Thursday, December 31, 2009

Last Day - First Day!

On this last day of the decade and of the year 2009 I am thinking about first days. When I was a kid the last day of school was a launching pad into the first day of summer - nothing was more exciting! By the end of the summer, the last day of summer break was just as exciting as I returned to school on the first day of a new school year.

Last days are wonderful - the last day of a really tough week or month or year - thank the Lord for last days.

First days are exhilarating - all the hope, new beginnings, new opportunities and new challenges - there is nothing like a first day!

Thanks for joining me over the last days of 2009 - I look forward to a new conversation about life in the new days of "twenty ten" - Have a joyous and exciting New Year!

Just thinking, Steve

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Ten for Ten

As the end of the decade draws near people are reflecting on the most important events of the decade - big news items - things that made the front page and were talked about forever on the so-called news channels. For me those events pale in significance to the more personal events that shaped my decade. I offer 10 for my last 10:

1. 2000 - Running the Big Sur Marathon - the most beautiful and challenging course I have ever run - outstanding! Finishing into the arms of my sweet Linda was so good!

2. 2001 -The initial planning for our new campus and new church building began with hopes and prayers! Looking back, what a miracle God has done!

3. 2002 - The August birth of Ella Walker - the sweetest Granddaughter any Papa could ever have! I also ran Big Sur Marathon again, this time with my buddies Gary and Mike. Still remember Linda being so excited that she exclaimed, "Let's do something dangerous!"

4. 2003 - Running the New York City Marathon with my friend, Gary and 36,000 other amazing people - including P Diddy and his entourage! I dedicated this 26th Marathon to my Dad, who passed away in 2003. We started the race on Staten Island where my Dad did his Medic training during WWII. I still miss dear old Dad. If heaven has dominoes, Dad is at the table!

5. 2004 - The June birth of Owen Walker - my favorite Grandson - no boy has ever made his Papa feel so loved and appreciated!

6. 2005 - Our Fall vacation to the East Coast in Northern Florida - beautiful sunrises, sunsets and perfect weather! Reading, relaxing and recharging with the love of my life, Linda! Having generous friends like Jack and LuAnne made this possible - so blessed!

7. 2006 - Completing my first Triathlon - wet, hot, exhausting and exhilarating! Those hills outside San Marcos were brutal on that bike - thank the Lord for the downhill at the end of the bike course.

8. 2007 - Frio Fun with the Grand kids - a great week on the River with family - river was flowing and the perfect Hill Country weather made those morning runs so enjoyable!

9. 2008 - Moving to our new church campus and church building - what an amazing journey!What a beautiful gift from God!

10. 2009 - Our first Easter at our new Church Campus - over 800 people celebrating the Risen Lord and a new beginning for this good old church family!

None of these events made the front page or headline news but they shaped my life and I am so grateful! As I think about it, the best times of life are times with people you love! I want more!

Who knows the exciting personal events that are ahead - hang on tight - 2010 is on the way!

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year and New Decade to all!

Just thinking, Steve

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Snowman in the South

Last week when the unusual blast of cold air came our way in Southeast Texas it snowed! We get snow regularly - on average about every 20 years or so. This makes two years in a row! My Grand kids now believe it snows every year around here. Last year they built a snowman that was about 12 inches high - that's all the snow they could come up with. This time they built one that was about 3 feet tall - they used most of the snow from their back yard to do it. What a wonderful day they had - they were released from school early and spent the afternoon playing in the snow! Good stuff!

I remember a snow event from my childhood. Snow was so rare that my brother and I were shocked and delighted when we woke up to several inches of snow on the ground just a few days before Christmas. We were on Christmas break from school and so we played in the snow all day long or until our hands were so cold that we thought our fingers were going to fall off. We would go in warm up our hands, have some hot chocolate and out we would go again. It was spectacular fun. It was cold enough that a little creek froze over and we played "hill country hockey" for several days. What a great surprise this snowy and cold weather was that Christmas break!

I love life's joyous surprises. They come to us in the most unusual packages. My little brother, was an unplanned and joyous surprise. I know that Mom and Dad must have been shocked when the country Doc told Mom, what she already knew - "Yep, there is one in the oven, little darlin' ".
Even though there were times when I wanted to send him back, what a wonderful gift to have a baby brother. He is still one of the great joys of my life.

A couple I know prayed for many years for a baby - ten years later they had a little girl. Her name was Dawn and she was the joy of their life - one other thing - she had Down Syndrome. No child was more affectionate than this child, none could match her excitement and joy with the most ordinary events - she was a serendipity - an unexpected blessing! Not everything about Dawn's life is easy but her parents could not love her more.

I think about that sweet teenage girl named Mary, who received the word from Gabriel, that she was going to have a baby boy and he would be the Son of the Most High God-Jesus -Immanuel - God with us. Certainly she was shocked but somehow she understood that she was blessed and favored and that God could be trusted. Rather than live in the grip of fear, she opened her heart to God's purposes. Mary truly was full of grace. (Luke 1:26-38)

What surprises does God have in store for you? How will you receive them? Though fear and doubt may be our immediate reaction, trust is the way that leads to genuine joy.

Just thinking, Steve

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

A Time of Feasting and Celebration

On the heels of Thanksgiving and the joyous times of feasting and gratitude I am glancing forward into the month of December. What is ahead is more feasting, more celebrations, more parties and more pounds to battle!

I am convinced that we have a great deal to learn about celebration. We tend to make it something for special occasions which results in over indulging in food, drink, and spending. I am all for celebration - I noticed with great joy that Jesus never turned down an invitation to a dinner. He did turn down the invitation to teach, to preach, and to heal on occasion but never an invitation to dinner. He did his first miracle at a wedding feast and turned the water into wine (not grape juice) and saved the celebration from disaster and embarrassment. Jesus loved a party!

But celebration is more than just food and drink, it is a matter of the heart. In the well-known stories of Jesus in Luke 15, the theme is joy. "Rejoice with me" v. 6 "Rejoice with me" v. 9 "So they began to celebrate." v. 24 The reason for joy is important: a wayward person comes home to his loving Father. When one person turns toward the loving arms of God, it is time to have a feast, strike up the band, dance and celebrate!(v.22-24)

With all the parties and celebrations of December, Christmas and the New Year, I want to remind myself that life year round is meant to be joyous and a celebration! Even without the tinsel, the music, the bright lights we are to rejoice and again, I say rejoice! The joy of the Lord is our strength.

One son, one daughter, one neighbor, one friend who sees the Father running to meet them -- yes sir, that's a reason to have a celebration!

Just thinking, Steve

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Black Friday?

You know the expression: "Black Friday" is the day after Thanksgiving when all the stores have those super sales to entice you to shop so they can make enough money to move from the "red" financially into the "black". For many stores, they will do more than 50 % of their business in the last 30 days of the year.

So, I know you are wondering, where will Steve be on Black Friday? Will Steve be lining up at Old Navy at 3:00 A.M. in the morning? (they open at 3:30 A.M.) Not on your life. There are things that I am a sucker for: the wishes of my Grand kids, the creamy jalapeno dressing at Chuy's, and running in the cold on New Year's Day. But sales gimmicks have no appeal to me at all. I never read sale ads. I never watch commercials. (Praise for DVR - I never have to watch those commercials again!) I am the reason ad agents stay up all night trying to come up with cool, clever ideas to hook those reluctant buyers. I'm not buying.

Sometimes I am made to feel like I don't love my country because I am unwilling to go into debt and max out credit cards. Sorry Charlie - I'm not buying. If you enjoy long lines and buying cheap toys made in China and sold at Wal-Mart, more power to you. I'm not buying.

My Black Friday will be nice. A quiet day off. A great morning run in the cool Fall air. And no traffic jams at the mall. Ahhhh! Good stuff.

Just thinking, Steve

Thursday, November 19, 2009

People, Pie, and Gratitude

Thanksgiving is just around the corner and my thoughts have turned to people, pie, and gratitude.

I think of the people in my life, both present and past, who have blessed my life beyond description. In the past, Dad, Mom, family, childhood friends, teachers, coaches, even those girlfriends who dumped me (it was pretty good while it lasted) - my dear Father-in-law and Mother-in-law who thought I could do no wrong, College profs, (the ones who marked "A" on my papers, especially!) minister friends and mentors. In the present, Linda, my partner in life for 35 years, the best human being I have ever known (besides Jesus), my dear daughter, Son-in-law, my two Grand kids, my co-workers, my dear friends, and all the "balcony people" in my life who keep cheering me on. I am so rich - I am loaded with people who have shaped my life in so many wonderful ways.

I am also thinking of pie. I love pie. Pumpkin, Apple, Pecan, Chocolate, Coconut Cream, Lemon Meringue, Key Lime - and more. With each pie I have a memory of people that made great pies and made my life better by sharing. Thanksgiving was the week of pies and they are on my brain.

I am also so grateful. Gratitude is the greatest way I know to transform a bad day into a good one. I know it sounds simple but counting my blessings can reshape the worst day into something remarkable.

People, pies, and gratitude - have a joyous Thanksgiving!

Just thinking, Steve

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Beyond the Call of Duty

I have been thinking about Military families recently. The horrible events at Fort Hood, the long and costly wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, along with the observance of Veterans Day has kept these dear families in my thoughts and prayers of late.

