Monday, February 22, 2010

Several thoughts are running through my mind as I try to write, I need to finish getting ready for Bible Study, I need to finish cleaning the house (We are trying to sell our house to move out to live close to Cyd's mother), I also have things to do to finish up the after-shock of a kicking Winter Retreat last week, and the list could go on for a few blog posts, but I won't bore you or me with that right now. It goes without saying that life is incredibly busy for us right now. That's not necessarily a bad thing, usually I am more productive if I am busy rather than having a lot of free time on my hands. The rub for me lately has been when and perhaps how do I actually live when I'm so busy with life. I am reading a book by Barbara Brown Taylor, one of my favorite preachers, in it she writes, "When do people actually live their lives, given all the other things they have to do" (Home By Another Way 7). If I had to put my finger on it, I would say that this is my mantra lately.

Don't get me wrong, I have been able to relish in some wonderful moments with my savior and my family lately too! Like getting to see Bill Mallonee with Cyd over the Valentine's weekend while it snowed in Savannah. Spending some time with my 3 girls the last few days after an amazing Winter Retreat that saw God do some cool things in the lives of the students and adults who went. Burning trash and hopefully getting ready to plow and plant the garden (I know we are late, the last two months have been busy). When I read that line from Barbara Brown Taylor I completely agreed with her statement, since then God has gently prodded me so that I recalled his grace filled moments of life that are in the rare morning cup of coffee shared with my beautiful wife, the memories of a loved one gone too soon, the embrace of a snotty-nosed child, the sound of rain hitting the roof, the hymn that won't stop playing in my head, the sermon that sparked something in me that had nothing really to do with the sermon, which shows you how God can use our human efforts to touch lives even if it wasn't our intended mark. So much more could be said about God's gentle patience with me the last several weeks however, only one is worth repeating...GRACE!

Monday, February 8, 2010

Sex, Lies and Religion by Randy Elrod

I recently read Sex, Lies & Religion by Randy Elrod in part to prepare for a series on Dating, Relationships, and Sexuality I was prepping for to teach to teenagers. The book offered some helpful thoughts and ideas about the interconnected relationship of sexuality and religion. Elrod writes in a clear, concise style that makes it easy for the reader to digest such a topic. Let's be honest a title like this usually means that it's going to be eye-opening, no pun intended for the reader. It did make my secretary blush when she picked up the printed out pdf before I could retrieve it from the copier.

Elrod makes a strong case for Christians reclaiming the beauty of sexuality as God intended it and designed it. I do wish he had drawn on more substantial sources to support his thesis throughout the book. What faith sources other than the Bible that he draws on are largely Catholic in background, which is fine, but there's a lot of great resources on this subject written by Protestants as well. Ultimately the book is a strong defense of the way God intended us to relish in our relationship with him. Like the Apostle Paul, Elrod reminds his readers that sex is a good thing, that illustrates the kind of relationship God desires to have with humanity.

There are a few topics Elrod tackles that Christians are divided over, for the most part he offers helpful insights into those discussions. If you are interested in sex or religion or the relationship between the two then you owe it to yourself to check out this book. If you are interested in learning more about Randy Elrod or his book go to

I received this book free from cre:ate 2.0 Publishing to read and post a review on my site. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

Memorial Service For Ted Richard Starling

Last week I posted about how it had been difficult to post much over the last month because of my own and our family's grieving process. Part of that process for me has been to go back to my chicken-scratch notes and type the message from the memorial service. The only thing I added was the direct quote from Jurgen Moltmann at the end, during the service I referenced it and explained the meaning behind the quote but did not actually read from the quote.

I wish I could say that things have gotten easier, but that wouldn't be totally true. I went to our Wild Game Supper last Thursday by myself, first time that's happened. Papa was always willing to go with me. It was doubly hard because he would have really enjoyed the speaker better than any of the others we had heard together. I suppose time will help with the feeling of loss and emptiness in our family, but it's hard to remind yourself of that each day when the pain is still so fresh.

Memorial Service
Ted Richard Starling

On behalf of Joan and the rest of the family, thank you for the outpouring of love you have shown through your calls, visits, food, notes, and your presence here today.

Today we celebrate the life of Ted Richard Starling. Ted was many things in life, a loving husband, a patient father, a grandfather, a brother, an uncle, a friend. There was not one else quite like Papa Ted. We could sit and listen to all sorts of accolades and praise for Ted this afternoon but the two things that they boil down to are that he loved God and he loved others. The scriptures read earlier were among his favorite and they point to our need for a restored relationship with God.

