Tuesday, April 1, 2014

A Modestly Hateful Proposal

I have an idea for a new magazine. Yes, a magazine. Yes, even though Newsweek stopped publishing on paper only to start again. This will be a magazine like the world has never seen, but it will follow the grand tradition of great magazines with one-word titles: Time, Life, People, Money, Fortune. Now, I bring you the next great thing: Hate.

Hate magazine will tap that great untapped demographic: hateful people. Oh sure, Facebook and blogs and so much of the Internet serve this segment so well. But the time has come for a high-quality publication catering to this audience and their unique sophistication.

Hate will feature the highest quality of hateful articles, presenting hate in a crisp, unfiltered perspective. We will give no column inches to snark, mild dislike or debate. Hate will feature hate, and thus we will be brand-focused. Every month, you'll pick up a copy and read about the people, places and things we hate and why we hate them. We will track the pulse of hate, examining its ebb and flow. We'll profile haters and their favorite hates. Guest columns will let those who hate offer their hateful opinions. Of course, we'll publish letters to the editor in a regular department titled -- what else -- "Hate Mail." I'd tell you about a few of our debut issue's articles, but I hate teasing you.

Our Hate website will stay on top of fast-breaking hate and follow it to its hateful ends. You'll be able to hate with other haters as you read our hateful updates and respond with hateful comments, which you can hate with your replies in real-time.

We'll leverage our growing brand strength into television. Hate will easily find a spot on the dial, with hateful programs running around the clock, including our flagship "HateCenter."  We're hating when you are. And just maybe we'll find a spot on the radio, if we can find a niche that hasn't already been taken up by other haters. We hate getting squeezed out.

We'll sell millions of copies. We'll draw millions of viewers. We'll make millions of dollars. This won't come without competition, since haters tend to multiply. But our standards of hate will out-hate the wanna-bes, proving that we are often imitated but never equaled. Hate will become the most respected and honored brand name in the hateful world, just as ESPN is to sports and Rolls-Royce is to automobiles.

Hate will be more than a magazine. It will become a phenomenon, and in so doing, it will become an economic force. Hate will create wealth, which will create jobs and help propel our economy out of its current rut. Each new hateful position will create at least two others in turn, meaning even those who aren't hateful will benefit from trickle-down hate.

Hate and its hateful effects will confound the experts with its sheer power. But mostly, they'll hate themselves for not thinking of it first. It will have theorists and analysts hating that they can't comprehend its endless supply. Hate will transform economies like no other force.

In the end, Hate will impact our thoughts, our lives, our societies and our leaders. Hate will succeed where they have failed or fallen short. Through Hate, we will become a world bonded on hate, not divided by politics, religion, nationality, or anything else. And when we look back on the days before Hate, we will wonder how we survived before we hated so efficiently or so well.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Laird Christopher In Williamsburg

Your humble servant -- or Laird Christopher Francis Leslie of Edinburgh, if you will -- returns to one of his favourite balls:  The George Washington Ball, presented by the Williamsburg Heritage Dancers in Williamsburg, Virginia.  Here are some of his most memorable recollections of a glorious evening.

A FEW ADJUSTMENTS

For this ball, I have a brand new cocked hat -- gold trim with a gold cockade.  I have a brand new jabot, purchased just this morning in the historic shops.  Instead of my red satin balderic, I wear my Scottish Royal Stewart tartan with my clan pins and a brooch to fasten it.  I think it looks much better than the last time.  It certainly doesn't feel any heavier, and in the cold of the late winter, I do not feel excessive warmth.

COME JOIN US

Once again, I journey to the rehearsal session, where we walk through some 20 dances on the program in 2 1/2 hours.  Venturing into the room, I don't know a soul.  For a moment, I remember what it was like to be the outsider.  But I soon meet a lady, Mary, who is there alone, and we strike up a conversation.  She will be the first of several ladies who will help brighten my evening with their kindness and encouragement.

During the rehearsals, the group goes through a dance that the callers indicate you shouldn't try if you don't know it.

"We just want to practice," one of the explains as the caller questioned why four of us were off to our side.  "We don't want to ruin it for anybody else."

We walk through the steps on our own, messing up without fear of reprisal, but also realizing that the dance is too complicated to walk through in just a small set of four, where we need other couples on either side of us to help guide our steps for some of the complicated square weaving figures that involve other couples.

We would have just stood and watched the rest of the dance, but several in the other long sets then invite us to join them, so that we could dance and learn from one another.  We make it through with the help of the kindness of the experienced, who did not want to see us left out.

A LONG JOURNEY INTO HISTORY

I told several people I was "all in," not content to sit out any dances if I could help it, coming all the way from Tucson, Arizona.

"You came all the way for this?" people reply, jaws dropping.

"Yes," I nod.  "I don't get to do much Colonial dancing in Tucson.  I dance Scottish, which is great cross-training.  But as for English, it's just not there.  And it's not there with everybody dressed up as beautifully as they do here."