What we ask of our Military families is far beyond the call of duty - it is not just the multiple deployments to far away hostile places but the toll all of this takes on their families. Spouses suffer with loneliness and children are often missing a parent for months and even years at a time. The stress and strain of it all must be an incredible burden to bear.

Fort Hood is a huge operation - more than 50,000 people in this military community and base. The signs of stress are everywhere. One sad reality is that so far this year there have been numerous suicides at Fort Hood. Our military families need support, encouragement, mental health care, and spiritual direction - I can only imagine the difficultly that they face. I have them on my daily prayer list.

When my Dad was drafted into the Army during WWII he was already 24 years old and had two kids and one on the way. No one wanted to go into the service less than my Dad, but he answered the call to duty and gave it his all. He was trained as a Medic and worked in a Military Hospital in Atlantic City, New Jersey. The hospital was in one of the large hotels that had been transformed into a medical facility during the war. I remember him telling me about all those boys coming back without legs, arms, eyes, and many more suffering from post-traumatic stress - many of his patients were put on suicide watch as soon as they checked into the facility. The stress was there in the 1940's just as it is in 2009. The strain on my Mother must have been unbelievable - a young Mom with two little girls and expecting the third child.

We owe these families more than just a nod of appreciation on Veterans Day - they need our daily prayers, our support, and our love. And when they get home, and God speed the day, we need to help them build good lives and healthy families.

A friend of mine has a Son and a Daughter in the Army - both are graduates of West Point - her Son has been to Iraq twice, the daughter will soon be in Afghanistan. Every day for this Mom is a prayer meeting - she and God talk daily, I know.

Let's join her in spending much time in prayer for these who give beyond the call of duty.

Just thinking, Steve

Thursday, November 5, 2009

An Open Mind

One of the signs of getting older is to simply close your mind to anything new. As the years start to stack up, we tend to suffer from closed-mindedness.

A friend was telling me recently about growing up on a ranch in Oklahoma. His father raised cattle for years but one year he made the decision to start raising a new breed of cattle called a Beefmaster. In their area, most ranchers at the time raised white-faced cattle called Herefords. The Beefmaster calves were about the same size when born and were born with little difficulty and normally very healthy. The difference was that when they were taken to be sold at market they had grown at a faster rate and would weigh about 150 to 200 pounds more than other calves. One day after the sale, his Dad was telling another rancher about his success with the calves and how well he had done at the sale. The other old cowboy said, "Well, we get a better price for our Herefords." His Dad showed him the receipts that the price was the same, but that his calves were bigger. The old cowboy looked at the two receipts paused and then said, "I don't care if they do make more money - I still like the white-faced better."

This story is classic. Today the term used for such thinking is "resistance to a new paradigm" - meaning simply denial that something has shifted or changed. Sometimes because of fear or frustration or any number of things we just resist change - we close our mind.

I am fighting hard to not become an old geezer in my thinking - it is never easy to keep your mind open. I love being around people who challenge my thinking and present new ideas for me to work on.

Now if I can just find my keys, I am going to lunch. Where did I leave those keys?

Just thinking, Steve

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Too Many Treats

As a child there was nothing more amazing to me than the annual adventure of "Trick or Treating". The idea that I could go from house to house and simply say, "Trick or Treat" and these normally restrained adults would come to the front door and give me handfuls of candy and goodies until the grocery bag I was carrying would be completely full was almost beyond my understanding. It was crazy. I grew up with severe limitations on the amount of candy I was allowed to have but on this day, it was as if all the rules were suspended.

Thankfully this only comes around once a year - I would be a candy junky if this happened more often. Somehow even though I am not a child and have not gone "trick or treating" for quite some time, I still manage to eat a boatload of candy corn and chocolate during the last two weeks of October. I am eating too many treats. Get behind me, Candy Man!

Too much of anything can become a real problem in life - have you noticed? Work is a wonderful adventure, but too much will turn you into a "work-a-holic". Fitness is good for you - good for you physically and emotionally - but too much fitness can turn you into a fitness junky. Moderation is a word that has almost been lost to our manic way of life. We tend to be people who go overboard - busyness is the addiction of Western Culture. When I am busy, then I feel important and most of all, needed.

The word for moderation in the Bible is self-control. It is presented as evidence of maturity, both spiritual and emotional (Galatians 5:23; II Peter 1:6). Aristotle and Socrates both saw moderation of spirit as a sign of character and wisdom.

Around the corner and down the block from my house is a fellow who has lost all sense of moderation - he has huge inflatable bright orange pumpkins all over his front yard, along with orange lights strung all over his two story house. He has lost control. Next he will be decorating for Ground Hog Day and his house will be covered with hearts on Valentines! He needs a support group to attend to help him with this addiction to going overboard!

Just a few more days left until I can stop eating Candy Corn for another year - Thank goodness!

Just thinking, Steve

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Anger Danger

Why is everyone so angry? Everywhere I go I see people exploding in irrational outbursts of anger. Go to a High School football game and some of those guys who have not played football since 1965 are about to have a stroke because of the bad play of the team or the call of a football official. The guy on the freeway is ranting and raving at his fellow drivers for being such imbeciles - screaming obscenities and using sign language to communicate his disgust. A Mom is screaming at her child in the produce section of HEB, with steam coming out of her ears.

Anger is a genuine human emotion. We all get mad. But the way we express our anger says so much about us. You can also tell so much about a person by what makes them angry.

Jesus was angry but never with something done to him personally. He was angry with those who refused to help the hurting and used religion as their cover. (Mark 3:5) He was angry when greed set up shop in the temple, treating the poor with contempt and ruining a place for prayer. (Mark 11:15-17) When people did things to offend Jesus and hurt him he never responded in anger.

There is the line in the Bible: "In your anger, do not sin." (Ephesians 4:26) This is actually a quote from Psalm 4:4 which Paul borrowed for his discussion of how to handle our anger. Paul basically says don't let your anger "brew" - get it processed soon, before it becomes too hot to handle.

Anger like all our emotions has its place but it also has its dangers. People get crushed by anger and often it will take years to recover from it. One friend told me of how his Father's anger gave him recurring nightmares that still haunt his nights even as an adult and even after his Father's death.

One line from the Bible says to be "slow to become angry" - don't have a short fuse. It goes on to say that human "anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires." (James 1:19-20)

One thing that truly helps me with anger is to see others with compassion not with a desire to get even. There are people I disagree with, those who seem so insensitive and unkind - when I am around them I try to imagine what might be going on in their life. Perhaps they have financial problems, or marital difficulties or maybe they have suffered a recent loss, perhaps someone always reacted in anger toward them - I redouble my effort to treat them with respect and genuine kindness.

Instead of getting so mad about all the mad people why not become more patient, a better listener - be a person of grace, it may be just what they need to help them change the way they deal with their anger.

Just thinking, Steve

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

More Than a Genius Bar

Recently my I-Pod Nano quit working. I had just finished a long run listening to my favorite music as I cruised along. I tried everything to make it work. I hooked it up to my PC and reloaded all my favorite tunes, which turned out to be about 1500 songs. I charged the battery and thought it would be fine. Nothing.

I went online to find out about service for my I-Pod and found out that I just needed to go to the Apple store and visit the "Genius Bar". So I made my appointment and arrived to see my name on the big screen just above the Genius Bar. I looked around in this strange place and there were nerds everywhere. I have never felt so out of place and nervous. I was sure that the Geek at the counter would ask me all kinds of technical questions and I would stand there like a dunce.
To my delight and surprise, the guy who helped me spoke my language. And within minutes, I had a bright blue I-Pod Nano in my hand and I was on my way.

I have to say my visit to the Genius Bar made me think. What I wanted was a quick and easy solution to my problem and that is what I received. Honestly, I don't work for Apple and have no real knowledge of the company other than I have an I-Pod and I love to listen to music. But they are on to something - people want simple, easy solutions to their problems. I am sure it does not always work this smooth.

The problem with life is that most of our real problems can not be solved in a few minutes at some kind of spiritual "Genius Bar". Oh, I wish it would work that way - but it doesn't.

I read recently about a remarkable woman who is today a successful educator, writer, loving Mom, Grandmother and devoted spouse. When she was a child she worshipped her Father, thinking he was the spitting image of the Lord God Almighty. He turned out to be a horrible person. He abused her without mercy, making her feel she deserved it. He had countless affairs and treated her Mom like property. She admitted that it took her 20 years of her adult life to feel whole again after this pain and to move on to the rich and wonderful life she now enjoys. There was no "Genius Bar" that she could step up to get a quick fix. But through faith, love, and the support of people who believed in her she now lives free of the baggage of her painful past.

Her story inspires me and reminds me that even though real problems take time to solve the real solution is worth the effort.

Just thinking, Steve

Monday, October 5, 2009

Sunrise, Sunset - Such Beauty!

On our recent fall getaway to the Atlantic coast I was reminded again of the beauty of a simple sunrise over the ocean and the stunning beauty of an evening sunset over the bay. Part of the reason these sunsets and sunrises were so breathtaking was the hand that I was holding when I saw them - the hand of my gorgeous wife. Linda makes any sunrise or sunset more beautiful for me.

