Thursday, December 1, 2011

Christmas Cheer...

Gratitude Journal
1. Decorations of the season
2. Sacred music of the season
3. The use of candles through the season
4. The joy of a child's heart in this season
5. God's continued overcoming of what we have done to the season!

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. John 10:10

I have often heard this verse (particularly the latter portion), used this time of year to provide some safety net for those who both give and receive abundantly. Yet, it might be good for us to read the total verse and reflect.

A thief may be defined in many ways. One who steals what does not belong. One who takes without thought of the pain and heartache of the one who looses some item. This verse goes on to say that the thief not only steals, but also kills and destroys. This really takes things to the next level of severity.

Fortunately I have never been labeled a thief. Nor have I killed or sought to destroy another person. However, in recent times of reflection on the Christian life and my commitment to God's kingdom, I have begun to take more seriously what I have done that is less than pure when it comes to 'a full life'!

When have I really share the abundance I have with another... to the point of sacrifice? When have I killed the spirit of a child? When have I denied the wealth of resources available to me to stop another's pain and suffering? When have I been an advocate for those who are the 'least of these'...? When have I taken a stand that goes against popular cultural norms? When have I risk being misunderstood for the sake of an individual or family that have been marginalized?

As I partake in "Christmas Cheer..." this year, God convict me over and over to have eyes to see and hears to hear and feet to walk and hands to service. In the true love of the Christ child I pray! AMEN

Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Harvest...

Gratitude Journal
1. Last harvest of autumn
2. Beautiful foliage of fall!
3. Pumpkins
4. First frost on windshield
5. Flannel shirts

But the seed in the good earth - these are the good-hearts who seize the Word and hold on no matter what, sticking with it until there's a harvest. Luke 8:15 (The Message)

These is something bittersweet about the Autumn season! Watching leaves turn from green to red to brown in a matter of a few days. Watching as they descend slowly to the ground. Hearing their crunch under foot. Feeling a soft breeze turn cool. Although welcomed after a long, hot summer, the change can also bring a reminder of the cycle which all life experiences: birth - growth - strength - decline - death...

Something about the fall as precursor of winter and cold days with roaring fires, brings promise of quiet opportunities for reading and reflection. An abundance of sunlight has always meant a faster pace, activity and movement; that seems to slow down with shorter daytime hours. I look forward to some quiet.

The older I get the more I desire to reflect on the journey. Don't get me wrong, I do enjoy the journey, but I haven't always spent enough time in 'thanksgiving' for the path. Nor have I spent much time considering the seeds I have planted along the way!

As I take some time to plant daffodil bulbs for springtime, I pray that God will find delight in previous 'plantings' I have made (both conscious and unconscious) and forgive the blunders I've made and redeem and bring forth the appropriate fruit in due season.


Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Old Photos - Gift of Memory

Gratitude Journal 10-11
1. Movies that touch my soul
2. The return of a precious memory
3. Cousins and other relatives
4. Friends that are close as family
5. The gift of forgetting...

I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end...
Rev. 22:13

A recent rush to complete a family photo-album project required quick decisions to be made regarding holding onto old family pictures. Some were over 100 years old. Others were more current... BUT, for me to say current, the photos were still old!

I am reminded of Robin Williams character in the movie: Dead Poets Society. He took a group of young men to a display case filled with trophies and old photos of school athletes. He whispered over their shoulders into their ears. He told them to look hard into the eyes of the young faces in those old photos. He challenged them to see the bodies full of vigor and ready for combat on the football field of long ago. Then he said, 'the young men in the photos are now dead and time is fleeting.' He whispered to his young students that they too needed to seize the day - Carpa Diem!

As I looked over my own past - school photos of long ago, pictures of family members and ancient reunions, images of church groups and homes we lived in during formative years - I was there all over again. In those moments I was able to go back. I could remember not just the persons, but the emotions that filled my days and nights. I could visit rooms and smell my mamma's cooking. I could see the wrinkles in my grandma's face. I revisited joyful times with my favorite pets.

