Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Though all, it is well with my soul

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

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

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

It goes like this:

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

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

It didn't have to be this way

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

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

Understand the Context of Tragedy

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

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

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

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

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

I would be broken by either outcome.

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

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

Monday, November 24, 2014

It is well

In just a week, a teenager driving through our state fell asleep at the wheel participating an accident that killed five members of his family as they drove to Disney World, I participated in a funeral for a woman five years  younger than myself, heard about a sudden death of a colleague's husband and had a dear, dear former Bishop have a brain bleed and collapse (though he appears to be recovering as I write this).

It puts to mind the fragility of life, doesn't it?

So, this morning I call on scripture as my anchor, my walking stick, my airliner.

"The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?" the scriptures say.

We pray: Almighty God, look with pity upon the sorrow of your servants, for whom we pray. Amidst things they cannot understand, help them to trust in your care. Bless them and keep them. Make your face to shine upon them, and give them peace."

Finally, "Listen, I tell you a mystery! We will not all die, but we will all be changed. For this perishable body must put on imperishability, and this mortal body must put on immortality. Then the saying that is written will be fulfilled: 'Death has been swallowed up in victory.' 'Where O death, is your victory? Where, O Death, is your sting.' But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Let me put it another way. I was trudging around Facebook last night and came across a Youtube production of Bethel Church. I listened for the first time to a song called It is Well.

These are the lyrics:

Grander earth has quaked before
Moved by the sound of His voice
Seas that are shaken and stirred
Can be calmed and broken for my regard
Through it all, through it all
My eyes are on You
Through it all, through it all
It is well

I have put all my faith on these words. I have gone all in at the great spiritual betting parlor. I have given all I have and all I am believing that when death does come it is not the end because Jesus died to defeat death once and for all.

I believe that.

I must believe that.

I am waiting, sinner though I still am, because I believe the blood washed me clean and though I fail daily, He is there to pick me back up till that day when it no longer is necessary.

Though it all, through it all
My eyes are on You
Through it all, through it all
It is well, with me

Friday, November 21, 2014

Whatever lies ahead

It's been an interesting week, to say the least. I could write this morning about our new immigration policy, but I have little to no interest in it. I could write about Bill Cosby, but that seems to have been done by everyone who has a blog in this country, so I have little to no interest in writing about it. I could write about Adrian Peterson, but I have no interest in except to say that Michael Vick is playing football in the NFL today. You make the connection.

So, I've decided to write about what has affected me more than anything this week.

My wife has taken a job. Most folks would probably celebrate that. Me? If you are a daily (or even a sometimes) reader you know I'm not most folks.

There. Said it. You might not think that important, but I do. More than the money it brings in, more than the reasons she went back to work is the fact she is gone. I can't call her when I need to (which is all the time). I can't see her whenever I so desire. There is a disconnect. There is a scheduling. There is stress.

I read this a couple days back:

A devoted English couple died just 10 minutes apart after a 65-year romance that started in their teen years.

In their final days, Harry and Mavis Stevenson had been living in St. Werburgh's House Care Home in Derby because she had fallen ill and they could not stand being apart.

The Stevensons' family was not surprised when Mavis passed away on Nov. 3 at 89 but was shocked when her 88-year-old husband — who was in good health — shed a few tears and died by her side just minutes later, according to local media.

“Their love lasted and they were devoted to each other. I can imagine them being together now, after their death, side by side,” the couple’s nephew Stephen Cresswell, 63, 

Harry and Mavis met at the Asterdale social club before Harry joined the Royal Marines in 1943.

He stormed the beach at Normandy on D-Day to help liberate continental Europe from Hitler’s clutches and was shot in the hand while battling the Japanese in the Pacific theater, the local paper said.

But perhaps the most significant pain came from being apart from Mavis, who was waiting for him back in the United Kingdom.

I get that. And I would want that. No matter when, no matter how, that's what I want. Heck, I would like to go a few minutes before my dear Mary. I am struggling to live without her calming voice, without her calming demeanor. 

Whatever lies ahead, it lies better with her. We became a couple 30 years ago this month, two weeks from now, Egg Bowl Saturday (Mississippi State versus Ole Miss). We will spend this anniversary, Egg Bowl Saturday -- perhaps the most important Egg Bowl ever -- cleaning and working on a room upstairs of our church that will host a large fund-raising dinner on Dec. 6.

She is my right hand. I am her left. She is my up; I am her down(er). We are attached like twins of some ilk. The time away from her this week and in the weeks to come has been awful.

But I understand she is loving being with others rather than sitting at home talking with dogs and cats. I just don't like it.

I owe my life to Jesus, and to Mary. I don't forget that on a daily basis.

His love ran red at the cross. She met me and we met him at the cross. I was lost. I was in chains. The world had a hold on me, as Chris Tomlin says. Then I met her. And life literally hasn't been the same. I couldn't run, couldn't change, couldn't fix it till she lifted me up and turned my face toward his.

