Sunday, October 31, 2010

It is time for us all to meet in the middle

As the Rally to Restore Sanity took place on the National Mall yesterday some old lyrics kept running through my gray matter. The song, “Meet Me In The Middle.”

Well, I could be persuaded, yes I could
Ask me very nicely if I would
Wait to get an answer (and you will)
Wait a little longer 'til you get my bill.

Time is of the essence, all in all
Catch me at my weakest, up against the wall
Of good intentions, which were mine
When you didn't like it I was out of time.

Don't go to extremes, no no
Don't go to extremes.

Just meet me in the middle.
Give a little credit where it's due
You know that I would always do the same for you
And all I wanted was to hear it said
I wasn't gonna let it go to my head.

Don't go to extremes, no no
Don't go to extremes.

Just meet me in the middle
That's all I ask
Meet me in the middle
Is it such a task.

Halfway wrong, halfway right
Halfway left and then out of sight
Out of mind, out of line
I was all lined up like a sitting duck
So come on, well come on.


Meet me, meet me
Meet me in the middle

Why don't you meet me in the middle
In the middle of the road.

Never did expect to feel this way
Never did intend it turning out this way
Never meant you harm, not a single thought
Never was malicious and look what I got.

Every accusation that was thrown on me
Based on no foundation and you just don't see
Lest you think we've gotten to the very end
Well, everything that goes around comes around again.

Don't go to extremes, no no
Don't go to extremes
Don't go to extremes, no no
Don't go.

Meet me in the middle
Why don't you meet me in the middle
In the middle of the road
Well, meet me in the middle
Middle, yeah yeah.

Just meet me in the middle
That's all I ask
Meet me in the middle
Is it such a, such a task (meet me in the middle).

Given all the horrible rhetoric that is being passed out in the name of patriotism I have felt that I am caught in some horrible twilight zone and cannot escape. I am deeply concerned about the multi-millionaires who are trying to buy the governor’s mansion – not only in Florida, but throughout our country. I am deeply concerned about the extremely vocal minority who think if they shout something loud enough, long enough that it becomes true. I am deeply concerned about those individuals who make up the political right and left who believe that they have the only answers for our future. I am deeply concerned that the America I’ve come to love and appreciate won’t be around for my grandchildren to enjoy. We need saner minds and voices … we need individuals on both sides of the political aisle and along main street America who are willing and committed to “meet in the middle.” As both Eisenhower and Nixon believed, according to David Eisenhower and Julie Nixon, that the only way to lead this nation successfully is from the middle then we should elect men and women who are willing and are ready to compromise, giving up some of their long cherished ideas, to work with others that they disagree with … as they meet in the middle.

We are now a nation of extremes, but those people found within the extremes cannot govern because they are not willing to meet others in the middle. If, like a married couple, they only hold on to what they believe to be true – their version of reality – then divorce is the only option and civil discourse no longer takes place. We’ve been here before as a country and the results were not pretty. Remember the hatred during the Viet Nam war? Remember the hatred during the race riots? Remember what happened to the country when we were divided along north and south lines over the issue of slavery? Remember? Do we really want to return to those days? Or … we can start meeting each other in the middle … we can start listening to each other again … we can begin to restore some sanity to our discourse about the problems that our great nation is facing … we can, once again, get back to working for what is best for everyone and not just for a few … we can begin to meet each other in the middle … yes, we can … if we really want to.

Tonight children in various costumes will go door-to-door as they trick-or-treat. The lights on our porches will be turned on and candy will be passed out. Isn’t that just another name for political campaigns? If we don’t give them the treats (our votes) they want then we are threatened by some nasty tricks. They are all wearing some scary masks – they appear to be something until they are elected.

Or, as Rick Hotton, in his comic strip Holy Mole, stated on October 21, 2010 – “When you stick to your position, you will never meet in the middle.”

Now is the time and today is the hour for all good men and women to step up to assist our nation to regain some sanity and meet each other in the middle … before it is too late.

Quote for today: Patriotism is not a short and frenzied burst of emotion but the long and steady dedication of a lifetime. Thomas Jefferson

Saturday, October 30, 2010

A quick note ...

To my regular readers I apologize for not posting anything yesterday and today on this daily blog. It might happen much later today ... if at all. I've been extremely busy with helping out at our church's pumpkin patch and enjoying our grandchildren - special event last night at their church, Saturday morning at a local farm's harvest festival and then later this afternoon at our own church's harvest festival.

If I had the time to write it would be about the Rally to Restore Sanity being held today in DC. It is about time somebody tried to do something because our nation has gone a little crazy - with all the hate speech going on, attack ads, mistrust of one political party after another ... bottom line: no one seems to care about our countries future only their own political future. Besides, it is insane that we are so worried about being attacked again that we are turning the world inside out fighting a war we had no good reason to start all out of some misplaced fear. As Jon Stewart recently said, "We survived a Civil War. We are not going to disappear. We are not fragile. We are not going to break." We just need to relax, take a deep breath and quit this blue state/red state, Tea Party stuff and move forward. My daughter reminded me of a statement written by David Eisenhower and Julie Nixon (who are husband and wife). They were quoting their fathers who said, "The country can only stand a moderate conservative or a moderate liberal." We have to operate from the middle not from the edges. If we continue to move in either direction (liberal or conservative) we will destroy ourselves in the attempt to preserve ourselves.

Anyway ... that is just a little of what I would have written. Maybe later today or this evening I will get to finish my thoughts.

Grace and peace,


Thursday, October 28, 2010

Four paranormal stories ...

Four stories from my past. Four stories that stand within the paranormal genre. Four stories that I do not normally share with others. Four stories for which I have no explanation other than to say they were very real to the people who shared them with me. This one thing I will vouch for – the people involved were average, normal individuals. I offer them here at face value … you judge for yourself.

Story #1: Mary Etta Walker and her husband, William, were long time members of Big Pine UMC, Big Pine Key, FL. They were true Conchs – people born in Key West. Mary Etta’s husband had been suffering from Alzheimers for some time. While she was a regular worship attendee, he never left their home. It wasn’t too long after I became their pastor that his problems became severe enough that Mary Etta had to make the difficult decision to place him in a nursing home facility. Since their son lived in Miami, she picked a facility in the greater Miami area. Within 4 months after the move he passed away. About a week after his passing Mary Etta called asking if it would be all right if she came by to talk. That afternoon she sat in my office and shared that she thought that she was loosing her mind. I asked her to explain. Very hesitantly she began to share that she thought William has come back home. She talked about watching television one evening when his favorite rocking chair began to rock back and forth. It disturbed her enough that she turned off the television and went to her bedroom, locking the door behind her. Soon the handle began to rattle as if someone was trying to get in. This has happened every night for the last week. “Preacher, I’m loosing my mind. This cannot be real can it?” After taking a deep breath I said, “Mary Etta there is so much about the spiritual world that we simply do not know. It could be very real since Bill had lost his mind a long time ago and your home was the only familiar place he can remember.” I went on to instruct her that the next time Bill showed up just talk to him very quietly that everything is okay, that you are going to be okay and that he should trust those around him. The following Sunday she shared that Bill had returned the evening of our counseling session and that she did what I suggested that she should do. “As I talked to him the rocker stopped. I think I could see him get up and go to the front door. It opened and he paused at the door for a long time then left and hasn’t come back since.”

Story #2: Mr. Mack was a quiet, deeply spiritual gentleman at St. Luke’s UMC, St. Petersburg, FL. He never missed Sunday worship nor the Tuesday and Thursday communion and healing services that the senior pastor offered. He was probably the most knowledgeable layperson of the Bible that I have ever met. He always sat in the same section of the sanctuary, even on Tuesday and Thursday – about half way back close to the outside wall pulpit side near the window that he had placed in the sanctuary in memory of his beloved wife. I had been at the church for about 6 months when Mr. Mack approached me one Sunday after I preached. Very hesitantly he began to share his observations less I began to think that he was “one of those religious kooks” (his very words). He said that he doesn’t normally see these things, but, and here he took a deep breath and continued, “are you aware that when you preach there is an older man who stands behind you with his right hand on your shoulder?” “No,” I said. Then Mr. Mack went on to describe the gentleman – full white beard, salt-and-pepper hair, about 6 feet, medium build, gray suit with a vest, bushy eyebrows, and a wide brimmed hat. I listened and thanked Mr. Mack for sharing his observation. While interesting, I never thought about it again until …

Story #3: A young couple started worshiping at First UMC, Hudson, FL. After a short period of time they asked if I would baptize their child, which I gladly did. On the day of her baptism I met the wife’s parents. They were active at the local Catholic church. After the baptism the parents began to worship regularly with us while remaining active at their church. During a counseling session, the couple was having a few marital problems that they needed some assistance in working through, he mentioned that his father-in-law had something that he really wanted to discuss with me if I would have the time. I called the father-in-law and made an appointment to go by their home the next afternoon. After the normal greetings and an offer of coffee the father-in-law began to approach why he requested the meeting. Very hesitantly he began to share exactly what Mr. Mack had shared several years earlier – in every detail. It got my attention this time, but I didn’t know what to make of it until several years later when both my parents had passed away and I began to go through their stuff. Mom had a box of old pictures. Going through that box there was a family picture from her past. I didn’t know anyone in the picture or at least I didn’t recognize anyone, but one old gentleman did get my attention because he had a flowing beard, bushy eyebrows and a wide brimmed hat on. On the back Mom had made a few notes indicating who was in the picture. The note concerning the old gentleman with the flowing beard was that his name was Wesley (my middle name) and that he was a Methodist Circuit Rider … and he was exactly as described earlier by Mr. Mack and the father-in-law.

