Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Hartsough and Thelma

My Aunt Thelma died a few days ago. I am pretty sure she was my last relative of that generation. Thelma lived until just a few months before her one hundredth birthday. And she was a jewel.

Aunt Thelma had a lot going for her. She was beautiful, had a glorious smile, a sweet personality and (best of all) was married to my favorite uncle. My uncle Gano Hartsough Redding was my mother’s brother. I didn’t get to know him until later in his life. They tell me he was a changed man when I showed up on the scene. I am pretty sure I would have loved him even before he changed.

Hartsough’s history was that he was a drinker. Not hard to believe since he was a Redding. The Redding booze gene is dominate. There are a couple of great stories the family tell about his drinking days. Mom’s family grew up in Owenton, Kentucky. My grandfather, Walker Redding, was the local undertaker. They say that Hartsough would “borrow” his father’s car for trips to Frankfort or Lexington to do some serious partying. Not wanting his father to know he had taken the car, Hartsough would back all the way home to run the odometer backward so the mileage he had racked up would not show. Brilliant. Only I have driven the road between Owenton and Frankfort and found it tough to do going forward in drive. I can’t image driving it looking at the road over my shoulder and in reverse. But they swear it is true.

Another “Drinking Hartsough” story was told by a cousin that went drinking with him. The cousin swears he dropped Hartsough off at his house after a full evening of partaking in the “good stuff” when Hartsough circled the car twice and headed off to the wrong house. The cousin ran up on the steps of the house Hartsough was about to invade and stopped him. Hartsough looked up at him and said, “Excuse me sir. Could you direct me to the Redding’s home?” He did. And they say that is the night Hartsough took a wrong turn on the way to bed, ended up in the maid’s room, fell in bed with her and she pulled a gun on him and treated to shoot him. Ah, the joys of drunkenness.

Hartsough lost his arm in an automobile accident. He also lost his sobriety. On one of his trips to the big city he was run off the road into a ditch. His sister, Perk, was with him. Perk was one of those people everyone adores. She was pretty, perky, warm and loving. You just wanted to be around her. As a result of the accident Perk was severely injured. Hartsough rushed her to the hospital. When he carried her into the emergency department he was met by a nurse who looked at Perk and said to Hartsough, “We can’t help you. She’s dead.” After that Hartsough disappeared into the bottle for a few decades. He remained there until he met Thelma Cook. She changed his life.

I met Hartsough before he and Aunt Thelma were married. He used to come out to the house almost every Sunday afternoon for dinner and a visit. He attended a Baptist church where he was a Deacon – obviously he had stopped drinking. My uncle had a wonderful smile, a marvelous sense of humor (He couldn’t help it. He was a Redding.), a glorious laugh, a shock of wavy white hair and one arm. I was mesmerized by him. He was a wonderful story teller and had a million jokes. He told me the first “dirty” jokes I ever heard. Uncle Hartsough teased me incessantly… about everything… all the time. I loved him with a passion. I was his favorite nephew. Adults like to pretend they don’t have favorite children in their lives, but the children are never fooled. My sister Kae was my dad’s favorite. My brother Bob was my mother’s favorite. And I was Hartsough’s favorite.

One of the reoccurring themes in Hartsough’s teasing was about my work ethic – or lack thereof. He would call me “Hard work” and tell me not to work so hard I might hurt myself. One Christmas he gave me a bottle of Sloan’s Liniment. I remember how pleased with himself he was as I unwrapped it. He didn’t laugh but he was grinning so hard I thought he might pull a muscle in his face. I, of course, threw a fit (for his benefit), treasured that gift, put it in a safe place and the next Christmas wrapped it up and gave it back to him. It was one of the few times I really got him. He was pleased beyond belief. Guess what I got from Uncle Hartsough the next Christmas… that same bottle of Sloan’s Liniment. Unfortunately I did not hide it well enough and someone in the family opened the bottle and used it for its intended purpose. I was so livid I thought I was going to have a stroke. How dare anyone touch that sacred bottle of Christmas joy? The gift exchange ended.

