Monday, December 22, 2008

The Calendar

I just spent about five minutes staring at the large 2009 wall calendar in our church office. Several things seemed to sneak up on me this last year, and I am determined that will not happen in 2008. I was looking, telling our secretary which dates we needed on it, talking about other dates we needed to find out, and so on, and so forth. As I got up to walk past the calendar, I glanced at it one more time and reality (perhaps the Holy Spirit) smacked me in the face. Almost everything that will happen in life will not be on that calendar, nor will it be on anyone else's calendar, and I remembered James as he wrote, "Instead you ought to say, 'If the Lord wills, we shall live and to this or that.' But now you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil" (James 4:15-16).

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

I Actually Enjoyed Shopping

I tried to find someone to go with me, but I had to make the trip alone. It's not long, usually about 175 miles round trip, but I wanted someone to go with me as I visited the hospitals in Shreveport. It was not to be.

Being alone offers me the opportunity to think, and interact with God in ways that are unique. I had a few errands to run, too. Shreveport is our "big town," where we get the things we can't get here in our small home town. Because of traffic, time of day, and weather, I decided to do the errands first. Academy Sports to pick up a gift. Hobby Lobby for some supplies. A specialty shop for another Christmas present (struck out there). Basspro . . . just because. The hospital was next, and it went well. My cell phone rang and my wife needed some things from Super Walmart, so I went there at the end of the trip.

Traffic was heavier, and the crowds were anxious, but Christmas carols were playing. I noticed the songs in each store, each place of commerce, each public market. I smiled at the persistence of the presence of Christ at Christmas. And, I sang. I sang softly and subversively; "Silent Night," "Joy To The World," "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel," "What Child Is This?", etc. etc. I sang, and I rejoiced whether anyone else did nor not. I determined to greet people with "Merry Christmas," regardless of their greeting, because for me it was a Merry Christ Mass (I was experiencing the presence of Christ; even in Walmart.)

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

In The Company Of Men (a.k.a., The San Juan Trout Rustlers)


Jesus spent the vast majority of his time on this earth with twelve men (a tax collector, some fishermen, no real theologians, and one traitor). I think he did it on purpose. I spent a week in the company of these trout rustlers up on the San Juan, and I'm looking forward to spending another week with them next Fall. Until then, I will walk in the company of other men for what I hope are some of the same reasons Jesus did. Christian men need other men to help them grow in Christ and to enjoy being a Christian man, not just a Christian. I do not believe a Christian man can become what God wants him to be without the company of other Christian men, and I sure can't be a pastor without the company of Christian men.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Redemption On The Lower Mountain Fork

I have fished since I can remember. Fishing was my father's obsession, and we went at least once a week even though we lived miles from any water in west central Texas. I began fishing competitively at age 12, placing second in my first tournament that year. We travelled from Mexico to Oklahoma to Arkansas to Louisiana to catch bass. Two to three times each year, we drove the 1,000 mile round trip to Toledo Bend. By the time I was a senior in high school, the pressure had taken its toll. The last time I ever fished with my father was that year on Toledo Bend. We had a great day, catching a stringer of bass with none less than 3 lbs. and several over 6. I only had a weekend to stay with the family on vacation and had to go home. Shortly after that, dad left us. My family disintegrated. In my youthful anger, I sold all the fishing equipment and hunting equipment he left behind. I was finished with high pressure hobbies. Eleven years ago, God moved us to Louisiana, just 20 miles from Toledo Bend. I have no boat now, and so fishing the lake is not easy, but I have done it a little (maybe 6 or 8 times in the past decade). I can still catch fish there. I picked up an 8 pounder a few years ago. I had loved fishing, but it had lost its appeal. It had, that is, until this past Spring. A friend wanted me to try my hand at fly fishing. I wasn't really sure when we met in Oklahoma. Then we caught fish. I was hooked, and it became somewhat of an obsession. However, I needed redemption. There were too many fishing ghosts lurking around my heart. I was afraid that I would pressurize the hobby and my family would experience what my original family had experienced. Well, I borrowed a rod for my 11 year old son, borrowed some waders, bought him a lanyard and a vest, and we headed to the river. I really love trout fishing. I love the cool, clear water. I love fishing without the hassle of a boat. I love the skill required and the pace of casting, tying, wading. I love this sport, but I wanted my son to love it, too. My daughter has an eye for things. She is a photographer, and fly fishing venues offer huge opportunities for her to practice her passion, but my son is different. We suited up, headed to the river. He lost a few fish, and then he landed one. He hooped and hollared. The next one was good, too. And then he caught the big fish of the trip the next day. It may not seem like much to many, but the joy on his face is not just the joy of his childhood, but, in many ways, the redemption of mine. I do not care if he fly fishes the rest of his life, nor do I care if I do. I am simply grateful that we have been able to share this time in our lives. I am so glad that he caught the big fish. We are going again on New Years. He is pumped. I did not miss fishing, but I have found joy in it again. God has redeemed it for me, and made it new and I am grateful.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Post-Apocalyptic Attire



23 American cities nuked in a terrorist attack. The nation is in chaos, the government is in tatters, and surival is the order of the day. The people of Jericho, a small town in Kansas, struggle to understand what happened and fight to live in post-apocalyptic America. That was the TV series Jericho until it was cancelled. We were very disappointed. The show was relatively clean and redeeming, and the cliffhanger at the end of each episode made us long for the next episode. I only had one issue with the show. The characters were just too clean. Post-apocalyptic shows are supposed to be filled with filthy road warriors that look like Mel Gibson; not Jericho. I'm sure that if the show had not been cancelled, a secret underground washeteria would have been discovered. I could not help but think about our own ability to deceive ourselves about the effects of sin. Every time one of us leaves a spouse, convinced that it is for the better, that our children will suffer less in the long run, we mythologize divorce and romanticize sin. Each time a church member shops for another church, thinking that he or she can do that without hurting their brothers and sisters in their previous church, they live a delusion. Each two to three year step a pastor takes up the clerical career ladder is fueled by a vision of greener pastures, and with the false belief that the people in his previous churches will not be effected negatively. It seems that we have an uncanny ability to hear Satan; "you will not die." We romanticize the effects of our sin, convincing ourselves that we can remain clean while wading through the wallow. We cannot. Sin, like war, is a dirty business.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Just A Dream?

I will bless the Lord who has given me counsel; My heart also instructs me in the night seasons (Psalm 16:7).

It was a dream. He led his daughter by the hand into the doctors office where dozens of young people were lined up. The old physician smiled and sand as he placed each child on a conveyor. It exposed them to an odd sort of light that both exposed their illness and began to heal it.

