In an old Peanuts cartoon, Lucy asks Charlie Brown what his goal in life is. He pauses, thinks about the question for a few moments, and answers, “To be outrageously Happy.”

Cartoon creator Charles Shultz must have thought that was funny, that outrageous happiness was an outrageous expectation. Maybe God thinks the same thing. C.S. Lewis, in his book The Weight of Glory, had the opposite opinion:

 “If we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

Infinite joy? Is that what God is offering us in this life? And is it true we want not too much, but too little? Advent/Christmas is a time of high expectations, but maybe the wrong ones. I am not going to get on a soap box and condemn Christmas commercialism, the idea of Christmas present lists or Santa Clause. It is what it is and I am at peace with all the store sales, bright lights (I have a set on my porch), and plastic reindeer on my neighbor’s roof.  It’s all good, but I would hope we could expect more out of this season than toys and inflatable Frosty the snowmen.

God comes and offers us joy. Joy cannot be measured by toys, lights and pink flamingos (I am not sure how they are part of the nativity scene, but I saw them in a yard next to a Santa). Joy cannot be measured by these things because when the “season” is over, everything goes back in the box. But Joy is ever-present in the love that fills your heart when you know God is real and present in your life, and in the life of the people you care about. When I think about the characters in that first Christmas scene, Mary, Joseph and Jesus, they had nothing, except each other; how filled with joy they must have been.

Don’t settle for fleeting happiness this Advent/Christmas season, even if it is outrageous. Experience the joy that stays through every season, the joy of God that can illuminate any darkness and can never be extinguished.

Grace & Peace,

 

Thinking in Ink…

Gratitude! I know, I know, Thanksgiving is over. But I can’t help being thankful. As many of you know three weeks ago I had a severe bout with Pancreatitis, which led to the removal of my gallbladder. Since that day three weeks ago, when I was sick, I have had plenty of time to think of how fortunate I am to have the people I have in my life. Usually we don’t like to name people and people do not like to be named, but today I am going to name a few people.

First, I want to thank my close friends and staff members, Chuck Martin and Doug Ford. Their concern and care for me three weeks ago was amazing. Not only did they care for me and make sure I got to the doctor, but they cared for my family, and tended to tasks I was unable to do for my family.

I am very thankful to our very own Dr. Jimmy Davis, who took me in immediately at the Memorial North Shore Health Center, cared for me, and knew I was in trouble, so he sent for an ambulance. And since then, he has worked with me to develop a plan for a healthier lifestyle, and has put me on the right road.

I am grateful for Barbara Kirby who found out I was sick and came to the emergency room and stayed with me while Christine had to pick up our children. I appreciate her kindness.

I am grateful for Scot Crosslin, Phil Summerlin and Dewayne Renfro for filling the pulpit in my absence. Preaching is not always easy and having to fill in on short notice adds to the difficulty. Thank you for your readiness.

I am grateful to my pastor Phil Summerlin who visited me in the hospital and came to the hospital the morning of my surgery at four thirty to be with Christine during the surgery. His presence offered us the peace and assurance we needed.

I am grateful to Catherine Shutters who stayed with me all day at home one day when I was feeling poorly and Christine had gone back to work and Catherine didn’t want me to be alone. Misery loves company…I was miserable and she was good company.

I am grateful to my parents who came to check up on me this Thanksgiving. They didn’t have to. It’s a long drive, but they came. My father had a little mishap, but he survived, and we all had a good time and enjoyed the visit very much.

I am grateful for every card, phone call and text I received. I felt the power and love of your well wishes. I love you all very much and am excited to be back!

Finally, I am grateful for and to Christine. She, as always, kept everything going while being at my side almost every moment. When you have a partner in life who exudes care, strength and love, you can be nothing but grateful.

I know Advent/Christmas is right around the corner…but I wanted to linger just a little while longer over Thanksgiving…

Grace & Peace,

Pastor Paul

 

 

A lady had a circle of friends for whom she really wanted to buy Christmas presents. Time slipped away and it was so busy at work for her she just wasn’t able to get to the store to purchase those gifts. Time was running out. So not too many days before Christmas she decided to give up on the gift idea and just buy everybody the same beautiful Christmas card. She went to the local gift store and hurriedly went through the now picked over stack of cards and found a box of fifty, just exactly what she wanted. She didn’t take time to read the message, she just noticed a beautiful cover on it and there was gold around it and a floral appearance on the front of the card and she thought, “That’s perfect.” So she signed all of them, “With all my love.”

As New Year’s came and she had time to go back to two or three cards she didn’t send from the stack, she was shocked to read the message inside. It said, in a little rhyme,

“This Christmas card is just to say, a little gift is on its way.”

