Saturday, July 31, 2010

Change or transformation - part two

When you come under attack there are several options available to you. If it is an attack on your computer – as I experienced yesterday thus the failure to post a blog – you can shut down your computer, unplug it from the internet and wait for the computer wise son-in-law to come by and fix it. Or, you can pay the expensive bill to have a member of the Geek Squad to do their magic. I’ve decided to wait for the former … as you can imagine.

This particular Trojan has attacked me before. Actually, this is the third time. It is just plan nasty. My son-in-law has put it “in jail” several times only for it to reinvent itself and find a way out. The conclusion that we are probably looking at this time is to pull all the data and programs off the computer, wipe the mother board totally clean and start all over. What a mess.

When the attack comes from another person your choices are more wide spread. Ones response is going to depend on if you choose to be an Agent of Transformation or not. Here are several options: You can hope that the attacker simply goes away, i.e. changes churches, etc.; You can pray that someone shows him/her the error of his/her ways … good luck on that one; You can attack back as in “I don’t get mad I get even”; etc. You probably could add your favorite.

But as Christians we are actually asked to be Agents of Transformation as Jesus asks us to “turn the other cheek” “go the second mile” “to forgive seventy times seven” and “to forgive our enemies and those who spitefully use us”. Agents of Transformation, if I understand the Gospel teachings is to seek reconciliation at whatever the personal cost to ourselves … even to the point of making a personal apology if by chance there was something in our words and/or deeds that might have offend the other person.

It is never easy being an Agent of Transformation, but as often experienced the rewards are fantastic … like the healing of emotions, memories, situations … even the coming together of an entire church. Another way of looking at this is “growing up” spiritually and starting to actually embody the essence of Jesus Christ as shown upon the cross of crucifixion as he turned to ask for forgiveness for those who had put him there. He didn’t do anything wrong, he had ever right to be angry, upset, hurt and yet Jesus became the Agent of Transformation within that horrible situation and look what happened … resurrection happened … new life … new possibilities.

We can either hold grudges and allow it to eat away at our soul and spirit … or we can reach out in love and seek reconciliation with our enemies. The choice is ours … not an easy choice at best, but nevertheless a choice of transformation for it transforms both individuals in the process and bears testimony to the power of God.

Quote for today: Forgiveness is a funny thing; it warms the heart and cools the sting. William A. Ward

Thursday, July 29, 2010

To change or to be transformed?

We live in an interesting world … peculiar at times, perplexing most of the time, continuously challenging and sometimes just plan weird … and yet, none of us ever want it to change. Maybe we are weird and the world is simply peculiar. The question persists: Do we like the world in which we live … even with all of its “weirdness”?

That was kind of the question I proposed to one of the physically challenged individuals that I visited today. “Suzie” (not her real name) kept “plowing” the same field … how people, who she had given access to her home, came in and “changed” everything. Actually, they simply began the long and thankless job of going through tons of mail that my person had allowed to pile up since her parents died in 2006. Her home had become a haven for dust with stacks of “stuff” in piles all over and yet, she was upset because they had “changed” every … even moving the stuff on her mother’s dresser (in order to dust it) and didn’t place it all back in its proper order. “Don’t you want to move on beyond your parents death? Don’t you think it is about time that some of this “stuff” … their “stuff” … be sorted out and given away or sold, like their car which is sitting right where they left it?” I asked. “Well, since you put it that way probably yeah, but it is so hard – too hard,” she shared.

Nothing worth doing is ever easy. We are asked of God to be changed agents in his world. Actually I prefer the title, transformer … the idea of taking what is and transforming, by God’s grace, into the Kingdom of God. The word and concept “change” just doesn’t do it for me any longer. While “transforming” denotes making something useful out of something un-useful. Or even a better analogy would be dieting – to change means that for a particular period of time a person follows a particular eating regiment and they lose weight, but once off the diet the weight will usually come back, but to transform ones approach to food, understanding of food, and ones lifestyle concerning food is another entire matter. One approach is immediate, but short lived while the other is gradual yet for a lifetime.

My real question to “Suzie” was a transformational one … are you ready to become the person we both know God wants you to be? If you are comforted by the stuff which surrounds you then your answer will be “No,” but if something has to, needs to, must be changed why not make it transformational … moving you into a completely new direction, turning your world totally upside down and creating a “Suzie” world instead of a “mom and dad” world.

It is a hard question and thus the reason most of us would rather simply stay where we are in our thinking … behavior patterns … because we have become comfortable – as comfortable as we can – in the world that we have created in our image. To transform our world is a real challenge, but the benefits are truly out of this world. The decision is ours and ours alone … no one can make the decision for us as no one can take the actions that are necessary to get rid of the clutter made by our “stuff” or move in a different direction with our relationship to food. By transforming our world we are making a strong statement about the role that God is going to have in our decision making process … the role within our daily life.

It is about time to move on … isn’t it?

Quote for today: The adventure of new life in Christ begins when the comfortable patterns of the old life are left behind. David Roher

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

A place called home

Is it so bad to be in love with some of your “stuff”? After all it is only “stuff” … right? And, yet yesterday, as I walked through our now very empty house in DeLand, soon to be occupied by another couple, I couldn’t help but to express my inner feelings as to just how much I really loved that home.

I was laying on the carpet in the living room, as I waited for the handyman to complete his work on one of our doors, and I remembered some special events … Margaret’s family reunion, various Christmas Open Houses, the many dinners we hosted, and just quiet times in which we just did the everyday “normal” activities that comes with being married and having a family.

I remembered the day we moved in – actually, it was a late afternoon and evening. I remembered shopping for furniture to fit into the home. I remembered the long search for a dinning room set to go along with a china hutch that we owned – never really found what we wanted so we “settled” on something that we “could” live with. I remembered working out the placement of all of our Christmas decorations. I remembered the happy times when our daughters and son-in-law came to visit. I remembered the laughter and the tears.

And, I remembered what people said about the home … how warm and inviting it was. Even now, with all the future removed, all the pictures taken down, all the personal items packed up and residing in another house, the walls painted a more generic color so that it would “present” itself better to a potential buyer … it was still a warm house. Boy, how I loved that house and probably will never have the same feelings about any other place we would own. There just was something special about that house on Canary Drive!

Oh, don’t get me wrong I would not miss being around our daughters, son-in-law and grandbaby (soon to be grandbabies) nor will I miss trying to care for the large piece of property that the Canary Drive home sat on … 1.13 acres is a lot of property requiring a lot of hands on maintenance especially in trying to fight the ever present potato vine … but still, I really, really loved that home.

I would feel bad about these feelings … because it is only “stuff,” but our daughters, my spouse, as well as friends and family have all expressed the same feelings. There just was something special about that home and it will be dearly missed. I hope the new couple can appreciate what they are moving into because that home truly has a personality all of its own!

Quote for today: Home is the place where it feels right to walk around without shoes Source unknown

Monday, July 26, 2010

More on the Trinity

It seems that the subject matter of the Trinity keeps coming to my attention. There has been a book by Carlo Carretto, The God Who Comes, that sits by my chair in the study that I pick up occasionally to read. In chapter 10 (pages 88-89) he writes:

“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, you live it.”

A couple of things jumped off the page as I read these words – like “inebriated with the light and with life.” I’ve never been drunk because that is kind of hard to do when you only have a glass of wine occasionally, but I’ve witnessed many individuals that have succumbed to the power that alcohol can have on the body and mind. Can you imagine being so intoxicated with life? My assumption is that for all of us … or at least, most of us … life is lived as simply a day-to-day existence … far from the “intoxicated” level. I wonder what it would feel like to be so filled with life?

The very thought of “inebriated with the light” really intrigues me. I can remember an old Scottish Presbyterian evangelists sharing that we should so “radiate the joy and light of Christ” that we “blind the people” we meet. For some reason that has always stuck with me. To be so filled with Christ that it is never night wherever we stand. Must be something like the face of Moses as he descended from Holy Mountain after coming face-to-face with God. His countenance simply radiated because of the experience.

And then Dr. Carretto speaks of living “the unity of ‘our’ human existence” instead of the disunity that could be the testimony of most of us. Our life is more fragmented then we would be willing to admit … a part here and a part there and never the two shall meet! A simple injury or an unkind word or a nagging feeling keeps us all tied up and confused. At best we run on only a couple of cylinders, but seldom at full capacity. Every now and again we come across a person who is unbelievable in what they are able to accomplish in the course of just one day. Could they be living “the unity of their human existence”? Could that be what he is referring to?