As his daughter left the office, the old physician took his hand. The healders hands were ancient and smooth like a marble statue. He smiled as they watched the teenagers sit down in the waiting room. A young man came and began to flirt with the girl, who turned her back on his advances. The old one said to the father, "She is ill, but her heart is good."

The next moment he and the old one were in a boat together with the boy. It was a nice twenty-one footer, and the sea was seemingly perfect. He stood in the bow and listened as the old physician sang unintelligibly and steered the boat. He looked at the boy who seemed frightened, and saw a rogue wave rising behind him. It was more than 60 feet high and he and the boy knew it would take them, ending their lives. But, as he looked at the old physician, now turned captain, he believed and peace flooded his soul; and the wave melted into the sea.

Monday, December 1, 2008

All Problems Are People Problems

I recently read a book by John Ortberg entitled, "Everbody's Normal Till You Get To Know Them." The first three chapters should be read by every impatient person in the world and by every religious person in the world. We who are religious often forget that the only reasons we exist are the grace and mercy of God. And, we forget that fact most often when dealing with others who are in need of mercy and grace. Statements like, "Every one of us pretends to be healthier and kinder than we really are; we all engage in what might be called 'depravity management,' " , and "We are all like porcupines. Every one of us carries our own little arsenal. . . Yet we, too, want to get close." pepper the book and make it worth the read. Also worth the read is this quote by Tom Marshall that I copied off of my griend Garrett's blog, , The Life Interior).

"Man still retains within himself the need to love a perfect object that will never disappoint him and to be himself loved totally and unconditionally. These needs can be met only in a relationship with God Himself. Otherwise, we go on demanding unattainable absolutes from human beings."

Friday, November 28, 2008

White Chili

Today we will have white chili; a savory blend of leftover turkey, white beans, and southwest spices. We look forward to white chili as much as we look forward to turkey and dressing. We are just as thankful for white chili as for turkey and dressing. We "say grace" over each meal, knowing that it is by grace that we have both. We could, should, "say grace" over everything in life.

The root of thanksgiving is the recognition of the grace of God. From the animals that God slew to cover the shame of Adam and Eve's nakedness, to the birth of Seth after Cain was banished for slaying Abel, to the grace of the ark Noah built, to the scattering of the people from their wicked plans at Babel, to the continuation of David's throne in spite of his adultery and murder, to the cross of Calvary, to the lives who were spared and celebrated that first great feast in Plymouth, God has made clear his grace in the face of our depravity. Thanksgiving flows freely from the heart that recognizes that we truly do not deserve what we receive and do not receive what we deserve.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Wanted: Senior Pastor


Wanted, senior pastor. Must be highly skilled in preaching, teaching, discipleship, counseling, visitation, evangelism, visioning, planning, leading a multistaff church, and directing all activities of the church.

I read this ad from our state denominatinal newspaper to our church leaders. One of them said, "Man, why don't they go ahead and require him to be a CPA, too. That way he could write the checks as well as doing everything else." At least they listed preaching as a requirement, but there was no mention of prayer, character, integrity, or calling. The really sad thing is that in spite of this church wanting a pastor who is more proficient than any of the apostles, he will be following a pastor who is retiring after over three decades as pastor of this church. That means that the new pastor will step into one of the most difficult situations in the church world, with the pre-existing expectations of being super-pastor. Now, contrast that post with this one.

We are seeking a spirit-filled pastor who exhibits leadership, compassion, and integrity, and is found continually in prayer.

I have made a hobby out of reading the qualification listings for senior pastor positions. I have never read one that said he must be a man of prayer until I read this one. I'm sure many churches are looking for a man of prayer, but they almost never list that as a qualification; that, in spite of the clear Biblical requirements for him to be so. Granted, the pastor must be able to do many things, but if he is not a man of prayer he is nothing more than a church bureaucrat. One of my friends has this quote on the header of his blog. It bears reading here.

"A minister may fill his pews, his communion roll, the mouths of the public, but what that minister is on his knees in secret before God Almighty, that he is and no more." John Owen






Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Withering Aspens And The Pursuit Of Peace

There is a creeping death among the Aspen trees of our nation's high country. At first, no one noticed the withered tops of a few trees, but the malady spread and increased, and scientists and naturalists finally became alarmed as large tracts of the glorious trees were found withering and dying. No one is yet sure of the cause, but sections of golden forest are now ashen with the corpses of trees that look like giant skeletons propped up along the mountainsides.

"Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord; looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled;" Hebrews 12:14-15

Some of us who are alive to glorify God have allowed resentment to creep into our lives. Our words and even our countenances once glorified our Savior like the golden leaves of the Aspen. We failed to notice the withering of our branches as we held on to the first resentment. We justified the wounds of our egos, the slights to our preferences. We whispered our complaints to the lives around us, and many of them joined our cause, withering away with us. One day we found ourselves on the hillside, not alone, but surrounded by the skeletonized remains of those we had infected. As we looked across the valley at the other side, we saw what we had once been; glorious lives glorifying a glorious King. Our hearts broke and we repented and leaves sprung out on our branches again, but not all followed this time. And now, as we look around us, we see the remains of once glorious lives, ashen corpses, and our hearts break with the words of God, "... lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled."

Saturday, November 22, 2008

And Not A Drop To Drink

"I was going to end it all last week, but I guess I won't," the leathery old man told me. I listened as he related one tragic tale after another; his life seemingly filled with more sorrow than Job. I had shared the Gospel with him more than once before, but each time he changed the subject; each time rejected the offer of grace. So, this time I asked, "Do you pray?"

"Do you pray?"
he responded cynically. "See this light. I pull the string and it comes on. I pull it again and it goes off. I trust that string. I do not trust prayer. Pray if you want to, but I've never seen anything come of it." As he spoke I remembered the words in Scripture about the blinding of the eyes of the lost, and wondered if he would die before he believed.

When European explorers first reached the coast of Brazil, they were desperate for fresh water; many of them near death from lack of it. When they encountered the miles wide mouth of the Amazon, they mistook it for an inlet from the ocean; assuming it's water to be salty and so poisonous. They sailed up the river for several more days before realizing they were in the middle of more fresh water than they could ever drink. And, while they sailed, at least two more sailers died. Water, water everywhere, and not a drop to drink.

"That lady, do you know that lady who comes in here all the time?" I didn't know who my unbelieving old friend was talking about. He frowned and scornfully said, "She is always smiling, always happy. She comes in here prayin' all the time. She prays over there and prays over here," he said, pointing around his room, "Why is she always smiling?" I smiled, too, and said, "Maybe it's because she prays."

