Thursday, September 27, 2012

You Can't Go Home Again

     You can't go home again. Thomas Wolfe's character said that in the novel by the same name seventy plus years ago. George Webber, the character in the novel laments that "you can't go back to your family, back home to your childhood...back home to a young man's dreams of fame and of glory...back home to the old forms and systems of things which once seemed everlasting but which are changing all the time--back home to the escapes of time and memory."
     Maybe he was right, but sometimes we try. I went home again last Friday.
     The occasion was a homecoming football game. I'd seen the mighty Bulldogs play a few times in the playoffs in the 39 years since I'd graduated. But I had not been to a football game in Milford since the fall of 1973. Otis Carter, my friend and classmate now coaches the Bulldogs and sent me an invite. Ann, our associate pastor, also from Milford sent me a schedule.
     So I went home, again, for the first time.
     In many ways Wolfe was right. It was the same Horton Field, named after the first coach Milford had after it decided football was back to stay. He died from a rattlesnake bite the spring after his first year at Milford. He didn't let the Bulldogs compete for the district crown that year as he thought they wouldn't be ready. They won every game. I wonder if many know that story? The streets were the same but the businesses were different. No bank, no grocery store, feed store, two pharmacies, two cafes and five gas stations. No, I can't go home to that hometown again. It was the same streets, and even if the businesses hadn't changed, I had. I see them through eyes that have traveled many years, and that in itself changes how I look at things.
     But I didn't go home to see streets, businesses, and football fields, I went to see people. I found some. They were the same people, with the same names I knew back when, but all had new faces. Oh, the old faces were still there, but they were new faces nonetheless. The stylus of time etches into all our faces the lines of joy and sadness; dreams faded and dreams realized; companionship enjoyed and lonliness endured. Grief and tragedy had painted some faces with their harsh hues. Grace and peace had brightened others. Most of the faces, by this age, had been etched and painted by all of these at one time or another and in varying degrees. So the faces were new, but not completely...........
      I recognized them, mostly. They recognized me, mostly. We helped each other when the name didn't come. We talked of families and grandkids (Janie and Karen have ten grandkids each). I saw the first woman I married. She still had long black hair and I mistook her daughter for her at first. Her husband, the first man I married, hadn't changed much. David and Penny have been married nearly 40 years now. I chuckled that my first wedding, when I knew nothing about what I was doing has lasted the longest. Larry was still funny. Otis is the coach he always was, pouring his life into kids. Karen is still kind. Ken is still a  lanky cowboy. Pinky still has faith and hope. I reminisced with black friends and white friends. We laughed a bit. Then it got quiet. Not much to talk about except the past and that past that was a long time ago.
     In many ways Wolfe was wrong. You can go home again, especially if you are at home with change. Who changed more? Me or Otis? Me or Janie? Me or David or Larry or Karen? How do you measure a life of changes? You can't, you just live them and accept them as a price of living. For the Christian being at home is about change. Christ has changed our destinies. Christ has changed guilt to freedom. Jesus changes fear to hope. He will one day change the pain to joy and in His grace...oh His grace, we can even get a taste of it now and can only imagine what our homecoming will be one day.
      In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye...we shall be changed. (I Cor. 15:51-52 kjv)
     And then, we shall all go home, again.


Thursday, September 13, 2012

Weird Values

                                                Weird Values

 I ended last week's article with a set of weird values. I didn't know I would be out weirded. I should have guessed. Some of the weirdness was sick and tragic. Some weirdness was greatly anticipated and seen as newsworthy. Some of the weirdness was comical.

This time last week I didn't know a new species of monkey would be found in the Congo. It totally surprised the researchers. Apparently, the monkey was also surprised to know he hadn't existed before. I also didn't know about a South Korean rapper named Gangman who has launched a dance video that has gotten 20 million YouTube hits in less than a month. It's a cheesy bit that is somewhat reminiscent, they say, of riding a horse. If you ride a horse like that in Texas you could be shot. I also didn't know the new iphone 5 was coming out. It made headlines and has every morning news show giving it time and discussing it's new features. People hadn't figured out iphone 4 yet have they? The greatest feature for Apple is it costs more. A monkey? A horsey video? A phone? It is weird how we react to these "news" items. Much hoopla, much TV time, and a lot of buzz on the internet. The monkey will keep being the monkey he has always been. The horsey dance video will fade when something goofier comes out. The new phone will be the greatest thing since, since the last one came out and until the iphone 6 makes its debut. What do these occurrences say about our values?

On the tragic and sick side of weird is the reaction to a poorly made, poor quality film deriding Mohammad that was made in the US but shown on YouTube in the Middle East. It has caused riots in three countries and apparently caused Al Qaeda to seize the opportunity ( maybe they orchestrated it) and invade a diplomatic outpost in Libya and kill four Americans. Is their god so slight, so vindictive, so sensitive that he would allow his followers to break several commandments to defend his honor from idiots not even present in the places they rioted?  Is there a point where the Majesty, Truth, and Holiness of a god is so high above the idiocy of man that their insults can't reach him? Is he not capable in the last days to bring vengeance to those who actually insult him without harming the innocent?  In Islam, apparently not.

All these news items from the goofy to the heartbreaking say something about the values behind their creation and the values behind the reactions to them. The values in these episodes show fear, anger, vindictiveness, trivia, boredom, arrogance and self-serving pleasure. I've been guilty of all these at one point or another in my life. Which brings me to my ideal list.

The list from last week was : eating; stretching; forgetting; resting; investing. Yes, at first glace that is a weird set of values. Let me explain..........

