Friday, February 28, 2014

Surpassing understanding

What is the peace of God? We begin today with a bit of a dilemma. The Bible teaches a surprising premise. The peace of God surpasses understanding.


if we can't understand it, then how on earth can we have it?

Good question. The answer is found in the question. On earth, we can not. I really, really believe this. Earth is filled with stress, anxiety, remorse, fear, depression, a certain lack of mental health.

I look around sometimes and I'm the only one in the office and our volunteering system is broken and I wonder just how easy and fruitful it would be if we had a secretary and paid staff, youth leader, choir director, Sunday School and small groups person, accountant, etc.

Then I read today that Megachurch pastor Perry Noble (which in full disclosure I had never heard of) suffers from depression and has had suicidal thoughts. Now I have never been to a true Megachurch I reckon unless one considers the The Church in Brentwood, Tn., I attended one Sunday. I know nothing of them, but I would imagine they have substantial staffing.

And still the pressure, the stress, the anxiety exists. It isn't the size of the church that matters it seems as much as the ability to surrender to a peace that surpasses understanding.

Some, it seems, medically have less ability to do this than others. It has, I am suggesting, little to do with the amount of faith one has, a common mistake.

Noble said this in an interview: There are zero examples in the Bible of people who had it all together."

That's absolutely true. Nothing is more important for people to understand. I once heard a preacher say you had to become clean before you came to Christ; you had to get right with God before He would get right with you.

Nothing could be farther from the truth, and that thought process keeps us from Him many times.

So, today I simply want you to understand the depth of the reckless love of God for you. He has pursued you across millenium, waited for you to be born so that he could dote on you, so that he could give you the peace that Jesus said the world can not give.

Imagine the water running lazily along a brook path. Imagine a snowy day and you watching it from inside a home that has a blazing fire in the fireplace, with a mug of hot cocoa steaming in your hand. Imagine a cool breeze on a sunny day in a Midwest farm's fall day as drying stalks of corn move gently in the wind. Imagine all this, and that's as close as I can come to telling you how peace might be.

It's not the absence of conflict. It's the presence of Jesus.

It's enough to know He loves sometimes. Sometimes we need to be shown. He's willing to do it.

Peace be with you.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

When we were young

This thing called time is such a fickle lady. There was a time, oh so long ago, when we were young, and it seemed as if we would be that forever. But my, my, my has that changed.

There we were, dang near all of us, saying goodbye to a good guy, then taking the time to spin tales of our, er, youth. Tales that won't be told again I would imagine till the next time we all come together. I suspect that, too, will be at a funeral. And I regret that terribly. There we were, gray haired or hair packed up and gone like memories in the cold night. There we were, living together again in the same space for a few short minutes.

Time is such a fickle lady.

We came together in Jackson, Miss., yesterday to say goodbye to one Orley Hood, whom my son used to call Oreo Hood when Jason was a tike because he couldn't say Orley, and it was a fine send off. Better than most. I would put it up there with the Eddie Robinson funeral I attended in that other career I had so long ago.

It was folks telling stories about Orley, folks who loved him (which was as near as I can figure everyone he ever met and quite a few he hadn't). My goodness would he have loved to have been there. Even a former governor of the great state of Mississippi was there, all remembering the writer, the man, the husband, the father that was Orley.

It was a group that much of the state of Mississippi will never again see the like of. Really. I never realized we were that uncommon. For a while, four of us hung together at the Meridian Star. Starting out. Trying to figure out this thing called writing. Loving sports more than loving writing at the beginning, then finding out writing is something more than sports, something more than we ever knew it to be.

We never dreamed it would be a lifetime. But it was, it really, really was. It's been some 35-40 years ago for most of us. Four of us  -- Billy Watkins, David Rainer, our boss Mac Gordon, Bill Zimmerman -- were together 40 years ago. Way back at the beginning. When what we knew then was staggeringly different and amazingly tiny to what we think we know now.

We did it up well, laughing, tearing up, laughing again. Stories I didn't even remember at one point, though apparently I was there because in at least one I was a main character. I hugged some folks I desperately miss to this day, I pondered faces that proved to be somewhat recognizable but not totally, and I said hello to some folks who apparently knew me but I sorrowfully did not remember.

That fickle lady takes away memory and leaves only wrinkles behind.

As my son, Jason, and I drove away from the "wake," ironicalIy at a club he plays music all the time, I suggested that we would probably never do this again. I wished that were not true, but it likely is. As Bob sang about all those years ago, "deadlines and commitments; what to leave in, what to leave out. Against the wind, I'm still running against the wind. We're older now but still running against the wind."

As someone said when talking about what was, that newsroom that built comradarie in ways nothing else could match, there is no there anymore. It's true. What was is simply not there any longer. At one point the two sister newspapers had a total of 28 writers and editors. I doubt the whole newspaper in Jackson now has that many.

We built it, and at the end, no one came. Newspapers went and left us for the most part, and all of us scattered into the wind.

Then Tom died.Then Orley died. We're one day closer to death, and we all looked around and smiled at how fickle lady time has been.

But wasn't it a joy when we were young and full of a lot of things including ourselves?

Yes, Orley would have loved this.

In fact, I'll be he probably did. I'm glad Mary let me come. I'm very glad we did it. I'm very happy today that God has allowed me this path. I've always had the great privilege of being able to do exactly the things I wanted to do most, the things I've loved most.

I'm not who I was all those years ago, and that's a very good thing. But aside from the occasional story I don't want to even think about, the good news is God has been with me all the way.

We were once bad in our youth, in our stupidity. Now many of us have been given a second chance. I wished we could have spent more time talking about it.

Maybe next time. I hope there is a next time and all of us can be there.

Till then, here's to Orley. Thanks, old friend.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The signs they are a changing

Does weather get you down?

My mother always attributed all sorts of things to the weather. She foresaw good things by signs and such and she saw bad things by signs and such. But mostly it was things like if cold weather was coming, our joints and things like that would be out of sorts.

I'm out of sorts.

It's miserable out there this morning, black as a politician's heart, raining, cold threatening to become colder.

My hips are screaming. My knees are protesting. My back is my back.

Signs they are a changing.

Jesus said of such things: "And jun the morning, 'It will be stormy today, for the sky is read and threatening.' You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times."

What are these signs of the times today?

I read a story yesterday that said this:

"The co-founder and president of the NE Tarrant Tea Party in Tarrant County, Texas, has said that Republicans should vote for a straight-laced fellow Southern Baptist instead of a Methodist for a vacant judgeship because Methodists believe 'everything goes. Julie McCarty of Grapevine, Texas, wrote this on her Facebook page. Opponent Arlington lawyer Don Hase, a Methodist, replied, "God does not want politicians spinning to the public." In another Facebook comment, Mccarty said that the United Methodist Church should be criticized for having women as pastors and welcoming gay worshipers."

