Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas Conversations (part V)

In the fullness of time, God sent forth his son, born of a virgin, born under the law to redeem those under the law, that we might receive the full rights as sons. Galatians 4:4-5 Gabriel flew over to Michael, "This just isn't right is it, Michael? He needs more honor, more notice, more, more...for goodness sakes it's Christ the King!" "Easy, Michael." The archangel had a calming effect on his younger friend. "Our Father knows what He is doing. The world will know soon enough. Now go tell those shepherds down there what's going on. Take the choir with you." "Shepherds! Are you kidding me, Michael? They are dirty, no count scoundrels, at least that is what I've heard." "No one gets left out of this Kingdom by this King if they chose to believe. Tell them. Tell them to go and see their King." So Gabe departed and found the shepherds and told them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the city of David, a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: you will find him wrapped in cloths, and lying in a manger." So the shepherds heard a choir of angels and went into Bethlehem and found the baby... "Joachim, some shepherds are here and want to see the baby," Eli whispered this news to the beaming grandfather. "Shepherds! There's no way I'm letting shepherds get near that child." "Joachim, take it easy. At least see them and inquire how they even knew," Joseph mildly corrected his father-in-law. "All right....Shepherds! What brings you here? How do you know of this birth?" "An angel told us..." "Angel, an angel?" bellowed Joachim and stirred the baby. "Why does he even appear to shepherds and not to me? Everyone is seeing angels but the grandpapa. What is going on...oh, come on. This angel hasn't been wrong yet...." "Why look! It's just a baby! "Well, what didja expect?! That big angel said, 'today, a saviour has been born to you." "Yeah, but I just weren't expecting no baby." "Well, what didja expect?" "I don't know, not a baby, I guess. The angel said a saviour and I didn't expect a saviour to be no baby." "He'll grow. He'll grow up and be a fine saviour, I just bet he will." "I don't know. I don't know of any saviour being born in a stable." "Well, tell me, what saviour do you know about being born anywhere?" "Ow, you know I don't know any saviour more than you. I guess with all them angels, I expected something, well something more like, like royalty or kings, not some old stable in a cave. Why them parents is nearly as pore as we are. I just don't see "messiah" in any of this. It's just a baby... "I know, I know. But we heard them angels sing. We heard that glowing one talk to us and tell us wheer to find this baby. It was all just like he said. And he said this was the Christ, the saviour, even if he don't look like it now." "What's a saviour suppose to look like anyway? Maybe its not just what he looks like or how he starts. Maybe its where he finishes that counts, too. That's what I believe. He is the Christ. Let's go tell some folks......" And so it came to pass that later that night, after everyone was finally able to fall asleep, Joachim was roused by a soft glowing in his corner of the cave... "Joachim, Joachim, wake up, wake up..." It was the angel... "Wha.. what is...what is happening...oh, my, are you, are you an angel?" "Yes, a messenger from God, by His grace." "Frankly Angel, with all the sightings to everyone it seemed but me, I thought God may have been displeased with me." "No, Joachim, God is very pleased. He sent me to everyone who needed to see and hear me. You had faith to believe without seeing, the best kind of faith. You heard the truth and believed and acted on that faith. You possess the kind of faith that can bless others. " "Then why now? After all the the excitement? After the birth?" "Now starts many wondrous and some very hard things to come. Be prepared, your kind of faith will be needed more than ever, Joachim. You behold the infinite God in the infant; the creator of the universe now struggles to grasp the finger of his mother; He, who had the vision to see salvation for all through the forgiveness of sin, can now as a babe only see things in a blur. So keep believing, keep trusting. Help others to see in the coming years that the Saviour has been born. There will be harder lessons of faith but you can help others to see that Jesus is the Christ..." With those words, the angel departed but Joachim's faith didn't. It only grew. Merry Christmas 2010, Cos

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Christmas Conversations (part IV)

* Dear Readers (all seven of you),
Historical points to ponder before you read this installment...
  -there is no innkeeper mentioned in scripture
  -there are two Greek words used in Luke's gospel for "inn." one word used in the good Samaritan story of Luke 10, is used to convey the idea of an inn more to our modern understanding. It was often in the first century no more than a camping place with tents or tarps on poles provided. "Guests" provided their own bedding, the innkeeper would provide access to water, a fire for warming or cooking, and in the "five star" inns of the day possibly morning breakfast breads. In the larger "inns" there were occasionally rooms nearby or attached to the courtyard "inn." The other word translated "inn" in Luke is used in the story of Mary and Joseph and often means guestroom. With many people, many relatives of Mary and Joseph coming to Bethlehem to register, the guestroom at a relatives houses may have already been taken. With the crowd of people whether in a house or a courtyard "inn," it was obviously not a good place to birth a baby.
  -at this time in Palestine, the "stables" were often attached to or actually another room in the home where the domesticated animals for milk and hauling were housed in winter weather. Because the "shepherds" were camping out in the fields at night may indicate that the time of Jesus' birth was a warmer time  of the year. The Dec. 25 date was worked out between 273 and 336 AD by the Roman church leaders and finalized with the adoption of the Gregorian calendar. The actual date of Jesus' birth is unknown.
  -Bethlehem's geography added another possibility to the story of Jesus' birth--caves. The area is dotted with caves in the hillsides that were used as stables and sometimes residences. Many scholars believe Jesus' birth in a stable was in one of these caves which would have provided a quieter place, more comfortable, more private place for the birth. Also, scripture doesn't mention if Jesus was born on M & J's first night in Bethlehem or the third or fifth.
-with these historical and geographical thoughts in place here is part IV of  Christmas Conversations with   grandparents included.

"We are going with you! There is no discussion," insisted Joachim. "We all have to be registered, we all have to go to Bethlehem. It only makes sense. We go together."
"I don't want to trouble you. And besides, there is already talk about Mary's pregnancy," whispered Joseph.
"All the more reason to get away for a few days --together."
"Well, I know Mary will appreciate the help her mother could be. And truthfully, I'm frightened. What if she has the baby while we are on the trip?"
"That may not be a bad thing, Joseph. The gossip, the looks...I wish that angel everybody saw would show himself to the townspeople.That would shut them up!"
"I guess we'd better pack then. Tomorrow at sunrise?''

"I know I slowed you down. I'm sorry." Mary was kind but tired as they arrived in Bethlehem.
"We made great time! It's my old bones that kept our pace slower. Anyway, we are here."
"Anna, would you tend to Mary? I'm going to take Joachim and find some of our relatives. Between the two clans with God's grace we will find a good place to stay." Joseph was grateful for the company, especially now since Joachim's presence doubled their chances of finding room. They both had actually met several relatives on pilgrimage to Jerusalem through the years. Maybe they will remember...

"Oh it is good to see you Eli. But I must confess you are the fourth relative we've contacted and we've found no place to stay. Have you any room? We are in a precarious situation, too. My wife Mary is with me and is about to give birth."
"Joseph,  I didn't know you had married. That's great! Our guest room is full, has been for weeks, with the census...we could probably move some around. Wait, I've got an idea. I'll move some of the older children out to our stable. We have a great cave for a stable. It's pretty clean since the animals aren't going in too much this time of the year. We will sweep it out a bit and put them down there and you and, and, what's your wife's name, in their place in the house."
"Mary. Her name is Mary. Eli, could we see the stable. I, too, have an idea...
 "I'm thinking the same thing Joseph," Joachim allowed. "This may be great news."

Eli led them out the side of the house and down a path to a cave, fashioned with a little corral into a stable.
"This is perfect, Eli. Let Mary, Anna, Joachim and I stay here. It's more peaceful. It's protected and if Mary has the baby more private. In fact, if you will let me arrange the hay it will be more comfortable for Mary than a pallet on the floor."
"It's yours, Joseph. I'll get some extra blankets and candles. Noami will come clean it out a little better. She won't like the idea at first-- a new in-law, pregnant, and staying in the stable, but I see your point. With all that bloated, belching and bellowing bunch in the house I may come down here myself."

 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room in the inn.  (Luke 2:6-7)

And thus as the earth gave life to the first man when God breathed life into the dusty clay, so now from the womb-like cave the earth brings forth a Savior who breathes earth's air into his lungs that he might breathe God's breath of redemption into mankind.

