Monday, December 23, 2013

He rules the world with truth and grace

One of the favorite Christmas hymns is "Joy To The World."  This marvelous hymn was written by Isaac Watts (1674-1748.)  One of the lines is "He rules the world with truth and grace."  Watts believed that God rules with truthfulness and graciousness.  I agree.  Those first century people didn't recognize Jesus/God as any type of ruler because they were expecting something else.  Perhaps they were looking for a political King, a military leader, a financial wizard, a theological teacher, a miracle worker or something other than a helpless infant who grew up to be a wandering teacher with a small following.  I suspect people today don't recognize Jesus/God anymore than those in that first century.  Perhaps, it is because we are like those first century folks who expect something more from God than ruling the world (and our lives) with only truth and grace. 

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Christmas, God shows up

25 years ago my wife and I were scheduled to go to the Middle East for a six weeks mission trip.  She was to help the Hospital Administrators with their new computers and system.  I was to be a "Pastor."  We were to leave in January.  Friends had questioned whether or not we should make this trip.  Our plans were really put in jeopardy when the Pan Am flight was destroyed over Lockerbie, Scotland, in December--25 years ago.  My wife was daily reading in Isaiah and I was reading in the Psalms.  One day she was reading Isaiah 41, when verses 8-10 caught her attention.  Those Isaiah verses read, "You whom I have taken from the ends of the earth and called from its remotest parts, and said to you, 'You are my servant, I have chosen you and not rejected you.  Do not fear, for I am with you; do not anxiously look about you for I am your God, I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, surely I will uphold you with My righteous hand.'"  On that same day, I was reading from the Psalms, when Psalm 121, verses 7-8 jumped off the page for me.  Those two verses read, "The Lord will protect you from all evil; He will keep your soul.  The Lord will guard your going out and your coming in from this time and forever."  We made the trip to the Middle East and developed some marvelous friendships and memories. 
Maybe this isn't a Christmas story but, again, maybe it is.  Christmas is about God showing up.  Church people, like to use the big word, incarnation.  In Bethlehem, God showed up as a new born and helpless infant, who was birthed in an out-of-the-way place by a seemingly insignificant couple whose pregnancy was suspect.  God seems to continue showing up in unexpected ways and places.  God spoke to us while we were reading the scriptures, not especially looking for anything in particular, yet wondering about a trip to a country we didn't even know about until we had received an invitation.  It is a Merry Christmas because God keeps showing up.


Wednesday, December 11, 2013

"God's more-than-enough"

I rarely go to the malls.  I'm not a shopper because I don't like big crowds and long lines.  I'm grateful for on-line shopping.  Nevertheless, I ventured into a mall recently.  I neither stayed long nor purchased anything because I was "turned off" by the noise and the crowds.  This morning my scripture reading was in the 3rd and 4th Psalm.  I've been reading from Eugene Peterson's The Message. The ending of the 4th Psalm is paraphrased by Peterson as "Why is everyone hungry for more?  'More, more,' they say.  'More, more.'  I have God's more-than-enough, more joy in one ordinary day than they get in all their shopping sprees.  At day's end I'm ready for sound-sleep, for you, God, have put my life back together."   I think I've heard a Word from God for me this 2013 Christmas season.  My prayer for this Christmas is simplicity accompanied with more attentiveness to God's presence which is more-than-enough.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Emotional Intelligence

Recently I've been reading some of Daniel Goleman's work on Emotional Intelligence.  It is certainly important and not just because of the type of work that I do in counseling.   Goleman writes that emotional intelligence, or EQ, among other characteristics, has a lot to do with knowing one's emotions and being able to manage those emotions.  For example, some individuals seek counseling because they have an anger management problem.  Some are even sent by the courts to learn how to manage their anger.  Did you notice the phrase used to describe their situation; it was "anger management."  The ability to be aware of one's anger and, then, managing that anger or energy is an important skill.  The Bible says we are to "Be angry, and yet do not sin." (Ephesians 4:26.)  There are things in life about which we need to be angry.  I'm angry, for example, about the injustices in our world such as blaming the economic problems on the poor, racial and gender prejudice, global warming, etc.  To be angry is one step, but the next is how to manage that anger or energy as a way of trying to make a difference.  I think one of those managing ways is to speak up--"Don't let the sun go down on your anger" as Ephesian 4:26 completes the prescription.  Lord, may I not loose my voice when I see or hear injustice, but speak in a truthful manner and tone that "Lays aside falsehood and speaks the truth." (Ephesians 4:25.)  I like truth when I see it in a respected researcher such as Daniel Goleman and the scriptures.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