The variety of colors and hues and shapes with each sunrise and sunset is endless. Each one has it's own look - each one painting the sky like a gifted artist. As I witnessed each one I heard myself "oohing and awing", as if I was watching a fireworks display on the Fourth of July!

Another reason that these sunsets and sunrises were so wonderful was my state of mind - I was chillin'. I was so relaxed that I literally did not know what day it was, at times. This is not my normal behavior. I am addicted to clocks, watches, calendars, appointment books and lists. I was liberated from all these and my mind and heart was very receptive to simple and powerful beauty all around me.

Today I am back in the pace of clocks and appointments, voice mails, text messages, e-mails, and a long list of things to do. What I do not want to lose is in this fast paced world I live in each day is my appreciation for beauty.

My prayer is that I will see the beauty in a problem solved and the beauty in a task well done. I want to see the beauty of teamwork as co-workers work together to tackle important matters and do our best to be successful in our calling. I want to see the beauty of doing research and discovering new ideas for new challenges. I long to see the beauty in being a good listener and a kind helper to those facing difficulties in their life.

The teacher of Ecclesiastes wrote: "Everything is beautiful in its time." Ecclesiastes 3:11.

Just thinking, Steve

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Important Stuff

I had this great conversation some time ago with a person who came to a church service for the first time in their Adult life. She told me that she faintly remembered going as a very young child but could not remember any details except that there was a large cross up front in the church sanctuary. She said she could not take her eyes off of the cross the entire time.

So after all those years had passed and she attended a church service again as an Adult I was curious - I asked, "So how was it?" Her response really caught me off guard. "It was kind of scary" she said. So I kept asking, "What do you mean?" She looked at me with very intense eyes and said, "It all seemed so important. I don't attend anything these days that seems very important. Church seemed very important."

I get all kinds of reactions to church services these days - "It was too long." "It was too loud." "It was too boring." "Your story was so funny." This is the first time anyone has ever said, "It all seemed so important."

She is on to something. I need the reminder that spiritual concerns are very important. I never want what I do as a vocation to just become a "job". There are a few things in life that rise to the level of being very important - my relationship with my dear wife, Linda, my relationship with my Grandchildren and my daughter and son-in-law, my close friends, and my co-workers - but none of these relationships will flourish if my relationship with God is not healthy and growing. That is important.

I am thankful for the reminder.

Just thinking, Steve

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Rude is Not Cool

I am so tired of rude behavior in people. Rude seems to be ruling the day. Celebrities are rude, politicians are rude, drivers are rude, athletes are rude, parents are rude, children are rude, preachers are rude - rude is everywhere.

I'm starting my own personal plan to be polite and courteous. My Mother would be proud. She hated rude behavior and would not tolerate it in her son.

Today I was polite to the dear person who waited on me at the restaurant. I wonder how many people will be rude to her during her shift. My suspicion is that rudeness is something she deals with on a regular basis. When I looked at her I thought of my dear wife who waited tables when we were in College and thought of the times people were rude and demanding toward her. Rude is not cool.

The dear man who slowly counted out his change at the store today was greeted graciously by the fellow behind the counter - it made me feel good to see him treat this man with gentleness and respect. The guy behind who was grumbling finally put his items down and walked out in a huff. We all just laughed at him. Jerks are a dime a dozen - people with class are a treasure.

Just call me "Mr. Polite" - go ahead make my day!

Just thinking, Steve

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Skipping School on Campus

My Grandson is in Kindergarten now and still getting adjusted to the idea that you have to go 5 days a week and stay all day! I don't blame him. I remember trying to find any way I could to get out of class.

I loved school assemblies because we got out of class. We had a guy bring all these birds of prey and had them fly out over the audience - he did not know what a risk he was taking with all the rednecks and hunters in my school! One guy came and whistled for a full hour - various popular tunes - he was the fellow who whistled that tune at the opening of the Andy Griffith show. Very famous to all the Opie fans and there were plenty in that crowd. My all time favorite all school assembly was when a choral and musical group from a San Antonio High School came and sang and performed. The girls were the cutest girls I had ever seen and I immediately fell in love with two or three of them. I am sure the feeling was mutual.

School is important. I ended up going a total of 20 years before I finished all my grad school work. For the most part, I really loved school. But I still recall with joy, the days I found a way to skip out on class, even without leaving the campus. Football, basketball, track, one act plays, even FFA field trips - any excuse to get out of class was good enough for me!

My Granddaughter loves school - my Grandson said, "actually I don't love it." He is enjoying it more now. My very first teacher was Mrs. Wimberly - she played the piano and let us take a nap after lunch. I still recall the fragrance of "Jungle Gardenia" when she leaned over my desk to help me with my printing. I need that kind of schedule and kindness now - where is she when I need her!

Bless our schools and all those motley little kids that roam the halls - bless the teachers and bosses and the cafeteria workers and bus drivers - bless them Lord!

Just thinking, Steve

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Hanging On To My Clunker

I read this morning that nearly 700,000 cars were sold during the Cash for Clunkers program. I have a clunker and I am hanging on to mine. It has 200,000 miles, uses a bit of oil, but still gets me to the church on time.

I love getting all I can out of whatever I buy. Some people call me "tight" or "cheap", but I just enjoy seeing how long things will last. I have items in my garage that I have had for more than three decades - they work fine. What is wrong with hanging on to things instead of constantly feeling compelled to get a new gadget or new toy or new computer.

I could go buy a new car or new boat or a new bike but after the first ride it would be used. Things always lose their newness - one or two times on the road and the car is just like all the rest - it's used. The word "used" is not a negative term to me.

I like keeping things that have some miles on them - I have friendships that have a lot of miles on them and they are more valuable to me than ever. My sweet wife and I have been traveling life together for 35 years and it is a great road trip - I want more!

I saw a news item about a woman that had been driving the same old Mercury sedan for 40 years - she had over 500,000 thousand miles on this simple but reliable old car. There is something magic about that to me. In a world where everything is so disposable, it thrills me to see people who enjoy taking the long way home.

Just thinking, Steve

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Jesus at the Window

I stopped by a local fast food place on the way to work today to pick-up a nutritious breakfast - a biscuit with grape jelly and a medium diet coke. Good stuff. As I pulled up to the window I was shocked to see who was working the drive thru this morning - Jesus had the morning shift.

The young man gave me a warm smile and my breakfast and there on his name tag was his name: Jesus. This is not my first time to meet someone with the name Jesus - when I was in Junior High I played basketball and football with Jesus. He would never let us call him Jesus - he went by Jesse but his Christian name was Jesus - it was on his birth certificate, I am sure.

I am curious how it feels to be named Jesus. Can you imagine going through life with your given name being Jesus?

The truth is that the name Jesus, made famous by Jesus of Nazareth, my dear Lord, was a very common name when he received the name so long ago. It would have been like naming your son, John or Bill or Joe - it was a household name. What transformed this common name was the remarkable life of one person who lived nearly two millenniums ago - this name was never the same after he made his earthly journey.

I am understanding it more clearly all the time that being a follower of Jesus is really about trying to be like him - full of grace and truth and a blessing to our world. I have so much to learn and my failings in being like him are in stark contrast to his beautiful life but in my heart I desire to be more like him each day. There was a time when I wanted to be a "great preacher" or "a great Christian leader" but what I sincerely desire now, as I have matured a bit, is to simply be more like Jesus day by day. Jesus said the greatest are those who learn to serve others.

I am glad my Mom did not name me Jesus - Steve is fine for me. I do admire the young man wearing the name "Jesus'" on his name tag who smiled broadly this morning - he was kind when I asked for an extra grape jelly. I prayed a little prayer for him as I pulled away.

Just thinking, Steve

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Reflections from the Quiet Places

I have been enjoying a Sabbatical this summer. This is my first experience with the idea of a Sabbatical. I have been engaged in my current job for 24 years this summer. In all I have been in the same vocation for 34 years. Work is something I have been doing since my first part-time job at 12 years old. I worked through High School and College and have not stopped since. Work is my comfort zone - I love working. So the idea of taking a "sabbatical" is a shock to the system, but a much needed one.

The word sabbatical literally means to "cease from tending your fields". So that is what I have attempted to do, even though I did do my yard on occasion. Yard work is recreation for me not work. Much of what I have attempted to do while not doing my normal work, is to be quiet, to listen, to be attentive. Guess what? This has been hard work: to stop, be quiet, listen, and pay attention.

One of my, favorite pictures of the way people live their lives in today's world, is that we "live like tourists, not pilgrims." Pilgrims are on a journey drinking in all the experiences of life, while tourists are just sightseeing enslaved by their itineraries.

I have always loved the story of Martha and Mary in Luke 10 - Jesus and his disciples come to visit and Martha is having her "19th nervous breakdown." There is work to do and Mary is not helping - she is just sitting at Jesus' feet listening, being quiet, and paying attention. Martha, being the "good Christian" that she is, wants Jesus' to get Mary told and tell her get up off her duff and get in the kitchen and help! Jesus loves Martha so much but on this day Martha is wrong. She is "worried and upset about many things". When I read that I think about how we often live our days - we live worried, anxious, upset about a long list of things - this is not just an occasional occurrence for many but a way of life. Not good. I want to say to Martha - "Martha, Jesus is in the house - what are you thinking!" Jesus makes it clear - "only one thing is needed."
Take that in for a moment - one thing is needed. In a world filled with constant distractions, endless text messages, vibrating cell phones, ton's of "Twittering", and flocks of friends on Facebook, CNN, Fox News, Headline News, and hours of screaming A.M. radio talk show celebrities, who has time for "one thing."