With that in mind, I gather the others went a step further.  It's important to find a good dancing group, one that will welcome newcomers.

"Some can be cliquish," one gentleman tells me.  I've heard of others where the amateurs and inexperienced are confined to their own set, the dancing equivalent of eating at the kiddie table.  Not here.  Not now.  And I pray, not ever.

ALREADY THERE

Midway through the practice session, a lady joins us in her Colonial day dress, apron, and mob cap, stepping right out of the pages of time.

"I just got off work," she explains to me, having scurried over from her interpreter role at Colonial Williamsburg.

"You're doing what I want to do eventually," I tell her, referring to a planned future chapter of my life: leaving the news business, becoming a CW interpreter, and joining a historic dance troupe.

GOING THROUGH THE MOTIONS

The minuet is always the first dance of the evening, in history and in historical re-creation.  Last time, I faked my way through one.  This time, I have a rough idea of the steps.  That is enough for me to quickly seek out a lady, bow, and lead her to one of the lines.

Unlike last time, whereas I stood in the back, a long way away from those in prime view, I am second in line in the middle row of dancers, meaning I'd better get this right, or at least look like I was.

A bow to "the presence," a bow to my lady, and we are off and minueting, in small steps around each other, three-quarter time, alternating holding left and right hands in a Z-formation.  I know I'm supposed to be stepping right-left-right, left-right-left, but my focus is shifting from footwork to figures.  One thing I have learned from two years of Scottish Country Dancing:  If I get the patterns right, nobody will mind if my footwork is wrong.

I have sympathy for my Colonial ancestors who danced at a ball many times before.  They have to measure up and dance perfectly, or else it is a mark upon their character.  Right now, I can taste their anxiety.

"Other hand," my lady quietly corrects me during a turn.

I have to wonder what people thought of those aristocratic gentlemen who couldn't dance a proper minuet.  Even here in Virginia, where people loved to dance, it's only logical to expect that some people's feet would not measure up to the desires of their heart.  Fortunately, I am with a good group, and my minuet is at least serviceable and elegant if not perfect.

"We honour the presence," she says, cueing me to another bow towards the front before we bow to one another once again.

I thank my lady with another bow and turn to see half the crowded room -- perhaps two dozen at least -- is standing and watching us, some with cell-phone cameras in hand.  I pass the first major test of the evening.

"Dancing a minuet in Williamsburg," I smile.  "Check that box."  Again.



ILLUSIONS OF ROYALTY

His Regalness, sharing a dance
with two beautiful ladies
(Source: Facebook/Williamsburg
Heritage Dancers)
He is the most period-correct in the room:  White ponytail wig, snow-white face powder, blue satin jacket and breeches, brooches and medallions, and rings on his gloved fingers.

I cannot help but compliment him on his attire between dances.  "I am glad to see that the French are with us!"

He recoils.  "The French?  Where are they?  I am King George The Third!"

He displays his regal medallion of England.  All the air escapes my body and I quickly fall into as low and courtly a bow as I can muster.

"My apologies, Your Majesty."  Under protocol, our eyes shouldn't even meet.  "All the portraits I have seen show you wearing gold instead of blue!"

Embarrased, I back away, not thinking it awkward that His Majesty would somehow be in Williamsb
urg, rife with rumours of revolution.  The ballroom is the great equalizer, where rank is set aside so that all might delight in diversion.  Yet that is little insurance for the awkward moment.

I explain to a lady how I might have just hurled Virginia closer to revolution more expediently than Lord Governor Dunmore.

"Oh that's not The King," she explains.  "That's Lord Foppington."

"Really?"

"Yes, Lord Foppington."  He apparently only thinks he's royalty, the classic delusion of comic history, of those macaronis long before Chef Boy-Ar-Dee with their egregious frilliness, buttons and bows.  Only in the 18th Century does gentlemens' fashion approach the beauty of the ladies.  Excess, however, is not elusive.




FOLLOW YOU, FOLLOW ME

Great Scottish dancing is great teamwork, as I have learned.  And such is true for English.  When the invitation for "The Punch Bowl" came forth, I went to sit down without regret, not knowing the dance and not wanting to ruin it for others by attempting a caper of advanced difficulty.

One lady would not have that.

"Would you like to dance with me?" she asks.  In the real 18th Century, ladies did not ask gentlemen to dance, but this is one item of protocol happily dispensed of for the enjoyment and benefit of all -- or perhaps she saw through my eyes into my heart.

"My Lady," I say, "I do not know this dance, and I'm told not to try it on the floor."

She waves off my apprehensions.  "How can you learn it if you don't get to try it?  I can lead you."

And she does.  The beauty of "The Punch Bowl" is that it's highly symmetrical, meaning I can follow my partner, like looking into a mirror, and walk through the moves like I know them, provided I can react quickly enough to the changes.  She knows the dance well enough to lead your humble servant strongly.

