Up is Down…


 bonanza plane crash

When I was in college, I got a hankering to learn to fly.  The cost was not out of reach back then.  I would sneak away from campus, down to the Bessemer Airport, and get an hour of instruction for $35.

Good pilots know how to focus.  I can still hear the voice of my flight instructor Tom telling me on final approach, “Airspeed! Outside! Airspeed! Outside!”  He was trying to drill into my head that when you land, keep looking at your airspeed and keep looking at your target – the runway.  You need reference points.

I was not a good pilot.  I don’t have ADHD on the ground, but I did in the air.  There were too many interesting things to see: houses, farms, other planes, roads, birds, sky – it was all so amazing.  I would be looking around at amazing sights while Tom was shooting, “Airspeed! Outside!”

Beginning pilots are VFR:  Visual Flight Rules. This means you fly only when you have space to see between the clouds and ground.  You can get an IFR rating: Instrument Flight Rules.  When you have this rating, you can fly into clouds, through fog; but you rely on your instruments to tell you where you are.

Tom explained in vivid detail what would happen if a beginning pilot like me flew into a cloud: You would get disoriented.  Unless you relied on your instruments, you would begin to think up was down and down was up.  I thought Tom was making this up, but he told me we rely more on visual references than we think.

I think all flight instructors have a book of horror stories to tell their students.  Tom proceeded to tell me about a Doctor who only had a VFR rating, but was over-confident.  He took off under marginal VFR conditions, traveling cross country.  Conditions worsened.  He got disoriented.  He flew his Bonanza straight into the ground, killing him.

When you have 10 hours of flight time under your belt, that kind of story makes a point.  During the few years I flew, I avoided marginal conditions at all costs.   Tom’s voice rang in my memory, “In the burned wreckage, they found him with the yoke pushed all the way in.  The only explanation: He thought he was headed up, when he was really headed down.”

Jesus gives us the same warning.  The most dangerous sin of all, the unforgivable sin, he said, was to believe that evil was good and good was evil.  When you are spiritually disoriented, you fly your life into destruction.

Even Christians accept this line of reasoning too often.  We believe an explosion of our temper will solve our problems.  We believe we can steal and cheat and never get caught.  We believe we can control our spouses or our children.  We believe our way is better than God’s.  We wind up flying our lives right into the ground.

The only way to stop this is to check your reference points.  “Airspeed! Outside!” can be changed to “Worship! Bible! Prayer!”  Jesus followers believe worship matters because it is a reminder of true reality, God’s reality, God’s Kingdom.  That’s why being in church to worship matters.  Bible knowledge is not just so you can win Bible Trivia; it is so you have a guide to ultimate truth.  Prayer is daily conversation with God so you can stay in touch with His reality.  What are your reference points?

When do you cross the line to the unforgivable sin?  When you no longer check your reference points.  When your heart is so disoriented you believe what is evil is good for you and what is good for you is evil.  This is what happened to Pharaoh in the Book of Exodus.  He got disoriented.  Despite overwhelming evidence, despite the advice of his own cabinet, he would not see things God’s way.  He flew his army, his nation, and his own life right into ground.

Knowing reality, knowing up from down, knowing good from evil – it’s the most important skill of life.

Are you flying up?  Or down?

Larry’s Truck…

My brother-in-law, Larry, is a great guy.  A Florida Athletic Hall of Fame High School Soccer Coach, in his 50’s he discovered turkey hunting.  When Larry gets interested in something, intensity is too mild a word to describe his focus.  The ranch has ready-made turkey hunting habitat.  Larry was hooked.  Before long, he was embracing all of ranch life, including having of few cows of his own.

The only problem was, Larry had a “city” truck.  A “city” truck is deceptive.  The advertisements say they ride like a car and carry a load like a truck, but in truth, they do neither well.  “City” trucks don’t clear stumps well and don’t have four-wheel drive.  As a result, “city” trucks get stuck – a lot.

I know this because I’ve had “city” trucks.  A couple of them were compact trucks, which meant they would clear an anthill on a good day.  I took one of my city trucks to the ranch once and got hung up thirty feet past the gate.  Once again, I had to endure the humiliation of calling for help.  Pop, my brother Steve, and our foreman Richard have all had to come and pull me out.