Story #4: At First UMC, Gainesville, FL I had followed Walter and Ann Rutland. Ann had fought cancer while they served the church and they would return to Gainesville regularly for follow up visits with her doctor. On one occasion they stopped by the parsonage just to visit since we had been long time friends long before following them at the church. After about an hour Ann approached a particular subject with the disclaimer that Walter thinks she is crazy, but she went on to ask if I heard someone walking the hallway late at night after everyone had gone to sleep? I shared that I had heard some noises, but thought that since it was an older home that it was simply the normal settling noises that old homes make at the evening cooled. She went on to say that I might want to listen more carefully to see if it sounded like someone walking. When I inquired further Ann shared that the builder of the home lived in it for many years before selling it to the church. He had built the large fourth bedroom for his mother and after moving in she had died in that bedroom. Ann felt that her spirit still walked the hallways at night. That evening I listened more closely to the evening noises of the house and I began to think that I heard the old woman walking the hallways.

Quote for today: Both in history and in life it is a phenomenon by no means rare to meet with comparatively unlettered people who seem to have struck profound spiritual depths while there are many highly educated people whom one feels are performing clever antics with their minds to cover a gaping hollowness that lies within. Herbert Butterfield

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Children are very special ...

From my perspective one of the neat things about Halloween are the children who come to the door. We don’t have as many coming trick-or-treating as in previous years, but I enjoy each and every one of them. Children have a special place in my heart. One of the things that I have enjoyed while working our church’s pumpkin patch outreach is getting to greet the children. Jesus gave a special place within the kingdom to children. If I could motivate adults it would be to never pass by a child without speaking and recognizing their place within God’s beautiful world.

One of the unique things I like about children is that they just see the world differently as the following collection illustrates …

JACK (age 3) was watching his Mom breast-feeding his new baby sister. After a while he asked: "Mom why have you got two? Is one for hot and one for cold milk?"

MELANIE (age 5) asked her Granny how old she was. Granny replied she was so old she didn't remember any more. Melanie said, "If you don't remember you must look in the back of your panties. Mine say five to six."

STEVEN (age 3) hugged and kissed his Mom good night. "I love you so much that when you die I'm going to bury you outside my bedroom window."

BRITTA NY (age 4) had an earache and wanted a pain killer. She tried in vain to take the lid off the bottle. Seeing her frustration, her Mom explained it was a child-proof cap and she'd have to open it for her. Eyes wide with wonder, the little girl asked: "How does it know it's me?"

SUSAN (age 4) was drinking juice when she got the hiccups. "Please don't give me this juice again," she said, "It makes my teeth cough."

DJ (age 4) stepped onto the bathroom scale and asked: "How much do I cost?"

MARC (age 4) was engrossed in a young couple that were hugging and kissing in a restaurant. Without taking his eyes off them, he asked his dad: "Why is he whispering in her mouth?"

CLINTON (age 5) was in his bedroom looking worried. When his Mom asked what was troubling him, he replied, "I don't know what'll happen with this bed when I get married. How will my wife fit in?"

JAMES (age 4) was listening to a Bible story. His dad read: "The man named Lot was warned to take his wife and flee out of the city but his wife looked back and was turned to salt." Concerned, James asked: "What happened to the flea?"

TAMMY (age 4) was with her mother when they met an elderly, rather wrinkled woman her Mom knew. Tammy looked at her for a while and then asked, "Why doesn't your skin fit your face?"

The Sermon I think this Mom will never forget.... this particular Sunday sermon..."Dear Lord," the minister began, with arms extended toward heaven and a rapturous look on his upturned face. "Without you, we are but dust." He would have continued but at that moment my very obedient daughter who was listening leaned over to me and asked quite audibly in her shrill little four year old girl voice, "Mom, what is butt dust?"

A little boy was attending his first wedding. After the service, his cousin asked him, “How many women can a man marry?” “Sixteen,” the boy responded. His cousin was amazed that he had an answer so quickly. “How do you know that?” “Easy,” the little boy said. “All you have to do is add it up, like the pastor said, 4 better, 4 worse, 4 richer, 4 poorer.”

After a church service on Sunday morning, a young boy suddenly announced to his mother, “Mom, I’ve decided to become a minister when I grow up.” “That’s okay with us, but what made you decide that?” “Well,” said the little boy, “I have to go to church on Sunday anyway, and I figure it will be more fun to stand up and yell, than to sit and listen.”

A 6-year-old was overheard reciting the Lord’s Prayer at a church service, “And forgive us our gas passes, as we forgive those who passed gas against us.”

A boy was watching his father, a pastor, write a sermon. “How do you know what to say?” he asked. “Why, God tells me.” “Oh, then why do you keep crossing things out?”

A little girl became restless as the preacher’s sermon dragged on and on. Finally, she leaned over to her mother and whispered, “Mommy, if we give him the money now, will he let us go?”

Ms. Terri asked her Sunday School class to draw pictures of their favorite Bible stories. She was puzzled by Kyle’s picture, which showed four people on an airplane, so she asked him which story it was meant to represent. “The flight to Egypt,” was his reply. Pointing at each figure, Ms. Terri said, “That must be Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus. But who’s the fourth person?” “Oh, that’s Pontius – the pilot!”

The Sunday school teacher asks, “Now, Johnny, tell me frankly do you say prayers before eating?” “No sir,” little Johnny replies, I don’t have to. My mom is a good cook.”

A little girl was sitting on her grandfather’s lap as he read her a bedtime story. From time to time, she would take her eyes off the book and reach up to touch his wrinkled cheek. She was alternately stroking her own cheek, then his again. Finally she spoke up, “Grandpa, did God make you?” “Yes, sweetheart,” he answered, “God made me a long time ago.” “Oh,” she paused, “Grandpa, did God make me too?” “Yes, indeed, honey,” he said, “God made you just a little while ago.” Feeling their respective faces again, she observed, “God’s getting better at it, isn’t he?”

TEACHER: Maria, go to the map and find North America.
MARIA: Here it is.
TEACHER: Correct. Now class, who discovered America?
CLASS: Maria.

TEACHER: John, why are you doing your math multiplication on the floor?
JOHN: You told me to do it without using tables.

TEACHER: Glenn, how do you spell 'crocodile?'
TEACHER: No, that's wrong
GLENN: Maybe it is wrong, but you asked me how I spell it.

TEACHER: Donald, what is the chemical formula for water?
TEACHER: What are you talking about?
DONALD: Yesterday you said it's H to O.

TEACHER: Winnie, name one important thing we have today that we didn't have ten years ago.

TEACHER: Glen, why do you always get so dirty?
GLEN: Well, I'm a lot closer to the ground than you are.

TEACHER: Millie, give me a sentence starting with ' I.'
MILLIE: I is..
TEACHER: No, Millie..... Always say, 'I am.'
MILLIE: All right... 'I am the ninth letter of the alphabet.'

TEACHER: George Washington not only chopped down his father's cherry tree, but also admitted it. Now, Louie, do you know why his father didn't punish him?
LOUIS: Because George still had the axe in his hand....

TEACHER: Now, Simon , tell me frankly, do you say prayers before eating?
SIMON: No sir, I don't have to, my Mom is a good cook.

TEACHER: Clyde , your composition on 'My Dog' is exactly the same as your brother's.. Did you copy his?
CLYDE: No, sir. It's the same dog.

TEACHER: Harold, what do you call a person who keeps on talking when people are no longer interested?
HAROLD: A teacher

Quote for today: H.W. Beecher

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Halloween and the Jack O'Lantern

As Halloween approaches my in-box begins to receive a popular “we are like pumpkins” email. I’m not sure when I started receiving it, but it has been a number of years now and it always causes me to pause to evaluate just what God has and is doing in my life to turn it around.

The email: Being a good person is like being a pumpkin. God lifts you up, takes you in, and washes all the dirt off of you. He opens you up, touches you deep inside and scoops out all of the yucky stuff -- including the seeds of doubt, hate, greed, etc. Then He carves you a bright new smiling face and puts His light inside of you to shine for all the world to see.

Now there is a lot of legend surrounding the pumpkins traditional use during Halloween and, within certain religious circles, a great deal of scare tactics as all sorts of misinformation is inserted to get people to be God-centered during this “evil” and “worldly” celebration. Oh, what silliness grips us in the name of religious purity. Here is a little history on the Jack O’Lantern. The next three paragraphs are from

People have been making jack-o-lanterns at Halloween for centuries. The practice originated from an Irish myth about a man nicknamed "Stingy Jack." According to the story, Stingy Jack invited the Devil to have a drink with him. True to his name, Stingy Jack didn't want to pay for his drink, so he convinced the Devil to turn himself into a coin that Jack could use to buy their drinks. Once the Devil did so, Jack decided to keep the money and put it into his pocket next to a silver cross, which prevented the Devil from changing back into his original form. Jack eventually freed the Devil, under the condition that he would not bother Jack for one year and that, should Jack die, he would not claim his soul. The next year, Jack again tricked the Devil into climbing into a tree to pick a piece of fruit. While he was up in the tree, Jack carved a sign of the cross into the tree's bark so that the Devil could not come down until the Devil promised Jack not to bother him for ten more years.

Soon after, Jack died. As the legend goes, God would not allow such an unsavory figure into heaven. The Devil, upset by the trick Jack had played on him and keeping his word not to claim his soul, would not allow Jack into hell. He sent Jack off into the dark night with only a burning coal to light his way. Jack put the coal into a carved out turnip and has been roaming the Earth with it ever since. The Irish began to refer to this ghostly figure as "Jack of the Lantern," and then, simply "Jack O'Lantern."

In Ireland and Scotland, people began to make their own versions of Jack’s lanterns by carving scary faces into turnips or potatoes and placing them into windows or near doors to frighten away Stingy Jack and other wandering evil spirits. In England, large beets are used. Immigrants from these countries brought the jack o’lantern tradition with them when they came to the United States. They soon found that pumpkins, a fruit native to America, make perfect jack o’lanterns.

