Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The Sermon on the Hill

Recently I worked my way through the wonders of Matthew 5-6, once again exploring the wondrous words of the Sermon on the Mount. For far too many Christians, these familiar passages are undervalued. This is Jesus at his most radical, turning the world upside down with his words. Just think of all the teachings included in this magnificent message. The Beatitudes, which the late, great Rich Mullins referred to as "the condensed version of everything Jesus wanted us to know." Jesus' teachings on salt & light. His constant reminders that "you have heard it said, but I say" as he explained that he had come to fulfill the law and the prophecies. His admonitions to let our word be our bond, to turn the other cheek and to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. Teaching us to pray with the model we call The LORD'S Prayer. Reminding us not to be hypocritical or flashy as we serve others, give to the needy and fast. His much ignored teaching that earthly treasure is worthless in heaven. And finally, his reminder that we need not worry, because his Father - our God - will take care of our needs. This amazing set of teachings must have had the Pharisees pulling their beards out, because it was such a departure from the legalism of the day. And to be honest, it is a departure from the legalism often preached in the 21st century church as well. Jesus calls us to radical action and love. We prefer the words of Paul, which give us guidelines and rules we can argue about. Jesus is blunt, to the point, and preaching a lifestyle change that most of us try to avoid. The Sermon on the Hill is a blueprint for how to be a Jesus Freak. And that scares us.

But it should also give us hope. The sermon is a reminder that God's love is available to one and all, no matter our situation and no matter our sins. Check out these words from Philip Yancey:

“Thunderously, inarguably, the Sermon on the Mount proves that before God we all stand on level ground: murderers and temper-throwers, adulterers and lusters, thieves and coveters. We are all desperate, and that is in fact the only state appropriate to a human being who wants to know God. Having fallen from the absolute Ideal, we have nowhere to land but in the safety net of absolute grace.”   ― The Jesus I Never Knew

Philip wrote another great book called What's So Amazing About Grace?, and his words above answer that question. Grace, given to us in the form of the love of God whose name is Jesus, is always there. We cannot earn it. We will never deserve it. And yet it is always there to catch us when we fall. The Sermon on the Mount teaches us how to live in grace and share it with the rest of the world.

So here is my challenge to you today. Read Matthew 5-6, and read it slowly. Soak in it. Think about how world changing it must have been to stand on that hillside and hear those words. Think about what they mean to us as Christ-followers. And then get serious. Memorize The Beatitudes. They should be written on our hearts. Let's put the power back in the words of Jesus, and to the call he puts on our lives. It's time to get radical...

Because of Jesus,

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

A Simple Truth

Sometimes all it takes to survive the hard times is finding the right person to hold your hand.  ~ CJ

Monday, September 28, 2015

The Great Moustache Debate

As our dear friend Lisa Jewett continues her battle with cancer she is recovering from her last chemo treatment at our home. She's hanging in there; this time has not been quite as bad as the first so far. Prayers are always appreciated. And we are still trying to raise some money for her in the following bizarre way- my moustache is for sale!!! 

To make a bit more sense of today's challenge you may also want to read these posts...

The fate of my 35 year old moustache is still very much in doubt. As of this morning, Save It held a one vote lead over Shave It, meaning that between now and October 6th every $5 counts! Last Friday my son Will pleaded with you to vote for eradicating the 'stache in the name of everything holy. Today, I present opinions from two old friends who disagree with him. One is rational and well thought out. The other is Carl Semmler's. Carl said via email that he cannot understand how anyone could consider paying money to actually see MORE of my face. While I appreciate his desire to help save the moustache, as well as the truth behind his thought, his reasoning was quite hurtful. But that's OK, because Lisa likes his brother better! 

The second plea to save the 'stache comes from my good friend Teresa Tysinger. Teresa is a gifted writer who has used her talents to sway your opinion today- and to get you go to donate and vote! She speaks the truth...

Cancer isn't funny. It's not polite, well mannered, considerate, or even endearingly sarcastic. It sucks. But you know what doesn't suck? What cancer can't take away? Our desire and ability to rally together to fight. And we're not going to be polite, well mannered, considerate, or endearingly sarcastic on the battlefield. We're going to throw everything we've got at it and tell it to go pick on someone its own size. Cancer might not be funny, but our tactics can be. Carl is willing to auction off his mustache. That's pretty funny. He wants my take on vote. 

The verdict? I'll make my donation to Lisa's Go Fund Me page, joined with my prayers for her complete healing, as a vote WHOLEHEARTEDLY AGAINST Carl doing away with the 'stache. Carl with no mustache is like imagining your grandma without her teeth. A hot dog without chili and slaw. Or one of those frightening furless cats. Let's be real. No one thinks they're cute. Carl's 'stache is part of his M.O. In a game of Guess Who? he's "Male with a Mustache." He's a member of an elite team, standing alongside Groucho Marx, Ron Burgundy, Burt Reynolds and Magnum P.I. Carl without his mustache is just...wrong. 

Do your part. First...give to Lisa's Go Fund Me page because you hate cancer and its rude ways. Give because you want Lisa to know she's not alone in her fight. Then, give in honor of unfortunately bald upper lips everywhere exposed unjustly in a moment of insanity. Fight cancer. And save the 'stache.  ~T.T.

How can you argue with such logic? I'd like to thank Teresa and acknowledge Carl for putting forth a defense of my moustache. (BTW- you may have noticed the 2 different spelling of the word- moustache & mustache. Teresa's is the common USAmerican version while "moustache" is the accepted British spelling. I'm just classy like like that!) But now comes the serious part, where you all give and vote. Do you stand with the 'stache, or are you like my good buddy Todd Willis who wants to see it GONE because his curiosity got he best of him? Only 9 days left to vote. Cast yours today!!!

