Friday, July 31, 2015

God's surprising masterpiece

When this day, the last of July in 2015, arrived, how did you feel about yourself?

From the Message translation of John's Gospel comes this, this fine humid-less morning in North Louisiana. "The Life-Light was the real thing: Every persons entering Life he brings into Light. He was in the world, but the world was there through him, and yet the world didn't even notice. He came to his own people, but they didn't want him. But whoever did want him, who believed he was who he claimed and would do what he said, He made to be their true selves, their child-of-God selves. These are the God-begotten, not blood-begotten, not flesh-begotten, not sex-begotten."

I adore the notion of "their child-of-God selves."
I adore the notion of "God-begotten."

Have you thought about that? Like, ever?

You are more than you think you are. You are more than you could imagine. You are, if you "want" him (being Jesus of Nazareth), if you believe Jesus was who he claimed and do your best to do what Jesus taught, you are your true self, a child-of-God self.

I like the way Paul put it. "God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can't take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. For we are God's masterpiece. He created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago."

This is who we are, whose we are. I've made dreadful mistakes, poor choices, given too much for dogs and cats of this world just as an example, but I am who God says I am, and according to Paul, that's a masterpiece of God.

The entire universe is out there, with a second Earth just discovered apparently, but we are his masterpiece.

We are child-of-God selves.
We are God-begotten.

We are his chosen, his loved, his Light. We who believe in Jesus as our Lord and as our Savior have been given the inordinately improbably and unlikely task of being God-begotten, so much so that we are to share our Life-Light with those who do not know and do not care and do not believe.

Jesus did.

So, get up, get going, get charged, get energized and let this day be a day you show off God's painting. You are his masterpiece.

Go, show off.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Lighting it up

Have you ever felt so unworthy of the love of a God you know much about but so little of? Yeah, me too.

But we are called to be much more than that. It's actually quite mind-blowing, actually, that a good, loving but judging God would look to us for help of any kind. But He does. He wants us to do, well, things.

Jesus said, "You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven."

Yesterday I spent a rather long bit of time volunteering for everything in sight. My wife and I are learning our new community we live in by doing all we can in all the ways we can, like John Wesley prescribed so well.

I've joined a writer's group to help in any way I can, volunteered to help with the first days of Pre-K and Kindergarten next week at the local elementary school, I will be helping mentor at the alternative school, and today I'm going to the council on aging to see what I might be able to do. At the end of August, early September I will be starting a Celebrate Recovery program here at Coushatta First UMC along with Bible/Life Small groups on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursdays.

Like someone said, I'm dancing as fast as i can.

Now, let me be as clear as bottled water. These are not all things I desire to do or especially think I'm good at. They are, however, things I feel help this community and help this local church to be the church. If a pastor can begin the process of healing, helping, honoring the kids and youth of the community, then perhaps, just perhaps, others will follow in new and unique ways.

It's about, I've learned the hard way, making relationships, and not just making those relationships in ones own church but even with those who last saw the door of the church when they were but kids. It's not easy for some of us.

 Just yesterday I was talking about having been rather shy as a youth and having found out rather recently that I am an introvert, which I'm told is not the same thing. So how in the world do you think I can go about meeting so many new people and taking those relationships deeper?

Because I get it somehow -- I am the light of the world. I have been called by a great God to make a difference. If that won't get your tired old body out of the bed in the morning and get you going on this road to salvation I simply don't know what will or can. It doesn't mean I do that every day, but it means I try till sweat pours from my forehead like blood.

By the way, we seem to get -- somehow -- that scripture that tells us that the people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned. We get that. We accept that, because we figure Jesus can handle all this by himself.

But we struggle to understand that we, too, are the light. Oh, Jesus is the light not me, we think. But that's not what he said.

He said WE were.

Freaky, huh? Light was so important that it appears in the third verse of the Bible. "And God said, 'Let there be light,' and there was light. God said that the light was good, and he separated the light from darkness." Before us, light. Before Clyde the Lion, light. Before Lafayette and Aurora, light. Before darkness, light. LIGHT.

In a world where they're shooting some awfully good people for some awfully bad reasons, we can do more, we must do more, we simply have to do more. We need to be lighting our own wicks and letting our light shine like a red dusk.

Charles Mizilazzo said, "No candle loses any of its light when it lights another one."

Talk to a stranger in love today. Help a homeless person or pet today. Do something out of character. If it was easy, perhaps we wouldn't stretch ourselves so much.

Are we worthy? Nope. The Apostle Paul said it fairly clearly. All of us fall short. But He came to light us up, pull us up, help us up closer to him.

Don't you dare keep that to yourself. The stakes are too high.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

This time was different

The day dawned hot, hot as it could be without there being firetrucks on the way. I swear. I remember little except I had committed -- again -- to quit drinking. Drinkers, drunks, alcoholics, addicts of all kinds are the absolute kings of quitting. They quit like other people floss, sometimes as often. But not this time.

So, I quit drinking. I had done the last drink thing, gulping a bunch of (as I recall) rum the night before. Now, I was on to Oschner Hospital to check in to rehab. I was going to quit this time. Absolutely. I wanted to be sports editor of The Times-Picayune. I felt drinking was keeping me from it. In the words of a coward, I was gonna quit -- for sure, this time.

Addicts are the kings and queens of "this time."

This time will be different.
This time I'll show you.
This time I'll do something different.
This time.

I had said I would quit, as long as it didn't involve any of that church stuff. Really. I said that. I had had a dose of church with my mama's brand and I just didn't want anymore. If quitting meant that, well, it wasn't going to work. Not this time.