Monday, November 17, 2008

Echoes Of Eternity

The sound of cold, clear, running water echoes in my heart and soul. I have fallen in love with rivers and streams and the rythms of rising trout and the ritual of casting flies. It is good to be home from the sabbatical that took me to the water, to sleep in my own bed, worship in my own church, preach, teach, and spend time with friends, but the river echoes in my mind. That echo is shaping me; vacation plans, how to get the time to slip away to a stream for a day, even which college my daughter can attend. I jokingly told her that I do not care where she goes to school, as long as there is a trout stream within an hour of her school

"I know a man in Christ who fourteen yeas ago was caught up to the third heaven - whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows - and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter. And I know that this man was caught up into paradise..." (2 Cor. 12:2-3a)

Surely this vision echoed in Paul's heart. He wrote that his trials, heavy by earthly standards, were lightened by the knowledge that they were temporary and that their pain could not compare with eternity. The rivers and the streams echo in my mind, but eternity echoes in my heart. God means for it to do so. That echo calls us forward, encourages us in our trials, and gives us hope in the face of mortality. We have not heard the river that flows from the throne of God with our ears, but it echoes in the grandeur and glory of Creation, it sounds in the depths of our souls and in our minds through His Word, and it strengthens us as we experience the presence of God with us and in us.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Our Quest For Greatness


"The LORD said to Gideon, 'The people who are with you are too many for Me to give Midian into their hands, for Israel would become boastful, saying, 'My own power has delivered me.'" (Judges 7:2)

Uzzah stretched out his hand to prop up God. Gideon gathered a huge army to defeat Midian. Uzzah was struck dead, and the ark returned to its place. Gideon's corps was reduced to a number so small that there was no way he or the Hebrews could take credit for the victory. They won. God got glory.

A man came back to our small, rural church after a trip to the city. He had attended a wonderful, large, church there; one with multiple services, an orchestra, a school, all the comforts of Christendom. He was depressed when he walked back home. "It was so wonderful there. I want to move there. I love our church, but we are so small and our community so small. There's just nothing here. We just have so little offer."

Maybe we don't have much to offer. Maybe, when we all get down to it we all wonder about our smallness and our ability to do anything good, anything godly. Then again, it may be that we simply need to recognize that God fed over 15,000 with five loaves and two fishes. He defeated thousands with only a few hundred. He made everything from nothing - ex nihilo. So, maybe we who have little offer more to God. Maybe Jesus was right when he said the widow gave more than all those who were rich.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Deep and Wide


If you concentrate on the depth of your ministry, God will take care of its breadth. (John MacArthur)

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Do I Have To?

We are poor people, much afflicted.
We camped under various stars,
Where you dip water with a cup from a muddy river
And slice your bread with a pocketknife.
This is the place; accepted, not chosen.
(Czeslaw Milosc, "It Was Winter")

I am not supposed to envy, but I do. I envy people like Brother Lawrence who seem to have found the ability to rejoice in everything they do; to experience God in the opportunity to clean the latrine and to attend Handel's Messiah with equal alacrity.

My friend is about to send his son away to the Navy so that the boy can become a Navy Seal; one of the more dangerous jobs in the military. He is happy that the boy is doing what God wants, knowing that God will take care of him, and yet . . . and yet . . .

There are many "and yet's" in life. We know, we believe, and yet we have not quite mastered our flesh . . . and yet we have not fully grasped the peace that passes all understanding in the middle of the choice to follow Him. I remember a conversation Jesus had with His Father. It went something like this, "Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me. Yet, I will do your will, no matter what."

Could it be that it is neither sinful nor immature to ask God for an easier task? Could it be that if Jesus asked for the cup to pass, that we are allowed to ask for it to pass? And then, with flesh lagging far behind, we step by faith into the thing that we accept, yet have not chosen; choosing the lasting peace that comes to the courageous who follow Christ, rather than the temporary comfort that fills the cowardly.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Near Death Experiences

I went hiking with my 15 year old daughter and 11 year old son today. We didn't take a long trail, nor was it very difficult, but I noticed something. I noticed that they are much younger than I am. As we have fished, hiked, and just rested here in the Kiamichi mountains, I have noticed that most of the people hanging out here are older than I am. I have also noticed that I am older than I used to be, meaning closer to my "expiration" date. A few years ago that would have really bothered me. I didn't want to die - had too much to do. I still have much to do, but realizing that I am probably a few years beyond my halfway point, doesn't make me sad. As a matter of fact, I am looking forward to physical death. This morning was absolutely beautiful, but it was nothing compared with where I am headed. Each morning I wake up here means that I have more work to do, more tears to shed, more suffering. Yes, there are still more joys, but the morning I wake up in the presence of my Lord will be supremely more satisfying than anything here. I will be on a permanent sabbatical. I will shed no more tears, experience no more suffering, and I will experience the fulfillment of my relationship with my Creator; the experience of the promise that all old things have passed away and all things are now become new.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Fly Fishing

I truly enjoy fly fishing. Sometimes the fish come from out of nowhere. I make a cast that is into the riffle, watch the fly float downstream, thinking that it is nowhere near a fish, see the flash and then enjoy the fight. Other times I can see the fish, and I work through dozens of casts to try to get the fish to bite. I worked a fish like that yesterday. He was larger than most, hanging near the bottom. I called my eleven year old son down and worked with him for 15 minutes to try to get the midge to float down in just the right spot to attract the big fish. It didn't work. The fish didn't bite. So, I set him up to cast for a few others we saw just above us. I was sitting down watching the big fish hold in his spot. It was a catch and release area, and I guessed that the fish had been snagged before and simply wasn't going to bite. I made a few more casts and all of a sudden he hit. Fishing for trout is so much like life, like Christianity, like evangelism. We cast our efforts out into the world; into marriages, parenthood, friendships, businesses. We have no idea if they will catch anything, and then they connect. Sometimes, though, we can see the opportunities, and can't get them to hit; especially when it comes to reaching people for Christ. We see people who need to know God through His Son. We see their lives, see them in the stream, and we cast and work and tell and love, and sometimes they never bite. Sometimes we must move on, and sometimes we just need to make one more cast.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Ministry To Men

As I peruse church web sites, I find an interesting phenomena. Almost without exception, there are ministries for children, youth, and women. Almost as often, there are ministries for senior adults. Yet, I find almost nothing for men. In almost half of the sites I find, the men's ministry portion of the site, if it exists at all, is "Under Construction" or seriously out of date. For years, we have bemoaned the lack of men in church. Perhaps it is because our actions say that we care more about children, youth, women and seniors than we do for men. Children, youth, and women followed Jesus, and certainly He ministered to them, but He spent the majority of His time in ministry with men.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Here, Put This On

I am a toddler trout fisherman. Years of angling other fish has helped with the basics, but the more I learn about trout the more aware I become of my own ignorance. So, I ask questions. For instance, when Kevin tied a fly on my line in the boat on the Juan (that's insider lingo for the San Juan River, which, when I use that lingo, makes me feel much more knowledgable than I really am). So, when Kevin tied on a fly I asked what it was. I now knew the name, but could not have picked it out of a dozen other dry flies.

