A Model for Conflict Resolution . . .

I told the folks working on the remodel project where I had been going to Church when I was in town over the weekend. I invited them to join me on Sunday morning and assured them they would enjoy it; several raised an eyebrow. I said that after the Service I would take everyone to the new Chinese buffet for lunch. I encouraged them to all arrive early to listen to her play the piano or organ, whichever instrument she would prefer that morning, and to hear her sing.

We gathered in front of the small Church about 20 minutes early. Having some experience here, I had them wait out front with me for the cue that would invite us to enter the Sanctuary. We waited awhile, but the music didn’t start as it normally did; I was perplexed.  I had been telling the group standing with me about it and it wasn’t happening.  It occurred to me that perhaps she was sick today. After a bit, we entered the Sanctuary and settled on the back two rows.

After a bit, an older Deacon came out and took a seat on the side bench and began to sing Amazing Grace. He did a fine job . . . the call to worship was being declared. Soon, the choir filed out and joined in singing and everything began to take shape. At the conclusion of the song, the Pastor stepped to the pulpit and said, “Well, it is clear that we are doing things a bit differently this morning, and I want to ask the piano player to stand and address the congregation,” and he took his seat.  I looked up front and there she was on the front row, looking up toward the choir. I had not seen her enter.

Slowly, she stood, walked a few steps forward, turned to face the congregation, took a moment to collect her thoughts, cleared her voice, and slowly began to speak. As I recall she said something about like this, “I want to apologize to the congregation for my behavior in the service Sunday morning past, and ask your forgiveness. I know you all don’t understand all of the work and planning that is involved in our music program, but I work really hard to make it special. When I am at the instrument playing and singing, I just get in the Spirit, close my eyes, and forget about everything else going on around me. I know that I should not have done it, but when that woman walked up here and unplugged that organ in the middle of my song, I got out of the spirit and into the flesh and I was on her before I knew what I was doing . . .”

I felt the breath go out of me . . . I could not believe what I was hearing. I had two rows filled with visitors with me and instantly thought these folks should not be present and see a Church have to deal with something like this . . . I started to motion to my group that we should leave, but the thought occurred to me that it might make matters worse, so I just sat and watched it play out.

When she finished, she returned to her seat. The Pastor walked back to the pulpit and slowly placed his hands on each side.  I knew this was a difficult experience for him–his  Church had conflict, division, and turmoil. It was clear that the Church was in dangerous waters . . .

As he stood there, he slowly surveyed the congregation and I wondered what was going on in his mind and heart.  I ached for him. What a mess . . . I wondered if it could ever be as sweet and special as it had been before . . .  I suspected that something special had been lost.

He slowly began to speak. He said, “Church, you have heard the Sister’s report. What is your pleasure? Shall we accept her apology, extend forgiveness to her, and restore her to her former position as Music Minister, or not?”

You could have cut the tension in the room with a knife. After a few seconds–but it seemed like an hour to me–a gentleman raised his hand to be recognized. He stood and reverently said, “I move that the Sister’s apology be accepted, forgiveness be extended, and she be restored to her former position as Music Director.”  The motion was seconded and quickly put to a vote. There was overwhelming support for the motion.

The Pastor then said, “The motion passes and the Sister may take her place at the piano.” She promptly walked to the instrument, took her seat and began to play. In a moment she broke out in song and was joined by the choir. Just beautiful . . . suddenly everything was back to normal and a sense of joy filled the room. It was a terrific music service.

As the music ended, the Pastor took his place at the pulpit to deliver his morning message. Just as he began, an older, white haired lady stood up and said, “Brother Pastor, I need to address the congregation . . .”  The Pastor, said, “It is good that you stood, I have been waiting to hear from you, Sister T…”. The Pastor took his seat, yielding the floor to Sister T.

Sister T did not walk to the front of the Sanctuary and face the congregation, she simply spoke from where she stood in the third row. She, quite sheepishly, said, “I need to ask the Church for forgiveness for my behavior in service last week. I know what I did was wrong, but like the other sister said, ‘I got out of the Spirit and into the flesh’ and before I knew what I was doing I had walked to the front of the Church and unplugged the organ.  That was when that woman attacked me! The music was loud and I have been asking them to turn down the volume for a year. I am an old lady and can’t stand loud music.” Sister T took her seat.

The Pastor returned to the pulpit and said, “Church, you have heard the Sister’s report. What is your pleasure? Shall we accept her apology, extend forgiveness to her, and restore her to her former position as the Financial Secretary, or not?”

