Saturday, December 27, 2014

Inspirations

The view from a mountain ridge
The sun upon my face
The ocean breeze in my hair
The touch of her caress

***
The colors of the sunset
The freshness of the dawn
The purity of newly fallen snow
Her kiss upon my lips

***
A forest stream
A desert flower
Songbirds in the morning
Her smile, Her heart, Her love

Monday, December 15, 2014

Digging Deeper and the Confusicating Nature of Language

My daughters sometimes think it’s cute, and sometimes they think it’s irritational.  Other times, they are simply confusicated, and thrown for a loop by my tendency to invent words.  But, then I have to remind them that new words are added to the dictionary every year.  My words are just baby words waiting to grow up and become mature enough to be published in Webster’s big black book.  In fact, if you take that big black book and flip through the hundreds of pages that detail and define the thousands upon thousands of words in the English language, you will in fact be simply seeing all of the other words that someone else “made up.”  All of them.  Every word we use was made up by someone.  So, if my strange word leaves you confusicated…well, just get over it and wait for my word to grow up.

Language is a funny thing.  Always changing.  Sixty years ago, if you said a man was “gay,” it just meant that he was light-hearted and happy.  Now, if you use the word, you’re likely referring to his sexual orientation.  When I was a teenager in the 1970’s, we used to say the word “bad” all of the time, but we weren’t describing the negative qualities of any given thing or situation.  Nope.  We were telling you how awesome it was!  So, bad meant good…at least in those twisted years.  It was the language of my culture.

If I told you that I put some drinks in the fridge (not refrigerator) to chill, you would know that by “chill” I meant to cool, get cold, remove the heat.  But when a few minutes later I tell you that the Colts are far better than your Patriots and you get all frustrated and angry, and I tell you to “chill out,” you don’t even imagine that I’m telling you to go put yourself in the fridge.  Why?  Because you understand that in our culture the word “chill” can have more than one meaning, and I’m telling you to calm down and relax, not jump in the icebox.

So, the fact is that language is in a constant state of flux.  Always shifting.  Always changing.  Affected by culture.

Imagine that you were suddenly time-warped back to England in 1611.  No problem, right?  Assuming you speak English, you should be good to go.  Really?  You really think so?  I mean, there were a lot of “ith’s” and “eth’s” used in those days.  The word “your” was “thy.”  “You” was “thee.”  I betcha thee’d have a harder time understanding thy King’s English than thee might think.

And, translating languages can get even trickier.  Have you ever watched one of those really old Godzilla movies?  I mean one of the ones that were filmed in Japan?  Or, maybe one of the Chinese Bruce Lee flicks?  Those old movies where the original actors were speaking Japanese or Chinese, but they did English voice-overs for those us who are linguistically-challenged?  Isn’t is funny how sometimes the faces on the screen look like they spoke a dozen words, but we only heard four or five in English?  Or, maybe it was the opposite?  There would be faces that seemed to only say one or two words, but a dozen English ones were used in their place.  I used to think that was really weird.  After all, if they simply translated it word for word, the number of words spoken should be the same.  Right?

Wrong.

Words and phrases and their cultural meanings don’t always translate directly.  Sometimes you have to elaborate to get the full meaning to come through.  Sometimes, the full meaning is simply lost in translation.  There just is no easy way to get the full meaning to come through.

So, now let’s combine the two issues:  The shifting meaning of language over time, and the problem of translating one culture-ridden language into our own culture-ridden language.  Let’s go back about 2000 years.  (Remember, that the 1611 example, which is the year that the King James Bible was published was only about 400 years ago, and technically the same language.)  So, let’s make it tougher.  Let’s go back 2000 years and convert the ancient Greek used in the Mediterranean region by a people completely imbedded in the Greco-Roman culture of the first century into modern English for the use of those of us completely imbedded in the American culture of the 21st century.  I wonder how hard it might be to completely understand the full depth of meaning in every turn of phrase?

Of course, I’m talking about the New Testament of the Bible.

First of all, the vast majority of us cannot read ancient Greek, so we have to rely on translators.  Other human beings who are also imbedded in modern culture, but who are educated and able to understand and cross-communicate the ancient meanings of texts into our modern lingo.  And secondly, we have to sort of trust them to properly interpret the old Greek, and then further trust them to accurately communicate it to us.  And, then finally, we have to work to understand what they were trying to communicate.

Are you confusicated yet?

Am I being irritational?

And, sometimes things are lost in translation.  Oh, I don’t mean the basics of the Gospel message.  Those come through quite clearly.  Jesus was the Son of God.  He did die on the Cross.  He did rise from the dead.  We are saved by grace through faith.  We do need to repent…be baptized…and live our lives in reflection of our Lord.  But, still there are deeper things…and subtle things…and cultural things that are lost to us.  Lost unless.  Unless we dig deeper.  Unless we go behind our favorite English translation and look at the history…the ancient culture…and the conceptual meanings of the original words.

The tools are there for us.  Lexicons.  Dictionaries of Bible words.  Commentaries.  Studies by a multitude of scholars.

 Cross check.  Research.  DIG!  The world of meaning hidden in the ancient language is amazing.