"You're doing beautifully!" she cries mid-way through, even as I have made a quick wrong turn here and there.  Nobody in the set minds.  We are at the end, more adept for those adapting.  It ends with the two of us at the bottom of the lines, bowing and curtsying to each other right in front of another person's cell phone camera.

"HUZZAH!  HUZZAH!  Thank you, My Lady!  Thank you for Blessing me with this dance!  Thank you for leading me!"

My words can scarcely contain my gratitude.

A short time later, I return the favour for another lady in a three-couple set during "Trip To Tunbridge," a dance she does not know, but one I can lead her through.

"Do not fret," I tell her.  "I believe in you.  We will get through this.  It's not a mistake, it's a variation!"

The dance is filled with tricky diagonal moves of turning one corner than another.  We watch, wait, dance and try to learn.  This is where I realize I have danced this one before, several years ago at that Playford Ball in Nashville.  Now the steps and the feel of it are coming back.

"Lead down," I say, softly calling to her as we move about.  "Lead up, diagonal, diagonal, to your own side..."

Before we know it, the dance is over, and she has danced it like a champion.  She reaches out and hugs me before I can bow in appreciation.

Minutes later, I lead another lady through a dance with a "dolphin hey," a fancy term for a figure where a lady follows a gentleman around the other two dancers in the set in a weaving pattern.  Normally, the two leading the figure are supposed to change who's in front as we work our way around.  But I quietly simplify things for her, content to let her follow me.  It doesn't ruin anything about the dance for the others, and it looks elegant all the same.

"I believe in you," I tell her, just as I told the other lady, and other ladies throughout this evening who are unsure of themselves and their abilities.

We dance through it with nary an error, and she is abundantly grateful in the closing honours.

"Thank you!"

"Thank you, My Lady!"



ONE GOOD TURN...

After rolling though 21 dances with 21 partners -- plus at least a half -dozen more if one counts the circle mixer -- the final waltz arrives.

I seek out a partner, and I find one in an older lady.

"I was hoping you would ask me for a waltz," she replies brightly as we stroll back onto the floor.

I can't imagine why she might pine for your humble servant.  I give my standard advisory.  "I'm not much of a waltzer, but I am a two-stepper."

We step a few beats from side to side before I continue my thought.  "However, My Lady, I can lead you in a waltz-minuet, which is like a country dance we make up on the fly, where I call the steps and you follow."

In a beat, we are turning and siding to each other, circling around each other in an improvised celebration.  I have danced it many times with many ladies, and it has never failed to uplift.

"It's like a waltz tango!" she proclaims.

With a final bow and curtsy, the ball is suddenly over.  Months of anticipation, like the light at the end of a tunnel, suddenly over.  I have a few more moments to chat with newfound friends, some who did not know I had come all the way from Arizona to pursue my dearest diversion.

All I can think about is how tremendously blessed I feel at this moment: having the opportunity to dance with so many ladies, without sitting out a single dance.  I have not felt so much warmth since my very first 18th Century Ball.

"GOD Bless You!" I keep telling ladies and gentlemen as I bid them farewell.

Laird Christopher with a Lady of the
Jane Austen Society, the next day
(Source: Facebook/Virginia Lee)
A bonus day of dancing will follow tomorrow, as part of a Jane Austen Society meeting at a small women's club up the road, enough to satisfy any remnant afterglow that lasts through the night.

People can ask me why I love this so much.  I tell them it's beautiful, it's uplifting, and it brought me back to GOD.  Few things in this world bring me joy, and this is one of them.  I gather I some recessed Virginia genes somehow made it into me, because I don't know any relatives of mine who have ever enjoyed this.

Thinking about it, I feel the overwhelming presence of GOD in this ballroom tonight, and I realize what we've just done is what GOD calls us all to do.  We're to lift up and encourage others -- keep them from going astray and give encouragement to keep them on the path, not cutting them out, but bringing them in.  Mistakes will happen, but we just continue on.  Everybody gets to dance in this ballroom of life, with OUR HEAVENLY CALLER there to show us the way.

What happens in the ballroom should be happening to you! Find out more about the Williamsburg Heritage Dancers here.


Monday, February 24, 2014

Why Arizona's SB 1062 Deserves Failure

Nearly a year ago, I went on the record explaining why I thought government should ban gay marriage. But when the question is whether governments should allow people to deny services to homosexuals on the basis of religious belief -- and Arizona's SB 1062 is aimed in that direction -- we go off into a dangerous void.

Let's start with the bill itself [PDF]. It broadens an existing religious freedom law to include businesses, along with individuals and religious institutions. It does not specifically mention Christianity, or any specific religion. Neither does it mention homosexuality. Here's where the problems begin: this bill was clearly a response to situations outside of Arizona where people who provide services to weddings, such as bakers and photographers, ran into legal trouble because they refused to provide their services to same-sex weddings on religious principles. But this bill is not tailored that narrowly, and if it were, chances are it would not survive a court challenge, just as many states' gay-marriage bans are not surviving court challenges now.

