Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Putting it to bed

It's the end of still another year, and Jesus did not come. This year we saw tumultuous protests of the police shootings and killings of unarmed black males, a devastating outbreak of disease in West Africa and the amazingly brutal actions of something we now know as Islamic State militants.

But through it all ... there is Jesus.

A Barna poll this morning shows that for the first time since the tracking began, Bible skepticism is tied with Bible engagement. Almost 2/3 of persons 48 years of age or younger are Bible skeptics.

But through it all ... there is Jesus.

They are literally fishing bodies out of an ocean where they fell from the sky this very day.

But through it all ... there is Jesus.

I'm reminded this morning of the man by the well who was paralyzed.

"... Jesus went up to Jerusalem for one of the Jewish festivals. Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda[a]and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades. Here a great number of disabled people used to lie—the blind, the lame, the paralyzed. [4] [b] One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?”
“Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.”
Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked.

The question as the year slowly dies away, is do we want to get well? Do we want to stop all the stuff? Do we want this year to be better than last?

One way to show this is to show this.

Be better. Pick up your 2015 mat and walk, skip, jump, dance.

Because ... through it all there is jesus.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Where do we go from here?

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?

A New year is upon us, my friends. What plan do we have for it? Do we simply let it fly and see what happens, or is this the year we simply trust in God and go?

The question can be asked any year, any time. The answers seldom come, now do they?

Monday, December 29, 2014

Dry some tears in 2015

As we end another year, my 61st and my dog Logan's 14th (and we're both showing a lot of wear and tear), I thought it best to reflect a minute.

Facebook has been kind enough to give us a look back, often without much of our intention. I noticed on my look back, taken from photos I posted (I guess) on Facebook, most of my year was devoted to grandkids. Well, so be it

But there is more to life than our own, isn't there? Shouldn't there be? What difference did any of us make this year?

I helped in a church restart that is on its infant legs. It's not even a toddler yet, and the legs are weak. It's going to take a mountain of prayer, an ocean of effort, and a Savior to give this baby a chance to walk one day.

I left a church, churches really that are in pain as are many in this country today. I feel for them even as I wonder about the future of the one I am in.

Where are the difference makers? Where are the ones who care more about the other than the self? Where are the ones who will make a change for the good of all? Where are we?

I believe all this, the shrinking of church attendance, the failure of churches on a weekly basis, begins and perhaps ends with our children and our children's children. If they have no reason to attend church, and even those two words make me cringe, then why would they this day?

Perhaps if they know how much we truly care, they will.

Pope Francis said this before Christmas: "My thoughts go out to all children today who are killed and mistreated, be it those even before they are born who are deprived of the generous love of their parents and buried in the egoism of a culture that does not love life. Also those children who are displaced because of wars and persecutions, abused and exploited before our eyes and with our silent complicity, children massacred under bombings even where the Son of God was born. Today their helpless silence cries out under the sword of many Herods. There are many tears this Christmas with the tears of baby Jesus."

Perhaps if we begin to dry the many tears, things will change. Let's make a pact together that we will feed some who are hungry, clothe some who are bare, house some who are homeless and simply dry those tears in each and every way we can.

Then we can worry together about church attendance. I suspect it won't matter.

Friday, December 26, 2014

What did you give?

When I was a child ...

The most important day of the year when I was a child was, of course, Christmas. The second most important day of the year was (ta .... da.....) the day after Christmas. Why? Because we got to tell everyone that bit of news that was hanging on the edge of our teeth. We got to share the info about what we got for Christmas. That meant calling Ricky and Tommy Hardy as soon as I could.

Get that? We were afforded the opportunity to tell everyone what we were given by Santa and/or our parents, friends, teachers, aunts and uncles or just about any and all we had come into.

The (party) lines were buzzing.

"Ricky, I got it. I got it. That chemistry set no one could find, my mama found. Come on over and we'll blow something up, er, make something. What's that? No, I don't know how to work the stuff, but hey, it's chemistry stuff and something has to blow something else up or why would they sell it? You just pour a bit of that yellow stuff into a bit of that green stuff and, hey, when I did it smoke started coming out of the beaker almost instantly. It's kind of like what made those spiders special in Spider-Man. hey, maybe we could get powers, you know, powers like sticking to walls and such. Maybe..."

As great as reporting the news and sharing the news about what was under the tree (and indeed it was great news even if the stuff wasn't so great because it was NEW stuff to us -- even if it was used sometimes because we couldn't afford new yellow and green stuff), calling a friend to brag about what was under the tree was equally grand. That's just who we were, if you're wondering just how crass and full of ourselves we could be. Hey, we were kids in the 60s. Everything was about us. We were told that all we needed was love, and a new football, and things would be great. Didn't care much about that love business, but getting new things was something I completely bought into. Often as possible, too.

I once snuck out the window of my bedroom with the keys to my parents' car. No, I didn't take it for a ride. I popped the trunk, took out the football, and I spent an hour throwing passes to myself in the yard. Oh, and I spent the hour practicing making the call on "Turner catching and/or throwing the winning touchdown pass in the Sugar Bowl." Then I placed the football back into the trunk, after wiping it clean from an hour of condensation and dirt and Turner sweat. What a great night, surpassed only by the job I did in being surprised the next day when amazingly, hey, I got a football for Christmas.

Whatdidyouget was the question poured into phone lines (remember those?) the day after Christmas in Meridian, Miss., when I was growing up and I suspect it still gets its share of usage today.

But perhaps the better question should be, and I mean this, what did you give? We, I suspect, don't ask that question much, and we don't think about that question much, and it gets little air time on Bowl Game day.

So, I ask you ... What did you give this year? Oh, I don't mean did you give the kids or grandkids the right game of Minecraft or the right the right next hot toy or the right pair of shoes. As an aside, my grandson got "basketball shoes." "They're LeBron James' shoes, Paw Paw," said my 7-year-old rebounder Gavin, who probably should get some of former Chicago Bulls player Dennis Rodman shoes since Gavin rebounds with effort, plays defense like he was born to do so and shoots only if (ONLY if) the building will collapse if he doesn't do so. I've seen two basketball games so far this season, and Gavin has taken two shots (making the same amount of jump shots as have I -- zero.

But back to the case. What did you give this year? Did you give to God till it actually hurts? We talk quite a bit about tithing, about 10 percent giving, about what we're supposed to do. But do we do it? I suspect not.

