Friday, September 25, 2015

Steeling away some time to be together

He comes running onto the field like he's a, well, like he's a football player. As big as the wind in Oklahoma, as quick as the wells that dig summer oil and as filled with effort as those medal monstrosities, pumping legs and arms mostly at the proper time.

My wife, Mary, says she worries about him and football because, I guess, that's the proper role of MawMaws, and she watches the same sports programming I do, but I have no worries that somewhere along the line all this will get out of line and he'll quit pumping legs and arms mostly at the proper time. He wears the No. 8 because that's what we all do or did, each of us down the line wearing No. 8. It's the family heirloom.

That's just the lay of the land, and of Gavin's legs and arms.

He is playing center and defense lineman this year, though he is neither big enough nor strong enough nor, well, anything enough to be doing so.

But his No. 8 is white and the black jersey is mostly, kinda black and his pants are mostly, kinda black and the paper they ran through to open the season, the one with Go Steelers ruggedly printed, let them shout to the world that they, the Steelers, were going and going and going like some maniacal announcement.

The season had begun.
Gavin had broken through.
The Steelers, with their golden socks and all-black attire, were going.

And somehow they were ready, they said, running as if the wind was an impetus to sing lonely football songs.

Gavin is our soon-to-be college age philosopher. He will turn eight in February. Had he read that sentence, or heard it read, he would have said, "what does that mean, PawPaw?" I would have said, "Gavin, you just don't get things do you?" I would have turned away so he couldn't see me beginning to laugh. Gavin gets things just fine. PawPaw doesn't get them much of the time.

He follows suit.

Last year, we packed up and got in the car to go to Dairy Queen. Gavin, says he wants a Coke float. We get him one. We drive away. About halfway home, he says, "this is gross. It's like real Coke poured over ice cream." We say, "Gavin, that's what it is. Didn't you know that?" He says, "No. I never had one."

Last year the -- then -- Saints went unbeaten if memory serves (and it serves less as the days creep by). Gavin's first season in football went off with a great bang. The team won, again if memory ... all through the championship. Gavin even, though size is a bit of a handicap, recovered a critical fumble in the championship game.

He's all movement and such, with a bit of chaotic, strategic, loopy energy pitched into the bundle. But I would give a mint or two to be able to see him this fall, with a year of football under his little belt.

Till the next time, though, Go Steelers (and I have a mental picture of someone stunned by that admission and speech).

Thursday, September 24, 2015

The Walking Mess meets French Fried creativity

I now pronounce creativity is as dead as an opossum's breath, as dead as -- let's go through the litany please...

as a bat,
as a doornail,
as a idiom about things that are dead,
as a dodo on throwback Thursday (that's mine even if it makes no sense),
as it gets,
as yesterday in the rain (that's mine, too),
as a pig in the sunshine,
oh, you get the idea.

Creativity is as dead as it gets. You get it? Dead. Airmailed, dead, as dead as Drew Brees' shoulder. 

I know this because, well, I watch TV.

Here are three examples of the worst of times.

First, the Burger King commercial. A talking chicken says she is pregnant with french fries, therefore she will be giving birth to chicken fries. Oh, my, dear, Lord. Along with being all sorts of trashy, and despite the fact it takes away all of my meager, puny appetite for something called chicken fries in the first place, despite the idea of french fries impregnating a chicken, it's just plain, ol' simple and dumb. Someone currently employed by Burger King thought this to be creative. I assume it was a chicken. Or a pig in sunshine.

Secondly, the latest in a long line of incredibly dumb Old Spice commercials. In this one, and again it is a long line of dumb, there is a rocket-powered Terry Crews. I can't even describe it from there. Someone currently employed by Burger King or someone I can't quite picture thinks this in some form or fashion would make me be interested in buying Old Spice. Not only is that not true, I believe Old Spice should therefore be banned in all forms or fashions simply because of this.

Finally, may we finally be delivered from the remainder of the contract that has given us the once original idea of taking a bite of Snickers. Again, original early. Dumb as a dodo late.

Here's the deal. Eight years ago a man named Ken Robinson, an expert on creativity and education, made a TED speech that revolutionized the topic of education. It has been watched on the TED website more than 38 million times. It takes about 20 minutes to watch it, and I suggest it is worth it if you can bear to take time away from your chicken friends and such.

Robinson believes that at this moment creativity and education can't co-exist. Robinson was knighted in 2003 for his education in the field of education. He says there were no public systems of education before the 19th century; all of them came into being to meet the needs of the Industrial Revolution. He says that at school, you were "probably steered away from subjects you enjoyed because you would never get a job doing that (like blogging, I reckon. Many creative, brilliant, talented people think they're not because everything they were good at at school wasn't valued, or was stigmatized.

