Out Here Hope Remains

There is hope for the helpless ... Cry Out To Jesus. -- Third Day

Sunday, January 30, 2005

The Residue of Division

res·i·due The remainder of something after removal of parts or a part. When someone (or a group of someones) decides to break away from a local congregation, a series of things are set into motion that mostly remain beneath the surface for a while. All we really know is that it hurts. But after a while the talk dies down, and the supposed reasons for the departure are diagnosed. Life goes on ... but there remains a residue from division that needs to be exposed so that a little deeper healing can occur. What is the residue of division? The Loss of Friendship. It's hard to maintain a healthy relationship with someone who has basically said that they cannot worship the Lord in the same room with you. Even if you try, after a while it becomes a conflicted type of relationship that causes about as much pain as it does anything else. The people who are left behind sometimes do not realize that they have been insulted. (I was smart enough to leave, but you weren't!) The Creation of Tender Subjects. Now we have some new 'off limits' topics around which to maneuver. If we bring up these sore subjects, we might actually cause someone else to leave. Or we may upset someone who just wants to let well enough alone. Or we might become prideful and pompous in talking about things that once caused such a stir that people actually left the congregation! Most of these subjects are not worth much of our time, but they become touchstones of faithfulness in the minds of some. The Lingering Deciders. If my friends of many years left the congregation, and if I have my own questionable feelings about some things going on 'down at church', then maybe I ought to leave too! And so there can be a trickling stream of those who are ready to desert their church family in search of another one. The Underlying Self Doubt. Oh yes, it could be true that those who left were right to leave! Perhaps my own pride wouldn't let me see it ... and maybe I'm just too unapproachable for them to come to my face and discuss it ... and perhaps I should have known ... and ... well ... it's endless. These waves of self-doubt make us weak at the knees. The Uncomfortable Moments. Bumping into people who you used to regard as your friends at Wal-Mart. Maybe they go another congregation across town, but there's that silent awkwardness. "So, how's things at your new church?" just doesn't sound right. The Inevitable Losses. In all of the posturing and defensiveness, some of the weaker brothers and sisters will be lost. They will not find another congregation. They will just check out of the church altogether. The Fateful Decision. Should we approach those who left, find out what they didn't like, fix it, and hope they come back? Or should we see the road ahead of us as the leading of God and press on in the best way we know how? The Loss of Kingdom Vision. By the way, while we're busy checking out all of these items, let's not forget that the lost world needs the gospel ... if you can get to it. There's probably much more residue...but it's there. And it doesn't go away. Right now I'm thinking that it never goes away. It's going to take some major grace to scrub that mess off of the Kingdom.

Friday, January 28, 2005

Finding Rest in Weird Places

Friday is a day that I have reserved in my schedule to seek out some peace, some time alone, and perhaps some time with a friend. Most often there's such a pile of stuff to do that I never do that (see post before last!). Today I woke up to a cold rainy day on the Coast. Some of our teen boys were to go to the camp to spend the night and do some work tomorrow. I was the designated driver. To tell you the truth, I did not want to go in this weather ... it was a big downer to me. So I risked the wrath of a bunch of teenage boys and told them I thought it was best we didn't go. I felt soooo relieved. Free! Able to ... relax? Great! I jumped in my little truck and drove to the office. I picked up a journal, a Bible, and a book I've been reading slowly through. I first went to the Christian bookstore in town ... I love to walk through there. I needed to buy a Bible for a lady who has been baptized last week. That done, I didn't know where to go. If I were in some other city I could go to a hip and trendy coffee house with comfy sofas and coffee confections ... but that's not going to happen here. I decided to go by the mall and look in a store...I did that ... but I was hungry and there was nothing there I wanted to eat. I drove on over to the next town. I had my Building 429 CD blasting. It was still raining. Hey, I'll call my preacher friend Al over here and see if he wants to get together. While looking on my cellular phone menu, I failed to notice that the truck in front of me had stopped at a red light! I barely skidded to a stop, sliding on the wet street ... but safe... so I laughed about it. Then I blamed Al for my near mishap ... especially since he didn't answer his phone! I drove around some looking for some place that looked promising as a hang out for a few hours. Unimaginatively, I ended up at a Burger King on a very busy corner. A group of ladies came in at the same time I did. From listening to their conversation, I determined that eating at Burger King was a kind of special thing for them, and they were not used to eating this high on the hog. I helped one of them know how to get some ice in their cup from the self-serve beverage bar. I sat a good ways from them, but they were loud and continually pecking on one another. The two grown daughters told their mother that she was stingy. All I heard the mother say was, "I don't like these damn pickles!" I sat in the corner of the mostly empty restaurant and read, contemplated, watched traffic, saw a train pass, wrote down ideas ... and generally enjoyed the peace and quiet until my friend Steve arrived. We talked for about an hour and had a good visit. Then it was time for me to come home ... it was dark, and I was ready to enter back into my life again. Really, there's nothing all that special about what I did. I actually felt a bit inadequate to even direct myself to someplace to sit down and think. But I found some rest in a weird place where no one expects to find peace of mind. I'm thankful.

