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The Southern-Fried Preacher       
 

   

Harold

Harold Bales, a.k.a.
The Southern-Fried Preacher

 
More Daily Nuggets

Ray Cooper from Powell, Tennessee sent me a health message for retirees. He and I both are in that category:

"It's the tortoise life for me! If walking is good for your health, the postman would be immortal. A whale only eats fish, swims all day, drinks water and is fat. A rabbit runs and hops and only lives 15 years. A tortoise doesn't run and does nothing, yet it lives 450 years. And you tell me to exercise?? I don't think so. I'm retired. Go around me."

Now that's funny. I'm going to ponder it as I go walking on the treadmill.


 

A local pastor surprised a person burglarizing the church. The brave—or maybe foolish—parson subdued the thief who was wielding a pistol. He tied the criminal up with an electrical cord and called the police. The newspaper report of this incident prompted John Ivey to send me a six-foot extension cord and the following, hilarious note: "Here's your own personal electrical cord. I wouldn't want you to be unarmed if this ever happened at our church!"

Once, I received a late night call from a parishioner reporting that her next-door neighbor was threatening to kill his wife. When I arrived on the scene, I stepped into a chaotic explosion of yelling, weeping, and terror. He was brandishing a handgun but was so emotionally unstable that he could not aim it. I knew them both well. I knew he loved her and she loved him. They had been married more than 40 years. And he suffered some mental illness attributed to what we now call Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome.

To make a long story short, I persuaded him to get in my car and I began to drive slowly around the neighborhood. He began to calm down. Eventually, I took him to the church. I locked the door behind us and we sat in the darkness on the back pew. We talked softly until dawn. Then, I asked him if he would join me at the altar of the sanctuary. We knelt beside each other and I prayed. Then I asked him if he would like to pray and he did. Then I asked him to surrender his pistol, to lay it on the altar. He did that and I drove him home as the sun rose.

One of the principles of life that I have discovered is that virtually everything is more complicated than it first appears. Call me naive if you wish. Some ministers wish to be armed with handguns. Some may wish to be armed with extension cords. As for me, I'm content to be armed with an altar.


 

The Sunday School teacher said earnestly to the children: "Never do in private anything you should not do in public!"

"Hooray," shouted a little boy! "No more baths!"


 

I believe I am blessed with more good friends than I deserve. Except for a couple of cranks, everyone is uncommonly kind to me. And those two who think themselves to be getting on my only nerve are not nearly so troublesome as they believe they are.

Today I am going to think nothing but good thoughts about them. If they find out about this, it will drive them nuts.


 

I Corinthians 13:13 says that some things last: faith, hope, love. And the greatest of these is love.

I say that both faith and hope are derivative of love. The reason most things don't last is that they don't matter.

Love matters.


 

Mohandas Gandhi identified "Seven Blunders" that plague the world:

  1. Wealth without work.
  2. Pleasure without conscience.
  3. Knowledge without character.
  4. Commerce without morality.
  5. Science without humanity.
  6. Worship without sacrifice.
  7. Politics without principles.

He said that these imbalances are "passive violence" which fuels the "active violence" of crime, rebellion and war.


 

I went to visit two Easter people today. They are dear friends of mine—Luke and Sammie Long. They have been married more than 70 years to each other. They were both baptized 88 years ago. Luke is older than Sammie. He was 6 years old when he was baptized at Trinity Methodist Church in Kannapolis, NC. He is 94 years old now. Sammie is younger than Luke and was baptized as an infant.

Luke remembers the day of his baptism very vividly. He says, "I was scared. I stood before the preacher and was afraid to move! He took some water and put it on my head and I felt it run down the sides of my face." Luke used his hands to show where the water ran. Then he recalled how, through the years, events took him away from home. Service in WW II, for example. But always when he came home, he was drawn back to the church. When he talks about his love for God and the church you can feel the emotions welling up within him.

Sammie is reading these words to him today. Luke is blind now. I stopped by once on a Saturday night and found him polishing his shoes in preparation for church the next day. Although he could not see those shoes, he wanted to be presentable in the house of the Lord.

And Luke doesn't hear well any more. Sammie has some new hearing aids as well. She says they are working well but complains that it annoys her to be able to hear her joints creak now! She has a great wit about her.

I call them Easter people because they embody the joy and optimism of Easter.


 

Dick Carter sent me the following prayer. He's not sure where he got it. I think I am going to have it tattooed on the inside of my eyelids so I will see it whenever I am awake.

“Lord keep me from the habit of thinking I must say something on every occasion.
Release me from craving to straighten out everybody's affairs.
Keep my mind free from endless details.
Give me wings to get to the point.
I ask for grace enough to listen to the tales of others' pains.
Help me to endure them with patience.
But seal my lips on my own aches and pains—they are increasing,
and my love of rehearsing them is becoming sweeter as the years go by.
Teach me the glorious lesson that occasionally it is possible that I may be mistaken.
Keep me reasonably sweet; I do not want to be a saint—some of them are so hard to live with—
but a sour old person is one of the crowning works of the devil.
Give me the ability to see good things in unexpected places, and talents in unexpected people.
And give me, O Lord, the grace to tell them so.
Make me thoughtful, but not moody; helpful, but not bossy.
With my vast store of wisdom, it seems a pity not to use it all—
but Thou knowest, Lord, that I want a few friends at the end.
Amen.”


 

Les wrote:

"My grandfather swore by adding a spoonful of gunpowder to his tea every morning. He said it was a very old remedy to help him live to the ripe old age of ninety-seven. He left a widow, two children, fourteen grandchildren and a fifty-foot crater where the crematorium used to be."

 

Before Christmas, Donnis wrote me a touching note:

"There's a box that has been in our attic since the end of WWII that contains the letters Mother and Daddy wrote to each other while he was in the army. Mother told me I could read them after she was gone. Today I brought it down from the attic and opened it for the first time.

"On the very top is a postcard that says, 'Merry Christmas from Germany, 1944. And may next year bring me home again. Don.'

