Monday, June 30, 2014

Back Home

I am back home in North Carolina for a few days helping my parents out with some issues.  It has been an interesting trip because my mother is well known for having no verbal filter but being a loving person (those two things often clash).  Mom has spent a lot of her life with her foot in her mouth because of the lack of discretion over what she says.  Talking about people's weight.  Asking if someone is pregnant when they are not.  Knowing just the thing to say that will grate on someone's nerves. I have always wondered why she has lived this long without someone really going off on her.  Then I remembered 1 Corinthians 13.  I thought about this passage about love and I think I have a new take on it.

Mom sometimes has said things that cause us (and other people) to say, "I can't believe she just said that."  In wondering how she has gotten away with this for 86 years I think I have figured it out.  You can say things (lots of things) when they are said in the attitude of love.  I can't think of any malicious thing Mom has said.  She pretty much gives everyone grace ... lots of it.  So when she insults me I just let it roll off my back because I know she loves me and pretty much everyone else.  Without love we are clanging symbols and noise.  Any eloquence and power that supports our speech is lost if we speak without love.  Pretty words are nothing if love doesn't back them up.

I wonder (on this anniversary of freedom here in America) what would happen if we asked "Does he/she really love the people he/she represents?" about our elected leaders?  I wonder ... if the test were love of country, people and our founding documents, how many of our leaders would stand?  "My native country, thee, land of the noble free, thy name I love, I love thy rocks and rills, thy woods and templed hills; my heart with rapture fills, like that above."  Great words from a great song.

If you tell me in love, I will listen, even if is painful. And yes, Mom ... those milkshakes are adding a few pounds!

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Fishing With the Grandkids

Today I went fishing with the grand kids.  It is always fun being with them and I enjoy watching them grow.  My good friend, John Riley, went with us.  John and I learned a few lessons from God in the process.

The first lesson is that when you fish with grand kids you don't fish much (John fished even less because he paddled).  Hooks and lines get tangled.  You constantly need to watch out for flying hooks.  You bait hooks and sometimes cast for them so they will get to the best fishing spots.  It requires patience and thick skin (especially when the hook imbeds in your finger).

The second lesson is that grand kids are usually less patient with a slow fishing day.  They get distracted quickly.  They watch the fish in the bucket and miss the real fish that bite their hook.  For a driven person like me it could be infuriating ... except they are grand kids, and grand kids get lots of extra grace.

When I got home I thought, maybe this is a little taste of what God puts up with in my life.  God has His hands full just keeping an eye on me.  My lines get tangled and I try to fish in places that are filled with logs and snags, and dangers my father sees but I fail to see.  God gets the barbs of flying hooks when I try to blame him for my mistakes or the bad choices of other people (like Adam and Eves choice to send us all out into a word of infirmity).  I get impatient with God, though I want God to be patient with me.  And God should be frustrated and furious with me for some very good reasons.  I wonder why He isn't,  and then I think ... maybe He gives me grace and patience because of something I haven't thought of ... God thinks of my like I think of my grandchildren.  I am related!  A son ... brother to other sons and daughters like you.  Isaiah (43) said it like this ... “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine."  We are flesh and bone of His son, Jesus.

Thinking of this makes me smile, even in the heat of the day, the uncertainty of the winds and fish that are picky.  Thanks, John, Benjamin, Phoenix and God for the lesson (and the fish)!

Monday, June 16, 2014

On Hold

As I am writing this note I am on hold with Comcast and awaiting a callback from Verizon regarding a change in service for my parents.  It is an infuriating process to deal with these mega-companies that seem to think that our time is an expendable commodity.  In fact, time isn't something that we can get back, so I am multitasking.  I am writing you while I am on hold.

While I am holding with these people who will, most certainly, not be able to help me (I will probably end up talking to supervisors who can actually make a decision, but probably won't) I am trying to make good use of the time God has granted me today.  Sometimes that is all we can do while we are "on hold" in life.

Elijah was in a cave in 1 Kings Chapter 19. He was on hold.  Maybe he was confused.  We do know he was fleeing persecution from Ahab and Jezebel.  We also know he was in a state of believing that he was the sole person defending God's honor in a godless kingdom.  John talked about Elijah on Wednesday night and recalled what God said to Elijah while Elijah was "on hold."  He said, "What are you doing here Elijah?"  It is a good question for Elijah and for us.  What are we doing here?

