Thursday, July 31, 2014

Dead as a bat

A couple of weeks ago, my grandson Gabe was practicing for the all-star tournament and his coach said his bat was dead and he needed a new one. That was a new one for me, actually, for I had never heard of a dead bat. Still, he hit better with the new one, so who am I to question?

Some of us might be feeling that way, spiritually, I figure. It's the dead of summer, cold fronts not withstanding. And what we feel is, well we feel dead, tired, dead. Things are necessarily going poorly, just dead.

So, I go to my source of religious news and I read that in Italy 61 percent of the population believe abortion is okay and 44 percent believe it is okay to have a face lift.


And what I get when I read such things is another degree of dead. I get worn.

I'm reminded of a song by Ten Avenue North:
I'm tired I'm worn
My heart is heavy
from the work it takes
to keep on breathing
I've made mistakes
I've let my hope fail
My soul feels crushed
by the weight of the world

And I know that you can give me rest
So I cry out with all that I have left

Let' me see redemption win
Let me know the struggle ends
That you can mend a heart
that's fraud and torn
I wanna know a song can rise
From the ashes of a broken life
And all that's dead inside can be reborn

Every person, I feel, has moments, days, weeks when the deadness comes, when the difficult arises, when the successes are difficult to see and the work of the moment seems to be long and hard. Everyone.

When those dead times come, when feeling the presence and power of the living God is so difficult, remember David, King and boy, who wrote, "God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountain fall into the heart of the sea."

We may be troubled, we may feel like a dead bat, but God is still here.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Let the rock go

David walked along, carrying food for his brothers. He would rather be anywhere but here. The Philistine army had gathered for ward against Israel. The two armies faced each other, camped for battle on opposite sides of a steep valley. A Philistine giant measuring nine feet tall and wearing full army came out each day for forty days, mocking and challenging the Israelites to fight. His name was Goliath. Saul, the King of Israel, and the whole army were terrified of Goliath.

When David arrived, to shorten a long story, he heard Goliath shout at the army of Israel, making fun of them and their God. David, not frightened at all, sans armor, went out and killed the giant with a rock upside the head.

Life sometimes is about slaying Giants, cliched thought that might be.

Change is one of those Giants. Everyone wants change till they begin to get it. Everyone wants change if they are in charge of the change. Everyone wants change till it isn't the change they imagined.

Then someone has to step up and slay that Giant.

Much of the time I'm the one who hands the rock to the Giant slayer. I admit that. Sometimes I relish that. Sometimes I want to take the rock and sling it myself, but I get worried about the outcome of the rock throwing. So, I don't throw it. And Change stands out there and screams at me.

Churches are Giants. Churches who want change but are paralyzed when change they didn't expect happens. I understand. I really, sincerely understand.

Sometimes it is the very change we see in front of us that keeps us from Change. We cringe, we back away, and the rocks never get slung.

It takes a special person, called by God, gifted by God, who makes a difference in the rock-throwing. I believe that. In love, change will happen if someone, many someones actually, are willing to be do their jobs. Someone has to find the rocks. Someone has to make the sling. Someone has to hand the rocks in proper fashion to the rock slinger. And someone, somewhere has to have the courage to let the rock go.

After that, it seems to me, it is in God's hands. If we have done all we've been called to do, then Change will either get the rock in the right spot or not. All we can do is all we can do. All we can do is what we've been gifted to do.

We will suffer setbacks. There are times the analogy will break down (do we really want to kill Change if Change is what we need?). But the overall point is true.

We need to Change what we are doing. Whether that Change comes slowly or quickly is up to many. Ultimately it is our wanting change and getting Change that makes a difference in whether 100s, maybe 1000s of churches survive. Not thrive, survive.

Rocks are ready. Slings are made. Can you pick up the rock and in courage and in faith let it go?

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Let the little children come

I feel like a dip in the lake of controversy today, so off the diving board we go.

I read a survey that says the majority of American say this country should support the children who are crossing the boarder of the nation, most of whom are from Central America.

Somehow this became a political issue. Somehow it became a Democrat versus Republican issue. Somehow.

Democrats responded favorably 80 percent, independents 69 percent and Republicans 57 perent.

White evangelical Protestants were at 56 percent favorably.

I don't know all the ends and outs of border politics, and I'm not living there, but I can't imagine anyone turning away children for any reason.

Especially Christians.


There is a program on television called Under the Dome. The idea is this giant dome has come down on a town and it is impenetrable. In the second week under the dome, someone notices that crops are not going to be able to keep the town fed. Someone evil suggests that they begin to pare down the herd, as it were. Essentially the suggestion is that they begin killing the weak.

Evil, right?

I wonder if we ever see the connection in "securing" our borders and paring the herd?

It's the old idea of what to do if the lifeboat is filled and there are still swimmers in the water.

I can only say that we must do everything we can to help all that we can in all the ways that we can. That's not me, that's Wesley paraphrased.

Jesus said let the little children come to him. Can we do less? Seriously? I'm happy that the majority think we should help the children. I'm alarmed that 44 percent of the population's white evangelicals think we shouldn't.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Jaxson and the hungry inflatable man

Three-year old Jaxson Alcantar was enjoying himself at a minor-league baseball game. When a player swung the bat and hit a ball hard somewhere, Jaxson would smile broadly and turn to me and yell, "That's me, right?" I don't know what he was thinking, but after spending an afternoon with Jaxson, the son of my daughter's long-time friend, I learned that I never knew what he was thinking.

Jaxson was enjoying himself right up until that moment of change came, that moment when things went differently. It came in the fifth inning. The broad smiles that had been Jackson's constant companion first froze, then went away.

The inflatable man ate a kid.

Right there in front of everyone. Right there in front of his parents and his friends, and most importantly for Jaxson's purposes, right there in front of Jaxson. The inflatable man showed no previous predilection toward munching on kids. He had been helping cheers begin. He had been summoning and eliciting laughter and general loudness. Then the kid got close and the inflatable man up and ate the kid.

Right there in front of Jaxson.

It was, to every one of the 2,341 in attendance, a laugh riot. The kid started out as fodder for the joke, and slowly but absolutely without question or doubt he was ingested by the inflatable man. Slurped. Crunched possibly.

Right there in front of Jaxson.

Jaxson had some as a package deal with our daughter and her kids, our grands. It was my birthday, and I had wanted to do something together, children of my favorite woman and their children. It wasn't the whole brood, but it was as many as we could bring together. So, Shanna and her children -- two of them -- and Carrie and her daughter all popped for tickets and we stepped back in time.

See, the girls (and Jason, our son) used to go to games together. Loved to do it. Loved to talk baseball with their dad, or at least I think they did. Loved to eat overpriced food. Loved the ritual.

Loved being together.

