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