Thursday, December 5, 2013

WAIT!

Celebrating Advent means being able to wait.  Waiting is an art that our impatient age has forgotten.  It wants to break open the ripe fruit when it has hardly finished planting the shoot.  But all too often the greedy eyes are only deceived; the fruit that seemed so precious is still green on the inside, and disrespectful hands ungratefully toss aside what has so disappointed them.  ~Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

One of my fondest childhood memories is of the brisk autumn days when my cousin and I would play football in the yard.  With ditches and trees as our only boundaries we would play hard with visions of being the next Johnny Unitas or Raymond Berry (Yes, I know that dates me!).  I dreamed of one day wearing one of those fully recognizable white and some shade of gray uniform—this was by the way before color TV.

After many “Hail Mary” TD passes and tackles into the muddy ditch, we would take our “half-time break” under the pecan tree (pronounced Pee-can where I grew up!)  There we would look for a fresh nut to crack open with our bare hands and savor the fruit.  Too many times we tried to rush our fulfillment as the nuts were not quite ready; they were still in the green hull.  Not only were they almost impossible to crack open, they weren’t any good when we did.  It wasn’t until we were much older around ten that we realized we needed to wait until they were ready—the husk turns black, pops open and the nut falls out with minor persuasion (like a football spiral flung up into the branches!)  Then, and only then, were we rewarded with the snack of champions we hoped for.

Like Bonhoeffer stated, this “Advent” thing is about waiting—waiting patiently until just the right time.  Our calendars, and way too many merchants, remind us that the “right time” is December 25th.  In all truth, the “right time” was when God chose to Be human kind’s redemption, to enter not triumphantly as expected, to grow and live among us, to pay the ultimate death for sin, and overcame death so that all who believe may receive God’s Grace and redemption!

Oh, and something else happened to me about the same time as the football and pecans—at just the right time for me: I realized my need for this One whom we are trying to celebrate this month.  “Trying?”  Yes, unfortunately we almost overlook the whole Reason for the Season.  It is at this time of year in which we as Believers have the most perfect opportunities to help another whose time is now to believe, if they only had another to witness, testify, invite or encourage. 


May we all see the opportunities before us to help ripened fruit fall safely into the loving arms of the One who came in Bethlehem.

This post originally ran on the ABPnews Blog (www.abpnews.com/blog) & DEALingwithmyworld.blogspot.com

Monday, August 26, 2013

The Trails of Life

Last year I blogged about a “new adventure” I had undertaken—hiking.  Unfortunately I have not kept up with it like I had wished.   However, recently on vacation my wife and I decided it would be a good “exercise” for us.  So, we chose the “short” trail.  Short? Yes, yet straight up! During this short, yet strenuous hike I had several observations, several parallels to life.

Hiking is better with a companion.  If the other person is in the lead, you can watch where they step.  Why make the same misstep?  If you do slip and fall, they can pick you up when you fall.  And probably the best reason: they encourage you to continue.  (“Just a little bit farther.”  “You can do it!”)  We need companions in life, too.  As a Christian fellow disciples help “disciple” others encouraging to walk in Christ’s Light.  There is something strengthening to meet with, gather with, other like-minded believers.  We call this “church.”

 On a trail steps can be treacherous.   What looks like a dry rock can be slippery.  If your companion makes a misstep, you choose to either follow or step somewhere else.  You choose to step in their footprints or take another.  Regardless of steps, no path is straight.  When I considered the actual places I stepped, the path of my footprints looked more like the slithering of a snake.  I ended up at the end of the trail, but due to choosing where each step was to be placed I “wriggled” all along the path.  When a friend stumbles in life, I am there not to judge and condemn, but to lend a hand to help them regain their foothold and to assure they won’t stumble again.  I watch carefully my own spiritual journey and hopefully learn from their mistake.

Path choices can be wrong; you can learn from them.  You need to have an idea where you are going and choose the path best suited for YOU to get there.  After getting deep into the woods and up the mountain it is not real comforting to hear, “I’m not sure where this will lead…” or “It looked “good/right”.  I thought it would lead me to where I wanted to go.”  What does one do when they find they have gone down the wrong path?  Well, you try to correct the error.

