Category Archives: honor

On Being Truly American

I am a Southern boy, born and bred in the land of sweet tea, grits, and high humidity. My drawl may be slow and drawn out, but I too speak the King’s English just like they do in Boston, but without the extra “r” in words that have no “r’s,” or in sunny California, but choosing “y’all” over “you guys” every time. My “i’s” are long, and sometimes, depending on what part of the country I’m visiting, I have to spell the word “ice” instead of asking for it so the waitress knows I’m talking about frozen water instead of a posterior body part. I refer to all soft drinks as Coke’s instead of pop, but I prefer a Diet Dew.

I am proud of where I come from. I have never once in my life been ashamed of my birthplace. As my wife’s grandfather used to say, “It’s the best place in the world.” I know there are folks who think I should be, but I’m not! On the other hand, from time to time, I have found myself ashamed of some of the things my neighbors have said or done down through history. But, let’s be honest, stupid people are spread thick like peanut butter across every nook and cranny of this whole wide world. Every generation, nation, culture, or people group has its own share of stupid people. As Forrest Gump says, “Stupid is as stupid does.” But stupid is an individual trait that is sometimes catching, like a bad case of diarrhea. Perhaps I shouldn’t use the word “stupid,” (or for that matter diarrhea).  My granddaughter tells me it’s a bad word according to her mother, who stares at me every time I say it with an icy glare that could freeze antifreeze, but it does communicate my point.

My ancestors were immigrants just like yours were if you live in this country. They came from somewhere else—looking for an opportunity to make a living, build a family, follow a dream and worship God freely. My people were soldiers, sharecroppers, peddlers, and coal miners who worked long days for little or no money. They were honorable men and women, doing what it took to survive and thrive in a land filled with opportunity. They were not perfect. They did not do everything right. But—they were just people—so where yours.

I am an American. I still get a lump in my throat when I see the flag or hear the swell of the notes as the national anthem is played. I don’t determine my value based on my ethnicity, color, or country of ancestral origin. And neither do I determine the value of anyone else that way. I don’t refer to myself as Scottish-American, African-American, Arab-American, Italian-American, Jewish-American, or any other of the million and one places you can leave and make your destination America. The “where” my ancestors came from does not determine who I am or who I will be. Take away my skin and my blood is red just like yours. Cut me and I bleed just like you do. Call me a name or shoot me the finger and I want to punch you just like you would if you were on the receiving end.

Regardless of where you come from, what you call yourself, or what you believe, we are all connected—by origin and by destiny. All of us are the descendants of one single couple. God didn’t create a community on a cul-de-sac with all the colors of the rainbow. He simply created one couple and conveniently left out the explanation of their color, ethnicity, and national origin. In other words, your guess is as good as mine. It is after all, a guess. So why waste any more time postulating and prognosticating about it. We are, after all kin—brothers of different mothers and sisters of different misters.

You may not like our president or the congress, but I’ve lived long enough to realize that is the case with most presidents and most congresses. You may not like my politics and I may not like yours. But we—not you alone or me alone—are Americans. Our destiny—not yours alone or mine alone—is bound up in to our unity of purpose and our mutual respect for one another. I may not agree with you and you may not agree with me, but we desperately need each other—if for no other reason than to maintain the unique diversity of this great country. This nation was founded by a coalition of folks who came from different places and different beliefs with little in common and countless things they disagreed on except they were tired of being told what to do by an absentee king whose only interest was their tax money. In fact, the only thing they had in common was an insatiable desire to be free.

Freedom necessitates diversity. It requires all the cultures of the North, the West, the East, and yes, a whiff of the South thrown in for spice and good measure. It demands a multiplicity of races, beliefs, and politics who disagree, but find a compromise that works for all of the people most of the time rather than a few of the people all of the time. Freedom that works for only a handful is not really freedom at all. It is slavery dressed up in a cheap Halloween costume.

I celebrate my Southern culture and upbringing. I revel in the beauty and the majesty of the state in which I was born. I take joy and pride from where my people originally hail from. I feel comfortable speaking the King’s English in my own regional dialect. And I could live off grits, gravy, fried chicken, collards, and buttermilk biscuits. But I can’t be an American without you. You see, I don’t make America—America. And neither do you! It is only together—in you and me with all our differences on display—that America exists and freedom can reign.

