I’m blessed every day in so many ways.
But this morning I’m appreciating my blessings a little more than usual.
I’m writing this blog from my room at Camp Allen, a Christian Retreat and Conference Center about an hour outside of Houston. It’s beautiful and the accommodations are fine. The bed was a little stiff in the way that a concrete slab is a little stiff. But I slept well, woke early, and rose to write.
I’m here with our church’s elders, ministers, and spouses. We arrived Friday for dinner then had an evening of sharing our lives and getting better connected, what a blessing.
My daughter and son-in-law live in the down town Houston area. They are young, urban professionals and think that coming to our house in the suburbs is a two day drive with a hotel stay. She texted me this week to say that she thinks about her Mom and Dad everyday and that she loves us, what a blessing.
I have great friends, not many, but they are enough. They are enough in the way that warm maple syrup covers the whole pancake. The way that a cool, sunny, Houston morning in February is an absolute pleasure. They provide a wonderful sense of belonging and connection, what a blessing.
I could go on, but won’t. I’ll close with this. Garfield the cat once said:
“Ah, Christmas, it isn’t the giving, it isn’t the getting, it’s the people.”
The Christmas season has passed, but I like the sentiment. My friends and family are more than what I get or give. It isn’t about that, it’s about the people, the bonds of caring and mutual acceptance.
The true joy of life is the people.
The 4:00 AM fireplace check list.
- Clean fireplace of ashes.
- Stack kindling wood.
- Use a piece of newspaper or turn on the gas.
- Have larger logs ready to go.
- Check the flue is open.
Wow, it’s a beautiful fire! And just in time because it’s a cold Houston morning with sleet and snow in the forecast. The schools are closed and if we get the sleet and snow, it’ll bring the city to its knees.
I love it!
Apparently, Not Everyone
Lately, I’ve heard complaining about the cold weather. Houston has had more subfreezing days than normal. And more days in the 30’s and 40’s than normal. It’s almost like winter!
But people are getting tired of it, and I understand, but I’m not one of them and can’t share in the cold negativity.
For Seven Months
For most of the year Houston is a sauna. If Arizona has a dry heat then Houston has a wet one. Temperatures soar into the 90’s and triple digits are common. The humidity hovers like a wet blanket. It’s inescapable and void of value for human life.
The summer is when I join the complainers, when I’m suffering the smothering dampness of virtual asthma.
Wait, Forgot Something
I had just begun blogging when I noticed the smell of smoke. A minute later, I noticed an uneven layer hovering above me. Uh huh, Check List Item #5:
Open the flue.
Oops. I would have bet the farm that it was open, but it wasn’t. Maybe that’s what I get for betting the farm. I don’t actually have a farm, I lost it years ago on a silly bet.
Do you agree with this, “Everybody complains about something?” Or maybe this, “If it isn’t one thing it’s another?” Or, “I wish they would give me the key to the thermostat box at church so I could set it where it belongs.”
There isn’t a key. There isn’t a thermostat that can be changed. It’s all software driven, a computer runs the entire system. But people still ask.
So, cheer up good friends. Hot or cold, windy or calm, dry or wet, life goes on so we might as well go with it. I’ll finish with:
“Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a depraved generation…” Philippians 2:14-15
Not everybody likes turkey.
Yep. Some find it bland, uninspired, and over-hyped. Others say it tastes like chicken and if they wanted chicken for Thanksgiving they would cook one, or get take-out.
Maybe that explains the gallons of delicious brown gravy, a beloved food group.
Millions of Americans will have a traditional turkey dinner. Some because they love it and some because it’s traditional, for the turkey is the icon of Thanksgiving. Is that a good reason to have it, because its traditional?
About 3500 years ago, a million slaves walked out of Ramses. The final straw for their freedom? It was the death of Egypt’s first-born sons, a terrible night of grief. But it was a very different night for the slaves. They had painted lamb’s blood on their doors, and so death passed over.
That evening the slaves ate a special meal, the Passover meal. It was special because of what it meant, and because it was their final meal in captivity. There are some interesting similarities between the Hebrews and the Pilgrims.
