Monday, March 17, 2014

A Most Unusual Retreat

The announcement for the Grace Chapel Outdoorsmen Retreat read  "bring your 4 wheelers, shotguns, pistols, ammo, bows, boats, and fishing tackle". A church men's retreat that says bring your "man toys" certainly had my attention. Oh by the way there was to be worship, prayer, and  a video series by Dennis Rainey called "Stepping Up, A Call to Courageous Manhood".

I left home at midday on Friday for the one hour drive to the Five Star Retreat in rural Hickman County TN. Arriving, I found a group of men already there, sighting in pistols and rifles, adjusting the launcher for the skeet shoot, setting up archery targets, launching kayaks, and setting up AV equipment (after all we did have a spiritual program!) One of the men had brought an industrial sized grill/smoker and was busy smoking manly man food in between sighting in an AR-15. Earplugs were handed out on arrival... a good thing since the sound of weapons firing was incessant. Most everyone was making an outdoor fashion statement with a variety of camouflage, boots, hats, etc., and everyone with a "carry permit" had a holstered pistol. All in all we would have made an NRA or survivalist meeting quite proud.

Around 6 PM we ate some of the manly food ( smoked chicken and sausage), drank sweet tea and coffee and began to settle in for the evening sessions. With all the afternoon activities as a prelude, I was very curious to see what would happen to the 35 ruffians in attendance when the session started. Three guys came up front, one with a guitar, one with a bongo drum, and the leader. Over the years I have attended many church retreats and have listened to a lot of kumbayah moments sung by men whose hearts were not really in it. Thus my incredible surprise when these gun toting believers began to sing with a passion worthy of a Sunday morning charismatic praise session. My heart was filled as I watched these grizzly guys sing "Bless The Lord Oh my soul.... Worship his Holy Name,,," with loud voices and raised hands... And when they sang of worshipping "ten thousand years and then a thousand more" you had to believe it. These guys were the real deal, authentic believers here to experience an encounter with God.

Over the next two days we watched the videos about manly, Christian courage. We had meaningful small group sessions where serious soul baring and confession took place. We prayed for one another for life struggles and freedom from long held bondages. Some of the sharing was gut wrenching but it served to underscore that these men are committed to God and serious about holiness, loving their wives and serving their families. In between we went outside to the ranges and played with our man toys competing as teams in our small groups... sort of a spiritual retreat ying and yang!

One heart warming thing was that experienced shooters, fisherman, and archers took on a mentorship role for those who were not experienced outdoorsmen.... Just as experienced prayer warriors led the way in practical spiritual warfare when we prayed together. It was a true example of 'iron sharpening iron'.

It was a time of spiritual refreshment for me and I did catch about 15 bass! However, at 66, I was the oldest guy there. Sometimes folks my age can get caught wondering if the generations behind us can handle it. Good news for all you worried old farts out there, they have it under control. I could not help but be encouraged by the passion of all those young men who have committed to making a difference in the world by living for the King. With men like these, the Gospel is in good hands... And that makes me smile!

Saturday, February 22, 2014


Some years ago I was blessed to go to Uganda several times. On one of my trips we stayed at the Masindi Hotel. This well respected hotel in the town of Masindi is also the oldest hotel in Uganda. Although I notice that in recent years, the menu has been greatly improved, when I was there the food was essentially bland traditional Ugandan fare. However, the menu was more than offset by the head waiter, a tall Ugandan man named Solomon. Solomon was a church elder and a well respected leader in Masindi town. His job apparently allowed him and his family to live somewhat more comfortably than others in the community and he seemed content with his lot in life.

 One evening at supper I casually asked Solomon what he did in his "spare time". Solomon looked at me as if I were a Martian and asked me what I meant by the question. I then rephrased my question and asked, "what do you do on your days off?" I wish I could somehow convey the incredulous look that Solomon gave me as he responded, "Days off? There are no days off!" Thus I was introduced to the idea that having a job that requires one to work every day can be a good thing for which to be grateful.

Fast forwarded from 2000 to 2014. A missionary couple with whom we are friends recently came home from Uganda for a few weeks. While they were here, one of the wife's friends had a get together for her and invited a number of her other friends to attend. After listening to the attendees discussing balancing the demands of life in Williamson County TN she had to go outside and catch her breath. Although she understood where they were, she was overwhelmed by the pettiness of these discussions in the context of the poverty and need that she deals with daily in Uganda.

I say all of this not to guilt evoke you, but to remind you of how blessed we are to love in this country of such abundance... And maybe remind you of Jesus words in Luke 12:48 "When someone has been given much, much will be required in return; and when someone has been entrusted with much, even more will be required."

Friday, December 14, 2012

Virus Software for Life

As is always the case in the final days of the year, I find myself reviewing it and mentally evaluating my "performance". One thing I always pray for is that I would be consistent in my faith and I find that I consistently fail in this area. Like St. Paul I find that the things "the things I would not do" I have done and "the things I would do" I have not done. So I now have two choices. I  can grieve over my failure or rejoice that I serve a God who can perform a reset.

I am not sure how theologically correct this might be, but I believe if we allow him to, God can do sort of a ctrl-alt-del on my failures. In so doing, he gives me a chance to enter the future without the viruses and malicious cookies of life that have crept into my "operating system". Assaults from the evil hackers of life can still be expected... but we have God's master virus protection system to protect us. Just like our computer systems, the key to staying protected is to keep our virus "software" up to date. Phillipians 4:8 gives some pretty good instruction on how to do that.

