It Seems Different, But It’s Not

1st STORY: John and Beth were experiencing the greatest moment of their lives. She had been in labor for several hours, and the happy moment was imminent. With a final push, baby MaryAnn introduced herself. Their maternity nurse, Nancy, was happy for them but was unable to avoid the darkness.

2nd STORY: Aaron Bishop was doing well. His business had been touch and go, and he wasn’t always sure it would succeed, but it did. He was fulfilled, at least in his work life. As to his personal life, Aaron was living with a broken heart. The divorce had ripped it apart, causing a canyon sized emptiness.

3rd STORY: Cynthia Anderson landed her whale, a dream job. The interview went great, they called for a follow-up, which went fabulously, and she gladly accepted their offer. On her first day as the managing CPA, while driving to work, she was in a car accident. Cynthia had a concussion, some broken bones, and severe bruising. She would be okay, but it would take a few weeks. The firm rescinded the offer.

4th STORY: Freddy Johnson had been in rehab for thirty days. He had destructive addictions that damaged him and wounded others. When stoned or drunk, he was reckless, and more than once had put his life in danger. But after thirty days, Freddy was ready. There would be support groups to attend, fences to mend, and he was determined to make better choices.

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   Life can make us feel like we are alone. Make us think that we are the only ones hurting. We wake up groaning because after opening our eyes, it hits us hard that today will be another day of heartache.

Until one day, when it isn’t.

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  While Beth was resting, John went to the cafeteria for something to eat. He was joined in the elevator by a young woman headed to physical therapy. They struck up a conversation, and he showed her pictures of MaryAnn. She explained her accident, all of it. Hearing her story, John remembered a friend who was looking for an accountant. He gave Cynthia the contact information.

   Nancy was still blue. It had been a year since her husband died and the sadness just wasn’t fading. They were deeply in love and had been trying to start a family. One evening, she went to a coffee house to read. She got her Chai Tea and sat down and soon noticed a man who brought his coffee and a book to a table close by. Before long, they were talking about their books and other things. He said he owned a software company, and she said she was a nurse. His name was Aaron, and Nancy thought he was nice. Walking home she realized that she hadn’t felt sad while talking to him.

   Cynthia had recovered enough to home. After a few days, she decided to call the man that John had recommended, a man named Aaron Bishop. They had a positive phone conversation, he requested her resume, and the next day asked her to come in. He offered her the job! She was so excited about the company, a rapidly rising software business. Maybe things were turning in her favor.

After a few weeks, John and Beth hosted a “Come Meet The Baby” party. One of the guests was John’s friend Aaron Bishop, who brought a woman named Nancy, whom they recognized as their maternity nurse! Nancy enjoyed holding MaryAnn. John had invited his new friend, Cynthia. She had called to say thanks for helping her, and he invited her to the party. She brought her friend Freddy who seemed to be more than a friend. Once she and Freddy arrived, Aaron was surprised to see his new accountant. “I didn’t know you knew John and Beth,” Aaron said to her. All the dots were beginning to connect.

Freddy got into a conversation with Beth and John, and it was clear that he was in love with Cynthia. He volunteered that he had been in rehab and was doing well. They were supporting and helping each other, both wanted to do well and move forward in life.

Seeing lives affected and changed was joyous to John and Beth. They were basking in the glow of MaryAnn, their miracle baby, for they had been trying for many years. Each of them was grieving over the loss of a parent due to the Covid-19 pandemic about a year earlier.

You see, some were grieving and some were celebrating. One had suffered a car accident. A few were lonely, discouraged, and felt lost. Some had thought that life would never get better. Some believed that no one else was hurting like they were. But somehow, life went on. They eventually found new opportunities and possibilities.

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We think perhaps that we are alone. We are not. We are surrounded by people who have struggled just as we have. Maybe different circumstances but the same sad results. But in one way or another the people around us have struggled, hurt, and felt alone, just like us.

 I pray that you will still find peace. Don’t give up. We are all the same.

Is Washington Defeated?

It’s not everyone who gets Ga-Ga about sports, but lots of us do. I’m not sure why. Here are a few suggestions:

  • we have nothing better to do
  • competition boils the blood
  • a proclivity for getting attached
  • community pride
  • love sports like professional wrestling and hi alai
  • the spectacle and pagentry
  • we miss the gladiatorial days of blood sport

Maybe.