The bottom line is this – at least from my perspective – that as Christians we need not get caught up in the foolishness of the legends and myths surrounding this seasonal event. All we need to remember is what the email illustrates and that is that God makes all things new. It is what in our heart that really matters and that God has changed replacing the “yuck” with his eternal light.

Quote for today: There is a fundamental sense in which evil is not something that can be made sense of. The essence of evil is that it is something which is absurd, bizarre and irrational. It is the nature of evil to be inexplicable, an enigma and a stupidity. Nigel Wright

Monday, October 25, 2010

Another look at holy boldness

It was a chance encounter. Last Friday, as I was working at our church’s pumpkin patch, a gentleman walks up. He isn’t interested in buying any pumpkins rather he is promoting his auto detailing business. As the conversation developed we got beyond the original purpose of him stopping by. It turned to discussing church – specifically his church. As I listened to him expound upon the rightness of the independent non-denominational nature of the church he participated in the conversation swung from a fearless holy boldness to simply a fearless boldness that had lost anything holy about it.

The gentleman began to “cheery pick” scripture to prove the point that his church is the “true” church because they didn’t use instruments in worship, women were silent in the church … well, I think you get the drift of the conversation. In the process he also was trying to illustrate why my church and denomination, as well as every other denominationally related church were all wrong … and unscriptural.

I will hand it to him, he knew scripture, but wasn’t willing to acknowledge any validity in my faith and faith expression. Bold and fearless were qualities definitely found in his personality. He wasn’t hostile, just a little judgmental or should I say, self-righteous. He knew what he believed and why he believed it … and he was ready and willing to share it openly with whoever would listen.

As our conversation was winding down I looked him in the eye and ask, “Would you admit that I believe in Jesus Christ, that he is my personal savior and that I have committed my life to serving his cause?” I had to come back to this question several times as he continued to make his point where I had gone astray. Finally, he heard the question and reluctantly admitted that it might be true. Then, quoting John Wesley, “If your heart belongs to Christ then give me your hand and we will walk together.” I continued, “We don’t need to agree on the finer points of our theology (which he disagreed with since his wasn’t a “theology” but strictly biblical), but each of us are trying to serve the cause of Christ in our particular way.”

What I admired about this young man was his enthusiasm and deep desire to share his relationship with Christ. It was definitely his passion, albeit with a fair amount of judgment thrown into the mix. It was like I was witnessing Martin Luther as he stood before the Diet of Worms declaring that “Here I stand. I can do no other.”

Maybe the state of today’s church in America is a result of members afraid to take a stand on what they believe. The phrase often heard is, “Well, I don’t want to offend anyone.” And, so in our attempt not to offend, we fail our Christ at the very point that is most needed. Christ and His kingdom desires men and women who are willing to take a stand for the faith … who are willing to be heard … who are willing to share the passion of their soul … with whoever will listen. May we do no other than to bear witness to the faith that grips our souls and quickens our hearts.

Quote for today: In the midst of a generation screaming for answers, Christians are stuttering. Howard Hendricks

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Holy, fearless boldness as expressed in Acts 4:31 and 2 Timothy 1:7

Contemplating worship today and the sacred responsibility of the pastor to “break the bread of life” sharing a good word from God, my mind drifts to Acts 4:31. In The Message it reads: “While they were praying, the place where they were meeting trembled and shook. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak God's Word with fearless confidence.” From the New International Version it reads: “After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit. They were bold when they spoke God's word.”

I really like those words – “fearless confidence” and “bold” or “holy boldness” as in empowered by God’s Spirit they spoke without reservation and with abandonment not looking at their own well-being or safety nor at how they would be perceived by others.

There are many individuals who come to mind, but two in particular standout. The Reverends Newt Wise and Smokey Stover. Both of them were/are some of the most unique individuals I have ever encountered in the Kingdom of God.

Newt, rest his soul, came across as a country bumpkin – accent and all. It was a perception that served him well as the regional representative for the American Bible Society or in serving many churches throughout the state of Florida. He would wear some of the most outlandish clothes and blame it on “Miss Fannie” who just happened to be his wife. What most of his fellow clergy didn’t know about him was his massive intellect. He actually wore out several sets of The Interpreters Bible – a 12-volume commentary on the Bible.

Newt was very bold about his faith and he went out of his way to include everyone in his declaration. There were about eight clergy who had gathered at a South Miami restaurant for lunch one day. When the food arrived Newt stood up and announced to everyone in the crowded dinning room that he was going to say grace over what he was about to receive and spoke of the assurance that they would like their meals blessed as well … and then he began to offer a powerful prayer. Newt had a “fearless confidence” which resulted in a Holy Boldness unlike anything that I had ever witnessed to that point in my spiritual journey.

The other individual was Smokey Stover. He needs our prayers as you read this blog because his health is failing. Smokey felt his faith as deeply as Newt. Unfortunately, I didn’t know Smokey as well as I knew Newt, but “Smokey stories” were well known throughout Florida. His favorite line was … “Glory” … not a quite, timid, softly spoken glory, but shake the rafters, rattle the windows, fearless, bold GLORY! It didn’t matter if it was at a Denny’s or Wal-Mart or CVS … whenever the spirit came over him or he witnessed a spirit-filled event the GLORY would break forth from him and heads would turn. As I heard him say on several occasions, “My heart was just filled to over flowing and it had to just come out.”

Is either one of these particular “style” of fearless boldness right for any of us? Probably not, but it did fit their personalities. This one thing is clear though – we didn’t receive the Spirit of God simply to continue to live with timidity. 2 Timothy 1:7 expresses it this way, “God doesn't want us to be shy with his gifts, but bold and loving and sensible.” (The Message) The only conclusion that I can arrive at is that each of us must look within to discover the uniqueness of our own relationship with God and the distinctive style of fearless boldness. Failing to do just that means that the world wins as it stifles our witness and silences our spirit.

“Fearless confidence” … “Holy boldness” … may it happen throughout the pulpits and pews in American and beyond … may it break forth wherever men and women stand to proclaim a good word from God … may it be heard whenever scripture is read and stories told … may it happen in your church and in mine … may it happen today and every day wherever two or three are gathered in his name … may it happen not because of us, but in spite of us … may it happen because we anticipate it happening … May the Glory of God breakout wherever the Spirit of God determines that it would be a good and holy thing to have happen.

Quote for today: Prayer in private results in boldness in public. Edwin Louis Cole

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Top Ten List and other Halloween nonsense

Since the day I turned 65, three years ago, I continue to receive some little tidbits of wisdom concerning “You Know You Are Old When …” or “You Know You Are Too Old To If …” lists. Maybe it is because I’ve been known to stay up late just to listen to David Letterman simply to hear his “Top Ten List” offering for the evening. One of my daughters sent along a “Top Ten List” concerning the practice of Trick-or-Treating. I’m not sure where she got it from, but I can almost hear Maxine sharing these insightful little tidbits of wisdom.

TOP TEN LIST: You know you are too old to Trick or Treat when:
10. You get winded from knocking on the door.
9. You have to have another kid chew the candy for you.
8. You ask for high fiber candy only.
7. When someone drops a candy bar in your bag, you lose your balance and fall over.
6. People say: "Great Boris Karloff Mask," and you're not wearing a mask.
5. When the door opens you yell, "Trick or …" and can't remember the rest.
4. By the end of the night, you have a bag full of restraining orders.
3. You have to carefully choose a costume that won't dislodge your hairpiece.
2. You're the only Power Ranger in the neighborhood with a walker.
And the number one reason Seniors should not go Trick Or Treating...
1. You keep having to go home to go to the bathroom.

Halloween would always be a time of trying to out trick the next guy … or at least it was true in my neck of the woods. We would go to great lengths to pull-off the “perfect” Halloween Trick. We knew that we would be opening ourselves up to the “standard Halloween lecture” from my dad about respecting other people’s property, etc. This was true until one of his siblings shared one of their hilarious and mischievous deeds that they would pull-off every year against a cantankerous neighbor. Therefore, we were prepared the next year and as he launched into his lecture we began to laugh … which didn’t help the situation any. Finally, dad, now red in the face, stopped and asked what we were laughing at. When we shared the story from his youth and what he and his buddies did with the neighbor’s wagon and outhouse … well, it only made him madder, but it was the last year we got “the lecture”.

The following story was shared in Reader’s Digest some years ago and while it wasn’t a Halloween Trick-or-treat stunt it could have been:

As physics professor at Adelaide University in Australia, Sir Kerr Grant used to illustrate the time of descent of a free-falling body by allowing a heavy ball suspended from the lecture-theater roof trusses to fall some 30 feet and be caught in a sand bucket. Each year the bucket was lined up meticulously to catch the ball -- and each year students secretly moved the bucket to one side, so that the ball crashed thunderously to the floor.

Tiring of this rather stale joke, the professor traced a chalk line around the bucket. The students moved the bucket as usual, traced a chalk mark around the new position, rubbed it out and replaced the bucket in its original spot. "Aha!" the professor explained, seeing the faint outline of the erased chalk mark. He moved the bucket over it and released the ball -- which thundered to the floor as usual.

Quote for today: Proof of our society's decline is that Halloween has become a broad daylight event for many. ~Robert Kirby

Friday, October 22, 2010

In celebration of birthdays and unbirthdays!

Birthdays come and birthdays go. As a general rule, they are just another day within the course of one’s life. Nothing special. Nothing unique. Just another day on the calendar. Right?

Oh, there are certain birthdays that are probably more special than others, such as turning 13 – finally a teenager; 16 – finally can drive (if your parents approve and will pay for the insurance); 21 – finally classified as an adult. But birthdays come and birthdays go … one day after another ... just another day on the calendar. Right?

There are a few birthdays that I do remember. Not mine, but those celebrated by others.

