Monday, May 31, 2010

Memorial Day - a day to remember

Memorial Day, that uniquely American holiday, comes with some baggage. We see it as just another day off from work; or an opportunity for the family to get together for a picnic at the lake; or the first true picnic for the summer; or the first day of summer vacation time; or a hundred other ways that we can think of to consume the special hours that are ours to spend.

The Indy 500 use to be raced on Memorial Day, but now it is held on the Sunday before. I can remember one Memorial Day in Nashville, cleaning our VW Bug (white with Sun Roof and pop-out windows) inside and out while listening to the race over the radio.

Originally it was called Decoration Day – where everyone flew the American Flag with great pride and took time to pause offering a prayer of thanks for those who gave the ultimate sacrifice as a member of our armed services. Communities would hold parades, bands would march and floats would carry veterans from previous military conflicts. Then the community would gather at statues erected in honor/memory of those who served the country in WWI, WWII, Korean Conflict and Vietnam. Red, white and blue wreaths would be laid and small American flags would decorate the graves of any man or woman who had served our country in uniform. But, alas, traditions change.

Now the emphasis is on grilling, waterskiing and “getting” away … it is one of the heaviest traveled weekends in our nation. We might … just might … give a passing thought to those who died while defending our freedom … but it is not the major occupation of our activities for this day off of work. I do wonder if at some point in the future there will come along those who will attempt to re-write our history books resulting in re-naming this day once again – moving it further away from a day of remembrance. Oh, because of some very dedicated individuals and families, the graves are still decorated with small American flags and floral wreaths are still laid in memory of those who died while defending our country, but the parades are starting to die away. Our emphasis is starting to shift.

If you have ever attended a funeral service for anyone who has served our country you just might have heard a bugle piece played called TAPS. It was played today at the beginning of the Indy 500 and NASCAR’s Coke 600. Much to the surprise of many there are lyrics which are a part of this sad sounding song with a deep rich meaning. The overriding message is that all is well because we are in God’s hands.

Hearing TAPS played is one of the fond memories I have of summer youth camp at the Methodist Youth Camp in Leesburg, FL. After cabin devotions, lights were turned out, we climbed into our bunks, and then Taps would be played followed by the playing of The Lord’s Prayer. As the last words of that prayer were sung you would drift off to sleep knowing that all is well because God is near and our souls were safe in his hands.

Day is done, gone the sun,
From the lake, from the hills, from the sky;
All is well, safely rest, God is nigh.

Fading light, dims the sight,
And a star gems the sky, gleaming bright.
From afar, drawing nigh, falls the night.

Thanks and praise, for our days,
'Neath the sun, 'neath the stars, neath the sky;
As we go, this we know, God is nigh.

Sun has set, shadows come,
Time has fled, Scouts must go to their beds
Always true to the promise that they made.

While the light fades from sight,
And the stars gleaming rays softly send,
To thy hands we our souls, Lord, commend.

Memorial Day is more than just picnics, wreaths and flying the American flag … it stands as a reminder that our lives are safe because of the sacrifice of others … all is well …

Quote for today: Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety. Benjamin Franklin.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

A story for Memorial Day Weekend

I loved Paul Harvey’s “The Rest of the Story” stories. There is a small book in my library of some of those stories … here I share the story that he entitled: “The Old Man and the Gulls.” This weekend remember someone who has given their life so that you might live.

It is gratitude that prompted an old man to visit an old broken pier on the eastern seacoast of Florida. Every Friday night, until his death in 1973, he would return, walking slowly and slightly stooped with a large bucket of shrimp. The sea gulls would flock to this old man, and he would feed them from his bucket. Many years before, in October, 1942, Captain Eddie Rickenbacker was on a mission in a B-17 to deliver an important message to General Douglas MacArthur in New Guinea. But there was an unexpected detour which would hurl Captain Eddie into the most harrowing adventure of his life.

Somewhere over the South Pacific the Flying Fortress became lost beyond the reach of radio. Fuel ran dangerously low, so the men ditched their plane in the ocean. For nearly a month Captain Eddie and his companions would fight the water, and the weather, and the scorching sun. They spent many sleepless nights recoiling as giant sharks rammed their rafts. The largest raft was nine by five. The biggest shark...ten feet long. But of all their enemies at sea, one proved most formidable: starvation. Eight days out, their rations were long gone or destroyed by the salt water. It would take a miracle to sustain them. And a miracle occurred.

In Captain Eddie's own words, "Cherry," that was the B- 17 pilot, Captain William Cherry, "read the service that afternoon, and we finished with a prayer for deliverance and a hymn of praise. There was some talk, but it tapered off in the oppressive heat. With my hat pulled down over my eyes to keep out some of the glare, I dozed off."

Now this is still Captian Rickenbacker talking..."Something landed on my head. I knew that it was a sea gull. I don't know how I knew, I just knew. Everyone else knew too. No one said a word, but peering out from under my hat brim without moving my head, I could see the expression on their faces. They were staring at that gull. The gull meant food...if I could catch it."

And the rest, as they say, is history. Captain Eddie caught the gull. Its flesh was eaten. Its intestines were used for bait to catch fish. The survivors were sustained and their hopes renewed because a lone sea gull, uncharacteristically hundreds of miles from land, offered itself as a sacrifice. You know that Captain Eddie made it.

And now you also know...that he never forgot. Because every Friday evening, about sunset...on a lonely stretch along the eastern Florida could see an old man walking...white-haired, bushy-eyebrowed, slightly bent. His bucket filled with shrimp was to feed the remember that one which, on a day long past, gave itself without a manna in the wilderness.

Quote for today:
We who are left how shall we look again
Happily on the sun or feel the rain
Without remembering how they who went
Ungrudgingly and spent
Their lives for us loved, too, the sun and rain?
~Wilfred Wilson Gibson

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Reflections on some recent news

A few reflections from the local newspaper:

1. The Dalai Lama wrote an ob-ed article recently reflecting on his religion of choice. He shares that while growing up he believed that his religion was the best of all the religions in the world. Then he grew up and began to meet outstanding men and women of other faiths. He discovered that all religions had the same core center – not to do any harm to others, but to seek their benefit. Anything other than that is a misread or misunderstanding of their religion. What he calls for is more tolerance … we are just not tolerant of those who think, act, look differently than us. He believes that out of a desire to dominant and control we see others as inferior and thus the intolerance.

2, As has been reported in various news media this week the Texas Board of Education is trying to re-write history. Daniel Ruth began is St. Pete Times Opinion article on this subject … “Let’s see if we have this straight. U.S. Sen. Joe McCarthy, who ruined untold innocent lives as a besotted red-baiting vigilante, was a peach of a fellow. Check. The words of the treasonous Jefferson Davis should be held in the same esteem as Abraham Lincoln’s. Got it. And Thomas Jefferson, one of the fathers of the country in more than one, couldn’t hold Ronald Regan’s teleprompter: 10-4.” Other changes they have passed are: The Civil War was not over slavery, but states rights; the slave trade is to be known as the Atlantic Triangular Trade; and there shall not be any negative comments about genocidal treatment of the American Indians and the Ku Klux Klan. What this reminded me of was how Nazi Germany tried to re-write history by classifying the concentration camps as work sites. The danger here is that the “softer” we make history sound the easier it will to repeat its negative effects on society.

3. There is a political race in Connecticut, like the one we are witnessing here in Florida, where someone with deep financial pockets can spend their own money is huge amounts all for the purpose of getting elected. The senate race in Connecticut includes Linda McMahon, the CEO of the WWE which glorifies sex, violence and pornography. The good thing is that once she declared her desire to run for the senate seat WWE began to clean up its act. Here in Florida we have the former CEO of a major hospital group that had to pay a $1.7 billion for Medicare fraud and now he wants to run our state. Ouch!

4. And the sad news is that one of the good guys, Art Linkletter, passed away. Mr. Linkletter proved, like Bill Cosby, that it is possible to make a lasting impression by providing good, clean, family safe humor. Mr. Linkletter you will be missed!

Quote for today: from an unknown source …
My life shall touch a dozen lives before this day is done;
Leave countless marks for good or ill, ere sets the evening sun.
This is the wish I always wish, the prayer I always pray:
Lord, may my life help other lives it touches by the way.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Reflection on Pentecost

Reflecting on Pentecost I share what I’ve just recently read from Carlo Carretto’s book, The God who Comes, pages 88-89.