And, I say all of this not as a Greek scholar.  I am not.  I’m just like you.  All of that old language stuff is Greek to me.  But, I sometimes get a bug to dig into something, and I use the tools.  I read the articles.  And, I find interesting and inspiring stuff.

For example, a whole new meaning of the interaction of Peter with Jesus in John 21 opens up when you know the words used by Jesus in the passage where Jesus asks Peter: “Do you love me?”  It used to bother me that it took three times with the same question before Peter was suddenly hurt.  But, then I learned that it wasn’t the same question the third time.  In English it is.  In English, it is still “Do you love me?”  But, in the Greek, that third question was different…more personal…more emotional, and it hurt Peter.  However, we completely lose that key nuance in English.
 
It is still there, though.  If you are willing to dig for it.  And, there are others.  Many others.

Why, you might ask, are you being so confusicating and irritational with this whole article?  Well, I am doing this because we all have a tendency.  A tendency to either forget or ignore the fact that the Bible was not originally written in English, and it was also not specifically written to those of us in the United States of America.
 
I do it.  You do it.
 
We start looking at a subject or an issue, and then we dig into our favorite English translation in order to make our argument.  And, that is all well and good.  However, before we get too stiff-necked on our particular position, we had better dig a bit deeper.  We need to consider the shifting of language.  The differences in culture.  The context of the passage.  Who wrote it?  Who was it written to?  Where was it written?  What were the circumstances surrounding the people who wrote it or it was written to?  All of these factors are important in the proper understanding of any passage.

That was Bible Study 101 back during my days in Bible College.


So, if you are content with the basics of the message of the cross, you can keep to your favorite English translation.  However, if you are going to get all worked up on an issue, please do your homework.  Or, if you are intrigued by deeper understandings of your favorite passages, break open the books.  Study more deeply.  And, open up a whole new wondrous world of understanding.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Christmas and an Incredible Ability to Miss the Point

I heard on the morning news recently that someone had stolen the baby Jesus out of the Nativity scene at the Masonic Home in Franklin, Indiana.  Now, mind you, this isn’t some cheap, plastic or blow up baby Jesus.  This is a actual 25-pound statue.  It took a little work to carry it off.

Why?

Why would anyone go out at Christmas and steal the baby Jesus?

Me and Our Tree
When I was a child, our annual Christmas tree had these really large plastic decorative bulbs that ringed the bottom.  Mom put them there every year.  They weren’t anything truly remarkable.   They were only plastic after all.  Maybe they were unusual in their design and size, but they were not made of anything expensive.  Finally, one year I asked Mom about them.  Where’d they come from?  She told me that my brother had given them to her.  My brother that had died when I was only seven.  Then, she added:  “He stole them from Muncie's downtown Christmas decorations.”

Okay, so I understand a mother’s natural sentimental feelings regarding a gift from her lost child, but the fact is that she had been using those stolen ornaments for years before he had died.

Why?

Why would anyone use stolen ornaments to decorate their CHRISTmas tree?

A few years ago, my daughter spent the night with a friend.  It was a group sleepover, and they watched a video of one of the hottest recent movies of the time.  The Passion of the Christ.  Yes, the movie that graphically depicted the death of Jesus Christ…the fellow that Christmas is named after.  Well, they were all gathered around the screen engrossed in the intensity of the film…eyes glued to the events depicted…when someone got up and walked in front of the movie.  No, I don’t mean that one of the girls got up in that room and walked in front of the TV.  Rather, I mean that someone on the screen got up and walked in front of the movie.  Basically, the girls were watching a stolen film of The Passion of the Christ.  Someone had sat in the theater with a video camera and had filmed the movie, and then distributed it...in essence they stole the death of Jesus.

Why?

Why would anyone steal the film depiction of Jesus Christ dying for our sins.  Um, sins like stealing.

They steal statues of the baby Jesus.  They hang stolen ornaments on their Christmas tree.  They steal movies of the death of Jesus.  They do all of those things for the same reason that folks like us get so angry and raise so much ruckus over the removal of Christ from Christmas.  Happy Holidays.  Seasons Greetings.

They do it because human beings have an incredible ability to miss the point.

You see, Jesus Christ did not come to this earth, walk our streets, heal the sick, be flogged to a bloody pulp, and die on a cross just so that we could all have a holiday in December named after Him.  He wasn’t born in Bethlehem, lain in a manger, and announced by angels just so we could break down the doors on Black Friday or break the internet on Cyber Monday.  No, folks, He didn’t come to seek and to save Christmas.

Rather, He came to seek and to save us…to change us.

He wants to change us from the self-serving, thoughtless, broken people we are, and make us into a people who love one another.  A people who care for the unfortunate.  A people who build up instead of tearing down.  A people who bring peace to a broken world.

Doctors and nurses who risk their lives to save Ebola patients.

A young boy who gives out free hugs at a protest.

A police officer who buys eggs for a grandmother trying to feed hungry children with no money.

A ninety year old veteran who feeds the homeless.

And the countless other nameless individuals out there that secretly assist their fellow man or woman without any need or desire for commendation or notoriety. 

