A Word About Mowing Lawns

motorcycles

 

First, this Post is for the Brotherhood and Sisterhood of Bikers.  That’s as in BIKES not bicycles.  And, this post is for everyone who mows a lawn, whether it’s your own or you do it to make a living.  This morning after coffee at one of the local liars watering holes, I needed to run an errand–on my bike.  Bike, my friends, NOT a bicycle.  As I was going along the street, a local lawn service was mowing and blowing the grass into the street.  It was still wet, and I felt my back tire slip a little–thus this little post.  I have several different Categories for my writing, and the default is set at Kingdom of God.  I also have a Personal Category.

I was about to unclick the Kingdom of God Category, when I began thinking (I know, that’s a dangerous thing to do) that this IS a Kingdom issue.  I say it is because Citizens of the Kingdom are called to be people who show consideration to all others.  Besides, on my ride into town this evening, I’ve been inspired to write another article.  Watch for it next week.  Now, to my purpose and message for tonight, and hopefully, for the rest of your lives.

PLEASE DO NOT MOW SO THAT THE GRASS BLOWS ONTO THE ROAD OR STREET. WHEN IT IS WET, IT CAN CAUSE A MOTORCYCLE TIRE TO SPIN OR SLIP. WHEN IT’S DRY, IT BLOWS IN OUR EYES, CREATING A HAZARD. PLEASE THINK OF US BIKERS WHEN YOU MOW!!!! Rant over….

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A Moving Journal-Day 5

 

Welcome to Jeopardy, Randy.  “Thanks, Alex, I’ll take Chaos and Stress for $1,000.”  And the answer is:  “This picture is what it feels like.”

48897152 - stressed businessman with broken mechanism head screams

Yes, Randy:  “What is the feeling you have when the moving truck will be here in 2 days?”  Correct!

Well, today started like usual.  Packing some more, taking some more to the curb, headed to the office, and the Funeral.  Debbie and I had visited Wynette in the hospital the day before she conquered death.  Watching her struggle to breathe reminded that about a month ago I watched my own Mother struggle to breathe.  God was faithful, not that I doubted Him, especially in a time such as this, and He gave me words to share with her Family and Friends that both honored her memory, her life and The Good News.  A trifecta, if you would.  The graveside portion was about an hour and a half away.

Then I returned to the church for one last team meeting before we leave.  It was the Finance Team.  Within my first year here, I was confronted with the fact that the accounting system was, well, what’s a word that I could use in a Christian blog?  Chaotic to the Nth degree.  Nothing illegal mind you, just poor accounting practices.  Nothing balanced and I promised the Finance Team that before I left, everything would be in order and balanced.  Thanks to my Office Manager, Samantha, she brought in a friend who loves accounting, loves numbers, loves problem solving (though I think this episode may have broken her from wanting to solve problems).  Jennifer committed and donated her time and skills for the past 6 months.  She managed to balance 2017, and set up a new system so they could say goodbye and good riddance to a system called Shelby and a new and easier to understand system (ACS) is up and running CORRECTLY.  I kept my promise.  I didn’t promise I would solve the problem, but would get the problem corrected!  Thank you Samantha and Jennifer.  After the meeting, I said goodbye to Samantha, who is more than a staff member, and she informed me I was like a big brother to her.  These words coming from an only child–priceless.  Samantha, you are like the younger sister I never had!  I wish I could get rid of my older sister and have Dad adopt you.

So, what have I learned today?  I’m so glad you asked:

  • Keeping your word is important.  Whether it is to a congregation, at work, with family, your neighbors, or even a stranger, keeping your word matters.  In this era, words of promise are casually thrown around, such as, “Oh yes, I’ll pray for you.”, only to never mention it in your prayers to God.  Well, maybe once.  When I make a promise, that is the same thing as making a commitment.  It’s true for you, too.
  • There’s always “stuff” that needs to be thrown away in our hearts.  Tonight I made more trips to the curb because tomorrow is pick-up.  I did not want to leave anything on the curb for my replacement.  And I didn’t want to just leave it here for someone else to deal with.  Cleaning out, or in a more biblical image, purifying the heart isn’t a one time thing.  And it’s more than a thing to do every 4 or 5 years.  Guard you heart from collecting stuff–stuff that doesn’t matter to the Kingdom of God–and matters even less to Jesus.
  • People matter and need to be appreciated–TOLD they are appreciated.  What else can I say about this?   Nothing!  If you can’t understand this….you are seriously messed up.
  • Even in dark times–there is still Good News!  Less than a month after Mother’s funeral, I would have had a good excuse to say no, or just put in a minimal effort into today.  But Jesus did not give his minimal effort for me, and it was infinitely more difficult for Him to do what He did, that what I was called upon to do.  The result was exactly what God promises–that good comes out of evil–for a time I forgot my own grief and God used my tears to bring hope to others.  Our circumstances do not dictate whether or not it is a time for the Good News.  Any time, especially dark times, is the perfect time for the truth that there is Good News.  Seems like that there’s a story in the Bible about the best news ever coming from a cemetery.

