Thursday, December 18, 2014

Christmas Places

The house I grew up in seemed so large to me as a little kid, it now appears rather small as it sits out on a farm. I see it occasionally when I drive by just for nostalgia purposes. Nearly everyone feels that way about some aspect of their childhood that appeared so large in life that takes on a comical remembrance as its true size is now apparent. Another chuckle arises when I think that I could never find my Christmas presents in that small farmhouse. I know they had to hidden somewhere but I could never find them. A few presents were wrapped and placed under the tree like socks and underwear and such. But the really cool ones I wanted were somewhere else. It wasn't for lack of looking, I just could never find my Christmas presents in that house. I could not imagine there being any place not accessible to my stubborn persistence and curiosity.
Evidently there were.

In the fifty or more Christmases since those adventures into the attic, under beds, in dark closets and forbidden drawers, I have learned that the best things in life are like that--they are  not possessed by simply great effort and probing. They are discovered as gifts in places both unexpected and in full view. In fact, in the Incarnation of Christ, His gifts are found in places we would never venture to look. Yet, often the greatest surprise is there waiting. What sort of places could hold a treasure from the Lord Himself?
Believe it or not, darkened places. Isaiah 9 even predicted it: "The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned." Christmas time is a dark time for many people. Family brokenness, financial fears, stress from trying to please too many and not enough time or money or faith leaves a dark mark on some people's Christmas. And the bible tells us that because of sin, we all walk in darkness. Yet into the darkness Christ came. He brings to our sin darkened, stress filled, question filled lives His light. It is the light of hope. It is found even in darkened places, there it shines bright for all who will open the eyes of their hearts and see.

Another unexpected place to find the gifts Jesus brings are the broken places in our lives. Psalm 147 and Isaiah 61 tell us that the coming Messiah will bind up the brokenhearted and restore and rebuild the broken places. A person can't live too long in life without experiencing some kind of brokenness. It may be an arm or foot or it may be first loves first broken heart. It may be career hopes, family dreams, health or finances. And even if by some small chance none of these are experienced, no one escapes spiritual brokenness. Our own version of holiness just doesn't amount to much, yet here and in other broken places, Jesus enters. Binding, soothing, healing, leading us out or standing with us even in our brokenness is the sovereign Lord. Restoration Hardware, it turns out is not a store for high-end new vintage house parts. Restoration Hardware are the tools of  manger, cross, and a rolled away rock that Jesus uses to promise healing in our broken places.

Jesus shows up in our forgotten places, too.  In living life we forget how to worship God, discover His forgiveness, serve Him sacrificially, enjoy His presence, relax in His grace, luxuriate in His love. In forgetting these essentials we forget how to live. It becomes all about us, our family, our happiness, our schedules, our feelings etc. and so on. Then we awake one day and have forgotten even who we are because we forgot whose we are. In these forgotten places Jesus shows up.  Not sure about that today? Just remember His birth. It had been 400 years since the prophets spoke in the Old Testament (as we know it). Had God forgotten? No more than He had forgotten Joseph in Egypt for 40 more than He forgot Moses for 40 years in the more than He forgot Abraham was 100 years having a kid. God's timing is different from ours but He doesn't forget. Just check out a manger in Bethlehem. Any forgotten places in your life needing a Savior? Keep looking, He will be there.

I'm glad Jesus also shows up in fearsome places. Why? Because I have them and don't know very well what to do with them. Mary, Jesus' mother found herself in a fearsome place in Luke 1: 26-30 when an angel pops in for a visit. His words "fear not, were followed by "you're going to have a baby"  Joseph is in a fearsome place in Matthew 1 when faced with a pregnant fiancee not of his doing and an angel shows up and says, "fear not...." The shepherds in Luke 2:10 get the same message, "fear not..." We hear fearsome words on the news, from the doctor, from the spouse, from children and grandchildren, financial advisors, the president and the news all the time. It's enough to make us want to run off to broken, forgotten places and hide. But the same message finds us today as it did them at the birth of Jesus, "fear not." What fear is speaking to you today? Is there Another voice with more authority  you need to hear?

To sum it all up, Jesus shows up in impossible places to bring His impossibly good news of salvation for all who believe. Bethlehem, not Rome, shepherds not Sanhedrin, old prophecies long forgotten, loud singing angels, wandering stars, a virgin, a stable, a manger, a BABY?....Really? Seriously?  No begging, no searching, no frantic bargaining, no self-effort? No, of all the ways and all the places you would never have expected Him to show up, it is in those places and in those ways He brings Christmas. All that to let us know He desires to spend Christmas in one special place: your heart.

Is there room?

Christmas 2014

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Pastor Hayward Skips Church

Pastor Hayward didn't plan it that way, it just sorta happened. He had to skip church last Sunday. Death is never convenient and he had to officiate a funeral on Saturday, the day he and his lovely wife Jan originally had planned to leave. It was really okay. He was happy to help the family during their loss. Besides, leaving early Sunday would get them to the ski lodge in fine time, just not in time to go to church on Sunday morning at the ski resort chapel. So he and Jan got up early and left Sunday morning, skipping church with his guilt packed with his boxers.

About three hours in and through one thermos of coffee, they needed to stop. One, for the obvious reason, and two, well heck, they never got to eat breakfast out on Sunday and both were hungry. So guilt aside Pastor Hayward pulls off the interstate and into the County Line Diner. It was 9 AM and packed. Instead of waiting on ushers and choirs to do their part in the service they waited on a table for about seven minutes before their buzzer went off. Their table was right in the middle of the restaurant, right in front of the fireplace. Pastor Hayward had a good view of everyone.  Jan ordered  first: one egg, over medium with a side order of wheat toast. She noticed the Pastor's raised eyebrow. She knew he wasn't exactly thrilled with her choice. Hayward took advantage of being sprung from church and diet for a few days and ordered the County Line-backer: 2 strips bacon, 2 sausage patties, 2 eggs, 2 biscuits, and 2 buttermilk pancakes. Both of Jan's eyebrows went up.

Pastor Hayward sat back and sipped his coffee. He knew his breakfast might take a while since the County Line was really busy. He surveyed the scene. "So this is where people go who aren't in church," he thought to himself.  His eyes caught  a nice large family over in the corner. Must 13 or 14 of them....the little boy looks like Ralphy in A Christmas Story. 'Be careful kid, you'll put your eye out....'  They were happy in each other's company. A few tables in front of them was an old couple getting up to leave. He rocked, once, twice, and on the third rock forward the old guy was able to push\pull himself up. He shuffled by on the way to pay. Pastor Hayward thought about having to be on the highway with him and hoped he was a local. A very tall, graceful, black man came in with his wife and were seated to the right of the Haywards.  They were dressed like they had just come from church. Pastor wondered if he played basketball and chided himself for such stereotyping thoughts.   Just because a man is tall and black and moves so gracefully doesn't mean he played basketball. Still, Pastor Hayward figured he did and was very good at it.

There was a twenty-something couple over in the corner. They were cute. He was kind of a cowboy with an Aggie cap. She was tiny, blond and liked to twirl her fork between bites. Here comes a couple in their 60's and a man in his 70's with them. They had obviously been to church. They handed the waiter their church bulletin for a 10% discount. Pastor couldn't help but wonder if the single man was widowed or an old bachelor, single just for the day, or was related to the couple. He looked out of place, alone even, in a room with a hundred people. Pastor felt sorry for him. Then the large table right next to him and Jan began to fill in with a young family with three boys under six years of age. One looked 6, one just under him, maybe 4 or 5, and a little guy less than 2. This was a gorgeous young family. But about the time Pastor Hayward quit thinking about how pretty those boys were, how sweet the wife looked and movie star qualities the dad had, in fear he figured he was about to lose his one chance for a quiet breakfast on a Sunday morning. He needn't worry. Those boys were better behaved than 90% of the kids he saw at church. There were kind, loving eyes all around. Polite, sweet words were spoken in English and Spanish. It was great to see.

