Angel & Soccer Star

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Shirley posted these two pictures several years ago as throw back pictures on Facebook and they popped up as a memory on Facebook the other day. I remember these pictures from a long time ago. I think this was one of Noah’s first years playing recreational soccer at Pleasant Garden, and perhaps Abby’s second Christmas program at the church. I look back on those precious faces and I see so much hope and trust in them. Who would believe that yesterday Noah entered school as a High School freshman and Abby entered the seventh grade? (BTW – Noah still advertises (after all these years) Nike Sportswear, and Payton Manning stoled Abby’s play signal and used it right up to his last game.)

I think back over the years and wonder… did we do it right? Did they always know they were loved? Did they know we were always there for them? Did we make life better for them? And the big question is did they see Christ in us?

Time flies by and we forget along the way to stop in the moment and ask those questions of ourselves. If we are making an impact on our grandchildren is it for good, bad or indifferent? We look with great pride on Joy and Stephen and the love they have and express for their children. They would do battle with the devil himself over those children. They have taught them by example a great sense of responsibility for themselves and to their community and friends. They are always at church helping out where they can… doing what needs to be done. They have done for Noah and Abby that which we could not do for Stephen… give them roots. It has been a joy to watch them grow up at Pleasant Garden with their friends and family… a support system who cares enough to never let them down.

Thanks to all the PGUMC family for accepting, loving and caring for my family. You make me so proud to have been a small part of that church.


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Those Crazy Teens

Steve & Shirley

Steve & Shirley

And this is His commandment, that we believe in the Name of His Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as He has commanded us. 1 John 3:23

Seventeen-year-old Courtney Thorp goes to Shell Rock Senior High School in Iowa. There’s another thing you should know about Thorp. You should also be aware that when she was nine months old she was diagnosed as having cerebral palsy. It is an illness which can negatively affect speech, balance and many other aspects of an individual’s life.

Mainstreamed in her education, Thorp, along with her parents, were always dedicated to minimizing those negatives.

Even though she knew her daughter was an upbeat kind of kid, when Thorp’s mother heard her only child had been nominated for homecoming queen, she was worried. Yes, the kids at Thorp’s school always seemed to be nice, but … maybe this was some kind of prank: a cruel hoax which some bad-attitude students were playing on her daughter.

Thorp’s parents received some degree of peace when the school’s associate principal called and assured them the nomination was legitimate, and there was no ill will or cruelty in it.

I have to tell you the night the homecoming king and queen were crowned, Thorp’s mom ended up in tears. In her words, “I lost it.”

Had the assistant principal been wrong? Nope. Not at all. Mom “lost it” because her daughter’s coronation as queen was marked by applause, cheers and high-fives by the rest of the court. The homecoming king said, “It was such a great feeling when she won. She comes to school every day with a big smile on her face. She is happy 110 percent of the time. She loves life and she makes the best out of everything. She’s a big inspiration to everybody.”

So, that’s the human-interest story from Iowa.

Now there are two reasons that narrative has been shared. The first reason is because it’s easy for these days for my blog (and me) to center on the sad, the sick, the terrible, and the tragic. For you and for me that can be discouraging and depressing. I felt it was time (after the Mad as Hell rant) for something upbeat. The second reason the story is shared is because here is a high school filled with kids who get it.

I think they get it partly because of parents, partly because of their stable community, and partly because most of them are members at one of the churches in Shell Rock. These kids may not know it, but part of their specialness has to do with their belief system. It is a system which says we are redeemed sinners, no one is perfect, we all fall short of the mark, but we have Jesus who loves us and by his mercy lifts us to the Father’s throne, and restores us to the Father’s house.

Knowing this Jesus the teens of Shell Rock, Iowa, have put into practice an attitude of love and acceptance… By God’s grace may their attitude become contagious all around the world.

Hopefully, our time together tonight has made you feel a bit more thankful for Jesus and a whole lot more thankful for some of the Christian kids who are coming after us.

Dear Lord, today we give thanks for kids who conquer problems and those who support those who need it. Most of all we give thanks for Jesus who taught us how to love and support someone else. In His Name. Amen.

Grace and Peace

Steve

PS. We think our cat is watching the Animal Channel while we are away every day. We even found cat nip on the TV remote the other day. She has learned to sit at her bowl and rattle it until we come fill it. She is almost 14 years old… so old cats can learn new tricks.

