Sunday, February 26, 2017

The Promise of Youth

Today the youth led our worship service at Vestavia Hills Baptist Church. I mean the WHOLE service! Our youth often participate in worship events at our church, reading Scripture, bringing special music, and ushering, but today they were in charge of everything. Even the sermon! Milligan Burroughs, a Vestavia Hills High School senior, delivered the message with all the poise and composure of a more practiced preacher. And a worthwhile sermon it was, pertinent and profound.

Milligan preached on the well-known text in 1 Samuel chapter 3 where young Samuel, asleep in the temple, hears God calling him in the night, but thinks it is the prophet, Eli.  Three times Samuel leaves his bed and goes to Eli's room in response to the voice he hears. After the third time, Eli realizes it is God calling so he tells Samuel to return to his bed and when he hears the voice to respond by saying, "Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening."

I have heard quite a few sermons based on this text over the years, but never with the emphasis Milligan brought. She asked us to imitate Eli! Every previous message I've heard using this Scripture, has urged the congregation to imitate Samuel: Listen for God to speak to you and when he does, answer that you are attentive and receptive to his words. And Milligan didn't neglect that aspect of the text, but additionally, she urged us to take on the mentoring role for other believers--not just our young people, but even for our peers. As she pointed out, Samuel might not have recognized God's call to him had Eli not pointed him in the right direction.

What makes this affirmation of Eli's role unusual is that Eli had become displeasing to God in the way he administered the temple. He had allowed his sons to assist when the people brought animals for sacrifice, and they would demand of the one offering the sacrifice to give the choicest part of the meat to them rather than allowing it to be burned for God. They refused Eli's attempt to restrain them and engaged in other sinful activities as well. When God spoke to Samuel in the night, God told Samuel He was about to bring judgment on Eli and his sons because of their wickedness. Consequently, Eli comes out of the story without praise or commendation.

Milligan's unique approach to the text, however, recognized that Eli also had a positive role: He pointed Samuel to God and encouraged him to listen and heed God's instruction. In that way, even though Eli's time of service was coming to an end, God still used him to affirm God's calling of Samuel. Milligan applied that lesson to her own journey and expressed appreciation for her family, friends, and church family who are encouraging her as she seeks to discern and heed God's call in her life. And then, she urged us to follow Eli's example in our relationships with each other as well as with our youth.

A simple message, yet profound. I came away not only resolved to look around for people whom I might help listen to God, but also reminded that God sees us as more than the worst things we have done. Even though Eli had displeased God, God had not forgotten the years of Eli's faithful service. God allowed Eli to be His instrument in helping Samuel grow into the new role and responsibility God had for him. I hope I remember this lesson when I may be too quick to surmise that someone can't be of use to God because I see them doing things displeasing to Him.

Thank you, Milligan, for a thoughtful and stimulating engagement with God's Word this morning. And let me take this opportunity to affirm the gifts I see in you and encourage you to keep on listening as God calls your name.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Black History Month, the Civil War, and Reconstruction

My knowledge of Black History is woefully limited, although I know much more than I am comfortable with. I was a teenager when Birmingham was making a name for itself during the Civil Rights demonstrations of the 1960s, and I ought to have known more about what was happening. What little bit I knew of those events at the time of their happening, however, came by way of newspapers and television news programs because I lived in a small town relatively unaffected by city happenings.

My knowledge of the Civl War is a bit deeper because we studied it in school. But my knowledge of the Reconstruction Era following the Civil War is more limited than that of either the war or the demonstrations. Thanks to a lecture I heard last year at the Hoover Public Library, delivered by Dr. John Mayfield of Samford University's History Department, I've begun a process of trying to rectify that a bit.

There are so many post-war issues I had never even considered such as the small and limited federal government of that time, which had no provision for re-building destroyed rail lines, for sustaining the lives of those who had lost home and property during the War, for re-assimilating Confederate soldiers into the political life of the nation, for re-establishing banking and commercial enterprises, and for so many other practical issues we take for granted as functions of the federal government today.

Philosophically, I lean toward less government rather than more, but this small introduction to the practical realities of trying to reconstruct the South, has made me much more mindful of how fortunate we are to have a central government that concerns itself with recovery from natural disasters, with protection and sustenance of its citizens in times of hardship and distress, with provision of free public education, etc.

