Sunday, December 30, 2007

The Same Old Same Old?

What has been is what will be, and what has been done, is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun. Ecclesiastes 1:9

You probably already know this, but I will revisit it anyway -- all Scripture is divinely inspired, accurately transmitted, officially canonized, and has been miraculously preserved down through the ages. But every line from God's word is not meant to be a doctrinal statement or even a suggestion of how He would have us to view or live out our life.

That being said, Solomon's Journaling does not charitably reflect the Divine evaluation or translation of the human experience. Instead, Ecclesiastes is an autobiographic diary revealing the instability of Solomon's spiritual and mental health. Rather then conveying God's perspective, David and Bathsheba's brilliant son candidly vents his struggle in dark, brooding, depressing, and cynical words. My guess is -- as he put quill to paper -- he blunted many a nib!

So where am I going with all this?

In 48 hours we step into a new year. Good news! Solomon's words are patently wrong. They are aimless and empty words from a king who has lost his way. Think through his conclusions one hopeless phrase at a time. Consider them written 10 minutes ago, rather 3 thousand years ago. What has been [in 2007] is what will be [in 2008]. And then there is Tall, Dark, and Gloomy's next phrase, and what has been done [in 2007], is what will be done [in 2008]. Tell me it ain't so! The way things were is the way they will be?! What was done is what will be done?! Just throw me under the bus, and get it over with. Don't pitch me into another year exactly like this one.

If history's smartest man is correct, then God has not called us into spiritual adventures. No, He has incarcerated us in a chamber of horrors!

Exactly what tomorrow holds is a mystery, but we have Jesus' encouragement, That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life . . . look at the lilies of field and how they grow. They don't work or make their clothing, yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are . . [God] will certainly take care of you.

Life will unfold much differently in the next 365 days than the last 365.

And finally, There is nothing new under the sun [?] Sure, there will be some repeating events, but take the word of Solomon's dad, David: You will show me the way of life, granting me the joy of your presence, AND the pleasures of living with you forever . . . God's mercies are new every morning. 2008 promises much more than the same old -- same old!

Friday, December 28, 2007

Advantage -- Ours!

Now I am going to him who sent me, and none of you asks me, 'Where are you going?' But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. ~ John 16:7-8 (English Standard Version)

A couple of posts ago, I gave a brief explanation as to why I make it a habit to use different translations, It has helped me hear and see things that familiarity would keep me deaf and blind to. Look once again at the wording in Jesus' phrase, I [Jesus] tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away. Growing up hearing the King James Version exclusively, I never heard that phrase translated that way. Maybe it is just me, but the old English phraseology, It is expedient for you that I go away, left me with the impression Jesus was saying I know you hate to see me leave, but sorry, it is best for all of us if I get out of here!

But hearing Jesus' words this way, It is to your advantage that I go away, shifts the advantage of Christ's ascension from him to us. Notice he did not say, It is to my advantage that I go away. Although who would have blamed him if he did want to return to heaven for his own personal advantages: no more battles with the pious religionists and Satan, who, with no cause absolutely hated him; re-entrance into heaven where everyone loved and adored and appreciated him; and finally, to return to his Father's presence and reward for what he so dramatically accomplished. Who would have been shocked if with a jubilant smile he pumped his fists and said, I'm out of here! But no, the Advantage was to go to us! Jesus would ascend, so that the Comforter could descend and permanently reside at our soul's address. He would be a continuous help and comfort. With he Spirit's enabling we could decipher spiritual realities in our material world. The Spirit would sovereignly gift men in the Kingdom of Faith, and then give those men as a gift to us in the Kingdom of Faith. Submitted to the Spirit we would be equipped for works of service to one another. The Spirit would guide us to build up and not tear down the Faith (Ephesians 4). The Spirit would empower us to convincingly bring the message of the Good News -- a message that can save anyone who will believe and receive it (Acts 1-3).

I know, I know, we wish Jesus were here in his physical person to answer all of our questions. We wish he were here in person, so we would have his footsteps to follow. How great it would be to literally hear his soothing voice! But if he did all those things -- as hard as it is for us to fully comprehend -- those very things would put us at a disadvantage!

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Reflection

Listen to my voice in the morning, LORD. Each morning I bring my requests to you and wait expectantly. ~ David, a man after God’s own heart

As the sun edged over the horizon—Israel's king swung his feet over the edge of his royal bed. His first words and activity of the day was to make his way into God’s presence through prayer. There was a pattern. Night-after-night the relief of sleep paved the way for the king’s soul to surface his needs. Day-after-day David brought those needs to the Maker of his soul. The Psalmist’s faith was confident and robust. With patience and expectancy he waited-He knew he had the ear of the King of the universe-his needs would be supplied.

I have been listening for a Word from God—a theme and compass for 2008—I believe I have found it, Listen to my voice, LORD, and I will listen for yours. If 2007 revealed anything it has shown me that my deepest needs are not money, success, promotion, or things of that nature. Life has taught me that that list is universally predictable as the fruit of hard work. Honestly? The overwhelming majority of people attain all of those things without giving one thought to God.

Then what do I request?

Here it is: Communication—with my God who never sleeps, even when I do; Confident—that an audience with God is available at the dawn of each new day; Clarity—to discern the author of the needs I seek; Character—a resolute and patient faith that expects to hear God’s voice.

With a, dry erase, chisel tip, Expo marker, I wrote David’s plea on my mirror above the vanity. In 2008, I want the reflection looking back at me, in reality, to be a man conformed to the image of Christ-a man after God’s own heart.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Starbucks—Help Wanted

But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I will come to you.’ If you loved me, you would have rejoiced, because I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. And now I have told you before it takes place, so that when it does take place you may believe. ~ John, the apostle Jesus loved


I am sitting in Starbuck’s. It is nearly empty. Background sounds of music, hissing espresso machines, and the chattering of three little kids deny silence a voice. In front of me my Bible is open—one of two new Bibles I purchased less than an hour ago. This one is the English Standard Version. For several years I have been reading from different translations. It has helped me to hear and see things that familiarity would keep me deaf and blind to.

Writing is one of the ways I try to dissipate the thick, heavy questions orbiting my inner space. Questions that sometimes form clouds black enough to bring about a total eclipse, and temporarily block out the brightness of life. I wish the nagging questions would go away, and I could just cruise through life with nothing but trivial, simple, and happy imaginations. Instead, it seems like I go through a perpetual “coming-of-age” spiritually. New layers of innocent trust are found—and then lost—run off by painful experiences. Cynicism and Confusion try to disguise themselves as Experience, and fill the vacuum left behind. But the Holy Spirit has been showing up too. With Jesus’ authority and determination, He causes me to revisit the journey behind me. The Comforter’s prompting is simple: Revisit your questions . . . I must take you back to them, so that they cannot bully you on your journey forward . . . remember what Jesus told you.

Sometimes I protest and ask God, Why are you taking me back there? Sometimes insecurity raises its voice and asks, Is it You, Spirit of God taking me back there, or do I need to let go of my questions? But He has to take me back to them, because if He does not, I cannot receive what He intends to speak into my life. His is always a journey of mercy—he is leading me to the Truth that will set me free. Recently, I was returned “involuntarily” to the passage at the top of this post. Keith asked me to bring a series of messages that would conclude with Christ’s Ascension, and John 14 is a primary source. Look at what Jesus said, Let not your heart[s] be troubled, neither let [it] them be afraid. No sense trying to spin it—the last several years has been fraught with fear and trouble-long stretches when I felt I was traveling in “parallel universes.” Enjoying the Adventure? Yes. But at the same time battling the fear that I would be found alone at the bottom of a spiritually dark ravine. I misstep during a time of blackness, and nobody is there to rescue me.

So the Spirit of God takes me back to Jesus’ promise: Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you . . . If you loved me you would have rejoiced. I am going away to the Father . . . and now I have told you before it takes place, so that when it does take place you might believe. I read those words and ask, Is my situation radically different than those to whom these words were spoken?

No.

Just like them, I love Jesus. A lot. I want Him at my side, but He is gone, as the ascension demanded. His departing words rub me the wrong way, If you loved me you would have rejoiced [at my absence]. And; I told you before it took place, so that when it takes place you might believe. His admonition exposes two startling truths: First, I see that Jesus promised me he would send another, the Comforter, who would replace the fear and trouble in my soul with peace. Also, Jesus lovingly gave me advanced warning that the days I am experiencing would come.

So even though I do not fully understand where my love for Him-that will replace fear and trouble with peace-is dammed up and unable to bring rejoicing in its current, I believe that loving Jesus and his ascension, not resenting and doubting him, is the road that leads to peace.

So sitting here in Starbucks I come to terms with the Truth and the Comforter and cry out—Help Wanted.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Whoosh!

