Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Life Story

Life Story


How is your life story going? No, not your life. Rather the story line you keep in your head about how your life is going to go. My life story never seems to get much traction. My real story gets in the way.  


My life story is filled with triumphs, bravery, poignancy, truth, deep friendships, humor and wellness for everyone. I have it all plotted out. If you think about it, I bet you do, too.


My real story includes a mom dying at a young age, 2 bouts of unemployment, betrayal by people I trusted, aches in the morning-a plethora of daily pills-partial loss of sight in one eye, and an irrelevance that gains momentum with age. Oh, and gravity is particularly pesky! Life would not follow my script.


I choose God for a number of reasons. One of which is the fact that the God of Jesus is a master at rewriting scripts so that, no matter what, he wants our story to end well. Now, I do have to pay attention to God or I will substitute my plot points for his. He wants life for me but I must will his guiding hand. God has rewoven my real story in such a way that my failures and defeats are claimed in a positive way and my successes are even sweeter.


Upon reflection (do we ever take time to reflect?,) I see that God has always been there editing my script with a mind to my ending.


Thanks, God.


Monday, August 30, 2010

Social Justice

Social Justice has been in the news lately. This is a stream of Christian spirituality that sees part (or all) of the Christian endeavor being to work for a just society. The spirit of this phrase is included in our Baptismal vows. The phrase, Social Justice, recognizes our interconnectedness. God is just and ultimately, God wants us to live in a just community since we are an extension of God's love. The Old Testament laws were, in part, an expression of this notion of justice. Justice and mercy are two sides of the same God "coin."


       He has showed you, O man, what is good.
       And what does the LORD require of you?
       To act justly and to love mercy
       and to walk humbly with your God.  Micah 6:8 NIV)


Martin Luther King, Jr. has been mentioned in current conversations and has been closely identified with Social Justice. Here is a quotation from a speech of his at Western Michigan University in 1963.


All I'm saying is simply this, that all life is interrelated, that somehow we're caught in an inescapable network of mutuality tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. For some strange reason, I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. You can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality. John Donne caught it years ago and placed it in graphic terms. "No man is an Island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of a Continent, a part of the main." He goes on toward the end to say "Any man's death diminishes me because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee."


Today, see your interconnectedness with those around you, especially those you might overlook. How has God connected you? What might that mean for you?

Sunday, August 29, 2010


My mom always (believe me – ALWAYS) told me that a defeat will mean more to me in life than a win if I work with it. While she was right, I hated to hear that. Loss stung – that instant. She would say, "It's a character builder." It was. But, in the moment, it just hurt.


Our fabulous Pearland All Stars won many games. Not today's. I hurt. I can only imagine how they feel. Yet I was struck (more than once but I will relate only one) by their coach today. He was perpetually positive. One thing he said stuck with me. In a difficult point, he told his pitcher, "I can't make you happy but I can give you a choice. You can pitch or not pitch. The choice is yours." I often (not as eloquently) told my children, "My job is to make you human. Your job is to make you happy. I cannot and should not do the happy part. Happiness is a fruit of a faithful life and not a commodity to be doled out."


Jesus must have been a good coach, just like Mike Orlando. He said it this way in Matthew 5:3-12 (NIV.) You can substitute "Happy" for the "Blessed's" without a lot of fuss.


3"Blessed are the poor in spirit,
      for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
 4Blessed are those who mourn,
      for they will be comforted.
 5Blessed are the meek,
      for they will inherit the earth.
 6Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
      for they will be filled.
 7Blessed are the merciful,
      for they will be shown mercy.
 8Blessed are the pure in heart,
      for they will see God.
 9Blessed are the peacemakers,
      for they will be called sons of God.
 10Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
      for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

 11"Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.


Jesus says, in effect, "I can't make you happy today but stay true, you'll be happy in the long run. The choice is yours." Great coaching. Great parenting.


Thank you, boys, for some of the most fun baseball I have seen in a long time. Mike, to you and the coaches and parents, thanks for making it an experience of lasting value to us all. Being true always wins.


Saturday, August 28, 2010



Dave Csinos cited in his blog a video by Sir Ken Robinson about Schools killing creativity. See Link
The following quotation struck me as a priest, a man, a husband, a citizen, a friend, a father and a grandfather.

