Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Soccer and life!

The FIFA World Soccer games are going strong and I’ve enjoyed watching a couple of the games. While it is not my favorite sport to watch – a good word to describe my feelings about this physically demanding sport is … boring … give me American football or tennis or anything at the college level … but here I sit. Plus, one needs to be careful because the couple of times that I have gotten up to go to the kitchen only to return to find that one of the teams has scored. Things can happen quickly … when you are not looking. I’ve even tried reading a book while “watching,” but that really is dangerous because all sorts of things can happen when you look away just to read one paragraph.

A thought began to emerge yesterday paralleling the game of soccer and life in general. I’ve been struck by the sportsmanship of most of the players … the ball goes out and there isn’t any debate as to who touched it last. The players accept the ref’s decision and the ball is put back into play immediately. Or, one player accidentally trips an opponent, the whistle blows and the ball is put back into play. An opponent falls and a player from the other team will lend a hand in lifting him up. After a particularly well-played game some of the players, showing their respect for the opposing player, will exchange their jerseys. Sportsmanship … witnessed at its best.

I do laugh at the lengths that a player will act out his “injury” in hopes of getting a whistle blown in his favor … the acting is superb … some of it better than you could find on a Broadway stage. And, then there have been a few horrible missed calls by the referees … goals that should have been granted, etc. … but by-in-large it has been a very entertaining couple of weeks.

Then it dawned on me that wouldn’t it be great if, for some reason, we had a referee running around in life with those yellow and red cards and when he or she saw something that wasn’t right he or she would blow their whistle pointing out the offending person, lift the yellow card stating that you couldn’t play the game of life tomorrow or a red card indicating that your offense is so bad that you have to sit out the rest of today. Yes, you could lift up your arms in protest, but the ref’s decision is final! I wonder how many of us just might change our behavior in order to stay in the game of life?

Then we also remember that only the times keeper knows how much time we have on the clock to play the game of life. Oh, the scripture tells us that we are given “seven score and ten” (70 years), but as testified in the daily reading of the obituary page that is not a given. But, as we have witnessed recently in the FIFA World Soccer games a lot of minutes can be added onto the games 90 minutes, but nobody really knows exactly how much. The game isn’t over until the final whistle is blown and so you play on until it sounds. You never know when there just might be an opportunity to score as the American team discovered when they scored at the 91plus minute mark in one of their games. As a player you cannot say that you are tired, retired, worn out, played out, injured, exhausted … you play your heart out until that final whistle is blown. Only God knows when the whistle will be blown for you to indicate that your game is over, but until then … play on!

Quote for today: If sports were supposed to be good for you, how come athletes are over the hill at 31? Bill Vaughan

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Life ... as good as it gets!

As the quote goes, “Life happens when you weren’t looking.” Or, another one of my favorite quotes is, “Don’t let life hit you on the butt as it passes you by.”

All of us wants our life to matter … we desire to make a difference … to leave this earth a little better than how we found it. Reality is that we are responsible for shaping our own life … and the impact it is going to have on those we met along the journey. Oh, we can blame others as in, “My life would be so much better if you would only get your act together … it is all your fault!” That is so much easier than to say that I am responsible for my own life.

Within the course of each day we are given 24 hours or 1,440 minutes or 86,400 seconds to spend as we choose. Some of us make the choice to fill up these precious moments with hours upon hours of computer games, emails, etc. … while others consume an unbelievable amount of TV time … all in the name of “being bored” or “lack of a meaningful life” or simply because we can. The choice is ours. Life really is what we make of it.

Life might not have turned out quit like we had envision it or even tried hard to plan it … but, hey, that is life. So now the choice is really ours … and Gods, if we choose to include him in the process – after all he did say that he had come to give us life … abundant life … filled to over flowing kind of life … it is right there for us to make the best of it as we can.

Remember the movie staring Jack Nicholson and Helen Hunt, As Good As It Gets? They received the Oscar for best actor and actress and the movie was nominated for best picture that year. To quote one synopsis, “It portrays an obsessive-compulsive, misanthropic bigot who becomes involved in the lives of a single mother and homosexual neighbor and how they grow personally as a result of knowing each other.” The bottom line is that we can either take control of our life or it will be controled by outside forces – some we might see and some we might not see. The remaining question is this: “If this is as good as it gets … don’t miss the opportunities that are present while looking for something better down the road.”

It is our life – we are in control … the outcome has yet to be determined. And, before you sell yourself short, each of us is making a larger impact on those around us than we can ever imagine. It might be via a smile, a friendly note, a special hug, a kind word, a phone call, a listening ear, cooking a meal, sharing a quiet moment … we all share our life differently with others. So look around and discover just how special you and your really are!

Quote for today: “One of life’s regrets is when you don’t get to choose among all the things you’ve wished for … one of its horrors is when you do.” 9 Chickweed Lane

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Surrendering to God

This is a follow-up blog to the one written on 6/24 titled, “Dealing with cancer when there isn’t faith.”

Entering her room I sensed a little tension and soon discovered why. She was being prepared for a CT scan, which would mean that she would need to lay flat. Because of a couple of broken vertebra this would require being in a stage of a little more than twilight sleep otherwise the pain would be just too great. Getting everybody on board can be a little challenging, especially in a large hospital and the involvement of multiple departments.

There was an expressed fear of the unknown. A deep desire to fully understand each step of the process … knowledge is power and she definitely has the need to be in control. Here was the opportunity that I was praying for. I just hoped that I would have the wisdom to share what needed to be shared.

When the room was finally empty, we had a chance to talk about something deeper than just the medical procedure. I began to share that either she or God could be in control, but not both. She shared that she was “raised to be strong … and in control”. I said, “Surrendering your will into God’s control takes a lot of strength, but you can continue to be strong and fight this cancer, but the outcome is left up to God. In life or in death God wants the final word.” As the old gospel hymn states, “All to Jesus I surrender, all to him I freely give …”

As we continued to speak there came over her a very calming spirit. She began to relax for the first time that day. As her husband shared later … she is ready to make peace with God. I’m not really sure what that means for them (because I think he needs to find that peace as well), but that discussion is for another day.

Surrendering to God is a little scary for most people, especially since we have been trained from early on to be so independent. It is often seen as a sign of weakness and yet when faced with large or small life challenges we soon discover that no matter how “strong” we think we are … we really aren’t as strong and self-efficient as we think we are … we really don’t have all the answers – even with the vast amount of medical knowledge that is available to us and for us.

God must have the first and last word. I believe that she just might be ready to make the next step in her relationship with God … at least that is my prayer.

Quote for today: God is ready to assume full responsibility for the life wholly yielded to Him. Andrew Murray.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

A lighter side of life

This story comes with the title, THE BAPTIST WHITE LIE CAKE, but it is not denominationally exclusive. At some point most of us have seen this kind of white lie passed on in one form or another like the time I was attending a women's society luncheon. It was a covered dish affair. One of the ladies who was sitting at my table had brought desert. She was asked for the recipe and she refused saying that it had been shared with her by the chef to whom she had to promised that she wouldn't pass it on. Without thinking I responded by stating that I believed that my wife made this desert just the other day and it can be found in such-in-such cookbook. Then I realized what I had done to this dear soul, but the truth cannot be covered by a lie ... now can it?

Have you ever told a white lie? You are going to love this, especially all of the ladies who bake for church events.

Alice Grayson was to bake a cake for the Baptist Church Ladies Group in Tuscaloosa, but forgot to do so it until the last minute. She remembered it the morning of the bake sale and after rummaging through cabinets, she found an angel food cake mix and quickly made it while drying her hair, dressing, and helping her son pack up for Scout camp.

When she took the cake from the oven, the center had dropped flat and the cake was horribly disfigured and she exclaimed, “ Oh, dear, there is not time to bake another cake!” This cake was important to Alice because she did so want to fit in at her new church and in her new community of friends.

