Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Christmas Means God with us!

Merry Christmas 2008. “Are you ready for Christmas”, I was asked yesterday. The only answer seems to be “yes and no.” There seems to always be one more gift to buy, one more card to send or one more pie to bake.

I have been somewhat out of step all my life. I started to school at 5, skipped a grade…was the youngest in my Elementary and High School classes…was often the youngest mother on Mothers Day...etc.

I went back to school after my children were grown. By the time I finally graduated from college and later Seminary I was among the oldest. Looking back it seems I went from youngest to oldest overnight.

I kind of aged into the study of Gerontology … which proved to be a wonderful asset when a door was opened and I was finally thrown into the pastorate and preaching ministry …a calling from the Lord I had kept putting on the back burner for a long time.

Several years ago I was asked me to give a Christmas Story for the annual Christmas dinner for a United Methodist Women’s group. This is one of the festive Christmas events at Trinity each year, hosted by a couple in their beautifully Christmas decorated ante-bellum home.
I read the Christmas classic, "The Greatest Christmas Pageant Ever” by Barbara Robinson about the Herdman family. I had read the story to other groups that enjoyed it. It is a lovely and humorous story. But that Monday night at Brady and Barbara’s they all practically rolled in the floor laughing as I read the story!
WOW…what a wonderful response! Sould we take the program on the road?

But on second thought, I began to wonder if the story was really that funny or if they were laughing because we had just eaten a high calorie dinner and I had told them before I started reading the story that every laugh actually burns 16 calories! I told them that:
o Laughter is the secret of youth!
o Laughter goes hand in hand with creativity!
o Laughter increases circulation and heart rate!
o That means …Laughter is jogging on your insides! Imagine that…jogging without getting out of your chair.
o And listen to this and laugh if you, like me, can use a little tightening of the muscles: Laughing improves the muscle tone of the abdomen!
Dr William Fry of Stanford U tells us, “Laughing heartily has the same beneficial effects as the same amount of time on a rowing machine.” I heard about a minister in a Presbyterian church in Sandy Springs who has the “Ministry of Laughter.” He contends that laughter is therapeutic and hastens physical healing.
We have all heard the story of Norman Cousins who was diagnosed with a degenerative spinal condition in 1976. Cousins said he spent time each day watching films of Laurel and Hardy and other comedy groups and laughed his way back to health.

Most of us as we age, have some health issues…so we need to laugh. But an interesting fact I have noticed with the advent of Television and the internet… many, if not most of us, have heard all the funny stories there are to tell!

So even if we have already heard the stories, we laugh at them again. If you are on the computer you probably read the story about the lady who took her 4 year old with her to deliver Meals on Wheels to a bed ridden man? The child kept staring at a set of false teeth soaking in water glass on the bedside table. The woman was bracing herself for a question when the little girl whispered, “The tooth fairy will never believe this.”

They tell me the older you get, the faster times passes. That is scary. It seems only yesterday we were celebrating Christmas 2007 and here we are …Christmas 2008! More scary to realize?
“Even though it seems like yesterday since last Christmas, I am a whole year older now than I was in Christmas 2007!"

How many Santa Clauses did you see if you traveled more than a mile or two away from your home today? Santas are everywhere –– on billboards, in yards, on roofs and shop windows.
Two little first grade boys left Sunday school discussing theological matters. One said, “Do you believe this business about the devil?” The other replied, "Of course not –– it’s like Santa Clause –– it’s really your Daddy.”

We do all go though four stages with Santa Claus.1st Stage: We believe in Santa Clause.2nd Stage: We stop believing in Santa Clause.3rd Stage: We are Santa Clause.4th Stage: We look like Santa Clause.

Every December the newspapers feature a story about the toys that are at the top of children’s wish list. A few years ago, there was a “Tickle me Elmo” that managed to stay in the news with people running to the Malls and fighting over the opportunity to buy a “Tickle me Elmo” for their child. I asked my oldest granddaughter, the mother of three, to tell me what “the toy of the year” is this Christmas. She said all the kids want a “Webkinz.” It is a stuffed animal with some kind of computerized component to it.

I thought, "There is some advantage to being old. Even if we are in stage 4 and look like Santa Claus, at least we do not have to trudge out to Walmart looking for a Web-kinz.

I served at East Point Avenue Church for four years after mandatory retirement age. Each Christmas, the church bought poinsettias each to give to all the sick and shut-ins. I delivered many of them. I delivered one of the poinsettias to an elderly couple. Both were bedridden in a modest little frame home. They had very little help so when I visited them, her mind started working about what I could do to help - hand her something, take something out, throw something away or other little things that I could do while I was there.

This, of course I was always more than glad to do, as would any pastor or able bodied person. The day that I took the poinsettias––– I brought in their mail, got fresh water for both of them, straightened up around the room, took her to the bathroom etc.

When I started to leave, I was so painfully aware of their frightful situation. I knelt down between their two beds. I reached out and held each of their hands. Before I began to pray for them, the wife spoke up. Speaking for both of them, she said, "“I told John this morning that we are so blessed, we are so much better off than many people … Best of all ---- the Lord is with us.”
Probably without realizing it, this elderly lady was quoting what is reported to be the last words of the great, John Wesley, as he lay dying: “The best of all, God is with us.”

And I remembered all over again: Christmas happiness and joy comes, not from escaping from reality, not from being protected from the shocks of life, but from looking life squarely in the face and seeing the countenance of God. Christmas means God with us.

We need to learn from secular as well as Christian history. 2008 years ago, the world was watching the Roman Empire ...in all its splendor! All eyes were on Caesar Augustus, who demanded that a census be taken so that taxes could be enlarged.
Who noticed Mary and Joseph making their 90 miles journey to Bethlehem? If there had been television then, Katie Couric and Charlie Gibson and their crews would have run over Mary and Joseph to put their microphone in the face of Caesar. Today Caesar is only a small paragraph in the life of Jesus. And all the great schools in the Western world were built to study every word that fell from the lips of Jesus and every single word written about his deeds have been poured over and translated into every languagee, and people by the tens of thousands make pilgrimages to Bethlehem and stand in awe at the spot history has marked as the birthplace of Jesus.
Luke’s gospel reminds us that the birth of Jesus was a happening of such cosmic majestic significance that ordinary words are not enough to describe it. It takes more that natural speech to tell the story. It takes poetry, music and drama to tell that the infinite God has come to our rescue - that regardless of what else is missing or even who else is missing from our life, we are not alone.
The Christmas message is ”The Best of all - God is with us!” Amen!

Monday, December 18, 2006

Happy Birthday Dear Beth!

I am the mother of seven. Each one has a very special place in my heart. There are all kinds of stories to tell, as all of you who are parents know. Beth is our baby girl.

I know what it is like to be the baby in a family. People like to imply or say outright that the baby girl or boy in a family is a "spoiled brat." It was said about our youngest, our son David, and it was said about Beth, our youngest daughter. When I was a child it was said about me as the youngest of 11. Not true!

Each one of our children also had a special place in my heart and in their Daddy's
heart and life. The picture to the right is her Daddy holding Beth up as a Christmas decoration at the Parents home on Christmas Day.

Beth's Daddy was a pastor and was told on Sunday December 19, the day of her birth that he had plenty of time to go to church and get back to the hospital long before her birth.

However, Beth got in a hurry to make her appearance and came into the world at 12 noon just as her father was pronouncing the benediction and hurrying out the church door to go back the few miles to the hospital.

Her Daddy's first words to me after visiting the nursery to see his fifth daughter was, "She is easily the most beautiful baby in the nursery, and I heard a man say, 'Look at that baby! One can tell she is a girl - look at those beautiful lips.'" Beth was and is feminine - all woman!

One of Beth's special talents is as a singer. She and her younger brother were members of the UMC Youth choir where she was a soloist with David at the keyboard. Her high school Choral Director predicted she would "go places" with her "big beautiful" voice for such a small girl. She's only a little over 5 feet tall.One of the pictures I want to post wishing Beth a Happy Birthday is one of her giving a concert with her brother at the piano. The event was at The Joyful Noise, a supper club in a suburb of Atlanta.

Beth is the mother of a son, Joshua Shaw Hearn and a daughter Amanda Ruth Hearn Sims. Picure of Beth with Josh and Amanda when they were small children.
Joshua is married to Michaela and the father of Emma

Amanda married to Brian Sims.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Washing Clothes in 1920's and 30's.

