We are Here Because They Were There

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James Frazee was a 90-year-old man in our church. He stood out to me primarily because he was the oldest man in our contemporary service. Not that electric guitars or drums were his preference. He just wanted to be there with his grandkids. It wasn’t until he got sick that I learned the backstory of James’ life. He’d never tell me but his kids did as we planned for the inevitable funeral. James was a prisoner of war at the end of World War II. He actually escaped and spent a number of days dodging the authorities in Germany. When he finally found his way back to the US forces, he was malnurished, but alive. He was a hero with the medals to show for it and I didn’t even know it. All he would ever say about his life and career in the war was this: “Let’s take care of our men. We are here because they were there.”

A few years ago, I was honored to perform his funeral with the coffin draped in the stars and stripes. He showed me what a hero’s life looks like. A hero isn’t a big guy on a large stage. A hero is an average man who has the audacity to believe he can make a change in the world and someone who doesn’t care if his name is somehow tied to the achievement. A hero is a result of timing. Right man, right time, right place, right attitude. In other words, heroes are the product of divine appointments and every man has at least one. They become heroes because of their awareness of the divine manifest Presence and they act in accordance to His command.

We have many celebrities but far too few heroes.

Time is too short for me to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and the prophets, 33 who by faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the raging of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, gained strength in weakness, became mighty in battle, and put foreign armies to flight. 35 Women received their dead, raised to life again. Other people were tortured, not accepting release, so that they might gain a better resurrection. 36 Others experienced mockings and scourgings, as well as bonds and imprisonment. 37 They were stoned, they were sawed in two, they died by the sword, they wandered about in sheepskins, in goatskins, destitute, afflicted, and mistreated. 38 The world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and on mountains, hiding in caves and holes in the ground.
Hebrews 11:32-38

Hebrews 11 gives you a number of profiles of heroes. Not perfect, but ultimately faithful. That’s really what defines a hero: faithfulness.

Thanks, James Frazee…  You are not forgotten.

 

 

7 Reminders during Grief

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Throughout Dad’s illness and death, I knew one thing. I would learn. God has given me the gift of experience. Yes, gift.

C.S. Lewis said it perfectly:

“Experience: that most brutal of teachers. But you learn, my God how you learn.”

This post is a reminder to me. I need to remember this experience as I engage with others who lose a family member or a close friend. Here are observations I’ve jotted down in my journal as a reminder of the universality and distinct uniqueness of those who grieve.

  1. Realize that my energy level is very low. I won’t suddenly be able to do all the things I used to do with the same verve and passion that I did before my loss. I’m trying to catch up.  Lots of things hit all at once during Dad’s homegoing and I’m just trying to hang on. I have no doubt that everything will be back to normal. I will be better than I’ve ever been. There will be a depth and a drive that I didn’t have before. Just keep in mind that I’m messy right now and your grace is love personified.
  2. Please try your best not to “should” on me. It’s counterproductive. In other words, don’t say I should be thankful that my loved one is in heaven, not suffering etc, etc… I know that. But I’m not handling the “should”s of life very well these days.
  3. There will be glimpses of life before loss but, at first, they will be short and they’re not maintainable. You’ll see me laugh and you’ll think I’m fine. In those moments, I do feel fine but also there will be periods of deep anger and disappointment. Unless you spend a lot of time with me you probably won’t see the snot, and sweat and existential angst. Let’s both thank God for that but please keep in mind that it is there.
  4. Realize that I struggle with remorse and regret. It’s crazy, but I am reliving every care decision and have haunting notions that if I could have done this or that, that I would not be experiencing the loss.   At a recent event, I ran into an old friend of the family. She hugged me and whispered, “You did good.” It was the most healing thing for me because I struggled for days about what I could have done better.
  5. In the same sense, I’ve had to make a ton of decisions over the past few months. My decision-making muscles are fatigued right now. So if I seem to have lost the ability to give you a straight answer, well then… there’s your reason.
  6. If I didn’t respond to you during the funeral, I truly am sorry. I know that I didn’t recognize some people right off the bat during the funeral or visitation. I’m a scattered person on a normal day. Royally scattered was I during those first few days.
  7. Death, grief and responsibility have no finish line or period. Keep in mind that just because one parent died, we’re still struggling to care for the other parent who is struggling too and to a much greater extent than we are.