Yesterday, it was a step up onto the time machine. In another place, in still another time, baseball honored Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and Bobby Cox. Maddux and Glavine were pitchers who were among the best of their generations, so much so they won more than 300 games. Cox was manager of the Atlanta Braves who benefited from such wonderful pitching. They were our past, the kids, Mary and I.

And the thing I noticed more than anything else yesterday was by the time it was dark, by the time we were quite ready for bed, as us old folks were tired and more than ready for sleepy time, it was time to put it all away and let it go.

There's a song by Butch Walker (yeah, I never heard of him either, till one day driving down the road public radio did an interview with him and I wound up buying an EP of his work) whose words say this in a song called Let it go where it's supposed to, 

"Well my father had this moment back before fast food and strip malls ruled his town. Oh, keep the land or sell it, 20 acres, he had always turned it down. But as the tractors all moved in and I watched as he pretended not to show it from the inside looking out. He said let it go where it's supposed to. Let your life hang out the window to dry. And if the catches the wind, and you ever see it again, then I guess it was probably time. Now that I'm a man myself and my father's bones are turnin' to dust. I got a boy to raise through hell and just pray he turns out half the man he was. When you're grown and you think you've seen it all, nothing will prepare the fall. Just take these words before I'm gone."

Jackson was eating peanuts, drinking a lemonade when the world crumbled. The inflatable man ate the kid, and from then pin, Jackson's ability to trust anyone was sort of eaten as well.

At the end of the game, kids were allowed to run the bases. We talked Jaxson into doing this, totally against his wishes, for he was convinced it was all a trick to give the inflatable man time to gather all the kids together for one great and grand munch a bunch. Kids appeared seemingly from no where to be told to go, and when those great and grand words were shouted, there they went. One by one they entered the field and they RAN.

Except for Jaxson. Jaxson decided this ploy would not work on him, and he turned and ran into the crowd. A three-year-old swimming against the tide of jubilant, crazed youngsters.

Our youngest daughter rescued him, even ran with him to help him to understand that the inflatable man was not waiting at the end of the sprint to have a late evening snack, even deserting her own five-year-old daughter who was smacked to the ground by a kid with the audacity to run the bases wearing a cast on his arm. She, like all Turners everywhere (even if her last name is Burst) rose from the ashes and sprinted around the bases from the point of the illegal, though admittedly cunning, smacking to the ground with a cast ploy.

It was the end of a glorious day.

For everyone except the deliriously fearful Jackson.

My point is this: Swimming against the tide, especially against the tide of the future, is difficult at best. Most of the time, you'll be eaten like a late-afternoon snack. Jaxsson's world crumbled because he wasn't ready for change. He wanted, needed, normality, and for his world, normality was cheering because in his mind "he" had gotten a hit, or made a defensive play or whatever. He cheered normality. Normality did not, would not, ever include kids being eaten by a runaway and apparently voraciously hungered inflatable man. In fact, in his world there are no inflatable men. They are REAL.

Yesterday was great. I was given the great, great opportunity to see down the corridors of time and smile longingly.

But yesterday is without question gone. Done. Kaput. We have got to figure a way to leave the past in the past.

As another memory, a much more recent memory, of movies and icy circumstances and a granddaughter whose favorite movie is now and forever more will be (till the next one comes along), Let it go, let it go.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Those who find me find life

The other day I was having a baseball discussion with the 7-year-old grandson, Gavin. Though I do not in any way think I know everything there is to know about the game, I have accumulated quite a bit, truthfully.

Apparently, though, I haven't accumulated more than Gavin, who told me he knew everything he needed to know about baseball. "My told me," he said. Must have been quite the long conversation. So, at the mellow age of 7, Gavin is done learning about the game, about cutoffs, hitting, run downs, etc.

He is filled with wisdom.

Or something...

We had a gathering of birthdays yesterday. Four birthdays -- in oder -- are captured and distributed as if they so much flotsam on the side if the river. They floated up, landed on the side of the river. Land 'ho. Land, 'ho. Land, ho, ho and a bottle of fun.

Honest. Ho, ho, hohoho. Up and out into the day.

Oh, but that they could move like that in, uh, read life, swooping and bouncing and, er taking off like real life. But birthdays are like ice cubes ... They come, they freeze for a moment, they melt away like a crashing wave. Then they are gone. Sinners and saints alike, gone.

I thought briefly last night about how old I seem to be getting. Older, more like the ultimate villain in Ghostbusters (Stay Fresh Marshmellow man) -- softer, baggier, bigger, and I would love to say filled with much more wisdom but that would not be accurate.

Soloman describes it this way: "Doesn't Wisdom cry out and Understanding shout? ... I cry out to you people; my voice goes out to all of humanity. Understand skill, you who are naive. Take this to heart, you folks. Listen, for I speak things that are correct; from my lips comes what is right. ... Take my instruction rather than silver, knowledge rather than choice gold. Wisdom is better than pearls; nothing is more delightful than she."    

It seems to me that what should be a constant is the older we get, the wiser we get. I suspect that is not true for most of us, if any of us.

Soloman described his path this way: "The Lord created me at the beginning of his way; before his deeds long in the past. ... Now, children listen to me; Happy are those who keep to my ways! Listen to instruction, and be wise; don't avoid it. Happy are those who listen to me, watching daily at my doors, watching at my doorposts. Those who find me find life; they gain favor from the Lord. Those who offend me injure themselves; all those who hate me love death."

If I was to describe anything about what the path from drunken sinner to humbled, recovering sinner, it would be those words -- "Those who find me find life."

I am particularly happy when I see persons who understand that with great wisdom comes great brokenness. I am healed only of my inability to  trust a God who heals. I could not heal myself, fix myself, love myself. When I accepted that, I turned to he who could. I was healed of myself. That is the wisdom that I have accumulated.

He saves. He heals. He loves. He is a raggamuffin. As am I.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Distraction is, well, distracting