I wasn't gonna read no Bible, I said. Not this time.

Sometimes it is easy to cast aside our faith and say and think all the wrong things. Once forced to start looking at my own situation from another viewpoint, I read about Abraham and Sarah. "(They) were old by this time, very old. Sarah was far past the age for having babies. Sarah laughed within herself, 'An old woman like me? Get pregnant? With this old man of a husband."

Sarah, like me (or me like Sarah), couldn't get her drip of faith to line up with her faucet of grace.

I went to rehab, for what was an undetermined amount of time. Then as I recall, a hurricane was coming and they sent me out. The "old me" would have never gone back. The "new creature" as Paul describes us, after but four or five days, never quit going back.

Do I know what was different? Nope. Do I understand how much I have changed because of Jesus in 20 years? A bit. I'm not who I was. I'm still, still not who I'm going to be. 

But 20 years ago today I spent the first of what would be the next 7,303 days without a drink. Today I'm working on the 7,304th. I will pray that I make 7,305 tomorrow. And on and on we go. This time

Nothing is promised. Nothing is for sure. Nothing is timeless, except Him.

In the Message, King David wrote this: "Your truth never goes out of fashion; it's as up-to-date as the earth when the sun comes up. Your Word and truth are dependable as ever; that's what you ordered -- you set the earth going. If your revelation hadn't delighted me so, I would have given up when the hard times came. But 'll never forget the advice you gave me; you saved my life with those wise words. Save me! I'm all yours."

What was different that time? I'll never know till I get to the other side and ask.

But I'll be able to ask because of Him. He saved me. I'm all his. This time.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

In-between time

Have you ever been in that in-between time? The time between, what's next?

I watched a great youth pastor last night preaching to a young adults conference about the distance between the disciples sleeping and Jesus praying, from over there to over THERE.

The most important point he made, it seemed to me, was that there is a tremendous distance (and time) from the alpha to the omega, from the beginning to the end. But Jesus is God of them both, and that being the case, he will carry us from the beginning to the end so it doesn't matter what the Devil does in the middle because we have the capacity, the power if you will, to make it to the end.

What matters, it seems to me then, is that we remember we will make it through. It does not matter what we're going through, it matters that we're going through.

Anytime a pastor is moved, one of the things (or two or three or four or ...) I've learned is to listen extremely hard at the beginning to the ebb and flow of the in-between time. Taking the time to learn which direction the current is flowing before one puts the canoe into the deep end is as big a lesson learned as just what exactly is my theology.

or plunging,
that really is the question.

Sometimes we're called to plow on.
Sometimes we're called to go get in the shade and wait.

In the in-between time, Jesus is making a way.
In the in-between time, Jesus is waiting at the end.
In the in-between time, we're not lost, we're just looking...
for the next event,
the next challenge,
the next moment we can step out and make a huge difference -- or a very small one that makes all the difference in the world.

Yesterday afternoon I got a call from a drifter (homeless in the cities) man named Kevin. I could barely understand him on my cell, which was and is a problem with my cell service and an equal problem this time with the caller.

He had stopped at our church Sunday, riding his bike. He is a big man, young, very well-tanned and relatively clean. He enjoyed the service, and he talked at length to me as we finished and I greeted persons as they left. I listened to him some, said my goodbyes to others.

So, he got my cell off the bulletin cover, and he called -- for me to take him to the hospital. Seems he had gotten a job picking okra at a farm about four miles outside of Coushatta. He needed a ride. He said his fingers were about to explode.

I said I would be there shortly. On the way, I thought about how I was going to die four miles outside of Coushatta, knifed or okraied to death by a drifter (homeless in the cities). There he was, standing in the shade, his tired old bike in the sun.

I am, you might have noticed, alive. I dropped him at the emergency room, he parked his bike, waved goodbye and walked in. I asked if he had insurance or money or whatever before he got out of the truck, but he just smiled and said, "Oh, they will take care of me."

The point is this: in the in-between time is just as important as the beginning or the end if one is making good use of the in-between time. It's not just sitting and doing nothing. No, sir. It's about waiting on the one who is the sovereign of the beginning and the end.

Then, at just the right time, in just the right manner, God will knock us off our high-horse, pick up the suddenly blind individual, right them, and push them toward what will surely be their end.

From over there to over THERE is all the difference in the world, and in eternity. Find your Kevin today, while you wait.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Bugs and the other Mick

Today is Bugs Bunny's 75th birthday. There is no connection but yesterday was Mick Jaggar's 72nd. Just saying. Have you ever seen the two of them together?

This tale has been told before, but after 20 years, maybe it's worth telling a last time. I suspect, though don't know, I won't be writing these things 20 years from now.

Twenty years ago today, according to the book One Man, One Cross, wasn't so much different than today except for locale.

"Spending time during the summer in New Orleans is like being outside the gates of hell. You might not be in the hottest part of the world, but you're close enough to smell the sulfur. You can imagine clean, cool air being breathed somewhere in this country. But in the Crescent City, the air is so thick that you can part it with a comb."

My, my how things have changed.

I've obsessed lately on a tune I didn't know till Friday was written by Bob Dylan. I knew it, vaguely, as a Byrds tune. Some of the strange words are these:

Half-cracked prejudice leaped forth
'Rip down all hate,' I screamed

Lies that life is black and white
Spoke from my skull, I dreamed

romantic facts of musketeers
Foundation deep, somehow

Ah, but I was so much older then 
I'm younger than that now

Seems appropriate. Bugs has arthritis. Mick, well, Mick looked 50 when he was 30.
And I'm not getting any younger, still.

