Monday, December 25, 2006

There Is No Place Like Home

We are back in Georgia. We were in Maine to celebrate my parent's 60 years of marriage. Everything went off without a hitch! All my siblings, their children, and their children's children attended. Many of our relatives and long time friends showed up to offer their congratulations. Even Old Man Winter recognized my parent's milestone -- he delivered a mild 45 degrees evening! After the anniversary party all the family got together at my sister Barb's house and exchanged gifts (Sandy had Barb's name and I had my sister Brenda's name). Everyone had a great time.

Mom and dad looked particularly well this trip, even though mom was recovering from a viral illness. Dad has finally quit working and he looked rested. One afternoon we watched videos (converted to DVD's) with them: footage of family reunions, our boys when they were barely school age, Sandy with big hair, and Meagan right after her birth. We even had some 35 mm footage taken 40 years ago. Sandy got to see my grandfather I was named after. It doesn't seem possible that so much time has passed.

We are back in full swing. Sandy is preparing lesson plans -- she begins teaching on January 2. Meagan is on her way to a spiritual retreat in Kansas City. I am ministering to my church family. It is almost time to close the door to 2006 and step into a brand new year.

We are blessed and thankful.

Celebration Over?

Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it. Matthew 7:13-14

Today we celebrate the Savior's birth! For all who have received His gift of life -- real life will never end. That truth has caused me to ponder a single question over and over again, "Why then, as God's people, do we miss so many opportunities to celebrate our new life, but instead, surrender to the pressures and standards of a life so transient, so destructive, so . . . lifeless?"

The Scriptures reveal a detailed record of Christ's birth, but Christ himself never told us to give much attention to his birth. Instead, Jesus constantly said "Watch and follow my life and you will learn how to live." He knew that, at the time, his life seemed small and narrow to many. Few wanted his way of life -- few were looking for such a life. That broke his heart, yet never deterred him. He strode toward death, full of life, joy, and celebration.

Is all of our attention given to a time of spiritual birth -- His and ours? Have we given little attention to life -- His and ours?

In just a few days the chronometers will roll over to 2007. Once again, the ingrained rhythms of "turning over a new leaf" gain a pulse. Is it time to leave the broad trail we have been on for the risk of one seldom used? Is it time to look forward to a Life, rather than backward at a Birth?

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Sixty Years

My mother and father were married 60 years ago on October 20th. This December 23, all of their children and grandchildren will gather in Maine to celebrate! My parents had six children. They had to grow up fast -- as most young couples from their generation did. Their third child was with them a short time -- Glendon died of cancer at the age of three and a half. I was one and a half years old at the time of his death. Surviving are my two older sisters and two younger brothers; all of them live in Maine.

My siblings agree that our parents are two of the most unselfish people we have ever met. Over the years that rare characteristic has never been compromised. None of us have ever doubted -- not once -- that my parents would make any sacrifice necessary to help us along the way.

My father always had the reputation of being the hardest working man anyone who knew him had ever met. It took a hard working man to provide for the needs of five children in the difficult economy of Maine. He often took extra work to make ends meet. He is a very gifted man and studied art for a time, but had very little time to pursue it. In his younger years he was a good athlete. Back in the day, fast pitch softball was a popular sport, and the level of competition was extremely high. My father was a left handed, windmill style pitcher. The ball came out of his hand like a bullet -- he was very good. I know he did lose games sometimes -- I just can't remember them. Some of my fondest childhood memories revolve around watching his games and learning to catch for him. My mother always fretted when I was crouched as his backstop, because the velocity of his pitches would take the glove off my hand. During my teen years, we played in some games together. I don't remember losing any of those games either!

My mother prays with more results than any person I know. Now that her children are adults, we realize that her prayers have had an incredible effect on our lives. Two of us spent more time than we are happy to admit in the Prodigal's company. My mother, in particular, never let heaven enjoy a moment of quiet until we returned. Mom is a happy person -- she has always been an optimist. Heartbreak is not a stranger to her, but she never lets heartbreak become a manipulative friend. She always turns to God for strength, guidance, and peace. She, too, did everything she could while raising five children. It seems like she was always cooking, doing laundry, cleaning, and providing childcare for even more kids!

Mom and Dad have left a legacy of faithfulness to God. They have always been a blessing to their pastor and any community of believers they have been associated with. Changing times have not made them petty and demanding within Christ's church. Commitment to truth has not prevented their being relevant as believers, even in advanced years. My father has been a very solid voice of reason as a deacon and leader. My mother has always served God's people with whatever strength He gave her.

Sixty years -- it doesn't seem possible. Sixty years -- none of it wasted. They would agree that hindsight is twenty-twenty. There have been mistakes, a few detours, but few regrets. Time is the friend of truth and they have followed the Truth. The prophet Joel promised that God would "return the years the locusts have eaten," for those He loved. Six decades have proven the Seer correct. What matters to our parents -- their children -- will be with them in eternity. Glendon has been there fifty-four years, and the remaining five of us all know Christ.

Friday, December 15, 2006

A Gift

On December 16, 2006 (tomorrow morning), my bride receives her diploma from Columbus State University. Sandy completed a four year degree in three years. As a student she held a 4.0 GPA, got published, won scholarships, studied in Oxford, England, and edited the Arden. She was the president of Sigma Tau Delta, loved and respected by her peers, and made many great new friends.

I married up!

Few people know how God spoke to Sandy's heart during a devotional time three years ago. Sandy received a clear impression that her time had come -- God would open doors for her to enroll in college. The first step in this new adventure required her to take the SAT -- she nervously did so. Sandy aced the verbal -- scored an 800. She scored above average on the math. She cried with joy and relief -- I just cried with joy.

During those three years she explored additional educational options, yet in the recesses of her heart she held a dream and desire to teach at Columbus High School. CHS is the number one academic public school in Georgia, and when positions at CHS open they are highly coveted. At times, she thought her aspirations were nothing more than pipe dreams. I think anyone reading this knows what it is like to protect your heart and not get your hopes too high.

Although I never stopped believing Sandy's desire was God given, as a couple we went through a difficult time. As she was headed down the home stretch, all of a sudden our future in the southeast became unusually cloudy. To quote God's Word, the "thief that would rob, kill, and destroy," showed up to do his dirty work. But once again, God affirmed that when He speaks -- He comes through! Sandy had followed God's leading, and on January 2, 2007 she will begin her teaching career at Columbus High School!

There is one more thing about all this that reveals that God's love is deep, His kindness has no boundaries, His promises are sure, and that He is a romantic at heart -- Sandy graduates on my birthday!

Saturday, December 9, 2006

Unworthiness?

One hindrance in particular tied Luther's tongue: feeling unworthy . . . he could not rid himself of a sense of shame. As a young monk, some days he would spend hours trying to identify every stray thought . . . No matter how thorough his confession, as he knelt to pray he felt himself rejected by a righteous God. His breakthrough came when he realized that Jesus had revealed God's character by offering grace and forgiveness to the foulest of sinners, the least worthy. From then on, whenever feelings of unworthiness plagued him, Luther would view them as the work of the devil and roar back in opposition. (Phillip Yancey -- Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference?)

I have been laid up since Monday due to surgery. This healing period has given me the luxury of getting in more reading, praying, and sleeping than usual. I believe God ordained my down-time. I have also battled a familiar enemy -- a sense of unworthiness.

It amazes me how unrelenting this enemy is. At times I have felt like a wounded animal, cut from the herd by a pack of wolves. Like I said, I have been reading -- but have I been reading enough? I have been praying -- but have I prayed enough? I have been sleeping -- but have I slept too much? It didn't matter that I just had double hernia surgery. It didn't matter that the last couple of weeks leading up to surgery the pain had intensified. It didn't matter that it needed to be done -- regardless of the timing. But the voice whispered "This is the Christmas season and there is so much going on at church. You should be there. It doesn't matter what the doctor said." This taunting took place as I prayed and read God's Word. The haunting even hounded my dreams. I could go on and on with a list of questions that were designed to push me away from God's grace.

During these battles I have followed Luther's lead: I have roared back in opposition. Reading about Luther's struggle and transparency has helped me. Like him, I have been to Jesus, settled the problem of my sin, and received God's grace. Like Martin Luther, I also know that the evil one will continue to make the same baseless accusation -- unworthy. Thankfully, his opinions no longer matter!

Wednesday, December 6, 2006

A Solid Soul

Invigorate my soul so I can praise you well, use your decrees to put iron in my soul. Psalm 119 [The Message]

Just like a baseball player can go into a batting slump, we, as believers, sometimes go into a soul slump. The Scripture quoted above reminds us of this truth. The Psalmist reveals that the condition of our souls is exposed by our praise.

Replace the word invigorate with its definition and read the verse again, "Fill my soul with life and energy, energize me. Heighten and intensify my praise of You.

There is plenty of evidence in God's Word that a part of praise is euphoria, and people express that euphoria in different ways. But it is important to remember that praise will always build spiritual strength. Praise, built on the Truth, puts iron in the soul.

Tuesday, December 5, 2006

Stop!

"Stop fighting," he says, "And know that I am God." Psalm 46:10 [TEV]

Do you remember the old television ad that said, "I'd rather fight than switch?" Sometimes fighting is necessary to maintain an allegiance. But in the spiritual realm, fighting may be the very thing that keeps us from being allied with God.

There is a type of spiritual "blind rage" that keeps us from really knowing God in His fullness. In the midst of spiritual warfare we "see red," but never see God. We think we hear the command "charge," but the trumpet really sounded "retreat." Every believer should be able to identify times and places when they stopped fighting, because they finally recognized the voice and authority of God.

Monday, December 4, 2006

Two For The Price Of One

I was released from the hospital before noon. I am feeling great. On the way home, Sandy stopped and bought us sushi for lunch (one of my friends refers to sushi as "bait"). Mmm good!