I hope everyone had a peaceful Christmas day. We did. As promised, Josh put on a spread for breakfast. He enlisted Meagan's help and prepared a culinary masterpiece that will never make the South Beach Diet! Biscuits and honey, mounds of bacon, pancakes, and slushies filled us to the brim. After breakfast we opened our gifts, and Josh read the story of the Incarnation as told by Matthew.

Here in the southeast we did not have a white Christmas, but we did have a wet one. The inclement weather seemed to aid in helping everyone to just kick back and relax. I read from several different books, and began to prepare for next Sunday's message. Around noon I decided to go for a bike ride in spite of the intermittent showers and steady drizzle. Gear is of utmost importance on days like today. Although I got drenched to the bone I was never cold, and enjoyed the extra challenge of navigating slippery streets and squinting icy rain out of my eyes.

Do you find it hard to believe that we will soon be looking at another year through the rear view mirror. Momentum is building toward 2008. Soon the door will open, and the fresh air of a New Year will rush across the threshold. But today it may be best to forget about the inevitable "Whoosh" that is only a few sunrises away, and let this one slowly run out of steam and come to a gentle end.

Enjoy the Adventure!

Monday, December 24, 2007

Christmas Eve

Sandy and I just returned from the Christmas Eve service at Christ Community Church. It was standing room only. We were told it was the largest crowd ever. Jake and Judy Hess, along with their children, brought the music. Eric Kennedy, one of our pastors brought a timely Christmas message.

During the service all the little ones were invited to come down front and join Brian, Ruthie, and Abby Hite (Brian and Ruthie are mom and dad, Abby is 12) as they read the the Christmas story told with object lessons. Mobs of kids sat at their feet, and were truly angelic -- for that few minutes! Everyone loved it! I have always enjoyed the chaos that children bring into a Christmas Eve service. I wish you could have seen them.

Josh and Meagan will celebrate our Savior's birth with us. Justin is on his way to New York to spend Christmas with his bride Erika, and her family. Sandy and I are finding it gets harder each year to be separated from our family. But we will enjoy the day tomorrow.

I have started riding my bike again, and I have been out the 4 of the last 5 days. My goals right now are to maintain a high spin rate, burn lots of calories, and try to get back to health. Living in Dixie has made me soft. Tomorrow, I hope to ride for about 2 hours. I will need to -- Josh's gift to all of us is to prepare breakfast. Believe me -- Josh does it up big!

Sandy will leave for the northeast just after the new year to begin her low residency graduate work at Leslie University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The low residency means that she will only have to be on campus 2 weeks in the upcoming spring semester. When she finishes, over two years from now, she will have an MFA in Non Fiction, Creative Writing, which will enable her to teach on the college level. Also, I have little doubt she will one day be a well know author.

In closing, I hope that all of you will enjoy a truly wonderful time with family and friends. Joy to the world, the Lord has come. Let earth receive her King! Celebrate the birth of the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Imitation Or Incarnation?

One's real life is often the life that one does not lead. ~ Oscar Wilde

Believers probably understand Wilde's quote better than anyone. If Jesus communicated anything he was emphatic that he was the source of Real Life. Wilde's quote does not reveal original insight. Believers have long known -- One's real life is often the life that one does not lead. We know that the dynamic life that Jesus provided is not always the life we lead. Consider some of Jesus' statements:

Jesus assured a confused Nicodemus that a person could be reborn (and must be if they were to live with the King in his Kingdom).

He said, I am the way, the truth, and the life . . .

Jesus said, I am the resurrection and the life, if anyone believes in me, though he is dead, yet shall he live.

The thief comes to rob, kill, and destroy, but I have come that you may have life, and live it to the full.

Whoever believes in me shall not perish but have everlasting life.

This is eternal life, that we know the Father.

Why is that so few Christians live the kind of life Christ promised?

I believe that many believers are focused on the Christ that came to give his life for us, rather than the Christ who gave his life to us. The Incarnation brought us the Christ who lived his holy life and then sacrificed it as our substitute for sin -- that was Christ giving his life for us.

After Christ was crucified three days later God resurrected him to new life. The life Christ gives us is the life God gave Christ in the resurrection. As the apostle Paul said, I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live. Yet not I but Christ lives in me (Which Christ lives in me? The resurrected Savior). And the life I now live in the flesh, I live by the power (resurrection life) of the Son of God who loved me and gave his life for me.

What are we to learn from this?

If we try to imitate the life of the Christ (who gave his life for us) we have set out on a quest will will result in a draining, frustrating life -- Christ cannot be imitated for long. Full life will never be found in imitation. Only imitation is found in imitation.

If Real Life is not found there -- then where is it found?

Real life is found not in the life that Jesus gave for us -- it is found in the life that Jesus gave to us. One is the frustrated life of Imitation -- the other is the life of Incarnation -- Christ living his life out through us.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

A Double Irony

Then Herod, when he saw that he was deceived by the wise men, was incensed; and he had all the male children in Bethlehem put to death from two years old and under . . .

~ Matthew 2:16

Pilate, when he had called together the chief priests, the rulers and the people . . . said to them for the third time, 'Why [put Jesus to death], what evil has has He done? I have found no reason for death in Him. Therefore I will chastise Him and let him go.' But they were insistent, demanding with a loud voice that He be crucified. And the voices of these men and of the chief priests prevailed.

~ Luke 23:22-23

Jesus did not die at the hands of muggers, rapists, or thugs. He fell into the well-scrubbed hands of deeply religious people, society's most respected members.

~Brennan Manning

During the month of December, Keith asked me to bring a series of 4 messages that focused on: the Incarnation; the Crucifixion; the Resurrection; and the Ascension. Last Sunday I focused on the Crucifixion. On Monday, when I saw Brennan Manning's quote on the blog of a friend, I sat and thought through his troubling conclusion for a while. The irony of Manning's musings doubled as it struck me: The well-scrubbed hands of deeply religious people, society's most respected members not only snuffed out the life of Jesus, but they succeeded where brutal Herod failed.

How could that be?

Monday, December 17, 2007

Trace Evidence

My religion consists of a humble admiration of the illimitable superior spirit who reveals himself in the slight details we are able to perceive with our frail and feeble mind. - Albert Einstein

Behold, He is coming with clouds and every eye will see Him, even they who pierced Him . . . - Revelation 1:7

The aged apostle John tells us in the Revelation that one day Jesus will make a return every bit as spectacular as was His Ascension. The Day will come when Christ will return bodily, visibly, gloriously, and intrusively -- Every eye shall see him -- even those who wounded Him -- wounds over two millenia old and still clearly visible!

Contemplating that some sort of omnipotence does exist, Einstein concluded that his own genius was frail and feeble in comparison. The scientist's statement is all the more magnificent when we consider that he could see but slight traces of a spiritual world in play, yet upon those scant glimpses he erected his religion that admired the mystical.

Today God continues to reveal Himself to us in the slight details. What a thrill it is to find those traces, perceive them, and venture out on the faint trail of faith. Often the traces we follow are not visible to the eye, but audible in the heart. They are little more than softly whispered invitations that dare us -- Follow Me!

Sunday, December 16, 2007

My Birthday And Other Stuff

Today is my birthday. It won't be long before I am in the ground, face up, with dirt being shoveled in my face. I turned 52 -- if you are wondering. Sandy bought me season 6 of the T.V. series 24! In just a few minutes we will have some birthday cake (that says "Happy birthday Phil. A little miscommunication) and then Sandy, Josh, Meagan, and I will watch a few breath-taking episodes. I think I may have told you in an earlier post -- I want to be Jack Bauer. When I get even older I want to be Hub McCann, the crusty old guy in the movie, Second Hand Lions (played by Robert Duval). Fifty-two doesn't feel much different than being fifty-one. Years 50-52 have been pretty dynamic for my bride and me -- not much grass grew under our feet.

Yesterday Jimmy Cook and I performed the wedding of Emily Cook and Randy Shultz. Jimmy is Emily's grandfather. He and I have done quite a few funerals together, but this was the first wedding we have done -- Jimmy did the vows and I did the charge to the bride and groom. I have a long history with Emily and Randy, so it was one of those stress free weddings. These two kids have been head-over-heels in love for years, but held off on marriage due to the threat of bodily injury by the parents on both sides of the aisle ;) Lots of old friends were in attendance, so for Sandy and me it doubled as a reunion of sorts.

All my family called from different parts of New England to wish me a happy birthday. Maine and Massachusetts are in the midst of another 1-2 feet of falling, swirling snow. Today's temperatures in Old Town, Maine will peak at a brisk 11 degrees!

Finally, I spoke at all 3 services at Christ Community Church this morning. I was blessed with a great sense of the Spirit's liberty. During the response time, one of our ladies brought a friend forward she had recently led to Christ. I was asked to go to God on behalf of my new sister in the faith. She had some specific needs and she was seeking intercessors.

Time for 24!

