3 Brothers & 17 Camels

Once upon a time a nobleman left 17 camels to his 3 sons. The eldest brother received one-half of the camels, the middle son one-third, and the youngest boy one-ninth.

The three brothers argued vehemently about the fairest way to divide the livestock, and no one would compromise. Finally, they sought the advice of a wise man in the community.

After listening to their predicament, the sage devised an intriguing solution. He gave the three brothers his only camel. The boys now had 18 animals.

Then the man divided the camels according to the father’s wishes. The oldest brother’s share was one-half or 9 camels. The middle son received one-third or 6 camels. The youngest boy’s share was one-ninth or 2 camels.

Add the numbers up. 9 + 6 + 2 = 17!

The three brothers returned the 18th camel to the wise man.

After extensive ciphering and cogitating, the fable’s math escapes me. No doubt one can learn many lessons from the tale. Since my experience with camels is thankfully limited, I might be missing the subtler nuances of the parable.

The most impressive element is the character of the wise man. Rather than viewing the situation as a win/lose confrontation, he sought out a win/win solution. In the end, everybody got what he wanted.

The story reminds us that brothers are always more important than camels. Such a concept has applications for individuals, families, churches, communities, and nations.

  • In our personal relationships, seeking first to understand the other’s perspective gives us new understanding.
  • Parents and children who talk with each other defuse explosive situations.
  • Marriages endure when spouses think of themselves as “we” and not just “I.”
  • Churches grow stronger when we cherish diversity and difference.

In the best of all worlds, brothers and sisters would never argue about such trivial things as camels. However, I suppose that would make the story a real fairy tale.

Fiscal Advice

I recently preached on Fiscal Fitness. During sermon preparation, I asked people to share on Facebook some great financial advice they had received or shared. Here are some of the comments.

  • A part of all I earn is mine to keep. In other words, prioritize savings.
  • Write down your debt. Then pay off the smallest amount first.
  • 10% to God. 10% savings. 10% retirement. 70% life.
  • Make all you can. Save all you can. Give all you can.
  • Tithe.
  • The best investment is time in people.
  • Make a budget. Stick to it. Reassess each month.
  • If you loan others money, consider it a gift.
  • Slow and steady wins the race. (Pigs get fat, hogs get slaughtered!)
  • Pay off credit cards each month.
  • You don’t need that!
  • Spend the inheritance!
  • It is not income, but outgo, that determines your wealth.

Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Spend wisely.

Valentine’s Cards Disposal Service

Following my father’s death last fall, I have been sorting through his paperwork. I discovered a cache of greeting cards spanning the 56 years of my parents’ marriage. I enjoyed perusing the sentimental notes they exchanged.

Then I came across some Valentine’s Day cards from their newlywed years. Some things just cannot be unseen, and I am now in psychotherapy! On the other hand, my wife and children found the entire affair hilarious.

Even as an adult, it’s challenging to think of your parents as a young couple passionately in love. Since they had two children, I am theoretically aware of the biology behind the facts. However, I always assumed they only engaged in martial relations two times for the sake of procreation!

Therefore, I am soliciting angel investors to fund a startup business with the working title, “Valentine’s Cards Disposal Service.” Our hazardous waste experts will visit childhood homes and remove mawkish mementos. The savings in counseling sessions alone will more than pay for the service!

For my married readers, I hope you have a lovely Valentine’s Day. Make sure your beloved knows how you feel. Express heartfelt feelings in inspired word or lavish verse.

THEN, throw the cards away!

Trust me on this one.

Discover Pastoral Care

I am serving as the executor of my father’s estate. Since my degree is in theology rather than jurisprudence, its been a steep learning curve. Here are but a few experiences along the ofttimes perplexing way.  

When I called companies to cancel services, most representatives expressed heartfelt condolences over my father’s death. One woman in particular sighed and said, “I wouldn’t know what to do if I lost one of my parents.” I learned the simple kindness of strangers possesses an impact beyond proportion to their words.     

Other exchanges felt much more transactional. After waiting on hold for 50 minutes (yes, I counted!), an ATT operator finally deigned to disconnect my father’s land line, which the company assigned us in 1973. She brusquely handled the request without a sympathetic word.  

