Whew! I was soaked with sweat, and around me lay piles of dirt, wood chips, a pry bar, bow saw, shovel, spade, ax, blocks for a fulcrum and… a stump removed from the ground. It took all my effort, a variety of tools, four hours of work and a LOT of energy. When I finished I was exhausted but satisfied.

Last week I wrote about that stump and how it was held by something unseen beneath the surface of the ground and that, after digging down almost a foot and cutting every root in sight, it remained firmly entrenched in the landscape.

Removing it took persistence, patience, rest between attempts and a variety of tools. At last, after digging deeper than I thought I would have to go, using a hand spade, to uncover a large tap root going directly down from the center cutting most of it with a saw and then, putting all my weight on a 6 foot steel pry bar… it broke free!

Like stumps, conflicts and other problems can be deeply rooted. During my span of 25 years serving churches I have witnessed many a conflict in church. Whether the conflict was over theology, programs, buildings or personalities in every case I have seen that all ‘sides’ seemed to possess a portion but not all of the answer. When the conflicts have not been resolved it has been because people could or would not work together.

We are too ready to speak and too slow to listen. We are too convinced we are right and ‘they’ are wrong. In our failure to listen; in our failure to consider that we don’t know it all; we reject the people and the perspective of others without which we will never find the answer to our intractable problem.

In the Church God has given gifts to each of us so that together we become more, much more than the sum of our parts. I kept going back to the tool shed for something else. I kept going back to that stump over several days until it gave way.

Without the strength, gifts, understanding and presence of some of the most unlikely and even the least favored we may never resolve our most difficult problems. Jesus was murdered by those who exclaimed, “Can any good thing come out of Galilee? … Search the Scriptures and they will tell you that no prophet comes out of Galilee.” (John 7) They were sure Jesus was NOT the answer, to their own loss.

We need each other. We need those we think most likely to succeed and we need those who seem least likely to succeed. We need the most gifted among us and we need those who may seem to be the least gifted among us. No one among us has all the answers or all that is needed to find solutions in our world and in our lives. I needed many tools to break that stump free. We need all the gifts God gives us to uproot the problems in our lives.

A Good, Dull Pocket Knife

knives!-780460A Good, Dull Pocket Knife

“I learned two things in the Navy. I learned how to tie a knot and how to sharpen a knife.”
As a boy of about ten, I watched wide-eyed as my brother used his pocket knife to shave the hair off his arm in demonstration.
When I tie a knot it doesn’t stay tied and its never tight. My brother could take a knife that wouldn’t cut butter and in no time at all, shave with it. I could take his knife and in no time at all, it wouldn’t cut butter! My pocket knife won’t shave. In fact my pocket knife barely cuts a string … and I like it that way.
A long time ago I carried a brother-sharpened pocket knife. I was amazed at how easily it cut the hay bales I fed to the horses. I could slice through anything with it!
I still bear the scar on my index finger. While cutting an apple for my horse, I continued my slice as it went deeply into my finger! So now I carry a dull pocket knife. It was easier to just let it be dull than it was to learn to sharpen it and learn to be careful enough with it. It stays dull now and its better that way.
Knives are like people. They come in different sizes, some with assorted “blades” that can do almost anything, others with deft skill that can accomplish great things. Then there are others, who often feel like they are just never quite sharp enough for the job at hand.
The thought of hurting another person is repulsive to me. I would rather be careful with my words and with my actions so that after I have said or done what was needed I don’t find my words “slicing” into another’s heart. My finger hurt for a long time. It was bandaged for a long time. As I said, I still bear the scar today.
In our world of production, profit, and gain too often our goal is to have the “sharpest knife” possible so that in our chosen job or perhaps even in our home we might operate with precision and efficiency. But how many deep wounds are we leaving behind with our words or actions that take a long time to heal and leave a life-long scar?
“The Lord has told you, human, what is good; he has told you what he wants from you: to do what is right to other people, love being kind to others,
and live humbly, obeying your God.” -Micah 6:8

Old and Almost Gone

Old and Almost Gone

Paper_PalmLeavesWritten“You should have preached about Noah yesterday!”
“No, God said He wouldn’t do that again and I take Him at His word!”
I had this exchange today with a member of the church following last week’s deluge. Later this morning while peering underneath this very old church building in a dirt crawl space I discovered some very old records. There were records of meetings dating back to the late 1920’s rotting away in the moisture with only fragments left.
This week I am attending the annual business meeting of about 800 churches which we call “Annual Conference”. I can’t help but think of that in light of those fragments of paper I discovered. Over 80 or 90 years they changed in importance. They were recorded with care to penmanship, accuracy and were stored in carefully crafted binders. No doubt they were placed on a shelf along with others and copies of them were mailed to higher authorities. Now they are just tattered scraps lying in the red clay dirt.
No doubt the meetings of this week will be conducted and the actions taken will be recorded with equal, if not greater care. The hundreds who attend will have set aside family, money, time, liesure and a host of other Priorities in order to be present and active. Eighty or ninety years from now where will the records of this week be? More importantly, where will those who attend this weeks meetings be?
As I write this it is my birthday and I am remembering acquiring trophies and ribbons for riding, grade cards with letters and comments, degrees which still hang on the walls of my office. In a hundred years where will they be?
Finding those old discarded records reminds me of what is truly important and it is not meetings, diplomas, grades, trophies and accomplishments. Those things may be important as a step along the way but not an end in and of themselves. What is important is what lasts beyond our lifetime. The only One who is capable of transporting both us, and the actions of our life, beyond our lifetime is God.
“Whatever we build on that foundation will be tested by fire on the day of judgment. Then everyone will find out if we have used gold, silver, and precious stones, or wood, hay, and straw. We will be rewarded if our building is left standing. But if it is destroyed by the fire, we will lose everything. Yet we ourselves will be saved, like someone escaping from flames.” (1 Corinthians 3:12-15)

Life in the Slower Lane




40 years of cell phones.  Last week the cell phone celbrated its 40th birthday.  That first phone was 10 inches long and weighed 2 1/2 pounds!  How far they have come since that time. Today with over 6 billion people having cell phones it is difficult to imagine living without one available.
     We feel ‘naked’ walking out the door without it.  We text, face-book, twitter, read books, keep organized and keep our calendars. If our car sputters or we are late, we call or text. We send email, watch our favorite episodes, check the weather, news and even talk with someone! 
   Talking is central to any relationship. “Enoch enjoyed a close relationship with God throughout his life.  Then suddenly, he disappeared because God took him.” (Genesis 5:24)  With all our dependence upon two way communication the wonder of talking with God becomes lost, replaced by the wonder of modern smart phones.
     The batteries run down, they get dropped, wet, lost, stolen, misplaced, or outdated. Besides all that they are expensive!
    It is still true that the best things in life are free.  Free!
     We recently asked people to sign up for 30 minute slots from 7:00 am to 6:00 pm for prayer in our sanctuary.   We left a book for people to record their ‘texts’ to God (prayers in old tehnological terminology). Reading these prayers which were meant to be shared, I found them filled with wonder, praise, and joy and trust.
    When did we last feel lost in wonder or joy as we spent time with our phone?  When did our phone promise us a full, rich life?  When did our phone leave us with a peace that transcended all our circumstances?
    I have a cell phone.  Like you I feel ‘naked’ when I leave it behind.  I am writing this article with it now.
    But I also put it aside, turn it off or put it on ‘stun’.   I choose not to answer it when I am talking with someone or with Someone.  I choose to not look at email or texts when I am spending time off.  If we don’t choose sometimes to be un-wired, or unplugged from from our fast lane world we will miss something – Someone greater.