Friday, June 26, 2015

Poured out like a Starbucks offering

It is the year A.D. 64, and the great apostle is lying on a damp Roman prison cell floor waiting for his final trial that will lead to his death, a crucifixion. Two charges are filed against him; one, taking part in the burning of Rome, which happened on July 19 of that year.; the other, treason, in attempting to change the established customs of society and weaken imperial authority. Of course, that's what he would have called preaching the Gospel. All his friends, except Luke, have deserted him, leaving him alone, he feels. He is building himself up for martyrdom, getting ready for the death he is sure is going to come. So, he writes a final farewell word to his student, Timothy. The letter begins "In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge he living and the dead,  and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge!"

Later, he writes, "As for me, my life has already been poured out as an offering to God. The time of my death is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful. And now the prize awaits me -- the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me on the day of his return. And the prize is not just for me but for all who eagerly look forward to his appearing."

Life poured out...
Death is near ...
The fight, a good one, is near the end ...
The race is finished ...
Faithfulness has continued ...
The prize for finishing awaits ...
Jesus will hand out the awards.

Last night we attended perhaps the final Tee-ball game we will ever attend. I watched a young boy dancing on and off second base before he knelt, took off his helmet, dug into the dusty ground, raised the helmet that held a pile of dirt then put the helmet back on his head, causing dirt to come cascading down his head and shoulders. Tee-ball, the best expression of the best game God ever allowed creation. At the end of the game, Carrie (our youngest daughter) handed out trophies to her team, a purple creation called the Tigers. When she handed her own daughter, Emma, a trophy, a tear clouded my eye as I remembered doing the same thing with Carrie all those years ago.

Wrapping up our time in Jefferson, I'm about the cut and weed-eat the grass. I will then give away the lawn mower and the weed-eater (thankfully). I've packed all things not attached to the rental house with the exception of items in the kitchen, including the Keurig coffee-maker. That will come very, very soon. Coffee-maker will go in a box last, without question. Then on Monday and Tuesday, it's Starbucks, baby.

Like the fight against Obamacare, we're about done. The list is a short one. We've got a dance recital tonight (with two grand children), we've got a late-night Jason Turner Band appearance tomorrow night at the House of Blues in New Orleans, and we've got a final worship service on the final Sunday of the New Church on South Carrollton.

Today is clean up the house, get ride of some garbage, wash the dogs, pamper the cats, rid ourselves of refrigerator teams that won't fit in the cooler on Tuesday morn.

In short, we are dancing on second base, about to bend, remove our helmets, dig in the dust, carefully pick up the helmet and pour dirt on our heads in remembrance of New Orleans and the Crescent City area. Like the old Peanuts character, Pig-Pen, we'll take that with us as we pour forth out of the area that has been home for all but two years of the past 24. A little bit of what passes for home will go dancing to the northern part of Louisiana.

After the trial, near the execution, the Apostle Paul wrote a letter to the church in Corinth. He closed it this way, "Dear brothers and sisters, I close my letter with these last words: Be joyful. Grow to maturity. Encourage each other. Live in harmony and peace. Then the God of love and peace will be with you."

I echo that to all the readers who have been with me, with us, through the daily blog that began in October 2009. Be joyful. Grow in maturity. Encourage each other. Live in harmony and peace. If you are able to do even a bit of that, with the help of God, then He, champion of love and giver of a peace that surpasses all understand, will be with you.

We begin again next Wednesday morning from a new residence in a new town in a new appointment.

Today, grass grows till it doesn't.
Then, life will be poured out again.
Death will be nearer by the day
The fight, a good hard fight will be near the end...
The race to fulfill the call of our Lord continues ...
Faithfulness, which has ebbed and flowed like anyone and every one's, will lead me homeward to Jesus ...
The prize, a crown of righteousness, will be out there ...

And then,
and then....
Jesus, who is polishing the ultimate trophy, will be up there, out there, everywhere, ready to hand it out, ready to give it to his own children, ready to come back and dish out the heavenly pizza and the shiny trophy that only he can give as the only judge of us all.

Till then,
Till we see each other again on the other side of this move ...

Come, Lord Jesus, come.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

On the long journey of a lifetime

I once sat five feet from the Amazing Kreskin. That might not shake your toupee, but when I was in my early 20s, man, that was a big deal to me.

It happened this way: I was sports editor of the Starkville Daily News, the first full-time sports editor they had. I was full of, well, myself. I had seen Kreskin  one George  Kresge, on the Tonight Show so many times I knew much of the act by heart and by head. I saw him perform at Meridian Junior College. I saw him on his on The Amazing World of Kristin TV show. I was so amazed by him that I read his biography. I was an Amazing Kreskin groupee, so to speak.

My big moment came when Kreskin was scheduled to appear at Mississippi State University, located (for those who might not know it) in Starkville, Miss. Turns out that not everyone was a Kreskin fan. When at the news budget meeting someone mentioned having an opportunity for a one-on-one interview with The Amazing (which I assumed was his first name, and which legally became his first name later -- and I'm not making that up), no one knew who he was. 

Except (TA,DA) me. I said I would go do it if I had to. I said this with my tongue lying on the table where it had landed when the question was posed about doing a one-on-one with Amazing (or George, as the case might be). They said yes. 

I was in.

I don't remember the interview itself. There is no real record of the story I wrote for both the SDN and the campus newspaper (where I went by the name Billy Vise). 

I suspect Amazing wiped my memory clean, or substituted something for the real memories or some such. The Amazing didn't claim to be filled with prophecy. He didn't know when dinner would be served two hours before it as served or anything like that. He knew, well, tricks. He called himself a Mentalist, much like the character on CBS' The Mentalist years later. He could hypnotize you in seconds, which didn't work on me -- though I have this real urge to cluck like a chicken in the evenings.

I say all that to say this, I don't know when the next health scare will come in my life, but I know He will be there when it happens. He doesn't always change the circumstances. He always chances how I see and react to the circumstances, if I let Him.

That's what is at stake, sorta, kinda. That's what is at hand, sorta, kinda. That's what the pulpit holds, the future holds, the church holds, our marriage holds. Oh, that's what is in the cards. I don't know what the future holds, friends, but I know who does. 

Yesterday as we were driving to still another ball game, out of the blue 8-year-old Gavin says of 11-year-old Gabe, "Gabe will have his driver's license when you guys come back." He was referring to what I have said will be a 6-year or 7-year stay in our next church appointment in Coushatta, La. After nearly driving off the road while I pondered Gabe driving, I agreed. We probably will miss much of his teen years if we are blessed with a good, long appointment. That's the gig, though. That's what I've prayed for, time to help continue the change in the community we are going to. 

