Monday, March 31, 2014


Where to begin? I’m sitting in a Starbucks, slurping some new coffee concoction, awaiting a conference on church planting/community building. Soft, gentle music is playing in the background, and, er, excuse me I’m going to take a bite of my bagel and a sip of said coffee concoction.
I’m pondering this morning Matthew 28. The Bible tells me, “then the eleven disciples left for Galilee, going to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him – but some of them doubted.”
Yesterday I preached about doubt in the wilderness, that creeping Kudzu-type beast that strikes us when things don’t go well, when grief strikes, when problems arise, even when tragedy causes deep grief.
I’m struck again by these disciples, who though they had seen so many amazing things, including apparently the resurrected Jesus, “some of them doubted.”
Doubted, uh, what?
Their eyes? How many times have you said, “if I could just see him?”
Their ears? How many times have you said, “if I could just hear him speak to me?”
Their minds? How many times have you tried to wrap your mind around the Trinity, the resurrection, the mechanism of salvation?
And since you couldn’t so any of the above, you doubt.
I’ve said many times, though certainly it is not original to me, that doubt is not the opposite of faith. Fear is. But doubt is the disease that leads us to fear, I think.
According to the end of Matthew’s gospel, the next thing that happened after “some of them doubted,” was for Jesus to come and tell them, “I have been given all authority in heaven and earth. THEREFORE go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the father and the son and the Holy Spirit.”
He never clearly addresses the “doubt.” He never admonishes. He never tries to strengthen.
He says, strangely enough, “I have been given all authority.”
Not you.
He has been given authority. Not us.
The next word says that THEREFORE, or BECAUSE, or SINCE
Which means because he has been given authority and they are followers of that authority, the emphasis shifts to, uh, US.
What do we do about it?
Here’s the thing. When we don’t think we’re capable of doing whatever the task is, when we doubt we’re up to making disciples, baptizing and such, remember it is HE who has the authority and it is all encompassing authority, all powerful authority, all meaningful authority for the specific task of “making” disciples.
When we doubt we have the words, THEREFORE.
When we doubt we have the mind, the heart, the talent, the disposition, THEREFORE.
I’m here this morning in Starbucks acknowledging the fact I can’t. But HE can.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Get going, church

The writer says, "I cry out to you, Lord. You are my rock; don't refuse to hear me. If you wasn't talk to me, I'll be just like those going down to the pit. Listen to my request for mercy when I cry out to you, when I lift up my hands to your holy inner sanctuary."

Here's the hearing ... Help me.

Ever been there? Ever been so, uh, worn that you just lifted your voice to the sky, a sky that won't even thunder, and you've simply said, "help me."


Of course we have.

That's life, too. Just walking when you want to sit. Taking step after step when you'd just as soon be in bed with the covers and several pillows pulled over you. Hiding out. 

But that's not how life finds us, or leaves us. No, God pulls back the covers and there we go. Living. Reaching. Going. Don't stop, friends. Keep thinking about those around you. Be changed by a perfect God who lived and died to give you new life, that didn't include time under the covers.

In fact, the best part of all that is when we get up, clean up, start up we're the best messengers for the world that needs the best message of all.

Jesus said a couple things that are necessary to discuss right now.

He said the Holy Spirit was on him because the Lord has anointed him. He said God sent him to  preach good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind, to liberate the oppressed. Then he told his disciples they would do greater works than he.

Throw those in a pot, make a roux (look it up you non-Louisiana folks) and what you get is the beginning of getting rid of "help me" to the beginning of "help them."

Once we make that turn, our salvation begins to make sense. God's grace begins to cover all. And we can throw the covers off and head out to a brand new day, sunny or not.

Lift up your hands, church. Lift up your lives, bride of Jesus. Lift up your hearts, children of God.

We have the power of the universe resting in us. Time for a little exercise.

I've been reading plenty about re-starting churches lately. For example, I read that a vision of the church should be something the church can live into. It doesn't necessarily have to have it all figured out, but the vision should be flexible enough so that it can be lived into.

In other words, we are all becoming.

Which takes time to go out and be...lift up your minds, church.

Next week I'll be blogging, if I get a chance, from a church and community planning session in New Orleans, La. I hope to expand on these ideas.

Till then, 

Help me, O Lord.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Bowl of challenge

We've begun the equivalent of torture on the biggest dog we share a home with (not own, no never do we own). Samantha, deemed Sammy, is a -- to quote a friend -- wide load.

The story of how Samantha came to share a home with us is legendary. About four years ago, I had a back procedure done to me at the back doc's place. Put me unconscious, nailed something into me (or it felt like it later), then let me come to. Seems one of the nurses had been talking about a new pup she had. I woke, and immediately told my dear, somewhat understanding, wife Mary that we were going to the animal shelter on the way home.

We walked in, me somewhat shakily, and asked to see some dogs. I was keen on a peekaboo or something like that who licked my hand with relish, which means she liked my hand not that I had relish on it for that would have been down Sammy's wheelhouse. Mary, being Mary, asked which dog had been there longest.

It was Samantha, a mutt, sorta, kinda brown. She was tall, or seemed that way for she was taller than the doxies we lean toward, and thin. I swear she was thin.

She came home with us, and she loved her food bowl. Still does. Just has a problem figuring which food bowl is hers. So, her solution is to, or was to, eat all the bowl fuels.

Now ... she is a wide load.

So, last week we went to Pet something or other and we bought this bowl that has the circle of death carved into it. It's a maze that allows Sammy's kibbles to fall gracefully into it. The theory, apparently, is it will slow her eating. And lessen it. We also bought some weight-control kibbles.

She's eating slower, and lesser, and we found her eating plastic awhile ago. I fear she will eat one of the doxies soon she's so hungry.

We're also walking her, which is akin to dragging the figures on Mount Rushmore around the block and hoping they go back into place.

The first time I was considering going to get the truck for her, till I decided I could not possibly lift her and put her into the back.