"All children have tremendous talent," Robinson says, "and we squander them pretty ruthlessly. Picasso once said that all children are born artists. The problem is to remain an artist as we grow up. I believe passionately that we don't grow into creativity, we grow out of it. We are educated out of it."

Clearly, the writer of the Old Spice series of commercials was a very educated person.

Or let's put it another way: Do you think the Super Bowl commercials have gotten better or worse?

Or do you think it might be time to say Direct TV has made its point about NFL ticket and let it go, let it go, let it go? Please.

Or can we have TV shows that were not in another life bad movies to begin with? Perhaps someone should actually take the pill that makes one limitless.

Or, finally, can we retire the phrase "reboot?" Movies that worked once should be left to retirement. Movies that never worked (Fantastic Four anyone?) should never be rebooted. How many Spider-Man origin movies do we really need? 

So, here's my pitch for a Super Bowl commercial  Say you had an impregnated mutant chicken wearing a Wasp uniform bitten by a irradiated spider who looks suspiciously like a green Geico, fighting a man-sized french fry.

Call it ... 
Fifty Shades of Stupid, 
or Chicken Poop in the New Age Chicken Coop,
or Game of Goons, 
or The Walking Mess.

Just take a bite of Snickers. You know you're not creative when you're hungry.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Fixing the lefties once and for dang all

You turn around and things aren't like they used to be.Why? Because, uh, things aren't like they used to be. From the bottom of the pity pit we scream to the dark clouds, and, and, and we try to get a hold on things.
Instead, we look at how things are, and how things used to be, and we ponder. Oh, and this old crank named Paul, who calls himself an apostle right on to our faces, writes, "We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation."
And in the darkness a pinpoint of light begins to grow. A pinpoint of special sauce develops, and we sing -- right on, right there -- "What a Mighty God We serve," and we mean it.
The strength of a deep fog.
The snakiness of NBC's Brian Williams.
The wordiness of the late Yogi Berra.
The masterpiece that is southpaw creation.
Seriously. An Oklahoma mother says her son's teacher shamed the 4-year-old lefty into writing with his other hand. Zayde Sands favors the left-handed moments, but his teacher all but turns a blind eye into the sands-y buildup.
Things aren't like they used to be, are they?
I can't, for my life of me and my left hand, understand how Sands is being picked on by his teacher, but clearly he is. Doesn't take a budding genius to plant some lefties, churches. 
My biggest fear, with the clear exception of knives and snakes and snakes holding knives, is being embarrassed. This person did it on purpose to this child. Now, I'm not going to get up all high and mighty and such, but, er, drop in a cranky hold. Seriously.
I'm beginning to think that perhaps, just perhaps, we're sliding down a cranky moment backwards, and perhaps, just perhaps, we're not going to slow down before we are put in a crank studio. 
Maybe we're done for. Maybe we're in too deep. Maybe it was over earlier than we thought possible. Maybe, well, thwippppp to someone who would wave a 4-year-old genius on through to a sure out at the plate.
Maybe we're done. Washed up and done. Cleaned up and coming on strong. Maybe it really is over before it's over. Hey, who am I to make a quick claim about finality.
God creates, loves us through the creation, and back out the other end.
I, for one, can't wait to check out the long lines at the library's lines. With a smile and a brush of the hips against each other, we limp along. Let's get it together, all those I've come in contact with over time and space.
Dr. Who?
Dr. Whonot.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

God as a sports fan

Maybe you saw or heard the comments after Green Bay beat the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday night.
The dig that Rodgers took at Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson, a very vocal Christian, was small but it was certainly there.
After Seattle beat Green Bay in January for the NFC championship on the way to its second-straight Super Bowl appearance, Wilson said of the Seahawks' dramatic come-from-behind victory, "That's God setting it up, to make it so dramatic, so rewarding, so special." Wilson also thanked God while he was crying on the field during a postgame interview on Fox.
After the Packers hung on to beat the Seahawks Sunday night, in the postgame interview, Rodgers (for some reason) showed a bit of his ability to hold grudges. "I don't think God cares a whole lot about the outcome. He cares about the people involved, but I don't think he's a big football fan."
Then he hammered the point home, with just a wisp of a smile, "And then getting help from God. I think God was a Packers fan tonight."
This is pretty much an extension of a debate about what part God plays in the lives of football players. Some point to the sky and give God thanks and praise on nearly every play. Some don't, though they remain faithful in other ways.
Tim Tebow is the obvious example of someone who (though apparently out of NFL football for good, now) would certainly give God the thanks if he scored.
A while back I wrote about the difference between Rodgers and Tebow in this way.
"Well I started playing before Tim," Rodgers said, "so these are things I've thought about for a long time, and I think one thing that I try to look at when I was a younger player, and I mean, in high school, junior college and Division I, I was always interested in seeing how guys talked in their interviews, talked about their faith, or didn't talk about their faith. And then the reactions at times, I know Bob Costas at one point was critical about a player thanking Jesus Christ after a win, questioning what would happen if that player had lost, or do you really think God cares about winning and losing."