One of my buddies told me that his "life is a distraction".

As I reflect on my time of rest and time for quiet, I know now that I am so much poorer when I am distracted and so much richer when I am attentive. Depth speaks to depth. Distraction keeps us in the shallow places. Deep things open themselves to deep places in the heart.

One of my personal goals is be less distracted and more attentive than ever before.

Listen. See. Think. Act.

Just thinking, Steve

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Good Works

I am amazed at all the good work that is going on in our world. When I go to the hospital to visit people, I hear about all the groups of people who are seeking to serve those in need. Some bring food and snacks for both the patient and the family - some come with helpful information including maps and brochures about hospital services - one man arrives with his table to give a free massage to family members and patients to help relieve some of the stress - volunteers provide a children's center to help the long hours and days at a hospital pass without added pain.
Food pantries serve those in need throughout the community, support groups help families dealing with Alzheimer's, Divorce Recovery, Grief Recovery and more. Volunteers tutor kids after school and help them get their homework done before supper time. The list goes on and on.

Doing good is good for you. I have neighbors who retired 20 years ago and they are going strong. They stay busy and engaged by serving others through their church and many community programs. Life has meaning when it is not just about me.

I love seeing people who are eager to do good. Some just love to complain about all the deadbeats and all the people that are lazy -- to hear them talk there is nothing good going on in this world. My life has always been enriched by the people who love to do good works. One man I know has been teaching children to love reading for 25 years - he is changing the world one child at a time. Who can place the value on the gift of teaching a child to love reading?

Serving others has its own reward. It's not about money or promotions or more power and that makes it like a breath of fresh air! The personal satisfaction your receive is like a energy sport drink after you exercise - it gives you a charge - only it lasts longer!

Go out and do good works - use your unique gifts - it is a practical way to express your love for others and for your Creator, who blessed you with the gifts you have to share!

This old line from scripture says it well:
"Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God's grace in its various forms." (I Peter 4:10)

We are all just "grace givers" because we have been given grace in such abundance!

Just thinking, Steve

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Astronauts and Astros and Old Walter

It has been forty years since our Astronauts took those first steps on the moon. I remember what a triumphant feeling we had on that day. If we could do this, we could do anything.

In my little hometown, I remember one older woman's reaction to it all. She did not believe it. She thought the whole thing was staged in some studio somewhere. "God never wanted us to go to the moon" she said. I was a believer. I knew it happened. We were Americans. We could do anything we put our minds to. She remained a skeptic.

My brother and I would climb up in the live oak trees in our front yard and dream of flying - flying into space. I recall laying on my back in the front yard at night and seeing the bright moon above and thinking someday I will go there. It was a day of high hopes.

Sometime in the mid 60's we came to Houston and went to an Astros baseball game - I remember the people who seated you had spacesuits and space bubbles on their head. I thought they were real Astronauts, just working a second job. The Astros beat the Dodgers - now I knew anything was possible! The "Toy Cannon" Jimmy Wynn hit a home run that seemed to go into space before it came down.

No one enjoyed the space adventures more than Walter Cronkite, the CBS anchorman, just laid to rest this week. Old Walter was speechless when he saw it all unfold.

The current recession seems to have drained most people of all hope. I remain a hopeful person. My hopes are grounded in more mature realities these days but hope is an anchor for my soul. People without hope become desperate. They begin to die, little by little until despair simply overwhelms them. Hope is not wishful thinking - it is a Christian virtue -
Faith, Hope and Love - the great trio that sing a beautiful song together! (I Corinthians 13:13)
This hope has been poured into my heart by the Holy Spirit and it does not disappoint!(Romans 5:5)

With hope the challenges of today can be met with courage and the future can be embraced with joy! Got hope? I hope so.

Just thinking, Steve

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Wedding Chaos

Summer is the season of weddings. My career as a minister has made weddings and wedding events a part of every summer for more than 30 years. I have conducted more than 360 weddings and one thing is always predictable - the unpredictable.

If you ever watch America's Funniest Video's you notice that most of the funniest clips are from weddings. This is not surprising to me. Only on rare occasions has any wedding that I have been involved with gone smooth. There is something about the combination of a nervous bride, a bored groom, and a temporarily insane MOB (Mother of the Bride) that results in varying degrees of chaos. Some of what happens is just funny and everyone laughs and enjoys the unexpected surprises. Other problems are more serious; like the bride who was late to the wedding - an hour late and did not tell anyone where she was! On one occasion, their was a fist fight in the parking lot between the old boyfriend and the groom - not good. One wedding started with the groom fainting and literally falling to the floor as the bride was coming down the aisle. I could go on. The other stories will be in a book that I will write someday about weddings entitled "Stay Away from the MOB!"

I find comfort in the fact that the first recorded miracle in the gospels is at a wedding. (John 2) Jesus turns the water into wine. Most weddings would go smoother if someone was present who could perform a couple of miracles. In this story, Jesus saves the day because the worst thing that could have happened is for a host to run out of wine. Urged by his Mother, Jesus turns a disaster into a genuine celebration to remember! By the way, Jesus did turn the water into wine, not grape juice, which is what I was told by my dear but misinformed "teetotaler" parents. I don't think grape juice would have been so joyously received by the wedding guests.

Getting married is very popular these days. Some people like it so much they do it several times in a lifetime. One woman told me that she had out lived three husbands but was in the market for a good man - she had just celebrated her 90th birthday when she shared her hope for the future. It would be my luck that the groom or bride would "pass on" during the ceremony.

No wonder Jesus never got married and Paul advised people to be single.

All kidding aside, being married is the great joy of my life - the girl who said yes more than 35 years ago has made my life a dream! Marriage I love - weddings send chills down my spine!

Just thinking, Steve

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Looking for Beauty

I am discovering again and again that we choose what we see in life. Some people seem to only see the ugly side of life. I challenge myself to look for beauty everyday. When I look closely I see it in abundance.

Here is just a sample of the beauty I see:

A husband holding the hand of his dear wife as they listen to the news about her biopsy.
Children playing together at a neighborhood playground with sounds of laughter in the air.
A young mother kissing her little baby, talking, and smiling, as the little one coos with delight.
A Father and Son working in the yard together, stopping to stand in the shade and drinking ice cold tea.
A nurse being especially gentle with one of her patients who is frightened and alone.
A cool rain in the early morning hours after months of dry weather.
Listening to the corny jokes of my six year old Grandchild and laughing with gusto!
Watching an armadillo snooping around my back yard, looking like something prehistoric.
Seeing a hawk take flight as I top a steep hill on my morning run.
Observing a family as they search for shells together on the beach.
Seeing the joyous smile of a young couple on their wedding day.
Eating watermelon with my grandchildren on the Fourth of July.
Seeing the sweet smile of my wife as we walk along side the Gulf of Mexico together.

Life is beautiful. Do you look for the beauty?

Jesus said of the woman who anointed him with perfume, "She has done a beautiful thing."
Others only looked for ugliness - Jesus saw the beauty. (Mark 14:6)

Give it a try. It is the ultimate in an "attitude adjustment".

Just thinking, Steve

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Free at Last!

Remember all those times in life when you felt so free! You finally had your drivers permit and you could take the car on the road without Mom or Dad being backseat drivers - free at last! Graduation day - no more classes, no more demanding teachers, no more term papers - free at last! Out from under Mom and Dad's thumb - on your own - your own apartment - no more rules - free at last! This kind of freedom is always fleeting - it never lasts.

You go to work and the boss has a whole new set of rules to follow. At work by 8 and don't be late -- freedom gone. You get married and the obligations and commitments of living and loving and working together place limitations on your life - more than you ever considered. When the kids arrive, you have even less freedom, with the needs of your children coming before your own. Where did all that freedom go?

Maybe we dream of the wrong kind of freedom - genuine freedom has obligations - it takes effort to maintain - it has to be cared for, nurtured, protected and treasured.

A neighbor told me a few years ago that he lived for years longing for his great emancipation - retirement. Then he would be free - but what he found was that even retirement has it's demands - the needs of an ailing wife, the struggles of a troubled adult child came to call - it felt as if his freedom had been taken away again.

I consider myself a free person - free to think, to love, to serve, to work, to give, to listen, to disagree, to laugh, to cry - in other words I am free to live!

Freedom is like taking a bath - you have to keep doing it every day to stay free!

As the 4th of July approaches I am enjoying my free life and thanking God for it - the old USA is a good place to live and I am blessed. I will enjoy some watermelon, have a hotdog, and enjoy some fireworks this weekend and remember that genuine freedom is hard work!

Just thinking, Steve

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Arriving Where We Started

I am making a special effort everyday to spend time in quiet, thinking, praying, exploring, and just listening. This is a hard discipline but a rich one to develop. The world of motion, noise, activity, talking beckons me all day long. I live in that world and enjoy it. But it is dangerous place when you cannot ever be still or be quiet without feeling guilty or useless or empty.

I have noticed lately that my thoughts, meditations, and prayers keep finding there way to the place where I started.

