I’m up waaaaaay too early this morning. Why am I up? Because I’m getting old, and signs of my age are showing (and that’s all I’ll say about that). It’s really not that unusual, though. I’ve always been an early riser (just not generally this early), and I get some of my best work done early in the morning. I think I’ve written before about being an early bird, and as I sit reflecting this morning, the words of David come to my mind:

O God, You are my God;
Early will I seek You;
My soul thirsts for You;
My flesh longs for You
In a dry and thirsty land
Where there is no water.
2 So I have looked for You in the sanctuary,
To see Your power and Your glory.
3 Because Your lovingkindness is better than life,
My lips shall praise You. Psalm 63:1-3

Seeking God early in the morning isn’t the only benefit that comes to early risers. Forbes magazine did an article outlining some other benefits of early risers. Among other things, it pointed out a 2008 University of Texas study which found that students who “got up early” earned a full letter grade higher than students who were “night owls.” I don’t know whether that’s really the case, or not, but I didn’t do too badly in college. It also noted that early risers tended to be better planners. I’m not sure that gene passed down to me. Planning? Not my strong suit!

Yet again, my mind hears the words of David:

Give ear to my words, O Lord,
Consider my meditation.
Give heed to the voice of my cry,
My King and my God,
For to You I will pray.
My voice You shall hear in the morning, O Lord;
In the morning I will direct it to You,
And I will look up. Psalm 5:1-3

This Psalm of David is one of the reasons that I end each of my blog posts with the phrase, “keep looking up.” It is a reminder for me to maintain an attitude of prayer as I go throughout the day. My early encounter is my reminder that life must be centered in Christ. He is my beginning and my end. It is my reminder that in those moments of great spiritual awareness, he is there. It is also my reminder that in moments of great spiritual distraction (Ok, let’s call that failure), he is also there. This reminder comes to me in the morning…every morning, both the mornings when I’ve rested well, and those mornings when I feel like I’ve awakened a bit, too early (like today, perhaps).

I most savor the quiet of the early mornings. It affords me a chance to simply listen. My phone doesn’t ring or buzz. The only distractions are the ticking of the clock, and the breathing of the dog (that is until I take out the computer to do email–can’t figure out why I can’t put that aside for a few moments longer). Generally, it’s a pattern of reading, then listening. Reading, then listening. Then, praying. I often write my prayers, too. Studies show early risers tend to be more focused. Yeah? I didn’t get that gene, either. I start to pray and my mind goes wandering, in a million different directions (and, believe you me, my mind CAN wander). Writing my prayers orders my prayers. If they’re not written, then they must be spoken, but I don’t even like to do that early in the morning, for I don’t even want my voice to break the silence. There is ample opportunity throughout the day to offer verbal prayers. The only voice I want to hear early in the morning is the Lord’s. Sometimes, I have to listen really hard, though.

I can’t really think of any drawbacks that come from rising early. Well, there is the little problem of by the time Vanessa gets up, I’ve usually been awake a couple of hours and I’m ready to talk. She just looks at me. The look reminds me to be silent again! And, I do! Also, rising early means I’m ready for bed by 9:00 p.m., on most days. Of course, one sage opined: “Early to bed, early to rise makes one healthy, wealthy and wise.” One out of three isn’t too bad, I suppose. I am as healthy as I’ve ever been (with the exception of those obvious signs of aging that sometimes wake us up in the middle of the night).

So, I’m up early this morning, and now, I’ll go take advantage of another of the benefits of rising early–exercise. After all, the study did say that early morning exercise boosts mood and fitness, as well as provides energy for the work day. Heaven knows, I need energy for the work day. It’s sermon day.

So, come on. Join me in an early morning routine. Sit, read, listen, pray. Oh, and sing. Remember this hymn:

Until next time, keep looking up…



Today’s will be a short post, but I thought it necessary to acknowledge this day–September 11th. Nothing has been the same since September 11, 2001. Most of you remember where you were when you heard the news of that fateful day. I was with a group of leaders from Webster Parish at a retreat for Leadership Webster. For some reason, that group just didn’t seem the same after the news came. We were supposed to be team building, but all any of us wanted to do was watch the news. Team building went by the wayside. I’m certain the Webster Parish/Minden Chamber of Commerce didn’t get their money’s worth out of that particular class.


We remember the persons who lost their lives in the twin towers of the World Trade Center…

We remember the first responders who gave their lives trying to save the lives of people in the buildings.

We remember the persons whose lives were tragically taken in the plane crash in a field in Pennsylvania.

We remember every family who lost loved ones that fateful day.

We remember every military service member who has sacrificed since in the fight against the nameless, faceless enemy of this nation, and we remember every military family whose loved one gave the ultimate sacrifice in that fight.

We remember that the enemy of this nation has not been defeated…that the fight persists.

We remember that there is such a thing as evil, and as Edmund Burke said, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”

We remember that the greater enemy is the enemy of our soul: 1 Peter 5:8.

I am sure there are others to remember, and I apologize for not remembering. Let us bow our heads and lift our hearts in prayer for our nation, and our leaders on this solemn day, but let us also pray for peace, in this life and in the life to come.

Until next time, keep looking up…


The “Heart” of the Matter…

heart cloudI’m in the midst of a sermon series entitled The Games People Play, and this past week I preached a message on the party game Charades. I’m not going to rehash the message here, but the point I hoped I made was we are called to LOVE people with a “sincere” love, and perhaps the reason so many disciples of Jesus Christ are considered hypocrites is because our love has not always been “sincere.”