My childhood from the outside, was blessed. AND I do indeed have much to be thankful for. Good parents, a sister and a large extended family with good friends, enough of the basics of life to never be physically uncomfortable. But, there were scars and wounds that few knew about in those early years. I was emotionally abused as a child. Not intentionally, but with all the love and care that wounded parents could provide me!

One staple for me was God and the gift of a Christian community of faith. While there have been some very lonely periods filled with deep regret and pain, I have never gone for long without the loving heavenly Father touching my path or guiding my way. I have experienced 'the dark night of the soul' on several occasions. But there have always been pastors, or friends, or even strangers that appeared at just the right time to offer hope and healing.

So, as I continue to look at this project and hold old photos of days long ago... as I feel the experiences flooding over me with waves of emotions I thought were packed far away... I give thanks all over again. Christ is the Alpha and the Omega. Not just for all of creation, but for the gift of my life and my life's journey.


Thursday, September 8, 2011

Merton Continues to Speak...

Gratitude Journal

1. Nurses and CNA's who work in Nursing Homes!
2. The Power of Stories... and the gift of remembrance.
3. First Days of School Each Year!
4. Cool Fall Weather - Signs of Things To Come
5. The Shoulder of Spiritual Giants on Whom We Build of Faith Journey!

In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is Your strength. Isaiah 30:15

Thomas Merton is one of those GIANTS of the faith mentioned above! His words have touched and brought healing and hope during some pretty dark stretches of my own journey.

Recently, listening to the news - famine, financial insecurities, 9-11, health concerns and more - I have been renewed by Merton's words... So today, I share a few of his words in hope and with trust that they might speak to you!

If we forget that the laws and organization of the Church are there only to preserve the inner life of character, we will tend to make the observance of law an end in itself... and this makes genuine holiness impossible, since holiness is the fullness of life, the abundance of charity and the radiation of Holy Spirit hidden within us.

The Holy Spirit does not abolish the Old Law, the exterior command: he makes the same law interior to ourselves, so that doing God's will becomes now no longer a work of fear, but a word of spontaneous love.

But now that Christ has laid down his life and risen from the dead, to take possession of us by his Spirit, the Spirit himself, dwelling in us, should be to us a law.

My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I follow Your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please You does, in fact, please You. And I hope that I have the desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this, You will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore I will trust You always, though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death, I will not fear, for You are ever with me, and You will never leave me to face my perils alone.


Saturday, August 6, 2011

Friendship... across the miles - across the years!

Gratitude Journal
1. Memory of friends in special places
2. Memory of friends in special groups
3. Memory of friends from special chapters of my life
4. Memory of friends
5. Memory!

I thank God for every remembrance of thee. Phil 1:3

I recently experienced one of those roller coasters of stress and anxiety that life can throw our way some times. I flew to Denver for a week long conference one day and later that same evening I received word that a family member back home was very ill. She had been hospitalized.

Immediately I was surrounded by close friends who sustained me - supported me - loved me - and cared for my emotions through the next 24 hours as I planned my return home.

This experience reminded me of the many times I have been 'held' by friends during difficult times. Friends are such a gift. To all those folks - past and present - who have touched my life in special ways I give God thanks!

We were not destined to live in isolation. Even the most introverted person needs community. We need persons who care and reach out... not just in times of stress and anxiety, but also friends who rejoice and celebrate with us in the good times.

I also was reminded of the gift of memory. I was blessed to be able to see - in my minds eye - that great cloud of folks who have sustained me through difficult situations or hugged me or whispered words of encouragement or held my hand or touched my shoulder offering physical and emotional strength. Those visual reminders brought joy.

Sometimes we find ourselves in places or events that pinch real hard. In those moments I suggest we stop - breath deep and seek to listen to those special people God has given us. People who are not just people. True friends are not just pieces of furniture we push around the stage of our lives. Friends are gifts from God.

For each of you - I pray in this moment you know how much you mean to me and how much I both love and appreciate your love in return!


Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Little girl with her dogs...

Gratitude Journal
1. Prayer gardens - the gift of special places!
2. Prayer partners - the gift of people who care!
3. Prayer rope - the gift of intentionality!
4. Prayer with others - the gift of community!
5. Prayer - the gift of relationship!

Isaiah 52:6 "Therefore my people shall know my name. Therefore in that day they shall know that it is I who speak; here am I.”