The good news is the block is quite clean now, for her tongue clearly hit the pavement about step 20 and never lifted as she huffed and she puffed and she blew the debris away.

She's taking joint medicine, kinda like me, and she doesn't mind as it is in her mind apparently a treat offered by "the man." She would eat sweet potatoes with broccoli should I put it down, I'm afraid.

I learn from all our pets and rescues. I do. And what I've learned from Sammy has nothing to do with gluttony, though that's a lesson I should. No, what I've learned from Sammy is trust. She is borderline miserable, but if I said go run across the street and fetch something (the neighbor's cat would be a good start), she would do so instantly.

She's already begun to look toward her new maddening bowl instead of the normal ones. She is in no way happy about it, she simply trusts that "the man" knows what he's talking about.

I've learned that God allows us to make our mistakes, eat wrongly, get involved wrongly, cheat on those things that aren't good for us and such. Then when we willingly turn to him, he still accepts our meager efforts.

I probably need a bowl like Sammy's new one. I need to be refined and challenged and walked and such.  I need to be challenged by God. I need God, period.

And maybe, just maybe, this then is more about me than it is Sammy. Maybe I need the walk around the block. Maybe I need the love that I have for Sammy.

Oh. I have it.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Your voice, no one else's

I must give thanks for coming across a book that speaks to someone who was fearing he had lost touch with, uh, everything.

The book by Bishop Dottie Escobedo-Frank is called ReStart Your Church, but it easily could have been ReStart Your Life. It's a short book, but powerful, like the first leak in a mighty damn. It could become a river of water in your life if you give it a bit of a chance. Just a bit.

It askes the question, what is our response to decline and death? How do we start to change? She then says that when God called you, he didn't give you "an adaptive voice; God gave you a particular voice. It is up to you to realize (make actual) the strength, power and compassion that reside within your voice."

And get this the most.

"Your particular vocality is connected to God's message, and if the vibrations of your sound are not heard around the world, someone will not get the chance to know God's love. Someone will be lost. Someone will remain hopeless. Someone will die of a broken heart. Make your voice true to who God made you to be."

Here is my heart's plea: Let's think of new ways to serve him that include those who are lost, those who are in prison, those who are hungry, sick, homeless.

Wait, wait. Wait (some more). That's familar to me. Oh, oh, oh, that's what Jesus said.

So I ask you, young reader-san, are you doin' it? Really.

That paragraph, a simply, single piece of work that the Bishop worked on for weeks as far as I know, is so very powerful. You, your voice, your work, your ladeling food, your visiting a hospital room, your flowers delivered, your phone call to the depressed, your love of giving to those who need so desperately to be receiving, that you must own.

You have a gift, the Bible teaches.

Paul wrote to the church in Rome, "For I long to visit you so I can bring you some spiritual gift that will help you grow strong in the Lord."

To the church in Corinth, "For I long to visit you so I can bring you some spiritual gift that will help you grow strong in the Lord." And, "A spiritual gift is given to each of us so we can help each other."

And to his student Timothy, "This is why I remind you to fan into flames the spiritual gift God gave you when I laid my hands on you."

Peter wrote to a church he was affiliated with, "This is why I remind you to fan into flames the spiritual gift God gave you when I laid my hands on you."

Get the picture?

You, you, and you alone might make the biggest difference that can possibly be made in someone's life. But if you never speak, never profess, never share, never live into or next to someone's life, they might die spiritually and eternally.

This is an incredible challenge, an awesome responsibility. The question is, are we able, said the Master?

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

A morn breaks and joy arrives

It's Tuesday. Feels Monday. A far part from Friday. It's early. Morn, which is but a letter from mourn. Right?

Been there? Done that? Undone that?

Yeah, thought so.

But let's stretch as far back as we can and see morning a different way. In this scenario, the music is playing, the coffee is mostly hot, and creamy, and strangely sweet, and we're off to dance on some yellow brick roads of our own choosing.

I'm getting ready for the day by re-inventing the day. Joy has gotten up, showered and gotten dressed and I'm sitting, typing, slurping coffee while the sun separates tree branches and says a belated hello. Top o' the morn to you, Billy, the sun shines.

I'm tired. I hurt. But through the pain, through the sleepiness, the Bible says this is appropriate: "But I cry out to you, Lord! My prayer meets you first thing in the morning!

Morning, with or against our will, has broken. I'm suggesting it is time to change the way you not only get out of bed but get into the morning.

Broken ... like the first morning. Blackbird has spoken, like the first bird. Praise for the singing, praise for the morning, praise for them springing fresh from the Word.

Praise for the morning, Cat sang.

Indeed. Morning prayer sets the direction of the day, builds up a bit of power in the sack that we might need to draw out against the stuff that can and will comes against us. Time alone with the one who loves us most is best served before the stuff can and will happen.

Here comes an admission... I pray better when I'm fully awake. One could argue that I'm, like the Hulk's anger in the Avengers, always in a state of unwakedness. A shadowy world that needs caffeine to master it's next move, that's my world. Rumblin, stumblin, that's me till there is a sufficient flow of blood into my caffeine system.The Bible tells me that early in the morning, Jesus eased away from his mates and went off somewhere to pray by himself.

A simple word search shows that morning is a special time to God, apparently. Morning stars sing songs, weeping stays all night but joy comes in the morning. Morning is an exceptional occurrence in scripture, appearing time after time. It is an invention, like music and those marvelously weird beings called humans. There's renewal in the morning, revival in the morning, another chance in the morning. Heck, Proverbs says that the way of righteousness is tied to the morning.

Morning, good buds, isn't mourning at all.

Ezekiel's prophecy comes in the morning; Daniel had a prophecy that included evening and morning; and God renders his verdict morning by morning.

There's just something about the rising of the sun that chases away the darkness of night.

Do I have to stretch to reach the analogy?

