Monday, November 30, 2015

against House odds

         Did you ever watch the TV show House?
         If you’ve never seen it, it’s about a grouchy but brilliant diagnostic doctor (I emphasize for some reason, but I digress).
         Each week they would have a practically unsolvable mystery – at least for 50 minutes of the show -- of a disease or at least the cause of the disease and each week it would start out kind of good and it would get progressively worse till death was imminent because it was as I said an unsolvable mystery. Then House would have some sort of epiphany and would diagnose the disease and viola it would be treatable.
         At this point, I would love to tell you they’ve figured out everything wrong with me, but at this point as I write this, no, they haven’t. I think, just think now, they’re closer. But I thought that before.
         I did a search and found 22 references in previous blogs to pneumonia in six years, and still, here I am.
         I want to be well, and do what I do and be who I was, or will be, but so far it just isn’t happening this time particularly. I’ve had heart issues that apparently will leave the hospital with me and still, still I have lung problems that might or might not be reason to be on a inhaler for the rest of my life, if not worse. We’ll leave worse where it is the for moment.
         I must tell you reader who might have missed these blogs the past week, tens of those that your are, I have been frightened for the first time I can remember, at least not during a Saints game.
         Oh, I’ve been serious, which for me is someone who can at least try to make losing a limb both funny and/or at least brighter, when the kidneys nearly failed three weeks ago, but when you can’t breathe (which has improved immeasurably) and then your heart is doing all kinds of whipping and nae nae’ng, and your blood pressure is as high as Saints are low, you get to thinking that maybe you can’t do what you do anymore.
         I’m not frightened of death though the thought of a stroke sends me into a great deal of consternation. Christ died so I didn’t have to be worried about death. I’m serious. To be with Christ is gain. I’m good, well, okay with it.
         But what if I can’t pick up the kids and play with them? What if I can’t travel and such with Mary? What about the trip planned in January to Israel? Do they have Wal-Mart in Jehrico?
         And what if I can’t do my work? What if I can’t minister? What if I can’t plan and pray and visit and all the things that mean so much to me in terms of what my call is?
         The what-ifs can cloud everything. And they add nothing. Nothing.
         So, let’s go to what we do know.
         Jesus said, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear? Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life.”
         These words are famous, Biblical, and a touch on the corny side, which might drive some nuts. But they are true, as true as breath is to life.
         Now, it’s easy to worry when they come in the door and start talking about biopsies. It’s extremely worrisome when you can’t breathe, and all they can do is rub your back and say, “breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth,” over and over. It’s extremely, extremely worrisome when there are things in your lungs they don’t know about when the worse case is exactly what killed your parents.
         But the strength of faith is to reach, hard as it might be, to the best case scenario. That what found to be wrong with me is fixable. I choose to believe, hear that, choose to believe that God is in control and I’m good with what comes, that the great physician is on call.

         Just send in House. Now.

Monday, November 23, 2015

I didn't know

Back in that other occupation, in the midst of covering the Saints for a while for another newspaper I remember one of the most famous of blow ups by a coach, one Jim Mora who said one Sunday to a reporter who asked something that isn’t nearly as famous, “You never know. You think you know, but you don’t know. You’ll never know.”
            You don’t know. It’s said in so many circumstances, but you know what, you never know. 
            When I came to Coushatta just a few months ago, I thought I knew, but I didn’t know. I didn’t know I could be diagnosed with so many things. I didn’t know there were so many things.
            But I didn’t know.
            I thought I knew, but I didn’t know.
            Here’s the point: I didn’t know what lay ahead because you can’t know what lies ahead.
            You think you know, and you plan and you plan, but you can never know. The idea, then, is to put your trust somewhere.
            Can you trust in reading diagnoses like my cousin does on the Internet? Nope. Not even if you’re a doctor.
            Can you trust in your bank book or your 401-K or your portfolio? I’m afraid not.
            What you can trust in is not your knowledge, your abilities or even your readings of the scripture. No, you can’t trust in anything or anyone but the God who sits on the throne, the Son who sits to the right hand and/or the Spirit who lives and breathes with us.
            Here’s something: Did you know the Greek word for Holy Spirit is pneuma, from which we get our English word, (wait for it) … pneumonia. 
            So,  very, very clearly I know I have the Holy Spirit living in me (and have had for many months.
            But just didn’t know.
            Till I knew.
            I thought so.