And the journey continues. I’m so thankful for connections that guide me through times of exhaustion and malaise. I’m also thankful for a Savior who is there every step of the way even in our times of unknowing.

Prayer is Releasing

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In every line of the Lord’s Prayer, there’s a common thread. It’s releasing. We scan through the words and notice that the Lord’s Prayer is radically different from the modern mantras of mortal yearning. Instead of coming to God to change our circumstances, we encounter a releasing of ourselves into the gracious hand of the Father who knows exactly what we need before we ask.


Our Father who art in Heaven

I release my urge to play God with my circumstances.

Hallowed be thy Name

I release any preconceived notion that am better than others in comparison to the reality of You.

Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven

I release my kingdom to embrace yours.

Give us this day our daily bread.

I release the desire to be a self-made provider.

And forgive us our debt as we forgive our debtors.

I release forgiveness to those who’ve wounded me and I recognize and repent for the wounds I have cause to others and even to myself.

Lead us not into temptation.

I release my long-held belief that I am more powerful than my sins and addictions.

Deliver us from evil.

I release my appetite and familiarity with the evil one.

For thine is the Kingdom, and the power and the Glory forever.

I release my personal possessions, properties, fame, and strength to embrace all that is You.

When we release all these things life becomes much simpler. Even when things are difficult we find rest and release.

  • So you are finding yourself in a lonely place? Good. The divine presence of God has been wanting to say something to you.
  • So you are financially ruined? Good. Perhaps you are here to discover how illogical reliance on money really is.
  • So you are exhausted? Good. It’s time to rest. The rest of Christ is the best rest you can have. Breathe. Drink deeply. Find rest for your soul.
  • So you are feeling tested? Good. God is setting you up for greater stewardship.
  • So you are grieving? Good. God is giving you a glimpse of the cross and his sorrow over lost humanity.
  • So you are angry? Good. As long as you are angry about the right things. If you are, knock a few tables over.
  • So you are empty? Good. This could be the perfect time for the Holy Spirit to rush into the void.
  • So you are confused? Good. There’s no better time to cry out to God.
  • So you can’t sleep? Good. Now is the time to be awake and listen.

Life becomes a celebration and a conversation with our Creator if we are willing to surrender everything over to Him. The other option is to keep striving when transformation and rest is waiting at arm’s length if we would only surrender.

3 things I learned at Louisiana College

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Recently I was asked to share about my time at LC. This invitation allowed me to reflect on how this school, from 1981-1985, changed the way I looked at the world, my faith and my call.  I thought of three things LC taught me inside and outside the classroom.

1. I learned the value of hustle.

During those days I worked as a…

  • Youth minister
  • Hay Bailer
  • Corporate trainer
  • DJ
  • Custodian
  • Resident assistant
  • Tuxedo Delivery guy
  • Camp Counselor
  • Chucky Cheese Mascot
  • Santa Claus

Because of the value of this virtue, I paid my way through college apart from a $325 loan from my mother that I don’t think I ever paid back.

2.  I learned the value of Connection

I learned that Life is best lived in community…

It’s the kind of community that I found through my brothers in TAK and my church. As Solomon wrote:

Two are better than one because they have a good reward for their efforts.  For if either falls, his companion can lift him up; but pity the one who falls without another to lift him up. Also, if two lie down together, they can keep warm; but how can one person alone keep warm? And if someone overpowers one person, two can resist him. A cord of three strands is not easily broken.

3. I learned the value of Heroes and some of them were on campus:

Welby Bozeman, Frank David Bennet, Connie Douglass, Robert Lynn, Jackie Barton, Mom Holloway, Sarah Francis Anders, Larry Pate, Jerry Reynolds and so many others.