It turns out that I had two hernias. It being Christmas and all, there must have been a "two for the price of one sale" at the Medical Center. The doctor told me I could do some walking, as long as I didn't overdo it. So I have been up and about since I got home.

This afternoon I have been reading a powerful little book I was given recently, "Intimacy with the Almighty" by Charles Swindoll. I regret I had not read it before I spoke to our church yesterday -- it would have been a good resource. Swindoll's quote of the following passage of Scripture really jumped out at me:

[For my determined purpose is] that I may know Him -- that I may progressively become more deeply and intimately aquainted with Him, perceiving and recognizing and understanding [the wonders of His Person] more strongly and more clearly. And that I may in that same way come to know the power outflowing from His resurrection [the power it exerts over believers]; and that I may so share His sufferings as to be continually transformed [in spirit into His likeness even] to His death. Philippians 3:10 AMP

Enjoying the Adventure . . .

Saturday, December 2, 2006

Full And Fulfilling

I hope you got to see the stunning sunrise this morning. The eastern skies were streaked with multiple shades of reds and oranges. Daybreak was just a prelude to another beautiful day in Georgia. Later on in the day, I could see both the moon and the sun in the same sky.

I spent the early part of the day reading and studying for tomorrow's message. In the afternoon, Sandy and I went to Westville Village, an historic tourist attraction. Steven Hawks, the potter, fired up the "ground hog" outdoor kiln. I helped feed the flames with scraps from a demolished house. The kiln is wood-fired; the temperature inside the brick lined oven soared to twenty-five hundred degrees or more. Peering through one of the air vents, we could see many of the nearly one-thousand pieces of pottery glowing and translucent amid the curling flames. Forty pieces of the pottery inside were made by our son, Joshua.

We got home around 4 p.m., and I spent a few more hours preparing for Sunday. The topic tomorrow will be "A Call To Action." The message will be 1 of 13 to support our Adult Sunday school as they go through a thirteen week series on the book of Acts. I am looking forward to speaking.

This evening I lugged an armful of wood into the house and started a fire in our fireplace. As I stepped outside and made my way to the woodpile, I looked upward and toward the east. A white orb shone down on me from the heavens above. It has been a full and fulfilling day.

Friday, December 1, 2006

Once Again

I clearly remember Dr. Nessin saying, "Billy, we will have you back home for Thanksgiving," just before I was given ether to put me to sleep. The appendicitis attack was full blown and the pain was intense. I remember writhing from one end of my bed to the other. Dr. Nessin's words promised relief.

I vaguely remember emerging out of the groggy fog after the my operation. Things did not go as planned. My appendix ruptured before it could be removed. Rather than the pain subsiding, it began to intensify in the hours ahead. My health began to spiral downward immediately. I would need a second operation, but already, there was the growing complication of infection. Now the question became, "Can Billy survive a second surgery?"

I was transported from tiny Workmans Hospital, to a major medical center in Central Maine. The surgeon for the next round would be Dr. Wise; he would have to address severe bowel adhesions and infections. Some of my intestines would have to be removed. Before this new surgery, the physician told my parents, "It is in God's hands. I will do all I can. God must do the rest." Over the next several weeks there were a number of "reentry" proceedures to deal with the infections. It became doubtful that I would make it.

Three months after the first surgery I left the hospital -- I weighed 48 pounds!

All that took place forty-one years ago, leaving my abdomen criss-crossed with truly hideous scars. Forty-one years later I need surgery again. It's nothing serious -- just a hernia. But because of the massive amounts of scar tissue in my abdomen, regular surgeons would not touch it. Specialist Dr. William Taylor will do the honors. If all goes as planned (I don't have a good history in that area), on Monday I will be out of the hospital and home resting a few hours after surgery.

I was recently reminded that once you hit fifty years old, they just begin patching you! For me, last month it was cancer -- this month a hernia. But I am blessed, my good friend, Bill R., will get me rehabilitated and on my feet. My goal is to resume preaching, teaching, rappelling, kayaking, hiking, rock climbing, cycling, and being thrown off horses -- as soon as possible!

Friday, November 24, 2006

Omniscience' Question

Were there not ten cleansed? But where are the other nine? Were there not any found who returned to give glory to God except this foreigner? Luke 17:11-19

Here in Georgia the weather has been indescribably beautiful. Temps in the a.m. have been in the 30s to 40s. Afternoons have soaked us with sunshine. High humidity has taken a vacation, and the holiday has given us a respite from the usual pace. This "foreigner" is enjoying every minute of it!

Over the last couple of months I have been more aware of my need to cultivate a thankful heart. I have done word studies on "joy" and "thanks," but more importantly, I have chosen to go to God time after time and confess my need for those two heart conditions -- joy and thankfulness. God alone can provide them.

When I read this story it struck me how surprised Jesus was that only one out of the ten healed returned to "glorify God" and thank Jesus. Also, it appears that Jesus was a little surprised at who did return -- a Samaritan. I can understand why Jesus was surprised that only one of ten returned to give thanks. But why was He surprised that it was "this foreigner?"

Reading this, I have concluded and decided that I want to be a pleasant surprise to my God. I want to be one of the very few people who return to give thanks for what He has done. It also crossed my mind that I have spent so much time asking and wishing, that it may have surprised (if not shocked) God that I finally returned to "give glory to God" with a humble "thank you!"

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

My Words -- Your Mouth

I will make my words in your mouth a fire and these people the wood it consumes.Jerehmiah 5:14

Tonight my son Josh and I sat staring into the firepit. We split time taking turns coaxing the wet wood to burn. I recently bought a cord of wood for just such evenings as this. A few days ago, my neatly stacked fuel was drenched with 5 inches of rain. Needless to say, we didn't have a roaring fire.

The transformation of cold, damp wood releasing energy, that chases away darkness and warms our bodies, still amazes me. I know, I know there is a scientific explanation for it -- combustion and all that. But I still love a fire and there is something spiritual about it. God often chose to use our fascination with fire as a metaphor to teach us spiritual truth.

"Jerehmiah, your words, formed by air traveling over your vocal cords, and shaped by your tongue and teeth, will be like a consuming fire. No, your words will not be motivational or inspirational -- a speech that gets the adrenalin flowing and moves people toward great purposes. Instead, your words will be like a Divine match, struck, and set beneath souls dry as tinder (paraphrase)." Jerehmiah, as God's proxy, spoke words that ignited a consuming fire -- words that brought judgment.

Josh and I took shifts using our lungs as bellows. As we leaned into the glowing embers our breath did not form words, but did ignite a flame. With each puff, tongues of fire leaped and curled around the wood, consuming it.

Each dancing flame brought brought to my mind echoes of God's words to His prophet.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Scientia Mutua Mundi

In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil . . . You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you shall surely die. Genesis 2:9, 16-17

There it is, the only prohibition given to the only couple God ever created, Adam and Eve. Billions of humans have come and gone through procreation since, but these two are the only originals.

I was not there when all hell broke loose -- when the first couple became the first sinners. They saw, took, and ate of the forbidden fruit, and their unhindered relationship with God gave up the ghost. The Scriptures declare that the lineage of all good and evil can be traced to its birth place, found in this story.

Not all the world believes there was actually a couple named Adam and Eve. The mythic account of the origin of man and sin is considered little more than an ancient generation's attempt to find university. Impossible that we, their progeny, received their fallen DNA -- impossible that we inherited their sin nature at conception.

My wife Sandy was recently inducted into an honor society, Phi Beta Delta. The society has a shield with this motto, Scientia Mutua Mundi -- Latin for The world's shared knowledge. When I read the Latin phrase it piqued my interest and brought forward these questions, "Can we agree that all of us share a knowledge that there is good and evil in this world? Is it possible that there is a record of its origin?"

Thursday, November 16, 2006

My Precarius Life

No, I did not intend to spell precarious in the title of this post. I recently read that the word prayer comes from the Latin root precarius -- a linguistic cousin to precarious. There is an uncertainty that goes with prayer. Truth is, it is often uncertainty that causes us to call out to God, and even as we do so, we are not always sure of the outcome of our prayers.

When I think of the word precarious I also think of danger. I have heard it said, "Be careful what you pray for!" Is it dangerous to pray for things and situations? No, it is my lack of prayer that is dangerous. The choices are a precarious or precarius life.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Docility

Writing is a necessity for me. As of late, my postings have been few and far between. I have a lot of other things I could be doing, but I just feel the need to write. "But what will I write about?" I ask myself.

I am going to write about the word "Docility."

"Why?" You might ask.

Like I said, I need to write. So I picked up my Webster's New World Thesaurus, flipped it open, and put my right index finger on the left page -- page 122. Under my finger was the word "docility." Docility is a noun. It is akin to obedience, gentleness, adaptability; see humility, shyness. Says my Thesaurus.

The synonyms puzzled me. To me they are not similar words. For instance, I consider myself very adaptable, but I am not shy, nor am I particularly gentle. Yet, I do consider myself to be obedient. Can one be obedient and not gentle?

The Thesaurus said, "see humility." One of the synonyms for humility is submissive. Since I turned to the word humility, like my Thesaurus told me, I guess I am submissive.

I think I will look up Shy. A synonym for shy is girlish. I am not shy.

I return to the word docility and one final synonym -- humility. Yes. That's it without a doubt. I am supremely humble.

Friday, November 10, 2006

The Buck Stopped Here

I am almost embarrassed to admit it -- I wasn't in a tree stand to greet the sun as it peeked over the tree tops. Instead, I did a few things around the house and then went horseback riding. Even though it was in the upper 70's, the trails, dappled with light, were cool and comfortable.

After doing some groundwork in the round pen we headed into the woods. Our path zig-zagged through oaks, pines, and nearly naked hardwoods. After a while we emerged from acres of planted pines into a sunlit field. To my right was the rickety tree stand I had dragged across the field a couple of years ago. Once across the opening, we started down a sloping road that led to another small clearing. On my left lay the complete skeleton of a buck. Still attached to the skull was a thick set of antlers with ten points.

