Gnoshies, Chachkies, and S.W.A.G.

Gnoshies, Chachkies, and S.W.A.G.

In last week’s staff meeting, we discussed the “S.W.A.G.” (rubberized bracelets and car magnets) we planned to distribute at church on Sunday.  Several staff members weren’t familiar with the term “S.W.A.G.” – an acronym for “something we all get” – referring to the advertising stuff, given away at conferences, grand openings, sporting events, etc.

This led to a conversation about “chachkies” (a yiddish term, also spelled “tchotchke” or “tchatchke”)  – those cheap souvenir/trinkets you pick up on trips, or the stuff your grandkids give you for Christmas.  We concluded the main difference between S.W.A.G. and chachkies is that chachkies are more like to need dusting.

The person, in our office, most likely to say “chachkies,” also talks about getting “gnoshies” for church events.  Gnoshies are otherwise known as snacks, finger foods, treats, or hors devours.  The main difference between a gnoshie vs. S.W.A.G. or chachkies is that you can “gnosh” a gnoshie, but you can’t typically gnosh S.W.A.G. or chachkies.

Get it?

Besides our devotional, and reviewing prayer concerns, the calendar, and miscellaneous church business, this was last week’s staff meeting: gnoshies, chachkies, and S.W.A.G.

Words.  This is just a silly illustration about words.  Words and their meaning vary widely depending upon your age, generation, residence, gender, profession, culture, language, nationality, education, etc.  Some words do little more than convey information.  Other words convey much deeper meaning.

Some words honor.  Some words do not.

I was in another conversation, this weekend, about the meaning of the “q” in the lgbtq acronym.  Though I’m no expert, I tried to explain that some people use “q” to mean “queer” – which I understand to be an umbrella term for individuals who don’t fit neatly into a particular category of gender or sexual orientation –  and others use the “q” to mean “questioning.”  To which, the other person responded, “I thought they were all queer!” – obviously not grasping the nuances of individual sexual identity.

In recent years, I hear some use the term “politically correct” pejoratively, as an attack on liberalism.  I first learned about “politically correct” language during my seminary education, at Duke Divinity School, in the early 1990s.  My understanding of “politically correct” language is the effort to be precise, accurate, and sensitive to the descriptors, labels, and language choices of others.  Put simply, to the best of my ability, I try to be “politically correct” by using language that is correct, respectful, and as inoffensive as possible.  To me, that just seems like common courtesy – not some crazy liberal agenda.

The offense of political correctness, to some, seems to be a feeling of undue burden supposedly caused by the effort required to be more thoughtful about what one says.  But, isn’t that just the “Golden Rule?”  You may not care much about the words someone else uses, but you likely care deeply about something you expect others to honor and respect.

I generally get the feeling that those who are offended by “political correctness,” just don’t want to be bothered.

Obviously, we all say words we don’t intend or know to be offensive.  The same words have different meanings to different people.  Sometimes we aren’t even aware the words we use are hurtful, insulting or wrong.  We may not understand why a particular word has become offensive.  But, when we know, why wouldn’t we make the effort to change our language?

What if we took seriously the biblical notion that the words we speak have the power to bless or curse, and made a greater effort to speak more blessings than curses?  Maybe knowing my words have the power to create or tear down would impact what I say and how I say it.

Maybe all we need some S.W.A.G. to remind us to be more thoughtful regarding the words we say.  (BTW – the S.W.A.G. we gave away, last Sunday, says #welovefirst – that’s not a bad reminder, huh?)


What if?

What if?

What if we were kinder, and more respectful of each other?

What if we prayed more?

What if we really loved each other?

What if we were less materialistic?

What if we laughed more?

What if we cried more?

What if we were more civil to each other?

What if we invested more in friendship?

What if we were less self-focused?

What if we talked to strangers?

What of we said “thank you” more?

What if we “judged people by the content of their character, and not by the color of their skin?”

What if we sang and danced more?

What if we spent less time pursuing happiness, and more time pursuing joy?

What if we were more careful about what we say?

What if we doodled in the margins more?

What if we looked more deeply in each other’s eyes?

What if listened more than we talk?

What if we were less defensive?

What if were less critical?

What if we smiled more?

What if we were neighborly, and not just neighbors?

What if we dreamed bigger dreams?

What if we were more compassionate?

What if we were less picky?

What if we actually lived by faith?

What if we stopped complaining?

What if we stopped to smell the roses more?

What if we told more jokes?

What if we stopped cussing?

What if we gave more compliments?

What if we hugged more?

What if we asked for help more?

What if we could not be so opinionated?

