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."