So, spirituality isn't something that we achieve-it's a gift from God that is woven into the very fabric of our innermost being. That is why we speak of spiritual formation and not spiritual creation. We can't create a spiritual capacity in anyone. But we can help to form it. We can provide opportunities for children and youth to have spirit-to-Spirit connections with the One who gave them the gift of spirituality. Spirituality is something that can change, grow, and form. But it can also wither and fade away. To paraphrase Robinson's words "We don't grow into spirituality. We grow out of it. Or rather we get educated out of it."

One idea stood out to me.
Spirituality is formed (God created it.) I can form a spiritual life (mine or another's) well or poorly. I can help it bloom or screw it up. The spirit is not something only the lucky or the persistent or the smart have. We all have the raw materials of the spiritual life. It is what we MAKE OF IT. Forming the spirit of a child is stewardship.
What will you do today to invest in the formation the spirit of a child in your life?

Thursday, August 26, 2010


Your assumptions are your windows on the world.
Scrub them off every once in a while, or the light won't come in
Isaac Asimov
How often I go through life not checking my assumptions. Autopilot. As a Christian, I think we even more so believe we have the "right" thinking. After all, we believe in Jesus and didn't he say he was the Truth? Trouble is that I am not "the Truth." All I can muster up is my opinions/assumptions about the Truth.
I think none of us can escape prejudices and hidden assumptions in our opinions. I think it is natural for us to think our opinions are the Truth. Natural, but unhealthy. We are broken people who Jesus is in the process of healing (redeeming.) IF...we will let him.
Find one situation today that elicits strong feelings. Pray throughout the day for Jesus to reveal the noble and ignoble realities behind these feelings. There very well may be a change required in our thinking. Paul says in Romans (12) that we are only transformed when we renew our thinking (mind.) Change your mind. Let the Son shine through.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010


While Christine and I vacationed in Savannah, we came upon an interesting house. Evidently, the gentleman who built the house did it in retaliation. It seems that he had donated land across the street to a society for direct decedents of the original settlers of Savannah who were with Oglethorpe. While the donor had a long family tenure in Savannah, he was not a descendent of a settler and he was not allowed to join the society when their building was finished. They hosted parties for their members but the donor was not allowed entry. He, in turn, built his house across the street and hosted (wild) parties that started an hour before the society events. The donor drew in the society crowds and left the society's galas noticeably void of party-goers.


People tell me that they left churches because they were not allowed "entry." Sure no one barred the door, but they were ignored. Tenured church friends used their Sunday time to catch up with each other but seldom to get to know a visitor. These visitors felt unwelcomed into the church "society." People were expected to leave their money, volunteer for the "bottom-feeder" ministries that no one wanted, and not ask to run anything.


Now, I know that not all churches or visits are like these. And some people are very persistent. But I know there are enough stories like this because I meet these people over and over again. New faces. Same story. The Church let them down. They had yearned for connection in a very disconnected world.


Hospitality is a hallmark of following Jesus. We entertain angels, even God when we invest in hospitality. Hospitality marks a church as Christ's. Each of us individually treats every stranger as if she was God. Life blooms.


May you introduce someone to Christ today by going out of your way as host. Do not underestimate the resurrecting power of your graciousness.

Monday, August 23, 2010



Faith is to believe what you do not see;

the reward of this faith is to see what you believe.  

Saint Augustine


I am glad I seldom know what people are saying about me on any given day. Judging by what I read and hear on TV, Facebook, blogs, magazines, radio and the newspapers, there are a fair number of people who think they have sized up others and have written them off. Pretty sad.


At a minimum, St. Augustine is saying, in effect, "You will come to inhabit the world you envision."  Cynicism, caricatures, misstatements, over-statements, and assumptions will only lead to a worst world. While we may not be aiming for a worse world, that is where we will be if we do not examine our speech.


While Jesus did seem to have people sized up pretty well, he listened and encouraged and, at times rebuked. James in his Epistle tells us we set our own world ablaze with our knee-jerk speech. He further tells us that we should be slow to both speak and get angry. Jesus said anger that treats another human being as an object (no longer a person) is murder. Pure and simple.


And the crazier more zealous speech often comes from those who claim to follow Christ.


May you trust in the world you truly wish to be a reality. May you believe that each people is more than a caricature of an idea or opinion. Listen today. Assume nothing. See that person as someone Christ died for. He did. I pray people see you that way as well.