And the back of my heel hurts, too.

I'm going out on a limb here because I have a cousin who lambastes everything about the so-called Tea Party and I'm about to agree with her.

First, there are 211 different denominations that call themselves Baptist in the world including the largest, the Southern Baptists, of which I assume Ms. McCarty is a member. To assume that all United Methodists think and act and believe in exact same ways is to assume that all 211 Baptist denominations do as well. I happen to know they don't.

To believe that the majority of United Methodist Churches believe the same is simply, well, dumb and short-sighted. To believe that even members of one congregation all believe the same thing is even more short-sighted.

Do we allow women in the pulpit? Yes. I'm rather proud of that fact, and can show Biblical scholarship that says it happened in the early church despite all odds.

Do we invite gays into our churches? Yes. I'm extremely proud of hat fact, and can show Biblical scholarship that says it happened in the early church despite terrible persecution.

Does that mean we, us United Methodists are united about all these issues? Not a chance.

My elbow is hurting now, too.

It's a dark day, a windy day, a cold day, a wet day. The signs I'm reading say it will be raining meatballs before the denominational, theological skies clear.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

In turmoil again

Okay, so I must talk about a subject I had vowed to leave alone for a while. A while turned out to be a few weeks.

But I must.

Someone left a Baton Rouge newspaper on my seat in my office Sunday. I was surprised, till I picked it up and saw what I was supposed to see, I reckon.

The headline said, and I paraphrase, The United Methodist Church in turmoil over same-sex marriages.

I read the story and decided, well, I guess we are. Now I have to tell my congregations that we are in turmoil. We didn't know.

I'm not sure whether the person who left the article was fer it or agin it as my kin used to say. I'm not sure if they wanted to talk about it. I'm not sure if it came as a surprise to them.

The main reason is I've had very few conversations from people in the pews about the subject. My guess is most are in the against category, but I don't know.

Therein lies the rub.

I don't know what most folks in my pews think about this, nor do I know what most think about a thousand other sins, ones they've committed, ones I've committed, ones they think others have committed.

Because we don't talk about these things.

So, here's where we are. Read this please...

Controversy over a Nebraska pastor's conducting a "marriage" for a lesbian couple has erupted into what some have called the biggest conflict among Methodists since slavery.

A recent edition of the conservative Good  News magazine pictured the church as the Titanic splitting apart and about to sink because of the divisive issue of same-sex unions.

That was a lede to a story filed in 1998. 1998.

What has changed is, well, nothing. If the UMC is in turmoil today, it was in chaos then. Folks who disagree are disagreeing still. Folks in the United Methodist Church who disagree with the Book of Discipline are simply doing away with the Book of Discipline by actively challenge it, and conducting same-sex marriages.

The lines are thus drawn.

Advocates for gay marriage are continuing to aggressively press for change in church law to allow the marriages. “Most folks, after 40 years of trying legislative solutions, realize they won’t work. The way forward is to claim what we know to be true. And we’re going to continue doing it in an aggressive way,” said one advocate of same-sex marriage.

Advocates against gay marriage are continuing to organize for the ongoing fight, including a new organization designed to keep conservatives from leaving the denomination. “The present atmosphere is the worst I’ve ever seen it,” said the Rev. Maxie Dunnam, a retired president of Asbury Theological Seminary in Kentucky. “We are a divided church already.”

I would say that is because we don't talk about these things, but that wouldn't be true, either. We've talked, and we've been rejected, whomever we is. Both sides have dug in. Both are now lobbing grenades across no-man's land.

And gay news continues daily.

So, Michael Sam comes out as a gay football player and he becomes front page news -- though he is an average football player at best. So, Jason Collins comes out as a gay basketball player, and he becomes front page news -- though he is on a 10-day contract and is below average at best.

Are they heroic for coming out? You betcha. Takes quite a bit to say that. Are they front page news because of it? You betcha.  But now it is time to move on. I'm not exactly sure how someone's idea of who they have sex with became front page news, but here we are.

The final brick in the wall that forced me to write about this again was the new law in Arizona that would grant businesses the right to cite religious beliefs as a justification for refusing to serve same-sex couples. 

I understand at its core what this is about, but it is wrong on any number of levels. First, if we're going to be allowed to refuse service to someone based upon religious beliefs, essentially discriminating against those whose sin is different than or own, we're in a real mess. We're freeing judgmental people to judge. If gays can be turned away from restaurants (and really, how would you know?), then the question is what's next. Can a gay person in Arizona be turned away at the DMV? Can a gay person in Arizona be restricted from being buried in a Christian cemetery? Can a gay person be turned away from sporting events? What's the end game here?

Again, let me be clear, I believe that homosexuality is said to be a sin in the Bible. I also believe churches should absolutely open in reaching out and bringing in gays to worship because if they are kept out by our prejudices, then we must keep out all the sinners who come each Sunday. And we don't. And finally I believe who does what in the bedroom with whom is none of my business.

I have little problem with people deciding to serve or not serve anyone in their place of business. Right or wrong, it seems to me that's the right of the business person. But let's not cloak this in religious beliefs. I can't for the life of me see how that isn't discrimination. If we do so, then one day when the ultimate judge calls us up, we're going to have to explain why and how we were able to separate these particular sinners and not serve them.

In the United Methodist guidelines book called the Book of Discipline, we're called in Section IX of the social principles to inclusiveness. It reads in part, "Inclusiveness means openness, acceptance, and support that enables all persons to participate in the life of the Church."

All? Do we really mean that?

One day all this bickering will be over, I'm thinking. One day the Book of Discipline, which governs these things for Methodists, might be re-written and the lines about homosexuality being incompatible with Christian teaching will be changed in some form. Or there will be two Methodist denominations. Actually, there is already a bunch of off-shoots of Wesleyan denominations.

So, where is the answer for the coming battle, something we as pastors can take to our congregations and say this is where we are as United Methodists?

It might be a simple answer. Just a small idea that causes (and has caused) great movement in thisworld. Could it be as simple as something like "love thy neighbor as thyself?"

Love, Jesus said. And he ate among sinners.

I wonder. Would Jesus be served in Arizona?

Monday, February 24, 2014

Looking back

The story is a famous one in scripture.

The Israelites, enslaved for years, are led away from Egypt by Moses (and God, of course). They head out into the unknown. After a while, they become tired of the manna (bread) that God is providing. They begin to murmur (a great all-purpose word). They even decide that they were better off back with the known trouble of enslavement rather than the unknown of walking the path toward what is known as the "promised land."

They couldn't help look backward.

Let's see. Slavery versus freedom; cucumbers versus bread; known versus unknown.

They wanted to go back.

I preached about this a few weeks back, as part of a series called God's story. I've talked about it in the past. I know what a danger it is to do this.

And I fall victim to it all the dang time.