So, being inventive, she looked around the house for something to build up the center of the cake. She found it in the bathroom - a roll of toilet paper. She plunked it in and then covered it with icing. Not only did the finished product look beautiful, it looked perfect. And before she left the house to drop the cake by the church and head for work, Alice woke her daughter and gave her some money and specific instructions to be at the bake sale the moment it opened at 9:30 to buy the cake and bring it home.

When the daughter arrived at the sale, she found the attractive, perfect cake had already been sold. Amanda grabbed her cell phone and called her mom. Alice was horrified - she was beside herself! Everyone would know! What would they think? She would be ostracized. All night Alice lay awake in bed thinking about people pointing fingers at her and talking about her behind her back.

The next day Alice promised herself she would try not to think about the cake and would attend the fancy luncheon/bridal shower at the home of a fellow church member and try to have a good time. She did not really want to attend because the hostess was a snob who more than once had looked down her nose at the fact that Alice was a single parent and not from the founding families of Tuscaloosa. But having already RSVP’d, she couldn’t think of a believable excuse to stay home.

The meal was elegant, the company was definitely upper crust old south and to Alice’s horror, the cake in question was presented for dessert. Alice felt the blood drain from her body when she saw the cake! She started out of her chair to tell the hostess all about it, but before she could get to her feet, the Mayor’s wife said, “What a beautiful cake!”. Alice, still stunned, sat back in her chair when she heard the hostess (who was a prominent church member) say, “Thank you, I baked it myself.”

Alice smiled and thought to herself, “God is good”.

Quote for today: I would not tell one lie to save the souls of all the world. John Wesley.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Say no to racism

While watching the FIFA World Soccer games I’ve been touched by a particular ad, which has the tagline: “Say no to racism.” Growing up in the 50s meant that I grew up in a racially divided America, but somehow – cannot really explain it – it never made a lot of sense to me.

I can remember one particular day, while shopping at Shell’s City (a huge box store in Miami), and asking my mother about the two drinking fountains – one for whites and one for colored. She gave some quick answer … cannot remember what it was … but I do remember walking away from the drinking fountains thinking, “That’s stupid.”

Over the course of my life and ministry I continue to run across individuals who have extremely strong opinions about race. They hate the fact that we have a black president among other things. As the economy and housing market continues their downward spiral those feelings are getting stronger and I find myself wondering why … after all this is 2010 … shouldn’t we be beyond all that foolishness. You would think wouldn’t you?

And then I look inside of myself. While I attempt to treat everybody the same and take some pride in my position on race and racism, I do have to admit that I see color when I look at another individual … it might not be the first thing I see, but nevertheless I do acknowledge a person’s race within that first meeting … and I do lock the doors of my car when driving through certain neighborhoods.

To achieve the “say no to racism” ideal I must first start with myself. I must eradicate all indications – regardless how small – from own thinking before pointing the finger at others. We have come a long way from the days and events of the 50s, but we sure still have a long way to go before we achieve a "no racism" society. I probably won’t see it in my lifetime, but I still hold out hope that it will be realized in America. Maybe someday we will see all humans as God sees them … and he created them male and female and said, “That’s good!” (Genesis)

Quote for today: Two apples up in a tree were looking down on the world. The first apple said, "Look at all those people fighting, robbing, rioting -- no one seems willing to get along with his fellow man. Someday we apples will be the only ones left. Then we'll rule the world." Replied the second apple, "Which of us -- the reds or the greens?" Gene Brown in Danbury, Con., News-Times.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Dealing with cancer when there isn't faith

Every pastor has dealt with this kind of situation at one point in his or her ministry, but it is always difficult to deal with no matter how many times it has risen.

The hospital patient has just received the difficult diagnosis of stage 4 cancer. That which makes this situation a little more difficult is that her husband had lost his job last year, then both of her parents passed away at the beginning of this year, then she had to take a medical leave of absence from her work which resulted with your work terminating her job ... and, now this new challenge.

As she shared, “I could handle any one of these situations, but all of them coming at me at once is just a little hard to understand and cope with. It seems just a little unfair especially since my life was just starting to come together.”

Her husband, who was a member of a previous church’s youth group, grew up in the church, but she didn’t. “Now don’t get me wrong,” she said, “I believe, but I’m just like my daddy. You don’t need the church to have that special feeling inside of your heart about God.” Well, she’s correct but it is not that “special feeling” which is going to see her through this life’s challenge. It is going to be faith and faith alone … and, faith is available only through the vehicle of the church. For good or for bad that is a reality of the gift of faith.

Actually, if I wanted to insensitive I could have said, “Well, how’s that ‘feeling’ thing working for you?” It really was on the tip of my tongue especially as I witnessed her tears, worry and pain. There was no faith – nothing to serve as a foundation on which to hold her up during this life-threatening situation. I knew that if followed my instinct she would have shut the door … end of conversation … “don’t let the door hit you as you leave” kind of response. Lord, give me wisdom as to when to approach the subject of faith vs. feelings. She is going to have to deal with the difference at some point, I just don’t know when nor how to bring it up.

Can you experience ungrace via the church? By all means – just read Philip Yancey’s book, “What’s so Amazing about Grace” to more completely understand the dynamics of grace and ungrace – but even in the light of some very uncomfortable situations in the church it still remains the vehicle by which God gives believers the unusual gift of faith … the ability to trust God in all circumstances regardless!

As a pastor my challenge is to begin where she is and gradually lead her to an understanding of faith and a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. The next several months is going to be interesting I just pray that God will grant me the wisdom to know what to say and when to say it.

Quote for today: Faith for my deliverance is not faith in God. Faith means, whether I am visibly delivered or not, I will stick to my belief that God is love. There are some things only learned in a fiery furnace. Oswald Chambers

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Preaching because of the fire in the belly!

This past Sunday I returned to a former church to share in their yearlong celebration of their 50th Anniversary. I was fortunate to be the pastor during the 25th Anniversary so it was a good and joyful experience to be invited back to share in this rich time in their history. Besides, they were kind enough to offer me the opportunity to preach and they were very kind and gracious with their words of encouragement and gratitude. I continue to be amazed at what God does with what he has to work with!

I have to admit that there is nothing that I would rather do than to preach. The entire experience of preparation through delivery is when I am most alive spiritually … most connected to God and all things spiritual. I am a living testimony to the witness of Jeremiah as recorded in Chapter 20, verse 9: “But if I say, "Forget it! No more God-Messages from me!" The words are fire in my belly, a burning in my bones. I'm worn out trying to hold it in. I can't do it any longer!” (The Message).

My real struggle and the absolute hardest transition since retiring is not preaching as often as I would like to … that “fire in my belly” burns nearly every Sunday. Sitting in a congregation and simply listening is by the far the most difficult thing that I have to do. Actually I find myself “weeping” internally.

My prayer has been and is now growing ever stronger that God will use me more to “break the bread of life.” This blog was started as a feeble attempt to address that internal spiritual need I have to share the spiritual journey, but it isn’t the spoken word … a sermon is a living organism and is unlike any other expression of the inner soul.

As I am thankful for the opportunity that St. Paul UMC provided to me, it did affirm that God isn’t through with this messenger … at least not yet. I just haven’t discovered or God hasn’t revealed how he plans on using me in the work of the Kingdom … and so I wait for the revelation, praying for an answer to be forth coming.

Quote for today: The world does not need sermons; it needs a message. You can go to seminary and learn how to preach sermons, but you will have to go to God to get messages. Oswald J. Smith.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Setting priorities

Yesterday afternoon I punched in the numbers for ESPN and came across the tail end of an interview with a NFL player. I didn’t catch his name. They were showing some video of him running the ball. I have to say it was impressive, but it was comment at the end of the video that literally blew me away.

