Monday, October 26, 2015

Calling Dr. Jesus

"Jesus answered them, 'It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.'" (Luke 5:31)  

It's an occasion that most people will experience many, many times over the course of their lives. You get a sniffle, you go. You have a non-stop gut churning headache, you go. You break out in hives, you go. You break something, you go. You cut something, you go. You do this, you do that, you do the other, you go, you go, you go.  In fact, there may come more than one season in your life where you feel like you see your doctor more than you see anyone else ..... and for that, aren't we very thankful. For those of us who live outside the borders of most third world countries, going to the doctor's office or to a hospital is one of the first things we do when we get sick or injured. Whether you live in a small town or a gigantic metropolis, most people in the United States are just a few miles away in any direction from a good doctor, clinic, or hospital. Although the members of the male species may be a tad bit more hard-headed than their female counterparts and tend to wait a little longer before going, let a man or woman get sick enough and eventually they go looking for someone who can help them feel better again. It just stands to reason, you get hungry, you go to the store. You want to be educated, you go to school. Your car breaks down, you go to a mechanic. You get sick, you go to the doctor.  These decisions are really self explanatory.  It's not brain surgery ..... which of course would require a doctor too  :) 

Much like a doctor's office or a hospital, for most of us there are multiple churches just a stones throw away from where we live in any direction. And again, whether you live in a small, rural village or a booming, congested city, most people have a literal buffet of church choices ..... or yet better, perhaps I should say "hospital choices". According to the passage of Scripture above, Christ likened his existence (and that of his followers) to that of a medical doctor. Although we read of very few physicians in the Bible,  (Luke being one of them),  it would seem that Jesus would have a pretty good grasp on how to heal a physically sick body since, as God, he was the one who created human bodies in the first place. A person doesn't have to read very far into the New Testament at all before they see the Son of God healing people from all sorts of physical abnormalities, ailments, and disabilities. And yet, as important and as sought after as the healing of our physical bodies is,  Jesus indicates in his red words that the greatest healing that can be sought after is that of a spiritual nature. It's one thing to heal the physical hurts of a broken body that can lead to a better existence on this side of Heaven. It's an entirely different thing to heal the unseen hurts of a spiritual body that can lead to an eternal existence on the other side of Heaven. 

All that being said, it would seem that a fairly accurate litmus test for churches in determining how well they are operating as a "hospital" would be the following simple statement ...... "How many sick people are in your church on a regular basis?" I'm not talking about those folks with a cast on their arm or a bandage around their head, nor am I speaking about those who come into church in a wheel chair or on a walker. I mean how many people seek out your church when their lives are as low as they have ever been?  How many want to turn on their emergency lights on their vehicle and get to your church as quickly as possible when they find themselves in the middle of major life trauma? Is your church the first place people think about when their marriage is on the rocks, when their finances are bottoming out, when their addictions have become relentless, when they have endless struggle with homosexuality or heterosexuality, when they can feel nothing but darkness because of mental issues and struggles ...... when they feel lost, when they feel shame, when they feel abandoned, when they feel abused, when they feel unnecessary, when they feel unacceptable, when they feel like a burden, when they feel confused, when they feel lonely, when they feel heartache, when they feel disappointed, when they feel like a failure or simply when they feel let down by God and anyone else who ever claimed they loved and cared about them? When people in your community feel all those emotions and a million more, in other words, when they feel sick, do they feel they can seek out help in your church (hospital)? 

In far too many cases the answer for many churches around the world will be "No". You see we have been conditioned in today's modern church to believe that we are only acceptable to associate with God and his people once we are healed from our sicknesses, whatever they may be. We have been conditioned to say to a prospective church member something along the following line ..... "We would love to have you. We really would. As soon as you get your life straightened out we will have a seat waiting on you.  For you see, the rest of us here in this church have it figured out. We are healed. We aren't wounded any longer and we are afraid that if you bring your sickness in here that someone might become infected with it also. We sorta like to keep it quarantined around here. You know, sanitized. We like things how we like it and if we allow you to come in here with all your baggage then it just might change how we do business. And frankly, we like how we do business. We would prefer not to have to hold your hand as you walk through situations that could possibly become messy. We would rather not get involved. We would just as soon not have to get our hands dirty.  So, again, we love you, we really do. And yes, you are welcomed here ..... as soon as you aren't sick any longer. Come back when you are better and you will find arms opened wide."

According to Jesus, His church is the place people should run to when they are at their sickest. His church is the place people should run to when they are at their lowest. His church is the place people should run to when they are hanging on by a thread. His church is the place people should run to when they feel they have no where else to go. His church is the place people should run to when they are sick and need healing. The Bible says that Jesus came to "seek and to save that which is lost". (Luke 19:10) As churches, are we happy and content to house only those that are well and found? Or, as hospitals, are we open and welcoming to those who are sick and lost? The Apostle Paul wrote that we have "all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God". (Romans 3:23) I'm afraid many of us have developed amnesia and forgotten that we were once sick too ..... which of course, makes us just as sick as anyone else in the hospital. 

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Coming out of the closet .....

To say that the last several weeks have produced events that were a tad bit globally newsworthy would be like saying that Michael Jordan once had a "tad bit" of jumping ability or that Bill Gates has a "tad bit" of wealth. Indeed, unless you have been under a rock or perhaps excommunicated from social media altogether, you would probably agree that we have recently been inundated with extraordinary occasions of being drawn to that which makes front page news. Regardless of which side of any of these issues you may find yourself, recent events have at the very minimum stirred the emotions of our culture unlike anything in year's past.

