Jun 22, 2017

Clingy

It is that time of the year when we will soon lose the north side of our house. In a very few weeks, we will no longer easily be able to look out some of our windows.


Very soon we will no longer be able to get into the side door that goes to our basement. Why? A clingy ivy.

Normally when one thinks of “clingy” it comes across as something that is bad.

Not everyone likes it when ivy is clinging on their house. We just gotten used to it over the years.

And no one likes it when clothes are clingy after they come out of the dryer; or else we wouldn’t use static sheets or fabric softeners when we do the laundry.

And who loves it when children are clingy?

You know the type; they are always aware of where one of their parents is and notices the moment that the parent is not in sight. The child gets emotional because they NEED to be right with them NOW and they become unhappy to the point where they panic as tears fill their eyes because the parent is away.

We see this as a stage that they need to get over and rid of lest they grow into a clingy adult and then…

As much as no one likes a clingy child; even more so NO ONE likes a clingy adult! If it continues into adult relationships, sometimes this will lead to someone filing a restraining order.

And yet, according to the Bible, our Heavenly Father encourages and exhorts us to be clingy children with Him! It is something that is desired and necessary in our relationship with Him!

Deuteronomy 10:20 (NKJV) says;
You shall fear the Lord your God; you shall serve Him, and to Him you shall hold fast, and take oaths in His name.”

That phrase “hold fast” in Hebrew means “to cling”:

dâbaq A primitive root; properly to impinge, that is, cling or adhere; figuratively to catch by pursuit: - abide, fast, cleave (fast together), follow close (hard, after), be joined (together), keep (fast), overtake, pursue hard, stick, take.

We see it again in Deuteronomy 11:22 (NKJV):
For if you carefully keep all these commandments which I command you to do—to love the Lord your God, to walk in all His ways, and to hold fast to Him…”

The New Living Translation (NLT) translates Deuteronomy 11:22:
Be careful to obey all these commands I am giving you. Show love to the Lord your God by walking in his ways and holding tightly to him.”

The Living Bible (TLB) translates Deuteronomy 11:22:
 “If you carefully obey all the commandments I give you, loving the Lord your God, walking in all his ways, and clinging to him.”

According to Deuteronomy clinging is part of what He requires of us for our success, victory, and growth.

Our Heavenly Father is saying that part of us following Him is obeying His commandments and CLINGING to Him.

How do you cling to Him?
·        Spending time each day by praying and worshipping the Father.
·        Spending time reading the Bible which is His Word

Our Heavenly Father WANTS His children to CLING to Him! He doesn’t see it as something negative!

He is waiting for you to respond to His mercy and grace that has already been extended to you through Jesus Christ. And you can; today. And it can make all the difference in the world as you look for hope in your present world. Let Him be the Father you cling to!

Need further help? Someone is waiting to talk with you. Call either:

1-888-NEED HIM  or  1-877-2GRAHAM (1-877-247-2426).

Jun 15, 2017

Like Father Like Son

I sat on my front porch watching a lonely figure walking the sidewalk like a night guard keeping watch over the city; barely visible except for the occasional glow of his cigarette and his dog who was leading the way. His appearance was a ghostly reminder of one who had long passed away.

For many years this was the nightly scene of a man and his dog; each going outside to do one more thing before turning in for the night. Each night the two of them would patrol the neighborhood as the non-insomniacs slept.

But both the man and dog had long passed away several decades before; so how was it that I was still seeing them? Were they ghosts aimlessly walking eternity in my neighborhood?

No, this was the son of the man long gone, who now lived in his father’s house. 

This man was the second generation who would perform this nightly habit of walking a dog while smoking one last cigarette for the day, for he had learned this ritual while his dad was alive.

This was the result of a boy watching his father showing him (intentionally or unintentionally) how to go through daily life.

As I sat and watched him, I realized that as a dad (and grandfather) I have passed on systems and patterns and habits that may affect generations; some good, some not so good.

I thought of another father who had influenced his son to follow in his footsteps.

"Good Good Father" is a song heard in churches and on radios around the world. It was written by Pat Barrett, lead singer of the Atlanta-based band, Housefires, along with Anthony Brown. The song was brought into the spot light when it was recorded by Chris Tomlin.

Pat wrote the song to introduce his own daughter to the Heavenly Father who so transformed his life. It was Pat’s attempt to explain to his children who God is; to tell them what He is like.

I first met Pat when he was very young along with his sister, his mother Daryl, and his father Marty at a pastor’s conference.

