Sunday, June 22, 2008

Just A Thought

It's late Sunday evening and I'm eating apple pie with ice cream before going to bed. We are leaving early in the morning for our vacation and will be away from home, church, and blogville for about eight days. I may try to do a blog from our cruise ship if I can remember my blog password, but don't hold your breath waiting for it. I'm kind of hoping I wont even think about blogs for a few days. I will, however, be doing a lot of thinking, studying, and writing in my journal, so I should have a few things to share when we get back.
I just want to share a thought that I jotted down in my journal yesterday. It's something I thought about while mowing the yard yesterday. Hope it gives you something to chew on for eight days. I feel certain it will show up in a sermon some time soon.
Thought: How ironic is that we begin to understand what life's priorities need to be about the time we are old enough to start having to pay for all the misplaced priorities of our past?

Saturday, June 21, 2008

With a Cherry on top?


Just another critter in our back yard. We are covered up with birds who are all waiting for the cherries on our cherry tree to ripen. When they do - they will be eaten up in one or two days.
It's hard to tell from this picture, but the limbs are actually bending over from the weight of the cherries. We have picked some in the past, but because we haven't sprayed them for bugs and worms a lot of them have "indwelling spirits" - if you know what I mean.

Unfortunately, they will turn ripe while we are out of town and unable to pick any even if we wanted to. This morning, after I mowed the yard, I was just amazed at how beautiful the whole tree was with the cherries sparking in the morning sunshine.

Within the next few days, they will turn more purple in color and the birds will descend like a scene from a Hitchcock movie. I love it when the neighborhood kids climb our tree and steal some cherries. They usually pick and eat immediately - kind of hiding the evidence. If they only knew what creatures lurked inside those untreated cherries. (Can I get a spooky laugh from someone?)

Thursday, June 19, 2008

To Be or Not To Be...

I could probably count on one hand the number of times my one hand touched a basketball before I went off to Georgia Christian School and started the seventh grade. Basketball was not only the number one sport in south Georgia, but at GCS, it was the number one activity - period! And I so wanted to be a player. That first year of playing JH basketball was truly a learning experience. In reality, I felt out of place and inadequate the whole year. I understood some basics, but I just didn't get it. The next year, we had a volunteer coach who really hammered us with the basics, especially on how to play defense. He was tough and really drove us, but he instilled in us a desire to play and play right. I still remember when it all started coming together and the principles of how to play hard-nosed basketball truly made sense. That's when I really began loving basketball and it was a passion of mine for a lot of years. I miss it, but I like having my own bones in my knees instead of metal replacements.
I've spent the last year seriously praying and studying about Being Real in my spiritual journey. I've tried to verbalize it in 21 sermons, 13 adult class outlines, and numerous articles and blogs. I don't know if I've helped anyone else "get it" but I truly feel that after 43 years of being a Christian - I get it. In fact, I have to change that last sentence, because it hasn't been 43 years of "being" a Christian as much as it's been 43 years of "doing" Christianity. "Being" was there sometimes, but the "doing" was certainly more important, more visible, more affirmable, and more self-serving. I'm not trying to be hyper-critical of myself as much as I'm realizing how essential to our spiritual journey our desire to truly "BE" like Jesus really is. We've got the "doing" part down. We know what we're supposed to "do" and how the "doing" declares us faithful to others. And we judge our church families by what they are "doing" and how we can get them to "do" more, and then we feel like failures because we have to keep "doing" more to get everyone else to "do" more. And we have to repeat it year after year!
Maybe it's time to start "Being". What would happen if every member would commit to honestly "being" like Jesus? Would the "doing" stop or would it increase, and maybe have more passion? Would that force us to redefine what constitutes a "successful church"? After all, what is a successful church to God? Does He even care about the "doing" if there is no "being"? At some point we are going to have to own up to our failures and the biggest failure is our insistence on "doing" without caring whether our church family is "being" like Jesus.
Like learning the principles of playing basketball, what good is practice if it doesn't help us "get it"?