Nearly 4 decades ago in 1976 the world was mesmerized by the feats of an American male athlete named Bruce Jenner.  During the Summer Olympics of that year in Montreal, Canada, Jenner won the gold medal in the competition that many would describe as the most difficult in the Olympic Games. At the conclusion of all 10 track and field events of the Decathlon, Jenner stood alone on the top tier of the world's greatest sporting stage and was transformed into the ultimate "Alpha-male". He soon became a household name becoming the spokesperson for everything from Wheaties to sporting gear to automobiles. Jenner was also thrust into the world of Hollywood and made numerous guest appearances over the years on a number of different television shows. In recent years Bruce Jenner has probably been best known for his role on the reality show "The Kardashians", but alas, much to the chagrin of some and the joy of others, now Bruce Jenner has gone into "the closet" as "Bruce" ..... and has come back out of "the closet" as "Caitlyn".  This former Olympian's recent decision has shed a greater light on "coming out of the closet" perhaps more so than ever before in history. Read on.

"Coming out of the closet" is a phrase that is generally associated with a situation where an individual, who most have perceived as a heterosexual person, announces or reveals in some public way that they are rather a homosexual, bi-sexual, transgender, etc.  The culmination of many things can cause a person to decide to "come out of the closet", and yet regardless of what those things might be, the common thread through it all is the weariness of that person feeling as though they have been living a lie. Through it all there is the burden of trying to be what everyone else expects that person should be. Through it all there is the fear of what others might think if they actually knew the truth. Through it all there is the very valid concern that once "out of the closet", friendships will be lost, families will be fractured, and the future will be uncertain. And yet, in spite of the reasons above and I'm sure many more, there are undoubtedly countless people who "come out of the closet" every single day. There are undoubtedly countless people who decide to roll the dice and become transparent and honest. I don't care who you are or which side of the debate you dig in, at the very minimum you have to give those who "come out of the closet" credit for having a certain measure of courage, realizing that their decision of revealing who they really are could cost them everything, and everyone, that ever meant anything.

There would be some who would question me using the word "courage" when referring to a person "coming out of the closet". There would be some who would say that "courage" is a word that should be reserved and used when defining the character of a soldier who fights for the freedom's of his/her country ..... and I couldn't agree more. Some others would say that the word "courage" should be used when describing the good and honorable folks who are police officers, firefighters, emergency medial personnel, etc. ..... and I couldn't agree more. Still others would say that the word "courage" should be used when identifying those people both young and old who battle debilitating diseases every single day, those warriors who spent more of their time in a hospital than at home with most every minute of their lives having to fight that which is destroying their health and the ability to have a pain-free existence ..... and I couldn't agree more.   All that being said, it would be my opinion that those who "come out of the closet" also have a certain measure of courage also ..... and many, many times "coming out of the closet" has absolutely nothing to do with being gay. Let me explain .....

I once knew a preacher who many years ago decided during the course of one of his sermons that he would be open and honest with his congregants. He shared with his church family the fact that at one time he had struggled with alcoholism. In other words, he "came out of the closet". He went on to share some of his experiences that had lead to his use of alcohol and then explained that it was no longer the problem for him that it once was.  To his delight there were many people who were deeply touched by his transparency and who appreciated his desire to let them know that he was just as "real" as they were. And yet, amongst those who appreciated the preacher's honesty about his own struggles were others who were appalled that he would have shared his personal struggles of the past.  "How dare he share such a thing from a pulpit" went through the minds of, and out of the mouths of, more than just a few. Regardless of what your definition of it is, it took a great deal of courage for that man to stand up in front of the church he served and verbalize his vulnerability while all full well knowing that it would change how some people thought about him. "Coming out of the closet" as an alcoholic had it's virtues as well as it's pitfalls, and there was no way to know how many of each there would be.

So here is the thing. "Coming out of the closet" isn't just a "gay thing"..... it's a "human thing". There are many of you who sit in front of a computer or hold a tablet while reading this and you are just as "in the closet" as anyone has ever been. Oh, you may be as heterosexual as they come, but, just as soon as you get done reading my ramblings you already have a long list of pornography sites that you are prepared to visit, just like you do countless times every day ..... behind a closed "closet door". There are others of you who after reading these words will go to your kitchen and retrieve something in liquid form that will help you cope or deal with whatever happens to be currently ailing you. In fact, many of you will retrieve enough of that liquid that it will cause you to verbally, physically, mentally, or sexually abuse the very ones that God has entrusted you to protect. Or, you may very well go swallow a pill, stick a needle in your arm, or inhale a line of dust or illegal vapor ..... all behind a closed "closet door".  There is another silent segment of you who feel the burden of a religion or theology that is no longer yours. You go through the motions and speak the party lines while yet having lost the true passion of such a long long time ago. You continue denying the feelings in the depth of your soul to accommodate the feelings of everyone else around you. You feel as if though you are in a spiritual black hole that is continually perpetuated by the mundane and habit. You feel bound by heavy chains of religious bondage ..... all behind a closed "closet door". Of course we couldn't even begin to discuss the tremendous amount of (and widely accepted) pre-marital and extra-marital sex that goes on "behind closed closet doors" in every corner of the world. If time would allow I could list a multitude of other "behind closed closet door" activities that take place in the lives of those people who you would never dream of doing such things. The Apostle Paul was spot on when he said "For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God". (Romans 3:23) Chances are, more of those sins are committed "behind closed closet doors" than any other place. And chances are, you probably have as many of those "closet doors" in your life as I do mine ...... a bunch.

