Farewell to My Friend

Posted: September 3, 2014 in Inspirational

Blog 1    Boomer died, yesterday. It was Aug. 26th… National Dog Day. On July 31, we found out that he had lung cancer (I didn’t even know he was a smoker). We had four more magical weeks with him before the end crashed in our door. It broke Debbie’s and my hearts. I couldn’t look at social media yesterday, because everyone was posting pictures of their dogs doing cute things. Not their fault, just too hard to process. How do you deal with the loss of your most devoted friend? I’ll let you know when I figure it out. I have written a series of blogs and devotions about lessons I learned from Boomer throughout the ten years he lived. I didn’t know he would save his best lessons for last.

The devotional series began with the story of him, as a puppy, being afraid of thunder, and progressed through adulthood into him beginning to eat dog food for “senior dogs.” Boomer was the teacher of great life lessons (not that he knew that…). Now, one day removed from the emotion of yesterday, I am realizing that he never stopped teaching. The last four weeks were his lesson in how to dignify the end of life. We had noticed him breathing fast and shallow for a while, but just thought maybe that was him getting older. We finally decided to get him checked and the vet showed us an x-ray of his lungs. There was no healthy tissue, at all, remaining. Here was why that was a shock to us: he didn’t act any differently. He ran berserk-ly in circles, would eat anything in sight, would fetch until you begged for mercy, and remained alert and acutely aware of any movement or noise inside the house, or out. The vet said she couldn’t believe the way he acted when she looked at the x-rays. So, we took him home, determined to try to make his last few days pleasant. That wasn’t his plan, at all. It was to be business as usual, and then some. I awoke each morning expecting to see him deteriorating. He awoke each morning expecting to leap tall buildings in a single bound. There were three themes that encapsulated his last days.

First, his last days were some of his best days. He spent a couple of days in a cabin with a great view of the Smokies. One day, he went for a swim in the Little Pigeon River

 

Blog 2

and then went shopping at Orvis.

 

Blog 3

Other days, he fetched balls for hours or watched preseason football games.

Blog 4

He went for walks, ate whatever he wanted, and just lived life all-out. Wouldn’t you love for your last days to be like that? Wouldn’t you love to live each day, not like your last day, but like the first day of summer vacation? The final morning, it was a real struggle for him to catch his breath; however, every day up to then, was really normal. In fact, just the night before, he stayed up late with me, sitting in my lap watching TV.

 

Blog 5

The only sense he seemed to have of the impending end, was that he seemed hesitant to leave us and go to bed, and he often stopped at the door of his room and looked back over his shoulder at us for a long moment. I don’t know if he knew the end was coming, or if he just didn’t want another really good day to end. I knew, and I often stayed up extra late, because I didn’t want another really good day to end.

The second lesson he taught me was that he remained on task… committed to his duty to protect and be a companion to Debbie and me. For his entire life, he has been our guardian. Every day, he barked a warning to the mailman, not to even think about coming into this house. Any loud engine, dog bark, or voice that he heard outside got the same stern warning. Once, a few years ago, we got a mouse in our house. It ran into the hall bathroom and hid behind a Canada Goose statue on the floor. I’ll be honest, I was conflicted. I am an animal lover and an absolute softie. On the other hand, my wife would have spent the next two years of her life standing on our bed, if she had seen him. Boomer, on the other hand, had no such indecision. His duty was to protect us. He walked into the bathroom, I heard the goose statue scoot aside, and he walked out and dropped the dead mouse at my feet. All of this happened in under 5 seconds. In his eyes, no conflict, just commitment. The very last morning, struggling just to move and breathe, he still barked at every potential threat. In fact, he seemed to bark more that morning; as if to say: “hey, don’t think that stuff is going to fly around here after I am gone. I’ll be watching you from somewhere… and don’t make me come back down here!” He was also totally committed to doing the things that he thought would make us happy. He assumed that fetching a ball would make us ecstatic. So, even as he grew more short of breath and needed more breaks, he still would bring the ball back over and over… for hours, until you finally had to take it and hide it from him. The very last picture I ever took of him was on the last morning. Though breathing was a real struggle, I got out one of his old balls and he began yelping at it and pushing it around with his nose.

