Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Hiding Behind "Only"

I have discovered that I sometimes hide behind the word "only."

For example, in my current job as the pastor of Heritage Presbyterian Church, I sometimes find myself saying, "I've ONLY been here for four months."  That sounds like some pretty good cover when someone wonders why I haven't changed very much yet.

I used to say, "I'm ONLY five feet, seven inches tall."  I guess I thought that people wouldn't notice until I pointed out to them that I am short.  Or perhaps it was a defense mechanism; if I voiced the fact that I was short, if I claimed it, then we could move on to the more important things in life - such as what kind of person I am, what things I like to do, and will I take the last slice of pizza or leave it for someone else.

When I was a classroom teacher and I had to listen to some "expert" explain the latest and greatest thing that would transform our school into a bright and shining light in the education world, I used to say, "I am ONLY a classroom teacher."   That implied that I understood clearly how insignificant my role was in overall school reform; I could ONLY change or control my own actions and those in my classroom...I couldn't change the world, my state, my city, my school district, or even my own school.

All of this bothers me a great deal now.  Hiding behind the safe, secure, low-expectations of the word ONLY is the coward's way out.  That is not what we are called to be or to do.

Jesus told us to GO into the world and make disciples.  Jesus told us to GO and preach the Good News.  He didn't qualify those statements.  He didn't say, "I only want the bold, the brave, the tall, and the good-looking."  He certainly didn't choose that type of individual when he chose his own Apostles.  He just said, "Go."

So, I think the only proper use of the word ONLY should be:

"Jesus is the ONLY Lord of my life!"

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

A Letter From An Ancestor

One of my ancestors was the Reverend Ebenezer Dickey Junkin. In 1880, he accepted a call from the First Presbyterian Church of Houston, Texas, to become their pastor. He and his wife left their home in Virginia and traveled to Houston to meet the people and see if the call suited them. Shortly thereafter, Rev. Junkin and his wife moved to Houston and served as their pastor.

[The following letter is from Rev. Junkin to the faithful in Houston just after he returned home to Virginia to pack up for his new job at First Presbyterian Church in Houston.]

Brownsburg, Virginia

August 31, 1880

To the Members of the First Presbyterian Church, Houston, Texas

My Dear Brethren:

Through the loving care of our Heavenly Father, I have had a safe and very pleasant journey to my old home, and a very happy meeting with my love ones here. I found all of my family in excellent health, and all gathered under the roof where, for nearly twenty years, we have lived so happily together. Truly the Lord has been very good to me and mine; and I do, from my heart, thank Him for it all.

On the first Sabbath after my return, I worshipped with the people to whom I so long ministered, and was most cordially welcomed back by them. I heard Dr. Vaughn, their pastor elect, preach. But the joy of meeting these loved ones and of worshipping again in the old Church was saddened by the constant thought of the necessary breaking up and the long and far separation. Very dear ties are to be broken, and I do dread the final parting. Still my heart continually goes out toward you who constitute my new charge, and I feel that already most tender ties have been formed, which I trust will ever grow stronger and stronger the more we get to know each other and the longer my pastorate among you lasts. During my short sojourn among you, I not only began to love you and to feel a very great interest in your spiritual welfare, but to appreciate, in some degree, the greatness and the vast importance of the work to which the Lord has called me in your midst. It is truly a great work, and involving vast responsibilities. Indeed I am appalled by the greatness and the difficulty of the work, and could not undertake it, but for the good promise of the Master = "I will be with you always." The firm persuasion I have that He has called me to this field, gives me very great comfort; for having that I am assured that all needed grace and strength will be given [to] me. But I want to say to you, that in order to the success of my ministry among you - you must work with me. And just to the degree that every member of the Church does work and work earnestly and heartily with me will the Church and the cause of Christ be prospered. The Church can prosper only when the mutual duties of Pastor and People are faithfully performed, and when Pastor and People are actuated by love to Christ and to the souls of men, for Christ's sake, realize their responsibilities and endeavor in the fear of God to discharge them.

There is a very great work to be done in Houston by the Presbyterian Church. Upon me, as your pastor, will rest, of course, the main responsibility to that work; but I know and you know that I cannot do all of it. You must help me. The ways in which you can help me are many. I need not attempt to enumerate them to you, for if you each truly wish thus to help, and ask the Lord what He would have you do, I doubt not that He would indicate to each his or her work. I may, however, throw out one or two hints in reference to this matter. It is a very great help to a pastor to see the people prompt and punctual in attendance upon the public services of the Church, whether on Sabbath or week day. Let nothing interfere with you in this matter. But not only by your own presence can you help and encourage your Pastor; you can, by you[r] personal influence persuade others to attend those services and thus bring them under the influence of the truth. Do not let others keep you from the services of God's house, but do you take them to those services. There is very much of this kind of work to be done in Houston, and which you can do more efficiently and easier than I can do it. There are many families and individuals upon whom you can exert an influence which will draw them to attend our Church. Let there be no divisions among you; put all mere personal preferences and interests in subordination to the interest of Christ's Church. Consult ever the peace and unity and prosperity of the Church, and let no mere personal matters interfere to warp your judgment or influence your conduct. Remember it is Christ's own blood-bought Church whose interests you are called upon to keep ever in view. My prayers daily ascend for you, that the richest blessings from above may rest upon you and that God may revive His cause among you. Sabbath after Sabbath especially, and Tuesday evening after Tuesday evening will I meet with you in spirit, and my prayers will mingle with yours as they ascend to the Heavenly Throne. May the God of all grace keep you and bless you and cause His face to shine upon you. May He cure any that are sick and may He comfort any who mourn. Pray for me that I may be kept in safety and blessing and be brought back to you fitted for the great work.