Again, there was tension. After another pause, the same man once again stood and said that he moved that the Church accept the apology and extend forgiveness. The motion was seconded and soon passed, but without nearly as much support as had been the case with the Music Director. It was clear how folks had viewed the incident.

The pastor announced the motion passed and the Financial Secretary was reinstated to her former position. He stood there silently for a few moments and made eye contact with every person in the room. He then said the most remarkable thing. He said, “Church, this thing is over, it is done with, and it is not to be spoken of again. It is finished!”  There was a wave of Amens and then he began his message on “Love Ye one Another . . .”

It was a great sermon. At the conclusion of the Service, I introduced my friends around and we headed to the Chinese buffet for lunch. Surprisingly, no one was too interested in discussing what we had seen. They just talked about how great the music had been and what a good message the Pastor had delivered.

I spent some time that afternoon thinking about what I had seen and how it had all been handled. I was really impressed. I would be more impressed the next day . . .

Mid afternoon, Monday, I went to the local supermarket to fill a cooler with ice and drinks for the crew. One of the ladies from the Church was working as a checker at the checkout station. I negotiated my way to her lane. She greeted me with a smile. As she checked me out, I gently commented about the events in Church yesterday morning and politely asked, “What happened?”  She looked me in the eye and said, “The Pastor, said that was over and was not to be spoke of again . . . ”  I paid the bill and left. I was even more impressed.

I had viewed pretty much a perfect model of Church discipline . . . that is a rare thing, indeed.

 

The Map….

He said, “She is travel challenged …….”. He was speaking of his wife, Leslie.  I chuckled and the conversation moved on.  I wasn’t sure exactly what he meant with the comment, but I would soon learn.

They had been living here about a month, when she dropped by the house one summer afternoon. Sandy offered her a glass of tea, and we all sat at the breakfast-room table, just visiting and getting better acquainted.

After a bit, she folded one hand over the other on the table top, nervously cleared her throat and said, “I am going to take the kids back to our old house, do some packing, and let the kids see their friends there for a few days before school starts . . . and I need a map.”  I wasn’t certain why she didn’t just go on-line and print one, but I would discover why later. Nor did I understand why she didn’t just buy a Rand McNally map of the State of Texas. I would discover later why that wasn’t an option.

I went back to the study, got a sheet of copy paper and returned to the table. I sketched a map and handed it to her. She looked at it for a few seconds and said, “I need much more detail on my maps.” I went back to the study, collected more paper and returned to the table to draw a map for a 225 mile trip, a map with lots of detail.  As I worked on it, she wanted me to add more and more details (e.g. which oil company station was on the corner where she made a turn, etc.). When I finished the map to her satisfaction, it was 7 pages long. She asked for the tape dispenser, and when delivered to her, she taped each page in order, pausing to ask a few questions in the process. When she was finished, she smiled, folded the map and put it in her purse.

Smiling, she asked, “Could you possibly draw another map for me to use on my trip back?”  I laughed, and then realized the lady was quite serious. I asked her to get her map back out and let’s review it. We went over it again. Then, I turned the map the other direction and said this is how you use the map for the return trip. She had a confused look come over her face as she contemplated that.  After a bit of discussion, I drew another seven page map to come home by . . . it just seemed the easiest thing to do.

She taped it together and left happily. The maps seemed to have worked because she went on her trip and returned successfully, and as I understand it–that is a rare event for her.

She is, indeed, “travel challenged.” No instincts like a homing pigeon for that sweet lady!

It is amazing how we can be so smart in certain areas, and yet, challenged in others ………

The Bear

The closer we got, the smaller the bear became.

As a hunter, I was familiar with the shrinkage that can occur in an animal during the walk from the blind to the place he fell. I have experienced that myself on several occasions, but this shrinkage would be something entirely different!

Walter had a home on Lake LBJ in the Texas Hill Country. He was in the process of moving to the Gulf Coast. At that time, my family also had a house on that same lake, just a couple of miles from Walter’s.

Upon his arrival on the Coast, Walter stayed at my house for a couple of weeks while he searched for a home for his young family. Of an evening, we would visit. We discovered that we had many things in common. One thing we both liked was hunting. We shared hunting stories. My favorite story Walter told was about his trip to Canada to hunt black bear, something I had never done. It was a wonderful story. He had a taxidermist do a full body mount and had the bear sent to him by UPS. It was a pretty large bear.

