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Finding the Way Home

In the weeks following my high school graduation my parents and younger sisters moved to Birmingham, Alabama. The next year I moved to Birmingham to live with the family and a newborn baby sister, Dawn, and finish college. After graduation, I moved to Ft. Worth, Texas.  Two weeks later my family moved to Atlanta, except for my sister, Denise, who had married in Birmingham. I had never been to Atlanta, so finding their house that Christmas was a real challenge. When I graduated from seminary my family moved to Greenwood, South Carolina, except for my sister, Diane, who had married in Atlanta. A pattern was emerging; every time I graduated my family moved further away. Dorothy and I had this running conversation about me never really knowing the way to my own parents’ home. Over their 20 years in Greenwood, my parents and youngest sister lived in at least three different places. Mom and Dad made the move to a small town called Pelham, Alabama for their final years. 

Dorothy’s parents, on the other hand, lived in the same house for 52 years. The highways between Tulsa and Waco, Texas were the problem—always under construction.  They were constantly littered with multiple detours and by-passes. The map lady at AAA became our friend. If we had only bought stock in that orange barrel company.  Dorothy and I tried to alternate visits with our parents every other year to spend as much time as we could with our families, who lived hundreds of miles in opposite directions from Tulsa. We came to learn that home, for us, is less about geography and more about deep connections. It’s less about place and more about relationship. It’s less about destination and more about shared love. 

During this season of disruption and confusion, you may know someone who is having trouble finding home again. They may feel like they are lost in a maze with broken connections, broken relationships, and broken hearts. Listen to their stories. Introduce them to the family of faith. Share the gift of grace. Invite them home to God.

Keep healthy. Pray mightily. Enjoy your life today. Find the way home. And let’s experience the love and power of God together.

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I Was Expecting Better Than This in 2022

I was expecting better than this in 2022. There are still no flying cars. We were supposed to have robots that would serve us breakfast in bed. By 2022 we were supposed to have rid the world of hunger, cured the worst of the diseases, and be nations working together for peace and security for all. America would be a united and “shining city on a hill” for all the world to see how democracy really works. I thought if I ever lived long enough to see 2022, the world would know of Jesus and Christians would be the salt of the earth. But here we are. The future is today, and we are still a mess. As someone recently put it, “We are all going through similar storms, but we are riding them out in very different ships (dramatic pause) or floaties.” 

I  was expecting better than this about Covid-19. Here we are again, only it is still 2,000+ Covid deaths per week in the U.S., even with this “milder” variant. Omicron is “milder” mostly for the vaccinated. Out of an abundance of caution, as the disclaimer everywhere says, we have closed in-person worship until the end of January at least. In our somewhat older congregation, too many have reported being exposed and quarantining themselves. I take my lead from the area school districts who are making the open/closing/virtual decisions only for about three days at a time. Positive cases of Covid are racing through our schools, students and teachers alike. Yet above all, we have a faithful God who shelters us, heals us, and is with us even to the end of it all.

I was expecting better than this in 2022, but here we are. We live in a sinful world with some of sin’s consequences painfully visible to all. We are all sinners who have fallen short of the glory of God. The wages of sin, sin’s pay day, is close at hand. Paul calls the wages of sin death. But we have the gift of God, His son Jesus. Undeserved, unearned, unmerited in any way. The theological term is salvation—gracious forgiveness. We are empowered by God’s Spirit and guided by His word. We are His disciples because we obey Christ’s teachings to love, heal and forgive unconditionally. Christ expects better of us. The future is today. The Good News is real. Everyone around us was also expecting a better future. Let them see Jesus.

 Keep healthy. Pray mightily. Enjoy your life today. Tell the Good news. And let’s experience the love and power of God together while we are apart.

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The Ethical Implications of the Coronavirus

How are you acting and reacting to others in this on-going pandemic? As Christians, we are challenged to live according to the ethical standards of Jesus. This is not as easy as it might sound. Daily applying the biblical lessons we have learned is a rigorous test of our faithfulness and love. Life has grown even more complicated in our time of Covid. What is the greatest ethical teaching according to Christ? Luke 10:27, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 

I was confronted with my own set of ethical Covid challenges this past week. On Friday I was notified that I had been exposed to someone who tested positive for Covid-19. I had spent prolonged time over a few days with the person who had taken ill on Wednesday night. Now what are we supposed to do? The general rule is to be prayerfully honest with yourself about your situation. Tell anyone you had close contact with to allow them to assess their own circumstances. Direct exposure is different than indirect exposure, depending on the length of time spent together (over 15 minutes), masked or unmasked. Next, decide if you should be tested and when. My last long exposure had been on Wednesday, now it was Friday. In a preacher’s world, Sunday is coming soon. Dorothy and I both got tested later that afternoon. We exhibited no symptoms, but that was little help in this situation since even asymptomatic persons can be contagious. The results were expected on Saturday. They did not come through on Saturday.