"I feel like my stance and my desire has always been to follow a quote from St. Francis of Assisi, who said, 'Preach the gospel at all times. If necessary, use words.' So basically, I'm not an over-the-top, or an in-your-face kind of guy with my faith. I would rather people have questions about why I act the way I act, whether they view it as positive or not, and ask questions, and then given an opportunity at some point, then you can talk about your faith a little bit. I firmly believe, just personally, what works for me, and what I enjoy doing is letting my actions speak about the kind of character that I want to have, and following that quote from St. Francis.''

Tebow is a little different, you might say.  I once saw him in a two-minute clip being asked a question about how his team had come back to win one more time, and he began with "First, I want to thank my Lord and Savior."

I've written before that there is nothing wrong with this. He is praising his Savior. This is who Tebow is, was, and I suspect strongly will always be. Nothing wrong with that if it is indeed sincere.

The question, I would think, becomes what are you trying to accomplish by saying something like that so often? If it is to help others to Christ, or to spark some curiosity or simply being in a praising mood, I doubt pounding a chest, pointing a finger toward heaven or whatever helps a viewer all that much -- if that was the intent. 

But I admire the courage, the praise-worthiness, the (I hope) spur of the moment desire to share one's accomplishments with the One who has made it possible. 

But I also want to say that if making disciples is our main job as Christians, keeping silent always might not be the best way to go.

So who is right? Russell, Rodgers, Tebow?

All, of course. Speak and act. Act and speak. 

Give glory to God and be a glory to God.

Monday, September 21, 2015

What does the world need today?

Ever just got so full of Jesus that you want to practically burst at the seams?

The Apostle Paul reads like that is the case when he tells the church in Corinth this: "The amazing grace of the Master, Jesus Christ, the extravagant love of God, the intimate friendship of the Holy Spirit, be with all of you."

Let's explore that portion of the greeting that should just flat out give us chill bumps:

Paul talks about amazing grace.
Paul talks about the extravagant love of God.
Paul talks about having an intimate friendship with the Holy Spirit.

Let's see: Paul got the behebuss knocked out of him on several occasions. 
This is his resume just two chapters earlier that the above:  "I am talking like a madman—I am a better one: with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless floggings, and often near death. Five times I have received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I received a stoning. Three times I was shipwrecked; for a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from bandits, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers and sisters; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, hungry and thirsty, often without food, cold and naked. And, besides other things, I am under daily pressure because of my anxiety for all the churches."

And he says he has an intimate friendship with the Holy Spirit.

Now some would say that friendship with the greatest power in the universe would keep you from having the behebuss beaten out of you. But Paul knows that all the above difficulty is simply a necessary way to help pass the Gospel to others.

The question is, do we get that?

It ain't easy, this Christian life. It's just not.

But we have access to the amazing grace of Jesus, the extravagant love of God and intimate friendship with the Holy Spirit.

That being the case, if God is for us, what or who can be against us?

Seriously. What or who can be against us?

So, today, get up and get going with the Gospel as your cane, your plan and your path.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Done with the T-P this time; really

Did you know that the phrase "God will not put more on me than I can handle," isn't found in scripture?
Did you know that the phrase "When God allows a door to close, He is ready to open a window (or another door) isn't found in scripture?
Did you know...

I have a horrible, horrible ache this morning and only portions of it come from my wretched knee. For the third time, second since I left that other world (of journalism, specifically The Times-Picayune), friends' jobs have been axed like so much wood.

Friends with families, mortgages, bills of all kind were unceremoniously dumped. Oh, severance pay was part of the saying goodbye, but my, oh, my oh, my they just sent them away -- again.

I talked with, or messaged, my two closest friends still left in the building last night and this morning, and one made the cut though if I get it he won't be writing (there's a great idea by the way, let's have newspapers without writers, because, you know, people don't read -- which makes the rest of all this quite superfulous doesn't it?) and the other was shown the door.

My friend was as I knew he would be. He asked about those doors that will open. He talked about what God has in store for him. He talked about not being surprised. He talked about the future.

Did you see the photo of the one dog grieving and refusing to leave the dog who had died after being hit by a car a while back? That's what being a friend sometimes amounts to. Sometimes all we can do is grieve, privately or publicly.