The Hebrew Slaves
- Ate roasted lamb
- Shared with family and neighbors
- It was a meal symbolizing their freedom
- The meal was about leaving for the Promised Land
- Ate roasted turkey
- Shared with family and friends
- It was a meal symbolizing their freedom
- The meal was about coming to the New World
If not for our Pilgrim forefathers, our world may have turned out differently. Would the United States have even happened? Would we know and enjoy the religious, political, and social freedoms that we cherish? Do we owe them our gratitude?
Each November, we gather around our tables to give thanks. We practice the grace of gratitude by remembering those who sacrificed so much to bless so many.
We say thank you God!
Whether you adore or abhor the turkey, let’s resolve that 45-million of them will not die in vain. Along with the food, the football, and the naps, let’s take a moment to say thank you on Thanksgiving Day.
For we are free, prosperous, and alive to enjoy it.
So many turkeys to be roasted, fried, or smoked.
About forty-five million. Seems like a big number, but we’re a nation of big people, and Thanksgiving is one of our biggest holidays.
The National Bird?
Benjamin Franklin argued for the wild turkey to be our national bird, but he lost the argument to the Bald Eagle. For 364 days, the eagle soars majestic and free. But on Thanksgiving, the humble turkey is king, in our hearts if not on our plates.
Alexander Hamilton said, “No citizen of the United States shall refrain from turkey on Thanksgiving Day.” Well said, for we were never going to eat roasted eagle.
But it was President Lincoln, in 1863, who made a proclamation for a national day of Thanksgiving. And here we are, 154 years later, serving up forty-five million turkeys.
A Social Bird
Thanksgiving is shared with family and friends. The Pilgrims shared with the Wampanoag Indians. Edward Winslow recorded that there were fifty Pilgrims and ninety Native Americans at their feast. Must have been a big table!
So, we will gather around our tables, or in front of our big screens, and enjoy the turkey, cranberries, dressing, homemade rolls, and lime-jello. For desert: pumpkin pie, pecan pie, and berry cobbler. Yum, dinner is served.
They lost half their people that first year, a disheartening start for those who sacrificed so much to get so little. But the colonists soldiered on, possessing a profound faith they believed that God had led them there to live in freedom and prosperity.
Our Thanksgivings don’t usually follow bitter winters of sickness and death. It’s more about being together with family, with plenty of good food, and football, and pie.
But maybe it’s more. The Pilgrims made a perilous voyage across a violent sea to seek a new life in the new world. Did God truly lead them here? Was their faith well founded? Is our own house of faith, freedom, and prosperity built on their foundation?
This Thanksgiving, don’t let the turkeys die in vain. For they will make the last full measure of sacrifice, and for what reason? Just so I can over-indulge and fall asleep during the game? Is that how I say thank you?
Part 2-Wednesday morning.
Its Saturday night and its cool and breezy, and I’m outside, and thankful.
Because its cool and breezy. Because the temperature and humidity have fallen and it feels like the outer edges of winter are edging ever closer.
I’m sitting outside with my laptop thinking about tommorow. Its Sunday and it’s a work day. I know, delivering sermons isn’t work. Nevertheless, I’ll be at church delivering my lesson. Actually, I’ll deliver it twice.
Yep, after three and a half months of one service, we are returning to our normal schedule of two services: 8:30 and 10:45.
My work load has doubled!
It’s about Harvey. Our church building flooded, so to make things simpler, and to better support one another, we’ve been crowding into one service. But tomorrow it changes back to two.
Thursday is Thanksgiving and I’ve been thinking about thankfulness. Frankly, I’ve a struggled with it. Tropical Storm Harvey was hard on our city. And it’s been hard for me, at least I’ve allowed it to be. It’s been more than just a struggle.
However, I realize that I’ve emerged from the storm with something surprising: a sense of being blessed. Harvey’s devestation allowed me to experience three things:
- The amazing motivation of ordinary people.
- The amazing sacrifice of others.
- The inspiration of God’s amazing providence.