So, what do we do? Do we continue living a lie? Do we continue walking about town and through church doors pretending that we have it all together? Do we continue fabricating smiles to hide the deep pain that perpetually exists? Do we continue saying the right things and going to the right places in hopes that those right things and right places will hide who we truly are? Do we continue living out a life of perceived problem free hypocrisy? You have to answer those questions for yourself as do I. And yet, if handled in an appropriate and balanced way, your answers to those questions could bring you a tremendous amount of freedom and healing. I am certainly not suggesting nor advocating that we all just air out every single bit of dirty laundry that exists in our lives. I am certainly not suggesting that we throw complete caution to the wind and jump out in front of everybody as naked as the day we were born. Please, please for the love of all that's good, don't do that. What I am suggesting is that we all begin to self identify those harmful things that we do behind our own "closed closet doors". Only you can identify that which threatens your relationship with not only those whom you love but also the precious relationship with your Heavenly Father.  Once you do that here is the tricky part ..... come out of the closet.

Again, I'm certainly not suggesting that you take to the social media airwaves and fling open your closet door. What I am suggesting though is that perhaps you seek out a support group of some kind. I am suggesting that you seek out people who have like-precious-struggles. You seek out those who hurt the way you hurt, struggle the way you struggle, are dependent the way you are dependent, and are weak the way you are weak. Try to find others who cry the tears you cry, ache the way you ache and teeter the way you teeter.  Find others who understand what it is to live behind your closet door because they have lived behind the same one of their own.

If you choose this journey it will not be easy. There is nothing initially painless about "coming out of the closet".  There will be some difficulty. There will be some anxiety. There will be some apprehension. There will be some fear. There will be some uncertainty. And here is the deal ..... all of those concerns are associated with how we feel people may treat us after they find out which closet we have come out of. Always remember, your true unconditional friends will be your true unconditional friends. Period. Regardless. In spite of. Whatever your closet might be will have no negative effect on those friendships. In fact, often times your "coming out of the closet" will create an even deeper bond in an already healthy relationship. There will be some others who you thought were friends who will fall by the wayside as a result of you "coming out of the closet".  And it will be OK. I promise. God will send you all the additional people you need to help you in a very healthy way navigate the journey you are on.  He will not leave you alone.

So, it's time. Identify whatever you have to identify. Acknowledge whatever you have to acknowledge. Face whatever you have to face. Grab that doorknob and open the door ......

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Crystal & Alyssa -- A community's common love

At our most basic and humanistic level, 99% of us are selfish. Bigtime selfish. Oh we may not come right out and say it and some of us are pretty good at hiding it, but at the end of the day we just kinda want things the way we want it. We want everything on our timetable to our exact specifications and we want everyone to agree to the same. We want the satisfaction of getting our way at home, at play, at work and at church. We want everyone to agree with us, coddle us, and generally just play by our rules. And, by golly, if by some chance if even one of those things don't fall into place like it should, well, we will just take our ball and go home. So there. 

But.....every now and then something happens to pull the rest of us back to the other 1%. Something happens to me to make me forget about me and focus on someone outside of me. Sometimes that "something" is a really happy "something" that pretty much gets 100% of us pulling for the same thing, team or person (i.e. the Olympics). It could be something like a community rallying around a new business in the area or celebrating a group of teenagers as they walk across a stage and say "goodbye" to classmates they have gone to school with for 12 years. It could be a town gathering together to welcome home their local heroes who have been halfway around the world defending the freedoms that they enjoy. Those moments and others tend to help us focus on a common goal, on a common cause, on a common thing that we are all thankful for. Those are the moments that put a smile on our face and a song in our hearts. Those are the moments that unify the masses. 

But then there are those other times. There are those times when the masses are unified just the same but it's the result of heartache and pain as opposed to joy and celebration. The last few days our little community has experienced such a time. On Monday afternoon a 41 year old local hero was laid to rest after a 7+ year battle with cancer. In the minds of many Hickman Countians, Crystal Fitts became the "face of the fight against that stupid C word". Crystal valiantly allowed us into her world via Facebook, blogs, and community events. She and her husband Danny, along with their two children, showed us what it was to truly have courage and persistence in spite of overwhelming odds. Initially told she would be lucky to live 3 more years, Crystal refused to give up and lived more than double that. She and her family were able to rally this community in so many ways and unify us as her own support staff and encouragement pool. The fact of the matter is, most of us probably received far more encouragement from her than she ever did us. She unified us. We all wanted her to win. And guess what? She did win. As a Christ follower she has now gained that glorious prize that God promised her in His Word. We mourn for her family. We celebrate for her. 