After a few weeks, I needed to drive up to our house on the lake to check on things. Walter rode with me so he could drive a vehicle back. We had a great visit.

As we got closer to his house, he turned the conversation to the bear. Gently, he began to make the bear smaller. In fact, the closer we got, the bear really reduced in size. When we arrived at his house, it was pretty clear that he didn’t want me to come in, but I pretty much imposed because I wanted to see that shrinking bear.

As we entered the den, I spotted the bear in the corner. As I made my way over to examine the bear, my dear friend asked quite sheepishly, “He isn’t too bad, is he?” The bear was smaller than Walter.

I took my finger and gently rubbed it against the bear’s lip. Curious, Walter asked, “What are you doing?” I said, “Wiping milk off of his lip. You must have shot him while his mama was nursing him”. Walter’s face grew quite red. The truth is that he hated that bear after that. Over the years, as we were at hunting camps sitting around a fire, I tried to get him to talk about the bear hunt, but he wasn’t having any of that.

My son, Chris, later worked for Walter for a couple of years. They became close and dear friends. When Chris decided that he was suppose to attend Truett Seminary on the Baylor campus (Baylor Bears), Walter gave Chris the Bear. Finally, rid of that thing and transferred to the son of the very one who had teased him over the size of the bear for years. What an accomplishment.

Today, my friend would be proud of that little bear all decked out with his Baylor tee, tie, ball cap and sun glasses. Today, That is a pretty famous and respected bear in the Waco area……

I miss my dear Friend. He was the best guy!

The Rock

Having lived on the coast for over three decades, I have some how managed to come to love large rocks. I don’t know how that happened since we do not have rocks on our coast.
A few years back I was in a West Texas real estate office signing documents to buy a flipper house. When I entered the office, the office lady called me over to look at a photo on her computer; it was a photo of deer. She said it was taken on a ranch they had just listed. I drove out and looked around; I came upon the rock. I was wowed. I parked, walked up on the rock. I could not believe what I was seeing — a moving creek below the big rock. I knew then that I would buy the place.
Sandy loves the rock. She calls it the picnic rock. Every time we go to the ranch, she insists on having a picnic. This photo is of one of my rocks, picnicking on another of my rocks. I have another Rock, the Rock.
I have what may be one of the biggest rocks in Texas. I have what may be the sweetest rock in Texas. I also have connection to the biggest, strongest Rock in the universe.

My Friend, Linda …..

From outside the Church, I could hear the music. I was both surprised and amazed at the quality of the sound. As I hurried in I check my watch thinking I might be late, but no, I was actually a few minutes early. Drawn by the music, I entered the sanctuary and took a seat toward the back. The first time I saw my friend, Linda, she sat playing the paino. She was wearing her choir robe, tinted glasses and playing that piano like only a few can. I thought to myself, “What a gift”!

Soon, the door behind the platform opened and the choir filed out and entered the choir loft. As they entered, Linda broke out in song (she could out sing Whitney Houston) and once settled in, the choir joined her in song. Suddenly, the place came alive and folks began to enter from every door and joined in the singing as they took their places. As the song continued, the same door from which the choir had entered opened and a striklingly handsome, large black man, dressed to almost perfection, entered and walked to the pulpit. As he joined the singing I heard a rich baritone voice. I remember wishing I knew the song so I could sing along.

I suppose I ought to tell you what put me there that morning ……………

I had recently purchased a boarded up, forclosure apartment complex in that West Texas community and was busy remodeling it. There was an oil boom coming and workers would need a place to live. The work being done required electrical service, so I drove to the local electric company to schedule service and establish an account. The route I drove from the complex to the electric company took me in front of Mt. Olive Baptist Church. As I saw the modest, white, wooden building, I was impressed with how neatly maintained the building and grounds were – in spite of being located in a neighborhood that showed signs of age and neglect. The thought occurred to me that I ought to do something to help this small congregation that seemed to be trying hard and appeared to be doing a good job. Yet, when I arrived at the electric company I forgot.

I returned back to the job site to inform the job foreman, Duane, what had been scheduled with the electric company so he could plan his work. I was headed home, so I said my good byes and started home. About 20 miles South of town it dawned on me that I had not stopped by the Church and left a check. Something compelled me to turn around and drive back to town. When I arrived at the Church, there was no one around. I wrote my check, placed it inside an envelop and drove back to the job site. I gave the envelope to Duane and asked him to drop it at the church the first time he saw someone there. I headed home again.

