Thursday, December 19, 2013

A Different Christmas

                                                      A Different Christmas

DaniRae had had it! She was fed up with all the gifts, all the parties, all the lights, all the food, all the sales, all the ads, and everything associated with Christmas. Even the church was getting on her last nerve with all their special services and projects that just piled on the fatigue and thinned out her patience. "They are supposed to preserve the true meaning of Christmas and they just vie for your attention like every store, TV special, kid and elf in the universe! I've had it." DaniRae swore to herself that next year Christmas would be different.

Her soul was at war and it seemed to be losing.

It didn't help that one of  the grandkids was in the high school football playoffs for the first two weekends in December and the other one that played basketball had a tournament the third weekend. Time to shop, decorate, cook, clean, or just breathe was spent driving 90 minutes to occupy a cold aluminum seat for over two hours. She tried to be happy and celebrate but DaniRae was just worn out. Fatigue steals gratitude. She was acting the part of a happy Christian, wife, mother, and grandmother. So far she felt she was in the running for an Oscar, but she seriously doubted she could hold it together much longer. She swore to herself again that next Christmas would be different--less stress, fewer gifts, less spent, just simple and quiet--different!

"If I can just get some good sleep, maybe I can just pull this Christmas off without turning into a Banshee woman."  She went to bed at 12:30 on the 22nd and woke up at 4:30 AM. Wide awake but with achy joints and a runny nose. "Thanks, God. Now cedar fever on top of it all." Her cough interrupted her complaint. So she got up and resented the fact that her husband just snored right on through. Into the den with a blanket to sit-up in the recliner...''maybe if I sit up I can still sleep a little." She was wide awake.

Then she looked around and noticed in the stillness, in the quiet, the manger scene on the hearth. It was still in it's  old popcorn can they stored it in. She hadn't even set it out yet. She moved quietly to the hearth and unpacked the contents. The camels, the wise men, the shepherds and sheep and even a cow was there. Preacher said something about there probably not being a cow in those days but who cares. Mary and Joseph were there and the angel to take her place above the stable, and the manger. No baby Jesus. In the semi-dark she searched. In the stable, in the popcorn can, no where. Maybe he was stuck in the legs of the animals, in the rafters of the stable. No where. This development was bothersome but she assembled the scene and promised to search again in the morning light. She plugged in the manger scene light, it had a star that lit up above the angel's head, and settled back into the recliner and hoped for a little sleep. DaniRae actually did feel a little sleepy now. It felt good to get the manger scene out. She began to gaze into it. The angel, the wise men, the wise camels, poor shepherds and dumb sheep.  In the glow of the star she thought she saw something. There in the tissue used to pack  and pad the popcorn tin.... she got up to investigate...there He was...wrapped up in the swaddling of old gift bag tissue was the missing Jesus.

DaniRae settled back down and thought  for a few minutes about what had just happened. For the first time this season, she rested, she de-stressed, she prayed. DaniRae knew this Christmas had been like the ten before and the next ten would probably be the same. But she vowed something to herself, maybe to God this morning with nose dripping, hacking cough and weepy eyes. She wouldn't necessarily try to make Christmas different next year, but she would first find the One who makes a difference and unwrap Him from the swaddling of cultural fluff and worship Him. If you want Christmas to be different, find the One who makes the difference. Find Him first, find Him often.

Merry Christmas,

Thursday, December 12, 2013

How About a Fifth for Christmas?

                                            How About a Fifth for Christmas?

All Christendom that celebrates Advent is right in the middle of her celebrations, festivities, musicals, parties, and general busy-ness that takes place not only at the mall, but at the church. Churches work to add some routine, some reflection and some anticipation to focus on the birth of Jesus in the midst of the commercial juggernaut rolling over society at this time. The lighting of the Advent candles in the evergreen wreath focus on the hope, peace, joy, and love of Jesus. All is good and well. We need the stillness. We need the consistency. We need the reflection. We need the simplicity.

We need another candle.

Yes, I am messing with tradition. Yes, the church has done it pretty much this way for a thousand years. Shoot, if you count the early days of the 4th and 5th centuries when Advent was observed in Spain and Gaul as a season of preparation for baptism of new Christians at the Feast of Epiphany in January each year, then it goes back longer than that. Those really early days were more penance and reflection than celebration , however. But Advent evolved into the four Sundays before celebrating the Christ  Mass so a final four was somehow decided upon and they are hope, peace, joy and love.

We need another candle. I pastor a church with about ten different denominations worshipping and working together. (Don't ask me how it works 'cause if I knew I'd probably mess it up.) I could probably tell the church that there are a few denominations that have a fifth candle in the wreaths and we need to include one in ours so as not to make them feel left out. That, however, would be a lie and lying's not on the Advent calendar. Just ask Santa Claus.

But without lying I'd still like to lobby for a fifth, candle that is. Why is there no candle of faith? Faith\trust is integral to everything in our relationship with Jesus. We place our trust in Christ and He gives us reason to hope. Frankly, we often have to look back through the lens of scripture and see in our own lives, in the lives of other Christians, and certainly into the rich history of the church and know our hope is secure even if current events cloud our vision for this day. We trust that God is in control, that His promises are true, and that His Spirit gives peace to each believer. We trust peace is not the absent of outer conflict but the real presence of Jesus in our hearts.  We have joy because our faith in Jesus is born and borne out in daily living with confident assurance that Jesus was, is, and will be victorious as He moves us and history to His appointed ends.  Thus the joy of the Lord is our strength in facing daunting circumstances just as," for the joy set before Him,"  Jesus endured the cross. And love,  no love-relationship is ever built or grown without trust at the bedrock of that relationship. Jesus has loved us and we trust His love and respond in kind, loving Him back.

I want a fifth candle. I won't get one. But even with no wax, wick, or flame,  faith is no less real. In a few days the Advent wreath will be put away for another year. We won't put away hope, peace, joy or love in our lives and I trust faith will not be on a shelf in the closet either. I suppose if we got to counting properly there would be an aspect of God's character that could be honored, celebrated, worshipped, and served every day of the year and in multiples. Yeah, I know, that would be too many candles for a wreath, but not too many lights for a heart. Maybe that's how He lights our way.


Thursday, December 5, 2013

December Flies

                                                December Flies

Quick, pesky, out-of-place. He should have frozen by now. But now he is crawling on my bald head, before on my arm, a jump and he's on my computer screen. SHOO!

Momentary relief... now he's back. December Fly mocks me. He crawls on my hand and I shake him off. He lands on desk inches from my hand poised to strike. I flinch, and he's gone again. He is spreading his germs, grime, and growing my agitation from book to Bible to to paper to phone. The pest takes on predator dimensions. I strike out in frustration. Miss! Why for the 60 days that he lives has he invaded this desk at this time? Shouldn't he be looking for food or a female fly? Maybe he is a she and that't why it is so persistent.

December Fly's by the window now. He can stay there and I'd be happy. Happiness in this world is short lived. He has moved and I don't know where. He will soon dive-bomb me and I am anxious about when.
There! He has flown to the desk and landed on 'The Wit and Wisdom of Abraham Lincoln.' I pick up an Advent devotional book on the other side of the desk and slowly, quietly rolled it up. December Fly's found a speck, a smell, a trace of something on the book that has captured his attention, or maybe he just likes Lincoln. He is still. The Advent devotion is steady now above him. WHACK!

Then the irony hits me. Between a book of quotes about the man who freed this nation from the disease of slavery and was cut down prematurely and a booklet on the Prince of Peace, December Fly's ushered into eternity. 

I feel a bit sad. For the first time I've killed a fly and had some regret by linking the tiny creature to larger events in human history. Isn't this pretty much what we did to Jesus? His truth pestered us about our sin, our lack of relationship with Him, our pride, our spiritual independence, our need. Instead of facing it we shooed Him to the cross. Be gone. 

Now December flies by and in the rush and hustle we may very well shoo the One we celebrate into the irrelevance of gifts and lights and ornaments and food and parties. Just stay in the manger, Jesus and don't fly to our hearts and minds with grace, forgiveness, and change. We like flies  Jesus on our terms and as December flies we need You to stay in the manger scene and be small and quiet. 

Oh for crying out loud, it was just a stupid fly. I lift the Advent devotion book up to reveal the carnage and brush away the remains of the day. There is nothing there.

And Jesus won't stay where we put Him either, unless it is on the throne of our hearts. I'll try to remember that as December flies.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

That Magnificent Emptiness

                                                  That Magnificent Emptiness

Ninety percent of the folks gathered didn't want to be there. No, it wasn't a church meeting. The twenty or so, the number kept changing, had gathered to see their doctors, a group of neurosurgeons. It was the Thursday before Thanksgiving but on this day it was a day of misgivings and questions of  'what ifs' and 'what will be'.

