Monday, January 24, 2022

Thoughts and Intents of the Heart

If any of you follow me on social media you know that I enjoy humor. With all the chaos in the world we need to laugh when we can. Occasionally, I post serious things; usually personal experiences or thoughts. The other day I had an epiphany that I was a cynic. Just so we’re clear, the definition of cynic is: a person who believes that people are motivated purely by self-interest rather than acting for honorable or unselfish reasons. I do not believe this about all people, but I found myself thinking that I knew “why” someone did what they did instead of simply taking the actions at face value.

When we begin to think we know “why” people do what they do we become judgmental and condemning. Hebrews 4:12-13 tells us, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” (ESV) The Word of God is the only thing that can discern the intents of the heart.

The Word, referred to elsewhere in scripture as the Sword of the Spirit, can separate motives from actions. I cannot. The only person I can truly know the motives behind actions is myself. The only way I can discern if my motives are pure is to measure them against the Word. This is not as simple as it sounds. We can talk ourselves into thinking that most any action can be justified. This is one of the reasons for the busy-ness of our society. We keep ourselves occupied so we do not have time for introspection; the time required to judge the thoughts and intents of our heart.

In one of the devotions I did during the 21 Days of Prayer, I shared on 2 Corinthians 10:4-6, which says, “For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete.” We take these thoughts captive by, first of all, spending time contemplating our own actions to determine the “why” behind our actions. If our motives are found to be impure, we must submit them to the Word of God – punish disobedience – by confessing our failure and accepting the grace from God to destroy the arguments and lofty opinions which try to displace His Truth.

So, from one recovering cynic to another (hopefully), let us consider our own motives and leave the motives of others alone.



Friday, June 18, 2021

Another Father's Day ... Without a Father

 Another Father's Day ... Without a Father

I grew up without fathers. My paternal grandfather died when my father was only a child. My maternal grandfather died when I was eight. My father died when I was nine. Father's Day did not have much meaning in my life, until I became one!

I became a father sixteen years after my father died. I was beyond anxious. I did not have a clear image of what a father should be. I did not have the benefit of seeing fatherhood modeled for me in my teenage years. And now, I had a son. I was now a father.

Looking back there are many things I wish I had done differently. I blew many teachable moments with my children because of the fear of getting it wrong. Well, I got it wrong. A lot. Somehow, all three of my children have become amazing adults. My sons are both amazing fathers, in my personal opinion, in spite of me. I give their mother most of the credit for how they turned out. She balanced the scales by being such an amazing mother.

If you still have your father, regardless of the relationship you have with him, go see him. If needed, ask forgiveness. More likely the case, forgive him. Realize that he tried. Even if he got it wrong, know that he tried. Tell him you love him. Tell him you are o.k. Just tell him something. I realize that it is his place to reach out to try to mend broken fences. Reach out anyway. Your father has something that you need. It's part of God's plan. Even if your father blew it, he still has something that you need. Try to redeem lost opportunities by restoring fellowship.

It's easy to justify bearing a grudge when you have been wronged, especially by your father. I know the questions. Why weren't you there? Why did you do that? Why did you not love me? Why? Why? Why? I've asked those questions many times in my fifty-two years of fatherlessness. Here is my conclusion that led to a totally different outlook on fathers and fatherhood. I forgave my father for dying!

During a counseling session years ago (the one and only time I remember seeing a counselor) I came to realize that I was holding my father responsible for many things in my life. He was my hero. He was a super-hero. A man's man, rough and rugged, smelled of Old Spice and foot powder. He could do anything. A police officer, a sergeant in the Reserves, a Boy Scout and Cub Scout leader, a deacon, father of five, still married to their mother, a loving son to his aging mother, handyman to the widows on our block, could rebuild a V-8 in the backyard, and on and on I could go. How dare he up and die when I needed him the most? How could he abandon me in my time of greatest need for a father, a mentor, a provider?

My father never abandoned his wife, family, friends, church, etc. His life was taken from him while trying to protect the citizens of Birmingham. Just so you know, God did not take him, as some ministers tried to convince me while grieving in the hospital waiting room. My father was only doing what he had sworn an oath to do: Protect and Serve.

After forgiving my father for dying, and realizing that it was ME that had placed him on a pedestal which no man deserves to be placed, I was able to process many things that led to my own inability to father the way my children needed. It came many years too late, in my opinion. I have asked their forgiveness. I have committed to be a better father, and now, grandfather, so that I cause no further emotional harm to them.

