Thursday, April 30, 2015

Life isn't fair

         Is life fair?
         Does the Bible teach that it is, or should be?
         In my first church, there was a sweet lady named Pam. She was in her mid-to-late 80s with a smile that would light up a room, when she actually flashed it. That wasn’t often because her husband had Alzheimer’s. She paid a person to watch her husband on Sunday morning so she could go to church. That was the only time that little woman took a break from watching her husband, whom I met once and had a faltering conversation with.
         After I left that church, I heard her husband died. I was, strangely, relieved for her. Till I heard three months later that she had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.
         Now, I don’t know all the definitions or example of fairness, but that’s the most crass idea that life isn’t fair that I’ve ever known.
         The scriptures are ripe with episodes of unfairness.
         If faith was the prescription for success, then what does one do with the idea that all but John of the original apostles were killed for their faith?
         What are we to do with the Apostle Paul’s description of his life “after” coming into contact with Jesus? Before Jesus, Paul was a leader in Jerusalem religious circles and a person who was in charge of persecution of these new fangled religious nuts called followers of the way (Christians). After meeting Jesus on a road out of town (to Damascus in what is now Turkey), Paul became the one who was constantly persecuted, beaten, whipped, and eventually killed for his faith.
         Now, what degree of fair is that?
         What religion says, you follow these ideas and you will get the heck beaten out of you?
         OR, you don’t follow these ideas and you can act any way you want?
         And you choose the one that gets you persecuted?
         That’s Christianity, and it never ever preaches fairness.
         What it preaches is grace, which is never deserved.
         In February on a beach near the Mediterranean Sea, members of the evil group ISIS took 21 Egyptians and made them fall to their knees.
         One by one, 20 Coptic Christian men were ask to reject their belief in Christ or they would be beheaded. One by one they refused. One by one they were killed….in modern day religious persecution no different than that which Paul and Peter died from.
         Oh, there were 21 on that beach. Twenty one were kneeling. The final one was not a Christian. But he had watched and heard the 20 men refuse to reject this Jewish man named Jesus.
         When the murderers came to him, he said, “Their God is my God,” and he died alongside them.
         Is life fair? I came up believing that if you did everything you could to do everything right, at the right time, in the right way, things would go well for you. My experience is that has never been exactly true. There have been plenty of times I’ve been the better candidate at something or other and not gotten that job or that offer or whatever it might be. I’ve also seen much better candidates for whatever than I who didn’t get it, either.
         Sometimes you’re in the town down the road that doesn’t get hit by the storm and sometimes you’re in the town that does. Sometimes the car runs off the road and into your bedroom, and sometimes the car spins around and no one is hurt.
         Is life fair? Do the scales end up balancing?
         No, I’ve found that none of us get what we deserve.
         But I’ve also discovered life is filled with mercy that I in no way deserve, either. It is filled with a grace and forgiveness none of us deserve. It is filled with justice that can’t be explained. It is filled with a love and peace that surpass all understanding.

         If life was fair, the Savior of the world would not have had to die for what I did.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Where I live

This morning where I live it's wonderfully cool. There's a bit of a breeze moving limbs that were close to the ground with heavy winds and blowing rain just two days ago.

But in Baltimore today smoke billows from buildings that have been burned to the ground because a man was killed in police custody in suspicious circumstances, at best.

This morning where I live the sun is playing tag with clouds as the morning traffic flows toward work.

But outside the Supreme Court they're taking down signs amid discussions about what the future of marriage will be in this country, for better or worse or all the things in between.

This morning where I live the day is beginning as if there won't be another one as wonderful as this.

But this country is splitting, my denomination is warring and we're wondering what on earth might come next.

This morning where I live there have been no lives discovered buried amidst rubble but in Nepal, my God what a morning.

I was reminded yesterday of how easy this very difficult world is. We make it so very hard with our infighting and our differences. Skin color continues to be a fighting point. Gender questions are never going to go away till we are settled and we don't seem to be near a settling point, if we ever will be.

What a friend reminded me of was how easy Jesus decided all these difficult questions. He said this: Love your God with all your soul, mind and strength, and your neighbor as yourself.

Oh, my.

How we've forgotten that, if we ever got it. We've made this all about beliefs, doctrine, personal issues. We've made all this about rules, about change, about who controls change. We've made all this, all of life, about who is in charge.

It never was.

It never will be.

Because the issue was settled at the beginning, well, before the beginning. In the beginning was God. In the beginning, the Word was with God, and the Word was God. That issue, one of control, was decided before it was an issue.

That being the case (and you can argue till the cows come home -- and do cows actually come home? -- but the case is the case), where do we go?

We love him with all our soul, mind and strength... and we love you, and you, and you the same. We love the LGBT person as our self. We love the black person or the white person or the Hispanic or Latino or Asian person as our self. We love the atheist as our self. We love the racist as our self. We love the Muslim, Buddhist, Jew, Orthodox Greek, Catholic, Protestant, Baptist, Methodist or the Church of the Great Happening Now member as OUR SELF. We love the druggie, the alcoholic, the old person, the young person, the Democrat or Republican as our self.

You see how this is supposed to work?
Then tell me if you see it happening that way?

Thought not.

This morning where I live I've been privileged all my life to have a job, to have reasonably healthy kids and grand kids and even spouse and myself. But in realizing that there are those who have not had those things, and that there are people living in the country, state, city, block I live on who do not have those very things this very minute should make me and you realize we have a moral obligation to care about those persons as we do our own selves.

Love him. Love them.

That would put the fires out in Baltimore, the arguments out in Washington, and it would help rescue the perishing in Nepal.

Seems like that's been the mission much longer than we've let on as Christians, heck as humans.

It's never too late to start, though. Is it?

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Even the rain

So yesterday in my town, just a mile from my, er, my rental house, train cars were being dropped from the sky like something out of a Godzilla movie.

