CLICK HERE FOR BLOGGER TEMPLATES AND MYSPACE LAYOUTS »

Friday, March 27, 2015

Death By Pizza

I had a doctor's appointment last week.  My doctor is more than a physician to me.  She has become a friend.  After appointments we generally spend half an hour talking about her job and my job and family stuff.  I told her last week that I am about to turn 60 and I am planning on living till 80.  Any more is a bonus.  I mentioned that being 32 years old if she could stay out of the way of trucks she would most likely out-live me and, thus, I expect her at my funeral.  If I expire before 80 she has some explaining to do.  She told me that this should not be a problem and asked how I plan on dying.  (If nothing else, she can be a smarty pants.)  I told her we all die of something and my cause of death would clearly be "pizza." Or possibly cheese burgers.

That started me thinking.  While my purpose in life is not "eating," it is an appreciated perk.  And so here, revealed for your pleasure, are the "Top Ten Foods I cannot Say 'No!' to."  Warning ... simply reading this list will raise your cholesterol level significantly...

10.  Ok, let's just cut to the chase.  Here's my weakness.  Anything ... (almost) anything ... with a sauce on it.  I break out in a cold sweat.  My hands tremble.  My knees grow weak.  If you put a good cream sauce on a pop-tart it's going down.  Samson had his hair.  I have my sauce.  It's how I live.

9.  Lasagna.  Juicy.  Tomato-y ... Meaty.  Cheesy.  Cut into a brick about the size of your head.  If you don't have a favorite go ... no ... run ... to "Sugo's" in Edwardsville.  Best lasagna on the planet.  And yes, as a matter-of-fact, I have tried them all.

8.  Jay's BBQ Potato Chips.  What do you mean you haven't tried them?  GO.RIGHTNOW.DOIT.  You'll never be the same

7.  M&M's.  Or as we say at my house, W&W's.  And you must eat them so that you always have the same amount of all types of colors at all times.  You know.  In case the M&M Police come and check up on you.  (Option:  Eat all of one color before starting on another color.  Take them in any order as long as the dark chocolate ones are the last one down the pipe.  Yes, it matters.)

6.  A pork roast cooked all day long in a crock pot.  And then when you eat it you douse it in some kind of special potion my mother-in-law concocted.  I have no idea what is in it but I'm pretty sure it starts with ketchup and mustard.  Brown sugar seems evident as well.  This will go down as the signature donation of my mother-in-law to the human race.  (Thanks, Ruth!)

5.  This one is special.  Dad introduced me to tamale's.  He said he had a weak stomach and so he never ate pizza.  But he would eat tamale's prepackaged out of a jar and sold in Detroit grocery stores.  They came in mexican sause and were wrapped in corn shucks.  To this day I cannot turn down a tamale.  I've not been able to find them in grocery stores here so if anyone knows where they are, don't keep secrets!

4.  This will sound odd but ... a lovely tuna sandwich on white bread.  Mix in some diced pickles and light mayo.  Add a leaf of crisp iceberg lettuce.  This meal got me through highschool.  I consumed enough mercury in those four years to name a planet after.  As a matter-of-fact, they did.

3.  Skyline Chile from Cincinnati.  And since I don't live in Cincinnati I have a connection there (Hi, Joe Dills!) who sends me cans of their chili.  I use BallPark's Angus all beef franks, finely shredded cheddar cheese, and diced onions.  Microwave it to melt the cheese and you are set.  (Warning:  Stay away from open flame.  'Nuff said.)

2.  Pizza.  No, not Chicago deep dish.  While I love my hometown pizza it is not my favorite.  I prefer a place found around the windy city named "Aurelio's."  Put some sausage on it.  And pepperoni.  I must have my pepperoni!  And here is the key ... extra sauce.  ALWAYS order extra sauce!  (Lately I've been consuming "Alex's Pizza" from O'Fallon.  Alex is a one man band.  He takes the order, makes the pizza, and serves it.  All by himself.  Usually I stand at the counter and we chat while he tosses my dough in the air.  I love Alex.  He only has one flaw.  He refuses to put extra sause on my pie!  He says it makes it too messy.  This will eventually spell the end of our relationship.)

1.  Cheese burgers.  Oh, yea.  No need to hold the grease.  Add ketchup, mustard, grilled onions, and relish, please.  Oh, and make the cheese "pub cheddar cheese."  Not that fake stuff like they sell on nachos at the ball park.  Worth dying for ... and I just might do that.

Note:  You may have noticed bacon is not on my list.  Bacon is not a food. It is air. It is water. It is ... life.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Hi. My Name Is Ron And I Am Flawed

Life is not all sugar plum fairys and tip-toeing through the tulips with Jesus. We've all been around too long to expect that. I am a pastor and I love God with all of my heart. I am a human being and, as such, I am as flawed as the next guy. But I know it, and I'm working on it. All pastors that I'm aware of fit that description. The ones who drive me crazy are the ones who will not admit it.


I have an Anonymous "friend" who does not like me. That's alright. Sometimes I do not like me much either. But my "friend" seems to be upset that I did not publish a comment that I actually never received. So I did receive the following comment today. I decided to elevate it to actual "blog post" status instead of posting it as a comment. Why? I'm not really certain. I hope this makes "my friend" feel better. Personally I get my worth from Jesus and He likes me a lot. 

"Since you chose not to publish the last comment, I know you saw it. This is concerning. Things don't appear to be adding up mentally. There are people who can help you. If this is how you feel, you need help. Acting like a know-it-all ass of a pastor is not acceptable. Grow up. You are honestly the biggest disgrace to Christians. People at your church are starting to notice. Good luck."