What if we could be less critical?

What if we could be more vulnerable?

What if we did more “random acts of kindness and senseless acts of beauty?”

What if we got more rest?

What if we practiced the Golden Rule?

What if we enjoyed every bite of food we eat?

What if we were more grateful, even for the little things?

What if we considered each and every day a gift?

What if we were more adventurous?

What if anything is possible?

What if…?

What’s your “What if…?”


My New Favorite Question…

My New Favorite Question…

“If I were to wish for anything, I should not wish for wealth and power, but for the passionate sense of the potential, for the eye which, ever young and ardent, sees the possible. Pleasure disappoints, possibility never. And what wine is so sparkling, what so fragrant, what so intoxicating, as possibility!”  Soren Kierkegaard

Listening to Ian Cron’s podcast, Typology, I learned my new favorite question…

What does “this” make possible?

Replace “this” with almost anything, and a new, surprising vista of unexpected possibilities appears…

What does this opportunity make possible?

What does learning a new skill make possible?

What does accepting this invitation make possible?

What does saying “no” make possible?

What does losing weight make possible?

What does breaking this bad habit make possible?

What does being 50 years old make possible?

What does this loss make possible?

What does this trauma make possible?

What does this new friendship make possible?

What does forgiving make possible?

What does trusting make possible?

What does this new information make possible?

What does apologizing make possible?

What does simplifying my life make possible?

What does this risk make possible?

What does this idea make possible?

What does “letting go” make possible?

What does going back to school make possible?

What does reconnecting with an old friend make possible?

What does changing my mind make possible?

What does bravery make possible?

What does trying again make possible?

What does starting over make possible?

What does this disagreement make possible?

What does asking this question make possible?

etc., etc., etc.

To ask, “What does ‘this’ make possible?,” suggests that certain possibilities wouldn’t have been possible, except for “this.”  “This,” whatever “this” is, positive or negative, opens the door to new possibilities, that were previously impossible – or at least not as likely.

My new favorite question is making me think about my “this”s, and new exciting possibilities I hadn’t been aware of.  What your “this?”



Do this…

Do this…

Today is Maundy Thursday – the day we annually remember Jesus’ last meal with his disciples.  The word “maundy” simply means command.  We “do this in remembrance” of Jesus – sharing bread and juice/wine with each other, representing his body and blood – because he commanded us to.

Today is the annual observance of that command.

Of course, many churches obey this command more frequently than once a year.  Depending on your denomination and tradition, some do it quarterly; some monthly; some weekly; and some, even, daily.  My tradition, United Methodism, typically celebrates Holy Communion monthly, though in recent years we have been encouraged to move to weekly communion.   For this season of Lent, my own church has celebrated communion weekly, instead of our regular practice of the first Sunday of the month.

We call this ritual by several names – Eucharist (which means “thanksgiving”), The Lord’s Supper, and Holy Communion.  Recently, I’ve been pondering the word communion.

There are a number of words that are related to the word communion…

  • Common – as in, ordinary, and the things we share with “in common” each other.
  • Community – as in, the people we share our lives with.
  • Commune – as in, where some people live together as a family or community.
  • Communicate – as in, the sharing of thoughts, ideas, concepts, or concerns.
  • Union – as in, the gathering or joining together of things or people.
  • Unity – as in, the one-ness shared between people.
  • Unite – as in, the coming together of people for a common purpose or cause.

Isn’t that what Holy Communion is all about?  We gather as a community, sharing common pieces of bread and juice/wine with each other, which unites each person with God, and results in a unity among the people gathered?  This is more than a ritual observance, practiced obediently, because we were told to.  This ritual is communion – connecting me more deeply with God and with the community of Christ, through common symbols representing his sacrificial flesh and blood.

It strikes me that all of us need a lot more communion in our lives – ritual, and otherwise.  So much seems to drive us apart, distract us from God, and even divide our individual attention and intentions.  This world – and all who live in it – is so disjointed, disconnected, and discombobulated (sorry, I needed another “d” word, for alliteration sake).  It seems to me that obeying Jesus’ command to commune with him and with each other is much needed medicine – for all of us.

So, today is Maundy Thursday.  You are commanded – by Jesus, himself –  to find a church, to receive Holy Communion, and to enjoy the communing benefits.

Do it.  Today.  That’s a command.

30 years ago, tonight…

30 years ago, tonight…

At 9:00 pm, 30 years ago, tonight, we were lowering the gate to the entrance of Champs Sporting Goods, at the Fashion Square Mall, in Orlando, where I worked (primarily selling athletic shoes – selling shoes has always been my back-up profession, in case ministry doesn’t work out).  As I was checking off the list of my “closing” duties – before I could leave – a cute, young college student, named Kelly McFarlane, walked up to the store window, meeting me to go on our first date.

