Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The transformational power of the gifts of the Holy Spirit - Galatians 5:22-23 with a story and an observation

SCIPTURE: Galatians 5:22-23 – I particularly love how Eugene Peterson paraphrased these verses in The Message:
But what happens when we live God's way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard - things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely. Legalism is helpless in bringing this about; it only gets in the way.

THE STORY:
Phillip Keller in his book: “Gardener Looks at the Fruits of the Spirit,” has a beautiful way of describing what can happen in the life of a Christian. The Christian who makes himself available to God’s working can grow from unresponsive, even resistant rocky soil to become a beautiful garden.

He describes how his father acquired 110 acres of desolate stony land on a high ridge in the heart of Africa. His earliest childhood impressions of his father were of a tough, demanding man who was hard on himself and others and difficult for God to handle just like the barren land littered with stones and boulders weighing hundreds of pounds. Frequently the soil around these rocks is very fertile. He watched as his father using teams of oxen virtually tore thousands of stones from the ground. Where the stones had lain he planted thousands of trees – fruit trees, coffee trees, firewood trees, and ornamental shrubs. Gorgeous gardens and luxuriant pastures replaced what had previously been desolate land.

AN OBSERVATION:
It would seem to this old preacher that the 21st Century church has decided that we do not need the Holy Spirit and his gifts … or at least it seems that we go out of our way to ignore his presence and the tremendous gifts that he is so ready to bestow upon us.

Maybe it is our need to be in control? Maybe it is our desire to make our own way? Maybe it is fear that we will end up loving people that we would rather not love, forgiving people that we wish the worst for, and doing “stuff” that we would much rather just leave up to others to do?

And yet, as the story illustrates, it is right there under the “rocks” of our “maybes’ lies the richer soil. Our lives could be an eye catching, head turning, people talking kind of beautiful garden, instead of a “field” filled with ugly “rocks” …

It is our choice!

PRAYER:
Help us to change, oh Holy One, help us to change! Amen

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Romans 12:2 and sowing seeds for peace with an insight, an observation and a prayer

Today I am letting you in on an ongoing struggle that I have had with myself these many years. Thanks for listening in on my internal conversation.

SCIPTURE: Romans 12:2 (NIV)
Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is--his good, pleasing and perfect will.

INSIGHT SHARED BY AN UNKNOWN AUTHOR:
This fragile looking gospel of suffering love looks absurd next to the offerings of the world – where atomic energy, mighty armies, vast industrial systems when totaled together add up to the sum which would indicate the final security and thus the final solution. But like the standing priest who repeatedly offers the endless line of sacrifices to our present sins, the world has been offering the same solutions to our very human predicament since the beginning of time with little results. When will we listen to another voice – the voice of the Lamb.

After the Berlin Wall came down and after the Iron Curtain was ripped to shreds a hand painted sign was observed propped up against a shuttered East German church. It simply read: The Lamb Wins!

AN OBSERVATION ... STRUGGLE:
It is just too easy to give into the conventional wisdom of today and go along with the majority way of thinking, such as kill the terrorists, hunt them down, get them before they can attack us again. It is just too easy to lump all Muslims together and declare them and their faith as evil, mean spirited, deadly, hate filled. It is just too easy to buy into the old way of think of an “eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth”.

But what does this gain us?

The world has been down this very path that even the historians have a hard time keeping track. As the old adage states: Might doesn’t make right. Just because we have the power doesn’t mean that we should exercise it. Just because someone has done/shown an evil in our direction doesn’t, or at least shouldn’t, mean that we “get back”.

This turning the other cheek stuff is hard … absolutely, painfully, challenging hard! We could scream: It’s not fair! And we would be right. It isn’t fair, but God didn’t call us into a personal relationship with him through Jesus Christ so that things would become fair … and everything in the world would automatically become peaceful and tranquil.

God called us into this relationship to lead … to show them there is another way … a better way … to help others understand that there is only one way for lasting peace. It is the way of the Lamb.

We have tried it the worldly way – we have conformed to the world’s standards … so, why not try it God’s way by first allowing our minds, hearts and souls to be transformed by God’s power. And then, who knows, maybe the East German sign against the boarded up church would become a reality for the entire world … THE LAMB WINS!

PRAYER by Saint Francis of Assisi
Lord, make us instruments of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let us sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is discord, union;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.
Grant that we may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Finding real joy in this life - Psalm 19:8 with a story, an observation and a prayer

SCRIPTURE: Psalm 19:8 (NIV)
The precepts of the LORD are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the LORD are radiant, giving light to the eyes.

THE STORY:
Harry O. Ritter shares the legend of a comfort-loving man who died and was borne to the other world where every wish was gratified. No effort, no struggle was required of him. He became bored and said: “I can’t stand this everlasting bliss any longer. I want to feel there are things I cannot have. I want to go to hell.” The attendant replied: “And where do you think you are sir?”

AN OBSERVATION:
Have you ever really thought about what would make you happy? I mean really, really happy? This has started to cross my mind more often lately.

My partial list of what individuals seem to think would make them happy are: winning the lottery, have a higher paying job, living in a bigger house or having a house paid for, larger bank account, some drastic changes in their spouse, children, grandchildren, a larger church, more staff, less health worries, a thinner waist line, more leisure time, a nicer car, closer relationship with ones parents or children, someone to clean their house, a second home in the mountains, a RV, extra time and money to travel, etc. I am sure that you can add to this list from your own personal experience.

One of my mentors in the ministry was Wallace Chappell. He told the story of a beauty contest winning teenager who was also president of her student council at high school, drove a beautiful shiny car, and essentially had every wish that she could imagine bestowed upon her by her parents. In bitter tears she shared with Rev. Chappell, “I wish my parents would tell me ‘no’ just once.”

The grass isn’t always greener on the other side. It just seems that way until you start living on the other side.

Our real joy and fulfillment doesn’t come from having more, but growing into a deeper relationship with God through Christ. Out of that ongoing relationship our strength radiates and fills the longings of our heart.

PRAYER:
Help me God to long for nothing more than a deeper relationship with you. In Jesus’ name I ask this. Amen

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Learning to Slowdance, a poem

When I came across this poem it reminded my of the “The Singer Trilogy” by Calvin Miller ... not really sure why, it just did. It is a good reminder that most of us just are living our lives too fast. Over the last week it has been heard numerous times … “Where has the summer gone? Cannot believe that school as already started!” But still our lives get over committed and our day-timers become filled with “stuff” that we just feel we “have” to do. Maybe it is time to pull up a chair, open a book, pour a glass of wine and relax … or even better – just pull up the chair and watch the world pass by. Maybe, just maybe we need to learn how to do a Slowdance!

S L O W D A N C E by Davic L. Weatherford

Have you ever watched kids on a merry-go-round?
Or listened to the rain slapping on the ground?

Ever followed a butterfly’s erratic flight?
Or gazed at the sun into the fading night?

You better slow down don’t dance so fast
Time is short the music won’t last

Do you run through each day On the fly
When you ask “How are you?” Do you hear the reply?

When the day is done, do you lie in your bed
With the next hundred chores running through your head?

You’d better slow down don’t dance so fast
Time is short the music won’t last

Ever told your child, We’ll do it tomorrow?
And in your haste, not see his sorrow?

Ever lost touch, let a good friendship die
‘Cause you never had time to call and say “Hi”?