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Grieved And Remembered: A Non-Politically Correct Post

Yesterday the remains of Captain Adam Snyder were cremated after thousands of people attended his funeral in Fort Peirce, Florida. His soul and spirit left us on December 5, 2007 shortly after the IED that took his life was remotely detonated.

As I sat in the large gymatorium that also serves as a sanctuary for Adam's home church, I felt a great deal of sadness and prayed to overcome some anger. There were two catalysts for my conflicting feelings. First there was the loop of pictures that covered the span of Adam's brief 26 years on this earth. You know---little league, football, and cub scout uniforms. A couple of dressy pictures with high school dates; snap shots from church youth group; hugging mom and dad and grandparents and little brother; moments from his days at West Point involving different ceremonies and events. Many, many pictures from Iraq---the real guy kind. He is decked out in uniform and armed to the teeth, or sitting behind the controls of an armored vehicle.

And then the pictures stop.

There will be no more pictures that capture such a young and vibrant young man: no wedding pictures of a dashing young soldier with his beautiful bride; no beaming new parents with their first precious child; no baby dedication or baptism; no first haircuts; no first day of school; and no first home. No time-lapse series of photos that show thinning or graying hair, the graduation ceremonies of the children, marriages of their children, and grandpa and grandma holding their first grandchildren.

I also battled absolute rage.

"Why?"

When we drove up to the church we were told that security would be needed to ensure that groups protesting the war in Iraq would not be allowed to disrupt Adam's visiting hours and memorial service. As soon as Zach and I heard that, we both agreed that we would consider it a great honor to God, country, and Adam if we had to spend a night in jail. We discussed whether or not we should unpack some clothes to fight in, rather than ruin our suits. I said, "Not me. I hope I rip out the knees of my pants and elbows of my suit coat. I hope my freshly starched, white shirt is prominently streaked with blood from my split lip, a gash over my eye, with a mixture of my adversary's. When I get out of jail---and I will refuse bond---I will put my tattered dress clothes in a glass case and display them for any and all to see!"

Just so you know. I have absolutely no problem with a person's right to protest, but not at a place where the honorable are being grieved and remembered. There are still things worth fighting over!

Monday, December 10, 2007

Is There Time To Change?

I cannot say whether things will get better if we change; what I can say is they must change if they are to get better. - Georg Christoph Lichtenberg

A great quote. One well worth remembering as we look at the evangelical landscape. We need change -- a change of direction. For several decades Churches that identified themselves as vanguards of the gospel have invested their resources in everything but the gospel: Politics; creature comforts for the converted; and a reckless pursuit of all that will one day perish.

Sometimes we wonder if the direction of the church is temporarily caught in an eddy and will soon break free into the current of God's Spirit. Some fear it is at a point of no return being carried away by a branch of the river that will take it over the falls. It is my opinion that change in Christ's church is desperately needed. It is also my experience that change in Christ's church is diabolically resisted.

Across the United States there are bursts of revival and renewal here and there. But in the majority of these instances resurgence is taking place in new and emergent churches committed to biblical paradigms. Absent in these movements are long established churches once committed to advancing the kingdom. It appears that the fear change represents has been enough to keep them from the even more painful process of actually changing.

Lichtenberg's quote reminds us of this paradox of which I speak: I cannot say things will get better if we change; what I can say is they must change if they are to get better. We live in a time of great opportunity -- but we must believe that if things are to get better we must commit to change.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

My Son -- The Potter


The potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him . . . Like the clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand. Jeremiah 18:4,6

Last night our son Joshua had his Senior exhibit. He displayed beautifully and artfully crafted ceramic pottery. Earlier in the day, during his evaluation, representatives of the Art faculty at Columbus State University said it was the best presentation they had ever seen. Josh is incredibly gifted in many other areas, too. He can train horses, he plays guitar, and is pretty proficient in many areas of the arts. We are incredibly proud of him.

Josh has an eye for designing pottery. Almost all the work of his hands is unique, which is his signature. Once I suggested he create something he could reproduce over-and-over to sell, and provide him with some income. Not a chance! He would remain committed to originality. Nothing in him likes redundancy -- he thrives in creativity.

Behind our house are buried the shards of pottery that did not yield to our son's touch.

Getting to understand Josh's heart helps me better understand our Creator's heart. Nothing in God finds pleasure in the redundant sameness that is the signature of our fallen state. Sin lacks creativity and originality (that is why we have become so desensitized toward it). Unless the hand of The Potter breaks us and then remakes us we are without any uniqueness. None whatsoever.

But The Potter is unbending in His commitment to originality, and from my potter son, I am reminded that The Potter actually disdains the cheap, assembly line reproductions of life-after-life marred by sin. So He puts us on the wheel. During this shaping process, it is easy to forget and even resent the fact that The Potter shapes us into what seems seems best to him.

Friday, December 7, 2007

A New Leg And Golden Moments

In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends. - Martin Luther King Jr.

I did not sit in the assembly of the mockers, nor did I rejoice; I sat alone because your hand was on me. - Jeremiah 15:17

For the next four Sundays I will be bringing the messages at Christ Community Church. As I was preparing for the upcoming message entitled, Enter the Hero, I came across the above quote by MLK, Jr. and it seemed to touch something deep inside. I decided to stop and soak in it for a while. Immediately, it came to mind how at crucial points in my life I needed someone to step up for me (all of us come to these places in the epic). I am not speaking of those rare instances when we need protection from a physical attack. No, I am referring to those instances when your integrity is attacked, and you cannot speak up for yourself. It would be pointless to defend yourself. The deck has been stacked against you. You have been blindsided. In those instances, your only defense must come from your friends.

So you wait in expectation. There is silence. You are alone.

A friend or two eventually show up . . . after the tirade of untrue words have ripped through your soul like white hot shrapnel, and your attackers have dragged your name through the mud. Those who should have stood up, but instead went mute, explain why they did not; no sense of shame is visible or apology extended. Just a skewed, twisted, and unspoken logic that seems to say the libelous insults were necessary. Their silence is interpreted two ways: For the accusers the silence is validation for their venom; and for the accused the silence screams, You aren't worth fighting for or defending.

As I was writing this post, Sandy walked in and handed me a devotional and said, "Bill, read this." I did. Jeremiah's words immediately give us the God side when we feel deserted and alone. Look at the same situation from Jeremiah's point of view. Jeremiah is put in a place of circumstantial abandonment. But look how he interprets it -- it was God who had sent Jeremiah to the sidelines to be alone with him. For sure he was alone, but he was not lonely -- God's hand was on him. Both scenarios present the two-sided coin of God's sovereignty. Someone should have spoken up for Jeremiah, and the weeping prophet was broken by their silence. But God's man knew that in the down time God's hand was on him.

Jeremiah was in the calm that precedes a storm. God wasn't done with Jeremiah -- he was getting him ready for the next leg of the journey. The silence of friends can be golden moments!

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

We Will Go Together

I will never forget the call I got from Butch late one night: Bill, Georgie and I are with Christina at her house. She just got a call that Kyle has been seriously wounded. We don't have a lot of details. Can you come over?

Kyle, an exceptional young Special Ops Ranger and good friend, lingered in the shadow of death after a car bomb detonated at a checkpoint. Three of his buddies were killed instantly, and shrapnel shredded Kyle to ribbons. His body armor provided just enough protection, so that after weeks of recuperation and rehabilitation he emerged from the shadows and numerous surgeries back to health. He is a daddy now living in Ohio with his beautiful wife. A story book ending.

This morning my cell phone rang, and I saw that it was an incoming call from a good friend. Hello DC! I said, expecting to hear her customary response, Hello BS! But there was not the usual playfulness in her voice.

Hey, what's going on?

Her broken voice responded, It's not good news . . . Adam Snyder was killed along with two others from his platoon. Their Humvee hit an IED (improvised explosive device).

I felt my heart sink and my eyes fill with tears. I searched for words and the ones that came out alternated between gasping prayers and cussing (Just as an aside, I don't trust people who say they never cuss).

After the phone conversation ended, Adam's last conversation with me came back. I can see him sitting across from me -- sharp, West Point trained, well over 6 feet tall, and a physique like it had been chiseled out of granite. He had already done one tour in Iraq, and he wanted me to pray with him after he explained how he had found a way to get back to Iraq to be with his platoon. At one point he looked down at the floor and uttered some serious and ominous words: I can't leave my guys over there. I've got to get back to them. If my guys die. . . we all die together. Anyone that knew Adam also knew that he was not a grand stander. Or glory seeker. He was quiet. He was the real deal.

DC told me that Adam was the last of his Ranger platoon to die. En route to Germany, burned over sixty-five percent of his body, Adam breathed his last breath.

Friday, November 30, 2007

The Soft Spot

Nothing fixes a thing so intensely in the memory as the wish to forget it.
- Michel de Montaigne

Then Peter came to him [Jesus] and asked, 'Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?'