I know you have heard these lines from T.S. Eliot:

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
T.S. Eliot in Four Quartets

Eliot's words have been bouncing around in my head and heart lately. I am discovering that all my exploring keeps taking me back to familiar places in my memory. Sometimes memory of the past and desires for the future are joined to the love of the present. It is as if we journey and explore and find our self back where we started but with a new understanding and appreciation of that starting place.

Let me illustrate it this way: I spent the day with my dear Grand kids recently and had so much fun listening to them, playing with them - just soaking it all in. At one point I realized that I was thinking of sweet times with my daughter years before, (their Mom) and then noticed I was thinking of joyous times with my Father as a child. I was in one moment enjoying the present and past and somehow I felt like a knew something I had never known. This is part of what Eliot has in mind, I think.

I remember taking a long ride with my Father a few years before his death. We drove around the county where he grew up and he pointed out the places where he had worked, gone to school, and lived. I was driving and pulling over again and again to listen to his stories. Hours later, I realized we were back where we started - we had make a long and winding journey through out the county but we ended up right back where we started. It seemed the perfect end to that journey.

Life is full. Life is good. Explore and explore some more but remember often you will find yourself arriving where you started. Each time, if you are attentive, you will find you have made new discoveries along the way. Enjoy the trip!

Just thinking, Steve

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Growing Old Gracefully

You may have heard the story about the tourist who was on vacation in the mountains of West Virginia one summer. Making his way up a mountain trail, the traveler came upon an old cabin with what appeared to be a truly authentic mountain man sitting on the front porch. The traveler asked the fellow if he could take his picture - the mountain man said, "I reckon so." After taking a few photo's he asked the man what his secret was - "I have always wondered how you mountain people live to such a ripe old age - What's your secret?" The mountain man responded; "No secret how I live - everybody around here knows I drink a quart of homemade whiskey every day, smoke 6 cigars made from homegrown tobacco, and a I party every night." The tourist was shocked - "Wow! That seems like a rather strenuous lifestyle for a man of your age - how old are you, sir?" The mountain man said with great pride; "I will be 32 this spring."

I love to talk to people who have a few miles on them. Some folks in their 90's are as alive and vibrant as ever, even if they have some physical limitations. I am always trying to discover their secret - how does a person grow old gracefully?

Sometimes I see someone who looks rather ridiculous trying to act like they are 21 when they are 81. I also have witnessed far too many who simply quit living when they hit 60 - there is nothing more tragic than seeing someone die before they die!

I am learning that the secret to growing old gracefully is in the word "growing." When I talk with people who have quit learning, quit growing, who have parked their brains and quit exploring, my heart goes out to them. How sad!

I talked with a woman recently who was telling me about her new computer, with all the latest features. She was like a kid in a candy shop. She is in her 80's. She is a cutting edge learner and age has nothing to do with it - it's about living!

I met a man a few years ago who went back to college when he was in his 70's and graduated from College in his 80th year. He told me he hoped experience and education would help him land a good job.

Most of the people I run and ride with are much younger than me - much faster - and look better in bike shorts than I do, but it is invigorating to be around them - they praise me for my "long dedication and discipline" - I feed off their enthusiasm and passion.

The truth is we are all growing older - the only question is will we make the exciting journey with grace?

Just thinking, Steve

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Life in the Waves

I have become a lover of the ocean. This took some time for me. I love rivers and lakes and creeks - oceans seemed too massive. I had to get used to saltwater and stinging creatures in the surf like jellyfish and man of war. I have learned to enjoy the Gulf of Mexico, the Atlantic, and the Pacific on different occasions - each has it's own unique personality.

I recall one occasion when the waves, wind, and undertow at the beach were especially strong. As I went out into the surf, I was pulled, pushed, jabbed, knocked down and left breathless by the power of the waves and currents. One moment I was standing, the next I was down scraping my chest on the bottom of the ocean floor. What power - so much power.

Sometimes life is like fighting the waves of a churning ocean. I recently spent time with a family whose son, a graduating Senior, who had won an appointment to the Air Force Academy, a remarkable and gifted young man, was killed in a car crash. It was like a giant wave came crashing down on them. Another family, lost their Mother and Father in an instant. The storm had come with such intensity that it threatened to take them all under. Life in the waves is so unpredictable. One moment the seas are gentle and rolling - the next they are like a violent storm.

I have to remind myself that living is beautiful and treacherous, sometimes all in the same week, same day, same hour.

The gift of living comes with risk but with amazing joy. The joy is even present in the storm - surrounded by people who love us, who act as Life Guards pulling us from the stormy sea of life, we see again the beauty of loving relationships, even in the midst of loss.

One line from Scripture comes to mind: "Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep..." - we don't have to face the winds and waves alone. (Romans 12:15)

I am stepping back into the waves - thank God I am not alone.

Just thinking, Steve

Monday, June 1, 2009

Too Friendly

I am out and about early each day. Running, swimming, biking or walking - my morning exercise routine is a basic of my daily schedule. When I am running through my neighborhood in the mornings, I greet the people I encounter along the way. After years of being a "friendly guy" to those I meet I know that not everyone is going to respond to my friendly greeting. Those who are regulars have given up being silent and they say hello. When I meet someone new to the morning crowd they often say nothing when I greet them - some even turn away as if I do not exist. I have lived in this same neighborhood for more than 20 years. Some of those I see when I am on my morning circuit are now walking their third or fourth dog since the first time I met them along our route.

I know that to some I am just too friendly. Greeting strangers, saying hello to people who I don't even know - I am a freak. Someone told me that I will make a great greeter at Wal-Mart someday. I was being friendly before friendly was a marketing tool.

On a trip to New York City I had to restrain myself on the greeting stuff - for one thing there are millions of people on the street and my voice just cannot hold up to it. Besides that I was told by those who love me that I would probably get verbally abused if I greeted NYC strangers.

Why are we afraid of friendliness? I hate living in a world that is so fearful that saying hello and offering a gentle smile is seen as a threat.

Being a friendly freak is not all bad. One morning an older fellow that I greeted on the Golf Course cart path stopped me and told me that he looked forward to my hello and smile in the mornings. We friendly freaks tend find each other.

Try a little friendliness - give someone a simple smile today.

Just thinking, Steve

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Keep Your Head on the Phone

Owen, my Grandson, is a very helpful young fellow. He is always giving Papa and Nana (my wife and I) instructions about how to do something properly. For example, when you are talking on the cell phone, he will tell you "Keep your head on the phone, Papa."

I have a feeling that this is something passed along from the wise instruction of his parents.

This week I have been keeping my head on the phone. Life, work, troubles, and daily challenges have had me on the phone for literally hours each day. I am not a phone person. I find them helpful at times but often a huge time distraction and honestly a big waste of time and energy. There are times when being on the phone comes with the job and cannot be avoided.

Owen is right. There are times when we you must "keep your head on the phone." I am glad every week is not like this one.

Vacation is coming soon. I will not have my head on the phone then - yahoo!!

Sorry the phone is ringing - time to put my head on the phone, again!

Just thinking, Steve

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Finding My Place

A few years ago my wife and I enjoyed a wonderful trip to California. We drove Pacific Coast Highway 1 - saw the beauty of the Pacific again and again from different vantage points along the way. We visited Santa Barbara, Malibu, Santa Monica - I was in Beach Boy heaven! What an amazing trip!

My wife lived her teen years in So Cal. Her Father was a Vice-Prez at Pepperdine University. She recalled her Saturday's going to Huntington Beach - the sun, the ocean, sights and sounds. We decided to go by and see the home where she lived during those years. We found the subdivision in the hills overlooking L.A. and located the street. I remember the look in her eye when she recognised the street - "It's right down this street - on the right - the last house." We drove down the street and found the house. Then came the shocking reality: it was not the last house on the street. As far as you could see in the hills and on the horizon were houses. To put it mildly, things had changed just a bit in 25 years. Hundreds of homes covered the hills with avenues and streets winding their way in every direction. The house itself was also very different. The new owners had added a second story and changed the landscaping so that the home of my wife's adolescent memories was barely identifiable.

This is the story of life in a snapshot. Things change and we sometimes lose our place.

We go to Florida pretty often these days. My dear Mother-in-law lives there in an assisted living center for people with Alzheimer's. She enjoys our visits but doesn't remember them. We laugh and talk about the past and sometimes get sad. Life has changed and she has lost her place. We expect that one day we will visit and she will not know us.

Being human is exciting and terrifying all at the same time. We experience so many amazing things in this life but we also sometimes lose our place. We even ask ourselves "Where do I belong now?"

Fredrick Buechner's book Longing for Home speaks to our longings when he says:
"No matter how much the world shatters us to pieces, we carry inside us a vision of wholeness that we sense is our true home and that beckons to us. "

Mother Teresa had this wonderful line she often repeated; "All the way to heaven is heaven."
She was reminding us that we must live now - enjoy now - know that now, where ever we are we are in our place and to live abundantly now.

I have found my place. Here. Now. And so I will live now, not just hope to live later.
All the way to heaven is heaven.

Just thinking, Steve

Monday, May 11, 2009

Thinking About Mom's

Mom's day - what a day! We celebrated by having all the little babies with their parents on stage at church as we prayed for them! It was beautiful chaos!