You’d better slow down don’t dance so fast
Time is short the music won’t last

When you run so fast to get somewhere
You miss half the fun of getting there.

When you worry and hurry through your day,
It is like an unopened gift….Thrown away…

Life is not a race. Do take it slower
Hear the music before the song is over.

Friday, August 26, 2011

John 13:34-35 with a story and an observation about being in the people business

SCRIPTURE: John 13:34-35 (The Message)
"Let me give you a new command: Love one another. In the same way I loved you, you love one another. 35 This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples - when they see the love you have for each other."

THE STORY by Peter Hay, “The Book of Business Anecdotes”
In the 1950s, marketing whiz Stanley Arnold was working at Young & Rubicam, where he was asked to come up with a marketing campaign for Remington Rand. The company was among the most conservative in America. Its chairman at the time was retired General Douglas MacArthur. Intimidated at first by a company that was so much a part of America, Arnold also found in that phrase the first inspiration for a campaign. After thinking about it, he went to the New York offices of Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner and Beane, and placed the ultimate odd-lot order:

"I want to purchase," he told the broker, "one share of every single stock listed on the New York Stock Exchange." After a vice president tried to talk him out of it, the order was finally placed. It came to more than $42,000 for one share in each of the 1098 companies listed on the Big Board at the time. Arnold now took his diversified portfolio into a meeting of Remington Rand's board of directors, where he argued passionately for a sweepstakes campaign with the top prize called A Share in America. The conservative old gentlemen shifted around in their seats and discussed the idea for a while. "But Mr. Arnold," said one, "we are not in the securities business." Said another, "We are in the shaver business."

"I agree that you are not in the securities business," said Arnold, "but I think you also ought to realize that you are not in the shaver business either. You are in the people business." The company bought the idea.

AN OBSERVATION:
The church is in the people business … or we are in no business at all. People should be front and center to everything that we say and do. We are not in show business. We are not in the entertainment business. We are not in the business of building a complex of buildings. We are not in the business of impressing people with a “Wow” factor plus 10. We are in the people business.

If it means that we can gather more people, touch more lives, change more souls by doing all those other things then more power to the church. But we should never loose sight of our primary focus – people!

It would appear that certain situations are built upon the notion of bring glory to the pastor and/or the institutional church (denomination) instead of introducing them to Jesus Christ. If the focus is just a little off … then the result will be decline and ultimately death for the church.

Some people are determined to keep their church small as illustrated by a recent statement from a church member, “Preacher, I hope that we don’t get too big like those other churches. We want to keep it small and intimate.” Interesting … but, as I shared with him, we are in the people business. How can we be in the people business and limit our growth. The two ideas cannot co-exist. We either want to stay small and intimate OR we want to be in the people business. It would be great if we could make up our mind instead of having a split personality.

Jesus was definitely about people. That’s what got him into trouble with the religious leaders of his day. Their desire was to preserve the institution; Jesus was about freeing the people. Their desire was to keep the rules and regulations; Jesus was about meeting the people at the point of their greatest need.

Jesus was in the people business … can we do less?

PRAYER:
It is easy gracious Lord to get lost on the way of fulfilling your purpose for us. The other things are just too easy and oh, so demanding. They grab our attention, demand our time, require much of our resources and they are the expectations of too many. It is easy to get distracted, but help us to keep our focus on the people and their spiritual needs. In the name of the ultimate people person, Jesus Christ himself. Amen.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Scripture (Matthew 25:24f), a story, an observation and a prayer about the hungry of our world

SCRIPTURE: Matthew 25:24, 35, 38-40 (NIV)
"Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance … For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, … "Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?' "The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'

THE STORY by Lewis L. Dunningham
A certain gentleman was being conducted on a tour of the other world. On reaching the nether regions he was greatly surprised to find the people all seated at a banquet table loaded with appetizing food. On the wall was the one law of the place – strictly enforced. Everyone must use the knives and forks provided by the management. But the tools of service had such long handles that no one could get a morsel of food near his mouth. They were all starving to death. And that was hell! In the celestial city our visiting friend also found the people seated at banquet tables loaded with the same food and holding the same long-handled forks. But they were having a delightful time. They were feeding each other. And that was heaven!

OBSERVATION:
The nightly newscast takes to another part of the world and brings into our living rooms the starvation of a whole nation. Somalia stands as the symbol of devastating hunger on a scale that literally staggers our minds. We have no way in wrapping our minds around the situation. The pictures of those little boys and girls haunt us. And we wonder what can we do – the need is so vast and we are only one person.

Our cities are filled to overflowing with the homeless, the needy and the hungry. The numbers grow every week. We see them on the street corners, in the parks and around the shopping centers. And we wonder what can we do, after all we are only one person.

And yet, we are one! We can provide a cup of coffee, a hamburger or maybe a fast food meal coupon. We can provide financial assistance to the vast number of helping agencies that are in foreign situations trying to meet the human need on our behalf.

We don’t have to solve the problem, but we do have to respond. How can we not?

PRAYER:
We must admit, O Eternal Father, that it is easy to ignore the hungry of the world, of our community, of our town … if we just do not look. Forgive us for turning our heads, diverting our eyes, turning the TV to a more pleasant show. The problem overwhelms us and we stagger under the sheer thought of the people being effected by starvation. Forgive us for throwing perfectly good food away, for consuming too much, for taking it all for granted. Direct our faith to begin to do something … anything … regardless of how small. This we ask in the name of Jesus. Amen.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Scripture (Psalm 119:36), a story, an observation and a prayer on selfishness

SCRIPTURE: Psalm 119:36 (NIV)
Turn my heart toward your statutes and not toward selfish gain.

THE STORY by Frederick Keller Stamm, “The Conversations of Jesus
There is an (Asian) story which relates the experience of a man who cried out of the depths of hell, making a plea to the gods for release. The gods asked him what good he had done in his life. All the man could remember was that, while walking in the woods one day, he saw a spider and did not kill it. At once the thin, silvery thread of a spider web was let down to him in hell. Seizing it eagerly, he was slowly being lifted out of his misery. Whereupon, his fellow sufferers, seeing him about to escape, clutched his garment and his feet, and all were lifted up together. But the man, fearing the web might break, cried, “Let go! Let go!” Alas, when they did let go, the thread broke, and all fell back together. In short, the thread was strong enough to lift all together, but it could not bear the heavy burden of a selfish soul.

OBSERVATION:
We learned the lesson early and continue to repeat it every day of our life. It is the lesson of how to be self-centered. But, first, this disclaimer – there is a big difference between pride and self-centeredness. BIG DIFFERENCE. We should take pride in who we are and what we are able to accomplish. We shouldn’t boast in what we accomplish, but we should take great pride in the reality of our abilities and those things that we do well.

Actually, we should only boast in the Lord!

Selfishness is another matter totally. Unfortunately we hear it a lot in the church. “I want,” “I desire,” “I wish,” “I think,” – it is all about me, myself and I. We insert these wishes as if the body of Christ is simply there to meet our selfish desires. And the thin silvery thread will break … and we will wonder why the church and us fail to be better, more successful, more blessed, more fulfilled, more complete.

There’s no “I” in discipleship except at the point of surrender and service. If we truly desire to live a blessed and fulfilled life then we need to get ourselves out of the way and allow Christ to live through us becoming the servant of all.