At the Hudson church we took the time to recognize birthdays during worship. Audrey was a unique individual. She wasn’t bashful about her age so I knew that I was on safe ground to ask her how old she was. Audrey declared with a proud and strong voice that she was 65. “What is so special about being 65?” I asked. “Well,” she responded, “you can eat anything you want because at 65 they don’t refer to you as fat, but as matronly and I plan on being very matronly!” The congregation laughed. Audrey was fun to be around.

Then you have my youngest daughter Erin. She was but a toddler when someone asked her when she was going to be four. Evidently she had been asked that particular question once too often because this time her response to her uncle was, “When I get done being 3!” Today, she starts to remind everyone in July that August his her birth month … and she likes to draw out the celebration for the entire month. She too is fun to be around.

The only thing that I like better than surprises is pulling off a surprise. My spouse of 45 years is a little hard to surprise, as is my oldest daughter. They just think too much and try to jump ahead to figure everything out. In that way, they are not necessarily fun. But one year, when Margaret was going to turn 60, I was able to pull off a surprise birthday party with 150 of her family and friends. She said later that she was a little suspicious, but I really don’t think that she was. She was in her “element” as she moved through the fellowship hall greeting everybody; remembering times past; basking in the love and joy of the moment. I have to admit that I was greatly relieved when that day was finally over. I was also thankful for everybody that pitched in to make it happen, especially those who drove great distances to be present for the celebration.

For Tracy we tried to pull off a surprise birthday party when she turned 16. The family took her to dinner so that our church’s youth coordinator could come to our house with the youth from church and high school band to decorate and get ready for our return. I whispered to the hostess at the restaurant that this was our daughter’s birthday, but we had a number of people coming to our house for a surprise party and so we were looking at trying to get in and out as quickly as possible. Well, the waiters did come to our table after the meal and started to sing the Happy Birthday song … one and half notes flat … to a musician. It was a painful memory, but the party at the house was more joyous. It was fun.

For the last many years I’ve added a little twist to this whole “how old are you” that takes place during birthday celebration by declaring what anniversary it is of my 39th birthday. This year it will be my 29th anniversary of my 39th birthday. People usually stop in their tracks and cannot do the math quick enough to figure it out. But, as the proverbial response goes, you are as old as you feel! I don’t feel my age, usually, and it always surprises me when I look in the mirror and discover this old man looking back. Surely that isn’t me! Most of the time I think of myself as 39! … You can stop laughing now!

Taking the time to celebrate your birthday is important because it affirms the day that God gave the world a very special person … YOU! You are the most unique person that God has every created. Through you God said, “Let hope reign supreme once again.” In you God acknowledges that love is possible and grace is a reality. On your special day find some people to hug and if you need to, just stand there and hug yourself. It’s okay! Acknowledging your birthday is a God given right to be affirmed. To recognize that you are “somebody because God don’t make junk!” So, on your birthday declare to the world that you have arrived. You deserve to be here.

And if it isn’t your birthday … then celebrate your unbirthday. I love Walt Disney’s "Alice in Wonderland". Alice is introduced to two delightful characters as they celebrate their unbirthdays at a tea party. The lyrics to this fantastic song, and the great idea of unbirthdays, are:

A very merry unbirthday … To me … To who? … To me Oh, you
A very merry unbirthday … To you … Who, me? … To you Oh, me
Let's all congratulate us with another cup of tea … A very merry unbirthday to you
Now statistics prove … Prove that you've one birthday … Imagine just one birthday every year … Ah, but there are 364 unbirthdays … Precisely why we're gathered here to cheer
A very merry unbirthday … To me? … To you
A very merry unbirthday … For me? … For you
Now blow the candle out, my dear … And make your wish come true
A very merry unbirthday to you

Therefore, if it is your birthday or if it is your unbirthday … celebrate the life that you have been given … it is a precious gift from God … therefore, rejoice and be glad in it for you have arrived … let the celebration begin!

Quote for today: And in the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years. Abraham Lincoln

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Reflections on winning and losing

We are well into the baseball divisional playoffs to determine which teams will face each other in the World Series. Some teams will win while others will lose … that is stating the obvious. What isn’t so obvious is how we relate to the situation if our team is on the winning side or on the losing side. It is all in the mind and spirit of the person involved and just how directly we actually do relate to the team involved.

Individuals who participated in sports of various kinds surrounded me as I grow up. My father played high school and college basketball, as well as teaching my oldest brother, Ronnie, how to play tennis. Ronnie, besides tennis, played pick-up games of hockey, ran track in high school and when he returned from his tour of duty in the Army one mean game of ping-pong. Dale played golf and a lot of it. Todd, Dale’s son, played professional tennis and was ranked in the upper five for a number of years. Sports Illustrated said of Todd that he was the best player who never won a major. Ralph, the closest to my age, ran track in high school. As for me I played spectator fairly well!

Oh, there was a time that I was encouraged to go out for basketball by one of the Junior High School coaches … that is; before he saw me play … then he encouraged me to take up drama. His “kind” words simply reinforced that what I could do best was to be a spectator … with enthusiasm … when it came to sports! I took his “advice” to heart.

Living in Florida I cheer on all the Florida based teams. Dolphins, Buccaneers, Jaguars, Rays, Marlins, Lightening, U of M, U. of Florida, Florida State, UCF, USF … you name it I am a fanatic spectator. Now, I do cheer them on in a particular order, especially when they are playing each other, but nevertheless I am on the sidelines, via the TV, cheering the various teams on. When they win I feel like a winner and when they lose … well, that is another story isn’t it.

It is the “winner-takes-all” mind the grips our spirit. We all like to associate or identify with winners. NHRA Gatornationals is run every year in Gainesville, FL. If you like speed then this is one of the drag car events that really should make it onto your “bucket list.” Just to be present when cars are reaching 280-plus miles per hour in an eighth of a mile is breathtaking. No matter how hard you try you do end up choosing sides as you try to pick a winner. You want to identify with a winner … if by name only!

We all like winners! We all want to be winners! Even us spectators like to be a winner and when our team, car, individual player wins … well, so do we … at least emotionally. That is a good thing … that sense that for a split second we can share in the victory as witnessed by the various celebrations in the streets of the cities of the winning team or national pride when a person from your country wins a tennis or golf championship. We become winners. Yeah, team! Yeah, God?

Well, why not … Yeah, God? We all cannot reach the level of professional sports nor, as I painfully experienced, even a level good enough to be picked in a local pick-up game at the neighborhood park. But, whatever we do – from playing the sport or by sitting in the stands to cheer our favorite team or individual on – we can do it with enthusiasm and commitment. And, isn’t that all that is really required of us … from those on the field of play or running the race or cheering in the stands … to do it with gusto, acting from the heart, putting our entire energy at the disposal of our commitment. Yeah, God – thank you for your Spirit who frees my spirit to be enthusiastically spirit filled!

Quote for today: A winner works harder than a loser and has more time; a loser is always "too busy" to do what is necessary. Source Unknown

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Reflections on the state of the present political climate when applying 1 Corinthians 10:10

Paul writes, in part, to the church in 1 Corinthians 10:10: “We must be careful not to stir up discontent …” As the airwaves are filled with negative political ads, some of them approaching slander, I wonder how many of those producing those ads would make claim to a Christian faith? Millions of dollars are being spent to “sow these seeds of discontent” and for what end?

If the negative ads work and a political candidate wins … what have they won? On the way to an uncertain victory their integrity has been lost. As we attempted to teach our children if you avoid an unpleasant situation by lying what have you learned? That lying works? That you can get ahead by twisting the truth? That a half-truth here or out-and-out lies there might work this time, but what about next time? How much of your integrity are you willing to give up in order to win? And, the seeds of discontent are sown.

Isn’t it a little like the proverbial drop of water? Water, in and of itself, isn’t very powerful, but a steady and constant dripping of water, drop after drop after drop, will eventually erode away the mighty and strong rock. And so it is with the slanderous comments flooding our homes … they are nothing more than the constant drip of water destroying not the character of their opponent, but the individual and party running the negative ads. And, the seeds of discontent are sown.

One political season leads to another political season – one series of negative ads simply encourages stronger negative ads the next time around … all the while sowing those seeds of discontent … and though the candidate and/or political party might win this time they actually are the greater loser because they have lost their souls in the process. And, the seeds of discontent are sown.

Some years ago I had a favorite politician from the “other” party. I was building him up, speaking positively about him, hoping that he would win the primary process, but at last, he lost. Four years later he ran again, but this time it was different or should I say that he was different. Because of the previous loss he was determined that this time was going to be different. He went on the attack early and became cozy with groups and organizations that he wouldn’t have included among his supporters just four years earlier. In my mind, he had lost his integrity for the sake of trying to win the ultimate prize … and he lost again. And, the seeds of discontent had been sown.

And so, we are starting to go to the polls. We will cast our ballots for particular individuals. Some, like my father in an earlier day, will vote the “straight party” line regardless of the actual individuals involved. Some will decided to stay away because they do not wish to dirty themselves by voting for any of those running for political office. And, the seeds of discontent are sown.

Things are broken in Washington – that is a painful reality. Those presently running to fill a seat in congress, in the most part, will not make it better or worse … they will simply continue the insanity called American Politics. There will be winners and losers, but our nation will be the ultimate loser because of the sowing of seeds of discontent. God simply will not honor those who sow such seeds. We reap the harvest of the seeds planted in the rich soil of our land. If the seeds of discontent are sown, then the harvest will be bitter. The soul of the nation will be starved for the lack of at least one righteous individual.

Quote for today: Content makes poor men rich; discontent makes rich men poor. Benjamin Franklin

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Modern day parable - The Quilt

I love to tell stories. I love to hear a good story. I love the stories that Jesus told, especially the parables … a simple lesson told in a direct and simple way … something that I could understand and relate to. Therefore, when I come across a good modern day parable I have to share it … Also, today's "Quote for Today" is one of my favorites.