When God reveals Himself in His nature as one and in His actions as three, Pentecost penetrates the depths of man’s heart.
His soul is enflamed and He becomes inebriated with the light and with life.
It is as though he were going beyond his own limits, leaving his old earthly city, to enter the new land of God.
For the first time he touches the frontier of Christianity, he is aware of the nature of the Kingdom.
At the same moment in which you discover – or rather, live – the experience of the Unity and Trinity of God within you, you discover and live the unity of your human existence.
You need no longer ask yourself, “Who am I?”
You know it, see it, you live it.

Pentecost is not about a calendar event – regardless how significant the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the gathered believers – it is about what happens to the individual who is touched by that all consuming power. Finally, it starts to make sense what Jesus said about having abundant life.

I especially like the phrase, “inebriated with the light and with life” as in “filled with new wine.”

Here is to life – all of it – lived to its fullness – lived with abandonment, utter joy and exuberance. Life lived with no regrets – released from previous mistakes and missteps.

The time is now to stop flirting with God’s enriching and freeing Spirit and simply allow the Holy Spirit to take over! The invitation, via Pentecost, is to come join the party! Oh, that I would appropriate this truth in my life and stop beating myself up for the past mistakes (too many to count) and join the party!

Quote for today: “When we get full of ourselves, we get empty of God.” Unknown source

Monday, May 24, 2010

Holy Boldness

When it comes to sports teams we are bold with our enthusiasm – wearing T-shirts, ball caps, flying car window pennants and plastering our bumpers with various bumper stickers declaring our loyalty and commitment. We are very bold …

When it comes to our political affiliations we are bold … some extremely so. Here too we are quick to declare our opinions concerning various candidates, policies, legislation and positions – with little regard to who might be in earshot of our voices. Also, like our favorite sports teams, we place on our bumpers or signs in our front lawn declaring our intention and desires. We are very bold …

When it comes to our children and even more so, our grandchildren … friends and neighbors beware … we can be obnoxiously bold … and rightly so. We quickly pull out the pictures, stop total strangers (as a couple did recently at a local movie theatre when they took the seats behind us), willing telling any and all who would listen about their latest accomplishments, their over-all cuteness, how smart they are, etc. We are very bold …

But, when it comes to our faith we become timid, hesitant, reluctant, and afraid that we might offend. It is almost as if we are members of the SSCB (Secret Society of Closest Believers) … afraid that someone might discover that we are followers of Jesus. After all, we do not want to be identified as a Jesus-freak, one those “kind” of people, a Bible thumper or someone who would offend others because of our faith. Somewhat like a colleague of mine who always wore a silver cross, but normally carried the cross in his shirt pocket. No bumper stickers here. No proclamations, no declarations, no sharing … we are NOT very bold even though scripture calls us to a Holy Boldness.

M. Cocoris tells the following story in his book on evangelism: Hugh Lattimer once preached before King Henry VIII. Henry was greatly displeased by the boldness in the sermon and ordered Lattimer to preach again on the following Sunday and apologize for the offence he had given. The next Sunday, after reading his text, he thus began his sermon: "Hugh Lattimer, dost thou know before whom thou are this day to speak? To the high and mighty monarch, the king's most excellent majesty, who can take away thy life, if thou offendest. Therefore, take heed that thou speakest not a word that may displease. But then consider well, Hugh, dost thou not know from whence thou comest--upon Whose message thou are sent? Even by the great and mighty God, Who is all-present and Who beholdeth all thy ways and Who is able to cast thy soul into hell! Therefore, take care that thou deliverest thy message faithfully." He then preached the same sermon he had preached the preceding Sunday--and with considerably more energy.

Or, even better still, John Wesley, founder of the Methodist movement, would ask at the regular small group (called Class Meetings) gatherings, “Who have you offended, on behalf of the Gospel, since we last met?” I’m not sure how I would answer that question. I’m not sure if I would even continue to participate in a small group where that kind of question would be included in the general discussion. But, it does give me pause. Where is my Holy Boldness … if I truly believe in the empowerment of the Holy Spirit?

I am bold about my sports teams, about my grandchild and my political positions taken … but my faith. Dear Lord, allow me to be filled with the Holy Spirit so I can be Bold about my relationship with you! Amen.

Quote for today: The moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one's favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meeting and material assistance which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. Begin it now. Commonly attributed to Goethe

Sunday, May 23, 2010


On this Pentecost Sunday – the birthday of the church – here is an observation made by James White in his book, Rethinking Church. His point is this – if the church doesn’t rethink what it means to be the church in the 21st Century will it survive much longer? We get caught up in traditional ways of doing things … remember the 7-last words of the church? “We have always done it that way!” … that we fail to see the new possibilities that God has and is opening up to those who call themselves after his name.

If people would have been asked in 1968 which nation would dominate the world in watch making during the 1990s and into the twenty-first century the answer would have been uniform: Switzerland. Why? Because Switzerland had dominated the world of watch making for the previous sixty years.

The Swiss made the best watches in the world and were committed to constant refinement of their expertise. It was the Swiss who came forward with the minute hand and the second hand. They led the world in discovering better ways to manufacture the gears, hearings, and mainsprings of watches. They even led the way in waterproofing techniques and self-winding models. By 1968, the Swiss made 65 percent of all watches sold in the world and laid claim to as much as 90 percent of the profits.

By 1980, however, they had laid off thousands of watch-makers and controlled less than 10 percent of the world market. Their profit domination dropped to less than 20 percent. Between 1979 and 1981, fifty thousand of the sixty-two thou-sand Swiss watchmakers lost their jobs. Why? The Swiss had refused to consider a new development—the—the Quartz movement—ironically, invented by a Swiss. Because it had no main-spring or knob, it was rejected. It was too much of a paradigm shift for them to embrace. Seiko, on the other hand, accepted it and, along with a few other companies, became the leader in the watch industry.

The lesson of the Swiss watchmakers is profound. A past that was so secure, so profitable, so dominant was destroyed by an unwillingness to consider the future. It was more than not being able to make predictions—it was an inability to re-think how they did business. Past success had blinded them to the importance of seeing the implications of the changing world and to admit that past accomplishment was no guarantee of future success.

Pentecost was a new experience for those gathered in that Upper Room. The Spirit, the Power of God had been released on all of those believers. They had gone back to Jerusalem, as Jesus had instructed, and waited – in prayer and fasting – until the Holy Spirit came. When it came they were filled with amazing enthusiasm – even in the light of possible persecution and death at the hands of the established church leaders of that day.

Truly our prayer should be today: “Lord, as unto Pentecost – do it again, Lord, do it again!” But, it would mean change … and a lot of it! Are we really open to changing what we are “doing” in the name of the Kingdom of God? Are we open to new ways of thinking? Worshipping? Behaving? It is scary … just a little … especially when it means Spirit-filled change …

Are you ready? The original disciples had prayed themselves ready ... had fasted themselves into a state of being prepared for whatever God had in store for them. Maybe we need to start to do the same so God can ... DO IT AGAIN!

Quote for today: Sometime back the Associated Press carried this dispatch: "Glasgow, Ky.--Leslie Puckett, after struggling to start his car, lifted the hood and discovered that someone had stolen the motor." Associated Press.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

What's in your backpack? - Part 2

Disclaimer: Some of today’s thoughts grew out of watching the movie, Up In The Air.

What’s in Your Backpack? … It really is an interesting question. The backpack is a symbol of the baggage that you carry around and so the question centers around packing your backpack … remembering that everything and everyone that you decided to pack adds to its weight. The weight will cause the shoulder straps to cut into your shoulders (i.e. adding pain and discomfort), cause some back pain (pulls you backwards and not forward) and slow you down in what you are able to accomplish. It is a rather serious question.

So … what have you chosen to pack into your backpack?

Step #1 - Every picture, every nick-knack, collectable, book, piece of furniture, etc. … literally, everything that “clutters” your life at some point simply makes your life more complicated and heavy laden. Do you have a good picture of what is in your backpack now?