The “radiation” and the “unity” come directly out of living an ongoing relationship with God through Jesus Christ empowered by the Holy Spirit. The closer we get to the light the more radiation we will show. The closer we get to the One who holds the entire universe together the more we will experience the unity of it all. We all want life – abundantly – a life filled with joy and fulfillment. Maybe, just maybe, Carlo Carretto has discovered a little bit of the insight to make it happen … just maybe.

Quote for today: There are two ways of being united -- one is by being frozen together, and the other is by being melted together. What Christians need is to be united in brotherly love, and then they may expect to have power. Dwight L. Moody

NOTE: There will not be a posting tomorrow.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Embodiment of the Trinity

It was quite by accident, since I do not normally listen to that particular radio station, that I stumbled across a particular radio interview last week as I stepped onto the treadmill. Unfortunately, I only caught the tail end of the interview. Now I wish that I had heard the entire thing. The individual was addressing how we, individually, embody the Holy Trinity in body, mind and spirit.

This is probably too complicated for my simple mind, but I’m going to give it a shot – even by extending beyond the authors discussion. Your input is solicited and would be greatly appreciated since I am only now scratching the surface with these simple words. Please add to the discussion and I will blog further if you do. Thanks for helping this old theologian out in this entirely new area of thought.

I had never thought of the parallels that he drew, but it did cause me to pause and say, “Wow.” If I understood the author correctly it went something like this:
Body, in the sense that the Holy Trinity, became flesh in Jesus Christ.
Mind, in the sense that it was the mind of God from which all life was created.
Spirit in the sense that it is via the Holy Spirit that the Holy Trinity, i.e. the power of God, is transmitted into our reality.

And so, as we fully embrace the three biblical aspects of our existences – body, mind and spirit – we embrace the full reality of the Divine as found and expressed in the Holy Trinity.

Taking it a step further, since the Trinity is the creative force in the universe and since God, in creating us in the image of the Divine created us male and female – it takes both male and female to image the Divine in God’s fullness, therefore, it is only when these two aspects of that humanly expression come together in the fullest expression of love making thus creating another human life form (bringing together body, mind and spirit in another human being) that we fulfill and embody the richness of the Trinity ... two halves come together to make a whole. The body, mind and spirit of the two halves of the created image come together as one and the miracle of life … created life … loving, caring, life giving life … sacrificing, sustaining life goes on.

Anything outside of this reality is less than what God desires for all of human life … outside of what God had in mind when creating us male and female … the expression of the Godhead itself – the Holy Trinity. It doesn’t mean that love is impossible outside of this human union (the whole) nor does it mean that the fuller sense of human fulfillment is beyond those who choose to live outside of this Divine and Holy reality, but it does mean that the complete joy of the Kingdom escapes our grasp ... we are, in some sense of the word, lesser than the whole.

It is like the positives and negative ends of a magnet … it is impossible to bring two positives together or two negatives together to make a whole magnet. It simply just doesn’t work. While it takes a positive and negative to make a whole, so it takes a male and female to make a whole – the whole meaning of the fullness of the Trinity (and no fair trying to read between the lines concerning positive/negative and male/female connection – the analogy is for illustrative purposes only).

I am very interested in your thoughts on this matter. It is a new trend in thinking for me. It has not been now or ever a part of my thinking concerning the Trinity and I believe that I need to sort it out even further. Your assistance would be appreciated. ‘

Quote for today: Take the first step in faith. You don't have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

A parable for today

A modern day parable … Something Jesus would have told.

I was at the corner grocery store buying some early potatoes. I noticed a small boy, delicate of bone and feature, ragged but clean, hungrily appraising a basket of freshly picked green peas.

I paid for my potatoes but was also drawn to the display of fresh green peas. I am a pushover for creamed peas and new potatoes.

Pondering the peas, I couldn't help overhearing the conversation between Mr. Miller (the store owner) and the ragged boy next to me.

'Hello Barry, how are you today?'

'H'lo, Mr. Miller. Fine, thank ya. Jus' admirin' them peas. They sure look good.'

'They are good, Barry. How's your Ma?'

'Fine. Gittin' stronger alla' time..'

'Good... Anything I can help you with?'

'No, Sir. Jus' admirin' th em peas..'

'Would you like to take some home?' asked Mr. Miller.

'No, Sir. Got nuthin' to pay for 'em with.'

'Well, what have you to trade me for some of those peas?'

'All I got's my prize marble here.'

'Is that right? Let me see it' said Miller.

'Here 'tis. She's a dandy.'

'I can see that. Hmm mmm, only thing is this one is blue and I sort of go for red. Do you have a red one like this at home?' the store owner asked.

'Not zackley but almost.'

'Tell you what. Take this sack of peas home with you and next trip this way let me look at that red marble'. Mr. Miller told the boy.

'Sure will. Thanks Mr. Miller.'

Mrs. Miller, who had been standing nearby, came over to help me.

With a smile she said, 'There are two other boys like him in our community, all three are in very poor circumstances. Jim just loves to bargain with them for peas, apples, tomatoes, or whatever.

When they come back with their red marbles, and they always do, he decides he doesn't like red after all and he sends them home with a bag of produce for a green marble or an orange one, when they come on their next trip to the store.'

I left the store smiling to myself, impressed with this man. A short time later I moved to Colorado, but I never forgot the story of this man, the boys, and their bartering for marbles.

Several years went by, each more rapid than the previous one. Just recently I had occasion to visit some old friends in that Idaho community and while I was there learned that Mr. Miller had died. They were having his visitation that evening and knowing my friends wanted to go, I agreed to accompany them. Upon arrival at the mortuary we fell into line to meet the relatives of the deceased and to offer whatever words of comfort we could.

Ahead of us in line were three young men. One was in an army uniform and the other two wore nice haircuts, dark suits and white shirts...all very professional looking. They approached Mrs. Miller, standing composed and smiling by her husband's casket.

Each of the young men hugged her, kissed her on the cheek, spoke briefly with her and moved on to the casket. Her misty light blue eyes followed them as, one by one, each young man stopped briefly and placed his own warm hand over the cold pale hand in the casket. Each left the mortuary awkwardly, wiping his eyes.

Our turn came to meet Mrs. Miller. I told her who I was and reminded her of the story from those many years ago and what she had told me about her husband's bartering for marbles. With her eyes glistening, she took my hand
and led me to the casket.

'Those three young men who just left were the boys I told you about.

They just told me how they appreciated the things Jim 'traded' them. Now, at last, when Jim could not change his mind about color or size.....they came to pay their debt.'

'We've never had a great deal of the wealth of this world,' she confided, 'but right now, Jim would consider himself the richest man in Idaho .'

With loving gentleness she lifted the lifeless fingers of her deceased husband. Resting underneath were three exquisitely shined red marbles.

The Moral :
We will not be remembered by our words, but by our kind deeds. Life is not measured by the breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath.

Today I wish you a day of ordinary miracles

~ A fresh pot of coffee you didn't make yourself.....

An unexpected phone call from an old friend ....

Green stoplights on your way to work...

The fastest line at the grocery store...

A good sing-along song on the radio...

Your keys found right where you left them.


Quote for today: Kindness makes a person attractive. If you would win the world, melt it, do not hammer it. Alexander Maclaren

Friday, July 23, 2010

Nightmares like the Gulf Oil Spill

Nightmares come in many forms and fashion the state of our minds. My nightmares have run the gamut.

There was the early nightmares of being chased by horrible, ferocious wild animals – none of them had I ever seen at the zoo. These soon passed into the nightmare of falling into huge gapping holes that would simply swallow me up. This one was then combined with the typical adolescent nightmare of being found in a very public place totally naked as friends and family pointed and laughed … horrible ridiculing laughter.

As an adult the nightmares ran from the embarrassment of preaching away only to discover that I was standing in the pulpit in only my underwear to the more confusing nightmare presently haunting my subconscious … of being invited back to become senior pastor at one of my previous churches only to discover that the buildings are multi-combinations of most of my churches and I’m simply confused, cannot make my way through the corridors making me extremely late in getting to the worship center to lead in worship.

Then I wake up and life is what it is … Naturally one can be living a nightmare, but most come in the safety of sleep … safety, because they are not real, but merely the exposure of a persons fears or hopes. So I am beginning to wonder as to when I am going to wake up to find that the nightmare of the Gulf Oil Spill was simply one of those never ending maze of confusing corridors that lead nowhere except to simply more confusion.