"The letters that Daddy brought home are in bundles tied with a string. Mother's letters from him are tied with ribbons. Reading them will be a journey of its own. I can't take the time right now to begin, but will one day soon."

I can't help wondering what is in a box in your attic. Tied with ribbons and string. Containing a treasury of memories and revelations that when read on a cold, mid-winter's night are certain to warm you with tears and poignant images from the past.


 

What was your favorite gift from a family member or friend at Christmas?

I'm going to make a guess. I have a hunch that it did not require wrapping in colorful paper and with ribbons. I suspect that it involved a whisper or a touch. Odds are that a hug was included.

Maybe a few words were spoken. It didn't cost a penny but it was laden with sincerity.

The great thing about best gifts is that the warm afterglow lingers on. And when you pass a best gift on to someone else, the Law of Bounce Back Blessing is initiated. (I just made that up. It means that the warmth bounces back to you.) Try it!


 

You folks know me. I'll do almost anything for God, country and family. But today, January 2, 2013, I reached my limit. Yesterday, doing our cultural duty on New Year's Day, we ate some black-eyed peas. We did not include hog jowls, although we know we dishonored the memory of our southern ancestors. But ever since I briefly considered entering a pig kissing contest, I have determined that there is not a porcine cheek that I am willing to kiss, much less eat. Not one. And I don't particularly enjoy black-eyed peas. But, being a man of traditional values, I ate them anyhow.

Now here's the rub. This morning I rose early as I tend to do. I went to the kitchen to make some breakfast, leaving my beloved abed and sleeping soundly. There on the counter beside the coffee pot I found a container of black-eyed peas left over from yesterday. The message was unmistakable. She intended for me to heat them up for breakfast! It may have been a joke. I don't know. But I refused to do it! I plan to watch and see how long those peas sit there before they finally go wherever leftover black-eyed peas eventually go. I foresee a cold winter ahead at our house. Happy New Year to y'all and yours!


 

When I was a young man, I was elected to be a member of the Board of Trustees of my Alma Mater. It was an era in which it was briefly fashionable to have someone under the age of thirty serving on such august bodies. I was it. The assignment I received was to be the chairman of the Resolutions Committee. This committee composed high-sounding, semi-poetic statements and proclamations for public consumption

Our resolutions would begin with several "Whereas … thises" and "Whereas … thats."

Then would come the "Therefore …" That would be the action we wanted to propose.

I always thought we needed fewer "Whereases …" and more "Therefores …" We just don't get enough done fast enough to satisfy me. New Years Day is a good day to go lightly on the "Whereas …" And double down on the "Therefores …" Folks, we have some serious work to do in the new year!


 

When our daughter Susannah was 18 months old I asked her to help me with a talk I was giving at church. It was her first Christmas to be old enough to comprehend it so I decided to tell her the Christmas story for the first time.

About two hours before the event was to begin, I sat at our breakfast table and with brush and ink began to draw a picture of the Holy Family in the Bethlehem stable. She watched excitedly as I worked. As I was finishing my drawing, she accidentally knocked over my ink and ruined the nearly completed piece. I hurriedly took another sheet of paper and did a new one. Then, Judy and I swept her up and raced to the church.

I sat in a wing-back chair before the congregation as I began my talk. I asked Susannah if she would like to hear a story. She instantly broke free from her mother's arms, came running and leaped onto my lap. She nestled in to hear a story, her curly hair tickling my chin as I reached for my drawing. "Oooh," she said, catching sight of the picture and becoming oblivious to the crowd around us.

"Let's see what we have here." I coaxed her into conversation, "What is this?" I pointed to a …

"It's a star!" she squealed. Then, "It's Mr. Moon!" as she scanned the picture.

And, "What is this?" I asked as as I pointed to other features in the picture.

"It's a moo cow! It's a horsey!" Then, fixing her eyes on a squiggly line in the wool of the sheep, she thought she saw a bug. "It's a bee!" She was very perturbed that a bee was bothering the lamb. She had to be calmed before we could continue and talk about the people in the picture.

"Who is this?"

"It's a nice daddy."

"Yes, and his name is Joseph. Can you say ‘Joseph?’ And who is this sitting beside Joseph?"

"It's a pretty mommy."

"Her name is Mary, and what is that in Mary's arms?"

Susannah added a tender coo to her voice, tilted her cute, curly-haired head and spoke the story more completely than ever I had or could, "Oooh, it's the ‘I love you baby!’"

And do you know what I said? I said, "That's the Christmas gospel truth."

Theologians, preachers and bible scholars spend their lives trying to unpack the meaning of the manger. Through the ages a lot of tinsel has got mixed in with the straw. The glisten and the glitter adds to the delight of the story. But the illumination of the stable comes from the child. In fact, he is the light of the world whose radiance pushes back the darkness and makes clear the way. It is a shame that much of the world continues to dwell in darkness. Many who claim his name continue to miss his point.

The Holy Child's feet have left very large footprints in which we now try to walk. Do you remember what it was like to watch your children learn to walk? First, the most rudimentary effort at locomotion — a crawl. Then, pulling up to a wobbly, standing position. Then, they careened from one piece of furniture to another, trying to maintain their balance. Sometimes they managed a step or two, then a diaper-cushioned plop on the floor.

We adults know the experience of learning to walk in Jesus' footprints. We careen about, stumble and plop. We reach for solid objects against which to steady ourselves. Sometimes we fall and bang our heads on sharp corners of coffee tables, chipping our teeth and making knots on our heads. But we do learn the lesson that walking is not only possible, it becomes easier with practice. It is pretty simple. It makes life more balanced and easier. Walking enables us to go places we did not imagine possible when we were just beginning.

Christmas is a good time to return to learning to walk in little footprints that grow larger with time. Our walk as adults is now mostly a matter of footprints in the heart. The first step begins with the "I love you baby."


 

Peggy and Watson Black reminded me of the story about the little boys, ages 5 and 7, who were excessively mischievous. They were always getting into trouble. Their mother heard that a preacher in town had been successful in disciplining children.