 

Blog 6

No matter how much effort it required, he never failed to produce what he thought we wanted or needed from him. What a tremendous lesson in this! Even though he was deteriorating, he didn’t make it all about him. On the contrary, it was all about us and his commitment to being there for us. Oh God, let me come somewhere close to that level of unselfishness.

The final lesson was the most poignant. He never took his eyes off of his master. He could be dead asleep or across the room engaged in some other thing, but let me make a move or sound and his head immediately snapped to attention and his gaze locked onto me. Even after he had gone to bed at night, I just had to click the footrest down on my recliner and he never failed to get out of bed and come out of his room to see what I was up to. It wasn’t just about duty, it was about affection. He couldn’t stand the thought of me doing anything without him tagging along. The last couple of days, I have realized that I never take a step around my house without first looking down. That is because he was always at my feet – sometimes nearly tripping me. He had another game, any time I went to the bathroom, he came and pushed the door open and came in to check on what I was doing; and any time it was the hall bathroom, he checked behind the resin Canada goose, in case the mouse had returned. Even when I would play the piano, he would come sit at my feet and sing! He never took his eyes off of me, unless he was taking a nap on me.

Blog 7

Fittingly, I was standing in front of him and petting his head when the vet gave him the final injection. He was staring straight into my eyes and took his last breath looking at me. His eyes didn’t close, they fixed… staring into my eyes. (What a way that would be to go… never taking my eyes off of my Master). And that’s why I love him so much… and miss him so much. He wasn’t my smartest friend, not at all. He wasn’t my most talented friend, either (unless you count running in circles as a talent, in which case he wins, paws down). He didn’t share words of wisdom with me or loan me money when I was down and out. In fact, he said nothing and had nothing tangible to give. What he had, and what he gave in abundance, was devotion. And that’s why he was my best friend. This must be how God felt about David. Solomon was smarter, richer, and more famous. He prayed eloquent prayers and wrote more books of the Bible than David. David just was devoted to God. He followed God around. He wrote songs about Him, he praised God, questioned God, fussed at God, and failed God. Yet, he did all of it… everything, right under God’s feet. God had to look down whenever He took a step to make sure David wasn’t going to get stepped on. If heaven has a bathroom and God uses it, David probably pushes the door open to check on Him. David’s devotion captured God’s heart like Boomer’s captured mine. I miss my boy very much.       Blog 8

Kissed By A Rose

Posted: May 20, 2014 in Inspirational

Yesterday, I got a rare opportunity. I was driving toward Nashville when I received a text message telling me that my former High School Choir director had unexpectedly passed away the night before. Being isolated in a car for the next couple of hours gave me a lot of time to reflect on my loss. You see, Rose Dover was not just one of my teachers in school. She was one of the handful of people who really helped shape my life.