Well, it’s time to take my medicines, and hopefully sleep all night.  Now that would be great!  But if I don’t….God has this, and He has me!  Good night, John Boy.

A Moving Journal-Day 4

Well, good evening to all.  I’m sure this journal has you sitting on the edge of your chair.  Yeah, Right.  Even I’m not that delusional.  Well, today can you guess what we did?  If you guessed that we sat in easy chairs watching TV, you will not make it to Final Jeopardy.  More packing and today I moved my boxes of books and office stuff from the office into the garage here at home.  Did some more packing here, and still throwing away.  And now I’ve been told by the Boss Lady that I need to get more boxes.

Gee Whiz!  How much stuff is there around here?  Truthfully, I don’t want to know the answer.  Oh, and I just ordered Direct TV to be installed a week from today.  Man, I hope we have enough boxes unpacked in the rooms for the installation guy.  And then there’s that other thing:  a funeral message tomorrow morning.  More tearful goodbyes.  It was hard to say goodbye to the Tuesday Morning Prayer Warriors group, though they call themselves the Women’s Prayer Group, I know that are Prayer Warriors.  I know they will continue praying for me and Debbie, because it’s in their DNA to pray.  I’m thankful they keep us in their journals.  Still, they had to give me their verbal assurance that they will keep praying for us.

I think this is about it.  So what have I learned today?  Honestly, this morning I was thinking to myself, “What other lessons could I learn than what I’ve already learned?”  Well, that’s the danger of thinking TO yourself.  I almost skipped class, but this evening, here is what I have learned:

  • Don’t talk to yourself.  Talk to Dad, The Son, and The Holy Spirit.  My shortcomings happen when I narrow the scope of who I talk to.  Talking to myself, well that just doesn’t work.
  • Lose sight of yourself in order to lose sight of the stresses of life.  Saturday afternoon we had visited with Wynette, the one whose funeral I am doing tomorrow.  As I watched her struggle for breath, I had vivid images of 3 weeks ago when I watched my Mother struggle for her breath.  I honestly thought the worst was behind me.  Boy, was I wrong.  But in preparing for tomorrow, sharing with family and friends today, I soon found my heartache being comforted by the Comforter.  For a while, I forgot about my heartache as I focused my attention on their heartache–and I am being strengthened.
  • Goodbye Is NEVER easy because it’s not meant to be easy.  Especially when it comes to those who care about you, and for whom you are about, too.  I’ve been moving stuff to the curb I don’t want to move to Fayette, Alabama.  But my friends?  I’ve carried them in my heart and I will continue to carry them in my heart.  That is one thing the movers can’t charge us for.  I can take stuff to the thrift store and stuff to the curb.  But I cannot let go of those relationships that we have built over the past 4 years.  Honestly, I don’t want to let go of them and I won’t.
  • There is still a little bit of bitterness in my heart.  I was talking with a very good friend and someone in my Band of Brothers, who wasn’t happy with me moving.  I felt it again–my bitterness.  It wasn’t a lot, but it is still bitterness that will grow if something doesn’t happen.  Only the presence and power of God–and His Grace–through the Holy Spirit’s work, will ever get rid of it all.  I’m counting on Him and I must not forget that not even the smallest root can remain in my heart.

Well, Good night, John Boy!

A Moving Journal-Day 3

OK, Day 3 is in the books.  In 4 more days the moving company will arrive to pick up our belongings.  Then, on Monday afternoon we will meet them again at our new home.  I guess you could say this is entering “crunch time”.  At least it feels this way.  Here was my day.

At about 5:30 a.m. I boxed up some more of my stuff in the garage.  Now it’s trying to figure out which box will work without any wasted space.  Back to the office to finish all the filing and paperwork.  Filing and sorting was something I was going to get to, eventually.  But it is evident I never got around to it.  So now it’s sorting through documents; filing them chronologically–something that wasn’t done before I arrived, but it will be done before I leaven.  I began preparing notes for my successor of things, people and situations he should be aware of in the beginning–again, something I wasn’t given much of upon my arrival.  I’m finding duplicate documents so I am properly disposing of them.

I arrive at home and after supper, it back to “seek and ye shall find” the right size box.  I’m finding some more “stuff” that I was going to do something with eventually.  Now it’s at the curb for curb shoppers and the street department to pick up on Thursday.  I need to get everything out to the curb by Wednesday night so that my successor will arrive without “stuff” stacked by the curb.  And now, I am writing.  So, what lessons have I learned today?  To the casual observer, it might not seem like much, or worth mentioning.  But I have come to realize that the greatest bits of wisdom most often come from lessons learned; even the smallest lesson.