Back to Father's Day. Reach out to your father. If possible, see him. If not, call, FaceTime, Zoom, chat; whatever you have the ability to do. Give him some slack. You may have no idea why he did what he did. Regardless of the reason, press toward reconciliation. Even if he rejects it, you can live from this moment with a different mindset and hopefully be a better person. If your father is not living, write him a letter. Even though he will never read it, your children and their children can. Leave a legacy for them.

Happy Father's Day! I hope it is the best one yet.



Saturday, May 22, 2021

A New Thing

God always wants to do a new thing. Even when He accomplishes the same objective, God will use different means or methods to do it. For instance, when Israel needed water in the wilderness Moses was instructed to strike the rock with his rod. The next time, God told Moses to speak to the rock. In the New Testament there is record of Jesus healing three blind men. Once He spoke to the man, another He applied mud made from His own spit. The third man, Jesus laid hands on … twice!

I’ve heard it said that the only thing constant in life is change! As Christians we need to resist the temptation to pre-judge the method and keep our focus on the motive. Things may not look the same as before. They may not sound the same as before. But let us not mistake different for wrong. If our Lord can use different tactics to heal the blind or bring water to thirsty people, He may use different means to help us bear spiritual fruit.

Compare farming methods used 50 years ago to what is done today. Not only has knowledge increased on how to effectively raise a better crop, but technology (mechanical and otherwise) has increased dramatically to the point that yields have doubled for some crops. New is not bad, it’s just uncomfortable because of the habits we formed using the methods with which we got started.

Our theme at FBCR for 2021 is “Investing In One Another’s Spiritual Fruitfulness.” Keep in mind that what works for you may not work for others. Let us not get lost in form but focus on function. When we are being used as an agent of change by the Lord it may not look or feel “normal.” That’s ok. Let us be like Paul, when he wrote to the Church at Corinth, “To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some.” (1 Corinthians 9:22 ESV)

Pliable, flexible, adaptable – these words need room in our lives when it comes to helping others grow. Give opportunity for God to do a new thing, or even an old thing in a new way. The first illustration given in this article was regarding Moses and water from the rock. The second time God provided water from the rock He instructed Moses to speak to the rock, not strike it. However, Moses, out of his frustration with the murmuring and complaining of the Israelites, struck the rock the second time instead of speaking to it. God still provided the needed water from the rock, but because of his disobedience, Moses was not allowed to enter into the Promised Land. To us, that seems like harsh judgement for such a simple failure. However, God was trying to teach His people how to trust Him and to listen to His voice, because God knew when they entered Canaan it would be a very difficult process. Israel would need to hear and obey what God said.

The same is true today. We need to become sensitive to God’s instruction, and then be “doers of the work.” When we do, we will allow the Holy Spirit to use us to help others develop spiritually.



Tuesday, May 4, 2021

May the Fourth

 May 4th has been an important day for me long before the Star Wars film brand was ever imagined. And oddly enough, it does have to do with a force, but not of the Jedi nature.

In 1969, I was a young nine-year-old boy, 5th child of my parents, the youngest, and do not remember having a care in the world. I was living life from my Monroe Avenue vantage point, on the west side of Birmingham. Little League baseball had just begun. Fair Park might as well have been Fenway Park. Those dim incandescents way up on a pole seemed as bright as any MBL park in the country. We had just finished opening day on this Saturday, May 3, 1969.

My middle brother, Tim, had caught a high and tight pitch with his nose. After surgery to repair his now deviated septum, was in West End Baptist Hospital, where my mom worked as a nurse's aide at night. I was at my sister's house, preparing to go with her and her husband to visit his family in Mississippi. She was expecting her first child; the first grandchild of my parents. Knowing what I now know about grandchildren, I'm sure there was much excitement in the house.

May 4, 1969, fell on a Sunday. Instead of the "normal" routine of preparing for church, we were loading up to go to Amory. Tim was struggling to breath through the gauze packed in his nose. Not sure where Wayne and Danny were.

Then, the phone rang at my sister's house. I immediately knew it was not good. I don't know why. She answered. After a few seconds I heard the phone drop and Kay crying. The news hit my nine-year-old ears with a thud: Dad had been shot.

I know I've written most, if not all, of this before; but never in light of May the Fourth Be With You. This day, there was a disturbance in the force. A true hero, my dad, father of five, husband of one wife, soon-to-be grandfather, little league umpire, Boy Scout leader, Cub Scout leader, sergeant in the Army Reserves, deacon at our church, and member of the Birmingham Police Department, was taken down.

No sagas were written and produced about his life. No published memoirs of his heroic acts while fighting crime in our city, or serving in Germany on active duty in the Army. No grand legacy to be recited from podiums throughout the ages. Just six people left to pick up the fragments of their lives and try to make some sense out of tomorrow. Just a widow with four boys at home wondering where the food will come from to feed them. Just a granddaughter to be born seven months later with no grandfather.

