Death, Easter and the Resurrection

It is hard for me to believe it has been so long since I posted. Well life gets busy doesn’t it. As I write this a friend from college, Rick Lindsay, sits at home dying from cancer. He may die before Easter. Rick and I have been fellow pastors in the PCA for over 30 years and his battle with cancer has been sobering for me. As I think of Rick’s battle and his approaching death I am reminded that too many Christians today take death in stride. We think that it is normal, it is just the way things are. That may be true in some sense but not in God’s original plan.

Our loving Father did not design us to experience the separation of body and soul. His enemy and our enemy brought that into the world. I think that Christians need to spend more time when death violently intrudes into life need to remind fellow Christians and the watching world that it should not be this way.

Many Christians at times of death are fond of pointing to I Corinthians 15:54-55 and saying:

“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
“O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting

As if to say that death has lost its sting already but here is what Paul actually says in that passage.

I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:
“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
“O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?”
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ

Paul says that when Christ returns and brings about the final resurrection of all, some to glory some to shame, then death will no longer be an enemy but until then it is an enemy and we need to call it that.

I fully understand why people want to have “celebrations of life” when someone dies. We need to remember the wonderful things that those we loved brought into our lives and the lives of others. But we also need funerals. We need to reclaim funerals as a way of reminding people that this is not the way it should be. This is our enemy’s plan but it will not stand. One day the enemy will be conquered forever. But not yet.

Several years ago I did a funeral for a dearly loved Christian friend and fellow elder whose life was cut short by a drunk driver. I told the congregation (it was standing room only in this large church): “This hurts like hell and I am not swearing. Sometimes we have worship services that are so wonderful that it is as close to heaven as we can imagine. Well the same is true of death. If you want to know what hell is like this is it: separation, brokenness, loss of loved ones. The devil’s plan for everyone’s life is an eternity spent in complete isolation. Death is a great picture of what our enemy wants for us but do not despair! One has come and sailed into that undiscovered country and come back! By his death he has put the death blows to death but death still holds on but in the end death will die because he claimed the wrong person! The one death had no right to”.

So to shorten John Donne: “Death, be not proud … death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die”

In the meantime we wait, call death and enemy, weep with those who weep and wait for the resurrection.

Happy Easter!

Jesus really was raised from the dead, it is not some cleaver story made up by mislead followers.

He is risen indeed!

Advent thoughts

For several years I have been using the same  book for my readings at Advent. I have not always celebrated Advent, being at the beginning of my introduction to the “Reformed Faith” very opposed to “holy days” but as as I have grown older in years and

The King has Come

The King has Come

younger in my faith (“Ah, but I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now” -thank you Mr. Dylan) I have found Advent and Lent to be very helpful in my “slogging along” in this experience called the Christian life (thank you Ralph Davis). But that is really not the point of this particular blog (to argue for Advent).

When I pulled the book of the shelf this year I noticed that for some reason I had chose that book to store my mother’s, Audrey Hopper Ferguson. obituary and the wedding announcement for my niece Laura Anne Cranford.

I tried to think of when I did that and why  but like many things in this stage in my life I could not remember. But I thought that it would have been perfect if I had included a birth announcement, that would have made the clippings complete. Advent, for me at least, is not about anticipating Christmas and celebration but thinking seriously about the need for the Messiah, my need, humanity’s need and about his ability to meet us anywhere along this journey. The thing that college, seminary, most Bible studies and most sermons that I have heard (including mine) did not prepare me for is just how difficult and struggling this thing called life can become and especially how difficult the life of faith can be.

Over the past 30 years I have had the opportunity to preach and teach in Ukraine, Uganda, the Bahamas and a wide variety of other place, in English and through translators and the one questions that seems to get the same noisy, animated response is when I ask the question: “For how many of you has life turned out as you had planned it?” The answer is always the same, in groups people turning to each others sometimes though grins, sometimes through tear and saying basically “no, not at all like I planned”.