As a pastor, I have had the honor of giving the eulogy for a number of people over the years. Even though there are many people who were closer to Rose and her family, and would be much more deserving of the honor than I would, I still drifted toward the thought: what would I say if I were asked to give the eulogy of this beautiful lady? My mind immediately connected to a woman named Deborah, whose story is in Judges 4 and 5. She was a judge over the nation of Israel. Before Israel had kings, judges were the leaders of the people. In fact, Judges 5:7 calls Deborah “a mother in Israel.” This was exactly what Rose had been at East Ridge High School for years. In Judges, chapter 4, Deborah encouraged a fearful general, named Barak, to lead his army into a daring attack against what seems insurmountable odds. Barak, like many of us high school boys and girls, didn’t think he had the goods to overcome the challenge. Ultimately, Deborah goes with him to support him and to help overcome his insecurity. Rose Dover did this for so many of us. She saw greatness in us when we often didn’t see it in ourselves… and, man, did she have to look hard to see it in some of us. While I imagine she had more talented students than me over the years and I am quite sure she had better behaved students than me; I might stand alone on the pantheon of her most challenging students. In fact, years later, I visited her home and she showed me her old paddle from school, which still only had one name signed on it… mine! She never gave up on me, though. In fact, she never gave up on any of us. I’ll just share one story to make my point. One day, during class, she was playing the piano as we sang. I decided to throw my music folder at the piano to startle her (don’t ask why this seemed like a good idea to me; many of my ideas didn’t turn out exceptionally well). At any rate, I threw it too high and hit her right in the face. Startle might be an understatement. She picked herself up (again, don’t ask how she got on the floor), and sent me to the principal’s office. Instead of complying, I decided to go to the cafeteria for an elongated lunch. When he had to come find me eating, you can imagine his demeanor. He told me that he was of a mind to suspend me, but, that right after she had sent me to his office, Mrs. Dover had gone into her office and called over to the principal’s office asking him to please go easy on me. During her years of teaching, she impacted thousands of kids, who could tell thousands of stories which, while not exactly like this one, would be just as meaningful to them.

As I drove on toward Nashville, I decided that I wanted to write about my feelings. Sometimes that is the place that I can best process my emotions. I was actually a bit surprised at how upset I really was over her loss. I hadn’t spent any significant time with her in decades; yet the feelings were raw and real. Then, a most wonderful thing happened. I received another message. It turns out that there was a mix-up in the earlier information. Another family in East Ridge lost a loving and I’m sure, wonderful mother and wife. She had the same last name and a son with the same name, so the confusion was easy to understand. While their grief is every bit as real as mine had been, my heart leapt. Rose was okay!

A few years ago, there was a song called “Kiss from a Rose.” Yesterday’s events brought me to the conclusion that I, too, have been kissed by a Rose. Too many times, I have delivered eulogies at friends’ or family members’ funerals that were full of words that I wished that I had told them when they were still alive. While it would be easy to breathe a sigh of relief and go back to life, here is that rare opportunity: a chance to say things that should be said. Things like: I thank you for never giving up on me, even when I must have frustrated you to death. Thank you for laughing along as I turned your well-planned rehearsals into shambles. Thank you for seeing potential in me that I probably would have missed; and thank you for calling the principal and telling him to go easy on me. Today, I pastor a remarkable group of people, and I also lead worship. I spent a number years before that as a music pastor and during that time I directed a choir. These are positions that you helped me believe that I could fill. All over the country there are other former students doing amazing things that you gave them the confidence to try. That being said, I can’t tell you how many times I have had to bite my tongue when I can’t get anything done because I can’t get singers to quit talking and musicians to quit noodling on their instruments. Nearly every time, though, I remember you. Your patience and grace in those moments was remarkable. I don’t have nearly as much of either quality, but I just about always go from frustration to a chuckle when I remember the words you spoke to me, many times: “I hope that you teach one day, and I hope you have a student just like you!” Who knew you were not only a mother to East Ridge, but a prophetess, as well? Welcome back, Mrs. Dover. There are thousands of us who are blessed to have been “kissed by a Rose.”

Pain in the Neck

Posted: February 18, 2014 in Inspirational

Ever wonder what part of the body you are? In 1 Corinthians 12:27, Paul tells us that, “all of you together are Christ’s body, and each of you is a part of it.” So, which part are you? I have often wondered that; however, just a few days ago, I arrived at my answer. In fact, it just might be your answer, too. If you are a pastor, as I am, you are the neck. Let me explain. The neck has two main functions: to lift and support the head, and to connect the head to the body. Colossians 1:18 clearly tells us Who is the Head. Paul writes, “Christ is also the Head of the church, which is His body…” Not only does Paul tell us that Jesus is the Head, he also tells us that the church is His body. It is the role of the neck to connect the two – body and Head. The first thing the neck must do is to hold the head upright, in its proper position above the body. Paul goes on in that same verse to say that, “He [Christ] is the beginning, supreme over all who rise from the dead. So He is first in everything. It is vitally important that pastors elevate and exalt the Head at all times and in all their actions.