The others were the myriad of voices that shaped my worldview. I am so thankful for a college that introduced me to…

  • Martin Luther King Jr. who taught me the need for justice
  • St. Francis….a love of simplicity
  • Will Campbell ….The power of a story
  • G.K. Chesterton…Zeal in the public square
  • C.S. Lewis…The power of a good fight
  • James Weldon Johnson…Lyrical power of suffering and faith
  • Uta Hagan…Sense Memory
  • E.E. Cummings…Typography as an art form
  • Jim Elliot…Sacrifice is more valuable than long life
  • Fannie Crosby…Disabilities lead to glory
  • Lottie Moon…that any slow boat to China is worth it when Jesus is your captain
  • Dorothy Day… that a Christian must be a radical
  • Teddy Roosevelt… to get in the arena and fight
  • Calvin Miller… showed me there’s a song inside me
  • John Cowper… that I am not alone in sorrow
  • Stephen Schwartz… taught me to dance on a Baptist campus even if you aren’t graceful
  • Corrie Ten Boom…to forgive greatly
  • Detrick Bon Hoffer… that silence is not permitted in the face of Evil
  • Vincent Vangogh…that art is theology
  • And Brennan Manning taught me grace, grace, grace!

But most of all LC fostered a new understanding of the most important One in my life.

He’s my secret Treasure amidst the lies of gold
The Captain of my vessel, the Guardian of my soul
The Champion of my battles, my Warrior in the night
My Guardian, Provider, within the fiercest fight
He’s Architect and Builder of my forever home
A Friend that’s like none other. I never walk alone.
He speaks when I am speechless, my Compass when I’m lost
Forgiver of my cruel debt despite the brutal cost
His love song is redemption, a Troubadour of grace
When I’m lost and lonely, He is my Resting Place
When everyone deserts me, He is a faithful Friend
The Seer of my journey- beginning to the end.
The Hero on His stallion, the Warrior on the hill.
Holy Justice Giver, with a master swordsman’s skill.
My articulate Defender speaks pro-bono in my stead
My Guide through lands of dragons, and by His hand I’m led
He is Enough for yesterday and forever more
My Brother and my Father, my Refuge and my Door.
He is the holy Poet, His sonnet is the sky!
The perfect, true Philosopher. He knows the reasons why.
Far more than any force on earth and higher than the sun
And when we think it’s over, His story’s just begun
He is the Hunter of the lost, the ones who hide in shame
He seeks out every wounded life. He knows each one by name.
He is my great Physician, with a gifted Surgeon’s hand
Composer of a masterpiece and Leader of the band.
He’s everything that’s gallant. His presence makes me free
The Artisan of glory, His love my mystery.

Today is Most Noble

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God holds the future and redeems all of yesterday.

But today is closer to me.

What an amazing concept today, right now, really is. Today- I hope you aren’t planning a siege on your enemy. I hope you aren’t judging the person in the room. I hope you aren’t swallowed up in regret. I hope you aren’t poisoning your time with trivial, toxic thoughts of your own wealth, vanity or scheming revenge. I hope you are in the moment for this moment fashions eternity.

Today is a gift which is moving forward faster than thoughts or plans

Today is where i am right here and right now.

Today is an opportunity to change the little things

Today is closer. tomorrow is a promise and yesterday is an eternity from anything I could attain.

Today is most noble!

The World’s First Smart Phone

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Siri and I are having issues. I believe I lean too much on her and I forget that she does not have the capability of an administrative assistant, as most commercials would assume. She’ll take me to Cracker Barrel when I want to go to Kroger. She’ll call my blood donation center when I ask her to call my wife. She scheduled me for a dental appointment for April 17th 2086 when I asked her to put it on my calendar for April 7th, 2018. It embarrasses Darlene. She says that shouting at it will not make it better, especially at the church welcome center. I’ve tried all the hacks I’ve heard of. Checking my settings, powering down the phone, tilting the phone at a 40-degree angle, reciting the pledge of allegiance to it ten times. But the phone remains as mystified by me as I am of it.

There’s a smart phone in the Bible. Sort of… I found it in Numbers 22 without the aid of the “find-my-phone” app on my computer. Actually it was a donkey-an upgraded smart donkey to be exact. For a few moments, this Shrek-like donkey spoke when his navigation was questioned. The owner of this smart donkey, Balaam was commissioned to place a curse on the people of God, but evidently the smart-donkey knew better and refused to go a step forward. He wouldn’t cooperate- much like my smart-phone in downtown Dallas.

Balaam shouted words similar to the words I have said to my phone a thousand times:

“You made me look like a fool. If I had a sword in my hand, I’d kill you now!”

