• We Feel Their <b>Grief</b> |

    A Tear..A Sigh. 

ASH WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 10, 2016

“Remember from dust you have come and to dust you shall return.”

As I sat in an Ash Wednesday service today at noon and heard the words above, I sighed. I sighed deeply. I sighed because during the service I was reminded of my (our) mortality. I sighed because I realized how far short I have fallen in living and displaying my love for God and neighbor.

SIGHS appear many, many times throughout our life experiences. I think of SIGHS  of DEEP SATISFACTION: coming to the end of a challenging day/month/year knowing you did your best, you sigh; holding an infant close to your chest as it sleeps in your arms enfolded in deep release and trust, you sigh; having your pet go to sleep in your lap and you hear his or her sigh before drifting off to sleep; lying in bed with your family all piled up on the “big bed” and you take it all in as though your heart has taken a picture of the fulness of your heart’s joy, you sigh; hearing the oncologist say the words you have needed to hear so badly–“cancer free,” you sigh.  These and others are ways we experience sighs of deep satisfaction.

There are also SIGHS of deep distress. I have one such sigh that has lain fallow in my life but continues to beg for me to write about it.  I have written and rewritten this sigh many times over the years–but never actually put to paper and pen, etc.  As is the mind’s capability, I have continually re-written and re-imagined the narrative of an experienced SIGH of deep distress in my life.

Before I share that with you, there is something I want you the reader to understand.  I believe in God who has displayed his faithfulness as Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer of all of life.  I believe in Jesus Christ. I am Christian.  I place my faith and trust in Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Savior who was born, lived, died and rose again so that all may receive Christ’s promise of eternal life.  I do believe in the Holy Spirit “…as the divine presence in our lives whereby we are kept in perpetual remembrance of the truth of Christ, and find strength and help in time of need.” (“A Modern Affirmation of Faith” in the United Methodist Hymnal, #885).  This is my Faith and this is my Hope.

Now to one of my  SIGHS of Deep Distress.

It was the Fall of 1983, October 5, 1983, to be exact.  On that date my son, Jared DePriest Spurlock, died as a result of Sudden Death Syndrome. It (SIDS) can’t be fully explained. There is speculation.  Let’s just say, this death sunk deep into the hearts of all our family and many friends like an anchor plummeting to the bottom of the ocean.

At the time, I was serving the Thibodaux-Gibson-Vacherie United Methodist Churches in LaFourche Parish.  A few days after Jared’s funeral, I was sitting in my study at First United Methodist Church, Thibodaux.  I was terribly restless, sad and forlorn that I couldn’t express the depth of grief I was experiencing.  This thought kept going through my mind–if I could scream, the scream would not be loud enough to displace the anguish, the futile spirit I had closed up inside of me.  There was another thought that came to mind to me.  I just knew one day someone was going to come to my office and find me stark-raving crazy.  I had a torturing, questioning mantra that kept resurfacing day after day–why can’t I find the perfect, strong adjective to give expression to the anguish I was dealing with each day.  I felt like I was a stranded man on Canal Street in New Orleans who was running from person to person asking, begging and pleading–“Help me understand!” I felt like a swimmer gasping for air after a long, arduous swim relay.

So I– began to search the Scriptures (a good Wesleyan term).   I searched the scriptures like one who had lost the one sheep out of 99 or like one who had lost the precious coin.

And then I did something I had not done since my teen years. I opened the Bible hoping my finger would land somewhere on a page where Scripture might be cathartic, might lance my heart so that all the deep, dark black ugliness of grief might pour out like pus from a deep, infectious wound.

My finger landed on: “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with SIGHS TOO DEEP FOR WORDS. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” (Romans 8:26-27)

I read those verses again and again. And suddenly, cathartically, I had a powerful, eye-opening “Aha!” moment.  I felt a relief and a release to the torturous thought that no one understood. Suddenly it became crystal clear to me–the Spirit intercedes for me (and you) with “sighs too deep for words.” Suddenly I knew, there was One who understood the depth of my grief and pain.  Yes, God understands.

 

I pray these words will offer solace and catharsis for any today who feel abandoned with grief, sorrow, disappointment, deep failures coated with covert or overt sins.  Please know there is One who understands!

Again, today, with full confidence I believe in God, in Jesus Christ in the Holy Spirit.  Further, [I] “…believe this faith should manifest itself in the service of love as set forth in the example of our blessed Lord, to the end that the kingdom of God may come upon the earth.” Amen. (“A Modern Affirmation of Faith” the United Methodist Hymnal, #885).  This is my Faith and this is my Hope!