"That wasn't there 3 weeks ago," Cary said.

We sat on our horses discussing the cause of the big deer's demise. We both figured someone had wounded it and couldn't track it. After a few minutes, I got down from my horse to look at the rack. When I tried to lift them for a closer look, we discovered what had happened. The antlers were tangled in some thick vines. I gave a couple of good yanks and still couldn't break them free!

I had heard of such things happening, but have never seen it first hand -- the buck stopped here, got stuck in the thicket of vines, and died.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Wild And Wounded Heart -- Inside and Out

But you, O Sovereign LORD, deal well with me for your name's sake; out of the goodness of your love, deliver me. For I am poor and needy and my heart is wounded within me. Psalm 109:21-22

"I wish I didn't have so many wounds. I wish my wounds would heal more quickly." I don't know how many times I brought that prayer to my Heavenly Father. As I prayed, the familiar taunts of the Enemy tried to invade my prayers "You are a pastor! You should be whole. Why aren't your wounds healed? Where is your shield of faith that would quench the darts aimed at your heart? What sin are you hiding from God?" A short time ago I was in the mountains of Colorado attending "Wild at Heart," a conference for men. It was the first time in months I have been able to fully concentrate on the condition of my heart.

I am a pastor and I am redeemed. I am not redeemed because I am a pastor. I am a pastor because I am redeemed; when God saved me He gifted me for that purpose and placed me in the body of Christ. But I am not whole and healed; I have some deep wounds. Yes, the question often arises in my deepest heart, "Why aren't my wounds healed?" What is it that anchors me to pain? Is all of my pain self-inflicted? No. I don't believe that is the case at all.

The Psalmist admits that he is emotionally, spiritually, and physically spent. His once fierce soul is but a shadow of what it was, reduced to the size of a locust. His soul is starved -- thin and gaunt, his legs wobbly. David has been trying to bolster his sagging spirit with such phrases as "O God, whom I praise" and "I am a man of prayer." But his heart has been pierced and wounded, his once bouyant soul deflated. God-confidence and self-confidence have leaked out. He is desperate for Divine intervention.

David's prayer is a violent one (read the entire Psalm). He is praying against those bent on his destruction. David's experience is not foreign to me, or, in fact, any of us. Life wounds us. Not just once or twice, but continually. Deeply.

I recently had cancer cut out of my physical body. I thought I was going to go through a little scraping or freezing. After about 20 minutes I asked my doctor, "What's going on back there (my shoulder)?" She replied, "I am stitching you up." I asked, "Stitching me up! How many stitches?" "Twelve on the outside. More on the inside. The ones on the inside will dissolve. I will have to remove the outer ones in a week."

Our Sovereign God is sometimes less communicative than my doctor. He always stands witness to our wounds, but does not always intervene. Sovereignty sometimes chooses, rather, to remain silent. I have experienced that silence. God's response time is a tension I often wrestle with. How about you?

What did David do? What do we do? What will I do?

I have determined to battle to accept David's conclusion, "Help me, O LORD my God; save me in accordance with your love." What David says next is the great encouragement we all need, "Let them know that it is your hand, that you, O LORD, have done it." The inner and outer demons? "They may curse, but you [God] will bless . . . Your servant will rejoice.

God chooses to pick his spots. The Sovereign One will show up in grand fashion in our lives. When He does, people will know that it is His hand at work. Stitching our wild and wounded hearts -- on the inside and the outside.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Sign-A-Plenty

It was 35 degrees when I stepped out of my truck and more than an hour before sunrise. The stars above glistened brilliantly. The powerlines that stretched invisibly from pole to pole between me and the celestial lights buzzed and cracked. It was easy to imagine the stars were talking to one another.

I put another layer of clothing on my upper body and then wriggled into my camouflaged cover-alls. With little more than a sliver of moon above my head and moonshadows under my feet, I walked through a narrow woodline toward a large field. Next week is the opening day for deer hunting. I wanted to see how much activity there was around my stand.

In a few minutes I was in the tree stand. There was a generous collection of pine quills and the remnants of pinecones the squirrels had left behind. I quietly brushed the seat clean and removed a few twigs from where my feet would rest. I didn't want the silence broken at the most inopportune moment.

Indescribable peace, a peace I always sense when I am alone in the outdoors, began to make its presence known in my every cell and soul. The only sounds I could hear were the deep breaths of crisp fresh air I inhaled into my lungs. I never feel alone when I am alone in the woods. I always have a greater awareness of God and heightened sense of communion with Him. My greatest satisfaction is never the hunt.

Slowly the field below began to lighten. On the opposite edge I could see the faint outline of a deer. Through my binoculars I could see that it was probably a buck. If not, it was a good sized doe. It began to feed toward me -- it was a spike. He fed within 10 feet of me and then meandered off to my right. As I watched him I caught some movement to my left. Another buck -- 4 points! It, too, came close and then went off in the same direction as the first.

Five minutes later another buck came out -- a 5 or 6 pointer! Now the fun started! The two larger bucks began sparring. They weren't serious -- kind of like a couple of boys wrestling on the playground. They butted heads, their antlers clicking and clacking; bucking and kicking like a couple of broncos. They had no idea I was only 50 yards away!

I stayed aloft long enough for 25-30 honking geese to land in the recently tilled dove field to the east. At 8:45 a.m. I abandoned my perch and walked the woodline back toward my truck. On the way, I detoured into a stand of oaks to see if there was any sign. It is a beautiful piece of ground and I stood there soaking it all in. There was sign-a-plenty!

Sunday, October 8, 2006

I am No Gene Autry -- "Out" Of The Saddle -- Again!

I'm back in the saddle again.
Out where a friend is a friend.
Where the longhorn cattle feed
On the lowly gypsum weed.

Back in the saddle again.

Ridin' the range once more
Totin' my old forty-four.
Where you sleep out every night
and the only law is right.

Back in the saddle again . . .

It was a beautiful 57 degrees when we started out on the trail; I was riding Cowboy. It has been several weeks since I last rode, so I tried some different paces: Canter, flat walk, and a gallop (I was impressed). After a while, three of the riders had to leave, so Cary and I took another trip around the 100 acre farm. I was feeling good -- I was back in the saddle again!

Suddenly, I was out of the saddle -- again! I never saw it coming. One of the neighbor's dogs came charging down a hillside. As I said, I never saw it coming -- but Cowboy did. In an instant I experienced the wonderful sensation of being able to fly. Had it not been for the sudden stop when I hit the ground, I would recommend it to anyone.

Ever the optimist, Cary said, "You couldn't have picked a better place to be thrown off a horse. The ground here is really soft."

Sometimes I have a sharp and quick tongue, but I bit it (this time on purpose). I wanted to respond, "Yes, Cary, I have been looking for a soft place to be launched from this saddle and slammed into the ground all morning! Great observation."

Later when we were loading the horses into the trailer, Cary said, "You don't enjoy anything unless there is a little danger and excitement, anyway." Right again!

Woopie-ty-yi-yo-rockin' to and fro. Back in the saddle again.
Woopie-ty-yi-yea-I go my way. Back in (or out of) the saddle again.

Thursday, October 5, 2006

Nine out of Ten

David Roberts spoke at our church on Sunday. David is the Director of Development for Yellowstone Baptist College in Billings, Montana. The college is unique, but then, it would have to be -- the needs in Montana are unique.

Yellowstone's mission is to train Montanans to reach their beautiful, rural, and sparsely populated state with the gospel -- not a simple task. There are 13 American Indian nations within the boundaries of Montana. Because of our embarrassing history with the Indians, white men are not very successful in telling them about the love of Jesus. The tiny college is also training Native Americans so they can go back to the reservations and plant churches.

Also consider: there are 134 Southern Baptist churches in Montana. Only two of those churches are able to fully support a pastor and provide health insurance. Sandy and I have seen some of the churches first hand. To be honest, it was a heart-breaking experience. Several of the facilities were in shambles. Most of the assemblies see 10-20 gather on any given Sunday. One of them, in Big Horn, has a pastor who is 80 years old. He built all that is there with his own money. To buy a loaf of bread, he has to drive 45 miles. Unless help arrives, his days, as well as the days of Big Horn Baptist Church, are numbered.

There are a couple of growth areas in Montana that could play a substantial part in the spiritual fate of that state. Bozeman is booming, and Livingston, only fifteen miles away, is becoming its bedroom community. Bozeman, with a population approaching seventy thousand, has almost no witness -- Livingston has none. I spent a substantial amount of time talking to David about a strategy to get churches started in those two cities; they could become a modern day "Jerusalem."

Spiritually speaking, Montana is still the wild west, but I believe a couple of healthy churches could be started in those two thriving cities. Those churches could birth other churches, support the college, and help send workers into the rural areas that cannot support a pastor. Our church is praying and exploring how we can become involved.

Nine out of ten people in Montana have had no association with any church of any kind. Surely we can change that!

Tuesday, October 3, 2006

East Meets West

And they sang a new song: You are worthy . . . with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation . . . Revelation 5:9-10

At 7 o'clock Sandy and I arrived at our friends' home to meet with the Chinese students. Robert met us at the door and took us downstairs. The basement, which had ground level access, had been converted into a beautiful apartment. The first things we saw were four round and smiling faces, and the American and Chinese flags facing each other on the back wall.

This week is a national holiday in China. The students were feeling a bit homesick. Our host proposed a toast in honor of our student's country (Relax. It was non-alcoholic). He also asked each of them to give us some of the history of the holiday. I asked Larry to explain the meanings of the symbols on the Chinese flag (One large star with a crescent of 4 smaller stars). The large star represented Communism and the four smaller stars represented the Chinese people. I then asked Larry if he knew the significance of our own Stars and Stripes -- he explained it all without missing a beat! With the history lesson finished, they sang the Chinese National Anthem and a praise song in their native language. We heard . . . a new song!