As I type this I don't know that I have ever seen or experienced our community be more unified for one single cause than that of our plight and prayer for the recovery and healing of Alyssa Aydelott. Facebook is flooded with prayers of positivity and words of encouragement to the Wright and Aydelott families. Local business signs are making a plea for people to make a plea to Almighty God on Alyssa's behalf. It seems on a second to second basis that every church and household within the borders of Hickman County and beyond speak her name to the Great Physician in the sky. Through a set of tragic circumstances, a precious teenage girl has brought our community together unlike any other time in recent memory. We have been unified in our cause and are common in our petitions. We are unified in the belief that God has the power and capability to heal Alyssa fully and completely. We now patiently wait.

The situations Crystal and Alyssa and their families have found themselves in have proved something almost miraculous to me. These two girls have brought us all together. All people. All races. All genders. All denominations. All affiliations. Barriers have been diminished. Borders have been demolished. Isn't it amazing to see what can be done when we focus on a common and unified goal? Isn't it amazing what can be done when we channel all our positive energy toward the same receptor? Isn't it amazing what begins to happen when as a collective unit we stop worrying about "us" and begin worrying about "them"? Perhaps unbeknownst to them, Crystal and Alyssa have begun a long needed unity movement in Hickman County, TN. Bless their sweet hearts for being the reason for it to begin. Shame on us if we ever allow it to end. 

May God's richest blessings and deepest peace be upon the Fleming, Fitts, Aydelott & Wright families. You are on the minds and in the hearts of us all. 

"A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken." (Ecclesiastes 4:12)

Monday, April 6, 2015

No lines in the sand here ......

I mean, seriously.....we can't even agree on which brand of body wash to purchase or whether we should buy creamy or chunky peanut butter. You would think after having been joined at the hip for some 30 years now that we would be finishing each other's sentences, reading each other's mind, and generally be able to communicate telepathically. You would think that after a relationship of 3 decades that Angie and I would agree on every single thing in life. In short, you would think that she would perpetually see things my way and always agree on how I want to do them. But alas, she just hasn't caught on yet. As a result we have to compromise every now and then. As a result we have to bend every now and then. As a result we have to be flexible every now and then. As a result we have to agree to disagree every now and then. As a result we have to remember that even though we are a married couple, that we are still individuals and are just not gonna agree on everything..... no matter how right I am. Pray for her.

Even though my wife and I don't agree on every single thing in life, I still love her. I still respect her. I still want the very best for her. I still wish for her happiness in health, wealth, and mind. I still want to encourage her in all that she does and more than anything else in the entire world I certainly still want her to go to heaven. In relation to the last part of the last sentence, did I mention anywhere above that every now and then she and I even disagree on things that are Biblical. Yep. She reads a particular passage and comes away thinking one thing and I read the same said passage and come away thinking something different. It may not be completely different. It may just be a hairs worth of difference. But, our interpretation is still not 100% in agreement. I know, I know what you are thinking. Just give her time. Sooner or later she will get it right and come over to my side. So until then, here's what I think I will do.....I'm gonna kick her out of the house. Seriously. I'm gonna take all her clothes and all her make-up and all the rest of her stuff and toss it out onto the yard. Yes sir. That will teach her. I will set up a time every few days when she can come visit the kids and that new grand baby of hers. Then, when she finally comes to her senses and sees things the way that I see them, I will restore our relationship the way it once was. That's the way rational people do it. Right?

Now c'mon. How stupid does that sound? (Yes I used the "S" word so don't let your kids read this) Indeed it sounds "the 'S' word", doesn't it? So if it sounds stupid in that scenario then why doesn't it sound stupid in other scenarios as well? Why doesn't the same irrational situation apply when people disagree on how the Bible is to be interpreted? Why doesn't the same idiotic situation apply when people draw combative lines in the sand because one person sincerely believes one thing and another person sincerely believes another thing regarding a passage that may or may not even have anything to do with "matters of salvation". And we aren't talking about disagreeing on the right/wrong on issues like murder and rape. No, we are talking about issues where very Biblical arguments can be made giving good affirmative evidence for the validity of both sides. We are talking about issues that may have as much to do with culture and secular history as it does with what the Bible has to say about it. Sometimes the difference of theology might have to do with what version of the Bible someone is using. Sometimes the difference of theology might have to do with the religious upbringing of someone. Sometimes the difference of theology might have to do with some type of traumatic personal situation of someone's past. Whatever the reason for the difference of theology is, do we seriously, I mean seriously, believe that God intends, desires, commands and expects for us to toss everything from all such relationships onto the proverbial yard and be done with them until they "come to their senses"? (Which of course means believe it the way that I believe it)

Let me answer that one for you. Many folks in the religious world would answer in the affirmative to that last question. They would say "Yes, we are to be done with them until they wise up and begin doing things the way God wants them to". (Which means doing things the way they do them) I was sadly once one of those people. Back in the day I would have no problem "fellowshipping" during the week (work with, play ball with, have meals with, etc) with those who I had religious differences with. During the week they were just one of the guys or one of the gals and we had a big time. But, once Sunday rolled around, somehow they were no longer "one of the guys or one of the gals". No, then all of a sudden they were "one of THOSE guys or one of THOSE gals". You know......the ones who are lost. The ones who are completely in error regarding their interpretation of major passages of Scripture. The ones who are headed down the "broad way". The ones who are going to hell. 6 days a week we were pals. 1 day a week we were enemies. Or at least that's what I gathered from much of the preaching/teaching I heard at various churches. So of course, when I began preaching, like a parrot I began spouting out verbatim much of the venom that I had ingested as a pew baby. For that I have since long ago asked God's forgiveness and have tried to repair the bridges that I have had part in tearing down.

