5 RANDOM THINGS

RandoM Thing # 1

As a writer, I’m always thinking about dialogue. Listening to the POTUS debate on Monday night I decided that Mr. Trump speaks IN ALL CAPS–EVERYTHING HE SAYS IS ALL CAPS ALL THE TIME, BELIEVE ME! In contrast Secretary Clinton speaks in italics. Most of her words are special, thought-out, planned, rehearsed, and designed as asides.

Random Thing #2

An often overlooked aspect to making excellent excellent guacamole is red onions. That gives the guack the perfect sweetness to bring out the full bouquet of flavor.

Random Thing #3

Our church has way too many ice cream scoops in the drawer. I think we have more ice cream scoopers than we have deacons. I don’t know how the order works–do we have a lot of ice cream scoopers because we are Baptist, or are we Baptist because we have so many ice cream scoopers? You decide.

Random Thing #4

During the Colin Kaepernick brouhaha I came across this picture. I don’t quite know what it means. I find it fascinating. Perhaps a bit enlightening. And troubling.

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Random Thing #5

81csga13xdl-_sl1500_1I have developed in my head a book–one of those self-help how to live books–based on the titles of Duran Duran songs. Each chapter is a song title, and then I explicate the trendy topic of the times. Examples.

  1. “New Moon On Monday” a chapter about the importance of seeing every day as a fresh beginning. We have to forget what is behind us and move forward. Every Monday is a new start.
  2. “Ordinary World” a chapter about how the world has changed, and many of us long for what we might think of ordinary.
  3. “Girls on Film” the dangers of pornography and the hyper-sexualizing of women. This would be the feminist chapter.
  4. “Wild Boys” about tapping into our wild side, our rebellious side to maintain sanity in a world that wants to categorize and control us. “They tried to tame us, looks like the’ll try again.”

You get the point. If any of you publishers are interested, hit me.

So there are your five random things for today.

 

ADVICE ON THE SPIRITUAL LIFE

So I pick up with my “advice” themed blog posts.  I’ve got about four or five more in mind before I move on completely.

What exactly do we call what I am about to give advice on?  Years ago people in my faith tradition would have called it ‘holiness,’ but that whole concept I think was misguided.  Only the Lord is holy, and our holiness flows from him as an act of grace, therefore holiness is not something I can generate or nurture.  It can only be received.  The trendy phrase today is ‘spiritual formations.’  I like that phrase quite a bit but most people sitting in pews don’t understand what it means–it almost sounds like science fiction or maybe Scientology.celtic-cross-high-pictures-1la

So, I’ve decided to call it the spiritual life–the things I think each of us can do to make certain we are growing spiritually and balancing out the growing impact of materialism and power games that have taken over a great deal of what we call ‘church.’  Before you go any further, know that these are Christian spiritual concepts and the beginning and end of all genuine spirituality is Jesus Christ.

1.  Pick a community of faith and stick with it.  The greatest detriment to many people’s spiritual health is that they church hop.  We were made to live in community and we must have that in order to be healthy.  It takes time to do it right and doesn’t always come quickly.  As I’ve gotten older I’ve noticed how hard it is for us to simply ‘spend time’ together as human beings.  We are losing a lot of our social interaction skills, and this is hurting us spiritually.

2.  Submit to spiritual authority.  I am a Baptist and Baptists generally come out of the womb rejecting authority and fighting against leadership.  That is why we have earned such a reputation for ‘church splits.’  This is sinful.  Submission is the expected norm in the spiritual life and those who refuse to do so are stunting their eternal perspective.  There is one caveat to this and that is when the spiritual leader is doing something evil or heretical.  Changing what time the small group starts or the type of music in a worship service is neither evil or heretical.

3.  Make prayer a personal endeavor.  Everyone can pray, and no one doesn’t know how.  Simply set aside time to speak with the Lord.  You were made for this, and Jesus died on the cross for you to experience deeper intimacy with him.  Although there is no bad way to pray, three things will help you as you do pray.

A)  Set aside a specific time when you are alone.
B)  Use both free prayers (what’s on your heart) and written prayers (the Lord’s prayer, for example).
C)  Spend time listening.  Shut your mouth and just listen.  This will take time to develop because most of us have been trained through our church experiences to babble on mindlessly during our prayers.

4.  Read the Bible at least once a day, preferably twice or more, in a translation you comprehend.  One verse doesn’t count.  Read entire chapters or sections (you know, from heading to heading) so that you can get a feel for the context.  When you finish reading it, make certain you understand what you read.  If you don’t read it again.  If that doesn’t help, maybe consult a commentary or talk to a friend or pastor.

5.  Fast.

6.  You need two relationships to spiritually grow.  One relationship is with a mentor–someone who is guiding you into maturity.  The second one is someone you are being a mentor to.  Without both of these, you are spiritually lacking.  These relationships may not happen at the same time, but there will likely be some temporal overlapping.

7.  Accountability is vital to spiritual health.  This is especially true of leadership, but it is generally true for all of us.  There must be someone whom we speak to about the darkness in our heart, the struggles in our soul, and the pain of our longings.  We need these people to speak discipline and forgiveness into our lives.

8.  Learn to ask yourself one question:  What is God teaching me in this situation?  The more often you learn to ask this question and then seek to find an answer the deeper and more meaningful your spiritual life will become.

9.  Confess.  We need the daily ritual of bringing our sins before the Lord in an act of confession.  If you can’t remember your sins, ask him to show you and he will.  As these evil thoughts, mean words, hateful actions and so forth come to your mind and heart, confess them as wrong and ask the Lord’s forgiveness.  Know that he does forgive; and receive the strength that comes from purity.

