JUST 3 PLANTS

As long as I can remember, Dad had a garden. I mean a BIG garden. I think it came from his growing up years when times were hard. In spite of those hard times, he absolutely loved planting a garden! I remember him coming home from an 8 hour day at the local Reynolds plant and working until dark. His Saturdays found him working in the garden. And when they decided to build a new home in a subdivision he purchased 2 lots–one for the home and the other for the garden.

Even after my sister and I grew up and moved away, Dad continued his garden. After he retired, I remember my Mother fussing because he was working so hard in that garden. At first I suggested he slow down; but then I realized if he died working the garden, he would have died happy. Lord knows I’ve seen enough people die in misery. But as the years passed, he made his garden smaller. The only way he could do that was to plant some fruit trees so there wouldn’t be room to plant something else.

Finally, time did catch up with Dad and he just couldn’t garden the way he wanted. So he would plant in buckets and the inside of a washing machine tomato plants, squash and sometimes a cayenne pepper. But this spring, I was worried about him. Recently I asked him about his tomato and squash plants he told me, “I don’t think I’ll be doing them this year.” Understanding my Dad, I knew this wasn’t a good sign.

A bit of context. Dad just turned 94 years old. My Mother, his wife of 72 years, died 2 years ago come May. He still lives in that house he had built in 1962. It is filled with many wonderful memories, for him and us. He sounded tired, and I know he is; at times his grief is almost overwhelming. And for him not to plant at least 1 tomato plant and 2 squash plants meant he didn’t see a future for himself here on earth. I know he longs to go home to be with The Father.

But this week, 3 plants changed everything: 1 tomato plant and 2 squash plants. When I called him he proudly told me that he had put out his “garden”. That, my friends, is what is known as hope. Hope doesn’t blossom and become fruitful in the best of times–but in the most difficult of times. My Dad’s hope has grown. I realize that at 94 years old he may not eat a single tomato sandwich or fry up a skillet of fried squash–but he is planning on it. That is when hope becomes visual.

And the lesson, my dear readers, is clear in these days. COVID-19 is scary and there are many, maybe some of you, who have ONLY hunkered down and you do not see a future filled with hope. Let me ask you this question: What are you doing right now to plan for the future? I’m not talking about hoarding toilet paper and hand sanitizer. What are your plans WHEN this pandemic is over? And are those plans simply a reflection of what you are doing now? Where’s the hope in that?

So start “planting” now how to enjoy life more than ever. “Plant” those plans of spending more time with family and friends. “Plant” those plans of reconnecting with the Body of Christ. “Plant” those plans of being kinder in public. “Plant” that plan of a special trip with your family. Don’t wait until the pandemic is over to “plant” your hope. Do it now! Otherwise, your current mindset will continue to control your life. Three plants changed Dad’s perspective. It doesn’t take a whole lot to change your perspective. After all, only you can determine your perspective.

The Real Cause Has Been Identified

The prevalent question among the sane and those of us blessed with common sense is, “Where is all this fear, panic and hoarding coming from?” I know the answer. But before I share it with you, a little bit of perspective from me. In previous times when we’ve seen this kind of behavior and I’ve been asked “Why is this happening?” My answer was, “They don’t have any perspective.” Well, I was wrong.

Everybody has a perspective. Each person’s perspective is never chosen for them by someone else; each person chooses their perspective. And in these times they may want to blame the Chinese, news media, health care system, pharmaceutical companies, the Illuminati (yes, I’ve heard this as to blame for the current fear and chaos), or the ever favorite scapegoat, President Trump. Not so fast, Buckaroo! NO ONE CHOOSES YOUR PERSPECTIVE AND NO ONE FORCES YOU TO HAVE YOUR CURRENT PERSPECTIVE! It is never chosen for you. People may, and in fact do make many of your choices for you. But perspective? ONLY YOU CONTROL YOUR PERSPECTIVE.

What? What’s that you say? Someone just disagreed with me. You said, “No! It’s the fault of the Chinese, news media, Trump that’s causing me to fear!” No it’s not and just because you say it’s the reason why doesn’t make it the reason why. You have taken life as it happens and have chosen your perspective. That’s a fact, Jack! You can disagree with me but…

The mass fear, pandemonium, and chaos comes from the perspective of, guess what? The Perspectives of Fear, Pandemonium or Chaos. And the wonderful thing about perspective is that it can change–for the better or for the worse. Allow me to share some “different” perspectives in these times:

If you have an autoimmune disease, respiratory issues, or are on chemo or radiation therapy, choose to stay at home. Your perspective in this time is to prevent you from becoming sicker than you already are. Call a friend, family member or neighbor to go shopping for you. It’s not just the COVID-19 virus that you should be concerned about, but Type A and Type B flu is a threat to you. More people have died from Type A & Type B flu than from cornavirus.

If you have a sore throat, coughing, fever or sinus issues, get diagnosed by a doctor. Your perspective in this time is to make sure whatever it is, you don’t share it with anyone. Sure, it may be just allergies; but let a doctor make that call. And if you are diagnosed with Coronavirus or the Flu, stay out of contact with anyone until the doctor declares it to be safe for you to go out. And follow the treatment plan your doctor gives you. Don’t stop taking any medicines just because “you feel better now”.

And if you are healthy, no flu or other symptoms, carry on with your life and respect the space of others. Your perspective in this time is to be hopeful and upbeat, kind and encouraging. Now, I’m a hand-shaker and a hugger. It’s just who I am–I love and care about people. And I admit it’s a challenge not to extend the hand or arm for a hug. But it’s a challenge I’m up to–and so can you. Not only is the flu virus and coronavirus contagious, but so is a smile, as well as kind words. Greet people with a “Hello, how are you doing?” or something similar. Choose to be cheerful, optimistic and encouraging. You will be amazed at how social spaces are changed by a smile and kind words.

