Tuesday, June 30, 2015

"Here You'll Find Rest"

One of the things that always makes me smile is watching families with small children try to get ready to go anywhere. The amount of packing and loading and reloading that goes on is amazing. You all know what I mean. There is just so much stuff to account for and carry. The same kind of thing is one of the reasons I never liked staying in beach houses or motels that are not oceanfront. Lugging all of your "stuff" down to the beach and back a couple of times a day gets old in a hurry. It's also the reason I never liked backpacks. Carrying around things that I may or may not need always felt like unnecessary baggage. Perhaps the one thing all of these have in common is that I am simply lazy. Or maybe is has something to do with burdens.

Way back in my days at Quaker Lake Camp my good friend Martha Ratledge (now Farlow) would often sing a song in worship services that featured words from Matthew 11. "Here you'll find rest, you'll find rest for your weary soul. For my yoke is easy and my burden light, come to me." I always loved the song and the message, and it taught me an important scripture. Too many preachers and teachers present religion as an additional burden in our lives- something none of us needs. Life is complicated enough. Our families, our jobs, our health and our relationships are often daily struggles. The last thing life with Jesus should be is one more thing where we have to pack up all of our stuff, load it on our backs and then be yelled at because we forgot something important. That may be what religion is- but it has nothing to do with walking the #NarrowRoad

Check out these words of Jesus from Matthew 11:28-30 from The Message and you'll see what I mean: "Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Get away with me and you'll recover your life. I'll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me- watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won't lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you'll learn to live freely and lightly."

Isn't that an amazing text? We so often think of following the Christ and walking the #NarrowRoad as this burden, this insurmountable challenge to be spiritually perfect. Jesus says that just the opposite should be true. Walking with him should be a time of peace and rest in our crazy lives. We don't have to pack up our faults and our failures, or gather up our good deeds and our church perfect attendance pins. We don't have to "get our act together" before hitting the trail. We just need to walk with the Savior, unencumbered and free. "Learn the unforced rhythms of grace." How different would our lives be if we were to truly recognize that Jesus cares NOTHING about religion and EVERYTHING about relationships? There are no backpacks needed on the #NarrowRoad. Jesus carries it all. And quite often, he carries us too.

The next time someone makes you feel burdened by telling you that you are not doing religion "right," remember the words of the Master. "Get away with me and you'll recover your life." True Christianity is not about doing more or carrying more baggage. It's about walking through life (and being yoked & connected) with the love of God whose name is Jesus. Want that walk? Need to be free of your burdens? He's calling.  "Come to me..."

Because of Jesus,

Monday, June 29, 2015

Compliment or Insult?

I spend a great deal of my life these days with words. Between writing this blog, writing countless emails and texts and speaking with people, I am constantly trying to craft words so that they will convey what I mean. I, like many others, do not always succeed. Sometimes my words fail to make my meaning clear. Over the past few weeks I have heard or read a number of statements that left me wondering- had I just heard a compliment, or an insult? I would love to know your thoughts on these. Italics indicate that the word was emphasized when spoken. So how would you take if someone said to you...

  • Wow.  I have never seen anyone do it that way before.
  • Do you understand what he is saying? Because you'd have to be smart to understand all of that...
  • That's really good. I can't believe you wrote it.
  • I don't hate you for that, I love you just the way you are. I just wish you'd change.
  • You're amazing. You'd make a perfect boyfriend for a nun!
  • No, it's ok. I have seen you do it once before. I don't need to see it again.
  • That pie has a most unusual flavor. Did you make it?
  • She's prettier than a sunset over Newark.
  • I have met a lot of people, and there is no one else quite like him! He is so special!
As a people, we are so often quick to offer criticism and insults and very slow to encourage and compliment. Choose encouragement. Don't leave people wondering what you meant- use the language of love. Help make someones day. A special thanks to the people who do that for me and for others every single day. Life is much better because of you.

Because of Jesus,

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Kissing Frogs

The events of the last few weeks- particularly the reaction to the Supreme Court ruling and the tragic killings in Charleston- have left me remembering the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. I was struck during those games by the incredible diversity of the Olympic community and by their inclusiveness. Race, religion, nationality, sexual preference and politics were set aside for a fortnight as thousands of athletes pursued their dreams and goals. Even though they were in competition with one another, there was a spirit of unity. The spirit of acceptance and inclusion was truly incredible, and this week those memories have had me pondering this question- How can the Church be more like that? How do we follow Jesus without shutting the door on the world?

The first thing we need to is let go of our Better Bes. In his book Just Walk Across the Room, Bill Hybels writes that most Christians are willing to be accepting of others as long as they meet our list of things they had "better be." They had better be clean and polite. They had better be people who look like us. They'd better be ready to sing the songs we like to sing. They had better be people who vote for the right political party and come from the right background. They had better be against all the right things and for all the right things. In other words, we want the new people in our churches to be just like the old people- just like us! This is not inclusion, this is a selection process. Instead of listening to people, hearing their stories and investing in their lives, we judge based on what we think we know. And we shut them out. You may say "my church doesn't turn anyone away."  You do not have to ask someone to leave to let them know they are not wanted. Our attitudes speak volumes.

Jesus gave the church a very different model of responding to people, one that we often choose to ignore. Jesus had no list of Better Bes. Instead, he invested in the lives of those he met to the point that he turned them into Used To Bes. Think about it. Peter and Andrew used to be fishermen. Matthew and Zaccheus used to be tax collectors. Mary Magdalene used to be a woman with a bad reputation. Bartholomew used to be blind. Lazarus used to be DEAD! In fact, we all used to be dead until Jesus went to the cross for us. He didn't care what we looked like. He didn't care about our theology. He didn't care about our politics. He gave us one great commandment- LOVE GOD AND LOVE PEOPLE- and then gave his life so that we might live. It's like we were all frogs waiting to become princes and princesses, and Jesus had to kiss every stinking one of us. And he did- not to change us, but because he loves us. And because of that love, we all have the opportunity to become Used To Bes by simply following him.  