HOUSTON ASTROS

The Houston Astros are in the World Series with the Washington Nationals. Houstonians thought we would smoke the Nationals four games to none. We didn’t.

The Nationals came to Houston and won the first two games, and the second game was a total blow out. The sporting world was stunned. I was. It was crazy. The Nationals were unbothered by our Hall of Fame pitching and unfazed by our rowdy Texas crowds. They flew back confident that with three games in their home park they would win the Series. They didn’t.

It was Houston’s turn to stun the sporting world by winning all three games. Two of them were total blow outs. The Astros return to Houston for the final two games. We believe one is all they need, the next one.

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THE FANS

People get a little nuts in professional sports playoffs. They throw things at the opposing players. They boo. They shout profanities. They yell ugly words and say tacky things. Wow, tacky things, sounds rough.

It’s all in fun, right? Sure it is. Of course it is because it’s only a game. So hearing people shout, “Let’s kill em,” shouldn’t be taken too seriously.

THE CROWDS

People get carried away when they are upset, angry and jealous. In France they shouted, “Off with his head, off with his head.” In the old west the crowd shouted, “Lynch him, string him up.” In more modern times, “Gas him” or “Give the Chair.” In ancient Rome the crowd voted for death with a thumbs up or thumbs down.

In Jerusalem, with Jesus on trial, they shouted, “Crucify him, crucify him.” Was it all in good fun? Only a game? Was the crowd just a little rowdy?

No, they were genuinely riled up. Not for sport, or politics, or food or human rights. It was about religion. The craziest stuff of all happens when people are consumed with religious hate and bent on religious violence.

Riots, ethnic cleanings, genocide, inquisitions, violent crusades, murders, and lynchings  are but a few examples of religious fanaticism.

In crucifying Jesus his opponents believed they delivered a total blow out. They didn’t.

empty_tomb_wide

IN CLOSING

I like fan fanaticism. It makes the game more interesting, the sport more appealing, and the playoffs more intense.

Religious fanaticism? Well, no thank you.

 

The New Year’s New You

The mess has been cleaned up. The confetti, streamers and hats have been dumped into America’s landfills. The calendar has turned. 

Happy New Year

DIFFERENT? 

It’s January and about a week’s gone by since we put up the new calendar. I’t’s on the refrigerator and it has pictures of cats, and it’s cute if you like that sort of thing and several in my family do, and me, well, let’s move on. 

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Not one of the cats in the calendar, but close, really very close.

I can’t say the New Year has made much difference. Maybe it’s just me. I wasn’t jumping up and down about 2018 being over and I wasn’t bouncing about the new year starting. The new year hasn’t made me new, I’m just a week older.

However, a few thoughts I had:

  • it’s 11 months and two weeks until Christmas
  • it’s eight months until the new college football season
  • it’s four months until my birthday
  • it’s one month until my next Holy Land Tour
  • it’s tomorrow that I have breakfast at a Waffle House

I know, my life is seems terribly exciting. But it’s not all glamor and games.

The new year will bring some good things.

  • more progress for the gospel with the people of Cuba
  • more homeless families will find a home
  • more hot food will be served to the hungry
  • more souls will come to know the love of God
  • more lives will be forever changed

FOR YOU

Whatever you do with New Years and however it affects you just know that the God of all grace cares for you. His plan for your life remains steadfast and authentic. 

Some say that God is good. Some say God is good all the time. Life can be good, but defintely not all the time. 

ManWalkingThroughDarkTunnel
Will there be light at the end of your tunnels?

IN CLOSING

Sometimes there are days when life is good, really good, and you rise up to the highest peaks of Mt Victory! But sometimes there are days when life isn’t so good and you drop down into the valley of despair. When those days come try to keep your chin up, decide not give up, and keep looking up, because on your hardest days God is still there, he still cares and he’s still good.

Shalom

 

 

 

Saying Goodbye

TO BEGIN 

It’s all natural. No, not food or food additives, but of the natural way of life, that it ends.

MY WEEK SO FAR

Sunday: I took a gift from a family at church to another family from church who very recently lost a child. I knew the gift would richly bless the family who will soon gather around their Christmas tree with their two children, but not three.  

