Monday, July 30, 2007


People have struggled to affirm, confirm, justify their existence for hundreds of years. There is a serach for meaning. A proof of life, or of living. There is a desire to establish that existence is more than illusion, a mental image that is distorted by the invention of time. Theologians, philosophers and psychologists have all wrestled with this. Each has given existence a label.

Rene Descarte defined existence with the expression, "I think, therefore I am." This provided a sense of stability for those in the midst of modernity, but in the world of post-modernity it has fallen short in its ability to provide that sense of "is." In this day many have chosen to express existence in this way, "I feel, therefore I am." This reflects ones abilty to connect, interact and sense at deeper levels.

Yale surgery professor Sherwin Nuland, MD has suggested that "I wrinkle, therefore I am" provides the assurance that life does not lose meaning as sight dims, hair recedes and gravity takes over.

I believe that each of these definitions is inadequate to connect us to genuine existence and meaning. This realization came to me on a recent trip to Southern California. I sat in four lanes of traffic on Interstate 15 headed south at a complete stand still. I have experienced much the same in the Atlanta area, Chicagoland, the San Francisco Bay area, outside of Raleigh, North Carolina and varoius other roadways around the United States. But it was on I-15 that the reality of existence made itself clear. I discovered a tangible way, a means that would concretely anchor humanity to this world. It was a discovery that will release us to existence itself. This serendipity of being? Traffic!

People seated in vehicles of all shapes, sizes, colors and makes must realize this is our existence! We have been created for traffic. Traffic gives us meaning. It can dictate our emotions and daily dispositions. It gives each of us a means to relate to others in our lined asphalt realities.

Traffic has become all consuming. We build our schedules around its ebb and flow. We are drawn to this holy "bumper communion." We seek traffic at sporting events, beaches on sunny week-ends, concerts and other urban and suburban centers. We have realigned our dependence on traffic for our existence. We shun mass transit, car pools and will pay increasingly higher fuel prices merely to be involved, solo, in this needed connection to the essence of life.

It is no longer I think, therefore I am; nor I feel therefore, I am; nor I wrinkle, therefore I am. Instead it is I AM IN TRAFFIC, THEREFORE I AM! It is in traffice we genuinely feel fully alive.

Sunday, July 22, 2007


Here is the church. Here is the steeple. Open the door and see all the---where are the people? There are a few scattered haphazardly throughout the rows of pews. But they seem lost in an endless sea of boredem.

This was a once alive, thriving community of believers. They responded to God. They easily flowed with the leading of the Spirit. Yet, once progressing wheels had dug a rut of complacency. The status quo had been maintained. They continued to do what they had always done. They were happy.

Alice Smith and Fred "Bingo" Franco had recently died. "Saints" was a freely used adjective in describing them. Tears flowed readily from those in attendance.

Fred had been a deacon...very dependable. They were sure they could find someone to replace him. A young family man. There was sure to be one in the new class they had discussed starting. But it would have to wait until a later time. Where are all the people?

Excitement was building for the upcoming hymn sing. It was sure to bring out the folks who appreciated their dearly held heritage. Where are all the people?

The youth were to be honored. Bibles with the Pastor's signature for those graduating from High School would be the "perfect" token to carry out into the world. Everyone was pleased to see how well dressed the two young folk were. Where are all the people?

Confident of our tradition. Pleased with our history. Protecting against "new" ideas. Uncompromising in our style. Judging others righteously. Where are all the people?

Monday, July 16, 2007


My dad died December 22, 2006. I got the opportunity to spend three days with him prior to his death. He was in a "sleeping coma." I simply sat by his bed read the bible to him and shared three list I made: Things I learned from my dad; Things I Remember; Things I wish.

As a tribute to him, I want to share these lists. He was a wonderful man. He was a self-employed roofing contractor. He worked hard. This may give you a glimpse of him, and therefore of me. I will miss my dad, but I will always have my dad. I will always partially be my dad.

  • Laughter-you always laughed easily and often. It was an infectious laugh. I would hear you laugh watching TV after I had gone to bed. I would begin to giggle because I knew if you were laughing that hard it was funny.
  • Integrity-you did everything with integrity. You ran your business this way. You dealt with people at church in that way.
  • Belief in others-you never seemed to think yourself better than others.
  • Authenticity-you were who you were. You had anger, but dealt with it. Your life was your witness. People knew you were different.
  • Gift of presence-you showed up at my stuff.
  • Time-you took me on the job with you. I got my own nail apron and hammer. I didn’t need it, but you let me wear it just checking leaks, or doing bids. I always got to go on the roof too.
  • Letting God work-you yielded to God your anger, smoking.
  • Work ethic-you modeled it and expected it. The tar pump broke down early in the day on a two story apartment. I was ready to call it a day. You simply broke out the rope and pulley wheel. I hoisted LOTS of tar buckets that day. I was exhausted!
  • Responsibility-say what you mean, mean what you say. I watched this in you, I have tried to make it part of me.
  • Gentle encouragement-when I got my call to ministry you never made me feel bad. I know you had a dream for “Stevenson & Son,” but you released that so I could follow God. You did say, “take some business classes.” I didn’t do this, and I should have. It would have been an immense help in ministry.
  • Taking things in stride-Life is life…things happen…do the best with what you have.
  • Taking care of family-you taught me how to be a good dad.
  • Treat people fairly-all ages, colors, backgrounds.
  • Let all of us kids follow our dreams
  • Handle challenges with dignity-burn on hand, getting glasses, prostate cancer. I never heard you complain or bemoan your situation. You might have, I just never heard it.
  • Self-sufficiency-you taught all of us to make our way and take care of our selves. That is our inheritance
  • Independent spirit-self employed
  • Unconditional acceptance-you told me one time I did not have to do anything to make you proud of me. Freeing statement.
  • Crossword puzzles-I watched you do these for years. In the last few I have caught the bug. I am not, nor ever will be, at your skill level. I told Scott, the time will come when it grabs him. It is part of the “Stevenson rite of passage.”