His goal is to be the highest paid NFL – offensive or defensive – player … period. He expects 38 to 40 million dollars per year … guaranteed! Can you imagine? I was shocked. Is anyone worth that much money? I don’t think so, but reality is that there will be some stupid owner willing to fork over an insane amount of money for this athlete to run a few plays on Sunday afternoon in the hopes that a Super Bowl championship can come their way.

When will it end? Because after this one receives 40 million there will be another player that will think that he is “underpaid” and will demand more than that – etc., etc., etc.! Could our sports figures be entering into a “housing” type bubble that will eventually burst? Let’s hope so … but as long as fans are willing to pay an ever increasing amount for tickets which brings in some of the cash and as long as those of us who are not willing to buy tickets, but are willing and ready to turn on the TV to watch the games which generates the advertising dollars … the BIG BUCKS! … the players will have their demands met. When will it end?

How do we begin to bring some priorities back into life? That is the real challenge isn’t it? We are a profit driven society as witnessed by the shortcuts taken by BP on their oil platform resulting in the Gulf Oil Disaster or the financial Wall Street disaster or the mortgage industry bust … the willingness to do anything in order to make a larger profit … ethics be damned! When will it end?

The only conclusion that I can arrive at is this … it ends as we, as individuals, make those simply personal decisions about our priorities. What is it that we desire out of life … and at what price? Where am I willing to invest my time and energy? How much am I willing to “buy” into the agenda being set by corporate America … the so-called “sports heroes” … and society in general? When will it end? When we are willing to say – loud enough – no more! And, then back it up with our actions and the every day decisions that we make.

Quote for today: Someone once asked Tom Landry why he had been so successful as a football coach. He said, "In 1958, I did something everyone who has been successful must do, I determined my priorities for my life — God, family, and then football." Source unknown

Friday, June 18, 2010

A lighter side of life - Southern style

If you didn’t grow-up in the South you really missed out. Each part of our great country has its own unique “flavor,” but there is something real special about being from the South. Southerners just have a different way of looking at life. When I was in college and seminary I really got two educations ... one from the two different schools and one from some town-and-country work, as well as serving a Southern church in West Georgia. I don’t have anything serious to share today, just some good, down-to-earth, Southern wisdom and insight into life.

Only a Southerner knows the difference between a hissie fit and a conniption fit, and that you don't "HAVE" them, you " PITCH" them.

Only a Southerner knows how many fish, collard greens, turnip greens, peas, beans, etc., make up "a mess."

Only a Southerner can show or point out to you the general direction of "yonder."

Only a Southerner knows exactly how long "directly" is, ... as in:
"Going to town, be back directly."

Even Southern babies know that "Gimme some sugar" is not a request for the white, granular sweet substance that sits in a pretty little bowl in the middle of the table.

All Southerners know exactly when "by and by" is. They might not use the term, but they know the concept well.

Only a Southerner knows instinctively that the best gesture of solace for a neighbor who's got trouble is a plate of hot fried chicken and a big bowl of cold potato salad. If the neighbor's trouble is a real crisis, they also know to add a large banana puddin!

Only Southerners grow up knowing the difference between "right near" and "a right far piece." They also know that "just down the road" can be 1 mile or 20.

No true Southerner would ever assume that the car with the flashing turn signal is actually going to make a turn.

A Southerner knows that "fixin" can be used as a noun, a verb, or an adverb.
Only Southerners make friends while standing in lines, ... and when we're "in line," ... we talk to everybody!

Put 100 Southerners in a room and half of them will discover they're related, even if only by marriage.

In the South, y'all is singular, .... all y'all is plural.

Southerners know grits come from corn and how to eat them.

Every Southerner knows tomatoes with eggs, bacon, grits, and coffee are perfectly wonderful; that red eye gravy is also a breakfast food; and that fried green tomatoes are not a breakfast food.

When you hear someone say, "Well, I caught myself lookin'," you know you are in the presence of a genuine Southerner!

Only true Southerners say "sweet tea" and "sweet milk." Sweet tea indicates the need for sugar and lots of it -- we do not like our tea unsweetened. "Sweet milk" means you don't want buttermilk.

And a true Southerner knows you don't scream obscenities at little old ladies who drive 30 MPH on the freeway. You just say, "Bless her heart" ...and go your own way.

Quote for today: Experience comes from what we have done. Wisdom comes from what we have done badly. Theodore Levitt

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Our strength is a gift

In the novel, Toward the Sunrising, by Lynn and Gilbert Morris there are these two quotes which spoke to my spiritual journey: “Your body is very strong, and by that you will know that a heart strong in love and generosity will never wither and grow bitter and full of grief.” … “For the Lord has shown me now that your body will be strong, and hard, and muscled, even until the day you die, and it is His reminder to you that your strength comes from Him.” (page 47)

The Bible speaks of the body as a temple – calling us to be careful as to what we put on and what we consume for it is a holy shrine unto the Lord. But, like the novel’s reminder, have we ever really stopped to consider that what we have is really a gift. What talents we have are a gift? What mental capacity we have is a gift? Our physical strength and agility is a gift?

And then, place it within the context that the giver of these marvelous gifts comes to visit our home on a regular basis … shouldn’t we have the gifts displayed to the best of our ability? I would hate to a have an expensive gift given to me and then have the giver find the gift simply thrown aside … ill kept … rarely used … mistreated … even abused. While it would speak volumes about the gift is actually speaks louder about what we think of the giver. Doesn’t it?

I can remember a physical education coach stating more than once … “Take care of your bodies, they have to last a life time!” We would all laugh, but he was dead serious. If we don’t treat our bodies well now they won’t treat us well later. That’s a reality. I’ve often wondered how many residences of nursing homes would actually be there if they simply had eaten more balanced meals, exercised regularly and used their mental capacity more often.

I think of Herbert M. who was in one of my churches. We were literally blown out of the water when we learned how old her was … but he followed a regular routine. Or, the 100 plus individuals recognized by Willard Scott and how often he mentions how active they are.

Now I would grant you that some of it has to do with genes. Some people are just born with better genes than others – they can eat anything and as much as they wish, as well as never exercise one iota and they are healthy … it is simply not fair, is it? But for most of us there is a need to follow the instructions for a healthy lifestyle so that we can have a healthy life. After all, our strength is from God and to God we owe all honor and praise.

This is not my soapbox and I do not subscribe to the concept, “if it taste good spit it out!” But the novel’s concept has gotten me thinking down that path simply because I take my body for granted and just kind of expect it to always do what I ask it to do. Now that I’m getting older and my joints are sorer than they have been maybe … just maybe I ought to start following what I know to be good for me!

Care to join me?

Quote for today: The only way to keep your health is to eat what you don't want, drink what you don't like and do what you'd rather not. Mark Twain.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Church growth ... real church growth

Well, here we go again. Don’t get me wrong I really do love my denomination. It was a choice I made for a variety of reasons. I’ve dedicated my pastoral career to making my denomination the best it could be, as well as an authentically embodiment of the Kingdom of God.

Over these many years the denomination has been in decline. Actually, it has been in decline since the 1890s, which is hard for some to believe. In the 1890s the Methodist Church was growing, but not as fast than the population of America was increasing … and it has only gotten worse.

Our response? We bring in one program after another and/or we play around with the organization. Today is no different. From my perspective, playing around with the organization, i.e. what committees/councils/boards we have, is like “rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.” It keeps us busy, but doesn’t keep the boat from sinking.

The secret to church growth cannot be found in the organization nor in some imported program that has worked in another situation. We have spent tons of money, brought in a score of experts, shipped off too many members to one seminar after another, instituted numerous statewide programs … all with the same result – nothing actually happens – no change – no growth – same-old-same-old.

