Monthly Archives: August 2011

Cultivating a Culture of Honor (Part 1)

Honor is an endangered species—almost extinct in the American culture—seemingly destined to join the ranks of the dodo bird and the tyrannosaurus rex. Honor was once a treasured attribute to be freely given or gained. Honor was a sign of respect—an esteem offered in reverence—a valuation of dignity and deference to another. Today, the once chivalrous ideals immortalized by the knights of King Arthur’s Roundtable have been replaced by a selfish egocentric-minded horde of Conan the barbarians.

Dishonor has ascended and seated itself on the throne and authentic honor is quickly becoming its court jester. Our government is awash in scandal and partisan politics where the most effective tool of destruction is dishonor. The news reporting agencies, once reported by objective journalist, have now become purveyors of innuendo, half-truths, and total miss-truths intent on destroying through dishonor any movement, organization, or person who disagrees with their particular flavor of  belief. Pop culture entertainment reeks with dishonor. Even our children’s video games are filled with the violence of dishonor. It is a pandemic that has been loosed on our society that if not challenged and changed will result in the beauty of God’s highest creation becoming just another ravenous carnivore roaming the jungle where only the strongest survive.

 It was never meant to be this way—this was never God’s plan or purpose. What we are witnessing is the rapid evolution of evil and the sad unconcern of the church. The darkness is getting darker while the light seems to be fleeing to the hinterlands of some non-existent place. The fault for this dilemma rests not on the world around us, but squarely on the back of the church. Let me show you what I mean.

The word “culture” is derived from the agricultural term “cultivate.” By cultivating, a person prepares the ground for planting and sows the seeds. A good definition of culture is the result of what we have planted intellectually, spiritually, politically, economically, and physically. The biblical principle of sowing and reaping is clearly evident if you choose to look around.

We have not cultivated honor in our own families and churches, and therefore, dishonor has filled the vacuum. Dishonor is rampant within the church. Rather than value people, we tend to use them. You might not like that but think about it—have you been valued for what you can do—a task, a job, or a service—rather than for who God created you to be? If so, you have been dishonored. Have you ever been made to feel guilty because you chose not to do something some one else felt you would be great at? You were dishonored. Have you ever been used or abused by someone in spiritual authority? You were dishonored. Have you ever looked down your nose at someone or felt superior or more spiritual? You committed dishonor. We have all experienced it and are all guilty of it.

Things must change. We must be the ones who cultivate a new kind of culture—a culture of honor. If we do nothing and expect change to come—we have fulfilled the definition of idiocy. If this culture of honor thing intrigues you, join me over the next few weeks as I lay out a radical but biblical plan on how we can change culture one person at a time through honor. It is simple but profound!

Digging for Buried Treasure

Antiques Road Show ruined me forever. The first time I watched it convinced me that someday somewhere if I looked hard enough I could find valuable treasure buried in the trash. I dream about that rare painting covered with dust stored in an attic, a yard sale, or an out-of-the-way thrift store that’s worth hundreds or thousands of dollars. I have visions of finding a hand woven Native American Sioux blanket worth several hundred thousand dollars folded neatly under a pile of worthless papers in a trunk or old dresser left on the curb destined for the garbage dump. I know…I know…I’m a dreamer, but you never know.

One man’s garbage is another man’s treasure or so they say. I’m a treasure hunter and treasure is definitely in the eye of the beholder. A few days ago, Cathy and I left on another treasure hunt called The World’s Longest Yard Sale. Imagine if you can a yard sale stretching 675 miles with 5,000 vendors scattered from Nocaloola Falls in Gadsden, Alabama all the way to Hudson, Michigan, with their trash and treasures displayed under tents on every imaginable kind of make-shift table in pine thickets, yards, fields, old buildings, and church parking lots. Now I know for some of you just thinking about this conjures up visions of what hell will be like, but really it’s not.

It’s Southern Americana at its finest—men and women, even kids, who know the value of the treasures their selling literally down to the penny. Plus—there’s a story with every piece even if they have to make one up. It’s the fine art of deal making carried to the extreme with badgering, bartering, and begging all mixed together.