I brought a listening guide for each of the students and began to teach from it: the first lesson explained how a person becomes a Christian; the second lesson explained baptism. I moved slowly through each lesson answering any questions they had. Rarely have I seen anybody so eager to learn about Christ. After I finished teaching, Sarah asked them if they would tell us how they came to Christ. Theirs lives have not been easy and their stories left no doubt that they had met with the Savior of the Living God!

"Would you like to be baptized?" Bright eyes, quick nods, and multiple yesses answered my question! This Sunday I will have the honor and privilege of baptizing Oprah, Cordelia, Linda, and Larry (Christian names). Beginning next Monday night, Sandy and I will begin a Bible study with them. They told me "We want to learn more about Jesus."

Larry loves to sing. He asked us if he could sing his favorite "Christian" song for us before we left. He cleared his throat, cleared his throat again, took another drink of water, closed his eyes and began to sing "Because He lives."

Because He lives
I can face tomorrow.

Because He lives
All fear is gone.

Because I know
He holds the future;

My life is worth the living
Just because He lives.

When it was time to leave I took another look at the flags hanging on the wall. Each represented political philosophies diametrically opposed. None of that mattered or hindered us. East and West had met and we gathered in the name of the only kingdom that is going to last!

Monday, October 2, 2006

Big Weekend

Our Call of the Wild weekend exceeded expectations! On Friday night over 12o men camped out at our remote location. The evening concluded with a Communion service and the guys headed for their tents. Some of the more primitive types slept under the stars and drifted off to sleep beneath a diamond-studded sky.

On Saturday morning at 6:30 a.m., it was a cool 44 derees as men began to register. In fact, men began showing up 45 minutes earlier than necessary! The day continued to improve! There was hardly a cloud in the sky and the temperature climbed into the high 70's. Gentle breezes swept across sweaty arms, legs, and clothing to keep us comfortable.

It is hard to explain the instant unity that developed among such a diverse group of men. As we have been praying for months, denominational, cultural, and ethnic barriers were dismantled. I wish you could have seen it.

Sunday afternoon, one of our other pastors and I had a funeral. This morning I had a funeral and Charles had one this afternoon. Tonight, I am meeting with the Chinese students I told you about in the last post -- a dream come true. I will let you know how it went.

All is well.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Can't Catch Up

It was July when I entered my last post. My lack of posting is not due to a lack of things to write about. It has been the most intense time in ministry since 1990. I don't know where to begin. I guess I will look through the windshield, rather than the rear view mirror -- the view is broader.

This Saturday we will have our third "Call of the Wild." For the first time we have intentionally stepped across denominational lines and broken through racial barriers. We have about 360 men registered to attend. In short, the event is a time when men get together to do stuff that men love: rappelling, skeet and sporting clays, rainbow trout fishing, driving golf balls, touch football (the touches turn into shoves), archery, and a giant big screen T.V. to watch S.E.C. football.

There will also be three teaching and break-out sessions. The topics are: Igniting Men Spiritually; Connecting Men Relationally; and Battling Strategically (I will be speaking on Battling). Each speaker talks for about 15 minutes and each topic exposes a lie that men have bought into. For instance, the lie I expose is: "There is no need for a spiritual strategy -- Just do it!" The men go into breakouts after each session for 20 minutes. At their tables they will meet their facilitators (we call them Medics) and find five discussion questions about the topic. When they are done, each speaker will get the guys back together for a wrap up.

On Monday night I will be meeting with four Chinese students. They are enrolled for 18 months in one of our universities. Back in their homeland they recently trusted Christ. Now they want to know more about following the Lord in believer's baptism. I cannot find the words to express how meaningful this opportunity is. I believe in my deepest heart, that although I cannot go to China, God has brought the Chinese to me. That is not arrogance -- it is gratitude and a direct answer to prayer.

A good friend of mine will be speaking at our church on Sunday and Wednesday. David Roberts will be presenting the enormous spiritual needs in Montana. Nine out of ten people, in that State of breathtaking beauty, have never had any affiliation with any church of any kind. Staggering -- isn't it.

I can't catch you up on everything, but it has been good to write again. I hope you are "Enjoying the Adventure!"

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Sheila Harden

In my lap, as I tap away on my laptop, is a book of poetry by William Wordsworth. Sheila Harden received it for "2nd Prize. Form III. Winter Term 1929. Palmyra, Southsea." No doubt, Sheila Harden has long left this world.

I wonder -- How old were the eyes of this woman who perused these poetic rhymes of Wordsworth:

She dwelt among the untrodden ways

She dwelt among the untrodden ways
Beside the springs of Dove,
A maid whom there were none to praise
And very few to love:

A violet by a mossy stone
Half hidden from the eye!
Fair as a star, when only one
Is shining in the sky.

She lived unknown, and few could know
When Lucy ceased to be;
But she is in her grave, and, oh
The difference to me!

I wonder how that poem struck her? Did she feel like "Lucy?" Or, did she live with praise and a sense of her beauty and brilliance?

My eyes are fifty years old. One day, I will be gone, too, and someone will wonder about me. These words from Wordsworth caused me to pause and think:

By The Side Of The Grave Some Years After

Long time his pulse hath ceased to beat
But benefits, his gift, we trace--
Expressed in every eye we meet
Round this dear Vale, his native place.

To stately Hall and Cottage rude
Flowed from his life what still they hold,
Light pleasures, every day, renew;
And blessings half a century old.

Oh true of heart, of spirit gay,
Thy faults, where not already gone
From memory, prolong their stay
For charity's sweet sake alone.

Such solace find we for our loss;
And what beyond this thought we crave
Comes in the promise from the Cross,
Shining upon thy happy grave.

New England And England

For more than two weeks I was in New England and Sandy was in England. Now we are both back home. Sandy had an opportunity and experience of a lifetime. She was able to go to Oxford, England with a group from Columbus State University. She saw many of England's most famous attractions.

We were able to stay in touch through e-mail and a very brief phone chat almost every night. Each evening I roamed around the cabin with my cell phone to my ear asking, "Can you hear me now?"

During the trip, Sandy also went to Edinburgh, Scotland for a couple of days. Her adventures in Scotland took her breath away. The landscape, architecture, and the rugged beaches were indescribably beautiful. Her first day there, she took my breath away when she said, "Bill, you and I must come back here! I can't find words to describe Edinburgh."

Sandy's academic focus while in England was to study the "Pre-Raphaelites." I don't know much about them (For my male readers: Sandy said that the Pre-Raphaelites had a lot in common with "Wild at Heart" men), but I am going to read some of the books and research my bride has collected.

Sandy brought back souveniers for our children and me. The gifts she gave me were particularly meaningful: A tartan from the Wallace clan (think "Braveheart"), a book of poetry by William Wordsworth, and a book on Holy Communion by "Fidelis." I am going to do some research on Fidelis. I believe he was martyred. This particular book was given to Clyffe Pypard on March 5th, 1914 by Cuthbert Trent Matthews. The cursive hand writing is in that old sweeping English style and difficult to read but I think I got both of the names correct).

Oh, and by the way, for those of you who watched "The Chronicles of Narnia," Sandy also brought back a box of "Turkish Delight."

Monday, July 24, 2006

Back From Maine

I am back after spending some extended time at my favorite spot on the earth -- our cabin in Maine! It's back to work time!

This will be a short post.

I am going to give you two lists: Interesting things that happened in Maine; Things I survived while in Maine.

Interesting things that happened in Maine:

I was on the evening news. Why? The south bound lane of Route 2 slid into the Penobscot River; I went down to check it out and a camera crew and a newswoman from ABC interviewed me.

Sitting on the porch of the cabin I watched a red fox capture and eat a chipmunk. The action took place within 10 feet of me.

Kayaking down the river I saw two deer, a doe and lamb, swimming from one of the islands to the mainland.

A fish jumped into the one of the boats we were fishing from. The fish was not on a hook or line.

I watched a hawk divebomb an eagle several times. Truly a rare sight.

Things I survived while in Maine:

Ravenous mosquitos

A near miss of a thunderstorm that dropped hail the size of baseballs (we were in kayaks).

12 hours in a boat with Jim Pass

Jim Pass' snoring

Jim Pass' cooking

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Brobdingnagian Buffalo

On Monday afternoon we were making our way through Yellowstone in a Subaru Forester at the breakneck speed of 30 miles per hour. To our left was a wooded area that sloped up and away from us. To our right the ground descended and then flattened out where a crooked river lazily made its way south.

Here is where our word brobdingnagian comes in (You don't hear this word everyday). Brobdingnagian: Of extraordinary size; gigantic; enormous. We saw a brobdingnagian buffalo, up close and personal! Height: 60 - 78 inches, Length: 84 - 144 inches, Weight: 1760 - 2425 lbs.!

The buffalo burst out of the wooded area to our left and just ahead of us. I hit the brakes and swerved right! The buffalo hit his brakes and swerved to his right; plumes of dust billowed up from his long mantle of hair. The only thing that separated the two of us was the thickness of the car door and another 10-12 inches; he towered over the Subaru!

As soon as the danger was past, Meagan and Sandy asked me to stop the car so they could get some air! I was laughing and hooting. I know there must be something deeply wrong with me, but would life be any fun at all without some danger?!

Friday, June 23, 2006

Into Yellowstone

We spent the night in Bozeman and on Tuesday began driving west out of town. Bozeman is a hot spot. In the last few years the population has grown from twenty three thousand to nearly seventy thousand. It is projected to outgrow Billings, the capital, within ten years (A twelve hundred square foot house on one third acre, in town, sells for over three hundred thousand dollars). The city is in a high elevation bowl surrounded by mountains. The downtown area is very old, yet lovingly preserved. Scores of unique businesses line both sides of Main Street.

