Salvation Doesn’t Require Another Army

http://www.dictionary.com defines “salvation” as “the act of saving or protecting from harm, risk, loss, destruction, etc.”  Likewise, it notes that synonyms for “kindness” include “humanity, generosity…sympathy, compassion…”

I’m fortunate to have seen kindness and salvation demonstrated today – on multiple occasions…

I saw a family of friends clean out their closets and donate eight bags of clothes that have already been distributed and are keeping friends who live on the Music City streets warm this winter night.

I saw friends and family deliver firewood and carefully packaged homemade cookies to the camps of some of our homeless friends in and around Nashville this afternoon.

I saw a number of motorists stop to hand money to local street newspaper vendors waiting patiently at high-volume intersections – and hoped each was overpaying with a joyful heart.

And, this evening, my family and I had the unique first-time experience of joining two other friends on a journey to the Jefferson Street bridge.  Our intent was to meet the Salvation Army truck that would be there to hand out meals to the homeless and challenged – under the bridge at 6 PM.

By 6:15, a small crowd had gathered – men and women young and old, as well as a few small children waiting as patiently as small children do.  And yet, no Salvation Army truck in sight.

With the help of Google, I found a local phone number and was pleasantly surprised that someone actually answered when I called – 6:15 PM on a Friday, just two days before Christmas…I was optimistic.  I inquired about the status of the truck, only to hear “We didn’t have any volunteers, so we won’t be there tonight.”  Wow.  Optimism was traded for disappointment and regret.

And so, there under the bridge, five of us with just the items we brought – a few cases of individual-serving bags of potato chips and about a hundred or so each of protein bars and Rice Krispie treats.  Greetings and prayers were shared – along with fist-pumps from the youngest – as we handed out what we had.

Before departing, one of the group of many went to a nearby car with his chips and protein bars, returning shortly thereafter with a toy for each of the little ones.  I was reminded of the widow (Luke 21), as this kind soul’s sacrifice and generosity far exceeded my own.  Humbling.

As I drove home, I was grateful for the opportunity to be there tonight.  At least we were there to give them something and demonstrate that they are not forgotten.  I was mortified to think that they would have been confronted with having been completely forgotten if the five of us had not made the trip.  My only regret was (and is) that we would have brought far more if we had known that the food truck would not be there.

And yet, I was angry and saddened that – of all days of the year…just two days before Christmas – there were no volunteers to drive the truck.  There was no army.

Scripture teaches us that the Christ child was wrapped in swaddling clothes and carefully laid in a manger, due to a lack of room at the inn.  And I wonder…

In this Christmas season, what does it say of us that there are not enough volunteers to drive the food truck.  When we neglect the least of these, do we not neglect Him?   (Matthew 25)  I can only imagine what distractions (priorities) precluded all volunteers from partaking in the opportunity to feed the hungry, especially now.  Is there no more room for Him today as there was that night under the stars?  Are we really so preoccupied as to be the modern day manifestation of the inn that leaves Him outside?

Friends, as you travel to and from holiday gatherings and meals and all of the celebratory retail madness that occurs this time of year, I hope you will look for the opportunities.  Keep a McDonald’s gift card or two in the car and, when the opportunity presents, hand it out the window to that person in need.  Buy the street newspaper and pay 10x the cover price. Share a smile, friendly wave, and make eye contact that says you care.  Thank a public servant who is working and apart from family so as to keep us safe.  Stop by the local food kitchen not just to drop off food, but to spend some time sitting and talking with people.  Be the light.

The simple reality is that salvation does not require an army of “qualified drivers,” checklist manifestos, or other bureaucratic administrivia.  Hunger does not wait patiently.  “The act of saving or protecting from harm, risk, loss, destruction, etc” simply requires us to join His army and soldier on – looking and listening for those opportunities to save and protect those placed in our path.

I am reminded of the lyrics of Kutless in their song “This is Christmas”…

“Do you find it hard to sleep til’ night,
Resting by the Christmas lights?
Could there be something you forgot?
Beyond the bows, and mistletoes,
The tree with presents wrapped below,
There’s more to this than you had ever thought?
Have we lost the reason that we celebrate each year?

[Chorus:]
What is Christmas?
If there never was a Savior wrapped in a manger.
What is Christmas without Christ?

Indeed.  This is Christmas.

Merry Christmas to ALL.  Especially the overlooked among us.

Soldier UP.  Soldier on.  And don’t spend too much time waiting for the truck.  Just go.

Blessings,

T.

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Walt Whitman & Harry Caray

Walt Whitman said, “I see great things in baseball.  It’s our game – the American game.”

Just a handful of days from the culmination of a true circus production of an electoral process, thank goodness for baseball!  I think the World Series has been good for America – quite good, indeed.