So, remember, you get to choose your own perspective in these times. In fact, every day you get to choose your perspective–and you DO CHOOSE YOUR OWN PERSPECTIVE. Just remember this scene from the movie Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade”

You can choose your perspective poorly or you can choose your perspective wisely…

The Perspective Of Facts

In this time of fear, panic and exponential hoarding people need to be reminded of simple, basic facts about viruses. Perspective helps all of us process what is happening with clarity on any given day; especially in these days. You may say that it’s just not that simple. Oh, yes it is. It’s not easy–but it is just this simple.

1) This pandemic is not the first. For example, the Swine Flu pandemic in 2009. There were more cases and fatalities than in the current pandemic. Yet there were no closings or shortages of toilet paper or hand sanitizer, and life continued.

2) COVID-19 is serious, but not apocalyptic. Basic precautions are enough to keep the wolf at bay.

3) The elderly, young children and people with autoimmune diseases are always at high risk. Upper respiratory infections, Type A Influenza, Type B Influenza and other viral diseases are a serious threat for those in these groups. Every year people in these groups die from these types of diseases or complications from these diseases every year that are projected to die from COVID-19.

4) Do NOT self diagnosis yourself. Don’t assume it’s just a cold or allergies. Get a professional diagnosis before going out into the public.

5) Respect other people’s space. Simply put, STAY PUT UNTIL YOU ARE SYMPTOM FREE AT LEASE 48 HOURS, LONGER IF THE DOCTOR SAYS SO. Because so many do not have the common sense and common decency to stay at home when sick, government officials are having to step in and tell them what to do and not do. This is why “gathering” is being discouraged and “social distancing” is being encouraged. We should not have to depend on the government to regulate our conduct in this time, but because people really DON’T CARE ABOUT OTHERS, government is forced to act. A side note: IF YOU GO OUT IN PUBLIC WHEN YOU ARE SICK IT SHOWS YOU DON’T GIVE A RAT’S TAIL ABOUT ANYONE OTHER THAN YOURSELF. If you disagree with this statement–you’re still wrong.

6) Three Last Words: Hygiene, Hygiene, Hygiene! When I was in school, we had a class on Hygiene. It’s time to bring it back. Wash your hands with soap and water multiple times each day. Keep your whole body clean. Put tissues in the garbage can rather than leaving them laying on a desk or table. Use disinfectant cleaners in your homes or apartments. Keep your vehicles clear of trash and clutter. Cleanliness has been said to be next to godliness. Cleanliness also protects you and the people around you.

GUIDE TO MANAGING AND MANEUVERING THROUGH COVID-10 CRISIS–ALL You Need To Know

I’ve made many satirical and snarky comments and analysis about the current News Media fed panic about COVID-19. Some of those comments were made in private conversations among friends and family, and a couple of snarky comments via social media (see the above graphic as an example). But today, though I usually reserve Friday’s for something funny, I want to be serious, transparent and truthful.

Here is your complete, yet simple GUIDE TO MANAGING AND MANEUVERING THROUGH COVID-19 CRISIS. For this to effectively work, you must first take a moment to breathe in deeply. Hold that breath and imagine it’s everything you’ve heard, been told, or assumed about COVID-19. Now exhale and as you do imagine that everything you’re heard, been told, or assumed is leaving your mind with that breath. Have you done that? If you are still have any of what you’ve heard, been told, or assumed still in your mind, repeat the process until you reach ultimate Zen. OK, let’s get going to the truth:

1. Understand the difference between a PANDEMIC and an EPIDEMIC

This is absolutely the first step, and the longest section of this blog. Without this knowledge you will dive deeper and deeper in fear and chaos. The word PANDEMIC is being tossed around like a football. I call your attention to that famous line from The Princess Bride:

According to the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta, Georgia a PANDEMIC “refers to an epidemic that has spread over several countries or continents, usually affecting a large number of people”. Do not panic at the word EPIDEMIC. By definition (of the CDC as well as epidemiologists) an EPIDEMIC “refers to a sudden increase in the number of cases of a disease above what is normally expected”. Stay calm because we need to understand these definitions and their appropriate applications.

Look at this part of the definition of EPIDEMIC: a sudden increase in the number of cases of a disease above what is normally expected. To help, I’ve emphasized those last 2 words. Here’s an example and application. The World Health Organization and the Center for Disease Control normally expects 3 cases of Spotted Zebra Measles (not a real disease). In 2018 they had exactly 3 cases. Normal, right?

But in 2019 they find 6 cases of Spotted Zebra Measles. By definition, since the number of Spotted Zebra Cases have doubled, from 3 to 6, we have an EPIDEMIC. The 6 cases were not normally expected. Are you with me so far? Good. Now let’s imagine that 2 of those 6 cases were in 2 other countries. You now have a PANDEMIC. Remember that a PANDEMIC refers to an EPIDEMIC that has spread over several countries or continents, USUALLY affecting a large number of people. Two is not a large number–however it does fall outside the parameters of NORMALLY EXPECTED. And notice that word in the definition of PANDEMIC: USUALLY affecting a large number of people.

Not always affecting a large number of people; just usually. And what defines a large number of people? Now apply all this to COVID-19. Less than 1 out of 500,000+ people world-wide have had presumptive positive tests for COVID-19. Only 1 out of 500,000 isn’t a large number. BUT, because of the first case of COVID-19 exceeded normal expectations, you have an EPIDEMIC and because it’s been found in other countries you have a PANDEMIC.

Let’s put all this in PERSPECTIVE. Since 29 September 2019 there have been 207,466 confirmed cases of Type A and Type B Influenza in the United States. Can we agree is 207,466 is a large number? Presumptive Positive cases of COVID-19 are minuscule compared to 207,466. In the same period there have been an estimated 16,000 deaths from Types A and B Influenza in the United States, primarily among young children, elderly adults, and those with chronic health issues. Yet, there is NO Epidemic because these numbers have not exceeded what has been established as NORMAL.

I’m not insisting that you go forward with reckless abandon and ignore potential dangers. That would be like seeing decaying boards on a swinging bridge over a 5,000 foot deep crevice and saying, “Oh, those decaying board will hold me up!” But there are some simple guidelines you can follow.