So, as I rejoice this Christmas with all three of my children in my house with me and Debbie. I realize that none of us are where we thought we would be at this stage of life. In some ways it has been pleasant surprises, for some periods of struggle. But I am reminded by shepherds whose lives were blindingly interrupted and by Persian astrologers who made an very long, unexpected trip and felt as if their lives were threatened; that this Savior, who is “the Messiah, the Lord” is with us every step of the way. “He is able, he is able, he is willing, doubt no more”. Merry Christmas.

Family

 

Sting and the Police

This morning I was driving through The ‘Boro heading up to Music City. I was in the right hand lane and I saw a car in the left in my rearview mirror. He was a good ways behind me. The traffic light ahead of me turned yellow and I debated: “Should I stop or just try and make it through”. Well I decided to stop, a bit sharply but no one was behind me so no worries. As I sat at the light for a second or so the car behind me raced through the light now clearly red. I was police incensed! If I could stop then surely this guy could have stopped. But then I felt a bit of relief because I saw a Rutherford County Sheriff’s car turning left in the cross street right behind this guy. Finally, a day when justice would prevail! This guy was going to get what was coming to him. This was a particularly satisfying feeling because I had obeyed they law and this guy and clearly held the law in contempt!

Well I waited and waited. By this time I was behind the sheriff’s car and no blue and red lights came on. I was incensed a second time. Where was justice?! Where was proper law enforcement! But then I had another thought: “Well if he is not going to ticket this guy he should certainly turn around and give me a citation for good citizenship! A good law keeper! I should be recognized as a “good guy”, as a “law-abiding citizen”.

It was at this point that I noticed what was playing on the radio. It was The Police, Every Breath You Take and I heard the familiar refrain:

Every breath you takeSting and police
Every move you make
Every bond you break
Every step you take
I’ll be watching you.

 

And I caught my breath. Thought a second and asked myself: “Do you really want to see the law enforced so finely? How would you be feeling if you had run the light and right now you saw the sheriff’s passing you without ticketing you” “Would you want justice or mercy”. Well mercy of course! But sometimes we need to see justice done!

Then a verse came to mind:

Revelation 12:10 “And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God”.

I realized that I wanted Satan’s job! Wanted to hold up the law violations to this person I never met. I wanted justice for them but preferred mercy for myself. I wanted to be an accuser as long as there was no one applying for the job to watch over me.

Sting’s words (apparently about the wife who divorced him) were the words of my accuser! He wanted me to be reminded of “every bond you break”. I then thought of the words of Martin Luther, who on a day when he felt particularly oppressed by the accuser reminding him of all his sins – big and small – and he thought for a minute and Luther addressed Satan: “Yes I did all those things, I also just broke wind. Did you write that down in your book!”  Luther was not making light of the law or of obedience but was reminding himself of what Jesus had done for him, reminding himself of the greatness of grace.

And that brought to mind some other lyrics that I had heard long ago:

EverybodyInner city front
Loves to see
Justice done
On somebody else

 

And I had the day’s renewed appreciation ( a renewed appreciation I need every hour) for grace and for Jesus’ finished work and perhaps a better insight into my own heart.

So let’s take time today to celebrate grace and have a day of joy.

Weep with those who weep

Last night the strangest thing happened. Debbie and I were getting dressed for a walk in the neighborhood (trying to keep in shape at our ages), when I was pulling on my socks at the desk at my laptop when I pulled up my Facebook page and noticed this post from my friend and my former RUF intern Tom Cannon:

“My Dad, Joseph J. Cannon, Jr, passed away at 5:00 pm today. ‘Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?’ – Genesis 18:25″

As I read that I found myself consumed with grief. I had only met Joseph J. Cannon Jr. once, many years ago when Tom was a first year student at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, PA (his hometown). I had met Tom when he was a senior at the University of South Carolina. I had just started my first ministry work after graduating from seminary: Presbyterian Chuch in Amreica Minister to Students (with Reformed University Fellowship) at the University of South Carolina. As an engineering graduate from Clemson University from the beginning it felt like a round peg in a square hole but it was the first RUF in South Carolina so I moved forward. Tom was a student from Philadelphia who had come to know Jesus through the faithful witness of members of Campus Crusade for Christ.

