Saturday, April 30, 2011

A simple story of an embarrassing situation and a caring spirit

Those who know me soon realize that I am an emotional train wreck. Be it something on TV or in the theatre, my emotions are very near the surface, especially when children are involved. Plus, I can get easily drawn into the drama of the situation, overly identifying with the characters with deep empathy. So, when a story comes across my desk that involves children … well, you know I just have to share it!

We have all had a “Susie” in our life at one point or another. We might not have recognized what they did to help us out of a difficult and embarrassing situation, which is kind of sad that we didn’t recognize what these other individuals had done to assist us. The real question is have we had opportunities to be a “Susie” for someone else? Just read the story and you will understand …


Come with me to a third grade classroom ... There is a nine-year-old kid sitting at his desk and all of a sudden, there is a puddle between his feet and the front of his pants are wet. He thinks his heart is going to stop because he cannot possibly imagine how this has happened. It's never happened before, and he knows that when the boys find out he will never hear the end of it. When the girls find out, they'll never speak to him again as long as he lives.

The boy believes his heart is going to stop; he puts his head down and prays this prayer, 'Dear God, this is an emergency! I need help now! Five minutes from now I'm dead

He looks up from his prayer and here comes the teacher with a look in her eyes that says he has been discovered.

As the teacher is walking toward him, a classmate named Susie is carrying a goldfish bowl that is filled with water. Susie trips in front of the teacher and inexplicably dumps the bowl of water in the boy's lap.

The boy pretends to be angry, but all the while is saying to himself, 'Thank you, Lord! Thank you, Lord!'

Now all of a sudden, instead of being the object of ridicule, the boy is the object of sympathy. The teacher rushes him downstairs and gives him gym shorts to put on while his pants dry out. All the other children are on their hands and knees cleaning up around his desk. The sympathy is wonderful. But as life would have it, the ridicule that should have been his has been transferred to someone else - Susie.

She tries to help, but they tell her to get out. You've done enough, you klutz!'

Finally, at the end of the day, as they are waiting for the bus, the boy walks over to Susie and whispers, 'You did that on purpose, didn't you?' Susie whispers back, 'I wet my pants once too.'

May God help us see the opportunities that are always around us to do good.

Remember ... Just going to church doesn't make you a Christian any more than standing in your garage makes you a car.

Each and everyone one of us is going through tough times right now, but God is getting ready to bless you in a way that only He can. Keep the faith.

This prayer is powerful, and prayer is one of the best gifts we receive. There is no cost but a lot of rewards. Let's continue to pray for one another.

The Prayer:
Father, I ask You to bless my friends, relatives and those that I care deeply for, who are reading this right now. Show them a new revelation of Your love and power. Holy Spirit, I ask You to minister to their spirit at this very moment. Where there is pain, give them Your peace and mercy. Where there is self-doubt, release a renewed confidence through Your grace. Where there is need, I ask you to fulfill their needs. Bless their homes, families, finances, their goings and their comings. Amen.

Quote for today: The soldier's first article of faith is summed up nowhere more eloquently than in an 1865 letter from William Tecumseh Sherman to U.S. Grant: "I knew wherever I was that you thought of me, and if I got in a tight place you would come--if alive." ~Source Unknown

Friday, April 29, 2011

The Cross of Christ remains even after the glory of Easter's resurrection

The large ten-foot cross was deeply planted in the front of the church. Not much different than other churches in the community.

The cross was draped with the traditional purple cloth during the weeks of Lent. Not much different than other churches in the community.

On Good Friday the black material was hung over the arms of the cross and would remain there until early Sunday morning. Not much different than other churches in the community.

Then, come Easter morning and the black was replaced by the White drape in preparation for the soon to be gathering congregation and in celebration of Jesus’ resurrection. Not much different than other churches in the community.

Our church was slightly different from that point on since we left the cross with the white material in front of the church all through the 40-days of the season of Easter. A number of the members of the church would ask, “When are we going to take down the cross? We’re not Catholic or Episcopal.” Those were the two denominations in our city whose churches left the draped cross in their front lawns.

That is an interesting question isn’t it … When are we going to take down the cross? We are done with it. Time to move on. Let’s put it away for another year. It makes us uncomfortable. Let’s wrap it up soon and move on. Aren’t we dragging on this “cross thing” to long? It is a little tacky to still have it sitting there, much like leaving the Christmas lights on the house well into February.

There is something inside of us that causes us pause when we view the cross. It is better to make it a little trinket that we hang around our necks. Or, cover it with gold and place it on our altars. Or, carry a little silver one around in our pockets ... but, a large wooden cross in the front lawn of our church, something that we have to pass every Sunday to get to the sanctuary?

It seems to this old preacher that most of us would prefer the resurrection without the crucifixion. The empty tomb without the cross. Easter morning without Good Friday.

And yet, the cross remains, as the saying goes … as God’s plus sign in the face of our sin and rebellion. We cannot have the celebration without the sacrifice. There is no covenant with the shedding of blood. There is no Sunrise on Easter morning without the blackness and thunder of the six hours on Friday.

And so the Cross of Christ stood there for all of the 40-days of the Easter season draped in the white material of resurrection morning. We began to come to grips with its reality. It cast a large shadow across our lives. It helped us to understand the power of the Resurrection.

Quote for today: All heaven is interested in the cross of Christ, all hell is terribly afraid of it, while men are the only beings who more or less ignore its meaning. ~Oswald Chambers

Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Homeless, the Helping Hands Clinic and some Good Rules to Live By

It was the homeless of Gainesville that taught me what is really important in living out your days here on Earth. It is so easy to get caught up in the layers upon layers of “stuff” that happens along our journey. Interpersonal agendas get in the way. The weight of the material trappings of life becomes almost too heavy to carry. The homeless, as a general rule, travel light – one change of cloths, one pair of shoes, a bedroll, protection from the elements, enough food to stave off hunger, one cup of coffee a day, and every relationship is important … you never know when you might need someone to watch your back. They learn quickly as to who can be trusted and who is just faking it to look good to others. There is deep appreciation for small things – clothing in all sizes: men’s work pants & jeans, T-shirts, underwear & socks; women’s pants, shorts, blouses and underwear; deodorant, powder, hand sanitizer & bug spray; paperback books and reading glasses (all strengths); and financial or materials support for women’s program purchase of snacks/drinks/hygiene products … a kind word, a smile, and a thank you … in other words, a hand up.

The Helping Hands Clinic, which is a free clinic in downtown Gainesville which operates out of First UMC and is run by a caring individual, Randy Stacey. They are always appreciative of any assistance that individuals or groups can give – volunteers, financial support and/or gifts of the small things they give away each week. The doctors and interns from the surrounding hospitals and UofF’s school of medicine are great assets to what the clinic is trying to accomplish … to provide a hand up when an individual is down. Randy’s wife and helpmate, Cynthia, helped create this outreach ministry and lovingly provides the best medicine to any homeless individual … foot care. The feet of the homeless really take a beating. The need to take care of their feet is extremely important.

I thought of the homeless of Gainesville and of this outstanding ministry, which was nominated as one of President George Bush’s “1,000 Points of Lights,” the other day as I came across a set of “Good Rules to Live By”. I thought that I would pass them on while encouraging everyone who reads this blog to extend some assistance to an outstanding ministry.

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: People need people. Laurie was about three when one night she requested my aid in getting undressed. I was downstairs and she was upstairs, and ... well. "You know how to undress yourself," I reminded. "Yes," she explained, 'but sometimes people need people anyway, even if they do know how to do things by themselves." ~William C. Schultz

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Easter the transforming power of God to take us from forgiveness to forgetting

Disclaimer: I have often shared that my sermons (and now my blogs) are just a culmination of an ongoing conversation that God and I have been having about my spiritual walk ... and I am amazed by the number of people who show up on... Sunday morning (or now, click on my blog) to eavesdrop on that conversation. Today's blog is more so in that vain than anything that I have recently wrote. Just thought you would like to know. I needed to hear this message more than anyone else. It is a struggle.