There was no tiny green man that showed up to help guide me through the tumultuous years which followed. No magical light-sword to help me fight the battles I would face in the coming days and weeks; decades even.

But, there were some pretty special people that made difference where they could. My Sunday School teacher, Harry Collins, took time to talk to me when I needed a man's voice. My fifth-grade teacher, Mrs. Meridith, was kind to me when she saw my tears. Scout leaders like Yeager, Price, Wilburn, Abernathy, and others showed me what being a man was all about. Teachers like Tom Cheatham. Pastors like Mike Harrison and Doc Shell showed me how to seek after God for my answers instead of man. My siblings: Kay, Wayne, Tim, and Danny, who did who knows what that I never saw or heard to take care of me, mom, and each other, as we clawed our way back to normal.

I don't know that I ever reached normal. I wonder, often, what it would have been like to grow up with a father. I'll never know. I wonder what it would have been like for my children to grow up with a grandfather. They will never know.

Please don't pity me, or them. We survived. We live good lives. I adore my granddaughters. I love my wife of 40+ years. My children are amazing, and have married amazing people. I'm blessed. 

So when May the Fourth rolls around each year I do not think of Star Wars. I remember a true hero who died way too young. I remember my dad, Azell Leroy Harris.

Friday, April 23, 2021

No One is Above the Law

My most recent post drew some comments from a trusted friend, so I want to clarify a few things. Everyone must be held accountable for their actions. No one is above the law; not even those in law enforcement. I was reminded of the phrase, "Absolute power corrupts absolutely." I wasn't certain of its origin so I looked it up.

Lord Acton writes to Bishop Creighton in a series of letters concerning the moral problem of writing history about the Inquisition. Acton believes that the same moral standards should be applied to all men, political and religious leaders included, especially since, in his famous phrase, “power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely”:

I cannot accept your canon that we are to judge Pope and King unlike other men, with a favourable presumption that they did no wrong. If there is any presumption it is the other way against holders of power, increasing as the power increases. Historic responsibility has to make up for the want of legal responsibility. Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority: still more when you superadd the tendency or the certainty of corruption by authority. There is no worse heresy than that the office sanctifies the holder of it. That is the point at which the negation of Catholicism and the negation of Liberalism meet and keep high festival, and the end learns to justify the means. You would hang a man of no position, like Ravaillac; but if what one hears is true, then Elizabeth asked the gaoler to murder Mary, and William III ordered his Scots minister to extirpate a clan. Here are the greater names coupled with the greater crimes. You would spare these criminals, for some mysterious reason. I would hang them, higher than Haman, for reasons of quite obvious justice; still more, still higher, for the sake of historical science.

I understand the tendencies in people. I realize there are those who wear a badge as a member of law enforcement that begin to think more highly of themselves than they ought to think. They begin to act as though the very law they are sworn to uphold does not apply to them. Based on my experience, that number is small. Perhaps I am naive to think that my statistical sample represents the majority.

Even if I am wrong, it does not justify open season on killing police officers. I understand there have been several trials of officers accused of violating the law, or even a person's human rights, that have been found "not guilty". You rarely hear of those that were charged and found guilty, even though it does happen. Many times, as with many cases in the criminal justice system, there are plea deals made out of court.

The major caveat when dealing with law enforcement is when deadly force is used. Except for states that empower citizens to "stand your ground," police are the only ones justified in using deadly force to stop criminal activity; hence, "absolute power." Clearly, they must be held to a higher standard. Otherwise, this "absolute power" will "corrupt absolutely."

In my opinion, the police are held to a higher standard. I realize in this day and age I am in the minority with this view. I have made this statement often to friends and family: "If an officer is going to risk being investigated or prosecuted every time they remove their gun from its holster, then take away the guns." At least then the officers would know exactly what they could or couldn't do.

It is never ok for an officer to harm another individual unless warranted by the circumstances. It is never ok for an officer to use deadly force unless they perceive an imminent threat to themselves or others. However, I also believe it is very difficult, even with "video evidence," to understand the full ramifications and dynamics at play in any given circumstance. 

Should they be investigated? Absolutely! Should they be given the presumption of innocence until proven guilty? Absolutely! Should they face the penalties for crimes committed? Absolutely! Should they be allowed to do their jobs without fear of being hunted down and killed like ferrel swine? Absolutely!

Doctors are found libel for malpractice, yet I still see doctors for medical care. The reason? Not all are derelict in their practice. People are poisoned by food eaten at restaurants, yet I still eat out. Why? Because this level of neglect is rare. Police officers are found guilty of crimes. Are they all guilty? They are not.