Pastor's and Jan's food arrived. Jan looked a little like Cinderella stuck in the corner with a little plate of one egg and some toast. Pastor's plates took up the rest of the entire table. He went to work on it, but he couldn't quite finish it off. Part of one biscuit and most of one pancake would have to go home to the cook's dogs. The family next table over received their food. Mom and Dad had regular breakfast plates that they shared back and forth. But the boys, with all that big menu before them had ordered Fruit Loops. Red, green, yellow, and orange Fruit Loops. The boys seemed to love them. They smiled at their dad, their mom winked at them and they dug in for more Loops.

It was time to go. Pastor started to get up but didn't make it. He rocked back and pushed up again but not quite. On the third time he was up but staggering. Jan mentioned she better drive a while. Pastor waddled to the car, fell into the front seat and was ready for a nap. He felt a little guilty he had skipped church this morning. But he knew something else, too. All these people he saw this morning had something in common. God wasn't mad at these people, in fact, He deeply loved them. From tall, graceful black men to a fork twirling 20 year olds to Aggie cap wearing cowboys, to dressed up church goers to Ralphy-look-a-likes to a family of five or a couple about 85-God loves them all.

Jan started the car and looked at her husband. ''You know, Hay, I almost feel like I've been to church this morning. You don't feel too bad about skipping do you?"  "No, in fact, I think the Lord preached me a good sermon without words. Drive careful."  Pastor Hayward popped a couple of tums. As he drifted off he reminded himself the next time he skipped church and went to breakfast, order Fruit Loops.


Thursday, October 16, 2014

What's in Your Hand?

                   What if they do not believe me or listen to me and say, 'The Lord did not appear to you'?" Then the Lord said to him, "What is that in your hand?"   God and Moses, Exodus 4:1-2

It has been as unrelenting as a Plains wind in April. Every week, every day, every hour of every day the bad news pounds our senses. We seek solace and find it not in ordinary places. We need what the old spiritists called "thin places" where the eternal was somehow closer to the temporal and those ancient truths were more readily discovered and felt. Quite often it was on a wild mountain or deep forest or blue ocean a thin place was thought to exist.  But even if you discover the "thin places" there is the call back to daily living and the thick places of war, ISIS, Ebola, poverty, drugs, immorality, and Godlessness weigh us down again.

I want to help. I  really do. I don't know how. I really don't. I pray daily, often through the day and many times during the day for the victims, the abused, the forgotten, the diseased, and the discarded. I pray for those close to me whose names form easily on my lips and are spoken in love to God's heart. I pray for those with no names known to me, whose faces are unfamiliar to me, whose faith or lack of it are different from mine. They are uneasy prayers in that I don't know how God will respond or answer. But I don't know what else to do.

I want to help, to fix this thing. But I have no diplomatic skills, no political clout, not even an army to prevent a war or a madman or a mad religion. Those who supposedly possess these things and are wise in their use have had no success either. The death toll rises, as do the refugee camps. Broken homes, broken families, broken nations, and broken lives mount up.  I would like to help end and prevent war, but I don't know how.

I have no medical, scientific or research skills to end disease and its death. Ebola is the latest scare as it has come to the west and is not respectful of relative wealth, status, influence, facilities, or anything thought protected us. Passports, TSA screening, medical bulletins and tv reports haven't stopped it. In the wrong circumstances it will attack like cancers, Alzheimer's, ALS, the flu, heart failure and a hundred other diseases.  Today we are so much better off than ever before and yet Ebola reminds we have so far to go. I don't know how to stop disease and its pain and its deaths. I want to help. I pray. I give blood. I hope. I just don't know what else to do.

I want to help but I have no legal skills or political office. People are hurting, abused, forgotten, needy, often by no fault of their own. They have physical issues, mental issues, domestic violence issues. They need help. They need justice. They need a fair chance. Some new laws might help. Some lawmakers seeking justice instead of re-election or money for special interests might go along way. There are people that get into the courts and legislatures and battle for justice, on the personal level and institutional (governmental, medical, financial-economic, legal, educational, etc)  level. There are not enough of them. I do not think I am one of them. I pray. I vote, but I still want bananas for 40 cents a pound and I like my shirts cheaper because they are made by cheap labor in Singapore. I don't help like I could.

So I ask myself, 'how do I live in this world where so much needs to be done and I seem so ill-equipped, powerless, too far removed to affect much'? Then I recalled a fugitive shepherd on the far side of the desert, far removed from the capitals and leading cities of his day. His name was Moses. He was called by God to a task he felt ill equipped to handle. Too much baggage, too poorly spoken, too far removed, too many bad memories, too entrenched in today's living...go away God, I can't do it. Even if I did, who would believe me of all people?
Then God asked Moses, "what's in your hand?"  It's the same question He asks all of us, what has he placed in our hands? Answer it. It is an extremely important question, maybe only one other is more important.

'What is in my hand?'  is the same question God asked Moses long ago.  I must answer it myself. What is in my hands? God has placed in my hands a pulpit. It is a place to stand, to proclaim, to question, to correct, to encourage, to bless and share the greatness of God, the salvation of Christ, and the hope of eternity. There may be those present with other things placed in their hands, things that heal, that administer justice, and make peace. Maybe the pulpit is a burning bush with questions about Presence, thin places, and gifts placed in hands needing to be placed in service. I have a pulpit.

I have a pen. I can write, not as well as most, not as prolific as some but maybe my pen strokes the imagination of one who helps one who helps another who brings peace, hope and health to one forgotten or discarded. There may never be a lasting word from my pen but possibly its scribbles drew a line to Christ for someone and their own personal question of what is in their hand was read. I have a pen.

I have a prayer. It is heard. It is considered. It is answered. It is the least I can do. NO! It is the most I can do. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world.  On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds, arguments, and every pretension raised up against the knowledge of God.... II Cor. 10: 5    Prayer is divine power. I don't see it in my hands because I keep reaching for other weapons. But I have divine power to be used! Whatever that implies, I have a  prayer.

I want to help. I really do. I have a pulpit. I have a pen. I have a prayer. It is what God has placed in my hands. The question, 'what is in your hand?' is important to Kingdom living in a hurting, warring, diseased, and broken world. There is, however, one more important. What's in your heart? The hands will go no farther than the heart directs.

What's in your hands?

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Harvest Time

       Jesus said, "Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look on the fields, that they are white for harvest."  John 4:35  NAS

It is cotton harvest time in north central Texas. It is still probably early for west Texas cotton, although the harvest time varies from year to year. The cotton harvest can occur from September to December depending on the region, climate, rainfall, and heat of the summer. For most people these days, the cotton harvest is not noticed. Oh, they know they have underwear, a shirt and jeans and these came from cotton but the process is not noted by folks unless they live in rural areas and see it. Or unless you lived it as a kid.

I lived it. My dad and mom were cotton farmers as were their parents and their parents. Cotton was king in Texas for a time and my people served the king for generations.

Christmas was not the most important time of the year on the farm, neither was New Year's, back to school or any sale or season. Life was about the harvest. Yes, life had its other important parts, but none like the harvest. The ground was prepared in the winter, seeded in the spring. The new plants were "chopped" for weeds and sprayed for insects in the summer. It was hard work but so much of farming success was out of your hands. This country in the blackland prairie is dry-land cotton, no irrigation but by rainfall. So rain, heat, flood, drought and bug infestations could not be predicted very well and only the insects could be mitigated somewhat with costly chemicals. Some say farming is a big gamble, truth is it was more of an investment that paid off some years, and not so much in others. Everything done was done in anticipation of the harvest. Every year it was pretty much make or break. And although it was never stated, you just knew that harvest time was what everything done from January on was all about. It was only as important as eating, electricity, clothes, gasoline and hope that you could do it again next year.