 People were there because of accidents, genetic weaknesses, poor decisions, unknown factors, and the wear and tear of living life. They were trussed up, braced up, taped up. They limped, waddled, shuffled on feet, canes, and walkers. A few claimed a wheelchair as their steed.   Most were slow but a few strode confidently,quickly and seemed happy. Their treatment or surgery had worked. You could read the relief on some people's faces when they came out from their appointment compared to the concern in their eyes before they went in.

Back, brain, limb and neck troubles didn't seem to be very discriminating. There were black folk, white folk, Asian, Latino and middle eastern folk there. People's age didn't seem to matter a lot either. A few were young, a few old, mostly they were in the middle somewhere. Some were obviously poor, others middle class and a few, at least looked wealthy. Just about as many men were present as ladies.

Despite their differences they all had at least a few things in common. They were in the same waiting room. They were seeing the same doctors. They all had a story to tell and about a third were busy telling them to another third. The remaining third were silent, except for the eyes. The biggest common denominator was pain. They had all been broken, and they needed help. They were all there with some degree of fear. And they were there, every one, waiting in hope.

As a group they were pathetic and at the same time magnificently noble. Mixed with the pain, fear, silence, grief, resignation were strength, joy, resolve, and faith. The scene was familiar, but not just from the thousands of waiting rooms in which I have sat. Where else had I seen this scene, these faces, this pain, this nobility, this strength mixed with fear and carried by hope? Then it hit me--this is our world, our hearts.

This is where and why Jesus came.

And He is why Thanksgiving is possible at all. It is not just because someone else may have it worse, but even in the worst, He brings hope, He brings Himself. It is not that healing will come to every brain, back, or bone in time but that ultimately every heart and life can be whole when time is no more. Some people in waiting rooms will get good news that the back is healed, the bone is mended, the legs can walk, the cancer is gone. For that they can be thankful. But Thanksgiving moves to another plane when it is realized that one day even death will die.

And it is here, into this magnificent mess that Jesus came and why He came. One day, He will empty every waiting room and every grave. And the grace that empties the graves is as indiscriminate as the pain--it is for all who believe.

For that magnificent emptiness we give thanks.


Thursday, November 14, 2013

Confession:Chuckles Has Died

                                         Confession: Chuckles Has Died

I have a confession. With the confession comes an apology. Some days when the world is falling apart or being blown apart or or seems to be missing some parts my sin is more acute, at least on those days I am more aware of it than on light, sunny days. With the increase of technology that allows me to hear about and in most cases view the multiplied tragedies around the world there seem to be fewer of those light and sunny days when grandkids laugh at being tickled, kitchens fill with heavenly aromas, when hugs are long and kisses are deep.  I can hide my sin most days but many times I feel like the Mary Tyler Moore character who attended the funeral of 'Chuckles' the clown. (yes, the two young people who read this blog and the six very old people have no idea what I'm talking about---so take a look: go to youtube and search for Mary Tyler Moore show Chuckles the clown funeral---you will see what I mean....) Okay, so here's the confession:
I am a happy Christian.

There, I said it. It's out now. I feel better. I know I am suppose to be burdened, incensed, appalled, and rage with righteous indignation as I launch into action. I see people every day who are hurting, grieving, struggling, stumbling, and grasping at life in the throes of death. And some days those people are me. I literally weep in prayer times or driving alone or lying in bed. And then something hits me and I laugh. I am so sorry for being happy in a sick, fallen, and dying world. I just can't help myself. It's not that I don't get sad or burdened or mad or sick with the pain of this world. It just doesn't overcome me more than a few hours or days. And with further confession, most days they are interspersed, mixed, rotating, and roller-coastering along. Chuckles has died, and I giggle.

'Why is this so?' I ask myself. I look for answers. I try to keep my reactions context appropriate.  I defend myself: "God made me that way." But did He?  "I choose to be that way." Why then is the happiness so spontaneous and ever-present? I get theological. Maybe I get the "joke" that Jesus pulled on the devil--Incarnation, who could see that coming? The God\Man Jesus dying on the cross for the sin of the world? Come on, how could you not laugh at what that did to Satan's plans? The Resurrection? Are you kidding me? Free grace; forgiveness; cleansing; power over death and sin; purpose for living even in pain; HEAVEN! The poet-song writer summed it up by saying "How can I keep from singing?" and I say how can I keep from laughing? Those last facts have brought me in contact with grace-filled moments, love filled people, joy filled hearts, hope that just doesn't quit, even when I have. Chuckles has died and I giggle.

Thankfully, I don't bear this burden alone. There are others in the underworld of grace. Let me share with you a few lines from Ann Voskamp's One Thousand Gifts, (buy it!) a wonderful little book on counting your blessings in a truly meaningful way from a very gifted writer: "I know there is poor and hideous suffering, and I've seen the hungry and the guns that go to war. I have lived pain, and my life can tell: I only deepen the wound of the world when I neglect to give thanks for the early light dappled through leaves and the heavy perfume of wild roses and the song of crickets on humid nights and the rivers that run and the stars that rise and the rain that falls and the good things that a good God gives. Why would the world need more anger, more outrage? How does it save the world to reject unabashed joy when it is Joy that saves us? Rejecting joy to stand in solidarity with the suffering doesn't rescue the suffering. The converse is true. The brave who focus on all things good and all things beautiful and all things true, even in the small, who give thanks for it and discover joy even in the here and now, they are the change agents that bring the fullest Light to all the world."

Well said, Ann V. You express thanksgiving and joy.  I don't have your beauty of language to express the depths of what I think and feel, but I can confess to being happy. And please try to be forgiving of me when I remember that Chuckles has died and I giggle.

Phil. 4:8

Thursday, November 7, 2013

ordinary god

                                                 ordinary god

ordinary  god     At first glance you don't like those words. When first written I didn't either. Questions arise, defenses kick in, assessments are offered. "Why didn't he capitalize 'god'?" " There is nothing ordinary about God!" "Cos must be a liberal!"

We jump too quickly, we decide without knowing. We see a blank canvas, we see a completed theology, and a full statement of life.  ordinary god   is none of those things but it could be all of them. We don't know for one simple reason.  ordinary  god   is not punctuated. There are no capitalizations, there are no commas, pre-fixes or suffixes.  There are two words thrown on a page. The words have great potential for meaning but there must be punctuation and rules of grammar applied before we know----anything.

Let's play god with  ordinary  god. Let's capitalize the g.  ordinary God. That's a start but now we have a bigger problem. The capitalization now means the God, the big, real, true God who, out of respect, people of faith capitalize his name. Now we have an adjective 'ordinary' describing 'God.' Looks problematic.  Let's add a suffix---'ly.'  ordinari-ly God. That's better. Maybe we are saying how we understand God to normally act. 'ordinarily God does this or that. Or maybe we are saying some things about ourselves and our actions with 'God."  Let's add a comma, too.  It could be like this: ordinarily, God, I go to church on Sundays, but today I'm going fishing.'  We are not sure if that is the best way to punctuate  ordinary  god   but it is at least honest.

Let's try a prefix. Let's add 'extra' to ordinary. "Extraordinary God."  We like that. We have capitalized 'god' and made him 'extra-ordinary' with a prefix. Now God is extraordinary. That looks right. We feel better. But how do you know how to punctuate 'ordinary' and 'god'?  We chose punctuation that reflects our understanding, our theology. There are dozens of other ways to punctuate  ordinary  god.  We may only know a few.

Consider two points: all our points and grammar do not actually punctuate God. He has declared, "I AM WHO I AM!"  Try as we might we will never in completeness punctuate God.  He is already whole, complete and perfectly declared. Our punctuation can only show our ignorance or, best, some growth in understanding.  Secondly, it is we who are punctuated by the hand of God.  ordinary  man.... ordinary   woman....   ordinary   human.  He punctuates our lives with a comma slowing us down long enough to see Him work. He punctuates our lives with a period or exclamation point.  Where he puts a period we do well not try to add a question mark or move beyond where He says 'stop.'  He capitalizes words, time, people in our lives adding emphasis and respect. He adds the prefixes of life to add definition and meaning. He adds the suffixes of life to add the hows and whys as He knows we need them. At times the points are light (.....) and times they seem heavy (!!).  He will dress our   ordinary   man   as He deems right, as we submit our will, our very lives to His pen strokes.

How has He punctuated your life? Consider what superlatives He has added with just His presence- mystery, wonder, glorious, majestic, eternal- added to our lives they take on new meaning. He adds the suffix 'ful' to almost everything He punctuates in our lives--joy-ful, prayer-ful, hope-ful, peace-ful, thank-ful.   Review the run-on sentences , those partially done ideas and commitments, He has corrected, overcome or let stand for us to learn from their failings.  Notice the mistakes He has erased, if, in His grace you ever knew them.  Remember that in all the punctuation added or subtracted, His pen is filled with the ink of grace and each stroke is made with love.
And each mark is made

In His Blood,

Thursday, October 17, 2013



I have always been partial to rain. I have been nuisanced by it, but rarely. Attribute it to a rural rearing where crops and cow pastures were dependent on it or the fifteen years we spend in west Texas that averaged less than 15 inches a year, I like rain. I probably picked up early a subdued communication from my parents and other farmer-families around us how important it was for our livelihood. By the prayers at church, the great attention given to meteorologists Dale Milford and Harold Taft morning, noon, and night, longing looks to the sky, the furtive hopes on mumbling lips, rain signaled its importance. So early on I learned to tolerate its cold, its muddy remnants, its washing out fences and its occasional poor timing with hay bales on the ground or crops ready to be harvested. Rain was a blessing.