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Just Deep Enough To Drown

Michael W. Smith (and about 1,000 other artists) sing a song called, "Breath."  It's message is simple.  "This is the air I breath.  Your Holy Presence, living in me."  That's a good way to live.  A good way to think.  God should be what we take in.  God should be what we let out.  He should be our all in all.

Yet sometimes life overwhelms.  You get tired and run out of things to pour out of your soul for others feast on.  Sometimes you just find yourself subdued.  You struggle to figure things out in your own life or in the lives of others and answers do not come easily.  In this life questions will always outnumber answers.  Then you start second guessing yourself.  "Have I obeyed God?"  "Do I really love Him like I say I do?"  "What did I do to make God stand-off-ish?"

After that comes an even more difficult stage.  After you examine yourself in a very "Job-esque" fashion, and you come to the conclusion that you do indeed obey, love, and pursue God, and He still doesn't answer your questions, grant your requests, or come near ... you find yourself questioning Him.  "WHY doesn't He respond?  After all, you have obeyed Him, loved Him, and pursued Him. He owes you that. Right?"  Silly.  He does not owe you anything.

That is dangerous.  Dumb too.  But it is even more dangerous and dumb to lie about it if that is where you find yourself.  God is God.  So He already knows what you are thinking.  You are busted right off the bat.  All you have to do is entertain the thoughts and ... bang ... guilty.  So you eat yourself alive over that.  Now your guilt is at least doubled.

And you find the chorus going around in your head, "This is the air I breath.  This is the air I breath.  Your Holy presence.  Living.  In me."  But it isn't feeling so true anymore.  You are not breathing in His Holy Presence.  He occupies some far-off place that you cannot reach no matter how hard you try.  You remember that He was close by ... recently.  Or at least a while ago.  Maybe a few years back.  But you KNOW He was there.  So you anchor yourself to that.  You tie yourself off to it so tightly that when the next big wave of your personal storm comes, instead of that "rock of a memory" holding you tightly you actually bash yourself against it.  You bleed from remembering the past and comparing it with the present.

Now your boat is sinking.  You are taking on water.  I mean, you know that you cannot sink.  "He" has a grasp on you that cannot be broken.  You believe that.  You really do.  But you cannot deny that there is water in the bottom of the boat.  With every wave it washes over you.  It never gets so deep that you cannot see the truth.  There is always daylight just above you.  Just out of reach.  And you know there is air up there.  Spiritual air.  You can see it.  You just cannot feel it.  You cannot breath it. And there you are.  Not deep enough to be lost.

Just deep enough to drown.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Mostocolli Life


I know a lot of dead people.  And by that I mean that I have buried a lot of dead people.  As a matter-of-fact, all of the people I have buried have been dead.  You may assume I take the doctor's word for their passing.  Or the coroner's word.  Uh uh.  Nope.  I have my own test I perform.  I do it when I am in the room all alone with the dearly departed.  I would tell you what the test is but then you would have nothing to look forward to if you should need my services someday.  A poll of those I have buried would show that I provide them with their last surprise before the lid is closed and the dirt is thrown.  So I'll just keep my secret.  For now.

After I present my surprise to the dead person, following the "rememberance celebration" (aka: funeral) and immediately in the wake of the dust being returned to the dust, most dead guys families return to their local church where they tell stories, wash their hands, (always wash your hands after leaving a funeral home.  Do not ask me why.  I studied this stuff.  Just wash your hands and be very glad you read this little article,) and then they sit down and eat mostocolli.  Always mosticolli.  Occasionally chicken is also offered but, think about it, every funeral you have ever attended had mostocolli served at the closing bell.  Right?  See what I mean?

I have spent considerable time delving into the question of the mostocolli.  I have talked to ministers of every denomination, funeral directors, church cooks, as well as the people who do the consuming of the "pasta of death."  All have their thoughts and opinions ... none really know why.  And why at every meal.  Every.  Single.  One.  Honestly, most seemed surprised when it dawned on them that they could not think of a single exception to the rule.  I remember after my grandmother's passing, just being a lad of 12 years, I asked my father if I had to eat the mostocolli.  Grandma's funeral was held in a particularly disgusting funeral home in a particularly disgusting town on a particularly disgusting day.  It was the kind of day grandma's are supposed to be buried on.  Thunder. Lightening. Hail. As if that were not enough all of her children were fighting the fight over who-gets-what.  (A time honored tradition in our brood.)  I did not want any stuff.  I just wanted a pass on the mostocolli.  My dad looked down at me from his superior position in the chair next to mine, his hand came up behind me and cuffed me a good one upside the back of the head as he said, "What?  Didn't you love your grandmother?  Shut up and eat your mostocolli."

We live.  We die.  We eat mostocolli.

Today I was at the gym and I was sweating.  I do not like sweating.  But my doctor tells me that for every minute I sweat I will add a minute to the end of my life.  She is the same doctor that told me that bacon will give you worms.  My doctor is a liar.  I think.  But I'm not sure.  And so I sweat.  I glanced  up at one of the televisions in the gym meant to distract you from the pain. Some kind of daytime drama was on.  Clearly they had all come from a funeral because they were in a large hall eating ... mostocolli.  And then the program ended with one of those montage's where they show you all of these pictures of the dead guys life that are intended to make you weepy.  Except that I did not know the corpse.  I guess it was because I was not emotionally involved that I noticed that this guy ... this unlucky dead guy ... had lived the mother-of-all mostocolli lives.  I mean, if those were the high-lights ... I pity those who had to hang around him on the normal days.  He was, putting it mildly, boring. Bland. Dull. A Ho-hum-human.