John Bumbardner

John Bumbardner

Through his involvement at Rose Hill Presbyterian Church and the faithful ministry of  Pastor John Bumgardmer, Tom had come to understand some of the Biblical truth of God’s sovereign grace. Because of this when I showed up on the USC campus Tom and I met and for the next two years he was an intern with me with Reformed University Fellowship. After spending time with Tom, I knew that we were bound together by something that even to this day I cannot fully understand much less explain. Well, Tom  left USC to enroll at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. The Presbytery (a collection of Presbyterian churches and ministers in a paricular geographical area) I was part of sent me and Debbie to visit Tom as one of our “students under care”.

Joseph and Betty Cannon

Joseph and Betty Cannon

That is when I met Tom’s dad Joseph J Cannon Jr., when Debbie and I went to Tom’s house and met his family. Thinking back on the situation, what strikes me as odd is that the highlight of our visit was lunch with one of my spiritual heroes, Cornelius Van Til but when Dr. Van Til died several year back I did not shed a tear. When Tom’s dad died, I cried like I had lost my dad all over again. I began to ask myself why, why all these tears for a man that I barely knew. Then I began to think about death, grieving and sorrow.

I grew up in a small family where there was very little death. I had a first cousin, Bob Hollingsworth, who died when I was in junior high. He was a wonderful cousin, one that I would very much have liked to have known through the years. With that exception I knew little of death growing up. I never knew my grandfathers, one died long before I was born and the other for one reason of another (family stories differ) was not around when I was growing up. My first exposure to death close to the heart was the death of my father-in-law, Dave Cranford who died the day I graduated from seminary in May of 1981. When it came to comforting my wife during this time I was completely useless. I thought that God’s word about grieving was found in Job 1:21 “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away, blessed be the name of the Lord”. Not knowing that these were the words of Job before he came to know God “face-to-face”.

So when did I learn to grieve? It was in 1996 when a man named Jack Miller died. Jack’s

Jack Miller

Jack Miller

name will not make it into any history books. Even in the annals of church history, I doubt that he will get a foot note. but Jack changed my life. How that happened is for another blog but God used Jack to help me “re-understand” the centrality of the gospel to my life, marriage, ministry and everything else in my life. So in 1996 Jack died and I wept for 2 months. No, that is the truth. I found myself having to pull over to the side of the road 2 months after Jack died to compose myself well enough to see to drive. Why was this? Well one of the things that Jack taught me is that this world is not running the way that God had originally intended, it is a fallen world marked by death,separation, sickness and loss. All of these things, though under our Father’s soverign care, is part of a fallen world that Jesus came to correct.

So since that time I have come to hate death and to believe that too many Christians accept death “as the way things are”but that is just not right. Jesus wept at the tomb of Lazarus’ tomb, knowing that in a few minutes he would raise Lazarus from the dead. Why did he weep? Because he knew that death was not God’s original intension, it was the devil’s plan and he hated anything that was opposed to his Father’s will. As I have told congregations in the past who have gathered to mourn the loss of a loved one: “Death hurts like hell”. I would say this not in some sort of profane way but as an actual description of what death is like. Sometimes Christians gather to worshipand the presence of God’s Holy Spirit is so real that it can almost be touched. At times like these Christians sometimes say “If it were anymore like heaven, I could not stand it”. But death is just the opposite. It is a realtiy of everything that the enemy of our souls designs for us: separation, isolation and loss. If you want to know what hell ie like, it is like losing someone you loved very much. So when death comes I mourn.

I find myself weeping at the oddest moments. When some movie star, whose work I have enjoyed dies; when a public figure dies (even when I may have disagreed with his politica) passes on; when a rock musician whose songs have brought joy to my heart sluffs off this mortal coil. I have come to embrace the words of John Donne “each man’s death diminishes me”.