I am sure that there are experts out there someplace who would be more willing than I am to take my money and unravel the dark secret meanings of my nightmares. Dreams have never been a problem. I am usually able to decipher the meaning of dreams for others, or myself but nightmares are a total different part of the human psychic. But this Gulf Oil Spill is beyond me and evidently, beyond the so-called experts. When will it end … especially for those who are most affected by this disaster … the people whose lively hood is directly dependent upon the health of the Gulf region?

I wake up from my nightmares and get on with my life. It might be weeks or months before a particular nightmare returns, but those poor people of the Gulf coast are living in a never-ending nightmare from which they cannot escape nor simply wake up. One of my favorite quotes is included at the end of this blog. It is about Dr. Salk conquering his nightmares by fulfilling his dreams … making his dreams become reality. As for the people of the Gulf coast their dreams were taken from them by this nightmare.

I have to admit that I am one of those who have been affected by Gulf Oil Spill fatigue. I’m sick and tired of hearing the same people say the same thing every night … of hearing the BP speaking heads make empty promises … of politicians trying to position themselves in the best light possible for their “electable” future … of promises made and not fulfilled … of solutions offered only to fail … of the so-called experts speaking as if they know what they are talking about. Truly it is a living nightmare … when will we actually get to wake up and get on with our lives?

Quote for today: I have had dreams and I have had nightmares, but I have conquered my nightmares because of my dreams. Jonas Salk

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Running the race

Watching le Tour de France – especially the effort being given for the yellow jersey – I’ve been impressed by the team effort, especially in the mountain stages. One or more team members will literally sacrifice themselves, muscles burning, until they simply cannot pedal any more and must fall of the lead. Why do they make such a horrific sacrifice so that their team leader can win? They don’t do it for their own glory, but for the glory of the team and their team leader. They might never stand on top of the podium because that is not why they are a member of the team. They are on the team because of their strength in one aspect or more of the entire race … and it is for the victory of the team leader and when the team leader wins everybody on the team wins … they get the prize of their team’s victory.

We live in a period of time when it is all about the individual. We all want the glory. We all want to be the center of attention. We all want to be the winner. We are always asking the question, “What is in it for me?” Volunteers demand and expect a very specific job description prior to getting involved. Instead of realizing the satisfaction that the “team” is the ultimate winner and if the “team” wins then everybody wins. It seems to me that our focus is all wrong. We have much to learn from those racing in le Tour de France.

The ultimate question is, “Am I willing to sacrifice my self so that the team might win?” Am I willing to go that second mile, give that extra moment of energy, not looking at the prize for myself, but so that someone else might stand on the podium, be recognized and receive the recognition? Just what is my motivation in doing what I am doing? Why has God placed me in my situation at this particular moment in life? What gifts and graces do I have that can be used to His glory and further the Kingdom of God? How can I be of service to the team Human?

Quote for today: There are no victories at discount prices. General Dwight Eisenhower

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

A need for compassion

She was only 4-years old, but had a heart and compassion much larger than her age or size. Donna was one of the many foster children that came to live with us over the years. She and her younger sister stayed with us for a rather short period of time, but they won our hearts instantly. What I remember about Donna, besides her long beautiful hair, was her ability to sense when you didn’t feel well emotionally. She would simply come over, sit in your lap, place her small little arm around your shoulder and say, “That’s alright, I will cry with you and make it better.” And, it usually did. The world needs more Donnas.

Our church is presently involved in the program Celebrate Jesus which asks teams to go from door-to-door in our immediate neighborhood and share the good news that their neighboring church cares for them. If the conversation warrants it then the visitors ask if there are any prayer concerns. Sunday afternoon and Monday morning an older trailer park just west of the church was visited. When the visitors asked if there were any prayer concerns they heard a ton of hurt and pain in these people’s lives – from joblessness, to various kinds of illnesses, to relational conflict. That small trailer park village needs a Donna in their lives.

Over the last month or so I’ve been visiting in a cancer ward at a local hospital – talk about pain, anxiety, frustration, doubt, fear – all those emotions plus a ton more can be found in every room. A Donna could find full time employment just caring for the needs expressed within that ward.

I begin to ask myself, where is the church to be found in these varied circumstances? Where are the Donnas who have deep compassion … a desire to make things better … and the belief that by their simple acts they could actually make a difference? That is the one lingering impression of Donna that continues to be carried in my heart – she really believed that she could love the pain and problem away.

Somehow the church in the 21st Century has bought into the scientific and political jargon and structure that we are limited in our abilities, based on the a few pills, an operation, a city or country agency, to effect real change – life changing change – in the lives of people around us. What has happened to the belief that with God “all things are possible”? We have sold out our theology to the world order and a more “practical” “concrete” “logical” belief system that has little to do with the Kingdom of God.

We really don’t have to look very far before discovering a lot of pain and hurt in this old world. May we all discover the “Donna” inside of us and the ability to believe that change can happen because we dared to care ... and besides, it really doesn’t require a lot from us!

Quote for today: Once during Queen Victoria's reign, she heard that the wife of a common laborer had lost her baby. Having experienced deep sorrow herself, she felt moved to express her sympathy. So she called on the bereaved woman one day and spent some time with her. After she left, the neighbors asked what the queen had said. "Nothing," replied the grieving mother. "She simply put her hands on mine, and we silently wept together." Source Unknown

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Flaws or blessings in disguise

Many of us are running around trying our best to be perfect. We beat ourselves up for the many “flaws” that we see in ourselves. And, we interact with others seeing their flaws and not their contributions to life. We do it with some of the most important people in our lives … our family. Instead of looking at what is wrong in relationships we probably should be looking at what is positive … the good in the other person. Instead of playing the game, “My life should be better …” we should simply accept the other people in our lives as a blessing from God. God placed them there for a purpose … a significant purpose … that we just might miss if we constraint on the flaws. It is easy to find fault it is much harder to say, “I love you flaws and all and I thank God each day for placing you in my life.” Offering that prayer will ultimately change the relationship to the point that those flaws just might be able to be used wisely to create something beautiful along the paths we have to travel.

To that end I offer this modern day parable:

An elderly Chinese woman had two large pots, each hung on the ends of a pole, which she carried across her neck. One of the pots had a crack in it while the other pot was perfect and always delivered a full portion of water. At the end of the long walks from the stream to the house, the cracked pot arrived only half full.

For a full two years this went on daily, with the woman bringing home only one and a half pots of water. Of course, the perfect pot was proud of its accomplishments.
But the poor cracked pot was ashamed of its own imperfection, and miserable that it could only do half of what it had been made to do.

After two years of what it perceived to be bitter failure, it spoke to the woman one day by the stream. “I am ashamed of myself, because this crack in my side causes water to leak out all the way back to your house.” The old woman smiled, “'Did you notice that there are flowers on your side of the path, but not on the other pot's side?” “That's because I have always known about your flaw, so I planted flower seeds on your side of the path, and every day while we walk back, you water them.”
“For two years I have been able to pick these beautiful flowers to decorate the table. Without you being just the way you are, there would not be this beauty to grace the house.”

Each of us has our own unique flaw. But it's the cracks and flaws we each have that make our lives together so very interesting and rewarding. You've just got to take each person for what they are and look for the good in them.

So, to all of my cracked pot friends, have a great day and remember to smell the flowers on your side of the path!

Quote for today: Think about the oyster. It takes a grain of sand and turns it into a beautiful pearl. Too often we are just the opposite--we take pearls and turn them into grains of sand. Source Unknown

Monday, July 19, 2010

Saying thank you

An expression of gratitude as in “thank you” notes is evidently a lost art. This is unfortunate because there is something lost within the spirit of an individual when they haven’t learned to embrace genuine gratitude. Either the parents haven’t done a very good job in raising up their offspring or the lessons have gone unlearned. A couple of recent examples will illustrate what I am addressing.

We contributed some support for a mother and son to participate in their churches mission trip to South America. Their thank you note was a mass-produced, generic photo copied note with typed signatures. The following year the same request was made and our support was reduced sizably.

Then there was the blanket e-mail note that simply said, “Thanks” with no direct reference to the gift … and this was for a wedding gift. Or, there was the graduation gift to a set of twins; both checks were cashed, but no note of thanks. Or, even worse, I heard of an employee that had given his company faithful service for over 30 years that was simply fired and escorted out of the building. No word of gratitude for his long faithful service and no opportunity for him to tell the people in his department good-by.

The world has become a strange place in which to live!

I am aware that if you do a deed in anticipation of being thanked then somehow the act of giving has been queered a little bit, but common courtesy is still common courtesy. My fear is that either our lives have simply gotten too busy for simple expressions of gratitude or we have truly entered into the era of entitlement or even worse, where people really do not matter … I’m not really sure why this has become an acceptable practice because I’m hearing about it more and more from individuals of all ages.