As I thought of the song, I realized that Pat wrote this song influenced by his own experience with his father Marty.


I really connected with Marty when first we met sometime around 1996. He is a very funny man who lights up a room with his presence. When he is around, very few people can escape his outreaching personality.

Marty is a man with a theater and arts background who had responded to a call into ministry and serves as a pastor in Atlanta, Georgia. Marty is a man full of compassion and mercy and reaches out to the marginal people of our society.

His church is a melting pot of denominations and races who gather each week to discover who God is in a city still tainted with prejudice and racism.

It is a multi-cultural, living bridge connecting God, the world, and the various parts of the Body of Christ. Healing ministries, the arts, outreach to the city are just a few of the ways they spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ in a broken world; specifically, in DeKalb county Georgia where nations live, highways converge, and God invites all to His table.

Marty is a model of love to his world and in his home. And Pat grew up observing this love and he could write and sing about a “good, good father” because he knew both the love of an earthly and a heavenly father.

So, dads, what are your sons learning from you? Years after you are gone, what will be the habits and belief systems passed on to your sons? What will be the songs that they are singing that they will pass on their children?

The answer will be loosely based upon not how perfect you are or have been, but rather on who is influencing you. Do you know the love of this Heavenly Father? Has He left His mark on your life?

He is a Good, Good Father; it’s who He is. He is perfect in all His ways. And you are loved by Him

 “The return to the "Father from whom all fatherhood takes its name" allows me to let my dad be no less than the good, loving, but limited human being he is, and to let my heavenly Father be the God whose unlimited, unconditional love melts away all resentments and anger and makes me free to love beyond the need to please or find approval.” 
 Henri J.M. Nouwen, The Return of the Prodigal Son: A Story of Homecoming

Jun 8, 2017

A Beautiful Bride

One of my daughters (Judith) got married this past week. Man, was that was tough on this old man! No, not because of any costs or time associated with the wedding, but because of the emotions connected with being the father of the bride as well as the officiant.

I am a pastor and at the time of this writing, I have about eight weddings to officiate this summer and several booked for next year...so weddings can be “old hat” for me…yet they never are. I guess I am just a romantic at heart.

Or, as one of my other daughters (Elizabeth) said to me eight years ago just before I walked her down the aisle; “Dad, you’re not as tough as you think you are!” pointing out that the pastor who had done premarital counseling for her and her husband was in the audience just in case I “couldn’t finish the task” of being both dad and officiant.

I have done this before, so you would think that it would get easier; no, it doesn’t! With each of my children I appreciated that they had asked me to even be a part of their wedding as a guest.

On the day of Judith’s wedding, my heart was on a roller coaster of emotions as I made a protein shake. I was using the time to deal with my nervous energy awaiting decision as to whether the wedding would be outdoors or inside depending on the weather.

Rain, rain, go away….
 
As I stood in the kitchen drinking my shake, I was filled with gratefulness as I thought about how the Lord had faithfully walked us through some tough times as she, as a teen, had questions and struggles about life and its meaning.

To use up some of my time I went back into my office and re-edited the message over and over until I told myself to stop.

My OCD was interrupted by a text from my daughter confirming that we would go ahead and do the ceremony outdoors. The weather had shifted and instead of rain, the clouds gave way and became a very beautiful day filled with sunshine.

My heart shouted out a responsive; “Praise God!” because I knew that the outdoor location had great significance for my daughter (as well as for the rest of our family).

So, I packed up my briefcase, a podium, and my dress clothes and headed out the door to meet my soon-to be son-in-law to set up the place for the wedding; which was located twenty minutes from our house.

The location was fifty yards from a river in a state park that has a large bridge overhead. The shore was lined with geese and this year’s goslings and a couple of fishermen who offered to move somewhere else; but we told them to stay and enjoy the weather.

This was a special place where my daughter searched and cried out for answers during a season in her past when life didn’t make sense. And here today we celebrated the some of those answers.

It was also a spot very close to where grandpa Gene died almost ten years earlier; in the same state park and below the very same bridge.

The time came for me to walk my beautiful daughter, dressed in a stunning dress, down the aisle to the front; looking into each other’s eyes, knowing the grace of this precious moment. Tears of joy filled my eyes as we exchanged private tender words to each other as we made our way to her awaiting groom.

Up front I assumed the role of officiant and added some comic relief as I asked; “Who gives this woman away?”; quickly stepping back into my position as dad as I replied; “I do”.

As I looked out at the audience made up of immediate family members, I realized just how handsome my two sons (and sons-in-law) are and how beautiful my four daughters (and daughters-in-law) are; I am so grateful that I had married a beautiful woman!