Then Indianapolis Colts Coach Tony Dungy led a movement a few years back. He believed one could coach professional football without cursing the players. Controversy splashed on everyone. Darn, or something like that.
After winning a Super Bowl championship and being extremely open about his faith as a Christian, Dungy helped noted dog killer and gambler Michael Vick at least attempt to find forgiveness and a second chance in the NFL.
This week, Dungy's comments (made in an interview conducted several months back around the time of the NFL draft, according to Dungy) about Sam, the first gay man to play in the NFL surfaced. Dungy said he wouldn't draft Sam because "I wouldn't want to deal with all of it. It's not going to be totally smooth ... things will happen."             
And oh, have they happened in the past couple days. Sam was drafted in the final round of the draft, near the bottom of that round, by the St. Louis Rams. Dungy's comments, again made months ago, pointed out that Sam's "coming out" was going to be a distraction at the Rams' camp. Anyone who saw the wall-to-wall coverage on the final day of the draft would have a very difficult time arguing that wasn't too much of too much.   
GLAAD president and CEO Sara Kate Ellis told the St. Louis Post Dispatch that, "talent is not a distraction. Michael Sam is first and foremost an excellent football player." Well, at least an excellent football player who was drafted in the seventh and final round of the draft. Just saying.   
I submit a couple things. One, Dungy knows enough about football to have won a Super Bowl as coach. Two, Dungy is a really nice guy, propelled by his Christian beliefs, but also by a maturity and gentleness uncommon in NFL coaching. Honestly.
His beliefs, including one presumes that loving one's enemies thing, are part of the whole Dungy deal. I've never seen nor heard him go out of his way to speak loudly about his beliefs, by the way, but he is a level-headed, loving gentleman.
But, when Dungy talked about gay players being a distraction, well, things went crazy. Slow news day, if you ask me.
Now, nearly as I can read, Dungy, said nothing particularly mean nor terrible. A distraction? Heck, Jimmy Graham has been one for the Saints till he signed the contract. I’m not sure at all why that was so terrible.
But Yahoo Sports Columnist Dan Wetzel and others certainly had more words to use. Wetzel wrote that if Dungy "were to say that he wouldn't have drafted Michael Sam because the Bible that Dungy believes in condemns Sam's lifestyle that would be ... well, that would be ridiculous, hypocritical and wrong also, but at least it would seemingly jibe with Dungy's sometimes expressed beliefs." Wetzel called Dungy a homophobe and a bigot.  Because Dungy said Sam would be a distraction. Sometimes a bigot must know one when he or she sees one.
Wetzel wrote, "Dungy is an outspoken conservative Christian and if he were to say that he wouldn't have drafted Michael Sam because the Bible that Dungy believes in condemns Sam's lifestyle that would be ... well, that would be ridiculous, hypocritical and wrong also ..."
"Still, at least it would be some kind of principled (if misguided) stance." Wetzel wrote.
And finally, Wetzel wrote, "This isn't even worth arguing. Caving to the most ignorant and obstinate among us is an EMBARRASSMENT and should never, ever, be the basis for anything."  
I’m not certain, being ignorant and such, but I think that was a shot against anyone who might believe the Scriptures.
CBS Sports' Will Brinson wrote, "Dungy is allowed to have whatever stance he wants on sexuality, Religion, freedoms, belief systems, yada yada. But this is a disappointing stance from the first African-American coach to win a Super Bowl who dealt with racially-based backlash for he and his family at times."
Really? If Dungy is allowed to have whatever stance he wants on sexuality, then why all the name calling?
USA Today accused Dungy of being fake. He is anything but.
A USA Today blogger wrote, "Of course, Dungy's comments come as no surprise and are not rooted in logic but ideology instead. He's raised money for anti-gay causes before, and said he doesn't agree with openly gay NBA player Jason Collins' 'lifestyle."
 Many are pointing to Dungy's 2007 support of traditional marriage. At the time, Dungy said, "We're not trying to downgrade anyone else. We’re just trying to promote traditional marriage.”
Don’t be mistaken. Dungy does not believe same sex marriage is appropriate.
But USA Today blogger Chris Chase insinuated that Dungy was using his beliefs to discriminate. Chase used the analogy of "sharpening a pitchfork' to describe Dungy's attack on Sam.
Sweet goodness, would someone please find and point out in Dungy's statement anything unkind, anything even remotely wrong.        
Wetzel's calling Dungy pathetic, however, showing a stunning lack of anything close to compassion. Saying something or someone might be a distraction is certainly not as bad as calling someone pathetic, is it?
Here’s the real point here. It has become very evident that one can't have an opinion contrary to same sex marriage or one is a bigot or worse. I guarantee you that Tony Dungy is a lot of things, but a “pathetic homophobe” is simply not one of them. Anyone writing that is wrong on many levels.       
A columnist, a national columnist, who writes in that manner isn't worthy of even being involved in the conversation. Without question we are split deeply over the subject of homosexuality. Without question we need to have deep and meaningful and even loving discussions.
It's what we do with the discussion that matters. I'll simply say that if someone as nice as Tony Dungy can't make a "football" statement about a gay football player without this nastiness ensuing, we might be in trouble.

       Having looked at it all, listened to it all, watched it all, it's clear ... we ARE in trouble.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Field of Dreams in reverse

Uh, God. It's me, Billy. You know, THAT one again. It's still dark outside, but you being you, I figured we could talk. We can talk, can't we? It's been a while, an, er, short while I'll admit, since we talked. Nah. Since you talked. I talked to you most of the night. I remember distinctly asking you for a boat load of stuff, all for the new church, of course.

We need money. We need contractors. We need contractors who don't need much money. We need a big ol' honking color printer, a bunch of things in the sanctuary like space (which is what they call rooms on all those highfalutin TV shows Mary watches), and we need a big ol' honking light system, Mac system, projection system, sound system, carpet, roof repair, wall repair, window repair, phone system and I'd like a new Saints shirt. That last one was just me, by the way Lord. But I figure you already had that figured out.

We also need, time. Lots and lots of time. Daylight come and I want to go home, kind of thing. 

We need people. Lots and lots of people. And lots and lots more. We need them in all types and sizes and shapes and colors and genders and political types. We need them to work, and to teach, and the seek and to work and to pray and to read and to teach some more. We need youth. We need children. We need youth who will help children.

We need.

Like a car without and engine, we need a tad bit of repair, Father. It's me, Billy. You know, THAT one again. 

I keep walking the building Father and seeing your handiwork, seeing where you've been, seeing where you would like to be again, but Jehovah, it's like, well, sometime or other the building began to get so old someone forgot to let you back in, and the next thing anyone knew, the Shekinah glory, the white-light at night type of shiny, your shiny, no, YOUR SHINY just up at left. Or so it seemed. Maybe you were just waiting for someone to say, "come on down," or some such.

In any case, we, I, us have begun to sense you in the corners, feel you in the parlor, seek you in the morning and follow your ways up and down the stairs of this old monolith, this beauty that needs a touch of a facelift.

You are here. You are amongst us.

Right? You are, right?

So, what do WE do about YOU? That's really what I needed to know this staggeringly long morning. What do you want us to do? What must we do next? 

Paint? Clean? Paint the clean walls? Ask for more stuff?

What's next?

You know more than anyone how impatient I am. You know that waiting on the Lord isn't on my bucket list. In fact, waiting might cause me to kick the bucket list.

But I'm trying. Lord, I pray for Sione and Haley this morning, on account they have to put up with me and that's a tall, tall task. Just ask Mary. She'll tell you, and them, and complete strangers.

We need.
That's the bottom line.

Like paupers asking for coins, we need. Lord wouldn't it be something if someone out there just up and decided they would write a check or a gazillion to Carrollton United Methodist Church? You and the janitor know this money, the printer, the office furniture, the data system, all the rest are not for me. What do I need with money? 