My training tells me this of grieving:
It is hard.
It is long.
It never ends till we move on, and there is no set time and date for moving on.
It is something we hold on to because we're terrified of being disloyal by letting go.
It is common in all our loss.
It, to quote someone, somewhere, sucks. It always has. It always will.

I believe my friend Jeff Duncan said it best: We lost a friend yesterday. Oh, this friend didn't suffer at the end, and the end came quickly despite the friend being ill for quite some time. Even though we absolutely know it is coming, it always shocks us how quickly it comes. We're never, never prepared.

Like Icarus, we fly too high., then we crash and burn. And this time things are worse, because this time it is giving up.

But beyond losing a friend, yesterday, there was a loss of a way of life. Oh, how hard that is to get past, to grieve, to mourn, to feel like shards of ice on a bare hand.

I've had a subscription to a newspaper, a printed newspaper, the kind of item one can hold in one's hand with one's morning coffee, since I was, well, counting the years of the afternoon newspaper The Meridian Star, all my life. Daily. For 40 years, I've missed maybe a day or two at a time of reading a newspaper, of home delivery, of treasuring good writing and searching into the small print for box scores and such. Heck, I learned to read by studying baseball box scores. Really. I did.

I wrote my first story for a newspaper when I was 15. I wrote roundups for the local newspaper as a senior in high school, still playing football at my high school. I did my own sports newspaper for my high school because I felt the campus "newspaper" we had wasn't good enough. I was paid for my first story in the spring of my senior year.

I stopped writing for that newspaper five plus years ago, taking what they call a buyout and early retirement to pursue my true love, being a pastor. But I've never stopped reading. I thought I never would. Perhaps now, with the loss of that friend, I will. I can. Perhaps even I must.

A while back, The Times-Picayune, announced it was ceasing to be a daily. I worked for the newspaper in management in the sports department for 14 years, then demoted myself to return to writing and did that for another five or six. From the first time I went there, looking out at the Blue Plate sign in its blue brilliance late at night, I felt a sense of home that I didn't always at places like USA Today, the Reno Gazette-Journal and even Jackson's Clarion-Ledger. It was where I thought I would be till they pried my arthritic fingers from my PC or my laptop. I was wrong, again.

I get that things have changed. I understand all that. It lessens my grief not a bit. People who were good at what they did have been sent away.

I guess it was not enough to make a profit.
I guess it was not good enough to do the job.
I guess it's goodbye, again.

I wrote a poem once during my college days and young love. I remember little of it, except this one line: Being young is just a preparation for being gone.

I get that God actually opened that other door for me. I get that there have been bumps and bruises and potholes galore along the way. But mostly I get that God has always given me some sort of challenge and some sort of blessing to go with that.

I will praise Him even in the storm. I will pray for Jimmy Smith, Mike Strom, all the prep staff, and especially Trey Iles.

They were better than what they got yesterday.

Goodbye TP. It truly was good to know you. I'm done, this time.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Off to see the wizard

Today is what is known as the end of time. No, Trump didn't make sense. Today I'm going, as part of my back and knees treatment, to a sports clinic. There is some sort of plan in place for me that will include strengthening my core.

I thought cores were found in apples and such. But I digress.

I'm more alarmed about this than any of the many, many back procedures, spinal blocks, radiofrenquencies and such I've had for more than seven years.

What if they, ahem, tell me to exercise? What next? That's the end of time thing I'm talking about.

Mary bought me a bike for Christmas. So, indeed I own one. I rode it once since we've moved to this wonderful town of Coushatta. I figure once was quite enough.

Look, I get up during TV shows and televised ball games to get things out of the refrigerator and/or go to the bathroom. What do they people want of me?

So, fear has gripped me like a center fielder catching a ball.

When that happens, I go to the place that removes the fears.

Jesus said this once (and boy I would love to argue with him about this):

“That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear. Isn’t life more than food, and your body more than clothing? Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are? Can all your worries add a single moment to your life? ..."

Yeah, but...

They weren't working on those darn birds cores, nor calling them obese, nor walking about arthritis in knees or, or, or.

So, time is running out. I have to go. I must go be evaluated, which they say might take up to an hour and a half. I guess it will take that much time to get around my waist with a core measuring device or something.

I used to be an athlete. I really did. I don't remember when that was, but I know it's true. My core tells me so.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Time to encourage

When did we turn into a country (and a church universal) that was against things?
Wasn't there a time when we were for things?

When we were for people, not against them?
When we were encouragers instead of discouragers?
When we were positive instead of negative?
When we thought we could instead of thinking we can't?


When did we turn wonderful help into abysmal efforts?