If that is how I react when someone I hardly knew dies, how does it impact me when someone I deeply love suffers loss. I just about lose it. I have so many questions about life and death and judgment and eternity that I just do not get sufficient answers for that I end up weeping, but weeping with hope.

Tom and Dawn Cannon

Tom and Dawn Cannon

So as my friend Tom weeps for the loss of his father there is little I can do but weep with him. I am confident in his faith but even more confident in the grip that our heavenly Father has on him, God will not let him go even in the midst of his grief. But until the day that Jesus returns to finally banish death, I will weep because of death. I will contiue to hate death and to understand that death hurts like hell, it really does..

 

Anyone ever change your life?

This past week Wess Stafford, the President of  Compassion International appeared on the Focus on the Family radio broadcast. Wess, as a child, lived in a missionary boarding school (it just so happens that our daughter Bethany is currently a counselor in a missionary boarding school) where he suffered abuse at the hands of his teachers. It was during this time, when he was 10 years old, that he sensed his calling from God to establish some means of ministering to children around the world who were neglected, abused or just simply ignored. He said that God has convinced him that adults have the capacity to bring lasting change to the lives of children around

Wess Stafford

Wess Stafford

the world even if their contact with that child is for only a moment.

Wess’ comments reminded me of C. S. Lewis’ word in The Weight of Glory: “There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal…Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object present to your senses”

Wess encourages us to view every opportunity we have to spend with children, no matter how short, to be an opportunity to impact a life for eternity. It got me thinking about who in my childhood (apart from my parents) impacted me in a way that changed my life. It did not take any time for me to come up with a name, to know a man who in a brief moment impacted my life in a way that has lasted until this day. It was my Little League baseball coach, Dave DuPree.

As long as I can remember baseball has been my favorite sport. I loved it as a kid but then one summer around 1967 or 68 I became a devoted fan. My best friend’s sister was dating an American Legion player and we went to several games with her and watched him play. Later that summer our church youth group to Atlanta and she persuaded the adult chaperones that seeing the Braves play was just as important as going to 6 Flags. After that I was hooked. But a few years before that I was in love with the game as a player. For 3 years I was a player on the Scottish Rite little league team at Satchel Ford Elementry School. I loved the game but I was not very good. To be honest I was lousy. little-league-lawsuitBut at that time the purpose of Little League baseball was not to produce major league contenders but to produce young men who understood the importance of honesty and hard work in sports. My coach, Mr. DuPree was a strong believer in this ideal, though he certainly loved winning as well.

For me, however, the major concern in Little League baseball was seeking to avoid embarrement and humiliation as much as possible. In the field this meant hoping that no batter was able to hit a ball that reached me in the outfield (the safest place to put a clumsy player) and while at bat never to strike out swinging. You could strike out looking (Ferguson’s rules for baseball) because you could always glare at the umpire and act like he had made the wrong call: “Are you blind ump! That was way outside! Certainly not my fault that we now have another out”.

My own solution to this perplexing problem was what got nicknamed “the Fergie smile”. I would simply make ridiculous faces at the pitchers and hoped they cracked up enough so they could not pitch straight. As memory serves this was not the best strategy but it seemed to work about half the time. Each time I did this, whether I got on base or not when I got back to the dugout Coach DuPree would always say something like: “Would you cut that out! You are here to learn how to play ball and an important part of that is learning to hit”.

