Casey . . .

When we are spending time at our home in Burnet, I work out at the YMCA. Today, while I was working out in the large pool, I saw her enter the pool by way of the steps at the shallow end. She was short, had sort of a plump figure that was just pretty much out of proportion—suggesting that she didn’t work out regularly, her hair was cut short, and as I watched her make her way to the deeper area of the pool it occurred to me that the poor girl was blind.

My workout routine largely consists of power-walking in chest-deep water and vigorously using a pair of large dumbbells which makes noise and displaces quite a bit of water. As it turned out, that became a lighthouse of sorts for Casey . . . she came straight to me. As she approached, I stopped my movement. She smiled and said, “Good afternoon.”  It was obvious that she was friendly, perhaps a bit lonesome, and wanting to visit. In our pool back at Rockport some of us workout freaks have coined a phrase, “he or she is a walker” or a “talker” . . . and we try to politely avoid being distracted by the talkers. The simple truth is one cannot do much of a workout in the pool and talk too . . . it is pretty much an “either or” matter.

Something in me urged me to slow down and let her talk some. As I did so, it became clear that she needed someone to chat with . . . she had quite a story and wanted/needed to tell it. In a short period of time, as we walked slowly along, she told me:

. . . She was born blind (in Austin);

. . . Her parents divorced when she was a little girl;

. . . Her dad moved to Detroit;

. . . She has two sisters who live with her mom and step dad;

. . . She lives with her grandmother (dad’s mom);

. . . She went to the School for the Blind located in Austin;

. . . Her mom and step-dad are mean people who have had some legal problems involving abuse of her sisters;

. . . That she really wants her mom to go to jail; and

. . . That she plays both the organ and piano and plays for her church; she lives near the Church and can walk there if assisted.

As I slowly walked with her and listened to her sad story, it broke my heart and reminded me that everyone has their story, and some folks really need to tell theirs. It was a half-hour well spent! In a bit a couple of older ladies I see around entered the pool . . . Carol the local pecan lady and her very quiet and reserved friend, Rebecca. I introduced the ladies to my new friend Casey . . . they said they knew Casey and she moved over to a corner of the pool with them to tread water. I resumed my workout while the girls visited.

Casey remains pretty heavy on my heart. She is a very sweet, gentle 28-year-old lady with a sad and pitiful existence.  Blindness can be a dark and lonely dungeon.

I was reminded of the two blind men who sat by the roadside in Matthew 20:30 . . .

“And, behold, two blind men sitting by the wayside, when they heard that Jesus passed by, cried out, saying, Have mercy on us, O Lord, you son of David.”

Think about that scene: those guys had surely been frustrated time after time . . . visits to doctors and likely a few faith-healers throughout their lives . . . yet here they sat . . . blind! They had surely heard about that miracle-working, compassionate carpenter from Nazareth who was said to be able to walk upon the water and even calm the raging storm at sea!  You just have to know that they had often thought, “What if . . .?”

The truth is that we don’t know why they were blind . . . or even why they were together; we are just told they were both blind and they were together! In that I see the truth . . . that it is one thing to go through something, but it another thing to go through it with someone who understands.

Blind is blind . . . but, unlike today, in that time period blindness was terrible, there were no paved surfaces, roads, or walkways upon which to walk . . . just rough, rocky, and uneven roads (dangerous for the blind); there were no brail signs posted . . . no seeing-eye dogs available . . . the blind were totally dependent on the kindness of others to lead them by the hand and set them in a safe place.

As those guys sat by the road that day, they felt the sun on their face, the smell of the fish from down at the harbor, and felt the sea breeze . . . then suddenly they heard the excitement of the approaching crowd . . . and heard someone exclaim, “Jesus is coming!”  Those two men had never seen a miracle . . . but they had heard enough to believe . . . and they called out to Jesus, “Thou son of David . . . have mercy on us!”  That was the first time Jesus had been so addressed . . . and in that I see a very real truth: those two blind men were not nearly as blind as were the most religious people on the planet at that time in history!  The blind men saw who Jesus was . . . while the religious leaders had seen miracle after miracle . . . but were so blind they could not see God when they saw God!

Of course, The Master healed them and gave them sight! That very same Master is coming back again . . . and when He does, He will open Casey’s eyes and she will be set free from her darkness!

Oh what a day that will be . . .

Human Suffering . . . in a world of abuse and neglect . . .

The world is full of pain and suffering . . . hurting, broken . . . or perhaps fractured . . . people . . . and so very much of it is caused by other people. It is tragic what humans do to one another.  This evil is not something new . . . not by a long shot!