With a bill so broad, it could potentially apply to situations its authors never intended. Does a hotel have a right to refuse a room to a gay couple, married or not, because the owner considers such conduct sinful? In that case, have the owners refused a single-but-unmarried couple because the owner disapproves of sex outside marriage? It gets worse: could some Christians legally refuse to do business with Mormons if they think the LDS is a cult? Going ad nauseum, could any business refuse to provide any service for anybody simply on the grounds that it violates their religion?

Here's another problem: the bill doesn't contain any language to test whether somebody objecting on religious grounds is actually a faithful practitioner as opposed to being somebody who just claims they believe in something. From the language of the bill:
"Exercise of religion" means the PRACTICE OR OBSERVANCE OF RELIGION, INCLUDING THE ability to act or refusal to act in a manner substantially motivated by a religious belief, whether or not the exercise is compulsory or central to a larger system of religious belief.
In other words, this bill says practicing religion is being religious -- a recursive definition that doesn't even require you to belong to any organized faith.

Laws live and die by loopholes, and this bill has doozies. In order to make it legally non-discriminatory, it's legally vague. Vague laws get challenged in court, leaving judges to deal with the legal heartburn of throwing out flawed legislation and complaints from groups who scream bloody murder about activist gavel jockeys.

Now let's look at the Christian perspective. First, we have to see what GOD actually says about doing business with homosexuals. As I found last year, the Bible references homosexuality nine times, but none of those references deals with rendering goods and services to gay people. So GOD is not telling us to avoid doing so.

Furthermore, we get insight from Mark 2:15-17 (NIV):
While JESUS was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with HIM and HIS disciples, for there were many who followed HIM. When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked HIS disciples: “Why does HE eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

On hearing this, JESUS said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
Here we learn JESUS knew HIS mission meant trying to minister to sinners rather than avoiding them. GOD doesn't tell us to avoid sinners completely, although 1 Corinthians 15:33-34 says: "Do not be misled: 'Bad company corrupts good character.' Come back to your senses as you ought, and stop sinning; for there are some who are ignorant of GOD — I say this to your shame." However, the context of these verses makes them more of a warning for people to stop hanging around people who are leading them into consistent, definable sin rather than just eating with sinners.

Some of you are asking, "Aren't we complicit in sin if we help others celebrate a sinful union?" Fair question. You can point to James 4:17 (NIV), which says: "If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn't do it, it is sin for them." But, again, the context of the verse talks about those who put off submitting themselves to GOD, as earlier verses in this chapter implore us to do -- not moral dilemmas on whether something is a sin or not. And remember, we haven't even established that serving gays or gay couples is a definable sin in the first place!

With so much left unspoken in GOD'S Word and the wording of the bill, SB 1062 creates more problems than it solves. A lot of you will still have problems offering goods or services to same-sex couples, no matter what the law or the Bible says. You will agonize about it, even if the Bible doesn't say it's a sin. Your conscience will still bother you because you just can't see the perfect answer.  Remember, GOD doesn't expect us to live perfectly, just consistently. And when we confess to GOD we can't do it perfectly, that we need a SAVIOR, that we need forgiveness and guidance and wisdom for the things we're not sure about, GOD will give us all of those things.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Carrying The Message On

Grandfather Francis shared a personal and touching note in some "Words of Institution" he gave before Communion one Sunday, handwritten on a loose-leaf notebook page:

There are many events that are written about JESUS in the New Testament. But to me The Last Supper stands out in my mind as of great importance. Picture a simple table with benches -- a group of men, some followers, a doubter, one a betrayer. There is JESUS, breaking bread, saying 'This is MY body,' then drinking the wine and saying, 'This is MY blood.' sealing the New Covenant; it is poured out to forgive the sins of multitudes. We are quite fortunate to break break and take the cup each Sunday. It is something that seems to bring us closer to JESUS CHRIST, to look back upon those 12 men that started Christianity, who went into all parts of the world to preach and teach. As true disciples, we must carry their message on.

Grandfather was a member of the Disciples of CHRIST. I'm a member of The Cool Church, even though we technically don't have membership rolls. However, we have the same mission, as CHRIST told us in Matthew 28:19 (NIV): "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the FATHER and of the SON and of the HOLY SPIRIT."

JESUS never told us it would be easy. When HE told Simon Peter and Andrew HE would make them "fishers of men," (Matthew 4:19) notice HE didn't say "catchers." My church got an all-too-painful reminder of that earlier this month when we tried to launch a new branch in the east valley of Phoenix. Our leadership worked for more than a year on this, researching, praying, advertising, praying, planning, arranging, dealmaking, and praying some more. We invested thousands of dollars into the effort.