PRAYER:
Gracious Lord, we struggle with our self-identity. We struggle with self-actualization. We struggle with trying to meet the requirements of some old tapes that keep running through our mind. We struggle and in our struggle we continually come back to the “me” in the middle of the struggle. What we want, what we desire, what we think keeps on getting in the way of allowing you to shine through us, to live in us. Help us to become more “other” centered and less “self-centered,” in the name of the one who emptied himself for the world, namely Jesus Christ himself. Amen

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

A scripture (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18), a story, an observation and a prayer on the power and need for prayer

SCRIPTURE: 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (NIV)
Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.

THE STORY: by D.C.E.
After the American Civil War, E. M. Bounds became pastor of a church in Franklin, Tennessee. A year earlier, he had ministered as a chaplain to confederate troops at the Battle of Franklin, one of the bloodiest of the war.

A young man in the church named E. M. Haynes, who later became President of Asbury College, wrote that when Bounds came to Franklin he found the church in a wretched spiritual condition. Realizing the deep need of the people, he gathered a half-dozen men and met with them every Tuesday night for a year to pray for revival. They got down on their knees and prayed for themselves, for the church, and for the town. “God finally answered by fire,” wrote Haynes. “The revival came down without any previous announcement or plan, and without the pastor sending for an evangelist to help.” It lasted about 6 weeks and brought tremendous spiritual healing.”

E. M. Bounds later wrote, “The Power of Prayer,” a much loved book that was born in part out of his experience at Franklin, Tennessee. Many of us are dismayed by the apathy and worldliness in our churches and in our own hearts. Perhaps it’s time to pray for revival.

OBSERVATION:
Is it my imagination or is it reality … people today (myself included) as well as today’s church doesn’t spend enough time in prayer. We are too busy, stretched too thin, running in a thousand directions all at the same time. It appears that we are overworked and overscheduled. Our day-timers are so filled with all sorts of activities that we barely have time to grab a bite to eat. We seldom get a good night sleep. We run through the varied activities of the day ending the day exhausted ... just like we started it.

Prayer? Maybe a bless-him or them, here and there ... maybe a thank-you-for-the-food … maybe a now-I-lay-me-down-to-sleep … but real, meaningful prayer … on our knees … heartfelt … soul stretching … emotion driven … prayer? Probably not. And we wonder about the state of our church and our world today!?!

PRAYER:
Eternal Father, we claim to be believers, but we ignore regular and meaningful conversations with you. We like to identify ourselves as followers of Christ and yet, are barely on a first name basis with you. We take some pride in being a believer, but hardly spend any real time with you, one-on-one. Slow us down, help us to prioritize our activities and bring us to the point so that our time with you is the most important activity in our day. In the name of the one who makes direct access to you possible, Jesus Christ himself. Amen.

Monday, August 22, 2011

A scripture, a story, an observation and a prayer based on Matthew 11:28 and the ideal of real rest

SCRIPTURE: Matthew 11:28 (The Message)
"Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you'll recover your life. I'll show you how to take a real rest.”

STORY: by C. F. Andrews, “Christ in the Silence”
The story is told of Hugh Macmillan in ‘The Daisies of Nazareth” of a highland shepherd on a lonely moor who had been infirmed for many years and blind. He was so crippled with rheumatism that he could not stir from his seat beside his lowly peat fire. As he was sitting thus one day, a kindly visitor asked him whether the hours, which he spent in this manner, were not weary, and spoke of the blessedness of heaven. The old shepherd answered simply; ‘I know it well; I have been in heaven during the last ten years.’ He went on to explain to his visitor that since Jesus had entered his heart town years before and had made his abode there, he had not felt the weariness as he had before.”

OBSERVATION:
All of us have something that we could complain about, unless by chance you are being blessed with the perfect life – perfect spouse, perfect children, perfect grandchildren, perfect job, perfect boss, perfect house, perfect neighbors, perfect health, perfect parents, perfect in-laws … well, you get the picture.

Many of us probably know someone who dwells on their problems, their aches and pains, their lost chances and opportunities, etc.

Regardless of the degree of discomfort in a person’s life the promise of Christ is that we don’t have to set housekeeping there! We need not dwell on what is wrong or what we wish would/should be better.

Rather, in an attitude of surrender we turn it all over to him and discover real rest. As a dear soul shared at the beginning of worship, “I’m just turning it over to the Lord and I hope that THIS TIME I don’t snatch a part of it back as I leave the altar.” We do, do that, don’t we … we just snatch it back a little.

The real question is do we really, really desire to be made whole? Or, is it more comfortable living the life that we know instead of the life that we don’t know?

PRAYER:
Dear Great Physician, you know us better than we know ourselves. You know the hindrances and roadblocks that we place between real rest and ourselves. Our desire is for wholeness and yet, it frightens us to even think about it. Helps us to move from where we are to where you want us to be. In the name of the healer himself, Jesus Christ, we place this petition before you. Amen.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Children on the Bible, church and faith - a different perspective

I’ve always loved the combination of children and church. They have a tendency to bring a new perspective to any situation. I was doing the children’s sermon in one church on the idea that we reflect the image of God. Holding up a full-length mirror side ways I asked the children, “What do you see?” To which one little person responded, “I see someone leaving church.” At that point all heads in the congregation turned to see who it was. After the service that dear soul shared, “Well, preacher, that will be the last time I go to the bathroom during worship!” And we all got a good laugh.

Children are precious and vitally important to the life of any congregation. They just bring energy and joy into the mix of those gathered for worship.

Here are a few stories giving us a different slant on “church”.

A little boy was in a relative's wedding. As he was coming down the aisle, he would take two steps, stop, and turn to the crowd. While facing the crowd, he would put his hands up like claws and roar. So it went, step, step, ROAR, step, step, ROAR, all the way down the aisle. As you can imagine, the crowd was near tears from laughing so hard by the time he reached the pulpit. When asked what he was doing, the child sniffed and said, "I was being the Ring Bear."

One Sunday in a Midwest City, a young child was "acting up" during the morning worship hour. The parents did their best to maintain some sense of order in the pew but were losing the battle. Finally, the father picked the little fellow up and walked sternly up the aisle on his way out. Just before reaching the safety of the foyer, the little one called loudly to the congregation, "Pray for me! Pray for me!"

One particular four-year old prayed, "And forgive us our trash baskets As we forgive those who put trash in our baskets."

A little boy was overheard praying: "Lord, if you can't make me a better boy, don't worry about it. I'm having a real good time like I am."

A Sunday School teacher asked her little children, as they were on the way to church service, "And why is it necessary to be quiet in church?" One bright little girl replied, "Because people are sleeping."

Looking at the old pages as he turned them. Then something fell out of the Bible. He picked it up and looked at it closely. It was an old leaf from a tree that has been pressed in between the pages. "Mama, look what I found," The boy called out. "What have you got there, dear?" His mother asked. With astonishment in the young boy's voice he answered, "It's Adam 's suit".

The preacher was wired for sound with a lapel mike, and as he preached, he moved briskly about the platform, jerking the mike cord as he went. Then he moved to one side, getting wound up in the cord and nearly tripping before jerking it again. After several circles and jerks, a little girl in the third pew leaned toward her mother and whispered, "If he gets loose, will he hurt us?"