In my preteen years I was into electronics. One Sunday Hartsough brought me a box of Army surplus electronic stuff. It was junk but I was ecstatic. He, of course, teased me and said he wondered how long it would take me to kill myself with that stuff. He was pretty close to right. That Christmas my parents gave me a kit to build my own shortwave radio. In the process I just about electrocuted myself. I was using the chest freezer as my workbench and failed to realize that the metal freezer was serving as a ground for the radio. As I was testing the radio before putting it in its cabinet I picked it up and just about jump-stopped my heart. I bounced around that room for what seemed like an eternity before I managed to set the radio back on the freezer. I never did that again.

I don’t know if Uncle Hartsough attended AA meetings or went through the twelve steps. All I know is he met Thelma and fell madly in love. Thelma was not only beautiful (see picture) she was smart. She, too, loved Hartsough but refused to marry him until he gave up drinking. He did. To make sure the cure took, Thelma insisted they give it some time. And give it time they did. I understand Thelma and Hartsough dated for another twenty-five years before marrying.

Unfortunately it was not long after marrying that Uncle Hartsough was diagnosed with cancer. He did not live long after that. Uncle Hartsough died on June 10, 1965. I had just finished my first year in college. I was devastated by his death. It was around that time my mother did one of the only overt acts of kindness toward me I ever experienced. When they arrived in the mail, she hid my grades from me. Not being an outstanding scholar and following in the Redding tradition of hanging around the bottle way too much, my grades were not stellar. Not wanting to upset me more, Mom intercepted the letter with my grades and hid it from me.

Aunt Thelma lived for another forty-nine years… alifetime. She lived them well and fully. She was a peach. She was a lady. And she saved my uncle’s life and gave me the opportunity to know him. Thanks Aunt Thelma. I love you for that.

Copyright © 2014, William T. McConnell, All Rights Reserved

Friday, April 18, 2014

An Adult Easter Egg Hunt

Easter egg hunts are fun. It is fun to prepare the eggs. It is fun to buy the candy. It is fun to hide the goodies. The most fun is watching the children find the eggs. Sometimes an Easter egg hunt is highlighted by a visit from the Easter Bunny. The Easter Bunny and I have a history.

I arrived as the “new pastor” at a church near the end of the year. They had a long tradition of having a party at church for the children that featured a visit from Santa Claus. My first controversial decision as pastor was to ban Santa from the party. Please understand that I like Santa. My parents told us, as children, to expect a visit from Santa. With five kids I am sure it was an attempt on their part to impact our behavior for the good – the naughty and nice thing. My younger sister claimed to believe in Santa almost into her teens. She didn’t really believe but we older brothers and sisters threatened her with great bodily harm if she admitted she no longer believed because we knew that when she confessed what she knew we knew we would no longer be on the Santa gravy train.  As is true with most lies, it was about the money. I loved doing the Santa thing with my kids and grandchildren. Life most dads, I spent almost every Christmas eve up all night putting something together so Santa could get the credit the next morning. How dumb is that?

So, I like Santa. But I banned Santa from church just because our children are Santa-ed to death. That is about all they hear about from Halloween until Christmas. I don’t want to break any news to you but Christmas is not about Santa. It is about Jesus. My thought was; how about at least at church the children hear primarily about Jesus. Santa was banned and I was painted green and became the Grinch who stole Christmas. You would have thought I was a child abuser. It was ugly.

I tell you my Santa story because it is directly connected to the Easter Bunny. Obviously if that church did Santa they certainly did the Easter Bunny. Easter came early enough that year that I was still smarting from the emotional beating I had taken over Santa. So I didn’t dare say a word about the Easter Bunny showing up at the egg hunt. I may be dumb but I am not stupid. But that didn’t stop people from speculating that, if given a chance, it would ban EB. Sure enough the following Easter the bunny suit came up missing. I was never questioned about it but I suffered many silent greetings and harsh stares. The word around the church was I had destroyed the bunny suit. I vehemently denied the theft but nobody believed me. I’m not sure my wife even believed me. My loyal opposition (Every preacher is blessed with some loyal opposition.) purchased a new bunny costume which I only heard about but never saw. They carefully kept it hidden from me for almost twenty years.

At my final Elders’ meeting before departing the church, we were drinking coffee and sharing memories and funny stories. We had spent many wonderful years together. Sure enough the bunny suit story came up. After a few accusations and laughs one of my elders – a dear sweet lady – who had been with me all twenty years of my tenure with the church confided to the group that she was the one who had stolen the suit. I think she gave it away to the Presbyterians. I could not believe such a close, long-time friend had thrown me and left me under the bus all those years. I laughed till I cried.