The Son rises with each morning, not now going away to be by himself to be in contact on a divine spiritual basis but instead rises to greet us.

How did you sleep? How is the back? What are we doing today? He's eager. We're sleepy. He's ready; we're not. He's filled, absolutely filled, with joy that comes when our eyes awaken and we realize that against all odds we're back at it one more time.

I'm reminded of another morning so long ago. Darkness had come, the world was without light, and we were up against it.

And "early in the morning" a bunch of women came to the tomb with the intent of addressing the body of the one who had meant so much to them for three very long years. Dark skies. Dark streets. Dark times outside the protection of the city.

Dark is as dark does.

And yet when they arrived at the tomb, all light broke loose. You know what they found, at first nothing, then Jesus.

And joy came with the morning. Right on time. Right on schedule.

This morning, take a moment out of busy schedules. Take a second. If you can, take an hour. Let's pray together.

O Lord, grant me to greet the coming day in peace, help me in all things to rely upon your holy will. In every hour of the day reveal your will to me. Bless my dealings with all who surround me. Teach me to treat all that comes to throughout the day with peace of soul and with firm conviction that your will governs all. In all my deeds and words, guide my thoughts and feelings. In unforeseen events, let me not forget that all are sent by you. Teach me to act firmly and wisely, without embittering and embarrassing others. Give me strength to bear the fatigue of the coming day with all that it shall bring. Direct my will, teach me to pray. And you, yourself, pray in me. Amen.


Monday, March 24, 2014

Turtles on the highway

We were traveling recently when we hit a stretch of interstate and in a manner of seconds, I saw six turtles, all small.
Around these parts, as they say where I’m from, that’s not unusual, at all. These turtles are trying to get from one body of water, even if only a sliver or a puddle, for some reason or other.
But this wasn’t some small back road numbered somewhere around 367,368,370, or some variation.
No. This was the interstate. And for some reason these turtles had decided on going megawalking.
Four were dead, smashed in an apparent effort to head across the interstate. One was walking ever so slowly toward destruction. I wondered just what could be the problem or the intent of this young turtle. Why would it be so intent, so focused, so determined to cross that road? What lie across the road that interested the youngster so much? Did it have any thought at all that its destruction was just minutes away, or however it took for the turtle to slowwwwwwllllllllly walk across the side of the road till it reached, well, death?
Then there was the sixth one. Again, small.  Something akin to a reptile that had made the great escape from little Timmy’s tank in the Acadiana marshes.
Again, walking ever so slowwwwwwwwllllllly. He was strolling at the pace of a glacier would move if indeed those big ol’ things decided to go cross the Arctic interstates.
 But this one was walking away from the interstate.
Get that.
The world was headed one direction. This little turtle’s baby boy was ticking along in the other.   
Now, I suppose it could have already made it across the interstate. I suppose it could have, but somehow I doubt it.
 No, to me it tried to get to the interstate to answer whatever call had been given it that drew it from one field or one ditch or one living space up the side of the road, onto the side area along the interstate to that moment of decision where it met either its end or its beginning. Maybe it was answering that age old question about why the turtle tried to cross the road. Who knows?
I just know it had turned around, 180 degrees, and walked away from death.
During lent, that’s a lesson that will preach. That, friends, is repentance. It is walking up to that point of no return, lifting a foot to step out into the unknown and suddenly, surely knowing that it really isn't that unknown, after all. No, it's known quite well. It's death. It's separation. It's the relinquishing of that which makes us happiest and exchanging instead that which makes us the unhappiest.   
It's shell hell. A lifeless shell of a life. It’s teenage squished ninja turtle time.
          But for the one who stepped away from the interstate, it's heaven. It's living a life full of living water, and food beyond measure. It's walking every so slowwwwwwwwllllly toward He who made it all possible.
Clearly I will never know what possessed the turtle to turn around and retreat safely toward whatever comes next. Nor will I ever truly know what possessed me to do the same thing.
I only know we both did. One day, heck, one minute headed toward disaster if not death, eternal separation and such. The next...
I know both of us will indeed walk that true walk into death one day, but we won’t this day, apparently. We’ve turned back, turned away, turned toward and we’ve been given that which is sufficient.
We’ve been given life.
Another day.
Another try.
Another chance.
We're both still walking. Heck, we might even be swimming in that living water soon.
There is that thing about the river coming rolling out of the throne room.
I pray I get to see that.
Well, me and Leonardo the turtle.

Kowabunga, dude.

Friday, March 21, 2014

I know a man

"Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name goes all the glory for your unfailing love and faithfulness."

I know a guy. You know what I mean? I know a guy. Young guy. Righteous guy. Dude is so fired up for Jesus that he might run into the fire not out of it should one be threatening him. Dude is ready to go, ready to rumble, righteously I mean.

Seems he had an idea. Saw an e-mail asking for a couple things of support for something or other called the New Orleans Mission. Seems he had an idea. He got some support from his own church, a mammoth by Louisiana standard church called St. Timothy's On The Northshore, he got some support from other churches on the Northshore (of New Orleans) and next thing you know, well, God's Holy Spirit breaks out all over.

Just like that.

I know a guy who had an idea for a feeding ministry a while back, and 150 persons every Wednesday night were fed and shown (hear me as I preach) the love of God.

I know a guy.

Everyone knows a guy.

See, this whole idea sweeping the nation again and again and again as it has the world again and again and again is what true ministry is, I suspect.

Someone has an idea, and just like that, God's word, God's love, God's will is done on earth as it surely is in heaven.

Someone pointed out to me this verse of scripture: "Just as each one has one body with many members, and these members do not have all the same function, so in Christ we are are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others."

There's been some talk where I minister as I write this of "church done right."

It seems to me that in the long run, church done right is loving those who sit next to you on the bench, loving those who you run into at your job or your school, loving those who you line up behind or in front of at the grocery story and on and on.

Unconditional love, a phrase bandied about with glee, is so hard to produce. But the ones who try the hardest, with God's great gift of grace as a catalyst, are the ones who are given the most in return.

