Monday, February 28, 2011

Meet "Cec" Murphey

If you don't already know my friend Cecil Murphey, then you need to meet him. He's a Presbyterian pastor in the P.C.U.S.A. I first met him while we were in seminary together. He has served as a missionary in Kenya, as pastor of a local church in Atlanta, but his greatest gift and true ministry is as an author. He's published 128 books, but who's counting! He's had one made into a Hallmark movie for TV titled Gifted Hands. You can find it on Netflix, or get a copy of the book, or the movie from Amazon. His best seller 90 Minutes in Heaven has been on the New York Times best seller list for about 3 years.

I am posting a "daily reading"- and I call it that because his latest book Knowing God. . . Knowing Myself is filled with aphorisms for daily living- seems the best way for you to get to know Cec. I like this particular chapter a lot. It's called God's Love for Me.

This may not be rational, but if I worked hard, I honestly thought I could make God love me more. I didn't say those words aloud and never would have ever admitted I felt that way. But, deep, deep within, that's exactly my attitude.

I could blame that on my childhood, when I was never able to please my father. I spent many of my adult years trying to please Dad, and that was even after he died. I suppose for me, it was some kind of transference of my understanding of my earthly father, and I laid it on my heavenly Father. I'll even say that's what most of us do. We have some kind of tangled hardwiring in our brains that transfers our earthly image of our father to our heavenly Father.

One of the first sermons I heard after I became a believer was about the fatherhood of God and the love God had for me. That sermon meant a great deal to me and was the beginning of my distinguishing between my two fathers. It took a long time to separate them, but it was the beginning.

But beyond realizing that God loved me, I pulled along things from childhood. I wasn't my dad's favorite. Mel, the special one, could ask for anything and get it - and the rest of us knew that/ If I asked for anything, I rarely received it.

The first few times I asked for and received what I wanted from Dad was when I begged repeatedly and he finally gave in. After I became a believer, tat was the way I related to God. My heavenly Father didn't give freely, and I had to importune (a nicer word than "beg") until I felt assured of a positive response.

Along with that, because I didn't feel Dad loved me, I spent and inordinate amount of energy trying to prove that I was worth loving. I did it by achieving good grades and succeeding in my work.

On an unconscious level, that's how I related to God. If I wanted something, I had to prove to God that I needed something and was worthy of receiving it. I often opened my spiritual resume and pleaded.
  • "I teach Sunday School every week."
  • "I'm head of the early morning ushering program."
  • "I give generously to our church."
  • "I give to other charitable groups."
  • "I help other writers.
I took a long time for me to realize that God loves me and wants to bless my life, and not because of anything I've done or would do. It took years before I realized I couldn't do anything to force God to love me more. Because God's love is everlasting and he had loved me from all eternity, how could it possibly increase? How could I find any more favor with God? What I had to learn was that the generous, ever-loving God was already reaching out to me with unsearchable, inexpressible love. I'm not the center of the world, but I'm the center of God's love. God's provisions are based on unconditional love, not on my faithfulness.

All this is to say that I'll never be able to make God love me more than he does. It's impossible because he already loves me perfectly.

 It's impossible for God to love  me more tomorrow than he loves me today.

Reprinted with permission from Cecil Murphey.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Reading the Letters to the Editor

Some people turn to the comics, or the sports section of the newspaper first thing. Betty turns to the crossword puzzle. I have this odd fascination with the Letters to the Editor. In some ways I think this part of a newspaper represents the orginal "blog site." Sure there are plenty of things written there with which I strongly disagree. That's why I miss the old afternoon newspapers I grew up with as a child. It seemed more fitting if reading after 5:00 PM to read with some Jack Daniels over ice rather than a second cup of coffee that only stimulates my anger with caffiene. These letters DO make me think, however, and challenge my assumptions. They also confront my viewpoints instead of reinforcing my tightly held beliefs. 

