Posted by: rickmcnary | September 14, 2009

Help me turn a good phrase

The farmer in the grain truck was not being honked at because people loved Jesus.  Even though the bumper sticker on the back instructed people to “honk if you love Jesus,” irate motorists were not displaying affection for either him or Jesus by laying on the horn as they shot around him.  He was driving 35 m.p.h. on a road will double yellow stripes and no one could pass.  He must have thought at least a dozen people that passed him were going to heaven the way they were honking. And I confess I have never honked at someone because I loved Jesus.

While I’m not a big bumper stick fan – especially religious ones-  I do like well-turned succinct phrases that pare down a philosophy.  Like:  My teen-age delinquent can beat up your honor student.  That made me laugh the first time I read it.  We all know people like that.

But I digress.  I’ve been toying with trying to succinctly state an amazing concept I discovered in Isaiah 58 last week I had never seen before. To set the stage, the Israelites were arguing over ways in which a person should “fast.”  I honestly cannot recall that ever being an argument in all my years as a pastor, but moving the picture of Jesus or changing a few words in the constitution could sure fire people up so I understand God being a little frustrated with their silly arguments. So He finally steps in and, basically, tells them they’ve missed the point and the real issue is they should take care of the poor.  Duh.

So here’s the principle I learned I had never seen before and the one I’m trying to come up with well turned phrase for:  If you feed the hungry and take care of the poor, God will heal your heart and make you shine.  Seriously. Read verses 7-8 especially. See, I was right.

So here’s the equation:  Take care of the poor and God will heal you.  Cool!  What an amazing promise!  And all these years you just thought God was trying to make you feel guilty for having more than someone else. Nope, He just really likes it when we share and builds in a promise to help heal our hearts if we take care of the poor.  

Help me turn a good phrase.  How about this one?  Feed the hungry- heal your heart.  Or how about this one?  Heal your heart- help the poor.  Or maybe this one?  Helping the poor=Helping your heart.

Got any submissions?  

We might just run Dr. Phil out of business yet.

Posted by: rickmcnary | September 14, 2009

At the end of the day

My wife says I snore. I deny it. After all, I can only be responsible for things I make a willful choice in doing, right?  So if I’m not doing it on purpose, then surely I’m not doing it. She can’t prove it no matter how many James Bondish kinds of recording gizmos she tries out on me.  She replays the tape at full volume and points an accusing finger at me.  I say she’s downloading camel grunts from Itunes.  And she bribes or blackmails the children to agree with her.

Laying the ol’ noggin down on a down pillow and snoring – er, I mean snoozing-  lightly into that land of restful tranquility is high on the list of things I like to do every day.  I like sleep.  So I spend a great deal of my time during the day making sure I sleep well at night like working hard, eating sort of well, avoiding caffeine and sugar after about 5 o’clock, and ignoring the ten o’clock news which would frighten the sleep away from anyone.

I’ve also learned how to deal with stress and strife. They usually hold hands, but not always. I can have stress with no strife, but I can’t seem to have strife with no stress.

At the end of the day.  That’s a phrase, of late, that I have been repeating over and over when it comes to relationships that I have that might produce strife, like, oh, say, marriage.  Or a customer.  Or a good friend who chooses to be annoying without any particular reason.

At the end of the day, I want peace.  I don’t like tossing and turning. I work to hard during the day to stay awake all night worrying about someone that I’ve had a disagreement with. Naturally, I think I’m always right so I would toss and turn trying to figure out how to convince the other person the error of their ways.  But when that other person is laying in bed next to me and wants to snuggle, it’s just kind of hard to toss and turn.

At the end of the day.  So I’m learning to say that to myself when I find I’m getting upset.  What do I want this relationship to look like at the end of the day?

I have a wonderful wife who loves me more than I deserve. I have a handful of guy friends that I have been involved with for several years now and, you know, have found that they don’t always agree with me.  And sometimes they do or say things I don’t think they should. Or they don’t do or say things I think they should and I get – as the cowboys say- a burr under my saddle blanket.