And that is when the light came on.  They were eating mostocolli because it was indicative of the type of life they were remembering.  The guy had lived a mostocolli life.

Ugh.

I began running a quick check on the lives of some I had buried.  Not all of them. Certainly not YOUR loved one. But the ones who came to mind?  They had all lived mostocolli lives. Every one of them. Oh man. The implications are enormous. You have to work out your own but here is what it comes down to for me.

My funeral meal? Prime Rib.  I want to live my life now in such a way that the cooks will have to dig out new recipes. I want my kids to have call a family meeting before they put me down because they see the need to hire a chef. I want them to have to put together a guest list because they can't afford to feed everybody who wants to come. And I don't want them to come just for the gourmet meal. Oh, no. No, no, no.  I want them to come because they had a blast watching a life lived out that called for this kind of feast. I haven't come close to attaining that. Not yet. I'm hoping I'm maybe about to rise out of mostocolli into Salsbury Steak. I'm not sure which one tastes less. That means there's a very long way to go. To quote my friend, Nathan, I have a massive frown-ey face over that. But like that guy Paul said one time ... "Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. (Philippians 3:12 NIV) I'm traveling. From mostocolli to holey-moley.

Give me prime rib and/or give me death!

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Going For Broke

Christmas makes me misty eyed.  Oh. Wait.  I got that wrong.  That should say, Christmas leaves me mystified.  Before you have me removed from western civilization, please let me explain.  I love Jesus.  I love everything about Him even though I don't understand everything about Him.  It's just His birthday that leaves me a bit confused.  No, this isn't your typical rant about Christmas shoppers who check their soul at the door when they hit the mall.  They don't bother me, primarily because I do not go to the mall.  I use to think they were pretty cool places.  Not so much these days.  The last mall I liked was an outdoor one in the suburbs of Cleveland.  It was a cozy little place called "Crocker Park."  It is a bit of an enigma that an outdoor place in Cleveland could be called cozy in December.  But it was cozy in that "I love everything about winter" kind of way.  This place had outdoor chess sets on stone pedestals surrounded by faux leather chairs.  I use to watch men ... grown men ... sit in those chairs and play chess as the snow fell.  True, there were big fire-filled heaters blazing near them.  But come on.  The great "north coast" in the winter would make the most hardy St. Louis souls whimper in torment.  Forgive me but I thought it rather wonderful.

But I digress.

The thing that mystifies me about Christmas is that we all seem to embark on this quest to make each one perfect.  No, we cannot control whether or not we will have a white Christmas. (Sorry, Bing.  We haven't figured it out yet.)  We do not pretend to be able to stop the wars or the violence in the streets even for a day.  There will always be things out of our control.  Still, do you feel what I feel?  It's some kind of driving force inside of me that wants to make certain positive memories are made. And that means that everything has to be just right.  In my personal situation, I have to know that I preached the right sermons to our congregation.  I have to know that my kids and my grandkids are happy.  In reality, those fall into two separate and distinct spectrums.  Grandkids fall into the "buy me something" category.  They want the coolest new toy.  (I agree with them!)  My kids, all but one now venturing into their thirties, want that thing called "Cash."  My wife wants nothing and strongly insists that I give it to her.  I, in turn, refuse.  Because that would wreck my vision of perfection on Christmas Day.  So, you see, it's all about me after all. 

I think I digressed again.

I am not in charge of the food and so I cannot make it perfect.  But ... if it is not perfect I do make a note of it and I'll covertly do anything I can to fix that problem next year.  No body wants to remember an uncooked turkey.  (I'm looking at you, Hokkaido.)

I suppose I am looking for laughter.  And smiles.  And genuine joy.  I am trying to distance myself and my family from sadness.  Conflict.  The kind of sarcasm that hurts.  (I love the playful kind.  I suppose, to me, it is all about intent.  Always design sarcasm to make both parties laugh.  Never intend for it to cut or wound.  Well intentioned sarcasm is a gift.  Sarcasm with evil intent can destroy a soul.) 

When I stop and give it room to roam in my brain I think maybe, as one year was grinding into another, I finally grew up.  As a youth pastor for 33 years life usually allowed me to fly rather Peter Pan-ish most of the time.  And then one day my phone became the one to ring when tragedy would strike. It changed everything.  I am not the same person I use to be.  No need to go into all of that.  Let me just say that dealing with the extreme cost that life extracts reminds me of the best advice I ever received about living.

The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.

And the main thing is Jesus.

I cannot help but smile when I see my family walk into my home, safe, warm, happy.  Yet I confess that many times I pretend that I know what they are talking about as conversations whirls around the many venues of popular culture.  I use to pay a lot more attention to that stuff than I do now. I seem to have lost interest.  It is not that I would declare those things unimportant or shallow. Life must be lived and that clearly requires the intentional or unintentional creation of a culture within which to live it.  Still, these days my mind is a million miles away.  The greatest joy in Christmas for me is connecting with the one we often forget we are celebrating. Truth be told, it is not just Christmas.  Most days I seem to crave the Audience of One over the party of many.

I hope to invite Jesus to my Christmas table again this year. I believe He shows up, though I never see Him.  Knowing He is there makes the smiles of my family and friends more vivid.  It makes the food taste better.  It even makes the dead grass - sans a blanket of fresh white snow - acceptable. There is very little that I want or need for Christmas this year.  But there is one thing I passionately desire.  If I get it, Christmas will be perfect.