The same thing happened to Larry.  He would go down into the pasture to check his turkey feeders or his cows, and he would hang up or bog down.  He got stuck at one creek-crossing so much, we named it after him: “Larry’s Crossing.”

It must be hard to be a Hall of Famer and have to call people to pull you out.  Finally, Larry had enough.  Not too long ago, he told me he was getting a new truck.

Let me educate the truck illiterate among you.  A good basic truck is a F-150 or a Chevy 1500, 4×4.  That’s what I have.  It will get you where you need to go in the woods.  If you want a little more muscle for pulling, you get a F-250 or a Chevy 2500.  These are working trucks.  My brother Steve drives a F-250 4×4.  A F-350 or Chevy 3500 is a serious truck.  They are built tough and will pull just about anything you’ve got.  The ranch truck is a F-350 and we pull a loaded stock trailer with it.

Larry was tired of having the smallest truck in the family.  So, Larry bought a new 2018, F-350 Diesel 4X4 Super Crew Cab.  Now if any of us got stuck, we’d call Larry.  He and his monster truck would pull us out.

Larry had his truck for two weeks.  He was down at the ranch and a line of thunderstorms was moving through.  There were warnings of hail.  Larry didn’t want his new truck to be hit by hail (I understand – I don’t want any scratches on a new vehicle until I put them there).

The problem was the new truck wouldn’t fit in the garage – too tall.  We haven’t repaired the tin roof at the barn since the hurricane, so the truck wouldn’t be safe there.  My brother Steve suggested Larry park his new truck under a hundred-year-old oak tree.  The oak tree was thick and would block the hail.

Larry parked his truck in the suggested location and went in the house to wait out the storm.  He heard the lighting strike close, but didn’t think anything of it (there are more lighting storms in the Tampa Bay area than anywhere else on earth).  The lights flickered, but they do that when you are the end of the power line.  After a few minutes, Larry heard “pop.”  Then another “pop.”

He went outside to check out the odd sound, and smelled smoke.  In panic, he thought of his beloved new truck.  He rounded the corner of the house to see his brand new, 2018 F-350 Diesel 4×4 Super Crew Cab truck with 700 miles on it, on fire.  Lighting had hit the oak tree and the truck was burning.

The ranch is twelve miles from the fire department in town.  By the time the firefighters got there, Larry’s new truck had burned to the ground.

When I heard the news, I sent Larry a text telling him how sorry I was.  He sent a text back to me, “Thou shalt not covet.  Lesson learned.”

I need to tell Larry coveting is when you want something someone else has because you think it will make you somebody.  Buying a big truck so you don’t get stuck is not coveting.

Maybe a better scripture is “He makes the rain fall on the just and the unjust.”  Every bad thing that happens isn’t because God is punishing you.  Bad things do happen to good people.  Lighting strikes the just and the unjust.

What do we do when bad things happen to us?  The best thing I know to do is go to the Father and ask, “What am I supposed to learn?”  Sometimes we learn God is all we need.  Sometimes we learn that stuff really isn’t important.  Sometimes we learn God will carry us through.

Insurance should cover most of the loss.  Larry will get another truck.  I suspect the oak tree will live.  And God will be with Larry and you and me, when rain falls, hail comes, and lighting strikes.  In the end, God is enough.

PS:  It never did hail.

Cardinal at My Window…


 Outside my office window is large crepe myrtle. A cardinal has taken up residence in that tree.  Whenever I go into my office, I turn the light on, which apparently wakes the cardinal.  After about five minutes, the cardinal flies up to my window ledge and begins to peck at it.  Then, he will turn, fly off, do a U-turn, and fly straight into the glass. I think he doesn’t like me disturbing his rest. I understand. I don’t like people turning on the light when I’m trying to sleep either.

I can’t figure out what the cardinal wants.  Does he want me to turn off the light so he can get back to sleep?  Does he want me to not talk so loud?  Does he want me to open the window and let him into the warmth of the building?  Sometimes I look at him and say, “I’m sorry, I don’t speak bird.”