This coming year, this bring speaking new 2015, I pray you will pray about giving. If you don't have a place with which to point your offerings toward, we as the New Church on South Carrollton would love for you to consider giving to us. We have huge needs like new floors, carpets, pews, a painted sanctuary ceiling, new ministry needs, cleaning needs, needs of new windows and the removal of mold, etc. If you can't find a suitable donation destination, please consider us.

Giving is hard to begin to do, but it is of God. Giving is a difficult habit to start, but it is God's intention. You don't have to be great at it int he beginning, but boy once you are, your life will change.

What did you give this year is a far better question than what did you get?

But having said that, I got a Saints' phone case, a Saints' coffee cup, a Saints' coat, a new bike, a ... Oh, old habits are so hard to break.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Every day is Christmas Eve

The scriptures (in the Message) read: "Don't look for shortcuts to God. The market is flooded with sure-fire, easygoing formulas for a successful life that can be practiced in your spare time. Don't fall for that stuff, even though crowds of people do."

It's Christmas Eve, as you might have noticed. We awoke this morning to a cool day, with sun striking the rain hard on its way out of town. It had stormed, sending the dogs into fits early on the evening, but the storms abated somewhere around midnight and the temperatures dropped like passes hitting the hands of the Saints Jimmy Graham. This morning seemed, in this area, like what Christmas Eve should feel like. Cool, man, cool.

I've read the scriptures this morning. I will read from the devotional book called It was not a silent night as I devour a full breakfast. I've experimented with and dabbled with thoughts of Jesus, the baby not the man, this morning, as if doing so would make tonight's two services at our church even more meaningful.

And the morning isn't a bit more spiritual than it would have been if it wasn't Christmas Eve. In other words, trying to make it spiritual won't make it spiritual. In other words, wanting deep meaning to be won't make it be.

The scriptures say in the same section of Matthew quoted earlier, "What is required is serious obedience -- doing what my Father wills. I can see it now -- at the Final Judgment thousands strutting up to me and saying, 'Master, we preached the Message, we bashed the demons, our God-sponsored projects had everyone talking.' And do you know what I'm going to say? 'You missed the boat. All you did was use me to make yourselves important. You don't impress me one bit. You're out of here.'

In other words, dear friends, going to Christmas Eve services won't make you a bit more of a disciple than not going. Going to pray, won't make you a great person of prayer. Going to remember your baptism won't make you cleaner. Going to take Communion won't make you closer to God. And going to sing the great hymns of Christmas won't make your Christmas a dab more meaningful.

In fact, what you did yesterday and what you do on Friday will come closer to making you closer to Him than this artificial Christianity that we've plugged into today and tomorrow.

Sounds harsh, but it is what it is. When we pick on people, jump on their failures, criticize their faults, and fail to feed and clothe them, then give a $20 in the offering plate because, well, it's CHRISTMAS, we've missed the point of all of it haven't we?

The Word says, "Those diseased trees with their bad apples are going to be chopped down and burned."

On Christmas Eve as much as on the 15th of January. All days are important. All people are vital. Let's begin to live that way ... both of us, all of us.

Let's do God-sponsored projects that have everyone talking ... all the time.

Merry Christmas, friends. God loves you and there is nothing you can do about it. Oh, and Mary and I love you, also.

Today. Tomorrow, and next week.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The elegant tale is told again

The story is perhaps the most familiar of stories. A writer we know as Luke, a terrific reporter, editor and crafter of narrative, begins it this way in Eugene Peterson's The Message:

"About that time Caesar Augustus ordered a census to be taken throughout the Empire (giving it immediately a Star Wars-ish feel). Everyone had to travel to his own ancestral hometown to be accounted for.

"So Joseph went from the Galilean town of Nazareth up to Bethlehem in Judah, David's town, for the census. As a descendant of David, he had to go there. He wet with Mary, his fiancee, who was pregnant. While they were there, the time came for her to give birth. She gave birth to a son, her firstborn. She wrapped him in a blanket and laid him in a manger, because there was no room in the hostel."


With little theological undermining.

Here's the facts, Jack. Caesar Augustus caused the fuss by ordering a census.
The census had to be taken everywhere in Palestine.
Everyone had to go to HIS own hometown.
The count had to include every male.
Joseph led his family and child to be, going from Nazareth in the North to Bethlehem in the south, despite the wording being "up to."
Bethlehem was a small "town" but it was most famous for being "David's town."
Mary was his fiancee, but she had mounted a donkey to go to Bethlehem. We are giving no reason for Joseph having moved from Bethlehem to Nazareth. Plenty of people were visiting Bethlehem, so much so that there was no room in what Peterson describes as a hostel.

There. Luke's investigation discovers these words. The piece has little else to say. There is no time frame for the journey. There is no sense that the couple has plans other than short-term. They left what was their home only for the census, nothing else. They apparently didn't plan on staying there long enough to have the child for it seemed to be a bit of a surprise to them the child would come while they were there.

The most important event in human kind to that moment was at best a surprise to be happening in the manner in which it did.

Look, many of the details that most of us have memorized don't come from Luke. There is no innkeeper in the story in Luke, no indication of a long search on a night before the day of the birth. The family probably ends up in a stable or a cave, but Peterson describes it as a hostel. Swaddling clothes are not mentioned in this portion of Luke. It is a plain description to a plain birth of a plain baby.

Amazingly, Matthew has even fewer of the details that most of our nativity scenes are washed in. If you are looking deeply for creativity, you will come away drained of beauty.

But here's the key to all this. Yes, it is a wonderful tale. Yes, it was an incredible night. Yes, we've added to the tale with our own dreams of starry, starry nights. Through it all, when push comes to shove, the narrative becomes a twist of cinnamon, a shaker of vanilla, a wisp of wrapping paper.

Mary's birth struggle, the pains of child birth, come normally. Jesus is born with no less strain that babies of all sizes and normality.

Whether the tale is told in Luke, or in Matthew or not touched upon in Mark or John at all, it happened. Whether we sit our kids down around beautifully trimmed trees and tell the beautifully trimmed story one more time or we hold onto the traditions as if our very lives counted on it does not matter. The tale of shepherds and wise men and fathers and mothers struggling against time and the currency of miracle is as eternal as it ever was.

Tomorrow night, it all starts again. The beauty of the miracle will be just as gorgeous as it ever was or ever will be.

For it is Christmas. Again ... and again.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Whose fault was it? Everyone near the Saints is the best answer

I left that life more than five years ago, the world of journalism, the world of sports journalism. Rarely have I stuck a toe back in those waters. But since this is the last time this year I look at anything from that world (I've certainly remained a fan), I thought I must offer a few thoughts, opinions, facts.