Requiem for a Warrior…Russ Calvin

photo_20150609_AL0068019_0_russcalvin_20150609A requiem is a lament—the wailing of a heart broken—a song of sadness that emanates from deep within the soul. Throughout human history these songs have accompanied the death of a warrior. Russ Calvin was such a warrior—a man who battled and wrestled in spiritual realms so that we might enjoy God’s blessings in the physical one. He was my friend, Worship Pastor, and brother-in-the-faith. And today I choose to put my sadness in words to encourage others on their own journey. Perhaps it will push you farther, higher, or deeper in your own excursion through life.

Russ was a gentle giant, whose passionate pursuit of God leaves deep footprints to follow for those of us still chasing after God. Russ finally caught the Savior whom he had run after throughout his short lifetime. Thirty-seven years seems so young—so brief, yet Russ accomplished more in that limited span than most of us will in a long lifetime. He made time count, knowing that none of us is promised tomorrow.

Russ was soft-spoken, not loud and boisterous. But when he spoke, the volume, tenor, and depth of what he said often rang like a clap of thunder. When he spoke of Jesus, it was not the platitudes of a preacher or the clichés of a theologian, but rather the experience of a lover who had experienced the heart-to-heart connection of genuine intimacy with God. Russ knew God, not facts and figures about God. They were on a first name basis—a beloved Father and his treasured son. You can fake a lot of things, but you can’t fake what it’s like to have been in the intimate presence of God. Russ knew—he’d spent long spans of precious time in that secret place.

Russ was also a man who knew and understood God’s Word. His grasp of God’s promises was not a shallow one. No, he staked his life, his marriage, and his ministry on the fact that God cannot lie. In the midst of the suffering he endured as he battled heart and kidney issues, Russ refused to let go of or give up on any of the promises God had whispered into his spirit. He tenaciously hung onto those promises like a bulldog. He stood faithful when many who were treating him gave him no hope. Russ believed God, and he acted on that faith. He spoke it. He prayed it. He shared it with doctors, nurses, technicians, strangers, and friends. He obeyed the words God had given him—he acted on the revelation whispered to him by the Holy Spirit. Obedience is the outward sign of an inward belief. Russ heard the Word—then he acted by obeying the Word—the promises given to him by the God who cannot lie!

Russ was a spiritual warrior. He understood the battlefield and his ancient foe. His calling was a simple, yet profound one. He had been commissioned to enforce the victory of Calvary, to destroy the works of the devil, and to be a vessel God could use to set the captives free. Spiritual warfare was not a theory to discuss for Russ. No! It was a daily life and death wrestling match to engage in. He knew what it took to snatch souls from the jaws of the hounds of hell and he was willing to engage those demonic mongrels if it meant freedom for another person. He was feared by hell and empowered by heaven.

Russ did what he could do with what he had to work with. His complaints were few—just a wish that he could do more, serve more, share more, or worship more. He was limited by the weakness of his heart—but not anymore! He fought through debilitating pain, weakness, discouragement, and frustration—but not anymore! He was limited, constrained, and unable to do many of the things he longed to do—but not anymore! Russ is now free—free to worship without restraint or limit. He is free to dance. He is free to lift his hands like an eagle spreading its wings to heaven. He is free to run, to jump, and to spin in utter unbounded joy. And best of all, Russ is free to sing with an unrestrained voice that cannot be silenced by disease, death, or even the devil.

I could sing a sad lament, a wretched requiem, but if I did it would have to be about someone other than Russ. Yes, we are separated from Russ for a time, but Russ is not dead. No he is more alive than he has ever been. God is not the God of the dead, but of the living according to Jesus. You see—God cannot lie! Russ is alive and he is enjoying the literal presence of the One whom he chased after so hard.

In the meantime, all of us need to get after it while we still can. Pursue God with all your strength. Russ did! Love people with all your heart. Russ did! Don’t worry about those things you can’t do—do the things you can. Russ did!  Worship the Lord with total abandonment. Russ did! Trust God’s promises, walk them out, and enjoy every one of them. Russ is!

Family Matters! A Tribute to More Than a Friend

Stunned describes the way I feel today. A phone call early today knocked the breath out of me and it seems almost impossible to catch it now. Late night or early morning phone calls are never bearers of good news. This one wasn’t either.