Six-year old Angie, and her four-year old brother, Joel, were sitting together in church. Joel giggled, sang and talked out loud. Finally, his big sister had had enough. "You're not supposed to talk out loud in church." "Why? Who's going to stop me?" Joel asked. Angie pointed to the back of the church and said, "See those two men standing by the door? They're hushers."

My grandson was visiting one day when he asked, "Grandma, do you know how you and God are alike?" I mentally polished my halo, while I asked, "No, how are we alike?" "You're both old," he replied.

A ten-year old, under the tutelage of her grandmother, was becoming quite nowledgeable about the Bible. Then, one day, she floored her grandmother by asking, "Which Virgin was the mother of Jesus? The virgin Mary or the King James virgin?"

A Sunday school class was studying the Ten Commandments. They were ready to discuss the last one. The teacher asked if anyone could tell her what it was. Susie raised her hand, stood tall, and quoted, "Thou shall not take the covers off the neighbor's wife."

Friday, August 19, 2011

A reflection by a friend, Buck Roberts, on THE HELP and growing up in the deep south

This past Sunday, Margaret and I saw “The Help” – after reading and enjoying the book, we were really ready to see the movie. It was a great experience. I would highly recommend both the book and the movie to anyone.

Growing up in Miami our next-door neighbor had a maid, Miss Pearl. And it was always MISS Pearl never just “Pearl” or “Hey” or any other such nonsense – we were told that Miss Pearl was an adult and thus due our respect. She was getting up in years when we moved in during the late 1940s. Miss Pearl, at this point, did more sitting around than work, but that was accepted by Mrs. Hall. Miss Pearl still did the laundry and some house cleaning, but beyond that nothing much. The one thing that I do remember is that Miss Pearl was encouraged by our parents to give us a “whack on the backside” if we needed it. She was just another parental figure in my growing up years.

But, back to “The Help” – we have friends in St. Petersburg, Buck and Sunny Roberts. During our sons illness and death they were “adopted” parents to our daughter Tracy. They have three daughters and a son. I have been privileged to officiate at a couple of their weddings. They are a part of our extended family … very special people.

Anyway, Buck loves history and has been writing down some of remembrance for his children and grandchildren. I share his story #27 which he wrote after seeing “The Help”:

----

Sat - Aug 13, 2011

Last night. Mom-Sunny and I went to see the movie "The Help". We believe that the movie is much better than the written reviews probably because we were raised in the "old south" and could relate to it better than a …… northern newspaper writer. It was about the degrading hardships that black/Negro/African-American maids had to endure two generations ago (and probably to a small extent even today). They mostly were referred to back than as "colored" or that "n" word. We folks may be Caucasians, but back then we were white folks.

I well remember our colored maid/cook named Bell who lived on our property in a small 4-room wooden shack-of-a-house located just across the bottom west of Mama's house. The house wasn't much, but it was free. It had a tin roof and two fireplaces and a small two-burner kerosene stove for cooking. We provided the coal and the kerosene. Bell had a son named Willie Jim and no husband. Willie Jim was about 3 years older than me. He and I played cowboy and indians (he was always the indian) or "shot marbles" or he joined-in kick-the-can or hiding seek games with me and my white friends. Occasionally, we would go to the movies on a Saturday afternoon to see the Durango Kid or Hopa-Long-Cassidy or Gene Autry or Roy Rogers ...... Willie Jim would sit up stairs with the colored people and I would sit downstairs with the whites. Mama & Daddy were always having to work, but one of them would would give Willie Jim his money to get into the movie (10 cents) ... popcorn was a nickle a bag.

Bell was always at the house early each day to cook and clean. At each meal, "the family" would sit at the dinner table or at the kitchen table and Bell & Willie Jim would eat on the back porch table or wait until we were done and eat inside. We didn't have A/C, so it didn't much matter except in the winter when they mostly ate inside near the fire. We had a two-hole privy about 50 feet behind the house that the family used before indoor plumbing and Bell and Willie Jim used it now. Just a-side story, when we sold Mama's house, my brother Jim had written in the contract that the privy was not part of the sale and he was going to have it moved to Marianna (a collector's item I suppose). He never moved it and it eventually rotted-down.

Bell washed our clothes using an old iron wash pot located out in the chicken yard where Grandma Brown had her egg-laying hens and 3-4 mean roosters that would spur you bad. The chicken yard was not a small enclosure --- it actually was about 5 acreas large with a large hen house. I well remember when I was about 3-5 years old, Bell would carry me on her hip into the chicken yard and sit me on the laundry table where the roosters couldn't get me ...... I remember watching her start the fire around the pot and fill it with water, put a small bar of old lye or octagon soap in the pot and she would boil the clothes and stir them in the pot with an old shortened boat paddle. We used clothes lines back then to hang clothes to dry.

Anyway, if you ever go see "The Help", please remember that both Mom-Sunny and me "have been there - done that", BUT REMEMBER ONE THING, we were NEVER mean to our help, we gave them extra money when they needed our help, we shared food with them right from the dinner table plus I always carried them rabbits and fish, we gave them clothes, we made sure that they never were hungry or cold, ...... just ask Bell, Lulu Mae, and Nellie. They were our nannies and we loved them.

Love,

PA-Daddy-Buck

----

Thanks Buck for sharing and allowing me to share your story in this blog. One last story about Miss Pearl: She, on occasion, would state: "Now, Jimmy, if you ain't careful, I can give you a 'what for' just for good measure for those times that you be misbehavin' when you be out of my sight" ... just another set of eyes watching over me. I also remember her telling my mother, on more than one occasion, "Miss Vera, I'd be careful of that one, he just seems to me like trouble brewin'." Boy, did she have my number. Might have something to do with helping to raise the five Hall boys.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Are you any earthly good?

“Well, what earthly good are you preacher? Please tell me what have you done for the people of planet earth lately?”

Interesting question asked so many years ago by a neighbor. It has stuck with me through the weeks and months since it was asked. Contemplating the impact one is making on the world around us is quite a reflective moment. Are we, as the old adage states, “so heaven bound that we are no earthly good?”

Contemplating the neighbors question cause me to make a statement at Tuesday night Bible study. Which, by the way, got me into a huge amount of trouble with the senior pastor. The question, “If there was no heaven in the offering, would you still seek to be in an ongoing relationship with Jesus Christ?” I would add now, if our earthly existence was all that there is with this earthly journey, would you, could you still be in a daily relationship with Jesus?

Or, are we in the relationship for the rewards …come by and by?

Dwight L. Moody shared, “A little faith will bring your soul to heaven, but a lot of faith will bring heaven to your soul.”

The promise of heaven is intended, at least from my perspective, to make the living out our days here on earth more joy-filled not easier. In my opinion, the promise of heaven makes taking relationship risks and doing the unthinkable, as well as the unimaginable more meaningful.

A small girl one evening looked up wondering at the star-studded sky and exclaimed: “If the wrong side of heaven looks like this, what must the right side be like?” Hmmm, shouldn’t she as well as everyone else be able to look into our face and at our life and know what heaven looks like?

That’s my opinion … and I’m sticking to it!

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Paraprosdokian - fun with word play

Do you love the English language? It so much fun to play around with. Word-play can be a delightful way to pass the time and it keeps your mind very active. The more an individual does word-play the easier it becomes and much to your delight you find yourself doing it all the time, especially as you listen to the conversations going on around you. Those who love puns will pepper their language and/or responses with puns. It just happens.

