Monday, December 20, 2010

Keeping Christmas

Keeping Christmas
Henry Van Dyke

It is a good thing to observe Christmas day. The mere marking of times and seasons, when men agree to stop work and make merry together, is a wise and wholesome custom. It helps one to feel the supremacy of the common life over the individual life. It reminds a man to set his own little watch, now and then, by the great clock of humanity. . .

"But there is a better thing than the observance of Christmas day, and that is, keeping Christmas.

"Are you willing to forget what you have done for other people, and to remember what other people have done for you; to ignore what the world owes you, and to think what you owe the world; to put your rights in the background, and your duties in the middle distance, and your chances to do a little more than your duty in the foreground; to see that your fellow men are just as real as you are, and try to look behind their faces to their hearts, hungry for joy; to know that probably the only good reason for your existence is not what you are going to get out of life, but what you are going to give life; to close your book of complaints against the management of the universe, and look around you for a place where you can sow a few seeds of happiness -- are you willing to do these things even for a day? Then you can keep Christmas.

"Are you willing to stoop down and consider the needs and the desires of little children; to remember the weakness and loneliness of people who are growing old; to stop asking how much your friends love you, and ask yourself whether you love them enough; to bear in mind the things that other people have to bear on their hearts; to try to understand what those who live in the same house with you really want, without waiting for them to tell you; to trim your lamp so that it will give more light and less smoke, and to carry it in front so your shadow will fall behind you; to make a grave for your ugly thoughts, and a garden for your kindly feelings, with the gate open -- are you willing to do these things even for a day? Then you can keep Christmas.

"Are you willing to believe that love is the strongest thing in the world -- stronger than hate, stronger than evil, stronger than death -- and that the blessed life which began in Bethlehem nineteen hundred years ago is the image and brightness of Eternal Love? Then you can keep Christmas.

"And if you keep it for a day, why not always? But you can never keep it alone."

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Early holidays, 2010

When you see a turtle on a sign post, what does that tell you? When you see a turtle on a sign post, what does that tell you? Don’t respond yet.... I’ll share the answer in a few minutes.

I’m glad Thanksgiving Day is on the calendar. I could give you several reasons and most are loaded with calories. You know what I’m talking about, turkey and cornbread dressing, smothered in giblet gravy, mashed potatoes and sweet potatoes, green beans and lima beans, and ambrosia and corn casserole and green bean casserole and broccoli casserole, and of course, sweet potato pie, pecan pie and coconut pie. I'm at my brother's home today and can guarantee you we'll have the best crawfish etoufee in Kansas City!

But there is another reason I am glad we have a holiday called Thanksgiving. We need to be reminded of the value of gratitude and the importance of expressing appreciation. Evidently the Psalmist felt the same way when he penned the words, “It is a good thing to give thanks unto the Lord” Psalm 92. Why? I think it is good for God and us. Let me explain.

It is a good thing for God that we give thanks. I think our expressions of gratitude feed His spirit. Ever thought of that? I know how I feel when my wife or daughter, or someone else I care about expresses gratitude towards me. It nourishes and strengthens my spirit. I think the same is true for God. Yes, I think it is good for God that we give thanks. Very good.

Second, giving thanks is good for us. It promotes a positive attitude that compels us to count our blessings, which is something we can easily fail to do. And when we do, I think our ingratitude hurts God deeply.

A.T. Hollingsworth tells about an incident that occurred in Washington, D.C. upon his return from teaching in Saudi Arabia for eighteen months. As he came through customs, everyone was pleasant, with little pushing and no one cutting in line. It was a nice experience and certainly different from other countries he had visited.
As he was riding in a cab downtown, the driver started telling him how bad things had been during his time out of the country. Mr. Hollingsworth interrupted his tirade and pointed out all the nice things he saw, the polite people, the clean countryside, the beautiful green trees, the cultural advantages and the precious freedoms. He could not say enough about how great America was, especially after having been away for so long.
When he arrived at the hotel, he asked how much he owed the driver. He turned and said to Mr. Hollingsworth, “You have already paid your fare by reminding me what a wonderful country this is. The ride’s on me.”
Even when you are not in a mood to count your blessings, thank God anyway.

Gratitude also promotes a spirit of unselfishness. I’ve never forgotten the story about the little boy who was admiring a beautiful sports car. When the owner arrived at the car, he told the boy that his brother had given it to him as a present. The boy looked at him and shocked him when he said, “One day, I wish I could be a brother like that!” That was not how he expected this boy to respond. You know what he expected him to say, “I wish I could have a car like this or a brother like yours.” What would you have said?

Yes, I am glad Thanksgiving Day is on the calendar. While I’ll do my share of eating a lot of rich food, I’ll also take some time to thank God and others for their contributions to my life. I’ve had a lot of help down through the years and suspect you have, too.

There’s one more reason I’m glad Thanksgiving Day is on the calendar. Thanksgiving is a perfect introduction to Christmas and the Advent Season.

The old man sat in his gas station on a cold Christmas Eve. He hadn't been anywhere in years since his wife had passed away. He had no decorations, no tree, no lights. It was just another day to him. He didn't hate Christmas, just couldn't find a reason to celebrate. There were no children in his life. His wife had gone.
He was sitting there looking at the snow that had been falling for the last hour and wondering what it was all about when the door opened and a homeless man stepped through. Instead of throwing the man out, George,"Old George" as he was known by his customers, told the man to come and sit by the space heater and warm up.
“Thank you, but I don't mean to intrude,” said the stranger. “I see you're busy. I'll just go” “Not without something hot in your belly,” George turned and opened a wide mouth Thermos and handed it to the stranger. “It ain't much, but it's hot and tasty. Stew. Made it myself. When you're finished, there's coffee and it's fresh.”
Just at that moment he heard the “ding” of the driveway bell. “Excuse me, be right back,” George said. There in the driveway was an old 53 Chevy. Steam was rolling out of the front. The driver was panicked. “Mister can you help me!” said the driver with a deep Spanish accent.
“My wife is with child and my car is broken.” George opened the hood. It was bad. The block looked cracked from the cold; the car was dead. “You ain't going anywhere in this thing,” George said as he turned away. “But mister. Please help....”
The door of the office closed behind George as he went in. George went to the office wall and got the keys to his old truck, and went back outside. He walked around the building and opened the garage, started the truck and drove it around to where the couple was waiting. “Here, you can borrow my truck,” he said. “She ain't the best thing you ever looked at, but she runs real good.” George helped put the woman in the truck and watched as it sped off into the night. George turned and walked back inside the office. “Glad I loaned em the truck. Their tires were shot too. That 'ol truck has brand new tires........” George thought he was talking to the stranger, but the man had gone. The thermos was on the desk, empty with a used coffee cup beside it.
“Well, at least he got something in his belly,” George thought.