Saturday, August 21, 2010


I read many blogs and Facebook entries every day. Some are Christian in nature. Some are not. Many are irreverent but cut to the truth. I am inspired and amused by a variety of writers.


One type of writing pains me, however. It is the writing of a Christian who puts down others outside the church and says, in effect, "We are better." I would agree that Christ is better. I am not so sure about us. Belonging to a church does not make us Christian or even good. Following Christ does.


Over and over in Scripture, Jesus, Paul, Yahweh and others tell us that we need to take a hard look at ourselves (personally and the Church) before we wander into critiquing (judging) others. The assumption being that we will never stop finding things about ourselves that are not Christ-like, so we already have a full time job.


For those outside the Church, we have love, understanding and encouragement. Just like Jesus did. We can still hate sin. We are not meant to hate sinners. And most "Sinners" outside the Church, aren't any more so that we are. I am to clean up my act first.


We show outsiders Christ in the generous spirit we have when with them. Christianity is meant to be "attractive."  I have met a number of people who do not want to consider church because they ran into a self-righteous Christian who wanted to fix them (or worse.) I tell them that these people are not the norm but, unfortunately, they get all the press.


What kind of ambassador for Christ will you be today?

Thursday, August 19, 2010




Did you know that some churches hire "secret shoppers" to come in secretly evaluate their church? Buckhead Church (story here) in Atlanta (among others) hired (through Craigslist) a bunch of nominally non-church goers (maybe atheists and agnostics) to come unannounced and see how Christ-like Buckhead really was. Every church says that they are a friendly, Christ-like place. Some are. Some aren't. Jeff, the pastor, had the guts to want to find out if his church was self-serving or truly carried out the work of Jesus by being welcoming to the outsider, lowering the obstacles of church without diluting the gospel. After all, our mission is to seek and serve those outside the church (Baptismal Vows.)


Okay, here's a questions. What is your (and my) response? If Jesus sent a "secret shopper" into your life today, what would he or she report back to Jesus, the Boss? Would you have time for that person? Would you be generous with that person? Would you judge that person? Would you serve that person? Would you respect that person, no matter what?


What would your "report" read?


Every day, Jesus is sending not-so-secret shoppers into your life. He trusts you to show them the hospitality of Christ.

Monday, August 16, 2010


I have heard it said that we are to do, "Whatever makes you happy." Is this true? Do we even question it? I think it is true. Problem is, I do not know what makes me happy much of the time. I know what makes me feel good. Often, that is escape or avoidance. Neither builds a solid person. Solid people are happy.  


True happiness comes from within. It is not based on what my environment is doing ("I'm bored" "If it feels good, do it." "Shop till you drop.") True happiness is based on whether or not I am in sync with the "me" God made and loved into existence. God resides in that "me."


You say, "I am allowed to do anything" —but not everything is good for you. You say, "I am allowed to do anything"—but not everything is beneficial. Don't be concerned for your own good but for the good of others….whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.   1 Corinthians 10:23-24, 31b (NLT)


In order to be truly happy no matter what is going on, we must follow the person who wants our ultimate happiness and knows how to find it – Jesus. True, the bad news of our need to change must precede the good news of our happiness. But happiness is what the Master is directing us towards.


My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life. Jesus in John 10:10b (NLT)


How are you (with God's help) going to make yourself truly happy today?


Do you ever worry about Hell? I mean, going there? Most of the time, I do not. Someone has to mention it. I think more about disappointing God.


The Bible does not say much about Hell. Most of it, we made up. We have to trust in "what's next?" God wants it to be wonderful.


I have come to believe Hell is now and forever and it is our residence based on the decisions we make without God or against God. Heaven is now and later and it is our residence based on the decisions we make with and for God. So God wants Hell unpopulated and Heaven populated. It is our choice. We populate Hell well. We see that in the world we inhabit – personally and corporately.


The Bible tells us that God is love and that perfect love casts out fear. Over the years, this has led me to believe that fear and shame are not in God' game plan. (Guilt is another story. Guilt is an honest feeling we get because we did do something we know to be wrong. God gives us guilt so that we might change. Shame says we are inherently damaged goods. God would not say that.)


If I think of love, I am lead to ask myself, "Will I disappoint God with my contemplated action?" Notice that I make what I am contemplating about God and not about me. I don't want to disappoint the God who loves me. If I do think I will disappoint, I know that I am paving my road to Hell – the state of living outside of God's love in the love proof shelter of my folly. I don't like Hell. But I can change that.