Little girl with her dogs...

Right outside my office window is a statue. In fact there are several. But this particular one is bronze. There is a bench with a small child, a little girl with a pony tail, holding one puppy while another looks on from her right.

I have been very blessed to work in a place that provides spaces! Special places of refuge for those who are deeply wounded and struggling with pain. Generally that pain is psychic. It is not seen or most often not available to the naked eye. But it is there.

I have actually heard ministers and religious workers say they wish their wounds were visible for the world to behold. There might be more compassion and support. Yet, many live in a world of assumptions about the strength and courage and holiness pastors should display. They are dumped on by well-meaning folks who want their pastor to talk about God's laws, but not about God's grace. And there are times when the minister is dealing with the normal wounds of life - troubled kids, addictions, money issues, health concerns, trying to cover too many bases with too little time, etc. - that all families face. However, the message to the minister is not to share their grief or struggle. They are 'so close with God' that these matters should not be in the perfect picture of a minister and his/her family life. At the very least, not shared publicly.

Have you ever lived under such stress?

The statue is a gentle reminder that we are not alone. Someone calls out to us and we recognise the voice and delight in our presence. Someone is glad that we exist and that we are available. Whatever pain or difficulty we are welcomed to sit close and find joy.

Thank you God for prayer! And thank You for the reminders in my life - sometimes right outside my window - of Your LOVE...


Sunday, June 12, 2011

With THANKSGIVING and appreciation for Fran

Gratitude Journal
1. Friendly times with new neighbors
2. Great worship!
3. Slow steady rain... on hot, dry days
4. SUPERMAN Undies (thanks Harper!)
5. BRAVES winning streak!

(In tribute to Fran Magoni, as she leaves the Pastoral Institute to move to the Macon Georgia area, to follow where God may lead her to offer her talents in ministry!)

"The person who trusts the Lord will be blessed." Jeremiah 17:7

I have known Fran since she arrived at the Pastoral Institute ___ years ago. She began her career with us as a secretary/receptionist for the Clergy Resource Center. Through the years her talents have been utilized in many ways including through the Servant Leadership program and most recently with our Right from the Start initiative.

At each turn along her path she has moved with greater and greater openness to the task before her. She was over-qualified to serve administratively. Yet she took on the opportunity with a smile and brought efficiency to the office. Later when she moved to Servant Leadership she did so with joy and excitement for the young people with whom she worked. I never witnessed her pointing accusatory fingers toward these young scholars for some blemish or failure, although I am sure many dropped the ball when Fran thought it was in secure hands.

Her recent leadership role at the Pastoral Institute has been - according to her words - a passion. Her desire to see folks experience wholeness and health in their significant relationships has been awesome to watch unfold. She has worked tirelessly on each new program, event, or aspect of our program. She has indeed been passionate. She has been a fierce defender of the great potential of this initiative and because of her belief that RFTS can make a difference, she has tackled tasks and obstacles with grace and a bright smile. And she biting her tongue when she had too.

What is it about Fran that I most admire? While we have not always agreed, throughout these years I have grown to appreciate Fran's faith. She truly trusts her Lord. While she does not wear it on her sleeve, she is willing to take a stand for what she believes is right and she trust that if she gives her best, God will bless the effort. That is a lesson I need not only to observe, but also to seek to emulate more within my own life. I sincerely appreciate the seeds you have planted and I know they will bear fruit for years to come.

Fran, thank you for being the gift you are and for coming my way! Please know I personally will miss you. I pray that our paths will cross again and often. And I rest assured that because of your strong faith God will continue to bless and use you in wonderful ways.


Saturday, May 28, 2011

I buried BUDDY yesterday...

Gratitude Journal 5-28-11
1. Buddy - great dog, wonderful pal - RIP - 1998-2011
2. Magnolia Manor West - nursing facility for grandma
3. Patient doctors who smooth the path and urge patience in their patients!
4. OPRAH's legacy to so many wounded through the years!
5. Friends...

