Saturday, November 22, 2008

Saturday Reruns

I have been writing this blog for just over a month. It is giving me an outlet for expression that I thoroughly enjoy. However, having written about 33 days in a row, I decided to take a break for one day. I plan to do this each Saturday, knowing that it's a day for all kinds of un-bloggy activities in the lives of you, the reader.

Instead of simply not posting, I thought I would use something the TV industry has done for years -- the rerun. Therefore, especially for you who have joined more recently, here is something from my first week. It's titled, "A River Runs Through It."

We had a sermon at Small Group on Monday night.

To explain, let me tell you a bit about our group. First, we're multi-generational. One couple is busily raising two preschool sons. Some have kids in their high school years or just entering adulthood. A few others are enjoying their grandchildren.

Second, most of the group has been directly involved in the armed forces. We have at least three group members who are retired from the military, two others who currently serve and several who spent many years in the service before getting out to follow different pursuits. They have served in places around the world and fought for our freedom in Viet Nam, Iraq and Mogadishu.

One of the group elements I love most is that about half are new/young believers in Jesus or are just getting serious about their faith. We have baptized at least six members of the the group in just the past few years. They approach the Bible with a rare freshness and are unafraid to ask questions or tell us when they don't understand something. It can be a hoot to watch each of them work their way through the pages to find a Scripture passage we're discussing.

Finally, this is the most "real" group I have ever been around in church. They haven't lived nice, churchy lives. Almost all of them have been bruised and battered by about every kind of failure -- their own or the ones they love -- you can imagine.

We had a sermon at Small Group on Monday night.

It started with a prayer request. We had just listened to the pain of one couple. The guy's parents have virtually disowned them. It's as if his mother has developed a mental illness and his dad refuses to face it. She has become like a family wrecking ball demolishing everyone she can swing herself at. That couple's request set the scene for what was to come.

One of the ladies spoke up to ask for prayer for herself as a mom. "I need prayer," she said. Then she broke into sobs. The group gathered around her. Those with the mercy gift reached out and held her hands or put hands on her shoulders. We read Scripture (from James 5). We prayed. She cried.

After the prayer, different ones began to encourage her with practical advice. Some of those speaking are just beginning to learn what the Bible says and how to apply it directly. What they do know about is pain. Oh boy, do they know. They listened. They shared. As group leader, I mostly sat quietly. I was in wonder at what the Body of Christ looks like.

We had a sermon at Small Group on Monday night.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Bank Error (not) In Your Favor

We learned something in the young fires of adversity: God always provides!

I was one of those guys who squeezed four years of college into ten. Let me clarify... I went to school for three years and mostly goofed around. Then we got married, I worked in a local church -- during which time our son was born -- and I felt God wanted me to become a pastor. Soooo, after a four-year hiatus, I went back to college as a serious student. Taking classes as much as possible while I held down a full-time job, I graduated after three more years.

It was during that time that Cathy got pregnant with twins and we didn't have health insurance. To say that money was tight was understatement.

I'll never forget the conversation as we drove home one afternoon. Cathy said she needed us to stop and pick up a few groceries. I explained that we had no money. We kept a minimum balance of $5 in our checking account and we were down to that. She told me that we couldn't do without a few very basic necessities and that our son's piggy bank contained a little bit of change we could "borrow" until payday.

We headed home, took the money from the piggy bank and drove to the grocery store.

Arriving back at our house, frugal supplies in tow, we picked up our mail. Opening it, we found a nice card from one of Cathy's aunts. It said, "We remember how tight things got sometimes when your Uncle Don was in seminary. We thought you might need this." It contained a check for $20. Other than our wedding, that may have been the only time we heard from them. That card and money was such a message of hope! (AND that's only one of the times that we received unexpected financial help during one year of our own personal recession.)

Fast forward to yesterday. I was standing in my office talking to someone about an accounting error that is costing me some dollars. We had already discovered the mistake and had taken steps to correct it right away. I found out this week that it will cost more than we originally thought and yesterday afternoon I was being told that it might still be more than I understood in the morning.

Literally in the middle of that conversation, my cell phone rang. I had picked up my car following an $800 repair job just an hour before. My mechanic was now calling to tell me that Cathy's car, which was in for a normal check-up, needs $1500 worth of work. This auto repairman has demonstrated integrity over the last 20 years or so. I know the work must be done and gave him the go ahead.

