Tuesday, March 31, 2015

#HolyWeek includes Saturday

It is Tuesday of #HolyWeek and I'm feeling fairly hoppy (get that rabbit reference/joke?).

After a fourth visit to the vet yesterday that included an X-Ray and double steroids (she's now been eliminated from consideration for the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame), she's rather frisky for a 15-year-old.

I still don't have an idea where I will be living or doing ministry come July, or even if I will be (no guarantee), but that's all in the future.

What is in the now is the idea that God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten son.

Can't get that little phrase out of my head this morning. He loved. He gave. His Son.

What a concept. It would be like I wanted to fix the local book store's business by sending my child to  be shot to death outside of it so it would get notoriety and publicity and people would start buying books again. Nah. Didn't think that would work either.

But for God, it did. For us, it did. He loved. He gave. His Son.

What a concept. It would be like the most wonderfully tragic idea of your life, completed, finished, done. It would be as if we gave away the thing most important, most loved in our life. Willingly. Lovingly. Painfully.

See, #HolyWeek works for us because we see Sunday coming. But I wonder if we forget Monday through Saturday, especially Saturday.

I was reading a story on the Religion News wire this morning, a Q&A with writer/professor at George Fox Evangelical Seminary, A.J. Swoboda, who said this of the end of the week experience:

"Holy Saturday -- that awkward day of questions, doubt, and uncertainty -- has been photoshopped out of some Christian calendars. But so much of faith is holy uncertainty. My favorite preachers refuse to iron everything out. When given the chance, they leave the wrinkles, a few kinks, a bump her or there in the road so that I would have to iron out, flatten out, and drive over the road of truth myself. The Japanese theologian Koyume once wrote that Americans love the cross as long as it's conveniently given to us in the size of a lunch pale and is equipped with an easy-grip handle. I guess I don't like easy-grip, convenient preaching nor am I inclined toward easy-grip, convenient love toward God. Holy Saturday gives me a context for the difficulty of faith."

#HolyWeek is not for the faint-hearted. It is not for the Dovekeepers of this world. It is not for the easy-bakes.

It is for those who would take the body down from the cross and place it in a smelly grave. It is for those who would go through the pain not around it. It is for those who God so loved.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Not perfect, but unbeaten

From the NLT: The Lord is my shepherd; I have all that I need. He lets me rest in green meadows; he leads me beside peaceful streams. He renews my strength.

Spiraling downward?
Weak? Tired? Pained?

He lets you rest in green meadows; he leads you beside peaceful streams. He renews your strength.


He lets you rest in green meadows; he leads you beside peaceful streams. He renews your strength.

Taking from a site called Rapture Ready (don't know why), I read this: "There are many reasons why people fall into a pattern of self-destruction. We have no cut-and-dry reason one person stumbles and another avoids addiction. One individual may be born with a weakness for alcohol while another may have a natural dislike for intoxicants. Somewhere at the core of all addictive behavior is the way people deal with temptation. We can educate people, but knowledge doesn't mean that people will automatically make the right choices. In most cases, the destructive process is hidden from the person undergoing the transformation. No one typically says, 'I think I'll slowly waste away my life.' A more likely statement people end up making is, 'How on earth did I get into this mess?' "

Sometimes, it seems to me, the downward spiral comes because of the false nature of the mountaintop. I sure wish the mountain existed as a goal that could be not only achieved but sustained, but it's just not the way I've found life.

But when the spiral begins and the falling nature seems at hand, I believe we have a shepherd. The shepherd's job is to lead us to the green meadow, beside the peaceful stream and to allow us in the deepest, darkest part of our lives to have our strength renewed.

In August I will reach 20 years of sobriety, 17 years of ministry, and next month we will celebrate 30 years of marriage. All these landmarks are just memories. I recognize the sure fact that without the shepherd, I would have fallen to the pot holes of life.

Why does one stumble each week, every other day, every day and one stops and never (so far) does the destructive behavior again?

