Living the “3 Simple Rules”

Learning to live the Methodist “General Rules”

Archive for July, 2008

A Day That Tested My Resolve!

Posted by Bob Johnson on July 27, 2008

Last Tuesday, Susan and I drove to Abilene to help our oldest daughter, Michelle, move into her new digs. (She’s a pharmacist going on the faculty at Texas Tech’s Abilene pharmacy school.) While I was thrilled to have Michelle back in Texas from Atlanta where she did a residency, several things happened to test my experiment to live by the 3 rules.

When we got there, the house seemed hot — yup, 87 degs in the living room is HOT! It was so hot in the guest bedroom, that we slept in Michelle’s room while she slept in her office. The next day, we discovered that much of the food we had just bought and put in the refrigerator had spoiled. For you see, the refrigerator quit working! (The house was built in 1996, so it’s not that old.) So it’s hot in the house and we can’t even get a cold bottle of water to drink! &J^%KLL!! Fortunately, a call to Michelle’s leasing agent — Ken — quickly resulted in both an A/C guy and a refrigerator guy getting both problems solved.

Wednesday, Michelle had some dental surgery. Yup, 2 days after moving cross country she had dental surgery! (A bone graft which wasn’t as bad as it sounds.) So we kind of laid low that day.

But on Thursday, we went to town trying to buy and get curtains put up. Now, I know you’ll be surprised to read this, but I am not in the least mechanical. I know I was an engineer — but I did molecules! I was a chemical engineer. The idea of trying to get curtains put up scares the heck out of me. And for good reason as it turns out.

The first trip to Lowes — can you sense where this is going? — went fine. Michelle picked out curtains and rods. Having forgot to bring my power tools, the day before I had bought a power screwdriver for just this task. So we get back to her house and I start to hang some bamboo-like curtains on her French doors. I read the directions carefully. I measure and mark. I start to use the electric screwdriver to put the first screw in. Turns out the thing won’t even scratch the metal door! OK, so I need to go back to Lowe’s to buy a power drill.

Trip #2 to Lowes. I pick out a drill — which conveniently has a couple of drill bits and screwdrivers in the set — and go to pay for it. First, this Lowes no longer has any real person type cashiers. They’re all self-serve. The $(*FJ# thing won’t read my credit card. So the “floating customer service cashier” comes over, pushes some buttons, and I scan my goods. Then, when I try to sign for the total, it does some kind of “beep” thing, and locks up. Again she comes over and we finally get my goods paid for. How do these retailers get off trying to convince us these are for OUR benefit!!??

Well, at first, success. The drill works. I get the curtains up on the French doors. So I next tackle the curtains in Michelle’s bedroom, which are by far the most exotic and expensive. There are two windows in her room. The curtains go up fine on the first window. Now I’m starting to get my confidence up! I tackle the second window. As I’m drilling the hole for the screws, my drill hits something. I push harder. And then, SNAP! The drill bit breaks. In the hole. Where I can’t reach it to pull it out! So I move over a little and start drilling another hole with the only other drill bit I have. SNAP! *K@L&^%$!

Lowe’s trip #3. As I walk in, I notice a TV crew interviewing some guy. I think, “Boy in the mood I’m in, I’m glad they’re not talking to me.” So I go to the drill section and pick out some new drill bits. I’m dreading the check out machine. I picked a different machine and by some grace of God, it worked. As I’m leaving the store, I see the guy with the microphone approaching me and I hear, “Hey, sir. We’re from channel 13 and we’re doing a story on……” I beg, “PLEASE, not now!” So he leaves me alone and I go back to Michelle’s.

To make the rest of the story short, I got the holes drilled and the second curtain rod hung (but don’t pull on it too hard). On the rest of the windows, I also hit something solid — there are only 3 possibilities when drilling holes to hang curtain rods: 1) You drill right through the wallboard meaning there is nothing solid to anchor the rods to, 2) you hit wood which is the ideal case because now your screws will anchor, or 3) you hit something solid. Of course, #3 is what happened. But I outsmarted it this time. I had bought a Titanium drill bit and with a little push, the drill finally got through whatever it was each time. I finally got all the rods hung.

