Monday, February 28, 2011

And It Begins...

(photo from
I got my first tattoo in 2002, I think. I had been telling Steph that I was going to do it for months. One morning I woke up and decided, "Today's the day." After I dropped Hannah off at daycare, I headed to class at Murray State, and during a break between classes, jumped in the truck, drove to Paducah, got inked, then went back to class. When I got home, two little girls had been promised a tree house in the back yard built by their daddy, and that's what I was working when all of my girls pulled into the driveway.

Steph walked around to where I was, and I said, "Let me show you something." Then I reached around, pulled my shirt up in the back, and she got her first look at the cross and crown of thorns on my shoulderblade. Her initial response was a gasp, I think, quickly followed by, "I can't believe you actually did it!" I responded, very calmly, with, "I have been telling you for months that I was going to get a tattoo." To which she replied, maybe not quite as calmly, "Yeah, but I just figured that was another Jamie thing. You know, something you would talk about forever and never do."

Ouch. I have never forgotten that. And she was right, I had talked about doing alot of things I never actually did. That was then. This is now.

A couple weeks ago, my last blog was about my next 40 years. I turned 40 on the 15th of this month, and honestly, so far it has been absolutely great! I never expected 40 to be so much fun. So to all of those folks who made the "over the hill" cracks and said things like, "Life is pretty much over at 40, old man," I say, "Ppppffffffftttttt!!!!!" ...and so it begins. You can call it a mid life crisis, a bucket list, a touch of insanity...whatever you want, but it's time to get started.

One of the things on my list for the next 40 years is hiking the North/South trail in the Land Between the Lakes. I've mentioned it a couple times on Facebook, and today I bought my backpack. It's a Mantis basic external frame pack. Yeah, I know, all the cool kids are buying the internal frame packs, but after looking at more backpacks than I care to admit, I decided this was the one for me. It is sturdy, has several storage compartments, lots of room, and was within budget. Now I'm committed. I've invested in the pack, so I have to make the hike...and I can't wait.

I'm hoping to get some friends to go with me because I think that would just be a hoot. I'm working on conditioning and dropping the extra 20 or 30 pounds I've been carrying for a few too many years (My knees and ankles will appreciate that by day 2, I'm pretty sure.). I'm starting to put together my gear list and studying maps to break the trip down into manageable days, and for the first time in several years, I'm excited. I had quit hunting and fishing a few years ago, and had pretty much quit hiking recently after catching a little flack at church over trail time, but for the first time in a while, I'm really looking forward to doing something.

So, here is what all of this has done to me, for me, however you want to say it: I have realized that we were not meant to just float through life. I have realized the importance of setting some goals and working on meeting them. I have realized that it's ok to do something you want to do just because you want to do it, and if you need to sacrifice something else, that's cool, so long as it's not your family. I have realized that life was meant to be enjoyed. I mean, yeah, life sucks sometimes, and sometimes it's just plain hard as hell to get through one more day, but dog gone it, I don't think we were created to be miserable.

Get out, laugh a little, do something totally stupid just because you can. Don't get arrested or anything, I mean, use a little sense. But if there is something you have been wanting to do, what are you waiting for? Stop talking about it and do it.


Monday, February 21, 2011

My Next 40 Years...

(photo from
Well, I have arrived. I am officially an adult now. I woke up last Tuesday 40 years old, and I have to say, it wasn't bad. In fact, I kind of enjoyed it. Thirty wasn't fun at all. Thirty-five kicked me in the teeth. But 40...well, so far it's been alright.

Turning 40 was a moment of grace for me. Through the nearly 250 birthday wishes I received on Facebook (even though I've been told I'm aloof and uncaring), conversations I had with old friends and new, and a colleague of mine who shall remain nameless but who has taught me just in the last couple weeks that I take myself way too seriously, I have finally accepted who I am.

Tim McGraw has a lot of great songs, but the one running through my head right now is "My next 30 years." I think I'll borrow that idea and look at what I hope my next 40 years look like. So this morning, no deep theological pontifications, no call to Christian action, just a guy at the midway point, looking down the road.

In my next 40 years, I think I'm going to get rid of this extra belly. I don't need it and it just gets in the way of me tying my shoes. I think I'll accept the fact that I'm starting to lose my hair. In fact, I think I'll look dang good bald. I think I'll work on some cardio stuff so I can hopefully get off of the only pill I take every day.

In my next 40 years, I think I'll spend more time with my family and less time fretting over the stuff I need to do in the office. I think I'll give myself permission to let the sermon notes sit and take my girls down to the lake while my girls are young enough to want to go to the lake with their dad. I think I'll work on my organizational skills so that I'm not always in such a frazzle. I think I will pour myself into my calling and my ministry, but not forget that I was a husband and father first.

