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Tent Pegs



We are on a journey from here to heaven. From time to time we need to remember that this is not home. We were created to move, to grow, and to draw closer to God. Pull up the tent pegs and move toward the Holy.



Updated: 2017-03-31T10:16:47.594-05:00

 



Moving Day

2006-12-29T20:15:25.005-05:00

Tentpegs is now found at www.patrickmead.net/tentpegs. Please re-set your bookmarks. See you there!



Post Christmas Blues?

2006-12-26T11:36:25.501-05:00

[Note: sometime in the next week or two, this blog and patrickmead.blogspot.com will be moving to patrickmead.net, a new site run by theobloggers]

So, the papers are in the trash, half the gifts are broken or being returned, and the leftovers are piling up in the fridge. Welcome to "Christmas: the day after." In the UK (that's 'United Kingdom, not 'University of Kentucky'), this is Boxing Day. It gets that name because.... well, I'm not sure, but it's still a holiday and that counts, bucko.

A lot of people feel letdown about now. The perfect holiday they wanted didn't come to pass, or they had a good day but now the real world is pressing in on them, demanding their presence at the office, reminding them that the tree and lights will need to come down soon, and that summer is a long, long time away.

When I was a boy my father felt that Christmas was an evil pagan, Catholic plot. Even to this day he preaches against it. I tried to talk to him a few times about it, but that didn't go well. If people sent us Christmas cards, they were thrown in the trash or returned to sender. If someone from the church or my school gave me a present, it had to be given back with a sermonette on why Christmas was evil. I adored the lights, trees, tinsel, and songs but felt like I was making God sad by doing so. I can remember sneaking a few minutes of TV, watching "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer" or bits of the Andy Williams family Christmas special. I wanted to live in those stories. I wanted to be adopted by the Williams.

For those of you who spent Christmas alone, for those who are sad and depressed today, and for those who mourn how poorly your family gets along with each other, let me say "let not your heart be troubled." Take some steps to get out of the funk you find yourself in. Turn the lights on -- Christmas lights, sure, but especially the house lights (remember the posts on Seasonal Affective Disorder of a couple of months ago?). Eat well, take a multi-vitamin, and find time for a few minutes of walking and a few minutes of fun every day -- even, especially, silly fun. Moderate your intake of junk food and junk media. Go ahead and enjoy silly TV and songs, but lay off the dark, downer stuff. And remember -- media isn't real.

Not even Andy Williams' Family Special. When I was between six to ten I had a terrible crush on Andy's wife Claudine Longet. She was a French beauty and, to my preadolescent eyes, what a woman should be. But she was unhappy. How could she be unhappy??? She had Christmas and she got to cavort around a series of fun sets with fake snow, Christmas songs, and smiling kids! Her acting career was doing okay ("Hogan's Heroes", "Twelve O'Clock High") and her LPs were selling, if slowly, but it seemed that she just didn't like the Williams family as much as I did. She left. The next thing the world heard from her was when she accidentally shot and killed her lover. This was quite a shock -- how could this perfect family have problems?

Enter the Book of Ecclesiastes. All things are universal -- including joy, despair, loneliness and laughter. When we experience these things we must not assume that we are alone, that we are singled out by God for punishment, or that God has chosen to ignore us.

No, we are merely on another part of our long journey. Allow the tentpegs to pop up and move along, move to the next season, the next holiday, the next project. Know that the good and bad we go through is common to everyone, even the highly coiffed and made up celebrities we secretly wish we were. Sometimes I smile when I hear someone breathlessly going on about the latest celebrity marriage, divorce, or outburst. I don't think any Hollywood star would like my life, but when I compare it to theirs... no trade. I'm keeping this one.

Remembering that helps get you through these post-Christmas days. Maybe, just maybe, your life isn't that hard after all.



Lessons Learned from Travel

2006-12-18T10:57:59.905-05:00

I get to stay home for the next two weeks -- all the way through Christmas and New Years. I couldn't be happier. Travel kicks in January 2nd when I leave for Colorado Springs and the National Youth Minister Conference (or whatever it's called). I'll speak for one day and then fly back the next. Looking at my schedule for 2007 reminds me of lessons learned in travel.

A Dave Barry quote: "I would say that the single most important conclusion I reached, after traveling through Japan, as well as countless hours reading, studying and analyzing this fascinating culture, is that you should always tighten the cap on the shampoo bottle before you put it in your suitcase."

I'll share some of my lessons from the road and then wait for yours. I just returned from Indianapolis. It's the only sane thing to do if you find yourself there.

I think it was Mark Twain who first stated "A small town is usually divided by a railroad, a main street, two churches and a lot of opinions."

I thought about living in Florida. The problem is that the average age is, well, dead. I was in my hotel listening to the sound of the waves hissing on and off the beach... until I realized that was just the sound of the Depends rustling under the Sans-A-Belts of passing walkers. Besides, in Miami, drivers will actually try to pass you on the inside of a carwash. But they're seniors so they have their self-entitlement meters pegged on "Self referential" so there's no talking to them. Besides, are they beaches or are they ashtrays in their wild state? I've thought about going down to the beach and burying metal objects that have "get a life" printed on them. Just another service I provide...

I like cruises. Yes, you have to be careful about the boat. They have the Fantasy and the Ecstasy. Those are good. I'd avoid the Hysterectomy.

There's a lot of nice things about Oklahoma City. I just don't, for the life of me, know what they are.

Why do people in Seattle insist they really don't get that much rain? The rest of the nation knows it as "America's Bladder."

There's a small town in Alabama that has a fashion show. Well, really, they just open up the Penney's catalog and point. Sometimes the road less traveled got that way for a reason.

When the guy at the custom's shack ask you if you have any weapons, the WRONG answer is "Whaddya need?" I assure you -- and I don't want to discuss this in detail -- that, after the third or fourth time, body cavity searches lose their charm. We still write, though, so that's something positive.

Can you believe it? The Vatican doesn't have a Hard Rock Cafe. Talk about missing a great chance to enhance the revenue stream...

There's nothing wrong with Southern California that a rise in ocean level wouldn't cure.

Don't want to get searched at the airport? Dress like an iman and mutter under your breath, casting angry looks at people. In our PC world you'll get waved right through. (and a shout out here to United, the one airline that actually -- are you sitting down? -- cared about passenger safety over political correctness. You guys rock)

And France? Don't get me started. Charles de Gaulle once said "How can you be expected to govern a country that has 246 kinds of cheese?" thereby showing the determination, sense of purpose, and backbone that has forever been the hallmark of the French.

Chicago? Richard Jeni says "Chicago was started by a bunch of New Yorkers who said, "Gee, I'm enjoying the crime and the poverty, but it just isn't cold enough."

The only pleasure trip I took last year was when I took my mother in law to the airport.

So... what have you learned by traveling?