Prayer from Psalm 51: 10-12: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.  Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me.  Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a generous spirit.” Amen.

SIGH!

 

On Sunday, January 11, 2015 (Baptism of the Lord Sunday; Mark 1:9-10) Christian churches in some traditions observed a Reaffirmation of The Baptismal Covenant in which congregants came forward and had water placed on their hands with the accompanying words from the minister:  Remember your baptism and be thankfulTo be clear, in the United Methodist tradition, we do not re-baptize people.  However, through the above mentioned Baptismal Covenant, we have a way to remember our baptisms.

Also, on Sunday, January 11, there was an abundance of water in SW Louisiana. The rain was a combination, at times, of moderate rain, mist and sprinkles (we Methodists are fond of sprinkles!).  As I exited my vehicle to join my wife in worship, I became keenly aware of the sprinkles of water coming down.  Having little hair on my head, the droplets were particularly chilling on my noggin!  And this thought occurred to me, how ironic that on Baptism of the Lord Sunday, God was sprinkling God’s creation and creatures with the precious gift of water.

Most people have some fond memories of water or settings where water was present:  a cascading waterfall, water running through a creek bed, stomping in water puddles, the beautiful Blackfoot River featured in the movie, “A River Runs Through It,” and who can forget 2014 for its ALS Ice-Bucket challenges?

As I reflect back on some of my journeys in life, I am more and more impressed by how some events converge in such a way that it causes me to stop in my tracks and simply say, “God was there!”

Take for example the time my mother (single-parent named “Addys”) first introduced me to the lake water of Caney Lake (Webster Parish).  I was in grade school.  The journey began (and would be repeated many times) by taking what is known as the Airport Road outside of Minden, LA.  My mother drove that curvy road, which ran past Camp Caney (a United Methodist Camp) on a sweltering-heat kind of Sunday.  Making her way through a curve or two past the camp, she pulled her car over, parked and the two of us began our trek down a steep incline until we reached the bottom.  It was there mother pointed out the fresh running water trickling in the small creek-bed.  She told me stories about the times she hauled water from creek- beds to the house where she lived as a child.  She told me of drinking cold water from a creek.  And, to my amazement, she invited me to cup my small hands and scoop and drink the cool water from the creek. I did. I would do many other times.

From the creek bed of water, we would venture through a few openings that would lead us to the body of water known as Caney Lake.  There a dock was waiting for me jump into the refreshing water of the lake. I would swim all afternoon. Then we headed home in an old-blue colored station wagon that burned oil and smoked like a pulp-wood truck. At home, momma knew just what a child needed: some hot, home-made apple turnovers accompanied by a large glass of milk.

WATER.

river

A few years later after I became acquainted with some church youth, I was invited to attend church camp.  On my first trip to the church camp, the car turned down Airport Road, and instead of traveling on through a couple of curves past the camp, the car drove into Camp Caney.  Interesting, I thought.  As many times as I passed the sign that said, “Camp Caney,” we never drove into the camp.

Arriving at my first youth camp there in those piney woods, I registered like all the other kids, and we were told if we wanted we could walk down to the lake (Caney Lake). I wasn’t particularly surprised by the fact that the trek down the hill would take us to the lake.  What I was surprised by was when I got down to the lake, there was a pier there, the same pier I had jumped from as a child.

Suddenly it all converged for me!!   The journey to the lake by way of the cold-water creek and the journey from the camp to the waters of the lake took me to the place I had been many times but just then recognized where I was. I was astonished, and even to this day, I recall that feeling of how surprised I was that I came by the lake and pier to the same spot.

I think of Robert Frost’s poem, “The Road Not Taken,” in which he wrote:  “Two roads converged in a yellow wood, And sorry I could not travel both….I shall be telling this with a sigh, Somewhere ages and ages hence.”

For me, two paths converged in the piney woods that day at the camp. I unknowingly had taken them both!  And it would not be long after that a United Methodist pastor, named John Lee, would guide me into a relationship with Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Savior.  “Bro. John” would baptize me. My Christian walk began and the walk with Christ has continued with many others.  I now know this experience to have been the work of God’s prevenient grace. (To better understand Prevenient Grace see the following link:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prevenient_grace

WATER. You never know where it is going to lead you.

