Category Archives: Commentary

Awkward

We’ve all had awkward moments:

  • In 8th grade, I threw up a beautiful shot … in the wrong basket.
  • I was asked to officiate at a funeral for a person I did not know. The funeral director gave me the wrong name that I promptly used throughout the service.
  • In my first wedding, I solemnly switched a key phrase – Instead of “What God has joined together …” I began with “What God has torn asunder.”

You’ve had them, too.

  • Perhaps you burst out laughing at a funeral.
  • Perhaps you began to sing loudly when no one else had started.
  • Perhaps the person you asked out for a date thought you were kidding.
  • Perhaps your boss sent you a friend request on Facebook.
  • Perhaps you’re Steve Harvey and you announce the wrong winner at the Miss Universe pageant.
  • Perhaps you’re Brooke Shields in a public announcement spot: “Smoking kills. If you’re killed, you’ve lost a very important part of your life.”
  • Perhaps you’re Dan Quayle, who began a speech at NASA: “My fellow astronauts …”

Awkward, embarrassing, hard-to-recover-from moments of life happen. You hope people around you are kind, understanding, and compassionate … or not. When I returned to school after my goof at the basketball game, one of my coaches was waiting to christen me with a new nickname – “Wrong Way Wilbanks.” Tough for a 13 year-old boy to handle.

We should strive to show more grace in the awkward moments. You won’t meet a person who hasn’t stumbled or blown it or messed up. Jesus had a way of dealing with such things: “Treat others as you wish to be treated.”

A sign of a maturing person – if everybody’s laughing, you might as well join in. It may lessen the sting a bit.

I’m dreaming, right?

Michael Licona coauthored the 2004 book, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus. He addressed objections to the resurrection. One of them has been that people hallucinated the risen Christ. They wanted to see Him so badly that they did. Licona lived in Virginia Beach for a number of years. During that time, he got to know several Navy SEALs stationed there. He knew that few applicants made it through the intense, strenuous training. These guys were normally tight-lipped about their experiences, but Licona had heard enough to realize the stress these men had gone through. One of the infamous components of their qualification process was “Hell Week” – sleep deprivation, constant and vigorous exercise, verbal assault, team-building challenges, and much more. Some of the SEALs told Licona that 80% of the men experience hallucinations – but not the same hallucinations. One guy told him: “Hallucinations aren’t contagious. They’re personal. They are like dreams. I couldn’t wake my wife in the middle of the night and say ‘Honey, I’m dreaming of being in Hawaii. Quick, go back to sleep, join me in my dream, and we’ll have a free vacation.’”

Did people hallucinate the risen Lord? Even though Jesus had announced on at least three occasions the events that would take place in Jerusalem (Including “But on the third day, I will be raised from the dead.”), none of His followers would make sense of His warning until after the fact. They weren’t expecting to see Him. Those who went to His tomb weren’t thinking they would encounter anything other than a dead body.

The tomb couldn’t hold Him. What He promised really happened. My life was changed by what took place two thousand years ago. One day, perhaps soon, He will return. That won’t be a hallucination either!

Excuses

Creativity is a wonderful thing. We see it everywhere. It shows up in some interesting places … like when parents come up with excuses for their kids:

“Please excuse Josh for being absent. I forgot to wake him up and I did not find him until I started making the beds — by then it was too late for him to go to school.”

“John didn’t come to school yesterday because he was feeling like he was going to be sick. Thankfully, he wasn’t!”

“Please excuse Janet’s absence from school. It was Take Your Daughter to Work Day. Since I don’t have a job, I made her stay home and do housework.”

“Please excuse Ricky from school yesterday. He spilled gasoline on his stomach and I was afraid he might explode.”

“Please excuse Mary for missing school yesterday. We forgot to get the Sunday paper off the porch and when we found it on Monday, we thought it was Sunday.”

Excuse is defined as an attempt to lessen the blame attaching to (a fault or offense); to seek to defend or justify.

We’ve all done it. We have tried to excuse ourselves for something we have or haven’t done. We would like to justify ourselves or simply get off the hook in an embarrassing or an uncomfortable situation.

Eve had an excuse: It was the serpent’s fault. Adam had an excuse: It was Eve’s fault.

Somebody has to take the fall (pun intended). One of the marks of maturity is when we own our thoughts, words, and deeds. We live in a shaming/blaming society where it seems to get easier to point to someone or something else.

My mom, and probably yours, used to say that when you point your finger at someone else, you still have four fingers pointed back to you. Lord, help us to take responsibility for our own lives!