A Visit To The Abbey

This past Saturday I took my Baptist Seminary of Kentucky class in Spiritual Formation to the Abbey of Gethsemani.  I've been teaching this particular class for 12 years and I've taken the students to the Abbey every year.  During the semester in the classroom, we read about spirituality.  The students write papers, book reviews and enter lively discussions about spirituality.  We talk about the various types of praying as well as ways of approaching scripture.  I've discovered that it is important for the students to visit the Abbey so that we can experience a place where spirituality is lived, not just discussed.  During our visit, the class meet with one of the Monks.  He has been at the Abbey for 50 years.  At the Abbey, he has prayed all of the Psalms every two weeks for 50 years.  He has lived very simply; he practices obedience and stability to the Abbey.  His spirituality is not only in his head but, also, of his heart.  When the students return to the Seminary classroom, they usually respond with an "Oh, that's what a spiritual life is really like."  It isn't that everyone is called to a vocation of prayer and a life in a monastery.  Nevertheless, as Believers we are called to a life that is centered in God's love for everyone.  That love is not just a head knowledge, as important as that may be, but, also, a heart knowledge that demonstrates God's love with everyone and all of creation.

Friday, September 27, 2013

50 years

Fifty  years ago Judy and I were married on August 16th.  Our wedding was in the First Baptist Church of Eufaula, Oklahoma.  The officiating minister was Judy's uncle, E. R.  Our best friends were in the wedding.  Our parents and grandparents celebrated with us.  I had just graduated from Oklahoma Baptist University and Judy had one more year before her graduation.  After the ceremony, we went to Branson, Missouri, for a honeymoon.  This was prior to Branson becoming a popular destination.  After our honeymoon, we returned to Shawnee, Oklahoma where we had a wonderful apartment which was in the county and over a garage.  Behind the garage and our apartment, our landlord kept a small herd of goats.  It was a wonderful first year.  Fifty years later we went to Amsterdam for our anniversary.  We spent a week making our way through Amsterdam's wonderful museums; sitting at sidewalk cafes watching the people and a variety of sidewalk entertainers.   We talked about our memories--which have been many.  It was a great 50th celebration and it has been a wonderful 50 years.  Deo gratis!

Monday, July 15, 2013

The Bird Feeders

I've two bird feeders hanging in a front yard tree.  One is full of feed that draws all types of birds whereas the other is primarily for the small, quiet and colorful finch birds.  I recently moved the finch feeder and the finches stopped coming to their feeder.  A neighbor who knows more about birds than I thought I'd moved the finch feeder too close to the other feeder.  He said that the small and quiet finches will feed only where they feel safe.  The other feeder draws all kinds of birds which are larger, busier and noisier than the finches.  They must make the finches so uneasy that they don't come to their feeder.  My life is often like those bird feeders.  What seems to be the larger, busier and noisier things in my life often  keep the smaller and quieter things away.  It happens in my mind a lot.  For example, I sit to be quiet in prayer and my mind gets busy with all of the activities that I think I need to do.  In his book, Into The Silent Land, Martin Laird recommends developing the discipline of not permitting one's mind to engage those distractions in prayer.  Easier said than done, but, nevertheless, a necessary spiritual discipline.  It is a discipline similar to moving the finch feeder away from the other feeder.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

The Blessing

My Grandpa Landon had an old pickup truck when I was a youngster.  My cousin and I were often on trips with them.  Steve and I always rode in the back unless it was raining or very cold.  On this particular trip, we began to hit at each other with the small pillows that Grandma put in the back to soften the metal truck bed.  As might have been guessed, one of those pillows went out of the truck bed.  Grandpa turned the truck around to retrace the route and find that pillow.  An Indian was standing beside the road holding the pillow.  Grandpa stopped and offered the man a ride.  He got in the back bed of the truck with us.  Since I grew up in Oklahoma, I've always been around Indians.  Our new companion, however, was the biggest man I had ever seen. I still can recall his huge hands and long braided hair that went down his back.  He looked to me like he was very, very old.  Grandpa called him, "Chief," they talked briefly and it seemed that they knew each other.  I'd never been around a "Chief."  I have no idea how old he might have been.  When Grandpa or Grandma would tell this story they would say that Steve and I never said a word while the Chief was in the truck with us and furthermore, we stared at him until Grandma knocked on window and mouthed for us to stop staring.  Chief would smile at us.  He seemed friendly even if we weren't talking.  I don't think he rode with us very long but when he got out of the truck, he put his hand on my head and Steve's and said we were good boys.  There was something about his strong, quiet presence and his hand on my head that was a memorable blessing.  When I was in the Seminary, I heard the Profs talk about the ministry of presence.  When I heard that 'ministry of presence' phrase, I'd think about Chief.  I'm pretty certain that Chief's presence with us in that old truck bed was the cumulative result of the way he lived life.  I wish I could have known Chief for a long time but I don't recall that I ever saw him again.  Nevertheless, he left a deep impression, a blessing, on my life.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Happy Birthday, Bobby