Early into human history Cain killed his brother, Abel. Soon after, a really nice young fellow named Joseph was sold by his older brothers to slave traders who were bound for a foreign nation. Then, the wicked brothers returned home with his coat they had covered with blood and told his dad that Joseph had been killed by a wild beast, thus breaking his dad’s heart.  The Old Testament continues the historical narrative of humans inflicting pain and suffering on one another. History books are filled with much of the same . . . the newspapers and evening news of the day continues the report.

Prisons are over-burdened with convicted criminals . . . many of which are incarcerated because of personal crimes committed against other humans. Government-funded apartment projects in the inner cities are filled with folks who have been, or are currently, suffering from neglect or abuse from others. Those concentrations of socially- and economically-deprived folks oftentimes become the lower end of the human food chain . . . and human predators soon show up and establish a social hierarchy that enables the stronger to prey upon the weak. These sewers of human suffering can also serve as a form of prison . . . in spite of the lack of visible bars. Drugs, alcohol, forced prostitution, gangs, child-molestation, and imposed tariffs for “protection” . . . all serve as bars that lock the weak in place.

Why do humans hurt other humans? Why do the strong impose their will upon the weak, why do some parents scar their own children . . . both physically, emotionally, and even spiritually? What do some spouses do the same things to the very person they had vowed and pledged to spend their life loving, honoring, serving, and protecting?

Have you ever been to an emergency room late at night in a larger city and observed first-hand the results of humans injuring other humans? If you should do that, you will see victims of shootings, stabbings, physical beatings, children with cigarette burns and other physical abuses on their young and tender bodies, victims of rape, drug abuses, and a wide assortment of mayhem.

This morning people across the world are concerned about the rising tension over North Korea and its dictator and his quest for nuclear capability. He has launched a large number of intercontinental missiles this year and openly boasts of his intent to strike the USA with a nuclear warhead. The current Administration has gone on public record vowing that it will not permit him to reach that capability. In spite of that, the madman continues to push the envelope. The tragic reality of it all is that many will surely die as a result of this out-of-control evil man. Another tragedy is that he simply does not care about how many will perish . . . not even his own citizens.

This morning my heart is heavy and I am thinking of the Master’s words in John 13: “A new commandment I give you, as I have loved you, so shall you love each other.” If we would all just adopt that commandment and live by it, what a great difference it would make.

It seems to me . . . that living here in this great country of plenty and opportunity, this place where one can be anything he wants to be . . . we, each one, ought to resolve to just begin the journey by being kind, polite, respectful, encouraging, gentle, and generous to one another. There are more than enough mean-spirited and hateful folks out there doing evil . . . they don’t need our help!

I am thinking that the enemy of humanity must surely be delighted as he goes about . . . ‘to and fro …… seeking whom he may devour.’ He has found and energized many to help him in his quest to inflict pain and suffering upon humanity.

I look forward to that blessed day when ‘the lion will lay down by the lamb’ . . . what a day that is going to be! Even so, come now, Lord Jesus.

 

 

A Truth Revealed . . .

Sandy, Chris, and I are in Ruidoso for a few days to close on the new townhouse. Interestingly, there is a biker’s rally in full swing. Everywhere one looks there is a large group of motorcycles . . . of every sort, make, and description. Some are amazingly beautiful . . . while others are stripped down and loud. With large groups of bikes moving all around this mountain village, the reverberations of the loud pipes bouncing off of the mountain walls is pretty cool (well, at least for a guy who grew up loving fast cars with loud, powerful motors).

As humans, we are somewhat inclined to be judgmental about folks who are different than us and grab onto traditional stereotypes. If we are guilty of that foolishness, we can miss out on some true blessings and some neat life experiences.

A few observations as I have watched these folks milling about:

  1. For the most part, the group is something of a reflection in miniature of our culture as a whole . . . I have seen folks who were clean-cut and well-groomed, and yet others who look like they are trying to be cast in a movie about the Hell’s Angels . . . a broad range of ages—young–folks and others who were well into their 70’s;
  1. Some of the bikes are obviously quite expensive, while others have been assembled in a piecemeal fashion . . . and it shows;
  2. Some of the folks are the real-deal . . . motorcycle enthusiasts and purists . . . while others are clearly ‘posers’ . . . I actually saw two dudes in full biker garb, with mopeds equipped with leather saddle-bags and all . . . (it was almost like seeing a slug-bug rolling along in a group of muscle cars rumbling down the road;
  3. While Sandy shopped in Albertson’s yesterday afternoon, I waited in the car.  There were 50 or more bikers coming and going . . . I walked over and visited with a group of a dozen or so.  One of the guys was a peanut-farmer from Weatherford, OK; a lady was a nurse from Lubbock, one guy was an accountant with a large firm from Dallas; all nice folks . . . just out having a good time;
  4. As Sandy and I checked out of our hotel yesterday morning, we encountered a couple well into their retirement years . . . dressed in jeans, long sleeve tees, and leather vests . . . on the back of the vests was printed ….. Christian Motorcycle Association . . . with a bi-line . . . . “Riding for the Son” . . . Sandy and I were reminded of our friend Gene Johnson who we helped to support in CMA for a number of years.