Having said all of that leads me to express gratitude for all the individuals who bother to read my daily blog. This weekend I went over the 200 milestone of blogs. Last week I had a neat experience when I wrote about one of my new heroes, after reading about him in TIME magazine, only to have him make comment concerning the blog. I never really know who is reading what I’ve written, but that one kind of blew me away.

I’ve had as few as 2 people in a day (usually on the weekend) and as many as 89 with an average of around 12 to 15. I am thankful that everyone and pray that something that has touched my soul and prodded my spirit has been helpful for your journey. If something has touched your spirit and you passed on the link to others I am thankful for your consideration.

When I was preaching every week I got into the habit of preaching sermon series. A member of the congregation came by and requested that I preach a series on people’s favorite Psalms. It was truly a rich experience. Therefore, this request: If there is a subject matter that you would like for me to address please feel free to let me know. I like the challenges that others place before me.

Again, thank you for taking the time to check in and read the muses of this old preacher!

Quote for today: Boss to retiring employee: "This company can't afford a gold watch, Homer. But here's a phone number that gives the correct time." Lichty

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Tabernacle - tent of meeting

Dr. Lawrence Hay, Professor of Literature and History of the Bible, was known to be a tough examiner. “Know everything including what is in the footnotes,” was the general advice given by those who had him previously. So I studied hard for his course, “Introduction to the Old Testament.” I went into the final exam thinking that I was prepared for the 3-hour essay final. My blue student exam book lay before me, three #2 sharpened pencils were at the top of the desk when Dr. Hay walked into the room, stood before the blackboard and wrote one question ... just one simple question that would determine my final grade … JUST ONE QUESTION? to encompass the entire Old Testament ... you’ve got to be kidding! But there is was, “Describe Tabernacle in as much detail as possible.” WHAT? … almost erupted from my lips …

And so I wrote what I knew … so many cubits this way and that way, setup outside of their camp, housed the Ark, Aaron and his tribe were to take care of the Tabernacle, etc. I wrote for the full 3-hours. Not really sure what I wrote and then prayed that it would be enough to get a passing grade. I got a C on the examine and C for the course. But to be truthful I really didn’t know what he really wanted to teach us with that particular question.

Fast-forward 3-years. I was bringing my first born home from the hospital … my son, my wife and my mother-in-law. I’m not really sure how long my mother-in-law stayed to assist my wife in the care of our first born, but it seemed long … at least from my perspective. My son was either in the hands of my wife or my mother-in-law or sleeping. I was relegated to the position of mere observer. So I waited. Mother-in-law finally went home and I waited. That evening we slipped into our bed and I waited. I waited silently for the first stirrings and they came around 2 am. Very carefully I slipped out of bed, as not to wake my wife, gently closed our bedroom door and went to our sons room. Picking him up and began to gently pace back and forth in our apartments living room.

And it was there in that living room in Decatur, GA with the moon beams flooding through the open blinds that he and I had meeting … soul-to-soul, spirit-to-spirit, we became one in mind and body and spirit … we had meeting. And then I knew instantly what Dr. Hay so wisely had asked 3 years earlier. Tabernacle – Tenting of Meeting – the full embodiment of the entire Old Testament summed up in one simple object … where God and people become one – spirit-to-spirit, soul-to-soul – God and his people coming together like never before. Tabernacle … tent of meeting … right there in that small apartment in Decatur, GA between a father and his first born.


Quote for today: I long to dwell in your tent forever and take refuge in the shelter of yours wings. Psalm 61:4

Saturday, July 17, 2010

A lighter side of life

Over the years I have collected numerous stories – some of them funnier than others. This one is really a classic and always a joy to share. Life can be too serious … and way to heavy from day to day … so this is Saturday – time to sit back, put up your feet and laugh a little … or a lot! God created life to be enjoyed, so do it … live it as God meant life to be lived … filled with laughter, family and friends.

Does Your Campground Have a BC?

She wanted to make sure the campground was fully equipped, but didn't quite know how to ask about the toilet facilities. She just couldn't bring herself to write the word "toilet" in her letter. After much deliberation, she finally came up with the old-fashioned term BATHROOM COMMODE. But when she wrote that down, she still thought she was being too forward. So she started all over again and rewrote the entire letter referring to the bathroom commode merely as the BC. "Does the campground have it's own BC?" is what she actually wrote.

Well, the campground owner wasn't old-fashioned at all, and when he got the letter, he just couldn't figure out what the woman was talking about. That BC business really stumped him.

After worrying about it for awhile, he showed the letter to several campers, but they couldn't imagine what the lady meant either. So the campground owner, finally coming to the conclusion that the lady must be asking about the local Baptist Church, sat down and wrote the following reply:

Dear Madam:
I regret very much the delay in answering your letter, but I now take pleasure in informing you that a BC is located nine miles north of the campground and is capable of seating 250 people at one time. I admit it is quite a distance away, if you are in the habit of going regularly, but no doubt you will be pleased to know that a great number of people take their lunches along and make a day of it. They usually arrive early and stay late. It is such a beautiful facility and the acoustics are marvelous. Even the normal delivery sounds can be heard.

The last time my wife and I went was six years ago, and it was so crowded we had to stand up the whole time we were there. It may interest you to know that right now a supper is planned to raise money to buy more seats.

I would like to say it pains me very much not to be able to go more regularly, but it surely is no lack of desire on my part. As we grow old, it seems to be more of an effort, particularly in cold weather.

If you do decide to come down to our campground, perhaps I could go with you the first time you go, sit with you, and introduce you to all the other folks.

Remember, this is a friendly community.

Campground Owner

Quote for today: Joy is the byproduct of obedience. Traditional

Friday, July 16, 2010

On the importance of Nothingness

Ever feel that your life is nothing more than a long episode of Seinfeld … the situation comedy about nothingness? Everything seems important at the moment, but upon reflection you begin to wonder why did you spend so much energy on simply nothing! You simply go through your daily activities, entering into various conversations, completing numerous tasks, consume time and resources and in the end have accomplished a lot, but have really accomplished nothing.

Then this question … why do we feel that everything has to be important … earth shaking … life changing? Is it so bad simply to go through one’s daily activities doing the mundane, everyday type chores? Why is it when our life is more about simple existence instead of “important stuff” that we begin to grow restless and bored?

Maybe the important thing … the most important thing in life is simply to “stop and smell the roses,” as the old saying goes. Have you ever watch a toddler discover the amazing world of an ant? The world stops … nothing else really matters … they’ll sit there for an hour or more just watching the ants move twigs back and forth and, this is the kicker, be very content with themselves? What has happened in us, as we have become adults, that have allowed us to lose the wonder of the world in which we live? Or even further, why do we give ourselves permission to sit on a porch swing while on vacation for hours on end, but if we do it when at home we begin to feel guilty that we are “wasting” time?

Maybe that is what Seinfeld was about – not nothingness, but the elevation of the seemingly mundane to a level of importance … a reflection on the everyday events of our lives … an embracing of existence in a love embrace … the joy of discovery of the “everyday,” regular, simple give-n-take, conversational nuances of daily life.

Before discounting – which I think we are too quick to do – the “nothingness” of our lives, maybe … just maybe … we should take an hour on the porch swing, watch some ants move some twigs, lay on the grass and watch clouds float by, sit on the floor and stack blocks with a 2 year old, … and embrace the simple joys of everyday life!

It really is all about perspective … our point of view … the value we place upon our lives … and our understanding of how we fit into life around us ... and how much we are willing to laugh at ourselves.

Quote for today: When Irving S. Olds was chairman of the U.S. Steel Corporation, he arrived for a stockholders' meeting and was confronted by a woman who asked, "Exactly who are you and what do you do?" Without batting an eye, Olds replied, "I am your chairman. Of course, you know the duties of a chairman--that's someone who is roughly the equivalent of parsley on a platter of fish." Bits & Pieces

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The precious gift of time

It is truly a precious gift that is given to everyone alike. It comes pre-packaged to be used immediately without any set-up time or instructions to read. Some use it wisely while others misuse it horribly. Some are able to accomplish unbelievable things during the same period that others accomplish very little. There are those who complain that there just isn’t enough of this gift, and yet, there are others who wonder how to fill what they have. Time comes to all of us in equal portions to be either used or abused.

It comes with various tags … like today is a TGIF … Friday is the end of the workweek for most individuals. They have planned for it, hoped for its quick arrival and it always arrives on schedule regardless of our efforts. Sometimes it gets here before we know it, while other times it seems like it will never get here … but Friday arrives right on schedule.