At the end of the day.  As I say that to myself it means at least three things:  1.  These are good friends I trust and we’ve been through disagreements before and here we are- still friends- so no one is going anywhere.  2.  These people have demonstrated they have loved me (and forgiven me) before and will continue to.  3. Deal with it – don’t let, as Paul said, “the sun go down on my anger.”

So I say to myself, “At the end of the day.”  And somehow that comforts me and gives me courage to deal with a misunderstanding or wipe away any imagined insult.

At the end of the day, my wife will still love me. At the end of the day my friends will still be there.  At the end of the day.

And when the Day of the Lord finally comes, I’m still going to be with my friends.  And my family. They are the only things on this earth that are eternal.

Even if they make fun of me for snoring.

Posted by: rickmcnary | September 4, 2009

The Ravensbruck Prayer

I told my sons when they left the house to go off into the big wide world that the faith I had taught them had to become their own.  I had never forced my faith down them, but had taught them of mine but I knew they were going to be exposed to things they’d never heard before.  They could go to a zillion different churches and hear a zillion different things. They could read the latest pop psychologist or philosopher trying to tie the loose ends of life together, but whoever or whatever they listened to, they needed to filter it all through four really important things.

1.  Does it help you fall in love with God?

2. Does it help you love yourself?

3. Does it help you love your neighbor?

4. Does it help you love your enemy?

I recently became aware of a prayer found scribbled on a note in the pocket of a dead child at the Ravensbruck concentration camp during WWII.  It was the only all-female concentration camp that the Germans had and this note was found.  

O Lord, remember not only

 the men and women of goodwill,

 but also those of ill will.

But, do not remember all the suffering

 they have inflicted upon us:

Instead remember the fruits we have borne

because of this suffering—–

Our fellowship, our loyalty to one another,

 our humility, our courage, our generosity,

 the greatness of heart

 that has grown from this trouble.

 

When our persecutors come

 to be judged by you,

 let all of these fruits that we have borne

 be their forgiveness.

 

 

Posted by: rickmcnary | August 17, 2009

Puppy Breath

The tornado siren should have sounded.  Or the Emergency Responders should have at least driven by and shouted through a mega-phone that disaster was coming our way.  We might have locked our doors and ran to the basement. But, noooo. We decided, instead, to open up the house and let a quart-sized bundle of bedlam and furry, dusty-red package of pandemonium in like we had no sense at all.

We got a puppy.  What was I thinking?

Folks who study group dynamics say that to get a group to perform well, they have to go through four stages. First is Gathering. Second is Chaos. Third is unity. Fourth is Performance.  And to move from the Performance stage back to Chaos stage only takes the addition or the subtraction of a person.

Or a puppy.  Things were performing mighty swimmingly around here until Tubby Turmoil showed up and decided big toes are much tastier than tasty treats.  Our usually quiet, placid abode is interrupted with frequent blood curling screams from a barefoot dweller which has just been munched by a red cotton-ball with teeth. And it’s really hard to control chaos when it’s so darn cute.

Erma Bombeck once said, “The older you get the less you care about peace and justice and the more you care about peace and quiet.”   Not only did we give up peace and quiet around our house, we actually paid to do this to ourselves. We need our heads examined.

But it wasn’t our heads that made the decision. It was our hearts.  My wife had been wanting a Golden Retriever so I surprised her by finding the most misbehaving puppy I could find. I didn’t mean to, I just did.  Actually, she picked it out so I’m not totally responsible. Let’s just say of the litter of ten, we got the most docile one. God help the other owners if ours is the sweetest!

When I finally made the commitment after talking to the breeder on Friday, I was driving down the road and asked the Lord what we should name her.  “Sadie” dropped in my mind. Now, I know the Lord has a lot of things to do like hold the universe together and much more important stuff than naming a dog, but I also think He likes being involved in our every day stuff too.  I mean, Jesus Himself said that not even a sparrow falls to the ground without the Lord caring about it, so He must care about the things of our everydayness.

We made it to the breeder and picked out the munchkin of mayhem and were headed home when my wife asked me what we should name her.  I asked her what she thought. She replied, “Sadie.”