Forgiveness is a challenging act of grace. Often is heard, “I’ll forgive, but I’ll never forget!” And thus the burden continues to be carried, the weight of which can destroy the one carrying the memory. The deeds done can be devastating and very destructive … both to the victim and the victimizer. Both individuals are carrying the burden and both can be destroyed emotionally, physically and mentally by the burden of memory.
General Oglethorpe once said to John Wesley, "I never forgive and I never forget." To which Wesley replied, "Then, Sir, I hope you never sin." Or, as Jesus shared when a woman caught committing adultery was brought to him for stoning, “He who is without sin cast the first stone.” (John 8:7) It is easy to harbor ill feelings for another. What these other individuals have done is probably mean spirited and deeply hurtful. And so we carry the burden. As long as we continue to carry the burden, we continue to be the victim and their bad behavior continues to have a direct effect upon us – in every aspect of our lives … no corner is left untouched … darkness in one aspect of our life brings darkness to everything else. It is hard and challenging to forgive completely, which means that we harbor no ill feelings for the one who victimized us, but necessary for our health – emotionally, physically and mentally.

The senior minister and a number of lay people participated in a prayer ministry, in one church where I was the associate pastor. This prayer ministry was one where they would counsel individuals and lead them through the various aspects of their life, praying for healing and wholeness at each stage. The deeper they went the more emotionally wrenching the sessions became. The last session, so I was told, was the one dealing with forgiveness and forgetting. Not everyone who went through the prayer ministry sessions made it through this last session because, as a general rule, we do desire to forgive, but do not want to forgive. And, we do not like to remember the hurt that we have inflicted on others … which is part of the process.

The Cross of Jesus stands as God’s reminder of the cruelty of sin and anger and the empty tomb stands as God’s reminder of the joy and possibility of forgiveness. Chuck Swindoll reports that a seminary student in Chicago faced a forgiveness test. Although he preferred to work in some kind of ministry, the only job he could find was driving a bus on Chicago's south side. One day a gang of tough teens got on board and refused to pay the fare. After a few days of this, the seminarian spotted a policeman on the corner, stopped the bus, and reported them. The officer made them pay, but then he got off. When the bus rounded a corner, the gang robbed the seminarian and beat him severely. He pressed charges and the gang was rounded up. They were found guilty. But as soon as the jail sentence was given, the young Christian saw their spiritual need and felt pity for them. So he asked the judge if he could serve their sentences for them. The gang members and the judge were dumbfounded. "It's because I forgive you," he explained. His request was denied, but he visited the young men in jail and led several of them to faith in Christ.

Could it be … just possibly … that God placed the victimizers in our lives so that they could experience for the first time in their life unconditional love? Could our paths have crossed so that they could hear the Good News of Jesus Christ from our lips? Could they have become involved in our life because God knew that there was something in both of us that needed to be healed? Could God have brought them into our lives because we each had something to give to each other? We don’t meet individuals by accident. God has a plan for their life and for ours. We need each other to fulfill that plan. Unfortunately, we each bring our history into any and every relationship which means all the bad stuff as well … and it is the bad stuff that causes one of us to become the victim and the other to become the victimizer. But, at some point the line should be drawn in the sand stating forever, let the hurt end now and the healing begin … let us forgive and forget.

In "The Christian Leader," Don Ratzlaff retells a story Vernon Grounds came across in Ernest Gordon's Miracle on the River Kwai. The Scottish soldiers, forced by their Japanese captors to labor on a jungle railroad, had degenerated to barbarous behavior, but one afternoon something happened. A shovel was missing. The officer in charge became enraged. He demanded that the missing shovel be produced, or else. When nobody in the squadron budged, the officer got his gun and threatened to kill them all on the spot . . . It was obvious the officer meant what he had said. Then, finally, one man stepped forward. The officer put away his gun, picked up a shovel, and beat the man to death. When it was over, the survivors picked up the bloody corpse and carried it with them to the second tool check. This time, no shovel was missing. Indeed, there had been a miscount at the first check point. The word spread like wildfire through the whole camp. An innocent man had been willing to die to save the others! . . . The incident had a profound effect . . . The men began to treat each other like brothers. When the victorious Allies swept in, the survivors, human skeletons, lined up in front of their captors (and instead of attacking their captors) insisted: "No more hatred. No more killing. Now what we need is forgiveness." Sacrificial love has transforming power.

Easter is about the transforming power of God if we would but allow it to take place and become a reality in and through us. I have shared in a number of sermons a “what if” situation … What if, when you die and arrive at the Pearly Gates, that St. Peter takes on the outward appearance of the individual (or race or religious type) that you hate, dislike or victimized you the most and its this individual who has the power to allow you to enter into Heaven? If that is true would each of us treat others differently now? Would we seek healing now … today? Even with that one individual that hurt us the worse? That one individual which generates the most painful memory?

Forgiveness is a challenging act of grace, but it is possible if we would but allow God to work his miracle of mercy in and through us.

Quote for today: Clara Barton, founder of the American Red Cross, was reminded one day of a vicious deed that someone had done to her years before. But she acted as if she had never even heard of the incident. "Don't you remember it?" her friend asked. "No," came Barton's reply, "I distinctly remember forgetting it." ~Source unknown

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Is Easter worth getting excited about?

Many years ago I was the associate minister under JF at First, South Miami. JF was a tremendous pastor, a caring administrator, but somewhat lacking when it came to the mastery of the pulpit. Oh, his sermons were well thought out, biblically based and well written … but they were read without much excitement. Our first Easter together he delivered one of his most exciting sermons of the entire year. After the service, as we were taking off our robes, I complimented him on a very exciting sermon. I will never forget his answer … “Well, Jim, Easter is almost worth getting excited about!”


In Matthew’s story of the resurrection, chapter 28, Jesus appears before Mary Magdalene and the other Mary and said, “Greetings”. All scholars, writing a commentary on Matthew 28:1-17, shared that “greetings” is too weak for the word Jesus used. Rejoice would be much better, especially within the context of the situation. Rejoice! It is worth getting excited about!

Rejoice - REJOICE – with every fiber of your being. With all of your energy, all of your might, all of your imagination … Rejoice … Shout it from the mountain tops; declare it through the city; let everyone hear the great news … REJOICE … something has transpired that is worth getting excited about.

A question was asked on Sunday, as it is every year, as to why there are those who come to church only on Christmas and Easter. I am one who isn’t afraid of putting my foot in my mouth so, a couple of years ago, I turned to one of my regular “C-and-Eers” and asked him directly why he only bothered to attend church on these two occasions, especially since he was a member of the church and a rather good financial supporter of its ministry (he was in the top 3% of givers). His answer gave me pause.

“Well, preacher, if the Good News is all that exciting then why don’t we pull out all the stops EVERY Sunday instead of just on these two special occasions?” He went on to point out that next Sunday there wouldn’t be any trumpets, the altar will be returned to the “same-old-same-old” arrangements, the choir will be half the size it was on Easter, there would not be anything special for the children and youth. He declared with some authority, “The church service will become nothing more exciting that a TV re-run!”

He was correct ... painfully correct. We save up our rejoicing for one spectacular day and then turn down the volume for the rest of the year. Is it really worth getting excited about? And if it is worth it, shouldn’t it be worth it every time we gather in his name?

Rejoice … Rejoice … maybe if the energy that each of us bring to worship would change then those who lead us in worship would increase their energy output and rejoicing would actually take place! So … rejoice … with every ounce of your being. Paraphrasing an old Vince Lombardi instruction, “Act like you’ve been (here) before (and are excited about being here again)!”

Or as Bill and Gloria Gaither wrote in their song, “Get all excited”:

Get all excited go tell everybody that Jesus Christ is King,
I said get all excited go tell everybody that Jesus Christ is King,
Get all excited go tell everybody that Jesus Christ is King,
Jesus Christ is still the King of Kings

Or is Easter simply an “almost-worth-getting-excited-about” event?

Quote for today: Dr. Seamands tells of a Muslim who became a Christian in Africa. "Some of his friends asked him, 'Why have you become a Christian?' He answered, 'Well, its like this. Suppose you were going down the road and suddenly the road forked in two directions, and you didn't know which way to go, and there at the fork in the road were two men, one dead and one alive--which one would you ask which way to go?'" ~Warren Webster

Monday, April 25, 2011

My favorite Easter story - Philip and a Leggs pantyhose container

My favorite Easter story …

Little Philip, born with Down's syndrome, attended a third-grade Sunday School class with several eight-year-old boys and girls. Typical of that age, the children did not readily accept Philip with his differences, according to an article in Leadership magazine. But because of a creative teacher, they began to care about Philip and accept him as part of the group, though not fully. The Sunday after Easter the teacher brought Leggs pantyhose containers, the kind that look like large eggs. Each receiving one, the children were told to go outside on that lovely spring day, find some symbol for new life, and put it in the egg-like container. Back in the classroom, they would share their new-life symbols, opening the containers one by one in surprise fashion. After running about the church property in wild confusion, the students returned to the classroom and placed the containers on the table. Surrounded by the children, the teacher began to open them one by one. After each one, whether flower, butterfly, or leaf, the class would ooh and ahh. Then one was opened, revealing nothing inside. The children exclaimed, "That's stupid. That's not fair. Somebody didn't do their assignment." Philip spoke up, "That's mine." "Philip, you don't ever do things right!" the student retorted. "There's nothing there!” "I did so do it," Philip insisted. "I did do it. It's empty. The tomb was empty!" Silence followed. From then on Philip became a full member of the class.