Then there is the blessed thing called THE WEEKEND … a time to relax, enjoy family and some special events. Yet, this too seems to be misused by too many as testified by their comments about getting “wasted” (I never really understood the “joy” in that).

Then comes the dreaded Monday … the day, which haunts everybody for some strange reason. Monday is like any other day, but with simply a different name. Oh, one does have to go back to work – but in this day of economic distress and the large number of unemployed there should be great rejoicing that there is a job to go to come Monday morning.

I personally always liked Hump-Day for some strange reason. Maybe it was just the cute nickname for Wednesday, but this day marked the line between having nothing accomplished in preparation for Sunday and having most of it completed. It meant that it was going to be an effortless ride for the next couple of days.

As for those of us who are retired it can simply be a challenge to remember which day of the week it really is. One day just kind of blends into the next … thank the good Lord for the morning paper, with the day and date attached, and for calendars or many of us would stay in a constant state of confusion.

Seven days a week – the precious gift to all of us. Each filled with 24 hours to be used or abused as we see fit … each holding the same possibility of greatness or the sense of nothingness … each given with the same hope and grace that life is precious and should be lived victoriously … with tremendous joy.

It is really our choice as to how we are going to use this precious gift.

Quote for today: Time is the coin of your life. It is the only coin you have, and only you can determine how it will be spent. Be careful lest you let other people spend it for you. Carl Sandburg

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

A present day hero

Researchers James Patterson and Peter Kim report in The Day America Told the Truth that 70 percent of Americans say they have no living heroes. Well, that isn’t true for me because I have a number of heroes and sheroes. I was introduced to my latest hero via a TIME magazine article written by Belinda Luscombe. The facts and information in this article come in part or in whole from her article in the June 14, 2010 issue of that magazine.

My latest hero is Twesigy Jackson Kaguri, 39 years old, who gave up his American Dream so that others could dream. Mr. Kaguri was born in “a remote part of western Uganda.” He is a very hard worker, studied hard and long so that he could come to America. “He had an American job, an American wife and the beginnings of a down payment to buy a house” … the ultimate American Dream.

In the year 2001 all of that changed when he took his wife back to his native country for a visit. “The grannies flooded in, seeking help raising their grandchildren left orphaned by AIDS.” He and his wife made the difficult decision to redirect their down payment … “all $5,000 of it, to build a free school for the poorest orphans in the village.” He “paid for everything – teachers, supplies, a nurse.” But he was wise enough to also “crowdsource” this effort. “Everyone in the community who lined up to ask for help or money,” he says, “we gave them a hoe or asked them to help.”

Coming back to Indiana he began the difficult task of fundraising. Anyone who has ever done any fundraising know just how difficult that horrendous task can be … especially in difficult times. “He got donations from his soccer team, the janitor at his kid’s school, local churches and the Rotary Club. In 2004 the Toronto-based Stephen Lewis Foundation gave him $25,000, his biggest grant to date.”

When the Nyaka AIDS Orphans School opened in 2003 he made a huge discover. Oh, the children came enthusiastically, but soon fell asleep in class … absenteeism rose … an answer needed to be found. “So the school started providing a meal and extended its filtered-water supply to the village.” Hygiene training was given and “grants to build bathrooms and kitchens” were issued.

Now for the fantastic good news – the results of his loving labor: In 2008 they graduated their “first class of sixth-graders, 21 of 22 students got a B+ or better on national tests. In 2009, all 26 did.”

This simple, but unusually committed hero has “started a second school, a farm and a library open to all local residents” has a book coming out this month entitled, “The Price of Stones.”

“Many people look at the problem and how big the numbers are and are overwhelmed,” he says. “But for me, I was born stubborn.” This past May he gave up his day job so that he could focus 100% of his effort and energy to the AIDS Orphans Schools. I don’t know about you, but I believe that he warrants being classified as a hero.

Here are the statistics that Twesigye Kaguri is facing: “1.7 million is the number of Ugandan children who have lost one or both parents to HIV/AIDS. $5,000 is what Kaguri spent in 2003 to build a two-room school for 58 orphans in his home village. $200,000 is the amount the Kaguri’s Nyaka AIDS Orphans Project spent in 2009 running two schools for 381 students, with support services. 7,000 is the number of orphans’ caregivers given training or grants by Kaguri’s Mukaka (Grannies) Project.” And finally this sad statistic: “0 is the number of major international aid agencies working in the two districts the Nyaka schools serve.”

We all choose our heroes using our own set of criteria. Some of us, as reported at the beginning of this blog by Peterson and Kim, go through life without any living heroes. Others choose heroes that soon fall from grace as my sermon, “When Heroes Fall,” preached so many years ago when the nation was trying to deal with the O.J. Simpson situation. I like heroes who against unbelievable odds triumph … individuals who give up everything for others … people who begin to look for solutions when the problem seems so overwhelming … committed hearts who go the 2nd, 3rd and 4th mile when nobody asks them to even go the first mile.

Heroes! Do you have any?

Quote for today: A hero is no braver than an ordinary man, but he is brave five minutes longer. R.W. Emerson

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Showing Compassion

The Book of Ruth by Jane Hamilton has the following section, which I found to be interesting, and somewhat thought provoking, (pages 274-275):

“It seemed to me that May was growing more and more concerned about religion as the months went by. I had never realized before that she had a religious streak. Perhaps her age made her think a little; perhaps she couldn’t help being slightly anxious about where she was going to end up when she passed. She probably hoped she might have a stab at heaven. She had the idea that the Congregationalists could give her a chance, and if she did good deeds, such as go to church every Sunday, even in summer, and make confections at Christmas time for the church needy basket, her chances would double.

“There were things the Rev said that made me feel better on occasion also. When I went to the service, I couldn’t help it, I came out feeling holy, as if something had rinsed over me, made me clean again. Even if I didn’t pay attention I glistened, putting in my time. Sometimes I had to think over the Rev’s words because he looked me right in the eye and spoke. Around Easter he kept shouting out, daring me to meet his gaze: ‘Yours is the body of Christ,’ He lowered his voice and said, ‘We will actually feel the nails coming into our flesh as we approach Good Friday.’

“I never felt anything like that. I didn’t feel nails. I wanted to say, ‘Hey, Rev, I don’t have nails! Give me a break.’ I couldn’t feel very sorry for Jesus and his poor bloody hands, because he lived one trillion years ago. He always made commands, like ‘Honor thy mother.’ He sure could dish out advice easily: his mother was a saint.

“It wasn’t’ until I was at Trim ‘N Tidy trying to get grape juice out of a white linen skirt that it came to me what the Rev meant when he talked about feeling the nails in our hands. He wad actually trying to say, despite all the talk of God and Jesus, that there’s no one looking after us, that we are alone, and each of us singular. And still, all of us are miraculously the same in our aloneness, with our red blood cells streaming through our veins. May can list all the diseases that destroy the blood cells, but she wouldn’t go on to say that even Polish people and her colored egg customers and the Japs are subject to disease. The only blessed way there is, I realized, is for all of us to feel deeply with wounded, or sick, or even dead person. What the Rev meant to say, if he could ever have spoken plainly, without all the paraphernalia of the Gospel, was, ‘Each man’s struggle is mine.’

“If I were a minister I’d shout from the pulpit, ‘You, you puddle of humans down there, we are all in the same mess.’ I suppose I’d throw in a meek ‘Rejoice,’ I’d say, “Here’s my theory: isn’t it nice even if I can’t always behave like I believe it?’ The Rev was always trying to get us to be compassionate by telling us about the life of Jesus. I know if the Rev scrapped Jesus altogether I’d get the same point, how you have to feel with all your might for other people, how you have to go outside of yourself and take part in the world’s community. Even though Christians kill each other I finally understood that compassion was the main idea. I knew that salvation was only a carrot, and that in the end there was no such thing.”

Ruth is the narrator to her story. Ruth is not a believer and is somewhat mentally challenged. May is her mother who also appears to be mentally challenges. In their struggle to understand life and its purpose their lives unfold – with triumph and tragedy all mixed together. At least Ruth understood that the main thrust of the pastor’s words was to show compassion for all people at all times. Compassion seems to be something that has gotten lost in the transition into the 21st century.

Quote for today: Kindness makes a person attractive. If you would win the world, melt it, do not hammer it. Alexander Maclaren

Monday, July 12, 2010


Donny Hall was my next-door neighbor. He was the youngest of 5 boys. He was not quite 4 years younger than me. When we moved in next-door he was 3 years old … we became fast friends. Matter of fact he probably was my best friend while growing up in Miami.