The New Orleans Saints' season for all intents came to a halt yesterday. There is one game left, but they have nothing to play for, having been eliminated from playoff contention by losing to hated rival Atlanta.

This season began with a lost to the Falcons and, again, for all intents ended with a loss to them. The Saints haven't been swept by the Falcons since 2005, the Katrina season that brought on Sean Payton and Drew Brees.

Reading social media after Sunday's home loss, the fifth such in a row for the Saints, people want to get rid of Payton and Brees. Those thoughts are ridiculous, though clearly Brees didn't play as consistently well this season as in season's past. However, if one were to replace him, one must have an idea about who would do such a thing and there is no one out there with his ability (even at age 36. As far as Payton is concerned, the very idea is laughable and shows how fandom is a short-sighted being.

Some say they knew something was wrong with this team from the beginning. No, they didn't.
Some say the younger players are the problem, and there are not enough leaders. Maybe and maybe again, but outside of the locker room, no one knows those answers.
Some say the problem is Brees' and Jimmy Graham's large contracts. Those ideas are without merit, as well. It is conceivable that both will restructure their contracts this offseason as neither want to go through this kind of a season if they can help it.
Some say training came held in a resort was the problem. If that were the case, every team that had a hard camp would win their division. They don't.
Some say it was Rob Ryan (although one upset Facebook person said the Saints should fire Rex, and the Jets get to do that as that's who he works for).
And some in the media say this was the most talented team in the history of the Saints, and that talent is evident.

Let's address it all this way: The media was wrong. Seriously wrong. When the media, which included New Orleans Saints legend Archie Manning who said it was the most talented Saints team, says with certainty that such and such is talented, then when things go South and the losses pile up, the media will never fall on the sword by saying something as simple as "we were wrong." Nah. Won't happen.

But I suggest this: the Saints weren't that talented. Tell me this: whose wide receivers would you rather have, Atlanta or New Orleans? Whose running backs? (Here's the hurtful one) Whose quarterback, especially considering the ages of the two QBS?

Ask yourself this: Was this year the defensive aberration or was last year? And if the Saints front office is so good at drafting players, why then was the return game so terrible until they picked up a player from a practice squad?

The best player on the team, frankly, is its punter. That never is a good thing I would think.

The biggest problem is the contract situation, but the Saints have done such incredible work the past three years in getting under the cap while getting players they wanted, I suspect they will do it again. Nah, the bigger problem is the players they get. I suspect Jarius Byrd will come back and play much better than he did before his injury. I suspect Rafael Bush will be a contributor next year. But I further suspect that their linebackers are not capable in pass coverage, and I think the defensive line never contributed in the way the media said it should. That's as much a product of being over-rated as it is anything else. They simply weren't that good. Should they have been? That's highly debatable. It might be they are what we saw them being on Sunday.

What to do?

All good things come to an end. It might be the time to blow this up and start over, as has my professional baseball team, the Atlanta Braves. But it is much, much harder to do in baseball because of guaranteed contracts.

The Saints will almost surely lose running back Mark Ingram, will probably need to redo the contracts of its guards who are among the highest paid in the league but who never played that way this season, and must look at longtime wide receiver Marcus Colston. They might say goodbye to him, seeing that as one position that they can use a cheaper alternative.

Big decisions are looming. None of those decisions are at coach or quarterback, though. Brees won't play 10 more seasons as he very infamously said in preseason, but he's not ready to be thrown on the garbage dump either. There was plenty wrong with the Saints this season, and Brees was a contributor. But there are plenty of positions that were much worse. It's just that the last meaningful play of the season was another Brees mistake, and that's how he and the season will be remembered.

I suspect Ryan will be gone. I suspect major revamping will be done to the team. I suspect one or two more years of Brees-Payton will exist. And I suspect that we will fondly remember the most productive seasons in Saints history when that pairing leaves.

It's just not that time yet.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Everything rides on hope now

This morning, the sky is as dark as sin's aftermath. The sky is as deep purple as what comes after messing up the next mess up. You know what I'm talking about.

We try so hard to fix things that we fix them not. And God watches in sheer joy at the humanity he bathed us with.

Paul wrote about all this in his letter to Corinth.

"Let me come back to where I started -- and don't hold it against me if I continue to sound a little foolish. Or if you'd rather, just accept that I am a fool and let me rant on a little. ... I didn't learn this kind of talk from Christ. Oh, no, it's a bad habit I picked up from the three-ring preachers that are so popular these days. Since you sit there in the judgment seat observing all these shenanigans, you can afford to humor an occasional fool who happens along. You have such admirable tolerance for impostors who rob your freedom, rip you off, steal you blind, put you down -- even slap your face."

Three-ring preachers so popular these days. Uh, I just might know a couple of those.

The kind who speak out one side of their mouths and allow the foam of folly to slide gently out the other side. Truth as powerful as lies is a plentiful subject.

In younger days, I used to watch Elsie (so help me, Elsie was a cow our family owned and enjoyed watching her watching us). Elsie could and often did stand to the side reading me and/or studying me and/or giving me the deep playful eye. We figured she would have been a great reader of palms. She certainly was a good reader of people.

Did I mention she was a cow?

This morning as that strange substance called rain falls on the earth around us, I have done some thinking about our loves, about our lives, and what I've reasoned is God has flattened the land before us, taking away pebbles and stones like a spiritual road-grader. All in the simple little effort to make tomorrow better than today.

Christmas is coming, quickly. Bells are ringing around our house and in our neighborhood. Music is gently massaging the area. Love is correcting our mistakes and hope is wrapping our gifts as if we were all delightful paper and ribbons. Today, let's all think just a few moments about what glorious things we've been given by God. Let's pause to reflect on the Friday's of our lives. Let's love till it hurts, and give till it smiles.

Today, let's all be three-ring preachers, giving all we have in an effort to soften the hearts of the lonely.

Today, let's love. Hot dogs for the world. Fries for the tots.

What a time to live.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

These boots are made for walking

The other day on satellite radio, the tune, "These boots are made for walking," came on. Now, the fact I remember that song is testimony to how old I am. But I do. Didn't necessarily like it, but the tune sure drills right on into your psyche.

But yesterday I began thinking about how that phrase is a fairly adequate way of looking at what all of us must do in our efforts to follow God's will for us.

In the category of God's will for our lives, let's play the if I knew now what I didn't know then, would I have done it anyway game.

Well, would you.

If the Israelites knew they would wander for 40 years, would they have made the simple, silly decisions they made? Absolutely not, I would think.