As a pastor, most people expect you to say the “right” things at the “right” moment so that those who are suffering might feel “right” once again. But there are no words to say that can make anyone feel “right” once their life has been marred by death.

Today, I am not the pastor with the “right” words (I never have been because those guys really don’t exist)—I am just another human being struggling with my own emotions at the loss of a dear, dear friend. I’m processing the reality of the moment and not getting very far. Shocked is another word that expresses my state of mind. All those questions we are afraid to ask, like why? and how? are relentlessly pursuing me, clamoring for an appointment in my mind, intent on way-laying my faith in Jesus Christ.

Therefore I choose to write the words I can’t seem to formulate with my tongue or lips. Words come hard at times like these. They seem cheap if they come too fast. This morning I just hugged my friend’s mate and cried…there are no words that will make the moment better. But perhaps these words will remind others who knew Johnny well of the sort of stuff he was made of.

The memory of his smile has illumined my day today. Every time I thought of him—I could see his pearly whites. He was not a somber, gruff man as so many are. His smile disarmed you—made you willing to take another look. It was not phony smile of someone hiding something or the bogus beauty queen smile we all know so well. That million dollar grin mirrored the state of his soul. His smile emanated from the inside; it was not just window-dressing on the outside. It was genuine—real—one hundred percent sincere. Johnny’s smile was capable of knocking walls down and reaching into the hearts and souls of those who needed a touch of compassionate attention.

That smile was often followed by a laugh. If you knew Johnny you know what I’m talking about. If you didn’t—well it was laced with a certain kind of joy and echoed a grace that is sort of indescribable. Let me put it this way—if Santa ever needed a day off, Johnny could have slid right it, taken the old guys job, and none of us would have known the difference. That laugh put you at ease. It took the edge off tough situations with its disarming tenor. It made you feel comfortable and confident. It lifted you up and made you realize that he was a real guy in a real world doing the best that he could. Perhaps that’s the best word to describe his laugh—real.

In fact, real describes Johnny the best. There was far more to him than what meets the eye. He was far more than a pretty face. Johnny had a servant’s heart. He had trouble telling others “No.” It was a word I don’t ever remember him using. If you needed something and he knew it, he made himself available to do whatever needed to be done and more. If you asked him for help, you could count on him.

Johnny loved people, kids, and animals—and not necessarily in that exact order. He treated all of them with love and respect, and in most cases the kids and the animals responded. I can still see him riding his horse Colonel in the local Christmas parades—blue jeans, big gold buckle, boots, Stetson, and having the time of his life or training his Blue Healers with their bandannas tied smartly around their necks.

My mind is alive with memories of driving through Tennessee Amish country looking for good deals on syrup and horse tack, loading trailers on a Sunday morning at the birth of a new church or chuckling together in the aftermath of rabid raccoon bite and its subsequent pain-filled treatments. I will especially treasure my memories of Johnny willingness to do whatever was needed on Sunday morning as we struggled to put together a credible worship service that would not embarrass God.

Perhaps what I’m trying to say with these inept words that keep filling my mind, but failing mightily, is Johnny was far more than a friend…he was family. And family matters!

Musings from a Madman: The Reality of Relationship (Part 13)

The Secret Place where God touches you.

Once inside this secret place, you must relax. You are now in God’s presence. This is the place where his heart and your heart were designed to bond. Here you can forget about your trials and troubles for a few minutes and experience the peace and the presence of the One who loves you unconditionally. Here is the place where you don’t have to perform, say the right words, or worry about doing something wrong.

This is the habitation of God, and you have entered the presence of the One who loves to sing songs over you as you draw near. These songs contain the words your heart hungers to hear—the songs that cause your spirit to soar on the wings of eagles. Here in this place you are completely safe from rejection. God will not reject you. To do so, he would have to reject his son Jesus Christ. And that is something God cannot do because he would have to reject himself and that is impossible.

Here you will find your true worth—the value God’s accessment. You will hear his voice. Perhaps it will come in a soft whisper or a gentle word or phrase. One thing is for certain, if you listen closely you will begin to understand who you truly are in Christ. You will grasp the reality of the person God sees when he looks at you, not the despicable creature the enemy wants you to believe is the real you.