Then on the launch Sunday, with a band and numerous staffers borrowed from Tucson, with new lighting and technical toys in a rented auditorium, when we were hoping to have 400 to 500 people show up for either one of two services, fewer than 100 made it into the seats. Our leadership sadly but realistically determined that it would simply cost too much and take too long for TCC East Valley to gain the attendance and Phoenix-based staff it would need to sustain itself. The new church lasted only one week.

Yeah, we're bummed out about it. The staff did everything they need to do on our end and trusted GOD to do the rest. But GOD sometimes gives an answer to our prayers that we don't expect or like, and often the answer is "no," or "not yet," or "not here." It's not the first time TCC has tried to launch a satellite church outside of Tucson and failed: a similar effort in Yuma lasted only a few months. We learned some lessons, got some answers from GOD, and moved on.

Even here in Tucson, we've had to deal with reality and hardship. One TCC branch in midtown closed when the pastor faced the need to devote more time to family, and we didn't have another pastor to step into that location. Another branch left us when the pastor developed financial and philosophical differences with the rest of the leadership, and he decided to start his own church. Several years ago, an activist group misrepresented us in a newspaper story.

My pastor has had to deal with huge struggles, setbacks and pain inside and outside of ministry. He lost his first wife to a brain tumor in a matter of days. One of his best friends, one who was a large part of the church, turned his back on him.

But still, we don't give up. TCC still has two thriving locations, and we're looking to expand again in Tucson. I gather Grandpa knew the challenges of getting people to come to church, but he did his end and trusted GOD for further instructions.

And as this edition of "30/30" wraps up, I'm happy to tell you Dearest Aunt Susan has found a few more of Grandpa Francis' prayers. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

In Ancient Times...

On the back of a scrap of a memo from the University of Kansas, Grandfather Francis gives us a history lesson:

In ancient times, all rich men had stewards. They had to be trustworthy, yet have the ability of business managers, because they had full charge of their master's possessions. The Earth is owned by THE LORD. HE gave man the use of it and all living things.

So man is a steward of the LORD'S possessions, all of his to use and trade upon. But of the increase, THE LORD said, a part of that is MINE. So as good Christians, we should return that part to further GOD'S work.


But how much is "a part?" A lot of people how much they should give. JESUS taught us it's not about how much we give, but what percentage, as HE taught in the parable of the widow and the giving box (Mark 12:21-44):
JESUS sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents.

Calling HIS disciples to him, JESUS said, 'Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.'"
The take-away from here is NOT that GOD expects us to give everything to HIM, but that HE expects us to give sacrificially. The rich gave in a way that was comfortable to them, not sacrificially.

At the same time, GOD makes it clear in Deuteronomy 8:18 he wants us to have stuff -- provided we don't let stuff get in the way of our relationship with HIM.

Jeremiah 29:11: "'For I know the plans I have for you,' declares THE LORD, 'plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."

Proverbs 28:25: "The greedy stir up conflict, but those who trust in the LORD will prosper."

And In Matthew 6:33 (NIV) JESUS says not to worry about our day-to-day needs: "But seek first HIS kingdom and HIS righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well."

The Bible doesn't mention a specific percentage, but many people use the percentage of 10 percent, calling it a "tithe." Actually, a tithe in the ancient nation of Israel was a tax of 23 percent, of which 10 percent went to the church -- and that was giving under compulsion, which the Bible warns us not to do in 2 Cor. 9:7. We advise people at TCC to aim for 10 percent, because our research has found people who do so are more likely to meet GOD's expectations of consistent and sacrificial giving.

When leading newly baptized people through the ropes of being highly effective Christians, my church compares Christians to bankers -- GOD'S money is on deposit with us, and HE wants to make a withdrawal, we should comply as good bankers. As I have said before in this "30/30" series, Grandpa took stewardship very seriously. My Dearest Aunt Susan found a booklet on stewardship along with the various prayers you've been reading this month.

And here are some other verses on the subject, but be advised, they're not in context, so you will want to read verses around them to get the full meaning.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Are You Expecting?

This is my opinion, so you're free to ignore it, but I find a test in your relationship with GOD is how much you value your time with HIM. Grandpa Francis knew about that in this Communion prayer:

O GOD, our source of life and love, we come with expectant hearts to this table today. Give us the blessing which best fits our needs and help us to be more like OUR MASTER who went about doing good. May the bread and cup which we take be a source of spiritual strength, and may the presence of the living CHRIST hallow the entire experience. This we pray in HIS name, Amen.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Caring For GOD's Gifts

If you haven't figured it out so far this month, or you're just logging into the middle of this edition of "30/30," it's clear Grandpa Francis valued stewardship tremendously. He uses that term consistently in offering prayers re-posted from the scraps of paper he left to a new generation.

