Wednesday, May 30, 2007

On Vacation

My family sets out early tomorrow morning for 10 days of vacation. We will be visiting the Grand Canyon, Phoenix, San Diego, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and southwest Utah. Pray for us as we travel.

I might post along the way, but it will probably be June 10 before I blog again.

If I Could Bottle It Up and Sell It...

You have heard the wish expressed in a number of contexts: “I wish I could just bottle up some of this and sell it. If I could, I would be a very rich man.” My wish is not so much about economics, but about the richness of spirit churches so desperately need.

The substance I wish to bottle up? The infectious, and soul-stirring passion I witness in our youth. There is nothing more powerful in all of the world than to hear the collective voices of teenagers and children sing praises to the Lord. They do not let their voices become restrained by the inhibitions and apathy that challenge many adults. For our youth, such mentalities are the exception rather than the rule.

Our youth are not caught up in the “comfort zone” issues of our day. I speak of those issues that divide us from fellow believers in Christ, issues that spring from the murkiness of opinion rather than from the clearer contours of God’s direct words. For our youth, a vibrant, personal, and interconnected relationship with God trumps the mechanical, lifeless, do’s-and-don't’s brand of religious expression that so many of older generations pursue and promote.

May we let the words of Jesus guide us. He taught, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs” (Matthew 19.14).

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Life Is a Lot Like Jenga

Life is a lot like Jenga.

Are you familiar with Jenga? Jenga is a game consisting of numerous rectangular wooden blocks. At the start of the game, the blocks are arranged into a tower, built with 18 intertwined rows of three blocks each. The order of play is determined, then each player in turn takes a block from any row underneath the top row and places it on the top. Play continues until the tower is toppled—the loser is the one who causes the tower to topple.

How is life like Jenga? Consider this: during his turn, a Jenga player is confronted by lots and lots of choices. There are 54 blocks in a Jenga tower, and during any given turn as many as 53 of the blocks can be selected and moved by the player. Not every choice, though, is wise. Some blocks in a Jenga tower can be repositioned with little effort; their present location is not key to the integrity of the tower. Other blocks, however, support the weight of the tower, and, if moved, will cause a crash.

You probably get the point. In life, we are confronted by many, many choices. Some choices are rather inconsequential, and many require little serious thought. But, there are choices which are very significant and can alter our life and the lives of others. So, at those moments, we need to stop and think, and use the wisdom and direction God has given us.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Life's Legacy: She Loved KFC?

As most preachers do, I get asked to do a lot of funerals.

Many times, these occasions, while sad, can be times of joy and a blessing to the preacher. Death is a natural part of life, it is inevitable, and for many it marks the ending of a time of sickness and physical discomfort and pain and the passing to a life of wholeness . . . a life lived in the eternity promised to those in Christ. Those who are left to grieve, while sad, are comforted in the faith that God blesses his people. (For the minister, blessing can come in his contact with the family, the pastoral care that is given, and in the joy of bringing honor to the one who has passed, through the words that are spoken. An older minister told me long ago that the experience of a funeral can bring you closer to a family than just about anything else.)

There are times, however, when death is altogether sad . . . and final.

I am directing a funeral tomorrow that is just such an occasion. It is for a woman I did not know. I'm told that she had a brief relationship with the church many years ago, and may have even been baptized at some point, but for 50 years had no obvious life of faith.

When I meet with a family to plan a funeral, I ask for memories of the one who has passed and for special reflection on their character. As I met with this particular family on Saturday, in preparation for my remarks tomorrow, I was given just one statement about this person (beyond the bare details of the obituary). A son-in-law simply said, "She loved KFC." That was it. That was all the family could tell me about this person . . . their mother, sister, aunt, friend.

She loved KFC. That was the one memory her family had of her. How sad.

Now, perhaps I am being too cold . . . too harsh. Perhaps the family was too steeped in grief to be able to articulate anything more. I truly hope that there was something more, much more, about this woman than that she loved fried chicken. But, sadly, many live their lives focused on the superficial. Despite the potential for a deeper and more meaningful legacy, some devote all their attention and energies on things that will not last . . . things that will go to the grave with them.

I am remined of Esau. You know, the one who sold his birthright for a bowl of stew. Give me some of that "red stuff" he demanded of his brother. The writer of Hebrews warns: "See to it that no one becomes like Esau, an immoral and godless person, who sold his birthright for a single meal. You know that later, when he wanted to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, even though he sought the blessing with tears" (Hebrews 12.16-17).

Life in this world is never certain. Make your legacy be something substantially more than "She loved KFC."

Parents, It Is Ten O'Clock!

“Parents, it is ten o’clock. Do you know where your kids are?”

With those words the 10:00 p.m. broadcast of the news on KMAC-28 began each evening. When I was a kid, those words sounded peculiar—what concern did a television station have about my whereabouts? But, as I have grown older and experienced the joys and concerns of fatherhood, I am appreciative of the reminder: “Parents, it is ten o’clock. Do you know where your kids are?”

Parents, we have a responsibility. Our obligation, actually one among many, is to be aware of our children’s whereabouts. We need to know where our kids are, which whom they are with, and what they are doing. To investigate and know these things is not intrusive, it is wise parenting.

The wise man of Proverbs offers an admonition to children, given in the words of a parent. “My child, if sinners entice you, do not consent. . . . My child, do not walk in the their way, keep your foot from their paths” (Prov. 1.10,15). This warning exhorts children to listen to the advice of their parents, but provides an imperative for the parents, as well: offer good advice to your kids about their associations and activities. Warn them about the dangerous traps that are out there. And, by implication, be proactive in monitoring those with whom your children associate.

So many children and young people are corrupted by friends and acquaintances that seek to mislead and confuse and manipulate. So, parents, set boundaries for your kids, and provide positive environments where healthy relationships can begin and flourish. This effort begins with awareness.