As I faced my Maker at the last judgment, I knelt before the Lord along with all the other souls. Before each of us laid our lives like the squares of a quilt in many piles. An Angel sat before each of us sewing our quilt squares together into a tapestry that is our life. But as my angel took each piece of cloth off the pile, I noticed how ragged and empty each of my squares was. They were filled with giant holes. Each square was labeled with a part of my life that had been difficult, the challenges and temptations I was faced with in everyday life. I saw hardships that I endured, which were the largest holes of all. I glanced around me. Nobody else had such squares. Other than a tiny hole here and there, the other tapestries were filled with rich color and the bright hues of worldly fortune. I gazed upon my own life and was disheartened. My angel was sewing the ragged pieces of cloth together, threadbare and empty, like binding air.

Finally the time came when each life was to be displayed, held up to the light, the scrutiny of truth. The others rose, each in turn, holding up their tapestries. So filled their lives had been. My angel looked upon me, and nodded for me to rise. My gaze dropped to the ground in shame. I hadn't had all the earthly fortunes. I had love in my life, and laughter. But there had also been trials of illness, and death, and false accusations that took from me my world as I knew it. I had to start over many times. I often struggled with the temptation to quit, only to somehow muster the strength to pick up and begin again. I spent many nights on my knees in prayer, asking for help and guidance in my life. I had often been held up to ridicule, which I endured painfully, each time offering it up to the Father in hopes that I would not melt within my skin beneath the judgmental gaze of those who unfairly judged me. And now, I had to face the truth. My life was what it was, and I had to accept it for what it was.

I rose and slowly lifted the combined squares of my life to the light. An awe-filled gasp filled the air. I gazed around at the others who stared at me with wide eyes. Then, I looked upon the tapestry before me. Light flooded the many holes, creating an image, the face of Christ. Then our Lord stood before me, with warmth and love in His eyes. He said, "Every time you gave over your life to Me, it became My life, My hardships, and My struggles. Each point of light in your life is when you stepped aside and let Me shine through, until there was more of Me than there was of you."

May all our quilts be threadbare and worn, allowing Christ to shine through.
Author Unknown

Quote for today: Despite our efforts to keep him out, God intrudes. The life of Jesus is bracketed by two impossibilities: "a virgin's womb and an empty tomb". Jesus entered our world through a door marked, "No Entrance" and left through a door marked "No Exit." --Peter Larson

Monday, October 18, 2010

Discovering the "do-over" button for life - 2 Corinthians 5:17

While in Gainesville a participant in Up With People stayed with us. She introduced the family to a very addictive electric hand-held version of YAHTZEE. We had been playing the board version for a number of years, but we were not aware of the individual hand-held version until then. We liked it so much that we now have two of them floating around the house. What is so marvelous about the hand-held version is the little button titled: NEW GAME. If you do not like the way the computer is rolling the dice and the scoring isn’t going quite like the way you would desire it to go … just press NEW GAME and presto, you get to start again without being panelized. I have a tendency of pressing that magical button more times than I would really care to admit.

In the game of golf I understand that there is a particular rule that some golfers use called a mulligan – a second chance to get it right … or as a preacher in Florida would call out, “That’s a do-over!” as he picked up his ball and went back to the tie. Since I am not a golfer I’m not sure if that is in the PGA rulebook or even accepted within polite circles of golfers, but this would be one rule that I would have to insist on if I ever took up the game.

Wouldn’t it be great if in our life we had a “new life” button or that we could simply call out “that’s a do-over or mulligan” and go back to the beginning of a particular event until we got it right. There is a beer commercial that features a time machine where this one particular character keeps coming through the apartment, punches in certain coordinates of time and date in the future in a desperate attempt to get the future correct.

Be if it is something in our past or something that we might be hopeful of in our future we needn’t worry because as God declares in 2 Corinthians 5:17 “Now we look inside, and what we see is that anyone united with the Messiah gets a fresh start, is created new. The old life is gone; a new life burgeons! Look at it!” (The Message) Within the mindset of God what is past is past and it is forgotten … what is in the future is in God’s hands and God’s hands alone … we are to live free in the now with rejoicing.

We have a most difficult time forgiving ourselves and/or others. We hold onto grudges and hurts. It is particularly difficult … to simply let go … it is something that I work at almost daily. A therapist once shared with me that forgiving is not forgetting because those events in the past helped shape you into the person you are today. What isn’t healthy is nursing those grudges and hurts as if they had taken place just yesterday. He went on to share that it is okay not to want to be in the presence of someone who has hurt you deeply, but do be aware of why you are experiencing those feelings so that with the help of God and the empowerment of the Holy Spirit it becomes possible to built a healthy and wholesome reality for yourself ... thus, moving on.

Our sense of being in a state of perpetual “unforgiveness” can be a rather heavy burden to continue to try to carry around. God has stated that that isn’t necessary. In Matthew 11:28 Jesus states: "Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you'll recover your life. I'll show you how to take a real rest.” (The Message) There in lies our “new life” button, our do-over chance, our unlimited supply of mulligans. God is a God of second chances … and third chances … and fourth chances … and a thousand and one other chances. There is an unlimited supply of “second chances” offered by the throne of Heaven. They are a part of God’s unbelievable grace.

Quote for today: Karl Menninger, the famed psychiatrist, once said that if he could convince the patients in psychiatric hospitals that their sins were forgiven, 75 percent of them could walk out the next day! Today in the Word

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Reflections on Psalm 30:5 - that "joy comes in the morning"

Morning has broken. Another day has arrived. The night is past. The shadows flee. The things that go bump-in-the-night no longer are there to frighten us. Sunrise has dispersed the demons of the night. And, joy has come once again.

When I was much younger and delivering the Miami Herald I always was relieved when the first rays of the morning Sun began to show upon the horizon. I could move faster now. My heart didn’t race at the peculiar night sounds. Pausing with each movement of the numerous shadows ceased with those emerging rays. And, joy had come once again.

Psalm 30:5 reads as follows: In the New King James it reads: “For His (God) anger is but for a moment, His favor is for life; Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning.” In the New International Version it reads: “For his anger lasts only a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime; weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.” And in The Message, which I particularly like, reads: “He gets angry once in a while, but across a lifetime there is only love. The nights of crying your eyes out give way to days of laughter.”

Though our days here on earth might be filled with the demons of life … joy comes in the morning.

Though there are many situations that would seek to defeat us … joy comes in the morning.

Though abuse and cancer would rob our earthly happiness … joy comes in the morning.

Though the judgment of others and pettiness of associates would seek to steal our integrity … joy comes in the morning.

Though the burdens of daily routines and maintaining a daily existence get too heavy to carry … joy comes in the morning.

Though boredom and tediousness mounts up and becomes bothersome … joy comes in the morning.

Though aches and pains can slow us down … joy comes in the morning.

Though the pettiness of others can creep into our minds and spirits … joy comes in the morning.

Though we can be consumed by our little agendas … joy comes in the morning.

There really isn’t any surprise that resurrection comes in the morning … during the dawning of a new day … the promise from God is that nothing that has been has to continue. God has given a time filled with new possibilities and promises … hope can once again reign supreme … a grace filled existence is being offered once again … and joy can fill our hearts and minds … nothing from yesterday needs to bog us down today. Here is a new offering, a new purpose, a new direction, a new vision, a new reality, a new beginning … and joy has come in the morning and laughter has returned once again to our world and life.

Bruce Larson shares about “a conference at a Presbyterian church in Omaha. People were given helium filled balloons and told to release them at some point in the service when they felt like expressing the joy in their hearts. Since they were Presbyterians, they weren't free to say "Hallelujah, Praise the Lord." All through the service balloons ascended, but when it was over 1/3 of the balloons were unreleased. Let your balloon go.” Allow joy to come in the morning … or actually, at any other time during the day. God has a surprise waiting for us!

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

Saturday, October 16, 2010

The lighter side of life - taken from headlines from our newspapers!

Well, it is Saturday and time for my regular “Lighter Side of Life” – a pause from what normally appears in the blog. Those who read my blog early in the morning discover that I sometimes can misspell a word or insert a peculiarly worded phrase or sentence. The reason is that after you read something several times your eyes simply adjust to the mistakes and you don’t see them any longer (as the editorial comment in the first offering listed below proves). Thanks to my spouse of 45 years, who faithfully reads the blog and corrects the misspelled words and the “unusual” sentence structures ... they do get corrected but, that normally takes place later in the day after several people have already read the blog. I apologize to my "early morning" readers who suffer through the process of trying to understand what I'm trying to say through the garble of wrongly spelled words and/or sentences that are a little hard to understand. Thank you!

Well, evidently someone else has taken notice of that fact and sent me the following list entitled: Is proof reading a dying art? These are actual headlines from the newspapers followed by an > and an editorial comment. If I was still preaching regularly I probably would turn some of these into a sermon. Have a great Saturday, laugh often and laugh a lot!

Man Kills Self Before Shooting Wife and Daughter > This one I caught in the SGV Tribune the other day and called the Editorial Room and asked who wrote this. It took two or three readings before the editor realized that what he was reading was impossible!!! They put in a correction the next day.

Something Went Wrong in Jet Crash, Expert Says > No, really? Ya think?

Police Begin Campaign to Run Down Jaywalkers > Now that's taking things a bit far!

Panda Mating Fails; Veterinarian Takes Over > What a guy!

Miners Refuse to Work after Death > No-good-for-nothing' lazy ............

Juvenile Court to Try Shooting Defendant > See if that works any better than a fair trial!

War Dims Hope for Peace > I can see where it might have that effect!

If Strike Isn't Settled Quickly, It May Last Awhile > Ya think?!

Cold Wave Linked to Temperatures > Who would have thought!

Enfield (London) Couple Slain; Police Suspect Homicide > They may be on to something!

