Friday, November 25, 2011
Ok, so I haven't done this since August. I've been a little busy, but now things are becoming more manageable and I may be able to pick up, once again, the Pen of Sarcasm just as King Arthur wielded Excaliber, and start blogging again. I've heard it said of bloggers that never in the history of humankind have people said so much to so few. That's probably true, but oh well.
I've been watching Facebook off and on the last couple days and I have to say, it does my heart good to see all of the folks who are publicly giving thanks for all that they have been given. Obviously, the most common is family. Then comes salvation, and I even saw an "ABC" method for giving thanks for that. Pretty cool, and the list continues: safe travel, the Thanksgiving feast, friends, freedoms, well you get the picture. I'm thankful for all of the thankfulness as well.
Then I'm reminded of this past Tuesday night. Being the new kid on the block in Ballard County, I was asked to speak at the Community Thanksgiving Service. Totally expected that, and I had been planning it for several weeks. I made a rookie preacher mistake, though, and had built the message, basically, around one question.
I made a quick little self-introduction, since it was the first time most of those folks had ever seen me, then moved right into the message. Since it was a Thanksgiving message, what better way to begin than to talk about the holiday, which I did. You know what I mean; the meal, family getting together, the cranberry sauce that goes "Slurp" when it comes out of the can, and then I messed up.
In my family, we have maintained a Norman Rockwell-esque tradition of going around the room and mentioning one thing we are thankful for. I assumed every other family did as well, so I asked the question, "How many of us this Thursday, in the midst of the chaos and cooking, will gather with our family around the Thanksgiving feast and go around the room lifting up one thing we are thankful for?" I thought it a fairly innocent question. I mean, after all the freakin' holiday is called "Thanksgiving."
Not one. Not one hand went up. Well, one did. My wife. But she married into this crazy family so she didn't really have a choice. I was floored. Maybe folks were intimidated by this fairly vocal, really outgoing, new kid. Maybe folks just didn't want to look the fool in front of the rest of the crowd. Maybe I was just being naive. I don't know. But whatever the reason, in that crowd of 150 or 200 people, not one person admitted to gathering with their family and lifting up one thing they were thankful for.
I don't know what to do with that. Admittedly, it totally blew my momentum, but we recovered and a good night was had by all. I have to say, though, the response of the crowd haunts me.
Has Thanksgiving really just become Black Friday Eve, or are we truly still a thankful people? I believe we are. So...I am going to accept that Tuesday night was just a fluke, probably because I got up and scared the hell out of some folk, let this go now and keep doing what I do.
Next year, I'm going to give thanks for TWO things.
May your Thanksgiving be filled with thanksgiving.
Thursday, August 25, 2011
I love Jeff Dunham. Sure, he plays with dolls for a living but the guy is a genius. One of my favorite parts of his act is when Peanut and Jose the Jalepeno are talking about their day:
Jeff: I understand you guys had a good day today?
Peanut: Yes, we had a great day!
Jose: No, we did not.
Jose: No! We did not haaave a good day.
Peanut: Yes we haaaad a great freakin' day!
Jeff (to Peanut): You were supposed to take him to the spa
Peanut (to Jeff): I took him to the spa!
Jose: He put me in the vegetable steamer!
Sounds like they did not have a great day, well at least one of them anyhow. That skit reminded me of someone I once knew. Fred was 104 years old, I think, when he finally had to stop saying "I woke up on top of the ground, it's a great day!" You could always count on Fred to greet you that way. Even though he might not have been having a great day, from the best I can remember, he always seemed to keep things in perspective, and saw each new day as a gift to be celebrated.
I've been noticing something lately and it's beginning to concern me. I'm not really sure how long I've been watching for this, but it's been a while, and what I've noticed is that folks like Fred are few and far between. Few are the folks who celebrate each new day as the gift it is, and allow that gift to shape their perspective for the entire day. Much greater is the number of folks who wake up and begin their day belly-aching about something, then allow that negativity to spread like the plague to those around them.
Don't believe me? Run through your facebook friend's posts and look at the number of people who seem either unhappy, depressed, or just plain negative. Talk about a buzzkill. After I started noticing the trend on facebook, I began looking for the same in the people I interacted with face to face. Same thing. More people than not seem to be oozing negativity.
Now, don't get me wrong, I'm a realist and I know that things are tough all over...but really? Also, I'm not an anthropologist, nor did I sleep at a Holiday Inn Express last night, but I did come across a study that said negativity is contagious. It's true in marketing, in our own circles, and in the church.
Being a realist, I know that life is not all puppies and daisies, but for crying out loud, how about a smile every now and then? Is that really too much to ask out of folks who wake up, can get out of bed under their own power, have a little food in the house, and have friends and family to help get them through the really tough days? I think not.
Honestly, I have my share of bad days and I know you do too. I have days when I could absolutely spit nails and things happen that even make a preacher cuss, but that's just life. You roll with the punches and go on. Fred has been gone for years, but his words still ring in my ears anytime I feel the urge to start griping: "I woke up on top of the ground. It's a good day."
I'm halfway through with this journey we call life, and I'm going to spend the last half doing everything I can to curb this tsunami of negativity. I don't know what that's going to look like yet, but something has to give. I care greatly about the things that cause you stress and difficulty and want you to know I'm here for you. Don't be surprised, though, when you start complaining and I say, "Hey, you woke up on top of the ground. It's a great freakin' day."
I'll leave you with a little Electric Light Orchestra...
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qj8kMmUxkSE (Copy and paste into your browser)
Thursday, August 18, 2011
I'm a dad. Have been all of my kids' lives. I love being a dad, not always crazy about some of the stuff that goes along with it but I love it. My girls are my pride and joy, and each is the apple of one of my eyes.
I will admit, though, there have been times when watching something they were doing, had done, planned on doing, or even thought about doing upset me, that's just the way it goes, but for the most part I've got some good kids. They make me proud...a lot. Jen rocked the volleyball court day before yesterday, at least that's what I was told. I wasn't able to go to that one. Hannah has a heart the size of Texas and just watching her take on the mother hen role with kids in her class, Cheetoh (her cat), or even the stray dachsund that camped on our porch last night just makes me melt. I love my girls...
...I love my church. There are times when something it is doing, has done, plans on doing, or thinks about doing upsets me, that's just the way it goes, but I love my church. We have our issues, no doubt, and some of them have been driven home for me this week...on a denominational level numbers are slipping, financially we're budgeting more than we're taking in, and I could go and on, but last night, my folks made me proud to be their pastor and to be a Methodist.
During our Leadership Team meeting last night we had the usual stuff to discuss...finances, committee reports, yada yada yada, then they did it...new business...
"We want to start a Celebrate Recovery group here at the church..."
"I think that's a great idea."
"The county definitely needs something like this."
"What do we need to get started?"
"Let's do it."
"We need to start a feeding program in town..."
"Like a hot meal?"
"Once a week?"
"If we only serve one person a week that's one person that got a hot meal who might not have otherwise."
"Whatever you need, you let me know and I'll see what I can do."
Now, let me say this...financially we're struggling just like every other church in the nation right now. The numbers on Sunday morning? They're getting better but not where we need to be yet. We have the same 20% of the folks doing 80% of the work just like most other churches in the world, but in the midst of all of that, the Grace Church family decided to hear the voice of God, step out on faith, and launch two new ministries. Not programs to fill up a calendar, ministries that will make a difference in someone's life and just might help bring God's kingdom right here in LaCenter.
That's how we're going to roll. Times may be tough, but even in tough times God calls, and when God calls, Grace Church is going to answer. I love my kids...I love my church.
Wednesday, July 20, 2011
Have you ever said or done something, and wondered why folks were laughing at you? Yeah, me either. I was just checking. Ok, confession time...yes I have...alot recently.
We've been painting our new to us parsonage for the last couple weeks and the other night I noticed my beautiful bride beginning to show signs of exhaustion. Our new to us parsonage is going to spoil us after we make it our own because of one thing...a huge corner jacuzzi tub in the master suite. We've never had one before and at first, I thought, "What a waste of space." I no longer think that.
After a long day's painting, I looked at Steph and she looked plumb beat, so being the wonderful and caring husband that I am, I said to her in my most compassionate and loving voice, "Hey hon, why don't you rinse out your paint brush, let me pour you a glass of sangria, and fill up the zucchini tub for you. You look like you need a break."
She started laughing. I started getting mad.
"What? Why are you laughing at me? I'm just trying to help."
"Did you hear what you just said?"
I said, "Yeah, I said, 'Why don't you rinse out your paint brush, let me pour you a glass of sangria, and fill up the zucchini tub for you." She started laughing again. Then what I had said clicked.
Two days later we slipped off to St. Louis for a couple days. We left after church on Sunday and got back late last night. It's the first vacation time we've taken as a couple in over four years, and evidently I needed a break more than I thought I did.