She was really cute.

We left the Fashion Square parking lot and started our date about 9:30 pm.  Nowadays, I’m thinking of heading to bed by about 9:30 pm!  We stopped at Wendy’s to get her something to eat.  I had a cup of coffee, because I’d been out until about 5:00 am the night before.  Now I wake up, some days, around 5:00 am!

We went dancing, at an Orlando nightclub called Rosie O’Grady’s, where she somehow managed to sneak both of us in (YES! – SHE sneaked us in) – we were only 19 years old!  We talked, and laughed, and danced.  She claims I even sang to her while we danced.

On the way back to her dorm room, at the University of Central Florida, we stopped at a 24-hour restaurant, called Wags, for pie and coffee (we would spend a lot more late nights at Wags “studying” over the next three years).  I finally dropped her off sometime around 3:00 am, give or take.  I could mention kissing her goodnight, but I’ll save that for another time.

The next morning, I told my dad that I was going to marry Kelly McFarlane.  He laughed.  But, three and a half years later, on August 18, 1990, Kelly McFarlane became Kelly McFarlane Rains.

Thirty years later, I’m still very thankful for that first date.  Little did we know, thirty years ago, what the future held for us….

  • College graduations, and then graduate school for me – twice!
  • A wedding
  • Numerous jobs
  • Ministry
  • Homes in eight different cities
  • Two children
  • So many holidays, so many new traditions, and so many memories
  • Friends and family – including some that are no longer with us
  • Good times and hard times, poor times and less poor times, times of health and times of sickness
  • Lots of arguments and lots of making up
  • empty nesting
  • and, so much love

So, tonight, as I write this at nearly 10:00 pm (yawn), thirty years ago seems like such a long time.  I’m not the night owl that I used to be.  I’m not a lot of things I used to be – good and bad.  In fact, it is hard to imagine now how that guy thirty years ago turned into this guy, and how she has loved both, and a few versions in between.

I guessed she’s changed too.  But, she is still the one who captured my heart thirty years ago, the one who holds it now, and the one I plan to spend the next thirty years with – making many more memories, and sharing a lot more love.

Happy First Date Anniversary, Kelly McFarlane Rains!  I love you!



Embracing the Grey

Embracing the Grey

I had a very random conversation with a complete stranger, yesterday. He said that the hot issue many counselors/therapists/psychotherapists are dealing with, lately, is how to help their clients deal with friends and family, with whom they have differing political views.  His point was that, in our current political climate, friends and family are being ripped apart by opposing loyalties and ideologies.  People are increasingly afraid to open their mouth, and state their opinions, for fear of other’s reactions and potentially being ostracized.

Differences of opinions – even within families – is nothing new.  But, tearing families and friends apart?

What’s wrong with us?

I listened to a speaker last night, who said many wise things, and much that I agreed with.  But, there were HUGE holes in his arguments.  And, he unfairly villainized his opposition.  As much as I liked and agreed with the speaker, the voice in my head kept screaming, “YEAH!  BUT…  WHAT ABOUT…..?”

Even my denomination is currently polarized around the issue of homosexuality; opposing sides condemning the other.  Many are fighting and praying to find a middle-way.  And, many fear that no middle-way will be found, and that we, like so many friends and families, will also be ripped apart.

It is just so easy to paint everyone with the absurdly broad brushes of black or white, right or wrong, saint or sinner, good or bad.  And, it is so inaccurate and so unfair.  Why must my opposition be evil, ignorant, and immoral?  Is it possible that both could be partially right, and partially wrong?  Is it possible that neither could be right?  Is it possible that both could be right, depending on your perspective and agenda?

Can’t we see that the truth – the TRUTH – is often somewhere in the middle?

As I watched the endless political debates of 2016, both Republican and Democrat, I constantly thought “There’s got to be more to the story.  The other side can’t be THAT wrong; THAT evil; THAT short-sided.  The solutions can’t be THAT obvious.”  Are either the Democrats or the Republicans right about everything?  Of course not.  Neither party can even find agreement even within their own ranks.  But, neither are 100% wrong, either!

Why must we villainize each other?  Don’t people matter more than points of view?  Can’t we disagree, and still find ways to respect one another, and even work together for solutions that just might be wiser and richer from considering broader points of view?

Grey is not a watered down version of black, nor is it a dirtier version of white.  Grey is a legitimate color.  In fact, it comes in many shades.