The other critical role of the neck is connecting the Head to the body. If there is one lesson to be learned from Henry the Eighth and his wives, it is that a headless body does not function particularly well (Sleepy Hollow, notwithstanding). The neck passes information back and forth from the head to the body and vice versa. It sends information from nerve endings throughout the body up to the brain. It passes along every ache, pain, and need of the body, so that the brain can act upon it. If the body is hungry, thirsty, in pain, or exhilarated, the neck carries that information to the brain so that it can decide on the proper course of action. It also passes information from the Head to all the extremities of the body so that it operates at full capacity and each part will be cared for, allowing the entire body to function uniformly.

There are two mistakes that we necks should try to avoid. First, we should never try to become the Head. It is our role to keep the Head raised in His position of preeminence over the body. Whenever we try to become the Head, or don’t keep the Head in His rightful place, problems ensue. You might be thinking, “Well, I would never try to take the place of Jesus as Head of the church.” Perhaps… but there are other, more subtle ways that we may make this mistake. We can allow ourselves to begin to take on responsibilities that aren’t ours – to take responsibility for building His church, funding His church, or trying to fill it. Jesus told His church’s first pastor, Peter, “Upon this rock, I will build My church.” It isn’t only pride that will drive us to try to take on the position of the Head; it is also incorrect theology and a misguided sense of responsibility. In the human body, the neck isn’t responsible for life’s decisions. It is simply a conduit between the decision-maker and the body. So should it be for the pastor.

There is a second mistake we can make, which is just as damaging and probably more common. While the neck should never try to function as the Head, it should also never attempt to function as the other parts of the body. 1 Corinthians 12:18, 19 says, “Our bodies have many parts, and God has put each part just where he wants it. How strange a body would be if it had only one part! Imagine how inefficient your body would be (not to mention ridiculous looking) if you tried to walk on your neck. Yet, isn’t that what many of us try to do? We take on all sorts of tasks which were never part of our assignments. Do you want to know what our assignments are? In Ephesians 4:11, 12, Paul tells us, now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do His work and build up the church, the body of Christ. Just a couple of verses later, Paul tells us what the results will be of us fulfilling our responsibilities to equip the other body parts: “…we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the Head of His body, the church. 16 He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love.”

When our body isn’t functioning correctly, or when the head is out of position, our necks will show the effects. It seems that all of the tension in our lives collects in our neck, doesn’t it? We get knots in the muscles in our necks and sometimes (when our head is out of position for too long) we even get cricks in our necks. As a good masseuse will tell you, work the kinks out of the neck and the entire body will relax. So, here’s to the necks! How about working out a few kinks? It certainly sheds a new light on the phrase, “pain in the neck,” doesn’t it?

We all heard them as kids, and then we grew up and paid handsomely for the chance to take our kids to the animated versions: Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Rapunzel, Rip Van Winkle, Jack and the Beanstalk. Story after story, they have filled the imaginations of children for years. Then we got a little older and were told that life is no fairy-tale. In fact, we were told, fairy-tales don’t come true; so (fill in your own line here) keep your nose clean, keep your head down, and work hard. Just about every fairy-tale follows a similar script: a beautiful prince or princess is placed under a curse by an evil being (witch, usually) and is enslaved by this curse. The king, whose daughter or son is the one enslaved, sends people to try and free her, all of whom fail, as the enemy is too clever. Finally one charming prince comes, whose love is true, and breaks the curse. At its heart, every fairy tale is a story of redemption. Whether it is a princess kissing a frog to release a prince from a curse or a prince kissing Snow White to break the spell, the moral of the story is always the same: pure love overcomes any evil. Why do you suppose our hearts are so drawn to creating and reading these kinds of stories? Because that’s our story.