There were times it seemed to be a greater blessing than others--nearly anytime in July, after a long, hot summer, a few days after planting, and after the harvested crops had been plowed- it was as if the farmers who held their breath, breathed again. So did their wives. I think even the land exhaled and breathed deeply its own aroma. Rain was a blessing.

Rains seems to have their own personalities at times. There are violent rains with angry winds. There are incessant rains bent on washing and filling everything, everywhere. There are rains that fall hard and fast with hateful drops you swear are hail and there are sneaky rains that in their unrelenting-ness wear you and your defences down 'til you find you are in trouble. They can be drippy, drizzly. They can be steady, controlled. They can be schizophrenic having several personalities in one storm. Some rains are good for napping, sleeping. They signal a time to rest, to receive a blessing. Some rains pound you like an Old Testament prophet bent on scrubbing you until you repent, and you do. Some rains show the fallenness of the world, some show grace and refreshment.

The Bible uses its word for "rain" and its relatives about a hundred times. In looking forward to Jesus the Psalmist says "He will be like rain falling on a mown field, like showers watering the earth." (72:6) A king's favor is described "like a rain cloud in spring."( Prov. 16:15) The bible speaks of its destructive force (Is 28:2; Matt.7:25), its blessing (Is. 30:23; 44:14), it likens God's word and teaching to "showers on new grass, like abundant rain on tender plants (Deut. 32:2).  The lack of rain corresponds to a parched soul neither knowing nor obeying God (Ezekiel 22:24; Jude 1:12). The lack of rain can even speak to judgement showing men what their lives are like without God (Ezek 11:11-13; Jeremiah 14:4).

Our area was blessed with a good, soaking, gentle rain over the past few days. The air is scrubbed. The ground is full. The plants soak in its luxuriance. It was a blessing. I slept well. There remains a rain that has fallen but not noted very well. It is a horror to miss a good, rain, a needed rain. It happens daily and not just in our lands but in our souls. Hear how Isaiah tells of this life giving rain: "You heavens above, rain down righteousness; let the clouds shower it down. Let the earth open wide, let salvation spring up, let righteousness grow with it; I, the Lord , have created it. (45:8) Weather patterns and fickle winds cause us to miss earthly rains. There is no reason to miss this rain of righteousness. All you have to do is ask the Son and let Him reign in your life.

That reign is a blessing.

BTW: If someone were to describe you as a rain storm, how would your presence in their life be described?

Thursday, October 10, 2013

God's Office

I got to thinking about the offices I've had in my ministry. I've had some nice offices. The first church I had out of seminary had a nice office. It was a big, albeit plain office in a very small church. It was at the end of a long hall and had another door that led straight out to the worship center. On Sundays, all the deacons would gather in my office and we would pray and then I would led them in procession out to worship. I'm not sure if a procession of 4 was very impressive but we did it. Most days it was three because the little church only had three deacons and one missed a lot. Good office though...

The next church had no office for the pastor in the church buildings. The pastor's office was in the parsonage. It was small but nice. I had little kids. Off icing in a parsonage with little kids didn't work well. So they built me an office in an old Sunday school room. It was big, paneled, new bookshelves, blue carpet and my own private entrance. The only problem was the new private entrance to my office was the old public entrance with a covered back door. Little old ladies would come into church through my office on bad weather days. I had to keep an open door policy on rainy, windy, snowy, and freezing days. A little awkward, but we made  it work.

The next churches were mission start-ups and we didn't really have buildings at first so I had to use the garage for the books and the kitchen table for a desk. I learned a lot, mainly how spoiled I was. The church mission in Weatherford built a nice first building and I had a nice office but it was small, so I wrote with small letters and used an 8 font. It worked out okay. Then came the big move to the big county seat First church. Big, corner office with rich paneling, four windows (and two of them worked!), private entrance, private escape hatch and lots and lots of bookshelves. I wrote bigger and used a 14 font. Then after ten years of big sermons, big paneled articles from a big mahogany desk I went to a new church. The office had three shelves that were three feet long each. I went from 180 running feet of shelves to 9. What was this church trying to say? What was  I thinking?

My current office is nice, too. Corner with three nice windows, a couch and chair,( it use to have two chairs but the associate pastor felt called of God to take mine and give me just one) nice shelves, pretty art works, big desk for big piles, and lots of pictures of grand kids. That alone makes this my favorite office. It is situated to see people who come in to the church in the morning so I can visit if we want or need to. It is quiet in the afternoon for the most part so I can sleep  study, pray, and think of why I am sitting the office when I should be playing golf. Great and deep thoughts are thought here. They sometimes lose something in the translation to paper and word apparently. But I do get to use a 12 font.

Here's what I've learned in all these offices: I've learned a lot in all of them. I should have learned more. Most of the important stuff doesn't happen in my office. It happens over lunches, in living rooms, on Bible study tables,  in golf carts, and driving down the road. Now what happens in those places with real people is impacted by what happens in the office, but without the living rooms, lunch tables, cart questions and car confessions, what happens in the office is only academic, theory, one-dimensional.

The apostle Paul had a traveling office. It was in a borrowed room, a rocking ship, a prison cell, a house where he was imprisoned. He wrote "so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ." (Eph. 4:12-13) Wherever he was, he went to work on leading the lost to faith in Christ and leading Christians to a deeper walk in Christ. The world was his office.

Do you ever wonder if God has an office? I mean, where does He go to work? I suppose anywhere He wants to but I can't help but wonder if there is room in my heart for Him to work. How big a font can He use there?


Thursday, September 26, 2013

Driving for Distance

A co-conspirator in enjoying life and laughing as often as possible send me an interesting email. Rob T sent a story about a man who owned the same car for 82 years. He received a graduation present from his dad in 1928 in the form of a Rolls Royce. He drove it until he died in 2010 and it had over a million miles on it. The article said it still ran great.

At this time my mother-in-law is getting ready to sell her last car, a 1995 Accord with about 38,000 miles on it. It still runs well...the car I mean. Well, the 92 year old mom-in-law runs well too but she knows her driving days are over. I applaud the fact that she sees this and has made this decision on her own without showdowns with family or insurance or police. It can't be easy, but she's doing it. Kudos to Nettie.

When my time comes to quit driving I will probably whine, gripe, and be a nuisance to the kids and police officers who followed me home after having hit three cars in the Wal Mart parking lot where I'll be working at age 88. In other words, I'll just be myself as they pry the keys out of my hand. Wait, by then it will be a computer chip in my arm used to start the car... I guess they will deactivate the chip. Oh well... But rather than think about that "end play" I choose to look back a moment to the beginning of my driving--auto driving anyway. I learned to drive a tractor before the pick-up or car, not much before thanks to Pop. My grandfather started letting me drive his Chevy pickup around the pasture and fields at about 11 or 12 years. He even let me drive on the gravel road from one farm back to the house way before I was "legal" to drive.  His Chevy pickup and the red, 1963 Ford Dad had was a three speed on the column. Pop's old pickup even had the starter on the floor as did my other granddad's pickup. Starting, clutching, shifting without grinding and downshifting to slow or enter a field or driveway taught coordination to the kid and patience to the elder. Let's don't even mention the choke knob. You had to be fully engaged to operate the machine. It's no wonder the cell phone wasn't invented until much later, no one had an extra hand to operate anything but the vehicle in the 50's and 60's. I still remember the fear, the thrill, the excitement, the wonder when Pop got in the passenger door of the pickup when we were out in his pasture and said "you drive a while."

I didn't know it then, I couldn't then,  but I crossed a line. A rite of passage was taking place on a cow-rut road in a remote pasture. A part of being a little kid was being left behind and I was moving on. Responsibility, work, dates, fun, expense, repair, travel, adventure and a dozen other things moved onto the near horizon of my life that day. I'd take a '68 Mercury Montclair to college and on my honeymoon. It was the size of small aircraft carrier. I'd buy a new '76 Volvo with college money not spent because of athletic scholarships (and a little help from Dad) and carry my children home from the hospital and take my family to far flung places like Big Spring and Bronte in that puke green machine.

One day soon we won't be driving our cars, they will drive us. And one day soon after that, to the degree that control over your vehicle is still in a human's hand, an official will deactivate my computer chip and I won't be allowed behind the wheel anymore. That is sad. But I take solace and am even thrilled a bit to know that my Heavenly Father owns the cattle on a thousand hills. And in His Kingdom there will always be new cow-rut roads awaiting one of His children coming of age, ready to take on an new adventure. I will fear, thrill, and enjoy the excitement and wonder as time and again in His eternity He speaks to me and says: "you drive a while." And it will be considerably longer than 82 years.