I am truly your Servant in Christ Jesus,


Is It Dead Yet?

Outside the administration building is a large pot containing the dead remnants of a plant. The plant has been gone for some time now, and it looks depressing as one enters the main office of our church. So I decided to dig it up and plant something new.

Imagine my surprise when I dug the old plant up and discovered caladium bulbs hiding just beneath the surface. They were not the same as the obviously dead plant, but they weren't doing anything either. I carefully replanted them, added some Miracle-Gro plant fertilizer, and watered them. They quickly burst through the soil, and now the pot is beginning to look pretty good...a VERY different "first impression" for anyone entering the office.

It makes me think of this church. To follow the metaphor: is it dead yet? We have had many hardships here at Heritage, and now the property is for sale (you can't miss the LARGE sign out by the road). If all you notice is the obvious, you would miss the hidden "bulbs" beneath the surface just waiting for someone to give them a little attention, a little tender loving care.

And as soon as we do, what will bloom? I guess we will have to keep our eyes open and that plant but watch this church too!

Dying To Self

I worked for a boss in Austin years ago who gave me a copy of this. I haven't seen it or thought about it in a long time, but it still resonates with me. Hope it does with you too!

- Pastor Mark


When you are forgotten, or neglected, or purposely set at naught, and you don't sting and hurt with the insult or the oversight, but your heart is happy, being counted worthy to suffer for Christ - THAT IS DYING TO SELF.

When your good is evil spoken of, when your wishes are crossed, your advice disregarded, your opinions ridiculed, and you refuse to let anger rise in your heart, or even defend yourself, but take in all in patient, loving silence - THAT IS DYING TO SELF.

When you lovingly and patiently bear any disorder, any irregularity, any impunctuality, or any annoyance; when you stand face-to- face with waste, folly, extravagance, spiritual insensibility-and endure it as Jesus endured - THAT IS DYING TO SELF.

When you are content with any food, any offering, any climate, any society, any raiment, any interruption by the will of God - THAT IS DYING TO SELF.

When you never care to refer to yourself in conversation, or to record your own good works, or itch after commendations, when you can truly love to be unknown - THAT IS DYING TO SELF.

When you can see your brother prosper and have his needs met and can honestly rejoice with him in spirit and feel no envy, nor question God, while your own needs are far greater and in desperate circumstances - THAT IS DYING TO SELF.

When you can receive correction and reproof from one of less stature than yourself and can humbly submit inwardly as well as outwardly, finding no rebellion or resentment rising up within your heart - THAT IS DYING TO SELF.

Are you dead yet? In these last days, the Spirit would bring us to the cross.

"That I may know Him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death." Philippians 3:10

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Silly Goose

As the geese take flight from the Canadian shoreline, they lift off from the water in squawking discourse. Yet, in a matter of seconds, a line begins to emerge from the mass of brown feathers. This line straightens, arches slightly, and then, as on cue, bends sharply to form a perfect V shape. Canada geese fly in V formation for a very pragmatic reason: a flock of geese flying in formation can move faster and maintain flight longer than any one goose flying alone. Synergy is a law of nature.
What is synergy? How does it relate to leadership?
We have a lot to learn from these geese.
By flying in "V " formation, the whole flock adds at least 71% greater flying range than if each bird flew on its own.
People who share a common direction and sense of community can get where they are going quicker and easier because they are traveling on the thrust of one another.

Whenever a goose falls out of formation, it suddenly feels the drag and resistance of trying to go it alone and quickly gets back into formation to take advantage of the lifting power of the bird immediately in front.
If we have as much sense as a goose, we will stay in formation with those who are heading in the same as we are.

When the lead goose gets tired, he rotates back in the wing and another goose flies point.
It pays to take turns doing hard jobs, with people or with flying geese.

These geese honk from behind to encourage those up front to keep up their speed.
We need to be careful what we say when we honk from behind.

Finally, when a goose gets sick, or is wounded by gunshot, and falls out, two geese fall out of formation and follow him down to help and protect him. They stay with him until he is either able to fly or until he is dead, and then they launch out on their own or with another formation until they catch up with their group.
If we have the sense of a goose, we will stand by each other, protect one another and sometimes make new friends who seem to be going in our direction.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Funny/Unusual Videos from the Internet

We all get them...funny videos that arrive via email or word-of-mouth.  Below are links to a few of my favorites.  Hope you enjoy them!

1.  Would You Watch My Car?

2.  Pit Bull vs. Kitten

3.  Video shot during the tsunami in Japan:

4.  Pendulum waves...chaos and order...pretty cool!

5.  My new favorite version of the "Hallelujah Chorus"...

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Pecan Tree in the Cemetery

(sent to me by my good friend, Lois!  Thanks for the laugh!)

On the outskirts of a small town, there was a big, old pecan tree just inside the cemetery fence. One day, two boys filled up a bucketful of nuts and sat down by the tree, out of sight, and began dividing the nuts.

“One for you, one for me, one for you, one for me,” said one boy. As they counted, several pecans dropped and rolled down toward the fence.

Another boy came riding along the road on his bicycle. As he passed, he thought he heard voices from inside the cemetery. He slowed down to investigate. Sure enough, he heard, “One for you, one for me, one for you, one for me...”