Well, yeah. Forgot about that stuff. But you know what I mean. This is stuff to help bring a new culture to an old Gospel, to bring those who are broken to the one who fixes the broken, to seek the least, the lost and the lonely and tell them about the Fixer -- this man named Jesus.

Father, I'm trying. WE are trying. 

But we need help. Your help would be wonderful. But the way I have all this figured is that your folks, what do you call it all fancy like, uh, uh, oh, your BODY OF CHRIST can help us just as well. Folks with bank accounts that have big strings of numbers, folks with equipment they could write off on their taxes as gifts to non-profits, folks who ARE contractors and window fixers and even great prayer warriors. They could come.

The greatest movie in history told me that if you build it, they will come. 

Here on South Carrollton, oh Lord, they must come so we can built it.

Signing off, Lord. It's Billy. You know, THAT one again.

Monday, July 21, 2014

The ups and downs of life

God says in the Psalms (78), "My people, hear my teaching: listen to the words of my mouth. ... I will utter hidden things, things from old -- things we have heard and known, things our ancestors have told us."

I prayed and prayed that we would cross the 50-person barrier at our new church yesterday, and with great sunshine and wonderfully temped weather, we went backwards, with 36 persons -- a low for the four weeks we've been operating. Of those 36, however, 15 are new (counting the staff).

What does it all mean?

Nearly as I can figure it means this church planting business is a hard row to hoe. There is no straight upward kind of projection. None. God is in charge, and as it says somewhere the heck other, his ways our not our ways. I would add his plans for adding folks are his plans for adding folks.

The Psalmist goes on: "The men of Ephraim, though armed with bows, turned back on the day of battle; they did not keep God's covenant and refused to live by his law. They forgot what he had done, the wonders he had shown them."

Sounds fairly maudlin, doesn't it? The Psalmist says the folks who had most reason to celebrate -- being God's chose and all -- forgot about it.

I suspect they forgot when things didn't go exactly as they had planned, when life took a bad turn. When life was, well, life. When life wasn't a straight line straight into heaven.

It seems to me  that life is kind of like that chart of church growth. Oh, but that it were a line that continually rose. You start out at the bottom (birth), and from there it is a chart that shows continual growth. We listen and learn in school. We graduate, get a great job, marry, have a great wife, great kids, great salary that continues to grow, and we die, happy, happy, happy.

That's not my experience.

Noah saved the world, and got drunk and cursed his son.
Abraham fearfully lied about Sarah being his wife.
Abraham nearly had to sacrifice Isaac, his son.
Samson threw away a career as a judge for a woman who lied about her affection.
Joseph's brothers sold him into slavery out of jealousy.
The prophets are threatened, some killed.
Daniel was thrown in a lion's den.
Amos (was) from the land of Tekoa. The priest of Bethel tortured him and afterwards killed him.
Habakkuk (was) of the tribe of Simeon, and from the land of Zoar.  The Jews stoned him in Jerusalem.
The Jews stoned Jeremiah the son of Hilkiah in Egypt, because he rebuked them for worshipping idols; and the Egyptians buried him by the side of Pharaoh's palace. 
 Zechariah the son of Berachiah, the priest, was from Jerusalem. Joash the king killed this (prophet) between the steps3 and the altar, and sprinkled his blood upon the horns of the altar, and the priests buried him. 
Manessah the son of Hezekiah killed Isaiah with a wooden saw.
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednigo were thrown into a fiery furnace.

You tell me if that sounds like the church chart we want, if this church planting business in the Old testament was straight into the clouds. Sounds to me like anyone planting churches needs to increase the insurance they have, quickly.

No, life is a series of ups and downs and the weak made strong (with the help of the very willing
Holy Spirit) survive. I expect that times will be lean before they are wonderful, unless during the lean times we all learn to be patient and wait upon the Lord. Or perhaps turn, turn, turn toward the one who can lead us into the desert and gracefully out again.

The Psalmist then turned his thoughts outward, instead of inward. "I will exalt you, my God and King; I will praise your name for ever and ever. Every day I will praise you and extol your name for ever and ever. Great is the Lord and most worth of praise; his greatness no one can fathom. One generation commends your works to another; they tell of your mighty acts."

Life goes back up. There's a song by a band named Casting Crowns that says this: Lord, I give my life, a living sacrifice, to reach a word in need, to be your hands and feet. So may the words I say and the things I do make my life song sing, bring a smile to you."

Our life songs are more about how we handle, with the power of the Holy Spirit, those times when life does head downward. I would love to say that one falls in love with Jesus and things are instantly wonderful. But no matter what those prosperity guys say, it simply doesn't work that way.

Jesus, as a toddler, has to be taken to Egypt because a king is killing two-year-old children.
Jesus is hated by his own religious leaders, is executed on a cross.
Oh, the church is formed, and all its original apostles save one are executed as martyrs for the cause.

Lots of things have happened to me in this life of ministry. So far, that's not one of them. There is, however time.

Friday, July 18, 2014

That you, again, God?

Years ago I had reason to visit a psychologist for a few sessions of talking. Granted, I already was quite the talker, but he listened to me much more than did others. Or at least he was paid to do so and was good at it.

One day, on my way across the Crescent City Connection, a behemoth of a bridge across the Mississippi River, I noticed I was having thoughts like I had never had before, thoughts outside of my thought pattern, thoughts that were, well, other.

When I reached the psychologists' office, I asked him what might have been a strange question had I not known he was a believer in the other, that what He called God. I was still figuring that out, this God thing.

I asked him, "Are those thoughts God? Is that how he communicates, possibly?" I truly didn't expect an answer, but I was a very confused somewhat middle-aged man who was trying to find a lot of things, himself included. God wasn't one of those things I was looking for. Hence, the lack of finding him.

The psychologist, whose name I can't remember, of course, me being much, much older and time having passed like a river flowing from a throne, said, "Yes. It could be."

I didn't hear could. I heard "yes."

I have had multiple occasions since when I believe that to be true, again ... and again, and again.

I noticed yesterday, as free-flowing ideas kept pouring in, as they have for most of the three weeks I've been working at this new church start, that these other thoughts are happening again. Now, recognize that I only noticed it yesterday and I've been doing this for three weeks. That's the other. That's, to me, how you separate inspiration from idea, God's nudge from my pride. Certainly I've had ideas in the three months since the appointment. But lately, as I've worked on the idea of a silent auction and a dinner to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the building of the sanctuary, well, the other is taking control when I allow it.

Now, I might just be as crazy as a loon (which by the way I use as an expression all the time and I have no idea what that might mean), but I believe God still talks to us. Oh, I haven't heard any talking out loud, unfortunately (or if it was late at night perhaps fortunately), but I have heard or felt or sensed nudges, what I call the other, with thoughts that I had no business having. Not voices in my head, oh ye of little, uh, humor. No. Ideas. Inspiration. Thoughts.