Still chugging,

Thursday, September 12, 2013

When All is Sad and Done

                                            When All is Sad and Done

Some days carry more weight than others. Some days carry more guilt. Some days the weight is the guilt. I have carried some guilt as of late. For a freed Christian and pastoral leader I am suppose to be over all the guilt trips. Much progress has been made on that front but it's not complete yet. I feel guilty about that.

I feel sad on some days as of late. I am sad I can't fix my wife's chronic back problems. I feel guilty that I can't, adding to the sadness. I feel sad that the Middle East is on the brink again, but I am having trouble remembering when they weren't. I feel guilty at times for living in such a nice place with nice people and wonder if it wouldn't be "more Christian" to live in a poor place with meaner, tougher people. Maybe I could have a bigger impact for the Kingdom. See, guilt can lead to fantasy before you know it. And to be honest, except for wanting my wife to feel whole again, the other "guilts" are short, fleeting, wispy moments.

But one has lingered longer lately. It has backtracked into my conscience several times over the past few weeks. It usually comes after the guilt of no peace in the Middle East, the showdown with Syria, the serial rapist news in Dallas, the floods of Colorado, the drought, remembrance of 9-11's horrors, the economy, the marriages and families struggling, and the continuing moral and spiritual decay in the hearts of Americans. These are all bad news items any one of which could spark a round of depression followed by a round of Jack Daniels.  Yes, they cause a pause, a pain, a sorrow, and even a little guilt because I can't fix them but the real guilt shows up shortly after thoughts and prayers about these and other signs of brokenness in life show up.

It is, for lack of a better term, the guilt of joy.

Yes, joy. A settled disposition of the heart that senses, knows, believes that the best is yet to come and is in fact guaranteed by Jesus but is yet to come in completion. Joy takes on a real but temporal expression because of its future fulfillment. You see, that joy thing is the reason that ten minutes, half an hour, half a day after the meanness of this world has shaken out my heart again like a dirty rug,  I smile, I laugh, I find sheer joy in a person, a quirk, a miss-step, a misquote, a juxtaposition or an outrageous spotting of grace and life and love.  The smile of two year old grand-daughter sends waves of rapture through the heart. It is fleeting but real. The tales the grandson tells at five make me so alive I can't wait to see what he says at six. The exquisite delight of people laughing, telling a joke, enjoying a meal, sharing an embrace or a cup of coffee is more alive to me than the pain and the horrors abounding. Am I deluding myself? Maybe. I am ignoring the facts? Possibly. Am I whistling past the graveyard? Why not? What do you do as you walk past the graveyard? Or maybe the fact that in the eternal, spiritual terms of the kingdom of God I know I am going PAST the graveyard helps me whistle. There is something beyond the graveyard, beyond the wars, past the pains of life that both breaks in on us as more real than these and at the same time pulls us on to its ultimate reality. I believe that is JOY. The joy of the presence of Christ in the heart, in the church, and in the world.

To C S Lewis, joy was the stab of longing that unexpectedly wells up in us during unguarded moments of contemplation.  It was a desire, never a possession, a longing, often unexpected, and a reminding of what was yet to be. In the Weight of Glory C S Lewis wrote that the yearning he experienced during those moments, convinced him there was another existence beyond this world. "For they are not the thing itself, they are only the scent of a love we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never visited."

Yes, but that perfumed lover, that artistic musician, that herald of good news has visited us from that other country. And the lover's song and His good news announces Joy. It is the flag of the King flying over the castle that signifies even in bad weather, bad economies, and war that the King is on His throne.  So when all is sad and done, then what remains is joy. It makes me feel guilty some days. It's a guilt I can live with.


Thursday, September 5, 2013

Of Glue and Grease (mice and men was taken)

We all have a theology whether known or not. It is there. We all live our theology whether good or bad. A theology being the study of the nature of God as revealed, discovered, understood. For some it is a systematic, disciplined, grounded study based on scripture, history, logic, and hermeneutic principles of interpretation and discernment. For others, their theology is derived from the Three-O's: Opinion, Oprah, and Osmosis.  So everyone believes something about the nature of God, whether immanent or transcendent, close or distant, engaged with humanity or indifferent.  And we all act on what we believe. If I believe God doesn't exist, I act as though He doesn't. If I believe He does and cares about what I think and do, then this, too, affects what I think and do.

Bad theology can kill you. You're not sure about that. Your theology doesn't have God that close to care about daily, living things. Your theology isn't sure God is that judgmental. Your theology has God meeting "spiritual" needs. He is a God of Sunday, not business. He is a God of niceness, not politics. He has a hell for Hitlers and serial killers and child molesters, not little white lie people, not minor tax cheats, and not people who had rather play golf than go to church, not people who spend more gaming than giving.  You like the God of grace and mercy and love. You are put off by some people's God of judgement and discipline. Never mind that the Bible puts love and discipline together. Never mind that the Bible recognizes evil whether big or small, in me or in dictators, and will judge that evil. You like a God who saves, but the One who calls to holiness, the One who wields justice, well, let's just wait and see about that One.

Bad theology can kill you. If you are not sure just check out America. Do you even recognize it's lack of morality? Can you believe what entertainers "get away with?" Can you believe what ballplayers of professional games make? Did you realize that 35% of internet use is porn? Why are 30 million Americans on antidepressants, many because of fear?  Did you notice the churches in an uproar over the pain of drug abuse, the scandal of sex slavery in our country, the pain of half of marriages ending in divorce, the struggle of young people looking for work, joy, purpose and trying to find it in bottles, violence, pills, and suicides? Why the silence? If not outcries why not tears? This is based on bad theology. America's theology didn't allow for God to create humanity, to create in humans a life of joy, freedom from guilt and sin. Their theology didn't see much of anything as sin. Our national theology hasn't seen God as caring enough to be involved with them to love and discipline them and lead them in a righteous path. And we are reaping what we have sown and hasn't yet even broken our hearts.

I found it interesting how our bad theology played out in the recent New Mexico supreme court case of some professional photographers, the Huguenins, who decline to photograph a same sex marriage because of their Christian views. They were sued. They lost in New Mexico's highest court. Said Justice Richard Bosson's in his majority opinion, " In the smaller, more focused world of the marketplace, of commerce, of public accommodation, the Huguenins have to channel their conduct, not their beliefs, so as to leave space for the other Americans who believe something different. That compromise is part of the glue that holds us together as a nation; the tolerance that lubricates the varied moving parts of us as a is the price of citizenship."

The theology of the New Mexico supreme court says God and your beliefs about Him have no place in business decisions. The marketplace, commerce sets the rules not God or your beliefs about God. Christians are merely glue and lubricants, to use his terms, to hold the machinery of the marketplace together and grease the cogs of commerce. Why were those who held certain beliefs reduced to glue and grease? Why could not the gays be asked to accommodate the religious values of the Huguenins and simply find photographers who would shoot their wedding? (It's New Mexico, there would be many) No, their theology  subservient to politics, popular opinion, and relativistic morality held no place for the Huguenins. This is bad theology. It will kill America.

God of heaven and earth, who knows, loves, and judges, forgive us and help us. May we as individuals and as a nation come to realize that Christ is before all things and in Him all things hold together. May Your church be not silent but speak the truth in love of His grace, mercy and justice.  And if it be that we Christians must be squeezed out in our culture and out of our culture, may our dying breaths and last drops of blood point to the very words and blood of Jesus  who still calls mankind to righteousness found only in Him. 


Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The Color of Character

This week has marked the fiftieth anniversary of Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech. The speech defined a movement and is judged to be one of the top five speeches given in American history by many folks who rank these sorts of things. One of my, and many others, favorite lines in the speech is this sentence: "I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character."  Yes, yes and yes again.

This sermon\ speech, was one of many delivered that day on the mall of the Washington monument during the 'March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.' I must confess I never knew the name of the event until this week. I just remember the speech and the civil rights movement. A few years later, I found myself to be the only white guy in my class (there were white girls and for several years, there was only one black girl, Janie, thus our class was racially fifty\fifty) so I paid a little more attention to the civil rights movement. Much has changed because of that movement but so much hasn't changed and I think I see why. Why haven't more good things come even with so great a motivation as Dr. King's speech gave to blacks, whites and all wanting more equality and justice in this nation. In all these years, in all the subsequent speeches, in all the voting rights acts, affirmative action laws, in all the jobs bills, in all the hundreds and hundreds of programs designed to move our nation toward equality and justice for all, we still fight over race and justice issues and many divides are deep as ever. The clue to the problem is in the last five words of Dr. King's speech: 'the content of their character.' What have we done to promote the content of our national character? What have the bills, movements, speeches, actions, and laws accomplished with regard to helping individuals grow in the content of their character? All the laws have not changed hearts very much. Many of the movements polarized the population according to what effort or strategy or political party they felt would deliver what they wanted.  These merely showed the lack of character even the noblest of ideals could not reach. The solution forwarded over and over again was another politician, another program, another law, and more money thrown at the problems. This is not merely a black issue, a white issue, an Hispanic issue, an Asian issue, a Muslim issue, a Hindu issue, an economic issue or even an American issue.
It is a human issue.
But there is a color solution that address the problem and transcends the divisions on all levels of humanity and needs. The color is red and flows from the wounds of Christ. His blood washes the sins of humanity and every human. He changes and re-births the character of each believer who follows Him in faith. America has sought political solutions to spiritual problems. America has settled for tolerance when Christ has called humanity to love and respect. G. K. Chesterton said nearly a hundred years ago that "tolerance is the virtue of a man without conviction." America has settled for jobs creation when Christ offers a new creation. America has sought economic parity and economic riches when Christ calls His people to stewardship and loving generosity. We are not to be an enabler of the lazy, but an empowering and encouraging force for the hurting. Christ's freeing men from sin and guilt and offering to all mankind the grace and joy of living His Kingdom life will inspire and uplift men to the highest ideals. We have aimed too low and lead low lives as a result.