If Goliath knew that little feller with the rocks would be the death of him, would he have been as bombastic? I think not.

If Saul knew that God would leave him if...
If David knew that woman bathing would destroy is life....
If ...
If ...

Seems to me that the best parts of walking in the trust of God is the walking, not necessarily the arriving. In fact, I've never particularly felt as if I had arrived. I'm still walking, walking, walking. Boots (and shoes) are made for walking, and that's just what I'll do.

See, God could show us what the end game was if He desired. He doesn't desire. And I haven't the faintest.

Problem is we often, because we can visualize it so much more, look backward. I love plenty of those times I've had. Plenty. But looking backward with a longing to return there is simply damaging. We can't go back. Can't. Ever.

So, back to the game. Months ago, if I had known what I know not about preaching schedules and so much more at my present appointment, I probably would have said no when asked about taking it.

But here's the thing: I think that would have been a mistake. I've learned, even when I've learned it screaming and holding on to the past, so much in the past few months. I've learned about risk and the heavy cost of taking it, I've learned about different ways of worship, I've learned more about what to do and what not to do in certain situations.

And through it all, I believe, He's been there guiding and directing. I believe the learning experience comes when we get out of the pleasant mold we've established and head out into the desert. Those desert experiences, which in some cases have lasted for the past 2 1/2 years for me, are often what shape us into better suited creatures for which our only desire is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

Would I want the sharpness of the blade that carves and creates the person I continue to become if I absolutely had a choice? Probably not. I'm just that much of a softie. But is it better for me that I do allow Him to shape and make me? Absolutely.

I believe that. Therefore, it's a good thing I don't know what's coming, for sometimes the best to come is the worst looking thing.

See, God knows all the outcomes. We can't even get television without a satellite. Just keep walking, boots. Keep walking.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

He has come

If you have a chance, and you have a moment and you have Eugene Peterson's version of the Message, his interpretation of the holy scriptures, please read the wonderful work.

In that work, in the telling of the birth of Christ, we read this: There were sheepherders camping in the neighborhood. They had set night watches over their sheep. Suddenly, God's angel stood among them and God's glory blazed around them. They were terrified. The angel said, "Don't be afraid. I'm here to announce and great and joyful event that is meant for everybody, worldwide. A Savior had just been born in David's town, a Savior who is Messiah and Master. This is what you're to look for: a baby wrapped in a blanket and lying in a manger."

I can't get past the idea, as I prepare a monologue for Sunday's worship service, that He came to us. Us spread out on hills, looking up on lonely nights, waiting so impatiently for, uh, something. Something that we can't put our fingers on. Something that we can't see. Something we can't feel. Something that will displace the generally haunting idea that we've come and we'll go and no impact will have been had.

Plain us.
Poor us.
Sinning us.
Desperate us.
Heartbroken us.
Messy us.
Miserable us.
Vacant us.

Sheepherders us is us wrapped in robes and plain us. Us who have nothing to give, nothing to offer, nothing to promote, nothing to cherish, nothing but nothing. That's us. That's who we are.

We living in a society today that believes in rewriting scripture to eliminate what it describes as sin. Tell someone that what they are doing is sin and you risk a quite unholy response. The irony there is that whomever is doing the telling is just as sinful as the person they are telling. Some get that, and acknowledge how far from holy they are, and some quite unfortunately do not. It seems to me that churches that are growing are doing so not so much from a great strategy but from a great realization that they've been saved from their plainness, their sin, their desperation, their heartbroken-ness, their messiness by a great Messiah, not a great business plan.

We are embraced by a Christ who came to love us on the hills of our loneliness, and says, "I have come to lessen your burden, which wasn't ever as large as you thought it was. I've come for you, and you, and of course for you."

For the 99 percent, and, yes, for the 1. For the rich man who won't give up what he loves most, and for the prodigal who has hand it taken away. For the lonely and for the life of the party.

Plain, old, miserable us.

He came. One night in the life of the world, into darkness He didn't create, so that the gentle wisps of moonlight could turn into the power of the Son.

Messy. Heartbroken. Desperate.

All turned into one word of hope.


That's us, too. And what the Son has made free is free indeed.

Let go this morning and let God shape, mold, hold and love. He has come. He will come again.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Love came down at Christmas

Love came down at Christmas.

Paul wrote this once, "Love never gives up.Love cares more for others than for self.Love doesn't want what it doesn't have.Love doesn't strut,Doesn't have a swelled head,Doesn't force itself on others,Isn't always "me first,"Doesn't fly off the handle,Doesn't keep score of the sins of others,Doesn't revel when others grovel,Takes please in the flowering of truthPuts up with anythingTrusts God always,Always looks for the best,Never looks back,but keeps going to the end."

And love came down at Christmas.

Let's put it another way. Substitute the name Jesus in place of Love.... Jesus cares more for others than for self, doesn't want what he doesn't have, etc.

Then, just for the experiment, substitute your name and see how well the sentence holds true. I suspect not very well. I can only say that in my case, it doesn't hold up at all. 

I give up. I strut (amazingly uselessly and needlessly), have a swelled head, force myself on others, do a lot of the me first stuff, fly off the handle in anger and in fear, keep score of the sins of others like we were scoring a baseball game, participate in the flowering of un-truth on occasion, put up with nothing, let worry eat away at my trust, look for the worst, look back constantly at how things were and threaten to quit about every other hour.

How'mIdoin? If you're keeping score at home, I'm the Chicago Bears spiritually.

But love came down at Christmas anyway. It came down -- no, He came down -- to ensure that despite my worst (and best) efforts to love ceaselessly and failing like a man selling sand in a desert, I could have love and be loved and even on that incredibly large stage that is judgment I could find grace and forgiveness.

Why? Love came down at Christmas.

It's not about me or you or the gifts between. It truly is about Love. 

Love that never causes hate, though it attracts evil.Love that never looks for distrust.Love that overlooks skin color and sexual orientation and politics and all those things that separate us and simply says, "I came down at Christmas, for you."

