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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!)

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

A Renegade Mind And The Holiness Of God

As I drove to the office this morning I listened to one of the great hymns of our faith.  "Holy, Holy, Holy!"  Against the backdrop of blue sky, the crisp New Years Eve temperatures, and the fresh mid-western air, it is easy to contemplate the goodness of God.  And so I share my "time alone with God" with you today.  Just my thoughts ... a clumsy, renegade mind ... contemplating the wonder of the Holy God.

"Holy, holy, holy!  Lord God Almighty!"
     -Pure, perfect, and righteous.  You are the Unstoppable God!
"Early in the morning my song shall rise to thee."
     -Sleeping in does not compare with entering your presence in worship.
"Holy, holy, holy!  Merciful and mighty!
     -Blameless, faultless, and spotless.  You are kind and you are powerful!
"God in three Persons, blessed Trinity!"
     -Though there is one of you, yet there are three of you!  Holy Trinity!

"Holy, holy, holy!  All the saints adore Thee."
     -Awesome, breath taking, and beautiful, everyone who is yours is in love with you!
"Casting down their golden crowns around the glassy sea."
     -We throw down our greatest rewards and they sparkle in the beauty of your creation.
"Cherubim and Seraphim, falling down before Thee."
     -Even the powerful angels voluntarily bow before you.
"Which wert, and art, and evermore shall be!"
     -The one who was.  The one who is.  The one who shall be forever!

"Holy, holy, holy!  Tho' the darkness hide Thee.
     -Lovely, captivating, precious.  Even though the sin of this world makes it hard to see You.
"Though the eye of sinful man Thy glory may not see."
     -Even though the plank in our eye keeps us from gazing upon the perfection of your beauty.
"Only Thou are holy, there is none beside Thee."
     -Still it is true that you are the only holy One.  You stand alone!
"Perfect in power, in love, and purity."
     -There is not a trace of a flaw in your ability, your motivation, or your worthiness.

"Holy, holy, holy!  Lord God Almighty!"
     -Divine, exalted, worthy!  Master, Creator, King!
"All Thy works shall praise Thy Name in earth, and sky, and sea."
     -Everything you do shouts your praises on land, in the heavens, and in the depths.
"Holy, holy, holy!  Merciful and mighty!"
     -Flawless, sinless, guiltless!  Forgiving though quite able
 to avenge!
"God in three Persons.  Blessed Trinity!"
     -The only God, presented in perfection!  YOU ALONE ARE BLESSED!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Truth from "Iron Mike"

I lay across the floor of my home office and marvel at how God spoke to me in this very place just 2 1/2 hours ago.  The lighter of the Burning Bush spoke to me. The architect of the Grand Canyon entered my morning. The designer of the Rocky Mountains paused here to get my attention. The distiller of the finest wedding wine ever consumed by man gave me a direction.

The day began in sweatpants and a T-shirt. I told those at my office yesterday that I would be hibernating in my home office today for the purpose of planning the churches sermon schedule for the next three months. That is, at best, a daunting task. What does God desire to have spoken from our pulpit for the next 12 weeks? To miss His direction is to waste serious time. Time that could be well spent mentoring, leading, and teaching the Word of God. As I unfolded my tablet computer I clicked the link to read the morning news.  Last night the Chicago Bears ... my Chicago Bears ... defeated the Dallas Cowboys in a most impressive fashion. To add frosting to the cake they retired Iron Mike Ditka's jersey in a halftime ceremony. Quite the fitting tribute.  As I read the comments Mike made in a post game interview something stirred within me as I contemplated these words, “I think when you don’t have time for people, you got a problem.’’ 

Time was slipping by. I began reading scripture and then spent some time talking to God. I told him I want to be the man that he wants me to be. I told him that I would do anything he wants me to do if He would just make clear to me what that might be.  And then I opened a blank page and began the long process of seeking to determine what God would have us to teach in our church in the coming months. I am well aware that if I mess this up, if I do not hear God clearly, I am wasting many people's time. That is not acceptable.

As I placed my hands on the keyboard my phone rang.  Noooooo.  Not now.  I'll let it go to voice mail.  I mean, that's what voice mail is for.  Right?  It could be a conversation that would be a huge time waster.  And I don't have time to waste.  So.  I'll just let this go.  Whoever it is would surely understand.  I mean ... I'm serving God here.  Right?