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Chaplain 8

Isn't it amazing how much emailing has become a part of everyday life? One of the wonderful blessings of email is hearing from people you might never hear from if it weren't for the ease of online communication. Every now and then I get an email from out of the blue, from someone I hadn't thought about in years, and it opens a floodgate of memories that take me back to a time I haven't reflected on in ages.
The other day I received an email from one of the first policemen I met the very first day that I began as a Police Chaplain for the Fairfax County Police Department. Sergeant Jay was probably the most excited cop at the station to find out they had a Chaplain. They weren't all that excited to have a chaplain at first. I still remember walking down the stairs with the Captain of the station as he took me to meet the guys at my first roll call meeting. Coming down the stairs I remember hearing one of them say, "Who the ________ needs a chaplain?" Jay was (and is) a devout Christian, and he was thrilled to get any spiritual emphasis at the Chantilly station that he could. I remember riding with him on many occasions and being impressed with how much he cared about God and the men in his squad. He was a good man and a source of a lot of good memories.
The job of being a Police Chaplain was a volunteer position and totally up to me to make it what I wanted it to be. The officers had no obligation to call on me or use me to help with anything. They didn't even have to let me ride with them. So the first order of the day was to prove myself and make myself valuable to them. I rode with everyone I could and made a lot of friends quickly, but it took my first "Chaplain" call over the radio to give me a chance to prove myself. AND, it was Sergeant Jay who called for me. I was riding with Pete, a young go-get-em officer who actually was raised in the church of Christ. We heard the call of a traffic accident w/ possible fatalities. It clearly turned into a madhouse as it was discovered that a sixteen year old boy riding a bike on the side of the highway was struck and killed by a guy who was drag racing his car, left the road, hit the boy, and flew his car off into the trees way off the road. The boy's parents and friends showed up quickly, and the scene was getting very tense as they demanded to see if it was their son who was killed. And then the call came over the police radio, "See if Chaplain 8 can respond to this location." I was scared to death. It's a long story, but the end result was that I truly helped the police and the family and greatly increased the officers' appreciation for Chaplains. I'll always remember one of the gruff old veterans saying, "Well Chaplain, you were worth you're weight in gold tonight."
That was 1980 and I served as a Police Chaplain until the middle of 1988. By then I simply had no time to ride or even be called to help. The church had been growing, we had three services on Sunday morning, our children where getting bigger and I needed all my extra time to be with family. It was a wild ride. Especially those first two years when I did so many death notifications and got to help so many people. The Detective department chaplain, when they finally got one, as well as the homicide detectives themselves, took over almost all the notifications during my second year especially since all traffic fatalities started being under their department too. My first book, Rev, was based on those first two years of being a Chaplain.
I am thankful for the experiences, though sometimes memories pop into my head that I'd like to forget - especially ones involving children. God was preparing me to be a better servant. I learned crisis intervention and I learned how to deal with tragedy. Mostly, I learned that I never want to deal with this life without having a loving heavenly Father to see me through it. And I'm thankful for memories of good people - like Sergeant Jay. He really did see his job as protecting and serving, but his serving also included serving God.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

The Mind Is the First...

I've heard for years that when it comes to getting older, the mind is the first thing to go. I never believed that for a minute. I would say the knees, or maybe the hair, or even the eyes before I'd say the brain. That is, until last week. I got my first traffic ticket in thirty years last week. When the officer pulled me over, I literally had no idea why. He said I ran a stop sign. Frankly, I can't image that I did. It was an intersection that I regularly travel through and I am very - did I say very loud enough? - scrupulous about obeying traffic laws. Yes, I accept a little grace by going a couple miles over the speed limit sometimes, but I'm fanatic about turn signals, stop signs, and any other legal requirement. However, I truly had no recollection of whether I had stopped or was guilty. I resisted the urge to argue - knowing that never works anyway, but it was very disturbing to me to think I might have done it or even worse, that I was falsely accused. Oh well, I'm sure I deserve it for something sometime that I got away with.

And then there was the two times last week that I saw someone in the foyer of the church building, after the performance, and couldn't for the life of me remember who they were. I knew their face and I knew I knew them, but I couldn't remember where I knew them from. It was one of those "out of place" sightings where you know someone but you're seeing them at a different place. Wow! Does that ever make you feel dumb. Sorry folks. I don't know if the memory is going or if I'm in a rut when it comes to where and when I see people.