Monday was "Wash Day" in my childhood in the late 1920's and early thirties. Wash Day was a long day. The family's clothes were washed weekly in large galvinized tin tubs. Soapy hot water was prepared in one tub, and rinse water in two other tubs. A rub board was put in the wash tub, and clothes were scrubbed on the rub board.

A big iron pot was set up on bricks out in the back yard, and a fire was built under the cast iron pot to heat the water and to "boil the clothes." This was done winter and summer every week. Talk about a hard day's work!

The clean clothes were pinned with clothespins to a long wire or rope clothesline to hopefully , dry in the sun. On cold winter days, one's wet hands would turn purple before all the clothes were hung up to dry.

Sometimes the clothes would freeze as fast as they were pinned to the line. Hopefully the sun and wind would dry the laundered clothes enough to be brought inside before dark.

Tuesday was ironing day. The clothes that had been washed, dipped in starch, and
dried on an outdoor clothesline had to be brought inside, sprinkled with water, folded up tightly in a sheet or pillow case to get slightly damp through and through so as to iron smoothly. The clothes were taken out a piece at a time to be ironed and hung up or ironed and folded. This was at least one other long day of exhausting work. We did have electric irons (heavy irons) in my childhood.

The earlier non electric irons were very heavy and made of “iron” and were heated on a stove or at a fireplace . I never used one of those, and I do not remember seeing my mother or sisters or anyone who helped us with the ironing use a non-electric iron. ( I do have a small collections of Flat Irons , like the ones in the picture on the left, on the hearth of my Fireplace.)

HOW TO WASH CLOTHES (Following is the "recipe for washing Clothes" by an early American grandmother to new bride. Despite the spelling, it has a bit of philosophy. This is an exact copy as written and found in an old scrap book.)

"Build fire in backyard to heat kettle of rain water. Set tubs so smoke wont blow in eyes if wind is pert. Shave one hole cake of lie soap in boilin water. Sort things, make 3 piles
1 pile white,1 pile colored,1 pile work britches and rags. To make starch, stir flour in cool water to smooth, then thin down with boiling water.Take white things, rub dirty spots on board, scrub hard, and boil, then Rub colored don't boil just wrench and starch.Take things out of kettle with broom stick handle, then wrench, and starch. Hang old rags on fence.Spread tea towels on grass. Pore wrench water in flower bed. Scrub porch with hot soapy water.Turn tubs upside down. Go put on clean dress, smooth hair with hair combs. Brew cup of tea, sit and rock a spell and count your blessings.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Fear of Dentist and Public Singing.

Carol, known to some of you as themediansib told yesterday about her fear of dentist. I wonder if her paralizing fear of dentists began with her fear of solo singing. Let me tell you a story.

Yesterday, I went picnicking with the Trinity UMC “Rah Rah’s” (Retired And Happy). We had a great time at the Coosa River Lock and Dam just South of Rome.

Pastor David Campbell is beginning his second year as pastor of Trinity. David rates …well "excellent", in every area of ministry… preaching, pastoral care, administration. He had been asked to “do the program” for this outdoor picnic for the retired and happy Trinity folks.

David brought his guitar, his wife (who is an accomplished soloist and music teacher) and his three young children. His wife, Susan led us in singing some of the old time gospel hymns of the church including , “What A Friend we Have in Jesus”, “When we all Get to Heaven “ and other familiar hymns with David strumming the guitar.

They had also planned to include their children in the singing. Hannah, 12, who has a beautiful voice like her mother's sang a solo. But when it came time for the usually vivacious Allie (age 7) to sing, she hang her little head and did not make a sound.

WOW. Memory took me back to a Sunday night service at a little church called ‘Sunnyside Methodist’ in Sunnyside Georgia. Carol, our beautiful blond middle daughter and middle child, told her daddy (the pastor) she would like to sing a solo. Just before the sermon, her daddy announced that Carol "would sing for us." Like Allie yesterday, our Cabbie hung her little head and would not make a sound.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

What is a Christian?

When I say 'I am a Christian' I don't speak of this with pride.
I'm confessing that I stumble and need Christ to be my guide.

When I say 'I am a Christian' I'm not trying to be strong.
I'm professing that I'm weak and need His strength to carry on.

When I say 'I am a Christian' I'm not bragging of success.
I'm admitting I have failed and need God to clean up my mess.

When I say 'I am a Christian' I'm not claiming to be perfect.
My flaws are far too visible, but God believes I am worth it.

When I say 'I am a Christian' I still feel the sting of pain.
I have my share of heartaches, so I call upon His name.

When I say 'I am a Christian' I'm not holier than thou,
I'm just a simple sinner who received God's good grace, somehow!
Note: The above is passed on from an email. C.S. Lewis makes a similiar claim when he points out that when we say we Christian, we are not saying we are good, we are saying what we believe.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Back From the Dishpan?

After being gone and forgotten for several days, I was happy to get back to Blog Land today. But with the prolific and most interesting writing of family bloggers, I have not caught up with all my other favorites.

How do people with full time jobs find time to blog? Is it time for me to give up cooking and housecleaning so I can blog?

I love cooking a large family meal and the more people here the merrier. The Tuesday night dinner was a great ocassion. One of my grandsons, who should be a child but has completed his master's in, of all things, physics, brought a special girl to meet his Georgia relatives.

Then to add to the festive time, we had an unexpected visit from another grandson (who also grew up while i was not looking)and is now a Lieutenant in the Army.

It was great to have two grandsons who played together at Grandma's as little boys here now at the same time as fine young men.

So a great time was had by all Tuesday night at Grandma's house.

But I found myself too tired to bother with the computer. And sick! I was sick with a " trigeminal like pain" in my right ear. It finally eased off enough for me to sleep well.

Then on Wednesday morning, a long time friend came for an overnight visit. We had a great time seeing some of the sights in town ( between severe electrical storms), eating leftovers from Tuesday night and talking about "old times gone but never forgotten." We watched interesting old videos he brough.

He and i had such a great time he called a few minutes ago and wants to come back next week and help me plant those tomotoes I keep talking about but have not prepared the soil nor planted.

But it seems my hospitality and charm is all used up. i cannot face planting tomatoes next week! Possibly the next?

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Thursday Thirteen - Thirteen Dishes I'll Cook for Thanksgiving Dinner

Next Thursday will be Thanksgiving Day. So what's cooking?
I really love to cook and enjoy cooking and hosting all the family who can come. But others also bring some of their favorite dishes. But for this post I will try to think of 13 things I like to cook for this special day’s feast.

1. Turkey. I hope to buy and cook the largest turkey i can find and at least one turkey breast.

2. Dressing. My corn bread dressing is a soft dressing but can be cut in squares so is the 'best of both kinds.

3. Gravy. Brown turkey gravy with little pieces of turkey in it is always a hit with this family.

4. Ham. Almost everyone here likes ham for holidays. So someone , usually Carol brings a beautiful Tennessee baked ham. So everyone has a choice of meats.

5. Mashed potatoes from scratch. We often prepare about 10 pounds of potatoes if we have the usual 30 to 40 people here. This is always popular with the children. Our family includes 17 children including two granddaughters, 14 year old Katie and 7 year old Haley. We also are blessed with 15 great grandchildren: Rachael and Hannah who will be 14 as soon as possible… Rachael in December and Hannah next June. We also have Dow, John, Lewis, Helena, Mark, Brianne, AnnaGrace, Natalie, Sarah, Ethan, Lily, Sophia, and James who just turned 3.

At least five of our great grands are not planning to come the long distance here for Thanksgivng but plan to be here for Christmas. Two other of the great grands have out of town grandparents as well as great grandparents so have not worked out their holiday itineranty .

5. Green Beans. In the past I always cooked fresh green beans...but of late, in accommodation of my advanced age I use large cans of green beans but they will taste fresh. I promise.

6. Carrots. I sometimes make marinated carrots to add a nice plash of color and zesty taste. So it is either marinated carrots or a carrot and raisin salad. Both are good make ahead dishes.

7. Corn. Because of the large number of people, we do plan a variety of veggies. Good creamed corn is a popular side dish.

8. Sweet Potatoes. I do buy fresh sweet potatoes, 5 pounds, and like to simmer them slowly with the skins on, then peel and mash with just a little butter. I prefer them just heated. But I often do the brown sugar, pecan topping for those who think sweet potatoes should be sweeter potatoes.

9. Fresh Vegetable and/or fresh fruit tray. I usually count on someone else in the family, usually Sheila, to bring a fresh vegetable tray that is so good, if we do not hide it, it is gone before the Thanksgiving prayer.