Perhaps it has dawned on you that the voices of condemnation, shame, and fear have all gone silent. Their slurs and slanders have no voice here. Truth is the only language spoken at this address. The only shortcomings here are the deceptions you have believed about yourself and smuggled into this tranquil spot. And, if you become a regular visitor to the place, those will soon disappear as the light of truth illuminates them one by one. Then you will see each one for what it really is—a lie. Here in this place, God’s word defines truth. What he says is!

Lay aside what everyone else says about you and listen closely to the words God is speaking. Listen! Learn! And then live out of the identity ascribed to you by God. He cannot lie! You are a son—a daughter—of the King. You are not worthless, unworthy, wicked, or stupid. You are not a failure or a disappointment either. You are the beloved of God!

Listen to God’s voice. Concentrate on every consonant, vowel, and syllable. Let the melody of those words sink like medicine into your wounded soul. Meditate on their full meaning. That healing word you have longed for so long is here—right now!

Stop worrying about what to do next. Just relax and be who God says you already are.

Musings from a Madman: The Mystery of Relationship (Part 10)

Once true surrender has taken place, it puts you in a position to receive. When you surrender you have given over everything—especially yourself and there’s nothing left to give. At that moment, you may hear God ask, “Who are you?” This is the question of entry that opens or shuts the door to intimacy. Your careful response is vital.

God’s not asking for information, he has all the information he needs already. He is omniscient. He knows everything. He is asking so that you will understand who you are. The question is about identification—who do you think you are.

How will you respond? Think about it for a moment, because this is the single most important appointment you have ever been invited to experience. You are where you are at this very moment—at the very doorway of God’s presence based on an invitation from Jesus Christ, not what you have or have not done, your personal connections, or your past. This invitation is not really about who you are, rather it is all about who God is. So the answer is important.

This is not the time to list your religious accomplishments, activities, or accolades. This is not the moment to share all the positions you hold in your local church or denomination. This is not the occasion to gush over your degrees, spiritual depth, or grace giftings. No, this is the moment to respond from a heart that has understanding and enlightenment as to who it really is.

Perhaps your response might sound like this: “Lord, it’s me, your servant, purchased by the blood of your Son, Jesus Christ.” That’s really all any of us have the ability to offer. When you come to this moment—it’s not about being the pastor, the teacher, the choir member, the prayer leader, the sinner, the mess-up, the success, the failure, the addict, the prisoner, or whatever label you might want to pin on yourself. No! “It’s just me, Lord. I have nothing to offer—nothing to give, but me. I’m here at your feet!”

The answer we give at this moment determines whether or not we step into the secret place with God. He is not impressed with our résumé; he is drawn to our heart. If your heart is surrendered, rest assured it will catch God’s attention and arouse his passion. Once you have his undivided attention—his presence will receive you and you will step into a place beyond what you thought was possible.

Are you willing to chunk your dignity for a moment in God’s presence? Are you willing to step out into a place that might be quite uncomfortable for your personality, your religious beliefs, or your mindset? Are you really desperate? If you are, you will do whatever it takes to get to this place, and once you are here, you will give the only answer that will open the door. No ultimatums. No demands. “Lord, it’s me—I am desperate to enter the secret place with you. I want to go into that place where no one else can see me so that I can simply be alone with you!”

True intimacy with God has a protocol to follow. Are you willing to take the next step? 

Musings of a Madman: The Mystery of Relationship

The Dance of Relationship

In our desperate pursuit of God there is a certain protocol (rules of behavior) that prepares us for entering his personal presence. If we pay attention to the details of this protocol, we position ourselves to fully enjoy the maximum benefits of this heart-to-heart relationship. These are far more than rules etched in stone; they are, in essence, the etiquette of the heart.

Relationship is in many ways a dance with steps that move the partners involved around the floor. I like to think about this protocol, not as rule, but rather as dance steps. The sharper I am in my steps the more beautiful and satisfying is the dance.

It is critical as you begin this dance that the placement of your first step is correct and precise. Everything else rises or falls here. If you’re off balanced, out of step, or out of sync with the music, the dance is doomed and you will be forced to start over at some point. Relationally speaking, if you get it correct here you will likely have little problem with the rest of the protocol.