I am grateful to my parents for providing me with positive environments: a good school, commitment to a church family, weeks spent at summer camp, and other special places and times. My friendships are, in part, a product of the loving labor and concern of my father and mother.

So, I ask, “Parents, it’s ten o’clock, do you know where your kids are?” I hope you know the answer. Remember, it is not intrusive to know the answer. You are not stifling your child when you are inquisitive. Erecting boundaries for your child is being overbearing. You are simply doing your job.

Parents, may God continue to bless you in your wonderful task.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Memorial Day Is Much More Than a Picnic!

Unfortunately, many have come to see Memorial Day as merely the official beginning of summer. Certainly, the day traditionally coincides with the ending of the school year, but doesn’t Memorial Day mean much more than vacation time and sun and fun? It is a day that is designated in honor of those who have given their lives in defense of our nation and our liberties.

One of the things I hold most dear in life is my relationship to two men who served in our nation’s Armed Forces. My dad served 20 years in the United States Navy. In fact, when I was born, he was a part of the crew of the U.S.S. Halsey, a guided-missile frigate assigned to the Pacific Fleet during the days of the Vietnam War. For much of my growing-up years, he served as a recruiter for the Navy in Lubbock, Texas. My grandfather was in the United States Army, serving during World War II in New Guinea and the Philippines. He was seriously wounded in combat in 1944, and was awarded the Purple Heart.

Today, society makes heroes out of a lot of people: athletes, rock stars, actors, and the like. But, the real heroes are those men and women who put their lives on the line for the benefit of others and those who serve a cause greater than self. Jesus said it most clearly, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15.13).

On this Memorial Day, remember those who have sacrificed all they had so that we might live in freedom today. Enjoy the time spent with family and friends. Enjoy the fun. Enjoy the sun. But, let us never forget those who have fallen, those who have served.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Life Is Full of Opportunities

The story is told of a young man who wished to marry a farmer’s beautiful daughter. He went to the farmer to ask for his blessing. The farmer looked him over and said, “Son, go stand out in that field and I’m going to release three bulls, one at a time. If you can catch the tail of any of the three bulls, you can marry my daughter.”

The young man stood in the pasture awaiting the first bull. The barn door opened and out rant the biggest, meanest-looking bull he had ever seen. He decided that one of the next bulls had to be a better choice than this one, so he ran over to the side and let the bull pass through the pasture out the back gate.

The barn door opened again. Unbelievable. He had never seen anything so big and fierce in his life. It stood, pawing the ground, grunting, slinging slobber, eyeing him. Whatever the next bull was like, it had to be a better choice than this one. He ran to the fence and let the bull pass through the pasture, out the back gate.

The door opened a third time. A smile came across his face. This was the weakest, scrawniest little bull he had ever seen. Here was his opportunity! As the bull came running by, he positioned himself just right and jumped at the exact moment. He grabbed . . . but the bull had no tail!

Life if full of opportunities. Some will be easy to take advantage of, some will be difficult. But, once we let them pass (often in hopes of something better), those opportunities may never again be available.

The same thing is also true of opportunities to serve Christ. God often opens doors—opportunities to speak up for him, opportunities to minister to someone who is hurting or in need, opportunities to leave a lasting influence on those around us. If we allow them to pass by (perhaps because we are waiting for something easier to come along), we may miss out on them altogether.

Consider the words of Paul: “Continue praying, keeping alert, and always thinking God. Also, pray for us that God will give us an opportunity to tell people his message” (Col. 4.2-3). “Therefore, as we have opportunity , let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Gal. 6.10).

Take advantage of the doors God opens for you today!

Friday, May 25, 2007

Golf Is a Lot Like Life

Golf is a lot like life. It is played out in the midst of beautiful landscaping and wonderful vistas, but it is filled with anxious and trying moments. The key to the game is to avoid the imposing obstacles and successfully navigate the ball to the hole. Each shot is filled with uncertainty: will the ball sail straight and true, or will it fly to the right or the left (or, in the case of many of my shots, will it leave the tee and “dribble” to the rough).

The keys to golf are practice and persistence. Those who keep at it learn to control the trajectory of their shots, and become more adept at clearing the obstacles and navigating the ball toward the pin. There are still uncertainties—even Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods do not have complete mastery over all the elements found on a golf course—but they become easier to overcome, and their effects are not as difficult. A good golfer does not become dismayed at a bad shot, he simply seeks to recover on the next one.

The keys to life are much the same as golf. The old adage is nearly correct: Practice makes perfect. Perfection isn’t attainable, but wise and productive living is. We can learn from our mistakes. As we stay the course, our confidence grows and our ability to deal with trying times increases.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

What's On Your Account Ledger?

Love “does not take into account a wrong suffered” (1 Corinthians 13.5). Of all the descriptions of love contained within the apostle Paul’s masterful treatise on the subject of love, this concept is the most challenging to me. In a way, Paul is saying that love is blind, and that love has no memory.

We have all been hurt by the words and actions of others. We have all be treated unfairly, and even many of us have been cheated, lied about, or falsely accused. Paul says that our love must extend beyond such ill treatment.

Surely, Paul is exaggerating the issue. Isn’t he simply painting the ideal picture of love and not that which is possible or even likely? Surely, Paul knows that love can only extend so far, and that it must be conditioned upon reciprocal treatment and returned love. No, Paul is most certainly serious. The standard for love he describes is the standard to which our love must be measured.

What Paul describes is the love our Lord showed. I stay amazed at the event described in John 13, where Jesus took the position of a lowly household servant and washed the dirty, stinky, ugly feet of his disciples. In that room, and among the men whom he served, were Peter and Judas, men who would betray and deny him only hours later. Yet, Jesus loved them despite the knowledge of what they would do. And, even more amazing than this, he looked down from the cross upon those who had hung him there, and he prayed, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.”