Monday: I had coffee with one of our ministers and the conversation wandered onto the topic of death. I shared about our stillborn child. Our baby boy never saw the light of day. But he was perfectly formed, perfectly whole and perfectly beautiful. During  labor there was a complication. He didn’t make it. 

Tuesday: I attended a Christmas Party for our group of retired seniors. One of the couples I sat with brought their beautiful baby granddaughter Just a few weeks ago I had the honor of conducting the “Baby Blessing” for her and her family. It was lovely.

Wednesday: Today I’ll attend the “Celebration of Life” service for the father of one of our members. This family has experienced a long, cold season of grief and loss. I can’t recall another family who’s endured so much. It’s heartbreaking and it continues this morning at 10:30.

funeral

IT’S ALL NATURAL

We know that life doesn’t last forever. But we hope it lasts a very long time. And when it does it’s still a soul crushing event. When life doesn’t last a long time, but comes all too early, it’s even harder. People say, “No parent should outlive their children” True enough. But it still happens. 

The writer of Hebrews wrote that it’s appointed once for man to die. Solomon said, “There is a time to be born and there is a time to die.” I think He was right. 

Our minds tell us that death is just a part of the human experience. True enough. But the experience of saying goodbye to a loved one is altogether more difficult than chalking it up to the human experience. 

TO CLOSE

So far this week I wept with a family who has lost a child. I got emotional in the memory of losing our baby boy. I’ll attend the service of a friend saying goodbye to his dad. And I got to experience the exquisite joy of a radiant infant filled with beauty, light and life. 

We say goodbye to those we lose.

We say hello to those we gain.

And We Say Blessed Be The Name Of The Lord

It’s All Natural

 

Will The Real Mary Please Stand

What do the following films and plays have in common?

  1. Jesus Christ Super Star
  2. The Last Temptation of Christ
  3. The Passion of the Christ
  4. The Da Vinci Code
  5. Risen

Obviously, they are all stories about Jesus. But they have something else in common, or should I say someone else. They have a character from scripture that people know a lot about. Or at least they think they do. Her name was Mary.

The Seven Mary’s

There are seven women named Mary in the New Testament, some are mentioned prominently, like Mary the mother of Jesus. They can be difficult to identify, like the Mary in Romans 16:6. Who was she?

Historically, there isn’t much information on them. And some of the information we do have may not be accurate.

Another Mary

There is another Mary often mentioned in scripture, more often than many of the apostles were. She was Mary of Magdala or Mary Magdalene. Now, quickly, think about everything you know about her. She was…

  1. a sinful woman.
  2. a prostitute.
  3. the woman who washed Jesus’s feet in Luke 7.
  4. the woman caught in adultery in John 8.
  5. the woman who married Jesus.
  6. his lover.
  7. the mother of his child.

Pop Culture

Almost everything we think we know about Mary Magdalene comes from the movies, plays, and art, such as Da Vinci’s painting of the last supper, and many others.

TINTORETTO_-_Magdalena_penitente_(Musei_Capitolini,_Roma,_1598-1602)_-_copia
A painting depicting Mary Magdalene, 1591

Some Facts

Facts are irritating things as they often interfere with the truth, or the truth as we see it. Senator Moynihan of New York is credited with this quote:

Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.”

Some Facts From Scripture

  1. Mary Magdalene was never identified as a sinful woman.
  2. The sinful woman who washed his feet was unnamed.
  3. The woman caught in adultery was unnamed.
  4. Mary was never identified as a prostitute.
  5. She was never identified as the wife of Christ.
  6. Or as his lover.
  7. Or as the mother of his child.

Seven little facts about Mary Magdalene, all of which were wrong, or at least unsubstantiated in scripture. Sadly, most of what is believed about her comes out of Hollywood.

Some Biblical Facts

Mary Magdalene had seven demons cast out of her. She was one of several women who traveled with Jesus and his apostles supporting their needs from her funds. She was the first, or one of the first, to see the empty tomb, she was the first to tell the apostles that Jesus had risen. She was the first person the resurrected Jesus appeared to. She stood at Mary’s side, the mother of Jesus, throughout the cross and burial.

Sometimes opinions and myths shape our understanding of truth.

To Close

 Mary Magdalene was a significant person in the Jesus narrative and was someone Jesus called to serve in his ministry. She was well regarded and respected in the early church. She wasn’t the whore often depicted in paintings and films. 