10. Rolls. I enjoy making several dozen yeast rolls and hope to be able to do them again.

11. Desserts. Debi can be counted on to bring a special dessert. I hope to make a couple of pecan pies and a couple of chocolate pies.

12. Tea and lemonade.

13. God bless America.

Get the Thursday Thirteen code here!

The purpose of the meme is to get to know everyone who participates a little bit better every Thursday. Visiting fellow Thirteeners is encouraged! If you participate, leave the link to your Thirteen in others comments. It’s easy, and fun! Be sure to update your Thirteen with links that are left for you, as well! I will link to everyone who participates and leaves a link to their 13 things. Trackbacks, pings, comment links accepted!

Friday, November 03, 2006

I'm Fixing To Get My Hair Fixed.

My daughter Carol called on the way to school early this morning. She is a teacher. In the course of the converation she asked about my day. I told her I had an appointment at 11 to "get my hair fixed." Cabbie, a Southern girl, did not laugh at my choice of words.

Later in the morning, a friend, Ann Short, called and said, "Whatchea doing?" I told Ann I was about to go out the door to "get my hair fixed. Ann did not laugh.

When I ended the second conversation, I laughed! In fact I laughed out loud even though I was home alone. Can we really "fix" our hair? Does it become broken? Of course it does sometimes need "repair."

Earlier this week, we had a family marathon of indignant emails. "How discourteous to the South," we wrote, "for anyone to laugh in our faces at our choice of words in speech? " It all started when one family member wrote, "I had to work hard to quit saying "show out" when I got ribbed mercilessly while living "up North" -

"Have you ever thought," we asked one another, "how interesting it is that people in the South are "ribbed mercilessly" for our language choices ...and it seems to have never occured to anyone from the South to "rib mercilessly" people in other parts of our great United States of America for the many strange phrases they use in their speech."

We had fun emailing back and forth arrogantly telling each other how "arrogant" our Northern brothers and sisters are to laugh at our speech patterns and turning the tables by laughing at their speech with such statements as "I have heard that a New York accent is the best birth control there is."

But..where in the world did we ever get the phrase, "I'm fixing to get my hair fixed"?

Friday, October 20, 2006

In Gold We Trust?

In Gold We Trust
Luke 12:13-21

[13] Someone in the crowd said to him, "Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me."

[14] Jesus replied, "Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?" [15] Then he said to them, "Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions."[16] And he told them this parable: "The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop. [17] He thought to himself, 'What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.'

[18] "Then he said, 'This is what I'll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. [19] And I'll say to myself, "You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry." '

[20] "But God said to him, 'You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?'

[21] "This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God."

One week-end several years ago I visited my daughter Janice and her husband Gilbert when they were working with Taylor University. We went to church Sunday morning at the United Methodist Church in Matthews Indiana where Gilbert was to be the guest Lay Speaker.

We had Sunday dinner with Doyte and Mary Kibbey who where members of that congregation. We had known the Kibbey’s for many years, since our daughters Janice and Joan were college classmate and friends of their daughters Becky and Ruthie.

Matthews Indiana is a small Farm town, with picturesque, tall silos around. As we sat around the Kibbey’s Sunday dinner table, Mr. Kibbey told us the interesting story. He said that in 1902, Matthews Indiana was a booming oil town! Imagine that now!

In 1902 oil was discovered in Matthews and people drove in setting up camp, expecting to get rich in oil. It was like a gold rush, he said! Liquor Store people moved in and set up 20 saloons in the small town which had only one grocery store and two churches.

Mr. Kibbey said the old timers told him that many people had oil lights burning on their property day and night. They reported that night was so lit up (maybe "lit up" in more ways than one)... it was hard to tell day from night.

But …alas in a few years the oil was gone!

He said they thought they had an endless supply and wasted it.

WOW. How timely that 1902 story is to 2008. Kroger moved out of West Rome a few years ago…in order to build one huge luxury Grocery Store. As someone who grew up in the South during the great depression, I am just amazed at our wealth and conspicuous consumption…seeing all of us shopping in all the luxury places like there is no tomorrow and our waste like the gold rush in California and the 1902 oil rush in Indiana.

It seems Wall Street and Main Street in America have thought we had an endless
supply of money and resources and wasted. We are in a world where many of us have so much stuff, we have to rent storage places…and our houses have large and larger storage closets and attics.

Perhaps some of us have learned a little from the past what others of us are having to painfully learn now. But none of us, certainly not I, can point a finger at someone else. Selfishness and wastefulness is an all too common trait. We are all sinners and self centered in one way or another.

It seems we all have all been guilty of worshiping the Almighty dollar more than believing in Almighty God!

We have "In God we Trust" on our coins (although as Jeannie has reminded us, there are people in our nation seeking and lobbying to get that important phrase removed from our currency). In fact some are seeking to remove all vestiges of Christianity from our culture and even distort or delete it from our history books.

In our scripture lesson (Luke 12:13-21), Jesus was asked to settle an inheritance dispute and it gave him the opportunity to deal with the insidious blight of money and “things” on our souls. (vv 13-15)

Jesus was not showing indifference to the claims of legal justice, but was insisting that there are greater gains in life than getting an inheritance, and greater losses in life than losing an inheritance. ( The Layman’s Bible Commentary, page 110-111)

The rich man Dr Luke tells us about in this lesson looked upon his possessions as his…and only his. He saw them not as gifts...We read…”my barns, my grain, my goods , my soul.” He seems to think possessions make life…and here comes Jesus reminding us that possession not only, do not give life…possessions do not even give “existence.” As Jesus told the rich farmer, Death separates us from any possession …anything and everything we think we own.

Jesus talks further to his disciples to explain that faith in God frees us from covetousness, which is the tenth of the ten commandments Moses brought down from Mount Sinai.

Covetousness is a disease of the soul which always brings with it uneasiness and unrest and longing that cannot be satisfied. When we covet, our neighbors house, or our neighbors wife or anything that belongs to our neighbor, Jesus taught, we break most of the other commandments…at least in our heart.

So the Lord wants to free us from coveting and also from undue anxiety about the necessities of life.

The tenth commandment telling us not to “covet” comes silently after the booming “Thou shall nots” about lying, stealing, adultery and murder.

Our community was shocked - in fact it made news all over Georgia and beyond - in July of 2004 when a respected youth leader in a church in Rome was accused of the murder of a fellow church leader. We were later dumbfounded when it was alleged the murdered man’s wife was in an affair with the alleged murderer and was an accomplice in planning the murder.

I do not know the couple, but probably none of us were more shocked than this man and woman still waiting in jail to stand trial for murder. When we begin the hidden sin of coveting, we never know how far down the slippery slope it will take us.

It seems so harmless when we first engage in a flirtation that might lead to adultery. It seems so harmless when we first engage in perhaps soft core pornography that requires more and more explicit materials and often leads to acting out, according to statistics.

These “little” offensives are only revealed when an overt action like adultery or murder brings it into the limelight. Jesus tells us sin begins in the heart with hidden lust and anger.

To covet is dangerous because it is silent and hidden. We do not see “covet.” There are no civil laws against covetousness.Yet this tenth commandment about coveting covers the other nine. Covetousness is deceptive and goes hand in hand with discontentment, lies, lust and hate. We are not to “covet anything that belongs to someone else… house, spouse, nor anything that belongs to our neighbor.”

Our God of love has given us guidelines for what it means to be a civil and liberated human being as well as what it means to be a covenant person and a follower of Jesus Christ.

So Jesus goes on to teach us that our life is in God’s hands.
He reminds of God’s bounteous provision for the birds of the air and the flowers of the field. His care of things which are transient indicates his major concern for us who have an eternal destiny. It is all too easy sometimes to forget God is more aware of our needs than we are.

It is all too easy to forget in is "In God we trust" and slip into the concept and behavior of "In Gold we Trust!"

In our scripture lesson Jesus called the man a fool for basting his life on money. The passage starts out with a man coming to Jesus out of the crowd and asking Jesus to settle an inheritance dispute between him and his brother.

Barclay and other commentaries tell us this was not uncommon for people then to take their unsettled disputes to respected Rabbis. But Jesus refused to get mixed up in this kind of family dispute about money.

Then Jesus turns to the people, “Take care. Protect yourself against the least bit of greed’ Life is not defined by what you have, even when you have a lot. Jesus loves us and wants to protect us against the destruction that greed brings into our life. (the Message)

But Jesus did go on to have some things to say about the place of money for those of us who have little money and for those of us who have an abundant supply of money.