What do you do, what can I do, what can our churches do to increase the content of our character? Let's try re-focusing on the neglected part of the speech. Let each person, each church, each believer rise to the call of the Spirit of God and allow Him to grow the fruit of Jesus' character in our lives (Gal. 5:2-25). Make every effort to add to your faith goodness, and to goodness knowledge, and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love (II Peter 1:5-8).  Embrace a dream that has no place for power politics, greedy self-interest, small-minded bigotry, and unloving tolerance. Have a dream of righteousness, freedom from sin, and the power of love. May America and Americans learn what the color of character truly is. As good and timely as Dr. King's speech was, it is time to stop dreaming and start building---especially Christlike character.


Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Butcher Priest

                                                    Butcher Priest

I'm sure the hospital officials thought I was a candidate for the psyche ward. Well, I guess I always am but  gave more visible cause that day. I entered a somewhat catatonic trance by one of those anti-viral\microbial\disinfectant dispensers for visitors to cleanse their hands upon entering and exiting the hospital. I thought how different my duties were from the butcher-priests of 3500 years ago. I had been reading Leviticus and was impressed with the kind of work the priests were called to do to for six different (counting two sin offerings) offerings.

( Insert in your own mind dream sequence music........)

When they become aware of the sin they committed, the assembly must bring a young bull as a sin offering and present it before the Tent of Meeting. The elders of the community are to lay hands on the bull's head before the Lord and the bull shall be slaughtered before the Lord. Then the appointed priest is to take some of the bull's blood into the Tent of Meeting. He shall dip his finger into the blood and sprinkle it before the Lord seven times in front of the curtain. He is to put some of the blood on the horns of the altar that is before the Lord in the Tent of Meeting. The rest of the blood he shall pour out at the base of the altar of burnt offering at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting. He shall remove all the fat from it and burn it on the altar and do with the bull as he did for the sin offering (he shall remove all the fat from the bull... the fat that covers the inner parts or is connected to them, both kidneys with the fat near the loins, and the covering of the liver, which he will remove with the kidneys...But the hide of the bull and all its flesh as well as the head and legs, the inner parts and offal, that is, all the rest of the bull he must take outside the camp to a ceremonially clean place where the ashes are thrown, and burn it in a wood fire on the ash heap.

Time and again for each offering was the securing the animal- a bull, a ram, a lamb, a goat, two pigeons, as the offering's demand or the person's ability would allow- the slitting of the throat with respect and precision to cut the right nerves and sever the carotid artery-the catching of the blood in the proper basin (a bull would have over 4 gallons of blood)- the sprinkling and dabbing of blood inside the tent, the pouring of all the blood on the altar outside the tent- the butchering of the proper organs and cuts to burn on the altar, the hauling of the hide and offal (probably an offal smell) outside the camp about one-eighth to one--quarter mile away.  Can you imagine on a ninety degree day on the desert plains of Sinai the workload of hundreds of animals being sacrificed, the smell of blood, dung, and burned cuts of meat? Consider the stickiness of the blood of hundreds of animals on hands and fingers, the blood soaking the toes and getting under every finger and toe-nail and running down to the elbows.  And then someone would come to present a grain offering-grain, mixed with a little oil, offered by priestly hands soaked with blood and fat, waved before the Lord in thanksgiving and that too placed on the fire. No wonder it took an entire tribe with thousands of priests working in shifts to handle the duties. I can imagine one worn down, exhausted Levite after a special day of worship and sacrifice standing almost catatonic with dust, grain, fat, blood, and sweat covering him from head to foot as he tries to pry open sticky, curled with cramping fingers and he thinks to himself:  "This business of sin and it's forgiveness is dirty, exhausting, and costly. It has to be done again tomorrow and next week and next month. It never ends. Is this really what it takes to atone for sin, worship Yahweh, and find His pleasure? Are there enough bulls, goats, and pigeons? Is there enough blood spilled to satisfy His holiness? Is there a better way?

It was at this point I "awoke'' from my trance and rubbed the disinfectant into my hands and thought as I waited for the elevator--sin is still a costly, exhausting, and dirty business. We can rub our hands with a gallon of cleanser and not cleanse the heart of sin. But there is a better way, the way of  The Lamb.......

How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the Living God!  But now he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself.   Hebrews 9: 14, 26

The only thing left for me to butcher is my sermons.


Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Catagories:Fan or Follower

Pam and I hosted a home bible study this summer using Kyle Idleman's Not a Fan book and resources.  The group the Lord put together was a great group. They were honest, to tears at times, skeptical when needed, curious, intelligent, open and caring. (Yes, they made me look bad in comparison.) The book's premise is that too much of the 21st century American church is a fan of Jesus but not wholly, committed followers. The question all were to answer for themselves at the end is: Are you a fan or a follower?

Good question.

When you write a book you have an idea you want to communicate, a theme you want to explore, a theory you want to postulate, a mystery you want to solve, a error you want to correct, a joy or story you want to share. When Pastor Idleman wrote his book he obviously wanted to call people to an authentic and deepening relationship with Jesus. He set up his categories of fan or follower. A fan is a spectator, an admirer, someone on the outside looking in but not involved deeply. A follower of Jesus, with Idleman, is committed to learning from, sacrificing for, changing when called to, following and enjoying a close love-relationship with Jesus. He sees too much fluff and not enough substance. Idleman (and Jesus) wants people to be followers, not fans, and in fact, implies fans, as thus defined, may be in danger of not actually knowing Jesus and His salvation.

Okay... but, I have to be honest with myself and you, sometimes fans are a good thing. (Note here, this is my blog and here I get to set and define the categories.) A fan as Idleman defines it is not good. That I understand. But think about fans for a moment. Some of us are fans because of age, interests, abilities, or giftedness. Take basketball for a moment. I played literally thousands of games but only at a certain skill level. I cannot because of height, age, weight, and skill level be anything but a fan of college and pro basketball. Yet, the game itself needs fans. Fans offer encouragement, energy and to some degree finance certain sports. There are some areas in God's kingdom where I can only be a fan. I don't have the giftedness of the Spirit to work there and Jesus doesn't ask me to follow Him there. But I can be a fan of the worker with thirteen and fourteen year olds. I can be a fan\supporter through prayer and finances at church to some missions and missionaries that I am not called to do personally. Yes, I should be committed enough to be willing to go but where I'm not called or gifted then I should be a good fan of those who are.

I also think back to my salvation experience. I committed all I knew at the time to follow Jesus. Looking back, that commitment looks now kind of shallow, selfish even, compared to what I now know about following. I committed as much as I had to as much as I knew. But God's kingdom allows, expects growth, movement to deeper, higher, wider, callings to follow Christ. I suspect that if God grants me another 30 or 40 years that my understanding of things now will look a bit dingy to what I see then. It is grace that makes the following possible as well as the salvation. I must be on guard and be careful not to make being a follower of Jesus a works-oriented, self-effort endeavor.

The question remains whether using Idleman's categories and definitions or my broader set: Are you a fan or a follower? I struggled to answer. I've decided on this one: I am a fallen follower and a fan. I follow Jesus as a stumbling, bumbling, repentant sinner who truly wants to love and serve him. I am a fan of others in His Kingdom who do their best to follow. I can't walk their walk, make their decisions, face their foes, though mine may be similar. But I can encourage, pray, give, pick-up, and praise their efforts. And as God's grace grants the wisdom, courage, energy, time, mercy and love I will move from "fan" to follower in many areas of the Kingdom. For here is a great truth in our Kingdom of reversals: in life the body ages, the mind fogs, the energy wanes but in the Kingdom, the spirit can soar, the heart grow deeper in love, and the vision of Jesus and His kingdom become clearer. A follower learns that the secret is to keep following- no matter what.

How about you? Fan or follower or follower\fan?


Thursday, July 25, 2013

Ain't It Funny How Time Just Slips Away

I head up to the attic. Granddaughter Klaira absolutely adores Mickey Mouse. Pam has a MM stuffed doll from when she was about four. That thing is, well, shall we say, somewhat vintage by now. Pam thought Klaira might want it or at least appreciate it someday. So it's Grandcos' job to hunt for it in the attic.