A new project

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Frantic = Happy

So I'm telling a friend, "Dude, you have got to take some time off .... you're working too hard. You have to take care of yourself. You have to tend to your soul." He says, "I know." I'm thinking, "Yeah John ... you know too ... but you're not doing it." It's good advice, even if I don't take it. I've tried, and I'm not giving up, but I'm not doing well. Faithful blog readers will know that I took a personal retreat six weeks or so ago. During that retreat I determined to cull out some things in my life that were taking too much of my time. I did so! I wrote out a weekly schedule and even printed up 52 of them and put them in a binder. Optimistic? Maybe. To me that binder is an ugly accusing ogre looking over my shoulder with a taunting smirk. I haven't opened it up. I pretend it's not there. My last two weeks have been as haphazard and cluttered up as ever. I need to face the fact that I'm no good at caring for my soul. Quiet times? They drive me crazy. Moments when I'm not doing something? I get a shiver just thinking about it. Meditation? Try a 10 second attention span. The current issue of DISCIPLESHIP JOURNAL is all about this crazy hectic frantic life we live. I recommend the articles in this issue. But it's so much easier to read about it, agree with the authors, know that this is something that needs my attention ... it's called discipline ... and I have little of it. Excuses are for wimps, though. The formula for much of my life has been frantic = happy. But what frantic means eventually is that we wear down and wear out. We don't think clearly. We make poor decisions. We become short tempered and physically exhausted. Do you think that God rested on the seventh day because he was tired, or because he was setting into motion a rhythm for living to be followed by his Creation? So when I preached my sermon to my friend, I was speaking to myself. We both knew it ... and we both needed to hear it. We will both be equally challenged to do something about it. With the crowd dispersed, he climbed the mountain so he could be by himself and pray. He stayed there alone, late into the night. --Matthew 14:23 (The Message)

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Look At My Heart

The Phantom of the Opera hides his scars, hides his heart, and hides his life in the darkness of the caverns underneath the Opera Populaire. Abandoned by his parents, mistreated as a circus sideshow freak, his escape to the opera house seems a welcome reprieve. Unable to face the scornful looks of the public, the musical genius makes the haunting of the opera the arena of his life. It is the innocent and beautiful orphaned Christine Daae who captures his heart, but he always hides behind the illusions. She imagines him the Angel of Music. Phantom's obsessive descent into madness is driven by his belief that Christine has a heart so pure, that her love could overlook the disfigured face that is hidden by the mask he wears. Unfortunately, her heart belongs to the handsome young Raoul. The darkness of the Phantom's existence speaks to the loneliness and sense of failure that many feel when they look at their own lives. Perhaps Christine might have loved The Phantom, but his murderous acts cooled her sympathic feelings toward him. How many of us can look at our past and recognize so many wrong turns and poor choices? We don't even have to look backwards far into the distance ... a few weeks will do. Why does The Phantom of the Opera speak to our hearts? Is it because we recognize the haunted man behind the mask who dwells in the shadows of the Opera Populaire? I believe this is why Jesus Christ is so beautiful to us and we so willingly embrace Him to become the source of love and life. He calls us out of the dark shadows and out into the light of His love and acceptance. His acceptance of the life that we have scarred is not a matter of sympathy so much as it is a matter of healing. When we wander back into the shadows and begin trying on our mask again, covering up our disfigurement when we have sinned, he awaits our return. And just as he did for the fig-leaf attired Adam and Eve, he gives us appropriate clothing that truly covers our shame. He reminds us that we no longer need the masks of our insecurity and feelings of rejection. He caresses the disfigured. He calms the violent. He embraces the lonely. Why we ever run back to the shadows, I don't know. But I am so relieved that He awaits us on the stage of life. In His opera, we take center stage and He throws roses to our feet. Not because we have performed so well, but because He has raised us up from darkness to receive a new life bright and beautiful. Our reluctance to accept his unbelievable love is a testament to the truth that we may never remove our last mask ... until that last day. Look at my heart again Look at the mess I’ve got it in I’m trying to trust in You To know that you’ll see me through Through my pride Through my shame Into Your love Into Your grace I’m not looking back Till I see Your face & I’m running straight to You --Space In Between Us, Building 429

Friday, January 21, 2005


heh... just kidding.