As we sat in the Drury Inn in Arnold, Missouri eating breakfast, I looked around and noticed that the place was packed with kids. I love kids, don't get me wrong, but it was loud. They were running around everywhere, bumping into folks, and spilling drinks, and I looked at Steph and said, "And why are all of these kids here? Shouldn't they be in school?" She started laughing. I started getting mad.
"Honey, you need a vacation. It's July. School is out for the summer." (Facepalm)
Before we left for vacation (even if it was only 2 1/2 days) I had ordered a DVD. It was from a Willow Creek leadership institute and the presenter was Wayne Codeiro, pastor of New Hope Fellowship in Oahu. The title of his presentation was "Dead Leader Running," and it humbles me every time I watch it.
For the first time in my career, I actually saw the signs of what Wayne was talking about in myself..."Shall I fill up the zucchini tub for you?"
I've talked about this before, but I have to admit, this time it kind of scared me a little. I'm one month into a new appointment and having a ball. The schedule is crazy busy, the stress level is a little higher, the expectations are greater, but I'm absolutely loving it. Zucchini tub was an eye opener for me, though. I need to pay attention to my health and my family's well being if I'm going to be able to be a shepherd for the kingdom.
Wayne said that we, as pastors, never forget we are pastors but we do forget that we are human. I had forgotten that. He went on to talk about how to prevent the breakdowns that sometimes come with the profession: find things that fill your tank and do them; find the fulcrum in your life so that balance can be maintained; lead out of rest; find a lightening rod to help keep you grounded; and discipline your daily devotions. I used to do all of those with a fair amount of regularity. Lately, not so much.
I confess that my devotion time has slipped. I must and will get that back on track. I confess that my fulcrum, my heart, has not moved to maintain the balance I need between ministry and family. I confess that I have not met with my mentor in a month or more, it's time. I confess that I have not led out of a spirit of rest. And, I confess that I have done very little to fill my tank recently.
Maybe it's feeling guilt at taking the time needed to do those things, or feeling that other things are more important and pressing at the moment, I don't know. But I do know that most kids do not go to school in July, even in Missouri, and that you can not relax in a zucchini tub. At least I know that now.
Dead leader running...I don't want that to be me.
Thursday, July 14, 2011
I have an office. A real, honest to goodness office. I have a huge desk and it looks great. The top is a little cluttered but I know where everything is. I have a whole wall full of cabinets behind me with a great little countertop, and my set of Interpreter's Bibles takes up two whole shelves. My guitars are on stands in the corner, well, one is on a stand, the other is waiting for me to remember to bring its stand. My coffee maker is perking as we speak. The church has a great computer for me to use, sitting right here on my great desk...and the chair...oh my goodness. I'm getting one of these for the living room in the parsonage. I've got a great gig going here.
That's right, you know you're jealous of my office...but...
I don't remember where I heard it, but someone, somewhere, at some point, told me that Jesus wouldn't have had an office.
I know! Can you believe that? Why would anyone not want an office like the one I have? I mean, Jesus could have set office hours and the twelve could have had their own cubicles just outside his big corner office, and you know it would have been a corner office. I mean, just picture the sign out front..."J. Christ and Co." That's marketable. Folks could have made appointments and come by to see him, or visit, or complain, or cry...whatever they needed. Just think of all he could have gotten done. The Sermon on the Mount? Could have been written on a Dell. Kona coffee must pale in comparison to the coffee that would have been in Jesus' office...and I love me some Kona coffee.
Still, the thought that Jesus would not have had an office kind of bugs me. I love mine, honest. I can come in here on the days I post office hours, and my folks know they can reach me. We have a group that will be by in a bit, just like they do every Thursday, to pray over every name that was lifted up in the last few days. I can come in here on the days I'm not supposed to be here, leave the doors locked, and write or pray or just listen. I stream K-Love on my Dell desktop while I'm working on the teaching for the week on my laptop. (Yeah, two computers in my office.)
But...can I be an effective pastor from behind a desk? To some degree, sure. I can write great messages here. I can take care of the CEO part of the job and never leave my chair. I can kick back and listen as folks come in to talk, but ultimately, if I'm going to lead the people of God, I will have to spend some time outside with the people of God.
So...my office hours...Wednesday and Thursday from 8:30 to 11:30. I'll be in one more day, at least, so that I can really focus on writing, and I'll be here for the meetings I need to be here for. But I think that after I get settled in, two mornings each week blocked out to sit behind a desk are enough.
My prayer is that I always remember that just because I have finally arrived at the point in my career where I have a great office, and it is a great office, I never, never use it to hide from my calling to go out and make disciples of all that I meet.
Thursday, June 30, 2011
"Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God." (Romans 15:7)
That's the opening scripture reference in Bishop Robert Schnase's book, "Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations." I don't really think it's a coincidence that he began the list of five with "Radical Hospitality."
I'm going to go ahead and own something up front today. This is mostly rant. I own that. Not necessarily a rant against the Church universal, or any particular congregation. In fact, this really doesn't have anything to do with the church at all. Hmm, I didn't realize that.
The other day, my wife was on a mission. We are moving into a new parsonage, well, new to us, and the church told us to go ahead and pick out bedroom furniture and give them the bill. So, Steph was shopping. She spent all day one day last week going from one furniture store to another looking at furniture, texting me pictures and prices, and trying to find furniture that would be durable, and comfortable, without blowing the budget.
Monday she asked me to go back and look at one set in particular at a store here in Paducah that shall remain unnamed...for now. It had been a long day. I was tired. I was hot. I was dressed in shorts, a Hawaiian shirt, and flip flops, which is pretty much summer attire for me, but was evidently sub-standard for this particular store.
The plan was to just go in, look at this set of furniture from a construction standpoint, and then talk to the church about it, but the sentry at the door was quick to say...in her best snooty accent..."Is there anything I can help you with?" When we told her that we were looking at a set we had found the other day, the chase was on. "Well, was there someone helping you? If so, I need to know who it was." The faster we walked, the harder she chased.
Now, I understand a little about business, not a lot, but a little. And in her defense she may have actually been trying to extend customer service, but the way she came across was more like, "I have to keep an eye on these folks. Flip flops? Indeed."
The conversation may have lasted 30 seconds, but I had all I wanted, so I tapped Steph on the shoulder, told her I was done, and walked out.
See, welcome, or hospitality, or whatever you want to call it is not determined by intention, but rather by perception. Does the person walking through the door FEEL welcome? It's not enough to INTEND to make them feel welcome.
Ok, so maybe this can be a tiny, little bit about the church. We intend to make folks feel welcome, but do they? I'm not sure that I've ever stopped and asked a first time visitor to any church I have served, "Did you FEEL welcome the minute you walked through the door?" Maybe we should.
So, thank you unnamed furniture store for reminding me once again how important it is to make sure everyone who walks through our doors knows without a doubt that they are welcome.
Thursday, June 16, 2011
Methinks I may have poked a hornet's nest with a stick last night. I didn't mean to, honestly, but a friend of mine sent me a message about something he and I both posted on our Facebook pages letting me know that I was going to start something by putting that out there...he was right.
I love putting things out that make folks think. Yeah, sure, sometimes when folks start thinking they get upset, and the reasons are innumerable. (I can use big words every now and then). But, if our way of thinking is never challenged, if we're never stretched beyond where we are now, can we ever really grow?
...and...I have grown a little since last night.
I'm reading a book now called "The Celtic Way of Evangelism," and evidently, the Irish actually helped preserve the church as we know it today. Who'd have thunk it? Long story short, evidently Celtic Christianity is responsible for re-evangelizing Europe, helping kick off the Renaissance, and helping usher in the Holy Roman Empire...all great things. One would think that everyone would be tickled that folks were doing those things, and most everyone was...except the Roman Church. Evidently, they were quick to criticize the Celtic evangelical movement.
Here's what hit me this morning.
The arcticle I posted last night that might have been the stick in the hornets' nest was about why there are no young people/kids/youth in most of our churches. The reason the author of this article gave was because we, as parents, have allowed everything else to become more important than corporate worship, which I still agree with. We have. Baseball games, swim meets, soccer, volleyball...you name it. Our kids are always "on the go" on Sunday morning, or at least it seems that way.
My daughter plays volleyball on her high school team, but we are blessed to have a volleyball coach, who is also a Christian. I told him that my daughter would not be there for practice or games on Sunday morning and he didn't kick her off of the team. That, I realize, is the exception and not the norm.
Now...here's the "Aha!"
Which is more important...gathering in a corporate body to worship the Triune God as a group? Or...gathering in a corporate body to worship the Triune God as a group on Sunday morning?
The Celts were successful because they were willing to do things a little differently than the way Rome had been doing things. Sooooo, and this is just me thinking out loud...if we are concerned about folks taking their kids to soccer or volleyball or baseball or basketball on Sunday morning...and not being in worship on Sunday morning...do we have to be married to the idea of Sunday morning worship as the only/primary worship experience we offer?