He just knew what it was! He jumped back on his bike and rode off. Just around the bend he met an old man with a cane, hobbling along.

“Come here quick,” said the boy, “You won't believe what I heard!  Satan and the Lord are down at the cemetery dividing up the souls!”

The man said, “Beat it kid, can't you see it's hard for me to walk.”  When the boy insisted though, the man hobbled slowly to the cemetery.  Standing by the fence they heard, “One for you, one for me, one for you, one for me.”

The old man whispered, “Boy, you've been tellin' me the truth. Let's see if we can see the Lord.”

Shaking with fear, they peered through the fence, yet were still unable to see anything. The old man and the boy gripped the wrought iron bars of the fence tighter and tighter as they tried to get a glimpse of the Lord.

At last they heard, “One for you and one for me. That's all.  Now let's go get those nuts by the fence and we'll be done.”

They say the old man had the lead for a good half-mile before the kid on the bike passed him.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Mom's Empty Chair

A woman's daughter asked the local minister to come and pray with her mother.  When the minister arrived, he found the woman lying in bed with her head propped up on two pillows.  An empty chair sat beside her bed.  The minister assumed that the woman had been informed of his visit.

"I guess you were expecting me," he said.
"No, who are you?" said the mother.
The minister told her his name and then remarked, "I saw the empty chair and I figured you knew I was going to show up."

"Oh yeah, the chair," said the bedridden woman.  "Would you mind closing the door?"
Puzzled, the minister shut the door.
"I have never told anyone this, not even my daughter," said the woman.  "But all of my life I have never
known how to pray.  At church I used to hear the pastor talk about prayer, but it went right over my head."

"I abandoned any attempt at prayer," the old woman continued, "until one day four years ago, my best friend told me that prayer is just a simple matter of having a conversation with Jesus.  Here is what I suggest: sit down in a chair; place an empty chair in front of you, and in faith see Jesus on the chair.  It's not spooky because he promised, 'I will be with you always'.  Then just speak to him in the same way you're doing with me right now."

"So, I tried it and I've liked it so much that I do it a couple of hours every day.  I'm careful though. If my daughter saw me talking to an empty chair, she'd either have a nervous breakdown or send me off to the funny farm."

The minister was deeply moved by the story and encouraged the old woman to continue on the journey.  Then he prayed with her, anointed her with oil, and returned to the church.

Two nights later the daughter called to tell the minister that her mother had died that afternoon.

"Did she die in peace?" he asked.

"Yes, when I left the house about two o'clock, she called me over to her bedside, told me she loved me and kissed me on the cheek.  When I got back from the store an hour later, I found her.  But there was something strange about her death.  Apparently, just before Mom died, she leaned over and rested her head on the chair beside the bed. What do you make of that?"

The minister wiped a tear from his eye and said, "
I wish we could all go like that."

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Two Traveling Angels

Two traveling angels stopped to spend the night in the home of a wealthy family.

The family was rude and refused to let the angels stay in the mansion's guest room.  Instead the angels were given a small space in the cold basement.  As they made their bed on the hard floor, the older angel saw a hole in the wall and repaired it.

When the younger angel asked why, the older angel replied, "Things aren't always what they seem"

The next night the pair came to rest at the house of a very poor, but very hospitable farmer and his wife.  After sharing what little food they had the couple let the angels sleep in their bed where they could have a good night's rest.  When the sun came up the next morning the angels found the farmer and his wife in tears.  Their only cow, whose milk had been their sole income, lay dead in the field.

The younger angel was infuriated and asked the older angel, "How could you have let this happen?  The first man had everything, yet you helped him," she accused.  "The second family had little but was willing to share everything, and you let the cow die."

"Things aren't always what they seem," the older angel replied.  "When we stayed in the basement of the mansion, I noticed there was gold stored in that hole in the wall.  Since the owner was so obsessed with greed and unwilling to share his good fortune, I sealed the wall so he wouldn't find it."

Then last night as we slept in the farmers bed, the angel of death came for his wife I gave him the cow instead.

Things aren't always what they seem."

Sometimes that is exactly what happens when things  don't turn out the way they should. If you have faith, you just need to trust that every out come is always to your advantage.

You just might not know it until some time later.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Old German Shepherd

One day an old German Shepherd dog starts chasing rabbits and before long, discovers that he's lost.  Wandering about, he notices a panther heading rapidly in his direction with the intention of having lunch.

The old German Shepherd dog thinks, "Oh, oh! I'm in trouble now!"

Noticing some bones on the ground close by, he immediately settles down to chew on the bones with his back to the approaching cat. Just as the panther is about to leap, the old German Shepherd exclaims loudly,
"Boy, that was one delicious panther! I wonder, if there are any more around here?"

Hearing this, the young panther halts his attack in mid-strike, a look of terror comes over him and he slinks away into the trees.

"Whew!," says the panther, "That was close! That old German Shepherd dog nearly had me!"

Meanwhile, a squirrel who had been watching the whole scene from a nearby tree, figures he can put this knowledge to good use and trade it for protection from the panther. So, off he goes.

The squirrel soon catches up with the panther, spills the beans and strikes a deal for himself with the panther.

The young panther is furious at being made a fool of and says, "Here, squirrel, hop on my back and see what's going to happen to that conniving canine!"