Please enjoy the following video: http://youtu.be/j8UMTFDKm-g

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Growing up I was always in, around and living in the country.  As I got older and began to intermingle with folks I was (and am still) amazed at how little some folks have experienced living out in the country, such that when the stars come out at night the stars sparkle like diamonds, or when walking into a cow pasture the smell of hay and manure are likable smells and there is something tender about feeding newborn calves on the bottle.  If you can’t relate to such, don’t feel bad, many folks can’t relate nor do they care to.

Which brings me to DONKEY!  For some, DONKEY is mostly the character out of the “Shrek” movie series.  He had a great country drawl (what else would expect of an animal who resides in the country),  made some funny comments, got caught a few times in making errors in judgment, thus the word…. Well, you get the point. If not, just ask! Lol.

I have had a couple experiences with DONKEY, a real donkey.  The two I remember most happened when I served a couple of small churches as a student pastor.  Then it was called the Athens-Cross Roads United Methodist Churches in Claiborne Parish.

My mother told me that at mid-night on Christmas Eve all donkeys kneel in honor of the birth of Christ.  So, one cold, frosty Christmas Eve night we drove out on the road between Hwy 80-E and the road that leads to Athens, LA.  We parked on an area that drives into a pasture, and we waited to see if indeed the donkeys would kneel at mid-night.  Lo and behold!  They were kneeling!  True story!  Of course, later I surmised that donkeys probably kneel-down every night regardless of the time simply to rest and sleep.

In some ways I feel a little foolish about that experience, except for the fact my mother and I sat in the car together, both smoking a Viceroy cigarette, and shared what we both thought was a Holy Night.  It didn’t matter, of course, if the donkeys knelt or not.  What really got us out that night was the fact that we knew how special the night was–it was the night of our dear Savior’s birth.

In that same community where I served the Athens-Cross Roads United Methodist Churches, I had some really young and “wild  bucks” in the church. [Here you can supplement “wild bucks” to young men.]  They were great guys, and God only knows all the shenanigans they pulled.  However, every Sunday morning they were in church, and always had a good time “picking on the preacher.”

There was a little make-do rodeo corral out east of Athens, and on Friday and Saturday nights they had what was called a “showdeo,” a much simpler form of a rodeo.  There would a few broncos ridden, a few barrel races, etc. Nothing big! Lots of fun!

ON one particular night I was introduced to DONKEY. He was a white donkey, really small and seemed quite the gentle sort. In fact, I had seen him run into a chute,  grown men getting on him and then the chute would open and off the donkey and cowboy would go.  I watched this a few times, and then I told one of the young bucks, “Buzzie” Buckner, if he would pay the $3 for me to ride him, I would do it.  However, there was one request I made–put a bridal on him for me to hold on to.  “Buzzie’s” reply was, “Okay, preacher. We’ll take care of you!”  And they did take care of me.

They ran the little white donkey into the chute.  I got down in the shoot, wrapped my legs underneath the little fellow, and said, “Okay, put a bridal on him.”  The next thing I heard was, “Okay boys, let him go!” Out of the shoot I came riding atop of a little white donkey having only his mane to use for a bridal.  He didn’t buck, but what he did do was take off like a full-speed ahead quarter horse. Eventually I ended up under him where he stomped me in the back.  They said there were some alarming expletives that I used. Of course, I didn’t remember that because I seeing stars for a few moments!

DONKEY

You never know what a donkey may cause a person to do–go out on a cold, Christmas Eve night to see if he kneels or try to ride one.  For after all, how much harm could one little white donkey do?!  I mean really!

Last Sunday morning my wife and I attended worship at First United Methodist Church, Lake Charles, and heard the Chancel Choir presentation of “The Magnificat” by John Rutter.  It is a beautiful and masterful piece of music which centers on the Song of Mary, the expectant Mother of Jesus, in which she proclaims after receiving word of Who she would birth (Luke 1: 46-55):

My soul glorifies the Lord, *
my spirit rejoices in God, my Saviour.
He looks on his servant in her lowliness; *
henceforth all ages will call me blessed.
The Almighty works marvels for me. *
Holy his name!
His mercy is from age to age, *
on those who fear him.
He puts forth his arm in strength *
and scatters the proud-hearted.
He casts the mighty from their thrones *
and raises the lowly.
He fills the starving with good things, *
sends the rich away empty.
He protects Israel, his servant, *
remembering his mercy,
the mercy promised to our fathers, *
to Abraham and his sons for ever.

Following the presentation of “The Magnificant” I was talking to one of the church members and he said,  “That young girl [Mary] had no idea what she was getting into when she rode the donkey to Bethlehem to give birth to Jesus.”