Step #2 – Now imagine that your backpack is under the threat of catching on fire. Quickly … what are the first five items that you would extract from your backpack? Those are actually the only items that really matter … everything else can be gotten rid of or sold in a garage sale. Your backpack is much lighter isn’t it? Life is less complicated? Do you have sense that you are freer?

Step #3 – Now think about the people that you would add to your backpack. Remember that for every person you add they bring their own agenda, demands and expectations … and every time a person is added the drag on your life becomes heavier and more cumbersome. The question that needs to be asked here is, which one of the people in your backpack will be there in the case of a dire, life threatening emergency? Those are the keepers, everyone else are nice for the ride – the present time – but at some point in the future will only disappoint you in some significant way.

So, what is in your backpack? What/who have you chosen to keep? What/who have you chosen to discard? A friend literally lives her life under the 3-month rule – if we haven’t used it or heard from them within the last 3-months then do we really want it cluttering up our life? If the 3-month rule is too harsh then try a 6-month or an 8-month rule simply to start getting use to managing the stuff and people in your life. Just remember that whatever you decide to hang on to will simply weigh you down … it is your choice!

Quote for today: People who matter are most aware that everyone else does too. Malcolm S. Forbes

Friday, May 21, 2010

What'sin Your Backpack? - Part 1

“What’s in Your Backpack?” That is the question which is asked by George Clooney’s character, Ryan Bingham, in the movie, Up in the Air. Bingham is a frequent flyer, who is approaching 10 million frequent flier miles, as he travels all over the country doing what executives of various companies are afraid to do … fire some of their employees. He is good at what he does, but is emotional detached from people.

He is also a motivational speaker and the “What’s in Your Backpack?” is the title of his speech. It is a motivational speech the addresses the virtues of a life free of relationships with people and things. From his perspective “attachments” drag you down keeping you from moving forward.

A simple analogy to this mindset is his niece who is getting married. She asks all of those coming to the wedding to take a cardboard cut of her and her fiancĂ© and take pictures of them in all sorts of locations all over the country. When Ryan asks her why she shared that they didn’t have enough money for a honeymoon, but “at least we will have the pictures.” It is a testimony to the very life that Ryan is having – all the traveling with the expertise and efficiency to move through airport security as fast as possible, gaining all the frequent flyer miles without ever having any lasting experiences or relationships.

As I was watching this movie yesterday, while doing apheresis (the giving of platelets which are spun from your whole blood – extremely important for many in the hospital – it is something that you can do every two weeks and have two hours that you can spare to help others) – I began to think about all of the modern tools available to us to keep us connect – cell phones, facebook, tweeter, etc. – but these devices and Internet tools, while convenient only keep us disconnected. Absent from our busy lives is taking the time – real, hands-on, face-to-face time – visiting, sharing, laughing, caring with others that we have packed away in our backpacks. Oh, we share a lot of information about our activities, as well as a few pictures along the way … but that is all it is – information – no real human contact ... just the "pictures" without the actual experience.

I believe that we fool ourselves into believing that we are connected becoming more like Ryan Bingham every day – staying on the move, collecting our frequent “points,” but failing at the very basic necessity of any real life human experiences – stuff that Ryan has called unnecessary baggage.

The questions that I’ve been considering, since seeing this movie, are: Just how important are human connections in my life? Where has been my focus these many years? And, what changes need to take place in order to pack a better backpack?

(to be continued tomorrow when I consider just what we pack into our backpacks)

Quote for today: Not everything that counts can be counted. Not everything that can be counted counts. Dr. Charles Garfield.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

What does it mean to belong?

What does it mean to belong?

Is it simply a matter of fitting in or having a comfortable place where, as the “Cheers” theme song went, “where everybody knows you name”? Is it a relationship where, regardless of who or what you are, you are included … accepted … made to feel worthy?

Trudi, in Stones from the River, had to deal with that very question after WWII, after her father had passed away, after the various individuals who had befriended her began to change, move away or pass away. Were do I belong? At one time she felt that she would “belong” if she was taller, normal size (she was a dwarf – a little person). Then it moved into the attitude that she would “belong” if she had friends to play with? As an adult she made herself “belong” via the means of gossip and stories that she held on to and shared about all the people of her small German town. And, then finally, she came to the conclusion that she would “belong” if she could marry and have children of her own … then she would “belong” … i.e. be “normal” like everybody else. But, alas that was not to be and the book ends with her still searching for the ultimate answer to the ageless question: Where do I belong?

Somewhat connected to this question are the issues surrounding purpose, as in “what is my purpose now that this or that has happened”?

Isn’t this the very struggle that confronts every child as they grow up … do I really belong here? It becomes even harder when there are other issues that a person has to deal with say as in adoption. Which TV sitcom character stated, “You have to love me because I belong to you!”

Belonging – finding your place in human society, in relationship to others … that one place where you fit in and they love you, not simply because you are biologically connected, but because the other people choose to love you. Does it boil down to the issue of choice or is there a place that you simply belong because of who you are?

Some find answers by joining clubs or organization or even “secret” societies that have degrees of “inside” information and special handshakes. We wear a lapel pin or place decals on our cars so that “others” will know that we belong to this group or that … we have a place and a group that claims us … where we belong … where we have a reason for being.

One mother dealt with this issue as her last daughter left home and “empty nest” syndrome hit her particularly hard. Depression set in – deep depression – as she expressed her greatest fear – “I don’t have a reason to live any longer … I don’t have a purpose … I don’t belong here any longer.”

Belonging carries with it the entire package of identification. As long as I can wear the “team” colors and cheer from the sidelines then I have a legitimate reason for occupying time and space on planet Earth.

I saw my father deal with this issue in his retirement years. Since he wasn’t bringing in a paycheck – the issue that gave him purpose and allowed him to occupy time and space – he felt that he didn’t belong. He was a very active member of one of those “secret” societies, involved in the life of his church and volunteered over 40 hours a week with R.S.V.P. … but none of that mattered since there wasn’t a paycheck associated with his efforts. Self-worth is a difficult issue - especially in the later years of life.

And so, what gives you that sense of belonging? How would you define it? What identifiers do you place on this issue of belonging for yourself?

Quote for today: Rudyard Kipling once wrote about families, "all of us are we--and everyone else is they." A family shares things like dreams, hopes, possessions, memories, smiles, frowns, and gladness...A family is a clan held together with the glue of love and the cement of mutual respect. A family is shelter from the storm, a friendly port when the waves of life become too wild. No person is ever alone who is a member of a family. Fingertip Facts.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Personal Accountability

Listening to the representatives from the 3 companies associated with the oil drilling disaster in the Gulf of Mexico – a spreading disaster that is going to effect more than just a few states surrounding the drilling platform as the oil is going to spread up the east coast of our country - I began to wonder when someone was going to step-up and accept responsibility … it is called being held accountable for the actions taken or not taken – either for themselves and/or for their companies. I’m smart enough to realize that all they were really doing was trying to pass the responsibility on to others in order to sidestep financial responsibility later on via the court system … after making billions of dollars these 3 companies are trying to dance away from expending a few millions to assist in the clean-up, as well as responding to those directly effected by this disaster.

Accepting corporate accountability has direct financial consequences … personal accountability is a serious matter as well … Paul Borthwick in, Leading the Way includes the following illustration concerning personal accountability.
In Rebuilding Your Broken World, Gordon MacDonald suggests twenty-six questions to help develop accountability and invite feedback. If we desire to grow, we should submit our selves to a spiritual mentor and answer these questions honestly.
1. How is your relationship with God right now?
2. What have you read in the Bible in the past week?
3. What has God said to you in this reading?
4. Where do you find yourself resisting Him these days?
5. What specific things are you praying for in regard to yourself?
7. What are the specific tasks facing you right now that you consider incomplete?
8. What habits intimidate you?
9. What have you read in the secular press this week?
10. What general reading are you doing?
11. What have you done to play?
12. How are you doing with your spouse? Kids?
13. If I were to ask your spouse about your state of mind, state of spirit, state of energy level, what would the response be?
14. Are you sensing spiritual attacks from the enemy right now?
15. If Satan were to try to invalidate you as a person or as a servant of the Lord, how might he do it?
16. What is the state of your sexual perspective? Tempted? Dealing with fantasies? Entertainment?
17. Where are you financially right now? (things under control? under anxiety? in great debt?)
18. Are there any unresolved conflicts in your circle of relationships right now?
19. When was the last time you spent time with a good friend of your own gender?
20. What kind of time have you spent with anyone who is a non-Christian this month?
21. What challenges do you think you're going to face in the coming week? Month?
22. What would you say are your fears at this present time?
23. Are you sleeping well?
24. What three things are you most thankful for?
25. Do you like yourself at this point in your pilgrimage?
26. What are your greatest confusions about your relationship with God?
26 questions that can make a world of difference … and I have to honest, I’m wondering if the CEO’s of those three companies associated with the oil platform disaster would ask themselves these questions would their answers before the Senate committee investigating just what happened, how it happened and why be different.