So you can imagine my delight when I came across a new way of thinking called Paraprosdokians. On some rare occasions I have heard them, but thought that the individual was just being “clever” without really appreciating what they were doing with the English language.
I’m wondering what paraprosdokian that you could come up with. If you do will you share them with me?
PARAPROSDOKIANS

I had to look up "paraprosdokian". Here is the definition:
"Figure of speech in which the latter part of a sentence or phrase is surprising or unexpected; frequently used in a humorous situation."
"Where there's a will, I want to be in it," is a type of paraprosdokian.

Ok, so now let's enjoy a few PARAPROSDOKIANS!

1. Do not argue with an idiot. He will drag you down to his level and beat you with experience.

2. The last thing I want to do is hurt you. But it's still on my list.

3. Light travels faster than sound. This is why some people appear bright until you hear them speak.

4. If I agreed with you, we'd both be wrong.

5. We never really grow up, we only learn how to act in public.

6. War does not determine who is right - only who is left.

7. Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.

8. Evening news is where they begin with 'Good Evening,' and then proceed to tell you why it isn't.

9. To steal ideas from one person is plagiarism. To steal from many is research.

10. A bus station is where a bus stops. A train station is where a train stops. On my desk, I have a workstation.

Friday, August 12, 2011

A scripture, a story and an observation on Faith vs. Works or should it be Faith and Works

THE SCRIPTURE: James 2:18-26 (The Message)
I can already hear one of you agreeing by saying, "Sounds good. You take care of the faith department, I'll handle the works department." Not so fast. You can no more show me your works apart from your faith than I can show you my faith apart from my works. Faith and works, works and faith, fit together hand in glove. Do I hear you professing to believe in the one and only God, but then observe you complacently sitting back as if you had done something wonderful? That's just great. Demons do that, but what good does it do them? Use your heads! Do you suppose for a minute that you can cut faith and works in two and not end up with a corpse on your hands? Wasn't our ancestor Abraham "made right with God by works" when he placed his son Isaac on the sacrificial altar? Isn't it obvious that faith and works are yoked partners, that faith expresses itself in works? That the works are "works of faith"? The full meaning of "believe" in the Scripture sentence, "Abraham believed God and was set right with God," includes his action. It's that mesh of believing and acting that got Abraham named "God's friend." Is it not evident that a person is made right with God not by a barren faith but by faith fruitful in works? The same with Rahab, the Jericho harlot. Wasn't her action in hiding God's spies and helping them escape - that seamless unity of believing and doing - what counted with God? The very moment you separate body and spirit, you end up with a corpse. Separate faith and works and you get the same thing: a corpse.

THE STORY:
A rich woman died and was received by the angel Gabriel at the gate of Heaven. He took her to see where she was to live, and on the way she admired a splendid house built of gold and precious stones. On asking who lived there she was told the name of a man she had known on earth, and she exclaimed vehemently because he had been so poor and unimportant. “Yes,” agreed Gabriel, “but he was able to send these materials up to us.” They passed a house built of ivory and lovely-colored marble, and the lady was disgusted to hear it was that of a woman who had been a slum dweller on earth. She had, however, sent up the materials so that his handsome house could be built. Presently a wretched little mud hovel was reached, and the angel intimated that it was the new arrival’s house. She exclaimed in horror. “We are very, very sorry,” said her guide, “but we did our best with the materials you sent up.”

THE OBSERVATION:
Faith vs. works has been a debate that has lingered within the hollow halls of the church since the time of Christ. Martin Luther disliked the book of James for its emphasis on works. He actually felt that the book should be removed from the New Testament for that very reason and called it, “The book of straw.”

Sorry, Dr. Luther, I would disagree. The real issue facing Christians is not to choose between the two Faith or Works, rather the challenge is to find the push-pull of the two working together. Failing to do so creates the criticism best summoned up by the old adage: “He/she is so heaven bound that they are no earthly good.”

While the story hammers home the point that what we do here on earth matters, we have to be careful not to take it literally because the heavenly reward is the same for all of us regardless of how long we have been believers or how much we have attempt/accomplished for the Kingdom of God. And yet, the story is still effective in reminding us that what we do here on earth should matter AS IF it determines our future in heaven.

Actually, the truth still remains, what we do here on planet earth grows out of our relationship with Christ, our faith relationship, which drives us to accomplish Kingdom work … and our Kingdom work drives us back to strengthen our faith. One leads us to the other, each getting stronger in each cycle. Those with great faith will accomplish great things.

It is like the motto over the arches at Scarritt College in Nashville: Attempt Great Things For God … Expect Great Things From God …

Now, go forth and multiple!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

A true feel good story

I like feel good stories. This one was in the St. Petersburg Times on Wednesday, August 10, 2011 in their column entitled “The Skinny” which are short stories from around the world. I thought that you would like it.

This story does enforce my basic belief which is: All people are basically good and given a chance to respond with compassion will.

There were a lot of lessons for the little boy who lost a big wallet in Poquoson, Va.

First, Charlie, last name unknown, went to 7-Eleven to get a Slurpee. So far, that’s fine. Next, he put his wallet down next to the Slurpee machine. Even the manager of the store said that was a bad idea. “One of the probably worse places to lay something like that is near the Slurpee fountain,” Marvin Ward told the Daily Press of Newport News, explaining that it’s a high-traffic area in summer.

So Charlie forgot it and someone took it. Which brings us to his next mistake. He had more than $300 in cash and gift cards in it. It’s dangerous to go into a bank with that kind of roll.

Undeterred, Charlie posted a note on the store’s door, explaining the situation, ending with the line, “I hope whoever has it needed it more than me.”

And the final lesson is, passive-aggression works. The wallet and all its contents were returned.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Reflection on forgiveness and loving scumbags

“If anyone says, 'I love God,' yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen.” 1 John 4:20 – (See the larger and complete biblical text on love in 1 John 4:7-21)

Loving our “neighbor” – whomever that may be – is extremely difficult at best. It probably is the most challenging of all the directives of Jesus. And, yet it stands as the hallmark of the Christian walk. I think that we shall be judged more on the context of our love towards others than on anything else.

“Neighbor” is a loaded word. If I understand Jesus’ teaching it is anyone that I dislike or despise. The terrorist that seeks to destroy us; the thief who comes in the night to take what is ours; the slanderer who would ruin our good name; that man or woman who belong to a different religion; the individuals of a different race or culture … and so the list goes on. Here is what Jesus shares in the Sermon on the Mount: But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you. (Matthew 5:44)

I said it was difficult … actually impossible without the empowerment of the Holy Spirit and the support as well as guidance of a faith community.

So, who is my neighbor? Anyone and everyone. No exceptions allowed. It might be the vilest person that you can imagine. It could be the meanest person on planet earth. Regardless of what they have done to you Jesus’ command is to love them. It is tough!

Without forgiveness we are the ones living in the prison of our own making. Hate and anger are strong emotions. Many medical doctors, Dr. Bernie S. Siegel in his book, Love, Medicine and Miracles is the best known of them, have seen individuals consumed with illnesses – destructive illness – life taking illnesses – all because the person is choosing to live in the prison of unforgiveness. True, forgiveness comes from God, but we are to be instruments or channels of God’s forgiving mercy.

