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


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.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Starting Right

Grandfather Francis once offered this invocation:

Oh 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...

A lot of times, we get off to a bad start in our days, our weeks, and all too often, our lives. It's not always our fault, but when it is, GOD offers a way out. 1 John 1:9 (NIV) says, "If we confess our sins, HE is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness."

Mind you, we still have to repent, as we see just a few verses earlier in 1 John 1:6, "If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth." So there's no free ride, but be glad that GOD knows were't not perfect.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Be Sweet

Another prayer from Grandpa Francis on service:

O LORD, renew our spirits and draw our hearts to thyself, that our work may not be in us a burden but a delight, and give us such a mighty love for THEE as may sweeten our obedience. Oh, let us not serve THEE with the spirit of bondage, as slave, but with the cheerfulness and gladness of children, delighting ourselves in THEE and rejoicing in THY work.

Work is work. That's why they call it work. Serving GOD is work. But I remember Warren Beatty telling Oprah that success meant not knowing whether you were working or having fun.

So is it the same way with serving THE LORD? In 1 Chronicles 28:9 (NIV) King David says: "And you, my son Solomon, acknowledge the GOD of your father, and serve HIM with wholehearted devotion and with a willing mind, for THE LORD searches every heart and understands every desire and every thought. If you seek HIM, HE will be found by you; but if you forsake HIM, HE will reject you forever."

In other words, the LORD will know where your heart is. HE knows everything, anyway. JESUS adds an interesting perspective in Matthew 21:28-31:
“What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’

“‘I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went.

“Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go.

“Which of the two did what his father wanted?”

“The first,” they answered.

JESUS said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you."
JESUS is addressing the people with a false heart towards GOD. Some people will say anything, but fail on the follow-through. Others will protest their burdens, but they'll go through with them. Notice JESUS doesn't focus on the attitude, but the outcome. Not that attitude isn't important -- ultimately it's going to determine whether there's a follow-through. Having a heart for GOD should ultimately affect your attitude, even on those days when you don't feel like following GOD's principles, going to church, praying, reading the Bible, or otherwise keeping up the relationship. GOD understands there will be times when we're tempted to run off the rails, but HE says there's always a way out (1 Corinthians 10:13).

Saturday, January 11, 2014

It's All About The Relationship

Grandpa offered this Communion prayer at one Sunday service:

For this divine friendship, O GOD, we are thankful. Help us to remember that this friendship is possible only because of YOUR love and mercy. Bless this loaf and cup as we partake in this bond of friendship made possible through the grace of our LORD, in whose name we pray.

As I have said on this blog before, many people treat Christianity as a social club. They don't understand the difference between going to church and having a relationship with GOD. Communion is something that is supposed to help bind that relationship, draw us closer, help us to remember JESUS' sacrifice for us.

Many churches do communion at every service. Some, once a month. At The Cool Church, we partake in our small groups, which I feel has more meaning. It takes it out of the liturgy of a service and forces us to make it personal, as it should be. The Bible doesn't even tell us how often we should take communion, just that we should, and that it should not be taken lightly. But this is the first time I've seen it described as a "bond of friendship." To me, that seems too light. We have a song at TCC explaining how JESUS and people "can't just be friends." I'm sure if I sat down with Grandpa and gone back with him through the Bible and the Last Supper and the deeper meaning of it, he'd probably tell me he was getting at GOD wanting a relationship with us, not just one hour of one day of the week.

Or maybe it's because we've redefined friendship so many times over so many years that it lost its luster. Think about it: how many of your Facebook friends do you really consider to be friends? Would you treat all of them in real life the same way as you do on the net? Would you un-friend them as quickly if they got under your skin? Would you do that to GOD?

Grandpa certainly wouldn't.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Through The Giving Glass

Grandpa offered this prayer on service:

DEAR FATHER, THOU hast given us the great gift of a new day. May it be unto us a FATHER'S house of love where we shall serve, not as slaves, but as free men; not as strangers, but as friends; not as aliens, but as sons and heirs as children come to their mothers when wearied. So may we come to THEE in any hour of need. May the knowledge of THY confidence and love for us enable us to bear each burden and trample each temptation underfoot.