Black Balloons

2006-12-14T12:27:21.424-05:00

There is a black balloon in my office. It says "Oh No, the Big 5-0." I walked into my staff meeting yesterday only to find black balloons, the afore mentioned one with "50" on it, and a cake with a tombstone that played "Happy Birthday" in a dirge like tone.Whoopee.Some of the staff took me out to a pub for lunch (yes, church people do that). I had the traditional Irish lunch drink, Diet Coke, along with potato and leek soup and chips (that's "fries" to you Colonials). They were interested to know how I feel about turning 50... even though that's not until the 16th.Well, let's see. Fifty is when you know that you are no longer considered a sexual being or a sexual threat. You are a safe person to be around. When a pretty girl smiles at you, you assume that something is unzipped or that you remind her of a kindly uncle who is now in a nursing home in a distant land. I'm really not that old. I was just born before a lot of people. In the race to get to the planet, I beat out most of them.Yes, I've seen changes. When I was a kid the wonder drug was alcohol. (in that neighborhood, it still is) My Social Security number only has six digits. And it's in Roman numerals. I can remember, when I was young, wanting to change the world. Now I only want to change the young. I find myself using words like "spacious, roomy, and comfortable" when buying underwear. I can remember when the Dead Sea was only sick.Besides, it's all relative. If every year had twenty months instead of 12, I'd only be 30 this weekend. I wish they hadn't discontinued my blood type, but what are you going to do? For a while I learned something new every day. Now I unlearn something every day. I call that "a balanced life."And who wants to live to be a hundred anyway? The only way to get there is to give up everything that made you want to live that long in the first place! And while it's true that the hands on my biological clock are giving me the finger, I'm okay with that. I'm not bitter. I figure it's not what happens to you that counts, it's how you choose to deal with it. I find Prozac, Vicodin, or a killing spree works best.There are advantages. I'm old enough now to personally identify every object in an antique store. Sure, there are disadvantages. I pulled my left shoulder out putting peanut butter on a bagel (hey, it was chunky!). I pulled out my right shoulder putting Ben-Gay on my left shoulder. At least I'm not as old as the teller at my bank. She's 812 years old. If I counted the rings right.I'll be here without my wife on my birthday. She flew to Texas for a cousin's wedding. Don't feel bad -- birthdays don't mean that much.. and it could be worse. I remember when my parents surprised me with a car on my sixteenth birthday. They missed me, but it was still quite a surprise. Besides, some of my surprise parties have really been interventions, so...Fact is, birthdays used to be a big deal. That was when you would get a present -- something you wanted but could never, ever get the money or time or chance to get on your own. Now I can buy what I want (as long as I don't want much). Birthdays were also mile markers; each one opening up a door to another possibility, another step up the ol' maturity ladder. Now, birthdays mark the end of things and warn of coming slow downs and closed doors. I have four months left with my son before he ships out. My daughter is married to a good man. Christmas changes, then. So do birthdays. Sometimes the family will be together but...Sad? Nope. Melancholy? Nope. I'm ready for this. I've been a traveling man all my life. Raised by missionaries, moving from one new frontier to another, and finally having to leave Scotland behind as I returned with my wife to America. I know I can't live in Scotland again (there isn't a good reason to, plus it is very expensive, far from any grandchildren that might be born, and the politics annoy me) but I miss it terribly. I know every day that I am on a road from this place to another place. This mile[...]



God of the Details

2006-12-08T11:41:17.392-05:00

Jesus told us that God loves us more than sparrows; that He knows even the number of hairs on our head. That is amazing... and a little unbelievable if you don't know science. Here's a "for instance."

If mites infect the next of a house finch the hen protects her sons by laying eggs containing males later than those containing females. When there are no mites the eggs are laid in a more random fashion with equal chances of male or female eggs being laid first. Why do things change when mites show up?

Males are more sensitive to the mites than females. Mothers minimize their son's exposure to mites by laying male eggs later than female eggs. As a result, the males are in the nest fewer days. How does she know to do this? She doesn't. She didn't decide to do it that way, nor could she have evolved this in a step by step basis over thousands of years. For one -- we would not have finches since the mites would have killed off the males within a handful of generations. Second, the process that changes the order of eggs laid is a very complex one.

Exposure to mites (any bite or irritation) causes a hormonal change in a breeding finch's body. The change is multi-stage and very, very complex. It accomplishes several things. One -- it effects the egg laying order. Two -- and this is very cool -- it accelerates the in-egg development of the males so that they are much farther along by the time they hatch and, therefore, ready to leave the next much sooner.

This is the first documentation of "maternal ovulation of both ovulation and growth" in the animal kingdom but scientists are certain they will begin finding more now that they know what to look for. They are already spotting changes in finches reacting to local conditions, seasonal changes, predator risk, food abundance and, yes, parasitism.

[details are available at the online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, September 18, 2006 edition. The study was done by the University of Arizona and a good, short article on this is available in the popular magazine "Bird Talk" which you can get in most bookstores, January 2007 issue]

A God who thinks of the safety and comfort of finches and who, according to Jesus, will not even allow a bird to die alone, will certainly be with you today. He will care about you. He knows you and loves you anyway! You can take ANYTHING to this God in prayer -- even the little things, for He has proven that He is all about those little things, too. A young lady told me last week that she "sucks at prayer." I wondered who (physical or spiritual) told her that. All you have to do is show up. Talking is good but, as we saw with Job's friends, it certainly isn't everything. Just come into His presence... for He has already come into yours. He cares, even about the small stuff.



Professor Jack

2006-12-06T21:24:55.303-05:00

JoAn Dillinger is doing well. After an eleven hour + surgery yesterday she was sitting up and talking today. Talking about what? Talking to her surgeons about their need for Jesus and the power of prayer! Amazing.

I spent part of today on the phone with a dear man whose young daughter is dying of lung cancer. They think radon caused it for she has never smoked... but no one knows for sure. The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the Name of the Lord.

Professor Jack was one of the most fascinating and wonderful men I have ever known. He touched us and loved us and we learned from him. And then his addictions took him away -- forever away from us. Please read stephcorp.blogspot.com and karagraves.blogspot.com to hear more of the story of this remarkable man. We want to go down to Cass Park and pass out thousands of cookies in his name. Read their posts and you'll know why. Keep Kara and Stephanie and Josh in prayer. This has hit our giving, serving community hard.

On a happier note, I am on the way home Thursday. They are predicting snow showers the whole way -- 330 miles. I plan to stop on the way at a large guitar shop. Unfortunately, that means I will lust, covet and envy and, therefore, have to repent on Sunday. Good thing I'm already standing up front, huh?

Keeping death in the back of my mind makes me hug my wife and kids a little tighter, have more patience with Scooby the wonder parrot, and not fret so much about lost guitars and broken appointments. God gave us lots of gravel but we don't value it. He gave us few diamonds and little gold so we treasure it. We only treasure that which is limited. Life is limited. Treasure it. Every moment.

I'll hit the road. God bless and cheerio.



Death in the Back of Your Mind

2006-12-06T18:56:14.066-05:00

I've been blogging about JoAn Dillinger at patrickmead.blogspot.com but wanted to move the discussion over here since this is a family and mental health blog. JoAn's surgery began with anesthesia around 5:30AM and ended with suturing at 7:15PM. At 2PM the doctors came out and told the family that there was more cancer in JoAn than they had thought. It looked bad. They admitted that they would normally just sew a person up in her condition but they were taking into account her relatively young age, good health, and the fact that so many were praying for her... and decided to continue the surgery. After the surgery, the doctors told the family that they were amazed that they were able to get all the cancer. Aggressive chemo will need to be done and they warn that JoAn will probably only have two or three years with us... but they aren't certain on that last point. As one of the doctors said (and I heard this third hand so this isn't a quote) "I'm not sure I believed in prayer until today. Now, I think I do."

Before her surgery JoAn wrote the doctor a letter informing him that hundreds of people were praying for him and for her. She then made a point of telling him that personally. It seemed to have made a real impression on him.

I wrote recently about Tim and Nancy Milligan; especially concerning Tim's faithfulness and love for Nancy. She was taken to hospital on Sunday and told she has a new brain tumor and the family is having a hard time with that news, but they remain optimistic that God will intervene once again and give her more time with her family.

As I approach my 50th birthday this month I wrote a new will, made a new Living Will, and Power of Attorney. Morbid? I don't think so. I believe those things need to be done a long time before you think you might need them. You never know. I believe that it is good to keep death in the back of your mind. It makes the days we have that much more special. We understand that holding hands with your wife is special because there will be a last time. Even traffic jams would take on a new glow if we knew that we would never drive that way again. Every day is a celebration when we keep in mind that life is not forever.

