Sunday, January 24, 2010

Deep Loss and the Path to Happiness

Our Pastor is presenting a series on "The Beatitudes" from Matthew 5, today's point was from the fourth verse which begins: "Blessed are those that mourn. . . ". He said that of the nine words that could have been interpreted as "mourn", Jesus chose to use the most severe - a word that was also used to describe the grief that Jacob expressed when he learned the news that his favored son had apparently been killed by a wild beast

It went along with an idea I was hoping to write about ever since I encountered again the story of David and his estranged son, Absalom in the book of 2 Samuel.

As it relates to leadership, the story presents a warning that home is where leadership matters first. A man that once held great influence over my life said to me that when he got to heaven, he believed that the first question God would ask him was "what did you do with the wife and family I gave you?". That statement has often served as a grave reminder to me to keep first things first.

David - despite his failures - was a man of great heart and that heart was driven by a passion for God; but the example he leaves us as "father" leaves something to be desired.

Absalom's story takes its place next to the tragic stories of Saul, Samson and Judas Iscariot. I think Absalom made his own choices and turned out to be rebellious and evil - yet David, is not without guilt.

When Absalom declared himself king, David had two choices: he could face his son in battle and defend his own right to the throne, or he could retreat.

David retreated. Confrontation seemed to bitter to contemplate.

As the story unfolds, a major battle is mounted in Ephraim and David followed the sound advice of his loyal servants and stayed out of it.

The battle took place in the unlikely setting of a forest and it was said that the forest took more lives than the battle.

At one point, Absalom's trademark - his heavy mane of hair - got caught in a tree and his mule ran out from under him. He was - for a time - suspended between "heaven and earth". In this purgatory of vulnerability, I wonder what went through his mind. It just saddens me to think that he may have been bitter to the end.

Joab - a bloody henchman whose first priority was always to protect his king- ignored David's last order before the battle . . . "deal gently with the youth". . .

Joab saw that the only way to quash the rebellion and to save lives from further bloodshed was to kill Absalom and he did so without hesitation. The battle ended almost immediately.

When David was informed of the victory, his first question was of the safety of his son.

I wonder if he was ready to talk now. . . did he think that he might be able to visit him in some damp dungeon and make things right?

When the messenger let the other shoe drop and told him his son was dead - David's anguish erupted immediately into loud weeping and mourning.

All of his faithful soldiers that had just hazarded their life for him, now tucked their heads in shame.

David covered his face like a school boy and trudged away crying out "Oh Absalom, my son -my son!!".

What a pitiful ending.

That was the picture that passed before my mind as my Pastor talked about that deep sense of loss that Jesus said was a path to "blessedness".

In this series, he has pointed out continually that the path that God uses to get us to a state of being happy or "blessed" - often looks very different from what we expect.

Sometimes when we find ourselves in a state of deep mourning over some loss - maybe a loved one; but maybe its just a job or some material thing we value - that may be just the thing God wants to use to take us to His state of comfort and true blessedness.

Monday, January 18, 2010

On Justice

"Maintain Justice and do what is right!".... Isaiah 56:1a NIV

I am not too big on "social justice" because it is often code for social-ism. Justice- on the other hand is a precious commodity around here.

I've been reading about King David and I believe him to be a man whose life example is worth following. One can learn tremendous leadership skills from David. However there is at least one area in which we can best learn from David's mistakes:

That is, in his role as father.

Recently my reading of II Samuel has brought me to a very poignant scene: A most powerful and beloved king - still in his prime - fleeing his own throne. He is barefoot as he scales the Mount of Olives - weeping and having his head covered for shame. Some of his trusted friends turn on him, others stay loyal but none of this really matters because deep down he knows that this story will not - cannot end well. The die has been cast, he will have to face his own son on the battlefield and one of them will not return.

With the possible exception of Solomon, David's relationship with his children seems to be -at best - one of cold distance.

It seems that no sooner had David learned the error of his ways in the adultery and subsequent murder surrounding his involvement with Bathsheba, than did God's promised "sword" of judgement begin to reckon its misery on David's life.

That misery was most obvious in the episode with his son, Absalom.

There was passion and lust among his own children and it lead to intrigue and the rape of a sweet girl named Tamar. She was Absalom's sister - the culprit was his half brother.

David had so many wives and so many sons that his role as protector seemed confused. When his daughter was treated so harshly - this man of war was paralyzed.

Perhaps Absalom waited for his father to bring about justice. Meanwhile Tamar resigned herself to a life of solitude.

Absalom waited . . . and waited. . .

. . . and the injustice festered in his heart.

Because the rightful authority would not confront the issue, Absalom took matters into his own hands; he plotted and then pulled off the murder of his brother.

And David was again silent.