Love is indescribable. So I merely call it Mary.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

He's got this

Jesus said, "Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?"

Yeah, well ...

Elvis sang, "We're falling apart; we can't let go, because I love you too much, baby."

Today our house in Lacombe becomes officially a burden we can't carry.
Today we begin to try to figure out emergency measures that will have repercussions on the rest of our lives together.
Today we, okay, I, go officially into panic mode and there is nothing I can do about it.
Today I'm applying for basket-case status.

According to a loved one, I spend too much time worrying about me. It's not all about me. Me. Me. Me.

I've written about happiness, about trust, about faith, and it's all an eggshell, it's all a game, it's all about fear and I don't talk about it because I was raised to not talk about it and it builds and it builds and it builds and suddenly I'm watching the Saints lose, and Mississippi State lose and Shonda Rhimes shows and, and, and you know I'm imploding.

And Jesus says don't worry, I got this.

But, but, but

I got this.


how do I function till I get that He's got this is I believe the question not of the day but of a life? How do we get up and go when our get up and go has got up and went?

How do we address work, where money is always an issue, isn't it?
How do we address play, where there is never enough time for it?
How do we address stress, when it seems to grow like kudzu on a Mississippi byway?

These things are important for those who are shy, introverted and moody to begin with.

But it's how we answer those questions that I suspect is where living lies.

I got this, he says. And our options are to accept that or not. Accept that the worry is his, the burden is now his, the yoke is now his, and get on with living or just melt, like chocolate on a hot tin roof (no cats were harmed in the making of this sentence).

So, today I choose Him. Today I choose Jesus. Today I give up my burden, knowing tomorrow I'll probably snatch it back because it is mine do you hear me mine....Till then, I will relax.

He's got this.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The trouble with trust

I get asked all the time, oh, every once in a while, oh, well, I was asked once where I get my ideas. Truth is, ideas? Anyway, I seldom if ever think about these things before I sit down in the morning to let God pour forth onto the page. I know, I know. You can tell I never think about these things. My point, however tenuous, is that these things come from someplace outside of myself.

This morning while slaving over a hot tub of water, I thought back to something someone said to me recently. We were talking about decision making, and I was told, "You are just going to have to trust me."

The seed was planted, mustard though it might have been.

This thing called trust is such a migrant worker, isn't it? Here today, picking and pulling and tugging till the crop is harvested, then gone tomorrow.

Trust is a commodity in scripture that is the opposite, it seems to me, of fear. It is an idea harvested quite often in the Bible.

In Proverbs we read, "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight."

The whole trip the Israelites took through the Red Sea into the desert was built not on manna but on trust. The Lord said to Moses, "I am going to come to you in a dense cloud, so that the people will hear me speaking with you and will always put their trust in you."

In Deuteronomy, God spoke of walls of trust that the enemies of Israel placed before them. "they will lay siege to all the cities throughout your land until the high fortified walls in which you trust fall down."

Heck, the entire book of Job is essentially about what you will trust in.
Job says, "If I have put my trust in gold or said to pure gold, 'You are my security...' then these would also be sins to be judged."
Job says, "Let him not deceive himself by trusting what is worthless, for he will get nothing in return."

The words translated trust in the Bible literally mean a "bold, confident, sure security or action based on that security, It is not the same as faith, which is the gift of God. Rather, trusting is what we do because of the faith we have been given. Trusting is believing in the promises of God in all circumstances, even in those where the evidence all around us seems to speak to the contrary.

Trust is the rewarder of peace. Trust is the main point of about half the Psalms. There are 39 references to trust in the Psalms, referring to trusting in God, trusting in the Word of God, or not trusting in the riches or the things of this world.

I once had a boss who continually spouted the phrase, "Don't put your trust in people, places, or things for they will let you down all the time."

So, coming full circle, trusting that someone else is more capable than myself is something that is difficult for me because that would mean I have indeed trusted in people. My experience says that all persons are capable of failure as well as success.

We trust our experience, we trust our parents, we trust our gadgets, we trust our technology, we trust what we've been told, we trust our friends, we trust our job, we trust our savings, we trust our knowledge and we certainly trust our wisdom.

Trust is what causes a thousand to drink the Kool Aid. Trust is what gets us elected officials who are in the long run not qualified for the task. Trust is what makes us think we can negotiate curves at high speed. Trust is believing in oneself for no reason whatsoever.

Trust is the most important tool in the faith dictionary

Therefore, what I try to do is trust only in the Lord. The problems come when I don't have a word from the Lord about something and I act out anyway. Truth is, that's what I do more often than not. When that happens, I usually say, "Don't worry. Trust me."

The woe (whoa) is I actually mean that.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The problem with happiness

Pharrell Williams, what have you wrought?

