Thinking about clowns, bad clowns, and bad bad clowns

bad-clownClown sightings are up. It started the last of August in South Carolina when a clown appeared to be attempting to lure kids into nearby woods.   Since then communities across the country have been disturbed by scary clowns, clown-related threats, hoaxes and actual credible events. Is this the normal marketing run-up to Halloween? It is possible, but it seems likely there is more.

Stephen King — whose 1986 novel “IT” depicted a supernatural being that takes the form of a clown — recently felt compelled to weigh in: “Hey, guys, time to cool the clown hysteria–most of em are good, cheer up the kiddies, make people laugh.” You know it is serious when King feels the need to weigh in.

Clowns have cheered children in hospitals, delighted them at birthday parties, and come between angry bulls and fallen cowboys for generations. However, the annual Chapman University Survey of American Fears found that clowns were a cause of significant anxiety for 6.8 percent of Americans in 2015. Perhaps clowns are an expression of human anxiety, “specters of anxiety and discomfort, bogeymen that personify our deepest fears”.

What is a person to do? How can a parent or teacher reduce the anxiety in a young person? A small percentage needs professional help and counseling. The majority, however, would benefit greatly from the centuries old admonition to think less on scary clowns by choosing to focus on “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”

Lovely in this context embraces thoughts of great moral and spiritual beauty, not of evil. “Admirable” points to “things that speak well of the thinker—thoughts that recommend, give confidence in, and, if heard by others, should be admirable, not embarrassing.” Few single thoughts will create an intellectual, emotional, and spiritual Grand Canyon. Like drops of water gathered into a steady steam, however, thoughts lead to great destruction or remarkable beauty.

Clare Boothe Luce was once our ambassador to Italy. While she was living in a beautiful 17th-century Italian villa, she began to notice that she was always tired. She lost weight, and seemed to have less and less energy.

She sought medical care, and after a period of intense testing it was discovered that she was suffering from arsenic poisoning. Everyone on her staff was given a security check, but it was soon established that none of her staff was trying to poison her. Which left the question: Where was the poisoning coming from?

Finally, they found the cause: It was the ceiling of the bedroom. There were beautiful designs of roses, ornately done in plaster relief, and they were painted with an old paint that contained arsenic lead. A fine dust fell from the roses, and Mrs. Luce was slowly being poisoned in her bed by the dust from the ornate roses.

What kind of clown should we focus our thoughts about? Are your thoughts lovely and admirable or laced with deadly elements of fear, falsehood, and evil? Little things, over time, add up.

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A Most Exquisite Pain 

victorydefeat     “The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.” Do you remember Jim McKay delivering this line on ABC’s Wide World of Sports? [] For years millions watched video clips of both emotions as they played out in a variety of sports. Watching a skier spin out of control off the jump and crash into the ground below was always cringe worthy.

Can you know the full thrill of victory without knowing the agony of defeat in at least one part of life?

Victor Parachin tells a story about a man who was a politician and a member of the New York State Assembly. He left home following the birth of his first child thinking all was well. Later in the day he was called home to find his wife dying of unforeseen complications. He held her pleading for her life until he was told if he wanted to see his mother before she died he should come downstairs. She died at 3 a.m. and his wife at 2 p.m. the same day, Valentine’s Day 1884. His friends wondered if he would ever recover.

He did, in time, following a two-year retreat from politics to a ranch in the Dakota badlands. Eventually, he would marry again. Professionally, he would serve as Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Governor of New York and President of the United States. His name was Theodore Roosevelt, a man whose zest for life became legendary following his crushing agony.

He was not the first to experience these twin emotions. Centuries earlier a man lived in the capitol of Israel among the wealthy, educated and political elites. Later he lived in prison after being whipped, on ships before they wrecked, and left for dead after stones were hurled at him. He experienced life as thrilling and agonizing before writing, “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.” His name was the apostle Paul.

Has your life experience been more about “the thrill of victory” or “the agony of defeat”? Do you wring the last ounce of joy from the good things that come your way or has the nearly endless stream of agonizing defeats beaten the life out of your living? We cannot always control what happens to us. We can, however, choose how we respond. Take the pain, disappointment, and despair from the past and let it magnify the experiences of victory, joy, and fulfillment when they come your way.