Imaginings between the lines,

(part V on Christmas eve)

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Christmas Conversations (part I)

"Momma, where's Papa? I need to speak with him?" Mary showed a combination of emotions on her face her mother had never seen before. Anna couldn't be sure but Mary seemed to be both with fear and with peace at the same time. How could this be? Anna wasn't sure but instinctively knew that Mary needed Joachim and spoke nothing else to her daughter but to say "Your Papa is coming up the path from the garden, go to him." Mary ran outside and down the path to meet her Papa. How do I tell him I saw an angel who told me I was pregnant? "Papa, we need to talk?" The tears were welling in the corners of her eyes, she was unable to form words. "We talk all the time, what makes this talk different?" Joachim tried to inject some tenderness in his voice. His daughter was in some turmoil, struggling for words. "Something has happened,Papa, but I'm not sure how to tell you. If I tell what happened, you won't believe me. If I tell you what's going to happen, you will think I'm a liar who made it all up just to protect myself." "Come child, you know I've never thought like that about any of you children. You tell me what's bothering you and then we'll sort it out." They had walked quite a bit in silence. Mary stopped to lean on a corner post of a sheep pen. The sun was setting low and bathed the evening with a golden glow. "Papa, I'm going to have a child." The silence pierced Mary's heart. Joachim's heart broke. "I never would have thought....I didn't think you and Joseph..." "No Papa, its not like that. It's not Joseph's.. "What?!!? Who has done this... "No, no Papa, listen. It's not any body's I, I, mean I've known no man, but "Then how are you, how are you, I, I can't even speak the word... how are you... "Papa, listen. I've seen an angel. He told me I was going to have a baby and that the Holy Spirit would come over me and I would give birth to the holy one who is the Son of God. Messiah is coming through me." "Don't blaspheme child! This is no joking matter!" "Oh Papa, please, why would I make this up? You know who I am, where I've been, who I have been with. I've known no man. Please listen, please believe. I know what I saw, I know what I heard, I know what I feel. You of all people who taught us to love God, believe God and listen for Him, you've got to understand." Her words subdued him. His mind raced. No words came for a few moments. "I'll try, Mary, I'll try. What else did this 'angel' say?" "He said the baby's name would be Jesus. He would be great and God would give Him David's throne. He also said my kinswoman Elizabeth is expecting and is six months along. He also said nothing is impossible with God." "Elizabeth? She's old and she and Zachariah can't have children. God has closed her womb." "Like Abraham and Sarah?" Joachim crumpled down on the ground. "This is too much to take in. I can't believe what I'm hearing and yet I'm hearing it from someone who never lies to me and who truly believes." "Maybe I'll ask God to let the angel visit you, too," offered Mary. But I wish you'd believe me, just me. I'm not lying Papa. An angel really appeared to me. I told him I was the Lord's servant and may it be to me as you have said. Then he left me." "I believe, help my unbelief." No angel appeared to Joachim but an almost palpable sense of peace swept over him. He looked at Mary. "This is hard to accept, but God's ways are not always easy and do not conform to us, we conform to Him. Have you told Joseph or your mother?" "I've told no one but you." "Alright then, here's what we'll do. I'll tell Joseph and we'll tell your mother when we walk back to the house. Then, we will send you to Zack and Liz's house to confirm what the angel said to you about her. If it is true she will need some help since their home is empty and she is old. I don't know how this will work out, especially in the family or the synagogue or the town, but if it is of God, then He has a plan and we must follow it." "Thank-you, Papa. You do believe me." "Well, I've always felt you were a gift from God, my child. I always sensed that God would use you. I never imagined this, I'm not sure I still can but we will walk in faith and see what God does." Joachim and Mary were back at the house now. He took a deep breath, stood tall and expanded his chest. "You let me talk to your mother. I think I know how to start." "What have you two been talking about. It's not fair to keep secrets from me. I'm the mother, you know." "Now Anna, wait a moment and we'll tell you everything. Sit down, you are about to hear some strange and wonderful things. Now, first, we are going to be grandparents, -God's grandparents....." Imaginings between the Lines Luke 1 Cos

Monday, November 29, 2010

Christmas Traffic

I eased up just a little to get a better view. There didn't seem to be a break as far as I could see. Pam thought she saw an opening and urged me to surge ahead. I stayed put. I wasn't going to risk it. "Why didn't you take that opening?" she protested. "It would have required that lady to slow down and brake and I had no way of knowing if she would or could. She could have hit us and this holiday shopping can be enough of a hassle without a crash." Traffic was brutal. There seemed to be no openings. No room to maneuver. People driving crazily. So we just waited our turn. Finally, an older gentleman slowed way down and waved me out. Whew! "Thank-you," I mouthed to the kindly old fellow and I meant it. It must have taken a least three minutes to get off the drug aisle at Wal-Mart and into the main aisle. There the traffic was buggy-to-buggy. I really was in a chipper mood despite the shopping traffic, although one of my fellow church members saw me and said I was looking a bit "Grinchey." The truth is I always look that way so all was normal, relatively speaking. But the experience showed me a few things that I think will really help with this Christmas spirit thing. My contribution would be a few simple traffic rules to use in stores. Rule 1: Understand that the aisles are like streets. Keep to the right, unless you're from England or Australia. In those cases please shop in England or Australia. Don't go down the aisle on the left side, this is America. Rule 2. Do not park your shopping cart in the middle of the aisle\road and then go over to the shelves. Keep the cart parked parallel with the shelves , not at an angle. Pull over to the right as far as possible and walk across the 4.7 feet of the aisle to the item in which you are interested. With all that figgy pudding you probably need the exercise anyway. Rule 3. Side aisle and minor aisles must yield the right-of-way to the major aisles. Inevitably, some heck-bent for CocoPuffs driver pulls right out into the main aisle from the toilet paper aisle with no regard for the overall flow of traffic. I've seen these rude, non-thinking people disrupt store traffic so that even the restroom lines are out the door. Rule 4. Visiting in the aisle with another driver\customer is strictly prohibited. Neighborly chats can back up things so badly, especially at Christmas, that the milk expires before you can get to the register to pay for it. A smile and a quick "I'll call you later," while you pass by on the right is all that is needed. Rule 5. This is not so much a rule as suggestion---the major stores should provide passing lanes and rest areas to pull off to the side for a rest. I realize this would be expensive but the mood of shoppers would probably be so enhanced that they would actually spend more money while there. At least the rest of us could get to the shelves with a good set of passing lanes. Rule 6. Electric dog collars that shock should be placed on all shoppers when they enter the store. Then, if they get in an express line for 20 items or less, and they have 22 items....zzittzzz! This could also be used on folks who write checks and wait until everything is scanned and in the buggy and then they begin to pull out their checkbook and pen. Come on, you know you are writing a check, you know the name of the store you are in, get busy writing or zzziittzz is coming. Well, I've got some other ideas about assigned parking, cashier-to-customer ratios, required driver's ed for how to handle those handicapped scooters, and spending limits based on church attendance but I'll save those for later. Just please know that this pastor has plenty of Christmas spirit about him,(zzittzz! ouch!) chief of which is the thankfulness that there is no waiting in line at the manger of Bethlehem. In fact, if you are still looking for the perfect gift, it's still there. Still learning what the real saving place is .... Cos

Monday, November 15, 2010

Firsts That Last

In some ways, life is a series of firsts. Someway, under the miraculous hand of God, an embryo begins to grow and soon flutters and the first heartbeat begins at about 21 days after conception. And the "firsts" just keep on coming, day after day, year after year. Upon arrival a new baby takes her first breath and fills her lungs with air. Soon she asks for her first trip to the mall. Parents and grandparents marvel at the "firsts" at first. The first smile; the first word; the first steps. There are few things in life that bring more joy than some of the first "firsts" as little ones grow on these initial experiences. Children gingerly take those first wobbly steps to outstretched arms and all too soon run away from those arms. First tastes of chocolate and ice cream are topped with first days of school, first touchdowns, and first "A's." First drives lead to first kisses and first loves. In all these come another kind of firsts--the first skinned knee, the first accident and the first broken heart. These are ominous signs of something amiss in the world, first noticed in a garden long ago. I still recall one of my first "firsts." It was the time my dad let me drive the tractor by myself. I don't know the exact age, somewhere around the age of 8 or 9. We had an old John Deere "50" which was controlled by a hand clutch which meant I didn't have to reach a foot clutch or brake with my little legs. The trip without him actually being with me on the tractor was a short one, from the gas tank to the tractor shed, maybe thirty feet, but I felt huge. I was big enough, trusted enough, skilled enough to drive the tractor myself! I should have known it was a trap. Within a year or two it meant driving the tractor as a part of work, real work in a hot field all by myself. Well, no use going over plowed ground. Who knows, I may have driven a tractor for the last time. For as we grow older we bring into play another truth: one of these days we will do some of the things that were once "firsts" in our lives for the last time. There will be a time that will be a last time for everything. Some of them are youthful endeavors only possible because of youth's physical strengths like dunking a basketball, hitting a baseball 400 ft or a golf ball 332 yards. It appears that the "firsts" and the "lasts" do a great battle for many years. As some things fall away with time's chiseling the "firsts" still get in a few licks. There is that first steak you could afford to pay $35 for when just a few years ago it was all kid's Happy Meals. If you're lucky there is that first trip to Hawaii or New York or Luckenback or wherever you really wanted to go but never had the time or money to do so. But there are also the first trips to the cardiologist, the first joint replacement, and the death of the first classmate from high school. All too soon, the "lasts" begin to pile up, some not so bad, some horrible. There will be the last time you host Thanksgiving or Christmas for the daughter or granddaughter do that now--but please bring the 'nanner' pudding and the pecan pie because no one does it like you. And you never know when you will receive the last embrace or tender kiss from someone you love. You can know it's coming, but its doubtful you'll know when it was the last one. That is a grace in itself. These last things come on with relentless speed, explained unknowingly by Mike in Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises, who is asked how he ended up bankrupt, ''Gradually, then suddenly." It seems that the "lasts" win out and we are right back where we started and we take in that last shallow breath and the heart flutters it's last uninspired beat. Somber thoughts which could be depressing but there's an ointment around this fly of last things. Let God speak who is Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. Let God be the first to determine what lasts and what doesn't. Let God put His eternal cents worth in. "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. (John 11:25-26) In His grace He brings the marvel of first things into our lives. In His grace He insures that the last things of a fallen and broken world that mount up in life will not have the last word. By His grace He has determined that last things won't last. Death, decay, broken dreams, broken bodies and broken relationships will not last in His kingdom. He has worked it so that the last breath here gives way to the first breath of heaven's atmosphere. When slow, feeble steps cease on earth, kingdom feet will find themselves running on golden gravel. The last heartbeat here pounds a new rhythm called eternity there in His Heavenly Kingdom. The last embrace and brush of lips on lips in home or hospice melts away and the next conscience thought is the brush of angels wings ushering us into the arm of Jesus. Somehow, this is one of my views of heaven where the "firsts" are the only thing that lasts. Enjoy it all, first to last for His grace will redeem it all. And the last shall be first, Cos