The Seventh Key comes with a confession. In the journey through my life that was brought about by the bag of keys, I have visited some places in my heart that I have not seen in quite some time. There are still corners that I glanced at, but did not go close enough to investigate. Some things are best left buried in the past. I'm sure, too, that my perception of these events has subconsciously been tilted a bit in my favor. But, that is all in the telling of the story ... and I told it the best way I knew how. Oh ... the confession. The last key ... to tell you the truth ... I have no idea about its purpose. It does not bring to mind any recollection. Unlike the others, there is no feeling attached to it. I do not feel drawn into a particular place or event in my life. It is a key of mystery. Having suffered from a strong case of pragmatism inherited from my father, I do not think I understood the mystery of my life until the past few years. Particularly the mystery of my life hidden in Christ. When I was twelve I went to bonfire party that was mostly for kids a lot older than me. But it close to my home and a friend or two of mine were going. I was asked to bring a cooler with ice. I will swear great naivete in this matter! I did not know that my cooler of ice would be used to house alcoholic beverages. I wish I could tell you that I did not experiment, but I did. Actually I caught twice trying to act sophisticated and older and more mature than I was. The first was in the field when a girl from our church (a girl who never attended, but was a member) saw me drinking out of a bottle of wine. She said to me stinging words that I never forgot. "I'm surprised at you," she said, "you know so much about Jesus and all." I have to tell you that this hurts even now. I don't think that girl ever did get her life together while were in school. I was caught a second time at home. Some careless person had spilled wine in my cooler. My mother smelled it and sent me to my room with these instructions: "you need to read your Bible." Embarrassed, I submitted quietly. Sitting on my bed, I opened up the good book. No idea what I was looking at, in spite of years of Sunday School. But it was Acts 22. I remember clearly. I read words that I had only heard the preacher say. "And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord" (Acts 22:16) Yes, it was true. I needed to wash away my sins. And so the next Sunday night, a few days away from turning 13, I was immersed in the cold water of the baptistry at the Barton Avenue Church of Christ in Luling, Louisiana. One side of me wants to just see a happy coincidence in the series of events. I believe I see some mystery here. Thankfully I didn't read a passage about beating up Philistines with the jawbone of an ass or something. I would like to tell you that this was the beginning of the upward trail for me, and that I had one marvelous success after another in the Kingdom. But we both know that would not be true. I'm not going to list for you my series of mistakes. They are relatively boring. But my thought here in telling all of this is that Christ has been working mysteriously through this journey ... weaving people in and out of the tapestry of my life. He has walked with me through every valley and he alone has stood beside me in every embarrassing moment. In His grace, He never gave up on me. In His mercy, he never failed to forgive. Not only that, but there is the mystery of the many ways I became (am becoming) aware of the multitude of His grace. Books, and people, and experiences that have pointed back to the Christ for answers. And there He was. Shining as bright as the sun, yet hidden and darkened in my feeble mind. A grand mystery! And the mystery of Christ is not solved in my own thinking even today. As I gather the keys together and place them in that Grey Flannel bag, I put them in a wooden box, and wonder where they will take me next time. Have all of these experiences melded together to form the man I am today? Or are they just a randomly mixed bag of coincidences ... fate? I believe that everything that has happened in my life has been used by God to develop a person with a set of experiences ... Uniquely equipped to help others on their way. And in that the mystery continues. What will God do with me now? I don't know. But I trust Him. I don't know much But I know I love you And that may be All I need to know --Linda Ronstadt, Aaron Neville, Don't Know Much

Tuesday, January 18, 2005


Such an assortment of keys are on my table. There are keys to old cars, old homes, old places of ministry and work. Keys are repetitious things. We all have a key to a vehicle, a dwelling, and perhaps an office or workspace. These visits to the past are only partial stories ... all true ... but not all there is to tell. The sixth key came to be mine because a minister friend of mine knew a church leader down on the Gulf Coast who was looking for a preacher and he connected the dots. A move to the Gulf Coast was not what I had anticipated, but it seemed like the right time, and the right thing to do. So, on the first day of December, twelve years ago, I kissed my lovely wife goodbye and hugged the kids, and drove myself to the Coast. I had some books, some clothes, and some pretty vivid hopes and dreams for what could happen in our lives. I did not really anticipate the loneliness of that first month. Our church is warm, and full of sweet people ... but it is not characteristic of our congregation to have people in their homes. I'm not complaining, we're kind of like that too. So I spent a lot of time by myself... in this month in which family is emphasized more than any other time of year. When I arrived I slid the key into the door of a small one bedroom furnished apartment. It was just a place to hang out until our apartment was ready. I bought a very poor looking Christmas tree and a strand of lights. I ate at some local places. One of the elders and his wife stopped by to visit. He would become one of my sources of strength and support. The plan was that I would travel up to North Mississippi on Christmas Eve to be with family and bring them back with me on January 1. I just couldn't do that. There was nothing much happening with the holidays in full swing. So, I called one of Maggy's sisters, formulated a plan, and loaded up family Christmas presents in my old Buick. The Buick. Well, it was in bad shape. Something was wrong and I didn't have the money to get it fixed. It would run, IF I pumped the accelerator. If I just held it steady, it would die. So for nearly seven hours I pumped the accelerator and arrived at the restaurant at just the right time. Maggy's sisters had done their job. They were eating in the far room, and her back was to me. She had no idea I had arrived a few days early. When I walked in, John Robert called out "Daddy!" Maggy thought that he saw someone that looked like me...since I couldn't possibly be there! I came up behind her and started rubbing her shoulders. It was a tearful reunion and I was so happy to see my family. The new carpet for our apartment would be arriving late ... leaving us to cope with that small apartment once we all moved down to the Coast. Our stuff stayed in the moving truck for a few days. But it was fun. We had made a move with consequences we could never have guessed. The key to that small apartment was like an entrance into our ministry on the Coast. We couldn't have known that twelve years later we would own a home here and feel so much like family with a church that has loved us and blessed us in so many ways. Now all of my keys were in a pile on one side of the table ... but one remains. It is last in terms of it's chronology ... but perhaps it is last because of deeper reasons.

