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Saturday, November 26, 2016

On the Magic of Rome

I was privileged to go to Rome with Judi for a tour of churches, art museums, and generally to walk and take public transportation around this magical city.

It is an ancient city, with many layers. I got to reconnect with friends from New Orleans, and eat gelato and see things I had only heard about.

I came away with two impressions. First, we are chronological narcissists. We think we are the first generation to experience the things we are seeing in the world. Political unrest, economic hardship, social injustice, disrespect for God, and especially for the gift of grace in Jesus. But we are not. I saw three millenia of the same cycles, memorials in art, sculpture, buildings, and stories.

Second, we humans have tried forever to try to bring understanding of the vastness of God's grace through our social infrastructures--art, sculpture, governments, media, and stories.

I wrote a poem on the way home.

Mother Rome
The vanity of pursuit
Finding beauty but seldom meaning
Art, love, lust, power, oppression
Seeking to elevate man
Seeking to enlighten
Seeking renaissance
But God demonstrates his love
No longer on a cross
But in hearts of friends who are brothers
And in His Kingdom which has no end.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

On Politics, Presidents, and Being a Disciple

I am processing the results of the election, and I am truly at a loss for words. The outcome was so unexpected for me. Like many persons who follow Christ, my dilemma in the voting booth was to choose between two candidates who each have many troubling issues or writing in a candidate whom I knew couldn’t win. I will not share what I did.

I know that the statements made by our president elect are unacceptable. Period. End of discussion. No part of my walk with Jesus allows statements that are bigoted and hateful towards any person or group of people who are created in His image. We live in a fallen world, and I do not agree with choices that some persons have made any more than others would embrace some of my choices. And yes, I have had to repent for many of my choices.  I believe that the Bible is my guide for determining the rightness or wrong-ness of choices and that it is my job–all of our jobs to rightly interpret it.

So I have struggled for words. In my processing, I have discovered two voices that have helped me. I listened to Ernie Johnson calling Atlanta Braves baseball games in the early 90's and he has since moved on to a national microphone for several networks. His commentary helped me to frame my thoughts and maybe a way forward. Find it here.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ayU5kw7Kf5U

I also found help in Ed Stetzer’s take on the response that might be appropriate for those of us who are trying to passionately become more like Jesus. His blog post, “What do White Evangelicals Owe People of Color” helped me to balance my emotions following the election.  Find his post here:

http://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2016/november/what-do-white-evangelicals-owe-people-of-color-in-trumps-am.html

Like many of you, the emotional carnage of this election is not just theoretical for me. I have friends, family, and church members who fit into the categories of marginalized persons who have been verbally maligned by our new president. I have friends, family, and church members who have felt marginalized by the policies of the existing president. It is time to find some common ground.  I hope to be a voice for the transformation that can come when we listen to each other–really listen–and make the personal  adjustments of repentance, forgiveness, humility, acceptance that will create dialog and not dissension.

Friday, January 15, 2016

On Transitions

I have neglected my blog for quite awhile now.  I have been keeping up with two places--my 22 year career as full time faculty at the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary is coming to an end and my new career as a full time pastor at Dunwoody Baptist Church is beginning.  It has been all I do in the past year to keep up with both places.

I have finished the good-byes and the see you laters at the seminary--though I will stay connected through a part-time status--and it was more emotional than I predicted.  I have a great team there. The best of leadership is that your team is strong where you are weak, and that has so been the case. Much of me has been invested in the work of the Youth Ministry Institute (YMI) which is the youth ministry training and equipping arm of the seminary.  In my transition from leadership there, I feel a little like a person who has sold a house to a new owner, yet wants to tell him how to maintain the yard.  I know that whatever legacy I leave is just that--what I leave.  I trust that God will take my "baby" in the direction He wants it to go.

Humans don't like change, but I want to be an Abraham who is obedient to travel to a place yet to be known, yet to be predicted, not even close to being scripted.

I want to be Job--calling upon God (though grudgingly at first) in whatever circumstances come.

I want to be Daniel, Esther, Peter--trusting God for the absurd.

I want to be Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, knowing that Jesus is present in the fire.

I want to be a father in Mark 9 who cries out to Jesus to "help me in my unbelief."

I don't have it figured out as to what it means to be a pastor. I have discovered in my character flaw of acting first and thinking later ("ready, fire, aim") that my humility and wisdom need developing. I have discovered that the first chair is very different from the second chair, where I have sat for the entire 35 years of my ministry. I have felt a renewed love and admiration for my bride of 32 years who trusts me and trusts God to stay by my side in this transition.