Now, the old German Shepherd sees the panther coming with the squirrel on his back and thinks, "What am I going to do now?  But instead of running, the dog sits down with his back to his attackers, pretending he hasn't seen them yet, and just when they get close enough to hear, the old German Shepherd says...

"Where's that squirrel? I sent him off an hour ago to bring me another panther!"

Moral of this story: Don't mess with the old dogs... Age and skill will always overcome youth and treachery!

Friday, February 18, 2011

Cats vs. Dogs: The Final Point

For those of you that own either a cat or a dog (or both), here is the final point regarding the difference between the two:

Dog: "Oh my God!  I smell smoke!  I'd better start barking and alert everyone to the danger.  HEY!  HEY!  BARKBARKBARKBARK!  Wake up!  We are in danger!  I'll go to each room and make sure everyone is awake and out!  I'll check all the rooms, but you need to GET MOVING RIGHT NOW!  Let's GO!  BARKBARKBARK!"

Cat: "Oh man!  I've checked all the doors and way out for me!  Guess I'd better go wake up ol' what's-his-name or I'm never gonna get out of here.  Sure hope my fur looks okay."

Monday, February 7, 2011

Preaching at Princeton's Miller Chapel

I had a truly blessed experience today: I preached at Miller Chapel on the campus of Princeton Seminary.  Every senior is offered the chance to preach if he/she wants to.  I signed up for my one allotted time, invited some friends, worked hard on the service and the sermon, and thought I was ready to go.

I didn't count on being extremely nervous!  But I was.  After all, this is PRINCETON SEMINARY!  And I was preaching in front of my fellow seminarians, professors, and administrators.  It is pretty intimidating.

But in the end, I really enjoyed it.  And the listeners seemed to also.

Below is the sermon I preached; if you are going to read it, then please read Matthew 18:10-14 first.


One of the things I just love here at Princeton Seminary is what I call "the second question."  In class, many times the first question asked either by the professor or by the student is a good one.  But I have found it is the second question that is often the better one. 

As we listen to and examine today’s Scripture reading, the first question is a rather obvious one:
Why does the Good Shepherd bother to save one sheep when he already has 99 safely with him?  That is the first question.

But today’s message focuses on the second question that may follow it: 
For what PURPOSE does the Shepherd save that one little sheep?

It is this question that comes into my mind when I read and examine this Scripture.  Each of us is that one sheep, that one out of a hundred that wanders off and almost gets away. 

And each of us is important enough that the Good Shepherd leaves the 99 other sheep and comes and finds us.  And when the Shepherd finds us, do we get a holy lecture?  A stern talking-to?  A little time out?  That is not what Scripture says.  We are told that the Good Shepherd is happy!  There has to be a reason.

Perhaps you are going for the obvious answer:  the Shepherd comes to get us, rescues us, and is happy because the Shepherd loves us.  I agree this is true, and it would be foolish to believe otherwise.

But once we are rescued, what does the Shepherd have in mind for us?  What can one little sheep do?

Maybe you are to be one famous, heroic little sheep like an ordinary man who lived in Los Angeles, California on Wednesday, April 29, 1992.  On that day, the Lord’s sheep named Bobby Greene was watching the riots in the streets in the aftermath of the acquittal of the four policemen who beat Rodney King.   That one sheep saw live on television a man being dragged from his truck and beaten with bricks by a mob who would have surely killed him.  Except that Bobby Greene realized the scene was playing out right in front of his house!  Bobby rushed into the middle of the mob, completely unarmed, and rescued the badly injured truck driver.  Bobby loaded the driver back into the dump truck, then drove the truck, which carried 27 tons of sand, to the hospital and saved the driver’s life.  Maybe you are going to be that type of sheep.

Or maybe you are to be a little sheep who lives a very, very long time, over 100 years.  She was living in a nursing home that is not really one of the nice ones.  But every day, since she could still walk, read, and think, she made rounds.  She went from room to room asking if anyone needs anything.  She sat and visited those who couldn't get out of bed.  She read letters to those who can’t see to read any longer.  She read Scripture to those who will listen and she even discussed it with them…a little one-on-one ministering with many who have no one to talk to.

She made a difference in that place, and just by being herself – her plain, old, ordinary self – maybe she was just a sheep - but she was one that brightened a day and served as an inspiration for a community that many have forgotten.  Maybe you are going to be that type of sheep.

Or maybe you are going to be like the one big sheep I heard about many years ago.  This particular sheep was a very tall, very large man.  He sold insurance in the Houston area.  I don’t know his name, and I don’t know if he was any good at selling insurance.  But I suspect that selling insurance was not what the Lord had in mind when he came and got that one big sheep.  For you see…this particular sheep goes down to the county jail on Sunday afternoons after church, and he goes from cell to cell asking softly if there is anyone he can call for them, if anyone would like a word of prayer, if anyone would like a word from Scripture.  He goes from cell to cell to cell, and as he goes the whole jail gets a little quieter.  The jailers will tell you that “Rev” as he is called is a welcome sight and that he does good work.  But “Rev” is a fake…he is not a minister of Word and Sacrament.  He is not a minister.  He wears a clerical collar, but he will tell you that is just to get their attention.  The real reason is because his Shepherd told him to visit those sheep in jail.  And no one else in the Houston area is doing it.  Maybe you are going to be that type of sheep.

I keep saying the word “one” and when I say that, I am certain that there are a lot of “ones” who are uncomfortable with that.  After all, it is always easier in this world to let others be the “one” that the Good Shepherd uses to further the Kingdom.  Let me declare to you that each and every sheep is called to be the one that the Lord uses in the kingdom.  