Monday, January 17, 2005


I ran my fingers over the keys. So many big memories attached to such small and now useless items. Each key opened a gateway of experiences and brought me reminders of the past. The fifth key was no different. I put my elbows on the table and held the key between the palms of my hands, in a prayerful repose. As if a sorcerer had cast a spell and sent me back in time, I stood before the double glass doors. Not of a home, nor a church. This time I was doing something I had never done before. In my mind I can walk through those doors, veer left and go through another glass door. A receptionist desk was in front of me. Offices to the left and right. My office was straight ahead. Well, it was my office for a period of time before someone used their political leverage and sent me to a smaller office down the hall. I forgive him. Mostly. For almost two years I would serve this small Bible College as an Admissions Counselor. I would ride the roads of Mississippi and Arkansas looking for students for the college. I would call prospective students, write to them, beg them, plead with them, and then hope that they would show up on registration day. Like all small independent colleges, we did not have a line of candidates waiting to get in ... we had to work to get the students to commit. I do not consider these to be remarkable years for my career, but maybe we made a difference in someone's life. Although, something remarkable did happen during my time there: the birth of my son. Two years into our marriage we were blessed with a baby boy. In the eighth month of the pregnancy I went to Tulsa for the Oklahoma Youth Forum. I took one of our students with me, and set up a booth. On the way home, we passed through the student's home town, and I dropped him off at his place. This was not the plan. I was supposed to bring him back to the dorm, but he wanted to go home and that's what I did. When I arrived home, the house was empty. That was strange. I then drove out to the hospital, thinking that perhaps something had gone wrong. Here's how that conversation went at the small town hospital emergency room: Me: I can't find my wife, she's pregnant, and I wonder if a pregnant woman has been in here tonight. Bubba looking at co-worker: Well, I thank so... yeah... seems like there wuz. Me: Do you know if she's all right? Bubba: I ain't sure. Me (getting frantic): Well, is she here? Bubba: Let me check. (bumbles over to a book, takes his time looking). Naw ... we sent her on to Jackson. Me: Jackson? Where in Jackson? Bubba: Let me look. (bumbles over to the book again ... I'm ready to jump him by now!) We sent her to Woman's Hospital in Jackson. Me: Where is that? Bubba: I ain't sure ... I thank it's over on such and such road ... (looking at co-worker) you thank that's rite? I jumped into the car and made the quickest trip ever down the Natchez Trace (a federal highway with a 50 mph speed limit) and got to Jackson. I went to the hospital. It was late night now and there were no open doors...I kept trying them...going around the building ... then I saw the sign. I was at the wrong hospital. Women's hospital was a few blocks down. I drove around the building until I saw a door with a light. I looked in the door...no one... door locked...but down at the far end I saw my friend Otis. He came and let me in ... the baby ... my baby ... had been born just a few minutes before. I went in to see Margaret. She cried a bit and said we had not decided on a name. That was the least of our worries. Margaret's blood pressure went sky high and didn't come down for several days. She spent a week in the hospital. Little John Robert was a month premature. He spent two weeks in ICU. His lungs had not quite developed (boy is he over that now!). When it was time for Margaret to be discharged, it was a hard thing to do to drive to our home an hour away and leave John Robert in the hospital. He didn't even know us yet. But it was essential to Margaret's health. We went every day to see him until the day we could bring him home. When we checked out of the hospital, the woman at the desk wanted to know if we would pay the $30,000 in cash or check. I told her we could write a check, but I would worry trying to cash it. I don't think that even counted John Robert's bill. Anyhoo, thank God we were insured working for that little college. Maybe that's why God had us there at all. We found out later that our friends were waiting at the dorm to tell us what had happened - but since I dropped off the student at his home, I never went by the dorm. The sign on the church said "Welcome Home John & Margaret & John Robert". Now we had a family of four. Before long, there was a feeling we should be closer to Margaret's home. Our old job opened back up and we took the opportunity to go back. My prematurely born son would fit on my arm, his head in my palm, feet barely to my elbow. Now my 15 year old son stands eye to eye with his dad. There are only a few years left at home. The course of his character has already been set. We met a lot of great people at that little college, and had opportunity to make some wonderful friends in those two years. But nothing changed my life more during that time than the addition of John Robert to the family. Though I only used that key for a short time, I believe it was providential that we were there, insured, surrounded by friends, and close to Jackson. The key slipped from between my hands and landed on the table. I slid it over by the other keys and picked up another one, mindful that each part of my life was beginning to have a strange consistency ... that God had been watching over me all the time.