I know a guy.

My guy is hungry, has no place to lay his head, has old worn clothing, walks where ever he goes, but is a loving, God-fearing man.

Perhaps you know him to.

His name is Phil.

or maybe Jesus.

You decide. Do you know a man?

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Pray as if your life depended on it

Nehemiah tells us what we need to know about prayer in many ways.

When he heard of a disturbing situation that concerned the people he loved, he "sat down and wept. In fact, for days I mourned, fasted and prayed to the God of heaven.

"Then I said. O Lord, God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps his covenant of unfailing love with those who love him and obey his commands, listen to my prayer."

There tis, good friends.

Bow. Celebrate and praise. Petition. Wait.

Nehemiah, with a full-scale building project ahead of him, wept, mourned, fasted and prayed.

And we, with all that is happening around us, with church attendance down, with spirituality down, with the deep things of Christ down, what are we doing?

In late February, U.S. District Judge Steven V. Wilson of California's Central District ruled that a granite monument kneeling in prayer before a cross lacked a "secular purpose" and has the unconstitutional effect" of endorsing religion over non religion.

According to Wikipedia, "an example of a study on meditative prayer was the Bernardi study in the British Medical Journal in 2001.[13] It reported that by praying the rosary or reciting yoga mantras at specific rates, baroreflex sensitivity increased significantly in cardiovascular patients.
Many accept that prayer can aid in recovery due to psychological and physical benefits. It has also been suggested that if a person knows that he or she is being prayed for it can be uplifting and increase morale, thus aiding recovery. Many studies have suggested that prayer can reduce physical stress, regardless of the god or gods a person prays to, and this may be true for many reasons. According to a study by Centra State Hospital, "the psychological benefits of prayer may help reduce stress and anxiety, promote a more positive outlook, and strengthen the will to live."
Nehemiah would have said, yep. Told you.

He tops off his prayer by saying" Look down and see me praying right and day for your people Israel. I confess that we have sinned against you. Yes, even my own family and I have sinned. We have sinned terribly by not obeying the commands, decrees, and regulations that you gave us through your servant Moses.

Lord, we confess we have not been what you wanted in a people. We confess we have not been all we could be, by any stretch of the imagination. We want only for your will to be done on earth. Lord, use to to fulfill your wishes and your will. Use us to bring people to your. Use us, oh Lord.  This is our fervent prayer.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

It is done

This whole introspection of life that is Lent, it seems to me, begins and end with where we are in life.

It's your life, what you gonna do.

Every day, the choices you make, show who you are.

If that be true, today, who are you?

I constantly come back to Paul's journey of self-discovery found in his letter to the church in Romans, without which I might not be here typing.

Paul says this: (NLT) "I have discovered this principle of life -- that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. I love God's law with all my heart, but there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. ... Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord."

Get that?

New life is just a big 'ol present of grace.

My sins are gone, because of his grace. Nothing else matters.

The choices I've made have all come back to bit me in the nether regions unless somehow I get out of the way and let him drive the train (Love train?).

The harder I try to do good, as Paul says, the more I foul up. Till I rely on Jesus. I've actually seen that when I've sinned, some bad stuff happens. One could argue that the bad stuff was going to happen anyway, but I say that it is in reaction to the mistakes in judgment I made.

There is hope, though friends. Just one chapter later, the 8th chapter of Romans, the greatest of all things is written.

Paul writes, "So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus."

So, take a good strong look at all of what we've done and add it all up, wrap it in tissue paper for presentation and Jesus' blood covers it completely.

Paul later writes in the same chapter, "And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God's love."

No matter where you are in your walk. No matter how you feel about how you feel. No matter your short-comings. In the end the great grace of God overcomes it all. And nothing you do, nothing, NOTHING, will separate you from the love of God.

Today that means that even as I look at my inabilities, I recognize the great ability of Jesus to pick my head up from chin-level with one grand finger and look me right in the eye and say to me, "I love you. I accept you. I forgive you."

And it is done.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

What if we could go back?

I got in one of those reflective moods in about two seconds time today. I got an email offering to make me the man I used to be.

I didn't open it out of fear more than anything, but it got me to thinking about the fact I don't want to be the man I used to be in a thousand ways. By the same token, there are many ways I think I do want to go back some. Splitting hairs? Well, what I have left of them.

Yesterday I was talking to a dear friend who mentioned another dear friend I haven't heard much talk about lately in my circles -- the Holy Spirit. I used to talk about Him all the time. There was a time and a place where we talked about what the Holy Spirit was doing in all our lives. We could see the movement like it was a trail from an airplane. Now? Not so much, I'm sad to say. And I'm not saying I'm immune from the uh, bla's like everyone else.

Last night I was at a Bible study and someone asked me why churches don't have revivals any more? I had no real answer other than it is terribly hard, it seems, to get people to come "back" to church. The church doesn't seem to be the citadel of solitude, the hospital for the hurting, the sanctuary for the unsettled any longer.

But what if it were? What if we began to return to what Jesus calls our first love? What if we began to love doing things at the church again? What if we became the men and women we were?

What if we pushed re-start on our spirituality? What if we found a way to show how much joy being in Christ can be? What if we gave like it meant something? What if we were excited again?

I suspect it would take more than a pill.

It would take a dose of that guy I hadn't heard about in a while.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Too old now to stop rocking away

We have a couple of white rocking chairs. They're sturdy things, well built, and almost impossible to sit in for a long period of time because they're built so straight up and ungiving. But they go with us everywhere we go.

Why? They are sources of memory, and they are a look into the future.

Memory? They sat on my mother's front porch for years, till she passed and we sold the house that might have been my comfort in retirement. Future? I want to be sitting in some rocking chairs somewhere on the planet one day with my dear Mary. I gave her a picture of two rocking chairs on a porch years ago for our anniversary, signifying in my mind that I wanted to be sitting with her there one day.