Love “does not take into account a wrong suffered.” I am challenged by these words. For about three years, I have been mistreated by a person close to me. The details of the abuse are not important, but I have been repeatedly misjudged by this person and have been accused unfairly, without being given the recourse to show my innocence. My responses have been human. I have been angry. I have been bitter. I have said things that I shouldn’t have. I have struggled to forget the ill treatment and disrespect shown to me. I have kept an account of a wrong suffered.

I must learn how to love as Paul says I must love—blindly and without memory. Please pray for me as I struggle in this. For, it truly is only through the strength that God supplies that this love is made possible.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

It's Time to Clean Out the Closet!

Every family has one: a closet or storage bin packed full of unused things, forgotten possessions, and, for lack of a better word, junk. Through the years, we collect a lot of things. For a time, they catch our interest and we employ them for this and that, but after a while we render that their usefulness has expired and we pack them away. Usually, these discarded items remain forgotten, except for the ever-growing amount of space required for their storage.

As a whole, people do not get rid of things, even things that are rendered useless. We like to hold on to the past, cling to the memories, and keep our collections intact. This is also true in a spiritual sense. Over the course of life, we acquire countless behaviors and attitudes. Some are productive and they contribute to the building of a Godly personality and lifestyle, but others work to chink away at our spiritual integrity, tearing us down as people.

The damage is often done in secret, or without our full understanding, for we are disillusioned by their promising allure. We may become alarmed at the wear and tear certain behaviors and attitudes bring, but we find it difficult to leave them behind. We pack them away, thinking that we have discarded them for good, but they remain closeted in some nearby space.

This is one of the most dangerous aspects of sin. Sin will stay near us unless we make a conscious and determined choice to rid ourselves of it. It is not as simple as tucking it away in some corner. To rid ourselves of sin, we must constantly work to destroy those destructive impulses we have. The battle is one that demands our undivided attention.

Remember this analogy the next time you walk past that over-flowing closet. Be challenged to forever rid yourself of those behaviors and attitudes that work to chink away at your spiritual integrity.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

How Much Time Had Passed?

He returned home, but how much time had passed?

Jesus’ narrative (Luke 15.11-32) gives the reader no firm clue. He simply indicates that in time the young man awoke to his senses and returned to his father.

The he, of course, is the man often called the prodigal son. And, it is an interesting and instructive question to ask: how much time had passed before he returned home? Was it six months? . . . A couple of years? . . . A decade? . . . Most of a lifetime?

His story has been relived countless times in the course of human history. How many have walked in his shoes? How many fathers and mothers have stood at the gate waiting anxiously for their prodigal child to return?

I know many parents who stand today waiting for a wayward child to return from a place of faithless living far removed from God. Time after time, efforts to instruct and direct and correct are rebuffed. The promise of the wise man seems shallow—“Train up a child in the way he should go, and when old, he will not depart” (Proverbs 22.6), the wise man wrote.

But, the promise is not founded on immediacy, is it? “And when he is old . . . ,” the wise man explains. Old is certainly an abstract term, but it is significant that he did not write, “and he will never stray.” Does the promise allow (perhaps anticipate) a time of waywardness followed by a return?

My point is simple: parents, there is hope, so don’t give up waiting at the gate. It is possible that the prodigal returned after being away for only six months. It is just as likely that he was gone for years upon years. After all, he did spend away an entire inheritance.

So, to the fathers and mothers waiting anxiously at the gate: be concerned, but do not despair; be concerned, but do not be overly critical of your parenting; be concerned, but do not give up hoping. Be patient, and allow the seed so faithfully planted to take root and grow and transform a life. Remember: “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when old, he will not depart.”

Monday, May 21, 2007

Parents, are you up to the task?

Parents, would you allow a rabid dog to roam freely in your house?

No! Of course not! The notion of releasing a rabid dog into your house is totally absurd and insane. However, a more dangerous foe is allowed to lurk unrestrained in homes across America every day. That foe: the mass-media of a post-modern society. Television and movies, radio and CD’s, the Internet and Pod-casting, the printed media and video-gaming threatens our kids and ourselves with a viciousness that makes the bite of a rabid dog seem tame.

It has been said that television is the greatest education tool ever created. Unfortunately, its influence has become increasingly immoral. Daily, we and our children are exposed to the entirety of Sodom’s portfolio, and more. Images of violence, deviant sexuality, profanity, greed, and irreverence are flashed before our eyes countless times each day. These images are amplified in the lyrics of the music we hear. The phrases of corruption are heard amidst a melodic backdrop of pleasant and stimulating sounds. And, the Internet offers users relatively unfettered access to virtually any type of information, whether wholesome or immoral in content.

Parent’s we must be aware of this dangerous would in which we are raising our children. The threats are constant and vicious. It is our task, not simply to monitor the exposure and influence of mass-media on our kids, but to teach our kids how to cope and survive in a world inundated with the presence of evil. Our primary task is to equip our kids with the resources to distinguish good from bad, positive from destructive, and to prepare them to battle temptation, relying not on their own limited strength, but depending on the unlimited ability of Jesus Christ.

Parents, are you up to the task?

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Truths I've Learned Over 37 Years

I was born 37 years ago today. My introduction to the world came in the tiny hospital at Groom, Texas, to the east of Amarillo. In the years since I have made my home in fourteens towns and cities (Cortez, Lubbock, McLean, Midland, Big Spring, Childress, Idalou, Hollis, Oklahoma City, Memphis, Denver, Mineral Hill, Chula Vista, and New Orleans) in seven states (Colorado, Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Tennessee, Louisiana, and California). I’ve met thousands of people along the way, enjoyed countless friendships, have so many fond memories of experiences past, and have enjoyed the fellowship of Christian brothers and sisters from all over the world. I have lived a good life and look forward to many more years.

Even though there are times when I can be quite stubborn and hard-headed, there are a few things I have learned in my life. There are certain things I know to be right.

