Thursday, March 31, 2011

Hope against all hope

We have “hope against all hope” … we desire something to happen; we pray for it to happen; we cross our fingers that it will happen; we trust that by some miracle it will happen; but the facts just do not align themselves up so that our hearts would be encouraged. Our backs are against the wall, so to speak, we are facing the dragons and the whirlwind, trees are falling all around us, the water is rising … and yet, we hope.

Abraham hoped against all hope that he would be blessed with a child … preferably a male child … even when he was approaching 90-years old. God had spoken. God had promised. Abraham hoped. Read it for your self in Romans 8:14. Look at what Abraham had accomplished in his life. I have often wondered if the child Isaac had come much earlier in his life would Abraham have failed to become the individual that he became? Holding onto hope in the midst of what seems like a dead-end can only produce strength of character and a fortitude of commitment.

Hope is different than faith because faith is “forsaking all I trust him” approach to living. Hope is living within the context of faith that circumstances will be different within the context of our life. Hope is standing straight and staying strong in the face of unlikely odds. Hope grows from faith. Without faith there is no hope only luck, a chance, just being in the right place at the right time, coming into this life out of the right gene-pole, making friends of influence – the roll of the dice, the drawing to an inside straight, the shaky hold onto a thin line of possibility without any probability involved. Because of Abraham’s faith in the Almighty he held on to his hope against all hope … and was ultimately rewarded with a son. God is a God of promises kept. God honors faith and in so doing reassures us that hope will spring eternal.

What are the things, situations, life circumstances for which you are holding onto hope … against all hope?

It is important to remember in whom you believe, but it is also encouraging to remember those who believe in you. They are the encouragers, the cheerleaders, the ones standing along the path of the race providing water and nourishment as you run the race of life. They see you, much like God, not for what you are, but what you can be. They hold out hope for you even when you fail to hold out much hope for yourself. After all I’m too old, frail, limited, tired, exhausted … and still they hope … still they are in your corner cheering you ever onward. Because of their presence we can actually hold out a hope that just seems impossible, but hey, after all, all things are possible with God. Look at Abraham! Who would have thunk-it? It is truly a testimony of a realized promised … a fulfillment of a hope … hope against all hope!

Quote for today: Hope means hoping when things are hopeless, or it is no virtue at all...As long as matters are really hopeful, hope is mere flattery or platitude; it is only when everything is hopeless that hope begins to be a strength. ~G.K. Chesterton

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Trying to relearn the joy of dancing in the rain

It is March. We usually do not have rain in March, at least not as much as we have gotten in the last couple of days … and there is more on the way. My plants and grass are happy because they like dancing in the rain. We often see rain as something to be tolerated, especially when it falls on our days off or weekend or when we have something special planned. “Rain, rain, go away, come again another day!” was a childhood chant said often during the days of summer. We had so much planned. It interfered with our life. Got in the way. Spoiled our fun. But the rain came anyway. It didn’t ask if it could come, it just came. Sometimes it came and stayed around for days on end. When will it stop? Will it ever stop? How much longer?

Life is filled with a lot of “rain stuff” … we cannot plan for it. It comes when we least expect it and stays longer than we desire. As the following story points out, we have to learn to dance in the rain. Good, bad and indifferent “rain stuff” comes our way. We wish it could be different, but it isn’t. We can cry about the lost opportunities. We can regret making certain decisions. We can complain. We can bitch. We can get angry. We can stand and shake our fist at the heavens. We can turn away and try to ignore it. But the “rain stuff” still comes and dampens our days. As the author of this story shares at the end, “Life isn't about how to survive the storm, but how to dance in the rain.”

I’m trying to learn a new “dance” because it seems like it is raining more and more as the knees and hips hurt all the time, cannot do as much as I use to, get tired quickly, the stock market reduced our retirement funds, the housing market crashed and we have two houses, but we had great retirement plans – travel, travel, and travel some more … sometimes it is hard to learn a new dance, but when it is raining do any of us really have a choice? Oh, we can complain about the weather. People do all the time, but the rain still comes anyway. It would be great to capture the joy of Peanuts’ Snoopy as he dances regardless of who or what is happening around him!

And then you have Nehemiah (8:10) stating, “The Joy of the Lord is my strength” and the Psalmist (30:5) that shares, “Joy comes in the morning.” There are no rainbows unless the rain falls. I’m starting to look for the rainbows so as to experience the fullness of the Lord’s joy, but maybe it all begins by learning to dance in the rain. As the quote for today states, “Life has an expiration date!” So, dance while you can regardless … a fond childhood memory was playing in the rain – rain baseball, rain football, rain tag and rain hide-n-seek were really, really fun. Oh, how we would laugh, run, and have so much fun, but then we grew up and it wasn’t fun any longer. I can remember the warm baths after playing in the rain all afternoon. What a great feeling, but now … Oh, to relearn the joy of dancing and playing in the rain … especially the “rain stuff” that life throws at us each day!

The Rain

It was a busy morning, about 8:30, when an elderly gentleman in his 80's arrived to have stitches removed from his thumb. He said he was in a hurry as he had an appointment at 9:00 am.

I took his vital signs and had him take a seat, knowing it would be over an hour before someone would to able to see him. I saw him looking at his watch and decided, since I was not busy with another patient, I would evaluate his wound. On exam, it was well healed, so I talked to one of the doctors, got the needed supplies to remove his sutures and redress his wound.

While taking care of his wound, I asked him if he had another doctor's appointment this morning, as he was in such a hurry.

The gentleman told me no, that he needed to go to the nursing home to eat breakfast with his wife. I inquired as to her health.

He told me that she had been there for a while and that she was a victim of Alzheimer's disease.

As we talked, I asked if she would be upset if he was a bit late.

He replied that she no longer knew who he was, that she had not recognized him in five years now.

I was surprised, and asked him, 'And you still go every morning, even though she doesn't know who you are?'

He smiled as he patted my hand and said,

'She doesn't know me, but I still know who she is.'

I had to hold back tears as he left, I had goose bumps on my arm, and thought, 'That is the kind of love I want in my life.'

True love is neither physical, nor romantic. True love is an acceptance of all that is, has been, will be, and will not be.

The happiest people don't necessarily have the best of everything; they just make the best of everything they have.

'Life isn't about how to survive the storm, but how to dance in the rain.'

Quote for today: We are all getting older. Tomorrow may be our turn. Enjoy life now -- it has an expiration date! ~Source unknown

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Seeking God's purpose when you are in the middle of a pile of manure

I knew better before I said yes. And yet, there was something inside of me that would not let me say no. It wasn’t very pleasing to simply sit back and see what was happening among the homeowners. An old tape kept running in my mind: “If it is to be, it is up to me”… just ten little words with a powerful message … and the guilt that always came with those old tapes! If I did not like what was going on then I couldn’t leave it up to others to fix. Little did I know what I was getting myself involved in.

Whenever I move into a new community I always ask, “Okay, God, why have you planted me here?” It comes out of my strong theology that God has a purpose in everything that happens in and through our life. Things do not happen just by accident. There is purpose and order in God’s universe, which includes me. Oh, I made the decision to move to Bradenton and also made the decision to purchase this particular home in this particular subdivision … or did I?

If we are God’s servants, seeking to follow Christ as one of his disciples and, even as individuals with free will, can our decisions be made outside of his purpose for his universe and our lives? Boy, have I struggled with that issue most of my adult life. My conclusion has always been, we can never circumvent God’s purpose by our decisions. So here I sat, a homeowner in Garden Lake Estates … so, God, why am I here?

There was one personal promise that was fulfilled … not to jump feet first into a situation or organization. There was a two-year span between the time of moving into the subdivision and allowing my name to be placed on the ballot as a member of the board of directors … old tapes are hard to ignore for very long. So here I sit in the middle of a mess. Not only did I get elected to be a director, but the directors elected me to serve as vice-president – a little more responsibility than I really cared to carry. God, why am I here and why now and why this particular situation?

The problem is a chairperson (or a president in this particular situation) who is a strong willed, opinionated, micro-manager. In fact, she probably was the role model when organizational people wrote the manual for micro-managers. She is a loud and strong-willed. No one, so I am informed, has ever wanted to take her on.

As the president not only does she run the meetings, but offers up opinions on every issue, actively enters into each and every debate, makes her own motions and, when things are not going the way she desires them to go, refers to “the by-laws” as the golden standard as to why something can or cannot be done without referencing chapter-and-verse within the by-laws for support. No one has ever challenged her on this … until now!

Since she was one of the original homeowners no one has ever bothered to question her and her “by-laws” references. That is until now. If you know anything about me you could have guessed that I would not just let this roll off of me. What a mess, but I am in it now and confronting her, as gently as I can, about rulings that she has made, as well as some passing references to the by-laws. I am thankful for another director who has my back.

But, why in heavens name does the Lord have me in this mess? Maybe I needed another lesson in patience. Maybe I needed another lesson in tolerance. Maybe I needed another lesson is humility. Maybe I needed another lesson dealing with difficult people. I’m wondering, searching, praying for an answer.