Friday, November 20, 2015

OUR GOD, praise-worthy and real

We came today to order lunch. The meal was a good one, the service was superb, the circumstances around us -- the music, the ambiance, the temperature in the room, the time that it took to deliver the meal, the sizzle of the steak, the cheese melting slowly but surely on top of the prime cut of beef -- was worthy of praise.

So, we did. We sang and we danced and we were little wind-up figurines from Toy Story.

Right? Am I right?

David, or a writer he called in for a moment, wrote, "Come let's sing out loud to the Lord! Let's raise a joyful shot to the rock of our salvation! Let's come before him with thanks! Let's shout songs of joy to him! 

"The Lord is a great God,
the great king over all other gods!

"The earth's depth are in his hands; the mountain heights belong to him; the sea, which he made, is his along with the dry ground, which is own hands formed.

"Come, let's worship and bow down!
Let's kneel before the Lord, our maker!
He is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, the sheep in his hands."

We order. It comes. We sing. That's how it goes, right? Right?

What have we then done? Oh, we established a record for exclamation points with seven of those little things that I hate in just nine sentences (again, seven in nine, leaving out only the sentence about the earth's depth and the one about us being the people of his pasture, either of which could easily have had an exclamation point!)

The writer laid exclamation points like a road paver does asphalt -- hot and liquid and full of rocky road. The writer opens the asphalt thingamadoochie and lets it fly, pouring blackness over hard-pressed dirt. The writer, like the thingamadoochie, is full of, er, stuff.

The writer started slowly and within nine sentence (there is actually much more to the 95th Psalm), establishes that God is some kind of good, some kind of worthy of our praise, worthy of our thanks, worthy of all we have to give.

He's our God, for goodness sake, and the capital G is there for a reason. It is that which separates God from gods.

Thank long and hard about that, friends. He is the creator. He spoke it into being, like a wisp of wind He is the one who put it all together. He is the B-all and End-All of all, of everything that is, or was or will be in the future.

And He is worthy of all that WE can give HIM. WE. Us. Little us. He is worthy and we are not, yet we are in the unique position of giving HIM praise. H-o-w  c-a-n  w-e  m-e-s-s  t-h-i-s  u-p?

So, let's not. Mess this up, I mean. 

Open your own personal thingamadoochie and let her fly. Praise comes tumbling down like it has never come before. God is good, we are not, and we're ready to praise, so let her fly. Let the hot, light-ness come flying out of the all-to-ready thingamadoochie and let it pave the way to our own personal heaven.

Come, let's worship and bow down! (Don't you dare leave out that exclamation point for it is the rain that is the exclamation point on a dark, cloudy day)

Let's kneel before the Lord, our maker! His is OUR God..."

He is our God.

We've come to praise, like dogs who are dripping with saliva in anticipation of the treat to come.

Remember, praise is to God what treats are for our dogs upon entering our house after doing their, uh, duty outside. Praise is training. We performed. We expect. Praise comes pouring out for a God who has done the expected moment.

God does good. We praise. He gives. That's the way of the God who we serve, right?

Isn't that the message for trainable folk like us? God does good. Good happens. We acknowledge His big part in the good. Good covers us. We, well, we let the good happen, and then we praise. Isn't that the formula? Isn't that the plan?

We get the treat. We chew into it as if the treat was the greatest thing that we could ever receive. The treat is God's grace, and we are the beneficiaries of God's goodness. We are Paul, asking for more, always more.

My question, then, is simple?