Whew. Hanging curtain rods is not a job for a chemical engineer-turned preacher! I did express my frustration a couple of times, but I didn’t throw, break, or dent anything, and both Michelle and Susan were still speaking to me when it was over so that is a good thing.

“Do no harm.” Sometimes it’s harder than it looks!


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My Encounter with a Needy Person

Posted by Bob Johnson on July 21, 2008

I was coming out of the cell phone store with my daughter when he appeared. My daughter had bought a new cell phone over the internet and wanted to change it’s phone number to her old number. The guy on the internet had said, “No problemo. Just take it to the nearest (name brand) retail store and they can do it for you.” So we visited the nearest store and it had not gone well. We waited an hour, talked to three different service representatives, only to be told it couldn’t be done. So needless to say, I was NOT in a good mood when he appeared.(What was it Wayne Watson said in yesterday’s worship service about singing joyfully all the time?? This was not one of those times!)

As we were getting in the car, I was complaining in my foul mood about how service has gone out the window nowadays and how the left hand (the web business) and the right hand (the retail store) don’t talk to each other. At that moment, I became aware of a car that had pulled up behind us. The guy shouted over, “Do you live around here?” I thought he was needing directions. “Not really. I live further west. But what do you need?” I figured I could use my limited knowledge of the neighborhood to help him out. As I spoke, I noticed the guy’s car was pretty beat up and he looked sort of beat up as well. “I live out in _________,” he said, “and my car is just about on empty. I need some money for gas.” So before I knew it, my coming to his aid to give directions became his request for money. What should I do? If I gave him the money, would he buy alcohol and thereby my gift would “do harm?” Or did he really need the money for gas in which case my gift would “do good?” I hate these situations because I never know what is right.

I was very aware that my daughter was watching my response to this situation. She’s no stranger to it herself. Having lived a semester in Leeds, England, where it is illegal to be homeless, she was asked for help many times. But still, I was conscious that this wasn’t just about me and the guy in the car. She was watching.

Whenever this happens to me, and it happens a lot in Houston, my experience with Leroy about 25 years ago comes to mind. My wife and I were visiting San Antonio for one last fling as a married couple before our first child was born. Susan was about 7 or 8 months pregnant. We were walking from our hotel to the boardwalk for a nice Mexican dinner. All of a sudden, there was this homeless guy standing in front of us. He introduced himself as Leroy. He carried a big duffle bag and said he just rode in on the train and hadn’t eaten in a week. He looked, and smelled, like he was telling the truth! He asked for money for food. Having just the day before heard a sermon about this very situation, instead of giving Leroy the money he asked for, I invited him to dinner with us. Never in a million years did I think he would actually accept my invitation. But he did.

So into the Mexican restaurant strolls Leroy and his duffle bag and us. Boy, the looks we got! He asked if he could say the prayer when the food came. It was a long and gratitude-filled prayer, as I recall. It was while we waited for the food that I realized Leroy’s elevator didn’t go to the top floor! He told us how he was a Secret Service agent and stuff like that. But when the food came, he wolfed it down. He really was hungry. After dinner, he enjoyed a cup of coffee. I wondered how we would take leave of Leroy…! Would he follow us to our hotel? I became concerned for our safety. With Susan so pregnant, a hasty retreat was not possible. So we ordered Leroy another cup of coffee and excused ourselves to pay the bill. After we did, we hightailed it out of there! The last I ever saw Leroy, he was sitting back royally in his chair, delightfully sipping his second cup of coffee.

About two days later, as I was entering a restaurant for dinner, another homeless man asked me for money. I gave it to him! And I gave some money to the guy in the car at the cell phone store. I always struggle to know what to do, but I figure I can’t go too far wrong if I try to help someone. What do you do?

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A Preacher’s Heavenly Dream

Posted by Bob Johnson on July 16, 2008

A preacher likes nothing better than to have a message hit home. And what constitutes “hit home?” NOT simply to have people say, “I enjoyed your sermon” as they leave, although that is certainly nice. But rather to have people take some sort of action that shows “they got it.” Three responses I received this week indicated that people were really processing the material in my “Do No Harm” sermon (available here.) One e-mail I received indicated that this person’s Sunday School class had really dug into the material about doing no harm. Another person wrote to me and indicated she wanted to help Chapelwood become more “environmentally friendly,” that is, to do no harm (at least LESS harm) to the Creation. But it was the third response that really tickled my homiletical fancy!