Red Tape Holds Up New Bridges > You mean there's something stronger than duct tape? Oklahoma's new construction program!

Man Struck By Lightning: Faces Battery Charge > He probably IS the battery charge!

New Study of Obesity Looks for Larger Test Group > Weren't they fat enough?!

Astronaut Takes Blame for Gas in Spacecraft > That's what he gets for eating those beans!

Kids Make Nutritious Snacks > Do they taste like chicken?

Local High School Dropouts Cut in Half > Chainsaw Massacre all over again!

Hospitals are Sued by 7 Foot Doctors > Boy, are they tall!

And the winner is....
Typhoon Rips Through Cemetery; Hundreds Dead > Did I read that right?

Quote for today: I love people who make me laugh. I honestly think it's the thing I like most, to laugh. It cures a multitude of ills. It's probably the most important thing in a person. Audrey Hepburn

Friday, October 15, 2010

Reflections on running the race from 1 Corinthians 9:24 and the movie Secretariat

I saw the movie Secretariat last evening. It is a good “feel good” movie and is based on a truly remarkable horse. I can remember seeing him win the “Triple Crown”. If ever there was a horse that loved to run and run like the wind it was this horse. And, then I thought of Paul’s instructions in 1 Corinthians 9:24, “Do you not know that in a race all the runners compete, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it.”

We are all running the race of life and with Christ we can all win that race. There are those who do stumble and fall during this race. Some choose to bail, many for good, solid reasons – they change jobs, divorce their spouses, become depressed, drop out of society, shut themselves off from others, become a beggar or even take their own life … again some of those who fall within these categories have made some difficult decisions based on solid reasons. As The Rev. O. Dean Martin has stated in his book, "Good Marriages Don’t Just Happen",“There is nothing worse than a broken marriage other than one that should be.”

What is important to remember is that strength comes from getting back up and continuing the race – regardless of the number of times one might fall. It is easy to quite, it is harder to continue … even when all the other runs are so far ahead. Not all of us can be the “Secretariat” in life; not all of us can make the right professional moves that will result in a tremendous income; not all of us can retain the good looks that will open doors, cause the red carpet to be rolled out, heads to turn and courtesies given; not all of us can play first-string or be selected to play on the varsity team; not all of us can Mr. or Miss popularity, the homecoming queen or king, the student body president, head of the class … but all of can run the race regardless of the number of times we stumble, fall and fail … all of us. And in the end, with Christ in our hearts, we will be declared the winner!

Just remember that in the stands sits our Heavenly Father who is cheering us on. Someone has written a beautiful poem called “The Race” that illustrates this beautifully.

Whenever I start to hang my head in front of failure’s face,
my downward fall is broken by the memory of a race.
A children’s race, young boys, young men; how I remember well,
excitement sure, but also fear, it wasn’t hard to tell.
They all lined up so full of hope, each thought to win that race
or tie for first, of if not that, at least take second place.
Their parents watched from off the side, each cheering for their son,
and each boy hoped to show his folks that he would be the one.

The whistle blew and off they flew, like chariots of fire,
to win, to be the hero there, was each young boy’s desire.
One boy in particular, whose dad was in the crowd,
was running in the lead and thought “My Dad will be so proud.”
But as he speeded down the field and crossed a shallow dip,
the little boy who thought he’d win, lost his step and slipped.
Trying hard to catch himself, his arms flew everyplace,
and amid the laughter of the crowd he fell flat on his face.
And as he fell, his hope fell too; he couldn’t win it now.
Humiliated, he just wished to disappear somehow.

But as he fell his dad stood up and showed his anxious face,
which to the boy so clearly said, “Get up and win that race!”
He quickly rose, no damage done, behind a bit that’s all,
and ran with all his mind and might to make up for his fall.
So anxious to restore himself, to catch up and to win,
his mind went faster than his legs. He slipped and fell again.
He wished that he had quit before with only one disgrace.
“I’m hopeless as a runner now, I shouldn’t try to race.”

But through the laughing crowd he searched and found his father’s face
with a steady look that said again, “Get up and win that race!”
So up he jumped again to try, ten yards behind the last.
“If I’m to gain those yards,” he thought, “I’ve got to run real fast!”
Exceeding everything he had, he regained eight, then ten...
But trying hard to catch the lead, he slipped and fell again.
Defeat! He lay there silently. A tear dropped from his eye.
“There’s no sense running anymore! Three strikes I’m out! Why try?
I’ve lost, so what’s the use?” he thought. “I’ll live with my disgrace.”
But then he thought about his dad, who soon he’d have to face.

“Get up,” an echo sounded low, “you haven’t lost at all,
for all you have to do to win is rise each time you fall.
Get up!” the echo urged him on, “Get up and take your place!
You were not meant for failure here! Get up and win that race!”
So, up he rose to run once more, refusing to forfeit,
and he resolved that win or lose, at least he wouldn’t quit.
So far behind the others now, the most he’d ever been,
still he gave it all he had and ran like he could win.
Three times he’d fallen stumbling, three times he rose again.
Too far behind to hope to win, he still ran to the end.

They cheered another boy who crossed the line and won first place,
head high and proud and happy … no falling, no disgrace.
But, when the fallen youngest crossed the line, in last place,
the crowd gave him a greater cheer for finishing the race.
And even though he came in last with head bowed low, unproud,
you would have thought he’d won the race, to listen to the roaring crowd.
And to his dad he sadly said, ”I didn’t do so well.”
“To me, you won,” his father said. “You rose each time you fell.”

And now when things seem dark and bleak and difficult to face,
the memory of that little boy helps me in my own race.
For all of life is like that race, with ups and downs and all.
And all you have to do to win is rise each time you fall.
And when depression and despair shout loudly in my face,
a stronger voice within me says, “Get up and win that race!”

Quote for today: Runners just do it - they run for the finish line even if someone else has reached it first. ~Author Unknown

Thursday, October 14, 2010

How do we want to be remembered when our journey is over?

Two characters are talking in the “Candorville” comic strip of September 28, 2010 by Darrin Bell. It is the first character’s comment and questions that caught my attention. He says, “Do you want your impact on this world to outlast you? In the end, we either turn into a long-remembered story, or we fade away. If you could have people say just one thing about you at your funeral … what would it be?” That is sobering.

Once again I am contemplating the words to be said at a funeral concerning the life and impact of an individual (see blog for 10/4: In memory of Rick Kelly – husband, father, patriot…). Though there are others who will also share their remembrances it falls to me to share his story … his journey here on earth within the context of the promises of God’s grace and mercy through Jesus Christ. I have never taken this sacred responsibility lightly or without pause.

I remember the very first funeral I was privileged to hold while serving the little Methodist church in Temple, Georgia when I was in seminary. With no training, guidance or direction, nothing in seminary prepares you for the pastor’s responsibility in these cases, I was simply thrust into the fray of assisting a family through the difficult times of an illness, death, funeral preparation and trying to help them pick-up the pieces of their shattered lives after the funeral. D. F. and Mrs. Staples spent their entire lives together – childhood, schooling, and teaching careers – their entire lives except for 6 months when D.F. was promoted to become a principal at another school … he had to wait until he had an opening for a English teacher at his new location, as he shared on Sunday evening, “It was the longest 6 months of his life” … naturally he hired his wife. It was in Junior High School that they started the practice of praying the 23rd Psalm as they walked together to school, later to be prayed in the car as he drove them to work. Mr. D. F. Staples will stay with me for as long as I live.

To this day I remember sitting in their living room with all the family gathered around and asking the simple question, “Tell me about his life.” More than an hour later they were still sharing his life’s journey and impact on them, the community and all the students and faculty that he was associated with. As I drove home that evening I could feel a tear running down my cheek as I prayed, “May that be said of me when my journey on earth has reached its end.”

“If you could have people say just one thing about you at your funeral … what would it be?” is a good question … one that most of us do not dwell on very often nor give it much thought … but a good question nevertheless. Who was it that said, “You only pass through this life one time so make sure it was worth the trip?” What difference have we made in people’s lives? Was our impact positive or negative … did we add to life or take away from life? Oh, most of us would have made a few different choices along the journey, if we could do it again while retaining our present knowledge, but even in considering that issue … how have we effected the lives of others along the journey?

The words will come together for Saturday’s service, they always do, and I will stand before those gathered at Rick’s memorial service to share them. Their emotions will be mixed – grief will be deep and mixed with a little hurt or anger, given the circumstances of his life – so I can only pray that God will speak through my meager words to bring healing, understanding and peace. The Sun will rise again on Sunday and come Monday morning we will pick-up the daily routine of our lives. Occasionally, we will think again about Rick, but eventually even those memories will fade especially as the trials of our own existence makes demands on our energy and mental resources. And again I will think of D.F. Staples and the impact he made on my life – even if I knew him better as a memory shared than a life lived.

Quote for today: Death is not extinguishing the light from the Christian; it is putting out the lamp because the dawn has come. Source unknown

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

A fan, a follower or a fired up enthusiast?

As I watched the Rays baseball team lose the fifth and final game in the playoffs I began to run an analogy between John Wesley’s statement, “Catch on fire with enthusiasm and people will come for miles to watch you burn,” that I included in yesterday’s blog, and followers of a baseball team. I had been playing around with the concept of “catching on fire with enthusiasm” all day. I was wondering what that really looked like thus the parallel that I am drawing today between that fired up enthusiasm and a fan, a follower and a fired up enthusiast. But, first a little disclaimer: I know that all analogies breakdown if they are pushed too far so, please take that in mind as you read this list.

1. They follow a team to a point, but are barely aware of the win/lose record or who the team plays next.
2. They might buy a ticket once and awhile, but usually watches the team on TV if they don’t have a family event or some other invitation.
3. They will not lose sleep because of a game. They can turn off a game and go to bed, as I did last night, and read about the results in the newspaper the next morning.
4. They might buy a team T-shirt – if they are on sale and they have extra cash that isn’t needed to go out to eat.