Advising: "I think you should..." "How come you didn't...?"
One-upping: "That's nothing; wait'll you hear what happened to me."
Educating: "This could turn into a very positive experience for you if you just..."
Consoling: "It wasn't your fault; you did the best you could."
Story-telling: "That reminds me of the time..."
Shutting down: "Cheer up. Don't feel so bad."
Sympathizing: "Oh, you poor thing..."
Interrogating: "When did this begin?"
Explaining: "I would have called but..."
Correcting: "That's not how it happened."

It starts early now, doesn't it? It starts in school and continues into business and into our homes. We use words like these all the time.

* Dumb!
* Stupid!
* Lazy!
* Crazy
* Mental
* Shut up!
* Hopeless
* Shame on you
* Don't be a baby.
* Stop whining.
* Be nice. (gives the message that child is not nice.)
* Here, let me do that.
* Hurry up.
* Be quiet
* Be careful.
* Why can't you get grades like your big sister's?
* I'm paying so much for your education. And now such low grades!
* What are you going to school for, just to each lunch?"

What if we turned all that around and began to encourage those around us? We were in a study last night of the Apostle Paul's life and we were talking about a man named Barnabas whose name meant Son of Encouragement. Wouldn't that be someone you would want to meet? Well, what if we became that person? What if we did all we could to encourage everyone we come in contact with? What if that person who is taking up our money at the cash register with a name tag was encouraged by us, by name? Just saying.

Encourage the smallest effort.
Stop finding fault with the wrong and applaud the right.
Look for outwardly demonstrable ways to encourage a person so others can see it too.
Reject negative responses.
Quit being cynical about everything and stow away all the sarcasm.
Make positive comments every single change you get.
Heck, write some encouraging comments on Facebook. Start a trend. Change the world.
Tell even the most negative of folks something positive about themselves.
Pay attention. Notice when someone does something good.
But be honest. Don't lie. People know when we're real. Therefore, be real. But positive.
Bite your tongue when you get up on the wrong side of the bed.

I'm tired of Facebook messages that tell me how "stupid" other politicians are. Folks, these men and women aren't stupid. They might disagree with you, but they're not stupid.

So, let's make a pact. Let's be positive for a week. Go out of our way to see the good in others. Let's change how we see the world. 

I believe at some point someone said we were to treat others as we would like to be treated. Somewhere along the line we forgot all about that. 

I declare this very day we must be positive from now on (or at least a week).

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Living water

The story is a familiar one to many. It ground itself into my tired mind this morning. Studying for three Bible Studies and a meeting or two or three left me tired this morning over my coffee.
From John 4 comes this day in the life of the Lord.
"Jesus realized that the Pharisees were keeping count of the baptisms that he and John performed (although his disciples, not Jesus, did the actual baptizing). They had posted the score that Jesus was ahead, turning him and John into rivals in the eyes of the people. So Jesus left the Judean countryside and went back to Galilee. To get there, he had to pass through Samaria. He came into Sychar, a Samaritan village that bordered the field Jacob had given his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was still there. Jesus, worn out by the trip, sat down at the well. It was noon.
"A woman, a Samaritan, came to draw water. Jesus said, “Would you give me a drink of water?” (His disciples had gone to the village to buy food for lunch.) The Samaritan woman, taken aback, asked, “How come you, a Jew, are asking me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?” (Jews in those days wouldn’t be caught dead talking to Samaritans.)
"Jesus answered, “If you knew the generosity of God and who I am, you would be asking me for a drink, and I would give you fresh, living water.” The woman said, “Sir, you don’t even have a bucket to draw with, and this well is deep. So how are you going to get this ‘living water’? Are you a better man than our ancestor Jacob, who dug this well and drank from it, he and his sons and livestock, and passed it down to us?”  Jesus said, “Everyone who drinks this water will get thirsty again and again. Anyone who drinks the water I give will never thirst—not ever. The water I give will be an artesian spring within, gushing fountains of endless life.”
"The woman said, “Sir, give me this water so I won’t ever get thirsty, won’t ever have to come back to this well again!” 
This notion of living water is an interesting one. It was to this woman. It is to me. I would change the setting to my own, Coushatta, La., instead of Samaria. I would change the woman to me, a sinner, come to buy water at the local convenience store. 
There I am. I'm so darn thirsty. I have so little. I'm looking for answers. And this man. This man comes up to the well I'm attempting to draw from one more time and he says he can give me just what I need. 
So, the question becomes once and for all time, do I believe him. 
This morning as I look at the swirl in my coffee, as I ponder just how tired I am, as I think about the decisions that lie before me on this day, the most important question that will ever come up, the one question I can't bypass without terrible consequences is this one: Do I believe him? will I give attention to the gushing fountains of endless life or will I simply walk on by? 
Jesus was walking with Peter one day and asked the question in another manner. He asked, "Who do you say that I am?"
The correct answer brings living water, brings the bread of life, brings the answer even to defeating our most persistent enemy, death.
You are the Christ, Peter says.
You are the Christ, the woman at the well thinks.
You are the Christ, I say.
And the generosity of a living, loving God pours fourth.