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Pastor's Mental Health Condition Questioned

In a not too astonishing development, sources inside the White Bluff Chapel pastor's home are calling into question the mental stability of the pastor, Terry Cosby. These reports stem from a series of lapses, though seemingly innocuous individually that have led to suspicions from a family member that the pastor is "losing it" and may be "off his rocker," to quote the source. In addition to the usual leaving the refrigerator door open, failing to zip up his pants, and constantly forgetting his cell phone the latest incident has one family member requesting an evaluation from a qualified physician. On a recent trip to Hillsboro, the Cosbys reportedly stopped by Braums where the pastor was instructed to go into the store and purchase eggs. He was given the additional task of checking out the bacon as he had forgotten to do so at Wal Mart. Upon returning to the car he carefully positioned the package to insure its cargo a safe passage. When home and placing the items in the 'fridge, the accusing family member saw that the pastor had purchased milk and bacon. When questioned about this the pastor only said that he had looked oddly at the clerk at Braums when she asked if he needed eggs, too. His reply was that 'I just bought eggs...." The anonymous family member noted that the pastor himself seemed perplexed about his memory but soon seemed his jolly self again probably due to the fact that he had forgotten what he had done. Later, another incident oocurred in the early morning. When getting his allergy medicine ready, he also pulled his dog's allergy medicine off the shelf. He then proceded to pop all three pills, including the dog's medicine and swallow. His nose was reportedly very clear that day, of which he mostly slept. His leg also twitched a lot as he slept. When later questioned at length about these dysfunctions the pastor could only surmise that he only forgot trivial matters of relative unimportance and noted that he had yet to forget to show up to preach, do a funeral, or perform a wedding when required. He also noted he had not forgotten his spouse's birthday or anniversary. The spouse noted that last year he had bought her a toaster for their anniversary. The pastor at this point was said to have stormed out of the home and muttered something about going to play golf. Upon his return four hours later the very somber pastor slumped in a chair and confessed to the wife that there must be something to her accusations. He allowed that he evidently has also forgotten how to play golf and can't remember a time he has shot below 88. The pastor immediately made an appointment with a local professional for an evaluation. This has brought some relief to the pastor's wife. It is reported that upon leaving for his appointment the pastor's wife yelled out to him to zip his pants. The pastor was later seen at the Old Course driving range for evaluation and instruction from the local professional. Hebrews 8:12 (Jer. 31:31-34) For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more." Just trying to be like Jesus............ Cos

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Weeeping and Gnashing of Teeth

It's Wednesday, November 3 and the sounds of lament cry from the land. There is fear, anger, astonishment, second guesses and broken dreams. But enough about the Cowboys and the Rangers, there was a big election yesterday that promises change. Oh,where have I heard that before.......... Yes, I have become a political skeptic and cynic. Good guys like John Bass and Glenna Bodeker remind me properly that I just can't give up but must keep hoping and working for good things. I read a recent article from Chuck Colson that was helpful about hanging in and being faithful as that is what the church is called to do. Colson reminded me of Augustine's City of God wherein he argues that a Christian makes the best citizen because of his love for God and neighbor. I try to rightly judge my attitude toward all things spiritual, personal, political and governmental. The lines often get blurred and twisted. I don't want anyone questioning my patriotism but I also understand mine may not look like yours. I fight to try and stay positive and informed in policies and politics but the more informed I become the more I have to fight skepticism and negativity. I think I understand the call of a Christian to be a good citizen but increasingly it is harder, for me at least, to blend the two callings in a way that pleases God and benefits the nation. So what's a one time almost political junkie and Christian to do? I don't have all the answers and will probably end up with more questions but here are some thoughts I am trying on for size to see if they will fit better by the next wave of elections. *Check my default loyalties: Is my first and primary loyalty to the King of the Universe and His Kingdom? I do believe that one of the Adversary's tricks is to get me to subtly shift my loyalty from the greatest One Who gives grace and life and truth to lessor but good loyalties that advertise a more immediate response than that which the Kingdom of God may offer. I can quietly, stealthily begin to listen to the important voices calling to me rather than the eternal One which often speaks in a still, quiet voice. *Remind myself that "success" in the Kingdom is defined by faithfulness to the Savior as seen in loving obedience rather than the win-loss record of elections and bill passages. But a part of this faithfulness must manifest itself in the involvement of the church in the political process because the government wields much power and this power can be used for good or evil. When used properly this earthly power can bring freedom and justice, which certainly have spiritual roots, to many who would otherwise struggle in many kinds of tyranny. Slavery to a plantation owner in the 1860's was deplorable. Slavery to an enablement system that keeps people enslaved to the government is despicable and lessened only to the degree that freedom can be exercised to rise above circumstances with responsibility. To absence the voice of the church from politics would withhold those truths without which no nation can long survive. These Kingdom voices must speak truth to power which may not always meet with victory on this side of glory but will always be noted by the Kingdom of God. And truthfully victories are won this side of heaven: slavery is gone; women can vote; blacks can vote; education is public; we have a bill of rights-largely because of Christians (google John Leland and James Madison); * Remind myself again of the true calling of the church in all walks of life, be they political, social, or personal: to declare the salvation of Christ and be His hands, feet, and voice in the world. Our business is not limited to the business of political parties but extends to all mankind. Our Kingdom business in the church is to do what Jesus did and still desires to do through His church. He came to seek and to save that which is lost (Luke 19:10). In this salvation He grants to those who trust Him His righteousness( 2 Corinthians 5:21). In this righteousness is justice and freedom (Galatians 5). We thus become the feet of Jesus to take the gospel to the lost, the hands to serve the needs of humanity and the voice of Jesus to cry out for justice for the marginalized, impoverished, forgotten, and neglected. If the church has lost influence in the Western world, quite possibly it is because we cried out more for our tax exempt status and our economic well being than we did for kids with aids in Africa, rape victims in Somalia, human trafficking in America, orphans anywhere, tortured Christians in China, or any group needing a voice in a world filled with the noise of self-interest. *Remind myself to always do things just because they are the right things to do. And in the meantime, and the times are always mean somewhere, keep learning more about what things are simply right. *Remind myself to always preach first to myself. I need to hear truth and I need a nap. Surely even my preaching can get at least one accomplished. Cos

Friday, October 15, 2010

No Miner Accomplishment

Every once in a while the world gets a breather from bad news with a heart tugging story that ends well. Such has been the case of the 33 Chilean miners who were trapped underground for 70 days after a cave-in. Hats off to the mine administration, at least for the recovery effort. Cuddos to the Chilean government who welcomed ideas and help from all over the globe. Well done humans around the world who sent ideas, equipment and other humans to help with the rescue. Well done all! The crew shift leader, Luis Urzua, recognized quickly what could happen to send the men spiraling down the shaft, so to speak, of depression, anger, fear, and anarchy. He organized them to clean, work, recreate, and hope. I have no doubt when the movie is made his character will take center stage. The church got in on the help in a very ecumenical way, also. Prayer meetings and vigils were organized around the nation. Someone was praying at the mine at all times. As soon as the smaller relief tube was drilled and the miners immediate physical needs were met, their spiritual needs were attended to also. The Seventh Day Adventist sent down mini-Bibles for all the miners. The Jesus Project sent down 33 MP3 players with an audio adaptation of the famous Jesus film. The Catholics sent down a crucifix and statues of the saints and the virgin Mary. The Baptist Press reported that two miners made first time professions of faith and became Christians. Faith was tested no doubt, but faith became integral to the group as they prayed and worshipped regularly together. Minor Jimmy Sanchez said that "there are actually 34 of us, because God never left us down there." I'm afraid I see a cloud on all this silver lining, however. Maybe we in the church need to continue to pray for these miners. They are now becoming celebrities. Offers are coming in from all over the globe. Vacations to Europe and the US are offered. Book and movie deals will come at them. They have agreed to agree together on these things but will their coalition hold? Who will speak for them? How will they make decisions about who to trust, which "deals" to accept, if they should pursue legal courses and just become rich from all the attention being thrown their way? Can their marriages stand the strain? Already some have decided to end "empty" marriages and one miner, Johnny Barrios had two women waiting up top for him (only the girlfriend went to the rescue, the wife stayed away) They have handled the tragedy of the cave-in remarkable well. How will they handle the pressure they are about to endure? I hope the church steps in as it can without barging in on their lives to offer balance and remind them of those spiritual lessons learned underground. I hope those lessons help them say "no" when necessary even if it cost them monetarily. I hope the cave in remains the real tragedy and that their individual lives aren't caved in from the pressures of being stars now. The Bible warns us in Proverbs 27: 21 that "the crucible for silver and the furnace for gold, but a man is tested by the praise he receives." A kind and trusted soul should read Psalm 49: 16-20 to them, a part of which reads " do not be overawed when a man grows rich, when the splendor of his house increases; for he will take nothing with him when he dies,.... A man who has riches without understanding is like the beasts that perish." So the world rejoices as it should over fellow humans hanging in and triumphing over great adversity. It gives us all a boost and a little hope in whatever dark places and cave-ins we might face. There is hope, there is help, and God never leaves us alone in our own darkest moments. But don't stop praying for these guys and their families. It may be a hard prayer to pray (I know as I have done it myself) but for them and ourselves Proverbs 30:7-9 mights be appropriate: "Two things I ask of you, O Lord; do not refuse me before I die; Keep falsehood and lies far from me; give me neither poverty or riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise I may have too much and disown you and say, 'who is the Lord?' Or I may become poor and steal, and dishonor the name of my God." The miners made a decision 70 plus days ago to live and triumph. Now even more decisions are being forced upon them. Hope they choose well. You and I face the same kinds of decisions, they are just spread out in time a little more. Pray that we all choose well by the wisdom of God. These are not just miner decisions, they are also ours. Often in the dark, but never without a Light, Cos PS: Tom, 42-46=88