I don’t think things like that are mere coincidence. I think they are fun ways the Holy Spirit talks to us. Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t think this dog is going to be like some messiah that will change the world and so God felt compelled to name it.  But I do think that the Holy Spirit wanted to show Christine and I that, if we just listen, He will say the same thing to both of us about other decisions we need to make.  So if we can find unity around something as simple as naming a dog, then we can find unity about a host of other things too. That’s an important message to two very strong willed, independent people who are accustomed in our work to making decisions without consultation. 

Even as I write this I’ve had to shoosh Sadie away from chewing on the power cord, keep her from irritating a very jealous ShihTzu that we already had who does not find it amusing we brought a new mutt in the house, and grab her quickly so as not to deposit doo on the floor.

But then she looked up at me and convinced me that I would write much better if she were asleep on my lap.  I had to bop her on the nose to keep from chasing my fingers as they type.  She finally settled down and snuggled against my arm.

I just thanked God for inventing puppy breath – a universal joy inducer.

Posted by: rickmcnary | August 10, 2009

Me and the Jumbotron

“Are you sure you can just walk right up and buy tickets?” my wife asked me on my cell phone as I was driving in the parking lot for the Kansas City Royals baseball game.

She does not watch much Royals baseball or she would know that not only can I walk right up and get tickets, I could probably sit in the dugout if I wanted because there are plenty of extra seats. The Royals aren’t quite acting up to their name this year.   Or last.  Or the year before that.  Or pretty much not since 1980 when they won the World Series and gave me a heart attack. Almost.

But I went to a game with my youngest boy who is a miniature Major League Baseball announcer. At least he knows as much about the game as they do. Maybe more.

I used to watch a lot of Royals baseball but it’s a 3-hour drive to the stadium and I have other things to spend three hours doing besides watching the Bad News Bears. However, after a very enjoyable August evening watching the Royals act like the Royals by sinking those scallywag Mariners, I have decided I could be a die-hard fan again in my very home if I could have but two things.

Funnel cakes and a Jumbotron.

So I stopped by Wally World today and bought funnel cake supplies but, alas, could not find a Jumbotron.

You know what a Jumbotron is, right?  It’s those huge screens/scoreboards that entertain people with replays, player stats, commercials, and snide remarks directed at the opposing team.  Oh, yeah, and live shots of the fans.

I learned something watching the game:  the presence of a cameraman with a huge camera on his shoulder pointed at the crowd turns normal human beings into morons.  Quiet, placid people watching a quiet, placid game catch a glimpse of the guy with a camera and suddenly bolt upright out of their lethargy and dance like a drunken Larry the Cable Guy.   Guys with painted faces, bare bellies, and goofy hats seemed to do well. And cute chicks.  And screaming little girls. And cute chicks.

But then a whole new conflict arises in these Jumbotron stars; they want to look at the camera but they also want to see themselves on the Jumbotron.  So they jump up and down like someone that just won “Deal or No Deal” and look alternately at the camera and at the Jumbotron.

All of this transpires in five seconds.   It is fascinating.  And entertaining.

As I watched these little mini-dramas unfold, I was reminded of Andy Warhol saying that everyone would have fifteen minutes of fame.  Maybe three seconds is good enough for some folks.

A former band-teacher at our school made this comment:  “Each one of these kids want to be heard and seen.  They like to know that their efforts are worth being watched.”

So as I watched the games I pondered two really significant questions:  1.  What is it in human nature that desires to be on the Jumbotron? 2.  How in the world did I manage to get powdered sugar from the funnel cake all over me? And I mean even on my socks. I looked like a sneezed in a barrel of powdered sugar.

I believe folks wanted to be on the Jumbotron because, for a fleeting moment, their existence on this earth is noticed and magnified.  It makes them feel significant.

And we were made to be significant.  We were made to be great. It is in our genetic DNA from Daddy Adam and Momma Eve to be important and significant and great.  We were, after all, made to partner with the Father in ruling and reigning on this earth.  That’s pretty important. And significant. And great.  We were made to be all of those things.

And while the enemy tries to steal those things, the Father has a purpose to restore us to our original design and destiny. He did, after all, say that we are in His image and will someday be conformed to the image of Christ.  And Christ was important. And significant.  And great. 

