Wednesday, December 9, 2015

God Isn't Fixing This

The New York Daily News headline from Dec. 3, 2015 read, "God Isn't Fixing This." The subtext read,"As latest batch of innocent Americans are left lying in pools of blood, cowards who could truly end gun scourge continue to hide behind  meaningless platitudes."

Whoa, not so quick, please. Is the problem God? Gun control? Prayer? Pray-ers? Innocence? Does it strike you as rather odd that NOTHING in those headlines said ANYTHING about two hate-filled, murderous, anti-Christian, anti-American, sub-human, demonic-led, evil, radical Muslims?

The headline does serve a purpose, it puts a light on our problem as a race of humans in this world: we can't identify a real problem anymore, or we won't.

As another attack unfolded the politicians, the media, the anti-gun, pro-gun, military, psychological, sociological, and religionist weighed in on the issue. But I never heard one word about the real problem. The problem was linked to not enough gun laws, too few guns for protection, too many refugees, not proper vetting of refugees, misunderstanding most refugees, bad, fundamentalist religion, religion in general, mental health issues, and of course, ISIS. All of which need to be discussed and grappled with in their proper time, place, and forums but all of which can provide no lasting solution until  they assess the real problem. Till then we humans are like the doctor who said to his patient with melanoma, "hey, I can prescribe a good band-aid to cover that thing."

But there is one problem I rarely see in print or hear mentioned on the air. It is a universal problem, spanning the globe and affecting every person in every corner of the earth: Sin, and the evil it turns loose in the world and in our hearts. We continually seek a political, economic, policy-driven, people-hating, solutions to a spiritual problem.

Is it really that simple? If you have never dealt with sin, fought its temptation, tried to keep it from manipulating you, tried to use manipulation yourself, or paid much attention to the devastation and death it leaves in its wake, then "simple'' is a word you may use. I do not. It wrecks homes, families, businesses, relationships, and nations. It seeks to steal, kill, and destroy. It separates every human being from the Source of love, joy, truth, meaning, and fellowship with the One, Living, true God. Ignore it, dismiss it, belittle it, and you bless it. It is in those arrogant realms it thrives and the headlines from 9/11 or 12/2 will continue to plague this nation and this world until it is faced.

Facing sin is hard. It is difficult. It requires humility. It requires confession. The Bible's word is repentance. Repentance helps lead the individual to a place where he\she is ready for whatever horror may come in a sin filled world. No one blames the victims for the sins of terrorists but we all need to be ready in a sin filled world. None of us are promised tomorrow whether the end comes by natural processes, accident or Jihadist.  Repentance leads a nation, a people, a world to seek the foundational Truth that life can be built upon. Repentance leads to forgiveness; forgiveness leads to freedom from guilt and the burden of sin; this freedom leads to the power to choose justice, love, compassion, service, sacrifice, other-centeredness, generosity, and hope. These qualities elevate human worth and dignity,they feed the hungry, bring fairness to our institutions (think governments, financial, educational), bring healing to the races, and unite people across the world in the desire to please, honor, and praise God. From the garden of Eden, evil was loosed on our world. It is a spiritual problem demanding a spiritual response. It must be fought on our knees.

Our world needs to come to Jesus.

 He can and desires to heal. He has taken care of the sin problem. But we are like the little boy whose toy robot broke. He cried. He screamed. He threw a fit. He yelled at his dad, who was sitting in a chair reading the paper and taking it all in. Finally, as the little boy calmed down he heard his dad say, "Son, I can fix your toy. But first you have to bring me the broken pieces and ask."

God isn't fixing this, because He already has. Look at the cross, sin is defeated, forgiveness is offered, justice is declared, hope is restored, heaven is open.

Bring Him the broken pieces.

Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.    Romans 10:13

If my people, who are called by My Name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.  II Chronicles 7:14

When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, "Brothers, what shall we do?"  Peter replied, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit."  Acts 2:36-38


Thursday, December 3, 2015

Still, We Hope

We can't help it: We hope.
When it seems there is no earthly reason, still, we hope.

When blood covers our streets and suspicion clouds our minds; still, we hope.
When knee-jerk reactions express the frustrations of life that is fearsome, uncertain, deadly; still, we hope.

When politicians hide behind political correctness and harden hearts to people in favor of party rhetoric; still, we hope.
When preachers march to seminars on leadership, preaching, and membership increases but never march for justice- social, racial, or financial;  when they call not for religious liberty and never call for repentance from the sin that kills both spiritually and socially; still, we hope.

When tyrannical despots rise; when hunger grows; when love grows cold; when anger scolds; still, we hope.

When small, fearful people begin to blame with blankets: Hebrews in ancient Egypt; Samaritans in Jesus' day; Jews in the1930's; communists in the 1950's; Blacks in the 1960's; Mexicans crossing the borders in the 2000's; Syrians in the current year; still, we hope.

When weapons are forged for death from land, sea, air, and space, still, we hope.
When viruses resist; when cancer persists; when bodies and minds wither through the decades, still, we hope.


Our Christian hope is simply not in the world and its institutions, its politicians, its devices of progress or destruction; its many voices of violence, fear, hatred and death.

Our Christian hope is based on the certainty of God's promises and His character. It is evidenced by the fruits of joy, sacrificial love, boldness, and endurance. Our hope is in the power of God working through the hearts of people. Thats where our hope is in this country and in this life.  (Chuck Colson)

Why so downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.   Psalm 42:11

The church of hope will raise its voice against tyranny, fear, hatred, and death. We will shine the light of the presence of God's joy in the darkness of this world. We will love those the world scorns; we will feed those the world neglects; we will see those the world has grown blind to; we will treat each person as though they were made in God's image, died for by God's son, and valued as God's treasure, because they are.  