Then right below, he left an outline for what I presume was a call to offering:

1. Hobby -- stain glass
2. Giving to people -- their reaction -- my reaction
3. Mention our giving for our new church
4. Giving should never be described as a straight line but as a circle
5. Tithes and offerings

Grandpa took up making stained-glass window decorations in the latter half of his life. He actually taught myself and my brother how to grind glass using this small, table-top device. I forget how he mounted all those pieces in the frames, but he became an ace at it. It brought him satisfaction and joy, and I infer he had quite a few recipients of his handiwork who loved it, thus amplifying his satisfaction.

I bet he considered it a form of service, not just a hobby -- much in the same way I consider my hobby of colonial dance and living history to be a way of uplifting others. Hebrews 6:10 (NIV) says: "GOD is not unjust; HE will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them." All right, I'll grant you turning a minuet with a lady and feeding the poor aren't on the same plane. But GOD gifted us with different talents and abilities, meaning we're not going to serve in the same way, nor should we.

When it comes to our wallets, though, GOD expects a little more uniformity, not by amount, but by percentage. 2 Corinthians 8:13 says: "Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality." In other words, not equal amounts, but equal sacrifice.

And that circle Grandpa talked about? 2 Corinthians 8:14 says: "At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. The goal is equality."

Thursday, January 9, 2014

If You Build It, HE Will Come

Grandpa Francis wrote this prayer about following GOD's way:

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

Then below, he leaves a clue:

Field Of Dreams
If you make it. They will come.
" " build it. " " "

Obviously Grandpa is referring to the classic line from the Kevin Costner movie: "If you build it, he will come." The "he" referred to Costner's character's father, but it's no stretch to see Grandad was trying to make a point about OUR HEAVENLY FATHER.

And the Bible makes the same point in James 4:7-8: "Submit yourselves, then, to GOD. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to GOD and HE will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded."

If you build your relationship with GOD, HE will come, indeed.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Finding Peace

My Grandfather wrote:

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; through JESUS CHRIST OUR LORD.

Three years ago on this day, I lived through the surreal experience of dealing with a mass shooting here in Tucson, and the beginning of what would be a slow emotional drain. I ended up talking to a good friend of mine at The Cool Church who happens to be one of our ace Biblical counselors. He told me he and his fellow counselors had spent some time talking to first responders who had worked through that day and found themselves shaken to the core. They reminded them of Queen Esther's story, and how she was put in her position "for such as time" as the one now upon us. My friend told me, I was no different, even though I was a journalist, not a paramedic or a policeman.

I drew closer to GOD over the next few months, praying for strength to keep going on, through that awful year of 2011, with its parade of disheartening news that just kept coming, including the Monument Fire that burned through homes in Sierra Vista and all the continuing drama surrounding Gabrielle Giffords and the January 8th gunman's court case. I nearly quit the business that year. I thank GOD for giving me the strength and peace to stick it out.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Praise Before Raises

As part of Grandfather Francis' church duties, he would give short messages during the service. I found a cryptic outline for one:

Offertory message.
Talk about tithes & offerings
This morning let's talk about the word praise
That's spelled with an E on the end.
School children --
Employees -- survey -- praise before raises.
Praise members -- whose effort in giving and work has make our church bldg a reality

I can't reconstruct what point he was trying to make with the "E on the end" line. I can guess he may have talked about how we praise children, and how bosses praise their employees, or not. That survey may have revealed -- at one time during the 1970's or 1980's -- that many workers wanted more recognition or more encouragement over more cash.

It makes sense. I remember a colleague at a former TV newsroom recalling how he could live without a raise if the staff would just get a few thank-yous once in awhile. This was a station that was used to dominating the competition by a wide margin, but it didn't happen by default. Our newsroom dealt with crummy equipment, long hours, amateur reporting, egos, idiots and other nuisances every day to get the news on the air. At times I believed our general manager took us for granted, even if he didn't take our success for granted.