  • First, I learned that organizing is essential for the long run.  I mean, by putting things that will go together in the same space at the new home will make the unpacking go much quicker; not that it’s all that quick.  But if I put things from 3 different spaces in just one box, I will be spending more time going between spaces that putting those things up.  Forward thinking is either an art that is being lost in people and churches; or it is a skill that is about to become lost upon the general population; or it is a gift that no one wants anymore.
  • Second, I learned that I need to quite practicing the art of procrastination.  There you have it, the one thing that keeps me from being perfect.  I know I just heard someone I know who is reading this fall to the floor laughing.  One of my constant struggles is putting off until next week what I should have done yesterday.  I gotta work on this problem with better results.
  • Third, there are still things to be done here before I leave.  One thing I started doing today that I haven’t mentioned is I’ve been praying, listening and thinking of what to say at our friend’s funeral on Wednesday morning.  Another thing I did not mention is that I’ve been working with our financial manager and volunteer accountant on an accurate financial statement.  This church has been using a system that had 2 not so slight issues–it never balanced with the bank statements and it never balanced at the end of the year.  I made a commitment that the financial picture would be clear as a bell before I left.  And after today, I believe it is.
  • Fourth, I need to be thinking about our next place of Kingdom work.  About midway through the day I realized I have not been praying nor thinking about our new appointment.  I had not been taking time to listen to the Holy Spirit who I believe is guiding us to these 2 wonderful communities of Jesus followers.  Even in crunch time I need to also be thinking about the most immediate future of next week.

 

 

Moving Journal–Day 2

Well, Day 2 has come to an end in this adventure of preparing for the move.  Today I preached my final message at this church.  It was indeed a mixture of great joy and sadness.  Hugs were everywhere–tears offered and tears fought back.  Over these many years of preaching, the Spirit always challenges me and inspires me to speak about the future.  Since at least 1984, the passage was always John 2–Jesus turning the water into wine.  This miraculous sign tells us that the best is yet to come when we keep our focus on our purpose.

This year it was the Luke 7 passage about that “sinful” woman.  I couldn’t figure it out, but the Spirit finally got through my thick skull.  I challenged them with this question:  “What do you do with broken people?”  The future of any church is hopeful and bright when we deal with broken people the way Jesus dealt with this “sinful” woman.  Maybe I will post that message here some day.

At the end of the service, there were more tears–a faithful follower of Jesus and a great friend had just died after an extended illness.  I grieve her loss because she was an encourager in my life.  So now, we are planning a funeral probably Wednesday.

And being Father’s Day, I heard from all my children and grandchildren today.  And I was thankful to be able to call Dad to say “Happy Father’s Day” to him.  It was just about a month ago when I said my last “Happy Mother’s Day” to Mother.  It was the last time she knew who I was–so even more gratitude from me.  Oh, one more thing, one of our friends and his family took us out to eat, and shared a great time around a table.

So, what have I learned at the end of Day 2?  So glad you asked me:

  • Life and death still happen as we make our various journeys through life.  At the early service I was blessed to perform an infant baptism service.  And at the close of the second service, I was confronted with grief with the death of Wynette.  In the midst of changes, everyday things still happen.
  • I learned that God moves in different ways at different times.  He wouldn’t let me preach my standard “farewell” message.  Instead, He had a timely and timeless message.  I have to be more careful when I start thinking that God moves the same way and does the same thing every time.  God loves to surprise us.
  • And I learned today the value of friendships.  It is our friends that are holding us up at this time.  It is my Band of Brothers that has my back and will fight for me against The Enemy.  And time around the table, with a meal, is a sacred and holy time that should be cherished and like it says on shampoo bottles:  “Lather, Rinse, and Repeat”–especially that part about repeat.  The food where we ate is noted for being excellent–but somehow it tasted even better because we shared that time with Dennis and his wonderful family.

I didn’t sleep well at all last night.  I don’t know if it was the “Last Sunday” jitters or dread.  But I know God has been with us throughout this day–and He will be with us again, tomorrow.

A Moving Journal: Day 1

Last night I was prompted to start a journal of this journey we are facing.  It’s called “Moving”!  One would think that as a pastor, I would eventually get accustomed to it.  But I’m not.  Since the Spirit has been developing this “writing thing” in me, I might as well use it.  So each day I will post something–not just the stresses and  events of moving–but the spiritual lessons He is teaching me–excuse me–trying to teach me.  I admit that at times I am not always the best student.  I would rather teach–but I know I can’t teach unless I also learn.

Today is Saturday, 16 June 2018 and this coming Friday, 22 June 2018, the moving company will be here to pack up our belongings.  At 62, I’m not going to load a U-Haul.  Then on Monday, 25 June 2018, we will move into our new home and to our new appointment to serve Jesus and The Kingdom at Mt. Vernon (near Fayette, Al.) and Oak Hill (near Sulligent, Al.).  We’ve been packing up all along, and now it is at the stage of “when we’ve used it, it’s time to pack it up”.  My current office is all packed up.  It’s just the things here at home.  This the timeline.  Now, to what’s happening today.