Bloggers United in Prayer

Friday, January 14, 2005


I looked at the arrangement of keys on my table and wondered what all of the memories meant. It is too easy to say that each one of them creates the person I am today. Truly they also created the person I had to abandon to become me. They are markers along the journey to today. Before I could ponder this very long, I picked up the fourth key. Through the fog of years past I flew swifter than the Concorde soared across the Atlantic. I was in the car. It was a brown Chevy Monte Carlo. We were arriving from Hot Springs, Arkansas. We got out and walked up to the door and that's where I retrieved the key from my pocket. I opened the door to the house where I had been living for a few months, but things were different now. Now I was living here with my wife, my new wife. And her ten year old daughter. It was not a special house, just a fairly plain rent house. It had brown indoor-outdoor carpet throughout. (Yes, that's what I thought too.) It had a too-small kitchen, one bathroom, and three bedrooms. It had a fenced-in back yard. There was a cottonwood tree that made my yard look like snow at a certain time of the year. We would track that fuzzy stuff into the house. It didn't look good on the brown carpet. But it was the first house we would call home as a family. I learned so much in such a short time in this house. I would like to share with you what newlywed John learned. *I learned that families aren't made by placing a number of people into the same house. *I learned that tuna casserole is an acceptable food item to some people. *I learned that ten year old girls who have been raised by a mother and grandparents do not appreciate being yanked out of that secure setting and placed into a home with no traditions or established guidelines. *I learned that over time, love really does conquer all. *I learned the value of godly in-laws, and understanding friends. *I learned that sitting in the driveway on Sunday mornings with the car running, gunning the engine, honking the horn, and losing my temper was not a very godly way to force someone to accept my long list of expectations. *I learned that I needed to drive to church in my own car to get there early. *I learned that God had placed a wonderful woman in my life ... even though I would learn that more clearly over the years. *I learned that being an instant dad is not as easy as instant pudding, though both can be sweet. *I learned that being a married youth minister was a lot different than being a single youth minister. A last memory associated with that house had to do with a simple item: a lawnmower. I didn't have one, and no money to buy one. My friend ... one of my 'fathers' ... Lowell gave me the first lawnmower I ever owned. And it even worked. It even worked when I thought I would add some oil to the lawnmower, via the foam air filter. Hey... I'm a preacher, not a mechanic. I was touched, though, that he gave me a lawnmower. It was something of a milestone ... I was a real landowner with a real yard to cut. I never said I enjoyed it, but it was a responsibility that made me feel more like a man and a husband. Before long I would embark on a short-lived career in something besides ministry. And the key that opened to door to my first home would belong to someone else. I suspect that many many people have lived in that house since.