Revelation 7:9-12 (New Living Translation)
Praise from the Great Crowd
9 After this I saw a vast crowd, too great to count, from every nation and tribe and people and language, standing in front of the throne and before the Lamb. They were clothed in white robes and held palm branches in their hands. 10 And they were shouting with a mighty shout,
“Salvation comes from our God who sits on the throne
and from the Lamb!”
11 And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living beings. And they fell before the throne with their faces to the ground and worshiped God. 12 They sang,
“Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom
and thanksgiving and honor
and power and strength belong to our God
forever and ever! Amen.”

Revelation 21:1-4 (New Living Translation)
Revelation 21
The New Jerusalem
1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared. And the sea was also gone. 2 And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.
3 I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them.[a] 4 He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.”

His love for his God and others was evidenced in his commitment as a deacon, Sunday school teacher, and RA leader here at Olive Branch Baptist Church for many years. One could also see it in his love for his family and friend, most especially his wife of 47 years, Joan. Ted took to heart Paul’s instructions for husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the church. Christ gave up his life for the church, Ted never thought twice about his love and commitment to Joan. She was his number one concern and priority outside of his relationship with God. I often teased them about they way they slept all cuddled up together so that it looked like one lump under the covers instead of two.

He loved his family and would do anything in the world for them. He enjoyed giving of himself for others. It delighted his heart to have one of us call him and ask him to cook stew meat or chili or to borrow the truck or to come pick us up or to help with a particular task or project.

Ted was one of the most selfless people I’ve ever met. He always had a few dollars in his wallet and he would give it to anyone in need. He loved to serve his family and friends in any way he could. He loved to see his grandchildren and spend time with them: Chandler, Ashlyn, Claire, and Charlotte, were loved more than anyone else. We often joked that they would come to our house or go to Scott and Sandra’s to see the children NOT to see us. One of the things he most liked to do with his grandchildren was spend time outside. In the garden, Papa loved his garden, he loved to watch the children playing in the dirt, helping pick vegetables, riding on the tractor with him and of course Charlotte picking bell peppers and eating them like an apple right off the bush this summer.

He loved to watch Scott and Chandler cut wood, and laugh at my attempt to help, for his fireplace that started in early October and never got cold until April. There were many times I can remember that there was a fire going but the air was on or all the doors and windows were open to balance out the coldness of Papa Ted and the hot natured-ness of Mimi Jo. He also cherished those golf cart rides with all his grandchildren, looking for the big gopher turtles with Chandler and Ashlyn, trying to put Claire and Charlotte down for their naps.

There are so many more things about Ted that could be said like how he never spoke negatively about anyone or any situation-he could always find the glimmer of hope in any situation. Ted was full of wisdom and insight from a life lived walking with God.

His faith was not something he wore as a badge on his sleeve, it was something he practiced in the way he loved and cared for his family, the way he treated friends and acquaintances. In the way he taught the people around him to see the majesty of God’s creation in the wildflowers he planted, with enjoying God’s gift of creation with an afternoon at the river or cherished moments at the kitchen table with a cup of coffee and a piece of plain cake. I could always ask Papa for his opinion and thoughts about something and walk away with a wealth of wisdom and understanding.

The prophet Isaiah records some words that I hope will provide comfort for us.

Isaiah 57:1-2 (New Living Translation)
Isaiah 57
1 Good people pass away;
the godly often die before their time.
But no one seems to care or wonder why.
No one seems to understand
that God is protecting them from the evil to come.
2 For those who follow godly paths
will rest in peace when they die.

As a family we have and probably will continue to question and ask God why now, why did you have to take Ted away now, there’s nothing wrong with having those thoughts and questions. God already knows our hearts anyway. We can have hope that Jesus had gone to prepare a place for Ted and for all of us who profess faith in Christ as Lord and Savior. Ted clung to the hope of Christ and the resurrection, in the days ahead that same hope is what will sustain us in the days ahead. We will have good days and bad days but let the words of Paul the Apostle give us comfort and hope…

1 Corinthians 15:3-4 (New Living Translation)
3 I passed on to you what was most important and what had also been passed on to me. Christ died for our sins, just as the Scriptures said. 4 He was buried, and he was raised from the dead on the third day, just as the Scriptures said.