We didn’t always agree with each or even get along. I remember stories, shared by my brothers, of the day that Donny chased me down the street with a meat cleaver. Since I don’t remember the event I surely don’t remember what I did to provoke such behavior.

Donny accepted me for who I was and never shared the many, many stories of things that I am not necessarily proud of today, but he was either a witness to, a participant in or knowledgeable of those “less than proud” moments in my past ... and he still picked me to do things with. If you can say that you love someone, for a particular period of time and without causing eyebrows to be raised, then I can honestly state that I loved Donny as a very special friend.

Donny Hall knew that I wasn’t very athletic – my abilities left much to be desired – while his skill level caused him to be one of the captains. Donny always picked me to be a part of his team … sometimes even choosing me first. He tolerated me when others simply laughed and stood up for me when others made fun. He would get frustrated and I heard too many times, “Oh, Jimmy!!!” but next time around there he was and there I was on the same team by his choice.

My mom and his mom always knew that where they would find one of us they could be sure to find the other. Also, if one of us got into trouble then it was a fair bet that the other one was going to receive the same punishment. It would simply be a matter of time. We loved to give the Hall’s maid, Rose, a hard time … and she always told on us! Why we didn’t learn our lesson is beyond me, but we sure stayed in trouble a lot!

I envied Donny – for his athletic ability and also for his garage chest freezer where he had his own half-galloons of ice cream that he could eat at any time he wanted some as long as it wasn’t too close to supper time.

Donny was always challenging me to do something crazy because he knew that I would do it. Like seeing how high we could climb the tall tree in his front yard – I ended up falling out of that tree onto my back knocking myself out for several hours. Or, challenging me to go a little further on our bikes knowing full well that I won’t tell on him and he won’t tell on me. Boy, did we see Miami!

Summers meant many afternoons and evenings at the local community pool.

When it was time to pick individuals to stand up with me at my wedding one individual I picked was Donny Hall. He even hid our car so that members of my youth group would not trash it.

I got married and moved to Nashville. Donny graduated from high school, went to Miami-Dade Community College and eventually entered the U.S. Army – it was during the Viet-Nam war. My mother would keep me informed as to where and what Donny was doing, but after he entered the Army we both lost all contact.

While in seminary in Atlanta, Georgia we did read in the paper that Donny Hall married a Georgia girl in Atlanta, but all tries to make contact failed. After I graduated and came back to Florida to start my ministry I was appointed as the associate pastor at First UMC, South Miami. One day while driving down 7th Avenue, I passed Hall’s Refrigeration and there stood Mr. Hall and one of Donny’s brothers, Gene. I stopped and asked about Donny. Gene shared that he was till in the Army, but was going to be released soon and come back to Miami to go to work for Southern Bell.

Fate stepped in again because that June I moved on to a new assignment in St. Petersburg and never tried to get in contact with my friend.

Well, this year Margaret and I will celebrate our 45th Anniversary so I’ve been attempting to get in contact with the various members of our wedding party. Thanks to and other such web sites that task is much easier today than it was back when I moved to St. Petersburg. Through I made a sad discovery … Donny Hall passed away on June 7, 1995 – he was only 49. Friends and family are not suppose to pass away like that. I haven’t found out the details of his death because that is going to take an actual visit to the Miami Herald to look in their archives for his obituary and other news item.

I’m just sad that I missed my opportunity to renew our friendship … Please don’t take anyone for granted and please don’t think that you have the “time” to leisure pursue reestablishing contact with family and friends. If they were important to you then make the contact and let them know just how special they were to you and your life. I hope Donny can read this from heaven. Thank you for being my friend!

Quote for today: By friendship you mean the greatest love, the greatest usefulness, the most open communication, the noblest sufferings, the severest truth, the heartiest counsel, and the greatest union of minds of which brave men and women are capable. Jeremy Taylor

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Sunday worship

Part of the enjoyment in watching the Tour de France has been the fantastic views from the helicopter as they sweep over the countryside. The views have been breath taking. In particular, I’ve enjoyed the focusing in on some of the spectacular buildings, but as the camera has shared its views of the cities, towns and villages it has illustrated that prominence of the church as the central and dominating structure throughout the country.

It illustrates the fact that at one point in the countries history the church was at the center of the lives of the people. It has caused me to begin to wonder what transpired, in their history, to cause the church to move from being central and important to little more than an afterthought. These magnificent structures cost the villagers dearly to build, but now are practically empty Sunday after Sunday. The priest or minister is called upon basically to fulfill the role of the one to baptize them, marry them and bury them … other than those functions he or she will be little considered … and the “normal” activities for a Sunday seldom includes worship unless it is Christmas or Easter.

What happened in their history to cause this shift? And, more importantly, is that shift happening here in America? The percentage of our population who find themselves in worship on any particular Sunday is on the decrease and has been decreasing over the last 30 or 40 years. The question is why … and how can we change the growing trend? Do you have any thoughts or ideas on this subject?

Quote for today: Barclay quotes William Temple, the renowned archbishop of Canterbury, as defining worship as quickening the conscience by the holiness of God, feeding the mind with the truth of God, purging the imagination by the beauty of God, opening the heart to the love of God, and devoting the will to the purpose of God. Matthew R. Mounce

Saturday, July 10, 2010

A lighter side of life

I always like a good story, especially when it involves children. I also like any story which reminds me of a time when the temperature is a little cooler then the oppressive heat that many of us are presently dealing with. Over the years I have also led congregations with a “Christmas in July” celebration. Well, this story brings together all three. I hope you enjoy it!

My husband and I had been happily married (most of the time) for five years but hadn't been blessed with a baby.

I decided to do some serious praying and promised God that if he would give us a child, I would be a perfect mother, love it with all my heart and raise it with His word as my guide.

God answered my prayers and blessed us with a son.

The next year God blessed us with another son.

The following year, He blessed us with yet another son.

The year after that we were blessed with a daughter.

My husband thought we'd been blessed right into poverty. We now had four children, and the oldest was only four years old.

I learned never to ask God for anything unless I meant it. As a minister once told me, "If you pray for rain, make sure you carry an umbrella."

I began reading a few verses of the Bible to the children each day as they lay in their cribs.

I was off to a good start. God had entrusted me with four children and I didn't want to disappoint Him.

I tried to be patient the day the children smashed two dozen eggs on the kitchen floor searching for baby chicks.

I tried to be understanding... when they started a hotel for homeless frogs in the spare bedroom, although it took me nearly two hours to catch all twenty-three frogs.

When my daughter poured ketchup all over herself and rolled up in a blanket to see how it felt to be a hot dog, I tried to see the humor rather than the mess.

In spite of changing over twenty-five thousand diapers, never eating a hot meal and never sleeping for more than thirty minutes at a time, I still thank God daily for my children.

While I couldn't keep my promise to be a perfect mother - I didn't even come close... I did keep my promise to raise them in the Word of God.

I knew I was missing the mark just a little when I told my daughter we were going to church to worship God, and she wanted to bring a bar of soap along to "wash up" Jesus, too. Something was lost in the translation when I explained that God gave us everlasting life, and my son thought it was generous of God to give us his "last wife."

My proudest moment came during the children's Christmas pageant.

My daughter was playing Mary, two of my sons were shepherds and my youngest son was a wise man. This was their moment to shine. My five-year-old shepherd had practiced his line, "We found the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes." But he was nervous and said, "The baby was wrapped in wrinkled clothes."

My four-year-old "Mary" said, "That's not 'wrinkled clothes,' silly. That's dirty, rotten clothes." A wrestling match broke out between Mary and the shepherd and was stopped by an angel, who bent her halo and lost her left wing.

I slouched a little lower in my seat when Mary dropped the doll representing Baby Jesus, and it bounced down the aisle crying, "Mama-mama." Mary grabbed the doll, wrapped it back up and held it tightly as the wise men arrived.

My other son stepped forward wearing a bathrobe and a paper crown, knelt at the manger and announced, "We are the three wise men, and we are bringing gifts of gold, common sense and fur."

The congregation dissolved into laughter, and the pageant got a standing ovation.

"I've never enjoyed a Christmas program as much as this one," laughed the pastor, wiping tears from his eyes.

"For the rest of my life, I'll never hear the Christmas story without thinking of gold, common sense and fur."

"My children are my pride and my joy and my greatest blessing," I said as I dug through my purse for an aspirin.