About 10:30 a.m. it was darker than a moonless night. The wind was singing like someone from the New Orleans opera. The occasional stripping of lightning was impressive to say the least. Lights flickered like the lightning bugs of old.

Yet, through it all, through it all, God was God.

One Monday (hey, it's my story, too), "while they were ailing, he (Jesus) fell asleep. Gale-force winds swept down on the lake. The boat was filling up with water and they were in danger. So they went and woke Jesus, shouting, 'Master, Master, we're going to drown!' But he got up and gave orders to the wind and the violent waves. The storm died down and it was calm. He said to his disciples, 'Where is your faith?' Filled with awe and wonder, they said to each other, 'Who is this? He commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him!'  "

You want to know the most impressive, most unlikely part of the story? It's not the fact Jesus got up and gave orders to the wind and waves. It's not the fact the storm died down and was calm. It's not even the fact the disciples were filled with awe and wonder.

Nah. It's the fact they went to Jesus, woke him and said they were going to drown. If I'm going down and I have so little faith my master asks me where it is, I wouldn't have gone to a man to tell him we're drowning in the first place, would I?

In other words, the fact that they had enough faith to go to Jesus int he first place is incredible, isn't it?

Oh, these guys. These guys.

They get such a bad rap, but quite frankly they knew enough, had seen enough, had experienced enough to realize that whomever this Jesus is, he's better than anything I've ever known.

I believe that when the storm starts dropping train cars off elevated tracks, we all turn somewhere, don't we?

But the fact is we don't have to let it get that far before we turn to him, now do we? The storm doesn't have to get so bad that it's dark-night at dawn, does it? The storm doesn't have to be especially dangerous before we thank him, call on him, scream and shout at him, does it?

We are people of little faith, granted, but I believe through it all, through it all, my Lord is there. Sometimes we have to step out, as it were, but all the time, he is there.

Today, as the skies start to darken again, let's turn to him before the fain, and the wind, and the train cars start to drop. Let's turn to him and thank him for even the rain.

Monday, April 27, 2015

The conundrum continues

Someone (I believe strongly it was my mother) once told me two wrongs don't make a right.

In that spirit, I write this one. Here's the story as reported on Fox News, which is somewhat (really) biased from time to time as is the other side (MSNBC, CNN).

A Navy chaplain is suing because he is facing the end of a 19-year career because of his faith-based views on marriage and human sexuality.

But that's not the thing for me. According to Wesley Modder's attorneys, again a biased source, he was told to stop offering prayer in the name of Jesus.

This whole thing started last December. An openly gay officer at the Naval Power Training Command in South Carolina allegedly took offense at Modder's views on homosexuality. The chaplain, who is endorsed by the Assemblies of God, was accused of discrimination and failing to show tolerance and respect -- among other things.

There's the issue there of how Modder relayed his views, particularly to an officer. That's not going to go away, and it will be a real issue for Modder.

But, here's the deal this morning. If we are reaching a stage where one can be told how to pray in the service of one's duties, even in the government based armed forces, I have some real issues here. It would be like accepting a chaplain into the military and telling him or her which religion she should espouse. That's a far reach.

If we've reached a stage where government is going to tell citizens of its country what it can and cannot believe, say, act on, then we've got severe problems. As I read the constitution, it is supposed to be freedom of religion, not freedom from, nor freedom to be all religions to all people all the time or none at all.

I get that one needs to be able to minister to each and every one of the officers and non-officers the chaplain comes in contact with, and I get that includes those who don't believe or are of another faith entirely. I get that.

But one, as a chaplain, takes an oath to the God of one's own choosing first before one takes an oath to the government. That is the only way that works.

According to Modder, one view of two sides of this issues I remind you, he came under scrutiny by a gay officer working as a temp in his office. The officer never revealed to Modder that he was both gay and married to a man. The officer sought other sailors who were counseled by Modder and got them to complain about Modder's counseling on homosexuality and sex outside of marriage. Modern insisted he only counseled them based on his deeply held religious beliefs and according to the tenets of his endorsing denomination and must agree to counsel according to the teachings of that denomination.

If this happened during counseling sessions, this is an even bigger problem, for if Modder was punished for counseling advice based upon beliefs in scripture and has been consistent with that advice, well, frankly it is none of the military's business.

Here's the deal: As we go forward with these deeply emotional and deeply important contrary views on this subject, we're going to find out I'm afraid that discrimination is a word that will swing both ways to both sides. One person's belief is another's discrimination, even if the other's view is given in love. It's a problem we're not close to solving.

Friday, April 24, 2015

And the birds are singing

There is a bird singing to the high heavens right outside our den/office/whateveritis right now. Singing like there is little else that could possibly be important in that little bird's life. Singing like there is no tomorrow, and if there is, who cares? There's just him or her and the tune. Singing joyfully, loudly, with the beauty of the notes rolling into our house. Singing perhaps to a creator who is listening and maybe, just maybe singing along.

See, I woke up this morning with my mind, stayed on Jesus. Went to bed with a headache that is lingering, but with a mind stayed on Jesus. Hallelujah. Just running through my head, for reasons that are unclear at best. Just him and me, singing joyfully. Singing perhaps to a creator who is listening.

Singing because I can. Because I'm alive. I really am. I can tell because the dogs looked at me stagger out of bed.

With the dawn, I have thoughts. My kids are healthy, mostly happy as near as I can tell. My grand children are living monuments to funny, and they too are healthy. I have a calling, as well as a job, that pays the bills (mostly) and keeps us with food to eat and liquid to drink. I have a wife who I would quite literally die for. We are, minus the aches and pains that we're sort of learning to live with, healthy. Mostly. Enough.

I spent some time yesterday with a delightful young woman who has cancer. About two-thirds through our meeting, with her equally delightful mother, her lips parted into a very winning smile and she said, "You're funny." I smiled back, delighted that my little glockenspiel dance had made her laugh.

