How May I Serve You?

You hear it from time to time.  Usually it catches the ear at maybe a highbrow restaurant, tuxedo department in Neiman Marcus or a Rolls Royce dealership.  But it doesn’t have to be.

Thanksgiving afternoon finally arrived at our house.  It was just four of us, my wife and her two adult sons.  After the prayer, the dishes were passed around the table.  My son-in-law, Kellen was sitting next to me, scooping out his portion of the delicious rosemary Swiss cheese sweet potato casserole right out of a heavy corning ware baking dish.  When finished, instead of passing it to me, he said something to the effect of, “Can I dish this out for you?”  That happens at Del Frisco’s Double Eagle, not at our house.  I thought maybe he might place my napkin in my lap, as well.  It was so unusual, but I accepted his offer.  Ever since Thanksgiving I’ve been thinking about that humble moment of servanthood.

Many years ago, while working at KLTY/Dallas, my boss, Jon Rivers, attended a showcase gala of sorts for radio and record labels in a ballroom at one of Nashville’s finest hotels.  The dinner was prepared by the chefs of the hotel.  It was arranged in a buffet style with servers in funny hats and chef smocks, standing at the ready behind each delicacy, under silver domes.  After the meal was served, the reserved seats were waiting for artists, record and radio moguls.  As Jon went through the buffet with the servers assembling his choice of dishes, he made his way to the end of the long line of serving tables to find exquisite dessert selections.  The server asked, “How may I serve you?”  Jon thought he recognized the voice.  As he looked up from the wide range of desserts, there stood, none other than, recording artist and songwriter extraordinaire, Rich Mullins.

That was who Rich Mullins was.  With humility, he was exercising servanthood for the nourishment of his own soul and spirit, but he was also making a quiet statement for the suits in the room.  It was as if he were shouting, “THIS IS THE WAY OF CHRIST!  LET US NOT FORGET!”

In 1979, the cultural music icon, Bob Dylan released the song, “Gotta Serve Somebody” off his “Slow Train Coming” project.  It would receive airplay on many Christian radio stations at the time and through the following years.  It’s been covered multiple times by artists from almost every genre.  Here’s a sample:

“…You may be a socialite with a long string of pearls.  But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.  Yes indeed, you’re gonna have to serve somebody.  Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord, but you’re gonna have to serve somebody.”  – Bob Dylan

When I see the madness of the mobs on Black Friday, many of which ignored Thanksgiving with family and friends to campout 24 hours prior the retailers Black Friday frenzy, my mind goes into shock concerning the change in our society.  Injured people are carried away from the stores, victims of trampling or punching, kicking and shoving by fellow-shoppers.  WHY?  For a few dollars of savings.  For a new item seen on an ad.  Meanwhile, the Salvation Army volunteer with his/her bell and red collection kettle is run over as if invisible.  Selflessness has been invaded by selfishness.  Giving has been encroached upon by greediness.  Servanthood, out of love for others, has been replaced by self-hooded retail ravagers.  And, I fear it will only get worse in years to come.

Let me challenge myself, and you, to rise above the fray.  As you calculate serving somebody during this Christmas season of giving, donate to that Salvation Army kettle when you see it.  In fact, we invite you to read about, “A Hand Up” homeless initiative I’m involved with.  It’s not a hand-out, but truly lifting up the homeless to opportunities to live a productive life, and planting their feet in a home or apartment, not a shelter.  It’s a great way to serve somebody while you can still choose to do so.  Please read about it at http://www.ccmclassic.com  When you do, you might just hear yourself say, “How may I help you?”

There are two people in today’s world.  Givers and takers.  What would you like to be known for?  Choose well for the soul of our society.  When you do, it will pour out fuel for the race.

(After Jesus washed the feet of His disciples.)

“Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you should wash one another’s feet.  I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.” – Jesus, John 13:14-15 (NIV)

Oh, Thanks a Lot

“Yeah, but every little boy grows up, and he’s haunted by the heart that died.  Longing for the world that was before the fall.  Oh, but then forgiveness comes.  A grace that I cannot resist.  And I just want to thank someone.  I just want to thank someone for this.” – Andrew Peterson – 2012 from, “Light For The Lost Boy” CD

I slept in the guest bedroom of my grandparent’s house when visiting.  It’s in an old part of Greenville, Texas, built in 1852.  Creaky wooden slat floors, no insulation in the walls and high ceilings.  Unfortunately, the guest room was next to my grandmother’s kitchen.  It was a blessing and a curse.  My mom and I would arrive for Thanksgiving a day early, way before the uncles, aunts and cousins would pull up at the old house.  By that time, my grandmother had already been in prep for the family feast to come.  Needless to say, on Thanksgiving morning, around 4:00am, I would awake to the sound of egg beaters, along with a collage of holiday aromas, drifting and hovering over my bed like a web of tantalizing treats.  THAT was Thanksgiving morning for me.  Those particular family traditions are gone, fading into treasured memories.  I do thank God for the mental slideshows.