The truth is the past few days, since a mentor of mine died, I've been looking backward. Thoughts about what I once was have fought a real battle against who I am now. Thoughts about Jackson versus New Orleans versus Eunice have bounced about in my brain like so many tennis balls.

All of "them" stayed for the most part. I left. Always it was me who left.

And now I'm not one of "them."

And I wonder.
And ponder.
And fret.

What would life have been like if I had stayed, in any of the places I left?

The fact is I was enslaved when I lived there, every bit as much as the Israelites. I was a different, very different person when I was there. There's a real possibility they wouldn't truly know me now even as there was a very real possibility they didn't know me then.

And yet...

I wonder.
And ponder.
And fret.

If you don't know, you might wonder how the whole going back thing worked out for the Israelites.

For those keeping score, it can be found in chapter 16 of Exodus, beginning with the 11th verse. "I have heard the grumbling of the Israelites," the Lord said to Moses. "At twilight you will eat meat, and in the morning you will be filled with bread. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God."

Here's what I think. Every decision I've made, good and bad, God has turned to good. Every choice I've made, good and bad, has been taken by God to make something He can use for his purposes. That's his will.

It certainly doesn't mean everything has gone well, and it doesn't mean every decision has been led by God because I can certainly tell you I've made some blunders. And you always remember the blunders, the choices you wished you had prayed about and thought about a bit longer

But as an example I offer the 10 months I spent in Reno, Nev. It was an awful, lonely time I would never want to repeat. I left everything I knew, including all those deep, long friendships, because of ego. Ten months after the choice, I crawled back to Jackson, Miss., taking a news position at the Jackson newspaper after spending all my life in sports, and was mostly accepted back.

More importantly, I met Mary, my wife of 29 years.

If I had stayed, I wouldn't have been in news and I most probably wouldn't have met Mary and .... you get the idea.

The answer is I'm trying to let God lead in all instances. If I can do that, surrendering direction and will to him, my choices will always be right.

Therefore, looking back is challenging his will. I'm trying.

Even as I wonder,

Friday, February 21, 2014

Orley Hood, a fine man, leaves a fine legacy

I was returning from visiting a cancer-ridden individual and offering prayers for him when I saw Orley Hood had died this morning..

As I would guess one of the very few sports writers/editors turned pastors in the Mississippi-Louisiana area, and certainly one of the few persons hired by Orley at both the Meridian Star and the Jackson Daily News/The Clarion-Ledger, I deal with death regularly. But this one hits me very hard. He and Tom Patterson were responsible for my previous career, but Orley even more so.

He was the assistant sports editor of the Meridian Star when I first wrote a story for a newspaper. I quit after one game. But a couple years later, Orley saw me in the hallway of Meridian Junior College and asked if I ever thought about writing for a living. I said yes, and he hired me on then spot to cover the Eagles.

He taught me on early mornings at the Meridian Star what it mean to "feel" what you wrote and not simply write it. He was truly good at that. He lived the story, even if the story was one of 15 inches or so.

A few years later, I was the sports editor of the Columbus (Miss.) Commercial Dispatch. A few great folks had come from out of state to work for The Clarion-Ledger, and for a while you had practically be from out of state to get a job in sports there. But Orley remembered me, and he talked Tom Patterson, who would become my mentor, into hiring me. So, Orley was the reason I had a career in that other life of mine.

Was he the best writer I ever worked with? I would lean toward John McGrath or Billy Watkins or Rick Cleveland, but I suspect all three of them would lean toward Orley. But I think anyone would tell you that even beyond his ability to write, Orley lived the ability to write. In other words, Orley was full of life like very few writers I ever worked with or worked for or even knew.

I've been gone for half a lifetime from the great state of Mississippi. Once, years ago, I had but one goal, to be inducted into the Mississippi Sports Writer's Association Hall of Fame like my early mentor Robert "Steamboat" Fulton. But now I think I would rather be remembered -- apart from having found my true mentor and savior at an advanced age -- as someone who truly knew Orley Hood. Seems like quite a meaningful legacy.

He fought the good fight against cancer, and I believe he will be remembered for living the good life. I pray he knew Jesus, as well, for that still matters in the conversation about where we will spend eternity.

But without question or doubt, I know Orley was a class act, a good guy, a great father, a wonderful husband, and I will always remember him as someone who cared about the people he worked with.

Thirty years ago, when my life was falling apart and my first marriage was completely in the dumper, Orley was there for me.

As I pray for him and his family today, I hope I'm there for him, too.

God Speed, Orley.

Isaiah washes us clean

Among the Dead Sea Scrolls found at Qumran, which is a place that my wife, Mary, and I visited just more than four years ago right outside the Dead Sea in Southern Palestine was a nearly complete scroll of the prophet Isaiah.

In about 740 BC, Isaiah received his call to prophesy in the form of a vision in the temple at Jerusalem. Isaiah, the son of Amoz, wrote these words (among many, many others): "Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth; for the Lord has spoken: 'some have I reared, but they have rebelled against me. The ox knows its owner, and the ass its master's crib; but Israel does not know, my people do not understand."

In other words, a people laden with iniquity, offspring of evildoers, sons who deal with iniquity, forsook the Lord, despised the Holy One of Israel, utterly estranged the Lord himself on a beautiful Friday morning, and stuff happened because of it.

That's when stuff always happens. That's when noisy things always happens. That's when stuff occurs.

This morning, after a roaring night of flashes and bangs when God had finished his business of bangs and flashes, I was pondering what God had in store for the rest of the day.

Isaiah wrote, "Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; defend the fatherless, plead for the widow. Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlett, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool. If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land, but if you refuse and rebel, you shall be devoured by the sword: for the mouth of the Lord has spoken."

The prophet was making it clear, seems to me, that we are to stop doing evil and let God correct oppression, defend the fatherless and plead for the widow. You reckon? The prophet, it seems to me, is making our sins -- as red and prominent as Ms. Johansson's Scarlett(ness) -- white as snow on a winter European afternoon.

There you have it. The question is can we then make this happen? The answer is almost always kinda, sorta, maybe. The prophet, early in his prophecy, would argue, "Come now, let us argue it out, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be like snow; though they are red like scarlet, they shall be like snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be like wool." Almost always kinda, sorta, maybe ... you see?

Are we clear?
Do we get it?

Will we ever get it?

I suspect that Isaiah understood that to be God's truth long before God's people understood that to be God's truth. I really do.

The answer is almost always ... kinda, sorta, maybe.

Not always. Not for sure. But kinda, sorta, maybe. That's the way this works. One day, thousands of years after Isaiah's incredibly beautiful and powerful writing was completed, prophecy worked its way into the framework of scripture. I believe God's words crept into our being, crept into our understanding, crept into our hearts.

"Seek justice, correct oppression, defend the fatherless, plead for the widow. Come let us reason together..."