Love doesn't keep score. It simply scores high on the grace chart.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Admit it: blessings are real

         Years ago, someone said to me that if you continually find yourself in a room of, uh, malcontents, you might just want to examine yourself. You might just be the only malcontent in the room.
         I suspect we find ourselves there on occasion. We’ve tried to find joy in the work, and it didn’t work. We’ve tried to find Christmas joy, and it seems the lights aren’t as bright this or that year, and on and on.
         It’s that way for those of us who are never quite perfectly content.
         But there is a way.
         The other night I was flipping channels (can you still call it that?) and I came across a movie I have only seen bits and pieces of. I never saw it at the theater for we don’t go to R-rated movies, and I’ve never seen it from the beginning. The movie was Good Will Hunting. I actually have little knowledge of what the movie is actually about (other than reading about it), and I think that is my point this morning.
         Robin Williams’ character is talking to Matt Damon’s character (which actually he is doing every time I come across the movie for bits and pieces). He is talking about the fact Damon seems to have all the knowledge of the great painters, but he doesn’t know what it’s like to smell when you look up at the painting of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. He doesn’t know what it’s like to wake up to a woman you love and be genuinely happy.
         I was completely humbled at that statement.
         What right do we have to feel low when there is so very much out there – including that dear woman or dear man we love – to be happy, genuinely happy, about? Or the healthy children or grandchildren? Or the job we have that others can only wish on a star for.
         That doesn’t even include that which should make us so very, very happy in the first place. Christ died to save us. Isn’t that worth knowing? Isn’t that worth living into?
         King Solomon looked up one day and found everything to be in vain in his writings we call Ecclesiastes, “I know there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live.”
         The question is, and has always been, what makes the people happy? I suspect it is living, truly living, for and with and maybe even through the Lord.
         Letting him direct, guide, nudge, love us is about the only way I know to practice happiness.
         As we head into what should be but often isn’t the happiest time of the year for some, let us never forget to feel as if we’ve been blessed.
         For the absolute truth is … WE HAVE BEEN. From that starry, starry night so long ago when angels breathed out a message of peace, we've been blessed. We've been blessed when things are stinky and blessed when things smell as roses. We've been blessed when the worst of the worst happens and blessed when the best of the best. We have been blessed. The sooner we see it, the easier life becomes. Don't wait for the blessing. Have faith in the blessing, in this life or the one to come. 

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Loving beyond necessary

I was walking (I know, what are the odds) to get lunch the other day and I ran into a conversation that needed to be recorded.

The young man stopped me about two doors down from lunch and asked if I would support marriage equality. I asked how I could do that. He began to explain what that was (as I thought I knew), and finally told me I could contribute to marriage equality by being a monthly donor to the ACLU.

I explained a few things about myself. I was a moderate in politics and religion, I was a pastor of a United Methodist Church up the street, I would not be doing same-sex marriages though I understand if not support civil unions as they are none of my business, but the most important thing of all, I told him, was that we have shown these things can be talked about. I told him it is important that we learn to discuss these things instead of yelling. And I invited him to our church.

He smiled politely, wished me well, and off I went to a shrimp po-boy.

It seems to me that discussion, conversation, is most important today. It is a lost art. It is a lost mechanism toward peace, any peace, personal or otherwise.

Have you talked to an enemy lately? Have you forgiven those who have hurt you? Have you asked for forgiveness for those mistakes, choices, sins that are large and so small you forget? If you have, so be it. I suspect it is a difficult thing for all of us.

But Jesus is pretty clear on the subject. "You have heard that it was said, 'love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous."

Gandhi, as you know a non-Christian, said this: "It is easy enough to be friendly to one's friends. But to befriend the one who regards himself as your enemy is the quintessence of true religion. The other is mere business."

There's a film coming out in a couple weeks called Unbroken that depicts the life of Louie Zamperini. There is a bit of an argument forming about the movie about Zamperini, whose life story is one of being held for two years in a Japanese prisoner of war camp. His life was changed at an evangelical meeting with Billy Graham when he accepted Christ and forgave his tormentors.  The argument is that Jesus isn't mentioned, but the makers of the film talk about the fact his faith is in there throughout the film.

Zamperini's daughter says, "if they wanted to know more about how he got through it (the POW camp), how he survived it, they could investigate it. He never wanted to preach at them but live the example."

Maybe that's the answer. Maybe that's the ticket. We need to be doers of the word, not just listeners. We need to stop judging and start talking. In the end, that's all we will have. That's what separates us from the apes.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014


I played basketball for one year in high school. Late starter. Late bloomer. I was short and made up for that with my lack of quickness. Despite all that I could rebound pretty well for my size because I could make do with tenacity. I would rebound because, well, I wanted to rebound.

For two days I've had PPS (post party syndrome). I've been unable to write, to walk, to move. We had an amazing weekend, and it was wonderful to see my family and new friends chip in and make it so. It was all I could have imagined, and then it was over. Five months of work planning, execution was done.

Now, uh, what? I'm so dang sad.

Is there anyone out there who is a plan your work and work your plan kind of person? What do you do when the plan is worked and the work is done? What then? What makes you happy?

Someone recently asked me to write what gives me joy. Other than being with my wife, kids, grandkids, the once in a lifetime championship of the Braves or Saints or still waiting for my college, I don't know. Not really.

How sad that sounds.

Oh, and preaching. And writing. And I do little of either any more.

I have no hobbies. No interests, unless you count Marvel movies and they come around only a couple times a year.

I write fairly regularly, but not as I once did. I love music, and I wished I could play it better but that ship's sailed.

So where is the joy?


Then I come across a little something like this: Lord, lift up the light of your countenance upon us. You have put gladness in my heart. ... O Lord, make me dwell in safety."

PPS is countered by LORD. In the end, my joy comes in the morning with Him, because of Him. Nothing I do is enough, will never be enough. Nothing I think, or create, or do is enough, will ever be enough to match his gift at the cross.

How dare I feel down?

He is with me, with us, with all of us. He has always been.

It is time to rebound again.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Better than the average party animal

I love parties about as much as I love, er, early Monday morning alarms. In other words, I ain't a party kind of guy. That introvert thing comes crawling out of me, and I wind up in a corner. Just don't care for the party that allows the millions to flock like gulls on the lake and puts up fake laughter like rain drops on a cloudy day. I ain't a gull guy, if you know what I mean. Don't care for it. Don't care for the crowds or the yacking or the snacking. Don't care for all the fake stuff.

Truly. Don't care for it.

I prefer quiet, actually, because as it has come to my attention lately, I do quite well sitting in front of a laptop, pouring ideas into my fingers and watching the corn pop out. But mingling and such? Well, that's harder on the ol' psyche. Talking to strangers? That's quite like running in place -- a whole lot of shaking is going on, but I'm not getting anywhere.

Having said all that, we are going to have more than 100 in attendance this weekend at a fund-raising dinner we're throwing to celebrate 100 years of the life of the sanctuary. Lots of 100s going on there, seems to me. Heck, I might as well go ahead and have my 100th birthday, which is but a year or two away seems like.