Remember this. Not Theodore Roosevelt, the Apostle Paul, or you will ever be abandoned by the living eternally loving Jesus Christ. Believe it. Live it. Know it. Share it.

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Rest, Discipline and Gravy


Can you make gravy? Of course! You boil water, open the packet of gravy mix, dump and stir. White peppered gravy in an instant that tastes pretty good on instant mashed potatoes and pre-cooked chicken fried steaks. Good, but it does not rise to the level of homemade; not just made at home, but from scratch. What is next, claiming that fried bologna is as good as perfectly smoked and seasoned wet or dry baby back ribs?

Do you know what the Sabbath rest commanded in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5 is? If you answered blue laws (closed business’) and no movies or sporting events on Sunday you should hear the loud buzzer for a wrong answer deafening your hearing. As Jesus made clear in Mark 2 “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” We are born with a built in need to have at least one day to rest from the labor of work, family, and play. Life needs a bit of margin to absorb the overflow and stress from the other six days in our bodies, minds, emotions, and souls. That is why the Hebrews who originally received this command from God did not complain or resist it. For generations they had worked as slaves every day from sun up to sun down for the prize of living one more day and spending the hours of darkness with family and friends before a few hours of sleep.

Are the good things we have known and enjoyed, some of the best parts of real living, diminishing, dwindling, and decreasing? Is gravy from a powdered mix really the same as that made from scratch containing little bits of bacon? Does a Sunday filled with activity, though different from school or job, refresh our whole being? Worship with others and a day of resting in Jesus is how to recover focus, return to center, and be refreshed.

Are relationships initiated with and built on sex as enduring and satisfying as those that begin as friends, the willingness to sacrifice for a friend, and the mutual encouragement those relationships engender? Research by respected professionals confirm that sex before marriage, self-centered, low commitment and easily dissolved commitment built on the frequent breakups experienced in today’s dating scene makes the goal we seek of a deep lasting satisfying and trustworthy relationship much harder, though not impossible, to achieve.

Substitutions for convenience are sometimes necessary, even required. Practicing them on a long-term basis, however, we begin to re-define them as the new normal. We forget how good the original really is and settle for second or even third best.

Why substitutes are tolerated and even advocated as the best choice is mystifying. Nevertheless, there is no denying that many diminish the previous moral norms, time usage, spiritual authority, and acceptable recreational pursuits by their rhetoric. They lessen them by using descriptors referring to them as having less value or importance. Note how they express their low opinion with scorn and diminish their rival, their accomplishments, and their values through descriptors that denigrate, belittle, bad-mouth, discount, disparage, trash, or run them down.

Qualities long admired and encouraged in society such as modesty, commitment, honesty, and selflessness are degenerating, what Johns Hopkins Magazine describes as a gradual change or evolution, “where order devolves into chaos”. It is past time to recognize and label substitutes for what they are. They are sometimes enjoyable but never a satisfactory long-term replacement. The original, properly planned for and used, is the best.

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When the church makes you sick

sick“Many times during and after treatment I couldn’t help but think “stupid, stupid cancer. You almost took my life. You took my hair. I still feel like crap sometimes, probably from all of the chemicals I’ve been exposed to. You made me vulnerable. [You] could come back again. Forever I will have to get scans and be reminded that I had you in the first place. This is why I have chosen to forgive cancer. There are many sayings out there about how harboring unforgiveness is like drinking poison and hoping your enemy will die. It does no good to hold onto bitterness.” This is the testimony of Hodgkin Lymphoma survivor Rachel Oxhorn. Tragically, her experience with cancer is akin to some people’s experience with the church. It makes them sick.

Many people will not come to church or have anything to do with “Christians” because what they see and have experienced there is pain from the sickness of bitterness. Hebrews 12:15 describes it as pride, animosity, rivalry or anything else harmful to others. Sound familiar? Have you been on the giving end or receiving end? Bitterness turns and keeps the spotlight on the injustice we experience and the anger, pain and disappointment we feel. Eventually it leads to discouragement from the dissatisfaction with the past, distaste for the present, and distrust of the future. Bitterness helps no one although it can wound many.

Bitterness is worse when those who know better practice it, condone it, or fail to confront it. Christians are to be Christ followers. Christ led away from bitterness toward forgiveness, sacrifice over selfishness, and love for others more than love of self. Jesus practiced healing and taught his disciples to do the same. Forgetfulness and weariness are excuses, not options.