While we slept it had snowed in the mountains, which stood proudly with their new mantles. We sighed at the vanishing beauty behind us and set our sights for Yellowstone National Park. The drive through the first part of the park reminded us of Maine. We hadn't driven long before we saw our first of many fly fishermen and women. Then we came upon a Bald Eagle nesting close to the main road. Dozens of cars stopped for photograph. A couple of long-legged elk appeared and then we saw our first of six or seven hundred buffalo.

We passed through a large area where thousands of trees were toppled over or stood bleached grey and naked. A fire had gone through this part of Yellowstone, destroying multiplied millions of board feet of lumber and much of the slower moving wildlife, no doubt. Even that tragedy revealed a beauty. Life was coming back and the hues of green stood out from the mature forest that survived.

On our first day in the park we had an exhilarating encounter with wildlife. I will tell you about that in my next blog.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

The Wounded Lion

There are three stately monarchs on the earth -- no, four: the lion, king of animals, who won't turn from any thing . , . Proverbs 30:29

On Monday our destination was Bozeman, Montana. On our way there we stopped off at a couple of other towns and drove through the neighborhoods. As has been our custom for as long as we have been married, we picked up real estate booklets; we enjoy looking at property and the lifestyles of communities reflected in their homes. When we reached Bozeman, we didn't find the booklets at convenience stores like we usually do. We saw a real estate office and decided to stop in and see what they had.

It was 6:02 p.m. when we drove into the parking lot. As we drove in, a woman was getting into her car. I parked and walked up to the door of the office; it was locked. As I turned to leave, the woman walked up to me with a set of keys in her hand and began to unlock the door. I said to her, "That's not necessary. We were just going to get a brochure on the real estate in the area. We're not looking to buy." She responded, "No problem. Bob is working upstairs, and I'll have him get you some listings." I said, "That isn't necessary. We just like to look at real estate. You don't need to go to all that bother." She insisted on helping.

Bob came down and said, "Come back here. I will give you some listings." I said to Bob, "You are trying to give us more help than we need. That's not necessary." Bob insisted. We followed him to the back of the office.

Bob asked us where we were from and what I did for a living. I answered both questions. When I told him I was a pastor, he immediately said. "I asked Christ into my heart a few weeks ago and I am having a terrible struggle following Christ. Can we talk?" Keep in mind that our car is still running and Meagan is in the car! I said to Bob, "Gladly!"

Sandy and I talked with Bob and answered question after question. Toward the end of the conversation, Bob asked, "Do you believe that God could speak to me through a dream?" I responded, "There was a time when I would have said, 'No.' But I have been following God's work in China, and it appears that God has been leading, protecting, and communicating with believers over there through His Word and dreams."

Bob began to describe a dream that he couldn't get out of his mind. He told us that he dreamed he was in a large field that had one tree in the middle. He walked toward the tree and came upon a man kneeling under the tree. He walked up to the man and saw that he was bent over a wounded lion. He said the lion's wound was vivid. Blood was running from its side and the creature weakly raised one paw. Bob said he thought the lion represented his battle with his sinful flesh; it was about to finally die.

I told Bob that I do not consider myself to be an interpreter of dreams, but that was not what came to my mind as he told his story. I told him that I thought that the lion represented him, and that he had been mortally wounded by sin. I believed that the one kneeling over him was Christ and that Christ was there to heal him. Christ wanted to restore him and give him the spiritual heart and strength of a lion, the heart and stature God always intended he possess.

Whatever the interpretation, it was clear that God was at work in Bob's life, and that our meeting was not by chance.

Bob was deeply moved. Sandy and I were deeply moved. Over an hour had passed and we left. We have not ceased to pray for Bob.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

The Holler


On Sunday afternoon we headed for the foothills of the Beartooth Mountains; we were going to spend the night at "The Holler." Friends of ours, Frank and Elayne, introduced us by phone to the owners, Craig and Pat Whitlock. The Whitlocks are very committed Christ followers.

To get to the ranch, we had to leave the asphalt and drive on a long serpentine gravel road. The twisting ride rewarded us with sightings of more deer, turkeys, rock faces, and a meandering stream. When we arrived at the office, Pat came walking up the road to meet us. She greeted us warmly and we chatted for awhile to get aquainted. Pat took us to our cabin (I wanted to call our realtor back in Columbus and tell them to sell everything. We are moving!) and we unpacked for our short stay.

Later on, Pat came back and told us that we could go horse back riding when Craig got back. Several hours later Craig and their daughter Kate came riding up on horses. Before we knew it, I was riding Otis, Sandy was riding Summer, and Meagan was on Rose. As we headed up the gravel road to pick up a trail, Craig said, "I want to show you my back yard." The Holler borders the Gallatin National Forest. For the next 5 miles we saw some of the most spectacular views eyes could behold.

The horses we rode were thoroughly trained. I have to tell you that I could not believe some of the places those horses took us; one false step and someone would have been chiseling our names on granite! There's something deeply spiritual about primitive travel, about coming over a rise or around a corner and seeing deer in the wild. At one point we rode the horses up to a high precipice where we could see three different mountain ranges miles and miles away. Other times we were leaning over the necks of our horses as they lunged up a steep hill or leaning through sharp turns as we navigated in and out of ancient trees and boulders.

By the time we got back, evening shadows were chasing away the sunlight. A perfect day drew to a close.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Red Lodge Baptist Church

On Sunday I stepped into the tiny sanctuary of Red Lodge Baptist Church. Bill Parisher, the pastor there, invited me to bring the Sunday morning message. About 40 people attend RLBC on a typical Sunday morning. The Sunday I spoke was typical.

The experience transported me back to the early 80s when I did a church plant in Northern Maine. Mounted on either side at the front of the church were the sound system speakers made by Peavy. The very same kind we had in Presque Isle, Maine. Developing a spiritual presence in Montana is not for the faint of heart.

RLBC has grown from an attendance of 12 to 40 in just one year. Many young people are also being reached through the youth program. The church is supporting two gypsy pastors in Romania for one hundred dollars each per month. A group from the church is raising money to go to Romania this year.

I pastor in the Bible belt. Our church has 2,500 members and facilities second to none. However, "Little is much when God is in it," and God is certainly at work in Red Lodge, Montana. I hold the members of this outpost in high esteem. They have a deep desire to reach their community, state, and world with the gospel. We forget that such places may be out of sight, but they are never out of God's thoughts.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Buffalo Bill Cody!

We left the Pryors and headed to Cody, Wyoming. Next stop . . . The Buffalo Bill Cody Museum. If it happened in the West, it is documented, illustrated, reenacted, or preserved at this museum! There is a model of every kind of rifle, shotgun, or pistol ever made . . . literally thousands of weapons. In one of the concourses there is even a gleaming brass Gatling gun.

You cannot appreciate just how big and ferocious a grizzly is until you stand next to the world record bear that is stuffed and standing on its hind legs with its teeth bared and its 5 inch claws extended like curved daggers. There were mounted moose and elk racks that weighed up to 50 lbs. If it had hair or fur, it's in the museum!

The Remington art collection is beyond description. Paintings and sketchings of wild West scenes: cattle stampedes, gun fights, Indian raids, death, life, and sweeping natural vistas that seem to come to life. The giftedness that God chose to pour into single individuals borders on the mystical.

An entire section is dedicated to exhibiting the life of the plains Indians. Their way of life is well documented by artifacts and historical records of various kinds. Pictures of proud Indian chiefs being paraded around and exploited by their conquerors are disturbing. I believe any thinking person has to process a certain amount of shame when you realize the inhumane course of "progress and the advance of civilization" that tamed the West.

Much of everyday life in yonder days is captured and preserved in stage coaches, period decorated rooms, tools, clothes, and cook wear. Throughout the museum shows the romanticized West and grim reminders of the dangerous, difficult, and violent life that snuffed out the tenderfoot as well as the roughest and toughest that ever crossed the continental divide.

In just two hours we did our best to burn into our memories and preserve on a digital photo stick what could easily occupy a curious mind for days. If the Lord allows, we hope to return for a longer visit someday. If not, we were blessed beyond measure with the time we were given.

The Wild Mustangs Of The Pryors!

Saturday was the fulfillment of a boyhood dream. As a child I didn't know exactly where wild mustangs were, but those free-roaming creatures held a special fascination in my young imagination. I wanted to be a pony express rider (In the last year, two friends, Cary and Otis have been teaching me to ride. I am deeply grateful. I believe that God's promise through the prophet Joel is coming to pass, "I will return what the locusts have eaten").

We had hardly entered the reserve when we saw our first mustangs, a small herd of 10. Among them was a cute and curious little newborn! He found us quite interesting. The mustangs are a thing of beauty: thick necks and short, sturdy bodies. In this group were tan, black, striped, and bluish-gray mustangs.

Traveling into the depths of the park, we saw 5 more about a half mile off the road. We stopped, got out, and began to slowly make our way across the nearly desert landscape toward the horses. David moved ahead of the direction the horses were moving; we circled behind them. By taking our time, we were able to get within 10 yards of the mustangs. They moved to within 10 feet of David!

I wish you could have seen the pitch black stallion that guarded his harem. His neck and shoulders showed visible scars and bite marks from many a battle. He was lean, proud, and breathtaking.

As I wended my way back to the car through the purple sage and flowering cactus, the melancholy that wild things and places always stirs returned. It was the good sort.

Cheyenne Reservation

Sandy and I have Indian blood in our ancestries. Sandy's comes through both her mother and father. It is believed that one of my grandfathers had Indian blood. If you met my wife and sons you would see that they got a pretty good dose of Native American DNA. Because of that heritage, we feel a bit of a connection to the Red Man.