He died not long afterward from an infection most normal children would have shrugged off. At the funeral this class of eight-year-olds marched up to the altar not with flowers, but with their Sunday school teacher, each to lay on it an empty pantyhose egg.

Quote for today: The German theologian Jurgen Moltmann expresses in a single sentence the great span from Good Friday to Easter. It is, in fact, a summary of human history, past, present, and future: "God weeps with us so that we may someday laugh with him." ~Philip Yancey

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Hunting for Easter eggs and surprised by the Joy

The church is dark. Everything is draped in black. The world waits with anticipation. Tomorrow is only hours away. And we wait and wait and wait, but tomorrow will come. We won’t be as surprised as those first visitors to the tomb. They went expecting to find a closed and sealed tomb. All they wanted to do was pay their respect, properly anoint the body of their teacher and friend. But they were surprised by joy!

The sounds of joy today come from the children hunting for their Easter eggs. They will be surprised to find little plastic eggs with all kinds of goodies in side. I’m not sure who is more fun to watch, the children hunting for the eggs or the parents and grandparents standing on the sidelines watching it all transpire ... that will be me! But they are all surprised by joy … it kind of sneaks up on you.

One year the eggs were all hidden. I learned a long time ago to keep count of the number of eggs hidden. Tracy and Erin went to work first thing Easter morning and before too long found all the eggs or at least they thought they had. We counted the eggs many times. I double-checked the number that I had. One was still missing. All four of us searched the family room many times. We moved furniture, turned over cushions, removed many books from the bookshelves. My conclusion was finally that I had simply missed counted.

Three months later, sitting watching some television one of the girls mentioned a peculiar odor in the family room. We couldn’t imagine what it would be. As more days were added the odor got stronger and finally, we found the cause … the missing egg. Hidden treasurers after awhile begin to stink. Oh, the color of the dyed egg was still beautiful, but the smell …well, that was another matter.

Why is it so hard for people to discover the “hidden” treasure of Easter morning? Oh, they come to the churches in mass. There is actually a name for those who come on Easter and Christmas … they are called “C-n-E’ers” as in Christmas and Easter. They come, join in the celebration, shake a few hands, exchange a hug or two, listen to the sermon and the beautiful music, enjoy a free cup of coffee, but then they will go home having never really discovered the hidden treasure of resurrection morning. I’ve never been able to understand how they weren’t surprised by the joy … after all it was hidden in plain sight.

Maybe these individuals – and I include myself to some degree – do not really desire to find the Easter treasure because it would mean that they would have to change. That is hard work. We would rather stay buried in our miserable lives than move on to embrace the joy of a resurrected Jesus. Like the father who said, “I try really hard not to find all the hard boiled eggs because I hate what comes later … egg salad sandwiches!”

Could it be the same with Jesus … we just hate what comes later … changed lives … changed thinking … change in the way we think of others … change in the way we treat others … the need to forgive and love the unlovable … change is hard! But don’t you think that it was hard for Jesus to stay up on the cross? Don’t you think that it was hard being buried in the tomb? Don’t you think that it was hard changing from a dead teacher to a resurrected savior? It wasn’t as easy as we show it in our bathrobe-clad passion plays.

And yet, the eggs will continue to be hidden and the children (and adults) will be surprised by joy … and maybe, at a sunrise service or worship service somewhere an individual will be surprised by the joy and make a discovery of a life time!

Quote for today: Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition, when infinite joy is offered to us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in the slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased. ~C.S. Lewis

Friday, April 22, 2011

Good Friday - two hills called Calvary and Earth Day combined

If you go to Israel they will show you two different … very different … hills called Mount Calvary or Golgotha. One is seen near a very noisy bus station – actually the visitors stand at a fence to look at the hill and thus, overlooking the busy bus station. It has the “feel” of the hill what with the holes that could represent the eye socks and nose cavity of a skull.

The other is within the very ornate Church of the Holy Sepulcher. As you enter this large church the visitor’s line snakes in front of a piece of marble with a hole into which you are invited to place your hand. It is believed to be the place where Jesus’ cross was placed during the crucifixion. Then, just a few steps away, you enter a small shrine that is built over the place of the tomb.

Two very different locations. Two very different experiences. One ornate and governed, or protected as they are fond of sharing, by several different religious orders. One very dirty, very noisy, and in the middle of the hustle of life. Most Holy Land pilgrims prefer the church setting – after all it is special, has a feeling of some place special, is recognized by the church as important and makes for some very beautiful pictures ... the other place not so much.

And yet, I lean towards the hustle and bustle place. Oh, it doesn’t make for good picture taking. It is drab and boring. It is hard to focus what with all of the noise and the honking of horns and the fumes from the buses and the shouting of the crowds waiting for their buses … and yet, isn’t this the very place Jesus’ death on the cross was meant to impact?

If Calvary doesn’t impinge itself on the reality of our daily existence it has no power … no importance … no meaning but, most of us what to religiously purify the cross and the crucifixion. Some how it becomes more acceptable if we place around it the trappings of the church and religious observances. If we place enough gold, silver and tapestry … and always an over abundance of candles … it becomes something that we can handle … and in the long run do not need to change much about our living. But the other one – too real, too raw, too me and you, too much about reality and living.

I also find it interesting that for this year, Good Friday happens on Earth Day ... what a better reminder that the redemption of the cross is for the entire earth could there be? Christ redeems our souls and then calls us to action. We in turn must redeem the Good Earth. He saves our souls, we save the planet. He takes away our sins, we take away the pollution.

What did he die for? Just to get us into heaven? Or was there more happening on the Friday so many years ago?

Quote for today: The message of Good Friday is that the dictum of "an eye for an eye" cannot work. The way to conquer evil is through good. Similarly, violence can be overcome only by non-violence and hatred by love. ~Source unknown

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Remembering a visit to the Upper Room

The busload of tourists stood in the middle of the unbelievable small empty room. It wasn’t what I expected. It was rather small which surprised me. Every other religious site, that we had visited so far, had been over seen by some religious group or order, but not this one. There wasn’t a charge to walk up the steps and enter this “holy” site. It still was just the upper chamber of a house. People lived downstairs. There was no altar, no candles, no bookstore filled with trinkets … just a empty, bare Upper Room.

First impressions can be a little misleading especially when they come loaded with anticipation. Actually the room was quite dirty. The windows were just openings in the wall. Through these windows birds would come and go, making nests in the corners of the room and leaving a few deposits on the floor, as well as the walls. Dirt, leaves, and some loose papers were spread throughout the room. And, yet, there we stood in what our Arab-Christian tour host was calling the Upper Room.

The skeptic in me began to create a hoax theory, but I’ve been to the Holy Land three times and on each of these visits have been shown the same room. And so there I stood this time thinking that this would have been an ideal place for the bus to celebrate Holy Communion, but that was on our schedule for later in the day at another site. So we stood shoulder to shoulder – I said it was small – and listened to the tour host’s speech. I’ve heard it all before … so, this time I closed my eyes and tried to shut out the noise around me.

I tried to imagine the events that took place in this holy place so many years ago. I tried to picture the disciples all reclining around the table spread with the foods and trappings of the traditional Jewish Seder meal. I thought of John Mark, of the Gospel According to Mark fame, nervous in the corner as Jesus and his followers used his upper room for this meaningful meal during Passover.

I also thought of Jesus speaking about the one who was about to betray him … and he wasn’t looking at Judas this time, but at me. The pain was almost greater than my soul could bear. Betray him? How could he think such a thing? Why does his eyes penetrate my soul with such burning compassion? Does he really know? Dare I even admit it to myself? Betray him? How often have I been guilty of betrayal this past year … the past week … within the last couple of hours? Hadn’t it been just too easy? But the compassion, love and acceptance were almost more than I could handle. I am not deserving of the grace and forgiveness … but, actually no one is and isn’t that the point.