Dr. Mayfield's recommended reading for his lectures was Stephen Ash's A Year in the South, 1865, which is on my near-term reading list. I've added to that Tanner Colby's Some of My Best Friends Are Black: The Strange Story of Integration in America, thanks to a knowledgeable friend's recommendation. I missed last year's airing on PBS of the documentary, Slavery by Another Name, which I'm told gave vivid testimony to the inhumane excesses of the Reconstruction Era here in Birmingham that continued the obscene devaluation of Black Americans. That's on my near-term watching list, if I can bear it.

Sometimes I feel so ignorant of local history, even history that I lived through. Sometimes it is history I wish I didn't know, that I wish didn't happen, because it is so gruesome and disturbing to confront. Still, I need to know and I am grateful for public libraries that sponsor informative lectures, for authors who research and write enlightening books, and for Alabama Public Television that provides educational programming to help me overcome what is lacking in my education. So much in life for which to be grateful. Such powerful testimony to why humankind needs a Savior.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Daring to Speak for God

FINALLY, my new book is ready to meet its reading audience. I am so grateful to the friends who have expressed interest in this project and their desire to read it. My prayer is that it will inspire you to greater depths in your relationship with God and sensitize you to the work of God's Holy Spirit in your life. I assure you God's Spirit inspired the writing and I trust that same Spirit will guide your reading.

The book is available from the publisher: or from Amazon. I would be most happy to hear from you with your comments, positive or negative, after you read it. If you find it helpful, you could help me by telling others about it and even writing a short review on Amazon. Thank you in advance.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Winning Entry in Mother's Day Writing Contest

The website "A Place for Mom" sponsored a writing contest asking for poems, essays, etc. of less than 500 words telling about your mother. My entry was chosen as one of the winners, and the site is supposed to be posting one winning entry every day during the month of May. However, as of today, only 4 entries have been posted. Several people have asked to read mine, so I'm posting it here:

About My Mother

My mother was the heart of our home, but I didn’t always know that, especially when I was young. As the only girl among three brothers, I was “my daddy’s darling” and he surely thought “I was sweet.” He indulged me in ways Mother didn’t, and so I doted on him.

Mother never showed resentment of my preference for Dad, knowing how my childish devotion pleased him. By the time I reached my mid-teens, however, I had grown to appreciate my mother much more. She and I easily became friends as my need for parental oversight diminished, and we enjoyed doing things together—shopping, visiting friends, cooking and sewing.

One of the traits I cherished most about my mother was the joy she found in her children. I remember when a woman we knew showed up at a social affair wearing a diamond necklace and earrings, in addition to her large diamond rings, Mother commented to a friend, “My children are my diamonds.” And we children always knew if one of us was coming or going from home, Mother would be standing in the front door or on the porch to welcome us or wave goodbye.

As I grew and matured, I truly came to realize that Mother was the hub around which our family revolved. She kept in touch with each child, wherever we were, and kept each of us informed about the happenings in our siblings’ lives as well as in hers and Dad’s.  One day when I was spending the weekend with Mother and Dad at their place on the river, I sat down beside Mother on the couch, put my arm around her and asked, “What is one special thing I could do for you? I would like to give you a special gift that would always be a reminder to you of my love.” Mother took my hand and said, “I can’t think of anything I want that I don’t have. I know you love me, and if I ever need you, all I have to do is call.”

Some weeks later, Mother told me that she and Dad were going to the river that weekend so he could work on his daddy’s old cotton house. She said, “I don’t know what he’s going to use it for, but it gives him something to do and a reason to get up in the morning.” That prompted me to ask, “What about you, Momma? What sort of unfulfilled dreams or wishes do you have?” She said, “I can’t think of anything. You children are all grown and healthy and you all know the Lord. I feel like my work is finished.”

That very weekend, on a gloriously beautiful Saturday in April, as Mother helped Dad lift a board in the old cotton house, she had a massive heart attack and died. It’s now been twenty-four years since that April day, and I still miss her. Scarcely a day goes by that I don't want to call and talk with my mother.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

The Sacred Year

I found Michael Yankoski's book, The Sacred Year, profound and transformative! I have read many books on spirituality and have taught courses on spiritual formation in seminary, retreats, and churches, and this book is one of the best I have encountered from a modern writer. Michael spent a year engaging some of the ancient spiritual practices, such as silence, solitude, simplicity, confession, and attentiveness. He wrestles with their meaning, struggling to understand their purpose, and ultimately embraces them as essentially formative for his spiritual life. He devotes a separate chapter to each discipline and describes his initial indifference or ignorance, his journey of discovery, and the impact of the practice on his own formation as he undertakes to experience it. With each chapter, he builds on the previous one, so that the cumulative effect of the book is to encompass the entirety of life, both inward and outward, in a new and more meaningful kind of existence. 