I say all that to give some context. I love Easter egg hunts. But I learned something new this year. In my mind Easter egg hunts are for little children and consist of hiding and finding hard boiled eggs, plastic eggs filled with candy and money and Easter baskets filled with plastic “straw” and toys. But this past year I moved to Memphis; the farthest south I had ever lived. Living in Memphis has been a joy and an education. One of my new friends was telling of her family Easter traditions. They gather at the home place, share a meal and then have an Easter egg hunt. They have what I would consider a “normal” hunt for the children. But then they have a hunt for the adults. For the adults they hide little bottles of booze, the kind I have seen on airplanes, and the adults run around finding them. She didn’t say what happens next, but I have a good idea. My friend is a lovely, charming, well-educated, socially adept woman. But when she told me that story, two things did occur to me. First, she is from Alabama and second, somebody in that family just might be a redneck. I’m not accusing anyone of anything, but hiding liquor for an Easter egg hunt sounds just a tad “rednecky” to me.

So this Easter in addition to me wishing you a happy Easter, may I say, “Cheers”?

Copyright © 2014, William T. McConnell, All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Seeing Mistakes

The past few weeks I have been in the process of developing and launching our church web site. At the same time I have been in the process of preparing a book for publication. The beginning and the end of writing anything are arguably the most difficult parts. It is after the writing is done the most difficult part begins. Editing. I hate editing. Thank goodness I have people willing to edit what I have written. God bless editors.
When I was writing a weekly column for a local newspaper I had a friend in the church I served who functioned as my editor. She was one of the church’s elders, a lovely lady, highly organized, well-educated and loved to make red marks on my drafts. When I thanked her for all of her help she said, “No problem. I just love pointing out other people’s mistakes.” There you have it – an editor.
Writing itself is difficult but it is fulfilling to see words form on the paper that conveys the story one is trying to tell. The writer must first have the discipline to set aside the time to write. And most often those are extended periods of time spent alone and in silence. There is nothing exciting or sexy about writing. Often the words either don’t come or it feels like the writer is trying to chip them out of stone. There are those few occasions when the words just flow onto the page/screen. Unfortunately I rarely experience such occasions. Sometimes I write a piece of a piece and then abandon it for several days or weeks before returning to complete it. Writing looks and sounds easy. It is some of the most difficult work I do.
Writing an article or a book or verbage for a web site must invariably be followed with the editing of the work. I don’t like editing for several reasons. Most likely at the crux of my dislike for editing is that I am not good at it. Especially editing my own work. I can’t seem to see my own mistakes. I reread what I have written, and instead of reading what I have really written, I read what I intended to write. My eyes and my brain supply the words I left out but intended to include.
My next non-editor quality is that I can’t spell. When I say I can’t spell, what I mean is, I can’t spell. I spell so poorly that I often stump the “spellcheck” in the word processing program. I don’t come close enough to spelling a word correctly that spellcheck can figure out what I meant to say and correct it. I REALLY can’t spell.
Another “attribute” of mine that hinders my editing is that I am not a detail person. Not only do I not notice details; I don’t care about details. I am a big picture guy. I am rarely interested in what is going on around me because I am looking toward the future – toward the horizon. I realize there is a need for both kinds of people but I admit that it takes all of my restraint to not make fun of detail people. They so often get focused on details and become obsessed with getting everything “just right” they seem to regularly miss the big picture. My take on detail people; employ them to do what they do well but do not put them in charge because we will expend so much time, energy and resources on getting everything perfect that we will never be able to move ahead.
Here is another reason I don’t edit well. Most editors insist on getting all writing grammatically correct. I’m all for correct grammar – until it gets in the way of my communicating. It is not unusual for one of my editors to “fix” a sentence I have written and then be irritated when I go back and put it back just as it was. I meant for it to be grammatically incorrect because that sentence structure communicated exactly what I wanted to say in a way that was most easily understood. For example, I am aware that there are at least two incomplete sentences in this blog. I don’t care. They communicate what I am trying to get across.
Here is my point. (Believe it or not, I do have a point.) It is often very difficult for us to see our own mistakes and weaknesses. We must submit our lives to “editors.” We must submit to people we know and trust and give them the right to speak truth and wisdom into our lives. Our personal and spiritual growth will be retarded until we are willing to enter into an accountability relationship and start “editing” our lives. God bless our editors for without them everyone would know how truly inept and screwed up we are.
Copyright © 2014, William T. McConnell, All Rights Reserved

Monday, March 31, 2014

Sticks and Stones

There is an old saying many of us grew up hearing. “Sticks and stone may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” Like much of our home grown wisdom, it sounds good but is completely wrong.