Kami and I have talked about life and death issues since we were married 28 years ago. She knows that if I were to come down with certain cancers or diseases I would refuse treatment. I have seen too many people fight for miserable, pain filled years and then die. There are many cancers that I would fight because the chances of a good life are there, but that isn't always the case when other cancers strike.

So here is the question: knowing that we are headed toward heaven and that all of us must make that journey, how hard should we fight mortal illnesses? That is an intensely private and individual decision, to be sure. It can be affected by the desire to see grandchildren, or to see a child married, or a hundred other things.

But would you fight if the illness had a zero or near zero long-term healing rate? Why or why not? Keep your answers brief and do NOT criticize or critique the answers of others.

As for me: I have been traveling all my life. I am looking forward to being home in heaven. That is a highly attractive thought -- so much so that I have made my pledge that, should certain specific situations arise -- I would not go through miserable treatments for a few more months of life. Yet... if the same disease occured to my children when they were young or to my yet-to-be-born grandchildren I know my mind would change and I would make a different decision.

We all make the journey. How hard would you fight to delay it?



Act or React?

2006-12-04T18:58:17.920-05:00

In every circumstance today you will get a choice: will you act or react? Most people never give it any thought. They go through life as if they were a ball in a pinball machine, reacting to this and that all day, every day, never in control of their path. Others make a decision about who they are, what they will do, what they will not do, and how they will honor their belief system regardless of any "action" in their way. They are faith heroes. And you can be one.

Look at Hebrews chapter 11. It is considered the faith chapter, the honor roll of faith. You might know the chapter very well but I would like for you to check something out: look for the verbs. When you do, you discover that the chapter is a primer on HOW to live by faith. Real faith has a verb attached to it; a purposeful, decisive action.

11:4 -- by faith Abel offered...
11:5 -- by faith Enoch pleased God...
11:7 -- by faith Noah prepared...
11:8 -- by faith Abraham obeyed...
11:9 -- by faith he dwelt...
11:11 - by faith Sara conceived...
11:17 - by faith Abraham offered...
11:20 - by faith Isaac blessed...
11:21 - by faith Jacob blessed...
11:24 - by faith Moses chose to be known as a son of Israel... forsook Egypt... kept Passover...
11:29 - by faith the Israelites passed through the sea...
11:30 - by faith the walls of Jericho fell...
11:31 - by faith Rahab received the spies...
11:33 - subdued kingdoms, worked righteousness, obtained promises, stopped mouths of
lions, quenched violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, went from the
weakness to strength, became valiant in battle, drove away the invaders, the dead
walked again...

These people did not merely believe (as some weak form of intellectual assent), but they matched that faith to a verb and so became great heroes. The scripture tells us that God honored their choice to act by:

1. God Himself witnessing that they were righteous.
2. They became heirs of righteousness.
3. They did not see death.
4. They received the inheritance.

You have a choice today and every day. You can either act or you can waste your life in reacting. Once I was partnered with three non-believers during a golf match. My opponent took every opportunity to curse, make noise while I putted or teed off, and never gave me a putt regardless of how close it was to the hole. In response, I helped him look for his errant tee shots, gave him putts well outside the normal range, and gave him every compliment on his good shots. The other two players in our foursome watched this almost the whole match before finally coming over to me. "Why are you still giving him putts and treating him so nice? He's cheating! He's rude!" and so on. I responded, "I decided before I left my house this morning what kind of person I was going to be. He doesn't get to change that decision."

I learned that from Hebrews 11. Faith means nothing without a verb. Choose your verb. Don't let the world choose it for you.



The Spirit At Work

2006-12-03T00:20:16.676-05:00

Last Sunday I celebrated my fifth anniversary as the preaching minister for the Rochester Church. I am supremely thankful that the Lord allowed me this opportunity. This is a remarkable congregation full of people with a real heart for the Lord. That was evidenced by last weekend's flurry of service and sacrifice.On Saturday, over a hundred volunteers staffed our warehouse of clothes, food, toys, and household items called God's Helping Hands. GHH has garnered national attention with an interview on NPR last year. This year, on this one day, over 330 families were fed, clothed, and supplied with gifts for Christmas. Volunteers were on site before 8AM and didn't leave until the last person was served at 10:45PM.While this was going on, we also had a funeral and a wedding, two social events at Rochester College... and a concert by Bar12 of Soul Space, our ministry to the corners and shadows of our culture. The tattoo shop will open at the end of this month, Lord willing, but a cash infusion was desperately needed so the boys -- Josh Turner and Lance Handyside -- did a concert at the church building. We heard tunes from Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Ben Harper, and Stevie Ray Vaughn all done in Bar 12's unique and powerful style. Our crowd was tiny due to all the other events going on (including the biggest religious event in the area -- the Michigan/Ohio State football game) but so far nearly $4000 has been raised. Praise God!This was our Harvest Sunday. We have been falling behind on our budget and found ourselves in a deep hole. Some of this is because of the economic climate of Michigan (49th in the nation and falling), some because our people are mainly new and not quite into the giving habits of older Christians, and, to be honest, because we lost some good givers when we decided to be more free and aggressive in reaching the lost. The elders asked the people to double their normal giving on this day. That would have given us around $42,000 but they gave just under $55,000! Wow.Plus... we have a Family Fund that helps our members in case of emergency (job loss, burial expenses, etc.) that we like to keep at around $5000. It was completely empty so we placed giving baskets on the stage and in the foyer and asked people to also consider giving to that fund. They gave an additional $16,290 on top of the Harvest giving.These are new Christians, by and large. Many were unchurched before they came to us. A great number are young couples, some with children, who live paycheck to paycheck. The elders and staff were stunned at their faith and committment to Harvest Sunday... but that wasn't the end of it.We asked people to bring non-perishable food items and coats, hats, scarves and gloves in very good condition so that they could be distributed in downtown Detroit that very day. They filled the stage with them! Cars and vans were crammed full of goods and, on a snowy day in Detroit, our people pulled up outside the worst homeless shelter in the area and spent the afternoon feeding and clothing all there. They also listened to them and learned from them. Take time to visit Josh Graves and Kara Graves' blogs (links on this page) as well as Courtney's blog at www.xanga.com/RingoStarr25 to hear some incredible, heart warming and heart breaking stories that took place on last Sunday afternoon.What a wonderful congregation, full of the Spirit, dedicated to Christ and willing to lay everything down for Him. It has been an honor to be with them for five years. When people (who know me and know I hate cold, wet weather) ask me why I moved to Rochester when I could have gone anywhere, I admit that the weather is awful (sometimes) and that there isn't much scenery... but everytime I walk into the doors of this building and see what is going on I remember why I am here and why nowhere else looks nearly as warm and sunny as Roc[...]



Faith Insurance

2006-11-21T22:59:21.893-05:00

I want you to meet Tim and Nancy Milligan. We fell in love with them five years ago when we moved to Rochester. Nancy was a nurse, Tim a real estate agent. They obviously loved each other and their four children. Years of friendship followed. Nancy shared our love for birds and would often birdsit for us when we were out of the country. Their sons are strong, handsome, faithful young men of great character. Their daughters are young, sweet, and kind.

Almost exactly a year ago Nancy was found wandering around the halls of the hospital where she worked. She was confused. Something was wrong. To make a sad story short, tests revealed a brain tumor. The cancer was malignant and very aggressive. The doctors told her that with surgery and chemo she might live a few months. Stunned, thrown into emotional turmoil, fearful of how her family -- especially her little girls -- would survive her loss, Nancy looked about for a way to deal with this monster that had moved into her head.