The Advent/Christmas season is fast-paced, to say the least. We always seem to be in a hurry. I too have been guilty of picking up a box of Christmas cards looking at the picture and not the message. Why not make this season one you savor? Take your time to find the right card or gift. Call people you have not spoken to in a while and have a long conversation. SLOW DOWN! The Christ child arrives in this world to offer peace, not chaos. Let’s take advantage of that peace Christ offers, and make this Advent/Christmas season one to remember. A season to savor!

One day many years ago I was looking for the Chalice and Plate that were to be used for Holy Communion the upcoming Sunday. The altar guild would clean the chalice and plate every time we had Holy Communion and leave it on the kitchen counter. The Saturday before communion they would come in and put the pieces on the communion table for the following celebration of Holy Communion. Well, on this particular day I told the altar guild I was coming in on Saturday and I would put the communion ware on the communion table. They assured me it was no problem, but I said I would take care of it and they didn’t have to waste gas and money. The following Saturday, I went to pick up the plate and chalice. I got distracted, and when I came back to the sanctuary I couldn’t find the chalice or the plate. I searched for the two pieces everywhere in the church. I was ready to have a heresy trial regarding the lost communion ware! I envisioned a scene where I was dressed in a long flowing robe and a little beanie hat on top, staring at the accused, saying things like, “You Must Confess!!”

But instead I walked back into my study and lo and behold there were the chalice and plate on my desk! Still, to this day, I do not know how it got on my desk, but the rest I remember clearly…in my excitement to pick up the chalice, I bumped into the desk and the chalice fell off the desk. And as if in slow motion I dove for the chalice saying, “Noooooooooooooooooooooo!” It sustained a chip. A triangular piece broke off. It would be impossible to serve communion with this chalice. But there were three problems. First, this was our only plate and chalice. Second, and most important, it was a gift from a beloved member of the church! Third, it was Saturday and Communion was the following day!

I thought, “I can glue the piece!” I found some Elmer’s glue, and glued the piece back together…perfect! Well, almost…It was time for communion that Sunday and I made sure I was holding the chalice. About a third of the way thru serving, the chalice sprung a leak, it started to dribble on my white robe and then like an overwhelmed dike in Holland, the piece I glued came busting toward me and like the river Jordan, the grape juice flowed onto me. Everyone stopped, for a moment, but I put my hand over the hole and kept serving.

The phrase, “poured out for many,” took on a whole new twist. I learned several things from the experience:

5. I should have just come out and said I broke it and made do with another cup.

4. Never use regular Elmer’s to glue ceramic.

3. Laugh at yourself when you do silly things

2. Never wear a white robe after Labor Day when using a potentially dangerous cracked chalice. And finally, the biggest lesson:

1. I should have moved out of the way of the Altar Guild and let them do their thing. The maintenance of the sanctuary and all its elements was their gift to the church. It was their job. And I took it away.

 We all have gifts and talents, areas of expertise; we should allow people to use their God-given gifts whenever possible. Let people do their thing, and get out of the way.

The grape juice stain never came off…too painful to keep, the robe made its way to the garbage bin…

Grace & Peace,            Pastor Paul

Thinking in Ink

Some of you know that I am a Yankee baseball fan. And just so you know, I have loved them since I was a child. Which means I have seen them through some great seasons, the terrible eighties, the rejuvenated nineties and now the struggling 2000s (if struggling means making it to the playoffs and not the World Series :) ). Well, this year my Yankees have once again faltered. They are home while the Detroit Tigers and the San Francisco Giants battle for the World Series Championship!

Baseball reminds me of the cartoon “Charlie Brown”. Charles Shultz’s character Charlie Brown had a love affair with baseball. Charlie’s teams lost badly for years. Charlie was the captain and the pitcher; he stands on the mound and goes bonkers as his team falls apart all around him. However, always the optimist, when a new season rolls around, Charlie believes that this is the season his team is going to win a game, or even the championship (Like Red Sox Fans). Maybe this time his pitches will be true, his fielders ready and his hitters powerful.

Of course, it never works out that way. An inning or two into the first game of the season, Charlie will be out on the mound, ducking line drives and watching Lucy in the outfield picking daisies while fly balls drop all around her. And then Charlie will know, this won’t be the year. He had all the right dreams, all the great ideals, but this year will be just like all the rest…

 This is the way character Rev. Adam Smallbone of the BBC Television show “REV.” feels every time he has to face the 5th grade children of the Saint Saviour of the Marshes Christian Church School for religious instruction. The setting is London, England. He is filled with excitement at the potential of teaching the children. However, each time he encounters the children, they are bored, dismissive, asking off the wall questions, and even rude. These are tough kids. He gets upset, and usually cuts the lesson short. And he realizes another opportunity was missed, just like Charlie Brown.

 Why does he keep going back? In one scene, a teacher who the children adored had died in a bicycle accident. This teacher was an Atheist. The children gathered and Rev. Smallbone had an opportunity to help these children with their grief and their faith…he did a superb job of offering the Gospel in a most sensitive beautiful way. He brought comfort to those children.