Sunday, September 27, 2015

It Is Well

One of my favorite hymns of the church is the great classic It Is Well With My Soul.  Written by Horatio Spafford in 1871 after his family drowned at sea, it has been sung in churches for many years. It is a glorious reminder of the saving grace of Jesus Christ, even in the midst of our greatest struggles. It is a song of hope and perseverance. The song has lifted my spirits on the numerous occasions when I realize that I, like all humans. am a sinner saved by grace. It was the last hymn we sang my final Sunday at Springfield Friends Meeting in 1994; it was a song that brought me comfort at times of great personal darkness. The song is a brilliant reminder that Jesus loves not because of what we do or who we are, but in spite of those things.

Despite my head-knowledge of the love and grace of God, there are days when my heart still hurts. I imagine this is true for everyone. Yesterday we said our final earthly goodbyes to an old friend; already this morning I have hugged my friend Lisa who is staying with us as she goes through the hard days following her recent chemo treatment. Life can hurt. But God is ever present, and the love of God whose name is Jesus can bring us peace even in our pain. So today I have a challenge for you. Watch this very cool video (complete with lyrics) of a modern arrangement of the song by the great band Jars of Clay from their album Redemption Songs. If you listen to this song and feel a sense of true worship and a sense of thanksgiving for the sacrifice Jesus made for each of us, then take some time and praise Jesus on this Sabbath. If you don't feel those things, you may need to get your heart checked. I'm just saying...

Because of Jesus,

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Remembering Lisa Ramos Moran

Lisa Ramos Moran was one of my oldest friends. We met through the youth group of New Garden Friends Meeting when we were both in junior high school (I am a year older) and have remained connected ever since. We shared so many experiences in high school, including my first trip to New York- a trip on which she met her eventual husband, Dan Moran. We used to greet each other in a most unusual way back in the day. I would greet her with "Ram it, Ramos!" She would respond with "Jam it, Jones!" And then we would hug. Today, friends and family from all over with gather at High Point Friends Meeting to say a final farewell to Lisa, who went to be with her God on Wednesday after to a long battle with pancreatic cancer. She has three grown children- Dani Shea, Alexander and Eli- and is married to her high school sweetheart-still her sweetheart- Dan. As this day arrived and I wanted to pay tribute to my old friend, words failed me. She touched so many lives. And then it came to me that my words were unnecessary- I had hers. Lisa wrote a guest post for this blog back in 2012 that says everything you need to know if you didn't know her- and everything you already knew if you did. I cannot be there in body today, but I am there is spirit. We love you Lisa, and someday, when we meet again on the streets of heaven, you know how I will greet you. And hearing "Jam it, Jones!" in return will once again be music to my ears.

My Best Day in Ministry: Flowers for Lisa

Luke 12:28 - If God gives such attention to the wildflowers, most of them never even seen, don't you think he'll attend to you, take pride in you, do his best for you? 

Carl and I go way back and I was so excited to be able to volunteer for this writing venture! 

Just like all of the other guest writers, I have had many good days in Youth ministry but when I decided to respond to Carl’s request a certain day just popped into my mind.  I feel a bit narcissistic because this story is all about me  …

Last summer, my friend, Sheila- the Youth Minister at First Friends – and I took a group of youth to Philadelphia. There were tweens and teens from both Meetings. I had 3 middle school girls and my youngest son, a rising college freshman. There were 7 youth from First Friends. It was more of an educational trip than a mission trip but God is good, all the time. Our mission, even if we didn’t put a name to it, was about learning love and strengthening bonds within our groups. That, too, can be important work.

We had a blast! We took the train, which was a brand new experience for most, and got to know each other quickly. We learned so much Quaker history, visiting various Meetings and historical sites. We worked with the American Friends Service Committee Office in Philly to make a video about peace. We laughed, ate Philly steak sandwiches and took a bus tour of the city. We walked with mostly beautiful weather above and took lots of pictures.

The last day we were to meet in the lobby, store our suitcases with the hotel staff and head on our last day’s adventures. As I headed to the Starbucks in the lobby (not much roughing it on this trip) my 3 middle school girls met me, giggling as only middle school girls do, with grins as big as their faces, with three of the most beautiful flowers ever. They had bought them at the market and they had bought them just for me.

It was such a spontaneous, beautiful, heartfelt and pure gesture of love from these three beautiful, drama-filled, lovely, mood-swinging, gifts-from-God middle school girls, I could hardly breathe. Maybe you think I am overreacting. I didn’t faint, or cry, or any of that but I was so touched. We took our picture with the flowers and then I decided we needed to put them in a water bottle and carry them with us the rest of the day! I asked the girls if they were up to helping me make sure the blooms survived and we were off!
The flowers rode the tour bus with us, went through the Eastern State Penitentiary with us, had a place on the steps that Rocky ran up, and even rode the train home with us.

The whole trip was great but that day was special. I am a huge fan of the “Rocky” movies- I know, cheesy at best- and I got my picture taken by the statue and a few of us ran up the steps leading up to the Museum of Art. The double decker tour bus ride was so much fun and the weather was perfect. The prison was both surreal and very interesting. The kids were lapping up our last little bit of time in the city, excited for our train ride home but not wanting to leave our own big adventure. And my girls, and my flowers, were my treasure. 

Luke 12: 34 - The place where your treasure is- that is the place you will most want to be, and end up being.

The day brought one of those times when I knew I was where I wanted to be, needed to be and hoped I could stay- in the lives of these young people and others, getting to know them, encouraging them and getting so much encouragement from them. I hope that I am teaching them kindness, helping them see how we can work on the ideals of the Kingdom of God here on earth and I hope to remember to thank Jesus for the flowers along the way!

Romans 1: 8, 12 - I thank God through Jesus for every one of you! But don't think I'm not expecting to get something out of this, too! You have as much to give me as I do to you.

I send each and every one of you blessings, peace and joy in everything you do!
Lisa Moran

Friday, September 25, 2015

A Great Day- and Then Betrayal!