· The Dallas Cowboys are “America’s Team”! (yes, even in Colorado :-)

· Nothing beats beef brisket smoked over mesquite, topped off with peach cobbler and Blue Bell homemade vanilla ice cream

· If you have an opportunity to live in the shadow of the La Plata Mountains, why would you live anywhere else?

· There is no better place to spend a week of summer than at a Christian camp

· I don’t swim (even at a baptism :-)

· That plastic card in my billfold is not “free” money!

· I admit it, The Cosby Show and The Andy Griffith show are Must See TV (even after all these years)

· I can stand atop a mountain all day long, but don’t put me on a roof top

· Why watch the movie when you can read the book instead?

· The game of 42 can teach you a lot about people (let’s play!)

· A U.S.A. Today newspaper, an all-you-can-eat buffet, and a bottomless iced tea glass is my kind of lunch (and doesn’t it show!!!)

· The letters M, E, H & G (actually, the names they represent) mean more to me than anything else in this world

“Taste and see that the Lord is good,” the psalmist once said. Without a doubt, the greatest truth I have learned in life, a fact that has been continually reinforced every step of the way!

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Have You Claimed Your Inheritance?

There was once a man living on the streets of Chicago. He did not have a dime to his name. He came to a shelter one dark and rainy evening to seek a hot meal and a night’s sleep. He did not awaken. That was his last night on earth.

Unbeknownst to this man, he was a millionaire. A long, lost relative had willed him a fortune of several million dollars. Estate lawyers had searched for the man, but because he had no address they never located him. His fortune sat in a bank vault to be enjoyed by no one.

Did you know that you are a wealthy person? You have treasure beyond estimation awaiting you. This wealth comes from a relationship with Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

The Apostle Paul, in Ephesians 1.3-14, speaks about the great wealth a person can have in Jesus. It is a fortune that includes being identified as a child of God, the Creator of All. It is a fortune that includes the cleansing of our lives from the stain of sin. It is a fortune that includes the hope of a brighter and everlasting future. It is a fortune that includes the indwelling presence of God that is both inspiring and assuring.

This great wealth, Paul says, is available to those who are in Christ. It is reserved for those who come to a faith in Jesus as the Son of God. It is reserved for those who repent of their sins and turn their lives to Christ. It is reserved for those who identify themselves with the death of Jesus by being baptized, immersed in water.

Did you know that you are a wealthy person? Don’t wait too long to claim your inheritance.

Friday, May 18, 2007

For Display Only!

When I was about 5 years old, my dad and I built a Viking dragon ship. It was complete with a sail and sailors and oars. It had a rudder and the insignia of the Vikings of old. From bow to stern it was painted jet black, and it was crowned with the head and torso of a great red dragon rising up out of the sea. Of course, the ship was just ten inches long and was destined for a shelf in my bedroom and not the high seas of the North Atlantic Ocean. The box was clearly marked: for display only!

I was so proud of that ship, and though it was a model meant for display on a shelf, it soon became my favorite toy. At that stage in my life, I was fascinated with everything “Viking.” I would maraud around the house, carrying my dragon ship in hand, pretending to be the legendary Leif Erickson, raiding coastlines, instilling fear in townspeople and villagers, and discovering new, far-off lands. That ship brought me countless hours of fun.

However, as the years passed, my great dragon ship became a casualty of my play. One by one, the oars broke away from their mounts, sailors lost limbs and heads, and the sail was torn and then altogether lost. The jet black paint was scraped and chipped, and the face of the red dragon was marred. In my play, I had reduced an object of beauty, and object meant for display and countless years of worth, to a broken and useless thing worthy of the trash heap.

Every day countless lives are treated in the way I treated my dragon ship, treated without regards to the Creator’s design and without a thought given to the tragic consequences of behavior. Lives are broken and twisted, marred and scarred by selfish indulgence and not-too-innocent fun. Justifications are attempted and excuses are made, but at the end of the day, the tragic results remain tragic.

Sin is anything which takes our focus off that which God directs and desires. God is the one who “pieced” us together—he spoke and man and his universe came into being. The great potential with which we were made was and is a product of God’s imagination. In order to be fully who we are meant to be, we must turn our lives to the mastery of our Lord and Creator, observing the “directions” that are clearly printed “on the box.”

In my office, I have displayed many objects and mementos that remind me of great people and fond moments in my life. One object is missing, though. My great dragon ship is nowhere to be found. My abuse of this “toy” resulted in its untimely disposal. In my fun, I ruined a treasured possession.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

May Our Shouts Be Reduced to Civility

There seems to be a lot of shouting these days. I am not speaking of the arena of politics, nor am I speaking of the cultural clashes or the roar of thousands gathered to see a sporting contest. Sadly, I am speaking of conflict within the church.

Throughout our land, churches are best with turmoil and division. Factions of Christians have lined up against one another. You have heard the labels, they sound as if they are names for sports teams or political parties: Liberal, Conservative, Progressive, Legalistic. Voices are raised, tempers flare, feelings are hurts, and brothers are divided.

“You’re violating my conscience,” shouts one. “You are weak in your understanding,” responds another. “You’re seeking to destroy the church,” one levels. “You’re just holding us back with your stubbornness,” chastises another. “It’s my way or no way,” argues yet another.

The fighting seems to make a mockery of Jesus’ words, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (Jn. 13.35). The shouting seems to dismiss the prayer of our Lord: “I ask . . . That they may be one” (Jn. 17.20-21).

It is human nature to defend what seems to be right and to promote that which is personally beneficial or comfortable. However, our identity as Christians and as joint heirs of the eternal blessings of God demands that we defer to one another in love. Paul’s words are clear: “As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. . . . Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which you were called in the one body” (Col. 3.12-15).