“I think when you don’t have time for people, you got a problem.’’

Seriously?  Ditka?  Get out of my head.

"I think when you don't have time for people, you got a problem."

This time it did not sound like Iron Mike.  It sounded like the voice of Jesus.  The Jesus that always made people His priority.  The Jesus that said, "Let Him who has ears to hear, hear."  That means, "To Him who has the Spirit of God living in him ... listen up.  I'm speaking to you.  Use your spiritual ears."

I grabbed the phone.  The conversation snatched me out of my warm, comfortable office.  It put me into my dirty, salt covered Mustang at a bone jarring 19 degrees.  It sent me on a 62 mile journey that involved an ambulance and the State Police.  And with every turn of the wheel I was aware that I was exactly where I was suppose to be on planet earth.  I was in sync with the will of my Father.  I was doing what I was created to do at that moment in time.  Why?  Because God used the words of an old football player to snap me back to reality.  And I am so glad He did.

“I think when you don’t have time for people, you got a problem.’’  If I've got time, you've got time. Make it happen. 








Thursday, October 24, 2013

So Sue Me

It's Thursday and the weekend is farther away that I'd like it to be.  It's chilly out and summer's back is broken.  I'm plopped down at my mega-desk where I can barely reach the JuJuBees in the corner so I content myself with chewing stale gum.  I'm pulling out my increasingly thin hair as I try to plot a course for our church educationally from here through spring.  The food pantry closed two hours ago and our church offices are quieter than I like them to be.  My brain is already half way to St. Charles where we will dine with our kids, grandkids, and friends tonight.  And a recently ended vacation is trying to suck me backward to the upper peninsula of Michigan where the white fish know my name and the leaves have all committed suicide.

And that is today in a nutshell.

Somehow I don't think Jesus schedule looked like my schedule.  I think He lived every minute with a laser focus boring into the lives and needs of others.  But are you like me?  Do you let the obligations of what appears to be need hold you back from what you absolutely KNOW to be needs?  (And do you see the difference?)  Shouldn't I kick this desk to splinters if it keeps me from getting up and going about the active business of loving one person?  Serving one soul?  Meeting one need? 

I dropped by my caffeination station yesterday.  A woman from our church was there and she greeted me with a "Hello, Pastor."  I returned the greeting and then knocked her over because she was blocking my way to my liquid crack.  (Just kidding about half of that last sentence.  Guess which half.)  After I paid for my drink, the manager of the store, a bearded gentlemen who would look more at home teaching at Princeton than managing a Quick Mart, (thank you, Great Recession,) ran his fingers across his hairy chin, looked at my quizzically, and said, "Did she call you 'Pastor?'"  "Yup.  She did."  We stood there for an awkward amount of time, me waiting for a follow-up question and him mulling over my original answer.  And then he said, "I'm sorry.  I'm just replaying all of our previous conversations in my mind trying to remember what I've said to you."  I've known him for about 6 months and I guess the subject of what I do with my life had never come up.  He had never asked and I had never felt the nudge.  You know.  "The Nudge."  That moment when God tells you to get involved in someone's life.  If I jump before I feel The Nudge I will probably screw things up.  So I've learned to wait.  (God is a lot smarter than I am.  And His timing is better.)  The guy isn't just a number to me.  And that's good because I forget numbers every day.  He's a guy.  A very hairy guy.  I've baptized and buried people from Quick Marts before.  So I take my caffeination and hairy guys seriously.


But here is my point.  That feels so much more "right" than sitting at a desk does.  He's a person.  My desk is a former tree.  I do love trees but I prefer people.  And I feel a constant pull ... a continual tug ... to be with people.  To build relationships.  To win the right to care and maybe be of use to someone.

Sooooo ... I'm leaving my office now.  I'm leaving the pulp behind and I'm going in search of flesh and blood.  This may be a boring blog post but my brother yelled at me about 2 weeks ago that I hadn't blogged in 5 weeks.  (Hi, Jim!)  I guess it's been 7 now.

So sue me.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Dog Days Of Summer At Woods Cemetery

 Today, with a mere 3 vacation days left before Sunday's events, I decided to take a drive.  Desperate to get out of the house.  Gotta move.  I had an errand to run and after completing it I found myself drawn to a comfortable place from my past.  Near Bunker Hill there is a cemetery with a name that intrigues me.  "Woods Cemetery."