Will Jones, Traitor
Yesterday was a really good day. In the early morning I posted my plan (Save It or Shave It?) to raise money for friend Lisa Jewett's Go Fund Me page by "selling" votes to save or shave my moustache at $5 each. As of today's posting we had attracted over $475 to the cause in one day. There were 44 votes to shave and 45 votes to save, plus an anonymous $250 donation worth 90 votes that could sway the entire contest if claimed. Then I spent the day with Lisa as she received her second chemo treatment, and everything went very smoothly. Things got even better when late in the afternoon I asked the nurse if the numbers had come back on the levels of cancerous cells in her blood work from the morning, and they had. In the 3 weeks since her first chemo the counts had been more than cut in half, meaning the chemo is working and working well! As we anticipate more of the rough days that follow such treatments, she will be spending the next few days at our house where I can keep an eye on her (just call me Nurse Carl). She was still feeling good late last night. Like I was a good day.

There was only one fly in the ointment. I asked my son Will to write a brief post indicating his preference when it came to saving or shaving my moustache, hoping to encourage more gifts and more votes. Lisa and I expected him to sway people to save it, per her wishes. Instead, he sent me this slightly dramatic blurb:

There comes a day, when the repressed of the world must overcome. There comes a day when man can no longer be ruled by the precedent of what has come before or what has been, but must forge a new path for himself. Nay, a new path for the world. For a trailblazer as brave and courageous as this is not only rejecting the ideals of conformity, but whole-heartedly embracing the morals and themes that this great nation, this great world was forged upon. Our forefathers, and their forefathers before them, long dreamed of the day when man would no longer be faced with oppression. A day when man could stand squarely in the face of expectations and tribulations, without a drop of fear in his heart and say unto them, “I am man.” A day when the good-hearted people of this world would be free to live life as they see fit, not as others see fit. I say unto you my brothers and sisters: Today is that day.
The mustache must be vanquished, in the name of valor, in the name of justice, in the name of all that is holy. It must be done.  ~Will Jones

Well my dear son, I can only quote Caddyshack and say, "Tanks por nuffin'!" We want everyone to vote. We want you all to donate. And we really, really want you to ignore Will. Vote to save, not to shave! Thanks for all of the prayers you have sent Lisa's way and to all who have donated. God is Good. And to use Lisa's motto, "we are going to move this mountain!!!"  Have a wonderful weekend!

Because of Jesus,

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Save It or Shave It?

Yesterday we lost my friend Lisa Ramos Moran- someone I have known since middle school- to cancer. This disease is pissing me off. And today I'm coming out swinging...

For the past few weeks we have been seeking to raise money through a Go Fund Me page for my bestie, Lisa Jewett. Lisa is fighting ovarian cancer and today, probably even as you read this post, she and I are at the Moffitt Cancer Center as she receives (hopefully) her second chemo treatment. Her faith and her courage are an inspiration to me and to all who know her, and we truly believe that God and the medical professionals are going to win this battle. Please keep her in your prayers today and for the next few days as she deals with the aftermath of this treatment. As the plan stands now, there will be one more of these in 3 weeks and then surgery and 8 weeks of recovery- then 3 more chemo treatments. It is a long road. We have faith. Lisa has a wonderful support system. What we need, to be blunt, is to raise some more money. Lisa has taught 1st grade for 22 years and accumulated over 80 sick days. Once those days are used, she will have no more regular income for the rest of the school year as she goes about the business of kicking cancer's butt. Even with insurance, we all know how expensive medical bills are. We need to get busy helping, which brings me to my point today. Where is it written that raising money for a wonderful person and a good cause cannot also be fun? It certainly wasn't written here!

A Rare "Before" Pic
When I was around 20 years old I grew a moustache. It had a lot of red in it (thanks, Mom!) and in the late 70s it was cool. Think Tom Selleck and Burt Reynolds cool. That was over 35 years ago and my old friend is still with me and is mostly gray. I have been married 29 years and my wife has never seen me without it. Generations of youth group kids have never seen my upper lip. Like it or hate it, my moustache is an institution. If you've ever wondered what I would look like without it (or if you are one of the rare souls who still remember me ever being that young) then here is your chance to make it happen. You see, just for my Lisa, my moustache is for sale.

The Current State of the 'Stache
Here's how it's going to work. From today through October 6th (which happens to be my birthday) you can vote on whether the furry, now mostly gray caterpillar on on my face should stay or go. You will determine its fate. But there's a catch- votes must be purchased! For every $5 you give (and every $5 matters!) to Lisa's Go Fund Me account you earn one vote. Give $100 or more and I'll double the number of votes you receive, so $100 buys you 40 votes. After making a donation, simply enter YES (shave it!) or NO (save it!) in the comment box on her page and your votes will count. Or you can text, tweet or Facebook comment your votes to me- as long as you donate first! Corporate sponsors are welcome. Heck, donate $1000 and rig the whole thing if you like! It's silly I know- but I'm ready to do most anything to help my friend that I love so much. So click here ----> Lisa's Page - and let's get this party started!!!

Lisa and her granddaughter
Marilyn has always been a little nervous to see me without it. Lisa (and this is all about her!) has stated flat out she does NOT want me to shave it, in fact asking me to rig the vote to insure I keep it. So vote NO to support her wishes! But this is for real. Many of my former students have made fun of me for years for twirling it and for having it at all- so here's their chance to change that with YES votes! The voters will decide. Over the next few days there will be some "Guest" opinions shared here hoping to sway your vote. And of course, you are welcome to campaign as well. The big thing is that we all donate. On October 7th we will announce the results, and shortly thereafter we will video either a party for the salvation of my old friend or a ceremony shaving it & kissing it goodbye! You make the call, my friends. Do it for Lisa. Do it because #CancerSucks. Do it for my birthday. Just do it! Give. Vote. Pray. And let's do something special together. Love you guys.

Because of Jesus,

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Who Am I?

