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Archive for February, 2014

Permanent Records, Eating A Napkin, And Moving Letters

February 19, 2014 2 comments

I have to admit something.  I wonder sometimes if it still exists.  Where would it be?  What would be on it?  Why didn’t it follow me all the way through life like some teachers threatened it would?  What in the world am I talking about?

My permanent record.

This document, which I’m not sure ever truly existed, was a weapon used against me and my school chums to keep us quiet and well-behaved.  After all, one slip and we were done for.  Our permanent records would haunt us throughout life, lurking just beyond our reach, ready to pounce on us when the time was right.

Was it something that would eventually send me to reform school, the fate I felt would befall me if I made one misstep in life, whether at home or at school?

Our teachers, those in authority, dangled the existence of this permanent record over us.

Left to my own imagination, anything could happen.

*****

In second grade, I had a friend, maybe a best friend, named Jeffery.  Jeffery Johnson.  I haven’t seen him now for at least thirty-five years, if not more.

We sat there in the cafeteria one day eating lunch.  For some reason that I don’t remember, I put a piece of my paper napkin inside a biscuit and ate it.  Perhaps I was dared by some of the guys.  I don’t remember.  I do remember what happened next, though.  It haunted me for several years.

Jeffery told me that I would die by the time I was eighteen.  His mom was a nurse, so he knew that the napkin would slowly move toward my heart for the next eleven to twelve years or so.

I lived in fear for a few years until I learned how the human body actually worked.  I didn’t tell anyone, least of all my parents.  I just waited to die and planned my final few years.  All in all, I was a depressed kid for a while.

A nurse, albeit through her son, had delivered a death sentence to me and told me this.

I was sort of left to my own imagination as to what would befall me.

*****

I never really had to worry or think about this much until I got married.  I still didn’t figure it out for a while afterwards.

I moved to another town, another church and it was time to move my letter.

I had heard about this mysterious process throughout my life.  People had joined our church while I was growing up by promise of a letter.

Was this something we gained when we were saved and baptized?  Did we suddenly have a letter stored somewhere in the church office that would be sent to another church if we joined?  Why couldn’t we get one to put on a jacket so that would proudly display the church we belonged to?

Was it a letter with some sort of super-secret code, like some sort of message Ian Fleming would have dreamed up for James Bond that needed to be destroyed upon reading?

Eventually I learned that it was simply a typed letter stating that the person joining the church was simply a member of the church and was good to go.

Left to my own imagination, I came up with my own explanation.

*****

How many times have I felt this way about my faith?

How many times have a I felt that there was a permanent record out there, where all of my good and bad things were kept track of in need to be balanced out?

How many times have I thought an unrealistic death sentence was dealt to me leaving me thinking I had no hope?

How many have I thought that I needed to crack the code to be part of the club?

What kind of things have you imagined up in life that turned out to be ridiculous?

Evel Knievel, Black Monday, And A Party For Jesus

February 18, 2014 5 comments

The only up birthday party I remember growing was for my fifth birthday.  There were birthday gatherings of some relatives, but nothing like when I turned five.

I had  a few friends come over, though I didn’t have many.  Even at that age, I was a bit shy and found it hard to make friends.  Compound that with the fact that there were about three houses between ours and the three miles to the main highway, I didn’t have a chance to become friends with many kids.

My hero was Evel Knievel.  The influence he would play on my young life is a story for another post.  Suffice to say, I thought it would be wonderful if I could fly through the air on my bicycle.

Needless to say, this was my favorite toy in the world.  Who wouldn’t love their very own Evel Knievel Stunt Cycle?

evel-knievel-stunt-cycle

The one friend that I remember for certain being at my birthday party was Lisa Farmer.  Lisa had long blonde hair, which didn’t go well with the crank.  It became tangle up inside and there was real fear that her hair would have to be cut to release her from the firm grip of Evel Knievel.  Fortunately, that measure didn’t have to be taken.

The party resumed and Pin The Tail On The Donkey was played and Evel sailed down the stairs to the basement a few times.  Cake and ice cream was consumed.  All in all, it was a great day.

*****

I turned eighteen while I was a freshman in college.  Google will remind you, as it did me, that the stock market plunged that day.  It is referred to as Black Monday, but I didn’t have any money in the stock market.  Heck, I barely had any money.  It really didn’t mean anything to me.

My friend Nancy Rinehart asked me if I had any plans.  She wanted to gather a few of us together that evening.  Later on I found out that she was planning a surprise birthday party for me.  I had plans, though, so I wasn’t able to have the second birthday party of my life.