The story that keeps running through my mind is the one of the little boy who prayed every night for a horse and would run out to the barn every morning before breakfast to see if God had answered his prayer during the night. Finally, one morning in the middle of the barn was a huge pile of manure. The little boy’s eyes got very wide and he jumped right into the middle of the manure and began to dig like crazy. When his father asked what he was doing the little boy exclaimed, “With this much manure there has to be a horse in here somewhere!”

Well, folks, I’m looking for my “horse” … an answer to my prayers as to why God has me where I am. Certainly it isn’t simply to dig in a pile of manure … at least I hope not!

Quote for today: When you're up to your neck in alligators, it's difficult to keep your mind on the fact that your primary objective is to drain the swamp. ~Source Unknown

Monday, March 28, 2011

A conversation remembered and a reflection on the importance of family

It was just a passing conversation in a grocery store checkout line, but it was a conversation that has stayed with me over the many years. Often I find myself reflecting on the simple words shared, words that took root in my spirit.

The day had started early. It usually did, but today was kind of busy. I needed to get to the church office early in order to have on the desk of the secretary the necessary information for Sunday’s bulletin. It was two days late. She was very patient. It helped that she was a “preacher’s wife” and understood the demands on a pastor’s time and energy.

There were two meetings and several phone calls concerning the proposed building program and capital funds campaign fast approaching. The phone calls were meant to put out some fires. The congregation was divided between a new sanctuary and more Sunday school rooms. Hopefully they would be short and pleasant phone calls.

And, then a quick sandwich for lunch and off to make many hospital calls. I believe there was five different hospitals stretched from Hudson all the way down to St. Petersburg … which meant a lot of stop-and-go driving along U.S. 19. It was going to be a long, long afternoon … and I was starting much later that I had hoped.

To make it worse, it was a hot summer day. Temperature in the high 90s and I was wearing the expected suit and tie. After all that is what preachers wore, especially if a hospital visits were on the agenda.

The day was wrapping up. I had one more stop to make before getting back home and out of my now wet suit. Margaret had asked me to stop by the store to pick up something that she needed for supper. And, so there I stood, with my one item in my hand. A lady stood in front of me with her two items and the conversation took place.

“Sir, if that is all you have, you can go ahead of me.”

“No, I’m okay, but thanks anyway.”

“You look important and seem to be in a hurry. Why don’t you just go on ahead?”
(She was correct about being in a hurry … even when I wasn’t I walked fast, drove fast and eat fast … always in a hurry to get to some place else.)

“No, that is quite alright. I need to slow down anyway after the day I have had. I’m kind of enjoying just standing here and doing nothing.”

“Do you have a family?”

“Yes, I do. A wife and two daughters.”

“Oh, my, you really do need to go ahead of me so you can get home to be with your family. I’m by myself now and all I have waiting for me is my cat.”

There was a long pause in our conversation and then she spoke again.

“Never be in such a hurry that you don’t have time for your family. Before too long those daughters are going to be gone living in another town. And, it is unfortunate, but your wife will pass away before you know it and you will be left alone with just a cat.”

“Were you married long?”

“54 years, but it wasn’t long enough. He passed away just three months ago. I really would have liked to have another day or two with him, but now it is just the cat … his cat.”

I went ahead of her, checked out, gave her a hug and promised that I would try to slow down and appreciate my family while they were still with me. I have slowed down, not sure if it is just old age or a conscious effort on my part. I don’t walk as fast I use to nor do I drive as fast as I use to … but I still eat too fast. And family? They are nearby and we get together often. There is a dog, lives with oldest daughter now. There won’t ever be a cat. But, I think of that sweet elderly lady in the Publix checkout lane who only had “just a cat” to go home to and try to appreciate everyday as a gift of grace with those who are most important.

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

Saturday, March 26, 2011

David, dancing naked before the altar of God, might have gotten it right!

It was way back in the 80s when male preacher’s “normal” attire was a suit and tie … or, it was at least my every day attire. I was probably playing out some old mental tapes left over from another era, but they played out in my mind anyway … and even in the heat of summer, the suit went on if I was about the business of the church. God didn’t really care what I wore, but I had an image in the back of my mind as to what was proper and right.

To often, as well meaning people, we attempt to apply our standards to the behavior of others as when people shared with me that “children shouldn’t run in church” meaning that it was disrespectful of God. My response later became, “Well, I think that God is probably running and jumping with them simply because it is so much fun!” People didn’t understand.

These same well meaning folk also tried to apply their standards of what was proper by making comments about what others should wear or not wear in worship. The words always flew when acolytes would wear tennis shoes or shorts or jeans or flip-flops under their acolyte attire. My response ran something like this, “Well, when I come across the biblical instructions concerning the proper attire for acolytes I will mention it to the coordinator.” They just didn’t get it.

I was mentioning David in one of my sermons when I added an unplanned footnote … those were usually dangerous, but my filtering mind was always a little late in passing judgment on my mouth. Go figure! The unplanned footnote was actually a result of being confronted just before worship by one of those “well meaning folk” concerning the improper dress of some of our youth. She even suggested that if “they couldn’t dress better they should just stay home!” … and she was serious.

Well, the unplanned footnote went something like this; “Sometimes we get caught up in issues that are of little real concern to God such as ‘proper’ attire to be worn while attending worship. I wonder how we would react if someone followed King David’s practice of dancing naked before the altar or wearing an ephod which was probably only a little modesty apron?” I’m not sure what else I said, but I am sure that there was more. The dear soul, who had made such a big issue earlier of what people wore, took my hand after the service, gave me a kiss on the cheek (her normal expression of appreciation – she didn’t like people hugging her including her preacher) and said, “That was a great sermon.” She just didn’t get it … at least I don’t think she did.

In today’s church it seems anything goes. Pastors wear robes, suits, shirt and ties, jeans, shorts, flip-flops, cut-offs, baseball hats, cowboy hats, etc. you name it and it can be found in the pulpit of our churches and that goes as well for those who are sitting in the pews … if the church still has pews. Things have changed. Some say it is for the good while others groan at “losing” the traditions of the past. I have mixed emotions.

I have to admit that I feel different when I put on a suit and tie. I don’t do it very often, but when I do it makes me different inside. But that is just me. Maybe if I “dressed up” more I would feel different about what is taking place within today’s church.

If Lent is about seeking God’s forgiveness through penitence and acts of contrition then I should be seeking God’s mercy upon on my soul for passing judgment on others over trivial matters, as well as being flippant about their concerns. This “Lent stuff” is not easy – too demanding, too personal, too revealing of my inner being – but, how else can we grow in our spiritual walk which should include the presence and feelings of others as they stand before the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Peter, Paul, John, and Jesus. We stand before the God Almighty naked because he sees us for who we really are and join in the dance of joy of grace … maybe, David had really gotten it right!

Quote for today: To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting. ~e.e. cummings

Friday, March 25, 2011

A shared word on mystery by Jim Harnish

Today, I share a portion of FAITH MATTERS by The Rev. Dr. Jim Harnish, senior pastor of Hyde Park United Methodist Church, Tampa, Florida. Jim writes his congregation every week via the internet posting of FAITH MATTERS. I have always found his insights into the Christian journey helpful in my journey. I hope that this offering does the same for you.

The Day that Changed the World

There are days within the lifetimes of the people who read this message that stand out as days that shifted the gears of history.

Dec. 7, 1941: “The day that will live in infamy.”
Aug. 28, 1963: The day Dr. King said, “I have a dream … ”
Nov. 22, 1963: The day JFK was shot.
Jan. 28, 1986: The day the Challenger exploded.
Sept. 11, 2001: The day with no other name than “9.11.”

As important as those days are, there is only one day in human history that really changed everything; one day that has the power to change the way we think, act and live; one day that holds the promise of changing the kingdoms of this world into the Kingdom of God; one day that really did change the world.

Entering the Mystery

On Sunday, I used the word “mystery” to describe what happens when we break the bread and share the cup around the table of our Lord. It’s something that is beyond our explanation but not beyond our experience.

In his powerful book, “Cross-Shattered Christ,” Stanley Hauerwas acknowledged that “mystery” is not a word theologians often use because it “invites the assumption that what we believe is not believable … that what we believe defies reason and common sense.” He goes on to say that what we Christians believe does defy reason and common sense, but that it is still “the most reasonable and common sense account we can have of the way things are.” (p.14)

Hauerwas wrote that the word “mystery” does not “name a puzzle that cannot be solved … Rather, ‘mystery’ names that which we know, but the more we know, the more we are forced to rethink everything we think we know.” (p. 15)

That’s the mystery we enter as we tell the story of the passion, death and resurrection of our Lord. The more deeply we move into the story, the more the story challenges us to rethink the way we think, act and live. Like so many of Jesus’ parables in Matthew’s gospel, this story is meant to shock and surprise us until we begin to see our lives and our world in a radically different way.

Charles Wesley never got over the mystery of it. Here’s the way he described it in one of his many hymns on the passion of Christ.

O Love divine, what hast thou done!
The immortal God hath died for me!
The Father’s co-eternal Son
Bore all my sins upon the tree.
Th’ immortal God for me hath died:
My Lord, my Love, is crucified!

My prayer is that as we enter into the mystery of the cross, we will be forced to “rethink everything we think we know until we know” the love of God that really can change the world.