Those who know me well know of my obsession with the musical Les Misreables. I love the story, the settings, the music- I love it all. But at the heart of the show for me is an intense spirituality. When Victor Hugo wrote the novel, he wrote for those who felt repressed and hopeless. In the story a man named Jean Valjean breaks a window and steals a loaf of bread to help feed his sister's starving children. He is arrested and spends 19 years working on a chain gang. When he finally receives his parole, he is given a slip of paper that he must carry for the rest of his life. This identifies him as a felon. He is treated like an outcast by much of society. No one will hire him, and he is hungry. Eventually he is offered bread and wine at a church, and they offer to let him spend the night. During the night, he steals a silver goblet and some silver candlestick holders, and takes off into the night. He is captured by the police who bring him back to see the Bishop at the the church. When the police present the evidence to the Bishop, they say that Valjean claimed the silver had been a gift. The Bishop backs up his story and Valjean goes free. Before letting him go, the Bishop tells Valjean that he must use the silver to change his life and help humanity. In the musical he sings, "I have bought your soul for God." And Jean Valjean does indeed change his life and live in service to others. A second chance made all the difference.

On Twitter there is a group of folks who call themselves the People of the Second Chance (@potsc). They preach grace and forgiveness, and create an atmosphere of love for those who feel like failures in the eyes of the world- or of God. These people are lovers and encouragers in a big way (you can read more about them on their website). I feel very connected with them, because for a short period of time in my own life I felt no one could ever forgive me. This, of course is "stinkin thinkin." The band Stellar Kart once sang, "There will always be second chances, and you will always be on your first try." God's grace is bottomless, and God's love is endless. But sometimes, the culture we live in does not give those second chances or that forgiveness. We tend to be much more in tune with revenge or retribution. As with Jean Valjean and the Bishop, it takes someone special- someone who understands Jesus and what grace is really all about- to offer unconditional love and grace in this world. There have been many of those people in my own life. Martin Luther King once said that "forgiveness is not an act- it is an attitude." It can be hard to come by, even in the church. I know at times it has been for me.

Some days it just hits me. I'm Jean Valjean.  For the rest of my life I must carry my piece of paper. There will always be people who see me as evil and nonredeemable.  But there have been people- so many people- who have shown me grace. And because of them and a Savior who died that I might live I have been given a second chance. A second chance to be a better friend and to show love to the ones who matter most to me. A second chance to be in a new kind of ministry online.  A second chance to make a difference in the lives of people I love. It is clear to me that we are all people of the second chance. We all need forgiveness, and we all need to give it. We all need Jesus.  

Sometimes it is easy to forget who we are and whose we are. Today I know. "Who am I? I'm Jean Valjean!" Let's us go forth and share our second chance with others, always remembering that "to love another person is to see the face of God..."

Because of Jesus,

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

You're Better Than That

You may recall that in yesterday's post I mentioned that this past Sunday my pastor gave a sermon that I really didn't want to hear because I was craving silence. Nonetheless, the sermon was a good one and some of it struck home. Matthew talked about how comparing ourselves to others almost never leads to anything good. Today we will will follow up that thought as we take a look at how comparison can be a major roadblock when traveling the #NarrowRoad.

Most of us feel like failures when it comes to living life the way we think Jesus intended for us to live. We sin. We fail. We head down the wrong paths and find ourselves lost along the way. But truth be told, most of this happens in private, in the dark places of our souls. Most of our sin and the times we fall away from a Godly life are times no one knows about but us and God. We look at the smiling happy faces in church each week and hear the stories of how strong others are in their faith and it is easy to believe that we are the only ones struggling. So many people are so good at appearing to have their act together (and let's be honest here- I was among the very best at that charade for a while) when in fact there is great turmoil going on underneath that shiny, smooth surface. That's where comparison rears its ugly head. We KNOW what is in our hearts, and we see only the fabricated surface of others. When we compare those things, we always come out on the short end. And those comparisons often lead us to bad theology and an even worse question- How can God possibly love a screw up like me?

For many years I attended the Youth Specialties National Youth Workers Conventions, and for many of the years the "orientation" talk was given by the late Mike Yaconelli. As Yac would try to help people make the most of their time at the convention, he would often caution attendees against making too many comparisons. He warned against comparing your ministry to one in a completely different situation. He told us to be careful of trying to take things home that sounded wonderful on paper but had no business in our local churches. And he warned us not to put any of the leaders, teachers and speakers - including (maybe especially) him-  on any sort of spiritual pedestal. "There is a great danger," Yac would tell us, "in comparing what you know about yourself to what you don't know about them.

That same warning applies to each of us in everyday life. We seldom end up comparing apples to apples; instead we compare our store bought apples to someone else's fresh picked peaches, and we always suffer in that comparison. This leads to "stinkin' thinking" and the feeling that we are of no value in God's eyes because we fall short of some warped idea of perfection. And we do fall short. But God knew that was going to happen. If our #NarrowRoad series is teaching us anything I hope it is that this journey is not about our ability to be good and do the right things, it is about God having saved us through Jesus. On our own we will always be train wrecks. It is grace that allows us back on the trail, and grace that makes us whole over and over again. We should never feel that we suffer in comparison to others who travel with us, nor should we ever feel superior to those we meet along the way. We are all children of God, which makes us special, unique and valuable. As Pastor Matthew pointed out, we are God's masterpieces, each of us in our own ways. And it just doesn't get any better than that. There are not levels of God's love. There is only the love of God whose name is Jesus- and that covers all of us. Amazing grace indeed!

So next time you feel down about your spiritual journey because you don't have a God Is My Co-Pilot (horrible theology; why isn't God driving?) bumper sticker, sit on the front row in church, sing louder than the choir and tell everyone the wonders of your prayer life like Sister Bertha Betterthanyou, remember- you don't know the things God is forgiving her for in private. Like the fact that her famous "homemade" fried chicken is actually from KFC! All you need to know is that God grants grace to her, and to you, and to all of us. That's one comparison where we are all equal, and we all win. Peace on the journey, my friends!