As I write this, pondering what lies ahead in our future, Bruce Springsteen is singing and playing one of my top five songs ever. Thunder Road is blaring ... "maybe we're not that young anymore.." 

Bruce penned this song back when youth was something you bought at the local drug store not on-line. In Springsteen's book Songs in 1998, he wrote that Thunder Road opens the Born to Run album by introducing its characters and its central proposition, "Do you want to take a chance? On us? On life?"

Today, all these years later, the question is just as real. "We got one last chance to make it real/To trade in these wings on some wheels." It doesn't get any more real that that, friends. 

My question is, do you want to trust in a God who says He will make everything perfect or do you want to trust in a God who says He has your back even when things aren't perfect?

That's my God. I want to introduce you to Him. Things might not work out the way you want, but do you want to take a chance just this once and extend your hand and take His and begin the long journey of a lifetime together, go down that long sometime lonesome highway together?

That's what is at stake, each and every day we take breath. 

As some songwriter put it long ago, "I don't know about tomorrow; I just live from day today. I don't borrow from its sunshine for its skies may turn to grey. I don't worry o'er the future, For I know what Jesus said. And today I'll walk beside Him, For He knows what lies ahead. Many things about tomorrow I don't seem to understand But I know who holds tomorrow and I know who holds my hand."

I know who holds my hand. I want to introduce you to Him. That's why I do whatever it is I do. Nothing more. Nothing less.

That's life. Take His hand and let's drive on out of the valley together.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Prayed up

It's a simple phrase that bible offers as its morning devotional: "But the Lord is faithful; he will strengthen you and guard you from the evil one." Paul writes this to the church in Thessolonica. It is a simple phrase, but it is a powerful one.

It changes everyone, and everything. The Lord is faithful. God offers a word that is both powerful and chilling.

He will strengthen
He will guard
He is faithful.

All this works because of Him. Nothing we do is needed, is necessary, is useful. It is about Him.

The church walls might be caving in. The piano player might have left town. The floors might be more warped that one would think possible. The yard might need plowing under rather than cutting.

But He will strengthen, guard, and remain faithful.

In context, the sentences before and after this master stroke of theological goodness read this way:

"Finally, dear brothers and sisters, we ask you to pray for us. Pray that the Lord's message will spread rapidly and be honored wherever it goes, just as when it came to you. Pray, too, that we will be rescued from wicked and evil people, for not everyone is a believer."

Thus we get Paul's marching orders. He's moving, so to speak, so he asks for this previous church to pray him up, cover him in prayers, douse him in prayer. Before he moves, he moves.

Then in the fourth and fifth verses, "And we are confident in the Lord that you are doing and will continue to do the things we commanded you. May the Lord lead your hearts into a full understanding and expression of the love of God and the patient endurance that comes from Christ."

Mary and I are finishing packing in the next five days. We are awaiting our final purchase of boxes to arrive tomorrow, and then we will finish the job. The movers come early Tuesday. A long day will follow. We will have a place to lay our heads by Tuesday night.

Those are facts. So what I'm asking is for you to pray for us, and for all United Methodist preachers who are hitting the road in the next few days. Pray for their families. Pray for their ministries, their churches, the youth who will come in contact with that preacher. Pray them up so they can be confident in the Lord to lead their hearts to a full understanding and expression of the Love of God."

Then let's hit the road.

That's me, not Paul, saying that.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Through it all, He is our God

Last night, I wandered out of our rental house into the back yard. Dogs were doing dog stuff, noses thrown to the sky, harkening back to some time long ago when they were Wolverine or some such.

The sky was a reflection of the town below it, fluffy clouds lit up like a tugboat on the Mississippi, a half moon singing tunes in semi-darkness of a summer sky. The humidity was as thick as a wall of plaster hung from the heavens.

I looked up at stars that were blinking God's Morse Code. Twinkle, twinkle my eye!

Just like that, a wave of goodness splashed onto me. As quick as a breath, I felt blessed. Those stars were God's way of connecting me to time immortal. Same old stars under the same old sky. Little to nothing has changed in the past year, the past decade, in the past lifetime of mine.

A year ago at this time my wife, Mary, and I were putting the finishing touches on packing to leave Eunice and come to New Orleans for a church re-start, the first of its kind in the Louisiana Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church. We had no real plan, other than come and work hard. We had not dealt with a church plant/restart/whatever before.

We packed the stuff, put the dogs and cats in cars and trucks and set sail, looking hard for the shoreline that would let us know we had arrived. A year later, the ship still floats, but land is so far away we are retrieving the anchor and heading out again.

Through all of it, as singer/songwriter Colton Dixon says, He was our God.

I'm reminded of God's message to Malachi, one of my favorites: "Bring all the tithes into the storehouse so there will be enough food in my Temple if you do. I will open the windows of heaven for you. I will pour out a blessing so great you won't have enough room to take it in! "

I imagine God in his heavenly banquet hall (Game of Thrones, indeed) pouring out a pitcher of stars, delightfully snickering as they land in just the right spot in the sky. "There. There. There." He sings a song of hope and redemption as he pours out life itself."

Especially to those who do not see the misery but instead see the joy painted in circumstance.

In the past year, we got to see all seven grand children in an important year of their lives (aren't they all?).
We got to see this grand town called New Orleans in all its lavishness.
We got to see our son, Jason, play the House of Blues.
And through it all, He was our God.

We got to see the grand children play baseball and tee-ball, and basketball and football.
We got to see the grand children dance.

And through it all, He was our God.

Mary and Shanna, our eldest daughter, went to New York together, introduced the boys to snow and Rockefeller Center.
We lost a wonderful pet/friend in April, the same week we learned we would be moving away fro the kids and grand kids.

And through it all He was our God

I was able to see a marriage reborn. I was able to see friendships restored. I was able to experience joy and love in new and old ways, like spring following winter. I was able to see a church grow from as close to scratch as I will ever see one.

And through it all, He was our God.

I've always been kind of partial to the incredible idea that those stars we see each night it is clear and the sky is a dark as a congressman's heart are the same stars that Abram saw as he crossed unknown lands, the same stars that Joseph wore his coat of many colors under, the same stars that Moses parted the Red Sea under, even the same stars that Jesus walked the dusty roads of Palestine under, looking up and singing a deep song of joy and hope, snickering while playing games with a reborn Lazarus.

The same stars.

Imagine: The Bible says He created the stars and calls them by name.

Those ... same ... stars that throw sparkler illumination onto my nights are His playthings.

The Bible says of God, "What supports its foundations and who laid its cornerstone as the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy?"

Imagine: That night so long ago when Jesus came strolling out of the cave, a resurrected body craving some smoked fish, the stars twinkled a song of glory. The same stars. Through three days in the grave, He was our God.