I am going for broke.  I simply want ... The Main Thing.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Two Windows Away

It is cold outside and the wind is blowing just enough so that the remains of yesterday's 3 inch snowfall was swirling around the parking lot.  As I walked toward my car I watched it dance around my feet and wondered why I was wearing canvas tennis shoes today.  Probably not the best defense against winters first real blast of the season.  The car beside mine was parked a little too closely for my comfort but I slid in between them and managed to get inside and close the door without touching the other vehicle with mine.  As I started the Mustang up I glanced to my left and saw her sitting three feet and two windows away.  Our eyes immediately locked and as they did my brain froze in place.  You know how it works.  When you catch the eye of a stranger the first instinct is to glance quickly away.  Perhaps you nod slightly first, simply to affirm that you wish them a nice day.  I did neither.  At first I was incapable of doing so.  She was African American and no it does not matter.  She could have been Eskimo, Portuguese, or anything else.  It didn't come into play.  What did matter was that she looked thoroughly, completely, and indisputably sad.  Her facial features squealed on her without remorse.  There was a look of defeat in her eyes that seemed to say, "I give up."  Maybe five seconds passed.  Maybe ten.  I really do not know.  Neither of us made any move to look away.  The encounter was long enough that I had time to begin realize that it was unusual.  My right hand was on auto-pilot and it went to the center console and shifted the car into reverse.  At that moment, without thinking about it or in any way putting conscious effort into it, I did what I just naturally do.  I smiled.  And then I realized I was smiling.

Her eyes were still locked in position.  Fifteen seconds?  Twenty?

I took my foot from the brake and began slowly inching backward.  As the left windshield frame finally interrupted this odd moment only one thing was left in my head.  Her expression never changed.  The destitute, broken face before me left my life as destitute and broken as it had entered.  I actually felt pain.  Was it her pain?  I felt frustration.  Was it her frustration?  A brief glance on a wind blown morning is not adequate to reveal the contents of a human soul.  And I acknowledge that I do not know where her sadness originates.  And I will never know.

I wanted to get out of my car and walk to her window.  I wanted to tell her that the love of God and the sacrifice of Christ ultimately makes her misery inconsequential.  I wanted to tell her that the source of her despair could be overcome by a love that moves faster than light and fills up the most light-sucking black hole that outer space has to offer.  But I knew what would happen.  My out-of-the-car presence would simply scare her.  She might use her cell phone to call the police.  Her husband might walk out of the store and think I was accosting his wife.  Bad things would happen if I approached her.

Or maybe not.  Maybe she would lower her window and ask me what I had to smile about.  Maybe I could tell her about the hope that I have.  Maybe I could say something or shine light into her life that would get her through her day.  Or even through her eternity.

I will never know.  I drove away, praying for the person behind those empty eyes.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Because Inquiring Minds Want To Know...

The Top Ten Questions just blazing for an answer before the two become one again...

1.     I wonder if that bedroom wall is strong enough to support a excessively large flat screen?

2.     How cold does it have to be inside the house before frost forms on the patio door?

3.     Is it possible to get to Africa and back between Monday and Friday?  (See yesterday's post.)

4.    What would happen if you ate nothing but hot, buttered, movie theatre popcorn for forty-eight hours?


5.     If a person were to strap a "Go Pro" to his head and somehow render himself unconscious could he maybe videotape the light he finds himself walking toward?  And, if so, would Fox News pay enough for the video to afford a comfortable retirement including paying-off any medical bills incurred?

6.     If I were to trade away my Mustang and Debbie's Trailblazer could I walk away with a new Charger and maybe a reasonably re-conditioned 1972 Pinto?  Preferably orange.

7.     Is tuna fish suppose to be green and can I eat it anyway?

8.     What would a gallon of gas and a Zippo do to the mole hole that just popped up outside my garage wall?

9.     Is it possible to do anything to my roof to make it visible from the International Space Station?

10.   Costco sells caskets and they seem to have one on clearance.  Imagine:  "Temporary Coffee Table!"

Sunday, July 20, 2014

The Stuff Dreams Are Made Of

The hamster was eaten by the dog.  The dog died.  The children moved out.  Debbie is on a train to Chicago.

I am home.

Alone.

For a week.

This is the stuff dreams are made of.

(Disclaimer (aka:  The Fine Print)  I love my wife.  I communicate with my kids pretty much daily.  The dog was old.  The hamster should have stayed in his hamster house.  It's all good.  Whatever events unfold this week cast no disparaging shadows upon those I care very much for.  But history must be allowed to ... shall we say, "unfold," ... at its own pace.)

My DVR is full of the things that I love watching.  That which does not involve baseball or blowing stuff up probably starts with the words, "The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon."  This is not dangerous stuff.  Well.  There is that documentary about serial killers.  They say it is to teach you how to be one without getting caught.  I'll probably just delete it.  (Bwa-ha-ha-ha!)

Perhaps I will trade-off the car this week.  Emma The Mustang is up there in years.  Her rag-top is beginning to fray around one edge.  A new top costs $3,000.  Not gonna wait for that to happen.  Maybe that new Charger I've had my eye on wants to follow me home.  Hey ... it has a Hemi.  Do I need to say anything else?  Debbie would be so ... pleeeeeased.