Activity and anticipation would pick up as the cotton bolls opened and revealed the fluffy white fiber. All the hoeing, spraying, cultivating was done. My dad busied himself preparing the tractors, cotton stripper, and other equipment for the two or three weeks of hard labor it was about to endure. Weather forecasts were monitored early morning, noon, at six and ten PM watching for unwanted rain and moisture even from gulf hurricanes. (Not that you could do anything about it, but if the forecast was clear that was one less stressor.) Trailers were readied to transport the cotton to the gin. The markets were watched with worried eyes if you had contracted the crop early hoping you made a good deal. They were watched even more carefully if you weren't under contract in hopes the current price was right. It was harvest time, that said much on many levels.

On the way home from visiting my parents recently, I saw the "fields white unto the harvest" and stopped to snap a couple of pics. The harvesting process is different now, different equipment, but the same cotton. One big difference I noticed was the smell. In mom and dad's day, at least until the last ten years or so, the cotton around their area was "stripped" off the plant and the bolls and fibers were separated in the ginning. In order to make the stripper (harvester) work efficiently , the large, green leaves of the plant had to be killed with a defoliant. The defoliant had a very pungent smell. It was an acrid, acid-ey smell. Imagine farm after farm, dozens of farms all defoliating cotton and the smell that arose. It hung in the air for what seemed like a week or two. With farmhouses located next to or in the middle of cotton fields there was no escaping the smell of defoliant. (think Robert Duvall in Apocalypse Now) But you knew for certain the harvest was soon, very soon.  The leaves of the cotton would die and crumble, the cotton bolls exposed and ready to harvest. The plant would die but the economy would live as would the Cosby's for another season.

The pace of harvesting was grueling for my parents and other farm families during harvest. Rising early to tend the equipment, greasing, gasing, adjusting and positioning trailers. Early runs to the gin to fetch the now empty trailers from last evening's haul to the gin. Then, about mid-morning when the dew was gone, it began. The old John Deere tractor with it's two-row stripper lumbered into the field pulling a two bale trailer. It had the feel of a conquering Roman general marching through the battlefield. The cotton was gathered in by the paddles and rollers, carried up a chute and blown into the trailer behind and "stacked" by a hired hand with a pitchfork. Hour after hour, through the day with a thirty or forty-five minute break for lunch and refueling the harvesting progressed. At the end of the day it was impossible to tell the black laborer in the trailer from my  father on the tractor such was the dust, dirt, and grime of the harvest. All were exhausted, shaken, sore, stiff,  and wheezing with lungs choked from the harvest. And all would do it again in a few more hours.

Then it was over. Ten days, two weeks, depending on how good the crop was and how big the farm, it was finished. The bales ginned. The seeds extracted. The dirt settled. The air clear again. The harvest was over. The farmer could breathe. The farmer could pay his bills. The wife could shop a little. The farmer could rest--for a day or two anyway.

I know that many in the Kingdom of God are tired. There is much work done and more to be done for Christ. It is exhausting. It can be frightening. There is much sin, meanness, hatred, fear, and death being faced in our world right now.  Keep up the good fight.  Can you sense the anticipation, the harvest is coming. The Eternal Farmer knows when the time is right. The harvest is plentiful. Join Him in the harvest. So many are unaware that the harvest is coming. Pray for more workers in the fields.  Yes, you will be shaken, sore, stiff, breathless, and oh, so tired. But the harvest is worth it.  It means life.  Soon, as the Farmer measures time, the harvest will be over, then comes the rest, then comes the rest, but now the harvest. 


Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Stumbling Toward Righteousness

                                                  Stumbling Toward Righteousness

I have driven myself crazy trying to find it. Yes, that's a short trip for me. But I can't find who wrote or spoke the quote I want to use. I am tempted to take credit for it but it seems too profound for me to have come up with it. I have carried it in my mind for a long time. I read or heard it somewhere--college, seminary, a lecture, a sermon, a bad dream--I just don't know for sure.

I've looked in my books--too many to go through. I've read through a few old sermons--too dusty to sift through. So I tried Dr. Google, she's like a first wife, she knows everything. I type the quote in and even Dr. Google is stumped. I thought for years that G.K. Chesterton from the early 20th century said it. I went through a few books of his I've read---no luck. Oh, I guess by now you are wondering what quote I have carried all these years but can't find its author. Okay, here goes:

    "When my days are completed and come to an end, may it be said by those who look back on my life, that he stumbled in the general direction righteousness."

Well, I can tell by that look on your face that your are disappointed. I never said it was a great quote or even a good one, just a profound one. I like it. For me it fits like an old pair of jeans or that soft, thin shirt at the back of the closet. Your wife won't let you wear it in public anymore but it feels good around the house or yard where the dogs don't care what it looks like.

Why do I like it so well? I guess because I know how to stumble. When I was young I thought I could fly. I could soar above the church battles and other war zones, drop truth in sermons and lessons on folks to help their lives and make the world a better place. But, the truth is, I couldn't fly.

With a little aging and maturing I thought I could run. I would run through this world and all its troubles, stopping long enough to give the answers it needed on how to get to heaven and get better. But I couldn't run, at least not far.

As the aging and maturation process continued I thought I could walk. I did a little. I was better at walking. It was slower but surer. But at the walking pace what I was sure to see were the faces, the eyes of the world. The world both shrinks and expands when you walk. It expands as you can take more in to your senses and your heart at the slower pace. It shrinks, too, for at the slower pace you see more intently the eyes of hunger, the pain of divorce, the brokenness of poverty, the hell of war, and the hopelessness of lives without Christ. You remember all the teachings and the sermons and the visits you made telling "how to" do something, fix something, know something, feel something, change something but you flew too high and the truths blew off in the wind and never landed. Or you ran too fast and the help you offered was just a blur. Now you walk for a while and you see, feel and know the issues, the problems, the pains are just too deep for a mere man to handle no matter how high he flies, how fast he runs, or how steady he walks.

But I know how to stumble. I have stumbled as a kid, as a student, as an athlete, as a husband, father, friend, pastor, and a human. There is no area where honesty's light touches that I haven't stumbled. And yet...

When you stumble, you're not too high to see or be seen, too fast to catch, or too concerned with much anything else but the next step. You just stumble, trip, weave, go in the direction of the greatest pull. When your body stumbles, gravity pulls you where your weight is centered, most often down. When you soul stumbles and you belong to Jesus, His righteousness pulls you toward Him. You can stumble and unseen hands reach out to steady you and keep you upright as you move ever bumbling toward Him.  Truly, there are times he lets us fly, bids us run, keeps us walking. I always thought the progression of Isaiah 40:31 was interesting. but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk, and not faint."  You would have expected the opposite progression would be true, first we walk, then we run, then we soar. But I know now that is not the order. And this too I know, I still have some stumbling left to do. But God is faithful to me and my fellow stumblers. "If the Lord delights in a man's way, he makes his steps firm; though he stumble, he will not fall, for the Lord upholds him with his hand. "  Psalm 37:24

One day I will stumble no more. On that day, when stumbling ends, I will fall, and by God's grace it will be at the feet of Jesus to worship. In the meantime, by that same grace, may I stumble in the direction of His righteousness.


Thursday, July 3, 2014

A Bridge Too Far

Getting to our church has become a bit more complicated since one of the main bridges into the housing development has eroded and is closed. A  roundabout detour has been opened and folks will just have to deal with it until it is fixed. Since the church I pastor is an interdenominational church, which I highly recommend, the bridge outage and repair has highlighted some opposing ways to handle the situation based on the different faith backgrounds we have in the chapel. I am having to remind all the folks that all mindsets are to be respected and all methods offered are to be given courtesy even if they are off the wall.