'No, not seven times,' Jesus replied, 'but seventy times seven.'

- Matthew 18:21-22

Montaigne reminds us of how hard it is to forget past offenses against us. Peter reminds us of something we certainly know -- we grow weary of forgiving those who repeatedly bruise and wound us.

On many an occasion I have heard the cliche, "I can forgive, but I can't forget." Maybe you have said that yourself. Often I will respond in kind with my own cliche, "I agree, you may never be able to forget, but you can choose not to remember." For me, even though past offenses fight for renewed attention, I find I can choose not to remember. People in my life who choose not to remember my past offenses certainly help me do the same. How about you?

On the other hand, like Peter, I wonder just how many times I have to forgive a repeat offender before I: 1) Lower the boom on them. 2) Forget the offense and then just write them off. 3) Keep careful count of that seventy times seven offense limit, and then inform them, 'I no longer have to forgive you. I am now completely free to despise you, and the very air you breathe.' You know what I mean. You would love to forgive and choose not to remember, but there is this nemesis who repeatedly shows up to plunge the blade straight into the same old wound with a twist of the wrist.

Allow me to remind you of something, and here it is. If you think you are simply the victim of a serial offender, think again. Like Peter, your frustrated response may be, Lord, how often should I forgive this person. As important as it is to be quick to forgive, it is also critical to be aware that the Evil one may have discovered your point of vulnerability -- your soft spot. If this is the case, to choose not to remember, or to chose to forgive, may be an incomplete response.

Try this. Lord, my weak spot is under attack. I ask that where I am weak -- your strength will be rush. For when [where] I am weak, I believe that then [there] I am made strong.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

What Do You Think?

A great deal more failure is the result of an excess of caution than of bold experimentation with new ideas. The frontiers of the kingdom of God were never advanced by men and women of caution
-J. Oswald Sanders

The kind of thinking that will solve the world's problems will be of a different order to the kind of thinking that created those problems in the first place.
-Albert Einstein

As a man thinks in his heart, so is he. Proverbs 23:7

So . . . What are your thoughts?

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Busted

Whenever I dwell for any length of time on my own shortcomings, they gradually begin to seem mild, harmless, rather engaging little things, not at all like the staring defects in other people's characters.
- Margaret Halsey

Insightful!

I remember Vance Havner telling the story about the woman who went to see a counselor. She walked into the counselor's office wearing bacon strips for earrings, and a fried egg for a hat. She sat down and said, I need to talk to you about my husband. I think he is crazy!

Margaret Halsey and the woman in Havner's story can sometimes describe us. Jesus made a similar comparison when he said, Why do you worry about the splinter in someone else's eye when there is a plank in yours? My guess is you would agree. Yeah, I'm busted too!

So what do we do?

Just stop it!

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Round Trip Tickets

[The following post is one my wife wrote. It's a worthy read]


It's been ten years since I packed my mother's suitcase, helped her dress, and guided her down the front sidewalk of her home and into the back seat of a friend's car. In my pocket were our tickets--round trip--from Dallas to Boston and back again.

None of us knew how weak my mom really was, or that just over a month later, in the quiet of my living room, with Christmas tree lights sparkling and the family gathered round, she would take a flight of a different kind.

Or that ten years would pass so quickly, and with each year, the pain of her loss would ease.

That is, until the marker of time--one year, two years, five years, ten--brings it back, fresh and raw. And I am once again walking down that concrete walk. Only this time, with every step, I know we won't be needing the return tickets after all.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Get Real!

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
- The Sermon on the Mount.

Jesus spoke to them at once. 'Don't be afraid,' he said. 'Take courage! I am here!'
- Mark 6:50

After Jesus fed the 5 thousand, he insisted that his disciples get into a boat and make their way to Bethsaida -- He would catch up with them later. He lingered with the crowds, said good-byes and sent them home, then retreated to the hills. In darkness and solitude he communed with his Father, praying through the night into the early morning hours. He was fully aware of his trainees' predicament. They were straining every muscle as they struggled against the wind and waves, trying to get to the further shore.

Jesus let them struggle for hours, and then around 3 a.m. he descended the hilly terrain, and in the darkness made his way to the lake below. Stepping across the threshold that separated land from water, he began to walk the peaks and valleys of the tumultuous waves. The foaming cauldron did not swallow him, and he steadily shrank the distance between him and the bobbing, rolling boat. The disciples caught a glimpse of him, and an even a deeper fear than the raging storm gripped them -- they believed Jesus was a ghost!

In retelling the story, the gospel writer Mark gives us a P.S. that explains why fear filled their hearts(51-52). We are told that in a matter of a few short hours Christ's hand-picked leaders had forgotten the miracles of the loaves. Their faulty memory was the result of calloused hearts. They could not see Jesus. They could not redefine reality.

Jesus' response to their terror is quoted at the top of this post. If you think about it, he told those Building Blocks of his future church, Reality is not as you see it. Jesus told them that the circumstances he engineered were not for the purpose of spawning fear, but opportunities to display courage. Yet their false interpretation of the situation paralyzed their faith.

We are reminded that only a heart purified by faith can see the deeper reality of our ever-changing circumstances -- blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Reality cannot be seen until our hearts are cleansed through the words Jesus speaks to our circumstances every time, "Don't be afraid, instead take courage. I am here!"

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Here's Your Sign!

Set up road signs; put up guideposts. Take note of the highway, the road that you take. Jeremiah 31:21

You could probably tell anyone where every STOP sign is in your daily commute. It is the one sign that demands our attention. You miss that one and it could cost you a fine or even be fatal. But you also pass many signs, such as: MERGE, YIELD, ONE WAY, DO NOT ENTER, DIVIDED HIGHWAY, SOFT SHOULDER, NO SHOULDER, LANE ENDS, and numerous street signs. You are so familiar with them you barely give them notice. You just cruise along oblivious to the many other signs.

Then there are those temporary signs: DETOUR, CONSTRUCTION, BUMP, SINGLE LANE, DO NOT PASS, REDUCE SPEED, and others. Those signs are meant to grab your attention. They are alerting you to change your routine.

I believe Jeremiah is talking about the latter group of signs -- the temporary ones. Signs that God sets up along the highway of life. He is alerting us that our routine needs to be broken, and we need to make an adjustment. I must admit that at times I have blatantly ignored the alerts or innocently missed them because I was not paying attention. How about you -- missed any? Those signs are important. We need to learn to watch for God's cues, lest He have to do a Jeff Foxworthy (see comments) and say, Here's your sign!

God Will Make This Happen

Always be praying, Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you who belong to Christ Jesus. Do not stifle the Holy Spirit. Do not scoff at prophecies, but test everything that is said. Hold on to what is good. Stay away from every kind of evil. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-22

There are some things that you cannot separate from, or abandon, if you are going to journey with the Spirit, the perpetual joy giver. There will never be an always if there is always a never. What do I mean? Paul says you cannot make joy the basis of prayer, instead, you must make prayer the basis of joy. He says that God is always, and in every circumstance, pulling us toward himself in prayer. Those who belong to Christ Jesus know that it is a battle to remain prayer that keeps us hopeful and joyful. That last statement seems contradictory. In essence, to maintain joy we must fight through uncomfortable circumstances.

To help us do that, Paul also profiles some of the partners we cannot welcome along on this road trip, and he is blunt. Do not stifle the Holy Spirit. In that statement we are promised that the Holy Spirit has a word for us in every circumstance -- a word of comfort or direction -- a word from God -- and we can stifle them. Those words may be prophetic. In that sense we are reminded that the turn around in our circumstances lies ahead -- the relief is not immediate. We can find joy in what is coming.

But we are also warned, Test every thing that is said. Why? There will also be things spoken (and you can be swayed to believe that they are a word from God) that would rob your joy. How do we test those words? Ask yourself, are they in agreement with God's word? Do they agree in your spirit with the promises of the Holy Spirit? Keep in mind that there are dark spirits trying to make God's word say what they want it to say. But the truth is, God's word still only says what it says. Misspoken advice can kill your spirit but never lift it. And, Hold on to what is good. Stay away from every kind of evil. Let me paraphrase: Hold on to -- and keep holding on to good. Stay away from -- and continue to stay from the evil, evil whose intent is to dislodge you from your place of joy.

With those things in place Paul says, Now may the God of peace make you holy in every way, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless until our Lord Jesus Christ comes again. God will make this happen, for he who calls you [to these disciplines] is faithful.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Illuminated Day

The city had no need of sun or of the moon to shine in it, for the glory of God illuminated it. The Lamb is its light . . . and the nations shall walk in its light . . . there shall be no night there.
- The Revelation of Jesus Christ

Temperatures this morning are just right to sit in the back yard before the full light of day. Squirrels have already punched the time clock and are scurrying around with their usual frenetic energy. Instead of their silly and playful routine of racing around their treetop highways, this day, all hustling is vertical and intentional. Shortened days and chilly mornings have kicked their instincts into overdrive, and they are wedging small branches into the crotch of the the big oak tree to construct a high rise penthouse, and lay in food stores to get them through the winter.