Since I availed myself of the new Illinois law to obtain a "Conceal Carry Permit" I should probably invest in another fire arm that uses cheaper ammunition than my current model.  You know.  So I can be a responsible citizen and spend more time at the range.  It's the right thing to do.  Ever seen "Machine Gun Preacher?"  Me neither.  But it sound really good.  I've never been to Africa.  Can a guy leave for Africa on a Monday and be back before the next Saturday?

So much to do and so little time...

Woops.  Christopher just called.  Pork Steaks at his house in an hour!  Maybe I'll just stay a dad/husband/preacher-without-a-machine-gun.  Stay tuned.  The week is just beginning. 


Friday, July 04, 2014

America

'Merica.  Independence Day, 2014.  238 years since the "Declaration of Independence" came into effect.  Contrary to popular opinion I have not personally witnessed the passing of all those years.  But I have lived through 59 of them.  And I have learned some things along the way. 

My father told me when I was a child that he neither needed nor planned on leaving the United States ever again.  He had seen as much of the world as he desired to see.  His view was from beneath the brim of a steel helmet.  Dad learned about northern Africa, France, Belgium, Holland, and Germany through the lenses of WWII.  Unfortunately, when dad thought of the rest of the world he pictured death and destruction.  And that really is not true.  Deep inside, dad knew that.  He was wrong.  Yet I understand why he felt that way.  He was plucked up from his comfortable, safe, Arkansas, a rifle was placed in his hand, and he was sent off to free a place he most likely had not even read about.  My dad had a 4th grade education.  There isn't much European history taught to 9 year olds in Arkansas. His head must have been spinning with the realization that the ocean is wide and there were people on the other side waiting to kill him.  And he didn't even know why.  But dad was right about America.  There is a reason why our current headlines center around immigration.  It seems that everyone  wants to come here.  And, it only follows, that there is a reason why they want to come.  Honestly, I don't spend a lot of time wondering or worrying about how the rest of the world views the United States.  I am too busy viewing it as Home.

Having said that ...

I'm sick of paying an increasing amount of my income on taxes.  But I sure do enjoy the highways and the clean water and the snow removal, and the police protection, and the fire protection, and the national parks, and the safe bridges, and the ... you get my point.  Right?

I'm weary of "leaders" who keep a list of talking-points on their sleeves, as though the rest of us cannot think past the rhetoric thrown our way, like treats fed to a dog to keep him pacified.  Leaders do not do that.  Politicians do.

I'm hungry for someone to take the reins again.  Point us in the right direction.  Address the issues that threaten to crush us and make us just like every other country.  Someone who will smile a determined smile and say, "Here is what we need to accomplish and here is how we are going to do it."  And I want the direction they point me in to be a noble direction.  I will vote for that.  I will support that.  I will pray to God for that.

I do not have a recollection of my dad owning a house that did not have a tall flag pole adorned with the Stars and Stripes.  And at the end of every day, as the sun slipped below the horizon, he or my brother and I could be found in the front yard, respectfully lowering the colors, folding them into a tightly stretched triangle, and stowing them away until the next morning.  My country was built on the shoulders of my father and men like him.  I have poured my life into trying to better and preserve this nation by bringing the King of Kings to the forefront with every breath I take.  When I sing, say, or pray, "God bless America," I do it from a place of deep belief and conviction.  I am a citizen of the Kingdom of God first.  He blessed me by making me a citizen of the United States of America second. And I honor this day as a way of saying "Thank you" to the one who put a beating heart in my chest and to those who have kept it that way, dedicating themselves to the preservation of my home away from Home.

America.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Dope

Yeah.  Okay.  How did that happen?  I just officially became one of "Those People."  You know.  Them.  The ones that begin a blog and then a month later you find them writing, "I haven't blogged for a while.  But I'm back and I'm going to write every day from now on."

And you know they are lying.

So I'm not saying that.  I am not a slave to my blog (though I love it dearly.)  My blog is a slave to me.  It is my own personal space.  You are a guest.  (Wipe your shoes.)  Some years back I wrote multiple times each week.  In those days I was not a Senior Pastor who was expected to provide fresh insight into God's Word several times within any seven day time frame.  I have found that some of the creative energies I formerly poured into this blog now get poured into sermons.

So I asked God.  He said sermons are more important than blogs.

My creative wells do run a bit shallow sometimes.  But then, so does my intellect.

I digress.  On to more interesting items...

My greatest difficulty at the moment is the insane speed of time as it rushes toward June.  That month contains both Father's Day, and my birthday. 

Father's Day is a piece of cake.  I am a Father three times.  And so I have earned the steak and the cake.  Grill me up a red one and make the other one chocolate.  (Please know which is which.)  That should hold me through the day.  Being a dad has always been one of my favorite things to be.  When the kids were kids ... you know ... little ... I told them what to do and they believed that I knew everything.  Now they are adults.  I don't tell them what to do and they believe I don't know anything.  Take last week for instance.  Chris bought his son, Judah, new shoes.  He put a picture of the shoes on FaceBook.  Some one left a comment that his family always has "dope shoes."  It seems that I managed to live to a ripe old age, spending 33 years as a youth pastor, without ever hearing the word "dope" used to describe shoes.  Or any article of clothing.  A dope was anybody who knew less than I did about any topic.  And so I googled "Dope Shoes."  When I brought that up for discussion at our Thursday evening family meal last week they pretty much fell off their seats laughing.  At me.  What kind of dope doesn't know what dope means?  And so I took a random sampling of people in the restaurant.  (I am prone to do things like that, much to my kids horror.)  Sure enough, everybody knew that "dope" means "cool."  Everybody but me.  Hey, I can live with the laughter.  The only person with a lower opinion of me than my kids is me.  And that isn't mere poor self-esteem.  That's a firm grip on reality.  But the problem is ... nobody asked me what popped up when I googled "Dope Shoes."  If they had asked, they would have found out that "Dope" is also a clothing line.  For real.  Check it out.  http://dope.com/ .  Shirts, hats, sweats, backpacks.  They are all right there.  I'm quite certain there is a particular market in mind for these clothes.  Still, they do exist.  So asking what "Dope Shoes" are ... is pretty logical.  They will never agree but I win this one.  And I'm feeling rather smug about it.