We are the church and our hope is built on nothing less than Jesus blood and righteousness.

Still, we hope! With Christ Jesus as our Lord, we just can't help it.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

And the Eleventh Reason is π

What would Thanksgiving be without____________? What did you put in the blank? Turkey? Football? Carbocoma? desserts? How about actually giving thanks. Oh, yeah, that too.

Have you ever studied Thanksgiving? You probably have, you know Pilgrims, Plymouth Rock (a little milder than hard rock), Detroit vs. Green Bay, and all the history associated with the holiday. That's a fine thing but have you studied giving thanks? Have you looked at who or why or when or how? If not, how did you not? Why have you not? Who has been your pastor? When are you going to look into it? Having taken care of those questions, or at least asked them, let me help you with your study of giving thanks. Since nobody really likes p's, except maybe black-eyed or purple hulls, I'll use ten p's for giving thanks to point out the reasons we have to be thankful. No one will ever miss them. You can thank me later.

                                         Ten P's For Giving Thanks

1. People- don't lose this one. You miss this one you will miss the best of the rest. Even people you don't like keep you sharp, humble ( you might be wrong), and appreciative of the ones you do. These people things are all over the place. Many do good, nice, helpful, joy-creating things for you. Thank them and be thankful for them.
2. Provision- if you're reading this you have a lot. It may or not be a lot of money or a lot of the world's stuff. But you have a roof, food, a computer, probably a car, clothes and some  #1s  in your life. Be thankful. You may need more stuff like health or wealth but you've been provided for on some many levels and if you are reading this, you are still breathing which brings me to ...
3. Potential- your life has potential and not just for more of #2. Giving thanks for potential always opens up more potential. You can change. Life can get better. But even if it gets worse, you have the potential to grow in strength and character to handle the tough times. Potential is another word for opportunities. They exist. Be thankful. Be looking to seize them.
4. Power- yes, you! You have power. Be thankful. Jesus said to as many as received him he gave them power to become the children of God. Wow! Your Daddy is loaded. You have, therefore, the power to live; to love; to change; to pray; to forgive; and to offer hope. You, if you are in Christ, are one of the most powerful forces on the planet. But be careful, powerful person, this kind of power is best wielded with humility and in harmony. Be thankful but remember God gives us the the power to bless, not to curse or destroy.  Use it wisely.
5. Progress-along with potential and power comes progress. Be thankful that progress can be made. Another word for it is change. It is hard. This takes potential and moves it down the road of maturity and joy. Our world focuses on the bad, hard, tough things in life. It is hard not to. Thankfulness for progress steps back and helps us gain perspective (look, another "p"). Progress is being made on many levels-technological, scientific, medical research, and many disciplines. You have to look harder but life is not all doom and gloom. Even if the world sees little progress, that doesn't stop you. Grow! Change! Reach! Enjoy! Seeing progress needs thankful hearts.
6. Plans-A lot of folks never see progress, use their power, or realize their potential because they don't see or make plans to do so. The reason for that is they are not thankful. Thankfulness is like a can opener. If you only turn the can opener part way around the rim it will be harder, slower, and maybe impossible to get everything out of the can. Try it with the the jellied cranberry sauce. Move the opener one-quarter way around and then get the stuff out. Have a plan and build in thankfulness into and for the plan. God has a plan for you. Don't get stuck in the can, turn the thankfulness handle and let God get everything out of you. Follow his plan and let him help you make some of your own.
7. Patterns- make giving thanks a pattern that shows up in your life. If you get this one down right, you will discover God has put other patterns and routines that help not only in the living of life but in the enjoying of it. Patterns are plans we can follow that help us make progress toward using the power we have to realize our potential, to bless others and to help others reach theirs. Jesus established patters of study, prayer, worship, time alone, time with people, time to celebrate, time to mourn, among others. Be thankful for the Pattern-Maker who goes before us.
8. Purpose- as we continue with a life marked with giving thanks, more and more purpose emerges. In, through, and by thankfulness we discover more and more of the purpose of life, especially our own life. We may live paycheck to paycheck but we live with meaning. We have a purpose in using that paycheck. We have a purpose in attending that meeting. We sense a calling to those people for mutual building up. We gladly sacrifice for those kids to instill Godly values. Giving thanks yields some of its greatest fruit--the peace (ha, another "p") and steadfastness of purpose.
9. Promises- now we begin to see, all because of gratitude, thankfulness, more and more of God's promises. What is more, we see more and more of them being true in our lives. Hope resides in the grateful heart. Peace reigns in the thankful soul. Plans for blessing others are blessed through the openness that thanks-giving brings. The promises aren't wishes flung to a star, they are words, desires, longings that God has had all along for his children that are kept, fulfilled, enjoyed. There, all along, to hold us close to Him and for us to see through the lens of thanksgiving
10. Presence- this is the Who, Person,  the direction, the reason, the object of our thanks giving. Behind all the power, plans, potential, and everything-- is God. It is his presence with us that gives, sustains, redeems, and flavors life with his grace and his love. It is for his presence, that we must first, last, and foremost give thanks.