My feathered friend is disrupting.  I’ll have a meeting in my office.  We’ll be at very serious moment.  Then we hear, “THUNK.”  The bird has flown into the window again.  Or I will be talking to someone about a very serious issue in her family.  She is crying and I need to offer words of pastoral comfort.  Then I heard, “TAP, TAP, TAP, TAP.”  The tears stop and whoever is in my office says, “What was that?”  I respond, “Just our version of ‘Angry Birds. Please continue.’”

There are people outside the church who run into our windows.  They tap at our window sills. We aren’t sure what they want.  They can be annoying.  Sometimes, we’re not even sure we should let them into church.  Maybe, we think, they simply aren’t church people.  Maybe, they would be better off if they went to a church with other people like them. “Birds of a feather stick together, you know.”

This is not what Jesus had in mind for his church. He never intended his body to be only for the people that fit in.  The invitation is clear: “Whosoever will come, let him take freely of the water of life.” “Whosoever” is Jesus’s heart.  “Whosoever” requires courage; it requires intentionality; it requires empathy; it requires mindfulness.

Most churches deny they put up barriers. Every church I have ever been part of or consulted with, assured me, “We are a friendly church.”  The reality is, they were friendly to people they already knew.  It takes energy to meet new people and to make new friends.  Some churches just won’t spend the energy.  Some churches just don’t have the heart.

There is an easy fix to this: See everyone the way Jesus sees them. Give your best effort at understanding their needs. Invite them to come to church with you.  Speak to strangers at church before you engage your “circle.”

Despite the decline in church attendance, I am convinced people are hungry to be known, loved, and accepted.  Will you listen to the taps on the windows and welcome in people who need to know church is a place of grace?


My Predictions for 2018


Everyone, it seems, makes predictions for the year ahead.  I’ve heard so far that President Trump will be impeached, congressmen will be revealed to be aliens, and South Carolina will win the SEC football championship.  I don’t know if any of that will happen, but I’d like to offer my own predictions, with the prediction that all of them will come true.

In 2018, people will believe they are the exception to the rules.  They will think they can eat what they want and lose weight; spend what they want and not incur debt; and not be late for a 10:30 appointment when they leave at 10:33. People will then complain about the unfairness of life when reality bites them.

In 2018, people will hunger for connection so much they will hold onto unhealthy relationships, remain in circles that are toxic, and stay in abusive situations. They will tell themselves again and again, “He/she will change.”  They will enjoy a few good days followed months of bad weeks.

In 2018, people will be frustrated that they know the right thing, but are unable to do it.  They will resolve to eat better, exercise more, manage time better, and be emotionally healthy, but old patterns will take over before the Super Bowl.  As John Ortberg said, “Habit eats willpower for lunch.”

In 2018, our leaders will promise to get along, end poverty, lower taxes, stop war, improve the economy, bring justice for all, part the Red Sea, and cure cancer.  None of this will happen.  Our leaders won’t tell us the truth about what they can or can’t reasonably do because they are reasonably sure we can’t handle the truth.

In 2018, thousands of churches will pledge to change the world, while continuing to operate as if it is 1958.  Church members, instead of facing their resistance to change, will blame their pastors.  The pastors will blame their boards.  The board will blame the congregation.  The cycle will repeat.   No one will ask Jesus what he thinks.

In 2018, sexual wounding will continue at high levels.  People will believe sexual satisfaction is the same as soul satisfaction, and thus harm themselves.  Children will be pushed to choose their sexual preferences before they are emotionally and physically mature.  Despite the recent outcry against sexual harassment, harassment will continue.

In 2018, greed will silently drive men and women to avoid rest, work longer, cut ethical corners, go in debt, and stab co-workers in the back.  Justifications will be made that it is for the good of families or in preparation for the future.  No one will want to admit he or she is greedy; he or she will point to someone else who is greedier and proclaim they are not so bad.  People prefer their greed to live in the shadows.

These predictions might sound too pessimistic.  I simply think the most accurate prediction for 2018 is people will continue to act like people, just as they have for thousands of years.

In 2018, however, the Good News is God will still be God.  He will still forgive people when they confess their sins.  He will still help those who call on him.  He will still advocate for the poor and powerless.  He will still call tenderly to people far from him to come home, and find the rest their souls long for.