Here are some of the ideas and suggestions put forth to handle the bridge situation:

The Episcopalians have called their congressman and are organizing a fund raiser for bridge relief.
The Lutherans have called several of their engineer friends to draw up a new, reformed bridge design that will last longer than the old bridge.
The Methodists have organized relief efforts for those stranded on the island and to promote unity among those otherwise impacted by the fall of bridge.
The Baptists are calling for a series of evangelistic meetings down by the bridge around the theme, "Jesus is Our Bridge Over Troubled Waters."
Our Charismatic friends are asking me to lead a healing service and lay hands on the bridge.
The Presbyterians said the bridge was predestined to collapse and our calling is now to live faithfully.
The Bible Church folks are having a detailed, brick by brick study of the history of bridge decay and are investigating to see if this is a sign of the apocalypse.
The Catholic faithful assess no blame, have offered forgiveness to the bridge, and will hold a bridge blessing service when the new one is installed.

The pastor at the chapel highly endorses each effort (the secret to pastoring 8 different denominations).


Thursday, June 12, 2014

Rock of Ages

                                                   Rock of Ages

Ok, so I shot myself with a cannon ball. It is true. No, Iwas not hurt seriously. Due to my superior reflexes and athletic ability I was able to minimize the damage. It would take more than a mere cannon ball to get the Cos.

Still, how did a 16 lb. cannon ball end up attacking me? It was simple, I was gardening. What, you don't garden with a 16 lb. shot put? Why not? It only makes sense. I live on a rock. There is a song in most hymnals about where I live: The Solid Rock. Except for the big tree in front of the house there was no vegetation on the lot on which we built. Plants, at least pretty ones, don't like to grow on rock. Some soil was brought in for a yard but about six inches down you hit rock. So every plant, shrub, flower, and tree I have planted has to have rock displaced to put it in the ground. Most of the vegetation we planted goes to the front yard. There is not much else to do in the front except offer yearly $50-$60  sacrifices to the gardening gods with annuals that last a month and perennials that last two months. The back yard is pretty bare.

So the wife decides we need something more back there, some color, some texture, some interest, something else for the dogs to pee on and something to die a slow agonizing death on the rock. We found a crepe myrtle that matched the type in the front yard. We picked a place along the back fence. I begin to dig.
The hole will be about 18 inches around. It will need to be about 18 inches deep for this crepe myrtle. The 18 inches around are a cinch, easy. I'm not even sweating. The first four inches down are just as easy and then it happens. I hit rock. A friend calls it "chunk" rock. It comes out in chunks. I've come prepared. Hammer, nail pry bar, and shovel. The shovel is finished at six inches. I hit a large solid rock at 8. I hammer, pry, dig, curse, dig, pry, cry--nothing. Time for the shot. I find my 16 lb. shot from college that I have carried with every move we've made through the years. Only my wife has moved as much and been more faithful.

The plan is to propel the shot with great force into the hole, strike the rock a mighty blow, crack the rock,  use the hammer to fragment the rock, and pull the dislodged pieces of the rock out of the hole. With the first heave into the rock I have some success but find I have two large rocks in there, not one. I go to work with shot, hammer, bar, fingers and after 45 minutes have the right side of the hole cleared of the big rock to a depth of 12 inches. Now the left side rock or the rock that's left, if you will. It is bigger, deeper. I lift the shot high over head and bring it down with such force that as I propel it into the hole my feet are lifted off the ground. Thud! Nothing. No cracks, chunks, no movement. Different angle. Thud! Same results. Move around the hole. Rare back. Dead aim on the center of the rock and swhoosh.....THUD! The shot bounces off the dead center of the rock and comes out of the hole faster than it went in. I know from physics that this is impossible but you don't know this rock. It flies out zeroing in on my knee which I am able with my cat-like reflexes to turn just slightly so the projectile glances off the outside of my knee.

Lamentations. I am defeated. Wife administers Gatorade, cold towels and Aleve. I channel Douglas MacArthur or Gregory Peck,"I shall return."

Retiring the shot, I employ new hardware next evening.  A long "rock" bar with a wedge end is used with  some success. After an hour of pounding, hammering, prying, crying and cursing, the large rock is out. The hole for the crepe myrtle is now sixteen inches deep and eighteen inches wide. It is lined with garden soil mixed with what dirt I could dust off the extracted rocks. The myrtle is planted. It will live this year but it has no promise of a long, tall future. It's future may not blossom but if plants have a soul, then it will know of the supreme effort made to give it life.

Sitting exhausted in the grass, I figure about four-man hours of labor was put into one small hole in order for me to kill an $18 plant. Then it dawns on many hours, nay eons, did Jesus invest to break through the hardness of human hearts to  plant the seed of the gospel? The Rock of Ages busting through the rock of hardened hearts. It brings life, promised, guaranteed, and delivered. I see the crepe myrtle and am pleased. How much more the Lord when He sees His truth growing well in hearts of faith.  Our hope is built on nothing less.

Rock Gardening,

Wednesday, June 11, 2014


PastorCos has had it pretty quiet as of late. Unless, you count the church members with cancer, the traffic accidents, a friend's son going to Afghanistan, the church having its first Sunday contemporary service (and no one got hurt!), running out of communion cups during the Lord's Supper, shooting myself  in the knee with a cannon ball, discovering my summer visitation list went from 25 to 65, people continually asking questions about mass shootings, war, radical Islam, politics and a harder group to pastor being the ones who don't question such things, all in all a pretty easy stretch (tongue in cheek). Then disturbing news came from around the corner, literally.

The bridge close around the corner from our chapel, the one that connects the back half of our community to the front half and the rest of the world, is collapsing. A temporary fix keeps us out of the creek and going to the grocery store but what happens next? Questions fly. When will it be fixed? How long will it take? How do we get out when its being repaired? Will they pave the county gravel road we will have to use while the bridge is being repaired (no!) Who will pay for it? Will our maintenance fees go up? How will I get to the new course for my 8:40 tee time?

Meanwhile, a fissure developed along one of the cliffs in our development overlooking beautiful Lake Whitney and the cliff is falling into the lake. Oh, yeah, its taking a house with it. Its all over the news and the house is over the cliff. I feel sorry for the homeowners, they hadn't owned the home too long.  Somebody's probably going to get sued and I have no idea how all that will turn out since the only one who actually knew how everything would end up was God.

Oh, maybe that's a good point, the only One who really knows is God. Now I don't know if He answers questions about when your house will fall into the lake but maybe He gives geologists, engineers, and builders science and skills to predict such things. Maybe He doesn't tell us everytime we are going to have a wreck or get cancer but surely He knows how to help us navigate through such things. Maybe in the inconveniences of life when man-made things break or erode, He reminds us of how spoiled we are and how to look not to temporal things nor to store up treasures on earth where moth and rust (and fissures) destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy and where thieves do not break in and steal. (Matt 6:19-20)

As I looked back over all the troubles going on all over the place, both near and far, I remembered a Psalm. It is one of those Psalms that sadly are too often relegated to funerals. It fits there but it fits even more when applied to living. It is Psalm 46. Listen to verse 2: "Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way and the mountains fall into the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging."

Bridges give way, cliffs give way, health gives way and one day life in this body will itself give way and we are told not to fear. Why? How can we not fear when so much falls in or apart?  Because "there is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the most High dwells. God is within her, she will not fall."  The best, safest, most secure place will not ultimately be on this earth. The earth will melt (Ps. 46:6; II Peter 3:10-13.) The best place where you cannot be touched in a harmful way for all eternity is in God's city, in God's house, in God's heart.

