Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Thinking about Life and Marriage...

Last weekend my nephew, Michael Huff, married Christina Rice. They make a great match and the wedding was delightful. They were kind enough to ask me to share in their big day by giving a few thoughts at the reception. The comments below are some of what I heard myself say on that happy day.

What a delightful occasion! We all feel honored to share this with you. Let memories of this day feed your soul for a lifetime.

The greatest goods of life require the most of us and give the most in return. Marriage is one of those greatest goods. The gathering today is testament to the good of marriage and family. It must be held close and strong, of utmost value. With that in mind I want to offer a few things which will enable you to build a strong home.
  • The heritage of love and commitment in this room is precious. Honor it. You will never be sorry.
  • Own money instead of letting it own you. To learn this, always give first to God and his work and then save save some as well. Every week. You will never be sorry.
  • Learn to be honest with one another, with grace and kindness. This takes skill and care, but you can do it. Daily. You will never be sorry.
  • Marriage is the gift that keeps on giving. The love you have will grow as you give it away: to one another, for children should God bless you with them, for all who cross your path. Learn to give always. You will never be sorry.
  • Find practical ways in daily life to put God first. All your hope and destiny rests in Him: nothing is more important than putting Him first. This means...
    • making church a priority,
    • respecting and tenderly caring for one another,
    • working hard and honoring your commitments,
    • daily prayer time and holding hands and letting go of selfish desires.
           Learn to follow God's good way. You will never be sorry.
  • Learn to fill the days of your lives with Grace and Truth. Criticizing is easy; learn to forgive instead. Love covers and heals.This takes learning -- you won't always do it well. Stay the course. Truth means you learn to be honest: with yourself, with others, with God. This, too, takes time. Never use truth to show how right you are or embarrass the other. Rather, let truth help you see yourself with tears and thoughtfulness; to offer healing, reflection, understanding. Truth is hard but untruth is harder and corrodes the soul.
          Learn to fill your days with Grace and Truth. You will never be sorry.
  • Finally, marriage is more than something you do. Marriage is something you enter in to. Marriage is bigger than you. Keep your marriage and it will keep you. If you tend daily to your marriage with faithfulness and care it will give back to you more than you ever dreamed. You will never be sorry.
We are all here today to cheer you on and hold you up as you enter this covenant and adventure. God is for you and for your marriage. Learn to rely on His faithfulness and grace every day. You will never be sorry.

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Jane's Birthday Coming Up February 1

So, a picture of Jane (see more here) as I send a note to ask for words of love and memories as she comes up on a milestone birthday. I decided to send to all of our FB friends. (So... if you get this but don't even know Jane, sorry. She's a great gal and the loss is yours, but don't feel beholden to make up memories... :) )

I would appreciate any connections you can add as there are folks who know and love her who I will not connect with. For example, I'd greatly appreciate any of the Mt. Carmel girls spreading the word. She loved having you in our home and I'd love to share your thoughts with her.

It will be a trick to keep this secret, but this blog is rarely seen. So you can leave your comments here. FB messages are fine, too -- I may just have to keep her off of it somehow for awhile so I can keep them a surprise!

This is just part of celebrating the big Five-0 by putting together expressions of love from the many who have known her across the years. A few words, a memory, whatever you can find time for in the midst of everything else -- much appreciated!!

Trying to get it together before next Sunday. Thank you!


Friday, February 8, 2019

Lead with Your Ears

Last year we lost the prominent Christian author Eugene Peterson. If you don't know his writing, I recommend the acquaintance. Among his many books: A Long Obedience in the Same Direction discussing discipleship in the Christian life, and Leap Over a Wall, reflections on the life of David. Peterson introduced me to the likes of Annie Dillard whose Pulitzer-prize-winning narrative is based, incidentally, in a neighborhood where I once lived.

Peterson's best gift may have been a fresh window on the meaning of Scripture. I love most his re-telling of an admonition in the New Testament letter of James: “Lead with your ears, follow up with your tongue, and let anger straggle along in the rear.” (MSG) Or as the inimitable KJV has it, “Be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger.” As always with James, this hits us right where we live.

Alas, so much public discourse turns this earthy admonition on its head. We hear something and find ourselves provoked. Next, anger feeds our speech and all goes from bad to worse until, exhausted, we decide to stop and listen. But by then it is usually too late. The essential diet of humble pie is not on the menu and, in any case, the news cycle has passed us by like the insatiable leviathan it is. Truth wimpers and leaves us to our lot, friendships and community suffer another blow, and we wonder what is wrong.

James knew. “Listen first,” he said. “Be slow to speak.” He might have added, “Until you really listen, you have no idea what you are talking about.” Or, “You have two ears and one mouth. Act accordingly.” Again, the reverse of this advice is commonplace in various political messes. If all of our leaders and talking heads 'led with their ears', much of the discourse would evaporate.

But it is always easier to point fingers elsewhere when the real test is at home, among friends, and in the work place. Can we cultivate enough inner peace and be assured of our place in God's good hands so we need not defend ourselves and insist on our way of thinking? Can we gladly give the gift others desperately need, to let them talk out their understanding so they may land in a better place? This is the heart of James' counsel, I believe, and we do well to practice it daily.

Of course, none of this means we cannot hold strong opinions. After all, what we believe most deeply about life is what we want to share with loved ones and, eventually, the whole community. Some ways of life are better than others, and we do everyone a favor if we learn to listen respectfully and respond in like manner. We may learn a better way. So might they!