Let that be our task this beautiful, crisp Friday morning, my friend, my neighbor, my brother.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

What a Lark

It's deep pondering time again. I read a satirical piece from Lark yesterday.

LarkNews was founded in Denver, Colorado, in 1956 as the local church newsletter for Flatiron Community Church, but its breadth of stories stirred wider interest, and by 1963 LarkNews was being mailed to subscribers in 44 states and Canada. Since then the “little newsletter that could” has grown to 45,000 postal subscribers, and now reaches potentially billions of computer-owners worldwide.

The piece I read yesterday told the story of a couple, Julie and Bob Clark, who (satirically) were stunned to receive a letter from their church in July asking them to “participate in the life of the church” — or worship elsewhere. “They basically called us freeloaders,” says Julie. “We were freeloaders,” says Bob. In a trend that may signal rough times for wallflower Christians, bellwether mega-church Faith Community of Winston-Salem has asked “non-participating members” to stop attending. “No more Mr. Nice Church,” says the executive pastor, newly hired from Cingular Wireless. “Bigger is not always better. Providing free services indefinitely to complacent Christians is not our mission.” “Freeloading” Christians were straining the church’s nursery and facility resources and harming the church’s ability to reach the lost, says the pastor. “When your bottom line is saving souls, you get impatient with people who interfere with that goal,” he says.

I wonder how many of us were in on the joke? I wonder how many of us understand there is no real joke here because it actually is quite true?

I also read a piece from the same group of deep thinkers that pointed out a small group from Life Baptist church met during the week, but the members have no memory of seeing each other because they were staring at their smartphones the entire time. “I thought everyone else was keeping up the discussion,” says one woman who successfully ‘Liked’ fifty-five posts and finished two games of Words With Friends during the 90-minute gathering. “I guess no one was.”

Here's the real deal, folks. Freeloading Christians do actually strain the church and small groups that do not dig into the Word are as real as rain. Funny how we never notice these things.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The Lion sleeps tonight

It's a glorious evening in Palestine. It's warm, but not hot. Perfect, if perfect could be had on the earth, he thinks. The sun has been David's companion all day, along with 14 or so men who would die for him, with nary a cloud to interfere with the ideal. It's faux-Spring, the time before the time and David is pretty sure this day couldn't get better unless Saul and Jonathan would suddenly show up and all the hatred the King had for David would run away. Still, God has blessed him with all things, and he has had only to receive them.

David sits, quietly, stretching, laying his staff and a short sword beside him. His human enemies are down the mountain somewhere. Safety is the evening cry.

Even the lion he had seen in the morning shadows is lying silently somewhere on the hillside. David catches his breath with glorious anticipation that he and she would one day meet with consequence and mortality the result for one of them. He enjoyed the dance.

Oh, maybe even tomorrow. He laughs gently, knowing the she-lion would sleep tonight, because he hears nothing except the normal noise of some of the sheep, others sheep this day, and they are not acting afraid. Even as David looks for the safety of a cave on the rocky hillsides outside of Jerusalem, somewhere on the hills, the wispy breeze is lifting and settling her mane like a child playing with bird's feathers, and she is settled, ready but relaxed, much like David, who lessens his alert status even as the lambs relax in the evening dance of the wind. He is on the run, his life is in the hands of his God, but now is the time to rest, to reflect, to offer a moment of worship even to a God who has called him and is even now leading him.

The evening light flickers and taunts. He takes out a reed he uses for writing his songs, a small and thin utensil he carries with him even on the hills of Palestine, and begins to write as if this was all he needed -- forever, because it is. As much as he is a shepherd, he thinks he is a writer. God's words, his framework for living, flows through him. They always have. He pauses for a prayer, a gentle breath communication with Jehovah and begins to write even as the day begins to wane.

"I waited patiently or the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry," David writes. "He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. ... Blessed is the man who makes the Lord his trust, who does not look to the proud, to those who turn aside to false gods. ..."

David stops, thinks how fortunate he is to be doing something he loves, even if he is running. He stretches, and looks to the sky, to where his father taught him to seek his Father.

He reflects for a moment that though things have been more difficult for him lately, though he can't see where the hope will come sometimes, though he has often wondered if King Saul actually wanted him dead, though he really feels he is in a slimy pit and he is covered in the mud and mire of living a life on the run, his Father, his Creator, his Friend, his Alpha and Omega, has reached out to him -- which if he gives it but a second of thought is beyond amazing.

David looks down and begins to write again: "Many, O lord my God, are the wonders you have done. The things you planned for us no one can recount to you; were I to speak and tell of them, they would be too many to declare."

He smiles, relaxes, and begins to ponder how sweet the magnolias smell. It is evening, evening of a day God has made. Waiting on God is the most wonderful of actions, he knows. Waiting fills him with strength, with patience, with love even.

So, this evening, while his brother are probably running like their boots were on fire, he waits. He thinks, "Yet I am poor and needy; may the Lord think of me. You are my hope and my delivered; O my God; do not delay."

Words for today and forever, David thinks.

The lion smiles, and rolls onto its side.

Monday, February 17, 2014

What you must think of us

Dear non-believer (and you know who you are)...

