Monday, February 27, 2012

Best of All...

You've seen them, I'm sure...lists of famous last words. Around here, the most common last words you may hear are, "Hey y'all! Watch this!" In the words of Jeff Foxworthy, if you hear someone say those words, especially in the South, pay attention. It may be the last thing you hear them say.

All joking aside, we pay attention to last words of those around us. When my grandfather passed away, the last conversation he and I had was about taking care of the farm. He took me around the farm and we spent the afternoon going over his final instructions for me. We both knew his time was getting close, but neither really knew how close. Then the last thing he told me was, "Son, you're going to have to take of this place for your grandma."
And then there are these: some "alleged" last words:
"Pardon me, sir. I did not do it on purpose." - Queen Marie Antoinette after she stepped on the toe of her executioner.
"I should have never switched from scotch to martinis." - Humphrey Bogart
"Dammit! Don't you dare ask God to help me." - Joan Crawford to her housekeeper
"Hey fellas! How about this for a headline for tomorrow's paper? 'French fries'!" - James French, convicted
murderer, to the members of the press there to witness his execution.
"Now, now, my good man. This is no time for making enemies." - Voltaire, when asked by a priest to renounce Satan.
Whether or not those are historical, or even remotely accurate, I have no clue, but they do make for good conversation.
There's another deathbed quote that I think we should be at least as familiar with as those above, but you won't see this one in many "Top 10 Greatest Last Words" lists..."And best of all, God is with us." - John Wesley, March 2, 1791.
I have talked to a lot of folks lately who just seem lonely. It's a bad cliche' but they are lonely even in a crowded room...friends of mine, colleagues, folks in the church, and especially now that we have begun Celebrate Recovery. What seems to be missing in so many lives, is genuine, compassionate, honest, and consistent companionship. A lot of folks feel like they are struggling against the current and no one is there with them to offer any type of support or help. In fact, it's almost epidemic.
Now, I know that with the economy like it is, job security being non-existent, and any number of other contributing factors, life is tough all around. Which makes these last words even more important.
I'd like to share a quick story, leaving out names intentionally. At a meeting I was at recently, a friend of mine was talking about a friend of his that had been coming to him for help. This guy had made a bunch of mistakes, and had made them repeatedly. Late one night my friend's phone rang and it was this friend of his, sobbing. He was trying to find healing from a circumstance in his life (I'm intentionally being vague) and said to my friend, "You can't leave! You're all I have!" When those words sunk in, my friend told him, "Then you don't have very much," and hung up the phone.
Now that sounds harsh, I know. Was it the best way to deal with this person? Maybe not, but the point my friend was trying to make was that if all his buddy had was their friendship, then he didn't have much. Why? Because he had forgotten, or had never heard, Wesley's last words..."Best of all, God is with us."
That's something I try to remember every day, letting them soak into my soul. Why? Because sometimes the path that I have chosen is a lonely one. Aside from family and a circle of friends, I have difficulty letting folks in. It's my own doing, I know. But as long as I can remember these words, and as long as I can hear them for the truth they are, I know that I am never alone. Today I was reminded of that through conversations with some of my friends.
Best of all, God is with us.

Friday, February 24, 2012

A Hot Mess...

It's Friday morning. I've been running hard all week. My girls are out of school today. We're chilling. Well, actually, three of us are chilling. One has yet to discover, this day, that the world is even turning...but I digress.

As I sit at the kitchen table typing, coffee steaming beside the laptop, I have a perfect view of the home made cinnamon rolls I just put in the oven. I've been wanting to make some forever but hadn't found a recipe I really liked, or the time to make them anyhow. Today was the day.

Unfortunately, I have no idea how they're going to turn out. I followed the directions best I could (Baking soda is optional, right?). Rolled them out, patted them down, rolled them up, sliced and placed them in the baking dish. Now...I hope they're edible. The reality is they will probably rock, (cause I'm cool like that), but there is always the possibility they will just be a hot mess.

I don't know why, but as I sat down to write, after making a brand new recipe for the first time, and hoping they turn out ok, Jeremiah 1:4 kept coming to mind. "Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations."

I wonder if God ever looks at me and thinks, "What a hot mess that one turned out to be." I mean, I am sure that I'm following the plan God had laid out for my that wasn't always the case.