Life, I believe, comes at us in seasons. Nothing is stagnant. Change is a part of all we are, all we do. Nothing stays the same. What happened in winter doesn’t last till fall. There’s a song on the radio as I write this that has a line something like this: The batter swings and the summer flies.

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

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

God is there through the seasons. There’s the freshness of spring where God works to help us understand our newness in him, where the rains are sweet and we don’t mind being damp one bit.

There’s the white-hot excitement of summer where God leads us into territory with Him we never knew or dreamed of. We long for the mercy that comes with each morning. We long to grow. We want to know him, and we don’t know how to pull that off.

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

And there is the winter of bleakness, where we struggle with death and loss, where things aren’t what we thought they would be, where that relationship we so longed for simply can’t be found.

Each step of the way, there is God. God in the days. God in the nights. God with us in our loneliness. God with us in our joys.

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

Oh, Not everyone has my background, my problems, my worries, my woes. Not everyone has gone through addiction, lived through Hurricane Katrina’s aftermath, lost love ones to cancer.

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

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

There's a line or two in a song my son, Jason, wrote and recorded called Too Old Now that says, "Grew up to find nothing every goes your way. But I'm too old now to stop dreaming my life away. Remember when we thought our hopes weren't pretend. All of our beginnings didn't seem like the end. Sorry for the excuses. Sorry for the daydreams I can't give up yet. "

So where am I? What season am I in?

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

Friday, March 14, 2014

What if blown apart

It's a Friday, like most Fridays before this one, and I assume like Fridays to come. Friday ... the day before, well, the day before that. On this day, this wonderful morning created and crafted by the creator and crafter of all things, we find a blog with the Prince, the prophet Isaiah, and the singer/songwriter Jeremy Camp in the same musing. What a day, oh, glorious day.

First, however, Scripture tells me this uncomfortable, unreasonable fact:

Isaiah writes "because of all this (fill in the blank here; stuff among the choices), justice is far from us, and righteousness beyond our reach.

"We expect light, and there is darkness. 
We expect a gleam of light, but walk about in gloom.
We grope along the wall like the blind.

"We stumble
at noonday
as if it were twilight (and no, no we don't mean that twilight),
and among
the strong as if we were dying.

"All of us growl like bears,
and like doves we moan.

We expect justice, but there is none; 
we await salvation, but it is far from us."

We could quibble about what sound a dove might make (moaning, really? Is that what Prince was talking about when doves cry?), but otherwise this seems to be quite the revelatory piece here. What it reveals is inner desire to find light, inner need for justice, inner exploration for justice that finds, well, nothing. No light. No justice. No righteousness. No-thing. It ain't all that pleasant, if you ask me.

There is nothing there for us, Isaiah writes in what we call chapter 59 of his incredible prophecy. In the deceitful society that Isaiah is writing to, moral vision has been blitzed like linebacker unimpeded to quarterback.

Good has been squashed.
Moral has been taken away.

They have actively chosen to take the crooked road and perform destructive deeds. No accidental sinning here, my friends. This is, for the record, their choice.

Isaiah can barely stand, it seems. He can barely breathe, forcing words out as fast as his mid-eastern brain can conjure them and medieval pen and ink can write them. He writes in an almost feverish state, well, "They don't know the way of peace; there's no justice in their paths."

Which is sort of like asking, What do we do next?

WTF (Why, that's funny) happens now?

It's like they're holding on by their fingertips and chaotic Saturday morning pancakes was the only idea they had left.

But Isaiah is struck by an idea. What if truth is revelatory, real, substantial, something we can latch on to like a paycheck or a pair of Nikes? What if the arms that can catch us are as real as big ol' plops of rain on a day the sky goes past dark to plumb evil? What if he, er, He can come to us leading angel armies and full armor will be His dress whites? What if 1,000 years truly tis a day and not finest poetry, and the end is really the beginning and we've all gotten it as wrong as wrong can be from beginning to end?

What if Alpha and Omega is as sparkling as it sounds, and all that stuff we couldn't quite get a handle on in Revelation could become as clear as cellophane in the proverbial blink of an eye? What if we're nearer blessing than cursing than we've ever thought we were?

What if we're just a nano-second from a sliver of light shining -- no, no -- ripping the foundation apart and a new, precious, loving day results. What if the question changes from what if to why not. And it remains eternally why not? Never again will we question. No, in a second, no, no, no, not a moment. Heck, what if it all could change in a nano-moment if there is such a thing? What if old, tired, stagnant bones could become instead trembling, excited bones?

Instead of asking who is beyond our reach, beyond HIS reach, suddenly Isaiah says as chapter 60 of his prophecy opens, "Arise! Shine! Your light has come." A mere 13 verses (I know, I know I counted) and all heaven breaks loose.

Suddenly, he throws the spaghetti against the wall and it sticks, the arms of the broken-hearted are healed, and life becomes something for the living.

Heck, the walking dead are suddenly the dancing living.

How? "The Lord looked and was upset at the absence of justice. Seeing there there was no one, and astonished that no one would intervene, God's arm brought victory."

So, I ask this question: What if right and truth are real, substantial, and God is sitting at the gates of the holy city and with one marvelous, miraculous breath captured by his amazing chest. And what if he lets it go, blowing it all apart so He and we could start again?

What if He is who He said He is, and what if salvation is a gift greater than the sun, larger than the moon, more spectacular than the whole of the universe?What if He really knows truth, really brings justice where justice is needed and, heck, even wanted somewhere deep inside the heartless and the justice-less?

And darn it, what if we never had to say what if again?

Then Jeremy Camp could sing, "But I hold on to this hope and the promise that He brings
That there will be a place with no more suffering
There will be a day with no more tears, no more pain, and no more fears
There will be a day when the burdens of this place, will be no more, we'll see Jesus face to face."  

And the people would echo: AMEN          

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

I'm going to dibble and dabble and interfere this morning.