It's in those moments, friends, that Jesus delights. I know this because it is the interaction between people who don't even know each other that comforts each other and makes our delightful, funny, exhilarating Messiah smile himself.

It's in those moments that we realize, or I hope we do, that there are things far greater that ourselves that need tending to.

The other day I read a column from a writer friend of mine named Billy Watkins. It was a delight, as all his writing is. He is to me as Thor is to a carpenter (if you get the hammer reference). He wrote about his fight with cancer, about having been told he had five to 10 years to live some 14 years ago.

I Facebook messaged him this: "Just finished your column. I never knew any of this, of course. Ain't God great? Mysterious but great. We're moving again, five plus hours away from our kids and grand children, but I know there is a reason that only he might now and I am packing with restrained joy. Keep the prayers going as well as the pills and use your gift the way you always have. That's of God, too."

He messaged back this (and I use this for the point only): "God has work for you to do, too, and I'm proud of you for sacrificing to obey him. You're a good man who is helping save souls. What better duty can a man be given. I will get you "prayed up" as the saying goes. I'm really proud of what you are doing."

I don't know about all that, this good man helping save souls business might be more than I do. But sacrifice?

Nah. Sacrifice is having nails plunged into my feet and wrists. Sacrifice is not being able to see my closest relative at all (I have FaceTime and Skype). Sacrifice is thorny crowns and beaten and scourged back. Sacrifice is, most of all, having every sin of every person -- including my own -- placed upon my sinless shoulders.

What I do is but a tiny, tiny morsel in a large, large meal.

Here's the point (and you knew there must be one). I woke up this morning. Life came again. Birds are singing. I've been called by God to help in some small way in the largest of all plays, that thing we still call life. That which culture wars can't take away is the joy that I feel. That which finances and old age and distance from home and my own thoughts of mortality can't bring down is the joy of having my mind stayed on Jesus.

Let's crank up the music, friends. We're alive. Let's actually act like it.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

He has this

It's time to stop moping and get on with it, I say through clinched, tired teeth.

Last night I got to do something one rarely gets to do. I got to turn back time. My wife, Mary, and I watched baseball practice on one field and baseball tryouts on another -- at the same time, from the same set of bleachers.

On one field, 11-year-old Gabe was clearly the fastest player on his travel team that will begin playing Friday night somewhere in Jefferson Parish. He's also the smallest, but watching him fly around the bases, touching only the corner of the bags while never breaking stride was like watching his mom do the same in softball 20 plus years ago.

On the other field, 8-year-old Gavin was being goofy Gavin. He was at tryouts, but to him it was just fun -- the way the game should be and never is after about 10. Long hair flying in the wind or flying down his face while he was attempting to bat. Smiles were as evident as caught balls.

The two will soon be playing at different playgrounds. I pray not at the same time. We were called in Wednesday night because our eldest daughter, Shanna, has to work late on Wednesdays.

While there, our youngest daughter called, freaking out because she had dropped some clothes from a top shelf that landed on the head of her daughter's cat. The cat didn't move at first, then got up favoring a paw. Things are good now, but the scare registered somewhere on the scale of a 10 on the Richter Scale.

We will be missing this. We will soon be more than five hours away from them. They will have to make do without us, which I have no doubt they can. But ...

It's been hard to imagine.

Where do I go when things are hard to imagine?

Straight to the scriptures. Really. I do. Can't get along without them. My humanity screams into a boiling sky that this is hard. My search for divinity tells me he has this.

I was queasy when we moved from Jackson, Miss., to New Orleans in 1991. It worked out.
I was queasy when we moved from New Orleans to Lacombe in 2006.
Queasy when we moved to Covington in 2010.
Queasy when we moved to Eunice in 2012.
Assured and happy when we moved to back New Orleans last year, because I was so very sure this church plant thing would be my last appointment. I really did.
I'm queasy again, because the unknown is staring at us again. I pray readers in Coushatta will understand that. It's my humanity calling out, again.

But the scriptures tell me this:
(Jesus talking) "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 cloths? 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?" But...but...but...

No buts, ifs, ands, look backs. Life lived in peace must be life lived in the present. Can't live it in the future because it isn't decided. Can't live it in the past for there is nothing we can do about it. Today, well, that's all we have.

And today I choose to be happy, relatively happy, and understand that there but for the grace of God go I. This is the last time I will write about this. The journey continues.

Look, I could have died 20 years ago. I could have never seen these crazy grand children do their thing in the back seat of a car (discussing nations of the world, Gavin said of Mexico, "I hear they make good tacos). I could never have known the love of a sensational woman. I could have missed life with the Lord entirely.

But through it all, he says, "Peace, be still," and the storm dissipates.  He has this. He always has this.

It is enough, is it not? If nothing else, we're never boring.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Donuts and spilt coffee

Ever had one of those mornings?

Blue Belle ice cream is gone. Just gone. Done in by something I've never heard of till now, something called Listeria. Gone. Out of site, but not out of mind and certainly not out of stomach.

I was drinking coffee at home, one of the cats spooked for some reason (do we ever, ever know what they are thinking?) and ran straight toward me at the kitchen table, sliding on a notebook, forcing my coffee cup to shoot straight at me, dousing my I-Pad and me and the floor with coffee.

I was out of coffee for the office (a must) so I stopped at Winn Dixie. While there, because I'm sleepy as all get out, I bought some of those sugar covered donuts, which I haven't had in like forever. I dropped the second one on my dark blue shirt and can't get the sugar off it to save my life (or the shirt)

When I put the coffee pot under the coffee making thingee, I didn't put it all the way in, forcing a build up of coffee. When I noticed it, coffee grounds came shooting into the urn itself.

One of those mornings?

Then I hear a song from a band that actually played at a church I was at years ago called Mike's Chair.  It's called Know you are there.