Jesus came to reconcile us to God and to each other and not to re-apportion wealth. But Jesus reminds us here and in other scripture passages that possessions do not give life it's meaning...and he illustrates it with the parable of the Rich Fool.

This man was rich and getting richer. He thought his only problem was to find a place to store and to invest!

He needed to expand…he had to make a decision...he said to himself, "I will pull down my barns and build greater!” He faced a problem to which many of us aspire. Yet, Jesus said he was a fool!
He certainly would have been successful in our society. We would consider him anything but a fool.

Success is something tangible. It can be measured economically by our bank account...our stocks and bonds...our property. Success can be measure socially by our popularity, our education, our accomplishments, name recognition.

It seems to never have occurred to him to give any of it away.
Jesus tells us…a person’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses. (Luke 12:15)

Malcolm Muggerage was a successful TV personality in England who became a Christian. He went to India to interview Mother Teresa who was working among the dying in India. He reported that he saw many houses on mercy by churches of many denominations, but not even one by an atheist nor a humanist.

We all talk about teaching our children the value of money. But Jesus is also teaching us here…the value less ness of money.

There is a difference in possessions and ownership. It is said that shortly before the crash of 1929, a man gave Emory at Oxford enough money to build a large building. After he and other wealthy people lost most of his money, he said, “What I gave away is all I have left.”

All of us are amazed to see people work, to get to what the world calls success. Then when they have made it big time, to their dismay they realize happiness is not found there. So they self destruct with alcohol, other drugs and even suicide.

Jesus warns us that possessions, our storage buildings, our gold or bank accounts may have become a weight that prevents us from rising to the heights that God has prepared for us.

It is good to have "In God we trust" written on our money, but it also must be written in our heart. AMEN.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Liberty In Law

One of the popular Norman Rockwell paintings shows a woman buying a turkey.

The turkey is lying on the scales and the butcher is standing back of the counter with an apron tied around his waist and a pencil behind his ear.

Both the woman and the butcher have a pleased expression on their faces as the butcher is pushing down on the scales with his big thumb and the woman is pushing up on the scales with he dainty forefinger and neither is aware of what the other is doing.

Both the woman and the butcher would be indignant if anyone called them a thief. But apparently both of them saw nothing wrong with a little deception that would make a few cents for the butcher and save a few cents for the woman.(1)

This gives us a picture of our human tendency toward selfishness and deceit. And here comes God with the Ten Commandments reminding us that there are eternal laws in the universe by which to live if life is going to come out right. (2)

God our Maker knows what is wrong for us. The Ten Commandments are a gift from God because the moral laws of the universe were written in our body and our psyche before they were put in our Book of Faith.
Life does not support stealing. Life will not support murder. Life will not support adultery. Life will not support working 24/7. God tells us to take one day a week to stop and take time to rest and worship and remember we are more than what we do! This is just as true today as when Moses brought these important instructions down from Mt. Sinai.

In other words God’s commandments are our directions for life. They are our Manufacturer’s instructions … straight from our Loving Father. God wants to protect us, just as we who are parents want to protect our children so they can live to enjoy life.

In a Zogby poll of college students, 97% said they believed their professors had given them a good education in ethics. But only a quarter of them said they had learned that there are clear and uniform standard of right and wrong.
A reporter from Forbes Magazine observed an ethics class at Harvard Business school where they discussed case studies but avoided coming to any moral conclusions.

I read recently a comment that students, rather than developing moral principles, merely, in the reporters words, not mine … “develop skills enabling them to rationalize anything short of cannibalism.” How many of you think cannibalism is wrong?

The fact that most of us believe cannibalism is wrong indicates that we all draw the line somewhere in issues of right and wrong. So, in our post modern age when people say there are no absolutes and find it impossible to agree on standards of right and wrong, we are seeing scandals rocking the business world as well as on our college campuses. What more and more of us are beginning to realize is that this kind of behavior is the logical result of the moral relativism that permeates our culture. It is so much a part of our daily news that we are all affected.

A recent poll shows that over 50% of people who identify themselves as born again Christians do not believe in ultimate moral truth. But we are seeing those who have been concerned by the economic and political scandals, college debaucheries and public school murders willing to take time to listen to biblical teaching on ethics.

No document has influenced the world as much as the Ten Commandments! In our Western civilization, Jews and Christians both Protestant and Catholic, hold the Ten Commandments as principles upon which to build their lives and upon which to build a civilization. Indeed our civil laws of liberty and justice for all are rooted in this covenant law of God on tablets of stone given to Moses at Mount Sinai.
We remember when Alabama Chief Justice Ray Moore made national news, after the Alabama federal court of appeals said he must remove the monument of the Ten Commandments from the lobby of his state judicial building. Lawyers for the ACLU said if they allowed the ten commandments to stay there “every government building” could be topped with a cross, a menorah, a statue of Buddha … etc ... depending upon the views of the officials.

Of course, this begs the question. With all due respect, our founding fathers were not Islamic or Buddhist or atheists. It was the Christian concept of freedom and justice for all that enabled us to become the “Great Land of Liberty” because Liberty in Law is an important Judea-Christian concept.

The Bible tells us human beings are special! We are all made in the image of God including those accused of crime. Our due process tradition was not begun by the American Civil Liberties Union but by "the Book " they have fought to keep out of the hands of school children.

I love the hymn “America the Beautiful” and the second verse that says. “America, America, God mend Thine every flaw, Confirm thy soul in self control, Thy liberty in Law.” The Hymn writer knew and God knows that liberty is found in law and not in lawlessness.

A God of love gave us these laws. The Ten Commandments are the source of our laws and as such were framed and placed on the walls of courthouses and schools throughout our country.

So It is not some new or imported religion. The phrase “separation of church and state” simply means that The United States is not to have a “state church.” England had a state church: The Episcopal Church in England is still the “Church of England.” In fact the Queen of England is the titular head of the church as well as the state.

George Washington was so loved and revered some wanted to make him King after our revolution; but Washington and our founding fathers decided we should not have a King. Not Rex Lex.. (King is law”) …but “Lex Rex” … (”Law is King” ). We would also not any one of the Christian denominations be “The Church of the United States” but have equality and freedom of religion. Some of our founding fathers were Deists but most were Christians. None were members of any other religion.

Some of us remember a time when , after a revival meeting, people would remark, “John got religion last night,” meaning he was converted to Christ”. In other words, "religion" in the United States and the West was Christianity. Our liberty was based on the Law of God as given to us in the Christian Bible.

The heritage of the West is like none other the world has ever seen, in spite of it's accomidation to the worldwide system of slavery, class and race discrimination and "survival of the fittest."( For example, most of the less than 10 percent of people in the United States who owned slaves were caucasions but a few slave owners were African Americans and a few were native Americans.)

It was Christianity (not any other religion) that gave us new concepts of law, government and human rights based on Biblical values that slowly brought about the New Testament teaching that God is not a respecter of persons. As more and more citizens became committed Christian and literate, this concept slowly but surely brought about laws promoting equality of opportunity and civil rights for all.

Christian artist and composers created masterpieces ... in the sciences, in literature, and art. We see the same story in medicine. For example, Christianity built the first hospitals. The Greek and Roman civilizations were great in many ways but in the whole city of ancient Rome, there was not a single hospital. As Baron Von Hugal said, “ Christianity taught the world to care.”

Our founding fathers were wise enough not to want the state running the church, which would make problems for the church as well as the state. But it would have been unthinkable for our founding fathers to take all vestiges of the Christian faith from our schools or government offices. If we do not have laws we become lawless. We are seeing a law-less-ness now … even in some public schools.

“IN GOD WE TRUST” is now on our coins, and scripture verses are etched in stone at the Jefferson monument as well as many other historic places in Washington DC. Our love and liberty that has welcomed other cultures to come into our Country and enjoy our freedoms come from the Christian World view.

A few years ago, Ted Turner, in criticizing the negativity of the Ten Commandments came forth with his own “Ten Suggestions” and the Atlanta papers gave them a prominent space.

When we see our toddler hitting someone with his little hand and little strength, we might just suggest “no ... no … honey.“ But when we see him running toward a hot stove, or running toward the road or some real or potential danger, we dash out and command that he stop.

I have used a computer to do a mountainous amount of typing for many years. I have found I have to follow certain instructions from the maker of the computer. If I ever decided I knew more than the maker of the computer knows, I would be in serious trouble. In fact it is interesting that the computer is set up by commands, not suggestions.