That’s our destiny.

I never did make it on the Jumbotron. 

But Wally World had all the supplies for my debut on the Jumbotron; face paints and goofy hats. I didn’t get any cute chicks, though. My son would have ratted me out. Besides, I have my own cute chick at home.  I’ll make it on the Jumbotron yet!

 And I promise not to bare my belly.

Posted by: rickmcnary | August 5, 2009

The Cowboy and The Rattlesnake

A cowboy had laid his bedroll out on the ground ready to bed down for the night. A rattlesnake came slithering up and started talking to the cowboy.

“You mind if I sleep with you tonight? It’s going to be cold and I’m a warm-blooded reptile and I’d sure appreciate it if you’d let me in that bedroll with you.” the rattlesnake said.

“No way!” The cowboy replied. “You’re a rattlesnake and there ain’t no way I’m letting you sleep with me tonight!”

“But what if I promise not to bite  you?” the rattlesnake asked. “Could I sleep with you then?”

They argued for some time and the sincerity of the rattlesnake finally persuaded the cowboy so he lifted the blanket and let the snake in.

The cowboy woke up in the middle of the night screaming in agony.  The rattlesnake had sunk his fangs deep in the cowboys’ leg.

“What are you doing?!” The cowboy cried. “But you promised not to bite me!”

To which the snake responded, “Look, I’m a rattlesnake. I bite people. That’s just what I do.”

As silly as this story is, it is surprising how many times I have found wisdom in it as I go through life.  I try to see the beauty in everything and everybody, but I’ve come to understand that some people are just like that rattlesnake.  No matter how many promises they make to be kind and true, they just end up biting you before it’s all over.  It’s just what they do. I ran across a person like that recently that just couldn’t manage to carry on a conversation without zinging anybody and everybody around them with cruel barbs. He had nothing good to say about anyone. Then he asked me if I was interested in business proposition he had concocted. I declined.

I’ve learned not to let rattlesnakes share my bedroll.

Posted by: rickmcnary | August 3, 2009

Why I loathe Christian Cliches

I am not a fan of Christian cliches.  “Get Right with God” is one I find particularly offensive and theologically incorrect.  Another one is “Fallen from grace” which is actually out of the Bible, but it is used entirely different than what the apostle Paul meant. Usually we refer to a high-profile preacher that ran off with the pianist, or the current scandal with the Governor of S. Carolina as people that have “fallen from grace.”  That’s not what Paul meant at all. He meant that if you are trying to earn your salvation through good works, then you have “fallen from grace.”

Words are powerful.  Cliches bore me.  And often really irritate me.  I heard a preacher recently (not mine in case Sam McVay is reading this) who managed to make a whole sermon out of cliches. He didn’t mean to as a joke- it seemed to be the only language he knew. Bless us and keep us.  Protect us and guide us.  God’s got a plan for you.  God is in control.  Jesus is the answer.  God needed the deceased person in heaven because He missed them (what an atrocious, capricious god that must be to snatch away a mother from a family because He purportedly needed someone to tend the flower gardens in heaven! That’s not the kind of God I know.)

In the movie, “New In Town”, Blanche Gunderson (Siobhan Fallon) asks Lucy Hill (Renee Zellweger), “Have you found Jesus?” To which Lucy responds, “No, I didn’t know He was lost.”  I laughed out loud. Another cliche was challenged.  Just what does it mean to find Jesus anyway?

See what I mean?  Words without thought  but casually tossed about Christian-speak that has very little meaning to anyone and often does not speak of the reality of life or of the mind of God. They are used so often they start to mean nothing. Do you like listening to athletes being interviewed that spout cliches?  “Yeah, coach told me to give 110 percent, and I just focused on the ball, and played the game like it was for fun, and the other team was really good and I respect them and I thank my momma and God that I’m a winner.”   Gag me.

I know I slip into Christian cliches every once in a while because they are like old slippers. Kind of ragged and smelly, but comfortable.  But I continually challenge myself to be real. Because life is real. And cliches do very little for me.  Being told “God is in control” when life is out of control gives me very little comfort. It is too often a cliche for people wanting to give reasons when there are none, at least none that can be understood this side of heaven.