Looking Back – Leaning Forward

Steve & Shirley

Steve & Shirley

“No eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him.” – 1 Corinthians 2:6-13

A little while ago Shirley and I found and old box of pictures. It was almost like we had found a hidden treasure. We spent over an hour going through these pictures and remembering all the events and times they brought to mind. Like: Shirley and I standing in the snow a week before I made the trip to Paris Island for Marine boot camp. Our wedding pictures and remembering the rush of that weekend and how the Captain told me “If the Marine Corps wanted you to have a wife they would have issued you one.” He didn’t want to let me come home and get married. Many pictures of our son, Stephen, in many different stages of his life. How proud we were and are of this young man. The houses we have lived in and the churches we have served… wow, what a life we have lived… and how we have been blessed to serve God through the church. And finally, we noticed the pictures which chronicled our increasing age – and how life was morphing our looks. I think that was when our journey through the pictures ended. I could go on, of course, as we did that morning, wading into all of those times and places until we were chest deep—heart deep—in nostalgia.

Nostalgia is a very natural and powerful emotion, particularly for those of us who are older.  But nostalgia has its dangers.  If it gives us renewed appreciation for the ways God has blessed us in the past, then it can be a wonderful occasion for thanksgiving. But nostalgia also can make us idealize the past and in ways that make the present pale by comparison.  So nostalgia can rob the present of delight and the future of hope.  

As Christians we draw on the past in a myriad ways, of course, but our faith is always forward leaning.  We are assured that the good old days, no matter how good, are nothing compared to what God has in store for us. Paul quotes Isaiah to remind the Corinthians, but perhaps also to remind himself: “No eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him.” So the advice for all of us is to look back, yes, and be thankful. But lean forward to all that God has in store for us.

Dear God of yesterday, today and tomorrow, help us to look back in ways that keep us thankful, but leaning forward enough to keep us alive and real in the faith of Jesus. Amen.

Grace and Peace

Steve

Love Them No Matter What

Steve & Shirley

Steve & Shirley

“Train children in the right way, and when old, they will not stray.” – Proverbs 22:1-21

When reading the Bible, genre matters. If you don’t know what biblical prophecy’s about, you might think the book of Revelation is a prediction of future history, and end up writing a fictious and profitable series of books about the end times.

You also might think the book of Proverbs contains God’s thinking, instead of humans’. They say it belongs in the category “Wisdom Literature,” but when I read lines like the one above, I’m fairly certain God shelves it under “Jokes and Humor.” I mean, does anyone really believe that raising children is as simple as “training” them right?

I’m pretty sure God doesn’t. Look at Adam and Eve.  No matter what kind of parenting technique you like best, God tried it.

Love and nurture?  Check.

Attachment parenting?  Dr. Sears would approve.

Corporal punishment?  Tried it.

And lots more.

And just look how we turned out. Sure, some of us, the saints and others, wound up golden children…the rest of us, not so much.

God learned the hard way there’s just no telling how the kids will turn out in the end, even when the parents are perfect. I think if God were to rewrite that line, it would say something half as pretentious and twice as difficult. Perhaps it would read: “Love your children hard no matter what, and somehow everybody’ll get there in the end.”

Holy God, you have loved us, and loved us, and loved us no matter how we’ve turned out or turned away, and that has been the saving of the world. Grant that we all might do the same with the children you’ve entrusted to us, in and through Jesus.  Amen.

Grace and Peace

Steve

Standing on The Corner

Steve & Shirley

Steve & Shirley

(God said) “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.” Isaiah 1:18b

Oklahoma City’s eight-year-old Malachi Peterson is in trouble for many different reasons. 

*He is in trouble with his school principal because he picked a fight at school.

*He is in trouble with the girls because the fight he picked was about who got to get the girl.

*He is in trouble with his mother because she thinks he is becoming a bully.

That’s an awful lot of trouble for a young man. Thankfully, Peterson is not the subject of this devotion. No, Peterson is off the hook. Instead, we are talking about Peterson’s mom. Wishing to nip her son’s bullying in the bud, Janie Peterson made her son stand out on a street corner holding a sign which said, “I PICKED A FIGHT BECAUSE I’M A BULLY.”

I couldn’t help but start hearing that old tune in my head, the words of which go like this: “Standing on the corner watching all the girls go by….” That isn’t particularly sinful, even though I guess it could come mighty close. But imagine standing there with that bill board listing all your sins. I would want to hide my face and not let anyone know that I was the one who committed these sins against God and other people. Would it work for you? You can make your own assessment.

