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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!)

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.