Max Lucado shares in his book, And The Angles Were Silent, “Until you are able to call your enemy your friend, a jail door is closed and a prisoner is taken. But when you open the door and release your foe from your hatred, then the prisoner is released and that prisoner is you.”

We are not instructed to like the person. We are not expected to have them over for coffee and pie. We are not anticipating a buddy-buddy, let’s-go-out-to-dinner-and-a-movie friendship … although in some situations it does move in that direction. Jesus asks us to love them … from my perspective that means that we are to pray for them, wish the best of God’s kingdom for them, speak well of them at every opportunity and seek their welfare by the grace of God.

I shared that on my Facebook page Monday. It elicited a strong response from one of my friends. “I hate to disagree…, but I have someone I will NEVER talk to again for the rest of my life, and I am NOT in a prison I just think of them as dead and rotting in hell. I go on with my life like they never existed. I know a lot of people who have someone they feel the same way about. … Their forgiveness will have to come from God. As for me, I do not want to be friends, or acquaintance, or nothing to scumbags.”

I think that The Reverend Lucado’s quote hit a nerve in my friend. We don’t like being reminded that the love, mercy and grace of God places a higher demand on our souls and spirit than we are willing to give, but that is the role of God’s grace in our lives. God never asks us to do something that we can do. In order to love the unlovable it will take the power and presence of God’s Holy Spirit. We cannot do it on our own!

Notice the emphasis on “I” in my friend’s response. As long as our focus is on ourselves we will fail, but if we change that focus to God then anything and everything is possible … hmm, sounds like St. Paul sharing about a God of possibilities like in “all things are possible with God”.

Would Jesus agree with my friend's statement? Would Jesus take that attitude? Would Jesus treat the “scumbag” as this person has decided to treat them? Does Jesus expect us to follow him? To love who he loves? To embrace who he died for?

Is it possible to “go on with our life”? Yes. Is it possible to live as if “they are dead and rotting in hell”? Yes. Is it possible to live our life as if “they never existed”? Yes … Is this the way Jesus would want us to live? No … absolutely not … unwavering not …

A seminary professor, speaking on the idea of heaven, pearly gates and the “checking-in” process – You know the image of St. Peter opening the book of life, etc. Well, the professor asked, “What if St. Peter takes on the image of the individual or race that you hate the most? What if it is that individual/race that you have to pass in order to enter heaven? What would you do now, in the here and now? How would it change your life? How would you choose to act? Say?” It is an image that continues to linger in my own mind and has shaped my relationships ever since.

Several years ago Bill, a funeral director friend of mine, shared a story after a sermon on this subject. He was working for a company on the east coast and had to handle a rather horrible funeral. It was a story that gripped the headlines of all the local papers. A couple’s beautiful 16-year old daughter was raped and savagely murdered by a 16-year teenager.

The funeral was painful for everyone and yet, through the entire process the couple kept asking about the young man who had done this to their daughter. They asked questions of Bill for which he did not have answers. What would cause him to do this? What kind of upbring did he have? What kind of demons lingered below the surface? What kind of future is he facing? Does he know Jesus?

This couple took the front row seats in the courtroom as this young man stood trial for the rape and murder of their daughter. At the sentencing they asked for the privilege to speak. This wasn’t the general custom at the time, but the judge granted their wish. They asked the judge to show this young man mercy … mercy that he did not show to their daughter. They asked the judge to show compassion in considering this young man’s future. Then they showed the grace of God as they extended to this teenager forgiveness and hope ... and their God centered love.

After the young man went to prison. The couple started to write him. First, just once a month or so, but as he began to respond to their letters they started to write more often. After more than a year the weekly letters turned into monthly visits to the prison. After several years of sharing the couple were able to share their faith with this young man. They were able to lead him to a saving grace of Jesus Christ.

Sometimes the road to hope and promise is long and hard.

During the visits they learned a great deal about this young mans journey that had caused him to arrive at the point of being in prison for the rape and murder of their daughter. They began to understand. And, in turn, the teenager began to understand and appreciate the life that he has abused and taken.

The day arrived for him to be released from prison. Who should be standing just outside the prison doors, but the couple. The asked, “Is there no one to meet you? To take you home?” They already knew the answer, but they asked anyway. There was no one. The father made an offer, “Would you like to come home with us until you are able to get your feet on the ground?”

The couple had redecorated their daughters bedroom to fit the personality and likes of a young man. He settled in and tried to fit in, even though it was a little strange. Alright, a whole lot strange.

The father helped him purchase some new clothes. Practiced with him on how to interview for a job. And ultimately, helped him find work within the community.

Four years after the young mans release from jail the couple asked a most difficult question – for all three of them. “Would he (the young man) like to be adopted by the couple?” Within a couple of months after that the three of them stood in a court in West Palm Beach and became an official family. The young man who had taken their daughter’s life was now their son … their brand new son.

Unbelievable? Yes. Grace filled? Definitely. Mercy realized? God be praised.

This couple knew in their hearts that if they harbored anger and hate towards the teenage boy they would be in an emotional prison for the rest of their lives. Forgiveness started with them before the young man could ever ask for forgiveness and be adopted into the family. But that is the way God’s love works … if we but allow it.

Just as 1 John states … how can we love God who we have not seen if we do not love our neighbor who is right before us.

We cannot say that we love God if we choose not to do what he has asked us to do and to love who he loves.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Missing the journey because of fear

“There is no room in love for fear. Well-formed love banishes fear. Since fear is crippling, a fearful life - fear of death, fear of judgment - is one not yet fully formed in love.” I John 4:18 (The Message)

The story is told of a young man who became a part of Columbus’ crew. He had worked as an apprentice to the shoemaker in his village and planned to take his place when the shoemaker passed away. During the voyage he was so fearful that the shoemaker would die while he was gone and he would be replaced by someone else that he never knew the greatness of the adventured he shared.

This little story got me thinking about how many great adventures I might have missed because I was griped by fear, terrified to take the risk, to appreciate the moment.

How often do opportunities like crewing with Columbus actually come our way? How many times do we miss those special opportunities, the once in a lifetime chances simply because our focus is on the mundane, the everyday, the drudgery of the moment, the tasks at hand?

Or as Max Lucado shares in his book, God Came Near, “We live in an art gallery of divine creativity and yet are content to gaze only at the carpet.” (page 42)

Help me, Eternal Lord, to seize the day, to open myself to those God given moments that are housed in each day. Help me to break the chains that can hold me back and anchor me, in fear, to things that really don’t matter in the full spectrum of your Kingdom. In the name of freedom, Jesus Christ himself. Amen.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Three stories on one theme ... you are sitting in my seat!

Three stories about the importance of others and the often-unfriendly attitude of those who should have known better … just something to think about when you attend church tomorrow.