The Alabama section is a leisurely drive along the Lookout Mountain Parkway through some of the most beautiful scenery on the planet—like Dogtown, Fort Payne, Mentone, and Desoto State Park. Along with the natural beauty are the colorful characters you may meet along the way. One year Elvis was carving those little cedar signs with your name etched in them. Every so often, he would stop, put down his tools, and pick up a microphone connected to a slightly weathered karaoke sound system with cracked speakers and break out in one of his greatest hits. Yes—you heard right—a slightly overweight Elvis sighting in the East Alabama Mountains wearing faded Liberty overhauls without a single button fastened or even a tee shirt. Or the Tupperware lady who travels from place to place on an old yellow school bus loaded with at least one piece of every Tupperware bowl, container, or lid ever manufactured in the United States. If she doesn’t have it, she can get it—just leave your name and number. And there are hundreds more—all unique with a tale to tell or an item to sale.

Our treasure hunt unearthed no fabulous prize worth hundreds of dollars, but it did yield a few good finds—boat buoys, doll house furniture, creamy vanilla ice cream, and one dollar hotdogs with all the topping you can pile on a bun. The enjoyment comes in the looking and I’m still convinced if I look long enough I will find that mythical treasure I’m hunting.           

By the way, Jesus is a treasure hunter as well. Even as we speak, He is busy sifting through the trash and the garbage of this world looking for men, women, boys, and girls. Each one, no matter their station, location, or status in life is priceless to Him. On the cross, the redemption price of His life established the market value of our lives. Ever wondered what you’re worth? The price tag reads “Jesus.” That’s what God was willing to pay for you. Has the Ultimate Treasure Hunter found you?

Squirrel Fever and Faith

Urgency has a way of turning into an emergency unless one is very careful. From time to time we all become slaves to the tyranny of the urgent no matter how hard we prepare of how meticulous we are in our maintenance. This almost happened a few weeks ago when Cathy opened the water hydrant at the gazebo where our well pump is located. We only use it for washing the cars, but when you need it you need it—and with soap drying rock hard by the second she needed it. The only problem was nothing came out—not one drop.

I checked the electrical breaker and it was on. I cut the power and sanded the points thinking they might have been stuck due to a build up of moisture—still nothing. The green light was glowing on the safety switch but no water was coming out. I was quickly coming to the end of my well pump expertise. That’s when I noticed something unusual. The electrical wire running from the pump to the pressure switch appeared melted or at least that’s what I thought from my horizontal position peering in through the lattice work.

What I thought would be a simple job was now turning into a chore. The only way to get at the wire was to remove some of the gazebo flooring located just above the wire. I backed the screws out of the flooring, peered down into the hole, and found the problem. The wiring had not melted, it had been eaten. Eaten—yes, you heard me. I could not believe my eyes. In fact, I rubbed them several times and pinched myself hoping this was all a bad dream. It wasn’t.

The 220 volt electrical wire once covered in red, black, and yellow insulation was no longer covered—it had been meticulously gnawed off. That’s right—gnawed—bitten off bite after bite. What I saw was certain death by electrocution awaiting the unlucky soul who unwittingly put his hand in the wrong place. I immediately turned the power off and got a closer look. It seems a ravenous squirrel or vicious tribe of ravenous squirrels had attacked, devoured, and decimated the electrical system my well pump was dependant on for power. I believe it was a conspiracy especially contrived to drive me crazy since these hairy long-tailed deviants had to crawl over some of the most succulent acorns available this side of the Blue Ridge Mountains to get a mouthful of plastic insulation. After a few moments of screaming incoherent phrases and curses (their meaning known only to me, God, and a few mocking birds who stopped by to make fun of the human standing on his head screaming), I began looking with anticipation for the electrocuted carcass of the hairy little culprit who had munched and crunched himself hopefully to an eternity in squirrel hell. Incredibly, I did not find him.

To make a long story short, I was forced to buy new wire, install it, case it in conduit, and make the lattice work along the bottom of my gazebo rodent proof with the help of my wife, a stapler, and a roll of hardware wire. I’m probably leaving out the most exciting part of the story, but some things are better left to the imagination and certainly unwritten.

At the end of the day, power was restored and water again flowed freely from one hundred feet below the surface of the ground I call home. And—I now have a deep seething hatred for squirrel’s which I consider to be nothing more than rats with long furry tales. I no longer find any joy watching them scurry across my yard or traverse the limbs of my trees like acrobats in Circus Solé. Instead I find myself praying for hordes of hawks to blacken the sky in a squirrel feeding frenzy or frantically looking for my shotgun with an intense desire to help as many of my furry friends on an all expense paid permanent vacation to a luxury accommodation smack dab in the center of a cruise ship captained by Satan which will ultimately dock in fiery Gehenna.