We have to follow the instructions of the maker, and the more we follow, the better the computer works and the more awesome it is. In fact, it does not take long to realize one had better follow the commands or it will not work.

Some people seem to think God roams the world looking for people who may be having a good time so He can zap them. No! God’s law is the gift of His love. It is in God’s law that we are given freedom and liberty. God’s rules for our life are not arbitrary; because God knows without rules we cannot successfully play the game of life!

My grandson Dow, visited me one one day when he was about 7. When Dow came in he said, “Well, Grandmother, what are we going to do today?” I asked, “What would you like to do?” He replied, “Lets Play Clue.” I said, “All right ... if you will teach me the rules.” I learned how to play the game of Clue and we had a good time.

We have rules for games … rules for the road … traffic laws … otherwise there would be chaos; and there is chaos if we do not obey the rules. Even to play a game of checkers we must have rules, directions, laws. We do not just move the pieces here and there without rules. If so it is like babies, throwing things in every direction, making a mess to be cleaned up.
What an analogy of people trying to live without rules! We do not break the laws of God, we only break ourselves if we ignore them.
The activists in Hollywood and other enemies of righteousness have managed to convince some of our people that “religion” is a “private matter”, that people who witness outside the church are “fanatic and intolerant.” But if our fore parents had kept their faith a private matter, we would never have had the “protestant work ethic”and the progress and prosperity we have enjoyed in this country.

We do not have to reinvent the wheel of morality. Yet we have people expecting our teenagers to go out into the world to make up their own rules for life as they go along. No direction … no absolutes. As a result, many are messing up their lives with alcohol, other drugs and sexual experimentation because they are expected to live without direction. They are expected to experiment, to invent, to imagine and re-imagine and to decide through trial and error down one road and then another when a God of love has already written out clear directions for a way for life that works.

This belief in one God sets the Israelites apart from other ancient religions. Before God gives this first commandment, He identifies Himself,”I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.”

The basis of this commandment is …we are told that the “Lord our God is jealous God,” This statement used to puzzle me because I tend to connect jealousy with envy, pettiness. But “jealous” in this passage comes from the Greek word that means “emotional.” God's care for each one of us is personal and emotional. God is not indifferent to what we do and how we live just as we cannot be indifferent to our children or to those we love.
A man complained to me about his wife getting upset when he “took a drink” but he said she did not seem to mind if other people drank alcoholic beverages. How many of you understand this wife?
We have concern about those we love … not only concern about what they do but who they are! There is a fine line here. That is why couples have such a hard time understanding one another. But the marriage is not in trouble when we fight as much as when we become indifferent to one another.

The God who brought the Hebrews out of slavery wanted to keep them and wants to keep us out of an even greater bondage. He simplified the rules of life down to ten…one for each finger. No other gods. No idols. God's name is important. We are to bless not curse. For our own sake, we are to stop working one day a week and remember we are more than our possessions or what we do. Honor our parents. They are our roots. Don't murder, Life is precious. We are not to play around with our marriage vows. Keeping our covenant with one person is our best chance of growing up. If we take what belongs to another, we are the loser. Speak the truth. .When we twist our word, we limp through life. (3)

The Tenth commandment telling us not to "covet" comes silently after the booming "Thou Shall not” about lying, stealing, adultery and murder.
Our community was shocked, in fact it made news all over Georgia and beyond, in July of 2004 when a respected youth leader in a church in Rome was accused of the murder of a fellow church leader. We were later dumbfounded when it was alleged the murdered man's wife was in an affair with the now confessed murderer and an accomplice in planning the murder. ( The man is now serving life without parole and the murdered man's wife is serving 20 years for her part in the murder of her husband.)

Probably none of us were more shocked than this man and woman found guilty in this sad case of murder. When we begin the hidden sin of coveting, we never know how far down the slippery slope it will take us. It seems so harmless when we first engage in a flirtation that might lead to adultery.

It seems so harmless when we first engage in perhaps soft core pornography that requires more and more explicit materials and often leads to acting out, according to stats.

These "little " offensives are only revealed when an overt action like adultery or murder brings it into the limelight. Jesus tells us sin begins in the heart with hidden lust and anger. (4 )
To covet is dangerous because it is silent and hidden. We do not see "covet." There are no civil laws against covetousness. It is even hard to pronounce so we do not denounce it. Yet this tenth commandment about covetousness covers the other nine. Covetousness is deceptive and goes hand in hand with discontentment, lies, lust and hate.
We are not to "covet anything that belongs to someone else… house, spouse, nor anything that belongs to our neighbor." (5)
The awesome message of these commandments is that a God of love has given us guidelines for a successful life as well as given guidelines for what it means to be a civil and liberated human being as well as what it means to be a covenant person and a follower of Jesus Christ.
I have found God’s laws to be the liberating directions on the road of life. Someone has said,” When in doubt read the directions." God’s directions in the form of the Ten Commandments (6)are the gift of God’s boundless love and amazing Grace fulfilled in Jesus. “Amen!

1.Cecil Myers, Thunder on the Mountain. p 119-20
2. Maxie Dunham. Communicators Commentary. Loyd Oglivie, Exodus. p.252.
3. Barbara Brown Taylor. Gospel Medicine. p 57
4. Exodus 20:17
5. Matthew 5:22-27
6. Exodus 20:1-17

Monday, September 25, 2006

Actions Speak Louder Than words.

In the Faith Chapter of the Bible, Hebrews 11, faith is described using the nouns, "substance" and "evidence." Faith is defined as "the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen." But in the book of James (James 1:22 ) in the Bible, faith is also a verb. Faith is something we do. Christianity is more than a religion or a philosophy. It is a lifestyle…a way of doing…as well as a way of being, and is based on the heart changing and life changing amazing grace that we receive when we accept Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord of our life. James (James 1: 22-25) tells us that willingness to do what one hears from God…is what characterizes genuine faith."if we just listen and do not obey, it is like looking at our face in the mirror. As soon as we walk away, we forget what we look like. Some of us, as we get older may want to forget what we look like. When I speak to Senior Citizen Groups I remind them (and me) about one of the laws of compensation. As we age, our eyes get dimmer, so when we look in the mirror we do always see …all our wrinkles and age lines. "Ode to Myopia" by Cary Fellman.