More packing of course, and in a bit, I will assist at the funeral of a long time family friend, and personal friend.  I met Benny, I think it was in 1968, when my Dad was sent to Mhoontown for his very first appointment as a pastor.  Our families stayed close and through the years, Benny was always encouraging me as a pastor and preacher.  And I consider it a great honor to be there; to remember him and to remember what he always told me:  “Randy, keep telling them about Jesus!”

And something else is happening today.  Tomorrow will be my last sermon here.  I know, I know that Jesus said don’t worry about tomorrow, just take care of today.  But I’m not worrying, so I Jesus is OK with me simply thinking about it.  Isn’t it amazing how we can justify our own sins!  God has a vision for this place–to transform it from a typical downtown “first church” into a Kingdom Church.  Signs of this transformation have been happening the past 4 years.  I had dreamed of being here long enough to see it come to full fruition.  But we are not.

And this is what I am struggling with.  Though I am convinced that I still had much to offer in this process of transformation, the powers that be thought otherwise.  This belief stung my heart like a simultaneous swarm of yellow jackets and hornets.  The wound is healing, thanks to God’s grace and those who have are instruments of that grace.  I promised this journal would also be about what I am being taught by Him.  So here is what I am learning so far.

  • The Kingdom of God is much bigger than me.  It is His Kingdom, not mine.
  • God is sending me, not a group of people.
  • God still has Kingdom Work for me at Mt. Vernon and Oak Hill
  • God still cares about us and will take care of us wherever we go

I have always viewed my appointments as Divine Appointments–not my Tribe sending me somewhere, but God sending me somewhere.  There was one appointment where I was absolutely convinced that the Tribe wasn’t listening to God.  I had no idea why I was there–the chaos was crushing.  But on my last Sunday there, 3 people were saved and one of them, was a hard case.  Joe only went to church when his kids were in some program.  He had no desire for God.  But then the Spirit did an amazing thing–He connected me and Joe through fishing and hunting.  A friendship developed and on my last Sunday, Joe rushed to the altar, tears in his eyes and said, “If anyone is going to show me how this happens, it’s going to be you!”

And now looking back, I see so many “Joes” who are taking their relationship with Jesus much deeper.  Many of us have laughed together, celebrated together and cried together.  I truly hate to leave behind these friends.  But I know that our friendships will continue on, deeper and better than ever before.

And I also know that there are more “Joes” in Fayette and Lamar Counties who need to know the real Jesus and others who need to grow in that relationship.  It is what some call “Mixed Blessings”.  And what is hold me together now, is that this moment and this new journey is in God’s hands and HE is charting the path for me.

My Apology: “Why does HE Eat With Tax Collectors And Sinners?” (Like me?)

(This post is for those I wounded last week.  I am truly sorry.)

 

 

 

 

15 While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with Him and His disciples, for there were many who followed Him. 16 When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw Him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked His disciples: “Why does He eat with tax collectors and sinners?”  Mark 2:15-16 (NIV)

We know the Pharisees, A.K.A. The Religious Police, loved to ask questions.  Many of their questions directed to Jesus were attempts to discredit Him or find just cause to put Him to death.  So today we often ignore and disregard their questions.  But this question…this question is a great question and deserves our full attention.  Regardless of their motives, it is a question that should be allowed to roll over in our gray matter.  And I believe the answer says something, not about the nature of the Pharisees, but about us and the very nature of God, Himself.

Sharing a meal in their culture was a very important moment.  Meal time was a moment of sharing life with friends or showing hospitality to a stranger.  It was deep and intimate, even sacred.  Perhaps in our day of take out, eating in front of the TV, families eating in shifts, meals don’t seem to be sacred moments.  And the images of the Walton Family around the dinner table are forgotten memories.  But when this question was asked, it shows the significance of the dinner table.  Why does He eat with tax collectors and sinners, like ME?  Who are we to have Jesus share such an important moment?  Look at the people who would have been around that table that evening.  Better yet, look at ourselves as being at that meal.