I remember one year, at a staff meeting, he talked about how several people had asked him about when they might get a raise. He spoke almost flippantly, in a what-do-you-expect tone. He gave us raises anyway, but not without some grumbling, I figured.

A lot of us are trying to give to GOD consistently, but not exactly joyfully as GOD tells us (2 Cor. 9:7). We all know it's tough, but realize this: GOD already owns all your money; you're just borrowing it from HIM, as stated in Deuteronomy 8:18: "But remember the LORD your GOD, for it is HE who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms HIS covenant, which HE swore to your ancestors, as it is today." In that light, it seems awkward to complain about giving regularly and sacrificially.

Since GOD already owns all our money, it really means nothing to him without the gratitude of the person putting it in the box to back it up. 1 Samuel 15:22 (NIV) says: "But Samuel replied: "Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the LORD? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams."

Monday, January 6, 2014

Walk In And Be Thankful

On the back of a quarter of a letter from the University of Kansas health care outreach department, talking in part about a dinner for professionals to share their knowledge and experience, I find this prayer:

Enter HIS gates with thanksgiving, and HIS courts with praise! Give thanks to HIM, bless HIS name! For THE LORD is good; HIS steadfast love endures forever and HIS faithfulness to all generations.

My old-school historic imagination sees the Kingdom of GOD as this gigantic castle with a small, narrow gate (Matthew 7:13). No moat. No drawbridge. No archers in the turrets. Just a gate, and a decision whether or not to go through. It looks like it's too small to be the real entrance, not for something so large and beautiful. So people think that's a service door, or a closet, or an entrance to nowhere.

I remember going through a narrow door and how it led me to the Kingdom of GOD. Inside I found the Royal Court, welcoming me and wanting to share its love and joy with a person still carrying around the weight of the past. Mind you, going through that narrow gate has not been without pain or temptations or hard decisions to leave what used to bring me pleasure behind. But I wouldn't trade it for anything.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

No Compromise

Grandfather Francis didn't put directions on his cards and scraps of prayers for what part of the church service they applied to, but I gather this one came at Communion:

Dear HEAVENLY FATHER, in this solemn moment and in this sacred place, we pause to remember the LORD JESUS CHRIST and HIS willingness to die upon the cross rather than compromise the cause for which HE was sent. And as we partake of the loaf and cup, may we just as realistically partake of HIS life and go from this place to do our full share in the fulfillment of HIS prayer, "THY will be done on Earth, in HIS NAME. Amen."

1 Corinthians 11:27-32 (NIV) warns us not to take Communion lightly: "So then, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the LORD. Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup. For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of CHRIST eat and drink judgment on themselves. That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep. But if we were more discerning with regard to ourselves, we would not come under such judgment. Nevertheless, when we are judged in this way by the LORD, we are being disciplined so that we will not be finally condemned with the world."

It's not some ritual. It's not snack time. It's a reminder of CHRIST'S sacrifice for us, and a reminder for us to come to GOD with our sins and ask forgiveness before we partake. Remember, GOD doesn't expect us to be perfect (nor can we be), but he does expect us to be honest with HIM.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Who Controls You?

I found this particular prayer written on the back of a letterhead for Charter American Mortgage Company in Shawnee Mission, Kansas. I remember Grandpa had loads of this stationary, which he was more than happy to share with his grandchildren, who used it for myriad doodles and drawings, mostly on the back of the page.

(Update: My Dear Aunt Susan tells me: "I worked as a temporary, then a full-time employee for Charter American Mortgage Company in the late 70's. This very small company went through some ownership changes and then moved in with a large property management company in Kansas City. We had to have all new stationery printed with the new address, thus the 'perfect artistic sketching' paper that your Grandfather acquired. I noticed that he used some of this for his prayers, which made me smile, as your Grandfather practiced, 'Waste not, want not.'")