I am not, however, a toddler pastor. I have fifteen years of experience, on the job training. The passage I read in Eugene Peterson's, Under The Unpredictable Plant, would have meant little to me ten years ago. Today it is meat, though not the kind of meat that feeds the ego or the emotional center. It is the kind of meat that feeds a soul that is bent on finishing a marathon, rather than a sprint. He warns those of us who pastor people of the great danger of our own professionalism, of which our lingo is but an omen.

"Jonah's pouting displeasure (that God did not destroy Ninevah) betrays his complete indifference to God, God's ways, and the peple who have just become God's people (the Ninevites). . . He cares nothing for the congregation but only for the literal and dominating authority of his own preaching. He has preached destruction in forty days, and, by God, destruction it had better be. . . I do my work. I carry out my responsibilities of word and sacrament. I visit the sick and comfort the grieving. I show up in church on time to conduct Sunday worship, pray when asked over the church suppers, and play second base at the annual church picnic softball game. But in this life of obedience it turns out there is a steady attrition of ego satisfaction, for as I carry out my work I find that people are less and less responding to me and more and more responding to God. They hear different things in my sermon that I have so very carefully spoken, and I am offended in their attention. They find ways of being responsible to the spirit of God that don't fit into the plans that I have made for the congregation - plans that, with their cooperation, would not only serve to glorify God but would redound to my credit as one of his first-rank leaders."

Saturday, October 25, 2008

The Power Of Rejection

I had been in the water for two days, wading, casting, changing flies in an attempt to capture some of the elusive rainbows and browns that inhabit the quality waters of the San Juan river in Northwestern New Mexico. Kevin and Russell invited me into the drift boat, which elevated me to a place where I could see the huge fish in the water. At first, it felt like I was cheating. I wasn't just looking at the ripples and fins of the fish as they rose. I was watching them as they stalked bugs in the foam line. It was not cheating. These fish are smart and picky. They have seen thousands of fishermen, and thousands of artificial flies. Time after time they would look at my fly. Time after time they would reject it. Then, I made the cast that offered the fly in a way that intrigued a 19 1/4 inch rainbow. He rose, took the fly, and I set the hook. It was wonderful. Dozens of rejections. . . one acceptance. That process was repeated over and over; dozens of casts, dozens of rejections, one take. That once catch motivated me to keep trying, in spite of the rejection.

The last day of the trip, I had fallen in the 42 degree water a good bit made its way into my waders, chilling me to the bone. I left the river to warm up and was going to just watch others fish until the van came to pick us up, when I saw the fish rising again. I had to tie on one more fly, and make one more cast. I paid off again. A bent-jawed 18 1/2 inch rainbow took the fly and I was thrilled again.

Life is so similar to fishing. Many give up. They stop sharing the gospel, stop serving people, stop applying for colleges and jobs. For others, the hope and expectation of the catch inspires them to continue. Yet, even the most positive can become discouraged. Christ offers more than the possibility of catch. He offers the promise of eternal life, and so we live life with hope. We live it, not just hoping that we will see the lives of those we serve change, but hoping and believing that He is faithful and will reward us for our faithfulness. Even if our lives seem to be producing little, trusting in Him and obeying Him will always produce great reward.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Excerpts From Sabbatical

I found one of my favorite quotable phrases in something Eugene Peterson (as in the guy who paraphrased The Message) wrote, a Latin phrase, "irreligiosa sollicituda pro Deo," reported to mean a blasphemous anxiety to do God's work for him.

Eugene Peterson wrote the book The Contemplative Pastor, Returning To The Art Of Spiritual Direction for me. Well, maybe he did not write it specifically for me, but I do love this book. In the chapter on The Unbusy Pastor, he writes, "I (and most pastors, I believe) become busy for two reasons. I am busy because I am vain. I want to appear important. Significant. . . I live in a society in which crowded schedules and harassed conditions are evidence of importance, so I develop a crowded schedule and harassed conditions. . . I am busy because I am lazy. . . I take effort to refuse, and besides, there's always the danger that the refusal will be interpreted as a rebuff, a betrayal of religion, and a calloused disregard for people in need. . . How can I lead people into the quiet place beside the still waters if I am in perpetual motion? How can I persuade a person to live by faith and not by works if I have to juggle my schedule constantly to make everything fit into place? . . . If no one asked me to do anything, what would I do? Three things. I can be a pastor who prays. . . I can be a pastor who preaches. . . I can be a pastor who listens."

Sweet, piercing, words. Thank you, E. Peterson.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Some Great Reminders

I wish I had come back to HSU years ago. The university is much more left of center than I am, but I'm not going to HSU today. I started 28 years ago. Seeing Jorge Angulo was like a major blast from the past. He was a real hoot and still is. The memories of working together at the mill shop are good. Mike Hammack and Vance are still just like I remember them. It was so good to reminisce. Talking with the current APO members, hearing them talk about how to kick start the club was great, and remembering all the nutty stuff we did was great. The campus is beautiful and some incredible things happened to me. I met Doctor Smith and Doctor Rankin. Both of these men went to bat for me when my parents separated during my first semester at HSU. They cared and intervened in my life when they could have just counted me out. I met my precious wife at HSU and made friends there that were so important in my life.

I'm still not wilde about APO being coed. Maybe it's for the best. Maybe not. I cannot, however, adjust to girls in Cowboy band. I just can't go there, even though it was great to hear them play again.

We met mom at First Methodist in Stamford. She and we have good friends who go there and it was our hope that they'd be there. They weren't, but the worship service was great. Pastor Erwin was full of life, the worship was wonderful, the church filled with people who seemed to love each other, and the message was encouraging.

I met Paul Wright there who is a communit youth director. I played football against his uncle in high school. Also met one of my good friend's brother who is not the head football coach in Stamford. We spent the afternoon with my sister and her kids, along with Mom & Jim. It was good to see them again. I felt sorry for Christi's kids, because the camp didn't have much for them to do.