The writer says, "God I'm desperate for a sign
that I'm not praying to the night sky
Let me know I'm not alone
That you will never let me go
'Cause everything I've held on to is slipping away
When my world is crashing down
left in pieces on the ground
I will stand knowing you are here with me
with my hands reaching for the sky
I can feel you holding tight
I'm stepping out on water knowing you are
Here with me

What wonderful thoughts. What wonderful ideas. What honesty.

This notion that everything is wonderful for all Christians all the time is simply not true. Anyone believing that has been deceived. Anyone needing to hear that to believe needs strengthen.

Years ago, 10 this year in fact, a little thing called Katrina happened and our lives changed forever. If not for Katrina, who knows, I might still be a part-time local pastor and still be serving my home church in Gretna, La. We might have lived all these years close to our children and grand children.

But it didn't happen that way. Katrina jump-started everything and for 10 long years, we've been on the move, having to pack five times in 10 years, three times in the past three. I've gotten into a routine of boxes, packing, counting out essentials and leaving them unpacked till the last day, etc., etc.

And through it all I believe in God's direction and purpose.

It is not always easy. There are times I feel I'm praying to the night sky, and times I feel absolutely alone. There are times when I wonder just what all this is for.

Then a song comes on the I-Pad, a person speaks just the right thing, my wife bops me on the head, I play with a dog or even see the humor in a cat spilling my morning coffee.

And I know he is there, laughing with me, not at me.

That is true love, you know.

He loves us for who we are, doubts and questions and the occasional answer. He won't leave us there with those doubts and questions and the occasional answer, though. He sings, dances, when we come to him with those doubts and questions, though.

And on occasion, a donut to the shirt might just wake us up.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Let it go...

It took a while, but the weight of another move, the biggest, farthest away move we've made finally hit me. Don't know what triggered it. But it triggered, and her I am, in front of a keyboard, letting most of what I'm feeling pour out like a stream from the throne room.

Okay, okay. This move thing began to hit me last night. Don't know why it took this long; maybe shock or something. But moving more than five hours away from my family and almost every friend I have in the world started to touch me, again.

So, this morning I do what I've told a thousand folks to do over the past 17 years. I turn to the God who loves me so much that this move must be part of some plan I've not been made privy to.

Psalm 20: In times of trouble, may the Lord answer your cry. May the name of the God of Jacob keep you safe from all harm. May he send you help from his sanctuary, and strengthen you from Jerusalem.

As I read this psalm, I'm moved that someone wrote this and it still speaks to me, to my situation, to my worries and woes.

There must be some reason that I'm needed in a town I will be seeing for the first time in a month or so. And even if there is no reason, I believe God will turn this to the good because we love him so much. And if he turns it to the good, there will be someone there who needs to hear something I've got to say. And if I've got something to say it's because he turned it to the good and he speaks through me and, and, oh, you see, the Lord has heard all this.

The Psalmist in this psalm goes on to write, "May he remember all your gifts and look favorably on your burn offerings. May he grant your heart's desires and make all your plans succeed. May we shout for joy when we hear of your victory and raise a victory in the name of our God. May the Lord answer all your prayers."


The same God who created the universe cares about whether we have a new bank or not. The same God who walked with King David walks with us as we get new doctors and new TV provider and new internet service and new, uh, new everything.

The same God who created the very family of God and allows us to be a member of that family is the God who has walked into a new town ahead of us and who has taken away the sharp edges and has started what needs to be started to make us comfortable and loved.

Here's the deal: We are not alone in this. Pastors across the state will be moving into new circumstances. We've just had to do it more than most. There is an excitement that comes with this, a desire to move like, well, now.

The excitement that comes from being, to the best of our ability, in God's will, is true and real. And it outweighs the pain of the move itself. So, in times of trouble, may the Lord hear our cry. May we be up to the task ahead.

Monday, April 20, 2015

He calls. We answer. We act. That's the recipe for life

Somewhere along the line, I got tech savvy, or at least as tech savvy as a six-year-old. There is an app I use for all my notes. It looks like an old-time yellow notepad, which makes me wonder why I don't simply use an old-time yellow notepad and a pen, but that's a blog for another day.

So, when I get multiple ideas for grocery purchases, for example, I one-finger type them on my notes list on the I-phone (six or seven or 16 or some edition). Most of the time that plan works, acknowledging, of course, that there is no way to cross off the words on each line.

God's idea for how to work things is similar. It's a relatively simple idea. God plans. God calls. We answer. God provides.

God says to Abram, go. Abram goes. God calls. God provides. There you go.

God's plans work about the way my grocery plans do, or even how my baking, making, cooking plans do. He plans before time, and when we listen and act accordingly, well, things are much more peaceful and pleasant. He calls. We answer. We act.

Somewhere in there, we put in ingredients of God's plan into a bowl the size of Wyoming and we mix it all, like we were a mad scientist in a Frankey-stine movie.

He calls. We answer. We act.

The Bible says it this way: "I know I the plans I have in mind for you, declares the Lord; they are plans for peace, not disaster, to give you a future filled with hope."

God knows what he's doing.

Somewhere along the line, God called me to minister to others. Somewhere I heard the call and, er, began to minister as best I could. Somewhere this plan of God came together and we wound up, Mary and I, following the path to the pan of cornbread, or the pan of fried chicken, or the pot of mac and cheese or whatever.

Seriously, is that not the United Methodist last meal? Chicken, mac and cheese, cornbread, greens to the liking of the cook?

This past week we lost man's best friend, Logan, to cancer. A 15-year-old terrier mix, gone. About the same time, our church plant of nine months was dug-up and disposed of. We were re-appointed to two churches in and around Coushatta, La. We announced the appointment Sunday.

Some have wondered if we're, Mary and I, happy about being moved away from our children and grand children, and of course we're not. Those funny little men and women ages 6 to 13 are, to steal a cliche or two, our lives, our joy, our ingredients for funny is as funny does. There are three who have gone to church with us these past nine months, and two who live in Jackson. Their ability to laugh and make laugh rolls the stone away.