We live in a fallen world, however. People are people wherever they are. There is at least a chance to hear in the church about bitterness and be encouraged to live differently. Jesus sets a higher bar for those who call him Lord. He sends the Holy Spirit to enable his family to understand and apply his teachings as they follow him from the desire of love over a sense of duty alone.

Do not hold all Christians responsible for the sin of bitterness inflicted on you by another. I am no more responsible than you are for the internment of Japanese Americans during World War Two. On the other hand, I am responsible to restrain and hold accountable those that do not follow the way of Christ either intentionally or accidentally. That is what you do for someone you love and care about.

Here are some things you can do to overcome bitterness in your own life and to lead others in your church family into. Yes, this is the privilege and responsibility of leaders and followers alike. First, forgive as Jesus forgave you. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Forgiveness does not mean ignoring what has been done or putting a false label on an evil act. It means, rather, that the evil act no longer remains as a barrier to the relationship.” Next, make a plan with the decision to stop dwelling and retelling as step one. Finally, seek grace and professional help if necessary. Some wounds can only be healed with God’s help, which is difficult to receive when we are obsessing over our wound.


Choose to focus on what is left rather than what is lost. Make a list of all the good things in your life or do what we started in the church I attend. Take a to-go cup, cut a slit in the top, and place loose change in it every time something good happens to you. Such a blessing cup brings awareness and redirects attention away from bitterness and toward gratitude.

“When you suffer you learn to care. That is why God does not comfort us to make us comfortable, but to make us comforters. But don’t forget, He suffered first…..”

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No Golden Calves Here


On a bright Sunday morning Larry Lacour walked out of his home toward the car in his driveway. He was on his way to church in Colorado Springs but took a moment to wave good morning to his neighbor who was bowed down in worship. The man smiled as he stood up to wave before getting back to work waxing his Mercedes-Benz.

Dr. Lacour was my preaching professor in seminary and could tell a good story. This is more than a story, however. It reveals a truth I have never forgotten. Idolatry is about more than objects of wood, stone or some other building material.

It is a spiritual issue today as much as it was three millennium ago when God gave Moses the Ten Commandment’s, the second of which was “”You must not make for yourself an idol”. Idolatry, Tertullian said, “can be practised outside a temple, and without an idol.”

Chris Hedges in his book “Losing Moses on the Freeway” explains. “We are burdened by household gods, no longer made of clay, but all promising to fulfill us. Our computer, our television, our job, our wealth, our social status, along with the brands we wear and the cars we drive, promise us contentment in the form of identity.”

It may be a hobby or lifestyle we dwell on through our time, talent, and thoughts. Whatever “it” is, we believe it will bring well-being, health and success. In reality, they are not so subtle forms of self-worship by forces Hedges says “who seek to ensnare us”. Even attitudes of reverence given to a philosophy or a belief can become idolatry if they surpass the importance of knowing, loving and serving God through faith in Jesus Christ.

We would do well to remember there is a God, and we are not Him.

On the trip from Egypt to Israel the Hebrew people took a long rest break in the shadow of Mount Sinai. They sent Moses to talk with God for them on the summit. Although theirs was not the microwave society of today, they became impatient and approached Aaron, Moses brother. They told Aaron to make them gods, i.e. idols, to lead them because they did not know what had happened to Moses.

Aaron obliged them with the construction of the Golden Calf, a representation of the supreme god in that area and the universal god of fertility. They ate. They drank and they indulged in “revelry”; most likely meaning sexual activity. Their search for well-being and something to make them feel good was short sighted. Forty years of desert wandering followed their few hours of revelry.

The LORD Almighty is the only all knowing, all powerful, ever present and ever loving God who desires the best for us, rather than to use people for their own ends. “No Golden Calves here”, we say. It is in our best interest to be sure.

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Don’t Be A Big Head

big-head“Nothing is more humiliating than to see idiots succeed in enterprises we have failed in”, said Gustave Flaubert. Looking past Gustave’s obvious wounded pride when he calls those who succeed idiots, is the deeper quest for success all people yearn for.

Information is essential regardless of the endeavor. “Know your enemy” is an axiom to achieve victory. And, “If you want to succeed you have to get an education” is the mantra of many parents to their children.

