Peace and Progress Friday, Sep 23 2016 

roadHuman beings tend to be people-pleasers. In general, we don’t want to do anything or say anything that would cause distress or “rock the boat.”  So, instead of risking an upset, we say or do nothing. It’s easier, we say, to just maintain the status quo. It is “nicer,” we say to ourselves, to remain where we are than to risk move forward.

But I have been convinced over the years, that peace and progress are incompatible. In other words, if you want to keep the peace, do nothing that would move forward because moving forward will upset someone. On the other hand, if you want to progress, expect the peace to be unsettled.  Again, you will upset someone.

The fact is, we cannot please everyone, even though everyone expects to be “pleased.”  But buying into the idea that we can – and should – make everyone happy is a losing battle.  Such thinking holds us hostage to small-mindedness and fear. And it holds us hostage to those who are displeased. “Peace mongers” (those who seek peace at the expense of progress) often cause stagnation in a church – or any organization – because they do not want to risk upsetting anyone or anything. They are often controlling, attempting to stop any sort of progress so that no one gets upset and people (especially themselves!) remain comfortable. Therefore, they do all they can to sabotage any forward movement.

Look at Jesus’ own ministry. At no time did Jesus allow anyone to keep him from advancing his work for the Kingdom. Many tried to stop him, many tried to “keep the peace,” many tried to convince Jesus to maintain the status quo.

But Jesus knew better. He knew that peace and progress cannot live together. And he let nothing and no one stand in his way…even if it meant losing a follower. He kept his eye on the larger picture (which is impossible for “peace-mongers”), and let that picture guide his every step, until the goal had been attained.

I thank God Jesus did not let those who wanted to keep the peace stand in the way of his mission…else our salvation would have been forfeited. I am thankful that Jesus kept pressing onward, even in the face of stiff opposition.

Ask yourself, “Where do I stand? Do I stand for peace at all cost? Or do I work for progress toward the goal God has set before us?”

You cannot have it both ways.

 

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Stuff Happens Tuesday, Sep 20 2016 

stuff-happens

There have been countless times my wife, Tammy, and I have had a conversation that revolves around a statement we have often heard.  We hear the statement – or a variation of it – most often after some tragedy that has befallen a community or a family.  Quite often, it is spoken by well-meaning people – often Christian people – who feel as though they must say something in the face of another person’s pain or grief rather than remain silent.

“Everything happens for a reason.”  Or the variation: “This must have been God’s will.”  The implication is that God causes – or wills – everything that happens.

At first blush, this statement seems encouraging.  Think about it: you or your family have just endured the news of the loss of a loved one.  Word quickly spreads to your friends, community, church, and neighbors.  Like any good person would do, many flock to your side to shower you and your family with love and support.

During the rush of people coming and going, offering to help in whatever way they can – perhaps by providing meals, watching your children, taking care of household things – someone sits next to you on your couch, puts an arm around your shoulders and, as you weep at trying to take in all you have just heard, says, “Everything happens for a reason.  It’s all a part of God’s plan.  You may not know what that plan is, but God never does anything without a purpose.”

The person means well.  He or she is trying to offer comfort in what is the most painful time of your life.  That person may actually believe what was said is true, that everything does happen for some reason we may not be able to see or understand in the moment, but will become clearer as time passes.  Maybe.

Such a sentiment is often offered as comfort.  But, the truth is, it often comforts the one saying it more than the one receiving it.  In other words, it is spoken so that the one saying it is comforted in the fact that he or she “said something.”

It would be better to say nothing at all.

To begin, such an idea portrays God as uncaring, distant, aloof.  It implies that God willfully brings about tragedy.  It is as if God’s hand is literally guiding a person toward misfortune.

When I was nine years old, my family moved to Tulsa, where my father would serve as the senior pastor of an up-and-coming church.  Three days after we moved in – boxes still unpacked – dad walked in the front door, called for my mother who was in the kitchen making grilled cheese sandwiches for lunch for my brother and me, and announced that their oldest son – our brother – had been killed in an accident while serving in the Army.  At that moment, the world stopped.  At nine years old, I was unable to take in what dad had just told us.  My mother collapsed on the floor; dad sat next to her.  My older brother and I just stood there, not knowing what to do or say.

Somehow, word had gotten out in the church.  Within minutes, leaders of the church were at our door.  They had come to express their sorrow and offer any help they could.  One of them was a physician.  He had come to offer his condolences and, thankfully, administer a mild sedative to my mother.  As my brother and I stood there, trying to take it all it, not knowing a single person who came into our house, I saw one of those people sit on the couch next to my mother and heard her say, “You may never know what God’s will is in all this….”