According to Janie Peterson, public reaction to the punishment she gave her boy has been very positive. 

At any rate, the story of Malachi Peterson got me to thinking. I’m pretty sure none of us would like that street corner. No, we wouldn’t like it a bit. I know nobody would like it because all of us go to great lengths to hide our sins. Robbers wear masks, thieves work under cover of darkness, and white collar criminals hide their misdeeds in a set of doctored books. Most of us just do our best to keep those sins locked away where nobody else can see them.

Like Adam and Eve, we do our best to hide our transgressions from everybody. Of course, we can’t hide those wrongdoings from the Lord. His all-knowingness sees our sin and His justice condemns that sin. Even if we manage to hide our sins from everybody else in the universe, God knows our long list of transgressions.

That’s the bad news.

The good news is that, along with seeing and hating our transgression, God continues to love us. So that we helpless souls might be forgiven, redeemed and restored. Jesus’s love erased our cards and made them clean.

Every Sunday, we confess our sins and we all respond: “In the name of Jesus, we are forgiven.” Thank God for that!

Dear Lord, thank you for taking that long, long slate of sins I have committed over the years and wiping it clean. I could not do this on my own or under my own power – only by your grace can I find your forgiveness, redemption, and restoration. Amen.

Grace and Peace

Steve

Am I Normal?

Steve & Shirley

Steve & Shirley

Rebekah called her younger son Jacob and said to him, “Your brother is consoling himself by planning to kill you… Flee at once to my brother Laban in Haran, and stay with him a while—until your brother’s anger against you turns away, and he forgets what you have done to him.” – Genesis 27:42-25

In a town called Normal, Illinois, there is a lovely sculpture in a park that features a husband and wife embracing and looking lovingly into each other’s eyes, while their young children sit contented on their laps.  The sculpture is entitled, “The Normal Family.”

The only trouble with that image of family life is that none of us live in a place that could be described as Normal. That may be why that sculpture is regularly vandalized—the vandals are striking out at an idealized image of the family none of us can live up to.  As a mother once told me, “The only thing normal in our family is the knob that says Normal on the clothes dryer.”

In contrast to that sculpture, the Bible does not hold up an idealized picture of family.  Instead, the Bible depicts families with rival siblings and tension between the generations.  There is marriage and betrayal, children who refuse to honor their parents and parents who hold back a blessing from their children.  There is love expressed in many of the families of the Bible, but there are also heated arguments and stony silences, slow-boiling resentments, and rifts as wide as a canyon.

So when I hear reference to biblical family values, I wonder:  are they talking about the rifts and alienation or about the sibling rivalry and bitter resentments?

Catholic author Richard Rohr tells a story of Navajo rug weaving.  These beautifully handcrafted rugs are perfectly structured, except for a corner on each rug where an obvious flaw can be found.  When he asked why flaws were allowed to remain in such otherwise perfect rugs, he was told, “This is where the spirit moves in and out.”

Our families, and the families depicted in the Bible, are far from perfect.  They are flawed.  Yet it is exactly in those flawed places that the Spirit of God can move and where we can catch a glimpse of grace.

Dear God, may your Spirit move in and out of the imperfections of our lives. Where there are flaws, let there be grace, in and through Jesus. Amen.

Grace and Peace

Steve

Jesus Wept

1174831_10151632886487947_607091026_n“Jesus Wept!”

I never thought I would hear what I heard on TV News tonight… not in North Carolina… Not in America.

It seems that in Raleigh – our State capitol – it is against the law for churches to feed people – homeless people in downtown Raleigh – especially one area of Raleigh. It is true. Over the weekend three churches were feeding the homeless downtown and a policeman came up to them with the warning that if they did not stop feeding the homeless he would have to give them a citation. He would arrest the church for feeding the homeless in an open place in downtown Raleigh. 

This is the  same Raleigh who voted (legislature) to end extended unemployment and reduce the amount of they would get overall. Don’t they know that if you take support away from those who are unemployed they will become homeless – there will be more homeless people? Cutting the funding to Community Colleges which get more people back to work quicker than the four-year colleges, and making it even harder to get help through government sources just adds to the problem. For them it seems to be about money and not about people.

Here is what Raleigh is more worried about… in the news piece the business owner being interviewed said “these homeless people could hurt their business.” Isn’t that what it is really about… money and not compassion… possessions and not people??? I think “Moral Mondays” and “Moral Wednesdays” should turn into “Moral Everyday.”