In this spirit, may each of us defer to one another in love. May our shouts be reduced to civility. May our separate agendas be replaced with the unified agenda of proclaiming God’s eternal love to a lost and dying world. We can get along, we can be one, and we can impact our world with the Gospel of Christ, but we must begin by humbling ourselves.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Churches Need Windows

Each time I read the Gospel of Luke, I am impressed with the responsiveness of “sinners” to Jesus. This responsiveness and the ease and care with which Jesus reacts provides insight into how churches can and must grow.

One scene from the Third Gospel stands out more than any other. The story is told in Luke 7.36-50 of Jesus being entertained in the home of Simon, a Pharisee. During the meal a woman enters the house and comes to Jesus. “She stood behind him at his feet, weeping, and began to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair” (v. 38). The action of this woman repulses the host, because this woman was “a sinner” (32), a woman of the streets, a prostitute.

The exchange that follows between Simon and Jesus is instructive. Jesus condemns the man’s prejudice, and commends the woman’s contriteness. He concludes, “Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which are many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little” (47).

This episode illustrates an important truth about the Gospel and provides insight into how church growth should be viewed. This woman, convicted of her sins (at the very least, moved to find healing and wholeness) comes to Jesus. She views Jesus as one who could help her, one who would be compassionate, one who would not drive her out into the streets again, one who would not condemn and exclude. Perhaps she had witnesses his interaction with others. Perhaps she had heard of his gentleness from those he had met. And, as she came, she found the one she sought: the Lord, who, with gentleness not scorn, responded mercifully and decisively.

What is the challenge for the church? What is the pattern given for church growth? Are we viewed by the broader society and community as an “institution” (I do not like the word, but it fits) where the “sinner” can come and find the answers for which they are searching? In other words, does the person on the street view the church as a people where he could and should be a part? Does he see us as a gentle and merciful people and not as scornful and harsh?

Yet another way to ask the question: are we “pricking people’s hearts” with the Gospel (see Acts 2.37), or are we shaming them with our self-righteous smugness?

Zacchaeus sought out Jesus. Jesus did not reject Peter when the fisherman said, “Lord, I am a sinner.” He touched the leper. He ate in the home of Levi. He told the story of the Samaritan. He condemned the old brother of the prodigal. He blessed the centurion with the healing of his servant. He restored Legion to renewed health and mind.

I am afraid that most churches today are viewed by the broader society and culture as peoples and places of exclusion and condemnation. We are not seeker-friendly. A poverty of spirit (Lk. 6.20) is needed in our churches. We should look and feel more like hospitals than country clubs.

The mission of Christ needs to serve as our inspiration. At Nazareth, he declared, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Lk. 4.18-19). To those who criticized his fraternizing with Levi, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners to repentance” (5.31-32). To Zacchaeus, he said, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and save the lost” (19.10). And, in the context of his lost but found parables, he explains, “Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance” (15.7)

When churches are viewed as a people of acceptance and as places of healing, phenomenal growth can and will take place. It is an evaluation, however, that is not produced passively. In other words, merely leaving the door open does not answer the challenge. We must be present and visible in the broader community. Our lack of conformity does not demand isolation. (After all, salt must be tasted and light must shine.) We must be present in the world, upholding what is good, opposing what is not (see Ephesians 5.11), and aiming to draw people to us and not driving them away.

A humility of spirit, all-encompassing faith, and a deep, genuine compassion for all persons are the fundamental building blocks needed in the construction of churches. The eyes of Jesus were cast on the hurting and those in need; our gaze must be directed in the same way. We must understand that we are all digging our way out of the same pit (rather, we are all being rescued out of the same pit!).

This is why our buildings need windows! What message do we send when our gaze cannot be cast beyond bricks and mortar? What message do we send when we cannot present ourselves transparently before the world?

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Christian Camping Is a Passion

When I was in school, the month of May was always a welcome sight. It signaled that the school year was nearly completed, and a few months of freedom loomed on the horizon. With summer vacation came the week (in many cases, weeks) I looked forward to all year long: camp.

Christian camping has been a passion for most of my life. As a small child, I can remember visiting Boiling Springs Youth Camp, located outside of Woodward, Oklahoma. My parents had taken me to visit my grandparents, who were serving as Bible class teachers and counselors at the camp. I came to a conclusion during that short visit: I wanted to come back the next summer . . . as a camper.

I did return that following summer, and for five other summers after it. In the years to come, I attended summer sessions at White River Youth Camp, south of Crosbyton, and Black Mesa Bible Camp, located in the panhandle of Oklahoma. Then, as a high school student, I began to spend my summers serving a number of camps as a staff member. I did everything from washing pots at Camp Blue Haven, to counseling at Camp Followin’, to teaching Bible classes at Pine Springs Youth Camp. The wages I earned were never great (and, in many cases, I spent much more than I was paid), but the blessings I received were beyond measure.

In the past several years, I have been privileged to direct summer sessions at Camp Followin’, Christian Camp of the Rockies, Quartz Mountain Christian Camp, and Four Corners Encampment. My love for Christian camping is as strong today (no, stronger) than it was when I paid that visit to BSYC long ago.

Did you know, there are more hours of Bible study and worship during a week of summer camp than many people enjoy during the remainder of the year at home? Did you know, the number of genuine and lifelong friendships founded during a week of summer camp can far surpass those founded during the rest of the year?

Time spent at a summer session of Christian camping is time well spent. Yes, at times, you have to fend off wasps, scorpions, snakes, and other unwanted pests. And, you must endure lumpy beds, lukewarm showers (if not downright frigid), and the hot sun. A week at a Christian camp is certainly not Club Med. But, the blessings of friendships, memories, spiritual growth, and wholesome activities far outweigh the less-than-5-star accommodations.

Christian camping is for all ages. Become involved with Christian camping: as a camper, a staff member, or a financial supporter (send a child to camp!). Ask me how you can get involved . . . today!