Twenty years ago, the Braves won their only World Series championship. Three of those pitchers are now in the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame.

Twenty years ago, a truck bomb devastated the Oklahoma City Federal Building killing 168 people.

Twenty years ago, the U.S. imposed economic sanctions against Iran.

Twenty years ago, there was a 7.3 magnitude earthquake near Kobe, Japan that killed 6,433 people.

Twenty years ago, terrorists released Sarin nerve gas in Japan.

Twenty years ago, an unprecedented heat wave struck the Midwestern U.S. with temperatures exceeding 104 degrees in the afternoon for five straight days, killing at least 3,000.

Windows 95 was released. Toy Story was released as well as Batman Forever, Die Hard with a Vengeance and Braveheart.

Oh, and O.J. Simpson was found not guilty.

So, twenty years have glided by like a space shuttle to its final destiny (seen any of those lately?), and here we are today. Whitney Houston is gone and Alanis Morissette might as well be. Garth Brooks is making a comeback, and the Deep Blue Something isn't anything any more.

And on a Thursday morning, my 42nd birthday, I went to the HR director of The Times-Picayune and told them I had a drinking problem and, well, couldn't stop.

I was wrong. Though I was never as strong as I thought I was, turns out this was something I didn't have to do. God has changed everything ever since. He introduced me to Rich Mullins, who introduced me to Contemporary Christian music, which, well, now I'm 17 years into a ministry.

Thanks to everyone who has ever been of help to me in this journey, Wednesday is my 20th sobriety anniversary, but today is simply my birthday.

Have a good one, and wish Bugs one.

Friday, July 24, 2015

And the shots ring closer to home

Let's see. You buy your ticket, you go inside, you sit down with your popcorn and your Diet Coke, and you, well, you die because some crazy in the back of you is carrying a gun.

That's the randomness of life, the craziness of our times. Folks with guns, crazy folks with guns (and don't get into the rather pale argument about terrorist attack versus mentally challenged attack versus hate crime versus.

That's a ridiculous argument for another day. The question today is where are we?

But for this morning, let's examine (again, and again, and again) where we are with our guns.

I grew up in the country, around guns. But for the life of me all I remember about those guns (and truth disclosed here I've owned one gun in my life, a 20-guage shotgun when I was a teenager) is they were used for hunting. Big ol' honking guns you couldn't hid unless you wore a London Fog. And nobody I knew ever did.

Now, as near as I can tell, it ain't hunters going into theaters and shooting folks. Just saying.

My wife, Mary, and I have been in that theater in Lafayette, La., in which a gun toting kook stood up and started blasting way last night. I say without thinking too hard about it, it could have been us. There but for the grace of God go I, we, you, us.

In the past month -- MONTH - we've had the shooting in Charleston, S.C. in a church. We've had the shooting in a couple of armed forces recruitment centers. And now this.

It's hot, it's sticky, it's the thick of summer. But come on. Where are we?

I wrote the following in 2014. You tell me right now after you've finished, what's changed?

I am seldom out of words. But the words that I have today, after a weekend of deep thought and prayer, are scattered. I will try my best to put them into perspective. I'm not sure I will be clear, but I pray for clarity.
I watched the service from Newtown, Conn. on Sunday night. I was moved far greater than I imagined I would ever be from a service for people I didn't know. I'm not, or my heart isn't, wired that way. But I kept thinking of the times I've lost loved ones, and I put myself into the hearts and bodies of those in that auditorium, and heard their tears and wails quite loudly as various clergy and politicians spoke or said prayers.
I must confess that I wasn't happy to have a hodge-podge of clergy there, but the more prayers were said from various faiths, the more I thought how wonderful this was. I wasn't happy that the president was speaking from this event, but the more I heard, the more wonderful I thought the message was. The comments I saw on Facebook today about the fact NBC didn't show a quarter of a football game leads me to think that we have bigger problems than I even realized.
How anyone, anyone -- hear me -- can think that we should not do more to prevent this, or at the very, very least to prevent these kinds of things is without question or doubt wrong. I'm seldom this clear on something....
It is at these kind of times that we need to step back and not be left or right, not be conservative or liberal, not even all Americans. We should simply be decent, caring, parents and relatives and friends. Just people would do. If we are all Christians, whatever in the world that actually is today, so be it. But it doesn't take much brains, it seems to me, to retaliate on the other side oof whatever side one comes downon guns, or on violence, or whatever the heck the case might be in these turbulent times.

When will enough be enough? Is that really an argument? If the answer to these things is putting a gun into the hands of children or teachers so that they can be called safe, then I'm afraid what I've been afraid about for our country is indeed coming true. Our society is the most dangerous in the world. It is our very freedom that makes it so.

It's not the sane folks doing the shooting, you say.

But how do we keep the guns out of the crazy-folks hands, I counter?

No one has an answer because we're once again going to squabble not solve, fight not figure, argue not discuss.

And on and on and on we go, down the rabbit hole. Because we continually are shooting at the rabbit.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Light in a dark world

So, the air conditioner at the parsonage we've set up shop in broke. In essence, it was old and it is french fries cooking in a vat of oil hot. It tried as hard as it could, but it finally just collapsed. It ran. It didn't cook.

We circled the wagons, put up the box fans, opened the windows, sweated gloriously like we were camping out in a South American jungle, and survived the night.

Leaves me tired, but rejoicing. So, let's do some....

Isaiah wrote, "The people who walk in darkness will see a great light. For those who live in a land of deep darkness, a light will shine."

This morning I read that two teen family members were sought after apparently killing five of their
family members. In a town of 100,000 the story read, this happens. The family members were stabbed to death. Stabbed. To death.