Monday, September 14, 2015

What gives you life?

I was once asked to consider what gives me life? These are the answers.

  1. Family: They breathe life into me when I’m at my lowest. They sacrifice for me, and they always have.
  2. Writing: I’m most alive when I’m sitting in front of a laptop or whatever and creating something, sometimes a new sentence, sometimes a new way of expressing something very old that hasn’t been done in exactly the way I’ve written it. Using the writing to put someone in a place they only had heard about but never visited. It is what I’m most at home with.
  3. Preaching: Nothing I’ve ever experienced is like the feeling I have when it works, when I know I’m connecting with those I’ve tried so hard to connect with. I enjoy the preparation, the research, the writing, taking the writing and trying to say what I’ve written in a clear, concise manner despite my accent and my limitations. Knowing that what is happening is truly of God and not myself.
  4. Doing missional work
  5. Jesus. Just Jesus. 
  6. Grace beyond measure or explanation.
  7. Friendships, new and old as time.
  8. Sports, win or lose.
  9. Reading, any and all things.
  10. Pets, and/or animals of all kinds.

Think this question through for yourself. What gives you life? What makes you tick? What is enjoyable above all things. What would you do even if you weren't paid to do it?

It is those things that separate us, I think, from who we are and who we want to be. 

Today's scripture at bible says this: Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind.

Let the answers to the questions above move you to have encouragement. Everyone has something that gives them life, excites them, makes them long for the next day. What is yours?

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Sustaining us till we're gray

Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you.
Isaiah 46:4 NIV

Love so amazing.
Love so unconditional.
Love so wonderful.
Love so, Divine

What a thought. What a concept. God, who made me, created me, allowed me into existence, will sustain me, rescue me, be with me.

Oh, I know this was said to a nation.
But it carries weight unto the individual, too.
And I am the most individual of beings.

Love so amazing.
Love so unconditional.
Love so wonderful.
Love so, Divine

There are times when we get to wondering if we are not the most lonely of creatures, when we've made a grievous mistake and can't find someone to talk to about it. But we are never alone. Never. That's the great part and the scary part rolled into one. He's with us. Which means, He's with us.

He will sustain us. He will carry us. He will be WITH us.

Love so amazing.
Love so unconditional.
Love so wonderful.
Love so, Divine

I'm interested in this word sustain. When I was at a church plant a year back, the conference pulled the plug because they said they didn't think the project was sustainable.  In other words, the money wasn't flowing in as fast as it was flowing out.

But in looking up this word sustain (which I had to do, which tells you all you need to know about me if you do not know me), it means "to strengthen or support physically or mentally." It means to comfort or help or assist or encourage or succor or support or carry or cheer up or hearten or buck up.

And this is what God has promised.

See if that blows your mind. He promises to strengthen or support or comfort or help or assist or encourage or succor or support or carry or cheer up or hearten or buck up. That's the God who walks with us till we have gray hairs and have reached old age and beyond.

Love so amazing.
Love so unconditional.
Love so wonderful.
Love so, Divine

There is truly no one like our God. He doesn't ask for much. He just wants, well, us. He just wants us to walk with Him as He walks with us.

That's the plan, Stan. And it is indeed sustainable because He sustains.

Love so amazing.
Love so unconditional.
Love so wonderful.
Love so, Divine

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Free indeed

What is this idea of freedom? Hasn't it complicated things way, way too long? Let me explain before you shut me down.

The Bible says of freedom in Isaiah the prophet's writings: The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners."

Jesus, in announcing his ministry in his hometown, read that very passage, so it has tremendous significance.

But what does it mean to those of us in the middle, neither particularly poor at the moment, nor completely brokenhearted, nor captive?

Or are we?

My brokenness is on record.
My captivity to sin is on record.
My spiritual poorness is on record.

I bleed all those things, daily, of a lifetime.

And I can't fix them.

So, what I need so desperately is someone to come along and proclaim good news to me. And He did.

I love it when Jesus reads this in the Nazareth synagogue, closes the scroll and says," Today this is fulfilled."

It is the equivalent of dropping the mike. The best performance in the history of humankind has happened. Jesus has said, I'm that guy. I want to be that guy, and I am.

And all that has come before is and was without fulfillment. Now? Now I've done it, he says.

He has set me free, and I am free indeed. Without question or doubt or worry or misery, I am free.

The complicating thing, as mentioned above, is that my very freedom threatens my peace. Only as I go back to the well over and over and over again do I remain free, do my spiritual wounds remain bound, does the good news that only Jesus can bring remain good news.