I remember this past summer in a variety of ways, but the most impressive of them is that moment when we closed each day of vacation Bible school by playing a video of a bunch of minions dancing and singing Williams' spirited version of the Happy son. (We can discuss what minions are at a later date.)

The little yellow dumkins sang,

"It might seem crazy what I'm about to say
Sunshine she's here, you can take a break
I'm a hot air balloon that you could go to space
With the air, like I don't care baby by the way

Because i'm happy
Clap along if you feel like a room without a roof
Because I'm happy
Clap along if you feel like happiness is the truth
Because I'm happy
Clap along if you know what happiness is to you
Because i'm happy
Clap along if you feel like that's what you wanna do

And a hundred little munchkins (the cousin of said minions) would be dancing all about the sanctuary in Eunice, La., as if care had packed a bag and moved on.

By the way, that (hook) is written right there for all to see. But hooking if actually what is going on with happiness in your life this very moment. Something or someone is telling you that the hook is out there even as the line is throw into the water to entice us to be, well, happy.

The telling line there, for me in this song, is Clap along if you feel like happiness is the truth, for to believe that is to be harmed, I think. Clap along if you feel like happiness is the truth. Again, happiness is the truth.


Jesus comes to each of the disciples in time and says words that could help. He says, "Follow me." But then he says words that weigh heavily. Or they should. He says to each of us, "Count the cost."

He explained himself this way to the disciples (and anyone who was listening): If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters -- yes, even their own life -- such a person cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. ... Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won't he first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples."

You do this, this counting, measuring, figuring, before becoming his disciples. Or you should. You look at what you have and what you will or must give up and you decide what you will give. Or you go ahead and make the costly error, deciding that this discipleship is way, way too costly. And you give up the trip in mid-stream.

Put it this way: If giving up your personal happiness is key to making a project go, a very important project to the kingdom of God go, a project that could mean life and death of all who you come in contact with, would you or would you not give it up? Would you or would you not ditch your own happiness for the happiness (the unspeakable joy) of others?

You might ask, well, would God put us in a position that we must choose between personal happiness and the happiness, the very salvation of many others? Come on, that's God we're talking about. Why would he do that?

The answer, the very answer we would be staking our whole being, our whole happiness, the happiness of our families and their families on is yes, or it must be yes. it seems to me. A thousand times yes. In other words, would we rather be happy even if our being happy means hundreds would miss out on Jesus? A thousand times no would be the answer, even if (maybe especially if) it means the loss of happiness.

Our own happiness does not, can not, mean more to us that the happiness of others. Simply can't.

When you say it like that, it's no wonder we choose unhappiness. But I certainly know how hard that choice is, and I certainly understand why others go the opposite way.

It's like, "If I am unhappy, then what's this journey all about? Isn't my happiness worth fighting for?"

When you have hundreds if not thousands of preachers telling us daily that God wouldn't give us that option, that God would do everything in his power, which is beyond measure or understanding, to make us happy, it is no wonder at all that literally millions crumble under the stress and strain. I'm unhappy, therefore this can't be of God, we tell ourselves.

Then we buckle because isn't God's making us happy his number one goal? Isn't that what we've been told? Isn't that why many are making millions of bucks and amazingly enough selling bunches of arena tickets because we all want to be happy? Isn't that the point of Christianity, this being made whole by being made happy? Isn't it?

I would actually love to write that answer is yes, yes, and yes. But I know that isn't the point, so to write that would not only be blasphemous, it would be a lie and I would be sinning myself by putting happiness above my own goals, which must be to offer Jesus, the real Jesus the Jesus of the Bible to others. In fact, when happiness becomes our goal rather than salvation, when happiness comes before holiness, when happiness gets ripped from the sinful category and instead is used as an idol that we must worship in bowed admiration, all hell breaks loose.

It is the H-word that cripples, I'm afraid. It is the worst kind of idolatry -- worshipping at the feet of the false prophet of happiness, and it really does cripple us because it makes us do whatever we can, all that we can, It is the sin that sings a lovely tune, dances an enthusiastic dance, and it makes itself so wanted that we would actually exchange darn near everything including Jesus himself for this soulless, dark, cold demon. Doesn't it stand to reason for us to say we merely want to be happy, and that we would do most anything to be happy. It rips from my heart on a daily basis this desire to smile, laugh, dance a happy jig like I was one of God's many minions. But I'm mostly not happy, and I'm certainly not dancing.

What do I have against happiness, you might ask? Look, if happiness is defined as something like, "enjoying life, having peace, being content," then my answer would be in essence, nothing. I'm, to quote a fellow Louisianan, "happy, happy, happy."

But that's not of God. God doesn't desire happiness for us so much as he desires joy.

Most people genuinely desire true happiness in their lives. The problem is that few seem to find that, and when that occurs, we flop around like a fish out of water. What happens next is genuinely the problem. If one will do most anything in searching for that happiness, one has exchanged that desire for the honest and much more meaningful search for that which is important. One must never put oneself in that sort of position.