In his book, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, Robert Fulghum wrote: "In the Solomon Islands in the South Pacific some villagers practice a unique form of logging. If a tree is too large to be felled with an ax the natives cut it down by yelling at it. (Can't lay my hands on the article, but I swear I read it.) Woodsmen with special powers creep up on a tree just at dawn and suddenly scream at it at the top of their lungs. They continue this for thirty days. The tree dies and falls over. The theory is that the hollering kills the spirit of the tree. According to the villagers, it always works. Ah, those poor native innocents. Such quaintly charming habits of the jungle. Screaming at trees, indeed. How primitive. Too bad they don't have the advantages of modern technology and the scientific mind. Me, I yell at my wife. And yell at the telephone and the lawn mower. And yell at the TV and the newspaper and my children. I've even been known to shake my fist and yell at the sky at times. Man next door yells at his car a lot. And this summer I heard him yell at a stepladder for most of an afternoon. We modern, urban, educated folks yell at traffic and umpires and bills and banks and machines – especially machines. Machines and relatives get most of the yelling. Don't know what good it does. Machines and things just sit there. Even kicking doesn't always help. As for people, well the Solomon Islanders may have a point. Yelling at living things does tend to kill the spirit in them.”

The truth is: Sticks and stones may break our bones, but words can break our hearts.

Take a look at your vocabulary. Spend a few days listening to yourself. It is a jarring experience. Notice what kinds of things are you in the habit of saying. Do you say things like:

·       You are dumb, stupid, lazy, worthless, unwanted, a burden.

·       I wish you were dead.

·       I don't love you.

·       You are pretty.

·       I love you because you have pleased me.

When you compliment, compliment character. Compliment the person they are, not the parts of their lives they can't help. If a child develops a good self-image because of their looks or abilities, what happens when they lose those? Instead, compliment character: You are kind; generous; thoughtful; helpful; pleasant; honest; hard working; loving and faithful.

At all times in all circumstances, watch your mouth. It is not just a good idea, we will be held accountable. We read in Matthew 12:36   "But I tell you that men will have to give account on the Day of Judgment for every careless word they have spoken."

We say talk is cheap but it is very expensive in the damage it can do. It is generally better to think without talking than to talk without thinking.

Will accountability curb your tongue? What we say is important. “The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.” (James 3:6)

Most of us are free with angry words. We excuse ourselves by saying we were angry when we said them. Angry words can make you feel better but they do injury to those around you. The sign in one family's kitchen said, "Sorry doesn't fix it."  On an average day in the average home, mouths do much more damage than fists. Mouths can break hearts, shatter egos, break trusts, and destroy relationships. And no matter how much we want to, we can’t take them back or undo the damage done. Instead, build healthy speech habits and take control of your mouth.

The mouth Is connected to the heart. “Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit.  You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks." (Matthew 12:33-34) Try as we may to change it, apple trees are going to produce apples and thorn trees are going to produce thorns. The way most people control their tongues is by keeping their mouths shut. Open your mouth and people can see right into your heart. To fix your mouth you may need a heart transplant.  By the way, Dr. Jesus specializes in heart transplants. “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” (Ezekiel 36:26)

We would do well to be speaking words of life. Ask yourself, what are you saying and why are you saying it? Question yourself: Is it necessary that I say this? Will it build up or tear down? Anyone can tell you what is wrong and why you will fail. That takes no special insight or courage. Do you have the courage to speak up for God, your friends, your boss, your church, your family, yourself? God is seeking strong, courageous people with hearts for Him.

Take the time and energy to speak an encouraging word to those you meet. The Christian has a ministry of encouragement in a discouraging world. Practice using these encouraging words: 

·       I like you

·       Thank you

·       You are looking good

·       You are doing a great job

·       You are special

·       It is easy to see why God loves you

·       I forgive you

·       Can I help you?