Then one day I was at the plate giving my “Fergie smile” to Cliff Rivers who I think was pitching for Kester’s Bamboo House (any of you Satchel Ford or A. C. Flora alumni who remember which team Cliff pitched for I would appreciate an update). Cliff was a great pitcher and I usually did not succeed in getting his shaken up but I always made him laugh. Well after the first pitch I heard Coach DuPree yell real loud “Time out Mr. Umpire”. He came over to me, grabbed me by my shoulder, got down on my level, looked me straight in the eye and said: “Fergie, I don’t care if you strike out everytime you get up here if you are swinging but you are not going to do this smile anymore! You swing at that ball! Thank you Mr. Umpire” and walked back to the dugout. Though he yelled the time out, he spoke the other part in a voice that only I could hear. Well I swung away and … well I struck out. I don’t know how many more times I struck out before I first made contact. It seemed like forever but looking back it was only 3 or 4 games. Then one time at the plate I swung and felt that tingling, telegraphing vibration that comes from nothing else except hitting a baseball with a wooden bat. Well the ball sailed over the oposing team’s dugout behind me. You would not have known that by Coach DuPree’s reaction. By his reaction and the eventually reaction of the parents on the bleachers you would have thought I hit a homerun. I will never forget him running out of the dugout and yelling: “Thats the way to do it Fergie!”. Well I never became a great ball player (but I have become one of the greatest baseball fans anywhere) but I did end  up getting hits regularly. I ended up playing my last year (all three years with Coach DuPree) on second base rather than right field. Coach DuPree’s word had made a change in my life, and not just in terms of baseball.

I have thought of that day often over the past 40 years. The first time I really realized how important it was was when I was the PCA campus minister at the University of South Carolina and taught a class, University 101. It was an acutal class for credit that they allowed chaplains to teach that helped freshman adjust to life at the university. One of the icebreakers we did to help student get to know each other and to help them get comfortable with public speaking was an excercise where they were to tell of three people who have had a lasting impact in your life. Faculty were to be the first ones to do this and from the very first time I did this exercise I thought of Coach DuPree. He really had taught me the importance of trying, the importance of not caring how foolish you think you might look in doing something in public, the importance of really learning to play a game with all your heart. Later on as I reflected on it I learned about the joy that adults can experience with they see children succeed at something that they were either intitially afraid to do or something that they just didn’t know how to do at the start. I thought of Coach DuPree the other day when I heard about Wess Stafford’s book Just a Minute: In the Heart of a Child, One Moment …Can Last Forever. In the book Wess says these moments that can last forever can be wicked things like abuse or they can be good things, encouraging things. He encourages adults to view every opportunity with a child, no matter how short, as an opportuunity to have a positive impact. I think it is a great idea, one I plan to put into practice.

One last thing though, it is too late for me to tell Coach DuPree how much his one moment has meant to me even after all these year. I would really love to be able to tell him, to let him know that all those years of struggling with coaching little league had more impacts than he ever knew. Is there someone in your life did something that has had a lasting impact on your life and they never knew how much it meant to you? Don’t wait to thank them, don’t wait to offer them a word of encouragement. They did something great for you, they deserve to know.

942475_10153069599095725_1422318767_n

I would really like a letter from God

Letter from God

For the past three years, Debbie and I have been wandering in a wilderness. I almost wrote “felt like we were wandering in the wilderness” but I really do believe that it really has been a spiritual wilderness. After 29 years in ministry, three years ago the elders of the church I was serving asked for my resignation. For two months after their request, Debbie and I visited some friends and some mentors to ask for spiritual guidance on what to do. We decided to give our resignation along with some suggestions given to our elders. These were suggestions made by our mentors to make the transition a bit easier on us, and our mentors believed, on the congregation we were serving. The elders decided not to take any of our suggestions and the “divorce” ended up being a very messy one.

Since that time we have been looking for God’s guidance for where our next place for ministry would be. That has been the journey in the wilderness. During that time I have worked at a variety of jobs, had many opportunities to preach and use my gifts but it has seemed that God has not opened any doors for full time ministries so we continue to wait. So often in this we have just cried out for God to send us a sign, an indicator, a LETTER! telling us what to do. But so far that has not happened.