I use to ride my motorcycle out here and spend time reading century old headstones, wondering if any were my ancestors.  Not likely, but possible.  So I drove that way today and soon found myself sitting in the midst of the dead.  It is a warm day.  I'd call it hot.  Still, I sat on a marble slab that constituted two headstones.  It overlooks the headstones of a "Pastor and Mrs. Woods."  After all of these years they are still sharing God's Word.



May I be as faithful when it is my turn.  After thinking about the lives of these ministerial saints I roamed the property, wondering about those I share a name with who lie buried under weather-worn markers.




It was just beyond this time and place, past the stained marker that reaches toward the heavens, that I heard them.  They were not barking.  It's too hot to bark.  They were just running. Toward me.  Not in my general direction.  TOWARD me.  I'm grateful to the fence that they jumped for making a bit of noise or I might not have noticed them until ... well ... let's just say I'm grateful to the fence.  The dogs convinced me from a distance that I wanted to run too.  I wouldn't call it a bonding experience.  It just seemed like the thing to do.  I nearly did a head-first dive into Emma the Mustang but a glance over my shoulder brought me to a stop.  The German Shepherd is standing over the grave marker I was reading and he's ... he's "marking his spot."  Seriously.  The dog is peeing on the headstone I had been reading. The one next to the Davis family.  The flat one with "Woods" written on it.  And his buddy, the White Lab is staring me down.  No doubt wondering if I taste like chicken.



After his bladder was empty and I was locked away in my car Mr. G. Shepherd came over to "splain something to me.  About how I should stay off his property.  I showed him my drivers license where it clearly says "Woods."  He was not impressed.


It truly has been a slow vacation.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

20 Years Ago This Weekend


The following is an entry from my personal journal about an event that unfolded in the life of my family twenty years ago this weekend.  I think God is still chuckling...

Labor Day Weekend 1993
It was Thursday, September 2, 1993.  I had a problem.  I had promised my oldest son, Scott, that this would be the year that I would take him to Wrigley Field in Chicago to see the Cubs play in their home environment.  Scott was born in the suburbs of Chicago and even though we moved away when he was just 4 months old, he considered himself a true Chicagoan.  More importantly he was for now and forever more, a Cubs fan.  He had seen the Cubs plenty of times in our local ball park, Busch Stadium in St. Louis.  But there is just something about Wrigley Field.

Well, the problem was that there were precious few Cubs games left at Wrigley Field in the 1993 season.  The kids were back in school.  We were ready to celebrate Labor Day weekend by kicking back and vegetating.  I talked with God on Thursday and asked Him what to do.  There were plenty of reasons not to go to Chicago.  Most of them had to do with laziness on my part.  I could find a million excuses...all of them good.  But none of them were good enough when God reminded me that Fathers are suppose to keep their promises.  Not only that but Scott's view of his Heavenly Father would be shaped, in part, by his view of his earthly father.  If I proved myself untrustworthy wouldn't he have reason to believe that his Heavenly Father might let him down also?  I had to go to Chicago.

Friday morning dawned and we were in the old blue van early.  We didn't have tickets and we thought we would get to Chicago and buy cheap seats, maybe arrive early enough to watch batting practice and let the kids spend some souvenir money.  We arrived in Joliet at 11:00 a.m.  Game time was 2:20.  Plenty of time!  We didn't really need gas but I figured we might as well buy it here so we wouldn't have to stop in the city.  As usual, nothing went as planned.  When we got back into the van to head on to Wrigley Field it wouldn't start.  It just sat there.  A mechanic was summoned from a local Amoco station.  Closer inspection revealed that we needed a new alternator.  Not to worry, a quick tow across the street, $280.00 worth of repairs, and we would be on our way in an hour.  Right.

Three hours later the van was repaired.  It was 2:00 p.m. on the Friday before Labor Day.  The game was set to begin in 20 minutes and we still had 40 miles to travel on one of traffics busiest Fridays in Chicago.  Debbie and I consulted briefly and decided that we had to go on.  The decision was made to get to the ball park as quickly as possible, buy the cheapest seats possible, and try to salvage a tough situation.