Even more severe is the news coming from Columbia, South Carolina. Columbia’s proposed new homeless program called “Columbia Cares” is giving the homeless in the city of Columbia three choices: 1). Agree to be relocated (out of the city to a rural area) to a homeless shelter; 2). Leave town on their own, or 3). Be put in jail. This to be built homeless shelter is not funded and the council expects the churches to take care of the homeless.

Do you hear what they are saying: “We don’t want people to see that there are homeless people in Columbia – don’t stain our pristine look – get out of sight – especially the historic district. And the money to support them is to be a “Budget-Neutral” situation. That means the city is not going to pay for it.

Haul them out-of-town, make it illegal to be homeless and feed homeless out in public. Doesn’t the legislatures of North and South Carolina realize that we are called to help those in need. 

I have done a lot of things wrong but I, knowingly, have never pressed that button to make it against the law to feed the poor in a public area. I think my finger would catch on fire.

I pray that people’s voting fingers catch on fire the next time they vote for anyone who voted for this law (those who take that safety net from the poorest of the poor).

I honestly believe Jesus looks down on our lawmakers and what they are doing to the poor and those of us who remain silent, and his heart breaks. Jesus not only wept at the death of a friend, I believe he weeps every time we ignore those in need.

Dear God, if there is anything that makes Jesus weep it is our blindness when the poor come around and we want to run them off rather than care for them. Lord, we need some help down here now… our government is going crazy. Touch our hearts and melt them… cause the scales to fall from our eyes till we can see the poor and take steps to help them in the name of Jesus. Amen.

Grace and Peace

Steve

God Always Helps

Steve & Shirley

Steve & Shirley

Now may our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through His grace, comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word. 2 Thessalonians 2:16-17

The teacher who was working in the children’s hospital was asked to visit a boy who was in a burn unit.

His regular instructor had said, “We’re studying nouns and adverbs in his class now. I’d be grateful if you could help him with his homework, so he doesn’t fall too far behind the others.”

The hospital teacher went, but she wasn’t prepared for what she found. The boy was in a clean room. He was swathed in bandages and in incredible pain. As gently as she could, the teacher introduced herself and the purpose of her visit this way: “I’m the hospital teacher. Your teacher at school asked me to help you with your nouns and adverbs.”

The next day a nurse asked the substitute teacher: “What did you do to that boy?”

Before the teacher could offer any explanation, the nurse continued: “We were worried about him. But ever since you visited him yesterday, his entire outlook has changed. For the first time since he came here, he’s actually fighting. He’s responding. He’s got a new lease on life.”

What had happened?

The boy eventually shared he had given up. He felt hopeless and helpless. But when he thought about the teacher who had come to see him, he realized the school wouldn’t waste its time, money and concern by sending someone to work on nouns and adverbs with a dying boy.

Would they?

Pretty perceptive, don’t you think?

Now it is just possible that you, or someone you know, has suffered a loss, or feels lonely, or is suffering under pain that is unrelenting. It is equally possible that a voice, an unwelcomed, unfriendly voice is saying, “You’re alone. You’re lost. Nobody cares or can do anything to assist you.”

If that is the case, may I suggest to you that while you may feel hopeless and helpless, God is not. Just as the boy knew that no one would waste a teacher’s time on a dying boy, you should know that God would not sacrifice His Son for a sinner who was beyond the scope of His love and ability to forgive, restore and make whole.

The truth is there is no such person. In every situation and circumstance of life God can and is willing to help.

Please, please do not let the evil tools of discouragement, depression and doubt drive a wedge between you and the Lord who loves you. Jesus is there, always. He has answers. He who has lived, suffered, died and risen to save your soul can help you even now with every earthly concern and catastrophe. Believe it. There comes a time when no message is more true or more needed.

Dear Lord, I give thanks I have limitations and You do not. That means when I encounter that which is humanly overwhelming You can still help. Truly, there is no sin too big for You to forgive, no situation so hopeless that the peace of my Savior cannot correct or conquer it. In Jesus’ Name I pray. Amen. 

Grace and Peace

Steve

Who is Raising Who?

Steve & Shirley

Steve & Shirley

Last night Shirley and I went to eat at Mimi’s at Friendly. They seated us back in the New Orleans section of the restaurant. The waitress had come and we had given our order. We were just sitting there having a quiet and relaxing time, preparing our minds and stomachs for the treats that were to come.

