Observations of Life Feed

Getting Out of Hot Water with People Skills

Tools, Drools, and Fools

Funny Day - most of it at St Arbucks (Thanks for the nomenclature, Dave.)

It started with my speech to Toastmaster's about inviting people to Toastmasters - got to do that within the hour.

I met a very inspiring young woman and tried to inspire her a little more.

Also at Starbucks - saw one of my phlebotomists since I was next to the blood bank. I told her (she didn't know me and I just recognized the uniform) that I thought it must be time to give again. She said I ought to wait for a call or card.

The call came first - ten minutes later.

I went in later in the afternoon, but I'd had too much coffee, was dehydrated and I couldn't make the fiftenn minute pump maximum. They said I needed another 3 minutes and had to throw away all that blood - sad since they needed it.

But I did get to tell my story to 4 or 5 people who thought it was odd and wonderful

Also ... I had a nice visit with the E.D., Dean Elder who often and curiously stops by while the blood is being drawn  which sends the ladies with the needles into an unwarranted nervous frenzy. I was once passed through THREE needle stickers.

As it was, Dean had to excuse himself twice to help rescue fainting women. We wondered if maybe he should stay in his office. He did well, though and said it was a very unusual day.

I knew that was true.

Mine was.

Dean is an outstanding guy with a passion for his work, a mission to save lives, and the fond respect of all his staff and volunteers. The Central California Blood Center is one of the best run operations of its kind (or any other) that I know of. Links later.

So far, not so foolish.

I dropped into Office Depot to look at the laptops. Mine is entering old age and needs to a slower pace.

There was a deal I couldn't refuse - DROOL.

But I walked away.

Then I called the one who I thought was most likely to affirm my decision to resist. She said to go back and buy it.  It is a TOOL I can't really do without anymore and if old Bessie goes south without a backup, I'd feel like a FOOL.

Actually, I thought she had died this morning. Everything locked up.

Now that I have a pretender to the throne waiting in the wings, she is working just fine and I am backing everything up.

intersperse all of this with some real work, study, writing, phone calling, prayer, contacts, and clever observations.

I don't k now if this seems interesting to anyone but me, but I am amused and ready to go home for dinner.

Now I am late.

Parable of the Life-Saving Station

History-lifesaving-station kill devil hill

"On a dangerous seacoast where shipwrecks often occur, there was once a crude little life¬saving station. The building was just a hut, and there was only one boat, but the few devoted members kept a constant watch over the sea, and with no thought for themselves went out day and night tirelessly searching for those who were lost. Some of those who were saved and various others in the surrounding area wanted to become associated with the station and gave of their time, money, and effort to support its work. New boats were bought and new crews trained. The little lifesaving station grew."

"Some of the members of the lifesaving station were unhappy that the building was so crude and poorly equipped. They felt that a more comfortable place should be provided as the first refuge of those saved from the sea. They replaced the emergency cots with beds and put better furniture in the enlarged building."

"Now the lifesaving station became a popular gathering place for its members, and they decorated it beautifully because they used it as a sort of club. Fewer members were now interested in going to sea on life-saving missions, so they hired lifeboat crews to do this work. The lifesaving motif still prevailed in the club’s decorations, and there was a liturgical lifeboat in the room where the club’s initiations were held. About this time a large ship wrecked off the coast, and the hired crews brought in boatloads of cold, wet, and half-drowned people. They were dirty and sick. The beautiful new club was in chaos. So the property committee immediately had a shower house built outside the club where victims of shipwrecks could be cleaned up before coming inside."

"At the next meeting, there was a split among the club membership. Most of the members wanted to stop the club’s lifesaving activities as being unpleasant and a hindrance to the normal social life of the club. Some members insisted upon life¬saving as their primary purpose and pointed out that they were still called a life¬saving station. But they were finally voted down and told that if they wanted to save the lives of all the various kinds of people who were shipwrecked in those waters, they could begin their own lifesaving station. So they did."

"As the years went by, the new station experienced the same changes that had occurred in the old. It evolved into a club, and yet another lifesaving station was founded. History continued to repeat itself, and if you visit that seacoast today, you will find a number of exclusive clubs along that shore. Shipwrecks are frequent in those waters, but most of the people drown."

The "Parable of the Lifesaving Station" has circulated in anonymity for many years. However, it has been credited to Dr. Theodore O. Wedel, a former Canon of the Washington National Cathedral in Washington, DC, wrote this parable. Ordained as an Episcopal priest in 1931, he served for a time as president of the Episcopal Church's House of Deputies. He penned this parable in 1953.

Here is the line that most convicts me on the matter:

"They were dirty and sick, and some of them had black skin, and some spoke a strange language, and the beautiful new club was considerably messed up. So the property committee immediately had a shower house built outside the club where victims of shipwreck could be cleaned up before coming inside."