So, this Christmas, as you fight the crowds, attend the parties, and watch your favorite Christmas movies, try to keep the point in mind:  

Jesus Christ is the reason for the season, and we can keep Christ in Christmas by keeping Christ in us.

“Do not be afraid.  I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.  Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.  This will be a sign to you:  You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”  
Luke 2:10-14


Merry Christmas, and I hope you have a wonderful New Year in 2015!

Thursday, November 27, 2014

He is Still Weeping


Jesus wept. (John 11:35)

Jesus wept for his friend, Lazarus who had died.  Jesus wept for his friends, Mary and Martha who had lost their brother.

Even though he knew that in just a few minutes, they would have him back.  Raised from the dead.  Even so, his heart ached with…

Compassion and Empathy.

I think that on this Thanksgiving holiday in the United States of America, Jesus is still weeping.

He weeps for a mother in Missouri.

He weeps for a family in Cleveland.

He weeps for shop owners with looted dreams.

He weeps for broken hearts that assume the worst.

He weeps for hardened hearts that cannot feel the pain of their fellow man.

He weeps for those…white or black… who cannot see the person behind the skin color;… white or black.

He weeps for a people who cannot get along.

He weeps for ears that refuse to hear.

He weeps for hands that refuse to help.

He weeps for hearts that refuse to hurt.

He weeps for victims.

He weeps for perpetrators.

All around us…he weeps for the widow, the orphan, the homeless, the disenfranchised, and the helpless.

And, he weeps for those of us who just don’t care.

It doesn’t matter if you are white or black.  It doesn’t matter if you are Republican or Democrat.  It doesn’t matter if you think Darren Wilson is a killer or a hero.  It doesn’t matter if you think Michael Brown was a thug who caused his own death or simply a rowdy teen who was needlessly murdered.

Jesus is weeping for you.

So, let’s try something.  Let’s try putting down our bricks and our batons.  Let’s give our indignation a rest.  Let’s set aside our racial preferences.  Let’s flush our hatred and angry words.  Let’s forget political affiliations, rhetoric, and talking points.

Let’s stop and look….really look…into one another’s human eyes.  And, let’s see if we can find it in there…shimmering in our humanity.  That little spark of what Jesus felt.

That little spark that IS compassion and empathy.

And, let’s weep with him.  Let’s weep for who we are, and let’s pray for the hope of who we can become.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

A Muncie Boyhood-Life at Roosevelt Elementary

Miss Hoffman-Fourth Grade


Mrs. Dennis-Fifth Grade
Crazy Things I Remember from Roosevelt Elementary School


No particular order…

  1.  Making “Macaroni” Art—My mom had it hanging in her dining room until I was an adult.
  2. Taking naps in Kindergarten on a rug that was purchased just for that very purpose.
  3. For some reason I associate Johnny Cash’s song “I Walk the Line” with my second grade class.
  4. I broke my right collarbone a few days before school started in third grade, and had to learn to write left-handed for the first two months.
  5. Lee Burton, a special needs kid in our third grade class sharpened his finger in the pencil sharpener.
  6. I got into a wrestling match with a neighbor boy on the way home from school.  It was just across from the school.  We were so into the match that we didn’t realize that a crowd had gathered to “watch the fight.”  When I realized what was happening, I was afraid a teacher was going to come get us, so I pushed him down and took off toward home.  He caught up with me about two blocks later, and all of the sudden the friendly wrestling match was less friendly.  So, I pushed him down again and went home.
  7. I got a “whack” for fighting in the boy’s restroom…but, I wasn’t.  An early lesson that life isn’t fair.
  8. I remember planting seeds on pads of cotton in Mrs. Dennis’ class.
  9. Once I tripped at the top of the back stairs.  The ones that went down from in front of the 5th/6th grade wing toward the gym.  I tripped at the top, did a mid-air somersault, and landed on my butt on the bottom step.
  10. Mr. Burkholder-Sixth Grade
    I remember wanting to be on the Safety Patrol.  I only got to be a sub, and occasionally was the crossing flag holder at Madison Street.  But, I wanted one of those badges!
  11. I remember singing: “School’s out, school’s out.  Teachers let the monkeys out” on the last day of school…every single year!
  12. I remember getting love notes from Holly Bell in second grade.  On the outside, I hated it…but, on the inside, I loved it!
  13. I remember a Christmas ornament that my third grade teacher, Mrs. Denny gave me.  It stayed in my family’s ornament collection until my mother’s decorations were dispersed after her death just a few years ago.  It was lost then, and it really bugs me now.
  14. I remember the big windows that we’d open in the early fall and late spring, and the big boiler radiators that would keep us warm in the winter.
  15. I noticed girls in fifth grade.  In particular, I developed a huge crush on my best friend’s sister, Tena.  That lasted until high school, but was my deepest held secret.
  16. Mrs. Cox-Music
    I got glasses in fourth grade, and all of the sudden Miss Hoffman’s instructions on the board made a lot more sense.
  17. I remember the kids calling the principal “Coble Wobble.”  It wasn’t nice, but everyone did it…especially around Thanksgiving.
  18. I remember kids smoking cigarettes as early as fourth or fifth grade.
  19. I remember making paper mache’ pinatas in sixth grade.
  20. I remember reciting the Pledge of Allegiance every morning.
  21. I remember collecting dimes for the March of Dimes.
  22. I remember tornado drills and fire drills, but I also seem to have a faint memory of bomb drills.
  23. I remember playing with a parachute in gym class.
  24. I remember playing basketball during recess on the playground.  I was terrible at it.
  25. I remember learning to square dance and some other dances.  I don’t remember why.  And, I no longer remember how to do them.  I wasn’t much good at that either.
  26. I remember singing Christmas songs in school.  Silent Night, Holy Night.
  27. I remember walking to Wilson Middle School for a tour of my sixth grade year.
  28. I remember a little girl in our fourth grade class lost her parents to a traffic accident.  She moved away and I never saw her again.
  29. I remember the front lawn was like a park with the huge old trees.
  30. Mrs. Siler-First Grade
    I remember hearing the older kids talk about the riots at Southside High…and being afraid because I knew I’d be going t
    here someday.
  31. I remember getting a physical in the library.  “Turn toward the window and cough.”
  32. In sixth grade, for about two weeks, we had daily giant rumbles out in the field during recess.  Nearly all of the kids were involved.  It was like a huge wrestling match.  Bodies flying.  Kids flipping.  Pushing.  Shoving.  Swinging.  For the most part, it was all good fun, but the teachers had to put a stop to it.  Too many torn clothes and minor injuries.
  33. Playing “Duck, Duck, Goose.”  Loved that game.  (I wonder if I could get a game up?)
  34. And, the last random memory I’ll share is that I remember making a finger-paint picture in Miss Hoffman’s fourth grade class that got entered into some city-wide contest.