He is right, you know!

This Christmas Eve, let’s remember that Mary, the holy Mother of God, had her own experience on Christmas Eve of riding on a donkey led by Joseph to a manger in Bethlehem. On another day this Christ Child who will be fully God and fully man will ride a donkey into the City of Jerusalem.

PONDER THESE THINGS!

MERRY CHRISTMAS

rustic-table

I don’t know what it was like when you were growing up, but at my house, when you came to visit, my mother didn’t take you to the den. In fact, I can’t remember any of the houses my mother and me lived in that had a den (which is clearly unimaginable to many, I know).  When a person knocked on our screen door, they would generally yell through the screen–“Addys?!” (that was my momma’s name). Momma would yell back in true Southern fashion, “Y’all come on in!” And in they would come and sit where we all sat when we were visiting–at the kitchen table. Fresh coffee was always available,  and there was never a lack of laughter!  If you happened to be at our house at meal time, there was always a place at the table for you.

What got me thinking about this was something I read about the other day.  A month or so ago, my daughter, Whitney, introduced me to “Humans of New York” on Facebook.  So many of the stories I read there are stories of tragedy and sorrow and some are how folks have overcome great human tragedies and challenges.  Miraculously and thankfully some find a means for them to be joyfully grounded in life and moving on in their journeys.

On January 2, 2015, “Humans of New York” featured a picture of a guy sitting on a side-walk with his back against the wall.  The guy says:

“I’d been doing nothing but drinking for months on end, so I was getting pretty despondent. Then one day, a guy walked by with a hand truck, and dropped off two big boxes of books for anyone to take. I decided to set up a bookstand. I got a folding table, and three milk cartons, and set up right across the street. Pretty soon, more people were bringing me books, and I would sell them for $1 apiece. I had a pretty cool selection. I even had books from the 1800’s. But I sold them all for just $1. I called my business The Book Worm. I had a logo and everything—a little worm with reading glasses. I didn’t make much money. Just enough for food and some drinks, but it increased my self-esteem 10,000 percent. I never thought I’d be running my own business. I was drinking less and everything. But somebody took my folding table, so I’m out of business until I can find a new one. It sounds kind of ridiculous, but the whole business hinges on a folding table.”

As soon as I finished reading the post, I felt this voice swelling up inside of me that roared, “GET THAT MAN A TABLE!”

Very quickly one of the respondents to this Humans of New York post wrote:  “Don’t worry, he got a new table. I think the table was an interesting detail not because someone eventually took it, but because he created such a big change in his life with something so materially insignificant.”

Having read this, my mind immediately went to the kitchen table at my mother’s house–a place where people were welcomed.  How void our home would have been if the table had gone missing!  What would any of our homes be like without the kitchen table?!

My wife and I attended church on the 1st Sunday of 2015 (01/04).  During the worship service we were invited along with all present to come to the Table, the Lord’s Table.  There was a place at the Table for everyone, which is one of the high-marks for those who attend a worship service in a United Methodist Church (UMC).  The TABLE is not a UMC table.  It is an “open” TABLE for all who desire to partake of the Body and Blood of Jesus for the forgiveness of sin.

In our liturgy in the UMC the communion ritual for the consecration of the elements begins with these words:  “And when he [Jesus] was at the table, he took bread…he took the cup.

I still hear that voice swelling up inside of me–GET THAT MAN A TABLE!  I hear a voice inside of me that beckons, “Y’all come on in!”  I hear the voice of Jesus saying to me, to you, to all,  “Take! Eat! Take! Drink!”

May there always be an open place at our tables in this New Year. May we all find our welcome place at the Lord’s Table. May such fellowship at the Table increase the self-esteem of all at least 10.000 percent.

Get that Man a Table!

Palm Sunday

Palm Sunday (Photo credit: Howard O. Young)

“Common Sense Caucus.” That is a phrase that has really caught my attention-“common sense caucus.” Why? Well, frankly, regardless of one’s political leanings, I am a bit taken aback by the idea. I mean, really, has our leadership in Washington been operating in the realm of a not “common sense caucus.” Don’t answer that!!

LOL!!!

All political opinions aside, I wonder how many times those of us who confess Jesus Christ as our personal Lord and Savior and as those who seek to live as Christ’s representatives in the world, find ourselves living out of a not “common sense” understanding of the saving grace of Jesus Christ. Truth is, if anything makes sense it’s the “common sense” God who revealed his true personhood and Spirit in Jesus Christ. Of course, that’s what got Jesus into a “pickle” so many times. The way he loved was a “common sense” love. Love God and love neighbor. Loving God wasn’t the problem. The problem was loving people the way God loved people–unconditionally.