Painfully, in too many cases there is the false assumption that if we hire the correct staff person, i.e. youth director, children’s minister, choir/music director, we will grow or if we only had the right pastor … then things would turn around and we will start to grow again. WRONG! Two of my favorite quotes are: “If you continue to do what you have always done you will continue to get what you have always gotten” and “Stupidity: doing the same thing, but expecting different results.” We simply do not learn the lessons from the past.

The percentages vary a little from study to study, but basically they are all very close … 1% growth comes via an evangelistic outreach; 6% as a result of small study groups and/or Sunday School; 3% because of the pastor, choir or some other kind of staffing; and then you have location, worship style, advertising, programming, mission outreach, etc. And, then you have 90% as a direct result of being invited to participate by a friend, neighbor, associate or relative. Growth comes through networking … one-on-one … people caring for others by direct involvement in their lives.

I think about my own life and it was a neighbor who asked my mother for permission to take me to church with her and her daughter who was my friend. The rest is history as they say. It wasn’t the organization, a program, nor the staff that resulted in my attendance and involvement, but friendship … being invited and taken to church!

So go ahead and play around with the organization – move around those deck chairs – and spend the money for some extra special summer evangelistic outreach … but really don’t expect anything exciting to happen. I’ve been there and done that … and I will try not to be too disappointed when the status quo continues.


Quote for today:
The church is the only cooperative society in the world that exists for the benefit of its non-members. William Temple

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Headstrong vs. heart-strong

Let me share some selected quotes from, In the Twilight, In the Evening by Lynn and Gilbert Morris … because confession is good for the soul …:

“…in people with sound hearts and minds there is always an end to the tears and hysteria, if not to the sorrow” … “‘I have been so stupid. I have been so arrogant. I thought I … knew everything, could do everything, could … control everyone. Now I find I can’t even control myself!’” … “’Nevertheless I am continually with thee: thou has holden me by my right hand.’” … “’I wanted so badly to be strong, but instead I became – headstrong, instead of … heart-strong.’” (pages 302 and 303)

I’m not sure if these simple words speak to anyone’s life, but they jumped off the page and hit my spirit … especially the “headstrong” vs. the “heart-strong” comparison. There isn’t any other comparison that speaks directly to sum up my life and ministry. In any particular situation I had a tendency to go into it with my heart in the right place, my purpose well thought out and my Kingdom priorities properly laid out before me, but always … and I mean always … I allowed my head to take over … take no prisoners philosophy … win at all cost. If only I had a chance to do it all over again this time it would be different! But would it really be different? So I simply pass on this “wisdom” so that others who follow can get it right in their relationships and in their ministry.

Being lead by the heart is good … being controlled by the head isn’t. It is usually the head that tries to control others and/or the situation … the outcome. As the character Dr. Cheney Duvall states above, “I can’t even control myself!” When I become angry it is because I’ve lost control of the situation and myself … and it isn’t pretty.

Are you a head or heart type of person? Do you try to control everyone and everything? Strength is found in surrender not in victory – surrendering to the desires of the Kingdom and the King while allowing others – even our children – to be successful or to fail.

Since reading this novel – actually since full retirement – I’ve been evaluating my hearts condition. I would highly recommend the process. I pray that freedom from guilt and self-conscious regret will be the final gift of grace from the Savior ... that the "tears ... sorrow" will end. Come join the journey!

Quote for today: Heart is used in Scripture as the most comprehensive term for the authentic person. It is the part of our being where we desire, deliberate, and decide. It has been described as "the place of conscious and decisive spiritual activity," "the comprehensive term for a person as a whole; his feelings, desires, passions, thought, understanding and will," and "the center of a person. The place to which God turns." J. Stowell

Monday, June 14, 2010

Summer - Ah, yes I remember those days!

To the chant of “No more homework, no more books, no more teachers’ dirty looks” summer vacation would start. It would a carefree time filled with wondrous activities. Ah, yes I remember those days.

Shoes were only worn on Sundays or when you went with your mother to the store otherwise the normal attire was simply a pair of shorts … and sometimes it was so hot we wish we didn’t even have to wear them, but decency would require us to bow to society standards. Ah, yes I remember those days.

The only time we would be found indoors was when it was time to eat or because of a thunderstorm. Without lightening we would simply continue to play … it was great fun to play in a summer rain shower … but when lightening came it would send us indoors where my mother would pull out the Monopoly game and then sit down to play it with us. Oh, those famous Monopoly games could go on for several days. It usually came down to a challenge between Ma and Donald Hall. Ah, yes I remember those days.

Summer was time for long hid-n-seek games that would only end when our mothers would come to the door and call us in for the evening … usually around 10 PM. Hid-n-seek were real challenges since we would use most of a two block area. Ah, yes I remember those days.

Bicycles were the mode of transportation and we rode everywhere. Miami was pretty safe and so off we would go. Never really knowing where we would end up. Downtown, North Miami, Hialeah … naturally we would have to skirt the truth since our mothers did say that we weren’t to go to far away from home … what they didn’t know wouldn’t hurt them … It was the adventure of discovering new and different parts of our city. We loved to go ride around the Orange Bowl or catch a summer league baseball game at Florida Field. We thought we were real cool when we would use clothes pins to put some old playing cards up against the wheel spokes to make a “motor” sound. Ah, yes I remember those days.

The local city park was just across 12th Avenue and they had a public pool. Most afternoons, if we weren’t playing a pick-up game of baseball in the park we would be at the pool. And there was always at least several picnics planned at the beach – especially when members of the family would visit from up north. Ah, yes I remember those days.

Church offered the usual fair … VBS for those in elementary school and YAW (Youth Activities Week) for those in Junior and Senior High School … more junior than senior high students participated … but we still had a good number who did participate. There was also a week of summer camp at the Methodist Youth Camp in Leesburg. Ah, yes I remember those days.

Climbing trees were a good afternoon activity – just to see how high we could climb. Then there was the annual summer challenge of trying to open a coconut for the delicious milk and the pure white meat of the coconut. Boy, how we did work to realize that special prize, but the effort was always worth the results. Mangos would be coming in and there were many trees in our yards. You would have to sit with your legs spread leaning over to keep the juices from running down your belly. There was also the Good Humor Man – it was amazing what you could buy for a dime or maybe fifteen cents. The ice cream would melt before you could eat it all. The water hose was a great source for a quick drink of water and a nice refreshing quick rinse off after the joy of eating a good warm Mango or a cold ice cream cone … but the use of the hose usually ended up with a water fight. Ah, yes I remember those days.

Being bored was never an option … there was just too many things to do. The summer challenge was trying to get them all in before school would start up the day after Labor Day.

When it comes to summer what do you remember? What is your fondest memory? What were the most special cherished activities that occupied your summer days? When you look back what do you share with your children or grandchildren about your days of growing up in those special summer days?

Quote for today: Tell me; I'll forget. Show me; I may remember. But involve me and I'll understand. Chinese proverb

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Reflections on the REAL Victory of the FIFA World Cup

2010 FIFA World Cup has now officially begun. Saturday the U.S.A. team went up against their biggest challenge in their bracket … England. England was favored to win so a 1-1 tie was as good as a win. The challenge will continue.

They played their game in the new 44,000 seat Royal Bafokeng (“People of the Dew”) Stadium. The history of this particular area of South Africa can be a lesson in patience, planning and foresight. Those ingredients are often lost on the average individual and/or nation. I’m indebted to Alex Perry’s article in TIME magazine, June 7th issue for the facts found in this blog.

In 1856 their territory was essentially stolen from them via governmental take over who sold vast tracks of “unowned land” – the white government did not considered the native African tribe as having any legitimate claims on the 540 square mile area thus the status of being “unowned”. Chef Mokgatle wasn’t willing to simply sit back and give up his beautiful tribal territory … so a plan was created.