George went back outside to see if the old Chevy would start. It cranked slowly, but it started. He pulled it into the garage where the truck had been. He thought he would tinker with it for something to do. Christmas Eve meant no customers. He discovered the block hadn't cracked, it was just the bottom hose on the radiator. “Well, I can fix this,” he said to himself. So he put a new one on. “Those tires ain't gonna get 'em through the winter either.” He took the snow treads off of his wife's old Lincoln. They were like new and he wasn't going to drive the car.

As he was working he heard a shot being fired. He ran outside and beside a
police car an officer lay on the cold ground. Bleeding from the left shoulder, the officer moaned, “Help me.” George helped the officer inside as he remembered the training he had received in the Army as a medic. He knew the wound needed attention. “Pressure to stop the bleeding,” he thought. The laundry company had been there that morning and had left clean shop towels. He used those and duct tape to bind the wound. “Hey, they say duct tape can fix anythin',” he said, trying to make the policeman feel at ease.
“Something for pain,” George thought. All he had was the pills he used for his back. “These ought to work.” He put some water in a cup and gave the policeman the pills. “You hang in there. I'm going to get you an ambulance,” George said, but the phone was dead. “Maybe I can get one of your buddies on that there talk box out in your police car.”
He went out only to find that a bullet had gone into the dashboard destroying the two way radio. He went back in to find the policeman sitting up. “Thanks,” said the officer. “You could have left me there. The guy that shot me is still in the area.”
George sat down beside him. “I would never leave an injured man in the Army and I ain't gonna leave you.” George pulled back the bandage to check for bleeding. “Looks worse than what it is. Bullet passed right through 'ya. Good thing it missed the important stuff though. I think with time your gonna be right as rain.”
George got up and poured a cup of coffee. “How do you take it?” he asked. “None for me,” said the officer. “Oh, yer gonna drink this. Best in the city.” Then George added: “Too bad I ain't got no donuts.”
The officer laughed and winced at the same time. The front door of the office flew open. In burst a young man with a gun. “Give me all your cash! Do it now!” the young man yelled. His hand was shaking and George could tell that he had never done anything like this before.
“That's the guy that shot me!” exclaimed the officer.
“Son, why are you doing this?” asked George. “You need to put the cannon away. Somebody else might get hurt.”

The young man was confused. “Shut up old man, or I'll shoot you, too. Now give me the cash!”
The cop was reaching for his gun. “Put that thing away,” George said to the cop. “We got one too many in here now.” He turned his attention to the young man. “Son, it's Christmas Eve. If you
need the money, well then, here. It ain't much but it's all I got. Now put that pee shooter away.”
George pulled $150 out of his pocket and handed it to the young man, reaching for the barrel of the gun at the same time. The young man released his grip on the gun, fell to his knees and began to cry. “I'm not very good at this am I? All I wanted was to buy something for my wife and son,” he went on. “I've lost my job. My rent is due. My car got repossessed last week...”
George handed the gun to the cop. “Son, we all get in a bit of squeeze now and then. The road gets hard sometimes, but we make it through the best we can.”
He got the young man to his feet, and sat him down on a chair across from the cop. “Sometimes we do stupid things.”
George handed the young man a cup of coffee. “Being stupid is one of the things that makes us human. Comin' in here with a gun ain't the answer. Now sit there and get warm and we'll sort this thing out.”

The young man had stopped crying. He looked over to the cop. “Sorry I shot you. It just went off. I'm sorry officer.”
“Shut up and drink your coffee.” the cop said.

George could hear the sounds of sirens outside. A police car and an ambulance skidded to a halt. Two cops came through the door, guns drawn. “Chuck! You okay?” one of the cops asked the wounded officer.
“Not bad for a guy who took a bullet. How did you find me?”
“GPS locator in the car. Best thing since sliced bread.
Who did this?” the other cop asked as he approached the young man.
Chuck answered him, “I don't know. The guy ran off into the dark. Just dropped his gun and ran.”

George and the young man both looked puzzled at each other. “That guy works here,” the wounded cop continued.
“Yep,” George said. “Just hired him this morning. Boy lost his job.”
The paramedics came in and loaded Chuck onto the stretcher.
The young man leaned over the wounded cop and whispered, “Why?”

Chuck just said, “Merry Christmas, boy. And you too, George, and thanks for everything.”
“Well, looks like you got one doozy of a break there. That ought to solve some of your problems.” George went into the back room and came out with a box. He pulled out a ring box. “Here you go. Something for the little woman. I don't think Martha would mind. She said it would come in handy some day.”
The young man looked inside to see the biggest diamond ring he ever saw. “I can't take this,” said the young man. “It means something to you.” “And now it means something to you,” replied George. “I got my memories. That's all I need.”

George reached into the box again. A toy airplane, a racing car and a little metal truck appeared next. They were toys that the oil company had left for him to sell. “Here's something for that little man of yours.” The young man began to cry again as he handed back the $150 that the old man had handed him earlier.
“And what are you supposed to buy Christmas dinner with? You keep that, too. Count it as part of your first week's pay.” George said. “Now git home to your family.”
The young man turned with tears streaming down his face. “I'll be here in the morning for work, if that job offer is still good.” “Nope. I'm closed Christmas day,” George said. “See ya the day after.”