My face in the mirror…Isn’t wrinkled or drawn. My house isn’t dirty,…The cobwebs are gone My garden looks lovely…And so does my lawn. I think I will not…Put my glasses back on. Many of us identified with Bishop Bevel Jones, who, when speaking at a recent mission event told us when he looked in the mirror he kept "trying to change the channel." James advises us to "keep looking steadily and clearly into God’s law…not just to mirror our own finite thoughts …but to get a word from the infinite God." I am not a sports fan. But someone called my attention to an article in the Atlanta Journal about a fullback with the Atlanta Falcons. His name is Bob and his faith in Christ is worked out in what he does and how he lives. He was an eight grader when his parents invited Christ into their lives. Bob witnessed the dramatic change in their lives. So Bob became a Christian a few months later. When Bob, who is a graduate of Northwestern University with a degree in Electrical Engineering .was playing in Chicago someone asked about his lifestyle , and he knew they might make fun of him when they learned he took seriously the teachings of the Bible…but decided that if speaking out helped just one youth, it was worth any harassment. Bob said something I believe. We as Christian adults are letting our youth down when we know what is right but are not getting the information out to our young people because it is politically incorrect by the standards of Hollywood and Academia. We expect our youth to take on our values. At the same time we are not giving them practical reasons for practicing sexual abstinence before marriage in a world of Aids and sexually transmitted diseases. We need to give our young people reasons for not drinking and set the example in a world of high powered automobiles and DUI’s and a time when one out of ten people who drink become alcoholic almost from the beginning and according to stats many more become problem drinkers. If the church does not tell the truth, we can be sure people who have a vested interest in a multibillion dollar alcohol industry will not. So it is good to have successful sports figures, not just talking the talk but walking the walk. I read a story recently about a poor farmer.He had one horse he depended on for his Living. (1) His horse pulled the plow and was his only means of transportation. One day a bee stung the horse and it ran away into the mountains. His neighbors in the village heard and came by to tell him how sorry they were to hear about his "bad luck" in losing his horse. The old farmer again said to his neighbors; " Good luck, Bad luck…who is to say?" A week later the horse came home and with him were twelve fine wild horses and the old man and his son corralled these fine horses. Again the news of the farmers windfall spread throughout the village and his neighbors came back to congratulate him on his good luck. Again the old farmer just shrugged and said;"Good luck, bad luck…who is to say?" The only son of the farmer was one day trying to tame one of the fine wild horses and the horse threw him off and his leg was broken in three places. When word of the accident spread the villagers came back saying, " we are sorry to hear of the accident and the bad luck of your son getting hurt. The old farmer just shrugged and said: "Good luck, Bad luck…who is to say?" Two weeks later war broke out between the provinces…and the army came through constricting every able bodied man under sixty. The son did not have to go because of his injury …which turned out to save his life because every soldier in the village who went was killed in battle. The old farmer was wise in accepting the fact that we human beings, regardless of advantages or education or money…are not wise enough to make final judgments on what is good luck or bad luck. He was profoundly wise in accepting his creaturelessness and his inability to make a final verdict until all the evidence is in. (2) As Paul tells us, "now we see through a glass darkly" (3) Verse 17 in James 1 tells us that God is the father of lights, with whom there is no variation nor shadow of turning. We are wise to remember that we are not in a position to make a final judgment on some things that happen to us. Some events that have every appearance of bad luck…in the mysterious unfolding of life, may turn out to bring unexpected good. We may flex our muscles and spout off our learning in the arts and sciences, but I visit in hospitals and nursing homes enough to know... we are not always in charge of our own body. The arts and the sciences are constantly being revised and "new scientific truth " is brought forth and yesterdays "old scientific truth" is being discarded. In one sense, I had the privilege of going through seminary twice. My first degree from Candler was a PHT (Putting hubby Through ) When my husband was a seminary student at Emory, because of my interest and calling, I read most of the books he brought into the house…Rudolph Bultman was one of the major theologians in the fifties with his works on form criticism and "demythogizing " the New Testament.Martin Buber the Jewish thinker was cited often with his "I Thou" relationship theology. When I attended the same seminary in the 1980’s neither Bulltman nor Buger were on our reading lists. The point is; human wisdom and the combined wisdom of noted thinkers often changes with the times. We see this illustrated in the medical field…in science as well as in theology. We see this idea reflected…mirrored in our schools, TV programs and newspapers every day. How wonderful to be privileged to gather around the timeless wisdom of the Bible…the word of God that "stands written" ...and is the eternal truth for every generation. This is basically the message of this text in the book of James. James wants us to know..."faith is something we do" Our actions (our behavior) does indeed speak louder and clearer than our words. The Lord wants to rescue from our damaging lifestyles and sins...because God loves us and wants the best for us. Therefore, when the Bible states clear and direct and strong moral proclamations about certain behaviors, you do not have to be a religious fanatic or a bigot to take it seriously. The people who are handing out condoms in pubic school in the name of "raging hormones " are giving kids the mistaken idea that hormones do not rage beyond youth so they had better take advantage while they can. Two often, our youth are advised to sell their future blessings for a mess of potridge …like Esau who so devalued his birthright that for immediate gratification he lost his blessing for a lifetime and lost the blessing that would have gone to his children, God wants to lead us into whatever changes are needed in our lifestyles…even if painful in the short run are changes that will bring blessedness now and in the long run …joy for a lifetime and beyond into eternal life. A few years ago…(8-17-97) I turned on the TV to "The Christophers"… an interview type program hosted by a priest. I tuned in just in time to hear a distinguished PhD type talking to the host. He was telling how he had been invited to speak a few years ago at John Brown University. He wondered about the origin of the name..."John Brown University" He decided it would probably not be named for the John Brown of "John Brown’s body lies a molding in the grave" fame…so he wrote for a brochure. He learned that the John Brown who founded the university had been a traveling evangelist. So as he was preparing to go to the school and give his speech…he admited he felt "a little condescending." He said he was identifying the term "evangelist" with some radical TV evangelist. On the morning of the speech, his father called from Tennessee and asked about his day and what he was about. So this distinguished speaker… mentioned to his dad that he was about to catch a plane to go out west to speak at John Brown University. His dad replied, "oh yes, I know about that university … it was under John Brown’s preaching that my dad was saved. " In relating this story he turned to his host and explained…that "saved" is the term commonly used in some church groups for becoming a Christian . The rest of the story is that this distinguished speaker’s Grandfather had been from a non Christian and poor, very disadvantaged family in the hills of Tennessee. At the age of 16 he has struck out on his own. He happened to encounter John Brown’s preaching …became a Christian. When he was ready to get married , he married a Christian girl…and established a Christian home…and thus his life and the life of his family and descendents was guided by and thus blessed by God. I thought as I heard this story, what better word could be found in all the dictionary than the word…"saved" to describe what happens to individuals and even families when Christ comes into a person’s life? Not just saved from the "wrath to come’ that John Wesley and the early circuit riders preached about. But also saved from illiteracy, ignorance, poverty …spiritual poverty and often economic poverty also as we join our disability with God’s ability. Christians established the first hospitals, schools and all the Ivy League Universities in our nation. James speaks of looking into the prefect law of God…not to mirror our own flawed wisdom. But to point us beyond human understanding to the liberating message of the mercy and grace.
AMEN. Notes 1. Johm Claypool, The Library of Distinctive Sermons, General Editor, Gary W. Kingston. P.31. 2. Ibid 3. I Corinthians 13:12

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Living on Hazel Street

My older cousin Aubrey Simms's told me he remembered as a boy of six, the very night in 1922 when my father told his father about his decision to sell his farm and move to town. The "Great Depression" had already hit the South!

My father learned he could get a job in one of the Porterdale Mills and move his family to Porterdale (a mill town near Covington in Newton County Georgia.)
Aubrey said his Dad replied, "Uncle Wilson, I will go to share cropping before I will move my family to a Mill town."

Aubrey told me about his father's continued refusal to move his family and have his children raised in a mill town when cotton farmers all over the South during the Great Depression and the Boll weevil epidemic were giving up on trying to make a living in farming.

Apparently my father, a hard working and intelligent Christian man in failing health, thought this his only option. I am told he worked in the Old Porterdale mill (pictured above) until he became disabled. The first house we lived in was on Laurel Street. Laurel Street was near the woods and Yellow River. I have written about it in another post.

My father was bedridden for over a year and died when I was nine. My first memories him is walking in the woods beside him holding his hand and picking wild flowers. I remember standing by his bedside in his final illness and two specific things he told me. He told me to always "mind my Mother"and to stay in my own yard to play unless I had "leave from my mother." The second thing he told me was to always tell the truth because one's word was important. This had a such a profound influence. My father's Christian witness has a profound influence on me.
Aubrey Simms and I both grew up proud of the same grandfather. Colonel William Baird who was a confederate Army Officer.

My mother told me one day she felt she had arrived at "the jumping off place" when they moved into one of the mill houses "behind the Mill." She loved farm living.

She often reminded me I came from "good stock, " (at a time when people thought "class" and "race" was important ) meaning our ancesters were educated and owners of their own housing.

Her well educated cousin, Opal Ficquit, was the wife of the Newton county school superintendent and drove her car out to visit Mama often.

Opal Lee and Ieula Dick (my mother) had been raised on neighboring farms in Fayette County, two of the granddaughters of Rev. Bogan Mask, a properous farmer (for the times) and a Methodist preacher.

I was interested a few years ago when Ferrell Sams, a well know Georgia Writer and medical doctor from Fayette County, published his book, Epiphany. In the book he had Bogan Mask as a preacher who bought a slave for the purpose of granting freedom to him. The grandson of the slave was said to be the first Black doctor in Georgia. Ferrell Sam's Epiphany is a book of fiction. But I understand this story is a part of our family lore.

We know "owning slaves" was not an accepted practice by Methodist preachers before the Civil War, even though it was a common world wide custom.
It was in the Christian Bible that people of all ethnicities learned that God is not a "respector of persons" but loves each individual..."the world." (John 3:16)

Before the Civil War (1861- 1865) many people who were wealthy enough and could not find enough peasants to hire, brought slaves to maintain their property. In the Southern United States, less than ten percent of the Caucasions , a few Native Americans and a few Aftican Americans "owned" slaves. The slaves were mostly people, bought (from other Africans) and brought from the continent of Africa.

Mama was well aware that the country and the world at that time, not only discriminated against people of different races but classes as well. The South paid a high price for it's participation in what John Wesley and John Wilberforce and other literate caucasion Christian men and women rightly called, "the unspeakable evil of slavery." In our egalitarian society, we would do well to try to put these years in the context of widespread illiteracy and worldwide serfdom. People born into a world of class and race divisions accept it as a part of life.