The birthday issue is a bigger challenge.  I am going to be 59 next month.  But that's a blog for tomorrow.  Maybe.

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Pool Walking With Becky

I have taken up "pool walking."  This means I am officially old.  I am sure that comes as more of a shock to my system than it does to yours.  It hasn't been that many years since I was running 5 days a week.  I hated the act of running but I loved what the endorphins did to my body and my state of mind.  Unfortunately, I got addicted to it and to using weight machines.  Yeah.  Really.  I know you can't tell it by looking at me today but it's true.  Getting addicted to something is seldom a good thing.  I was using it to burn stress and it turned out that I was so driven to run that it created a stress of its own, simply complicating my own unique set of personality disorders. Genius on my part, huh?  My doctor tells me I have to work out or I'll die and if I die she'll lose a good portion of her income.  She's more concerned about that than I am.  In order to do something that resembles exercise and yet has mercy on arthritic joints I have taken to strolling through 50 laps in the pool at the gym about 4 times per week.  I have learned that you don't sweat as much as you do on a treadmill.  If you begin to perspire, just take a dunk.  Problem solved.  Last Friday I wound up sharing a lane with a 70 year old woman named Becky.  I had lapped her a few times (stud that I am) before she struck up a conversation about the weather.  I slowed to her pace and we found ourselves talking about life.  She asked "what do you do" and so I told her I pastor a bunch of wonderful ragamuffins like myself.  She briefly got quiet and then she opened up.  It seems she had surgery a year ago and has been having emotional difficulties since then.  Why?  She is convinced while under the effects of anesthesia she gazed into hell.  I told her if I had seen into hell I would have emotional difficulties too.

Have you ever noticed that all of those who have "near death experiences" see a happy place with a bright light that they feel drawn to walk toward?  I don't mean to sound like a skeptic but ... I am skeptical.  So I guess that makes me one.  It was refreshing to talk with someone who walked away with the smell of sulfur in her nose.  No, I don't want her losing sleep but I do think if everyone were honest some of those bright lights many see would emanate from flames licking at their feet.  So much for happy thoughts, huh?

Becky and I talked for half an hour.  We talked about loving God and knowing Jesus.  I spelled it out pretty clearly and she assured me that she does both.  And so it was my honor to lead her through some scriptures that made it clear that she had no reason to fear the fires of hell.  Before she left she told me how glad she was that we had met and that she would surely see me at church.  I'm not holding my breath but you never know.

Funny thing about God.  Sometimes he uses you when you are standing in a pulpit talking to a couple hundred people.  Sometimes he uses you when you are stripped down to a swim suit walking in a pool with a stranger.  I like that about Him.  He's completely unpredictable.  I prayed with a man working in a drive-thru once about his pregnant teenage daughter.  That was cool.  It would have been cooler if he had gotten my order right...

Hey, just a side-note.  If you are even remotely interested I have started a new blog.  Here's the long story that I will make very short.  In 2001 I had a year of sickness.  It was a lousy year.  Still, in the middle of it God showed up.  Big time.  I kept a journal throughout that year and when I got well my amazing kids had it bound into book form for me.  Since then I have kept it pretty much to myself.  I've been realizing how the events of my life 13 years ago have, to a large degree, shaped and molded me for better or for worse into the man I am today.  And I have been a lousy steward of the things I learned way back then.  So my new blog will be the publication of that journal.  Pretty much one chapter a day.  If you are interested the web address is www.churchaintforsissies.blogspot.com.  If you should go over there please remember that the first entry appears on the web site as the last entry.  That means you have to scroll to the bottom and read that post first.  Then the one above it.  Then the one above it ... etc.  The first entry at the top will always be the most recent entry.  It makes sense in a convoluted way.  Anyway, all of the blog will be up in a couple of months.  I'm simply posting it in bite sized chunks.  All of the names except for mine will have been changed because I'm too lazy to get peoples permission to use them.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Near Death Experiences And Doing The Laundry ... Just Another Day Off

I love housekeeping.  Laundry.  Dishes.  Dusting.  Vacuuming.  This is the stuff I live for.  The opportunity to turn a lazy morning off into a panacea of straightening and cleaning is invigorating and refreshing. 

Lies, lies, lies.

And so it was that I came to Friday.  My list was not long.  Small group is meeting at our house tonight and, since this is my day off, I thought I would get a handle on things so that Debbie can have some "me minutes" when she gets home from work.  (Yeah.  That's just the kind of guy I am...)  So now you know why I was ripping the sheets off of our bed and tossing them into a pile on the floor this morning.  That is generally the most uneventful activity you can come up with.  Except for today.  You see, Debbie and I have a thing for feathers.  We like them.  We like to sleep under them.  We like to sleep on them.  And so we have a warm down comforter and a deep, plush, down mattress "pillow-top" that spends the winters on our bed.  And all night long we dream of drifting lazily through a back country marsh, eating bugs and avoiding hunters.  Not really.  But it would make sense, seeing as how we live in "duck central."