The plan was “to send hundreds of men to work the Kimberly diamond mines.” Then the chef turned to a missionary in the area to speak on behalf of the tribe. Through this missionary and the monies from the earnings from the diamond mines they were able to buy back the territory – square mile by square mile … until it was all back in the hands of the tribe only to be lost again with later developments when other discoveries were made.

It didn’t help when some geologists discovered that “75% of the world’s platinum was under their feet.” When you include “the 46 years of apartheid” into the equation you can begin to appreciate just how much the resurrection of this stadium is a true miracle of patience, some extensive planning and the vision of a chef that wasn’t willing to give up. And then, when you include that the tribal leadership was open and willing to share the wealth with all people of the tribe – for everyone’s benefit – which is unlike many of other areas of this naturally enriched continent. Instead of shipping off millions to secret Swiss bank accounts “millions has been spent on roads, schools, social housing, clinics and sewerage across the kingdom’s 29 villages.”

So as I cheered on our men to their tie I was also cheering the good citizens of this unique kingdom for actually being the true winners … even before the first game was played. “Bafokeng has an enduring creed of single-minded pragmatism … Throughout history, the Bafokeng adapted and negotiated and maneuvered every change and opportunity that came up.”

We can all learn the lessons that these citizens of this kingdom have learned and followed their entire life. Be single-minded … Implement a strategic plan for the future … stick to the plan regardless of any set-backs that can be experienced … remember that you do not need to be pulling at the oars when the ship comes in … Share the wealth that you do have with everyone … Do not be afraid of change … See an opportunity with every challenge …

Before the first game was played, before the world arrived to enjoy their new stadium, before the winning team celebrate their hard fought victory … the Bafokeng Kingdom citizens were already the victors. May their numbers … and the sharing, hard work ethic … increase … in you and in me!

Quote for today: My grandfather once told me that there are two kinds of people: those who do the work and those who take the credit. He told me to try to be in the first group; there was less competition there. Indira Gandhi

Saturday, June 12, 2010

God vs. Science

The following conversation between a college professor and a young student, Albert Einstein, recently came across my desk. While it probably is more urban legend than actual fact (i.e. it cannot be proven or denied that this conversation between Einstein and a college professor took place) nevertheless it makes for an interesting read, as well as a very good point for the existence of God. I share it this morning in the hopes that those who might be struggling over that very same question.

“Let me explain the problem science has with religion.”

The atheist professor of philosophy pauses before his class and then asks one of his new students to stand.

“You’re a Christian, aren’t you, son?”

“Yes sir, “the student says.

“So you believe in God?”

“Absolutely.”

“Is God good?”

“Sure! God’s good.”

“Is God all-powerful? Can God do anything?”

“Yes”

“Are you good or evil?”

“The Bible says I’m evil.”

The professor grins knowingly. “Aha! The Bible!” He considers for a moment. “Here’s one for you. Let’s say there’s a sick person over here and you can cure him. You can do it. Would you help him? Would you try?”

“Yes sir, I would.”

“So you’re good!”

I wouldn’t say that.”

“But why not say that? You’d help a sick and maimed person if you could. Most of us would if we could. But God doesn’t.”

The student does not answer, so the professor continues. “He doesn’t, does he? My brother was a Christian who died of cancer, even though he prayed to Jesus to heal him. How is this Jesus good? Can you answer that one?”
The student remains silent. “No, you can’t, can you?” the professor says. He takes a sip of water from a glass on his desk to give the student time to relax. “Let’s start again, young fella. Is God good?”

“Er..yes,” the student says.

“Is Satan good?”

The student doesn’t hesitate on this one. “No.”

“Then where does Satan come from?”

The student falters. “From God.”

“That’s right. God made Satan, didn’t he? Tell me, son. Is there evil in this world?”
“Yes, sir.”

“Evil’s everywhere, isn’t it? And God did make everything, correct?”

”Yes.”

”So who created evil?” The professor continued, “If God created everything, then God created evil, since evil exists, and according to the principle that our works define who we are, then God is evil.”

Again, the student has no answer. “Is there sickness? Immorality? Hatred? Ugliness? All these terrible things, do they exist in this world?”

The student squirms on his feet. “Yes.”

“So who created them?”

The student does not answer again, so the professor repeats his question. ”Who created them?” There is still no answer. Suddenly the lecturer breaks away to pace in front of the classroom. The class is mesmerized. ”Tell me,” he continues onto another student. “Do you believe in Jesus Christ, son?”

The student’s voice betrays him and cracks. “Yes, professor, I do.”

The old man stops pacing. “Science says you have five senses you use to identify and observe the world around you. Have you ever seen Jesus?”

“No sir. I’ve never seen Him.”

“Then tell us if you’ve ever heard your Jesus?”

“No, sir, I have not.”

“Have you ever felt your Jesus, tasted your Jesus or smelt your Jesus? Have you ever had any sensory perception of Jesus Christ, or God for that matter?”
“No, sir, I’m afraid I haven’t.”

“Yet you still believe in him?”

”Yes.”

“According to the rules of empirical, testable, demonstrable protocol, science says your God doesn’t exist. What do you say to that, son?”

“Nothing,” the student replies. “I only have my faith.”

“Yes, faith,” the professor repeats. “And that is the problem science has with God. There is no evidence, only faith.”

The student stands quietly for a moment, before asking a question of His own. “Professor, is there such thing as heat?”

“Yes.”

“And is there such a thing as cold?”

“Yes, son, there’s cold too.”

“No sir, there isn’t.”

The professor turns to face the student, obviously interested. The room suddenly becomes very quiet. The student begins to explain. “You can have lots of heat, even more heat, super-heat, mega-heat, unlimited heat, white heat, a little heat or no heat, but we don’t have anything called “cold”. We can hit down to 458 degrees below zero, which is no heat, but we can’t go any further after that. There is no such thing as cold; otherwise we would be able to go colder than the lowest -458 degrees. Every body or object is susceptible to study when it has or transmits energy, and heat is what makes a body or matter have or transmit energy. Absolute zero (-458 F) is the total absence of heat. You see, sir, cold is only a word we use to describe the absence of heat. We cannot measure cold. Heat we can measure in thermal units because heat is energy. Cold is not the opposite of heat, sir, just the absence of it.”

Silence across the room. A pen drops somewhere in the classroom, sounding like a hammer.

“What about darkness, professor. Is there such a thing as darkness?”

“Yes,” the professor replies without hesitation. “What is night if it isn’t darkness?”
“You’re wrong again, sir. Darkness is not something; it is the absence of something. You can have low light, normal light, bright light, flashing light, but if you have no light constantly you have nothing and it’s called darkness, isn’t it? That’s the meaning we use to define the word. In reality, darkness isn’t. If it were, you would be able to make darkness darker, wouldn’t you?”

The professor begins to smile at the student in front of him. This will be a good semester. “So what point are you making, young man?”

“Yes, professor. My point is, your philosophical premise is flawed to start with, and so your conclusion must also be flawed.”

The professor’s face cannot hide his surprise this time. “Flawed? Can you explain how?”
“You are working on the premise of duality,” the student explains. “You argue that there is life and then there’s death; a good God and a bad God. You are viewing the concept of God as something finite, something we can measure. Sir, science can’t even explain a thought.” “It uses electricity and magnetism, but has never seen, much less fully understood either one. To view death as the opposite of life is to be ignorant of the fact that death cannot exist as a substantive thing. Death is not the opposite of life, just the absence of it.” “Now tell me, professor. Do you teach your students that they evolved from a monkey?”

“If you are referring to the natural evolutionary process, young man, yes, of course I do.”
“Have you ever observed evolution with your own eyes, sir?”

The professor begins to shake his head, still smiling, as he realizes where the argument is going. A very good semester, indeed.

“Since no one has ever observed the process of evolution at work and cannot even prove that this process is an on-going endeavor, are you not teaching your opinion, sir? Are you now not a scientist, but a preacher?”