Our mid-high youth director, Kathleen C. came up with an idea for the youth group to do “Random Acts of Kindness.” Three groups of mid-high youth were each given $20 and 1 hour to bless as many people as they could in any way they wanted. This serving event allowed them to be creative and showed them that is took very little time and money to serve God and others. Here’s a sampling of what they did…

  • Passed out water and crackers to homeless people at a bus stop.
  • Made cards and bought toys from the 99 cent store and gave them to the Children’s Wing at a Hospital.
  • Bought pet food and toys and took them to a Pet Shelter and got to pick out what pets to give them to.

Way to go kids!! As Jackie Gleason used to say, “How SWEEEEET it is!”

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Some Suggestions for Living Out the 3 Simple Rules

Posted by Bob Johnson on July 14, 2008

Melissa Maher, Pastor of Serving Ministries at Chapelwood, offers the following suggestions for living out the 3 simple rules in our lives…


Do no harm

  • God’s love is expressed through His justice tempered by His mercy. Reflect on what this means. 
  • What are ways that you can listen to those around you who are crying out for justice? What injustices (ways that equality and dignity are withheld) do you see in your neighborhood, work or city?
  • Practice this week listening and hearing the cries of injustice. Pray for those who are oppressed.
  • Reflect on ways that you or your family may be doing harm without being aware.
    • Consider consumption practices and places you shop. Are workers treated fairly? Are farmers or artisans fairly compensated for their work? Are you purchasing items that Wesley called “luxurious” and not contributing to the necessities of life?
    • Example:  purchase Equal Exchange (fair trade) Coffee once a month at Chapelwood in the fountain hallway.
    • Buy presents from fair trade shops such as Ten Thousand Villages.
  • Reflect on how your energy usage affects the lives of coal miners in Appalachia, clean drinking water in Africa or India, and food supplies around the world.
  • Turn off the lights when you leave the room. Unplug unused gadgets or appliances.
  • Start hanging your clothes to dry several times a week instead of using the dryer every time.


Do good

  • To do good is to reflect the love of God. Serving others means we are the hands of Christ serving Christ.
  • Purchase a uniform for a student in need during the “Back to School” with MAM (Memorial Assistance Ministries) program. Look for the table in the fountain hallway through July 27.
  • Become a mentor for a student in Spring Branch. There will be opportunities to sign up in August.
  • Serve a meal at SEARCH the first Tuesday of the month with other Chapelwood members—the first Tuesday is the day Chapelwood has committed to serve each month.
  • Commit to praying every day as a family or small group for those who go hungry or without shelter.   
  • Make basic care packages for the homeless. Give them to a person on the street, SEARCH, or Westside Homeless Partnership.
  • Make a conscious effort to extend a kind word and compassion to each person you come in contact with…at work, in the grocery store, pumping gas in your car, and even at church!


Stay in love with God

  • Take 15 minutes of silence at the beginning of the day to ask for God’s presence to fill you, surround you and go before you. Listen to God’s voice. Center your thoughts on one phrase or Bible verse.
  • Take 15 minutes of silence at the end of the day to examine where you saw or heard God throughout the day.
  • Incorporate works of piety in your private time and in your journey with other followers of Christ.
  • How and when do you hear the voice of God? In nature, exercise, moments of stillness, service? Make a covenant with your family or friends of how you will practice this intentional way of hearing God.

Posted in 3 Simple Rules, rule #1 - do no harm, rule #2 - do good, rule #3 -- stay in love with God | Leave a Comment »

A Visit to Harris County Jail

Posted by Bob Johnson on July 12, 2008

I received an e-mail the other day from Jean (not her real name), a parishioner of a church I formerly served. She was frantic because her brother, Larry (not his real name either) was in Harris County Jail. I had met Larry some months ago and he told me then he was awaiting trial on some white-collar crime charge. Well, Larry had his trial and was convicted. He could receive 2-20 years. But for now, he’s sitting in Harris County Jail as he awaits sentencing.  Jean asked me to go visit her brother since pastors can get into the jail anytime. Since I’m working on “doing good,” there was nothing else to say but, “I’d be happy to visit Larry.”