It seemed he had always known just what to do ... when Saul was chasing him and David found himself at the advantage ... he knew just what to do. . . he showed mercy.

When he was in exile in the land of a foreign king, and he found he had lost that king's trust - he knew just what to do - he feigned madness and escaped.

But now, when it was family, this man of decision was stymied.

All the while, Absalom waited.

Finally he went into exile, to the land of his mother's family . . . and waited there.

He eventually was allowed to return; but not allowed to see the king . . . so he waited and the seed of injustice seethed in the cauldron of his soul.

When through some tactics of his own he finally was allowed to see King David, the reception was cool. Had David required justice of him for his murder and taken his life - it would have been kinder.

At last, Absalom set his eyes on the throne - and hurting the king; he felt completely justified in using his good looks and charismatic flair to woo the hearts of the people away from David. For some time, that's just what he did.

Absalom built up such a following that he one day declared himself king.

David would not face him, but rather would flee Jerusalem - weeping.

When a Dad is concerned - silence is not always golden.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

I'm Okay with Pat Robertson

How's that title for stirring up controversy?

I caught the story of Pat Robertson's take on the Haiti situation on Wednesday evening and really, really wanted to post something in his favor, but wasn't able to squeeze in the time.

But, I think God had some processing for my thoughts to go through. The next day I spent some time with an employee who is from Haiti and was trying desperately to get back there - just to help. She talked about the little village she was from and how the beautiful little church she had grown up in was now rubble.

There were relatives she had not heard from.

I heard the shock in her voice and could see an empty sadness behind her eyes.

Maybe Pat Robertson was too harsh and quick to judgement in his statement.

Over the weekend I spoke briefly with a minister that had visited Haiti some time back, the abject poverty left a heavy impression on him.

How could someone talk about judgement to a people in such dire straits?

But I had watched Pat Robertson's statement about God's judgement and it seemed to me to be coming from the perspective of pity and compassion. He used his statement as a launching pad to solicit prayers for the Haitian people.

I don't know if the Haitian people made a "pact with the devil", and I don't know if this is God's judgement on that land. But I do believe that there is such a thing.

I do believe that when people choose a route other than obedience to God, consequences follow. And not because God is waiting up there to gleefully strike folks down that cross Him. Rather, I believe that God knows that disobedience will just naturally lead to consequences -consequences He would like for them to avoid.

If I snub my nose at the laws of gravity and seek to defy them by leaping off my roof. It is natural for me to suffer the consequences of such action. And if I survive said consequences and someone seeks to point out to me that I am suffering because of my disobedience - they are right! And I should thank them profusely!

Now I really think that there are times in which Pat Robertson says controversial things on purpose. And I don't always agree with them. However, if he truly believes that this quake is due to God's judgement, then his statement reflects a momentous act of kindness!

So I'm okay with him saying what he did. There were prophets in the Old Testament that were similarly ridiculed by the powers-that-be after they spoke of judgement.

Jeremiah's message to his nation was completely UN-patriotic! He was a constant "wet-blanket" even when the news looked positive. He told his people that because of their disobedience they would fall in defeat to their enemies and they would be carried away to a foreign land as slaves.

You can bet the king was not pleased with this guy.

But in the end, he was right. Because God sent him.

Now - if Pat Robertson is speaking the truth we will all know it some day. Until then, I'm okay with him saying what he did.

Religious Haitians Say Earthquake Was God Asking for Change - International News | News of the World | Middle East News | Europe News -

Religious Haitians Say Earthquake Was God Asking for Change - International News | News of the World | Middle East News | Europe News -

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Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Five Day Rule

I am officially invoking the "five-day rule".

Perhaps you are not familiar with the "five-day rule".

You're familiar with the time limit for occupying the lanes in basketball; you may even be aware of the "five-second rule" which holds sway over all fumbled morsels. It's nothing like that.

Although it sounds like a good idea - the "five-day rule" doesn't even apply to how many times a guy can recycle articles of clothing prior to the "sniff" test.

The five day rule applies to snowfall - and particularly snowfalls in the South, where we really know how to appreciate them!

I think that a few generations back, my family was quite superstitious, so I grew up hearing little anecdotes for most occasions. Some were based on solid, scientific facts. Others were just old wives' tales (I guess that is a sexist remark but it's in the Bible).

Anyway, the five-day rule states that if a snowfall stays on the ground for five full days, it will snow again within a specified time period. I don't actually recall how long that specified period is - but I think it may be one week.

In the South where snow means an automatic holiday - I held a firm belief throughout my life - in the five-day rule.

I remember once when I lived in Morristown, Tennessee, the rule really worked! We had a little namby-pamby snowfall that may have garnered one day out of school. But temps stayed on the cool side and in some guarded shady areas a small portion of the snow endured the required five days.