Quote for today: The figure of the Crucified invalidates all thought which takes success for its standard. ~Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Rules to live by

We all need rules to live by or at least I do. The Golden Rule is the high-water mark for rules to live by. I find myself “testing” my behavior by it all the time. Sometimes I am successful and sometimes I am not. It works like a keel on a sailboat in that it keeps me on course. In short, I just find it easier to manage my day and my relationships if I know the ground rules.

Here are some other “rules to live by” written by an unknown author. I wish there was a “rule” that required people to put their names on the material that they create. It doesn’t change the effectiveness of what they wrote, but it would be nice to give them credit every now and again.

1 Accept the fact that some days you're the pigeon, and some days you're the statue!

2 Always keep your words soft and sweet, just in case you have to eat them.

3 Always read stuff that will make you look good if you die in the middle of it.

4 Drive carefully... It's not only cars that can be recalled by their Maker.

5 If you can't be kind, at least have the decency to be vague

6 If you lend someone $20 and never see that person again, it was probably worth it..

7 It may be that your sole purpose in life is simply to serve as a warning to others.

8 Never buy a car you can't push.

9 Never put both feet in your mouth at the same time, because then you won't have a leg to stand on.

10 Nobody cares if you can't dance well. Just get up and dance.

11 Since it's the early worm that gets eaten by the bird, sleep late.

12 The second mouse gets the cheese.

13 When everything's coming your way, you're in the wrong lane.

14 Birthdays are good for you. The more you have, the longer you live.

15 You may be only one person in the world, but you may also be the world to one person.

16 Some mistakes are too much fun to make only once.

17 We could learn a lot from crayons. Some are sharp, some are pretty and some are dull. Some have weird names and all are different colors, but they all have to live in the same box.

18 A truly happy person is one who can enjoy the scenery on a detour.

Quote for today: I can tell you this: It’s passion, not pedigree, that can and will win in the end. Free yourself from comparison. Just because someone fancy sneakers doesn’t mean they can run faster. ~Jon Bon Jovi

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Patiently waiting on God ... well, not so patiently waiting

In a society that is constantly on the move we sure have to wait a lot! We wait at a traffic light. We have only 1 item to purchase at the grocery store, we are in the “express” lane only to have the individual in front of us needing to have one of their items “price checked”. We are at one of the amusement parks and have to wait an hour in line to take the 2-minute ride. We filed an amended tax year turn for 2008 back in January 2010, the refund has been approved, but we are still waiting for our money. We make a telephone call to a company, they put us on hold and continue to tell us that they will be with us shortly … even after 30-minutes on hold. It seems that our entire life is in the hurry-up-and-hold mode. No matter what we do or how we do it we have to wait.

While I am not an impatient person and can quietly sit in the doctor’s office waiting for my “appointment” which was more than 45-minutes ago, something does well-up from within when all I seem to do is wait for others, for answers, for solutions, for tomorrow. How long, oh Lord, how long … especially when I am waiting for an answer to a prayer, to a Kingdom issue in my life, to a God-directed purpose … how long, oh Lord, how long indeed?

And then I read about Abraham and Sarah. They had been given a promise of a child. They were getting up in years. They waited. Abraham got impatient. Had a child with a handmaiden. Abraham’s decision was outside of God’s plan. He should have waited. But, God, I’m getting old. Time is running out. Sarah passed the childbearing years long ago. We prayed, you promised, we waited, but nothing happened. One year merged into two years which became 5 and then 10, 20 … 25. Twenty-five years is a long time to wait … especially when you already have one foot in the grave.

Can I wait that long to realize God’s promises in my life? Do I need to be that patient? How do you pass the time when you are waiting for the fulfillment of a God-promise? Is it true that God fulfills his promises even if it takes a lifetime? Could it be really true that God gives exactly what we need when we need it – no sooner … no later … and in direct response to our prayers? All we have to wait …

Hmmmm, I am not an impatient person, but sometimes I do get tired of waiting … even waiting on God to “do” his thing. Sometimes I get tired of praying about an issue or situation. I know that I am to pray continually and unceasing … but this waiting stuff is just a little hard to take ... hard to understand.

Maybe I am really a kin to St. Augustine who prayed for patience, but demanded it “right now.”

Welcome to the club of those waiting for answers from God, as well as the fulfillment of Divine promises!

Quote for today: Waiting for God is not laziness. Waiting for God is not going to sleep. Waiting for God is not the abandonment of effort. Waiting for God means, first, activity under command; second, readiness for any new command that may come; third, the ability to do nothing until the command is given. ~G. Campbell Morgan

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Eating burned biscuits - making your way through life when it is hard for everyone

Is it just my imagination or are we becoming less tolerant of others? I see it every time I drive anywhere … horns are sounded, gestures are thrust out the window, words are exchanged and people drive off in anger. Patience is in short supply. Evidently, we find it difficult to love those that are different then we are or just happen to be in our path slowing us down to get to where we need to. Could it be that we are each having a bad day and the individual who is unloading his/her anger and frustration on you finds a stranger a safe target since they will never see you again?

From this observer of life it just seems that it is happening more and more thus requiring of the rest of us a higher degree of understanding and love. Count to ten. Take a deep breath. Try to understand. Life is hard at best. People are anxious. Anger erupts. Frustration is experienced. But life goes on. This too shall pass. Tomorrow will arrive regardless. And hope does spring eternal. Just don’t take the actions of others personally. As my favorite bumper sticker states: “Please come back to Miami we weren’t shooting at you!”

Burned Biscuits ~author unknown

When I was a kid, my Mom liked to make breakfast food for dinner every now and then. And I remember one night in particular when she had made breakfast after a long, hard day at work. On that evening so long ago, my Mom placed a plate of eggs, sausage and extremely burned biscuits in front of my dad. I remember waiting to see if anyone noticed! Yet, all my dad did was reach for his biscuit, smile at my Mom and ask me how my day was at school. I don't remember what I told him that night, but I do remember watching him smear butter and jelly on that biscuit and eat every bite!

When I got up from the table that evening, I remember hearing my Mom apologize to my dad for burning the biscuits. And I'll never forget what he said: "Honey, I love burned biscuits”.

Later that night, I went to kiss Daddy good night and I asked him if he really liked his biscuits burned. He wrapped me in his arms and said, "Your Momma put in a hard day at work today and she's real tired. And, besides a little burned biscuit never hurt anyone!"

Life is full of imperfect things and imperfect people. I'm not the best at hardly anything, and I forget birthdays and anniversaries just like everyone else. But what I've learned over the years is that learning to accept each others faults - and choosing to celebrate each others differences - is one of the most important keys to creating a healthy, growing, and lasting relationship.

And, that's my prayer for you today. That you will learn to take the good, the bad, and the ugly parts of your life and lay them at the feet of God. Because in the end, He's the only One who will be able to give you a relationship where a burnt biscuit isn't a deal-breaker!

We could extend this to any relationship. In fact, understanding is the base of any relationship, be it a husband-wife or parent-child or friendship!

"Don't put the key to your happiness in someone else's pocket - keep it in your own."

So, please pass me a biscuit, and yes, the burned one will do just fine.

Quote for today: Be kinder than necessary because everyone you meet is fighting some kind of battle. ~Author unknown

Monday, March 21, 2011

Beating ourselves up over things God has already forgiven

“And let the beating begin!” … at least internally. We all beat ourselves up over one thing or another. Sometimes we go out of our way in beating ourselves up. There are times that we don’t have to look very far to find an issue that will cause the beatings to begin. We live with regret and the ghosts of situations past … and the beatings begin.

Memory is a good thing and a nasty thing. Memory helps us celebrate the past, but causes unbearable pain in our situations. Thus, we live with regret. We live with failing God. We live with the feelings of “what if” and we beat ourselves up.

And then last Monday evening during share group the source of our study stated, “You cannot circumnavigate, destroy, or undo God’s purpose for your life!” Each of us, all too often, makes decisions that run counter to God’s purpose. The results of those decisions appear to place us on a non-God chosen path. And thus … the beatings begin.

The mercy and grace of God stands ever ready to pick up the pieces of our lives, put them back together again and set a new course for our life … but always in the ultimate direction that he had originally chosen for us. As one retired military man shared, “It doesn’t mean that you will still achieve the rank once aspired to, but the ultimate purpose is still realized.”

Once we embrace that reality we realize that there is nothing for us to beat ourselves up over any longer. Did we make mistakes? Yes. Did the mistakes have consequences? Yes. Is our life ruined? No. Do we have a dynamic-God-shaped future? Yes.

The choice is ours. We can either live a life of regret or a life of victory. We can either live a life that says if only or a life that celebrates possibility. We can either live by our design or a life by God’s design. We can live a life of “let the beatings begin” or a life that states “enough already” let me get on with living!

The real issue here is understanding God’s forgiveness. If God could forgive David after all the mistakes he made; if God could forgive Abraham after all the mistakes he made; if God could forgive Peter after all the mistakes he made … and use each of them in such a dynamic and unbelievable way then certainly God can forgive and use the likes of you and me. Therein lies the real hope and the promise of the empty tomb … resurrection is embracing life when all things look hopeless and dead. God has the last word!