Monday, May 14, 2007

He Set His Face to Go to Jerusalem

Staying the course is not always easy.

The Gospel writer describes the resoluteness of Jesus as he set out for Jerusalem, despite knowing the tragedy that would occur there. In Luke 9.51, the description is given, “When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.” A rather matter-of-fact statement. A statement that subtly underscores the determination with which Christ set out on the path that would lead to his death.

The statement should remind one of the words Isaiah spoke about the one called the “Lord’s Servant.” This servant is the Messiah, the one God would send as deliverer and redeemer.

The Lord’s Servant speaks of the difficult and trying times he would face, of the opposition that would be pitted against him, and he concludes in Isaiah 50.7, “The Lord God helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame; he who vindicates me is near.”

The Lord’s Servant affirms that God will be with him during his time of trial and that he will overcome, with God’s help, the opposition he will face. The Servant is able to declare, “I have set my face like flint,” a statement declaring his resolve to be faithful to the task given him by God.

Jesus, writes Luke, “set his face to go to Jerusalem.” He would go to the place of the cross with the same spirit of resolve exhibited by God’s Servant.

Do we share in Jesus’ resolve as we follow in his steps and obey the will of our Father? So many distractions vie for our gaze; it is so difficult, at times, to concentrate on the task at hand . . . faithful service to God.

Let us refocus and become more resolute as we follow the steps of our Savior and Lord. Our God will surely provide us with the strength we need.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

In the Shadow of Your Wings

I have always been grateful to my mother for all that she has meant to me, even though I am often negligent in communicating my feelings. Yet, during the past six-and-a-half years my feelings of gratitude have been accentuated as I have watched my beautiful wife care for our precious daughters.

Caring for three small children is a serious undertaking. Diaper changes are demanded, especially at the most inopportune moments. The washer and dryer are in constant use. Meals need to be prepared, rooms need to be cleaned, baths need to be given, and children need to be entertained. I am not certain where my wife finds the time to accomplish all she does, especially with the flair with which she does it. I try to make contributions, easing as much of the load as I can, but a man’s touch does not offer what a mother’s loving hands can provide.

Yes, I am becoming more and more aware of the sacrifices my mother made as she raised me and my sister and brother. I am more aware of the hours upon hours of selfless labor. I am more aware of the personal enjoyments that she had to postpone or skip entirely. And, I am grateful for all that she has meant to me and given to me, and I appreciate her continued presence in my life.

In the Old Testament, God is sometimes described as a loving mother, specifically as a mother hen who protectively and tenderly cares for her young. One psalmist sings, “How precious is your steadfast love, O God! All people may take refuge in the shadow of your wings” (Psalm 36.7). He continues to praise God for the sustenance God provides—he portrays God as a nurturer.

One of the special names given to God by the people of Israel is rooted, in part, in the concept of a mother hen dutifully protecting and nurturing her young. The name El Shaddai, most often translated “Almighty God” carries this thought.

What a wonderful image of God for us to see. Just as a loving mother cares for her children, God provides for his creation. May we be ever grateful to God for his nurturing care.

Let us honor our mothers on this special day. They are the most giving and selfless people on earth. Let us learn from their humility and devotion to others.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Worship In a Van!

The plan: worship together on the slopes of a majestic mountain under the bright blue sky. The reality: a memorable two hour service of prayer and praise in a cramped Ford van. The lesson: the church is not made of bricks and mortar, and it is not a place on a map, but it is men and women who have been purchased by the blood of Christ.

The occasion was a camping trip I put together a number of years ago. I had taken about 25 youth and parents to a camping area a few miles south of Glenwood Springs, Colorado. We arrived on Friday, with plans to return home on Monday. The highlight, for me, would be worship on Sunday—gathered around a roaring camp fire, with the beauty of nature as the backdrop, sitting on naturally hewn pews singing, praying, hearing God’s Word, and sharing in the thanksgiving of communion.

Yet, Sunday “dawned” with a thunderstorm the likes of which this boy from the plains of Texas had never seen. There was torrential rain, hailstones, lightning, thunder, wind, but no campfire, no pews of rock and timber, no picturesque setting in which to “have church.”

So, we huddled together, all 25 of us, in a 15-passenger Ford van. We sang, we prayed, we read God’s Word, and we partook of the Lord’s Supper. For two hours, we joined in worship to the God who created all that was about us and all that was in us. At least one important lesson was made clear: the church is not made of bricks and mortar, and it is not a “place” on a map, but it is men and women who have been purchased by the blood of Christ.

How much of our energy and resources is given to bricks and mortar, and to places “on the map”? Much of the attention has become a necessity: the wise steward in us dictates that buildings that “have been built” should be kept in working order. Yet, how easy it is to forget that the church is “people” is that our calling is not to build buildings, but “relationships.”

We must remember, we are in the business of building relationships with God and among men. When buildings and properties and physical concerns occupy the bulk of our energies and resources, then I believe we have compromised our identity as the church of Christ.

Friday, May 11, 2007

God's Names & the Great Flood

An intriguing feature of the story of Noah and the Great Flood, one that almost goes unnoticed, is the naming of God in the story. God has two names in the story of the Flood. These two names give added meaning to the story; indeed I don’t know if the story can be fully appreciated without the knowledge that in it God is given two names.

For much of the story, God is referred to by the name Elohim. The name, in English, is simply, “God.” Elohim is a rather generic name for God. It is the most common name for God in the Hebrew Bible. Elohim emphasizes the majesty and transcendence of God above all creation and over all other gods. The name can even be translated “God of gods” or “All gods in One,” for that is the concept inherent in the name.