I have no idea.

I just know the shepherd, and He knows why. I believe that.

Over the weekend, I heard a basketball team, the University of Kentucky (38-0) described this way: We're not perfect, but we're undefeated."

I think that should probably be every Christian's mantra. This notion that someone won't serve someone else because they harm one's beliefs is so misguided. You see, if Christian business owners were to stop serving sinners, they would go out of business, for we have all fallen short, wrote the only guy that talked about homosexuality in the New Testament.

We're not perfect, but one day we will look back and see that we are overcomers. That needs to be enough to stop the downward spiral.

Lord, as we begin Holy Week, you honor me by anointing my head with oil. "My cup overflows with blessings. Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will live in the house of the Lord... forever."

Friday, March 27, 2015

It is enough

I started to comment on the idea that if I disagree with someone on ant subject today, I am automatically a hater, but I will leave that alone.

The day is to beautiful.

instead I will look again to the Psalms.

The Psalmist writes, "I will proclaim your name to my brothers and sisters. I will praise you among your assembled people. Praise the Lord all you who fear him."

Today is one of the most beautiful days I've had the privilege of living. Temps, perfect. Sun, a delightful encourager. Friday? 'nuff said.

As I await another of the many, many decisions to come down from the mountaintop, I'm reminded of Aaron and the funky bunch who waited for Moses to come down. Thunder and lightning were popping around the mountaintop, the people had received manna from heaven, water from a rock and yet they grumbled because Moses was taking too long up the mountain.

So, Aaron took their gold and melted it into a cow and they worshipped it.

And immediately applied for dumbest folk of all time.

God tells us to be still and know him. God tells us to wait for him. God says tell others what He has done.

And when time gets loose and runs around like chaos is a necessity, we fall apart.

Lord, heal us today of impatience. Love us into peace that we cannot explain. Gently let us become, simply let us be. Let your manna be enought.

And let us praise you for life itself

It is enought.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Without a sound

What beauty language can carry...

From Psalm 19: The heavens proclaim the glory of God. The skies display his craftsmanship. Day after day they continue to speak; night after night they make him known. They speak without a sound or word; their voice is never heard. God has made a home in the heavens for the sun. It bursts forth like a radiant bridegroom after his wedding. It rejoices like a great athlete eager to run the race.

Nothing I can add.
Nothing I can write can compare.

He adds: The instructions of the Lord are perfect, reviving the soul.

This morning it is drippy dreary, dark as a panther stalking prey at night.

Somewhere in this community there is someone hurting, someone hungry, someone depressed, someone on hospice care, someone with an ego the size of Jamaica, someone lonely, someone in need of a friend.

Somewhere in this world there is someone out there needing me, someone needing you, someone who needs us. Can you feel them calling you? I can.

They need to know the heavens proclaim the glory of God.

We can do this in a couple of ways. We can show it through the way we live, for we can speak without a sound or word. What an image. What a thought.

See, the problem with the Duck Commander is not necessarily his heart (as I can't judge that), but his words that are so vile at times. Perhaps his intentions are pure. The consequences are he runs away those who might need to hear him the best, and he doesn't appear to care about that.

The Psalm closes with the words you might have heard as a prayer before the preacher starts babbling: May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing to you.

Let that be our prayer this morning. That as the rain stops and the tornadoes (in the Midwest) blow away, we will return to our admiration moments with the heavens.  After all, they speak without a sound or word; their voice is never heard.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Tight squeeze

It has been a long, long week, part of a long, long year. Things have weighed me down. But it's time to rise up. There are 10,000 reasons or so to be strengthened this day.

All the while I'm pondering important things like, just how do they get the toothpaste into that tube when it won't come out for me at all?

It's a glorious day in the neighborhood. The flowers have bloomed into a coat of many colors. The temps are just this side of perfect. We are so blessed. Worship your holy name, O Lord of us all.