So she asked if he would speak to her boys. He agreed, but he asked to see them individually. She sent the 5 year old to see the minister in the morning and the 7 year old in the afternoon. The preacher asked the younger boy in a stern, deep, booming voice, "Do you know where God is?"

The boy's mouth dropped open, but he made no effort to respond. He just sat there wide-eyed with his mouth open. So the preacher, a huge man repeated the question in an even sterner voice: "Do you know where God is?" Again, the boy did not answer. Then the preacher shook his finger at the boy and bellowed: "Where is God?"

The boy screamed in terror and bolted from the room, ran straight home and hid in a closet. When his older brother found him shivering in the closet he asked what had happened. The younger brother gasped for breath and replied: "We are in big trouble this time! God is missing and they think WE did it!"

Now, I tell you that joke as a shameless pretext for reminding you in this Christmas of the Bible verse which says: "You will find him wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger!"


 

The front porch memories readers have been sending me have aroused even more sentimental recollections in me and others. My longtime friend Bob Kerr sent me a memory from the early days of his distinguished ministry. Like many of us, he began as a student pastor when he was in college. In his case he was a student at Florida Southern College in Central Florida. He served as a pastor in the twin towns of Trilby and Lacoochee. Here is his memory of a front porch in the mid 60's.

Lacoochee had seen the mill close down some fifteen years before and was an impoverished area. Trilby, not quite as much. But they were rich in three things: Their love for the Lord, their families, and music on the front porch! On Saturday nights the folk would gather over at Mr. and Mrs. Renfro's little frame house for music on the front porch. With banjos, fiddles and guitars and a harmonica player showing up every now and then, we'd play music 'til I told them in the wee hours I had to get home and review the Sunday morning message! I picked up a lot of guitar pickin' tips from those old country guys. Inevitably, Mrs. Renfro, a woman of abundant size, would leave her work in the kitchen and emerge on the front porch. When she danced by herself to that lively music, the whole front porch shook, and I was fearful she might drop right through the floor boards! If she ever had, I have no idea how we would have managed to extract her. I've never forgotten those wonderful Saturday evenings playing music on the front porch.

Bob is still preachin', pickin' his guitar, writin' songs and singin'. In fact, I'm encouraging him to write a song about the front porch. He says he's working on it.


 

I'm making a list, checking a lot,
Gonna find out who's grateful or not,
Thanksgiving is coming to town!
The next few days we're setting the tone,
Entering into the no gripe zone,
Thanksgiving is coming to town! Looking for folk whose blessings they count,
Giving three cheers, or any amount,
Thanksgiving is coming to town! Whatever our lot, if large or if small,
The joy that we've got is filling us all,
Thanksgiving is coming to town! So make your own list of things you count fine,
Give thanks for your list, I've got you on mine!
Thanksgiving is coming to town!


 

The devastation of Hurricane Sandy has us all in a pensive mood. We mourn the loss of life and pray for those who have been affected personally. We also marvel that so much destruction happened without many more people being harmed than were. And we are heartened by the vast outpouring of neighborliness and generosity to victims. Storms like this are often called "acts of God." But not by me. I call the expressions of loving care the true "acts of God."


 

The Women of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America are celebrating their 25th anniversary. WELCA, as they refer to themselves, are a wonderful organization of Lutheran women whose mission is to advocate and act in behalf of solutions to racism, domestic violence, commercial sexual exploitation, and human trafficking. They help each other follow their callings in Christian service. I had the privilege of speaking to a WELCA anniversary event in Cornelius, NC last week. It is impossible to exaggerate the importance of such organizations as WELCA. Dedicated women of faith communities have long done the heavy lifting in addressing issues like poverty, hunger, education, justice for women and girls and families. I say "Hooray" for women of faith! May their power and influence in the world increase!


 

If, in this election season, you find hateful thoughts rattling around in your skull and coming out of your mouth, check out what's going on in your chest. What's going on in your heart determines who you are, what you think and what you say. (Proverbs 23:7) Your heart is more than a mere muscle.


 

Do you ever wonder how some folk will praise God in autumn for the multicolored forest but then despise some people also divinely made from a greatly-varied palette? That makes for a cold, hard winter of the heart.


 

I went to see Henry Gaddy yesterday. On October 4 he will be 98 years old. Henry had another big garden this summer. He keeps his neighbors and friends supplied with fresh veggies each summer. He's a veteran of the U.S. Navy and a patriot. Yesterday was September 11. So we talked a bit about his service. And we talked about church and mutual friends. Henry is having increasing trouble getting to church now. His vision is not as good as it used to be. Earlier this summer I stopped by to see him one day and found him fretting because he couldn't see whether his potato patch was peeping through the soil. I got down on my knees to take a look and give him a report. There was not a blade of green showing yet. I thought while kneeling there how sweet it is to kneel in a good man's garden. Not a weed could be seen.


 

The New Testament only mentions one thing that Jesus' disciples asked him to teach them how to do. They asked, "Lord, teach us to pray." So he gave them a model prayer which we call "The Lord's Prayer." In it he told them to pray for forgiveness. I have often wondered what they thought when they heard that. Were they aware that they were in need of forgiveness? It would be reasonable for those living and working with a holy man to presume that they were holy men too. What might holy people have in their lives that needs to be forgiven? Misguided ambition? Spiritual pride? Betrayal of Jesus? Denial of Jesus? You could make a list. Does that make those disciples less holy? Of course not. It simply acknowledges their humanity and their need not only for daily bread but also a daily reality check. The same is true for modern disciples of Jesus.


 

Winston Burton is a man after my own heart. He is an 88-year-old minister on the staff of Southwest Church of Christ in Jonesboro, Arkansas. He writes a column called Pine Knot Kindling. Here's some of his wisdom about aging:

"I believe you can keep on going long after you can't. I believe that no matter how good a friend is, they're going to hurt you every once in a while, and you must forgive them for that. I believe that it's taking a long time to become the person I want to be."