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Missing Letters

I'm spoiled. I know it. I like my modern conveniences like electricity, air conditioning, spell chek and remote controls. But with all the ubiquitous gadgets and devices that exist to keep us networked, I've discovered something I miss. I can't remember the last time I received a personal letter. You remember letters don't you? Before the invention of email, Facebook, Twitter, smartphones and three-cents-minute rate plans people had to write letters, especially if the person you needed to communicate with was "long distance." Miss Geneva and Miss Kornegey even taught letter writing as part of the lesson plans for third through sixth graders at Milford elementary. For many, letter writing was just a way of life. Kids wrote letters from camp and signed up for "pen-pals." Parents wrote letters to children who lived more that twenty miles away. College students wrote home to parents and grandparents. I can't remember the last hand-written letter of any length I received or that I've written to someone else. There are cheaper, easier, faster ways to communicate. But are they better? I don't know. Can you imagine what the apostle Paul could have done with Yahoo and Facebook? I've tried to analyze why I'm missing letters and I think the main thing was the personal connection. I receive and write cards occasionally and my wife, Pam, is great about card-sending. But cards are usually event or problem specific. Good letters are personal, informative, humorous, ofttimes intimate, and assume a level of knowledge which makes reading between the lines both possible and fun. I've a friend I dearly love whom I have blocked from my inboxes. All he ever sends are "forwards" of mind-dumbing trivia or political party bashing. I'd love to hear how his days are spend in retirement. How are his wife and those kids that I baptized and later performed their weddings doing? Tell me about your grand kids so I'll have an opening to tell you about my better one. What has the Lord shown them through the years and how is that foot with the nerve damage? Instead I get a forward message that began the rounds sometime back in the Clinton administration about the benefits and uses of vinegar. I'll cherish the letter my mom sent to me somewhere around my twenty-fifth or thirtieth birthday when she described the circumstances, the weather, and the feelings she had at my birth. It gave me the sense of actually being there. My dad wrote me a letter once. I've kept that letter buried deeply in my papers somewhere. Maybe my kids will find it when I die and they will see a glimpse of my dad that I didn't even know was there before "the letter." I'll always be amazed at the letters Dr. Shields, my theology prof. at Howard Payne wrote years and years after I'd graduated. Full page letters with tiny script, full of information but more encouraging that anything else. I was only one of hundreds of former students he wrote. I might make myself feel guilty enough that I'll write letters again. At nearly fifty cents postage for a letter and taking the better part of an hour to write, it would be quite an investment. Possibly that is really one of the problems in our world, we are very well connected but not very well invested in the hearts, minds, and lives of others. Letter writing is something of a lost art, to be sure. I hope it can be recaptured. If you ever doubt its worth I'd suggest you go to the computer and google "famous letters" or better still,recall those you received yourself (if you are old enough to have actually ever gotten a letter). Better yet, maybe just open the Bible and see the love letter God wrote to humanity. Dear Humanity, In the beginning........ Cos

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Anybody here, seen my old friend ___________

"...i looked around and they were gone..........." Well, maybe not gone but who would have ever thought they would be where they are now, my old preacher friends, I mean. They shouldn't be where they are. Take Bob, for instance. He is in Beaumont. He is from Big Spring. There is enough cultural difference alone to see Bob in a place other than in Beaumont. But there he is, chaplain at the hospital and doing great job I hear, especially from Bob (just kidding). When first I met Bob at a Howard Payne University freshman gathering you could tell he was smart, funny, and had a bit of a rebel streak in him. He wouldn't view the world like everyone else, especially preachers, although he was one. With his quick wit, compassion for the little guy, ability to see quickly through masks of hypocrisy and with a view toward justice for the disenfranchised he should have been in a university town with a large church filled with professors. He'd challenge, inform, love, tic-off, push, prod, and show mercy to movers and shakers and future shap-ers of the world and the Kingdom would thank him for it. He spent most of his ministry in a dusty oil field service town with a little farming around it. He fought health issues, battled fundamentalist in the denomination, got a new liver, married country boys to country girls, baptized freckled-faced boys and curly haired girls. He finally moved to town with a college, a two-year college any way. He helped the church clean up some lingering staff problems and they thanked him by firing him and anyone else left around just to give the church a complete clean slate. So Bob became a chaplain and you wonder about all that energy, wit, freshness, and rebellious spirit that kept church from being too worldly or too stuffy going to waste. I wouldn't have put Bob there, but God did. Then there's Larry. Larry doesn't really know how to pastor. After all, he's only had two churches. The first one he stayed at for about eight years and the second one for nearly thirty now. What can he possibly know about pastoring after only two pastorates? His church is in a suburb of Dallas. It is "landlocked" with streets, and parks, and businesses around it so they can't expand the buildings much. The area has gone from middle class white to black to Asian to Hispanic and back and forth. He never stood a chance. I'd have gotten him to a rich church with a huge missions budget because he dearly loves missions. He could have preached and taught and gone on mission trips and encouraged young men and women to become missionaries. He should have been named the head of the denominational mission board but he and God left him at the same place for thirty years. Oh, sure, his church has started or funded a dozen or so new mission churches, kept a crisis pregnancy center going, has blacks, whites, Asian, and Hispanics worshipping together and they love like no other church you've ever seen. Yeah, his sons are all in ministry from music to youth to pastoring and they touch people with the gospel in three states but just think what he could have been with a little push out of the nest he's made. Instead they just keep loving, proclaiming, funding, and finding ways to love Jesus and share him with a neighborhood that probably has no idea how good Larry could have been somewhere else. Poor suckers only know how good Jesus is to them there. In the list I'd have to include Bobby, too. Bobby had ADhD before they invented it. He does a lot , if not most of his pastoring from the car. You having a hangnail extracted,? If you're part of his church he'll probably hold your other hand during the procedure. If your having a real operation, he'll probably move in with you to serve you. He loves his family. He loves the Bible. It shows up in his preaching. He loves to go on mission trips. He loves his denomination. He loves his church. He's got enthusiasm and passion. He is loyal to a fault. His greatest trait may be that he can tell you to your face with bold honesty what "the problem is" and he will be right and you will hug him for it. If I told you the same thing, you would hit me. Bobby should have been in a church with lots of young couples getting married and struggling to stay married. He can help folks fix their marriages. So God puts him in churches in west Texas with bunches of old folks with very stable marriages, well, at least a much as you can have these days. He goes around loving and helping people in trouble. I've been to a half dozen leadership training conferences, have two theological degrees and read hundreds of books on Christianity and pastoring, hardly any of them mention those qualities. Oh well, if all your going to do with your life is love God, love people, and serve them 24-7, I guess it doesn't matter where He sticks you. Now consider poor Rick. Rick was one of the brightest. Rick was one of the quickest. Rick could preach up a storm, argue Satan to hell, and turn the lights of glory on in the hearts of sinners. He was the one. We'd all go to vacation in the big city where he would eventually pastor, attend his gigantic church, and lean over and tell our children in the pew beside us , "your dad went to school with that man." After church, he'd even remember your name right in front of your kids. He was the one. Bachelor's degree--waste of time. Master's degree---child's play. Doctorate--hard logistically but merely stimulating. Humble, sure. He'd pay his dues. He'd pastor little churches for a while we thought but "the call'' would come soon enough. The big one never seemed to fit. He take a church and next month the "big" pulpit would open up but now it was too soon to move again and unfair to the church he had just taken. That happened a couple of times. What was God up to? So he goes to one and stays a while and just grows it into a pretty big church. The denomination calls him to lead one of their divisions. He goes and within a few years the denomination is struggling so it lets hundred of workers go. How, God, could you let that happen? So Rick twists in the wind and the Wind blows him to a small community with a small church. Funny thing, in all the churches he leads people to repentance and faith in Christ. That guy on the couch in his living room has no idea the guy telling him about Jesus has the pedigree he has. Neither one of them seem to care at that moment. What happened? Is this how God works with the brightest and most promising? Rick, Bobby, Bob and Larry are not where I would have expected them to be when I considered our futures 37 years ago this month entering Howard Payne University. Maybe you never expected to be where you are either. Why? Who Knows? I guess He knows. He has His reasons. For the foolishness of God is wiser than man's wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man's strength. He has used the foolish things of the world to confound the wise. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things to nullify the things that are so that no one may boast before Him (I Cor. 1:25-29). We have this treasure in jars of clay to show that the all-surpassing power is from God and not from us (II Cor. 4:7). Guys, I, along with many of your peers would have said 37 years ago, "these men will do a great work for God." I believe you have on so many levels but more importantly I see God has done a great work in you (Phil. 1:6) and through you. The score is not kept in Nashville or Dallas or Los Angeles or New York. No, if I had been in charge I'd have not put you where you are. I certainly would not have left you there. Turns out, God hasn't either. Cos

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Caption Contest

This little feller had too much Mt. Dew, I guess. This was alongside the road north of Blum. Got a good caption for this pic? I'll buy lunch for the winner. Cos "...gonna love me some high fructose corn syrup with a jolt of caffeine..." "'s a 103 degrees out here, the asphalt was killin' my feet..." "...when its this hot, i'll do anything for a dew..." "...i'm gonna get this bottle cap off if its the last thing i do..." (contest is still open............)