You don’t have to be Bobby Greene rushing into a murderous mob to save a man from death.
You don’t have to be the sweet old lady in the nursing home.
You don’t have to be the insurance salesman who visits the jail on Sunday afternoons pretending to be a minister.
No one is asking you to be that kind of one.

Maybe the wonderful things, the important things, the…things that we are called to do are really very small things, and that’s all!  Maybe the things we are really called to do appear when each of us sees something and hears the whisper of the Shepherd in our soul telling you to do something.  You might be the one that might be an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life.

You might be the one who sees a working man crying as he asks for food – for the first time in his life – because times are hard out there.  And you reach for your wallet, despite ignoring other pleas for help because there is something about this one man that resonates with you.  And maybe it’s because you remember going hungry at some time in your life and getting a hand up from someone, instead of a hand out.

You might be the one who begins every conversation with, “How’s your family?”  What a silly question!  “How’s your family?”  But then maybe one day everything is NOT okay with your family.  Maybe your family is the biggest, heaviest thing on your heart.  And maybe, just maybe no one else has noticed or asked.  So when you hear, “How’s your family?” maybe you reach out and begin talking and get some things off your chest.  Because maybe the one sheep who asks, “How’s your family?” knows and understands this and will listen and be a good friend for a few moments.

Or maybe you are the one who will be in the classroom, on the job, walking with others, driving the roads, sitting in the small restaurant, or perhaps on-line with your friends – and the Good Shepherd needs just one person, just one, just one little sheep, to do a little something.  You might be that one sheep.

And the power that you will have in that situation, the power to make a difference, the power to spread the Good News in the world, the power to be an example to the world, the power to show the love of the Good Shepherd exists and is alive and well…that is power like no other.

As each one of us tries to follow the Shepherd’s path, look for those opportunities that will certainly come your way.
And be the one sheep with the power to make a difference.

The difference between something and nothing;
the difference between good and evil, between love and indifference, between powerful and powerless. 
The power of one sheep can do all of that.

You were rescued, you one little sheep. 

Your Good Shepherd left the flock and rescued you.

Why did the Good Shepherd bother to save one sheep when he already has 99 safely with him?  That is the first question.

But answer the second question:
For what PURPOSE does the Shepherd save you, that one little sheep?

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Life's Handbook, version 2011

1. Drink plenty of water. 
2. Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dinner like a beggar.
3. Eat more foods that grow on trees and plants and eat less food that is manufactured in plants.
4. Live with the 3 E's -- Energy, Enthusiasm, and Empathy.
5. Make time to pray. 
6. Play more games.
7. Read more books than you did in 2010. 
8. Sit in silence for at least ten minutes each day.
9. Sleep for seven hours.
10. Take a 10-30 minute walk daily. And while you walk, smile. 
11. Don't compare your life to others. You have no idea what their journey is all about. 
12. Don't have negative thoughts on things you cannot control. Instead invest your energy in the positive present moment. 
13. Don't overdo. Keep your limits. 
14. Don't take yourself so seriously. No one else does. 
15. Don't waste your precious energy on gossip. 
16. Dream more while you are awake.
17. Envy is a waste of time. You already have all you need.
18. Forget issues of the past. Don't remind your partner of his/her mistakes of the past. That will ruin your present happiness. 
19. Life is too short to waste time hating anyone. Don't hate others. 
20. Make peace with your past so it won't spoil the present. 
21. No one is in charge of your happiness except you. 
22. Realize that life is a school and you are here to learn. Problems are simply part of the curriculum that appear and fade away like algebra class - but the lessons you learn will last a lifetime. 
23. Smile and laugh more. 
24. Remember - you don't have to win every argument. Agree to disagree.
25. Call your family often. 
26. Each day give something good to others. 
27. Forgive everyone for everything.
28. Spend time with people over the age of 70 and under the age of 6. 
29. Try to make at least three people smile each day. 
30. What other people think of you is none of your business. 
31. Your job won't take care of you when you are sick. Your friends will. Stay in touch. 
32. Do the right thing! 
33. Get rid of anything that isn't useful, beautiful, or joyful. 
34. GOD heals everything. 
35. However good or bad a situation is, it will change.
36. No matter how you feel, get up, dress up, and show up. 
37. The best is yet to come.
38. When you awake alive in the morning, thank GOD for it. 
39. Your Innermost is always happy. So, be happy. 

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Mayonnaise Jar and 2 Cups of Coffee

When things in your life seem almost too much to handle, when 24 hours in a day is not enough; 
remember the mayonnaise jar and 2 cups of coffee.

A professor stood before his philosophy class 
and had some items in front of him. 

When the class began, wordlessly, he picked up a very large and empty mayonnaise jar 
and start to fill it with golf balls. 

He then asked the students if the jar was full.  They agreed that it was.

The professor then picked up a box of pebbles and poured 
it into the jar. He shook the jar lightly. 
The pebbles rolled into the open areas between the golf balls. 

He then asked the students again
if the jar was full. They agreed it was.

The professor next picked up a box of sand 
and poured it into the jar. Of course, the sand filled up everything else 
He asked once more if the jar was full. The students responded with an unanimous “yes.”

The professor then produced two cups of coffee from under the table and poured the entire contents into the jar, effectively 
filling the empty space between the sand. 
The students laughed.  “Now,” said the professor, as the laughter subsided, 
”I want you to recognize that this jar represents your life. 

