The reason I like you, is you're sincere. You might be a mess, but you're sincere."

I took that as a compliment.

Again, not equating myself with anyone else, but Jesus loved even while upsetting tables. Jesus loved even while re-inventing what was perceived as religion. Jesus loved even while eating with the unclean, with sinners, with tax collectors.

I have great amounts of trouble tuning out criticism, even valid criticism. I admit that, and that's part of the messy life I lead.

But I have opinions. I give them. If you really, really don't like me or the blog, or even me doing the blog, here's the key ... don't read it.

But if you don't like me or the blog but really want to take a chance that some fine day you might be moved, or you might challenged, or you might changed. Just might.

That's why I do it. For both of us.

Friday, December 6, 2013

In our shells

This past Saturday an Illinois pastor who was grieving the death of his wife, whom he buried last December, reportedly fatally shot himself inside his Mattheson, Ill., home in front of his mother and son. He said he was hearing her voice and footsteps. A person close to the family said, "the Ed that I know, he would have never wanted to leave his family, but I guess the depression, I can't speak on, but that's just something."

It always is, friends. Read this quote and apply it to someone you know, someone who has never said anything to you about depression.

“I am now the most miserable man living. If what I feel were equally distributed to the whole human family, there would be not one cheerful face on earth. Whether I shall ever be better, I cannot tell. I awfully forebode I shall not. To remain as I am is impossible. I must die or be better it appears to me.”

Abraham Lincoln said that. Abraham. Lincoln.

Depression strikes about 17 million American adults each year–more than cancer, AIDS, AIDS, or coronary heart disease–according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). An estimated 15 percent of  chronic depression cases end in suicide. Many people simply don’t know what depression is. “A lot of people still believe that depression is a character flaw or caused by bad parenting,” says Mary Rappaport, a spokeswoman for the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill. She explains that depression cannot be overcome by willpower, but requires medical attention.

And it affects many, many more than you can imagine.

Imagine attending a party with these prominent guests: Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Robert Schumann, Ludwig von Beethoven, Edgar Allen Poe, Mark Twain, Vincent van Gogh, and Georgia O’Keefe. Maybe Schumann and Beethoven are at the dinner table intently discussing the crescendos in their most recent scores, while Twain sits on a couch telling Poe about the plot of his latest novel. O’Keefe and Van Gogh may be talking about their art, while Roosevelt and Lincoln discuss political endeavors.

But in fact, these historical figures also had a much more personal common experience: Each of them battled the depression.

It is common for people to speak of how “depressed” they are. I have said that from time to time, particularly when the pressure gets to be quite too high.

But what I've learned over time points out that my occasional sadness and momentary hopelessness (usually written in a blog as I've always found sadness is far more easy to write about than happiness.) everyone feels due to life’s disappointments is very different from the serious illness caused by a brain disorder. I found a story about twenty-seven-year-old Anne (not her real name) has suffered from depression for more than 10 years. “For me it’s feelings of worthlessness,” she explains. “Feeling like I haven’t accomplished the things that I want to or feel I should have and yet I don’t have the energy to do them. It’s feeling disconnected from people in my life, even friends and family who care about me. It’s not wanting to get out of bed some mornings and losing hope that life will ever get better.”

I believe depression causes a retreat into oneself, and I've done something like that as well, particulary when attacked.

Poet Joe A. Witt writes,
In my shyness . . .
At times I retreat to my "shell,"
Clinging to the security of being alone.
In my shyness . . .
I may attempt to merge with my surroundings--
To be ignored, unnoticed, a silent voice rarely heard.
In my shyness . . .
I can feel completely alone,
Although surrounded by people.
In my shyness . . .
I'm perceived as having a padlocked soul--
And few try to gain entry into my realm.
In my shyness . . .
Few will dare venture to really know me--
To hear my quiet voice or to really try to understand.

This morning, if you have but a moment, pray for the son and mother who watched this. Pray for the church this pastor worked at. Pray for all those grieving out there in our country. And pray for the millions who are hearing footsteps and voices because they're so locked into a depressive hole of hopelessness.