I have written briefly about how my husband and I began to take some licks for our work for the breakdown of segregation between the races and approval of integration long before it became a politically correct posture.

When I was a child, we were taught in our civics classes in school about the three economic classes: Upper, Middle Class and Lower Class. I remember one day when this unit came up. One little boy raised his hand and said to the teacher, "We are the Middle Class?" The teacher paused and tried to find words to get around the label. I remember thinking the teacher thought we were not "middle class" but a part of the Lower Class. Most of the students in my class were children of mill workers with little educational opportunities.

Lower Class? But I was thinking, "there are people poorer than we!" There was row of three or four "poor houses" out on Brown's Bridge Road near Covington where some old people lived in "poor houses." I understood they were old people, not able to work, who had no money and no relatives to look after them.
One day we were riding out that road and saw an old man sitting on the porch staring at people who passed by. I was told it was a row of "poor houses." This house and the pitiful elderly man is still on the wall of my memory.

It seems that a family must have lived in the Porterdale Textile village for some time prior to renting a house more to their liking. After a few years we moved to Ivy Street, which was in front of the Osprey plant and had better kept houses and considered a better neighborhood by some.

My brief memories of life on Ivy Street include a painful bee sting and a new pair of shoes. We seem to have always had a porch swing. I remember sitting on the swing on our Ivy Street porch when a bee sting sent me screening to my mother in the house. I also remember getting a new pair of black patent leather slippers while we lived on Ivy Street. I was walking down the street holding Mary's hand. I must have been about four and Mary fourteen. I could hardly walk for looking down at my new shoes. Apparently my delight with the new shoes embarrassed Mary or perhaps she was afraid I would fall down. Anyway, as we walked, she kept reminding me to stop looking down at my shoes.

We lived on Ivy Street until a larger house became vacant on Hazel Street which ran parallel to Ivy just one street over. We omoved into one of the "new houses." They were built to also be a duplex when needed but we rented to whole house. The bak had three small rooms. The center room held a large footed bath tub. Oneeach side was a smaller room with a comode.

Much of my memories of Porterdale center on Hazel Street. We thought Hazel Street the perfect location. We called in "our corner." Wonderful neighbors: Albert and Blance Fincher, whose children were my playmates Hazel, Dorothy and Lamar. Mr and Mrs Parnell were also our good frends, E.F Parnell and Mamie Miller. The Hornings with Guy, Sybil and Hazel, The Moores (Obie and Grace, Obie Jr. and Billie). The Martins, Capes, Loyds.

Mrs. Parnell had two older children from a former marriage, a son, Henry Miller and a daughter, Lois, who married Woodrow Rogers. Henry had married an older woman, a "grass widow." What is a grass widow? A divorced woman (of which there were few in those days) was said to be a "grass widow."

I remember Henry's first wife as very slim and flat chested. She had bright red hair that was said to have been“dyed.” They had no children and later divorced.

As I remember, some of the women in the neighborhood accepted Henry's divorce from the "grass widow" without problem because he was, they reasoned, "not Biblically married in the first place." Today we consider this discrimination (a word we probably had never heard then), but I think the harshness toward Henry's first wife was that the neighbors felt this "older, more experienced woman" had taken advantage of the teenaged Henry. Henry later married a pretty brunette his own age. I think her name was Maggie and they, in due time, had a son. I would occasionally go with my young freind Mamie to visit them and play with the baby.

Other neighbors were the Hornings, who had a son, Guy, and two daughters, Hazel and Sybil. Mrs. Horning's mother "Grannie Brooks" lived with them. Grannie Brooks was known in the neighborhood as devoutly Christian. I remember her as a boxlike short woman in long starched print dresses with her long gray hair pulled back in a large bun.

One day Grannie Brooks got very sick, and they sent for Dr. Baxley and Mama. (This is the same Dr. Baxley who "was first to "put women to sleep " before he delivered their babies.) When Mama returned for Granny Brooks , I heard her tell my older sister that Grannie Brooks' bowels were impacted, and Dr. Baxley had "picked it out of her." Dr. Baxley must have been a kind man. Grannie Brooks had said, "Dr. Baxley, pray for me." Dr. Baxley replied, “Grannie, you pray and I will pick." This is definitely more than you want to know! Mama was akind woman who also had a good sense of humor so found the doctor's remark something to laugh about. It is amazing what children hear and remember!

The Capes, Loyds, Browns, and Martins were also our long-time neighbors on "our corner" of Hazel Street. We referred to this section of town as "our corner." If we had owned the house, the block or the whole town, at least from a child’s point of view, it could not have been more ”ours” nor more “home."

Oh, the benefits of lack of ownership?

Hazel Street provided a slightly closer walk to school, church, post office and the few stores in town; one grocery store and one drug store. The Pharmacy had a soda fountain with ice cream cones going for five cents. However, in those days, nickles had to counted. We did not often patronize the soda fountain, It was a special treat on occasion.

One thing I remember buying at the grocery store was a package of six small cinnamon rolls for five cents. As delicious as my yeast coffee cakes are, they do not compare with the taste of those rare cinnamon rolls of my childhood memory.

One day Mama sent me to the store to get three cans of salmon? I

think it was three cans of salmon. Was salmon ever just ten cents a can?

I started walking back up the hill toward home with the three cans in a paper bag and sat down for a few minutes on the steps to the Methodist church (the church where I had been baptized as a baby and where my folks were members.)

BTW. Mama told me one of the neighbors said, "I cannot beleive they let that little baby join the church." I was not a member of the church but declared to be "saved" until I reached the age of accountability where I would reject or accept Christ for myself. Briefly, Infant baptism is also the church "naming the baby." The Christian name given me is Sarah Ruth. It is also the parents and the church family's committment to Christian living by "precept and example."

The steps to the Methodist church came all the way down to the sidewalk that went down to the General Store. I sat on the bottom step and counted my change.

As i counted I realized the clerk had given me five cents too much change. A whole nickle! As timid as I was, I would have to go back to the store to give the man his money. When I handed the man the nickle and told him he gave me too much change he laughed and told me the cans were three for twenty five cents.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Good Friday

One of my favorite stories is of the little boy who was giving direction to a church and he said, “It's that building down the street with a big plus sign on top

"Good Friday answers the question of how a "Bad Friday," a very bad Friday became "Good Friday" and a big plus sign. The great "Good Friday News" the writer of Hebrews (9:1-17 explains in lawyers language, is that we are the "heirs" of Jesus. We all are the beneficiaries of the "Notarized Will of Jesus".

All the debts have been paid (Jesus paid it all with his own blood). We just need to step up and accept our inheritance as the blood kin of Jesus and thus realize we are the beneficiaries of His "last will and testament."

I finally went to see the Mel Gibson movie, “The Passion of the Christ. “ As I sat watching, I found myself turning my head away from the relentless scenes of blood and violence.

When I went home, I read again the passages about the crucifixion in all four gospels …passages I had read many times… but now realizing that just as I had covered my eyes from seeing the blood in the movie, I had read hurriedly past the blood and gore of the scourging and the cross in the Bible record. Like the typical woman, the sight of blood makes me squeamish. And here I am, reading Hebrews 9 and writing about the bloody cross of Jesus.

I suppose we all would like to imagine…and re-imagine a Gospel "without dripping blood." It is an unpopular theme.I sing a lot around the house, and this week I was looking at the large number of hymns about the cross and the blood of Jesus.

It seems so central in the Old as well as the New Testament. Blood is not only in hymns like The Old Rugged Cross and Power in the Blood but hymns like Blessed Assurance with a line like “Born of his spirit, washed in his blood. "Well, just the phrase "wash in the blood" had also raised questions in my mind as a child...“how could anyone be washed in blood and come out clean."

Who in their right mind would be intersted in "dripping blood?"And, how we all like to think we are in our "right mind." We are not like those "fundamental" Christians. That is why we memorize John 3:16 and read quicky and dismiss Hebrews 9.

But when we hear the American Red Cross say, “Give Blood…give the gift of life,” we are reminded of the value of life giving blood. We know loss of blood means loss of life. So washed in the blood of Jesus means being washed in life, real life…the essence of life…the plus of life.Blood is the vehicle of transferred life in medicine as well as in the Bible. In Exodus 24:5, as we see Moses in the old blood covenant taking the blood of a lamb and sprinkling it on the people.

To our ears this sounds strange and the people may not have been happy to have blood sprinkled on them. But this blood of the lamb used in the Old Covenant is also in our Scripture in Hebrews today. It points to the cross and eternal LIFE through the the shed blood of Jesus, God’s spotless "Lamb of God."As we know, Communion symbolizes the blood covenant we have entered into in remembrance of Jesus last supper, and the sacrifice of Jesus for our salvation.