                The Christian life may indeed be more than this, but surely it can be nothing less. Nat Tracy
                           Have a Blessed Thanksgiving

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Blue Bell is Back

Texans love things Texan: wide open spaces, longhorn cattle, colorful history, barbecue (it ain't pig, Georgia), the slow look at nature, and Blue Bell. Our ice cream is back. It left back in April after some horrible bacterial spread throughout the factories.  That episode devastated families sickened or killed by the affected cream and devastated the company having to close the little creamery in Brenham. Another Texas icon from the Bass family bailed them out with a loan. They cleaned up their joints and the ice cream began hitting the stores in staggered stockings across the great state.

We got our delivery in Whitney on November 2. Stores were out of homemade vanilla by two in the afternoon. I bought buttered pecan. It's not my favorite but it is Blue Bell so I made the investment. There seems to be some balance back in the universe. I even feel like writing a little again. I'm not sure if there is a connection between the lack of Blue Bell and the lack of blogs over the past six months. I didn't eat that much of the stuff before they had to close down. I wanted to but I didn't. So I'm not sure if the lack of even the possibility messed up my desire to write or not. It is a curious timing however.

Much has happened in our world since the self-imposed sabbatical of writing began. Newsmen, politicians, celebrities, preachers, and bloggers filled the media, electronic and paper, with all the news, opinions, spins, regrets, and proposals to keep us going. They didn't seem to miss the ole WizardofCos. Truth is, they won't notice that I am writing again either.

So why now, other than Blue Bell is back, have I put keystrokes to computer screen. Is it for God? for me? for the chapel I serve? Yes, for all but more no. After not writing anything but sermons and lessons for six months, I guess I do it because I want to. God doesn't need it, he might not even like some of it but I hope he gets a kick out of some of the offerings. I don't need it like I think I may have needed it at one time. The chapel and the larger kingdom does fine without it. So why do it? I just kinda like doing it. Maybe it helps someone sometime but there is really no way to tell and I can surely find folks better help than a blog if they asked.

So I stuck a spoon in a bowl of Blue Bell and struck a few keys on the computer. We will see in time if the endeavor is wasted or waisted. I read in a devotional this morning a quote from Arlo Guthrie, "you can't have light without a dark to stick it into."  I have a bowl, a spoon and now access to Blue Bell to stick it into. I have a Light and darkness aplenty to stick it into. Lord willing, I'll try to stick it to the darkness with words.  

Blue Bell is back, so am I.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

A Distant Beauty

I drove down from the 5400 ft. elevation headed east on I-40. My job was to drive, plain and simple. Kids and grandkids were moving 920 miles east from their home in northwest New Mexico to east Texas. I asked how I could help, they answered: drive. So there I was descending the foothills of the Rockies around Albuquerque  toward the plains of eastern New Mexico and the Panhandle in a two car caravan with son, daughter-in-law, two dogs, luggage, and the two prettiest grandchildren in the universe.

If you have ever made that particular trip from central New Mexico through the Panhandle and down into Texas, you may think, "boring, nothing at all to see." Well, in one sense true, but beauty often hides among the mundane, the unusual among the usual, the extraordinary among the ordinary. If you know how and where to look, even in the desert, you will find it. Some days it's easier to find the beauty, other days you have to look really close, some days it is breathtakingly obvious.

Before getting out of Albuquerque I had noticed them in the distance. The deep, blue darkness of the eastern horizon topped by the bright, shining whiteness of thunderstorms. I wondered as we moved along I-40 at 75 mph how long before we would catch the storms. In them may  be hail, 60 mph winds, and blinding rain, all of which I had just soon avoid. In the meantime I purposed to enjoy them. I guestimated their distant at between 50 to 100 miles from us.  The beauty of distant thunderstorms in the foothills and out over the plains is difficult to explain but nonetheless magnificent. The rolling and roiling of the storms interspersed with impressive lightning displays can be mesmerizing. The storms with their head start stayed in front of us. We would pass by places where the pavement remained wet and puddles abounded but we never quite caught them as we would stop for a break or a meal. A heavy sprinkle is as close as we came but the distant beauty was appreciated. Topping a hill, looking out over a vast, wide valley with another foothill five to ten miles away and this ginormous landscape dwarfed by the thunderstorm's dark silhouette and bright flashes left me speechless. The shear size and power as it moved across the earth was astoundingly beautiful.  The scale diminished  as mountains gave way to plains and light gave way to darkness but then the storm's lightning took center stage. The bolts alternatingly crawled across the sky, lit up the clouds from within, and then bolted hard to the earth. They held a distant beauty in their size, power, and majesty. I was duly impressed, thrilled, humbled, entertained, and thankful.

Then from time to time I would steal a glance into the back seat to see the grands. At times they played on ipads, listened to music ( I heard the Teddy Bear Picnic 32 times between New Mexico and Dallas), drew, colored, ate, pestered sibling (not much frankly), sang, asked Grandcos questions and napped. I was impressed, humbled, entertained, and thankful.  Theirs was an intimate beauty that began not three feet from my head that reached a deeper place in the heart that few could touch.

I realized that the Source of this and all true beauty was the Lord of the storm that of itself displays only a small portion of His power and majesty. This Source of beauty in dancing eyes, heart-grabbing smiles, unexplained giggles, quiet looks from deep thought, and the presence of beings so connected to my soul is also the same Lord. This Lord of distant beauty is the Lord of the intimate beauty who seeks to be enjoyed in both and every beauty in between.

Look long, look closely, look inward and outward. Look in the backseat, in the mirror, in the yard, down the pew, across the valley, through the pain, and look behind the laughter, He is there, Immanent and Transcendent at once.  He is Jesus, a distant beauty as close as your heart.


