Monday, May 22, 2017

Surviving Life - A New Blogspot

     A friend of mine, Lisa Moorehead, has just begun a new blog. It's titled "Surviving Life...In loving memory of Ben". For any parent who has ever felt the crushing loss of a child, or whose child is one deeply chained by an addiction, this let's you know you are not alone. The blog is to document Lisa's journey through this process. I would highly recommend it to you at www.lisamoorehead1.blogspot.com.

     The story is as old as time. Adam and Eve lost their son, Abel. Eli lost his sons, Hophni and Phinehas. King David lost his son, Absalom. But these all pale to the willing sacrifice of God's own son, Jesus. Can you imagine the pain and suffering, even knowing the outcome, that God must have gone through, watching and crying through each drop of blood spilled?

     Because of that, I think God feels deeply for others that have lost a child as well. He understands the pain, and wants to be there through the process of healing. There are no miracles to get someone through, but there is always His love. It can be tough trying to accept that love, sometimes even blaming God Himself for the loss, but even in our anger, He waits to love us through.

     If you, or someone you know, has gone through this, please check out Lisa's blog. Thanks!

Friday, May 12, 2017

One Minute After You Die

"Behold, I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed."
- 1st Corinthians 15:51-52

The other day, I saw a tract in the bathroom at work with the title "One Minute After You Die". I did not read it (I'm not in the habit of picking up things left in the bathroom!), but it did set me to thinking. There are several ideas on what happens at death, and I'd like to look at a few here.

One is that death is final and forever. Gone, Kaput, Bye-Bye, Worm food. When the physical self ceases to be, all thought, dreams, likes, dislikes and wants will all end with it. Anything that made up who you were (personality, creativity, your true essence) is forever gone. Not a fan of this mode of thought.

Another is like that, but states that brain activity continues for a short time after death. This would allow for the near-death experiences we hear of, the white light being the electrical impulses still traveling the neurons. Seeing family and friends our memories acting as dreams for one last time. But in the end, the result here is the same as before. Gone. Also not a fan.

Some will admit to the existence of a soul, but believe that soul is reincarnated (comes back) into a different body after death, leaving at most, trace elements of the life it led before. Eventually, when a soul reaches perfection, is sent heavenward. While this would greatly reduce Heavenly overcrowding, what happens to the lives of all those who went before the final reincarnation, each life different and unique? Seems a waste. Not a fan.

So, my thoughts? I think the soul goes on, but that it is separate and unique, just as we are all separate and unique. I believe the soul is eternal, because it is how we are created in God's image, in Spirit. We are also created in His image in body, though, in that He came down to earth in human form. So...what now?

We are told to worship with all our "heart, soul and might". (Deut. 6:5) Mentally, spiritually, physically. Because what happens in one area, will affect the others. In that "One Minute After", I imagine our souls are going to look pretty battered and bruised. But then the unimaginable happens. "We shall be changed". Not from who we are, but INTO who we were meant to be. The personality, the memories, the character, all enhanced by God's gracious love. Made pure, by His Holy Breath, just as we were given life in creation by His Breath. In that "One Minute After", we shall see God as He truly is, and be seen as who we truly are. And the new bodies created to house the perfected souls shall be imperishable. Perfection, without weakness or sickness. Perfect houses for perfected souls.

Your thoughts may differ on the matter. As always, these are "my" Thoughts and Musings. There is even debate on when that change may happen, at death or at Jesus' return. But think on this. On any of the first three, whatever you do, say or think, will eventually be of no consequence. Those things that make you "you" will be gone. If, however, you feel the soul DOES go on, then everything you do to nurture it continues on for eternity. Every act of kindness, thoughtful words, or simple sharing of yourself is carried on forever. And EVEN should that be wrong, your doing so leaves the world a better place.

But it's not wrong. And your soul deserves the care of Christ. Because you are His, not as slaves, but as brothers and sisters. God's own, loved children. Let Him love you deeply, richly, as he so desperately wants to do. Then, love each other as He loves you.

(And if you SHOULD be reincarnated, I hope you never come back as the third verse of a hymn. Those things NEVER get sung!)

Friday, May 5, 2017

JCS to A.HAM - A Musical Oddesy

In the summer of 1973, I listened to a double album that "rocked" my world. At a church retreat, our youth leader played through the soundtrack to "Jesus Christ, Superstar", and went through the different scriptural references in each song. Up until that time, Broadway and Movie Musicals were basically the same; story lines built up to lead the characters into song. (One of the reasons many people don't like musicals, they will say "People don't just burst out into song!" Any musician and their significant other will realize the fallacy of that statement! But I digress.) JCS evened out the playing field by having everything in song, much like an opera.

This was an opera like no other, though. Guitars wailing, drums beating, Ted Neely and Carl Anderson screaming notes so high only dogs should have been able to hear. And the story Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber told became different in their hands. Never again would I hear the story in hushed monotones of Shakespearean English. They put PASSION into the Passion. I will still listen to the soundtrack around Easter each year, and the instrumental section on the crucifixion, led by Andre' Previn's magnificent direction, will still raise goosebumps on my arms.