Surgery was done. The doctors told her to go home and die; it was that bad. The church gathered outside her home in early December and sang hymns in the dark, each of us holding candles, struggling to keep them lit in the harsh winter wind. She came out, held up by her husband, wrapped in blankets, eyes closed, and soaked up the songs and love in her front yard. We sang carols, too, since she'd been told she wouldn't hear them again; wouldn't see Christmas lights again.

Nancy is still with us. She attends most worship services. She has hard days, but has proven her doctors wrong by staying fairly sharp, keeping her personality. Her husband has been a rock by her side. Even as the real estate market tanked in Michigan (we are 49th among 50 states) and their financial situation became desperate, the family stayed together.

I called Tim and Nancy up in front of the congregation on Wednesday as we did one of our "no catch and release prayer nights." [see last post] Tim is a very quiet man, but I convinced him to take the microphone and talk to us. He told us that there were lots of times that their faith broke. They cursed God, were angry with life and religion and everything. They would have fallen, too, had it not been for something Tim called faith insurance.

Faith Insurance was all the time they had put into their walk with God and all the people they knew at Rochester. The people at Rochester never gave up on them. They stayed right there with them, helping them with money, meals, prayers, friendship, and faithfulness. Even on their worst days, Tim and Nancy said they could draw on the Faith Insurance accounts of the members of this congregation.

Wow. Could this be what Jesus meant when he said, "lay not up for yourselves treasures on earth... but place them in heaven"? Could it be that our faithfulness, our active participation in the spiritual life of a community of faith is a way we make deposits into a Faith Insurance account? I know that, personally, the faith of others around me is a HUGE help on my dark days [if you never have dark days, why are you reading this blog??? Go read one about kittens and rainbows or something. You've wandered out of Mr. Roger's Neighborhood].

Tim and Nancy have given me the determination to be a source of Faith Insurance for those around me so that, when it is my turn to need a withdrawl, it is there for me. Tim and Nancy are sources of strength for us even as we serve as a source of strength for them.

Faith Insurance. It's time to make some more deposits. I'd better get busy and do it. See you.



A Psalms Kind of Life

2006-11-15T21:36:14.893-05:00

I turn on TV and there is a gaudily decorated set populated by gaudily decorated people (think -- hair that should never get near an open flame, eyelashes that could grate cheese) backed by a band and choir that looks like Lawrence Welk found a stash of crack and I wonder, is this what following God looks like? I change to another religious program and it tells me that I should be afraid; it is my Christian duty, a sign of my faith, to be afraid. I should be afraid of the moral collapse of the nation, abortion, what they are doing with the Ten Commandments in some school system, the end of the world, being left behind, the Democrats, the Council on Foreign Relations... Is that what following God is supposed to be like? I go to the bookstore and there is a book telling me that there is a verse that, if I pray it, God will have to bless me. It's a rule, a binding contract. Is that what following God is? Years ago when my pain was overwhelming me a man told me that it was because I didn't have enough faith. He told me that if I went to his church they could fix that. Is that what following Jesus is like?When I go to the Psalms, I approach it in a deeply personal way. It isn't a cosmic medicine cabinet to me (Sick? Read this one. Happy? Read this one) but the story of what it is like to follow God. Unlike other books which are delivered from God to man, this book was delivered from man to God. They are our deepest personal journals, our prayers and fears and praise. They are as schizophrenic as we are.I am a man who has had several serious complaints against God. I have complained that He stood too close to me and wouldn't let me move or live freely. He trapped me into this path or into that relationship and wouldn't step back far enough to let me breathe. I have also complained that He was standing too far away. I accused Him of not caring that my life was collapsing around me, that my house wasn't selling, that my personal relationships -- those people I counted on to make my life matter -- had failed.I saw good people being blessed and I complained that it wasn't always that way. I got blessings from His hands and yet I didn't trust Him to keep the taps open. I saw failed missions, failed missionaries, failed marriages and failed churches and asked, "God, how could you?" I saw nation groups that had never heard the gospel and asked "God, where are you? Don't you care?" I sang the old song "Carest thou not that we perish? How canst thou lie asleep?" with gusto!I knew and believed that God was good, yet I was angry because He refused to explain Himself to me, to reveal Himself the way I wanted Him to, and He wouldn't move at the speed I had declared to be right. I knew and believed that God was good, but I wasn't convinced He loved us. Or me. I was pretty sure He liked His other kids best.And then I come to the Psalms. They aren't like TV. They're real. They are full of anger, joy, pain, and praise. They can say "surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life" and "I walk through the valley of the shadow of death" all in the same breath. The Psalms remind me of Isaiah and Jeremiah and their prophecies that the people of Israel would suffer, their land would fall, and horrible things would happen to them, their children, and their grandchildren... but that a Messiah would come after all that and make it better. That was supposed to make the people feel better and the strange thing is... it did. They had a long view of history. The story didn't end with them, and they knew it. The world wasn't about them, and they got that.Jesus dying on the cross should have been a clue, but He supplied us with other clues as well. In Matthew 5:11,12 he told us that when we are mistreated we will receive our reward in heaven. Hebrews 11:13-16 speaks of th[...]



Gone, Baby, Gone

2006-11-02T21:29:57.570-05:00

"But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare. Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be?" (2 Peter 3:10,11)Harsh words -- but profoundly true, nonetheless. Look around you. Everything will burn up one day. True enough, if the world lasts much longer, it will turn to dirt first but eventually the End of Time Barbecue will get it. This shouldn't surprise us... but it always does! A quick glance will show most of us that things change; they get old, worn out, and tossed aside.When I want to buy a new car, I make myself do something else first. I go and spend a week or two walking around used car lots -- not the nice kind with well lit offices and smiling salesmen, but those that are behind high wire with dogs patrolling the area topped by signs saying "We finance everybody!", "Bankruptcy? No problem!", "Trespassers will be shot on sight!"The time spent there reminds me that every one of these cars represented a dream for someone. They thought about that car, wanted it so much that they were distracted at work or home, did the research and picked that car. They thought it would make their life happier... and maybe it did, for awhile, but not anymore. Pick up a Penny Shopper or any other local personal sales paper and see how many people want to get rid of the same stuff they couldn't wait to buy not that long ago. The items went from "this will make me happy" to "what will you take for it?" Somewhere there are still closets full of Beanie Babies, Pogs, and Troll dolls someone thought would make them a fortune or, at least, fund their retirement.There is an echo of this cosmic fact creeping into our culture. When my son takes me into Hollister or Abercrombie and Fitch (this doesn't happen often. The staff usually requests I go elsewhere) I gaze upon the shredded jeans, the shirts with frayed collars and seams, the faded hoodies -- all of which could have been worn by someone run over by a combine harvester -- and it finally dawns on me: this is just Goodwill with better lighting.[helpful hint: Why pay $4 to have a shirt dry cleaned? Donate it to the Salvation Army. They'll clean it and you can buy it back the next day for $1. Also -- why does our local Salvation Army store have a sign up that says "no $100 bills accepted"? How often does that come up? I asked the guy behind the counter when was the last time he had someone try to pay with a hundred dollar bill. He said never... but he was pretty sure that was because they had a sign]Change is everywhere. I asked a classroom full of college students yesterday if they had any CDs in their collection they would be embarrassed to admit to. A lot of hands went up. There are still a lot of Backstreet Boys, Debbie Gibson, and New Kids on the Block CDs out there, hiding. Let's keep them that way, shall we?Tuesday morning I entered my office and realized that something was terribly wrong. The two guitars I keep there were gone. It didn't take long to find out it wasn't someone's idea of a joke and that no one had borrowed them without permission. They were stolen, heisted, gone, baby, gone. I thought "Heck." (for those of you who don't know, "heck" is where people go when they don't believe in "gosh.") My first suspicions were that a music critic had heard me play them and sworn to better the world by removing the WMDs (metaphorically speaking) from my office. This concept was shot down when I saw that the thieves left two ukuleles behind.I sensed: this is a test. Do you really believe in 2 Peter 3:10,11? Can you let them go quietly with the full realization that they were just kindling for the end of the world an[...]