Mr. Bushey-Principal
In general, I have fond memories of my days at Roosevelt Elementary School, and it is kind of cool that I am still in contact with some of the kids…and even some of the teachers from my days there.  It is a shame that the old building is gone.  It would be fun to go back and get a new look at it.  To walk in the front doors and go up the first steps to the main level.  To trudge on up to the second floor.  Wander down the hall to those back steps.  There, I could stop and imagine my lucky flying flip.  Afterward, go back down to the gym and remember the line to get my “Hot Packs and Cold Packs” for lunch…”Fish on Fridays.”

I find that I’m a little nostalgic about Roosevelt Elementary School.  That feeling stops after I moved on from Roosevelt, but it remains in her hallowed halls of yesteryear.  Great teachers.  Great friends.  A few bullies, and a few mean girls, but overall, they were good years.
Me...in all my goofiness with my niece, Krista

What memories do you have?  If you don’t mind, leave a comment and share something with me.





Saturday, October 4, 2014

A Muncie Boyhood-Star Trek & Middle School

Me, just before heading out to the 8th grade dance.
I’ve been following William Shatner on Twitter for a while now, and he is one of those very active “tweeters.”  When he gets on a roll, he just goes and goes and goes.  But, that's cool though, because he’s funny, and it’s fun to read.  Well, I was scrolling through his latest tweet-fest, and it got me thinking about the days when I first became familiar with him.

Middle School.

The fall of 1974 through the spring of 1976.  Star Trek was in syndication, and it was before it became huge with the series of sequels and a big screen phenomenon.  At the time, it was just an old show from the 60’s that was running on an off-time in reruns.  I even remember that when it came on after the evening news, the local Indianapolis station’s news crew would “beam” out as the transition to the show.  And, I fell in love with that quirky, ahead of its time, eclectic show of galactic voyagers…and their “5-year mission to explore new worlds and new civilizations.”

William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, and the crew of the Starship Enterprise got me through the Tribblelation that was my middle school years.

I have to admit, those were a tough couple of years at Wilson Middle School.  Bullies, racial tensions, pimples, puberty, weird haircuts, sports failures, and fat.  Let’s just say that I never had a problem calculating the value of Pi….um, I mean pie.  I had always been a little chubby, but by the end of 8th grade I looked like a giant kickball with feet.

In the midst of those weird, awkward years, my buddy Jerry introduced me to Captain Kirk and crew.  I hadn’t watched it when it was on its original run.  I’d been more into Lassie and Gentle Ben in those days.  But by 1974, I was ready to battle Klingons and Romulans.  It made for a great way to get my mind off of those…those…um…those real things that were so…well,  so hard.

Despite the mess that was my real life, with Jerry’s help, I fell in love with Star Trek.  We role-played.  We made fake phasers and communicators…maybe even a tricorder.  He was Spock…I was a super chubby Kirk.  (Sorry Bill.)  We made up story-lines and battled imaginary aliens.  And, I survived Middle School.

Then, an amazing thing happened in the three months between middle school and my entry into my freshman year at Muncie Southside High School.  It had been an active summer.  Lots of outdoor stuff.  I lost some of my winter chub, and I grew a couple of inches.  Suddenly, I wasn’t a walking watermelon anymore.  I had actually slimmed down.  So much so that one of my friends saw me on the first day of school, and they couldn’t believe it:  “Wow, Mike!  I almost didn’t recognize you!”


Of course, I was oblivious to the change.  I’d been too busy fighting Klingons.  