So how can the Church become more loving, accepting and inclusive? It's really not a difficult answer, although we seem to have a great deal of trouble doing it. We need to follow the Great Commandment. We need to open our hearts and our doors and love everyone, ESPECIALLY those who are not like us. We must reach out to the lost, the hurting and the helpless. We have to reach out to those who feel separated from God's love- for any reason. It is time to realize that we are all Used To Bes, and that Jesus built his church just for us. And then we must become HIS church, and do the work we are called to do. And what is the task of the church? To kiss frogs, of course...

Because of Jesus,

Saturday, June 27, 2015

The Only Response That Matters

In the wake of yesterday's Supreme Court ruling that bans on same sex marriage are unconstitutional there was much weeping and gnashing of teeth in sections of the Christian community. There were a few dozen blogs post lamenting the day, and most seemed to pose this question: In what ways should the Church respond? How will organized Christianity respond? If recent history is any indication, the answer is "poorly." How should we respond? The answer is written all over the New Testament. There is a response. And it's the only one that matters...

Beloved, let us love one another in the name of Jesus. Now more than ever, it's the only creed we need.

Because of Jesus,

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Throwback Thursday: The Orange Jacket

Summer (and summer heat!) always take me back to the wonderful summers that I spent on the staff of Quaker Lake Camp in Climax, NC. It was an honor, a privilege and a great learning experience- and also a place where I met a great number of people I still dearly love. Every now and then it just feels right to share this post again. Today was one of those days. Have a great Throwback Thursday!

Every professional golfer dreams of winning the Masters. Winning that tournament once makes your entire career a success. Money, fame and glory are yours. But ask any pro golfer what really matters about winning the Masters and they will all tell you the same thing- the green jacket. The green jacket is unique. Only Master's winners can wear them. After one Master's champion wore his jacket on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno several years ago Jon Stewart was quoted as saying, "that's the first piece of original material on The Tonight Show since Johnny left!" The green jacket is special, and if you aspire to golf greatness you aspire to wear the green jacket.

I suppose I was about 15 when I became obsessed with the Orange Jacket (That's me modeling the classic style at top). I was serving at Quaker Lake Camp as a Counselor in Training (later to be called Counselor Assistant) when I became aware of the prestige of it. On Friday night, when it came time to walk to the Campfire Circle, the QLC summer staff almost all wore their orange windbreakers that said Quaker Lake Staff Camp. It was actually a circle that said Quaker Lake on top, and Camp on the bottom with Staff in the middle. But when you looked at it, it seemed to say Quaker Lake Staff Camp. In any case, they were cool. And the ONLY way you could have one was to be one of 14 people hired to be full-time summer staff. I knew I wanted to work at QLC someday. The staff were the coolest people in the world in my eyes, and I longed to be one of them. And I worked hard to get to that point. I volunteered every chance I got, went to all the camps and events I could, and made sure I had a good reputation with the people in charge. The first year you are eligible to work staff is the summer after your high school graduation, and so I applied in the summer of '77. Everyone thought I would be hired, but all four boys counselors- Bill Terrell, Alan Brown, Roland Pugh and Joseph Neal- returned from the previous year (Not only do I remember who they were, but I believe I have them in order, cabins 1-4! And yet I can't remember what my wife told me to get at Wal-Mart today...). So I didn't get a job, even though they should have hired me as the Assistant Cook (would have saved a lot of "Robin Pots"). Neal Thomas told me I could volunteer any week I wanted to, so I was there 6 out of 8 weeks that summer. I loved it, and I felt like part of the staff. But I didn't have an Orange Jacket...

I was hired the next summer for the first of my 6 years as summer staff and the highlight came early, when Lewis Farlow came from Beeson's in High Point and I could order my Orange Jacket. This was real. This was amazing. I had achieved my goal. I was special. I was the counselor in Boys Cabin 1. Even though the jacket was paper thin and no help in the rain, and made me sweat like a pig, I wore it every chance I got. And I knew that all the campers who aspired to do the same, to have their own Orange Jacket, looked at me with awe and envy.

The trouble with all of that was this- wearing an Orange Jacket, or working at QLC, did not make me special. When you are a camper, you believe every counselor is a hero and a saint. When you become a counselor, you wonder "how can they hire someone like me?" You continue to fail and make mistakes. As the years passed many of my former youth went on to work at camp and I happen to know none of them are perfect!  I loved my years working at camp, just like I loved my years in student ministry, but I have to tell you- you'd better love those jobs to do them or you will be miserable. Anyone who worked at camp for the glory and admiration of the campers was in for a long summer. Anyone who did it for the money in those days- well, they were just stupid! You put up with the heat, the long hours, the rotten campers (no one likes to talk about them, but they exist!), the outdoor toilets and the total lack of sleep because you felt like you were doing something tremendous, something amazing for the kids each and every week. Every week you faced a new group of campers, and every week you had to give them all of your energy and love, with no holding back for the weeks still to come. You had to do work like that because you love it and because God has called you to it, or it will eat you alive. You see, it's not Quaker Lake Staff Camp. Camp is all about the campers- and if you didn't get that, then no Orange Jacket could save you.

I don't remember exactly when the staff quit wearing Orange Jackets, but it has been a very long time. Today I think they have staff shirts, but I am sure the feeling is the same among campers- I want to wear one of those someday. And that is awesome! I just hope they all learn, like so many others before them, that working at QLC does not make you special. It simply gives you the opportunity to do special things in the name of God. Being a part of the QLC family was, and is, a blessing. It is the same with being a youth pastor. Billy Joel once wrote I never claimed to be a hero and I never said I was a saint... If I did either of those things I apologize. But how smart were we in those days, anyway? After all, we wore Orange Jackets in public!

Because of Jesus,

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

My Father's Day Week

I had a long and wonderful Father's Day weekend. It actually began last Tuesday when the Golden State Warriors beat the Cleveland Cavaliers for the NBA championship. I didn't watch and really don't care about he NBA, but I am always glad to see Lebron James lose big games and hear people make excuses for him. Yes his star teammates were hurt this year, but last year in Miami he was surrounded by all-stars and still lost. He is a great player and one of the great second place finishers of all-time. He is 2-4 in the Finals. MJ was 6-0. You can tell me all you want to that it's a tired old argument- but as Jason Segel once famously said in the movie Bad Teacher, "it's the only argument that matters!" So the celebration started early at my house., including lots of time with the fine fellow you see below, my nearly 20 year old son Will.