Truth be told, I’ve never visited Harris County Jail. I had visited the jail in the county where Jean lives, and even in that small county, visiting the jail as a pastor was a major hassle. Security is, needless to say, very tight. And I’ve yet to run into a friendly jailer. I could only imagine how much ‘fun’ it would be in the huge, 10,000 inmate Harris County Jail.

So the first thing I did was contact Chapelwood’s Bev B., who is a chaplain at the county jail. She gave me the low down. To register as a pastor, I’d have to go through a process that included finger printing and background check, etc. That was fine, but no way to get it done quickly. So I’d have to visit with the general public. Hours are very restricted. The only slot open for me was early Saturday morning. So I got up early today and headed out, prepared for a lot of bureaucratic hassle. I wasn’t disappointed!

First, with I-10 construction this weekend, I had trouble even getting to the jail which is located downtown. I finally found my way there. I had brought some change — Bev and Jean had both warned me — for the parking. But she failed to mention the cost was $5!! To make matters worse, I didn’t have a $5 bill. I had four $1s and a dollar in quarters. But I couldn’t stuff them all in the teeny, tiny, little self-pay hole at the lot. After 10 minutes of trying, I gave up and stuffed in a single $10 bill! I needed to know which building Larry was in, so I asked a uniformed officer I came across where the “Little Baker” building was. He pointed down the street. I headed off in that direction. On this July in Houston day, even at 9:00 a.m., it was nearing 90 degrees.

I went in the building I thought was “Little Baker.” I saw a line. I waited in it. But I noticed everyone in that line held a little yellow slip of paper with the inmate’s name and cell block info on it. I asked one young woman where she got that, “Over there.” She pointed to a long line gathered around a little black book. As I waited in the line, which looped in front of some lockers, a young black man excused himself to get in a locker. I noticed he had stored his cell phone, keys, etc. “Yea man, they don’t let you take ANYTHING back there.” He pointed to a sign that listed all the things you couldn’t bring. And how you couldn’t be dressed and what you had to cover up with what you were wearing. So after he removed his stuff, I put in mine. Another quarter to get the key. As I approached the little black book, I noticed a sign that said, “Bring your own pen.” I had just locked mine up. So back to the locker, got the pen, another quarter!

Finally armed with Larry’s cell block and jail ID number, I waited in the first line again. When I got up to the officer in charge, he asked for my driver’s license. He entered some numbers into his computer and said, “He’s over in the building across the street.” Oops. Wrong line, wrong building. So across the street I went. By now, it’s over 90 degrees.

This was a smaller building, but I learned later it holds 1,100 inmates. After first not seeing the line to check-in with the officer, and getting a stern look and hand gesture pointing to the line, I finally got checked in. I was ushered to the waiting room, which had about 15 visitation stations, thick glass, with some kind of muffled speaker. The room was filled to capacity. One little 6-year old boy next to me was smiling. I wondered, “Are you here to see your dad?” Poor kid. He kept smiling. I wasn’t sure the “protocol” for visiting with visitors. Is it OK to ask, “Who you got in here?” The lady next to me volunteered the info, I think, when she asked me, “Are you here to see your son, too?” “No,” I replied, “a friend.” I didn’t want to get into all the details — “the brother of a former parishioner who I’ve met only once…” After waiting about 15 minutes, they finally brought the inmates in. They were all wearing sandals and impossible-to-miss bright orange jump suits.

Larry recognized me and sat down and we began to visit. He thanked me for coming. I noticed he had a Gideon New Testament in his pocket. I asked him how he was holding up, what his trial dates were, what his days were like, etc. It was VERY hard to talk and to hear with all the noise in the room and the little muffled speaker thing. But we made it. After about 15 minutes, they called all the inmates out and my visit was over.