If Sunday is when they practice, or have tournaments, or whatever, would we be selling out to the culture around us if we offered worship on Saturday night for those folks who couldn't/wouldn't be there on Sunday morning? And which is more important, butting heads with the culture around us over something like this, or presenting an opportunity to bring a little Jesus into folks' lives?
Since entering the ministry, I have begun to see which swords I'm willing to fall on, which hills I'm willing to die on, and this morning I realized that this just isn't one of them. It is a real problem...it's a great article, and I still agree with what the guy said, but if this is the biggest problem the church is facing, this one's an easy fix. We can solve this one, no problem, which will allow us to spend the time we would have spent arguing over why sports are more important that worship doing things that really make a difference.
So, thank you George Hunter III for letting me see that we were actually saved by the Irish. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a Saturday evening worship event to start praying over and planning out. Rome might not like it, but hey, I'm not really concerned about what Rome thinks.
Here's a link to the article if you'd like to read it...
Monday, June 13, 2011
Well, it's just about time. Most of the cargo has been moved and the crew is preparing to set sail; the hatches are battened just in case; the anchor's aweigh, the bow's pointed to the horizon, and we're just lying ahull.
Ok, I'm not really a pirate...or a sailor. In fact, I don't think I've ever been on a sailboat. I just like the way they talk, but we are getting ready to sail. Well, not really sail, but head to a new port. Well, not really a port, but a new locale.
A week from Tuesday I'll take my place at the ship's wheel of Grace Church in LaCenter. I'm excited about the future and look forward to the challenges ministry there will bring. At the same time, it was a very tough decision to leave Hickman Harbor. (Hickman really does have a harbor, so that wasn't just a cheap shot at interjecting another nautical term) It's been a great run. We've built relationships and have made great friends.
So, not being one to engage in long good-byes, I want to take a moment to let my crews at Hickman First and Beech Grove know that you will always hold a place in our hearts. Together, we have laughed and cried, agreed and disagreed, made mistakes and offered forgiveness...and I give God thanks for allowing our paths to cross. I have every confidence that your new captain will follow the headings given to her by God and lead you to where God would have you sail.
My prayers go with you all, and until we are moored in that safest of harbors, God bless you and keep you.
Thursday, June 9, 2011
Confession in advance, this is part rant, but mostly thanksgiving.
See, there's something that's been bothering me for over 9 months and I am ready to put it to bed. I was told by someone in the church I serve that my flock thought I was unapproachable, aloof, and uncaring. Now, I'm a pretty tough guy, but I'll admit that really bothered me. (Oh boo hoo, Jamie. Grow up.) Folks have been telling me for years that, as pastors go, I'm very approachable, and I guess that's why this got to me. I never let on that it bothered me, but it did, and I know that if you're going to be in the field that I have given my life to you have... have... have to have tough skin, so I just kept on trucking. (Cue the drill sergeant telling me, "Well why don't we just mosey on over to namby pamby land and get you some self confidence! You jack wagon!") Having heard that folks saw me that way left me struggling with the "Am I really making a difference?" question, and really made me question everything I had been doing for the past 11 years.
So the rant is... Before you say something critical to someone else, think about how it's going to affect that person. Is it something that really needs to be said? Is it going to make things better or worse? If you were the other, would you want someone to say that to you? Words are cheap, but not always helpful. Now I realize that I have a nasty tendency to put too much weight on others' opinions and I'm not going to do that anymore. The rant is now over...on to the thanksgiving.
Monday night saw the culmination of an eleven year journey for me. I have to say, I'm actually kind of surprised I stuck with it. Steph says I'm classic ADD, and there have been times in my life when Ron White's "That boy's gotta whole lot of quit in him" might have been spoken about me. It's not always been easy, but then, nothing worth giving yourself to is. There were long days and short nights while I was working on my bachelors's degree and Master's of Divinity degree... peer group meetings... theological statements to write and rewrite... interviews... questions to struggle with... psych evaluations... and the list goes on and on. Monday night, that part of my journey came to an end. I was ordained as an elder in full connection in the United Methodist Church...finally.
I would love to thank each person who has helped me on this journey individually, but I'm afraid I would leave someone out. There have been folks who have encouraged me along the way, who have sent me notes or emails telling me that they knew I had been called by God and had what it took to be a pastor in the UMC. There have been folks who stood by me when I became frustrated and questioned whether or not I should continue. ...and there have been folks who challenged me (cough..cough..Dave :D ), which only made me look deeper into who I was and what I believed, making me a much better pastor.
Monday night was the ordination service, and it really is a beautiful service. Bishop Wills pulled a chair down to the front of the stage in front of the ordinands, and though he was preaching in front of hundreds, seemed to have written his message just for us. Then, as we were brought on stage for our ordination, friends and family were asked to stand as a sign of support and love. Over the years I have stood up for several while they were ordained...this year it was my turn.
After the service, Steph came up to me and the first thing she said was, "Were you able to turn around and see all of the people standing up for you? It had to be nearly 3/4 of the people in the room." That was when I realized that I am loved...not unapproachable, aloof, and uncaring.
This is just me, but I think we are way too quick to criticize, and not nearly quick enough to stand up for, or with, someone. It takes guts, sometimes, to stand up for someone else.
So, to all of the people who stood for me Monday night, thank you, from the bottom of my heart. To the people who have stood by me during this process, thank you. To the people who have been critical along the way, thank you also, because you have caused me to look deeper within myself and I am a stronger person and better pastor for it.
Now, as a sign of that thanks, I'm going to vow to do everything I can to stand with you as we stand for the other. After all, that is what we are called to do.
Here's a link to a video that Bishop Wills shared during Conference this year:
(You may have to copy and paste the link into your browser)
Tuesday, May 24, 2011
Well that was a lot harder than I thought it would be. Yesterday, I wrote that I was taking a Sabbath from all things online. After I finished writing, and posted the blog, I shut everything down and walked away. I've said on here before, and I mentioned it again yesterday, just how dependent I am on the internet. The reality of that was driven home again over the last 24 hours.
I admit, it was nice to just get up and walk away. I actually felt the stress level drop...for a while. I got the motorcycle out, actually put some sunscreen on this time, and took off. Being on the bike is different than driving in the truck. When I'm two wheeling, I can't even answer the phone or a text, so there is a definite disconnect. (Not that I text while I drive, of course) It's just different.
After a while, I wound up in Murray at the Dairy Queen (I still haven't figured out how that happened) and after a footlong chili dog, rode on up to our house. Still disconnected, still unplugged. Then I spent the afternoon just kind of hanging around our place. I fished a little, mowed a little, and just sat on the front porch a little. Then it was date night with my favorite girl, and we had an appointment with a bunch of pirates on the big screen. A good day.
Now the tough part...I have no idea how many times I thought "I need to get online and check this...or that...or whatever." While I was not online physically, I couldn't get my mind to disconnect, and honestly I don't know how to fix that. Have I become so dependent on technology that I no longer know how to live without it?
I don't think so, but I do think it's time to take care of me a little more than I have been...physically, emotionally, and spiritually. If that includes an intentional unplugging once a week, that's what I'm going to do. But hey, I've said that before.
So, today I plug back in...some. I've already read my Life Journal texts for today. I've checked email. Now to start research for sermon prep. I can stay online to do that, can't I?
Monday, May 23, 2011
Yep, that's right. I think facebook is making me fat...but wait there's more...
I read an article this morning on Elephant Journal written by Dr. Sara Gottfried. That's where I get my daily dose of fairly new age, alternative, sometimes out there, sometimes even Buddhist (I do think we can learn from other faiths, so shoot me), but many times full of common sense blogs and articles.
She said that Facebook is tearing her hormones all to pieces, so she took a digital Shabbat. Ok, it's not just facebook that was keeping Dr. Gottfried all out of whack, it was being online period...hooked up...connected digitally. She said that it was raising her cortisol (kinda bad hormone) levels because plugging in kept her stressed. At first, I thought, "What?! That's stupid!" But I kept reading, and some of the things she was talking about sounded remotely familiar. Then she told us that from sundown Friday through to sundown Saturday, she unplugged.
Now, I'm not a doctor, nor did I play one on TV, and I didn't even sleep at a Holiday Inn Express last night...
...but I think I can see what she's saying.
I've started noticing things. My pants fit a little tighter now than they used to. Maybe I'm just eating too much, but I don't think so. I was training for a hike this summer but then the storms and the flood hit and I got distracted. I feel the stress hovering somewhere around my adam's apple. I just feel "blah" most of the time. Tired. Disinterested. Whatever. Evidently, stress raises cortisol levels, which is bad. But too much stress burns out the endocrine glands and then cortisol levels drop and you feel even worse. I did not know that.
