Have you ever agonized over what you could do to help someone or some situation?
Have you ever felt powerless to effect change?
Have you ever wrestled with recognizing or knowing what your purpose in life is?
The following are a couple of things that are applicable to all the above…
First, let me remind you of the power and efficacy of intercessory prayer from James 5:16…
“Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is very powerful in its effect.”
We may or may not get the answers or help we are looking for, but with our prayers, we are focusing on the One who has the power to do everything! There is much strength and comfort in that knowledge—and even room for our prayers on behalf of others to change us!
Additionally, let’s be reminded of what Paul said in his prayer from Ephesians 3—specifically verse 20: “Now to him who is able to do above and beyond all that we ask or think according to the power that works in us—”
Prayer unleashes that power! Never forget we serve a mighty God!
Second, here’s a thoughtful suggestion I read today to help focus our prayers, effect change (and maybe in each of us too), as well as find great meaning in our lives:
Take a simple prayer walk around your neighborhood, praying over each house; around your kids’ schools, praying over each locker; around your workplace, praying over each office and cube. Pray against pain, fear, and darkness. Pray for healing, peace, and light, all in the name of our King, Jesus Christ. (From the YouVersion Bible app—Lean In//Shape Your Faith Into Action reading plan)
I make no claim to have written the above on my own, but it surely resonates with me. You don’t have to do it just like this—as the old cliché goes, there is more than one way to skin a cat.
Earlier today, a prayer request notebook was dropped off at the Sheriff’s office. Another identical notebook has also been provided to the recovery groups that meet at our building. The offer to pray with people—anonymously or specifically–will expectantly open doors of prayer and hope. Sometime in the next week or so, we will collect those and have the opportunity and privilege to lift real people with real requests up to the throne room of God!
Does prayer change things? Yes, sir and yes, ma’am. It changes things for the one praying and the one being prayed for—and the truth is quite simple: it isn’t necessary to have a written prayer request for us to pray healing, peace, and light into lives in our community. You don’t have to wait to have a written prayer request in hand!
Obviously, I’ve written this specifically for the Oxford Church of Christ here in Oxford, MS. But it is applicable for all who might read it wherever they are.
The quickest way to change/ redeem our culture begins with a change in our own hearts.
His name was Curmudgeon (not really, but that’s a good descriptive term that allows me to protect his identity). He was irascible, irritable, petulant, and a grouch. And yes, I understand how synonymous those words are, but I’m trying to paint a clear picture.
As a teenager, I remember visiting the church where he was a member. During that service, he stood up and argued with the preacher in the middle of his sermon.
If you can imagine, it was quite the spectacle and shocking even for those who were not visiting, and it planted an undeniable vision in my young brain of his character and nature.
Fast forward some fourteen years and I was a recently discharged Sailor serving full time with the aforementioned congregation as their associate/ youth minister. That was a challenging work in several ways, but a work in which I have such good and fond memories.
During my tenure there, I was strongly encouraged (a nice church way of saying I was given a task and it wasn’t up for discussion) to go visit my soon to be curmudgeon friend on a weekly basis. And I did.
I dutifully went to the nursing home where he was a resident every week for several months. When I say this man was a character, there is no way to adequately describe how much of a character he was. He’d been a circus clown, an oilfield roustabout, and a subdivision developer—and those are just the things I remember almost thirty years later.
Some years before I began spending time with him, he lost both legs and thus he was wheelchair bound. That didn’t help his already irascible nature. Not at all. But nevertheless to use a couple of old King James Version expressions, I girded up my loins and determined to quit ye like men.
And so, I visited. Ostensibly, my visits were to be an encouragement to him. On some level, I suspect that I did however slowly. But over time, a relationship was made. I began to see him smile and brighten up when I walked into his room. And what’s more amazing is how quickly those have-to-because-I-was-told-to visits became a want-to high point of my week.
I went there to encourage, but found friendship, kinship, brotherhood, and much joy. It wasn’t long until our whole family was involved. Several years before my son Cole had the surgeries that allowed him to walk on his own, he would use our friend’s wheelchair (with him in it) as a part of his physical therapy. I have vivid memories of Cole working his way up and down the hall pushing that wheelchair as a walker.
And the incessant grouch (not me, the other one)? He blossomed with patience and love and the desire to be of help to my son. He had a purpose. He found meaning even without two legs. With a little encouragement, he became a consummate encourager.
My friend is long gone on to his reward. I had the privilege of officiating his celebration of life service. And it was a celebration.