Because of Grace,

Monday, September 21, 2015

Missing Silence

Yesterday at church our pastor gave a wonderful sermon that I didn't want to hear. There was so much on my heart and mind that all that seemed necessary to me was a place to be still and talk to God. As good as the message was, I really felt like shouting "Could I please get a little quiet?" Not wanting to embarrass Will, Lisa or Marilyn I kept my cool, but that overwhelming urge reminded me of this post, first shared on a Sunday afternoon way back in September of 2009 after attending a worship service. It still speaks to me. I hope it speaks to you as well...

Over the years I have worked in a wide variety of churches, and I admit that I am a bundle of contradictions when it comes to worship. I love traditional Quaker worship (about as traditional as it gets!) and I love emergent worship aimed at those who can't deal with traditional. You see, I want it all! Anyone who knows me understands how important music is to me, and I love all types of worship music. I can understand what the psalmist meant when he wrote "make a joyful noise to the Lord" because to me they are all joyful noises! I love classic hymns like It Is Well With My SoulCome Thou FountJoyful, Joyful We Adore Thee and Amazing Grace. I love the gospel bluegrass style of When The Roll Is Called Up Yonder and I Saw the Light. I love great modern songs like Awesome GodShout To the LordThy Word and Where Justice Rolls Down. And I love to rock out with the newest praise and worship stuff from people like Chris TomlinDavid Crowder and Starfield. The opening chords to No One Like You from Crowder light a fine in my soul. I loved leading music in church, at youth groups and at Quaker Lake. Music moves me and is an important part of my worship experience. Music helps provide the passion in worship.

I also love a good sermon. To be taught new insights into scripture, to be inspired, to be moved by the spoken word is an important part of the worship experience. Listening to Matthew Hartsfield on a Sunday morning or Tony Campolo anytime can really rattle my cage. I also love when pastors choose to communicate in different ways- through drama, video and other creative forms. I love leaving a service feeling inspired and challenged in my walk with Christ.

Marilyn, Will and I currently attend a church where they do the above things exceptionally well. Van Dyke Church has a variety of great music and pastors who deliver solid messages with style and creativity. But once again this morning I discovered the one thing they don't do well, the one thing very few churches do well anymore. They are missing silence.

Growing up at New Garden Friends Meeting (and continuing later at Springfield) we learned how to "do" silence. Each week there was a 15-25 minute period of "open worship" or "Communion after the manner of Friends" during which there was silence. It followed the message, and people would often stand and speak to what God was laying on their hearts about the sermon. But even if no one spoke, it was a much needed time of "being still" before God and listening for the still, small voice. This practice continued through my days at Quaker Lake, where on the Vespers Hill and at the Campfire Circle we would center our thoughts in periods of silence, meditation and prayer. We believed what George Fox, the original Quaker, had said in the 1650's- "There is one, even Christ Jesus, who can speak to my condition." So we listened for Him. Many of the great spiritual moments of my life took place in those periods of total silence.

Now, the silence has been replaced by background noise. This morning we had a time of silent meditation at Van Dyke, but the piano played the entire time. This is the norm at most churches that have "silence." One time at FUMC-Kissimmee, I had preached the Ash Wednesday service, and wanted a period of silent meditation to accompany the implementation of the ashes. Our Associate Pastor, Rodney, emphasized that while he knew people were not really comfortable with silence, this would be total silence for a few moments. He finished by saying "so as the organ plays, settle into this time of silent meditation." Too funny.

Silence scares people in the church. It is too intimate. What if God is actually trying to speak to me? Do I really want to hear Him? When we open ourselves to the silence and actually listen for God's voice, we join the ranks of the many biblical heroes who listened- and seldom heard what they wanted to hear! So I have to find my times of quiet and solitude with God outside of Church these days. That is not all bad. But still, I feel sorry for those who don't know how amazing silence can be. And I wonder if God is being heard like He should be in our world today.

So give me a great sermon, a Chris Tomlin worship set and a slick video to challenge my mind and my spirit. But please, leave me some to "be still and know that He is God." I do miss the silence...

Because of Jesus,

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Stop the Whining

A couple of years back I wrote a post entitled I Am Right...and You're Stupid! It addressed a growing problem in our nation, where healthy debate is out and criticizing anyone who thinks or feels differently from "me" is the new norm. With a new season of elections upon us and with wide and often tragic divisions in our country and our world, this is getting worse, not better. We have become a culture of chronic whiners. Tearing others down to make ourselves feel better is at epidemic levels. Rather than working towards solutions, we simply bemoan the things that displease us and bark at those who approach problems from a different direction. And this has got to change.

Two of the first real friends I made through Twitter were Kevin & Christie Weatherby. Kevin is a cowboy preacher whose insights constantly astonish me; Christie has a webpage and blog called The Worst Preacher's Wife Ever. They are in the expensive and often painful process of adopting a Chinese child- a great act of kindness and love- and have been getting some crap for their efforts. The other day Christie tweeted a link to a Facebook status that really hit home with me. I asked for permission to share it here and she kindly said yes. Let her thoughts sink in, and perhaps change you...

Here's an idea:
Instead of criticizing the preacher and I for adopting from China instead of America, why don't you go adopt some of those children you are so passionate about.
Instead of criticizing Americans for trying to help Syrian refugees instead of helping our American veterans, why don't you go help some of those veterans you are so passionate about.
Instead of criticizing those that are already trying to be helpers in some way, why don't you go help in some way that you are so passionate about.

Jesus told us to love one another, to care for one another and to go change the world. But we don't have to all do it the same way. Follow your passion. Be a difference maker. Go. Do. Be. And for the love of God, stop the whining!

Because of Jesus,

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Saturday Shouts Outs- Old Friends Edition!