The wedding ceremony was short and sweet and went off without a hitch, that is until I looked at each of my four daughters, my wife, and my mother-in-law as I recalled to the audience the significance of this place.

At that point, I became so chocked up with emotion that I could hardly speak as tears began to fill their eyes. Maybe Elizabeth was right that I’m not as tough as I think that I am!

I regained my composure and finished joining these two in matrimony and then took time for the photographs.

After we packed up and loaded our vehicles with all of the props, I headed home to change my shirt, now saturated from the humid air and from standing in the bright sunshine, and then headed off to the reception located twenty minutes away.

Feasting and joy was on the itinerary for the evening as a large group of friends and family joined us to celebrate this delightful couple. The food was out of this world and the service was second to none!

Cathy and I were able to mingle from guest to guest playing the role as two of the hosts and hostesses; that is, in between times of chasing the grandchildren around at their request.

When I was asked by my Judith to join her for the “Father-Daughter Dance”, I made my way to the awaiting audience of one. As we danced, it became another opportunity for us to exchange private tender words to each other as we held on to each other and slowly shuffled our feet to the music.  

I realized this wasn’t anything that I had “earned” by being a "perfect dad", nor was I “owed” this opportunity; this was a gift of love! And, hockey player or not, I was deeply moved and once again tears came to my eyes. 

She chose me to walk her down the aisle, and she chose me to officiate, and she chose to invite me to be a dad at her wedding, and she chose me to dance with her and to share this joyous day with her.

The evening continued to be filled with great joy and much more food as guests made themselves available for conversations with people who, prior to this event, had not known each other and now could because we were all friends of the bride and groom.

Eventually, the celebration wound down and we all headed to our homes or to an adjoining hotel. God had clearly heard and answered this poor man’s cries.

This poor man cried out, and the Lord heard him,
And saved him out of all his troubles.” (Psalm 34:6 NKJV)








Jun 1, 2017

Waiting for A Harvest

It’s that time of the year again when gardens are tilled and seeds or plants are planted, watered, and then we wait…and wait… and wait…

If you think about, it’s amazing how long it takes for the seeds to germinate; and then how long it takes from germination until we see flowers. Then how long it takes until the crops come up and we can eat the produce…

It’s several months until we see anything for all our labor; if we see anything at all, because there are many conditions beyond our control such as weather and the quality of the plants and seeds.

This is true for all crops including flowers, trees, and vegetables.

Another huge factor is the condition of the soil; is it clay, sandy, or black? Each serves a different purpose depending upon what type of crop is planted.

But it should noted that the condition of the soil didn’t come that way by chance. This soil was prepared by the gardener ahead of time in anticipation of what was to come.

In fact, it takes a tremendous amount of work to turn untamed land to good soil: Rocks must be removed (again and again), thorns pulled up, and hard places roto-tilled to loosen up the soil, because even the best soil must be broken before it can become beautiful.

And then, as I said, we wait…this is how things grow.

So, is it worth it???? Is it worth all the arduous work just to even prepare the soil to receive the seed or plant? And why must we wait; why can’t things happen faster?

If you’ve done gardening for any length of time you know that the answer is “yes”, that it is worth all of the hard work that goes into preparing soil and planting for the future harvest.

Being able to pick rich and fresh produce from soil less than one hundred yards from the kitchen door is so very much worth all of the effort and the waiting period!

And before you know it, it’s State Fair Time! Time for ribbons and trophies!

But what about areas of our lives where have been waiting for a harvest?

We are not naturally good soil for God to plant into us His Word

“But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness to him: nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” (1 Corinthians 2:14)
 
Too many Christians are content with remaining un-tilled soil. We delude ourselves by thinking that the condition of the soil doesn’t matter.

We don’t want God to point out where we need to be changed. We prefer to remain rocky and weedy. We prefer to try to grow things despite the resistance in our lives

None of us are beyond God’s ability to change us. But His change takes time: - It doesn’t happen in a single day. Even so, He can change us from a desert land to a fruitful garden

My friend Rev Bob Tolliver wrote:
“Trees do not grow year-round. In the Spring, life begins to flow and leaves begin to appear During the Summer a new layer of fiber slowly begins to form under the bark.

In the Fall, the new wood has created a new "circle" from the most recent growth and begins to mature. Interestingly, it is during the most desolate and severe season that the hardening and maturing takes place ---- the winter.