You can count on God loving you in 2018.  That means you can live this new year in hope.

Hopeful New Year everyone.

Sarah Takes on the World (Look out World!)



Dear Sarah,

Next week you will graduate from Clemson.  Figures.  You were born two weeks early; now you are graduating a semester early.  You are about to take on the world.

During these college years, you sank your teeth into your passions.  You’ve gone to Easley High School every week for two and a half years to invest in kids far from God.  When Clemson played for the national championship, you made the trek to Tampa without a ticket, just so you could be there.  Your passion gives you a determination to be there.

Being there counts.  Showing up and being present counts.  It shows you care.  It shows you are invested.  Your life grows because you venture out beyond the safety zone.

I know you have been afraid, but I admire how you overcome your fears.  When hard conversations needed to be had with roommates, you took initiative to address the elephant (or dirty laundry) in the room.  You put yourself out there to try for jobs and internships.  You have the courage to think outside the box about what’s next.

Fear keeps people from happiness.  Fear paralyzes people to mediocrity.  Remember that Football championship?  When Deshaun threw that pass to Hunter with time running out, Coach Swinney, Deshaun, and Hunter all pushed past fear to make something great happen  – a championship. Keep pushing past the fear.

You discovered you have a gift of telling God’s story to a group.  When you stand up, God shows up.  Treasure that gift.  There will be more opportunities to tell His story.  Pay attention when God gives you those moments. Step into them.  A gift like yours needs to be cultivated.  A gift undeveloped is a gift never fully opened.

I’m amazed at your wide circle of friends and how they love you.  There is a grace inside you that people feel.  It’s the part of you that opens up and tells people how you feel.  It is the part of you that accepts people as they are.

There is never enough grace in the world.  Give grace often.  Grace is best given when life is not hurried.  You have a great moment ahead, when your life will unhurried for a few months. Not since kindergarten have you had this much discretion over the direction of your life.  Savor the possibilities.  Savor the time.  Give grace so your friendship circle widens.

In a few days, the academic powers that be will pronounce you educated and send you out into the world.  We’ll be there, of course, proud as can be.  You are graduating from a fine school with a good degree.  But your college journey has been about so much more than grades and projects.  You’ve discovered more of who you are.

If I can sound like a wise old man for a moment, you’ve just started the journey of self-discovery.  There is more for you to discover about yourself: what it means to be independent (no more cash from Mom and Dad!); what it means to have a family of your own; and what it means for you to find your life purpose.

Don’t stop the journey. Keep discovering you.  The world needs people like you.  God is going to use you to make a difference.  College has been great, but now the world awaits.  God our Father will open doors and display opportunities.  Just remember, He is always with you.  He will never leave you or forsake you.

Get ready to take on the world Sarah!  My heart knows the world better watch out!

I love you with all my heart,


Losing Sadie…


We’re living with three dogs now.  Socks is the oldest at fifteen.  A beagle lab mix, she was the runt of the litter when Hannah’s dog Jewel had puppies.  Moo came to us first as Abram’s dog.  A registered Greater Swiss Mountain Dog, he became Gina’s dog and protector when Abram left to go to grad school.  Sadie is the newest addition to the pack.  A miniature dachshund, we gave her to Gina’s parents ten years ago.  She’s come to live with us now.

We went out to eat one night this week, leaving the three dogs safely locked in.  When we returned, Gina noticed one of the Christmas wreaths on our windows had fallen.  I went to see if I could repair it; Gina went inside.

In a few minutes she came back out and said, “Is Sadie out here with you? I can’t find her.”  I put down the wreath and began to search with Gina.   We searched under beds and inside closets.  Gina went to search the front yard, while I took a flashlight and combed the backyard.  No Sadie.

Gina took the car to search the neighborhood; I went on foot into the neighbor’s yards, hoping no one would mistake me for a burglar.  I even checked the storm sewers.

My mind rushed to calamity.  What if she fell in the pond and drowned?  What if she got out and got picked up?  What if she had a stroke somewhere in the woods and was dying?  I admit I prayed: “Lord, please let us find this dog.  If we lose her so soon after getting her…  what will we do?”