While I was feeling good about my “doing good” (which, I know, missed the point entirely), Larry told me that a group of pastors comes in every Tuesday to conduct a Bible study. Every Tuesday. And every Thursday, another groups leads a worship service. And those pastors aren’t even doing a 3 simple rules experiment! I have a long way to go…

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Knowing What IS the Good to Do

Posted by Bob Johnson on July 9, 2008

Last night after dinner Susan went to work planning her parents’ upcoming 60th wedding aniversary party. I did the dishes. It was not difficult in that case to determine what was the “good” I should do. But sometimes, it is not so easy knowing what is the “good” to do. For example, it may be difficult to determine what is the good we should do when it seems we must do a short term harm to bring about a long term good, as when a doctor administers painful chemotherapy to bring about a long term healing. I have a dear friend who is struggling to know what is the “good” to do in the case of her college daughter, who ended her first year of college on academic probation. A counselor is recommending letting the daughter take a year or two off from college. But if my friend does that, will she be able to get the daughter back in? Will such a short term solution, which seems painful, yield a long term good? Tough decision.

Another example of when it is difficult to determine what is the “good” we are to do is when doing good for one person may result in harm to another. I’ve been listening to a lecture series on tape about the Civil War. The professor read some letters from wives of Confederate soldiers begging their husbands to come home because their families were starving. One wife wrote, to the effect, “if you don’t come now, me and the children will all be dead when you get here for want of food.” What’s the right thing to do? Desert your comrades in arms to care for your family? Or allow the hardship on your family and fight on with your comrades in arms? What is “doing good” in that situation?

The “good” in some situations is not always easy to find. Sometimes we have to be content searching for the greater good or the lesser evil. But I believe it comes back to intent, our desire to please God out of the overflow of love in our hearts. We will make mistakes in such situations determining the “good.” But in terms of “going on to perfection,” we cannot go wrong if we make our decisions with a desire to honor God, which is vastly different than making a decision based simply on what “feels good” or which will advantage us personally.

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Doing Good to Your Family

Posted by Bob Johnson on July 7, 2008

I subscribe to a blog on pastoral leadership called “Monday Morning Insight,” by Todd Rhoades. Today’s edition struck a “do good” nerve.

Noting how many pastors fall because their family life is not healthy — we pastors are often guilty of doing more good to the church than to our families — Todd offers a web-site with ideas for doing good to your family. (If you’re interested, you can find the web-site here.) The ideas he offers are great ways for any husband/father to “do good” to his family, not just pastors. (I think they’ll work, with modification, for working women, too. But I’m not experienced in that field!) Here are some of the ideas Todd suggests, which I’ve modified to apply to anyone, pastor or not:

• Come home at the exact time you say you will be home; and prepare your heart to serve your family, not be served.

• Share with your wife and kids some of the good things that are going on at work, and then thank them for helping to make that possible.

• Give your wife flowers and a hand written card when she least expects it.

• Schedule a weekly time where you watch the kids and your wife gets out to do whatever she wants—not errands. When you can, give her a whole day off from the kids.

• Leave work at work so dad can be dad at home.

• Pray for your family and with your family.

Doing good in our families is one of our most fruitful fields. Give some of these ideas a try and leave a comment about how it turned out.

Posted in 3 Simple Rules, rule #2 - do good | 1 Comment »

An Incredible Blessing

Posted by Bob Johnson on July 5, 2008

I wrote the other day that my daughter, Lauren, wanted to invite some foreign students from Rice University to our house for the 4th of July. When she asked me if it would be OK, I realized that instead of spending a nice, quiet day with the family, I was being given (“called?”) a “wonderful” opportunity to “do good.” This post is to let you know how it went.

In short, it was incredibly rewarding. The students arrived around 4:00 p.m. They were INCREDIBLY polite and glad to have the opportunity. One even brought us a platter of baklava pastry (hmmmm, good!).

I had been concerned about language barriers and having to repeat myself to be understood and having to ask our guest to repeat himself so I could understand and all the awkwardness that goes along with that. These guys speak better English than I do! They had initially been rejected by Rice because of concerns about their language skills, but when representatives from Rice actually met them and TALKED with them, they were blown away and admitted them. They told us they started learning English in their home country in grammar school. Three of the guys are 18-19 years old, one is the “old guy” in the group. He’s 24 and is in grad school.

