The Biblical Basis for “Paying it Forward”

My Aunt Frances died of cancer a few days before my college graduation.  Anyone who’s experienced terminal illness – family or friends – can share how difficult life is without that person.  Every birthday, every holiday, all those special jokes….eventually they bring on a smile of remembrance; but for awhile, all they bring are pain to the survivors.

I saw my cousin (Frances’ daughter) at a recent family gathering.  She looked great, had a radiant smile, and the always infectious laugh.  I’m so glad we had time to catch up – one on one – to share stories and give updates on our lives.

She’s a massage therapist now.  She specializes in massage therapy for cancer and hospice patients.  And she recently followed that passion to form her own practice, sharing her experiences with those who need her most.

therapeutic massage

Do you suspect, as I do, that her personal experiences with cancer give her an added perspective – a gentle ‘touch,’ if you will – for her clients?  As she and I talked about her journey, I saw that this career helped her as much as it helped her patients. Almost as if she were comforting her mother, bringing them closer, with each therapeutic massage.

This is a story of  2 Corinthians 1:4 (The Message)  in practice:

[God] comes alongside us when we go through hard times, and before you know it, [God] brings us alongside someone else who is going through hard times so that we can be there for that person just as God was there for us.

I know there are many of you out there going through hard times.  We all have them; some more than others.  I hope that you are able to feel God alongside you, bringing you comfort.  Before long, God will place someone beside you who needs that same comfort.  I pray that you, like my cousin, recognize it, so that you might share your journey with them.

That’s how we build community, one person at a time.

Was that a Sign from God?

“If only God would give me some clear sign! Like making a large deposit in my name at a Swiss bank.”  – Woody Allen

Sign from God

A friend of mine recently had a very emotional meeting.  He was confused.  He was angry.  He was disappointed.  And the meeting did not end as he expected: a loving embrace, a rousing round of Kum Ba Yah.    Instead, he tossed and turned all night, knowing that his problem had not been resolved to his satisfaction.  I talked with him about it the next day, after he stated that he was even ‘madder than yesterday.  I woke up still angry and I took that as a sign from God that I should just act on my first instinct.’   I let him talk a little more, then gently confronted him.  ‘Can we go back to that ‘sign from God’ part?  Because if you really think God is sending you a sign to be angry and hurtful, I think you need to go back to bed.’

Signs are funny things.  I find it most interesting that many ‘signs from God’ are interpreted or twisted to show what the individual wants to see or hear.

Ever notice that physical signs are somewhat permanent?  All those signs on the highway, pointing toward the next fast food chain or gas station.   It’s a sign that everyone, eventually needs to see.  Go this way, and you have arrived; your journey has ended.

Not so with God’s signs, which I refer to as affirmations.  Affirmations are validations of our path, that we are headed in the right direction.    And affirmations sometimes come in ways we’d never expect, from sources that we didn’t know would give them.  Affirmations happen over a period of time; and we have to be ready to receive them when they are presented to us.  It’s not a permanent sign that says, ‘Go here, and you’re done.’

Affirmations are the result of peaceful and meaningful contemplation of how God would have us build community in our lives.  With our family, with our co-workers, with our neighbors.  And every once in awhile, if we listen closely, we hear an affirmation that our neighborhood is not as small as we thought it was.  That affirmation reassures us that getting out of our comfort zone is what is needed.

Otherwise, we might as well pull the sheets over our heads and go back to bed.


What’s Black and White and Red All Over?

I loved this joke when I was a child.  “What’s Black and White and Red All Over?”  The answer, of course, varied:  a sunburned zebra, an embarrassed penguin.

red zebra

The classic answer?  A Newspaper, which is my thought for the day.

The decline of print newspaper notwithstanding, many of us rely on some form of written communication for distribution of news.  My morning routine is fairly consistent, with time each day devoted to reading headlines from certain periodicals or digital newspapers.    I’ve had a hard time finding a balanced view from any one newspaper, so I end up reading headlines and OpEd sections from a few sources.  Recently, I forwarded a link for an article from the New York Times to a friend of mine.  Rather than reading the article for any accuracy or thought provoking comments or even for humor, the response was “What are you doing reading a liberal newspaper?”  Thankfully, I knew him well enough to know he was joking.