George turned around to find that the stranger had returned. “Where'd you come from? I thought you left?” “I have been here. I have always been here,” said the stranger. “You say you don't celebrate Christmas. Why?” “Well, after my wife passed away I just couldn't see what all the bother was. Puttin' up a tree and all seemed a waste of a good pine tree. Bakin' cookies like I used to with Martha just wasn't the same by myself and besides I was getting a little chubby.”

The stranger put his hand on George's shoulder. “But you do celebrate the holiday, George. You gave me food and drink and warmed me when I was cold and hungry. The woman with child will bear a son and he will become a great doctor. The policeman you helped will go on to save 19 people from being killed by terrorists. The young man who tried to rob you will become a rich man and share his wealth with many people. That is the spirit of the season and you keep it as good as any man.”

George was taken aback by all this stranger had said. “And how do you know all this?” asked the old man.

“Trust me, George. I have the inside track on this sort of thing. And when your days are done you will be with Martha again.” The stranger moved toward the door. “If you will excuse me, George, I have to go now. I have to go home where there is a big celebration planned. You see, George, it's My birthday. Merry Christmas.”

“When you see a turtle on a post, what does that tell you? Well, when you see a turtle on a sign post, you know he did not get there by himself.” Neither did we get where we are by ourselves. We have much to be grateful for.

Thanksgiving blesses God. Thanksgiving blesses others. Thanksgiving blesses us. And it takes us straight into contemplating and celebrating God’s coming to us, at Christmas.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

My mother and father separated when I was in third grade, and eventually divorced. Momma and Daddy remained close and cordial friends. Never was a harsh word passed between them that my brothers and I knew about. I have been close to Daddy all my life and am extremely thankful for all his wonderful and continuing influences on my life.

When I was in sixth grade, my mother remarried, and Jim Crawford become my step-dad. They were married for 23+ years. Although they divorced in 1993, in his mind and mine, Jim Crawford remained "my step-dad."
For 42 or 43 years, he has been "Big Jim" to me.


Funeral services for James William (Jim) Crawford, 70, of Monroe, LA will be held at 10:00 AM Friday, May 14, 2010 in the chapel of Mulhearn Funeral Home on Sterlington Road, in Monroe with Eddie L. Simmons and Dr. Harry Boyd, Jr. officiating. Interment will follow at Mulhearn Memorial Park Cemetery.

Big Jim left this world for the next May 10, 2010. He was born October 11, 1939 in Monroe, LA. He graduated from Northeast Louisiana State College in Accounting in 1963. He was a Certified Public Accountant and practiced in Monroe since 1972. He was a member of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, the Society of Louisiana Certified Public Accountants, as well as the Northeast Monroe Rotary Club, the Lotus Club, Northminster Church, Kappa Sigma Fraternity, and the American Sailing Association. He was an avid supporter and Treasurer of Med Camps of Louisiana.

Survivors include his sister, Carol Ann Guilbert; daughter, Catherine Ann Crawford Palmer, her husband Dave, and their daughter (Jim's grand daughter) Dianne; son, James William Crawford, Jr. and his daughter (Big Jim's grand daughter) Marley Catherine; three much loved step-sons, Harry, Keith (Whitey), and Ben Boyd and their families, including five grand children, Sara, Benjamin, Jonathon, Bethany, and Audra ; and many cousins, nieces, and nephews.

The family will receive friends from 5:00 PM until 7:00 PM Thursday, May 13, 2010 at Mulhearn Funeral Home, Sterlington Road, Monroe.

Last Friday evening I was able to stand by Jim's bedside at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. In some of the last conscious hours of his life I was able to thank Jim for all he meant to me and had given me in this life.

Jim nurtured what I believe is an innate love of the outdoors in me. We spent day after day, hour after hour, hunting and fishing together from south Louisiana all the way north to Alaska.

He taught me courage by his example. When I was a kid, we hunted at George Franklin's club in Morehouse Parish. Up on the north end of Franklin's, to hunt a certain section of woods one had to traverse a pipe thirty feet or so across an irrigation ditch. Jim would traipse across that pipe like there was nothing to it, often stopping in the middle and dancing a little Irish jig. It always scared me half to death to cross, but Jim's example always got me to the other side. And not just the other side of that ditch, but the other side of many scary things in life.

He helped me receive my education. Not only did he pitch in toward tuition and books fees, he helped me find several part time jobs to put spending money in my pocket. He got me a job working on a surveying crew with his father, J.C. Crawford when I was in High School, and with his uncle James (Gus) McCoy when I was in college. He encouraged me to ask his friend Richard East for a job making Apache climbing deer stands after classes during college. He probably twisted Billy Golson's arm to get me a job driving a propane truck and installing cellulose insulation in houses. I even worked part time for Jim at the CPA office my last few semesters of undergrad work.

In a strange sort of way, Jim's thinking was often remarkably clear. He had an ability to instantly analyze a situation, evaluate options, and formulate planned solutions. Maybe that's part of what made him an excellent tax adviser as a CPA.

When I first sensed God's call to ministry on my life, it was Jim who sat down with me and helped me think it through. It was Jim who suggested that if I could do nothing else and be happy, then go be a preacher. But be the best preacher I could possibly be. When I wanted to ask Tami to be my wife, it was Jim who tried to talk with me about being the kind of man a woman might need.

Jim was generous to a fault. You didn't have to ask Jim to give, just somehow let him know there was a need. I'll never forget him stocking the refrigerator and pantry in our tiny seminary apartment with a carload of groceries.

Jim shared his shocking and outrageous sense of humor with everyone he met. He was my source for Cajun jokes. Just a few months ago he roared with laughter at the story of Boudreaux, Thibodeaux, the little Cajun genie and the Bic lighter. With his willingness to go to absurd extremes in practical jokes, his humor has become legendary in northeast Louisiana. Almost everyone who knows Jim has some story to tell. He's the funniest person I ever met and likely ever will.