We left the Little Big Horn memorial and drove to the Cheyenne Reservation. David Roberts had a specific destination in mind. The drive was beautiful, and as is the case in most of Montana and Wyoming, the landscape changed about every 30 miles. I am at a loss to describe what we saw once we arrived at the point of interest. I will try.

We pulled over to the side of the dirt road we had traveled for miles. To our left was an area where hundreds of colored pieces of cloth, tobacco pouches, hats of different sizes, and baby blankets were tied to the branches of trees. We were told that it was a place of prayer. A water source was pouring from a pipe that protruded out of the side of the hill. What stood out most significantly was the fact that the trees bearing the cloths or articles died.

We treated the sacred spot with respect. We did not walk among the trees or disturb the site in any way. I think each of us stopped and breathed a prayer for those who had come there seeking something from the spirit world. I prayed that God would somehow bring them to the Living Water that flows for all through Jesus Christ.

When we got back to David and Cindy's we did some research on the internet. We were unable to match what we saw with any rituals common to the Cheyenne.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Montana: Where Soldiers Fell.

And if the bugler doesn't sound a clear call, how will the soldiers know they are being called to battle? I Corinthians 14:8

We returned from seven days in Montana at 1:30 a.m. Friday morning. Sandy, Meagan, and I had the time of our lives in the big sky country. None of us had any idea that such a beautiful and diverse place existed in the United States. There are not enough adjectives to describe our trip through Montana and Wyoming.

Last week we hit the ground running as soon as we arrived in Billings, Montana. Dave Roberts picked us up at the airport and took us into Red Lodge. I had been there before and I wanted to take Sandy and Meg to a store called Common Ground. The store sells art and creative expressions of Montanans: wood and antlers meticulously carved, paintings, photography, Indian and cowboy art, pottery, you name it. Reminders of the creativity of those God created.

On Friday we went to a memorial to the Battle of the Little Big Horn and General George Armstrong Custer. A museum there contains maps and a blow-by-blow description of the massacre that took place (You've probably heard that Custer lost). Legend has it that on his way to the villages Custer said, "C'mon, there will be Indians enough for all of us!" Custer's plan was to wipe out all the Indians. As the saying goes "Turn about is fair play!"

I learned that many in Custer's army were immigrants who could hardly speak or understand English. As the hostile engagement with the Indians began, communication broke down and Custer's army scattered in disarray. The soldiers were unable to organize a defense. Also, most of Custer's men were armed with weapons that had never been tested under battle conditions. Due to the need to rapidly fire, the weapons overheated and the spent shell casings could not be ejected. After the battle it was discovered that many of the soldier's weapons were jammed.

The battle site is sobering. Across the sloping terrain, grave stones stand amid the waving prairie grasses and wild flowers, silently marking the exact spot where the soldiers fell.

Wednesday, June 7, 2006

Off to Montana

Sandy, Meagan, and I are leaving at 4 am tomorrow to spend a week with the Robertses in Montana. We're planning to see Yellowstone National Park and Old Faithful, and visit the Pryor Mountains to catch a glimpse of the wild mustang herds. We'll also drive along the Beartooth Highway, which we are told is "America's most beautiful road."

I probably won't be able to post a blog until we return. See you then!

Sunday, June 4, 2006

A Full And Fulfilling Day

I just finished writing cards to people who have requested prayer, or have just come through a blessing or crisis of some kind. During the welcome each Sunday, I encourage people to let me know how I can pray for them. It encourages them to get a note that tells them when and how someone has prayed for them. I am always amazed at the diversity of the needs and experiences among our body of believers.

I have also been reflecting on the services this a.m. We had significant responses during the invitation. In the first service we had a man in his early thirties come forward to receive Christ; he had an evident encounter with the Savior. Along with our congregation, we prayed for him as one of our pastors led him to Christ (I am meeting with this new convert tomorrow). We also had two couples come forward to unite with our church. Also, one of our men from the College and Career Ministry came forward to declare his commitment to follow Christ into full time service. Our college pastor, the young man's parents, many of his peers, and I gathered at the front of the church and prayed for him. It was pretty special.

In the second service a young man who has been in a battle with drugs came forward to confirm his commitment to Christ. He has been a drug user and seller in the recent past. Last year, he graduated from Teen Challenge, only to fall prey to his demons once again. Our college pastor and I have been battling for his heart and life for some time. About a month ago, Britton experienced a major breakthrough. Christ rescued and delivered him. Since then, he has been a different young man. When he came forward this morning, I had our deacon chairman, a couple of our pastors, and me gather and pray over him. He was received with many tears by his church family.

I talked to my Mom and Dad this afternoon; they are doing great. I have a younger brother who was recently called to a church in Hudson, Maine. He will be their pastor. Buzz (nickname) and his family are enroute from Texas as I write. Lord willing, I will be with all my siblings on the fourth of July. It will be the first time we have been together since 2002.

It has been a full and fulfilling day!

Friday, June 2, 2006

Demons And Evil Spirits

The Spirit then compelled Jesus to go into the wilderness, where he was tempted by Satan . . . Suddenly a man in the synagogue who was possessed by an evil spirit began shouting . . . That evening after sunset, many sick and demon-possessed people were brought to Jesus . . . So he [Jesus] traveled throughout the region of Galilee, preaching in the synagogues and casting out demons . . . And whenever those possessed by evil spirits caught sight of him [Jesus], they would throw them to the ground in front of him shrieking . . . " Mark 1-3

As I continue to read through the gospel of Mark I am struck by the constant battle between Jesus and demons. Mark describes them as debilitating, violent, audibly contesting Christ's presence, and constantly striking at the health of those they possess. People in the region of Galilee were infested with them!

A series of questions came to mind: Where are the demons today? Have demons disappeared? Did Christ put an end to them by his death, burial and resurrection? Were the whole lot of them bound in chains and cast into the Pit? Are they no longer the adversary of Christ and the hateful tormentors of His image bearers?

Paul's words came to mind instantly. For we are not fighting against flesh and blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. Ephesians 6:12 Paul says they are still present and we (Christ's people) are in a battle against them.

That led me to think about the things many believers want to fight about, such as music styles, whether we dress-up or dress casually for church, and the exact location of where we sell books and tapes in the church. Is there any evidence of the early church giving a hoot about such things? Are these the great battles Christ spoke of when He said, I will build my church and all the powers of hell will not conquer it? Matthew 16:1

I began to write that I am not anxious to do battle with evil spirits of the unseen world. But that's not true! If that was Jesus' and the early church's battle, then it remains ours, too. Wouldn't you rather fight a battle worthy of your calling? If the objective of the powers of hell is to conquer Christ's church (His people), then let's go confront the enemy!

Thursday, June 1, 2006

Peter's Sword

Then Peter drew a sword and slashed . . . John 18:10

Today I felt a little like Peter.

Do you remember another Peter -- the one in The Chronicles of Narnia? Father Christmas gave him a sword. I owned an exact replica of Peter's sword . . . briefly. It was a gift from Sandy for Father's day. She gave it to me early so I could use it for a sermon illustration Sunday. Last evening I took it with me and headed to church for prayer meeting. When I arrived I had more stuff to take inside than I could carry in one trip. I intended to come back directly for my sword, but got distracted. Last night someone stole it out of my vehicle while I was in prayer meeting.

I never even saw it unboxed or unwrapped.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Disreputable Sinners And Other Scum

[Jesus] saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at his tax collector's booth. "Follow me and be my disciple," Jesus said to him. So Levi got up and followed him. Later, Levi invited Jesus and his disciples to his home as dinner guests, along with many tax collectors and other disreputable sinners. (There were many people of this kind among Jesus' followers.) But when the teachers of the religious law . . . saw him eating with tax collectors and other sinners, they asked his disciples, "Why does he eat with such scum?" When Jesus heard this, he told them, "Healthy people don't need a doctor -- sick people do. I have not come to call those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners." Mark 2:13-17

Mark observed that those considered disreputable sinners and scum sought out Jesus' company (keep in mind that it was the teachers of the religious law who viewed them in such a way, not Jesus or Mark); they felt welcomed in His presence. Their comfort didn't come because Jesus disregarded their sinfulness or condoned it. His words alway led people out of their sin and into the righteousness of forgiveness. Their comfort came from knowing that Jesus not only provided a diagnosis of their sickness, but also a cure. Mark also reveals Christ's reaction toward those who think they are righteous: Jesus mocked them.



A similar scenario played out in my own life in a more vague form. After I did the invocation on Memorial Day, Sandy and I went down to the Riverwalk to ride our bikes. I was wearing a sportcoat and tie, Sandy was in a dress, so we go had to go down the stairway toward the river and change into our biking clothes in the restrooms. When we got to the restrooms, two men and a woman were sitting on park benches drinking beer. It was only 8:45 in the morning.

As we approached, one of them slurred, "Are you a cop?" I said, "No." "Are you a lawyer?" I said, "No," again. Once again, he asked, "Are you a politician?" I responded, "No. You'll never guess what I am." "What?" he asked. "I'm a pastor." "Oh, no! A pastor and here I am drinking!"

I went inside and changed my clothes. As I was changing I thought about what I would say to the trio just outside the door. When I came out, they were gone. It could be that they left due to genuine embarrassment. Or could it be that churches and pastors have developed a reputation that implies, "We don't associate with disreputable sinners and other scum?"

Have we diagnosed sin, but neglected the cure?

Monday, May 29, 2006

Eternal Flame

I was invited to do the invocation for the Memorial Day Observation and Medal of Honor Plaque Dedication at the Columbus Government Center at eight this morning. We gathered around the Eternal Flame Memorial. The mayor of Columbus was there, a Superior Court judge, former Congressman Jack T. Brinkley, and many other dignitaries. All branches of the Armed Forces were represented: men and women who served in WW II, Korea, Vietnam, and the Persian Gulf rose up early to gather and honor those who have died in service to our country. A specific honor was bestowed as well: a plaque in honor of the late Jackson Charles Pharris, a Columbus resident and Medal of Honor recipient.