The class is in uproar. The student remains silent until the commotion has subsided. “To continue the point you were making earlier to the other student let me give you an example of what I mean.” The student looks around the room. “Is there anyone in the class who has ever seen the professor’s brain?” The class breaks out into laughter. “Is there anyone here who has ever heard the professor’s brain, felt the professor’s brain, touched or smelt the professor’s brain? No one appears to have done so. So, according to the established rules of empirical, stable, demonstrable protocol, science says that you have no brain, with all due respect, sir.” “So if science says you have no brain, how can we trust your lectures, sir?”

Now the room is silent. The professor just stares at the student, his face unreadable. Finally, after what seems an eternity, the old man answers. “I guess you’ll have to take them on faith.”

“Now, you accept that there is faith, and, in fact, faith exists with life,” the student continues. “Now, sir, is there such a thing as evil?” Now uncertain, the professor responds, “Of course, there is. We see it everyday. It is in the daily example of man’s inhumanity to man. It is in the multitude of crime and violence everywhere in the world. These manifestations are nothing else but evil.”

To this the student replied, “Evil does not exist sir, or at least it does not exist unto itself. Evil is simply the absence of God. It is just like darkness and cold, a word that man has created to describe the absence of God. God did not create evil. Evil is the result of what happens when man does not have God’s love present in his heart. It’s like the cold that comes when there is no heat or the darkness that comes when there is no light.”
The professor sat down.

PS: the student was Albert Einstein. Albert Einstein wrote a book titled God vs. Science in 1921...

Quote for today: Those that think it permissible to tell white lies soon grow colorblind. Austin O'Malley.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Children and our responsibility

I’ve been thinking of children lately. Maybe because we are taking care of our granddaughter while our daughter is off for a continuing education experience. Maybe because we are anticipating and planning for our second grandchild to arrive in August. Or, maybe just because.

Being just a little bit prejudice, but I, like most grandparents, thinks that our granddaughter is probably one of the smartest, cutest little young lady you would ever wish to meet. But, in retrospect, it could be a little bit on how she is being raised. We read a lot of books to her, we limit the amount of TV she gets to see to about a half an hour, there is tons of affirmation and hugs, and her parents, especially her daddy, use bath time to communicate directly with her for you see they cannot learn unless you first get their attention. Plus, there is a lot of “please” and “thank yous” sent her way as we request her to do something. She really is something else.

Then it dawned on me as I watered my plants (my hobby) that I get good results from what I grow based on what I choose to put on them. If I don’t do anything most of them will die. If I only give them water they will grow, but not necessarily well. If I choose to fertilize them with a standard, common fertilizer they will thrive and even flower, but they will fail to reach their full potential. BUT … if I use Peter’s for my orchids and Miracle Grow, including potting soil, for all of my other plants they will be real happy and bloom better than anything that I could imagine.

Children are more important than mere plants and yet, too many times, we provide more care and attention to growing our plants than we do to our precious little ones who God has given to us … entrusted to our care … to assist them into growing up to be effective and contributing adults. Our approach is more about trying to control our children instead of growing them into there full potential.

I am thankful every day for our two daughters who have grown up to be fantastic adults … in spite of any input from their own day (unfortunately, I was more into control than shaping), I am thankful every day for the beautiful and smart granddaughter that has brought incredible joy into our lives and anticipate with a sense of great expectations to holding a new grandson. I am thankful every day for our daughter and her husband and the fantastic parenting job that they are doing in raising her. I am thankful every day for the exciting and loving relationship that our other daughter has with our granddaughter. Family is truly priority #1. May God continue to give us all the guidance and wisdom in raising the children placed into our sphere of influence.

Quote for today: Children are like wet cement. Whatever falls on them makes an impression. Unknown source

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Church and pastor's DNA

Well, it is summer – heat and humidity has come in with all of its force. With summer, comes the inevitable pastoral changes across the nation. Why? Because the children are out of school and it is simply easier on the families.

Some churches requested and desired a change in pastoral leadership. Some pastors requested a change because they felt that their work was completed or they simply wanted a new challenge. Some simply moved because that is what they do … they move often.

What isn’t inevitable to all involved is the matching of the DNA of a church to the spiritual DNA of the new pastor and vise-versa. Discovering the DNA of any particular church is rather difficult and quite challenging, as is the understanding of the DNA of any particular pastor.

A couple of examples:
As I was assigned to one particular church in south Florida I discovered that one of my colleagues had grown up at the church and entered the ministry out of its youth group. When I asked him for his best advice he shared, “They ought to take a bulldozer to it and start all over. The long serving and nationally recognized founding pastor had established the DNA of that congregation as a glorified country social club.”

Another church, at the other end of the state – a church to which I will be returning as a part of their 50th Anniversary in a couple of weeks – I was having a hard time understanding the particular uniqueness and challenges in this congregation until we celebrated the 25th Anniversary and invited back the founding pastor. During the Saturday evening dinner this pastor stated, “I knew that this would be a strong church because we never made a decision without a good fight!” BINGO … that was their DNA.

Some church’s DNA can change if the appointed or called pastor can stay there long enough to bring it about. As a present United Methodist bishop once shared with me, “It normally takes 7 to 8 years before the pastor can bring about any lasting DNA changes within the congregation. Unfortunately, the average length of pastoral appointments is just not long enough to make it happen.”

The other factor involved in a good, lasting relationship between a church and its pastor is the spiritual DNA of the pastor … especially if the pastor has had an effective pastorate at their previous assignment. He or she will come into their new situation and simply try to pick up where they left off. It takes spiritual discernment to start where their new congregation is and grow from there. A wise word from Bishop Nolan Harmon, who taught my church administration course in seminary, was, “Start every new assignment as if it is your first pastorate. Do not bring any baggage – good or bad – from your previous church. It will only end up hurting you in the long run.” Unfortunately for me I didn’t take his wisdom to heart and ended up paying the ultimate price.

And so the process begins again for any number of pastors and congregations. I wish them all well. Some will be successful while others will be a total disaster. And … some how in all of this mess … God’s will still gets done. At least let that be our prayer!

Quote for today: a poem from an unknown source
There is a pastor, himself he cherished,
Who loved his position not his parish
So the more he preached
The less he reached
And this is why his parish perished.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Disappointment and Hope

Disappointment comes into everyone’s life, even when there was great hope. In the face of the inevitable what happens to hope? Well, you can continue to hope or simply give up and say it just isn’t worth holding onto hope … what’s the use … you are just setting yourself for another disappointment … and so you surrender to a hopeless mind-set becoming defeated even before you try.

Just what is hope? Hope is Dr. Claude Thompson, dying of cancer, teaching the course, “Theology of Hope” to standing room only (actually he died before the end of the term). Hope is the birth of every child. Hope is believing in the unborn child that she was going to be something real special even after the doctors said that the child will be severely retarded (she turned out to be brilliant with an I.Q. off the charts). Hope is waking up every morning with great anticipation that today is going to be different. Hope is believing that the doctor’s do not, will not have the last word on your health situation. Hope is believing that resurrection is possible when the world is dark and death has been declared.

Where do you find hope? When all odds seem to be staked against you and your life’s situation there is something buried deep within your soul … the seed of hope because "hope springs eternal". Never give up hope as long as God has the last word.

There is an old sermon story on discouragement: A man approached a little league baseball game one afternoon. He asked a boy in the dugout what the score was. The boy responded, "Eighteen to nothing--we're behind." "Boy," said the spectator, "I'll bet you're discouraged." "Why should I be discouraged?" replied the little boy. "We haven't even gotten up to bat yet!"

Or, my favorite, is the story of a girl who was praying for a horse – day-after-day – and then one day discovered a rather large pile of manure in the yard. She began to frantically dig into the pile of manure with her bare hands stating, with great enthusiasm, “With this much manure there has got to be a horse in here some place!”