As I drove I had a talk with my Father.  You know the one.  The one that said fathers always keep their promises.  I wanted to know why He has sent us all this way, in obedience, only to allow the van to break down so close to our goal.  Did He get a kick out of seeing Scott's spirit crushed?  Did I misunderstand Him?  Was this a frivolous trip.  Would He rather we had spent our time back at home, sacked out in front of the tube?  I just didn't get it.  The more I asked the less I heard from the creator.

We arrived at Wrigley Field in the middle of the 2nd inning.  I was carrying Christopher by now because he had one of his famous stomach aches.  It was easier to carry him than to listen to him complain!  This was turning out to be a really swell day.

When I reached the ticket window I heard myself telling the man "Give me the 5 best seats you have left."  Debbie looked on in horror as the man asked, "Would you like box seats?" and I responded with a weak "Yes.".  She handed me $85.00 in stunned silence.  I paid the man.  (Today it would take more than $85.00 to buy a families lunch at Wrigley!)

We entered the gate without a clue concerning where we should go.  I just walked toward daylight in the closest tunnel I could find.  We emerged into the sunshine directly behind home plate.  As Scott stepped  out of the shadows a pitch was delivered to Sammy Sosa, the current Cub batter.  Scott’s first view of Wrigley Field was a blur.  A ferocious swing, the crack of the bat, and the ensuing flight of the ball over the left field fence.  His mouth hung open (so did mine) as one of his hero's trotted around the bases.  By now I had managed to find an usher and present our tickets to her, expecting to be pointed up and out to seats similar to those we usually occupied at Busch Stadium.  Instead she said, "Follow me, sir."  Shock turned to disbelief.  She was going closer to the field.  As a matter-of-fact she was walking toward the visiting Mets dugout.  She didn't stop until she reached the front row.  She pointed to our seats and walked away.  The five of us looked at each other not knowing what to do.  Eventually we made our way down the aisle, Scott and Kelli on the front row and Debbie, Chris and I directly behind them in the second.

I honestly didn't know what to do.  I thought somebody had made a mistake.  They had to have given us the wrong tickets.  I turned to the man next to me and asked him if tickets in this section were always available on game day.  He turned rather pale.  Making a quick recovery he asked if I would mind telling him what I had paid for my tickets.  I explained that I had just purchased them 5 minutes earlier at the ticket window.  Clutching his chest he told me that he had bought his two months earlier from a ticket broker ... at $85.00 per ticket.  I didn't know what to say!  Trying to make him feel better I told him that we had missed the first inning.  His response left me trembling.  "It's a good thing you were late," he said.  As he pointed to the seat Scott was sitting in he said, "Last inning Ryne Sandberg hit a rocket into that seat.  If he had been sitting there then he would, at best, be on his way to the hospital right now.  As a matter-of-fact, a photographer was sitting next to it.  He got so shook up he left."

I had to bite my lip for a second before I could relay this information to Debbie.  It seems that our Father had known best after all.  Not only did He save us some of the best seats in Wrigley Field, but He slowed us down just enough to insure our safety.  God is good.  All the time.

Oh yeah, the Cubs won.

(Father, thank you for loving my children.  I did not know that anyone could love them more than I do but somehow you manage it.  Scott knows where those tickets came from.  All of the children do.  When I have enough courage to obey you exciting things happen.  Usually it involves situations that make my pulse beat faster and my "fight or flight" impulses scream!  But always, just before the unexpected disaster, whether it is a baseball to the head or the unexpected repair bill, you show yourself strong and loving.  And you meet my needs.  Thanks.)

Monday, June 24, 2013

The 9th Street IPhone Symphony

I sat at the long row of wooden tables with my "Partner in BBQ" on the sidewalks of St. Louis a couple of Friday's ago.  We have declared the sixth day of each week in the summer of '13 to be our "Great Barbeque Hunt Friday's." On those days you will finds us at a new restaurant sampling the sweet and savory sauces that increasingly runs through our veins.  On this day we were at Bogarts in the Soulard neighborhood.  And we were IMpressed.  Yes, we were wowed enough to capitalize the IM in IMpressed.  English teachers ... hush up.