Fast forward 44 years. Just this week, a friend loaned me a copy of Hamilton: An American Musical. And I was thirteen all over again. The mastery of music telling a true story, the obvious talent in the writing, arranging, and production. And the singers/actors themselves, bringing the story of Alexander Hamilton to life. But what made me go back was the true PASSION with which the story was told. So many times we look at history as only dates and body-less facts. History isn't about the thumb tacked dates on a time line, it's about the lives lived between those dates. The love, the hurt, the joy, the life. And Hamilton brings that out with exuberance.

In that same way, Religion isn't so much about do's and don'ts, rights or wrongs. They are there, yes, to give us a model by which we can live by, but the law is secondary to WHO the law points us too. Just as in History, dates and mere facts are secondary to the lives lived, so are laws meaningless without the LIFE lived, Jesus, for without HIM, there is no salvation. No law can save, only Jesus. The law can help us be more like Him, but only He can make the true transformation.

In the summer of 1973, that began to become real to me in ways I never imagined. The Bible began to turn from a rule book, into a love story, of which I was the object of affection. And I was loved with PASSION. Enough so that God's only begotten son, Jesus, gave His life for me. We will never be perfect, as He is perfect, even though we should strive to perfection. But we are loved. With passion. Let us love Him, and each other, with nothing less.



Friday, April 28, 2017

Love - It's the greatest

So now, faith, hope and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
1st Corinthians 13:13

I'm sorry for the time between posts. Last Friday, I found myself officiating the funeral for a good friend, Roger Matthews. His passing, while not unexpected, came quickly, with friends and family at his side. The day before the funeral, I went to the family house to see what I could offer in the service, what they most wanted to say, and ran into something a little unexpected. While the family was going through Roger's things, they ran across my wedding announcement from 22 years ago! Made on an old Brother Word Processer in 1995, it still looked good as new. (We thought we were pretty on top of technology back then, too!) On the announcement was the familiar quotation from 1st Corinthians 13, a description of true love. They wanted this to be the theme of his service, because, in Roger, the family felt he truly embodied that love.

Well, I'll admit, I've seen the scripture used in plenty of weddings, but not a funeral! As I tried to grasp what I needed to say, I thought back on Roger myself, and listened to stories the family had about him. For me, he was grandfather to my nephew and niece, Trent and Alison, but I was always treated as a family member. For the family, time and time again, there were stories of unselfish giving of himself, thinking about his family first, friends first, others ahead of himself, so many times. And that is what love is about.

He was a man who loved music as well. Born into a musical family, guitar player and wonderful singer and arranger.

Great sense of humor. A story from his sister...As he lay in bed, with family around, the music in the background was slow, sad sounding gospel tunes. As his sister was about to have had enough of the sadness, Roger said, quietly, "Can't y'all put on some rock and roll?"

I got a chance to look at his Bible, an old Revised Standard Version. You can learn a lot about a person from their Bible. This one was well used, the cover worn through in places, and the binding barely holding on to the pages. Inside were MANY notes. Roger had no problems writing in his Bible, and there were underlined passages on almost every page. And the notes he wrote filled in many of the margins, a lot of them with exclamation points! But one thing stood out, in the front of the Bible, were his own handwritten interpretations of two verses of scripture, Romans chapter 8, verses 26 and 28.

26 "Likewise, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groaning too deep for words."

28 "And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good for those who are called according to his purpose."

Under his thoughts on those verses, also handwritten, were the words "The two most wonderful things I can know!"

Love, in that 1st Corinthians 13 sense, is impossible to achieve on our own. So, how did Roger have it? Because he was not on his own. He held to the faith that in order to love, we must first be loved. And must hold on to our love, to then give to others. Roger's faith was in God's love for him, so strong that he could afford to give that love freely. The Spirit helped in weakness, and God's love worked through him.

I, and many others, will miss Roger's presence here, but his love will always remain, because Faith, Hope and Love abide, these three. But the greatest of these...is Love.

Friday, April 14, 2017

61st Street UMC - Goodbye, Old Friend

I had the chance to revisit a very special place today. There was a lunch time, Good Friday service at 61st Street United Methodist Church, a church where I served from 1978 to 1980. This was the first church I served in, other than my home church, and ran the circuit with Bro. Jim Hobgood. It was the church where I rededicated my life on March 25th, 1979, and felt my heart turned within me. I learned spiritual Joy, and learned spiritual warfare. I learned that prayer was more than just words, and that no sin is greater than God's love.

The church history goes back more than 100 years in that same location, and has been a fortress of service for the poor, elderly, and world beaten of West Nashville. Two of their ministries, a Hispanic outreach that serves there, as well as a Christmas Last Minute Toy Shop for parents that wouldn't be able to give to their children otherwise, are highly recognized for their service to the community.

The church's last service will be in June of this year. They are being closed, shut out by the "revitalization" of the neighborhood. The alter where I truly gave my heart to Him, the piano I played for hours are still there, for now. The clock on the wall that Jim Hobgood frequently ignored, still hangs. The stories and tears of over 100 years of saved souls are still in those walls. But where once, families with little income had a chance to at least have a home, they are pushed out on all sides by $400K "Monopoly" houses crammed in two and three to a lot. As these families are pushed away, those the church has served are diminishing in number.

