Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Jesus Glasses

"Can't see worth a darn."  I am pretty certain that's what it says on my personal chart at the eye doctor's office.  So I sport these not-so-cool-but-totally-necessary things that wrap around three-quarters of my head and drape across my eyeballs.  They are called "glasses."  When I put them on the world clears up.  These glasses are even more special than typical generic glasses.  They have a vertical line across them.  We call these "bi-focal's."  You have probably heard of them.  You might even have your own pair.  If you look above the line the world comes into focus.  If you look below the line the printed page comes into focus.  Now these have been around almost as long as the Cubs have been losing.  I even have a seriously shaded wrap-around pair for outside activities.  They save my life every time I slip behind the steering wheel.  (Don't laugh.  I'm sharing your highways.)  What my world looks like depends upon the glasses I am wearing.  The proper glasses brings the world into focus in a way that helps me to see reality.  No glasses at all and I just might think that ten-ton-truck cresting the hill ... you know, the truck I'm about to pull out in front of ... is farther away than he actually is.  That would be bad.  Or on a Sunday morning when I'm speaking from an elevated stage I might not realize how close the first step is and, well, it gets ugly from there.  In order to deal appropriately with the real world it is important that I am looking at it through the correct lenses.

That makes sense.  Right?  Nobody would seriously doubt that.  Here is the point.  (You knew there was one, didn't you...)

Last Friday I was enjoying a day off while writing a sermon in my home office.  (Note the irony.)  After a while I pushed back from the desk,  picked-up the remote, and turned the television on.  I found myself staring at a town I had never heard of, Newtown, Connecticut, and listening to a reporter tell a story I could scarcely believe.  You have heard it repeated a thousand times by now.  Twenty children dead.  Teachers dead.  A dead mother.  A dead shooter.  Like you, I spent the day rotating between broken, angry, confused, and a dozen or so other emotions.  And, like you, I'm still somewhat stuck in that rotation.

This morning I found myself at my real office at my real desk.  It is nearing Christmas which is nearing New Years which is pretty much the #1 reflective time in our lives.  My mind was drawn to those twenty kids and to the people that I have known in my personal life who have left me this year.  It seems that 2012 was a busy year for death.   Ashley is still floating around the top of my brain and I don't see any sign that those who knew her are going to get over her any time soon.  That's alright because it was Ashley who reminded me that maybe this is all about glasses too.  I hate leukemia.  I lost three ... count 'em THREE ... friends to that demonic disease this year.  And I'm hacked-off at it.  I'm broken, crushed, confused, angry ... all of those things I feel about the events of Newtown I also feel about losing my friends.  But here's the thing.  When it comes to the loss of my friends I put my glasses on.  I look at their departure through the lenses of scripture.  Or, if you prefer, through the lenses of Jesus.  Here is what those glasses brings into focus for me.  "Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints."  Psalm 116: 15.  Or maybe you prefer it the way the New Living Translations says it, "The LORD cares deeply when his loved ones die."

God cares.  He does.  I could take more of your time (and I will if you want me to) and bring more truth into focus through the glasses of scripture.  Instead let me just summarize it all for you.  When you look at reality through the lenses of Jesus Christ you come to understand that God cares.  He cares so much that He acted.  He sent Jesus so that our separation caused by death would be temporary and not permanent.  Say that word.  "Temporary."  Roll it around on your tongue and then spit it out of your mouth in the direction of the nearest tombstone.  God makes it clear that those who die "in Christ" go home.  There is another really good word.  Home.  He tells us that home is much preferable to here.  Heaven (home) is better than earth.  Home is where our Father is.  It is the safe place where we all meet up after the battle of life on this fallen planet.  What happened last week in Newtown is beastly.  Evil at its worst.  Sadly the world has always had a penchant for sacrificing its children.  How many of the Jews killed in the holocaust were children?  How many were killed in the Rwandan genocide?  You do not want to know.  And it should make us furious.  It should also make us run for our glasses.  Our scripture glasses.  And then we will see reality more deeply than ever before.  We will see Jesus himself gently say, "Let the children come to me. Don't stop them! For the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to those who are like these children."

We will never remove all evil from the earth.  That is God's job and He will most assuredly get it done.  But we can make great headway when we decide once again to take the children to Jesus.  I do  not believe it is over simplistic to say that taking away violent video games, guns, porn, and all of the things that bring pain and perversion to young lives will become elementary once we decide as a culture ... not one school at a time but one home at a time ... to teach them about Christ.

Put your glasses on friends.  You do not want to view this world without Jesus.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Reindeer Tongues and Speeding Strollers

They came.  They saw.  They conquered.  This time of the year (Okay, any time of the year) much of my attention is scarfed up by three wee little ones that I call "rug rats."  Or, more properly, grandkids.  They put the light in the sun and the fizz in my drink.  They can show up after a wedding or a funeral and every thought is put on hold as they become the centerpiece of my brain.
Honestly, that surprises me.  It's a poorly kept secret that I preferred to never have children.  By logical assumption I never wanted grandkids either.  That is because I did not have the slightest understanding of how God arranges life.  He builds it into our DNA to live life for those who come after us.  That is what keeps me from throwing my gum wrappers out the window of my car, and causes me to think twice before doing my best to wreck the environment.  Were it not for the generations coming after me I would be the #1 environmental assassin.  I would kick cans into the Grand Canyon and throw laundry detergent into the river above Niagara Falls.  I do love me some bubbles.
And then these three come along and ruin my fun.  The Amazing Elle.  The Precious Paisley.  The Joyful Judah.  I didn't apply for them.  I didn't win a contest.  I simply ... lived.  I reproduced myself (grant it, with the help of my wife who "claims" to have known all along how awesome kids are.  I have my doubts.)  Eventually my kids began reproducing themselves.  And now here we are, the last to get seated at restaurants because there are so many of us.  And I freakishly don't mind waiting.

Last weekend we took all three to see (and feed) live reindeer.  This is much more fun than taking them to see (and feed) dead reindeer.  So we went.  The verdict was mixed.  They loved feeding them crackers but they were not so hot on feeding them oats.  Nor was I.  The reindeer expected you to pour the oats into your hand and they would then lick them from your palm.


I think I understand why Jesus loved little kids so much.  They just are who they are.  No pretense.  You love them for who they are ... or you don't.  And Jesus did.  Their laughter is infectious.  Last night I was pushing Paisley around the second floor of the Galleria in her stroller.  I wasn't just pushing her.  She was the race car and I was the engine.  I spied a stair case leading to the first floor.  I aimed at it and off we went.  Full speed ahead.  Fear brought her half way out of her seat just as I stopped ... her two front wheels dangling over the first step.  She looked back over the handles at me and I could tell what she was thinking.  "Please God.  Just get me back to mom.  This guys nuts."  I tempered my actions a bit.  When a three year old thinks you are immature ... well.  Yet just minutes later we were walking the length of the mall to go to our cars.  Paisley looked up and me and said, "Let's race!"  So off we went.  We dodged in and out of surprised shoppers and around kiosks.  That's when I noticed Pais looking up at me over the handle again.  "The STAIRS, grandpa!  The STAIRS!" 

I love these kids.  The three of them think like I do.  And I don't care what you say ... that's a "win" for me.

And somehow I think Jesus sports a great big smile when He leads us on a scary mission.  He sees our eyes grow big and knows that we are thinking, "Please just get me to heaven safely.  This guy is crazy!"  And then I suppose there is a God-sized belly laugh when He hears us later on praying, "Father, I never felt more alive than I did when you were using me.  Scared.  But ALIVE.  Let's do it again!"

Jesus loves it when the kids come over.  Maybe He's waiting for you to drop by?  Perhaps it has been a while?  Why not spend a few minutes with Him today.  See what He's got in mind for your life.  It's a ride you won't regret.  Just remember ... you have to put up with oats and speeding strollers ...