Oh, what you  must think of us, those of us who try to follow the teachings, the life, the death and the resurrection of this man who was called Jesus..
On Friday the Westboro Baptist Church made a stink about Missouri football player Michael Sam who came out as a gay person last week. More than 2000 Missouri students stood up for Sam in a "wall of love." I commend the effort by the students, though I do wonder if they would have been so rambunctional if Sam was a tuba player instead of the SEC co-defensive player of the year. He should, by the way, be judged only on how he plays the game, and anyone thinking otherwise if a bassoom or buffoon.
A Kentucky pastor who starred in a reality show about snake-handling in church has died -- of a snakebite. Jamie Coots died Saturday evening after refusing to be treated, Middleborough police said.
On "Snake Salvation," the ardent Pentecostal believer said that he believed that a passage in the Bible suggests poisonous snakebites will not harm believers as long as they are anointed by God. The practice is illegal in most states, but still goes on, primarily in the rural South. Coots was a third-generation "serpent handler" and aspired to one day pass the practice and his church, Full Gospel Tabernacle in Jesus Name, on to his adult son, Little Cody." Guess he did, earlier than he expected. Show like this on television, along with preacher's daughter or whatever that is, certainly doesn't help those lost and least find Christ. I admit I haven't seen either, in full disclosure.
My point is this: At this point, you've decided we're crazy, and there are times when the ruckus over certain subjects get out of hand, and although I accept that as both an occupational hazard and a pretty fair assessment of my mental state, what I don't want to have happening is some fringe groups seemingly to speak for all Christians. If you think we're all like the above, you're simply not paying attention. If you think Wesboro and Chick Fil A are the same bunch of folks, you're wrong. Some folks really do love the sinner and hate the sin. Some don't. We're no more the same than all non-believers are. There are some really good non-believers. I know many.
Most of my Christian friends, and those are not large numbers because my friends are spread among former co-workers, former neighbors and all the normal manner of establishing friends, have never protested anything, and they give more money for the homeless and helpless and the hungry than you perhaps will ever do.
And as far as I know, none of them -- most assuredly including me -- don't want to consider handling poisonous snakes as any test of faith, lest we fail before the box is open.
If you really think about it, taking your own prejuidice out of the equation, you know what  most us think of Westboro.
Most of us want to talk through our problems. Most of us want the best for each of us, in terms of what Jesus would want for us. We believe he came, he carried our sins (and yours, by the way), and saved us all.
We, you, I, all of us, nailed him to a tree for it.
He did so not that we could rewrite the Word of God to fit our own ideas of what sin is (and again, I admit doing this), but he died so that he could free us forever, justify us immediately and sanctify us for the rest of our lives.
That's the message I dearly wished we could give you, show you, get our of our churches and let you know.
 What I am seeing, though, is a thickening cloud on Facebook and other social media among friends I've had forever who are apparently not Christians who continually are judging all Bible-believers by their Bible covers.
Here's the deal: I was once was lost, and I believe I was found. I also believe that I have the answer for you. But just as God doesn't make you accept that, neither do I. I believe certain things that perhaps you will never believe. That's okay, too. I believe differently than you do, but whether you choose to believe this or not, I'm neither stupid nor ignorant. I have a high IQ, and I follow a man whose IQ must have been off the charts -- him being, well, you know God and everything.
Let's pause in our battle to understand just what he said. He told us to love God with all our heart, mind, and spirit, and our neighbor as ourselves. He left it there.
The rest of this is just a battle to be right. I'm just as intrigued as you about what scripture says about homosexuality, and abortion, and murder, and, works, and grace, and faith, and resurrection, and virgin birth and suns stopping in the sky and creation and such.
The only difference, and I'll let you go on this, is by the grace of God somehow a switch flipped and I understood how close to extinction I was and who could save me.
If that was you, wouldn't you want to tell me about that? Wouldn't you want to spend eternity with me? How can I do differently?
You tell me. If you're right and there's no God and all our battling has been for naught, who is hurt? If I'm right and God is watching so intently, just waiting for his children to return to him and crying when they don't, and eternity away from him is the answer, think of the hurt you'll face.
That's it for now. Goodnight snakes. Goodnight Westboro.
Good night, neighbor. I still love you.

Friday, February 14, 2014

On Donald Miller and church

I read yesterday that Donald Miller, a wonderful writer and great Christian mind, says he can't find God through music and has pretty much given up on church. He says he finds God through work most often.

He writes in a follow up to that much shared blog, "Theologically, I find myself in the evangelical camp in many ways, but as for the 'one way to do life and church' I've gone a different way. And I'm hardly alone. While I love the traditional church, I love it like a foundational part of my past..."

He goes on in a very rational ways to explain how "church" is evolving for him. He says, "I'd say half of the most impactful people I know, who love Jesus and tear up at the mention of His name, who reach out to the poor and lonely and are fundamentally sound in their theology, who create institutions that feed hundreds of thousands, do not attend a traditional church service. Many of them even speak at churches, but they have no church home and don't long for one. They aren't wired to be intimate with God by attending a lecture and hearing singing (which there is NOTHING wrong with). They are wired to experience God by working with Him."

Let me say that this somewhat influent individual has the right to believe and act in whatever way he deems works for him. That he finds God is the key to the entire matter.

So many times in so many ways we seek to "do church right," when what we really mean is we want to come into contact with God in a great and meaningful manner.

I believe one way (ONE WAY) we do that is through worship. I have based my life, accepted my calling, and what I believe I've been called to do most is lead through worship. It's what I feel I'm best at, though clearly and certainly there are hundreds if not thousands who are better at it than I.

All week long I work towards the one hour on Sunday, and when I take the sermon into the pulpit, I do so with a sense of great responsibility and honor. And I believe that what happens some of the time, not all the time, is that God speaks through me. I really do. What others hear or experience, I can't really say.

I want what Donald Miller wants, so desperately. And that is a touch of the divine. Can that song, prayer, song, offering, special song, lecture style of church be boring? Without doubt. And that is only part of the reason church is declining. But mostly I think, it's about the one in the pews for the object of worship is God, not what we get out of it.

Miller's final comments are very, very telling, though.

He says, "Neither am I a ruing the current model (of church) should change. Millions are weekly thought these kinds of programs. What I'm arguing is that nobody should be faulted for creating something different. Those who would argue "we shouldn't simply create the church in our own image" forget it already has been created in our own image. ...I'd argue that by making the church smaller, less formal, less organized, less institutionalized and more like the chaos of a family structure, the church would be moving more toward the historical church in Acts and less like a culture-formed institution by deconstructing itself. Though I hardly consider that a God-given decree."

I would say that creative thinking, inspired by God, would help our churches immensely. The problem would be getting that across and through those who need a touch the most.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Family thoughts

Scriptures are clear on a few things. Family? Not so much.

The first time family is mentioned in scripture is in connection with Noah. Clearly there had been familial issues previously with Cain's problem Abel. But in the New Living Translation, the word is first used with Noah and his folks getting on the Ark.

God told Noah to get into the boat with his whole family. FAMILY. Kin. Siblings and children. Family. After the flood, God blessed Noah and his sons and told them to multiply. Things were swell. Shem, Ham and Japeth were the sons. Noah was one happy dude. Then he got drunk, naked, and the boys covered him up. For reasons only families will ever understand or know, Noah woke up, got mad at Ham for telling his brothers about the whole naked and drunk thing and cursed him.

And therein lies family.

Families are the best entity on the planet. Nothing like spouses, kids, grandkids and the like.

But let a curse come roaring down the pipe in the form of not talking to each other or not listening to each other or not being a mother to children because of some dopey thing, and all, uh, heck breaks lose. As it should at that point.

A person named Alison wrote this: "Families are a blessing and at times a burden. I believe we chose our families before birth. We all came into form on Earth with a task, and there is a Divine Order behind everything. They can be a sheltering shield when life tosses us about, a place of refuge... or they can be riddled with unresolved issues, negativity, jealousy and resentment. Whatever the situation, there is a reason why we share bloodlines and so your family will always be connected to you. The days of extended families are sadly passing, but I do believe that we all exist in the mind of God, so in a way we are all one family anyway."

All I can say is as an only child, adopted as an infant, I know so little about family I can't begin to even talk about it except to say I love my "adopted" cousins, I love my children, I love my grandchildren, but what I've learned is that life is short and anyone (even in my own family) who quits talking to another sibling is wrong at best. Oh how I would have loved to have a brother or a sister. I've never, never had someone I could talk to like I imagine I would have with a sibling.