What if the circumstances were bad? What if the meal was bad, the service was slow if nonexistent? What if the music was Prozac for the excited, the ambiance just East of stinky, the room was hot on a miserably hot day, the meal came about an hour longer than too long, the cheese was old and stale at best, the meat was cold, and had more gristle than tender flesh, and the Ribeye was as small and meaningless as the conversation at the table was interesting.

What if?

What would our reaction be? Would we still, still dial up praise? O Lord, let us come before you with praise and adoration? 


Would we worship...
Kneel ....
Acknowledge the culinary creativity of the Master Chef?

Would we? Really?

Here's where we break with training and tradition.

The answer should be, must be, yes. Yes, the praise should come pouring out like a broken dam on a flood-worthy day.

I suspect for the most part the answer would be no, this is not what we took the table and ordered the meal for. But it wasn't be. We are trained to praise when the act of goodness is bestowed on us. In other words, God is good, God brings goodness, God provides, we accept, in return (IN RETURN) we praise. On a cool Thanksgiving morning, with the cornbread dressing steaming in the oven underneath the bird on the second grill, we should begin to acknowledge all God has done even if it seems to be so small.

Here's the absolute Gospel. If we only praise when the going gets good, then we've missed the whole idea, it seems to me, a lowly praising entity. If we only praise Him when He gives us, we've lived a very poor existence. Seriously. 

If we only praise when we get what we asked for, totally contrary to what the prosperity gospel preachers tell us, then God is Santa not Shepherd, God is an awesome ATM not a Hallelujah haymaker.

If God's grace isn't enough, then our praise will never be real.

Your choice.

Praise in ALL circumstances.

Or ...

John Fogerty asks the pertinent question. "Who'll stop the rain?"

I suspect, nah I know, the stopper of the rain is the same one, the same creative entity who invented the rain in the first place.

It is that entity we serve, that being we praise, that person one in three that we bow before.

He is OUR GOD. He is Jehovah, He is Jesus, He is Spirit. And he is OURS.

Or as Chris Tomlin wrote, "Water you turned into wine
Opened the eyes of the blind
there's no one like you
None like you
Into the darkness You shine
Out of the ashes we rise
There's No one like you
None like you
Our God is greater, our God is stronger
God You are higher than any other ..."

See, if we only praise when things are good, then we're praising the wine not the one who turned the water into it. if we only praise the new sight, we're missing the one who opened the eyes in the first place.

He is OUR GOD. And the is none like him. Shout it from the mountain tops, friends. Praise Him. He is OUR GOD. He has come; he is coming again.

Whew, that's good.!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! (A New Record!!!!!!!)

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Sinaholic's Anonymous

Eugene Peterson, teller of hundreds of tales from his interpretation of the Bible named The Message, used this one -- one of my favorites -- from the first chapter of Psalm, the first two verses.

"How well God must like you -- you don't hang out at Sin Saloon, you don't slink along Dead-End Road, you don't go to Smart-Mouth College. Instead, you thrill to God's Word, you chew on Scripture day and night. You're a tree replanted in Eden, bearing fresh fruit every month. Never dropping a leaf, always in blossom."

I've visited all those places from time to time, with the majority of my time at the venues Sin Saloon, Dead-End Road, Smart-Mouth College and even a moment or two in Eden.

My leaves, however, have been dropped often.

I guess you've known this state, as well.

Here's the deal. My dear wife, Mary, with whom I can not act, can not find my keys, can not eat dinner or even locate my watch or glasses, is visiting her mother in Natchez, Miss. This is a rare occasion, I admit, but it happens every, oh, decade or so. 

When it does, I go in search of all things dear because I couldn't find them with out her.

Now, I found my glasses after a thorough search of all the normal locations -- refrigerator the cool culprit this time -- so the day began like most days begin, on a logical and meaningful manner. I located them with only a bit of canine help (and by the way, why are glasses a them and not an it?) and none of the feline variety (why do the cats always refuse to help me locate my glasses anyway?). Dogs, like the vicious bloodhounds they are, were able to do their thing in minutes of amazing work. Cats, like the indifferent animals they are, refused to lift themselves from their staked out spot on the couch.