Reboot

One day, a mechanical engineer, electrical engineer, chemical engineer, and computer engineer were riding together on their way to lunch. All of a sudden, the car sputtered to a stop.

  • The mechanical engineer: “I think it threw a rod.”
  • The electrical engineer: “It has to be the alternator.”
  • The chemical engineer: “It must to be a clog in the fuel line.”
  • The computer engineer: “I think we should all get out and get back in. It will be fine.”

Sometimes we would like life to reboot.

“Let’s start this day over.”

“Let’s end this day differently.”

“I should have turned left instead of right.”

“I’d like to take back what I just thought, said, did.”

We all have had those moments we wished we could reclaim. A little-used reserve on a college basketball team was summoned by his coach to get in the game. He was so excited that he forgot something. He forgot that his uniform pants had gotten torn in the laundry. He was only wearing his warm-ups. He jumped to his feet and took off his warm-up pants and raced to the scorer’s table sans britches. Boy was he a hit that night.

Aren’t you glad we have a God who shows us mercy and grace? We stumble, we fall, He picks us up. We sin, He forgives. He is the God of second chances. The Shepherd loves His sheep, knowing full well they will stray. He lays down His life, knowing full well our lives hang in the balance.

Thank You, God, for loving us no matter what.

All you need is love

Ah, the season of love! This will make you feel better: Total spending for Valentine’s Day is expected to top $18.2 billion, according to the National Retail Federation. That’s an average of $136.57 per person. Flowers, candy, cards, jewelry, fancy meals, and much more will be purchased on this fabricated, I mean, meaningful holiday.

After extensive research, I have found that the average male spends from 15 to 30 seconds while purchasing an appropriate card. If we’re in trouble or have done something stupid, we could spend a whole minute searching for the right one. There we stand looking at acres of possibilities. Do I go sappy or do I go witty? Did the author of these verses fully capture the depth of my swirling emotions? Do I actually read what is written inside or do I just believe that I’ve picked the right look, the right verse, and, yes, the right gender.  Do I buy a blank card and take a chance my own words will cause my true love’s heart to flutter? Decisions, decisions.

We might need help, but who do we ask? Two young ladies were determined to help their spinster aunt find romance. They knew that a prominent judge in their small town had been widowed in the last few years. They began to plot. They handcrafted a Valentine’s Day card and labored over just the right words to include in the card they would send to the judge on behalf of their unsuspecting aunt. They poured over the dictionary, searched through a Thesaurus, even looked in the Bible. One of the young women finally raised her head in triumph. “I finally found a word that rhymes with ‘Valentine’” she exclaimed. “If it’s in the Bible, it must be okay.” So they put the finishing touches on their project and put the card in the mail. Several days later, the judge opened the envelope and read: “If you will be my Valentine, I will be your concubine.”

They meant well.

A new chapter

Back to where I started. During my college and seminary days, Wieuca Road Baptist Church gave me the opportunity to serve in the Youth and Activities ministries. Now, 43 plus years later, we close the circle. It has been such a privilege to serve the church that has meant so much to my family. Kim and I are about to begin a new chapter in our lives. On Easter Sunday, I will step into the Wieuca pulpit for the last time as pastor. Retiring on April 1 is a bit ironic, don’t you think? It is April fool’s Day after all. Keep your comments to yourself.

There have been some heartaches, some stumbles, lots of joy, and plenty of fond memories. To all of those who have so enriched our lives, we wish you God’s abundant blessings. All of our churches need our prayers. I would ask that you add Wieuca to your list. I believe God has great things in store.

People ask if I have a plan for retirement. I am working on my plan for retirement … What’s that, dear? Oh, okay … Kim has a plan for my retirement. Who knew?

See ya in the funny papers.

There’s a pill for that

Have you noticed the content of drug ads these days? You may not, because you either tune it out or mute the sound. In a typical 30 or 60 second commercial, about 10-15% tells you all the wonderful benefits of the latest wonder drug. The rest focuses on the side effects that could easily convince you that you will die a horrible death if you take this product.

The Opioid crisis is no joke. Pain medications are responsible for a tragic upswing in addictions and deaths due to the abuse of these drugs.

We are an over-medicated society. Overweight? Take a pill. Can’t sleep? Take a pill? Losing your virility? Take a bunch of pills. Want to spice up your love life? First, get two bath tubs, turn them to face the sunset, you lie in one, your partner lies in the other, take a pill and voilà! Sorry, I don’t get the two tubs.

Before we all empty our medicine cabinets into the trash can, we realize that modern medicine has allowed us to deal with serious physical, mental, and emotional issues with the proper use of medication. There are many of us who deal with depression, anxiety, and other challenges that benefit from the right prescriptions.