The golf balls are the important things - God, family, 
children, health, friends, and favorite passions...things that if everything else was lost 
and only they remained, your life would still be full. 

The pebbles are the things that matter like your job, house, and car.  The sand is everything else -- 
The small stuff.”

“If you put the sand into the jar first, there is no room for the pebbles or the golf balls. 
The same goes for life. 

If you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff, you will never have room for the things that are 
important to you.  So... pay attention to the things that are critical to your happiness. 
Play with your children. 
Take time to get medical checkups. 
Take your partner out to dinner. 

There will always be time
to clean the house and fix the dripping tap.  Take care of the golf balls first - the things that really matter. 
Set your priorities. The rest is just sand.”

One of the students raised her hand 
and inquired what the coffee represented. 

The professor smiled.  “I'm glad you asked.  It just goes to show you that no matter how full your life may seem, 
there's always room for a couple of cups of coffee with a friend.” 

Monday, January 17, 2011

Shirley & Marcy

A mother was concerned about her kindergarten son walking to school.  He didn't want his mother to walk with him.  She wanted to give him the feeling that he had some independence but yet know that he was safe. So she had an idea of how to handle it.  She asked a neighbor if she would please follow him to school in the mornings, staying at a distance, so he probably wouldn't notice her.  She said that since she was up early with her toddler anyway, it would be a good way for them to get some exercise as well, so she agreed.

The next school day, the neighbor and her little girl set out following behind Timmy as he walked to school with another neighbor girl he knew.  She did this for the whole week.  As the two walked and chatted, kicking stones and twigs, Timmy's little friend noticed the same lady was following them as she seemed to do every day all week.

Finally she said to Timmy, “Have you noticed that lady following us to school all week?  Do you know her?”
Timmy nonchalantly replied, “Yeah, I know who she is.”
The little girl said, “Well, who is she?”
“That's just Shirley Goodnest,” Timmy replied, “and her daughter, Marcy.”
“Shirley Goodnest? Who the heck is she and why is she following us?”
“Well,” Timmy explained, “every night my Mum makes me say the 23rd Psalm with my prayers, 'cuz she worries about me so much. And in the Psalm, it says, 'Shirley Goodnest and Marcy shall follow me all the days of my life', so I guess I'll just have to get used to it!”

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Books of 2011

I have always loved to read.  Because I am in seminary, I rarely get to read for fun.  However, since I am graduating this year and hopefully transitioning to ministry, my reading habits will probably be pretty mixed. about I just list everything I read for this year, whether it was for seminary, for fun, for ministry, or for whatever?  Then at the end of the year, I will evaluate what I've done.