Look at the title of this article.  It’s a common phrase we say all the time.  We hear ourselves blurt it out when someone holds the elevator doors for us.  We speak it when shown to our theater seats.  It’s normal to say it at the drive-thru window, after paying for the sack of fast food.  Funny how you can make it sound sarcastic, or very warm.  Try it.  “Oh, thanks a LOT!” (Maybe ending it with the word, “Pal” or something I can’t type on this format.)  Even the word, “Oh…” can be hurtful to an ear.  “Oh” makes gratefulness appear to be an afterthought, as if the offering of it was almost forgotten.  I recommend dropping the “Oh” and go straight for the cherished words.  Why?  Read on, if you dare.

While listening online to CCM Classic.com, I heard, for the first time, an Andrew Peterson song from 2012, “Don’t You Want To Thank Someone” from his, “Light For The Lost Boy” CD.  Let me tell you, tears may come as you hear the song, or just read the lyric.  It will test you.  The melody is haunting.  His verses will pierce you, even reclaim some memories, but guaranteed to make you put down the phone, turn off the screen and ponder once again.  I highly recommend it for a rich Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving should be a way of heart, daily life, like prayer.  Secular society would discover it takes humility to do so.  When calling up a loved one to say, “Thanks a lot”, recall Who gave that person to you.  Recall Who paved the road that brought the intersections of your relationships.  Many will be grateful for the view on a midnight clear.  That’s terrific; however, many will not thank the Painter of the scene, the Engineer who spins the orbits in precised synchronization like the atomic clock of perfection.  Many will be thankful for their jobs.  That’s great.  But, many employees will neglect gratefulness to the One who inspired the business owner who founded the company who hired them.  Many will be appreciative for good health.  However, many will ignore the One who holds all things together.  Many will tell their child how thankful they are for their young lives mingled with theirs.  However, scads will forget to thank the Creator, the Life Giver and the Birth Giver.  Frankly, in the end, when we thank someone, or some object, we are thanking the “thing” or the “person” God created and graciously gave as a gift.

So, yes, do thanks a lot.

It takes a humble heart to give thanks, instead of using it as a throw-away line.  When we accept this truth, it always adds fuel for the race.

“’Cause I can hear the voice of one.  He’s crying in the wilderness, ‘Make ready for the Kingdom Come’.  Don’t you want to thank someone for this?” – Andrew Peterson, 2012- “Light For The Lost Boy” CD. (Youtube this one)

Rock of Ages…or Aged

“Old man look at my life, I’m a lot like you were…” – “Old Man” by Neil Young, 1972.  Off the Harvest LP.

Yesterday, I was thrown off my saddle over a statement.  I really thought it was as simple as walking into a favorite fast-food place, ordering a taco salad and an enchilada plate for my wife and driving home.  It turned out not to be so routine that night.

Yesterday, I visited a blog I follow, Muddling Through My Middle Age, by Ann Coleman.  She entitled her entry, “I Don’t Get It.”  It helped me to be courageous enough to sit down and do a jot.  Thanks, Ann, for the inspiration for this.  I’ll warn my younger friends here and now, you might not be able to wrap your arms around this one, just yet.

Yesterday, I was sitting in my granddad’s chair with my little dog, Tippy, on my lap.  She was part Cocker Spaniel with coal black hair.  She’s been with me all my life, or so it seems.  She ran away when I was five.  Broke my heart.

Me@17

Yesterday, I was having a blast in high school.  The Beatles lyric is true, “Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away…”  I think the biggest troubles I had were my grades and learning how to break-up with girlfriends gently, without all the drama.  I failed the latter.

Me@28 with Tabitha

Yesterday, I found myself to be a dad for the first time.  Baby Tabitha and I ate too much of her one-year birthday cake.  She turned my life on its ear.  I will never be the same.

Me@WDCX Promo

Yesterday, I pursued a dream of a radio career, working with the very best.  How is it I can feel more comfortable behind a mic, knowing 100,000 people are listening, than chatting with someone at a party?