Thursday, April 9, 2015

TV God

There have been a spate of television shows and even movies about God, religion, and Bible-"based" themes over the past few years. As America has pushed forward rather quickly into a post-Christian culture that no longer accepts the basic tenets of Christianity as truth, let alone accepting Christianity's high ideals for which to strive, a strange juxtaposition has arisen with the growth in the number of shows and movies about the Bible, Jesus and the church he birthed. Recently, Hollywood gave us "Noah" a couple of years ago but the only connection to the Bible story was the spelling of the name "Noah" and a lot a rain.  We also have Moses portrayed in "Exodus:  Gods and Kings," which garnered a whopping 1 star from the NY Times as being awfully written and terribly acted.

Television has jumped in with Roma Downy's "AD- The Bible Continues" on NBC, "Finding Jesus" on CNN, Bill O'Reilly's "Killing Jesus," and "The Dovekeepers"  recent mini-series. The Weather Channel also had a show on weather catastrophes in the Bible. Apparently, Hollywood has an interest either in propagating religious belief, destroying religious credibility with bible-based shows that are no where near the bible story but are accepted by the general public (who have almost no bible literacy) as true,  or producers, financiers, etc. who think they can make money on it. My guess is that all these are true at the motivation level depending on the individuals involved.

So is the interest in Bible based shows good or bad for the church, for the Christian, and for the Kingdom? The answer is a solid "yes" and a definite "no."  When a person who is searching to fill that "God shaped vacuum in their heart" (B. Pascal), and finds truth about God's love for him in the Bible, in a friend's testimony,  or even in a television show about Jesus, then, yes, that is a good thing. These shows can pique interest, arouse curiosity, confirm Godly suspicions, and point toward Truth that redeems and frees from sin. These shows can be wonderfully entertaining with an uplifting message, a warning against neglecting truth, a reminder of spiritual values and forces, an invitation to explore the God of love and to be prepared in light of His righteous judgement. They can bring hope to life and ease fears about life or death.

However, when truth is sacrificed for dramatic effect, when the story is twisted according to political correctness or public opinion polls, when faith is portrayed as bigoted, hateful, or solely another power or money grab then the results can be horrible. If a person or society who has high faith in the medium of the movie, sees his or her beloved movies showing faith, church, Christian, or Christ as destructive or irrelevant, then the results can be eternally damning.  There is even a subtle problem when a show or movie is done well and tries to maintain or project Biblical meaning or truth. The person watching the show can at the end say, "that was good; that was informative; I believe that; I was entertained." If that is all that happens that too can be harmful. Truth is to be followed by repentance, if that is what is needed; compassion, if that is what is needed; service, if that is what is needed; and justice, as that is always is called for.

The ultimate question is: do Bible-based shows lead the lost sinner to repent and move toward faith in Christ or at least ask questions along those lines? Do the shows inspire the individual believer to a deeper faith and desire to live out the righteousness of Christ either through cleansing from evils or greater commitment to truth?  Does the show motivate the church to seek to serve the hurting world around them? Do the shows lead to a greater commitment to justice for the least, lost, and lonely? Does hope abound? Is God honored?

I don't personally believe that these Bible themed stories should be solely, merely entertaining. There are some mediums that provide this break, this refreshment that can add flavor, joy and respite to our lives. Within their stories are often a principle or truth that is very biblical, either implied or picked up subtlety in the telling of the tale. (A couple of examples: Its a Wonderful Life; Captains Courageous; We're No Angels; Life with Father; Tender Mercies; Places in the Heart; and every superhero movie has a "savior" theme.)  The stakes are too high, however,  for faith-based, bible-based  shows. They must engage the individual on deeper levels, and some do. It is a powerful medium when used well.

So what to do? Here are my suggestions:
Know your bible.  Study it yourself. You can then know if the movie or tv show is on track, even if they do add a few dramatic twists.
Pray for your culture, especially the lost and for your testimony in it. Your experience of Jesus is powerful.
Be ready for and look to engage your neighbor or culture in loving, kind, and informative conversations. These movies can provide a wonderful opening and starting point for dialogue.
Be firm in your stance and oh, so respectful and merciful to others who do not share your perspective.
If it is good, say so, not just because it is "Christian" but if the quality, production, acting, directing, cinematography is of a good quality. If it stinks, don't make excuses for it.

And remember, the church doesn't need Hollywood  for us to be relevant, meaningful, and accepted. Hollywood needs us to be faithful, prayerful, joyful, hopeful, merciful, smart, just, insightful, and truthful. We are already relevant because the King loves us; we have meaning because Jesus died and rose to give us abundant, meaningful life; He has already accepted us. Our lives are based on and blessed by Him. The greatest witness to this world will come from the church that really believes those aforementioned truths, not from the silver screen. When done right, the silver screen merely reflects what we already know.

Hooray for Hollywood: yes, no, and sometimes,
We pray for Hollywood: yes.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Here Comes the Sun

I'm not great with numbers but I think we now have had 33 days in a row without sun. Best not to quote me on that.  Or this.... I think it has rained 22 days and snowed a few more during the last three weeks.  I'm not saying it has been wet and sloppy but Hill Regional Hospital reports from their maternity ward that three boys and one girl were named "Noah" during the past two weeks.

The average temperature for the last ten days of February was 33 in DFW, but I'm not complaining. One reason I'm not complaining is I've seen pictures from Boston. What have I to gripe about? Another reason I'm not complaining is that another report has me almost giddy this morning. Yes, it is raining as I type this. Yes, a cold front in bearing down on us and it will probably be bringing sleet tonight and 27 degrees in the morning. Yet, I am excited. I am so anticipating tomorrow.