I haven't found it yet. I will. Maybe when the weather turns cooler. But amid the boxes and deep within one I make a discovery. It made one eye twinkle, one eye cry. Amidst the dust, the insulation, the cardboard I laughed, teared up a little, and gave thanks.  It can't be that long, but there's the date. It is there, in faded black and white with dead people's signatures of the 40th anniversary Sunday.

There's so much done but it seems like so little accomplished. There's so much left to be done but there's neither the time or energy to do it. We thought we'd save the world. Didn't happen. Thank God we already have a Savior. Reminds me of a scripture: "Night cometh, when no man can work." John 9:4b

Oh, and Jesus, thank-you for the call. May You shine through much brighter in the last few. 


Thursday, July 11, 2013

The Shoe

                             The Shoe

  It's a stray shoe. It's not unusual for a two year old to be unreconciled to her shoe. This one was on top of the buffet. The other, somewhere. On the floor? Under a couch cushion? Under the seat of the car? In her bedroom? In the doghouse? It will turn up. My granddaughter doesn't need it, at least most of the time. She toodles around fine in bare feet. I suppose she might need it to walk on dirty public floors or hot sidewalks. But this shoe was for me this day, not Klaira.

   It is empty. The little, lithe, nimble feet are running elsewhere. I snapped the picture. It just grabbed me, so I snapped it. It kind of reminds me of a part of my heart for most of the year. It's a place where blue eyes, a long curl of hair, a crooked smile, and those galloping feet fill for a few days a year. The rest is memory and longing.
   There are many empty things besides little girls shoes in our lives. People face empty nests, empty desks, empty schedules, empty bank accounts, empty beds, empty hearts.  What was full, occupied, busy, enjoyed is alone, finished, idle, empty. Time, distance, school, jobs, dreams, fate, life and death bring people into our lives and out. The times vary. Some are in and out in rapid succession. Some are in and out in slow motion. Some are in, then out, never to be in again.
   It could be rather depressing. And it is for a few moments, but it doesn't last. I'll never see Klaira in these shoes again. By the time I see her again they will be too small. She is growing, moving on, maturing, living and loving. She will need new shoes, bigger shoes. That is right and how it should be. I can't help but think of all those other empty things in life and wonder if maybe they had to become empty because God had bigger dreams and places for hearts and lives growing in His grace to fill. So we feel the emptiness and grieve. We experience the emptiness and long for what was. But we see the empty shoes and also remember that it is God's promise to know His love and be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. We see the empty shoes and long for what can be and will be.
   Empty things He still fills--from shoes to hearts.


Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Thirty Pieces of Silver

                                      Thirty Pieces of Silver

Coming out of the gigantic grocery store we were loading the haul into the back of the SUV when he approached. Normal looking fellow, about 25 yrs of age I'd guess. My mind jumped ahead...he needs some cash to buy some gas because he was passing through on his way to Florida to bury his dad when he lost his wallet.... he will mail it to me as soon as he gets there... or some such story. The stories are remarkably the same. And I was wrong.

He didn't want anything from me, he wanted to give me something. It was a card. It had a picture of a well endowed young lady named "Monique." At least that was the card said, that's all I could see from the distance between us. It was from a strip club. I never extended my hand as he reached out to me to say that the cover charge at the club was waived with this card. ("Can't he tell I'm a preacher? Can't he see my wife standing there? How desperate is this guy?")When I saw what it was I went back to shoveling groceries into the car and said something  pretty loudly about not needing his card but I'd give him my church card.

He perked up. "Church?" he said brightly and quickly. " I go to Big Door church up in North River. It's great." I knew the church. Ginormous. Grammy and Dove award winning music. The senior pastor has sold hundreds of thousands of books and videos. It has some very good ministries.

"Do they know you're doing this?"

"Well, no, its just for a little quick cash."

"You should talk it over with your pastors there. I don't think they would approve."

(You big dummy, I said to myself. Why did you bring up church? He probably thinks you're a judgemental jerk. I really feel sorry for him. I'm not mad. You may want better for him but you sound like a jackass.)

"It's just for a little quick cash."

"Listen, son (I'm old enough to call people "son" now) Jesus doesn't want you doing that. He's got a better plan for you than that..."

"It's just a little quick cash....''

"Jesus loves you. Trust Him, He's got something better for you."

The young man is moving away from me now. I watch him. I'm sad, I'm upset with myself. As many times as I've read the woman at the well story from John 4, you would think you'd could do a better job with my own encounters. You just proved it again, Cosby, you ain't Jesus. Man, why didn't you think quicker? You should have asked him how much was a 'little quick cash' and offered to pay him that much if he would quit the job and go talk to one of his pastors at Big Door. I've got, what, maybe twenty-five or thirty dollars on me. I wonder if that was enough?

There's the spiritual condition of many in our nation wrapped up and presented in a parking lot:  "I love Jesus. I enjoy this church. But I need a little quick cash." There's no connection between belief and ethics, money or morals, God's will and our needs--and the church people don't know what to say.

Pray for that young man. Pray for this old, slow thinking preacher. Pray for our nation. And please, write better endings to your encounters.


Thursday, June 20, 2013

Turning Out

Things don't always turn out like you had hoped they would. Little things. Big things. Little things,which may not seem small at the moment but they are, turn out wrong. "Darn (or something similar), the meringue didn't turn out! The egg whites must have been too cold."  "Shoot, the divinity didn't turn out! Too humid I guess." Little things....

There are bigger things, much bigger that don't turn out.
    -The marriage. "But they seemed so in love. I wonder what went wrong?" Love is not the best base for marriage. It's a better outcome or by-product. Marriages are better grown in the deep soil of trust planted liberally with the seeds of commitment. But no one told them that and the marriage didn't turn out.
    -The job. "I thought I'd finish my career there but they laid off nearly everyone with twenty or more years. They said age and seniority didn't have any thing to do with it, just the economy. I'm fifty one, what do I do?"            
    -The body "I was going to hike all the major trails in the mountains. Now, I've got to replace both knees. I can do some, but not much. The expenses are worse than I thought too. I guess I'll have to find something else to do." The list goes on, and gets worse... the chemo...the stroke...the grand kids in Timbuktu and you're in Peoria...the bankruptcy... the funeral. Life  rarely turns out like we thought it would.  Who knew?

Maybe we all should have. I was stuck in traffic in Joshua, TX after an accident and looked to the side of the road. There was a home doubling as a business. It was for psychic readings. Madame Somebody. Out into the psychic's yard wanders a man with long, stringy hair wearing a Speedo bathing suit, but most of it was covered by the belly hanging over it. He proceeds to mow the yard in his flip-flops with a beer in one hand and pushing the mower with the other. It was an odd sight at 9 AM. If he were Madame Somebody's husband or boy friend, she should have seen that coming. But she didn't or couldn't. Things don't always turn out like you thought, even if you're a psychic.

Things not turning out is a product of a fallen world where there is evil, wrong, selfishness, and other people who don't always want what we want. We know that, halfway expect it, but we think with hard work, good education, and useful experience our world will turn out. Mostly it does, but not everything and sometimes its the big things that get us. Some people lower their expectations and let luck or laziness, or lousy timing grind them like grist. But I have noticed that a lot of people, when things don't turn out, keep at it. They keep going in some direction hoping the next thing, even if it's a smaller thing will work out better. The guys who loses his job keeps looking for another one. He finds one not in his field, but he works it, learns it, makes a living. The woman whose body betrayed her can't climb the alps, she works hard at climbing the five steps at the rehab center. She makes progress and redefines her life. Plan A didn't turn out, she works on Plan B. It happens with marriages, hobbies, jobs, retirements, churches, bodies, and even meringue. Who knew humans could be so resilient? Who knew they could keep on hoping? Why do they keep trying to bounce back in the dull light of dashed dreams and faded glory? Who knew broken humans could dream again, hope again, live again?

The One Who made them.

"He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end." Ecclesiastes 3:11. "Being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus." Philippians 1:6

The owner of the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel  movie would tell his customers "everything will be all right in the end, if it is not all right, it is not the end." That is not always true in life. Things don't always turn out. But it  is true in the Kingdom of God. His word promises it, His character guarantees it. That is hope.

Still turning,

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Cemetery Plots

The White Bluff community in which I live is home to two cemeteries. It's a good and healthy thing to visit a cemetery occasionally, well that is if you are able to leave on your own power anyway. Now I personally don't think a visit to a cemetery is morbid, especially when no funeral is actually taking place. It is more a place of perspective, reflection, honor, gratitude and even enlightenment.