As most of you know, we do not really expect a letter from God but waiting is hard and sometimes the idea of a sign or a letter is very inviting. Over the past few months I have had the opportunity to preach sermons where the Biblical concept of waiting on God was a major focus. One of those sermons was from Isaiah 40:12-31 which ends with these words: ” … but those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint”. I pointed out that this list is the opposite of what we might expect from Hebrew poetry. We would expect to see it the poetry go from the lesser to the greater, start with walking and not fainting and move up to “rising up like eagles”. If that were the case we Westerners would make the point: “If you start out right you can walk with out fainting but as you try harder and trust God more then you can soar the heights like eagles! Just hang in there you can do it! One day if you are faithful you will soar!” But God is not saying that here. He is saying that as you learn to wait on Waitingthe Lord (and waiting is not a passive activity, but one marked by prayer, meditation, time alone with God, using all the means of grace) sometime you soar like and eagle! But sometimes all you can do is manage to walk without fainting.

I don’t know about you, but I would much rather soar like an eagle! First of all it feels better and secondly for preacher types it looks better. Most churches want a pastor who soars like an eagle all the time, they would really be embarrassed if their pastor was only just slowly walking without fainting. For sometime now I have been able to walk and not faint but that is about it, no soaring like an eagle, not even an ungracefully fluttering into the sky for a few seconds like a wild turkey, just walking without fainting. Not even running without becoming weary, just wearily walking and being thankful that I was not fainting.

I am posting this blog to share my heart because I know many of you are waiting, many of you find yourselves in a wilderness of one kind or another. I have a list of pastors, some friends I know very well, some friends I have never met, just interacted with over the internet and some that I do not know, and they do not know me, that I pray for regularly. Men who have faithfully served a church, some have faithfully served churches for many years. Some are pastors, some youth ministers, some ministers of music who find themselves wandering in a strange wilderness because the elders they once served with treated them in unloving ways. These men have struggled (some for several years) to come to grips with wandering. They are waiting on God to work in their hearts and waiting for God to give them directions for their future. I pray for all of these men regularly because I know that the only thing that can make waiting spiritually profitable and endurable is God’s tender mercy communicated through the finished work of Christ.

I write this particular blog for another reason. I also write because Debbie and I are headed tomorrow to Billings, Montana to see if maybe, just maybe God is giving some guidance. We are going for some training with the organization, Relational Wisdom 360. This is an organization started by Ken Sande, founder of Peacemaker Ministries, to help equip individuals, couples, churches, groups and businesses to “build stronger relationships, develop valued influence and create compelling witness” and through those things help minimize the amount of conflict in these relationship. I can say that in the two months that I have been working through the material for these classes God has been working in an exciting way in my own life. I find God giving me new insights into my own heart to help me push aside my anger and other destructive emotions. I find myself more genuinely interested in the needs of other people (sometime people I only meet for a single day, like the woman cleaning my room in a hotel while I am on a business trip). I find myself more aware of God being at work in and around me every day, every single day. I can see the real value in this ministry as a means of helping people be better aware of their own hearts, better aware of God’s heart and better aware of the conditions of the hearts of those around them. Will this be a place for me and Debbie to use our gifts? We don’t know. God has not sent us a letter but we are hoping to find out. If you are a praying person would you pray for us over the next week as we attend this training and as we prayerfully make decisions in the coming weeks and months.

One last thing about waiting. All Christians know about waiting. Most Christians (if they are

Burt Lahr in his famous roll in Waiting For Godot

Burt Lahr in his famous roll in Waiting For Godot

spiritually honest) have yelled at God about being tired of waiting, tired of the wilderness. But we know that we are not waiting for God like Vladimir and Estragon were “Waiting for Godot”. We may wait a long time, we may wait until the end of our days and still not know where God wants to take us. But we know that God has already arrive on the scene. Two thousand years ago he put on flesh and blood and lived a life of poverty and suffering for us. He died in our place, to pay the price for our sins. He even put himself in the place of having to wait on God himself, a waiting that for him would be equal to an eternity of waiting as he waited on the cross for “it to be finished”. But he has also told us that while we wait, he has given us a picture of God to remind us of what he looks like as we wander in the wilderness. It is like the GI who gave his girlfriend a picture of himself before he headed over to Europe in World War II and told her: “Don’t forget me, as soon as I get back I promise you we will be married”. He gave us that picture when he told us: “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, … Whoever has seen me has seen the Father”