My clever Grandson, Owen, got up on Mom's day with a plan. He told his Mom, (my daughter), "Mom, it's your day to celebrate! Let's put the slip 'n slide out in the back yard!" Just what Mom wanted for Mom's day!

The demands on women are way over the top. If I listed my top ten hardest working human beings I have ever known, 8 out of 10 would be women. My Mom married my Dad on a Sunday afternoon and the next morning they were both working in the cotton fields in Central Texas. It was the depression but they were very blessed because they both had jobs. They worked 6 days a week and their combined weekly income was $15. Wow - party like its the 1930's! When I would wake up in the mornings my Mom would be up working and singing old hymns with her squeaky voice - when I went to bed at night she was still up working! Despite the challenges of raising 6 children and working from "can to can't" she was a very happy person.

When I was applying for Grad School years ago I went through a two day period of psychological testing and evaluation. I guess they were trying to "weed out" the crazies - I have no idea how I made it through such a screening. One of the tests was the old Rorschach Inkblot test - you know, "look at these shapes and tell us what you see." One of my buddies told me ahead of time not to say, "It looks like my Mother..." I was so nervous that every blot looked like my Mom but I never said so.

When I listen to people in therapy sessions, Mother's do come up on occasion. Mom's seem to get more blame than is fair. They are human beings just like the rest of us. There are some horrible Mom's and a few really amazing ones - most are just normal human beings trying their best.

My Mom was a genuinely good person and a thoughtful Mom - my wife and daughter are both good Mom's - I have been blessed by the women in my life and I am better for it!

Just thinking, Steve

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Births and Graduations

Births and graduations - these are of course, major passageways in life. I watched as the Senior class rose to be introduced and the church applauded and we prayed for them - one of our largest Senior classes ever - I remember them as babies. Several of them were students in my wife's Kindergarten class - so much talent - what a joy to see them grow and flourish!

The next day I held one of our newest babies in my arms - Luke. Handsome boy! Proud parents! Joy filled grandparents! They are at the starting line while others have reached a major milestone - life is filled with such meaningful moments!

Our hopes and dreams for our children - they inspire us to sacrifice, work long hours, stand on a hot soccer field to see our kid kick the ball - at their baptism, their marriage, their graduation our heart swells with joy!

On Sunday we will have 50 plus little babies on stage front and center with their parents and we will pray and ask God's blessing - we have such high hopes. What will these little ones become?

There is that old fable about a baby Tiger that ends up being raised in a herd of goats. The little Tiger had known nothing else. So he walked like a goat, ate like goat, butted heads with other goats, and even learned to "bleat" like a goat. Then one day the goats were in an open field and a huge adult Tiger came out of the forest and roared and all the goats ran for cover except one. The young Tiger who had been raised as a goat was spellbound. In the Tiger's roar he heard something that he had longed for all his life. In that moment was born the possibility of his actually being a tiger.

What we hope and dream for our kids is that they will hear the roar - that they will know who they truly are and who they are meant to be.

Births and Graduations - my hopes are high!

Just thinking, Steve

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

A Basketball Dream

I promise myself each year that I will not watch the NBA playoffs. Making such a promise sets me up to be a promise breaker - I love basketball. I still recall going out and playing ball on the dirt driveway behind the the house, with the 9 foot 6 inch goal that my Dad and I installed on the Garage. The goal had originally been 10 feet but over time we put in more dirt on the driveway and the rim was bent downward from my attempted dunks and the last time I measured the height it was 9'6". This explains why my jump shot was always short on a regulation goal.

The size and speed of today's players is mind boggling. I live near Houston, so I have become a rather unfaithful fan of the Rockets. I love them and hate them all during the same game. When I see the massive players like Yao Ming and the lightning fast players like Wafer and Brooks I am stunned by what amazing athletes they are. Truly amazing.

I had a recurring dream when I was just kid. In the dream, I was playing in a big game and had the final shot and got fouled. There I stood on the free throw line with the game in the balance, sweating bullets and preparing to shoot my free throws. At this history making moment, I would wake up - the dream was never finished.

In some ways, life is like a basketball game. We go out and play hard every day and sometimes we face a strategic game changing moment - we stand on the line and the ball is placed in our hands. The pressure is on -- will we come through in the clutch or will we choke under the pressure? The difference is that life is not a dream - it's real and the challenges we face are real.

I have had these moments and so have you. While these challenging times push us to the limit, I am so thankful to be able to experience them. There is nothing quite like the experience of being so alive and engaged. Life is an adventure. Questions are not easy to answer, battles are not easy to win, people are not easy to love --- but when all is said and done we never feel more alive, human, and open to change and grow that when we face these life challenging moments.

Will we always sink the winning basket? No way. But being engaged in the game of life, working with people, tackling problems, and doing our very best -- this makes life exciting, meaningful, and important.

The balls in your court. Take the challenge - do your best - say a prayer - life is good!

Just thinking, Steve

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

I've Got Problems

People with problems like to hang out with me. Like a moth drawn to a light people who struggle will all kinds of problems want to talk to me, spend time with me, and otherwise clutter up my day.

When I rise each morning I have this idea bouncing around in my head that today will be different. I will make my plan, assemble my list, and "getter done". Sorry, it never happens. People with their problems find me and hijack my day. They want to talk and want me to listen. They want to pray and want me to pray with them. They want to cry and they want me to supply tissue and a shoulder. Why do they do this? Don't they know I have important things to do. You know - stuff -work stuff and pastoral duties and howdy duties and baby hugging and deep thoughts about how many angels can rest upon a pin. I have places to go and people to see. And yet they keep asking for a moment or two of my day.

O.K. I know why it happens. It's because I have problems, too. Those who know me, know about my genetic flaws, my un-original sins, my blatant weaknesses and they feel at home with me. Now I am not proud of my problems or my failures or my sins but I am honest about them.

Kidding aside, I am humbled that anyone would want to open up and share their problems with me. I do like to find solutions for problems but the journey is rarely a simple one.

So that's it - I've got problems. Being fully human is to face and tackle our problems with courage and faith. And this I will do.

Just thinking, Steve

Thursday, April 16, 2009

In the Afterglow

I am living in the afterglow of Easter this week. I love Easter. Both the spiritual message of Easter and the family fun and traditions of Easter. Our church had a great day on Sunday, setting a new attendance record in our new church building, the campus overflowing with children everywhere. My Grand kids came and had a blast at our Children's Egg hunt, in spite of rainy weather. I loved it all.

People need the experience of new beginnings in their life, a central message of Easter. They also need the spirit of hope that is fostered by seeing hundreds of children at church with their parents - the dire predictions about the future of the church just don't ring true. Young families with their children love church -- it is a happening place to be!

Every time I hear the predictions about the demise of Christian faith and the decline of church life in America, I recall what my sociology Prof's were saying about marriage in the 70's when I was in College and Grad school. Marriage is history, they said. It will be a thing of the past by the end of the century. The truth is that marriage is more popular than ever. In fact, it is so popular that some folks get married several times! I have conducted more than 360 wedding ceremonies over the years --- and despite all the challenges of being married and staying married, it is still immensely popular. I know people live together and some people don't get married but the ultimate hope of many who are not married is to someday find just the right person and get married.

So when someone says church and Christian faith is history, I listen but I don't panic. There are too many signs that the future is bright -- churches that seek to share the love and grace of God will do well. Certainly there will be challenges, but the message of hope that Easter proclaims still speaks to people. It is a winsome and attractive idea - new life in Jesus, new hope in God, and a new beginning for human beings.

I am in the afterglow and it feels good.

Just thinking, Steve

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

No Whining Please

I admit it. I do not like whining. I don't like it when I do it and can't stand it when others do it. I think it is important to know the difference between a real problem and a slight inconvenience. Some folks just cannot seem to understand the difference.

One of my favorite stories is one told by Robert Fulghum about himself. Fulghum is famous for his funny and thoughtful books like All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. Fulgum tells about his first real job out of college as a horse wrangler on a resort ranch in the Sierra Nevada mountains. The owners were real penny pincher's when it came to paying the help and feeding them. One night Robert was ranting about the wieners and sauerkraut that they had been fed for lunch for nine straight days and then to top it off the lunches were deducted from their meager pay. Robert went on and on about how unfair it all was and how steamed he was and how he was going to quit this lousy job. Eventually no one was left to listen to his rantings except the night auditor, Sigmond Wolman. Wolman was a quiet, hard working man who patiently listened to all Robert's complaints without a word. Robert liked Wolman and respected him. He had no idea that Wolman was a survivor of the unspeakable horrors of Auschwitz. Finally the quiet Wolman could take it no more and he spoke; "Lissen, Fulghum. You know what's wrong with you? You do not know the difference between an inconvenience and a problem. If you break your neck, if you have nothing to eat, if your house is on fire, --- you have a problem. Everything else is just an inconvenience. Life is lumpy. Learn to separate the inconveniences from the real problems. You will live longer and happier. And you will not annoy people like me. Good night." He walked out of the room. Robert Fulghum never forgot that night.

Life is lumpy but a lump in your oatmeal and a lump in the breast are not the same thing.

A friend of mine is making a journey of grief. His dear wife of 30 plus years died a year ago. That is a real problem. My frustrations with the sluggish economy are just an inconvenience. When I think of him crawling into that empty bed at night and his broken heart that is slowly mending, it puts it all in such clear perspective.