That is a fortunate church to have a minister like Winston!


 

I'm a sucker for sentimentality. When I step onto the front porch of a Cracker Barrel Country Store and Restaurant the first thing I want to do is sit a while in one of those old-fashioned, ladder-back rocking chairs. I want to relax there for a day or two. I like to nod howdies to folk as they walk by, some with hunger written all over their faces. Others with the satisfied look of contentment on their faces and toothpicks sticking jauntily from their lips.

Then I want to start rocking and rock all my troubles away. There's magic in the motion of a rocking chair.

After I've rocked myself into limp-legged serenity, I saunter over to the old church pew and take a seat. I look around for the preacher. Swiveling around I see my own reflection in the window behind me and I stretch out horizontally on the pew. I am the preacher and this is the pew to put me to sleep. For many years I have preached folk to sleep on pews like this. First I see a blankness spread over their eyes.

Then their lids drop and their jaws sag. Finally they lean over on their neighbor's shoulder and are gone into dreamland. Here is my chance! I stretch out and cross my hands upon my chest, close my eyes, and begin rehearsing my sermon in my mind. In an instant I am gone!

A day or two later I shake awake with a huge country appetite! In seconds I am sitting at a table ordering my favorite, the Smokehouse Breakfast!

I love Cracker Barrel. I understand my publisher is asking Cracker Barrel to consider offering my new book for sale in their stores. Mr Cracker or Mr. Barrel, take a look. The Southern-Fried Preacher is a Cracker Barrel kind of book! I know I'm being shameless in promoting my book.

But I'm doing it in a sweet, Southern-fried sort of way!


 

I sometimes wonder what is the oldest church joke still being circulated? The following is, I think, it. I believe it originated in the WWI era.

A young boy was visiting a church for the first time. He noticed a group of pictures on the wall. They were photos of men in uniform. The boy asked an usher, "Who are these men in the pictures?"

The usher replied, "They are our boys who died in the service."

The boy then asked, "Was that the morning service or the evening service?"

Can we all pray that no such photo wall will ever need more new photos added again?


 

One of my frequent correspondents has told me about her sister's minister whom she describes as a "bad" preacher. Nevertheless, her sister has continued to sit in her pew and listen on Sundays for many years. Apparently the sisters had discussed the "bad" preacher. Recently her sister sent her a story about a church goer who wrote a letter to the editor of a newspaper in which she reported that she had been going to church for 30 years, had heard thousands of sermons and couldn't remember a single one of them. The writer had concluded that she had wasted her time and the pastors had wasted theirs. This started a controversy in the "Letters to the Editor" column. Finally the following letter arrived:

"I've been married for 30 years now. In that time my wife has cooked some 32,000 meals. But, for the life of me, I cannot recall the entire menu for a single one of those meals. But I do know this. They all nourished me and gave me the strength I needed to do my work. If my wife had not given me those meals, I would be physically dead today. Likewise, if I had not gone to church for nourishment, I would be spiritually dead today!"


 

Like millions of others, I'm smitten by Gabby Douglas, tiny Olympic gymnast with the fabulous smile and the wonderful personality. She's the first African-American gymnast to win the gold medal. The discipline and effort that is required to win the gold is incredible and the stress on these young women performing gymnastics is so great I can barely stand to watch. Call me a gold medal winning wimp if you wish! Hooray for Gabby!


 

Dr. Joel Krugler is a physicist not a surgeon, but he told me the other day that about 100 fires break out in hospital surgeries each year. I'll wager you're like me. I don't expect to catch fire while having my gall bladder operation or something like that. Once I was helping a church do a mortgage-burning ceremony after they finished paying for their building. A Bar-B-Que grill pan was set up near the pulpit with a lighted candle in the middle of it. I touched the document to the flame to and dropped it into the pan to burn. It promptly melted the candle into a puddle of oil which erupted in monstrous flames. This could be rationalized as an object lesson for the sinners present. Most of us preachers would like to fire up our churches for God. But very few of us want to burn our churches down!


 

In Virginia, there used to be a law that bathtubs could not be kept inside the house. They had to be kept outside in the yard. Surely this law has been changed. I can't for the life of me figure out the reason for such a law. In the old days before bathrooms, Saturday night baths were usually done in the kitchen close to the stove where water was heated. Maybe that Virginia law was designed to avoid bathing in the place where eating happened. I can imagine appetites could be spoiled by the sight of that. On the other hand, Saturday night bathing on the lawns in the neighborhood would not have been a pretty sight either.

Also, chickens in Norfolk were barred from laying eggs before 8:00 A.M. or after 4:00 P.M. I'm left to wonder how such a law could be enforced. I have always assumed that an egg sort of has a mind of its own—when it is ready to be laid, plop it goes.


 

Here's something really interesting in the news: the discovery of the "Higgs boson"—the so-called "God particle." I don't understand much about physics but this thing sounds like it could be something big. As I understand it, this discovery could lead to a better understanding of the creation of matter.

Now this won't matter much to lots of people. The Bible begins with the words:

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. And the earth was without form and void;
and darkness was on the face of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.

I love the majestic, poetic words in Genesis about how God made the stuff of creation. And that is perfectly satisfying for me. I'm guessing most Bible lovers find this satisfying too, although some folk find any scientific inquiry unsettling.


 

I don't have a scientific mind but I admire people who do. I'm glad great intellects are probing for insights into how God made creation happen. Knowledge and truth are always liberating. For persons of faith like me, the main thing is that in the beginning was God.


 

I spoke with God about the surprising growth of bias against science and the rise of anti-intellectualism in our time. The Lord said to me: "Tell your readers I gave them their brains. Tell them to use them! And tell them I said so!"


 

The basis upon which we will ultimately be evaluated will be in terms of how we respond to the visitation of Christ via the wounded, broken, "least of these." (Matthew 25:31-46) Therefore we must look for Christ in everyone we meet.


 

Many years ago I saw on the stairwell in a church a sign placed there out of concern for the safety of the participants. It said: "No dancing on the stairs!"