A week ago today I was waking up after a raucous night of food and fun at Ocean Isle Beach with many of my favorite people in the world, friends dating back to our childhoods- which you may know in my case was not a recent event! There had been a meal of Mexican Pile-Up, great desserts and a few adult beverages. A tense, hilarious males vs. females game of Catchphrase had completed the night, scarring some of us for life. That night was made special by the presence of our dear friend Lisa Moran, who had come down for just the one night. The entire 5 days the group spent together were a riot of laughter and love. Today, I want to share with you some of the moments that are still making me smile. It's a special reunion edition of my Saturday Shout Outs!

  • After a bit of prodding from my old pal Martha Ratledge Farlow, we broke into the Fig Newton Song (and dance) in the parking lot of a restaurant on Saturday night. Don't know the song? See it here ---->  Hit it Hal!!!  
  • During the Catchphrase game, my lovely wife Marilyn got the phrase "Pull it off." To demonstrate, she began pulling on her top. As time ticked down and she became more desperate, she pulled harder. We all became concerned that she was about to strip, but fortunately it never reached that point. Although Steve Semmler was a little disappointed.
  • Carl Semmler brought a pound cake he made from his mother's classic recipe. Instead of keeping it with the desserts, it was kept with the breakfast foods, and many of us cut slices for our morning meal. Since eating cake for breakfast is frowned upon, the slices were referred to as Square Doughnuts. I miss them terribly...
  • Ever feel like telling someone they are full of crap? Chuck Foster gave us a much more subtle line to use- "You are a landfill of useless information." Too good.
  • We ate at Calabash on Thursday night, shutting down Captain John's. Literally. They turned off the lights as soon as we were out the door. Many, many hushpuppies gave their lives that night...
  • While trying to get the other women to guess the word "burp" while playing Catchphrase, Beth Vestal McGalliard became so animated that she fell off the stool she was sitting on...backwards. Fifteen minutes later, after the howls of laughter ceased, Rob Mitchell finally asked if she was OK. She was. So we laughed some more!
  • Tammy Foster really wanted us to play guitars and sing. So much so that after we failed to do so by Saturday afternoon she got the guitars out herself and handed them to us. We still tried really hard to not do anything, but Tammy was relentless. Finally Chuck and I played a few things, singing Wild Thing to Beth and a few of my old silly songs. It was fun. And Tammy is scary! And maybe a little mean...#NoFilter  :)
  • Each time we traveled during the week those of us in Condo 103 all rode in Tim & Allison Vail's van. The 6 of us were a team, united in our efforts when grocery shopping and other efforts. Condo 101 always took separate vehicles. So clearly we were the better condo. That just needed to be said.
  • Lisa Ramos Moran played Catchphrase right along with us, and at one point she was giving clues for the phrase "soul mate." She said it was 2 words you might use as term of endearment for your partner, and Denise May Langley blurted out this guess- Spousal Unit.  Truth is stranger than fiction.
  • Carl S. was trying to get the guys to guess the song title "Jailhouse Rock" and gave the clues an Elvis song about prison. Martha, who was supposed to be quiet since she was on the other team, guessed Love Me Tender. That's just wrong on so many levels...
  • Several people brought photo albums full of fun (if a bit horrifying) pictures from our younger days together. As Andy Maynard remarked on Saturday night, this group has known each other a VERY long time. And as much as we have all changed, our relationships are still pretty much the same. So much fun to be with that group, even if it did take us 5 days instead of 5 minutes to polish off a bag of Sweet 16 Powdered Sugar Doughnuts. Age has its price.  :)
  • And finally (or this could go on for hours)...during the game Friday night I was sitting on a sofa with Denise and Steve. Something happened and I reached out to give an "air" high five to Martha across the room. At that instant, the couch collapsed under us, leaving us startled and the rest of the room rolling on the floor laughing. We were troopers however, continuing to sit there for the rest of the game. Of course, I took  most of the blame, being the largest and also having moved slightly just before the event. Denise was clearly an innocent victim, having been brave enough to sit with us in the first place. But after discussion with the sofa owners, Beth & Bob McGalliard, we discovered they had been expecting it to happen (So the lawsuit is pending. WHIPLASH!). We also agreed it was Steve's fault. It's always the pretty ones!
I hope this gives you a little taste of what it was like for me to hang out with people who have been special to me for 43 years now. I miss them already, and look forward to doing it again next year. And in case you are wondering, 2 updates- the game ended in a tie and the couch was saved and is still in use. Have a great weekend!
"Enjoy every sandwich."

Friday, September 18, 2015


In this life we spend a lot of time waiting- and almost as much time complaining about waiting. We, as a species, hate to wait! Lines at Walmart makes us crazy to the point that we cheat and get in the express lane with 21 items. We get impatient with traffic lights, yelling at them to change. We despise when it takes FOREVER (2.3 seconds) for a website to load. Even being put on hold ticks you off a little- admit it!  We hate to wait.

Growing up Quaker should have taught me a lot about waiting. The Friends Meeting I grew up in had periods of silence in which we waited on the Spirit to speak to each of us individually- and many weeks nothing happened. The Quaker camp I worked at for many years had quiet evenings on a hillside waiting for both the sunset and the presence of God. There were many lessons to be learned about patience and calm. But apparently I failed to learn them.

Nearly 30 years as a youth pastor should have gifted me with the patience of Job. In the church, people seldom do anything on time or in a timely manner. Parent's sign kids up late, kids show up late, church elders respond to your requests when it is too late- the list goes on and on. And then there is the matter of being patient with God's little puzzles that we call teenagers. They often surprise you when your expectations are low and often disappoint you when they are high. Without patience, the natural instinct would have been to abandon all hope. So you wait, and trust that God will use your efforts to make a difference in the long run. It has been said (often by me) that when you are in student ministry you never know if you had an impact on a student until after they have been gone from your ministry for 10 years. So you do your best...and you wait.