I can identify with Elijah in this situation.  Life sometimes seems to place us on hold and we pray, wait, hope and seem to be stuck.  Why isn't something happening?  Where is God?  Why do we feel this way?  These are questions common to good people who are processing their understanding of God and our understanding of life's doldrums.  Here is what I will try while I am "on hold."

1) I will keep working.  My football coach told me when I was stuck on a skill level that I wanted to improve, just keep doing the right things and work hard.
2) I will remember what God has done because I know God is faithful and caring.  That same God is still Lord of the universe.
3) I will seek God in His Word.  God's Word always leads, is always living and is always there.
4) I will recall Elijah's story.  God sends a whirlwind, an earthquake and a fire ... God isn't in any of these things.  God is in the whisper He sends to Elijah, calling him out of the cave.  So ... I will listen for the whisper of God.

I am still on hold with Comcast and still have no response from Verizon ... but I know God hears and cares ... that is enough!  Randy 

Monday, June 9, 2014

Not Picture Perfect

On this week when we are thinking about fathers our thoughts can be a sea of emotions.  The position of father has seen (in my opinion) lots of stress in recent years.  Between societal distractions, loss of direction, easy departures (that turn out not to be so easy) and the loss of the Church's voice in the equation I believe being a good father has become more difficult.  Here are two bits of advice I have for many of the fathers I have counseled in past years.

The first bit of advice might seem a little harsh, but stay with me.  Fathers need to grow up.  Rather that stubbornly pursue their family authority, their toys and their recreational desires, maybe fathers should reexamine their priorities.  While I was critical at the time, I remember my father doggedly making sure he provided for us and gave us the basics of life ... he didn't wait for the government or anyone else to do it for him.  He didn't whine about the effects of feminism, the encroachment of the government, the negative effects of media or any other barrier that impeded his ability to do his job ... he just went out and did it.  He wasn't always right, he wasn't always in a perfect mood, and he wasn't always "Father Knows Best."  But he taught me to be persistent and to learn from the mistakes I would inevitably made (and not to blame them on someone else).

That brings me to point two ... I see a growing tendency for society to offer excuses so that we can feel like our mistakes are not really our fault.  Lots of guys I have conversed with have some idea that these excuse have merit and the world owes them something.  Yet when I talk to angry children about their fathers I believe the number one complaint is that dad "makes no mistakes" (at least that he admits).  Dads ... realize that being vulnerable is being honest and real.  Kids don't need dads who are the super heroes they see on TV.  They need dads who teach them to navigate the rocky channels of life, including what to do when (not if) you hit a rock.

I love my dad, and I know he won't be with us for too much longer.  But I am thankful that he taught me the there is a time and purpose for all things under heaven (Eccl. 3) and that our fallibility and brokenness are intertwined with both the humanity and divine spirit we have all been given.  Be real and grow up ... that's my take!  Randy

Monday, June 2, 2014

From the Wilderness

Since I am writing you from the Annual Conference of the Alabama/West Florida, United Methodist Conference you might be confused with the title.  All of this order and structure ... all of the music ... all of the reports (some encouraging) ... all of the knowledge about the happenings in our area ... the videos of events and blessings at churches in the conference ... all of those preachers ... one would think that I would be immersed in the message that Jesus is Lord.

But this time has always been difficult for me.  Yesterday I preached about Barnabas entering Antioch with an attitude of seeking and seeing God's blessings.  Pray that I can and will do the same.  Because I too often see three things that give me pause.  I see preachers comparing their catches of fish in overtly numeric terms ... I wonder if God is impressed with their numbers?  I hear reports that tell me how well things are going but they are sometimes factually evasive.  And I meet hundreds of pastors trying to get the weeks work done as they "process" the required meetings, the services and the necessary business of the Conference.  Lots of "duty" and seemingly not that much joy.

But then there is this ... as I stood last evening next to Marilyn Skipper and we sang with joy the songs of the church.  I don't know about Marilyn but I couldn't tell you much that was read, preached or said at the opening worship service.  But I can tell you the lyrics of a song that was shared with thousands of people and a choir of maybe 250 people.  "And on that day when my strength is failing, the end draws near and my time has come, still my soul will sing your praise unending ... 10,000 years and then forevermore."  God truly does send streams in the desert ... and he brings life from death.  I wonder what His plan will be ... and I pray I can just be a part of something good He is doing!  Randy