I breathed a prayer: Lord let me live long enough to be the pastor of a church filled with such delight and joy that it has to post a sign like that near the stairs!


 

Three cheers for the red, white and blue! Y'all know me. I love a patriotic season like this. We are coming up on another Fourth of July. I want to climb up on my soapbox as the parade passes by and say a few words about what I believe is a national shame. I'm speaking about the way we Americans generally treat our veterans with such remarkable indifference.

I am not glorifying war. I have never heard a genuine military hero glorify war. No sane person loves war. However, every sane person loves his or her homeland. This is especially true when that homeland at its best is a beacon for liberty and justice in the world. What I am orating about here is that when our citizens are called upon to defend our country and its noble values, and when they respond to that call, then those men and women deserve to be treated with honor and respect.

Whether the political leaders who call citizens to arms are often unwise in their judgments or not, the citizens who step forward to serve are admirable indeed. And when our veterans return home after their service, they deserve our gratitude and whatever else they need to reenter society with pride and a fair shot at a good life.


 

In honor of the NBA finals, here's the prayer I delivered before the Hornets played the Atlanta Hawks in the early 1990's in front of 23,698 fans at the Charlotte Coliseum:

Lord, we invite you to join us in our revelry tonight. Let there be plenty of air in the ball and not too much in this prayer. We thank you for providing, in creation, the perfect shape — the sphere. It makes for the perfect game. We ask that you increase the vision and wisdom of the officials, especially on those judgment calls. And forgive our friendly hostility toward the opposition. Our colors are purple and teal. Please keep that in mind. Amen.

Good luck to your favorite team. You might remind God of your team's colors, though it didn't work out so well for the Hornets that night!


 

"Teachers who educate children deserve more honor than parents, who merely gave them birth; for the latter provided mere life, while the latter ensure a good life."

Aristotle said this. Jesus was a rabbi, a teacher. It is hard to be a good teacher. It is easy for the ignorant to treat good teachers with indifference and scorn. An antiteacher is a secular form of antichrist.


 

My bad back is causing excruciating pain in my right leg. I have learned that I can drop down onto my right knee and the pain stops. This makes it convenient for me to pray to be able to get up! I mentioned this to my friend Marcus Hamilton and he said: "Yep… One-knee prayers relieve pain." I get lots of nuggets from my friends. Now I'm thinking about two degrees of praying. One-knee prayers for minor aches and pains and two-knee prayers for the heavy lifting.


 

I want you to know Marcus, a great soul. I call the two of us "ordained ministers of mirth." 45 years ago I was ordained by the church to be a minister. God had already given me a personality with a touch of whimsy. In 1993 Marcus was "ordained" by the late Hank Ketchum, originator of "Dennis the Menace," to continue the famous cartoon upon Mr. Ketchum's death. You can know Marcus by reading his daily window on America's favorite little imp, Dennis. Marcus and I are now well into our second imphood! This is a good thing to relieve pain.


 

A pair of robins set up housekeeping on our front porch recently. Now they have babies. Their nest is up in a crook of the guttering. It is a safe, dry spot. The mother and the father robin are easily visible and very busy tending their family. All we can see of the little ones are their gaping beaks reaching for worms. There is a wonderful serenity in watching good parenting at work.


 

There is a Chinese proverb which says: "The person who says it cannot be done should not interrupt the person who is doing it."

To be a demonstrator is a higher calling than to be a mere commentator. This is why I have such immense admiration for folk who practice what I preach.


 

I am grateful for new-fangled gadgets. Things like "spell check" on computers, for example. Spell check helps me with my writing. But it can get on my nerves too. It doesn't handle my southern vernacular well. I can never slip a "y'all" past it. And it sometimes wants to argue with my point of view. Moments ago I was writing some advice for sinners. I wrote, "They should pray more." Spell check informed me that I had made an "error in word choice" and suggested that I should say rather, "They should pay more." Sinners are already paying too much!


 

In Luke 19 we read about Jesus' cleansing of the temple because he charged,

"The place intended to be a house of prayer
has been turned into a den of thieves and robbers."

It is always a threat to spiritual vitality when a place intended for meeting God becomes a place for other purposes. It is unfortunate to forget original intentions. It is bad to lose confidence in the efficacy of prayer. It is worse still to willfully change a house of prayer to a house of commerce.


 

The best life is the one in which all things you do are done for love. Make your spirituality be driven by love more than duty, obligation or fear. Make a family for love. Be a citizen out of love. Be religious for love. Remember this bit of wisdom by Confucius:

"Choose a job you love and you'll never have to work a day in your life."

That's the truth. If he had not beat me to it by 2,500 years, I would have said that myself.


 

A beautiful life requires us to illuminate our dreams. Too often our dreams are burned off by that first cup of coffee and never make it into anything real and beautiful. By nightfall they are lost even to our own memories. Our schools ought to be graded on how well they teach their students to dream. Vincent Van Gogh said:

"I dream my painting
and then I paint my dream."

To be able to dream beautiful dreams and then make those dreams visible to others — now that makes for great contributions to humanity.


 

A great life requires us to cultivate our imaginations. Michelangelo once said in explaining his approach to sculpture:

"I saw an angel in the marble and I carved until I set him free."

How would the world be different if more of us could imagine the angels in the stones?


 

I just turned 70 years old and have been thinking about aging. Here's what I think. Real vitality truly is a quality of mind.

If you've left your dreams behind and if your hope is weak and cold;
if you no longer look ahead and your ambition fires are dead — then you are old!

There is no point in it. Stay young!


 

The GPS, or global positioning system is a great new feature of the modern age. I'm glad I have lived long enough to get one. I enjoy it so much, I even use it to go from the house to the mailbox. I start opening the mail and reading while walking back to the house. Sometimes I get so engrossed in the mail I veer off course. That lady friend of mine says, "Recalculating," and I make a course correction and am steered right back home. I believe if I had owned a GPS when I started my career I could have added 25 years to my productive life. I spent at least that long lost, looking for destinations.