Now, in a little while my wife is going to read this and I'll hear her say something like, "See? I told you, didn't I?" You would not believe the stress facebook has caused me over the last 9 months or so, it's been insane, and ridiculous. She has accused me of being too accessible, and has been trying to get me to unplug for a couple years. So, I'm going to.
Dr. Gottfried unplugged for 25 hours, so I think I'm going to as well. It's 8:00 in the AM right now. I'm almost through writing, then I'll post this, shut the laptop down, and not get back online until tomorrow morning. Or, at least, I'll try.
It's going to be hard, N'kay? I do everything online. I balance my checkbook online. I get my daily devos online. I keep up with friends online. I check the weather online. I minister online. I do all of my sermon research online. But evidently, it's killing me, slowly...and not softly with a song like Roberta Flack sings about.
But I'm going to try. So, whatever comments, criticism, or questions this darn blog inspires, I'll read them tomorrow. Now, where did I park that darn motorcycle?
Peace out, literally,
Sunday, May 22, 2011
Have I mentioned that I'm a huge Monty Python fan? I think I probably have, but if not, I am. Huge fan. I know, I know. It's mostly stupid and inane, and some of their skits do seem to kill brain cells, but I just can't help it. I love it, love it, love it.
In the opening scene of "Monty Python and the Holy Grail," King Arthur, son of Uther Pendragon, from the castle of Camelot, King of the Britons, defeater of the Saxons, sovereign of all England, rides up to the walls of a castle on a horse, and much hilarity ensues.
Now, I know you may be thinking, "Big deal! A lot of people rode horses!" Yeah, well, except he wasn't really on a horse. He was skipping...on foot...and his trusty servant Patsy had two empty coconut shells and was banging them together to make that "clip clop" sound. Arthur sure thought he was riding a horse, but the castle guard just would not be convinced, and Arthur would not hear that he wasn't really on a horse.
So there they were, arguing over whether Arthur was or was not riding a horse. Sounds kind of stupid, doesn't it? I mean, just watching the scene on the telly, it's obvious to anyone with eyesight, that Arthur was, in fact, not riding a horse. Now, were one to close their eyes and just listen to what was happening, they might not be so easily convinced. Patsy made a fairly decent "clip clop" sound with those two coconut halves. Does that sound at all familiar? You know, the arguing over what is or isn't?
Now, I must make a confession. I made fun of Howard Camping over the last week or so...a lot...I mean, A LOT. I'm not necessarily proud of it, but it happened, Lord forgive me. False prophet, he has been called. I think I can totally agree with that, and might even add Kook, Loonie, Betsy Bug, and any other derogatory name that means crazy. Still and all, I commend his boldness. While you can believe something with strong sincerity and be completely wrong, it is better, I think to believe in something and be wrong, than to believe in nothing. I may get hammered over that statement, but...well, yeah.
Today's lectionary text is from Acts 7, and is the last section of the story about Stephen's martyrdom. Now I'm in no way comparing Camping to any of the martyrs of our history, not even I would do that, but part of me wonders if the world thought they were loonies too. I mean, think about it, Stephen...stoned to death, when all he would have had to do is say, "Nah guys, I was just kidding."
...Or the ten martyrs in the gallery above Westminster Abbey. Surely folks must have thought they were crazy, giving up their lives for someone they have never met face to face. It just makes me wonder sometimes. I don't know what convinced the martyrs that dying really was gain, and I don't know, well, ok I do know what convinced Camping...a bad literal interpretation of scripture. I feel kind of bad for the guy because things weren't, well, they just weren't what they seemed. Still...
So, I will probably still make a jab every now and then at the non-rapture yesterday. While I'm doing that, and calling Camping a kook, false prophet, or whatever, I actually hope that I am devoted enough to a life in Christ that folks will think I'm crazy too. I hope that I can be dedicated enough to step out of the boat, to go where I'm sent, to reach into people's hurts, to spend time with the marginalized, to help make a difference, and not just show up once a week and check the box.
When you think about it, it really is crazy. Crazy good.
Saturday, May 21, 2011
I know, it saddens me too, but I'm afraid this will be my last blog post...or not...depending on if Camping was right. It's been a great run, though. Well over 200 posts in way under a year and a half. We've covered a whole lot of scripture, and a bunch of different topics. I've been patted on the back for things I've said here, and I've been, well, not patted on the back at other times. In fact, I've had folks pretty upset with me over things I have thrown through the gate. But hey, that's alright too.
I've spent a lot of time in introspection as my fingers worked the keyboard. I've wrestled with my own demons, sins, and shortcomings. I've celebrated the high points in life, in my family, and in my church...and I've ranted over my frustrations. I've learned that words can be weapons whether that's what the writer intended or not. I've learned truth hurts, and that laughs are far too few. But, at the same time, I've had a blast coming in and out of the city gate.
We are less than 12 hours away from the rapture, if you believe in the rapture, (Personally, I don't) not to be confused with the second coming (which we have done a lot). So, the countdown is on.
I read a friend's blog yesterday, Cap'n Dave, as he's known to his mates, and he mentioned the "If you knew you only had 48 hours left what would you do?" question that so many good pre-apocalyptic folks are asking. Then his answer was, "...just because the end of the world is supposed to happen on Saturday doesn't mean I would change anything."
See, I admire Cap'n Dave. He's a friend, a mentor, and a colleague. He also has taught me not to take myself so seriously (Insert the Joker's "Why so serious?!" here). I appreciated his answer. So, inspired by Cap'n Dave, I thought I'd let you in on how I plan on spending my last 12 hours.
I'm going to start by writing my last blog post (ok, it's not my last but I may do some restructuring. I love blogging, actually). I've already read my life journal texts like I do every morning, with my first cup of coffee. I'm going to finish my second cup of really good coffee while I watch my cat watch the birds. (He does this funny little chirping thing when a bird lands on the railing outside the window). I'm going to do a final edit on the sermon I'm preaching tomorrow (yep, tomorrow...after the rapture event).
While I edit, I'm going to sit here and listen to the birds in one ear(the A/C is out so we have the windows up) and The Cartoon Network in the other (the windows are up, so is my youngest daughter). Since it's Saturday, and possibly the last Saturday, I may have a third cup of really good coffee and not feel bad about talking about it.
I'm going to spend a little time with my girls this morning, and then go to Hannah's piano recital this afternoon. Who knows, if we get done in time, I may run up to our place and mow the yard (Don't want to check out with a shaggy lawn, ya know.) Then, after a little TV with my girls tonight, Steph and I will send them off to bed, hold hands for a while like we do every night, then go to bed ourselves...ma in her kerchief and I in my cap.
In other words, as Dave said, doing anything different during my last day or couple days would imply that I'm not satisfied with life as it is, and I have to say, I'm pretty happy with my life.
Now, since Camping said the rapture would be time zone specific and happen at 6:00 PM in each time zone, I'm going to check to see if folks are still hanging around in Jakarta.
Wednesday, May 18, 2011
Nope, not Saturday Night Live, as in NBC, as in Steve Martin, John Belushi, Dan Akroyd, Chevy Chase, Billy Crystal, Jane Curtain, Chris Farley, as in over 30 years of nonsensical hilarity...Saturday Night Alive, as in "Dang I hope they're wrong about this weekend and I'm still alive Saturday night."
You see, I have tickets to see U2 in concert in July thanks to a dear friend of mine. I'm going to watch a minor league baseball game with my girls this summer. I've lost a little weight and feel better than I have in a while. I've just recently reconnected with some old friends. You know, I've got a lot going on right now and the rapture coming Saturday would really mess that all up.
Ok, all kidding aside, some folks haven't heard about this yet, some are scared to death. Now, just in case you've been wrestling gerbils, fighting elves, or cross-stitching with Elvis and have missed all of the hype about the end of the world swiftly approaching (as in this Saturday), let me fill you in real quick.
Evidently, Family Radio (whoever that is) has infallible proof (that's right, infallible) that the rapture will happen Saturday with judgment day beginning at the same time. It's a numbers game. They, whoever they are, have determined beyond any doubt that Christ was crucified on April 1, 33, and that the bible says beyond question that there will be 722,500 days between the crucifixion and the rapture. Do the math...figure in the leap years we've had since then, carry the one, subtract Pi, multiply by 1/2, and there you have it, the date of the rapture is May 21, 2011. Which just happens to be this Saturday.
Now, please understand I'm not making light of people's fears. But something in me just keeps going back to one particular verse in scripture, and I'll get to that in just a second. You see, I'm not a literalist, well, at least not anymore. I used to be. This doesn't mean that I don't take scripture seriously, I do, very seriously. I'm just not one to sit around and draw out a Revelation time line. I'm not a fan of Hagee or Lindsey, or any of those other guys who thrive on fear mongering, and who have profited greatly from it, I might add. I'd rather take scripture and look at the ways it can help me live better and just maybe make a difference in the world, without worrying about when it's all going to end.