When the bad times hit, when they come, begin your next sentence with Though and end it with I am in Jesus' heart. Anything that comes in between those points you will survive.


Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Carry the Load

                                                        Carry the Load

When he read the story of Clint Bruce and how Carry the Load was started, he knew what he had to do. His experience was similar. As a combat vet with three rotations in Afghanistan he had seen the same thing Bruce had seen. Memorial Day had become just another party time, a day off, a beginning of summer. For Jake it was  more. He had buddies killed in those far off places. He found it hard to party on Memorial Day so he decided to walk instead. He couldn't go to Washington and walk to Dallas, but he could meet them there. So he joined the organization, got some pledges, got a  Carry the Load tee shirt for the remembrance in Dallas, laced up his boots, filled up a pack and started down FM 422 from Seymour toward Archer City. He was carrying Danny Horsch. Jake called him 'Shoe" as in "Horsch-Shoe."

Jake took two days of vacation plus the weekend to make the 165 mile trip. He planned to actually walk about half of it and ride with friends the other half.  He had been getting ready for it with long hikes after work and weekends. He didn't have to go by himself, he wanted to. He could have gone down Hwy 114 but instead he wanted the solitude of the old  farm to market road. Day 1 would be the hardest and the easiest both. Hard because he planned to go the whole distance, 38 miles to Archer City, in one day. Easier because he could start early, was fresh and he had a good friend he would spend the night with in Archer. Jake figured a little between ten and eleven hours of walking would get him there. Walk ten miles, rest half an hour and eat. Walk ten miles, rest one hour and eat. Walk ten miles, rest and eat. Then eight miles to finish at Rusty's house around 8:30 if all went well.

About 15 miles out of Archer City Jake needed another break. All had gone well. The thinking, the remembering, the outburst of laughter at something goofy Horseshoe did or said, the miles of not thinking and not remembering. It was good. A few people on that road had stopped, offering rides and hearing a quick version of what he was doing, support, then drove on. It was good but now it was pretty hot. Jake had made good time and figured he could work in a short break in some shade if he could find any. Right about the Parkey Lake turnoff Jake saw a convenience\ bait store. He didn't remember seeing it there before. But it being there was a sight for sore feet.  A cold Dr Pepper, some cold water and a shady side of the building were just what he needed. Perfect.

Jake went in and tried to purchase the drinks. The clerk heard what he was doing and wouldn't let him pay for them. "Take 'em and whatever else you need, son."  These west Texas folks, can't beat 'em. Jake slumped down in the shade of the building and put his pack under his head. He must have dozed off for just a few minutes. When he looked up, he had company. A few feet down the side of the building was a long, lean stranger resting in the shade.  He looked kind of hard, tough even. "Who are you carrying?'' he asked. His voice had an aire of knowing, of sensing, maybe he was carrying someone too. "Danny Horsch. We called him 'Shoe.'"
 "Your squad?"
 "Yeah, but he was killed a couple of months after I left. IED got him. I told myself  not to get close to the new guys since I knew I was leaving soon. With Horseshoe I couldn't help it. He was goofy, funny, sad, pitiful, dumb, and occasionally brilliant.  One minute you wanted to strangle him, the next he had you laughing 'till your stomach ached. He had a sad background. Busted up family...learning disabilities, not too good with school stuff,  surprised he got in the Army... but the Army was about all he had. So I'm walking for Shoe. Can't help but miss the little bug.  You carrying?"
"Yeah Jake, I've got quite a few names I'm carrying. Been at it quite a while. In fact, I'd better get going. Thanks for the shade. Don't worry, Danny's okay. He had a long talk with the chaplain about a week before the blast.  Thanks for your service and care. It won't be forgotten. With your permission, I'll add you to my list."

He held out his hand to shake and then the stranger got up and moved to the front of the building. Jake was too stunned to talk.  "That was odd. Did I tell him my name? How'd he know about Horse-shoe and the chaplain? " Jake picked up his pack and loaded it on his back. He moved around to the front to ask the stranger his name and how he knew these things. He was gone. As Jake moved out to the road to push on to Archer City, he glanced back. Looking back west he thought he saw the stranger moving on down the road carrying....what? what is that? A cross? Jake blinked and saw nothing. "I guess the sun got to me."

Or maybe the Son did.

Memorial Day Weekend 2014

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Foreign God and How I Became a Radical

It has finally happened. I have lived long enough that now I am a radical. Radical-ness is suppose to happen early-- late teens, maybe twenties, I thought. Idealism mixed with anger mixed with new found ideas mixed with a taste of freedom to be rebellious and viola, radical. Usually, local radicals settle down and get busy living, working, and having a family. Some times their ideas for change and challenge take hold and new forms of work, finance, government, and other paradigm shifts takes place. Mostly they get domesticated. But me, radical?  I didn't think I changed that much that fast, yet here I am, radical. How did it happen?

Well, the best I can figure it, the whole world packed  up, picked up, and moved away from pretty much everything I thought was normal. I was left as a stranger in a foreign land. I used to think God was involved with the world- caring, concerned and wanting to bless. Nope, turns out he is not involved much, hardly cares at all- based on the amount of human suffering, and is therefore unconcerned. I thought humans were suppose to get to know all about God and have a relationship with him based on grace and faith. Nope, just call on him in emergencies or to question why he doesn't do more to help in our tornadoes, hurricanes, wars, and diseases. I used to think humans were of great intrinsic value because they were made in God's image, redeemed at the cost of his son, and deeply loved by God. Nope, turns outs humans can be bought and sold on the slave market, sex market, and the stock market. Your value is in what you produce and contribute and is only as high as the bottom line plus your ability to share the same opinions as everyone around you. I hold that followers of Christ were called to a life of holiness and righteousness that can only be lived in faithful surrender to and loving obedience to the Spirit of God. Radical me, I didn't get the memo that life is about self and being happy. God apparently is somewhere up there, not to be worshipped and served, but to make me happy.

I used to think a family with an involved dad, nurturing mom, both being faithful to one another and kids learning values like integrity, responsibility, faith, hope, love, and sacrificial service was a normal, good thing. Boy was I apparently off base. Dads are good to produce kids, send child support checks, and teach sports. Moms can now have it all from kids to careers to play dates with wine and each can have other relationships with either boys or girls when they "fall out of love." See how weird and radical I've become, I thought love grew out of faithfulness, commitment, and patient endurance. I thought that God had a say called "his will" about marriage and sex and righteousness in peoples lives and loves.  Nope, turns out love is all about chemistry and physicality and there is nothing much spiritual about it. Turns out I am now, by many standards in society, a hate-filled bigot with my radical views on God, love, marriage, and family.

Let's don't even go there with my radical views of the ways we worship entertainment, sports, politics, celebrities, and mother earth. I have the now radical idea that only God is worthy to be worshipped and we are to be stewards of all the resources of earth for the benefit of humanity which helps the planet, too. My society tells me I should eat, drink and be merry! I, the radical, tell my society also to eat and be grateful to God for the food and share with those in need; drink, and deeply at the fountain of grace and mercy being filled with God's Holy Spirit; be merry in knowing that though this world will one day pass away in judgement from a righteous God whose loving redemption was rejected, you may live forever in His kingdom by faith in His son.

Yep, it has happened. I lived long enough to become radical because I worship a foreign God. All this time I've been becoming a radical. Well, as a member of this radical minority sect of Christ followers aka Christians, I guess there's only one thing to do-- which is the exact thing the church of the first century did after Jesus' ascension: Love this world and all who are in it with the same love of Christ; proclaim that sin is real but is forgiven in Christ Jesus; model Jesus' compassion and service to "the least of these''; display in our fellowship the same unity as the Trinity; and pray that our "foreign" God reveals Himself to sinners everywhere.