I am thankful to serve a church that believes that my clay feet are ok for walking through this season with them. I am grateful for men and women who have faithfully served this great church both on stage and behind the scenes for the fifty years of its existence. I am strengthened by the members of the search team, leadership team, deacons and staff who continue to declare, "whatever it takes."

I am amazed that even through the painful journey of their beloved pastor's final years, they still have an expectation that Jesus desires people to be saved and discipled, that worship can be vibrant and deep, that missions start where they are and extend around the world.  I would ask you to pray for me for wisdom, humility, inspiration, and sermon material...Sundays are relentless for pastors.

Stay tuned.


Monday, September 1, 2014

On Mack Hannah and Providence

I was privileged to preach at Dunwoody Baptist Church, pinch hitting for Mack Hannah who is courageously battling liver cancer.  Mack's instructions to the church, via his son David--"Each time you pray for me, pray that a person you know who is not a follower of Christ will become one."  I preached from Psalm 121 and while sitting in a McDonald's drinking coffee and finishing up the sermon, I wrote this poem to close.

Where Do You Go?
8/30/2014

Where do you look when things go awry?
When the bad diagnosis brings a tear to your eye?
When your kids won't behave and your marriage is rocky?
When your standard response is "I guess I'm not lucky"?

When your focus is blurred and your vision is cloudy
When your confidence is shaken and filled with self doubt
When the goal of the day is to take one more step
When the waters you're swimming have way too much depth.

When your faith is in crisis and God seems far away
When the words from your friends seem forced and cliche
When the Bible is cryptic and the praise songs are hollow
When you lay down your head to sleep through the sorrow.

It is a mistake to believe God is one among many
     of solutions giving comfort and presence to any
     of the problems you carry which trouble and drain
He is all strong and all comfort and all hearing to pain

It is a mistake to believe that God has forgotten
     the big things and small things which weigh down your thoughts
     the stories and crises which keep you from sleep
He too is awake as His love is that deep.

It is a mistake to think that He can't understand
     the pain, grief and loss that are common to man
His standard of care is the gift of His son
To demonstrate the absolute victory won.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

On Mom and Math

My Mom is an amazing woman.  She has been my Mom for all of my 56+ years and is also the Mom to my 2 sisters and 1 brother.  I suppose you can now count Abby as her child–Abby is a miniature dog of some breed that Mom inherited when one of her best friends passed away.  Abby is the miniature child Mom never had.

In a random stream of consciousness, I am thinking of my Mom, “by the numbers.”  October will mark 59 years since she married my Dad and November will mark 14 years that he has been gone.  She had children living at home either constantly or intermittently for 35 years.  She has 4 children, 8 grandchildren, and two great grandchildren. There was a decade between birthing her first and last child.

She made dozens of dresses, slacks, curtains and dance costumes with her own hands and on a sewing machine that I almost ruined in an unfortunate incident that involved bubble gum placed strategically in the machinery (it looked kind of cool when the needle thingy stretched the gum out and back).  She made seat covers for the cars, seat covers for the dining room chairs, accessories for the pop-up campers that we had.  She would have recovered the pool table if we didn’t finally give it away to someone. She did make a cover for a bird cage inhabited by a noisy parakeet.

She grew bushels of fresh vegetables in our yard to give to 4 kids who hated vegetables. On waffle day, she made them by the dozens. On hamburger day, she made extra for the neighborhood kids.  She made her own popsicles, ice cubes made of Kool-Aid and her beer-battered fried chicken would get everyone down the stairs or down the hall.  She was Pinterest before Pinterest.

She made thousands of sandwiches.  I think there was only one year that all four of us were in school at the same time (not counting college), but I somehow remember four lunches being assembled, usually the night before because that WAS the school lunch program.  She would freeze the Chek cola and wrap it in aluminum foil. No thermoses for the Jackson 4.

She gave millions of hugs, applied ten thousand band-aids and rubbed close to a ton of Vick’s Vapo Rub on congested chests.  We used whatever the 60's version of neosporin by the bucket and there is an urban legend that Mom was capable of setting broken arms or putting in a couple of stitches as needed.

She ran a thousand loads of laundry every year, bought 5 gallons of milk every week, kept multiple jars of peanut butter in the pantry and I imagine that she followed another famous person in recorded history in multiplying the loaves of bread. We ate cereal by the pallet load.

She drove two cars in all the time that I was at home, both station wagons made by Rambler (AMC).  Four kids learned to drive in the 1970 model.  Those station wagons rolled to hundreds of practices–baseball, band, football, basketball, cheerleading, plays, and spelling bees.