No whining for me.

Just thinking, Steve

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Honest Abe

There is only one person who has had more written about him than Abraham Lincoln and his name is Jesus Christ.

One of my favorite stories about Lincoln is the story behind the Gettysburg Address, his most famous speech. Lincoln wrote and rewrote his speech for this event several times and was never happy with the result. He finally wrote the words to this most memorable speech on a piece of blue paper and stuffed into his hat. When he arrived at Gettysburg the crowd was more than 30,000 people - a huge crowd, most of whom had never seen a President in their life. The first speaker was Edward Everett, a famous orator of the day. Everett was an hour late and then spoke for two hours. When Lincoln stood to speak the people had been waiting for at least three hours and many had been there much longer. Lincoln got up and spoke in his high thin voice and most of the crowd could not hear anything he said. He spoke for only a few minutes. At the end there was no applause. Lincoln was convinced the speech was a total disaster. On the train home, he had to lay down, suffering a migraine and feeling terribly depressed. President Lincoln would go to his grave believing that the speech was an utter failure. Fortunately several reporters wrote the text of the speech down and included the text of the speech in their reports.
Over time as more and more people read these simple but profound thoughts penned by Honest Abe they came to believe that it was a masterpiece. Still today this brief speech is considered perhaps the greatest speech ever given by anyone, much less a President.
"Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal...."
All these years later, most of us know these words and count them as powerful beyond measure.

Time has a way of bringing clarity about the value and beauty of many things. Great speeches, powerful books, acts of goodwill and bravery are often not appreciated until much later.

I am amazed when someone tells me that a story I told or a prayer I prayed or visit I made is still vivid in their memory even though 10, 15, 20 years have passed. Usually I have no memory of it, but those words or deeds spoken have somehow blessed and encouraged another for decades.

Don't judge the impact of what you do or say too quickly. Time will bear witness to their value.
Just keep speaking words of love and grace and planting seeds of hope - the harvest will come, in it's on time.

Just thinking, Steve

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

An Incomplete Guide to the Rest of Your Life

I thought today about the book I read a few years ago - An Incomplete Guide to the Rest of Your Life by Stan Gaede. The book is a good book to read when you are thinking about the "second half" of your life. (If I live to be 112 then this is the beginning of the second half of my life - with the current state of my retirement accounts I will likely still be working at 112.) I read the book several years ago when I was much closer to my more likely midpoint of life. What I remember about the book is my reflections about the first half of my life. While there were plenty of joyous and memorable times, many of my plans and dreams had never come true. I was often caught completely off guard by the wonderful blessings that came my way and had nothing to do with my planning. So does this mean I should not plan but just go with the flow?

Planning really is not about getting what you expect or even hope for. It is about engagement. It is about being alive, vibrant, dreaming, hoping, and leaning into the wind. The truth is that planning and living with purpose is difficult - it challenges you to think beyond the moment and to think about others.

One of my favorite Charlie Brown moments went like this. Charlie Brown went to see his friend Lucy. She had her famous booth set up, the one that said, "Psychiatrist" on the front. Charlie pays her five cents for her expert advice. "Lucy, I need your help," he says, "I don't feel a sense of commitment to anything. I can't find my direction and purpose in life." Lucy looks at Charlie Brown and says, "Oh, don't worry, Charlie Brown. It's like being on a big cruise ship ocean liner in the middle of the sea. Some folks put their deck chairs to face the front of the ship, and some put their deck chairs to face the side of the ship, and others put their chairs to face the back of the ship. The real question, Charlie Brown, is this: Which way do you face?"

Charlie Brown has this absolutely blank and bewildered look on his face. And then he says, "You know, Lucy, I can't even get my deck chair unfolded!"

I love Charlie Brown because I know how he feels. Life can be a real challenge - even what should be simple is not. But despite the challenge, I need to make plans, to dream dreams, and to pursue goals. Life is meant to be lived fully - abundantly - with personal passion!

So I get up and wrestle with my deck chair and with God's help I get it unfolded and tackle the challenges of a new day - with hopes, dreams, and plans. I encourage you to do the same.

Just thinking, Steve

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

I Wish I Was Irish Today

March 17th - St. Patrick's Day - some say, that everyone is Irish on St. Patrick's Day. I guess I wish I was Irish today. Of course, on Cinco De Mayo, I wish I was Mexican! And of course, during October I sometimes wish I was German. On Juneteenth, I wish I was African-American! O.K. - I admit it - I enjoy big celebrations! I have no desire to get falling down drunk or to dye the San Jacinto River green (We like it brown!), but I do enjoy a good gathering of happy people eating good food and enjoying one another's company.

Believe it or not, in many ways this is the appeal of church for some folks. Church folks love to get together and eat and laugh --- we even do that at funerals!

I remember hearing the story of the Prodigal son when I was a bit of a prodigal myself. The thing that caught my attention in the story was that when the wayward son came home the Father threw a big blowout - BarBQ, dancing, music - a house full of celebrating people and the son got new shoes, new clothes, and a new ring! (Luke 15) Now that's what I'm talking about!

No one loves a good party more than God - he throws the best parties of all when his wayward children come home to their Father.

Today, I wish I was Irish. Everyday I am delighted to be a child of God.

Just thinking, Steve

Monday, March 9, 2009

I'm Late, I'm Late for a Very Important Date!

Are you in a hurry? I have noticed that one of the things that I have grown to admire is someone who never seems to be in a hurry. My heroes are people who get things done and do them well, but live their lives with a sense of calm and confidence. They never seem to be on their way somewhere when they are talking to you.

Dallas Willard gave John Ortberg some sage advice he said, "Ruthlessly eliminate hurry." Ruthless is a great word to describe how difficult it is to rid hurry from your daily lifestyle. This will require an honest look at how we respond to the daily challenge of managing our lives and being respectful to others.

When I was in Grad School one of my Profs had a habit that got my attention. When you had a conversation with her, she always found a spot to sit down and take off her shoes. This might be in her office, or in the classroom, or the student union building; she sent a clear message that a country boy like me understands. She said with her body language; "come on in, sit for a spell, take off your shoes - let's talk." I never felt that I was a bother, a problem, or just another nervous student.

I get more done now than ever before in my life but I don't feel rushed all the time. I enjoyed the book, Wasting Time with God by Klaus Issler. The book reminded me that true friendships are built by simply "wasting time" with those you care about. It turns out this wasted time is the most important time we spend each day. Issler focused on how we can experience a friendship with God by making the commitment to "waste time" with God daily, which is certainly not a waste of time!

My Grand kids are reminding me again that hurry is the enemy of growing healthy relationships with others. On my day off, I love wasting time with Ella and Owen. We watched a lizard until it finally disappeared from our sight - then we talked about the lizard for quite a while afterward. Next week, it will probably be a frog - the bright green one that we have seen before that can fly through the air when it leaps. These are times that I will always treasure.

I love that scene in the gospels when Jesus goes to Martha and Mary's house. Martha is banging those pots and pans around in the kitchen with steam coming out of her ears. She has a house full of Jewish men who are hungry and Mary is in there sitting on her behind listening to Jesus. Martha is hot and bothered. And Jesus says the most amazing thing: "Only one thing is needed." (Luke 10) Martha was one great person but on this day she had missed the "one thing that was needed." Sitting at Jesus feet, Mary had discovered the one thing needed.

A word of encouragement to all: don't let hurry rob you of the joy of being fully engaged in what you are doing now. Deep things open themselves to the deep places of the heart. We do not get there when we are distracted and always in a hurry.

Just thinking, Steve

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Money and Fear

Reading my morning newspaper or watching the morning news these days is hazardous to your health. With each passing day the news seems more dire than ever. The sky is falling and so is the stock market. Money and fear seem to be great partners. For 30 plus years I have heard people worry and fret over money more than any other subject; more than the fear of war, or the fear of cancer, or the fear of divorce, or even the fear of growing old. Whether people want to admit it or not, most people put their trust in money. Somehow we think that if we get enough money everything will be fine.

I have been reading again all that Jesus says about money and about fear. Both are deadly to our spiritual life. The love of money and the prison of fear will take away your joy quicker that the morning news. See what Jesus says in Matthew 6: 19-34. Recently, I prayed with someone who was literally terrified about all the "bad news" on the money front. What we did together might bless you - we read and prayed through this text in Matthew 6.

I was so blessed by listening to Jesus on this subject rather than Bloomberg. I don't want money to be my mistress and cause me to be unfaithful to my gracious God who provides all my needs.
Jesus said the most outlandish thing; a persons life does not consist in the abundance of their possessions. (Luke 12:15) That is about the most "un-American" statement I have ever heard.
Everybody knows that it is the responsibility of all Americans to accumulate the maximum amount of stuff that they can in a lifetime. The more stuff you have the happier and less fearful you will be, seems to be the theory. Jesus did not buy that.

I know people who have lots of stuff who neither love money, nor live in fear. They hold all the stuff very lightly and give it it away in abundance. I am not sure I could do that. God in his grace has never let me have a bunch of stuff, so I have been spared that challenge. I truly admire people who can keep money off the the throne of their heart.