 There are things we do and we wonder why? The positive results we wish for are not always evident. But that really isn’t the reason we do things, is it? Results? You see, Charlie Brown does not go out to play because he solely wants to win a game or a championship…Charlie gets on that mound because he loves baseball! Rev. Smallbone attempts to teach those children, in the end, because they all belong to God; no one is thrown away in the economy of God. God loves all.

 Grace & Peace,  Pastor Paul

What keeps us together?

I read this story a couple of weeks ago

 Once there was a monastery in the woods that had fallen upon hard times. In the past it had been a thriving community that was well known and respected throughout the region, but over the last generation the monks had died one by one and there were no new vocations to replace them. Besides this, the monks did not seem to be as friendly to each other. Something just wasn’t right. The Father Abbot was quite concerned about the future of his monastery, now consisting of himself and three brothers and, thus, he sought counsel from the local rabbi who was known to be a great sage. The abbot went to the rabbi and asked him if he had any advice on what to do to save his monastery. The rabbi felt at a loss and said that he, too, worried about his own congregation; people were too busy and simply were not coming to the synagogue any longer. The two commiserated together and read the Torah. As the abbot was getting ready to return home the rabbi looked at him and said, “One in your home is the Messiah.” The abbot walked home puzzled as to what the rabbi’s words meant.

 When he arrived at the monastery the monks asked the abbot what he had learned. He responded that the rabbi had given him no concrete advice, but he had said in cryptic language, “One in your home is the Messiah.” Over the next days and weeks the monks pondered what this might mean. Was it possible that one of them was the Messiah? If that was the case then most certainly it was Father Abbot. He had been the leader for more than a generation. On the other hand it might be Brother Thomas, for he is a holy man and full of light. Certainly it could not be Brother Eldred. He is old, crotchety, and often mean-spirited, but he always seems to be right, no matter what the situation or question. The rabbi could not have meant Brother Phillip. He is very passive — a real nobody, but one has to admit that he is always there when someone needs assistance.

 As they continued to contemplate this question, the old monks began to treat each other with great respect, on the off chance that the one with whom they were dealing really was the Messiah. They again began to live the gospel message. The monastery was a much more prayerful place once again.

 Because the monastery was located in a beautiful portion of the forest it was common during the spring, summer, and fall months for families to come and have picnics on the grounds. During this period people who came seemed to sense the new spirit of respect and love that was present at the monastery. The people returned often and one day a young man came to the Father Abbot and asked if he could join the community. Soon others inquired and joined and, thus, after several years the vibrant community at the monastery was again restored because the wisdom of the rabbi had transformed hearts. The monks had once again started to live their lives according to the Golden Rule.

There are a variety of gifted people in the church. We also have a variety of theological, political and social opinions. So what is it that keeps us together? It’s Jesus.  The image and presence of Jesus in every one of us. The question is…How do you treat Jesus?

Grace & Peace,

Pastor Paul

 

Books, Books, Books!

I glanced over at the books to be read pile in my home study and saw a little green book hanging precariously on top of the pile. I didn’t remember ordering the book.  I didn’t even know what it was about. I looked at the book and knew I did not order the little green volume.  It was one of those books that you receive unsolicited every once in a while.  This particular book is about our most recent economic crisis and its correlation to the end of the world (I find it funny that the publishers name has Good News in its title). The book seems to be exactly worth what I paid for it, nothing!  This is not my kind of book…yet I did not throw it away! I put it back on the stack.

As some of you know, I have this thing about books.  I can’t stand to throw them away.  I have a study filled with books, some of them older than my children. I have books that I paid five dollars for and they were new, that should tell you the age of those books!  There are more books at home, on shelves and in boxes.

When we moved to Chattanooga, I gave away about two-hundred books.  It was a painful process. I went through each book, reminisced about when I bought them, read them, quoted from them, and how each one was categorized and on their proper shelf.  I know, I know, it sounds like a crazy man talking! My friends love reminding me books are not pets.  Now, I do want to say I do not buy books indiscriminately (Though, next day shipping from Amazon is quite a temptation!).

I love books. Even the ones I don’t like…that’s why I still have that dumb green book! I remember walking into my pastors study for the first time, it was wall to wall books. Beautiful!  He said to us, his fledgling students, to read books, all sorts of books, it would help us become good pastors.  When my pastor spoke, we listened.  Now the books were not solely for our edification, they were primarily to aid the pastor/preacher in caring for and leading the congregation and community. He said when we read, we should have our congregation and community in mind. We should be thinking how the reading relates to the people under our care and in the world.

Still, the green book…the one about the economic crisis and it’s connection to doomsday…maybe, I can close my eyes, take a deep breath and toss it in the trash (I mean recycling). But If I do that, how can I save the world from collapse? Decisions, decisions.  Doorbell rang, gotta go, it’s the UPS man. I’m expecting a package from Amazon!

Grace & Peace,
Pastor Paul