Over the mountains and the seas, his love runs for us. I believe he views the pain of us all, the conflict of us all, the miserable feelings that depression develops like film in an old camera, and he says, Peace, be still. The healer is there for everyone. Occassionally someone has to ask.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

One day I will rest

The friends of Job get a bad rap, but listen to what one of them had to say:
"Yet if you devote your heart to him and stretch out your hands to him, if you put away the sin that is in your hand and allow no evil to dwell in your tent, then, free of fault, you will lift up your face; you will stand firm and without fear. You will surely forget your trouble recalling it only as waters gone by. Life will be brighter than noonday, and darkness will become like morning. You will be secure, because there is hope; you will look about you and take your rest in safety."

Truthfully this morning, this early dark morning, I pray these words into being. I'm journeying into land that is unknown, with the wind barely moving my sails.

So, it would be a little bit helpful to have someone at my back, someone I could count on, someone whom I trust.

Uh, look above. "You will surely forget your trouble recalling it only as waters gone by."

Jack Zavada writes this: The bottom line is that our wants may not agree with God's wants for us. After all, it's our life, isn't it? Shouldn't we have say over it? Should we be the one who calls the shot? God gave us free, will, didn't he?

Here's the problem. As Zavada says, if we fall for the world's idea of what matters, if we are drawn into believing what our mind is telling us instead of what God's will for us is, we get trapped in what he calls "the Loop of Next Time." The new car, the new relationship, the new promotion, the new church, the new congregation. All in our own minds. He says that whatever didn't bring you the happiness you expected, you keep searching for, thinking "maybe next time." But it's a loop that's always the same, because you were created for something better, and deep down you know it.

Here's the real deal, folks. Trusting in the Lord can require that you abandon everything you've ever believed about what brings happiness and fulfillment.

Trusting Him really, really demands that we accept the truth that God knows what's best for us.

I keep getting crushing body blows lately, blows that would knock Rocky down. But like that old boxer with the great hook, I keep getting back up -- woozy, of course. So, I keep plugging, keep pounding, keep plowing.


Because there is hope.
Because there is love.
Because there is faith.

Because one day, I truly believe, I will look about and take my rest in safety. Maybe not here. Certainly not now. But one day.

That has to be enough.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Things the Lord hates

Do we still have evil running around on the planet like a rabbit from a bunch of dogs?

I opened the Book to this:
There are six things the Lord hates -- no, seven things he detests:
haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands the kill the innocent, a heart that plots evil, feet that race to do wrong, a false witness who pours out lies, a person who sows discord in a family.

Let's see, proud eyes (check, seen 'em) , liars (check, seen 'em), murders (on TV, check), people whose head and heart are seeking evil for someone (check, seen 'em), liars (must be a biggee to Him), and those who sow discord (never thought I would, but I have seen these persons).

I would add the person who invented those flat prescription drug thingees in which you have to impossibly pull out the container by pressing on one end and pulling on the other, and broccoli. But that's just me.

This whole chapter, the sixth of Proverbs, is described as lessons for daily living. they are sort of things passed down from father to son, things to do, and things to not do. The 20th verse says it all: "My son, obey your father's commands, and don't neglect your mother's instruction. Keep their words always in your heart. Tie them around your neck."

Let's explore this in greater depth for just a moment.

Today we face all sorts of challenges, even nestled deeply in the arms of the church. The fact is sometimes, an evil person is easy to identify. At other times, we must be careful. 2 Thessalonians 2:7 mentions a ‘secret’ evil power. Sometimes evil comes dressed in pretty benign clothing.

Matthew 7:15-20 explains how to identify evil people. We must look for the results of these people’s actions. ‘A good tree cannot have bad fruit. A bad tree cannot have good fruit.’ (Matthew 7:18) If we see a poisonous tree, its fruit is poisonous. If we see a good tree (for example, an apple tree), its fruit is good.

Consider the actions of the man in Proverbs 6:12-15. In verse 12, he speaks false words. Such behavior is not good. It warns us about the man’s true character. In verse 14, he starts arguments. This man’s behaviour is evil. We should not trust him.