“Everyone is entitled to his own opinions, but not his own facts.

Shalom

Betty: A Force of Life

Betty Davis was a member of my church and her funeral is tomorrow morning. She was a force of life! And she will be missed.

My Top Ten Favorite Things About Betty

  1. She and Ed got married at 16 and ran off to California.
  2. She called him “Cowboy”
  3. Did babysitting for months to buy him the guitar he wanted.
  4. She loved Hallmark movies.
  5. She was a red head.
  6. Made Oreo Cookies and Ice Cream a food group.
  7. Got her hair done every week, until Ed died.
  8. They lost their two sons in 1974 and 1981, but chose to live happy anyway.  
  9. Ed and Betty opened their home and their hearts to everyone all the time.
  10. Her house was a safe haven for many kids, a home filled with joy. 
  11. She loved her Lord, her church, and her family, and everyone was family.

Okay, that’s eleven things. But the list could go on and on. She leaves a legacy of faith, family, and fortune; not the kind that fills your bank account, but the kind that fills your soul. 

Pink lemonade, turkey sandwiches, coconut cream pie, chocolate cream pie, every kind of cookie, cold milk, soft drinks galore, and of course, the Oreos and ice cream. These are only some of the things Betty kept in her home so everyone who came to her home would always find their favorite snack.

To Close

Her funeral service will be packed, probably standing room only. She lived a full and purposeful life. She overcame great adversity and gave great advantage to so many others. She was happy.

Betty Louise Davis

1935-2018, she was 82 years old

She is with the Lord

Understanding Suffering, Hardly Ever

Keanu Reeves, as Ted in “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure,” said this:

“Strange things are afoot at the Circle-K.”

Ted was right. Strange things were happening and resulted in the boys having a grand adventure. But often, strange things are neither grand or adventurous, they’re just hard.

Faith & Trust

Sometimes I struggle with God’s word, a sign of weak faith, a lack of trust?

There are Psalms that tell of God’s protection, that he is a shield about me, and will deliver me from hardships. Then there are verses that speak of being pruned and disciplined, and how suffering is good for me.

open-bible

I don’t always know the what or why of the things that happen to me. Am I supposed to know? 

A Strong Faith

A healthy faith accepts the good with the bad. It gives thanks in all circumstances. However, when does the deliverance happen? Where is the shield that protects me?

Perhaps it’s always there? If he lifted his shield of protection, even for a minute, would I  realize just how much he’s doing for me, in spite of my confusion, pain, and grief?

Some Confusion, Pain and Grief

  1. our stillborn child
  2. sudden, tragic deaths of family and friends
  3. hurtful attacks from wolves in friend’s clothing

When experiencing those “strange things,” I don’t feel thankful, or delivered, or sense his shield is about me.

But later, I do. Strange, isn’t it?

We each face life’s trouble with our experiences and levels of faith, maturity, and knowledge. None of us are the same.

To Close

I’ve not yet found a simple theology that explains everyone’s pain and suffering to everyone’s satisfaction. So, I’ll leave you with this:

Paul wrote:

“—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.”

Don’t be scared of God, be in awe of him, and respect and humble yourself for he works his purpose within you and there is just no way to comprehend the depth of what that means.

“Strange things are afoot at the Circle-K.”

Well put Ted, there are indeed.

Shalom

Yes, You Drive In The River!

Chris Farley, as motivational speaker Matt Foley, perfected the phrase,

“I’m living in a van down by the river.”

Rivers

Perhaps you’ve considered a simpler life with a riverside van, or maybe not? Some rivers are deep while others are shallow, some run fast while others barely move. In the winter, some don’t move at all.

A Recent River

My wife and I spent a few days at a secluded cabin in the Texas Hill Country.

We made the five-hour drive, found the place and checked in. We were looking forward to getting to the cabin, which, as it turned out, required a bit more driving. Now here’s the odd part. The road suddenly ended and it ended in a river. There was a dirt road and then there wasn’t, just a river without a bridge and no way to cross. However, there was a sign indicating that we were to turn left, into the river. At the bottom of the sign was:

“Yes, you drive in the river!”

The river was shallow, slow, and the bottom easily seen, but still, driving into a river seemed wrong, but I finally did, the river bed became our road to the cabin! 