I know—I know—you need to let it go Nelson and I have (somewhat), but you must understand that little detour into the abyss of squirrel hell took a day and a half of time I did not have the luxury of giving up. With the stress it created added in, it took another week off my otherwise ever shortening life span. I’m trying to let it go. Yes, life is unexpected. You never know what might happen next and the most unexpected usually does—that’s just life. You can adequately prepare, but you cannot always anticipate what will come next. Most of the things we encounter are out of our control anyway—whether it’s a doctor’s visit, a drive to the store, or the wiring on a well pump. You do the best you can and leave everything else in the hands of God. Now some may think that’s fatalistic—I think it’s biblical. In fact, I think that’s what faith is all about—trusting God for everything. You may think I have a bad case of squirrel fever, but really I’m just learning a new lesson in faith.

Hot as Hel…

The temperature today (almost 100 degrees) takes me back almost forty years to a time and a place where I thought I was invincible. As a teenager you have the mindset that you will live forever—that you are above the laws of nature—that the law of reaping and sowing simply does not apply to you. That’s one major reason adolescents take such insanely dangerous chances. They have not yet garnered that fearful wisdom that you could actually die from making foolish decisions. It’s amazing how deep this truth becomes ingrained as you grow older. This is not to suggest that teenagers are stupid—they most certainly are not. It is to suggest that as young people we simply don’t know everything we need to know to live a long life, and unlike cats we don’t possess nine lives—only one, so we must make the most of it.

My first job as a teenager was as a hoe-hand for Cato Farms. A hoe-hand is a person who uses a hoe to extract every last blade of grass or the pesky weeds that contend for dominance in a vegetable garden. I’m talking a big garden with rows almost ¼ mile long in multiple acre fields. It was farming at its best or at least I thought so. The pay was one dollar per hour with all the water you could drink at the end of a trip out the row and back. Every morning we started at 6 am with a sharp hoe and plenty of energy, but by lunch we were spent. The heat of the sun has a way of sucking your life right our of your body one drop of sweat at a time.

Most of the hoe-hands (that’s what we were called rather than what you might think is obvious when you add an “er” to the implement we were using) were young guys like myself—full of life, vigor, and a whole lot of testosterone. What we were lacking in mentally, we made up for with attitude and bravado. There were always a couple of older ladies who worked alongside us to keep us moving and to drop an occasional word of wisdom—a keeper nugget—a life treasure for anyone listening. Most of them I never heard—but one stuck.

It was one hot day—in fact by 10 am we were dragging in the hot humid air of early June. The forecast for the day had a triple digit destination. We were cutting up, playing out ahead of the main group, putting handfuls of dry dusty dirt on each others sweat laced backs and lamenting with colorful comments on how hot it was.

Just as one of the older women caught up with us, a comment was made like this: “It’s hot as hell out here.” We all giggled, not realizing she was right behind us. That’s when I heard her simple reply—“This is not half as hot as hell will be.” It got real quiet. In fact, you could hear yourself sweat in the silence of that moment. She didn’t stop hoeing or start preaching, she just kept moving—allowing her words to sink into our dirt soaked brains.

The responses were what you might imagine. A couple laughed, one mocked, but I was struck by the simplicity and the gravity of what she said. It was almost 100 degrees Fahrenheit out in that bean field. A few more degrees and we would have all melted and disappeared into that dry soil or self-combusted into a bevy of human Roman candles, and hell is hotter than this? Hmmmm…note to self, I definitely do not want to go there.

Today, as I contemplate the broiling temperature and the smothering humidity of Central Alabama, I am reminded of how hot hell will be. With age has come a little wisdom and I realize I will not live forever and neither will you. That comment I heard out in that bean field was a loving warning not a smart aleck remark. The truth is—all of us will spend eternity somewhere. The only question is where—heaven or hell? Godly wisdom says to avoid hell one must have a relationship with Jesus. Worldly wisdom says don’t worry about it and grab for all the gusto you can. The temperature here in Alabama changes on a regular basis, but the thermometer in hell always reads the same, so be careful what you grab for. You’re right it is hot here right now, but not half as hot as hell will be.

Moss Tolerant?

I’ve been fighting moss on my patio this morning. It’s a re-occurring little skirmish we’ve been involved in for years to keep nature from reclaiming our brick patio and ultimately our back yard. The moss is beautiful to look at—like a lush green shag carpet, but if left alone it takes over and smothers everything else out. Its beauty conceals a danger. Once this stuff gets wet it is slick as glass, and a broken hip is not something I want to experience.