But I've also seen brothers and sisters tear into each other like wolves debating who is the Alpha.

What to do?

Maybe Mother Theresa said it best, "What can you do to promote world peace? Go home and love your family."

Nuff said.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014


The words are clear. Tenth Avenue North sings:

I’m Tired I’m worn
My heart is heavyFrom the work it takesTo keep on breathingI’ve made mistakesI’ve let my hope failMy soul feels crushedBy the weight of this world
And I know that you can give me restSo I cry out with all that I have left
Let me see redemption winLet me know the struggle endsThat you can mend a heartThat’s frail and tornI wanna know a song can riseFrom the ashes of a broken lifeAnd all that’s dead inside can be rebornCause I’m worn

It's only to camouflage my sadness
In order to shield my pride I try
To cover this hurt with a show of gladness

What comes next after this is what Christianity is, I'm thinking. Or what it should be. Or what it still must become.

What I'm asking today is that we notice those who need noticing. I pray I start.

Clearly there is more to this world than what we can feel, sense, exhibit. Clearly other folks are walking around with different ailments and pains than we can possibly imagine, mainly because we don't have them and never have had them. So, we simply don't know what the other person is feeling, sensing, exhibiting.

There are people walking around who are as unhappy as unhappy can be, and the fact is we don't recognize this because, among many reasons, we just don't take the time or don't know what to look for or are simply into ourselves and not others.

But behind the smile can be a world of hurt. Behind the everyday appearance, can be a pain as big as the sky above Wyoming. 

I think Smokey wrote it best in Tears of a Clown in the 60s. 
Oh yeah baby, now if I appear to be carefree

The point is, we just don't know, and out would be a swell thing if we simply stopped acting like we did. I know I'm terribly actionable for this.

In my search for understanding this morning, I came across a blog from an unnamed persons who suffers from something called chronic fatigue syndrome. As an example it couldn't be better. I don't know anything about this syndrome, but it apparently causes great hardship.

Read this: In my journey to recovery from chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) and past trauma I have reached a place where, "I am tired and worn and my heart is heavy with the work it takes to keep breathing", as in the song lyrics above. For many years I have strived to be well, tried lots of different treatments and each time went so far to then come up against a brick wall and "let my hope fail, my soul feels crushed", the result of another hope filled strong willed drive to overcome     defeated. Then for a while I have felt, "the weight of this world", the weight of my own personal world with "a heart that's frail and torn", my heart in pieces bruised and fragile and feeling as if it has indeed been torn apart.I desperately want to know, " a song can rise from the ashes of a broken life and all that's dead inside can be reborn". To survive to strive for healing to overcome trauma and illness it breaks your life apart and a part of you dies inside every time to survive back then during the trauma and now during the strive to recover. The very treatments for CFS/trauma when they fail cause another part of you inside to die. The very existence of a chronic illness filled life does not produce more life but the death of many parts of what a healthy person would call living. 
Is it possible to come back to life? 

I reckon one could substitute all sorts of things for CFS in his or her story. One could sub depression, one could sub the weight of homosexuality and others reactions to it, or being bullied, or sexual harassment, or weight issues, or one could sub physical pain that is no more real than any of the others.

One could.

It's probably time we did, those of us who a spouse the love thy neighbor stuff.

We don't know what our brothers and our sisters are feeling. But what we can do, as I learned years ago and am seeking to actually apply, is we can still love them and still try our best to sympathize with them. I think it's probably best we do this before it's too late.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The call of the dial

What changes us? What makes a real, real difference? What makes the call such a difference-maker, How many of us dread the call? The living on Antarctic-Ice-Tuesday morning call, the one where brokered splinters freezes the connection between you and the caller not unlike Batman having gentle conversation with Mr. Freeze. Frigid moments, numbing moments that can't or most certainly won't be forgotten.

And every person who receives the call seizes like a victim phoned by dread itself, dressed like the Iceman, made up like a Siberian headed to the unknown.

The answer is all. Everyone. Every one. Each person who has received the call, has been given the call, has changed, been changed, suffered the chains of the afflicted. Difference was the moment, the sedative, the juice poured stiffly into the cup of change.

We dread the call like we dread the diagnosis like we dread the cough, the fever, the pathology report, the college grade itself. We dread the answer, even though we wait so very impatiently. We dread the credit report, the answer, the question. We dread the moment, the day, the time. My good and loving God we do. We dread ... and then it's on, and then it's over. Honest to God himself, the call for some changed everything.

Oh, the moment made the difference, and clearly I associate the moment with the cold, but it goes beyond that with tapes and measures and paper piling up on the dirty streets. But there's more to dread than just the call. We dread not being allowed to dread any more. Dang it, we do.

Oh, as we get older, it occurs to me, we dread the truth.
We dread the discovery.
We dread the day, the night, the, the, the time when nothing will ever, ever be the same. And we know it like we know that ol' death and taxes thingamabob. We know it.

We dread the quiet.
We dread foghorns blowing deeply in the dark.
We dread driving cars on rainy street.
We dread honesty, with a dose of dishonesty.
We dread losing, winning for no reason, relationships that don't work, and a few that do.

Dreading begins the freezing process where we stiffen unto incapacity, where the pain begins as if there was always a plan, but the plan squeezed to must, then at some point without knowing it, we leave being us and become, well, someone or something else. And no pushing, shoving, willfulness as hard as Arctic ice on a below-zero Thursday will have an impact. It just won't. It is the second of time in long, lonely lives. The call is the goodbye, and whether or not your were close, that single moment is notched on your personal iPhotos forever and a day.

I got the call on a Monday morning 21 years ago. I got another call on a Tuesday morning after having left the scene to drive home for a while. Mary got the call all those years ago, and she got another yesterday evening. Shanna, the same. Heck, she called me with the associate call. Mrs. Anita's family got the call yesterday ironically enough. There was plenty to pass around yesterday, so we did.

The calls come as often as the blaze of a campfire, with as many teeth as a watchdog dog and as wet as drops on a rainy day Monday. How we deal with the calls tell us a lot. Lynard Skynard dealt with the call by producing music about the call. Buddy Holly dealt with the call by letting the music die. We live and we die with the call in very different ways.

We get the calls, all of us humans, in a drafty and daffy fault, and we shuffle the deck, walk our minds through easy times and try, try, try to let the grace of a loving God slide down us one more time again. Try. Contradict those two harsh lovers, inevitability and inescapably, with a slap of sanity and a side-order of practicality. We try, all the while understanding we don't really have answers to the call or anything else of importance.

I could write about what I knew about him, about how losing him was as inevitable as heat in a Southern Summer. We knew this to be a stone cold fact.  I could spring fully loaded with lines of crafty wisdoms and such, writing about what I know to be deep truth, talking about what I have learned from scripture and from school, from life and maybe from death itself. I could write those things, though the script would be a short one, I'm afraid.