Ezekiel expressed his this way: "He said to me, "Son of man, stand up on your feet and I will speak to you. As he spoke, the Spirit came into me and raised me to my feet, and I heard hymn speaking."

Here's what I take from that, as it applies to this morning's reading. "The Spirit came into me" is the key phrase. These thoughts, inspiration, words, you name it, come from the Spirit of God. And because of what happened at Pentecost, well, the Spirit always lives in us who have accepted our Lord and Savior, Jesus.

Thus, the thoughts of the Spirit are always there.

So, what keeps us from being led by them?

Us. Nothing but us. When our thoughts get in the way of His thoughts. When our hands on the steering wheel seek to push his hands off it. That's what drowns out the proper, most well-meaning, most wonderfully perfect ideas we can imagine.

Oh, I can't way to hear what today will bring.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Comfort on call

The prophet Isaiah, who has some of the most wonderful writing in the scriptures, wrote this: "I, even I, am he who comforts you. Who are you that you fear mortal men, the sons of men, who are but grass, that you forget the Lord your Maker, who stretched out the heavens and laid the foundations of the earth, that you live in constant terror every day because of the wrath of the oppressor, who is bent on destruction?"

Can you not picture the Lord, in the throne room saying, "I, even I, am he who comforts you?"

This morning I'm fried. Late night game (last of the wonderful 10-year-old season for Gabe whose last at bat was a solid triple down the first base line), has me whipped. We've spent long, long days and even a night meeting and talking and compiling contacts and such. I have a meeting with some Tulane ticket sales people in two hours, and I'm fried. My head is a ball of confusion, as someone once sang.

But I turn in these hours to the one who comforts me, the great I am.

Here's the message today, and we all need to get it. Isaiah is told by a loving, powerful God that when we are at our worst, we forget the Lord our maker, whose power literally rolled out the heavens and made the earth like He was rolling out new carpet from a box. God will literally comfort us. That's the idea. That's the notion.

Power in a fist, lightning and thunder on a whim. That is our God. He comforts because if we listen, we will understand that to coin a phrase, "He has this."

Whatever this is.

He came, he saw, he delivered. How? Well, that's the special part of this comforting idea.

He goes on to talk of a servant, does the prophet. A servant who will suffer for us all. "See, my servant will act wisely; he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted. Just as there were many who were appalled at him -- his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any man and his form marred beyond human likeness -- so he will sprinkle many nations, and kings will shut their mouths because of him. For what they were not told, they will see, and what they have not heard, they will understand."

He comforts because he knows us. He comforts because he became one of us. This idea that he is too powerful and too other to grasp when we are hurting, well, that's nonsense. He was one of us, and he most certainly hurt. Jesus took it all, all for us.

This morning, I know he took the rough mornings and the sweet ones. He took cool fronts and warm fronts and he swirled them around and made them all the more pleasant for us.

He comforts because he loves. He serves because he loves. He endured because he loves. Whatever is the problem for you this morning, he's ready to absorb the pain, absorb the hurt, absorb the worry, absorb the woe. He is there for you, for me, for the world.

This very moment.

I, even I, EVEN I he says.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Opposition will come

As we stumble along, trying to figure what our next move, our next day, will bring, I was thinking about the book of Nehemiah.

The fourth chapter really spoke to me. Maybe you've read it; maybe not.

The story is this: Nehemiah returns to Jerusalem to rebuild its walls that have been destroyed by a conquering nation. When he arrives and begins getting families together to do the work, opposition arises.

It reads, "Sanballat, Tobiah, and the people of Arabia, Ammon, and Ashdod heard that we were making progress in rebuilding the wall of Jerusalem and that the gaps in the wall were being closed and they became very angry."

A couple of verses later, we read, "The people of Judah had a song they sang: 'We grow weak carrying burdens; There's so much rubble to take away. How can we build the wall today?'"

I was wondering why some would opposed progress. I assume the argument would be about just what is progress, but clearly in the case of Nehemiah, progress was being made in building the walls back to where they had been.

Just as clearly, the people of Arabia, Ammon, and Ashdod did not want defensive walls built in a city in which they had become powerful.

And there you have it.

Those who opposed change, who oppose progress often are the ones who are currently in power. It is the effort to grab onto power, cling to the power one has grabbed and even attempt to gain more power that causes the opposition to progress.

It is the Pharisees, those keepers of the law in the New Testament Israel, who wanted Jesus dead because he threatened their power.

I did a bit of research about why people hate change, particularly in the church, and these were the greatest of the reasons.

Ineffective communication (why must we change as part of a vision-casting); feeling of a loss of control; distrust of (clergy); fear of redundancy; fear of failure; if it's not broken, why fix it?; internal focus (refuses to see the bigger picture); fear they lack the skills to do what is being asked.

I believe the top reason for a desire not to change is simply the fear of being useless in the new system.

When I was a journalist, we at the New Orleans newspaper for which I worked had a job pledge that said we would never lose our job as long as we were willing to be retrained when technology changed (I paraphrase). We had that pledge until they took it away in 2009 as the Internet ravaged the world of newspapers and suddenly people were not nearly as needed as before.

Change is scary. Change is coming, regardless.

For Nehemiah, as the opposition grew, his planning began to have to deal with what he knew to be possibly rebuild stopping. "From then on, half of my men worked and half stood guard..."

When we rebuild, when we promote change, there is a better than average chance that half or more of our people will oppose it. Nehemiah shows us that if we believe we are called by God to do a particular task, we must continue it, even if the opposition grows deadly.

Just keep working (and carry a big stick).

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The timeless game

It's not often that one gets to sort of relive one's past, to take a step back, to look again at one's younger days. You can go home, and home isn't home any more. You can return to a place you did business and employees have changed or they've gone. Even friends don't stay the same.

But baseball (or it's feminine cousin softball), ah, baseball stays the same.

Remember the wonderful speech in my favorite movie of all time, Field of Dreams? "The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It's been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt, and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game, is a part of our past, Ray, it reminds us of all that once was good, and could be again."

My best time of my life, truly, was playing baseball in the summer. Sleeping late, wind blowing strong at night with the windows open and the honey suckle dripping deep into the night. Then baseball. Games. There is very little I know like I know baseball. Truly. And the best friends you ever have, according to Stephen King, are the ones you have when you are 12.

Things repeated themselves when I coached my daughters in softball. Both girls were All-Stars. Our lives were dominated by summers on the softball field. I loved taking what I knew and watching the girls learn and play.

Then watching and reporting on games for newspapers, sitting in a press box or in a folding chair and simply watching and sometimes even commenting on games. Games. Always games.