The “manure” of life can take the "wind out of our sails", as they say, we simply get tired of the smell, the dirt, the feeling “what’s the use,” and the attitude of a tired spirit. Disappointment can set in before we even give hope a real chance. When we give up on hope we are really giving up on God. We are saying that in my situation nothing is possible – regardless that the Bible states that with God everything is possible. But, do we really believe that – that with God everything … EVERYTHING … is possible? If we believe it then how should it change our life? our attitude? our behavior? our way of relating to the others in our life?

It is either allowing hope to work its grace filled miracle in our hearts or allowing disappointment to win. It really is up to us … isn’t it?

Quote for today: There are no hopeless situations; there are only people who have grown hopeless about them. Clare Boothe Luce.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Education and the 4-day school week!

Listening to CNN’s Headline News yesterday afternoon there was an item for which they were soliciting listeners comments. When I heard what was to be discussed I sat up in my chair and said, “W – H – A – T!!!!” I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. The topic for discussion: “Should the school week be shortened to 4 days in order to save money?” Evidently a sufficient number of school districts are considering this drastic move to warrant a general discussion of the subject matter HLN.

I will be interested in your comments, but first here are my thoughts.

Why would we be shortening our school days when we are already running drastically behind other countries in the level of academic achievement from our students? Wouldn’t a shorter school week simply cause us to fall further behind?

Several countries, as well as private schools in this country run a 6-day school week and are making huge advances in the student’s abilities. Wouldn’t it be wiser to length the week instead of making it shorter? Are we really willing to sacrifice the education of our young men and women in order to save a dollar or two?

We seem to be always experimenting with our school systems and what do we have to show for it?

While going to school in Nashville one of the “sister” campuses was George Peabody College for Teachers (now a part of Vanderbilt University). George Peabody had an experimental school where new and different approaches to education were tried out to see if they really work. Those of us, in the college community, were aware of some of the experiments that were tried and proven to be ineffective. To my great surprise, after I graduated from college and then seminary returning to Florida with a young son and daughter about to enter the school system in Miami, to discover that the Miami School System was implementing some of the very things that George Peabody Experimental School had tried and found wanting.

Don’t we ever learn? … evidently not, because here comes around the 4-day school week discussion all over again - some educators and parents are for it, some are not. And in the balance our children become guinea pigs and are the ultimate losers. Let’s hope that the almighty dollar doesn’t win out at the detriment of the most precious resource we are privileged to handle through life … the lives and minds of our children!

Quote for today: Bok's Law: If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Some good one-liners

We’ve all seen them at some point over the course of our lives … those catchy one-liners. Until the other day I never really gave most of them much thought as to how they specifically apply to me and my life. But, when I took the time I made the painful discovery that they nearly all hit directly at the heart of my personality and its quirks … sometimes they were encouraging, sometimes made me a little uncomfortable, sometimes they just caused me to think long and hard. It reminded of a series of sermons I preached at one of my churches. Afterwards, one of the leaders came out, complimented me on the sermon and in passing, said, “You really gave it to ‘them’ preacher!” My reply was simple, “I thought I was preaching to everyone this morning not to just a few.”

Don't let your worries get the best of you; remember, Moses started out as a basket case.

Some people are kind, polite, and sweet-spirited until you try to sit in their pews.

Many folks want to serve God, but only as advisers.

It is easier to preach ten sermons than it is to live one.

The good Lord didn't create anything without a purpose, but mosquitoes come close.

When you get to your wit's end, you'll find God lives there.

People are funny; they want the front of the bus, middle of the road, and back of the church.

Opportunity may knock once, but temptation bangs on the front door forever.

Quit griping about your church; if it was perfect, you couldn't belong.

If a church wants a better pastor, it only needs to pray for the one it has.

We're called to be witnesses, not lawyers or Judges.

God Himself doesn't propose to judge a man until he is dead. So why should you?

Some minds are like concrete thoroughly mixed up and permanently set.

Peace starts with a smile.

I don't know why some people change churches; what difference does it make which one you stay home from?

A lot of church members singing 'Standing on the Promises' are just sitting on the premises.

Be ye fishers of men. You catch 'em - He'll clean 'em.

Stop, Drop, and Roll won't work in Hell.

Coincidence is when God chooses to remain anonymous.

Don't put a question mark where God put a period.

Don't wait for 6 strong men to take you to church.

Forbidden fruits create many jams.

God doesn't call the qualified, He qualifies the called.

God grades on the cross, not the curve.

God loves everyone, But probably prefers 'fruits of the spirit' over 'religious nuts!'

God promises a safe landing, not a calm passage.

He who angers you, controls you!

If God is your Co-pilot, swap seats!

Prayer: Don't give God instructions, just report for duty!

The task ahead of us is never as great as the Power behind us.

The Will of God never takes you to where the Grace of God will not protect you.

We don't change the message, the message changes us.

You can tell how big a person is by what it takes to discourage him.

The best mathematical equation I have ever seen: 1 cross + 3 nails = 4 given .

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Questions?

Ann Spivack, in Reader’s Digest, tells this personal story: While our friends from India traveled around California on business, they left their 11 year-old daughter with us. Curious about my going to church one Sunday morning, she decided to come along. When we returned home, my husband asked her what she thought of the service.

"I don't understand why the West Coast isn't included too," she replied. When we inquired what she meant, she added, "You know, in the name of the Father, the Son, and the whole East Coast."


And so we, as adults, try to understand what the child from India could not comprehend namely the Trinity. Father, Son, Holy Ghost – Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer – Three persons in one and yet not three gods … Trinity, an explanation for the unexplainable God. Attempts usually included fail attempts that share about the various “functions” of the Universal Power Source called God. The end result in all of our attempts is simply to reduce God to our size – a deity that we can carry around in our pocket as a personal lucky charm, so to speak.

There are some questions that haunt every pastor that has stood in the pulpit. Questions such as, “What is the meaning of the Book of Revelation?” “Just what is the unpardonable sin?” “If God is good then why does he permit evil?” “Why are some people healed after prayer and others are not?” and “Can you explain the Trinity?” They are tough questions for which there are not any simple answers … and the assumption is that pastors are not suppose to struggle with these issues, but rather have all the answers.

Well, we don’t … or at least I don’t. These are the very questions which confronts you, confronts me. The larger assumption, which was the prevailing mind-set when I was in seminary, was … never, ever bring your struggles and doubts to the pulpit. Thank goodness that in many areas of the country that is beginning to change. Pastors are just fellow strugglers on the journey of faith. “Lord, I believe, help thou my unbelief.”

Or, as an old Scottish Presbyterian preacher once shared his definition of faith in an acrostic: F – forsaking; A – all; I – I; T – trust; H – Him … Faith is in truth forsaking all and trusting in God … not out of knowledge, but out of not knowing. Ask a young child why he or she is willing to jump off a high ledge into his/her daddy’s arms they would not be able to explain it other than, “Because his my dad!” End of story … it doesn’t need an explanation because no explanation will work. Just because … period.

Well, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it! The longer I live the more questions and few answers I have. Maybe it really does boil down to simply having faith – faith is the ability to ask questions in the face of unanswerable questions.

Quote for today: A friend once asked Isidor I. Rabi, a Nobel prize winner in science, how he became a scientist. Rabi replied that every day after school his mother would talk to him about his school day. She wasn't so much interested in what he had learned that day, but she always inquired, "Did you ask a good question today?" "Asking good questions," Rabi said, "made me become a scientist." Source Unknown

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Forwarded e-mails and personal integrity

Over the last many years there has been a major collision in my soul between a life centered around scripture and the role that e-mail plays in staying connected with friends and family.