How Powerful is Love?

2006-10-26T07:55:33.310-05:00

Just over a week ago I went out to Indiana and did a men's retreat on spiritual warfare. The men met in a YMCA camp just north of Lafayette. One warning the men gave me ahead of time: "the college kids probably won't be there. They think this is something for us old guys." I could understand that; when I was in college I am not sure I would go sleep in modified chicken coops for two nights and spend my weekend listening to lectures.

But that's not what happened.

Some college kids and teens came -- not many, but some. One of the first through the door was Rob. Rob was one of our Rochester kids. He grew up here in a Christian family. Sadly, in his last few years of high school, his family went through a terrible time. His father, formally a faithful leader, active in the church, went well off the rails. He got involved in gambling and that led to one vice after another. A divorce followed a long period of pain... but it didn't end the pain. Rob's mother stayed faithful to Jesus and continued to be marked by love and strength... but his father told him that the pleasures of the world were there for him. He had only, to coin a phrase, "take it and eat."

When Rob didn't go to one of the Christian colleges many wondered if he could stay faithful. He was an exceptionally bright young man and had a great future ahead of him if he could stay focused on his studies (he is in materials engineering, therefore Purdue is a good place for him), but his financial and professional future weren't our first concern. Would Rob stay faithful? I know the odds... and they aren't good.

But Rob walked through the door, smiling, personable, equipped with his Bible and marked by the love and faithfulness of his mother. He led songs, read Scripture, and was a natural leader among the men -- most of them two or three times his age. He was optimistic and had the heart of a servant (and the brain of an Einstein). On Sunday morning I watched with pride as he and his friends sat right up front. They arrived early, spent time greeting each other and people from other age groups, participated in the worship and were unfailingly polite.

I couldn't wait to get back home to Rochester and tell his mother: "Your love worked. He is marked with faithfulness and love because you never quit, you never gave up." His mother is a hero to me. I still shake my head about this nine days later. Here is a young man who is offered the world, given permission to do any forbidden thing, but who chooses righteousness because that is what he saw modeled by his mother.

It made me take a good look at myself in the mirror. I had to consider my ways and see if they matched Rob's mother's. I determined that I would remember to out-love everyone I met, to be the most loving person in any room I find myself in, and to remember that what I say and do in public and private will have long term effects in the lives of my daughter, son, and wife.

Later this week I will go shooting with some friends. I have several powerful weapons in the gun safe. Yet, even as I settle down behind this or that rifle I will remember -- this is nothing. This is not powerful. Rob's mother's love? THAT is powerful. And the cool thing? It is available to all of us who decide to love -- no matter what.

It matters.



A Pathway to Strength

2006-10-20T22:54:25.486-05:00

This blog deals mainly with matters of mental health, family life, and related matters. Awhile back I wrote about SAD, seasonal affective disorder. On a day like today when the clouds have closed in and rain and wind lash the streets it might be in order to discuss another pathway to strength; one which is ignored by the majority of Christians.Take some deep breaths first and make youself promise to read all of this article, not turning off your brain when you see this word..... fasting.I know the knee jerk responses. I've heard them all. People jump to state that Jesus never commanded us to fast. You're right. He assumed that we would fast ("...and when you fast..."). Others will say that when we fast we aren't supposed to let others know about it. No.... we aren't supposed to trumpet it about and brag about it like the Pharisees. Sometimes fasting is easier when others join you -- a fasting clug for mutual strength and service.What is a fast and why does it help us? Fasting can be going without all food and just drinking water. It can also be going without food and drinking juices (lots of health benefits for that one). Fasting can also be giving up one particular food -- a favorite food -- for a season (many do this during Lent). When we read Isaiah 58 (go ahead. I'll wait. Back already?) we see that fasting can be the laying aside of self-centeredness and selfishness in order to bring grace, justice, and fairness into the world.Fasting helps us in many ways. The first way is that it teaches us how to look at something we may have, that God created for us, and saying "no." The word "no" is such a powerful word. We want to tell others "no" but rarely tell ourselves as often as we should. We can fast from going to the mall, from buying online, from TV and the internet, from cursing, from driving too fast or too much... the list goes on forever. And the fast is a time that we give ourselves over to the Lord, to pray, to serve, and to reach out to others.I fast daily. You see, I was an angry, bitter man who felt that I was called by God to enforce the purity of church doctrine at any cost -- up to an including splitting churches and tossing out the nonconformers. I shudder to think of how morally corrupt I was while at the same time I attacked others for this or that doctrine. When I finally realized what I was doing and how sinful it was (long story), I knew I needed a sign, a daily reminder that I was no longer a predator in God's flock. I stopped eating meat (yes, that includes chicken. I will eat seafood once or twice a month). Understand this: I love meat. I miss it everyday. There are times I go hungry because I'm on the road and there isn't much available that isn't meat-based. But that's good for me. It makes me remember my vow to God. It gives me time to think of those who truly experience hunger -- physical, emotional, or spiritual hunger. It reminds me that this world isn't about me.There are other reasons to fast. Those who saw Morgan Spurlock's "Super Size Me" saw a quick interview with an MD who talked about the addictive ingredients in some fast food. I know it is easy to pooh-pooh that idea, but it is true. In fact, most foods can become addictive if consumed in great enough quantities over a long period of time, but some fats are especially addictive. The doctor uses one example of using a drug usually reserved for treating treat heroin and morphine addicts treat their cravings on people who are craving chocolate or fast food... and seeing their cravings stop. Through the use of PET scans we can see the same centers of the brain lighting up in the addict and the fast foodie! Why feed the addiction?Consider doing something like this: two days a month, go on[...]



Let's Go For A Walk

2006-11-02T17:25:13.003-05:00

When I first met my wife I was so poor that we couldn't go out and eat or see a movie more than once a month. Our dates were me sitting at her dining room table and playing my 12 string guitar as she studied her homework. The greatest thrill, the highest honor, was getting to take a walk with this wonderful woman.

When I read the Bible, I see a theme, a motif, running through it. At the very beginning, in the Garden of Eden, God comes down and walks with Adam and Eve every evening. When the Flood is declared as punishment on the earth God partners with Noah -- one builds the big box and the other brings the animals to it. Shortly afterwards (if not in time, at least in terms of chapters), God comes to Abram and invites him on a walk to a distant land. When the Israelites are enslaved in Egypt, God steps in and attacks each of that land's gods in a series of plagues. When they are all subdued, God invites the people on a walk -- one that would last 40 years instead of one because of their rebellion. When Jesus comes, he does the same thing. He tosses out demons, gets the people's attention by healing and teaching, and then says, "Follow me." In other words, "Let's go for a walk."

Try to find examples where God found people and encouraged them to stay in place. He calls us forward, onward. He tells us that it is time to put on the yoke. While his yoke is easy, it is still a yoke and you NEVER yoke oxen so that they can stay where they are! You yoke them to move, to go to work.

We are made for movement. When we don't physically move, our muscles and joints get stiff and eventually lose their elasticity. Our spirits were made for movment, too. We weren't made to do mindless things in mindless places. Risk, learn, move, grow.... walk.

We are, according to 2 Corinthians 3:17,18, being transformed into ever increasing glory. Those are action words -- movement words -- walking words.

Some young couples in our subdivision take a walk together every evening. Those are the marriages that will last. Some of the young mothers take their kids for walks a few times a day, especially now that the weather will soon turn bad. Those are good mommas. Exercise scientists tell us that walking five miles burns as many calories as running five miles and with less stress on the joints. Sure, it takes longer, but that gives you more time to think and talk.