What did I do for my eighteenth birthday party?  I spent the evening in the upper rafters of Thompson-Boling Arena in Knoxville, TN watching the Chicago Bulls and Michael Jordan play an exhibition against the Seattle Supersonics, led by former Vol Dale Ellis.  Not a bad way to spend my birthday.

*****

A few weeks ago we celebrated the birth of Jesus.  The celebration of His birth has been turned into a season of shopping, parties, and gift-giving.  None of that is bad, but it isn’t all good either.

The thing is, Jesus didn’t ask or tell us to put much emphasis on his birth.  Don’t get me wrong.  Christmas is season I love and look forward to every year.

But Jesus basically told us to remember what He did.  He gave us some things to do in remembrance of Him.

You and I gather together in a big group each week.  We sing.  We share.  We listen.  We worship.

Let’s call it what it is.  It’s a party for Jesus.

For too long I thought it was a somber time, one where I had to be quiet, wear the right clothes, and put on the right face.

How about we start acting more like David when he brought the Ark to Jerusalem than like we’re at a funeral.

Let’s party for Jesus.

How is church service?  Is it respectful or is it a party?

Sunday Clothes

February 17, 2014 3 comments

I don’t remember much about it really.  My Grandma and Grandpa liked to take me on trips when I was little.  Sometimes it was for me.  One I remember was driving into the mountains, which was much different than driving in the Great Smoky Mountains now.  There were many more panhandling bears back then.

This time, though, it wasn’t a fun trip for me.  Instead, it was to visit my Grandma’s Aunt Violet.  She lived in Oak Ridge, which wasn’t much of a secret city any more, at least it hadn’t been for the past twenty-five years or so.  No, this visit was for them to visit with Aunt Violet and to show me off.

My mom dressed me up the way she wanted.  I’m sure the clothes were fine, but when my Grandma arrived it wasn’t good enough for her.  I can imagine that I pitched some sort of fit when I had to change.

I mean who really wants to wear their Sunday clothes on Saturday?

*****

My dad was one the first I knew of who did it.  Maybe the first.  Was he a trend setter?  Absolutely not.  Ahead of his time?  No way.  No, he was just a guy who did what he wanted when he wanted.

I don’t remember exactly when he began doing it, but if you pressed me I would say the early 80’s.  I didn’t realize the significance of it until much later.

He began wearing jeans 100% of the time.

He wore jeans to work and he wore jeans to church.  Granted, his church jeans weren’t his work jeans.  They were his newer jeans, not faded and worn.  And let me tell you, you wouldn’t have wanted to wear his jeans.  He took them to the cleaners to have them starched with a crease just like dress pants.

He wore his Sunday clothes, basically, on a daily basis.

*****

I still remember it like it was yesterday.  It was the 70’s, you know back before the world lost its mind.  At least that’s probably what some people would say while looking back, though I’m sure at the time plenty of people thought the world was going to hell in a handbasket.

The new church, the one that I had helped build by buying a savings bond, wasn’t very old, maybe we had been in it for two or three years.  It wouldn’t be long before entered the 80’s, but Jimmy Carter was still president.

It was Sunday night and I was missing The Wonderful World of Disney.  The door opened and there was almost an audible gasp as she walked in.

She was the crazy lady of the church.  The one all of the proper ladies talked about.  Not that she was a loose woman or a hussie, or some of the other names you might hear about a woman.  No, she was just a woman who refused to do what all of the other women wanted her to do.

She was wearing pants.

I know that seems quaint, but it just wasn’t done back then.  Women wore proper clothes to church.  They wore dresses.  They wore their Sunday clothes.

*****

Today in my church, it’s come as you are.  If you want to wear dressier clothes, that’s fine.  If you want to wear jeans, it’s all good.  Some even wear shorts.

Granted, even for me, it’s hard to adjust to some clothes.  It seems that, even when it’s relaxed, we still have our own definitions of what Sunday clothes are.

I just wonder if we who go to church on Sunday wear our Sunday clothes all week long?

Does your church have a “dress code”?  Are wearing your “Sunday clothes” the rest of the days of the week?

Hanging On To And Letting Go Of

February 14, 2014 Leave a comment

Prior to 2008, we lived in a house that was less that 1000 square feet.  Living in that space was fine in 2002 when we moved in, but as our family grew, not in numbers, but in pure size, it began to grow cramped.  We could not go anywhere in the house to get away from each other.

We began work on our current home almost six years ago now.  Finally, in June of 2008, it was done and we were ready to move in.  Done, of course, is the relative term, as there are still projects we want to complete.