I write because it makes life make sense to me.  I’ve grown weary of Christian-speak that has no meaning, but is like cotton-candy – full of air and sickeningly sweet with no nutritional value at all.

Thanks for reading what I write.  My ultimate goal in writing is not to impress you, but that you will find the Lord speaking in to the part of you that only you know is real with an industrial-sized injection of His life and hope.  Of course I want you to like my writings. Shucks, I want you to like me. But I really want you to like Jesus.

Freshly.  Without cliche.

My God is the inventor of words and I feel it incumbent upon me to use words to create a vision of  Him that is ravishingly beautiful – because He is.

I’m like the little kid in Sunday School who was feverishly drawing a picture with his crayons. The teacher asked him, “What are you drawing?” The little boy replied, “God.” The teacher said, “But no one’s ever seen God before.” The little guy shot back full of enthusiasm, “Oh, yeah, well they will when I get done with Him!”

That’s the way I feel each time I write- like the little boy with crayons.  I want you to be ambushed by an outlandishly beautiful and delightful God who is absolutely smitten with love for you. I have been and want you to be, too.

And if you ever catch me using cliches, you have my permission to smack me with a rolled up newspaper.  You may even rub my nose in it, swat me on the behind, and put me outside for a while so I’ll learn not to make a mess.

And I’ll promise with big puppy-dog eyes not to do it again if you’ll just let me back inside.

Posted by: rickmcnary | August 3, 2009

It Wasn’t the Pizza After All

It might have been the pizza. It might have been too much sweet tea with caffeine. But whatever it was, I woke up at 2:30 in the morning as wide-eyed as a little kid that just finished his third bowl of Sugar Bombs.  The first thought that came to my mind was:  “What’s up with this? I have to get up in 2 ½ hours! And if I want to get back to sleep, I’ll probably have to have some milk and cookies.”

My next thought was:  “We relate to other people based upon our perception of their opinions of us.”

So you tell me:  Was it the pizza or the sweet tea?

Now what kind of person wakes up in the middle of the night pondering phraseology that defines interpersonal relationships anyway?  I’ll guarantee you it’s not me.  And I don’t think it was the pizza because there were no little furry munchkins singing, “We represent the lollipop guild.”

So I figure it must be the Lord trying to tell me something. 

It is true:  “We relate to other people based upon our perception of their opinions of us.”  If I perceive that your opinion of me is high, I’ll go out of my way in Wal-Mart to say, “Howdy,” and ask how you’re doing.  But if I perceive that you have a low opinion of me, I’ll probably just kind of dart off into a side aisle and act like I’m shopping for Sugar Bombs.  I’m just kind of bashful that way.

The problem is, my perception might be wrong. You might be one of those people who can fake liking people and act like you like me and, come to find out, you think I’m right below a slug on the food chain.  Or I might think you don’t like me and, in fact, you really have a high opinion. My perception might or might not agree with reality.

So it is true: I will relate to you based upon my perception of your opinion of me. That is different than me relating to you based upon your opinion of me. 

The same is true with the Lord.  Do you believe He has a high opinion of you, or a low one?  How you relate to Him depends on your perception of His opinion of you.  Unfortunately, your perception might not agree with His reality.

I must confess I’ve spent a great deal of my life believing the Lord had a pretty low opinion of me.  I’ve heard enough sermons about what a dirty rotten sinner I am to buttress that opinion.  But I’ve come to understand the Lord woke me up in the middle of the night because He wants me to change my perception of His opinion.  He’s relentless in convincing me He has an outrageously high opinion of me.

In Judges 6, God shows up to a guy named Gideon and speaks His opinion: “Gideon, you are a mighty man of valor!”  That’s a pretty high opinion, don’t you think?  Gideon argues with Him.  Doesn’t believe Him.  Makes Him prove He’s God. 

God’s opinion of Gideon was polar opposite to Gideon’s opinion of himself. But as God breathed into Gideon His opinion, it changed Gideon and truly made him what God declared Him to be.