Today we did school, and Denise and the kids went to help out the camp as it served lunch to 400 senior adults. Low and behold, Tommy Culwell was there with seniors from his church. Tommy & Laquita were at FBC in Seymour when we were at Calvary. Tommy took me in, brand new pastor that I was, and helped me make it through those first few years in the ministry. He and Laquita are doing well in Snyder. He has weathered the storm of following a pastor who had retired after 30 years. His hair was grayer and a little thinner, but he was still the same old Tommy.

Chellie is studying for the PSAT, Rees is bored, and Denise is rolling with the flow. Tonight we end up at the Starrs. Chellie will take the PSAT tomorrow at Cooper High School. We'll be spending the next few days getting ready for the trip to New Mexico.

I really love this all. God has been so good, and I am so glad we are here.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Back In The Big Country

We rolled out of Many on Tuesday morning, feeling like we had been running for weeks (which we had). It's been a really busy and amazing few weeks; finishing up the fellowship hall, planning for the dedication and ordination, and then trying to pack for a month away on Sabbbatical. Rolling into Big Country Baptist Camp that evening was like deja vu all over again. I went to the camp as a boy and my mother went as a girl. I took my first youth group to camp at BCBC and now, 26 years later, I'm staying in the Sheperd's Cabin for a week of my sabbatical. I've had to make two trips to Abilene (60 mile round trip) to get work done on the van and now to come in for Hardin-Simmons Home Coming. We've never come to a home coming, and we wouldn't really want our kids coming here because the university has become so liberal, but we have good memories here and we'll get to see good friends this weekend. I wish I could load up some pictures, but something is wrong with my blog host site. If you have Facebook, you should be able to see some of them on my facebook or on Chellie's. Tonight we go to the All School Sing, fraternity and sorority reunions in the morning, and then we take the kids to see HSU play ETBU tomorrow afternoon.

The best day of sabbatical so far was yesterday. I did nothing but read the Bible, rest, and read a great book by Eugene Peterson about a pastor's personal life. It may sound like I'm too busy, but I'm only doing what I have to do, and then I'm just sitting, thinking, reading, and resting.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Finishing Well

For over twelve years, we have needed to remodel our kitchen and fellowship hall. They were run down 12 years ago when God clarified His vision for us to use them to reach families and their children. 12 years of filling those buildings with children, students, and their families had just worn them out. Finally, after several plans, and doing most of the work ourselves, we finished it. It looks incredible. But, driving the last nail was not what finished the job. Yesterday finished the job, and finished it well.

Yesterday was a huge day at Calvary, the church I serve. Yesterday, we ended six months of training for five men who were called to serve our church as deacons. Yesterday we heard their testimonies in worship, and had one of the most awesome ordination services I've ever attended. In the middle of all of that, we dedicated the kitchen and fellowship hall anew to God's glory. That wasn't all. Over the past several months, four families filled with servants have moved to other towns. They all came back yesterday. We had not had time to really say goodbye, but yesterday we did. That still wasn't all. I am about to take a short sabbatical. This church loves me and has wanted me to have this time away for several years, and finally I'm taking it. Yesterday, they sent me off well.

Finishing well is so much more important than starting well, and yesterday we finished well. We finished that remodeling job with worship. We finished the training of those five men with the laying on of hands. We finished this chapter in our relationship with those four families by blessing them as they followed God's leadership. At the end of it all, the leaders of our church laid hands on me and my family. It was one of those days that people will remember for a long time. It was a day of finishing well, so that we can now go and live well. It was a day filled with His glory, and a day for His glory.

Friday, October 3, 2008

On, By, For

Last week he left her after 75 years of marriage - incredible, but maybe not what you think. He left her for heaven just after they celebrated their 75th wedding anniversary. I held her hand today as she wept for him, for herself, and as she proclaimed the glories of God. Through the tears, struggling to breath because of her own poor health, she cried, "We had good times and we had bad times, but Jesus saw us through them all. I live on Jesus and I live by Jesus and I live for Jesus. He will see me through." In the midst of this crooked and perverse generation, the testimony of the power of the cross is still as powerful and bright as it was on that rugged hill so long ago.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Revival

"The truth is that revival is really the Reviver in action, and He came two thousand years ago at Pentecost. Revival is not so much a vertical outpouring from heaven (for the Reviver is already here in His temple, the bodies of the redeemed) as it is a horizontal outmoving of the Reviver through these temples into the world. It is a horizontal rather than a vertical movement..." (Norman P. Grubb, Continuous Revival, 1952)

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Consumption

"Our soul is stuffed with the small things, and there is no room for the great." - John Piper, Hunger for God

Monday, September 29, 2008

Don't Think, Pray!

Last Monday my friend (my associate pastor) and I were just pulling into his driveway when my cell phone rang. We were returning from a 150 mile round trip to Shreveport to visit a church member in the hospital who had just had surgery. The phone call was from my wife. She had been to the doctor to check on some pressure she was having in her lower abdomen. She told me the doctor had found a tumor, felt it could be cancerous, and that she would spend the rest of the day doing blood work and tests before the surgery he had scheduled her for the very next morning. The blood drained from my face, and we exchanged a few more words as the shock of this information sunk in. I hung up, told my friend what she had said, and these were his very next words, "Let me pray for you, man." He then prayed.

As word spread, other people began to pray. Several, as I spoke to them, never said a word about prayer. I heard many times, "We'll be thinking about you." I realize it's something that we just say to express our concern, but it is also something we just do. It is natural to think about people who are hurting. It is natural to be concerned about people who are your friends, but it is not unnatural. Living the unnatural life requires making intentional decisions to live unnaturally. Not to split hairs but if I ever get cancer, or have a heart attack, or my child is in a life-threatening accident, please do something unnatural. Don't just think about us. Pray for us! It is good to know that people are thinking about you. It is better to know that they are praying for you.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Seeking Sovereignty

She shouted, "How could God let this happen?" I remember once praying, "Why me, Lord?" There is no rest in those questions, no peace at all. While I firmly believe God can handle all such questions, I know there is only one answer. He is God, sovereign, and we are not. If we define peace as the absence of war, or the absence of conflict, or the absence of trials and trouble, then we have defined a peace that we can never have here. Some seek peace in acceptance. The human mind can work to "accept the things I cannot change," and then broaden that list to include almost everything in life. Yet, in the end, this kind of acceptance leads to a passivity that is just as unfulfilling to the human soul as the injustices it forces its adherants to ignore. Peace, in the end, is found only in the sovereignty of God, and faith in His sovereignty is the key. For the peace that surpasses all understanding must not rely upon understanding, but upon faith in God and His sovereign stewardship of all that is. We may claim our own sovereignty and try to find our own peace, or we may accept the sovereignty of God and find His peace. I choose His, though I must choose it constantly. Life is one continuous peace-rattling event after another. Peace can rattle my humanity, but it cannot rattle His sovereignty. Paul knew about peace and sovereignty when he wrote Romans 8:28. The peace-rattling events in his life were more severe than most of us will ever know and still, with confidence, he could write, "And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose."

Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Vista

As I stared out the window on the sixth floor of the hospital, my mind and soul cleared. The various hues of green were slowly changing as the sun came up over the horizon. Days in a hospital room are not unlike days in jail: incarcerated by illness rather than for a crime. I needed the vista this morning. I needed it to be the son God wants and to be he husband my wife needs today. I needed to look out and remember that life and God are so much greater than this light and momentary trial. Something in the sky caught my eye. I thought it as an airplane on the horizon, then perhaps a huge bird closer by. As I continued to look, I realized it was a blemish on the outside of the window. At that point my thoughts became aware of the buildup of water spots and smudges on the outside of our sixth floor window. Now when I look through at the vista, I cannot help but see them, too. The view that had been my strength is now clouded by the imperfections so close to my own eyes.

Too often, we live our lives like this. When we get serious about following Christ, we get serious about ourselves. Sometimes Satan and Self ally to saboutage our sanctification by twisting our focus. They keep us so focused on our sin, our immaturity, and our own personal needs that we forget to look beyond to Christ, the goal set before us. Through Paul, God gives us clear direction. "I say then, walk in the Spirit and you will not fulfill the lust of the flesh." (Gal. 5:16) To focus on self and sin will only lead to a sin-focused life. To focus on God, on Christ, and walking after the Spirit, will lead us to the life we desire. Christ is our vista.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Better, But Not O.K.

Monday, I was not o.k. Tuesday, I was better. My best friend, who I have been married to for nearly twenty-five years, called me from the doctor's office in another town and told me she had a tumor that needed to come out quickly. Did I say that I was not o.k. on Monday? I was with a good friend when I got the news, and he stopped immediately and prayed. I called another good friend to pray. He reminded me about the sovereignty of God. Then I called another, and he just wept with me, telling me how much he loved us and then he prayed. At this point, I was better, but not o.k. So, I found my prayer closet, got on my face before God, cried out and prayed. After spending time with Him, I was better.

Word spread. People began to pray for my wife, my family. As she spent the afternoon doing paperwork and lab work, I prepared for the days we would spend in the hospital. We told our kids, I led my Monday men's group, and all of us prayed. That night I was defnitely better, but not o.k.

She was to go into surgery at 11:00 am yesterday, but it didn't start until 2:00 pm. I was better, but not o.k. But, I was again surrounded by members of the body. The surgery was miraculously short, and the doctor came to give me the report. The day before he had said, "It could be cancer." After the surgery, the first thing he said was, "It was benign." No doubt about it, I was better. I rounded the corner to my cadre of friends in the waiting room, told them the news, and asked our director of missions to pray. I would have fallen apart in the waiting room if I had tried, because even though I was better I was definitely not o.k.

This morning, Wednesday, my wife is better and so am I. Yet, she is not o.k. Thank God she will not now have to endure the trial of cancer, but she will have to recover from this surgery. We both know that no matter what had happened in the last two days, God would have more than sustained us. And, we know that there is more ahead. So, we are better, but not yet o.k. We will only be o.k. when we have finished this race. Until then, by the grace of God, we will continue to be better. And, we will walk with others who are just like us. In Christ, they continue to grow, but they still groan from the difficulties and trials of this world until one day when we are all o.k.

Monday, September 22, 2008

The Wind In Your Sails

A sailing ship without wind is not a sailing ship. It is simply a raft, floating on the see. A life without wind in the sails is the same. And yet it is different.

Many winds move us - great sweeping stories, new hobbies, and time with loved ones are winds in our sails. Great and challenging tasks can fill our sails, as can new opportunities. Parents'
sails are often filled with the accomplishments of their children, pastors' the status or success of their church. All these winds move us, but they cannot sustain us.

God is gracious, and he will not allow us to be deceived by any wind other than the the wind of the Holy Spirit. Sometimes the failure of a child will remind us to trust his wind. Sometimes a phone call from a loved one saying, "The doctor says I have a mass. He says we need to do surgery in the morning." will reveal the true nature of the wind in our sails.

There is one wind that blows throughout eternity, one wind that will carry us through to the other shore. God loves us too much to fail us, and too much to allow us to be blown by any wind that will fail to see us through.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

The Betrothal

In three weeks we will dedicate our new fellowship area. In three weeks we will say goodbye to a family that has served so faithfully here at Calvary. In three weeks we will ordain five men to serve as deacons. In three weeks I will leave on a month long sabbatical. That may mean little to you, but it is all incredibly stressful and exciting for me. So, I am wired for sound and running full bore. I have a million details to work out, and not enough time to get it all done. I am ready for this to happen, often irritated at the wait, and excited. . . all at the same time.

I feel like I am engaged again. Twenty-five years ago this November, I asked Denise to marry me. She, throwing caution to the wind, said yes. I wanted to marry in December. Our anniversary is August 11th. It took ten months to prepare for the wedding. I was ready for it to happen, often irritated at the wait, and excited. . . all at the same time.

There is another betrothal in process. It sounds strange to those who do not know Him, but we who follow Christ are all betrothed to Him. We are the bride, and He is the groom, and we are all here preparing for the wedding. As I ran the isles of Lowe's again today, searching for those last things needed to finish the fellowship hall while thinking about friends moving and leaders being raised up and all the details of sabbatical and preaching this Sunday, I could not help but think about those ten months that I waited to marry my beloved. And, I could not help but think about the day I met Him and all the days between then and now. Man, I am ready for this to happen, often irritated at the wait, and excited . . . all at the same time.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Living With The Lights Off

"Humbly, quietly, with scarcely a movement, she brings up out of the dark places of my soul the dissatisfactions in relationships, the frustrations of the ministry, the fears of failure, the emptiness of wasted time. And just when my heart begins to retreat to the delicious hope of eating supper with friends at Pizza Hut, she quietly reminds me: not tonight." (John Piper on the Handmaiden of Fasting)

We seem hardwired to cover up our true selves. Our souls are a void, and we will attempt to fill them with anything and everything. Even once we know Christ, we fear facing ourselves. We would rather live with the lights off, stumbling through life: hoping not to run into anything. Fasting, as with any other trial, turns the lights on. It gives us the opportunity to see who we really are so that we can really change.