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Death at the Doorstep

Ok, maybe the title is a bit strong, let me explain. While in Waco on Wednesday, Pam moved a cooler with synthetic ice blocks in it from one side of the car to the other to get the cooler out of the sun. Your rightfully ask, "So what?" Let me explain. At about 9:30 or 10 on Wednesday night I remembered I had left the garage door up about 10 inches to allow more air to circulate and cool the garage off. I poked my head out of the back door into the garage and pushed the button and closed the garage door. Still don't get it? Let me further explain. At approximately 10:50 on Wednesday evening, I went to bed. In about five minutes Pam remembered that she had not retrieved the blue ice blocks out of the cooler to put back into the freezer that stands in the corner of the garage. (Now its making sense isn't it?) Pam hollers back into the bedroom and asks me to put the blue ice in the freezer. I lovingly answered back, "No, I'll do it in the morning. I'll put them in when I go the walk the dogs about 6:30." "Never mind," she said. "I'll do it myself." I think to myself, "cool." I heard the back door to the garage open, in about ten seconds I hear the worst scream I've ever heard Pam scream and she comes running into the house yelling "there's a rattlesnake in the garage." She has definitely seen and\or heard something. At the scream I had jumped up and ran toward her but now with the news I'm hearing I run back to the bedroom. No, not to hide under the covers, although the idea had crossed my mind. I had to put on my glasses and some clothes. The glasses were to see whatever it was I had to do battle with and the clothes in case whatever I do battle with wins. I didn't want the paramedics to get grossed out or laugh so hard at a nearly naked preacher that they drop him off the stretcher going to the ambulance. As soon as I walk into the garage it is obvious that it is a rattlesnake, the rattle is unmistakable and I see it's tail rattling out from behind a bag of mulch. Pam has shut and locked the door leading back inside. It's me and the snake now. I am running on adrenaline. I went across the garage and grabbed my hoe. I now regret getting the fifteen dollar hoe made in China instead of the twenty-nine dollar hoe made in Pennsylvania. It has no sharp edge. Should I opt for my driver or another golf club. I'm a twenty-two handicapper. I stick with the edgeless, Chinese hoe. (OK, guys, enough about me going out with a Chinese hoe) I reach out with the hoe and pull the bag of mulch over and reveal the snake. It's bigger than I thought it would be from just looking at the rattlers earlier. It's fat, too, and I'm guessing a little over two feet. It doesn't "stand-up" but it cocks it's agitated neck as I position my hoe over its head. Whack! In the neck about six inches off. Whack, whack! and its over. I finish severing the head and see a lot more blood than I expected. I knock on the door. "Who is it?" "Who do you think it is?....." In taking the thirty inch snake out to the ditch, a recently eaten rat falls out of the snake. That explains the blood and how fat the now disposed of snake appeared. I throw rat and snake out and go clean up the blood in the garage. Pam lets me in and believe it or not, neither of us is sleepy. We access the night's happenings with some of these conclusions. I will not leave the garage door up again no matter how hot it is. I will invest in a twenty-nine dollar hoe. I will sharpen both hoes. I will probably, for a while anyway, go into the garage and get anything Pam wants. I hate snakes. I almost hesitate to to mention this in light of the horrendous things happening in our world, even to true Christ-followers who are endangered for their faith because of where they live. But I truly believe God watched over us last night. Pam stepped within about two feet of the snake when she went to the freezer. Had the cooler with the blue ice been on the driver's side instead of where she moved it to the passenger side, she would have walked right upon the demon. Had I gone out to the car myself to put the blue ice in the freezer, I would probably have not turned on the light at all and walked right up with a quicker, and to a snake, more threatening pace to the place where it was digesting its prey. The fact that it had just eaten probably slowed it down some, too. Bad things happen to both good and bad people and I know Christians that have been bitten by rattlesnakes, but not by that three foot monster last night and I am truly thankful. So, remember, life does come at you fast, even beyond insurance commercials, so be ready. Life is fragile, so handle with prayer. I believe less and less in coincidence but in a God who protects and when He doesn't it is for a greater purpose and glory. When the films of our lives are rewound and shown in glory I suspect we will be amazed at how many times, unknown to us, God protected us, even by simple moves like a cooler moved the other side of the car. Now let me say this, if a rattlesnake makes it way into your life, don't call me, one five footer is enough! Cos

Monday, July 12, 2010

Playing Catch

Do kids these days ever play catch with their dads? Obviously, they still do but you don't seem to see it much. The boys and girls play a lot more games than we did when I was growing up. I think our little league team played twelve, maybe fourteen games during the summer. Now days they have leagues organized from tee-ball to regular season to select leagues. With so many leagues and so many games do the kids get much time with just playing catch with their dads? One of the most poignant scenes from the 1989 movie "Field of Dreams" was when Ray Kinsella's dad shows up on the magical field. There are some obvious hurts from the past that were never resolved before Ray's dad died. Ray asks his dad, John, "do you want to have a catch?" For a few minutes they play catch. I understood that moment. There is something about occupying the same turf, and concentrating on the same sphere with the intent to snatch it from the air like an escaping dream, and then voluntarily sending that sphere back that brings connection like few things in life can. With each throw coming at you, you get to prove you're good enough, big enough, skilled enough to handle it. With each throw you fling away you are proving to yourself and your dad that you can be on target. And the idea renews itself every few seconds. With a game of catch two generations are brought together in the same moment. The old man gets to impart some wisdom of "how to" to the younger generation. In time, if the pair keeps playing catch year after year the young one can show the old one "what he's got" and the old one can show the young one "he's still got it" himself. But mostly its about the connection, the connection that grows with each silent throw and catch as if the ball were a needle pulling some invisible thread between the two players. The simple act of playing catch draws each one to the other as they participate in a game that is bigger than both of them but can be enjoyed on even a small patch of dirt in the backyard. The best times of catch are mostly silent with just the rhythmic "pop" of each one's glove. "Pop"...silence... "pop." "Pop"....silence...."pop."Some throws are hard, some are easy. Some throws are on target and some way off. Most are caught but some are missed. Sometimes an easy throw is dropped and at times a great catch is made of one that should have been missed. Life itself is like that, too. Occasionally, right in the middle of catch, the son or daughter may even ask a question about life, its' whys and wherefore's. It's a good time to talk a little and learn a lot. At some point the younger will eventually surpass the elders skill whether it is from athletic ability or simply age and strength ebbing in one and rising in the other. The wise ones will absorb the change and keep on pitching and catching. One day the younger will find himself gearing down quite a lot so as not to hurt the elder, much like the elder did when the younger was a toddler. Hopefully, by then the connections are so strong that they can find a different way to catch each other's hopes, dreams, and fears that once flew back and forth into each other's glove. But do dads play catch with their kids much anymore? Probably not enough, the kids have too many games and Dad works too many hours. There's a sadness to that which once was but now is lost but the saddest part is that some were too busy or too blind to ever have it in the first place. With so many games, so many leagues, so many practices do kids ever connect with their dads by simply playing catch? Perhaps God wonders the same about all of us to whom He has been pitching truth for years only to see us too busy to grasp it, handle it, and throw it back just in order to connect with Him. One day He may bring the high heat, will we know how to handle it? Cos

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Connie, Did You Have a Good Life?

I literally hadn't thought of Connie Stubblefield in probably forty years. But Mom sent some old yearbooks home by son Clay when he was here visiting recently. She said to keep them but not throw them away as she would take them back if I didn't want them. I kept them. I looked up ancient pictures of my classmates but oddly, remembered the ones who weren't there. I remembered David my good friend from early grades, actually only two. But we remained good friends through high school and kept up with each other through college. But he wasn't in those year books. I remembered Daryl Wayne. Daryl had a playground accident when we were in the fifth grade. He hit his head on some concrete during some rough play. The blow caused a clot, the clot swelled the brain and he remained in comatose state for three years until his death. Daryl wasn't in the yearbook either. Philip Becker wasn't there. His family moved to Ennis so they could attend St. John's Catholic school after about the sixth grade. We kept in touch through sports until I lost track of Philip after high school. He was probably the nicest and smartest of the bunch. Well, maybe David, too. Then there was Connie. Connie started the first grade with all of us. She was different in some ways but all of us were in our own ways I guess. Connie had skin that was different than the rest of us. She wasn't black, she wasn't Hispanic, but her skin was darker. I heard later someone say she had an "olive" complexion. I thought olive was green and Connie wasn't green so that didn't make sense to me then. Connie was also poorer, I think. She lived with her grandmother. That also made her different back then. I seem to recall she had a little brother, but I'm not sure. Her mother would show up on occasion for some big event at school. I never knew nor was it my place to know what was going on with her family. If I ever knew the particulars of Connie's family situation I couldn't really say for sure but they would have been wasted on a six or eight or ten year old like me anyway. Her grandmother didn't speak much English if my memory serves me correctly. She looked like Mother Teresa, covered head and all. She was old and slow and I remember thinking Connie may be taking care of her grandmother more than grandmother is taking care of her. Connie may have been pretty, I just don't know. She didn't have anyone to work with her on those sorts of things. I think she was thin, had pointed features and something called high cheek bones. I never thought of Connie as pretty-never thought she was ugly. She was kind of a tom-boy and liked baseball. When you know someone at age 6 until just before puberty awakens new realms of reality, well, Connie was just Connie. I'd see her for nine months of the year for five days a week, only once or twice during the summer at a baseball game or the store, and no where else. Then after our eighth grade year, I think, it could have been seventh, something happened. I can't recall if her grandmother got too old and sick to keep them or if circumstances changed with her mother, but Connie left Milford and I never saw or heard from her again. When those old yearbooks showed up I saw old classmates' pictures and I remembered the ones not there. So, did you have a good life Connie Stubblefield? Did your mother show you how to put on make-up and dress like a lady? Did you finish high school and maybe college and get a good job? Did you have a career, a family, a divorce? Did you come to know Christ? Did you get to have little money and maybe travel some? Did you ever go back to Milford and did you look in your old yearbooks and wonder whatever happened to those people not in yours that you left in Milford? I lost track of Connie. No, that implies I tried to keep track. School ended. Connie left like every summer only when it started up again in August, she wasn't there and I never thought too much about it. That is a bit sad, maybe a lot sad. People drop in and drop out of our lives. They can be there for a long time and then gone. That's the way it is and we don't think much about it but if we stop long enough to think about it, we find something gnawing away at our souls leaving the impression that the way it is is not necessarily the way it should be. I suppose this gnawing is really a fear that maybe we are the ones who have been lost in life's shuffle. God, do you know where I am? Do you know what I've been doing? Do you remember my name? But God's word assures: O Lord, you have searched me and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Psalm 139: 1-3 Connie, I hope you lived and laughed and loved. Mostly I hope you know this God who knows you. He never lost you for a moment. Cos