"The Father has loved us so much that we are called children of God. And we really are His children" 1 John 3:1

The past two weeks have been a little more stressful than usual! My cell phone died, my home air-conditioning slowed down on some pretty hot days, and my heart was wounded in three significant ways. First, my grand-daughter (Harper) had to go into the hospital briefly for a biopsy. A small growth inside her left cheek was suspicious and now we wait. The doctor is good and her mom is resilient and we are all hopeful... but 'grandpa' couldn't be there.

Next, my mother-in-law (Grandma as I lovingly call her) had to be moved from the Assisted Living facility to Nursing Care after a week in the hospital. Heart rate, congestive heart failure, and one kidney all out of sync at one time. Not good... She is now discouraged and depressed (who wouldn't be) and Beth and I are cleaning out one small apartment and transferring her to an even smaller new 'home'.

And yesterday I buried BUDDY. He was a gift from our daughter back in 1998 when she was working with tornado victims in Birmingham. He was a true product of those storms back then and lived out his own storminess his whole life! We often laughed at his antics and described him as a poster pup for ADHD in dogs. He was a dalmatian-lab mix... black with white markings on his belly. Yesterday, when I went out to feed him I found him on his bed. It appeared he had just laid down and died. But it was unexpected!

So often death is unexpected. Whether we are talking about beloved pets or some old or young human brother and sister who has populated our lives.

Much has been said this week about OPRAH's leaving her T.V. program after 25 years. You either liked her or not. I happened to be one of her fans and I own that identity with pride! Although I rarely got to watch her show, on those occasions when I did I often was touched by her ability to 'connect the dots' in relationships. Tying us all together - red and yellow, black and white, old, young, rich and poor, gay and straight. AND she loved dogs too!

I sincerely do give gratitude this day! To the Mother/Father God who created us in an image of LOVE and HOPE and FREEDOM with the ability to be touched by deep moments of pain and times of incredible joy! A God who wanted us to know that we are not alone on this journey. A God who gave and continues to give us companions along our path - both human and the four-legged variety.

God THANK YOU for BUDDY. And Thank You for all the gifts over this ruff patch during these two weeks. While I am sure there will be even tougher times ahead, I am also confident in Your GRACE and LOVE and BLESSINGS of being one of YOUR kids.

Through Jesus

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Mother's Day - and Mother/Father God

Gratitude Journal 5-5-11
1. Reflecting on the 'gifts received' through my own mom!
2. Openness to nurturing relationships found through the feminine
3. Incorporation of those gifts into my own experience and skill-set
4. Seeing motherhood grow in my daughter and daughter-in-law...
they are the greatest!
5. Thanks-giving for my wife and the gift she is to our children and to me!

I will make you into a new creation. I will create in you and in your people the New Jerusalem. But you must let me love you and let me wipe away the tears from your eyes.
Rev 21:4-5

My life journey has allowed me the gift of many 'mothers' along the way. First was my own biological mom. She was with me for over 60 years. Significant teachers played a meaningful role. Next came my wife who has walked beside me for over 44 years. I have been generously blessed to have her as mother of our two children and it is such a joy to share grand-parenthood with her!

My mother-in-law has been an unexpected gift too. In earlier years I never thought about her intersect with my life. Again, such a wonder...

I am most thankful that I have lived long enough to recognize the 'divine feminine' and see God manifest within the special women in my life. How shortsighted it would have been to only see God as masculine. I would have lost so many wonderful opportunities to experience the divine if I had only eyes to see one half of God.

(AND I don't want to limit God to just male/female either. For me, God is manifest throughout all of creation...)

When is the last time you have allowed God to touch you, nurture you, wipe away a tear, hold and comfort you... love you? Most times those are considered feminine traits. We don't often expect men to be nurturing or sensitive or comforting. And when we see men exhibit such traits, we believe it to be unusual.

Yet if we expand our image of the Holy One to be both Mother as well as Father we may experience a deeper richer relationship with the Divine.

This Mother's Day - as you give thanks for the women in your life - don't forget our Creator. Pause and rejoice in the fullness of your God.


Sunday, April 24, 2011

Family... tied together by EASTER!

Gratitude Journal 4-24-11
1. Easter egg hunts
2. Beth's Easter meal! (delicious as usual)
3. Photos that remind me of precious moments...
4. Feeling welcomed
5. The gift of good rest!