Still, part of my job as pastor is to help alleviate fear...fear of dying, fear of living, fear of the end, fear of stepping out in faith, fear of getting out of the boat, and others. So, in that spirit, out of love for my flock (present, past, future), I'll say this: Go ahead and make your plans for Sunday lunch. Here's why: Matthew 24:36 says this "No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father." It could happen Saturday, or tomorrow, or a week from Tuesday, or 1000 years from now. There is only One that knows when...and that's good enough for me.
Monday, May 16, 2011
Don't hit people.
Put things back where you found them.
Clean up your own mess.
Don't take things that aren't yours.
Say you're sorry when you hurt somebody.
Wash your hands before you eat.
Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.
Live a balanced life - learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and
dance and play and work every day some.
Take a nap every afternoon.
When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands, and stick
Be aware of wonder.
Remember the little seed in the styrofoam cup: The roots go down and the plant goes
up and nobody really knows how or why, but we are all like that.
Goldfish and hamsters and white mice and even the little seed in the Styrofoam cup -
they all die. So do we.
And then remember the Dick-and-Jane books and the first word you learned - the
biggest word of all - LOOK.
It can't be that simple, Robert Fulghum. Or can it? Robert created a list of things he, and we, needed to get through life; things that he just happened to have learned in kindergarten...or Sunday school. Now, I don't know Robert, nor do I know if he even went to kindergarten (I did not. That may explain some things.) I haven't even read his book...yet, but I'm assuming that list is actually found within its pages.
Still...I have learned that, yes, Robert Fulghum, it really CAN BE that easy. Unfortunately, it is often human nature to take the unbelievably simple idea, and turn it into something much more muddled and complicated in practice.
I mean, seriously? All we have to do to make this spinning ball we call home a better place is to follow this little list? Come on, man! Don't be ridiculous. Well, ok, maybe we could follow some of them and make it a little better, but do we really need to follow all of your advice, Robert Fulghum?
How about this...let's tweak the list a little, and see if we can't find some common ground between the reality we live in and your crayon scattered, cookie crumb littered, nap taking Eden that you have left us all slobbering over. How about that? So, with that in mind, and in a spirit of reality dusted with a whisper of cynicism, and tossing in a splash of smart aleck just for giggles,(shaken, not stirred) here is my take on the list of things we need to get through life; things that we should have learned in kindergarten.
Share everything... No. Not going to do it, wouldn't be prudent, at this juncture. Why? Because if I give away some of what I have then I won't have as much. Duh. How about instead, if I share the stuff I don't want anymore? You know, like, umm, used underwear, half empty lotion bottles, and leftover food? Oh, wait...can I get a receipt for that charitable donation of used underwear, half empty lotion bottles, and any other stuff I don't want anymore?
Play fair... No. How in the world am I supposed to climb the ladder if I want the same for everyone else that I want for myself? That wouldn't be fair to me. What if I play fair to those folks who can help me get what I want? Would that work?
Don't hit people. Ok, that one I can do. Not a biggie.
Put things back where you found them... Why? I mean, think about it. If I put things back where I found them, then there would be no job market for folks who spend their days going around cleaning up after folks like me. I'm doing them a favor really. So what if we do this; how about if I put a few things back where I got them instead?
Clean up your own mess...ok, obviously you didn't notice the previous retort.
Don't take things that aren't yours...you mean like slave labor, natural resources, native lands, or a pretty young lass's innocence? Come on, man. Now you're talking crazy. Where is your sense of progress? That's the way the world works. Ok, so how about this...what if I downsize from a Hummer to a smaller SUV. I mean, my Explorer gets 19.7 mpg, isn't that good enough? (I don't really have a Hummer, but if I did I'd downsize to a smaller SUV like, oh, my Explorer.)
Say you're sorry when you hurt someone. Oh, for crying out loud. You mean, actually take responsibility for the way I have treated another human being? Get out! We don't want to do that. Instead, we say what we want and hide behind anonymity. That way no one knows it was really me that said those awful, hurtful words. (That's actually one thing I like about Facebook. Your mug is right there beside everything you say.)
Wash your hands before you eat...Ok, the germ-o-phobe in me totally agrees with that one.
Flush...Ok, my OCD greatly appreciates that one as well.
Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you...now you're talking. So are other things, but I'm not going there. One of these days we can talk about the other.
Live a balanced life: learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play every day some. Well isn't that special? Actually, that sounds like fun. I'm keeping that one.
Take a nap every afternoon. Finally! Yes!
...and then the others, well, I'm out of cynical comments so I'll just skip them.
Ok, actually I think Robert is dead on right. I think he has absolutely nailed what it takes to create a better world for everyone, the only addition I might make is a little prayer. Unfortunately, we're not going to share, or play fair, or apologize when we've hurt someone. Most of us won't take responsibility for the hurtful things we say, or for the role we play in depleting the earth's natural resources (and, alas, I'm guilty too), or for keeping the marginalized on the margins, etc, etc, etc.
So, Robert Fulghum...keep up the good work. Keep telling us about how simple this really can be. Now, I'm not some misplaced hippie, but dog gone it, this stuff ain't rocket science (My apologies to my rocket scientist friends. What? I have friends who actually are rocket scientists.). It really is that simple. Paul reminds us of that in his letter to the Thessalonians (You didn't honestly think I was going to write a whole blog without mentioning scripture?). Isn't it funny that some of the most life changing and world changing advice we've ever gotten came to us before we even hit 1st grade?
Kindergarten, Sunday school, around the dinner table. They all work, if we listen. So, take some time today, ponder Robert Fulghum's list, listen to your mum, and read 1 Thessalonians chapter 5. Seriously. Do it.
Wednesday, May 11, 2011
I'm a fun loving kind of guy. I love to laugh and cut up, and generally try not to take life too seriously. I spent way too much of my childhood being too grown up, so I'm trying to make up for lost time now. I love to laugh at myself, and sometimes at the unsuspecting other, and try to find something to get tickled about every day. Some days that task is tougher than others.
I'm also a pastor, which means that I'm resigned to a life of solemnity and a face full of brow wrinkles instead of laugh lines...NOT. However, I do understand that as a pastor, I'm scrutinized more than the average Joe (My apologies to anyone named Joe who considers themselves either above or below average, or any Joe left out of said scrutinizing). Alas, I did not realize this until I became part of the social media underworld.
It's a great ministry tool, and honest to Betsy (again, my apologies to any Betsy who is not honest) that was why I signed up and set up a facebook account. I'm beginning to rue the day. Yet, I return time and time again to the times (sorry about all the times I mentioned "times" there) that I have been able to minister to someone through social media...and it happens a lot more than some folks realize. If I'm home and working, researching, writing, etc, etc, etc, I leave my chat box open so that folks who need to talk to me can reach me easier. I've done marriage counseling through chat, and have even seen folks come to a relationship with Christ through the same.
But...I'm thinking it's time for a change. I have learned that there are great pros and massive cons to social media. I have also learned that there are many similarities between social media and comic book superweapons, so, in the spirit of humor, and in the style of David Letterman's Top Ten List, here is my list of reasons why social media is like comic book superweapons. A lot of the descriptions have been "borrowed" from techrepublic.com. Here we go.
Number 10...Social media is like the Helm of Nabu: it grants knowledge to the social media-er (is that even a word?) yet with a price...it also forces the user to hear those people who post things that actually make sense and causes said user to weigh the consequences of their own actions. BAH!
Number 9...Social Media is like the Crimson Gem of Cyttorak: it causes the user to feel invincible, much like the Juggernaut. Unfortunately, also like a person who becomes the Juggernaut remains the Juggernaut for life, once something is out there on social media, it is out there f.o.r.e.v.e.r.
Number 8...Social Media is like The Witchblade: it's user is advised based on information given by previous users (I was going to copy and repost that but decided to just type it). The down side is that if used wrong, the Witchblade will blow your arm off. Hmm, maybe it's more similar than I thought.
Number 7...Social Media is like The Mother Box: it speaks only in pings and seems to have a mind of its own...'nuf said
Number 6...Social Media is like The Anti-Life Equation: it requires 12th-Level Intellect to comprehend. For the life of me, I can't figure out some of these posts, or the reasoning behind them.
Number 5...Social Media is like Mjolner, Thor's Hammer: well, because it can actually be a weapon.
Number 4...Social Media is like The Ultimate Nullifier: you haven't been dissed until you've been dissed on Facebook. Bring it...(complete with head bobbing from side to side)
Number 3...Social Media is like the Green Lanter Super Ring, oh that's right. It converts your will power into pure green ownage. It's only problem is that it is sometimes vulnerable to the color yellow, and that is why yellow makes me sad.
Number 2...Social Media is like The Cosmic Cube: in the mind of its user, it converts thoughts into reality, thereby lulling the user into a false sense of omnipotence. Unfortunately, it also eventually warps the users mind. Yeah.