Our living situation went from 900 plus square feet to around 2400.  Suddenly, we could hide from each other without even trying.  Sometimes, though, we felt like fleas.  We have lived on top of each other so long, we still hovered around each other with too much frequency.  The closeness we developed may never go away and we aren’t pushing for it either.

Like I said, our home being finished is a relative term.  The upstairs is not finished.  I’m sometimes overwhelmed by how much more house will add when we complete it.  We plan to add another bedroom for eventual grandchildren, a sitting area and a man cave.  We also have some definite ideas about the entire space being a ministry center, of making the entire space a place that can glorify the Lord.

In that upstairs space lies a lot of, for lack of a better term, stuff.  Kids stuff.  Our stuff.  Just stuff, much of it which we haven’t used in years.  Stuff that we only see on occasion when we go up to go through it and cull some it.

We continue to see the wisdom of whittling down what we have stored up there.  I’ve heard it said that you should reduce what you own by ten percent each year.  That makes sense, especially if much of that you haven’t touched in well over a year.

Before we begin work to complete that space, we are going to have to find somewhere to put all of this stuff that we own.  Once complete, there is no way all of this stuff can continue to lie where it does.  Decisions have to be made.

To move forward, we are going to have make decisions about what to hang onto and what to let go.

That seems to be the way it is in life.  We want to cling to some things that hold us back, when what we need to do is let go.  John Piper wrote a bit about this in his book Don’t Waste Your Life.  He discussed how some people work all of their lives just so they can retire and collect seashells on the seashore.

I wonder how many seashells we lying around upstairs?   I wonder how many seashells we are hanging onto?  How many seashells we need to let go?

This winter we’re going to climb the stairs a few times.  We going to survey the situation.

We are going to make some decisions on what we are going to be hanging on to and letting go of.

Do you have trouble making decisions about what to hang on to and what to let go of?

A Pregnant Wife And A Favorite Songbird

February 13, 2014 1 comment

In 1994, Jan was very pregnant with Lauren, just over six months in July.  We weren’t going to be able to vacation that year, so we planned a short getaway before October brought us a precious gift.  Boone, N.C. was our destination.  A concert was to be the pinnacle.

We took the long way because, to my recollection, there was no easy way to get to Boone from where we lived.  We traveled to Elizabethton, TN first to see the Carter Mansion.

I had heard of this manse all of my life, but had never seen it.  It seemed to have been built by some long forgotten ancestor of mine.  John and Elizabeth Carter had lived there. The anticipation mounted as we approached our first leg of the journey.  What we found was that a mansion in the 18th century is different from a mansion today.

Next, we stopped at a roadside park for a picnic lunch.  I don’t recall exactly what we ate, but whatever it was, it was delicious.  A sandwich on a picnic by a river or lake always tastes better than it does at home.

We crossed a mountain on a two-lane road and took our time heading into Boone.  We found our motel and checked in before we set out for dinner.  I think we turned in early, as wives who are expecting tend to tire easily.  Looking forward to the next day, we drifted off to sleep enjoying our trip.

Two things were on our agenda for the next day before our concert.  We visited Mast General Store, amazed at all of the various products they traded in.  This doesn’t seem like such a big deal now, with Knoxville having its own, but at that time it was not a hop, skip and jump to this kind of store.

Later that afternoon, we drove up the mountain to Blowing Rock.  We learned the legend of the Rock and then headed back down to get ready for the concert.

At last, the time arrive, the reason we had made the trip.  We went to see Emmylou Harris for the second time in our marriage, the first being a year before during our first year of marriage.  Emmylou had become a favorite of ours and we looked forward to seeing her again.

We listened as Emmylou played many of her old favorites.  A young woman in a short dress and a snake tattoo encircling her leg danced in front of us.  The crowd was a mixture of old Country music fans and young hippies.  We were all joined in our celebration of the music that thrilled our souls.

Something odd happened next, something that has stood out to me for almost twenty years.  Emmylou mentioned that while she loved playing the old songs, she also loved playing the new.  A man yelled out to forget the new stuff.  All he wanted to hear was the old favorites that he had loved before.  He was not interested at all in hearing anything new.

The significance of that moment didn’t stand out to me until a few years ago.  At that point, it hit me like a ton of bricks.

We can all be like that man.  Wanting to cling to the old, the tradition with no room for anything new to enter our lives.  We can all be so caught up in what we are familiar with that we can’t see the amazing possibilities that lie before us.

Sometimes, even those that come with a pregnant wife and a favorite songbird.

Have you ever clung to the old while missing out on the new?

3 Lessons From The Marvel Cinematic Universe

February 12, 2014 6 comments

In a little less than two months, the latest movie from the Marvel Cinematic Universe will debut.  Captain America: The Winter Soldier will hit theaters on April 4.  If everything works out, my son, Andrew, and I will be there to see it.