Donald Trump is leading the GOP early polls. Donald Trump. Let me be clear, here. Donald Trump.
Hillary Clinton is lead the Dems. Not the Donald, but not exactly Abraham Lincoln either.

My perceived list of growing darkness is a long one. The darkness sometimes seems to lead the race to eternity.

Then there is this:

In Georgia, a photo of two hugging dogs in a kill shelter went viral and the two, Kala (an eight-month-old hound mix) and Keira (a one-year-old boxer mix) were saved just hours before they were to be put to death.

In two-hours, six minutes, the posted picture received more than 16,000 likes and 9,000 plus shares and raised $3,400 for medical expenses for the pair.

As far as I'm concerned, this is light shining in a dark world.

"For a child is born to us, a son given to us. The government will rest on his shoulders. And he will be called, Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God. Everlasting Father. Prince of Peace."

Go light the world, friends. Take care of each other. Take care of the animals who love so dearly and clearly.

And find me some candidates...

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Called to wait

I am pouring through Adam Hamilton's latest book, The Call, and through 58 pages about the life of Paul, my hero in the Bible other than Jesus, and I was struck by one thing new or at least long forgotten.

Paul, then Saul, was knocked off the horse on the road to Damascus quite famously, then after being called by God, wound up in Tarsus living with his parents while in his mid-to-possibly late 20s and there he was for 10 years.


Five times two.

A decade.

In the past 10 years, we've served nine churches, lived in six houses, moved like our pants were on fire five times.

And Paul, knocked off a horse, hearing a clear message and calling from Jesus, reprimanded for kicking against the goads, highly educated and highly motivated and highly prideful about his future, spent 10 years at home with Mama and Daddy, making tents.

Whew. That sets me to thinking.

What if I felt the call all those 17 years ago and for the first 10 years there were no appointments? Would I have waited for the right moment? Would I have been patient enough for a Barnabas (look this great man up in Acts sometimes) to come and find me and tell me that it's time to get going?

Would I have?

The answer is probably a short one. Nope. No, I wouldn't in all likelihood.

Heck, the answer is I have felt the call and the urge to go more often than not. Mary and I have been married 30 years this past April. We've lived in 10 houses or apartments in seven towns or cities. Always someone called. Almost always I said yes. A great part of that, as I was reminded yesterday while watching a mindless TV sports reporters talk show, is that someone is wooing you, someone is saying, "I want you here." And we go.

There was a time I got eight job offers in one hot summer long, long ago.

The point is this (or I think it i): All of us are called by God for what His needs are. Some answer that call. Some wait for that call, and then move when the moment arrives. Some blunder on ahead of God, clearing weeds and rocks off the path but accomplishing little in real ministry (or life, for that matter).

Do I think Paul felt wasted? Yep. You betcha. Imagine the man who wrote two-thirds of the New Testament making tents. Do I think he was telling everyone about Jesus? Do I think he was honing his theology? Do I think he was learning more about exhortation?

Yes, yes and yes.

But the point is he waited.

God is pretty explicit about this notion. Scriptures say, "Wait patiently for the Lord. Be brave and courageous. (And in case we didn't get it, it repeats) Yes, wait patiently for the Lord."

In that reading, from Psalm 27, I get the idea that 1) God really wants us to be patient; 2) it takes courage to do so."

Think about that a moment. It takes courage to be patient. Patience is not for the weak and the fearful.  Patience means going when WE think it's time. Lack of patience has caused many of a downfall, including myself on numerous occasions.

That's why one of my favorite passages in the Bible, written of course by Paul, says this: "We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop perseverance. And perseverance develops strength of character and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with hope."

I could fire off a three or four-point sermon from that passage six times a week and never cover it all. But I'll center on the fact that problems and trial help us develop perseverance, and I think you could easily substitute patience there. Because patience does develop strength of character and character does develop confident hope.

Paul moved at the right time.
The right time was provided by a God who knows what tomorrow holds for us.
The right time produced the first church planter.
The first church planter was the first blogger on the planet.

And here we are.

This morning I'm not asking anyone to act, for a change. I'm asking that each and every reader examine where they feel they are in their walk with God. Have you felt his call? Have you answered it? What if that call is one to wait, not settle, but wait? Can you? Have you?

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Chosen to be faithful

      I have chosen to be faithful; I have determined to live by your regulations. Psalm 119:30
     My wife and I were having a discussion as we drove once again up Highway 1/84 to Shreveport, our new home away from home away from home, last night.
     I mentioned in passing that next Tuesday is my 20th anniversary. She asked what, since I hadn't said anything about it leading up to that slight mention.
     I reminded her that my walk with Jesus began with my last drink, 20 years ago on the day after my 42nd birthday. 
     I said it wasn't a big deal, which I've learned is a passive/aggressive way of saying, it's a big deal (to me). But then I said in another passing manner, nothing really had come of it.
     I don't know why I said that, or what I even meant. But clearly life had come from it. 
     I was reminded of what I'm preaching about this coming Sunday as part of a five-part series of sermons on the Journey of a Lifetime.
     In Psalm 73, the writer begins by saying, "But as for me, I almost lost my footing. My feet were slipping, and I was almost gone. For I envied the proud when I saw them prosper despite their wickedness."