In my next 40 years, I'm not going to worry about what people think about me. I thought that I didn't already, but I think I was wrong. I think that I will look at the creation I am; warts, tattoos, piercings, and all, and hear what God said when God looked at the creation I am and said, "This is good. This is very good." I have told others that God said that about them, but I'm not sure I believed it for myself.

In my next 40 years I'm going to quit trying to fit into someone else's idea of what I should be. Accept me for who I am or not at all. I think I'm ok with that. If I have to be different for you to love me, then you don't really love me. If God loves me like this, it's ok for you to love me like this also.

In my next 40 years, I'm going to spend more time laughing. I haven't done nearly enough of that in a while. I'm not going to worry so much about every word I say because of the possibility that someone is watching. I like to laugh and I like to have a good time. Hopefully I won't offend, but if I do, I'll go ahead and apologize now.

In my next 40 years I'm going to get another tattoo...just because. In fact, I think I'll start doing a lot more stuff...just because. I think I'll bungee jump again, that was a blast. I think that I'm going to spend more time on the trails. Some of my most powerful God moments have happened on a hiking trail. In fact, in my next 40 years, I'm going to hike part of the Appalachian Trail.

In my next 40 years, I'm going to be the kid I never was when I was a kid. My mom used to call me her "Eight-year-old little old man"...there was a reason she called me that. So, now I think I want to be a 40 year old kid. Anybody want to join me?

In my next 40 years, I'm going to love my wife more and pay more attention to her. She has put up with a lot since I entered the ministry and it's time I started focusing more on her. Being the preacher's wife isn't easy at all, but she's done a pretty good job with it.

In my next 40 years, I'm going to spend more time fishing. I'm going to spend more time in my garden (at least while my back holds out). I may climb a tree just because I can. I'm going to take my girls (and my mom) creek stomping. I'm going to take a few minutes and watch a bluebird in the backyard, or a fishing worm crawl across the ground, or a frog in the pond.

In my next 40 years, I'm going to look up old friends. I have some friends from high school that I haven't seen since college. I'm going to live like there's no tomorrow and give God thanks when I wake up and there is. I'm not going to just say "Life is too short," I'm going to live into that. In fact, I think I'll start planning my 50th birthday party.

In my next 40 years, I'm going to love me. I'm going to love the guy I see when I look in the mirror. I'm going to accept the fact that I'm not perfect, but that I don't have to be. I'm not a perfect pastor, or husband, or father, or friend, but I'll do all I can, and at the end of the day I'll ask forgiveness for the things I screwed up and try again tomorrow.

In my next 40 years, I'm going to be me, and when the sand has finally all slipped through the hourglass, I plan on having no regrets.


Friday, February 4, 2011

Judging Gauge...

(photo from
Hello, my name is Jamie...and I'm a hypocrite. There, I said it. I have several pet peeves, one of them is being around hypocrites. I despise fake, always have I guess. I think that is why I'm so vocal about God's grace being open to everyone. Realizing that you are no better than anyone else is great, but having that realization driven home again and again sucks sometimes.

I had to run to town yesterday to pick up a few things. So I shut the laptop down, put all of my books to the side, folded all of the articles back up, and headed out. Now, let me just go on record as saying that I'm a pretty open minded kind of guy. There's not a lot that really gets my dander up, guessed it...fakes.

As I'm walking through Wal-Mart, that bastion of excess and consumerism, a guy coming down the aisle cuts me off with his little shopping cart...runs right out in front of me...a big guy, too. I'm not a big guy. This guy had a bandanna tied around his head, (...which is cool. I wear one during the summer to keep my bald spot from getting sun burned) and he had gauges.

Now, if you're unfamiliar with what gauges are, let me enlighten you. It's an ear piercing to the Nth degree. (I'm pierced, so that doesn't bother me. In fact I'm thinking about doing the other ear, too, but I digress.) Gauges are piercings that you can look through. Yeah, holes in your ear lobes. I've seen them from pencil sized all the way up to about 2 inches across.

Here's what got me. I was walking down the aisle behind this guy because he cut me off, remember...I notice the gauges and think, "Oh...well, there you go then. He's got gauges." It was like I was saying that I expected him to cut me off because he had holes in his ear lobes. That's when it hit me. As much as I advocate for the "other," not even I am above the temptation to create an "other" out of someone else. That realization absolutely broke my heart.