I'm going to suggest a new pattern for your mornings: something profoundly more important than eggs and bacon, toast and jelly.

I'm going to suggest a new method for your morning madness.

This morning I'm going to suggest a ritual that won't carve off pounds, but instead actually will add something -- a few dozen, er, moments to your calendar.

In other words, you will live longer -- or even if you don't live longer, at the worst you will live better.

This morning, the fog burned off the damp ground like a cloth wipes wetness from countertops -- dabbing hither and yon. As the sun slowly climbed the stairway to heaven, I watched it explore the height of God's roller-coaster of warm, cold, warm, cold, and finally delightfully spring-like warm.

The writer filled in blanks of love and adoration ..."How lovely is Your tabernacle, O Lord of hosts! My soul longs, yes, even faints for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God."  Psalm 84: 1-2

Cries out.

He loves us so much that despite his power, he caresses us. His grip, the finger-strength of which carved canyons as deep as the Grand one out of solid mountains, is as gentle as an infant's caress, a Downey supernatural softener, a puff of beauty, a wisp of wow.

God waits for us, gathering himself for us, watching for us. My goodness, or rather, HIS goodness garners a moment of His time, and the majesty of all majesties calls the miraculous into being -- every single darn morning. He waits for us, and eventually we cry out for him.

This particular morning, as I walked from parsonage to office, those 45 steps from "home" to heavenly as it were, I thought about how I've begun to I lift his name routinely. I thought about how I've learned to love to sing his praises. I thought how I have become used to receiving his blessings. I thought about how my morning time with him has become what I do, or rather, who I am.

And by the time I arrived, I was ready to start something new, anything new, maybe even something substantial with Him, God had already begun with me. In other words, He is continually ahead of me.

So, here's the thing...

I suggest this, friends. Try a new weight-loss plan: take the weight, the suffering, the worry, the stuff we carry around with us all too willingly, and turn it over to Him every single morning. Let Him carry it away, like so much fiber.

He loves us so much he holds us on his lap and takes away the weight.

In the middle of the battle, it's time to enjoy the thrill of victory.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Hanging with the boys

March 11 --

After the death of Moses, the servant of the Lord, the LORD said Joshua son of Nun, Moses' aide: 'Moses my servant is dead. Now then, you and all these people get ready to cross the Jordan River."

Get ready, the scriptures say. It's time to go. It's time to pull millions of folks together and cross the river into the promised land. It's time to O-e-o-u.

Oeou is Aramaic for "get ready" (oh well, it might be or it could be, or maybe even should be). In other words, "get your, er, stuff ready and tell the mule to start swimming. Oeou flamagisync, then is logically and rationally, people get ready there's a boat a-coming... .

Or not. I imagine, then, if o-e-o-u is ready, then oeou flam-a-gin-sync is, of course, the people getting ready to, uh, dance and sing.

It's meaning is to get ready for (are you really ready for this?) flaming N sinc. Get ready. Nsync is coming.  Wow. Boy groups from more than 2,000 years before Nsync lead singer Justin Timberlake was born. I think that's kind of special. Kind of. Or delusional, take your pick.

Adam Hamilton, senior pastor at the Church of the Resurrection in Kansas City, a phrase when talking about almost anything and everything he is passionate about. He says, "How cool is that?"

"How cool is that?" when experiencing a joy-filled moment with his spouse and children.
"How cool is that?" when offering a plate of food to someone who really is hungry.
"How cool is that?" when uncovering something a nonbeliever is going through.
HOW COOL IS THAT when sharing historical and/or geographical with a nonbeliever.

Just how cool would that be?

This morning, as I've made up a whole Aramaic language for you, I want you to think about how cool it would be to have to have known Moses, to have walked with Moses, to have been ready to move with Moses. How cool wold

How cool would thatg have been go mo d gh no d ghag aujk. And that, by the way, is Aramic for "Bye, Bye, Bye."

Your coolness is beyond imagination and belief. You led in ways we're simply now beginning to be grasp. More than a million people followed a person who stuttered. To me, O God, that means you were there, communicating in a burning bush, talking through the amazing journey. Creator God, Loving God, Infinite God, Eternal God, we pray to you. We turn to you. We are led by you. We in awe of you.

For all you have done and all you will do we give you thanks.

Your love endures forever.                      

Monday, March 10, 2014

Living comes in

Many years ago, my father had a trailer, an old working man's home-away-from-home. He bought it and used it like a was a band aid on a bloody wound. It smelled like it was a very large slab of bacon.

How does it feel?
To be on your own?
With no direction home?
A complete unknown?
Like a rolling stone?

My father was in the construction business, an iron worker, when I was in my very early teenage years. I recall him dragging his "home" down the interstate behind his truck like it was a play thing. It wasn't for playing, though. It was home, a beat up old home. He would hook it up, and off he would go. He worked in little towns and he drifted into much larger ones, even banging iron outside of New York City at one point.

At that time of this story, I would guestimate it being 1966, my father was working in Vicksburg, Miss., a tiny town high up on the bluffs of the Mississippi River that had been planted like so much corn. He was helping build houses, putting in the iron rebar in the wet concrete foundations of new houses. Too, he helped build the new bridge across the muddy river that gives the state its name. And at one point that summer, somewhere around that time, he was knocked off that dang bridge, like paper in a 'Sippi summer wind.

Dad has been gone since 1989, dried out from the cancer that ate him like a man chewing on some smoked ribs, and truthfully all I remember of him and his work was how much I would have disliked doing it. From what I recall, it was an unbearably hot occupation, and it would tear you up at times, scraping knuckles bear and turning plenty of your joints wrong way abouts. but he strutted across the iron, high and low, like there was no danger, and no difficulty at all. I thought him crazy, then and now.