Forgiveness, if it really is deserved, is it actually forgiveness? Forgiveness offered when it isn’t asked for … forgiveness given when it isn’t deserved … forgiveness shared when the offender may not even be aware of what they did … this kind of forgiveness is so divinely sweet, so powerful, so healing … How can anyone escape those eyes and words of forgiveness? And it all begins with symbols of body and blood, broken and spilled out for all those of us who didn’t know that we really needed forgiveness in the first place, let alone knew that in our little betrayals we helped crucify him.

We had to get back on the bus and head to our next religious site, but a part of me wanted to linger a little bit longer in the Upper Room … the healing was just starting to take root within my spirit. I had some unfinished work to be done between Jesus and me. As I walked down the stairs, I was the last to leave the room, I looked back and longed for the freedom to simply stay there in the Upper Room, but alas, like the disciples of old, there was a Garden to visit, a hill to try to understand and an empty tomb to experience.

Isn’t that just like God, always saying, “Okay, it is time to move on to the next stop on our spiritual journey” … have to be careful that we don’t stagnate or get caught up in the way stations along the journey, but it is nice to re-visit them once every now and again like the Upper Room … and I do in the breaking of bread and sharing of the cup … and I close my eyes and remember a small room above a dwelling in the land called Holy.

Quote for today: Maundy Thursday there is joy and strength, of course, in this holy food and drink, but it is also an inevitable joining forces with the vast Scheme of reconciliation and redemption. Now there is something in our natural selves that may well make us wary of such a contact. The man who in his heart intends to go on being selfish or proud, or who has already decided how far his Christian convictions should carry him, is probably obeying a sound instinct when he keeps away from this glorious but perilous Sacrament. For, if the truth be told, men are often willing to put their trust in a god who in the end must be triumphant, simply because they want to be on the winning side; but they are not nearly so ready to bear any part of the cost of that winning. Yet the fellowship of the broken bread and the poured-out wine can mean no less than that. ~J B Phillips

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

A reflection on the meaning of Holy Week

It was an earthshaking moment in history. No earthquake, regardless of the magnitude, moved the earth more drastically then that moment in history. It has been called “the hinge of history” by a variety of authors. Truly a cosmic event of the first order. It changed the literal course of history. The transforming power of a few days in the life of just one individual born to a virgin who was barely a teenager is breathtaking … especially when the realization is understood to be so personal, so intimate, so life changing.

From the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, to the confrontation in the Temple, to a small Upper Room, to long hours of prayer in a garden, to an arrest and trial, to a hill just outside the city, to a cross and nails and a hammer, to the agony of his death, to the sad burial in a borrowed tomb, to an empty tomb and the declaration of the angels … events that changed the world, upended agendas, transformed individuals and still remain a mystery to too many.

Within the course of three years, climax and summarized in one week, Jesus moves religion from a national understanding to a personal relationship. He moved it from rules and regulations to a note of grace and mercy. He moved it from restrictions and laws to an invitation to hope and promise. He moved from multiple sacrifices to one ultimate sacrifice … himself. He moved it from a faith for just a few to one wherein everyone in the entire world is embraced. It was truly a cosmic event.

And we still don’t get it!

We don’t get it as we think of our nation as God’s gift to the world. We don’t get it as we seek our political agendas. We don’t get it when we think that if we only had the repeating of the Lord’s Prayer in our schools everything would be okay. We don’t get it when we desire to restrict the freedom of others to worship as they desire because they happen to be Muslim and not Christians. We don’t get it when all we want to do is hang the 10-Commandments in our courtrooms without living out the reality of those commandments in our own lives. We don’t get it as we invoke the name of Jesus at our political gatherings and ask God to bless our nation without seeking the welfare of all of God’s people. We simply don’t get it!

When I see all of this religious posturing going on I kind of think of Yogi Berra, the famous catcher for the New York Yankees. It was the world series of baseball. Well, into the game, with the series tied, a batter comes to the plate, crosses himself and steps up to the plate to bat. Yogi asks for a time out. Stands up in front of the batter and symbolically rubs off the sign of the cross with his catchers mitt saying, “Let’s just let God watch the game!” So much of what involves our time and energy is of little importance to God and yet in dominates our days and wastes valuable time, as well as resources.

We are called into action – especially with the events of the final week called Holy. We are called to do things that we would not normally do. We are called to bear witness to the only one who can change lives. We are called to follow Christ even if it means a personal cross for ourselves. We are called … We are called to feed the hungry, cloth the naked, visit the sick, and take care of the homeless, widows and orphans, but we are not called to return neither our Christian faith nor our nation back into what the religious police of Jesus’ day were creating in Israel. We are called to be servant people. We are called to live out our days on the frontlines of the battle for the hearts and minds of all people.

We are called to be Kingdom people where Hallelujah is our song and life changes are the results.

Quote for today: It's a celebration of life over death. The whole message of Holy Week is the message of God to join him. ~Glenn Duffy

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

A reflection on Palm Sunday celebrations

Well, it happened again. It has happened for many, many years. The people gather. Children carry palm branches. Hosannas are sung. And the church celebrates Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. That is now, in the present, in the reality of the resurrection. We celebrate because we have read the conclusion to the story. We know how it ends. There are no surprises for us. It is our story. We own it. It is told again and again from memory. It has been embedded into the very fabric of our spirit. “Hosanna, blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.”

For the first century Jews in Jerusalem it took on a different meaning. They were an occupied country. Their land and cities were not theirs. The “ownership” was in the hands of others. Decisions were made not of their choosing. The desire for a savior was keen. They were looking for a hero, a leader, a person who would lead a revolt ... someone, anyone who would lead a revolution.

As Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey the people would have remembered others that came into their city in such manner. They would remember about 50 such riders … 50 such events … 50 days of hope and promise … 50 individuals who were going to save the country … 50 individuals who would lead them in a revolt … 50 who were greeted by palm branches, cloaks and shouts of praise, “Blessed is he who come sin the name of the Lord.”

Hosannas had greeted others. The people would remember the most successful of those who led successful revolutions, Judas Maccabeus. The year was 165 B.C. A zionist movement had started out of the Galilean region of Israel. They fought gallently. The victory was won and the Temple was restored to its original purpose. Sactified for Yahweh worship once again. “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord” greeted Judas Maccabeus.

And now another from the Galilean region. There is hope. Possibilities rest on his shoulders. Through this rabbi, teacher, healer, miracle worker, leader of men and women, this dynamic speaker … maybe we can reclaim our land, our country from the foreign occupiers. Revolution is just round the corner. It is right there on the horizon. “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” Let the celebration begin.

But, alas, those in Jerusalem on that original Palm Sunday missed the point. Jesus’ revolution wasn’t to restore the land, but to restore the person. It wasn’t a political revolution, but a change of the heart. It wasn’t for the purpose of sanctifing the Temple on Mount Zion, but the purifing the altar of the heart. Jesus expanded the scope and magnitiude of the relationship we had with the Almighty.

Did we miss it again this year? It was right there in plain view or did we get caught up in the palm branches and the singing of the Hosannas. Did our lives change? Were our eyes opened to Kingdom possibilities? Did we simply echo the ancient words of “blessed is he who comes”? Were we captured by the magnitiude of the revolution Jesus started with that simple ride into the city of Jerusalem? Did we get caught up in nation-building and lose sight of the Kingdom issues involved?

It was all there in plain view … “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”

Quote for today: Ride on, ride on in majesty! … In lowly pomp ride on to die; … O Christ, thy triumphs now begin … O’er captive death and conquered sin ~Henry Hart Milman

Monday, April 18, 2011

Prayer request for Christians in China

It is Holy Week. It is a time when all Christians throughout the world are united together with a single focus. The life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is foremost in our minds and our hearts. In that climate then may I call all those who read this blog to be in prayer for our sisters and brothers in China.

Here is a news report that appeared in the St. Petersburg Times newspaper this morning, Monday, April 18, 2011:

China: Forty-seven members of an underground Beijing church were detained Sunday and its leaders were kept under house arrest as part of a crackdown on the unregistered congregation, a U.S.-based rights group said. Jin Tianming, pastor of the Shouwang church, was detained by Beijing police Saturday night and released Sunday morning., Bob Fu, president of the China Aid Association, a Christian rights group, said in an e-mail. In an earlier statement, Fu said some church members had lost their homes or jobs amid an official campaign to shut down the church. While China’s Constitution guarantees freedom of religion, Christians are required to worship in churches run by state-controlled organizations.