The Psalmist knew this kind of a day. He wrote, "I love you, Lord; you are my strength. The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my savior; my God is my rock, in whom I find protection. He is my shield, the power that saves me, and my place of safety. I called on the Lord, who is worthy of praise, and he saved me..."

Grace has called our names this morning, friends. We might just be toothpaste in a tube, crowded into cracks in humanity, covered by difficulty and pain, but we have been called by the creator of the universe to be His children. Can it get better? Nah. I didn't think so.

With one touch, he set us free. He saw our needs and He met them. He loved up on us when we were unlovable. Just filthy stains. Just bloody rags. And He loved us.

David wrote, "The ropes of death entangled me; floods of destruction swept over me. The grave wrapped its ropes around me; death laid a trap in my path. But in my distress I cried out to the Lord. ... He heard me from his sanctuary; my cry to him reaches his ears."

See, when pondering the impossible (toothpaste, ketchup, etc., in a tube), think on this: God, who created billions of stars for us to look up and admire, Abba who created rainbows and Zebras, Father who made through his Son all those flowers we mentioned above, created you as His masterpiece.

Don't take my word for it, or anything else for that matter. The Apostle Paul said it in his letter to the people he loved in a little town called Ephesus. He wrote, "For we are God's masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us along ago."

His masterpieces. That's us. That's who we are. More twinkling than the finest star. More loving than the smartest pooch. More adaptable than the shiniest chameleon. More more than the greatest waterfall, the greatest canyon, the greatest monument to ego and pride. We are the masterpieces of creation.

We are the universe's toothpaste in a tube, folks. Created in some incredible way to be different than we are, better than we ever thought we could be. Nothing can come against us. Nothing.

Paul in his letter to Rome wrote, "If God is for us, then who can be against us?" He adds later in the same letter, "... in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us." In still another letter he says, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me."

God is there to (clap) pump us up. Ten thousand reasons for my heart to find. Ten thousand reasons to cheer, to pray, to honor, to cherish, to bless.

When the end draws near and my time has come, I pray that my soul will continue to praise His holy name.

And when this is all said and done, we get better bodies. The masterpieces that have grown old, tired, beat up, run over, broken will get repaired, renewed, redone.

Ain't it all great? Even if life squeezes us.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Weighting again

Hear from the Word:

"One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple. For in the day of trouble he will keep me safe in his dwelling; he will hide me in the shelter of his sacred tent and set me high upon a rock.

"Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord."

I'm going to talk about the weight this morning, which is how I see the wait. Waiting for me is like bricks in a bag on my shoulders. So, it's more weighting than waiting.

There is a considerable bit of weighting for the Lord in the Psalms.

"In the morning, Lord, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait expectantly."

That kind of thing. Just lay the requests before him and wait, till the weight is overbearing. Oh, that's mine, not David's.

Look, In theory I get this. In theory, I understand. In theory, I say I will do this. In theory. 

But the weight gets harder, heavier, more burdening. As time passes, I get less understand and less calm and less peaceful.

Waiting for one of the more important calls of my life, if I ever had important calls in my life (just saying), is more weighting by far.

But David says, "Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him ... "

So, I weight. 

Lord, hear my requests. Lord, make your face to shine upon me. Lord, keep me still before you as I weight patiently.

Er, wait. It's wait. Waiting, I sit here. Waiting. Peace be with me, and you, of course.

Monday, March 23, 2015

And we're done ...

One of my favorite TV shows that you might never have heard of was a little Joss Whedon production called Firefly. Despite a real core of dedicated viewers, it was cancelled after one year.

It came back a few years later as a motion picture, which is one of my favorite movies of all time, called Serenity. I wonder what ever happened to Whedon? Oh, oh, yeah, that Avengers movie, the second-highest grossing movie of all time. From premature failure to overwhelming success. Perhaps there is a lesson there.

