Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Then Maybe I'll Pray For Kings

I wanted to write a blog post that was reflective of a bed time story that I just told my oldest daughter, Haley, who is 11, and who was having a hard time getting to sleep.  The story is loosely based on a Bible story, one of the most famous from the entire Old Testament.

One day, there was this prophet named Samuel.  He was one of the wisest prophets in the land.  Everyone went to Samuel for advice, on small matters and large.  On a particular day, when the sun was beating down upon the desert of Judah, a couple of people meandered past Samuel's house.  They seemed like they were looking for something.

"What can I help you with?" Samuel asked inquisitively.  "We are looking for something!"  "Looking for what?  It seems like you are looking for a cool cup of water," said Samuel.  "Actually," said the strangers, "we are looking for a donkey!"  "A donkey," said Samuel, "what in God's name would you want a donkey for?"  The strangers scratched their heads in the broad day sun, and said, "This is a special donkey!"

Samuel invited them in.  It was already reaching heights of three degrees on the thermometer (though, of course, there were no thermometers in those days), and the strangers came inside.  After hearing their story, Samuel said, "Well, ok, I will pray for your donkey.  I will pray that Yahweh returns your donkey, and that he comes home safe."  And so, that's what Samuel did, the greatest prophet in the land prayed for these strangers' donkey.  Samuel prayed and prayed and prayed and prayed, "Yahweh, return their donkey in due course, Amen!"

But no donkey came.

A search party was sent out for the donkey, as the logical next step. The best searchers in the land looked for that donkey.  They looked up one crag of rocks and down the next.  They looked up every glen and down every valley of shadows.  But no donkey was found.

And so, the cause seemed to be lost.

On the edge of the horizon, though, the search party thought they saw something that was living.  It seemed to be moving in the sand.  Was it a small goat?  Was it a sheep?  No!  It was a little boy!!!  The search party scrambled up a dune of sand, and scooped the little boy up in their arms.  An older search member scrubbed the sand out of the little boy's eyes.  They would take the little boy back to Samuel and say that, sadly, a donkey had not been found, but that a little boy had been snatched from the jaws of death, and brought back to the camp.

They did not know what to call the little boy, since he had nothing on him, except his leather shirt, and his outer tunic.  "What about Saul?" asked one of the members of the search party.  Saul (or Sha-Ual, in Hebrew), is a strong name.  "That's what we will call him," said Samuel.  "But this is no ordinary little boy, this is a special young man."  And then, Samuel, looking into the evening sun made a very significant prophecy.  Remember that in Hebrew, the name Samuel is SHMA - EL, which means - "Hear God".  Samuel said, "This little boy will grow up to rule a nation.  He will be a great general.  He will be an even greater commander of troops."  And so the little boy grew up.  From little boy, to bigger boy, to teenager.

Then, one day, an amazing thing happened.  As the little boy, Saul, was about to leave and go off to military training, a visage appeared on the horizon.  "What is it?" asked a local?  Is it a bear or a marauding party of nomads?  Soon enough, it appeared on the horizon.  It was a donkey.  It was the same donkey that had been searched for years before.  The old steed (now steed) came, walked, head down into the camp.  Samuel's prayers had been answered, many years later.  The long lost donkey had come home.

What, may you ask, happened to the little boy, Saul? Well, he grew up to be the first king of Israel, the first monarch of the land of Judah, the first general to lead a nation.  And you can read about his story in the Bible.

But what is the moral of this story?  Well, it is this... Sometimes when you pray for a donkey, you get a king.  And sometimes when you pray for kings, you will get a donkey.

As I was telling my daughter, Haley this story tonight, she said, "Well daddy!  Then I'm going to pray for kings!!"

All For Now,


Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Our Inner Island - Take Two

In November of 2010, I wrote a blog post that sort of went viral.  It was entitled, "Our Inner Island" and apparently it got something like 12,292 unique views.  I have never really understood why this blog post got so much attention, but perhaps it taps into a deep need that all of us have, a need for a sense of mooring, a sense of inner connection, a sense of inner peace.  Perhaps we need this more now than ever.  Here is that post.  May you find your own "Inner Island" in the midst of this terrible global tragedy that we now engulfs the globe.