Am I leaving for Florida to play golf and bask in the sun? No. Did I win a cruise to the Caribbean to enjoy 80 degrees on the islands? Naw. Are the grandkids coming? I wish. If that were the case I wouldn't even be here in the office. But I am truly looking forward to tomorrow, especially the afternoon, even though the high will only be about forty degrees with a cold wind.

What could possibly cause a guy stuck inside from cold, damp, rain, snow, and sleet facing another day of even colder, damper, sleetier, and ice-ier weather to be looking forward to tomorrow with joyful anticipation?  Well, I know what's coming. The sun'll come out tomorrow! The local weather wizards Fenfrock, Delkus, and Mowry all agree: here comes the sun. And I say its all right. Yes, tomorrow will be a cold, blustery day but with some afternoon sun. Life is good.

I am so looking forward to seeing the sun. It made me think of the Apostle Paul writing the church at Philippi. His letter is called the epistle of joy. Paul is in prison, most probably Rome. His circumstances are obviously less than ideal and yet he writes with such joy and hope. He does this not because of his circumstances but in spite of them. He is looking forward to what he knows is coming and what is coming is a cause for full joy. Look at his words from prison:
           Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly.....Yes, and I will continue to rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help given by the Spirit of Jesus Christ, what has happened will turn out for my deliverance. I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.     Philippians 1

Paul writes with joy because he is going to see the Son. If he lives, he expects to see Jesus born into the lives of repentant sinners. Paul expects to see the Son grow in the lives of new believers seeking to be more Christ-like in the faith. He expects to see the Son of God in the compassion and service His church renders in His name. If this imprisonment ends in death, Paul expects to see the Son in all His glory, up close and personal. Despite horrible circumstances, Paul can't lose, he is going to see the Son, to live is Christ to die is gain.

I will be happy tomorrow when I see our solar system really does have a star. I will see the brightness of our sun in the cold days of early March and anticipate its warmth as spring approaches. It will be a real feeling but one that fleetingly will give way to the desire for a cold, rainy day by July. My spiritual desire must be, in all seasons of life, that God will grow me and all of His children in the faith to where we are even more excited every day and each tomorrow to see the true center of the universe, the Son. That is our hope, that is our joy, that is our life, that the Son will come out today, tomorrow and  for all eternity.
In the words of George Harrison McConaughey, "Here comes the Son...
And it's all right, all right, all right.


Monday, February 16, 2015

A Tear for Gary; A Kiss for Janie

When I wrote about black church names last time up, I didn't realize I'd be worshipping with black folks within the week. It turned out to be a bad, good thing. No maybe a good, bad thing? I don't know. Let me 'splain...if I can.

I got a text from Otis, my good friend from high school. Otis now coaches the Mighty Milford Bulldogs, the school we played for a thousand years ago. His text was to tell me that a classmate\teammate of ours, Gary, had passed away. This was sad with several layers of sadness. Gary had just turned 60, too young the way I look at it. He apparently had diabetes which affected his heart and died from these ailments. With better medical care he probably could have had many more years. Sad again. Gary died in prison, no way around that. He killed a man in a fight twenty or more years ago. That is what he wrote to me about 18 years ago. I never knew where Gary was after graduation and one day a letter finds me in west Texas at my church. It was from Gary in prison. He writes with great detail his side of the story. I have no way to measure, but the state measured out 20 years to life. I don't even know how accurate that is, but I do know that 20 years in prison turned out to be life for Gary. Sad again. We had corresponded off and on for a few years. I sent him some money for the commissary in prison now and then. He needed some basketball shoes once. Some money for ice cream and candy ( I didn't know about the diabetes). He hoped I could get him a good lawyer. Well, I could afford ice cream. I moved and we lost touch. My fault. Another layer of sadness.

Gary swore to me in those letters that he was a Christian. Maybe he wrote that because I was a pastor and thought I'd like to hear it. Maybe he wrote all those Bible verses and talked so glowingly about Jesus because he wanted ice cream money. Maybe he wrote it because it was true. His family was and is full of believers. It was his nephew or cousin that preached his funeral. Gary put thoughts and scriptures together in a way that seemed real, like he really knew Christ. I want to believe he did. I'm not sure if the family and friends of the man he killed feel that way. I hope they forgave him. Gary swore that God had. I decided on my part to believe him.

So I went to the funeral last Saturday in Waxahachie. The brothers and sisters were resplendent in their expressions of life and hope. I felt like I was back home in high school a minute. I was the only white guy there. The music man played the organ in a wonderfully blues-ee and jazzy way. He sang Tamela Mann's "Take Me to the King." It is a beautiful spiritual, sharing a longing from a broken life and where to find hope.
             Take me to the King, I don't have much to bring,
               My heart is torn to pieces, it is my offering.
                 Lay me at the throne, leave me there alone,
                  To gaze upon you Jesus, and sing to you this song.
                   Please take me to the King.........

The bishop was telling us that "It Aint' Over" and making heaven sound so good but I got to coughing and excused myself with a few minutes left in the service and drove over to Target. In a few more minutes my phone rang. It was Otis...."where are you, man? A bunch of folks want to see you and the family want to say something." So, we drove to Milford for the interment. The pastor read scripture. The family thanked everyone and invited all to the repast. Then several of us pitched in to lower the casket in the grave. They didn't have a "lift" for the job; two straps and four of us slowly letting down the casket into the ground. I thought of the irony of the picture. One of my jobs on the basketball team was to pass to Gary. I recorded several assists each game to him and Otis. This would be my last one.