As Debbie and I devoured our pulled pork our phones both began chirping an irregular tone.  And then, instantaneously, the entire row of tables seemed alive with the exact same tone.  You would know it if you heard it ... it is a tone peculiar to the iphone.  Evidently iphone owners feel a singular call to Bogarts. (Or perhaps, a "cingular" call?)  Up and down the sidewalk iphones chirped.  Across the street iphones chirped.  In passing cars iphones chirped.  And so there we were.  Roughly 30 strangers all looking bewildered as our phones mimicked each other.  And as one we all reached for those magical tools to see what the fuss was about.  It seems an "Amber Alert" had been issued for the immediate area we were in and a message had been dispatched to cell phones in our location.

Now friends, that is a great idea.  Kudo's to the phone companies and law enforcement for getting one right.  I never heard any more and I do not know if the missing person was found or not.  But I will not soon forget the iphone symphony on 9th Street.

I'm one of those guys who believes that God speaks to His kids.  It only makes sense.  The Bible talks about it.  It's happened throughout history.  God never announced that He was shutting-up.  The Bible actually talks about "the still, small voice of God."  Add to that the fact that I have experienced the inaudible whisper of God many times in many ways and you might correctly assume that I'm convinced.  God speaks.  Today.  To His children.  And if you are His, He will speak to you.  I believe that.  But you have to be "His kid."  You have to have His Spirit living inside of you.  And that happens when you decide to trust Christ as the Savior of your soul and the Director of your destiny.  And when the Spirit moves into you ... you are "activated."  You have been equipped.  You now have "spiritual ears" and are capable of two-way communication with God.  And when it happens ... it's a beautiful thing.  Nothing is better than hearing God's voice.  Because when God speaks it means there is hope.

There were a few people at those tables on 9th Street that had no idea what was going on.  Those people did not have iphones.  They had never heard that tone and they didn't recognize it as being important.  But those who had been equipped ... those who had the iphones ... they knew.  How great would it be if all believers were that prepared and knew what it was like to hear God's voice.  So many live in denial.  So many live in spiritual sadness, wanting to have an intimate relationship with God but not understanding that He is indeed available for them now.  Today.  He is speaking to them and they do not recognize it as Him.

This is a subject that is so dear to my heart I could talk about it all day.  Hearing God ... intimacy with The Almighty ... it is our for the taking.  For free!  You may not agree (I've had long discussions with those who do not and who got rather ... huffy ... with me because I do) so let me say without any sarcasm or malice in any way.  If you do not agree with me ... that is alright!  Enjoy the silence!  And I will enjoy The Voice!

The IPhone Symphony reminded me of something.  It's in the words of an old song.  It goes, "And He walks with me, and He TALKS with me!  And He tells me I am His own.  And the VOICE I hear, falling on my ear, none other has ever known!"

I just thought you might want to know.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

A Honk And A Whisper

HONK!  HONK!  HONK!  HONK!  HONK!  HONK!  HONK!

It was 2AM and I was sleeping like a dead man.  Debbie was out of town and, as is my habit, I had positioned myself in a sprawl to take up as much of our king-size bed as possible.  I believe in streeeetching out and enjoying myself when the whole thing is mine.   Last Sunday night was no exception.

HONK!  HONK!  HONK!  HONK!  HONK!  HONK!  HONK!

I barely heard it in the deepest levels of my sleep.  It incorporated itself into the dream I was living in.  I can’t remember the dream anymore.  But the HONK was there.  I fought my way up a level of sleep.  And then two levels.

HONK!  HONK!  HONK!  HONK!  HONK!  HONK!

I recall blinking my eyes rapidly, trying to figure out where I was … who I was … and why it sounded like a submarine was blaring its warning signal that it was about to submerge in my bedroom.  The feel of the soft feather-filled comforter brought me back to reality.  I sat up, looking around.  Still unable to process that incessant…

HONK!  HONK!  HONK!  HONK!  HONK!  HONK!  HONK!

Then I knew.  Emma the Mustang.  She was alone in the garage tonight.  Maury the Maroon Trail Blazer was away with Debbie.  Why would Emma’s alarm be going off in my own garage unless … I pulled a Superman, jumped out of bed “in a single bound” and sprinted to the garage.  Emma was all alone, her head lights flashing and horn roaring.  I went back to my bedroom to get my keys off the dresser.  No keys.  Just a lonely wallet.  I ran to the dining room.  Not on the table.  The kitchen.  Same result.  Back to the bedroom.  Not on the floor.  Also not under the bed, in the tub, in my “man-cave,” and not in the refrigerator.  (Yes, I looked.)  The horn was still doing what horns do best.  The keys were doing what keys do best.  Hiding.  They must be …..