One more word for today; Don't be afraid - God is gracious and will provide for our needs.

Just thinking, Steve

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

At the Movies

I love movies. I can recall as a child how excited I was when I knew I was going to the movies. The old theatre may have been small and the screen may have had numerous holes in it from the local outlaws who threw things at the screen when the owner wasn't looking, but for me it was a personal adventure I could not resist.

At the movies, I could go across the earth in an instant and be in Africa on Safari, with wild Lions and Rhino's roaming the plains. The experience of the movies took me from the tiny little town I lived in to a world that expanded my thinking, my imagination, and my dreams.

I still love movies although I am so frugal that the price of a ticket makes me cringe. With popcorn, Junior Mints, and a cold Diet Coke I am armed and ready for new adventures.

Something that I have noticed is that my taste in movies is not shared by most people. I enjoy independent films, documentaries, and films that explore some pretty heavy subjects. I have found that most people just like to be entertained; lots of special effects, a car crash every few seconds, and plenty of explosions. Those kind of movies are not appealing in the least to me.

I am often reminded how people have different tastes in books, films, hobbies, and food. It is all very understandable - we simply like different things.

I also have realized that people have different tastes when it comes to church. I have been going to church services all my life and one thing has remained the same. When people leave a church service they often critique it like a movie, usually among friends over lunch - what did you think? Did you like that new song? Was the sermon too long? too loud? too boring? to controversial? I thought that prayer would never end. What did you think? How would you rate it?

Like the movies, church sometimes gets great reviews, sometimes not. Honestly, I think our personal tastes have a great deal to do with the review we give. After 30 years of "doing church", I am amazed at how the reviews of a particular service are often so different. I really should not be - the tastes of the church consuming public vary widely.

Just a thought, but perhaps our primary concern should be whether God was encountered and did he speak to us. Often when I am preparing for a church service the encounter I have with God is startling - he shows up in a scribbled note in the margin of my Bible or a line in a sermon that I just quickly wrote down, almost without thinking. God is full of surprises and is always coming around when we least expect it. Who knows - God may even show up at a church service that is less than perfect.

Just thinking, Steve

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Strange People

My wife and I just returned from an annual conference of Ministers and their spouses. The Conference was great and we were blessed. One thing I have to admit; Ministers are an odd group of people. They are just strange. I have known this about myself for many years and despite intense therapy and trying to change my weird ways, I am as strange as ever.

For example, ministers are about the easiest group to amuse that you will find. Anyone who is even slightly humorous will get a warm reception. We love to laugh. We like to laugh hard - the kind of laughing where you spray milk out your nose. This happens to me and I don't even drink milk any more.

We also love touching stories. There was so much crying at this conference. People would tell their stories and we would all just cry and applaud them for sharing their tear jerking stories. So go ahead and tell us your stories but remember to have some tissues available for the water works.

One other thing; we love free stuff. At this conference, with each session there would be free books or C.D.'s or pens or whatever and we acted like we had won the lottery. I guess we need to get out more.

Some people are embarrassed by their chosen profession or vocation. At times when ministers act like jerks, I am embarrassed. But on the whole I have found that these odd people who are called to ministry are delightful people. I am glad to be who I am.

Strange is beautiful in a strange way.

Just thinking, Steve

Monday, February 9, 2009

Beautiful Music

I am not a musician but I love music. I could listen to music all day. When I see the kids with their I-Pods I am a bit jealous. I get it. Music is good. I cannot get enough music. The stuff I like is odd and I know that but music soothes my soul.

At the Grammys there is all kinds of music, most of which I don't find very interesting. I read this morning that Robert Plant and Alison Krause won best album and several Grammys. What an odd pair they are! Plant is famous for his days with Led Zeppelin and Krause has the classic blue grass/country voice - how could such a pair make beautiful music? I thought their album, Raising Sand was surprising and remarkable. I have really enjoyed it. T Bone Burnett is a talented producer who finds some of the most unusual sounds to make great music.

It reminds me that life has a way of bringing together some of the most surprising people to do remarkable things. Beauty is often produced in that strange place where two very different people connect.

Sometimes when I see two people together in a marriage I am amazed that they are together. They seem so different from one another and yet the combination of their two unique personalities produces something spectacular.

I get so bored with people who think that we all should be "clones" of each other. I am thankful that you are not like me and I know that you are grateful for the same. Let's celebrate our uniqueness and work together to make some beautiful music.

Just thinking, Steve

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

I'm Good!

The Super Bowl actually turned out to be a very interesting game. Often the game is a blow out and pretty boring. I watched the game and the commercials - it is my duty as an American to do so! The Super Bowl has become the single greatest cultural event of American life. I am not sure what this says about us -- probably a sign of the demise of our culture. I watched. I know I should have been reading or visiting the sick or trying to come up with a cure for the common cold, but I just watched the game. This was only my second NFL game to watch this past season - I work on Sundays. I do keep up with the scores simply because if I don't, I am viewed with suspicion and mistrust. I have too many other obstacles in life to let my lack of knowledge about football keep me isolated and viewed as a nerd.

Just a thought about one of my favorite commercials, the Pepsi spot with the bone headed guys who suffer through all kinds of pain and mayhem and seem undaunted, simply saying after each painful mishap, "I'm good."

I grew up in the world that told me to ignore my pain and just say, "I'm good." Life could kick you around, friends could cause you pain, and chaos could rule your life but your response was to ignore it all and say, "I'm good."

I am not a whiner. Never have been. But I do think that people sometimes need to admit honestly, "I'm not good." When you lose your job and someone asks you how you are doing surely it's O.K. to say, "Lousy." When someone you love dies and you are grieving their loss people should not expect that you are going to be "good." I have been listening to people speak about their pain for 30 plus years. A few are whiners, but most are just honest and searching for someone who will respect their pain and be a caring listening. Somehow God uses these meager efforts to bring healing over time.

The commercial was very funny. Living in denial of our pain is not. God's grace can bring healing even when we cannot say "I'm good."


Tuesday, January 27, 2009

When I See the Cross...

Like most people I have some streets that I drive down almost everyday. One of those streets is the street that passes in front of our church campus. Our new church campus is on the top of a hill and is quite beautiful - I admit my bias, but people tell me all the time how beautiful it is. One of the things I look for when I am traveling down that thoroughfare is the cross on the top of our new church building. I still remember the first day I saw it when the workers put it in place. It was so moving to me personally that I wept. From down the hill, almost a mile away from the campus, I often look up and see the cross on the horizon.

Not all churches have a cross these days. The cross is seen by some as offensive and out of step with the times. For me, it remains the chief symbol of the Christian faith and it reminds me of God's love and grace. When I see the cross I feel like I am heading home to a place where I will be loved and received with open arms. One day I saw a stunning site - a hawk was perched on the very top of the cross. I watched until she took flight and soared into the sky. It took my breath away. One day I saw a rainbow in the sky behind the cross - it was a wow moment! I can look up from my keyboard at this computer and see the cross right now. The puffy white clouds are zooming across the sky above it.

Inside our new building there are three very visible crosses - one in our foyer, one in our chapel, and one in our worship center. Each one reminds me of who I am and who I am called to be.

When I see the cross... Steve

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

A New Day

As I reflect on the Inauguration festivities, the words I heard over and over were, "it's a new day." What I was watching for was the spirit of the occasion. The spirit, in my humble opinion, was the spirit of a new beginning - a new day!

Humans need "new days". We need new beginnings. We need a new January so we can set goals for ourselves for a new year. We need the changing of the seasons - we need the spring of new hope to follow the winter of harsh disappointments. We need new days because we need second chances and new opportunities to improve and do better.

I am thankful for the new day that now former President George W. Bush will have. Like all the people who have been President before him, he aged dramatically. He looked exhausted and broken. I sincerely pray that he and his wife will enjoy their new life away from the immense pressures they faced for the last eight years. I hope he goes fishing and takes some long naps and gets to hang out with his family more. He was very gracious to the new President. Both men demonstrated class in their passing of the baton of leadership. It was a visual reminder of what a remarkable place the USA really is. The outgoing fellow hugs the incoming fellow - just amazing!

My prayers are with our new President Barack Obama, the First Lady Michelle, and their beautiful children. The challenges ahead for him and for all of us are almost too much to take in. Even the planned new family dog will be under intense pressure - snap at one of those reporters and that pooch will be front page news for weeks and Nancy Grace will talk about the dog for months!

A nation needs a new day but even more each of us needs a new day attitude!

"This is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it." (Psalm118:24)


Tuesday, January 13, 2009

A Reluctant Blogger

I confess that I am a reluctant blogger. I have read only a few blogs over the years and told myself that I would never get the blogger bug.

And now here I am doing what I said I would never do.

This is the story of my life. I said I would never run a marathon and I ran 26 marathons, the last one in New York City with 35,000 of my closest friends. I laughed when someone said that I should do a Triathlon - I did 3 Triathlons last year. My Father was a minister and I pledged that I would never even consider being a minister - I have been a minister for 30 plus years, 23 of those years with the same church.

I have discovered that eating my words has become a major part of my daily diet.

I will never go to Disney World and wear the same shirt that my wife is wearing. If I do this please lock me away somewhere so that I will not be a danger to my self and others.

Life is really about doing things that we never planned to do and learning something new about ourself and about others.