Fall-on-the-Frio-River3
Not our cabin, or the river, and it didn’t have a van, but its close, really very close. 

Another Sign

Here is sign, of a sort, that the apostle Paul wrote:

“For we live by faith and not by sight.”

His message was clear: nothing eternal can be seen in this life. Nope, it’s by faith, by trusting in what our Father promised.

To Close

I read the sign, but my eyes were fixed on the water. The choice was obvious: trust the sign or sit there doing nothing. 

It’s the same with God. The choice is obvious: trust his word or sit doing nothing. It’s a choice we make every day. It’s how we walk by faith.

“Yes, you drive in the river.”

Shalom

It Was A Wake-Up Call!

“Stop! In the Name of Love”

What Is That?

It’s a lyric, and title, from a song the Supremes released on February 8, 1965. It quickly reached the top, going #1 on the Billboard Pop Singles, nearly 52 years ago.

Here’s Why It Matters

Yesterday, while driving home, I ran a red light.

The road I use has a crosswalk that isn’t at an intersection, it’s in-between intersections, in the middle of a long block, with a blinking yellow light.

When someone wants to cross, they push the button and the light blinks red, and then it turns red. The cars stop, the people cross, and it goes back to blinking yellow.

I didn’t notice the light had changed from yellow to red. By the time I saw the cars  stopped in the other lanes, it was too late to even brake, with no one in front of me, I drove right through it. As I did, I noticed someone with a bike was getting ready to cross. It was a young girl.

And Then?

I was scared, rattled, and sick to my stomach. I could have severely injured her, or worse. All I could think about was how close I came to destroying her life. I thought about her family. I was shaking when I pulled into my driveway. I’m shaking now. 

Now Jesus, Matthew 5:14-15

“You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on a stand, and it gives light to everyone.”

Those verses have much meaning and application. But included must be the reminder of our responsibility to God, to our families, and to our community. Our world!

Just So You Know, I wasn’t…

  1. Playing with my phone.
  2. Talking on my phone.
  3. Distracted by music in the car.

But I was distracted. I was deep in thought, concerned about something, and was going over it in my head. Frankly, I wasn’t paying attention, was driving on autopilot. And a little girl very nearly paid for it.

kids in crosswalk

To Close

It’s a sharp reminder, a call to stop deluding myself. I tend to act like whatever is going on with me is more important than anything, or anyone. For the well-being of others and for the light of Christ to better shine, I need to listen to the call. And what’s the call?

Stop! In the Name of Love

The Darkness

The dark lord creeps closer, the evil spreads. It’s not Harry Potter’s Voldemort.

Lordvoldemort
Not the Prince of Darkness, just a man in a mask.

From Paul

“For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.” (Ephesians 5:8)

“Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Ephesians 6:11-12) 

Now, Jesus our Messiah

You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desire. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” (John 8:44)

The Overwhelming Darkness

The darkness seeps into our hearts, permeates our lives, and expels the light. It overwhelms us, not at first, but later, after we’ve gone down the dark path.

How It Works

  1. The world makes the darkness appealing
  2. The powers of darkness war with our souls
  3. The father of lies deceives us about sin
  4. The spiritual forces of evil press against us

Examples?

  1. Kids seeking acceptance will drink, have sex, and lie about it, believing the one justifies the other.
  2. Discouragement and depression can diminish spiritual values, compromise judgment, and lead to suicidal thoughts and attempted suicide.
  3. The desire to escape parental controls, is the temptation of freedom and independence, but a freedom that often becomes a noose of sin.
  4. The appeal of darkness is the appeal of fun and fantastic experiences, pleasures, and gratification. It’s a lie, from the father of lies.

Satan

For some, the “father of lies” is only a myth, an invented character purposed to instill fear and judgment in our hearts and minds. Is the myth the greatest lie of them all?

There is darkness in our world, evil forces pushing us toward immorality, pornography and sexual abuse, to incest, rape, and deep, dark depression. The deception is the lie that makes us believe we are above authority, beyond consequence, and exempt from the damage of self-destructive behavior. We are not, and that is the point of the darkness. 

To Close

Evil can overwhelm anyone. The darkness envelopes the young and the old, it surrounds adults, teens and preteens. It isn’t a respecter of persons, it’s aiming for us all.

Be careful. Put on the full armor of God, so you can take your stand. We are at war. 

Shalom