During those times, it appears that life is gone and the tree is dead, but the life as simply retreated to the roots leaving the outward appearance of death.

All of that to say that perhaps the most important seasons of our walk with the Lord are during those times when we feel we have spiritually "flat-lined" and have lost any ground gained.

Just the opposite is true. It's through those "dark nights of the soul" when we can become the most mature ---- if we don't fight it.”

Soil that was called “good ground” didn’t come that way by chance. This soil was prepared by the GARDENER ahead of time. But it was not the soil that did the work

To be good soil that receives God’s Word: I must be open, receptive to God and His Word. There can’t be resistance or reluctance on my part to having stones removed. I must welcome it daily. I must allow it to change my thoughts, attitudes, prejudices.

Secondly, every area of my life needs to be reachable/available. ALL the ground in a garden is tilled for fruitfulness. ALL areas of my life need to be tilled by the Holy Spirit. This takes time, but it must be done. Again, He is the One who will do the work; we cooperate.

The key ingredient to good soil being productive is how much God is really in control of our lives, and how obedient and responsive we are to His Word.

The Holy Spirit has come to help us bear fruit to be productive, appointed to bear fruits that honor the Father. And there will be a bountiful harvest of divine fruit because my Heavenly Father has been working with great skill in His Garden and I chose to respond to His work in humility and with my heart.

Our Heavenly Father has a Garden that He has been working on; a garden that He is proud of, filled with blue-ribbon produce. A Garden that He longs to share with the world. It’s the lives of you and I!

"And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart." (Galatians 6:9 NKJV)



May 25, 2017

I Spilled Coffee on My Shirt!

My mom instilled in me at an early age a sense for fashion. And, except for when I don’t, I always like to keep up my appearance. 

She believed that clothes should be kept clean (which was no small task for her since she had ten children). So each day my mom would wash and dry the laundry so that once again clothing would always be kept clean and ready for the next event.

Mom instructed me that clothes do make the man and therefore each fall she would take me shopping to pick out the newest style of clothing.

My mom was so in tune with fashion that I had bell bottoms the same season that they first came out in the seventies, along with paisley shirts, vests, bandannas, and tie-dyed t-shirts. She let us boys dress like hippies and the girls wear dresses made from paper.

When this new thing called “disco” came along, she took me to the store to purchase leisure suits with white and brown platform shoes. 

Fortunately, I quickly learned that "stayin alive" meant that I should not have anything to do with the whole disco scene, and I got as far away from it as I could possibly get!

Today, I may not always be in style (sometimes one must wait several years for an older style to come full circle), but I do have a sense of what looks good together

My dress shirts are sent to the local dry cleaner to be professionally cleaned; heavy on the starch. After wearing them for an event, I promptly send them back to the cleaners for a fresh start.

My suits are neatly hanging in a closet awaiting to be paired up with a pair of dress pants and a matching tie. My dress shoes are polished and shined to military precision.

I pay attention (and will even ask) if my socks match my pants.

Even when I am casual in my attire I care about whether what I am wearing matches; including when I am just running up to the store or cutting the grass.

Another thing that mom taught me was that it was important to not spill food on your clothing and to always keep it clean. When we were little, she made bibs to cover my clothing as I worked on getting food and beverages into my mouth without spilling.

I’ve worked with quite a few co-workers who could have used this training from my mom. In fact, it seems to me that each time they put on a new shirt, they insist on spilling food on it!

In fashion and food my mom taught me well.

So, you can imagine the horror when I spilled coffee on my shirt!

No, this wasn’t a special shirt, but the idea of staying clean in my appearance was put to the test as I tried to figure a way to conceal the major faux pas in the fashion world. I thanked God that Miranda Priestly wasn’t around!

Quickly I went to the nearest source of water to dilute the stain before it set in, knowing that it would still need to be pre-treated with laundry soap (to attempt) to remove it.

I realize that what I call a sense of fashion has the undertones of OCD; in that clothing really serves a basic need for modesty and warmth. Beyond that is mere vanity and preference.

And the delusion that I can always keep my clothes clean (or anything for that matter) is OCD in full bloom!

As the great comedian Phyllis Diller once said; “Cleaning your house while your kids are still growing is like shoveling the sidewalk before it stops snowing”

As delusional it is to think that I can keep my clothes always clean, it is even more delusional to think (and believe) that I can keep my life totally clean at all times.

Like a fresh shirt, my life can be an open target of the misdirected things that fly towards me (or out of my mouth) and land in places that puts my illusion of righteousness to the test as I tried to figure a way to conceal the major faux pas to others in my world.