Oh, geez.  Not in my jeans.  Please, Lord.  Not in my jeans.  I ripped open the lid on the washing machine and …

HONK!  HONK!  HONK!  HONK!  HONK!  HONK!  HONK!

… reached in, searching for my wet, newly laundered blue jeans.  Found ‘em.  Quick.  The pocket.  The left pocket.

HONK!  HONK!  HONK!  HONK!  HONK!  HONK!  HONK!

NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO…..  my soggy keys fell out onto the floor.  I grabbed them, prayed they would work, and pushed the panic button.

HONK!  HONK!  HONK!  HONK!  HONK!  HONK!  HONK!

Not good.  I ran back to the garage, opened the car door, slid the key into the ignition and started Emma up.  And at last … peace.  Quiet.  Solitude.  I fell forward and leaned on the steering wheel, considering falling back to sleep right there.  And then taking a deep breath.  A breath that smelled like … EXHAUST!  Quick!  Turn the key off!  Turn the key off NOW!  And I fell back onto the wheel.  My right hand grabbed for the garage door opener and pressed down until I heard the door kick to life.  Surprisingly, my neighbors were not marching up the street with flaming torches in their hands ready to beat the noisy offender to a bloody pulp with clubs and tire irons.

As I leaned upon the steering wheel at 2:15AM and felt the breeze from outside wash over me, a voice spoke.  A quiet voice.  A voice of stillness.

“You know, Ron, your life has been a lot like that horn lately.  You are paying attention to every screaming voice, every squeaky wheel.  You are so busy searching for the elusive key to the quiet that you have forgotten that the quiet resides INSIDE of you.  You are turned outward all day long, living in the rough and tumble world, dealing with issues, trying to help people solve their problems.  Trying to move the flock that I have given you closer to me.  You have forgotten that you have to turn inward into the stillness.  I reside in you.  I want to sit with you in the peace.  I want to enjoy you in the solitude.  The key is to stop.  Just stop.  Sit down with me, lean into me, and let’s be together.”

I looked around the garage.  I was alone.  The inaudible voice was one I have come to know.  It’s the voice of the Spirit of God.  Oh, how I love to hear from Him!  There is peace in that voice.  Promise in that voice.  Joy in that voice.

And so I am trying again.  I’m not trying harder.  I’m trying easier.  I’m doing all I can to simply “stop doing” several times a day.  And I’m trying to “fall inward.”  I’m trying to look upward.  I’m trying to listen in stillness.

To enjoy.  To be enjoyed.  By my creator, my Lord, my King.  That is what my life is made for.

Odd, isn’t it?  It took a loud HONK at 2AM to remind me to listen to a quiet WHISPER at 2:15.  That is the way my God works.  And I love Him for it.

Thursday, June 06, 2013

I've Been Google-Ized!

Today I was driving along, minding my own business and not causing harm to anything, when what should appear out my window but … The Google Car!  You know the one.  This is the vehicle that takes the pictures for Google “street view” on Google Maps.

You have to understand, I have been waiting months … YEARS … for this opportunity.  I have always heard about people doing weird things when the Google Car comes by.  They have photographically documented naked people, dead people, crimes being committed, and a guy in a horse head mask.  That's just for starters.  Never wanting to disappoint my fans (both of you) I have put together a grand scheme to out prank all of them.  A plan for the ages!

But here’s the problem.  Nobody tells you where the car is or when it is coming down your street.  This is unfortunate.  In order to actually get yourself into the official Google Street View pictures you have to be extremely lucky.  And I was not.  I noticed the car as I was pulling out of my street and onto the highway this morning.  I chased it down and it looked like this …

 

So I turned in behind it, though I was a car or two back.  I hurried toward the intersection and got this close …

 

And finally, I chased it into a cul-de-sac!  I had it trapped!  Sadly, it was a short cul-de-sac and, though  I had it trapped, I had no time to get out of the car and execute my plan …

 
All I could do was wave...

This makes me sadder than you know.  All of the potential was there and I had absolutely no time to pull it off.  I do not know how often the Google Car comes around but the chances of my finding it next time … not good.