Moss tends to grow in damp shady spots so our brick patio is a prime habitat. Add to that the normal accumulation of dust and you have garden conditions that will produce a bumper crop of this stuff. You can scrap it, pressure wash it, or poison it, but it always comes back. It’s the price you pay for a cool refreshing spot under the natural canopy of the trees.

Today, God taught me a little lesson as I scraped the moss off the pavers with my trusty five-in-one tool. The real issue is not the moss—the issue is the condition of the brick pavers. I’m more like that brick than I would like to think. Once the brick is set, it does not move—it’s there for the long haul. Deep down, I envy the brick because once I get used to things I don’t like change. But alas, I am not a brick.

Change hurts. It forces me to grow or else. It stretches me in places I am convinced were never meant to be elastic. I like things the way they are, but God is looking ahead to the way things will be. The mileage in between is what we call change.

When I dig in with my heels, gripe and moan, and refuse to change, I assume the position of a brick. Bricks were created for static environments—humans were not. Like those patio pavers, the dust of disobedience, or stubbornness, or a million other things begins to accumulate. Add to that a little moisture from inactivity and a shady environment that abounds when I don’t pursue God, and all of a sudden a crop of moss is growing on me and I am not even aware of it.

It starts small. No big problem, but if not dealt with, it sucks what little life there is out of me. It covers me, smothering out my desire to get up and get after it. I was not meant to be a moss garden—I was meant to be the garden of God where I stretch for the glory of His face—the passion of His presence. But for this to happen, I must be willing to change—to reach for what I’ve never experienced—to step into places that are not necessarily what everyone else would call safe. Safe is just another word for covered with moss.

 It is a constant battle for me and I’ll bet—for you. Everyone who visits our patio comments on the beauty of the moss. For them it gives character to the bricks. It makes them look ancient, like they’ve been there forever. But we are not bricks in a patio, no we are the sons and daughters of God, yearning and learning how to walk in the presence of God who is bent on changing us into the image of His Son.

            Take a few moments today and check your moss build up. If it is starting to accumulate, it may be time for you to get up, get a little spiritual exercise, and shake the stuff off. Otherwise, God may show up in the next few days with a sharp edged scrape or worse, a pressure washer. You see, God has absolutely no tolerance for moss.

Overcoming the Mind Games of Monday

Monday is a tough day for most pastors. Sunday’s gone yet coming again at full speed and with a vengeance. Monday is the day the devil visits to inform us of what a rotten job we did the day before. Most of us wake up worn out with brains of mush—only to hear the words we fear the most…failure. Failure is one of the devil’s favorite intimidation tactics.

No one wants to fail, but we all fall short of perfection. Our best is often marked with imperfections and shortcomings. We don’t always get it right. We say one thing and mean something else or we do one thing having meant to do something totally different. Our actions often fall short of our words. No one else may see them, but we do and the sight of those shortcomings bother most of us deep down where it hurts the most. We are not what we appear, but neither is anyone else and our Adversary knows it all too well.

So Monday is the day we fret and critique and call it quits sometimes all in a single moment. It’s the day we admit we are not what everyone thinks much less says. We do not float above the ground or glow like a holy light bulb. We are mortal—flawed human beings searching for meaning and acceptance in a world where influence and power are the measure of ones worth.

Thankfully God does not measure any person’s worth that way. No—He calls the unworthy to accomplish the impossible by means of the supernatural. He knows we are incapable and insufficient within ourselves. That’s why He gave us the Holy Spirit. He alone brings ability, capability, and the power to accomplish the impossible task God has called us to. You can be sure that the enemy will neglect this particular topic if you have a conversation with him on a Monday or any other day for that matter.

Monday is a day to reflect not on what you or I did Sunday, but what God did. God always works through our failures and our complete inability to be all we want to be. If we are secure enough in our relationship to the Father we know and can appreciate the biblical fact that power is perfected in weakness. Once we acknowledge and come to appreciate this instead of struggle against it, the power of God comes to dwell in each of us in a far greater way.

Sunday is coming. Get ready. Pray and prepare. But step into that classroom or pulpit and be who you are. Leave that false persona behind—most people know it’s fake anyway. Allow the Lord to use your weaknesses to reveal His strength. In fact, if we really want to model the greatest Christian who ever lived (the apostle Paul) we would boast not in our accomplishments of human strength but in the failure of our human weakness—for when we are weak we are really strong.