My conclusion . . . the Master instructed us to “Love ye one another” . . . and we ought to look for ways to do that very thing! I have enjoyed all of the comings and goings . . . the rumble of the bikes, my visits with some of the folks, and realizing that they are, for the most part,  just like the rest of us . . . they will return home tomorrow evening, put the bike away . . . and on Monday morning they will go back to work . . . each doing their part to help make America great!

Nope . . . I ain’t gonna be buying a bike anytime soon . . .hey, I am a Corvette dude (so much so that my 4-year-old granddaughter, Abi, insisted that when grown she is gonna get her a ‘Slug bug Corvette’  . . . I suspect those are the only two cars she actually knows at this tender age.

Life is good . . . people are interesting!

 

Noise in Religion . . .

A couple of nights ago a woman posted on Facebook a video showing a trio . . . two women and a guy . . . doing a quick dance routine . . . obviously in a some sort of Church service. The woman who posted the video tagged a few other folks and commented, “We need to work on this for our Church.”  Several others commented about how cool it was and concurred that it ought to be done.  I admit that the trio had spent considerable time and effort to perfect the routine, and it was quite flashy. One fellow commented . . .  “Not impressed” . . . after thinking about whether I ought to offer my two-cents worth or just shut-up I commented, “That has no place in true worship . . . that is worshiptainment for silly and shallow people.”  Over the next couple of hours I received a number of notifications that people were “liking” my comment.

It reminded me of an experience several years back in Nashville.

I had traveled there to teach a seminar which had been set at a new hotel out in the industrial area (by design to try to prevent participants from being distracted by the rowdy night life in the downtown area). I arrived on Sunday evening and collected my training materials shipped to the hotel earlier and set up the training room for the next morning. Knowing that I needed to eat dinner, I walked to the front desk to ask about food in the area. The desk-clerk told me that there was a restaurant nearby and gave me walking directions.  As I turned to leave, I noticed a rather large, dark fellow with long, straight hair parted in the middle and wearing a colorful head-band . . . it was quite clear he was a Native American.  He was very well-dressed. He said that he had overheard my conversation and asked if he might walk with me. When our dinner was served, I bowed my head and silently offered thanks. He picked up on that and our conversation turned to faith.

He told me that his family was Choctaw and was part of the large Reservation in Alabama. His grandfather had been a Baptist Pastor and his dad was a banker and a Baptist deacon. He went on to say that there were seven Baptist Churches on the Reservation. I asked about his faith. He chuckled and said, “I have had quite a journey.”  He went on to tell of having been weary of religion and that he went to Dartmouth and studied Philosophy . . . man’s quest for faith, existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language . . . he said his journey included questioning, critical discussion, rational argument, and systematic presentations about life itself. He said that his intent was to disprove the beliefs and teachings of his grandfather and his dad, but amazingly discovered Jesus in the process. Now, he owns the McDonald’s franchise on the large Reservation and has several restaurants. He had recently been appointed as Chairman-of-the-Board for the Choctaw Housing Agency and was at the seminar to learn about his new appointment.

Over dinner, he told me about his dissertation and his extensive research . . . the title was “Noise in religion1” He began the dissertation with a look back to his tribe’s early history and pagan beliefs about “The great Spirit” and about themselves. He discussed their pagan dances, chants, and music as they “worshipped.”  He then moved to this present generation and what is transpiring in music and what is being called ‘praise worship.’  His study zeroed in on the various Churches on the reservation. He said his conclusions were actually quite simple, and explained it as:

 

  1. The lower the group’s income  . . . education and emotional stability . . . the more noise they need in their religious pursuits;
  2. The more financially and emotionally stable and better educated that folks were, the less noise they want in their worship. He spoke of the small Church his grandfather, Dad, and a few other older folks attended and how quiet and reverent their worship services are;
  3. He discovered that it all also translated  into service . . . the groups making all of the noise were mostly undependable when it was time to dig deep and give, or to roll up their shirt sleeves and help with ministry needs; He also discovered that the older, quieter, group rarely needed  to even be asked to help . . . this group has such a sensitivity to The Lord’s activity that they are usually already directing resources, attention, prayer, and effort in that direction before others are even aware of the need.