My feeble attempts to stay clean or to even clean up and conceal my mess will always (in my efforts) fail miserably. Simply put, it won’t work.

Like spilled coffee on my shirt, I need to go quickly to the only source that can “dilute the stain” before it sets in, knowing that it will still need to be washed with something greater to remove it.

In Isaiah 1:18 the Lord calls out to all of us who have “spilled coffee on our shirts” (sin) that we can’t seem to remove;

“Come now, and let us reason together,” Says the Lord, “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; Though they are red like crimson, they shall be as wool.”

The Lord wants to remove ALL of the stain so that there are NO reminders that anything was “spilled”.

“And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.” (Colossians 2:13-14)

“As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.” (Psalm 103:12)

We may not be able to start each day with new, or at least clean clothes, but we can awaken with the hope that as we turn to God each day, we will find His mercy fresh and new waiting for us to use. Great is His faithfulness; in that we can place our hope!

Are you ready to get your life cleaned up? Have you tried to clean up your life with no success? Are you tired of trying to do it your way? Call 1-888-NEED –HIM; someone is waiting to talk with you.



All Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

May 18, 2017

Hey Mister, There’s Underwear Stuck To Your Shirt!

It was a long day filled with drama, intrigue, and mystery and I couldn’t wait to get home to do my best impersonation of Mister Rogers and change my clothes. I’m not sure why, but it helps me transition from where I was to what’s next on my agenda.

It felt as though all I did all day was make decisions at the speed of an air traffic controller, as all around me situations arose that needed my attention.

All day it felt as though decisions were made based on limited information that I was given. And, in time, when things came to the light, I realized that a more thorough investigation might have helped me make better decisions.

In one incident, something was “planted” to punk a staff member. And, judgment came way too soon until the whole thing was revealed to be a joke gone wrong. Fortunately those who were indicted were in on the joke and we all had a good laugh.

And now I was home and I made my way upstairs to my bedroom to change my clothes.

As I started to undress, a pair of black women’s panties fell to the floor and I thought of several things. First of all, the panties, being black, had probably clung to the t-shirt and weren’t noticed because the t-shirt was also black and had been covered up by a dress shirt.

Secondly, I was glad that I didn’t have anyone else see the panties.

Thirdly, I was grateful that the panties hadn’t fallen to the floor while I was at work. No, not because of any embarrassment on my part. Being that I am almost six decades old, I could use the “I’m an old man!” card and people would leave me alone.

No, I was grateful that the panties hadn’t fallen to the floor while I was at work because of what would probably had happened next.

During the day (M-F), I pastor by managing a program for men who are dealing with addictions and it is not unusual for some of the clients to fabricate the truth. 


And today had been one of those days when I had been chasing the wind trying to get the truth in a (potentially) volatile situation.   

One of those days when (sometimes) I resorted to being driven rather than being led and where I reacted rather than responding.

One of those days where I wondered whether or not the truth would ever come out as I tried to sift through distortion of the truth and we tried to unravel a web of stories as we sought the truth.

And, as the dust settles and the truth comes out, there are usually messes to clean up and apologies to be given for misreading the situation and not showing an attitude of grace. Or for not taking the time to pause awhile as we waited upon God for what we should do.

As I bent over and picked up the black panties, I thought about how on this day if they had been found by a staff, there was the potential of one of the men being accused of possessing something impropriate for them to have.

Accusations could have arisen trying to find the guilty person who would be so “sick” as to have a pair of women’s panties in their possession. Based on how we were dealing with things, we probably would have brought in someone from the Spanish Inquisition to assist us.

As I placed the panties in the clothes basket, I uttered a prayer of gratefulness that they hadn’t fallen out of my shirt. And for how aware I was for His grace that stopped an investigation.

Yes, we are called to hold people accountable; but to do it in ways that honor and care for each other. In ways in which we know we have not jumped to conclusions without ever really investigating.

We are called to love like we have been loved:   You must be compassionate, just as your Father is compassionate. Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn others, or it will all come back against you. Forgive others, and you will be forgiven.”
              (Luke 6:36-37)

We are called to be like the One who has shown mercy upon us:
       “The Lord is merciful and compassionate, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. The Lord is good to everyone. He showers compassion on all his creation.” (Psalm 145:8-9)

“Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.” (Ephesians 4:31-32)

Do not judge others, and you will not be judged.  For you will be treated as you treat others. The standard you use in judging is the standard by which you will be judged.” (Luke 7:1-2)

Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry.” (James 1:19)



All Scripture is from Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.