OUR FATHER, please accept this offering. May we do a better job of stewardship. YOU have given us many worthwhile things and we are ever so grateful. We realize that all things belong to you. With our stewardship, may we show we care for the privilege of using those things YOU have bestowed on us. This we ask in YOUR NAME.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Cleansed At The Table

Grandpa Francis wrote out a lot of Communion prayers. Here's one I found on a 3-by-5 card talking about how Communion is a cleansing experience:

OUR FATHER, at this sacred table, we thank you for JESUS CHRIST, the nobility of HIS character, the beauty of HIS spirit, the greatness of HIS mission, and the dedication of HIS life. We are humbled that HE invested HIS very body for our spiritual welfare. As we partake of the bread and wine, cleanse us all that is unworthy and make more complete HIS image in us.

Grandpa took Communion seriously, as should all Christians. The bread and wine remind us that we are cleansed of sin by CHRIST's sacrifice. A lot of you don't get or don't understand a lot of church rituals, but this is a sacrament you should understand -- this and Baptism. It's something that's consistent across all denominations. It's like coming home for Thanksgiving, when we're all at the same table. No matter where we're from, we're part of the Christian family, remembering why we're here and why we're thankful.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Guidance

Whether you're offering yourself or your money, here's a prayer from Grandfather Francis this morning:

OUR FATHER, please except this offering this morning. May it help to spread the Gospel here and throughout the world. Guide us as to our stewardship as Christians, and as Christians, may we be able to help those less fortunate. These things we ask in YOUR NAME. Amen.

And if you still need guidance and encouragement...

DEAR GOD, may we serve you out of love and gratitude for these gifts, knowing that it's not how much we have but what we do with what we have that is important. As Christians, we know our lives are sacred trusts; we are stewards of those lives, we know YOU depend on us to use them to accomplish YOUR purposes. Because we love YOU GOD, we dedicate these gifts to serve YOU. Amen.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Be A Light

Feeling a little dim this morning, or any morning? Try this prayer from Grandfather Francis:

O GOD, author of eternal light, lead us in our worshiping this day; that our lips may praise THEE, our lives may bless THEE, our meditations may glorify THEE; through JESUS CHRIST OUR LORD...

Grandpa wrote this for Sunday services. But remember, the word "worship" comes from the greek word proskuneo, primarily used in the original New Testament text, which means "to kiss toward." This reflected how some people would pray -- kissing the ground -- or kissing the hand of somebody they honored and respected. Worship, therefore, is a gesture of honor and respect, not something we do one day out of seven.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Gratitude In Common Things

Grandpa Francis used a notecard to sketch out a short Communion prayer:

DEAR GOD, OUR FATHER, we acknowledge that YOU loved us so much that YOU sent YOUR SON to offer HIS body to the suffering of crucifixion and death for our sins. As we partake of the loaf and cup, we express our gratitude and our love. In YOUR SON'S NAME, Amen.

And then, on a small, yellow scrap of paper barely two inches square:

OUR FATHER, we come in the name of JESUS who found the deepest holiness in common things. Bless this bread and cup and those who partake, that life and sacrifice may stand revealed. We pray this in the NAME OF CHRIST. Amen.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Our Gifts Are Neither Created Nor Destroyed, Merely Transferred

One of the basic laws of physics says it's not possible to make energy out of nothing or reduce it to nothing without that energy taking on a different form. It's a similar process with our possessions, as Grandfather Francis observed in this address to his parishioners:

We bring nothing into this world and we take nothing out of it. Everything we have while we are here comes as a gift from GOD. In appreciation, we choose to share a portion of these gifts. The stewardship of our property is an ongoing process. We give regularly and systematically in proportion to the gifts which we are given. As Christians, we know that our lives are sacred trusts. We are stewards of those lives. GOD depends on us to use them to accomplish GOD's proposes.

GOD invests in us (including sacrificing HIS SON for us), and it's our job to take good care of those investments.

JESUS talked about a good steward in a servant who invested wisely for his master and saw that investment grow. Matthew 25:20-21 (NIV): "The man who had received five bags of gold brought the other five. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with five bags of gold. See, I have gained five more.’ “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’"

The lazy servant, on the other hand, lost it all in Matthew 25:28-30: "‘So take the bag of gold from him and give it to the one who has ten bags. For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’"

If we invest in GOD by investing our time and our money (which belongs to HIM anyway), so shall we reap the dividends. But be warned -- don't let people use GOD to shake you down or make you think you're not holy enough if you're not giving enough. What and how you give is between you and GOD, to be discussed through prayer, and not by somebody pretending to be GOD's investment manager.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Same Old News (Gnus?) On Trust

Grandfather Francis jotted down one of his prayers on a piece of novelty stationary which featured two grizzled horned creatures at the top with the caption: "Same Old Gnus"

Underneath, he wrote an Invocation:

O GOD of peace, who has taught us that in returning and rest we shall be saved, in quietness and confidence shall be our strength; by the might of THY spirit lift us, we pray THEE to THY presence, where we may be still and know that THOU art GOD.