The Bible is a complicated book to understand, but the entire narrative hangs from two dramatic peaks. After God has created His beautiful prince and princess, the first peak occurs in the Garden of Eden. The evil being tricks the princess into eating a forbidden piece of fruit (echoes of Snow White, anyone?). This places our star-crossed girl under a curse. The King sends a brave man named Abraham to rescue them. Abraham takes a few hundred years to develop a great army named Israel, whose mission will be to defeat the enemy and release the princess from the curse. Alas, this army is crushingly defeated by the evil being (we’ll call him satan), with many killed and most of the others enslaved. However, a small rag-tag group escapes and stumbles home to lick their wounds. One of this remnant bears a Son, whose heart is pure and whose strength is magnificent. This Son is also completely devoted to the princess who is enslaved. After some time passes, the Son goes back to confront the evil being and to win back His princess. He tricks the enemy into committing the one act that will reverse the curse, which is to kill the Son. This is the second dramatic peak on which the story hangs. Just when things seem utterly hopeless, the Son returns from the dead, having robbed the evil one of all of his power and authority. The Son then breaks the curse that enslaves His princess, allowing her to live again! Of course a wedding will follow shortly thereafter.

Deep inside of each of us, these stories resonate; because (as King Solomon put it) God has placed eternity in our hearts. We know that we were the one under the curse and could only be set free by a hero driven by pure love. We also dare to dream that we could be the one who goes on the next mission to free another prince or princess who is still under the spell of death. Our story, in its simplest form is about a King, a curse, and a cross… redemption! So, don’t be too quick to tell your kids that fairy-tales don’t come true. Yours did!

Going Under the Hood

Posted: November 29, 2013 in Inspirational

I’m not talking about the hood of a car. If you know me at all, you know the last thing I should do is to try to repair a car… or even open a hood. No, I’m talking about going under the replay hood. In the NFL, when a call on the field is questionable, they review the play via instant replay. The process goes something like this: the referee announces that the call on the field has been questioned and then he walks to the sideline and “goes under the hood.” He puts on a special headset, which gives him an open line of communication with the press box, which is situated far above the action on the field. Then he ducks his head underneath a cover (the hood) to look at a special video screen. First of all, the hood shuts out the other noise and distractions, allowing him to focus. Second, underneath the hood, he has access to the view of every camera in the stadium, giving him entirely different perspectives from the one he had on the field. On the field, he can only see from one angle, and he is very close to the action… meaning there may be elements involved which are hidden from his view. Another aspect which makes the official’s job difficult is the speed of the play. World class athletes are competing and colliding at nearly inhuman rates of speed. This means that he only has a split second to make a determination about what he thinks he saw. Underneath the hood, the referee also has the luxury of slow-motion, and now with HD video, he can even use what is known as “super slo-mo” or he can completely stop the action on a single frame of video (to see if a player’s foot is in bounds or on the line, for example). To the TV viewer, it can seem like these replays last forever… almost like the official doesn’t want to come out from under the hood. Can you blame him? In the middle of an afternoon of violent collisions; thousands of screaming fans… some of which are for one team, others are for the opposite team – so you can’t please both of them; and immense pressure to make the right decisions the referee gets to spend a moment with only one voice in his ear and he gets to slow everything down for just a second and get a different, crystal-clear perspective on things.

I had an “under the hood” moment, today. We keep our house somewhere between brisk and “I can’t feel my fingers and toes” at night, so when I first got up for my prayer time, I wrapped myself in a quilt. As I sat talking to God about the violent collisions, the screaming voices, and the pressure in my daily life, I pulled the quilt up over my head and said: “God, just give me a glimpse of Your perspective.” For just a few minutes everything slowed down. The outside noise seemed to stop, and I only heard one voice in my ear… a voice that came from far above the action. My perspective changed. Suddenly I could see a bigger picture and all the different angles and factors involved. . It reminded me of the way Jewish people use their tallits, or prayer shawls… often covering their heads when they pray.