     I did nothing grand all those years ago, nothing humble, nothing to write about. I had a problem, I couldn't fix it, I wanted only to be a sports editor of a major metropolitan newspaper.
    I made it there. And it wasn't nearly enough.
    So, I sought help on my 42nd birthday. 
    And life changed. Slowly. More quickly. More quickly still.
    I never imagined in a million years I would be where I am now.
    But the writer of the Psalm finishes by saying My health may fail, and my spirit may grow weak, but God remains the strength in my heart.
   Everything that has happened is because I realized I couldn't. Couldn't stop or couldn't start or would never and never could or whatever of a 1,000 reasons I could come up with.
     All I believe were excuses to face the fact that God was chasing me, till He caught me.
     The world didn't change because of my one decision. But my world certainly did. I thank Him most days that I'm not forgetting where I've come from.
     I figured I would go ahead and get this one out of the way before Tuesday when I write about what this really has meant.
     Thanks for listening (and reading) all this time. In some for or fashion, these things have been going on for most of the past 17 years. 

Monday, July 20, 2015

Bracelets and deeds

On one of the visits to persons I'm getting acquainted with recently I met a caregiver as she was leaving. We made small talk, then she began to leave. As she headed out the door, she stopped and said, "I like your bracelet." It's not a bracelet really, but I guess that will do for a definition for now. It says, "I Am Second." She pointed down to her wrist where she had one just like it.

I said, "look at that." I told her I've worn this as long as I can remember and don't even remember where I got it. She said she's had hers for over 10 years.

And instantly we were joined at the spiritual hip, children of the same Father, brother and sister to the Christ, second to Him, always.

I've thought about that for three days. What connects us as Christians? What is it that we recognize that says, "I'm a Christian?"

Back in the day, we wore WWJD things. We wear crosses.

But even those who don't darken the doors of the church wear crosses.

So, what is it?

The answer so easily obtained is it is what we do, not what we wear that identifies us.

The Bible says it this way: "What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don't show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone? Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, and you say, 'Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well.' but then you don't give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do?"

The Democratic party has tons of things wrong, but it gets this one right, I think. Can we see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing and do nothing?

Is that really WWJD?

This morning I feel connected to a young woman I do not know by a bracelet, but deeper than that is the connection that we might be, the two of us in accord, do something today that will make life easier for those who have little.

That's what Jesus would do, I think.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Sing a dime of devotion, a tune of desperation, a hymn of adoration

“For I am not ashamed of this Good News about Christ. It is the power of God at work, saving everyone who believes—the Jew first and also the Gentile.”
            It is the power of God at work, saving everyone who believes. Isn’t that the key to the paragraph. God works. God saves. We all come together in the end.
            Isn’t that the whole bowl of cereal?
            Today I saw a story on the Religion News wire that says Americans are nearly ready to have a Muslim president. Nearly, it says.
            In other words, the scripture could read, “It is the power of God at work, saving everyone who believes – the Jew first and also the (Muslim, Mormon, Southern Baptist, United Methodist, etc., etc., etc.). Do we believe that to be true?
            The Bible, in the Message translation, tells us this: “But God’s angry displeasure erupts as acts of human mistrust and wrongdoing and lying accumulate, as people try to put a shroud over truth. But the basic reality of God is plain enough. Open your eyes and there it is! By taking a long and thoughtful look at what God has created, people have always been able to see what their eyes as such can’t see: eternal power, for instance, and the mystery of his divine being. So nobody has a good excuse.”
            So...”people try to put a shroud over truth,” and what we arrive at is something that is kissing cousin to truth. We open our eyes and there it is. People are ready to accept the truth, as long as it gets in the back seat of the car that is travelling toward the place they are going.
            Truth is as truth does. The shroud covers the truth, and we wind up with something that is part and partial of truth, a bit here, a tiny bit there.
            Am I ready for a Muslim to be president?
            But the fact is I’m more ready for a Muslim to be than I am an atheist. That’s a sad fact, but again, part and partial of truth being truth, I would rather a devout something than a less than devout nothing.

            Wouldn’t you?

Thursday, July 16, 2015

God of Wonders

This morning the heat is simmering across melting road pavement in my area. You know the type of heat. The kind that comes and dances like some Russian ballerina doing some toe-tapping to the beat of Red Bull. Honestly, the heat is dancing, proving there is more to life than, well, life.

As I prepare for my Thursday-go-to-visit-meetings -- where I figure what it means to get in the car, set the GSP to "go" and I "go," watching the day dip below the horizon while I'm greeting and meeting and on-and-on.  The list of visits grows not diminishes with each passing hour, and each passing week, as I watch the list grow like the time was my own, when it most certainly is not.

It reminds me of the scripture this morning that bounced into my brain early on. "For in Christ lives all the fulness of God in a human body. So you also are complete through your union with Christ, who is the head over every ruler and authority."

Whew. That's a table-setting, found in Colossians, unwrapped in editions thousand of years since. Paul's letter to that church, crumpled and straightened, crumpled and straightened. He fired it off when his wi-fi was working properly, I suppose.

Look at what he's saying here... "all the fullness of God in a human body." Wow. God dresses up as one of us, just like one of us. All the power of God, in a human's mixed-and-matched frailty.

If I was of a mind, I might be thinking (Super)man here. Walter Martin claims that Colossians 2:9 refers to the trinity of the Godhead. Some want to say that Jesus had two natures at once, evidently with the thought that "bodily" refers to Jesus as a human being, and that godhead in some ways refers to Jesus as the Supreme being.

Me? Me, I get a headache thinking all that through. But here's what I believe. Jesus was very much human, burps and blemishes and all. Bodily refers to Jesus' fleshly body. But there's more (and less, if you will). The Greek word translated Godhead at Colossians 2:9 is often transliterated as Theotes, which refers to deity, divinity, etc. I can't argue fer it or agin it. But I will say that if you fall back to the root of that Greek word, THEOS, you got to, got to, got to fall back to the Hebraic background of forms of the Hebrew word often transliterated as "El."