'And they found the stone rolled away...

For the first time in ages my mother-in-law attended church with us today. She is almost 93 years old and now lives in an Assisted Living facility 30 minutes away. But today, we sat side by side. She allowed me to hold her hand through most of the 'preaching' - she could not hear and looked out the window in long distant gazes.

I wondered where she was. Visiting church services long ago? Reviewing previous Easter's with family and friends?

Secondly I noticed I was sitting between grandma on one side and my grand-daughter on the other. A chronological distance of over ninety years in the making. Harper was at ease, listening to the music and the different voices. She was attuned to the movements. She was more at peace than we had anticipated. It was almost as if there was an echo between her 'presence' and grandma's 'presence'.

Easter ties family all together for me!

My family was not all under one physical roof today - two more grands, son/daughter-in-law, sister/brother-in-law and family, aunts/uncles/cousins. Like millions of others we struggle with relatives far away and we long for greater time together. Visits always are too shot and too infrequent!

It reminds me of the message of the 'stone being rolled away'.

I may not have been physically present with many of those I love but I am thankful for the larger roof that covers us all... both near and far. It is Christ's LOVE! God's mercy and grace and the very gift of life itself is mystery. I don't know how the stone got moved away on that Easter morning - maybe God's hand itself OR the angels OR... who knows? I don't know why our family is 'our family' either! Why were we born at this particular time? Why are we related? Why have we been so blessed?

It is all mystery. It is not for us/me to know the answers now. Yet, in some strange way it is all about EASTER - all part of the EASTER message - ultimately all about the LOVE OF GOD!



Sunday, April 17, 2011

Palm SUNDAY - not just childs play!

Gratitude Journal
1. Subtle stories and simple truths
2. Anticipation...
3. Teaching opportunities that go well!
4. Classie restaurants in small towns.
5. The 'Family of God'...

"Hosanna: to the Son of David!" "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!" "Hosanna" in the highest!" (Matthew21:9

In a recent review of my years in ministry I began to reflect on the high holy days of the Christian calendar. How did I lead the various congregations in celebration? How did we enter into the experience? What would I attempt now that I did not do then?

One of the most glaring omissions was the involvement of adults in the pageantry! I remember well that on many a Palm Sunday we would have some form of greenery for the 'children' to walk down the aisle waving, while all the adults in the congregation smiled or sang a hymn. Some of the bystanders laughed at a wayward child who was 'doing his own then' with his palm branch. I don't remember a time when the whole congregation - particularly any adult - waved a palm branch. Maybe the one walking with the kids, trying to get them down the aisle to the altar, but never the whole 'body of Christ' we were there to embody.

What a loss! If I had it to do over again I would place a branch in every ones hand. Or better yet, have the whole church go out into the church yard, cut a small branch (first hand) and begin singing and waving the branches as we re-entered the sanctuary.

Young and old alike would be singing Hosanna in the highest. There would be singing and maybe a tambourine or two. A careful reading of the Matthew text indicates 'Nearly all the people in the crowd threw down their garments' and 'others cut branches from the trees'. There is no indication that this was child's play. No, adults were surely involved and celebrating and rejoicing... showing the children how it was done. The adults were very much involved.

Indeed, what a loss! I lost the opportunity to encourage adults to express their own deep joy of what the Christ had done for them - not just for children - but for all creation. It might have been awkward, but it might also have drawn all of us into the story a bit deeper.

O God, forward me for this small oversight along with oh so many more sins.
In the most Holy and Blessed name of Your Son - the Christ - I pray...


Sunday, April 10, 2011

Contemplation... the task of the second half of life!

Gratitude Journal 4-10-11
1. Three days of 'retreat' to Norwood Louisiana
2. Renewing kinship's with Wes, Ryan and Charlie from MROP
3. Talking to trees... and taking in all of creation!
4. The growth of men's spirituality within my own journey.
5. The 'ministry' and 'gift' to my life of Richard Rohr

"In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength," Isaiah 30:15

It is way past time to 'listen' to God! For so many of us reared in evangelical circles, filled with plans and programs and projects, we have missed so much.