In just a moment or two, here's the answer to the problem that affects the human condition. True happiness is the thing that gives peace and joy to us even when life is throwing all sorts of curve balls to us. True happiness is that which we can find no matter the circumstances. Anyone can find a moment of happiness. No everyone can find happiness even when the diagnosis is a bad one, or the bank statement shows what we had feared most, or when we find the problem is bigger than our capacity to solve the problem.

In those moments, only Jesus.

Paul says he had found the ability to be at peace even when things were going poorly. That's Jesus. Paul says he could be content when he had plenty and content when he had nothing. That's Jesus.

And ultimately that is happiness, this ability to smile (even laugh) at ourselves when the going had gotten rough. When the going gets rough, the poor in spirit don't get going, don't double down on the search for happiness. The tough at that point simply turn inward to find that which seems lost. Only Jesus. That's true, lasting, meaningful happiness.

That's what I seek, daily. Just Jesus. And a laugh or two.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Francis does it again

In the never ending (it seems) book on how to be a great pope (which I've never seen too many chapters of, by the way), Francis has contributed again. This time he has announced plans to build showers for the homeless.

And he's building them under the white colonnade of St. Peter's Square. Three showers are to be built into the refurbished public restrooms that are provided for pilgrims along the marble columns leading into the basilica. Catholics have had some time to ponder this, since the basilica was finished in 1626.

I don't want to go on an on about Pope Francis, but goodness this man, this leader, has called his shots, thus far. The first Jesuit to become Pope, Francis is in the process of showing us all what it means to be a religious leader.

His reputation has begun to proceed him. He has a penchant for austerity and humility unlike any other pope. Heck, his love of austerity is unlike most other people. So much so that when he is welcomed later this month by Turkey president Tayyip Erdogan, already Turkish architects have written to him asking him not to stay at the new 1,000-room palace in Ankara. And they have a reasonable expectation that the pope might try to stay elsewhere rather than the opulent palace.

Who else could we ever say that about?

Look, these people travel in different circles than most of us will ever do. Still, who but Francis has ever done things the way he has done them? The list is incredibly short if not singular.

Why is this important?

Because Christ said it was. His testimony was one of a person who cared for the poor, who told us to care for the poor, and who built a ministry designed to feed, clothe and house the poor. Francis is doing all that, and more. The incredible beauty of St. Peter's Square is suddenly being matched or exceeded by the beauty of the gestures of the one in charge. No one dreamed that would be possible. It not only is possible, it is happening. Incredibly, without the religion news service, one might not even know it was happening, at all.

That's as beautiful as the gesture itself.

Friday, November 14, 2014

The middle of the end of the beginning

Here's the morning of all mornings. John writes, "I looked again. I saw a huge crowd, too huge to count. Everyone was there -- all nations and tribes, all races and languages: "All who were standing around the Throne --Angels, Elders, Animals -- fell on their faces before the Throne and the Lamb and heartily singing:  "Salvation to our God on his Throne! Salvation to the Lamb!"

It's a P-A-R-T-Y.

"Oh, Yes! The blessing and Glory and wisdom and thanksgiving. The honor and power and strength, To our God forever and ever and ever! Oh, Yes."

It's a P-A-R-T-Y.

On high. In paradise. They're having a party. In white robes. And the beauty of this whole thing is that the angels (on high and all) are having a party because we're having a party. That is simply beautiful in all the ways that things can be beautiful.

To our God forever and ever and ever, they sing, they play, they act.

Then one of the Elders says to the one watching all things, "Who are these dressed in white robes, and where did they come from?

John the Revelator says with all truth and conviction, "Uh, you got me." (Or words to that effect). And the party goes on.

Words come rushing out like water, and smiles come flowing out like sparks from a fire, and the Lamb on the Throne sets down to have a meal like a bunch of hungry fellows and the spring waters of life flows out to the one who is soaking all this in.

And a great, great morning is had by all because it's a P-A-R-T-Y.

Ironically, all this is sitting right there in Revelation. The seventh seal is about to be ripped open, ripped off, yet there is joy, joy, joy. And the lesson is a vital one. The blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving are all right there in the middle of the screaming and even the middle of end times isn't a place to stop all things from happening.

Praise Be To God.

Thursday, November 13, 2014


Today. It seems to me that all we really have in this life is this one thing, today. Today I will. Today I can. Today.

I can't fix yesterday's decisions yesterday. I can't possibly know what the future holds.

But this day, I can affect my life. This day, today, I can do the next right thing. This day, today,

None of us are promised a single second longer. None of us can be sure that the next breath isn't the last breath. But what we do know, what we do have is what we have, today. Today I will pray for strength, for help for the poor and disenfranchises. I will pray for those who do not know Jesus, and I will pray that somehow the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart will be sufficient to help someone be introduced to the one who gives us, today.