As the Savior unites us, may our prayers be united together for those who are suffering for their faith!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Too busy for a friend? ... A simple story this Palm Sunday weekend

We live in a very busy world. All of us are simply too busy … but if we are too busy for a friend then we are too busy. I came across this story and felt that this Easter each of us should go out of our way to tell someone they are special and why.

Too Busy for a Friend?

One day a teacher asked her students to list the names of the other students in the room on two sheets of paper, leaving a space between each name.

Then she told them to think of the nicest thing they could say about each of their classmates and write it down. It took the remainder of the class period to finish their assignment, and as the students left the room, each one handed in the papers.

That Saturday, the teacher wrote down the name of each student on a separate sheet of paper, and listed what everyone else had said about that individual.

On Monday she gave each student his or her list. Before long, the entire class was smiling. "Really?" she heard whispered. "I never knew that I meant anything to anyone!" and, "I didn't know others liked me so much," were most of the comments.

No one ever mentioned those papers in class again. She never knew if they discussed them after class or with their parents, but it didn't matter. The exercise had accomplished its purpose. The students were happy with themselves and one another. That group of students moved on....

Several years later, one of the students was killed in Viet Nam and his teacher attended the funeral of that special student. She had never seen a serviceman in a military coffin before. He looked so handsome, so mature.

The church was packed with his friends. One by one those who loved him took a last walk by the coffin. The teacher was the last one to bless the coffin.

As she stood there, one of the soldiers who acted as pallbearer came up to her. "Were you Mark's math teacher?" he asked. She nodded: "yes." Then he said: "Mark talked about you a lot."

After the funeral, most of Mark's former classmates went together to a luncheon.

Mark's mother and father were there, obviously waiting to speak with his teacher. "We want to show you something," his father said, taking a wallet out of his pocket "They found this on Mark when he was killed. We thought you might recognize it."

Opening the billfold, he carefully removed two worn pieces of notebook paper that had obviously been taped, folded and refolded many times. The teacher knew without looking that the papers were the ones on which she had listed all the good things each of Mark's classmates had said about him.

”Thank you so much for doing that," Mark's mother said. "As you can see, Mark treasured it."

All of Mark's former classmates started to gather around. Charlie smiled rather sheepishly and said, "I still have my list. It's in the top drawer of my desk at home."

Chuck's wife said, "Chuck asked me to put his in our wedding album."

"I have mine too," Marilyn said. "It's in my diary"

Then Vicki, another classmate, reached into her pocketbook, took out her wallet and showed her worn and frazzled list to the group. "I carry this with me at all times," Vicki said and without batting an eyelash, she continued: "I think we all saved our lists"

That's when the teacher finally sat down and cried. She cried for Mark and for all his friends who would never see him again.

The density of people in society is so thick that we forget that life will end one day. And we don't know when that one-day will be.

So please, tell the people you love and care for, that they are special and important. Tell them, before it is too late. It can make a difference in your relationship with people. Remember, you reap what you sow. What you put into the lives of others comes back into your own. May Your Day Be Blessed As Special As You Are.

Quote for today: Good things are being said about you! ~Fortune cookie

Friday, April 15, 2011

Communications - hearing and understanding what God is saying

Communication is difficult at best. “Can’t we just talk?” often comes up in any and every relationship … at least those that are most important. But, talking is not communicating. Not really because, what I say, what I actually said, what I thought I said, what you heard, what you actually heard and what you think you heard are all different. Clarification and verification is important … the process is called feedback. Most of what passes for communication is nothing more than act and re-act. I’m guilty of this most of the time, as are most husbands and wives.

Transfer this over into our relationship with God and we can begin to understand why we often get confused as to what God is communicating to us. Little sound bits come at us at breathtaking speeds and some how we are to sort them all out, filtering out the non-essential, meaningless stuff and allowing God’s voice to be heard above all else. It would be so simply if God would simply set us down and say, loud and clear, “this is your heavenly father speaking to you … listen to what I am about to say, it is important.” But he doesn’t.

God’s word comes to us in a variety of ways – through the created universe, through his written word, through Jesus himself, through those spirit filled individuals who populate our world. It can and often does get confusing. Our desires and wishes all too often get in the way of hearing his message.

Thus was the case with a couple that I was counseling. They (or should I say, she) were trying to determine what God wanted them to do in their life. Neither was happy in their present jobs and they were praying earnestly for some guidance from God. Within this context his brother calls from Las Vegas with a plea, “I’m swamped with too much work and desperately need your help. Can you guys move to Las Vegas? I’ll make you a full partner in the business if you will.” “Well,” I asked, “are you going to take him up on his offer?” “No,” she replied with a lot of determination and authority, “surely God doesn’t want us to move back to Las Vegas!” End of story, but they had been praying about a change of jobs for more than six months, they had enlisted the prayers of their church, they were seeking God’s guidance through this entire matter, but since God’s answer wasn’t exactly what they were looking for the answer was rejected. It didn’t fit into their plans.

God’s answers usually do not fit into our plans. They often require us to move outside of our comfort zone and to move in a direction that makes us uncomfortable. In a conversation with a young person who was starting to feel the call to ministry, I suggested that, at his age, he should go to seminary. That would mean that he would have to finish his undergraduate degree first. His desire, and the easier course of action – the path of least resistance – was simply a “course of study” offered by his denomination. Going back to college was not in his plans. God had clearly spoken, but was quickly rejected. God’s plans didn’t fit into his plans. But, this young person still seeks God’s answers for his life.

This next week is Holy Week, a most meaningful time in the life of the church and in the life of most seekers. Each day brings us closer to resurrection morning. Our path will take us through the Upper Room, into the garden of Gethsemane, by the hill called Calvary, into the burial place now standing empty … each step of the way God will be speaking. He will be speaking clearly and forthrightly. His message will be drowned out by our agendas, our “to do” lists, our preparation for the celebration … and still he speaks the message that has been communicated over thousands of years. There is new life to be found here! There is hope and purpose to be realized in relationship with him! There is direction and understanding to be found … if we would but listen …

Quote for today: I know you believe you understand what you think I said, but I'm not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant. ~Source Unknown

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Is THE Bunny really winning the day?

Something happened on the way to the Easter celebration. The Bunny took over. Let me explain.

Shopping recently in one of those large box stores for some Easter greeting cards I found that out of ten display sections of Easter cards there was only 1 devoted to religious themes. The ratio of 9:1 – Bunny to Resurrection – was kind of disturbing. The Bunny has taken over the day!

I’m not so disturbed about Santa Claus running away with Christmas. After all most of the trappings for Christmas have been adopted from the pagan culture. Within the context of Christmas the church has taken over the various worldly celebrations or as one observer of the church/culture clash said, “The church simply has tried for centuries to cash in on a good thing.” There is a single trappings of Christmas that was originated by the church. They all have been adopted from the surrounding pagan culture. But what happened to Easter?

Easter was the churches celebration. There wasn’t anything within popular cultural celebrations that came anywhere near the glorious news of resurrection and life, but somewhere along the way the Bunny took over.

Oh, I agree that come Easter morning the sunrise services will be packed, the church pews filled and the world will once again stop to remember what happened at that garden tomb centuries earlier. The choral voices will raise the beautiful strains of the Hallelujah Chorus and preachers will share one of the most exciting messages men and women have ever heard. One of the senior pastors I worked with always preached his best sermon on Easter morning. After complimenting him one year about this sermon he said, “Well, Easter is almost worth getting excited about.” Hmmm … but, on the way to resurrection morning the Bunny has taken over.

Eggs will be colored, candy bought, baskets filled and a new pair of shoes bought. I will place around my neck my traditional Easter necktie of the Wizard of Oz. Some have found my tie rather strange for Easter until I take the time to explain the religious images found within the entire Oz series of stories. Families will gather for an Easter celebration lunch or dinner, photos taken … and, Easter 2011 will be celebrated. But, who will get the most attention: Christ or the Bunny?

Growing up it seemed that the emphasis was solidly placed on Christ and resurrection. The Orange Bowl was packed with early risers who gathered in the dark for the glorious pageantry of one of the most breathe taking sunrise services I can remember. The combined choirs of hundreds of churches throughout Miami joined their voices together to sing in the dawning of a new day. Youth groups would come as groups to sit in the chilled air to wait with anticipation for the story to be told once again. Some would come in their Sunday best because they would be going directly to their church’s worship services following the hour presentation, while others would come in shorts or jeans or whatever. But they would come, people of all races and nationalities, to one place for one celebration to hear the glorious message of Easter.

But now … not so much … the Bunny has taken over.