Saturday afternoon was spent with my wife at a friend's house in Orlando catching up with some former youth group students from my days in Kissimmee. It was wonderful to see Jocelyn, Todd, Hamp, Jerry and their families. Laughter was in abundant supply as always and there were no sightings of naked Jerry. So the afternoon was a total win!

Sunday arrived and my dog woke me up at 4:40 am to wish me Happy Father's Day. Will had to work a 12 hour day at Olive Garden so our real celebration would wait until Monday. Still, it was a very fun day. Marilyn and I went to see Inside Out, which is phenomenal, and then had lunch at Boston's, one of our favorite places. Upon our return home I found a package waiting for me, a gift I had ordered for myself. The box set of the original sessions from The Beach Boys legendary SMiLE album (pictured below) which I have since sat and listened to with Will. It's now on his iPod. It was a truly wonderful gift to myself- and not just the music. As he prepares to leave for Orlando in August I treasure those moments with my son. And the day ended with dinner at Will's OG, where Marilyn and I were joined by our dear friend Lisa Jewett. It was a great day.

Monday brought a surprise visit from my old friend Jennifer Minnigan Kuramochi, better known in some circles as Bob. We sat and chatted for an hour or so, which made the day special right off  the bat. That night we had our official Father's Day celebration. We shared a family dinner at Bahama Breeze (complete with Key Lime pie!) and then it was time for cards and gifts. My presents included a nifty Hawaiian-style Star Wars shirt from the Star Wars weekends at WDW and this incredibly cool plush figure of Stitch dressed as Yoda. Other men may want grills and power tools, but my family knows me well. And growing up is WAY overrated!

The week-long party concluded yesterday when Will and I headed out for brunch at the Cracker Barrel (GRAVY!) and then he took me to see Love & Mercy again. We already knew I loved it; we discovered that he did too. It's just a wonderfully made film that tells a remarkable story. He already loved Pet Sounds, and now he is hooked on SMiLE as well. After seeing the movie it is safe to say my son is a full-fledged fan of The Beach Boys. I'm very proud of my parenting skills today!

Thus endeth my incredible week. I am so blessed to have such a loving family and to have this wonderful relationship with my young adult son. I am so blessed by so many friends. I hope you have enjoyed this quick trip through my week. I will keep saying it, mostly for myself, but all of you readers as well- don't take anything for granted in this life. Seize the day. Go for the gusto. And "enjoy every sandwich!"

Because of Jesus,

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Buzzard's Roost

Back in my high school and college days I used to do a fair amount of whitewater canoeing. First with my Dad and later with friends and the Quaker Lake Camp staff, we would head up to Virginia and canoe stretches of the New River in the shadow of the Appalachian Mountains. The water was always clear and cold and the scenery was magnificent. The river moved at a steady pace most of the time and you seldom had to do hard paddling to make good progress. And every now and then you would come upon a good rapid, providing both excitement and a chance to discover how well you and your partner could work together. There were many adventures on those trips- both in and out of the river- but the thing that comes to mind when I think about those adventures is one place, the largest rapid on that section of the New River. You know it's a good rapid when it has a name. This one had two. Some called it Molly Brown. We knew it as Buzzard's Roost.

Whitewater rapids are classified on a scale of 1-5, with 5 being the most intense and difficult to navigate. Buzzard's Roost was a 3+, making it fun for rafts and dangerous for canoes. We were always in canoes. The challenge was simple. You arrived at the rapid after coming around a big bend in the river and passing through several Class 2 rapids, so your heart was already pounding. The situation was immediately obvious. A long line of jagged rocks stretched the entire width of the river making passage in a canoe unlikely if not impossible. But upon closer inspection you could see a small opening in the ledge on the far left side, not much wider than the boat you were traveling in. That was your only opportunity to pass through Buzzard's Roost. But that was also the cause of the danger. The rock ledge was forcing copious amounts of water through that small opening at great speed and with tremendous power. It was a way through, but there was great risk. The rapid could flip your canoe. Your boat could be filled with rushing water and sink. Or the motion of the canoe could become erratic and throw one or both of you overboard. You had to hit the opening with your canoe pointed straight into it (which was not easy) or you had little chance. You had to work as a team to keep straight as you hit the heavy water flow. An then you had to fight the waves and the current to steer through the opening and past the big rocks awaiting you on the other side. It was a true test. But here's the kicker- even if you did everything right, sometimes the river still won. I probably navigated Buzzard's Roost a dozen times in my life, and I usually wound up chasing my canoe down the river. You could be perfect and still fail.

It occurs to me this morning that life on the #NarrowRoad - seeking to be the people Jesus has called us to be- is often a lot like my experiences on the New River. Much of life on the road is scenic and filled with good times and great friends. Often we wander off the path and soon discover that because of grace we survive our mistakes and continue on. But occasionally, even while still in the dead center of the #NarrowRoad, life throws rapids at us. Some we manage to navigate with no problems. Others are Class 3. And when life throws the big rapids at us sometimes- no matter how strong we feel or how faithful we are- we are capsized. The current takes us away. We feel like- we KNOW- that we did everything we were supposed to do, and yet we are floating down the river on our backs wondering what went wrong. 

The truth is that sometimes the #NarrowRoad forces us through small openings filled with turbulence because we become convinced we can navigate the road on our own. The rapids of life where we lose control and where the buzzards circle remind us that we need Jesus for a reason. God had given the children of Israel lots of opportunities to be in relationship and find their way on the path of righteousness, but they had failed over and over again. Jesus came because we cannot do it on our own! No matter how smart, how dedicated or how sure of ourselves we are, it is always possible that life is about to flip our boats. The #NarrowRoad is not narrow because of all we have to do to stay on it, it's narrow because we think we can stay on it without a guide. We humans are capable of many great things, but there are times when all of us get turned a little sideways in the big rapids of life and encounter challenges only Jesus can pull us through. We all need the occasional run through Buzzard's Roost to remind us that no matter how good we are, we can't be good enough. Not by ourselves. We need Jesus.