I smile at the memories, because in so many ways, the encourager (me) became the encouraged.
Hebrews 10:24–25 says, And let us consider one another in order to provoke love and good works, not neglecting to gather together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day approaching. (CSB17)
Encouraging one another is something each of us can and should do. And while we don’t encourage others from a what’s-in-it-for-me point of view, the benefits run both ways.
And the verses above? Look at them again, but this time from the Message:
Let’s see how inventive we can be in encouraging love and helping out, not avoiding worshiping together as some do but spurring each other on, especially as we see the big Day approaching.
See that word, inventive? Try another word in its place: Let’s see how creative we can be in encouraging love and helping out…
Look around you:
–Someone you know is struggling with something heavy—loss, heartache, etc.
–Someone around you hasn’t a clue what their purpose in life is.
–Someone you see regularly is lonely, depressed, and desperately wants a friend.
–Someone you know has a financial need.
–Someone you know feels guilt, shame, and unworthiness.
Exercise your creativity. Be inventive. Share good news. Be good news. A little bit of encouragement may very well transform someone’s life–and that includes your own.
As I said in a sermon this past Sunday, I am cheering you on.
This is the Mississippi Christmas weather I’ve been accustomed to for most of my life. It’s a balmy 71 degrees here in Paris as I write this Christmas Eve.
Unfortunately, this is going to be a much different Christmas than planned.
Originally, Becki’s mom, my first father-in-law, all of our boys, our daughter-in-law, and the grandsons were all going to be here for presents and Christmas dinner. We were really looking forward to making memories as a family under one roof.
Yes, Covid has crept into our house. At this juncture, only Becki is positive and we hope it stays that way. If I continue to test negative, I’ll have the joy of preaching this Sunday.
In the meantime it is Christmas. Presents are all wrapped and under the tree. Christmas candles are burning and we are looking forward to the best celebration we can have under the circumstances.
And of course, we are not the only family facing changes because of the ongoing pandemic. Many families all over the world have already faced changes much more difficult.
All of that to get to this point: as Christians, we are so very blessed! Having family is blessing—being family is a blessing. Having a church family—being a church family, that’s a blessing too of immeasurable worth.
From that perspective, the gift of Christmas is the relationships we have with each other, the love we are blessed to share.
When I say Merry Christmas, l’m so very thankful for each of you.
Enjoy your family, celebrate the day, and relish the coming new year as we continue to share the blessings of life together.
As I write this it is early and quiet. I’m sitting in an empty old farmhouse outside of Vicksburg, MS drinking coffee and tending the fire.
I’ve already brought up two arm loads of firewood from the back woodshed. It’s not that cold outside, but the brick floors and open air build of Becki’s childhood home keeps it cold inside.
It is cloudy with rain on the way, but a little rain won’t stop what’s coming.
It won’t be long until this old house is filled with children, grandchildren, and great children. Today will be the first time we get to meet Graham, Sophia, Lola, and Rosie—the newest additions to the extended family
And we mustn’t forget those of us who are married in to this huge and sprawling ménage. There are quite a few of us too.
Soon this old house will be filled with the sounds and smells of Thanksgiving. There will be turkey, ham, roast beef, and some venison too. If it goes like it always has in the past, there will be more side dishes than I can actually fit on my plate.
Rest assured though, I will get my fair share of dressing/ stuffing. And of course, Becki has made my favorite dessert: Bread Pudding. I will hope with great fervency there is some left over to take home and enjoy later tonight. (After all, the Egg Bowl is played this evening—Hail State—and bread pudding will pair nicely with that.)
If my Ole Miss friends are still reading after the little blurb above, you should know that no game or team trumps family of any kind.
The past two years have been difficult and long. But as I look at this empty house in anticipation of what will take place here today, I know that I am blessed beyond measure.
Yes, there will be empty seats at the table. We cannot escape that fact. Some of us my share a tear or two, certainly a memory or three. But still, to be here (wherever here may be for you), is just one small indication of the blessings we share.
We sing a song at church on occasion that tells us to “count your many blessings.” As I anticipate family today, as I think about those who will read this little note, I know just where to begin counting my blessings…
The following sermon was heavily, heavily influenced by Short Stories by Jesus, a book by Amy-Jill Levine… and there may be some quotes I inadvertently did not expressly acknowledge. If you find something good and worthy of remembering, give her the credit—I was greatly impacted by her work!