Understand that we are a church restart that was averaging 22 or so semi-able-bodied folks when we pulled the moving van right up to the church in late June. Understand that we've fixed roofs, fixed a kitchen, fixed a huge room upstairs above and about to fix rooms downstairs and to the back of the sanctuary where those 100 will dine tomorrow night. Understand that room has had the ceiling repaired, and then the walls, and the floors are still to come. They have all been prepped for the future, and joy will come dancing up the stairwell into that room tomorrow, maybe crawling at first, then hip-hopping like some Fresh Prince.

Understand it all, if you can, for it is really difficult to grasp at times what has happened in five or six months.

The sanctuary, which is lit like a megachurch now, was a project begun during the first World War ... wait, wait, did you get that? The first World War. World War I. While the Germans were heaving those funky looking grenades at the French and English, someone decidedly American was building an incredibly beautiful church right there on South Carrollton, a part of Riverbend, a leafy portion of Uptown New Orleans.

Now, they're at it again. Oh, not the Germans. No, no, the builders. They're pressing on, and so are we. God is hauling lumber and such around like toothpicks. We've added room to the spIn time, we will have repaired each and every  room. In time, kids will come -- and stay. In time, youth will dance and sing. In time, adults will study the Word of God. In time small groups will become as grains of sand.

Oh, not yet. I get that. Not on the calendar just yet. Not by a long shot. But in time.

So we celebrate what has come before, we glorify the birth that is happening, and we anticipate that which is to come, with smiles the size of the canyon that is Grand.

Here's the deal, dear readers. I have little to offer in this life, but I have much to offer in the life to come, that which is eternal. I have a place where one can come and celebrate in quiet and honor. It is beautiful in a rustic kind of way. It is magnificent in a barren sort of way. But it is a place of worship, and day by day it is becoming ...

Won't you join us this weekend? Sunday worship will be special. I can say that with complete dignity and humility because I have little to do with it. But I ask you this: What if you could come meet with the Lord, who would appear in blinding reds and blues and even the occasional gentle green? Wouldn't you, do that I mean? Then why not get in the car and drive over Sunday morning. Or why not walk over? Or why not take the streetcar or even the bus? You won't get a better choice. If you can't file in Sunday, then come tomorrow night where for $20 you will get a chance at some wonderful items in the silent auction and/or some wonderful food.

One day this church will rise again. One day it's going to change. I am that sure. I'm not sure I will be here, but I am sure God will be. That's the promise realized. Be a part of it, friends. Starting this wonderful weekend.

They say don't poke a bear. But you can poke a party animal.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Go. Do. Love

What if?

What if today were your last day on the planet? Did you say all you needed to say, do all you needed to do?

Did you make life better for a single person? For a group? For your family? For your friends? For your enemies, and don't play like you haven't made any even unintentionally?

Did you leave a mark? Did you make a difference? Did you transform your community by your testimony? Do you have a testimony?

When my last day comes, I want to have made a difference, even a small one. I want to have made a mark. I want to have seen that my existence didn't just come and then blink out in a twinkling of an eye, if you know what I mean.

The Bible says this: God can pour on the blessings in astonishing ways so that you're ready for anything and everything, more than just ready to do what needs to be done. As one psalmist puts it, 'he throws caution to the winds, giving to the needy in reckless abandon. His right-living, right-giving ways never run out, never wear out.' "

He his giving has never given out. So what if ours doesn't either?

If today were your last, have you given freely to those who need to receive so desperately? Have you loved enough, given enough, played enough, laughed enough, tried enough?

Or did you just exist?

What if?

What if you could do more simply by asking for God's help, and his will would be done on earth as it is in heaven?

"Remember, a stingy planter gets a stingy crop, a lavish planter gets a lavish crop. I want each of you to take plenty of time to think it over, and make up your mind what  you will give."

Give lavishly today. Plant lavishly today.

If today is your last day, don't spent it reading (even this). Go. Do. Love.

Go. Do. Love.

That's life, even on the last day.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Just hold on, he's coming

This morning, after a very active yesterday cleaning and preparing for an important fund-raising event, I feel like what I imagine road-kill to feel like.

Bones aching? Check.
Muscles screaming? Check
Back, uh, backing? Check

All fully functional, if I can look past the pain a bit.

These burdens, and a late night on top of it all, have me about as sleepy as I get. But that led me to thinking about this whole burden thing.

Let's go old school, er, Old Testament. Moses said to the Lord, "I cannot carry all these people by myself; the burden is too heavy for me."

This refers to the fact that we can't make it on our own. Period. Anyone who thinks so is delusional.

On the back of my son Jason's latest CD (available on I-tunes by the way), he writes, "This album is for everyone who may feel lost. This album is a testimony to the power of change and the impact faith can have on your life. You can change, you can make your life better. You can find light in the darkest of nights. The person I was 5 years ago is not who I am today."

I understand what he's saying. I just disagree briefly and slightly. I do not believe we can change, we can make our lives better.

I can't remake myself. I can go on a diet. I can change hair length (slowly, I know) or hair color. I can make New Year's proclamations and even do some of them for a couple days. But I can never make my life better on my own. At least that's what I believe scripture says.

After Moses cries out to God that he's faltering, God hears and God answers, "I will come down and speak with you there, and I will take some of the power of the Spirit that is on you and put it on them. THEY will share the burden of the people with you so that you will not have to carry it alone."

In the same chapter of Numbers (and you thought it was just math), Moses goes on to tell the people what God has said. He brought together 70 men from the people's elders and put them around a tent. God descended in a cloud, like always, and put a bit of the Spirit on them. They began to prophesy (preach). A couple of men named Eldad and Medad were doing it the most. Joshua, Moses No. 2, comes running to Moses to get them to stop because Moses was the one who should be doing this in Joshua's mind. Moses says, "Are you jealous for my sake? If only all the Lord's people were prophets with the Lord placing  his spirit on  them."

To this I raise a large bottle of AMEN for a toast.

Later, Joshua fought the Amalekites. Moses stood on top of the hill. As long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites were winning, but whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalekites were winning. Moses, as anyone who has ever lifted his arms for a period of time, got tired and couldn't keep those arms lifted. Aaron and Hur held his hands, one on either side, so that his hands remained steady. And Joshua defeated the Amalekites.

Get this? Moses couldn't do it all. He needed friends in high places. He needed friends. He needed the Lord. In his weakness, he was made strong as Paul would later write so effectively.

David cried to the Lord, "Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior, who daily bears our burdens.