I’ve not been one to follow Major League Baseball with much of a vengeance.  Quite frankly, a player strike of years past cured me of my enthusiasm.

But this has been a great story…Two clubs that have persisted for DECADES, despite repeated heartbreak and disappointment.  Dedicated fans.  One great city on Lake Michigan.  And Cleveland.

Perhaps the Series, albeit briefly, pulled us all around the tv and restored our central core of pride in “the American game.”  It was a much-needed break from current politics and dysfunction, for sure.

Sure, I rooted for the Cubbies and rooted against the Indians.  And I celebrated the Cubbies and their long-awaited win.

But I was equally impressed by the humility and polite sportsmanship of the post-game discussions.  Reciprocal admiration and encouragement was the order of the evening.  The Cubs noted the fortitude of the Indians, while the Indians called out the Cubbies and their accomplishment.  Honor, not bitterness.  Kind regard, not venom.  It was the most refreshingly civil commentary between adversaries shared on network television since mid-year conventions held in Philadelphia and, yes…Cleveland.

Indeed, we are still a people capable of competitive civility.  It occurs when we put our best players on the field and entrust their strategies to capable managers with a shared vision of a common purpose that is to the benefit of all, not one.  If only we applied the same discipline to our process of drafting our leaders.  Imagine the possibilities.

I hope there’s beer in Heaven and Harry Caray has been sippin’ since Tuesday.  If I had to guess, the Indian’s beloved “Shoeless Joe” is right there with him.  As it should be.

 

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Please Stand

Freedom is a gift bought with blood and sacrifice.

Our own freedom from sin and damnation was bought with the blood and sacrifice of Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God.

Likewise, our national freedoms as Americans of these United States have been bought with the blood and sacrifice of those who have gone when called, stood when others cowered prone and, for many, done so without ever returning to their earthly home.

And so, may we teach our children what it means to wave our flag with fervent pride and pledge our allegiance to her and for all that she stands to represent.  We are intended to be one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

To turn away from her is to disregard those who have served in order that we may remain so freely opinionated today.

And so, please stand.

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Merry Christmas!

The following was written by a dear friend, Randall Wisdom, and submitted to the Commercial Appeal (Memphis) a few years ago.  My thanks to “Papa Wiz” for giving me permission to share his work here.  I think it speaks directly, succinctly, and appropriately to our current times.  And so, Merry Christmas!….and Mary Christmas!…to all who embrace and celebrate the birth of Jesus.  Emmanuel!

When I was a boy … an admittedly ominous way to begin a sentence … “Merry Christmas” flowed as effortlessly and as naturally as did the bidding of, “Goodnight.” When came the traditional, if arbitrary, date which marked the birth of Christ, it seemed the obvious thing to say; and, even my Jewish friends accepted that the words were well intended.

But, increasingly, I am offered, “Happy Holidays”, which is the one size fits all; and, what holidays, exactly, are being alluded to? If the reference is to Christmas, why need it be so tangential? And, if not to Christmas … why not? After all, it is Christmas. One might suppose that so long as Passover is called, “Passover” … and Ramadan is “Ramadan” … Christmas ought be “Christmas.”

While it has grown distorted and trivialized by commercialism, Christmas still is Christmas. Certainly, those who reject this Christian holiday need not join in its celebration. They needn’t waste their money on gifts … even though the practice of gift giving is without ecclesiastical basis, in any case … unless one extrapolates the actions of the Magi all the way to the mall.

Nor, ought they absent themselves from work for the commemoration of that which they do not believe. They should toil on until the coming of a day which, for them, has meaning.

Political Correctness would have the name of Christmas changed so that it is all-inclusive. It should welcome all religions … or none. But the word, Christmas, bears the name of Christ; and, one ought embrace Him … or ignore Christmas. Don’t wish me, “Happy Holidays” when everyone knows that it’s Christmas.

RTW

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Good All Around Us

Riding home from church this afternoon, it occurred to me that I was very, very weary.  As I reflected on the past few days, it was no wonder that I was tired.  And yet, I was struck by all that the last handful of days had covered.

Thursday evening found me in Cookeville for the TSSAA Division II-AA championship game.  Despite the cutting, cold wind, we saw and enjoyed what will surely be a memorable game for a long time to come.

And, while it helps that the team I was there to support did win the golden football, what I most enjoyed what was I saw around me.  Our fans outnumbered theirs easily 3:1.  Students, parents, grandparents, and others screamed all four quarters as the two teams fought to the eventual 56-55 outcome in double overtime – everyone in that stadium participated in the experience.  Before the first kickoff, mid-game when one was injured, and after the final whistle blew, both teams unapologetically gathered together to bow their heads and give thanks.  Both teams showed sportsmanship and humility in their congratulations and regards to each other.  And even the parents were on their best behavior.