 

A few days on the road in America porvides a wonderfully refreshing experience. You are reminded how vast the empty spaces are in our country. You can drive for miles and miles without seeing any urban blight. Or anything else! My beloved, trusty driver and I traveled 1300 miles and saw not a single buffalo roaming nor any deer and antelope at play. We did see a sign advertising a 13-foot alligator at a tourist stop in Florida. We passed on by. We are too old for petting zoos.


 

My beloved and I just got home from a Florida Spring Break. We pretended we were young people! Ran into the 34th annual motorcycle swap meet in Daytona. Thousands of bikers having a great time. The tattooed congregation was fascinating. We had never seen so much body art. You don't see that kind of thing in the Louvre! Yet!


 

Today I received an email from a friend whose partner just received a clean bill of health from her doctor indicating her cancer is gone. Therapy has been long and hard but successful. The report was so filled with joy it rang like a song! Give thanks to God for all the survivors! Include me there. Also sing to God a sweet tune for all those who from their struggles rest. We are survivors. They are victors!


 

We must have that within us which is above us
lest we descend to that which is beneath us
and fail to engage for God that which is around us.


 

There are all kinds of things that either inadvertently or purposely got left out of the Bible. In the story of Noah and the Ark it is logical to assume that a pair of fleas went onto the Ark. Right? How many do you reckon came off?


 

I'm okay when folk doze off in the pew. I like to see folk with clear consciences at rest in the Lord.


 

I saw an ad for a product to help public speakers earn $5,500 or more per speech. I'd like to hear me give a $5,500 speech. Sometimes folk ask me how much money is involved in me coming and giving a speech to their group. I often say, "Well usually about $10.00. However, I would be willing to pay as much as $25.00 to speak to just the right crowd."


 

The most arrogant comment you will hear from a politician in an election year is: "The American people want...." I haven't talked to any of these politicians. Have you?


 

Messages on church signs are sometimes God's graffiti. For example:

"The wages of sin are unlikely to be reduced."


 

Stereotyping is often cruel and hurtful and I'm on a crusade against that kind of humor. But good-natured, affectionate, self-deprecating joshing is good. I'm an Appalachian hillbilly preacher. You may be a hillbilly preacher too if your call to worship is: "Y'all come on in!" and your benediction is: "Y'all come back, y'hear!"


 

If I had a million dollars I would pay my bills as far as it would go. One woman said if she won the lottery, she would get her washing machine fixed. What would you do with do with a load of loot?


 

Real joy is when a person cares more for the wellbeing of another than he or she cares for his or her own self!


 

If you are feeling guilty for not making any New Year's resolutions this year, I want to give you some relief. January is about gone so if you had made some resolutions they would already have depreciated by 8% by now. Plus, I'll wager you don't even remember any resolutions you made last year! Why not just make these words your first every morning for the rest of 2012: "Mornin' Lord! Where are we going today?" Just forget about January.


 

It is far easier to forgive than to forget. It may be more Godly to be able to forget. There is a beautiful phrase that sings: "…their sins are cast into the great sea of God's forgetfulness." Hebrews 8:12 says: "I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will remember no more." We must work at forgiving but maybe only God has a sea of forgetfulness big enough to hold forgiven sins. What do you think?


 

I know the Commandment says: "Thou shalt not bear false witness…." But you can be forgiven if, when your dinner is interrupted by a telemarketing call, you say to the caller: "I am so glad you called. I have really needed to talk to someone about my gall bladder surgery."


 

Look for wonder in your personal universe today. It will almost certainly be found in something you did not create. It will probably be something you would have overlooked if you had not been on the lookout for it. It will surely be a gift to you! You will think: "Wow!" Then you will say: "Amen!"


 

We Americans need to get beyond our widespread tendency to say "No" to things that do not benefit us personally. What kind of souls would we be if we were to only care for ourselves? Lost! What if our Creator were to have finished creating and said, "Done with that. I'm out of here!" That God would be lost.


 

Did you hear about the young fellow who was on the borderline between graduation and failure? The teacher said, "If you can answer the following question, you will pass. If not, you will fail. What is the difference between ignorance and apathy?"

The young man replied, "I don't know and I don't care."

The professor exclaimed, "You win!"


 

My wish for all of us in 2012 is that we can emerge from the political/moral swamp through which we have either slogged or been dragged in 2011. I pray that we will do better at handling our politics, morality, and ethics. In an election year I am always troubled that so much political opportunism travels under the guise of moral and religious piety. Politics does not produce saints.


 

I hope we will be driven in 2012 by our spirituality and that our spirituality will be genuinely rooted in Jesus. The norm these days is to make Jesus derivative of our politics and popular culture. A sterile, hypocritical spirituality follows that. In other words, we are forever crucifying Jesus on the cross of our own agendas. It didn't work the first time and it will not work now. It remains for us to discover where resurrection will lead us— and go there.


 

Alright now, I see that slight trace of holiday giblet on your lower lip. The 12 days of Christmas have slipped on by and most of us have packed away our tinsel and holiday lights for another year. Here's a late gift from this old Southern-Fried Santa Preacher. It's just a thought. Don't pack Jesus away in that box marked "Christmas Stuff" to be brought out next Christmas. Keep him out of the box and grow this year with him.


 

I'm rethinking possible today. We know that all things are possible with God. When the impossible happens we call it a miracle. When lots of miracles happen we eventually begin to call them possibilities. I used to say that I live from one miracle to the next. I now say that I live from one possibility to the next, thank God!


 

New Year's Day comes at just the right time for us. We have finished the old year with its joys and sorrows. Our best has morphed into fond memories. Our worst has begun to fade into the past. Some of the worst will ferment into wisdom for the future. Our faith will help us grow toward our ideals and we will become at least partial answers to our own prayers. Happy New Years!


 

I have tried in my life and ministry to cultivate what I call a "fellowship of controversy." By this I mean, people of good will can differ and engage in spirited debate about the most vital issues we face. But those people of good will maintain their respect, even their affection, for each other. It is the ultimate expression of our defeat when we try to destroy those whom we cannot persuade.