I faced this challenge recently when a friend called me to account for a strongly-worded opinion I expressed on the fracas in Virginia over late-term abortion. “I share your concern,” she said, “But you may be sacrificing truth on the altar of an agenda. And that is never right.”

My first response, alas, was anger. “How dare she disagree! Of course I am right!” But in quiet waiting and necessary humbling I listened, heard both sides and realized she had a point. Maybe some were over-reacting. Maybe the ideas we hold dear are best lived out close to home where they matter most. Maybe I need the lesson again to hold loosely the uncertain verities of distant news. Maybe my words were not all that important after all. Ouch!

In the end, I landed very close to where I started but I had grown in openness and honesty because I managed to heed James' words: “Listen first, speak slowly, leave anger lagging far behind.” Finding the grace to submit to that discipline always makes us better.

I hope you are doing well on this journey. The early Christians said our faith seeks understanding. And so with our faith, our families, political difficulties, myriad relational problems in the mix of life, if we would grow in understanding we need James' counsel. It is essential to healthy friendships, families and communities, and I pray it can find renewal in our life together.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

On Trials

"When we push the trial away, it is God we lose."

So said I in another place, reaching like all others to gain understanding in this life.

James, the venerable shepherd of Jerusalem, said memorably: "When you try to make sense of your trials, put them in the category of joy!"

He faced the human condition head on, one full of real trials. Some light, some heavy, some forever, some passing, some crushing. All cause for joy.

Nuts? No, James explained. Trials develop patience -- the ability to stay the course no matter what. And when you do that -- when you stay in a press forward, in time, in time, you will be perfect and entire, lacking nothing. Who doesn't want that?

It is the perennial question of value and delayed gratification; of short-term loss for long term gain, of quality more than ease. Of waiting, staying the course, believing.

So often we miss James' promise that difficulties are the gateway to joy because they develop in us the ability to stay the course. With that ability we can know real joy and purpose. Without it, we always quit and know little more than more trouble.

So I know again it is true. When we chafe and squirm and complain and blame and try to run we only prolong the trial. And we lose what God wants to do through the trial.

Trials teach patience, and patience makes it possible for us to 'stay in the chair' and, in time, become "perfect and entire, lacking nothing."

I'd like to be that way. Lord, help me to stay the course.

Monday Preacher Blues

A bit of free verse on the pains that go with preaching.

You say so much,
too much;
Not long-winded, 
Just too much.

Sometimes one word is too much.

"Every word", Jesus said,
"Really matters;"
An admonition
of gravity.

So I feel the weight
drag my soul
and wish them back,
all those words.

Did I really have to say all that,
get into my groove and speak my mind?

"Speak only the Word", people say.
Of course. Why not Scripture alone
on teleprompter?

No, 'preaching is the Word
expressed through personality',
said one Phillips Brooks.

I want the words back,
the laying life on the pulpit,
the groans and truth;
sincere, pure, naked.

It's Monday morning and
preachers resign.
I know why:
words weigh a ton.

Words draw you out,
flat in the street;
vulnerable, wasted,
empty, drained.

I have none left,
except to pray:
"Lord, will you release me
from this?"

Grace is real for
I hold steady 
to Him who holds me.

Joy comes in the morning.
Just not this one.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Practicing Dying and Resurrection

"We practice our death by giving up our will to live on our own terms. Only in that relinquishment or renunciation are we able to practice resurrection.”

So said the late, inimitable Eugene Peterson.

The "spiritual disciplines", as we call them, help us live as Christ teaches. We learn to do in secret so we can be free of thirst for human approval; we pray all the time so we are healthy, resilient and ready when the unexpected crush comes our way. Disciplines prepare.

Is giving up our will a discipline that prepares us to die? I reckon so. Yet, death is not the end. Peterson reminds us of resurrection and if I can know the truth at all I know it now: I scarcely know what this means.

But I have hope. Hope that dying with Christ means we rise with Him.

So now, the morning not yet past, I rise and go to prayer, praying for grace to die so I may live in Christ. If this be purely religious sentiment we are most miserable. I dare to believe it is real and will be demonstrated this day in my living, breathing, doing.

That is all.

Friday, October 19, 2018

"Take no thought for tomorrow..."

“Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring forth.”

We make plans, we project ourselves in to tomorrow, we envision things accomplished. What exactly are we to make of this Proverb? It is certainly accurate. No one knows the next moment with certainty, and the further one projects, the less certainty there is.

Surely the Proverb is echoed in the words of our Lord, who said, “Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.” And Paul, who said, “Be anxious for nothing.” And Jesus again (paraphrased): “Why worry about the various needs of life. See the lillies and the birds. God cares for them. You are worth more than them.”

Here we have speciesism and it is good! We matter to God more than non-human things.

The lesson, though, is not to worry.

We do not know what a day will bring. We simply can't know, and it does no good to fret and trouble over what may be and “what if”.

So as I make plans for an important project tomorrow that is time-sensitive and long-overdue, I remember. Yes, I may have a wreck, yes things can go wrong – they often do! But I do not mire down in those possibilities either. I make plans, trust for the kind grace of God to order my steps, and do my best. Not in a hurry but going somewhere.

I'm not boasting about what I will do, but I am looking forward to the possibilities!