Last Friday I told him I'd miss him. And I will. He replied, "Harry, you remember Methuselah from the Bible? The Bible says Methuselah lived 969 years, and "after that, he died." We all die. I'm going to see my mother and father and brother, and my grandmother. For me, all of life has been an adventure. And now I'm going on the greatest adventure of all. I'm going to see Jesus."

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Willow Reels Website

For several years I have wished for a quality made, classically styled reel to make available with my rods. I am partnering with Willow Reels to make available their beautifully crafted products. Their new website is available at:

Have a look at their creations. Should you wish to add one of these nice reels to your rod, give me a call. I'll get it to you right away.


Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Another "semester" completed

Two great guys joined Bob and I last week in Mountain Home, Arkansas. We began early Monday morning with an introduction to the processes to be used and a brief survey of shop safety. In other words, we all located the bandage boxes! Next we saw what made for good and not-so-good raw bamboo, choosing a culm for each class member in the process. After learning some of the history of bamboo as a rod making material we prepared the culms for use by filing nodes, flaming, and splitting. Several hours were spent in staggering nodes, trimming strips to length, and rough planing strips to untapered equilateral triangles. We finished up the first evening with ideas about why heat treating is important and how best to accomplish the task.

On our second morning we had lessons on the anatomy of planing forms, hand planes, and sharpening. We spent quite a while setting planing forms and gently removing the enamel from their strips. Much of the day was spent setting forms, planing and sharpening. By early evening on Tuesday each class member had six butt strips and six tip strips planed to taper. Well, one had an extra strip thanks to a foul up on the part of the instructor. Sorry Tom!

Wednesday morning we studied two string and four string binders before gluing the rod sections with Urac. After heat-setting the Urac we spent several hours removing the binding cords and carefully sanding away excess glue. As the sharp corners of hexagonal rod sections began to emerge, subtle smiles began to light faces up. Wednesday afternoon found us learning about and installing ferrules and grips. By Wednesday evening a nice dipped coat of varnish coated each rod section.

Thursday morning I was the first person at the shop. I was making coffee when the class members arrived. Can you believe they hardly spoke to me before blasting into the varnish room to have a look at their work? Not a glue line anywhere. Sharp corners. Beautiful rods began to emerge from the hard work of each participants' bench. We flat sanded each section with super fine sandpaper in preparation for wrapping guides. Guide spacing was chosen and guides were prepped. Wrap colors were chosen, and wrapping lessons began in earnest. By mid afternoon all the rods were wrapped and a first coat of wrap finish was applied. As we slipped out the door, the rod turner could be heard squeaking in the background.

Friday morning saw a repeat of Thursday. Class participants nearly bowled me over trying to get a look at their rods. Lots of big smiles lit up the room. After cajun coffee and Krispy Kreme donuts, we carefully trimmed away a few "fuzzies" from the wraps and applied the next coat of finish. Because the authorities who govern water levels on the White and Norfork rivers were uncooperative, we were not able to wade fish. Rather than risk the unusually high waters, we spent some time Friday reviewing how to tune a hand plane, and how to sharpen efficiently. By that evening all the rods were signed, and a second good coat of varnish was dipped on the rod sections. Being basically finished, we sat around the shop till nearly 10 pm talking and joking. If you get a chance, ask one of the class participants about Boudreaux's cigar lighter.

Saturday morning we installed the reel seats, took some photos, and talked about plans for future rods. All of us enjoyed the week thoroughly, and even the instructors learned some things. Thanks to great students, some great rods emerged. One sample is below.

Well done class!!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

In case you have blown it... Luke 7: 36-50

Glorietta Baptist Encampment just outside Santa Fe, New Mexico is something like the Shangri La of Baptist life. The first time I visited Glorietta with a group of teenagers I appreciated the little lecture we received upon arrival. During youth events, Glorietta had, and probably still has, a policy called “No PDA.” PDA is "Public Display of Affection." You are guilty of undue public affection if a Glorietta official catches you in a comprising situation with another person that goes beyond what that official considers to be “appropriate” affection.
I can’t help but think about PDA when I reviewed the scripture for today.

Picture the scene. Jesus is eating in the home of Simon the Pharisee. Other religious leaders are also involved in the dinner party. This august group is not eating in an enclosed dining room, but in an outdoor courtyard where bystanders can observe from the street. They are not sitting in chairs around a dining room table, but reclining on couches around a common eating table. Lying with their heads at the table and their feet out, the dinner guests form a pattern that resembles a big asterisk.
We don’t know the topic of conversation. Given the number of religious heavyweights around the table, we can guess they were discussing weighty theological issues. And then with no warning, a woman steps from the crowd holding an alabaster jar of perfume, and approaches Jesus from behind. She doesn’t introduce herself — she doesn’t need to. Her reputation precedes her, and even the squeaky clean Pharisees know she is a prostitute.
The room grows very quiet as this woman of the night kneels at Jesus’ feet. While the Pharisees grow tense and distant, Jesus remains remarkably relaxed. The woman doesn’t say a word. Instead, she begins to cry quietly. Large tears well up in her eyes, roll down her face, and on to Jesus’ feet. The Pharisees flinch at the sight of such "filth" making contact with Jesus. But Jesus makes no move to avoid the tears — he stays perfectly still.
Still weeping profusely, the woman slowly unclasps her luxurious hair so that it falls about her face and down to her waste. Now the Pharisees are gasping for air because the only time a proper woman lets down her hair is in a sexually intimate moment with her husband. The woman begins to use her free-flowing hair as a towel, wiping her tears from Jesus feet. Along the way, she begins kissing Jesus’ feet, and then anointing his feet with the expensive perfume from the alabaster jar. Meanwhile, Jesus does nothing to conceal the fact that he is deeply moved by the woman’s affection.

This is more —way, way more— than those paragons of propriety known as the Pharisees can swallow. Clearly, this is a glaring example of PDA if there ever was one! Simon, the dinner host, concludes that the press reports declaring Jesus to be the hottest prophet in Israel are dead wrong because if this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is — a sinner.

