#changetheconversation

I just came in from my morning walk.

My devotions led me to this.

We got back from our most recent trip to Haiti about eight hours ago. I, and three very humble, gifted, generous, funny, faithful friends had a full day of travel and retrospection. As is true after pretty much every trip the conversations kept steering to what could we do to “fix Haiti.” We didn’t use those words but that is the bottom line.

There are many responses rolling in your mind right now.

“Heal thyself” might well be one of them.

I digress.

By “fix” we are pretty much skipping over some of the greater truth to chase an economic solution.

Economic change is greatly needed there.

That’s exactly the thing we cannot fix.

To dwell on that is to come to a level of frustration that leads to spiritual stagnation that leads to defeat.

There is a line in a Book I read fairly regularly that says “the One who began a good work in you will see it to completion…”

We aren’t called to finish the job. We don’t even have a good grasp of what the beautiful result should look like. We are simply called to be participants in the project.

If we lose sight of this we also lose sight of something very sweet.

The good work is exactly that.

We can’t fix Haiti (or Anderson for that matter) but there are over 600 children going to school through the work that was begun in us. That means something.

We can’t fix Haiti (or Washington for that matter) but there is a young woman with new clothes going to college. New clothes and college weren’t even an option, not even a dream. That means something.

We can’t fix Haiti (or even change one hair on my head) but there is a very bright young man who is back in classical (secondary) school who’d dropped out because he didn’t have the $250 for the annual tuition. That means something.

We can’t fix Haiti but I also can’t get the image out of my head of several people leaving our outdoor woodworking area with chairs, tables, stools, and HUGE smiles. That means something.

We can’t fix Haiti but there is a freshly painted building with new pews to sit on where people gather to praise and draw strength and find hope in a place where these things are as essential as air and food. That means something.

I can’t fix Haiti but I can believe in a Friend who is in the process of doing that very thing - and fixing me in the process.

I got to the church building here in Rogersville about 11 last night. I checked my messages and mail. There was a note from a sweet lady who had a serious injury and several surgeries last year. She had no money for food - or for Christmas gifts for her children. You gave generously to her. The note she sent included the words “you have no idea how much that meant to us.”

She’s right.

As our Friend and I were winding up a fairly brief stroll this morning I felt compelled to confess the part of my life that wants to see everything fixed. He smiled at me the way he does and said…

“I prefer to look at the fixers.”

Your move.

Brother Pat

#changetheconversation

I just came in from my morning walk.

My devotions led me to this.

I love Luke.

We never met, being separated by a couple of millenia as we are.

But my affection is deep for what he gave me that otherwise I wouldn’t have.

Luke, if you are wondering, wrote a right fair smart of the Book I read for comfort, challenge, and humility.

He was an outsider.

Quite likely the only outsider who got published in this way.

Without him I would never have known about the story my Friend told about the waiting parent. It’s a story that has me relating to every character in the tale.

Without Luke we’d be left with one dreadful Christmas Carol. Can you imagine the drudgery of singing 🎶We Three Kings🎶 without some relief from 🎶Joy to the World🎶?

This morning I am dwelling on another tale our Friend taught that he, and he alone, shared.

In this tale, which has infinite implications, there are a couple of fellows who clearly should have known the right thing to do but took DELIBERATE action to avoid doing it.

Then along came another fellow traveler who, by the norms of the day, could have legitimately avoided doing the right thing but took DELIBERATE action to do it.

Then our Friend narrowed the question to an obvious answer.

And closed the account by saying “do that.”

Show mercy.

End.

Of.

Story.

As our Friend and I ambulated along we were chatting about outsiders who show up and insiders who disappear. He smiled at me the way he does and said…

“Makes you wonder if old Luke had ever been robbed and beaten - and loved - doesn’t it?”

Your move.

Brother Pat

Posted 3 weeks ago

I just came in from my morning walk.

My devotions led me to this.

Some motivational writer once opined that often folks “spend their lives tuning their guitar but never sing the song they came to sing.”

That is a statement that can rob your peace.

In a hurry.

Certainly we are good with “getting on with it”, whatever that means.