1. This person follows the team to the point that they know the win/lose record and most of the stats of the major players on the team.
2. They will attend many of the games played at home.
3. They will stay to the end of the game, most of the time, but can be found getting up and leaving (to beat the traffic) or turning off the TV if they have know that they are going to have a rough day at work the next day.
4. They can usually be found wearing a team’s T-shirt, but only on game days. And, will fly a car flag during the season, but usually only on game days.

1. Someone who is fired up knows the stats for every player who has ever played for their team in the history of the franchise.
2. They attend every game – at home and away. Nothing ever will stop them from being in the stands to cheer their team on – rain or shine or relatives from out of town. And this also includes attending every game of Spring Training – all nine innings and long after the “star” players have been pulled. Plus, they will cheer so loud and long that they will become hoarse.
3. They are in the stands for batting practice and will be one of the last people to leave the stadium after the game is finished.
4. Not only do they wear the team’s T-shirt, but also a baseball cap and the jersey of their favorite player day-in-and-day-out all year long. They fly the car flag, house flag, buy a vanity auto tag and plaster their bumper with various team stickers. Their home will be decorated with posters, pennants and probably will have a room dedicated to their favorite team in that it will be painted the team’s colors with furniture to match.
5. Plus, they are always talking about their team with friends and strangers, as they try to recruit others to be believers - not just a fan or a follower, but a fired up believer - of their team even to the point of purchasing a T-shirt for others to wear or taking them to a home game even if it means buying the ticket for them.

The decision we make on a daily basis is, are we just a fan, a follower or someone who is fired up? The “proof is in the pudding” as they say. John Wesley desired everyone to be fired up! As he observed those in his beloved Church of England he found that too many were more “fans of the church and/or Christ” than anything else. I don’t know about the church people in your community, but in mine I sense that there are very few fired up enthusiasts. Oh, we have several churches that are growing rapidly, but I’m guessing that it has more to do with the preacher and/or style of music than a fired up relationship with Jesus Christ. But, that is just my guess and only time will tell if these churches can sustain their growth. As far back as I can remember there has always been a church here or a church there that could place on their sign out front, “Yes, we are THAT church!” but in time the fire seems to always go out as the ambers die.

Quote for today: It only takes a spark to get a fire going, And soon all those around can warm up in its glowing; That's how it is with God's Love, Once you've experienced it, Your spread the love to everyone You want to pass it on. Lyrics from “Pass It On”

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Called to be God's witnesses (Acts 1:8), but are we?

Thoughts collided Sunday morning as I drove to church. I had been aware of passing other churches to get to “my” church, but I wasn’t aware as to how many of them there actually were. I counted six with dedicated buildings for their church activities on the streets I traveled, but I wasn’t aware of how many that were just a block off those main streets nor how many occupied store-fronts … there were many. Acts 1:8 states, “What you'll get is the Holy Spirit. And when the Holy Spirit comes on you, you will be able to be my witnesses …" (The Message) Does the sheer number of churches constitute being God’s witnesses?

When First UMC in Hudson, FL was going through the process of planning to build a new sanctuary, the District Committee on Missions and Church Extension asked us to survey the community to see how many churches there were within a certain radius of our church. The number staggered us, especially in one particular category – there were 34 Baptist churches, only 2 where Southern Baptist and all of the rest were small independent congregations. With that information and other population data the District Committee felt that the community could sustain a larger sanctuary at our location. That congregation has since built their third sanctuary. You shall be my witnesses …

These two thoughts collided with the reality that Manatee Avenue, one of the main drags through Bradenton to the beaches, was filled with automobiles and trucks that gave forth with evidence that they were heading to the beach instead of church. Boats, jet skies, floats of various sizes, bikini clad women, shirtless guys, beach umbrellas and a large array of other beach paraphernalia was stuffed in the truck’s beds and trailers, as well as sticking out the automobile windows. It was obvious where they were heading and in the process of getting to their destination they would pass several churches. You shall be my witnesses?

I knew that the congregation that I was associated with would be like most of the congregations along the beach route, as well as those located in other parts of our fair city. Our sanctuary would be about 50% filled if we were lucky. How can we reach the population for Christ? How can we effectively be His witnesses?

Then discussion during last nights Bible Study Share Group turned to one of my passions namely, that each of us gets up on Sunday morning, have our cup of coffee, put on our “Sunday-go-to-meetin’” clothes, and drive off to worship without expecting anything to really happen when we get there. Oh, the music will inspire us, the sermon will touch us and it will be great to visit with our friends, but nothing will happen. No earth shaking changes, no mountain moving experiences, no heart strangely warmed type of events … just the same-old-same-old. We didn’t go with any real expectation that anything meaningful and lasting would happen and our “expectations” were met! How does this weekly reality relate to “You shall be my witnesses?”

If we are not changed then how can we change the world? John Wesley was an Anglican priest, he had come to America as a missionary, he had grown up learning to read by reading the Bible … religion and faith were part-and-parcel to his very DNA, his spiritual fiber … but it wasn’t until Aldersgate on a Wednesday evening while someone was reading Martin Luther’s, “Preface to the Book of Romans” that his heart was “strangely warmed” and his spiritual journey took off in a totally different direction. He discovered what it meant to be God’s witness in the world. He was set on fire for God. As he was fond of stating, “Catch on fire with enthusiasm and people will come for miles to watch you burn.” Oh, that we should be so set on fire that people would not pass our church on their way to the beach, but would stop to watch us burn! Then we would truly be His witnesses …

Quote for today: It is easy to determine when something is aflame. It ignites other material. Any fire that does not spread will eventually go out. A church without evangelism is a contradiction in terms, just as a fire that does not burn is a contradiction. Christian Theology in Plain Language

Monday, October 11, 2010

Reflections on Columbus Day, Philippians 4:13 and the reality that God asks us to do something that we cannot do ...

Have you ever wondered what was going through Columbus’ mind as he set forth on his great adventure? He ventured forth into the great unknown and uncharted world of the ocean. He didn’t know if it would cost him his ship and/or his life, but nevertheless he went forth. What prompted him, as well as scores of others to do go where no one had ever gone before? And, what kind of personality traits make up a person such as Columbus? It is one thing to have the financial backing of the likes of the king of Spain, but it is a totally different mind set to be able to set off into the great unknown?

As I pondered some of these things this morning I was reminded of some “snow birds,” Harry and Pauline that befriended us many years ago. They were fortunate to be in a position that afforded them the opportunity to travel the highways and byways across this great land. Unlike Columbus, they had the advantage of maps and the knowledge that others had gone before them to pave the roads. It was their attitude though that struck me as special, “We’ve never taken a wrong turn or gone in the wrong direction. We’ve just been to some places that we hadn’t been before. Every day is an adventure of discovery,” that captured my imagination.

There is a little of both – Columbus and Harry and Pauline – in me … the desire to discover new areas and experience new things. I’m not sure I would have wanted to get on a tiny little sailboat laden with all sorts of provisions and set forth into the unknown, but the thought does fascinate me. While contemplating this I am reminded of a truism that I discovered while going through the study, “Experiencing God, knowing and doing the will of God" by Henry Blackaby and Claude King. The truism is this: God never asks you to do something that you can do! Ouch!

This truism should stop all of us in our tracks because it is just the reverse of how we normally think. Our responses usually run along the lines of, “Yes, I can do that” or “I might be interested or capable of doing that,” or “That might be something that I would enjoy doing,” but we never would initially embrace the idea that God is asking me to do something that I think I do not have the skills to accomplish or the time to commit to make it happen or the desire to even to try ... but that is just the way God works because if we can do it then we don’t need God. God desires us to venture forth into the “great unknown” – as in an area or field or service – where we would need to depend totally on God to realize or accomplish anything. It is what I would call The Columbus Syndrome – to go where I wouldn’t choose to go and to accomplish something that I really do not think that I can accomplish, but to go nevertheless simply because God has asked me to go and for no other reason.

We can do this with the confidence that God has our back. God stands at the border of a new country and new adventure for all of us if we would but dare to venture forth. There are new experiences just waiting around the river bend, new areas and lands to discover within as well as without of ourselves, something special just over the next hill, waiting for us on the other side of the door. Wouldn’t it be sad to miss out on the life that God has planned for us all because we desired safety and predictability?

God desires to stretch us beyond our predictable and comfortable lives as we rely on His guidance, direction and strength. Remember, while He never asks us to doing anything that we can do, He also never asks us to do something that He cannot accomplish through us, in us, with us and in spite of us. As it says in Philippians 4:13 - I can do everything through him who gives me strength.

Quote for today: Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly. ~Robert F. Kennedy

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Live by faith until you have faith and then live by faith because you have it - Matthew 7:24-29

It is an old adage that I’ve heard from early childhood. “If you say something long enough and often enough you will eventually believe it to be true regardless of its truthfulness.” Several children’s stories draw upon this adage as the basis for the story. “The Little Engine that Could.” Is the one which comes quickly to mind. You remember the little engine that was faced with pulling the train over a tall mountain. It began with thinking, “I think I can, I think I can,” which quickly changed into “I know I can, I know I can.”

What with the ease with which e-mails are sent and forward it is little wonder that falsehoods soon take on a legitimacy of “fact” simply because they have been repeated often enough and long enough that individuals begin to believe them. Such was the case with Franklin Graham’s statement: “In most Muslim countries, ‘We can't have a church. We're not able to build synagogues. It's forbidden.’" Which is absolutely false. Only Sadia Arabia forbids the construction of Christian and/or Jewish places of worship and yet, since it has been “floating” out there thanks to the forwarding technique of e-mails people started to believe it without checking out the facts.