But Jesus, displaying the very prophetic powers Simon has just dismissed, knows Simon’s thoughts. And he responds with a story. Two men owe the same moneylender differing sums of money. One owes the lender 500 denarii, the other 50 (a denarius was a coin worth a day’s wages). Neither can repay, so the moneylender cancels both debts. Now, asks Jesus, which man will love the lender more?
Simon hesitates. He senses he is getting set up for the kill. And he’s right. “I suppose, he replies, the one who had the bigger debt canceled.”
“You have judged correctly,” said Jesus.

Then, for the first time, Jesus turns and faces the woman who has just showered him with undue, unadulterated public affection. And he says to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me (the normal courtesy of) water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me (the customary greeting of) a kiss, but this woman from the time I entered has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not pour (even the usual cheap olive) oil on my head, but she has poured (an exotic brand) of perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven — for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little.”
Then Jesus says to the woman, "Your sins are forgiven. The Pharisees are even more dumbfounded. Only God can forgive. Who does this man think he is — God? Once again Jesus senses their hostile thoughts. And once again he ignores them. Turning to the woman, Jesus says, “Your faith has made you well; go in peace.”

I. Now this story contains good news and bad news. In case you’ve blown it at some point in your life, this story bodes well for you.

A. Maybe you cheated on your spouse, or have suffered from an addiction, or broke the law. Maybe nobody knows what you’ve done, not even your best friend. Somehow, you messed up big time, and your sin still weighs heavy on your head. Friend, this story can be very good news for you—if you’ll learn from it and live by it.

B. But in case you think you haven’t blown it, in case you think your are fine just the way you are, with little or nothing to forgive, this story is bad news for you. The point of the story for you is --- you are missing the point, you’re missing the grace, and you are blowing it in the worst possible way.

II. Let’s take a closer look at the good news side of the equation first. This story is cloaked in mystery. We don’t know the identity of the woman who approaches Jesus. Technically, we don’t know what sin the woman has committed. We don’t know when she first encounters Jesus.

A. What we do know is that somewhere, somehow Jesus’ love and forgiveness invaded this woman’s heart, and began to transform her into a new creation. What we do know is that this woman isn’t content to keep her changed life to herself, but has the courage to seek Jesus out to let him know what he means to her.

B. What we do know is this woman has a love for Jesus that is lavish and unrestrained. Truthfully, she doesn’t care if she breaks all the rules of protocol that mean so much to others in the room because she only has eyes for Jesus. It doesn’t matter if she looks like a lowly servant, or lustful prostitute. Nothing is going to hold her back from lavishing her love on Jesus, least of all her pride.

C. What we do know is that this woman, who has been wounded and abused physically by so many men now relishes having physical contact with Jesus because he has healed her of her emotional and spiritual wounds. Jesus has ravished her with his love and grace, and now, it’s her turn to ravish him with her love — even if it makes other people uncomfortable.

D. By the way, don’t make the common mistake of thinking this woman is forgiven because she loves Jesus so much. No, just the opposite is true – the woman is able to love Jesus so lavishly because she was forgiven so lavishly. Her love flows like a river because Jesus’ forgiveness had first flowed into her life like Niagara Falls.

Years ago just after the Korean War a young Korean woman gave birth to a little girl whose father was an American soldier. The soldier returned to America never to be seen again, leaving a young Korean mother to raise a daughter that looked very different from other Korean children. Her curly hair and light complexion resulted in a great deal of abuse for the mother, who eventually abandoned her daughter to the streets when she was just seven years old.

For two years this poor child wandered the streets, barely surviving. She almost starved to death, and was subjected to unimaginable abuse. When she was finally taken in by an orphanage at age nine, she loathed herself and her life.

One day a couple from America came to the orphanage for the stated purpose of adopting a little Korean boy. They spent time observing the other children in the orphanage. Finally, they noticed this little nine year old girl who weighed all of 30 pounds, had worms inside her body, lice in her hair, and boils all over her skin.
This pitiful little girl could not look the couple in the eye. But she felt the man cup her face in his big hands and say, “This is the child I want.” The little girl was incredulous. In fact, she ran away. But the couple pursued her and eventually took her home with them to America. Her life changed completely, and today she lives as a healthy adult and a follower of Christ in the Midwest.

E. You see, that’s what Jesus can do. It doesn’t matter how badly you’ve blown it in the past. Jesus can look past the ugliness of your sin, and see beneath the scars of your failures. He can look deep into the core of your soul and see the image of God there. He wants to cup your face in his big strong hands and say, “I love you and I want you as a child of my own.”
And he will do just that if you let him — let him love you, let him forgive you, and experience that forgiveness -- not just in your head, but deep, deep down in your soul. Have you let Jesus love you and forgive you and change you in the way only he can do?

III. You see, Jesus won’t invade your life with his love if you prevent him — like Simon did.

A. The problem with Simon, and so many religious people, is that even though they are familiar with the things of God they miss the point, and along the way they miss the grace. Even though they are around Jesus, they are not open to Jesus — not really. They don’t embrace Jesus. They just coolly analyze him, and warily observe him, without truly welcoming him. They are most comfortable not kneeling at Jesus’ feet but keeping Jesus at arm’s length.

B. The problem, you see, is that they have never experienced the life-changing forgiveness of God, not really. And the reason they’ve never been forgiven is because they’ve never admitted their sin. And the reason they’ve never admitted their sin is they refuse to see it. They are respectable, restrained, well-trained people who can think for themselves and make their own way in this life (or so they think). They pay their taxes, attend church, contribute their offerings, generally follow the rules, and take great pains to cultivate their reputation in the community. And they don’t intend to grovel at anybody’s feet, not even the feet of Jesus. They’ve got too much pride to stoop that low.

C. Now here’s what I want you to notice about people who think they’ve never blown it, at least not badly enough to need forgiveness. In the first place, they rarely, if ever, change. Truthfully, we don’t know what becomes of Simon the Pharisee and his friends after this episode. But we can surmise that they walk away from this dinner party convinced the prostitute is pathetic, and Jesus is a joke.
Like some of us, they know just enough about Jesus to be dangerous, but not enough to be changed.
The other thing I want you to notice is that people who think they’ve never blown it never change anybody else either. All they do is condemn others who’ve blown it.