Quote for today: The tragedy of life is not that it ends so soon, but that we wait so long to begin it. ~Richard L. Evans

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Of bagpipes, funerals and a graveside ... a lighter side of life

Note: My next posting will be on Monday, March 21 ... see you then!

The following story was passed on to me by a long time friend, Bruce Hurst. Bruce was our part-time youth director at St. Luke’s UMC. He and Joyce are just neat people and fun to be around. Unfortunately, for us they live in Atlanta, GA now. Bruce was a person after my own heart … always ready to have a fun time and quick with a good story or two. The teenagers of our group just dearly loved him. I still use one of his standard lines when asked, “How much longer?” And Bruce would reply, “Five more minutes.” Well, it didn’t take long before the youth just stopped asking.

He and I, along with several other committed adults, took a bus load of youth to Knoxville, TN to hold an inter-city VBS experience for the children of the neighborhood. It was a rich time for our youth, who participated in a Youth Activities Week in the evenings with a local sponsoring church. We also took them into the Great Smokey Mountains where several of our more macho-type young men decided they wanted to impress all of us (especially the girls) by running up Clingman’s Domb. Well, you can imagine the comments that were made when we got a little over half way up that very steep climb to find them all laying down on the walkway totally exhausted. I don’t think they have all lived down the ribbing to this day.

Here is Bruce’s story:

As a bagpiper, I play many gigs. Recently I was asked by a funeral director to play at a grave side service for a homeless man. He had no family or friends, so the service was to be at a pauper's cemetery in the Kentucky back-country.

As I ...was not familiar with the backwoods, I got lost; and being a typical man I didn't stop for directions. I finally arrived an hour late and saw the funeral guy had evidently gone and the hearse was nowhere in sight.

There were only the diggers and crew left and they were eating lunch .I felt badly and apologized to the men for being late. I went to the side of the grave and looked down and the vault lid was already in place. I didn't know what else to do, so I started to play.
The workers put down their lunches and began to gather around. I played out my heart and soul for this man with no family and friends. I played like I've never played before for this homeless man.

And as I played 'Amazing Grace,' the workers began to weep. They wept, I wept, we all wept together. When I finished I packed up my bagpipes and started for my car. Though my head hung low my heart was full.

As I was opening the door to my car, I heard one of the workers say, "I never seen nothin' like that before and I've been putting in septic tanks for twenty years."

Quote for today: St. Patrick's Day is an enchanted time - a day to begin transforming winter's dreams into summer's magic. ~Adrienne Cook

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Putting God on a celestial do-not-call registry

Confession is good for the soul, so I must confess; I was rude to a young woman who just called our home trying to get me to accept something free or almost free. I wasn’t rude rude, if you know what I mean, but I was simply rude. After all she was just trying to do her job, trying to make a living, work is work and she really didn’t need an old man making her life a little more complicated. I’m keenly aware that she probably works for a base salary (probably minimum wage) and gets a bonus for every “positive” contact that she makes. So, I apology to all telemarketers out there who are just trying to make a living at my expense of time and energy … trying put food on the table … trying to make ends meet.

All I said was, “I’m not interested.” It caused her to pause, probably to move to the next page and her next set of questions. She kicked into her next phase of the spiel – her well-rehearsed spiel – and I interrupted her again with, “I’m not interested.” Again a pause, and off she went again in another direction … I interrupted again with a question of my own, “What part of ‘I’m not interested’ don’t you understand?” This caused her to stammer, catch her breath, back up and come at me again with a little more force. And, again, with a little more emphasis, I asked, “What part of ‘I’m not interested’ don’t you understand?” “But sir,” she replied, “I don’t think that you fully appreciate what I am offering.” And with that I shared that the next sound you will hear is brought to you by AT&T …, which was the dial tone. I will confess that I was rude, but after all we are on the national do-not-call registry.

On other occasions I have taken the time to request the callers name, phone number and company for which they work. They will finally ask as to why I want this information I will simply inform them that our phone numbers are registered with the national do-not-call registry and if anyone from their company ever bothers us again I will not hesitate in filling a compliant with the registry. I’m not really sure that I would actually do that because it could cause the telemarketer to lose their job and a heavy fine to the call center. After all, they are just trying to do a job.

All of this did get me to wondering if we do this with God. We call him up through prayer and/or meditation and start our spiel. If he decided to interrupt our one-sided conversation would we hear him? Would we understand him? Would we even care that he was trying to get through to us? Would we, could we, fully appreciate what he is offering?

One Christmas Eve, I purposely carried my cell phone with me into the pulpit. At a predetermined point in the sermon I had instructed my daughter to call me. At first I tried to ignore the ringing phone since I knew that it would go to voice mail, but my instructions were to keep calling. I even made a show of “turning off” the ringer, but the phone kept ringing. Finally, I excused myself and answered the phone. The conversation kind of took the congregation by surprise because the call was from God and he really wanted me to tell the assembled congregation something rather important. My comment was, “You want me to tell them what? But, Sir, they won’t believe it? Yes, Sir, I understand that I’m your servant, but really that is kind of a strong message.” I have to admit it was kind of tacky, but hey, it worked.

I ended the phone call, by that time the congregation got the little joke, but then I went on to ask, “If that had really been from God how would we have responded?” The entire message of Emmanuel is that God is trying to communicate to us a very important message with an unbelievable offer. Do we really care or are we caught up in our own little agendas that we cannot be bothered or take the time to listen? Is the conversation all one sided … trying to get said what we want to say and then get on with the rest of our lives?

Is it possible to be rude to God? Have we ever thought about our attitude, our reaction to God as boarding on just being rude? If you are like me, and I hope that you are not, there is a lot of interrupting, trying to put a footnote on what we hear him saying, trying to explain that what he is asking from us isn’t really practical … and always asking, “What part of ‘I’m not interested’ don’t you understand?” And still he is there the next time we go to him in prayer. Always ready to listen, but also very eager to share his hopes and plans and purpose for out lives. Do we really care or do we attempt to place ourselves on the celestial do-not-call list?

Again, confession is good for the soul … I have a strong tendency to follow the “get-in-and-get-out” technique of prayer. I tell God what I want him to hear and then fail to take the time to listen to him. I’ve kind of made our relationship a “don’t-call-me-I’ll-call-you” concept. And, I speak from experience … sometimes, painful experience … it doesn’t work to good!

Quote for today: The moment you wake up each morning, all your wishes and hopes for the day rush at you like wild animals. And the first job each morning consists in shoving it all back; in listening to that other voice, taking that other point of view, letting that other, larger, stronger, quieter life come flowing in. ~C.S. Lewis

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Little David, big Goliath, smooth rocks and a slingshot... victory

Sitting on the bookshelves in my study is a small collection of smooth rocks that I have gathered over the years of travel. Some are from our days of vacation in the Great Smoky Mountains, while others come from the various seas of the world while visiting in Israel, Scotland and Greece. I have always thought of them previously as pretty, smooth rocks – nothing more … nothing less … until today.

The purpose and future of those smooth rocks depends on whose hands they fall in. I’ve always admired, with some longing, those who could take a smooth rock and make it skip along the water 15, 16, 17, even 23 times. I’ve seen them do it. But, try as I may, 3 times has been my best. Same rocks different results.

Donnie, who lived next door to me while I attempted to grow up (I wasn’t very successful) could take a smooth rock, place it in his slingshot and hit a small post nearly hundred feet away … every time! While I, on the other hand, could take a rock that Donnie picked and using his slingshot could hardly hit the trunk of a tree 5 feet away. Same rocks different results. It really depends on whose hands they fall into.

Then there was David. Just a shepherd boy, almost frail in stature, a lover of music (why not since he was out with the sheep all by himself most days), but had practiced numerous times fending off the wild animals who wanted a good sheep dinner. Just some smooth river rocks and a slingshot. Nothing more … nothing less, but his attitude was one of confidence and a strong reliance on God.

The attitude is best illustrated in the phrase, used a couple of times in the story, “but the armies of Israel” (1 Samuel 17:10, 45). What armies? There was AN army – singular not plural, but David spoke of the “armies of Israel”. Did he see something that no one else saw? David probably believed that all of the angels of heaven had assembled on that battlefield in support of Israel against Goliath and the Philistines.

I’m also taken by David’s declaration that they had come up against “God and the armies”. Since there wasn’t a reporter from CNN present, Anderson Cooper was nowhere to be found, a war correspondent from the AP wasn’t there with microphone or tape recorder in hand, no one is really sure what David said or didn’t say that fateful day, but I can almost hear David saying, “You fool, thinking that you can come up against God and his armies … and believe that you can win the battle. Don’t you understand whom you are dealing with? Get ready to be defeated.” And with that Goliath laughed – big mistake. Never laugh at God unless he laughs first. Goliath laughed and like most people tilted his head backwards exposing his forehead and that is all David needed. Just one smooth river rock, in the hands of a slingshot marksmen … bingo … one dead giant of a man … victory realized … enemy vanquished … same rocks different results.