I do hate it, though, when I wake up on Sunday morning, and I sense the Holy Spirit prompting me to rewrite my message. It doesn’t happen often, but it does happen (it’s a scary thing, too!). I remember one time (and it’s been a long time) that I prepared the message, and the moment I stepped into the pulpit, the Holy Spirit changed the message completely. I didn’t preach what I had prepared, but the message went in an entirely different direction. Once. That happened once. It didn’t happen this past Sunday, but it sure felt like it might happen. So, I think I’ll process that episode here.

I must confess I had an uneasiness all week about the message. As I prayed over the text, and researched and did the exegetical work (you preachers know what I mean), I was uncomfortable all week long. It might have had something to do with the fact I was dealing with the issue of hypocrisy (especially as one who sometimes feels a bit hypocritical). I never felt “right” about the direction the message was taking. I felt like there was something I needed to say, but I wasn’t sure exactly what that “something” was. I even canceled an out-of-town trip to work through the issues that arose in my sermon prep (well, this was just one of the reasons, but…).

I must also confess the only substantive change I made to the message on Sunday morning was the conclusion. I added these words:

“When we play Charades, it’s important that we send the right signals. We can be pretty sure if our teammates aren’t getting the correct answer that we’re sending the wrong signals. If your team is getting it wrong, CHANGE THE SIGNAL. Perhaps, the world is getting the wrong answer about the church because we’re sending the wrong signal.”

“Change the signal!” This could be an entirely different message. Let’s review Charades for a moment. One team member pantomimes a word or phrase for his/her team in order to win the game. We know that a charade is a pretense, or pretending, and that’s the direction I took the message–hypocrites pretend to be something they’re not–and we disciples of Jesus get accused of that all the time. While the pretext for the game of Charades is about pretending to be something we’re not, the object is to win the game by giving great signals, by being a good actor. Yes, it’s about acting, but follow me and see if this makes sense.

The “acting out” team member knows the answer. He/she knows what he/she is trying to communicate. In their heart-of-hearts, they want to communicate this truth to their team members so they can win the game. The intention of their heart is to communicate in such a manner as to help their teammates get the answer correct. The heart knows, even if the body and mind can’t communicate the phrase compellingly enough for others to seize the truth. I think that’s the real problem with the church. I think that’s the real problem with me.

I know the truth of God’s love. I know the truth that Jesus died on the cross that we might be redeemed and reconciled to a loving Father who only wants a relationship with us. I know the truth that we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. I know the answer! My problem is in communicating the answer in such a way that my teammates get it right. I want desperately to share this Good News with my team. I want desperately for them to know the love of God in Jesus Christ. So, I spend my life giving them signals to help them understand. The problem is my signals are not always the best in the world. Sometimes, my signals get crossed. What is meant to be love comes across as judgment. What is meant to communicate unity is seen as divisive. What is offered in compassion is received as animosity.

What’s the problem? Why are my signals so bad? One reason, played out in three ways: SIN. First, there is sin in me. Truth is, I’m not always a good actor. I’m not always as close to the truth as I should be, and sin in my own life causes me to act in ways that are counter to the truth I am, in my heart-of-hearts, trying to communicate. It prevents others from picking up my signals, even when I’m desperately trying to share them.

Secondly, there is sin in the world around me. Rather than quote a litany of the sin and evil that exists in the world around me, suffice it to say, evil in the world blocks the effective communication and reception of the Gospel message. The Enemy fights feverishly to prevent others from hearing the message of hope and life in Jesus Christ, and he will use everything at his disposal to insure that as few people as possible come to the knowledge of the truth.

Thirdly, there is sin in my teammates. As I said, we’ve all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, and that includes those to whom I’m seeking to communicate the truth of God’s love. To say “they” are sinners is not to render judgment, my friends, it is to acknowledge the human condition (the very condition that necessitates a Savior), and the very thing that prevents me from giving the best signals I can give is the thing that causes them to misinterpret the signals being sent. Sin just gets in the way of everything!

There is hope, though, and a remedy–confession, repentance and prayer. As the signal-giver, I need to confess that my signals are sometimes weak because of sin. Part of the problem these days is no one wants to admit to sin. We don’t want to call anything sin. We want to keep “sin” at arms length, have it continue to be some nebulous, undefinable concept, not naming anything specific, but more a “none of us is perfect” attitude that absolves us from responsibility for our actions (or lack thereof). Sin is real, though…in my life, in the world, and in the lives of others. Hatred, anger, sexual immorality, lying, cheating, stealing, greediness (so, pick any of Paul’s lists from the New Testament here) are all real acts and attitudes we battle constantly. If we can’t name them in our own lives, we won’t open ourselves to the power of the Holy Spirit to transform us, and we’ll continue to send and receive the wrong signals.

Repentance is that act which opens our hearts to the transforming grace of God in Jesus Christ. Repentance opens us to a fresh anointing of the Holy Spirit to cleanse us and correct us so that the signals we send are made more clear for others…others whose hearts are also being made ready by the Spirit to receive the signals we’re sending.

I believe prayer is the key to the entire process. Pray for God to cleanse me…to give me a pure heart (Psalm 51:10), and pray for the Holy Spirit to work in my “teammates” to receive the message of grace I so desperately desire to share, because I do really, really, really, in my heart-of-hearts, want us to win. I pray God knows that the intention of my heart is to share His love and grace, and not simply put on a show for others. I pray He knows that though I sometimes fall short in giving the right signals, my desire is to see His Kingdom come. After all, isn’t that the point? Isn’t that what’s at the heart of the game of Charades?

Yeah, I’m probably over-thinking the whole thing, but I know if my teammates aren’t getting the right answer, it’s probably because I’m giving the wrong signals. I need to change my signals. Holy Spirit, come into my heart and transform me, so that the signals I give to others might lead to their redemption and our reconciliation to You and to each other. Come, Holy Spirit!

Until next time, keep looking up…