Within a short time BOOM - or to quote my wife's blog "Wham-Bam!" - we had a bodacious snowfall that was good for almost a full week of no school.

I know that since I am now an adult, I have some obligation to assume the role and act as if I do not like snow ... and that I am extremely frustrated with all the brouhaha and the lost productivity that occurs with every snow day. But I just don't have it in me.

I have noticed that of late, it is much more fashionable for adults to get exited about snow around here. In our latest brush with arctic ecstasy -I heard a weather-person - probably a licensed "meteorologist" even - say that some "lucky" areas would receive over one -inch of snow!! Implying that the rest of us poor slubs would only get a "dusting" the white fluffies.

Why when I was coming up a weather-person could get himself busted down to doing weather forecast on Sunday mornings for making such a statement! Back then, the rule was to always regard snow in the negative connotation.

Many an erstwhile youngster has sacrificed his or her sleep in order to stay up for the 11:00 forecast - only to hear Guy Sharpe gleefully yammer on about how lucky our area was to have MISSED all the snow that was somehow dumped on some other little undeserving community in Tennessee or something.

And so ... as the democrat congresspeople would say... "for the sake of the children!!!" ... I am invoking the five-day rule.

The photograph up top was taken this evening, at least five days from the first snow last week.

I better go pick up some milk and bread!

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Like Water Spilled on the Ground

In my slow walk through the Bible, I happened upon a phrase the other day and it has haunted me ever since:

For we will surely die and become like water spilled on the ground, which cannot be gathered up again... 2 Samuel 14:14a NKJV

That is a sad statement to me and it reflects a sense of lost hope. water spilled on the ground... the statement came to mind when I heard about an apparent teenage suicide this week. Her parents must be asking "what opportunities did we miss?", "why didn't we see this coming?"...

I think about relationships that have gone past the point of no return - folks just walk away, unable or unwilling to gather up the pieces.

Sometimes my own statements are "like water spilled on the ground"; they are words spoken in haste or in irritation. Yet once those stingers fly out into the atmosphere they cannot be recaptured.

The statement originated with an old widow woman who was part of a plan to try and convince King David to welcome back his exiled son, Absalom.

The back-story on this is a twisted mess: intrigue, deceptions, rape, conspiracy, murder, and injustice.
King David was left with a broken family . . . a teenage daughter whose life was ruined, one son dead, another (his murderer) alienated from his family. When it comes to family, David was cold, distant ... aloof.

The widow came to David to beg mercy; she brought a story of two sons, one had killed the other and her family thought justice should be done to the murderer - her only heir.

David got the intended drift of her story and realized that it was all part of a ploy to get him to welcome his own son back.

The good news is that after going back to that verse several times and re-reading it over the past few days, I finally read the rest of the verse:

Like water spilled on the ground, which cannot be recovered, so we must die. But God does not take away life; instead, he devises ways so that a banished person may not remain estranged from him. 2 Samuel 14:14 NIV

God does not take away life... He is the life-Giver. And furthermore, He "devises ways so that a banished person may not remain estranged from Him".

Ultimately, Christians know that the "Way" that He devised for us to no longer be estranged was Jesus Christ. Namely through His death and resurrection. But even beyond the eternal consequences, it is comforting to know that when I have fouled up the situation so badly that the damage seems irreparable - He devises away to gather back that which was wasted.

This is the time of year for fresh starts. If there is something that is to you like "water spilled on the ground" - why not look to God Who is all about gathering back that which was wasted.

Friday, January 8, 2010

The Year of Truth

What if 2010 became know as the Year of Truth?

Absolute truth exists - and exists whether it is acknowledged by anyone or not.

I believe that God and His Word are Truth and therefore He is inexplicably tied to Truth. When Truth is spoken, there is something of God in it and I believe He takes an active role in the fulfillment of that truth.

What if the Truth began to resonate with people this year? Wouldn't that be refreshing and amazing?

What if men and women began this year to talk about what they believe and why they believe it? It would be something of a return to the Age of Reason.

What about me personally? What if I began to more fully embrace the Truth and speak up about it more often and without feeling that I need to "cushion" it or make it more palatable.

I was thinking about writing this post earlier this week and then I began to hear about these comments from Fox News Senior Political Analyst, Brit Hume:

I saw Mr. Hume in a subsequent interview in which he expanded his remarks and made a bold endorsement of the Christian walk. I found myself waiting for the "but" statement or the qualifier that so often follows a bold advance these days.

It never came.

Thank you, Mr. Hume.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Performance Evaluations

As some of you may remember, I work for a hospital system in the field of Human Resources. Today I ran across this article on HR by Jim Giuliano, pulled from Business Management Daily. It is so crass that it's funny to me so I thought I would share it.