Presently there is a delightful and popular movie in the theatres, HOP. I haven’t seen it yet, but probably will before the week is out … but it is about a bunny … THE Bunny. I will be looking, searching to see if there is any slight message of resurrection, new life, hope, forgiveness, sacrifice, anything that could be slightly related to Easter and Jesus. I don’t want the Bunny to win the world over. Oh, I enjoy the candy … probably a little too much … but the rest they can have. I will take the resurrection story any day of the week and, although the Bunny is cute and cuddly, the power of resurrection and new life is needed today more than ever.

Quote for today: The resurrection gives my life meaning and direction and the opportunity to start over no matter what my circumstances. ~Robert Flatt

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Reflections on forgiveness

Our lives are like a roof.

The clubhouse didn’t look like it needed a new roof. Some asked why are we spending the money. That money could be spent on other things that we need much worse than a new roof. We signed the contract. When the perfectly good shingles came off it was discovered that much of the plywood along the section under the trees was rotten. They even had to rebuild one of the trusses that was starting to rot away. The roof looked great, but looks can be deceiving. The perfectly good shingles were covering some potentially damaging problems.

Our lives are like a roof.

Deep in the inner workings of our soul damage could be lurking, eating away at the fabric of our heart, taking away a little at a time the structure of our spirit. The rotten portions are called negative feelings. Oh, I am sure that each of us has legitimate reasons for our feelings. We were treated badly … even with meanness. They made our life a living hell. They were unfair. There were hurtful words said. We were taken advantage of, mistreated, abused. We earned the right to be angry, to hold the grudge. We don’t want to see them, be in the same building or even be anywhere near them. And the negative feelings simply eat away at the fabric of our heart and destroys the structure of our spirit a little at a time.

Our lives are like a roof … and negative feelings are destructive. The outward appearance might appear to be good, but little by little a negative thought here and a negative thought there begins to destroy us internally. We do not become aware of the destruction until it is too late. Heart problems. Cancer. Emotional and mental illnesses. Addictive dependency on drugs or alcohol. The structure of our spirit is destroyed. The physical damage has been done. All because we allowed a negative thought to be harbored within the core of our being.

Peter came to Jesus with a question about forgiveness (Matthew 18). "Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother (and sister) when he sins against me? Up to seven times?" Peter wasn’t prepared to hear Jesus’ answer nor are we … “Not seven times, but seventy-seven times” or unlimited forgiveness. But Lord, you don’t really know what they did to me! Lord, you don’t understand how much it hurt me. Lord, did you hear what they said about me? And the Lord said, “But I do know and I did hear. My instructions have not changed. And, by the way, you are speaking to the individual who hung upon a Roman cross, nailed there by mean spirited, hate-filled individuals. In other words, forgive them and move on.” And in the background there echoed his words from that cross, “Father, forgive them for they know not …”

Forgiveness doesn’t mean that you have to invite them over for drinks and dinner. Nor go out of your way to socialize with them. Forgiveness doesn’t mean that they have to accept the responsibility of their action. Forgiveness doesn’t mean that they have to acknowledge your forgiveness. They don’t have to apology, say they are sorry, try to undo what they have done. But forgiveness … well, yes, that is a requirement for healthy living … and it is hard, extremely hard … but it is your “roof”.

Our lives are like a roof … it might appear to be in good shape, but the damage is taking place under the outward appearance. Allow it to go un-repaired and it will come tumbling down around you. Or, take preventive action (i.e. forgiveness) and get on with healthy and wholesome living. After all … it is your “roof”.

The world is filled with individuals who are simply waiting to be forgiven as illustrated in this little story from the small magazine “Bits and Pieces” … There's a Spanish story of a father and son who had become estranged. The son ran away, and the father set off to find him. He searched for months to no avail. Finally, in a last desperate effort to find him, the father put an ad in a Madrid newspaper. The ad read: Dear Paco, meet me in front of this newspaper office at noon on Saturday. All is forgiven. I love you. Your Father. On Saturday 800 Pacos showed up, looking for forgiveness and love from their fathers.

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

Monday, April 11, 2011

From frozen by fear to freed by faith - Peter's journey and ours

Peter, as reported in the Gospel of Luke 22, first affirms his commitment to Jesus and then later on, after Jesus had been arrested, denies his relationship or even knowledge of Jesus not once or twice but three times. You can almost hear the exchange: “Peter before tonight is over you will swear that you do not know me.” “You’ve got to be kidding! Me, Peter, your best friend, one of the original followers, the one you shared the experience on the mountain, deny that I know you. I will never, ever do that. To my dying day I will affirm my relationship with you. You can count on me!” Famous last words.

The arrest comes. A trial occurs. The cross looms. Peter would be guilty by association. Frozen by fear the denial takes place. A cockcrow’s three times. Peter remembers.

What fears freezes us in our tracks? As young parents it could be the safety of our child – he/she isn’t where they are suppose to be, a call didn’t come, we cannot find them. We are frozen by fear. We fear that some harm might come to them. Cars hit children at play. Bad men and women take little children. Illnesses can grow into something major. We are frozen by fear.

As teenagers we long for acceptance, for approval, to just fit-in, our self-esteem is all screwed up. We are frozen with fear that nobody will like us, that we will be laughed at, made fun of. Some live in fear of being bullied. Am I man enough? Am I woman enough? Peer pressure grows. We fear failure. We fear rejection. We fear ridicule. We are frozen by fear.

We haven’t felt well for a few weeks. We make a doctors appointment. She examines us, runs us through a full set of tests. “We’ll call you with the results,” is what they say, but several days later the phone rings and we hear, “You better come in.” We are frozen by fear.

We are frozen by fear over pink slips, layoffs, downsizing. We could lose our income, our home. Foreclosure looms in the near future. Fear grips us as our “nest-egg” shrinks in a bad economy. We won’t have enough during our retirement years. We are frozen by fear that our spouse will die before we do or even worse one of us has to go into a nursing home. We are frozen by fear.

We are not really sure why Peter denies knowing Jesus, but I’m pretty confident that the Roman Cross might have something to do with it. A horrible, painful way to die. Nobody wanted that in their near future. It probably would be Peter’s future … guilt by association. All we know is that he was frozen by fear and ended up denying his knowledge and relationship with Christ.

Jesus offers Peter forgives in the conversation by the lake over some fried fish, “Peter do you love me?” (John 21). Not once, not twice, but three times the question was asked and Peter responded. Three times. Was it because of the three denials? “Do you love me?” And underlining the question is the affirmation that Christ loves Peter … and with love comes forgiveness.

Peter was to play a major role in the development of the followers of Christ after this encounter. A significant role. Peter moves from frozen with fear to freed by faith. The resurrection can do that to you. When confronted with the living crucified Savior all fear is dispelled, the Sun shines brighter, new horizons loom, all is forgiven, forgotten, forever! A new person emerges from the old. The veil is rent in two. All is revealed. Peter and us are freed by faith!

Oh, what a glorious journey. Oh, what glorious hope. Oh, what wonderful grace. Oh, love that will not let me …

Quote for today: Sometimes the Lord calms the storm. Sometimes he lets the storm rage and calms his child. ~Unknown

Saturday, April 9, 2011

The Ultimate Social Network

Truly it is a small world in which we live and it seems to be getting smaller every year.

Just yesterday an e-mail came in. An individual had Googled one of Miami Edison Senior High School’s most popular teachers, Uncle Jimmy Hudson. Uncle Jimmy was my homeroom teacher and an individual that I have mentioned on occasion in my blogs. This individual’s search eventually connected him to me.

We shared a couple of e-mails. He too was in Uncle Jimmy’s homeroom. We had just missed each other. He graduated in June and I came to Edison that September. But, wait, there is more! He lived just down the road from my church in Tampa when I was the pastor there. He presently lives in Pasco County not very far from a UM church that a young pastor from my Tampa church had founded … but, here is the clincher, his brother was the student body chaplain during my senior year. His brother and I had several classes together over the three years of high school. It is a small world.

In the days of Jesus’ time on earth the world seemed a lot smaller. In fact, if you start linking the disciples to each other (which I have done in a teaching situation about friendship evangelism) they all knew each other prior to dropping whatever they were doing to follow Jesus. They all knew each other except Judas. He was the only disciple that was not connected through life’s circumstances to the others.

The lesson here is that we are all connected. Like the 6-degrees of separation which links everyone to everybody else regardless of who the other individual might be … we are connected and if connected then we have the possibility of influence. We can and do influence others. The question is this … will we bring them to Jesus? Like the disciples who knew each other and ultimately brought each other to the point of following Jesus so can we.