All my life God has kept me connected to our military. I take great pride in the fact that my father turned 18 in a submarine in the Pacific. When I was young, my sister's classmate, Jimmy Chase, was killed in Vietnam. His death was the first wartime loss I personally experienced.

When I received my own marching orders, I was commissioned to do a church start in Northern Maine. Our congregation was consistently 30-40% Air Force personnel. Now, twenty-three years later, I minister in the shadow of Fort Benning. Many Regular Army and Army Rangers attend MBC. I have never met finer people.

The correlations between spiritual warfare and the actual battlefield are unmistakeable. Even though I never served my country in the U.S. military, it has always been my desire to wage spiritual battle with a burning passion. I even have a few scars.

Scanning the audience today, I saw men and women of varying ages, a reminder that every generation has to fight for freedom -- politically and spiritually. Winston McQuaig and his wife Freddye were there; they are members of the church I serve. Winston received a serious head wound in WW II. His scar is our reminder of the cost of freedom.

War leaves casualties. Spiritual warfare also leaves casualties.

I hope we never forget.

Friday, May 26, 2006

An Amazing Proposal?

Jesus and his companions went to the town of Capernaum. When the Sabbath day came, he went into the synagogue and began to teach . . . Suddenly, a man in the synagogue who was possessed by an evil spirit began shouting, "Why are you interfering with us, Jesus of Nazareth?" Mark 1:21-28

I don't think much has changed; demons still attend religious services. The spirits who lurk around centers of religion can be identified. How? Their message: Why are you interfering with us, Jesus? I will concede that demons are more civilized these days; they don't shout out their opposition to Christ. Or, it could be that there is no work of Christ worthy of their opposition. It appears that the demon possessed man in the synagogue went undetected until Jesus showed up. When He did, He commanded the demon to leave. The evil spirit did not want to leave the man or the synagogue. He kicked, screamed, and abused his victim all the way to the Pit.

Question? What about now? Are authentic believers, though not possessed, subtly oppressed? Could it be that rather than shouting, a sinister voice has replaced the voice of God? Has the majority of Christ's church settled into a mindset that asks, Why are you interfering with us, Jesus? Are you amazed at such a proposal? So were the synagogue attenders that day, Amazement gripped the audience, and they began to discuss what had happened. "What sort of new teaching is this . . . !"

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Wilderness

This messenger . . . was in the wilderness . . . The Spirit compelled Jesus to go into the wilderness. Mark 1:4, 12

I slept very little last night. Each time I awoke I prayed. I felt no panic in spite of a keen awareness that I was being oppressed (Yes, count me among those who believe the Evil one oppresses God's people). It was incredible how clearly I was able to see the tactics of the Evil one. I constantly leaned on my Redeemer as I prayed. He assured me that I would hear from Him before it was over.

Throughout the night God seemed to encourage me with these words, "Bill trust Me. I am going to give you something fresh." Long before daylight I quietly got out of bed and went to the kitchen table to read. Before I opened my Bible I asked God to direct my reading; as of late the gospel of Mark has been calling to me. I opened my Bible to Mark and began reading in chapter one, "This is the Good News . . ." I thought to myself "Good News! Here it comes!"

I read about John preaching in the wilderness. John was different . . . his message, his clothes, and his diet. He seemed so solitary, vulnerable, and out of place. I read on about how the Spirit compelled Jesus to go into the wilderness. Jesus looked so solitary, vulnerable, and out of place. A sense of peace remained, but I was unable to discern what God had for me. "What is the connection?" I asked the Lord. I stopped reading and took my question with me on a bike ride.

Fulton Road is one of my favorites -- no traffic and miles of fences and horses -- like a picture book. As I rode I fought off the accusations of the Accuser and calmly listened for God's voice (Yes, count me among those who not only believe that we have a relentlessly oppressive Enemy but also believe that God speaks to His own). As I crested a hill, just like that, it came to me. I sensed God saying, "Bill you've been feeling isolated, vulnerable, and out of place, haven't you?"

"Yes Lord, I have."

Then the events I read in Mark's gospel began to connect, "This messenger . . . was in the wilderness . . . The Spirit compelled Jesus to go into the wilderness." I had received the fresh news! God's voice encouraged me, "Yes Bill, you are in a wilderness, you are lonely, and you are vulnerable. You are feeling out of place. You are also my voice there. I am coming into the wilderness with you. Enjoy the Adventure!"

Monday, May 22, 2006

The Old Man And The Sea

Saturday night around 10:35 our daughter Meagan graduated from Columbus High School. The week leading up to the big day was busy: sports banquet, baccalaureate, shopping, and the senior dinner.

We were able to fly Meg's oldest brother Justin here from Massachusetts for the graduation ceremony, so our nuclear family was present. It seems impossible that the last of our children is taking another step toward independence. We are happy for Meg and proud of the fine woman she has become, but we have battled back tearful emotions regularly.

Meg has been receiving gifts from family and friends. Mom and Dad bought her a new MacBook for college. Justin, though, bought her a particularly touching gift. He and Meagan have always shared a special bond. In 1998, we were on vacation at our cabin in Maine. Meg was ten years old; Justin was seventeen. Justin had her read 10-15 pages a day of the book, The Old Man And The Sea. At the end of each day the two of them would sit down and Justin would ask her questions about the book.

Before he left to go back home, Justin bought a copy of the book, wrote a message to Meagan in the flyleaf, and wrapped it. He left it for her to open when she got home.

Yesterday Sandy, Meg, and I went to the Cannon Brew Pub for lunch. As you would assume, we started talking about and rehearsing the events of the past week. For me, the conversation was like listening to a book being read. Our little girl was turning the pages that have made up her life as a child. I am quite sure there will be more books written, but the one I was hearing was great.

After a while the conversation turned toward an actual book. Meagan told us about her gift from Justin, and she began to cry . . . and Mom cried . . . and then this old man was awash in a sea of tears.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Catch Up

Miss Meagan's CHS Blue Devils lost in the semi-finals of the state soccer tournament. Westminster put 2 balls in the back of the net. Columbus never found the back of the net. We have sighed a few times as we've thought about the fact that Meg's high school career has come to an end. Next stop is Georgia College and State University.

Our annual Men's Ministry fishing tournament was at Lake Martin on Saturday. Like Meg's Blue Devils, I put nothing in the net! That's correct. I fished for nine hours through wind, rain, a cold chill, and caught nothing (other than flack from my partners). I prayed for divine intervention, "Just show me where to cast my line. The fish doesn't have to have a coin in its mouth. I just need a fish!" Nothing.

Outside, the weather can't make up its mind -- first sun, then clouds, then rain. Inside it's been a quiet and contented Mom's day at the Shorey's. I left a message with my mom, napped for about 20 minutes, and then began this post. Sandy took a call from our son Justin, read for a bit, and is now taking a nap. Josh and Meg are chillin' in different parts of the house.

Monday, May 8, 2006

Priceless

I just finished watching The Parent Trap with my daughter, Meagan. Priceless!

Baccalaureate (Written by my bride)

We sat near the back in the outer section of the crowded high school auditorium this afternoon. The low rumble of voices quieted almost instantly when the pianist played his first melodious notes, high and sweet. We all stood as he began the familiar fanfare of "Pomp and Circumstance," and young ladies dressed in white drifted down the aisles to their places in the center section. Young men in dress shirts and ties followed, looking handsome and confident.

This was the Class of 2006 at Georgia's top-rated high school, Columbus High.

Our Meagan began her journey along those old and venerable halls four years ago. In a school full of high achievers, Meagan held her own.

We are proud of her accomplishments on the soccer field; her team faces the number one seed in the state semi-finals this Wednesday. She's a captain and the starting keeper. In the fall, she'll be playing for her college team on a scholarship.

We're also proud of her accomplishments as an artist. She's produced some incredible work all through her middle and high school years. She's especially good at ink-drawn characters.

She did well in academics too, especially in French and Anatomy & Physiology (I know...those two don't seem to go together. What can I say?)

What we're the most proud of, though, is that her class chose to recognize her as "Most Humorous." Why, do you ask, is that the best honor? Because Meagan is well-liked by all the students in her class. That says a lot about her interest in other people and her desire to be a good friend. Plus, a sense of humor makes all the other things a lot more fun. As the scripture says, "A cheerful heart is good medicine."

Our Meagan is Good Medicine.

Saturday, May 6, 2006

On To The Semi Finals!

Miss Meagan and her Blue Devils won a 3-0 shut-out against Oconee County High School! CHS dominated the entire game but didn't put the ball in the net until the final 10 minutes. Yasha Blount got it started with a breakaway and then quickly added two more goals.

Meagan was terrific. Her senior leadership was evident as she directed traffic during corner kicks. She handled everything that came her way and launched some punts that sailed deep into the opposition's end of the field.

Next up is the semi-final game against Westminster. If the Blue Devils get by the reigning State Champions (4 years running) it will be the upset of the tourney. The game is scheduled for next Wednesday at Kinnett Stadium. It will be our baby's final game or the final step to the State Championship game for the Columbus High Blue Devils.

Wednesday, May 3, 2006

Just Google Larry Sandvick

When it was time to leave Montana we boarded a plane for the first leg of our journey home. We would make a brief stopover in Colorado and then on to Atlanta. The flight was jam-packed; every seat was filled. Overhead storage was scarce, so I carefully wedged my new cowboy hat in whatever space was left. The woman across the aisle said to me, "Turn it upside down. If you don't it will ruin the brim." I immediately confessed to her, "Thanks, I am a cowboy wannabe." She just laughed and said, "I am married to a wild bronc rider. He is very particular about how a cowboy hat is handled."