But an endless quest for the next adventure, adrenaline surge, or public notice fuels a lot of Facebook space.

You know what I mean?

Here’s the thing.

One of the most needed things…

One of the most gratifying experiences….

One of the special gifts…

Is tuning guitars…

Helping someone else contribute to the concert…

Making the harmony happen.

You know what I mean?

Those quiet, unobserved, deeply felt words of encouragement you speak are a vital part of someone’s life.

That simple, humble, sweet kindness you show wherever you go with whom ever you travel tunes two guitars - minimum.

The peace you have from being content helping the band play together is quite likely the loudest, most melodious, most visible gift you can give yourself - and show the way to the real Giver, the master tuner.

Sing that.

It will be heard by the audience that matters.

As our Friend and I stepped out on a goodly Tuesday we were talking about the race to center stage that so easily becomes an addictive and destructive obsession. He smiled at me the way he does and said…

“Tighten the A string just a tad.”

Your move.

Brother Pat

Posted 3 weeks ago

I just came in from my morning walk.

My devotions led me to this.

I was listening to Canned Heat last night.

If you aren’t of a certain vintage you likely never heard of them.

The song that stuck with me from 1970, and July 11, 2021 is “Let’s Work Together.”

The lyrics aren’t complex. Truth be told they are simple - and straightforward.

Maybe a little corny.

I suspect purists would call the vocals “narrow.”

The band’s performances were never what you would call “tight.”

Canned Heat just seemed to have a good time singing an honest song about a timeless truth.

There is a passage in the Book I read that says “How wonderful, how beautiful, when brothers and sisters get along.”

Ain’t it the truth?

In a world, sometimes a house, that so easily falls to division…

In a time when progress in the peaceable way is so needed…

In a life that suffers from the fractures of bitterness and regret…

Maybe we all need to listen to Canned Heat sing a simple, honest song.

Besides, it is a good dance tune.

Eh?

As our Friend and I walked into a warm breeze on a Monday morning we were talking about “going it alone” if you have to but “sharing the load” because you need to. He smiled at me the way he does and sang…

🎶“I’m going up the country”🎶

Your move.

Brother Pat

Posted 3 weeks ago

I just came in from my morning walk.

Shabat Shalom

It’s a deep theology kind of morning.

Or a time to lighten up.

You pick.

I am seldom lost for words.

The words may well be nonsensical, sometimes ill used, quite frequently mispronounced, but I can usually find a few.

Howsomever there are those times I could use some help.

One skill I haven’t acquired is knowing what to say when one of my much loved charges shows me the photos from…

Their colonoscopy.

You know who you are.

In my decades of hospital visiting this experience comes around with surprising frequency.

I suppose it is a sign of the intimate relationship between a pastor and the parishioners.

But I still don’t know what to say.

“I would recognize you anywhere” has come to mind but it doesn’t seem especially helpful.

“The colors are vibrant” would be truth - but maybe misleading.

“Are you going to frame this one?” has been used but one must know the patient well before going there.

So I usually mumble a few words about the marvels of technology and the skills of physicians.

Except for that one time I asked “could I get a copy?”

Feel free to make suggestions.

I have to polish my sermon.

As our Friend and I walked with thunder rumbling and lightning marching ever closer I was telling him about a recent hospital visit. He smiled at me the way he does and said…

“The things they don’t teach in seminary.”

Your move.

Brother Pat

Posted 3 weeks ago

I just came in from my morning walk.

My devotions led me to this.

The pain was intense.

Broken hearts are like that.

My friend Donny messaged me. He didn’t call because he couldn’t talk.

His son Eric died.

COVID-19.

Five weeks in ICU.

All but a few hours in a coma.

On Wednesday, the next day, after a hard night, Donny and I met beside the road. In the rain.

He and Phyllis were preparing to go be with the surviving family a few days.

He told me about the young widow.

The four teenage sons.

The mom.

The dad.

The shock which was beyond any preparation.

He told me how the grief comes in waves.

How he wouldn’t wish such pain on anyone.

I didn’t have any words worthy of speaking.

So our tears mingled with the rain drops.

We embraced and muttered a prayer.