One more canoeing note. It is also possible to do everything right at Buzzard's Roost, come out the other side, be steering around a big rock and feeling the euphoria of success only to have your partner in the front of the boat panic as the canoe tilts to the right and basically jump out, turning the boat over on its side and tossing you out in the process. And some 35 years later they are still denying it. Other people can complicate the #NarrowRoad too. But that's a lesson for another day!

Because of Jesus,

Monday, June 22, 2015

A Prayer for Today

Today,  For what I am that I ought not to be,
Forgive me.
For what I am not that I ought to be,
Forgive me.

Be with my mouth in what it speaks.
Be with my hands in what they do.
Be with my mind in what it thinks.
Be with my heart in what it feels.

Work in me,
   Through me.
and in spite of me.

And I will give you the praise...
From the 1969 devotional God is No Fool by Lois Cheney.  Abingdon Press

Sunday, June 21, 2015

The Leader of the Band

Happy Father's Day, everyone! My own Dad passed away in 2006, but not a day goes by that Marilyn, Will and I don't miss him and think of him. Anyone who ever knew Bill Jones has great memories of him, and so many shared those stories at his memorial service. He was a wonderful father, husband, coach, boss and friend...and he was a GREAT grandfather to Will. There are so many stories I could fill this space with today, but the one I want to tell you is about Bernard Hughes.

In the early to mid 1970's my Dad was coaching little league football for the Guilford College Steelers. It was late one summer and teams were organizing so he was out looking for players, ages 8-10. As he drove through a very rough area of our community he spotted a couple of kids tossing a football around, so he stopped and asked them how old they were and if they would like to play for his team. One kid in particular was very excited. His name was Bernard Hughes. After some searching, Dad found Bernard's mom and asked her if it would be OK for Bernard to play football. She said yes, and signed the release to let him play. We never saw her again. Dad quickly discovered that Bernard had nothing. Dad would pick him up everyday and take him to practice, and then take him home at night. Bernard had no decent shoes, so Dad bought him football cleats. We soon found that Bernard was a natural football player who could run like the wind. But he didn't know his left from his right, so Dad taped "L" and "R" on his respective feet so he would know which way to run. He wound up being a pretty good player- but that's not why I remember him so well.

3 Bears- Will, Baloo & Dad
Bernard started coming by our house and hanging out, usually so he could get something to eat. Dad would give him things to do and feed him. One Thanksgiving, Bernard came by and helped us pick up leaves in the yard and Mom invited him to stay for dinner. You have never seen anyone enjoy a meal more. Bernard became part of the family, until one day he just disappeared. His mom moved and took Bernard with her, and we never even knew where they went. There were other Bernards as the years went by, but he is the one I remember best.

Jesus said in Matthew 25 that they way we treat the least important people in the world is the way we treat him. My Dad was not much of a church-goer for the last 35 years of his life, but he understood Jesus. It never occurred to him to treat Bernard, an under-resourced black kid from a bad neighborhood, with anything but love and respect. It never occurred to him to treat anyone with anything but love and respect, and that is why everyone who knew my Dad was touched by him. In a world where violence and hatred seem to be the order of the day we could use a lot more people like my Dad.

So on this Father's Day, even more that usual, I miss him. And though I continue to fall short, I want to live life with the same joy and love that he did. To borrow from the late Dan Fogelberg"My life has been a poor attempt to imitate the man. I'm just a living legacy to the leader of the band." May Jesus use us to touch all the Bernards of the world in His name.

Because of Jesus,

Saturday, June 20, 2015

5 Word Summer Movie Reviews

My son Will has known since he was about 10 years old that when he grows up he wants to make movies. This August that journey begins in earnest as he begins his junior year of college in the film school at the University of Central Florida. So as you can imagine movies are always a hot topic of conversation in our home- and summer movies are major events! We see lots of movies (Will more than the rest of us) and we enjoy them. So far this summer I have seen the following films. And here are my 5 word reviews!
  • Avengers: Age of Ultron (1st viewing)- The world needs more Hulk!
  • Avengers: Age of Ultron (2nd viewing)- Totally worth the IMAX money!
  • Avengers: Age of Ultron (3rd viewing)- The third time's a charm! :)
  • Tomorrowland- Thrilling and thought provoking film.
  • Pitch Perfect 2- Much funnier than I expected.
  • Spy- Funny- and with a plot!
  • San Andreas- Really fun for disaster porn.
  • Love & Mercy- Paul Dano's performance is remarkable.
  • Jurassic World- T-Rex is back. 'Nuff said!
That's it so far for me, although Will says that Mad Max is amazing too. We're looking forward to Inside Out, Ant Man, Minions and more. What have been your favorite flicks so far this summer?

Friday, June 19, 2015

Carl's Road Rage Rant!

There are lots of things about driving that irritate Carl. Actually to be more accurate, there are lots of things about other drivers that annoy Carl. So today Carl gives you another post in his Things I Believe (and you probably don't) series as he presents Carl's New Rules of the Road! How upset is Carl? He's writing in third person. It doesn't get much worse than that!