Gina came back, saying she saw nothing.  I had seen no signs.  I asked her again, “Are you sure she isn’t in the house?”  She said she was positive.  I decided to search the house again, while Gina went to search the yard again.  The next step would be to knock on the neighbor’s doors.

About three minutes into re-searching the house, the phone rings.  It’s my neighbor, Julian.  He said, “I think I have something of yours.  She’s all snuggled up on my lap.”  Sadie had crawled under the fence and was wandering around in Julian’s drive when he came home.  Fickle dog that she is, she followed him right on into his house and up into his lap.  When he told me he had her, relief surged through my soul.

I ran outside to tell Gina, then we hustled over to Julian’s to reclaim our dog.  I spent the next hour in the dark trying to plug the holes in the fence so she wouldn’t get out anymore.

When I went to work on my sermon for the week, I read these words, “We all like sheep have gone astray…”  Sheep, little dogs, and humans all have the urge to roam.  We all want to believe boundaries are for others, not for us. We push past those boundaries and wander away from the God who truly loves us.  For many of us, there is no kind neighbor who rescues us.  Instead, we live frustrate lives knowing we aren’t where we need to be.  We miss the safety and security of home.

If Gina and I, imperfect people that we are, panic over a little dog, how much more does your Heavenly Father yearn to find you?

Wherever you are, in whatever way you are lost, our Heavenly Father is looking for you, to bring you home.

Assumptions and Hurry …

old honda

We took my son to Outback for his birthday (his request).   The meal was excellent and I paid with my debit card (who carries cash anymore?).

I hurried to my truck to escape the cold, cranked it, and backed out.  I started to pull into the exit drive when I was cut off by old, beat-up Honda.  The driver, a man of another race, gestured to me but I couldn’t make it out.  I thought he was telling me he had the right of way.  In these circumstances, I assume the larger vehicle has the right of way.  My Ford F-150 4×4 was larger than his Honda.

It’s amazing how fast my temper can flare.  I’m a follower of Jesus and all, but right of way is my right.  As a character in Fried Green Tomatoes said, “I’m old and I have insurance.”  I was about to respond with my hand gesture, but I remember the church sticker on my rear window.  I decided it was better to feel quietly righteous.  With the speed of a super-computer, I built a negative, judgmental profile of the man.

The beat-up Honda man kept yelling at me and gesturing.  He was throwing his hands up behind his head.  I read it as frustration.  Finally, he pulled off and I started to exit when I saw our waitress running, waving my debit card in her hand.  I had left it at the table.

The whole narrative in my head flipped.  The man in the beat-up Honda was no longer my enemy; he was a Good Samaritan, trying to keep me from driving off without my card.  He had seen the waitress running into the parking lot and had figured out who she needed to get to.  I assumed he was a jerk.  Instead, he was a man of mercy.

There’s an old saying about assumptions I won’t repeat.  When we hurry, our worst assumptions surface first.  That’s why Jesus wants us to live an unhurried life.  Dallas Willard advised, “You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life.”

To live an unhurried life means we have time and space to see a situation before we make assumptions.  We trust God is at work, taking care of us.  Panic and anxiety blind us to his solutions.  An unhurried life allows us to pause and see people as God sees them.  Could it be God wants to give you a gift you’re missing because you are in a hurry?

I wish I could find the man in the beat-up Honda.  I need to tell him “thanks” for slowing me down.  And I need to apologize for my assumptions.  Maybe I could buy him a steak at Outback.

I Can’t Imagine…

fbc sutherland springs

I can’t imagine, but I need to.

I can’t imagine what it must have been like at First Baptist Sutherland Springs, Texas last Sunday.  People gathered to worship and hear a visiting preacher while their pastor was out of town.  Songs were sung.  The Word was being proclaimed.  Then Devin Kelley came into the sanctuary firing his weapons.

What if I had been in the room?  Maybe I would have been the guest preacher, the most inviting target.  Would I have shouted for everyone to get down?  Would I have rushed the gunman to protect others? Would I have stared in shock, never believing this could happen?