I told him I will mow his lawn.

He said “if you have time.”

I do.

As our Friend and I walked out on a Saturday stroll we were talking about inadequacy and humbling experiences. And pain. I wish I could tell you he told me the perfect words to offer but he smiled at me the way he does and said…

“Crank the mower.”

Your move.

Brother Pat

Posted 3 weeks ago

I just came in from my morning walk.

My devotions led me to this.

This may be rambling.

Or it may be a direct shot to the heart.

Just two days ago the president of Haiti was assassinated. It seems like an eternity already as the poor people of Haiti grieve, their dire circumstances become untenable, and the uncertainty creates an atmosphere that is choking.

For forty-eight hours I have been praying. I know there is something I should be doing but I had no clue what. In the meantime many of you reached out to me with your concern and tender hearts and your comforting prayers. Thank you from me and on behalf of our friends in Haiti.

This morning, about 3:30 a.m., when I got up I had a message from Uncle Dowe. He too was reaching out in his pain and hope.

Then he preached me a sermon.

He told of Elijah and Elisha both needing a miracle and how they got it going by telling God their jars were empty.

And another time Elisha was hearing from some folks who were all worked up over a drought. Elisha tells them to dig ditches to hold the water that would come. Already God was pouring out a soaker upstream in Edom.

The ditches got filled.

Our friends in Haiti are in need of many things. Above all they need to know they are loved and never forgotten. It is raining upstream.

So then I messaged with Pastor Joab at Dufour. I told him of a vision I was getting of a “Flood of Grace.” This flood wouldn’t water brick and mortar church buildings. It would nurture lives with food and gainful employment and, especially, a constant awareness of a never ending Love.

Joab said he was having the same thoughts.

That made three of us getting the same message.

So, back to Uncle Dowe.

I told him I was going to raise $25,000 to fund this work.

He told me he’d written a check for $25,000 an hour ago.

And he said “God can fill as many jars as you have the audacity to ask God to fill.”

Gulp.

So I laid my head back, closed my eyes, and dreamed.

Then I told Uncle Dowe I was going to raise $50,000 to fund this work.

He coolly responded that this was getting awfully close to $100,000.

GULP!

So.

$100,000 it is.

No kidding.

We have $32,500 of this now.

Those of us who are standing with our umbrellas extended are going to see a remarkable thing happen as the ditches fill in Dufour.

I ‘spect we’ll be around 1/3 of the goal by tonight.

Eh?

As our Friend and I walked a muggy hike this morning I was telling him how my faith was getting stuck in my throat. He smiled at me the way he does and….

It started to rain.

Your move.

Brother Pat

Donations may be mailed to

FCPC

16751 Highway 72

Rogersville AL 35652

Note: Flood of Grace

Posted 3 weeks ago

I just came in from my morning walk.

My devotions led me to this.

There is a church gathering going on in Louisville this week.

It has the grandiose label “The 190th General Assembly of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church.”

To the larger church it is going to be ignored.

To the world it will never have happened.

You won’t get that perspective from our small band called Cumberland Presbyterians.

Folks up there are getting steamed.

An impartial observer might well conclude that the book that matters to us is Robert’s Rules of Order.

It always amuses and amazes me how much time goes in to “the proper form of the motion.”

That way we don’t have to talk to each other. Or listen.

But this isn’t about that.

It is about the humbling reality that everyone of us (except you and me of course) has a God that looks exactly like each of us, values exactly what each of us values, and demands that each of us be what we’ve always been with whomever we’ve always been it.

It is almost as if we are projecting a Diety.

There seems to be a fair amount of this going on at the aforementioned meeting.

Not to mention every hour of our lives.

Except for you and me of course.

Here’s the humbling thing.

God might just be outside our ideas, hopes, biases, and conclusions.

Except for you and me of course.

If that’s the case my pride, vanity, and hubris are the very things that will kill us.

If anything is left after Robert’s Rules of Order gets done.

And a reckoning with a bigger God than I will ever grasp just might save us.

Eh?