A Trail map is mandatory.   Someone who knows this area better than me has mapped out a pretty good guide to use. A well-worn trail map can be your friend.  At the end of the journey you look at it and realize how often you referred to it.  What is the “trail map” I use for my life?  As a Christian, the Bible is my trail map.  Oh, how I wish I referred to it more often!


Using a trail map and noting the well-placed signs along the way are helpful.  They help to confirm that you are still on the chosen path and you haven’t ventured off your planned course.  They are also placed at appropriate intersections to help one determine the direction to go.  There were several times we couldn’t find the friendly red mark on a tree we were to follow so we slowed down until we did.  Life is full of changes and constantly monitoring one’s direction is important to attain one’s goals.


Even though I’ve done this before, I had to start over.  If in my previous treks I had begun to build stamina and/or muscle, they were long gone since I had not kept up with it.  In my Christian life, I fail many times keeping up the “walk” that should go along with my “talk.”  When I do, I realize that I have to go back to the basics and not try to run all at once.  The good news is that I am always welcomed back!


The climb is worth the view.   The sore muscles, the profuse sweating, the racing heart and gasping for oxygen all begin to bring doubt to one’s mind.  Turn around.  You’re a fool.  Go back and have a Coke and a cookie.  With the encouragement of a companion, the signs of direction, the beautiful reminders of God’s beautiful creation along the way you trudge on, hoping that it will be worth it.  You have to rest along the way, but you do not give up.  And when you do reach the top it is confirmed!

You gasp, you soak it all in.  You see, experience and breathe in the “Majesty and Glory of His Name.”


After a time you realize you have to go back.  The trip back down is yet another journey.  And you thought the steps UP were treacherous!


Wednesday, June 5, 2013

There's a Hole!

What you may not know about me is that my ministry “day job” is to give leadership to my church fellowship’s national disaster response.  In this role I interact with our churches, other churches and faith-groups, NGO’s and voluntary organizations active in disasters.  I have just returned from Oklahoma where not only did I see the devastation, we had to seek shelter from another one while I was there.

Recently my wife and I moved into a new home.  We all are aware that when you do, you spend weeks (no months!) doing “things.”  Things like installing blinds, hanging pictures, arranging (and re-arranging) furniture, etc.  I began a task that I had put off as long as I could—installing towel racks and toilet paper holders.  You know the drill---measure twice cut (or in this case “drill”) once.  I pride myself in being pretty savvy at these things, so I venture in with all of my wisdom and expertise.  Well, the very first towel ring over the sink in the guest bathroom created for me my dilemma.  I failed to look at the diagram correctly and see that the holes should be vertical, nor horizontal.

That’s right!  An unnecessary 3/16” hole on the bathroom wall!  I quickly determined that I could use one, mark another in the correct location and continue.  But there was this hole staring at me.  I began to fume, religiously of course, at myself and get disgusted at my error and that I had to do the job anyway.  I was flustered that I was having to concern myself with putting these things up.

Then, I heard a voice inside of me (really, I did!) say, “At least you have a wall to mount one on.”  

Oh boy!  That does it; humbled to my core.  There I was distraught over a silly 3/16” hole in the wall and I knew of people who only wished there home was still standing.  How could I be so caught up in my own little world?

We all do this from time to time.  We get so caught up in our own little problems and fail to see the larger, more brilliant picture God has put out before us.  The old hymn “Count Your Many Blessings” comes to mind and I do need to stop, even right now, and do that.


Monday, April 8, 2013

Nothing…Nada…Zip

I and many others traveling on this third rock from the sun this past week have had very vivid and personal reminders of what someone did for us long ago. Yes, Jesus of Nazareth—the Christ, suffered and died on a cross for my sins.  As Tony Campolo titled one of his books, “It’s Friday, But Sunday’s Coming!” we who are on this side of The Resurrection know that the grave could not hold Him.