1. I’ve noticed the only people who really help others change are people who’ve blown it, and know it, and have been forgiven by Christ so thoroughly and completely that they are in a position to help others who’ve blown it.
And that, my friends, is what church should be – a collection of people who’ve blown it, – and know it, – who’ve been forgiven by Jesus, – and are so full of his love they can’t wait to share it – with others – who’ve blown it too.

2. In his book, What’s So Amazing About Grace, Phil Yancey tells of a social worker who is trying to help a prostitute so desperate that she prostitutes herself and her two year old daughter for money. Trying to find some way to break through to this woman, the social worker asks her, “Have you considered going to church?”
The prostitute says, “Go to church? Why would I ever go there? I already feel terrible about myself. Those people would just make me feel worse.”

Friends, we’ll know we are getting somewhere as a church when even a woman like that would say, “Go to FUMC? I’d love to, because despite the fact that I’ve blown it, I hear these people will love me anyway – just like Jesus.”

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Why Bamboo? Custom Rod builders Guild National Conclave January 2003

A few years ago I spoke to the Custom Rodbuilders Guild on why, and how, to build bamboo rods. A comment on the Rodmakers Email List prompted me to post here the thoughts I shared in 2003 in Nashville. Quite a bit of my thinking came from my rod making friends. They deserve the credit for much of what follows.

I have one objective today, and that’s to try to provide some answers to the question: Why Bamboo? I won’t get confrontational with you like one author I know. Someone asked Sparse Grey Hackle when he was going to start fishing a plastic rod. He said that he would start fishing plastic when they started using plastic violins at
the N.Y. Philharmonic Orchestra. I’m not that way, at all. I’ve been fishing for about 40 years. My mother taught me to fish. She showed me how to sift through flowerbeds for nightcrawlers and black crickets. As a little fellow, my part was taking fish off the hook and stringing them up because Momma didn't like to touch them. We ate everything big enough to scale and fry, having never heard of catch and release.

When I was 10 years old, our family vacationed at Roaring River State Park in Missouri. Activities at Roaring River revolve around a rather contrived put and take trout stream. Fresh fish are stocked every night, a morning whistle starts the day's action. I still have the first tan fiberglass fly rod my folks bought me at Roaring River. That rod and reel package came with a half-day's instruction from the local fly-fishing expert. After a few minutes coaching, I was hooked on fly-fishing.

Perhaps one good way for me to begin this presentation today is by asking you a question: Why do you fish? There are lots of reasons, and they are good reasons. Some of us like the comradery of being with a good friend or two, alone in a boat, sipping a beer and solving all the world’s problems. For others of us, maybe shark fishermen, it’s the adrenaline rush that comes from subduing a creature that we really have no intention of messing with any other way. Some fishermen enjoy relative solitude, being miles away from another human being, beautiful places and enough quiet that you can hear your hair grow.

I enjoy lots of different kinds of fishing, but my very favorite is the quiet that comes in fly fishing for trout. For me, the fishing itself is almost reward enough, though it helps to actually catch a fish now and then. Don’t get the wrong idea.... I’m pretty deadly on a trout stream. Put me on the Norfork River in Arkansas and not too many folks will consistently catch more fish on average. Fishing to me is most enjoyable when I use a rod I made myself, and a fly I tied myself.
But, if you and I really want to catch some big fish, we would all use worms and live bait. Heck, I release about 99% of the fish I catch. This is supposed to be fun.

At the same time, I like acoustic music. I like the original Coca-Cola better than Pepsi. I like my old worn out boots better than these shiny new boots. And I like bamboo rods. Hopefully after we’ve spent a few minutes together today you’ll understand something of my love for bamboo rods.

But why bamboo, you keep asking. More than once (last night in the Vendor area) I was asked “Do you actually fish with those rods?” That question really means anything from, “aren't you afraid you'll break ‘em?” to “Isn't bamboo out of date?” to “Wow, you must be rich!”

Well, let’s have a little history lesson. Fifty years ago, a time when some of you remember, almost all fishing rods were made of bamboo. Today all rods are made from some kind of fiber. The most common fiber is graphite. Only twenty five years ago the most common fiber material was fiberglass. Both are manmade fibers and to be sure there are some advantages to manmade fiber. (The main reason being that, with today's tooling, building rods from manmade fibers is definitely more efficient)

The decline of bamboo as a rod making material began because of two events. First, the Japanese occupation of China and the embargo on Chinese goods and products after the Communist revolution; and second, the introduction of a reasonably inexpensive replacement, -- fiberglass. Fiberglass was not only fairly simple to make, but in those days fiberglass was classified as “Modern.” In those days, that label that was popular, back in the fifties and sixties.
It wasn't easy for rod makers to convert from bamboo to fiberglass. If you look at the names of the major rod makers in 1954 you'll see that a few survived the embargo and the introduction of fiberglass, but not many of those names are still around in 2004. Plants closed, milling machines fell silent. Old technologies were lost to the new. Only a handful of rod builders continued to use bamboo.

So why are there still folks around making and using bamboo rods? Well, fast forward to about twenty five years ago... A new generation of fly fishers was flailing away at the water with new rods made of this new wonder material called “graphite,” when a young writer by the name of John Gierach published “The View from Rat Lake.” John soon became a sort of folk hero to the "new" breed of fly fishers. When he began to let it slip that he fished bamboo, a subtle shift started to take place. Ex-hippies, who now had disposable incomes of up to four or five figures started buying cane rods. And as the supply of older rods became scarce the price went up, especially for the shorter, faster, "dry-fly" rods that had never been produced in great quantity to begin with.