The phrase "in returning and rest we shall be saved" comes from Isaiah 30:15-17, where "returning" is translated as "repentance," and the context becomes clearer, as we see in the NASV, the most literal Bible translation out there:
"For thus the LORD GOD, the HOLY ONE of Israel, has said,

“In repentance and rest you will be saved,
In quietness and trust is your strength.”
But you were not willing,
And you said, “No, for we will flee on horses,”
Therefore you shall flee!
“And we will ride on swift horses,”
Therefore those who pursue you shall be swift.
One thousand will flee at the threat of one man;
You will flee at the threat of five,
Until you are left as a flag on a mountain top
And as a signal on a hill."
In these verses, GOD warned Judah against making an alliance with Egypt, saying they should trust in HIM instead. Some people think they're smarter than GOD. Maybe they don't actually believe they are in such bold of a statement, but by their actions, they brush off HIS wisdom. At the other end, we have people who trust GOD, but maybe they're lacking in action.

A Biblical counselor once told me it worked like this: we prepare the horse, and GOD does the rest. That's tough for a lot of us, especially those of you who are parents or leaders dealing with difficult situations. Sometimes it's tough for us to find where our end stops and GOD's part begins. That's why prayer is so important in these situations so you can find the lines. Proverbs 3:5-6 (NIV): "Trust in the LORD with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge HIM, And HE will make your paths straight."

Monday, January 20, 2014

Studying Up

We don't have exactly one way to study the Bible, and GOD doesn't point us in any one direction. HE does give us two important considerations:

Hebrews 4:12 (NIV): "For the word of GOD is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart."

2 Timothy 3:16-17 (NIV): "All Scripture is GOD-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of GOD may be thoroughly equipped for every good work."

In the stacks of Grandfather Francis' prayers, I found a neatly-typewritten note: "HOW TO STUDY YOUR BIBLE." It offers several suggestions, although devoid of explanations:

Specific Methods of Bible Study-----

1. Bible Study of Bible Books

2. Bible Study of Bible Chapters

3. Bible Study of Bible Paragraphs

4. Bible Study of Minute Parts of Scripture

5. Bible Study of Bible Doctrine

6. Bible Study of Bible Biographies

7. Bible Study of Bible Prayers

8. Bible Study of Bible Miracles

9. Bible Study of Bible Parables

10. Bible Study of Bible Poetry


Method #1 is the way many people approach the Bible. It's what I use, because I try to read through the entire Bible in about 12-13 months time. A lot of people try to do it in a year, but don't rush yourself if you want to take longer. GOD doesn't give us a timeline or a deadline. I will advise you of three things that will make it easier. Remember, these are my opinions, not anything more:

1) Get a study Bible. I prefer the "Life Application Bible" series, which are available in several different translations. For new Christians, you may even find a Bible for teenagers is more relevant to where you are in your spiritual maturity.

2) Try different translations. A lot of people like NIV, which is easy to read. NASB is the most literal translation you can get, but a lot harder to read. A lot of people like "The Message" because it uses highly contemporary language and places Biblical locations in context with today's world. Paraphrase Bibles like the "Good News Bible" and "The Living Bible" can help if you're reading through a second time and want a fresh perspective. "The Book" which came out in the 1980's is also pretty easy to read.

3) Don't feel like you have to read from beginning to end. You can start wherever you want and end wherever you want. And let's face it, the books of Leviticus and Numbers can be quite a slog with all that Old Testament law. Some chapters are better for scholarly study than reading for learning how to live for GOD, so you may end up skimming them to get the general gist.

At the bottom of that typewritten page is an important takeaway:

The single most important part of Bible study, having taken care of the objective reading and study, is the personal application. Each time we read the Bible, a personal decision is called for, and the end of each time of Bible study should be a personal meeting with the LORD JESUS CHRIST.

Or simply put, prayer.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Keep It Going

GOD doesn't expect us to be perfect, but HE does ask us to be consistent. As Grandpa Francis prayed in this offertory:

OUR FATHER, please accept this offering this day. May it show our appreciation of all the good things YOU have given us. May we continue to give so that we can continue YOUR word to all Christians throughout the world. This we ask in YOUR NAME.

Part of showing appreciation is consistent giving, in terms of how we give. In 2 Corinthians 8:1-5 (NIV) Paul praises the Macedonian church: "And now, brothers and sisters, we want you to know about the grace that GOD has given the Macedonian churches. In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the LORD’s people."

1 Corinthians 15:58 (NIV) also tells us: "Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the LORD, because you know that your labor in the LORD is not in vain."

You may not see it now, you may not see it a few days from now, but your giving will bear fruit. Just trust GOD.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

So What's This Stewardship Thing, Anyway?

On both sides of a three-by-five card, Grandpa Francis explored the stewardship, one of those "churchy" terms people hear but don't always understand. He wrote:

What are the rewards for stewardship? We seek no rewards for our stewardship. We do it with the joy of serving GOD. Yet we know that GOD does reward stewards by filling their needs in life. By giving new opportunities to care, to share, to participate in the wholeness of life. Stewardship is the Christian life, making our prayers, worship, study of the scriptures, Christian action truly sincere. So our whole life is a partnership with GOD. We cannot give anything to GOD; but we can fulfill GOD by using our gift wisely and sharing with others.