2. Practice Good Hygiene

Regularly wash your hands using both soap and water. This ancient practice (FYI–it was given to the Hebrews as a law from God) is time tested and a proven method for remaining healthy. In addition to soap and water, you can use hand sanitizer during the day. HOWEVER avoid using any of the online HOMEMADE VARIETIES. Unless the alcohol contention is greater than 60% they are not effective. You cannot know this unless you have a degree in chemistry and a lab at home to test it. If your local store has sold out of hand sanitizer because of the rush of idiots, you can use undiluted Isopropyl rubbing alcohol or undiluted hydrogen peroxide. Both are proven to kill the COVID-19 Virus as well as both Type A and Type B strains of Influenza.

3. Keep Personal Spaces Clean

Put tissues in the garbage can and don’t leave them on a desk, table, vehicle, or chair. Wipe areas down regularly. Again, simple soap and water does the trick if packaged wipes are unavailable. Remember rubbing alcohol and hydrogen peroxide.

3. Stay Home

If you have sniffles, cough, body aches or fever–don’t share your marvelous presence under any circumstances. I missed my last family Christmas with my Mother before she died because I had the flu. I also missed the first family Christmas after she died because of the flu. Don’t consider it just a simple cold or allergies. Go to a clinic or doctor for an accurate diagnosis. Don’t trust self-diagnosis. This applies to you, your spouse, your significant other, children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, nieces, nephews, cousins all the way to your 7th cousin twice removed, as well as the stranger within your gates. And please don’t expect your pastor to pay you a visit!

4. Don’t Visit Others Who Are Sick

This step is for you compassionate folks. Whether someone is isolated at home, or especially in a hospital don’t go visit them to show that you care. You can call them (letting them know why you are not there in person), send flowers or a fruit/snack basket. If they are at home and you want to bring them over a meal, call ahead and let them know what you are doing and when you get there, ring the doorbell or knock on the door and leave the food in a designated location. Add a nice handwritten note as well. Avoid nursing homes as much as possible to avoid spreading the Influenza or catching Influenza. As much as you may want to see a family member who is sick, show them how much you care by waiting until they are well.

5. Carefully Plan Your Shopping

This step really makes sense. The more often you are in a public setting the greater the probability you will come in contact with someone who has the Flu and has chosen to have no respect for human life and ignored Step 3. Don’t go to a store each time you need something. Change your menu, or adjust your plans as much as possible. Make a list and go once a week or every other week if possible. Some businesses will allow you to order online or with an app and you can simply drive up to the designated location, or walk to a specific location and everything is ready for you.

This is neither Rocket Surgery or Brain Science folks. Simple precautions and a hefty dose of common sense will begin to ease both the panic and stupidity that is currently in over-abundance. You are going to be perfectly alright….unless you see this in your neighborhood…

I Think It’s Time–Monday Musings 20 January 2020

Pernicious. Virulent. Mephitic. Pestilential. Nefarious. Miasmatic. Pestiferous. Deleterious. Iniquitous. Maleficent. Rancorous. These words are in my Monday Musings. These are big synonyms for a simple word that is at the core of these Musings. The simple word is Toxic. It is my culture, perhaps I should say, my perspective of my culture that is leading this rumination this morning.

But it’s not just my culture–it’s a word, verses from one of the wisest persons to ever live. This sage wrote one of the rawest in terms of human emotions books ever written. Maybe you’ve heard of it: Ecclesiastes. And here’s the part I’m musing on:

For everything there is a season,
    a time for every activity under heaven.

Ecclesiastes 3:1 (NLT)

Solomon then sets out a series of contrasts about appropriate “It’s Time” moments. I’m drawn into this series of contrasts:

A time to scatter stones and a time to gather stones.
    A time to embrace and a time to turn away.
A time to search and a time to quit searching.
    A time to keep and a time to throw away.

Ecclesiastes 3:5-6 (NLT)

Now, add that word Toxic. No one would intentionally build their dream home knowingly on top of a Toxic Waste Dump. Yet, many persist and hold onto Toxic Relationships. By the very meaning of that word Toxic, people hold on to relationships that are deleterious to their physical, emotional, mental and spiritual health. Toxic Relationships happen at all levels. Familial. Friends. Spouses. Significant Others. Work. And yes, even in Church.

Allow me to cut to the core of it all. A Toxic Relationship is any relationship that consistently and constantly rips us apart or lives to create chaos. Lots of things can rip us apart. Even more things creates a tornado-earthquake-hurricane-tsunami kind of chaos. Even in the church this happens. I’m watching it in my own Tribe, the United Methodist Chaos, I mean Church.

So, how long should one stay in the chaos? As a traditional, orthodox kind of guy, I will probably be asked to leave. Some of my fellow kindred hearts say we should stay together to change things. Others of my kindred hearts say it’s not fair to ask us to leave–after all, we are the majority, and we embrace the authority of God’s Word.

But then there’s these words of Solomon: A time to scatter stones and a time to gather stones. A time to embrace and a time to turn away. Oh, and that next verse: A time to search and a time to quit searching. A time to keep and a time to throw away.

There comes a moment in relationships where the only option is the other option. A time to scatter stones. A time to turn away. A time to quit searching. A time to throw away. And this is where I see this Tribe. I say this not with deep resignation and despair. No! I say this with great hope and greater expectations. The chaos in the United Methodist Church is pestilential.

And you may find yourself in a pestiferous relationship. You can try to ride it out, hope it will change; but it may crush you instead. Or you can accept that some relationships will never be mended. So when is the time to give up? When it poisons your attitude, your mind, your heart, and when you allow it to shape your perspective–Solomon would tell you, it’s time.

But always remember that God has another time, another season for you. And HIS new season for your life will be different–probably difficult–but it will NOT be Toxic. And it will be good.