Remember how I talked about Peter yesterday, and how he almost got it? Today we get the rest of that story. In Acts 11, Peter is having to defend himself to the leaders of the church. Remember he had committed a taboo...he had actually gone into the home of a Gentile. As he stood there defending himself, he said this: "As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit came on them as he had come on us at the beginning. Then I remembered what the Lord had said: 'John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.' So if God gave them the same gift he gave us who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could stand in God's way?"

It would have been really cool if I had found out that this guy in Wal-mart was a pastor or youth director. Actually it wouldn't have been cool at all, it would have only amplified my guilt, but alas, I didn't find out because I was too ashamed to speak to him.

So, God, forgive me for I have sinned. Who am I to think that I can stand in your way.


Thursday, February 3, 2011

Dangerous Words...

(Photo from
I had a friend say something to me the other day. I had written about the Eucharist, I think. He had made a comment about it and said this, "The gospel is dangerous." Let that soak in for just a second.

We talk of the Good News as something that brings peace and comfort into our wave tossed worlds, and that, I think is a good thing. But there's a catch...what brings peace to one soul might bring torment to another. Good news can be dangerous.

This morning's Life Journal text is from the Book of Acts, chapter 10. Saul has had his Damascus Road experience and now Peter is being called to go to Joppa. The story reminded me of an article I read a few weeks ago while doing sermon research on death and resurrection (insert shameless plug for this Sunday's sermon "Crucified On the Inside" here...). Will Willimon was talking about "Letting Go Down Here" and some of the things we've had to die to so that we can be reborn. I'll never forget what he said while he was talking to a church in Mississippi...(Warning...not for the easily offended)

"'Has anyone here had to die in order to be a Christian?' Silence. Then they began to testify.
'I thought that I couldn't live in a world where black people were the same as white people. When segregation ended, I thought I would die. But I didn't. I was reborn. My next-door neighbor, my best friend, is black. Something old had to die in me for something new to be born.'" - Will Willimon "Letting Go Down Here"

We do a great job in the church with taking care of those like us. We welcome them in. We pat them on the back. We'll even invite them over to our house for supper...if they're like us. What about the others? God's kingdom has not come as long as there are "others." As long as we put conditions on who can come and who can't...who is welcome and who isn't...who belongs and who doesn't...God's kingdom has not come.

God hit Peter with this like a 2x4 across the forehead: "Do not call anything impure that God has made clean." Now, on the surface Peter was dealing with clean and unclean food, and table fellowship, but we all know that God speaks to us on deeper levels than just what's on the surface. We know in hindsight that God was preparing Peter for visitors who would come to him and ask him to come with them to Cornelius' house. Cornelius is not a Hebrew name, did you pick up on that? He was an "other." Peter almost got it. He almost figured out what God was trying to tell him...almost.

"You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with or visit a Gentile..." (Acts 10:28) Dog gone it, Peter! Why did you have to go there? Just be their guest and do what it was God sent you there to do.

I love this...and I hate this. Peter just couldn't accept the fact, yet, that these dirty Gentiles were the same to God as his people. He would go to them, and minister with them because God told him to, but he was going to make sure they knew their place. We still do it, only it's not Jew/Gentile. It's Rich/Poor...Well off/Homeless...Black/White...Straight/Gay...Suits/Jeans...

We still have a laundry list of folks we will work with because God told us too, but we haven't quite figured out yet that God loves them just as much as God loves us. That is the Good News. And that, my friends, is dangerous.


Wednesday, February 2, 2011

I don't Think So, God...

(photo from
If you have read the Book of Acts, you may remember a certain conversion story recorded there. I like the story, although I feel it has caused some folks to question their own conversion. We don't all have that "Damascus Road Experience" that Saul went through to become Paul...but that's another blog for another day.

Saul, or Paul, is not the one I want to really talk about today. There's another character in the story that I can relate with more, at times. You see, I actually did have one of those "Damascus Road" experiences on the way home from a fishing trip one night, which led me to the place where I can relate more with one having been sent.

This story makes me smile every time I read it. I celebrate Saul's conversion and that "come to Jesus" moment he had, but I absolutely love the honesty and the real hesitation we get to see in Ananias. God said, "Ananias, go to Damascus to Judas' house on Straight Street and find the man named Saul. He's praying and I've shown him that you are going to come and restore his sight."

Ananias does what any of us would have done in the same situation: "God, are you crazy? I don't think this is a good idea. Haven't you heard what this guy is doing to your church?" How many times have we felt led to do something and said, "I don't think so, God"? It happened to me again yesterday.

I had a full day lined up: meeting in the morning, a run to the hospital, then back home to write a discussion on Galatians for tonight. As I drove to Union City for the meeting, I saw something you rarely see on the Union City highway...a hitch-hiker. I mean really, who hitch-hikes from Hickman to Union City?