But on a long, cold winter's day, with the call still fresh as a wound, I think I'll just let the sun come riding in like a remedy to captivity.

It's all right. It's all right, I'll say to the caller. The smile is returning to the faces, I'll sing to a quickening tune. It seems years since it's been here, but Jude won't make the call worse only better. The pain and suffering remains, but the pain won't. Not always. No.

The call be damned. Maybe we'll see you again some day, Mark.

Monday, February 10, 2014

God ain't dead? Prove it...

In the past 20 years or so, a frankly contemptuous tone about faith has emerged. I'm not sure anyone would actually argue that, but I believe that one would find -- without much research -- that the New Atheists who have appeared on the scene are polemicists, and, like all polemics, they are designed not to persuade but to stiffen the spines of their supporters and irritate the stomach linings of their enemies. Instead of being mushy and marginalized, new atheism has begun to proclaim its creed, to push God out of the public square, to command the culture.

If indeed atheism has had its moment, and if indeed atheism has begun to sprout and run freely like then so much wasted vegetation, I wonder when those of the faith community will have their moment. When will those, liberal and conservative both, have a brief dialogue that helps them decide that they must respond not because of their politics or such but because Jesus commanded us to?  Perhaps it's next month when the movie God's Not Dead arrives in theaters. Perhaps it will be the month after that or the one after that.

God's Not DeadThis is the movie synopsis:

"Present-day college freshman and devout Christian, Josh Wheaton (Shane Harper), finds his faith challenged on his first day of Philosophy class by the dogmatic and argumentative Professor Radisson (Kevin Sorbo). Radisson begins class by informing students that they will need to disavow, in writing, the existence of God on that first day, or face a failing grade. As other students in the class begin scribbling the words “God Is Dead” on pieces of paper as instructed, Josh find himself at a crossroads, having to choose between his faith and his future. Josh offers a nervous refusal, provoking an irate reaction from his smug professor. Radisson assigns him a daunting task: if Josh will not admit that “God Is Dead,” he must prove God’s existence by presenting well-researched, intellectual arguments and evidence over the course of the semester, and engage Radisson in a head-to-head debate in front of the class. If Josh fails to convince his classmates of God’s existence, he will fail the course and hinder his lofty academic goals. With almost no one in his corner, Josh wonders if he can really fight for what he believes. Can he actually prove the existence of God?"

I ask all readers this: If you were commanded to prove the existence of God, where would you go to do so, what would you do, how would you go about it?

Or, what the heck, do you even have to do this?

Much of life may seem uncertain, but look at what we can count on day after day: gravity remains consistent, a hot cup of coffee left on a counter will get cold, the earth rotates in the same 24 hours, and the speed of light doesn't change -- on earth or in galaxies far from us. How is it that we can identify laws of nature that never change? Why is the universe so orderly, so reliable?

"The greatest scientists have been struck by how strange this is. There is no logical necessity for a universe that obeys rules, let alone one that abides by the rules of mathematics. This astonishment springs from the recognition that the universe doesn't have to behave this way. It is easy to imagine a universe in which conditions change unpredictably from instant to instant, or even a universe in which things pop in and out of existence."

Richard Feynman, a Nobel Prize winner for quantum electrodynamics, said, "Why nature is mathematical is a mystery...The fact that there are rules at all is a kind of miracle." When I was an agnostic, these types of statements would drive me batty. In other words, I can't find any explanation for this or that, so clearly this must be God.

But the truth is that most of the answers I sought could only be answered by God. He is what makes us who and what we are.

Can I prove the existence of God? I can't even prove I exist, except the obvious. I have done things, You can see those things I have done, thus there is proof, historical evidence. Therefore, I am. He is. We are. None of us need this movie, which debuts March 21, to know this. We see the evidence of the existence of God every single cotton-picking day. He pursues us, and the truth is He ain't all that sneaky about it.

My main man, C.S. Lewis, said he remembered feeling night after night, "whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady, unrelenting approach of Him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet. I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all of England."

Proof? Heck, I have eye witnesses.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Would he disapprove?

The question on whatever blog I was on was a simple but, oh so complex.

Would Jesus disapprove of Christianity if he came back to the Earth today?

According to the results of the poll, 85 percent of the ones who answered said yes, and it didn't matter whether it was Democrats or Republicans, Catholic or Protestant answerers. Wow. Really?

Would he really?

I thought about it long and hard, well for a few minutes anyway. I finally decided it was a bit of a trick question.

Christianity, I reasoned, isn't what he invented in the first place, at least in the manner it is described today. If it is the Gospels we're talking about, then Jesus would be fine with it. If it is Paul's description of the Gospels, then Jesus would be okay with that as well.

But these Christians...

That he would have difficulty with. That he would have problems about. That he would disapprove of, for the most part.

But that's the greatness of grace, and that wipes out the question. For Jesus loves us, even if we've distorted the message. Jesus loves us, even if we're struggled to do what he told us to do. Jesus loves us, this I know, for the Gospels tell me -- over and over and over.

That's the greatness of the grace of God. Would he disapprove? He didn't while he was on the planet. He ate with sinners, loved on sinners, wanted to save sinners.

That's us. Still.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

IN THE BEGINNING GOD, and thoughts of creation, evolution and gravy

My views on Genesis, on creation, on evolution have always been, well, evolving. I've been all over the board, as I've tried to come to grips with believing in the Word of God through faith and seeing some somewhat glaring difficulties with passages.

Last night there was a mostly worthless debate held between Bill Nye "The Science Guy" and Creation Museum’s Ken Ham over evolution and creationism. Now, I've barely heard of Bill Nye and I must admit sadly I've never heard of Ken Ham or the Creation Museum.

After some rather interesting statements from both men, polls show that Americans — particularly evangelicals — are more likely to side with Ham than the ‘Science Guy’ on the question of the origin of the universe and humanity.

And what have we settled? Dunno. Here's what was asked of audiences after the debate.

I admit somewhat freely that I am in the middle category. I don't know when the earth was created, but I also believe that most of the great minds who say they do really don't. I believe God created, and if it was 24 hour days or thousand year days means little to me.

I believe the cell phone works, but I have no clue how. I believe my car runs, and I don't know what makes it do so. I believe...

I believe the most important words in scripture, even moreso than the resurrection which makes me what I am, are the first four.


From those words flow creation, like the river from the throne of God, but also redemption and restoration after we had blown our opportunities (which makes me a chapter one Genesis believer by the way).

I won't go into arguments about whether there was a literal Adam and Eve or what they looked like. That seems fairly immaterial to me.


From those words came my chance, just a breath of a chance at salvation. Otherwise, this world is just a bunch of coincidents happening daily. And I don't believe in coincidence any longer. Only God, in the beginning.

I will say I am surprised at how many Americans actually believe in a literal Genesis creation.