In Matthew 6:31-34 (NIV) JESUS says: "So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly FATHER knows that you need them. But seek first HIS kingdom and HIS righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own."

On the other side of the card, he prayed:

OUR HEAVENLY FATHER, give us renewed power to overcome all our faults. Give us a renewed spirit of goodwill toward our fellow man. Give us a firmer faith in THEE and in all lines of action which bring peace, honor and prosperity. And by the guidance of THY HOLY SPIRIT, guide us ever in THY way that goeth upward, through JESUS CHRIST OUR LORD...

Friday, January 17, 2014

Let's Try This Again

History and statistics tell us you've probably broken at least one of your new years' resolutions by now. Maybe you've broken them all. Fortunately, GOD believes in second chances. And it's not to late to make some new resolutions. Grandpa had a few in this prayer from one December long ago:

STRONG SON of GOD, on the threshold of the new year, we pray: May nothing false pass our lips. May our lives be real, our hearts pure, our spirit right. May all that is unseemly be eliminated. May GOD be a partner in our business. May our social life be elevating; our church life be rewarding. Grant this our prayer in JESUS' name.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Counting Blessings And Being Free

Grandfather Francis knew nothing in life was free, especially not after serving America in World War II as a cryptology specialist. For everything he had, he had much gratitude:

Dear FATHER IN HEAVEN, we come to thee in love and praise for all the blessings we enjoy; for the food we have to eat, for the water we drink, the clothes we wear and the fresh air we breathe. We thank THEE for our home, our loved ones, and that we live in a land and an age when we can worship THEE openly. O FATHER, help us to become more worth of THY watchful care and love. These things we ask in YOUR NAME.

I've talked before about Grandpa's service in WWII, how little I know for how much he helped accomplish. And all of us, at one time or another, are going to look over all we've done so far and wonder whether we've done enough or done it differently.

I know now that if I would've done things differently, I probably would've passed up journalism and gone for a history degree -- but not to teach. I would've equipped myself better to do the living history that I do now. I told that recently to my friend Madame Sherri, to which she replied, "But you're doing that now!"

True. She couldn't understand why I would want to back up and re-do parts of my life, had I had the chance. She thinks I'm incredibly blessed for where I am now.

Hebrews 10:32-36 (NIV) tells us: "Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you endured in a great conflict full of suffering. Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated. You suffered along with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions. So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of GOD, you will receive what he has promised."

James 1:2-4 says: "Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything."

So hang in there, count your blessings, and keep going. GOD has given you what you need.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Get To Work

For some inspiration on this hump day, here's Grandfather Francis on the job, speaking on a Sunday, but with a prayer germane to any time:

OUR FATHER, we thank YOU for the light this morning. Endure our hearts with gratitude and love for the blessings of the past week, and direct our conversation and daily work through the coming week. Grant that we may render THEE service that will not only give us joy and comfort, but that our example and influence will lead others to love and serve THEE. May we realize and appreciate every day of our lives, that we owe all to THEE and that all good things of life come from THY mercy and gracious kindness. All this we ask for CHRIST'S sake.

Some time ago, somebody at work asked me what it was that kept me in such good spirits, so much of the time. She thought me consistently calm and cool and wanted to know why.

I pointed towards Heaven. "A higher power."

"Oh," she said, smiling. "I thought you did yoga."

I didn't need to go into some evangelical spiel. A few words sufficed and what she knew would fill in the rest.

St. Francis of Assisi said, "Preach the Gospel at all times, and if necessary, use words." 1 John 2:3-6 (NIV) says: "We know that we have come to know HIM if we keep HIS commands. Whoever says, “I know HIM” but does not do what HE commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that person. But if anyone obeys HIS word, love for GOD is truly made complete in them. This is how we know we are in HIM: Whoever claims to live in HIM must live as JESUS did."

We have the job description. Time to go to work.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Being There

Buried within all of my Grandfather's prayers, I found this brief teaching:

Dear Abby gave reasons who people go to church. Some go to pray, some go to pray that they might meet someone. Other reasons were: habit, training, fear of punishment from THE LORD if they don't, to be seen, to see who else is there, to show off a new outfit, to get spiritual inspiration, to socialize.

From the above reasons we all could select at least several of them. But the important part is we are going to church. By so doing, maybe some spiritual growth will rub off. Remember JESUS' disciples had to work long and hard to sell Christianity. Our task today is much easier.


Hebrews 10:24-25 (NIV) explains why we need to go to church: "And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching." Simply being around GOD's people, HIS truth and HIS principles on a regular basis will not leave us unchanged. Remember that saying, "Half of life is just showing up?" It's that way in our spiritual life, too.