We cannot see that the man is plotting an evil plan in his heart (verse 14). However, we can already hear his arguments. And we can hear his false words. The results of his actions are wrong. He is like the bad tree in Matthew 7:18. The man’s actions are evil, so his plan will also be evil.
But as I read Proverbs 6:20, which talks about the law of your mother, I'm reminded of mine own as we head toward the sixth anniversary of her death.
I can hear her right now: "All I do is follow you around, picking up after you like some maid. As long as you live under my roof, you'll do as I say. Beds are not made for jumping on. Always wear clean underwear in case you get in an accident. Answer me when I ask you a question. Close the door. Were you raised in a barn? Do you think I'm made out of money? Don't go out with a wet head, you'll catch cold. Don't make me get up."
Once she told me to not run in the house and minutes later I fell on a floor furnace grating and burned myself badly. I still ran in the house when I could.
The point is this: Solomon is speaking wisdom to a select group, us. We must keep an eye out for evil, and we must remember the laws passed down by our mamas.
Wisdom in is wisdom out.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Why them?

I guess the biggest question is why. Why them? Why then? Why?

They still prowl the rocky hills of Palestine, grubby, smelly and out there among the unknown. They are shepherds, with a bunch of really dumb  sheep, in a really, really dumb  occupation. And out there among themselves, and little else, they still lead their sheep by the still water.

I still have trouble believing, and understanding, exactly what God had in mind when he came to them first with the announcement of the birth of a baby. Why them? Why then?

Imagine that.

An angel of the Lord appeared to them and the glory of the Lord was shining around them. And the shepherds were very afraid. "Don't be afraid. I have some very good news for you — news that will make everyone happy. Today your Savior was born in David's town. He is Christ, the Lord" (Luke 2:9-11 ERV).
Why was heaven's glory revealed to a bunch of nobodies in the middle of nowhere?
While shepherds had once been held in high esteem among God's people, they had become unwanted, left out, and pushed to the side. They smelled like sheep. They slept on the ground. They didn't live in major cities. Their jobs made them little or no money. They came from the lower rung of society. Abraham, Moses, and David were heroes larger than life that were remembered for greater things than shepherding. Shepherds were so yesterday and so not today in Jesus' world.
So why was heaven's glory revealed to a bunch of unwanted and forgotten shepherds? Of all the people to whom God could have revealed this startling birth, why choose shepherds? With all the power brokers in Jerusalem, Caesarea, and Rome, why choose the countryside outside of the insignificant and tiny village of Bethlehem?
Is in in the asking that we begin to seek the answers that can change lives? Why? Why not now? Why? That's the question I offer as we ponder the few days we have left till we meet the child. 
Why them? 
What a strange way to save the world.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Before the arrows fly

There are many things we can say that are at best bad for us. Some are even disasterous.

I have a proposal for the statement that is the worst among many.

George Armstrong Custer was said to have said it immediately before, well, you know.

The pilot of the Hindenburg was said to have said it soon after being told there was a gas leak.

The producer of the Obamacare website surely must have said it right before the site went live.

The phrase has relatives, which we'll get in to, but I have my favorite part of this equation, and I've said it far too often in my life.

The phrase, as I'm sitting here without good research to back anything up or even steal of a story of two, is "I'll think of something." You know it, don't you? Bill payments are not in the mail, but I'll think of something. About to be released from the place you're staying with nary a place to land, but I'll think of something. Not having studied for the next test? I'll think of something. Officer walking from his cruiser to your car? I'll think of something.

We search for words, for ideas, for notions, for something, like throwing a feather-thin line without a hook into a placid lake and expecting somehow for a fish to jump into our laps.

It's relatives are I'll think of something later and Can you think of something and even somebody will think of something or simply I'll think about it.

The problem is, and it's a real, real problem, is often we never do. And we look up and look around one day and there is nothing whatsoever we can do about whatever it was we were gonna think of something about. The arrows start flying, the flame ignites gas and the next thing you know, we're not able to think humanly any longer. The real trouble is, as someone once said, "We think we have time." And it's simply not, not, not guaranteed to us.

I'll think of something nice to say to so and so, and we never do and time passes and so and so no longer will take our calls and an ember grows so cold nothing can ignite what once was a friendship.

I'll think of something to tell my parents, my spouse, my kids, and the ice of mid-winter comes in and blows hopelessness onto the warmth of hope.

I read this today:

When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: "If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you'll most certainly be right." It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: "If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?" And whenever the answer has been "No" for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.

"Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure - these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart."

That was Steve Jobs, who indeed passed. I believe among all the things he got wrong in his life, he got this one right. Dead has crept closer while I was typing this. I might not have the time to think of something soon. Do you? Stop putting if off, and let Christ show the way to the truth. When the depth of darkness is upon us, there is really only one way to the life. Only one. Don't think about it; commit to Him.