I remember his worn musculature, sagging skin and wasted moments, circles of purple stacked up like winter's cord wood. I recall winter's white on his sideburns, age and memory loss coming together like defensive players banging running backs on Friday night football lights, and I remember many of his friends who were living in hotels or (as he was) working out of small trailers like the Beatles were right about there being eight days in a week. Oh, he and his friend would ride into towns on a wobbly Monday morning (or even late Sunday evening) and park those trailers at any number of the small, smelly trailer parks in the old, dirty town before they would race away again on Friday's when their work week was complete -- like a frozen ice tray, strings of completion setting on a fiery goodbye, the workers filing the week in spiritual folders.

Life goes out, living comes in like the tide on a week of work.

 Ezekiel, the prophet writes, "On the day you were born, no one cared about you. Your umbilical cord was not cut, and you were never washed, rubbed with salt, and wrapped in cloth. No one had the slightest interest in you; no one pitied you or cared for you. On the day you were born, you were unwanted, dumped in a field and left to die. But I came by and saw you  there, helplessly kicking about in your own blood. As you lay there, I said, 'live!' And I helped you to thrive like a plant in the field. You grew up and became a beautiful jewel."

There is beauty in life, isn't there?

There is life in beauty.

Life goes out, living comes in.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Temptation and the wilderness

What are we to make of this: "Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil."

See the difficulty here? Oh, it's not with the wilderness. I'm preaching for the next six weeks on the benefits of wilderness living. It's not with the tempting by the devil. That's his mission, his job, his career.

No, the difficulty is the fact that the Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness. God led his Son to be tempted.


When Jesus taught us to pray, one of the things he said to say was, "lead us not into temptation."


If being led into temptation is a bad thing, one can rightly ponder the fact that Jesus was led (wrongly?) into temptation.


First, let's get all grammatical here. The sentence actually tells us this: Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness PERIOD. Did the Spirit know that the devil would be there. Absolutely. But did the Spirit in the sentence lead into wilderness and make the temptations happen. No.

Secondly, the prayer line completed is this lead us not into temptation BUT ...

We equate, for many wrong reasons, wilderness with bad things. For Jesus, it was a time of reflection and focus. For us, our wildernesses have the same possibility. Will Satan use wilderness experiences to try and get us to fall apart? Absolutely. But concentrate on how Jesus used the time. He was alone (significant). He fasted (very important). He was tempted and tested (how else could God learn what it was like to be tested as a human?)

This morning, make sure you understand what the writer of the book of James certainly did. God does not tempt. James 1: 13-14 reads, "When tempted, no one should say, 'God is tempting me.' For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed."

It's funny to me that in the NLT at least, temptation is a completely New Testament idea. The word doesn't appear in that translation until Jesus is led into the desert.

The Old Testament? Well, clearly temptation existed, but have you ever wondered why the word doesn't appear in the Ten Commandments? I mean, if it's such a hot commodity ...

The point is this, without temptation, we would have a fairly easy path, and the growth I talked about recently wouldn't happen.

Do I want to be tempted? No. Do I want to grow to where I could take whatever God has for me, even to the point of the cross? Yes. I really do. Because I am not there yet.

Today I pray to be allowed the strength to remember to fight temptation at every turn. Today I pray to be allowed the privilege to fight off temptation as did my Lord in the wilderness. Today I pray for all those who will come across temptation and fall to it. And yes, today I pray lead me not into temptation knowing that the greater words are lead me not into temptation but DELIVER ME FROM EVIL. We pray not for easy lives but for faithful ones. 

Thursday, March 6, 2014

What they should know

What can we do for our communities?

Let's start with the communities' youth.

Last night, with 13 young in attendance, we talked about what Ash Wednesday meant, we talked about Lent, we talked about sin and repentance. Sin, they had heard of. Repentance, nope.

Somehow we got onto other subjects, as we often do, and we slid right on into the Holocaust. One of the 13 had heard of it. One. Smart kids, from 12 to 14 years of age, and they had not heard of the worst of moments in our past. And they didn't particularly seem amazed when I told them what it was.

Think about that for just a moment, and wonder as I do how they get to their teenage years without hearing of this.

I then, just for the heck of it, asked them if they had hear of the Ukraine, thinking perhaps today's events had been discussed somewhere. They had not.

My point is not to dump on the kids. My point is to dump on those of us, and I include myself almost unwillingly because I never truly felt a call to work with youth before circumstances dictated I do such, have a responsibility to talk to our youth about the Jewish nation, about history, about present events, about things that they should know about today.

I constantly pray I've not failed my own children. I pray consistently that our grandchildren find their way to a loving relationship with God.

But it can't stop there. The kids that are walking our streets will be the adults who are leading our society. Let today be a day we take one step toward helping them find their way. Let them find true grace as if it were the hidden treasure we all know it to be.

I pray today for our children. I pray they have heard that you love them. I pray that they have heard that your created them in your image, that you made them your masterpieces. I pray that what we do as adults, that what we show them as adults, never lead them astray. I pray for youth workers around the world who have the gravest of duties. I pray they find a way to teach their charges about Jesus in a way that will spark interest, guide them to wisdom, and help them to love their neighbor as themselves. May that be all our prayers today.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014