But here's the solution to the worry and stress of the situation.

God has called. He said go. We're going.
He said He will provide. He provides.
So, here we go, again. Free of fear. Free of doubt. Free to love to the nth degree.

We took the list of ingredients He joyfully and faithfully gave us, and we have begun to stir and mix and make, knowing the plan and the meal would work only if we took the words listed on our app and crossed them off one after another. No ingredient would be more important than the other because no matter how important, each depended on the next. Dishes of food and churches of people are built the same way.

What we would find is the key ingredient was not sugar, flour, salt, cinnamon, or any number of things not thought to be important or thought to be incredibly important. I once heard a recipe that called for an enormous amount of secrets. At the end of them all, someone said the most important was love. Who knew?

I can't wait to meet gloriously new friends. I can't wait to see the almost spanking new church building. I can't wait to begin the process again of making disciples of Jesus Christ. I can't wait to begin to change the community in the name of Jesus.

I will hurt for those we leave behind here, including new friends, and I most especially will hurt  to miss another baseball season for Gabe and Gavin and softball season for Emma.

But through it all, God calls, God provides, we go. Though some will say that's the mission of the ministry, I disagree. It's the mission of the reborn. All of us. Each and every one called by God, which is each and every one. Try my second book God Calls for more on that subject.

Till then, as one dear friend reminded me, may God bless and keep you and make his face shine upon you. Do you want turnip greens with that?

Friday, April 17, 2015

Crazy wins in one fall

Seriously. Have you ever thought about how crazy this all is? Oh, I've spent days, months, even the past 20 years or so thinking it all over.

God took the worst and made it the best.
He took our weeping and made it our moment of greatness.
He healed because, well, he could.
He fixed it all because, well, he wanted to.

He made the worst of the worst beautiful.

I'm not making this up. This wasn't Peyton Manning walking to the line, reading the defense, making the play-call at the last second.

No, no, no. This crazy idea was, er, well, it was the He did the crazy because that was his PLAN. Let that rest on your breakfast plate a second. This wasn't some last-second hail Mary, mother and such. This was the plan.

Crazy was the plan, not an option, not a thought, not what will happen if we're out of options.

No, crazy was present at the board meeting of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit before the first words of the first Testament were ever presented.

This was the plan.

If this didn't work, crazy would never be brought up again because there would never be another chance. Foolishness wouldn't be an amendment. Foolishness, with a side of bat-crazy, would be offered up on a one-time and one-time only plan of salvation.

There was no, uh, "hey, what if we used this thing called the cross and we sent you down to earth and you did whatever you could to get folks to buy into your teaching and then we could, we could, we would ..."

No woulda, shoulda, coulda here oh, reader of the lost That's Life. No dead Pontchartrain Lake scrolls to be found.

Nope. Crazy talk was crazy walk.

Perhaps one of the most enlightening sentences in scripture is one the apostle Paul writes to a church in Corinth. He gets out his Ipad and looks at ITunes for a moment. He takes out his stylus touch pen and begins to scribble a note to be reflected upon later. His note to himself and to churches beyond includes this idea, one of the more important theological thoughts imaginable, like ideas to change all that would follow.

His idea? "The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are being destroyed. But it is the power of God for those of us who are being saved."

He measures the thought of foolishness versus that which is power. The cross, Paul writes after clearly thinking it over for much of the night, is absolute foolishness. It is crazy talk, this idea of someone being crucified and it having meaning beyond death. It is crazy talk, this idea of God putting all his crazy talk into one bundle. It is crazy talk, this movement of the Father's gift of salvation from paltry proposal to penetrating, powerful incredibly vital core value.

It is crazy cross talk, but it is real and powerful cross talk that separates us the Christian from they the non-Christian. One moment we're talking putting the accent on death and destruction, and the next we're dripping with new hope.

Willie Nelson pens possibility.
Patsy Cline warbles to clean and warm her throat.
The world dances for a moment.
And Crazy was born like a wet colt.

Foolishness is the idea that God thought before He invented time the idea of the cross as the means of salvation. Nails would be hammered. Blood would be shed. That blood, the blood of the Pascal lamb, would be the agent of salvation. We would be saved by the blood of the lamb, dribbled down the roped together cross ties of wood, splashed and lavished and painted on the old rugged wood of the old rugged cross.

That's the plan. That's A, B, and C of the plan.

Lamb meet cross.
Savior insert nails.
Jesus bleeds from nails.
Salvation drizzles onto holy ground.

Crazy is as crazy does.

God the Father of all, Jesus the Son, Holier the Spirit. Creator and creation, cross and conflict, blood and beggar, loved and lifted up. The plan devised before plans were possible, before talking was tried, before before was invented.

Miracle before ...
Sign before ...
Trinity before time.

Look, I couldn't make this up even if I tried. No one could. No one did.

Sanity was thrown out because sanity just wasn't going to work. We tried that. That got us a perfect garden and a perfect pair of precious people, and a perfect afternoon of perfect garden walking. Then our own humanity attacked us in our crazy weakness, and it all fell apart. A snake sold its plan, and humanity's perfection died like its immortality.

So, divine plans were re-booted. The craziness of the house of the rising Son became the fall (back).

Life, no longer such a box of chocolates, was suddenly a box of fish and some bread on a Thursday evening. Instead of perfection, we got a pile of crazy.

And it worked. Oh, how it worked.

The power of God, which changed honest-to-Yahweh room-temperature water and stirred it into vats of dinner wine, which humbly washed feet and raised the dead equally well, which called every-day fishermen and made them hook-line-and-sinker evangelists, which converted strict theology of the Moses' law into something an apostle would call grace, which tore apart curtain separating creator and creation, which lit awesome candles to push back the world's darkness, suddenly struck like lightning on a billowy spring day. The strangely silent world changed its tactics. Helpless humanity was washed clean as mandolin strings on a Bluegrass mountain side, smiles were painted, tear stains dried, Old Testament Bibles suddenly given a brand-new testament, and broken hearts were stitched by the lives of martyrs Hebrew and more.