Stones, Sinners, Crosses

One day a group of men, who loved their version of God's truth more than God or people, drug a woman caught in adultery to Jesus. They did it to prove themselves right and Jesus wrong, having no care at all for the woman. They wanted to trap Jesus into either violating Moses' law or Roman law. If Jesus agreed with Moses' law and told them to stone her, he would be in trouble with Rome, who reserved the death penalty for itself. If Jesus said they could not stone her because of Ceasar, they would have him for blaspheming Moses' law. They had the woman in one hand, stones to kill her in the other, and no room for God in their hearts. Jesus sprung their trap. He said they were free to stone her, and that any one of them who had no sin should feel free to cast the first stone. They dropped their stones.

I hate making more than one trip, so I load up my arms with everything I can carry, usually dropping something along the way. It is impossible to carry a stone, a sinner, and the cross. We will have dropped the cross. Without the cross, there is no love in our hearts. All our truth will be absent of love. Dorothy Day (anarchist turned Catholic) wrote, "I really only love God as much as I love the person I love the least." John the apostle wrote, "We love Him because He first loved us. If someone says, 'I love God,' and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen?"

The cross, above all else, is a constant reminder that we will forever be sinners who desperately require grace. No sinner who knows and believes this, can ever comfortably carry a stone for long, nor can he carry the cross without desiring to carry a sinner to Jesus - not for condemnation, but for forgiveness and freedom from sin.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Deer Blind Evangelism

I was lifting some weights in the gym when a hunting show on the television caught my eye. In between sets (I sound like some kind of muscle head) the bow hunter dumped out a package of baited grain on the ground. My first thought was, "You're cheating." Seventeen yards in front of his stand, he dumps out an entire bag of baited grain meal. That is not the kind of hunting I grew up doing. Well, in about thirty minutes, an incredible white tail buck came almost running to the bait. The guy nailed him and the buck fell less than fifty yards away. Notice the steps. First, find a place where deer are known to roam. Then, build a stand in a nice location. Make sure the stand is comfortable. You will be spending many hours in it, sitting and waiting. Now, find a good bait. Put the bait out where the dear will smell it and eat it, but don't put it too far away from the stand. Get your weapon ready. Wait patiently. When the dear comes, nail him.

When I saw the video, I immediately thought about how many churches "do" evangelism. We find a location where lost and unchurched people are known to roam. We build a comfortable church there and spend a great deal of time in it. We discover and utilize various types of bait to get the lost and unchurched within reach of our church. Is this wrong? Probably not. Look, without Jesus Christ, people are going to spend eternity suffering. But, this is not the only way to reach lost and unchurched people.

When I was a kid, I didn't know what a deer blind was. We picked up our guns and stalked deer. We walked along bluffs, and quietly scouted ravines and dry creek beds. We hid behind cedars and patches of grass. The last time I killed a deer in Texas I was standing right in front of him when he came out of the brush. Do all you can to reach people who don't know Jesus. They are in serious trouble without Him, but don't rely on deer blind evangelism alone. While it is more difficult, and requires more effort and skill, making evangelism a way of life is so much more exciting and effective than waiting for them to come to you.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Prayer In The Political Arena

Dan Yeary, whose church John McCain attends, was asked to say the closing prayer at the RNC last week. Dan is the pastor of North Phoenix Baptist Church, where Cindy McCain is a member. In the light of John McCain's mantra, "Country First," I thank Brother Dan for reminding all present and all of us that there is one who comes first, even before country.

"Almighty God, we are grateful for the gift called America. We're thankful for the freedom to celebrate as we are doing and have done this week. We have repeatedly invoked Your blessing on our country, and as we do, we're reminded of the words You gave to Solomon: 'If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways,' You will hear from heaven and heal our land.' So we pray, humble us Lord, humble us as a people to serve You. Help us to seek Your face, alone. Give us the courage to turn from our self-centered wicked ways. Hear us, oh Lord, as we ask You to heal our land."

We ask You to still the storms on our eastern coast. Tonight, we ask that You protect our young men and young women who are protecting us from terrorism. And Lord, we ask Your very special blessings on our brother, John McCain. Father, we feel that he has been prepared for such a time as this. We ask that You give him wisdom and courage -- wisdom that comes from You and courage because of his relationship with You. We ask for Your blessing and divine protection upon Cindy and the children, and may they see such honor and integrity in their parents that they rise up and call them blessed. And, oh Lord, in humility, we ask that You remind us that we cannot put our country first unless You are foremost. For as Jesus taught His disciples, Thine is the Kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen."

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Feeders

The coolness of this morning is a wonderful portent of fall. Mist drifts off the roof as the first rays of the Sun warm the heavy dew that collected in the early morning hours. The birds are beginning to awaken and gather. Black-capped chickadees, cardinals, ring-necked and Mexican doves, common sparrows, house finches, gold finches, purple finches, an occasional jay and our family of warblers come each morning to feed. The hummingbirds are beginning to swarm the feeders as they prepare to make their migratory pilgrammage south. None of them would be here if not for the feeders. Less of them would be here if it were not for the specific seeds and nectar those feeders hold. The gold finches come for the thistle, the doves for the millet, and the cardinals for the sunflower seed. None of them care for the nectar in the hummingbird feeders, and the hummingbirds care nothing for their seeds. Yet, they all gather in my backyard because I feed them.

I cannot help but think about feeding people spiritually as I watch the birds. One man told me recently, "I like the way you preach. You use lots of Scripture. I don't like it when a preacher just takes one verse, and then spends an hour hooping and hollering." Then again, I remember the time a woman told me she did not like my preaching, that I did not hoop or holler' enough. There is a balance in feeding people spiritually between the truth of Scripture and the culture of the hearer. The proclaimer must remain true to the truths of God while communicating them in languages that can be understood. It is interesting that we have no trouble understanding the need for the translation of English into Spanish or Mandarin, but are often resistant to translate our seminary vocabulary into the common Greek of the day (the cultures in which we live).

Food has always been part of our lives. In the beginning, God placed us in a garden filled with it. Covenants and treaties have include the ritual meal and cup. Church fellowships are filled with chicken and deviled eggs. Even the remembrance of Christ's death includes eating and drinking. Yet, food was also part of the first temptation. That is the way it is with spiritual food.

We need it, but sometimes we do not want what we need. Sometimes we like the millet, but need the thistle. Those who preach to us and teach us are tempted to serve only those foods we like; to tickle our ears rather than to pierce our hearts. And they are sometimes tempted to reach to the heights of theological vocabulary and preach messages that will impress seminarians and pulpit committees, while their hearers go home hungry; unable to understand the truths they heard so eloquently orated.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

The Forgotten

It is so easy to forget. Hurricane Rita was a forgotten storm. There was still so much focus on Katrina, that it received very little press. But, for those of us who went through it, we remember. Those who lost everything still remember.