My opportunity for fame and fortune, not to mention an appearance on the Jimmy Fallon, has slipped through my fingers.  I had hoped one day to be as famous as The Colonel.  You know.  The Kentucky Fried Chicken Guy.  His picture is actually visible from space on Google Maps.  KFC put him out in a field knowing that eventually Google would take pictures and they were right.  His is the first ad to be visible from space …

 
 
So there it is, sports fans.  I have been Google-ized.  That's not too bad even though my plan was to Ron-ize Google.  I came up a bit short on this one.
 
So.
 
Space has eyes, guys.  Do you feel like somebody always has you in His view?  Kind of like  you are always being watched.  Every moment.  Like ... constantly?  Don't freak out about Google.  And don't go all conspiracy-theory on me.  There are bigger eyes than that.  2 Chronicles 16: 9a says, " The eyes of the Lord search the whole earth in order to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him..."  God is watching and that is a good thing.  He's cheering for us,  urging us on.  Exhorting us to be all that we can be.  And He isn't just cheering ... He's watching.  Like a father at his son's little league game, God is even nearer than the stands and He is on your side.
 
And so I suggest that you do your best.  Don't get caught doing the crime.  It breaks God's heart when He sees you dishonoring yourself by "living in the mud."  I want to bring joy to His heart today.  I want Him to catch me serving, loving, and honoring.  I'm not performing for the (Google) camera.  I'm performing for the eyes of my "Dad."
 
 
And that's a can't lose opportunity.


Thursday, May 30, 2013

Other Than That We Had A Really Good Afternoon...

Life is good.  Some  things are gooder than others.  Awesome barbeque is way up on my list of reasons to get up in the morning.  And thus we were off on an adventure last Friday.  You might call it "Ron and Debbie's Most Excellent Adventure Gone Bad."  The target of our journey?  Pappy's Barbeque in St. Louis.  World famous (not really, but they think they are.)  Incredibly delicious (true, if you eat the ribs.)  Worth the hour long wait (uhhhhhh ... no.  I can only think of a few things in life worth an hour long wait.  But then I'm not known as "Captain Impatience" for nothing.)

After we annihilated our barbeque we returned to Emma the Mustang, pulled out of the parking lot, and began the return trip across the river to our Illinois homestead.  We drove down Olive Blvd. and a "pop... pop, pop, pop" interrupted our conversation.  The neighborhood was not dangerous but Debbie asked me "gun fire?"  I honestly couldn't say that it wasn't.  It had that same semi-distorted sound that you get outdoors when you are near, but not at, a shooting range.  Another mile down the road we heard it again.  So it could not be gunfire.  It had to be car related.  Emma was running smoothly.  Nothing seemed to be amiss.

I steered the Mustang onto the interstate and realized we were in the heart of traffic fleeing the city at the beginning of the Memorial Day weekend.  "POP...POP, POP, POP!"  Our wheels were back on Illinois turf having just run out of runway on the Martin Luther King bridge.  "POP..."  you get the idea.  And then ... whoa.  All of the instruments on my dash went gonzo.  The speedometer, tachometer, and all of those lesser gauges were alternately burying themselves at maximum power or falling to a terminal zero.  And every time it went to zero I lost all power from the engine.  That would last a couple of seconds and the next "POP" would restore power.  We were on a sports car teeter-totter.


Emma The Mustang 
And did I mention that we were in heavy traffic in East St. Louis?  Because that played prominently in my thinking.  This went on for perhaps ten minutes with no reprieve.  I was just coaxing it along knowing that this really wasn't a good place to stop and, hey, that truck coming up behind me is certainly going faster than my 35mph.  The convertible top was down and it was getting hot. And something smelled hot.  As casually as I could I mentioned to Debbie that she might want to unbuckle her seatbelt and be ready to jump out if the car burst into flames.  At the moment that scenario did not seem so far fetched.