Then last night, I felt as if I back in time. My grandson, Gabe, was playing in an All-Star tournament on the West Bank. Just like it used to be. He played well, with two hits, a couple RBI, four stolen bases and a really good smart play on the infield. It was very much like watching Shanna, his mother, play.

And I was taken back. Taken back by the cool breeze blowing late into the night. Taken back by the shouts and even some anger from the crowd that twisted and flowed with every call of the umpire. Taken back by sitting in a folding chair behind the fence. Taken back by a slide into a base, or a mistake by a coach, or a dribbling ball in front of the plate and a catcher jumping out the make a play. Taken back.

Reliving one's past.

Now, nothing stays the same. Nothing. But baseball, oh, baseball passes from grandson to daughter to grandson to great grandson and beyond. Equipment, that short new bag that holds two bats and a couple of bottle waters and an exceptionally nice helmet, oh, that changes. But baseball, check two, go one; two outs; take then easy out; hit to the right side with no outs and a runner on second; baseball stays the same.

I know of nothing that has changed less. Though the designated hitter still needs to go away, though the splitter and the cutter are recent innovative pitches, it's still 90 feet. It's still bat on ball. It's still glove to the ground. I suspect it will always be.

But beyond all that, it is about relationships formed and lived out at a ball field. Oh, parents can go a bit nuts. Travel teams and such might just be the sign of the apocalypse, but it's still stealing bases and hitting cut offs and such.

Some of life's best quotes are about baseball. I choose two.

Tom Clark says that "I'm convinced that every boy, in his heart, would rather steal second base than an automobile."

Then A. Bartlett Giammati, once commissioner of baseball, wrote, "It breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone."

It is baseball, It is timeless. And every once in a while one gets to be absorbed in it.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Lobbying for a proper Hobby

We were just getting a cup of Starbucks coffee when we noticed a group of protesters. They were causing some to blow their car or truck horns in support, I guess. We, my wife and I, took a while to figure out just what was the issue here.

One sign said, "keep your eye on crafts, not crotches," or something to that effect. At a red light, as we turned towards Starbucks, we got it. They were up in arms, or crotches I guess, about the Hobby Lobby Supreme Court decisions.

Now, I've been kind of silent lately about controversial subjects because I've been up to my elbows in work at the church. But this, interfering with my morning coffee, this I had to react to.

In case you've been Lost on an island, this is the issue: A few weeks ago, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that closely held corporations cannot be made to provide contraception coverage for their employees.

The court ruled in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby stores and Conestoga Wood Specialties that the Obama administration failed to show that the contraception mandate contained in the Affordable Care Act is the "least restrictive means of adding its interest" in providing birth control at no cost to women.

The ruling by Justice Samuel Alito said, "Any suggestion that for-profit corporations are incapable of exercising religion because their purpose is simply to make money flies in the face of modern corporate law (and) the HHS mandate demands that they engage in conduct that seriously violates their religious beliefs.

The wonderfully written Affordable Care act contains a provision requiring most employers to cover the full range of contraception at no cost to their female employees. An exemption was made in the law for churches and religious hospitals, schools and nonprofits.

Hobby Lobby, which every acknowledges is a Christian-owned craft supply chain store, hence the sign above, challenged the contraception mandate on the grounds that it violates their religious freedom because some forms of birth control -- emergency contraception and intrauterine devices -- are forms of abortion.

I want it noted at this point that I actually did research for this.

Here's the deal. I get the argument from women that it is their body and they are in charge of it. I get that argument. I disagree vehemently, but I get the argument. I am so far against the notion of abortion in most forms (oh, we can still discuss the notion of incest and rape), that I can't begin to even write how badly it moves me that we kills babies, still.

However, I don't get at all that someone, anyone would want to make someone else pay for the privilege.

Listen, if someone wants to sin -- and yes, I believe abortion to be sin if that wasn't previously clear enough -- they have every right. God himself allows this, sadly to say. I also get that in the nation of my birth it is the law of that land.

But the notion that someone, particularly the government of that land, can make someone pay for that right is simply, to me (the write of the opinion) ludicrous.

Of course, Democrats rallied against the decision, introducing legislation that would overrun that ruling.

See, the court's argument was based on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a 1993 law that dictates that an individuals' religious expression wouldn't be substantially burdened by a law unless there was a "compelling government interest.

Democrats said the Court used its decision to allow employers to deny critical medical care to those employees.

Well, poppycock, as I understand it.

Hobby Lobby owners objected to four of 18 methods required to be provided to female employees under the ACC mandate. They were perfectly willing to pay for the other 14 methods. And they didn't even object to the others as much as they objected to PAYING for them.

Come on. There is no constitutional right to birth control, as I understand it. Certainly there is no constitutional right to have someone else pay for it.

I hailed the Court's ruling because to me it indicates there is still a bit of reasonableness with the Court, that everything isn't cut and dried against the notion of religious freedom. That's only in the lower courts.

But to see folks carrying signs and protesting only reminds me that we're still not on the same page. We still have folks who will paint signs and wave them even if the cause is a non-starter. Maybe they bought the paint and poster board at Hobby Lobby.

Friday, July 11, 2014

An agent of change

I have a confession to make, about things that have either kept me from going to sleep or kept me awake when I woke in the middle of the night the past couple nights. Nan, nah, nah, I haven't become a closet Atlanta Falcons fan. Nothing serious like that.

I am an agent of change.

There. I've said it. There. I, uh, feel the same. Thought it would feel differently, you know? Like, well, asking for forgiveness and feeling washed clean and such. Thought if I just let it fly, let that notion out there, people would see me differently, act differently toward me, feel differently about me. 

But, no. Not really. Because, it seems to me this fine morning, most folks who have come in contact with me, especially my dear wife, already know this to be true.

I see myself as an agent of change, 008, license to chill. 

Oh, I talk a great change game. I am old, but think young, I pride myself in thinking. But when real young, not the kind that I want to talk about but not actually live because I simply can't, what with being old and all, when real young comes to me and acts, well, young, I can't quite take it. Songs I don't know well; music styles I've not experienced; new ministry methods that show clearly I won't be in control any longer. This stuff is enough to make my head go poof.

I am an agent of change.

I get that people don't want to change. I get that people don't want to be different. I get that things that we're used to are things that we are used to, and therefore change would mean doing things we're not used to. Man, oh man. I get that. I just never dreamed I would be so darn uncomfortable with it.

It's like my chair. The chair. THAT CHAIR. It's not all that fancy or pretty, but it is mine and it fits my, er, situation perfectly after all these years. But if I were to go in search of a new chair, it might not fit at all. It would be clumsy to start with. It would be for lack of a better word ... DIFFERENT. And that wouldn't be all that great to begin the rump-ish transition from old chair to new chair, from used to to DIFFERENT.