This past weekend (April 1-3) I was blessed to join 127 other men at a rustic retreat center with the purpose of rest and to slow down. It was peaceful and very quiet. We actually heard the birds and saw squirrels and fish stirred the small pond in swift, unexpected movements. The fresh spring green was just beginning to arrive as bright new faces amongst the evergreen. They darted in and out.

We were from 22 different states and a couple of foreign countries. Most did not know one another and our life path will most likely never intersect again. There were a few grand-fathers with their sons and grandsons. One dad was surrounded by his five young adult sons. Many were loners like myself, traveling far to 'get away' and reflect.

So what did I learn? Once again I was touched by grace. I was totally free to be me. I was accepted and affirmed for who I am - warts and all. We tried out contemplation as opportunity to 'be still and know'... Why Lord haven't I embraced this avenue more? Why has it taken so long?

I wish I had encouraged my son to join me for the weekend. It is not too late. There will be other times, I pray. Lord, slowing down is something I will do. Promoting contemplation and healing is a worthy goal but it must begin in me.

May it be so Lord.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

$3:00 Worth of God, Please...

Gratitude Journal 3-26-11
1. Rain to wash the pollen away!
2. Spring flowering trees
3. Thank-you notes and words of appreciation
4. Lunch with TMC Buddies
5. Honest people who return lost items...

"And when Simon saw that through laying on of the apostles' hands the Holy Spirit was given, he offered them money, Saying, Give me also this power, that on whomsoever I lay hands, he may receive the Holy Spirit. But Peter said unto him, Thy money perish with thee, because thou hast thought that the gift of God may be purchased with money." ACTS 8:18-20

I would like to buy $3:00 worth of God, please, not enough to explode my soul or disturb my sleep, but just enough to equal a cup of warm milk or a snooze in the sunshine. I don't want enough of Him to make me love a black man or pick beets with a migrant. I want ecstasy, not transformation; I want the warmth of the womb, not a new birth. I want a pound of the Eternal in a paper sack. I would like to buy $3:00 worth of God, please.

I first read this short reflection about 30 years ago. I was taken aback by the honesty and directness of the author. Through the years I have returned to this little volume numerous times (now out of print). I am thankful that I was blessed to find it! The sincere probing of the soul is refreshing - although not east some times.

Lord, this day may I be open to finding and accepting truth wherever I find it. Let me be honest with You and myself, so that I may be more open, transparent and honest with those around me.


($3.00 Worth of God - Wilbur E. Rees - 1971)

Monday, March 21, 2011

What if Grace Wasn't Amazing?

Gratitude Journal 3-20-11
1. Spring days - even the time change I like...
2. Visiting differing faith traditions on Sunday
3. Cleaning out and throwing away
4. Time with grand-kids!!!
5. Friends who speak the truth - thanks Wes.

What if Grace Wasn't Amazing?

I have no greater friend than Wes Eades of Waco, TX! We were on staff together, long ago, in a large church in the Kansas City area. He served as Minister to Youth and did an excellent job. He later went on to get a PhD and he became a Clinical Psychologist. He is wise beyond his years and his 'learning'. He is a dedicated man of faith and a wonderful, cherished friend...

In recent years Wes has developed his own blog called Practical Spirituality. When I read this 'edition' (Aug. 2010) I was taken aback by its simplicity and its truth. As usual I was deeply blessed. Even though I have not asked permission I know Wes would not mind my sharing this thoughtful reflection. If you would like to contact Wes about his blog you may reach him at

What if Grace Wasn't Amazing?

What if Grace was just run-of-mill common?

What if we just accepted how broken we all are, and stopped being so surprised when others act in broken ways?

What if Grace just naturally got in line ahead of judgment?

What if we didn't need to spend all those years judging others as weak, or immoral, or self-destructive before we discovered we are all weak, and immoral, and self-destructive?

What if we didn't have to suffer horribly on the way to Grace, and yet still didn't take Grace for granted, as though it were 'cheap' or easy?

What if when we couldn't contain our wounds we easily turned to others for help, and realise that is Grace at work?

I wonder if a place full of Run-of-the-Mill Common Grace would look like that mysterious "Kingdom of God" we hear about.