  • Like the tax collectors, we can driven by greed
  • We become overly obsessed with our feelings
  • We put others down for our own reasons.  Yes, the Pharisees put down those tax collectors and sinners.  Don’t you think they did the same toward those Pharisees?
  • We allow ourselves to be over-inflated with a sense of self–self-importance, self-righteousness, selfish-desires
  • We make poor choices in our life
  • We do not consider the consequences of those choices
  • When wounded we lash out at even our friends in anger
  • We manipulate people for our own ends
  • We allow labels to become our sole identity
  • We point out the faults of others while ignoring our own
  • We ignore what matters the most
  • We close our eyes to the needs around us
  • We find all kinds of good excuses for our sins
  • We put blame on the doorstep of others
  • We gossip
  • We smear the good name of others
  • We withhold forgiveness when hurt and tightly hold on to our grudges
  • We give in to our lustful desires
  • We point out the problems without offering solutions
  • We worship idols of our own making, misuse God’s name, excuse ourselves from weekly worship, dishonor family, kill both literally and figuratively, violate God’s sexual ethic, take what is not ours, lie to and about others, and we want what our neighbor has
  • I know I missed some more of mine, and in case I missed your sin, fill in the blank here_____________________

I know that I am truly the least deserving of sharing a meal, of eating dinner with Jesus.  I fail Him more times than I care to admit.  I mess things up.  I assume.  I forget.  I become careless.  I surrender to the wrong things.  I fail to fight the right things.  I am sitting at Levi’s table.  And there HE is, passing me the mashed potatoes, smiling at me and my fellow sinners.  Laughing at our jokes and telling his own.  Why in the world does HE seem to enjoy sitting at the sinners table?  I hide it, but inside I’m twinging at the thought that here I am, eating a meal with Pure Holiness, with God Himself.  Inside I’m cringing, desperately wanting to run out the door and hide in my shame.

And then I overhear the Pharisees question: “Why does HE eat with tax collectors and sinners, like him (pointing that finger at me)?”  Or am I pointing my own finger at me?  (Heavy sigh, and some tears right now.)  “Why, Jesus, why?  Why me?  Why now?  Can’t you see what a mess I am?  I can’t stand to look at myself in the mirror.  I am a man of unclean lips!  Why are you smiling at me?  Why?  Why?  Why?  Quit looking at me with that smile, I’m unfit and worthless.  I’m a failure!”  But HE keeps on smiling and says, “Would you like some more bread?  Here, let me refill that cup.”

More bread?  Refill the cup?  Me?????  Now I really want to run out that door and hide and bitterly cry.  I could, I should–I ought to run away now!  “Run, Randy, Run!”  My hands are shaking as I take the bread.  My legs are shaking as I take that cup.  Were I to stand up now, I feel like my legs would collapse.  So I stay at the sinners table, holding the bread in one hand, the cup in the other, and my eyes locked into the eyes of Jesus.  I just don’t understand, why?  I am so small, so unfit and unworthy, such a mess.  I feel like this failure is final and fatal.  Washed up and washed out.  But then HE says, “Eat that bread, I know you’re hungry.  And that Cup has the finest wine ever.  You should taste it.  It is really good.”

Could it be true?  Does Jesus still care about me?  Dare HE forgive me?  A fresh start?  Is there unfinished business that this sinner needs to do for HIM?  I’m still unsure, uncertain when He reaches out and touches my hand with HIS hand.  And I see it, clear as day–the Scar!  It’s the exact size of those spikes used by Roman Soldiers to nail someone to a Cross.  I have to ask, “Jesus, does that scar still hurt?”  He keeps on smiling and gently says, “Not anymore.  In fact, I’m rather proud of that scar.  I have a few more I could show you, but not at the dinner table, Randy.  And I’m just as proud of them, too.”  Vainly I hold on to my question, “But why?  Why Jesus?  Why me?”

The smile is gone but the look is serious, like urgent business, like something important needs to be said, MUST be said.  His lips begin to move and HE says, “Randy, just eat the bread, son, and drink the wine.  It really tastes great.  None better, I tell you.  If that doesn’t answer your question, then ask ME again.”  That scarred hand lifts my hand holding the bread to my mouth as if to say, “It’s OK.”  I taste that bread, and tears roll down my cheeks; not tears of shame I had been holding back.  They were tears of release.  With that same scarred hand, HE guided my hand holding the cup, and I drank.

There was a flood of relief coming over me.  Oh, I still had some uncertainties about the future, but I knew those scarred hands were holding me now and would not fail me later.  And reality hit me back to the moment; the moment of that question:  “Why does HE dine with tax collectors and sinners like Randy?”  Those disciples looked terrified.  Why don’t they put those Pharisees in their place?  I wanted to jump up and shout, “Hey!  Why don’t you just ask Jesus?  You cowards!”  The word cowards being directed at both the disciples and the Pharisees.

But it was like Jesus knew what I was about to do.  His hand gently pushed me back into my seat, at the sinners table.  HE leaned into me and whispered, “Don’t be so hard on My disciples there.  They don’t know what you know.  Not yet, but they will, they will.  Besides, I’ve got this.  And about last week?  If you had given your pain over to me, I would have handled it, too.  Excuse me for a moment, I need to say something.”

“Guys, you are right.  I am here eating with tax collectors and sinners.”  His scarred hand now rests on my shoulders, as if to say “Like this one”.  He continues talking, every eye in the room on HIM, including mine.  What will HE say?  “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do. And these people around this sinners table?”  Now HE is looking at me, and smiling again.  “Unlike some, they know they are sick.  So they have come to the Doctor, all in hope that they could become whole again.  Now, if you will excuse me, MY patients are waiting for me and I don’t need to keep them waiting any longer.”