So, with Mary safely ensconced in the Mississippi hill country, I began the work day pecking away at the million-dollar making lap top, drilling figurative oil with my pudgy fingers, savoring the Savior's teachings, cruising with the Christ, messaging with the Messiah (whew, do you get the somewhat obvious word play here or must I go on trying to litter the landscape with lingering language lollipops?). 

I love, by the way, the word ensconced. I promise one day to look it up in the dictionary.

But not today.

No, today I'm simply going to tell you about a day or two I spent at the Sin Saloon, a marvelously minimally decorated and painted place where I spent much of my office time for 20 or so years. I was partial to mornings there, but you could probably find me morning or afternoon or a glorious evening or two a week. Oh, I was a Sin Saloon patron, well, daily, if you just have to know. I didn't stay all that often, you know like all night long, but I visited enough that they knew my first name like I knew Marcia's on the bathroom wall.

In other words, they knew me, like I knew them. I was drenched in their Sin offering of the day.

They sweated my feelings out, frequently. I didn't have to reach deeply either for me to share those dang things. "Billy, the usual sin?" Bartender/counselor/studious theologian Phil or George or Jerome or whomever could and/or would ask. To which I would reply, "Yep." And the sin night/day was on like St. Jerome's Tuesday at the, oh, whatever it might be this time because I couldn't come up with a great name or St. Phil's Wednesday on the River.

Been there? Done that? Sniffed that? 

Yeah, I figured as much.

That is to whom this morning's epic tome is dedicated.

Friends, when you're a usual patron at the Sin Saloon, when the Sin Saloon Tee-Shirt is yours, you might ought to think your life through. If you're not salt and light enough to be salt and light, you might need to think the whole dang life through anyway. 

Just saying.

Here's the deal, such and gloriously as it is.

If you gulp deeply at the offering at the Sin Saloon, hitting the philosophical tap with some reverence and noted frequency, recognizing the bartender/petty thief behind the bar's name just by looking at his stooping shoulders and crumpled pillow hair from behind, then you might just be a Sinaholic and you might need to check into whatever Sinaholic's Anonymous is happening tonight around town. 

Heck, if you can spell Sinaholic's Anonymous without red appearing underneath either word as you type, if indeed you type, you might need to do some holic Googling, if you know what I mean.

Let me be clear. We're all Sinaholics of some kind; it's just the name on the blank white tag on our shoulder that needs some black permanent marker printing. We're on the road to identity, not blood-type.

If we can't make that distinction, we have a chance. If not, we're just wasting Brother George's time.

Seriously, there is but one way out of the Sin Saloon, and it ain't the wooden door. It's THE door. His door. The door that surpasses all understanding. 

When you come upon that door, you've got a chance, friends, a chance. Put a hand in the hand of the man who calms the seas (as I sang somewhere around the early 70s), who opens the door, who swings open the gate. 

This round's on Him. He died for it.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

That Bad Moon is (still) rising

"Put in a candle in the window, folks. I feel like I've got to move," John Fogerty sings in that rough, ragged voice that only he ever has had.

The Bible says it this way: "I give them a mission in the world.
I’m consecrating myself for their sakes,
So they’ll be truth-consecrated in their mission."

Wow, some folks echo. The clarion-call rings out from their guitars, base, electric and devil ringing. Sing it out, those folks in plaid sing down the halls like some sort of, well, 60s band or something.

Things are different now, folks. We're different now, folks. God has given us a mission in the world just as piercing as ever, and that mission in the world is -- well -- different than others before it.

See? Taste? Heck, hear? Yep. All that has come before us has for all great intents and purposes come before us like a rain-storm on a great Fall afternoon.

Seriously. It's all different now than it was before. Can't you sense it? Honestly, all that came before is different. I can see the differences in new and exciting ways. Have you ever seen the rain coming down like water?