Now it was time to visit and reminisce. I paid respects to the family and caught up a little with a few old friends I knew long, long ago. I actually remembered nearly all the faces, but not all the names. But then there was Janie. Janie and I were in class together with Otis and Gary and about a dozen others since Milford integrated the schools in 1967. For the first four years of junior high and high school, Janie and I were oddballs. She was the only black girl in our class and I was the only white guy. She got a soul mate about the junior year when Regina moved to Milford. Somehow we made forced integration work and forged good memories and friendships with few regrets and many good memories. I tried to fix one regret I had at the cemetery Saturday. Otis was talking with JoAnn, Gary's sister about being King and Queen at the homecoming in 1972. She wasn't remembering it but Otis was refreshing her memory. It brought my regret to mind. Janie was nominated to that same homecoming court. I was her escort. I remember standing there in my football uniform and she on my right arm. All the girls got flowers and the escorts presented them and gave them a kiss--all but one. I froze. Should\could a white guy kiss a black girl, even just on the cheek, in 1972 in Ellis county? Thoughts and ideas flooded my brain. I should have decided beforehand but it didn't even dawn on me. I started thinking about why it was a good idea, then a bad idea, and then the moment had passed. I didn't kiss Janie, my friend and classmate for six years, at homecoming. At the cemetery Saturday with Otis, JoAnn and others standing there listening, I put Janie on my right arm and stood beside her. I told the story of not kissing her 42 years ago and apologized. Then I kissed her right on the cheek. Someone said that was sweet. Several of us spent the next 45 minutes standing in the graveyard talking and laughing. There was life in that cemetery that day, in living color, and black and white.

It was a good, bad day.


Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Name That Church

Church names can be intriguing, compelling, funny, unfortunate, and tell a story or at least hint of a story behind the name. Some church names that come with the area or town make for an interesting name. In the community of Half Way in an unnamed state is Half Way Baptist Church. If you are in Maryland, you may want to join the Boring United Methodist Church. So much for intentional ministry at the Accident Baptist Church. At times it is not the place that puts a twist on the the church name but the play on words or intent to convey a message in the name. So there is the Lover's Lane Methodist Church, don't ask their teens about the submarine races. In one church, they either don't need faith or there's no charge for it at the Faith Free Lutheran Church. What's the story of the First Church of the Last Chance? I would like the visit the Original Church of God but will not go to the Perfect Church in Atlanta, as soon as I walk in they would have to change their name. Another interesting church name, not so thirty years ago, because of the way language use changes over time, jumps out at you---how would you like to attend the Flippin Church of God?

My favorites are the black Church names. They are descriptive, Biblical, hopeful, aspiring, and downright beautiful in many cases. The African American church in America, because of slavery, racism, and oppressive poverty issues, had much to overcome and deal with in the larger culture. They met many of the challenges with hope, faith, and love born out of their relationship with Christ as they looked forward to better days. This is seen in their church names which point toward Jesus and the Heavenly home He has promised. They picked Biblical names to reflect or identify with a story of inspiration, overcoming faith, and meaningful life. So an Antioch Baptist church reminds us that the disciples were first called "Christians" in Antioch-a place where there was opposition but where faith took root and grew deeply. A Mt. Zion Church in the community remembers the biblical Mt. Zion and the history of commandments, tabernacles, temples, and where Jesus, some believe, will return for His church. There are "Mt." churches in nearly every black community: Hebron, Moriah, Olives, Calvary and Pisgah. A church with Pisgah in its name remembers the original redeemer from slavery, Moses, and all he saw before his death as he looked from its heights onto the promised land. Can't you hear and see the images of freedom and promise in that church name?

Black communities often have "Macedonian" church names derived from the vision the apostle Paul had to go into Macedonia and take the gospel to a new people in a new land. The hope of the gospel and mission activity are caught up in the Macedonian name.  There are Jubilee churches from the old testament jubilee when all debt was forgiven, all land went back to original owners, and slaves were freed- the whole gospel testimony in one name. I also like their use of a few superlatives. To point toward higher, greater, better days, put the word "Greater" in front of an old name. Mt Zion church becomes "The Greater Mt. Zion" church and Greater Macedonian church is, well, greater than the plain old Macedonian church. I would suppose some politics and splits show up in names now and then, also. But from the grand CME (Christian Methodist Episcopal) to the COGIC (Church of God in Christ) to the Black Baptists to the independent black churches their names meant something, said something, pointed to something or better, Someone. Lord bless 'em for that.

I always felt "out-named" by black churches. "First Church" usually just meant early arrival or "Something Ave." just meant Mr and Mrs. $o and $o"  gave land to put a church there. Not that great ministry and missions didn't take place, but not much imagination, inspiration, hope, or aspiration was expressed in the name. I once proposed calling one of the mission churches I pastored, "The Glad River," church. It was the name of a popular novel by Will Campbell and came right out of scripture from Psalm 46:4 which says, "There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the Holy place where the Most High dwells. " We would stream out into the community making people's lives glad with the gospel. The church voted for "West Oaks," it was on the west side and there were lots of oaks around. One detractor to my proposal said it sounded like a black church. I took it as a compliment.

I suppose white folks could learn something from our black brothers and sisters in naming churches. But given history, culture, time, and paid consultants,  probably not much will happen. Maybe the best thing any church can do, even if they are "out-named," is live in such a way that the people and culture around them know who owns them, directs them, redeems and loves them. May all churches be known by That Name.