  1. Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter by Seth Grahame-Smith (Christmas present from my son!)
  2. The Girl With the Dragon Tatoo by Stieg Larsson (another Christmas present!)
  3. The Confession by John Grisham (ANOTHER Christmas present!)
  4. Cross Fire by James Patterson (YET ANOTHER Christmas present!)
  5. Full Dark, No Stars by Stephen King (oh yes...Mr. King finally figures out to END his stories!)
  6. Big Man Coming Down the Road by Brad Smith (Okay...I confess that I already read this one but I love re-reading my favorites!)
  7. Ministry Loves Company by John Galloway Jr. (January short term seminary class)
  8. Congregational Leadership In Anxious Times by Peter L. Steinke (January short term seminary class)
  9. The Business of the Church by John W. Wimberly Jr. (January short term seminary class)
  10. Managing Polarities in Congregations  by Roy M. Oswald and Barry Johnson (January short term seminary class)
  11. The Tentmaking Pastor: The Joy of Bivocational Ministry by Dennis W. Bickers (January short term seminary class)
  12. First and Second Thessalonians: Interpretation, A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching by Beverly Gaventa (gotta get ready for the Presbyterian ordination exam on January 29th)
  13. 1 Thessalonians, 2 Thessalonians by Victor Paul Furnish (doesn't hurt to have more than one good commentary when preparing for the Presbyterian ordination exams!)
  14. The Importance of Being Lazy by Al Gini (in praise of play, leisure, and vacations - and for a seminary class called "Sleep, Sabbath, and Surrender.")
  15. Wide Awake by Patricia Morrisroe (a memoir of insomnia written by a woman who has struggled with it for years.  Each chapter is a story of a different attempt to find a cure.  Another book for a seminary class called "Sleep, Sabbath, and Surrender.")
  16. Waiting for God by Simone Weil (a philosophy book written by a very young woman who wrote about beauty, art, God, and many other things.  The book was used in a class I took that focused on using art in formation and worship.)
  17. On Dreams by Sigmund Freud (written in 1911 because no one would read his "masterpiece" about dreams that he had written a few years earlier; here Uncle Sigmund tells us all about dreams, what they mean, how they work, and how much we should pay attention to them.  I'm just glad it wasn't all Mommy's fault.)
  18. The Promise of Sleep by Dr. William Dement (THE guru of sleep disorders in the US.  Bottom line?  Most sleep disorders will clear up on their own.  Other more serious ones can kill you.  Got it?  Now go take a nap!)
  19. Variations on a Blue Guitar by Maxine Green (a book for my arts in worship/formation class; the chapters are taken from various speeches on the use of aesthetic experiences in education.  The applications also fit in Christian education!)
  20. Art As Experience by John Dewey (I am racking my brain trying to remember if I read any of Dewey's  other works when I was in teacher college and/or graduate school.  If I did not, then SHAME on my education program for leaving this man out!  His ideas about instruction and art are wonderful!)
  21. Christianity, Art, and Transformation by John W. de Gruchy (another book for my arts in worship/formation class; this one was supposed to be the most difficult one to read - but I loved it! How important can art be in Christian worship?  Read and find out for yourself.)
  22. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde (a required book for my Arts in Christian Formation seminary class, but what a wonderful idea!  The premise is fascinating: supposed everything you did that was evil/wrong/bad was revealed in the way you looked to suppose a portrait of you took on that appearance and you remained youthful and great looking?  How would it all turn out?  A classic story mauled by well-meaning English teachers the world over - but still worth it.  The graphic novel version is extremely well done.)
  23. The Sabbath World by Judith Shulevitz (pretty good book written by a Jewish woman who certainly knows a great deal about how Jews observe the Sabbath.  She is also very well read in Christian theology and seems to grasp the connection between Christianity and Judiasm as well as the connection between the Old and New Testaments.  Lots of good stuff here!)
  24. Swimsuit by James Patterson (Ah that seminary is OVER WITH, I can read for FUN and leisure.  Nothing better than a trashy crime novel by Patterson with his 120+ three-page chapters!  Oh what fun!)
  25. Vertical Run by Joseph R. Garber (an executive arrives at work, gets some coffee, looks up and sees his boss pointing a gun at him - and you think YOU'RE having a bad day at the office?  What happens when Dave manages to knock his boss out but finds heavily armed gunmen waiting for him in the lobby?  and WHY is everyone trying so hard to kill Dave?  The answer is the climax of this tense, tight, exciting novel.)
  26. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Grahame-Smith (the same author who wrote the first book in this list; but this story did not interest me as much as the vampire tale involving Abraham Lincoln.  Perhaps it was because the author very closely followed the style of the original Pride and Prejudice author, Jane Austen.  Just didn't hold my interest as well...gotta confess.)
  27. The Jester by James Patterson (If I keep making fun of Patterson's three-page chapters and choppy writing style, then why is this the third book of his that I've read this year?  This one is an unusual historical fiction novel set during the Crusades.  It's also one of my favorites!)
  28. Long Lost by Harlan Coben (I must remember to thank my dear mother for introducing me to this wonderful mystery/suspense author.  His favorite character, Myron Bolitar, receives a call from an old flame who is in trouble in Paris.  Of course, Myron goes there immediately and finds himself in the middle of an international "situation" involving terrorists, French police, shadowy figures, and lots of action.  An excellent read!)
  29. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (a great teen America is divided into 13 zones.  Each zone must send two participants to an annual fight-to-the-death match for the entertainment of the country - and to remind everyone of the power of the Capitol.  Katniss Everdeen is the latest fighter when she volunteers to take the place of her beloved younger sister.)
  30. Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins (I won't spoil the story by revealing anything of the two in the Hunger Games excellent story!)
  31. Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins (the final book in the Hunger Games...what or who is the "mockingjay" and why is it so central to the story?  A terrific conclusion to the series.)
  32. The Fourth Bear by Jasper Fforde (no, the author's last name is NOT a misprint.  This story takes a while to get going, but once it does - it is hilarious!  It is based on various nursery rhymes; for instance: the detective in charge is Jack Sprat, his partner is Mary Mary Contrary, he investigates a break-in at the bears' cottage, and he is also chasing the hard-to-catch Gingerbread Man.  Pretty entertaining and very cleverly written.)
  33. Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand (unbelievably true story of a World War II hero and former Olympic runner...the struggles this man endured are an inspiration to anyone who believes in the triumph of the human spirit...GREAT book!)
  34. James Madison by Garry Willis (biography of the fourth President of the United States...the more I read about our former Presidents, the more disgusted I am with our electoral choices, the blantant political pandering, and the unbelievable mistakes that Presidents make...oh wait!  That all happened to Madison!)
  35. Where the Wild Things Are by William Stolzenburg (no, this is not the children's classic by Maurice Sendak - although that's a great book.  Remember Al Gore's movie An Inconvenient Truth?  Well, this is ecology's discussion of what happens when all the great predators disappear.  Lions and tigers and bears - oh my!)