It was the first time I remember thinking to myself “Did God really cause my brother’s death?  Was the accident really not an accident, but something planned…by God?”

The accidents we experience in life – the accident that took my brother’s life – is just that: a random event that.

It was not part of God’s plan.

It was not a case of “everything happens for a reason.”

It was not God’s will.

It just happened.

Simply because a random tragic event occurs – as devastating as it may be – does not mean that good cannot come from it.  The death of my brother serves as an example.  Because of his death, my family was better able to minister to families who have found themselves in similar situations.  We know what it is like to lose a loved on to random events with tragic endings.

God does not will everything that happens.  But in everything that happens, God wills good to come from it.

When tragedy strikes, perhaps knowing this will move us closer to the love, beauty, and wholeness toward which God is constantly calling us.

 

 

 

Show Your Hands Friday, Sep 16 2016 

14355562_1387264054635953_5237183740254737919_n  A worn out, dying saint of the church said to her pastor at her bedside, “In a little while, I shall see my Lord. I wonder how he will recognize me.” To which the pastor replied, “Just show him your hands.”

Maybe it will be as important to “show our hands” as to “give our names” when we stand before God.

Being Good vs Doing Good Thursday, Feb 4 2016 

Do Good.jpg

During the Great Depression, a certain Methodist “steward” had to sell his favorite milk cow.

“Ol’ Bessie is a fine milk cow,” the Methodist steward said.

“How much you want for her?” asked a prospective buyer.

“Twenty dollars”, came the answer.

“How much milk does she give?”

“Four gallons a day,” answered the owner.

“How do I know she’ll give that much?”

“Oh,” said the owner, “I’m a good man. Why I’m a steward in the Methodist church.”

“I’ll take the cow home,” said the buyer, “and later this week, when I’m back this way, I’ll bring the money. I’m a good man, too. I’m a deacon in my church.”

At the dinner table that evening the Methodist lay person explained the deal to his wife. “Oh, by the way,” he said, “what is a deacon?”

“A deacon,” she answered, “is about the same thing as a steward.”

Wide-eyed panic spread over the steward’s face. “Oh no,” he moaned. “I’ve just lost Ol’ Bessie!”

~~~~~~~~~

Moral: Being good and doing good are not the same thing. Being Good must result in doing good.

Wine or Vinegar? Thursday, Jan 14 2016 

cranky-lady

When I was growing up, I can remember seeing road-side peddlers selling their goods on the old country roads near where my grandparents lived. I recall my father telling a story about one of those peddlers who would sell or trade his “merchandise” for just about anything. If his clients had no money and nothing to trade, he would offer to take junk of their hands; he would then resell that junk to make a little cash.

At one house not far from where he would sell his junk, there lived a woman who was known to be less than pleasant and who had a stern religion and sour disposition. One day, seeing the woman in her yard, raking leaves, the peddler stopped and offered to “put a little joy into her life” with some of his merchandise. All at bargain prices, of course.

“Not interested!” she snapped.

Refusing to give up quickly, the peddler then said, “Well, do you have any junk I could take off your hands, like old wine bottles?” Outraged by his implication that she was the type of woman who drank, she glared at the old peddler and said, “Do I look like the kid of woman who would drink wine?” Quickly, the peddler replied, “I suppose not. But you are bound to have several empty vinegar bottles around!”

~~~~~~~~

Moral: Disposition often betrays true character.

 

Words Matter Tuesday, Oct 20 2015 

words_matterSeveral years ago, I shared the following story with our friend Leonard Sweet.  I was reminded of it this morning while looking through my Facebook news feed and thought I’d share it here…

Words matter.  My family has had a long friendship with Bishop Monk Bryan and his family.  Many years ago, while attending a gathering at which Bishop Bryan was speaking, he told us the story of when he was growing up in a tiny community called Goat Hill.  Over the years, he overheard people of the community talking about the future of their fair city.  No one was moving in, all the young folks were moving out, those who left to attend college never returned, no new businesses saw any reason to move into Goat Hill, and some businesses were closing up or moving away to larger, more promising towns.  The outlook was grim.

One day, the elders of the community met to discuss the fate of their hometown.  One member of the community stood and made a rather radical sounding suggestion: why not change the name of the town to something more appealing than Goat Hill?  Why not change the name to something with a little flare and character?  Something that would catch the attention of anyone who might be looking for a new home or place to start their business.  After much discussion and debate, those who were there asked the old man if he had any specific ideas.  “How about Angora Heights”? he asked.