If you fall back to EL, then you know that corresponds to forms of the Greek word transliterated as THEOS, or (WAIT FOR IT, WAIT FOR IT) GOD. EL is God. Get it? God it? Good.

In other words, Colossians 2:9, if we break it in like it was a new baseball glove, working it and working it till it is malleable (using that word twice in a week is some sort of Billy record), we could, COULD, read it this way: "For in Christ lives all the fullness of (El, or Theos, or GOD) in a human body."

Or perhaps best of all, "For in (Jesus) we find (the Father) in a human body." Jesus in the real world is God the Father in a human bodied world.

Just saying, is all.

We are standing on holy ground when we stand in our sanctuaries. There are angels all around. We are praying to Jesus now. We are standing in his presence on that holy ground. We can't help but be moved if we allow ourselves to be moved. For He is THEOS. He is EL. He is GOD. He is the great I AM.

Singing is going on while we are standing on holy ground, seems to me.

That should get your legs trembling and your feet flopping and your toes tapping. Again, just saying is all.

That should get your Amens, Amening. That should get your imagination running across open territory like the sun could be stopped in the sky.

That should ...

That should get the brown-eyed girl's brows twitching, the blue-eyed man wailing some Southern Gospel, the green-eyed mom and dad singing and dancing for Jesus or simply falling to our knees in whopping fresh newness.

Friends, are you ready? Can you be ready? Can you imagine what it will be like, what it was like, when human body meets THEOtic wonder? That's Thursday's territory.

And all you thought you were going to get is some kind of life lesson or something make you laugh.  Not up in here. Not on this drip-dried morning of greatness.

Sing your praises to the Lord, the awesome God of wonder and might. THEO and such, indeed.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Just ... let it go

Here's a simple way to look at life ... the first chapter of the book of James tells us this: "Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind comes your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So, let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing."

As a great mind once said, "Duh."

Read it again, in a slightly titled manner. Troubles come. That's an opportunity. For what? For great joy. Why? Your endurance has a chance to grow. So, let it do the whole rose bush thing, growing despite all those dang stickers and such. When the bush is fully grown, heck, you're perfect. You need nothing from Amazon at that point.

Read it again. 

Troubles arrive. You know, the kind of stuff that gives you a stomach ache. The kind of stuff that causes you to mourn and to ache and to grieve and to crawl into bed and bend at the waist and pull the covers up and did I mention ache and grieve and crawl and cough up, er, stuff?

Troubles like bills you forgot.
Troubles like pet illness.
Troubles that make you ask that haunting question, what's next? What could possibly be next? What on this whole dang planet could possibly be next? 
Troubles like your car dying days after the warranty you paid extra ends.
Troubles like a bad diagnosis.
Troubles the kind they sing songs about, the kind they write poems about, the kind your aunt and uncle shake their heads in sorrow about.
Troubles that accompany pastor's visits, that counselors come to talk to you about, that bankers get tense about.
Troubles that nobody knows what you've seen types.

The kind of stuff that causes joint swelling it's so bad. That kind. You know the kind.
And the Bible says, it really, truly says, is an opportunity. 

Let me recap.

You don't see the dang brake lights on the 71 Ford Mustang that has more dirt on it than paint and you pop the trunk so to speak, and it's your fault. YOUR fault. Your fault for not noticing. Your fault for not stopping. Your fault.

Ain't it always your fault?

Anyway, you don't brake in time because he didn't brake in time and the net thing you know, you've introduced yourself to Mr. Ford in an unfortunately intimate manner and there you go. It's YOUR fault. 

And it's an opportunity to get happy, happy, happy because, well, because James said it is.

The question becomes, what is this an opportunity for? How do we get joyful when we're sweating Coushatta bullets on a mean summer's afternoon?

The answer is, well, like Frozen told us, "let it go." 

When things are falling apart, let it go. When it's all falling apart, and grief is melting onto the melting pavement, let it go. When anger is spilling onto our kids because they're kids and we're not, let it go. When life is so far from fair that we can't even understand what we're doing here, let it go. Just let it go. Pick it up, pack it up, laugh it up and let it go.

Let the fighting go.
Let the splits go.
Let the hatred go.
Let the meanness go.
Let the missed opportunities go.
Let it all go. Set it free. Open the trap. Spring the defeats from their cell. Let the old' become El

Let those icy gray follicles die. 
Let those wasted paint chips go ahead and waste away, crying up in cans older than we. 
Let it go. Let it all go. 

Let it wash away like Red River overflow,  mess and mangle, limb and trunk, jellied and justified, flotsam and jetsam circling down nature's drain,  the leftovers of the world rushing by like they had an appointment somewhere this mournfully hot morning.

This morning, as flags come down and grievances go up, let's just let it all go. Let's quit worrying about what come next, quit burying our heads in the sands of disagreement and let it ALL go.

James says when the wagons circle, yet we live through it, the arrows sticking in cloth not skin, it's a good and joyful thing. I admit that idea does indeed appear. We've made it through the gates of hell and run through it with joysticks lining our path like little light standards. 

So, we rejoice because we understand that somehow all this has been let go. We made it, so the rest is just lagniappe. Life, that's life, is somehow creeping up and tickling us because we let it all go.

Get that? Just let it go. Let the pain and the obstacles go ahead and prepare our path for the joy that is to come.

Let it go, church. Let it go, friends. Let it go, enemies.

I got some living to do.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

We're getting fried.

In the next week, we are all gonna die. Dried up like Rod Stewart's face. Honestly. Dead.

Fried like, oh, a fried Oreo.