Last night was one of those fun nights for a parent, when, after you put your child to bed, it's hours and hours of waiting for your child to fall to sleep. On such evenings, the ritual saga usually begins this way: 30 minutes of "Goodnight Daddy", 27 minutes of crying, 15 more minutes of tirade with bottle being thrown, 20 minutes more of singing and talking, 15 minutes of taking off pajamas and sitting in crib naked, 20 minutes of silence before sleep. It's a lot of alone time.

Over the past year, though, I have thought about how this time that my daughter Haley spends by herself in bed is an essential tool in helping her develop. It in helping her to find and moor her soul upon something other than outside stimuli. It is helping her to find and develop what I like to call her - "INNER ISLAND". 

And I know that as Haley grows older - that this inner island will be an important piece of her soul. It will be an important PEACE of her soul. Because life will sometimes be often a storm of wild waves, a tempestuous tsunami of difficulty, a myasm of unmet expectation, a bundle of of frustration and challenge. Life will not always be easy. 

Here's my question for you for the week? Where is your inner island? Do you have one? When was the last time you visited? 

Because Haley is not alone. We all need an inner island - a place to moor our boats. In my experience, the island in our souls is best when it is cultivated at an early age - in a crib, a sandbox, on a school yard playground, at a grandparent's house during long summer holidays, sitting in a Sunday pew in a church where the pastor has no apparent understanding of preaching limits (gulp:-). But it there we find our inner island.

Most important, God should be there. Jesus spent many hours and days by himself, in prayer, searching for an ineffable mooring on the roiling cultural and religious seas of first century Israel - with the small community of fishermen in Galilee.

Jesus said; "Come to me all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." (Matt 11:29-30)

Where is your Inner Island?

All for Now,

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Great Concepts - 1

Dear faithful blogpost readers.  I wanted to send some great resources for all of us in the middle of this very weird time (the Covid 19 crisis) in the life of our world.

First,  I grew up in Idaho, and I will never forget being in the back country of Idaho, on the Sawtooth mountain trail, and seeing some real-life shepherds.  Like the real thing, long beard, smelled to high heaven, leading a huge flock of sheep.  It struck me then that this was a real specimen of folks who were living out in the wide open, "keeping watch over their flocks at night" (Chrisimas Bible).  Here is an article from 1971 about some of those shepherds, who were of Basque cultural origin, and living out under the stars.

Second, I have been preaching for the past 5 weeks on the topic of "No Fear - God Near".  Here are 33 texts to think about in terms of God being near us, and our need to not have fear.  I encourage you to read these texts as much as you are able through this national crisis.

Finally, several of you have asked for the picture of Smokey, who shot a basketball from the middle of the street and got a three point shot.  Smokey is a part of the law enforcement profession of Paso Robles, and an essential employee of that county.

Hope you are all hanging in there!

God Bless!

All For Now,


Wednesday, March 25, 2020

The Electricity of Not Touching

Several weeks ago, long before the Covid Pandemic descended upon the world the way it has in recent days, our church began to use some precautions as it relates to not touching one another on Sundays.  Specifically, we asked for people during the "Passing of the Peace" to not to shake hands, but to either "fist bump" each other, or "elbow bump each other".  For people who have routinely extended hands out to one another for most of their lives, this was a big adjustment.

To be honest, we were not sure how it would go.  To my great surprise, we found that the entire room lit up with energy, and love and electricity.  People smiled at one another and joked with one another and sort of made fun of the moment (rightly so).  I have never, as a pastor, seen so many people laughing and giggling and happy and joyful as I saw during that particular "Passing of the Peace".

All of this has made me reflect for a moment about how sometimes not touching another person can be much more electrifying than actual personal human contact.

Of course, from an actual bio-physical standpoint, the human body does carry a certain amount of electrical current.  Scientists say that the human body creates about .8 to 2 volts of electricity on its own, through a complex system of bio-chemical reactions.  Depending on a persons health, and age and amount of physical activity, this number can fluctuate between people.

The more interesting question at least for me, is what happens to people psychologically when it relates to connecting or not connecting with one another physically.

I think we all probably remember way back in Jr. High when you were at a school dance, or a roller skating rink in my case, and you reached out to hold the hand of someone that you liked, and you felt this jolt of excitement and energy.  Of course this relates more, in Jr. High to hormones than it does to actual touch.  But the point is that not touching, or not touching that much can be as electrifying as actual physical touch of others.