God himself knows what it is like to be a foreign God. John's gospel proclaims that " He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him." (Jn. 1:10) So what did He do? "For God so loved the world that He gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life."  John 3:16

So here I am, a radical serving a foreign God in a strange land. (Phil. 3:20) It's actually quite an adventure.

Want to join me?

I Guess I'm Getting Old

I guess I'm getting old.
 I say that to myself a lot now. I say it to myself a lot now, especially when it come to churchy business strategy stuff. The writer of Ecclesiastes said "of making many books there is no end..." ( Eccl. 12:12) I might add in our world the adding of a seminar after your book is successful sees no end either. A book is written, then is made into a dvd for a small group Bible study, then a seminar is scheduled in a nice city where the author of the book teaches you how to teach it- all for $399 (early registration knocks off $100) The seminars focus on neglected Bible admonitions and patterns, such as holiness, mission, obedience, marriage, etc. They are excellently produced and worthy of attention. Other seminars focus on sociological trends, faith (or the lack of it) trends, and mindsets and worldviews at odds with current theology and church practices. Problems are assessed, hope dims, but wait, there is a new way to look at and "do" church. Hope rises if we will just adopt this strategy and these causes then the lost, hurting world will find Jesus favorable again and our relevance will be restored and our churches thrive. Again.

Ministers should go to these conferences and seminars now and then. It is pure hubris to think one knows it all and can't learn more. There are excellent scholars, teachers, and pastors who present excellent material. The fellowship and dialogue with other ministers with differing yet similar circumstances is invaluable. The break away from the daily grind is refreshing. Go when you are young. Stay fresh. Put the new wine in new wineskins. Go even occasionally as an old minister. You need to see the young ones, hear their hearts, and minds and they need to hear yours. Old wine taste better.

Then go back home and read scripture. Read Jesus' strategy. Plain. Simple.Free-- Love God with all your heat, soul, mind, and strength. Love your neighbor as yourself. Seek first the Kingdom. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. If I be lifted up, I will draw all men to me. Take up your cross and follow Me. Go and make disciples of all nations.

I worry less about the next big thing telling me what the world is like and how the church should respond. The response will vary and change but the heart of the matter stays the same. Love Jesus. Love people like He does. You will figure out "the how." He will help. Yes, inform your caring with knowledge. But I've come to see the truth that most people don't care how much you know, they want to know how much you care.

But like I said, I'm getting old.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Taking Charge of Jesus

                                                      Taking Charge of Jesus

Finally Pilate handed him over to them to be crucified. So the soldiers took charge of Jesus. 
(John 19: 16)

 He has a thought and births a universe. He speaks a word and a world is formed. By his own hand he stretches out the heavens and marshals the starry hosts. He measures the waters of the earth in the palm of his hand.  The prophet Isaiah declares a mighty God reigns in heaven. We like him there.

Yet when he takes on flesh, we esteem him not. Coming into his own whom he has gathered in his arms and gently led, he was rejected,  he was unrecognized. Down here, we're in charge.

So hands pull his head and shoulders from his mother's body. Human hands wipe him down and place his weak bobble head on his mother's breast. From the beginning he is handled, swaddled, cleaned, changed, fed, wiped, carried, placed, rocked--he is handed over and handled over. At least for a while the hands are kindly.

He is handed over to the care of his mother. He is handed over to Joseph's apprenticeship. His hands work wood, the wood works over his hands.  People place orders, he fills them. People bring broken things, he fixes them. People treat him as a tradesman. He is. Some are respectful, polite. Some are demanding, demeaning. He is handled like a servant. He is.

One day it all begins to change. He leaves home.  He is handed over to be tempted. But he is in charge now (was there ever a time he wasn't?). He preaches; he walks; he calls; he heals; he corrects; he comforts; he confronts; he points, he prays, he weeps and he keeps walking toward a distant hill. It grows closer. Yet, He is handled like a performer more than a reformer, more like a re-claimer of past glory than a redeemer for new life.  The demands are set: no more Rome! no more disease! more bread! more fish! And don't change our traditions! He hands them an answer: no.

They hand him to Pilate. Pilate's soldiers take charge of Him. Good luck with that.

And on the cross and from a tomb, He takes charge. He turns an execution into an executive order. Hands do not pull him from the tomb as they did from a womb. He stands and walks out. You simply can't take charge of a God like that, but he allows anyone to grasp Him by faith.

Can you handle that?
Easter 2014

Thursday, March 20, 2014

God Wrestling

                                                     God Wrestling

I don't like wrestling with God. I always lose. Always.

I've been doing it quite a bit lately. In fact, with the weather, allergies, schedules, and illnesses, the walking exercise has been replaced with wrestling God. It can be done anywhere, anytime. And I always lose.

The most famous God wrestler was Jacob, known in his day as the Deceiving Destroyer. He had a heal-grabbing move that always seem to work. He didn't lose often and even when it looked like he had lost (Laban), he finds a way in the last round to win.

Then he wrestled God (Gen. 32). No winning this one. All he could do was hang on.

Since I've been wrestling God lately it made me think of Jacob. I wonder what they wrestled about. Was it about pride, power, fear, submission, integrity, the past, the future? It went on all night so maybe it was these and a dozen more topics. Round after round, move after move. Jacob couldn't get the better of God, the old heal grabbing moves did nothing. All he could do was hang on.

I've wrestled God over pride, power, position, health, money, children issues, grandchildren issues (mainly distance), injustice and a whole lot of 'why' questions. I always lose but I keep coming back for more. Who else will wrestle with me over these issues with the kind of gut wrenching honesty and confidentiality that God wields? Humans get tired of hearing about that kind of wrestling, sounds a lot like complaining to them. Lately the wrestling has been over the health of my sister-in-law, Kim. Kim is a special needs child. 'Child?' She is fifty-five but operates on about a 12\13 yr. old level in many ways. She is special to the family for other reasons. Nick-named "Chuck" and an expert on birds, dogs, and most animals she is an absolute delight to all. She has also been very sick lately. She has ulcerated colitis and had to have her colon removed. Ostomy bag for the rest of her life...lets get in the ring, God.........

"Look God, I know all humans are subject to the results of the fall. Sin affects every one. But come on, are there no exceptions? You're God! How about taking it easy on refugees from despots, five year olds so they don't get cancer or ninety-five year olds with Alzheimer's and no quality of life?
(No answer)
"Yeah, I know and today I'm mad about Kim. Can't you give an executive order and fix this thing? Hasn't she suffered enough? And on top of that You are wearing her 93 yr. old mother out. How about it, don't they qualify for mercy?
(No answer)
"Oh, I know. I've read the the Bible. I see what happened when You showed up down here. I know what we did to the incarnate Son. I've been taught the standard orthodox theology that You aren't fixing things just "for time" but for eternity. Still doesn't taste right, especially for the more innocent among us. So how about it?
(No answer)
"Come on, can You not say something, do something?"

No answer comes but I often get a distinct picture of a cross in my mind, followed by some kind of heavenly gate, and a tear. I am reminded that the cross and empty tomb are the answers to the sin of the world and its pain. I am reminded that the ultimate healing for all things broken will come in a new heaven and new earth while in this one we will have tribulation. The picture of the tear in my mind I guess is a reminder that these things hurt God's heart more than I can imagine. Did God give these images in my head as an answer? Did I invent these things to give God ''an out?" That is another round of wrestling.

I don't know what else to do. I just keep on wrestling. The older I get, the rest and peace between rounds is longer, sweeter. Maybe I'm just getting too old to wrestle as hard as in my younger days. I have noticed that between rounds God is not in an opposite corner, He is right here with me in mine.  Who knows, maybe I'm in His.