What do you think? And, even further, how would our behavior change if we all started to ask ourselves these 26 questions … it might not be as simple as we would expect it to be.

Quote for today: My greatest thought is my accountability to God. Daniel Webster.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

A Prayer of Repentence for our nation

This particular prayer is very pungent, especially if you are as concerned about our countries future as I am. In various e-mails it has been attributed to Billy Graham and Paul Harvey. In truth, this prayer was delivered by The Rev. Joe Wright, senior pastor of the 2,500-member Central Christian Church in Wichita, Kansas in 1996 when he was invited to offer the opening prayer at the session of the Kansas House of Representatives.

Unlike the present popular e-mail which is titled a "Prayer for the Nation," the original title was a "Prayer of Repentance". As is true for most pastors we have a tendency to “borrow” from each other and Pastor Wright did on this occasion. This particular prayer was his variation on a prayer written in 1995 by Bob Russell when he was invited to offer the opening prayer at Kentucky’s Governor’s Prayer Breakfast.

Pastor Wright's prayer:
“Heavenly Father, we come before you today to ask your forgiveness and to seek your direction and guidance. We know Your Word says, 'Woe to those who call evil good,' but that is exactly what we have done. We have lost our spiritual equilibrium and reversed our values. We have exploited the poor and called it the lottery. We have rewarded laziness and called it welfare. We have killed our unborn and called it choice. We have shot abortionists and called it justifiable. We have neglected to discipline our children and called it building self-esteem. We have abused power and called it politics. We have coveted our neighbor's possessions and called it ambition. We have polluted the air with profanity and pornography and called it freedom of expression. We have ridiculed the time-honored values of our forefathers and called it enlightenment. Search us, oh God, and know our hearts today; cleanse us from every sin and set us free. Amen!'”

I believe that Pastor Wright hit the nail-on-the-head with this prayer. Many within the House of Representatives didn’t think so – one walked out, much debate was held on the floor, the national media picked up on it and Pastor Wright was widely interviewed. Phone calls started to come into his church to the point that his staff stopped answering the phones after the number grew to over 6,500.

In a later interview, Joe Wright said, “I thought I might get a call from an angry congressman or two, but I was talking to God – not them. The whole point was to say that we all have sins that we need to repent – all of us. The problem I guess, is that you’re not suppose to get too specific when you are talking about sin.” Or, you are not to get too specific about those actions that you have supported or taken just those decisions and positions taken by the “other” party.

Well, today we begin another series of primaries and the debate is heating up concerning the “sins” of the other guys. Where is the acceptance of personal responsibility in all of this discussion?

I’m just wondering …

Quote for today: Many people use mighty thin thread when mending their ways. Daily Walk

Monday, May 17, 2010

Changing our attitude

Trudi was thinking that “she wanted more than anything that moment was for all the differences between people to matter no more – differences in size and race and belief – differences tat had become justification for destruction.” (page 336, Stones from the River)

We are more similar than we are different. Even our wants and desires are very much alike … and, yet, we spend so much time concentrating on our differences that we fail to see just how much alike we all are.

What is there in our human make-up that causes us to see only the differences? It is said that prejudice and hatred is learned – taught by those who have great influence over our development. But we all have met individuals who were raised by the same parents, but have drastic different understandings about human beings regardless of their size, race or belief.

What causes one child to become extremely prejudice while his/her brother or sister is open and loving towards all people regardless of who they are? What had transpired in their young lives that made the difference? What were they exposed to that brought about a different attitude towards other people?

Oh, I don’t have an answer … just the questions. Do you have any ideas?

The good news is that none of us have to remain the way we are. We all CAN change … in a heart beat. The question here is, do we want to? Or, even deeper, do we really understand just how prejudice we were really are? Do we actually hear the words, phrases and names that punctuate our every day thinking and speech? And, still further, does our speech change when some of that particular race or religion enters our circle? Or, when the “preacher” enters the discussion? Or, when a woman or child comes within hearing distance of our conversation?

If the answer is “YES” to any of these questions then we have to admit that we are aware of our speech and thinking process and thus, we CAN change our ways of thinking and speaking. It is simply a matter of desire and desire comes from the heart AND if the heart is right then our speech will be right.

So, how does one get his or her heart right? Well, the preacher in me would say, “If you get your heart right with the Lord then everything else will follow.” But, I know some deeply committed Christians who still speak ill of others, who are different then they … and they do not think that there is anything wrong with what they are saying or doing!

It really does come down to desire – the desire to change and thus, change the world in which we live. Nothing is going to happen globally until we change it locally (as the popular saying goes.) Therefore, what are we waiting for?

Quote for today: “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: To choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's way.” Viktor Frankl

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Silence in the face of anti-immigration law

I probably won’t win any new friends with today’s blog and might even lose some of my readers … but to remain silent is no longer an option.

Again, I turn to reflect on my present reading material – Stones from the River by Ursula Hegi, which tells the story of Trudi living in Germany during the war years. Yesterday, I read the chapters, which details Germany during the Nazi take over and how those in power abused their authority specifically targeting the Jews and all immigrants ... anyone who was a non-German became a target. They were blamed for many of the economic and social problems that Germany was facing after WWI and just prior to the Great Depression. And the people and the church was silent …

You can see where this reflection is heading can’t you.

What struck me was the language of hate and actions taken that I was reading concerning the much documented persecution of a whole group of individuals wasn’t much different than the language and actions I’ve been witnessing via our national news programs concerning the Arizona anti-immigration law. Especially with the authority granted to the various police departments to stop anyone who might “look” like they are illegal-immigrants. And the people and the church seems to be silent leaving the protest up to the groups targeted by the new law … or, even worse, as in Nazi Germany agreeing with the government including sermons from the various pulpits in favor of the new anti-people law!

Hitler’s Youth group, SA and Gestapo, along with people informing the authorities on each other – even their own parents if they spoke ill of Hitler. And the people were silent ... they were silent with the hope that everything would return to normal in a short period of time … they were silent out of fear that if they spoke up and protest they would be next … they were silent believing that it would not come to their city … they were silent until it was too late to speak up and do anything.

We are approaching a dangerous time in our nation … an “us-against-them” time … where it seems we are looking for people, especially those who are easy targets, to blame for the mess we find ourselves in as a country. We are all playing the “what-if” game – what if the “other” party was in authority, what if this group or that group wasn’t present in our community, what if this action or that had or hadn’t been taken … and in search of answers to the “what-ifs” another opinion is offered, position taken and a senate investigation launched … while the people are silent sitting back believing that others are going to solve the ills of our society or, as in Hegi’s book, it will simply past … besides we are just too busy to get involved … and the people remain silent!

If we remain silent too long then there won’t be anyone left to speak up …

Quote for today: When the emperor Valens threatened Eusebuis with confiscation of all his goods, torture, banishment, or even death, the courageous Christian replied, "He needs not fear confiscation, who has nothing to lose; nor banishment, to whom heaven is his country; nor torments, when his body can be destroyed at one blow; nor death, which is the only way to set him at liberty from sin and sorrow." Source Unknown.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Comfortable in your own skin

Trudi, the main character in Ursula Hegi’s epic novel, Stones from the River, shares the struggles of living in Germany from 1915 and beyond. She is a person of small stature and is labeled a dwarf before that became a politically incorrect term. In fact, on the lips of the fellow citizens of her German town it is a name of ridicule. We are invited into her world to share the struggles and challenges of making friends and finding her way in this world. In the process it is also revealed what Germany was like during and after WWI and WWII. From my perspective it is also fascinating to understand the role religion, specifically the Catholic Church, the Protestant church and the Jewish synagogue, plays in the everyday life of the community. It is truly a remarkable story.