The whole of Scripture can be read as an invitation by God to walk with Him. In one instance, God tells Abram to "walk before me." That doesn't mean that Abram led and God followed, not at all. It was sweeter and more wonderful than that. It was God saying, "Let me watch you walk. Walk with me and let me rejoice in your walking." You have a Father who wants to watch you walk today. It's okay -- He loves you! And He will walk with you.



The Present is Presence

2006-10-18T12:20:42.056-05:00

Abram was an old, old man. God had promised him a great and wonderful family that would fill the earth. He promised him that he would not only be blessed, he would BE a blessing to everyone (Genesis 12:2,3). Now, as his eyes grew dim and his body grew stiff, he was wondering when or if God would fulfill His promises to him.

In Genesis chapter 15 God says something very profound to Abram. Maybe he caught it, maybe he didn't. "Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward." While I would like to go on and on about God being our shield, I want to call your attention to the second phrase.

God is our reward. Our reward isn't what God can and will do for us. Our reward isn't found in the provision of God, but in His presence. He promises to walk with us, to live with us, and make a way for us to live with Him one day in a place where we can stay forever. Presence is our reward.

When a man and woman marry, they often don't understand this. My wife and I play with this and act like our wedding vows were much more complicated than they really were. I will look at the bowl of cereal in front of me and say something like, "Didn't you promise to love, honor, obey and make biscuits and gravy every morning?" She will assure me that wasn't in the vows. Later she might say to me, "Didn't you promise to love, honor, obey and make sure the grass doesn't get over knee high?"

This is a game for us, because we understand what our vows were.

Many enter marriage thinking of what they can get out of it. They think, "I can have more consistent sexual activity, brownies on the counter, a steady paycheck coming in..." etc. ad nauseum. These people are going to be very disappointed. You see, life happens and it changes things, including your mate.

The vows promise presence. The benefit I received in marrying Kami was: Kami. I get to be with Kami. That's it. And that's wonderful. She is complex, interesting, mysterious, changeable... an enigma in a pretty wrapper. THAT is my present.

I know this will upset the Prayer of Jabez people or the Prosperity Gospel folks, but the presence of God is my present. My only reward is that He will walk with me and not turn away when times get rough (see Psalm 139). When I don't get the job I want, when a monster walks into a school in Colorado or Pennsylvania and kills sweet little girls, when my health shudders and breaks, or when financial disaster closes in on me, I have my reward -- the presence of God. He didn't promise me endless provision. He isn't some cosmic vending machine to dispense treats on a regular basis. He is my reward because He is there with me and that is enough.

How would your life be happier and how much more content would we be if we didn't look for provision as a sign of love or acceptance? What if we just accepted His presence as our reward? Ahhhh. That feels better already!



Are You SAD?

2006-10-24T06:22:17.230-05:00

As cooler weather comes to Michigan and cloudy days with rain are the order of the day my thoughts turn to those friends of mine who suffer as the light leaves the sky. We live close to Ontario where, due to a confluence of factors including water, irregular landmasses, and jet stream the days are even darker than they are in Michigan. Mental health professionals have known for some time that the further north you go the more seasonal depression you will find.

Seasonal Affective Disorder was first described in the 1840's but it wasn't until the 1980's that it was officially recognized as a distinctive form of depression. It is, as its name suggests, a depression that hits during the darker, colder, winter months. The worst months for SAD sufferers are January and February and there is much more of it in Canada and the northern tier States than there is south of Tennessee. The best guess is that it is caused by internal clocks not adjusting to the change of seasons; think "jet lag" with no relief for months.

Treatment starts with light therapy. It is important that anyone with SAD have a lot of light in the rooms where they work or spend most of their days. The light needs to be full spectrum light (lamps and bulbs available online or in most large department stores), NOT standard or flourescent. An hour's walk in bright winter sunlight is as effective as two hours of artificial light. If you cannot control the light in your workplace, make sure you have a good "light bath" for thirty minutes every day as a minimum when you get home. Lights are a cheap and effective way to ameliorate the symptoms of SAD.

Some antidepressants are also effective. It usually only takes a low dose if the individual is also using light therapy. An over the counter remedy is melatonin, especially when combined with B6. Don't go nuts -- standard doses are safe; higher ones can cause headaches the morning after. Ginseng and a multivitamin each day is a good idea, too.

Interesting, isn't it, that Jesus spoke of his work as light in the darkness? The Book of John uses that motif throughout. Zechariah spoke of the joy of God as light that would appear at twilight -- right when you think that darkness is coming, God brings light.

Keep depressing things away from you during this time. This isn't the time for dark books, dark music, or annoying relatives. This is a wonderful time for reading devotional literature, spending time in fellowship with Christians, walking, and serving others.

Suffering from SAD? You are not alone. Find a support group starting with the best support group of all -- the church.



Who Should We Blame?

2006-09-24T13:37:12.906-05:00

Republicans and Democrats are going nuts attacking each other over who is to blame for 9/11. Of course, it should be self-evident that bin Laden and Islamofascists are to blame, but they don't bring that up very often. They wonder who failed to see it coming. When ABC made a movie about it for TV, the sides were quickly formed again with one side wanting the movie to be stronger and the other wanting it canceled completely.

Sigh....

Re: that ABC movie about 9/11, to hear Bill Clinton lecturing a reporter that we need to make sure we are always telling the truth about historical matters... is truly stunning. What does he see when he looks in the mirror?

I believe that understanding your past and your nation's past is a very valuable thing... but blame isn't. Blame allows us to channel our anger -- our energy for change -- into useless cubby-holes. People love to throw blame at parents, life, government, God.... anyone but themselves. That absolves them of the need to change present behavior or attone for past behavior.

There is only a certain amount of energy available to any of us. Why spend any of it blaming? Having a lousy childhood is no excuse for being a lousy adult. We have choices. We can choose something different.

Some churches blame "our fallen world" for the prevalence of sin... but Jesus proved you could live here without sin so where is the point of blaming some pre-existing loaded dice for the play you're making today?

Don't get angry at the traffic if you're driving in it. You're part of it -- so any blame tossed out the window will blow back on you. Don't get angry at sex and cursing on TV if you're watching it. Again -- if you didn't watch, they wouldn't keep putting it on.

Live your life without the need to affix blame for whatever went wrong. Practice saying it after me: it is what it is, but God is still God, and God is still good.

Ahhhh..... that feels better.