Are you in Hell today? Have you disappointed God? What can you do to change that? How can you reach out in love to someone around you who lives in Hell but does not need to?

Sunday, August 15, 2010


Rick Warren sent me this quotation the other day. I like it.


Wisdom is knowing the right thing to do.

Character is doing it when you don't feel like it.


Whether it is in our own self-talk or in speaking to others, we usually know the right things to say and do. When we need NOT to spend money on things we don't need to impress people we don't like (paraphrasing Will Rogers) or to make us feel (temporarily) good. When the kids need to be unhappy with our decisions not because it makes them happy but because it will make them human. When it's time to forget our own pleasure and enter into the pain or trouble of another. When it is time to go to church instead of coming up with excuses. We know what's right and can talk it up pretty well.


We know what is right. But do we have the character to DO it? Character takes continual practice. My mother called those moments when it was time to act on what's right when I would rather not, "character builders."  Paul confesses that he often does the very thing he hates even when he know what's right. Paul describes how God builds character in the beginning of Romans 5:3-5


Today, you will either be building up character in yourself or your children or be tearing it down. There is no neutral point. Every decision counts. People of character are more hopeful in all circumstances. May you choose to act on what you know is right today. I'll be praying for you.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010




When I was priest in Baytown, I took on the unofficial role of chaplain to the Stop-N-Go convenience store clerks. I'd visit one or two a day. We came to know each other. I got started in this ministry after a Wednesday night (Lotto night) at around 9 pm. There was a long line and people were being extremely rude to the clerk, feeling justified in their rudeness due to the fact that they had to get their Lotto picks in before the 9 pm deadline. I got to the clerk just after 9. I told him, "You are not any of those things you just heard. You are special and have infinite worth." I shook his hand and bought my Diet Coke.


From then on, I made it my mission to encourage those in the service industry, especially store clerks. Who would want that job?  These folks have back stories, some very moving. One or two would get held up or shot at each year. I remember visiting a lot of them after one was murdered.


Rudeness or the treating of another as inferior is no part of the Christian witness. Yet rudeness, if not contempt has come to be the norm. Jesus makes it clear that those who are looked down upon (Matthew 25) are, in fact, him. We dis them, we dis Jesus. The Letter to the Hebrews tells us that we are to be hospitable to others unknown to us. When we do, we entertain God. Paul puts it very succinctly.  


"Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves." Philippians 2:3 (NIV)


Today, go out of your way to encourage a person whose vocation is to serve others. Let them not be faceless. Let them not be the object of our and any other's rudeness. See them as God's children, precious and of great value. Just like you are.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010


Name one person who encouraged you. Push beyond mom and dad or spouse. Name one person who made it a point to encourage you when you are at a low point. When everyone else stepped away.


I have some who come to mind. I have had dark days of unemployment (twice,) personal failures (3 big ones,) struggle with a big decision (too many to count,) and taking a stand and paying dearly for it (3 or 4 times, all in church work.)


Name the encourager when you hit bottom. What did that person do or say?


Now, go do that for another. Every day, we are surrounded by people who need our encouragement. Not just our friends who need a little boost but others who are running on empty. What a gift you can offer by being an encourager. God loves this stuff. God will help you.


I subscribe to some pretty weird news feeds. I am fascinated, amazed and repulsed by we humans. I am in the human business (on God's behalf.)


Well, I came across a church that set up a protest outside a strip club; using bull horns and photographs of patron's license plates posted on the church web page to make their point. The point being – this is wrong and we will go through any means to harass you into change (my interpretation.)  In a move of creativity, the strippers then came and protested outside the church on Sundays. See story


Okay, I do not encourage stripping as a living nor do I take First Amendment rights lightly. But I think something bigger is going on here. Does Jesus call us to care more about sin or the sinner? Are we in the policing business or enforcement business or the attraction or salvation business? I think the latter. What do you think?


Jesus knew sin when he saw it but his primary mission was to listen and let people make the move towards God themselves. If he attacked sin, it was with the people INSIDE the faith community (hypocrites was his word.)


Listening does a couple of things. It allows us to see the other person as God does – as an imperfect person, much like we are - a mixture of good and evil. Listening also moves the person from a "project for God" to a "subject of God's love" in that the person has the possibility (which harassing would not accomplish) of being loved and the hope of a greater life. Lastly, listening allows us to see how broken this world is. Why is stripping (or any other thing) a move any woman would joyfully take on? What is this person's back story?  What makes the craving of men so fierce as to make stripping a way of life? Where is there economic justice? When a CEO can make hundreds of millions and some cannot make enough for basic needs?