So, here’s a big thank you to Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Chekov, Sulu, Uhura, and even Yeoman Rand.  You guys were real heroes back in the day, to at least one chubby little guy from Muncie, Indiana.  Have a glass of Romulan Ale on me!

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Rollercoasters and False Bravado


Folks, it has been a rollercoaster over the last three weeks.  An emotional rollercoaster.

I sent one daughter 14 hours into the future—to Australia.  Who knows when I’ll see her again?  I sent another just 1 hour ahead—to Arkansas.  It will be a good couple of months before I again see her smiling face. 

I witnessed a friend’s son…and a man I know…go from obscurity to being one of the most famous faces on the planet…all the while he was fighting for his life against one of the most deadly diseases on Earth.  While on that voyage into the spotlight, while battling to survive, he also managed to inspire a whole new generation of Christians, and touch the lives of believers and non-believers alike.  He went from death’s door, to stepping out of an ambulance, to being released…and he wasn’t supposed to survive.  All the while trusting God…regardless the outcome.

I watched the streets of Ferguson, Missouri erupt…and the tears of loss cascade down the cheeks of a mother’s face.  While a whole segment of our American community mourns, another whole segment continues to not understand.  And, our national pain continues.  We don’t really know the facts, but one side claims a cold-blooded murder and the other claims a “thug” was killed in the line of duty.  Lots of accusations.  Lots of assumptions.  Lots of arguing, shouting, crying voices.  Bottles flying.  Tear gas pluming. 

Very little listening.

Meanwhile, a friend from middle school sent me a message to ask me to sign a petition and post it to my Facebook wall in support of reparations for the descendants of enslaved black Americans.  (Notice that I didn’t say a “black friend.”  I don’t have black friends or white friends.  I just have friends.  Some happen to be of different races, but that is not what defines them to me.)  I asked him to give me more detail on what he was talking about.  I asked him some hard questions:  Would it really change things?  Would it change hearts on both sides?  How would it be applied or distributed, etc.?  Could it really be enough in the end to not become an insult?  I’m still mulling over his ideas.  Frankly, I like some of them…maybe a good many of them.  But, what sits on me the most is the pain in his words.  In some ways, he is the same Marvin I met in 7th grade all those many years ago, but in other ways he’s not.  There’s a heaviness there…brought on by the weight of social injustice; a wall of emotion born of 50+ years of witnessing and experiencing disrespect and mistreatment for no other reason than the color of the pigment in his skin and the skin of his family, neighbors, and friends.

Then, there are the deaths.

And, not just normal deaths.  Suicides.   They have touched me three times this year.  One close to a niece.  One a former customer/co-worker.  And, one a celebrity…Robin Williams.  (And, isn’t unusual how we all seem to feel like Robin was a friend?  Almost none of us had actually ever met him, but I bet most of us felt like he was someone we held dear; like a family member or close friend.)

In thinking about those deaths, I began to think back, and suicide has visited me many times over the years.  I had not realized just how often:  My brother, Freddie; A boy in one of my High School classes; Danny-another boy from school; Larry-a friend from my Bible College days; two different neighbors (one just last year); my niece’s fiancĂ©; and Doug, the guy I’d worked with.  That is eight people, and there may be more that I just haven’t considered yet.  That realization was staggering.

Finally, there is the murder of James Foley.  I can’t really express how that makes me feel.

All of that, and I’ve been blessed with an overactive empathy gene.

I sensed the hopefulness, faithfulness, and fear mixed all together in the voices and faces of my friends, the Brantly family.  I sensed the same thing in the prayers and petitions of my church family as they prayed for Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol.  I felt the hurt of that mother’s heart as the tears rolled down her cheeks in Ferguson.  I could hear the anger and pain in my friend’s words as he explained his reparations plan.  I feel the sadness of the world’s loss of Robin Williams mixed into the sadness I feel for the loss of my former work associate, Doug. (And, regarding Doug, maybe a little guilt.  Could I have done something for him to change his course?)  And, I harbor the shock…the anger…the deep sadness of that picture of James Foley on his knees with the man in black holding the knife; knowing that only a moment later…

Contrast that with the joy of seeing Kent Brantly speak at that news conference as he was released from the hospital-Ebola free!   Two weeks prior, I nearly jumped out of my skin when he walked into the hospital in Atlanta…when I was expecting to see him wheeled in on a gurney.  And, today that was furthered by the joy of seeing him reunited with his wife, and his recovery from the brink of death. 

It has been a rollercoaster summer, folks.  I’m telling you, it really has.

And, here’s the thing.  I’ve basically been holding all of this inside.  Only a little has slipped out.  A little to my wife.  A little to a fellow elder at church…just a dribble really.  Frankly, it’s mostly bottled up.

Why?

Because, in our lives these days, we don’t talk.  Not really.  We don’t know how to be REAL with one another.  We are afraid of emotion, and we hide it behind false bravado.

I could spill it all out to my wife, but what I really want is a friend.  My wife is my best friend, and I could share it all with her…in fact, I did share some of it tonight.  But, what I actually want is a really close buddy…another guy…whom I can be real with.  Someone I can share my fears, my failings, and my dreams with…and someone who will do the same with me.  Without judgment and without expectations.  Someone to commiserate with.  Someone to confess to.  Someone to pray with.  And, then someone I can go with to watch the game, eat some wings, and have a beer.