Recently I read a statistic that states: “39% of American 9-to-17-year-olds who said the information they find online is always correct.” (TIME magazine, October 18, 2010 issue). That could be a little scary, but the reality of such statistics do not surprise me any longer given the reality as how easy their parents simply forward on all sorts of material as if it was true … simply because it came to them via the internet.

There is an interesting trend with some of these false e-mails. Someone along the way has started adding a line something like: “This has been checked out on and found to be accurate.” So, naturally, that is like waving a red flag in my face and I double check to see just what actually says about the item in question. Guess what? had found almost 100% of the items to be inaccurage and false. At this point I reply to the sender what I have found and insert the like to so they can check it out for themselves. Only one individual has gotten verbally abusive about me checking out his “facts” and in no certain terms has told me that both snopes and I are dead wrong. End of story!

The other reply that I send which hasn’t always been received well is one that reads: “I neither read nor forward political e-mails. Please refrain from forwarding any of those kind of e-mails to me in the future. Thank you for your kind cooperation.” This sure has dried up my incoming e-mails because some of these individuals also refrain from forwarding all those other e-mails. It is an interesting world in which we are now living.

All of this actually leads me to the basic thought that I wanted to share in today’s blog. John Wesley quoting Peter Bohler was fond of telling his preachers, "Preach faith until you have it, then, because you have it, you will preach faith." As I have shared it with my congregations I always turn it around just a little and state: Live by faith until you have it, then, because you have it, you will live by faith.

There is absolutely no other way to live in this world except by faith. Many have tried and found life to be wanting … nothing more than a long, tedious struggle … because eventually a problem or situation will be faced that will destroy the central core of a person’s being unless that core is shielded by faith. Marriages have failed, jobs lost, lives taken, spouses and children abused, drugs abused and a thousand-and-one other terrible things by those who have not built their lives on the solid rock of faith.

Jesus actually told one of his story about the foolish person who built their house on sand only to watch it washed away by the rains and floods and the wise person who built their house on the rock and the rains and floods came, but the wise person’s house stood firm. Read for yourself in Matthew 7:24-27.

Each of us makes sure that our home is safe with a solid foundation, good leak-proof roofing, security systems, and various kinds of insurance. Why? Because we value our home, we’ve invested a great deal of time, energy and finances in establishing it as our primary place of residence. Why wouldn’t we make the same kind of investment in our spiritual life? “Oh,” says the non-believer, “I will get around to doing that as soon as I am given a faith to do that!” “But,” says I, “why not simply start to life as if you already have that kind of faith and before you know it you will actually will have that kind of faith.” A solid foundation on which to build a life – safe, secures life!

Quote for today: God our Father has made all things depend on faith so that whoever has faith will have everything, and whoever does not have faith will have nothing. Martin Luther

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Life interrupted and Hebrews 8:28

There I was laid up in hospital room 435 experiencing some discomfort in my chest. The doctors were taking every precaution considering my previous double by-pass surgery. Four the past two days they ran one test after another. All of them came back positive or negative as the case may be and yet there was this pain. If this process had a name it would be called, “Stump the doctors.” They still do not know what is causing the discomfort, but I was released with specific instructions not to do anything strenuous until further tests are run. I was experiencing one of life’s “Speed Bumps” … slow down, get plenty of rest, and try not to over do anything. Just a little speed bump! My life got interrupted!

It did cause me to begin to think about the various “signs” that are placed along our path in this journey called life. Each sign has a distinct purpose to slow down, take another course of action, watch out for what is coming our way … maybe they are signs from God?

I was thinking of a general contractor, a salesman, a financial advisor, an engineer and a teacher – four males, one female. Each of them hit a detour sign as they were living their life. All of them married, some had families, and two were in the planning stages of trying to determine the best time to start a family. They all had successful jobs, which they enjoyed that provided them a nice income that created a comfortable lifestyle. They were just moving through life when life through up a “Detour Sign”. That detour sign was unexpected and in a couple of situations was something they had been “fighting” for a significant period of time. The detour took them all to seminary and they are now successfully serving churches in the state of Florida as pastors. Their lives got interrupted!

Some individuals come upon “Warning – Danger Ahead” signs. Some were taken by total surprise while some had warning signs all along the path of life which they decided to ignore. In each case it meant an adjustment – an adjustment that could be demanding, stressful, and life shaping … it would mean that from this point on their life was going to be different … not worse, not better just different. The news from their doctors wasn’t good, the pink-slip arrived, divorce papers were served, a major decision by their spouse was made, a letter was delivered … something happened … something significant was taking place that spelled out Warning – Danger Ahead and life simply took on a whole new, unexpected direction. Sometimes it actually created a better situation though it took a long time to arrive at the “better” designation while at other times the Danger Ahead was disastrous, life changing, and pain-filled … there simply wasn’t a good way or angle to look at the situation no matter how hard you looked. And life got interrupted … BIG TIME!

In all of these situations life simply got interrupted … our life … our planned and peaceful life … our plans, our hopes, our desires, our wishes, our future … all got changed. We didn’t ask for the change. We didn’t seek the change. We did want the change necessarily. We hadn't planned to experience the change. But, the change came nevertheless. How we face these changes is a testimony to our relationship with God. And so, in the confidence of that relationship, our faith in God through Jesus Christ and in the face of those little interruptions along our life’s journey we can state: “That's why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good.” Romans 8:28 (The Message)

Therefore, our choice is to “enjoy” the interruptions, tolerate them, deal with them creatively or fight them … or learn from them, praise the Lord in the process and move on.

Quote for today: Start writing a new chapter, for if you live by the book you'll never make history. Ben Sobel

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Struggling with faith in the face of difficult questions - Hebrews 11:1

Last night GLEE dealt with some difficult issues surrounding faith and belief. It was the believer compared to the non-believer; the Christian compared to the non-Christian; between those who believe in prayer and those who have tried it and found it lacking in possibility. Listening closely the discovery is made that Sue prayed and prayed hard for her older sister to be normal, but no matter how hard she prayed the sister remained mentally challenged. The discovery concerns the teenager who has accepted his sexuality, but has difficulty with the religious orders of the day that condemns him and makes fun of him and says, in essence, that God made a mistake. Difficult issues as all hard issues of faith and belief are ... difficult because the answers aren’t simple nor easily arrived at … difficult because there are no real forum outside of church itself for a deeper discussion, especially in today’s climate of separation of church and state ... difficult questions when the believers can only give glib answers or pat solutions afraid to admit their own doubts and struggles ... difficult issues as I try to not only make sense out of Rick Kelly's death, but offer some meaningful answers.

Some years ago there was a television program called Joan of Arcadia. I loved the program, but my churches didn't. God would appear to Joan in various forms, asking her to do his/her bidding in Joan’s school and/or community. The average church member had real difficulty with the show since God took on some rather unconventional personifications – the conventional we could accept the unconventional was quickly rejected ... surely "God won't take on the outward appearance dressed like that or acting in that way" was often overheard. The basic truth is still there … how does God break into our lives and how open are we going to be to God when he doesn’t do our bidding – as if he was some kind of “celestial bellhop.”

Mr. and Mrs. “Rodriquez” can prove my point. Each Sunday they were getting more distant, standoffish … even hostile. Finally, I asked if I had done or said something to offend them. “No, but God has!” she declared. “In what way?” I inquired. “Well, Mr. Rodriquez is starting to lose his memory and I’m losing my hearing AND we pray every day, morning, noon and night, and NOTHING HAPPENS. Evidently we aren’t good enough for God to answer our prayers.” There in lies the crux of the matter for most of us doesn't it. If we pray for something and it happens all for the good. But, and that is very large “but,” if we pray for something and nothing happens then God is written off as not caring or not even there.

We’ve all been there at one point or another. Even Mother Teresa illustrates her own personal struggle in this area in her journals. How we work through this actually makes our faith stronger ... if we are willing to be honest enough with ourselves to actually work through these faith issues. In last nights GLEE one of the interesting conversations was between Sue and her sister. Her sister asked Sue if she believed in God and couldn’t understand why Sue couldn’t believe … especially if she, the mentally challenged one, could herself believe … believing not to answer the unanswerable questions, but to make it possible to go through another day.

The theme song from Joan of Arcadia was powerful. The words still haunt my spiritual being as the have a tendency to pop-up at different times on my spiritual journey. Here are the lyrics to:What If God Was One Of Us

If God had a name, what would it be?
And would you call it to his face if you were faced with him and all his glory
what would you ask if you had just one question
yeah yeah God is great
yeah yeah God is good
yeah yeah, yeah yeah yeah
What if God was one of us?
just a slob like one of us
just a stranger on the bus, trying to make his way home

If God had a face, what would it look like?
And would you want to
if seeing meant that you would have to believe in things like heaven
and in Jesus and the saints and all the profits
and yeah yeah God is great
and yeah yeah God is good
yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah
What if God was one of us
just a slob like one of us
just a stranger on the bus
trying to make his way home

trying to make his way home
back up to heaven all alone
nobody calling on the phone
except for the Pope maybe in Rome

yeah yeah God is great
yeah yeah God is good
yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah
what if God was one of us
just a slob like one of us
just a stranger on the bus
trying to make his way home
just trying to make his way home
like a holy rolling stone
back up to heaven all alone
just trying to make his way home
nobody calling on the phone
except for the Pope maybe in Rome

And so, we get up in the morning, wash our face, put on our clothes, have breakfast and face another day … we can either face it with God or without God … it actually depends on how we want to face the difficult questions of life. Are we or can we be comfortable with the questions going unanswered while we still try to find answers knowing full well that we might never unravel the problem and discover an answer? Even in the light of unanswered prayers? In the journey consider Hebrews 11:1 as shared in The Message: The fundamental fact of existence is that this trust in God, this faith, is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living. It's our handle on what we can't see.

Quote for today: For every complex problem there is a simple solution--and it is always wrong. H.L. Mencken