Just a moment or two later, my Blackberry buzzed, telling me I had an email. It was from a computer company that was sending me a rebate. The email said that, if I have received a check from them, don't cash it. It will bounce!

I went home a short time later, knowing that God is faithful, but feeling a little shell-shocked.

I told Cathy about it all and, when I finished she asked if she could tell me about her day. She went on to describe something that happened yesterday morning. She was able to buy some much needed quilting fabric [it's her addiction :o)] for a tiny fraction of the cost. Because she uses her hobby to make beautiful gifts for loved ones, she actually saved a bundle of future dollars.

As she told me what happened, tears were forming in my eyes.

You see, we have enough right now to take care of all these unexpected expenses. I was struggling because, just maybe it has been too easy lately to depend on my own resources to handle financial problems. My false security was being whittled away. Quilting material reminded me of words spoken by King David in the Psalm where this blog gets its name... The little that the righteous person has is better than the wealth of many wicked people.
(Psalm 37:16 GW)

These are difficult financial times. How are they affecting you?

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Sow What?

I'll call her JJ. First I met part of her family, many years ago. I got to know her mother because of my role as a pastor. I also got to know her little daughter, who was just a toddler.

JJ's mother was raising JJ's daughter because JJ was... Well, she was in prison. For theft. To feed her drug habit.

For two years after I met them, JJ's mother told me about visiting her daughter in prison. She spoke with great hope that JJ had learned her lesson and would get a chance to really start over while she was still young.

When she was released, I remember JJ's resolve to never go back. She want to stay clean and sober, to raise her daughter, to live a productive life. She settled down, took a few forward steps... And stumbled.

Fast forward twenty years. JJ never quite ended up back in prison. Not the kind behind bars and armed guards, anyway.

I talked to JJ's mother the other day. "At least she's not doing drugs," her mom said. "But she's in a mess that might be even worse." This sweet woman with a broken heart went on to describe how JJ has spent the last year in an abusive relationship with a man young enough to be her son.

Like so many other victims, JJ denies the problem and protects her boyfriend. He put her in the hospital recently and JJ admitted that he would have killed her if she hadn't gotten far enough away to cry for help. She went to her parents house for a few days and JJ's mom got a court order to keep the man away. Within no time, JJ was gone and her mom knows she went back to the man.

JJ admits that the next time could be her last time.

A prophet named Hosea wrote, "For they sow the wind And they reap the whirlwind." (Hosea 8:7 NASB) I used to think that maybe this was a scathing judgment, a "God's gonna get you!" Now I believe it's more of a tragic observation. Unfortunately, it sometimes takes just a few "small" steps in the wrong direction to throw a person into the path of a tornado bigger than Dorothy and Toto's.

JJ's little daughter is now grown up. She has two children of her own. She, too, is reaping some of the whirlwind.

I write JJ's story with a very sad heart. Would you like to share a bit about a "JJ" you know?

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Indescribably Delicious!

When my daughter Beth wrote yesterday about Chickie's flirtation with temptation, I laughed. I've had many of those charming conversations with myself...

"Just one peek!"
"Just one more game!"
"Just one more Old Fashioned Candy Cane Creme Flavored Oreo!"

In fact, "Just one more push of the 'snooze button'" meant I had to take a college class just one more time. But that's another story.

Those temptations we flirt with? They're not all about things we consider "tantalizing." In fact, some of them are about subjects we'd never want to dwell on in our wildest imaginations.

Like our fears.

My friend Ox called me recently with an update on his wife TJ. TJ is a normally healthy mom of two rambunctious preschoolers who got a headache last week. And it hasn't gone away! Ox called to tell me about her CT Scan. They don't have the official results yet, but the techs said they didn't see anything that looked unusual.

Ox and TJ are in our Small Group and we gathered around and prayed for her on Monday night. We are concerned about her constant pain, but probably the cause is something related to muscle spasms or a pinched nerve. Still, she is being tested, which is good. What's not good is that Ox heard just today about a lady he knows -- about TJ's age -- who suddenly died of a brain tumor.

His fear is working overtime!

I understand all too well. Whatever the reason, I started worrying myself sick over meaningless symptoms when I was still in my twenties. That was about thirty years ago and I still occasionally have to re-fight the battle. I don't struggle with that fear often now, nor for very long. But I remember... I remember a doctor who told me after several needless visits that I needed to go home and quit worrying about my health. I knew he was right, but that temptation was Indescribably Delicious to my mind.