That said, here's the news: The experiment I’ve been part of, privileged to be a part of, is done. The New Church on South Carrollton, which was a holding name till we transitioned to a permanent new name for our church, is done. Kaput. They’ve pulled the plug. On July 1, this church we’ve been part of will revert to being Carrollton United Methodist Church, and we, the two pastors who have done their best to co-exist for a year, will be sent elsewhere..

Why? Too much money needed that wasn’t coming in versus too few people coming in who would or could give. Simple math.

Oh, we more than doubled attendance, converted to a contemporary style of worship that we believed more fit the community, developed a band, began a children's ministry, fixed a decrepit, leaking building, put in more equipment than the Saenger Theater enjoys, fed teachers up the street once a month, fed Tulane students on occasion, sent a team to feed St. Mark’s homeless,  planted a garden that we gave away to the community, washed dogs and handed out what I now know to be koozies (those things you wrap your, er, water around). We had 92 persons in worship on March 15, and we averaged 61 this year after arriving at a church averaging 25.

And we’re done. I will be serving at another church (I assume) come July 1.

A huge chunk of me feels a sense of failure. I don’t know how one could look at it another way. I’ve never worked as hard as I did at this church, but we made mistakes we couldn’t overcome.

I don’t know what will happen here at Carrollton, I don’t know where Mary and I will live, and we’ll be moving for the third time in three years, once to Eunice three years ago, once back to New Orleans last year and the one coming up.

Here’s what I know: I’m not who I was when I arrived. I was somehow chosen for a project that wouldn’t normally be part of my resume as it were. I’ve learned a lot, seen a lot, been frustrated a lot, succeeded a lot and failed enough to learn from.

This morning there is a young woman walking a pug with a cone on outside my big, big office picture window, visible just over the azaleas that are in awesome bloom.

The year has passed so quickly. I’m gearing up for still (I think) one more challenge, one more church, one more move.

I wrote this in mid-April last year, quoting from a book by Dottie Escobedo-Frank called Restart: "Some churches are still alive but declining rapidly. Some are near death, clinging to what once was as the hope for the future. As a result of the obvious near-death experience of congregations, denominational structures are looking for ways to “revitalize” churches. Revitalization means taking what is and making it alive again. It tends to utilize current leadership, current understandings of what it means to be a church, current locations, and current worship styles. Revitalization makes an assumption that what is was once vital, and therefore, can be vital again, if we do the same better. So churches increase programs, dollars spent, and formulas adopted in order to bring the re into revitalization. The prefix “re” means back to the original place again. It infers stepping back in time to recapture a period when the church’s role in society was vital. A church seeking revitalization typically does more of the same, but in a hyped-up fashion."

So, what we're doing in New Orleans won't be a revitalization. For those do not work, I've read over and over. What does work is a restart. That is what we're going to do.

In God's time, in God's way.

We never stopped our church, but tried to have it both ways. We never did a restart. And failure crept onto us like an infection.

So, one year into a four-year experiment we’re done.  We will never know what might have happened with a second year, just like Firefly. Maybe we’ll come back in four or five years as a movie.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Those noble men and women of God

The other day I was at a conference for all the appointed United Methodist pastors in the state. I was talking with a dear friend whom I served with back at the beginning of my ministry some 17 years ago. We began talking about a friend who had replaced me in the churches that were my first appointment, Lutcher and Donaldsonville, who is retiring this June. The conversation drifted to who all was still living in those churches, as both churches were (at the time I was there) filled with very old persons.

I was quite saddened to hear that one lady had passed, Lil. Lil was hard of hearing when I arrived, so much so that in the first meeting I had with the governing body of the church, the SPRC committee I had everyone laughing in the first 30 minutes of our meeting. Everyone except Lil. I was assuming she didn't like me at all, when out of the blue I heard a squeal. She reached for the right ear, dug into it, pulled out a little something or other and said frantically, "These darn hearing aids. I can't hear a thing." 

Her husband would keep me informed about sermon time and the end of the service by making a slashing sign with his thumb across his throat as I approached the top of the hour to make sure I would finish and head off to my second church some 25 miles away on time. 