I was particularly touched by the idea of writing gratigraphs, letters of appreciation to people who have blessed our lives, from his chapter on gratitude. When I was in high school, my dad encouraged me to write letters of appreciation to certain teachers around Thanksgiving time, and they were well received. However, in recent years I have become lax about writing and tried to express verbally such appreciation to people in my life. Just as Michael discovered, I learned that people often feel embarrassed or self-conscious with verbal expressions. Writing a letter allows the recipient to read it privately, and re-read it over the years, savoring the knowledge of having made a difference in our lives. Now that even a simple "thank-you" note is rarely written, a gratigraph can bless our friends over and over.

Another area Michael explores where I need work is creation care. I know so much more than I do about this issue. Just since reading this book, I find it impossible to ignore an electrical device I see plugged in that is not being used. I feel compelled to unplug it and end the phantom energy drain. I realize this is such a small thing, but having had my consciousness raised by Michael's convicting words, I'm striving to become more responsible toward creation and my fellow creatures in other ways as well. 

I can't think of anyone who couldn't benefit from reading this book and engaging with the topics Michael explores. Certainly, most committed Christians will find this book engaging, disruptive of complacency, and challenging to the status quo of much contemporary western Christianity. I rarely re-read books, but I have already begun a second reading of this one. I have shared about it on Facebook and Twitter, recommended it to others, and ordered extra copies as gifts for friends. It will remain on my "Re-read Often" list. I have found it compelling, persuasive, and life-changing. Thank you, Michael Yankoski, for blessing my life by sharing what God taught you through your sacred year. 
(I received an advance copy to read through Net Galley.)

Sunday, June 16, 2013

"Who is this Jesus?"

Today's Gospel reading in the Common Lectionary is from Luke 7:36-8:3. The finest insight I've ever read or heard about this text was written by Kayla McClurg, who writes for Inward/Outward, a project of The Church of the Savior in Washington, DC.  I share it here because it's a message about Jesus Christ I think everyone needs to hear, whether Christian or not. The italics are mine.

To Love Well

For Sunday, June 16, 2013 – Luke 7:36-8:3

Immediate compassionate response trumps premeditated politeness. The host was thoughtful, no doubt, well-meaning and polite, curious about Jesus, but from a bit of a distance. The ‘sinning city woman’ knew nothing of distance. She was all-out passion. If the host was a small breeze, she was a blast of wind, a tangle of tears and kisses and hair. Intimate. You might say, inappropriate.

The host saw the unfolding action as opportunity to judge; Jesus simply received. Self-love deep enough, secure enough, makes other-love possible. The host had not enough inner resources for such loving attention as this. The dried up heart confuses rules and regulations for real caring, judgment for love. Even the ultimate words of love–”you are forgiven”–are misconstrued. “Who is this, who even forgives sins?” the guests ask among themselves. Why would they not ask, “Who is this, who loves so fully?”

To love well is not to follow a set of rules for loving well. To love well is to follow the tug of a thread that draws us toward this one who loves. The thread takes us where he is, this one who captures our heart. The woman bringing all she had did not premeditate how she could make a scene and disrupt Simon’s dinner party. She herself surely did not yet know how disruptive real love can be. She simply followed the thread.
Love beckoned. What could she do but respond?

Season and Scripture: 

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Quotations I Like

"I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel." Maya Angelou

"Write it on your heart that every day is the best day in the year.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

“The people who hanged Christ never, to do them justice, accused him of being a bore – on the contrary, they thought him too dynamic to be safe. It has been left for later generations to muffle up that shattering personality and surround him with an atmosphere of tedium. We have very efficiently pared the claws of the Lion of Judah, certified him ‘meek and mild,’ and recommended him as a fitting household pet for pale curates and pious old ladies.” Dorothy Sayers

“Life from the Center is a life of unhurried peace and power. It is simple. It is serene. It is amazing. It is triumphant. It is radiant. It takes no time, but it occupies all our time. And it makes our life programs new and overcoming. We need not get frantic. He [Christ] is at the Helm. And when our little day is done we lie down quietly in peace, for all is well.” Thomas Kelly