Into our hands God places some smooth river rocks in the form of prayer, presence, power, Holy Spirit and Word … all for the purpose of slaying the giants of our lives … the giants of bigotry, pornography, alcohol, anger, divorce, cancer, job lose, low self-esteem, arrogant opinions, old habits, lack of vision, failing bodies … all giants seeking our destruction or at least, a feeling of being small and unimportant – just like a smelly boy who sleeps with the sheep. And yet, into our hands … OUR hands … my hands and your hands … God has given the weapons needed to slay the giants that laugh at us as we try to live a victorious life in God’s kingdom. How dare they come before us these giants of our past thinking that they can defeat God and all the armies of the Kingdom? How dare they … indeed! Don’t these giants know whom they are contending with? After all, God has given us some smooth rocks and a slingshot!

It is giant slaying time … I can hear the thunder of falling giants … the earth is shaking as they fall … great is their defeat … let the armies of the Kingdom rejoice!

Quote for today: Winning does not always mean coming in first… real victory is in arriving at the finish line with no regrets because you know you’ve gone all out. ~Apolo Anton Ohno

Monday, March 14, 2011

When the storms of life are raging ...

As the pictures of Japan after the earthquake played across the television and the wall of water of the tsunami consumed everything in front of that massive moving force; as the news from the northeastern part of America concerning flood-stage rivers became gripping news; as a friend shares the devastating news about the ugly reality of alcoholism’s effects on members of their family; as individuals are dealing with cancer, divorce, job loss, failing health, rebellious children, death and heartache there is one hymn that keeps playing in my mind … and from that the assurance that God cares in the midst of tragedy, mercy will be given and grace experienced … and we are not alone in the middle of the destructive forces of life that would seek to teardown, destroy and crush the very last breath out of us.

When the storms of life are raging,
Stand by me (stand by me);
When the storms of life are raging,
Stand by me (stand by me);
When the world is tossing me
Like a ship upon the sea
Thou Who rulest wind and water,
Stand by me (stand by me).

In the midst of tribulation,
Stand by me (stand by me);
In the midst of tribulation,
Stand by me (stand by me);
When the hosts of hell assail,
And my strength begins to fail,
Thou Who never lost a battle,
Stand by me (stand by me).

In the midst of faults and failures,
Stand by me (stand by me);
In the midst of faults and failures,
Stand by me (stand by me);
When I do the best I can,
And my friends misunderstand,
Thou Who knowest all about me,
Stand by me (stand by me).

In the midst of persecution,
Stand by me (stand by me);
In the midst of persecution,
Stand by me (stand by me);
When my foes in battle array
Undertake to stop my way,
Thou Who sav├Ęd Paul and Silas,
Stand by me (stand by me).

When I’m growing old and feeble,
Stand by me (stand by me);
When I’m growing old and feeble,
Stand by me (stand by me);
When my life becomes a burden,
And I’m nearing chilly Jordan,
O Thou “Lily of the Valley,”
Stand by me (stand by me).

There is a story from behind the Iron Curtain after the Berlin Wall was taken down and communism was destroyed. It was just a hand-printed sign on a piece of old plywood leaning against an old shuttered Christian church … “The Lamb wins!”

Through it all God is with us … he stands with us and helps us face whatever comes our way … and in the end, he wins … and so do we!

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

Saturday, March 12, 2011

A grandpa remembers

Yesterday, I got to spend the day with my granddaughter and grandson. It was a good day, but when it was all over I kind of felt my age. It got me thinking about the differences in age and understanding of the world around us. A part of my responsibility as the Grandpa is to help to keep them rooted on this that really matter and to give them a perspective of life that they will not get from anyone else. I’ve lived a different life than they are going to live. I’ve had different experiences and I look at life from the other end of it. It also will my challenge to keep abreast of the all the latest gadgets and be ready for them to teach me a think or two. My granddaughter, who is only 29 months, is using the Itouch and I cannot do that!

These thoughts and many more raced through my mind last evening as I walked around my subdivision. Boy do I have a heavy responsibility … and a very cherished one at that!

This morning I came across this little “down memory lane” idea … btw, sent to me by the grandchildren’s mother (my daughter) years ago. I think she was giving a few hints then concerning my roll that I would be fulfilling today.

If you have grandchildren, remember your responsibility is to keep them grounded on things that really matter! And, to enjoy them, they make the day worth it.

How old is Grandpa??? ~Author unknown

Stay with this -- the answer is at the end. It will blow you away.

One evening a grandson was talking to his grandfather about current events. The grandson asked his grandfather what he thought about the shootings at schools, the computer age, and things in general.

The Grandfather replied, "Well, let me think a minute, I was born before:
television, penicillin, polio shots, frozen foods, Xerox, contact lenses, Frisbees and the pill.

There were no: credit cards, laser beams or ball-point pens.

Man had not invented: pantyhose, air conditioners, dishwashers, clothes dryers, and the clothes were hung out to dry in the fresh air and man hadn't yet walked on the moon.

Your Grandmother and I got married first, . . . then lived together.

Every family had a father and a mother.

Until I was 25, I called every man older than me, "Sir".
We were before gay-rights, computer-dating, dual careers, daycare centers, and group therapy.

Our lives were governed by the Ten Commandments, good judgment, and common sense.

We were taught to know the difference between right and wrong and to stand up and take responsibility for our actions.

Serving your country was a privilege; living in this country was a bigger privilege.

We thought fast food was what people ate during Lent.

Having a meaningful relationship meant getting along with your cousins.

Draft dodgers were people who closed their front doors when the evening breeze started.

Time-sharing meant time the family spent together in the evenings and weekends-not purchasing condominiums.

We never heard of FM radios, tape decks, CDs, electric typewriters, yogurt, or guys wearing earrings.

We listened to the Big Bands, Jack Benny, and the President's speeches on our radios.

And I don't ever remember any kid blowing his brains out listening to Tommy Dorsey.

If you saw anything with 'Made in Japan ' on it, it was junk.

The term 'making out' referred to how you did on your school exam.

Pizza Hut, McDonald's, and instant coffee weren’t unheard of.

We had 5 &10-cent stores where you could actually buy things for 5 and 10 cents.

Ice-cream cones, phone calls, rides on a streetcar, and a Pepsi were all a nickel.

And if you didn't want to splurge, you could spend your nickel on enough stamps to mail 1 letter and 2 postcards.

You could buy a new Chevy Coupe for $600, … but who could afford one?
Too bad, because gas was 11 cents a gallon.

In my day: "grass" was mowed, "coke" was a cold drink, "pot" was something your mother cooked in and "rock music" was your grandmother's lullaby.

"Aids" were helpers in the Principals office, "chip" meant a piece of wood,
hardware" was found in a hardware store and "software" wasn't even a word.

And we were the last generation to actually believe that a lady needed a husband to have a baby. No wonder people call us "old and confused" and say there is a generation gap... and how old do you think I am?

I bet you have this old man in mind...you are in for a shock!

Read on to see -- pretty scary if you think about it and pretty sad at the same time.

Are you ready?????

This man would be only 59 years old!

Quote for today: A day without grandchildren is a day without sunshine. ~Jim Martin

Friday, March 11, 2011

Living between two extremes - rusting out or burning out

Well, to be honest, I have a Type-A personality. I come by it naturally since I was raised in a Protestant-Work-Ethic home. It was not permitted to sit around and do nothing. We were expected to be doing something constructive – all the time. “Work never hurt anybody” was heard a hundred times a day. “If it is worth doing it is worth doing well,” was driven into us from day one. I apologize to my two daughters for they heard the same personality driven work centered philosophy growing up. They learned the lessons well … I’m really sorry girls! All of this produced the Type-A … at least that is my story and I am sticking to it.

In most cases the Type-A personality served me well during my active years of ministry. It kind of drove members of my staff crazy since I expected them to follow suit. Unfortunately, for the church’s I served, and me I had too many lazy staff people … especially with associate ministers. It literally drove me crazy (and I didn’t have far to go in the first place) just how lazy these ordained men and women could be. I had one who liked to get to the office around 10 a.m. and then be back home around 1 p.m. … for the rest of the day! Unbelievable!

Now that I am in my retirement years I’m dealing with two issues. Guilt on the one hand when I find myself just sitting around and reading fiction – which was a big no-no growing up. No comic books and no fiction – “Why waste your time reading non-important stuff?” I put together a massive library over the years, but 98% of it was non-fiction. I continue to love to read and when I retired I decided to start enjoying some of the great fiction writers. Guilt is still pursuing me, but most of the time I can outrun it!

The other issue is taking on too much or at least working too long when I start a project … working until I am bone-weary and exhausted, regardless of the heat or the position of the Sun. It drives my loving spouse crazy. “Why do you do it to yourself?” “Come in out of the Sun.” “Learn to pace yourself.” “You try to do too much.” And so it goes.

It is hard for this old leopard to change his spots, but I am working at it. When we first moved over here to Bradenton I got involved, really involved, at a church as their volunteer parish visitor to the point that I was beginning to accept and feel like the pastoral care responsibility was all mine. That wasn’t good for the church, the senior pastor nor me. Thank goodness for a planned 6-week car trip out west. It made me stop. It made me re-evaluate my retirement priorities. It caused me to think through this Type-A personality stuff … and while, the church would love for me to continue to serve at a volunteer level of 20 to 30 hours per week … it isn’t going to happen.