*actual church names

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Taste Buds

Tastes change as we progress through life. Oftimes that is a good thing-- think leisure suits, wide lapels, wide white belts, and brightly colored shirts with matching socks. Yes, I sadly confess I wore all those in much, much younger days but in my heart I still favored Wranglers and Justins.

Apparently, my taste buds have changed, too. I no longer retch at the thought of tomatoes, although not on my hamburger, please.  I can't imagine salsa and some Mexican dishes without them.  I've grown so fond of broccoli that I include it in my monthly eating of something green. Brussel sprouts are still a 'no go.' Mayonnaise is tolerable now in small spreadings. For fifty-something years if given the option, my salad would be 'dry.' Now I've found a few salad dressings I enjoy. In case you are wondering, "No, not that one."  I'll very selectively pick my own. I've always enjoyed Chinese food since my first all-you-can-eat lunch buffet in my 20's, now I find through my youngest son, that I enjoy Thai food also. It seems that every few months, either accidently or occasionally purposefully, I find a new food to enjoy that previously had been on the "no fly past my gullett list."

What precipitated this new-found gastronomic adventure? Not sure. The Food Channel shows and  'Bizarre Foods' may have helped.  Watching friends and family enjoying foods I thought anathema probably contributed. But I think something about the aging process that deadens some parts of the mind (and tongue) and opens some others must have played a large role in even trying new foods. Age also teaches you that you can live through more stuff than you would ever have imagined, although brussel sprouts may be pushing it. So there is more willingness to experience new things.

Have you ever wondered if God has spiritual experiences spread before us like a banquet but we are afraid to try them?  The Psalmist said in 34:8 to "Taste and see that the Lord is good...."  But like food, we don't discover the goodness of the Lord's spiritual food unless we are open to trying new things. People who don't rely on prayer never taste the peace of His presence when the 'earth gives way, the mountains quake, and the oceans roar and foam'' (Ps. 46).   People who don't tithe may have never learned to enjoy the adventure of dependence on Jesus and see His provision beyond their bank accounts. What depths of insight may be ours if we really dig into His word for more than  a sweet devotional thought? We tend to want a donut hole when He is offering steak. How might we acquire a taste for social justice and understanding poverty unless we spend some time working at a food bank, homeless shelter, or free health clinic?

Try a dangerous thing, pray a dangerous prayer. Ask the Lord to help you discover a new taste in His kingdom.  Ask Him to help you taste His goodness in ways and experiences like never before. Look around, experience Him and His kingdom in new ways of love and service. I must warn you, however, He will answer that prayer, but you may very well discover a smorgasbord of grace spread before you like a feast. Your spiritual taste buds will thank-you.

Bon 'Appetit,



Thursday, January 15, 2015

The Escape Plan

Last time up to write I shared about rhythm, the rhythm of life that God has put into our souls and our world.
It is a good thing. Rhythm fits with the way the world and humans were made in God's image and it helps us fit into His world and kingdom. When we follow needed rhythms of worship, rest, work, creation, and recreation we will find the joy He so graciously gives. Ecclesiastes 3 echos these rhythms.

In not acknowledging or following the rhythms in life we set ourselves up for burnout, failure, frustration, and inefficiency. For example, the farmer who plants his crop in the brutal cold of winter may work harder than anyone but he should not expect the seed to germinate. He has not acknowledged the rhythm of the seasons where nature itself has times for planting, growth, harvest and rest. The Christian who would grow in her love for and service of her King should acknowledge her need to worship, serve, rest, celebrate and other disciplines which would put her in position to truly live and enjoy life with her Lord. It is to her personal and corporate detriment that she doesn't seek to discover these sacred rhythms.

But, we need to exercise caution that our seeking and following the rhythms of life does not become ritualistic routine. We must never confuse rhythm with routine. Routines can be good, of course, but they can be done without thinking, without too much effort, without much sacrifice. We routinely brush our teeth, take a shower, drink our morning coffee, all good. To keep the sacred rhythms of life from degenerating into routine, however, is essential. To do less makes the Christian seem life the "walking dead" (not to be confused with the "waking dead"--folks who endure my sermons), Zombie-like existence with no real living in life. Where is the escape from routine that sucks the life out of life to discover the rhythms that put life and love into living?

Variety! Newness! Movement! Flavor! Look around at the world! We all need to eat to nourish our bodies that we may function as a human body should. But the good Lord gave us variety: peaches, corn, asparagus, blackberries, black-eye peas, pinto beans, rabbit, fish, lamb and beef etc and so on. Even variety within the varieties are ours as we enjoy different kinds of meat, fish, fruit and nuts. Take music as another example--jazz, symphonic, the blues, bluegrass, gospel, country and rock. Consider what the minister of music does each week. He doesn't use the same hymn with the same count. The rhythm we need is to worship but variety helps us worship with praise, celebration, lament, aspiration, or even mourning. If your worship isn't a boring routine thank your music director for variety in the rhythm of worship.

In much of our lives we need to take charge, no correct that, we need to be good stewards of our rhythms and bring the varieties, newness, flavors, and movements in our sacred routines into play. So we read the bible but read different books and themes within it. The Psalmist commands us to put a new song in our heart or sing a new song. This applies to all of life as we seek expressions and experiences that are new, fresh and different but keep us in sacred rhythm that honors God.