Wellsprings of Despair

2006-09-13T16:40:13.256-05:00

Pop Quiz: what command did Jesus give more often than any other? It was this: "Fear not." We are told time and time again that fear is not to be our default response for "perfect love casts out fear."So why are we so afraid? Much of it has to do with television. Don't stop reading, yet! I have TVs, enjoy them, and one is one right now. It is a 20/20 program about the honor killing of a young Sikh girl by her uncle for the crime of not marrying a man 40 years old than her when that man was handpicked by her tribe.Did you know about honor killing? It might be important to gain a basic understanding of what it is and how it has entered our society via Mideastern and Eastern religions. But how much do you really need to know about it?How much did you need to know about the wacky weirdo that claimed he loved, then killed, Jon Benet Ramsey? Regardless of whether or not you were interested in him, Captain Highpants was on every newscast, in every newspaper, and discussed in every radio newsbreak for two weeks.Did you really need to know about Ernesto? It was a rain storm. That's it. Yet, we had weather people standing on beaches decrying the approaching 30mph winds. Well, 15mph but sometimes they gusted up to 30!!!! And rain! It was going to rain, too! Some. I have lived through six hurricanes and I enjoyed them at about a root-canal level, but this was silly.Here's a flashback for you: when I was kid, evening news ran twenty or twenty five minutes with a five to fifteen minute local news segment attached. That was it. No talk radio, no 24/7 news, no more than one or two newsmagazines floating around if you looked for them (but they were mainly photos -- remember "Look" and "Life"?). You were told some of what was going on around the world, but there wasn't time to mine stories for the worst possible spin, for ways to frighten you, or for ways to get you outraged.News is out there, but only the bad stuff is interesting enough to broadcast because happy stuff won't keep us watching. American soldiers have distributed nearly a million dollars of clothes and food -- this year alone -- that was sent to them by their hometowns and families. They clothed Iraqis, gave them school supplies, fixed their homes and plumbing, etc. but that doesn't make the news. What makes the news are things like bombs, fear, pessimism, hurt, anger... that is what we have to see and talk about ad nauseum. That is why Cindy Sheehan is on our TVs but the parents of those Marines who died with him are not. They are at peace with their sons' service and Cindy is not. Anger and unrest leads... especially if it bleeds.When it isn't fear-mongering, TV wants you to be uneasy about your life, your appearance, your weight, health, and financial future. It, along with billboards, Sunday circulars, and radio ads, tell you that people won't like you if your hair isn't right, if your breath isn't great, if your clothes aren't right, and if you don't know what bands are cool and what ones aren't. You are never allowed to rest, never allowed to be at peace. Many ads for pharmaceuticals don't even tell you what the medicine does. They just tell you to "ask your doctor if *** is right for you!" (oh, if only those interminable ads for ED meds were as discreet)Here is something to think about. If fear, unrest, and discontent is a part of your life, monitor what you watch and what you listen to and make adjustments as necessary. Skip reading the ads in the paper. Mute the commercials on TV. Move away from talk radio and substitute music of your choice, online sermons from edifying speakers, or[...]



The Pegs Pop

2006-09-01T15:36:47.273-05:00

Some more tentpegs popped this week. Last week's unity meeting between the black and white churches of Christ in the metro Detroit area were a wonderful first step and there are signs that the churches here meant what they said and will follow up with mutual aid, events, and love.One opportunity to show our love came today. John R. Flowers, a giant of a man in the black fellowship and the father and mentor of many, many preachers and elders, passed away at age 98. Today was his funeral. The event was held at the Elmwood Park Church of Christ all the way down in Detroit about a mile and a half from Ford Stadium. I got up early and put on a suit and tie -- on a Saturday! -- found my way forty miles down I-75, down Gratiot towards the river, and found a place to park in a crowded lot. Inside, the pews were packed.A word needs to be said about the African American brethren in metro Detroit. I haven't been to all of their congregations, but I could not be more impressed with each and every one I've visited. I have wondered how to describe them to people outside this area and four words keep coming back: wisdom, grace, warmth, dignity. A couple of months ago I traded pulpits with Dallas Walker, the esteemed preacher for the Wyoming Avenue Church of Christ. I am hear to openly attest this: there is no more grace-filled welcome anyplace in the world than you will find at Wyoming Avenue. Period. Everyone should travel there and see how you are wrapped in grace and love from the moment you walk in until long after you leave (you see, they will say nice things about you forever once they meet you!).Why "wisdom"? Again, it is a danger to overstate situations or fall into stereotyping, but my experience has been that our black brothers and sisters know their Bibles far, far better than my white brethren (alas, I have had so little contact with Hispanic and Asian congregations I cannot bring them into this comparison). Not only do they have knowledge, they know how to apply it, hence, "wisdom."At the funeral, at least thirty and maybe as many as forty individuals came up to me to thank me for coming or for speaking at last week's unity event. The warmth in their beautiful faces revealed their true hearts. I was, frankly, touched and deeply encouraged.Some might lampoon the dignity and formality of their funeral services and worship services, but I would caution you: when a people has been stripped of dignity, formality, ceremony, and recognition for centuries it is an sweet and beautiful thing to see that these dear children of God know they are made in His image, that they are loved by Him, and that their lives mean something. While many of my white brethren -- including me -- seem to rush away from formality and dress down for Sundays, I think there is something healing in seeing the reverence and esteem for the Holy in black churches.When the minister called to tell me details about the upcoming service he referred to a "Homegoing Ceremony." I apologized to him for my ignorance and told him I didn't know what that was. "Brother Mead," he said, "that is what we call a funeral when the one who passed is a child of God." How wonderful! During the Homegoing Ceremony nine or ten preachers preached and each one who referred to resurrection day called it "Gettin' up morning."I have much to learn from these, my precious brothers and sisters. I hear tentpegs popping. Brother John R. Flowers has pulled his tentpegs up and moved on to glory. Those of us who remain behind are pulling up deeply driven pegs so that we can move our tents[...]



What Is In Your Hand?

2006-08-25T11:36:31.073-05:00

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When Moses was tagged by God for the great mission of freeing the Jewish people from Egyptian slavery he wasn't as keen about it as you might expect a Bible-type hero to be. He would have been primed, locked, loaded, and ready to rock when he was 40. Back then he was strong, active, and driven to help his people. Now, forty years later, he was 80 (note how quickly I did that math) and for the last several decades he was head of Sheep, Sinai Division. That's it. God called him into battle and, after Moses offered one excuse after another, asked him "What do you have in your hand?"

God is never interested in why we can't do this or that. He is very interested in what we have in our hand. What is available to you? What are your talents? Resources? What kind of backup do you have in place financially, socially, personally? What gift or gifts might you have that would help?

When people come to me who are depressed, or who have lost their job, or whose health is broken, or who have just had to take in aged parents while their kids were still not grown... one of the questions I ask them is "what resources do you have?" We work on this, sometimes for weeks for the answers do not always surface quickly. I have found that almost everyone has a lot more resources than they realize. They see the empty places, the lack of talents and support, rather than seeing the good things. This is normal. We all do it.

Want to test it? You have fifteen seconds to think of an embarassing or painful moment in your life. Didn't take that long, did it? You now have fifteen seconds to think of something wonderful, a moment where you shined and the world was a terrific place to be. Hmmmm.... takes longer, doesn't it? That is understandable. When you enter a room and see a snake on the floor you don't immediately counter by thinking, "But look at the huge expanse of snake-free floor!" However, when all we see are the snakes, we sometimes forget we have a hoe to kill them with!

When I think of the talents I don't have, the people who don't like me, the churches that write me (and Rochester) up, or my not-so-good health I make myself begin a list of the resources I DO have, the things with which God has blessed me. First and foremost, of course, are my darling wife, my dear princess of a daughter, and my towering, strong, and noble son. I'll leave you with their photos as I sit back and think about what God has already given me. "Count your many blessings... and it will surprise you what the Lord has done."



The Secret

2006-08-23T20:54:20.510-05:00

Want to have a happy life? Want to find joy even in the hard times? Here is the secret:

Like what you've got. Want what you have.

That's it. Admittedly, this goes against culture's tidal waves of commercials, enticements, and created needs, but if you can work with this, learn it, and live it, you will find peace and contentment. "Godliness with contentment is great gain," says Paul (1 Tim.6:6). If Paul could find a way to be content when he was pursued by hordes of his own brethren, mocked, beaten regularly, and marked for death... maybe he knew a secret we need to know!

Some will say that they can't be content because, unlike others, they were dealt a terrible hand. Okay -- some people seem to have less stuff, more pain, more disaster, and fewer friends than the bulk of mankind... but what of it? Or, more correctly, what are you going to do about it? You can only play the cards you've been dealt. How can you make the best of it?

Look at your mate -- the one you've complained about (at least silently). Women marry men hoping they'll change, and they don't. Men marry women hoping they won't change, and they do. Yikes. Over time, when passion is allowed to fade and life intrudes, we tend to find fault with our mate... but look at them. Please.