And the Number 1, Numero Uno, comic book superweapon Social Media is like is...(Drumroll please. Drumroll)...The Infinity Gauntlet...because it does, yes, does, grant omnipotence to its users (or at least makes one think they know it all). The only problem is it also makes you a target of every person in Marvel Comics. Oh wait, that's the real Infinity Gauntlet.
There you have it folks, straight from the home office in Wallawalla, Washington, or a phone booth in Metropolis, or some other possible real/possible fictional locale.
Now, I mentioned earlier that I thought it was time for a change, and here it is. I have set up a second, that's right, a second facebook account in preparation to begin shutting down my original account. If you are fun loving, if you like to laugh at yourself and the occasional other (but only in a spirit of love, of course), if you try not to take yourself too seriously and are afraid too many others do, if you like pirates and/or pirate movies, if you think Jimmy Buffet's face should be on some form of U.S. currency, or if you're just generally tired of BS, shoot me a friend request...same name, different profile picture.
On the flipside, if you are a facebook stalker, if you are looking to be offended, if you think the Lord of the Rings trilogy was a waste of film, if you think Davy Jones' tentacles looked fake, if you have never laughed at a Monty Python flick, if you can't laugh at yourself, if you thrive on drama, or if you generally like to complain, don't bother. Many thanks to the folks at techrepublic.com for the list of top comic book superweapons and their descriptions.
(top twelve comic book super weapons found here www.techrepublic.com)
Wednesday, May 4, 2011
"Historic river levels..."
"The flood of a lifetime..."
"We've not seen water like this since 1937..."
Those are some of the things I've heard, and you've heard a lot over the last few days. Personally, I hope it is the flood of a lifetime, because I'd really rather not see this again. The Mississippi here at Hickman was projected to hit historic levels and I guess it probably has. I'm not sure exactly where it's at right now, but I can't get down to my favorite walking spot if that says anything. Well, I guess I could but I'd probably get arrested.
Folks have been calling me and hitting me up on facebook for over a week wanting to get out and help, and they have...by the busloads at times. Here in town, we were asked to activate our emergency shelter at the church due to mandatory evacuations in the downtown area, West Hickman, and the entire lower bottom. Within just a couple hours my flock, along with some folks from the community, had the shelter completely set up, stocked with food, and staffed with volunteers. I am very proud of them.
Folks have been filling, toting, and stacking sandbags all over Western KY. Unfortunately, homes were still flooded, and the loss has been great. I can't remember a greater outpouring of support for the neighbors around us, at least not that I have seen personally. Wait, I forgot about the ice storm. The help that came in during that time was amazing.
Many of my folks here at church are affected directly, as most of them are farmers. Still, I have not heard one complaint from my folks. I have farmers with thousands of acres under 15 or 20 feet of water, and I know they are stressed about it. I know they are worried about whether or not they are going to be able to get a crop out. But would you like to know what they have been doing? Sandbagging for other folks. I've seen them...and it makes me proud.
I have had folks from over 100 miles away call to offer help. Even the Lowe's store in Union City called me yesterday and offered help for the folks needing to evacuate. This last week or ten days has been a testament to the lengths folks will go to help other folks when there is a need.
...and then I looked at my facebook page.
Well, not actually my page because I try to be real careful about what I put on mine...you never know who's watching. What I saw yesterday broke my heart. I've been keeping up with the Bird's Point New Madrid Joint Information Center through facebook. It has been a wonderful source of information about plans to operate the floodway, hopefully relieving some of the pressure on the entire river system, and I'm assuming it is operated by the Corps of Engineers.
From what I understand, the floodway from Bird's Point to New Madrid was designed during the early years of the last century to help ease flooding in the event of water levels like we are seeing now. That was it's design. Folks were allowed to move into the floodway with an easement attached to the property deeds that stated the property could be flooded if the need presented itself. I'm sure, like most of us, they thought it would never come to that, and that it would be ok to build a home and life there. Still, my heart breaks for those affected when the floodway was activated.
Now, I'm not a very smart man. I admit that readily. I do hold 3 degrees, and have a little common sense, but I never claimed to be real smart. I do know this...if you build your home in a flood plain, every now and then you have to expect a little water. The same holds for fault zones. If you build your home on a fault line, every now and then you have to expect the ground to shake a little. It's just common sense. Evidently, for some, common sense washed downstream with the flood waters. Folks are looking for someone to blame. "Wipe out Cairo, it's going down anyhow."...that's the most common one I've seen. Blame is being laid on everyone from the governor to the Corps, but I haven't seen anyone say, "You know what, I took a chance building my life next to the river, and it blew up in my face."
...and then God was brought into it. That actually took longer than I expected, but I can't even comment on the stupidity of the comment made about that.
The point is this...it's been a rough week or ten days for a lot of people. Frustration and fear run rampant. Folks are suffering. But, this is bigger than New Madrid, or the floodway, or Cairo. Folks are being affected all along the entire river system, and now is not the time to focus solely on what's going on in our own backyards.
So, to those folks who are out filling sandbags, helping their neighbors evacuate, bringing food and water to shelters, or anything else being done in the name of easing someone's suffering, thank you...and may God bless you.
To those folks who would rather sit around on your computers and gripe about the decisions being made...get off of your butts, realize that you are not the center of the universe, recognize that a lot of people are suffering, and go help someone. It's amazing how small my problems look when I get out and see what others are dealing with.
Ok, I'm stepping off of my soapbox now. Next.
Wednesday, April 27, 2011
Yep, I said "The rich man in me." My name is Jamie...and I'm loaded. Ok, actually I'm not. Actually we're on a very tight budget and it's only by the grace of God that the bills get paid on time, but I'm a rich man.
This blog has been in the works since Saturday, but I just haven't had time to sit down and write. Actually, I'm glad I haven't had time. I just keep hearing stories that I'm hoping to tie in as I write now.
Saturday, one of the churches I serve hosted what was, as far as we can remember, our very first community Easter egg hunt. Now, usually, I'm not big on churches blowing money on Easter egg hunts, but since this was the first big outreach we have done in years I was all over it. I'm not sure what I expected, but I know I didn't expect the lesson I was going to receive. Sure, most of the kids that showed up already had a church home but I was absolutely tickled to see them there. However, not all of the kids that showed up had a church home. We had some from the community come by, and I got to meet them for the first time...that is where this story, and my realization of how rich I really am, begins.
I hate that I can't remember their names (but I do have them written down in the notes I took from Saturday), but I promise you that I will never, as long as I live and breathe, forget the image of them pulling into the parking lot.
Let me stop for a second and say this...I own a Ford Explorer. Well, I own it as long as I keep making the payments on it. It's a relatively nice ride...nicer than I need and certainly nicer than I deserve. I bought it after the ice storm totalled my Jeep. My Explorer was one of several very nice vehicles sitting in the parking lot Saturday, and if I had to venture a guess at the combined retail value of all of those vehicles, I would guess it at somewhere between $175,000 and $250,000 total.
The image in my mind, and the image that is forever seered into my memory, is one of a little red wagon sitting right in the midst of all of those nice vehicles. That was how they came to church. Mom pulled the kids to us in a red wagon. That's right, they walked...and we are not in a town. We loved on those kids, they hunted eggs, and we all had a blast. I don't know that they will ever come back, but I will never, never, ever, forget the image of that little red wagon sitting in our church parking lot and it will forever be a reminder of all that I take for granted. I am a rich man.
But this story didn't end Saturday. God, how I wish it had.
Through a misunderstanding on my part while talking to a dear friend of mine Easter night, I wound up in Bardwell Monday morning. He was in Milan, TN cutting trees so folks could begin to put their lives back together after the first round of storms Saturday. I thought he said he was going to be in Bardwell Monday, so I told Steph, my wife, "I'm going to go to Bardwell and meet Bill in the morning to see if I can help clean up." Bill was in Milan Monday morning. I misunderstood.
He told me, "Hey, since you're there, see where we can plug in and help with the clean up." So I started driving around. Bardwell, to quote my dad from when I was a kid, was, "Torn all to damned pieces." It was a mess. You could barely get through the streets. Bardwell Baptist church was scattered over a half mile. Trees were down, limbs were scattered, debris was everywhere...so I stopped at city hall to see if we could help. Folks were desperate. As I drove around, asking folks if they needed help, I realized that my roof was still on and my trees were still standing. I'm a rich man.
Then it was off to Barlow, Wickliffe, and La Center. More of the same. Trees down...one on a house, one on a truck. Buildings were demolished. I'm a rich man.
Then, Monday night, more storm sirens. Murray and Calloway County were hit this time. Tuesday morning Murray was total chaos. I stopped at city hall there, trying to see if they could use any of our volunteers to help with clean up, and they politely turned me down, so I started driving around looking for folks to help. Trees were down on practically every block, there was a roof missing, and you probably heard about mother nature going cow tipping when she blew the big bull on its side at the Sirloin Stockade. Folks were standing in the streets talking, and the ones I talked to had a look of frustration on their faces. Still, no one accepted my offers of help...until Steve called me.