And, to all you guys out there who are still reading this…you know you want the same thing.  At least be real with yourself.

The problem is our false bravado and our spiritual lies.  We are too proud to admit we need each other.  We are too embarrassed to admit that we do things we are ashamed of.  We can’t abide the idea that our whitewashed exteriors might be removed to reveal who we really are.

And, before you girls go getting all self-righteous…you need to take off those smug, pious church smiles and replace them with sober reality, admitting that you have some messes too.  You need these kinds of relationships just as much.

We can have it, though.  These special relationships.  All it takes is two individuals willing to be totally real with one another.  Totally honest.  Willing to share the darkest details.  Two people finally willing to step into the light with one another.

Here I am.  Where are you?

1 John 1:7But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Joy, Fear, and Ebola


Earlier today, I nearly jumped out of my chair with excitement when I saw Kent Brantly gingerly step out of that ambulance and walk into Emory University Hospital.  My fist pumped into the air, and I shouted a happy “Yeah!” to my wife.  I have had my faith renewed as I have watched the events unfold this week.  Maybe I’ll let some more time go by, and then I’ll attempt to explain that renewal more fully.  But, right now, I want to touch on the opposite.  Fear.

You see, I’ve also seen today a number of social media posts from regular folks who are at a minimum nervous, and at the extreme, actually quite scared.

And, who can blame them?  Consider the popular written fiction, TV series, and theatrical movie themes that create and project far out stories about a virus gone wild:  Resident Evil, Dawn of the Dead, The Walking Dead, etc.  Then, you add to that the wacked-out conspiracy theorists and the fringe, hype-media specialists.  Frankly, people are fed meal after meal of misinformation, half-truths, and extreme fictional scenarios.

If you are one of those folks who feels this fear, let me give you a suggestion that may help.  If you will follow it, I think you find yourself breathing easier, and your mind will be at rest.

Educate yourself.

Set aside the fiction of modern TV & theater, ignore the conspiracy theorists, skip the hype of the fringe media, and take the time to research and educate yourself on both the virus and the extreme steps taken to provide safety and precaution.

The virus is scary, but it is also not all that easily transmitted, especially in our modern world, and it can be killed with sterilization processes.  The transportation methods that carried Kent to Georgia utilized multiple layers of isolation to keep the infection contained, and eliminate any chance of exposure to the outside world.  Folks, you can take a good breath and relax.

Further, there is another piece of fiction being propagated by the media:  That Ebola has never been in the western hemisphere before.

That just isn’t true.

Kent Brantly may be the first PATIENT suffering from Ebola to be treated in the US, but the virus has been here for quite some time.  Laboratories are studying it for work on new vaccines.  Some time ago, the virus was acquired in Africa, and then transported to the United States using carefully controlled methods in order to do the research.  Here’s a link to a news story from the Houston, Texas news outlet KHOU about just such a lab: Galveston UTMB Lab Ebola Story

So, today, Kent himself was transported home using extremely careful and thought out methods, taking incredible steps to ensure everyone’s safety.  The virus is transmitted through contact with body fluids…not by air, and all conceivable precautions were taken to ensure that nothing could escape.

You may ask: Mike, how do you know all of this?  Well, simply put…I took the time to read legitimate articles, and I listened to legitimate interviews with real doctors and scientists.  Otherwise, left to the entertainment and fringe media meals, I’d be just as nervous as the next guy.

Friends, you are perfectly safe…from Ebola anyway.  And, Kent is HOME.  Where he should be…at least until he recovers enough to resume his selfless work in caring for others.  God willing.  And, let’s continue to pray that he does recover, because the world needs more people like Kent Brantly.

Keep praying.
Peace to all. 

#PrayForKent #PrayForNancy

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

666,216

666,216

666,216 is the average number of hours that a man in the United States can expect to live.
I’m approximately 52.5 years old.  That means I’ve used up 460,212 of mine…should I only be average.  Which begs the question: How do I want to use the last 206,004 hours of my
life?

Of course, I hope to be above average.  My personal goal is to live to be 100 years and one day old.  But, you just can’t count on ‘beating the house.’  In fact, there are a good number of people who fall short of the average.  So, let’s just say I’ll be average.  How do I want to spend those hours?

Maybe playing Candy Crush?  Nope!

Maybe watching TV?  Not anymore.
 
I don’t watch TV nearly as much as I used to, but let’s examine that one.  For conjecture sake…because I’ll never figure this out exactly…let’s say that I’ve watched two hours a day for the last 50 years.  Some days/years were much higher than others.  That’s an estimate, and it may be low because I used to watch A LOT of TV.  But, okay…two hours a day for 50 years is 36,525 hours.  Hmmm.  I’ve wasted 1522 days sitting in front of the television.  That’s over four years sitting in front of an electronic brain-sucker.

That’s kind of staggering, if you think about it.  And, my guess is most of us don’t.

Sit on a sofa...or, go see this?
Now, don’t get me wrong.  I’m not opposed to relaxation or entertainment, and I’m not likely to give up TV altogether.  (I need my Walking Dead fixes.)  But, I can tell you, as a guy who has likely crossed the halfway point, I want to be a lot more mindful of how I use up those remaining hours.  I will no longer be donating them to mindlessness.