·       Keep up the good work

·       I am so glad God gave me a friend-spouse-son-daughter-father-mother like you

Practice good speech habits. Look for something good about a person and tell them about it. Avoid the negative like the plague. Speak words of life. Speak words of truth, love and encouragement from the new heart God has given you.

Allow me to speak a good word into your life. God loves you.

Copyright © 2014, William T. McConnell, All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

A Life of Significance

This March is the first time I have celebrated my brother Bob’s birthday without him. During my sermon this past Sunday, I told my favorite Bob story – the story of when he led me to Christ.
On his birthday, Bob’s best friend from high school, Austin Pryor, and I spent some time via e-mail remembering Bob. Through Bob, Austin and I were good friends during high school. He and I shared the history of both being led to the Lord by Bob sharing his faith journey. Austin was a great guy as a young man and grew to become and amazing man. He did well in the business world, as a husband and father and as a Christian. Through his lifestyle of faith sharing, Austin impacted many lives for Christ. I’ll let him tell his “Bob Story.”
“I know what that bedroom you and Bob shared was like, and spent many happy nights there. In fact, I was sitting in that room when I paged through your yearbook and saw those (for me) devastating photos of Susie. When I asked about her, you said she was going with Joe. I asked if you ever heard anything about them breaking up, please let me know. Sure enough, 3-4 weeks later you had lunch at the Frisch's on Shelbyville Road where I was working and gave me the good word. I immediately called to ask her out! We'll be married 49 years this summer... so thank you old friend.

In your posts, you talked about Bob speaking truth to you. He did to us as well. In case you never read it (and why would you?) I spoke about it in my book:
The up and down emotions from running a restaurant chain and speculating in the stock market was no foundation upon which to build a fulfilling life or a healthy marriage. I was searching, trying to fill the emptiness but not really knowing how. It’s been said: “There’s a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of every man placed there by God that only He can fill.”

But I didn’t know that. To be sure, Susie and I had Christian upbringings. I have a loving mom who took me to church when I was a boy, and I learned about God: how He had visited earth in the person of Jesus Christ, had died on a cross and in so doing had somehow accepted the penalty for my own personal sins, and had come back to life again and was seen by more than 500 people. At least that’s what they taught me, and I accepted those teachings. But somehow, in the process, I never developed a full picture of a personal God.

In the Sunday school where I grew up, there were all these colored drawings of Jesus and His disciples. They were walking through the desert, and He was teaching and healing people and feeding the multitudes. Miraculous things! And I used to think: “Boy, I wish I could have been there and seen that! To see an honest-to-goodness miracle!” Did you ever wish that? To see something undeniably supernatural? Well, I did. But Jesus lived 2,000 years ago—a long, long, long time ago. So remote, so far away, that it almost wasn’t even real. And it made God seem far away, because I never heard of those kinds of miracles anymore.
So I had gradually gotten the impression that you couldn’t really know God now. He was there, but seemed too far away. I didn’t see any way to relate to Him in any meaningful, practical, relevant way. When I got to heaven, whatever and wherever that is, I could learn more about God. But until then, in this life, I assumed it was completely up to me to find my own way, to make my life count.
About this time, one of my very best friends came to town for a visit. We’d gone through high school together and were as close as brothers. He went to Ohio State to study engineering and had become involved with one of those Christian student organizations. He married a girl he met there, and they became really enthusiastic about spiritual things.

They came home about once a year and, when we would get together, always wanted to talk about the Bible and the Christian life. Now you know, when you’re not into that, a little bit goes a long way—so once a year was just about right for them!
Well, sure enough, Bob and Carole called to ask if they could stop by. I really wasn’t up for it. I asked Susie, and she wasn’t up for it. But he was a dear friend, so what can you do? After reluctantly concluding there was no gracious way out of it, I returned to the phone and said, “Great, we’d love to see you! How soon can you get over here? How about staying for dinner”