Bell Tower Columbia TN

Columbia, Tennessee

I was recently in Columbia, Tennessee for a photography job and noticed the beautiful architecture of the city. Here are some of the places that caught my attention. For those who wonder about such things I shoot with a Nikon D300S usually taking 5 bracketed shots and merging them into one.

One view of the bell tower in Columbia

One view of the bell tower in Columbia

Beautiful town  hall in downtown Columbia, TN

Beautiful town hall in downtown Columbia, TN

Historic First Methodist.

Historic First Methodist.

Second view of the bell tower

Second view of the bell tower

Historic First Presbyterian Church

Historic First Presbyterian Church

What I learned working at one of America’s largest retailers

Last week was my last week of working a 6:00 PM-4:30 AM shift with one of America’s largest retailers.

As I reflect back on the last 8 months there are quite a few things I have learned. Here are just a few.

1. It is unbelievable, really unbelievable how much “stuff” there is to buy in this world. The next couple of observations are sort of further thought on this one.

HLMencken1-214x300

H. L. Mencken

2. H. L. Mencken (American journalist and long time writer for The Baltimore Sun)was right when he wrote: “No one ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American public”. I believe that this quote can be updated because of my company’s presence around the world to be: “No one ever went broke underestimating the taste of the human race”. The British, the French, the Czechs all buy stuff that you would really not believe is being made.

3. As for things that you would not believe is being made, I could mention many (many that I will not because of the embarrassing nature of the product) but some of my favorites are: “Tammy and Tyrone” inflatable African-American dolls and their counterparts “Judy and John” inflatable “White-people” dolls. Not for what some of you may think, just inflatable dolls. My African-American co-workers agreed with me that this had to be the crazy idea of some white man because there are just not that many black women named Tammy.

Reg Mclelland

Reg McLelland

4. Years ago I became angry with my ethics professor, Dr. Reginald McLelland when he suggested that “We just have too much stuff being made. There should be a law limiting production to 5 different kinds of shampoo, 5 different kinds of deodorants, you know all that kind of stuff”. Well since seminary he is no longer Dr. McLelland to me but just plain Reg. He has become one of my closest friends and though I know it would be impossible to implement, after working at one of America’s largest retailers I tend to agree with his observation.

5. If everyone is calling you “sir” it means they think you are old.

6. If you carry around a clipboard to do your work: a) people will think you are smarter; 2) people will think you have a more important position with the company than you really do.

7. Blue collar workers, most with just a high school education, are the backbone of the American work force. Nothing would get done without this million + work force in America. I found myself making friends mostly with this group of people and enjoying their company. I did not use the “p word” around them (preacher) because I have found that if they find out you are one the no longer act like themselves around you (maybe because they have felt judged by pastors and religious folk in the past) but that when the find someone willing to listen to them they are more than happy to share their life struggles, disappointments and joys with you.

8. You do not get the same endorphin high working a 10 hour late-night shift with lots of heavy lifting as you get from a good 1 hour work out.

9. The South (at least Middle Tennessee) is still the Bible belt. One minute a co-worker would be cussing his boss or telling me of his latest romanic exploits and the next asking me when I thought “the rapture” would come.

10. I have not yet learned how long it takes to recover a regular sleep cycle. But I am working on it.

11. After working this schedule I have a greater appreciation for John Fogerty’s song: “Almost Saturday night”.

Ranked 72 greatest singer of all time by Rolling Stone but what do they know

John Fogerty -Ranked 72 greatest singer of all time by Rolling Stone but what do they know

 

A Post For Father’s Day

I woke up this Father’s Day missing my dad who died a little less than a year ago.My dad was always a man of few words and the last 5 years or so of his life he was so hard of hearingDad-head-shot

that even with a hearing aid he could not hear me on the phone, so the only time I could actually talk to him was when I was actually in Columbia at mom and dad’s house. So I remembered this story of my dad of a few word.

