Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Holy Spirit and Horton the Elephant

I think I frightened the church staff the other day when I did the worship opening time at our weekly staff meeting. I told them that as I was preparing what I was going to say, Horton the Elephant spoke to me.

Ok I admit I've been feeling a bit stressed lately. As I told our daughters when they were teenagers and trying to grow up fast, "You might want to slow down. This grown-up thing is not all it's cranked up to be." That day before staff meeting I was a little tired of the grown up world. It is a world full of meetings and budgets and reoccurring problems. As the "leader-CEO-Main Guy-Head of the Team-Sr. Pastor" a lot of the list comes my way.

So I told my befuddled staff that this week I was tired of some of it. I was tired of some of the negative stuff I had heard of late. I was weary from my work even though much of it is still very worthwhile and after all it is "God's work." But I took this moment because I also told them that I thought maybe Jesus was giving me a "pass" to do so for a brief moment.

I had been working on what to say the upcoming Sunday on Children's Sabbath. I was working with that text where Jesus reaches over and pulls up a small child and places her on his knee and says to a bunch of "grown-up" disciples who were having trouble getting along and arguing over who was top dog; "Look at this child. Come as child and you'll finally get the idea of what this new Kingdom I keep talking about is like."

So that morning before yet another "meeting" I noticed a small statue of Horton the Elephant starring at me. I must have used it for some children's thing I did years ago and one of the support staff found it when she was helping me "organize" my office. Horton seemed to whisper something to me.

Horton the elephant heard "a small sound but there was no one around." That small sound was the cry of a Who and he decided that it was "some sort of creature of very small size, too small to be seen by elephant eyes." But Horton knew he had to respond because "after all...a person's a person no matter how small."

Remember that the third "person" of that very grown-up doctrine we call "the Trinity" is the person of the Holy Spirit. So it was on an early morning a few days ago the "still small voice" of that spirit spoke to me in the form of Horton.

"Listen," it said, "to that small voice within your busy world...You are my child...that's all you need to be right now...the grown-up world will wait for a moment....just be my child right now."

Jesus told stories about sheep and coins that got lost in the busy world. He often said that his kingdom was like tiny seeds or small bits of leaven. "The kingdom of God comes in small ways" he reminded his grown-up disciples. "Come as a child."

So this week I was blessed by the parable of Horton the Elephant who reminded me of the small child who never grew up that lives in me...that small child that is not supposed to grow up. It is the child who reminds me to stop, look, and listen. Once in a while the fast paced world can wait...wait for me and you to "come as a child."

I need to sit on Jesus' knee occasionally and remember. Giving to others in his name is wonderful and yes tiring at times so the whisper that came this week from a blue Elephant who listened to a small voice was a wonderful spirit filled reminder.

Bless you

Friday, September 17, 2010

The Far Country

I talked with a prodigal recently. He was "home" now and pretty grateful but he shared with me how he actually missed the "far country..." that is before the pig-pen stuff.

A preaching professor told me a few years ago to be careful using the image "prodigal" and assuming that young people knew what you mean. He said young people were no longer familiar with stereotypical biblical images because they had not read the bible and did not grow up hearing such things as, "You're going to end up my prodigal."

So for those of you who are "young" I'm referring to the story of the prodigal son that is in Luke. Luke is in the bible. If you don't have a bible you are welcome to steal one from the next motel you find yourself in. The Gideons actually want people to steal them. By the way the Gideons are people who "push" bibles.

What am doing? Young people aren't reading this...are you? Anyway the prodigal I talked with was longing to go back and visit the far country. He missed the excitement and told me that the "good life" was not as full as he had hoped it would be.

He was feeling really guilty about all this and perhaps that is why he was telling me the story. He had been viewing travel posters of the far his head of course...and he longed just for a quick trip back to some of the places where he discovered some really wild stuff before he got lost and had to "come to himself."

"I never thought I would want to go back," he said. What he realized was that he left part of "himself" in the far country and he could not really find it at home.

Have you ever been to the "far country?" A lot of people who have not been there quickly judge those who have. It is one reason maybe people leave the certainty of home.

I wonder if the father in the original story had ever "strayed" when he was young? Maybe that is one reason he ran down the road to grab hold of his "stinky" prodigal child.

I told the prodigal that he probably needed to "stay home" but that it was okay to share the memories and longings with me. The one who originally told the story told it to portray how "his father" was like the father in the story. So I put my hand on this "prodigal's" head and I blessed him and his wondering thoughts. He will of course go unnamed but I blessed him in the name of the one who knows his name and who loves him like a father.