 

Now's the time to wish Jewish folk a happy Hanukkah. It is also a time for Christian folk to embrace the tradition of Hanukkah. The word "Hanukkah" means "dedication." Here's the basic story.

In 168 B.C.E. the Syrians seized the Jews' holy temple in Jerusalem and dedicated it to the worship of Zeus. In Modin, a little village near Jerusalem, fighting broke out when a Greek soldier demanded that residents bow down to an idol and eat pork — actions forbidden to faithful Jews. Mattathius, a Jewish high priest, was ordered to take part in what he regarded as a pagan ceremony. He refused and became outraged. Before the day was over, he had killed the Greek officer. His five sons and other villagers attacked and killed the other Greek soldiers. Then Mattathius and his band took refuge in nearby mountains where they joined up with other Jewish resistance fighters to oppose Greek soldiers whenever possible. Like all insurgents, they were a difficult force for a larger, conventional army to combat. Later in nearby Jerusalem, Judah Maccabee, a Hebrew hero, led his soldiers into the temple and discovered that that their holy place had been desecrated. Revered items had been stolen or demolished, including the golden menorah. Maccabee and his followers cleaned and restored the temple. When they finished, they decided to hold a great celebration and rededicate the temple to the worship of God. They needed oil to light the menorah for the celebration. They searched the temple for oil but their search yielded only a small flask — enough for just one day's light. Then a miracle happened; the oil lasted for eight days.

Today, Jews commemorate the miraculous eight days of light by lighting candles in an eight-day "Festival of Light." Dedication and Divine provision is the theme for this holiday. I like that.


 

Savor the time at Christmas. Don't let it pass too quickly. Relish the time. Don't clean up the chaotic mess in the living room too quickly. Enjoy the hubbub. Enjoy it as long as you can. Let neatness return on an ordinary day.


 

At Christmas, we Christians are challenged to teach our children that it is important for us to have a birthday party for this "one of a kind" person, Jesus. It isn't mostly a time when we give each other gifts. It's a much bigger deal than that! We believe that Jesus is God in the flesh. I know that some of you, dear friends, don't share this view. Still, you know enough about him to hold him in high regard. And I can't think of any reason why you would not enjoy his birthday party. If you can't sing, "Joy to the world, the Lord is come," maybe you can sing, "What a friend we have in Jesus!" Y'all come too!


 

Christmas is all about heart isn't it? Santa doesn't come down a chimney. He enters through the heart. If Christmas isn't found in your heart, it won't be found under a tree.


 

Whenever I have a "brain freeze" and my memory fails, I take at least some comfort in the fact that I never forget an old joke. For example, Bob Hope once said that President Eisenhour admitted that the federal budget could not be balanced and Senator Joseph McCarthy claimed Communists were taking over America. Hope opined, "You don't know what to worry about these days … whether the country will be overthrown or overdrawn."

Bob lived to be 100 years old. If he could have lived a little longer, he would have learned the answer to that question.


 

Does it ever bug you that nobody ever whips out a pad and pen to write down some of the clever things you say? Well, it does me. I sit around chewing on a wheat straw and thinking about deep subjects. Then I climb up on a stump or a soap box and orate and my smart ideas just drift off into the ether. I never see anybody writing down my wit and wisdom to preserve it for posterity. I'd like to appoint someone to be my official biographer when I'm gone. But nobody's taking any notes. It's downright discouraging.


 

George Washington started the tradition of presidential pardons at Christmas time. Let us each issue some personal pardons this Christmas to people who have hurt, offended or differed with us. Let every Democrat pardon a Republican and vice versa. Let us each pardon a family member. Everyone needs to be pardoned now and then. And everyone needs to give some pardons. These pardons could help our world more than all the New Year's Resolutions we can cook up!


 

One important thing Christians, Jews and Muslims have in common is that they all believe that there is only one God. The idea is framed in the ancient Jewish prayer from the Bible (Deuteronomy 6:4) called the Shema: "Hear, Oh Israel, the Lord our God is One."

That's it. Simple and to the point. It's the beginning of theology for the three great monotheistic religions. Why do we who believe it have such little appreciation for each other?


 

The Bible says, "Man does not live by bread alone." It is also true that man does not live by hair alone.

Some bald folk have thin skins about their lack of hair. The Old Testament prophet Elisha was mocked by a bunch of youth who called him "Baldhead." He cursed the boys and two bears came out of the wild and mauled them. (2 Kings 2:23-25)

It is not smart to mess with bald-headed prophets!


 

Adam blamed Eve. Eve blamed the snake. The snake didn't have a leg to stand on.

I know it's an old joke but think of this: the first sin may have been taking a bite of fruit in the Garden of Eden but the original sin may have been blaming someone else for one's own disobedience. Blaming, if not the original sin, is certainly a common one in every generation.


 

I am a devout Christian, but I have many Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist and non-religious readers. I love you all. I try to make you all feel welcome here. At the end of the day, I'm trusting God to sort all that out.


 

I wish sentimentality could enjoy more respect in our culture. Many folk regard it as an inferior emotion. It seems to me to begin in adoration — even akin to worship. I don't know anything at all about the science of such things. But I can recognize love when I see and feel it.


 

With 47 years of ministry, here's a little secret practice of mine. I always breathe a little prayer before each worship service:

"Lord, let something happen here that isn't written in the bulletin."

I'm hoping for a serendipity experience an unexpected delight for which we did not plan. You can do the same. Try it the next time you go to church and let me know what happens.


 

Did you hear about the rabbi who threw a "hissy fit?" It was a "Temple Tantrum."

I think that must be something like the "Christian conniptions" that I have sometimes observed in churches. I think I will throw one of these fits or conniptions before I die. People who do them seem to get considerable pleasure out of them.


 

What qualities do you value in a friend?

I want friends who have open minds, a love of beauty, and commitment to the civilizing process.

How about you?


 

Perspective is critical, as Jon Stewart reminds us with his comment about Thanksgiving.