That's where we are this fine September morn. Free. Free to be who God has created us to be.

Are you up to it?

Am I?

Here's a story about that freedom...

Louise Redden, a poorly dressed lady with a look of defeat on her face, walked into a grocery store. She approached the owner of the store in a most humble manner and asked if he would let her charge a few groceries. She softly explained that her husband was very ill and unable to work, they had seven children and they needed food. 
John Longhouse, the grocer, scoffed at her and requested that she leave his store. 
Visualizing the family needs, she said: "Please, sir! I will bring you the money just as soon as I can." 
John told her he could not give her credit, as she did not have a charge account at his store. 
Standing beside the counter was a customer who overheard the conversation between the two. The customer walked forward and told the grocer that he would stand good for whatever she needed for her family. 
The grocer said in a very reluctant voice, "Do you have a grocery list?" 
Louise replied, "Yes sir" 
"O.K." he said, "put your grocery list on the scales and whatever your grocery list weighs, I will give you that amount in groceries." 
Louise, hesitated a moment with a bowed head, then she reached into her purse and took out a piece of paper and scribbled something on it. She then laid the piece of paper on the scale carefully with her head still bowed. 
The eyes of the grocer and the customer showed amazement when the scales went down and stayed down. 
The grocer, staring at the scales, turned slowly to the customer and said begrudgingly, "I can't believe it." 
The customer smiled and the grocer started putting the groceries on the other side of the scales. The scale did not balance so he continued to put more and more groceries on them until the scales would hold no more. The grocer stood there in utter disgust. 
Finally, he grabbed the piece of paper from the scales and looked at it with greater amazement. It was not a grocery list, it was a prayer which said: 
"Dear Lord, you know my needs and I am leaving this in your hands." 
The grocer gave her the groceries that he had gathered and stood in stunned silence. Louise thanked him and left the store. The customer handed a fifty-dollar bill to the grocer and said, "It was worth every penny of it." 
It was some time later that the grocer discovered the scales were broken; therefore, only God knows how much a prayer weighs. 
When the Savior frees you, friends, you are free indeed.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

On the border

Did you see the story? Probably not, I'm guessing.

While Donald Trump is proposing building fences, Pope Francis is building bridges. The Pope called on every European parish and religious community to take in one migrant family each in a gesture of solidarity he said would start in the tiny Vatican state where he lives.

The pope's call goes out to tens of thousands of Catholic parishes in Europe as the number of refugees arriving over land through the Balkans and across the Mediterranean Sea to Italy and Greece hits record numbers.

There are 25,000 parishes in Italy alone, and more than 12,000 in Germany, where many of the Syrians fleeing civil war and people trying to escape poverty and hardship in other countries say that want to end up.

In Holy Scripture, God says to the Israelites, "Do not mistreat or oppress a foreigner, for you were foreigners in Egypt."

I'm not smart enough to come up with the answer to immigration in this country, but I can't believe deportation is the answer any more now than it was then.

My understanding is more than 40 million people currently living in this nation were not born in our country.

Jessie Hernandez is a young woman who knows the issue from the other side.

She says: "I don’t remember Mexico well because I left when I was young. My mom says that we left because it’s hard to find work there. She brought me to the U.S. so I could go to a great school and get an excellent job someday.
"But not being able to speak English well in elementary school made it hard to make friends and understand my teachers. Besides, I have dark skin, dark hair, and dark eyes, but in America, there are so many white people with different-colored eyes. I didn’t just sound different -- I looked different. I cried every day. I felt like such a loner, like I didn’t belong or deserve anything. Nobody would talk to me, and even though I’m an outgoing person by nature, I kept everything bottled up inside because I didn’t know how to say what I wanted to say. It was so frustrating. It was difficult getting used to the little things too. I remember seeing a sloppy joe in the cafeteria for the first time and thinking: “What is that? It looks nasty!”
"During elementary school, my family’s immigration status was illegal, so things weren’t easy. It was hard for my mom to find a job. She eventually found work as a hotel maid, but she wasn’t getting paid well. She couldn’t speak up about it, because she didn’t want to cause a stir and risk getting fired or deported. Since we didn’t have a lot of money, my mom and I had to live in a small apartment that we split with another family that we didn’t know. It was crowded, and I hated having to share a kitchen and bathroom with strangers. The other people were nice, but we didn’t know if we could trust them. At that point, if anyone told the police about us, we might get deported. So most nights, my mom and I holed up in our room and watched TV."
Here's the idea, folks. Your ideas about immigration probably come from whatever side you've lived in. The border is like a division point. If you're trying to get in, you think one thing. If you're here, you think another.
But Jesus clearly taught: Blessed are those who are merciful because they will receive mercy."
Seems a fairly good notion, to me.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Kentucky and civil versus God's law