And that is the lesson I think that I am trying to share today. All of us should stop and really evaluate our priorities. Spot-changing is possible, but it will take diligence and constant monitoring. We all have our poison that affects our personality. We learned it well at the knees of our parents and grandparents. And, there isn’t really anything wrong with what they taught us, but we can miss out on so much when we simply get stuck in our old personality types.

I don’t know what Lenten disciplines you might be following this year. Some, I have read, are giving up facebook for Lent, while others are foregoing all computer games. Mine is simply an attempt to put my life and its activities in balance. To stop when I am tired, to read a wider range of books, to spend more time with my spouse and family, to be aware of anything that seems to be “driving” me … in short to take better care of the totality of God’s man … and to focus better on being just that … God’s man!

They say that an individual can either rust-out or burnout … I’m trying to discover the peace in being the person that lives between these two extremes.

Quote for today: There are two types of people who will tell you that you cannot make a difference in this world: Those who are afraid to try themselves, and those who are afraid that you will succeed. ~Ray Goforth

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Looking back and remembering life once lived in America

Looking back in life is kind of nice … going back is another issue. I don’t know about anyone else, but I have no desire to return to yesteryear. I am realistic enough to think that the memories of long ago are better than reality would be. And, yet, there are some things from the past that would be kind of nice today … like never having to lock your front door, knowing your neighbor well enough to share a cup of coffee several times a day, children could play outside unsupervised, a teenager could ride their bikes any place in the city … and did, teachers received the respect from their students and parents backed up the teachers on any and every issue, sales people were behind every counter … and the list could continue, but I think you get my point.

I ran across this little article on some other memories from the past. Most of them hit right at my heart. The author is unknown. There is also an interesting little quiz at the end. The result is that I really am older than dirt, but I hope that I am not meaner than spit!

'Someone asked the other day, 'What was your favorite fast food when you were growing up?'

'We didn't have fast food when I was growing up,' I informed him. 'All the food was slow.'

'C'mon, seriously. Where did you eat?'

'It was a place called 'at home,'' I explained. 'Mom cooked every day and when Dad got home from work, we sat down together at the dining room table, and if I didn't like what she put on my plate I was allowed to sit there until I did like it.'

By this time, the kid was laughing so hard I was afraid he was going to suffer serious internal damage, so I didn't tell him the part about how I had to have permission to leave the table. But here are some other things I would have told him about my childhood if I figured his system could have handled it: Some parents NEVER owned their own house, never wore Levis, never set foot on a golf course, never traveled out of the country or had a credit card. In their later years they had something called a revolving charge card. The card was good only at Sears Roebuck. Or
maybe it was Sears & Roebuck. Either way, there is no Roebuck anymore. Maybe he died.

My parents never drove me to soccer practice. This was mostly because we never had heard of soccer... I had a bicycle that weighed probably 50 pounds, and only had one speed, (slow). We didn't have a television in our house until I was 16. It was, of course, black and white, and the station went off the air at midnight, after playing the national anthem and a poem about God; it came back on the air at about 6 a.m. and there was usually a locally produced news and farm show on, featuring local people.

I was 21 before I tasted my first pizza, it was called 'pizza pie.' When I bit into it, I burned the roof of my mouth and the cheese slid off, swung down, plastered itself against my chin and burned that, too. It's still the best pizza I ever had.

I never had a telephone in my room. The only phone in the house was in the living room and it was on a party line. Before you could dial, you had to listen and make sure some people you didn't know weren't already using the line. Pizzas were not delivered to our home, but milk was.

All newspapers were delivered by boys and all boys delivered newspapers -- It cost 7 cents a paper, and they got to keep 2 cents. They had to get up at 6AM every morning. On Saturday, they had to collect the 42 cents from their customers. Their favorite customers were the ones who gave them 50 cents and told them to keep the change. Their least favorite customers were the ones who seemed to never be home on collection day. Movie stars kissed with their mouths shut. At least, they did in the movies. There were no movie ratings because all movies were responsibly produced for everyone to enjoy viewing, without profanity or violence or most anything offensive.

If you grew up in a generation before there was fast food, you may want to share some of these memories with your children or grandchildren Just don't blame me if they bust a gut laughing.

Growing up isn't what it used to be, is it? MEMORIES from a friend: My Dad is cleaning out my grandmother's house (she died in December) and he brought me an old Royal Crown Cola bottle. In the bottle top was a stopper with a bunch of holes in it. I knew immediately what it was, but my daughter had no idea. She thought they had tried to make it a saltshaker or something. I knew it as the bottle that sat on the end of the ironing board to 'sprinkle' clothes with because we didn't have steam irons. Man, I am old. How many do you remember? Head lights dimmer switches on the floor. Ignition switches on the dashboard. Heaters mounted on the inside of the firewall. Real ice boxes. Pant leg clips for bicycles without chain guards. Soldering irons you heat on a gas burner. Using hand signals for cars without turn signals.

Older Than Dirt Quiz :
Count all the ones that you remember not the ones you were told about. Ratings at the bottom.
1. Blackjack chewing gum
2.Wax Coke-shaped bottles with colored sugar water
3. Candy cigarettes
4. Soda pop machines that dispensed glass bottles
5. Coffee shops or diners with tableside juke boxes
6. Home milk delivery in glass bottles with cardboard stoppers
7. Party lines on the telephone
8 Newsreels before the movie
9. P.F. Flyers
10. Butch wax
11.. TV test patterns that came on at night after the last show and were there until TV shows started again in the morning. (there were only 3 channels... if you were fortunate)
12. Peashooters
13. Howdy Doody
14. 45 RPM records
15. S& H greenstamps
16. Hi-fi's
17. Metal ice trays with lever
18. Mimeograph paper
19. Blue flashbulb
20. Packards
21. Roller skate keys
22. Cork popguns
23. Drive-ins
24. Studebakers
25. Wash tub wringers

If you remembered 0-5 = You're still young
If you remembered 6-10 = You are getting older
If you remembered 11-15 = Don't tell your age
If you remembered 16-25 = You're older than dirt!

I might be older than dirt but those memories are some of the best parts of my life.

Quote for today: Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana. ~Source unknown

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Reflections on the present union busting attempts in Wisconsin

The present labor unrest in America, as it is being played out in the media, and with both sides playing a dangerous game of brinkmanship … a game of political chicken, so to speak … is something that I take very personal. A little background:

I grew up in a very Republican and pro-union household. Back in the 40s and 50s those positions could co-exist in the same person. When we moved to Miami all my father ever knew how to do was treat steel in one of our nations defense plants. So he had to seek other types of employment. Doors were opened in Miami’s construction industry by some relatives and a few Masonic lodge brothers, but the pay was low and the work was long.

Eventually my father moved over to Home Milk first as a retail milkman. Remember how milk was actually delivered to your front door? Well, that was my father’s job. As wholesale routes came open he would “bid” on those routes and eventually was given the opportunity to move from retail to wholesale. It was backbreaking hard work and some of the conditions at the plant were not really safe. So based on my father’s experience as the shop steward at the steel plant he joined several other milkmen from other companies in an attempt to unionize.

The companies sent into their meetings some spies. Within weeks everyone who had attended the union organizational meetings found a note inserted into their paychecks which threatened them with being fired if they attended another meeting. It was then that dad shared his reasons for supporting unions. How he had witnessed the improvement in safer working conditions, better hours, better pay and some actual paid time off. He believed in unions and so do I.

Now I cannot say that all union activities and positions are good. I remember, while serving my first church in western Georgia, the Ford plant in Atlanta went out on strike. I thought some of their demands were a little more than a reach and shared as much one Sunday. The demand that got my attention was the per hour wage demand. All I said was that I found it interesting that Ford pays the assemblyman who bolts on bumpers more than we pay our teachers who mold and shape the minds of our precious children. A gentleman in the congregation got upset, got up and stormed out, slamming the door to the sanctuary. He never returned while I was there as the pastor. He was a one of the workers who was out on strike for a larger wage. To this day I still stick to my comment.

Some of the things that I find disturbing in this entire national discussion are those who are saying that what the public sector workers are doing in Wisconsin is Un-American. To which I would replay … No, it is very American. We have the right and privilege to speak our minds and backup our opinion with our actions by striking. If there is anything that is Un-American in all of this is the attempt to breakup the unions under the false pretense of balancing the state budgets. If the governor was so committed in balancing the budget then why did he push through the elimination of some taxes in January of this year?

The unions have given us a 40-hour work week, better wages for work done, child-labor laws, safer working conditions and a ton more benefits that we all have been ready to receive and enjoy.

The other criticism of the protesters that I find hard to understand is that they are doing it “on our dime.” Well, not really. If you are out on strike you do not get your pay. Just ask my brother who happened to be working for Eastern Airlines when they went out on strike not once, not twice, not three times, but five times in just a couple of years. He had a family to feed, the strike wasn’t about his salary or working conditions, he wanted to be supportive, but finally he sought other employment and glad he did.