In 1977, my freshman year in college, Hoagy Carmichael wrote a book about his friend and mentor, Everett Garrison called “A Master's Guide to Building a Bamboo Flyrod.” About that same time the embargo on China was lifted, and Tonkin bamboo again became available. A few old craftsmen continued to make bamboo rods. Most of them had at one time been employees of the large rod making concerns in the days when all rods were bamboo, and had quietly kept making rods. Very few of them actually made a living at it. It was more a labor of love than a paycheck. There was enough of an undercurrent that many of the best bamboo rod makers developed waiting lists for their rods. And they weren’t making rods for collectors, but for fishermen! They were expensive, and hard to get. People who wanted bamboo rods, but couldn’t find them (or couldn't afford them) began to think about building their own.
In 1992, Wayne Cattanach published and widely distributed his book, “Handcrafting Bamboo Fly Rods.” Wayne started rod building as a hobby. He said anyone who would take the time, could build a bamboo rod. Wayne's book was the spark that started many would be rod builders on their way.

New glues began to replace the older, less dependable glues. Old, heavy, slow tapers began to be updated. New, quicker, more responsive tapers began to be introduced. Today’s new bamboo rods not only rival the old masters, but are probably the best bamboo rods ever made.

So we keep on asking the same question: Why bamboo? Well, I like them. And lots of other folks do, too. If a fly rod is to be considered only as an instrument to deliver
line, leader and fly to a feeding fish, then you could say that in some ways bamboo is an inferior material, I guess. And, for a lot of folks, that's probably about all there is to it.

I am going to make a statement that will probably sound like heresy, and anger many bamboo rod makers. In my opinion, graphite is a wonderful rod making material. Now, not all graphite rods being made today are great rods. There are more terrible rods being made today, in my opinion, than have ever been made at any other time. But graphite does make some great rods. They are lightweight, strong, don't take a set, they can be made to cast quite well, and can be beautiful if well done.
But that doesn’t mean that bamboo rods cannot be great fishing rods. Lots of them are. Bamboo is a great material and can be crafted into a beautiful rod that has a sort of uniqueness which isn’t matched by any other material. Bamboo is the traditional rod material that fly fishing was built upon. That traditional appeal won’t go away.
Just because a rod is bamboo, that doesn't make it a great fishing rod. I’m pretty critical of any rod -- whether it’s bamboo, fiberglass, or graphite. Regardless of the material the rod is made from, it has to perform well. With bamboo the weight of the material itself affects the rod action more than fiberglass or graphite. It's critical that the tapers be worked out carefully and tested to insure that the rod performs well.
One great thing about bamboo is that you can actually build your own blanks. That gives you the ability to experiment with different tapers and develop a rod action you prefer. Most of us can’t do that in graphite or fiberglass. (My good friend Don Morton has done some exciting things in designing new graphite rod tapers, but most of us can’t do that. Lamiglas and St. Croix Loomis are able to design tapers.) But if you only build on blanks that someone else creates, then you’re stuck with what they design.

Why bamboo? Well, for me, I prefer bamboo to graphite for the same reasons I like old flintlock black powder rifles with bird’s eye maple stocks more than new composite stocked engineering marvels. I like over and under shotguns more than pumps or automatics. The flintlock isn’t any better gun than the Weatherby. Neither is the Parker Shotgun any better than the Remington. In fact sometimes there’s a disadvantage to a flintlock rifle or a Parker over and under. But, and this is important to me... they are better for the soul. Silly, well maybe, but I still have a deep reverence for natural materials, fine craftsmanship, and labors of love.

Modern fabrication, materials and big businesses are great for efficiency and practicality, but that is not why I like to fish. I fish because I enjoy it. And bamboo is not necessarily better than graphite. It’s just that I like it better.

Here’s another analogy: Do you remember when we you were young and foolish and you would build book shelves out of cinder blocks and pine 2x8's? Lets compare that with a fine antique book shelf, like a Stickley cabinet, or an Ethan Allen hutch.

How do we compare the two approaches, what are the criteria which we judge?
Strength....... 2x8 wins, hands down
Portability..... 2x8's win again
Performance .... well, the 2x8 bookshelves hold books just as well as the Stickley hutch.
Cost............. priced any Stickley furniture lately? Again, 2x8's win.
Aesthetics......... Ahhh, there’s the rub
Why do we buy Ethan Allen hutches and Stickley cabinets? They lose on most judging categories. We buy them because they look so good, and they don't present a significant disadvantage in our day to day use over the 2x8. That is why I choose bamboo. Not because of any perceived technical advantage of bamboo over graphite. I choose bamboo because it does the job quite well, and I like it better.
So what are the drawbacks of bamboo?

Is bamboo weak or fragile? Well, let’s do an experiment.... Hammer bamboo through pine 1x4. Try the same with Sage.

Is bamboo slow? Compared with some graphite rods it might be. But the heart of any rod is in its taper. I think I could successfully argue that very usable bamboo tapers can be developed for all stream fishing.
Now at the same time, I’ll be very up front and say that I believe in almost all saltwater fishing, the advantages of graphite rods are obvious. I do have a 9 weight bamboo rod, and a graphite 8 weight, but if I were exclusively a saltwater fisherman, I would fish graphite.

Is bamboo expensive? Well, yes it is. But I have lots of friends who price their rods not much higher than top end graphite rods. My rods are more expensive than factory graphite rods. But they’re not any more expensive than say, Tom Morgan custom made graphite rods.

Bamboo's greatest drawback, bluntly, is its weight. It's usually heavier than Graphite or even Glass. But is that weight always a real disadvantage?
One explanation basically relates to physics and the well known equation that e = mv2. that is: energy equals mass times the square of velocity.