Story #1: … She was new to our church. After more than a six-month search for a place to call home she ended up in our sanctuary. She felt accepted and loved. She enjoyed the worship services – both the tradition and the contemporary. She loved the Sonrise CafĂ© and the rich fellowship around the table. She was very enthusiastic about our church’s work with Family Promise and the variety of mission outreach programs. On more than one occasion she would share her “sandy beach evangelism” (her words). She shared her renewed faith with everyone she could meet and invited them to join her on Sunday morning. Then I began to notice that she wasn’t there every Sunday. One Sunday turned into a month and one month turned into several. Then finally she returned. With my ever-present cup of coffee I joined her at her table to share that I had missed her. She lowered her head and shared that she really missed being here, but that she was beginning to feel unwelcomed. When I inquired why, she went on to share that during the beginning of one of the traditional worship service the “dear older women” turned to her and said, “We love having new people join us on Sunday morning as long as they don’t sit in our group. Please, next Sunday, find some place else to sit.” And it was said with a smile and a hug.

Story #2: … It was Sunday morning and the gathering place on the second floor had been arranged for the regular Quaker meeting. The circle of chairs numbered well over 100 and in typical Quaker fashion people would arrive as they felt like it and sit quietly waiting for the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to fall upon someone to share. Well, this particular Sunday morning a stranger in town found the Quaker meeting room and he arrived, but no one else had. He found a sit and waited thinking that just possibly he had misunderstood the time. After nearly 50 minutes passed another person showed up and walked quietly over to where the stranger had taken a sit and bent down and whispered, “Thou are sitting in my seat!”

Story #3:You took my parking space

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."

Friday, August 5, 2011

VACATION KINGDOM - another VBS/Mission Trip remembered - this one with some real clowns

It stands as an example of what can happen when a group of dedicated volunteers come together with determination and commitment. It stands as an example of how a group of youth can be inspired to reach beyond themselves in acts of unselfish service. It stands as an example of how walls can come down when a little love is shown.

Our Youth Director at St. Luke’s UMC had resigned and moved on to another assignment. What she left in her wake was a promise of a summer mission trip, but that is all there was … a promise. Not one penny had been raised. There was no designation secured. Nothing had been done except for the promise … and summer was only a few months away.

Our new Youth Director, Bruce, and a small group of adults made a commitment. We were going to keep the promise, but how, where, when and, the big question, how much hung heavy over our heads.

Betty’s in-laws were on the church staff as shut-in visitors. They made a phone call back to their hometown of Knoxville to their son’s church. That church was having a Youth Week and would be happy to kind of “host” our group during that event. But this was to be a mission trip. Traveling to Knoxville and joining up with another youth group would be great, but there wasn’t anything missional in that. Another phone call was made, this time to the old Methodist intercity Bethlehem center in Knoxville. They would love for us to come and share an experience with their children and the week of the church’s youth week would be great.

Fantastic – we now had a date, a place and a purpose … but still no money and not enough time to hold events to raise any money. Someone came up with “Buy-a-Kid” program. Essentially, any individual could accept the financial responsibility to pay for the trip of one of the youth. You can “buy” a half a kid, or a quarter of a kid, or even just a tenth of a kid. The selling job was on. We kept pushing, talking, praising and in no time the good folk at St. Luke’s had pulled out their wallets and donated enough money to send all of the youth and a sizable number of adults to Knoxville for a week.

BUT … what were we going to do with the children at the Bethlehem center. Here Jackie, one of the parents, and the good folk at Brethren House stepped in. With a tremendous amount of creativity, learning centers were developed for each weekday of the event. Our youth stepped forth to learn how to build and teach using learning centers. But we needed a theme.

Well, God gave us a new youth director to fill the gap when Flo left. Bruce was just getting interested in Clown Ministry. Two and two came together and bingo – VACATION KINGDOM – a VBS of sorts, with a recreation room filled with “tent” like structures indicating individual learning centers, and a group of teenagers who were learning how to Clown with a Christ-centered purpose. Vacation Kingdom was going to be a circus.

In a matter of just a couple of months it all came together. The day arrived for us to pile into the big yellow bus and head north. Bruce and I would drive that thing. We would travel all night allowing the kiddos to sleep – wise decision, less trouble to get into and less need to monitor the various activities … we did have a few loose cannons in the group. As we were loading up the material and luggage, a couple of the ladies said, “Let’s make some cookies for the trip!” What? We were almost ready to leave and they were heading to the kitchen to make cookies? That is insane, but in less than 30 minutes they were back with hundreds of cookies. I never heard of convection ovens, microwaves yes, but convection no. It is truly amazing what those large ovens can do in just a matter of moments.

VACATION KINGDOM was possible because of Bruce, Joyce, Betty, Jackie, Jon, Martha Ann, Harriet, Sunny and the good folk at St. Luke’s. It is another VBS that I won’t forget.

When we arrived the African-American children of the Bethlehem center were hesitant about this lily-white group of teenagers in clown make-up. Our teenagers were hesitant about what to say, how to say and what to do with these children. Slowly the interaction began. By the end of the week, when it was time to pack everything back on Big Yellow and head home, the tears were streaming. The Bethlehem center children didn’t want us to leave. Some wanted to get on the bus and go home with us. Hugs, hugs and more hugs were passed around. I don’t know who had the most impact on whom. Even our more “macho” guys had difficulty-saying good-bye to their “playmates” of the week.

It was just one week in the life of the Bethlehem children. Just one week. It was just a couple of weeks in the life of the youth from St. Luke’s. What lasting effect this had on either group will not necessarily be known. Hopefully a life was touched, a different direction taken, a decision made that would not have been made prior to our arrival. You just never know, but hey, all we have to do is plant … God brings the harvest. So in Knoxville one summer in the lives of some teenagers and in the lives of some children a seed was planted. The harvest has only been known to God … as it should be!

Oh, one last note. We took an afternoon to drive Big Yellow and gang up into the Smokey Mountains. We got to Clingman’s Dome. Ever been there? Very steep climb to the highest point in the Smokey’s. A couple of our more “macho” types decided that they were going to run up while the rest of us “wimps” would just have to walk. Well, it wasn’t too long before us “wimps” caught them as they were laid out on the side of the trail trying to catch their breath. The “machos” did make it to the top before the rest of us, but with a little more respect for those who took it a little easier.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

A VBS remembered ... my first experience as pastor-in-charge nearly 40 years ago this summer

As I see signs throughout the community; as I read about VBSs on Facebook; as colleagues share their experiences this year … I think about two quite different experiences with children, the church, the community and Bible school events.

The first was in a student appointment during seminary. I served a small membership church 50 miles due west of Atlanta. Temple was centered between Bremen and Villa Rica (west and east of the town) and between Carrollton and Rome (south and north of town) and was on the main railroad run between Atlanta and Birmingham. Every 10 to 15 minutes, around the clock, a train … a long train … was heading in one direction or the other. We had three crossings in this small town … three long whistles … all night long. I didn’t get much sleep that first week, but that is another story for another time.

The major employer was a Sewell Suit manufacturing plant. Oh, you’ve never seen the label, but you have worn their suits if you purchased a store brand at Sears, Penney’s and Monkey Wards. A high percentage of the citizens of the town worked at the plant. Both sets of parents worked at the plant. And, when the plant went on vacation – the first two weeks of July – the entire town shutdown ... another experience for a preacher who liked to take his vacation in August.

The churches responded to this phenomena by planning their VBS in coordination with each other. The first week of summer vacation the children were in a VBS in the community at one of the churches and they were in a VBS every week thereafter except for the two weeks when the town went on vacation.

This reality didn’t faze me until I realized that on Friday evening, when everyone and their families would gather for the closing celebration, which included a covered dish dinner, we would be responsible for feeding a mess of folk. It kind of blew me away.