What if Grace wasn't so amazing?

I guess that would mess with some of our hymns.


Sunday, March 13, 2011

Grace all around...

Gratitude Journal 3-13-11
1. Flat lands of South Georgia
2. Instant news - available 24/7
3. Miracles in Japan!
4. 3 Day Retreat with Presbyterians...
5. Home and my own bed

Fred Craddock is reported to have said:
"Some folks begin their theology with Gen. 3 instead of Gen. 1..."

Excellent thought! Met lots of folks that seem to begin their faith 'understandings' there, including myself.

If you have spent much time around faith communities you too have probably met folks who have some laundry list of things they believe - in all seriousness - that they/we must do to be loved by God. We 'earn' God's love by not doing certain things or by doing certain things.

The reason this is so very interesting to me is that I know myself to have fallen into that camp too often! My list may not be like another but it is still a list.

I can hear my internal 'messages'. 'Stop swearing' 'Give to the poor' 'Pray more often' 'You haven't read your Bible this week' 'Don't make jokes about people who are different' and the list goes on and on...

ALL these items are good. But they won't get me anywhere special. They just make me a 'good person'. Grace is totally different! Grace is totally free. I don't earn it. Nothing I can do on my own gets me anything more than anybody else. Grace is a totally free gift. God why don't I begin hearing Your message that I (and all mankind) are good? You created us in Your image. We don't have to do anything but accept the love and grace you offer.

To push the ball up the hill and try to have 'perfected' behavior is creating an idol. We can't do it. We can be good (and we should to the best of our ability) but we cannot be perfect. We can love our neighbor as our self - as best we can - and it still won't be perfect. It will only make us feel good. And it may be hard - but it doesn't 'earn' us anything more than any body else.

Father - this day - may I bear GRACE all around and receive Your Grace once more!
Through Jesus Christ I pray -


Sunday, March 6, 2011

What God hath joined together...

Gratitude Journal 3-6-11
1. Weddings!
2. Beautiful Bride (Noelle) and Handsome Groom (Barrett)
3. Immediate and extended families at times of celebration
4. Seminarians dancing...
5. Thoughtful worship at weddings! (THANKS LOYD...)

"What God hath joined together..."

A little over three years ago I met J. Barrett Owen. A young student minister at McAfee School of Theology he soon joined me as Co-Pastor of Union Baptist Church in West Point. We spent lots of time together planning, praying, leading worship and working on bringing together of mission and ministry to this wonderful congregation of thoughtful lay-persons.

Although there are many years between us we became fast friends. I was blessed and challenged by Barrett's eagerness to try new approaches and different ideas. He grew through learning patience and toleration of this 'elder'.

During many hours of sharing it was obvious that Barrett longed for a true 'soul-mate' to join him on the journey of life. On March 5th Barrett married Noelle Spears. We rejoiced with them and their families. They invited us to be a part of this wonderful worship experience and time of great transition in their lives!

For both Barrett and Noelle their beauty is more than surface - they are two folks with deep dedication and commitment to God and now to one another. They come from good stock. We wish them every good wish for a long and joy-filled life together! We are sure God will bless many through the ministries of these two great individuals as they now link their lives together.

Dr. Loyd Allen, professor at McAfee, conducted the worship service. The theme was 'Time with little memory and memory will little time.' If you sit with this thought and apply it to marriage you can easily understand the depth of these truths.

Beth and I give thanks that we have been able to share with this young couple over these past years. They are part of our own story now and we count it a blessing to have been incorporated into their story and families! May God bless their journey...


Sunday, February 27, 2011

What's Good For Others is Good For...

Gratitude Journal 2-27-11
1. Early leaf bubs on trees
2. HGTV (going to win that house!)
3. Early promise of good year for BRAVES
4. Young Minister Support Group
5. Sunday naps

Heard a radio minister re-telling the Bible story of Jesus feeding the 5,000.
He talked of the lack of faith of the disciples in feeding such a large group. The search for food and the young man (boy) with five loaves and two fish... He shared how the group was instructed to sit down in 'sections' to make distribution easier.