Frankly, I want to do something worthwhile with them.

I want to create.  I want to see beautiful and interesting places.  I want to worship with zeal.  I want to love deeper.  I want to make a difference in people’s lives.

I am challenged and inspired by the way that my fellow Christian and friend, Dr. Kent Brantly has devoted his life to serving others.  He could be living a fairly cush life here in the U.S. as a physician.  Nice house.  Nice car.  Maybe a club membership.  Instead, he has been donating himself to a cause where the only reward is the satisfaction of seeing people survive.  Since last fall, he has been working with Samaritan’s Purse at ELWA Hospital in Liberia, West Africa, sharing hope and providing medical care to people most of the world ignores.  And, further, now that he has been stricken with one of the most deadly diseases known to man—Ebola, he still remains committed to his course.  No regrets.  No second-guessing.  He is “praying fervently” for God to save his life, but either way, he has put himself in the Father’s hands.  He is faithful regardless the outcome.

Whether he will meet or exceed the average life-span of the US male is very hard to say right now.  The next week will tell.  But, I can tell you, he has already made more of a difference than most of us ever will.

So, I’m going to make some commitments right now.  I had already put Candy Crush in a coma in my world.  (Whoever created that game should be…well, I won’t say…it wouldn’t be nice.)  I am now declaring it ‘dead to me.’  I’d put Words with Friends on hiatus.  That hiatus is now permanent.  TV has been skimmed way down, and will stay that way.

I am going to look forward to my next 206,002 hours with much more intensity.  I will use them with a great deal more intentionality.  (I just gave a couple of them to you.)  And, I will renew my dedication to serving my God.


Now, a question for you…how are you going to use the hours you have left?

#PrayForKent
#PrayForNancy

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Ebola and the Power of Humility


My friend, Jim Brantly stood in front of our church this morning and apologized.  Being privy to the incredible family crisis he was (and still is) facing, I was taken aback.  What could he possibly be apologizing for on this morning of all mornings?  Then, I learned, as I so often do with Jim, that his heart was touched in a way…as it often is…that puts me to shame.

You see, the crisis in his family is the critical and life-threatening illness contracted by his son, Kent Brantly, which has been all over the newsfeeds and even the major news media outlets over the last couple of days.  His son, Kent Brantly, who is also someone I consider a friend, has been working for nearly a year with a hospital in Liberia in West Africa.  He is a doctor, and for the last several months, his focus has been on the battle to stop the spread of Ebola.  And, Ebola is deadly.  From the reports I’ve seen, it kills anywhere from 60% to 90% of those who are stricken.  Hundreds have died in the last few months, and some of the most at risk are the healthcare workers providing care.  In just the last few days, the family learned that Kent had contracted the disease.  He was (is) sick, in isolation, and alone (at least from his family) on another continent thousands of miles away.  Out of the reach of their loving arms, and beyond anything they could do for him short of prayer. 
Can you imagine?

So, for the last few days, Jim (and his family) have been praying…likely like they have never prayed before…for Kent’s recovery.  Pleading.  Begging.  Beseeching.  Calling with all of their energy, emotion, and faith on the God they have so long served; asking Him to come to their son’s side and return him to health.

And, in the middle of all of that emotional, mental, and spiritual turmoil, Jim came to realize something.  Something that he shared with all of us as he stood in front of the church just this morning.  Something that…again to my own shame…I would never have considered if the tables were turned and I was walking in his shoes.  Something incredibly selfless.

He realized that he had not been praying for others with that same sense of urgency and fervency.  And, his heart ached. 

So, at this time when he desperately wants his son to be healed and brought to full recovery, instead of pleading with the congregation to pray for his son, he apologized to the church for his own lack of prayer.  And, you could almost see the hearts of everyone in the room going out to him…trying to wrap themselves around him and his family.  It was moving.  It was powerful.  It was REAL.  It was what I think God intended.  The facades came down.  It was the church being real.  Really being the church of Christ.

And, of course, we all prayed fervently for Kent. 

Once again, I was humbled and amazed by Jim’s simple, heartfelt humility.

That is the kind of family that Kent Brantly comes from.  And, that is where he gets his faith and compassion.

Pray for Kent Brantly.  Pray for his healing.  Pray for his work.

Pray for my friend Jim.  Pray for his strength.  Pray for his faith in this time of testing.  Pray for his whole family.

And, pray for us.  All of us.  Pray that we can learn to reflect that same humility, selflessness, and faithfulness.  Pray that we…wherever we may be…will really be the church as God intended it.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

54 Days to Go


54 Days to Go

I just pulled out my calendar and counted them.  I have 54 days to get into “Yellowstone” shape.

Like so many other people, keeping fit is an ongoing battle with many competing forces trying on the one hand to help me, and on the other hand to trip me up.  Mostly the latter.  Frankly, my occupation is not helpful.  As a sales guy, I spend way too much time either riding in my car or riding on my office chair.  To top that off, I spend too much time in front of the TV….riding on my recliner.  And, to top it all off, I have a major affection for ice cream.