When we first moved to White Bluff and were deciding on whether to buy or build, which we ended up doing, there was offered to us, with a little negotiating, a parcel of land on which to build backing up to the Fort Graham cemetery. I called it the lot by the plot. I thought it was a great lot. It was a great deal financially. It had some good trees on it and next to it.  It was a nice size.The neighbors to the back of the lot seemed very peaceful. There were no neighbors on either side. We wouldn't have to build a fence for the dogs--the cemetery had one around it. (I figured I'd just put them in the garage when an interment took place.) It would be a great place to build. Every day one could be reminded of one's mortality and keeping the scripture, Psalm 90: 12: "Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom." Well, that should be easier. Every day you would thank God for life and everlasting life. You could even respectfully walk among the headstones, reading the epitaphs and learning a bit more about life-- oh yeah,  and death. And when "the time" came, it would be a short walk out the back door for that last trip. But, alas, the wife had other, more practical ideas.

So I don't live next to the cemetery but I'm reminded to visit there occasionally. You can learn a lot with the plots. Some people avoid the thoughts of death and dying as much as possible and would never visit a cemetery no matter how peaceful, grounding or enlightening it could be. Other folks have been acting as though they were already there on so many levels. I would advise against either extreme. When you read the markers in  the cemetery you read some good advice, touching sentiments, and too often see dates that indicate someone got there too quickly. You wonder: cancer? accident? war? Did they do something that hastened their arrival like smoking or drunk driving? On the other end you see numbers of extreme length and hope their joy and purpose in life was as deep as their life was long.

There are a couple of burials I'd love to conduct at a cemetery. There are a couple of extremest I'd love to bury. I seem to recall a John Wayne movie when he told someone he buried some bad guys he had shot..."Well, I wouldn't have buury-eed 'em if they didn't need buury-en."  One thing that needs buury-en in our churches is legalism. It was around in Jesus' day and in the Apostle Paul's day. It hangs around like crabgrass in the yard. It has a crushing, crippling, and condemning effect and promotes a particularly insidious kind of arrogant pride. It has no regard for human suffering, needs or history. It often supersedes forgiveness and precludes reconciliation and reclamation. I'd love to conduct that funeral.

The other extreme is antinomianism (against or without the law). Here anything goes and pretty much all our morals have in this country. No objective standards. Truth is what works for you but may not be my truth. Tolerance is the antinomianist dogma. Emotions and pleasure make the decisions. Judgement is anathema. The word equality is thrown around a lot but has no meaning because justice loses its foundation and teeth. Popular opinion is the gold standard for discerning the way to live and any thought of a Holy God whose holiness is displayed through laws and precepts as a teaching tool to see His majesty and glory is declared dead or worse, irrelevant. I'd sing at the this funeral in full, off-key voice. (Honesty requires me to admit that an awfully lot of Christians through the centuries were accused of being antinomian. Once grace gets hold of a man his freedom may look a lot freer than some are comfortable with.)

Our tendency in church is to react to the antinomian, no law, no limits world by tightening the screws, getting more rules to show our moral superiority. Don't fall in that cemetery plot. This strategy never changed a heart. Either road of legalism or antinomianist leads to the cemetery. It doesn't matter which gate you come in, you're still dead.

So what do you do to avoid these plots? Grace...forgiveness...reconciliation...justice...holiness. Oh, I know what you're thinking..."you dumb preacher, you say that to everything. How do I come to know and live all those huge concepts?" Ok you got me. Just try this: Fall in love with Jesus, the real, living One of the Bible and of today.  Learn everything you can about Him and copy, follow, imitate, react and love like He does. That will keep you out of the cemetery for a long, long time--except to visit.

Still Plotting along,

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Who I Am?

I go into a country where I don't have citizenship...

I do work no one in that country really is doing or wants to do....

Sometimes I have temporary documentation to do some types of work, but I do other kinds mostly...

Sometimes I have no documentation but sneak in....

I don't get paid a lot, and what I do get paid I send to family back in my home country...

I try to blend into the background as much as possible and let citizens of the country I'm in arrange transportation, medicine, and sometimes even shopping for me...

I try to do my work as inconspicuously as possible but my accent, skin color, religion and culture are very different than those around me...

I bring contraband into the country....

Many government officials want me gone and would imprison me or at the least deport me if they found out what I was up to....

I am human. I have needs. I have fears here. I miss my family.  I have wants, desires and dreams.

In country, I am an illegal, an alien, and in a very strict sense, a lawbreaker.

Who I am? I am a missionary. Your church funds me. You give money to me through your church.
So that makes it okay, right?


"Judge not, lest you be judged."  Jesus said that. Are our problems political? Then they need a political solution. Are our problems economic? Then they need an economic solution. Are the problems we face about culture, race, or religion? Are the problems arising from a spiritual vacuum where we have forgotten God and thus forgotten how to be human because we don't tie humanity to the image of God?

So tell me, what does it mean to be human, made in God's  image, to everyone not in your family, church, or political party?

Think before you answer.

Every time,

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Kept From Singing?

Circumstances, which will be another article sometime, caused me to look up a song this week. An old friend, a troubadour, who had passed away a few years ago used to sing it when he toured. I had occasion to hear the song on satellite tv and it reminded me of him. He sang a solid, faith-based, Jesus following version of it. The one I heard on the satellite had changed the words somewhat to make sure God was left out lest anyone be offended. The song has stayed with me all week as I sang it, or at least the parts I could remember.

Then the tornado hit Moore, Oklahoma.

Then I remembered the words of the song again. Read them yourselves, pay close attention to the second  and third verses, though all speak volumes.

                 How Can I Keep From Singing
                                    Robert Lowry
                                     circa @ 1869
My life flows on in endless song above earth's lamentation,
I hear the sweet, tho' far off hymn that hails a new creation;
Through all the tumult and the strife, I hear the music ringing;
 It finds an echo in my soul---How can I keep from singing?
What though my joys and comforts die? The Lord my Savior liveth;
What though the darkness gather round? Songs in the night He giveth.
No storm can shake my inmost calm, while to that Refuge clinging
Since Christ is Lord over heaven and earth, how can I keep from singing?

 I lift my eyes; the cloud grows thin, I see the blue above it;
 And day by day this pathway smooths, since I have learned to love it.
 The peace of Christ makes fresh my heart, a fountain ever springing;
 All things are mine since I am his---How can I keep from singing?  

God is not mad at Moore. His heart breaks this day for human pain and loss. It does every day. I know indirectly some of the faith history of Moore. It is home (or very close) to some huge churches from several different denominations.  They will help their family, friends and  neighbors, loving them through this tragedy.
Many in Moore, especially the parents of children lost cannot sing today, maybe not for a long time--if ever.

Till the new creation is the present reality; till the clouds grow thin; till the peace of Christ makes all hearts fresh---  we will sing for them.                                                                                                                                          


Tuesday, May 14, 2013

A Little Death

                                               A Little Death

The world will little note and no one outside of family will long remember but something changed last week. It wasn't catastrophic, horrendous, just sad, just a little death. But even the little ones must be grieved.

By any measure seventy-one years is a long time. My father, Lee, turned 88 the last week of April. The first week of May he sold off the last of his cattle. It signaled an end of an era, he was the last of a long line of Cosby's who farmed and ranched. There are probably other distant cousins in and around Milam County or back south in Tennessee and Alabama, but Lee's, V.C.'s, and Thomas' branch of the tree has no farming or ranching with it now. My granddad, V. C. (Virgil Carter) moved his wife and nine sons from Rosebud to Milford about 1941. They rented a farm and set about living off cotton, maize, corn, a garden, chickens and a few head of cattle. Typical for the day and times. My dad was connected to that rented farm from 1941 to 2013. He helped granddaddy farm it and rented it himself when granddad got too old to farm it. It was sold a few times and was divided up but the owners always kept Dad to manage what was left of it. He quit crop farming about seven years ago but he kept a few head of cattle on the pasture. But it was time. Old tractors to maintain for mowing and hay hauling were costly to keep up. Old pick-ups crawling over ruts that passed for roads won't last forever.  Old legs that used to hold up 230 lbs on a 6'4'' frame and  pin 800 lbs cows against a corral fence to vaccinate them were a bit unsteady on uneven ground now supporting only 185 lbs. Seventy-one years is a long time. It passed too quickly. A direct connection to the land becomes an indirect one and in time even that is broken. A part of Dad died last week and a part of me died too when he told me. Were I wealthy I would have just bought the place just to keep us connected to it. But no Cosby will turn a plow this season. No "he-yaw" called out to drive a cow or calf in the right direction. Just memories, good, hard, lasting memories.

Time and decay bring these "little deaths" to us almost from birth. We die a little at the first bleeding cut our child receives then brace ourselves for more. He changes from a baby to a toddler to a little boy to a young man. This happens in about three days and we wonder how it got away from us. Innocence dies a little each day, hope for everything turning out just right takes a beating in the living of life. We see the death of a loved one, a serious illness, a divorce, a financial struggle and a never ending string of things we do for the last time. The last time you visited Uncle___; the last time you went fishing with _____; the last Thanksgiving with all the family; the last time ....  Life becomes filled with last things, some good, some bad, some sad but all "little deaths" of what once was and what will never be again.