  • Most modern cars come equipped with turn signals. USE THEM!!! Failure to do so should be punishable by being forced to binge watch Keeping Up with the Kardashians!
  • People who are exiting a parking lot at a place where traffic also enters the lot and place themselves in the middle of the road so no one can get in or out make me nuts. And it's almost as bad when you are over to your side of the entrance but people won't turn in because they are afraid they don't have room. UGH!  If you can't drive a huge SUV go buy a Volkswagen Bug. And when did people forget how to make close turns? 
  • If you are driving in a torrential rain storm without your lights on I should have the right to launch bumper-to-bumper missiles and TAKE YOU OUT!
  • Drivers are required to share the road with bicycles. That is fine. Yet bicycles seldom regard the rules of the road, especially when it comes to traffic lights. And bicycles drive on sidewalks like they own the things, giving no thought to pedestrians (and their dogs) using the sideWALKS. Drivers can get tickets for not sharing the road; cyclists should lose their front tires for riding on sidewalks. Or both tires and the seat if the street they are NOT riding on has a bicycle lane. Fair is fair.
  • On a similar note, signs and bumper stickers remind us to "Be Careful. Motorcycles are everywhere." And we do need to heed those warnings, because they are indeed everywhere. Driving down the emergency lanes. Creating their own lanes in traffic jams. Pulling up between 2 cars at a traffic signal. Weaving in and out of traffic like a zebra being chased by a lion. The warnings are for us, not them!
  • If you are stopped behind me at a stop light, and then the light turns green and you blow your horn at me less than 5 seconds after the light changes I should have the right to just sit there through an entire cycle. Wanna' be impatient? Go right ahead...
  • There is a special place in hell reserved for people who drive 45 mph in the left lane of an interstate highway. That happens a LOT here in Florida (God's Waiting Room).
  • If my car really did have missiles I would be in so much trouble. Passing me, pulling back over in front of me and then slowing down for no good reason? BOOM! Putting on make-up and driving? BOOM! Slowing down as you approach a green light? BOOM! Smoking, talking on your phone and driving at the same time? BOOM! Changing lanes without looking? BOOM! Oh the destruction I would leave behind. No people would be hurt in these attacks- but their cars would be toast!
  • And finally...Road signs were a wonderful invention. In many cities even if you don't know where you are going and have no GPS, road signs are there to help you know what lies ahead. Some drivers should occasionally read one. If one more person acts like they didn't know a lane was closed ahead after there were signs for 2 miles preceding it I may just lose my mind!
I feel better now, and I hope you do too. Let's implement my new rules ASAP and save valuable temper tantrums from impatient drivers like me. And btw...I encouraged you to use your turn signals. Turning them off is a good thing as well.  Have a safe and wonderful Father's Day Weekend!

"Enjoy every sandwich"

Thursday, June 18, 2015

"Pet Sounds" Revisited

Last weekend I finally got see the new movie Love & Mercy about the life and times of Brian Wilson, founder of The Beach Boys. The movie was amazing, and the actors in the key roles- John Cusack, Elizabeth Banks, Paul Giamatti and Paul Dano- were simply brilliant. Brian's story is very complex, and they tell it well. Please go see it if you have the opportunity- I will be seeing it again soon. I have been completely immersed in The Beach Boys music ever since. There was a fair portion of the film dedicated (and my listening this week) to the time Brian spent in the studio making his masterpiece, Pet Sounds. I have written of the significance of that album in this space before. Inspired by the movie, I do so again today.

On May 16, 1966, the world of music changed forever. The Beach Boys, known for their breezy anthems about California girls, surfing and hot rods, released an album that no one was quite prepared for or would ever forget. Pet Sounds was a whole new type of popular music. Brian Wilson had written rich orchestrations using instruments no one had heard in a pop song before, and his new collaborator Tony Asher wrote lyrics that captured the hearts of young people everywhere. The album is in the top 5 of most every "greatest albums of all-time" list ever made, and produced several songs that teenagers in 2014 still know today. The Beatles were often quick to point out that there would have been a very different Sergeant Pepper without the influences of and the creative gauntlet thrown down by Pet SoundsPaul McCartney said this in a 1990 interview:

"It was Pet Sounds that blew me out of the water. First of all, it was Brian's writing. I love the album so much. I've just bought my kids each a copy of it for their education in life---I figure no one is educated musically 'til they've heard that album. I was into the writing and the songs. I’ve often played Pet Sounds and cried. It's that kind of an album for me." 

I first heard the album years after its release when I started collecting Beach Boys vinyls in the mid 1970s. I too was simply stunned at the majesty of the music and the passion of the lyrics. It was immediately one of those rare albums that I could never listen to just a few songs at a time. The album was ONE masterpiece that told ONE story, and needed to be heard as such. Time passed and I replaced the vinyl with a CD. And then more time passed and the CD was borrowed and never returned. The Beach Boys box set contains a number of the songs, but not the entire project, and I had been missing Pet Sounds and longing to listen to it with my then 18 year old son Will when Santa delivered a new copy. In the 18 months since that time not only have I been listening to it  over and over and over, but Will purchased it on vinyl and loves it almost as much as I do. It takes me back, not just musically, but to so many lost relationships and moments of heartbreak and discovery. No matter who you are or what era you have grown up in, Pet Sounds is the soundtrack of young love. Many of you know Wouldn't It Be Nice and God Only Knows (called by McCartney the greatest song ever written). but those are far from the only gems on the album. Here's the song list and a few of my thoughts with selected lyrics:

* Wouldn't It Be Nice ~ This song totally captures that feeling that you have when you are young and in love that everything would be better if you could go ahead and be together forever. "You know it seems the more we talk about it, it only makes it worse to live without it...but let's talk about it...wouldn't it be nice?"
You Still Believe In Me ~ An unbelievably beautiful melody and lyrics that remind us that true love always seeks to be unconditional. "And after all I've done to you how can it it be that you still believe in me?"
That's Not Me ~ A song about striking out on your own seeking to make it big only to discover "I could try to be big in the eyes of the world but what matters to me is what I could be to just one girl..." Who hasn't felt that way? When you are young and in love there is often nothing else that seems to matter.
Don't Talk (Put Your Head On My Shoulder) ~ Another ultimate expression of young, passionate love that knows nothing of struggle or issues... "I can hear so much in your sighs, and I can see so much in your eyes. There are words we both could say...but don't talk, put your head on my shoulder. Don't talk close your eyes and be still. Don't talk, take my hand and listen to my heart beat..." Wow. Just wow.
I'm Waiting For the Day ~ The girl he loves has been hurt, and is not ready to move into a new relationship. But the songwriter will wait. Just as we all did at some point in time. "He hurt you then but that's all gone, I guess I'm saying you're the only one. I'm waiting for the day when you can love again."
Let's Go Away For Awhile ~ A beautiful instrumental piece.
Sloop John B ~ Brian's arrangement of an old Caribbean folk song is pure genius. While lyrically a bit out of step with rest of the album (which is not a surprise as it was a single done months before the rest of the project) the orchestrations and harmonies set the bar very high for the rest of the songs that followed. I once owned an album called Stack ' O ' Tracks that contained Beach Boys songs without the vocals. This song was the highlight- unbelievably complex and strikingly beautiful.
God Only Knows ~ The first non-religious song ever played on the radio with "God" in the title, it is the essence of young love. "I may not always love you, but as long as there are stars above you, you'll never need to need to doubt it. I'll  make you so sure about it... If you should ever leave me, though life would still go on, believe me. The world could show nothing to me, so what good would living do me? God only knows what I'd be without you."
* I Know There's An Answer ~ A song about discovering truth and dealing with know-it-alls. Originally titled Hang On To Your Ego. "I know there's an answer. I know now but I have to find it by myself."
Here Today ~ One of my very favorites among an album of favorites! It captures the excitement and drama of new young love - "It starts with just a little glance now, right way you're thinking 'bout romance now...you know you ought to take it slower, but you just can't wait to get to know her.  A brand new love affair is such a beautiful thing" - but with this very practical reminder- "but if you're not careful think of all the pain it can bring. It makes your heart feel sad, it makes you feel so bad, it makes your days go wrong, it makes your nights so long, you've got to keep in mind love is here today and it's gone tomorrow. It's here and gone so fast."
I Just Wasn't Made For These Times ~ One of the hardest parts of being a teenager- whether in the 1960s or today- is fitting in. Who among hasn't felt like we just weren't made for the times we live in? "Sometimes I feel very sad..."
Pet Sounds ~ Brian at his instrumental best.
Caroline No ~ "Where did your long hair go? Where is the girl I used to know? How could you lose that happy glow? Oh Caroline, no." The album ends with young love dying. Because so often that's what young love does, leaving one party -or both- hurt and longing with unanswerable questions- "Break my heart, I want to go and cry. It's so sad to watch a sweet thing die. Oh Caroline, why?" And wondering if you'll ever be able to feel that way again.