All of a sudden about twelve people walked in as the staff prepared this long table in the middle of the room. Yippie! It was a birthday party for these two twins. There were so many presents I thought it was Christmas. However, one of the twins wasn’t feeling all that well. He was crying and didn’t want to sit in the chair assigned to him. Before long, the young (20 some year-old) mom is taking these two twins (boy and girl – probably 3 years old) to the bathroom for a talk. When they returned the little boy was quiet happy to sit in his seat.

It wasn’t long till another young couple with a young boy (perhaps also 3 years old) was seated in the booth directly behind us. The little boy was fussy, jumping around in the seat, and generally not going along with the program. In an attempt to control the situation we heard this young mom (early 20’s) say to this three-year old: “If you can’t sit still we will have to leave.” He called her bluff. He said: “I don’t want to eat here.” Guess what? After making apologies to the waitress, they got up and left the restaurant. I wonder where they ended up? Probably McDonald’s or Chick-Fil-A.

These two families begged the question: “Who is raising who?” I know we all have different styles in raising our children, and there is perhaps not one way that is correct for every child and every family.

The first young mom took her children to a place where they would not be embarrassed to have mom remind them of how this game of life is played. Who is the parent and who is the child, and how the parent is in charge of raising the children. Apparently this young mom was skilled enough that when they returned to the table everyone was more accommodating, pleasant, and there were no signs of tears being shed. I was really impressed.

The second mom framed her argument in such a way that the child made the decision whether they ate at this restaurant or not. When the child called her bluff, she had no choice but to leave.

Mom one was raising her children. Mom two was allowing her child to make the decisions on how this he would be raised. Somewhere down the road someone is going to have a come to Jesus meeting with one of these children. I wonder which one?

Growing up – back in our day – there were not as many restaurants and we ate at home most of the time. We were not asked what we wanted. We ate what was on our plates – or children in China would starve… and we didn’t want children in China to starve… so we ate carrots, squash, vegetables and all sorts of stuff children today will not consider eating. When we did go to a restaurant we didn’t have many choices… most of which were what we would have received at home… so it was quiet easy to decide what we wanted. One thing was for sure, we were expected to behave. If we didn’t there would be no bathroom talks, we would answer for our disrespectful behavior when we returned home. Everybody of my age knows what that meant. No, it did not mean we would lose our iPad for a week. It meant we had better find something to pad our behind cause it was going to come into contact with some disciplinary actions.

So who was right and who was wrong? Here is my own personal philosophy. Make sure your children know you love them above all else… that is CRITICAL. Teach them to respect themselves and others. Teach them to reach for the highest goals they can attain. Try not to box them in so much that they lose their creativity or eagerness to learn. Teach them that there are consequences to every action. Both parents must agree on how to raise and discipline the children. If you must correct them in public, do so without taking away their dignity. Treat them with respect in front of their peers and friends. The tough talks are done in private where all parties are allowed to express their true feelings and come away knowing what the offense was, why it was wrong, what is the plan for correction, and how we will deal with it in the future.

If they know and experience your love for them you are well ahead of the game. If they don’t know you love them, you are losing the battle, and so will they.

Dear Lord, help me to make sure my children know that, above all else, I love them with a love that stretches to the end of the earth, and that the motivation behind all I do is to foster greater love and respect in their hearts and mine, in and through Jesus. Amen.

Grace and Peace

Steve

PS: I you want to follow this blog and not just read it on Facebook, go to the top left of this page and click on the word “Follow.”

Still waiting for pictures of the Ivory Ordination Statues that were given to the ordinands in the late 1990’s. I you have one or know of someone who does please send pictures to share with others.

Come, Holy Spirit Prayer

Just in case you were unable to download the music

for the prayer last night I wanted to share the words

with you tonight. WOW, what a wonderful prayer for

us all as we face each day.

Come, Holy Spirit

Bryan Duncan

Come as a wisdom to children

Come as new sight to the blind

Come, Lord, as strength to my weakness

Take me soul, body and mind

Come as a rest to the weary

Come as a balm to the sore

Come as a dew to my dryness

Fill me with joy evermore

Come Holy Spirit, I need you now

Come, Sweet Spirit, I pray

Come in your strength and your power

Come in your own gentle way

Come like a spring in the desert

Come to the withered of soul

O, let your sweet healing power

Touch me and make me whole

Come Holy Spirit, I need you now

Come, Sweet Spirit, I pray

Come in your strength and your power

Come in your own gentle way

Come in your own gentle way

Grace and Peace

Steve

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