A new phase of a new day arrives. Like a glowing hot air balloon trying to break free of gravity, the sun is lifting above the horizon. Leaves of multi-colored trees light up like torches. Florescent flames of orange, yellow, red, and gold ignite everything, but consume nothing. The cheerful brightness of the morning sends last remaining night shadows to the other side of the world.

Yes. The blackness of the night will return. So will the Son.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Faith And Moral Goodness

What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone?
- James, New Testament Elder

Do not be too moral. You may cheat yourself out of much life. Aim above morality. Be not simply good; be good for something.
- Henry David Thoreau

I ran across Thoreau's quote yesterday and it immediately brought the words from the book of James to mind. The two quotes: One from an early New Testament Elder; And one from a philosopher/transcendentalist. James says that the Faith found in Christ is life giving. James asks, What good is a faith that does not work?

Thoreau talks about morality and says that people rob themselves by confusing morality with being good. He says that real morality is good for something.

When faith and morality exist only as concepts they neither give life or produce goodness. Is it any wonder that so many can see no purpose in becoming a Christ follower? When communities of faith become lifeless, and in essence, their moral goodness does nothing, they are adrift in dangerous waters with no power.

Friday, November 16, 2007

From The Pit-To The Prison. How Come?

You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. - Joseph, son of Jacob

"Potiphar put Joseph in prison, but God was putting Joseph in position." I wrote those words in 2002. I had been doing a study on Joseph's life. According to Joseph, God was once again working both sides of the street in his life. Meaning that God was as involved with his being in the cistern in the desert as He was in Joseph's celebrity in Egypt.

The time line of Joseph's story reveals that prior to being sold into slavery he could not have had a whole lot of spiritual training to prepare him for the hardships he would face. Probably far less than is available to most of us in our day. Yet if you look at every situation in which Joseph found himself, he handled adversity like the maturest of saints. I have to be honest, I have asked the question, Why? Why is it that God never concluded, Joseph, you've got it. You passed the "Let's see if you will become bitter," and "Flee youthful lusts," tests." We are going to move you right on up to second in command in Egypt.

I am no Joseph. I have not handled every adversity like the maturest of saints, but there are very painful episodes in my life that are no fault of my own, that recur time and time again, and that I do handle with maturity. It seems like these events are much like going from a pit to a prison. I find myself asking God, Can't we move on from that one? I am certainly ready to. Haven't I responded to that one? The right way! Enough times?

The pain of the thorn in the flesh revisits me . . . again. And in the midst of it I can miss what Joseph really said to his ten brothers. I do no injustice to God's Word by paraphrasing the victorious declaration of the son of Jacob this way: You plotted to destroy me. Every act motivated by evil. But your actions were but God's sub-plots. Significantly disruptive epics in my life, but training ground to prepare me for the Grand Finale. Finally! I am ready to fulfill God's greatest purpose for my life!

I am not there, but I am taking another step in that direction.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Some Randomness

In order to finish his career in the Bronx Alex Rodriguez gave the Yankees a hometown discount and signed a ten year deal for a measly 275 million. Originally he was looking for 350 million. I have been awash in tears as I have mused over A-Rod's loyalty and generosity. No doubt some of you are thinking: How will he will feed his family?

Barry Bonds has just been indicted on 4 counts of perjury and 1 count of obstruction of justice. This summer Bonds broke Hank Aaron's long standing home run record, and is now the king of Clout. Barry's record and career have been under a thunder cloud of suspicion for some time due to accusations for using performance enhancing drugs -- steroids in particular.

There is a connection between Bonds and Rodriguez. Barry has the home run record, and Alex wants it. Arguably the greatest ball player of all time has his sights on setting yet another home run record by surpassing Bonds.

News of a lesser note: The last two times I hunted I was covered up in deer. One afternoon I had 13 feeding in front of me. Last Friday morning I shot a 9 point buck around 7:30. Before I lined him up in my scope, a 6 pointer and an 8 pointer passed within 15 yards of my stand.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Humbled Heart Or Hightower

LORD, my heart is not haughty, nor my eyes lofty. Neither do I concern myself with great matters. Nor with things too profound for me.
King David (Psalm 131:1)

Saying what we think gives us a wider conversational range than saying what we know.
Cullen Hightower

I am seeking to be more like David and less like Cullen Hightower. I do not want to be guilty of putting words in David's mouth, but I believe he finally found his spiritual equilibrium. The wise king implies that his heart needed, and underwent, a painful overhaul. Once driven by pride his heart is now guided by humility. Something in life humbled him -- the haughtiness is gone. His pride-less heart greatly affected the level of his gaze and his ego. David's last phrase seems to convey that he has come to a place where he made peace with God that unexplainable things can be left unexplained.

Hightower said, Saying what we think gives us a wider conversational range than saying what we know. I have been guilty of that. But not today. To carry a conversation today about things I absolutely know would leave me speechless. I am speechless. Life has delivered a skull ringing blow. My heart is humbled. My gaze and ego lowered because God has put me in a place where I must make peace with unexplainable things He has chosen to leave unexplained.

I am depending on God's grace, goodness, mercy, and loving kindness. God is fearfully mysterious.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Breaking Or Beginning A Legacy

For I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who keep My commandments. Exodus 20:5-6

I brought the message for both services this morning at Golden Acres Baptist Church. Both services were full. I focused on the above Scripture.

This Scripture in Exodus describes two legacies that are ours to leave when we leave this world. First, God tells us that there are those who hate Him. I know -- those are strong words. Yet, if you read the verses in context, God says that people set up idols in there lives -- things that take His rightful place. In effect God becomes Persona non Grata. Often we attribute this severe warning about idol worship to heathens in the remote places of world. However, to do so is to make a grave mistake. God drills deeper and tells us that our decision to replace Him with a lesser god can be passed on to generation after generation. Our legacy of disregard will effect our children, and our children's children.

Then there is a second legacy -- the legacy left by those who love God and seek to live in the orbit of His commands. God speaks some of His most encouraging words in the entire body of Scripture as He describes His love and delight in extending mercy. Exponential blessings are ready to be lavished upon those who believe that He is truly the One to be reckoned with. God promises that a flood of His mercy will touch the lives of thousands because of our loving obedience to our God who brought us out of bondage.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Fess Up

Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. James 5:16

Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: What! You too? I thought I was the only one. C. S. Lewis

Do you see a correlation between the quotation from James, and the quotation from C.S. Lewis? I do. Both men are saying that good things come to people who are honest with each other. Both tell us there is something really healthy about getting failures out in the open rather than hiding them. James says that healing comes when you confess your fault. Lewis say that friendship is birthed and grows as we identify with each others struggles.

Turn their quotes around and what do we learn?

From James we discover that people who never own up to their failures never come to health. You have probably seen this truth play out in real life. Have you ever seen a person or even an entire organization go to ridiculous extremes to cover a failure rather than confess it? If only they would confess: They would be released from the failure and their conscience would be unburdened. But instead they try every kind of remedy except the only one that will bring relief and healing -- confession.

From Lewis we discover that many people will never experience a true friendship. Why? Because to fess up to a short coming is out of the question. Like me, you, too realize that there are people that you have spent many, many hours with, yet you have never heard them say, "What! You too? I thought I was the only one." And because of that their friendships never move beyond a business relationship, or shallow conversation.

So James says that we need confession to stay healthy, and Lewis says that friendships are born when we identify with another's failure. The question we ask our self is, "Am I healthy, and am I healthy to be around?

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Unexpected

Last night I arrived at Robert and Sarah's home to meet with my students from that large Asian country. When I pulled into the drive Robert was just finishing a call on his cell phone. "We have a special guest tonight." He said to me, and then we walked to the door and into the house.

Robert introduced me to his guest. "Bill, this is _______ ________. He oversees 6,500 underground churches that minister to 1.5 million believers."

I stuck my hand out and grasped the dark skinned hand that reached for mine. The man before me was Indian -- not Asian. In seconds I felt like I was in the presence of someone I had know for a long time. We clicked instantly, and I restrained from pelting him with the endless questions that raced through my mind. It was the first time I had met someone, who in my understanding, hearkens back to a New Testament Apostle.

As we waited for the other students to arrive we began to chat. I felt comfortable enough to take off the bridle and start asking questions. The last of the students walked in, and it was time for me to begin teaching. I tried to defer to our guest, but he really wanted to listen to me teach the students. I distinctly remember praying, "God I need you to keep reminding me that I am here to teach these students. I am here by Your appointment. I don't need to worry about trying to impress Your servant to my right." God graciously helped me to stay on point, and the study went great. My charges from the big country asked some incredible questions, and the atmosphere was bathed in Christ's Spirit.