I doubt that most of my 20's were spent following God's plan for me from before I was born. I'm pretty sure there were times during high school that I absolutely wasn't following God's plan for me from my mother's womb. College? Let's don't even go there. I mean, I think I'm doing ok now, but there had to be times when God just shook his head.

Oh, I know Jeremiah 1 really doesn't have much to do with cinnamon rolls, but I sure do hope they turn out like I wanted them to. Hmm, maybe it does. Just something to chew on this morning (pun absolutely intended).

Oh, gotta go. Cinnamon rolls are done.


Thursday, February 23, 2012

Rhythm of the Life...

In my years in ministry, short though they be, I have noticed a trend among my colleagues and many church folk while engaged in water cooler talk. The conversation usually starts innocently enough:
"How are things going at church?"
"Oh, they're going great. We had nearly 100 in worship Sunday, and the offering was huge! What about you?"
"Well, not so good, actually. We only had 48 in worship and we're struggling to pay the bills."

Now, of course that's not the only conversations my colleagues and I, or the folks under our spiritual care, have when it comes to discussions on the church. However, what I have found as lacking, (and I'm not the only one, nor is this by any means a new idea,) is this: Rarely does the conversation shift to a Mark 6 kind of discussion. Perhaps it's because we know, deep down in our cores, that we are not living Mark 6 lives. We have lost, often times, the Rhythm of the Life and the results can be devastating.

Some may argue this, but I am pretty well convinced that Jesus was no dummy, and the more I read William Barclay, the more I'm becoming convinced that he, also, was no dummy. Today's devotional hit me hard.

"There are two dangers in life...First there is the danger of a too constant activity...Second there is the danger of too much withdrawal." ("The Pathos of the Crowd, William Barclay) Basically, this says that we cannot work without rest and we cannot rest without work. Sounds simple enough. The difficulty is in finding the balance.

The backdrop for today's devotional, and this blog, was Christ's invitation to the disciples after a long and tiring day of ministry. You might say, "But isn't giving yourself to the work of ministry a good thing?" Absolutely, as long as that giving of oneself is balanced with enough time in the quiet places, resting, so that the work of ministry can be Spirit led and result in God's reign being brought forth on earth.

I'm going to step out on a limb and say that I am blessed among my colleagues in that I serve a church, who is served by a committee, who recognizes the importance of finding this balance, and maintaining this rhythm of work and rest. After I report to my committee all of my comings and goings since the last time we met, and all of the work that is being done, without fail they will ask me, "And are you taking care of yourself? When are you resting?"

So colleagues, never forget that we are not so important that we can't afford to take time apart to spend with Christ in the quiet places. It's a constant struggle for me, but I am still trying to figure out how to work smarter and not just longer.

Church folks, your pastor needs time away if you expect any kind of growth in the ministry of the church. They cannot help care for your soul if they are not taking time to care for their own, it's as simple as that. Make sure that she or he is given the time...and the come into the presence of the Almighty and rediscover, or probably closer to the truth, discover for the first time the Rhythm of the Life.

"Come away with my, by yourselves, to a quiet place and get some rest."


Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Holy Lent, Batman!

Let it be known in all parts that I, James Lee, will not be practicing self-denial by giving anything up for Lent this year.

There, I said it. I'm not...and I mean it.

I am, in fact, not giving anything up for Lent this year. "Why?" you may ask. Or, actually a more common response would be, "So what." But the "Why," if you were to inquire, is because of the fact that on January 12 of this year, I gave up being a control freak, and ever since, life has been pure hell. That's right, I stood up at our first Celebrate Recovery meeting, walked down front, took that blue chip, said these words, "My name is Jamie and I'm a control freak and perfectionist, and I have to learn to let some things go," and it's been downhill since. Would you like a list of the things that have gone wrong since then and that have begun to teach me, under no uncertain terms, that I never was really in control to begin with?

So, I think I'm done with the self denial stuff for a while. Oh, I'll keep giving up being a control freak, or trying to, but enough is enough. I will, however, continue to encourage my folks to practice some sort of self denial during the holy season of Lent.