And as for me?  I don’t have to ask why anymore.  The wonderful taste of that Bread and that Wine are still in me.  He IS right, the taste is good, great, and wonderful.  I should have trusted Him last week.  I was just thinking, “You know, Randy, if you had done that last week you wouldn’t be sitting at the sinners table now.”  But, I thought again, “No, I need to be at the sinners table at every meal, because I am still sick and need what this Doctor alone will give me.”  Now excuse me, Jesus is about to tell another joke and I do not want to miss a word He says…

Memories

Photo from SBS News
Photo from SBS News http://www.sbs.com.au

My normal (which is abnormal for many) posts are about issues that surround the western church and its successes and more often, its failures when it comes to being a part of the Kingdom of God.  In fact, my “default” category for every post includes “Kingdom of God”.  But this morning I unchecked that category and selected only one category:  “Personal”.  Like music, writing helps me create “white space” where I can listen more clearly to God and regain the focus that is essential for life in God’s Kingdom.  But today is personal.

This week has been a “different” week, sorta like the past few weeks.  Normally Monday is the day I really focus on further developing and tweaking my “next Sunday’s” sermon.  Wednesday is the day I need to finish information for the bulletin notes and the ProPresenter slides for that message.  But Monday was spent at the hospital because my wife Debbie was having another arteriogram due to recurring chest pains.  She has 8 stents and one heart attack under her belt.  So no office time for me Monday.  Oh, by the way, no additional blockages!  Thank and Praise the Lord!  So it wasn’t until Thursday that I was able to finish the tasks related to The Proclamation of God’s Word on Sunday.  (Great staff and volunteers who show me so much grace).

Needless to say Thursday was “crunch time” with many tasks to complete.  After I finished my tasks, I left the office for another journey to Mitchell-Hollingsworth Rehab Center where my Mother is currently residing.  After a brief stay at the hospital we received the “official” diagnosis.  We knew she was experiencing severe dementia and her needs were far more that Dad and us could provide at home.  The official diagnosis is Subcortical Vascular Cognitive Impairment.  A big scary name for something scarier–mini strokes.  Probably hundreds over the past few years, according to the doctor.  Every time one of them occurs, a bit of her brain dies.  And it seems their frequency is more often.

This has been one of, if not my most difficult journey.  Excuse me, back to yesterday.  As I went to see her because I love her, and to give Dad the opportunity to slip out without her noticing so she doesn’t start crying (they’ve been married almost 73 years), she was eating.  I took over helping her so Dad could slip out.  She was telling me her Mother and Daddy had been to visit today and hoped they got home OK.  He died in the last 60’s and she died in the early 90’s.  As I continued to assist her eating, she looked up in a rare lucid moment and said, “Daddy’s dead, isn’t he.”  And when she asked about her Mother, I said, “She’s home.”  And she is at home, in heaven; a place I hope my Mother will soon be (as cruel as that may sound).

Well, here I go rambling again.  I’m doing that a lot here lately.  This week one of those I serve, well actually Barbara serves me maybe more than I do her (well maybe we serve each other, that sounds like something Jesus really approves of) left me her latest edition of Guideposts and an article marked for me.  It was titled Grace, Gratitude & Faith by Jeff Bjorck.  Click here to read the article.  It is the story of his journey with his Mother into the dark realm of dementia.

It is a timely gift to me.  One of his lessons was to Make A Lot Out Of A Little.  And as I was feeding her I had a memory of something I don’t remember.  That makes a lot of sense!  The memory of what I don’t remember was all about her taking the time to feed me when I was an infant and then as a toddler, teaching me how to feed myself.  And now, less than a month from being 62 years OLD here I am feeding her and helping teach her how to feed herself.

And as sad as that feeling was to me, I remembered another point Jeff made:  Grow Gratitude.  I then tried to imagine what she must have felt as I was unable to feed myself.  The incredible love.  And then trying to teach me to feed myself.  My, what messes I must have made.  But out of love she was in the process of helping me to grow and become a responsible adult.

Now the roles are reversed, except that part of teaching her to become a responsible adult.  I find myself living in and living out those lessons she taught me without me being aware of them or even remembering them.  I am getting to pay her back for all she has done for me–and for this I am truly grateful.