One of the characters that assist Trudi in her journey is Pia. Pia is also a little person and also a star attraction at the traveling circus as animal trainer. Pia is the first little person that Trudi has meant. Up until this meeting Trudi felt and believed she was the only one in the world. In their conversation Pia shared, while not using the present day terminology, that it is important to be “comfortable in your own skin.” Be comfortable in being yourself. Learn to love yourself for who you are and not what other people might be saying behind your back. And, then Pia showed Trudi how to hug herself.

We all need to be hugged. Experts say that we need at least 8 hugs a day for just good mental health. None of us receives enough hugs nor do we share our hugs with others. And, in turn, we do not receive nor share affirmations. Why? Well, it could be too simplistic, but just maybe it is because we are not comfortable in our own skin … just too caught up in trying to deal with old “tapes” passed on to us from our parents and siblings … trying to live up to the expectations of others instead of just learning to love ourselves (i.e. hugging ourselves) ... in actuality, becoming comfortable in our own skin.

That is my challenge for today. I’m not sure how others deal with this issue or even, how they have overcome those old parental “tapes” spinning around in our minds … and I am not sure how I can stop listening to my mother’s constant onslaught of verbiage nor stop living in fear of my father – even though both of them have been dead for a number of years.

I’m open to any advice … do you have any to share?

Quote for today: “Hugging can be vital for your emotional well-being. Everybody feels skin hunger throughout their lives, and unless that hunger is satisfied by touching, there's a vital void in the emotional make-up that's going to cause deep unhappiness. We all know that babies thrive on frequent stroking. Well, adults are no different. When they are not patted on the hand, embraced around the shoulder or hugged, they withdraw into themselves. I prescribe four hugs a day for survival, eight for maintenance and twelve for growth.” Dr. Virginai Satir

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Sacrificing just to be normal?

Presently, I am reading a novel by Ursula Hegi, Stones from the River. It tells the story of Trudi from 1915, the year of her birth, through 1952. She lives in Germany, but that is not her greatest challenge. She was born a dwarf and most of her years finds her wishing, dreaming, and hoping for the day she would grow to be normal. The thing that struck me last night is her expressed desire to give up anything, an arm or leg or even, on of each, to be normal.

It caused me to pause and ask myself, “What would I be willing to give up and what do I desire so much that I would be willing to make such a huge sacrifice?” That is kind of an earthshaking, mountain moving type of question to contemplate … isn’t it?

For Trudi, she had to think through the process carefully as to which arm and which leg would she be willing to give up in order to be like all the other children at her school. After much contemplation she determined that she would still be able to use a crutch to walk if the arm and leg were from opposite sides of her body. But, what her thinking failed to produce was the understanding that if she didn’t have a leg then she would be defeating her purpose of being normal … the ability to be picked and included in the various games during recess. The crutch would hinder her ability to run and jump … like all the other children.

What is the heart’s desire … deep seated wish … for which a major sacrifice would be required in order to obtain it? What has become so important, so mind/heart controlling, so all consuming that would cause anyone to make a major sacrifice such as an arm or leg?

Trudi’s experience, though fictional in nature, still hits home. Reality is that other children can be cruel with their name calling and finger pointing. Recess can be cruel in the choosing-up-sides process (oh, how I hated this because I was always last to be chosen and many times only after an argument between the two “captains” – always the same two athletic guys - as to who had to pick me last time and ended up losing the game … I literally dreaded physical education). And, like Trudi, how did I express the anger that built up inside of me? And, even more importantly, does some of that anger still reside within me?

Finally, the other thought that this book is causing me to struggle with is this: What is normal? And who sets those standards by which we end up judging others as being classified as “normal” or “not normal”? Plus, who gives us the authority … or even the responsibility … to make such a determination?

Reading is a great past time … with every character, situation and page one can be confronted by important life issues that are often missed a book is not picked up and consumed.

Quote for today: “Researchers at Johns Hopkins University reported that 30 years ago, the greatest fears of grade school children were: 1) Animals, 2) Being in a dark room, 3) High places, 4) Strangers, 5) Loud noises. Today, kids are afraid of the following: 1) Divorce, 2) Nuclear war, 3) Cancer, 4) Pollution, 5) Being mugged.” Back to the Bible Today, Summer, 1990

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Core Values

We have all gotten a laugh or two from the concept of being a Redneck. Having lived in Nashville, TN and also, rural Georgia there is actually another side to “these” people. There are a set of Core Values that they all hold dear – namely, God, Country, Friendships and Family all centered around the home … now the home might have one or more cars up on blocks, a car tire planter or two, and a few beer cans in the bushes, but their Core Values still hold true. This just might explain why Country and Western music is some of the most popular music on the radio presently. After 9/11 we, as a country, began to come back to those same Core Values.

Recently, I came across one of those “You might be a redneck if” lists, but this one was different. It spoke directly to those basic Core Values which places God, Country, Friendships, Family and Home above everything else. I’m proud to share these Core Values as a great place to build integrity and a sense of well being.

You might be a redneck if: It never occurred to you to be offended by the phrase, 'One nation, under God.'
You might be a redneck if: You've never protested about seeing the 10 Commandments posted in public places.
You might be a redneck if: You still say 'Christmas' instead of 'Winter Festival.'
You might be a redneck if: You bow your head when someone prays.
You might be a redneck if: You stand and place your hand over your heart when they play the National Anthem.
You might be a redneck if: You treat our armed forces veterans with great respect, and always have.
You might be a redneck if: You've never burned an American flag, nor intend to.
You might be a redneck if: You know what you believe and you aren't afraid to say so, no matter who is listening.
You might be a redneck if: You respect your elders and raised your kids to do the same.
You might be a redneck if: You'd give your last dollar to a friend.

May we all be Rednecks … at least in the Core Values of our life.

Quote for today: “At one time, Francis Schaeffer says, he shared a platform with former cabinet member and urban leader John Gardner, during which Gardner spoke on the need to restore values to our culture. After he finished, a Harvard student asked him: ‘On what do you build your values?’ Gardner, usually articulate and erudite, paused, looked down, and said, ‘I do not know.’ I repeatedly encounter the same reaction. When I have contended before scholars and college audiences that in a secular, relativistic society there is no basis for ethics, no one has ever challenged me. In fact, in private they often agree.” Charles W. Colson

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Providence of God

The word keeps popping up regardless of my reading material. The variety of reading resources range from a national news magazine, the morning paper and various novels that have allowed me to pass the time of day … doing more than merely watching the “idiot box.” The word is Providence - the Providence of God … God’s direct involvement in our daily activities to bring about his desires for our life and the life of those around us while allowing us to exercise our free will. I need to be careful that I do not slip into an old Protestant Reformation sinkhole of theology here – namely, predestination. That is always the case when a discussion is held concerning the Providence of God.

The question which confronts us … or at least me … is this: Does things happen in our life simply by accident or by divine intervention? Do people simply come into our lives by happenstance or is there something greater taking place? Allow me to share what I have felt to be some examples of the Providence of God in my own life and ministry.

Example #1: As I shared in my blog on April 30 – “Healing and Wholeness” … my appointment to St. Luke’s UMC could not have come at a better time in our life considering what we were about to face with our son’s illness and death. I believe that it was by God’s Providence that we were there.

Example #2: After St. Luke’s came First UMC, Hudson and by God’s grace, tremendous growth took place in that congregation which has continued to this very day.

Example #3: In a number of situations there were young men and women who I was sure that God was calling into ministry and said so. All of them are presently serving churches – one in North Carolina and others throughout the State of Florida. As one of them shared with his mother, recently deceased, “Wow, I cannot believe that they are paying me to do this!”

Example #4: While at Hudson there came into the church a person whose life was coming apart as well as his marriage. Through several counseling sessions he came to know the Lord which helped to heal his marriage and ultimately lead him into a position of strong leadership within that congregation. His story can be repeated numerous times in every situation that I found myself serving the cause of Christ.