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

I cannot...

I cannot hit a major league fastball out of any park in the country.
But I can love the people in the seats around me.

I cannot write an award winning novel.
But I can immerse myself in the beauty of the written word.

I cannot sing a recognizable note of music.
But I can close my eyes and drift through the endless melodies.

I cannot speak to untold thousands and teach them God's truths.
But I can go next door and tell my neighbor.

I cannot fix all that is broken in our world of pain.
But I can give a cup of cold water to "the least of these" and feed a hungry child.

I cannot keep winter from coming.
But I can put a coat on a child that does not have one.

I cannot erase one traffic jam.
But I can allow the man in the disappearing lane to enter mine.

I cannot cure a disease.
But I can pray with someone who is hurting and sick.

I cannot destroy hate.
But I can live love.

"Love does no wrong to others, so love fulfills the requirements of God's law.  This is all the more urgent, for you know how late it is; time is running out.  Wake up, for our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.  The night is almost gone, the day of salvation will soon be here.  So remove your dark deeds like dirty clothes, and put on the shining armor of right living.  Because we belong to the day, we must live decent lives for all to see.  Don't participate in the darkness of wild parties and drunkenness, or in sexual promiscuity and immoral living, or in quarreling and jealousy.  Instead, clothe yourself with the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ.  And don't let yourself think about was to indulge your evil desires." 
Romans 13: 10-14

Friday, November 30, 2012

Good Grief ... Getting Through It

I'm the pastor and I'm pretty sure it's there in the pastor handbook that I should never say something like what I'm about to say.  (Hey.  Wait.  I never got my handbook.  I NEVER GOT MY HANDBOOK!!!)  I'm fairly certain I'm suppose to be beyond this kind of thing.   But let's just get real for a second.

This week has just kicked the crap out of me.

Debbie and I returned from a wonderful, albeit brief, vacation last week.  We celebrated our wedding anniversary where we had honeymooned.  It was barbecue, fresh mountain streams, minor league hiking, awe inspiring views, and the wonder of a long lasting romance.  All laughter and joy.  We came home in time for Thanksgiving with the fam.  Loved every minute of it.  Then ... Well, then it all fell apart.  A precious friend and from our church passed away at a seasoned 88 years old.  Then the horrible news came that Ashley had been summoned to Jesus side.  We said goodbye to Mike and Lori, my Associate Pastor and his wife, as they left us to serve in another church.  We both got bombed by some stomach virus from hell.  Then came Juanita's visitation.  Her funeral was the following morning.  Then Ashley's visitation and funeral the morning after that.  The stomach bug held on like Brian Urlacher attacking a Green Bay quarterback.

Today is Friday.  I'm off work and I found myself staring at the TV screen for nearly an hour.  Nothing odd about that.  Except that I haven't turned the TV on all day.

And I wonder ... what do you do when life sucker-punches you?  Bunches of us are reeling this week from losing Ashley.  I drove to the cemetery alone late yesterday afternoon.  I found a mound of earth covered by fresh sod and a  pile of weathered flowers.  I did not find Ashley.  That little lady is the cornerstone of the pain.  The pain coup 'de grace. She's the mountain and the other events of the week are the foothills.

How do you get through it?  How do you take the pleasantries and platitudes we speak about her life and death and turn them into a cohesive plan to get through the grief?  I admit that I'm still putting the plan into effect myself.  I've not nearly finished.  But here are the only things I am aware of that actually work.

First, you own up to reality.  This might be more difficult than you think.  We all  like to say sweet things to help each other painful moments.  Unfortunately, some of the things we say sound great but are just not true.  Ashley is not an angel looking down and watching over us all.  That's nowhere to be found in the bible.  She is much more than that.  She is a saint of God that He purchased with His own blood.  No angel can make that claim.  Don't short change Ashley by calling her an angel.  The bible says, "Do you not know that we will judge the angels?"  (I Corinthians 6: 3)  Ashley is ABOVE the angels.  That's pretty cool any way you look at it.  Also, it really does not help to "send warm thoughts and good vibration's" to others who are hurting.  I mean, how do you do that?  How do you send a thought?  How do you package up a vibration and send it?  Again, that sounds good.  Surely the intentions are good.  But get real.  This is the time to pray for each other.  It is appropriate to talk to God and ask Him to help those who are hurting.  That is prayer.  Do you want to help?  Voicing prayers works because you are talking to God.  Sending thoughts simply makes you feel warm and fuzzy.  And I think right now we need the real touch of God.

Second, grieve.  Grieve real and grieve hard.  If you need to, go ahead and kick and spit and cuss.  You can tell God what you think.  He has big shoulders.  Now, I do my best to be very respectful when I pray.  I mean, He IS God, after all.  But don't chicken out of telling Him what you really think and feel.  Guess what ... He already knows.  Once you tell Him about it maybe He'll hug you.  Maybe He'll say, "Yeah, I know.  I hate death too.  That's why I'm killing it."  (I Corinthians 15: 2, "And the last enemy to be destroyed is death.")  It's great to know God hates the same thing you hate.

Finally, put all your marbles into one basket.  You already know what I'm going to say by now.  (Hey, I warned you.  I'm "the preacher.")  The basket that works ... the ONLY basket that works ... is God's basket.  Tell Him that you need help getting through this.  Ask Him to walk you through the pain and the grief.  Ask Him to put people in your path that understand.  Find a friend, a counselor, or a pastor and dump on them.  They probably already have kleenex around so you'll be fine.  But friend, if you bottle this up it will eventually wreck you.  I've been wrecked a few times.  I've got the scars.  I managed through my stubborn stupidity to damage myself physically in ways that will not heal.  Living stupid does that.  Maybe your stupid involves a bottle or a pill or an out-of-hand party.  Those things do not work.  Walk away from them.  They leave their own brand of scars. And you need to trust me about the scars. You do not want them.

I believe if Ashley were writing this blog she might end it with more than her classic humor and twisted teasing.  I believe her love for her family and friends would cause her to say something from the heart.  Something of substance.  I believe Ashley would say that she is supremely happy and joyful today because she put her faith and trust in Jesus Christ.  I believe she would want you to do the same.  And I believe she would speak the words found in Psalm 130: 5 ... "I am counting on the Lord; yes, I am counting on Him. I have put my hope in His Word."

You see, we did not really "lose" Ashley.  How can you say something is lost when you know where it is?  And we know where Ashley is.  "To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord." (2 Corinthians 5: 8)

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Ashley Dilemma

Like many people this week I have been struggling with what I have come to call "The Ashley Dilemma."  Why would God ... whose very essence is Love ... allow a young woman of incredible beauty, strength, popularity, influence, and intelligence to suffer the ravages of Leukemia three times, defeat it three times, only to succumb to a virtual side-effect of her bone marrow transplant?  Where is the logic in that?  How can that possibly make sense?

My faith in God, my belief in God, remains unshaken.  I have known Him too long and walked with Him too far to believe at this increasingly advancing age that He sometimes decides to do us dirty.  Nope.  Doesn't happen.  There has to be another answer.

To say that Ashley was unique is probably an exaggeration.  I believe there are other Ashley's out there right now.  They are loving, serving, giving, and caring.  They are imperfect, blemished and flawed.  But I would not short change the current generation of young women by saying that they do not exist and that when our Ashley left the planet her uniqueness left as well.

But that is beside the point.  And the point is ... what is God thinking?