I recently read of a minister whose grandfather had disowned him because of their theological difference of interpretation regarding a Biblical passage. One theological difference. ONE. I gathered from the article that the grandfather and grandson agreed on 99% of what they believed the Bible taught except for one single thing. But, for that grandfather, the one single thing was a serious line in the sand. So serious in fact that the grandfather completely cut off all ties with his grandson. Told him he never wanted to have anything to do with him again. Told his grandson that he was no longer welcome in his home. Told him he never wanted to see or hear from him again....until he changed what he believed on that one thing. THAT ONE THING. I'm sure God is pleased. Not.

There are many, many people in the world that these words will resonate with. And for them.....for you....I am so very sorry. I will also say this about people like the grandfather above. I believe with all my heart that most folks like him are the most well-intentioned and deeply convicted people on the face of the earth. I believe that most folks like the grandfather above do love the very people they push away. I certainly don't agree with those hurtful lines of demarcation drawn in the sand, but as hard as it may be for some to believe, I do believe those who draw the lines are very good people. Sadly, scores of people are pushed away from Jesus by the very people who claim to follow him.

In 2009 I determined that I would no longer be like the grandfather above. Since 2009 I have had many people in my life do things, say things, write things, preach things, and teach things that did not correlate 100% with what I may have believed. But you know what? I didn't draw any lines then.....and I'm not gonna draw any lines now. I figure those people around me are doing just like me. I figure they are doing the best they can with what they know at the time. Now, those things they believe may very well change. They may change because of more study. They may change because of an alteration of life. They may change because of a 1000 other reasons. But, regardless of whether they change over "to my side" or not, as long as they believe in Jesus Christ as their Savior, then they are my brother/sister in Christ. Period. End of story. I also have friends who question the very existence of God. They are not even sure they believe any of the Gospel Story. And you know what? I'm gonna love em. Period. End of story. I'm gonna love em because they are fellow human beings. I'm gonna love em because I know that God loves them whether they love Him or not. I'm gonna love them just the same either way. I will encourage them just the same either way. I figure if there is even an ounce of hope of me being able to proselytize them to Christianity, that it sure won't happen by me drawing lines in the sand. It will only happen by me being nice to them. It will only happen by me trying to understand their views and what circumstances lead them to their views. It will only happen by me, at the very least, sometimes having to simply "agree to disagree". It will only happen by me treating them the way I believe I'm supposed to treat them. You know. The way Jesus would :)

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Pimple Theology

There was a timespan when I was in high school that I had acne. Bad acne. "Not wanting to get out of bed and go to school" bad acne. "Feeling embarrassed, ashamed, and extremely ugly" bad acne. "Praying to the dear Lord above that my face would clear up at least a little bit for school picture day" bad acne. Now granted, I know there were folks at HCHS whose complexion may have been worse than mine, but as far as I was concerned, there were days during my adolescence where I felt like the "Creature from the Black Lagoon" would have destroyed me in a beauty contest. (If you are under 40 years of age you will have to google that one) I remember a few occasions where some pretty hurtful things were said about me because of the less than clear surface of my skin. Yes, 30 years later I still remember what was said. I remember who said it. I remember where it was said. In my mind I can go back to the mid-80's just like it was yesterday. You know what else I remember? I remember wanting to be anyone else other than me. I would have traded places with so many people if I had been given the chance. And you know what else? It wasn't the richer kids that I wanted to trade places with or the more athletic kids that I wanted to trade places with or the smarter kids that I wanted to trade places, I wanted to trade places with the kids who didn't have to go through a whole tube of Clearasil in a day. I wanted to trade places with the kids who didn't have to daily dread facing the world with red splotches all over their face. I wanted to trade places with the kids who didn't feel out of place because of stupid pimples on their face. I hated it. I hated it. I hated it. I felt ugly, unacceptable, and unloveable. I seriously felt like a leper. Repulsive. Grotesque. Almost monster-ish. You may think that I am over blowing this a bit. Let me tell you, I'm being very conservative with my words here. Just ask anyone else who walked in the same Chuck Taylors that I did. They will tell you some of the same things. They will tell you there were days that they too wished they could be anyone other than the one they were.

Now 3 decades later my complexion is much clearer, but alas my hair is much grayer. (I'm not sure if that's an even trade or not) I will tell you what else has changed since my teenage years.....I don't want to change places in life with anybody. Seriously. There is not one person who I would trade lives with even if I could. Sure there are richer, more successful, more talented, more "everything" people out there but I don't want their life....I want mine....The one God has laid out for me.....With the people God has sent to me. Now I would be lying if I didn't say that I might would like to live the lives of some other people for a day or two, but to completely change lives altogether? No thanks. I will keep the one I have. You know why I feel that way? Because I now like being me. The me that's not perfect. The me that still says things I shouldn't say. The me that sometimes thinks things I shouldn't think. The me that every now and then makes some really bone-headed and stupid decisions. The me who I've become because of the experiences that 45 years of living life have brought me. You know why else I like me? Because God has blessed me with an abundance of people who seem to like me in spite of me being me. They are the unconditional people who encircle me. They are the people who love me as I am which gives me permission to do the same. 