Today I will seek out the lost and the least and I will pray with them, as well as for them.

Today I will seek to find the answers to the questions that God gives me to ask, not those foolish ones that keep popping into my head about the most frivolous of things. Today.

Just today.

I will not worry about tomorrow or yesterday. I will simply concentrate on what can be accomplished today.

Joshua once said so wonderfully, "As for me and my house, we choose the Lord." Today. This very rainy, cold, windy, dark day I will choose the Lord for He has been good to me.

This day.

If these were to be the last words I ever type, this day will be more than sufficient. This day I will love. This day I will try. This day I will seek and I know this day I will find. Today. Just 24 hours. I don't have to be all I can be tomorrow. I don't have to be more than I was. I just have to be, today.

I can't pay those bills that stacked up yesterday. I can't even pay those things I owe tomorrow. But this day I am fine. I am dandy. I am okay.

This day.

Won't you go all in with me today? Won't you give the Lord all you can, all you are, all you ever dreamed and prayed of being today? Just today.

Jerry Spinelli writes, "live today. Not yesterday. Not tomorrow. Just today. Inhabit your moments. Don't rent them out to tomorrow. ... You're cheating yourself out of today. Today is calling to you, trying to get your attention, but you're stuck on tomorrow, and today trickles away like water down a drain. You wake up the next morning and that today you wasted is gone forever. It's now yesterday. Some of those moments may have had wonderful things in store for you, but now you'll never know."

I won't keep you any longer today, because you have great things to do. TODAY.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Five years of blogs

It began so innocently. I was 17, a senior in high school who was producing his own sports “newspaper.” I was asked to write roundups for the Meridian Star for the Sunday editions about the Sam Dale Conference. 
I did, and like an alcoholic taking his first drink, I was smitten. The words were shots of adrenalin. I remember writing a short story that Fall that used this sentence: He used metaphors like others used a revolver, similes like others used a knife.
Luckily, I wrote that only once. Though over the top, clearly I was in love with the written word like others were ogling cheerleaders. To write one sentence per piece that was clearly mine, something no one had written before was enough of an incentive to keep me going. Still is.
The following spring, I was asked to cover a baseball game. I came into the newspaper, sat down at the typewriter (yes, you read right) and typed for what seemed to be an hour. I wrote five inches. When I was done, they told me to take a message back to someone I didn’t know in the printing room they called the back-shop. I ran. In those days the method of operation still used “hot” type, or metal engraving. I ran into a man carrying a page of those things that would have been transformed by the press into a page in the newspaper.
Such screaming, I heard.
I nearly didn’t make it to another day in the business.
Though some have wished that had been true, here I am, 44 years later, still writing. Five years ago this weekend, I retired from that business, and began writing for pleasure. Like holding grains of salt on a windy day, this is hard, hard to do.
It’s hard, as so many of my friends told me then, to say goodbye to what you had known and, quite frankly, loved for so long, to say goodbye to friends, co-workers, readers. But I did.
Granted, I was been so lucky for these many years. I covered Super Bowls, sat next to Muhammad Ali once, talked with Bear Bryant one on one. In management, I led some of the best sports staffs a manager could have and for 12 straight years they won national awards at three different newspapers.
I was privileged to see some of the best in sports and I was horrified to see some of the worst.
I worked inside, outside, done design and done agate. If it could be done either in sports or news, I took a shot at it. I worked at startup of USA Today, and I wrote some of my best stuff for a couple thousand readers of a local news section.
I looked into the eyes of some of the greatest of this generation and help tell their stories, and I there were times I wrote about junior high athletes who none of us ever heard of again.
         Here’s what I learned.
This was a job. No matter how important I might have thought it to be or how much I loved it or even how much it paid (which was soon a distant somewhat pleasant memory), it was a job. I’m just the next guy, to paraphrase a friend.
It was not life. Mine or anyone else’s. The greatest thing I did in the past few years is demote myself twice for a much greater calling.
But what I did was a job, not glamorous, not something that brought fame. A job.
My life?
Much, much more. I’ve found life in the last 14 years of a 35-year career, found meaning, found direction, found love, actually as full of cliché that might be.
I’ found that helping others wasn’t a chore but a privilege. I found that caring wasn’t an albatross but a dove. I found that loving even those who were hard cases and thought the press was something to be hated wasn’t all that difficult, amazingly, because I found the ultimate love one could find.
And so I went into full-time ministry, full-time into life. The story telling continued in a different venue.
To coin as many clichés as I can, at the end of the day all this will go away. We will be left with paperless newspapers, and we will have tweets and blogs and Facebooks and you name it all. Perhaps as someone once wrote we’ve not even glimpsed the glory to come.
Perhaps the newspaper will silently, like me, slip into that good night. But we will know we were here. The evidence remains. A column here and there stood out, they told me. A story here and there hit the right note, and tears were shed or someone laughed out loud or a couple words resonated and stuck in someone’s mind.
I’ve spilled no hot type engravings lately, just slit a few veins and let the words spill out as Red Smith once said of writing.
God has been good in the five years we’ve spent fully engaged with each other.
It's been a very quick five years of these things. Seems like I wrote the first one just a few minutes ago. I've written about the loss of pets, about the gaining of friends. I've been through and amazing six churches in that time (two at one time, three at another, and the one I'm at now). I've lived in four houses. We've been to Israel, and to Eunice, La. 
And through it all, I've had some loyal readers and a very loving and patient wife.
A final story this morning: I once wrote to novelist Stephen King when I fashioned myself to be a novelist. To my ultimate surprise, he wrote back. His advice: “Writers write. There is no substitution for that. Writers must write. That’s who they are, not what they do.” Maybe it was a form letter, but I’ve never forgotten that. 
After Russian leader Leon Trotsky was mortally wounded by a man who hated him, he supposedly said, “Do not kill this man. He has a story to tell.”
That’s what I have tried to be, I reason, a story teller above all else. With words. With photos. With design. With creative thought. I’ve tried to tell our stories. Or at least the greatest story ever told.
I thank you. I've told myself I would go to 50,000 hits on this site and then stop. That's less than 5,000 to go. We'll see.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Reviving the spirit of the lowly