In certain scenes of the Flood narrative, though, God is called by the name Yahweh. Yahweh (or, Jehovah), in English, is “Lord,” or “Lord God” (The term “Lord God” is Yahweh Elohim). Yahweh is the most personal name for God in the Old Testament. Yahweh was the name given by God to Moses at the sigh of the burning bush in Exodus 3, on the occasion of God calling Moses to return to Egypt and free his people from bondage. Yahweh is God’s covenant name, the name of God that stresses his great love for and interest in the well-being of man. Yahweh is a very intimate name; it is the name God cautioned the Jews to not misuse in the third commandment, “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.” (Although, the Jews misapplied the meaning of this command; they went as far as condemning the public usage of the name and even its mere utterance and writing.)

In the Flood narrative, the name Yahweh is used strategically and purposefully. It is used in three specific scenes, along with an isolated fourth reference.

Yahweh is used in Genesis 6.5-8, the scene where God’s sorrow over the sinfulness of the world is expressed. It is here, in this paragraph, where God’s intent to judge the world is made known and where Noah’s finding favor in the sight of the Lord is reported.

Yahweh is used in Genesis 7.1-5, the scene where God commands Noah to enter the ark, taking with him seven pairs of every clean animal and one pair of every unclean animal. God tells him (in more detail than before) of what is going to transpire; namely, the world will be destroyed by flood and only those onboard the ark will survive.

Yahweh is used in Genesis 7.16, in the statement, “And the Lord shut them in,” describing God’s action of closing the door on the ark.

Yahweh is used in Genesis 8.20-22, the scene where Noah, having just left the ark, offers sacrifices to God. God’s favorable response to the sacrifices is noted.

In each of these scene, God is shown acting in a personal manner; in other words, he is shown having human qualities and behaviors. In Gen. 6.5-8 and 7.1-5, God sees. What he sees, causes him sorrow (he has emotions). In 7.16, he shuts the door of the ark (an action). In 8.20-22, he smells the offering made by Noah, and he is pleased (again, and action and emotion). In these passages, God is shown acting in a personal manner: he senses, he has emotions, and he acts.

What is the effect of this composite portrayal of God? He is real. God is a participant in the story—an active participant. He is not a distant deity destroying the world on a whim. He is an involved God fully conscious of what he is doing.

In his alternating between Elohim and Yahweh, the inspired author is teaching us that God takes an active interest in the affairs of man.

Remember, Elohim is a name for God that emphasizes his greatness, his transcendence above all else. It is an important name, a name we should know and respect, but it is a name, when used by itself, which gives us an incomplete picture of God.

It is easy to see God as aloof, distant, above everything. Many see God as all-consumed in himself, we cannot rise to his level, he cannot stoop to ours, so there is this wide gulf between God and man.

In the Flood story, it is easy to see God in this light. A perfect God destroying a far-less-than-perfect world. The act could be seen as being doing by a God who could care less. He can always start over and make a more perfect world.

But, no, God has a vested interest in his creation. He has an infatuation (wholesome, mind you) with his creation, namely mankind. This vested interest is made manifest in the name, Yahweh.

The story of the Flood is not merely about a transcendent God doing what he has the power to do—that is, to destroy what stands opposed to him. The story of the Flood is a about a transcendent God who cares deeply and eternally for his creation, no matter to what extreme they have gone to hurt him and from whom they have distanced themselves.

In the story of the Flood, God is not looking to destroy man, but to have fellowship with him. Punishment is due (and deserved), but restoration is offered. God delivers humanity by taking Noah and his family and delivering them from the Flood. Indeed it really is more a story about Noah (man) than a story about a Great Flood.

Believe it or not, I received a lot of spankings as a child. My dad could give a good spanking. He wore a wide heavy belt; it stung; it got the message across (I was just a slow learner). But, I remember that every spanking was followed by a hug. Why a hug? It was my fathers’ way of reaffirming his love for me. My behavior demanded punishment, but that did not mean he had stopped loving me. I remained his son, he remained my father, and the hug reinforced these truths.

Just as a father hugs his son after disciplining him, the alternating names used in the story of Noah affirm God’s eternal love for mankind. He is Elohim, and his greatness demands our respect and reverence—he remains King and Judge. He is Yahweh, and his love for us is everlasting—he wants to be our Father.

A Letter from Camp

I received this via e-mail many years ago. Enjoy.

Dear Mom and Dad,

Our Scoutmaster told us to write to our parents in case you saw the flood on TV and are worried. We are okay. Only one of our tents and 2 sleeping bags got washed away. Luckily, none of us got drowned because we were all up on the mountain looking for Adam when it happened.

Oh yes, please call Adam's mother and tell her he is okay. He can't write because of the cast. I got to ride in one of the search and rescue jeeps. It was neat. We never would have found Adam in the dark if it hadn't been for the lightning.

Scoutmaster Keith got mad at Adam for going on a hike alone without telling anyone. Adam said he did tell him, but it was during the fire so he probably didn't hear him. Did you know that if you put gas on a fire, the gas will blow up? The wet wood didn't burn, but one of the tents did and also some of our clothes. Mathew is going to look weird until his hair grows back. We will be home on Saturday if Scoutmaster Keith gets the bus fixed.

It wasn't his fault about the wreck. The brakes worked okay when we left. Scoutmaster Keith said that with a bus that old you have to expect something to break down; that's probably why he can't get insurance. We think it's a neat bus. He doesn't care if we get it dirty, and if it's hot, sometimes he lets us ride on the fenders. It gets pretty hot with 45 people in a bus. He let us take turns riding in the trailer until the highway patrol man stopped and talked to us.

Scoutmaster Keith is a neat guy. Don't worry, he is a good driver. In fact, he is teaching Jessie how to drive on the mountain roads where there isn't any traffic. All we ever see up there are logging trucks.

This morning all of the guys were diving off the rocks and swimming out in the lake. Scoutmaster Keith wouldn't let me because I can't swim, and Adam was afraid he would sink because of his cast, so he let us take the canoe across the lake. It was great. You can still see some of the trees under the water from the flood.