Take an inventory of the people you are already connected to. Take note if they are participating in the life of a church – participating is the key – not just a member somewhere. Membership doesn’t count for much. Participating, involved, actively working on their relationship with Christ through a body of believers is the determining factor.

Have you ever wondered why God placed you where you are presently living, connected to the individuals that you are presently connected to? God has a purpose. Nothing is by chance. As the old song goes: “You bring the one next to you and I will bring the one next to me and before too long we will have them all …”

And we will … if we pay attention to the connection … because we live in a very small world!

There was a reason that I was placed in Uncle Jimmy’s homeroom – 3-years of influence, 3-years of a quite caring witness, 3-years of his smiling loving face, 3-years that changed my life because of his Christian witness, 3-years of his friendship evangelism … 3-years. Was I the only one so influenced? I would greatly doubt that because God doesn’t place such an individual of greatness in a school classroom without using him year after year after year to win the more. It is a small world, by God’s design. Talk about a social network … if the world only knew, but hey, that’s why God placed us within the context of the network so that they WOULD know!

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

Friday, April 8, 2011

Integrity, family and the Masters Golf Tournament

If I had a choice between fame and fortune verses integrity and family … well, I would choose integrity and family every time. Hands down. No debate. And, so I choose my sports heroes with the same criteria.

In the Georgia town of Augusta there sits a beautifully manicured golf course with tall Georgia Pines and Azaleas in full bloom. Along these hollowed links will walk the world’s best golfers this weekend all with the same desire … a green jacket and the title the Masters champion.

In times past people of all sorts were honoring Tiger Woods. It is true that Tiger had it all – more titles, tons of money, a never ending string of endorsements and the desires of many young golfers to be just like him. But there was something lacking. He had the drive, the desire, the skills, but the core values, which define and guide any individual, were askew. I admired his ability and if the truth would be known, envied his life a little … or at least the “stuff” of that life.

But … and that is a larger BUT … the individual that truly had my attention through it all was and still remains, Phil Mickelson. This gentle giant of the golfing pros had the integrity and a deep commitment to family. He liked people. Took time to speak with those in the gallery. Would pay attention to the children and youth along the course. Loved to talk with strangers, even while playing. He was relaxed and enjoyed the walk … sorry, Mark Twain, in Phil Mickelson golf wasn’t a good walk wasted! He had integrity and in my book, that always comes first. Phil had his priorities straight.

So, come Sunday afternoon, I probably will be sitting in front of my TV, especially if there is hope that Phil will still be in the hunt, watching the final round of the Masters. Oh, his skill level might not be at the level that Tiger’s once was – the last 18 months have been kind of painful to watch as Tiger continues to slip out of contention in most of the tournaments, but Phil’s ability to weave together his professional life and his personal life has been amazing. It is integrity, it is family, and it is discovering what is important in life and holding true to that discovery.

Phil Mickelson is my sports hero! Thank you Phil for being who you are!

Quote for today: Scientists now say that a series of slits, not a giant gash, sank the Titanic. The opulent, 900-foot cruise ship sank in 1912 on its first voyage, from England to New York. Fifteen hundred people died in the worst maritime disaster of the time … The most widely held theory was that the ship hit an iceberg, which opened a huge gash in the side of the liner. But an international team of divers and scientists recently used sound waves to probe the wreckage, buried in the mud under two-and-a-half miles of water. Their discovery? The damage was surprisingly small. Instead of the huge gash, they found six relatively narrow slits across the six watertight holds … Small damage, invisible to most, can sink not only a great ship but a great reputation. ~USA Today, April 9, 1997

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Morning has broken

Good morning world! We greet the dawning of a new day with anticipation. As the Sun rises in the east so our joy rises with the Savior.

Morning has broken and we are each transformed into something new, different, refreshed from the nights rest ready to greet the day under the direction of God.

Morning has broken and with a fresh voice we join the heavens as a chorus of love and grace fills the skies.

Morning has broken, the past is the past and our future lies before us filled with possibilities and hope, filled with promise and mercy, filled with the Kingdom of God … morning has broken and it is ours for the taking.

Morning has broken
Like the first morning,
Black bird has spoken
Like the first bird.
Praise the singing!
Praise for the morning!
Praise for them springing
Fresh from the Word!

Sweet the rain's new fall
Sunlit from heaven,
Like the first dewfall
On the first grass.
Praise for the sweetness
Of the wet garden,
Sprung in completeness
Where His feet pass.

Mine is the sunlight!
Mine is the morning.
Born of the one light
Eden saw play!
Praise with elation,
Praise ev'ry morning,
God's recreation
Of the newday!

An interesting little aside concerning this hymn. When I was on the staff at a church in Decatur, GA. I was given the rare privilege of preaching one morning. I picked this particular hymn as my closing hymn because of the context of the sermon, but when I showed up Sunday morning I discovered that the secretary of the church had changed the order of the hymns and had placed this hymn first. When I asked her way she changed it she said, "Well, I thought you had made a mistake because we always sing this hymn as the opening song."

Quote for today: Through the blackest night, morning gently tiptoes, feeling its way to dawn. ~Robert Brault

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

A litany of being called, even with many faults and failings

Oh, Lord, how can I serve you I have to many faults.
My child, Noah served me and he was a drunk.

But, Lord, I am getting up in years, I’m old and my joints are painful.
Remember how old Abraham was when he led the people out of Egypt.

Well, yes Lord, but I also have a tendency to be lazy.
Well, child, Isaac too was a daydreamer, but he found a purpose.

Dear Lord, you don’t really understand. I have difficulty with the truth.
Yes, and so did Jacob.

I look in the mirror and see far too many faults in how I look.
Leah was considered ugly, but consider how I used her.

My past is too painful, the abuse and bullying was just too much!
That too should not get in the way after all look at Joseph and how he was abused.

Okay, Lord, but I cannot speak very well.
And your point is? Remember, Moses had a stuttering problem

I am gripped by fear and trepidation that I might do something wrong,
Oh, beloved, Gideon was afraid also, but he trusted me.

Lord, you know my faults they are just too many to mention. How can you use me?
I specialize in calling people with faults and failings. Consider that Sampson was a womanizer, Rahab was a prostitute, Jeremiah and Timothy were too young, David had an affair and was a murderer, Elijah contemplated suicide, Jonah ran away from me, Job was bankrupt, Peter denied my son, Martha fretted about everything, and all of the disciples fell asleep while praying. And, they all served me and my kingdom!

Oh, Lord, I do have many faults, but if you think that I can still be of service to you then here I am … send me … send even me!
Good, thank you for desiring to serve within my kingdom. Just remember, I don’t choose the perfect only the willing.

Amen and Amen

Quote for today: God doesn’t call the qualified, he qualifies the called. ~ Dean Naadler

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

There shall be showers of blessing

“April showers brings May flowers” has been a favorite of many gardeners for years. This short poem, that can trace its history all the way back to the 1500s, is a reminder that unpleasant things of life like the torrent of water of April that can dampen any day, as well as cause gloom to fall upon any happy soul, will bring about the beauty and brilliance of flowers – always a thing of joy for even the most negative of spirits. It is a reminder that behind every cloudburst there is something of beauty just waiting to spring forth.

Today’s blog actually started in my mind as one of my Facebook questions … “Where would you like the showers of God’s blessing to fall upon your life today?” As I began to think about it the answer came … EVERYWHERE … soak me through-and-through … don’t leave one little corner of my life dry … God, send your shower today and may it never stop!

And then I remembered an old gospel song that my first congregation introduced me to in the late 1960s. Over the years I have found myself breaking forth with the refrain when things seem to be going a little tough or, at a moment of great blessing like the birth of our children or the adoption of our youngest. The first Sunday in the new sanctuary at First UMC, Hudson was another occasion. It had been a labor of love, but a difficult journey for most of us for a variety of reasons. On that first Sunday were we had standing room only we were about 10 minutes into the service when the heavens opened up and a torrential downpour took place. On the spur of the moment, without any planning, I broke forth into this song. It just seemed like the right thing to do …

There shall be showers of blessing:
This is the promise of love;
There shall be seasons refreshing,
Sent from the Savior above.

Showers of blessing,
Showers of blessing we need:
Mercy-drops round us are falling,
But for the showers we plead.

There shall be showers of blessing,
Precious reviving again;
Over the hills and the valleys,
Sound of abundance of rain.

There shall be showers of blessing;
Send them upon us, O Lord;
Grant to us now a refreshing,
Come, and now honor Thy Word.