Thursday, January 13, 2005


As my fingers grasped the third key, I closed my eyes. The vividness of my vision involved all of my senses as I stood in front of that building. It was a simple structure that had seen its better days. I walked up the steps and unlocked the door. There was a familiar smell ... the smell of an old musty house ... just the smell of a building that had been shut up too long without airflow. The wood floors of the entryway matched the dark rich color of the furniture that was visible through the next doorway. I walked to the far end of the room, up a few steps and stood behind the pulpit. I looked out at the empty pews. This coming Sunday they would be filled with aged parishioners who would be looking at this nineteen year old boy for the eternal answers to life's questions. Well, maybe they'd just be wondering if I knew the right answers. I moved to that little Delta town without knowing a soul. I had met one family previously, but I did not know them at all. No one offered to carry me around and introduce me to either other townspeople or their fellow members. I stood in that church and wondered what I was doing. I didn't know how to be a preacher. Something about my education was a bit too academic to address this existential dilemma. Who am I in this community? I was a nobody. No one knew me, and I knew no one. Surviving that crisis, I did come to know some of the townspeople, and all of the members very well. Among the Christians there was a retired preacher. He had been preaching in the interim. He had a watch repair shop in a nearby town. I was warned by some members not to be surprised if he was highly critical of me. However, he often took me to lunch on Sundays and was a great encouragement. He has now gone to be with the Lord. There was another man who took me under his wing and taught me much. I felt very comfortable with this family, and they seemed to like me. Unfortunately something came between us, and I do not know if I ever knew what it was. Like my own father, and other men I came to regard as "father", he abandoned his interest in me. I do not know where he is now. There was a lady who I had a hard time growing to love. Once I did see her tender heart, though, I grew to regard her as a mother in the faith. We had our ups and downs, but she always remained interested in my ministry. I received a letter from her a few months ago and put off writing back to her. She now resides in a nursing facility in that town and probably would not know me. I cannot tell about all of them. One was an elderly woman who had never married, and lived with her very elderly mother. I remember an inspirational brother who was bent over with the pain of arthritis and age. Anytime I asked him how he was, he replied "just right". In my mind I can see a hot tempered mechanic with a humble and sweet wife. I liked them a lot. I should also mention a beautiful young mother and her pretty blonde daughter. I would watch her walk down the aisle in white in another building ... but that would be some years away. A man I knew when I was in college moved to another small Delta town five miles up the road. I didn't care for him much, and actually dreaded his move into the area. Little did I know that a deep friendship would develop over the years that remains as strong as ever even now. For two years I struggled to find my identity in a little town, preaching for a little church full of aged disciples. Through a set of circumstances it became apparent that they were wanting someone a little more sure of themselves and I reckoned I better work with some people closer to my age. I became a youth minister for another church down the road. And I no longer needed the key.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005


When I picked up the second key my mind flew across the years past and landed me in front of an important door in my life. It was a door of transitions in my life that would play a very real part in shaping my heart. It was the front door to my home. I know some people have lots of recollections of their childhood, but I do not. Of course, I recall some pivotal moments, scattered and uneven remnants of events that happened a long time ago. But that door, it was an entryway into my home. It was an access point to my family. It was through that door that I would run as a child to let my mother know that I would be riding my bicycle around the block. It was through that door that I would get my BB gun and go on great hunts around Davis Pond. No bird was safe from my predatory skills. It was through that door that would leave and go on long walks down the railroad tracks. Occasionally I would walk to the levee and wander down by the banks of the Mississippi River. I am not sure this was on the "allowed" places to visit, but I did every once in a while. It was through that door that Richard Travis (the preacher that baptized me) came for a visit. He knelt on the floor and prayed for my mother and father to return to the Lord and church. I don't think my father ever did. My mother did years later. I have not spoken to Richard for many years and wish I knew where he was. It was through that door that my parents came home from work one afternoon and found me playing my KISS Rock and Roll Over album so loud they could hear it outside when they drove up. (Little did they know that in modern times, it would be an everyday annoyance to hear someone's music from the street in our living room!) It was through that door that my brother and I walked one Sunday morning. We sat down in a chair and listened to my mother explain that my father was leaving, and they were getting a divorce. It was through that door that my father came back six months later, and my mother left. It was at that door that my mother stood one day. She had come to pick us up. But my father had filled our young minds with the notion that he did not want us to go, that we shouldn't go ... and I watched her leave without me and my brother. All three of our hearts were broken. It was out that door I left in shame to go to a payphone to call my mother to apologize, as if my father would have stopped me. He wouldn't have. But I wanted to please them both. It was through that door that I walked out with suitcases in hand, off to college. At the age of 17 it was an adventure. I returned home for a summer, and then through that door I walked again to go back to school. I seldom returned to visit. Oh, I know I was in and out of that door many many times. Good times and bad times. I scarcely remember that door. Here I am with the key to it. Surely it doesn't fit any more. But that is appropriate, for we can never return to the past and relive the moments we would like to fix. It was not a bad home, nor was I neglected or abused. I never remember wishing I lived with another family or that I was especially unhappy. I talk to my mother almost every day. I set the key down... it is worthless. It just raises a few fragments of memory. Come to think of it, so does that other key....