Lil made a scrapbook of photos to give Mary and I as we left the church after two wonderful years.

Now, both are gone.

The hardest thing about being a pastor is, well, being a pastor. Being a preacher is the most enriching, most rewarding 20 minutes I've ever experienced and I wouldn't trade it for anything, if I had the choice.

But pastoring is a completely different animal because it is an emotional choice. To pastor well, if I have ever done so, is to be open to pain -- the person you're pastoring's pain and your own. For to pastor well, one must give of one self. One must love as he or she is being loved.

And as with any loving, there is the chance one can be hurt, hurt by someone turning away your love and perhaps the more powerful of the hurts, hurt by someone accepting your love.

In other words, loving someone means there is a possibility one would have to say goodbye to the other person and when one does that it is like salt on an open wound.

As I continued our trip through the Psalms this morning (two per morning, and this morning it is 15-15), I read this: 

"I say to the Lord, 'you are my Lord; apart from you I have no good thing.' I say of the holy people who are in the land, 'they are the noble ones in whom is all my delight.' ... Lord, you alone are my portion and my cup;  you make my lot secure. The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance. I will praise the Lord who counsels me; even at night my heart instructs me."

What wisdom is found here. It brought me to my figurative knees in quiet prayer this morning as I pondered it.

I remembered many people I have loved over time, for one, two, four or even six years and the fact that when that season is over, when you've loved them as much as you could for as long as they (the Annual Conference) allow, you say goodbye and move on.

Only, it seems to me, if you are worth your salt as a pastor, you never really say goodbye and you certainly never move on.

I can see the faces of those noble ones who delighted God at every stop along the way. And I feel the boundary lines that fell into place that kept me in full knowledge of who I was with those noble ones. I never, for the most part, overstepped my boundary lines, never stepped on the toes of the pastors who replace me, never went out of my way to keep those friends around.

But it gets no easier every single time one must say goodbye. If one had to say goodbye, I mean. 

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

All things turned to the good

I have a recommendation this morning, one that can change your life if you allow it to.

No, I'm not suggesting that you, my loyal or first-time reader, invest in something new or learn a new language (Rosetta stone anyone?). No, I'm suggesting something so easy it is only a miracle that no one has not suggested it to you much, much earlier.

It's simple. Find a Bible, read chapter 8 of a book called Romans. Second one in the thing called the New Testament. All the rest of the Bible can do the same changing of lives, especially the book of John that explains this person named Jesus. But assuming you've heard of this man named Jesus, go on to Romans, chapter 8, which is my personal choice for the greatest chapter in scripture. It comes after chapter 7, which is the one that turned my life completely around when I discovered others have the same issues with mistakes and falling short that I have.

Now, take a moment over coffee, or out in the garden, or over your desk at work, or driving to and from, or even at your kid's practice. Reflect on the words of the chapter when you've got a while.

If you have time and inclination, read the dang thing. It's not 50 Shades of Gray or Harry Potter. But it's life-changing.

The scriptures tell us this in chapter 28: "And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them."

Now, remember when you were at your lowest, when things were terrible, when the bottom appeared much closer than the top?

Connect these two thoughts: You're at your lowest. God's at His best. You're falling apart. God's moving to repair you, or make good of what you've made bad.

Feel the movement in the rest of the chapter, like a canoe down a swollen stream, quickly moving in and out of the critically important verses.

"What shall we say about such wonderful things as these? If God is for us, who can ever be against us?" Wow. That's life-changing without much more to add.

And, "Can anything ever separate us from Christ's love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or treated with death?"

And, "No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us." We win. It might look dark right now, but it will get light again.

And finally, "And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God's love. Neither death, nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow -- not even the powers of hell can separate us from God's love. No power in the sky above or in earth below -- indeed nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord." No matter how much of the stupid stuff I do, no matter how much I disappoint him with my choices, it will not separate me from the love of God.