But all of that practice- all of the waiting- doesn't make it any easier to wait on God when we need answers. Scripture tells us that "they who wait upon the LORD will renew their strength (Psalm 8)" - which is a wonderful promise- but what are we supposed to do while we wait? Lately I have spent a lot of time in God's waiting room, and it has been a stressful experience. There have been prayers and waiting for signs of healing in a friend with cancer, and there have been no such signs. She is fading. So now we pray that God would release her from her pain and suffering...and we wait on that as well. Another friend with cancer is in the early stages of her fight, and we pray and wait and hope that the chemo treatments will work and she will be made whole again. I pray for miracles. We believe in God and we have faith in the doctors, but we still must wait for results. And it is just so hard. Many of you know that I find more theology in music than in theological teachings, and in this case it is Tom Petty who speaks the truth:

The waiting is the hardest part
Every day you see one more card
You take it on faith, you take it to the heart
But the waiting is the hardest part

So what should we do while we wait on the LORD? How do we survive something we hate doing so much? First of all, we need to wait expectantly. We wait on answers to prayer and on God's movement in our lives because we expect it to happen. It will seldom be in what we think is a timely matter- but it will happen in God's time. If we trust in the God who loves us and have faith in the people who love us and who love the people we love, then the waiting becomes much more tolerable. We must wait with the grand expectation that God has an answer- even when we have no idea what that answer may be. Secondly, we need to wait with a willingness to learn. We learn to persevere when things don't seem to be going our way. We learn that we worship a crock pot God, not a microwave God. We place things in God's hands with the understanding that it often takes time to learn the outcome- no matter how crazy that makes us. We learn that we can very seldom "fix" the things we wish could be fixed and that we are NEVER really in control of anything outside of our own actions. Solutions require help, often in the form of faith in something or someone else- or both. We don't like that, but we must learn it. Waiting can be frustrating, painful and scary. But it is also necessary. We wait for answers and we wait for new strength. And we hate every minute of it...

My son is coming home from college for the weekend and is arriving this morning. So I suppose I should get ready for his arrival- and then wait on him to get here. It just never ends, does it? Have a blessed weekend, my friends!

Because of Jesus,

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Throwback Thursday: The Magical Mystery Tour

Butch & Sundance

You may have already read the story of our first FUMC-Kissimmee Mystery Weekend (see Live To Tell), a ridiculously crazy 1996 trip to Myrtle Beach, SC. In 1998 my fabulous summer intern Jerry Hanbery and I (see picture) decided to do it again. This time we would replace the wackiness of 18 hours in a van with a more creative approach. This time it would be a middle school only adventure, and our theme would be "Crazy Times." And this time, Jerry and I had a serious plan...

We loaded up the vans at 7 PM on Friday, July 31st and hit the road. Thankfully on this trip there were no leaks from the parents; no one on the two vans had any idea where we were going. We headed north on the Florida Turnpike, and the kids were buzzing about where they thought we might be headed. We then turned north on I-75, headed towards Ocala. I was driving the always-iffy blue van, and we had the lead. The blue van's issues played an important part in our plan. About 4 miles south of Ocala, I "noticed" that the van seemed to be running hot. We pulled off to the side of the road and Jerry followed me, getting out of the white van to come assist me as I checked under the hood. We had taped a baggie of water under the hood, and when I poured it on the engine (out of sight of the youth) steam erupted as if something was terribly wrong. Jerry and I did some serious moaning and complaining about the "stupid blue van" and then returned to our vans, telling the students that the van was over-heating and that we were going to go ahead and stop for the night so we could try and get it fixed. We stopped at several motels and I went in to see if they had any rooms (I had a great time telling the front desk clerks what we were doing so the youth could see me having conversations with them), only to return and tell the group there was no vacancy. The youth were now getting a little nervous. We finally found rooms at a Super 8 Motel (where, unknown to the youth, we had reservations!) and settled in for the night. I held a meeting and informed the kids that I was going to try to get the van fixed, but that I did not know what the following day would hold. We might just have to stay in Ocala. I drove off to "get the van fixed" (I sat in the local McDonald's and pretended!) while they enjoyed the pool. I was not back when Jerry sent them to bed. They went to bed grumpy. It was perfect...

The following morning we woke everyone up early and told them to get ready, the van was fixed and we were leaving! We hurried them, half-asleep, onto the vans and hit the road. We were hoping that they would be too groggy to notice that we were now heading south on I-75. And for a while, they were. Slowly but surely, they begin to notice something had changed. We stopped at a Burger King for breakfast, and the questions began in earnest. We got back on the road, and finally some of the youth began to guess our final destination- Busch Gardens in Tampa. And then- as if a fog was lifting- they began to realize that the entire "breakdown" the night before had all been planned. We had fooled them completely, and they could not believe it- and a few were not real happy about it. Jerry and I were giddy- we thought it was one of the best things we had ever done! We went on to have a great day at the park, and a wonderful weekend, including a great time of worship on Sunday morning. We wanted to make it memorable, and we had. It was just one more time when a wild and crazy idea helped some students discover the presence of Jesus in their lives.

I found out a few years later that there were a couple of students on that trip who NEVER got the message that the entire first night had been staged. This came out when one of them asked me, "Where were we going to go on that Mid-High Mystery Trip before the van broke down?"  And the Oscar goes to Jerry Hanbery and Carl Jones...  Have a blessed Thursday, everyone!

Because of Jesus,

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Here's To Good Friends...

Happy birthday, Beth! We love you SOOO much!!!

In 1972 I was in the 8th grade. This was before personal computers but after the Apollo 11 moon landing and the world was very different place. That year, a singular event changed the trajectory of my life in a bigger way than anything that happened to me before...or since. There have been more important events to be sure, such as getting married and seeing my son born. But nothing had more of an impact on who I am at age 55 than that one fateful day in 1972. And what happened, you ask? I went roller skating...