Finishing with the students, I asked our guest to speak about anything God had put on his heart. All of us were captured by the exhortation and testimonies he shared. Let me pass on some of his story . . .

His mother died when he was four years old. He and his three brothers, the youngest being 4 months old, were placed in an orphanage in India. Our friend became father and caregiver to his brothers and also a very wealthy businessman by the time he was 17. He said that he had everything and nothing. His soul felt empty, and he began to turn toward God. He searched -- until God found him, and ended up attending a Baptist church where he got saved and radically mentored. He devoured God's Word.

He had no idea why, but God began to put The Big Country on his -- and his brother's heart. He got out of his business and followed the impressions God gave him. When he set foot on the ground of his strange new mission field his first contact was with a much older and godly woman. She took him under her wing and introduced him to leaders in the underground church (this was over 25 years ago). God's anointing was all over him, and he began to provide epic leadership. The house networks grew exponentially.

In the meantime, his godly mentor was arrested for the second time. Sentenced to 25 years in a Siberian labor camp, she and her four year old son nearly starved to death. Now, at the young age of 86, she recently moved to a remote and arid part of her massive country. In the first month there -- she led 100 people to Christ. In the second month there -- she led 200 to Christ. Recently they had their first baptism. Over 200 people, many who walked over 25 kilometers carrying the water, dug a hole in the sand, and poured in the precious water. Enough of the water, it covered their ankles, collected in the bottom. Boldly, they identified with Jesus, as each one of them were buried in the likeness of Christs' death, and raised in the likeness of Christs' resurrection -- in 8 inches of murky water.

Her little boy is now a grown man and an influential spiritual leader in the underground church.

I didn't sleep much last night. I tossed and turned thinking about how much I want to witness and be a part of the great outpouring of God's Spirit. It is happening in many, many places, but is almost unheard of here in the United States.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Passionate For Change

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled. Matthew 5:6

We might paraphrase Jesus' words this way, The greatest desire of my heart is to be in a right relationship with God and to be made like Him in character.

Most of us have probably sought to fill a void in our lives by pursuing the following question -- you fill in the blank. If I could just have _____________ I would be happy. And most of us have met at least some of those goals only to find out that the shelf life of the satisfaction they provided was extremely short.

Jesus gives us the desire that needs to fill in that blank. He tells us that those who are passionate for change -- change His righteousness brings -- will be satisfied. Why is it that we can so clearly understand Jesus' words but live with such a gap between what we know and what we experience? A simple (yet not simplistic) reason is this: We don't like going hungry or thirsty, so we satisfy those desires as soon as possible. I could give you a list of things that I am always tempted to default to whenever the hunger for a deepening relationship with God begins to manifest itself. There is always a quick fix, some junk food for my soul, that I can consume to dull the pain of spiritual hunger and thirst.

Like me, you probably learned long ago that there is a world of difference between being a Christian and being conformed to Christ's image. There are literally millions who claim the first, but so few who reflect the latter. Why is that? Speaking to the latter, I believe it is because it is such a painful process. The hunger and thirst that Jesus describes goes much deeper than depriving yourself of an afternoon snack. Truth is, Jesus is talking about staying in the hunger and pushing through, rather than quickly satiating it with easily accessible relief that is fleshly not spiritual.

Is Jesus, or is he not, describing a desire to be in right relationship with God that is akin to the pain of starvation or dehydration? I am going to end this post a little differently. I am going to leave you with some of the Scriptures Keith gave us on Sunday. Read each one and trace the cross references.

Remember -- righteousness is a journey -- not a destination. Enjoy the adventure!

I Corinthians 5:17; Proverbs 17:24; Philippians 4:8; 1 Corinthians 15:33; Ecclesiastes 4:9-12.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Alien Encounter

For the LORD your God is God of gods and the Lord of lords, the great God, might and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes He . . . loves the alien giving him food and clothing. And you are to love those who are aliens, for you yourselves were aliens in Egypt. Deuteronomy 10:17-19

Therefore, remember that formerly you were once Gentiles in the flesh . . . that at that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you . . . have been brought near by the blood of Christ. Ephesians 2:11-13

Sandy and I had a few minutes to talk and pray together this morning. Our conversation revolved around aliens (Sandy was born in Roswell, New Mexico. Honest!). We were not talking about that kind of alien -- the kind that are said to drop in on planet earth from a galaxy far away. No, we were talking about how intertwined our lives continue to be with people from other countries who are here in Columbus, GA.

Sandy is an ESOL teacher for four of the area schools: Shaw H.S., Blackmon Middle School, Blanchard Elementary, and Waddell. She is helping Arab, Indian, Israeli, Spanish, and other alien children learn to speak and write English. I am in my second year of discipling students from a large Asian country, and last week I led Luis to Christ. He is from Central America. Luis has been visiting Christ Community Church and heard the announcement that we were having a baptism on Sunday. He turned in a communication card indicating he wanted to know more about water baptism. I called him and we got together. I will not give you all the details now, but as he told me about his spiritual journey it was fascinating how clearly God was drawing Luis to Himself. When Luis finished I asked him if he understood what Jesus was all about. It was obvious to me that he needed someone to show him the way to God (I told him the story of the gospel). Luis was certain that he needed Christ to save him. In faith he called on Jesus to save him, and committed to following Him. Luis asked to be baptized on Sunday! I gladly accommodated him, and had the privilege of baptizing my new son in the Faith! The early morning conversation my bride and I shared showed us how God, with no planning on Bill and Sandy's part, intensionally intersects our lives with aliens. My bride described how she is falling in love with her students and the great compassion she feels for them. The students range from Kindergarten through High School, and there is no curriculum. Her mission is an incredible challenge.

We had to reluctantly end our conversation and go our separate ways. Before we separated I prayed a blessing on Sandy, thanked God for her beautiful heart, and asked our Father to bless her as she sought to be salt and light and a resource for those children who were alien to us, but not to Him. I also thanked God for the multi-colored, multi lingual, totally out of the box church where God so graciously allows me to be a voice for Him. I never want to forget the rock from which I was hewn, or the pit from which I was digged! Loving aliens is not so hard when we remember that all of us were at one time alienated from God.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Enjoy The Moments

I met Bob and Mac yesterday around 5 in the afternoon. It would be my first trip up a tree stand this hunting season. A breeze ebbed and flowed and rustled the leaves. It was music to my ears. My vantage point sat among an oak bottom, and this year there is an abundance of acorns. Yesterday was the last day before the clocks got turned back. That meant I would have enough light to hunt until shortly after 7.

As usual the wind died down to an occasional breath just before the sun hid behind the horizon. Finally I could hear the birds scratching for a few more seeds and bugs before they roosted for the night. Every few minutes an acorn would trickle down through the colorful canopy and plunk to the ground. Slowly I turned my head enough to scan the zone I was sitting over. Being in the woods always brings a sense of peace and serenity.

Thirty minutes before the light would dim for the day I saw a doe coming toward me along the edge of the field to my right. I gave her a good look through my scope but decided she would get to see another sunrise. As is always the case, it's never really about tagging a deer, I simply love the solitude. The doe faded out of sight and returned to give me one last look then before dark.

At 7:15 I popped out the clip, emptied the chamber, and quietly made my way out of the tree stand. Once my feet were on the ground I stood statue still for a minute or two. I knew that the deer often come in from behind me and I didn't want to give my position away even though I was through for the night. After a couple of minutes I made my way down the dim road and slowly entered the power line. Once again, God provided a little serendipity. The power line makes a slow incline back in the direction of my truck. There on the rim, where the sky meets the ground, was a doe back lighted by the still orange sky. I just stood there smiling -- taking in the moment.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Alive

The sanctuary at To God Be The Glory Church, in Maturin is an impressive worship space as far as size goes -- it comfortably seats 500. But other than its size, it is quite spartan -- basically a concrete block building designed for multiple purposes (as I believe all church buildings should be). They have a school that shares the space.

Saturday night the youth got together for a special service. The couple who will plant the church in Caracas lead the youth ministry. At least 100 young people were in attendance, and the service lasted over 2 hours. At the beginning of the service I sat at the front of the crowd, then moved to the back, so that I could observe the audience. Venezuelans do not hold back when they worship! Whether it be through music or God's Word, they are fully engaged in mind, body, and spirit. Their music is filled with life and physical expression. The arts play prominently in their adoration of God. Drama teams did sketches, there was choreographed dance, and several bands played different genres of music. All those moving parts led up to the message. The preaching by the young church planter was not a masterpiece of oratory, but it was obviously anointed -- at the invitation, a couple dozen people came forward to receive Christ!

Also . . .