Quote for today: All children alarm their parents, if only because you are forever expecting to encounter yourself.Gore Vidal

Friday, July 9, 2010

Seizing the day in the face of tribulation

Strength in times of tribulation is an old theme both in hymnology and sermons. The hymn, Stand By Me, comes to mind. The first verse reads: When the storms of life are raging, stand by me; when the storms of life are raging, stand by me. When the world is tossing me, like a ship upon the see, thou who rulest wind and water, stand by me.

The other verses speak of “in the midst of tribulation,” “in the midst of faults and failures,” “in the midst of persecution,” and “when I’m growing old and feeble.” The old hymn reflects the story out of the Gospels (Matthew 8:23-27) about a time when Jesus and his disciples were in a boat and a furious storm came suddenly upon them. The waves were high and the boat was about to be swamped, but Jesus was asleep in the bow. Out of fear they woke Jesus with the exclamation, “Lord save us, we are about to drown!” Jesus awakes and calms the sea.

As we seek to seize the day this is a valuable lesson to remember.

When death comes to visit our loved ones … stand by me!
When cancer threatens our life … stand by me!
When it is learned that your spouse of many years is having an affair … stand by me!
When a job is lost, benefits are taken away, bills go unpaid … stand by me!
When a rush to the emergency room is required … stand by me!
When faced with an operations … stand by me!
When the ability to see or hear begin to fade … stand by me!
When the stress of living becomes just too much to bear … stand by me!
When mean and unkind things are said about us … stand by me!
When angry words, hateful, mean spirited words are leveled at us … stand by me!
When lies are spread about us … stand by me!
When our integrity is placed in question … stand by me!

In all of life’s ebbs and flows this one thing remember … that Jesus is in the boat with you in the middle of the storm – asleep, because he knows the one who has the ultimate authority over the storm and everything that can threaten to capsize the boat … our life. Jesus has confidence not in the strength of the boat nor is he fearful of the violence of the menacing storm. Rather his faith is to be found in his relationship with God. He knows that when all else fails and others flee God and God alone will stand by him and thus, he seizes the day … and so shall we … regardless of what today might bring!

Quote for today from an unknown source:
Trust Him when dark doubts assail thee,
Trust Him when thy strength is small,
Trust Him when to simply trust Him
Seems the hardest thing of all.
Trust Him, He is ever faithful,
Trust Him, for his will is best,
Trust Him, for the heart of Jesus
Is the only place of rest.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Seize the day - part 3

Sometimes it is hard to seize the day when you feel so horrible … so unappreciated … so beaten down … so discounted … taken for granted … over looked. At those moments it is good to hear what God has to say about you. In 1 Peter 2:9-10 speaks to this reality as that once you were nothing … a nobody … an outsider. There was a time when “no” defined you more than anything else … but now! I like whenever scripture includes a “but now” because it usually means that a major change has taken place.

“But now” mercy has come … God has claimed his own … mercy has been granted … and you are holy! That is a tremendous “but now” … out of darkness and nothingness we have emerged into God’s marvelous light. If God affirms us then who or what can deny that reality. If God is on our side then who or what can stand against us. Or as a little girl once said, “I’m somebody because God doesn’t make junk!” Amen, little sister, amen!

And yet, with that Divine affirmation fully embraced, we still have difficulty seizing the day … taking fully advantage of the opportunities that are offered to us. Maybe it would help to simply live in the moment … discarding the past and stop worrying about the future … and just affirm that for this single moment God loves you … stand there and give yourself a hug. We don’t hug ourselves enough. Some seldom, if ever, hugs themselves. Actually, we are trained from our earliest days that we really shouldn’t love ourselves. That is so sad, because if God loves us why shouldn’t we love ourselves … and if God loves us and we love ourselves … then we are really free to seize the day!

I love the cartoon character Snoopy, especially when he dances. He is so happy … so full of life and love that it just spills over capturing hold of his feet that he cannot help dancing. What would your friends and family think if God’s love simply capture your feet that your only response would be to dance? But, really, who cares! Seize the day and dance away … after all it is your life and what other people think really doesn’t matter all that much … now does it. Just remember that God has claimed you who was nothing and made you his own. “Once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy!” Remember that Christ is the Lord of the Dance since he danced on his own grave and if he leads you in the dance then who has a right to criticize?

Seize the day – it is your life and it is your day – a gift of mercy and love!

Quote for today: An old man was asked what had robbed him of joy the most in his lifetime. He replied, "Things that never happened!" Someone has cited these three keys to happiness: 1)Fret not--He loves you (John 13:1), 2)Faint not--He holds you (Psalm 139:10), 3)Fear not--He keeps you (Psalm 121:5). Source Unknown.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Seize the day - part 2

The Gospel of Luke 5:4-8 tells the story of the disciples fishing all night (“we toiled all night”) and caught nothing. Jesus gets in the boat and says, “Put out into the deep…” Peter and the other fishermen knew Lake Gennesaret like the back of their hands. They knew where you can and cannot find fish. They also knew that during certain seasons you didn’t take your boat beyond a quick retreat to land, safe harbor, because of the violent storms which can build in a very short period of time.

Along comes their teacher and friend, Jesus … a carpenter … telling them to go into deeper waters. It is as if he is stating, “Go where you are not prepared to go. Go out where it is a little dangerous. Break with what you already know and try it differently. Seize the day and try it my way … follow my instructions and you just might be surprised at the blessing.”

I can almost hear Peter respond with, “Well, Jesus, do you really know what you are asking us to do? We have traditionally fished these waters and I think we know where we can catch fish. This is the way we have always done it. This is the way our fathers and grandfathers did it. It has always worked in the past.”

“Go out into deeper water.”

“Deeper water” is where life can be a little more than treacherous. “Deeper water” is away from what is safe and predictable. “Deeper water” is loaded with challenges – physical, mental and spiritual. “Deeper water” is outside of our safety zones … outside of where we are comfortable … outside of where we feel safe and secure ... ahead of our abilities … beyond our gifts and talents … And yet, “deeper water” is where the opportunity to seize the day awaits us.

Then Jesus said, “Do it again!” Do what you have already done, but do it where I have instructed you to do it. Do what you have been doing all night, but do it under my direction. Do what you have toiled hard to accomplish, but do it where it isn’t safe and predictable. Just do it again … do it again … do it again! AND, their nets were so full of fish that they nearly broke and backup boats had to be called since the catch was so massive.

Oh, the blessings that God has in store for us if we simply launch out beyond our safety zones … into the deeper waters of life … following his instructions … our life will not be able to hold all of the blessings that our soul’s net will capture.

Seize the day and the blessings will come! But seize the day not because there is a desire to be blessed, but simply because Jesus instructs us all to go out into deeper water!

Quote for today: Peter T. Forsythe was right when he said, "The first duty of every soul is to find not its freedom but its Master". Warren W. Wiersbe

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Seize the day

To say that life in the Martin house growing up was predictable – as anything can be said to be predictable – is a rather strong understatement.

Monday was washday and according to Rose, the maid from next door, “Your mama sure knows how to hang a pretty wash!” Mom took the time to hangout the wash in a particular pattern. Naturally all the “unmentionables” got hung on the inside of all the other laundry. Couldn’t … shouldn’t … allow our neighbors see our underwear! No clashing colors were ever hung next to each other. Size matter in that she always moved from the larger items down to the smaller items. And she did all of this while using a minimum number of clothespins … and for heavens sake … she never allowed laundry to stay out on the line longer than it was absolutely necessary.

Monday night she would sprinkle any shirts, pants, dresses, etc. which would need special ironing the next day. While everything got ironed on Tuesday – and I mean everything – there were only certain items that needed a certain amount of dampness to be ironed correctly. Those items got sprinkled on Monday evening, rolled and placed in the refrigerator to wait their turn come Ironing Day – Tuesday.

Wednesday and Thursday were cleaning days – vacuuming, dusting, etc., as well as finishing up any ironing from Tuesday that didn’t quite get finished. Friday, since it was payday, was shopping day. It amazes me even today how many senior citizens still do all of their grocery shopping on Friday. When we were a much younger couple this use to frustrate me to no end … exclaiming, “They have all week to do their shopping why clog up the aisles on Friday?”

Then came Saturday … that day was set-aside for Mom and me to wash every window in the house (she on the inside and me on the outside) EVERY WEEK! I would thank the good Lord when he would bless me by sending rain. We couldn’t wash the windows if it rained! But the kitchen’s white linoleum still needed to be scrubbed and waxed and that lovely tasked fell to me as well … even when I got my Miami Herald paper route and had to do my collecting on Saturday morning. As she would say, “Well, the kitchen floor will still be here when you get back.”