Here is where the temptation to take unethical next steps gets stronger. The right thing to do was to isolate until we knew what we were facing.  We rationalized, we could go to church Sunday, stay in the office, and only come out to for the worship service, and not speak to anyone up close. It is a big room after all. Or we could do the ethical thing—isolate until we knew what we were facing. We prayed, notified the appropriate people, printed a new service bulletin, and swallowed the pride of our self-importance. We learned late Sunday that we had both tested negative.  Here is my unasked-for advice: get your mask back out and wear it in public until this wave passes by. It is the ethical way to love Him—heart, body and soul.

Keep healthy. Pray mightily. Enjoy your life today. Love your neighbor. And let’s experience the love and power of God together.

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Trying to Look Ahead

Dorothy thawed the stew meat we bought early in December. She is preparing her famous homemade oven-baked beef stew recipe for dinner tonight. There is a chill in the air. Tulsa broke a 90-year record for the warmest December ever. It was 1931, during the dust bowl era, when the record was set—the average temperature for the month was 47.3 degrees. This year we averaged 52.2 degrees. We had 11 days with temperatures over 70˚ and three days when we officially reached 78˚, December 4, 11 and 24. It was even a beautiful day for New Year’s Eve. Naturally we had to cancel church on January 2nd because it was a frigid 16 degrees when the wind wasn’t blowing! 

The hardest part of winter for me is the Sunday Snow Day decision. This past Saturday, New Year’s Day, it rained off and on, and the temperatures dropped into the upper 20’s. Weather forecasts told of freezing temperatures and strong winds for Sunday morning, with a chance of snow, maybe a light dusting or less. “Less than a light dusting of snow,” when translated from the original Greek, means “we have no idea.”  I do not take canceling church lightly. I selfishly think about all the service preparations and printed bulletins. I think about the safety of our older members. I know that even when we try to call everyone, someone will come to church having not gotten the message. We called off the service on Saturday afternoon, allowing word to reach most everyone. Turns out we all needed a Sabbath day of rest. It has been a rough two years for everyone.

My thoughts turned to looking ahead in the 2022 calendar. Only because I am a preacher by day, Easter is on my horizon. It falls on April 17 this year. Also, some years ago I promised the grandchildren an in-person trip to Washington D.C. someday. They think Spring Break would be a nice time to visit. It remains to be seen. The only thing harder than calendar planning in the Era of Covid is making predictions about the future. Flexible is my word of the year. I ate an extra helping of the stew.

Keep healthy. Pray mightily. Enjoy your life today. Stay warm. And let’s experience the love and power of God together.

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Have a Happy New Year – 2022

I have never had much success with New Year’s resolutions about diet and exercise. I’ve tried but something always comes along, like breakfast, lunch, a coffee break, or the weather, so there is just not a good time to get around to my resolutions. Also, I do not like to be nagged by my inner resolution keeper. Finally, I may have found a more helpful way to have a happy New Year. 

I thought about blaming God. He made me this way, right? Then I considered blaming other people, but they want to pressure me to go along with them.  I tried being angry at myself and agitated with the world at large, but that was exhausting. I blamed the devil, but he just grinned. Changing the subject is only a temporary fix. Finally, I discovered the bliss of denial, but somehow even denial does not give me a happy new year.

I have discovered a simple way to fulfill a year’s worth of resolutions with one word. Pick a word for the year and live it out every day. Choose one attribute from Galatians 5:22-23 and you will have nine years’ worth of fruitful living. Everyone is different, so find your own word to express each day. Choose joy or peace or kindness. Choose love or gentleness or patience. Choose self-control or faith or goodness. Then show up each day with your word on your mind. It is a way to allow the Holy Spirit to fill your heart. 

Based on Romans 12:1-2 and the blessing from Ephesians 3:20-21, I seek to follow this pattern for each day. (1) Confess by name my weakness and seek God’s strength for the day. (2) Honor God with my body. (3) Honor people in my speech and actions. (4) Practice openness and generosity. And (5) pray, pray, pray.  Life is a daily walk, not a list of things to do or not do. Life is built on loving, open relationships as we share our stories and dreams. If you need a resolution list, I suggest that you commit to a spiritual growth step in one word, and never stop saying “Thank you” and “I love you.”

Keep healthy. Pray mightily. Enjoy your life today. Have a Happy New Year. And let’s experience the love and power of God together.

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