Over the last 7 years I have been more involved in foreign missions than at any time in my life. Before that, my primary mission field had been wherever I lived. And that mostly consisted of trying to minister to complacent church attendees. But God began taking me outside of convention when I worked with Henry Blackaby Ministries. There I began ministering to people in different parts of our country who were searching for God for a specific spiritual need. My understanding of the Faith began to change in dramatic fashion. I discovered that God only responds to the spiritually humble, thirsty, and hungry. Then, in 2005 I led a team on an extreme mission to a "large Asian country." When I returned home, I felt disconnected from the institutional church. The disconnect was so obvious I began to ask, "Why?"

It became clear that there was nothing in me that wanted to respond to a church culture that says, "I am the customer. Satisfy me!" Also, God showed me that there are people all over the world desperately seeking a word from someone who knows Him. A conviction began to develop that said, If any believer had even one flickering flame that burned for an encounter with God -- a spark that had not been doused by a consumerist mindset and an inordinate desire for comfort -- they could actually see God work! And, There is a need for an uprising and revolution. Christ's church has been hijacked. It is in the hands of the business-oriented and out of the hands of the kingdom-oriented.

I believe we are on the verge of seeing many new churches -- filled with people longing to experience God -- that will sprout from the ashes of the finally and mercifully dead institutional churches.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Over And Through The Mountains

On Friday morning we crossed over mountains and through a couple of tunnels that had been bored through solid mountains. Twisting, serpentine roads led us up and down lush green, rolling corridors. Several times we topped out on the mountains, and we could see for miles -- all the way back to the ocean. Our destination was the more densely populated areas of Caracas.

We passed barrios of different sizes. Some with hundreds of houses precariously perched on the side of the mountains. Every house had the same symmetry -- block shaped, and squished together on the steep slope of a mountainside. As far as I could determine, not one of the run down villages had a paved road. Every so often we passed by barrios cheerfully colored in pastels; they stood out in relief against the endless string of villages the color of terracotta.

Soon we were in the city where cars and motorcycles scurried along the streets like mice in a maze. It was survival of the fittest. We were traveling in an old 12 passenger van. Thankfully, it was one of the biggest vehicles on the road, so we were safer than most. Our driver took full advantage of our size, and like a big bully, we basically stopped and turned at will. Amid the constant honking of horns and the buzz of motorcycles, I was reminded that I should have updated my Will before I left the States!

Once in the city all the buildings were snugged close together and built straight up. Nearly every street was like driving through a canyon of buildings. It was 90 degrees outside and our ride had no air condition. That forced us to make a hard decision -- did we want to roast or roll down the windows and inhale the acrid smog that stung our eyes! We opted for cooler, if not fresh, air.

When we arrived at To God Be The Glory Church, Pastor DeEscoro and Gabriel, the church treasurer, greeted us with smiles. Soon we were walking through the building situated on a sliver of land shaped like a wedge of cheese. We carefully checked the building's infrastructure. Even though they said that an architect assured them the current structure could bear the weight of a second story -- we wanted to see for ourselves. We determined the bearing walls were stout enough.

After we discussed plans for the return trip in January, we were introduced to Carmen, Carmen, and Delia. In the cramped 8X8 kitchen, those 3 ladies prepared us a meal with enough food to feed 15 people (there were only 6 of us)! As I mentioned in a previous post, this church has been waiting for 27 years to get some help. We were treated like royalty!

On Sunday, November 4, I will be having an informational meeting with 14 men about our upcoming mission. Our team will be the first "all men" team sent out from Christ Community Church.

I love firsts!

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

A Great Commotion

And about that time there arose a great commotion about the Way. Paul

My father worked harder than any man I have ever known to provide for 6 children and a wife. We were far from rich, but like most who are reading this post, we grew up having everything we needed. So, for me, it always takes a while for my senses to sort through what I see when I leave the United States and set foot in an impoverished or chaotic country.

When we disembarked our flight and entered the airport terminal you would not believe how many people converged on us trying to hustle a few bucks. Our taxi, which was a pickup truck, carried us down back allies, and the wrong way on one-way streets, to get us to our hotel. A hotel no one would choose if there were options. Heavy iron gates that stood between us and a roof over our head had to be opened before we could get inside. Once inside it felt like we had entered a prison.

In Venezuela, the Dictator Chaves is gaining power and causing a commotion. The country is split down the middle. Unrest is felt everywhere -- even in the churches. Yet in Caracas, a fledgling community of faith waits with excitement. Finally, after a 27 year wait, they will receive some much needed help. In Maturin, the largest protestant church in Venezuela, dozens get saved weekly. The church there grows larger and stronger in spite of releasing some of their most gifted and dedicated people to start 7 new churches!

I am no shrinking violet, but in Venezuela I never felt safe. Neither did my companions. Yet, I feel drawn to that kind of Faith Adventure. I guess it stems from the conviction that I no longer believe being in the Will of God is guaranteed to be a "safe" place. I challenge you to find one shred of biblical evidence that would lead you to believe that those who followed Christ with abandon lived a safe life.

In our day, it seems that the only places God is -- without question -- showing up are the unsafe ones. Here in our own wonderful country, it seems that God is only making appearances where He finds a desperate people. Only where there is risk that requires faith, or faith that requires risk.

I long for a worthy commotion!

Monday, October 29, 2007

Caracas To Maturin

When he [Barnabas] came and had seen the grace of God, he was glad, and encouraged them all that with purpose of heart they should continue with the Lord. Acts 11:23

Keith, Chas, and I are back from our advanced trip to Venezuela. Keith is the lead pastor at Christ Community, and Chas is praying and preparing to be a missionary to South America. The trip was all we hoped for and more. We arrived in Caracas on Thursday night. A taxi from the La Parada Hotel whisked us away to our hotel . . . or so we thought. To make a long story short, they were overbooked (in spite of the fact we had reservations) and we were rerouted to much less desirable accommodations.

When we awakened at 5 a.m., in order to meet our first contact at 6 a.m., we particularly enjoyed the cold shower. One of the important things about mission trips is to prepare yourself for unexpected adjustments to your itinerary. So . . . our contact arrived at 9:15. No problem. We made good use of our time and simply rolled with the punches.

After driving for an hour we topped lush green mountains and began descending into the outskirts of Caracas. Destination -- To God Be The Glory Church. The church property had recently been purchased (It used to be a "market," which was simply a cover for dealing drugs). Pastor DeEscoro and congregation have already done a remarkable job in converting the space into a very functional sanctuary. They have even added on an ell that provides them with a modest kitchen.

Before long we were climbing onto the main roof of the building from the lower roof of the Bano [bathroom]. Their little building needs a second story added to make room for education space. One of the great rewards of this project is the fact that we will be the first mission team that has ever helped this church in its 27 year history! So that means we get to be the advance troops, and expand Christ's kingdom into new territory! Come January I will be leading a construction team from Christ Community Church to erect that second story!

After surveying other parts of Caracas on Friday we were dropped off at the Domestic Airport and caught a flight to Maturin, a city of just under a million people. Arriving at our destination, we found ourselves looking at a second church sign that read, To God Be The Glory Church. However, this church is very well established with an approximate attendance of 500. Our objective for this church is very different. We were there to meet with Pastor Casto and a young couple who will be commissioned to plant another church (The eighth church to be planted by this one congregation).

Eleicer and Karolyes are a very gifted young couple. Eleicer has pastoral and business experience. Karolyes is an engineer. Together they are praying about starting a new church in another part of Caracas (Over 5 million people call Caracas home). Christ Community is committing whatever resources God asks of us to a long term relationship to reach Venezuelans. Once again, I found myself filled with joy knowing that we will have a part in advancing the kingdom into new territory!

This post gives you a general idea of our mission in Venezuela. I will use the next few entries to fill in some of the details of our experience there. Pray with us as we make plans to roll up our sleeves, and begin the adventure of constructing a second story for a fledgling church, and bring a second team to work in another part of the sprawling city of Caracas, Venezuela.

Boots on the ground in January!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Sox And The Rox

It's the 5th inning and the Red Sox are pounding the Colorado Rockies. I have been saying that the Sox will sweep. My friend Richard I. is going to be buying me a steak dinner. The poor man. He should have more faith in this prophet. Let's see. Colorado is on their third pitcher already. Not looking good for the boys from the Coors brewing country.

Did I tell you that the same Richard I. told me the Indians would win it in five?

What's this? The boys from Boston just scored another run (11-1)! Unfortunately, the World Series will probably be over before I get back from Venezuela. Hold on! Wait a minute! Ellsbury just walked and another run scored (12-1). Did I tell you that the Red Sox have also set a World Series record for extra base hits?

Richard, I know you won't believe this, but Speir just walked in another run (13-1).

What's this? Am I beginning to feel sympathetic? No. Not at all!

Richard, I like my steak my steak medium rare. Of course, I get to pick the steak house!