My friend Steve Semmler had been inviting me to join him for youth group at New Garden Friends Meeting for a while, but rollerskating sounded fun and Becky Meredith was going to be there- so I was IN! That invitation and that event led me becoming involved with a group of people who carried and guided each other through high school and the years that followed. These were quite literally the people who "showed me the way" in life, in faith and in love. As we grew older the group expanded and changed, with friends of friends becoming so intertwined in our "gang" that it felt as if they had always been there. We continued to meet together, eat together and even take trips together until the early 1990s, by which time so many of my friends had children that it became a little complicated to plan such things. We have remained in touch over the years- some more that others- but time and distance did seem to separate us. Living in Florida while most live in NC, and with all that has happened in my life over the past 20+ years, the distance often felt real to me. And then 2015 happened.

Steve called me from his home in Ohio with a proposition. He, his brother Carl, myself and our spouses would rent a 3 bedroom condo at Ocean Isle Beach, NC- not far from where our friends Beth and Bob owned one. We would then put the word out to the rest of our old youth group and other friends that were going and invite them to join us. Steve booked 2 condos instead of one, and we were off and running. We set September 9-13 as the dates. I built a Facebook page to get the word out. Our former youth leader, Rob, stepped in and offered to offset the cost for everyone. And before we knew it, some 43 years after our first adventure together, about 15 of us were getting ready to do it again. The excitement was palpable. 

But that wasn't the only emotion at work in us. One of our own, the sweet, energetic, feisty and lovely Lisa Ramos Moran, is battling pancreatic cancer. We weren't sure if she would survive until September, much less be able to join us, and some of the air came out of the balloon. There were many texts and phone calls, many prayers and many tears as we worried about Lisa and her family. By late August most of us assumed she wouldn't be able to make the trip as she was confined to a hospital. But our old gang remained united in hope.

One week ago today we took that trip. Very seldom in life can an event with such high expectations actually surpass them, but this one did. We still love each other. We still make each other laugh hysterically. We still enjoy just BEING together. Being at the beach always makes life a bit more special, and the fact that Lisa and her hubby Dan were able to join us for Friday night made it a blessing beyond words. All-in-all, there were 21 of us who were a part of the adventure. The people in the picture at the top were all part of a youth group (along with others who were missing) at a small Quaker church over 40 years ago, and they are still a huge part of each other's lives. That is rare, and it is significant. 

In many ways it is amazing that we stay in touch and all took the time needed to pull off something like this. What is even more amazing is how much we still sincerely love each other. The last night there was lengthy discussion about how often we should try to do a "reunion," with some saying every 5 years, others saying 3 and others every other year. Tammy cut to the chase. She said we need to do it every year, and I backed her up. When others asked why, we simply pointed to our friend Lisa. We are not promised tomorrow, much less 5 years. No one argued. And now, this morning, word reaches us that Lisa has taken a turn for the worse. We may see each other soon under very different circumstances. But as always, the love we share will sustain us.

Life has been tough lately. But more than ever I understand the words of the late Warren Zevon when David Letterman asked what he had learned about life while knowing he was dying- "Enjoy every sandwich." Prayers please, for Lisa, Dan and their family. And for all of us.

Because of Jesus,

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Reviewing the #NarrowRoad

I have had several people ask me what inspired my #NarrowRoad series, now in it's 9th month of appearing here every Tuesday. The very first post, from January 6 of this year, explains my thought process pretty well, so I share it again today.

While in NC last week I saw a couple of church signs- well actually one sign and one billboard- that caught my attention. The sign said, Follow the narrow road in 2015. Tell people you love Jesus. The billboard said, Make your resolution in 2015 be that you go to church, for the path is narrow. And I have to admit I thought to myself, "That is not a narrow path. Telling people you love Jesus is easy. Going to church is easy. I could drive a tank down that path." So what exactly is the narrow path that Jesus spoke of in Matthew 7? And more importantly, what makes it so difficult to find and to navigate?  For the next few Tuesdays my blog posts are going to center around the #NarrowRoadHere's my first thought on what makes following Jesus such a challenge.

We don't love like Jesus taught us to love, and often it is because we don't WANT to love like Jesus. We enjoy having people- or sometimes entire groups of people- that we don't treat with respect or love. In many cases we actually prefer dwelling on our differences than remembering we share a Creator who loves us all so much he sent his Son to die for us so that we might live and love. Jesus said we should love our neighbors. Why is it that we, just like the Pharisees of old, immediately seek to define who that is? We would like for our neighbors to be people we understand, people who are like us. Jesus squashes that thinking by telling the story of the Good Samaritan and illustrating that if we are going to follow him, EVERYONE is our neighbor! Loving everyone, even people we don't like or would prefer to despise, is taking the #NarrowRoad. Check the daily headlines and tell me how Christ-followers are doing with navigating that path...

If you are only looking for the road that leads to Heaven you are missing out on so much. In John 10:10 Jesus says he came to bring us life in the here and now as well. The narrow road isn't straight, it is winding. It is full of adventure. It is covered in love. And it is not an easy path to tread. But it is soooo worth the effort. Join me each Tuesday as we seek to explore the road and where it can lead us in 2015. And remember that the journey starts with love!

Because of Jesus,

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Beach Playlist

After another late, laughter filled night at Ocean Isle Beach with some of my favorite people in the world I find myself up early this morning gazing out at the ocean and listening to music. What has popped up so far on this Beach Playlist? I'm so glad you asked...
1. When I See You Smile - John Waite
2. Keep Me In Your Heart - Warren Zevon
3. Don't Expect Me To Be Your Friend - Lobo
4. Only With You - The Beach Boys
5. She Will Be Loved - Maroon 5
6. Everything I Own - Bread
7. Stealaway - Poco
8. Missing You - Dan Fogelberg
9. The One I Love - R.E.M.
10. Homegrown Honey - Darius Rucker

That's what is playing in my world this morning. Have a blessed Saturday, my friends.

"Enjoy every sandwich"