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.