That's life, folks. Same as yesterday, today and tomorrow. And through it all, He is our God. Through life and through death, winning and especially losing, through good and through bad, through this year and through the one to come, and the one after that and the one... through it all, He is our God.

Always has been. Always will be, if we allow Him entry.

Dixon writes, "I have won and I have lost
I got it right sometimes
But sometimes I did not
Life's been a journey
I've seen joy, I've seen regret
Oh and You have been my God
Through all of it

You were there when it all came down on me
And I was blinded by my fear
And I struggled to believe
But in those unclear moments
You were the one keeping me strong
This is how my story's always gone."

That's how this story goes, and that's how this story will end.

The scriptures say, "God is more glorious than the moon; he shines brighter than the stars."  Indeed.

Monday, June 22, 2015

500 miles from home

It is a lovely if not haunting conversations/stories in John's Gospel.

You remember it. Jesus appears to his disciples a last time on the Sea of Galilee. They are fishing because they had spent time with the Lord Jesus but he isn't around and what does a fisherman do when a fisherman has nothing constructive to do but fish? They have been fishing all night, as they often if not always did. They had caught sqadoosh, nada, nothing. Nothing but net, as they say.

At dawn, Jesus is standing on the beach, with a charcoal smoke lazily lifting behind him, but the disciples (despite having a dollop of the Holy Spirit in them from when the Lord had breathed on them) didn't recognize him.

He hollers to them, 100 yards or so out in the lake, to throw out on the right side of the boat (proving, of course, that He was an early Republican), and suddenly it is catching fish instead of fishing. Catching instead of heaving. Catching instead of dragging empty nets back into the boat. Catching, 153 fish, for someone reason.

Peter recognizes Jesus, jumps out of the boat (proving, of course, that he was an early Republican), and somehow walks to the shore, shoving murky water out of the way with every step. When the rest of the disciples and the boat arrive at the shoreline (proving, of course, that they were early Democrats), fish is being smoke on a gas grill (okay, made that part up).

Jesus serves the disciples fish and bread (sound familiar?), and he begins to interrogate Peter.

He asks Peter questions three times (once for every time Peter denied him). " you love (agape) me more than these?" Jesus asks and Peter says, "You know I love (phileo) you." Jesus says, "Then feed my lambs.

A second time..."Simon, son of John (which interestingly surprises me since Simon had been son of Jonah in other translations before this), do you love me?"

Peter answers, "Yes, Lord. You know I love you." Jesus instructs, "Then take care of my sheep."

A third time ..."Simon, son of John, do you love me?" Peter answers, "Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you." Jesus instructs, "Then feed my sheep."

Now, I've always loved this story on its surface. Jesus is in the act of forgiving Peter, who is in the act of forgiving himself.

But there's more here than just that.

The Greek language, which was the spoken language of the disciples and Jesus, is a much more exact language than our own. In the Greek, for example, there are three words for our word love. There's Eros, which is a physical love, and that's where we get our English word erotic from. The second kind is Phileo, which means brotherly love. The name of the city Philadelphia comes from that word, the city of brotherly love. We could compare it, in fact, to the word "like." The final kind of love is known as agape love, and this is the unconditional, self-sacrificing love. It means the complete devotion to someone.

Here in the text, then, Jesus asks Peter the first time, "Do you Agape me?" Peter responds that he Phileos him. Just being honest here, Peter says he likes him.

Jesus asks him if he 100 percent loves him, is devoted to him, adores him. Peter says he 100 percent likes him, wants to be able to be devoted to him, wants to adore him as mentor and rabbi and friend. Get the picture? Love versus like? Devotion versus Sunday come to meeting twice a month kinda like? Doesn't it seem that we must somehow move beyond phileo love to agape love or all is lost? Doesn't it?

We have spent the past week going out to eat with friends who have come to us by the grace of God in the past year at the New Church on South Carrollton. We've checked all the appropriate boxes on the bucket list of food (charbroiled oysters, check; steak, check; roast beef po-boys; shrimp remoulade/fried green tomato po-boys, check; catfish and gumbo, check. And on and on. 

The food has been wonderful, part of the food legacy of the greatest food town in America. But it was the friendships that has been the roux that put it all together. Thinking of the friends we have left at every church we've been at reminds us that you can't say goodbye, only, "Till we see you again." That's just the way agape love is. Doesn't matter that you don't physically see those friends; it matters that friendships -- relationships -- are made, deepened, developed.

It's not the town. It's not the history. It's not even the family in and of itself. It's about relationships that we've been allowed to participate in. That's sitting out on a beach somewhere, smoke unfurling from a charcoal fire underneath a catch of fish or a slab of beef or a bit of pork. Sharing a meal with a friend, new or old, and forging some new memories as if they were a concoction dressed up with a rare recipe.

As I write this, Peter, Paul and Mary's version of the song 500 miles is playing. It is, by coincidence, the first song I learned to play on a guitar. At one point my bud Kenny Suire and I were going to start a band. I was going to play and sing on this song. We never started the band, never sang together, never played music together, and we drifted apart like people do. Truth is, we haven't seen each other in 50 years -- FIFTY YEARS. But he will forever be my friend, for the season we spent together. He and his family lived in a trailer on our property right outside our house one fall as they built a house elsewhere, and that closeness never will be forgotten.

As we head into our next adventure, my wife Mary and I -- moving to Coushatta, La., in a week -- I know this much -- I already phileo the people of that town though I know them not. But as time passes, and it will, it really, really will, we will agape them, and they will be added to the great line of witnesses, of friends, of loved ones who have proceeded them. Yesterday a wonderful couple we've come to know and agape in the past year gave us a plaque that is an outline of the state of Louisiana with a big star covering New Orleans. The word HOME is written on the plaque.

That's the way this goes. When you agape Jesus, lambs are fed. When you agape the Lord, sheep are nourished. When you agape the Son of God and the Son of Man, even old goats are given a morsel of food, a handful of bread, a plateful of smoked fish, perhaps.

When it is all done, you go home, if you can figure out where home is.

This I know with all my heart ... wherever Mary is, is home, for Jesus has already gone ahead of us and prepared a place.

Thus, love is scattered as seed in a gentle wind.

If we agape Him. If we agape. If we. If...........

Friday, June 19, 2015

Putting a bloody ribbon on it

I've spent half a night reading about what's in a word, in a name. Real, honest, thinking persons are involved in a real, honest, thoughtful debate about a mop-haired killer named Dylan Roof and whether his murderous action was one of hate or an act of terror or an act of racism.

When the answer, of course, is all of the above. Dylann Roof is a racist in a state that still flies the Confederate flag. Dylann Roof shot nine persons in a calculated, malicious act that dripped of hatred. Dylann Roof killed a pastor of a church in an act of terror.