Gallup has been asking Americans about evolution for the past three decades. Just under half of Americans believe that God created humans about 10,000 years ago. Another third believe in theistic evolution or intelligent design — that God guided evolution to create humanity. Just 15 percent side with evolution, a natural process that did not include any help from God.
Last year, Pew Research Center found a similar result, with only a third of Americans believing in natural evolution. Using a slightly different question, Pew found more support for a God-guided evolutionary process. A third of Americans said they believed humanity has never evolved and another quarter believe in an evolutionary process guided by God.

Religion News Service reports that support for evolution increases with education, but the effect of religion is stronger. Pew’s survey found support for creationism was strongest among white evangelical Protestants and black Protestants. Nearly two-thirds of white evangelicals and half of black Protestants believe in creationism. Of those in these groups who believe in evolution, most see it as directed by God.

So, if I understand these numbers, almost 80 percent of the U.S. population believe God created in one form or another, and a miniscule 15 percent believe God had no play in the plan.

If that's the case, why on Earth are we eliminating God from much of the public square? And we argue over every darn issue imaginable?


All else is white noise, or gravy as the case might be.


Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Choose listening to Him

"I call upon you, O Lord; come quickly to me; give ear to my voice when I call to you. Let my prayer be counted as incense before you; and the lifting up of my hands as an evening sacrifice." Psalms 141 1-2

I have found a losing battle with a company, two companies really, about Internet and phone service, and what I've finally come to understand is I am incompetent in the battles of big companies. I am unable to be patient enough to navigate the voice messages of some unholy and dastardly -- shall I say, evil -- company that lead me to who knows where. And today, I'm told, they're having a nation-wide problem with their system. THE ONES WHO ARE SUPPOSED TO HOOK ME UP are having a nation-wide problem with Internet explorer.

I'm reminded that ultimately no matter what I think of my abilities, good or bad, I am not in charge, not in control, not sovereign. Heck, I misspelled sovereign the first time before spellcheck spellchecked.

I say all that to say this, what decision do you have right now that will change your life? Good or bad, big or small? What's the next decision that will change the way things are in your daily routine, your prayer time, your reading of scripture time, your TV time, your communication time with a spouse, or a child or friend?

You know you have them. You know there are times when a choice you make will come.

So, what do we do?

Perhaps, just perhaps, we do what our Lord did.  "Jesus went to a solitary place at daybreak." And we know that there's where He got in touch with His Father. He got in touch with the tower to sort out His priorities for the day. That's where you have to go daily. You have to go there early, and you have to go there alone and let God lay on your heart His "musts."

Joshua, a warrior for God, said it this way: "But if you refuse to serve the Lord, then choose today whom you will serve. Would you prefer the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates? Or will it be the gods of the Amorites in whose land you now live? But as for me and my family, we will serve the Lord.” 

I've had a great deal of difficulty getting things settled at our church after conflict arose and all heck broke loose, but through it all I've tried, really tried, to do what God would have me do. It has required much time alone with him.

As Laura Story wrote, "What if your healing comes through raindrops..."

Just wait. Just listen. Just act.

That, too, is life.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Friends are friends forever

Reading this morning, I came across this passage, which speaks to heartbreak and the loss of a good friend.
From 2 Samuel the first chapter, :So David said to the young man who told him, "How do you know that Saul and Jonathan his son are dead?" Then the young man who told him said, "As I happened by chance to be on Mount Gilboa, there was Saul, leaning on his spear; and indeed the chariots and horsemen followed hard after him. Now when he looked behind him, he saw me and called to me. And I answered, 'Here I am.' And he said to me, 'Who are you?' So I answered him, 'I am an Amalekite.' He said to me again, 'Please stand over me and kill me, for anguish has come upon me, but my life still remains in me.' So I stood over him and killed him, because I was sure that he could not live after he had fallen. And I took the crown that was on his head and the bracelet that was on
his arm, and have brought them here to my lord."
Then the Bible says, David "took hold of his clothes and tore them; and all the men who were with him did the same. They mourned and wept, and fasted until evening for Saul and for his son Jonathan."
I was so moved by this story, I wanted to do a diatribe on losing friends and grief, seeking advice to share from various sources, but I stopped because none of the advice of counselors seemed appropriate or deeply moving enough. Mostly they said get over it and move on. To me, there is more, much more to losing friendships.
Grief, particularly in losing someone you care about, is among the more difficult things one goes through. I have seen it with family members literally tear away one's emotional well-being as if it were thin paper. But one must go through it, because well, that's life. We do go through these things. And as the Bible says, we've all come to die. We will. And friendships, because we move on to new horizons, new jobs, new marriages, new children, new, new, new, sometimes move on to.
The best friendships, of course, are those that began early and continued late. As Stephen King once wrote in Stand By Me, "the best friendships you ever have are those you had when you were twelve."
The thing to do, it seems to me, is to cherish each and every moment you have of the friendship, then cherish each and every memory of the friendship.
Friends are a rare and valuable commodity, like flakes of gold when you've been mining quite a while..
I'm reminded of a very old Michael W. Smith song, called appropriately enough "Friends." It says that "friends are friends forever, if the Lord is Lord of them; and a friend will not say never, cause the welcome will not end; Thought it's hard to let you go, In the Father's hands I know, that a lifetime's not to long to live as friends."
When you have a friend, no matter how close you are to the friend, cherish that friendship. It's important, it's lasting, and often, very often, it is that thing that makes the insanity become sane.
David, soon to be king, wrote this as part of the "Song of the Bow," How the mighty have fallen in the midst of the battle! Jonathan lies slain upon your high places. I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan; greatly beloved were you to me; your love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women."
Deep, abiding friendship. Truly there is little to compare.  And often, there is little to grieve more deeply about.
That's life.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Times of difficulty?

I was reading this morning and I came across this jewel from Paul's letter to the church in Corinth.

It reads, But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy heartless, unappealing, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of goodness, but denying its power. Avoid such people."

Not something to look forward to, huh?

I'm reminded of the 15th Psalm. Lord, who may abide in your tent?   Who may dwell on your holy hill? Those who walk blamelessly, and do what is right, and speak the truth from their heartwho do not slander with their tongue and do no evil to their friends, nor take up a reproach against their neighbors; in whose eyes the wicked are despised but who honor those who fear the Lordwho stand by their oath even to their hurt; who do not lend money at interest, and do not take a bribe against the innocent. Those who do these things shall never be moved.

Who among us can live blamelessly, can do what is right, and speak the truth from the heart? And just how do we avoid those folks?

Well, those among us who can turn to Jesus to correct, to forgive, our many, many faults.

I have dealt, over and over, with those who slander, as best I can. But it is a hard, hard road to travel over time.

I pray that will be enough.

Someone once said that "once they stop talking to you, they start talking about you."

Fair enough.