The church has many ancient and contemporary metaphors - one is a hospital for sinners, another is spiritual pub with grace on tap.

Clinebell, who first introduced me to the story, did a seminar in San Jose for pastors some time in the 1990s.

In the seminar, he previewed his book,  "Anchoring Your Well Being." I was deeply challenged to renew my commitment to a ministry of wholeness whereby people were made whole by the work of God in their lives, with which we are privileged to participate. That kind of wholeness addresses most negative lifestyle issues in the context of love.

He discussed seven dimensions of life that are common to all humanity: spiritual, physical, emotional, relational, work and play, crisis and loss, and environmental well being.

One of the reasons I devote some of my blog entries and ministry to business development is because I feel that work/play is an often neglected area of church and pastoral ministry which the Bible never neglects or ignores. For the same reason, I have delved into the arena of health and wellness and nutrition as well as social/environmental issues.

In other words, the gospel addresses every dimension of life, beginning with and centering on the spiritual. Redemptive reconciliation starts at the core and radiates into every area where people live as individuals and in community.

Back to the Lifesaving Station - we are in the rescue business. There is nothing in humanity or creation as a whole that is not to be properly related to God. As Christians, we proclaim that this reconciliation takes place through Jesus Christ, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Refusal to omit any of the objects of His attention and intentions is a significant call upon the church today.

Brian McLaren's three area of political concerns in point toward the church's "wholistic" life-saving concerns as well. The implications in parentheses are mine:

1. The Earth - Psalm 24:1- "The earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof, the world and they that dwell therein." That is a pretty broad statement of God's love for people and the world in which they live. While redemption is not identical for both, Romans 8 affirms that all creation groans waiting for it,

2. The Poor (the oppressed, the marginalized, the persecuted, the disenfranchised) - Poverty of all sorts is God's concern, spiritual poverty as well. Society can partially address physical poverty. Only the gospel has a word for poverty of the soul and spirit. That being true, the church is responsible to speak to  and act on behalf of the poor.

3. War (and genocide as well as all that devalues life on any arbitrary basis) - Reconciliation, peace, and redemption are the shared tasks of God and His people. As laborers together with God (I Corinthians 3:9), we are deeply concerned with the message that brings people into a reconciled relationship with God, but we are also charged with the task of encouraging horizontal peace and justice in the world.

Since I first wrote this some years ago, other issues have emerged as urged

I reject the term, "social ministries" as something at odds with, in competition with, or separate from evangelism.

Likewise, I am dubious about the application of the term, "secular" to anything in which a disciple of Jesus is involved.

Everything is wrapped up in the mission of God which He shares with us - including the businesses that we dedicate to His Kingdom purposes. When reconciliation happens, everything is integrated into one great purpose and the walls come down.

The gospel is good news for the soul and the society. It delivers from sins that lead to slavery in souls and societies. It is unhindered in its power to proclaim freedom to the captives. It is unimpeded in its potency to change lives and cultures. 

We simply must decide to apply it at every level.




Hand-Holding in Ministry

God has been speaking to my heart this week deeply, profoundly, and lovingly through my own devotional times and through the ministry of Dr. Richard Blackaby.

The same messages can be heard at the Canadian Southern Baptist Seminary website under Chapel.

As we were preparing for worhip today, I was remembering one of our saints who recently went home to be with Jesus. Caryl Borges lived a life that reflected God's love and that took her around the country and to Yemen in the service of the Master.

As she fought cancer, she did so with valiant faith. I was honored to be with her during various stages of that disease process. While I wish I had been more of a support along the way, the greatest blessings came during the last two weeks of her life as I witnessed her slipping away, but enjoying every moment God gave her with family. At the same time, she was genuinely excited about going to Heaven.

I was sitting in that seminary chapel this morning, waiting for students to arrive, preparing to sing with the California Singing Churchmen, and praying about my own ministry and the song I would sing tomorrow night. It hit me - something I never learned in seminary - one of the greatest ministries we can have as pastors is just holding hands.

Caryl gave me the privilege of holding her hand as she prepared to meet Jesus face to face. I was privileged to pray with her and to visit her numerous times during those last days to sing for and with her some of her favorite old standards: The Old Rugged Cross, Do Lord (I've Got a Home in Glory Land), In the Garden, and Onward Christian Soldiers.

We all sang and she sang as long as she could.

About 5 days before she died, it occurred to me that I was always doing the "out-loud" praying and that she was closer to God at the moment than I was. I told her that and asked her to pray for me and my ministry. She did so with her whole heart.

Not to ask a dying saint to pray is like saying, "You're done now."

She wasn't done until God said she was done - and when He said it to her, she'd let the family know. And she did.

You're not done till you're home and then it is a brand new adventure.

I was told early in my ministry to preach like a dying man to dying men as Richard Baxter said of his own ministry.