Eating: Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in him.  Psalm 34:8
           How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth! Psalm 119:103
            Take and eat; this is my body.... Matthew 26:26
           Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise his up at the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink....he remains in me and I in him.   John 6:54-56

Stretching:  Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already become perfect, but I press on the take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: forgetting what is behind and straining forward (stretching) to what is ahead. Ephesians 3: 12-14
Forgetting: For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more. Hebrews 8:12 and Jeremiah 31: 31-34.    (also see above Eph. 3:12-14)
Resting: Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you  rest. Matthew 11:28
               A faith and knowledge resting on the hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time....Titus 1:2
                This is how we know that we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence whenever our hearts condemn us. For God is greater than our hearts and he knows everything.  I John 3:19ff
Also Hebrews 4
Investing: Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.  Matthew 6:33-34
                  Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured in your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.   Luke 6: 37-38.
                  God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown his people and continue to help them.  Hebrews 6:11

If I wasn't weird, my list of values would contain words like honor, respect, integrity, passion, commitment, truthfulness, kindness, contentment, joy, trust, justice, mercy, and generosity. I can fit each of these into the five categories of values I have chosen. The point is to think, consider, ponder, play with and ultimately assemble your own list and then live the list. I would imagine a great number of people actually live out some great values that they never put into words. Unfortunately, our present coming generations not only need to have the values lived before them, they need to know the words and concepts of what values actually are and from where these values have arisen. Homes, marriages, businesses, governments, and lives are floundering from a lack of values worth living. Rise up o church of God and shine the light of  God's truth on the world around you. Maybe then many will quick living for the next gadget, fad, or worldly promise that comes along and pick the pearl of great value.

Value Added,

Thursday, September 6, 2012

What Would You Take With You?

                                           What Would You Take With You?

The recent and annual seasons of natural disasters got me to thinking about it. What would I take with me if the authorities told me I had thirty minutes to gather some belongings and evacuate before disaster hit? I suppose I'd gather some important documents like the will, insurance policies, and recipes for home made ice cream and cobbler. Some clothes would be on the list, especially clean underwear (something my mother told me). I'd gather the dogs up and stick them in the back seat. I likely grab the plastic box of family pictures and albums of grandkids pictures. I also make room for the wife and hope her list was shorter, but I doubt it would be. There would always be regrets but I'd be thankful for what I could get and the thirty minutes warning, many never get even that.

The hurricanes, tornadoes, mud slides, earthquakes, and floods can significantly reduce or destroy our valuables in a matter of minutes. But here is a wonderful truth: Nothing can reduce or destroy our values. The values of who we are, what kind of human beings we are stay with us like breath. There become a part of us, recognized by our loved ones and close friends just like they would our face. Values seemed to be under valued these days compared with valuables, the stuff we like a lot. That is a shame. We have increasingly become a people known more for what we have than who we are. That is a shame. One of the reasons that is a shame is that it is a sham. Any hurricane or tornado can take away those things which are not lasting but who and what you are in character lasts and goes with you.

Back in my younger days when I worked with more young people I'd initiate conversations about values. When meeting with younger staff members I'd work it in. In doing pre-marital counseling I'd be direct. In occasionally addressing youth groups or young adults, values where always included somewhere in the teaching, preaching, and discussion. I'd ask questions like what values are sacred to you? I'd ask what values modeled by parents, relatives, teachers, coaches and friends shaped you? In your marriage, at your work, in your home, what values will you share? I'd ask new parents what are the top five values you hope to instill in your children? I got a lot of blank stares, kinda like the looks I get when I preach.

Our nation, our youth, our marriages are starving for an infusion of values. I categorized for my own amusement three areas that are valued by too many segments of our society. We value belonging, bling, and bargains. We want to feel a part of something important, powerful, safe, fun, edgy, or meaningful. People fill this need by joining health clubs, service groups, gangs, shopping networks, and signing up for facebook and twitter. We add houses, jewelry, ithis or ithat, gadgets, trips, clothes, and a dozen other good things. We then value and seek the bargains for the stuff that will make us feel better and help us fit and function in our group better.  But what values do the groups themselves espouse or share? What values are sacred to that group? In too many cases the belonging, the bling, and the bargains propagates self, materialism, and making the group bigger. In the end many people feel more isolated, poor, confused, disillusioned, angry, fearful and cynical about the world and its people. Life can be a vicious circle unless there are lasting, solid values shaping, guiding, guarding and enhancing our lives.

Jesus offered all the belonging, bling, and bargains we will ever need but they are based on true values--the value based on His character, His power, His will, and His kingdom's life. He promised in John 1:12 that as many as received Him, he gave them the right, the power, to become children of God. That's a good family to belong to. In Ephesians 1: 3 Paul declared that Jesus has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. Wow, talk about bling! And bargains? Look at Ephesians 2:8-9: For it is by grace that you have been saved, through faith--and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God---not by works, so that no one can boast. Try and beat that price.

So what values would you take with you if disaster stuck? Since disasters don't happen to us everyday, thankfully, here is a better question:  what values do you hold sacred, allow to shape you, and which ones do you seek to share every day as life strikes? List five or ten for yourself. Write them down and stick them in your Bible. Read them often. Need some help? Look at the ten commandment in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5  as a source. The Beatitudes in Matthew 5 are a huge source. Paul has lists of vices and virtues in nearly every letter he wrote to churches in the New Testament. Take a look at Galatians 5:22, Eph. 6, Philippians 3-4 has some great values listed. Colossians 3 has both positive and negative lists. Take a look at these and others you discover and form your own list. Then you will know what you will take with you when disaster or every day life strikes.

My top five values are as follows: Eating; Stretching; Forgetting; Resting; Investing. Oh, you think I need to explain how those are good values? Oops. Out of space for today........

Value Added,