EVEN THERE IN THAT PLACE–Tuesday Thoughts 14 January 2020

My Tuesday Thoughts on what to write this morning were running wild–wild as a trio of adolescents on a 3 day binge on candy kind of sugar rush. When my thinking gets like this, I have to really force myself to stop thinking–so that I can listen. Now I have it–it’s Psalm 139 and three words from that Psalm–YOU ARE THERE!

Who’s there? God, of course. Most of us like to consider ourselves Masters Of Camouflage. Like an Army sniper in the field, we think we can hide and no one see us–or see what’s going on inside us. But regardless of how or even where we hide, Even There God finds us. When God asked Adam and Eve, “Hey, guys! Where are y’all?”, He knew where they were.

It wasn’t a question of confusion; it was a question of trust. God was asking Adam and Eve, “Do you still trust me, trust my love and that I am still good even though you did what you did?” Smack dab in the middle of their self-imposed mess, they did trust God. And in this Psalm David seems to be reflecting on his life. He’s known up and downs. He’s been faithful to God and been a rebel against God. He’s hidden in caves from King Saul, and he’s tried hiding from the King of Kings.

And what he could do with Saul, successfully hide, he never could do with God. He found out what Adam and Eve discovered–in the middle of our messes–Even There God Is Present. And in His Presence, He is still trustworthy, He is still loving us, and most of all, He is still GOOD! For the life of me, I cannot figure out why some people think God is out looking for people just to punish them. And if this day you are trying to hide from God because you “think” He’s mad at you, or that He doesn’t want you–Think Again! In your fear, confusion or despair–Even there in that place He is present and He is still Good And Loving On You.

And it’s just not in the places where we try to run and hide from God, but it’s true also in the places where circumstances and consequences have placed us. Problems at work. A “we no longer need your services” moment. Chemo or radiation therapy. A disintegrating family. A nursing home. A funeral home. Even in church.

My beloved Tribe, the United Methodist Church, is in utter chaos; or so it seems to many of us. But even there, God is Present. God Is Faithful. God Is Loving Us. God Has A Plan. And God is still GOOD! What I’m saying is this: Wherever you are–whether it’s the result of you poor choices or whether it’s the result of forces beyond your control–Even There God Is Present. Even there He is still Faithful to you. Even there He still Loves you. Even there He is still GOOD. Even there, He will lead you out and back to where you belong!

Love God with all your heart. Love others the way HE loves you. And make sure all the glory goes to HIM!

Saturday Stories–Ernie And Today Is Not That Day!

Welcome to another Saturday Story. Today’s story is from several years ago; it was such a powerful moment that I still remember it as if it occurred yesterday. Listen to it, and maybe Dad has something to say to you…

TODAY IS NOT THAT DAY

Ernie was a retired sheet metal worker. He and his wife Bettye had retired to Scottsboro. They never had children, so they “adopted” kids of all ages, including me. Both spent many hours serving Jesus at Randall’s Chapel (no, that church wasn’t named after me!). Ernie served Jesus in so many ways. Teaching, leading committees, the men’s group, serving in whatever way he was asked. Needless to say, this pastor fell in love with them.

Ernie was the epitome of an “active member”; but I and several others noticed Ernie didn’t have his usual level of stamina. Ernie noticed it too, so he went to his doctor to find out why. After several tests, Ernie was given the diagnosis of ALS (I refuse to call this evil disease by the name of one of baseball’s greatest players).

Word reached me of this diagnosis. As “pastor”, my job was to give him and Bettye words of encouragement and wisdom. This wasn’t my first encounter with someone dehumanized by ALS. I knew what Ernie’s future would look like. The day after his diagnosis I was going to “visit” with them and share those “words of encouragement and wisdom”. And as I sat in my office that morning, I struggled to find any such words. But it was my “job” to do it, and honestly, I felt like a failure because I simply couldn’t find the right “words”.

Just then (remember that “just then” or “it just so happened” are usually God prepared and ordained moments) I heard Ernie come in. He stuck his head in my office and asked, “Bro. Randy, do you have a few minutes, I need to talk about something.” Of course I had time, I always have time for a good friend; but this time my mind is in panic mode. I still didn’t have those words of “encouragement and wisdom”. In my heart I said, “OK, Holy Spirit, you’re going to have to do the talking because I don’t know what to say!”

And my, oh, my did my Friend, the Holy Spirit, do some talking. But it wasn’t me doing the talking–it was Ernie. “Randy, I know you heard about my diagnosis. And I need you to understand that one day I won’t be able to teach the Sunday School class. One day I won’t be able to be involved in the men’s group. One day I won’t be able to serve this church. One day I won’t be able to do all the things I love doing around here.” And what Ernie said next is still with me.

With a love and fire in his eyes he said, “But today is not that day! I’m going to continue to do all the things I’ve been doing. Whatever you or this church needs me for, I’m here! I know that day will come, it’s just that Today Is Not That Day!” The words of encouragement and wisdom wasn’t meant to be shared by me; that Holy Moment was given to Ernie.

And Ernie kept that Sacred Vow. He kept on working and moving forward with Jesus. And a little over a year later, that day finally came. Bettye asked me to do the funeral service. And the message I shared? It was the very same one Ernie shared with me that morning in my office. Ernie prepared his own eulogy and funeral message: Today is not THAT day to give up. God is with you every step of the way. And on that sad day, God’s Grace abounded.

Application Time

We all face difficult, even terrifying moments in life. The temptation, even the urge to give up can seem overwhelming. I know, I’ve faced many such moments. And in those moments, I see Ernie, sitting across my desk. He’s smiling and saying to me, “Now Randy, you know Today Is Not THAT Day!

Whatever it is that you may face in life; whatever you ARE facing right now that is overwhelming you with the feeling of helplessness or hopelessness and you want to give up; remember my good friend Ernie’s words: Today Is Not THAT Day! Ernie lived with the confidence that whatever the future held, HE was held by God and was secure in that knowledge.

Throw It Out There Thursday: SAYS WHO?

