Tuesday, August 21, 2007

"The Deal"

A few days ago my thoughts were drifting back ten years to when I was a seminary student preparing for ministry. I thought, "how did I ever get up four days a week before 4:30 a.m., drive for an hour and a half from rural Georgia to the metropolis of Atlanta, spend all day in school, stay up late studying, and pastor a congregation?" I kid you not, I don't yearn to go back to those days. They were tough. But as I wondered how I made it through three years of such a grueling schedule, my mind pictured an African-American lady, short of stature, who I had not thought of in as many years.

She worked just outside of the cafeteria at Emory University Hospital in a bakery/coffee shop called The Bishop's Pantry. One day while eating with other seminary students in the cafeteria, a fellow student said, "have you gotten the deal yet at The Bishop's Pantry?" My inquiring mind wanted to know more. "What's the deal?" My friend divulged his secret, "when you order two chocolate chip cookies for a dollar, the lady behind the counter automatically slips a third cookie in your bag." "NO WAY," I said.

That very afternoon, after depositing my tray at the hospital cafeteria, I decided to go to The Bishop's Pantry to see if I would get the deal. I ordered two cookies, paid my one dollar bill, and quickly took my bag and went outside to see if three cookies occupied a two cookie bag. I couldn't believe it....I had gotten the deal!

For the remainder of my days in seminary, I was a frequent recipient of the deal. Never did I go to The Bishop's Pantry and only receive two cookies. There was always a third cookie gracing my bag. It sounds like an insignificant gesture, and maybe it was, but to me it made a tremendous difference. There I was...a lowly student with little income. The third cookie in my bag was always a boost to me. It was the special treat I saved for the drive home that brightened my outlook on life. It was the dose of sugar I needed to get me through my final class. It was a token of blessing that made me feel like I had someone looking out for me in a place where it can be easy to go nameless.

The other day I found myself back at The Bishop's Pantry. The kind lady no longer worked there. Out of curiosity and the desire for a sugar rush, I ordered two cookies. Upon opening my bag, I looked inside to find no surprises. The deal was no more. I thought of the law students, medical students, and seminary students who were missing out on a little blessing in life. And I said a word of thanksgiving to God. I don't know where the little lady from The Bishop's Pantry is today or what she might be doing, but her generosity will never be forgotten. Quite possibly, it was a third cookie on many occasions that helped me make it through school.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

A Little Good News

No matter where you live in the United States (with the exception of the West Coast), you are probably living in a heat wave at the present time. The same is true in Georgia right now. Temperatures sore each day to over 100 degrees with high humidity. Talk about yuck...sticky, hot, and absolutely miserable. Thus, this past Saturday afternoon when my air conditioning stopped working, we could immediately tell that something wasn't quite right.

My wife and I were in the process of painting our little boy's bedroom. He will turn two years old on Friday, and we are transforming his room into a "big boy" room. As we coated the walls with shades of Georgia red, I wondered silently why someone had turned off the A/C. A trip to the thermostat revealed that our house was a toasty 86 degrees. I quickly jumped into "jack of all trades" mode. Upon arriving at the breaker box in our basement, I found that the breaker had simply tripped. No problem there. I flipped the breaker and wonderful cool air began flowing again through the house...but not for long. Only ten minutes or so went by before the breaker tripped again. On my return trip to the breaker, I found that the breaker was extremely hot to the touch...a sign of a compressor going bad...or at least I thought.

On Sunday morning, after sleeping through a hot night, I shared my woes with a friend at church. My friend asked, "will you be home after church?" I replied, "sure will." He asked, "do you mind if I come by and look at your A/C?" "Do I mind...no way." I was sure that I would be without A/C for at least one more day until the heating and air specialists came back to work on Monday. The prospect of getting something done earlier almost seemed too good to be true.

To make a long story short, my friend did come by that afternoon with tools in hand. After a quick inspection of the breaker box, he found that my compressor was fine and that my whole problem was a simple loose wire connection in the box (alot of folks might say my main problem is a loose wire!). After tightening the wire, the A/C was up and running again like new. After a few hours, the house was tolerably cool again. My entire countenance changed. Before the A/C was fixed, I was hot, uncomfortable, agitated, and just out of my comfort zone completely. After the A/C was fixed, I was back to myself.