As a kid, I used to play the what if game. What if I had superpowers? What if you were the king? What if my dad was smarter than yours?
What if? Let’s play that game with some tougher questions…
What if the pressing question of the day wasn’t when we could meet in our church building again? (I know it’s important and greatly impactful, but bear with me)
What if the most pressing question didn’t begin with my salvation or yours, or even the salvation of those in our community? (I’ll admit that what if seems like a stretch, but bear with me again)
What if the most pressing question wasn’t about career choices, schools to attend, or jobs to pursue?
What if the most pressing questions had nothing to do with the politics of the day?
What if the most pressing questions were the ones Jesus might’ve asked?
And of course, that last what if means wondering what those questions might be—and we’ll consider that in a bit.
But let me warn you: the Jesus in the New Testament is far more radical than the Jesus we’ve talked about, preached about, and worshiped. This Jesus has a little patience for the things of this world, particularly where our priorities get out of whack with a gospel, God centered life and practice.
Yet, I thoroughly understand how important it is to understand scripture/ theology correctly, but, all the dotting of i’s and crossing of t’s is of little value if the heart isn’t striving toward God!
I promise you we are going somewhere today, but for the moment, let’s segue to the idea of the Church.
It is important to understand that the church was not ordained to be a repository of opinions or our favorite beloved traditions.
It was not organized to serve as a platform for competing debates and arguments over what I like versus what you like.
On the other hand, the church was intended to be a gathering of saved people—a community of those who believe intent on sharing the gift and message of Jesus to the world!
So maybe we ought to consider exactly what the message might be?
Every flavor of Christianity has its own important doctrines, theological points, and distinctive characteristics—every single group has those teachings that are revered and untouchable.
Sometimes those sacred beliefs are based on scripture;
Sometimes they come from traditions transcending the biblical text.
Either way, they form a part of the identity of that particular group.
And because those particular sets of teaching are so entrenched with our identity, we get caught up in the resulting debates, competing ideology, and proving the other wrong.
Unfortunately, a debate that can be won or lost based on style points and how well the other is demolished usually means the Kingdom message hasn’t been advanced at all.
But I do get it. I have spent years discussing, arguing, and otherwise trying to prove my point. Sometimes I was more open to understanding what differences I had with others; most of the time not.
And again, I get it. I get that some of our differences are extreme and undercut the gospel.
But what if the questions the church was supposed to ask were entirely different than the finer nuances of a developed theological position?
What if we really should be more concerned about the questions that pertain to helping bring heaven down to earth?
Yes, the Church is a part of the kingdom. And yes, it is a hospital for sinners, a place for the broken to connect.
But it is also the vehicle by which we join together to share Jesus.
Not the Jesus of popular culture or theology.
But the radical, intense Jesus of scripture who was focused on justice and mercy for all.
In today’s parable that’s exactly what we see.
I invite you to read with me from Matthew 20:1-16…
Your Bible most likely calls this the Parable of the Vineyard Workers.
That’s a bit unfortunate–by calling it that, we have made the focus of the parable about the workers first, and about the location, second.
And that has led to any number of allegories where:
The landowner (and we will talk more about that in a minute) is God.
The grumbling workers are Pharisees.
And those hired latter are the tax collectors, sinners, gentiles, or anybody else that is socially or culturally unacceptable.
And since God is the landowner, this parable is about simultaneously smacking down the Pharisees while lifting up the downtrodden.
I greatly appreciate how this interpretation is comfortable–everyone likes the underdog—and we certainly have seemed to favor smacking down the Pharisees, whether ancient or modern.
Even so, I like it when we can make things neat, tidy, and easy to understand, but is there an overarching message that we might be missing?
Is there a practical message we need to consider?
Is there a question Jesus is inspiring us to ask?
If you are like me at all, inquiring minds want to know…
So, let’s go back to the text—particularly verse 1…
For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard.
That’s how the Christian Standard Bible says it. Plenty of other translations use the same term. However, some use names like:
Master of the house.
Basically, they all mean about the same thing, but the best way to see this term might just be householder.
Think about it like this—the parable is about a guy who owns a home and has a vineyard he needs help with.
So, he hires a set of helpers—you see that in the text–It’s right there.
Later he finds more people needing work and he sends them to his vineyard with the promise to give them “whatever is right.” Again, it’s right there in the text.
That phrase, “I’ll give you whatever is right” is incredibly interesting and impactful (and again, I am so indebted to Amy-Jill Levine for helping me see this).