Although at age 55 it is often hard to remember, I was once a teenager and a young adult. I also spent 28 years of my life working with teenagers as a youth pastor. There are few things that impact the lives of that age group more than the search for acceptance and love, and the heartbreak that often accompanies that search. If you've "forgotten" what it was like to feel the agony and the ecstasy of those days and those relationships, Pet Sounds can take you there. Over and over again. And that is a memory that will never go out of style.

"Enjoy every sandwich."

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

"Run It 'til They Stop It!"

Back in the 1970s my Dad and I used to coach little league football together in Greensboro, NC. The team was the Guilford College Steelers, a "country" team that was once a doormat for the powerhouse city teams in the 8-9 and 10-11 year old age groups. Under Dad's leadership they became perennial contenders, playing in 5 city championship games and winning back-to-back titles in 1976 and '77. He made the game simple and fun. His teams were seldom the most talented but always the best prepared. Dad, unlike many of the Vince Lombardi wannabes coaching kids, understood that winning at that level required a different way of thinking than high school or college. This showed up in a variety of ways, but none was more obvious that in his offensive play calling. The Steelers had a diverse offense and lots of plays. Basic running plays, passing plays, trick plays- you name it and it was in our arsenal. Dad would begin every game by showing off our basic running plays. If a play gained good yardage he'd come back to it a few plays later. And if it worked well a second time we all knew what would come next. He would break into a huge grin, grab one of the kids on the sidelines and send the following message into the huddle- "Run it 'til they stop it!" And that's exactly what the team would do. I remember the Steelers scoring touchdowns, driving down the field 5-7 yards at a time running the same play 10 times in a row. There was no need to make it complicated. There was no reason to overthink. "Run it 'til they stop it." We won a lot of games that way.

In 1992 former Arkansas governor Bill Clinton surprised the nation by winning the Democratic Party nomination to run for President of the United States. He would oppose George (Daddy) Bush, the popular incumbent. The only negative for Bush was a staggering economy that was causing his approval ratings to fall. Clinton seemingly suffered through one public relations nightmare after another, and the chances of him winning seemed slim. But then his young, brilliant campaign staff made a bold move. Whatever subject the press and the public wanted to talk about, they would turn the conversation back to the economy. Their mantra became "It's the economy, stupid!" They knew it was the one issue they could win on, the one issue where Clinton held the upper hand. As the Bush campaign began to flail a bit, the Clintons simply talked about the economy more. Their efforts snowballed and there was nothing the Republicans could do to stop it. Clinton won the presidency and the economy was the major reason. I could almost hear George Stephanopoulos whispering in Clinton's ear before every speech- "Run it 'til they stop it." And they never did.

When you are the parent of an infant or a toddler, finding routines that get them to eat, sleep, use the potty and otherwise make your life simpler are discoveries of great joy. And when you find something that works, you stick to it. If playing airplane and flying the food into the the baby's mouth gets her to eat, you fly the airplane. If reading the same book every night for 12 months gets them to sleep, you read the book. You keep attacking the problems with a solution that works until they outgrow it and you move on to something else. You "run it 'til they stop it"- and then you move on.

For over 2000 years church leaders, theologians, seminary professors and talking heads have worked hard to make the teachings of Jesus seem complicated. Their theory is this- the more complicated being a Christ-follower is, the more we need them to help us figure it all out. So we fight over this and that and what we think Jesus meant or what he might have said if he had addressed a particular issue at all. We debate things as inane as "Why did Jesus say the word 'the' in Greek in that verse instead of speaking Aramaic?" when in fact we are reading in english a text that has probably been translated a dozen times. We argue over the minutia because what we KNOW scripture says is out of step with our world. Most of the things our churches hold dear come from founding fathers and church leaders, not from Jesus. And yet every denomination claims to know the way Jesus would do things were he among us today. We make it so complicated, when in fact it couldn't be more simple. Jesus made it very clear, and he did it over and over again. The church is to get out there in this messed up world and LOVE people in his name. People who are different. People who are hurting. People who are lost and confused. People who don't like us. People who shoot at us. People who fear us. Our calling is to go after these people with LOVE and not stop until they know the love of God whose name is Jesus. And all we are to ask of them is that they share the love as well. 

It's pretty simple church. Our job is to love one another. Now and always. "Run it 'till they stop it." The play is love. And it's unstoppable!

Because of Jesus,

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Or Maybe It's a Planned Crapshoot?

"Do you ever feel like life is a crap shoot? A roll of the dice? That no matter what, sometimes you are just going to roll snake eyes? Or are you confident that God - or some higher power- has a plan for you, that things will work out?" An old friend of mine asked those questions on Facebook the other day as she was preparing a sermon and it got me to thinking. Is the #NarrowRoad a preordained path, laid out by God for us to discover, or is it all random and fluid? Which do I believe? Or perhaps...just maybe...life is a planned crapshoot! Let's explore!