Boys and girls it’s that time again: THROW IT OUT THERE THURSDAY where nothing is sacrosanct and any idea, belief or opinion is subject to sarcasm, cynicism or evisceration. So, if you are the type that is easily offended or refuses to hear a view other than your own, you are about to the thrown into chaos; just a warning. This week I’m looking at a Common Duo, RIGHT AND FAIR!

Today I am eviscerating this idea that somehow life is supposed to be RIGHT AND FAIR. I may be called mean, calloused and uncaring for what I am about to say. To which I reply

If you have or have raised kids, especially teenagers, you’ve heard this, at least half of it: THAT’S NOT FAIR! Even then, the other half is clearly implied. We are in a culture obsessed with RIGHT AND FAIR! Oh, someone was just thinking, “What’s wrong with you? What’s wrong with RIGHT AND FAIR?” Guess what? Life isn’t RIGHT AND FAIR! It hasn’t been RIGHT AND FAIR since Eve took that bite and Adam colluded with her by his silence.

I could be the Energizer Bunny and go on and on, but I will get to the point and make this short and sweet. RIGHT AND FAIR, as it is viewed in this fallen world, is based on our highly regarded and valued opinions and perspective. RIGHT AND FAIR is determined by what we think and feel; especially what we feel. Like it or not; disagree and deny–truth is our feelings and perspectives are tainted by selfishness.

Sure, there are some things that are clearly RIGHT and some things are clearly FAIR! But life on this warped planet? That’s where we get into a lot of problems. Case in point: the bitter battle in my Tribe, the United Methodist Church. A group is now proposing that we Orthodox/Traditional folks should be able to leave the United Methodist Church with all assets, along with a cool $25 million, and pursue their own future by creating a new Tribe. Bear in mind, in case you haven’t followed this circus, that the Orthodox and Traditional views of the Bible and in particular, sexual ethics, is the view of the majority. It has been since 1972. But there are some, especially in the U.S. and Europe, who feel more enlightened and wiser; so they want to change it so that it reflects our enlightened understanding. Who said the Age of Enlightenment ended around 1818? It’s being revived.

And many of my acquaintances and friends have been ask me, “If we are the majority, why should we have to leave? If they don’t agree with us, THEY should leave! (you know what’s next!) IT’S NOT RIGHT OR FAIR THAT THE MAJORITY BE FORCED TO LEAVE!” I confess I felt that way AT FIRST. Well, I tried to teach my kids that for the most part, life is neither RIGHT NOR FAIR and we shouldn’t expect it to be that way.

The RIGHT AND FAIR card is being played when a group of people don’t get their way. And here is the crux of the matter. We assume the role of God when we think we should be able to determine what is RIGHT and what is FAIR. And when life is not RIGHT AND FAIR, we can choose to be bitter; which is what it seems like the majority is doing. OR, we can choose to move forward without bitterness or resentment.

Right now I’m thinking about the story of Joseph, the one found in Genesis. His brothers sold him into slavery (well, that snot-nosed kid probably deserved it) and once in slavery, he ended up in jail for a crime he didn’t commit. That’s certainly not RIGHT OR FAIR! But circumstances changed and he finds himself as second in command of a nation. One day his brothers (you know, the ones who sold him into slavery) come begging for food, only they don’t recognize that it’s their brother they are begging to for help. Joseph has the perfect moment now to set the record straight for them not being RIGHT AND FAIR to him. Revenge has set the table for Joseph.

Instead, Joseph does something different; and what he did I’ve had to repeat to myself on many occasions when life wasn’t RIGHT AND FAIR. “Brothers, what you did was wrong and evil (meaning: NOT RIGHT AND FAIR). But God used it for good!”

So, when life is neither RIGHT NOR FAIR, get over it. God can and will make it into something good. But you have to relinquish your desires to define what is RIGHT AND FAIR!

One Resolution: One Spirit!

New Year’s offers for many the opportunity for more than a different life, but stirs in us the longing for a better life.  The human heart is made for something that is better—and that something better is Contentment.  So we make resolutions that we hope will make life better by improving the quality of our experiences.  I thought it would be interesting to see what the top 10 New Year’s Resolutions for 2020 are.  I surfed the web and here is what I found:

  1. Exercise more
  2. Lose weight
  3. Get organized
  4. Learn a new skill or hobby
  5. Live life to the fullest
  6. Save more money / spend less money
  7. Quit smoking
  8. Spend more time with family and friends
  9. Travel more
  10. Read More

Here’s what else I found:  It was pretty much the same for 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, and you get the point.  Now we can download apps that promise ways to help you keep your resolutions.  And we would all agree that it’s easier to make resolutions than to keep them.    Wouldn’t it be great if we could slip on a pair of shoes, take a supplement, join a gym and at the end of the year discover that we kept all our resolutions?  I believe that New Year Resolutions are The Cry Of The Heart For Deep, Abiding Contentment.  When it comes to the issue of contentment, there are 3 things about people and our culture that are true:

  1. Most People are not content with their lives.  In spite of all the promises of hope from the latest trends, advertisements and self-help gurus, most people realize that something is still missing in their life.
  2. Most people feel powerless when it comes to developing lasting and significant change in their lives.  According to a couple of surveys, only 40-45% of Americans even take the effort to make one or more New Year’s Resolutions.  This is down from last century’s high mark of 80%. 
  3. Every human heart longs for contentment.  Even among that 55-60% who make no Resolutions, and among those who say they have given up hope, The Longing Of The Heart For Contentment Never Goes Away.

But what if there was a way to bring that Deep, Abiding Contentment to your life?  And what if there was a way that you could model contentment in a way that would inspire those closest to you to experience that same Sense Of Contentment in their life?  Does that sound good to you?   But wait!  There’s more. 