Chapter 8 is a fire drill dismissal of all the bad stuff in our lives. Now, nowhere in there does it say these things won't happen, or even continue to happen. No, what it says is that God will take all the bad stuff that happens and make it, turn it, to the good. That doesn't take away the pain, but it sure lessens it.

Sometimes that's hard to imagine or wrap our heads around, but let's take the most famous example of that, Jesus himself. Hanging from nails hammered into an old rugged cross, Jesus would have a hard time saying this can be good. But God takes this incident and saves all those who would come after  through it.

You could go on an on in scripture finding persons in the depth of physical pain or in the emotional equivalent, and yet God turns things to the good because He is, well, God.

Joseph takes being sold into slavery by his brothers -- his BROTHERS -- and God turns that into Joseph's being second in command of all of Egypt. That didn't mean Joseph wouldn't have to go through all the stuff. It meant God turned all of what he went through into an overall good.

David would go through some very difficult times, so much so that in Psalms 13 he writes, "O Lord, how long will you forget me? Forever? How long will you look the other way? How long must I struggle with anguish in my soul, with sorrow in my heart every day?"

He's going through some difficult, some harsh, some awful things perhaps (even losing a child at one point), but by the the end of that Psalm, David writes, "But I trust in your unfailing love. I will rejoice because you have rescued me. I will sing to the Lord because he is good to me."

So, if you're going through some rough times, if the diagnosis is a bad one, if you're in danger of losing someone, if you're job is tanking and on and on and on, God is the hope you're leaning on. God causes everything to work together. Everything. All things. Till that wonderful moment when clarity comes and things are better.

Singer/songwriter Jason Gray says "fear is easy, love is hard."

Giving up is easy. Trusting that circumstances will change is hard. But it is the only way. Everything. All things. To the Good.

"O Lord, how long will you forget me?" ... becomes "all things to the good."

That's life. Lived well. To the end. Despite it all.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

The godly are all gone?

Continuing in the Psalms this morning we read:
"I have taken refuge in the Lord.
    So how can you say to me,[a]
    “Flee to the hills like a bird
        because the wicked
        have already bent their bows;
        they’ve already strung their arrows;
        they are ready to secretly shoot
        those whose heart is right”?
When the very bottom of things falls out,
    what can a righteous person possibly accomplish?

As Israelis go to the polls, Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he would not permit a Palestinian state to be created under his watch if he is re-elected. Trailing his center-left opponent Isaac Herzog in opinion polls, the three-time leader has sought to shift the focus away from socio-economic issues and on to security challenges, saying he alone can defend Israel.

He said that if he is re-elected, the Palestinians would not get the independent state they seek in the West Bank, East Bank and Gaza.

And there you go. A very difficult subject gets more difficult.

I recently talked to a friend I met while on a trip to Israel five years ago, and he believes the Israelis are wrong on this issue because he has seen the abject poverty in which Palestine Bible College (all Christians) are living in. He has seen the wall that was constructed years ago to keep bombers out that has proved to be a way to keep families apart as well.

I'm not giving an opinion on this to anyone because I don't have one except I wished we could form some sort of consensus and come together to talk about a Palestinian state. Just a few meager yards of real estate would be nice. But I understand that if we did do that, bombers would be that much closer. 

It is not an easy subject, or we would have solved it years and years ago. We have not, right up until this moment.

I include Psalms 12 in its entirety because it seems to speak to us all, right here, right now.

"Help, Lord, because the godly are all gone; the faithful have completely disappeared from the human race!

"Everyone tells lies to everyone else; they talk with slick speech and divided hearts.

"Let the Lord cut off all slick-talking lips and every tongue that brags and brags, that says, 

"We're unbeatable with our tongues! Who gets the best of us with lips like ours?

"But the Lord says, 'Because the poor are oppressed, because of the groans of the needy, I'm not standing up. I will provide the help they are gasping for.'

"The Lord's promises are pure, like silver that's been ratified in an oven, purified seven times over!