Here's the good news of the day, friends. The prophet wrote this: "The one who is high and lifted up, who lives forever, whose name is holy, says: I live on high, in holiness, and also with the crushed and the lowly, reviving the spirit of the lowly, reviving the heart of those who have been crushed."

Take a sweet moment to examine that. God lives on high, lifted up, in holiness. That's acceptable to any who are not atheist, I imagine. Anyone who believes in a creator believes, I imagine, in one who is on high. Separate. Different. Other. That's the definition, isn't it?

But here's where the good news comes roaring in like water from a broken dam. Our God is three in nature. Our God came to live with the lowly, reviving the spirit of that same lowly folk, reviving my dead old crushed heart. He came to live with us, love on us, give us a sense of worth that would not exist without him.

Look, the Old Testament is a story of frustrated hope. We start by living with God in the garden, and we blow that fairly quickly, being who we are. But God refuses to give up on us, and he promises a deliverer would come to rescue all those of us who have been crushed.

The age-old story is one of redemption, of hope, of love that runs red at the cross, because the frustrated hope, the promise given, is fulfilled in a man named Jesus.

This morning, as the clouds drift in and the day becomes long, let us remember that things never get out of reach to God. The problems we find ourselves with, the bills that collect around us like so many dead trees, the physical issues we discover as we grow older, all are whisked away with his love. God tells Isaiah, "I have seen their ways, but I will heal them. I will guide them, and reward them with comfort. And for those who mourn, I will create reason for praise: utter prosperity to those far and near, and I will heal them..."

I can't speak for everyone, wouldn't if I could, but that seems to me to be a pretty good deal. He (HE NOT US) will create reason for praise.

I don't need prosperity as much as I need to know I'm loved. I see that in scripture far, far more than I find answers to questions I run headlong into constantly. While we fuss and fight about the big ticket items like homosexuality and abortion and this and that (not minimizing them), the bigger thing is we are loved by the one who created us even while we're busy disappointing him. That's just the way it is.

He has seen our ways and he will heal us anyway.

That's love.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Splinters in our out-stretched hands

Tell me what church, what denomination, this story is talking about.

Conservatives have long viewed the reigning power structures with suspicion thanks to moderates or progressives turning the focus away from the culture war toward a more welcoming approach and a greater emphasis on serving the poor.

Just last month's high-level discussion on the modern family, moving toward an inclusive view and even into concrete policies on gays and divorced and those remarried. Some are even calling for a schism, a split of the denomination. Conservatives are now openly talking splintering away from the denomination.

Hey, it ain't the Methodists, this time.

It's -- believe it or not -- Catholicism which might soon be called Schismism if this continues.

What all this means, of course, is that no one knows exactly what to do with the culture wars. Pope Francis has aimed the church at inclusiveness. Some would say that is the tipping point.

But it isn't the first time schism or splintering has been discussed. The irony is most Catholic churches over the y ears who have split from the "Catholic" (which means universal with a little c), church keep normal Catholic characteristics, which means they keep bishops, priests and the sacraments and believe their leaders are in apostolic succession. And it is not just gay rights that have split the church over the years. Some want(ed) women priest, some cling to the Latin Mass, some churches split over African-American rights and on and on.

Who am I to comment, though? I belong to a denomination that has been united only since 1968.

My point is this. We have reached a stage in the life of the Church (big C) that says if you don't like what I say in church, wait a while till there is a splinter then pick and choose like some sort of spiritual buffet.

Plain out wrong.
Simply wrong.
Wrong without question.