But while this country is being swallowed whole by acts of terror, hate, and racism we're yakking about definitions. You have got to be kidding, right?

A 21-year-old sits in a Bible study for an hour before shooting and killing nine persons in an historic church in Charleston, S.C. He shoots and kills nine persons in an historic CHURCH. He is white. The dead are black, though for the life of me had the skin color been reversed I can't imagine what difference that would have made. The suffering of the families begins at the end of their loved ones lives, and it grows like kudzu on a Mississippi byway, and every pastor in this country knows this is true no matter the skin color.

Instead, however, the Kerosene fuel for more anger began when these bloody bodies were at their end.

Here's part of the argument, and I swear I'm not making this up.

We have spent good grieving time arguing whether Roof, a white man, killed nine black including a pastor, was mentally ill or not. Apparently some believe if we say he was, then we're making him out to be a victim.

Then we spent good grieving time debating if it was or it was not an act of terror, or it was or it was not an act of hatred or it was or was not an act of it was or it was not an act of "pure evil." We even began the debate about whether this was a hate crime. I've yet to be given an explanation of when murder isn't a hate crime.

Let me be frank. If you need someone to put a name on it, to paint a face on it, to tie it all up in a bloody ribbon, I'll be happy to. It was an act of terror by definition. It was a hate crime. It was pure evil. And though we don't know all what was going on in Roof's mind, clearly this seemed to be a planned, determined event.

Serious yakking continues. Someone named Killer Mike said at this at the MTV Hip Hop Speaker Series: "What happened in Charleston is an act of terror committed by a terrorist. Simple and plain. I wish those folks in that church had been armed." Oh, my.

My blood runs thick when I read this: "Don't call this the act of a madman. It is an insult to those battling mental illness. This is a well-planned, well-conceived attack. Could it be that America, with its deeply troubling racist past, is refusing to call Dylann Roof a terrorist because it would mean that so many other people in our history who inflicted such pain would also have to fit the bill. Are we saying that terrorists can't be white? Are we saying that terrorists can't be American?"

Are we saying something like that with no evidence or truth?

My blood runs thick when I think that the argument over a single word is so dang important that we forget the main point is to remember the ones who died not the idiot by any other word or name who did the killing.

When the debate about who can be called thugs or who can be called terrorists or who is black and who isn't is more important than remembering the apparently wonderful persons whose lives were taken for no important reason that we can discover.

Dylann Roof wanted to start a civil war. In his little racist mind he chose a church to be the launching point. Can we not see the truth disguised there? Can we not see the spiritual warfare going on?

Instead, we spend our time debating and arguing and fussing and fighting over what to call this.

The lives that were taken by Dylann Roof mattered, and they matter still. Black or white, they mattered. When we come to grips with that instead of whether the media, THE MEDIA FOR GOODNESS SAKE, matters perhaps we can begin to seek healing.

Jesus awaits, and He's armed with a big dosage of love not a large calibre gun.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

What is wrong with people

What is wrong with people?

Last night in what is being described as an "unfathomable" act of violence at a historic black Charleston, South Carolina church Wednesday evening when a gunman opened fire during a prayer service in what people believe is a hate crime.

Eight people were found dead inside the church. Two others were taken to the hospital and one of those died. Among the dead was the pastor.

What is wrong with people?

Let me repeat: in a church. In one of my denomination's cousins, the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.  Outside the Courtyard Marriott, just down the street from the church,  a group of pastors were praying. "We need that peace, Lord," members of the prayer circle were praying. "We need that peace you talk about in your word."

And it does talk about peace. When Jesus shows up in the Upper Room through a locked door, his first words are, "Peace be with you."

But there's also a humanity in the scriptures.

The Psalmist writes, "I cry out loud to God -- out loud to God so that he can hear me! During the day when I'm in trouble I look for my Lord. At night my hands are still outstretched and don't grow numb; my whole being refuses to be comforted. I remember God and I moan. I complain, and my spirit grows tired."

The story goes on to quote the Mayor of the town as saying the only reason someone would do this is "hate."

And that, dear friends, is the answer to the question of what is wrong with people, because it is hate that occupies many of the minds and hearts of the people living on this old world today. It is hate that makes the world go round. It is hate that empowers the desperate.

The shooter? White, young, armed. Does all that ring a bell? What is wrong with people?

The Psalmist writes, "I think about days long past; I remember years that seem an eternity in the past. I meditate with my heart at night; I complain, anomy spirit keeps searching: 'Will the Lord reject me forever? Will he never be pleased again? Has his faithful love come to a complete end? Is his promise over for future generations?"

So, what do we do? What can we do? The Psalmist concludes, "I will remember the Lord's deeds; yes, I will remember your wondrous acts from times long past." In other words, we will remember what He has done and we will rejoice in it.

What's is wrong with people? They are people, humans, and we are all capable of acts of hatred, anger, fear, injustice, wrong-doing. I would like to think I'm past all that. I am not. We are not.

Come, Lord Jesus, come!

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Doing some good ol' exalting

We have 13 days till our grand move, and I thought I would spend them in the Psalms with you. Yesterday I spent some time through the magic of e-mails with the editor (?) of the Coushatta Citizen talking about that other life I used to have as a journalist and talking about the column I will be writing for that little paper.

It caused me to think (don't I always need a think-starter) about what I do and why I do it. Which almost always leads me back to the Psalms like a lost waif in search of home.

From the CEB, Psalm 68: "But let the righteous be glad and celebrate before God. Let them rejoice with gladness! Sing to God! Sing praises to his name! Exalt the one who rides the clouds! The Lord is his name. Celebrate before him! Father of orphans and defender of widows is God in his holy habitation. God settles the lonely in their homes..."

The sun is a brilliant glow this morning.
I got up before 6, thanking Him for the breath I had as I rose and for the opportunities that lie ahead today. I have a next-to-the-last Bible study at 10:30. Fittingly enough we will do the crucifixion and the resurrection today.
I am mostly pain free, or as pain free as I get.
Tomorrow I have my final back treatment with the doctor who has mended me for six plus year.
Tonight is perhaps Gabe's final baseball game of his 11-year-old season.

And we're closer to our new home.

I exalt the one who rides the clouds. Isn't that a spectacular description of our God? The Lord is his name. Father of me, an orphan, and defender of widows. God will settle us in our new home.

The psalmist continues, "My Lord gives the command -- many messengers are bringing good news: ... Even if you lie down among the sheepfolds, there are wings of a dove covered with silver; its pinions covered with precious God."