On the back of this one, he writes:

O LORD, renew our spirits and draw our hearts to THYSELF, that our work may not be in us a burden but a delight, and give us such a mighty love for THEE as may sweeten our obedience. Oh, let us not serve THEE with the spirit of bondage, as slaves, but with the cheerfulness and gladness of children, delighting ourselves in THEE, and rejoicing in THY work.

Psalm 37:4: "Take delight in the LORD, and HE will give you the desires of your heart."

Let's not kid ourselves. Work is work. That's why it's called work. But doing GOD'S work is a different job, that calls for different frames of mind. A relationship with GOD is not meant to hold us down; it was never meant to. GOD gives us a great deal of liberty, but as Bishop Fulton Sheen once said, true freedom is freedom to do what we ought. We're not controlled by either our own selfish desires or some totalitarian state, but only by what GOD wants from us.

Friday, January 3, 2014

The Final Cut Is The Deepest

Reel To Reel: Saving Mr. Banks

Going Rate: Worth matinee price
Starring: Tom Hanks, Emma Thompson, Paul Giamatti, Colin Farrell
Rated: PG-13 (but really could be a simple PG)
Red Flags: A couple of brief, fleeting swear words; intense depictions of alcoholism and a near-suicide (which falls into that hideous MPAA catch-all of "thematic elements and some disturbing images" -- anything intensely thematic is not going to get by with a simple PG in the ratings system we're working with)

As I watched Emma Thompson's portrayal of Mary Poppins author P.L. Travers, I could not fathom how such a stiffly tart-tongued English author could create one of the most endearing characters of children's literature. In 1961, Travers reluctantly sold Walt Disney the film rights to Poppins on the condition she have script approval, and Saving Mr. Banks is the story of the famous nanny's transition from page to screen.

We meet Travers as a struggling author, goaded by her agent into flying to Hollywood to meet with Walt Disney and the picture's writers and composers. She is simply incorrigible, to use a proper English term, playing Travers with unforgiving starchiness. Along the way, we see flashbacks of the author's childhood in Australia, where her imagination blossoms in the shadow of an alcoholic banker father (Farrell), the same one who feeds the playful fantasies that would become the raw material for her novels.

Walt Disney (Hanks) is the tenacious yet folksy studio mogul who's been politely pestering Travers for years to let him make a Poppins film. Yet the author brushes his charm aside, insistent on having things her way. Having no love for Disney's films, his empire, and particularly his animation, she clutches the paperwork for the film rights like bait in front of him, unsigned until such time as she is satisfied, which looks like an impossible feat. Hanks has Disney's light Missouri drawl and mustache, but not much else. While he turns in an excellent performance, as we've come to expect from him in so many roles, he seems more like Tom Hanks doing a Walt Disney imitation than Disney himself.

The film's screenwriter Don DaGradi (Bradley Whitford) and musical composers Richard and Robert Sherman (Jason Schwartzman, B.J. Novak) find themselves confused and frustrated over Travers' script demands, correcting and objecting to the smallest script details, including whether Mr. Banks -- the patriarch from the Poppins' books -- should have a mustache. Her version of Poppins is devoid of any screen magic, something blandly British and grounded in reality. And yet Travers leaves them with enough for a coherent script and songbook, even as she objects to her novel becoming a musical. Just when the creative team is making a heartening breakthrough, hope sinks when Travers learns how Disney wants to make the film's penguins dance.

Saving Mr. Banks is a Cliffs' Notes version of a complicated and tortuous relationship between Disney and Travers. It leaves us with a Hollywood ending and hints at a Hollywood epiphany. In reality, the relationship between the two soured after Mary Poppins' release. The mogul refused to make changes to the film requested by Travers immediately after the Hollywood premiere. Travers never forgave Disney for that. Decades later, she refused to let the studio have any part in a stage version, even though it used several of the film's songs. Disney used the enormous profits from the movie to bankroll Walt Disney World in Florida, although he died in 1966, not long before construction began. Travers passed away in 1996 without allowing another Poppins film to be made from her numerous writings. She had script approval to the end.