So, I just keep on wrestling with Him from time to time. Like Jacob, about all I can do is hang on.  I guess that is a part of faith. Like Jacob, who got his hip thrown out, I will lose, I will limp. I trust people who are limping spiritually. I know they are fellow wrestlers of God. I know we all lose. But it is an odd kind of losing. If you go enough rounds and keep on hanging on, you will still lose to God, but in His kingdom somehow losing becomes victory. Go figure.

Losing to win,

Wednesday, March 5, 2014



Imposition.  Its Ash Wednesday and it doesn't sound right. I look it up. Okay, imposition means to apply or place but it is usually used with the idea of force, to compel as by an authority; to obtrude or pass off on someone. Do I really want to compel, force, or pass off on others the ashes? The Latin roots help. The word imposition has its roots in the Latin word imponere meaning to put on or to place.

So the ashes are placed, they are applied. But to what end? The ritual isn't mentioned in the Bible, not even hinted, yet millions of Christian receive the ashes to their forehead or hand yearly. There is nothing in the ashes that brings you closer to God, how can ashes do so in light of the blood of Christ and the presence of His Spirit? But they can remind; they can point; they can bring a tactile sense of a spiritual reality. In these ashes are the reminders of mortality but in the sign of the cross they help us see the promise of immortality for true repentants. In these ashes are the black grit of the dirtiness of sin and the remains of a burning desire in God's heart to win back the fallen and raise from the ash heap of sin, new life.  In these ashes are the sooty reminders of what was once alive (palm branches) is now burned, changed and yet re-purposed.  Through the cross Jesus takes our burned out lives and re-purposes them for eternity. When the ashes are applied one feels the grit, but not the guilt; one feels the sign of the cross but without His forsaken-ness, one remembers His journey but receives His joy.

It is easy enough to point to the calendar and say, "Easter draws near, let us think and prayerfully reflect on the price, the sacrifice, the sin Christ took (mine) and the death He died (mine) but also the coming joy of a broken tomb." To prepare for Easter what is really needed is the Bible and maybe a calendar. But some may want to feel the ashes, feel their grit, feel the cross drawn on their foreheads as it helps them think, reflect, and pray. No, there is neither magic nor miracle in ashes no more than a plastic cup with crangrape juice and a tiny stale wafer. Yet, they point, they remind, they help us feel, they help us think and help us thank.

Imposition. Late at night the mirror sees it all.  I must wash. The hands become black with ash. The washcloth is smudged. The sink runs black. The mirror sees. The mark remains for a time on the skin as I stare back at the mirror. "Jesus, was it an imposition? The birth, the life, the loneliness, the blood, the pain, the death?" The skin is clean, scrubbed, exfoliated. "Was it an imposition, Lord?" A scripture comes to mind. Hebrews 12:2, "Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God."

The ash stained cross on the forehead has faded now. I sense the ones in my heart have too.

Lent 2014

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Where's Betty?

                                                         Where's Betty?

Sitting on the front pew at church a few weeks ago I glanced over my left shoulder. We were singing "Faith is the Victory," and there, across the center aisle, on the third row was Betty. She was sitting with her husband, Don, and daughter, Cate. But in some ways, Betty wasn't there. She had a far away look and any one could tell she wasn't in the moment. Some of the people who know simply call it "the stare." Betty has Alzheimer's.

I couldn't help but wonder, "where's Betty?" Perhaps as she looked toward the choir, her choir, she was back in her place again. Maybe she remembered back when she started the music for our chapel and there were only five of them instead of the fifty the choir now has. Since we were in church maybe she remembered starting the bible study she and Don had in their home that led to the beginning of the chapel. Could she be remembering helping start the 4L's club for older ladies needing a place to socialize, fellowship, and pray. It was impossible to know from "the stare" where Betty was at that moment. I can only hope and read into those eyes something good for her.

On the next verse I glance again and I see the stare hoping she is somewhere with children or grandchildren or great-grandchildren. Is she in her garden? She loves to grow beautiful things and unusual. She's forgotten more about plants than I will ever know. It hurts.  Maybe she is remembering all the visits she made in the early days of the chapel inviting people to attend. Probably less than half of the chapel  knows how hard she worked, how outgoing and friendly she could be and that most of us might not be here in this building, enjoying this worship, and singing these songs were it not for her and a handful of other faithful saints.

What disturbs me more is that she may not remember any of this. But I can hope and I hope that behind the stare she hears the beauty of a symphony she and Don attended and supported for years. She loves music. Maybe in her mind she is playing the piano herself, accompanying Cate on the violin. I don't know because her stare can't tell me. It is somewhere far off, in the past, in the future, I can't know. I can only know that she and others with the stare deserved better than this. Her family deserved better than this. But they didn't get it. I get aggravated with God at these times of her confusion, their exhaustion, and everyone's frustration with this disease. I not only ask "where's Betty?" I ask ''where's God?" I ask Him this about a lot of situations. He doesn't say much, at least that I can hear. My theology tells me that even when I can't see or hear much, I should know He does much and that eternity will reveal it. But now the stare hides it. I have to trust that He loves Betty and will take care of her. We sing the third verse: "on every hand the foe we find drawn up in dread array..." Yeah, I see that foe and he put the stare on her face and I hate it. "Faith is the victory....that overcomes the world." I guess that stare is in some ways the battle face of one with a few battles still left to fight. I see that stare and by faith must trust that God sees and feels it too. But it's still haunting and I wonder--where's Betty?

After church we go into the fellowship hall for coffee and conversation. I make my rounds. I try to say "hello" to new faces and faces that seem sad or alone or that I just haven't seen in a while. Then I see Betty. One of the sister saints has seen her too. She knows her, her past, her present, her future. She engages Betty. At that moment Betty smiles, her eyes are bright, she speaks. There is joy. There stare is gone and for a few minutes I know where Betty is. She is here; she is with family by blood and by faith. God is with her in this moment, and though harder to see, He is with her in the stare. She is here and will be until "we vanquish all the hosts of night in Jesus' conquering name."

Faith is the Victory, even when it is hard to see.
II Corinthians 5:7


Used by permission from the  family. For more information or to volunteer, please call the Alzheimer's Association. The Hill county number is 254.458.6560.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Squeezing the Life Out of It

                                                    Squeezing the Life Out of It

People feel squeezed this time of year around here. It may be everywhere but I know the circle of my knowing often feels they have been caught by a boa constrictor.

What's squeezing everybody? The usual pythons of money, family, time pressures, expectations- both and  real and unreal- plus the ongoing search for meaning in this messy world. It seems that right after Christmas, folks have to pay their real estate taxes, a new set of tires is needed, the water heater breaks, the truck dies, and the furnace goes out--all these literally happening within a half mile of my front door.

And if it is not breaking things needing the attention of money then it is something else out-of-balance and whomperjawed (a west Texas term). Maybe someone's kids made it through Christmas but they and you knew their marriage was in trouble and they split. Your heart breaks and is squeezed. Now someone else has kids whose marriage is okay but their kids started back to school after the Christmas holiday and have gotten the flu. "Could you come and stay with them so we can go to work?" Translated: would you bring yourselves over to catch the flu for us so we can take care of those bills squeezing us in paragraph two? You don't want to get the flu but you go, it's grand kids.  Some kids move home, borrow money or just struggle and their squeezing squeezes you. Other people are being squeezed by other health issues from arthritis to knee replacement to valve replacement to cedar fever to cancer treatments. They feel with every breath their life is squeezed out a little more as the snake tightens its' grip with every exhalation. How am I going to get the next breath?