I spent this week reading, studying and teaching a class at my church on Easter Sunday about the passion and the suffering.  As Henri Nouwen put it, “How can I rejoice fully in your Resurrection when I have avoided participating in your death?”  I even watched the finale of “The Bible” on the History Channel.  What I saw mirrored what I had felt through the week:  how could any person endure such agony?
The temptation here is to get all “preachy” and philosophical.  But I won’t.  I would like to get personal.  We know because we have heard it said all our lives that “Jesus did it all for me,” etc.  But seriously, he did!  I began to wonder if I could endure the beatings, the whipping, the flogging, the trudging up to Calvary carrying my death-causing lumber.  No, I couldn’t.
Yet, what if only one of my sins put me there?  Like us all, there are many to choose from.  But think for a moment of only one (it doesn’t have to be one of the “big ones”) and realize crucifixion is what we deserve.  Yet, Christ chose to take my place!

We sang “He Chose to Die” during our Maundy Thursday service.  Christ, being fully God, could have “called ten thousand angels” and zapped ‘em all.  That would have proved a point.  But love prevailed and he chose the suffering servant role.
Fast forward back to today in the twenty-first century and after this high holy week we Christians will return to our disciple-type of arguing over who is the best in His Kingdom and who will get the choice seats in Heaven.  I am pretty sure that I don’t get it all right, yet neither do you.  Still we voice our opinions as “gospel truth” and demean another follower of Christ as a lesser Christian because he or she sees an issue (usually a social one) differently.  Unfortunately, I have lived that kind of discipleship—one in which I was sure my interpretation was Biblical and anyone who saw it differently was wrong and really couldn’t be a real Christian.  When I sense that now from others, I wonder what happened to the “love one another” command Jesus gave to us.  I am pretty sure he meant it.

I describe myself now as a Romans 8 Christian. To summarize, this passage says that nothing can separate me from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus my Lord.  That’s it!  Nothing!  Nada!  Zip!  You can’t name one thing that can negate my relationship with Jesus Christ—and that is a very good thing.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Music fills the air!

Music is the universal language.  Music is prevalent during this festive time of year.  Music is imperative for a soul to really “sing.”

Music is very much a part of my family.  Melodies and harmonies abound around a family who all love to sing and whose Matriarch (my lovely wife) is a Minister of Music.
We are in the midst of providing music for our church and community and this year we are experiencing everything from Lessons and Carols to the John Rutter Gloria.  We have observed the music which lovely little ladies of our community have danced and have sung along with the local community orchestra.

Christmas is less festive, I believe, without music.  In fact, I love it when the radio stations begin their round-the-clock playing of Christmas “tunes.”  I sit in my office with one station playing them now.
What I am drawn to this year, however, is not the “Fa-la-la-la-las” but the intricacies of the crafted joining together of notes and rhythms and words to convey a message.  I have attended the concert of our local community’s orchestra, L’abri twice—once for their annual Christmas concert and then for a special venue with our church’s senior adults.  It was this second one that drew me in more than any other.  I sat at one of the closest tables to the orchestra.  In fact, it was pretty close to the conductor’s sweat produced by his wonderful leadership.
For the very first time ever my point of view allowed me to see up close and personal the violins, violas and cellos.  I saw the expressions on the faces of the instrumentalists as they purposely and perfectly produced the notes in sync; I saw their fingers and hands meticulously touch the strings to produce the differing notes; I saw the bows eloquently glide across the strings creating the sounds that, when placed all together, captured my ear, my mind and my soul.

Music is more than notes or rhythms. It is the carefully crafted, beautifully placed mixture of each individual’s unique touch and perspective marrying their desires for the same beautiful outcome.  Music of this season sings on in our hearts because we all know the tunes so well.
Music is a beautiful analogy for living in community with others.  As co-inhabitants of this wonderful planet we should applaud each other’s’ contributions and listen for the harmonies they bring.  Too many times, however, we tend to only hear the discord of those who may be different than us, go about life in a “peculiar way,” or tend to listen to the beat of a different drummer.

Maybe during this Holy Season we should just stop and listen.

This post originally ran on the ABPnews Blog (link to www.abpnews.com/blog & DEALingwithmyworld.blogspot.com

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Praying behind his back


Recently my family was honored to participate in my son’s ordination to the Gospel ministry.  After heeding a call from God, enduring seven years of higher education and gaining quality experiences, his church in Topeka, Kansas felt it was time to “set him apart” in the Baptist tradition.