To be honest, I didn’t really want to come out from under the hood, either. How about you? Could you use a little time “under the hood,” today?

Do you have to go to church to be a Christian? That question is repeatedly debated, it seems. When confronted with “the question,” many of us in the regular-attending camp whip out Hebrews 10:25, which tells us not to “forsake the assembling of ourselves.” That is our go-to response. Now for those in the “you should go to church” camp who are especially crafty (and some of us are pretty crafty), we will begin to list all the reasons that going to church will help you. We might talk about what you’ll learn (or to be spiritual-sounding: “how you’ll be fed”) or we might talk about how you’ll be comforted in times of need. We might even go for our big guns and mention how you will experience the presence of God. Those are all legitimate reasons; however, none of them have anything to do with this verse. In reality, Hebrews 10:25 gives us an altogether different reason for attending church. Sadly, it is one that is rarely ever used in this discussion.

Now, for a quick refresher on elementary school grammar (which Ms. Costello, Erwin, et al will be glad that I actually remember): sentences begin with a capital letter, and do not end with a comma. Armed with that powerful bit of knowledge, let’s look at the verse in question: not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing,” (Heb. 10:25a – NIV). Since it is the middle of a sentence, why don’t we look at the entire sentence? It begins in the preceding verse: 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Heb. 10:24,25 – emphasis mine) Did you catch the difference? While many of us use this verse to espouse the personal benefits of coming together for worship, this is entirely out of context with what the writer of Hebrews is endorsing. While we talk about the benefits to you, this sentence tells us that the reason we should not neglect meeting together is for the benefits our presence there provides to others. Our presence “spurs one another toward love and good deeds,” and “encourages one another.In addition, while the invention of TV, internet, etc… has made the gospel more accessible (thereby, seeming to strengthen the argument against church attendance), this passage tells us to be even more committed as time goes on. Committed to what? To having our name on the roll? To hearing a challenging message? Committed to reaping all the benefits we can receive from a good church service? No… committed to one another: to motivating one another to love and do good things, and to encouraging one another. In other words, the one who suffers when you “forsake assembling together” isn’t you; it is me… and every other “one another” that sure could have used some encouragement and motivation. So, next Sunday, when you are debating on whether or not to attend church, remember: we sure could use you!

What’s Blocking Your View?

Posted: June 25, 2013 in Inspirational

Debbie and I recently returned from vacation in New England. This was the third time in the last four years that we have chosen to go there. There isn’t any one particular place we go; in fact, we have gone to different parts each year. There is just a quaint, small, isolated feeling about the whole area. As we were driving through Maine, along Interstate 95, I was remarking about how much it felt like you were part of your surroundings… even on the interstate. It seemed like everywhere I looked there was scenery and wildlife. There were rocky coastlines, sprawling farms, and grand mountain vistas. I realized that all of these things exist in the south, where I live. I live just a stone’s throw from the Great Smoky Mountains. I pass farms on a daily basis; and I am barely a half-day’s drive from the ocean. Yet, it doesn’t feel the same… I don’t notice these things, or appreciate them in the same way. As I struggled to put my finger on the difference, it hit me: there were no billboards along the road! Billboards have been banned in Maine for 30 years, now. The last ones were knocked down in 1984. On the other hand, on my daily commute I am inundated with opportunities to sue people who make bad medicine, go get some fast food (because my “fry gauge is almost empty”), choose the Chattanooga Airport for all my transportation needs, sleep at Hampton (or La Quinta or Holiday Inn Express), and to “eat mor chikin;” just to name a few. The best I can determine, billboards serve two major purposes: they block our views of the natural beauty around us, and they distract us from the main purpose of our trip by inviting us to stop and do something entirely unrelated (i.e. grab a Frosty).