The bottom line is that it behooves us all to read more widely and try to understand all of the issues beyond what the media is presenting. Get beyond FOX, CNN and NPR and discover the real issues. Why? Because it is coming to Florida and is starting to arrive with what our governor wants to do with our public school system and teacher’s pay. What is happening in Wisconsin, Ohio, Illinois, and Tennessee is going to happen here. And, like it or not, what effects unions effects us all.

These are dangerous times for the average wage earner. It is great if you are among the upper 2% of income class or a big business owner, but for everybody else watch out the training is coming our way and it ain’t going to stop at our station!

Quote for today: Am I my brother’s keeper? ~Genesis 4:9

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Education is a powerful weapon for peace

Greg Mortenson’s philosophy can be summed up with this quote from THREE CUPS OF TEA, page 209: “’Once you educate the boys, they tend to leave the villages and go search for work in the cities,’ Mortenson explains. ‘But the girls stay home, become leaders in the community, and pass on what they’ve learned. If you really want to change a culture, to empower women, improve basic hygiene and health care, and fight high rates of infant mortality, the answer is educated girls.’”

Education is a powerful weapon and here in America it is being taken for granted. The state governments are looking at the school budgets and teachers salary as a ready resource in their attempt to balance the budget. It is a sad day in our country.

Education is a powerful weapon against bigotry. What we don’t understand we end up hating or not trusting. We look with suspicion at those who are different than we … they dress differently … they speak a different language … their skin is a different color … their heritage is different … their customs and family values are different … they use a different language and images in their religious expressions … and so we look upon them with suspicion and mistrust. It is a sad day in our country.

Education is a powerful weapon against terrorism. We are viewed by others in the world with suspicion because of our society’s strength, our military might and some horrible political decisions in the past. As THREE CUPS OF TEA illustrates we “back” a particular group until we get what we want and then we abandon them. The result is a society that is torn apart in a wasteland of destroyed infrastructure and a non-functioning country. We leave them to those with money and bad intentions … and then we wonder what happened when everything explodes in our face. It is a sad day in our country.

Education is a powerful weapon that should be used to bring about not a clone of our society, but what is best for their society. Not what is best for America, but what is best for them. Not what is to our interest, but what will build them up and make them stronger. Education is a powerful weapon that people like Greg Mortenson and the Central Asian Institute are trying to use so that the villages of Pakistan and Afghanistan can become better and actual contributors to their own welfare.

And … you begin with girls! Oh, to have his vision and the courage to act on it!

To play on an old Chinese proverb - Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime – Give a child a lesson and they learn for today, Teach them to read and they discover the wonder of the world for a lifetime … teach them and they make the discovery of the thrill of their minds, teach them to read and you open up the entire world even when they will never leave their small, out of the way village. Teach them … one by one … and it will accomplish what all the armies and military might cannot achieve – safety and peace at home.

Quote for today: What we are trying to do may be just a drop in the ocean, but the ocean would be less because of that missing drop. ~Mother Teresa.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Insight about our war on terrorism from THREE CUPS OF TEA

Just finished THREE CUPS OF TEA (the link is to a summary of the book and other information) by Greg Mortenson (the link is to his blog) and David Oliver Relin about “One man’s mission to promote peace … one school at a time.” Greg Mortenson probably will win the Nobel Peace Prize at some point in the future. He is establishing schools for girls in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Greg believes strongly that you fight terrorism not with guns, but with books. Terrorism is ignorance played out to the max.

On the back of the book is this information:
“’Here (in Pakistan and Afghanistan), we drink three cups of tea to do business; the first you are a stranger, the second you become a friend, and the third, you join our family, and for our family we are prepared to do anything – even die.’” ~Haji Ali, Korphe Village Chief, Karakoram Mountains, Pakistan. The astonishing, uplifting story of a real-life Indiana Jones and his remarkable humanitarian campaign in the Taliban’s backyard.

“In 1993 a mountaineer named Greg Mortenson drifted into an impoverished Pakistan village in the Karakoram mountains after a failed attempt to climb K2. Moved by the inhabitants’ kindness, he promised to return and build a school. ‘Three Cups of Tea’ is the story of that promise and its extraordinary outcome. Over the next decade Mortenson built not just on but fifty-five schools – especially for girls – in the forbidding terrain that gave birth to the Taliban. His story is at once a riveting adventure and a testament to the power of the humanitarian spirit.”

Tom Brokaw wrote this about the book: “Thrilling … proof that one ordinary person, with the right combination of character and determination, really can change the world.”

Greg Mortenson works through his nonprofit Central Asia Institute (CAI). As of 2009 he had established eighty-one schools … amazing … truly amazing.

A lengthy quote from page 310:
“Bashir (Brigadier General Bashir Baz) paused to watch a live CNN feed from Baghdad. Staring at a small video window inset into the flight manifests scrolling down his monitor, Bahsir was struck silent by the images of wailing Iraqi women carrying children’s bodies out of the rubble of a bombed building.

“As he studied the screen, Bashir’s bullish shoulders slumped, ‘People like me are America’s best friends in the region.’ Bahsir said at last, shaking his head ruefully. ‘I’m a moderate Muslim, an educated man. But watching this, even I could become a ‘jihadi.’ How can Americans say they are making themselves safer?’ Bahsir asked, struggling not to direct his anger toward the large American target on the other side of his desk. ‘Your President Bush has done a wonderful job of uniting one billion Muslims against America for the next two hundred years.’

“’Osama had something to do with it, too,’ Mortenson said.

“’Osama, baah!’ Bahsir roared. ‘Osama is not a product of Pakistan or Afghanistan. He is a creation of America. Thanks to America, Osama is in every home. As a military man, I know you can never fight and win against someone who can shoot at you once and then run off and hide while you have to remain eternally on guard. You have to attack the source of your enemy’s strength. In America’s case, that’s not Osama or Saddam or anyone else. The enemy is ignorance. The only way to defeat it is to build relationships with these people, to draw them into the modern world with education and business. Otherwise the fight will go on forever.’”

A great insight into a difficult situation by someone who cares deeply about the outcome … and is a friend to America and all that it stands for.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

A little Southern-style humor for today

I believe that God put humor and laughter into our DNA, but as we become adults we run the risk of losing those heavenly traits. And, since I married a woman with deep southern roots – 5th generation Floridian – and I went to college in Nashville and Atlanta – I found these items about southern thinking gifts from heaven to go along with our DNA!

Alabama: The Sheriff pulled up next to the guy unloading garbage out of his pick-up into the ditch. The Sheriff asked, 'Why are you dumping garbage in the ditch? Don't you see that sign right over your head'. Yep', he replied. 'That's why I'm a dumpin it here, cause it says 'Fine For Dumping Garbage'.

Louisiana: A senior at LSU was overheard saying... 'When the end of the world comes, I hope to be in Louisiana.' When asked why, he replied he'd rather be in Louisiana because everything happens in Louisiana 20 years later than in the rest of the civilized world.

Mississippi: The young man from Mississippi came running into the store and said to his buddy, 'Bubba, somebody just stole your pickup truck from the parking lot!' Bubba replied, 'Did you see who it was?' The young man answered, 'I couldn't tell, but I got his license number.'
Georgia: A Georgia State trooper pulled over a pickup on I-75. The trooper asked, 'Got any I. D.?' The driver replied, 'Bout whut?'

Tennessee: A man in Tennessee had a flat tire, pulled off on the side of the road, and proceeded to put a bouquet of flowers in front of the car and one behind it. Then he got back in the car to wait. A passerby studied the scene as he drove by and was so curious he turned around and went back. He asked the fellow what the problem was. The man replied, 'I got a flat tare.' The passerby asked, 'But what's with the flowers?' The man responded, 'When you break down they tell ya to put flares in the front and flares in the back. Hey, it don't make no sense to me neither.'

Arkansas: 'You can say what you want about the South, but I ain't never heard of anyone wanting to retire to the North.

Quote for today: Through humor, you can soften some of the worst blows that life delivers. And once you find laughter, no matter how painful your situation might be, you can survive it. ~Bill Cosby

Friday, March 4, 2011

In celebration of Women's History Month

When you get to heaven who are some of the first people you are going to look for? … and why? Are any of them women? Famous or familiar? This is Women’s History Month. The women of our lives – those who had a direct hand in shaping us, as well as those who changed the course of history – are all too often taken for granted. They waltz through life, touching our souls at the deepest levels and simply are taken for granted.

I’ve lived most of life in a house of women … even the dog was female. Now I sit back and marvel at the dynamic young women my two daughters have become. One is a mother to two amazing children (after all they are my grandchildren), but I am pleasantly surprised (not really sure why, but I am) as to the kind of mother she is - patient, caring, loving, self-sacrificing. They other daughter is hard working with a passion for doing a good job. Both of my daughters are on my list of sheros.

Then you have my spouse of 45 years – a testimony to her forgiving spirit because a lesser individual would have taken me, a long time ago, to the tallest mountain and simply pushed me off telling God that I slipped. But, there she is stilling walking beside me, dealing with my twisted and stubborn personality … and still loving me regardless … maybe that is where my daughters got their caring spirit. My spouse is also on my sheros list.