His friend and colleague brought the “Charge to the Congregation.”  Traditionally, these are words aptly spoken to remind the church what they were doing and what they should consider by this special recognition.  While typical admonitions to encourage and support this newly ordained minister were given, what rang out loud and clear to me was “pray for him behind his back.”

In all too many human interactions we are all too fast to talk, act and do things about another without including them, i.e., “behind their back.”  His encouragement was before your speak to him face to face, be sure you have prayed for him behind his back, or without his knowledge.  His counsel was that if we were prone to do this, we would more likely have less to “attack” another from the front side.

This is good advice for all congregants and their ministers.  Heck, it is good advice for every family member towards others in the family!  I sense that if we did more “praying for others behind their backs” we wouldn’t so willingly sling fiery darts their way attempting to burn down their good works or character.

Perhaps this is good advice for us and our newly elected and incumbent officials.  If all of us spent at least half the time we criticized in prayer for the person, I believe God would hear our prayers. When we actually approach the Throne of the Most High God on behalf of someone else, we just might begin to see her as a child of God just like ourselves.  We may even see that he, although frail like me, is attempting to hear God as best he knows how.

A little novel I read once had a statement that I have adapted as my personal mission statement:  Help people get to know Jesus better and let Him change them from the inside out.

Perhaps I should stop now and pray for you.  Will you also pray for me?

This post originally ran on the ABPnews Blog (link to www.abpnews.com/blog & DEALingwithmyworld.blogspot.com

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Long, long ago and far, far away...


I remember a day when one would get in trouble for passing handwritten notes in class!  I also remember the first time a girl passed me one—be still my heart!  Yes, I also remember black and white TV with a dial for 13 VHF and UHF channels if you were lucky enough to “receive” any with aluminum foil-enhanced rabbit ears.

I remember cars with no air conditioning or cruise control and only AM radios.  I remember being sent to my room when “Laugh-in” and “Love American Style” was on.  I also remember our first color TV, an RCA, and when it “gave up the ghost” one summer—what’s a guy to do!!!  Well, my parents had bought a full set of World Book Encyclopedias, so I started in “A”.  I didn’t read every word and it certainly did not help me on my SAT score later on!  But my eyes were open to a whole wide world (the first www) that had before been so far away.  For a fifth grader those transparency drawings in “H” for human body began to really educate me.

I remember Algebra, Trigonometry and Calculus fondly.  I was quite good with math and formulas were solved “long-hand” and on paper.  As a senior in high school I was introduced to the marvel now vaguely remembered as a slide rule.  I am still amazed how that thing actually worked.  Who figured that thing out?

I remember college chemistry class and having to formulate and calculate before I had a calculator.  In fact, it was Christmas of my freshman year of college asking for a pocket calculator with scientific notation.  You would think I had asked for a Corvette Stingray.  Those little gems, manufactured by Texas Instruments, cost a fortune.  Luckily Santa Claus found a Montgomery Ward model of the TI calculator for about half the price and I passed the last half of Chemistry.

I typed many of my college papers on a portable manual typewriter.  In seminary I was allowed to use the church’s IBM Selectric typewriter with backspace correction.  And, let’s not forget Kate Turabian?
I remember meeting my future father-in-law who had his very own Apple MacIntosh computer in their home.  I remember the first PC I had in my office in a church—it had the most impressive dark green screen on which bright light green letters would flash up when I typed!

Fast forward now into the twenty-first century.  (I remember when I thought it was so far, far away, too!)  I have a PC and a laptop computer in my home, my wife has an iPad, and we both carry on our hips “smart phones”—all of this keeps us instantly connected to our world.  If we have a question about a topic or wonder where an expression comes from, we “Google” it and obtain the knowledge desired.  We post on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other social media our updates and we send and receive our emails—instantly.

I have caught on to the craze.  I’m hooked.  I have expanded my sphere of influence, or those who know what I’m up to, a hundred-fold with my posts and updates.

This morning I found it interesting that Twitter CEO announced enhancements to come as a result of users wanting their profiles to be more personal.  I say, “Duh! Read my update.”

I have to remind myself constantly that even though this world is flying by, God still whispers, “Be still and know that I am God.”

This post originally ran on the ABPnews Blog (link to www.abpnews.com/blog & DEALingwithmyworld.blogspot.com.