  36. Bum Phillips: Coach, Cowboy, Christian by Bum Phillips and Gabe Semenza (an autobiography by the beloved former coach of the Houston Oilers; Bum talks about growing up in east Texas, how he got into football, his days as a Marine in WWII, his coaching exploits, and - most important of all - his faith in Jesus!  A refreshing book by a Texas orginal!)
  37. Tenderness by Robert Cormier (a psycho killer meets a disturbed victim...what happens when they get together?  Weird book, weak ending but with a twist I admit I never saw coming!)
  38. Drop Shot by Harlan Coben (second book I've read this year by this our hero Myron Bolitar tries to unravel a complicated murder that is somehow tied to a similar murder six years earlier...lots of twists and turns in this entertaining murder mystery).
  39. Mark's Story: The Jesus Chronicles by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins (the two authors who wrote the Left Behind series tell the story of the writer of the Gospel of Mark; they use the stories from all four Gospels as well as the two letters of Peter to add an authentic ring to the passages).
  40. Busted Flush by Brad Smith (my FAVORITE author!  Sure wish he would write more books more quickly!  In this one, a carpenter named Dock Bass has inherited an old farm house just outside of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.  As he begins remodeling the place, he finds a hidden room walled up with various gadgets and inventions from the 1860's.  One of them just might turn out to have a recording of Lincoln delivering the Gettysburg Address.  And there are sure some "interesting" characters who would love to get their hands on it.)
  41. Alex Cross' Trial by James Patterson and Richard Dilallo (another Patterson novel with three-page chapters and a choppy plot...but I LOVE it!  Here, a lawyer named Ben Corbett is in Mississippi during the presidency of Theodore Roosevelt investigating local lynchings for the President.  There, he meets the ancestor of Alex Cross: Abraham Cross, a righteous black man determined to assist Ben.  The question that never seems to be answered comes up again:  Can a black man get justice in the South?)
  42. The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest by Stieg Larsson (third in the series and yes, I've read the other two; Lisbeth Salander—the heart of Larsson’s two previous novels—is under close supervision in the intensive care unit of a Swedish city hospital. She’s fighting for her life in more ways than one: when she’s well enough, she’ll stand trial for three murders. With the help of her friend, journalist Mikael Blomkvist, she will have to prove her innocence, and to identify the corrupt politicians who have allowed the vulnerable, like herself, to suffer years of abuse. And, on her own, she will plot her revenge—against the man who tried to kill her and the government institutions that very nearly destroyed her life.)
  43. The Help by Kathryn Stockett (a white woman writes the story of three black maids working in white households in Jackson, Mississippi in 1962; the maids each tell their stories of what goes on in those various households, and the scandal that erupts when their book is published puts them all at risk; an important book that is emotionally raw and VERY difficult to read...also, almost impossible to put down!)
  44. The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning (first, you have to acquire a working definition of "ragamuffin."  Then you can read this wonderful book and see how NONE of us deserve the love, understanding, forgiveness, sacrifice, and especially LOVE of God - but we get it anyway!)
  45. Second Grace On The Left by Darynda Jones (catchy title...interesting premise: a young female private investigator named Charley Davidson is the Grim Reaper and hangs around with Satan's unwilling-to-be-evil son; she solves murders for herself and her detective father and uncle with her "unusual" skill set.  You would think this would be a clever, exciting book to read...and you would be WRONG.  It was confusing, lurched from action scene to action scene, and just barely held together along a plot line that only sounded good.  No recommendation.)
  46. Panic in Level 4 by Richard Preston (same author of The Hot Zone...this is sort of a non-fiction Tales From the Darkside: Ebola in Africa, people with a rare syndrome who literally eat off their own fingers, two brothers who build their own super computer with mail-order parts so they can explore pi, and what is happening to the forests of America?  All these stories make you wish we were smarter and better organized as a civilization.  Excellent book!)
  47. Ice Trap by Kitty Sewell (a British surgeon receives a letter from a 13-year old girl living in Canada's Northwest Territories stating that he is her father.  What follows is a journey back to a remote posting in the Northwest Territories as Dr. Woodruff must confront events he thought were left in the past.  Along the way, he encounters two women - one that he hated and one that he loved.  Both have startlingly different claims on him.  Excellent book with lots of twists and turns!)
  48. Touch by Alexi Zentner (another book set in the frigid cold of northwest Canada...what am I thinking?  In this one, Stephen returns to the town where he grew up to bury his mother.  As he does, he encounters stories, memories, and a few unusual ghosts of the past.  An interesting book to read; this author does a masterful job of describing the surroundings in great detail without becoming tedious about it; really makes the reader feel you are there.)
  49. The Poet by Michael Connelly (a crime-beat reporter in Denver discovers that his detective twin brother's suicide is actually a murder; then he discovers that someone is not only brutally killing children around the country but then stalking the homicide detectives who investigate the cases.   A creepy story with excellent twists and turns and an ending that most will not see coming.)
  50. When the Killing's Done by T.C. Boyle (what happens when two VERY different environmental groups argue over exactly how to handle the various animals that should (key word: should) inhabit a small island off the coast of California?  A fascinating read with LOTS of environmental politics worked out.  Both sides are right, both sides are wrong, but both sides are INVOLVED!)
  51. The Coffin Trail by Martin Edwards (set in rural England; Daniel Kind and his girlfriend escape London's too-busy lifestyle for a cabin in the Lake District; they soon discover that an old unsolved murder continues to hang over the heads of the local residents; Daniel becomes friends with a police detective, Hannah Scott, who worked for his estranged father; the twists and turns are somewhat confusing but the plot and the ending are good enough to sustain the reader.)
  52. The Cipher Garden by Martin Edwards (okay...I confess that I love reading novels in a series; in this one, Daniel Kind teams up with Hannah Scott to solve another unsolved murder, but this time it is an anonymous letter that starts the search; the relationship between Daniel and Hannah is intriguing: Daniel wants to know more about the father who abandoned his family when Daniel was a child, and Hannah wants to share information about the same man who was her mentor and friend for several years; meanwhile, the murderer seems to evade capture until a series of clues are found by both Daniel and Hannah; good book!)
  53. The Arsenic Labyrinth by Martin Edwards (the third in the Lake District series of mysteries; this one has two bodies being found in a deep abandoned mine shaft, but the bodies were killed 50 years apart; coincidence or the same killer?  Again, Daniel and Hannah team up to try to find the killer; this time, the reader is left wondering who actually did the killing...part of it is solved, but part is not!)

Pay Attention When The Game Is On...

"For you yourselves know full well that the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night." 1st Thessalonians 5:2 ...