Everyone’s attitude and outlook changed almost immediately.  And, after a few short years, the town turned around both economically and demographically.

~~~~

Our words matter…choose them carefully.

Advancing by Adversity Wednesday, Sep 30 2015 

overcoming-adversitySomething to Ponder:

E. Stanley Jones was a friend of the family and a personal hero of mine.  During a preaching mission at the church my father was serving many years ago, E. Stanley told the story of the experience he had as he watched an eagle face a storm high in the Himalayan Mountains. The storm brewed at the edge of the valley toward which the eagle was flying. The question rose in Jones’ mind whether the eagle would fly around the fury of the storm, or fly carelessly into it and be dashed against the rocks. His question was answered before his very eyes. The eagle set its wings in such a way the air currents send him ascending high above the storm. The eagle had used the force of air currents, which threatened its life to rise to greater heights.

If eagles have the ability to use a negative force to rise above threat, imagine what you and I have the ability to do with a similar force. Jesus is the supreme example of what can be done in unpromising situations. He faced a “kangaroo court” and came away the only one with a pure heart and noble motives. He took the raging brutality of a rugged cross and lifted it as a symbol of forgiveness for all. It was history’s most noble act.

From the example Jesus set, it looks like the difference between the desire for good and its becoming real is our own decision – the decision to allow every adversity to do something for you rather than to you.

The Wonders of Heaven Friday, Sep 18 2015 

www.nbarrettphotography.com

A Pondering:

John Newton, the converted slave trader who gave us the hymn “Amazing Grace” once spoke of the three great wonders he would experience in heaven.

The first wonder, he said, would be to see many people there he did not expect to see.

The second wonder would be to miss a great many other people he did expect to see.

And the third wonder – the wonder of all wonders – would be to find himself there.

~~~~~

We will all be surprised by the wonders of heaven.

No Questions Asked Thursday, Sep 17 2015 

Hermey___RudolphA Story

Near Stanton, TN, where some of my relative lives, there once was (and probably still is!) an old, run-down, falling apart tavern that sits on the banks of the Hatchee River.  For many years, that old bar has stood on that corner between Brownsville and Memphis.  It has been wrecked several times.  It has burned to the ground on more than one occasion.  It has changed names and owners, colors and even shape more times than I can remember.  But for all its rebuilding, repainting, and renaming, it has not once improved in appearance.  It still sits in an awful location on the river bottom.  Still, no matter what time of evening you drive by it, there are always cars, trucks, motorcycles, and even bicycles parked around it, crowded into every possible nook and cranny of the parking area.

I recall years ago, when I was a teen, hearing my dad try to explain to a friend of his, who lived in the area, exactly where our family lived.  Suddenly, his friend interrupted him and said, “Oh, I know where you’re talking about.  It’s by that old bar on the corner!”

“That’s it!” my dad said.  Then, with a hint of bewilderment in his voice, he said to his friend “I wonder why that place is always so busy.”

“Well,” his friend replied, “I suppose it’s because at that place everyone is accepted without question.”

~~~~~

There is a striking similarity in the attraction of a bar and that of the Church at its best.  The end result is the same.  In both places, fellowship is offered without question about one’s past or present.  Everyone is accepted.  All are included.

A Lantern in the Darkness Wednesday, Sep 16 2015 

lanternA Story:

In the town where my father grew up – Gleason, TN. – one of my great-uncles was a guard at the railroad crossing.  His job was to stop traffic by waving a lighted red lantern as the train approached the downtown crossing.  Cliff, my great-uncle, was an interesting man.  Though I never met him, I heard stories about him all of my young life.

Some of the younger kids in the family and neighborhood would often stop by Cliff’s little “track shack” to watch him carve black walnuts into tiny baskets or hickory nuts into faces of a raccoon and other animals.  The kids use to love hearing him spin  a tall tale about the railroad as he carved and whittled.

One of his favorite stories – which was passed down to other generations – was about “old Zeb,” who was also a crossing guard in town.  One night, old Zeb fell asleep on the job.  A freight train approached.  But old Zeb didn’t wake up until the train was practically at the crossing.  By then it was almost too late.  The train slammed into an old pickup truck.  Thankfully, no one was hurt.

Cliff then told that old Zeb was questioned by the railroad authorities and local sheriff.  “Were you on the job?” they asked.

“Yep,” was Zeb’s answer.

“Did you go out and signal traffic to stop?”

“Yep,” he answered again.

“Well,” the sheriff asked, “did you wave your lantern as you were supposed to?”

“Yep!” came old Zeb’s answer for the third time.

Old Zeb was not charged with any crime, not even negligence.  The railroad paid for the damages done and for a new pickup truck for the victim.

A couple of weeks later, old Zeb was overheard to say, “No one ever asked me if my lantern was lit!”

~~~~~

The message the Church is to share is that we stand wherever human life is found and wave our witness like a lantern for all to see.

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