Example #5: The miracle of the adoption of our daughter Erin – if that wasn’t by the Providence of God I do not know what is. The State of Florida requires many, many hurdles to be jumped over – medical health exams, financial records, interviews with neighbors and friends, etc. along with several off-site visits before the approval would be given for the adoption to proceed. Well, the short of it all is that in a matter of just a couple of weeks and with us having completed very few of the requirements when the case worker called saying that she would like to introduce us to a little girl. The case worker brought her to our home for the initial visit and after about an hour asked us what we thought. We were in love – she would fit in perfectly and then the case worker said, “Good, I’ll go get her things out of the car.” And BINGO, by God’s Providence we had our second daughter … without all the t’s crossed or the I’s dotted.

Example #6 deals with the huge number of men and women who have come into our lives over these many years … from the U of M medical student and his young family to the St. Pete who stepped and just took on the parenting responsibilities for Tracy while we dealt with Tim’s illness to our St. Pete neighbors who we adopted as grandparents for our two daughters to … and the list continues to include a fairly large (and growing) number of caring and loving people that, because of God’s Providence, are a part of our family.

Into this discussion I would have to add the idea of the Will of God … and I must admit there is much about His Will that I simply do not understand even though I’ve read extensively on the subject, preached sermon series on the idea, taught Bible study and Sunday school classes on the topic, as well as leading small study groups using the material and videos for “Experiencing God: Knowing and Doing the Will of God” – a great short term study that I would highly recommend. All of this work has surely helped, but I am still left wondering and questioning the idea. Can you go in a particular direction in your life if it isn’t a part of God’s will? Well, yes and no … it depends on God’s Ultimate Will … Whatever you decide to do in your life will not happen if for some reason it circumvents God’s Ultimate Will for his Kingdom and the people of that Kingdom.

Another way to view God’s will for your life is by looking backwards … if you are better off today than you were yesterday or a week ago or a year ago then the decisions that caused you to arrive at where you are were a part of God’s Ultimate Will for your life. This requires a lot of soul searching and course adjustments in order to keep life and God’s will aligned … it doesn’t automatically take place.

If we are living in harmony with God’s ultimate will then we will experience the Providence of God … What do you think?

Quote for today: “Do not hastily ascribe things to God. Do not easily suppose dreams, voices, impressions, visions or revelations to be from God. They may be from Him. They may be from nature. They may be from the Devil.” J.K. Johnston

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Spring Cleaning

We are in the last days of spring with summer coming on fast. Our weather would indicate that summer arrived several weeks ago – heat and humidity have been outrageous. Spring always brings to mind the process of Spring Cleaning. The house is always in some stage of needing to be cleaned … that’s reality. But, what about our lives – spiritually and otherwise? When do we take time to clean up our “act” – so to speak – to clean out bad behavior, immature conduct? When do we take the time to evaluate our spiritual journey and determine what should be kept and what should be discarded? I don’t know about anybody else, but for me it is time for a good Spring Cleaning job on my mind, behavior and spiritual thinking … the cheering you hear in the background is coming from my family!

And then from an email I get this little concept:
1. Open a new file in your PC.
2. Name it "Housework."
3. Send it to the RECYCLE BIN.
4. Empty the RECYCLE BIN.
5. Your PC will ask you, "Are you sure you want to delete Housework permanently ?"
6. Calmly answer, "Yes," and press mouse button firmly...
7. Feel better?

Works for me!

Quote for today: “The Greeks had a race in their Olympic games that was unique. The winner was not the runner who finished first. It was the runner who finished with his torch still lit. I want to run all the way with the flame of my torch still lit for Him.” J. Stowell

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Expecting the unexpected

On April 30th I wrote about Healing and Wholeness. In preparing that blog I came across this long story from one of my favorite authors Philip Yancey. If you haven’t discovered this author’s work yet you are really missing out on a person with great insight to life. This story is from his book, Disappointment with God. If we are truly honest with ourselves we would all admit that at some point in our spiritual walk we have experienced a disappointment with God and how God has chosen to respond to our life and its situations … and you know what? That’s okay … it really is … and it is okay with God as well. He can take our disappointments, as well as our anger … better he than some human in our life. Does this change the fact that everyday of my life I still expect a miracle? No! In fact, I keep looking over my shoulder waiting for the next “ah-ha” moment and, you know what? He never fails to surprise me. Disappointment me? Yes … surprise me? He never has. I’ve learned to always expect the unexpected.

Even back then I was searching for hard evidence of God as an alternative to faith. And one day I found it--on television, of all places. While randomly flipping a dial, I came across a mass healing service being conducted by Kathryn Kuhlman. I watched for a few minutes as she brought various people up on the stage and interviewed them. Each one told an amazing story of supernatural healing. Cancer, heart conditions, paralysis--it was like a medical encyclopedia up there. As I watched Kuhlman's program, my doubts gradually melted away. At last I had found something real and tangible. Kuhlman asked a musician to sing her favorite song, "He Touched Me. That's what I needed, I thought; a touch, a personal touch from God. She held out that promise, and I lunged for it.

Three weeks later when Kathryn Kuhlman came to a neighboring state, I skipped classes and traveled half a day to attend one of her meetings. The atmosphere was unbelievably charged--soft organ music in the background; the murmuring sound of people praying aloud, some in strange tongues; and every few minutes a happy interruption when someone would stand and claim, "I'm healed!" One person especially make an impression, a man from Milwaukee who had been carried into the meeting on a stretcher. When he walked--yes, walked--onstage, we all cheered wildly. He told us he was a physician, and I was even more impressed. He had incurable lung cancer, he said, and was told he had six months to live. But now, tonight, he believed God had healed him. He was walking for the first time in months. He felt great. Praise God! I wrote down the man's name and practically floated out of that meeting. I had never known such certainty of faith before. My search was over; I had seen proof of a living God in those people on the stage. If he could work tangible miracles in them, then surely he had something wonderful in store for me.

I wanted contact with the man of faith I had seen at the meeting, so much so that exactly one week later I phoned Directory Assistance in Milwaukee and got the physician's number. When I dialed it, a woman answered the phone. "May I please speak to Dr. S_____," I said. Long silence. "Who are you?" she said at last. I figured she was just screening calls from patients or something. I gave my name and told her I admired Dr. S_____ and had wanted to talk to him ever since the Kathryn Kuhlman meeting. I had been very moved by his story, I said. Another long silence.

Then she spoke in a flat voice, pronouncing each word slowly. "" Just that one sentence, nothing more, and she hung up.

I can't tell you how that devastated me. I was wasted. I half-staggered into the next room, where my sister was sitting. "Richard, what's wrong?" she asked. "Are you all right?" No, I was not all right. But I couldn't talk about it. I was crying. My mother and sister tried to pry some explanation out of me. But what could I tell them? For me, the certainty I had staked my life on had died with that phone call. A flame had flared bright for one fine, shining week and then gone dark, like a dying star.

Quote for today: “Percentage of adults who mostly agree or completely agree with the statement, ‘Even today, miracles are performed by the power of God’: 82.” Princeton Religion Research Center’s PRRC Emerging Trends, November 1988

Friday, May 7, 2010

Changing our behavior

Here is a novel idea … or at least novel to me since it never crossed my gray matter previously. Not really sure where it came from, but it just could have been generated by a Public TV program that was airing on the British Royal Family and just how much the Queen is in control, absolute control, of the world in which she lives. Now here is the idea … would the Queen say and/or do what I was about to say or do?

Oh, I’m aware of the WWJD stuff, but in my mind this was different. Jesus lived so many years ago. This wasn’t a catchy slogan or a youth group exercise … this was, somehow, quite real. If the Queen doesn’t cut it for you then just pick a celebrity or someone famous that you admire or look up to. It really doesn’t matter and then place them in your life doing what you are doing or saying what you are saying or thinking what you are thinking.

When I pulled this exercise on myself it kind of changed the perspective of what I was involved in. It moved me into a different world and mindset … and probably changed my behavior just a little. It was a real interesting exercise.

Why is it that we decide to do or say what we do or say? Human behavior is an interesting subject and is way more complicated that I am able to understand because at its very root is motivation. If we could key in on our motivating factors that changing our behavior would be rather simple, but the motivating factors are kind of hard to pin down. There are just too many influencing forces which come into play – the people, places and experiences – which influences the very basic fiber of our being and thus, our behavior.