There are many people who face circumstances much worse than a broken A/C unit on a daily basis. They yearn for a little bit of good news. They look for solutions to their problems and understanding from a friend like the kind I had received from my friend at church. We may not have the solutions or the right tools to "fix" their problems. But the one thing I'm sure of, a little good news goes a long way. A smile, a listening ear, a touch of compassion, a willingness to be of help...all of these can brighten the countenance of those who are in the dark valleys of life. Do you have some good news to share with a friend? Don't be shy and assume you're only going to be an intrusion or a bother. Go out of your way to share a little good news. It might just be someone's saving grace when they need it most.

Monday, August 06, 2007

A Few Thoughts on James

We are now studying James as a congregation. This past Sunday, August 5th, we studied James chapter one. The key verse of our discussion was verse 27 which says, "Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world."

The thing I love so much about the writings of James is the way he speaks in practical terms about how our faith is applicable to everyday life. He teaches us how to deal with trials, how to understand temptation, how to deal with finances, how to confront the evil in our own hearts, and most importantly - how to please God.

James reminds me that the focus of our religious practice is often misplaced. Our thoughts and efforts need to be directed toward people who are powerless. As we read together into the second chapter, James will say more about deeds being necessary to our faith.

As you read James chapter two this week, think about this question: "How does my life reflect the faith I have in Christ?" Do your words honor Christ? Does your use of time and money speak of your love for God and for your neighbor?

May the powerful presence of the Holy Spirit fill your heart with joy and give you guidance for everyday living as you read the Letter of James.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

On Turning 34

This past Thursday, August 2nd, was my 34th birthday. I had a great birthday. My beautiful and caring wife, Roxanne, took me to eat at Chili's restaurant in Dalton, Georgia and then we went shopping at the mall and finished the evening with a movie.

When I turned 30, I made a short list of things I wanted to do in my thirties. I keep the list in my Bible as a reminder when I study in my Bible. The things on my list are not profound, but they are important. In my thirties I want to spend more time with God, spend more time with my family, save more money, and take better care of myself than I did in my twenties. So far, I have achieved most of my goals and am working on those that I haven't yet attained.

One goal I am doing better with is taking better care of myself. Over the last month, I've started a three day a week exercise routine at Fitness First of Calhoun. For thirty minutes, I do cardio exercise and for thirty more minutes I lift weights which was a passion of mine in High School. I've already lost five pounds, and I feel so much better. This year, I'm planning on feeling better at 34 than I did at 31.

In all of life, I believe balance is the key. I struggle with spreading my attention and efforts in a balanced manner. My prayer is that I will spend as much time with God (if not more) as I do getting into better physical shape.

Whatever age you may be, it is never too late to refocus your life and put God first in everything.

God's Blessings To You,

Friday, August 03, 2007

Sermon For Sunday, August 5, 2007

James: Life As It Intersects Faith: Part One: Religion That Is Pure

James 1

I. Ryan Malcom – one of the coolest kids I’ve ever met.

A. Great taste in music, clothes, sports, and girls.

B. Joy despite hardship.

C. His religion is pure…based on works of love.

II. Ryan epitomizes James One, and James One epitomizes life.

A. Out of the gate, he speaks of hardship, money, and


B. James is trying to define a life and faith that is

acceptable to God to a church that is plagued by the clash

of culture and religion.

III. What makes religion acceptable?

A. Vs. 27 – to look after orphans and widows.

1. Who do orphans and widows represent?

2. Who are the orphans and widows in our community?

3. Vs. 22-24 – “Doing” the word.

B. Vs. 27 – to keep from pollution.

1. Vs. 21 – What is the moral filth of our time?

2. The things that cannot save us are often what we are

striving so hard to attain in our culture.

Responding to God’s Word: Let us “do” what the word says.

Next Week: Read James 2. Memorize verse 26.