I read these comments from people who are concerned enough to express themselves in print as a reminder of community diversity- which I think is a good thing- and the gift of free speech. I know they represent in some ways the wide swath of ideas and some basic truths that make a lot of sense. The words of the writers help me get a feel for the world around me and the people  who are my neighbors.

So I welcome you to this internet blog site as a forum for experiencing that same kind of sharing. I hope you will find it a way to SPEAK UP!

Phil Leftwich

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Church Needs to Go To Hell

The Church Needs to Go to Hell
            I was listening to the eulogy for a good friend recently. The preacher spoke of our colleague as though he were painting a Rembrandt. He was filling in the fine brush strokes on the wash of our friend’s life canvas when he mentioned a sermon he had once heard him preach. It was curiously titled The Church Needs to Go to Hell. I hardly heard anything else after that for I knew where that idea had carried our colleague. It’s a memory I’ll hold as part of the legacy from a deeply thoughtful and courageous Presbyterian minister.
My departed friend was right. The church needs a trip into hell. I took a college logic course that was required for a major in philosophy. I wasn’t very good at it, but learned enough to know a syllogism when I hear or see one. Here’s the logic: if we are truly disciples who follow a living Christ and say that we believe that Jesus “descended into hell,” then it should hold true that we will follow him there, too. If we give lip service to following the way of the cross then we need to go there and feel that hell, as well.
That’s part of what’s wrong with the church. We practice an “out of sight and out of mind” cultural complicity of letting the real world fade beneath the words of scripture and the sermons we hear. As the benediction still echoes in the sanctuary, we get in our cars and drive our familiar ways back to our usually comfortable Presbyterian homes. If we would only turn off on the side roads along our habitual routes we would see a lot of the “hell” that is always just around the corner from us. We are stuck in our routines though, and not too eager to seek out the hell in our hometowns where men and women huddle winter nights around fires in fifty-gallon drums warming their hands and passing around the strong brew du jour. In awhile they’ll stuff themselves in a cardboard box- if they have one- and cocoon themselves for another homeless night.
We don’t wander through our city’s, or town’s, back alleys even in the full light of noon where the drug deals go down twenty-four seven, and teen gang members are carrying AK47’s bought from an adult at a premium who picked up a dozen at the last gun show.  We don’t personally know the kids in foster care whose moms and dads are doing time for the meth-lab bust that sent both parents away for five to ten in a federal prison. We don’t know the seven immigrants looking for a better way of life who are crammed in a public housing one bedroom apartment.
If we looked we might see those a step up the economic rung living in the double-wide perched on crooked concrete blocks that nearly washed away in the last flood who live with all the mud it left behind until another flood will wash it away. We can’t believe that in our county two-thirds of the children are on the government school meal program and that some won’t have a decent meal over the weekends, or if there’s another snow day- well. . .We mistrust the facts. Just more of the “liberal” press trying to sell us a bill of goods about why we need more government and not less.
Or maybe we aren’t even facing the reality of the hell two pews in front of us and the woman who deeply sighed during the lyrics of How Great Thou Art wondering if the words are really true when her life is falling to pieces around her. Marriages gone to hell. Jobs lost. Half empty expensive homes that have never been furnished sitting with banks breathing down the owners’ necks and the sheriff’s car in the driveway serving a foreclosure notice. We dismiss the tears with curiosity thinking that maybe the hymn, perhaps the sermon, or one of the prayers touched her. Maybe all of these did. Maybe the preacher reached one of the four women who were sexually assaulted before the age of eighteen- or maybe it was one of the men who was wounded in the same way and carries the same burden of silent shame.
Anton Boisen, whom some credit as the “father of pastoral counseling,” once said that in order for a pastor to care for those who are wounded he or she has to descend into hell with them. Throwing a rope down the hole of their despair is not enough. The one who cares has to go down into the same abyss in order to lift the hopeless into the light of hope.
Maybe if the church would go to hell just for once it might find its true calling. Sure it scares the hell out of me to even write about it because I’m also part of the church. But maybe if the church is to find its true identity it needs to go to hell.

Phil Leftwich
Honorably Retired