Over the years, I have observed as this confusing and troubling thing has come upon the modern Church and I have been concerned as I have observed Church leadership silently allow the loud group to take over morning worship services and decorate the once-sacred platform/altar in the sanctuary-like the bandstand in the local honky-tonky joints in the area. Moreover, they have pushed the hymnal and the beloved hymns off to the side and replaced it with loud choruses that are repeated over and over and over as a “praise team” stands on the “stage” with their heads laid back and their eyes rolled back in their head as if they are in some sort of trance, while the crowd claps, whistles, and cheers . . . all dressed like they were going to a Friday-night-football-game. This is somehow more pleasing to God than a well-dressed group of folks reverently singing great time, homered hymns derived from Scripture?  For the life of me I just can’t get that.

All in all, my conclusion is that my Choctaw friend was spot-on in his dissertation and its conclusions. Furthermore, I believe I have watched a new culture/mentality emerge in the Church and over take her . . . that being, “Come as you, enjoy the worshiptainment show put on for you, and leave just as you came in, on your way out stop and buy an autographed copy of the Pastor’s latest book. See you next Sunday morning”

Now, just how do you suppose God is viewing all of this modernism feel-good stuff in the Church? Is it possible that John the Revelator might have addressed this in, perhaps, one of his seven letters to the Churches?

I am a Friend of Bill . . .

I am a Friend of Bill . . . has been a long-time declaration of AA . . . well, I am also a friend of Bill . . . but it is another dude named Bill . . . and not even remotely related to AA at all.

We are in Burnet this week because of Hurricane Harvey, I went to the YMCA each day to work out. I saw Bill on Monday . . . as he entered the pool room in his wheelchair and was assisted into the lift chair and lowered into the pool. He was obviously involved in a physical rehab program, as there was a lady working with him and helping him walk around in the pool. As we passed by each other, we noodled at each other. When he had completed his session and was being loaded back in the lift chair, I stopped by and introduced myself. Wanting to encourage Bill, I told him that about three years back I had visited the Y here for my first time. I told Bill that on that visit, my son pushed me in my wheelchair and I had entered the pool by way of the lift chair. He told me that he had rolled his truck on Hiway 281 and had seriously injured his back and had had several surgeries and spent almost a year in and out of the hospital.

On Tuesday Bill rolled into the pool room, was assisted into the lift chair, and entered the pool. I slowed my pace considerably to walk with Bill. As we walked alongside each other, we each shared part of our personal stories. I learned that Bill was the recipient of a Bronze Star, which I admire and respect. His therapist showed up and I moved into the deeper water to work out.

On Wednesday, as my friend was being lowered into the pool via the lift chair I went over and helped him get his footing and bearings. We chatted a few minutes as he waited on his therapist. As his session was ending and he was taking a rest break before exiting the pool, I stopped as I passed his location and asked if I might ask him a personal question. He said I sure could, so I asked him, “Have you figured it out yet?”  He got a puzzled expression on his face and asked what I meant. I chuckled and told him that there was no great mystery and told him that Mark Twain had once said, “The two luckiest days in your life are the day you were born and the day you discover why.” I chuckled and said that dudes like him and me who have been given a second chance certainly ought to strive to discover why and seek to know what it is that the Lord wants us to do.   Honestly, my thinking and comments to Bill were much like trying to explain calculus to a goose, but I am confident that in the days ahead Bill’s spiritual comprehension will improve considerably.  I will arrange to meet him at the Y about an hour early on his M W F schedule to discuss and explore second chances!

I am a friend of Bill . . . I pray that down the road I may be able to introduce Bill to my friend Jesus . . . I am confident that it is in that that Bill will discover both meaning . . . and his purpose!


 

Labor Day Thoughts . . .

This morning I am wishing life was back to normal . . . and my family and I were on the boat having fun, or in the pool while listening to oldies music and cooking on the pit, just as we have observed holidays for many years. I suppose I have actually been feeling a bit sorry for myself . . . with Harvey and all.

As the morning has worn on, my thoughts turned to the Jerry Lewis’ Labor Day Telethon for MD which I watched for years. As I thought about all those folks who struggle with that terrible disease, and the life struggle for them and their family, I realized that I don’t have a problem at all . . . I merely have an inconvenience.

It would be good if I could learn to readily adopt the Apostle Paul’s approach to life:

Philippians 4:11-13New International Version (NIV)

11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

That is the testimony of a true winner!