Faith healers (including Jesus) have been known to come close to people, and raise their hand towards another person's body, and literally move them to fall down, or lose control of their physical abilities for a second.  Again, this happens largely through non-touch.

The closest analogy I can come up with for this phenomenon was an elevator ride I took once with the famed Country and Western singer Willie Nelson.  I was working in Washington DC at the time, in a US Senate office building, when who should step onto the elevator?  A short, pony tailed guy with a red white and blue bandana - Willie.  I was speechless.  I literally could not utter a word.  I would like to say, "Willie, I love your music!"  But I couldn't move my mouth.  Needless to say, Willie's impact on my physical condition was not controlled by his touch of my body.

Why am I writing this post?  Of course, the CDC has issued guidelines about six feet of social distancing for most of the nation.  We are in a time when we cannot touch one another (hand shake, hug, a pat on the back, a held hand in a hospital by a bedside), and yet, this does not impact our ability to have an impact on other people.  Smile more!  Say hello to strangers.  Let your face glow with happiness when you see a person that you know, but you cannot touch.  What you may find and discover is....

The Electricity of Not Touching

All For Now,


Wednesday, February 26, 2020

A Little History of the World

I just read an incredible book while on vacation with the family in Hawaii last week.  It's titled, A Little History of the World.  Wait!  Before you say, "Why is Graham reading a history book on the beach?" let me assure you that this is no ordinary history book.  It was written in 1935 by a German author named E.H. Gombrich (pictured above, reading to his grand-children), and was intended for "younger readers".  My own impression is that "younger readers" must have been a lot smarter than they are today, because this is college level reading, but composed in a delightful simple prose for a child, which makes it so enjoyable to read.  And so, chapter one begins, "All stories must begin with once upon a time, and that's just what this story is about, what happened once upon a time...".  But make no mistake about it, Gombrich packs in more interesting nuggets about history than I have gleaned in both my Masters Degree in Divinity or my Doctorate in Ministry.  Here are some of my favorite takeaways:

*  The Egyptians worshipped the Nile river as a God

*  Pharaoh, Egyptians believed, was, "Son of the Sun God".

*  The tombs (pyramids) were intended as dwelling places for the soul, for when the soul returned to visit the body.

*  Egyptians were great glass blowers

*  Ancient Christians were known to write a cross after a person's name to indicate they had died

*  The Greek name for papyrus is where we get our modern word "paper"

*  The Egyptians believed that poor people possessed more wisdom than rich, "Wise words are rated than emeralds, yet they come from the mouths of poor slave girls who turn the millstones,"

*  Mesopotamia is Greek for "the land between two rivers"

*  The game of chess (or some form of it) is around 5,000 years old

*  Cuneiform writing means, "wedge shaped" (cone form)

*  Baal was a sun God.  Human sacrifices were sometimes made to Baal

*  The word Saturday comes from the planet "Saturn", Sunday comes from "Sun", Monday comes from "Moon".

*  Many of Hammurabi's strict and just laws turn up in the Bible

*  Babel (in the Bible) is the same as Babylon

*  The Greek heroes like Odysseus and Achilles were all fictional characters

*  King Cyrus, a Persian, freed the Jews from Babylon.  Years later, when the Magi, who were Persian sought a star in the east, they were reconnecting with their ancient Jewish friends in the Holy Land.

*  The word, "oracular" (meaning enigmatic or vague) comes from the oracles of Delphi who were basically drunk on the fumes coming from the ground.

*  The word "draconian" (meaning strict) is from the Greek general named Draco who was very harsh.

*  The Greeks basically invented theater

*  The Hindi word "pitar" which later became Latin "pater" is where we get our word "father"

*  In India, even the shadow of an "untouchable" was considered defiling

*  Buddha (Gautama) begins his quest for enlightenment by taking in all the sadness of the world for a period of 6-7 years

*  The Chinese language (mandarin) has over 40,000 characters

*  The center of Confucianism is the concept that, "outward appearances are more important than we think"

*  The word "Philippics" (or crazy ideas) comes from Alexander the Great's father Philip who was known for crazy ideas

*  Alexander the Great begins his campaign in the Biblical city of Corinth

*  Alexander the Great's teacher was Aristotle

*  Alexander the Great liked riding his horse (named Bucephalus) more than anything in the world

*  Alexander the Great dies at the age of 32 in the year 323BC in the palace of Nebuchadnezzar