What if I could show you that to achieve this life that is more than different, more than better, but fills anyone with Contentment, can be achieved with One Resolution, would you be interested?    Not 10, not 5, no, not 3 resolutions, there is only One Resolution that all of us need to make.  Want to know what it is?  Let’s look at Paul’s letter to the Philippians in Philippians 1:27-30

27 Above all, you must live as citizens of heaven, conducting yourselves in a manner worthy of the Good News about Christ. Then, whether I come and see you again or only hear about you, I will know that you are standing together with one spirit and one purpose, fighting together for the faith, which is the Good News. 28 Don’t be intimidated in any way by your enemies.  This will be a sign to them that they are going to be destroyed, but that you are going to be saved, even by God himself. 29 For you have been given not only the privilege of trusting in Christ but also the privilege of suffering for him. 30 We are in this struggle together.  You have seen my struggle in the past, and you know that I am still in the midst of it.

According to Paul, the 1 Resolution is this:  Live A Life Worthy Of The Gospel!  “Oh, is that all it is preacher?  Why didn’t you tell me to paint the Golden Gate Bridge; or—Find the cure for cancer; or—Get every nation to sign a peace accord and end all wars; or—Put an end to world hunger; or—Get Democrats and Republicans to put the American citizen first and forget party politics?  I could do that long before my life is worthy of the Gospel!  Thanks for nothing!” 

And if the Gospel was about what we could do and accomplish, then that’s the way we all ought to feel.  We try to do our very best, but then we lose our temper, we lust, we envy, feel jealousy, say a dirty word, become greedy, act harshly, become resentful and are unforgiving.  And we realize that is just not worthy of the Gospel.  But The Gospel Is Not About What We Can Do

The Gospel is all about what God has done, is doing and will continue to do for us because of His heart for us.  It’s Not The “Gospel Of Our Best Efforts” But The Gospel Of God’s Best Effort For Us.  It’s all about God’s Grace; it’s not left up to our best efforts to honor Christ.  We Are To Honor Christ By Allowing Him To Live In And Through Us With The Power Of Resurrection!  We often lock in on that word found in the KJV Conduct.  But remember Paul didn’t write in English.  He wrote in Greek and in Greek, the NLT gives us the best understanding of that word:  Live As Citizens of Heaven. 

This means we live according to God’s ways, plans and purposes that are rooted in His Grace.  And at the heart of Grace is that we allow Him into our hearts and We Rely On His Strength Rather Than Our Own Strength.  And Paul’s letter to the Philippians doesn’t end with that verse.  For the rest of this letter, Paul shows us how to live a life worthy of the gospel by allowing Christ to live in us and through us!  Contentment Is Found By Surrendering Moment By Moment To The Process Of Grace, And Not Giving Up On That Process, Especially When We Mess Up.

And this process is found in ONEOne Spirit, One Mind, One Purpose, One Goal, One Hope And One Secret.  And this process is what we will begin looking at in this New Year.  So, how can we live this Life Worthy Of The Gospel By Allowing Christ To Live In And Thru Us?

It comes by making 6 Conscious Choices every day.  The Process Begins By Living In One Spirit.  And here’s The 1 Thing you need to remember from today’s message:  Contentment Begins When We Think, Speak, Act, React And Make Decisions Based On One Spirit. 

Paul is not talking about the Holy Spirit here, but our spirit.  What Is Your Spirit?  The first response is to say, “That’s the part of me that lives on after death.”  And it is, but I want you to go deeper.  Think Of Your Spirit As That Part Of You That Makes You Think, Speak, Act, React And Helps In Your Decision Making Process.  And this is the real problem.  Without a deep and committed relationship to Christ, we live with A Divided Spirit.  Living life with One Spirit does not happen automatically nor is it easily attained.  Allow me to define for you what I mean by One Spirit:  One Spirit means living each day with an Undivided Heart!  So think of One Spirit as that heart that gives its loyalty to God.

And to help us live with One Spirit, God offers us transformation—A New Spirit—A New Way To Think, Speak, Act, React And Make Decisions.  He offers to help us live with One Spirit that is worthy of the Gospel Of Grace through The Desire To Have That Undivided Spirit.  Here is how to develop this One Spirit. 

1. Have That Unbridled Desire For God’s Grace

Remember that this Process of One, this resolution to Live A Life Worthy Of The Gospel does not depend on your abilities; just God’s grace!  And is there anything better or more reliable that God’s Grace?  Jesus uses 2 powerful human experiences to describe what it means to desire God’s grace:  hungering and thirsting.  Jesus said in Matthew 5:6—Blessed Are Those Who Hunger And Thirst For Righteousness, For They Will Be Filled. 

It’s About An Unquenchable Appetite For God.  It’s not about a Sam’s Club sample taste, or a small Hors d’oeuvre tray.  It is about all that God offers.  And trust that God will provide His grace.  When you get up in the morning have that unquenchable appetite for God.  When you go to bed at night have that unquenchable appetite for God.  And every moment between getting up and going to sleep, have that unquenchable appetite for God.

2. Give Him Your Unrestrained Devotion

Use the word “Devotion” and many think about The Upper Room, Guideposts, Daily Bread or some other devotional material.  Reading these devotional materials are great acts that we need to engage in daily.  But that’s not Devotion.  The Dictionary Defines Devotion As:  Profound Dedication.  It is moving your life in the direction of God.  This movement in the direction of God is best described in Philippians 3:13-14—I focus on this one thing:  Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us. 

Whatever it is that you talk the most about, that is your greatest passion, and that is what you are giving your devotion to.  Your Greatest Passion Reveals Your Devotion.  If your greatest passion is football, then your devotion is to football.  If your greatest passion is to be recognized and praised by others, then your devotion is to self.  Devotion to God is choosing to focus on God’s presence.  It means we look for and find God’s presence every day and everywhere.  Make God your greatest passion.

3. Live With Total Determination

It’s easy to give up on dreams when life gets tight.  It’s easy to turn around when life gets tough.  Our world, your culture, is filled with those who would rather quit than fight on—surrender rather than overcome.  To Live In One Spirit Requires Resolve And Determination Because It Is On The Other Side Of The Struggle And Conflict That We Understand What The Life In Grace Is All About. 