I knew many great Ashley stories going into this last week.  I lived some of them out with her.  I heard a great many more stories during our moments of grieving.  My favorite one was unknown to me until I heard it first from her parents and then from another young woman at yesterdays funeral.  It seems that when Ashley was a freshmen in high school she was preparing to attend "homecoming."  That is a very big deal at Civic Memorial High School.  Ashley had a friend who seemed to be everything Ashley was not.  She was not popular.  Not well dressed.  Not able to afford to attend Homecoming.  And all of that was not acceptable to Ashley.  And so, very quietly, with absolutely no fan fare, Ashley paid for her to have a new dress with her own money.  She dressed her up, helped her with all of the details, and invited her to attend with her.  And so off they went.  This unlikely duo attending homecoming surrounded by very popular ... and probably very confused ... teenagers.  Ashley became not only her friend, but her advocate.  When a party was given, the girl was invited or Ashley refused to attend either.  Are you getting a picture of what kind of person Ashley was?  She was not perfect.  But ... well ... she loved.  And that's just pretty rare these days.

I've spent many hours this week praying.  Prodding God really.  Asking.  Wondering.  I usually did it with a strong case of nausea and a spinning head.  I did it during the sleepless nights and the tossing and turning and sweating and telling God over and over again what He should have done and how maybe this one time He should have checked with me first.  I do not know where the bug that I was battling ended and the pure stress of fulfilling Ashley's fathers request that I be Ashley's voice at the funeral service began.  It doesn't much matter.   Pardon my earthiness but puke is puke.  Finally, late last night, after all of the memorials were finished, the remains of my friend were buried, and my house was quiet and dark, and sleep was still not coming, God whispered.

God did not allow Ashley to suffer even though she was special.  Ashley was special because God allowed her to suffer.

Her pain taught her that life was not about her.  Her desperation taught her that she had to rely on one bigger than herself.  Feeling helpless and hopeless taught her to care for others that feel helpless and hopeless.  Wondering if her life was going to end early taught her to love others who maybe wished their lives would end early.  And I believe in the middle of all of that, in those very early teenage years, Ashley ran head first into the Christ who had suffered as well.  His suffering resonated with hers.  And she fell in love with Jesus in a way that did not prompt her to pursue a perfect Sunday School attendance record.  She did not separate herself from those lost in the battles of earth by sequestering herself in the faux holy halls of self-righteousness.  No, she got down and dirty with them.  Just like Jesus did.  Ashley could have gotten bitter.  Instead she chose to get better.  Her battles made her the phenomenal woman that she was. 

And she changed her corner of the world.

I will miss you, Ms. Brown.  We got separated a bit there at the end.  I went to Cleveland and you went to Murray State.  We didn't talk much until you entered the world of pain again.  But thank you for teaching this old guy some things.  Thank you for being real, and earthy, and oh so much like Jesus.  One of the last text messages you sent me said, "Ohh, thanks Ron.  :) I really appreciate it! I'm glad you're not super embarrassed for me.  But ya know, I have a little more anger I have to deal with these days and so I have to vent somewhere!  But thank you for all of your prayers ... It's getting closer and closer to the end of the treatment!"  The anger is gone, Ashley.  Yours.  Mine.  I hope your parents and your brother's too.  And yes, you were closer to the end of those treatments than any of us realized.  Enjoy heaven, my friend.  Don't booby trap my room before I get there.  Because I WILL hunt you down...

Friday, November 23, 2012

Remembering Ashley

Tonight a young lady of great strength and incredible determination left this planet after a 10 year battle with a monster named "Leukemia." Ashley was a fighter, fierce and fearless. She recently defeated the beast for the third time in a decade. She received a bone marrow transplant less than two months ago. The transplant "took" and cancer lost. And yet tonight she lost a battle to "Graft Vs. Host Disease." With the defeat she stepped into the presence of her Lord, Jesus Christ. As I write this I fumble with the staggering thought that the eyes I last looked into just a few days ago, have now looked into the eyes of God.

Ashley was my friend. It was my honor to walk beside her and teach her about Jesus throughout her teenage years. I really cannot find words to honor her very well tonight. I'm still trying to understand that she is gone.

I hope you will take the time to read about Ashley HERE and HERE.  And it would be really great if you would pray for her family.

More to come...

Monday, November 05, 2012

I Spy Paisley Style

It was Sunday and we were leaving church. The Precious Paisley and I were in the car waiting for The Amazing Elle and Debbie to come out of the building.  We were then to make our way to Lee's Fried Chicken to eat lunch with fiends. Pais decided we needed to play a game to help pass the time. She selected "I Spy."  You know how it goes. One of us would say, "I spy with my little eyes something ..." And then name the color of the object. The other begins guessing till he gets it right. Pais went first.

"I spy with my little eye something WHITE!"

Time to show the kid her grandfathers brilliance.

"The stripes on the flag!


"The numbers on the speedometer!"

"Uh uh."

"Mrs. Joneses coat!"


"The lines on the parking lot!"

"Hu uh."

"Paisley.  Are you really looking at something? Or are you screwing with grandpa's head?"

"I really did, grandpa!"

"Ok. Umm. That jeep over there!"


"Paisley! You are messing with me. What did you see that was white?"

"Your hair."


Christmas is going to be very light under her tree this year...

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Michigan? To Die For!

My squaw and I returned from our annual pilgrimage to Michigan last week.  This is the state of my birth and a place I love to visit.  The trip was a wonderful mix of shockingly beautiful fall leaves and the deep blues of Lake Superior.  Six (count 'em ... 6!) whitefish lay down their lives so that my palate could be a happy place.  Lake Superior whitefish fear me.  When October arrives they begin emailing each other those annoying warnings about the evils that are trying to take over their neighborhoods.  You know what I mean.  You get those emails too.  Who sends those?  But in the case of the fish ... they are right.  October finds me packing my bags and traveling north, soon to arrive on their shores with the solitary goal of eating as many of them as I can in my four day visit.  It's total carnage.

This year I found out that Michigan bites back.

On Wednesday, our final day "up north," we drove to "Pictured Rocks National Lake Shore."  This under-reported national treasure is a long stretch of land along Lake Superior renowned for its steep cliffs, huge 300 foot high sand dunes, and picturesque rock configurations.  We drove and we hiked and we had a great day challenging ourselves to find just one more stunning view.  It was on one of those hikes that I came across this sign ...

Look at that poor helpless soul on top of that cliff.  He's about to meet his maker.  (Upon closer inspection I think he might be one of The Village People.)  It seems that sandstone can be dangerous.  You could die...

And then I came across this ...

Are you SERIOUS?  They allow hunting on the same land they promote for tourism?  That seems a bit odd to me.  Hapless sightseers are simply warned with a, "Hey, you might want to wear orange or something cause we shoot a lot up here.  Be a darn shame if you dressed like a 10 point buck, doncha know?"  I mean, you could die...

On the same bulletin somebody had placed...
In Detroit they sell a t-shirt riddled with bullet holes and the inscription, "Hope you come back soon!  Sorry we missed you!"  Riiiiight.  And in Michigan's "U.P." if the hunters miss you the falling tree branches will not.  They are in cahoots.

Later on I found...
Honestly friends, I thought I would live out the rest of my days without facing the dreaded "Wild Parsnip Plant Alert."  Take a close look at those skin shots.  Yes ... YOU COULD DIE...

As if dangerous cliffs, falling branches, over zealous hunters, rogue branches, and toxic plants are not enough it seems that the bugs also want you dead.
Yes, the bugs in Michigan can take you out.  Why?  Because (slipping into my hysterical voice) INSECT REPELLENT DOES NOT WORK!!!!!  Doomed, I tell you.  We are doomed.

And then there are always the killer fish...
...followed by the dangerous walk way...
Or it may not.  Figure it out.

Oh ...and don't forget the dreaded log slide!  And just to show you how DEADLY serious we are how about we throw in an ambulance, four colorful "CAUTION"s, and seven reasons why you should not enjoy going down the sand dune in front of you.