Monday, June 21, 2010

A Cry From the Gulf

What Do The Tall Trees Say? What do the tall trees say To the havoc in the sky. They sigh. The air moves, and they sway When the breeze on the hill Is still, then they stand still. They wait. They have no fear. Their fate Is faith. Birdsong Is all they've wanted , all along. Wendell Berry I find myself writing about events for which I have no adequate words. Last week, wildflowers, this week folly. The gulf oil spill could be described with every negative adjective in the dictionary and none of them would be strong enough to convey the loss, betrayal, pain, and suffering inflicted from the ocean depths to the kitchen tables of ordinary folks who happened to make their living from the gulf waters. A new "verb" is even emerging from the disaster, "BPed." This is used when the negligence and irresponsibility of others cost you dearly. Those eleven workers who lost their lives after the blowout and subsequent fire on the oil rig were really "BPed." Humans tend to look to lay blame when disasters fall and trouble rings our doorbell. There is plenty to go around in this one as well. There were supervisors who ignored engineers warnings. There were managers who preached safety but kept pushing to keep drilling and moving forward. There were executives who said all the right things publicly but fostered an industry culture of turning a blind eye if delays would translate into costly overruns on projects. There was arrogance from top to bottom in thinking that when all was said and done, everything would turn out okay and no one would know a few corners were cut. Now everyone knows and everyone will pay, but not as much as the eleven and their families, followed by the lives lost in the marine and animal kingdoms and the humans who live and work in the gulf. We will all pay for this one. Does the gulf not cry out to us begging us to listen? Does the spewing well vomiting its dark poison not paint a metaphor of the natural consequences and the human heart's condition when arrogance and greed are the driving forces of our lives? So what are we to hear? What does the gulf say to us in her fear, in her frustration, in her death struggle? She reminds what God has already taught us: We live in a broken world. Sin has broken this world. We discount this truth to our own peril. Romans 8:20-22 informs us the "the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God." Look at the words, frustration, bondage, decay. We see this in every earthquake, every flood, tornado or hurricane. From the introduction of sin by man into this good earth that God created there has been pain, frustration, bondage, and decay that leads to death. Our world is broken. But there is another cry from the gulf of a related brokenness. The gulf and every other clod of dirt, breath of air or drop of water that has been touched by man knows also that it is inhabited by broken people. We too are fallen and if we can't see it in the world around us maybe we can sense it in our hearts. Made in the image of God we can imagine, conquer, dream, and create many new and wonderful things. But even the best advances are, or can be tainted with the stain of sin. God told Adam in Genesis 2 to take care of the Garden, rule over the earth and subdue it. Yet, despite all the good wrought in our rule and subjugation there is the pain it causes. Electricity yields light, heat, cool, progress and the occasional electrocution. Automobiles opened the country, joined sections, opened markets, provided jobs and united families. And yes, they kill thousands in accidents every year. Medicine saves lives by the millions but occasionally a mistake is made or a bad reaction is introduced. Oil production in the gulf has been safe, produced thousands of jobs and elevated a way of life. Yet, when broken people ignore protocols, circumvent safety procedures and dismiss chunks of rubber coming up from the blowout preventor on the wellhead, then unparalleled disaster follows. And it has been the history of mankind that there are always people ignoring God's calls, circumventing His will, and dismissing His Son as Savior that leads to personal and corporate disaster. In arrogance men try to rule other men, enslaving not only the body the ideas and ideals of those more noble. War then breaks out, pestilence, famine, and disease follow. We often have received more than we needed but developed a thirst for even more: more cars, more clothes, more entertainment, more food. This lust for more produced a greater dependence on oil, that fetches a grand price that other men are willing to do anything to produce and we all with sin-broken hearts and minds, now have oil on our hands and the gulf of Mexico on our conscience. Then we start the whole blame game anew and "they" and "them" become the culprit as we try to hide again our own brokenness. If I could cry back to the gulf with words she could understand I'd somehow convey that I'm sorry. I'm sorry my appetites fed others appetites that fed greed and produced more arrogance. I'd tell her that there is hope. There is hope because God remains. He remains faithful and sovereign. He lets us face our consequences but is ever near to help if we but repent and are willing to listen and follow. I'd tell her also that God redeems. He redeems the repentant heart that turns to His Son for salvation and will one day even redeem His creation that we broke. The picture of the new heaven and new earth is a picture of redemption. In Revelation 22: 1-6 there is the word picture of joy-filled streams and healing trees. Those streams that make glad the city of God surely are filled with His whole and healthy sea creatures. And those trees that produce the healing for all nations in their monthly bearing of fruit must surely be nourished by the wholeness of the earth made new and right again. God help us to hear the cry of the gulf and hear Your cry to our hearts to seek Your healing for both. Cos

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Living Word

Jim called us to come out to the ranch one evening. The calendar said mid-to-late spring but anyone who's lived in Texas very long knew it was almost summer. Usually when Jim calls its because he needs my help with some economic theory he is teaching to future presidents and senators. Sometimes he calls for help with a speech he has to give before the governor or ex-presidents and other power brokers. Well, okay, Jim doesn't need help with any of that, especially from me. I guess he calls because he's nice. But this evening he had something he wanted to show us so we went.
The wildflowers of Texas had put on a great show in the pastures and alongside the roads this spring. It may not have been the absolute best year but it was nonetheless an outstanding year for flowers. Jim had some on his place he wanted to show us. Pam's back was out of whack and she couldn't make the trip in the ATV Mule to the pasture but I went along for the ride. We drove along about five or six minutes from the house with Jim twisting and turning the Mule on- road, then off-road then no road until there it was: Acres and acres of wildflowers stretching out before us. I hesitate to even begin to attempt to describe the scene. Words will do little good and no justice to the wild beauty before us. The sun was low on the horizon casting its evening glow to the hues it illuminated. There were enough shadows from scrubby mesquite and oaks to break up the palette of the colors waving before us. The colors were intense to delicate, dark to light- browns, blues, purples, reds, yellows, oranges, greens, whites, and combinations the old 64 pack of crayons couldn't match.
It was impossible to drink it all in. Jim would move the atv and face it in another direction and the flowers would reveal more of their beauty. As the sun sank lower they seemed to flirt with us, raising their skirts to reveal even more. And if the myriad shapes and colors weren't enough, when we were downwind the smell was all but overpowering. I've seen more intense and profuse thickets of wildflowers but never this many different kinds, this many colors, with this much fragrance in one field.
Then Jim asked, "What's that scripture Jesus said about King Solomon in all his glory...? Yeah, what is that scripture?" We nailed it to Matthew 6 but we couldn't recall the verses. Turns out that it is verses 28-30. "And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?"
It hit me that Jim hadn't driven me out into one of his pastures, he had driven me back 2,000 years into the scriptures. Matthew 6:28-30 was alive before us. Jesus had observed the same things two millennia ago and taught the faithlessness of worry and pointed out the care, concern, and provision of God to those around him. He used Jim, a mule, a sunset and a field of flowers to teach the same lesson. At that moment I believe I got it. For that moment, the Bible passage was alive or at least I was living it.
I knew I shouldn't have tried it when I started. There's no way a person of my limited ability could capture in words what I saw that evening. I took pictures but my cell phone camera didn't do it justice. You had to see it and even with your imagination I guarantee you will miss something. It did make me wonder, can other scriptures also come alive? Maybe that's how they are meant to be when we walk into a store, a room, a business, a stadium, a heart or even a field of wildflowers, the Spirit of God takes the word of God and it is suddenly alive and real like never before.
I'll work on a few. You work on a few. Let's compare notes.......