I am an agent of change.

Now, in my defense. I do like change. I just don't like going through it. 

I don't want to do the exact same things each week, and I change little bitty pretty ones, but I strongly prefer to know what it is I'm doing so therefore I like a routine. I just like to establish my routine and do my routine and if that means being against change then you simply don't understand me.

There. Said it. I strongly suspect YOU don't understand ME. That's the ticket. Yep. Yes, sir. What I really, truly, really, really mean is

I am an agent of change.

Oh, I make fun of those folks who have made what used to be into an idol. Yes, sir. They're something. They worship at the feet of yesterday and have an altar set up to yesteryear and through it all they collect stuff and horde stuff and, and, and, they HATE CHANGE. Yessir. They are incapable of changing. That's them. That's not me, you see, for I am an agent of change. I am different. I am unusual, certainly, but I am an agent of change.

Harold Wilson once wrote that the only human institution that rejects progress is the cemetery.

Ol' Harold was an agent of change, which is what I'm touted to be.

Somewhat seriously, here is the real truth this morning. If you are through with change, you are through. That's a certainty. 

Governments, change. Churches, change. Styles of worship, change. People, change. Or they all crumble like stepped on Oreos. And what a loss stepped on Oreos are. An agent of changeeeeeeee is what we all need.

It's not a short period of turmoil, it's a long period of growth we seek. That's what agents of change are about. Even those who don't like change, but understand it's potential, it's promise, and it's power.

That's me, on my best days. On my worst...

I am an agent of change.

My realization is if this continues, the only change made will be a replacement for me. Long term or short. Change is inevitable. We can catch the wave or we can drown.

I am agent of change. 008. License to thrill.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

The Lord was certainly in this place

"Jacob left Beersheba and went to Haran. He came to a certain place and camped for the night since the sun had left. He took one of the stones there, set it under his head and lay down to sleep. And he dreamed: A stairway was set on the ground and it reached all the way to the sky; angels of God were going up and down on it."

"When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought to himself, "The Lord was certainly in this place and I didn't know it."

This whole church planting thing is a dream, it seems to me. It is a, to a very large degree, an exercise in futility unless it is an exercise in faith.

I was told initially to read everything I could on church planting, church re-starting, church reclamation -- you name it, there's an article on it out there somewhere to be found. I have.

Recently I read a six-point instruction on handling a dying church by Thom S. Rainer. I was struck by a couple of things. First, a significant group in the church must admit that they are desperate for help. Second, that same group must confess guilt. The confession is that the group failed to reach the community, and held on to the idolatry of yesterday. They were only comfortable with "our kind of people. They saw the church to be a place where their needs were met and personal preferences catered."

Desperation is a commodity I think most of the churches, not all but most, that I have pastored have dealt with. They were overcome with insurance debt and with pastoral salary and pension and health benefits and all the service costs that come with all the above. 

When the money was finally there to do ministry, they looked for someone to do it. Someone not named themselves because most of the time they were very old, tired, worn.

That's just the way it has been. But here's where I take somewhat of an exception to the failed to reach the community part. I believe that we, pastors and leaders of the church, have failed to teach them how to reach the community.

And they are not alone.

I sat at my "new" desk in my "new" office yesterday afternoon, as the skies grew dark and threatening, looking out a great large window at the community called Carrollton, and I thought and I prayed and I realized that unless we, the leaders of this church we're planting in worn, nutrient-less spiritual soil, teach our congregation how to reach the community, we will not reach the community. I spent much time thinking about how to reach the community, how to get teams to come down and paint and clean, how to get folks to give us money to pay for the things we need so desperately.

It came to be, after a daze of concentration that is uncommon for me, that we must do one thing or we will be essentially a non-starter. Duh. I believe we must teach our persons how to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world, or we simply have a catchy little saying -- which, by the way, our new church's vision statement is "we are a resurrected community for all."

But how do we leave our offices and reach people? Again, duh...

This morning I think of Paul who wrote, "He gave some apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers. His purpose was to equip God's people for the work and serving and building up the body of Christ."

That being the case, it seems many of us must wake up and notice that God was here after all. He is here to give us some apostles, some prophets, some evangelists and some pastors and teachers. Therefore, we must equip our people for the work and serving.

Teach how, coach how, train how. That's our task, leaders. Not the doing, necessarily, but the teaching. Not by my power will this church be planted, but by his.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Isn't rebirth the point?

Did you see the story on the Internet recently about dying churches making incredible comebacks? The story was about a church in Franklin, Tenn., which had been struggling for years.

In early June, as the story goes, the prayers of that little church were answered. More than 300 people gathered for worship. Say again, more than 300 people.

The pews were gone. Traditional hymns were gone. A new sign outside the church told of a new name, the Conduit Church.

Hillview, when it decided extensive action was due, was down to less than a dozen members, the story says. It decided then to merge with Conduit, a four-year-old nondenominational church. The Hillview members were at the end of their ropes, so God gave them a hand up. The church did what is being done all over the country. Small churches, and by that I mean small in numbers not necessarily small in the size of buildings, are finding ways to reinvent themselves.

I do not think for a second that was easy for Hillview to do. Some would look at the 300 and conclude, wow, of course the Hillview members would do that. But what about the history of the church and of the congregation's parents and grandparents who had done so much for the church, which essentially lost its name but not its building.

But it might become a necessary part of our fabric.

The funny thing is it has always been. We just forgot.

There's a story in scripture that Jesus tells about the need to make new wineskins. Back then, as he told this story, a new batch of wine was sometimes poured into animal skins. The fermentation process involved a release of gasses that stretched and weakened the skin. That's why you could only use it one time.

But the batch would turn into exquisite wine. The only thing was that the next batch needed an entirely new skin.

When Jesus applied the story to "religion," it wasn't exactly what they wanted to hear. People wanted to cling to what they knew, what had worked before, what they had grown up with, and so forth. But Jesus said they should let go of all that.

The modern re-telling of the scriptures, The Message, records Jesus' words in Mark this way: No one cuts up a fine silk scarf to patch old work clothes; you want fabrics that match. And you don't put your wine in cracked bottles."

Some of us to this minute still are trying to use the old wineskins over and over and over. Some of us have cut up the finest clothes we have to patch things that are holy, not Holy. Buildings are brick and mortar and such.

People. They are the important things here. We, in many cases, refuse to adapt, to change, to look at what might work as opposed to what isn't. In many, many of our churches today, the wine is pouring out of those broken vessels. Is it not? I defy many to tell me new strategies aren't called for. Isn't it still about seeking out and saving the lost one as opposed to the found 99? Isn't it still about the son who returns to a father who runs toward him? Isn't it.

Isn't it about going out and baptizing in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit? Did I miss the recall on our commission, our calling?