That's not enough to convince you that YOU COULD DIE?  Well...
There it is.  If you can get close enough to your computer monitor to read the words you'll find out that this sand dune in front of you is the former site of a log slide where loggers would chop trees on top of the dunes and send them down the sand chute into the lake back in the 1800's.  And yes ... someone DID die here!  They didn't just die ... they were CRUSHED by water skimming logs!  One poor soul was ripped right out of his shoes.

Oh my.

The Michigan state motto is "Si Quaeris Peninsulam Amoenam Circumspice."  Translated into english that means, "If you seek a pleasant peninsula, look about you."  Judging by their signage you better look fast.

But can I let you in on a little secret?  The whitefish?  Totally worth the risk.

Saturday, October 06, 2012

Growing Gills on Gitchiegoomie

It gives me great pains to report to you, my hard core fans of the "Lost In The Woods" that I have had to demote my personal physician.  Remember I told you how she's a rock star for saving my life yet again last week?  Well.  She is a little bit less of a rock start now than she was.  She totally healed me ... made me well back then ... or so I thought.  Turned out to be a teaser.  Antibiotics.  Good advice.  Bingo-bango I was over the hacking and coughing and back on the way to health.

But ... ahhhh ... no.  The day before I left town for Michigan, (where I am penning this statement of shock and concern,) I had to call her up and tell her I was coughing up my knee caps again.  I didn't actually SPEAK to her.  I spoke to a nurse.  But the nurse was speaking to her and we were conversing through this angel of mercy.  (Side note ... always speak nicely about nurses.  They handle the needles.)  So the nurse was telling her how I was feeling and the doctor was telling her to tell me that she will prescribe more miracle drugs and I should be good as new in 6 weeks.  Great.  "Take the pills and it will still take 6 weeks to run its course."  That's what she said.  So I employed my great wit and said, "So I will survive?"  The doctor replied, "You aren't going to die!  Not this time.  You will someday though."  I heard her.  She just lay it out there.  Then she laughed.  And then they were gone and I was left holding the phone wondering ...

What just happened?

My rock star doctor just told me that I'm going to die.  Someday.  Can we think that through for a minute?

She doesn't know what I'll be sick with.

She doesn't know when the sickness will strike.

She doesn't know what medical advances will be made between now and then.

And yet she's already writing me off?  Are you serious?  Is this the kind of doctor YOU want?  I don't.  NO way.  NO sir.  I want a doctor that says, "Heck yeah, we are going to beat this thing!  I am a rock star doctor and you can count on me!  No way I'm going to let the cruel fingers of death wrap their bony fingers around your neck!  You can count on me, Ron-o!"

I don't even have the illness yet and she's already thrown in the towel, wrapped my carcass in it, and lowered me into a chilly hole in the ground.  How do you say U~N~A~C~C~E~P~T~A~L~E.

And so here I sit.  800 miles from home. Antibiotics in my backpack.  Cough syrup (with sweet codeine!) by my bed stand.  An inhaler in my pocket. My bride looks at me with that "come hither" stare and I blow a lung in response.  And my doctor is already preparing my death certificate.

I have eaten 4 meals in the two days since arriving here on the southern edge of the lake the indians call "Gitchigoomie."    4 consecutive meals of freshly murdered white fish just pulled kicking and screaming from Lake Superior.  I am growing gills.  When I burp I taste fish.  And somewhere in St. Louis I wonder if there sits a woman.  A doctor.  She leans over my chart late on this night and she cackles ... waiting ... knowing the hook has been set ... the tug has come on the line ... and soon she'll reel me in.  That cold dead "carp stare" will be in my eyes.  And when she burps she will taste ...

I miss Dr. Buttfeel.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Fifteen Most Important Things I Did Today

Okay, so break time is over and it's time to start blogging again.  I mean, seriously.  I've been missing in action for a bit.  Taking a sabbitical of the brain.  You can't get this close to 1,000- posts and quit.  Know what I mean?  I believe this is post number 907.  907 posts in ten years.  I'll never win a pulitzer that way.

So I went to see my rock star doctor yesterday.  I like her because she's a real human being.  I was there on a "sick visit."  They called my name and I was led back into the inner sanctum.  I came across the doctor in the maze of hallways and she looked surprised to see me.  As we crossed paths she patted me in the shoulder and said, "Hi!  Good to see you!  How are you doing?"  She may be a rock star but sometimes she asks dumb questions. I told her that if I was doing all that great ... would I be there?  She didn't get mad at me like Doctor Buttfeel use to.  But she got even with me a few minutes later when she showed up in the examining room and pronounced me as dwelling at deaths door.  The verdict ... an upper respiratory infection, a sinus infection, and double ear infections.  Hey, if you are going to get infected, go all the way.  She gave me 21 little pills, we shot the breeze for about 10 minutes, and I went home.

That brings us to today.  Home.  No work.  No fun.  Boo.  So here's how I spent my hours ...

1.   Rise and shine. Well. Rise and think about shining. I don't do morning. And I'd been sleeping in our guest room trying to keep my asthmatic wife healthy. So who really slept?

2.   Ice Road Truckers. " Ya can't stop the Chop!"

3.   Surgical strike on Moto Mart to get caffeinated. And gum. And chips. And...

4.   Ice Road Truckers.  I wanna drive The Dalton.

5.   Stare at the can of tuna fish. Put it back in the cabinet.

6.   Whoa!  iOS 6 is out!  Upgrade 2 iPads. What?  I now have Siri?

7.   Spend 90 minutes asking Siri stupid questions.

8.   Ice Road Truckers while jonesing for a pizza.

9.   Nap time!

10.  Lay near the window sill. Stare outside cat-like. Remember the tuna fish. Shake it off. That almost got seriously feline-ish.

11.  The garage door is going up!  (Act sick for sympathy sake.)

12.  Stop and smell the roses. No. Really. She bought me roses yesterday. She loves me, you know.

13.  Go with her to get a pizza. (Playing sick works.)

14.  Watch cat-like from the window again when she leaves for church.

15.  (Sigh) Ice Road Truckers.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Stupid Picture Chronicles #64

Attention:  Do not attempt to roller blade on inverted triangles!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Greater Love Has No Man Than This ...

On a bright and blue skied day in late July we found ourselves driving wide expressways and winding two lanes between Cleveland, Ohio, and Richmond, Virginia.  Like Little Red Riding Hood we were on our way to grandparents house.  We did not happen across any wolves but we did discover a field where wolves died.

While driving down one of those beautiful Appalachian mountain highways we came across a sign pointing us to the "Flight 93 National Memorial." If your memory is eleven years long you will recall that this is the place where passenger's disrupted a hijacking attempt by suicidal terrorists on 9/11.  They wrestled the plane out of the hands of murderous wolves and, unfortunately, sent it hurtling into the pastoral tranquility of Shanksville, Pa.  In so doing they apparently saved the nation from having to build a new capital.  How many places can you go to within the borders of the United States in the post-civil war years and say, "Here is a place where men took a stand for freedom?"  Honestly, I cannot think of one other than this.  You can't be eleven miles from this kind of heroic history and fail to stop and pay your respects.

The field where the fallen heroes died is ... well ... a field.  That pretty much sums it up.  The point of impact is marked by a seventeen ton rock moved there after the crater was filled-in. If you follow the line created by the 40 marble markers dedicated to the passengers and crew of flight 93, you will see the incoming flight path of the plane over a long row of naked hills.  This is where the locals are attempting to reclaim the area marred by coal bearing strip mines.  You will also hear a National Park Ranger tell you that the huge jet came soaring over that nearest hill ... forty feet off the ground ... upside down ... at roughly 600mph ... and slammed into the ground directly in front of you. The very thought is jarring.  My first thought was simply, "No way."  The concept is totally out of place with the tranquility of the landscape.  Isn't that always true in war and in cemetaries?  Death should never mar beauty.  And yet it always does.