"Immediately the Spirit drove Him into the wilderness. And He was there in the wilderness forty days ..." Mark 1: 12-13A
This morning, the first day of Lent, I took Galilee Olive Oil -- which I purchased more than four years ago in Bethlehem as I recall -- and mixed a bit of it with a small urn of ashes I've been shaping, making, distributing for quite some years now. I mixed those ashes, made from palms of years past, with the drizzling of oil to prepare them for an Ash Wednesday service later today.
The action made me think of many things, but as I begin 40 days of pondering, reflecting upon what my (and our by extension) journey will be, I saw clearly what today will be about.
Earlier in Mark, I read, "John came baptizing in the wilderness and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Then all the land of Judea, and those from Jerusalem, went out to him and were all baptized by him in the Jordan River; confessing their sins."
Is it just me, or have we lost this to time and culture? Have we lost this notion of repentance? And even if we haven't lost it, has it not been diminished?
This morning as I stirred the ashes with a pencil to mix oil and ashes into a glop that will be put upon a forehead or two or three later this evening, I thought about how my sins have accumulated even as these ashes have. I thought about how my new sins have been mixed with the shed blood of the lamb to turn into a glop. I thought about how those sins will be washed away this evening even as those ashes will be wiped from my forehead later tonight.
Till tomorrow.
See, the problem, the real problem with these things (symbolic though they might be) is that we really, really need true repentance -- which I understand to be a turning away from our previous actions, turning 180 degrees toward him who saves us.
I pray I'm going to get back to that these 40 days (not counting weekends, which doesn't mean I'm going to go wild on Saturday and Sunday only that I'm not going to write on them). I'm not worrying about what I'm giving up for Lent. I'm worried about being reshaped by Lent (and beyond), repenting of all the stuff I carry around every day that has accumulated on me like ashes in an urn, growing deeper each year as palms are burned and stomped and put away for the following year.
I pray I'm going to not just reflect and ponder, but actually change (some more).
I pray I, I, repent for the remission of my sins, knowing that Jesus died for each and every one of them.
Father, today I pray for change. I pray I become a better man, father, grandfather, friend. I pray my repentance is a real one, and that the change that Jesus has already brought to me not only continue but intensify. I pray for forgiveness from anyone I have hurt in my selfishness. I pray a loss of ego, pride, and lack of effort in changing. I pray for others to be made more whole by my prayers, my actions, my love. And I pray that this day be but a beginning, not an end, of the repentance that Jesus brought to us all.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Cheap grace and Mardi Gras

From the message: "Count on it. The day is coming, raging like a forest fire. All the arrogant people who do evil things will be burned up like stove wood, burned to a crisp, nothing left but scorched earth and ash -- a black day." -- Malachi 4

Seems like we forget from time to time the seriousness of sin.

1 John said it best, perhaps: "If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth. But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness. If we claim we have not sinned, we are calling God a liar and showing that his word has no place in our hearts."

Way, way back at the beginning of my ministry, a mentor told me to read a man named Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He wrote of this sin phenomena, "Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession...Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.”

Today, on what is known around this state I'm in, is Fat Tuesday. We've come, in this neighborhood, to think of this day, this Mardi Gras day, as one we can do just about anything and then tomorrow, on Ash Wednesday, we can simply wash it away.

We can eat, drink and be emboldened to be merry.

I wonder if God sees it the same way?

Father, keep us all safe today. Keep our lives focused on you and not on merriness. Let us have the joy you give and less us turn no where else. You, oh creator, are all we need.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Vulnerability and the pastor (not like Tammy and the bachelor at all)

I'm a couple days early for this, but I think I probably need more than 40 days or so to get back in gear.

Beginning Thursday, for each working day of the week (Monday-Friday for those who don't remember) I'm going to attempt to do a Lent-devotional blog, plus prayer to close.

It's different. It's not what I do as a rule. But it's what I'm going to do because, well, I need the time of reflection. We'll discuss sin, we'll discuss forgiveness, we'll discuss time and it's bearing on all of us.

If you tune in normally to get some opinionated thing. So be it. You won't get as much.

This morning, still, I was reflecting on who I am after all this time. Still a sinner in desperate need of a savior, I'm afraid. Still the anti-Superman, groping through darkness though the stabs of light are growing wider by the day. Still vulnerable to all sorts of sinful Kryptonites. Still struggling with money, weight, health, money, trust, money issues after all these years. Still struggling, big ol' period.

I read the other day that pastors shouldn't show their vulnerabilities. Well, uh, duh, uh, er, I guess I've never gone along with that. I am so far from perfect they had to send a letter to me from perfect-ville to let me know the path. And I have no valid transportation from where I live to where perfect is. Sorry John Wesley. I'm just little ol' me, still called by God, but still wandering like a modern-day Joshua -- I can't say I have any of Moses' qualities so I demote myself one down for the example.

I'm vulnerable, weak, at times stubborn and at times angry. I'm unsure at times, a failure at some times other times. I'm not all I can be.

But the point I've made over and over over in ministry is what the Apostle Paul wrote, "I want to do what is right, but I can’t. I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway. But if I do what I don’t want to do, I am not really the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it."

Seems like a vulnerable pastor to me, even when pride and ego show up with their suitcases to take us somewhere we don't want to go.

Seth Barnes said of vulnerable pastors: "By showing his weaknesses, he gives his enemies potential weapons with which to attack him. Expose your underbelly to someone and they might shoot you - it goes against our self-protective instincts. My guess is that maybe 10% of leaders practice this.
The problem is, self-protection isn't Jesus' way of leading. He said, "The first shall be last and the last first." When you're weak, you'll be made strong. In essence, "Show your underbelly to the people who might hurt you and let me take care of protecting you." And, of course, he modeled this for us right to the end."

A blogger named Reinder Bruinsma agrees. "Pastors who do not enjoy what they do, and do not enjoy life in general, may not last in their jobs. I realize that people differ and that not all of us have the same sense of humor or deal with our emotions, our joys and frustrations, in the same way. ... But all of us must function with transparency and integrity, and people around us must be able to understand us as we present ourselves. Members no longer expect their pastors to be perfect—if they ever did. Pastors should not be afraid to show their vulnerability from time to time. Showing vulnerability shows the pastor to be both human and credible."

Wow, who knew? I suspect after 16 years that I did.

All along I've been trying my darndest to be, well, me. And as I discover more (even at an advanced age) of who I am in Christ, I've found that one person's vulnerability is another person's surrender. Surrender is a good -- nah, a great thing when the surrender isn't to sin but to Christ.

Ben E. King wrote

"If the sky we look upon
should tumble and fall
and the mountains should crumble to the sea
I won't cry, I won't cry, no I won't shed a tear
Just as long as you stand by me."

Seems about right.