She had a quiet faith and a soft voice that would sing hymns over us. She read, laughed, and loved. She allowed us to learn from our mistakes even though she could have rescued us.  She has an infectious laugh and a twinkle in her now 8 decade old eyes that light up a room when she is in it.  She is an idealistic realist: “Allen, I kept all of the ribbons and trophies that you earned or won growing up.  Now you are a grown man and I need you to get them out of my house.”

Mom is a Proverbs 31 woman in every way. Happy Mother’s Day, Mom. I love you.

Monday, March 31, 2014

On Civility

I am not happy with having to write this blog.  God is beating me up pretty good about a character flaw of mine.  I hate injustice.  I don't like it when the playing field isn't fair or when "who you know is more important than what you know" or when the Golden Rule is really "the one with the gold makes the rules."

Then my pastor preaches a brilliant sermon on dealing with injustice. You can find it here www.fbno.org/sermon. Pastor talked about the injustice in the world and the emotions of being the victim of injustice. He left us with some insightful questions: Will I still love God when I am the victim of injustice? Will I love my neighbor when they are wronged? Will I still follow Jesus or will my discipleship waver?

This hit me like a brick in the head because my inner four-year old screams "that's not fair" on a pretty regular basis. The gut check for me comes when I have to test whether it is injustice or whether I didn't get my way. The ones who scream the loudest about inequality are those who are "less equal" than others. I pray that in cases where I am "more equal" than others that I am still concerned about those who have less power, less status, less influence, or less resources.

Then I was watching an ESPN interview with a panel of basketball officials regarding the way coaches and players treat the referees these days. Commentary was also provided about the way the fans treat the players and coaches and referees as if the purchase of a ticket allows immature and even offensive behavior. They remarked that there appears to be a "loss of civility" within college basketball. It was an excellent piece, though slanted towards a favorable view of the officials. I couldn't find a link to it, but in my search I came across an article that ESPN senior writer Tim Keown wrote in 2004. Find it here: http://espn.go.com/page2/s/keown/040127.html . The sad part is that over the last 10 years, it has gotten worse. My search


God has allowed me to have a pretty raw month of delayed flights, purchases that were "not exactly as advertised," un-kept promises by people I trusted, and even some youth minister/church brokering that didn't turn out as planned.  I found myself becoming cynical and wanting to write letters and tweet complaints, because in today's culture a letter of complaint gets thrown away but a tweet gets a response.  My wise and wonderful bride suggested that I go ahead and write them, and then to delete or destroy. Good advice.

Because when I see my words in print, I realize I failed the civility test. 

So I apologize. I have asked and been forgiven for my pride and presumptuous attitude. I need to breathe--to write the letters and compose the tweets and then to stare at them and realize the lack of civility that my wording represents.I need to realize that something in print has no nuance--it is often a raw representation of a sinful human emotion.

I can still voice concerns. I can still cry "not fair" to my God and Comforter. I just need to realize that the referee is a husband or father or grandfather. The salesman is human with the dignity that God built into him.  The call center operator may have an accent, but she is trying to make a living just like I am. The customer care department at the airline is not trying to make my travel unreasonable and I have to consider that the voice on the other end could have drama going on at home or at best is towards the end of a really long day.

The real golden rule comes from various renderings of Matthew 7:12. Jesus is speaking when He says, “In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets. May I add, "treat another persons' husband, wife, daughter, mother, son the way you would want your own loved ones to be treated? 

Pray for me. I am a work in progress. 

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

On the Strength of Fellowship

I am sitting in a room with about 70 or so youth ministers from all over the state of Mississippi.  I am struck by the "safeness" of this place.  The Old Testament describes "cities of refuge" where a criminal could be protected against vengeance. While I hope that most of these guys do not need a city of refuge in the OT sense, it still seems like a place where persons can vent, weep, pray, eat and fellowship.

I won't go into the illustrations about the roots of redwood trees or that a "cord of three is not easily broken" but the results of true community across youth ministry and youth ministers is evident. We gather for Bible study, worship, a little teaching--and then the real fellowship begins.

I am struck by the tyranny of "the next thing."  I don't want to be in a conversation with a youth minister and be looking over his shoulder for the next conversation. I repent from being in a dialog with youth ministers face to face and thinking about lunch plans or golf plans or other plans. 

God, help us all to be in the moment when we have the treasure of face to face conversation. Help me to trust that You will take care of the "next thing" so that I can give and receive the blessing of fellowship in the now.