There shall be showers of blessing:
Oh, that today they might fall,
Now as to God we’re confessing,
Now as on Jesus we call!

There shall be showers of blessing,
If we but trust and obey;
There shall be seasons refreshing,
If we let God have His way.

And so, as we have been promised a shower or two today, from this little corner of Florida, if you listen very carefully you will hear at least one voice being raised to the heavens praying for a shower of God’s blessings to fall upon us all today … soaking us to the very core of our being.

Quote for today: One morning R.C. Chapman, a devout Christian, was asked how he was feeling. "I'm burdened this morning!" was his reply. But his happy countenance contradicted his words. So the questioner exclaimed in surprise, "Are you really burdened, Mr. Chapman?" "Yes, but it's a wonderful burden--it's an overabundance of blessings for which I cannot find enough time or words to express my gratitude!" Seeing the puzzled look on the face of his friend, Chapman added with a smile, "I am referring to Psalm 68:19, which fully describes my condition. In that verse the Father in heaven reminds us that He 'daily loads us with benefits.'" ~Source Unknown.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Discovering a blind eye to certain people

Last week my soul was troubled … deeply troubled. It continues to amaze me as to how quickly people, even total strangers, can stir my soul and cast oil upon the sea of my spirit. I think that I am optimistic, probably overly optimistic, as people have told me. There is a high level of expectation that I hold out for everyone that I meet … from the automobile repair shop mechanic, to the carpet cleaners, to the sales clerk, to the passing stranger in the pew. I trust everybody and believe that everybody is going to do the right thing.

Illustrations from my life would indicate that every individual couldn’t be trusted and will steal from you or lie to you if given a chance. I refuse to be cynical. I refuse to allow their negative energy to take root in my heart. I just refuse and yet, it continues to creep in when I least expect it, thus, my troubled soul of last week.

It began with a conversation that I had with the president of our homeowners association. The lies or half-truths began last January. Initially I simply passed them off as misspoken thoughts, but the number have grown since then until I finally had to confront her – gently and with concern. No one has ever called her to task or confronted her on any issue and I caught her wrath. This will be a most difficult year if I continue to serve on the board.

Then Friday we were shopping at one of the box department stores. At the food counter a gentleman came up and asked for a glass for some water. He and I ended up walking out of the store at the same time and I noticed that he had filled his cup not with water but with a fountain drink. “Sir,” I said, “I believe that you failed to pay for your drink.” “Mind your own business!” he declared. “If you steal from the store you are stealing from me since I shop here and the prices go up in order to pay for what you do not pay for.” “Oh, go away. Mind your own business.” “So, are you saying that you are a thief?” “No, I was going to pay for if I liked it, but I don’t like it so I am not going to pay for it,” stated the gentleman as he got on his bike. “Well, then, if you don’t like it let me throw it away for you.” I will not print what his next declaration was as he road off into the evening.

I’m sorry, but I don’t like being disappointed by individuals that I know and am supposed to trust nor do I like being disappointed by total strangers! Period – end of story … right? Well, not really … at least not until yesterday morning as the pastor took us to the table of the Lord for communion.

The gospel lesson was from Luke 9:1-11. It is the story of Jesus healing the blind man with a little spit and mud. I began to ask myself where am I blind? To whom am I blind? I don’t see life from the perspective of the president of our homeowners association. Why does she have a need to always be right? Why does she have a need to micro-manage every little detail and every individual who just happens to be in her life? What am I miss here?

And the gentleman at Target … my first thought was that he was simply a homeless individual, but I’ve worked with homeless individuals most of my ministry and he didn’t have any of the characteristics. He was simply an individual trying to get something for nothing. These type of people are all around us, in every store, in every neighborhood. But, somehow I missed something in him … and I missed the opportunity to witness to the love of God for him regardless of his behavior. I simply, in that golden opportunity, turned a blind eye to him and his situation.

Dear Lord, open my eyes that I may see … truly see … the people that you are bringing across my path … open my eyes!

Quote for today: Judgments prevent us from seeing the good that lies beyond appearances. ~Wayne Dyer

Saturday, April 2, 2011

You took my parking space at church

In every church in every corner of the world there are individuals who have “staked” their place and their seat among the gathering family of God … and Lord, help the individual who “takes” their place. In my Jacksonville church one couple even went so far as to purchase their own hymnal engraved with their names, made some back cushions again with their names on them and two little footrests with their names. If anyone sat in their seats – visitor or member – they would simply declare out loud, “Well, we cannot worship today because someone is sitting in our seats!” They were an extreme case I know, but every church has their own set of peculiar apples in the bushel.

As we prepare for worship tomorrow here is something to think about. Do we have a place that we consider “ours”? Do we sit in the same seat every time? Do we only talk with the same people every Sunday? Are there individuals that we do not know and do not take the time to get to know? If a visitor came into our church would we recognize them as a visitor? Do our neighbors even know that we attend church? Do they know in whom we believe? Do they know that we follow a risen Savior?


One day, a man went to visit a church, He got there early, parked his car and got out. Another car pulled up near the driver got out and said, "I always park there! You took my place!"

The visitor went inside for Sunday school, found an empty seat and sat down. A young lady from the church approached him and stated, "That's my seat! You took my place!"

The visitor was somewhat distressed by this rude welcome, but said nothing. After Sunday school, the visitor went into the sanctuary and sat down. Another member walked up to him and said, "That's where I always sit! You took my place!"

The visitor was even more troubled by this treatment, but still He said nothing. Later as the congregation was praying for Christ to dwell among them, the visitor stood up, and his appearance began to change. Horrible scars became visible on his hands and on his sandaled feet. Someone from the congregation noticed him and called out, "What happened to you?"

The visitor replied, as his hat became a crown of thorns, and a tear fell from his eye, "I took your place."

Quote for today: Lord, please keep your Arm around my shoulder, and your hand over my mouth. ~Source unknown

Friday, April 1, 2011

A parent's reflections on the death of your child

Maybe it is because I’ve lost a child. Maybe it is because that lost child was a son. Maybe it is because my heart was broken and life shattered. Maybe it is because I had to learn the hard lesson that life has to go on. There are a lot of “maybes” involved here, but yesterday, sitting in the darken theatre as “The 5th Quarter” rolled across the screen; I was transported back to another time when death came visiting.

I identified with Mr. Abbate. I probably overly identified with the characters because I normally do. Oh, our sons were different ages. Mine was just 4-days from his 9th birthday; Abbate’s was in high school. Mine was just starting to show interest in sports, Abbate’s was a star on the football team. Mine died because of cancer, his died because of a stupid driving decision of a fellow student. But the story took me back to the pain that is so deep that you begin to think that it will never leave. The never ending questions, the “what ifs,” the “if onlys,” the self-doubts, the “was there something that I could have done”. No matter how often you visit these questions and think that they have been put to rest, there will still be a moment in the present when they all come rush back.

A poem was used in telling the Abbate family story. It is by Edgar Guest. Mr. Guest was not a great writer, but he was my mother’s favorite. She had a small red volume of his poems that now rests in my library. Like my mother, I have read the poems in this little book many times. They never failed to bring comfort, calm, insight and understanding to whatever I was facing at the moment. I thought it strange that I didn’t remember this poem.

As the poem was read in the movie – kind of an overlay as the mother was dealing with her grief – I felt the volcanic grief welling up within begin to calm once again and peace return. I offer it here for all parents who are dealing with the grief of losing a child.

To all Parents ~Edgar Guest

"I'll lend you for a while a child of mine," He said.
"For you to love the while he lives and mourn for when he's dead.
It may be six or seven years, or twenty-two or three,
But will you, till I call him back, take care of him for me?
He'll bring his charms to gladden you, and should his stay be brief,
You'll have his lovely memories as solace for your grief."

"I cannot promise he will stay; since all from earth return,
But there are lessons taught down there I want this child to learn.
I've looked the wide world over in My search for teachers true
And from the throngs that crowd life's lanes I have chosen you.
Now will you give him all your love, not think the labor vain,
Nor hate Me when I come to call to take him back again?"

"I fancied that I heard them say, "Dear Lord, Thy will be done!
For all the joy Thy child shall bring, the risk of grief we run.
We'll shelter him with tenderness, we'll love him while we may,
And for the happiness we've known, forever grateful stay;
But should the angels call for him much sooner than we've planned,
We'll brave the bitter grief that comes and try to understand!"

Quote for today: The death of a child is the single most traumatic event in medicine. To lose a child is to lose a piece of yourself. ~Dr. Burton Grebin