When you live long enough you experience way too many ''little deaths" and the list of last things grows longer than the list of "I'm going to.." How do you keep going? When meaningful, fulfilling things die around you or they are taken from you, what do you do? I'll not try to answer for you. I can only tell you what I did.

I grieved the loss. I remembered and smiled. I remembered and cried. I grieved.

I remembered the Promises. The places and people in our lives give way to time. Time picks them off one by one: the joys, the pleasures, the things we did, the experiences and people of our lives. But the good Lord made promises and they weren't mainly about this world. The Promises of Life: eternal, abundant, joyful where there is no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order with its little deaths, last things, last times, and death has passed away.There's the Promise of a special place. The old King James bible calls it a mansion in John 14. The Greek meaning is dwelling place, room. In God's promise there is a place, prepared, special that is ours. Neither sales or the passing of time nor the little deaths will take it away. It's the beautiful and ironic language of Revelation 21:4 that promises death itself will pass away.

And I did and will do one more thing.  I will tell the stories of growing up on a farm to my boys and grandchildren. I will tell of adventures on the creek; chopping and hauling cotton; watching mom's strength of mind and practicality and dad's strength of body and relentless (Mom says stubborn) battle against the land he loved, with nature all the time trying to reclaim its fields. With droughts, floods, boll weevils, and 46 cent cotton, Dad lost a few of those battles. The land, nature, and time lost many more battles for 71 years. They will win the last battles. But they will lose the war for a couple of reasons. The Promise of God the Son guarantees it. The memories of children, grandchildren, the history that shaped us and the stories we share will also see to it.

Standing on the promises,

Thursday, May 2, 2013

An Evil Generation Seeks a Sign

I think I know what Jesus was talking about in Matthew 12 and Luke 11  when He taught about a wicked generation seeking miraculous signs. It was the "what have you done for me lately" crowd. The Presence of the most high God in their midst was not enough. Proof, temporal relief and amazing demonstrations of power were required to please their discontented hearts. Their hearts couldn't be dented at that point with the holiness and righteousness of God walking with them. Just give us more fish sandwiches and zap the Romans.

Having said that, Jesus didn't have use of digital camera's and cell phones. I wouldn't be surprised if He made use of the technology to advance His Kingdom. I thought with all the bad, tough news people have had to deal with on personal, national and international levels that I'd share a couple of signs that brought smiles to my face and questions to my mind. These were taken on a recent trip to the metroplex.

Hopefully you can enlarge or zoom to read the whole sign. Sadly, it probably generated a little business. I hate their exploitative industry but you have to admit to their creativity. And no, I will not tell you where it is. In fact, hand in the bulletins when you finish with them Sunday!

This second one made me shake my head and made me a little sad at first. "Have we really come to this?'' I asked myself.  On the other hand....  Is a drive thru prayer better than none? Is this a way to attract the "get God quick" crowd and then teach a better way?  Do you pray with a  person, through a speaker, behind a glass? Do you just drop off a request and drive on?

 Prayer is not a quick, drive-in fix but a long, deepening relationship.  It's not just getting an answer but discovering Jesus is there with you in the troubles. It's not asking and receiving what you want but finding in Christ you have all you need. It is about applying His strength to our spiritual battles. And yet, often our  loving Father does answer our prayers in positive, affirming ways. If we are too busy to spend time with Jesus in prayer to discover all these and more, well, then we are indeed too busy. Can you learn all that and the thousand other things prayer teaches with a drive in prayer service? I don't know. I know we can make prayer harder than it is. Can you pour out your heart to God in a drive thru? I sure do while I'm driving. I know we can neglect prayer and its lessons pretty easily. Would a drive thru get you back on track and be a step toward sitting down with Jesus to talk and listen?  I don't know. What do you think?

Sign, sign, everywhere a sign,

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Again, again

Only a few hours had past from posting a prayer on this blog concerning the Boston Marathon bombings entitled "Again" that it happened again. The West fertilizer plant exploded with devastating and deadly fury. Again people had their lives changed literally in the twinkling of an eye. There were losses at every level of humanity and with every loss came a dozen questions flooding the soul, mind, psyche, and heart. How, why, why, why, why, who, how, what, what again. How did it happen? Why did it happen? How do they move on? Who did you know? Again and again we ask, again and again the answers aren't adequate. The more honest simply admit: "I don't know."

Before the shock had worn off and the grief process started for Boston and West, news of the Colorado avalanche, the China earthquake, the mid-west floods and the shootings in Seattle tended to push the last horror off the news with the new horror. And the questions, grief, and prayers started again. Can that amount of pain and suffering be absorbed? Can some well-intentioned but theologically poorly informed saint really glibly say in the face of such tragedy, "well, the Lord never puts more on us than we can handle." Really? Who can handle the cruelty, arbitrariness, timing, and pain that life can inflict? I can't handle all that  much I guess. My heart breaks; my mind shuts down; my anger rises; my soul is confused.  I grow numb.

So what did I do? I started with prayer. I didn't know how to pray really but I bounced familiar words off the ceiling and read some Psalms as prayers. Psalm 27, 31,42,46,80,90,103,120...well you get the idea. I took the nearest disaster, West, and inquired with phone calls to see how I (we) could help. I went and checked on a couple of our White Bluff volunteer firefighters who went over that horrible night. At that point I was told to seek donations and prayers, and stay away a few days. We organized the church to make donations and offerings. Manpower available when and as needed. (I must say I am very proud of the church I pastor. We average about 200 in worship and these folks gave over $5500 the first Sunday\week and will take an offering again on the next Sunday.) Then I read my prayer again from the Boston bombings. Some, if not much of that prayer was answered on many levels. Seeing that I looked at the title again, "Again," and had a thought.

I went to the Bible and looked up how the word "again" was used in scripture and thought of how we use it in our daily lives. Just a simple word, 'again,' but listen again...

Roy and Dale used to sing "till we meet again."
Genesis 8-9 say "never again" five times.
My granddaughter says "again" into the skype camera when she wants her MiMi to play giddy up horsey again.
Buck Owens sang about being "Together Again" to his lover in the old country song.
"It happened again" is in some versions of the Bible and on our lips regularly.
John 3 tells us we must be "born again."
We know what it means for something, whether good or bad, to happen 'again and again.'
Paul tells us to "again rejoice" and also go to some effort to "remind you again."
And Jesus "rose again" from the grave.

I believe this: This world is sick with sin. It will burden us again and again with pain and sorrow; weeping and grief. Good people will rise up again and meet the pain, sorrow, horror, grief and death with courage, sacrifice, compassion, love, and goodness. There is coming a day when these tragedies will happen never again. So let me also remind you again, especially you who have lost so much, that you will laugh again; you will hope again; you can love again. And for all who have lost so much, in Christ, you will see them again.

In the meantime, seek again the face of Christ, till He comes


Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Again...(a prayer)

Dear Father,
     It has happened again. We knew it was possible, even probable, but when it happened we were stunned.  Grant us your grace in our shock of Boston's bombings. May this grace be especially real and near to those so devastatingly close to the act of terror. Our words aren't enough to express the loss, the shock is too raw, too soon. Our words may never catch up with our grief. They seem to catch up more quickly with our anger.

We cry out for healing, relief, and comfort--so deeply needed by the victims of the acts of cowardice. But we also cry out for healing, relief, comfort, and answers in a world seemingly exploding with evil.  Remind us of your loving presence, in, especially in times of trouble. May we be quick to remember that there are evil forces loosed in our world seeking to devour and destroy that which is good, and right and noble. May we also quickly remember that in this world where we have tribulation, through your Son you have overcome evil and have been given the power of truth, faith, mercy and love for us to resist evil and prevail against it.

There seems to be no end to the enemy's schemes and explosions of hate. May we always know that even so, the weapons of our warfare far outnumber his. Grant that your church always move toward the trouble with grace and hope and love as so many brave souls did to attend to the victims in Boston.  We are so thankful for their courage and help. But we also ask that you move swiftly with justice and bring to justice those who would so seek to hurt so many innocents.

We have grown tired of the pain, suffering, and injustice we see when your truth of salvation is ignored or refused.  May the enemy grow tired and weary, more so than we, in the face of a people, of a church that never runs out of worship, praise, hope, love and service even when it has to be expressed through tears of sorrow.

And as we cry, grant that with one tearful eye we cry with grief for the pain of victims,  for a world at war with itself, for the lost-ness of people who don't know the joy and peace of your salvation, for the destruction that follows behind evil, but with the other eye may our tears be tears of resolve to rise up with love, truth, courage, faith, and all that expresses the heart of God and stand in a fallen world with a cross shaped commitment to proclaim the glory of God and the endurance his truth secures.

Now turn us loose, dear Father, as more than conquerors through him who loves us; equip us with your full armor of truth, righteousness and the gospel of peace and salvation. Encourage us with the thought that in your Son we have already triumphed.  Renew our hope, not in the goodness of man, but in the holiness and righteousness of Christ as we look forward to the day when when prayers like this are never prayed--again.

In Jesus' strong and holy name,