That evening, Duane called to say that he had delivered the check and his excitement was obvious. He told me the folks at the church were terrific. A few days later, I received a Thank You letter from the Church. I decided to add Mt Olive to the list of groups I would send contributions to periodically. I sent a few checks over the next few weeks.

A couple of months later, back in town, I needed to go to the electric company.The timing was in the heat of a presidential election. I was listening to the radio as I drove. The station I was tuned in to was playing an interview with a Black preacher who was running for President as I drove past Mt. Olive. As I Drove past Mt. Olive, I thougth it was about time to send another check. As I listened to the intervew,I disagreed with the preacher being interviewed on most of his positions.  It occurred to me that, perhaps, I ought to visit Mt Olive to see if I agreed with what they believed before I made any future contributions. That is what put me there that Sunday morning — well, at least that is what I thougth at that time.

The service was lovely, the music was wonderful and the message was solid. I thought it was cute that I got some serious glances from fellow worshippers as I was the only white person present. I felt good about my visit and committed to continue with my support. To conclude the service, the Pastor called on a Deacon to offer the bendiction and hurried to the back door to greet folks as they exited. As I reached the exit, he offered a great smile, a hand of friendship and introduced himself as Robert Sweet, the Pastor. I introduced myself. His face lit up and suddenly he embraced me in a bear hug and proclaimed, “I loved you before I even knew you!” and proceeded to thank for me sending support to the church. He insisted that I wait to meet his wife – the First Lady of Mt Olive. When she finished playing the piano she hurried back and introductions were made. The lady at the paino was the First Lady of Mt Olive. She would become my Friend, Linda.

We had a lovely visit and went to lunch together. They told me some of their story.  Over the next few months, I would attend Mt Olive when in town and got to know Robert and Linda better. I sincerely enjoyed my visits with them and grew to love and respect them and the good work they did at Mt Olive. I also came to understand the struggles they had with this small rural ministry and congregation – one of which was financial.

As I grew to know them, I was pleased to learn that Linda was a very smart lady. Due to the circumstances of her life, she had just never had much opportunity to develop that intelligence and put it to work in a way that could benefit them in a finacial way. I offered Linda a job as general Manager of La Posada. In spite of her apprehensions, she accepted the job. I began a training program with Linda, that continues even today. She is an able learner and has developed into a marvelous manager. Her honesty, integrity, work ethic and love for people have made her a valuable asset. I continue to be amazed at how smart she is and how eager she is to learn. She does a wonderful job at La Posada.

I thought I was at Mt Olive that morning to verify what was being taught so I could evaluate my continued contributions to the work. Today, I know I was at Mt Olive by divine appointment – to meet Robert and Linda Sweet. There to get acquainted and to later offer Linda a position and an opportunity that would make their lives both better and easier. There so the Lord could use me in their lives … there so He could use them in my life! He has done both and I am thankful.

Over the years, many “Linda Stories” have developed. In the days ahead, I will share some of those Linda Stories. One of the many things I adore about Linda is her colorful personality – full of wit, charm, easy smile, sassiness, and her quickness to respond in kind – she will respond in love ….. or the readiness to do battle – if that is what you are seeking ………..

Truth be told, my Friend Linda, is a 62 year old Dennis the Menace ….. the girl can get into some stuff. The Linda Stories will explain………………..  Watch for them

I love my Friend, Linda!

 

 

 

 

Life is Suppose to be beautiful

For us as Christians, life is suppose to be beautiful, but sometimes it is not. Why is that?

I suspect that life is beautiful when we have the right mindset, and it is not so beautiful when we have the wrong mindset. I think that we have two common failings that get in the way of living the abundant life:

1. We tend to step away from the new life we have in Christ and live in the flesh; and

2. We tend to value things based on cost. Examples: We tend to think from a mindset that says … Rolex is better than Timex …. Cadillac is better than Chevy…… Country Club is better than Library Club … Gold is better that Silver…..

Is our tendency to stay because we fail to realize the cost of this new life we have in Christ?  Good Friday and Easter, just past, are rich reminders of the cost of this new life that is available to us.

What is this new life suppose to look like? It is a life where ….. the impossible becomes plausible….. the hopeless become hopeful ….. the bleek become blessed …. the desparing becomes delightful …. the tragic becomes thriumphant.