George Gallup shared: “There's little difference in ethical behavior between the churched and the unchurched. There's as much pilferage and dishonesty among the churched as the unchurched. And I'm afraid that applies pretty much across the board: Religion, per se, is not really life changing. People cite it as important, for instance, in overcoming depression--but it doesn't have primacy in determining behavior.” So, simply asking the WWJD question evidently doesn’t affect behavior – or at least aligning yourself with a religious organization doesn’t determine the correct and/or acceptable behavior within any particular context.

Change in behavior comes very slowly and usually with some pain associated with the process. The determining factor comes from within and not by outside forces. Now, there can be some outside forces which causes the individual to want to change. Example was the church secretary at First Church South Miami. She was a great cook, but when she married, later in life, the kitchen was like a “foreign land” in her house. She never had to learn to cook so she didn’t know how to cook, but her husband had a job that had him traveling and eating out 95% of the time. Therefore, when he was home he wanted to eat at home which resulted in her learning how to cook in her mid-forties. She shared one time, “No matter what I placed before him he would praise it endlessly as the best this or the greatest that AND he would tell others how great a cook I was (actually I believe his word was ‘fabulous’) … but I knew it was horrible … so, in self-defense, I had to become a good cook to match up with his never ending praise.” Change came in her behavior by her own determination and desires as is the case with all of us.

Do we want to change? That is the real question. If we are “comfortable” with a particular behavior, regardless of other people’s reaction to it, then there will be little to no reason to change. Therein lies the rub … what we might see as being “comfortable” could only be our perception of their reaction or acceptance when in reality they could be communicating an entirely different message.

I wonder how our “friends and family” would respond if we asked the question, “What are the top five things that you would change about me if you had the chance?” I wonder how we would react if they did respond with their top five things? And, I wonder how we/I would react upon receiving their list? Would we be prepared to really hear what they had to say? … would we want to know? … really, really!

Cannot really expect society to change its behavior if we are not willing to change our behavior now can we? If we really desire the world to change it begins with the individuals who make up the world and then gradually the world will change as we do. Actually Jesus calls us, his followers, to be Change Agents – those who facilitate change – make it happen – cause it to happen – to bring it about. Sometimes we will fail, but in the those times that we succeed … awe, that will be victory!

Quote for today: “Everybody thinks of changing Humanity and Nobody thinks of changing Himself.” L. Tolstoy

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Loving our "neighbors"

On May 1st I wrote a blog that used the biblical quote, “As you have done it unto the least of these …” and then I received an email that included the following story. If I were still preaching, which I wish I were – at least occasionally would be nice, I would be telling this story. Enjoy:

Dart Test...
A young lady named Sally, relates an experience she had in a seminary class, given by her teacher, Dr. Smith. She says that Dr. Smith was known for his elaborate object lessons.

One particular day, Sally walked into the seminary and knew they were in for a fun day.

On the wall was a big target and on a nearby table were many darts. Dr. Smith told the students to draw a picture of someone that they disliked or someone who had made them angry, and he would allow them to throw darts at the person's picture.

Sally's friend drew a picture of who had stolen her boyfriend. Another friend drew a picture of his little brother. Sally drew a picture of a former friend, putting a great deal of detail into her drawing, even drawing pimples on the face. Sally was pleased with the overall effect she had achieved.

The class lined up and began throwing darts. Some of the students threw their darts with such force that their targets were ripping apart. Sally looked forward to her turn, and was filled with disappointment when Dr. Smith, because of time limits, asked the students to return to their seats. As Sally sat thinking about how angry she was because she didn't have a chance to throw any darts at her target. Dr. Smith began removing the target from the wall.

Underneath the target was a picture of Jesus. A hush fell over the room as each student viewed the mangled picture of Jesus; holes and jagged marks covered His face and His eyes were pierced.

Dr. Smith said only these words.... 'In as much as ye have done it unto the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto Me.'
Matthew 25:40.

No other words were necessary; the tears filled eyes of the students focused only on the picture of Christ.

This kind of goes along with a particular idea that I have, which I cannot back up scripturally (which is always a little more than dangerous), but nevertheless I believe that the essence of the concept can be heard within the confines of scripture. My concept is that St. Peter, sitting at the Pearly Gates of Heaven, checking people in takes on the personality and outward appearance of the person(s) that we hate the most. We have to get past our hate relations prior to enjoy the benefits of the heavenly relationship with the Heavenly Father. How can we love God whom we have not seen if we do not love our neighbor whom we have seen? Interesting question.

Quote for today: “It is natural to love them that love us, but it is supernatural to love them that hate us.” Author unknown

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

What is the meaning of life

A friend shared this youtube link with me … it is truly something else. I share it with you in the hopes that this 1 minute 41 seconds will end up meaning something to you as well. Life is not as long or as complicated as we might think!

As I listened I thought of all the pastors who will be receiving a new appointment this June/July. I thought of all the congregations who continue to try to control their own destiny by moving one pastor out and moving another in. I thought of all the members of church staffs everywhere who think that they are underpaid and under-appreciated and have decided that it simply isn't worth it. I thought of all the church members who have felt slighted and ignored by something that was done or not done and have decided it would be better for them if they were attending another congregation. I thought of people who are trying to give their life some meaning and simply move from one activity to another. In short - I thought about all who might be reading this blog and wondered ... wondered ... wondered if any of us actually really get the purpose of our existence here on planet Earth.

Give a listen to this simple 1 minute 41 second presentation and let me know what you think.

Just cut and paste this little link and then sit back and listen.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Aghast in the Market Place of Life

Yesterday I wrote about personal aghast … today I turn my attention to aghast in the market place. “Aghast in the market place” is defined as the outward expression, often expressed aggressively and inappropriately at others, of the aghast that is consuming a person internally.

Example one: A gentleman, in our community, was out with his spouse and adult son for an evening of dinner and conversation. During the dinner he drank too much. On their way home someone cut him off on a major highway and the chase was on. The alcohol and speed wasn’t a good mix. The result was the vehicle they were in crashed, the son was killed and he ended up in the hospital seriously injured. You can blame it on the alcohol, but I believe that it was simply another example of aghast in the market place!

Within the last year we’ve had numerous stories out of the Tampa/St. Petersburg area where the mere circumstances of life got the best of an individual resulting in aghast which took over their emotions ending up with someone losing their life … usually younger than 5 years old. It is sad how the “aghast in the market place” turns so quickly from a simple disagreement into something far worse.

While wondering as to why, I read an article about the role of spanking a child plays in aggressive and angry behavior when they become adults. The authors are proving a strong direct link between the role of spanking a child when they are young to aggressive behavior when they become teenagers or older. And, then I remembered a fantastic book on raising children that became a staple in the parental counseling portion of my ministry, “Raising Your Child Not by Force but by Love,” by Sidney Craig.

In his medical practice, Dr. Craig discovered extremely well adjusted children who were spanked regularly by their parents and well adjusted children who were never spanked, plus, the exact reverse in both cases. So Dr. Craig dug deeper to discover just what role physical punishment actually played in the type of behavior a child/adult would demonstrate later in life. What Sidney discovered became the basis of this book which is still in print today … namely, the role of love and affirmation plays in shaping the personality and behavior of an individual.

Sidney Craig’s analogy made perfect sense, quick to grasp and was easy to use in a counseling setting. Dr. Craig never advocated not using physical punishment, but using it only in extreme situations. The analogy was this – consider a child as a bank, as the parent you make deposits (acts of love and affirmation) and withdrawals (any punishment – note the word ANY – from the simple process of just raising your voice to the extreme act of spanking). The thing that Dr. Craig affiremd is that the more extreme the punishment the bigger the withdrawal becomes … just make sure that there is enough in your “bank account” to cover your withdrawal. If you are not sure than re-evaluate the punishment to be used.

You probably could guess what he found in the well adjusted individuals. Lots and lots and lots of affirmations, expressions of love, compliments, parents using the “please/thank you” words more than the children, uplifting and caring attitudes, etc. In other words, deposit after deposit after deposit resulting in adults that showed little to no aggression in their interactions with other people … even when there was a lot of aghast present.