Did I just hear someone shout ugly things at me? Things like, "Hypocrite!"... or ... "Take the log out of your own eye before you yell at your neighbor about the splinter in his!" ... or ... "What's good for the goose is good for the gander!" (Honestly, I never really liked that one anyhow)

Ok, let me explain something. I am not observing Lent this year through intentional self denial. I am, however, still maintaining a holy Lent, and I will be doing so by engaging in an activity in which I have not engaged since the days of my childhood. Those were days spent within the blonde brick walls at Lynnville UMC, when this time each year, little plastic banks would suddenly, and mind you, mysteriously appear on all of the Sunday school tables, with little calendars, listing little scriptures, and stuff about shoes or snacks, and books or mail, or any number of other things that could have a 2 or 3 cent price tag associated with them.

This year, instead of giving up sweets, or fast food, or coffee, or exercise, or whatever...I am going to TRY to observe a holy Lent by helping to ease the suffering of children of the Almighty King all around the world, one nickel at a time. Won't you join me?

If you would like information on how you, too, can participate in the Lenten World Hunger Offering, please let me know.


Copy and paste this link into your browser for a 4 minute video on world hunger...

Monday, February 20, 2012

ctrl Z...

"If you keep your homiletical mind on, you will find something every day that will preach." - Rev. Dr. Eugene Gibson

The Rev. Dr. Eugene Gibson was one of my preaching professors in seminary. He pushed me, a lot. At the time I'm not sure I really appreciated it, but I'm a better preacher for being in his class.

Now, that being said, here's what hit me this morning, and I'm going to give props to Doc Gibson for helping me keep my eyes open when these moments happen.

This morning, I got up just like I do every morning, stumbled to the kitchen, kept my eyes closed while I turned on the light, cracked one eye just enough to see the "power" button on my coffee maker, tripped over the cat, and started my day. Coffee...check. Cat fed...check. Breakfast started...check. I do this every morning, and enjoy spoiling my girls by making sure they have a hot breakfast every day before they go to school.

After breakfast was finished, I sat down with my second cup of coffee, checked my email, hit my facebook page to see who might benefit from a dose of sarcasm a'la Lee, and while the girls were getting ready I felt the need to play just one game of Spider Solitaire until it was time to start pushing them out the door.

The cards were dealt, the first moves were made, and then after making one move I realized it was not the best move I could have made, so I hit the drop down menu, clicked "undo" and it was gone...that's when I saw it.

The "it" was sitting beside "undo" on my screen...just a few letters, not even a real word, but there it was..."ctrl Z." It does the same thing as clicking "undo." Now, if you're a spider solitaire officianado, you already knew that. I had never noticed it before. Two little keys on the keyboard, conveniently close together, and all you have to do is push those two buttons together and your last mistake is gone. Pretty cool, eh?

Wouldn't it rock, if in life we could do the same thing? Now, I may be speaking for myself, but I have some things in my life that I would love to see disappear like a poorly planned card move. I've made bad decisions. I've hurt folks. I've wasted opportunities. Knowing there was something I could do to undo those things would rock. Unfortunately, it's not that simple.

Enter grace. God's "ctrl Z" plan. Well, ok, so it doesn't actually undo the mistakes, but it provides a way to healing. The fact is that every decision we make bears certain consequences, and though grace leads to forgiveness and healing, the pain that our actions or inactions might have caused remains. It then comes to us to go to those we have hurt, acknowledge our mistake, and ask for forgiveness, even if that one is the Creator God.

The beauty of the "ctrl Z" on the card game is that the mistake was undone, which allowed me to stop, take a look at what I was doing, regroup, and try still cost me a point. However, it was a chance to begin again...and that's a good thing.

So, the next time you say these words...

"Merciful God, we confess that we have not loved you with our whole heart. We have failed to be an obedient church. We have not done your will, we have broken your law, we have rebelled against your love, we have not loved our neighbors, and we have not heard the cry of the needy. Forgive us, we pray. Free us for joyful obedience, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen"

...and then hear these words...

"Hear the good news: Christ died for us while we were yet sinners; that proves God's love for us. In the name of Christ, you are forgiven!" have just experienced "ctrl Z."

May you experience God's grace today, tomorrow, and always.


And Doc Gibson...Thanks, Bro.