What if I had been seated beside my wife and children?  Would I try to cover them with my body?  What if they were hit by a bullet?  Would I try to hold them and tell them I love them? Would I try to stop the bleeding?  How would I feel if while shots rained around me, I watched the light of life go out of their eyes?

What if I was Frank Pomeroy, the pastor of the church?  Imagine getting the call.  “Frank, I don’t know how to tell you this, but a crazy gunman shot up the church today.  We’ve got more than twenty dead.  And Frank, your daughter Annabelle, fourteen, she’s one of the dead.”  How does a man cope?  How does he eat or sleep?  Shock may be God’s blessing.

If I was Frank Pomeroy, I imagine I would be overwhelmed.  Literally every house in town needs pastoral care.  A hospital full of wounded people need a pastor.  There are twenty funerals to do.  There is my own grief for my daughter.  I would have to do ministry and grieve in the glare of national news coverage.  What do you say at each funeral?

I can’t imagine what it will be like for this church in the years to come.  Sutherland Springs is added to a list no community wants to be on: Columbine, Sandy Hook, Charleston, and Las Vegas.  After the satellite trucks have packed up and moved on to the next tragedy, this church will still be grieving.  They are experiencing the ultimate test of faith, the test of Job: Will I still seek God though I have lost everything?  Or will I curse God and let my faith die?

I can’t imagine what the first Sunday back in the building will be like.  Like closing the barn door after the horse is gone, I’m sure there will be plenty of protection.  But to be in the room where so many died, where evil was so manifest – I can’t imagine.

I can’t imagine.  God can.

God has to live with this sort of thing every day.  Because he is near to the broken hearted, whether they are in Texas or Pakistan, God sees this, enters it, and gives hope, strength, and comfort.  I can’t imagine the horror that God deals with every day.

Why doesn’t God put a stop to it?  C.S. Lewis said, “Why, then, did God give them free will? Because free will, though it makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having…  If God thinks this state of war in the universe a price worth paying for free will -that is, for making a real world in which creatures can do real good or harm and something of real importance can happen, instead of a toy world which only moves when He pulls the strings- then we may take it it is worth paying.”

To truly follow Jesus means we need to imagine what God feels when tragedy happens.  Imagine how God feels when a shooter enters his church.  Imagine how his heart hurts when he sees bullets go through the bodies of his children.

Now imagine how much God must love us to send his Son to have nails driven through his body, so all this evil could be forgiven.

I can’t imagine, but I need to.

Refusing to Stand for the Pledge…


I approached fourth grade with dread.  Everyone knew the meanest teacher in the school was Mrs. Hendon, and I was assigned to her class.  That first day began as all school days did: the bell would ring, the principal would come on the PA system, and intone: “Please stand for the pledge of allegiance to the Flag.”  We all stood in Mrs. Hendon’s class, all except a one little girl named Audrey.

“I pledge allegiance to the flag…”  Why isn’t Audrey standing?  Doesn’t she realize that Mrs. Hendon is her teacher and Mrs. Hendon eats disobedient children for breakfast?

“… of the United States of America.  And to the republic…”  We glanced at each other.  What was about to happen?  Why wasn’t Mrs. Hendon exploding?  Maybe she had a time delay fuse!

“… for which it stands, one nation, under God, indivisible…” Surely any moment now, Mrs. Hendon would jerk Audrey up out of her seat by ear and cause her to grow two inches.

“…with liberty and justice for all.”

Then we all sat down.  No Mrs. Hendon explosion.  No explanation.

At recess, the boys got together and decided Audrey didn’t stand for the pledge because she was a communist.  We also decided that Mrs. Hendon was a communist, too, but she was faking it better than Audrey.

I don’t really remember how many days passed, but I know every day when we stood for the pledge, Audrey would stay seated.  We all thought in our hearts, “Communist!”

I think it was Charles Brown who said it out loud one day.  We had finished, taken our seats, and were ready to hear the announcements when he said, “Audrey’s a communist!”  Audrey put her head down on her desk and began to cry.

Then we saw the full wrath of Mrs. Hendon.  She turned toward us with clenched teeth, and scowl that made our crew cuts stand up straight.  If the wrath of God is anything like the wrath of Mrs. Hendon, I don’t want to ever experience the wrath of God.