Paul, the Apostle guy, said in Philippians that we need to think on the good things. Amen! But sometimes we have to take baby steps as we are learning how.

Beth may eat a whole bag of Oreos today, but tomorrow she can cut it down to half a bag. Then, by reducing her intake a few cookies at a time, she will have conquered the temptation by Christmas (or whenever they are no longer on the shelf).

What Delicious thing do you need to overcome?

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Show Me The Money

"I can't afford it," my friend said seriously. The guy was a successful dentist who is also a very careful money manager. "It" was the daily (extra large) soft drink his assistants each bought at a local convenience store. I knew what he was talking about.

Little things add up. Make sure you get the point...

Little things add up!

About that time, my teeth-drilling friend took his wife down to the local Ford dealer and paid cash for a new Expedition. Actually, they had to "borrow" some of the price and pay it back after a couple of months. Otherwise, the factory wouldn't have tacked on the incentive they gave to the dealer to help make sure the buyer used their in-house finance company. Strange, isn't it? The dealer could sell the truck cheaper if the buyer borrowed money. Hmmmm.

Where was I? Oh, yeah. This was the guy who "couldn't afford" a Big Gulp. In fact, he was amazed that his helpers paid out that money every day. He did a quick calculation of how much it was costing them per week and compared it to how much they made. It left him just shaking his head. $1.25 a day. $6.25 a week. Between $25 and $30 a month. Little things?

Our economic road signs read "Danger Ahead!" The little things that we haven't noticed are likely to become much more important. They add up.

Which ones do you need to notice?

Monday, November 17, 2008

Let's Get Fiscal

I was not a happy camper. It just wasn't right that, since we lived on a corner lot, all the water washed down the gutter on our side street and left a deposit of sand as it made the turn. I mean, what's a person supposed to do? Six inches of sand spanning about five feet of curved curb -- right next to my house. Where was the City of Phoenix when you needed them, anyway?

Or, so my thinking went.

I grant you that this happened a long time ago, but I still remember my frustration. Clearly!

It was about then that a "truth" hit me. Here it is: if everyone in that city wanted the local government to clean up every mess next to his/her house, how much would it cost? AND, was I willing to pay my share of the taxes?

I began scooping up sand with a new attitude!

This lesson has implications, on both the macro and micro scales. First I heard people complaining about how our federal government planned to deploy their giant scooping machines and take care of some of the accumulated dirt on Wall Street. Now people are grousing because more behemoth scoopers are being sought out by the auto industry. That sand has sure piled up!

Don't get me wrong. I understand the disgruntlement when some politicians are telling us that they are doing us a favor by rescuing those poor people with so much dirt on their big, corner lots. Honestly, I'm disturbed because the money they are using to pay for the operation is something that we will still owe when my grandkids are old -- if the system doesn't collapse before then.

Here's where it gets interesting, though. The problem isn't just with big corporations. It's with us. You and me. Every time one individual or one family decides to live high on the hog today by borrowing (second mortgages?) against tomorrow, we have added to it.

And WE don't get a bailout!

I think it's time to buy a shovel. What do you think?

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Blue Suede Shoes

A comic strip we read recently showed a little boy asking help to tie his daddy's tie. Obviously, the tie was twice as long as the boy was tall. It's funny, though, the things we keep trapped in the recesses of memory.

You see, I used to wear my dad's ties to church. They had clip-on ties for boys, but most of the time I preferred one of my dad's. The only way for it to "fit" was to leave a verrrry long tail on the back side of it. Then I tucked the tail into my shirt. Practical!

Men wore dark suits and women wore nice dresses to church when I was growing up. They still do in some places around this nation, but not here. In fact, a man with a tie on in our church is usually there for the first time.

I'm the pastor and I wear a sports shirt and casual slacks. Some of you are from parts of the country where churchgoing is a bit more formal, so let me explain.

First, this is a pretty laid-back community. We're right on the border of California and influenced by their casual way of life. Most of the business people in this town wear more relaxed clothing. Many of the men I know rarely put a tie on for anything. Some don't even own one.

Second, many of the adults who attend our church have limited (if any) previous church background. Because we believe that Jesus demonstrated the value of meeting people where they were and communicating in a way they could understand, we think he would be dressing casually here, also.

I would be interested to know how people dress when they attend church in your town...

Before you leave me today, our Boston son-in-law started a new blog yesterday. I mention it because because Cathy and I think it's an absolute hoot!. If you have a few minutes, cruise on over there. Warning: it's probably addictive!