“THX THO”

I was the only kid in school with a Buffalo Bills Jacket.  Santa Claus had brought it to me for Christmas.  Living in East Tennessee long before the Oilers moved to Nashville, Atlanta was the closest NFL team.  I decided at some point to be a Bills fan because of O.J. Simpson.  Yes, that O.J. Simpson.  I was young and so was he, but I loved to watch him run the ball.  I could have chosen the Dolphins, the Steelers or even the Cowboys. Those teams were all winning games and championships when I was a young; but I chose the Bills.

This past Sunday, the Bills lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers, in part because Steve Johnson dropped a pass that would have been a touchdown.  He actually dropped five passes during the course of the game, but the one that hurt Steve Johnson the most is the one that would have given the Bills the victory.  After the game, he tweeted this, “I PRAISE YOU 24/7!!!!!! AND THIS HOW YOU DO ME!!!!! YOU EXPECT ME TO LEARN FROM THIS??? HOW???!!! ILL NEVER FORGET THIS!! EVER!!! THX THO…”  This was a lament if there ever was one.  It was written in all capital letters.  That means he was “SHOUTING” in the world of text/chat/twitter communications.  Literally, he was crying out to God, God who he praises 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  Steve Johnson is not just a Buffalo Bill, but also a believer.

His next phrase, “AND THIS HOW YOU DO ME!!!!!,” is the one that have led many observers of professional football to conclude that Johnson blamed God for the dropped ball that would have won the game.  Maybe that is what he did, but there is blame, and then there is blame.  I could imagine how expressing frustration, or disappointment, or even heartache could sound like blame.  To be certain, Johnson’s heart was aching as he left the postgame interview with tears in his eyes, walking out into a blustery Buffalo day, dressed in gym shorts and a sleeveless shirt. God gets blamed for a lot of things that God should not be blamed for; but God is big enough to handle one of God’s own expressing hurt and anguish.  In fact, if all of God’s creation cried out in lament, God could handle it.  No, God does not care about the outcome of the game, but God does care about the people who play the game.  Regardless of how they are playing or how they are feeling, God cares.  Whether players are praising, blaming or crying out in frustration, God cares.  Just like God cares when those of us who are not professional football players praise, blame, or cry out in frustration.

God always desires, more than anything else, to be in an intimate love relationship with each and every person that God has created.  Being in that sort of relationship with God, or striving to be in that sort of relationship with God, does not shield us from disappointment, from failure, or from dropped balls.  We can be smack in the middle of the best relationship with God that we could possibly have and still experience difficult challenges and heartbreaking defeats.  That may be one of the lessons Steve Johnson learned from his game against the Steelers.  At least, I hope that it is.

The last thing that Johnson said in his Tweeter post, “THX THO,” which is short for “thanks though,” makes me think that he may have already learned that lesson.  That Johnson, on what well might have been the most disappointing day of his professional life, could find it within himself to thank God anyway, speaks volumes about his understanding of God and life.  In it, I hear echoes of I Thessalonians 5:16-18 “Rejoice always, 17pray without ceasing, 18give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”  To Steve Johnson, best wishes and good luck for the rest of this season, as well as future ones; and thanks for reminding us to give thanks even on the hard days.

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A Thought from Thomas Kelly

Most of us are reticent about speaking our deepest thoughts, or exposing our inner tenderness to public gaze. And much of this reticence is right. But there ought to be some times when, and there ought to be some people with whom, we open up our hearts on the deep things of the spirit. Normal religious development cannot take place in a vacuum occupied solely by you and God. We need friends of the soul. Fellowship is not an accidental addition to religion. It is the matrix within which we bear one another’s aspirations.

Do you have people with whom you feel it right to open your heart? If you have not, if you are stilted and stiff and embarrassed, and have no one to whom to confess, not your sins, but your joys, you are indeed an unfortunate soul. George Fox has a counsel which I prize very much: “Know one another in that which is eternal.” Churches ought to be places where men may know one another in that which is eternal. But in many a church the gulf between individuals on the deep things of God is an impassable gulf, and souls are starving and dying of inner loneliness. Would that we could break through our crust of stilted, conventional reserve, and make our churches centers of a living communion of the saints.

The last depths of conversation in the fellowship go beyond spoken words. People who know one another in God do not need to talk much. They know one another already. In the last depths of understanding, words cease and we sit in silence together, yet in perfect touch with one another, more bound into the common life by the silence than we
ever were by words.

from Reality of The Spiritual World

by Thomas R. Kelly

Uncircumcision

Ephesians 2

You were dead through the trespasses and sins 2in which you once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient. 3All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else.

4But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us 5even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— 9not the result of works, so that no one may boast. 10For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.

