Wednesday, 19 October 2016 05:29

Bidding farewell to a longtime friend

I’m about to have a new adventure. I’m going to have a below-the-knee amputation of my left leg. I know that many of you have had similar surgeries. Sometimes I have encouraged parishioners as they went through this same experience. Of course, it is the lot of all preachers, whether Southern-fried or Northern-boiled, to practice what they preach. So I’ve told friends facing this to take heart, anticipate a perfect success, say their prayers, trust the Lord. You know, the kinds of things we preachers say and sincerely believe.

Now it is my turn to do the same.

Tuesday, 11 October 2016 16:30

Value of prayer is listening to answer

The more experienced I become, the more I think about the importance of prayer. I’ve been reflecting on what people in high places pray for.

A delegation of Methodist preachers went to visit President Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War. Their spokesman said to Mr. Lincoln, “I know the Lord is on our side.”

The President replied, “I am not concerned about that, for I know the Lord is always on the side of the right. But it is my constant anxiety and prayer that I and this nation should be on the Lord’s side.”

Tuesday, 04 October 2016 16:36

Little gifts are the greatest, no bull ...

I love old-folk wisdom, proverbs, adages and sayings. They have staying power. For example, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” Our experience teaches us that this is true. Generous people are happy people. And people who receive gifts, instinctively want to respond with gifts.

When Prince Charles and Princess Diana were married, they received more than 6,000 wedding gifts. Among the gifts were a silver mousetrap and a ton of peat. In earlier eras, a gift to royalty might have been a country manor or a country — like Scotland — or some other chunk of geography.

Gift-giving is noted in the Bible in such stories as the visit of the wise men from the East who brought gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to the infant Jesus. They wanted to express their devotion with gifts of special significance.

Tuesday, 27 September 2016 18:01

Address social ills with your good will

I’m going to be preachy this week. And I’m going to be personal. As I write this, the sun is shining and things are quiet in uptown Charlotte, a place I love. I spent some of the happiest years of my life in the 1980s as senior minister of First United Methodist Church, only a five-minute walk from the place where riots broke out over the past two nights. Fires were started in the streets. A person was shot and killed. Police officers and demonstrators were injured. Dozens of people were arrested. Buildings were vandalized and looted. The North Carolina National Guard and Highway Patrol are helping local police maintain control.

The event that ignited the unrest was the killing of a citizen by a police officer out in a Charlotte neighborhood. The religious leaders and pastors of the city are working tirelessly to guide upset, angry, scared citizens to express themselves in peaceful ways. The Community Relations Committee of the city, of which I was once a member, is doing its fine work of bringing people together.

I have been writing for publication for more than 50 years. The question I have been asked most often is “How do you get your ideas about what to write?” The same question sometimes arises in regard to preaching, which I have also been doing for more than 50 years.

I often reply to this question with the biblical adage: “The Lord doth provide.” It comes from the 22nd chapter of Genesis where the story is told about how Abraham took his son Isaac up on Mount Moriah to offer him as a sacrifice to the Lord. You remember how that plan was averted when Abraham spotted a ram with its horns caught in the thicket and was sacrificed instead of Isaac. Abraham named the place Jehovah-Jireh which means “In the mount of Jehovah it shall be provided.”

Tuesday, 13 September 2016 17:58

Buckle up! Time for another wild ride

An election season is a time when the inclination seems to arise in many of us to want to remake the world. We have lots of differing visions about what this world should be. Some would like the latest communications gadgetry in every pocket. Others want a roll of 20-dollar bills in every pocket. I’d like for everyone to have a pocket.

I’d go for simple things like an uncomplicated cell phone for my pocket. I would not need it to make photos, play games, make music, brew coffee or things like that. All I want my phone to do is give me a signal that doesn’t cut out when I go around a curve. Also I’d like a Swiss Army knife in my pocket. I’d like to have a knife that has a little pair of scissors built in just in case I want to give myself a haircut while stuck in traffic. And I’d want the knife to have a little file in case I need to cut through the bars in a jail cell if I ever get into trouble with the law. And I’d like for that knife to have a tiny compass. I wouldn’t need it to show me which direction is south. Nope, I want it to be a reminder that I’ve got another compass — a moral compass that needs to be consulted regularly during an election season.