In other words, this morning you should have the biggest ol' honkin' party you could ever imagine. Just get wild and crazy you're so happy. Dance a jig or two, whatever a jig might be in your world. Sing out to Him. Do some Chris Tomlin (I suggest Love Ran Red) or some Third Day (God of Wonders might work) or some Brandon Heath (I'm not who I was) and without question or doubt some Rich Mullins (Awesome God, Sing Your Praise To the Lord). If traditional is your cup, sing some John Newton (little ol' song called Amazing Grace), some Fannie Crosby (Blessed Assurance) or darn near anything by Charles Wesley.

Just celebrate life, given to you by a God who loves you. The Psalmist describes worship this way: "First came the singers, then the musicians; between them the young women were playing hand drums. 'Bless God in the great congregation; bless the Lord from Israel's fountain."

Here's the cure for the mundane and the down trodden, folks (though I do not talk to the clinically medically depressed at this moment): Praise Him. Celebrate Him. (Big ol' Bible term here) Exalt Him.  THANK HIM.

If you think you've gotten a rotten deal out of life, praise some.
If you think you're being royally, er, messed over, praise some.
If you think hope has taken the last train out of town, praise some more.

Some good ol' exalting will leave you with a taste of honey in your mouth.

The Psalmist finishes: "You are awesome, God, in your sanctuaries -- the God of Israel who gives strength and power to his people!

I could not possibly say it better than that so I won't try. You are awesome, God, in OUR sanctuaries, in New Orleans, Lafayette, Baton Rouge, Shreveport and most assuredly in Coushatta.

Amen, and amen again.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Turn the page

I heard a song the other day that led me to thinking about the change a' comin' two weeks from today when all our belongings, animals, stuff and such pack up and go north.

Bob Seger, that underrated Midwest rocker, wrote this:
Here I am
On the road again
There I am
Up on the stage
here I go
Playin' star again
There I go
Turn the Page

A few years back, Chipper Jones, perhaps the last great Atlanta Brave from the golden era of all those division championships and Hall of Fame pitching (for which I had to turn the page, as well) retired. He announced it early, and the entire season it seemed was a long, long going away party with gifts and such as he visited things for the last time.

Mary and I have been doing that for a month, mostly at restaurants (I have my last char-broiled oysters on the agenda for the weekend). But we've also seen Emma, our 6-year-old grand daughter do karate for the last time; and Gabe and Gavin play baseball perhaps for the last time. And on and on.

Author Beryl Markham in West with the Night wrote, " I have learned that if you must leave a place that you have lived in and loved and where all your yesteryear's are buried deep, leave it any way except a slow way, leave it the fastest way you can. Never turn back and never believe that an hour you remember is a better hour because it is dead. Passed years seem safe ones, vanquished ones, while the future lives in a cloud, formidable from a distance."

I grieved when we moved from Meridian, Miss.'s Oakland Heights neighborhood and my 8-year-old buds Ricky and Tommy. I grieved when I lay in bed in our home in the country outside of Meridian as a high school kid thinking about losing my best friends forever when I graduated. I grieved when I moved from Meridian to Columbus, Miss. to become sports editor there, and when I moved from there to Jackson, Miss., and from there to New Orleans and from there....

Oh, you get the idea. Seems I'm always looking in the rear view instead of the windshield.

Turn the page.

Katerina Klemer says, "Moving on is easy. It's staying moved on that's trickier."

Sometimes we simply have to pick it all up and move on, turn the page, keep going. Looking back in the Bible is somewhat famous for turning you into a pillar of salt.

In fact, scripture has quite a bit to say about the future. The Bible says, "Surely there is a future, and your hope will not be cut off." And, "For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope."

Turn the page.

The Apostle Paul said, "I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us."

But only if we turn the page.

Sunday is Father's Day. It will be, I'm afraid, particularly emotional for me. For one, I'm doing the children's sermon and I'm trying to figure out how to talk about Father's Day with a group that includes our two grand sons whose father was killed eight years ago. But it's also about saying goodbye in a million ways to our daughters, with whom we've worshipped for a year. The last Father's Day together, one would imagine, for a while. I love them with literally all my heart and will miss the time we've spent together this past year.

But it is now about the time to turn the page.

Never easy. Always important.

Page turning....and turning...and turning....

Monday, June 15, 2015

Back to the future

I read the following this morning:
United Methodist laity put more stock in clergy who are caring rather than courageous and cooperative rather than competent and they prefer honesty to imaginativeness.
Those preferences, indicated in a survey by a church agency, amount to a self-portrait of a institution in decline and fearful of bold and innovative action, according to survey analysts.
The profile of the 8.9-million-member denomination emerges from a survey by its Office of Research in the General Council on Ministries. The office, which regularly samples United Methodist opinion, based the report on a survey taken in 1991.
While urging caution in interpreting the results, based on a self-administered poll of a representative sample of 758 United Methodists, researchers drew some gloomy conclusions.
According to the survey, the values Methodist laity look for in their pastors are the kinds of characteristics associated with an institution trying to maintain itself.
"One possible answer is that institutions in periods of decline come to take on certain characteristics," the report on the survey said. "One such characteristic is to become increasingly focused internally instead of externally. Thinking and decision-making begin with maintenance questions."
The report ranked in four tiers the values that the laity look for in pastors.
The first tier, the most admired traits, included being caring, cooperative and honest. They were identified by more than 40% of those responding.
The second tier of values--listed by 16% to 23% of those responding--included being spiritual, broad-minded and inspiring, and the third tier, listed by 8% to 12%, included such traits as loyalty, self control and intelligence.
The final tier, listed by 3% or fewer, included such traits as competence, independence, courage, maturity, fair-mindedness, straightforwardness, ambition and being forward-looking.
The report quoted an unnamed bishop who, on seeing the results, "expressed concern that some values so crucial to a missional stance by the church (forward-looking, imaginative) did so poorly among laity."
"The concern in all of this is that just at a time when the church needs missional leadership, marked by the characteristics included in the lower tier of the survey, laity are registering high marks for those kinds of characteristics generally associated with a maintenance style of operation," the report concluded.
Sounds like the denomination I'm in needs something to treat the cuts, something to heal the wounds, huh?

Problem is, with that kind of thinking, that panic that is on every United Methodist, is that this story was written in July of 1993. NINETEEN NINETY THREE. Twenty-two years ago. And we're still here.

Look, who isn't looking for clergy that isn't competent, independent, courageous, mature, fair-minded, and forward-looking? Who works 80 hours a week and is paid for 10? Who isn't looking for someone who will bring young people into the church but won't change anything? 

Really, who?

But the thing is I also read that the Assemblies of God denomination just announced it had had growth for 25 straight years. Last time I looked, the Assemblies of God was a rather conservative denomination. I'm just saying...