After dinner, it wasn’t long before Bob shifted the conversation to spiritual matters. He saw us living the comfortable life and asked Susie at one point: “Susie, are you happy?” And she answered, “We’ve really got a lot to be thankful for.”  He said: “I can see that. But are you happy?” And she paused and then simply said, “No.” Well, I was surprised! I didn’t know she was unhappy. And I was embarrassed. You just don’t want your wife to go around admitting she’s unhappy.  Before I could jump in and try to salvage the situation (“What Susie really meant by that was . . .”), Bob asked one of the most surprising questions I’d ever heard. He asked: “Have you ever considered asking Jesus Christ to take control of your life?”(Note – That was almost exactly the same question he asked me a few years before that changed my life.)
That really took me off guard, because no one had ever suggested to me that Jesus was even remotely interested in assisting in the everyday management of my life, let alone asked if I would be willing to let Him. Anyway, Susie responded: “This may sound egotistical, but I don’t think I want anyone running my life or telling me what to do.”
 The question scared her because, in our limited understanding of what it meant to give God “control” of our lives, it might mean that we had to go to the mission fields of Africa or something else equally traumatic. As for me, I certainly wasn’t attracted to the idea of God telling me what to do. I suppose I imagined that He would rob my life of any fun, or joy, or excitement. Besides, as a man I felt it would be a sign of weakness to depend on anyone else. Is there a higher, more masculine ethic than absolute self-sufficiency? As a man, I especially wanted to be completely in control of my own destiny.
But even so, Bob and Carole shared some things that night that shed new light on the basics of the Christian faith that we had learned as children.... As I was listening, I was thinking, “Bob, I’ve heard most of this since we were kids. We used to go to church together all the time. This isn’t what I really want to know. What I really am curious about is why do you and I believe pretty much these same things about who Christ was, but you’re so excited about it, so fired up, and I’m not? What has happened to make you so different now?”
After they left, Susie and I continued to talk. I can still remember lying on our bed with arms outstretched reading a little blue booklet they had left us, and sharing how we felt about what they had said. We eventually came to a prayer at the end of the booklet, which read: Dear Father, I need you. I acknowledge that I have been directing my own life and that, as a result, I have sinned against you. I thank you that you have forgiven my sins through Christ’s death on the cross for me. I now invite Christ to again take his place on the throne of my life. Fill me with the Holy Spirit as you commanded me to be filled, and as you promised in your word that you would do if I asked in faith. I pray this in the name of Jesus.
Then, right under the prayer was the suggestion that, if the prayer expressed the desire of our hearts, why didn’t we pray “right now.” I started to turn the page, but Susie said to wait, and asked, “What do you think of this prayer?” I said it was a nice prayer. She said, “Why don’t we pray it right now?” I was surprised that she was so eager.
But as we talked, my mind returned to Bob and how, to him, Christ was so real and so personal. It was obvious to me that his relationship with Christ was on a much more intimate level than mine. I recognized that if the claims Jesus made about Himself were true, He offered a significance and purpose to life that the world could never match; that, as God, He was truly worthy of first place in my life. After all, when you think it through to its logical conclusion, if the claims of Jesus are true, knowing Him is worth everything....
And I decided, lying there on the bed next to my wife, that I wanted to know Christ the way my friend did. I wanted to share in his excitement of knowing God personally if that were possible. If it required me to make Him sovereign in my life, so be it. So, I confessed my sins to God. There were many of them. Maybe the greatest sin of all was being indifferent to God—being what you might call a casual Christian—professing some sort of belief in God but really not treating it seriously. So Susie and I prayed together that night. Not because we were in church, not because everyone else was praying, but because we wanted to know God as never before.
Susie and I love Bob, and give thanks to the Lord for using Bob to draw us to Himself... as I know you do as well. So, we celebrate his life on this day of remembrance. Just wanted you to know.”
My brother Bob was an engineer. He earned his PhD at Purdue University and wrote a book I didn’t understand one word of. He was quiet and studious. He never did understand the impact his life had for the Kingdom of God. Through his witness to just Austin and me, his life impacted literally thousands of lives for Christ. And there is no telling how many others Bob shared his faith with. He truly lived a life of significance.

Copyright © 2014, William T. McConnell, All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Give It Up

Today is Ash Wednesday. We of the church just love to do things that look to non-believers as really weird. One of those is Ash Wednesday. We set aside a day to fast; go to worship and get ashes wiped onto our foreheads.  We then walk around the rest of the day with a smudge of dirt on our faces and wonder why our non-Christian friends think we are a little off and have not much interest in becoming Christian.

Then we proudly announce to whoever will listen what we are giving up for Lent. As if they really cared – or understood. They must think that the God we proclaim wants us to give up stuff; to suffer; to live with less? Really? And you want us to come to church and get to know that God and maybe even commit to that God so we too can be miserable? Really?

