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of the sites I find, the men's ministry portion of the site, if it exists at all, is "Under Construction" or seriously out of date.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)