11So then, remember that at one time you Gentiles by birth, called “the uncircumcision” by those who are called “the circumcision” —a physical circumcision made in the flesh by human hands— 12remember that you were at that time without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

14For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. 15He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, 16and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it. 17So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; 18for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, 20built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. 21In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; 22in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.

“Uncircumcision”

You might as well have said. . .

. . .unchristian,

. . .unamerican,

. . .unwhite,

. . .unheterosexual,

. . .unmale,

. . .uninvited,

. . .unneeded,

. . .unwanted,

. . .unloved,

. . .unaccepted.

 

But now in Christ Jesus—

But now, nothing!

There is no peace

Old walls have been rebuilt

and new ones constructed.

The stone is rolled away

hostility has been resurrected.

One war, two wars

can we start a third?

One in place of two?

Try each one looking out for number one.

No longer Strangers and Aliens?

Of course not, we who were once pilgrims

have made aliens illegal and strangers unwelcome.

 

Don’t forget,

by nature we are children of wrath.

Heaven help you if you are not like everyone else.

Following the desires of our flesh,

we can twist a God rich in mercy into little more than a tribal totem capable of immeasurable pain and suffering.

To be certain, this is our own doing.

Have we ever been this far off?

Yet, we boast unaware of the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient.

 

Oh God,

be our peace,

bring us near,

build us together,

dwell in us.

Thoughts and a Prayer

Here is some interesting reading this morning and a prayer that always draws me closer to God.

Joe Phelps asks the question “if politics makes a lousy religion, what makes a lovely religion?” He finds his answer in the psalms,

Do not put your trust in princes,

in mortals, in whom there is no help…

Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob,

whose hope is in the Lord their God,

who made heaven and earth,

the sea, and all that is in them;

who keeps faith forever;

who executes justice for the oppressed;

who gives food to the hungry.

Jim Evans Reminds us that Jesus blessed the poor. He not did give his blessing to the poverty and injustice that the poor endure.

Merton’s Prayer

My Lord God,
I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.
And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.
And I know that if I do this, you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore I will trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear, for you are ever with me,
And you will never leave me to face my perils alone.

from Thoughts in Solitude

Toyota, Recall This Commercial

The first time I saw the commercial I laughed a little.  Well, I did not laugh out loud, but I did chuckle on the inside.  At first glance, the commercial appeared cute.  Frankly, it would be difficult for a commercial featuring an elementary school-aged boy with shaggy blond hair not to be cute.  Where Toyota messed up was in airing the commercial of their Highlander too many times in one ballgame.  Before Monday Night Football was over, I had seen it four times.  By the fourth time, I was no longer chuckling on the inside.

Four times I had heard the cute little elementary school-aged boy explain that in spite of his low tolerance for “dorkiness” his parents insist on transporting him in a vehicle that screams “geek.”  Four times I watched him climb into the neighbor’s Toyota Highlander, after which he pointed out to his audience that just because you are a parent, does not mean that you have to be lame.  You get the picture.  If your parents will or can not buy a Toyota Highlander, then they are lame, dorky, geeks.

I have seen an untold number of commercials in my lifetime.  Why did this hit me the wrong way?  Maybe it was because our church had just completed our Family Promise host week.  This is a ministry that networks local congregations together to provide shelter for homeless families.  We hosted three families, each with their own stories of how difficult it can be to keep a family together.  When I looked at the parents in those three families, I did not see dorky, lame, geeks, but parents who were working and hoping as hard as they knew how that they would be able to take care of their children.  I saw parents who were facing challenges head on and in need of assistance, not a manipulative commercial designed to make them feel worse than they already did.

In fact, when I see parents doing what they have to do to keep their families together, I don’t see lame, dorky, geeks.  I see heroes.  What the cute little boy in the commercial may not be aware of is that not all parents provide for their children.  For the almost half a million children in the United States who live in foster homes, whatever vehicle their parents could provide for the family would be inconsequential compared to the immense satisfaction of  being able to be with parents who are doing their best to be good parents.

What is glaringly absent from this commercial is civility and gratitude.  The elementary school-aged boy walks out of a house, past a minivan, and at least one of his parents, without a hint of gratitude.  He may not have a Toyota Highlander, but neither does he have any appreciation for what he does have.  While we might be surprised to hear words like lame, dorky, and geek from an elementary school-age boy, their use in this commercial takes on a sinister hue when we realize that they were put in his mouth and directed at his parents by the advertising department of a multinational corporation that usually tries to portray itself as responsible.   Responsible adults should not have to resort to such childish language to sell their products.

The bottom line is that cars don’t make families; time spent together does. Lots of time spent together on special days, and on ordinary days, make families.  In cars and out of them, at home and at parks, families become stronger and richer when parents invest themselves in their children.  That may sound lame, geeky or dorky, but that is what it takes to build strong families.