When I was younger- and perhaps this is still happening and I just don't see them anymore- it was popular in some circles for church folk to hand out these things called tracts. These were tiny little pamphlets filled with spiritual information given with the purpose of helping to redeem lost souls in the name of Jesus. It seems to me that every time I encountered someone passing out these tracts they would give the same greeting. It was always, "God loves you and has a plan for your life." It seemed straightforward and simple enough until I really began to think about it. So much depends on what you mean by PLAN. Reading those little nuggets of spiritual wisdom often led one to believe that PLAN meant that if you surrendered to Jesus then God would take over from there. You'd be on easy street. The #NarrowRoad would be all yours to travel with no bumps, no detours and no wrecks. God's plan would always prevail if you only had enough faith. Pray about every decision and God would give you answer- and a can't miss answer at that. It all sounds so perfect.

But then I take a look a the scriptures and remember that the PLAN of God never works that way for the heroes of the Bible. God had hold of David's heart as a boy and was with him as he killed Goliath, but was it really God's plan for David to commit adultery and send Uriah to his death even while being "a man after God's own heart?" Seems unlikely. The disciples walked around with Jesus for 3 years, hearing him teach and watching him heal, and they would eventually be used by the Messiah to start the church and change the world. But most of the time they had no idea what they were doing the next day, much less what God's PLAN was for the rest of their lives! And do we really think that it was God's PLAN for Paul to suffer so much as he shared the good news with the world? Starting with the very first humans we were given free will and have used that free will to make terrible choices and good ones. If by God's Plan someone means that God will prevent us from doing wrong, will stop us from taking detours and will keep us on the #NarrowRoad, then they are reading a very different Bible than I am.

However...having said all of that, I do believe that God is in control. He will never leave nor forsake us. There are things God wants us to accomplish, directions we are pushed in if we place our faith, hope and trust in Jesus. There was a plan for saving the world, and the plan was sending Jesus. There is a plan for loving the world, and that plan is us. So God has a plan for us. But for too many people the word PLAN implies something organized and orderly. Life is chaotic. Life lived with Jesus might be even more chaotic! We are called to step outside our comfort zones, take risks and be bold. We are not called to an easier life; we are called to an ABUNDANT life (John 10:10)! Our God is a God of love and mercy. The gift of grace, at its very core, means not getting what we deserve. But the flip side is also true. Sometimes we get what we don't deserve. It seems far outside the nature of our God that He would choose who gets cancer; that God would choose who dies in car wrecks; that God would choose whose babies will die at birth or which countries would suffer epidemics. There is a randomness to life, even with God in control, because we very fallible and fragile humans have been given free will. I believe in the power of prayer and that God can and does alter our lives and the lives of others through divine intervention. But not always. Sometimes the answer to our prayers is "no." So bad things happen to good people, good things happen to bad people, and life on the #NarrowRoad continues to be unpredictable- no matter how much faith we have.

So my final thoughts on the original questions? God is in control, but God is not a puppet master pulling all the strings. We choose our paths, and those paths may be the #NarrowRoad- or they may not be. So I'm sticking with my answer. God has a plan for our lives. And that plan is often a crapshoot. 

Because of Jesus,

Monday, June 15, 2015

iPod Time Machine

Many people have written and talked about the power of music to transport us through time to particular eras, locations and emotions. Music is often fuel for the imagination and a balm for a wounded soul. It has great power. Recently there have been three specific instances where songs have popped up on my iPod and taken me back in time to wonderful moments and places in ways not even photographs could do. While a Hot Tub Time Machine sounds like more fun, until that day arrives you'll have to settle for these stories from my iPod Time Machine. Enjoy!

Although it is hard to believe now, once upon a time in days of yore (on a side note, when exactly was Yore?) I was in junior high school. The big social events of the early 1970s in Greensboro, NC were these school dances we called Sock Hops. The name was a leftover from the 1950s but was still valid for us. The dances were held in the gym, which had a beautiful hardwood floor, so no hard sole shoes were allowed. To make it simpler, NO shoes were allowed- thus the socks. Anyway, in those days we 7th and 8th graders seldom were involved in any sort of "dating," so probably 75% of the crowd at any given Hop was there alone and looking for dance partners. It was not unusual for an extrovert (and glutton for punishment!) like me to dance with a dozen different girls in one evening- and ask several more. Upbeat songs- what we referred to as "Fast Dances" - were easy. Everyone just got out on the floor and moved in ridiculous and embarrassing ways. Slow dances were where the rubber hit the road. When you were 13 years old, freshly pubescent and totally hormonal, being able to hug a dance partner and turn in slow circles for 3 minutes at a time was a gift from God. There were many great slow dance songs- I especially remember I'll Be There by the Jackson 5, Precious and Few by Climax and pretty much every song Bread ever recorded- but there was only one 45rpm that required advanced planning, great strategy and possibly even bribing whoever was running the record player that night so you would KNOW when they were going to play it. Only one song required an absolutely perfect dance partner. Only one song gave you 8 wonderful minutes of pure heaven, dancing with the girl of your (for that night) dreams. You had to ask in advance, and you had to ask first. On REALLY good nights they would play it twice. And to this day every time I hear The Beatles sing Hey Jude my mind rushes back to dancing in my socks some 40+ years ago. I remember the girls who shared a dance with me- and the ones who turned me down. The highs and the lows of those years come rushing back. And I remember how I wouldn't trade them for anything!

My iPod Time Machine has a playlist called Really? It's made up of songs that even I have a hard time believing are on the device. One of those songs is a real rarity in this day and age, a song seldom played on oldies stations and not used in any commercials. As teenagers, my best friend Steve and I used to spend a lot of nights walking the sandy shores of North Myrtle Beach, SC. Often we would lament our love lives and talk of hopes and dreams. But pretty much always we would sing. The songs varied and were often destined for obscurity- like Hurricane Smith's Oh Babe What Would You Say? - but we loved singing them. One of the classics from that era was a song about a wife and mother named Mary Jo who ran away from home to become a stripper. Steve and I knew every word, every pause and every vocal intonation to Tony Orlando & Dawn's minor hit Say Has Anybody Seen My Sweet Gypsy Rose? We would stroll along the deserted beach belting it out with great gusto. And on the rare occasions it pops up on my time machine I am transported to the sand, the waves, and the full moon over the ocean, taunting us because we were walking with each other and not the girls of our dreams. Such great memories- it's a trip I am always glad to take. And sorry Steve, but you can't deny it any longer- and you still know the words too, don't you?