So the challenge I give to myself is to start agreeing with His outrageously high opinion about who He says I am.  It’s much higher than mine is of me.  I keep reading Ephesians 1 and find it almost unbelievable what He says about who He declares me to be.

It was worth it to be waked at 2:30 in the morning and have some information downloaded from the Lord trying to convince me I should change my perception of His opinion. 

I got the message.   It wasn’t the pizza after all.

I got back to sleep, too. Didn’t even need milk and cookies.

Posted by: rickmcnary | July 28, 2009

There’s Something

There’s something about the water lapping gently at my feet

That stirs my soul with wonder and makes me feel complete

There’s something about a sunset throwing violets on the lake

 That sets my mind a-soaring and breathes my heart awake.

 

 There’s something about a summer wind that rustles in the trees

 That calms my anxious spirit and drives me to my knees

 There’s something about the candle glow of the moon rising in the east

 That quiets raging fears and gives me gentle peace.

 

For You’re everywhere I’ve ever been and You’re where I long to be.

For there’s something about who You are that grows inside of me.

For if I just pause to look -You’re already there

And if I just pause to hear –You’ll whisper in my ear

You’re the words that rhyme my heart as it sings a melody

And You’re the something my spirit sighs in peaceful harmony.

 

There’s something about the hungry touch of a hurting friends embrace

 That takes an aching, broken heart to a spring of healing grace

There’s something about forgiveness’ kiss that melts a cold, cold heart

And wipes away the lonely years you’ve lived so far apart.

 

There’s something about a newborn babe cradled snug against my chest

 As the purest love I’ll ever feel takes me to a place of rest.

 And there’s something about a childs’ smile that laughs away my fears

And reminds me of that sweet safe place I find within Your care

 

 

 

For You’re everywhere I’ve ever been and You’re where I long to be. 

For there’s something about who You are that grows inside of me.

For if I just pause to look -You’re already there

And if I just stop to hear –You’ll whisper in my ear

You’re the words that rhyme my heart as it sings its melody

And You’re the something my spirit sighs in peaceful harmony.

 

There’s something about an eagles cry as it soars upon the air

 That lifts my spirit upward as I climb on heavens’ stair

 There’s something about the prairie wind as it greets another dawn

That gives my spirit the courage and strength to carry on

 

There’s something about an old tin roof as it’s splashed with gentle rain

That gives me gentle healing from the past and all its pain

There’s something about loving kiss from a friend that has been true

As all of this reminds me of the faithfulness that’s You.

 

For You’re everywhere I’ve ever been and You’re where I long to be.

For there’s something about who You are that grows inside of me.

For if I just pause to look -You’re already there

And if I just stop to hear –You’ll whisper in my ear

You’re the words that rhyme my heart as it sings its melody

And You’re the something my spirit sighs in peaceful harmony.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted by: rickmcnary | July 28, 2009

Words that Cause Life

Writing is kind of a funny thing because you can’t look at someone’s face and see if they like what  you just said.  So a guy like me takes the keyboard in hand, messes with the arrangement of words for a while, and tries to make sense of things that bang around in my head like a pinball lighting up the scoreboard.  I get a few comments every now and then which I read and re-read until I feel a little too obsessed over them, but for the most part, there’s not much of a two-way dialogue.  But I like to write, so I write and hope someone likes it enough to read it.  

An old friend called today and we chatted about a variety of things while I tried to keep my phone from shorting out because I was sweating profusely in 90% Kansas humidity.  He made a comment about these writings I do on this “blog,”  and what he said was incredibly nice.  I’d repeat it, but it would sound like bragging and my Mom taught me that as soon as I started bragging, I would trip and fall. And I’m too dadgum old to be tripping and falling.  

I was reminded of Solomon who said, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue.” (Prov. 18:21)  You and I both know people who drip death from their lips with sarcasm, hatefulness, and malice.  I avoid them like the plague. But after I got off the phone with Kelly, I just wanted to call him up again and get some more. That felt good. That felt like life.  You know what I mean?

Words that cause life.  

Gifts we can give that cost nothing but last a lifetime.

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