Oh, I’m still angry that Abba hasn’t called her home, and still angry that I am grieving the loss of Mother before she even dies; and that will be another grief for me to face.  But I cannot imagine the grief that Dad feels right now.  So I also focus the love toward him as we walk this dark valley together.  But for now, I cherish the memories I have, even those I can’t remember…

 

Cultural Bias-The Bible And Divorce

 

This is the first in a series of posts about how cultural biases influence the truth of The Bible.  As I accepted this challenge from the Holy Spirit, I realize, especially on today’s topic, that I am influenced by certain biases based on who I am.  Today’s subject is DIVORCE (and try to imagine Tammy Wynette singing “D-I-V-O-R-C-E“).  My personal culture is challenging me and I confess it is a struggle.  For I am:

  1. A disciple of Jesus
  2. A pastor
  3. I am divorced
  4. I have remarried

On those last 2 bullet points, I will address in the next post.  But for now, let’s just focus on the single issue of divorce and The Bible.  Let’s look at the oldest known manuscript from the New Testament which is Mark 10:2-12

Some Pharisees came and tried to trap him with this question: “Should a man be allowed to divorce his wife?”  Jesus answered them with a question: “What did Moses say in the law about divorce?”  “Well, he permitted it,” they replied. “He said a man can give his wife a written notice of divorce and send her away.”

But Jesus responded, “He wrote this commandment only as a concession to your hard hearts. But ‘God made them male and female’from the beginning of creation. ‘This explains why a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.’ Since they are no longer two but one, let no one split apart what God has joined together.”

10 Later, when he was alone with his disciples in the house, they brought up the subject again. 11 He told them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries someone else commits adultery against her. 12 And if a woman divorces her husband and marries someone else, she commits adultery.”

To understand what The Bible says about divorce, you need to understand what God says about marriage.  We see this in Genesis 2:24–“This explains why a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.”  Even Jesus quotes this in Mark 10:6-9.  Marriage is a life long commitment of a man and a woman.

So, what about divorce?  There are 2 camps on this issue.  One camp says that since the death of Jesus, this “law” has been abolished.  God is all about the love now and the “law” doesn’t apply.  Sound familiar?  Isn’t it easy to justify our views!  Yet Jesus said in Matthew 5:17-19–17 “Don’t misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose. 18 I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not even the smallest detail of God’s law will disappear until its purpose is achieved.”  So much for this cultural bias.

The other camp says that if divorce happens, neither should remarry, otherwise they are guilty of adultery.  Adultery is a violation of the boundaries God provided for His gift of sexual intimacy.  I will address the issue of sexuality later, but for now, let’s understand that the only expression of sexual intimacy that God approves of and blesses is that between husband (man) and wife (woman).

I admit that at times I am not the brightest light bulb in the box, but it is very clear that God, and thus The Bible, does not approve of divorce.  Now remember my own cultural bias–I am divorced and have remarried.

So let’s set the facts:

  1. Divorce is a sin
  2. Remarrying results in adultery, which is also a sin

I believe that the biases around divorce are not about the Principle, rather it is in the Application of this Truth.  I think most of us would agree the divorce violates God’s Intended Design.  So how do we apply this, I’ll call it “Truth Principle”, to the lives, like myself, who are found in the muck and mire of divorce?  I might as well use myself as our case study.

First, I violated God’s Intended Design, thus I had sinned.  How do I apply this Truth Principle to my life?  Well, what should any of us do when we have sinned?  I brought this sin of divorce to the place I had always brought my sin:  to the foot of The Cross.  It wasn’t easy.  The part that wasn’t easy at first was believing He would actually forgive me and give me a fresh start.  After all, I was a “pastor” and would He even want me any longer because of my sin?  I was broken and a mess.

I was ready to pull a “Jonah” and walk away from His calling.  With a handful of people, God used them to let me know that I was forgiven.  But now there were 2 deeper issues for me:  “Could I forgiving myself?  And what does God do with me now?”  There were those who were beating me up over the divorce and I don’t know why.  I was doing a real good job of beating myself up.  Right after the divorce my best friend at night was Jack, Jack Daniels that is.  But God stayed faithful to me and in this process He taught me this:  “Look bonehead, if I can forgive you, and I have, then it’s OK to forgive yourself.  Jesus already took your guilt and condemnation.  You’re carrying around false guilt and false condemnation.  STOP IT, ALREADY!  I’ve got work for you to do!”

The Spirit then reminded me of these passages:

Psalm 103:12 (NLT)

He has removed our sins as far from us as the east is from the west.

Isaiah 43:25 (NLT)

“I—yes, I alone—will blot out your sins for my own sake and will never think of them again.”

2 Corinthians 5:17 (NLT)

This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!

1 John 1:9  (NLT)

But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.

The Principle Truth of the Bible says that I am forgiven, my sins are forgotten by God, I have a brand new life and that He has cleansed my sin from me.  But the cultural bias says that because I have remarried, I am now guilty of adultery BECAUSE I am divorced.  But am I now guilty of adultery?  Cultural Bias says “YES” But the Principle Truth of The Bible says “NOT AT ALL” because God has forgiven and forgotten my sin.  Had I not brought my sin to The Cross, then most definitely I would be guilty of adultery.