Let’s deal with the facts as I know them to be first.
            Surely you’ve heard the news by now. Kim Davis, a Kentucky clerk in Rowan County, suddenly is the centerpiece of the fight over same-sex marriage. Davis refused to issue marriage licenses and wound up in jail where she sits as I write this.
                  So-called progressives have rallied around the deputies of Davis who have issued those marriage licenses.
                  Conservatives have rallied around Davis, who is being compared by them to Dr. Martin Luther King.
                  Back it down there folks. Simmer down Nellie.
                  Some have said that Davis is the first person in the United States to go to jail for being Christian.
                  Let me say that I have preached a sermon based upon the Big Tent Revival song, “if loving God was a crime, I’d be an outlaw.” I hope that would be true.
                  But let’s make this clear before we become full of opinion and ranting breaks out. Davis wasn’t sent to jail because she was a Christian. She didn’t go to jail because of her beliefs. She is fully able to believe whatever she wants to believe. If she believes same-sex marriage is wrong, that is perfectly acceptable, too, for freedom of expression and religion is still, still the law of the land.
She also wasn’t sent to jail because she broke a law for the truth is there is no law about same-sex marriage because only Congress can write laws. She went to jail because she violated a court order. If you and I violate a court order, we, too, will go to jail. It doesn’t have to have anything to do with our beliefs. You can’t violate court orders willy-nilly. You just can’t. If one can begin to do that, we will have even more chaos than we have now.
So, she’s in jail, and apparently is perfectly content to stay there. She believes she is there because she’s exercising her beliefs. That’s fine. She can believe what she wants to believe. That’s still the country we live in. Near as I can understand it, she could do her job and go out later after work and throw a hissy with signs and such. There is a difference in civil services and religious services in this country. Though I believe that separation goes too far at times, I can’t say this is one of them.
But this is the beginning of what will be a particular battle in the culture war in the future.
How do we deal with all this? How does the Christian church deal with what will soon be the law of the land and yet some read the scriptures as say this can’t possibly be while others read the same scriptures and tell us why they don’t mean what they same to say?
To paraphrase a friend, do we really want a country that if a Muslim is working at the local Pizza Hutt who refuses to put Pepperoni on the pizza because he won’t touch it? Or if a Hassidic Jew won’t work on Friday evening through Saturday evening even though the job calls for it? Or as happened late last week where a converted Muslim flight attendant was suspended because she won’t serve alcohol?
Can a country that stresses freedom for all deal with religious freedom versus religious constraint?
But ask yourself this: Do we really want to live in a country where we refuse to do business with sinners? And just how are we going to decide who those sinners might be? And whose business is it going to to be to decide who will be served?
To me the difference in the Kentucky situation and say the other situation where cake bakers refused to do a wedding cake for a same-sex couple is we are talking about an elected official, who must be an official for all people, as opposed to someone in business whose religious beliefs certainly it seems to me might be most important. But even there is baking a cake the equivalent of blessing the wedding or is it just a cake?
Understand me, this is not a column about same-sex marriage. That’s perhaps for another day. This is a column about how to live with each other, despite our differences, our different beliefs, our different ideas about where we’re headed.
Jesus came and ate with sinners, with drunks, with prostitutes.
That’s our Lord. The Pharisees, er, didn’t understand him doing that.
He cared for those who were broken, who were lost, who were the least, who were different, who weren’t the religious but instead were the exceptions. He did what he did because he loved them.
I wonder, and again it’s just me wondering, but I wonder if he would have gone to jail or whether he would have been compassionate towards those who came to him wanting something. I wonder, now what Jesus would do, but what Jesus did. I know, or I believe, he died for us, and I also know he told us to be unified. How’s that going?
In the country in which we live, we’re going to have to deal with these issues, with these problems.
To do that, we must take steps. We can vote our conscious. We can work for candidates who might change things or extend the way things are.  Or we can refuse to talk to each other while we’re doing all this.
But I still believe that Jesus shakes his head sometimes when he watches what we pick our fights about. I know he said that unless we give mercy, we won’t receive mercy. I don’t know how much more plain that can be.
Hobby Lobby, Chick-fil-, a court clerk in Kentucky, a band in Rankin County, Miss., where will the next outbreak of 24-hour coverage begin? What will be the next accelerant poured on a social-media fire? It might have happened from the time I wrote this to the time you read it.
This is Know: According to the Abortion Counter web site, there have been 6,860,546.8 (as I write this) abortions since Roe Vs. Wade and no one seems to be going to jail to prevent this, and there are persons who profess Jesus as their Lord in this country who see nothing wrong with this.

If I – and this is only I – were going to pick a fight, Lord help me it would be there.