This doesn't make things more comfortable, for anyone. This whole process of introducing newness, when we're not exactly sure what newness will look like is a painful process. It truly is. Again, I'm so old I wonder whether I am appropriate for that process. But what I've learned is it is not about age, not really. It's about desire. Plain old hunking desire.

We are all sewn together with strands of grace. All of us. From the youngest who can tell us about speeds of Internet and new platforms and talk that sounds almost dirty it's so strange to us old folks, to those very old folks who remember different days and rightfully wish they were still here equally but still long to see people come to Christ so they sign up to do whatever the Spirit leads them to do.

I admire the courage of those who truly are stepping out in faith. I long to be one of those. I am giving all I have for all I can to do all I must. New? Bring it on.

Here's the deal. Churches are dying. To deny that is folly. But death can mean something more than living to survive. It really can. Death can mean, at its finest, resurrection.

Look, we Christians at our core believe in a dream. A man came telling us his dream, his vision. He talked about the Kingdom of God. But other men killed him because their dreams, their wineskins, were old and familiar and they didn't want to pony up to the bar of new ones.

Death. Dead as a carp. Dead as a door knob. Dead as a, well, dead person. Dead. No breath, no hope of tomorrow, no life. Dead.

Three days later, the dream, the vision, the man came roaring out of the tomb. That's what we believe. And I have to tell you, if you're gonna introduce new wineskins to the old wine game, if you're going to patch up your cloches, heck, resurrection, rebirth, renewal is the way to go.

I believe churches can be reborn. But to be reborn, it takes a courageous stand. It takes allowing death to come.

When it does, Christ takes over. I believe a recommitment to mission, a recommitment to the overlooked value of hospitality, but most of all a recommitment, a rebirth, of what it means to love our neighbor and not our church building is absolutely needed.

The name on the sign on the building is insignificant in the long run. The love in the hearts of the people who happened to be in that building for a little while is vital.

Dead doesn't have to be the end. Don't we all, as Christians, believe that?

As someone I know once said, "Ain't that the point?"

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

What makes home for you?

When is a home, a home? An office, an office? A place to lay your head, a place to ... oh, you know.

Is there a favorite painting, a favorite memento, a favorite trophy, a favorite you name it and it makes you feel all warm and cozy?

One of the things that usually makes me feel we've established a new home (whether indeed we own it or not) as we move through the vagabondish ways of the UMC system, is a framed photo of a cover of the Sporting News from my senior year in high school way back in the 40s, or something like that. Seems I can't remember what I used to be able to forget.

The cover is of Archie Manning from his senior year in college. It was given to me years ago by a roommate and I thought the wealth of friendship it took to not only give that away but framed it so wonderfully was something I've always thought I would like to emulate. Interestingly, I haven't seen the photo yet.

So, we're still in a transition period, with our goal a lazy jaunt of two boxes a day. What I've come to see is that though I did a pretty good job picking the house, I never looked at how much storage space we might have and we don't have enough. Period. But we're figuring it out. It's all part of the puzzle.

As the boxes come down in number (at least in the filled variety), things are beginning to take shape at our house and at our church office. Yesterday, I took my office chair down to the office. For the first time, somewhat regretfully and somewhat embarrassingly, I felt like I belonged.

Searching for answers this morning, I saw that home is where the wifi connects automatically, it is where there's a comfy bed or a comfy couch or a certain pillow that you've had for years. Home is where, uh, the heart is, where the right bath is, where the right person or persons are.

My office chair has been through a lot. It was picked out new from Sams as I recall when we built a church in Gretna 10 years ago. It survived Katrina, that witch of a storm nine years ago. When I left Gretna because of said witch and moved to the Northshore, I asked for that chair and for the laptop I had been using at the church there. I received both. The laptop is long dead. The chair, beginning as am I to show its age and its wear and its tear, has been in every office I've used for all these years.

It accepts me as I am, which is not what I was. I've, er, grown into the plushness that once was with this chair and as it diminishes because I have grown, it still holds onto me like a tired old leather glove.

It is but a chair, but it is history, for me. It is where I've been and it is where I intend to go. Putting it on the truck and then taking it out of the back and literally driving it down a city sidewalk because we have no parking at our UPTOWN Community church gave me a thrill and a satisfaction.

Daddy was home, when I wheeled her in there. The fact no one stopped me, asked me questions as I drove her for more than a city block shows me where home is, NOLA, of course, where no one asks questions of strangely dressed emissaries of peopledom.

So, the eagle has landed. I found a blackboard and some chalk yesterday, and I began to establish a series of priorities for us. Where we need to go. I like to have a big ol' white eraser board, but this weathered (sense a theme). I put things into categories. I wrote themes for new teams that we will be establishing. I pondered some, thought some more, and did nothing.

But man, sitting in my chair gave me ideas. I just need, to quote from my grandchildren, to let it go.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Team building

Let me ask a somewhat sobering question this morning. Do you ever take a moment to truly look at who you are and what you're doing? Does it matter?

I get this all the time because for reasons I'm unclear of, people think more highly of me and my work that do I. That is not humility. That is, I think, a simple unbiased, biased opinion. I wish I could say I had done this that and the other, but it would not be true.

Still, what I'm learning this late in life is that for my team at my new church to grow and do its job, I must shrink even more.

I read this morning in Paul's writings, "For by grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you."

So, this weekend I gave a great deal of thought to team building. I read what Michael Jordan, perhaps the greatest basketball player ever and winner of six NBA titles and one NCAA championship, said of teams: "There are plenty of teams in every sport that have great players and never win titles. Most of the time, those players aren't willing to sacrifice for the greater good of the team. The funny thing is, in the end, their unwillingness to sacrifice only makes individual goals more difficult to achieve. One thing I believe to the fullest is that if you think and achieve as a team, the individual accolades will take care of themselves. Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence wins championships."

I think the thing we all need to understand is we follow a man who washed feet, who served rather than be served, who gave rather than be given to. If we get that, then we get team.

I don't know what tomorrow holds, but I know who holds the future. That being said, what we want most in our lives must be to give what we've been given, a belief in the love of Jesus Christ for us and for his power to save us.

The question then is what will we give to this work. Authentic worship, we pray. Authentic behavior, we pray. Authentic love, we know.

We do this not so we will gain notoriety, because that left the equation years ago. No we build these teams that will do the work of the church because we love. And we love because He loved us first.

An unknown author wrote this: "The basic building block of good team-building is for a leader to promote the feeling that every human being is unique and adds value." Isn't that a wonderful statement? That's Christian love, it seems to me. Every human being is unique and adds value. That's Christ.

It took only 12 men (with a few women telling them what to do) to change the world. Can't we possibly stem the tide and change the world again with many more. Seems to me it only takes a few thousand teams from a few thousand churches to turn all this shrinking of churches around.

We have work. Let's go.