Eastern Hills Buffalo NY 2007 II

Me playing 75 in musical 2002

Yesterday, I continued with a first love.  I no longer sing and act in front of a mirror with my Bruce Lee poster looking on.  I found the stage to be a friend.  Ironically, in the theater realm, I have played elderly men many times.  Through the years, I discovered I don’t need as much make-up for the role.

Yesterday, I was standing at the cash register as the clerk bagged my groceries.  When finished, she turned to me and said, “Sir, would you like someone to carry this out to the car for you?”  It caught me off guard.  I’ve never been asked that before.  I replied, “Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha, no thanks.  I can deal with it.”  (Then I grumbled about her obvious lack of age identity as I pushed my cart to the car, slower than yesterday.)

Yesterday, I showed up at the ticket window to buy a ticket to the brand new “American Sniper” movie, released last week.  I was prepared for the flick, complete with a U.S. Navy cap on my head that once belonged to my WW II navy vet granddad.  The clerk spoke through the little speaker in the window, “With your senior discount that’ll be $x.xx.”  I grunted softly, but I wanted popcorn, so I didn’t argue as I pulled out my wallet.

Wait a minute!  Noticed I’ve been using the word, “Yesterday.”  Hmmm.

“All my best memories come back clearly to me, some can even make me cry.  Just like before, it’s yesterday once more.” – Lyrics: John Bettis & Richard Lynn Carpenter.

The truth is, I bought the taco salad and enchilada plate last week, in real time.  As the items were being prepped, the young employee wearing the funny hat and plastic apron said, “That’s $xx.xx, with your senior discount???????”  She stated it with her inflection going up, as if she were asking a question.  I said, “Sure.  Why not.”  In retrospect, I should’ve said, “No thanks, good-lookin’.  I just graduated from my ‘senior’ year yesterday.”  (Funny how she never asked for an ID.)

Maybe it’s time to say, I look like a senior citizen.  (Maybe through the eyes of a 20 year old.)  I don’t consider myself there yet.  I can belt out a Joe Cocker tune with the best of ’em. (Oh, yeah.  He’s dead now.)  Not to mention, depending upon the establishment, the senior citizen menu can be for 50+, or 55+, or 60+.  Who’s to say?  With gusto I want to shout, “NO!  I WANT TO PAY FULL PRICE LIKE EVERYONE ELSE!”

“…Can the child within my heart rise above?  Can I sail through the changin’ ocean tides?  Can I handle the seasons of my life?…..But time makes you bolder.  Even children get older and I’m gettin’ older too.” – “Landslide” Stevie Nicks from Fleetwood Mac

Tabitha and me Father's Day wknd 2014

By the way, alas, my little girl, Tabitha, just celebrated her 30th birthday.

Let me leave you with this and a bit of mystery.  To me, life has been like being in an inner-tube, helplessly charging down the lower rapids of the great Niagara River.  (Don’t even think about it.)   There’s boulders to hit and miss as the current carries you down with a power outside of yourself.  All you can do is hang on as tightly as you can. The bumps, cuts and bruises are to be expected.  Ooops, there’s the Devil’s Hole, right there in the bend of the rapids, a whirlpool of great speed and depth.  It’s not to be tested.  Many have perished by challenging its rage.  Some were never seen again.  (Been there, done that.)  As you are carried down, eventually you are emptied into the vast depths of Lake Ontario.  It’s a relatively short trip from the upper Niagara to Lake Ontario downriver.  One might say, as they float out into the calmer waters of Ontario, “Wow, I was just at the Falls a few minutes ago!”

All of my yesterdays, todays and tomorrows, through the rapids of the last 57 years, there’s been a Rock keeping me afloat.  Out of that immovable Rock flows fuel for the race.

“Trust in the LORD forever, for in GOD the LORD, we have an everlasting Rock.” – Isaiah 26:4 (NAS)          

 

 

Bullets And Bibles

Photo: KSAT.com

“…so he shot down the congregation.” – “Smackwater Jack” -Carole King/Gerry Goffin.  From her Tapestry album, 1971.

Photo: KSAT.com

Once again, here we are.  No words…well, not many.  Truly stunned about our new normal.  It’s interesting how when Carole King recorded “Smackwater Jack”, about a crazed man juiced up on his anger at others, rendering himself to only mass murder on his mind, it was considered a fantasy lyric.  Check out the first verse.

“Now, Smackwater Jack, he bought a shotgun. ‘Cause he was in the mood for a little confrontation.  He just let it all hang loose; He didn’t think about the noose.  He couldn’t take no more abuse so he shot down the congregation.”