We introduced ourselves. Lynn is the wife of Larry Sandvick, A.K.A The Wildman. Sure enough, he truly is a legendary bareback bronc rider. Lynn showed me his cards (similar to the baseball cards I used to collect) and gave me the website addresses of his sponsor and the pro rodeo circuit . Larry is the real deal -- no rhinestones on that cowboy! I learned enough about Larry to know that I already like him: He is an avid Louis L'Amour reader, tough as nails, and not overcivilized . . . just the way a man should be.

Lynn was on her way to Utah to spend a weekend with a girl friend and Larry was on his way to a rodeo. Before the flight was over my wife and I had an open invitation to the Sandvick's 27oo acre ranch. All we have to do is call!

Tuesday, May 2, 2006

Bozeman, Montana

Bozeman is booming. Some projections suggest the population will exceed the 100,000 people who live in Billings. To my knowledge, Bozeman has only one viable evangelical church. There are a number of cults that have already set up shop (Everyone of them had a nice, neat building).

We spent the good part of a day in that beautiful city surrounded by majestic mountains. I quizzed every person I met trying to get a feel for her inhabitants. One of the questions I continually asked was, "Which direction is the city growing?" The answer everytime was "Every direction!" I was amazed at how optimistically everyone looked toward the future.

As we drove through different parts of the city my mind churned constantly and my eyes searched, looking for possible locations for a church start. My view of the deck tells me that God is gathering a large group of people together so that He can bring them the message of His Son's redemption. God has many in that city He wants to save.

Somewhere God has or is calling a man to follow Him to Bozeman.

Monday, May 1, 2006

Wildlife and Grizzly Bar

The Montana landscape is breathtaking and beyond description. The Beartooth Mountains, the Pryors (home of the wild mustang), rolling hills, buttes, the Little Big Horn, and the Yellowstone River were a few of the sites we got to see.

If you are going anywhere in Montana, plan on doing lots of driving! It seemed like every town and village were separated by 30-50 miles. Driving in Montana is anything but boring; the landscape is constantly changing and wildlife are every where.

Here are some of God's creatures we saw: herds of Prong-horn antelope, a herd of twenty elk, hundreds of mule and whitetail deer. We saw gigantic sand hill cranes, porcupines, skunks, hawks, ring-necked pheasant, and geese.

We also saw thousands of horses and cattle. In spite of seeing myriads of horses, we only saw one person actually riding a horse. In one of the wide open pastures we saw a calf being born. We hoped to see the wildest of wildlife -- a grizzly bear. We did not. The next best thing, though, was eating at the Grizzly Bar in Roscoe, Montana.

Sunday, April 30, 2006

Littlelight

On Tuesday we visited the Crow Reservation. This is only the second reservation I have been on. I have been on the Penobscot Indian Reservation in Maine several times. The Res (that is how the Crow refer to it) looks tired and neglected. As we left the Res we came upon an Indian hitchhiking. We pulled over to give him a ride. His first question was interesting, "Are you guys preachers?" I told him we were. His next question was, "Will you pray for me, my parents, and my wife?" I told him we would.

Before I prayed I told him I only knew one other Crow Indian, Brandon Birdfaraway, and that I had been praying for Brandon and now I would pray for him, too. I asked him his name. "Darrell Littlelight" he responded, "Brandon is my cousin." I prayed for Darrell's family and wife. I also told Darrell that I would be praying that the "little light" he is responding to would lead him to Jesus. I told Darrell that God loved him and that He had arranged our chance meeting.

Pretty amazing, isn't it? God gives me a faceless name to pray for. God takes me to Montana. We pick up a hitchhiker and he is a cousin to the man I have been praying for. It has to be more than coincidence.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Birdfaraway

Brandon Birdfaraway is a Crow Indian. I first heard about him through Dr. Roberts a couple of months ago. Since then, I have prayed for him regularly. Brandon's life is quite a story. Upon the advice of his principal, Brandon dropped out of high school at age sixteen, married his wife -- an Iraqi, and began bi-vocational ministry among his people. Brandon is now thirty.

Brandon leads six youth ministries in three different churches on the Crow Reservation. Until last year he had no formal education -- no credentials beyond a GED. In just a couple of weeks he will finish his first year at Yellowstone Baptist College. What was once only a dream, God has made a reality. Thank God, Brandon never made a formal education a necessity before joining God in the Adventure!

I got to spend some time with Brandon and a couple of other students. To a man, they are thrilled with the opportunity to learn more about God's Word. They take the training they are receiving very seriously. One of the guys wants to be like the old time Methodist circuit riders ministering from village to village. Brandon wants to reach the Crow people. The other young man just wants to be prepared to go wherever and whenever God calls!

Pray for these young pioneers.

Friday, April 28, 2006

The Reckless Robertses

God often works in particularly unusual ways when He is about to move into a spiritually barren territory. Just ask the Robertses.

How does an Ob/Gyn doctor end up in sparsely populated Montana? Easy (or not so easy. You decide). He simply shuts down the largest private practice in town, sells everything he has, and moves his family to Montana.

His next step is to set up a medical practice in his new environment, right? Wrong. Not this doctor. Instead, he gives countless hours toward raising money for a little outpost called Yellowstone Baptist College for a fraction of the income he gave up.

Then there is Cindy. She homeschools, receives complete strangers into her home from who knows where, and ministers in a church with an average attendance of less than fifty. Cindy is a joy. She laughs and cries easily -- a rare quality. Within fifteen minutes of being in the Roberts' home this couple makes guests feel like they are old friends.

When we think of bringing the gospel to unreached people, we tend to visualize crossing an ocean or desert to do so. Not necessary. Not so. Montana is virtually untouched by the gospel. The Roberts family bucked conventional "wisdom." They have picked up the pace as they move toward their spiritual finish line. More and more I am convinced that following God may appear to be a journey of reckless abandon. How else do you explain the Reckless Robertses?

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Montana

God is at work in Montana. Last Monday I flew out to Billings, Montana with our Men's Ministry leader. Our Men's Ministry is praying about assisting with some mission work there. We returned home on Thursday night. Few people realize that Montana is one of the last spiritual frontiers in America--it is virtually un-evangelized and un-churched. The spiritual needs border on desperate. The opportunities to minister are countless.

God has already established an outpost there -- Yellowstone Baptist College. YBC is a small college dedicated to providing the formal side of education for those already committed to walking with Christ. Their graduates are making an impact in Montana and around the world. I considered it a great privilege to speak to the students and staff at YBC. Personally, I admire and envy those who pioneer in such an untamed place.

I am going to take the next several posts to tell you about the trip. In the last couple of years I have had the opportunity to be in places that are virtually un-evangelized and nearly void of any Christian witness. In both instances I have learned that God seems to show up in a different way in those circumstances -- I just have to share the experience.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Church Rules: Stay Put

But in any case each one of you should continue to live the way God has given you to live -- the way you were when God called you. This is a rule I make in all the churches. 1 Corinthians 7:17

According to Paul, God sometimes calls people into relationship with Him while they are trying to get out of another relationship. What were Paul's instructions to those people? Stay put. Continue on as you were when God first called you.

Without a doubt, every person God has ever called to salvation is called to turn to Christ and follow him, but consider this: In most instances, God usually keeps those He saves right where He found them. This was true in Paul's day -- it is true in our day.

What does that tell us? It tells us that God has great confidence in those in whom His Son now lives. It tells us that resurrection life is able to stand on its own in a hostile environment. It tells us that some people need to see -- maybe for the first time -- messes that only God can untangle. It tells us that it makes sense to God to leave His redeemed in places where they can be a testimony to His transforming grace.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

The Faith and Sight of Modern Day Disciples

And then, they were allowed to recognize Jesus. But when they saw who he was, he disappeared . . . [but] They were saying, "The Lord really has risen from the dead." Luke 24:31, 34 NCV

Being a Christ follower is a walk of faith, not sight. Yet, sometimes we also know that God's presence shows up in things we can see. This weekend, Christ's church in which I serve presented the message of the resurrection through drama and music. I have never seen it presented any better: the set was incredible, and God's glorious gifting of His people was on display as they stepped into ancient roles of history's greatest story. People wept and cheered. God's hand was all over the presentation.

In a span of little more than an hour, we viewed the risen Savior in a fresh and new way. Our faith was renewed by sight! The production ended, and Christ's modern day disciples stepped out of the darkened sanctuary. Hundreds of people filtered out into the night convinced, "The Lord really has risen from the dead."

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Beyond The Cross

If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith . . . If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. I Corinthians 15:14, 17

We have grown so used to the idea that the Crucifixion is the supreme symbol of Christianity, that it is a shock to realize how late in the history of Christian art its power was recognized. In the first art of Christianity it hardly appears; and the earliest example, on the doors of Santa Sabina in Rome [around A.D. 430], is stuck away in a corner, almost out of sight . . . early Christian art is concerned with miracles, healings, and with the hopeful aspects of the faith like the ascension and the Resurrection. Kenneth Clark

"What if?" Paul asks, "What if Christ has not been raised . . . ? Or, what if we never moved beyond the Cross?

For several years now, I have been giving a lot more consideration to the resurrection. The question of whether or not Christ rose from the dead is not my question; I settled that many years ago.

The question is: "Is it time for us, we who cling to the old rugged cross, to let it go and live beyond the cross? Does our focus need to become His incomparably great power for us who believe. That power [that] is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead?" (Ephesians 1: 19-20)

Is it time to become unsettled about how little of the resurrection life we are experiencing? Could it be that we have forgotten, That our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin . . . and if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him . . . ? (Romans 6:6, 8)

If so, Paul's words explain why much of what has become labeled as Christianity is useless and futile.

Have we "grown so used to the idea that the cross is the supreme symbol of Christianity" that we have never moved beyond the cross into the power of the resurrected life?