Be sure to stay through the credits of this film to hear the real P.L. Travers working on the script. Also, the film's PG-13 rating is an exaggeration. It's fine for children 10 years and up. Disney has released films with scarier scenes -- excuse me, "thematic elements" -- that got softer ratings than this.

Being A Giver

I found this prayer from Grandpa on a file card:

OUR FATHER, help us to appreciate the joy of giving as we hear of YOUR BIRTH. Help us to take care of those less fortunate. Let us remember of the loved ones unable to be here. YOUR short life was a life of giving. May we remember this. For these things we ask in YOUR NAME. Amen.

I read this and two verses jump to mind.

First, James 1:26-27 (NIV): "Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. Religion that GOD OUR FATHER accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world."

And then 2 Corinthians 9:7-8: "Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for GOD loves a cheerful giver. And GOD is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work."

You give, you get. But getting isn't supposed to be the point. I know you've just heard that a few times during the Christmas season -- which ends on Epiphany by the church calendar, but is already over for most of us. You've probably heard it in a few soggy, cheesy forms, but the facts don't dilute. People will know you by your deeds long after your words escape their memories. Okay, there's another one of those soggy cliches we keep hearing. It's only a cliche because so many people scoff at it.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Would Grandpa Call That A Blessing, Or Something Else?

On one of the many scraps of paper Grandfather Francis left behind, among his many prayers he used in church services, is something resembling a definition. Yet he doesn't say what word he's defining. I would like to think he left it behind for me to figure out...

The act of dispensing; a dealing out. That which is bestowed on or appointed to one from a higher power. One of the several systems or bodies of law in which at different times GOD has revealed HIS mind and will to man, or the continued state of things resulting from the operation of one of these systems. The period during which a particular revelation of GOD'S mind and will has been directly operative on mankind.

My first guess at what Grandpa is trying to define is "blessing." But that's my optimistic side, and things are never that easy. Feeding the first sentence into Google produces the word "dispensation," which is more likely what he was getting at. It is both a noun and a verb, just as "blessing" is a noun and a verb.

Not every dispensation from GOD is a blessing, but more of them are than aren't. My takeaway from this is a reminder that even though GOD loves us and sent HIS SON for us, we can't ignore that HE will dole out justice (Hebrews 10:26-31). I don't know in what context Grandpa was using the above definition, but GOD'S truth will help fill in some blanks.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Last Week, And This One

Several months ago, Dearest Aunt Susan sent me a collection of prayers written by my paternal grandfather, Harold Francis, when he served as an elder in his church. I asked for them out of hunger, realizing I might learn a little more about the man I knew for so long yet knew so little about. I knew him as grandfather. I knew about his service in World War II as a cryptography specialist. I knew how he couldn't stand camels while stationed in Egypt. I knew how he loved pipes, politics, and all sorts of weird toys like the mechanical-elf bell ringers for Christmas and the frog that croaked when you walked by it. He loved his wife, Martha, only to lose her years too soon and end up alone in an oversized house in Overland Park, Kansas. And I gather he loved his special friend, Fern, who served as his companion right up until the night of his death on Christmas Eve, 1999.

What I didn't know about was his service to GOD. When that packet of prayers arrived in a plain brown envelope, I emptied out a hodge-podge set of writings on notecards, stationery and legal paper. For Grandpa, the medium wasn't important as the messages. He put them down on what he had.

And what were his messages? What did he care about when talking to GOD? Prayers reveal what's in the heart of a person, and although his denomination probably set some ground rules, Grandpa still chose his own words. So for these 30 days, let me take you into Grandpa's heart, one prayer at a time.

Bow your heads, and let us pray...

OUR FATHER, we thank THEE for the light this morning. Endue our hearts with gratitude and love for the blessings of the past week, and direct our conversation and daily walk 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 that all good things of life come from THY mercy and gracious kindness. All this we ask for CHRIST'S sake.