Steve is on staff at Murray First UMC and called me about a lady who needed some help cleaning up. Wait, I'll come back to her in a minute. As soon as I hung up with him, my phone rang again. This time, it was a lady whose name I didn't catch, but who was telling me about a woman in Oscar who was trying to evacuate. The flood waters were lapping at her door like a pack of hungry wolves, just waiting to devour whatever was within reach. I called the woman and the desperation in her voice was heart breaking. She told me that they were sandbagging her house but she was afraid it wasn't going to work, and she was trying to move as much as she could. Then she asked me for help...please. I made a phone call, and started heading that way. I'm a rich man. Have I mentioned that yet?
I stopped at my house to grab my rubber boots and hip waders. I started to grab my chest waders but thought that if the water was already that high there was nothing we could do. When I got closer to her house, I called a friend of mine who pastors in the area, and told him I was nearly there. He was the phone call I made from Murray and I had asked him to see if he could grab a couple folks to go help this lady. While we were on the phone, he asked me if I would mind stopping to pick up lunch for the volunteers. I said, "Sure, how many folks do you have?" He said, "About 25." I only asked him to get a couple. I'm a very, very rich man.
I joined the 25 or so volunteers trying to save this sweet lady's home, and saw instantly that rubber boots wouldn't cut it, so I donned the hip waders. Thigh deep in flood water, we filled, tied, toted, and stacked one sandbag after another. She and her family had already been stacking sandbags, and we just built on top of what they had already started. So, we sandbagged while they moved furniture out. God, I hope it's enough. I'm a very rich man.
This morning, it was back to Murray to the little lady Steve had called me about yesterday. I found her house, way out in the county, and didn't have any trouble at all finding the reason I was there. There were at least two trees down in her yard. Thankfully, none of them landed on her home. It was obvious she didn't have the resources to pay someone to cut the trees up and haul them off, so I told her not to worry, we would take care of it. At the moment, "we" was just me and my chainsaw...but I've got friends, lots of friends. I'm a very, very, very rich man.
And then this afternoon, the Bear on the Air finished me off. Dang him. I love the Bear. Never met him, but I love the guy. He is partly responsible for my marriage, but that's another blog for another time. He showed up on the radio for his shift, and was talking about how he had spent all morning moving out of his home ahead of the flood. I don't know where he lives, somewhere in Southern Illinois, but evidently the flood water was rising. Then he started talking about all he had been through...he lost a home to fire...earthquakes...the ice storm...and now the floods...
This week I have seen first hand just how important it is not to take anything for granted. And now with levees that are threatened, trees still down, homes still flooded, more homes threatened, and more storms on the way I'm reminded again...my God, I'm a rich man.
Lord, thank you for allowing me to be part of what you are doing to keep the flame of hope alive.
Wednesday, April 20, 2011
I'm a fan, let me just say that. I'm a huge fan of barbecue, or bbq, or bar-b-q, or however you want to say it. Pork or beef, I'm really not picky. I've even been known to smoke a mean venison ham or pork shoulder myself. It's one of those things that I just cannot get enough of, and if I go to a catered meal and barbecue is on the menu, I am never disappointed. Well, okay, one time I was disappointed...but it was just bad.
As many barbecue joints as I have stopped at over the years, I was not prepared for the life lesson I would get yesterday from a barbecue sandwich. I met an old friend yesterday, and we spent the day hanging out and talking about theology, our familes, work, and life in general. At some point during the day we ran into some friends of his, and an impromptu lunch meeting with great table talk and much hilarity ensued. Oh wait, that was the second time we stopped at this place yesterday. This first time it was just me and my guide.
Names and places are being left out to protect the unaware, but let's just say that this was not the kind of place I would have found myself stopping had I been by myself. In fact, neither of the places I was introduced to yesterday were places I would have stopped by myself.
We rolled into town and my friend asked me, "Have you ever eaten here?" I was thinking to myself, "Where? There's a restaurant here? Hmm, doesn't show." But, my internal filter kicked in (internal filters and some folks' inability to engage them is another blog for another day) and I said, "Nope, but I'm game." So we pulled in.
Now, I'm a fan of mom and pop, let me just say that. When Steph and I get to slip off for a few days we try hard not to stop at chain restaurants, but honestly, walking in yesterday, I thought to myself, "What in the hell am I doing here?" Still, I trusted my culinary guide, my own personal Andrew Zimmern, and we bellied up to the counter.
We kept it simple, a barbecue sandwich and a diet coke for both of us. I mean, we were both watching our waistlines so we couldn't order regular cokes, right? When the waitress brought our sandwiches out, I thought, "Toast? Who in their right mind puts barbecue on toast?" But I'm still game, and keeping an open mind I reached for the house sauce and began the pour. Wait, barbecue sauce is not supposed to be orange, and barbecue sandwiches are not supposed to be on toast. That's just wrong! Still, I trusted my guide.
The moment I bit into that sandwich everything changed, and my first impression of the place left me embarrassed and ashamed. It was quite possibly, one of the best barbecue sandwiches I have ever eaten. Everything worked. It was all different, but it worked. In fact, it worked so well that within 2 hours we were driving back into that town for round 2. Yeah, it was that good.
"Do not judge or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged,and with the same measure you use, it will be measured to you." (Matthew 7:1-2)
Thank God we don't do that in the church. You know, judge someone on first impressions alone. Can you imagine what Jesus would think if we judged people based on what they looked like, how they dressed, or any other surface appearance? Thank God we don't.
A barbecue sandwich. How about that? God just reminded me again that even I'm not above being a little judgmental every now and then. Lord, forgive me.
Thursday, April 14, 2011
(photo from www.secure.bkcrowncard.com)
For nearly 12 years I have been working toward that one moment. For at least the last 6 months it has consumed me. Nights were spent worrying about it, days were spent studying for it, weeks were spent writing for it, and it all came down to one moment with me sitting before the Board, waiting to hear...
"We have voted to approve you for ordination."
This morning, the Life Journal text from the Old Testament is the story of Saul (King Saul to those who knew him) and the Amelakites...oh and the fact that God told him to destroy them, all of them, and everything they had. "What," you may be thinking, "does one have to do with the other?" Well, I'm getting there.
Saul went up againt the Amelakites, and destroyed them...well, most of them...and destroyed all they had...well, most of it. He didn't destroy their king, nor did he destroy all of their herds or flocks. You see, Agag the Amelakite king was spared, and the guys wanted to take some of the flock back with them (they said to offer to God, but I think they had a hankering for some veal cutlets, maybe roasted with Rosemary, or a nice plum sauce).
As you keep reading, you get down to the place in the story where we find out that God is just plain sorry that God made Saul king. The story is actually kind of funny, kind of. Saul lets the men keep the best of the flocks...for an offering (wink, wink)...and Samuel the local prophet walks up to him and greets him.
"Hey Samuel! Great to see you! Look, I have done just exactly what you said that God said to do! Isn't that cool?"
"Hey Saul, what's that funny bleating sound? It almost sounds like a sheep or something."
"Oh that? Uhm, yeah, well, uhm, funny story. The guys wanted to keep the best of the flock, you know, for an offering to God so...I...uhm, I guess, I kind of let them."
...and God was sorry that God made Saul king. Ouch.
I know I'm not perfect, but I hope that as I continue on this path, that when I get to the end of the road, God is not sorry that I was made a pastor.
Friday, April 8, 2011
I will never forget what Wayne Cordeiro said about filling your tank. He said that the more of yourself you give away, the more time you need to spend filling your tank. Without that you will burn out in short order. I would like to say that's what I'm going to write about today, but it's not. I did take a few days this week to fill my tank, and it was great. I haven't done that in a while and I was really starting to feel the effects. The tank I'm about to write about led me to a realization that I had been aware of but hadn't experienced in a long time. Actually, I don't know that I had ever experienced it.
Last week I started watching the 10 day weather forecast because my girls were on spring break this week and were wanting to go camping. I guess I wanted to, also, but just couldn't really get into the spirit. I was going to have to set the camper up (we have a pop-up), check for any damage from this winter, flush the water lines, clean it up, load it up, hook it up, and pull it up. I set it up last Saturday and drained the water system. Then I hooked a hose to it to rinse it out and noticed water coming out in the floor...busted coupling...so I took the cabinet apart (yes, apart), fixed the coupling, and put everything back together.
For the first time since October of 2008, we gathered our groceries, firewood, extra clothes, my coffee maker (you didn't think I was going camping without it, did you?), and lawn chairs...loaded everything in the camper, hooked it to the Explorer and headed out. I had the foresight to stop at Field's Petro and enquire about filling the propane tank, but knew I had half a tank left from the last time we went, and since it was going to cost the same to top it off as it would to fill it completely, I decided to wait.