Many years ago, when I had been the PCA’s campus minister at the University of South Carolina for only a couple of years, a small country church in another denomination expressed an interest in having me be considered to be their pastor. If you are not familiar with how this works it usually involves sending them a resume, a recording of a sermon and a list of references they can contact. After all of that if they think you are a “candidate” they ask you to come and preach for them so they can evaluate you in person.

In this particular situation the preaching of the sermon  happened to be for an evening sermon. It was during a covered dish dinner or homecoming or something like that and for some reason I asked my dad to go with me. He and I met most of the church family, walked around the facilities, had the meal and then had the worship service. Following the service the elder in charge gave me a bundt cake and some sort of potted plant but no check or cash for preaching. Even in situations where you are “candidating” (as this process is usually called in the church) you are often paid to preach for the service and money to cover mileage and such. I collected my “gifts”, my dad and I said goodbye to our hosts and got back in my car for the trip back to Columbia. About 15 minutes into our trip my dad said: “I didn’t see that ‘fella’ give you an envelope or any money”. I said: “No they gave me this cake and potted plant”. He grunted of said “Humm” and we continued on our trip to Columbia for another 20 minutes or so with nothing being said (remember my dad was a man of few words). Then he said: “I don’t know much about this candidating business or much about how people call pastors but I don’t think you need to talk to this church anymore”. And that was it, he didn’t say much more on the trip home unless he made some comments about whatever sport Clemson was playing that time of year.

I took my dad’s advise. When a man of few words offers advise, it is usually good to at least listen and consider if not take the advise immediately and act on it.

The road to hell …

the_road_to_hell_is_paved_with_good_intentionsAs I look back on my blogs it seems to be that I last said that I was going to be blogging more than I had been. Well, as you can see that is not true. I have not really had anything up since late last year. I can honestly say that my intentions were good but I was just not up to the task. Since October of 2012 I have just been plain tired. I have been working at a job that ran from 6:00 PM-4:30 AM sometimes Wed-Sat and lately Tues-Fri and during my company’s peak Tues-Sat. I have also been the administrator of my parents’ estates. My mom and dad both died in July of 2012 within three weeks of each other and I had the responsibility and joy of being the administrator of their estates.

Well, hopefully, as of this week I have finished with my parents’ estates. This is a joint effort between myself and my sister and brother (I am thankful for a family that does not fight over wills, estates, and property) and the probate court of the wonderful state of South Carolina who has made this job much easier than many people I know facing the same situation in other states.

Secondly, I have given my two-weeks notice at the place of my employment. I have not done this with another job in the pipeline. It has just gotten to the point that after 37 wonderful years of marriage, Debbie and I could no longer stand the hours  apart from each other.Need a job

So what does this mean for this blog? Well after updating my blog and moving it to another server (whatever that means, still trying to figure it out myself) with the help of my friend and former piano player for my stand-up act (Titus Bartos) I am hoping to be more faithful in “blogging”. I want to add places to review books, films and music (you will have to look to the next few weeks for all of that). But as an example tonight Debbie and I watched the Cliff Robertson classic (and somewhat 60s dated Charlie, I am currently reading the biography of Amy Winehouse (written by her father), and as I write this I am listening to the very first Chicago album – when they were still known as Chicago Transit Authority. So I find myself between several worlds but trying to figure it all out (interpret?) from a biblical perspective.

I am also considering posting my sermons from the past 8 years and the ones I am currently preaching on this page as well but would like to hear from you if you would be interested in hearing/downloading my sermons.

Well that is where I am right not. Let me know what you think of these ideas and possibilities. As I am just hearing from Chicago these are  Question s 67 and 68.