My sermon will be about those blessings. If you want to hear it, come see us or join us online at: www.southeastonline.org
It’s the week of Thanksgiving and I’m thankful for my family, my home, and my country. But I’m also grateful for my church, the Southeast Church of Christ in Friendswood, Texas.
In the moment of crisis and need, they embraced profound purpose, they sacrificed themselves, and gave all they had to give.
Its Saturday night and its cool and breezy, and I’m outside, and I’m thankful.
“With people needing help, why are we collecting funds for paint?”
A Fair Question
This morning, our church is taking up a special collection, not for crisis relief, but to help get our church building repaired. We suffered over a million dollars of damage and loss, and this morning are asking for $140,000 to help put everything back together.
Some have asked:
“Why are we collecting money for paint and carpet with so many still in need?”
The answer: Our flood insurance, as well as emergency funds, will cover all but $140,000 of the needs, hence the contribution.
Those Funds Will Go To:
- Repairs for roof damages.
- Regrading the property for better drainage and water control.
- Repairing all exterior and interior walls damaged by the flood.
- Insulation, electrical, and other needs.
- Cribs, changing tables, and supplies for the nursery.
- Cabinets, tables/chairs, and supplies for Children’s Wing.
- Cabinets and needed supplies for The Vine Preschool.
- Cabinets, tables/chairs for adult classrooms.
- Desks, chairs, bookshelves, and furnishings for Admin Wing.
- Flooring: carpet, tile, and the gym floor.
“Is all that is necessary? Couldn’t some be redirected to crisis relief?”
The answer comes from the needs and requests of our members:
- “When will the gym be finished so we can resume children’s/adult activities?”
- “When will the nursery be open, it’s been three months without one?”
- “How soon can we resume feeding the homeless?”
- “When can we start housing the homeless families that stay in our building?
- “When will children’s bible school begin, my kids miss it?”
- “When can the lady’s bible class start up again?”
- “How long until we can have baby showers and wedding showers?”
- “When will the Youth Ministry rooms be fixed and ready?”
- “When can we begin our Wednesday night small group ministry?”
And more questions like those. Everyone is past ready to get back to normal. With over 1100 members, there are many ministries, programs, services, groups, classes, fellowships, and events anxiously waiting to start up again.
That’s what the $140,000 will be used to do.
The Southeast church has helped, or is helping, 92 families with small repairs or whole house renovation. About two-thirds are SE members, the balance are people in the community.
When finished, the SE church will have spent more than $350,000 on crisis relief.
Some suggest we not repair the building but use the money to assist others. Some suggest we use the funds for crisis relief to get the building ready faster. Everyone has an opinion.
“No one can do everything for anyone, but everyone can do something for someone.”
Keep helping, stay serving, do what you can.
Our building will get finished then we will recommit ourselves to our ministries that help those in need. As much as we can, as soon as we can.
I never wanted to be a big-league ball player.
Why Is That?
I was never any good. In fact, I wasn’t any good at several sports.
- Baseball: couldn’t hit, field, or throw.
- Golf: lowest score is an 87, clubs in the attic.
- Tennis: couldn’t find the sweet spot.
- Hockey: never tried, assuming I wouldn’t have been a star.
- Swimming: love to swim, but competitive swimming?
Five sports in which I didn’t get trophies, scholarships or professional sponsors.
Didn’t Try Hard Enough?
Optimism is good. Some say if you hold on to your dream, work hard enough and never give up, that you will succeed. Maybe. But at 7’-1” and 260 pounds, Shaquille O’Neal could never have won the Kentucky Derby. No matter how optimistic, he was never going to be a winning jockey.
I was never going to play for the Los Angeles Lakers, or quarterback the Dallas Cowboys, or beat Jack Nicholas’s record of 18 major golf tournaments.
At age 61, the dream is probably over.
Now Jesus, Matthew 9:36
“When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”
Some of us didn’t become super-stars, or even stars. In fact, some of us became lost sheep, suffering life’s harassing hardships, and needing a helping hand.