10.  Take corporate worship seriously.  Embrace the elements of communion, the beauty of baptism, the weight of the spoken and read word as well as the necessity for giving.  Anyone who tries to be a spiritual person without worshiping with other people regularly (weekly) is an arrogant fool engaged in folly.

What I have tried to give you here are some basic pointers.  This is by no means exhaustive.  I will leave you with one final bit, though.  Stay away from mystics.  Mystics may mean well, but usually they only practice an odd form of works righteousness that breeds smugness.  Do not confuse the spiritual life with mysticism.

photo:  www.gaelicmatters.com

BUTCH GREGORY: ONE YEAR LATER

This week marks the one year anniversary of the release of my book, The Haunting of Pastor Butch Gregory and other Short Stories.  While I haven’t sold as many as I’d hoped (by the way, you can buy a copy by clicking on the image to the right—in paperback or Kindle), I can’t say that I’ve been disappointed.  A couple of times I’ve been in the top 100 in Kindle sales in my sub-sub-sub-sub category.  It’s pretty neat to see my book between books written by very famous people.  More than that though, most people who’ve read it have liked it and have told me so.  I suppose some haven’t liked it and have told me nothing; which is what I would prefer.  If you didn’t like it, just don’t tell me.

What I was trying to do with Butch Gregory was create a fictional pastor who struggles with many of the same things I and other pastors do, but make it so that he was not me.  Butch Gregory is not really my alter ego or avatar.  He is kinder and much more introspective than I am.  In many ways Butch Gregory is the kind of pastor I want to be; or at least I think I want to be. 

The book also contains other short stories and a few poems.  Two of my short stories deserve a little mention.  Convocation is an award winning tale staring the pantheon of pagan gods.  Much of that story was born in my own imagination of what it would be like if Zeus were to meet Allah, or how would Baal get along with Thor?  It is possible some could accuse that story of being insensitive to our multicultural pluralistic world.  However,  I believe that the epitome of a pluralistic world is the right to advocate for your faith.  I personally believe Jesus is Lord and all the rest are merely projections of human sin or fantasy and therefore false.  There is only One True God.

The other short story that needs some attention is Legacy.  I personally had more fun writing Legacy than any of the other stories.  There were several drafts of the story which had alternate endings and major character changes.  Legacy is a parody which could have the subtitle “Baptists in Space.”  All but one major character is named for a famous Baptist or influencer of Baptists.  Some of the nouns in the story were changed to reflect a futuristic nomenclature.  My favorite was “NFLday” as the future name for “Sunday.”  Essentially Legacy is about Baptist history and our future as well as the changes which have occurred in evangelical life in general.

I have big plans for Butch Gregory.  I wish to feature him in a full length novel.  Originally I intended to have it ready by this summer, but my life has become bogged down with the real world.  Church has been a very difficult struggle this year and has required more attention than usual.  Hopefully by next year that novel will be ready.  I am also working on two other books with my friend David Caddell.  Our Romans study is almost through the editing phase as well as another project—too top secret to mention—which is in the development stage. 

Since as early as I can remember I wanted to write a book.  Now that my appetite has been whet with my first one, I want to be the guy who writes 45 books by the time he’s 70.  I’d better get busy.  But don’t worry.  I’ll keep blogging away too.

WHY I LOVE ADVENT

Yesterday our church (www.fbcpo.org) started our annual journey through Advent.  I freely confess Advent is one of my most favorite times of the year.  So often we confuse Advent with the season of Christmas.  The two are designed to be separate.  Advent prepares us spiritually for the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ our Lord.  Advent is to Christmas what Lent is to Easter.  Through the years there are five things that I have come to particularly enjoy about the season of Advent.

  • Prophecy—The first Sunday of Advent usually carries a heavy emphasis upon prophecy.  Jesus Christ came the first time, according to Hebrew Bible prophecy, and he will likewise come again.  I like this emphasis because in my usual teaching and preaching ministry I really do not spend much time on the subject because it is never one of those ‘urgent’ issues.  However, the sacred time of Advent brings the issue to my thoughts ever year and I am blessed because of it.
  • Candles—Advent is observed with the lightly of candles.  I love ‘smells and bells’ and am kind of a closet Episcopalian on this particular issue.  Baptists—my particular tribe, are not usually much of a aesthetic group of people but this time of year even the most practical and functional folk will give in to the ritual and beauty of a candle.
  • Scripture—It is impossible to properly observe Advent without a strong dose of Scripture.  Indeed, the whole season revolves around the lectionary.  I am celebrating this year by translating the gospel readings from Luke from Greek into English.  When I finish each week, I may post my translation here on the blog.
  • Focus—Advent’s key job today is to take our mind away from the slavish service to the marketplace and focus us back onto the real emphasis of Christmas.  My perception is that this is why the observance of Advent is making its way into many non-liturgical Protestant and free churches.   It is truly sad to me that our sacred time has been hijacked by people hocking electronic gadgets.  If it were not for Advent and the traditional focus of this time of year; it would likely give up on Christmas and just let the heathens have it.  In the midst of the pagan abuse, Advent keeps me grounded on the gospel.
  • Climax—As a storyteller nothing is as thrilling to me as rising action that culminates in a dazzling climax of action.  This is what Advent does with the Christmas narrative—it provides the rising action.  Without this sense of dramatic unfolding the Christmas Eve and Christmas Day events are a little flat.  It’s like skipping the whole book and just reading the last chapter.  You might know what happened, but you don’t necessarily know why or why it is significant.