As one of my buddies says about himself, I have been a "pew baby" pretty much my entire life. In other words, there have not been many Sundays during my earthly existence where I have not been in a worship service somewhere. I have learned many, many things in 45 years worth of Sundays in church. I would not hesitate to say that most of those things that I learned were very positive and have helped to influence who I am as an adult today. That being said, if "most" of those things were positive, that would leave a little room for a few things that were not so positive. It has always interested me that in some (probably most) churches/fellowships there are certain unspoken rules. You know, rules that aren't posted anywhere on the pages of the tracts in the foyer or in some special box in the weekly bulletin. I am satisfied that even though I haven't visited them all, that most all religious tribes have their own set of unspoken rules, and in fact, many of the same rules cross denominational lines and are found in a host of different religious bodies. In other words, I guess as seasoned followers of Christ we all have our own "sacred cows" that we are ultra passionate about. 

One of those sacred slabs of beef is seemingly the expectation from the religious folk that all desired church goers have to have their lives in tip-top shape before they can cross the holy threshold of the front door of a house of worship. In other words, you have to have it all together before you can come worship with people who appear to have it all together. To my shame, in my preaching past, I'm sure there have been times where, in all sincerity, I have made folks feel such an amount of shame about the sin in their lives that they felt they wouldn't be welcome in any worship service until they and God were on better terms. I'm sure that I, and other preachers/elders/deacons/leaders/teachers/members, assisted people in falsely believing that God expected them to completely clean up their language, their thoughts, their past, their heart, their mind, their decision making, their theology, their "everything that had anything unGodly about it" before they would be allowed to fellowship with the righteous of this world. In essence, we have told them or at the very least lead them to believe that we want them to become somebody else before they can worship with us. We want them to remove all the worldly-pimples of their lives before they sit on a pew/chair beside of us. Then, once all their baggage has been tossed to the side, all their problems solved, all their addictions cured, all their mistakes corrected....then and only then will they be made to feel that they belong amongst those of us who have completely and totally left sin behind. As if.....

The Bible that I read says that the Savior that I serve didn't have such an attitude about the general population of this world. Jesus didn't expect people to change overnight things that had been engrained over many years. Jesus didn't expect people to completely straighten up and fly right the moment they decided to take a shot at following the true Messiah. Jesus wanted people to just show up and give it a try.....pimples and all. I mean think about it. If most of us could have changed our lives without Jesus we would have done so a long time ago, thus not needing Jesus to begin with. So therefore, it's time we get the horse back before the cart. Let's let Jesus lead. Let's just invite folks to come to worship, warts, pimples and all. Let's tell them to "come as they are" and truly mean it. Not necessarily come to church in pajamas "come as you are" but come to church with all your baggage, problems and mistakes "come as you are". Let's invite people to come to worship "as they are" and then let the love of Jesus and his followers begin to impact them for a permanent, positive life-alteration. Slowly, but steadily. Perhaps at a snails pace but at a positive pace nonetheless. Let's let Jesus work on 'em, us love on 'em, and God save 'em. If you don't feel comfortable putting "Pimps, Prostitutes, and Pushers WELCOME HERE" on your church sign, you better check to see if Jesus is even welcome there. I can assure you....if the pimps, prostitutes, and pushers aren't welcome there, then Jesus won't be either. 

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Understanding not understanding

Sometimes you have to understand that people just aren't gonna understand. You also have to understand in that instance that it's ok for them to not understand. It doesn't make them bad people because they don't understand you.  It also doesn't make you a bad person because they don't understand you. Do you understand?

I have been a Michael Jordan fan my entire life. Growing up I collected everything that I could get my hands on that had anything to do with him......magazines, t-shirts, shoes, posters, even that awful cologne......if he was tied to it, I had to have it. There were many others in the MJ brotherhood with me who completely understood and shared my fascination with the man wearing number 23 in the Bulls uniform who would fly through the air from the free throw line with his tongue sticking out. But then there were those other folks who couldn't understand my borderline obsession with the man from Wilmington, NC. And you know what? It was OK that they didn't understand. It certainly didn't make me like them any less and I hope it didn't make them like me any less. That much, I understood. 

My future son in law has tattoos ..... lots and lots of tattoos. He also has gauges in his earlobes. Some people would look at Wes from a distance and not understand why he would have done such things to his body. Others might look at him and find a great connection with him because they too have tattoos and ear piercings. You want to know what I think about Westen's body art and the holes in his ears? I don't think a thing about it. Here is what I think about. I think about the fact that he loves my daughter and granddaughter with every fiber of his being. I think about the fact that he is a hard worker and is going to provide a decent and honorable living for his family. I think about the fact that he has a heart as good as pure gold and that he would do anything for anyone at anytime if they needed his help. That's what I think. Do I have to understand everything he does? Nope. Just take care of my babies and love em. That's all I need to understand. 