I think we Christians are to attract believers because we have a love so irresistible that people flock to us rather than be coerced by us. God will produce the change. Love comes first. Then change. It is not that we do not believe in sin or fight it. It is that we are called as "ambassadors" for Christ, to be the "aroma" (not stink) of God.


Who have we judged today without so much as one moment of listening without fixing?



Monday, August 9, 2010


For I was ashamed to ask the king for soldiers and horsemen to accompany us and protect us from enemies along the way. After all, we had told the king, "Our God's hand of protection is on all who worship him, but his fierce anger rages against those who abandon him." Ezra 8:22 (NLT)


I love this passage. While I am not an ace of a Biblical scholar, I have been where Ezra has been. Where he has been is here – The Tension. What's "the Tension?" It is that place where all people of faith wind up. It is where the pull from one side is "God will provide" and the pull from the other side is "But I must do my part."


Like the man in Mark's Gospel who says to Jesus, "I believe, help in my unbelief," I believe God's promises but only so far. I waffle between wanting God to do it all and taking care of me and doing it all myself just in case God is on a lunch break or busy with really important things like world hunger. I feel goofy.


Goofy because I really trust God but I always wonder. Wonder if this is the time I am supposed to use my God-given resources in a given situation. I don't want to look dumb to my Christian peers but here I am trusting in my lack of trust. Go figure.


A Danish proverb I like goes like this. "Pray, but keep on rowing." Trust is a both/and endeavor. I live in a (mostly) either/or polarized world. I am a resident alien in a spiritual sense.


May you trust God totally today in your lack of trust by acting as you see fit but leaving just enough room for God to do something you could never accomplish yourself.

Friday, August 6, 2010

I Quit

Author Anne Rice quit Christianity this past week. She had been an atheist and became Christian a decade ago. The way she phrased it, I think she had issues with the Church, not Christ. She said she would continue to follow Jesus. She said, "... It's simply impossible for me to 'belong' to this quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous group." While I don't agree about quitting, I have met (and been) the same people she experienced. Church is not for the faint-hearted.


Now I know that you cannot dump the Church and embrace Jesus. The Church is "The Body of Christ." The Church in, her currently unvarnished state, can be pesky, however. Sin is real both in and out of Church.


I think I will simply love Anne as a sister. We all go through rough patches in our spiritual life. Following Jesus is not for the faint of heart. We, the Church, can look pretty bad (and, maybe, un-Christlike,) when we are all Judgment and no Mercy just as we can look pretty impotent when we are all Mercy and without Judgment. It takes a mature In practice more than emotionally) person to embrace the tension between Judgment and Mercy. I haven't quite got the hang of it, preferring (depending on my mood) to camp in either pole and through epithets at the other side. Retched man that I am!


I chose to love Anne in her search. I know the pain of following and having more questions than answers. I know the guilt of being a tyrant myself. I know the hurt of church people who have no boundaries for themselves, a ton of rules for me and little love.


Oh, and I will pray for her to come around to Jesus and his Church. Pray for me, too.

Thursday, August 5, 2010


"It's not my fault!" If I hear in once (okay, I say it as well,) I hear it a million times a day. I bet it is your (my) fault.


Somewhere in life, we embraced the assumption that we must be perfect in order to be acceptable. Acceptable to ourselves and to others. The Christian story says we are forgivable because we cannot pull off "perfect." Perfection is a prison of lies, blame and merciless unworthiness. Forgiveness is freeing. We get a do-over. Since I will never be perfect, I would love to be forgiven. Voila! God forgives. I got the story I wanted.


So why do we wink at each other and play the perfection game? You've got me. I don't know but I bet it has to do with not fully embracing Jesus and his forgiveness. We know that he expects us to follow him. And he does. We also know we don't do that all the time. But forgiveness is not conditional. Jesus just forgives. We don't need to earn it.  The prison we create (is this Hell?) is ours to keep, however, if we go it alone. Bad choice.


Let someone, heck lots of people, be forgiven today. Embrace imperfection and depend on forgiveness. Life is not a test but an experiment. God has us covered if the experiment blows up once in a while.


I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work. - Thomas Edison