We are huge superhero movie fans.  There are few that we haven’t seen over the past few years.  Here are a few things that I have learned from the MCU over the years.

1.  Give more than is expected out of you.  As a way of moving the bigger story along, Marvel began adding extra scenes following the credits.  This was first seen in Iron Man.  It continued with The Hulk all the way until The Avengers.  Two extra scenes were added for it, with the last one being a silent, comic one.  Now audiences expect to stay after the credits to see what will happen.  The question each time is how Marvel up the ante going forward.

Shouldn’t we do that as well?  In our relationships.  In our churches.  In our jobs.  With people we don’t even know.  Expectations, both spoken and unspoken, are made for us.  Let’s not just meet expectations.  Let’s blow them out of the water.

2.  Each Marvel film is connected.  Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury appeared in Iron Man.  Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark appeared in The Hulk.  Nick Fury appeared again in Iron Man 2, Thor and Captain America.  All of this culminated in The Avengers.  This is something that has never truly happened in movie history in this way.

We have a couple of choices we can make.  We can retreat within ourselves.  Honestly, that is my natural inclination.  However, I am finding that my life is much richer when I seek to be connected to more people.  Like the MCU, I have developed relationships that connect all the way from here to the West Coast and beyond.  How?  By connecting with the people who my friends are connected to.

3.  Marvel isn’t afraid to take chances.  This summer Marvel will release a film about a group that few people know anything about.  Guardians of the Galaxy will be the tenth film Marvel has produced.  It will feature a cosmic band of heroes which include Rocket Raccoon and Groot, a living tree.  Weird, right?  Sure, Marvel’s name gives it a good chance, but it’s still a chance.  We are willing to give Marvel the benefit of the doubt due to their previous successes.

In 2015, Marvel will produce a film called Ant-Man to kick off their “Phase Three” after Avengers 2.  Sure, we comic book geeks know who he is, but the general public doesn’t.  Who is directing it?  The guy who made Shaun of the Dead.  Again, another chance that Marvel is willing to take.

It’s easy to just keep doing what we do.  Day after day.  Week after week.  Year after year.  How do we grow?  By taking chances.  We can’t continually do the same thing.  Iron Man 3 was different from the others.  Marvel took a bit of a chance by doing something a little different.  Some fans hated it.  Some of us loved it.  But it was anything but the same.

There are lessons for all of us to learn if we will slow down a bit and see them.  Even from a bunch of superhero movies.

What lessons can you learn from the Marvel Cinematic Universe?

Who My Posts Are Really About

February 11, 2014 4 comments

It’s taken me about five years to figure out what I’m going to tell you today.  Brace yourself.  You aren’t going to believe me at first.  Here goes anyway.

This post is not about me.  It’s about you.

I’ve mentioned this several times over the past few weeks, but when I first began writing, it was all about me.  How can I get things off my chest?  How can I prove how smart I am or how much I know?

I wondered for a long time how I could gain more followers.  How would my stats look from day-to-day or hour to hour?  How’s the traffic?

How can I become famous?

Here’s the thing.  I’ve known for a while that it’s not about me.

That’s right, like I said earlier, it’s about you.

Sure, I normally write about faith and the journey I’m on.  However, there have been a couple of blog posts recently that helped bring this into better focus for me.

One was this one from Seth Godin.  It helped me see that whether I’m speaking publicly or writing a blog post, it isn’t about me.  It’s about how which activity is helping my audience.   Perhaps that helps me see why certain posts or sermons “work” over the ones that I think are good.  Simply giving folks information is not enough.  Taking them with you on a journey is what they really want.

The other was this one from my friend, Jon Acuff.  Here Jon writes about how speakers need to spend some time on their closing.  This makes sense.  If I want you to join me in the journey, then I ought to know where we’re going.

Imagine that.  If I’m going on a trip, and want you to read about it, it’s not just about me on my trip.  It’s about how you can relate to me as I travel on the way toward my destination.  But, you also need to know where I’m headed.  Otherwise, how will we know when we get there?

So, many of you have joined me on my journey so far.  You’ve seen me at my worst, when I railed and spoke indiscriminately about what I love.  You’ve seen far too few glimpses of me at my best.  What’s next?

I want to invite you to join me on this journey as I head toward the Light that I am trying to reflect on a daily basis.  I might fall, but with you along to pick me up, I stand a better chance of making it.  My hope is that I can pick you up daily as well as we travel together.

Who is your message about?

Categories: Christianity, Faith