And finally the power from the engine got so weak that I did the only thing I could do, making a bit of an impromptu exit across two lanes of traffic and onto St. Clair Avenue.  The car kept running.  It began to idle normally.  (People watched from a distance.) I considered turning it off and letting it cool down but in exchange for that opportunity other things might heat up.  (People watched from a LESSER distance.)  That seemed like a bad deal.  I eyed the entrance ramp back on to I-64.  I know Debbie was trying to figure out what I was doing (so was I) as I dropped Emma into gear and dove back into traffic.  Forty-five breathless minutes later, after numerous exits and attempts to get out of the busy rush of homeward bound vehicles, we turned into our driveway.  I backed out again and parked in front of our house.  We got out and I hit the button to lock the doors.  It didn't work.  I hit the horn.  Nothing.  I turned the ignition.  Dead as a hair brush.  Oh, wow.  I thought about how close I had come to turning the engine off on that East St. Louis exit ramp.  Kind of glad I didn't do that.

Before I went into the house I glanced under the hood.  Did I mention I got a "C-" in Auto Shop back in high school?  And that was for simply working on a lawn mower engine.  After confirming the engine was still there, "hmmm"ing a few times and grabbing the occasional engine part so Debbie would be impressed, I went into the house.

I spent the first part of the weekend trying to figure out which mechanic to use on my sure to be thousands-of-dollars repair.  I mentioned to God that I really appreciated Him having bailed us out on the drive home and I would do my best to follow His lead on the upcoming repair.  And then Sunday came and I walked out to Emma, opened the door with a key, popped the hood and look underneath.  It took my trained eye (sic) all of five seconds to notice ... the positive battery cable was off.

What?

I put the cable back on.  I hit the button the remote on my keychain.  The door locked.  I hit the "panic button."  The horn worked.  I started the car.  I drove for half an hour.

Perfect.  Perfect.

I have no idea how the battery cable came off.  That doesn't just happen.  But it did.  And it was bouncing around hitting the battery terminal every time it swung back and forth.  When it hit the terminal the battery would pop and the car would start, restoring power.  When it would swing away from the terminal there was not enough power from the alternator to keep things going and the engine would actually die (or lose all power while coming very close to dying.  Hey... I'm not a mechanic. I'm guessing here. Remember?)  All of this trouble for a loose bolt and a popped cable.

I've been thinking about all of that this week.  No real harm was done.  Unless you count our adrenal system which is still trashed.  Debbie wakes up in the middle of the night screaming "Give me more power, Scotty!"  But in talking this through with God He has pointed something out.  The same thing happens to my life that happened to my car.  Sometimes I come "unplugged" from God.  He still loves me.  I'm still saved.  Heaven is still on my itinerary.  But I lose all power.  And then I swing back and "POP!" I get back in my groove.  For a day or two.  And then along comes another swing to the left and I come unplugged again.  No power.

How very sad.  God created me to run on a steady diet of direction and energy that He provides for me when I stay closely connected to Him.  But sometimes I forget and I think I am doing it all myself.  I think I'm really smart.  And I think I'm really in control.  And all of the good things that I see God do ... I think they are getting done because I'm so very good at what I do and at just being who I am.

How silly.  How stupid.  I cannot do anything of eternal worth unless empowered by the Spirit planted in me by my Father.  I am reminded of what Paul said to the "foolish Galatians" in Galatians 3.  "How foolish can you be? After starting your Christian lives in the Spirit, why are you now trying to become perfect by your own human effort?  Have you experienced so much for nothing? Surely it was not in vain, was it?"

Oh, foolish Ron.  Get it together.  You've been on this journey with Jesus for a long, long, time.  Do you really think you are running on your own power?  You might want to rethink that, big fella...  Or, as Dr.  Phil says, "How's that working for ya?"

Not so good.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Loving 'Em All

I'm still learning.

I began my foray into my  "Love 'Em All" plan days ago.  The idea was to write every day about an encounter I manufactured during the day to bless or restore someone, loving them while lifting myself out of a bit of an emotional slump.  It sounded like a good idea at the time.  But today I hear the electronic voice of reason screaming in my ear, "ABORT!  ABORT!  ABORT!"

It's not hard finding people to love and bless.  It is very hard to write in a way that is non-embarrassing to them.  Most, though not all, of the people I've tripped over and worked to bless are people I know.  That means they may well read this blog.  And if I bless them only to hurt them, well, that's not a good idea.  Know what I mean?

So I am continuing my "Love 'Em All" journey but I won't be writing about it unless it's a unique opportunity and will not cause anyone pain.

Just thought you might want to know.  The lesson is ... love well.  But keep it to yourself.  Most of the time.