As I watch our Houston Astros in the World Series, I’m glad they were blessed with the gifts, opportunities, and drive to succeed at that level.
I never wanted to be a big-league ball player. I’m happy being a rescued sheep.
Thank you Jesus.
I greet a lot of people and a lot of people greet me.
What is it we ask when we greet one another, often without intentional thought? O yes, “How are you doing?”
What is it we say in response, often without intentional thought? O yes, “I’m fine thanks, and, how are you?”
This morning, here is my answer with intentional thought:
- Spiritually sustained
- Mentally depleted
- Emotionally thin
- Physically worn out
- Three weeks after Harvey and still a lot of misery.
- Our multi-million-dollar church building is stripped to the studs.
- My dining room ceiling was destroyed, and one of its walls.
- Decisions, choices, insurance adjustors, repairs, and more.
- So many friends got flooded and lost everything.
- And probably some other things too.
I know. I’m the Senior Minister of a fine church. My family is safe. My house received minimal damage compared to many. I’m blessed and healthy. Why should I be tired, weary, and discouraged? What reason would I have?
Someone who is strong and a true winner in life once said:
“When the going gets tough, the tough get going!”
Sure, Amen! Yes, to that. No doubt about it. That’s what tough people do. I think I’ll get going to Colorado. Call me when it’s over.
No, just kidding.
There are some things that lift my spirit, fill my heart, and renew my energy:
- Work crews arriving from all over the country. They are taking time away from their families and jobs to help us.
- Churches, individuals, and organizations donating money, materials, and labor to dig us out and build us up.
- The stories of heroism, from the first responders to everyday people, have encouraged and inspired me.
- And lastly, the Lord my God will not let me down. He will have the final word and his word will be good.
There are reasons to rejoice, to keep trying, to keep going. No, I’m not minimizing anyone’s pain or suffering, or suggesting the hardships and heartaches of Harvey are easily resolved or left behind.
But there are spiritual truths, values, and blessings to help us. As Paul wrote,
“Rejoice always, pray continually, and give thanks in all circumstances.”
“How are you doing Rick?” “Actually, I’m doing better thank you!
It was a thoughtful gift, and came from their own money.
It was Father’s Day, and my kids gave me a card and my gift was inside. The card offered the sentiments frequently expressed on such occasions. And the gift?
Seven Lottery Tickets
I Was Touched
It was fun. The tickets had to be scratched off and each had a potential of $1000. I was moved. I was impressed. I was hounded to get scratching.
As I slowly scratched, they hovered with rapt attention, like baby vultures waiting to be fed. They asked, “Dad, since we bought you the tickets, if you win, can we have some of the money?”
Had I won, I would have gladly shared, for I would have an abundance. I don’t know why that story comes to mind. Except for this.
Hurricane Harvey flooded our church building and the homes of fifty of our members. Donations have come in from all over the country, even internationally, from individuals and churches. The donations have been generous and will go a long way in helping our members and our community.
Except for one.
Well, it’s the amount. Every dollar counts but it wasn’t much. It wasn’t $10,000 or $1,000. It wasn’t even $500.
Now Jesus, Mark 12:42-44
But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a fraction of a penny. Calling his disciples, Jesus said, “I tell you, this poor widow has given more than all the others. They gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”
The gift came from the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere, it came from Haiti, from the Delmas Church of Christ in Port-au-Prince. Our church partners with Hope For Haiti’s Children, sponsoring a school in Cite Soleil, a Port-au-Prince slum community.
When they learned about our flooding they took up a special contribution.
With extreme poverty, from people who can barely feed their families, and with Hurricane Irma breathing down their necks, they raised $250 for us. And prayed for us, and pray for us still.
We were moved to tears, to joyful humility, and gave praise to God and gave thanks for our Haitian family, and we still do. They gave all they had to live on. They gave everything.
“Though poor, yet are we rich.”
Never underestimate what the love of God will do in the hearts of believers. Never doubt how the Holy Spirit will stir believers into action, everywhere, from all over the world.
“It was a thoughtful gift, and came from their own money.”