Tuesday, December 31, 2013

A Renegade Mind And The Holiness Of God

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Truth from "Iron Mike"

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

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

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

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

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

Seriously?  Ditka?  Get out of my head.

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 24, 2013

So Sue Me

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

And that is today in a nutshell.

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

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

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

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

So sue me.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Dog Days Of Summer At Woods Cemetery

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

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

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

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

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

It truly has been a slow vacation.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

20 Years Ago This Weekend

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh yeah, the Cubs won.

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

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Charcoal Grill Theology

So I did something while pastoring in Ohio that I had never done before and have never done since.  Never thought I would do it.  Didn't think I was capable of doing it.  Turns out I am.

I got a phone call from a church member asking me to go and visit his next door neighbor in the hospital.  The guy is in his 80's and he's dying of leukemia.  But he doesn't know that.  And they wouldn't let me tell him.  They warned me that he's mean.  He's angry.  He's bitter.  He hates God and he hates pastors.  (I always get the choice assignments.)  As I drove to the hospital I prayed and asked God for two things.  I asked that this man would have the evil fingers of the father of lies pried from his heart before it is too late.  And I prayed that God would please give me a good parking place because I can never find a place to park at this hospital.

I pulled into the parking lot and the very first spot was open.  No handicap sign.  No pregnant mom sign.  It was mine.  That's what you call a good day.

I got to the ER and found him in a room with his grandson in-law sitting with him.  He looked as horrible as someone can possibly look.  He was coughing up and choking on his own blood.  He was laying on his side and I sat down by his head, facing him.  I introduced myself simply as Ron.  He tried to talk but mainly choked.  He finally asked who I was and why I was there.  I told him that I am a pastor and that I'm concerned about him.  That's when he began using words on me that are generally not used outside of a Hells Angels Initiation Meeting.  Then he began blaspheming God.  Okay, attack me and that's fine.  Go off on the one who gave His life for me and that's an entirely different story.  I tried to talk reasonably to him.  There was no talking.  Just cursing and vile insults.  His grandson in-law had already told me that he is personally a believer at a conservative fundamental church.  During one of the vilest of moments the grandson stepped out.  I had pretty much had enough and this was the moment I was waiting for.

I got down low, directly in the face of this man.  His teeth were coated with blood.  He drooled blood.  Blood was on his hospital gown.  He coughed it up constantly and tried to spit it into a cup on his bed.  I sensed evil in the room.  Cold, sulfur-filled evil.  I could smell the blood on his breath as I stared into his bloodshot eyes.

"You know, I don't want a thing from you.  I don't want your money.  My church doesn't want you to attend.  We don't need or want anything you have.  I'm only here for one reason.  You've already told me that I cannot pray for you.  Well, I am going to anyway, but not until after I leave."

He stared at me with angry eyes.

"You want to know why I am here?"


"Have you ever seen a charcoal grill?"

"Yeah."  (hack.  cough.  spit.)

"Well, I am here to tell you that you do not have to pray with me.  You don't have to do anything with me.  You can hate me and I don't even care.  I won't lose a moments sleep over it. But when I leave here you can silently ask God to forgive you for your evil acts and to save you because of the death of Jesus on the cross.  He will hear you and He will save you.  But if you choose not to do that ... very soon now you will be stuck like a hunk of meat on a weber grill for the rest of a very long time.  Do you understand that?"

Wide eyes but absolutely no response.

"Have a nice eternity."

I walked out of his room.

And now I am shocked by what I said.  I am shocked at the ease with which I said it.  And I am totally stunned that I have absolutely no regrets about one word that came out of my mouth.

I enjoyed my parking space.

 But I was wrong.  I lost sleep over him.

Monday, June 24, 2013

The 9th Street IPhone Symphony

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I just thought you might want to know.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

A Honk And A Whisper


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


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


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


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

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


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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, June 06, 2013

I've Been Google-Ized!

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

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

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


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


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

All I could do was wave...

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

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

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

Thursday, May 30, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Perfect.  Perfect.

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

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

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

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

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

Not so good.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Loving 'Em All

I'm still learning.

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

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

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

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

Friday, May 24, 2013

Love 'Em All ... (Day 6 & 7)

This is HARD!  Not the loving people part.  It is hard keeping on your toes looking for people whose situation you can "speak in to."  It is very difficult to remember step by step, moment by moment, that loving someone is not necessarily a BIG thing.  It's just  doing what needs to be done when you see the opportunity.  Like ...