They're beautiful. Maybe not Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue beautiful, but beautiful nonetheless. He's handsome, maybe not Mel Gibson before he went nutso handsome, but handsome nonetheless. There are things to admire in their bodies and personalities. There are gifts there, if you are content to receive what they can give. Make your life together a voyage of discovery, where you are dedicated to helping them develop, grow, enjoy their life, and feel free to give their gifts in return. Learn about them. There are no boring or useless people. Everyone has something special living in their minds and hearts. Search for it and enjoy the search as much as you enjoy the finding.

Experience the joy of giving away, rather than buying. Since you want what you have and like what you've got, you really don't need or seek for anything more. Take one of those things that have blessed your life and give it to someone else so that they, too, can be blessed.

Experience the joy of serving the ones you have -- up to this point -- liked least. Find out what they like, what they need (or think they need), and what interests them and supply that as much as you can. If they fail to react, so what? The joy was in the doing. We aren't looking for a payoff. We do what we do because we are content and at peace with God.

Want what you've got. Like what you have.

Wow.



Decision in Marriage

2006-08-11T20:29:54.360-05:00

You only own one thing: your power to decide. All your possessions can be taken from you by an army, an illness, or an attorney. Your health can disappear overnight. Your reputation can be trashed by your own behavior or by the entirely specious claims of another.

But you can always decide how you will react, what you will do.

On my other blog I mentioned that I wanted my marriage to be passionate, risky, joyful, etc. and one of the comments asked me how did I keep that going when I or my wife are tired?

I decide to.

As a man, I believe it is my job to give first, serve first, and love first. If I have had a bad day (as someone with chronic pain and a few health issues, this happens!) and my wife has had a bad day (this, too, can happen) it is MY job to bring joy back into the day. I find that if I get my butt off the couch, ask her what I can do for her, hug her, smile at her, treat her, that that usually changes the course of the day. Does it wear me out or make me even more tired sometimes? Yes, but no more than the grind of joylessness would have. I can be tired and unhappy or tired and happy. Guess which one I choose? When it is in my power to decide, I will decide in a way that brings joy back into the marriage/day.

Does it cost me something? Sometimes. Okay, usually, but who cares? I have a choice. I can decide. I choose love, joy, and life. Yes, it is against my nature. My personality is more suited for a lighthouse keeper or a lone gunman, but I can decide to rise above my DNA and so can you.

Men -- love your wives even -- especially -- when they are not lovable. Love your children and spend time with them even -- especially -- when you don't feel like it. Serve your God and spend time in prayer even -- especially -- when you feel distant from Him and reluctant to speak to Him.

You can do this. You have the power to decide. You have the power to choose.

And if it costs you so much that you get worn out sooner and so see Jesus sooner... tell me, where is the downside in that? So you don't get to spend some time in the hospital dying of nothing in particular... where is the downside in that?

Stand up. Show up. And make a choice. THAT is something no one and no circumstance can take from you. No matter what happens, you get to decide what you will do in response. Maybe it won't be the response you'd like to make. Maybe it won't be the perfect outcome. But it is the best one you could find and you have made a choice.

And that changes everything.



Goals, Plateaus, and Progress

2006-08-04T22:56:27.656-05:00

The old saw says that "if you aim at nothing, you'll hit it every time." We've heard that a thousand times, but we act as if we haven't. Case in point: what are you aiming for with the children in your family? In your church? Let this serve as a plea to develop congregational targets for each age group, and for each individual within each group.

For example, we could have as a target that every one of our 3rd graders would know the books of the Bible, where to find the parables of Christ, the names of the patriarchs, etc. By the sixth grade, each child should know the major doctrines of the church (I'll let your church decide which ones those are!), the different kinds of Psalms and how they are used, and how to defend their faith.

You can take this and run with it. It will require a great amount of discussion, prayer, and effort to graph out knowledge goals for each level all the way through high school but it is worth it! When a child comes into the church late, there is still time to catch them up with special attention and with materials, perhaps shared with the family. Families would know what is expected of their child -- and this would give them a starting point on family devotionals, moving them along until they become a Deuteronomy 6:4-9 family.

But there's more. Other goals are service goals. By the second grade, the children should be expected to be involved in serving others. That could take many forms and those forms might change as the child gets older, but every child -- and every family -- would be expected to be at work in the kingdom. In our congregation that includes (this is by no means an exhaustive list) sorting clothes and food at God's Helping Hands, sitting with the people who come in for help at that warehouse, mowing lawns and doing errands for people who are sick, in the hospital, or on a mission trip, writing letters to missionaries, raising funds for mission or charitable work... all the way to joining a short term mission work -- at least once -- before graduating from high school. Volunteering at Christian camp or at inner city missions/camps/sports is also part of the list of goals we've set for our teens.

Set goals for your children, for all children of the church, and for the families. Be flexible and realize that not everyone can do everything, but help them do as much as they can and honor them publicly when they achieve their goals. Let part of your gathered worship on Sunday be a time where we celebrate and encourage the kids on their pathway to spiritual maturity.

Because, if you don't, you are aiming at nothing. And we know what that means!



Mixed Signals

2006-08-06T21:22:13.016-05:00

We were standing at the airport awaiting the arrival of our bags when I nearly snapped. Not really -- I'm not sure I'm "snappable", but allow me the hyperbole anyway. For those non-Detroit people who read this, I need to explain Smith Terminal. The main terminal at Detroit is McNamara. It is new, modern, beautiful, very well designed, and about the nicest large airport anywhere (the nicest small one has to be in Fort Smith, Arkansas). The other terminal -- soon to be replaced -- is Smith Terminal. Think "Bosnia-Lite" with "eau de Kosovo" oozing up from the carpet competing with the aura of despair and meaninglessness coming from the baggage claim area and various TSA personnel.A woman was beside me, turning around constantly and yelling at her kids. To be fair -- the kids needed yelling at. They were out of control and causing quite a scene. The woman would yell, threaten, plead and then start again, almost without taking a breath. Knowing that I might offend some, it must be said: this woman was demanding her children be disciplined when everything about her indicated she was not disciplined herself. Her clothes, hygiene, voice, language (and on and on) were all indicative of a person who had never made a hard choice, chosen a discipline and stuck to it, or lived a life of self control. The pile of duty free liquor boxes at her feet were just a plus, a metaphysical underlining of my initial take on the situation.So... why didn't her kids listen? Because the signal was mixed. The kids were seeing one signal lived out in front of them and hearing another signal. That second signal had no chance of success for the kids had never seen an example of it lived out in front of them.On the cruise ship some very young girls wore super tight T-shirts advertising their sexual availability with slogans or by their snugness. Others wore far too little cloth covering only the legal necessities as their "swim suit." We're talking 9-14 year olds, here. Moms and dads had to buy that clothing, had to pack it, and had to allow them to wear them in public. These would be the same moms and dads that sat in the restaurant and complained about how unruly and disrepectful their kids were. Hmmmmmm.....Other parents embarassed themselves and their children by the heaping plates of food they hauled back to their table at every opportunity. When the chocolate buffet came out on Thursday it went from farce to tragedy. By that I mean that I used to think the most dangerous place on the planet was between a TV camera and Jesse Jackon or Harry Reid. Nope. The most dangerous place was between some of the parents and that chocolate. Walking through a little later you saw heaps of food left on plates, wasted, good only to be thrown away by the third world workers whose hearts had to ache with memories of poverty back home. Where were the parents? They were out by the pool yelling at their kids to behave. Their efforts failed. Wonder why?Children have to SEE disciplined lives lived out in front of them. My kids helped us write the checks when we paid our bills. They saw how much we gave the church. I arranged my study time to take place while the kids were up so that they could see that daddy really did read and pray every day. I took them with me when we did good works, made visits, mowed the lawn of a neighbor who was in the hospital, etc. I need to stress this: this was not natural for me. It was hard to remem[...]