First part causing this collision is the instructions from scripture about loving our enemies – which has come to mean, in our present political and social culture, as anyone different than us … politically, socially, economically, culturally – along with that portion of the 10 Commandments which directs us not to bear false witness.

Secondly, are the ever growing number of “forwarded” e-mails beyond the jokes and the funny stories, as well as number of inspirational messages that are continually being shared. Maybe it is just me, but I think I know what eternal life is all about. Just place yourself into a forwarded e-mail and you will live forever … as a number of messages continue to pop-up in my in box bear testimony to that reality.

During a presidential campaign e-mails started to become mean spirited … passing on half-truths, out-n-out lies and complete myths … i.e. bearing false witness. But, the subject matter is not limited to those holding or running for political office as testified by an e-mail yesterday that accused the United Kingdom of banning the teaching of the Holocaust in its schools. A simple check with snopes.com (or any other internet site committed to discovering the truths behind urban legends) would have quickly given the sender enough information to prove that this particular e-mail was not accurate. The first clue should have been the subject line which read, “I hope that this isn’t true …” It would have taken the sender less time to discover the truth behind the message than it did for him to send it.

Some times the message is a good one such as a recent prayer for our nation. But along the way somebody felt that the prayer would have more appeal if it was attributed to Billy Graham or Paul Harvey or a few other noted individuals. With the internet we can add or delete any information we want without having to take credit for it. The bottom line is that this is simply wrong.

My approach is usually to check out the facts of any message and share what I have found with the sender. The other approach that I have taken is that if “those” kind of tainted e-mails continue I share my witness of not desiring to bear false witness against another and request that they honor my wishes and not forward any more e-mails of that kind. I want to stay in contact with my friends and family, but I have no desire to read the latest internet gossip.

As one relative, who continues to send me political urban legends even after I have made numerous requests for him not to send any more, stated that he is going to continue sending them – even when I told him that his e-mail address has been tagged so that his stuff goes directly to the delete files – until “I see the light of my errors in my political thinking.” (Check my May 1, 2010 blog titled: “Is Liberal a Vulgar Word?”)

We can begin to hind behind the ease with which e-mails can be created, sent and believed thus resulting in an overall fear creating a modern day witch hunt that will make Salem look like a walk in the park. Just look at the hysteria surrounding the issues raised by the so called “birthers” who do not believe that President Obama was born in the United States. This hysteria is being fueled by e-mails that simple have taken on a life of their own. We live in a free country and thus, everyone has the privilege to believe whatever they wish to believe, but at what point do we stand-up and say, “No more! Stop the madness which is creating the fear that some enemy is poised at our borders ready to destroy us tomorrow.”

We can chose to live in fear or we can chose to live in hope. The choice is ours. Either God is in charge or he isn’t. While I do not want to be na├»ve, on the other hand I do not wish to live in fear … because if I have to live in fear than what ever enemy might be out there has already won. How many surrenders have taken place in the heat of battle because the soldiers and those in charge were over taken by fear?

Maybe the time has arrived for us to request only personal information be sent via e-mail. No more forwarded message – regardless how cute, clever, inspiring, meaningful the e-mail might be. I joined facebook to stay connected with my family and friends, not to build a “family tree” or play “Farmville” or rate somebody or something or to express my opinion on a political issue via a “yes” or “no” …

What do you think? Do you pass on the majority of the e-mails that you receive? Do you take the time to investigate via snopes.com to see if the facts are correct? Do you even care, especially when the e-mail enforces or supports your political and/or cultural bias? What part does personal integrity play in this whole concept?

Quote for today: So live that you wouldn't be ashamed to sell the family parrot to the town gossip. Will Rogers.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Respect

Dr. Richard V. Moore, who was president of Bethune Cookman College, Daytona Beach, FL, liked to tell the story of the day he was walking home from his office. Dr. Moore always carried peppermint candy in his coat pocket, so he reached in, took out his last one for the day and began to unwrap it when he was approached by one of the neighborhood children. The young lad asked if he could have some of the candy. Dr. Moore broke his last piece in half, put one half in his mouth and offered the other half to the little boy. As the lad took the piece, Dr. Moore, always the teacher, asked, “Son, what do you say?” Expecting a “Thank you” was surprised when the boy said, “Do you have some more?” Manners are an interesting matter – especially when you are trying to teach a young person.

I’ve been reading a series of books that Margaret had laying around … after all there is just so much TV anyone can consume and since I was instructed to stay off my mending ankle as much as possible reading becomes the other popular choice. Therefore, with my left foot propped up higher than my heart, I read. The series is by Lynn and Gilbert Morris – Lynn does the research and Gilbert does the writing. They depict life in 1865 and beyond in America.

What I find kind of interesting are the manners and etiquette during those years. Everyone is addressed with a Mr., Mrs., Miss, or Dr., but never by their first name unless they were family or very close friends. Further, first names were seldom used in “mixed” company – mixed meaning friends and people from the general population. It was a very formal and extremely polite time in our country.

Some other customs that I have found interesting is that everyone dressed up for dinner – coat, tie, white gloves … the works – every evening. There were at least six changes of clothes during the day for women of middle income and higher. There was a morning dress for breakfast and then a change to a day dress, etc. throughout the day until a woman would finally change for the last time for the evening meal.

Would I desire for us to return to this formal society of yesteryear? Not really – at least not in total, but there is something about that day which is kind of attractive. In one of my churches we had to deal directly with a couple of mothers who encourage our daughters to call them by their first names and in turn their daughters would call us by our first name. Call us old fashion, but we just never got comfortable with that practice – much to the discomfort of their mothers. I felt, and still do, that showing respect for adults is important thus the use of a title such as Rev. or Mrs. with our first name would be more appropriate than just calling out our names. After a year we finally got across the point of respect, but it was a battle of sorts or should I share, more of test of wills.

An example from those days and the role that respect can and does play in relationships between children/youth and adults was that Margaret could ask any of the youth to do anything and they would quickly respond with, “Yes, ma’am.” and then go do it. While these other adults would ask and get a little lip along with complaints as to why they couldn’t do it right now. Interesting … was it respect or the fact that she was my wife … probably a little of both.

As to the custom of dress … a little of the old fashion manners would be welcomed especially with the “gangsta” style of wearing pants where half of their underwear shows or going everywhere without even a T-shirt on. Plus, I’ve not gotten use to some of the attire which shows up at weddings and funerals – cut-offs, flip-flops, halter tops – to mention just three “styles” witnessed during my last five years of ministry. I even had a best man show up in dirty tennis shoes because the dress shoes, which the groom had rented with the tux, were just too uncomfortable. Go figure.

Times do change along with style and custom. Some we like. Some we do not. Maybe it is just me, but when a person respects himself or herself then they show respect to others in varied ways. How to pass this respect on to others is the real challenge, especially when society, as a whole, is comfortable with the “anything goes” mind-set.

Marathon Senior High School installed, thanks to the student body, a rather strict dress code the last year I served the Big Pine Key church. Previously, they had an “anything goes” mind-set, but when girls started showing up in revealing bikinis and drugs began to show up on campus in large amounts the student council felt that something had to change. The first that the dress code was in place the attitude and academic performance of the students changed dramatically. Evidently there is a correlation between dress, respect and behavior. By-the-way, it began with the senior high boys, but by the end of that school year all the boys were wearing shirts and ties to school. As one of the church’s teenagers shared, “When you dress up you feel different. You actually start liking yourself and you are going to start to respect others.”

What do you think? How do you handle the general disrespect found in today’s society? If you had the authority and the power what would you change and how would you change it? How do you show respect for those around you?

Quote for today: Abraham Koramn found that individuals who are told they are incompetent to achieve a certain goal or do a certain task even though they had no pervious experience with the task, will perform worse than those who are told they are competent to achieve the goals and do the task. Bernard Rosenbaum