I have. It's as different as rain on a wonderfully warm afternoon. It comes pouring. It comes a chugging. It comes down.

We're different.
The world is different.
All different. All can't stop, I wonder.

Can you get that? I suspect that you can.

Let it pour. Let it frothe on sidewalks and in drains. Let it come on down. I'm waiting,  yeah, we're waiting, and it's about to go all shiny, shiny, shiny.

Like smily ol' Captain Tight-pants on Firefly (and if you don't know what that means, you're nicely unknowing), I rode in on a train and I'll be walking out when I go.

A man from a magazine said I was on my way. Somewhere I lost connection. Ran out of songs to play. Looks like my plans fell through.

O Lord, stuck in ol' Lodi again.

I would love to tell you that I had a dollar for every song I've sung, but I don't, won't and can't. I have no money like that. But what I do have is a smile for every time I've sat there drunk, singing a raspy song for what passes for entertainment on a Wednesday morning. You get that? Really?

Down on the corner, Willie and the Poor Boys ... oh, you know the rest don't you?

Here's the deal. Put your money down on the table and scream out, "Black. Thirteen." And you've placed your bet. It's a done deal. You've set the commotion racing. The raggedy steel guitar has started to sing its septic-shocked tune, and we're on our way once again. The band is half dead, but ol' John is still a singing.

Oh, Lord, stuck in ol' Lodi again.

Lodi, California, it hollers for its dollars. Fogerty is cranking his tunes and lo and behold Sonny, there's a Bad Moon on the Rise.

The mission is decidedly less complicated this morning. Sing a tune and let the moon rise and someday you'll understand, we'll get it. C chords will morph into D and into G and before one knows it, the stagger becomes the dagger and understanding grows like a path through the California wood.

Oh, Lord, stuck in ol' Lodi again.

Sing it John. Time has crawled past, but it has passed. Oh, Lord, stuck in ol' Lodi again. 

That's the tune that has stuck there since the late 1960s. Stuck in ol' Lodi, again, and again, and again.

That's the greatest hits of that little band called (for some reason) Creedence Clearwater Revival. Sing it out, friends. Sing it clear, friends. Sing it as if there was nothing better. There is and has always been a Bad Moon on the Rise.

This band was my Beatles. This band was my Stones. This band was my wordsmith and my be all and end all. This morning, that is my mission whether I accept it or not. Stuck in ol' Lodi, again, and again, and again.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Let the wizard commence to dance

When the Israelites were about to take the promise land, and by take we absolutely mean grab all the stuff that's laying around, pack it up and do some wacky, wonderful stuff, we read that they were to "do what is right and good in the Lord's sight, so that it may go well with you and you may go in and take over the good land the Lord promised on oath to your ancestors."

Got all that? I almost did.

One minute folks were holding on to that do-what-is right-stuff and the next they are packing it in and marching and matching and singing and dancing like Michael Jackson on a summer's day, like they were about to march right on off the cliff and all that stuff. 

One minute it's good versus bad, great versus evil, wonderful against all the bad stuff in the sweet, loving world and wouldn't you know it, we were about to have the yak, yak, yak don't talk back kind of stuff when loving you is wrong, I don't want to be right and bam, bam, bam we're in pot-hole heaven. I mean, pot-hole heaven. It's 

It has always been good versus bad, great versus evil, good versus, well, fools and the foolish things they bring  to the equation. It has always been that way. But, then, open the cap on the pill bottle and watch stuff pour out like molten lava. Just watch and wait and see the pour stuff pour out.

I've read recently there is good chocolate and there is bad chocolate. Just do some quoting here. Katy Perry done stepped in a big, ol hole, and we had better look for the lid on the bottle.

Friends, there is good fat and bad fat. There is good debt and there is bad debt. Heck, there is even good cholesterol and bad cholesterol and even good carbs and bad carbs. A pile of good and a pile of bad and away we go.