Please hear this—this is not about a “method.” These are not steps or rules to follow to get you what you want. These are movements of the heart—dance steps your soul must take. We love “method’’—we want “method” but the sterility of “method” will not work if you desire a fertile relationship. Don’t get me wrong—how you do things is important. But…why you do them is the real crux of the issue. Motive is infinitely more important than method. “Why” trumps “how” at this moment in your pursuit of God.

Why do you want to be in God’s intimate presence? Why do you hunger for relationship with him? In other words, what motivates you? Only you can answer this and your motive will either help or hinder depending on your honesty at this point.

Most people want something from God. They want more power or provision or peace in some area of their life. Too often we come to God like he’s a genie in a bottle or a Coke machine. We want to rub his lamp a little in prayer and poof! get what we asked for. We think we can drop a coin in the slot through intercession or good works, mash the button, and wham! watch our provision drop like a pop bottle through the slot. It just doesn’t work that way, and is likely why most of our prayers go unanswered.

If you pursue God for any other reason than to spend time with him—to be in his presence—you motive is all messed up. A rule of the kingdom is this—wherever God’s presence rests, so too does his power. If you gain his presence you will see his power—you can count on that!

So—you have to answer the question of motive. You have to determine your inner desire. What is it you really want? Do you want God for what he can do for you or simply for who he is?  Your motive will determine where this dance of relationship ends up and it’s up to you to take the first step.

God-Sizing Your Dreams (Part 8)

God was purposefully intent on Abram grasping all the nuances of the dream. It was multi-dimensional, one of the chief characteristics of a God-sized dream. These dreams always mirror their Creator. God’s intent can be seen in the multiple visits and visions Abram received. God is the original author of the axiom, “Repetition is the mother of learning.” Therefore he repeated his promise over and over (you can check them out in Genesis 12:1-3; 15:1-21; 17:1-21; 22:15-18), to make sure the smallest detail was crystal clear.

God was giving him a land, descendants, and a blessing. Abram would be a physical extension of God to the world and the world would come to know God through the testimony of Abram. This is pretty heady stuff for a wondering Bedouin living in a goat-hair tent and like most of us, he could not grasp it. In fact, he became fixated on one teeny-tiny detail in the great scheme of things. Abram could not grasp the big picture. He could not see the forest for all the trees. And that itsy-bitsy detail flooded his mind and took control of the next few years.

Abram was an old man and his wife Sarai was an old woman. Their main problem: they had no children. No son to carry on the family name. His thinking was: if I have not son, how can I have descendants? Abram, like most of us, was fixated on the natural and not free to dream supernaturally. God said he would have descendants—uncountable like the stars in heaven or the grains of sand on the seashore. Abram became obsessed. He and Sarai were not getting any younger.

Here is the next principle we all need to internalize in our learning curve to dream with God: God-sized dreams are so big, if we are not careful, we will fixate on a detail rather than the fulfillment. Most of us dream dreams that are one-dimensional. We often seek to bring those dreams to fruition and fulfillment one step at a time. God simply does not work that way. Abram thought he needed a son (at the point any son would do) to fulfill God’s promises. So, he nonchalantly mentions the adoption of Eliezer of Damascus, his chief servant, as a means of helping God out with the details. God is not interested. In fact, God then focuses the promise and gives him another clue where this son of promise would come from—“from your own body” (Gen. 15:4). Abram would father a son who would carry his blood.

Later, with Sarai’s blessing Abram would indeed father a son with an Egyptian handmaiden named Hagar. This time he did not consult God and the results of that decision created a conflict that is still being felt today and will eventually usher in the events of Armageddon. Thousands of years of conflict and the birth of a religion whose goal is ultimately to possess Abram’s Promised Land and destroy his descendants, and God’s blessing.

All this is because his vision was too small to see the diversity and the size of God’s dream.  He became fixated on a detail of the promise rather than the ultimate fulfillment of the promise. He wrongly thought he was responsible for this trivial detail he thought was so vital. He majored on the minor rather than grasping for the whole.

The devil is not in the details as the old saying goes. No, God is in the details. Every detail is critical and he will fulfill each one—his good name depends on it. So…you can bet he will come through—every “t” crossed and every “i” dotted. God will take care of the details if we will put our focus on him. Our job is to be faithful. God’s job is to fulfill (fill in every detail until the promised dream is full). Our responsibility is to trust and his job is to remain trustworthy, which after all is an attribute of his deity. He is God and we are not!