It's going to be more than 100 degrees as often as, say, Kim Kardashian burns bridges in relationships. Flames leaping higher and wider than her behind, that's the way the weather is gonna be in the next few days in this country. If you like hot, well, you are gonna feel hot as likely as Fox News is conservative.

Remember, there was a time when summer was merely hot. The type of heat that a cool drink would zap. Oh, you remember those days. Happened fifty or sixty years ago. Normal heat, not when the lawn mower bursts into flame when you pulled the chord, when fire poked its head from the mower and said hello wearing a costume like the one Firestorm wears on the Flash TV show.

The type of heat that causes cars to explode like fireworks on July 4th is that type of heat to expect this week. Long sleeved heat is what to expect this week, as I recall. Roll down the cloth on the arms and let the attire catch fire.

There was a time when hot meant, er, livable, not insanely warm. Hey, I actually remember a time when houses were not air conditioned but instead were fan modulated, and we lived. We lived. We actually lived.

There was a time when Mr. Hott didn't worry about surviving, and he lived through it, without running to Uncle Firecracker.
There was a time when Mr. Hott didn't take cases of water with him when he went to the store to get cases of water.
There was a time when Mr. Hott could get his ice cream home from the grocery before it became the basis for his Ninja blender's hot toddy.
There was a time when Mr. Hott's bubbly was his champagne, not his Blue Belle.
And there was a time when Mr. Hott could drive home without wearing oven mitts to protect his hands from the steering wheel.

Seriously. There was a time. I think it was the age called Fireastic World or something like that. Remember reading the book just before it sparked in your hands? Yeah, me too.

Remember going to the park for picnics? Remember raking pine straw instead of waiting for it to be set afire by two sticks rubbing innocently together?

Remember a time before bread toasted in your hand at the park? Yeah, I remember so. Time when there was an evening in which you could enjoy a bit of a breeze instead of a hot wave of microwave intensity?

Remember when Mars Attacks was a goofy movie instead of a weather forecast?

Remember when the weather man told us the Plains are baking?. The West is broiling? The South is cooking? The East is turning electrified?

It's so hot this week that you notice your car is overheating and you haven't even cranked it yet. Hot air balloons can't go up because the air outside is hotter than the air inside. Airplanes can't land because the asphalt is too soft. It's so hot that the seams in the park are coming in two types: original recipe and extra crispy. It's so hot that water from the cold water tap is hotter than the hot one. Strawberries are ripe, and cab drivers are riper; The hot dogs in minor league baseball stadiums are actually hot. Pigs are complaining about sweating like fat humans. A scalding hot shower in the morning cools you down. You've been getting hot flashes, and you're a man. A $20 surcharge is added to your evening meal bill because you're eating at an air-conditioned restaurant.

It's so hot that the Devil is taking new patients because they wanted to go to a cool hangout.

And the news was led last night by another sad story. Seems the only ones happy were the companies digging swimming pools, but things changed when the employees began digging their own graves instead of their own pools.

Friends, it was so hot out there yesterday the only thing Lance Armstrong tested positive for was Snapple.


Monday, July 13, 2015

Prayerful planning for the sake of the call

I'm thinking about plans this morning. I'm looking through my notes about plans. I'm praying about plans.

Do you have one?

As part of yesterday's sermon, at the close, I quoted Jeremiah quoting God the Father. Remember this wonderful part of Jeremiah's 29th chapter: "For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."

So, God has a to-do list? Wow.

God has a way. He plans things, too. In Ezekiel we read: "Then King Ahaz went to Damascus to meet Tiglath-Pileser king of Assyria. He saw an altar in Damascus and set to Uriah the priest a sketch of the altar, with detailed plans for its construction."

See, I happen to think Jesus' coming was part of a tremendous plan on God's part. I happen to think that Jesus' coming again will be part of grand plan of the Father, a plan that is known only to him, a plan in which heaven comes to earth.

Sometimes our plans don't work:
David said to his people, "I had it in my heart to build a house as a place of rest for the ark of the covenant of the Lord, for the footstool of our God, and I made plans to build it."
Job said, "My days have passed, my plans are shattered."

And sometimes they do through effort and prayer and God's power:
David wrote, "May he give you the desire of your heart and make all of your plans succeed."

But here's the wonderful idea of the morning. His plans (HIS PLANS) always work perfectly. Our plans (OUR PLANS) many times do not.

The Bible tells us, "But the plans of the Lord stand firm forever; the purposes of his heart through all generations."

This morning I have written the things I want to accomplish this week. They might, and I stress the word might, be taken care of this week. Or they might be done this month. They might even be done.

But the celebration will have to wait, I fear, for the times they include possibility not assurance. In other words, I will try, but I know that I might slump into failure. However, if I follow Him, then the chances of success go up immeasurably.

Here is the plan, then. I'll make plans, I'll pray for those plans, I will then mark off them as accomplished.

I will abandon everything, then, for the sake of the call. I will pray with confidence. I will ask Jesus to increase my faith to the point that those plans are bathed in that same confidence I prayed with.

So, my first item on the to-do list is to write the Monday blog... See, this works.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Mailable at best

Do you ever, and by ever I mean, uh, ever, get the feeling you haven't been making much progress lately, and by lately I mean, uh, anytime lately?

I know what I'm about to write will upset some, challenge some, surprise some.

We are not finished products. There. I said it. Deal with it.

The Bible expresses this thought in a bit of a round-about fashion. Paul writes, "And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns."

Now, that means to me that the work God is doing in us, in me, continues. Read it any other way? Nah. Didn't think so.