And Jesus said, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest."

So this morning I ask in all seriousness, what are you carrying? What burden have you had in your pocket for oh so long? Are you willing to give it up? Are you willing to admit you don't really want that burden but you just can't put it down? Are you willing to admit you don't have it all together, that each and every day is a carry-over from the day before, and the pressure is building and your heart and head are screaming you can't go on this way? Are you willing to see that you don't have to carry it a minute longer?

If you answer any of those questions positively, then there is a solution. I promise not that your circumstances will change completely. The bills are the bills. The kids are the kids. The parents are the parents. Some of that won't change immediately, miraculously. That's not the promise.

But there's a go-to guy for you. I truly believe that if someone asks why you look better, like you've had the weight of the world lifted from your shoulders, you need to have an answer for the question. For me, it's Jesus. Just Jesus.

Does that make me weak? You betcha. Gladly I admit I can't fix myself, can't fight my own battles, can't heal my own disease, can't repair the relationships I have damaged, can't fix my own credit situation, can't, can't can't. I can not keep myself from despair at times or keep myself from sinning at others. I can't. I've tried. I failed.

I freely admit that there are times still when I just don't have it together, and I crash like a plane out of the sky.

But broken on my knees  I crawl back to the one who will, by vow, lift the burden from me.

Look beyond the empty cross this morning. Look beyond the blood that ran freely down that old wood. Look beyond what you can't do to what he can -- and will. Give it over. Let it go. Get over  your mad schedule. Give over those way too high car payments. Give over your worries about Social Security. Give over your fretting about Obamacare. Give it up and let it go.

Feel strong in him. Feel burdens gone. Feel a life changed. Feel his soft touch this morning.

Feel free of your burdens. It is possible. Just hold on, he's coming.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

What goes around comes around

Last night I spent time in the past, and as I did, it informed the present and cast some of a vision for the future.

Let me explain.

My dear one, Mary, was working, so left to my own devices (which is another of those sayings I have no definition for or understanding of), I watched PBS. I do not watch PBS as a rule, but when one of those marathons are on, I watch sometimes when left to my own devices. 

The marathon was accompanied by a couple of surviving members of Peter, Paul and Mary, whom I had not thought of in quite some time.

I was transported back to my childhood, and for a couple hours I remembered what I had forgotten about the world, back to Where Have All The Flowers Gone and Blowin in the Wind, singing loudly and proudly as my cousin played songs on the piano. Back... to the future.

Here's the wisdom reminded.

My parents were, as were most if not all in my home state, believers -- without thinking much of it -- in the supremacy of the white race. Being a native Mississippian, it sort of came with the territory. Not excusing it in any way, shape or form. Simply saying it. It is a part of my past. Like Paula Deen without the ability to cook except for hot dogs and cornbread dressing, I said the N-word as a child because that's what I knew. Horrific as it seems now, it still made me who and what I am. My strange point here  is that my parents were racist, and they were very much Democrats. Again, strange as it seems, my parents and as far as I know my parents parents were Democrats or that strange hybrid known as Dixiecrats.

I heard Peter, Paul and Mary at an early age. In fact, I have their first album in my possession and have had for as long as I can remember. They performed at Dr. King's march on Washington rally, at Selma, Ala., in peace marches and in other advocacy settings. They were as liberal as it gets, and I sang their songs with great relish. The first song I learned on the guitar years and years ago was 500 miles. 

When I was in junior college, a Republican -- Gil Carmichael -- ran against a Democrat Senator in the great state of Mississippi, Jim Eastland, and I did everything in my power to help get him elected because he was different and Eastland was a segregationist. Get that? The Republican was the progressive, and I, being against the war in Vietnam for as long as I could remember and being against racism and being against, well anything my father was for, worked hard for Gil. I spoke in public for the first time really at a rally. Just happened to be for the Richard Nixon candidacy because I was vice president of the Young Republicans club and the president spoke for Gil. 

Oh, I just happened to be wrong about that, too.

The point here is this: We are in a state of disagreement on darn near everything right now in this country. But it doesn't have to stay this way.

Somewhere along the way the South stopped being a Crat and became became Red. Somewhere along the line it became fashionable to be either Progressive or Conservative. Somewhere along the line everything changed.

Somehow I became right of center, when I used to be left of center. I respect those who disagree with me on everything,  and if not for laws on abortion I would probably lean toward the left more. I'm conservative in my Biblical reading, but contemporary leaning in all things worship. I'm a quilt or many fabrics and many colors. I've been informed by every step and every year and every circumstance of my life. All of that has made me what I am.

Those poor in the community have been informed in the same way. Those black, in the same way. Those rich, in the same way. And each and everyone of us must come to grips with two facts of life: 1) You do not have to stay the way you are, by God's grace. 2) God can turn all things (all things) to the good of those who love him.

None of those things are, though, who we can be and none of those things are who we are. My profession didn't make me who I am. My beliefs do not make me who I am. My sins, my mistakes, my choices, my successes and all those things do no make me who I am.

No. We don't have to be this way. Things change. Times change. Circumstances change. But it sure helps if we give them a goose.

We're going to have to discuss race, and sexuality and hate and war and the poor and violence and you name it. Again. And again. And again.

When will they (we) ever learn? When will they ever learn?

What goes around comes around (and that expression I actually understand).

Monday, December 1, 2014

The disagreements are many

As the world's first religion blogger Paul writes: "And don't tell me that I have no authority to write like this. I'm perfectly free to do this -- isn't that obvious? Haven't I been given a job to do? Wasn't I commissioned to do this work in a face-to-face meeting with Jesus, our Master? Aren't you yourselves proof of the good work that I've done for the Master? Even if no one else admits the authority of my commission, you can't deny it."

Wow. Seems appropriate. Seems almost defiant. Seems so, uh, Paul.

The world has become a place where disagreeing with the masses, left or right, conservative or liberal, Ole Miss or Mississippi State (had to throw that one in) is enough to have you beaten -- verbally or otherwise

Paul knew a bit about that sort of stuff, by the way.

It's tough, you know, this free speech stuff. I read this morning about how the Supreme Court is weighing the free-speech rights of people who use violent or threatening language on Facebook and other social media. A mad was sentenced to nearly four years in prison for posting graphically violent rap lyrics on Facebook about killing his estranged wife, shooting up a kindergarten class and attacking an FBI agent.

Certainly I'm not defending someone who does that. But I am saying that we have become a society who often disagrees in the most stringent of ways and we've able to do that on Facebook to each other with ease.