Another interesting exchange occurred with Xfinity (Comcast in sheep’s clothing). After only a 40-minute hold, I spoke with a representative who spoke English as a third language. The woman declared the company required my father’s death certificate to CANCEL CABLE TV! Since the account was still in my mother’s name, I would need to submit her death certificate from 2013, too!! Thirty minutes later a slightly less insane supervisor finally approved the cancellation.

Discover proved to be my best encounter. My father worked in management with Sears-Roebuck and obtained one of the first Discover credit cards. The agent expressed her appreciation for his loyalty and sorrow over my loss. She cancelled the card immediately and mailed his accumulated, cash rewards.  

Pastoral care does not require education, degree, or experience. However, it does involve compassionate people who care deeply for those who are hurting. We may never know how much a simple word, text, call, card, or email may mean in another’s life.

A credit card representative helped me re-discover this simple truth.  

The B2 3-Step Diet Plan

America’s favorite winter pastime is dieting. Following Halloween candy appetizers last fall, the nation went on a holiday eating binge. Ounces became pounds as clothes mysteriously shrunk on their hangers.

The weight-loss industry is big business. However, most diet plans are too complicated. Few possess the discipline to sustain a Doctor-Jenny-Low-Carbohydrate-South-Beach-Rotation-Nutri-Weight-Watcher-Atkins-Craig regime.

I possess NO qualifications to give advice about weight loss. Lack of expertise and experience, however, never stopped other diet gurus. Therefore, I am marketing the B2 3-Step Diet Plan!

Step One: Eat less.

After extensive study, scientists have linked food consumption and caloric intake! The serious weight-watcher must eat less food. Less food leads to less calories and less weight.

Step Two: Eat better.

The US government spent a gazillion dollars designing a Food Pyramid. Allow me to summarize. Eat more fruit, vegetables, grains, and stuff that tastes like cardboard. Eat less salt, sugar, saturated fat, and deep-fried Twinkies.

Step Three: Exercise more.

Historians will link the decline of Western civilization to the invention of the TV remote control. We have become a sedentary society. Study after study, however, shows the benefit of aerobic exercise. Most experts recommend a vigorous workout a minimum of three times weekly. However, simple steps like walking more and climbing steps can help.

The best results come from combining Steps One, Two, and Three. If you eat less, eat better, and exercise more, then you will lose weight and feel better. Results guaranteed, or your money back!

The Cruelest Month

T. S. Eliot described April as “the cruelest month.” With apologies to the poet, a British April cannot compare to a Georgia January. The first month of the New Year is dreadful, dreary, and dull.

Post-holiday blues fade to black. After the extraordinary holiday season, ordinary days feel so bland and boring. Gifts charged during December visit us like Ghosts of Christmas Past. Stores that offered easy credit now expect cold cash.

North Georgia’s climate is no winter wonderland. Temperature and humidity yoyo. Shirt-sleeve weather follows down-coat storms. If you don’t like the weather in Georgia, just wait—it will change tomorrow!

However, January could qualify as “the kindest month,” too. The New Year offers fresh starts and new beginnings. The future glows bright with promise. With a little discipline and determination, resolutions can come true.

The bleak landscape boasts a beauty all its own. The fractal outlines of oaks against a winter sky are breathtaking. The intricate etchings of frost rival the grandest artwork. Seeds nurtured in Mother Earth’s womb prepare for birth in the spring.

Southern comfort can be found beside a warm fireplace with a mug of cocoa. Simmering vegetable soup served with piping hot cornbread nourishes the soul. When snow threatens, lining up to buy milk and bread makes the season merry and bright.

Every season has a beauty all its own that is enhanced in comparison and contrast with the other three seasons. Winter, spring, summer and fall—along with every season of life—possess both cruelty and kindness. Our perspective determines what we experience.

January? There’s no finer time to live in Georgia!

Fit!

Each fall I prayerfully choose a focus that will serve as a churchwide emphasis for the coming year. In 2021, the Northside Church’s theme is Fit! During our January Fitness Challenge, we are exploring how the Holy Spirit makes Christians “fit for service” mentally, fiscally, relationally, physically, and spiritually.

I selected Luke 9:57-62 as the primary Scripture for the series. The passage describes three would-disciples who wanted to follow Jesus. The Lord challenged each one’s reservations and conditions.