Thus was the case with me … my father was a physical punishing type of father, my mother was more verbal. I didn’t know it until much, much later in life – after both parents were gone – that two of my brothers discussed, with concern, just how often and how severe they punished me which has resulted in aggressive behavior throughout my adulthood … it is hard to change the strips on the tiger when the tiger is grown. Thank God for loving and patient parishioners, a caring and understanding parents, and understanding children – the youngest has often said to me when I have apologized for my earlier behavior, “Dad, get over it. I have!” Good advice and I am working on it.

And so, when you see “aghast in the market place” check out your own aghast, consider how they were raised and try to make a deposit into their emotional “bank account” … it isn’t ever too late!

Quote for today: “Be not angry that you cannot make others as you wish them to be, since you cannot make yourself as you wish to be.” Thomas a'Kempis

Monday, May 3, 2010

Facing the Aghast of life

From an old New Yorker magazine a cartoon was cut and framed by my eldest brother. It hangs in my study, as it has ever since it came into my possession. Two tramps are standing on a city corner watching a Mr. Big Bucks chauffeured in a rather large, shiny black limousine. One of the tramps turns to the other and states, “There, but for me, go I!”

I’m presently reading, Breath, Eyes, Memory, one of the many books that has been shared with me since, for the next 6-plus weeks, I am kind of confined to the coach until my left foot heals. It is one of the nine books by the Haitian author, Edwidge Danticat – an unusually good and gifted word-smith On page 25 she writes: “She told me about a group of people in Guinea who carry the sky on their heads. They are the people of Creation. Strong, tall, and mighty people who can bear anything. Their Maker, she said, gives them the sky to carry because they are strong. These people do not know who they are, but if you see a lot of trouble in your life, it is because you were chosen to carry part of the sky on your head.” As the spiritual states, “Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen, nobody, but Jesus.” Are my troubles due to the reality that I’ve been asked to carry the sky on my head or are the troubles a result of my own self-centered attitudes or that I have failed to understand that God had chosen me to be one of the strong ones. Hmmm … there but for me?

This struck me especially hard since I have been mulling over a difficult question: Living life of aghast or allowing the aghast of life to dominate my living? We’ve all made too many mistakes and bad decisions in the course of our life – or at least I have – and, now that I am retired the memories, often painful to recall, have come flooding back. There but for me …

Two attitudes are faced – one of regret, i.e. allowing the aghast of life to dominate my living or the reverse of that foolishness, namely living life of aghast, i.e. learning from my mistakes and seeking to do better. In other words, if I fully understand the New Yorker cartoon, I cannot blame the decisions on anyone but myself. In other words I am caught between deep regret and a desire to come back (if that was possible) and re-live my life all over again … there but for me …

Did I make the best decisions that I could make given the circumstances and my abilities? I think that I did, but I have to be careful not to use this as a copout. Did I spend too much time trying to get “my” way? – Oh, yes! Could I have listened more, included more people in the decision making process, and shared my wishes less? – Yes, yes and yes again! Did I disappoint those important to me? – Unfortunately! Did I fail the trust God placed in me? – Yes again! Can I go back and change anything? - Painfully, no! As I have indicated … there but for me …

"God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference. Living one day at a time; Enjoying one moment at a time; Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace; Taking, as He did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it; Trusting that He will make all things right if I surrender to His Will; That I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with Him Forever in the next. Amen" --Reinhold Niebuhr

Aghast is a strong concept, but I pray that I am able to leave all of this “stuff” on the table between God and me and move on. I need to because when I spend too much time re-living the painful memories I become depressed and turn the growing anger in on myself and outward to those I love. I am thankful for the forgiveness of my family, friends and various people of my churches and simply pray that in the future I will be more sensitive and far more productive … there but me go I?!

Quote for today: “If you could kick the person responsible for most of your troubles in the backside, you wouldn't be able to sit down for two weeks.” Bits and Pieces

Sunday, May 2, 2010

A little side of life - concerning a Redneck Church

Well, it is Sunday. When you gather with your friends to worship you will know that you are in a Redneck Church if:

You Know You're in a Redneck Church if...

The finance committee refuses to provide funds for the purchase of a chandelier because none of the members knows how to play one.

People ask, when they learn that Jesus fed the 5000, whether the two fish were bass or catfish, and what bait was used to catch 'em.

When the pastor says, "I'd like to ask Bubba to help take up the offering," five guys and two women stand up.

Opening day of deer season is recognized as an official church holiday.

A member of the church requests to be buried in his 4-wheel-drive truck because "It ain't never been in a hole it couldn't get out of."

The choir is known as the "OK Chorale."

In a congregation of 500 members, there are only seven last names in the church directory.

People think "rapture" is what you get when you lift something too heavy.

The baptismal pool is a #2 galvanized "Wheeling" washtub.

The choir robes were donated by (and embroidered with the logo from) Billy Bob's Barbecue.

The collection plates are really hubcaps from a '56 Chevy.

Instead of a bell, you are called to service by a duck call.

The minister and his wife drive matching pickup trucks.

The communion wine is Boone's Farm "Tickled Pink."

"Thou shall not covet" applies to huntin' dogs, too.

The final words of the benediction are, "Y'all come back now, Ya hear."

Quote for today: “A man was answering questions for a national poll. When asked for his church preference, he responded, ‘Red brick.’" Source Unknown, but must have been a Redneck

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Is Liberal a vulgar word?

Listening to the present political discussion airing itself in the mass media I only have one question. When did the term “liberal” become a bad, vulgar word?

I can remember when someone called you a liberal they meant that you spoke up for decency, equality, human rights, fairness, high ethics or morals in the market place, liberty, justice and the pursuit of all that is right and correct in a democratic society. For me it meant everything that was found in the Good News of Jesus Christ. It meant that you worked for those who were disenfranchised by society. As you have done it unto the least of these …

As a liberal one would take up the cause of the homeless, the sick, the widowed and orphaned, the hungry, those in prison, the shut-in, the lame, injured, hurting, the refugees, the immigrants and equal pay for equal work … As you have done it unto the least of these …

As a liberal you sought to follow the teachings, instructions and example of Jesus Christ … which meant willing to go to your personal cross in order to make a lasting change in society for those who didn’t have the power to do it for themselves. As you have done it unto the least of these …

But now it a vulgar, dirty slur that is usually pulled out when someone needs to win a political argument by stating, with anger, “Oh, you are just a liberal!” It has become the standard 2010 political putdown … as if we should only look after our needs, our future, our desires, ourselves … as you have done it unto the least of these?

In a recent small group share group a gentleman, who I have come to highly respect for his out spoken faith declarations and commitment, upon hearing that someone was leaving the United Methodist Church because it was just filled with liberals, declared, “What is wrong with being a liberal? I’m a liberal and proud of it.” And I would strongly agree!!!

I am of the belief that we need to take back the term and take it off the table as the present day “four-letter” word - even if it has 6-letters it is used as someone had said the F, S, H or D word. Next time someone points their finger at me and state that I am a liberal I am simply going to say, “Thank you for the compliment. I appreciate that you seem to understand that I love my Savior and seek to follow him by looking after the least of these!” I’m not really sure what their reaction will be, but I have decided to take back a good and great political word that has a long, distinguished history in our society.

Did God call America into existence so that we could only become richer, bigger, or more powerful? Or, did God bless us so that we could become a blessing to others? Failure to understand what God had intended in our formation is a failure to comprehend what it means to be Kingdom People – servant people … as you have done it unto the least of these …

I will grant you this is a dangerous position to take after all it did take the revolutionist Jesus to a hill called Calvary and a cross of pain and death. The conservative religious leaders of his day couldn’t allow his message of love, grace, mercy, forgiveness and … doing it unto the least of these … to continue. So they sought to eliminate that message, but God had the last word with the resurrection. Now, again, that message is under attack and those, in the name of the Gospel, are trying to silent those who are seeking to favorably respond to God by doing it unto the least of these …

Liberal? You betcha’ because there isn’t anything wrong with being a liberal! Right? Right!

Quote for today: “No man in this world attains to freedom from any slavery except by entrance into some higher servitude. There is no such thing as an entirely free man conceivable.” Phillips Brooks