How do we do that?

Through pain and suffering - our own and that of others which we absorb with comfort. Pathos oozes into our preaching, mingles with joy, is refined by holiness, and comunicated with love. When this happens, as we walk along side others in their pain and offer our own to God in devotion, we enter into the suffering of Christ. We become wounded healers with a Word from God to those who also suffer.

There is purpose and there is comfort and with these two, there is hope.

I am a pastor, an undershepherd, I walk with my fellow sheep through their pilgrimages of pain. I join the Good Shepherd as He walks alongside them through the valley of the shadow of death.

How difficult it must have been for Mr. Dorsey, having received news of great family tragedy that night long ago, to stand and sing to the Lord. That great founder of what has been called Black Gospel Music, sang, "Lord," as the story was told on PBS, and a little lady replied, "Precious, Lord."

He went on: "Precious Lord, take my hand, lead me on, let me stand ... through the storm, through the night, lead me on to the light ..."

Jesus is in the ministry of hand-holding and there is no more precious ministry that we can share with those who are in their own deep valleys of suffering. We are present and as we are present, we are living, fleshed out reminders that God is also present. Where He is present, there is joy in the midst of sorrow.

"And He walks with me and He talks with me, and He tells me I am His own. And the joy we share as we tarry there, none other has ever known."

When I return to Fresno from Canada, I intend to do more hand-holding, but more than anything else, I want my hand in His.

Just to bring you up to date, Caryl finished her journey well. On her last day, she could not sing or talk, but she could listen. Her daughter was telling her stories of the life they had shared. When they got to the part about the church building program and the hard work we all did,  she sighed one last sigh, job done, well done, time to come home. That was it. Her next breath was without labored breathing and it was in the presence of her Savior whom she had loved and served. She had walked through the Valley of Death with Him and arrived at the table He had prepared for her. We walked with her as far as we could and held her hand along the way.

What a blessing!

That is pastoring.


An Old Oak

Empires come and empires go. We may not feel invincible ourselves, but we may believe that others are and dream of building a dynasty that nothing could collapse. Nothing and no one is invulnerable, but that is not to suggest that nothing is solid.

(Matthew 24:35) Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.

 When I was a child, I believed that our house was the most solid reality in my life. I could not conceive of a time when it did not exit. I certainly could not imagine it ever ceasing to exist. It was so strong, so firm, and warm inside. It was a world unto itself, a place removed from the larger, more threatening environment. It was real.

There was an old oak tree in our back yard, majestic oak, reaching upward beyond any heights I believed I would ever scale. To be as tall as that oak, or at least to sit in its highest branches and look out over creation would have been the grandest of human elevations. When I lay on my back under the summer night sky, gazing into the stars, it was in the shadow of our old oak tree which I believed had much in common with those distant stars.

My house and my oak were sources of strength in my young life until one day the neighbor's house was struck by lightening and burned. Later, our Governor's daughter was struck by lightening on the beach and killed. That year, I watched my father build a room in the attic and with fascination and disappointment I came to know that houses were built with hands and were thus, somewhat artificial, and profoundly vulnerable to forces like lightening, as were people.

But the oak continued to shade us in the summer and shield us in the winter. It was the mightiest oak on our avenue. One day, the old oak was struck by lightening also. It too was vulnerable to the forces of nature. One of its most noble branches was severed and fell upon our house. Concerned that the old tree might give way in another storm and destroy our house, my parents made plans for its removal. That oak had been there long before us and had reigned over the neighborhood before it was a neighborhood. But now It was old and had grown too tall and brittle.

I learned some lessons about transience and permanence through that old tree. Nothing of this earth is permanent. All stability and strength are in God alone. Jesus was a mighty oak and they chopped Him down, but He stood up again, alive and thriving. His words last; His promises endure; His truth prevails. Nothing can silence Him. He is the temple that was destroyed and rebuilt in three days. He is the Word and He is the only permanence in a transient world.

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Ferral Cats and Domesticated Blue Jays

We have a strange paradox.

My mother-in-law's apartment adjoins our house. As a result, we witness all of her patio activity which include the feeding of her wild cats who are letting us get a few inches closer each month and a couple of bue jays who have no fear of humanity or felinity.

I was sitting at her dining room table a couple of nights ago as one of these jays hopped over to the cat's bown and grabbed a food pellet. Within seconds, the same bird was back and then its mate.

If one of the cats interferes, the jay pecks its head.

A precarious peace has emerged on the patio. The cats remain wild and the birds have become rather tame.

What concerns me is that the jays seem to be feeding their young these pellets and they may be learning some bad habits.

You know, when I started this thing, I thought I might discover some profound truth to share with you.

But I guess sometimes, it is just an interesting story -- at least to me.

Profundity can come later. Perhaps the paradox will emerge as well.