I’m embracing the grey.

Relationship Restoration (Part 3 of a sermon series called “Restoration” at First Church Coral Spring on March 19, 2017)

Relationship Restoration (Part 3 of a sermon series called “Restoration” at First Church Coral Spring on March 19, 2017)

Let me tell you about a relationship in my life that’s been broken for some time, but has recently been restored…

We had been very close – enjoying lots of time together, traveling together.  We’d had highs and lows before, but we’d always managed to fix them – or at least put a Band-Aid over the problem.  But, last November, our relationship just stalled out.  It wasn’t working.  It was going nowhere.  And, frankly, I just walked away.

In January, we decided to get help.  But after weeks and weeks without any progress, things had literally fallen to pieces. I’ll admit I was frustrated, and about ready to walk away – forever.  A friend encouraged me to try again, and recommended a different professional who was more qualified to help us.  So, we tried again.

I’m very happy to report that, after our long 4-month separation, and a lot of investment, a lot of patience, and some big changes, as of last Tuesday, we’re back together and back on the road!   We’ve been fully restored!  We’re so happy, we even took a selfie together!  (Imagine of a picture of me with my motorcycle, with the song “reunited” playing in the background – “reunited, and it feels so good…”)  Yes – I’m talking about my bike, which has been broken down since November.

As much as I love my bike, today I’m talking about something far more valuable.  Today, I’m talking about human relationships, and how to restore them when their broken.

One of my most treasured possessions is an old book I found at a used book store, called, Spiritual Friendship, by a 12th century monk name St. Aelred.  It doesn’t have great monetary value.  But, what makes it special to me is a note that’s written inside, from one nun to another, following the death of that nun’s best friend.  The nun who gave the book actually underlined the passages she thought would be meaningful to her friend, and she wrote, “I pray you will find healing in Aelred’s words.”  What a beautiful act of friendship – one friend praying for the restoration of another, during a time of loss and grief.

Aelred writes, “No medicine is more valuable, none more efficacious, none better suited to the cure of our temporal ills than a friend to whom we may turn for consolation in time of trouble, and with whom we may share happiness in time of joy.” 

 Made for Relationship

            The Bible says, over and over, that we’re made for relationship.  After God made Adam, he said, It is not good for the man to be alone.” (Genesis 2:18).  God took a rib from Adam’s side and made Eve – someone for Adam to share his life with.

Though Jesus spent time with the multitudes, he had a smaller group of friends, including the 12 disciples.  He was particularly close to 3 of the 12 – Peter, James, and John – and maybe closest to John, who called himself the “One who Jesus loved.”  Jesus was also close to Mary Magdalene, and to the family of Lazarus, Mary and Martha.  As Jesus demonstrates, we were made for relationship.

For a moment – think about the most important relationships in your life, and the gift they are to you.

Now, think about the relationships that are broken, and need attention.

 Broken Relationships

Relationships get injured. Even the closest relationships get wounded.  Relationships can be damaged by neglect, abuse, or betrayal.  Sometimes, relationships can be broken beyond repair.  But, today I am talking primarily about relationships that get wounded and just need restoration.

If you spend enough time with anyone – no matter how much you love them – wounds happen.  Careless words, stepped-on-toes, selfishness, confidences betrayed, birthdays forgotten, immaturity, neglect, annoyances, impatience, competition, insecurity, envy, jealousy, insensitivity, etc., etc. all do damage to valued relationships.

 Loving God and Loving People:

            Jesus said that the greatest commandment is to “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ and ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’” (Matthew 22:37-38).  That’s one command in two parts.

            There’s a direct and corresponding relationship between how we love God and how we love people.  In fact, they are directly interrelated.  As we love God, we will love people.  As we love people, we are closer to loving God.  Conversely, when we feel distant, bitter and resentful toward God or people, we are more than likely to feel the same about the other.

One of the most important ways for us to grow spiritually is in relationship.  In fact, one of the ways we become most godly, potentially, is in the ways we relate to each other – growing in love, kindness, and grace.

I would even say that you will only become as close to God as you are to some other person.  I would also say it is very difficult to be close to God when any of your human relationships are broken.  The two are interrelated.  In some mysterious way, the deep love and intimacy I have with my wife, my children, and my close friends makes me closer to God – and vice-a-versa.  As long as I allow anger, bitterness, resentment or forgiveness to exist in my heart, toward people I am called to love, I will be handicapped in my pursuit of God.