In a moment.
Broken-ness wasn't.

And crazy won for eternity.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Somewhere down the road

The words began to flow like rain from this dark, dark sky. Someone named Bildad responded to someone named Job in something called the Bible.

"But if you pray to God and seek the favor of the Almighty, and if you are pure and live with integrity, he will surely rise up and restore your happy home. And though you started with little, you will end with much."

The notion is presented that if you are pure, a quaint notion at that, you will be given in return by God himself.

First, I haven't been pure.
Second, I don't think much of the notion that God returns in kind.

Thirty years ago this week, I was the News Editor of the Jackson Daily News. Believe it or not, I was involved in news, not sports. I had come back from 10 incredibly long months away in what the Bible apply describes as "the far country." I had taken a position I knew next to nothing about (news) so that I could get out of "there" wherever "there" was (which happened to be as executive sports editor of two newspapers in Reno, Nev.).

When I returned to Jackson, Miss., I had met the most wonderful and beautiful and thoughtful and memorable woman who worked at the Daily News, as well. Working together had led to being together, and with this ring I promised.

Life changed because life changes. The future changed because we finally figured out we needed each other more than we needed things we didn't have or want.

We fell in love like we were kids, which looking back I most certainly was. We treasured each day's look into each other's eyes. Thirty years ago Sunday, I worked, finished the morning's newspaper edition, then we were married for that day and the rest of our lives.

Thirty years. Thirty years like it was mere minutes.

We've had children who grew in becoming parents. We've had homes we've purchased and homes we've lost and hurricanes that changed everything and life morphed. We've lived so long there have been two different movie series with origin stories of Spider-Man. We've lived together so long we've seen two entirely different casts for Battlestar Galactica, and two different casts for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and two0 casts for Daredevil and on and on.

While everything around us has been rebooted, Mary and I continue on.

When all is said and done, however, it was the looks into each other's eyes each day that have been the most important moments. Each morning has been a portal into a depth of love that has been impossible to explain.

And here we are.

Headed somewhere down the road, like Amy Grant sang.

"Somewhere down the road
There'll be answers to the questions
And somewhere down the road
tho' we cannot see it now

Somewhere down the road
You will find mighty arms reaching for you
And they will hold the answers
somewhere down the road."

Job said, "For we were born but yesterday and know nothing. Our days on earth are as fleeing as a shadow. But those who came before us will teach you. they will teach you the wisdom of old."

Look, I'm very aware that I'm not the sharpest tool in the shed. I've more than a bit aware that I've made a gazillion mistakes over the years. But the decision 30 years ago to marry my sweet, wonderful Mary was not one of those errors in judgment. Far, far from it. 

She is my breath, my blood, my life and my love, and it was not just human love she brought me, as powerful and important as that has been. 

She brought me sheepishly to Jesus when most everyone around me was absolutely sure I was beyond saving. She was the one who taught the unteachable, reached the unreachable, loved the unlovable. She was the living preserver tossed into a raging sea to the one going under for the final time.

She is the brighter day on the darkest of nights.

Somewhere down this dark night,  she reached for me with one hand while straining the other for Jesus.

Securing his hand, life not only changed, it was reclaimed, remade, reborn.

She paved the way for me to understand then accept this wonderful Savior named Jesus. Somewhere down the road.

Job finishes chapter 8 by saying, "He will once again fill your mouth with laughter and your lips with shouts of joy..." somewhere down the road.

Seems about right. When the bottom had completely fallen out, 30 years ago, God brought the very literal answer to the most pervasive prayer of my life, somewhere down the road. 

Arms reached out, love extended its hands, a smile with the strength of a grizzly opened itself to me somewhere down the road

And life changed eternally somewhere down the long, long road.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Mighty miracles

"Yes," says the Lord, "I will do mighty miracles for you, like those I did when I rescued you from slavery in Egypt."

Today is a day that the Lord has made, my friends, my readers (daily or otherwise). Today God will change everything. He will make everything new again.

Think about that for but a moment. Think about newness, draped like a curtain before us. "Then as I looked, " writer of Revelation says, "I saw a door standing open in heaven, and the same voice I had heard before spoke to me like a trumpet blast. The voice said, "Come up here, and I will show you what must happen after this."

I know this seems all too powerful, all too new, all too incredible, but that's what God is doing this morning. We're picking up our stuff and walking right on out into the light. 

When you're hiding all alone, Ellie sings, walk on out of the darkness and into the light. 
Change it all. 
One of them.
One of the too busy.

Look, one day soon lives will change, hearts will soften, all things will become new again. I barely slept last night, with a dramatic phone call coming today just after lunch and the loss of a dear friend earlier this week beginning to make the difficult even more so. All those burdens are piling up like flotsam near the edge of the mighty Mississippi. 

But the exceptionally good news is that God takes all the ugly broken pieces and puts them together as if they were parts of the growing puzzle of life. 

And wham, God wins.
We win.
Love wins.
Hate is beaten back.
Whew, don't it seem good for us, to us, with us?

This morning what I want more than anything else is the love of the creator. Maybe we don't get more than that. Maybe that's more than we need to even ask for. Maybe.

But the exceptionally good news is that God takes, God gives, God heals.

It's done.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Getting unstuck

I was having a text conversation with a wonderful friend yesterday, and among the many things we discussed there was the notion that we need "something" in our lives right now that doesn't currently exist. We need a revival -- or something. We are stuck in the mud, or the car is in neutral,

Then, lo and behold this morning I read this: Sometimes it feels like good things are happening for everyone but us. Stuck in the same-old, same-old, we do our duty without a whole lot of meaningful reward. Life is blah. Days are dull. And the horizon -- we can't see a thing on it. Which makes it prime time to go opportunity-spotting.