Jesus harshly told one man, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”

Christ’s response troubles me. I have never done any plowing. However, a cursory examination of my spiritual life would reveal times that I’ve looked backwards, sideways, up and down, in fact, any direction except forward. Words from an old hymn cut to the heart of human inconstancy:

Prone to wander, Lord I feel it,

Prone to leave the God I love.

I constantly rediscover the essential need for divine grace in my life. Although Christian disciples seek to make ourselves fit for service in God’s kingdom, we cannot succeed on our own. Thank God, we are not on our own! Divine power infuses our human efforts; and the first and last word of the gospel is always GRACE!

Join us onsite or online each Sunday at Northside Church as the Holy Spirit makes us Fit!

New Year’s Resolutions

New Years REsolutionsOn January 1, many of us made New Year’s resolutions. During the holidays, we overindulged in too much of too much. The birth of a New Year inspired plans of diet, exercise, and thriftiness.

Resolutions born at midnight on December 31st, however, seldom survive the first weeks of January. Habit is a hard master to overthrow. By mid-month, the new and improved model greatly resembles the old and not so improved model!

We can scoff at the idea of spontaneous resolutions leading to lasting change. However, we serve a God of fresh starts and second chances. Today can be different from yesterday; and tomorrow can be different from today.

In 2 Corinthians 5:17, Paul declares: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come.” Our “re-creation” in Christ is both event and process as we grow into the image of our Savior.

Jesus began his ministry preaching the message, “The time has come, the kingdom of God is at hand, repent, and believe in the gospel.” The time has come for repentance rather than resolutions. This year can be new in more than name alone!

The Day after Christmas

Dec 26

Each year I share my one attempt at poetry entitled “The Day after Christmas.” It reminds us that Christmas is not only a day or a season but also a lifestyle. May we celebrate the good news of Christ coming into the world year-round. 

‘Twas the day after Christmas and all were asleep

The twenty-fifth had left them all tired and beat.

The stockings were slung carelessly on the floor

Stripped of their contents and of interest no more.

The children were exhausted, collapsed in their beds,

With visions of sleeping-in fixed in their heads.

And mama in her flannel and me with my mate,

Were in hopes that we too might get to sleep late.

When out in the front there arose such a racket

I sprang from my bed like a frightened jackrabbit.

I stubbed my big toe on the way to the door,

And set off the alarm system on the first floor.

The early sun’s light shone bright on the toys

Left in the front yard yesterday by my boys.

Then I saw a car splashing right through the muck,

A red, white and blue delivery truck.

My head was aching and my stomach felt ill,

As the postman delivered a hand full of bills!

The charges were listed in dollars and cents,

Payment would empty the United States’ mints.

Now, Visa! Now, Penney’s! Now, Macy’s and Rich’s!

On, Walmart! On, K-Mart! On Abercrombie and Fitch’s!

November and December we had a great ball,

Come January, we owe something to all.

I made my way through a maze of presents piled high,

Looked again at the bills and gave a great sigh.

Turkey bones roosted on the dining room table,

Yesterday we ate all we were able.

I tried to turn on the new espresso maker,

Complete with a digital, alarm clock waker.

My family stumbled slowly down the stairs

As cordial as a den of hibernating bears.

I bent down to pet our faithful dog, Carl,

But he snapped at my fingers and let out a snarl.

My wife dressed quite quickly and shouted to all,

“I’m going bargain hunting all day at the mall!”

The children slammed the door behind them as well,

Going to friends’ homes for Christmas show and tell.

And I collapsed in my brand new easy chair,

To see how my favorite football teams would fare.

I held a glass of Alka-Seltzer firmly in my fist

Regretting last night’s snack I should have missed.

During halftime I arose from the recliner,

My team was ahead and the world seemed much finer.

Wading through the wrapping paper piled knee high

Something on the mantle piece caught my eye.

Half hidden beneath discarded ribbons and bows:

The manger scene had been placed weeks ago.

Carefully clearing the bright paper away

I witnessed the reminder of that first Christmas day.

The Christ child rested in a bed simple and small

Sent by God into the world to save us all.

Nativity figures of that first silent night,

Made it quite clear what had been lost to sight.

“A Happy Christmas to all!” is because of God’s son,

On the day after, our Christmas has only begun.