Gustav is the same. Once the levees were safe in New Orleans, national attention shifted to Sarah Pailin and the Republican Convention. Yet as much as a third of the population of Louisiana was without power. Hundreds of thousands are still misplaced, and the torrential rains and storms continued until yesterday. Yet, already, we here are trying to get back to normal.

We forget. The world is a continuous distraction to the Christian life. We focus on the crises. When they pass, we want to go back to business as usual. We forget that since we became believers business is not, nor will it ever be usual. To the world, our spiritual lives are unnatural. They do not fit here, nor will they ever fit. The world resists our unnatural lives. That's why we need to come to Him and His Word every day, early in the day, not after a day of distraction. That's why we need regular contact with His body, and weekly worship together with a local church. This world is a continual distraction to the life God wants us to live.

We will forget. It's not dementia. It's the world, and living in a body effected by sin. We need reminding.

By the way, don't forget the hundreds of thousands who are still in the middle of Gustav. You can find out how to help them at http://www.lbc.org/ .

Monday, September 1, 2008

In The Eye Of God's Will

There is no wind in the eye of a hurricane. It is still, majestic, and frightening. The sky clears, the wind abates, and the storm swirls all around.

"I just hate my life," the man said. He didn't like his job, though he was making a very good living for his family. He didn't like the community. It just didn't fit his style. He didn't have any friends. His wife was unhappy. He wanted to get out, to move away, to find another opportunity. He was convinced that his dissatisfaction with life was God's indicator to him that he needed to apply for a job in another state and move there. He then said something that sounded spiritually dangerous, "I know I can serve God better there than I can here." He moved to avoid the storm, and found he had moved out of the eye and into the storm itself.

Judging the will of God by what is going on around us is dangerous. Often pastors are the most guilty as they look for the golden opportunity to come along. How many times have I spoken with a friend in the ministry who looked for a greener pasture and found it full of fire ants and weeds. Sometimes God moves us. Sometimes He gets us out of the storm. Sometimes He keeps us right in the middle of it all.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

In The Eye Of The Storm

I saw this new background and blogger template and really liked it. The storm coming down the plains onto this farm take me back to my deepest memories, growing up in a farming community in west central Texas. I loved the storms. We would watch them coming for miles. I loved their power, the beauty of the clouds, the lightening, and the rain.

Today we are preparing for a different storm. Gustav will apparently make its way right over us. We've been through this before. During Katrina, our church and home served as a shelter. During Rita, we sheltered people and were then victims of the storm itself. Officials are doing their best to keep evacuees away from us this time around because we will likely have damage and will lose power.

Life is full of storms. The drama of them is intriguing when viewed from a distance. That's why we love good movies, and TV, and books that are full of storms and their resolution. It's not that fun living through one personally, but it often happens. Viewing the storm from a distance does nothing real to our hearts. Passing through the storm with God is an incredble, life-changing experience. I'm not looking forward to this storm, but it is coming anyway. I am looking forward to what God will do while we are in the eye of this storm.

Monday, August 25, 2008

The Transforming Power Of Servanthood

I was having a bad morning, then someone called and said, "Hey, the painting that needs to be done. I'd like to do it. Tell me what to do." I wasn't preoccupied with the painting, but the simple unselfish willingness to serve changed my morning. Two men are in the fellowship hall finishing out crown moulding. Another man is on the way to help. One lady took a couple of hours out of her day off to paint, and another is coming after lunch. She has to bring her two year old, but he'll ride his bicycle while she paints. The one phone call, where a servant just volunteered her time really changed my day. It changed my gaze, my focus, and my heart. It called me back to God, to remember how Good He is.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

If I Had My Druthers

"I came here because someone said you were a good church," she said, "that you helped people."

One time four friends brought their paralyzed friend to see Jesus. The crowd was so large that they could not get in to see Him. So they climbed up on the roof of the house, tore the roof off, and lowered their friend down on the bed he was on so that he could get near Jesus. The whole story starts with these words, "And again He (Jesus) entered Capernaum after some days, and it was heard that He was in the house.

I am amazed by the dedication and love of these four friends, but I am intrigued by this first verse in the story. People knew Jesus was in the house. They knew that healing was there. His reputation preceded Him and it announced His presence.

I am sure that there are many God-following churches in this area, but today I am glad that I pastor this one. We are small, about 125 worshippers on a Sunday morning. But, someone heard that they could find help here, and hope. I would rather pastor a church of 125 who demonstrate the love of God through serving others than a church of a thousand who come to be served. Of course, small is no guarantee of spirituality. How wonderful it would be if every church, both great and small, was known as a place of God's truth and God's love.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

A Lesson I Learned At The Garbage Dump About Righteousness

A freezer at the church went out the other day. The food had begun to spoil when it was found, so we loaded everything up on the trailer and headed to the dump. It had been awhile since I had been at the dump, and the smell was pretty strong. It smelled just like the bait we used to use to catch catfish; ripe and rancid. The hills were huge and I commented to my friend how different this was from Africa. There the garbage hills are small; sifted through, every possible usable and eatable item taken. I ran into someone later that afternoon who was ranting about another Christian brother's sin. The conversation soured my stomach like the smell of the dump. I wanted to remind the critical brother of his own failings, but I was too busy being reminded by God of my own. Too often we pile up our righteousness before God and other men, thinking it is impressive. It is not. It is ripe and rancid and unfit for His comsumption. "All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away." (Isaiah 64:6)

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Unnatural Birth

I've been reading and thinking about Hannah, her husband, and her son, Samuel. I love the drama that unfolds in their lives and how God's sovereignty is so personal in their lives. Comparing the unnatural, gracious birth of Samuel with the natural lives of the high priest's sons, Hophni and Phineas, has made me long for an even more unnatural life. Those two men were born into a high priest's family and assumed the mantel of the priesthood naturally, but they were corrupt and spiritually destitute. As aweful as they were, I still pity them. How horrible it is to live a natural life; whether it is religious or not. The Christian life is an unnatural one. It cannot be attained or lived naturally. It is a supernatural gift received and lived by faith. I am so glad to be born of the Spirit. I could have spent my life naturally, religiously, raised in church, working as a pastor, and never knowing the joy of Christ. But, by God's grace, I have been born again. Grace has forever marked me, changed me. It is the only explanation for the heart I now possess. As imperfect and incomplete as I am today, I can never go back to a religiously natural life. By the providence of God my life will never be the same.