I don’t know about you, but over the years I have come to fall in love with God more and more. The more I pray and contemplate the faithfulness of God, God who cannot be untrue to God’s nature, which is Love, I marvel at God’s for me. There was a time in my life when I was not that certain, but something happened, actually an accumulation of things happened.

One of the things that happened was Prevenient Grace. Of course, I didn’t know anything about Prevenient Grace, but that’s the beauty of it, isn’t it? Not knowing. Until one day you hear about Prevenient Grace, the grace that comes before, and you are somewhere and this little “light bulb” goes off in your head and you say, “Ohhhhh! Now I see.”

Let me tell you a story.

Sunday afternoons were often his favorite during the hot, muggy months of Summer. He didn’t go to church, and about the closest thing he got to church was watching some Gospel Music show on Sunday morning. His momma loved those shoes. She loved the Florida Boy and the Blackwood quartet to name a few. Of course a child can take so much when it’s Summer and hot and you’re dying to go swimming. So he would set in to pleading, “Take me swimming! Please take me swimming!” And she would.

Now, they didn’t go swimming just anywhere. That little ingenious lady had found a special place To the child it was a magical place, and it was an magical adventure just getting there. First of all you had to travel out of town a ways until you got to the Airport Road. You followed that road  past a small one-landing strip airport until you passed Turner’s Dairy Farm  with the smell of manure and fresh-cut hay wafting in the air.   Continuing on, you took the first curve to the left which became sort of like a roller coaster ride, complete with the “butterflies” in your stomach as you swooped up and around one curve after another to the you came to this one certain curve. It was there the old car would pull off in safe area, and another adventure would begin, this time on foot. The two of them would carefully walk down, he would sometimes slide down a steep area that led to a shallow creek bed. There in that creek bed, fresh, cold spring water was running in the creek. It was then, she would kneel, cup her hands (and he would too), and without giving it a second-thought, they drank, they drank like they were drinking something medicinal. His momma would tell how when she was a child, they would bring the milk pales and put them in the creek to keep the milk from spoiling, or sometimes they would lower the milk down into their hand-drawn water well.

He would listen and imagine, and then he would wait for one of those “ready, set go” moments when she would say, “Come on! Let’s go swimming” The two of them would walk barefoot in the cold, spring water creek down to the lake. Into that lake he would dive and swim and dive and swim for what seemed like hours. He would go the bottom and scoop muscles off the bottom and then bring them up and pry them open.

Late afternoon he would trek out of the water at her insistence, of course. They would then head back to the car the same way they came. When they got home, he headed straight to the kitchen to dive into a large supply of fried apple turn-overs his momma had cooked before they went swimming. He would wash them down with a Dr. Pepper. Then it was bath time and bed time, and with hunger and thirst quenched he would slide between, clean crisp sheets and sleep very well.

Years later, many years later, after he was grown, he would come to learn and appreciate something he seemed to have no knowledge of–Prevenient Grace. Before that would happen the child would become a young man, a youth, who would begin to be introduced by other youth and adults to the joy of being a Christian. Of course, he wasn’t so sure about all of that “Jesus” stuff. However, on another hot summer day, he would travel out of town a ways until he got to the Airport Road. He followed the road past Turner’s Dairy Farm with the smell of fresh manure and fresh-cut hay giving out own unique aromatic fragrance. This time he didn’t go left, around the curve to the left. This time he drove into Camp Caney, to Youth camp. Of course, there was swimming at church camp, so the first time he went swimming at camp, he followed another trail down to the lake. He was really looking forward to swimming. As he approached the lake and saw the pier stretching out into the lake, it suddenly dawned on him–he was about to swim in the same lake he had swam in as a child. Only this time, this time he approached Caney Lake from a different angle.

Years later, even still, he would have a “Oh!! Now I see” moment. You know that moment when you realize you have been on this journey that didn’t seem to connect in any way until you suddenly see where you are and Who has been on the Journey with you all along.

Isn’t that just like our God, that rascally “Hound of Heaven” who keeps chasing, who keeps showing up even when at times we seem to be “out to lunch!!”

There is a story in John 5 (please read) about a man who had been out of sorts for a long time: 38 years!  You see, he had been sitting by the Pool of Bethesda for 38 years.  There is a lot going on in the story, but two things seem to me to be most important about the action in the story.