What if the trick to all this was going back to being the Church of God, and I've been wrong about everything I think about contemporary  worship and things like that? I don't think I am, but what if? What if younger persons want something that will be about morality in a world that is increasingly secular? What if?

I really am confident I don't hold all the cards, don't have all the answers. But I'm also fairly certain that the answers are out there, and we are in it for the long haul.

Friday, June 12, 2015

The sufficiency of Grace

I haven't written much lately on the greatest creation, idea, execution of God. I will, now.

Throughout the years, and it has indeed been years (decades) now, I've learned so many, many things. One thing I've learned is that without the grace of God, the mercy that keeps on giving and keeps on changing and keeps on molding and loving and shaping and governing and taking and giving and making me be who I can be but can never be fully. My life is about the grace of God, not about accomplishment because my accomplishment can never  be good enough.

The Apostle Paul said it this way about a bout with his strength versus the creator's: Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that the Christ's power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong."

What makes good ministry? Great grace.
What makes good parenting? Great grace.
What makes good marriages? Great grace.
What makes life and life abundant? Great grace.

I am not, but He is.
I can not, but He is.
I wish I could, but He does.

Grace is, well, gracious when we are weary and we fall to whatever sends its tentacles of sin at us. Be it ego, pride, anger, or even the most malicious of all, false belief in my our strengths. When it happens, grace reaches out and calms and soothes and picks up the fallen.

John's Gospel tells us that the law came through Moses but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.

Grace and its bedfellow truth came because Jesus came. Grace showers you with love, mercy, compassion and all good things. Grace is undeserved pardon, the kind believers get when they simply accept Jesus as Lord.

It is not earned. It is not deserved. It is not to be milked, though I do.

So, today I 'm going to adapt a prayer from the New Zealand book of prayer from a friend.

O God, it is your will to hold both heaven and earth in a single peace. Let the design of your grace love shine on the waste of our wraths and sorrows, and give grace to your Church, to its peoples, grace among nations, grace in our homes, and grace in our hearts.

And may this Friday be especially filled with grace, not earned but given.

It is indeed sufficient.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Be still

The Psalmist tells us that God says, "Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth."
In Exodus, we read, "The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still."
This notion of doing something incredibly great, awesomingly wonderful by, uh, not doing anything at all is, well, awesomeingly wonderful, isn't it?
I have the tendency to want to work things out. My schedule. My plan. My way.
That's wrong in so many fundamental ways. When I work things out according to my schedule, exclusively my schedule, often I find I stress about it, I fumble the ball, I create all kind of metaphors and similes that don't apply. I, I, I
It becomes about me, and it's not about me this life I live.
Be still ... and you will know God.
I have the tendency to want to talk and talk and talk and talllllllllllkkkkkkkk.
Be still ... and you will know God.
I have the remarkable tendency to want to make things fit into the wrong hole because that's the way they are supposed to be.
Be still ... and you will know God.
I came back from Annual Conference wanting to pack everything, and I mean everything, in the first 30 minutes we were here. We have almost 3 weeks. We might need clothing, Mary reminded me. We might need that toothbrush, and those shoes.
Be still ... and you will know God.
So gather up your things, sit back on your chair, wait for it, just wait for it. There might be a touch of wisdom about to sprout.
Here it comes ....
Be still, and realize perhaps for the first time that He is doing your work, or rather His work, for you.
Be still, and know that the future still rests in His hands.
Be still, and know while you don't have the answers, He does.
Be still, and realize God is Master and Lord.
Be still, and relax.
Be still, and love.
Be still ____________________________ 

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Out from Coushatta

We finish annual conferencing today, and we head off, Mary and I, into our next great adventure. In less than three weeks, two weeks from Tuesday, we move again, this time to the north part of Louisiana.

I have met  literally met 100s of folks who either say they are from Coushatta, out from Coushatta (which means near it in Southeze), or one of many small towns near by it. They all say we will love it "up there." They all say the folks there will love us since my background growing up was much like they say Coushatta is, which is to say rural and lovely. My accent, which never was quite New Orleanian, will sound better up north, they say.

I've prayed hard for the churches I'm going to since the day we were told. I've asked for bunches of prayers for our ministry, for it is mine and Mary's together. I've prayed for our grand children, and for Shanna, our eldest, particularly, since she will be alone again with the two boys with out our help.

But mostly I've prayed that the good people of Coushatta want what all churches really want, which is to bring about transformation of the community for Jesus Christ. That's all I really care about. That's all the past 20 years have been about.

There have been successes. There have been something less than successes sometimes. But always, always it has been about him, not me. I'm such a wounded healer that it could never truly be about me.

But the end of conference is always the beginning of something new. Today we go home to begin the final bout with boxes, the final bit of packing, the final goodbyes to family who will be so far away. We have a couple games left to attend, a baseball camp to get Gabe to, a birthday party for Emma, a final three Sundays, the last of which I will preach our farewell.

Through it all, through it all, God has been large for us. We've never been outside His care. We've never been away from Him, even when we've taken faltering steps as we've lost loved ones.

So, like someone once said, "Bring it on." It's time to be not out from Coushatta, but inside Coushatta. What a wonderful last phase of ministry this is going to be.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Signs and wonders

When I was a kid, there was a house in Meridian, Miss., that one day came up with a light shining through one of its windows where there was no light to be had. Some said it was Jesus, and frantically we all went pouring into town. There was a long line when we came to the window to view in. I saw, well, not much. I said, well, even less, for I didn't want to be the one to say, well, I didn't see it.
Doesn't it seem that we're always demanding signs where there are no signs, or is that just me?
I read this morning from the Religion News Network, that the Vatican will soon decide on the valid of miraculous apparitions of the Virgin Mary in Medjugorie, Bosnia.
The Vatican's evaluation of the claims is nearing completion, Pope Francis said Saturday. The decision comes 34 years after a group of six young people claimed the Virgin Mary had appeared to them. The six ran to their local priest and described seeing a woman in a long, flowing dress who told them she was the Virgin Mary.
My questions are few: 1) Why 34 years? 2) What in the past 34 years has made this valid or invalid? 3) Why 34 years; and 4) What happens whether it's yay or nay?
We say we're not a people of signs and wonders, but don't we crave signs and wonders? We want to know if we're going the right way, and we cry out to God for a signpost, a GPS if you would, to let us know. Suddenly a woman in a long, flowing dress appears and, and, and ...
I know not, obviously whether this was the Virgin Mary. I wouldn't know her if she came to lunch with us today, I suspect, other than the, er, long,flowing dress. 
But I've reached the point in my faith where it no longer needs signs to know certain things are right and certain things are wrong and the rest we should throw in a bag and let Jesus judge.
The rest, well, that's just a light in a window on a cold, dark night.