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The Puppy in the Corner

Ron Lee Davis in his book A Forgiving God in an Unforgiving World tells this story: Walking by a pet shop on his way to school, a young boy stopped and stared through the window. Inside were four black puppies playing together. After school, he ran home and pleaded with his mother to let him have one of the puppies. "I'll take care of it, Mom, I will. If you can just give me an advance on my allowance, I'll have enough money to buy one with my own money. Please, Mom, please!?" The mother, knowing full well the complications of having a new puppy in the busy household, nevertheless, could not resist her son. "Okay, you can get the puppy, but I will expect you to take care of it." "Yes, Mom, I will." Filled with excitement, the little boy ran to the pet shop to buy his new puppy. After determining that he indeed had enough money, the pet shop owner brought him to the window to choose his puppy. After a few minutes, the young boy said, "Umm... I'll take the little one in the corner." "Oh no," said the shop owner,"not that one, he's crippled. Notice how he just sits there; something is wrong with one of his legs, so he can't run and play like the rest of the puppies. Choose another one." Without saying a word, the boy reached down, pulled up his pant leg to expose a chrome brace to the owner. "No," he said firmly, "I'll take the puppy in the corner." When we read that story, we all tend to identify with the puppy in the corner. It doesn't matter how good looking we are, are healthy we are, how successful we've been or how many achievements we accomplished, we know about being that puppy in the corner. Here's the good news of grace: God knows what it is like to be the little boy doing the choosing. I'm not implying that God isn't perfect as the little boy's leg wasn't but listen to scripture from Isaiah 53:4, "Surely, He took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed." And again from Hebrews 4:15, "we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses..." Like the little boy in Davis' story, God knows and God still chose---you. God likes underdogs. Wandering Semitics (Abraham), loser shepherds (Moses), lying prostitutes(Rahab), skinny rock-throwing little brothers (David), weepy prophet(Jeremiah), impetuous fishermen (Peter, John, James) and a religious terrorist (Paul) all found their place in the grace of God despite brokenness of heart or mind or soul. More good news, we in the church get to go out look for crippled puppies and pick them in the name of Jesus. Who's in the corner of your life who needs someone to look over and say, "I choose this one." All we with bent legs or bent hearts know what it is like to be left out so let's stick together and get picking. For what causes the world with its love affair with glitz and glamour and success to not pick some is the very reason that Jesus does. You gotta love puppy-pickin' grace. Cos

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

I've Been Gone

Sorry, I've been away. I've been away in every way except physically. So, I didn't write, which was wrong. Why, you ask? No, you don't ask, I do. I was tired after Easter. It was all good stuff, too good, too much. I went through a lot of motions after Easter, especially the "e" one. But I made no writing motions. I was tired. I was lazy. I was busy with the next big thing at church. I was planning to, but I never did. So I never wrote about how Jim Griffin made Matthew 6:28-34 literally come to life late one Saturday evening on his ranch. I should have. I never wrote that little thought on the magnetized cross. It was kinda silly. Maybe I'll be drawn back to it someday. I had a few thoughts inspired by Casting Crown's "Caught in the Middle" but the thoughts never left the center of my brain. It was the same for an essay called "That's Church to Me." Like many, I just skipped it. There was the "All I Need is Jesus" essay. I was going to like that one. But if He was all I needed then I didn't need to write about it. I had a few thoughts on gambling and our state gov't wanting to look at it for a revenue stream. I guess they want Texas to be rich and prosperous like Mississippi and Louisana, New Jersey and Nevada. I decided that one was too risky to pen (for now). Funny, or sad, or silly? I don't know. I don't know if I can get them back. I don't know if I can rediscover the curiosity, the passion, the whimsy, the fuel to ignite the thoughts into story. Has that every happened to you? Cos

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

He Had to Go

God looked. He looked into humanity's past. He looked into humanity's future. It was all the same to Him... Timeless present of the Eternally Timeless. There once was a farmer. Three dozen years had yielded thirty-two crops--some good, some bad, some horrible, some great, and some not at all. The last two failed and he was finished. Worn out, ground down, and hard up...he was too tired, too broke, and too sad to farm anymore. The droughts, floods, freezes, heat waves, insects, government programs, and clueless bankers would have to find someone else to persecute. He was done. That winter seemed especially cold and long. It seemed to go nowhere and have no purpose. Gradually, the winter chill gave way to the warming earth of spring. A breeze blew the smell of newly turned earth from the next farm over to his nose and he knew. He knew the call of the earth. He felt it in his bones more than heard it in his ears, but he knew. He had to go..... Everyone called him "Coach." Some of the younger kids didn't even know his name. For a score minus two he had "coached 'em up." There were more wins than losses, a few more anyway. There were even a couple of deep runs into the playoffs. Some years ago, he wasn't exactly sure when, he relaxed. He worked just as hard, screamed just as loudly, and drew x's and o's incessantly looking for the perfect play, but he relaxed. It happened as he gradually saw a bigger picture no scoreboard could tally. This picture was painted with the colors of values, discipline, teamwork, and sacrifice. He finally saw the kids and he loved them. Most of the time it was a winning picture, but even if it wasn't it was still a good season. The kids in the program knew this, especially after graduation. But the booster club president and two board members had kids coming into the program next year. They were used to winning Period. And so the the coach who saw beyond the W's, well, he had to go...... All she ever wanted to be was wife and mother, until she became one. Those slow, wet, deep kisses and eager hands that sought her had also awakened such longings in her a year ago were either a memory or a menace now. The thoughts of giving life and sustaining life with children now seemed to steal all the life right out of her. The boss demanded her time and creativity. The husband seemed to demand her body and her paycheck. The church wanted their piece of her and the kids wanted everything. She felt like a commodity being traded on the floor of some human stock exchange. She wanted peace, she needed peace, she craved respect, she longed for love. Lately, she thought she saw something kind in the way one of her co-workers looked at her. He suggested a couple of glasses of wine after work one day. All she knew was she had to go...... He knew when he signed that other piece of paper that this one would show up one day. It could have come even sooner. How long has it been now, ten months? When he signed on he was restless, curious, a little angry at life, somewhat confused and needing direction. Now he has a career, now he has a speciality; he has responsibility and discipline; he even has a title to go with this new piece of paper: his orders. The only word that registers with him is "Afghanistan." He knew it was coming, halfway hoping it would come. Now it has. He's ready. He's trained. He is part of a team. He's going to do the right thing for his country, his momma, his sister and freedom lovers everywhere. He whistles in the dark. Each war has its rights and wrongs, its justices and injustices. He will discover in time his own opinions on his war. All he knows now is that he has the papers and they tell him, he has to go...... His passion and fire is what drew them to him in the first place. He probably should have been with a younger congregation. He was young himself, not yet 35 years old. He had a lot to learn about the way things ran, especially at such a prestigious, old, and large church. But he was gifted in the pulpit, maybe too gifted. The problem came when the church fathers discovered he meant what he preached. He preached hard truths that needed to be heard. He loved Christ passionately and that made the lovers of lessor idols uncomfortable. The pastor was humble in the presence of Christ and bold in the face of sin, especially the so-called respectable ones. The elders tried to bring him along with the comforts they could afford to give him. The sonofagun just kept giving more money to the church and more of his stuff to the poor. The elders agreed when they met how much they admired him in some ways. But the bottom line was, he had to go....... The Son looked. He saw the garden and He saw the gate--locked. He saw the temple and the big curtain--closed. He saw the farmer, the wife, the coach, the soldier, the pastor and everyone else. He saw their rebellion and brokenness; He saw their hopes and dreams, their darkness and futility; he saw pain and aloneness. He saw all they had and all they had lost. He looked around the splendors of heaven and saw an emptiness only He could see. Mostly He saw the cross and He knew, He knew what it meant, more than anyone ever would or could know. But mostly He knew this.....He had to go. And so He did. He who was timeless, enters time that we who weren't guiltless, might enter eternity. Now we can go, Cos

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

God and My Golf Game

God and golf should not be spoken of by me in the same sentence. If you watched me play you would swear there is no God. With me, it is not that there is no God, there just is no golf---game that is. Following is how my walk with God and golfing go together: Tee Time: What a great day! God your creation is magnificent! Can you believe the beauty? And we get to be out in it. It's going to be a great day to tool around the course and enjoy all this.... First Shot: Well, it's a little off but I think I can find it, and maybe even play it. I'm just glad to be out here with you guys. God just wants me to stay focused... First Par Three: Well that's not too bad, just off the green ten yards... a good chip and put and I've got a par, at worst a two put for a bogey..... Three chips and two puts later... "Six!" God is just testing me to see if I'll stay sweet and in control... Par Five: Great drive... I might as well go for it in two, especially after that triple bogey. "Whack... Cut! Cut! Cut! Splash!. Oh well, two in, four out. That's okay. I'll hit up on the green and one put for a par. ..Three chips and two puts later...Eight! I hate this game and a Christian didn't invent it and no real Christian can play it! Twelfth Hole: Job couldn't have felt this bad. God has sent his buzzards to harass me. My pitching wedge is demon possessed. It needs to be exorcised. Rob Tennison says it is getting plenty of exercise. God, save Rob. Fifteenth Hole: I'm not sure God exists. The wind is too high and always blows in my face. It's too cold on the front nine and it feels like hell on this side. Why would anyone subject himself to this torture? I need a psychiatrist. My hand is cramping and the muscles in my back are as tight as Bob Kruse's purse strings. If I believed any longer in God I'd pray for the rapture right now. Yes, I got another triple! Eighteenth Hole: Just get me out of this. God if you exist and you can hear me, just let me get out of here with no more embarrassment, I promise I'll never try this hell-spawned game again...This drive wasn't too bad...I'm just going to close my eyes and swing easy...''whack"... wow look at that ball go....look, it's on the green... I don't have to chip... I can two put for a par, three put for a bogey! Great shot! Yeah thanks, ok. What? Sunday after church? Sure, I'll be here......... Hope springs eternal and hell is persistent and the rise and fall of my Christianity begins again....... Cos