I don’t think we were created, though, to fill our bodies with chemicals. I think we were designed to function quite well if we eat well, exercise, get enough sleep, and avoid all stress … Where did you stop on the list? I didn’t get past “eat well.”

There is a deeper problem, I think. Pills won’t make my prayer life more significant. Pills won’t induce me to be more compassionate and loving. Pills won’t convince me that my relationship with God can be so much more meaningful. I won’t find my spiritual life in a pill bottle.

Perhaps we just need to accept an invitation. Read the words Jesus spoke two thousand years ago and see if they don’t apply today to the hurting, the lonely, the overstressed, and the needy: “Come to Me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”

Sounds like the right prescription to me.

 

 

One man’s junk is another man’s treasure

Found in the winter edition of Biblical Archaeology Review: “Garbage is among humanity’s prodigious physical legacies to those who are not yet born.”

Profound, huh? This quote was placed at the beginning of an article entitled, “Jerusalem and the Holy Land (fill).” 5000 years of trash have accumulated in and around the holy city. Mostly found on the slopes of the Kidron valley, the garbage is now being excavated to discover how people lived by studying their refuse.

I wonder what our descendants would learn about us from sifting through our garbage. One thing is for certain – they would find plenty of Styrofoam.

We live in a throw-away society. In spite of our larger closets, storage units, and second-hand (or my favorite, ‘gently used’) stores, we still have plenty to cast off. Dumpsters behind restaurants and grocery stores are filled daily with uneaten food. Clothes are discarded when they no longer fit or in style. Technology quickly goes out of date. Cars, appliances, furniture … the list goes on. We could clothe, feed, and house a lot of people with the stuff we throw away.

Speaking of that, the worst tragedies involve throw-away people. We don’t like to be reminded of our cast-offs. Like car junkyards, we like to hide them, abandon them, ignore them, or forget them.

As people of faith, we believe that every person is made in the image of God. We will never meet a person that God doesn’t love. I heard a phrase this past week I haven’t heard in years: “God don’t make no junk.” Do we?

Perhaps history won’t judge us so much by what we throw away as who we throw away. Oh, God, may we treat others as we wish to be treated!

The Power of Grace

Will Campbell was born into a farming family in Mississippi, under the shadow of the Ku Klux Klan. Ordained at 17 in his Baptist church, he began to sense that God was asking him to take a difficult, controversial direction in life. Being a white man who supported and worked for civil rights in the deep South was dangerous. He received death threats and was cautioned to stay away from his hometown. He did except for the time he just had to return. His 12 year-old nephew was struck and killed riding the bicycle that his Uncle Will had given him. Following a long-held tradition called sitting up with the dead, Will Campbell sat at the funeral home late into the night. Around 3:00 that morning, someone approached out of the dim light and handed Will a cup of coffee. It was Will’s uncle, a man he hadn’t seen in many years … a man who vehemently disagreed with Will’s activism. Looking back on that experience, Campbell wrote: “Until the dawn, I sat in the redemptive company of a racist Jesus.”

 

I think I know what he meant. Grace wins. On this day when we try to make sense of the racial divide that still exists in our country, we need grace more than ever.

I’m only human

I’m only human. What are my other choices?

  • Animal
  • Vegetable
  • Mineral
  • Robot

Some might suggest we represent all four plus more.

Normally when we hear someone say that line it is accompanied with some clarifying excuse:

“I know I made a mistake, but I’m only human.”

Is being “only human” a bad thing? Are we subject to fear, failure, disappointment, betrayal? Of course we are. Flaws are evident, even in the most respectable persons of high integrity. Scripture makes it plain: “For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard,” Paul wrote to the Romans.

We get it. We’re not perfect. We stumble, we fall; sometimes we wallow in our misdeeds and mistakes.

God didn’t create automatons. His amazing gift of life carried with it an enormous risk. He gave humans alone the privilege and responsibility to live with free will. There was always the possibility … okay, the probability … okay, the certainty that we would make bad choices, try to live life on our terms instead of God’s.

But being “only human” isn’t a curse; it’s an opportunity. One of my favorite authors is Brené Brown. Think about her words: “To become fully human means learning to turn my gratitude for being alive into some concrete common good. It means growing gentler toward human weakness. It means practicing forgiveness of my and everyone else’s hourly failures to live up to divine standards. It means learning to forget myself on a regular basis in order to attend to the other selves in my vicinity. It means living so that “I’m only human” does not become an excuse for anything. It means receiving the human condition as blessing and not curse, in all its achingly frail and redemptive reality.”

Today could be your celebration of “I’m only human” day!