Tuesday, 06 September 2016 16:41

A test for adult knowledge of childhood lessons

Let’s have a little fun this week. Many of us learned first about the Bible in Sunday school when we were children. Our parents may have told us Bible stories at home, but those wonderful Sunday school teachers were the mentors who did the most to cultivate our knowledge about the richest textbook ever written.

I have noticed, however, that as we grow older we don’t go back and read through those stories we first learned as children. We assume we know all there is to know. So we go on to other things. You may be surprised at what you discover when you revisit those familiar stories. Here is a test of your knowledge.

Okay folks, it’s kickoff time in America! All you lovers of sports, get your game faces on for the best contact team sport of all — football! No doubt about it. Some college teams routinely play before crowds of 80,000 or more. On Sept. 10, more than 150,000 fans will stream into the Bristol Motor Speedway to witness my University of Tennessee Volunteers play the Virginia Tech Hokies. That’s more than usually turn out to hear me preach!

So, I want to offer a little sermon here on the spirituality of football. My scripture is the 13th chapter of I Corinthians. In this famous chapter on love, the Apostle Paul says a cautionary word that all football fans should heed. He addresses the favorite pastime of fans — prophesying about the outcome. He says eventually prophesying will end. We love to predict the outcome of football games. We fans talk trash with our friends about whose team will win. Some even wager hard-earned cash on such prophesies. The old saint doesn’t say don’t do it, but I can’t see him placing a bet with a bookie. He just says we won’t see the end ’til the end!

Tuesday, 23 August 2016 16:33

Some cool poetry to beat the heat

This is one very hot summer. Here in this part of North Carolina it’s already hot enough in the morning by the time the sun rises that you could fry your breakfast liver mush on the hood of your pickup truck. Now, if you’re not from around here and don’t know what liver mush is, I’ll explain it some other time. What I’m talking about right now is heat.

It is not only the weather that’s hot. This is turning out to be a season that feels like one of those times when you’ve got the flu and you ache all over. You’ve got a fever, your head hurts, your back hurts, your eyeballs hurt, your hair hurts, your friends are cranky and you are even worse. It is that kind of time. Everything seems to be sizzling! Well, that’s how it looks to me. Whoops! A lens fell out of my sunglasses and it looks worse than I thought.

Wednesday, 17 August 2016 05:37

A Little Bit lonelier with loss of Liberty

I’ve written about the joy of pets before. Sometimes I have written about the poignancy of loss. This is one of those combinations of the two. Our beloved cat, Liberty, is gone now. She came to live with us more than 22 years ago. From the first day, we recognized that she would march to her own drummer. That’s why we named her Liberty. She had a mind of her own, even as a tiny kitten. Through the years we have noticed this tendency toward independence in our other cats, but it was even more true of her.

As she grew, we realized that she was not happy indoors. She also seemed not to be a people cat. She resisted cuddling. She was happiest when frolicking on the lawn, chasing chipmunks, squirrels and birds. She never left the safety of our enclosed yard. As she grew to maturity we respected her personality and gave her the space she loved. Over time she became so solitary as to seem almost feral. But, she was healthy and apparently content.

Wednesday, 10 August 2016 05:26

Turn to the psalms to fight the gloom

There is a gloomy cloud hanging like spiritual smog over many folks these days. It stings the eyes, makes breathing difficult and obscures our view of the mountain peaks around us. It is true that much of our life is lived in the foothills, but usually we awaken to beautiful, spacious skies. If we are lucky, we look out upon amber waves of grain. It’s the purple mountain majesty that establishes the far horizon and causes our vision and imaginations to soar.

On the other hand, there are moments and some seasons when it seems like we are in the intensive care unit watching the line on the EKG machine go flat. Anger, fear, depression, hatred — you make your own list — are things that can flatline your spirit. Sometimes people with unclear motives can stir up these gloomy, scary, angry feelings in us. They function like artificial fog or smoke machines to frighten, thrill or just creep us out. Visit a “house of horrors” on Halloween if you don’t believe me.