A bamboo rod has more mass than a synthetic fiber rod. Therefore, it can impart the same energy to the line at a lower line speed. It is therefore possible to achieve the same power in a cast at a lower line speed, particularly in shorter distance casts where the line is a lower proportion of the total mass and also for lighter weight rods where the difference in mass may be significant. The slightly lower line speed required allows the fisherman to concentrate more on presentation and accuracy and have less false casting than required with a graphite rod where line speed is essential to successful casting.
Rod companies have sold the story well that high line speed is an important asset, but they fail to mention that that high line speed is at least partially required to overcome the lessor mass of the rod.
Here’s another experiment for you. I have here four different hammers. If I wanted to drive a nail through this board, which one is the best tool? Well, this little hammer is too light. Not enough mass to do the job. I can get more speed with it than with any of these others. Same for the plastic hammer. On the other hand, this sledge hammer is so heavy that using it all day would wear me out. The carpenter’s hammer is just about right. It has enough weight to do the job efficiently, yet is still light enough that I can use it without wearing myself out. In some ways, the extra weight of a bamboo rod might just be an advantage.

So our original question comes back to us: Why Bamboo? I like the feel of the mass in the bamboo rod when casting. You can achieve a higher velocity using a lighter hammer, but a heavier hammer often feels better and can be less tiring and less work. You still gotta overcome the same forces to drive the nail - to throw the fly line. I don't often fish where I need longer than 50 foot casts. More like 20 to 40 feet. Again, in saltwater applications, graphite may well do the job more efficiently. But when stream fishing for trout, I see no real disadvantage to bamboo. If a nine foot 5 weight graphite rod weighs 3 ounces, and an eight foot five weight bamboo rod weighs 4 ounces, that’s not that big of a deal to me. Maybe it's a macho thing, but I somehow manage to carry that extra ounce or two around all day without falling over. As someone has said, some folks aren’t man enough to carry around that extra ounce.

Will most of you, or even many of you, wind up with a burning desire to make bamboo rods? Probably not. My hope is that you will see that there is great potential for making fly rods, and even light casting and spinning rods. If you’re looking for rods for dragging tuna up from the depths, bamboo might not be the best choice. But for delicately landing tiny dry flies in mountain streams, bamboo is fantastic.

(Most of you are custom rod builders.) When someone asks you about bamboo you want to be well-informed enough to talk intelligently. A couple of things come to mind.

1. Don't be afraid of a bamboo rod. (People want to treat them like Faberge eggs.) They are no more fragile than a good graphite rod. This is the most important tip.

2. Treat a cane rod like a good gun. Make sure its clean and dry when you put it away. Store it in a dry place. Once a year give it a coat of paste wax. If something goes wrong, take it to a competent professional for repair.

3. You shouldn't bend a cane rod in a circle like you can do with a graphite rod. That will damage it. In other ways it is tougher than a graphite rod.

4. If you have an old bamboo rod, take it fishing sometime. Of course, if its an old Montague or Horrocks-Ibbotson, it wasn't really made to cast like we cast now, but to swing wet flies in the current, or live bait. The point is, enjoy it.

5. Finally, if you’d like to try a modern bamboo fly rod, it’s easy enough to do. Just invite me to come fishing with you some time, and I’ll bring rods for both of us. Or stop me anytime, and I’ll string one up for you to try.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Services for Ginger Bruce

Funeral Services for Ginger Bruce
January 12, 2010

Ginger Bruce was my friend. Whatever words I say this morning will not heal the hurt we feel. The only words that provide lasting comfort are the words of Scripture: Jesus said, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted... Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven.”

Ginger was my friend. Proverbs 17:17 states “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.”
Proverbs 18:24 “A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.”
Proverbs 27:6 “Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.”
Proverbs 16:28 “A perverse man stirs up dissension, and a gossip separates close friends.”
And in John 15:13ff Jesus says “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father, I have made known to you.”

I count myself blessed to have enjoyed the company of several real friends in my life. Richard Scogin, Amber Martin, Annabel Mize, Chuck Dowden, James McLemore, my beautiful Tami, and a few more. Let me add Ginger Bruce to that list. She was my friend.

We worked together for about six or seven years at First Baptist Church where she was the Church Secretary and I was the pastor. Each morning when I arrived we would drink a cup of coffee together. During coffee break we would have another. And we would talk. Just talk. Usually nothing deep, or serious, or significant. Just chatter. Of course we talked about things like bulletins and budgets and newsletters.
But we also talked about her hopes and dreams for you – her family. She would tell me how well Luke had done on his spelling tests. “Well, Luke got a 100 on his spelling test yesterday.” She believed in you, Luke. She wanted the very best for you. If she could be here to comfort you today, she would.
We also talked about things like how hard Larry was working to earn his real estate license. Never once did she ever have anything negative to say about you. Not even once. Her love for you was fiercely devoted. You were blessed to have her for nearly 40 years.
We would talk about Allison and Brad and Joanie and of course she would tell me about those sweet grandchildren.
We walked together through the illness and loss of her father, and her worries about her mother. She was a fine daughter and you know if she could prevent you the grief you face she would.
We talked about her love for Temple Church and the people who are Temple. She would tell me what Don or Ms. Ruth Cuny had taught on Sunday. She told me about the songs and the sermons. And just for the record, Jason... she REALLY enjoyed your preaching. Members of her various Sunday School classes would regularly stop by for coffee and just to visit. Sharon, LeaAnn, Janet, SheBobby and a bunch of others. You were more than friends to her... you were the sisters she never had.

She loved, and missed, her work at Commonwealth. She spent 19 years there and was hurt deeply when that business closed. But her co-workers there, and even her customers there, remained among her dearest friends.
She loved the folks at First Baptist. While her loyalty to Temple as a member never once wavered, she was faithful and forthright as she could possibly be to the people at First Baptist and her job as Church Secretary. She gave you her very best, and that’s all anyone can ask.

And she did love the Lord. Ginger was never a procrastinator. She always got her work done as soon as she could. Time after time I would walk in on her when she had a few minutes free time and catch her reading her Bible. We talked for hours about what Jesus meant here, and how what the people of God experienced in Biblical days reflected what we face in the 21st century.

She was my friend. And yours. I miss her already, as I know you do. But we are comforted in knowing that today she is in the hands of God. And you can find comfort in knowing that you did your very best for her during her illness. You were there for her. You gave her the best in medical care. You loved her and she loved you.

Know that God hurts with you today. When you hurt, He hurts. And He will be beside you each day as you grieve.