But His Name is On My License

Two pastors I know died within about three weeks of each other. One was expected in a way. Bill Wright had been fighting cancer for a while. He was a larger than life character but not larger than cancer. I had heard his days were numbered but I actually didn't hear of his passing for about ten days after the fact. Bill was known for his huge love of Jesus expressed to people and through missions. If you heard him speak to people on the street or in the hall at a conference, "preacher" is the last thing you'd think of. That's one reason I loved the guy. You really weren't special until Bill called you "Dummy" or "Moron." I know that sounds bad but you loved him for it. If I called someone Moron they would want to hit me. If Bill did, you wanted to hug him. Literally thousands were impacted by his ministry of missions, especially to Mexico, on the Texas border, and through disaster relief trucks that he led his church and the state Baptist convention to man and expand. Not surprised but saddened was my reaction when I heard of his death. Another mold was broken... Wayne Oglesby's death was a shock. He was the pastor I had for the last year and a half of my high school days. He was only seven years older than I was. We hung out a lot my last year of high school and the Lord used him to help gentle me toward ministry. He was a good preacher. He was fun. He was thoughtful. He and Lynn took me to my first broadway play. They put up with my dropping by too often. He took me on excursions to the bible bookstore and to my first evangelism conference. When the call came to ministry after graduation from high school, I was ready to hear it largely because of Wayne. When the call came that he had hung himself in the garage I was not prepared to hear that at all. Surpised and saddened and un-nerved was my reaction when I heard he had ended his own life. Wayne had suffered with depression for some time I was told. I would have been too young to notice at 17 or 18 if he had those troubles then. I do know he'd get really down when he considered his own dad's death as a relatively young man. Wayne's last churches before he went to work as a hospice\funeral home chaplain didn't go very well. I don't know all the stories, I just know it was tough. Did the tough churches lead to deeper depression? Did depression make it hard to pastor these churches? I don't know. But his name is on the bottom of my license to the ministry and I was only one of thousands he impacted positively with his life even as depression was eating his life away like an acid. Could I get that depressed seven years from now when I'm 62? I hurt for the two widows, the kids and grandkids. One family hurting for all the right reasons we hurt when someone we love dies. Another family hurts way too soon with way too many questions. I hope and pray God brings peace to both and look forward to the time when cancer and depression take their rightful place-- in the darkest corner of hell. Lord, will you still need me, will you still feed me when I'm 62? I'll need You. Cos

Monday, March 1, 2010

The Mess of the Story

Defend him all you want, say what you will, but wherever Jesus went he seems to have made a mess of things. So you disagree? Then kindly explain these things declared in the Bible which show how Jesus left a mess in his wake. I suppose one might find ground for argument that he messed up the stable in which he was born but look at it from the animal's point of few. Jesus turned their nice cave-barn into a nursery. Who really knows if it was fit to be used as a stable after that? But there are better examples of Jesus littering the grounds upon which he walked. He calls disciples Peter and Andrew, James and John (Mark 1) and immediately there is a problem to be cleaned up involving abandoned boats and rotting fishing nets. Who's going to take care of that mess? Jesus doesn't take too many more steps and he calls a tax collector named Levi to follow him as well. And guess what? Now there is a tax booth, (precursor to the toll booth?) table, chair, ledgers, stylus and other office supplies left just blowing in the wind. Another mess. He was just getting started. He takes his motley crew to a wedding and turns about 150 gallons of water into wine (John 2). What are you suppose to do with that much wine at the end of a party? Just another mess Jesus leaves among the dozens recorded. There were old, leprous clothes that were discarded and had to be burned after Jesus passed by their former owners. There were broken chains and ripped garments of a man who used to provide the home for many demons (Mark 5) now littering the Garesean hillsides. Crutches thrown aside and mats where the blind and lame used to sit now gather dust. And again, what were the people to do with the coffin and death shroud of the widow of Nain's son (Luke 7) when Jesus raised him from the dead? Just keep following this guy: cages get overturned, money scattered, tables broken and knocked over at the courtyard of women in the temple when he ran the business men out from the women's place of prayer; an empty perfume flask that held expensive perfume from Mary when she poured it on Jesus' feet; and who was going to fix the roof when those friends of the lame guy tore up the roof tiles to let him down from the roof for Jesus to heal? And you can't tell me that only12 guys could clean up properly after Jesus fed 5000 one time and 4000 another time, I don't care how many basketfulls of food they picked up! The list just keeps growing---used palm branches, a crown of thorns, death clothes left in the tomb--everywhere Jesus went you could see the result of his having been there. He truly made a mess of things! Follow him and you will find a debris field of old lives, old ways, former hurts, former ailments, lost days, lost hopes, and death's rags scattered to kingdom come. Would to God that He would make a mess of my life! Cos

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Making a Mess of Ash Wednesday

How did a former Baptist pastor end up in this mess? Well, he created it. By the time I was finished with my assignment I had gathered an aluminum roasting pan, a can of vegetable oil spray, a bottle of charcoal lighter fluid, a hand-held propane lighter, an eight pound Jr. high shot put, a screwdriver, a pair of left-handed scissors, a plastic baggie, and a half dozen dried palm branches. It started simple enough- keep the palm branches from last year's Palm Sunday service to be dried and burned to make ashes for anointing those wishing to participate in an Ash Wednesday service. I had no previous experience with doing this. Last year's Ash Wednesday was my first. I sought the advice and help of a retired Disciples of Christ minister in our church who is on top of nearly everything. He went to a friend who lent him some ashes our service. I thought that added meaning to the term 'lent.' This year we would make our own ashes from our own palm branches. Progress. So I find myself in the garage this morning. Its thirty-seven degrees in there. I have a roasting pan to burn the branches in. I did an internet search and found an entry stating that spray vegetable oil worked well. I backed my pick-up out of the garage. I cut a few dried leaves and dropped them into the pan, sprayed them with a little oil and placed them at the opening of the garage. It was protected from the wind but far enough back to provide good circulation-I thought. So I put the lighter to them. Fizzle. It's not lighting. Okay, go get some lighter fluid. I pour some of that on the leaves and whomp, its burning. Man is it ever burning. Are those gas cans for the mower over there? I can see tomorrow's headline 'White Bluff Volunteer Fire Dept. Chaplain burns own house down...' Why isn't the smoke going out? Finally it dies down. Hey, this doesn't look too bad. The ashes are kinda long and stringy. What did that guy on the internet say? Oh, yeah you have to crush them. With what? I'll use the butt of a screwdriver. So on my work bench I get to crushing ashes with the butt of a screwdriver. It is taking forever. I'll just use my hand. That worked much better but most of the ashes stay on my hand. I get one teaspoon of ashes and drop them in a baggy. Second round. More branches this time, cut into smaller pieces. I use a little more vegetable oil and a lot less lighter fluid. Closer to the door this go 'round and farther from the lawn mower gas and a little whomp later I'm in business. This batch looks more promising. But what can I crush these ashes with? My hand is great but messy; the screwdriver is ok but slow. I know, I'll get one of my shot puts and roll it on the burned up branches. Viola! So I'm rolling out ashes thinking I'm probably breaking some ecclesiastical laws and I'm watching for the Orthodoxy Police and the fire department when I see all this stuff I've pulled out. What a unholy mess! Then it hits me-I'm my own metaphor. I'm trying to do this religious stuff, I'm not sure how and I'm not very good at it. I'm getting it done in one manner of speaking but I've made a mess of things in the meantime. Who shall rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God--through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Rom. 7:25) In a few hours people will come and hear an Ash Wednesday message. They will receive the sign of the cross on their foreheads from my thumb and from my DOC friend. They won't know about my messes either with living life or in making ashes. Some will come out of habit, some will come out of curiosity, some will come to try and make a connection with God again. Some will come and who knows why, but come they will. They will hear an explanation of the history and meaning behind Ash Wednesday. They will hear me say that it doesn't make God love them any more if they receive the ashes or any less if they don't. They will hear me say the Bible no where tells people to fast on this day but they will hear me be pro-fast if in giving up some daily, ordinary habit they can then turn their attention to the extraordinary Christ and think more of Him. They will hear me say that there is nothing which will give you more power with God by taking the Ashes but maybe if you stop and reflect enough you may better understand the power from God you've already been given. They will hear me say that nothing in this ritual adds to our salvation but if remembering our mortality and repenting of those weights in life that so easily entangle us (Heb. 12:1) somehow enables us to walk more with our God in humility and devotion ,then receive the ashes. They won't know that of all the services of our year that this one causes me to tremble and humbles more than any other. I feel so unworthy to be making the sign of a cross on these saints. It is I who need to live behind that cross. It is almost too intimate, too close with eyes too searching and hearts too open. It's a Presence I can hardly bear and maybe that is why I need it more than they. Finally they will hear me say to not let the cross of ritual on the forehead keep them from the more important work of this Lenten season: to take stock--to remember to whom they belong and to to whom they answer--to reflect on the relationship they have with Jesus and to not just check off another box of keeping the rules. I will tell them to fall in love again with Jesus and leave off anything that deadens or douses Loves flames. They will hear me tell them that when, at the end of the day, and they wash off the smudge I've placed on the foreheads, to remember that it is much harder to wash off the smudge in the heart. It takes the blood of Jesus to do that. Ash Wednesday 2010 Cos