Sunday, January 09, 2005


While going through a box of things I hadn't seen in quite some time, I ran across a gray bag. It was a bag that once held a bottle of Grey Flannel cologne. Not very big, it had a draw string closure at one end. I could tell that there was something hard in the bag, and the way it sounded it was probably metallic. I cautiously opened it up, not wanting any of the contents to fall on the floor. After emptying the bag onto the desktop, I sat and stared at the keys that now littered my desk. There were all kinds of keys in all shapes and sizes and colors. I do not remember putting these keys in the Grey Flannel bag. They were found in a box of forgotten items ... things that were too neat to throw away, but so forgettable that I can't even remember the last time I looked in this box. Why do I still have these keys? They are totally useless to me now. The locks that they once manipulated are now far away from my life. I scattered them out on the table a little more so that I could see each one individually. When they were all in a pile, there appeared to be more of them than there really were. But once I had them separated, there were seven keys. I reached for one that had a star shaped impression on it. When I picked up the key, I found myself sitting in the driver's seat of a 1963 Plymouth Valiant. It was a four-door model, beige in color. It had push-button transmission, and an AM radio with one triangle speaker on the floor. There were rust spots in the paint job. Under the hood was straight-six engine. It was as uncool as it could be, but I was 16 and now I didn't have to ride the bus to school any more. I was ecstatic. The car had belonged to my grandmother, and now it belonged to me. I felt so independent, so free. I just wanted to drive anywhere ... everywhere. I volunteered to drive to the grocery for my mother. I drove to church and to school. I skipped school in that car a few times. Although it was terribly uncool, my friend didn't mind a ride to school at all. One day I got out some sandpaper and a can of Rustoleum, and I began to paint my car. I sanded a while, then spraypainted a while. Several days and several cans of paint later, it was even uncooler. Not only was it old, slow, ugly, it now sported a coat of brownish red paint. Of course it was just a base, I was going to paint it a real color later. Growing up in our little conservative church, I was convicted that it would be a sin to go to the prom. So on that night I took my date in my brownish red car to a fancy restaurant with valet parking. The valet got into my car and rolled down the window. He asked me how to make it go. He had never seen the push-button transmission before. Although I was a bit embarrassed, I laughed it off as his mistake. Not really a glorious night, as I'm sure my date would agree if she were to ever read this. I don't know what happened to that car. I never knew if my dad bought it, or if my grandmother gave it to us. I was able the next summer to save some money and bought another car. And sometime when I off at college my brownish red Valiant went to live with someone else. I doubt anyone ever forgets their first car. It is the first taste of independence, a sure sign of growing up. I can truthfully say that at times I have wished that I had kept that old car. Probably my memories are a bit polished over time, and maybe I've romanticized it a bit too much. Of course, I would have had it painted, professionally. I think I would have painted it black or white. To me, those are the colors old cars ought to wear. They are just more dignified. Setting the key back on the table, my sense of nostalgia now timelessly piqued, I smiled. For a moment I really could remember what it was like in the drivers seat of that car. The smell, the feel of the steering wheel, and the tinny sound of the music coming from the speaker. Then another key caught my eye....

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

A Few Items

This is just a couple of things I wanted to share real quick. I thought Brandon Scott Thomas' description of last night's service at the Passion conference was great. You can read it HERE. I decided to share with you a list of the top ten books I read this year. 10. Lover's Quarrel: My Pilgrimage of Faith in the Churches of Christ by Leroy Garrett 9. Messy Spirituality by Mike Yaconnelli 8. Forever, by Erma Bombeck 7. Renewing God's People by Gary Holloway and Douglas Foster 6. Waking the Dead by John Elderidge 5. The Singer by Calvin Miller 4. Son of a Preacher Man by Jay Bakker 3. Jesus With Dirty Feet by Don Everts 2. The Journey of Desire by John Elderidge 1. The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning.

Tell The Story

I wonder how many of us can actually tell the story of our redemption in the context of our own life (i.e. testimony - but without the churchy baggage of that word). It might be hard to tell the greatest story in the history of the world, and our participation in it, without sounding grandiose or braggadocious. Can we, in simple terms, express the event of our salvation in the same manner that we might tell any other good-news-story in our life? I think faith-talk is hard to do when we have erected so many barriers to it in our minds. I have an idea that one or all of these might be standing in our way of being open and talking about faith to the faithless. Are we bored with our story? (I grew up in the church, got baptized when I was 13, stuck with it for the most part. blah blah blah. Is that what you think your story is? I hope we are not that shallow.) Are we afraid to let people know we have sinned? (I don't know why so many people have a hard time living for Christ. I do pretty good! Really? Try the truth. Maybe something like ... sometimes I'm lazy, sometimes I lust, sometimes I say words that Christians shouldn't say, sometimes I am angry with people. That's more like it.) Are we afraid to let our sin go? (Oh yeah boy I really used to close the bars down ... man ... and the women... woo ... of course that was all before I became Christian. Do we wistfully remember with fondness our days in the darkness? Do we give the impression that we actually miss that life?) Are we afraid to embrace salvation? (I sin so much, how could God ever love me ... I'm a wretch...I'm terrible ... I'm sure God will barely save me. Do we need a little more confidence in the saving power of the blood of Christ?) In each of these mindsets we have set up a comfortable obstacle to teaching others about Christ. It's never the right time because we're never the right people. If we fully trusted in His grace, these barriers would be obliterated ... and thus some very nearly reject grace. We can be just like Adam and Eve, putting on our garments of hand-made fig leaves trying to hide our nakedness from an omniscient God. You have a story to tell. Maybe you ought to write it down, practice it, and then watch for opportunities to tell it. It doesn't have to be long, or religious-sounding, or miraculous, just real.