Better yet, it gives us just what we need to live out this parable and quite possibly change the trajectory of our church family.
I’ll do what is right is a phrase that means justice, fairness, righteousness with a heap of charity thrown in.
Think about it… This homeowner hires people who work different amounts of time and he wants to give all a full day’s wage.
In the economy of this world, that just seems strange, but God’s reality, the Kingdom Economy is built on justice, fairness, righteousness, and charity!
It’s all about recognizing our neighbor and doing the right thing!
And that sounds suspiciously like something Jesus once said in answer to the question of what the greatest command was.
Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and most important command. The second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands. (Matthew 22:37–40 CSB17)
Let me suggest as strongly as I know how that the message of this parable—the message of the gospel—and the message of the church is love! (old devo song sung in the round—love, love, love love…)
How we love others has an enormous impact on reaching them for Jesus!
Listen carefully. I know we have our doctrines and dogmas that are identifying to us. I get that we have core beliefs and traditions that speak important things.
But maybe before we talk about those things…
Maybe before we ever ask someone if they are saved or not…
Maybe we ought to ask them if their children are getting enough to eat—or if they have water and power right now—or if they are working a job that is secure—or if they have real needs to be met…
Maybe before we can ever help with spiritual needs, we need to love with fairness, justice, righteousness and a good bit of charity!
And whether you are aware or want to be aware, there is a whole lot of injustice taking place in country right now!
So, what if? What if Jesus was more interested in how we love our neighbor in the here and now—would we pass that test? Would we be a people blind to differences but with wide-open eyes where love and compassion are concerned?
The world of economics is fascinating if not daunting at times, but we live with a Kingdom Economy of justice, fairness, righteousness, and charity.
And we remember what Jesus told the Pharisees, Go and learn what this means: I desire mercy and not sacrifice. For I didn’t come to call the righteous, but sinners. (Matthew 9:13 CSB17)
April 7, 2018 (from two to four PM) is the date and time of my first ever book signing. The location is Lemuria Books in Jackson, MS. If you are in the area, I hope you can join me. I am looking forward to meeting lots of folks for the very first time.
I am incredibly excited about the release of “Still Wrestling! It has been an unbelievable journey and a labor of love. The official release date is still April 10–although books may ship a few days before that.
I am thoroughly grateful to those who have read this blog from the very beginning. I still plan to write here at what used to be called Desperately Wanting to Believe Again, at Wineskins, and the Clarion Ledger.
Not the least, I am working on a second book effort of my own. If anything, I am almost more excited about this one than anything I have done. But, it is a work in progress and who knows where it will end up.
In the meantime, newspapers are increasingly looking for a greater online presence–this link is to my latest offering at the Clarion-Ledger. I hope you will check it out, show some love and maybe even share it. The more clicks, the better!
So, I had this car accident. It was quite traumatic. There was no blood or broken bones, but still, it was a bit frightening. But thankfully, I am ok. At least where that wreck was concerned. I was sixteen at the time, so it has been a few years ago since all that happened.
But if you want to talk about an ongoing wreck, I have that covered too. Over the last couple of months, I’ve struggled with stress and anxiety. Some of it has been self-inflicted; some of it just comes with the territory of being a husband, father, and preacher. In full vulnerability mode, I sort of feel like a ping-pong ball in a speed match between Olympic caliber players. How’s that for turning a phrase?
But it’s true. I am not even close to being a professional counselor, but I would be quick to tell you that feelings are subjective. However, that doesn’t mean we don’t feel them anyway. It doesn’t mean our feelings are somehow without power. Not in the least.
In my ping-pong ball persona, I often feel ineffective and powerless to change things. Consequently, there are times I allow circumstances, situations, and even people tosteal my joy and zest for living. But all that is another story we will get to in a moment.
In the meantime, I had a wreck. It wasn’t my first nor would it be my last. Full disclosure would tell you I had my first accident while Dad was teaching me to drive (you can laugh if you want to, but that mailbox was alive–I know it jumped in front of me). But the accident I am referring to was a two-vehicle sideswipe in a curve on a narrow gravel road. The other guy was in my lane, and while I had nowhere to go, he was able to maneuver a bit and ended up in the trees on the other side of the road. Now if I had the freedom to embellish the story, I’d tell you there was loud sounds of rendering metal—shrieks even born of torn steel. I’d tell you about the clouds of billowing smoke and the sounds of destroyed engines still ticking from the heat of their combustion. Fortunately, while I had a wreck, there is no need for any Hollywood special effects. The real fireworks happened in the aftermath.