Truth is, everything is split into good and bad, as if we were to grab all the mathematic problems that were hiding away in plain sight, hold on to the chalk and begin to scrape away at the board. It is enough to make your head remove itself from the equation and go kerplunk itself.

Well, well, and well done.  So, what do we do? Go ahead and let the stuff roar, like Katy do and Katy did.

What's next is the question, and what's next is the proper answer.

When the wizard is dancing like a madman down the yellow-brick road, we await the simple but pure answer ... get on up and get on away. Sounds so wonderfully simple, but it's so wonderfully complicated.

Let the music begin.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Being goooooddddd

"For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people. Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves." 1 Peter 2: 15-16

Wow. The best way to shut up folks who are talking smack is to do good.

Seems like a wonderful verse for a week of Starbucks red cups and such, doesn't it.

Simply do good, and that will shut them up.

There's a notion in Scripture about doing good that seemly overtakes all bad stuff we come across.

When God was doing his creating, he saw that it was good.

When the Israelites were about to take the promise land, we read that they were to "do what is right and good in the Lord's sight, so that it may go well with you and you may go in and take over the good land the Lord promised on oath to your ancestors."

It's always been good verse bad, good versus evil, good versus, well, fools.

I've read recently there is good chocolate and there is bad chocolate. There is good fat and bad fat. There is good debt and there is bad debt, good cholesterol and bad cholesterol and even good carbs and bad carbs.

Everything is split into good and bad. It is enough to make your head go swimming, and that's bad.

Steve Taylor, a psychologist, says it's not that simple. 

"It's a dangerous over-simplification to believe that some people are innately ‘good’ while others are innately ‘evil’ or ‘bad.’ This misleading concept underpins the justice system of many countries - ‘bad’ people commit crimes, and since they are intrinsically ‘bad’, they should be locked away so that they can’t harm us with their ‘evil’ behaviour. This concept has also fuelled many wars and conflicts in history, and even in the present day. It makes groups believe that they are fighting a just cause against an ‘evil’ enemy and that once the ‘evil’ people have been killed, peace and goodness will reign supreme."
Bad versus good. Good versus bad. It's not that easy to be, well, either.
The Apostle Paul writes in Romans 7, "So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me.  For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me.What a wretched man I am! "
I read that for the first time, really read that, when I was 42. It changed my life. A man in the Bible struggled with good and with evil. I knew then my story would be found right there. From that moment forward, I've tried to be good, but I've known I couldn't be as good as I wanted no matter how hard I tried. I needed a Savior, who would wash away the grime collected in a bad world that God didn't mean to ever happen.
In the end, all I know is that E.T. tells Elliot to "be goooooddddddd." 
That's enough for me.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Prayers without ceasing

"For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives..."

The Apostle Paul writes this to the Colossian church, but I suspect these words could and should be used for churches around the world in the 21st century.

We pray for you.
Since the day we heard your ailment, your situation, your circumstances, we pray for you. We have not stopped. We will not stop. We will not be stopped.

Isn't that the lifeline, the life of the church? We will not stop. We will continue to pray.

The balance of continuing prayer and faithful prayer is an interesting one, I think.

Jesus tells this story: "in a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared for men. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, 'Grant me justice against my adversary.'

"For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, 'Even though I don't fear God or care about men, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice so that she won't eventually wear me out with her coming.'

"And the Lord said, 'Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth.' "

Paul said it another way in his letter to The Thessalonians, "Pray without ceasing."

Let's get that, please.

I will continue to pray for you till you tell me not to, is Paul's less than subtle notion. I suspect, however, that he would continue praying...
for the church in Thessalonica, in Phillipi, in Asia Minor, in Europe.

Prayers for churches begun, and those in trouble. Prayers for the people in those churches. Prayer for the mighty power of the Holy Spirit to fill them with ideas, and with action.

Seems a lot like those prayers we say for our churches today, where the trouble brews and churches are losing folks daily.

I'll keep on praying, keep on keeping on, till He comes again. Seems like a plan.