And you will wonder what it felt like to be on that jet.  Fighting.  Knowing you were about to die.  And you wonder if you have what it takes to make the decision they did.

You wonder what it felt like to be one of the men working in a scrap metal salvaging plant up on top of those hills as the jet sent them sprawling to the ground, convinced that it would not clear their heads.  And then as they felt the impact and saw the ball of fire erupt mushroom like, realizing that theirs were the last eyeballs to see these people alive.  And then when they discovered that these were not just ordinary men and women ... but patriots.  The first combatants in the war on terror.  And you realize that in death they won.  In death.  They ... won. 

It seems that victory is not defined by life.  It is defined by knowing "right" and doing it.  It is defined by honor.  By integrity.  No matter the cost.  Honestly, I doubt that the freedom fighters knew for certain that they were about to die until it was too late.  In my imagination I believe that they must have convinced themselves that they could regain control of the jetliner and somehow, miraculously, manage to land the thing.  That does nothing to diminsh their bravery.  It does not tarnish their sacrifice.  It makes them human.  And it reveals how strong and self-sacrificing they truly were.  For when their dreams of survival died they fought on.  Heroes till the very last inch.

Had they not fought we would have had a much different ending to 9/11.  We would have had a crater where the United States Capital building now stands.  That beaufitul and familiar dome would only exist in photographs today.  We would have had to face the trauma of completely restaffing congress.  And desipite jokes about how that might have been a good thing ... it most certainly would not have been.  America would have survived.  But think of the impact on our economy had the congress and the Capital been destroyed.  Think about what Wall Street would have done.  Think about suddenly being nearly leaderless.  Words like "Marshal Law" come to mind.  If frightens one to the core.

And the terrorists were only twenty-minutes (by air) from successfully accomplishing their task.

Twenty minutes.

I thank and honor the men and women on Flight 93.  I stand in awe of them.  When the coroner brought "cadaver dogs" to the scene after the FBI relenquished if from "crime scene" status, the dogs walked into the field ... and lay down.  They were overwhelmed.  This was their way of saying "Their are parts (fragments really) of bodies everywhere here."  And so the coroner had the field covered with five inches of top soil.  And he declared it a cemetary.  And he left it alone.

And it is holy ground in the truest sense of the word.

"Greater love has no man than this, that he lay his life down for his friend."  John 15: 13

stupid picture chronicles #63

So how do you tell people, "I live on highway 666?"  I suppose it cuts down on guests...

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

The First Ten

Well, happy blog-o-versary to me!  Yes, ten years ago today I began this little piece of writing.  It was set-up as a token gift by my son-in-law, The Amazing Joe.  He included this note which is actually the very first post...

"Ron, I know how everyone loves to get your emails and how funny your stories are, so I thought I would set up this site as a way that you can share your stories with the world. 


That was August 1, 2002.  And here we are on August 1, 2012.  If you do not count Joe's opening post I have written precisely 900 seperate articles since that day.  That is a lot of writing.  I've watched many people start blogs.  Some don't stick with it very long.  Some write for a year or two and life gets busy and they eventually fade.  What's the secret to a ten year run?  It's actually pretty simple.  You have to have something in your soul trying to get out.  Often it's something that's just on a slow boil ... consistent ... on-going ... never ending.

I've had a few conversation lately with some people who are close to me.  They mentioned that I don't blog as frequently as I once did.  That is true.  After some thought I've uncovered what I think are the reasons for that.  When I began writing in this corner of the web I was a youth pastor.  I did not have the weekly obligation to create a minimum of three original pieces of material teaching God's Word.  That is what I do these days.  I find that so much of my creativity has to be poured into that endeavor.  Sometimes it doesn't leave much for an interesting blog.  Yet I think that the real reason is a little more complicated.  I write what I think.   What I feel.  And for those who know me it is clear that my though processes are occasionally ... warped.  Off balanced.  At least I'm told that on a regular basis.  People expect their Senior Pastor to be sane.  Somewhat reserved.  Certainly not bizarro and mentally scary.  Suffice it to say that I've gotten in more trouble with more people over blog posts during the last five years than I did in the first five years.  I'm quite happy with my thought processes, but I don't like defending them.  I just write what I think and if it works for you ... great.  If it doesn't work for you ... great.  I don't like fighting over it.  And I certainly don't like hurting peoples feelings over it.

So anyway, here's to the next ten years.  Thanks for reading.  Thanks for encouraging.  I hope you have enjoyed it.  And I promise you one thing ... I've had more fun writing thatn you have had reading.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

I Am More

At birth I was more than a squealing lump of slimy infant.

I grew into more than an awkward kid with no meat on his bones and a cowlick.
I sat still long enough to get educated but I was more than a brain full of knowledge.
She said yes and I gave her a ring but I was more than a rookie husband who wanted to please.
I helped create them and they call me "dad" but I am more than a father.
They gave me a signed paper and told me I was a minister but I am more than a "preacher."
I got to share life with thousands of students, baptizing many but I was more than a spiritual babysitter.
And now I have married many, I have buried many, and I have carried many.  But I am more.
I have spoken to crowds and I have spoken to one.  But I am more.
I have a desk but I am more than a body sitting and studying.
They ask me for advice and direction and I do my best.  But I am more than a guide.
I dream and I plan and I coach and I mentor and I promote and I administrate and I guide and I teach and I visit and I pray and I listen and I shepherd and I protect and I ...  But I am more.

I am coming to Christ. (I Peter 2: 4)
I am a living stone.  (I Peter 2: 5a)
I am a holy priest.  (I Peter 2: 5b)
I am a chosen person.  (I Peter 2: 9)
I am a part of a holy nation.  (I Peter 2: 9)
I am God's very own possession.  (I Peter 2: 9)
I am a temporary resident, a foreigner.  (I Peter 2: 11)
I am free.  (I Peter 2: 16)
I am, by my own choice, God's slave.  (I Peter 2: 16)
And because I am, God is pleased with me.  (I Peter 2: 20)

God is not upset with me.  God is not mad at me.  God thinks I'm special.  God thinks I am as special as His Son, Jesus.  I know that because Jesus is the price He paid to buy me from satan.  If you trust and submit to Him, no matter what you have done or how guilty some one else tells you that you are, and no matter how guilty some one makes you feel (listen close ... put your ear to the screen ... you need to hear this ...) HE IS NOT MAD AT YOU!  And if some one says He is they do not know what they are talking about and you should not buy a used car from that person.

He is my reason, my purpose, my example, my leader, my guide, my counselor, my comforter, my truth, my joy, my Savior.

He thought of me, designed me, created me, wept over me, died for me, and bought me back.  And so I will love Him, serve Him, follow Him, submit to Him, obey Him, trust Him, defer to Him, worship Him, and confess Him.

Just when I think I know who I am ... I find out that I am more.  (And so are you.  If you want to be.)

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Recapturing The Glory

I'm not too smart.  This comes as no surprise to those who know me.  I speak too quickly and act too slowly.  Well, most of the time.  At least that's my own observations of myself.  I don't say this to prompt any one to disagree with me.  We all have images of ourselves that may or may not be accurate.  The fact that we feel that they are accurate is what makes them so important.

Those whom I serve at my fantastic church bless me with five ... count 'em 5 ... weeks of vacation each year.  That is ample time to rest, refresh, and reinvent.  My problem isn't having enough time.  My problem is managing what I am given.  The year is more than half over and I have neglected to take one vacation day.  A smarter me would have taken at least two weeks by now.  I say "smarter" because I began a two week vacation three hours ago and honestly, I'm limping into it.  Again, no whine intended.  I am a big guy and I make my own decisions.  I did not have to wait until mid-July to take a break.  I just ... did.  There is no real reason why.