We are empowered to walk in the newness of life …. if we so choose. If we choose to walk in that life, then….. life can be beautiful…. pain can be bearable ……trouble can be endurable …. tragedy can be transformable ….  time can be redeemable …. gaps between us are bridgeable …. communites can be renewable…. rivers are crossable …… and justice is achievable.

We know that anything is possible with God. Because of this new life we have in Christ ….

goals are reachable …. death is stoppable ….. our work is doable…..freedom is available…. love is unstoppable ……. hope is viable …..victory is attainable ….. faith is powerful … and people are loveable … the future is shapable … and we can be remarkable ….

Becasue of who we are “in Him”……. dreams can come true ….. prayers can be answered …. hope can be realized …. life can be much better than when we try to live on our own ….

It is because of this new life that we have new opportunities …..

if we fell down …. we can get back up

if we fell over ….. we can stand back up

if we fell out … we can make up

if we quit … we can rejoin

He came to provide us with the abundant life …. a life filled with meaning and purpose. Life is beatiful when we permit Him to lead ………

 

 

The Panhandler

He has called and asked me to meet him in a town mid way between us. He was the Chairman of the Nominating Committee of a professional organization to which we both belonged. He wanted to interview me as a possible candidate for President of the organization for the upcoming year.
We had a pleasant lunch and the interview went well. As we exited to the street, a panhandler approached us. I handed the man a few bucks. The Chairman suggested to the panhandler that he get a job. After the panhandler wandered down the street, the Chairman began to try to take me to the woodshed for encouraging the “bum”.
I was not nominated by the committee.
Since that time, I have had several such conversations with others on the same topic. When I stop at a traffic light and see a person holding a sign, I try to always stick a few bucks out the window. That generally results in a discussion when I have a passenger. I am amazed at how negative people can be about this.
No, I am not an easy touch. No, I don’t believe the money is always used for food.
But, here Is what I do know: there was a time when that person was a wonderful, beautiful baby in his or her Mother’s arms. That mother believed that baby might one day be President, or become a doctor who discovered a cure for cancer. Not once did that mother believe that baby would one day be on the streets begging.
I don’t have a clue what put that person there, but I do know, “but by the grace of God, there go I”.
Jesus’ disciples had a touch of that willingness to dismiss hurting people too in the early times. In Luke 9, a crowd formed to see Jesus, hear Him teach and perhaps receive a healing touch from Him. As the hour grew late, the disciples said to Jesus, “send them away so they can go get food and make arrangements for a place to spend the night”. The verb “send” is an imperative. They were gentling instructing Jesus what to do.
Jesus said, “You feed them”. They replied they had no food except the lunch they had taken from a young boy, and they did not have enough money in the bag.
These were the same men He had recently given supernatural power to heal people.
Jesus then proceeds to break the fish and loaves and had the disciple distribute it to the hungry people.
Later, these men would learn that Jesus was their source of strength, their source of joy, the savior of their souls, the shepherd of their spirits, the lifter of their heads, the maker of their ways. They would learn that His presence and power in their lives was deeply and authentically transformational.
They would learn that He will never demand something without first delivering the power; that He does not require what He has not yet released; that He does not seek what He has not already supplied; and that He never orders what He has not yet ordained.

For me? I will just keep on handing out a few bucks along with a word of encouragement and leaving the judging to the One who knows the facts. I think that is What Jesus Would Do!

Claudette

It was about 2 a m when she came in. As she looked around I could sense she needed a friend as it was pretty obvious life was proving itself difficult for her. I smiled at her from across the room and she smiled weakly back…….

I was in the ICU waiting room at the VA hospital, there in case my brother needed help. I was alone and had been dozing when she came in. I asked who her sick Vet was. It was her 89 year old husband – a WW II Vet. He had spent most of the afternoon in the ER with heart related problems and had just been settled in a room. She was obviously tired and concerned.  She settled in on a sofa across the room. Through the long hours, we would smile and talk and doze. I prayed for her and her Vet. I know she prayed for my Vet. She woke me around 6 and handed me a cup of coffee and said her husband was responding to the medication…..

Around noon she came by to tell me that he had improved significantly and they would be going home later in the day.

I wonder how many times this same story played out in hospitals across the USA last night. Hurting people finding a friend in a fellow struggler.

The Master instructed, “Love you one another” ….. And ….”bear one another’s burdens”….. I am glad I was there for Claudette …. I am glad Claudette was there for me.