I have realized I have billboards in my personal life. They are distractions that produce the same undesired results in my own life: they block my view and they lead me on rabbit trails that divert me from my main purpose. Some of the billboards in my life scream out the things I don’t have: a new house or car, a better job, more money, the right mate (just an example… right honey?). The problem is, these perceived needs block out the view of all the things I do have – the natural beauty all around that God has placed in my life: the ocean of love, forgiveness, and grace He has given me; the sprawling farms of family and friends with which I am blessed; and the mountain peaks of joy and success that He has provided for me. I find myself unable to look past the billboards of what I don’t have to enjoy the scenery of what I do have.

The second thing these billboards do is they knock me off course. These are the billboards of the urgent… the things we think have to be handled right away. Some of these are good things (like a Dairy Queen Blizzard), but they rob us of the best. The urgent is often the enemy of the truly meaningful. True happiness in life is not plucked from the tree of instant gratification; it is grown in the soil of a life of purposeful living. We are most fulfilled when we invest ourselves in a truly significant cause. Billboards of urgent phone calls and demanding text messages scream out their message of “it must be done now” or, “your fry gauge is almost empty.” However, the things that truly matter whisper their words: “this is why you left home in the first place.” I think it is time to knock down some billboards… care to join me?  

Image

Hello Lord,

It’s me, again. I talked to you earlier today. You may remember… I said some pretty profound sounding stuff, if I do say so, myself. Well see, the thing is: I just had a shouting match with a steak knife. Well, to be fair, I was the only one shouting, the knife never raised its voice. Sad to say, but it behaved more like an adult than I did. What started it was that I cut my finger. Now, to be honest, it wasn’t a very big cut; it just set me off. The cut wasn’t really the thing, at all; it simply threw gasoline on the coals that were smoldering just below the surface – the coals of frustration. Frustration with where I am in life; with the feeling that I should be doing more… that there must be more to life. This innate sense that there is something within me that wants to get out – that NEEDS to be realized. I have this vague notion of what could be… of what should be! Yet, it simmers, just out of reach. Sometimes, my frustration boils over onto those around me, causing me to direct my feelings toward them. That happened yesterday, actually.

I am not the only one who feels this. Right now, it is 4:44 AM and pitch dark, outside; and the lady next door just came out on her porch to smoke a cigarette. She feels it, too; I think. I don’t know her well enough to say that, I just know the signs – and she is exhibiting them.

So, I wonder… did You ever have days like this while You were on earth? Days where something just set You off? I wonder if the day You grabbed a whip and ran everyone out of the temple was one of those days. Maybe not. I tend to think that all of Your actions were well thought out, not reactionary or arbitrary. But You had to feel it sometimes, right? Like the time You healed the man with the withered hand, and all that the religious people could talk about was how You shouldn’t have done it on the Sabbath; or the time You raised up the crippled guy who was lowered down through the roof; and instead of celebrating, the Pharisees criticized You for the way You did it. Or… how about the time that bunch of hypocrites dragged that immoral woman out to You and wanted You to condemn her to death and to congratulate them for their great piety. Your words fairly dripped with disdain when You called them hypocrites and a brood of vipers. Wow! You even called them sons of hell and white-washed tombs!

The religious leaders must not have been the only ones who drove You nuts. How about the time that You were in the upper room about to share the last supper with Your disciples, and You had to break up an argument among them about which one of them was the greatest… woah! And then, there was the time that they had already seen You feed thousands of people from one little boys lunch, but they were worried that they might starve to death before they could cross the lake on their boat. I have to be honest; I’m glad You didn’t leave those days out of the Bible. I am really glad to know that, at the very least, You understand this feeling; because at times, I wonder how in the world You could think it was a good idea to ask me to become a pastor.  I’m also glad You gave us a good picture of the people that were around You (warts and all). Even though there are moments that I wonder why the people I try to lead don’t “get it;” when I look at the folks You dealt with, I have to say that, on balance, my partners on this journey are pretty great!