One of our family stories is about the first time my granddaughter Lillian, a bright and beautiful child like our wonderful children here this morning, took communion at age four or five. When she was at the altar with her parents and sister and heard the pastor said. ”This is the blood of the New Covenant,” She apparently was listening to the words; because she clamped her mouth tight and shook her head and refused to drink it.

Her beautiful mother, Sheila talked to her about the meaning of communion and told her she could not go up and take communion if she refused to drink the grape juice. Grape juice? So she, knowing for sure what was really in the cup, the next Communion, she not only drank it but smacked her lips, and rubbed her little stomach and smiled up at her mother to show she was not only obeying by taking communion but doing so joyfully.

I think this kind of aliveness and joy is an appropriate response to Communion for a 4 year old or any of us at as we realize …this life giving blood of the new covenant is to bring us, as beneficiaries of Jesus back from the deadness that sin has placed upon us. On C-Span recently I heard a sad looking girl, who identified herself as an atheist… talking about how she does not need a God…that she is in control of her own life.

Poor child! There comes a time when even the strongest among us are helpless and not in control of anything. I takes a long time for some to realize our best minds are too weak to comprehend all of the mystery of God and "our arms are too short to box with God." We accept Christ by faith but, thank God it is not a blind faith!

Albert Einstein said "the fairest thing we can experience is the mysterious...the fundamental emotion which stands at the cradle of true science. Einstein and other prominant scientits have concluded there is room in a rational universe for incomprehensible wonders.

On the cross Jesus identifies with us in out helplessness and brokenness. It is his blood transfusion that brings about vitality and transformation in our life.

A few years ago I went with some of my family and other Trinity friends up to Daisy United Methodist church in the Chattanooga area to hear my grandson Benjamin sing with his College Glee Club and Bell Choir.One of the young students gave her testimony. She was the daughter of a Methodist Minister.

A few weeks earlier, her grandmother had died, a friend died and her father was transferred after a nine year pastorate.Moving after 9 years in her young life was a traumatic event. Then in the midst of the move, her mother had a heart attack so it put a great deal of the packing on her young shoulders.She said she kept looking up and asking “Lord I know you are there but. why! Why is all this happening in my life?

Most of us do not live long until we realize we need more than just a few religious band aids to patch up our brokeness. No ritual "first aid treatment" can heal the grief bruised and sin sick soul. Spiritually, we are told throughout the New Testament, we need a heart transplant...a blood tranfusion... we need God.

I heard Vic Pense, from Peachtree Presbyterian tell the story of a man driving his car in eastern Washington State one day and having to stop and wait because a large flock of sheep were crossing the road. As the man watched the sheep, the phrase “lamb of God “kept driftingthrough his mind, As he waited, he got out of his car and walked over to the shepherd and asked him ‘What does the phrase “Lamb of God” mean to you.”

The sheep herder told him: “each year at lambing time, there are some baby lambs as well as some mother sheep that die. The shepherd said, inevitably, he said, there would be a ewe, who would be full of milk, but her lamb had died and she refused to feed a lamb she does not recognize as her own.There would also be a baby lamb whose mother had died so it was starving because no other mother ewe would accept and feed it.

But the shepherd learned that he could take the mother sheep’s dead lamb and cut it throat and pour the blood over the little orphaned lamb. Then the mother sheep would recognize the blood and accept and welcome the lamb that had the blood of her own lamb on it.

Through the gift of being washed in the blood of the lamb that had died, the living lamb is recognized and accepted and nourished and saved.Dr.Pense went on to say, “When we are covered with the blood of Jesus, the Lamb of God, God sees us through rose colored glasses. God sees us as His own through blood tinted glasses!

“So we do not come to the communion table to have a priest of the old covenant sprinkle blood over us or dip his finger in the blood of a spotless lamb and place it on us. We come forward to take the blood and body of Jesus inside us as in Jeremiah prophesy that one day…one great “Plus Sign” day God would put his new covenant inside us…in our heart.

Thus by accepting his sacrifice for us, we share in his body and blood and become blood kin to Jesus and blood kin to one another. Thank God. Praise God! Amen! --

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Ray Warren Lathem III; October 19, 1975- May 11, 1996.

All of us who know and love Jane and Warren and who knew their parents were in shock and grief with them May 11 of 1996 when we got the word that the oldest of their two sons, Ray Warren Lathem III, and other missionaries were on the Valujet plane that crashed in the Florida Everglades.

On October 19, 1975 at 3:33 am, Ray W. Lathem III was born to Warren and Jane Baird Lathem. Jane wrote about that happy day; " I gave birth to my first child. I was young and scared to death but also thrilled and very happy. We only celebrated 20 birthdays with him but we are thankful for each one. Happy Birthday Ray! We love you, miss you and look forward to seeing you again."

Warren Lathem wrote on May 11, 2011, "15 years ago today life changed forever for the Lathems when Ray, Carlos Gonzales, Roger and Dana Lane died along with 106 more people in the VauJet crash in the Florida Everglades. Today there is a service of remembrance in the Everglades at the Memorial, a beautiful concrete structure designed by students at the U of M school of architecture. One of their classmates died in the crash. We were there for the 10th anniversary. We will not be there for this one. Jane and I leave Monday for work at the Seminario de Wesleyano de Venezuela where we have been building a living memorial for the past several years. God has done an amazing work of grace in our lives through this tragedy. We still grieve, but not as those who have no hope. Our hope is secure. Ray, we love you and miss you, but we will see you again in a little while. In the meantime, there is Kingdom work to do and we are committed to doing it as long as we have breath."

The over flowing Mt Pisgah church sanctuary for Ray’s Home Going Service in May 1996 was only a small token of the love and sorrow so many were feeling and continue to feel in the death of such a precious and talented young man. At the time of Ray's death, he was returning from a Christian mission trip to Venezuela. Ray was a gifted student, singer and poet.

I was in Cedartown with the Lathems for the celebration of my brother Tom Baird's 80ths birthday and heard Ray's wonderful Christian testimony about his missionary call just a couple of weeks before the Valujet crash.

To me it did not seem “right” that my big brother Tom's family has had to deal with a sudden family death again. I well remember being the one who had to tell my mother about Tom and Rowena' son and Jane's brother, Jack’s accident and death at age 22 in 1964.

My mother, a devote Christian was “angry with God” when I told her about Jack. Why our precious Jack? Jack was such an adorable little boy and Mama doted on him and loved to recount all his brilliant and cute saying. My brother Tom Baird's wife Rowena had lived with his mother while Rowena was pregnant with Jack and Tom was serving in Europe in World War II. Mama loved Rowena like her own daughter.

While riding from the crowded Methodist church to the cemetery after Jack’s service in Cedartown, Georgia, with a dozen or more Georgia State Patrol cars leading the way, my mind was in turmoil as I kept praying for my dear brother, sister-in-law , their little daughter, Jane, and the grandmothers and all the shocked and grieving family.

Praying also for answers to the “whys” of a young person’s death. Among many other passages of Scripture, Psalm 90 spoke to me then and spoke to me later as I sat in the sanctuary just a few rows behind Tom and Rowena, Warren, Jane and Jared in another oveflow crowd at Mt Pisgah Church in Alpharetta, Georgia at the Homegoing service for out precious Ray Lathem in 1996.

Moses wrote in Psalm 90, “A thousand years in God’s sight are but as a day when it is past and as a watch in the night.” God has made us for eternity and our swift run across the stage of earth, whether just a few months in our mother's womb (as two babies I have conducted burial services for) or a 98 year old man we buried from Trinity church recently. It is as a day in the sight of God, and in the case of Ray it is merely the first notes on a beautiful symphony yet to be played.

It seems to me that measuring the length of life in the light of eternity - whether we live a hundred years or just twenty or thirty years - we have only a brief time. This is why it is so important to learn from God. The eternal God is our dwelling place and underneath are the everlasting arms.

God has given us freedom. We are in a highly mechanized, fallen world and it seems to me many persons' physical lives are cut short needlessly. Human error is said to have been the cause of the airplane crash that took the physical life of Ray and other missionaries to Venezuela? Questions!

Praise God what we call "Death" does not have the final word about what God calls "Life."
Jesus took away the sting of death when He said in John 11:25: "I am the resurrection and the life, those who believe in Me, Though they die, yet shall they live."