We can't keep this up, till there is no church to go to. In America, 3,500 to 4,000 churches close their doors each year. Churches are losing an estimated 2,765,000 each year. The ministry loses 1,500

pastors a year. Only 15 percent of churches in America are growing, and only 2.2 percent of those are growing with new converts.

I'm at a new church plant that began with 47 persons on the first Sunday and we've back the plane into the mountain with a low of 31 yesterday. Just saying.

Now at some point I need to give an answer to the dilemma. Yet, I can't. I'd love to, but I can't at this point. What I do know is that breaking away from the existing church because we don't all agree on all things spiritual simply isn't that answer. It will not attract new persons who need to know Jesus is the answer for the rather fragile human condition. It will simply say to this persons, "We are exactly like you. We fight. We fuss. We fail." So where is Jesus in that?

What we need is an answer. Jesus is the only way, the only truth, the only life. But what that means to the church is what we must answer. Rather soon.

Friday, November 7, 2014

And the numbers are in

The figures are in, and they say, er, something.

Here's looking at them, kids, from RNN:

In 2010, Protestants voted Republican 59 percent to 38 percent, this time it was 60-38. (White Protestants went from 69-28 to 71-27.) As for Catholics, it was 54-44 Republican in 2010, 53-45 this year, with white Catholics staying at exactly 59-39. For the Nones, it was 68-30 Democratic in 2010 and 69-29 this year. The only significant difference from 2012 came among Catholics, who that year voted narrowly Democratic, 50-48. At 57-42, Protestants were only marginally less Republican.
The one group that appears to have shifted significantly compared to the last midterm were members of “other religions” — Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, etc. In 2010, three out of four voted Democratic, while this time around it was two out of three. And given that their proportion of the vote increased from 8 percent to 11 percent, that was not a trivial number of votes.
You’re wrong, however, if you think that this shift came from Jewish voters disillusioned with the Democratic Party. Jews voted Democratic by 65-33 yesterday, as compared to 66-31 in 2010. Its the other Others who shifted.
Other than that modest increase in the Others, nothing much changed in terms of the religious proportions of the electorate compared to 2010. Protestants dipped a bit, from 55 percent to 52 percent. Despite reports of their decline, white evangelicals increased one point, from 25 percent to 26 percent. Catholics increased their share by a point as well, to 24. And the Nones, despite evidence of their rise, continue to punch below their demographic weight, remaining at 12 percent. (The latest numbers show them at 20 percent of the adult American population.)
Finally, what about the key factor of worship attendance? Those who said they attended once a week or more voted 58-40 Republican in 2010, 59-39 Republican in 2012, and 58-41 this year. For the non-weekly attenders, the comparison is harder to make, because the 2010 exit polls did not separate occasional attenders from those who said they never darkened a worship space.
I present this without particular comment, for I'm not actually sure what it means, if anything. It appears that Republicans are much more likely to come from worship attending Evangelicals, but to simply say that would be a presumption that no one should make. One can certainly be an Evangelical who votes for Democrats.

I would simply say that each candidate should, in the future, do something historically significant. I would love if each candidate would begin to actually talk about how they are going to do all those darn things they say they will and leave the negative mess behind. Forget what is the base and expected camps and begin to reach out to those who are not in their back pocket when the race begins.

In other words, candidates must begin to do what the church must begin to do, which is to reach out to persons who are not necessarily like those persons already going to church. The nones out there are the ones we must all reach and without changing the way we do things, this is simply not going to happen. That leaves persons out. That leaves voters out. That leaves potential church-goers out.

And no one wins when we do that. 

Thursday, November 6, 2014

The one you shouldn't miss

Prosperity gospel advocates should remember that the Bible says something j u s t a bit outside that norm.

The writer of Ecclesiastes looked around one day and committed to whatever passed for paper in his day these words: "When times are good, enjoy the good; when times are bad, consider: God has made the former as well as the latter so that people can't discover anything that will come to be after them. ... I have seen everything in my pointless lifetime; the righteous person may die in spite of their righteousness; then again, the wicked may live long in spite of their wickedness."

Hear that. Read that. Absorb that. Live that.

Times are good; sometimes times are bad. God made (or allowed) both. Things just flat out happen that are sucky, and that happens to the righteous or the unrighteous.

To paraphrase certain ceremonial words ...

In sickness (and in health) ... I will treasure my relationship with my creator. Get it? For once, do you get it?

It's not about praying for health and receiving it because it's a straight-out deal. You ask; he delivers like He was your own personal UPS guy.

What it is about is being loved by God EVEN if things go badly. If the job goes belly up. If every stinking day is an exercise in frustration and difficulty and even if things are going so badly you think of giving up, going another way, picking the easy way out (whatever that means to you). When that happens, absolutely know this God is there. He is not there at our beck and call, He does not wait at the answer desk for our questions, our prayers, our making Him subservient. That isn't God, or at least the God of scripture. But to miss the recognition that God's tears come when the world we helped create treats us badly is to miss what life actually is.