Here's the thing.  When the calling that God has placed upon you is a deep calling ... a calling that empties the soul more than it stresses the flesh .. a calling that requires that you taste the salt in the tears of those who cry ... well, it tends to wear you down in ways you don't even notice.

I had forgotten the truth of that statement until this evening just after sunset.  Debbie had left to go to our daughters overnight so that she could be there to babysit our three grandchildren first thing in the morning.  After seeing her off on her mini-journey I made my way toward a local drug store to pick up some things I've fallen short of in my gym bag.  After I made my purchase I prepared to turn back onto the highway home and it was impossible to not take notice of the way God was putting His sun to bed. I snapped a picture of the brilliant reflections bouncing from drifting clouds.  I pulled to the side of the parking lot and just looked at what He had made.  And I wasn't impressed.  My pulse didn't beat any faster.  I didn't catch my breath.  And it took me a full minute of looking at the sky to remember how I use to feel when catching a view like this one.

And I missed the feeling.  The peace.  The joy.  The thankfulness.  I missed them.

So I am taking fourteen days and I am dedicating each of them to recapturing a bit of the glory.  The glory of God blazing its way into my heart.  I want to find Him in the unexpected places again.  I want to hear His breath when I wake in the mid-night hours.  I want to sing in worship again for a couple of weeks instead of rehearsing in my head what I am going to say from a pulpit after the song is over.  I want to look at the feet sticking out the end of my pants and find wonder in the design of God in the making of toes.  The simple things.  My grandkids grasp on my finger.  The sound of my wife's voice.  The smile of my kids who have turned into full fledged adults.  I want to be still for hours in a row and listen to my heart beat to the rhythm God tuned it to.  I want to talk to Him and know ... KNOW ... that He is listening.  Not because He said He would but because I can sense Him in my spirit.

It's a noble task.  And it is an impossible task.  It will take the Hand of God to make it happen.  And I suppose that more than anything else I want to feel the thrill of knowing that He entered into my life afresh, met me, and raised me from my fatigue.

There is no better vacation than that.

Monday, July 09, 2012

The Little Man

He was only three. Barely old enough to be able to choose what he wanted included in his happy meal. Scarcely enough experience under his belt to maybe walk beside mommy or daddy through the aisles of a grocery store instead of having to always ride in the cart. Three years old.

I'm certain he was having a great day. It was a weekend and he was at grandma's and grandpa's. Mom was there too. Every kid loves to go to his grandparents. Especially when it's hot outside and they have a pool. Mom was folding laundry and he was squirting through the house with all of the energy his little body could muster. Every parent knows that is a substantial amount of energy. Space Shuttle's have been launched on less. And so the little man was navigating the familiar surroundings like an expert helmsman steers through the familiar waters of one of his favorite ports. Life was good.

Ten minutes passed. Fifteen at the most. There were enough adults around to put all minds at rest that the little man was well cared for. Until mom noticed she had not heard him for a bit. And so she went looking. He didn't readily respond to her call and that got grandpa's attention. He joined the hunt. They looked in all of the usual places and he was not found. Quick glances under the bed and out into the yard no doubt were responsible for the shot of fear that blazed its way into grandpa's heart. No. Not possible. It couldn't be that. The little man was too smart ... to well prepared and too well schooled. He had heard the warnings and he understood them. It just couldn't be. Grandpa ran out into the backyard anyway, glanced down, and his life was changed forever. All of their lives were changed forever. The little mans body rested at the bottom of the pool.

Grandpa jumped in, pulled him out, and began CPR. His agonizing shouts had alerted mom and she dialed 911. Experts arrived but grandpa had already gotten the little man to stir. He vomited up water. A helicopter was summoned and the nearly lifeless body was flown to a bigger, better equipped hospital. He put up a valiant fight. For three days he battled. And on Independence Day, 2012, the little man drew the stuff of earth into his lungs for the last time. And he was gone.


And so my life intersected with theirs. A funeral director searching for a minister was given my phone number. It was the kind of call you never want to receive. Surely there had to be something on my calendar. There absolutely had to be a reason to turn down the request to come and try to bring a measure of solace to the inconsolable. My calendar just glared up at me. Friday evening and Saturday. Empty blank days in the middle of a calendar that often resembles a crossword puzzle.

Given my choice I never want to see a four foot long casket again. I've seen too many. The experiences of 38 years of ministry has shown time and again that there is nothing more difficult, my trying, more draining, more breaking, more devastating than standing at an open four foot long casket and gazing inside, knowing that somehow you are going to have to explain to crushed, shell-shocked parents exactly why their child is gone. And where he is. And how God could let this happen. And what kind of a God is he anyway?

He is a good God. He is the definition of "love." He is kind. Patient. Generous. Giving. Sacrificing. Perfect and pure. But the world is broken. We live in a war zone where the prince of evil brings all of the pain and destruction that he possibly can to bear on God's people in a last ditch attempt to lash out and spew his venom from his dying fangs. Indeed it is a war zone. All too often the serpent appears to be winning.

Not so. Not so for one minute. Because the word is true.

"For we know that all things work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose." Romans 8: 28. Please pray for my new friends. They will never fully understand what has happened. Pray that the goodness of God will be whispered to them through human hands and human words, moving them toward the Heavenly Hands that hung on a cross so that they can see their little man again.

That's truly all there is. And it is truly all we need.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Better A Hero Than A Zero

I have been humbled before. In a good way and in a bad way. Sometimes I come across a person so gifted, so talented, that I am humbled as I gaze upon my own limitations. (They are plentiful. Not whining. Just being realistic.) And occasionally I have been humbled to find out that God has used me when I had no idea that He was even busy in my life.

I have been visiting a man in the hospital frequently of late. He is pretty ill. There is a whole list of things weighing him down, threatening his existence. Cancer is the main one. I hate that beast. My friend is not the type of person that engages often in deep and meaningful conversation. That is not to say he is not deep. It is simply that he chooses not to express that area of his life.

And that is why his words made me feel much like I did as a little kid when I decided to figure out what that thing on the wall was.  You know that thing.  It's two simple slots on a plastic cover.  I'll never forget the moment I decided to stick my fingernail in one of the slots and check it out.  I developed an appreciation for electricity on that day.  My friends words had the same shocking effect on me.

We had been talking about how he is feeling and the challenges he faces. Most of our conversation revolved around lousy hospital food and his inability to digest it anyway. And then I prayed with him, preparing to move along with my day. As I said, “Amen,” he looked up from his bed and said the words that are still rattling around in my brain two weeks later. “You know you changed my life, right?”

What’s this? Huh? I asked what he meant and his eyes filled with tears. I love my friend. I’m his pastor. And I know that he only tears-up when his beloved baseball team loses. But no, we were not talking baseball and yes, those were real tears in his eyes.

“Since you came to our church I’ve been listening. And because of what you have said I have started caring more about people and about God. I realized that I don’t have to be grumpy. You changed my life.”

I just don’t know how to respond to something like that. I know who I am. I’m a nothing that God made a something because of His immense love. I’m a zero that God says is priceless and He proved it by paying the price of His own Son to buy me. But I still feel and act like a zero most of the time. That’s not false humility. That’s simple honesty. And the words of my friend totally took me by surprise and made me realize one huge God-driven truth.

God turns zeros into heroes. But He only does it by His grace and when His power works through us. Left to our own devices. Zero. Surrendered into God’s Hand. Hero. That can be you. It only takes the simple walking out in obedience the truths found in the Bible. It only takes saying “Yes” to the quiet promptings of the Spirit of God whispering in our hearts.

I know the truth. Jesus changed my friends life. I just got to be the tool He did it through. How amazing is that?