It is by going through the tight, tough and difficult places that we really discover just how much God does for us.  Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 4:8-10—We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair.  We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed.  Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies. 

Without Grace, without the Christ of the Cross, our own spirit becomes divided and it’s all because of the problem of sin.  But Jesus has defeated the sin-problem for us by carrying our sins to the Cross.  Contentment begins when we take our relationship with God seriously—By Making This Relationship The MOST Important Priority In Our Life.  Jesus lived with One Spirit—to honor God by allowing God’s heart, the Father’s Presence to live in Him and through Him. 

Remember: You Can’t Follow Jesus And Stay Where You Are.  So here’s your Next Steps:

  1. Do something to show your hunger for God’s Grace
    • Join a Bible study group, maybe 2 groups
    • Begin to read the Bible, just the Bible.  Begin with Philippians
  2. Get directly involved helping people know that God loves them
    • Find a person who has a need, and meet that need
    • Find something happening locally
    • Talk with me about starting something new
  3. Dream of something that only God can do

It Should Only Take A Couple Of Hours–But 6 Hours Later

You And I Need Mentors Who Will Give Us Wisdom!

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Yesterday, while on our Holy Hiatus with family near Bartow, Florida I had an experience. . .and another Tuesday Thought. They wanted a digital TV antenna installed and asked me if I would install it so they could disconnect completely from cable TV. I thought it would be in my wheel house though I had never attempted such a feat. “After all,” I thought, “how hard can that be? Cable are already there; just put up that antenna and rearrange a few cables and viola! Project completed.” That was my first mistake–thinking!

So I began this “2 Hour” project. Four hours later, no signal or channels. In addition they lost their internet; something they didn’t want! Got the internet problem fixed, but still no signal or channels! Oh, I forgot to mention I hit my head on a floor beam crawling under the house–twice! That beam didn’t move a fraction of a millimeter. And making several trips, crawling on my knees, (did I mention hitting my head twice on the same beam?) isn’t good on these 63 year old knees, legs, shoulder, and back!

It was time for a break. Yes, I had looked at the limited printed instructions, such as they were, and even tried YouTube. As I sat there looking one more time at the instructions (and you say men don’t read instructions), I noticed something in the schematic drawing and I had an Epiphany Moment! Crawled under the house for the umpteenth time. Redirected a few cables, moved a couple of components and 7 Hours Later, I became a certified digital antenna installer.

What’s the lesson in all this? Well you need to know my attitude and perspective through this swamp. There was a time, not all that long ago, when my attitude would have been nothing but frustration, agitation and aggravation. Not so yesterday. I’m not bragging. . .but I was cool, calm and pleasant to be around. What is making this profound difference in this flawed Kingdom Pastor?

I’ve been spending more time with 2 of my mentors, Max Lucado and Andy Andrews. These famous people don’t know me from Adam’s house cat (I didn’t even know Adam had a house cat). But they are my mentors. Here’s how they have been mentoring me in 2 different ways. First, Andy has been helping me with Perspective and I am living with a different Perspective because I am NOT allowing my circumstances be THE determining factor for how I see my life.

Second, Max gave me (actually it was to all those who read his daily devotions) a challenge: To pray the Lord’s Prayer for 4 minutes for 24 days. Here’s how Max breaks down this prayer challenge:

  • Father, Daddy, You are good. Spend a few moments praising Him for who He is, not what He does.
  • I need help! Heal me.
  • They need help! Heal them!
  • Thank you, Daddy.

Now, these 2 things may not help you. But here’s the Thought: You And I Need Mentors Who Will Give Us Wisdom! To have wisdom, you must SEEK wisdom (thank Andy Andrews for this priceless gem). But not just any Wisdom; the Wisdom of The Ages, Wisdom that only comes from God. You need mentors who Seek Wisdom For Themselves. They can be people you know well, barely know, or as in my case, people who don’t know you.

If you won’t read or listen to Andy or Max, find someone who speaks into your heart and minds. But remember, make sure they are people who Seek Wisdom For Themselves. You need to spend dedicated time with your mentors. Maybe not hours, maybe 15 minutes, maybe just 3 minutes. But do it every day. Wisdom gives you the perspective to handle what should be a two hour project but turns into a seven hour project and remain a person that others like to be around.

And should you doubt this Process, remember these words from Paul:

And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.

Philippians 1:6 (NLT)

God’s work does it’s best in those who are willing to make the commitment to Seek Wisdom! I have been constantly seeking wisdom, so I never lost the Right Perspective when nothing was working right. And because of my persistence, the project was successfully completed.

Love God with all your heart. Love others the way Jesus loves you. And make sure all the glory goes to HIM…by SEEKING PERSPECTIVE AND WISDOM–THE RIGHT KIND!

Monday Musings: The Joy And Laughter They Must Have Had–And Still Have

“So many people do not see the joy of God; they only see a god of anger and judgment.”

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This morning as I was sitting on the patio, enjoying the last 2 days of this holy respite at Millsite Lake, I had another Musing. This time with family has always been a time to rest and recharge the old batteries. As I was looking across the calm lake, seeing the reflections of the stars on the surface, I looked up at those stars; as I did I told Heavenly Daddy, “Wow! What joy y’all must have had as you created this universe!”

And I meant it! I started imagining the joy the 3 of Them had as they unfolded their heart and mind in creation! Yes, I believe in Intelligent Design! I don’t have enough faith to think this wondrous universe just sorta happened by accident. It would take a lot of faith to believe in the big bang because it doesn’t make any sense to think everything I see is the result of “it just so happened that” kind of thinking.

And as I imagined that scene, the 3 of Them in Perfect Collaboration, creating this Wonder, I saw them smiling, laughing with joy; patting each other on the back and saying to each other, “You did real good with that one” And in that moment, I joined in with their smiling and joyful laughter. And then I realized something that brought me back down to earth. Here’s that thought: “So many people do not see the joy of God; they only see a god of anger and judgment.”