Sure thing. Uh, how?

Let's begin by walking out of the darkness and into the light. Let's begin by eating something from the Lord of the loaf. Let's begin by reaching out instead of reaching in. Let's begin by having our cake and, well, eating it too.

It's all possible, as I read these things.

The Psalmist writes, "Let your hand rest on the man at your right hand, the son of man you have raised up for yourself. Then we will not turn away from you; revive us, and we will call on your name. Restore us, Lord God Almighty; make your face shine on us, that we may be saved."

The wonderful moment for me in scripture, perhaps the most wonderful moment in human history is when breath returns to the body of Jesus of Nazareth. I imagine it rushes in like a tsunami of air. His lungs fill, then they breathe out. It is the singular moment where divinity touches humanity and humanity not only accepts this wondrous gift, it revives, and the human whose sinew and muscle had begun the process into decay and destruction brought to the body by death.

But God resurrects.
God revives.
God unsticks the heart and blood begins to flow again. God unsticks the lungs and they breath. God unsticks the life of the one whom he sent, and humanity changes forever.

I've had, as you might have read, some stumbling blocks lately. There have been little moments and little occurrences and little problems that have come together into bigger things, and the outcome is I've been stuck. Stuck like glue on little fingers. Stuck like bloody clothing headed toward the washer. Stuck like car tires in heavy snow. Stuck.

The unstuck website tells me this. "Way back in 1969 (while I was in the 10th grade), Peggy Lee sang the Grammy-winning song, "Is That All There Is?" It's the story of a person who experiences life's milestones and ends up disappointed each tune. 'Isn't there more to life than this, the song asks? Is this all there is, all that there will ever be?"

I reckon we've all felt like that at times. The job is just a job. The spouse is as tired of things as you are. We're left wondering, "Where is my opportunity?" When and where does all the things that have me feeling stuck begin to wash back out to sea?"

Seriously. When and where, o Lord? When and where and who and what and even a big ol' helping of how?

I suspect that the answer has always been there for us. But we need to begin to view things differently to see it. Thomas Edison said, "We often miss opportunity because it's dressed in overalls and looks like work."

Opportunity, someone once said, rarely presents itself as a straight line to happiness. It's more like a nudge in our brain or a hello from a stranger. it might be something we failed at. A new problem. An old disappointment. Or even perhaps feeling so stuck that remaining the same simply isn't a choice.

A year ago on April 13, I told the congregation of three churches that we would be moving, heading into a new church, a new set of circumstances that would be fun to approach.

In Hebrews 7, the writer goes back over Abram's journey and his running into Melchizedek, a King who was Jesus in human form. Melchizedek actually means king of righteousness. "He has no beginning or end of life, but he's like God's Son and remains a priest for all time."

The point here is, in a very difficult passage to understand, is this. When humanity was stuck, lifeless, without hope on a bleak, dreary horizon, Jesus came to make a sacrifice. The writer tells us to "therefore, let's draw near with a genuine heart with the certainty that our faith gives us, since our hearts are sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies are washed with pure water."

To get unstuck, you need a savior. To get unstuck, you need a mediator, a redeemer, a force of nature that turns the unnatural upside down and sets it all free.


You need to be set free.

He's the way, the truth, the life. Try him this morning.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Go gently into that good night, Logan