68 years ago today, May 23rd, Bobby was born.  Bobby is my brother.  Unfortunately there were complications with his delivery.  Bobby was born a "blue baby" because the cord was around his neck depriving him of oxygen for a period.  This complication caused Bobby to be developmentally handicapped.  God did not make this happen and God could not have prevented this accident.  Accidents just happened.  Our family has been effected, affected and influenced by Bobby's situation for all of our lives.  For example, Bobby's situation was prior to any special education in the public schools so our family moved where there was an available Catholic school.  Living with Bobby was a strong motivation for me to study Psychology in College and, also, Special Education and Educational Psychology in a Master's program.  When I discovered Dr. Oates at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary who was combining theology and psychology, I was motivated to go to the Seminary in Louisville.  I was blessed to have been Pastor of a Church for 21 years that had a significant ministry with the mentally handicapped and their families.  Today I am a Psychotherapist and I sit with many families struggling to accept and deal with life's circumstances that cannot be fixed.  Bobby has been a significant influence regarding who I am and what I have done and continue to do.  Bobby has been a life-changing blessing.  Happy Birthday, Bobby.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Sometimes things just don't work out as expected

My brother broke his leg several weeks ago and is now with us.  They couldn't do surgery because of infection so they put him in an external support made of rods.  After a couple of weeks, his foot somehow slid to the side of the rod that went through his heel causing a new wound and additional infection.  On the way to the Surgeon's office, the air conditioning in the car ceased putting out cool air.  The next day that auto was in the shop getting the air conditioning fixed.  I was to take the pickup to their shop and exchange for the auto since the pickup also needed some repairs.  However, when I tried to start the pickup, it wouldn't start.  It had to be 'jumped' and a new battery installed in addition to other repairs.  Today I received a call from my brother's Social Worker because a State Office wouldn't talk with her about an issue relating to my brother.  The State Office receptionist said they didn't have the proper paper work signed by me so the Social Worker wasn't allowed to speak with anyone.  I signed that paper in their office a couple of days ago and both his Social Worker and I have copies.  In times like these, it is a good thing to have a sense of humor and take a nap.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Logs and specks in one's attitude

Two recent events have been on my mind lately.  In one of those events, I was a small part of a discussion of theology and beliefs with a group who, by most folks, would be labeled conservative evangelical Christians.  It was a lively discussion about some of the contemporary issues facing the church.  The other group would be labeled moderate or liberal by most folks.  They were discussing some of the same issues.  I know not to stereotype large groups by the actions of a smaller group.  Nevertheless, I came away from these two discussion groups with the awareness that I felt more comfortable with the conservative group.  I disagreed with their views on most of the contemporary issues with which they were discussing.  What I liked about them and their discussions was the respect they demonstrated with those who held differing opinions.  The more moderate or liberal group stated views with which I would personally agree.  However, they were disrespectful of those who might disagree with them.  The made fun of others, even calling some by name.  I felt very uncomfortable with this group's spirit.  In my opinion, their attitude was arrogant and disrespectful.  I'm aware that arrogance and disrespect can easily be an attitude for any of us.  I'm also aware that we may not be aware of such as attitude.  Jesus talked about having a log in one's eye that needs to be taken care of before an effort is made to remove a splinter in somebody else's eye (Matthew 7:1-5).

Thursday, April 4, 2013

The Pope's Kiss

The most significant religious event I've seen in years was recently when Pope Francis held and kissed the handicapped child, Dominic.  Perhaps I'm moved by this action because Judy and I are taking care of my brother, Bobby, who is developmentally handicapped.  Bobby recently suffered an accident in which he broke both bones in his lower right leg.  As his body was recovering from the fracture blisters so the Surgeon could do surgery, he suffered a seizure.  The seizure threw him off his bed and broke his left arm.  In my very prejudiced opinion, it is Dominic, Bobby and those like them who hold the message related to the future of the church.  If the church is to have a relevant ministry in our culture, it will have to be and do something other than self-absorbed ministries, care of the Church's magnificent property and deliver carefully crafted sermons which are non-offensive.  The handicapped among us may not be able to provide the financial means to support the church's ministries, maintain her wonderful facilities or understand her Sunday sermons.  They do, however, know if they are loved and accepted, not tolerated, but wanted.  They have a comprehension that lies deeper than mental understanding.  Perhaps, it is the handicapped individuals among us who can teach us what it means to be a church.  They have a crucial message to teach us.  May more of us follow Pope Francis' leading.  When Pope Francis stopped, held, hugged and kissed Dominic that looked more like what Jesus would do than all of the other things that happened in that grand, beautiful and carefully orchestrated religious procession.