Numbers 22:29 (CSB)

And for the first time in the history of the animal kingdom, a donkey replied,

“But the donkey said, “Am I not the donkey you’ve ridden all your life until today? Have I ever treated you this way before?” (Verse 30)

Just a note here- This is exactly the kind of sentence structure Siri uses when I realize that she led me down a dead end road on the wrong side of town. Who knew that a donkey’s first sentence would be so grammatically correct? This causes me to conclude that donkeys are smarter than we give them credit. The next time someone calls me a donkey or other words synonymous to donkey during rush hour traffic, I’m going to take it as a compliment.

The entire story is proof me that the real inventor of the smart phone is God. It just came in the form of a donkey 3500 years earlier.


 

A Prayer of Collective Repentance

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Lord, have mercy upon us. We have shouted more than we have listened. We have looked through rage and defiance and have brutalized our brothers and sisters. We have forgotten your Word, which calls upon us to turn the other cheek, to defend those who are on the bottom rung, and to live at peace as long as it depends on us.

We have politicized the Bible and have taken scripture out of context to reframe it so that it fits our personal worldview.

Forgive us, Lord. We’ve forgotten that our kingdom is not of this world, that we are all aliens, and that we have a greater work to fulfill. This work is a labor of love, and if we are to be honest with You, we have not been laboring very well. As a nation we have sold our birthright for a crude pot of rage.

Lord of Compassion, we have forgotten what it means to listen to our brothers’ words. We have discounted their stories and we have lacked the empathy that leads to understanding. May we weep for America as You wept for Jerusalem.

Prince of Peace, we need You now more than ever. We don’t need editorials, rants, or bullhorns. We just need You. Lord, shatter our pride. Make quick word of our prejudice. Keep us from coded words, false pretences, and sarcasm. Hold a mirror to our souls and collectively, let us see our iniquity.

Lord Jesus, Son of God may we look at the cross and remember how You suffered under the greatest, deepest triangulation of injustice, betrayal and vitriolic anger while praying, “Forgive them.” Teach us how to love like that.

May the Church lead out in love and courage. May we bind the wounds of the brokenhearted and diffuse the anger of a dying culture. Transform us Lord. Teach us how to season our words with grace.

We pray this in the Name of the One who wept,

Amen…

 

When Jesus is in the House

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Just another time to worship… Then, suddenly, something happens. Flecks of the ceiling are falling on the teacher’s shoulder. The flecks turn into chunks and out of a gaping hole a paralyzed man is lowered down by four guys in the first elevator in church history. The man is healed and the people went away amazed saying, “We’ve never seen anything like that before!” If only church was like that more often. Drug addicts are welcomed and then healed. Homes are restored. The prodigal son walks in and the down the aisle smothered by a family weeping for joy. These things happen. I’ve witnessed them. It’s then that we can truly say, We’ve never seen anything like this before. Why don’t we see it more often? I think it has a lot to do with two things: Very few people think creatively about how to get their friends to Jesus, like those four guys did in the story. And, sadly, I think we lose sight of the fact that Jesus, the wonder-maker and the game-changer is in the house.

Grace is on a Family Tree

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My friend loves Jesus.

That sounds commonplace, doesn’t it?

It becomes less pedestrian when I tell you that his Mom died a drug addict and his father was a devout atheist. My friend was gloriously saved at the age of 10 at a Vacation Bible School event and never looked back. This. Makes. No. Sense. They say the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree but this apple fell off the tree rolled down the hill, was picked up by a pilot and flew across the ocean! (Figuratively speaking, of course.) And believe me, I don’t have enough white space here to chronicle the entire sordid tale. His story is a monument to the fact that God can save anybody He wants to save, no matter how messed up the family tree.

The New Testament begins with a family tree that had a number of ugly branches. Matthew 1 tells us that in Jesus’ lineage are a number shady characters including a prostitute, daughter of incest, an adulterer, a lying brother, lots of cautionary tales and ultimately an scandalous unwed pregnancy. It’s almost like God wanted to say from the start that this Gospel is all about grace and not about our upbringing. God isn’t as interested in your family history. He’s interested in what happens next. And when it comes to transformation, what happens next is glorious. He flips the script with grace. It’s His specialty. Never count yourself or your family out because of what happened yesterday. It’s an insult to the power of God when you do.