One is this. John says, “When Jesus saw him….” Jesus saw him! Others had not seen the man in years. That happens when familiarity sets in. You see but you don’t “see.” Jesus saw him.

Have you ever felt like you have not been seen? Or, that people had not really “seen” you in years? Times when you have, perhaps, become like some old road sign, faded, bleached out by the sun? You were no less a person, but somehow not “seen” or acknowledged! Jesus saw him. Jesus sees you and me, be it one day or ten years or 38. You are not forgotten.

Why? Consider the second thing. is this–John 5:17 Jesus is recorded to have said, “My Father is working straight through, even on the Sabbath. So am I.”

Succinctly–Christ pushed on through! And that’s just what Prevenient Grace does–God in Christ keeps pushing on through.

If ever there was a time where  Christ pushed on through it was Holy Week

  • It’s a week that begins with a parade and with much Joy (Hosanna, Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord),
  • Advances to another level for blood (Crucify him! Crucify) and,
  • Will end with God in Christ feeling deserted and alone (My God! My God!)– let’s remember this–God pushes on through!

However, just wait!! God’s going to do it again! God is going to push through again! Hear Jesus in John 5:17 again but with a bit of change: “My Father is working straight through, even on the Cross.

So, take these two things with you: You are seen, not forgotten by Christ! God is pushing on through, even from the Cross, for your salvation and mine!

No truer words have been spoken than these: “I do not at all understand the mystery of grace–only that it meets us where we are but does not leave us where it found us.” (Ann Lamott)

As Barbara Brown Taylor says in her book, The Preaching Life: So love God. Love neighbor. Be a neighbor, and let us not complicate things by arguing about specifics. You know what it means to do love because some time or another you have been on the receiving end of it, but remember that knowing the right answer does not change a thing. If you want the world to look different the next time you go outside, do some love. Do a little or do a lot, but do some, and do not forget yourself.

May I challenge us all during this Holy Week to:
Love someone, pray for someone, listen to someone, clothe someone, provide a ride for someone, bring groceries to someone, call someone, visit someone, affirm someone, rescue someone, wipe a tear for someone, laugh with someone, hold someone’s hand, bring a cup of water to someone.

Would you like to sit a spell and have another cup of coffee before you go?
English: Youths playing the Red Rover game.

English: Youths playing the Red Rover game. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Red rover! Red rover! Let Steven come over!”  Remember that childhood, playground game?  Before  the game could begin,  two captains were selected who would alternate in choosing members of their team. When the captains were decided, there were several ways in which a captain had first choice.   Having first choice was extremely important.  It meant you had first choice on the top picks.  (Sounds like a draft, doesn’t it?)

If you wanted strength, you picked big Fred G.  If you wanted speed, you picked Randy F.  There were girls too! They were chosen right along side the boys.  Mary S. was as fast as anyone! Some were chosen sooner than others, but when it was all said and done all interested game-players were chosen.

There was nervousness as a part of the choosing! Will the captain choose the right person(s) for her/his team?  Will the Captain choose me?  Will I not only be chosen, but will I end up being on the team I want to be on?  As the player-choices dwindled, there was anxiety,  “What if I am the last person chosen?” It’s interesting how a person feel both ecstatic and relieved at the same time

Years ago Max Lucado wrote a book in which he told the story of an older man and younger guy who days-on-end would show up where a pool of guys would gather each morning hoping to be signed-on to work that day. Early each morning they arrived hoping to be hired, and in what seemed like an eternity, the older man and younger guy were passed over time and time again time and time again.  Then, one day, it happened!  The two of them were chosen to work, and as the two leave to go to the work site, the older man says something to the younger guy like:  “It sure feels good to be chosen!”  And it does.

There are also times in our lives when we are chosen and don’t even know it.  A few years ago while serving a local church, I was introduced to a special ministry called Kids Hope USA.  It’s an organization that invites churches to partner with a local school in an impoverished area of  a community to offer many things to students and schools, which they would not be able to secure otherwise:   tutors, school supplies, uniforms, parties, etc.

With a little persuasion and with a little bargaining I agreed to serve as a tutor.  Every Thursday afternoon I would meet with the same student for an hour.  My first student, we’ll call him “Ken,” was a second-grader.  As you can imagine it took us a few weeks to get comfortable with one another. Some days we would study his spelling. On other days we would read.  We even had time each week, if we chose, to go outside and shoot a few hoops or if the computers were up and running we would do simple math on one of the computer games.   “Ken” was a great little guy!  He was mischievous as could be, and there were times when I would show up and “Ken” had not come to school (for numerous reasons).