Monday, January 03, 2005

My Affair Is Over

Dear Debbie, I am writing to tell you that the affair is over. This may come as a surprise to you, for I have given you nothing but positive affirmation throughout our relationship. You have changed my life in many ways and I have to tell you it has been a great time for me. Our breakup is not easy, I want you to know. I have thought about it a great deal, and sacrificing the sweet relationship we shared ... well ... it's almost enough for me to just forget about breaking it off. I really wonder if I am even strong enough to resist your tempting charm. In reality, you have been a crutch to me. I have turned to you in times of stress, frustration, and even boredom. This may hurt you to hear me speak of you so selfishly, as if you only exist to satisfy my urges. Yet, that is exactly why we had this affair in the first place, isn't it? I was feeling empty and aimless, you were there so willingly offering yourself. You've never asked anything of me, and I have never given anything to you. But you have given me something that is hard to ignore. I'm sure I shall think of you often. I know that this is no consolation to you. I do appreciate the variety of ways you have tried to appeal to me. You did your best, no doubt. I must seem terribly ungrateful. I know that this is an unhappy event for you, and you probably find it hard to understand. You have to know that there will be others just like me. I see them everywhere ... men who look for the kinds of things you offer. Men who will embrace you and offer you the same kind of dedication that I once did. I confess that I may occasionally fall and visit you again, if you would have me. Yes, I know that sounds selfish and weak. In the end, I think this will be the best for both of us. Parting really is such sweet sorrow. I will remember often the time we spent together. But I must go. Please don't cry. Love, John PS: Debbie, this is my favorite picture of you. Although they call you "Little" Debbie, what you have done for me will not receive the same adjective!

Saturday, January 01, 2005

Questions For God about The Bible

Dear God, First, I want to thank you that I can speak freely in your presence without fear of being fried by a streak of lightning. Umm... that is true, isn't it? Ok. You know me, so I don't have to offer any caveats or backgrounds to these questions. They are just questions about the Bible. There are probably more crucial questions, and smarter questions from smarter people. They are not meant to ... see... there I go trying to be defensive. sigh. *If instrumental music in worship is going to send someone to the fiery pit, and you know how weak-willed and sheep-like we are, why didn't you just tell us in very specific language? *How is it that the Bible is written in such a way that every person who reads it is convinced that they are correct in their understanding? *Did Paul know for sure if divorced people could get married again, or was he as confused as we are? *If you wanted us to share communion on every first day of every week and only on the first day of the week, and only once on the first day of the week ... and only the Sunday-morning-no-shows on Sunday night ... couldn't you have explained the rules in such a way that dense people like me could get it? *Ever since the day that you gave the shake-and-bake treatment to Annanias and Sapphira, I've been wondering why you don't do that all the time. (Don't get me wrong, I'm GLAD you don't, or I wouldn't be here to ask these inane questions!) *"When that which is perfect shall come" ... was Paul trying to be cryptic on purpose? Did he grin as he thought of generations of Bible students who would battle over the implications of that one phrase? *Could you have maybe made use of some labels or color-coded the Bible for us? I know that sounds lazy ... but maybe just a few: red verses - words of Jesus (what else?); blue verses - cultural instructions that hold no meaning past the first century; green verses - instructions rooted in theology that stand for all time. I know somebody already color-coded the Bible, but I don't trust them. *The book of Revelation: come on! *I wish you had told us the date of the last time anyone truly spoke in tongues as a result of the miraculous gift of the Spirit. *Women ... either they can do stuff in worship or not. *Worship ... exactly when does worship start and end? And are there really a lot of rules about stuff that happens when we get together to worship? Why didn't you tell us what a worship service looked like? And how did you guys chant in unison without power point? *What's the deal about wine? You make it, you command us to abstain from it, you drink it, but maybe it's just grape juice, but there's no refrigeration ... I'm confused. *Were the apostles baptized on the day of Pentecost? *Why did you let the KJV translators use the word 'baptize' anyway? Is immersion important to you, or just to us? A little of that Annanias and Sapphira juice would have done the trick there. *Why do I think I'm going to REALLY do my daily Bible readings because I bought a new Bible? I guess others might have questions, and they might even list them here (hint!), but those are some of mine. I admit, I'm fickle. I might have a new set of questions tomorrow! I do trust you above all of my questions...but they still needle me from time to time. Thanks for listening. John