Good happens. Bad happens. God is there. Smiling at our good choices. Shaking a mighty head when we stumble again.

Job screams into an angry wind: Perish the day I was born, the night someone said, "A boy has been conceived. That day -- let it be darkness; may God above ignore it and light not shine on it."

David lets out a dangerous wave of frustration: "Don't be far from me, God! My God, hurry to help me! Let my accusers be put to shame, completely finished off. Let those who seek my downfall be dressed in insults and disgrace."

In other words, do what the heck I tell you, God. NOW!!!

And David, Job, Solomon, my neighbors, my children, my wife, my (uh) me all learn that's not how He operates.

For example, I acknowledge that I expect more from Him in this endeavor called church planting. I expect the potholes to be filled. I expect the path to be cleared of stones the size of an asteroid, and when the frustrations still, still exist, I wonder if this is the right thing to be doing in the first place. And more than ever the cancer of negativity, the disease called quitting begins to form.

Ever been there? I suspect you have.

But through the whole darn thing, understand that God is sovereign. That's a fact, Mack. How we understand that is important not to whether it is true but rather how we are to live.

Live as if our faith is so small nothing good ever happens and I'm fairly certain that's what we are going to get because nothing will ever be good enough to be good.

But live as if the creator of the universe created US and see if that don't perk up a Monday morning, see if that isn't the spiritual caffeine we need to jump start the next leap of faith we need to take. Paul tells us that God turns all things to good for those who love him. He never says there will never been bad, just that God in his sovereignty can take even the worst of worst and make it good for his overall plan. I not only believe that, I stake my ability to survive the mess I make or is made around me on that very thing.

I get down. He lifts me up.
I get down. He lifts me up.
I get down. He lifts me up.

I get bad. He lifts me up.
I get worse. He lifts me up.
I get dead. HE LIFTS ME UP (with HIM).

A woman named Sara wrote this: Isaiah 41:10 is the verse I repeat over and over again *(Don't fear, because I am with you; don't be afraid, for I am your God. I will strengthen you. I will surely help you; I will hold you with my righteous hand) to remind myself that God is bigger than my giant. That God is so faithful and full of love for me. I am not perfect, made a few bad turns, but God never fails to get me through it. By giving me strength to keep pushing, the courage to keep my head up and humbling myself to realize where I went wrong. Thank you, Lord, you never cease to amaze me with your unconditional love. Even though I feel the world's weight on my shoulders, sleepless nights, tears of sadness, but keeping the faith that God hears me."

For the introvert, the depressive, the moody, this should this very day become our mantra. Let's march up that last, long, tall hill together. Say it with me, friends:

We get down. He lifts us up.
We get down. He lifts us up.
We get down. He lifts us up.

We get bad. He lifts us up.
We get worse. He lifts us up.
We get dead. HE LIFTS US UP (with HIM).

If we are expecting an easy time of it all, remember, our Savior was murdered, butchered, beaten. Suffering is, or should be, in our Christian DNA.

That's the gospel of Jesus Christ. That's life, too. And it has the happiest of endings, no matter the journey.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Still amazed after all these years

"But Jesus rebuked the evil spirit, healed the boy and gave him back to his father. And they were all amazed at the greatness of God."

When was the last time you just flat out were amazed at the greatness of God? Seriously. Joyfully. Amazed.

He is an amazing God.
We stand in amazement.

But when are we amazed as if for the first time we were touched by the lingering fingertips of the Divine?

We, in my most humble opinion, need to be surprised, shocked, amazed, thrilled by our meetings with Jesus. We need, in my most humble opinion, to still be in the miracle business.

A morning rise of the sun.
An evening cast in brilliant pinks and purples as if God has decided to reach out and do some painting that evening.

God speaks to Job: "Look at the behemoth, which I made along with you and which feeds on grass like an ox. What strength he has in his loins what power in the muscles of his belly! He ranks among the works of God, yet his Maker can approach him with this sword. ... Can you pull in the leviathan with a fishhook or tie down his tongue with a rope? ... Can you make a pet of him like a bird or put him on a leash for your girls? ..."

I would add, look at the human body. Look at the way it functions, the way it was put together, the way it was designed (yes, that's intentional), and we are still very much in the miracle business.

It's not God's work that has changed or diminished; it is our ability to acknowledge the miracle that is out there.

The Psalmist put it this way:

Give thanks to the Lord of lords:
His love endures forever.
to him who alone does great wonders
His love endures forever.
who by his understanding made the heavens,
His love endures forever.
who spread out the earth upon the waters
His love endures forever.
who made the great lights --
His love endures forever.
the sun to govern the day,
His love endures forever.
the moon and stars to govern the night;
His love endures forever.

And therein lies the greatest miracle of all. He loves us, despite us.