I recall our first meeting.  Since we were so well unacquainted, I suggested that we draw pictures of our families.  His picture included a picture of his mother, grandmother and siblings.  He was very fond of his older sister and baby brother.  I shared my family picture with him as well, even introducing him to my dogs.  Such was our time together for the school year.  You can’t help but get close to a young child when you spend week after week with them in a tutoring setting or shooting hoops or playing kickball.

As the school year was about to come to a close, I suggested that we draw pictures of our families again.  Not much changed from our first pictures, except as “Ken” was describing all the people in his picture I noticed an extra person.  When I asked him who that person was, he said rather matter-of-factly, “That’s you silly willy!!”

I can’t begin to tell you how proud that made me feel.  “Ken” had chosen me!  I belonged!  We belonged! What an honor I felt to be chosen, to be included. Of course, this didn’t just happen by chance. It took time, lots of time , and lots of patience, which is always true if relationships are to be formed.

And then there are times we are chosen in spite of ourselves.  I think about the disciples of Jesus Christ.  They were such a hodgepodge of folks!   Still, these were the kind of people (thank God)  Jesus chose.  They spent a lot of time together.  Some days they were right on target in the ministry Jesus invited them to engage in with people.  Other days they were like “bumps on a log,”  “dense as fog”  and not the “sharpest tool in the shed!” However, when the “chips were down” and the inevitability of Jesus turning his face toward Jerusalem and knowing all the suffering that lie ahead, Jesus had a very intimate conversation with these same hodgepodge disciples (see John 15:9-17)  God knows what all Jesus could have said. He could have chastised them  for not always “getting it.” He could have blame-gamed them  for the many times  they “dropped the ball.” Jesus could have played the shame-game with them reminding them of the times they were more interested in greatness and wanting to  be his “right-hand person.”  Oh! There was so much he could have said!  Instead, as God-flesh, as Grace-extension, Jesus shares intimate details of what a vital, vibrant relationship means now that they are in deep relationship with him:

  • “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love (vs. 9)
  • “Love each other as I [Jesus] have loved you. (vs. 12a)
  • “I have called you Friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you (vs.15c,d)
  • “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, and so whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you.
  • “This is my command:  Love each other.” (vs.17)

In his book of devotions, Just Like Jesus, Max Lucado writes these words  in his devotional titled, “The Basin of Water”: “I looked in the Bible for a verse that said Jesus washed all the disciples’ feet except the feet of Judas. I couldn’t find one.”

 Red Rover! Red Rover!  Let ______ come over!
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 By the way, there is a reason I named my blog, SinnersRow.  There is always a place for anybody who wants to stop by and sit a spell.  Would you like a cup of coffee before you go?

ଓଡ଼ିଆ: କଳା କଫି

Community Coffee with Chicory–C’est si bon

Being from the South, we have our own unique sayings, such as: “fixin’ to,” “argue with a fence post,” “like a stuck hog” and “like white on rice.” If you don’t know the meaning of those Southern sayings, you might as well, well hear another one: “Like a bump on a log.” Some families have sayings unique to them. My sister, Loe, was telling me that she had spoken to a young man the other day who finds himself going bald at an early age. My sister told him to be sure and “slather” himself real good with sunscreen every day. If you don’t understand “slather,” just drop the “s” in the front of “slather” and you’ll understand. What’s important to know is “slather” is different from “lather.” You may lather your hands with soap, but if you “slather” them you get a lot more soap which means a lot more rinsing of the hand. In other words, when you “slather” something, it’s a whole lot more than when you “lather” something. By the way “slathering” is a real word which means: To spread or smear (a substance) thickly or liberally.” But enough of that for now! Consider layering.

I’ve been thinking a lot about layering the last couple of months. Consider winter. When its biting cold, it’s not unusual to hear people advising, “Layer-up before you go outside!” There have been times, on biting-cold mornings, that I layered up so much I looked like a locked-kneed, motorized robot. I guess you can say I went from layering to slathering. But enough of that for now!

Consider life (deep subject). As we know, life is inundated with ambiguous layerings. Anyone expecting it to be otherwise will be sorely disappointed. For the most part it’s not, “Do you want sugar or cream with your coffee? Or, do you want some pie with your coffee?” Life is not served up that easy, and most of the times the choices are not that simple.