So for 2013, my prayer is that I can keep my life's virus protection up to date.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Proud to Be a Corinth Warrior!!

Youth and arrogance have a propensity to blind us to what really matters. When I first went to the Naval Academy in 1965, I was ever so glad to put Corinth MS and the "provincial life" behind. Unfortunately, my Mississippi accent quickly earned me the nickname of "Missip" and also earned a lot of assumptions about me based on where I came from. That fact nothwithstanding, I was proud to now be swimming in a "bigger pond" than I had come from. I was pretty vocal about how I felt about Corinth... which in the summer of '66 led Donna Stewart to throw a coke in my face when I made a snotty comment about the "small pond of Corinth". (Donna, if you read this, I certainly deserved it! ) Fast forward through a lifetime of 45 years, and I now realize that in the word's of Bob Dylan's song My Back Pages "...I was so much older then, I'm younger that now."

In the past year or so, Facebook has allowed me glimpses into the lives of my former classmates and friends at Corinth High School. It's obvious that many of them have been extremely successful by the world's standards. However, what stands out to me are the values and relationships that seem to guide and inform their lives. Thinking back I realize that my values were formed in the "small pond" community of Corinth MS and that I was truly blessed to grow up there. We have a young female civil engineer in my office here in Nashville to whom I was very quickly drawn because of her outgoing personality... and her accent that would make Corinth natives proud. She is a giving person and very involved in her church and in community service with Habitat for Humanity. In the course of getting to know her, I discovered that she went to CHS... a long time after I did. I wasn't seems that they are still pouring good things into the students!

All this to lead up to the fact that I have never been as proud to be from Corinth, Alcorn County, Northeast Mississippi than I was when I returned home in March for the funeral of my nephew who was killed in Afghanistan. The outpouring of love, respect, and honor that was afforded my sister's son SSGT William Ricketts on his return was nothing short of amazing. From the time his body arrived at Corinth Airport until his internment at Corinth National Cemetery, the communities of Alcorn County celebrated a life well lived and mourned a hero's life cut short. As a family member, I was awed and humbled by the 100's of people who came to the funeral home for the viewing, the 100's of people who attended the funeral in the Crossroads Arena, and the 100's of people who lined the route from the arena to the National Cemetery. It seemed as if everyone in town was there including employees from some stores along the way such as Lowe's who allowed their employees to line the road for the procession.

Seth Ricketts was a genuine hero... an example of the best that of Alcorn County MS has to offer. My home town is a community that still produces wonderful people, a community that values honor and patriotism, and a community that I am proud to say is where I grew up.

P.S.- The April 12 Time magazine had a respectful piece on Seth's homecoming that you might find interesting. :-) lph

Saturday, April 17, 2010

What Can I Learn Today?

I love the idea of blogs! Blogs are so democratic. They are based on the premise that everyone can say what they wish and disseminate it as broadly as they wish. Whether or not it is read is pure consumer choice… “I like, I read… I don’t like, I don’t read”.

That said, why would someone need or desire to read what I have to say? Good question! First, whether from good experiences or bad experiences, everyone has important lessons to share. Often we fawn over highly successful people… what I would call the “I’d really like to spend a day with Donald Trump syndrome”. In truth, lessons learned from failure are often as valuable, perhaps even more valuable, than lessons learned from success. The significance of this fact is that we need to be extremely careful about “blowing people off” because we feel they have nothing to offer. I remember counseling a young man some years ago and in the course of the discussion I said, “Bob, if you can’t respect me for my successes, respect me for my failures”. Everyone has something to offer. Our job is to seek it out.

I have not always done that very well. In fact, I have generally been very quick to judge and make a decision on whether a person was someone from whom I could learn…or was someone who needed to learn what I knew. As a result, in my younger days, I was viewed as a pretty arrogant person… which was quite correct! I still have a need for growth in this area… and will until the day I die. However, now when I meet someone, I always seek to learn… as opposed to “sharing my infinite wisdom".

The model I would like to emulate is Jesus, “ Your attitude should be that of Jesus Christ, who being in very nature God, did not did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross!” Phillipians 2:6-8

That’s a tall order, but I think it is what I am called to do... and if you are a Jesus follower it's what you are called to do also.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

On His Blogness

One of my favorite poems is On His Blindness by John Milton. As the title suggests, it was written on the occasion of his blindness. The poem starts off with Milton contemplating "When I consider how my life is spent, ere half my days in this dark world and wide, and that one talent which is death to hide, lodged with me useless, though my soul more bent to serve therewith my maker..."

Milton's expresses fear that somehow his blindness will keep him from using his talent in God's service, thus separating him from God's favor. This idea is that somehow we need to "earn" favor with God through our service. The poem's blunt reponse to Milton's lament is a reminder that "God doth not need either man's work or his own gifts...who best bear his mild yoke, they serve him best."

In a world that is obessively concerned with performance for gain, Milton's poem is a stark reminder that our job is to "bear the yoke". But what is the yoke? I am currently rereading Dietrich Bonhoffer's classic, The Cost of Discipleship. Bonhoffer makes the case very elegantly that our our response to call of Christ's saving grace is not "to do", but rather to "follow"... wherever he calls us to go. Bonhoffer's discipleship cost him his life. He was hung by the Nazi's in a Third Reich prison. The cost of true discipleship is summed in lines of the classic hymn, "Where he leads me, I will follow".

" God loves...God calls... therefore I serve." I wish I could honestly say that describes me. It doesn't, but I want it to. :-)