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Stupid Picture Chronicles #62

So as I drove down I-64 tonight approaching St Louis I came across a guy in a motorcycle. Yes indeed, he was wearing pink fishnet stockings, pink panties, and maroon boots. Just another day in the burbs...

Monday, June 04, 2012

Stupid Picture Chronicles #61

I'm not sure this was the pic-a-nic that Yogi and Boo Boo had in mind. (But you've got to love the Excedrin tablets on the same rack. Head Ache? No problem!)

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

I Can't Believe I'm Old Enough To Write This

As I stood in the short line recently to pay for my wonderfully refreshing mid-day beverage I eyed the young man in front of me. He might have been 8 or 9 years old. 10 at the max. He was reciting numbers to the overly bubbly worker staffing the cash register. Hmm. I had no idea what they were doing but they seemed to be on the same wavelength. I was perplexed. And then the employee turned to the lottery ticket dispensing machine.

You've. Got. To. Be. Kidding. Me.

Boy wonder had been sent into the store by mom or dad who waited outside in the car for him to return with their lottery tickets. Welcome to 2012 and the newest way to teach your kid math.

This morning, while in Missouri, I lined up behind granny and grandson. She propped herself up on a walker and had a little machine trailing along behind her. The boys job was to push the machine wherever grandma went. The machines job was to pump oxygen into her nostrils. After asking the clerk three times for the total amount of her purchase she wrote a check to pay for the twenty packs of cigarettes and the gas at the pump outside. Then she handed the bag to her servant boy and off they went.

At the risk of sounding very old and uncool ... WHAT THE HECK IS GOING ON? Did I miss something? When did stupid become the new brilliant? Seriously, do I live in a bubble or something? I never got the memo that it's now "Bizarro-Month" and we are all suppose to do the exact opposite of whatever is sane, normal, moral, and ... well ... RIGHT. I've spent a life time paying attention to kids. I did the youth pastor thing for 33 years. Then I did a stint substitute teaching. My reason for going to Missouri this morning was all about a kid. My granddaughter, The Amazing Elle, was graduating from Kindergarten and I wanted to watch her sing about her experiences to the tune of "The Theme To The Adams Family." Kids are awesome. I mean, geez, I use to be one. Admittedly I wasn't very good at it, but still.

So. There are just a few words that I would like to share with whatever part of the human race reads this part of the blogosphere. Yes, both of you. Here goes.

Spare the rod, spoil the child. Raise up a child in the way he should go and, when he is old, he will not depart from it. Clean your room. Don't hit your brother. Don't stand so close when your brother is trying to hit you. Stop running with those scissors. Keep your arms inside the car at all times. Don't spit on the sidewalk. That's your mother and you WILL respect her. The police will not think that's as funny as you do. The crust is good for you. Don't you dare light that fuse in the house. Eat your vegetables. Get those peas out of your pocket. Do your homework. Go to bed. Turn that light off. There is nothing under your bed and I'm the only monster you have to worry about.

There. Those are pretty much the only words I heard for the first 10-ish years of my life. Except for the three that matters most. I love you. And because they said all of those other words ... I believed the last three.

Give it a try. It just might work.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

What Just Happened?

What just happened?

Tonight I was calling the deacon's of our church. I was running an idea I've been tossing around in my mind by each of them. I do that sometimes when an idea is beyond the norm. And so I was dialing them all up one at a time and getting their thoughts on this particular subject. There is a ministry opportunity that I think our church needs to take part in. Recently some of our small groups have participated in "The Micah 6: 8 Project." Micah 6: 8 says, "He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?" That means we should do good works in a variety of ways. We should do them humbly and without seeking self-glory. And that's why I'm not going to tell you what the project is. Suffice it to say that it will allow us to bless some people in a truly life altering way. It will cost us. And it will be oh so worth it. Years ago I claimed Micah 6: 8 as my life's verse. I've tried to live it out ever since. And I've tried to lead my church to live it out as well.

As I was making the calls to the deacons I dialed up Don. He answered his cell phone and I said, "Is this Don?" He said that it was. And so I spent 7 minutes ... I know because I looked at my phone ... 7 uninterrupted minutes telling him about the need and how I think our church should go about meeting it. He listened quietly and only responded when I asked a specific question. At the end of my presentation I said, "So what do you think?"

"I think it is a tremendous idea. But I have to ask you ... who is Don?"

I didn't know what to say. So I said the obvious, "You are Don."

"No I'm not. My name is John. When you asked 'Is this Don,' I thought you said, 'Is this John.' That's why I said 'Yes it is.'"

I didn't know what to do. Or say. I was beyond shocked. I suppose I sputtered around sounding like the doofus that I am. And then I apologized. "John, I am so sorry! I am a pastor and I thought you were one of the deacon's at my church. I can't believe that you listened to that whole thing! Why didn't you stop me?"

John laughed. "I think what you are doing is great! Your church sounds like the kind I would like to go to."

And so I issued him an invitation to attend. I told him who we are, where we are, and that he would be very welcome.

With another chuckle he said, "I just might show up." And then he was gone.

It has been said that God takes care of children and idiots. Well, I'm not a child. But I am well taken care of.

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

My Poor Confused Friend

I've been kicking around a thought lately. It all originated with a post I read on Twitter. It was written by author Ann Lamont. This is what she said ... "You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should've behaved better."

I'm attempting to decide if I agree with that. And if I do are there parameters around it which should not be broken. It is a more difficult question than it might appear at first glance.

I like what she wrote. When I contemplate allowing people who have cause pain over the years to be allowed to take ownership of their acts it feels good. It feels right. I do try to own my actions. I'm quite the professional at screwing-up. I've had decades to work it into an art form. Most of my friends and family avoid hesitation when they catch me in a mess up. They absolutely adore the opportunity to bring it to light. Even more so if the mess up is intentional. Every Sunday I stand up and speak to many intelligent adults. I teach them biblical truths. I deal in theology. And I deal in the human spirit. The technical definition of "theology" might be something like "the study of God." That's a big and unwieldy statement. How do you study God? That is like a dust mite trying to study the Serta factory. It's better in theory than in practice. A more realistic definition of theology might possibly be "studying the connection of the human Spirit to God by way of the Holy Spirit and pretending to figure out God's actions and intent throughout history." Still pretty impossible, isn't it? But if, in the process of my teaching, I get it wrong there are any number of highly intelligent and biblically literate humans listening who will quickly and succinctly correct me. As they well should. I encourage them to do so. I live in great fear of speaking incorrectly about God. I have been given much and, thus, much is required of me.

So hold me accountable.

But I have this friend who has been wounded by other Christ-following believers. Really deeply wounded. It happens all of the time. And what if he has pretty much held all of that in for years. And the truth of what happened doesn't get any lighter. On the contrary, with each and every passing month his history just gets heavier and heavier. And he has a really bad taste left in his mouth from all of it. Try as he might he just can't quite put it all to bed because it's tied around him and has become a part of him. Sure, things have settled down. The wounding is historical. But the wounds themselves are still scabbed over. And the scabs keep falling off at the most inopportune times. Now that it's all history it can be left alone and everybody is happy. Except, of course, for the wounded warrior. He's moved along and is back in the thick of true spiritual victory. He's being blessed and used by his creator. Still ... there is this place. This dark place.

And along comes Ann Lamont. And she makes the bold statement, "You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should've behaved better." And my friend thinks that maybe if he takes Ann's route he will finally sleep better at night. He'll finally find a measure of relief and peace. Because it's been a long while since he truly owned those things.

I wonder what my friend does now.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012


I believe in life. I'm "for" it. I'm "pro" it. And I plan on hanging on for every day I can squeeze out of this ride. You need to know that before you read another word. Have you got it? Life is good and I plan on continuing it as long as possible? Got it? Good.