These are said to be from actual employee performance reviews of federal employees:

  • "She has delusions of adequacy."
  • "I wouldn't allow this employee to breed."
  • "He would argue with a signpost."
  • "When his IQ reaches 50, he should sell."
  • "He brings a lot of joy when he leaves the room."
  • "If he were any more stupid, he'd have to be watered."
It's nice to be appreciated by your employer.

Saturday, January 2, 2010


Life has brought our family to the point that -these days- the guys and the gals often get divided up.

That means that AA and I get to spend time together and that's okay. He is still my "buddy-friend" even though he no longer remembers calling me that as a toddler.

Ab and I have had seasons in which we also spent a great deal of exclusive time together - like when she was three and R. was very occupied with a newborn infant. Ab and I often grabbed our bicycles as soon as I got home and headed to a nearby walking track. There she would ride and I would walk - at first - and later ride as well. We went from tricycle to training wheels at that track and I distinctly remember one particular evening in which there were lots of people there. I decided it was time to go and Ab and I found ourselves at cross-purposes. I ended up carrying her bicycle and dragging her back to my truck.

While on vacation, I remembered something that Ab and I share - a love for comedy.
Now AA is our up and coming resident comedian - but if you want to sit down and watch a sitcom or a funny movie - Ab is your girl.

On New Year's Eve, some station plays a marathon of "Three Stooges" shorts. We discovered this on our recent trip to Hilton Head (while we were stocking up on hours and hours of television viewing before our return to TV Exile at home). R. can only stand a minimal amount of "The Three Stooges" - she doesn't get the highbrow humor, you know - so Ab and AA went to their room to watch more while Mom and I read our books.

I began to notice almost a steady rhythm of chuckles coming from the room. It was Ab, laughing on cue with every smash or slap of the trio's shtick. I found that I couldn't concentrate on reading for waiting for the next outburst.

I love funny stuff. I ran across an old Smothers Brothers routine this past week and laughed til I cried. I think Ab is like me in that sense and nothing makes a "funny" more funny than having someone else to laugh with you.

Because we do not have cable or satellite (or antenna) - television viewing tends to still be more of an event with us.

I have often talked about my love for old movies here and am so grateful that R. has come alongside me in that appreciation; but as our family gathered round and watched "It's a Wonderful Life" together this Christmas, I realized that Ab is coming around too. She "got" the humor and added to my own laughter.

The Book says laughter does good like a medicine and that is true!

I am happy for the prospect of continued laughter in our home . . . it's one of those things that keeps me always wanting to rush back there when I am away.

The Dawn

My first goal for 2010 regarding this blog is to get the Christmas music off the player. If you are reading this post to the tune of something other than yuletide cheer - then know that I have stricken that one off my list!

I like to set some easy objectives so as to be able to quickly feel that sense of accomplishment!

We have truly been enjoying some downtime in Hilton Head, SC. It was truly a time of doing nothing.
I think we are caught up with television - the kid's got a full year supply of the Disney Channel all crammed into five days. We all sat up late and slept very late.

The weather was pretty but there was most always a slight bite in the coastal breezes so our visits to the beach were few.

We took a few bicycle rides - Hilton Head is a great bicycle-friendly place there are bike paths everywhere. However it was a little too chili to take on any grandly designed outings (I was holding out in hopes of having someone - ANYONE - that would get excited about rising early and biking in to some Waffle-House-Like restaurant for a hardy breakfast . . . but alas, no one took the bait).

R. finished one book and I was able to finally complete "Francis Asbury" and "When Helping Hurts" (my apologies to my Sunday School leader who was probably under the impression that I completed the book about three weeks ago with the rest of the class).

The kids and I got in some Foosball and a little ping-pong.

We are now home where it is really cold.

Ab. - the "Lady of the List" - has diligently written out her goals for this year. We have talked about some family objectives but I am okay with getting those things settled some time this week.

This past year has been one of unrest for me. I have found myself dissatisfied and uncomfortable in many areas. My self confidence has taken a shot or two since I am out of my comfort zone.

In thinking about this year personally, I have noted that all the transition - with changes at work, changes in where we worship, changes in my children and the like - have left me in an uncomfortable place. For a number of years, I talked about and prayed about leaving my area of comfort - thought it would be a good thing. I didn't think it would look like this, though.

I really suspected that being out of my comfort zone would mean working in the inner-city or in some jungle somewhere. I did not expect it to mean exploring some age old doctrines that are very new to me; attending worship services that are geared very differently from what I have been accustomed to all my life; moving to a different work role to one that is less defined and (as one person described it) even "pastoral" in nature.

It's a new year: a good time to take a fresh stab at some new things or to sharpen the saw in order to work more efficiently at some duties with which we have been previously occupied.

I hope your new year is dawning with some excitement and fresh hope. May God grant you to be strong and courageous and also discerning as you define the challenges before you and plunge into the process of meeting them!!