Today as I ripped the fitted sheet off of the feathery pillow-top my hair stood up.  Seriously.  Straight up.  I had ripped the mattress cover off with a flourish and I guess I built up a bit of static electricity in the process.  Or, maybe more than "a bit."  I don't exactly know what a "kilowatt" is but I am pretty sure I generated a few.  I suppose this isn't unusual or news worthy.  We've all shuffled our feet across the carpet to build up a good charge only to sneak up behind our significant other and blast into them with "The Spark of Doom."  It was an recognized sport in the home I raised my kids in.  Everybody was fair game.  But I must tell you, this was different.  As I stepped back from the bed I continued to FEEL the electrical charge.  I felt ... armed.  My clothes were sticking to me.  My hair was still going vertical.  I looked in the mirror at the foot of my bed and I looked like I had been shrink-wrapped in cotton.  This had the potential to be a very cool situation if Debbie had been home.  I believe, had she seen me coming across the house toward her, she would have known something was wrong but she would never have guessed that I was a one man "Die Hard" battery.  A simple kiss would have welded us together for eternity.

The girl is never around when you need her.

I knew I should stand perfectly still and hope the electrical charge dissipated.  I actually considered it.  It was the smart thing to do.  But time was a-wasteing.  I had work to do.  As I gathered the sheets and pillowcases off of the floor there was a little voice inside my head saying "this is not going to end well."  I have never paid attention to that voice before and I figured it was being spoken by the sissier side of me.  I waltzed into the laundry room and without giving it another thought I flicked the light switch on.

In the name of everything that is sweet and Holy ...

I should pause at this point.  I need you to understand what transpired before my hand even touched the switch.  I am not sure I have words for it.  It was audible ... I heard the crack.  It was visual ... I saw the flash.  It was felt with every fiber of my being.   I am pretty sure that I said something at that point in time that I will have to give account for one day.  I do not believe I have ever heard those words come out of my mouth before.  Multiple syllables connected together by hyphens in a way that the Kings English never intended them to be connected.  You are, no doubt, thinking that I am fluffing this up with dramatic details that never happened.  I assure you ... I am being conservative.  I have not had it in me to go back into the laundry room.  It has been four hours and if the sheets are not ashes they lie on the floor where they fell.  I do not know this to be true but I would not be at all surprised to find a scorch mark on the floor where I stood.  Friends, there is a lesson to be learned here.  It's "Electronics 101."  Electricity will always flow to the ground.  I don't know why.  But it is true.  Do not mess with this stuff.  It will hurt you.  If you have electricity in you, it is going to get out.  It will find a way.  Just know that it is true.  If it is there ... it will get out.

I was having time alone with God a few minutes ago and the subject of my electrocution came up.  I sarcastically thanked him for making electricity.  I mentioned that perhaps He should have installed lightening rods on top of my head to prevent events like this morning.  I laughed.  He whispered.  I didn't expect that.  Why does God delight in whispering about things I think require a shout?  Still, I did my best to be quiet and hear what He had to say.  I think what He said was something like this ...

"Sorry about that, Ron.  I wanted to teach you something and it was the best way to get my point across.  Ron, you carry an energy far greater than electricity within you everyday.  You seldom even recognize it.  This "energy" is my Holy Spirit.  He is dynamic and active and alive and powerful and He is in you each and every second.  Remember how you became aware of the electricity and you knew it was going to find a way out of you.  You tried to control it but you couldn't.  And when it finally got it's way you knew it.  Remember that, Ron?  Well, that is how it is with my Spirit.  Only more so.  Pay attention to Him.  Because He is in you, He is going to work His way through you and even out of you.  He will effect everybody around you.  Understand this, Ron, and understand it well.  WHEN-HE-IS-IN-YOU ... HE-IS-GOING-TO-FLOW-THROUGH-AND-OUT-OF-YOU.  And He is in every believer every second.  So you might mention this to them too.  That way I won't have to wait until they change their sheets."

So.  That's how I've spent my day off.  Now I'm going to go to the gym and sweat for a while.  But remember ... I told you.  The Spirit of God?  If you know Jesus, the Spirit is IN you.  And when He's IN you ... He's got work He's going to do.  I suggest you cooperate.  It's just ... safer ... that way.

Thursday, January 09, 2014

Three Minutes Forty Years Old

Christmas saw a special gift arrive under my tree this year.  Amidst the wonderful array of books, sweat pants, slippers, a helicopter (relax ... it's remote control only,) and other cool stuff, I received a DVD from Debbie.  Have I mentioned lately that she is the best wife ever to grace our planet?  She doesn't know how to stop loving.  She doesn't even know how to slow down.  And so while rummaging through her desk ... which use to be my father's ... she came across an old "Super 8" film marked as "1974."  Without knowing what was on it she took it to a local photography store and had them turn the film into a DVD.  A movie.  For me.  For Christmas.  When we put it in my laptop and started it up we found that the 3 minute video was of my family opening Christmas presents either on Christmas morning of 1973 or 1974.  My mom, dad, brother, sister-in-law, and I were passing gifts around the tree and having fun mugging for the camera as the early technology captured our images.

Three minutes forty years old.

I've watched that movie about 10 times today.  I look at myself at 18 years old and I wonder, if I knew then what my life would be like 40 years later at the age of 58, would I be pleased?  Would I be satisfied with the way things are turning out?  I cannot go back and ask me.  I can only remember the kid I was at that moment in my history and superimpose my present over the expectations that I remember having so very long ago.  I look at my brother and his wife and wonder if he would be shocked at the way life trended for him.  That marriage did not last.  He had a stroke while speaking in his churches pulpit in his forties.  I don't think he ever would have guessed how the years would play out for him.  Mainly I look at my parents and I wonder what they would have thought about the rest of their lives.  Dad has been gone for nearly 14 years.  Mom for just over 9. 