"You Lord, will keep us, protecting us from this generation forever. The wicked roam all over the place, while depravity is praised by human beings."

As someone once said, "Have mercy on us, O Lord. Have mercy on us."

Friday, March 13, 2015

Hate spills its guts

Continuing our journey throughout the Psalms:
"Have mercy on me, Lord! Just look how I suffer because of those who hate me. But are you the one who brings me back from the very gates of death so I can declare all your praises, so I can rejoice in your salvation in the gates of Daughter Zion."

The idea of having mercy because I suffer when people hate me is a bit foreign to me, as I strongly suspect it is to you.

Do you spend lots of time pondering how people hate you? The truth is I don't; nor do I spend lots of time pondering those I hate. Hate is such a difficult word, expression, notion to me. It really is.

But I understand with what has happened just in the past week in Ferguson, Mo., and at the University of Oklahoma, and even on campuses all over the country, perhaps we're not past such notions as a people.

What must we do?

Have mercy on us, Lord.

Just on college campuses in the past few months, Emory University, University of Cleveland and UC Davis buildings were vandalized with swastikas. At UC Davis, it was a Jewish fraternity. A UCLA student with great credentials was nearly prevented from joining the Judicial Board of the college because she was Jewish. And just days ago at George Washington University in Washington, D.D. large swastikas were discovered in one of the dorms.

Have mercy on us, Lord.

One report I read this morning says that almost half of all Jewish students in college today have experienced some sort of hate act against them.

Have mercy on us, Lord.

For a couple days this week, UC Irvine even banned displaying the American Flag.

Have mercy on us, Lord.

It is almost incomprehensible for me to understand how we can still hate each other, black against white and white against black and Gentile against Jew and Muslim against Jew and on and on and on we go.

In the latest statistics (from 2012), in December of that year, two Mississippi men pled guilty to federal hate crimes for assaulting African-Americans in Jackson. In November, a South Carolina man was sentenced for committing a hate crime against an African-American teenager. In September, a Cleveland man was convoked for religiously motivated assaults on members of the Amish community. The AMISH. In August, a Detroit man pled guilty to assaulting a victim because the thought the man was gay.

He THOUGHT the man was gay.

Have mercy on us, Lord.

Whatever you are doing this day as you read this, stop and ask the Lord to have mercy on us, his people, his children, as we try to figure out how to get along. We have the same issues in our churches, in our schools, in our government, in our homes. Progressive hate conservative, straight hates gay, even at times laity hate clergy. Hate is not relegated to the back burner, any longer. It rests comfortably in our homes and it starts school in pre-K and is educated up through the system. Uncommon core indeed.

It comes marching down our streets, throwing bottles and starting fires and we look up one day and policemen are shot and crowds, no matter their reasoning, cheer. It paints its hatred on walls, and on human skin, and on hearts throughout.

Have mercy on us, Lord. For we have most certainly sinned.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Your majestic name fills the earth

Here's where the rubber meets the road. Paul wrote this, "Therefore, since we have been made right in  God's sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us. ...We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they will help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment."

When the rain falls, repeat with me, "O Lord, our Lord, your majestic name fills the earth!"
When the pain comes, repeat with me, "O Lord, our Lord, your majestic name fills the earth!"
When the suffering is too much for your body, your mind, your heart, "O Lord, our Lord, your majestic name fills the earth!"
When the moment is too big, when the reflection too deep, the hope too shallow, "O Lord, our Lord, your majestic name fills the earth!"

This morning in some hospital bed, there's a person awaiting radiation or chemo therapy or maybe just the diagnosis.
"O Lord, our Lord, your majestic name fills the earth!"

This morning in some funeral home, there's a person awaiting a cost of a funeral for someone who did the bills in the family, "O Lord, our Lord, your majestic name fills the earth!"

This morning there's a person in danger of losing his or her job, of losing his or her family, of losing..."O Lord, our Lord, your majestic name fills the earth!"

So says the Psalmist this dark, dark morning.