I spoke to the Hispanic leader there, Rev. Miriam Cortez, and shared my memories of the church, and was joined by another member, whose history goes back over 60 years there, and her parents before her as well. I know there are other church locations out there, but this was her home, and to lose that is to lose just a piece of yourself. The pastor said they are still looking for a place to serve, as the ministry is so vital, especially for the multitude of children there. She says they are prayerfully hopeful. I join with them in prayer.

But all is not sad. Many souls were saved within those walls. Many souls were re-claimed, like mine. And for every life reborn, others outside those walls came to know Him, too. Ministries come and go, but the touch of God's hand is forever. Out of death, comes life. This is the Easter Story. Without the Cross, there is no empty tomb. From the passing of this small church on the corner of 61st Street and New York Avenue, may life burst forth. It's Friday, but we pray for Sunday. Amen.

Friday, April 7, 2017

I think I'll just sleep in...

"Open the eyes of my heart, Lord. Open the eyes of my heart.
I want to see you. I want to see you." - Paul Baloche

"Stand by me. Oh, stand by me.
Oh, won't you please, stand by me." - Ben E. King

"Be of good cheer, for I have overcome the world." - Jesus

You know, some days it's just hard to see the good. those days when the debate of getting out of bed or just staying put  with the covers up are real. Those days it feels like you've been put on the crazy mouse ride by force, with out a safety bar. Maybe it's just me, but some days, facing the world is tough, and running seems a viable option.

That's where the verse in John's gospel always comes back to me. (Sometimes sooner, sometime later, depending on how much I resist!)

"I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world, you will have tribulation. But take heart. I have overcome the world." John 16:33 (ESV)

The trouble with fighting tribulation, is that in the midst of the fight, there is no end in sight. the greatest weapon in tribulations arsenal is the despair of failure. But this verse says there is an end. The tribulation in the world, whether global, national, local or personal, HAS BEEN OVERCOME. There is nothing the world can throw at you that Jesus has not overcome. Notice, He's not taking it away, necessarily, but assures you there is an end, you will win, and He's there with you to see you through.

As a person who sometimes can be depressed, I have clung to this verse like a security blanket. Does that sound weak? It's not. Jesus begs us to lean on Him, remove our burdens to take on His (Matt. 11:29-30). Rest in Him, and follow where He leads, even if the going is rough. (Ps. 23) In a time and a world that can be more than overwhelming, it is good to know that our guide, our savior, our Lord, our Jesus, has overcome.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Heroes, Sinners, and Ordinary Folk

"Where love rules, there is no will to power, and where power predominates, love is lacking. The one is the shadow of the other." Carl Jung

"Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love." 1 John 4:7-8 (ESV)

I consider myself (somewhat often) to be the average Christian, treading that fine line of in the world not of it, although occasionally a foot may slip off the side, or an arm, or a leg. And then of course, those times I go leaping head first over the side! (As Mr. Jimmy Buffet says "It's a fine line between Saturday night and Sunday morning!")

Without God's continued grace (and apparently...unending patience) I would be nowhere. None of us would. Without His forgiveness of all, all would be lost. But even if we don't accept His forgiveness, He continues to love us, continues to call us to Himself, to shower us with blessing beyond imagining.

Now here's the kicker. We are told to forgive, as God has forgiven us. (Colossians 3:13) To love others, as God loves us. (John 13:34) Otherwise, God is not in us, and we do not know Him. I don't know about you, but I have been known to hold a grudge or two. And it's wrong. And I say that's just not possible. No one can be that good. And then...

Louis Zamperini. Olympic Runner, POW in Japan during WWII, his story told in the book and movie "Unbroken". Beaten, starved, humiliated. Yet he not only was able to forgive his captors, after a time, he went back to Japan to reach out personally with forgiveness and love.

Betsie Ten Boom. Sister of Corrie Ten Boom, author of "The Hiding Place". She and Corrie were in the same prison, same work camps, same concentration camps. She was beaten, starved, humiliated, forced to sleep on soiled straw filled with fleas, eventually became sick and died without ever seeing freedom. Yet she prayed for her captors, not for their punishment, but that they could be released from darkness to experience the Joy that is Jesus. Her last words were for Carrie to care for them.

And I am ashamed. How can such love exist? I feel completely incapable of such love. Guess what? So did Lewis. So did Betsie. When there was no forgiveness in them, they asked God to forgive THROUGH them. When there was no love to give, they asked God to love THROUGH them. Rather than think others unlovable, let God love them through you. Rather than withhold forgiveness, let God forgive through you. The darkness they put you through is little compared to the darkness that enslaves them, tears at them, drains their hope, and leaves them empty, hopeless, alone.

When opportunity presents itself (and I speak to myself as well), let God forgive when you cannot. Let God love when you hate. Then God can also heal your hurt, turn your heart, and make you both whole.

By the way, I highly recommend both "Unbroken" and "The Hiding Place" as excellent reading. Love and Peace.