Mostly I look at them and I find myself coming to grips with the truth that this is the only existing piece of film that proves they were ever alive.  Certainly there are plenty of snapshots and photographs.  But those things are usually posed.  Film... film is alive.  I look at them and I see their smiles.  But what I really see is their faces blending from questioning, to smiling, to laughing, and then back to their conversation again.  That is because life is not lived as a snapshot.  Life is lived as one long transition.  We are ever changing, ever becoming, ever morphing.  History barely registers who we are before we become someone else.

Three minutes forty years old.

God built us this way.  We live in the continuum of time.  We cannot slow it, stop it, speed it up, or reverse it.  It has its way with us.  We never have our way with it.  I will remember the snow that fell this week until a bigger snow comes along to bump it from its place in my memory.  Something bigger always rolls over something smaller.  The Christmas day of new-found DVD fame appears to be a rather humble Christmas day.  The gifts had already been forgotten until the movie jogged my memory.  The knick-knacks around the house are in the landfills of Chicago now.  The clothes are worn out.  Two of the five bodies have been consecrated to their graves.

And still I sit in wonder and look at the parents who gave me life.  Their motions.  Their silent words.  The delight evident in their eyes.  I did not see any of it then.  Now I can't miss it.  The mundane has become the treasured.

I never saw that coming.

Today I will live differently.  I will learn from that 18 year old kid.  There is no way he could have known he would act as the instructor for the "older, wiser, more mature" me.   In a few hours I will see my wife again and I will embrace her with the realization that this is a moment being recorded for eternities sake, if only in the Eyes of God.  This evening I plan on visiting with two of my three "kids."  The truth is, they have not been kids for a very long time.  And I barely noticed the change.  Tonight I will notice.  I will annoy them by hugging them and kissing them on the cheek or the neck ... which ever they will leave exposed long enough.  I will miss my third child and I will wonder how he is getting along on this day in his ministry, marriage, free time, life. I may just decide to annoy him by clicking on "Face Time."  I will watch my 3 grandchildren eat and play and laugh and "do life."  And I will wonder ... if they find a video of me in forty years, will it get their attention.  In our age of "YouTube" I rather doubt it.  Images of fluid movement are everywhere today.  Only the saddest of persons have no one to shoot video of them.  Only the poorest of hearts have not been digitally immortalized forever.

But here is the thing.  Will it matter?  Will we ever learn to live in awe of the tsunami of life around us?  Will we ever slow down long enough to notice ... Her hair is changing colors ... his hands are wrinkling ... see how her eyes glisten when she laughs ... look at how easily he smiles ... she looks like she is lonely ... there is a heaviness in the way he moves ...

Three minutes carved out of time forty years ago is nothing.  Or it is everything.  It all depends on what I let it teach me.

(Let me live, oh God, as though each moment matters.  Remind me that life is not just fleeting ... it is quickly replaced by whatever ... whoever ... is next in line.  Except to the Eyes that capture every moment.  Please ... give me eyes like yours.)

Sunday, January 05, 2014

A Vacation For Your Mind

It's way cold. The snow is deep. You know what you need?  You need something to read.  Build a fire, grab your favorite beverage, put on those toasty warm sweats, and send your brain on vacation. I'm working my way through two books that my kids gave me for Christmas.   The first is "Posterity - Letters By Great Americans To Their Children," by Dorie McCullough Lawson. And then there is "An Astronauts Guide a To Life On Earth," by Col. Chris Hadfield. Chris just spent six months on the International Space Station. I'm loving both of these.  I became a fan of his as he tweeted his way around the planet at seven times the speed of a bullet.

And because I like you I am going to give you the names of the ten best books I read last year. I read mostly on my IPad and you can get these pretty cheaply on Amazon that way.  Hope you find something of interest. Happy winter!

The best 10 books I read last year in no specific order:

"Killing Jesus" - Bill O'Reilly. (Wow. I learned stuff. This is written from a historical, as opposed to theological, standpoint. I highly recommend it!)

"The boys in blue white Dress" - William F. Lee  (Written by one of the military officers that stood stiffly at attention, guarding President Kennedy's casket. If you lived through this era, it's spellbinding.)

"Five Days In November" - Clint Hill  (Written by the Secret Service Agent that climbed onto the trunk of Kennedy's car after he was shot.  Last year was the 50th anniversary of the assassination and I guess I went a little bonkers, reading three Kennedy books.)

"Hearing God" - Dallas Willard  (One of the best books I've read on learning to hear God speak.)

"Love Does" (reread) - Bob Goff   (Trust me on this one. Just read the book.  You'll love every story Bob tells on every page.)

"Strengthening the soul of your leadership" - Ruth Hailey Barton  (Exactly what it sounds like. Not a fun book but a soul-feeding book.)

"When you've been wronged" - Erwin Lutzer  (I love Lutzer. An excellent book.)

"The Pursuit of God" (reread) - A.W. Tozar (Absolutely brilliant. One of my favorite books.)

"The inner life" - Francois Fenelon (A very old book by a guy who has been dead a long time. I loved it. You might or might not. Depends on your heart and your passion level to know God.  I do not mean that to sound condescending.)

"Follow Me" - David Platt - (Radical!)