Then the radio minister chided all those folks who thought that the Bible story was no literally true. He talked of how some preachers and teachers today explain miracles away. Some (he said) interpreted that the cast of thousands in this story had brought sufficient food and 'when they saw the young man share his meager meal, they too took their lunches out and everyone had plenty to eat.'

This is where our friendly radio minister should have stopped.

However, after several more minutes of chiding others for their bad habits of adding things to scripture he began to get taken away liberties himself. He said... "you know, I just don't believe Jesus would give those folks cold fish. I bet it was nice and warm and tasty when they received it!"

Lord, isn't that just like me? Don't I too apply rules to others, yet when I get 'full of myself' I take liberties? Don't I point out the beam in my neighbor's eye without noticing the log in my own?

Lord forgive and remind me often.


Saturday, February 19, 2011

I know it when I see it...

Gratitude Journal 2-19-11
1. Valentine's Day with my special lady!
2. Doctors who know what they are talking about...
3. Opportunities to meet new folks
4. The return of BASEBALL SEASON - 2011
5. The gift of physical energy


Wouldn't it be great if one could look on any decision and see all the variety of thoughts that went into the 'solution' decided upon... whether it was my decision or yours? I believe most folks want to do their best. We are all just filled with details, life experiences, and influences beyond our own consciousness!

My experience as a Southern white male seems to indicate those of us in RED states are a bit quicker to pass judgement on our fellow citizens - both as Americans or as one who professes to be part of God's kingdom (and for me the two are not synonymous). It seems easy for me to look on my neighbor and see him or her as elitist or ignorant, brilliant or just plain stupid. He or she rarely acts with the same purity of heart or struggling with the personal flaws I find in myself. They either represent one extreme side or the other.

When I see grace and mercy my heart rejoices.
However, when I see folks questioning the motives of others I get queasy...

When I hear folks making decisions about what is in my best interest - particularly without asking me directly - I squirm.
Yet I rarely have difficulty expressing a quick opinion about 'what needs to be done'...

When I listen to preachers and pundits telling me what I 'should' think or what I 'should' believe... I rise up in defensiveness.
However, there are definitely times when I would love to tell others when I believe they are 'wrong'...

Wonder what might happen if I see these times as opportunities to address my own dark side?
Wonder what it might be like to see myself as a combination of both brilliance and a certain degree of flawedness too?

If I am honest both extremes are within me. I just need to grow more peaceful within my own skin. I KNOW IT WHEN I SEE IT. I know it when I can allow myself to be o.k. and when I allow others to be o.k. as they are.

I know about 'questioning the motives of others' because I do it myself. When a minister or legislator stands and proclaims what God intends and I know their understandings don't speak for me... instead of getting defensive maybe I would grow closer to God's kingdom if I found ways to address the same issue from another perspective and be open to honest dialogue?

Holy Scripture says, "Seek the truth and it will set you free." It doesn't say it will set others free when I HAVE THE TRUTH!

God help me to know it when I see it...

Sunday, February 13, 2011

What say ye? Glass half empty.. OR Glass half full?

Gratitude Journal
1. Return of bright sunny days!
2. Valentines Day - and all the fantasy involved...
3. Productive, restful days
4. HOPE from unexpected places!
5. Good medical reports for family and friends.

It is possible to become depressed and grumpy the older we get! For an introvert often longs periods of time alone can lead to too much reflection. Life may loose all joy and anticipation for something better may be lost.

Where are you today? I am definitely getting older! However, I have generally been pretty optimistic throughout my life journey. Some have actually accused me of being almost 'Pollyanna' about the realities of life. "John, go away if you are not willing to face the cold hard facts."

Well, I am facing cold, often hard facts and yet I plan on being committed to the view of the 'glass have full'. I believe we need to be transformed daily toward the positive. God knows that life can beat us down! And we can face hardships and disappointment at every corner.

BUT, Thank God - the battle has already been won. The victory is secure.

Let me hasten to add - I am not calling for everyone to 'put on a HAPPY FACE' or resort to wearing a WWJD bracelet. I am inviting an embrace of life as invitation and joy... not as the world defines 'happiness'... but joy in our hearts for the abundance and gifts we have received.

Take heart - God is our source and strength.