When we landed at the Canal Campground on beautiful Lake Barkley, we set everything up, I built a campfire, and we all kicked into tank filling mode. We roasted hot dogs and made smores, the girls were playing with some geese in the campground, Steph and I got to catch up a little. It was great. Then the wind started picking up, the sun went down, and the temps dropped...quick. I told Steph, "It's all good, I've got more than enough propane to run some heat for tonight, and if the furnace empties the tank, I've got bottles of propane to cook with. We'll be fine." Yeah, you already know what's coming next, right?
I reached up under our bunk, grabbed the valve on the tank, and it was already on. I hadn't shut it off the last time we camped...no propane...at all. That was evidently the one thing I didn't actually check. The girls had brought several blankets and pillows, but Steph and I had one quilt, and an afghan (not the Middle Eastern kind, the kind you crochet.) As the night went on, the temperature bottomed out at 40, and we nearly froze.
I woke up at 3:42 in the AM absolutely freezing. I knew all three of my girls would be really cold when they woke up in a few hours, so I went out and stoked the fire back up. That way they could at least get warm when they got up, and that's when it hit me. The wind was still blowing a little, though not as bad as it had been earlier, the campground was quiet, the woods was still, it was colder than a well digger's ankles, I was sitting there huddled by the fire, and thought, "It only got down to 40 degrees tonight and we were freezing. I can't imagine doing this all winter."
You see, our pop up is a nice pop up. My girls' Daddy James told me years and years ago, "Son, if you're going to buy something, buy something someone else will want." So that's what we did. It's not like the pop-ups of 30 or 40 years ago. We have king size beds with memory foam mattresses, A/C, a dining table that actually slides out, indoor toilet, and twice as much room as I remember pop-ups having as a kid. I'm not saying that to brag, just that it hit me, that even on one of the worst nights we have spent together as a family, we still had it so much better than so many people.
As I sat there by the fire at 4:00 in the morning, I realized that I was, at that moment, as close as I've ever been to spending the night the same way most homeless people spend every night. Only not really. I had a camper, a soft bed, a roof to keep me dry, firewood to build a fire with, hot coffee waiting for me, and clean clothes. I just didn't have any heat. I began thinking about all of the people who sleep in tents all winter long. Wait, the ones who have tents are even better off than the majority of homeless people. I couldn't imagine spending that night curled up behind some trash cans somewhere, much less spending a night behind some trash cans or under a bridge, with it 25 degrees, or less, and snowing.
Yet the homeless are one group of people a lot of church folks are more comfortable ignoring. Maybe saying "a lot" is unfair, let's say, "some" instead. Personally, I think it did me some good to spend one night nearly freezing, and I think it would you too. I also think Jesus would throw a holy fit at the way we ignore the least of those around us.
So, now that I've thawed back out, and we've gotten back home, I'm going to start looking for ways to become more involved in a real missional ministry. I don't know what it's going to look like yet, or who it will be with. I have a couple ideas, and even a few contacts. I'm not going to trade a bible study for a meal (that's the way some folks think it should be done), I just want to make a difference. I can't end homelessness or hunger, but I can't do nothing any longer.
Tuesday, April 5, 2011
Ok, I've noticed something lately. God gets blamed for a lot of stuff. I know, I know...God is all powerful, all knowing, beyond space and time, and spoke the world into being in 6 God days...therefore everything that happens, good or bad, must be God's fault. Or at the very least, must be somebody's fault, so why not God's?
I was reading this morning from the Life Journal texts for today (by the way, if you're not doing life with me and want to know how, let me know and I'll hook you up.) The Old Testament reading was from Ruth, you know, the story of Naomi, her run of really bad luck, and her daughters-in-law.
Long story short, Naomi had a husband and two sons. Both sons married foreign women. Her husband and then both sons passed away, leaving her to care for herself and her two daughters-in-law. She tried to send them back home because she knew how hard it was going to be for them all to survive. One went, one wouldn't. Naomi and Ruth then went back to Bethlehem and when they came into town, folks started saying, "Hey look, isn't that Naomi?"
Here is her answer: "Don't call me Naomi," she told them, "Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter. I went away full but the Lord has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi? The Lord has afflicted me; the Almighty has brought misfortune upon me."
Naomi, I don't think God intended you that much pain. But really, who else could it have been? I'm going to jump in God's corner for a second (not that God needs me to) and say it wasn't God's fault. I don't think God put all of that on Naomi, or on us, for that matter.
"But Jamie," you might be saying, "the bible says that God will not put more on you than you can handle." I would say, "I don't think it says that." I may be wrong, but I haven't found it yet. What I have found is in 1 Corinthians 10:13, where Paul says, "No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man (or woman). God is faithful and (he) will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation (he) will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it."
Temptation is much different than suffering. So, yeah, I totally agree that we won't be tempted beyond what we can handle without being presented with a way out and then the choice is ours, but I don't believe, can't believe, and won't believe that God inflicts suffering.
Naomi had a hard time, no doubt, and just like us she was looking for someone to blame. I don't have room here to get into the issues of theodicy (justice of God) that this brings up, but they are there. Stuff happens, and when that stuff is bad, maybe it makes us feel better to know someone, human or divine, is responsible.
Paul is a perfect example of someone having more put on him than he could handle. He also likes to talk about it. "But whatever anyone else dares to boast of-I am speaking as a fool-I also dare to boast of that. Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they offspring of Abraham? So am I. Are they servants of Christ? I'm a better one - I am talking like a madman - with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from the Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall and I'm not indignant? If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness." (2 Corinthians 11)
And that is why no one asked Paul to write the "So you want to be a Christian..." brochure.
The truth is, we live in a fallen world. Evil is very much a part of that. We as humans decided thousands of years ago that we knew what was best for us and decided to live apart from God's original design. So God said, "Ok, I love you enough to let you do that." We are spiritual beings in finite bodies, and death will at some point come to everybody. It sucks, but that's just the way it is. The temptation is to take the good stuff, give God a quick pat on the back, and go on. Then when we are pinned against the wall, cry out, "Why are you doing this to me, God?" I've done it, so have you.
So, Mara, I'm going to keep calling you Naomi. I know you had a rough time. I know you think God is to blame, but just let me say this, when your heart was breaking God's heart was breaking too, and God walked with you through all three funeral processions, and all the way back to Bethelehem. God did that for you, and God does that for us.
Tuesday, March 29, 2011
First, let me say I am a big supporter of Gideons International. I think they do some great work, but this blog isn't about the organization. It's about the man himself, Gideon.
I know I have read his story before, more than once, but something popped out at me this morning while I was reading it again. You can find his story in the Book of Judges beginning in chapter 6. We assume Gideon was the prophet that God sent to the people of Israel after they cried out to God from beneath Midianite oppression, but it doesn't actually say. When we meet Gideon, he is sitting under a tree threshing wheat. Not very glamorous, but ok.
(Cue the angel)
"The Lord is with you, mighty warrior." I can picture Gideon looking around, over his shoulders, trying to figure out who this guy is talking about. He couldn't have been talking to Gideon because Gideon was wallowing in self pity. No one was listening to him. Some mighty warrior, eh? You can get the skinny on the details by checking out Chapter 6, we're going to move on down the story a bit. God has abandoned us, yada, yada, yada. Gideon didn't think he could do what the angel told him to do, yada, yada, yada. Hey angel, if I'm the one show me a sign, yada, yada, yada. How many times is that story repeated in the scriptures? Or in our stories?
The cool stuff is still a few verses away. Finally Gideon is convinced that he can do this, mainly because he has an army of tens of thousands of men. But wait...there's more...God said, "Gideon, your army is too big. I'm going to thin it down a bit." So God sends home 22,000 men who admit they are scared, leaving Gideon with 10,000. "Gideon," God says, "Still too many. I'm going to thin it down some more." When God gets down, Gideon is left with 300 fighting men. That's right, folks, 300. That is down from over 30,000 if my math is correct.
Here's where the story gets good. God told him one night to get up, head down into the Midian camp, and take them. God was giving them into his hands, the bible says so, but God also said something like this, "If you're scared, take your right hand man, slip down into the camp and listen to what they are saying." AND HE DID IT!
God had already told him that he was going to win, but he was still scared. Hmm, what was that Jamie? Yeah, God told him that he was going to win the battle, but he was still scared enough that he took God's plan B and went with it. That's right folks, even Gideon wasn't sure.
So, why do we beat ourselves up when we have moments of uncertainty? All of us, at some point, are asked to do something by God that we don't think we can do. I think that I have forgotten that. In my profession it's very easy to get cocky and arrogant. It's easy to see some growth in the church and think, "Look at what I have done." On the other hand, it's very humbling to have a task set before you and realize that there is no way on earth you can do it by yourself.
300 men routed the entire Midianite army, and then came back and cleaned up the leftovers? Yep, 300 men...and God. That's good enough for me.