Sometimes you have to understand that people just aren't gonna understand. Several weeks ago as a small group of us began the discussions of the possibility of planting a new church in Hickman County, I understood that some people wouldn't understand our desire to do so.....and that's ok. You see I have been on the side of being misunderstood many, many times before now. Communication has not always been one of my strong suits, so therefore I have in times past said and written things that maybe didn't come across exactly as I meant for them to. I have come to realize that people can't see facial expressions, experience emotion and absorb genuine intent into many of the things that are simply typed on a keyboard and then sent out for the whole world to see. My participation in the beginning of Hope Church has brought about some of the same "I don't understand" reactions from some really, really good people.....people of whom I have great respect and love for. To this point in my journey with Hope Church I have only received one "I'm writing this letter to you in love" letter. In times past I have received such letters that were self-identified as such but were nothing of the sort. My most recent letter in this category though was absolutely one of the best letters I have ever received. It was sent from a person who I respect dearly and love wholly. And I can tell you this, every word written in that letter was written with the most sincere attitude possible and a genuine care and concern for me and my family. The person who sent me the letter sent it out of a place of their not understanding my motives and willingness to be a part of a new church start-up. There are some letters that I have learned to not respond to....but this isn't one of them, because it was written by a good person with a good motive out of a good heart. I sent a return letter trying to respond to their concerns as best and as honestly as I could. I hope that perhaps they will better understand my involvement with Hope Church after they read my letter, but you know what? Even if they don't come to any better level of understanding, that's ok cause I'm gonna love em anyway. 

It has occurred to me as I have gotten older that many times we allow our fear of being misunderstood keep us from doing things that we should be doing.....whether it be things of this world or things that pertain to the world yet to come. Who is to say how many inventions will never be invented, how many novels will never be written, how many relationships will never be initiated, how many careers will never be chosen, how many spiritual paths will never be mapped out because of the fear that others might not understand why those things were done, or at least attempted. I am a people pleaser by nature. I want folks to always understand and accept my motivations for the decisions that I make. I know though, that bar is set way too high. Folks won't always understand and accept my motivations ..... and that's ok. I understand that they won't always understand. This much I also know, God loves me and he knows what is truly in my heart. That much only he can understand. And that's ok too :)

Sunday, January 25, 2015

More than just a song.....

"I'm moving on". From the Rolling Stones to Hank Snow to Rascal Flatts, many recording artists have sang various versions of a song with that very title....."I'm moving on". The mere mention of that phrase is probably tied to at least one deep and heart-etched memory for most every human-being who has walked on the face of this earth. The phrase can be identified with all sorts of transitions in life.....moving on from a job, a relationship, a health condition, a living situation, you name it. "I'm moving on" is one of the few constant common denominators that we have in our lives from the time we take our first breath to the moment we take our last. Sooner or later, we all move on. 

Such has been the state of my family since the final Sunday of November 2014. After 9 of the best years of our lives, Angie and the kids and I began the process of moving on from our ministry work at the Fairfield church of Christ....and what a wonderful work it was. As a family we have been blessed over the years to worship regularly with a number of great congregations. Each of those congregations have loved and encouraged us in ways that we will never forget. We are better people because of the various places where we have worshipped. That being said, the folks at Fairfield found a way to love us to a depth that we never thought could be attained. From first Sunday year 1 to final Sunday year 9, we knew we had become a part of a spiritual family that knew what they were doing in the love and compassion department. No doubt that attitude and atmosphere had been cultivated long before we came. For 65 years and going strong Fairfield has been the church home of some of the best people this community has had to offer. Over the course of the last 9 years we have made life-long friends and deeply embedded memories for which we will forever be grateful. Our love for the Fairfield church of Christ will never waiver and prayers for that good family will continually be on our lips. 

So here we are, moving on. It should go without saying that a great deal of this process for us has been met with much sadness. As with any departure from a relationship of many years, it will take a bit of time for us to transition from the "once was" to the "what's next". Don't get me wrong, we have lots of things in our lives to be thankful for and excited about. Angie is growing her own business as a nail tech, we have a new little granddaughter who we couldn't imagine life without, Kaylee has a new job and is engaged to be married to a good man in a few months, Ruby and Jordan are involved with various activities, making good grades and occasionally working for their mean ole boss down at KayJoe's. Indeed, God has been working overtime on sending blessings to the Pickards. 

There are times when we hear "I'm moving on" and assume that it must mean something negative. I have learned many times in my life that is not always the case....such as ours. I know that every now and then it is overused and may even sound trite, but I do believe that when God closes one door he opens another. I believe God moves us on from one place to others as we are needed. Sometimes God lets us stay a few days and sometimes he might let us stay 9 years or even longer. Whatever the case might be, we need to be reminded that we are here to fulfill God's purpose, not ours. We are here to be plugged into the puzzle he chooses, which may or may not be the one that we want at the time. The interesting thing of the whole deal is that 99.99% of the time, many years later, we realize that God knew exactly what he was doing with all his door opening and closing activity. I already know this will be the case for our family as it has been the case for so many of you. Sometimes you just have to get out of the boat and start moving on..... 

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

It's all I've ever known.....

"It's all I've ever known." You could use this phrase about many aspects of your life. I can too. There are some folks who have never lived anywhere near a paved road. The entirety of their existence has been spent way off the beaten path on some dirt road somewhere in an area of the county where they may be lucky, perhaps, to have one bar of cell signal, and that is only when they walk to the top of the tallest hill on their property and hold the phone up in the air as high as their arm will reach and their tongue stuck out just right. Those same people are able to wake up early in the morning at the same time every day without the use of an alarm clock because they have at least one red-crowned feathered friend who summons them out of a deep sleep almost to the exact second on every morning of every week of every year. Those same people know how to repair fence rows, plant crops, milk cows, slop pigs, cut hay and about a thousand other things, because,'s all they've ever known. Granddaddy did it, daddy did it, and now they do it. It just comes second nature. It's in their blood. They were born into a family of farmers, so by deduction, they are farmers too. 