Eventually (1977-78) Steve and I headed off to our freshman year of college at Lenoir Rhyne in Hickory, NC. We didn't room together but we were both in Morgan Dorm (The Teddy Bear Motel!) with lots of other guys. My tenure at LR only lasted the one year, but it seems much longer because of the great people and wonderful stories (I really should share a few of them soon) of that year. The group of guys who became my best buddies that year were quite a group of characters. We played intramurals together (our first team name was Jedi Knights, even though at the time Star Wars was so new we weren't sure if it was Jedi or Jet-Eye!), dined in the cafeteria together and just generally hung out whenever we could. Cafeteria food in those days was not all that good/ bad/hard to eat terrible, and quite often late at night we would be hungry again. For the most part (unless Charlie's grandma sent cash- but that's another story!) none of us ever had any money, so we were limited in our choices. Then one day, as if in a vision, we discovered that the local Pizza Hut had a deal for a 99 cent all-you-could-eat salad bar. It became a frequent stop for us even when no one could afford any pizza to go with it. We shared many adventures there during the following few months, and developed some traditions along the way. We would always attempt to talk the manager into giving us free pizza. I remember that working once, when the manager was on his last night and had been drinking. We feasted that night! We would always fill out a comment card asking the people who prepared the salad bar to "slice the cucumbers thinner." They never did. And each visit our buddy Danny Hines would stroll over the jukebox, drop in a quarter and play The Tams beach music classic Be Young, Be Foolish, Be Happy, often followed by the Jay Ferguson hit Thunder Island. Anytime my iPod Time Machine calls up either of those two songs I'm back in Hickory eating salad with The Stallions (our next intramural name) and complaining about the thickness of sliced cukes. Amazing.

So which songs send you soaring back in time? I'd love to hear from you today. Be blessed, have a great week and remember to "enjoy every sandwich." Make today count!

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Praying for Pastors

Often on Sunday mornings my prayer time includes asking God to watch over and bless those who are speaking on behalf of Jesus in churches all over the world. This morning God placed on my heart some specific names, which led to a few more names, which led to this post. Below are the names of some pastors and churches that I am personally connected to in some way. I encourage you to join me in praying for them. I also encourage you to add names in the comment section, that we may all be praying for your pastor as well, not just today but in the weeks to come. Prayer is a great privilege, and it comes with great power. So let us pray!

Wayne Cook, 1st UMC of Kissimmee, FL
Scott Wagoner, Deep River Friends Meeting, NC
Cathy Thacker, 1st UMC of Lake Alfred, FL
David Mercadante, Poplar Ridge Friends Meeting, NC
Terry Venable, Centre Friends Meeting, NC
Jerry Sweat, Beach UMC, FL
Ray Luther, Marlboro Friends Meeting, NC
Tom Nelson, 1st UMC Port Orange, FL
Frank Massey, Jamestown Friends Meeting, NC
Matthew Hartsfield, Van Dyke UMC (my current church)

Thank you LORD for your dear faithful servants and for the work that they do in the name of Jesus. Inspire them and fill them with your Spirit that they may lift his name today and inspire us to be more like Jesus in every way. We pray that Your protection, wisdom and mercy will cover them as they bring Your message this morning wherever they may be.

And all God's people said...

Saturday, June 13, 2015

My (blog) Week in Review

Marilyn and Lisa Jewett are off to WDW again today and Will is working a double- so beware! I'll be looking for mischief to get into- today. But tonight will be all about the hockey. It's the always crucial Game 5 here in Tampa. So let's go Bolts!!!

When you write a small and for the most part insignificant blog like this one your expectations are very low and very personal. It is always my hope that a few people will read what I write. There is an effort made to write with style and some quality and there is effort put into saying at least a few things that matter. And it is always my hope that through sharing here others will be encouraged and inspired. Some days these goals are met, others they are not. But every now and then, like a gambler at the tables or a hitter in baseball, I get on a streak. This past week has been one such time. Whenever an individual post on this blog gets over 500 hits in a 48 hour period my silly brain thinks of it as Certified Gold. That's not many for the big boy bloggers, but it's a lot for me. These days it usually happens 2 or 3 times each month. Starting last Saturday, every post this week except for Thursday's (a repeat about lock-ins and sardines) was a "certified gold" post! That is exciting and encouraging for two reasons. One, it means people are reading. And two, these posts were very personal and among my favorite to write, so it was wonderful for them to be seen in such large numbers. So thank you all!

In fact, I loved these "golden" posts so much that today I want to give you a simple way to get a second chance at all of them! Below you will find direct links to the posts and a brief description of each. If you missed them, here's a chance to catch up. If you read them, here's a chance to read some posts that are very important to me a second time. I don't usually toot my own horn, but...TOOT TOOT! Enjoy!

Saturday Shout Outs - Prayer requests, announcements, a Stanley Cup premonition, and lots of updates on my personal philosophies of life.
It Was One Year Ago Today... - A few thoughts on my ongoing banishment from Walt Disney World- and the bigger picture of my life.
Probation Frustration - What life was like during my 7 years of probation- both for me and for my family.
"This Now Defines You" - The disaster that was the 4.5 years of mandatory therapy I received while on probation. Readers have been stunned!
The Song That Never Ends - An update on what life is like now, over a year after my probation was terminated. 
Throwback Thursday: Marathons & Sardines - Great moments from my youth ministry past!
The Theology of Jimmy Buffett - Yesterday's post was actually a flashback (it had been posted before) but was read by a WHOLE lot more people this time around. And I still love it! Plus there's more of my personal philosophy of life contained within. :)

So there it is- my blog week in review! Again, thanks for reading and making this week special. I do love my readers...

Because of Jesus,