Here’s the application of this Principle Truth of The Bible.  God no longer sees me with the label of “divorced” even though the Cultural Bias calls me more than divorced, it calls me a “Divorced Pastor”.  Tell me this:  if someone was guilty of stealing but repented and confessed to God and trusted by faith in the redeeming work of Jesus on The Cross, do you still call that person “Thief”?  If their sin was gossiping and they turned away and were forgiven by God, do you still call them “Gossiper”?  If she was a prostitute and she came to Jesus and turned away from her old life would you still call her “Whore”?  (I suspect someone reading this is more upset by the word “whore” than the fact they put labels on people that God refuses to put on them.)

Cultural Bias treats divorce different from every other sin because it puts the moniker over the person for the rest of their lives, even though God doesn’t.  I know that to some this may sound like self-justification for my own sin.  But here’s the truth:  I have walked through this dark night of the soul.  I was allowing cultural bias define me rather that the Principle Truths of God’s Word.  And I have approached this subject with great struggle and with even greater humility.  I am NOT one of those who loves to show off my scars.  I would rather keep them hidden.  But if my scars helps one person to be set free from this cultural bias and rip off that horrible name put on them by cultural bias, then God has used my scars for His Glory, and I’m OK with that.

If you are divorced, first and foremost GO TO THE CROSS!  Allow that most precious blood pour over you and hear The Father say, “It’s gone and forgotten!  You are a brand new person!”  Now you are free to live your life by God’s Design.  I have learned much from my sin and apply those lessons every day.  God brought a wonderful gift into my life when I was in the dark night of my soul.  Her name is Debbie.  Debbie lavished God’s Grace on me and though I was reluctant (I mean VERY reluctant) to fall in love with her, I did.  I see her as one of God’s wonderful gifts and try (not always successfully) to treat her the way any of God’s gifts need to be treated.  With respect, honor, gratitude and joy.

wedding reception

My Difficult Journey…Today!

 

The angel of God came back, shook him awake again, and said, “Get up and eat some more—you’ve got a long journey ahead of you.”  He got up, ate and drank his fill, and set out. Nourished by that meal, he walked forty days and nights, all the way to the mountain of God, to Horeb.

1 Kings 19:7-9 (The Message)

This particular story best describes where I am this morning.  “It just so happened” (yeah, right!) that I read David’s Kitz’s blog A Dark Psalm For Dark Times.  I am on one of, if not the most difficult journey, in my life; even more so than my divorce.  At least during that dark period I had hope, though ever so small, that God would heal and restore me.  But today, honestly, I see no such hope, which is probably why it “just so happened” that I read David’s morning edition.

Today I and my son, Matthew, are going to look at some “nursing homes” for my Mother.  At 89 she is in that prison known as dementia.  In the last 2 weeks her mind has become in the words of Forrest Gump, “a gazillion times” worse.  Dad, who will be 92 next month, has been doing his very best to take care of his wife of 73 years.  And now it has taken its toll on him.  Yesterday as he and I discussed what we would do today, what he said literally broke my heart:  “Son, I would rather take her to the cemetery rather than do this.  But it has to be done.”  There were tears in his eyes and his voice quivered.  He was broken and in a prison, too.

As a pastor, I am fortunate enough to share life with those entrusted to my care.  Shared meals, baptisms, weddings and just enjoying the extraordinary joys of the ordinary life are a part of this life as a pastor.  I also share in times of heartache: sickness, loss of jobs, the prodigal child, the prodigal spouse, the prodigal parent, and yes, the journey with them of watching losing a loved one long before they die.  My heart has always broken for those families living through this nightmare called dementia.

And now, my own nightmare intensifies.  As I watched others go through this nightmare, I became angry with God.  “Why are you allowing this to continue?  For heaven’s sake, please take them home!”  Honestly, I do not understand why He didn’t and thus, the source of my frustration (I know I did a blog/sermon on frustration).  And at the risk of sounding to some as being callous and uncaring, I’m “praying without ceasing” that God will take my Mother home instead of us taking her to a nursing home.  Dad’s right;  a journey to the cemetery would be much easier.  This is frustrating!

So what do I do?  Can I do?  Psalm 88:18 describes where I am perfectly:  You have taken away my companions and loved ones.  Darkness is my closest friend.”  I looked up this Psalm and found out that the last word in the original Hebrew is DARKNESS.  Unlike other Psalms of despair that end with “hope”, this one ends in DARKNESS.

Maybe David Kitz is correct in pointing out this song written by someone known as Heman the Ezrahite.  I would like to think The Spirit inspired David to write this blog just for me; even further back, that He inspired Heman the Ezrahite to write it just for me in 2018.  And right now I am holding on, barely but holding on, to the middle, exactly the middle of this Psalm.  It’s verse 9:  Each day I beg for your help, O LordI lift my hands to you for mercy.”  Maybe there is something prophetic that in the exact middle of darkness, Heman begs and cries out to God.  And so do I….so do I…  Prayers greatly appreciated…