*  The phrase, "Pyrrhic victory" comes from a Greek prince named Pyrrhus who fought against Rome.  Pyrrhus won the battle, but he lost so many men that he is said to have cried out, "One more such victory and we are lost".  To this day, people who win things at too high a cost are known to have "Pyrrhic victories"

*  Romans didn't build roads to help the people, but to help them move troops from place to place

*  Romans were accustomed to conquering, then leaving the management of the cities to slaves

*  The month of July is named after Julius Caesar

*  The month of August is named after Caesar Augustus

*  Whenever Julius Caesar would start to lose his temper, he did the alphabet in his head slowly, by the end of it, he was calm again

*  The punishment of "the cross" was only given to slaves and robbers

*  Nero didn't fiddle while Rome burned, but played his lyre and sang a song that he himself wrote about a city that was burning while Rome was burning

*  The Colosseum held 50,000 people

*  The Romans were said to have taken lions to Gaul (Germany) to scare the native tribes.  But since the Romans had never seen a lion before, they weren't frightened off, they just killed what they thought were large dogs, and ate them

*  Constantine may have used Christianity to conquer a nation, but he himself remained a pagan all his life, until he was baptized on his death bed

*  It is said that Attila the Hun never laughed

*  The last Roman emperor had an interesting name Romulus Augustus.  This is ironic because Rome's founder was a king named Romulus, and it's first emperor was Augustus

And now, my blog reading friends, if you are still reading this blog-post after this long list of lesser known facts from history, well done!

Or as the teacher of young minds, E.H. Gombrich, might have said...

"Good for you girls and boys!"

All for Now,


Friday, January 3, 2020

Not Alone

Over the Christmas break I visited my parents in Sacramento, where the whole family congregated for a couple of days.  While there, I became addicted to a reality show which is featured on the History Channel called - Alone.  I strongly recommend against watching it, unless you have two full days to carve out, because, if you are like me, you will also become addicted as soon as you see the first episode (the show is in its 5 season).

The basic premise of the show is that 10 "normal" individuals (mostly outdoors-types) are dropped into the wilderness by themselves with 10 items that they choose for their own survival.  The person who lasts longest in the wilderness wins.  The longest person to survive by themselves, I believe is around 164 days.  My favorite character on the show is Dr. Aline Abelian, who suffered from MS and who survived many, many days by herself in the wilderness of outer Mongolia.

The items that people choose to survive are what you might expect (hunting knives, hatchets, rain tarps, fire starting materials, and the like).  What is interesting is that for all of the contestants, the reasons that they don't make it (or "tap out") have less to do with basic survival (catching fish, hunting birds, eating wild berries) than it has to do with morale.  Basically, everyone who comes home early says the same thing, "I miss my family," "I can't take the alone-ness" anymore, "I'm sick of being by myself".  I guess the show is aptly named in that regard - Alone.

However, one survival item that I haven't seen any contestant ask for or utilize to date is perhaps the most helpful for all of our basic survival, that is - The Bible.  I firmly believe that if contestants on the show chose a Bible as one of their survival implements, and read it every morning, and then every evening, they might not experience the same level of "aloneness".

Some contestants got through the long periods of isolation by inventing pretend dolls, or companions, like the character Tom Hanks in the movie Survival.  Others tend to create relationships with themselves, by singing to themselves or acting.  Others make friends with the animals.  But none seem to rely on a higher power to feel that they are not alone.

There are actually many examples in the Bible of people who survive for long periods by themselves in the total wilderness.  The best example is Jesus, who, after he begins his ministry, spends 40 days and nights in the wilderness.  The only thing that prevents Jesus (Lord almighty) from losing his proverbial marbles is scripture that he has memorized ("Man cannot live on bread alone").  Other famous Biblical examples include Moses who spends long periods of time in the wilderness with his father-in-law, Jethro's, sheep.  We don't know if Moses has use of scripture, but he definitely has a close relationship with God, as in when he identifies God in the burning bush.  And then there is John on the island of Patmos.  The entire book of Revelation is a dream that John has, where God communicates with John the APOCALYPSES - Revelation.  Scripture helps people survive long periods of alone time.

I'm not sure I will ever become a contestant on the television show, Alone.  But I do know for sure, that scripture, and prayer, and talking to God, and God talking to me, and visions, and dreams are what get me through my alone times.  Perhaps they will work for you too!

All for Now,