However, information without application produces a big head. The most popular professors in business at the University of Arkansas are those who have practical experience, I’ve been told. Illustrating academic knowledge with real world examples both holds attention and constrains unbridled enthusiasm for what “should work”. Some with higher degrees prove they know the facts, but sadly demonstrate through experience they do not know how to use their knowledge to grow a successful business.

Early in one’s career is the perfect time to realize that information without inspiration creates a heavy load. I can know what to do. I can be very aware I should act upon what I know. If the task, however, is all work and no play, no joy, and no understanding of how doing the task will make life more pleasurable, it makes life all grunt and groan. I should do this. I must do that. Why is that still not finished?

Consider this example. Most automatic coffee brewers include an instruction book containing a maintenance section. It contains products and usually the amount to use at a set period of time to keep the machine functioning well over its lifetime. Many people never read the instructions or choose to ignore them if they do. The truth is using tap water in your coffee pot without regularly descaling it with vinegar or a commercial powder will cause the appliance not to function. No water can make its way through the brew chamber because mineral deposits from the water eventually will clog the water line. Using distilled water will leach minerals out of the metal leading to a similar “it quit working” effect although over a longer period of time. Knowledge is useful and must be applied for good effect.

“I did not know!” countless repairmen have heard. I may choose not to read the owners manual. Consequently, essential maintenance is not performed; maintenance that would prevent an early breakdown. Similarly, life is often easier when we ignore doing what we should do or should have known to do. Ignorance may be bliss but only for a short time. “The heart of the discerning acquires knowledge” (Proverbs 18:15). In addition, the wise put their knowledge to work. It is what wisdom is all about.

Psalm 73:11-12, 17-18 celebrates the gift of God’s covenant instruction, as the perfect guide for life. Jesus said much the same in John’s Gospel. “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Free, that is, from the lack of knowledge, lack of motivation, and lack of proper application to live with as few problems and as many success’ as possible.

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“None can have riches without being greatly endangered”

wealth green tea

Columbia University professor of business Sheena Iyengar tells this story: When I was a PhD student, I was studying Japanese. So I went to Japan for a couple of years. A strange thing happened to me on my first night. When I ordered this cup of green tea, the waiter brought it over and I asked for some sugar. The waiter said politely we don’t put sugar in our green tea. I said, “I understand in Japan you are not supposed to put sugar in your green tea. But I am an American — could you forgive me and let me have some?” The waiter hesitated and I insisted. Then the waiter went and talked to the manager. Finally the manager comes and says “Sorry, we don’t have sugar.” I said, “Okay, I’ll order a cup of coffee.”

And I get the cup of coffee and on the saucer are two packets of sugar! At first I am outraged. He is violating my rights as a customer. But in Japan they were protecting me from committing the ultimate faux pas — drinking my tea incorrectly.

God rarely is as stringent in keeping someone from a particular action. He may send a warning from a friend, put an article or book in front of us or cause a pang of conscience. Rarely, however, does God shut a door, lock it, and throw away the key.

God cares deeply, but gives us a choice. For example, wealth can be quite enjoyable and used to help others. It may be quite destructive, also. God’s loving concern about wealth shines clearly through the Psalmist and is echoed many other places in Scripture. “Though your riches increase, do not set your heart on them.”

“Heart” refers to the center of a person’s thoughts, will, emotions, and knowledge of right from wrong (conscience). John Wesley writes “From that express declaration of our Lord, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of heaven,” we may easily learn, that none can have riches without being greatly endangered by them.”

Wealth tends to lead us away from God. We become less generous and more selfish when considering the percent of income kept and the percent given away. Often, time building and enjoying family, friends, and coworkers is sacrificed in order to spend more time on the task of making more money.

In other words, wealth tends not to enhance life in the places that really matter. Rather, wealth often detracts from the very people and values we think we need more money for. Wealth becomes “mine” rather than a tool placed at God’s disposal to bless others and lead them into an abundant everlasting life with Jesus. Jesus said, “You cannot serve both God and Money”.

What is a person to do? Give money away as quickly as it is received? Possibly. Another is to surround yourself with two or three accountability partners to explore the books or who are in a position to observe if you keep your stated goals.

There can be only one top priority in life. God makes the rest of life rich when everything else is secondary. What is the priority revealed by the use of time, finances, and ability in your life and mine?

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