So, where does that leave us? What did You do in those times? It looks like You phoned home. You got away from everyone else and got centered on Your mission, and Your Father, again. Maybe that is good advice for me. You promised that You wouldn’t break a bruised reed or snuff out a smoldering wick. I appreciate those promises, right now, because that is kind of how I feel… bruised and smoldering. From those words, I also gather that I am not the first (or last) person that deals with the smoldering wick of frustration. In fact, it seems like You may have designed us this way. Ecclesiastes 3 says that You have placed eternity in the human heart. So, there it lives, this brilliant bird struggling to be set free. Restrained by time, restrained by human limitations, restrained by fear; yet, while its presence in our hearts leads to frustration at what should be; its brightness lights the way to what could be. Otherwise, we are satisfied with what is, and never reach what can be… what must be.  In my message yesterday (or was it the day before), I asked our church if they were satisfied, and if not, were they dissatisfied enough to do something about it. Maybe now I am.

It’s dark again, next door. My neighbor’s cigarette is finished; and so is this rant… for now. Stay close, though. I may need to talk again, soon.

Love,

Danny

From Where I Sit #12

Posted: October 14, 2012 in Inspirational

I am up early this morning… this is rare for me. As I watch the sun rise over the Smokey Mountains, it occurs to me that today is Sunday. Any other day of the week, I am more likely to see the sunrise before I go to bed, rather than after I wake up (old musician’s hours, and all…), but not on Sunday. For the past fifteen years, or so, I have had the privilege of leading the church in worship on Sundays. That means 15 years of early morning rehearsals and getting up in time to not sound too much like a frog when I sing. The last three years, I added pastoring to my activities, which has meant even earlier Sunday mornings to put the finishing touches (or sometimes, the frantic first touches) on the message for that day. This all means that I have seen a lot of Sunday sunrises. Today is different, though. I am on vacation. I have been on vacation all week, and on no other day did I wake up this early. It seems that I must have some sort of internal, Sunday-only, alarm clock. That’s okay, I have time this morning to reflect on just what a tremendous honor it has been to spend the last decade and a half starting my Sundays alone with God and then getting the undeserved, and absolutely indescribable opportunity to lead God’s kids into an audience around His throne. History’s greatest worship leader must have been grappling to find the words to describe his feelings when he wrote things like: “better is one day in Your courts than a thousand elsewhere;” or, “I was glad when they said unto me, let us go into the house of the Lord.” This morning, I sit by the fireplace in my cabin while someone else leads God’s people to His throne; but rest assured I’ll be back at it next week. I think I’ll let that great worshiper, David sum up my feelings: “My heart, O God, is steadfast; I will sing and make music with all my soul. Awake, harp and lyre! I will awaken the dawn. I will praise you, Lord, among the nations; I will sing of you among the peoples. For great is your love, higher than the heavens; your faithfulness reaches to the skies. Be exalted, O God, above the heavens; let your glory be over all the earth.”  (Psalm 108:1-5)Image

  • From the department of “duh” – On the front page of the Money section in USA Today, the main headline screamed these words: CEOs had better watch their steps to keep their jobs – Greed, bad judgment, lack of results can increasingly get them ousted! Is this news? I don’t know about you, but in my job, “greed, bad judgment, and lack of results” surely would lead to me “being ousted.” In fact, I can’t really think of any jobs right off the top of my head that list greed, poor judgment, and unproductivity as requirements for employment. Upon considering this headline further, though, I have decided that it is headline material. The fact that the words “can increasingly” are in the sentence makes the topic newsworthy. They would suggest that, heretofore, “greed, bad judgment, and lack of results” did not get you ousted from CEO positions. Actually, the words “can increasingly” infer that it still isn’t a given that “greed, bad judgment, and lack of results” will get you fired. Seeing as how I am capable of all three of these qualities, where can we sign up for some of these CEO jobs?