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.