There was much more, but this is all I will share. If you still have your dad, appreciate him. If your dad is no longer living, be thankful for him.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Crazy Grace

Baseball has a variety of ways for a team to score. One is referred to as the unearned run. An unearned run is typically the result of something the opposing team does. The team at bat benefits from the team in the field. And the unearned run COUNTS! The team at bat gets the run even though it wasn’t earned. The score is theirs! If the unearned run contributes to the win there is no asterisk. It is a win.

This is the craziness of grace: Getting to count that which we did not earn. Jesus did all the work. We get the win. He went to the cross. He earned the victory. We get the benefits of his gift. We get salvation…unearned! We just need to accept and appreciate the gift.

We need grace because we miss. Sin literally means ‘missing the mark.’ It is derived from an archer’s term. It is not hitting the bull’s eye. It doesn’t make any difference how close we might come. A miss is a miss. A swing and a miss is still a miss regardless of hard, powerful and deliberate the swing.

Grace tells us that we don’t have to hit the bull’s eye, ourselves, to win. Grace is accepting the marksmanship of Jesus. Paul reminds is in Ephesians 2:8, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith.…”

Missing the mark is never the issue. We have, and will. The issue is how we choose to live with our inadequate marksmanship. The good news is that grace doesn’t let people get defined by their mistakes.

Grace breaks all the rules. It provides us what we do not deserve at a price we could never pay. Grace is so against the grain of our self help, independent society we continue to run on the “treadmill” of effort. Regardless of how many miles you put on the treadmill you always end where you began. This is what our effort to gain and maintain a relationship with God: It requires lots of effort that results in little progress.

Brennan Manning tells us in his book, The Ragamuffin Gospel, “How long will it be before we discover we cannot dazzle God with our accomplishments? When will we acknowledge that we need not and cannot buy God’s favor? When will we acknowledge that we don’t have it all together and happily accept the gift of grace?”

We are indeed inadequate for the task of salvation. Paul tells us that God “…saved us not because of righteous things we have done, but because of his mercy” (Titus 3:4-5). Salvation is God’s extended gift to us, not our generated deserved reward.

Does this mean we stop engaging in Bible Study, prayer, interaction with fellow believers and leaving it to grace? No! Instead, these needful activities flow out of our love relationship with God, not as a ploy to get on God’s “good side.”

Grace frees us to live out our rebirth and renewal in unbridled enthusiasm. When we realize we live under the canopy of grace we focus on winning, instead of not losing. It is living out the God’s gift so graciously given, instead of attempting to hold onto that which we could never grasp alone.

Holiness people often struggle with grace. We can’t seem to rest in the fact we CANNOT earn the gift of eternal life. Salvation is not to be earned, but enjoyed and accepted.

A man dies and goes to heaven. Of course, St. Peter meets him at the Pearly Gates. St. Peter says, “Here’s how it works! You need 100 points to make it into heaven. You tell me all the good things you have done, and I give you a certain number of points for each item. When you reach 100 points, you get in.”

“Okay,” the man says, “I was married to the same woman for 50 years and never cheated on her, even in my heart.”

“That’s wonderful,” says St. Peter, “that’s worth three points!”

“Three points?” he says. “Well, I attended church all my life and supported its ministry with my tithe and service.”

“Terrific!” says St. Peter, “that’s certainly worth a point.”

“ONE POINT! How about this: I started a soup kitchen in my city and worked in a shelter for homeless veterans.”

“Fantastic, that good for two points,” responds St. Peter.

“TWO POINTS!” The man cries, “At this rate the only way I can get into heaven is by the GRACE of GOD!”

“Come on in!” Said a smiling St. Peter.

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is a gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.”

It really is that crazy!

Thursday, July 12, 2007

The Challenge of Choice

Alan Axelrod in his book, Profiles in Audacity, speaks of the Rubicon River that is located in northern Italy. It is in no way an imposing river, but when Julius Caesar stood on its bank in 49 B.C. it represented a choice. He could cross it, which in all likelihood would result in civil war. But not to cross would sooner or later result in calamity for Rome. “Inaction would perpetuate a peace that had been dictated by a fatally misgoverned Rome.” The Rubicon provided apparent safety on one side, and to cross it would surely result in struggle with no guaranteed outcome.

The Rubicon represents choice. It is the choice between doing life as we have, or crossing over into the realm of change. It is the choice of maintaining structure for our security, or revamping to become a more vibrant individual. The Rubicon may not look ominous, but it is huge in its challenges. The one thing we must recognize is that inactivity is not the safety net it appears.

We all have our Rubicon. We stand on the bank peering to the other side, wondering if it’s worth wading through, or crossing over? I want to say it is. Yet in the same expression is the fear of what truly lies there! It is both scary and exhilarating.

A Rubicon is a choice. It is a willingness to cross over into genuine life-change. It is crossing over the Rubicon of self-indulgence to investing self in life. It is crossing over the Rubicon of pursued success to purposeful significance.

The Rubicon of complacency must be crossed. We need to be audacious. We need to make the difficult choices and take personal responsibility. We need to step into the God Gap...the place where we connected with God.