Monday, June 8, 2015

A glimmer of hope

It's annual conference time, and the hills (of Shreveport) are alive with sounds of Methodists crawling up and down them.

It's the time of the year we meet and we meet and we talk about how things are so rotten and how the church isn't going to exist in 15 years and last night, listening to our Bishop talk about the things we always talk about, there was, I thought, a glimmer, just a glimmer of what one might reasonably call hope.

What if we're not on hospice care?
What if we can envision something different?

The question is, and it's the Million Dollar question, can we really not be our grandfather's church? Can we do everything in our power, in the power of the Holy Spirit, to preach the Gospel with boldness and in that same power and yet do it all in a different way that will be attractive to the ones coming behind us?

By that I don't mean with new screens and greater music and more drama and etc., etc., etc. By that I mean telling a moral story in a loving way outside of our wonderful buildings? Can we be inventive enough to make a difference even when we don't really know what the next step will be? Can we make a difference in someone's life who isn't even of confirmation age today?

That will be the long range hope, I would think.

And how does all this creativity come from?

Why, where it has always come from. The Lord God Almighty.

The prophet Habakkuk says, "The Sovereign Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to read on the heights."

And the power,
and the glory,
forever and ever

Friday, June 5, 2015

My time behind locked doors

It was one of those days, the kind no one else has, apparently.

First, we were at a ball park, which is where we spend our nights recently. Gabe, our 11-year-old grand son, was playing a game. He was at bat when we heard this loud thump. We turned around to where our 8-year-old grand son had been playing with a tennis ball and a couple of kids, throwing the tennis ball against the wall.

The loud thump we heard was Gavin, the 8-year-old, slamming his head into the concrete wall. He went down like a sack of potatoes and lay there. His momma, Shanna, was the first to reach him, but after a couple of minutes it was clear that he won, the wall lost, and everything was okay.

Gave struck out, by the way, continuing a tough summer at the plate.

An hour later, the game ended and I went to the park rest room. I completed the task at hand and went to leave the little stall. The door wouldn't open. I tried and tried, banged and banged. Nothing. I called my wife, Mary, telling me the door wouldn't open. I expected her to find help. She brought a crowd, all of who stayed at the doorway but did nothing but call out, and I think there was a chuckle or two.

A man showed up and banged and banged and said, "I think it's stuck." I agreed.

I began to remember a similar story. When I was 13, my mom and I took a train to New York City from Meridian, Mississippi. It was a 25-hour train ride. At some point, as nature would have it, I went to the bathroom. As I finished the task at hand, I went to leave and the door wouldn't open. I tried and tried, banged and banged. Nothing.

We pulled into station, Philadelphia as it turned out, and that city looked an awful lot like New York to me, or what I imagined New York would be, and my imagination led me to think I would be stuck on this train as it entered Canada or whatever lay beyond New York City (I wasn't a geography nut).

Finally, a man came, heard the ruckus I was creating, and got help. I got back to my seat, exasperated, embarrassed, and flopped down. "Didn't you notice I was gone a long time?" I asked my mother. "I heard a lot of noise, but I never dreamed it was you."

Back to the future, there was an opening at the bottom of the door that I was pondering my stomach against its depth of opening.

Another man came and handed me a screwdriver over the top opening of the door. Let me pause in the action to say that me and screwdrivers are not good companions. I don't do crafts. I don't do repairs. I don't do handyman jobs. I don't do screwdrivers. But usually I'm pretty good at tearing things up.

I was not. I couldn't make it open.

Out of the blue, or the gray floor actually, came a much thinner man than myself (I want to point out) who slid and slipped under that opening in the door and came into my private stall quite surprisingly.

He then proceeded to bang and band and push the screwdriver and such, and after long, long minutes that had me pondering the two of us sliding out under that opening one after another like puppies out of a dog, the door lock popped open and the door swung clear.

There was a gaggle of folks awaiting the rescuee when I came out, all smiling largely. Something about being freed from a bathroom makes folks laugh for some reason.

I'm not sure there is a real point here but I thought it might be a good way to look at this scripture:

"Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing." 1 Thessalonians 5: 11

I wonder if you get the idea that there might be someone out there who needs encouraging, who is having one of those days. You might be the only one who can do this. Take the time and, uh, open a door to those whose lives seem so closed off and dark. Flush the bad out of their lives with encouragement.

Make them laugh, if you can.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

You, O Lord, are the greatness

What joy came with your morning?

Today I read this: Your, O Lord, are the greatness, the power, the glory, the victory, and the majesty; for all that is in the heavens and on earth is yours; yours is the kingdom, O Lord, and you are exalted as head above all. 1 Chronicles 29: 11

I'm taken back by the animosity found on social media. The left hates, absolutely hates, the right. The right hates, absolutely hates, the left. Maybe it's always been this way and I didn't know it because there wasn't the open social-media way of doing things.

Today the news is dominated by the Duggars and Bruce/Caityn Jenner.

Really, this is news? This isn't just news but the top of every news program/blogger?

First, I must admit I had never even heard of the Duggars before this. Now, I, like the rest of the world, face Duggars 24-7.

Jenner, well, I have no comment other than doing what he/she is doing isn't bravery. Let her/him do it in high school where it can get you killed and come back and talk to me.

By the way, the use of the pronoun he is not a judgment on my part. It's not a declaration of my feelings or thoughts on this whole thing. It's just, well, I have no words.

Today we face a world where there is no real news. Baby goats in pajamas is leading some of the social media sites this morning.

But here's the kicker: Despite all these things, God still is on his throne, he still is the power, the gory, the victory and the majesty. It doesn't matter whether we think that is the case. It is. Simply. Is.

This morning we need to step back from false news and shaky views and turn to the one who love us most. We need to bow from the right and bow from the left and both say we are less than perfect, we are less than leaders, we are sinners in need of a savior.

That is all.

No judgment of the next person, no matter their thoughts or their appearance. We love. Simply. Purely. Because, the Bible says, He first loved us.

She, he, everyone. No matter what has been done, if one turns to the Savior, one is saved.

You don't, however, get a reality show.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Live in the toy store ...

There are things in your life you simply know to be wrong. You don't have to be a genius to figure some things out. Here's what I know: -- this is wrong.