And frankly, God seems to sit there and let the squeezing go on and on 'til you can hardly breathe. I can't know all the whys and wherefores of pain and squeezings, and I hate cutesy little sayings like 'when life gives you lemons, make lemonade.' Really, in light of the tremendous pain, suffering and honest questions of God and life we give that kind of answer? Tip-toe up to the bed  of a cancer patient burning with chemo induced fever or chills and tell them that. No, I don't pretend to know all the answers. But I have seen some amazing things from God's children being squeezed. They get the Life squeezed out of them.

Because all along God hasn't just been sitting there doing nothing. He has been working from the moment He was invited into your heart to put into your life all the character and qualities of a child of the King. Now this doesn't change the pain of being squeezed, it doesn't dismiss the hell that you or loved ones feel,  but may I ask a question: what comes out of you when you are squeezed? The answer is whatever has been put in or allowed in. At squeezing time, attitudes come out we wish weren't there. At other times anger, selfishness, manipulation and a host of unChrist-like junk leaks out. But as a person submits to His Lordship, learns to trust, leans into Jesus to walk and learn, a wonderful thing begins to happen over the course of living life. No, the squeezing doesn't stop but as life squeezes Life come out. I have seen joy come out of the squeezing of trials. I have seen forgiveness come out of a life squeezed by betrayal. I have watched anger and bitterness squeeze a life, a marriage, a wandering child and love ooze out like a balm to soothe, comfort, and heal. This may not make the pressure easy, but it lends to it a meaning, a dignity, a purpose. The Apostle Paul tackled the issue in II Corinthians 4:7-18, keeping his eyes on an eternal glory that far out weighed the weight of squeezing.

I picture Jesus on the cross, His very life being squeezed out of Him but there issues from Him not just drops of physical blood but the forgiving, healing and loving drops of grace. It's what was in Him.
What does your world around you get when life squeezes you?  What is there will be revealed--when the pressure comes, let them see Jesus.


Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Fries With That?

I have realized I need to be more civic minded. Not living in a "city" per se and out in the rural regions has its advantages but it can lull you to sleep about some important matters. I need to work on helping my region grow and develop well.

But how? I have no skill or hardly any experience in these areas. I have ideas. So I put forward this idea that I think would help our area attract more citizens and maybe even more businesses, at least of a certain mindset. Imagine if the Whitney city fathers would pass an ordinance and outlaw fast food restaurants from offering their "upsize" and extra sales pitches for extra food or drink at their drive-thrus. They could, by local law, only say something like, '' welcome, how may I serve you?" 

I guess as I work toward my curmudgeon degree some stuff annoys me more. This drive-thru "up-selling" is one of them. A person has picked one drive-in over four others in a two block area because they have an idea of what they want from that restaurant. I have never been influenced by the uber friendly voice wanting me to try the new mango-lime-chipotle shake. I know no one who has. But you get the recording or the sixteen year old kid trying to win a sales contest trying to sell you more.  I have no idea what twenty-five year old with a new MBA talked these huge corporations into thinking that delaying and annoying customers was a good idea but we have all suffered through the sales pitches before we can order our Diet Dr Pepper. I hope when that person gets to heaven, if he makes it, that St. Peter asks him when he gets to the Pearly Gates, "you want wings with that robe? for ten more good deeds you get a halo.'' before he lets him in.

Anyway, if Whitney were to pass an ordinance forbidding this irksome habit, I'm sure hundreds if not a half-dozen people would flock to Whitney just to avoid the "you want fries with that?" (Really, lots of people dip fries into strawberry shakes?) Or "would you like to make that a value meal?'' (so your meal has no value as I ordered it?)  Or "would you like to add some cheesecake bites to go with your diet Dr Pepper?" (Yes, I would, but do you think I'd be ordering a diet drink if I could eat cheesecake on a whim?)

I could imagine a drive-thru conversation happening at a local establishment....
"Ding-ding"  (car going over electronic triggering device)
"Welcome to Burger Barn. Would you like to try our deluxe triple-decker with three cheeses extra-value meal with complementary napkins and 10% off coupons to litter your floorboard?"
"No, thank-you. Do you realize that I am 59 yeas old with a graduate degree and 35 years of experience in my profession and managed to drive a two ton vehicle to your restaurant and am capable of ordering a meal?"
"No, sir, but in that case we have a baby-boomer special with extra lettuce on the thawed out grilled chicken patty."
"No, thank-you and I realize you  are probably only 16 years old doing exactly what you were trained to do by your manager who learned to teach you that in a seminar in Little Rock, but at my age, education, and socio-economic level did it ever occur to you that I may have a good idea of what I wanted before I picked this drive-thru over the others within a few blocks."
"No, sir. Sorry, sir. What may I get for you, sir?"
"I want a large diet Dr Pepper with lots of ice."
"Yes, sir. That will be $1.37. Would you like fries with that....opps, sorry. Pull to first window, please.....

Thirty seconds later from within the drive-in window was heard:
"Hey, dudes, look! Mr. Graduate Degree with 35 years experience paid for his drink at the first window, forgot his change and left his drink at the pick-up window as he drove off in his two ton vehicle. We should have asked if he wanted brains with that?"

On second thought, I think I will stick with Kingdom growth and let the town officials take care of city growth. In the Kingdom everything you need is free and already up-sized. In the Kingdom, the King is the special value.

I'll take that,

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

New Glasses

                                                       New Glasses

He had reached the age where there was more to see in the rear view mirror of life than the years that lie ahead. It wasn't a surprise and not depressing but it still crossed his mind as he went to have his eyes examined.  How many more pair of glasses would he need in this life? Two, three, four at the most...He knew he would need a new pair of specs even if the prescription hadn't changed. The old ones were scratched and stretched. His bride of forty years pointed out they were out of style, too. He felt he could see just fine but eye health was important so he made his appointment.

He began to think about all he had seen in these old glasses--about seven years of sights, he recollected. Two grandchildren appeared through their lenses, two moves, a couple of used cars, a few dozen new friends, seven holiday seasons, 1000+ Sonic happy hour diet dr peppers, a thousand eyes looking back at him and over a hundred thousand miles of highways. These eyes had cried at a couple of dozen funerals of family and friends and watched faces add a line or two with the passing of days. It was kinda funny how the happy faces were still happy and the sad faces pretty much still sad.  He had had the chance for 2456 sunrises and sunsets and he probably noticed half or less of them.

He did notice something else about his vision, something that was a bit disconcerting, a tad troublesome. Something he wasn't sure how to explain.

In mid-thought the doctor came in and began his exam. "Which is better, one or two? Two or three? Three or four?'' "Tell me when one set of lines crosses directly under another... ok.... and again. Now tell me which is better, one or two? Two or three? Very good. Your eyes have changed a little, consistent with a person of your age. Other than a slight change to your prescription, your eyes are healthy. I do suggest you get a new pair of glasses, I'm afraid these frames have had it.

"Yeah, Doc, I know. But I am a little worried about my vision.

"Really, what's bothering you? Your eyes are healthy......"

"Well, Doc, I see the past much better than the future. And even the past is clouded with nostalgia. Every thing I view with hindsight seems better, clearer. I know it wasn't but looking back the Cowboys won, my elected officials appeared more virtuous, my values were accepted by nearly everyone, and looking back it seems like everything was simpler, slower. I know it wasn't but it seems that way to me. Then when I look to the future it is so cloudy. It looks foreign, out-of-place. I can't make out where I fit in it. Everything goes by so quickly. I need to be able to see some hope, some meaning, some purpose, some virtue and nobility in my life. Can you help me see a future like that, Doc?"

"I don't have any glasses for that. If I did I buy the first pair and sell a hundred a day. I think for that prescription you had better go see your pastor."

"I am the pastor......................."

God grant us Your vision, may we see through the eyes of Jesus Your world, Your future, and our lives.