Confession time: I have a policy that if my girls are with me, I will not pick up a hitch-hiker, nor will I stop to help someone, strictly to maintain the safety of my girls. If I'm by myself I don't mind stopping to help. Yesterday, I was alone...I didn't stop. I justified it by saying, "I've got a meeting in 6 minutes and I can't be late." The fact is, God said "Hey Jay, (that's what my momma calls me, why wouldn't God call me that too?) why don't you stop and see if this guy needs some help?" and I said, "God, I'm running late already, but you know I would if I could."

I wonder what would have happened had Ananias not gone. Have you ever thought about that? What if he had said, "God, this really isn't a good idea. I don't think I need to do this."? Ananias still didn't own his mission. In fact, he told Saul that it was Jesus who had sent him there, and I can respect that. Had he not gone, would the church have survived? Think about it, it is very possible that this one man is responsible for Paul's entire ministry...because he agreed to go.

Now, I know that God could have sent any number of people to Saul, but what if they all had decided it wasn't a good idea? I also know that God didn't need human help to open Saul's eyes, but isn't it cool to think that sometimes God chooses us for a specific mission? I think so.

Here is what I'm going to start working on, and I ask you to do the same. I am going to accept the fact that God has called me for a purpose, and begin seeking to discern the gifts I have been given, and the excuses that I might offer, so that God's design for me can be fulfilled. This means that I will have to accept the fact that I am just not good at some things and allow the folks that God has called for that task use their gifts. I am going to have to admit that I can't do it all and that I'm not a perfect pastor. I will have to confess my hesitations before the throne, and accept that God may send me in spite of them.

I won't always get it right. In fact, I will fail miserably from time to time, and in those moments when I doubt what I'm being asked to do, I have stories like this to look to for strength.


Tuesday, February 1, 2011

"Not-So-Innocent" Bystander...

(photo from
(Warning: Steel toed boot zone)

It's just one line. If you take away the chapter and verse separations it becomes part of a bigger story, but as it is in the Life Journal this morning, it's just one line...out there all by itself. Without the story that comes before it, it makes absolutely no sense... "And Saul approved of their killing him."

Killing whom? And why did he approve?

If you're familiar with the story, you know who the "whom" is and why Saul approved of their killing him. The "whom" was Stephen, and Saul was probably standing by saying, "Good riddance." I mean, he was nothing but a trouble maker, really...going around talking about Jesus this and Jesus that. I bet he probably helped a few poor people. Acts 6 says that Stephen was a man full of God's grace and power, and that he performed great wonders and signs among the people.

He stood up and boldly proclaimed all that God had done througout their history as a people, from Abraham through Solomon...made a heck of a speech, if you ask me. Now, if that had been all he had done, he probably would have been okay, but no, he couldn't do that. See, he was convinced that God had called him to be different, to call things like he saw them, and folks usually don't like that. Then he did it... he quit preaching and went to meddling.

That's where the not-so-innocent bystander comes into the story. You see, Saul was a man of God, a devout Jew...dedicated and devoted...and I'm sure that he honestly wanted nothing more than to protect the traditions of the church...honestly. I really believe he thought he was doing no wrong by allowing this dissenter to be stoned. But, he couldn't actually throw the stones. That would be wrong. So, he stood by, holding their cloaks, and watched.

If I had a dollar for everytime I've witnessed that since going into the ministry...well, I'd have a bunch of dollars. We don't want to be the ones to throw the stones, but we won't necessarily speak up when the stones are being thrown and we know it's wrong. I don't doubt that we had good intentions. Maybe we were afraid that we would be caught in the crossfire, or maybe we just didn't know what to say.

I'm sure Saul thought that by not throwing any stones he was innocent of Stephen's death, but the way I see it, Stephen's blood was on his hands too. If Saul had the pull within the group that scripture leads us to believe he had, he could have stopped it. Now, scripture says that he approved of what they were doing, and that makes this story a little different. Still, I have to wonder, if he knew it was wrong to the point that he didn't actually throw a stone, why did he not at least try to stop them?

How many times have we stood by while someone was being stoned, holding the cloaks, and not saying anything? I will admit that I have done it...more than once. I don't think I can anymore. My new catch phrase is "holy boldness," and I think that the next time I see someone throwing stones I will do all I can to step up to the "stonee's" defense. I doubt that I will ever encounter a situation as drastic as the stoning of Stephen, but I know I will sit in committee meetings, and board meetings, and will have conversations over a meal or a cup of coffee...and I know that the opportunity to go to someone's defense will definitely present itself.