After getting to know each other a bit — and eating baklava and chips & dip — the guys and my two yungin’s headed out to the pool. You would have thought this was just any youth group hangin at the pool. They soon had rigged up out of my pool vac and St. Francis statue (he was the line judge) a make-shift water volleyball court! They played for over an hour while I cooked good ole fashioned hot dogs and hamburgers on the grill, which they wolfed down later with all the zest of any college boys. Before we ate, I asked the guys if they would mind if we prayed (not knowing their religious background but assuming they are Muslim, as a host, I thought I should ask). They eagerly wanted me to do so. I did close my prayer with “in Your name” vs. “In Jesus’ name.” I hope Jesus sees this as I do — not a cop out but an act of hospitality.

After dinner, I gave my kids a little Independence Day quiz. The four foreign guys knew more than my own kids did about US history! (They said they learned it just in the month they’ve been here.) We then drove down to the Miller Outdoor Theater and listened to the Houston Symphony Orchestra’s concert and watched the fireworks. They were thrilled! When I got up this morning, I discovered I had already been invited to be friends with one on Facebook!

I know that not all opportunities to follow simple rule #2 to do good will result in blessing. I suspect I’ll discover that some such opportunities come at a cost. But this one was an incredible blessing.

Posted in 3 Simple Rules, rule #2 - do good | 3 Comments »

The 3 Simple Rules and My 4th of July…

Posted by Bob Johnson on July 3, 2008

I have been looking foward to this weekend’s celebration of the 4th of July. Mostly because it means a long weekend before I start this sermon series on Sunday. (I didn’t even know Chapelwood’s office would be closed today, Thursday, until just two days ago! I even made plans to have lunch with Tom Brandino, thinking I’d be at the office. Unfortunately, once I found out the office was closed, I immediately forgot the lunch and I stood Tom up!! Sorry, Tom.)

Anyway, my daughter Lauren came home from her semester in England three weeks ago, and has been somewhat bored since. Few of her friends are around this summer. She has taken on something of an international flair of late — having spent a month on mission in China last May and her 5 months in England and touring Europe. She also works in the international student office at the University of North Texas during the school year. So Susan put her in touch with Adria Baker who is in Susan’s Sunday School class. Adria heads the international student office at Rice University. She asked Lauren if she would like to meet some international students who are studying at Rice.

You can probably see where this is going! Lauren jumped at the chance and invited them to our house for the 4th of July! What better way to get to know some foreign folks than to invite them to an old-fashioned Amercian tradition — swim in the pool, grill some burgers and hotdogs, maybe take in some fireworks, etc. Of the twelve, five accepted the offer (seems that the older students have a test they’re studying for).

So I’ve been given the chance to “do good” by extending hospitality to five international students. While I might have preferred a “quiet” 4th at home with my family, since I’m trying to ‘do good,” I can’t give up the chance that’s been handed to me. I’m beginning to sense that God may say to me during this experiment of living the 3 simple rules, “How far do you want to take this…?”

Stay tuned. I’ll write about my experience tomorrow. Happy 4th of July!

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My Experiment Begins

Posted by Bob Johnson on July 1, 2008

Well, it’s July 1. My experiment in living the 3 simple rules, what John Wesley called “the general rules,” begins. I noticed yesterday that the battle began even before I got out of bed! My goal was to get up early, walk 2-3 miles, and “do good” to my body by exercising it. I woke up in time. But as I lay there thinking about getting up, somewhere in my brain I heard a voice saying, “Hey, you can sleep 45 more minutes! Pull the covers back over you and go back to sleep. Missing walking one day won’t hurt you. Besides, you can make up for it by walking during the day and a little further at night.”

So that’s how it’s going to be, huh? A battle that begins every day when I wake up. I won the battle today, or at least that one. I DID get up. And I DID walk 2 1/2 miles (followed by 2 1/2 more miles that evening.) But, then I went out to eat Mexican for lunch. Oops. Did harm to my body. This is not going to be easy!

Posted in 3 Simple Rules, General Rules, rule #1 - do no harm, rule #2 - do good, rule #3 -- stay in love with God | Leave a Comment »