Sunday, March 24, 2013


I've had several memorable Easters. The most unpleasant was when I was about nine or ten. Mom had the idea that it would be great if she dressed me in a new navy blue suit, white shirt, a clip on tie and shined "Sunday shoes." I didn't like the idea and fought the tie and suit coat all day long. The tie kept coming, off with my assistance, but either Dad or Mom would clip it back on with a grim look on their face. Somewhere there are pictures of that unpleasant Easter. I think that event spoiled me on wearing ties. I often wear a tie but I don't really like them. The most memorable Easter was serving communion to a tour group with Dr. Wayne Ward in Jerusalem's Gordon's Calvary and Garden Tomb. Gordon's Garden was what I imagined Calvary and the garden tomb to be like although it probably isn't the real place. That experience in that place made the crucifixion and resurrection very real. That even has made me believe that Communion needs to be taken regularly; maybe weekly rather than quarterly. The most significant Easter was my father's death. Dad died in Lexington on Good Friday, 1998. His funeral was Easter evening. The next day we flew with his body to Shawnee, Oklahoma, for his burial beside my mother who died in 1987. Every since Dad's death, Good Friday and Easter have had a deeper and more personal meaning. I'm not sure what Easter 2013 will hold for us.  A significant aspect of Easter is waiting.


Thursday, March 7, 2013

How Much Is Enough?

Greed may be the original sin of Adam and Eve.  Some of the Desert Fathers and Mothers of the church believed this.  These early church leaders thought that Adam and Eve were not content with what God had provided.  There was something more that was within their reach and that was desirable.  So, they took it for themselves.  That's greed.  It seems to me that greed is underneath the other deadly sins such as lust, gluttony, anger, envy, etc.  Just because something is desirable and within one's reach doesn't always mean that we should take it.  Greed is the spirit within us that hasn't answered the question, "How much is enough?"  Greed doesn't seem to have a 'stop button.'  Erich Fromm, a Psychoanalyst and Social Philosopher wrote, "Greed is a bottomless pit which exhausts the person in an endless effort to satisfy the need without ever reaching satisfaction."  Paul had evidently discerned the answer to greed when he wrote, "...for I have learned to be content with whatever I have." (Phil. 4:11, NRSV.)  Greed haunts us like a demon seeking to destroy our lives, families, churches, communities, etc.  We seem to have more and more than we really need, yet we are not content.  The answer to our searching is evidently not outside of ourselves but, inside our self where our relationship with God is created and sustained.  

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Grades and Grace

I like my teaching opportunities. I teach two courses at the Baptist Seminary of Kentucky and occasional courses at the Lexington Theological Seminary. I enjoy preparing the syllabus and the class lectures/discussions. I like the interaction between the students as well as with myself. I feel exceptionally blessed to be teaching in my assigned fields. My trouble with teaching is giving a grade. I have the students do book reviews, reflection papers and case studies. So, what is the difference between an A and B on a book review or case study paper? I'm not sure. I tend to give a lot of A's. I give a C when it is pretty clear that the student didn't make much of an effort. So, effort counts a lot with me and my grading scale. I've thought about giving exams, but I would have essay exams which puts me back in the same dilemma. I want to know how a student is thinking more than whether or not they know an answer. They've bought the textbooks so, even years from now they can look up an answer if they've forgotten. All of this is on my mind because in a couple of days I have to turn in grades for the Intensive Pastoral Care and Counseling class I taught at LTS during January. Since I ask students to do a lot of theological reflection, I'll do the same with my dilemma. How would Jesus grade the work the students did in that class? Which raises the greater question, if Jesus gave grades I wonder how He would grade my work for the Kingdom? More significantly, I wonder if He would grade my relationship with Him? Honestly, I don't think Jesus gives grades and I call that grace. Everyone who desires a relationship with God, passes! Yes, I like that. Grace says, let's do away with grades. Unfortunately, I think the Seminary will still require that I "grade" those papers laying on my desk.

Monday, January 21, 2013

The Times They Are A-Changing

In the summer of 1961, Judy and I (who were seriously dating at the time) drove to Glorieta, New Mexico with three college colleagues to participate in Student Week at Glorieta. We stopped in Amarillo, Texas, to get some lunch. We were not seated. The owner of the restaurant came, told us we would have to leave and escorted all of us to the door. One of our friends was black. In the fall of 1962 another friend and myself from Oklahoma Baptist University tried unsuccessfully to buy tickets to admit us into the OU and Texas football game. Since we were already in the area, we decided to stay over on Sunday and go to church to hear a rather well-known Baptist Preacher. The Church's usher told us we could not sit on the main floor, so he would take us to the balcony. My friend was black. We skipped church that day and drove back to Oklahoma Baptist University having neither seen the football game nor gone to church. Today, some fifty years later, our nation stops to celebrate a holiday in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., an Afro-American Baptist Preacher. Also today, our nation inaugurates an Afro-American President for his second term of office. In 1964, Bob Dylan was singing, "The times they are a changing." Yes, how the times have changed. Deo gratis!