As our Friend and I walked along under the light of the moon with the stars offering an amazing spectacle we chatted about small folks reaching big conclusions and insisting everyone else adhere to them. We also laughed hard about the challenges of getting a substitute motion removed from the “table.” In the end he smiled at me the way he does and said…

“Except for you and me of course.”

Your move.

Brother Pat

Posted 5 weeks ago

I just came in from my morning walk.

My devotions led me to this.

It was a day to be thankful for tears.

Saturday afternoon late I was talking to my friend Donny.

His son, Eric, was in a coma…entering the fourth week…with Covid 19.

He has a tracheotomy to enable breathing.

Got it last Thursday we think. Days are running together.

That was a step up from the ventilator he’d been on.

Donny hadn’t seen him in all that time.

He was anxious.

I told him I would continue my prayers.

I told him I would call the church to prayer as we gathered the next day.

I did.

Both congregations.

Sunday afternoon Eric opened his eyes.

Among other things going on the staff held a phone to Eric’s ear.

Donny talked to him just a bit.

Words of a father’s love were spoken.

Donny’s son couldn’t talk of course.

The sweet lady that held the phone told Donny that Eric heard what was said.

She knew this because tears ran down his face.

And now you know why it is a day to be thankful for tears.

And thankful for a father’s love…and being a witness to it all…and praying.

As our Friend and I walked by Donny’s place this morning it was quiet all around. We reached out to include Donny and Eric in our conversation. Then my companion smiled at me the way he does and said…

“A fathers love.”

The tears told the tale.

Brother Pat

Posted 5 weeks ago

I just came in from my morning walk.

My devotions led me to this.

I’ve been thinking about a sermon where I just stand up, quietly say “you already know this stuff.  Now go do it.”

And sit down.

The positive is that we would get an early lunch.

The negative is that we don’t know all this stuff, at least I don’t.

How could we?

It is one of the pleasures of my path that I keep finding myself surprised by grace.

It is one of the delights of my existence that the joy of the Lord keeps bringing strength.

It is one of the luxuries of my life that the communities we build and share and from which we draw strength are an ever changing and ever comforting circle.

And it is bliss without bull to lean into the Love of God. 

And the love of neighbor.

There is a reason words like uncountable and unimaginable and endless keep showing up when we get to something that is, you guessed it -

Unquantifiable.

Good things are like that.

If we can do anything, anything at all, to open the next chapter of faith we will.

So don’t look for shorter naps when I ascend to the pulpit.

Eh?

As our Friend was setting the pace for an interesting walk we noticed that every single venture took a different route.  Some were subtle.  Some were startling. All were rewarding - eventually.  The he smiled at me the way he does and said…

“It doesn’t have to be a long sermon to be unending”

Your move.

Brother Pat

Posted 5 weeks ago

I just came in from my morning walk.

Shabat Shalom!

My devotions led me to this.

2,876.

This number isn’t accurate in an absolute sense.

Some I forgot to log.

There have been a few reruns.

But 2,876 is today’s number.

That’s a lot of sermons.

Never once have I been pleased with my effort.

Never once have I experienced anything but amazement at the grace of the long-suffering folks who have listened.  

Never once have I not been astounded at the ways the Spirit fills in the gaps, transcends the inadequacies, and speaks.

Sometimes I get very, very amused at what gets said.

Even more often I get very, very amused at what gets heard.

All that to get to this.

Folks seem to hear pretty much precisely what they came wanting, or needing, to hear.

That’s my convoluted way of saying that most of the sermon preparation gets done by the listeners, not the preachers.

Those who get themselves “in a state” usually leave in pretty much the same state.

Those who come seeking peace have a certain calm when they depart.

Those who know the astounding rewards of grace leave amazed.

Those who envision their joy restored and their strength renewed have it.

Those who want to lean into the humility and hope of the Good News won’t be disappointed.

So.

I want to thank a great cloud of witnesses for preparing 2,876 sermons.

And I humbly request that you prepare two more for this morning.

Eh?

As our Friend and I stepped out on another step out we were talking about sermons.  We always do on Sundays.  He smiled at me the way he does and said…

“They’ve worked hard on this one.”

Your move.

Brother Pat

Posted 5 weeks ago