I remembered covered dish dinners in my home church. There never was enough food. If you were in line as a part of the last third of the people you didn’t get a whole lot. I had determined that under my ministry that would never happen. Therefore, with great fan fare and dramatic illustrating the challenge facing us I requested that everyone bring 2 dishes on Friday evening. “Are you sure preacher? Two dishes?” they started asking. I stuck to my guns … and learned a hard lesson that when people respond I really need to ask why they were asking what they were asking.

Friday night arrived and the food started piling in. Dish upon dish upon dish upon dish. We had enough food to feed the entire town for the rest of the summer. I had never seen so much food. Extra tables had to be set up just to hold all the dishes. What nobody explained to me, but I soon learned was that a dish, as in 1 dish, included a salad, 2 vegetables, a starch, a meat and a dessert – for a total of 6 dishes and I was asking them to bring 12 dishes. In their mind a single dish was one complete meal.

Everyone got a good laugh at the new preacher’s expense. Nobody really minded since leftovers were a mainstay in these blue-collar homes. Besides, we really impressed the people of Temple, GA that year. The Methodist made a lasting impression!

Tomorrow I will share the second experience called Vacation Kingdom in Knoxville, TN with the youth from St. Luke’s UMC in St. Petersburg.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Reflecgtions on being a grandparent

I’m a grandparent … twice over. I am amazed and slightly jealous of those who announce that they have umpteen grandchildren, numerous great-grandchildren and even several great great grandchildren. They must have started much earlier than we did and their children followed suit.

We live in Bradenton because of our grandchildren. Margaret baby-sits four days a week and although she is exhausted when she gets home each evening she really won’t trade it for the world. She is in her element … and thank God, that the soon to be 3-year old hasn’t gone through her “terrible-twos” period. Oh, there have been meltdowns and more than one temper tantrums, but by in large she is very thoughtful and loving … can you guess that I’m bragging just a little.

Now her brother … well that is another case entirely. One of those, “if we had had him first we won’t have had another” syndromes … at times. He will melt your heart with his smile and warm your soul with his hugs. Strong willed is putting it mildly, but that kind of comes with the territory.
Grandchildren are precious, but I can full appreciate the grandparent who wrote the following:

GRANDPARENTS ANSWERING MACHINE

Good morning . . . At present we are not at home but please leave your
message after you hear the beep.

beeeeeppp ...

If you are one of our children, press 1
If you need us to stay with your children, press 2
If you want to borrow our car, press 3
If you want us to wash your clothes and do the ironing, press 4
If you want the grandchildren to sleep here tonight, press 5
If you want us to pick up the kids at school, press 6
If you want us to prepare a meal for Sunday or to have it delivered to your home, press 7
If you want to come to eat here, press 8
If you need money, press 9
If you are going to invite us to dinner, or take us out tonight -- start
talking.....we're listening !!!!!!!!

Frankly, I do not understand individuals who choose to move south to be in warmer weather and leave their children and grandchildren back up north. Oh, I don’t think that I would enjoy shoveling snow and fighting the icy roads, but my-oh-my those wintry conditions are simple inconveniences when compared to sharing the journey with your children and grandchildren.

So, if you have grandchildren (or children) hug them well, spend as much time as possible with them, spoil them rotten, shower them with praise, encourage them to take risks, share your journey with Jesus Christ with them and take time to have a tea party. Time is passing you by faster than you can imagine. Don’t miss out on their lives.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Changes comes when we cry out to the Lord

Pastor Craig Moore, the senior pastor at St. Luke’s United Methodist Church, St. Petersburg, FL, wrote in his church’s newsletter:

“But when they cried out to the Lord, he raised up for them a deliverer…” (Judges 3:8-9)

If you invest time into someone who has not yet come to the place of wanting a spiritual solution to their problem, you will become emotionally exhausted. The apostle Paul understood this principle when he actually turned such people over to Satan for the destruction of their flesh (I Cor. 5:5).

The people of Israel were finally in enough pain to cry out to God for relief from their oppression. Like so many times throughout the scripture, God answered by raising up a deliverer. “But when they cried out to the Lord, he raised up for them a deliverer, Othniel son of Kenaz, Caleb’s younger brother, who saved them. The Spirit of the Lord came upon him, so that he became Israel’s judge and went to war. The Lord gave Cushan-Rishathaim king of Aram into the hands of Othniel, who overpowered him. So the land had peace for forty years, until Othniel son of Kenaz died.” (Judges 3:8-11)

Are you in a difficult place in your life? Are you only talking about changing or are you really ready to cry out to the Lord for a solution? Start now the process of changing your situation for the better and asking for help if needed.

Sincerely, Pastor Craig Moore

Change is never easy. We always hold out hope that things will pick back up and return to “normal”, especially if you have been let go from your job. Speaking with a church leader, husband and father, some months ago, who after a lengthy career in one industry with excellent pay was laid off, he shared, “It is very humbling to have to take a job at a much lower pay than what you were making or what you think you need in order to survive. Change is always difficult and too often, painful.”

Reinventing oneself is never easy, but in the process it is possible to discover new things about ourselves, face new challenges and, in many situations, actually end up in a better place than if we had stayed where we were. As the old saying goes, “God never closes a door without opening a window … but why do some of the windows have screens?”

Welcome to the world of change … and new discovery. It comes to all of us at one point or another … and if we are patient enough, praying ourselves through the process, we will be stronger as we grow into the new person God’s wants us to become.

Also included in St. Luke’s newsletter was this quote from Roy Lessin, DaySpring co-founder and writer:

Today is in God’s hands and so are you.
His hands are strong and will uphold you;
His hands are great and will enfold you;
His hands are gentle and will embrace you;
His hands are protective and will cover you;
His hands are reassuring and will quiet you;
His hands are powerful and will defend you;
His hands are parental and will train you;
His hands are masterful and will comfort you;
His hands are compassionate and will care for you;
His hands are healing and will renew you;
His hands are claming and will comfort you;
His hands are giving and will bless you.

Monday, August 1, 2011

The secret of taking time for ...

Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit. Psalm 51:10-12

From an unknown author comes some insightful ideas about taking time … after all, we are given the same amount of time each day how we use it speaks volumes about our priorities.

Take time to think – it is the source of power.
Take time to read – it is the foundation of wisdom.
Take time to exercise – it is the secret of staying young.
Take time to be aware – it is the opportunity to seek God.
Take time to love and be loved – it is God’s greatest gift.
Take time to laugh – it is the music of the soul.
Take time to be friendly – it is the road to happiness.
Take time to dream – it is what the future is made of.
Take time to pray – it is the greatest power on earth.

When I need something done in the church or community I always look for the busiest person around and ask them … especially if I really need it done and done well.

Can people be overburdened by responsibilities? Absolutely, but the busy person usually has discovered the power of accomplishment and the wisdom of prioritizing their time and energy.

They’ve learned the secret of taking time to plan.

I heard of an extremely busy and highly successful executive of a Fortune 500 company. He would traditionally spend long hours at his desk or in meetings or on the phone, but he began each day with four hours of prayer. When asked why he would spend so much time praying when there was so many issues sitting on his desk and waiting for his attention he responded: “I am able to handle all those pressing matters because I spend the first four hours of every day in prayer.”

He learned the secret of taking time!