Keith isn't crabby like some scoutmasters. He didn't even get mad about the life jackets. He has to spend a lot of time working on the bus so we are trying not to cause him any trouble.
Guess what? We have all passed our first aid merit badges. When Andrew dived into the lake and cut his arm, we got to see how a tourniquet works.

Steven and I threw up, but Scoutmaster Keith said it probably was just food poisoning from the leftover chicken. I have to go now. We are going to town to mail our letters. Don't worry about anything. We are fine.

Love, Christopher

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Thank You for Teaching Me to Be Myself

At the time, I was terrified. How could he do it? Did he not care about me? Today, I look back and thank my dad. He had faith in me to figure it out on my own.

I must have been seven or eight years old. We were on vacation. My dad decided it was time I learned how to swim. So, he picked me up and threw me into the swimming pool . . . into the deep end of the pool!

My arms were flailing. My legs were kicking. I was yelling, “I’m drowning! I’m drowning!”

“Calm down! Swim to me. I won’t let you drown.” Those were the words of my father, only a few feet away from me.

I lived. I survived the moment. I’m here to write about it.

I do not remember all the particulars of that day. I am certain that I am over-dramatizing the details. Yet, that day taught me something important about my father. He believed in me. He knew I had the ability to do something that absolutely terrified me: swim.

He could have caudled me. He could have gently picked me up and held me in his arms as he gently instructed me in the fine points of swimming. He chose a different method, one that was alarming at first, but one that I thank him for today.

I am a fairly independent person, today. I like to do things on my own, to think for myself, to take the initiative . . . to lead. I am a self-starter, because of my father.

Dad, thank you for your love. Thank you for teaching me to be myself and to depend on the abilities God has given me. Thank you for modeling excellence in your life. I hope that I always honor you with my life.

Optimism Is a Virtue

“Nothing but blue skies do I see, from now on.”

Are these not the lyrics of a song Willie Nelson made famous? I am not certain of their original context, but taken as an isolated thought they speak to the mindset people of faith should possess.

Optimism ought to define the Christian spirit. Those who bear the name of Christ, those who have given their life to the One who washes away all that stains, tarnishes, corrupts, and kills, come into a new life that is one of hope and eternity. Christians certainly face trials and adversities, for we remain in a world where the actions and consequences of evil persist, but we are able to look above gray and stormy clouds to beautiful blue skies.

Too many go through life with a gloomy disposition and a depressed mindset. Too many good and faithful people have their eyes and hearts downcast. Years of heartache and trouble have beaten them down. They have been conditioned by society to feel abused and cheated, angered and embittered, discouraged and weakened. Have they forgotten the blue skies?

Do you see the blue skies? At times, they are as clear as can be. At other times, you must train your sight and focus your attention.

Jesus once made an appeal, saying, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11.28-30).

You know the difference a smile can make. A gloomy day can be turned around and the clouds can be parted by greeting it with a smile. And, the old maxim is so true: “laughter is the best medicine.”

Greet each new day with a smile. Share it with your family, your friends, and with the strangers you meet on the street. The world is made a better place with each laugh that is heard and with each smile that is shared.

Even when your heart is troubled, let Christ bless you with the strength to smile and to laugh.
“Nothing but blue skies do I see, from now on.” I hope you can share in the singing of this song. Of course, absent the bandana and ponytail :-).

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

My Iniquity Is More Than I Can Bear

"My iniquity is more than I can bear!"

These are the words of Cain. Yes, that Cain.

Most English translations give his statement as "My punishment is more is more than I can bear." His words were spoken in response to God proclaiming judgment on him because of his murder of Abel, his brother. Worded this way, the response of Cain seems self-pitying . . . An "Oh no, I'm caught" type of of sentiment. But, the sense in Hebrew is quite different. Cain's word are an expression of genuine remorse . . . he is, in fact, seeking mercy from God.

Cain says to the Lord, "My iniquity (sin) is more than I can bear! Today you are driving me from the land, and I will be hidden from your presence; I will be a restless wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me" (Genesis 4.13-14).

You remember the judgment God had put forth. Cain would be made a wanderer, driven from his family (and civilization), and the ground would be against him--this farmer would essentially lose his occupation, his livelihood. But, what happens as the story progresses? Cain settles down. He finds a wife. A son is born to him. He builds a city. His family flourishes. Is this the legacy of a wanderer and fugitive? Hardly. Cain became an accomplished man. And, by the way, name an ancient city that did not flourish on a foundation of agriculture?

Was God's pronouncement of judgment hollow? Did his words have no power? No, they had power, but so did Cain's. God heard the plea of Cain . . . Cain's plea of sorrow . . . "My iniquity is too great" . . . and God had mercy. Cain was forgiven. Is there any other way to read this story?

"So Cain went out from the Lord's presence and lived in the land of Nod." He was not cast out. He went out. Simply semantics? Perhaps. But it seems that the wording is intentional.

Cain was certainly guilty. The judgment God gave was just. Cain had murdered his brother, and it was certainly appropriate for his life to be forfeit. Lamech's lament expresses as much. "If Cain is avenged seven times, then Lamech seventy-seven times," he cried (v. 24). Lamech had killed a man in self-defense, not in cold blood. Cain's crime was worse, much worse, Lamech is saying. But, Lamech recognizes the mercy of God in Cain's case. He is mindful of God's protective words, "Not so, if anyone kiils Cain, he will suffer vengeance seven times over" (v. 15).

Do you know any Cain's? I can't think of one bearing that name. I do know lots of Blake's, and Mary's, and Zach's, and Susan's, and Jeff's. A name is not shared, but something more important can be. We have all sinned . . . we have all fallen short as the apostle says . . . but God, in his rich mercy found in Christ, washes away the sin, frees our life from the guilt and the demands of the law against our crimes.

"My iniquity is more than I can bear." These are the words of Cain. Are they yours?