I doubt I will write on this again. I usually avoid topics which are seen as political. For me, however, this is not a political issue. It is personal. I understand why some disagree with me and that's ok. I welcome all comments and questions. I want to learn. I want to understand.

Thursday, April 22, 2021

Due Process - Even for the Police

 It is much easier to confirm a predetermined outcome because you are only looking for things that agree with your hypothesis. Any true scientist will tell you, it is only when you try to disprove your theory that you actually find the truth.

Even this does not guarantee you have "proven" your original idea. Once papers are published on the research they have conducted, other minds, without the predisposition that it is true, can either validate or disprove the stated theory.

When an agency of the State announce they are going to investigate to see if there is a "pattern" of behavior it signals trouble, because they will look past the "elephant in the room" of a history which refutes the "pattern."

I admit that I am bent toward supporting the police instead of finding fault. If you know me, you understand why. For those of you who do not know me, my father died on active duty as a police officer. He was killed while trying to apprehend two suspects in a robbery. I do not agree with the current politically-correct posture of hating the police. I support them in every way.

I am also not naive enough to think there are no bad people in uniform. However, I know first hand that the VAST majority of those wearing the badge that I have known have a love and respect for people to the point that they are willing to risk their lives every time they pin it on.

You may, or may not, be aware that each police department has an internal affairs department which oversee the activities of each officer. Every stop, every arrest, every complaint, every issue, is investigated to determine whether they followed the law, the procedures, and the code of conduct, which is expected of every officer, every day. They are also scrutinized by state and federal authorities. And indeed, they should be.

I had a good friend who served alongside my dad, and continued to serve after my dad died. He probably spent at least 30 years on the force. He told me once, after being assigned to Internal Affairs, "It's the only job as an officer that he ever hated."

Not only do police have to answer to their ranking officer, they also answer to I.A., plus the 24/7 news cycle that is waiting to catch them doing something wrong. That is tremendous pressure, added on top of the fact that the job they are trying to carry out has risks of its own, including being killed.

I picture it like this: riding a unicycle on a tight rope, with no net, juggling double edged knives, blindfolded, with someone shaking the rope the whole time you are on it. Yet, these men and women still are willing to pin on the badge, kiss their loved ones goodbye, and show up to do it all again.

Just in case you are wondering, this is not about the Chauvin verdict. I did not see the trial. I did see some of the video when the event happened. What I saw was troubling. I also know the camera lens is not a very reliable witness. I'm glad the case is resolved, pending appeal, and hopefully the people of Minneapolis can move forward.

But just like all the days before the verdict, and all the days after, the police continue to show up for work, ready to mount the unicycle with wounds bandaged from yesterday's cuts and bruises, and once again protect the rights of everyone that want to see them gone. I, for one, tip my hat to them. I take every opportunity I have to buy them a meal at a restaurant. I speak encouragement to everyone I see. I let them know that, regardless of what the media has to say, there are still those of us who are supporting them.

Friday, July 10, 2020

Uncertain Times

Uncertain Times

I learned a new word this week. It is a very appropriate word for these days in which we find ourselves. The word is liminal. It describes a type of space we pass through during certain phases of life. For example, one that all of us can identify with is puberty. It is a time when our bodies go through changes that we do not fully understand. We are "in between" being a child and an adult.

Another example of this is the wedding ceremony. The participants in the wedding go into the ceremony as individuals and they leave the ceremony as a couple, two become one. During the ceremony their status is somewhat ambiguous. Until the pronouncement is made, "Man and wife," they stand simply betrothed.

Liminal spaces are normally avoided because of the uncertainty that exists there. I wrote a book last year where I described these times as "wilderness." I like liminal because it is much more descriptive. When we become Christians we enter a liminal space. Before we were lost, separated from God. Eventually we will see Him face to face. In between those two is our ambassadorship, a liminal space, where we are citizens of Heaven, yet here on earth proclaiming the Good News of Jesus.

2020 has been wrought with major changes in every aspect of our existence. The onset of a virus that cannot be seen, but clearly is noticed if you come in contact with it. Our world is in a liminal place. We don't know exactly how things will end. Until then we adapt, we persevere, and we continue living. But for Christians we have an opportunity to be salt and light like never before. For us, this is just another facet of the liminal space we already experience. We can offer hope to others who do not have a Firm Foundation in Jesus Christ.

Do not allow "social distancing" to keep us from having spiritual encounters with those around us. Be creative. Find a way. Allow the Holy Spirit to direct you to give a "word in due season" to someone who may be suffering beyond our comprehension, but is hidden by a mask, not made of cloth, but one of a smiling face to hide their pain or shame. Speak the truth about Jesus and His love for us. It could literally save someone's life.