One of the scriptures in tonight’s Ash Wednesday Service is Matthew 6:1-6 (NIV) “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. “So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

As He usually does in His teaching, Jesus goes to the heart of the matter. He asks us to take a hard look at ourselves and ask ourselves about our motives. He seems less interested in us doing the right thing and more interested in us having the right intentions; the right attitude. Such is true for giving something up for Lent. Are we doing it because that is what we do? Are we doing it because it will force God to do what we want God to do or cause God to like us more? Are we doing it to impress others with our “spirituality”?

Might I suggest that instead of giving something up for Lent, you take something on? Perhaps you could take on a spiritual disciple that might draw you closer to God. Perhaps you could take on a new ministry to help others in your community. Perhaps you could make friends with someone who doesn’t know God and help them get acquainted?

If you insist on giving something up for Lent might I suggest you give up your crappy attitude? That’s what I’m giving up for Lent.

Copyright © 2014, William T. McConnell, All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Eat a Car

Children’s Moment has always been one of my favorite parts of the “modern” worship experience. We claim we do them for the children but the truth is we do it for the adults. We love to see the kids in church. It makes us feel good. And, usually, the message given is over the children’s heads but the adults get it. I love them because you never know what is going to happen. Especially when the leader starts asking questions.
A few years ago my sister, Kayce, and I attended the funeral of one of our favorite aunts, Aunt Carolyn. Carolyn had been married to my mother’s brother George since the Apostle Paul was a boy. Uncle George was a Baptist preacher and a college professor. Considering those two negatives, Uncle George was a great guy and lots of fun. But he could not hold a candle to Aunt Carolyn. She had a million dollar smile that lit up a room and a personality to go with it. She was an utter joy to be around. She had fun everywhere she went and if she wasn’t having fun, she fooled you into believing she was. One spring Sunday afternoon they showed up at a reception a church was holding for me. Like most church functions I have attended, this one would not be labeled “fun.” George and Carolyn buzzed into the room and soon caught my attention. They seemed to know everyone in the room and also seemed thrilled to see them all. It took them several minutes to circulate to my position. Uncle George shook my hand and explained their presence by telling me that they used to serve the Baptist Church in town and thought it might be fun to drop by. Aunt Carolyn smiled her wonderful smile, warmly embraced me and whispered in my ear, “Aren’t these things just boring as Hell?” She stepped back and smiled. I cracked up.
I tell you all of that so you can better understand my Aunt Carolyn. They started telling “Carolyn” stories at her funeral. One person told of her leading a children’s moment at there huge Baptist Church. She was well into her 80’s and still working with little children in her church. She was preparing to “retire” and move to Florida, so the powers that be asked Caroline to share the children’s message her final Sunday at worship. Like she did everything, she graciously accepted the invitation. They say she came up to the front and sat on the chancel steps. I huge group of preschoolers gathered at her feet and she began to tell a story. The person sharing at the funeral said the children were mesmerized. She was telling a wonderful story that included different voices for different characters. At the end of the story, Aunt Carolyn paused. All of the children (and the congregation) sat, transfixed, waiting to hear the moral of the story. They were doing that because they were veteran church people who knew that all good church stories have morals. Well, Aunt Carolyn smiled her megawatt smile at the group and announced: “Oh, it doesn’t have a moral. It’s just a good story.” The crowd went wild.
Anyway, this Sunday morning the adorable couple who do the children’s moment gathered the children to talk about what they have been learning in Sunday school – which is about the battle of Jericho. So Will warmed the group by asking questions. His first question was, “What is something hard to do?” That got me to thinking. In my younger years things like changing a tire or building a rock wall or shoveling the snow off of our mile long driveway or running five miles or pitching an entire baseball game were pretty challenging. Now things like tying my shoes and changing a light bulb have become hard to do. All of the hands went up and the first kid Will points to says, “Eat a car.” Wow. Why hadn’t I thought of that? On a list of hard things to do, that would have to rank near the top. Like my Aunt Caroline, children’s minds are just more fun than most adult minds. You could have given me a hundred years and I never would have thought of “eat a car.”
I love children’s moment. Since I no longer have a child’s mind enjoy it gives me a chance to look into theirs. And think about eating a car.

Copyright (c) 2014, William T. McConnell, All Rights Reserved