Planting And Construction

Tomorrow I leave for an advanced trip to Venezuela. It will be brief, 4 days. Keith, Chas and I will meet with some church planters and work out the details to bring an evangelism team to help them get started. We will also meet with the leaders of an established church to work out details for a construction team. In January I will be leading both teams back to Venezuela.

This will be my first trip to that part of the world, and I am excited to see what God has in store. Sometimes I feel like I am in the middle of a really good dream. I find it hard to fathom the opportunity God has given me to plant churches and train church leaders all over the world. Lord willing, I will be in Greece, Bolivia, and quite possibly Bulgaria and China in 2008.

Christ Community Church has not forgotten where we came from. We are a church plant and radically committed to planting more churches. Along with sowing the Word around the world, we are also committed to starting more churches in Columbus and Alabama. We are ready to move as soon as God gives the word. God is putting a burning desire in the hearts of many believers to step out of their comfort and put their faith to the test. We are praying for spiritual discernment as we seek to assemble a band of maturing believers to form the core group for a new start.

Only one life, it will soon be past. Only what's done for Christ will last.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Happy Are The Unhappy

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Matthew 5:4

[As I mentioned last week, my blogs on the Beatitudes will be a recap of Keith's messages delivered each Sunday.]

All the "blesseds" of the beatitudes are counter cultural, but this second one presents the greatest contrast. Jesus says there is a blessing that comes with a condition. The condition is mourning -- the blessing is comfort.

Contrary to what we may think, the opposite of mourning is not laughter but instead denial. Comfort will remain illusive until we come to grips with the human condition. Since sin entered this world tears and sadness have been our companions.

Spiritual and emotional pain is catalyzed by at least three events. First, we experience the negative consequences of living in a fallen world. Things happen that are not our fault. Loved ones die, jobs are lost, sickness infects our body, and our world is turned upside-down in a blink. Terrible, cruel, and unexplainable things happen because the world is no longer in the order that God originally created.

We have all learned the hard way that people can inflict us with deep pain. Sometimes it is unintentional, friendly fire. Other times spiritual and emotional blood is let by a premeditated attack. When we experience pain the Evil one crouches at the door of our heart ready to pounce. Pain draws him like a magnet draws metal shavings. Pain, whether intentional or unintentional, may open the door to bitterness against people and God.

If you are reading this it comes as no surprise to you that we are also the victim of our own choices. Consequences of our own sin can bring a deluge of pain. As the old saying goes, You can make any choice you want, but you can't choose the consequences. Yes, we live in a world where we are destined to experience pain -- sometimes due to our own choices.

So what do we do? Well, we can live in denial, or we can accept the reality that sin -- no matter where it comes from -- gravely wounds us. We can come to the humbling conclusion that there is no human remedy to our dilemma, because at its deepest root pain is a spiritual problem that goes back to the Garden of Eve. Spiritual problems require a spiritual solution. Jesus' radical beatitude brings us to a crucial decision. Will we recognize our pain. Will we receive God's help? In the midst of our mourning will we go to God? For those who do -- God promises comfort.

Happy are the unhappy.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Salt, Light and Leaven

You are the salt of the earth . . . You are the light of the world -- like a city set on a hilltop that cannot be hid . . . The kingdom of heaven is like yeast a woman used in making bread. Even though she put only a little yeast in three measures of flour, it permeated every part of the dough. Matthew 5:13-14; 13:33

Stop for a minute. Think about Christ’s invitation to his first missionary prospects. The offer was not very complicated or sophisticated, Come, follow me and I will teach you to fish for men. Now think about how those disciples would have decoded what Jesus encoded. Do you think they would have interpreted Christ’s invitation to mean He was going to send them to unknown parts of the world?

Of course not! So why is it that when we talk about evangelism, we often hear people say, “but I don’t want to go to Africa?” The disciples assumed that Christ was going to teach them something he was already doing. This is how we are to understand evangelism. At Christ Community Church, my goal is to teach everyone how to return to Christ’s simple invitation—a commitment to follow Jesus, embrace his priorities, and join Him in the pursuit of His passion!

Jesus said that Christ followers are salt, light, and leaven! Think about those metaphors for a moment. What was Jesus implying? Salt preserves, stops decay, and flavors what it touches. Salt can even make you aware of a cut or wound by its stinging presence. Salt does what it does because it is salt! What about light? Does light have to be taught to drive out darkness? Is light useful in a dark place if it is not released? And then there is leaven. It is unnecessary to coax and coerce yeast to permeate a lump of dough—you can’t stop it from radically changing a mixture of flour and water!

So, sharing the gospel is not about learning a formula or developing a slick program. Instead, evangelism is a result of our new life! Becoming a person who shares the Good News comes about as we respond to the transformation that began with the New Birth!

What about global evangelism? For sure, it was on the heart of Jesus. Some believers are called to leave all that is familiar and be salt, light, and leaven in a world they have never before experienced. But initially, every believer is empowered to testify wherever their feet take them—maybe just across the street. As you put down this article and step out into your world—pay attention. You go there as salt, light, and leaven!

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Life Found -- At The End Of My Rope

Blessed Are The Poor In Spirit

Keith began a series of messages on the Beatitudes this morning. I have heard a lot of sermons (I am reluctant to use the word sermon, but in good writing you shouldn’t use the same descriptive term in a paragraph twice, so I am calling his message a sermon), and I have read hundreds more. This morning I was privileged to hear the best lecture (although he did not lecture us) on Matthew 5:3 I have ever heard.

The main point of the message was “When you are at the end of your rope you are in the condition in which you can experience the blessing of all that God’s kingdom offers.” Kingdom living is not for the sweet by-and-by. Kingdom living is a blessing God tenders in the awful now-and-now!

For most of us coming to a place of crisis -- or the end of our rope -- is a place we want to avoid or get out of as soon as possible. Think of how many times you have wriggled out of a desperate situation, oblivious to God’s offer. Think about how many times you have given into resignation only to limp along in your own strength. Think about how much all of us disdain the thought of being seen as helpless, dependent, or weak.

Yet Jesus said that those are the very conditions necessary if we are to find the happiness that kingdom living alone provides. Remember that Jesus delivered His radical message soon after He emerged from the temptation in the wilderness. Most of you know that at the end of that 40 day fast -- Satan tried to seduce the Son of God to abandon the spiritual for the earthly.

The Deceiver offered Christ popularity, prestige, and power! Everything He would need for immediate relief from life at the end of the rope. Praise be to God that like Jesus, we, too, find the life and relief of God -- at the end of our rope!

Saturday, October 13, 2007

+ 7

I am sitting here in the den with my bride watching the Sox and Indians play game two of the ALCS. The boys from Boston just went up 3 to 1. Shill is on the hill for Boston, and Carmona is pitching for the Tribe.

Between innings I saw a most interesting advertisement. It showed a series of clips of dogs and their owners. Each frame was a heart warming endorsement of man's best friend. As I watched I was wondering what the point of the advertisement would be. Do you know what the point was? If you own a pet you can add 7 years to your life!

I groaned. Obviously those brilliant and creative Ad agencies have never spent any time with our dog, Bailey!

My pain deepens. Curt just gave up a 3 run homer! But no fear -- it's our year.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Accepted!

Sandy got a call from Lesley University in Cambridge, MA. She has been accepted into their low residency MFA program in creative writing. It is a two year program and she will specialize in nonfiction. In that discipline an MFA is a terminal degree, but she plans on pursuing a PhD when she finishes at Lesley.

This may not be a record, but it is better than average -- 4 out of 5 in the Shorey family, Josh, Meagan, Bill, and Sandy are all in college! Josh will graduate in December, but the rest of us have a way to go. Meg is in her second year working toward a Bachelors degree in Psychology, and I am working on a Masters in Business Leadership! True, we will probably end up in the college tuition poor house, but what the heck!

Abraham Lincoln was quoted as saying, "I will prepare and be ready. Perhaps my chance will come." Sandy and I feel the same way. There is a great hunger around the world for college-educated Americans to come to their less developed countries and teach. For Sandy and me in particular, our degrees will provide us with income and a platform to do missions around the world. We may never leave our native soil, but regardless, we want to be prepared should the calling from above come.

The concentric circles that make up my life are shrinking down to the core purpose for which God saved me -- bringing the Kingdom to places where the King is unknown! I love my country, but I am finding that God has gifted me to go where others would be reluctant to go -- the thought of going to foreign soil thrills me.

In the meantime I have the privilege of passing on my passion to the church where God has blessed me to serve. At Christ Community I have found many a kindred heart when it comes to working outside the box! In two weeks I will set foot on the soil of Venezuela! After that I will be leading teams to Greece, and then on to Bolivia! At each stop the goal is to plant churches or to bring construction teams to build a modest meeting place to house a community of believers!