If you are in the far country when you read this...try to go home. If you're the "elder brother" loosen up and try to understand prodigals. If you're a parent of a prodigal pray for patience and remember life is messy and nobody is exempt from longings that lead to pig-pens. And if you don't have a bible...steal one or something...It's a good story worth reading.


Sunday, September 12, 2010


I've served seven churches over the years. I just went back to one I left thirty-one years ago. Where did the time go?

I helped baptize the child of a child I baptized when I was there. How many children have I baptized? I should have kept a record but somehow when it all started I thought it would not matter.

One reason I did not keep "records" is that I thought I would not be doing this ministry thing for this long. I looked for a way out early on. I had too many strange thoughts and my understanding of God was too big and the church was too small...for me. At my "little country church" one of the Furr boy's pegged me when he was overheard to say, " This new preacher will never make it. He's too short, he's too young, and he's read too many books."

Well I'm "old" now and if I carry on in my father's tradition I'll soon start to shrink so I'm destined to even get shorter. I've read even more books and even written a few. I suppose most days I'm glad that brother Furr was wrong.

What a joy it is to hold a child and drip water over his or her head. As I looked around during "Homecoming" I remembered being at this church of my past. The sanctuary seemed smaller than when I was there. The people all looked older of course and when some of them said to me, "Why you haven't changed a bit" I remembered why I loved them so much when I was with them.

"You can't go home again," it is said. I suppose that is true. It felt strange and memories came up like those sayings that popped up in that novelty item called "an eight ball." Do you remember those?...You held the eight ball, turned it slightly and a sayings would pop up in the tiny window in the ball. The sayings that seemed to come from nowhere were supposedly an indication of what your future might hold.

Well these memories that popped up were full of the past not the future. I did not find a way out of the ministry. It seems I found a way "through" it and now it's been 38 years. I can count the years even though I've lost track of the babies.

You can't go home again...but it was good to drop by and remember. Life needs some "homecomings." We travel so fast theses days. It is good to at least "visit" home again. For so many of us "home" is constantly being made as we go.

It was T.S Elliot who said, "We shall not cease from exploring and in our exploring we shall come to the place from which we started and know it for the first time." As I looked around the old place that I used to call home I pondered that I am coming to know that life is daily and home is where you show up...really show up.

As I got in the car to leave "homecoming," I remembered what the choir sang to me as I walked down the aisle my last Sunday with them: "Happy trails to you until we meet again...Happy trails to you keep smiling until then.." I smiled...I remembered....and I said, "thank you" to that amazing presence who would not let me out of this wonderful, crazy, thing called ministry.

Bless you

Monday, September 6, 2010

It's Only a Matter of Time

It is an expression used to designate a situation in which fate will have its say. You know, you meet someone and they seem friendly but you sense that there is an underlying agenda in the friendship and you feel that something will happen to reveal what is hidden. "It is only a matter of time."

Well this past week I experienced time. I stood overlooking canyons that had been "cut" out by the Green and Colorado rivers. Revealed before me were layers of history all the way down to the bottom of the canyons. They tell me it reveals 300 million years of geological history.

Everything was "big" last week. The reason I was out there in nature observing "time" was that I was attending a conference of the largest 100 United Methodist churches in America. I serve one of them. I did not know that until I got the invitation to attend.

So after observing big canyons I sat in a room full of big church pastors. My church barely made the list because the biggest canyon when it comes to churches is 17,000 people attending every Sunday. I wonder how long it took that guy to create that canyon?

Anyway it was a big week but it reminds me that time happens one second at a time. The river does its work over time. The 17,000 can seem vast and the 300 million can seem completely beyond grasp but it all happens one instant and one person "at a time."

Overlooking all these vast numbers I realized that God's hour glass must be really big. We look at our watches and hurry off in order to make an appointment while the river keeps cutting away its path. It's only a matter of time.

"So teach us to number our days that we may gain a heart of wisdom." Believe today that whether it comes to big churches or big canyons God notices every grain of sand that passes through the hour glass. After all the old story says, "that a thousand years in thy sight is as a watch in the night." So it takes 300 million years to make one of those canyons and it takes one member at a time to make 17,000....I marvel though that the God of all time counts by individual sands and individual people.

Don't get lost in time...take time...feel moment at a time...It's only a matter of time.