Since the month of December, 2012, and the beginning of 2013, much of our national news has centered on life slathered with ambiguity. Consider, we know we need to do something to make our schools, and society in general, more safe from gun violence. Thus the roaring debate over gun laws! We look into the faces of parents who lost children at Sandy Hook Elementary, and then we look in the face of those who feel very strongly about protecting 2nd Amendment rights. Just days on the heel of the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut, there began the Fiscal Cliff hoorah! Congress, whose popularity, is just below having a root canal, began determining who would pay more taxes and at the same time raising the anxiety level of those who would/could pay more taxes. But wait! On top of that, was another layering–how to insure that the poor, Social Security recipients and the elderly do not suffer from a reduction in their much-needed social services. Yes, life is layered with ambiguity! There’s a whole lot of slathering going on.

However, let’s lay aside those layering/slathering issues for a moment. Consider the World of Sports. What a slathering mess! In the last few days, sports enthusiasts have heard the 7 time World Champion of the Tour de France admit to doping. Issues of trust and integrity and honesty and anger and hurt have swirled in the sports world, not to mention those who have experienced great harm as a result of Lance Armstrong’s coup de gras (yes, L.A. really finished himself off) News of late has focused on the Heisman-nominee from Notre Dame–Manti Te’o. Here is a young man almost drowning in all the slather smeared on him! It must feel like you’ve been tossed in a wringer washing machine (I’ve already written about that in a previous blog)! And what about the millions who see athletes as role models. I mean, consider little six-year-old Jack Pinto, one of the 20 children killed at Sandy Hook Elementary. Little Jack Pinto idolized wide-receiver Victor Cruz of the New York Giants. When Little Jack was buried, he was buried in a Victor Cruz New York Giants football jersey. Quoting a news article, it said, “On Sunday, wide receiver Victor Cruz, who was Jack’s idol and ‘hero,’ honored the boy by writing his name on both his cleats and gloves with the inscription “R.I.P Jack Pinto” and “My Hero.” And now, as young Jack is laid to rest, he will find peace wearing Cruz’s jersey.” http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/17/jack-pinto-noah-pozner-funeral_n_2316400.html)

Which brings us to another slathering–Grief. Grief has many faces as we are reminded in Edgar Newman Jackson’s book, The Many Faces of Grief. Another thing, none of us are exempt from experiencing grief. It is not an exemption anyone can claim, like claiming an exemption on a tax form. Wouldn’t it be nice if such a form existed where there was a box to check: check here if exempt from grief. Such a line not exist!

Being a Christian who believes in Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior, I know Jesus Christ was not exempt from the layering/slathering that came with being God in human form. His life was layered with the needs of the world clamoring at his feet, needs that begged for healing (the poor, the lame, the deaf, the broken-hearted), needs that begged for understanding in the form of forgiveness and restoration of people’s dignity, needs that came from those who “just didn’t get it, couldn’t get it or wouldn’t get it. (religious authorities, apathetic government leaders, and yes, even the “duh-ciples”) Thanks Leonard Sweet for that coined description of the followers of Jesus).

Of course, it didn’t matter whether those layered/slathered with oppressive needs or prejudices or lack of knowledge, etc., every person mattered and every person matters to God! You matter to God!! And, while layering/slathering life-experiences come our way, just as there is no exempting God’s love for us, there is no expiration-date on God’s love. As I’ve heard it said time and time again, “God loves you and there is nuthin’ you can do about it.”

So here we are: a bundle of layering/slathering life experiences and God’s love. What are we to do? PRAY. I can hear some saying with tongue in cheek, “Yeah! Right Spurlock!”

Well, I know this, we are not God! We are not God’s Son. We are children of God, who loves to hear us pour out our praise and thanksgiving, our pleas for others and our needs vocalized. I know God must enjoy conversation with us because as a father, I enjoy conversation with my children. PRAY.

Jesus, after long days of healing people, teaching people, feeding people, forgiving people, confronting people, he would withdraw to lonely places to pray, to spend time with God, to be restored, to be renewed, to have frank conversations with God and to surrender to God (Matthew 14:22-23; Matthew 26:36-46) Jesus prayed.

May we add this simple prayer to our prayers (whenever we say them):

Lord, un-layer us, please, Lord, un-slather us. Amen.

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There is a reason why I named my blog SinnersRow. There is always a place here for each of us. So, thanks for stopping by! Would you like a cup of coffee before you go?

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