He continues: "I will praise you, Lord, with all my heart; I will tell of all the marvelous things you have done."

We continue in this life to have trouble, but the Lord has overcome. We continue in this life to have fear, but the Lord has overcome. We continue in this life to have life in all its variables and worries.

"O Lord, our Lord, your majestic name fills the earth!"

The only difference between Christians and the world is when we're knocked down, we get back up.

"O Lord, our Lord, your majestic name fills the earth!" "O Lord, our Lord, your majestic name fills the earth!""O Lord, our Lord, your majestic name fills the earth!"

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Take a breath

It's not too late, folks. It's never too late.

Singer/songwriter Brandon Heath says it this way in Give Me Your Eyes

Give me your eyes for just one second
Give me your eyes so I can see,
Everything that I keep missing,
Give your love for humanity.
Give me your arms for the broken-hearted
The ones that are far beyond my reach.
Give me Your heart for the ones forgotten.
Give me your eyes so I can see.

Without doubt or question, there are people around you this morning who are hurting inside and you don't know it. You've never seen the damage life has done to them.

There are people out there this morning who are hungry and have no money, who are thirsty and have no means, who are imprisoned and this day is just like yesterday which will be like tomorrow.

As a writer I got into more deeply the past couple days wrote, "Somewhere out there is an elderly woman who feels as if everyone has forgotten her. Her world has shrunk to her small apartment, the weekly trips to the grocery store, and the visits to the doctor's office. Her television has become her best friend. She doesn't know it, but right now a nearby congregation has awakened to the calling of God to invite people like her to a weekly lunch and a chance to serve others. Soon she'll use her long-neglected skills to knit baby blankets that will wrap medical supplies bound for Central America, and this taste of comma it will save her life and give her a rebirth she never imagined possible."

Imagine sitting in a field of daisies (hey, it's my image). The earth below is damp to the touch as the dew begins to bake the ground. The smell of flowers is pungent and more than a little delightful. Take a deep breath in, hold it........and breathe out slowly. Do it again. Listen to the blaring silence.

Now, let God open your eyes. See with His eyes.

There's the woman down your street with two kids and no husband because he packed up and left for another woman. She's trying to wrangle the kids, take the groceries out of the back of the car, and keep her sanity as well as her car keys.

There's the teenager who rides up and down your street on a skateboard but if you truly look at him, you'll notice he's always alone. Always. He’s playing with loneliness the likes of which you’ll never know perhaps.

There's the black man, the Asian woman, the Hispanic child, the person down your street who is scrambling to understand his same sex desires, the person down your street who is so much in debt the only way out is somehow cashing in on his life insurance for his wife. Think, think, listen, listen, love, love.

The person living next you has anger issues that threaten those around him, the person you work with who gambles late into the night on the internet, the boss you’ve known for 10 years who has an addiction to pornography, the woman at your drive through bank window who lost a child she had grown to love though she never knew him or her, the boy who needs a father like flowers need rain.

The hurting are every where we are.

Wait. Wait. Don’t get up. Breathe deeply of that which is the Spirit wind. Like a tornado of guidance and direction, let Him fill the space that is, blowing away ignorance and indifference to others.

Open your eyes and quit thinking religion. Let the mind of God open the eyes of humanity, as the tears of God washes away our apathy to the plight of others.

In our nation, under God the pledge says, we have Republicans who are apparently too busy to attend a great remembrance of courage against hatred and Democrats who are too stubborn to simply show up when the leader of God's chosen people comes to town.

We disagree on everything and nothing gets done.

Now, think these words: "I will thank God because he is just. I will sing praise to the name of the Lord Most High. ... O Lord, our God, your majestic name fills the earth! Your glory is higher than heavens. You have taught children and infants to tell of your strength ... When I look at the night sky and see the work of your fingers -- the moon and the stars you set in place -- what are mere mortals that you should think about them, human beings that you should care for them?"

But He does.  More than we can imagine, even in a distant field of daisies.