And I’m looking up at all those stars, knowing there were unfathomable more stars out there that I couldn’t see because of the lights from nearby cities wondering, “How in the world can people not see how great a joy that Daddy, Jesus and Spirit have for them? How do they NOT hear the joyful laughter of God?” And in an instant I had the answer to those 2 questions: “They have not seen or experience this because the typical image produced by the typical church hasn’t given them this view.”

Churchians and Tenured Pew Sitters paint not an imperfect picture of God (because none of us are capable of painting that perfect picture–if you can then your god is way too small)–they paint a distorted picture of God. They paint a Salvador Dali or abstract art type of picture of God. Recently in one of my messages I said, “If we go into a church service looking like we’re mad at the world and leave looking like we are relieved the service is over, no wonder people want nothing to do with our God.”

Not long ago, I had the holy moment to talk with a “Done”. If you are unfamiliar with the term “Done” (what rock have you been hiding under?), “Dones” are those who haven’t turned their back on Jesus, but they are “DONE” with the church; finished with it; fed up with it; exhausted from it. This person explained to me they dropped out of church because of the judgmental attitudes of that particular church (not the ones I currently serve, thank you, Jesus). This explains why at times I loathe the terms “church” and “christian” to describe the movement that I have given my heart, mind and life to.

We, as Disciples And Followers of Jesus (I prefer this term to the word “christian”) need to reclaim the Joyful Laughter Of God. Isn’t this what Jesus meant in this story:

“Suppose one of you had a hundred sheep and lost one. Wouldn’t you leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the lost one until you found it? When found, you can be sure you would put it across your shoulders, rejoicing, and when you got home call in your friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Celebrate with me! I’ve found my lost sheep!’ Count on it—there’s more joy in heaven over one sinner’s rescued life than over ninety-nine good people in no need of rescue.”

Luke 15:4-7 The Message

There is coming a moment when God will bring everything we now see and know to an end–and bring about The Everlasting And Eternal Kingdom. We call this The Great Wedding Banquet. Do you think this scene will be like some formal dinning event like in The Hampton’s or with the Rockefeller Family, where people are sitting politely and subdued?

There is going to be “Great Rejoicing”, UNRESTRAINED JOY when it happens. And here’s the Great News–WE DON’T HAVE TO WAIT TO EXPERIENCE THAT KIND OF UNSHACKLED AND UNCONTROLLABLE JOYFUL LAUGHTER! It’s out there–the reason for it–it’s all around us–the JOYFUL LAUGHTER OF GOD. It is heard when you marvel at His Creation rather than looking with disgust at the culture. You can hear it every time another miracle happens. It’s the loudest every time a person surrenders and submits to His Grace and discovers that both the guilt and power of sin over them is taken away.

So, Love God with all your heart. Love others the way Jesus loves you. Make sure all the glory goes to HIM…and join in the laughter of Daddy, Jesus, And The Spirit!

Going Out Of Business

Have we “sold out” to an earthly purpose for living in order to embrace a Divine Purpose for life?

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He left there and returned to his hometown. His disciples came along. On the Sabbath, he gave a lecture in the meeting place. He made a real hit, impressing everyone. “We had no idea he was this good!” they said. “How did he get so wise all of a sudden, get such ability?” But in the next breath they were cutting him down: “He’s just a carpenter—Mary’s boy. We’ve known him since he was a kid. We know his brothers, James, Justus, Jude, and Simon, and his sisters. Who does he think he is?” They tripped over what little they knew about him and fell, sprawling. And they never got any further. (Mark 6:1-3, The Message)

Going Out Of Business Sale!  We see such signs so often that we don’t pay much attention to them (until it says “75-90% Off!”).  But in an obscure dot on the map town like Nazareth, it was probably very noticeable.  There on the corner of Jezreel Street and Cedars of Lebanon Lane was the Carpenter Shop.  They always thought it would be there.  His father ran it before him, as did his father. All assumed he would eventually get married (if Mary was any kind of a mother, he would) and his son would continue the family business.  Need a new platter for Passover this year?  Go to the Carpenter’s Shop.  Chair broken because Uncle Jethro has a tendency to eat way too much charoset?  Go to the Carpenter’s Shop.  Need a new dining room suite?  Well, you get the idea.

But then there is that sign:  Going Out Of Business Sale!  They wonder what could be more important than being a carpenter?  But He knows!  He knows his purpose is not to make oxen yokes, but to show humanity that His yoke is easy and his burden light.  He knows his purpose is not to repair plow handles, but to show the world you don’t need to look back, but look forward to be a part of God’s Kingdom.  He knew His purpose wasn’t to make dining room tables, but to build a table where all kinds of people are made to feel welcome, especially broken people; it is broken people who need the broken bread. 

His purpose was not to make another platter for the roasted lamb at Passover, but to become the Passover Lamb and in one single act for all time and eternity to pay the penalty for our sin and folly.  His purpose wasn’t found in the wood pile at the Carpenter’s Shop in Nazareth, but on two rough beams of wood on a hillside outside Jerusalem!  He knew His purpose!  And when he went to His home synagogue and those with whom He had lived with for nearly 30 years rejected His “new” vocation, He refused to give up.            

And what about us?  Have we “sold out” to an earthly purpose for living in order to embrace a Divine Purpose for life?  Any vocation becomes a holy vocation when we do it with only one objective in mind:  To make the love of Jesus known!  Whether we are a cashier or construction worker, sales associate or security guard, a C.E.O. or a PTA Mom—each of us has the wonderful opportunity to make our vocations holy.  It happens when we live our ordinary daily lives with the sense that God is with us and that He wants to use our ordinary life to express His love and grace in extraordinary ways.  Go about your Monday (and Tuesday and Wednesday and…) not with a sense of dread (Oh Lord, it’s Monday) but with the sense of power that comes from purpose. 

Now go and love God with all your heart. Love others the way Jesus loves you. And make sure all the glory goes to HIM!