What I don’t understand is why does Toyota need this sort of manipulative and demeaning advertising?  They make great vehicles that last forever and have great resale value. Why isn’t that enough to sell their product?

Can we still eat Yogurt?

Her first words where, “I am mad.”  Those are not always welcome words when a pastor is having a conversation with a faithful and active church member. You can understand how relieved I was upon learning that she was not mad at me.

“I am a Christian.” She is certainly that. I have witnessed her faithfulness to the cause of Christ in more ways than I can recall over the last ten years. She is also Baptist to her very core. I know this because she teaches missions, promotes missions and does missions. She is a Baptist woman on mission if there ever was one. From Knoxville to New Orleans, from Kentucky to North Africa she has been there doing, living, sharing the love of Christ.

“When I do yoga it is not unchristian!” In short order, we had arrived at the source of agitation. She had read the Yahoo report of an Associated Press story about an Al Mohler blog post. Al Mohler is the president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.  In his post, Mohler had issued a warning to Christians to avoid yoga.

“Why did he say that?” Of course, I have no idea why he said what he said. So I am guessing that it is because it originated in India and it involves the body and the mind in a meditative practice that is foreign to his life experience.  However, I really don’t know what his reasons were for writing what he wrote. I do know that doctrinal purity is high on his list of priorities. Perhaps he sees yoga as threat to his understanding of Christian orthodoxy.  What he fails to take into account is that yoga, like pizza, spaghetti and Kung Pao chicken bear little resemblance to their countries of origin once they become integrated into the our American culture.

Still, one has to wonder if maybe he and his fundamentalist brethren have just run out of people to be against. They have already condemned Mickey Mouse, Masons, divorced people, women, couples who use birth-control, churches that ordain women and churches that refuse to shut their doors to homosexuals all in the name of doctrinal purity. Perhaps they are just now getting to the “Y’s. Who knows?

The conversation ends. The caller has spoken her mind. She has learned that her pastor, while not a practitioner of yoga, is not opposed to others benefiting from such practice.

I was unaware of that a former deacon chairperson was behind me listening to the conversation. He said, “I don’t know who you were talking to, but you might want to let them know that you have a former deacon chairperson who is taking Tai Chi.” I don’t tell him that the co-chairperson of the personnel committee just returned from a trip to Disney World.

That Southern Baptist circle just keeps getting smaller and smaller and we find ourselves further and further from its narrowing circumference.

Touching Lives

If you have been to the University of Tennessee Medical Center lately, you may have seen a life-size picture of one our church members.  The Medical Center is using the photo of Jami Ward to promote the Medical Center’s Guardian Angel program.  It has been in use for some time now.

I saw it again this week. I guess I was finally over the excitement of seeing someone I know on display in such a prominent way, because I read the caption for the first time. The caption said, “Who’s touched your life today?”  What a powerful question next to the face of someone who works in an intensive care unit for infants.  Every day Jami touches the lives of families as she cares for what is most precious to them.

As I let the caption rest in my mind, I saw another face from our church family.  It was not Jami’s this time, but that of young girl who I met for the first time when she was a patient in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. Years later, her smile now regularly brightens our hallways at church.  I thought of that little girl’s family and their amazing love for her; love so strong and so deep that it gave life to her not by chance, but by choice.  Touching lives indeed.

The kind of love that Jesus talked about, demonstrated with his actions and that ultimately carried him to the cross, is love like that.  It is rooted in real time and touches human beings in noticeable ways. Yet, it is not confined to the moment in which it is demonstrated or to the person or persons toward which it is directed. The love of Christ has a carryover effect. When we are loved by Christ, or loved with Christ’s love by one of his followers, a residue of grace lingers in our lives.

To be loved is the most basic of human needs.  When we experience it, we do not soon forget.  If at times we live as though we have forgotten the moments we felt loved, still the experience of it remains.  In it we felt acceptance.  This is different than the validation we sometimes receive for doing the things we do. No, to be loved with the love of Christ is a gift. We may long for it, yet it is not offered to us because we merit it, but because there is something in the nature of it that compels those who have experienced it to share it.  Our lives are transformed by such love.

As I think about Jami’s picture and the caption over it, I can easily imagine a number of other faces in our church that would fit appropriately under it.  Faces that bear the names of people who are the answer to the question, “Who touched your life today?”  Whether it is a formal role as teacher or caregiver, or in less formal ways as friend or neighbor, sharing the love of Christ in even a seemingly insignificant way can touch a person’s life in such a way that he or she is transformed by it, marked by it, so much so, that later in that person’s life, he or she is compelled in big ways and small ways to share that same love.

Touching lives is what we do as followers of Christ. Someone, perhaps several people, touched our lives with the love of Christ; and having been touched with such love, we are compelled by that love to touch the lives of others.