“Be quiet!” she hissed.  Then she turned to Audrey and with great gentleness told her to go to the Sick Room.  This made no sense at all.  Though we knew communists were sick, we thought they belonged in jail.

Then Mrs. Hendon, slightly calmed, turned back to us.  Audrey, she explained, was a Jehovah’s Witness.  I raised my hand to ask what in the world was a Jehovah’s Witness.  I knew only of Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, and Catholics.  Mrs. Hendon said Jehovah’s Witnesses were taught it was wrong to say the pledge of allegiance.  They loved their country, she said, but they believe you should only make a pledge to God.

We were all thoroughly confused.  Mrs. Hendon saw our puzzlement, and went on to explain that liberty for all, which we had just pledged, meant that people like Audrey had the liberty not to say the pledge. Being an American, she said, meant you were free to worship God the way you saw fit; and if your religion said not to say the pledge, that was okay.

She must have realized she was not getting through to us.  Being free to disagree was not big among fourth graders in 1969.  Mrs. Hendon decided to put it in terms we could understand: “If I hear one of you making fun of Audrey again, I will spank you with my board of education.”  That we understood.

The rest of the year passed.  While we stood for the pledge every morning, Audrey stayed seated.  We did not call her a communist; in fact, we learned she was a lot of fun at recess and could clean your clock playing dodgeball.

The refusal of NFL players to stand for the National Anthem made me think about this.  I’m proud to be an American.  I stand for the pledge and say it loudly.  But I’m also proud that liberty for all means Audrey got to stay seated.  I’m also embarrassed, that I called her a communist, just because she wasn’t like me.

Jesus said, “Judge not, lest you be judged.”  Whenever I judge someone, it says a lot more about me than it does about them.

To Think It is to Do It – Sometimes…


I was taught to think something is to do it.  No doubt Mama taught me this so I could learn to control my thoughts.  It didn’t quite work that way.  Too often I would think something, and then decide since I already thought it, I might as well do it.  This explains the failure of many diets.

I went to Florida to celebrate my brother Steve’s 65th birthday.  To celebrate, we went to a gun show, one of his favorite leisure activities.  I collect books; Steve collects guns (I have more books than he has guns, but he is closing the gap).

We went our separate ways, for we have different speeds.  My approach is to do a quick circle, then go back to what I find interesting (I found a booth that had books on guns!).  Steve, much like our father, makes a new friend at every booth.  I mean, every booth.

We crossed paths after a couple of hours and he told me he found a gun he wanted: a 41 German Luger pistol.  I walked back to the booth with him (it was his birthday after all).  The seller, Steve’s new best friend), had just sold the pistol.  Steve missed out on his gun.

Being the compassionate brother I am, I reminded him of what Mama taught us: “You know Steve, Mama also said to think it is to do it.  So I thought about buying you that gun for your birthday.  In fact, I my mind I bought it and I have given it to you.  Now the least you could do would be to say ‘Thank you.’”

Without missing a beat, Steve replied, “I’ve already thought about writing you a thank you note.  It’s in the mail.”

We had a good laugh and teased each other about the gift and the thank you note the rest of the weekend.

But maybe this is one time when Mama’s teaching was incomplete.  Whatever action we take first forms in our mind, so we need to monitor our thoughts.  As I monitor my thoughts, I can reject destructive and unhealthy thoughts.  Every time I reject destructive and negative thoughts, every time I do not allow them to control my actions, I win.  I can think about eating a candy bar, but if I reject that thought, thinking is not the same as doing.

I wish I was the kind of person who never had destructive, unhealthy, negative thoughts enter my mind.  That’s why Paul called us to “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind… (Romans 12:1).”  My mind has been under construction for a long time.  At least the process has started.

What remains important, however, is that I recognize the harm that comes to myself and others when I allow the unhealthy, destructive thoughts to become actions.  Stopping those thoughts gives me a better life.

Pay attention to your thoughts.  Turn away from the destructive ones.  Don’t allow the harmful thoughts to become actions.  To think it is not the same as doing it.

Although, I still wish Steve would send me a thank you note for gun I thought about buying him.