I have others still living that are on my sheros list – one is a fantastic mother and a great host as she and her husband host an annual party at their lake house every year … she is just like her parents. Then there is a person with a PhD – smart just like her daddy and mother – and hopefully one day she will author a book that I have suggested. Just two individuals, among thousands, of sheros that have been brought into my life over the years that are influencing and helping to shape others.

The individuals that I particularly desire to talk with when I get to heaven are Mother Theresa, Joan of Arc, Eleanor Roosevelt, Rosa Parks, Florence Nightingale, and Helen Keller to mention just a few. My actual list is long and quite varied.

But the greatest sheros are individuals that neither you nor I would know. There are so many individuals of the female persuasion that influenced, shaped, guided, and directed our lives – individuals whose names and images will never be known to us. Their names and history will never be recorded in any history books. And, in most cases, they went to their graves without any recognition or words of thanks … and yet they were there making a impression on us and we didn’t even know it.

Too all those women – famous and not so famous – thank you for your investment in this old preacher and what you did for the people who came in contact with you. You deposited a little bit of your spirit and personality in our lives and we have never been the same since. You are our sheros! Thank you for being!

Quote for today: A hero is no braver than an ordinary man, but he is brave five minutes longer. ~R.W. Emerson – I’m sure that Mr. Emerson would have used inclusive language if he were writing today.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

On the anniversary of The Star-Spangled Banner

Today is the 80th anniversary of the Star-Spangle Banner, our national anthem. As many have discovered it is a rather difficult anthem to sing. While living in DeLand we would attend some of the Stetson University baseball games with our friends Sam and Dawn. Sam in employed at a military defense supplier and was a distinguished military veteran. He always shouted the same thing after the invited singer finished singing the national anthem, “Great job. Thank you” regardless how well it was sung.

My favorite story concerning the singing of the anthem came from Robert Merrill, the operatic star with a tremendous voice. He was attending a New Yankees baseball game and the individual who had been invited to sing the anthem didn’t show. The announcer invited everyone to stand and join in singing the national anthem.

Robert stood up with everyone else and added his great voice to those around him. As he shared on the Merv Griffin show, after it was all over and people were re-taking their seats the man right in front of Mr. Merrill turned around and said, “Big deal!” If he had only known whom he had just listened to …

Happy anniversary Star-Spangle Banner! May you continue to bring lumps to throats as you challenge the best singers in our land to cover the wide range of your notes. Oh, by the way, one of the weird laws of our land … it is illegal to cheer at the end of the national anthem. Just a little crazy law … like the Florida law that I heard about yesterday: It is illegal for a single woman to skydive on Sunday.

Also, as we are in a national discussion concerning the budget crisis, I wonder how much would be saved if we stop the flyovers of military aircraft during the singing of the national anthem? While it is thrilling to see those jets and to feel their thundering sound, I have often thought, “what a waste of money.”

One last note concerns the lyrics to the national anthem. Here is what Francis Scott Key actually wrote in 1814. The Army and Navy had already adopted it as an anthem long before the United States Congress officially made it our national anthem in 1931. I wonder how many of us would mess up the lyrics if we were “required” to sing the entire anthem?

Oh, there was one more observation … why do singers feel it necessary to re-write the music by adding their own “twist” to the singing of the anthem? It is fine just the way it is … sing on America … sing on!

Oh, say can you see by the dawn's early light
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight's last gleaming?
Whose broad stripes and bright stars thru the perilous fight,
O'er the ramparts we watched were so gallantly streaming?
And the rocket's red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.
Oh, say does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

On the shore, dimly seen through the mists of the deep,
Where the foe's haughty host in dread silence reposes,
What is that which the breeze, o'er the towering steep,
As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?
Now it catches the gleam of the morning's first beam,
In full glory reflected now shines in the stream:
'Tis the star-spangled banner! Oh long may it wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

And where is that band who so vauntingly swore
That the havoc of war and the battle's confusion,
A home and a country should leave us no more!
Their blood has washed out their foul footsteps' pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave:
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

Oh! thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
Between their loved home and the war's desolation!
Blest with victory and peace, may the heav'n rescued land
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation.
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto: "In God is our trust."
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

Quote for today: by Minna Irving in “Betsy’s Battle Flag”
A nation thrills, a nation bleeds,
A nation follows where it leads,
And every man is proud to yield
His life upon a crimson field
For Betsy’s battle flag.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Life is precious handle it with care

As the “last call” was broadcast yesterday for the St. Petersburg policeman brought down in the line of duty – the third in just under a month – and with the sounds of the bagpipes playing the strains of Amazing Grace, I found myself sitting in my family room with a rather large lump in my throat and a tear or two running down my cheek. I was remembering a nephew, a firefighter who died several years ago under different circumstances.

Hadn’t really thought of David much in the years since his passing except just now and again like while addressing Christmas Cards or planning a Martin Family reunion. The similarities with yesterday’s funeral service caught me off guard. For David the bagpipes played as well and there was a “last call” for him. The parking lot was lined with other firefighters all in uniform, all saluting their friend and colleague for the last time.

David loved his son, loved being a firefighter, but there were other demons in his life that created an unbelievable mountain for him to scale. He tried. His parents provided all sorts of assistance. We could blame the divorce. It came as a surprise. It devastated him. But that would be too simple of an excuse for a complicated individual.

Our family had attended his wedding. A joyous occasion … a celebration of love and hope and promise. The fire trucks were all there then too, with sirens blaring, lights flashing and a false emergency call requiring David’s assistance pulling him away from his new bride and his honeymoon … just to the edge of the parking lot.

There was pride in his voice when he spoke of his son. The camping hunting trips where important to him. A time of sharing … a time of escape. He was also considering medical school because of his EMT training and experience. There was so much hope and promise.

He and his brother Michael attended our daughter’s wedding on their motorcycles, but they were leaving early the next morning to go visit their other brother, Kenny. They were both concerned for him because life was dealing him a raw deal. They thought they heard sounds of depression, sounds of anxiety, sounds of desperation. Their brother needed them. Who would have thought? Who could have imagined that within a very short period of time the “raw deal” would get the best of David and a life would end … too soon … too tragically.

It was just too sad … too sobering … and yesterday, in the quietness of my home the memories came pouring back upon my spirit and flooded my soul. It did cause me to offer a quick prayer for each living member of my family asking God to keep them safe. I resolved to try to keep in better contact with all of them no matter where they are or what I am doing.

Life is precious and the people in our life are God’s gift to us … we should never take them for granted because we never know when the “last call” will be given for them and the strains of Amazing Grace will be heard as their life is remembered.

Quote for today: When we face difficulties, we sometimes forget God's past faithfulness. We see only the detours and the dangerous path. But look back and you will also see the joy of victory, the challenge of the climb, and the presence of your traveling Companion who has promised never to leave you nor forsake you. ~Source Unknown

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

And the winner is ...

“And the Oscar goes to …” and somewhere within the assembled masses gathered in that huge auditorium an individual rises from their seat, hugs a few individuals and walks down that aisle to the applause of those in the hall. There usually are a few who cheer them on, shouting their approval and admiration. It is truly a surreal experience that is both humbling and exhilarating – based on the shared remembrances of those who have made that walk, heard the applause and received the golden trophy.

Over time there are very few actors, directors, screenplay writers, composures, set and costume designers, and special effects creators that have had this experience. Every year there are thousands upon thousands of individuals who aspire to just be nominated let alone win, but alas, that experience is reserved for very few indeed. For those who do get nominated and/or win they will forever be recognized as an Oscar nominated or Oscar winner … even if their career never brings them to this particular threshold again.

As one of this winners stated, “It is truly a surreal experience to realize that your colleagues think that you are the best of the best.”

What is within our personality that would elevate us to the status of a winner … someone special … the best of the best? What adulations could be thrown our way that would make us feel that we have arrived? What would create in us the sense of a surreal experience that we have been approved, admired and loved beyond all others? And, why is that important to us?

These are self-esteem issues. Too many of us are running around with a false-face on for the world to see. The question is asked, “How is it going?” and our answer is always, “Fine, just fine. Everything is great!” even if all hell is breaking lose in our families. We’ve been taught, or at least I was taught, that we never, ever expose our dirty laundry to the public. We keep our “unmentionables” hidden from plan view. We are crying on in the insides, but smiling on the outside. Even to our closest friends – the very individuals that should have a ready ear and a shoulder to cry on.

My guess is that most of us are craving that kind of recognition from significant individuals that comes to Oscar winners … if we were truly honest with ourselves. Some of us choose to cover it up with addictions to alcohol or harder drugs, pornography, or other such psychological altering devices … all the while slowly dying within for someone to understand the painful journey that we find ourselves on.

“While we were yet sinners …” scripture reads, “Jesus came.” While we were yet far off … while we were yet hurting … while we were yet … Jesus loved us, accepted us, approved us, admired us … through his unbelievable love and actions he was saying that we are the best of the best … and the winner is (insert your name) and know that if you were the only sinner who had ever committed a sin, Jesus still would have come for the likes of you and would have still died upon the cross for your redemptions … if you were the only one. That makes you and each of us very special indeed … with or without a golden Oscar!

Quote for today: A winner says, "I'm good, but not as good as I ought to be"; a loser says, "I'm not as bad as a lot of other people." ~Source Unknown