Day six ... Today I held a door.  Yup.  I held a door open for someone who obviously needed it.  That's pretty much a small thing.  I was at a "quick mart" kind of place.  I parked my car and walked to the door.  As I reached for the handle I noticed a woman behind me walking from the gas pumps.  She was at least 30 feet away.  I mean, really she was barely in front of her car.  Her purse was slung over her shoulder.  He other hand held a cane which she leaned on heavily at each step.  But she was a long way off.  I just noticed her.  No bells and whistles.  No Voice of God booming from the clouds.  She was just there and I was just going through the door and in the process of letting it close behind me when it occured to me ... a good guy would hold the door.  Jesus would hold the door.  That last one cinched it.  If Jesus would do it then I want to do it.  I took the short step back to the door and held it open.  She kept coming.  Then I noticed the lottery tickets in her hand.  aww geez.  If I hold the door for her rather than getting in line myself she will get in line ahead of me.  She will take the cashiers time as she scans every ticket and then she will want to buy more.  All I wanted was to fill a quick cup with ice and caffienated goodness and be on my way.  I was actually in somewhat of a hurry.   But once you realize Jesus would do something, good luck talking yourself out of doing it.  I mean, if you have a soul.  The lady finally reached the sidewalk, hoisted herself up on it, stepped in front of me, walked through the door, got in line ... and never said a word.  No "thank you."  No smile.  Not even a grunt.  Nothing.  Okay.  I walked toward the cold drink dispenser, grabbed what I wanted, and waited in line behind her while she paid for her gas, scanned her tickets, bought new tickets, and grabbed a carton of cigerettes for good measure.  And I felt so very good about myself later as I left the store.  Uh-uh.  Actually, no I didn't.  I felt irritated.  Irritated at her for not even acknowledging my self-sacrificing ways.  But mainly I felt irritated at myself for feeling irritated.  I have to either get completely ON this train or get OFF it altogether.

I'm staying on.

Day Day seven ... Today I stunk at this.  I'm chalking it up as a swing and a miss.  Yes, pastor's strike out too.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Love 'Em All ... (day 3 & 4 & 5)

It has been kind of busy around my little life these past few days.  I have not had the time to sit at a keyboard and record what God has been doing or what He has been letting me do.  So this is "Catch-Up-Tuesday."  Today you get three stories for the price of one.  Congratulations.  You should feel special.

Saturday was an easy day to find someone to bless.  It was my Debbie's birthday.  She hasn't made a secret of it.  It was her "double nickel birthday."  Fifty-five.  It is very odd to think of her as being that age.  I understand and accept my own aging better than I understand and accept hers.  In my eyes she is still the beautiful teenage girl that I fell in love with and stole away from her father.  Every time I look at her I see that girl.  Even today.  And it was only appropriate that I honor her in every way possible on this occasion.  And so we began "The Party" on Friday night with our small-group meeting at our house.  Debbie had already been the lucky recipient of a mega-stand for the hammock I gave her some years ago.  In those days we actually had trees to hang it between.  Our current treeless home requires something a bit more man-made.  And then at small-group she hit the jackpot, being served a huge "Oreo Blizzard Cake" from D.Q.  It lasted all of 15 minutes before she led the group in devouring it.  On Saturday morning we had a special picnic for Towerview's  military personnel.  And when that concluded I told her to get in the car because I was about to make her very uncomfortable.  You see, Debbie HATES to shop for herself.  And so I told her, "I just filled my wallet with money and now we are going shopping for YOU."  (I didn't tell her it was all one dollar bills.  Kidding...)  It was painful to watch her walk around the stores wanting to enjoy herself but all the while knowing she would rather use the money for someone else.  That was not a choice I had given her!  And she came home with quite a haul, making her husband proud.  And finally came the part of the day I think she enjoyed the most.  We drove to St. Charles and caught up with our son and grandson.  (Laura already had plans.)  She chose the restaurant, "Christy's," a little "joint" that serves up some of the best burgers in town, complete with "pub cheese" and crinkle-cut fries.  Her smile was complete as little Judah smiled at her and at least tried to say, "Happy Birthday, Grandma!"

Day three.  Mission accomplished!

Sunday was ... Sunday.  Let us just say that on Sunday's I try to lift up an entire church.  Sometimes it goes well.  Sometimes not!  But at the end of the day, as we were in the middle of bible study with the SMALLEST crowd we've had since moving to Towerview, the door opened and a young man stuck his head in.  "Is this for members only?"  I assured him that it was not.  He and his wife came into our sanctuary and joined us for a bible study on "The Keys To The Kingdom" out of the book of Matthew.  We always have fun studying the bible together at The Tower.  Tonight was no exception. When we were finished I sought out our guests and invited them to be our guests as Debbie and I were going out to grab a bite to eat.  (Have you noticed our lives are built around food?) They hesitated.  This couple was very, very young.  Barely adults.  He is in the Air Force.  I assured them that the meal was our treat and we would just love to get to know them.  And so they joined us at McAllister's and we spent a great hour getting to know our new friends.  I'm hoping that they got as much pleasure out of the evening as we did.  They assured us that they would be back on Sunday morning.  I gave them my phone number and email address in case they needed anything throughout the week.  They have only been living in our town for a month and are still feeling their way around.  But it was nice to see a spark in their eyes as they got in their car to return to their little home near the base.

Day four.  Mission accomplished!

And then there was yesterday.  Monday.  I'm involved in a sensitive situation and so I really cannot say much about it.  But God gave me the opportunity to sit with a teenager that is deeply troubled.  We didn't engage in serious talk.  I barely know her.  She barely knows me.  That makes it easy to intimidate a kid.  We did not pray together.  But she was all alone and feeling very destitute.  And so we did the one thing that I could think of that would lift her spirits and bring her a bit of enjoyment.  This is really deep ... truly therapeutic.  Are you ready?  We played cards.  Yep.  She had a deck of cards and she wanted to play that old kid game "War."  And so "War" it was.  Right up  until they told her that she had to eat lunch.  Now maybe a nicer guy would have gone easier on her.  But I decimated her.  Look, it was just a card game.  She gave me a hug and was laughing when she left the room.  So hey ... we were far better off than we were before we shuffled the cards.  And that, my friend, is a part of blessing and restoring someone.

Day five.  Mission accomplished!