 Relationship Repair

            For Lent, we are talking about how God can take what is damaged, broken, worn out, and trashed, and restore the broken parts into something new and beautiful.  So, let’s talk about how, with God’s help, broken relationships can be restored.  Of all of the messages in this series, I think this one might be the most applicable.

To repair, rebuild, and maintain healthy relationships, there are three things that we must learn how to do.  Let me warn you – they are simple, but they are NOT easy.

 Say you’re sorry

First – we learned by Kindergarten to say we’re sorry.  When you do something wrong, admit it.  Don’t defend it.  Don’t rationalize.  Don’t make excuses.  Own your mistakes.  Acknowledge that you did something wrong.  Feel the sorrow for the pain you’ve caused.  And, say that you are sorry.

Jesus said, “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.”  (Matthew 5:23-24)

Isn’t that interesting?!?  Before God wants our offering, he wants us to be reconciled in our human relationships.  And, Jesus puts the burden on us.  If someone has something against you, YOU take the initiative to apologize and try to make it right.

Frederick Buechner writes, “To accept forgiveness means to admit that you’ve done something unspeakable that needs to be forgiven, and thus both parties must swallow the same thing: their pride.” 

“Unspeakable” sounds a bit extreme.  But, in most relationship conflicts, both parties have something to apologize for.  As a Christian, for the sake of the relationship, we are called to take the first step toward making things right, by making the first apology.  That means setting aside our pride, admitting we were wrong – even if the other person was too – and saying, “I’m sorry,” even if the other person hasn’t or won’t.   And, of course, saying “I’m sorry” implies “I will try to do better from now on.”

 Let it go

The second thing that we have to do to repair a broken relationship is to learn how to “let it go.”  In other words, we have to let go of the annoyance, the anger, the resentment, the grudges, the hurt feelings, and the desire to get even, etc.

Jesus said, “I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment” (Matthew 5:22.)  The Apostle Paul wrote, “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold” (Ephesians 4:26-27).

            Letting go is learning how to forgive.

The Apostle Peter once asked Jesus, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”  (Matthew 18:21).  Jesus said, “seventy-seven times!”  Seventy-seven times!  Let that sink in!

Frederick Buechner writes, To forgive somebody is to say… “You have done something unspeakable, and by all rights I should call it quits between us… However, although I make no guarantees that I will be able to forget what you’ve done, and though we may both carry the scars for life, I refuse to let it stand between us. I still want you for my friend.” 

Forgiveness is NOT saying that the wound doesn’t matter – like we are letting the wounder off the hook.  Forgiveness is NOT saying that what was done didn’t matter.  Forgiveness IS the decision to let it go, and not allow it to damage the relationship further.  And, it is a decision – not a feeling.  It is a choice – to let it go, seventy-seven times, or more, if we have to – to act into forgiveness, whether we feel it yet or not.

And, forgiveness not only heals the person forgiven and the relationship. Forgiveness also heals the forgiver.  Carrying around anger, hurt, and bitterness in our hearts is toxic for us.  We hold a grudge, thinking we are punishing the person who hurt us.  But, in truth, the un-forgiveness in our hearts is harming us. Unforgiveness is like intentionally keeping the wound open, and reliving the injury over and over.   Anne Lamott says that un-forgiveness is like, drinking rat poison and then waiting for the rat to die.”

Love Anyway

Finally, love anyway.  When Jesus died on the cross, weighed down by human sin, he still loved us.  We call that kind of love agape.  Agape is a Greek word that means a love that is not based on any kind of personal gain.  Agape is entirely based on self-giving, and even self-sacrificing – like Jesus did on the cross.  It’s unconditional.

When you get hurt – love anyway.  When you feel betrayed – love anyway.  When you feel let down – love anyway.  When you don’t feel loved in return – love anyway.  And, when you feel annoyed, selfish, resentful, petty, vengeful, prideful, etc. – especially then! – love anyway!

As it says in 1 Corinthians 13, love – the kind of love that Jesus demonstrates – “keeps no record of wrongs” and always, “perseveres.”

I don’t want to mislead you.  While I am sure these three things – saying you’re sorry, forgiveness, and loving unconditionally – are absolutely essential in restoring a relationship, I’m not saying it’s easy.   It requires an amazing amount of courage, humility, and love.  And, I’m not saying that if you do these three things, you can automatically fix any relationship.  Unfortunately, some relationships are too broken to be fixed and some people are too broken to have a healthy relationship with.

But, regardless of the result, it’s the right thing to do.  It’s the Jesus thing to do.  Value people.  Seek relationships.  Protect your relationships.  But, when your relationships get wounded – and they will – do all you can to heal them!