            It has been terribly hard for Mary and I at our house the past couple weeks as we watched our dear dog Logan fade. Quite literally she fought with all she had, till we decided she need fight no more.
            Both Mary and I awoke about 5:30, as the darkness still covered the earth, and we decided this was enough. She had lay on a pillow breathing but not much more for far too long. It was enough. Her strength reached the stage where nothing but her breathing showed her to be alive, and it broke my heart with each breath. There was nothing more the three of us could do together, and the helplessness we felt was beyond any in a long, long time, back to the death watch with my mom eight years past.
            To the end Logan’s heart was strong as it carried her around the house, noticeably tangling with that dang ol’ thing we call death.  But her great inner strength waned as she stopped eating Saturday, then lay down as if she knew there was no need any more. Frequent visits to the vet had provided nothing but consolation and shed tears. Over and over we went, till the last one this morning.
            Till Logan, nor Mary, nor I could let this go on.
            Till is was simply enough.
            I’m not sure the good all die young, as Billy Joel told us, but the good die fighting sometimes. And sometimes the fight is enough.
            The Bible isn't all that clear on the fate of pets. But in the book of Revelation, it says this in the fifth chapter, the 11th verse:
            "Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea and all that is in them singing, "To the one seated on the throne and to the Lamb, be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever."
            To me that means there will be creatures in heaven. And what better creatures to sing than the dogs (and cats and three or four ferrets along the way) who showed such incredible unconditional love.
            Logan always was if not a wonderful singer at least a loud one. She often greeted us when we got home by barking that turned to high-noted howling. She would bark a couple times, then she would sing like someone in one of the choirs I’ve been around over the years, high and long till we could get the key into the lock and the door open.
            She was a also a leaper, always going high, onto beds, onto wherever the cat food had been placed to keep her away from it, and perhaps just perhaps it was jumping just a couple of months ago that finally began the long slide toward Sunday where she couldn’t move any longer. She was always thin, like a lifeline to God himself in heaven but my goodness she loved her food.
            My wife, Mary, and youngest, Carrie, brought her home 15 years ago.
            She was perhaps the most active dog we’ve ever had. But as she approached her 15th birthday this year, she began to waiver. Time, like an enemy combatant with leverage that couldn’t be defeated naturally, grips us all in its wretchedly cold hands.
            Logan always rose first, from the time when I was so much younger till I made joint creaking sounds while rising myself. I would open the bedroom door and she would sprint down the hall to the kitchen, flying through it to get to the table that houses the cat food bowls. She always assumed those dumb old cats over the years would spill some food. Usually she was right.
            When she was much younger and we lived in Lacombe, La., she did this sort of thing with the back door and a squirrel who lived somewhere in some tree in the back yard. She waited for the door to open, then flew out onto the deck, down the stairs, hoping this was the one time when the squirrel wouldn't notice. He always did, and always escaped. I'm not absolutely certain what would have happened had the squirrel been asleep at the switch just once, but I'm certain Logan was convinced the day would come.
            Many of you regulars have read about her over the past years of blogs and back to when these things started in as the back of church bulletin covers.
            She was named Logan because in the year she was born, 2000, the first X-Men movie came out, and our daughter Carrie (who was almost 13 at the time) liked the movie character Wolverine most. Wolverine's real name is Logan. Hence the new girl pup became Logan. Don’t try to understand just go with it.
            I always loved the way her lips folded back when she growled, which she only did when she was protecting food from other varmits, which was anytime she gets fed. In fact, food was her main if not only obsession. Getting a treat, which we do when the dogs go outside, would have her going outside every 15 minutes if she could have gotten away with it. Friday when she turned down a Beggin Strip I knew the end was near.
            I've written this story before, but it's the quintessential Logan story, so I must tell it again. When we evacuated for Hurricane Katrina, 10 years ago, we did so to my mother's house in the country north of Meridian, Miss. Other dogs and cats who left New Orleans with us didn't care for the culture shock of Lizelia versus New Orleans’ west bank. But Logan loved it. Trees and grass and open fields were her cup of wet dog food. She ran and she ran and then ran some more.
            I was petrified she was going to run off and get lost, because that's what humans do in unfamiliar territory. But not sweetness wrapped in blonde hair. The fact she was a dog with a wonderful sense of smell didn't register, at first. Anyway, one day she came up missing. I scoured the back pasture from a hill behind the house, and no Logan. I looked toward the tree line to the north of the house I grew up in, and no Logan. I looked beyond the barbed-wire south of the house, and no Logan. I walked around to the front of the house, and no Logan. Wait, wait. There she was, racing across the front pasture like her behind was on fire. I wondered for just a second what was going on, then I saw it. Three steps or so in front of Logan was a rabbit making like The Flash. I followed them with my eyes all the way across the front pasture, a quarter-mile or so, and the separation stayed the same. Logan never caught the rabbit, but never fell farther behind. I shook my head, walked back toward the house, and waited. A few minutes later, she came trotting up, breathing heavily and happily.
            Later that same week, when Frankie my beloved Doxie was down the way from my mother’s house and somehow made my cousin’s Labs angry enough to roll him over and make him scream, it was Logan beating me down to my cousin’s house and jumping into the fray to “save” Frankie. 
            That was Logan, running everywhere she went, always three steps behind but never falling farther. Always fearless despite her small size. Always putting up with the animals around her but only so far.
            And loving the process of the run as much as the success of the run. The journey, not the end of the journey, was what was important to her. I have grown to understand that much more as time has begun to catch me, as well.
            At the end, her face was as white as the hairs in my beard, as if she was, oh, say 75 or so -- which is what the seven human years for one canine year turns out to be. She was at least partially deaf, and she missed the thrown treat at the end most of the time as her eyesight began to wane, and then had great gobs of trouble finding it on the ground with only the use of her nose.
            She had surgery in January. She had a swollen ear caused by who knows what. She had had a couple lumps on her belly for a while that she loved to scratch at. I had read that probably meant cancer, and I just didn't want to know so she hadn't visited the Vet about them. Not knowing was bliss, I figured. Turns out, they were cancer but the Vet got all of them, or so he said. Then something happened to her.
            It was like she had a 150,000-mile repair job, removing the cancerous tumors and slicing into the ear so the fluid could be removed, and she went on a series of antibiotics.
            Then something happened to her spine, some discs pressed here and there, the pain became a constant, she didn’t handle pain killers and, and things went sideways, then down as fast as sand through the largest of holes in an hour glass..
            Logan lived with us a fourth of my life. Mary and I will celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary next Sunday. Logan lived with us half of that time. She lived in five houses. I thought she would be in a sixth rather soon, but she had other places to visit.
            I know all those trials of this life might be mercies in disguise stuff. I’ve read it. Heard it sung even. Heck, I’ve told folks this, and I believe it most of the time that my pain doesn’t reach the top of my mercies-in-disguise limit.
            But it's hard. It’s just hard. For the only way this can truly be good is if I can see Frankie, and Scrappy, and Tweety, and Squeaker, and Buttons, and Harry, and especially Logan again. If all this pain I’m feeling, we’re feeling is simply folly, if all this grief is just time spent, if all the love we’ve been given by saving pets as we’ve done all these darn years means absolutely nothing, then what in the heck is the meaning of it all?
            Oh, they’re just animals, someone reading will say.
             Friend, I have limited knowledge, and even less wisdom, but here’s what I’ve learned over a rocky road. Love is a complete letting go of all things reasonable. Just take reason and pitch it like a summer curveball. It won’t be needed in the this lifetime if you’ll just listen to my advice for a brief moment longer.
            See, love is surrendering to someone or something outside yourself without condition. Just forgetting who you are for a moment and pouring yourself totally without reserve into someone or even something else is love.

            I know some folks don’t care for dogs or cats, but they are wrong or have been wronged by parents who wouldn’t let them have them for fear of, uh, what soiled flors. But it is in the dog especially that true love, complete letting go, pouring themselves totally without reserve into someone who often forgets to love them back if they have a bad day.
            But this I know: God loves you, and so does your pet till the last stinky loving breath is taken.
            Its, nah not its, his or her lavish love and kisses hold true whether you’ve done anything at all to deserve it. The only place you can cuddle up unconditionally is in the Father’s lap. And you might have to get Frankie out of his lap just to sit down.
            Till the next time, old friend, hold me Jesus, and give Logan a treat for me when she stops running around the huge area that is heaven.