"I celebrated Thanksgiving in an old-fashioned way. I invited everyone in my neighborhood
to my house, we had an enormous feast, and then I killed them and took their land."

We who are descended from early European settlers on American soil don't often think how descendents of Native American peoples might view the Thanksgiving tradition. When you think about it, you could say that our traditional Thanksgiving celebrates the first great wave of illegal immigration in American history. From our perspective, our illegal entry into the continent eventually succeeded and we are thankful for that. However, along the way, many of our European ancestors fell in love with native peoples, married and now we have Native American ancestors as well! We love what we have now. But lots of Americans — maybe most — just don't want this kind of thing to happen again.

How about you?


 

The Thanksgiving season. I love it! I am a fellow who is driven by gratitude. I don't know anyone who has more reason to be grateful to God than me. I'm the most contented man I know. I'm not running from anything. I'm not running for anything. The truth is, I'm not running at all. I'm mostly just sitting and counting my blessings. I've been thinking about what I can do to express my gratitude to God at this Thanksgiving season. Here is something I can do:

I can celebrate everyday blessings in my family.
I can deal with my own family members with the same courtesy and respect that I show strangers.
I can greet my own children with the same politeness and interest that I show the cute children of my employer.
I can be as thoughtful to my marriage partner as I was in the days of our courtship more than fifty years ago.
What are you doing to express your gratitude?


 

The Gospel according to a bumper sticker:

Enough about youth.
How about a fountain of smart?


 

It's hard to be a chicken in the South. Southern chickens just can't win. I'm glad I'm not one. At church suppers, I myself have helped countless chickens enter the ministry.


 

One of the problems in many churches is the reluctance to risk much for God's sake. That's why, on the railroad of life, we religious folk are so often found crammed into the caboose — bringing up the rear. I want to be up near the Engineer so I can see what's ahead and where I'm going. That's just the way I am. It takes a bit of risk to get the most out of life!


 

Look for a preacher who keeps company with God and who listens well. That preacher may have heard something that bears repeating.


 

Last night I watched the sun go down in the west.
This morning I watched the sun rise over the beach to the east.
Not to believe that it would require a God to make this is far too large a leap of faith for me.


 

I often think of myself as a steward of the mysteries of God. The truest things in life defy our best efforts at explanation. Pondering is so much more beneficial than pontificating anyhow. The best mysteries deserve pondering because explanations are so hard to come by.


 

The founder of Methodism, John Wesley, suggested the following as a solution for the problem of baldness:

"Rub that part morning and evening with onions till it is red, and rub it afterwards with honey. Or wash it with a decoction of boxwood. Or electrify it daily."

I can't personally vouch for the effectiveness of this cure but I confess I've not tried the electrical part yet.


 

Maybe we could launch a campaign to encourage laughter in the world. It would be a gracious and healing thing. We Americans could lead the way!


 

Christians draw strength from the faith that some things are temporary, but the things that last are the things that really matter. When the fog clears — faith, hope and love remain.


 

I'm a cheerleader for the spirituality of a scoop of ice cream! It certainly is good for the soul. Ask God often for a scoop of your favorite flavor. That's a perfectly fine prayer.


 

Make your spirituality be driven by love more than duty, obligation or fear.


 

I believe humorlessness is a serious heresy and that a humorless person gets under the skin of God. A very thick skin, I might add. At one time, humorless Christians burned heretics at the stake.


 

Few things in life are better than good friends who hang out and eat together regularly, tell stories, sometimes misspeak and have a howling good time. It's a civilized and Southern-Fried thing!


 

Remember, it's okay to write in your Bible. A well-marked Bible is a well-read Bible. It honors God when we pay close attention to the Word. Good Bible reading!


 

The faithful spouse answered the phone and the voice on the other end asked, "Is the coast clear?"
The bewildered one replied, "How should I know? The beach is 200 miles away!"
Innocent fidelity trumps sexy! Innocent fidelity is sexy.


 

Friday night Mass at the High School Church of the Pious Pigskin is the best attended service of the week. It begins with a call to worship at the fifty-yard line. It roars with rolling waves of: "Amen." It ends with some congregants believing God was on their side and the rest shrugging, "It was only football."


 

Too often our dreams are burned off by that first cup of coffee and never make it into anything real and beautiful. By nightfall they are lost even to our own memories. Schools ought to be graded on how well they teach their students to dream.


 

Don't let the potholes in domestic life cause blowouts on the tires of marriage.


 

I want to exhort, encourage, cajole, aggravate and tease society into deeper compassion, truer justice, greater liberty and genuine peace.


 

God can use you as a leader if you will work on disproving the idea that change is bad and to be resisted. The nature of God is unchanging; that is true. But the business of God is redemptive change. We may try to stand still but God keeps working on us. We are perpetual construction sites where remodeling sometimes slows but never stops until we meet the Master Builder face-to-face.


 

The 4-year-old child saw her grandmother's false teeth soaking in a glass of water. She said to her mother, "The tooth fairy will never believe this!"


 

When I was very ill I wrote on a napkin: I don't know why I have this illness but somehow I know God is trusting me with it.

What is God trusting you with?


 

There is something about a sleeping child's quiet breathing that one thinks could correct the disharmony in the world if it could be bottled and breathed by the child in every human soul. That would be peace that defies comprehension. I'll have a whiff of that.


 

A life that always plays safe usually — all too soon — plays out. Oh, I don't mean it ends, I mean it just settles into boredom.


 

I believe the fruit Eve offered Adam was a homegrown, vine-ripened tomato because it is so sinfully tasty. The Bible doesn't say what it was. If it were an apple it probably would have been turned down flat and today we would feel more kindly toward snakes.


 

If you are wandering in the desert today look for the manna. It will be a small amount and rather tasteless but it will get you through the day. Give thanks.


 
 
Rehobeth United Methodist Church • 9297 Sherrills Ford Road • Terrell, NC 28262
Copyright © 2012, 2013 Harold K. Bales
Used by permission