The song was to be somewhat of a shock factor because that just didn’t happen in those days.  It was the stuff of movie scripts and shock-value songs.  But not anymore.  Check out American history.  These current events are missing in the track record of American citizenry.  If you do find a similar crime in the yellowed pages of America, it is a rare occurrence.

TRUTH:  The days are hideously showing the rise of evil hearts calloused and seared from desensitization.

In almost every instance, at least to my recollection, almost every perpetrator’s (each mass shooter, bomber, vehicular homicidal maniac) life has ended soon after or during the horrific act.  The murderer becomes the next occupier on the cold metal morgue slab.  Let me say, to those who are of atheistic mindsets, each one of these monsters adds to the truths of scripture.

” ‘Put your sword back in its place,’ Jesus said to him.  ‘For all who draw the sword will die by the sword.’ ”  – Matthew 26:52 (NIV)

The last time I wrote of homicidal maniacs, homegrown or otherwise, was just about a month ago. (See my post from Oct 3rd, “A Choice In Vegas”.)

Say what you will, but I call this “EVIL.”  Some call it a “Gun Owner.”  I would agree if not for the majority of good, solid and righteous thinking citizens who own guns who would never murder their neighbor.  So, allow me to point to another biblical truth concerning this topic.

“He said to them, ‘But now let the one who has a moneybag take it, and likewise a knapsack.  And let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one.’ ” – Jesus – Recorded in Luke 22:36 (ESV)

Did you catch the significance as Jesus was advising His disciples what to take with them on their missionary journeys?  I think the huge phrase is found in the last sentence of the verse.  Notice how Jesus thought the cloak was less urgent than the sword.  In-other-words, “you might be cold on the road, but that sidearm is worth it.” (Alan’s paraphrase)

I sing in two different church bands at two different locations on two different days.  Both are small-medium congregations (below 200 people).  In both, there are security plans to protect the congregation from walk-in violence.  Because it is of a tactical covert design, I will stop there at its description.  However, Sheepdog Church Security is an organization well worth looking into for congregational protection.  It’s not rocket science, but it does take sincere planning.  I know of a pastor in Iowa who once told me the following, “It’s not just the Bible I’m packing when I walk up to the pulpit.” 

There should be no more, “Eh, it’ll never happen here.”  Or, “We’re too small of a congregation to worry about that big city stuff.”  Or, “We don’t need any of that mega-church planning.  The Lord watches over His small flock here.”  YES, the Lord never sleeps, however, the Lord Himself said, “sell your cloak and buy a sword.”  Why?  Simply put, the roads from village to village were laced with waiting thieves and murderers. (Barabbas was one of them.)  Jesus was instructing them to be ready with a sidearm for such dangerous times, for defense only.  Plus, there were aggressive theological zealots who were eager to kill Jesus and His followers early on.

As true with most terroristic murderers, domestic or foreign, all are without God and God’s Spirit who directs, conducts and trains.  Biblically, we are to recognize them by their fruit.  If the fruit is rotten, so are the trees’s roots.  These wolves plan for destruction either through false doctrine or ideology or physical violence.  If you describe yourself as one who holds to no faith, consider yourself, also, in the cross-hairs.  If you are under the flag of freedom, liberty and justice for all, you too are a target. (IE: Las Vegas, Oct 1, 2017, a Christmas office party in San Bernardino, a school in Columbine, a baseball practice in Washington DC, or a dance club in Orlando, etc.)  If the beautiful sanctity of a small town Baptist church in the heart of Texas, where babies and elderly are worshiping, singing and praying on a Sunday morning is disrupted by a mass shooter from the next county, then you, whoever you are, will be vulnerable as well.

“The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy.  I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.” – Jesus – Recorded in John 10:10 (NKJV)

I had a weekly radio talk show many years ago.  Shortly after Sept 11, 2001, one of my guests was a local FBI agent who was a special op team member of investigators focusing on terrorism.  His message was extremely clear.  Be diligent. Be a busybody.  Notice out of place scenes, people or objects.  Report what you see, even if it seems insignificant.  You can always remain anonymous.

Unfortunately, we also have witnessed radical Jihadists doing their hellish work for some time, attacking Christian congregations and the clergy in the middle-east and now in Europe.  Whether the chosen form is a rental truck, sword, knife, bomb or bullets, it is the sin-sick heart that kills.

There may come a time when little old ladies heading into church will be carrying their Bibles in one hand and a .357 magnum in the other.  Maybe we’re already there.  But for today, I carry, but not conceal, a tank of fuel for the race.

“For then there will be great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now – and never to be equaled again.” – Jesus – Recorded in Matthew 24:21 (NIV)