What amazed me was that when all of us boys got married and moved away from home and Mom got a full time job the weekly, regular “important” tasks no longer mattered as much. I mentioned this once while visiting, stating that the windows looked a little dirtier than normal. Her response? “Well, Jimmy, just don’t look through them if you don’t like seeing the dirt!” My, my how things do change.

Our evening meal menus didn’t change either from one week to the next. Dad and mom were born and reared in Ohio so they were meat and potato type people. Our suppers reflected that mind set. One didn’t need to look on a calendar to know which day of the week it was all you needed to know was what was being fixed for supper. The least favorite meal was Friday because that was one where Ma took all of the leftovers from the week – Dad didn’t like to get leftovers as a meal the next evening so they collected in the frig – and she would grind them all up together to make hash – all the meats and potatoes together. It really wasn’t bad if you used enough ketchup, but my brothers really didn’t like it … even with the ketchup. If Ma had more potatoes than would really work in the hash she would make fried potato patties. Those were especially good!

Life had a certain ebb-n-flow. It was predictable. It wasn’t either bad or good it just was. It was a comfortable routine for them. I’ve often wondered how many opportunities passed them by because of their predictable routine. Is this how God desired life to be lived?

One of my favorite movies, Dead Poets Society, speaks directly to this concern with the Latin phrase, Carpe diem … seize the day. Take hold of all the opportunities that avail themselves to you in the moment because the future is not guaranteed. I also believe that as you take hold of those opportunities … as you seize the day … as they emerge then God presents greater possibilities that were not in the original plan for you life.

Don’t just “mark” time until it is your time to “shuffle off this mortal coil,” but seize the day – enjoy the ride … you only come this way once so why ruin it with predictable routines or by the fear that you will be judged or misunderstood. It is better to have lived your life with no regrets than to have sat back and allowed life to pass you by.

Quote for today: Seize the moment. Remember all those women on the Titanic who waved off the dessert cart. Erma Bombeck

Monday, July 5, 2010


Here is a thought to ponder during our nations 4th of July celebration …

“The freedom to fly is related to the string. The very thing that holds the kite to earth is what keeps it in the sky. Cut the string, and what will happen to the kite? It will fall. But the string, which seems to bind it, allows it to fly.” (Source unknown)

As is true with all freedom there comes with it responsibility. None of us wanted to wait until we were free from the attachment to our parents … then we became adults – some of us as married adults with children … we were free from our parents and yet, oh, the responsibilities of adulthood.

We cherish and defend the freedoms we have in America, but do we fulfill the responsibilities that that freedom carries?

In a similar fashion … there is so much that we desire from God through Christ and yet, that relationship comes with a string attached. We will soar on eagles’ wings and accomplish amazing things, but it will be by God’s design and at God’s pleasure. As is true in all meaningful relationships, God offers freedom, but with responsibility.

Are we up to the task of being a citizen of both kingdoms … America and the Kingdom of God?

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

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Going to church

It is heard often … “…it is important to take little Johnny to church!” The question that I have always struggled with is this … if it is important for little Johnny to go to church why isn’t it important for little Johnny’s parents to participate in church? I believe that it is, but you seldom hear adults talking about that or commenting concerning the parents involvement.

Why do we all agree that church is important for children, but not so important for adults? It is easy for adults to miss church without feeling that they are somehow missing something important in their lives. “We have out of town guests.” “We were out late last night.” “It is the only day that I have to really rest.” “We have tickets to this event.” “Cannot miss that NFL game.” “I love breakfast at Wimbledon.” And so the list goes on and on and on.

Adults might have participated in church when they were growing up. Then they go off to college and kind of drift away. Finally, they find an important individual that they desire to spend the rest of their lives with – hopefully. Following marriage children come along (hopefully in that order) … it is when the children come along that they turn to each other and state, “We need to get back to church for the children.” Hmmmm, I’ve never understood that process. Oh, I’m glad that something prompts them to return, but hopefully they get something out of the participation other than just seeing their children having a good time ... and learning something as well.

Quote for today: Percentage of mothers who said they wanted their children to develop a loyalty to church in 1924: 50. In 1978: 22. Psychology Today, October 1988.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Nationalism vs. Patriotism

The reporter was addressing the fact that Germany would be playing in the Quarterfinals against Argentina in the FIFA World Soccer tournament, but the report didn’t take the course that I halfway expected. He was reporting on the fear that was starting to grip the German citizens as the fervor for Deutschland was growing to a crucial point. Numbers of German flags were starting to appear with great anticipation. Tension was growing within the country because many citizens could remember, painfully, when this fever pitch had been reached previously. Numerous pubs and other sports clubs have been declared as “flag-free” sites to view Saturdays match in an attempt to calm the waters so to speak. Those attending cannot chanted nor sing nationalistic songs – they can cheer, but there will not be any Deutschland, Deutschland, Deutschland tolerated because that would simply be a reminder of the 1930s, a very painful period in their history.

The conflict, as addressed by the reporter on NPR, was about Nationalism vs. Patriotism. What happened in German as a lead up to Hitler taking over the country – in a period of economic downturn called the Great Depression – was nationalism … too much identity with the country and a low tolerance for anyone who didn’t speak the German language, wasn’t born in Germany and/or had family in another country … one had to look, walk, speak and act German or else. Nationalism at its worst … the fear is still evident throughout the country according to this reporter. Once again it is raising its ugly head and creating a widespread fear. Patriotism – having pride in your country – is acceptable, but nationalism will not be tolerated.

This radio report was on the heels of a conversation I had just participated in concerning what is taking place in America. It dawned on me that the conflict between Nationalism vs. Patriotism speaks directly to our situation … and I am fearful for America. The whole conservative vs. liberal debate can be housed in the same imagery of what took place in Germany. It is a debate driven by fear, bumper stickers and angry talk show hosts. It is a debate about who is and who isn’t legitimate to be in the country. It is a debate about language … about taking “back” our country … about race and racial hatred … individual rights vs. what is best for the entire country … it is a debate driven by fear and lots and lots and lots of anger.

Taking pride in America is a great thing. Chanting USA, USA, USA is a good thing. Singing the national anthem with great pride and emotion is a good thing. Allowing a tear or two to well up in ones eyes is a good thing. Celebrating the freedom of our beloved country is a good thing. Honoring our soldiers is a good thing. But demanding that everyone think and act alike is dangerous. Demanding that only English speaking individuals can get jobs is dangerous. Demanding that only white American Christians be permitted to stay and hold political office is dangerous.

We are entering a very dangerous period in our history. I pray that true patriotism wins out. God blessed Israel by giving them the Promised Land, but they failed to understand the purpose of the gift. They were to be a blessing to the other nations … to be a channel by which all people would come to understand that God was a loving and caring God. God blessed America in its early years so that we could be that channel, but like Israel we began to see the blessing as a right instead of a privilege … a privilege to be shared with all people regardless and without reservation.

My fear in trying to “keep America safe” is that the blessing with be removed from our hands and given to another people. Yes, “God bless America,” but only so we can bless the disenfranchised of this world. Long may Patriotism live!

Quote for today: We should behave toward our country as women behave toward the men they love. A loving wife will do anything for her husband except stop criticizing and trying to improve him. We should cast the same affectionate but sharp glance at our country. J. B. Priestley.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Being a blessing to others

An old song has been running through my gray matter for the last day or so … Making Me a Blessing. The lyrics are:

1. Out in the highways and byways of life, many are weary and sad; are weary and sad Carry the sunshine where darkness is rife making the sorrowing glad.

Refrain: Make me a blessing, Make me a blessing, Out of my life out of my life May Jesus shine; Make me a blessing, O savior, I pray, I pray Thee, my Savior, Make me a blessing to someone today.

2. Tell the sweet story of Christ and His love; Tell of His pow'r to forgive; His pow'r to forgive. Others will trust Him if only you prove true ev'ry moment you live. Refrain

3. Give as 'twas given to you in your need; Love as the Master loved you; Be to the helpless a helper indeed; Unto your mission be true. Refrain

These words have been running over and over in my mind as a prayer because I’m discovering many individuals who need to be blessed. They feel defeated, broken, heavy burdened … the weight of the world on their shoulders weighing them down to the point that it is just too hard to even look up.

God does place in our pathway individuals that could use a hand up, a smile, a kind word, a hug … a blessing. Each of us just need to keep reminding ourselves that the Almighty might be using us and something that we just might say to be a life changing blessing for some other traveler in life. Make me … us … a blessing!

I have also been reminded by a former youth that it is important to share with others when they have been a blessing to you. May we never take others for granted because they probably have been on a mission for God, but just didn’t know it!

Quote for today: Joy is the byproduct of obedience. Traditional