God whispered two nights ago and it woke me up. It has been a while since He's done that. I believe that God often speaks the most clearly at night because that is when our hearts and our minds are the most quiet. At least that is how it seems to work in my life.

If you've been paying attention (and I do not blame you if you have not) my middle name lately has been "Funeral." I think I've conducted or attended 5 in the last 2 months. Therefore it is not surprising that life and death have been on my mind. Lose a couple of friends and write a few funeral eulogies and you will understand a little more profoundly. When you stand behind a podium that is half hidden by a casket you look for things to say that will give meaning to the life of the deceased and hope to the lives of those left behind. You say things like, "He lived life to the fullest, giving everything he had to everyone he loved because life is precious." Or perhaps, "Though she is gone she would want you to continue on living life and loving one another because life is precious." True enough. And I stand behind every word.

And then God whispered.

His whisper did not change my belief in the aforementioned statements or in my "precious life" attitude. But it made me think. When God whispers it usually does that. His Words were few and they come directly from the Bible. He simply whispered Psalm 116: 15. "Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints"

Death. Precious. Precious death. Really? God looks at the death of His children and to Him it is precious?

You betcha it is.

Every now and then one of my kids comes to visit. I count "my kids" as being my blood kids as well as my kids-in-law. And my grandkids too. They are all "my kids." (I'm thrilled that their inlaws treat my kids as their kids too. We are all equal opportunity parents.) When I know that my kids are coming I start praying. They may be coming from a suburb not far from mine or they may be coming from the distant reaches of suburban Chicago. Either way I pray because I want them to arrive safely. Though they have never lived in the house I reside in right now, in my mind they are coming home. My house is their house. My home, their home. And I want them there as much as possible. When they arrive it is, well, precious. Golden. Beyond special.

"Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints." Could it be that God looks at me as one of His kids? And, if so, could it be that He longs for me to get Home safely? Even though I have never lived there? Furthermore, is it just possible that He stands by patiently waiting for the day when I will get home because to Him that moment will be ... precious?

Yes. Yes. And yes a third time. I am a bit slow in spirit right now because of the loss of some friends. My energy level is sagging a bit. I'm tired of burying bodies. But I've never buried a friend because my friends had shed their earthly "tent" in favor of making a precious entrance at "Home." I may have temporarily lost them but my Father has got some of His kids home at long last. To Him it is precious.

He woke me up two nights ago to remind me. And I am really glad that He did. And I wanted to remind you. Because you need to understand what death is to a child of God. It is deeply, profoundly ... precious.

Monday, April 02, 2012

A Walk To The Veil

Very early this morning my phone rang and I didn't hear it. That's unusual. My phone is welded to me. And it was about 2 feet from my head when it sounded off at 2:24AM. Doesn't matter. After a typical Sunday my brain is mush until Tuesday and I didn't even roll over from the intrusion. It rang again at 2:55AM. God obviously knew that I was a few levels deeper in sleep than usual and he went to the trouble to wake Debbie up several minutes before this final ring. Now that is truly unusual. Debbie fades into a deep sleep less than 5 minutes from landing on her pillow and is comatose until sun-up. But she was awake when it rang this time. And she ... ahem ... "gently" woke me. I grabbed the phone a second to late. I had 2 voice mails and both were from the home of our dear friend and Towerviews nearly life-long deacon, Bob McMillian. Bob has been locked in a desperate battle with Leukemia since last November. The doctors originally believed that he would live 2 weeks past his diagnosis. Many prayers and a quietly determined spirit on Bob's part turned that into 5 months.

Still, last night was the night.

We arrived at the McMIllians minutes after 3AM. At precisely 4AM our beloved friend filled his lungs with the air of earth one last time. And he was gone. He left surrounded by family and a pastor and wife that loved him more than we can say. Tonight I could try to write eloquent words about my friends life. Really, he gave me a lot of material. It would not be a task to put the thoughts together in a way that would perhaps stir a heart and remind us all of the man he was. But tonight I don't feel like that is good enough. Actually, that is not at all what Bob would want me to do.

Debbie called me from the school where she works this afternoon. We talked for a moment and then she said something that I did not expect. It was something like, "I was there with you when Bob died. Really, I haven't seen death like that very often. You know, being there when a person takes their last breath. You have a lot more experience with it than I do. I'm wondering how to deal with it." That is a big statement coming from the lady who has walked through ministry opportunities with me for nearly 35 years. She has seen the wonderful, the wicked, and the weird. She's been with me enough to know that peoples lives take on twists and turns that you never know about until they choose to reveal it. And sometimes it leaves you nearly speechless. I know what I'm talking about here. Unfortunately. If I were to write a book about what I have seen, heard, and experienced in my years of pastoring I would get rich. I would also get sued. Truly, these secrets do go to the grave with us. That is the way it is suppose to be.

That conversation brought me back to a place in the back of my brain that I last visited when another close friend passed away recently. You can check out that story by clicking right here. After I clicked the "end" button following our phone conversation I closed my laptop and forced myself to do something that I would never do if I did not know how very important it is. I simply stared at the wall in front of me and mentally relived the predawn moments at the McMillian household. I made myself see Bob as he was propped up in his bed. I recalled how he breathed. What his breaths sounded like. And I watched again as those breaths became more gentle ... farther between ... until finally they ceased. I tasted the salt in the tears of those around me. I heard their sobs. I hated the fact that I wasn't crying because somewhere in the middle of adulthood I forgot how. I remembered the prayer that I prayed and the scripture I read. And then I asked myself the question that I so seldom ask myself.

"And how did that make you feel?"

I'm a "stuffer" and not a "spewer." And I've learned the hard way that when you stuff too much you eventually pay the price. You fall apart. You run into an unmovable brick wall. Your own body turns on you and it's too late to deal with the individual crises situations. And you aren't big enough to deal with them as one giant whole. And it nearly kills you. Really. It does. So after something like this happens I now dig deep until I find the pain. I poke at it like you might use a knife to dig out a bullet. I cut it open with an emotional scalpel and try to suck the poison out so it doesn't ruin my soul. Stuffers of the world, listen to me. Learn to do this. It will save you great heartache someday. It is not a fun way to spend an hour or so but it's one way to stay emotionally alive.

But that's not what I really want to tell you about. After I go through that process I sit and think about the fantastic. Somethings are nearly too good to be true. And if anything on this planet still takes my breath away it is this. I sit and marvel over the fact that the man I just said goodbye to ... the one whose hand I last shook 48 hours early ... the eyes that looked into mine so very recently ... they have now encountered the real historical Jesus. Not the comic book Jesus. Not the one that I sometimes find myself settling for when I'm reading about Him or the one I try to explain in children's sermons.


And you know what I feel when I spend time dwelling on that nearly ungraspable thought? I feel ... fear. I finally know what it means to "fear God." It means having the light finally come on and understanding that He really is alive. That He really knows about me. And someday I am going to meet Him face to Face. And as much as I know He loves me ... that nearly scares me to death. I simply cannot comprehend what that moment will really be like.

Several weeks ago when it became clear that Bob's time in this world was drawing short we sat together and we wrote his funeral service. And when we were done I told him that he would not face this alone. I promised him that I would walk with him all of the way to that veil that separates earth from heaven. I told him that I would hold his hand on this side until Jesus took his hand on the other side and ushered Him through the curtain we cannot see beyond. As I stood at his bedside this morning, as I held his hand, I silently thanked God for waking Debbie up for that phone call. I was doing the best that I could do on this side of the veil. And I asked God not to drop His end. I asked Him to come and meet us at the veil and take his "Mr. Bob" home.

And he stopped breathing.

And he was gone.

And I had completed my task.

And I am totally intimidated by God's presence in that most Holy Moment when He takes His child Home.

And there are no more words.