And then there's the picture above. Our old small group from TN surprised us by showing up Saturday evening for the play. Someone told me there was a bus from Antioch out front and I literally thought, Antioch Baptist? It was all our good friends! What a wonderful surprise! They are so special to us and we love them all dearly. What a sweet surprise. I think we have a bond that truly will transcend years and miles. So - one thing I haven't forgotten, and never will, is the love of good friends. It's okay to get older - especially when you do it with lots of loved ones.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

God Truly Blessed Our Show

"The Whale Motel" being sung by our Jamaican quartet. This song started the show each night. It was another wonderful experience to be with such a great group of dedicated brethren and put together such an amazing show. We had excellent crowds each night - about two thousand in total, and the cast and crew just got better and better each night. It was an honor to work with everyone who helped it be such a success. Of course, we started asking God to bless it half a year ago and He certainly did. Why should I be surprised. It was four days of incredible sharing with guests, church family, and our own family. And to top it off, our old friends from our small group in Nashville showed up Saturday night and surprised me in a wonderful way. Love you guys. Here are some pictures from one of the shows. Most are from Sunday evening's final show. They were awesome and I love each one of them.
Jonah is trying to decide which boat to run away from God on.

This is the Queen of Nineveh singing to Jonah that he needed to "Walk Like a Man."

Here are all the creatures in the belly of the Big Fish. Lot's of color and lots of fun. And even a powerful lesson about ignoring God.

Jonah is greeted by the court of Nineveh with a huge Broadway version of "Hello Jonah".

The infamous Pirates of the Mediterranean singing A Pirates Life.

The quartet of crabs who welcomed Jonah to the belly of the whale. I wonder how many folks notice the reprise of the four pigs from The Prodigal Son in The Lord of the Parables.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Carpet Makes A Difference

We had our dress rehearsal last night, for our play, and it was incredible. Needless to say, we are very busy. Between the play, normal work demands, and most of our family coming in for the play, I won't have much time to blog over the next few day. I did want to show off our carpeted basement. It came out really nice. It is essentially finished except for putting on the floor molding and the ceiling in the "way back" part of the basement - just around the corner in the above picture - we need to put in a suspended tile ceiling. Probably won't get to either one for a couple weeks. It's amazing how putting the carpet in truly makes it look like a real room and not a cave under the house.
Hopefully, it will feel comfortable enough for some of our visiting family to sleep in this week - since all the bedrooms will be full. We are really thankful to have this extra space. I'm just glad you can't see what that storeroom looks like just behind that wall to the left.
Maybe I can get a picture or two of the play posted sometime over the next four days of performances.

Monday, June 02, 2008

It's A Wrap - Almost!

I find myself thinking about the words "Wrap up" this Monday morning. I hear the hammering of the carpet installer in the now almost finished basement as he puts the tack strips down. Our basement is nearly wrapped up now. We are in the final week of Jonah and the Pirates of the Mediterranean. We had a great rehearsal last night and the next one is Tuesday night, and then it's Wednesday dress rehearsal and four nights of performances. Our play, that started with me outlining it back in July of '07 and had our first read through in February, is now about to wrap up. And yesterday I wrapped up our Sunday morning lesson series on Be Real. It was the last of twenty-one lessons on Being Real about wanting to be like Jesus, and in may ways, it was the hardest lesson. The challenge question was, Do I Have the Mind of Christ. That was essentially what the other twenty lesson were all about, so how do you answer that without just repeating yourself?
I tried to focus on the bigger issues of our journey. The issues that determine how we look at life, deal with our problems, and face its conclusion. I decided that the mind of Jesus was guided by essentially three factors (and no, I didn't have to have a three point sermon). The mind of Jesus was spiritual; the mind of Jesus was selfless; and (this may sound strange) the mind of Jesus was homesick.
By homesick I mean that he was longing to return to his Father - to be back in heaven. I closed the lesson with a look at Acts 1 where Jesus is taken up to heaven in a cloud and the apostles where just frozen in place watching him disappear into the atmosphere. The angel asked them, "Why are you standing there staring into the sky?" He told them to get on with it! I noticed something very profound about this event. Jesus never said "Good-bye". He didn't need to because he KNEW it was not a good-bye moment, but a see ya later moment. I was surprised by the people who commented to me after the lesson about how they've struggled with guilt and pain because they didn't get to say "Good-bye" to someone they loved who died. Isn't that simply an indication of how much we are focused on the world rather than eternity? He was ready to be home! He "loved his own" on earth, but the separation was short - was nothing compared to being together for eternity! Maybe the true test of having the mind of Jesus is seen in our ability to "let go" of this world - whether it's accepting our own temporary nature, or accepting the inevitability of having loved ones go before us. Forget the "good byes"! Let go of this world and get excited about the better one our Father has for us. Just as we can and should be thankful for every moment of every day of life He gives us, we must be thankful that to really be with Jesus, we have to let go of it - and we can.