Saturday morning, a group of us gathered at the church to cut, split, stack, and deliver firewood as, yes, it’s the height of the firewood ministry’s season.  I saw new participants warmly welcomed, teamwork as all tackled the work at hand, and an eager willingness and obvious pride in the work each was doing in service to our less fortunate homeless friends.

As we made a few deliveries to some area campsites, I watched the eyes of those along for the first time – especially the young’uns.  For many, the reality of homelessness had never been so vivid.  As one group of homeless friends warmly welcomed our team to a tour of their campsite, I was struck by the irony of their pride against the unspoken conviction of those of us standing there comparing their domestic experience to what we know to be our own.  After all, most of us live in and around the Brentwood Bubble, which is as close as Tennessee livin’ gets to building a home inside Disney.

Saturday afternoon, our family and a few friends gathered at a local Christmas tree lot to pick out a fresh-cut tree for our friend Cree.  You’ll recall Cree from my prior writing.  Yes, he’s still hanging in there – it’s remarkable, really.  Anyway…as he recently shared that he has never had a “real” Christmas tree, our objective was to secure said tree, carry it to his home, and decorate it by his bedside so he can enjoy it throughout the Christmas season.

And again, I was struck by a few things of this experience.  Everyone involved in making this happen – including Jacob, our Christmas tree salesman – was fully invested in making certain that this was the best and most beautifully decorated live-cut Christmas tree in Middle Tennessee.  There was a level of care and attention that was palpable in the room – perhaps driven by an unspoken acknowledgement that this is likely our last opportunity to get this right for Cree.

Once fully decorated and lit, Cree squealed with delight and smiled a smile more broad than any I’ve previously seen on his face.  As we were gathered around his bed, we dimmed the lights and played Pentatonix “Silent Night” for Brother Cree.  In that remarkable and memorable moment, I knew I was experiencing the true spirit of Christmas.

And then today…

Following worship service this morning, I watched as children and adults of all ages loaded my mission trailer with gifts that we will deliver to another neighborhood tomorrow evening.  They brought remote control cars, skateboards, bicycles, clothing, coats, and any number of other gifts.

All who participated gave generously.  Young and old, they all smiled as they placed those gifts carefully in the back of the trailer.  As they did so, I thought about how their generosity and momentary pause from all of life’s distractions would ultimately redefine the 2015 Christmas morning experience for so many kids in a very different part of Music City.

And finally tonight…

We were fortunate to be with family and friends at a fairly intimate holiday gathering with Larry Gatlin & The Gatlin Brothers.  In keeping with their tradition, Larry Gatlin started us off with the National Anthem.  And among the songs that followed, there was a bit of comedic relief, unwavering acknowledgement of their blessings and God’s favor, and humility.  Inasmuch as Larry, Steve, and Rudy may be “American with a Remington” – and I have no doubt that they are – there is something special about being entertained by those who have had great success, yet do not take for granted that their gift is one that is entrusted to them for greater purpose.

As I reflect on these past few days, it occurs to me that I could have just as easily chosen to listen to the news-heads on the alphabet networks and become dismayed.  Instead, though, I have chosen to look for the good in the moment – and found that it’s generally right there to be revealed, if we are willing to look and act.

Indeed, there IS good.  And it is all around us, if only we allow ourselves to be a bit vulnerable in our thoughts and actions.

In this moment, I’m grateful to be tired for having been so blessed by these experiences.

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Thank you, Veterans. Always remembered. Never forgotten. USA.

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Extreme Humanity Revisited

Friends,

Reposting this writing from earlier this year.  I had the occasion to visit with Cree recently and was struck by his continued THANKFULNESS for all of the BLESSINGS he recognizes in his life.  

Cree’s life is one of extreme difficulty augmented by extreme love.   He and his momma both are angels – and, in fact,  he may be tougher than most any man I’ve known.

Cree and his momma need our prayers right now.  Prayers for his comfort, her discernment, and their mutual assurance.    IGBOK.

Let’s get busy.   Read below.  Watch the video.   Pray for them.  

Thank you.  

#BeLikeCree…

My good friend Pastor Paul sent this YouTube link to me.  He posted it with the permission of Cree to tell his story.  I hope you’ll invest the time to watch it in its entirety, as it’s filled with remarkable lessons for us all.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Dd04ytTzhE

Cree has lived this way for 41+ years.  Note that I didn’t say that he has “existed” this way – no, he has LIVED.  Despite his numerous and formidable challenges, he is squarely focused on his many blessings and seizes every opportunity to try to help others find the many blessings among their own challenges.

Imagine if we all had Cree’s determination to find the good in every moment.

Peace, Y’all.  Be like Cree.

T.

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