You could put anchovies on ice cream and I’d probably eat it.  (Well, I’d probably pick the slimy little guys off, and still eat the ice cream.)

So, as a result of those influences, I fluctuate between striving to be fit and striving to have a stroke.  Between you and me, I’d prefer to be fit, but sometimes I forget that fact when a big bowl of Blue Bell with chocolate syrup is calling my name.

But, I now have a goal and a deadline.

My goal:  Be able to successfully hike into the backcountry of Yellowstone…and enjoy it.
My deadline:  Mid-June

54 days from now to be exact.

So, between now and then, I’m committing to a few changes:

1.        Daily exercise.  In increasing doses and intensities.  Likely, I will start out with walking, biking, and maybe shooting some baskets in the driveway.  However, when caught in a rainstorm on a walk back to my hotel last week, I discovered that I could maybe try some running too.  Regardless, I need to do it EVERY day, and I need to build the intensity as June approaches.

2.       Cutting the Carbs.  I don’t do zero carbs, but I do cut them big time.  No more french fries until vacation.  No more dinner rolls.  No more mashed potatoes.  No cereal.  No bagels.  No bread.  I am going to allow myself tortilla chips and rice once a week from my favorite Mexican restaurant (El Rodeo), but otherwise, I’m tightening the noose on unneeded complex carbohydrates.

3.       No Ice Cream until Vacation.  This is hard…and self-explanatory.

4.       Lots of salad, vegetables, fruits, and leaner meats.
Last year, I biked like crazy from June to August, but I only dropped seven or eight pounds.  Then, I stopped riding, and picked up a diet plan.  I dropped another ten to fifteen.  Just imagine what would happen if I combined those two things!

That’s the plan for the next 54 days.

Wish me luck. 

Sunday, April 13, 2014

The Importance of Legacy



I attended two separate and distinct events today that were designed to recognize the past.  One was the 50th anniversary of my church congregation being located at their current address.  Many names from the past were mentioned, and their service recognized.  Honor was extended to them…many of them in their memory since they have since passed on.  The church that is there now is in many ways one of their legacies.

The other event was a Masonic ceremony in memory of members that had passed away in the previous year.  When I say it was a ceremony, I mean that to the fullest extent.  I am not a Mason, but my father-in-law was, and he was one of the men for whom the memorial was held.  The event was held in the Scottish Rite Cathedral in downtown Indianapolis, and my wife’s father simply loved that place.  He spent hours upon hours there, performed countless works of service in support of the organization, and was fully devoted to the Masonic and Scottish Rite principles.  As I walked around inside the old, very ornate building with its intricate craftsmanship, I couldn’t help but think of Woody and how much he truly loved it there.  It is one of his legacies.

Legacy.

A legacy in simple terms is just something handed down from one individual, generation, or organization to another.

Many people just pass on through this life and leave very little mark…very little legacy.  Sure, those closest to them have memories…small legacies…that they hang onto for a few years.  But, soon enough, those memories fall into the chasm of history.  If you consider history, recognizing the millions upon millions of people who have lived, how many of them really did, said, or accomplished something of significant consequence that caused people to remember them beyond their own lifetime?

Have you ever considered what your legacy will be?  What will you have to hand down?

And, on top of even the idea of handing down a legacy, have you considered whether it will be a GOOD legacy?  After all, some people are truly remembered, but not for the good they left in their wake.  Think Hitler, etc.

I hope that when my time comes to pass on into the annals of history that I have left behind some pieces and parts that are worthwhile of being remembered.  Maybe that’s why I write.  Once I’m gone, my literary creations will remain...whether you think they are good or not so good.  But, I hope I leave a bigger legacy than a few articles, some cheesy poems, and a handful of decent short stories.

I hope I leave a legacy of making a difference.

First of all, I hope that my feeble attempts service in leadership at the Southeastern Church of Christ will be used by God to truly help people.  I hope when they celebrate the 75th or 100th anniversary that they will think well enough of me…that I will have done enough good…to be mentioned as a positive influence.  I don't want to be remembered for holding a title...but for making a difference.

But, even more important to me is my hope that I will pass the baton of a love for God on to my children just as my dad passed it on to me.

I’m good at my work.  I’m a successful salesperson in an industrial industry.  But, I don’t really care all that much about how I’m remembered for that.  Who cares if I sell more bearings than anyone else?  I could become the most successful bearing salesman to have ever lived, but if I have not helped someone to a better life, and especially if I have not passed on that flame of faith born of a love for God to my children, then I am a failure and I should be forgotten.

Some people have to have the most toys.  What’s the saying?  “He who dies with the most toys wins!”  Really?  Who is going to care once those toys are rusted out, distributed to others, or auctioned off?

Some people want the greenest lawn surrounded by an impeccable landscape.  Give me some dandelions….I’ll put up with crabgrass…if the trade-off is that my kids walk with the Lord.

We are still building our legacies…you and me.  It is still yet to be seen what we will leave behind.  I have a saying that I created a few years ago: 

“Be the person today that will lead you to become the person that you want to be tomorrow.”

Think about that as you build your legacy.  Be the person today that will lead you to build the legacy that you want for tomorrow’s generation.  That will be my goal.