Okay, but how? To almost quote Paul Simon, 'there must be fifty ways to love your Savior.'
Find a new way to enjoy His creation-observe it; walk in it; photograph it; listen to it; plant it; dig it; adopt a squirrel.
Find a different genre of music from your usual likes and listen to it. Then do it again if you still don't like it.
Read a hard book; read a rare book; read a book from someone from a different political party; read a silly book; read a serious book; read a biography; read a history book; read books from the Bible you haven't visited in a while.
Eat a cuisine you haven't eaten before; eat one you haven't tried in a long time; eat a food you hated as a kid; tell your spouse why you still hate it; eat in a new restaurant; eat Tuesday night meatloaf on the good china at the big dining table. Sing your prayer before you eat instead of saying it (Doxology works).
Find a person or couple at church of a different age you don't know well and ask them to meet you for coffee or a coke. Say "hello" to a teenager with tats and face hardware, smile at them, and ask how they are doing. Get off Facebook and sit down and talk to a face; sit in a park or airport or mall and watch people; pray for them; pay for the person's food behind you in the drive thru;

You get the idea. The rhythms are the same. The days are 24 hours. There is night and day. There are four seasons. There are times to rest, to play, to love, to work, to worship. But within the sacred rhythms are endless ways to seek, know, enjoy, and love your Savior.

And there was evening, and there was morning....


Wednesday, January 7, 2015


In this new year that is now a week old I have some good news and some bad news. The bad news is I'm now a week behind on everything. The good news is I am only a week behind.

I suppose in reality that there is little difference astronomically, meteorologically, geographically, or any scientifically measurable way between December 31 and January 1. But from a philosophical, psychological, and hopefully spiritual standpoint it can make a meaningful difference. In fact, declaring a time to end, a time to start over, renew,  and refresh can be a life-changing thing. The Roman Emperor Julius Ceasar declared Jan. 1 the beginning of the new year about 46 BC. The Roman god, Janus, had two faces, one facing forward and one backward. Janus was the god of doors and gates. Julius felt that the month named after Janus, January, would be a good "door" to the year and declared it so.

Dates of celebration in differing cultures are often picked because of science (equinoxes), politics, and religion. Did you know that after Christianity became dominant, the middle ages in Europe celebrated the new year on March 25 since it was believed the angel announced to Mary her upcoming birth of Jesus at that time? By the middle 1500's it went back to January 1 even for Christians.  The Jewish new year, Rosh Hashanah,  is celebrated somewhere mid to late September. The Chinese new year happens late winter, early spring based on the ancient Chinese lunar\solar timetable.  This year is the year of the sheep, by the way. That is how folks arrive at a new year celebration, as far as history goes, but why we do it is a better question.

Why? Because we need it. God has built into to humans and humanity certain needs. These are universal from culture to culture, race to race. There are rhythms to life and living. We need to work, we need to eat, we need to love, we need to socialize, we need to celebrate, we need to mourn,we need to rest, we especially need to worship. (see Ecclesiastes 3) The healthiest and happiest cultures keep these human needs in balance. The rhythms needed occur in different sequences, some daily, some spread out more on our calendar to weeks, months and seasons. But if a person or a people neglect these rhythms, there will be suffering to the person and their society.  Studies on Americans say that upwards of 30 to 40 percent are sleep deprived. Social science tells us that in an age where there are 1.2 phones for every person in our nation, people are more disconnected from meaningful relationships than ever. The average workweek according to the Washington Post in a Sept. article is now 47 hours. Jim Denison quotes John Dickerson, author of The Great Evangelical Recession, whose research says that only 7 to 9 percent  now believe that the Bible is the authoritative word of God. Young people don't worship corporately much anymore. Clearly, the rhythms needed to sustain, enhance, beautify, and help us enjoy life are too greatly ignored and abandoned. These rhythms flow from the truth of a loving and fully involved God who wants the very highest for His highest creation, they help point us to this loving and merciful God, and help us connect to Him and His grace in ways that bring joy to living life.

So what do we do? We pay attention, we follow what God shows us, we keep His rhythms as best we can and as best we understand them. We do what Haggai admonished us to do in chapter 1 verse 5: "Consider your ways!" And, understand this, His rhythms are physical, emotional, spiritual, relational, sometimes joyous, sometimes mournful, both exuberant and quiet. You need rest every day, so sleep or learn better how to sleep.  You need to worship privately every day so read your Bible and pray. You need to worship corporately because you are not meant to live life as a lone ranger, so go to church. You need a Sabbath every week, so worship and extend your rest and time to deliberate God's word and message. You need time pondering meanings in life, contemplating this world and this life. So incorporate solitude into your rhythms of life. See it as a gift. You need the rhythms of celebration so attend the fellowships, birthday parties, graduations and anniversaries. They can be a hassle, but also a blessing. I see many sad people and occurrences as a pastor. One of them is the person who cannot be alone, even with God for an extended period of time. Another sadness is seeing the person who cannot be with a friend or friends for their own fears or feelings of worthlessness.

Find your God given rhythms this new year. Start afresh and find in His rhythms for you some awesome wonders. In His rhythms of worship, work, service, sacrifice, solitude, celebration you will find that you are loved deeply. In your private, quiet times, hear Jesus' heart speaking to your heart. "You are loved, you are wanted, you have meaning, your future with me is secure." In your corporate celebration hear Him say you are loved not only individually but in community. You are part of a family. Hear His heart in the heart of others. You are loved and useful in His family. And make sure that you affirm His love for others in your own heart by rhythmically expressing your thankfulness, appreciation, and care for and to others.

Where do you start? Take your pulse. Literally, press your finger to your neck or wrist and feel every beat. God has put that rhythm in your physical heart. Let Him show you a hundred or more other rhythms of life in His Spirit and enjoy the gift we call this year.

Rhythm but no rhyme,

Next Week: Rhythm II  The Escape