Hail State or Hoddy Toddy is now a recipe for the most vitriolic of statements. Goodness. It was a football game, as my wife kept telling me as I fumed (guess who I was pulling for).

The problem is we've always been that way, but now we have new avenues through the most misnamed of all projects, social media. There is nothing social about it at all.

I read a commentary on line this morning that speaks to it all ... "we are met on a great battlefield of the wars we wage against each other. It isn't a field in central Pennsylvania. It is the nation itself. Cities are set to explode over worsening racial injustice and police misconduct. Football players get a free pass on domestic violence. Colleges shrug off epidemics of rape and cheating. Banks and a small moneyed set wage unrelenting war on their fellow Americans. Descendants of immigrants turn against new arrivals and call it patriotism. The question then is can a nation so wounded by its divisions, hatreds and manipulated fears survive?"

And the answer I'm sure will bring about division. We couldn't even agree on what we disagree on. But we darn sure would yap about it on Facebook.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Though all, it is well with my soul

I am not always serious, but when I am, I turn inward. Today, today we go inward.

I've seen enough lately, suffered in new self-centered ways, but one thing I know, the waves and tdhe wind still know his name.

Have you ever heard the story of the grand hymn "It is Well With My Soul?"

It goes like this:

Horatio Spafford (1828-1888) was a wealthy Chicago lawyer with a thriving legal practice, a beautiful home, a wife, four daughters and a son. He was also a devout Christian and faithful student of the Scriptures. His circle of friends included Dwight L. Moody, Ira Sankey and various other well-known Christians of the day.
At the very height of his financial and professional success, Horatio and his wife Anna suffered the tragic loss of their young son. Shortly thereafter on October 8, 1871, the Great Chicago Fire destroyed almost every real estate investment that Spafford had.
In 1873, Spafford scheduled a boat trip to Europe in order to give his wife and daughters a much needed vacation and time to recover from the tragedy. He also went to join Moody and Sankey on an evangelistic campaign in England. Spafford sent his wife and daughters ahead of him while he remained in Chicago to take care of some unexpected last minute business. Several days later he received notice that his family's ship had encountered a collision. All four of his daughters drowned; only his wife had survived.
With a heavy heart, the pain of which we can never truly know unless God forbid we go through something like that, Spafford boarded a boat that would take him to his grieving Anna in England. It was on this trip that he penned those now famous words, When sorrow like sea billows roll; it is well, it is well with my soul.
While I went yesterday through the closure of the last home we will ever own I suffered a bit. I thought we would go back to one day, I thought of times we spent in that house and shed tears over two lovely and wonderful pets who spent 15 years or more with us and are now buried in the back. I thought of when we were packing for Israel. I thought of another pet who died in a vet's office while we lived there. Mary, my wife, and I walked through the house and said goodbye, basically. Goodbye to where we were, where we landed after a little thing called Hurricane Katrina deposited us, changing our lives forever, still. Goodbye to the time it snowed and we frolicked just before Christmas, the little kid in us surfacing. Goodbye to the past, hello to the fearful future.
Let's be sure we understand each other. Think about times in your life when you struggled. See God in the movement. Think about the joys that overcome all things. See God in the movement. Think through tragedy. Think through pain. Think through all that, and see God in the movement. He is risen; He is alive. He has guided me and walked beside me and held me when things were at their worse. 
And He is my joy, my love, my salvation and my life. He is, and I am because of it.
This day we should be thankful that we have the one with the name above all names, the one with the power to form and mold and change and love.
Though towns burn with folks seeking justice this very day, He is. 
And it is well with my soul.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

It didn't have to be this way

I could write about the news of the day but because I am hundreds of mi,es away from it no truly don't know what occurred there I am going to do something I've never done. I am giving up my blog to someone else this morning. The writer is Ed Stetzer who writes this:

In light of the grand jury decision handed down tonight in in the wake of Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson, MO, I think it is of utmost importance that all Christians, but specifically white evangelicals, talk a little less and listen a little more.
Or, put another way, maybe some need to spend less time insisting that African Americans shouldn't be upset and spend more time asking why some are. Yes, this case reminds us again that the racial divide is clear, as a just released CNN poll demostrated.
I wasn't in the grand jury room, and I don't know the evidence, but many godly African American leaders are hurting and they are explaining why.
I think we should listen to them.
Race Remains
The issue of race remains contentious in our nation and in our neighborhoods, and many white evangelicals remain confused as to how they should respond. It is often difficult for those of us on the outside of an issue to fully grasp the complexity and the hurt of those from a different background.
Throughout the course of the events in Ferguson I have tried to seek insight from friends who can speak to this issue in ways I cannot, and have dealt with this struggle in ways that I have not.
A couple of months ago, Lisa Sharon Harper and Leonce Crump shared their thoughts on the death of Michael Brown and the aftermath.
White evangelicals must listen because there is a context to this tragedy, we must listen to feel the pain behind the problem and finally we listen so that we might acknowledge that injustice really exists.

Understand the Context of Tragedy

In “The Lie”, a post by Lisa Sharon Harper, Lisa outlines the important, if seldom acknowledged truth, that racism is still present and deep-seeded in many within our culture.
She writes:
“The belief that usually resides deep beneath the surface of conscious thought, safe from examination and extrication, but was born in biblical times, solidified in the days of the Enlightenment, and codified into colonial law in 1660 through the racialization of Virginia slave codes. Then 14 years after the Declaration of Independence, which proclaimed “all men are created equal and endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights,” the lie was embedded in the U.S. legal structure through the Naturalization Act of 1790, which barred the rights of citizenship from both free and enslaved black people.
These are the roots of the lie. Here it is—plain and simple: Black people are not fully human. In most crass terms—they are animals.”
Her strong words can either offend you or cause you to consider why she would say such a thing. Part of my hope is that many will ask, "Why are African Americans responding differently than the majority culture?" 
That's listening. 

I can only add that I can't be anything but a white male. I can't apologize for that or feel a great deal of guilt because that's all I can be. I neither chose that nor am particularly grateful for that fact. It is, simply. I recognize all the various things I've been given by that fact even while acknowledging that others have had things taken from them simply because of their skin color.

But I did not mean that to happen. I do not want that to happen. I do not like that it happens.

Until we can talk, black persons walking down the middle of the street or otherwise, we will never solve this.

I keep thinking about both men and their reactions to each other. And constantly I think, "What if either were my son."

I would be broken by either outcome.

And all over someone walking down the middle of the street.

We must listen to each other, or we will die shouting at each other.