Like I said, I was sixteen. Dad had been down this road (literally and figuratively) with me before. Accidents were not uncharted territory. But the other guy, a grown man, got a bit ugly and demeaning with unnecessary and untrue recriminations. He tried very hard to pass the whole thing off as my fault alone. He played to my dad’s experience as another older guy. He played to the fact that I was only sixteen and quite possible an idiot who had no idea what I was talking about. Hey. I was sixteen. Idiot was my first and middle name. But that’s beside the point. All these years later, I have no reason to lie, no new confession to make. I have nothing to, as my Dad would say, ‘fess up” about. This one time I was truly innocent and I think my Dad recognized it.
In the verbal confrontation that followed, I’ll never forget the moment Dad had had enough. With blazing eyes and steel in his voice, my father stood and said, “that’s it, we are done.” The other guy was rendered speechless by the way Dad ended it. So was I, and as we left, I was completely bumfuzzled (yes, that is a word. I ought to know, because I made it up). In what had to be a minor miracle, Dad grew at least two foot taller in an instant!
Although it was a long, long time ago, I’ll never forget the way Dad stood up for me that day. I wasn’t quite yet the prodigal son I would one day become, but Dad’s strength would serve me well more than once in my life.
Even now, my father is still here. Both of them. Yes, I claim two Father’s. Earthly dad; Heavenly Father. They are both such strong towers. Proverbs 18:10, The name of the LORD is a strong tower; the righteous run to it and are protected. I may never know this side of eternity how many times my heavenly Father looked the enemy in the eye and said, “that’s it, you are done.” How about that for a beautiful and compelling picture?
Yes, I am thankful for my father (and mom) who raised me and pointed me to God.
Unfortunately, life has seen fit to send some pretty bitter circumstances my way. I didn’t handle them all with the faith and assurance I should have. Chaos has in fact overwhelmed my life at several different key points. But the reality is, I have far more blessings than I deserve.
And then there is my wife, Becki, one of the greatest blessings I’ll ever know. In fact, following her constant advice to slow down and count my blessings tends to provide a bit of needed equilibrium.
So here I am, still standing. Sometimes battered and bruised, sometimes weaving on my feet. But, I am not alone in the chaos of life. I am not the first nor will I be the last to experience the ping pong ball effect of circumstances and situations outside my control.
If you find yourself there too, count your blessings and remember, God is a strong tower!
I ask that question quite frequently. If not that exact question, then one of a similar nature.
Where’s my Hex wrenches?
Where’s my new scraper?
Who used my drill last and where did you leave it?
Would somebody please tell me where they left or hid the TV remote?
Last night (as I write this on Wednesday morning), it was my favorite blue-handled framing hammer missing from action. Eventually, after looking for something else, I found it in the bottom of a basket full of electric tools (said tools which haven’t been used by me in months). It was like somebody took everything out and laid it in the very bottom before piling it all back in.
Have you ever heard of the mischievous sock elves (the ones responsible for the one missing sock of a pair in the basket of freshly laundered clothes)? At my house, we also have the if-it-belongs-to-the-Dad-let’s-use-his-stuff-and-leave-it-in-obscure-places elves.
Whether your experiences are like mine or not (please don’t further depress me by telling me I am alone on this), we all value our stuff. Sometimes it’s because we paid good money for the things we own and the value derives from that. Sometimes the value is found in what the stuff is used for. And sometimes, the value of our stuff is based on sentimental worth. In my closet (which is often not safe from the I-need-a-pair-of-dress-socks-or-a-plain-white-T-shirt elves), there are two footlockers full of my Cole’s treasures. Inside are toy cars, ball caps, stuffed animals, assorted balls, and other things of little monetary worth. But because they were his, they are my treasures now. Others might see junk, but those things are of immeasurable worth to me.
In the great scheme of life, nothing we own of a physical nature has any lasting or eternal value. On the other hand, how we view our stuff does. In the guise of keeping it real, stinginess comes easy for me. But since stingy is never pretty, I must work hard at not holding on so tightly to my stuff. What helps me is seeing my stuff as tools. I can use my tools to serve myself, or I can use my tools to serve God and others. Serving God and others helps me recognize the true source of my stuff.
How about you? Got stuff? Where is your treasure?
Don’t store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves don’t break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:19–21 CSB17)