 A Minneapolis private school is getting some attention because about two dozen of its students recently visited a Twin Cities sex toy shop as part of a sex education class.
An employee who answered the telephone at The Smitten Kitten shop on Tuesday said she could not discuss the visit and took a message for the manager, but parents of children who attend the Gaia Democratic School told the Minneapolis Star Tribune that they were miffed, and more than rightly so.
"It's just a major breach of trust," Lynn Floyd, the parent of an 11-year-old and 13-year who took part in the risque field trip, told the news organization. "You can't erase those images."
No one could be reached late Tuesday afternoon at the school, but Director Starri Hedges, who also teaches sex education, told the Star Tribune that she wanted to provide a safe way for students to learn about sex.
"What I saw happening on our trip, I thought it was beautiful because kids could talk to these sex educators without any shame, without any fear," Hedges said.
Hedges acknowledged that she might have communicated better to the parents, according to a Minnesota Public Radio news blog.
So...I admit I have made mistakes. But this, this is much, much more than a mistake.This is where we are headed, it seems. 
What I've learned: Nothing, really. 
Other than sometimes you just have to pick up your toys and go home. And sometimes you have to say  there is a line we won't cross. Daily that seems to change. There are just some things you're better off knowing, isn't there? Still.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

That is the church

Every once in a while, I (being an avid reader) come across something I must pass along. Like someone who is in dire need to to know something that person can write about, I dither and dather along, reading and absorbing whatever I can.

Like a dog sniffing for something edible even if said dog is full, I dither and dather. There is no, by the way, word dather. I just like dither and dather for unspecified reasons.

In a world that constantly condemns and judges the ineffectiveness of the church, I thought these facts might be good to know: (Facts, not opinions; facts...) I constantly remind folks that the church doesn't exist for the one hour per week we do worship. Far from it. The church exists for the remainder of the 167 hours per week. One hour versus 167. Where could we possibly do the most good?

Just the facts, miss

The Church is the largest single provider of health care in the world, and also the largest single provider of eduction.

Whenever one wants to complain about the Church, one needs to remember the leaders of the early church successfully campaigned against infanticide, and the same Church Fathers (an interesting term  when one starts to absorb the following fact) stood up for the rights of women by naming marriage as a sacrament. Sacraments, by the way, are things Jesus told us to do.

Churches established the first orphanages.
Churches established the first homes for the elderly.
Churches established the first homes for the disabled.
Churches were vital in the effort to abolish the slave trade, helped pioneer social work, modern foster care, modern nursing and free health care for the terminally ill.

That's the church. Is, was and will continue to be, I suspect.

One hundred of 110 U.S. universities were founded by the church. A missionary pioneered the most successful world literacy effort in history.

The church feeds, teaches, houses the young, the sick and the old. Always has.

A minister spearheaded a campaign to protect children from abuse at home or in the work place. Don't even get me started on what the Salvation Army did for care of the poor and the least and the lost or what the Quakers did for prison reform.

If you think this is all about the early church, what about Pope Francis, the darling of the left and the hope of the right, whose latest ideas is to provide showers and free haircuts for the homeless in St. Peter's Square.

That's the church.

Justin Martyr said of the early church and Christian love, "We who used to value the acquisition of wealth and possessions more than anything else now bring what we have into a common fund and share it with anyone who needs it. We used to hate and destroy one another and refused to associated with people of another race or country. Now, because of Christ, we live together with such people and pray for our enemies.

Clement, an early Christian Father describing the person who has come to know God, wrote, "He impoverishes himself out of love, so that he is certain he may never overlook a brother in need, especially if he knows he can bear poverty better than his brother. He likewise considers the pain of another as his own pain. And if he suffers any hardship because of having given out of his own poverty, he does not complain."

That's the church.

When polls continually show the shrinking number of church attendees each week, we cringe and act as if the world has broken apart. When polls continually show the loss of persons who care for others, whose hands seem incapable of reaching out to those in need, we need to make sure we remember that simply is not who we are. The church is and has always been the first to throw itself into the battle to feed and clothe and give to those who are starving, those who are in need.

That's who we have always been. Nothing about the circumstances of the times, about gender and sexual roles, has changed that. We are there with bandages and water and food when the earth shakes. We are there with doctors and nurses and care givers when the typhoons strike, when lightning strikes and the flood water rises. We are there 167 hours of the week, and on that 168th, we're there to lead those who have been fed and clothed and emotionally treated in worship and thanksgiving to a God who allowed those of us who are capable to help those of us who were not.

That's the church.

Don't let any rumors or gossip or stories tell you differently.

A church's love means not just never having to say it is sorry. A church's love means getting up and going, answering God's call in ways we never did before. Love means not just singing and preach and praying, but holding someone who needs holding, propping up those who need it and picking up those who have fallen.

That's the church, friends. All the squabbling and fussing and fighting doesn't take away the fact that when the world needs an element to care for others, much more often than not it's the church that becomes that element. Though the unchurched element that doesn't help others sometimes has a tendency to make fun of the element that does help, it is the church that puts its life on the line.

When the storms come and the hungry seeks a meal, it's the church that will be there to make sure they will have life and have it abundantly.

So, don't listen to all those who will knock her. Don't watch those who will parade false accusations against her. Don't even see the mistakes she has made and shake your head in aspiration.

The church is not perfect. The one who built it is.

Monday, June 1, 2015

God is good, even on a Monday

Oh, it's a Monday. Can you feel it all the way from toes to, to, er the top of my, er, well, the top of ....? The top of my hopes.

In Ezekiel's text, God speaks to his people: "'Human one, when the house of Israel lived on their fertile land, they polluted it with their ways and deeds."

The Bible says of them, "So I had compassion on my holy name, which the house of Israel degraded."

The Lord had compassion, the Lord had compassion, the Lord had compassion. Get the drift of all the compassion.

Oh, wow. The people of Israel did things, the Lord had compassion. Done and done.  The Lord forgave.

"I'm not acting for your sake but for the sake of my holy name, which you degraded among the nations where you have gone." That's  the pattern, that's the way it worked.

The Lord says, "I will cleanse you of all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you. I will remove your stony heart from your body and replace it with a living one, and I will give you my spirit so that you may walk according to my regulations and carefully observe my case laws."

And the most wonderful of sentences follow: "Then you will live in the land that I gave to your ancestors, you will be my people, and I will be your God," God said.

Look at your life, at the context of your life, at its meaning. I think you will find, somewhere out there, that God is in control. Am I wrong? God creates, then steps to the side (not out of the picture entirely) and lets 'er rip.

"The Lord God proclaims, 'I will also allow the house of Israel to ask me to do this for them: that I increase them like I increase them like a human flock. Like the holy flock, like the flock of Jerusalem at its festivals, the ruined cities will be filled with a human flock. Then they will know that I am the Lord."

The flock will filled the ruined cities, the gatherings of humans will grow, the future will be bright. Why? Because God is good, all the time. And all the time, God is good.

Oh, it's a Monday. Can you feel it all the way from toes to, to, er the top of my, er, well, the top of ....? The top of my hopes.

God loves. God helps. God changes, and boosts, and brings back from the dead. Even on a Monday. It's a fine day,