That means to me that whatever He is doing within us is continuing. He won't leave us the way He found us, and perhaps almost as importantly, as we found him.

So, what's going on in us? We're gaining in knowledge. Fear and (Hunter S. Thompson fans will get this) loathing is diminished. Humility is increased. The love of self slowly but surely dies.

As importantly, the work being done through us increases.

I am but a tool of the Lord. I get that, well, some of the time. Some of the time I step on out in ego and pride and try to do things and it's all a big crash waiting to happen. But slowly and most assuredly surely He is working through me to get me to see with spiritual eyes. When I see, it's like a scene out of Field of Dreams.

Remember that movie (my favorite ever)? I'm not good enough of a writer to even explain it. But at the end, some baseball players who had been playing on a field in Iowa, some very dead baseball players by the way, are finally seen by a brother of the lead actor. He says, "Ray, when did these ball players get here?" That's the way our spiritual eyes are, often. Things are going on around us daily. It's only when we get out of the way are our eyes opened.

The old song inspired by Isaiah 64:8 is a reminder of what we must do, feel, believe to go on to what Wesley described as perfection.

Have Thine own way, Lord. Have Thine own way!
Thou art the Potter; I am the clay.
Mold me and make me after Thy will,
While I am waiting, yielded and still.

That's the road to perfection, the road to doing the work of God. God began the good work, continues the good work, finishes the good work.

At best, we are mailable clay. At worst? Well, broken vessels.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

To do or not to do

I have a to-do list for today, carved through thought and intention on Wednesday afternoon. It's filled with dots and tittles, things and such. I might even accomplish it.

But I can do infinitely more with Him by my side. That's the equation that works.

The Bible describes it this way: "Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. Glory to him in church and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever!"

Get that. More than we might even ask or might even think.

The hymn writer said it this way: "Oh, what peace we often forfeit, oh what needless pains we bear; all because we do not carry everything to God in prayer."

Here's my question this fine hot morning. What can't God do? What is it that we fail to ask him? What have we not thought of that needs thinking about? God is able. There is no lack in him. It is possible, just possible, that God is able to do all things and that through him we can do all things, as well. Nothing handicaps him, short sells him, stops him.

But our requests need help. How often do we fall short in the request department? You might have it in your thoughts to be a teacher but don't think you can do the schooling necessary. Have you asked God to help you? No, I don't mean take the darn tests for you, but, yes, I mean strengthen your talents, work on your study habits, keep you up when you get down.

All glory to God then comes when we make it to wherever the mountain top is in our lives, and we turn and give thanks to a God who has protected us, led us, guided us and even at times picked up our drooping heads.

John Stott points out seven great stages in this statement written by the Apostle Paul:

"God is able to do because he is not idle or inactive or dead. God can do what we ask because he hears us when we pray. He can do what we think because he knows what we think before we think it. He can do all we ask because he knows it all and can do it all. He can do more than we ask or think because his plans are bigger than our plans. He can do much more than we ask or think because there is no holding back with God. He can do exceedingly abundantly beyond what we can imagine because his the God of the superlative."

He can stop the sun, because he created it. He can raise the dead, because he invented life. He can lift a church's plans because he created the church and knows its future and its present and its past all at the same time.

My to-do list is a small one today, but his to-do list is a large one. My to-do list is doable because I fear failure so I don't make it a huge one. His to-do list  is doable because he never fails and never seeks to avoid risk and never turns down a challenge.

Me? I'm working on the to-do list. Him? He's improving my to-do list.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

He knows

Have you read, have you heard?

The Psalmist puts it this way: "O Lord, you have examined my heart and know everything about me. You know when I sit down or stand up. You know my thoughts even when I'm far away. You see me when I travel and when I rest at home. You know everything I do. You know what I am going to say even before I say it, Lord. You go before me and follow me. You place your hand of blessing on my head. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too great for me to understand!"

We have become a land of opinion. We thrive on it, read about it, watch it. There is no news anymore, there is commentary.

If you think about it, and I suspect most do, it carries down to which TV news channel you watch. Fox has its opinions and its slants. MSNBC its. CNN its. Newspapers theirs. And you yours.

At some level, that's fine. But at the deepest of levels, it's meaningless. Whatever you and I think of God Almighty ultimately matters little. For He is who He is, and He knows us and sees us and we can't hide all that we are.

That's terrifying in some ways and comforting in others.

But what it ultimately means is that no opinion, no idea, no plan is ours. It is His, and His alone.

It always has been.

It is when our humanity interferes with His divinity, or our seeing and feeling and hearing and absorbing of his divine call, that we falter and fall. Look around you this day. See if you can fix the hardest of problems. Then if you are a believer try to solve the hardest of questions in your life.

See if you can hide your sin.
See if you can diminish His power.
See if ...

He knows everything about us.

I remember when I was about six, for some reason I suddenly thought it was a good idea to play with matches. I went outside in the backyard of our house in Meridian, Miss., and lit one and threw it, cackling all the while, until a bit of leaves flared and singed my eye lashes and brows. My mother noticed it while we were eating dinner and said, "Billy, you've been playing with fire, haven't you."

I was stunned, and repentant immediately. My mother always, always knew what I was doing.

Now, think about God and what HE knows.

In the Attributes of God, author Arthur Pink wrote, "God knows everything. Everything possible, everything actual; all events and all creatures of the past, present and the future. Nothing escapes his notice, nothing can be hid.

In Ezekiel 11:5, God says, "For I know the things that come into your mind, every one of them."

He knows when I mess up, when I fall, when I sin and when I bounce and come back up. He forgives and He forgets.

But He knew.

Think long about that today. Of course, that's just my opinion.