But his comment got me thinking.  How DO most people receive news?  IS there an independent and unbiased source out there?  Doing some research, I learned about a 2005 article in The Quarterly Journal of Economics, where Tim Groseclose and Professor Jeff Milyo created what is referred to as the “slant scale” of media bias.  Based on this method, and on a scale of conservative 1 to a liberal 100, we learn that a true ‘centrist’ position would calculate to be 50.6.

So it wasn’t surprising to me to learn of some of the results of the research:  LA Times:  70.0; New York Times:  73.7; Washington Post 66.6; Washington Times 35.4.  Even today, when answering a general question asking which newspapers are conservative and which are liberal, two pop into mind quickly:  The New York Times (liberal) and The Wall Street Journal (conservative).


Now, let me say this:  I acknowledge that there is bias everywhere.  That’s unavoidable.  Bias is supposed to come out in the OpEd sections of newspapers, not in the fact based news.  That isn’t always the case.  And because of that, my morning routine includes reading headlines from BOTH of these papers.  Time consuming?  Sure.  Worth the time to get perspectives I may not have considered?  Absolutely.

The details matter.  Taking the details and thinking on them, forming an opinion that reconciles with what I know about God’s love – that is the start of wisdom.  I may never get there, entirely; but reading different perspectives helps me see the big picture.  As we hear in Hebrews 2:1 Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it.

The lesson here?  Don’t just repeat what you read.  Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about  these things.  (Phil 4:8)  The God of love will guide you in all that you do….and read.

In all things, Love,


A Living Wage

A Living Wage

Still more to be said on the unrealistic McDonald’s ‘living on a part time wage’ budget.  Looks like Costco’s compensation plan works – and the employees seem loyal because of it.  Click on “A Living Wage” to read more from Rev. Gerald Britt at CitySquare (@gleebritt)

All in the Family: Crossing the Borders

My Dad grew up in Arkansas, and we still have lots of family there, including Mom and Dad, who retired there after many, many lifetime moves.

Many of my cousins have remained in Arkansas, but a few have ventured to surrounding states – including Texas and Oklahoma.  My youngest cousin lives in the Dallas area; and while we don’t see each other as often as I’d like, we know we can call on each other without question to lend a helping hand, plan a last minute lunch, or update each other on our kid’s sporting events.

Recently, we received an invitation from my cousin’s daughter to attend her outdoor wedding at a lodging area in Oklahoma. Mulling over the invitation, a few thoughts popped into my head:

Remind me again – would this be my second cousin, or my cousin once removed?

Outdoor?  In Oklahoma?  In JULY?

I wonder if Jack has any games that weekend?

and finally,

You know, that will be a fun celebration, and we should go.

Luck would have it, baseball was on hiatus; so we made plans to meet up with my parents, booked the hotel room in nearby Ardmore, and drove up for a quick weekend trip.

Crossing the Red River into Oklahoma is a big deal.  It signals our entry into ‘enemy territory:’  we Longhorns have a heated annual football rivalry with the Sooners, one of the biggest in college football.   Clearly, we had to check our orange-blooded passions at the state line (despite Jack’s insistence on wearing his UT football jersey, drawing a number of stares that day).

Photo: We questioned the judgment of Jack's clothing choice in Ardmore, OK

The fact is, we were there for family.  Most of Dad’s siblings were there; a few of my cousins (and their children) attended.  We laughed until our bellies hurt; and we reminded a younger generation just how fun it is to make such great memories, when we make the effort.  Jack and Shannon heard treasured “remember when…” stories, and they were introduced through memories to family who couldn’t join us.  As I left, I made a mental note to myself to ‘cross the border’ that separates me from family members who live farther away.  Some of that border is geographic, but some of it is a border I’ve put up myself….and those borders can be erased with more communication (and not just the social media kind!)

I loved the sign that welcomed us to the wedding.  It said more about building community in my own family than I could in any blog post:


Tell me – how do you build community within your extended family, when family members are spread across the country (or the world)?