1 Corinthians 15:12-20 (New Living Translation)
The Resurrection of the Dead
12 But tell me this—since we preach that Christ rose from the dead, why are some of you saying there will be no resurrection of the dead? 13 For if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised either. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, then all our preaching is useless, and your faith is useless. 15 And we apostles would all be lying about God—for we have said that God raised Christ from the grave. But that can’t be true if there is no resurrection of the dead. 16 And if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless and you are still guilty of your sins. 18 In that case, all who have died believing in Christ are lost! 19 And if our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world.
20 But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead. He is the first of a great harvest of all who have died.

We have hope for this life and the life to come because of the resurrection of Christ. That is the promise of the gospel, the good news.

In closing, I would like to share with you one specific way that Ted taught me to see the hand of God at work all around us and a glimpse of the way life should be lived. There’s standard time and Starling time. 14 years ago when Cyd and I began dating I would come out to the house for dinner and we would eat at 8:30, 9:00, 9:30. Over the years I learned that if you wanted them to be somewhere at a certain time you told them to be there 30 minutes before the real time. Then in the past few years since moving back home, we would come out for the day to help cut trees, split wood, pick up limbs, work in the garden. We would work for about 10 minutes and then he would say let’s take a break for 15-20 minutes. All total we would work a couple of hours and he would say let’s go get a cup of coffee and something to eat. Theologian Jurgen Moltmann captures what to me was the essence of Ted’s thoughts and outlook on life.

Death sets a limit to our lifetime, and makes life short: vita brevis est. The unconscious, unassimilated fear of death shows itself in the pace at which we live: presto! If you want to get the most out of life you have to live fast! The modern world is the accelerated world. We ‘modernize’ faster and faster. We move about more and more. We rush from one place to another. We ‘have’ ever more experiences, and use up ever more life, without any apparent speed limit: fast food –fast life! And yet the truth of the matter is that it is only the person who lives slowly who really enters into life. That person can stand still in the moment, and experience eternity in it, able to enjoy the happiness and feel the pain. But doesn’t this quietude in life presuppose a hope for a life that is eternal, whatever that hope may look like? Fear of death constricts, while hope for eternal life opens a wide space for living beyond death, and brings serenity into the soul: nothing will be lost, and you are missing nothing (The Coming of God 57).

Papa was never in a hurry, he understood that to truly experience life in this world and life eternal we have to slow down from our fast paced world and find our rest. May each of us continue to find comfort and peace in our God and the wonderful memories we have with Ted.

Almighty God, we thank you for Ted and for the years that you blessed him with. The family the he loved and cared for, we ask for your continued guidance and protection. We pray for comfort and healing. We place our hope and trust in you the way Ted taught us and modeled for us. Thank you that one day we will see you as you truly are and be reunited with our Papa. We pray all this believing in Jesus Christ your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Raising Purity by Gerald Hiestand

Raising Purity is one of the best resources for parents that I have ever seen for dealing with the issues of sex, dating, and relationships from a Biblical perspective. Although there are a few minor points on which I disagree with Hiestand's assessment and remedy for changing the prevailing culture of teen dating practices, it is nevertheless, a straightforward, honest look at a topic that is usually daunting for parents to face. His clarity of writing and frank discussion about an always sensitive topic are refreshing.

As a parent and a youth worker my biggest frustration is that the concepts are good and sound from a scriptural standpoint, but implementing them in a culture dominated by the world's standards for dating and relationships seems unfathomable. I think we need to make the changes but to do it alone, in isolation as one family would be difficult. Of course, Hiestand's point is that as with everything else, the church is about community and there isn't a better area for the church to function as the church and be salt and light in a dark world.

You can find out more at

Called Out of Darkness

I haven't read any of her novels, but Anne Rice captured my attention in her spiritual autobiography that recounts her faith journey. She begins with here early remembrances as a child in New Orleans and winds her way through life to and her years of atheism and rejection of the Roman Catholic Church of her childhood. Her life is filled with moments of hope and tragedy, all of which she unreservedly shares with the reader. Perhaps the most intriguing part of this book was the account of her "conversion" about 10 years ago that reads like an evangelical tent revival rather than a literary minded Catholic.

She also offers some fresh perspective on issues at the forefront of Christianity today like: divisions over communion, attitudes towards homosexuality, women in ministry, worship styles/liturgy preferences.

A delightful read, even if you haven't read any of her other books!