There are other folks who, when they came into this world as slimy newborn babies, whether they knew it or not, were already fans of a certain sports team before they ever inhaled their first breath of post-womb oxygen. Some of those newborn little people will even live their entire lives having been named after a famous athlete, stadium, mascot or coach. They will spend the rest of their lives wearing certain colors, singing certain fight songs and traveling to certain cities to cheer on a certain team that was their favorite team before they knew they had a favorite team. Most of the time these scenarios take place because mom or dad, or grandma or grandpa just so happen to root for a certain professional or college team. So, in some ways, they were born without a choice. Thus, as a result, sometimes not really always understanding why, people will have a favorite team that they will always pull for until the day that the undertaker lets their box down into the ground. Why? "Because it's all they've ever known." Their grandparents cheered on that team, their parents cheered on that team, so now they cheer on that team. It's just how it works. In fact, I just so happen to have a 15 year old son whose first name is Jordan. I just so happen to have a 20+ year old Chicago Bulls tattoo on my right arm. Go figure that one out. It ain't brain surgery.  

Please keep in mind.....this phenomenon isn't only vocation or hobby specific. There are many other important areas of our lives that are the way they are because of our early-in-life conditioning. Religious preference is certainly another. From the time that my brother and I came into this world, we regularly attended a church of Christ; the Twomey church of Christ to be exact. The reason? Because our mom and dad attended the Twomey church of Christ. And their reason? Because my grandparents attended the Twomey church of Christ. My brother and I attended the Twomey church of Christ until we grew up and moved away to go to college and, in fact, Bart is now back there regularly worshipping again. I have many, many fond memories of growing up in that wonderful church and wouldn't have changed where we went to church at that time for all the tea in China. It was great.....and it was all we had ever known. 

There are many reasons that I could give you for my being a member of the church of Christ, but if totally honest with myself, one of the biggest reasons is simply because I was born into a family that went to the church of Christ. In other words, "It's all I've ever known." Now, as I have traveled through adulthood I have accumulated many more reasons to explain why I stayed a member of the church of Christ. I made my religion "my religion" rather than just continuing to go because "it's just always what momma and daddy did." I'm sure I'm not the only person who would admit to such a spiritual journey. Whoever you are, wherever you attend church, whatever religious preference you claim.....I dare say there is a really good chance you can say the same thing that I did. You are what you are because someone else was what they was.  (That may not be good grammar but you catch my drift:) Now, I do realize that there are also lots of folks where this "my momma did so I did" equation doesn't fit, at least religiously. But I would be willing to bet a BBQ sandwich that there are more folks out there like me than not. 

Many religious groups have a segment of their membership population who hold to a belief that "if you ain't with us, then you ain't with God....and if you ain't with God, then you ain't going to heaven....plain and simple." I used to think some segments of the churches of Christ had that "we are the only ones going to heaven" market all to themselves, but alas I have had Baptist friends and Methodist friends and Pentecostal friends and many, many other church-goin friends say that it's not only some of the c of C's who think that.....most all religious bodies have a certain segment of that mentality. So therefore, if that mode of thinking is theologically correct, and only this group or that group can go to heaven, then by deduction it would mean that really the best determining factor of whether or not someone gets to spend eternity with Jesus is by happenstance of what family the stork dropped them into. It was just complete luck if you fell into one of the privileged families who had it all figured out and were going to heaven. And chances are, the family you were lucky enough to be dropped into practiced the religion they practiced simply because, "It's all they had ever known." 

Is there a good chance that I would be part of another religious group had my parents been part of another religious group? It's almost an absolute surety. Does it mean that there would never be occasion to study the Bible and come up with a different conclusion of where my church membership should be and move it accordingly? Of course not. I know many people who have changed from the religious affiliation of their birth to another. Peter said that we should be "prepared to give an answer for the reason of the hope that is within us" (1 Peter 3:15) I'm frankly not sure how many of us can do that. It would be a fearful situation for many religious folk to have to take a pop test over the foundational aspects of their chosen church affiliation. I'm satisfied that on Sunday many pews worldwide will be full of folks who are what they are in the religious world, and do what they do in the religious world because "it's all they've ever known." They have stopped searching Scripture, they have stopped studying, they have stopped questioning, they have stopped living with spiritual intent. They are simply coasting. They are going through the motions. They have become creatures of habit. They have become satisfied with checking a few boxes on Sunday morning to fulfill their obligation to God and then go about their lives the other 6 days a week without giving their Savior another second thought. It's all they've ever known.....and that's scary. 

I don't want to stand before God on judgment day and, when asked about my spiritual journey on earth, only be able to say, "I did it that way because it's all I ever knew." I want to be able to say that I lived and worshipped and served and encouraged and assisted and on and on and on because I searched and questioned and studied and never was satisfied with ever thinking that I had it all figured out. I want to stand before God with me and God both knowing that I did my dead-level best to be my best. I want to stand before God with me and God both knowing that I never became satisfied and stagnant with my understanding of Holy Scripture. I want to stand before God with me and God both knowing that my earthly spiritual journey was one of many miles traveled and many truths learned. I want to stand before God with me and God both knowing that I was never satisfied with just doing the things I did because "It's all I ever knew." I want God to be proud of me because I never quit trying to know him better. And in the end, that's really all I want to know:)