Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Flying and Smiling

A long, sweeping, crushed-stone and gravel driveway connects our house to the main road. I was scheduled to speak at a church in Pine Mountain in a few hours. What I had done for so many years when I led churches, I was doing once again on the last Sunday of 2013: outside just after daylight walking, and thinking through each phase of the message I intended to deliver. Jeans, a white buttoned-down collared shirt, and my navy blue blazer with brass buttons would be acceptable Sunday go-to-meeting attire. As I walked and organized my thoughts, the gravel crunched under my feet, gray clouds sagged close to the treetops, and translucent wisps of ground fog swayed like ghosts, then disappeared as they slowly lifted toward the heavens.

Ponds and farmlands of varying sizes surround us, and those elegant birds with their long-necks, shiny black and white and gray plumage are frequently seen moving from place to place in > shaped formations. Sunday morning was a little different though. From the west I heard the familiar loud honking that grew louder and louder, but as this wedge appeared they barely winged higher than the treetops. As they passed overhead their wings swish and whistled, and I could clearly see their large black beaks open and close as they sounded.

I stopped walking to take in the moment. Almost instantly, I thought of how--spiritually speaking--I would like to be that goose flying at the point and leading others on an adventure. Or, like those that followed the leader, caught up in the draft of a great movement of God. But in seconds, my mind was processing a line of thinking/praying/hearing at the heart level--that didn't carry a burden of negativity with it--that went this way: "That is not where I am right now."

Then, something funny happened: about one hundred yards behind the flock came a single goose, honking, steadily flapping its wings, and closing the gap as it tried to catch up with the group ahead.

I started smiling...


  

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

East Meets West (repost from 2006)

*This is a repost of a blog I wrote in 2006. It warmed my heart to read it again. How thankful I am for this memory. Robert is with the Lord, and the Chinese students are literally spread out around the world. It's going to be a happy reunion one day! I found some pics of our group. 

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, December 16, 2013

Who Says...

As I inch ever closer to sixty--just completed my 58th trip around the sun--I still love the woods and adventures in the great outdoors. I hope to exit this planet with my hiking boots on, or in a tree stand, or in a kayak, or sitting around a campfire. Preferably in close proximity to the cabin in Maine. People around here call me "Bill," but in my heart I remain "Billy" (all my friends from high school still call me Billy, and other names I won't list). However, I am becoming quite domesticated (which unnerves me a bit). Yep. I am learning to cook. And I don't mean just throwing precooked stuff in a microwave or firing up the grill. Who says you can't teach an old dog new tricks?

Sandy told me she was getting me something different for my birthday--something I didn't ask for. That had to be the understatement of the year! I now have in my possession a resource that provides: Everything You Need to Know to Become a Great Cook.

It's all part of the adventure, and I promise, Sandy, I can make cooking an adventure. I mean, I look at it this way. My new book has 821 pages (hopefully, it's not a case of "Those who cannot do--teach."), so I find comfort in knowing beyond any reasonable doubt that many salads were tossed and steaks were mis-steaks along the learning curve of those culinary giants who published this monstrosity. Sheesh! Even without the pictures it has more to say than the God of the universe who spoke through prophets over a period of 1400 years! But I digress.

Nope. Chopping chives, sorting spices, and sauteing spinach is not the adventure I dream of, but it is one I am enjoying, a worthy skill, a challenge, and it makes you smile.

Any who, Honey. Who says there are no new worlds to conquer? I  came--I saw--I cooked! Satisfaction and pleasure are mine when setting your table--especially when we are really cooking together (wink, wink). Thank you for the book. Praying that my adventures in cooking won't turn into a nightmares or cases of food poisoning.



P.S. Quiche me quick and fondue me. It will prevent boredom from setting in...


Friday, December 13, 2013

When Hell Broke Loose In Heaven (part 2)

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away." He who was seated on the throne said, " I am making everything new!" Then he said, "Write this down, for these word are trustworthy and true." ~ Revelation 21:4-5

The incarnation is serious. But just because it is serious does not mean it must be somber." ~ Seth Rydelnik, RELEVANT Magazine

Sometimes we more closely relate to the other John; John the Baptist. At least I do. Remember him? A wild man that wore rough woven clothes and ate bugs? Out of the wilderness desert he came bellowing, "Prepare the way of the Lord! Repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of sins!" John's public ministry only lasted about eighteen months. Uncensored preaching landed him in prison, and while incarcerated he had a complete crisis of faith. How complete, you ask? Well, the Baptist sent messengers to ask Jesus if he really was the Messiah, or should he keep looking. Absolutely nothing was making sense to John--what was he doing in prison? Nothing was working out the way John expected--where was the Kingdom? Unceremoniously--and literally--John's head was delivered on a silver platter to the honey of a despot. John's quandary…we can relate to that.

As an aside…

On the lowest day of John the Baptist's life, Jesus reinforced his high view of John: "I tell you the truth: among those born of a woman there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist."

Revelation's story of the Incarnation makes sense of the present contradiction of the angel's ancient announcement, "Peace on earth to men on whom his favor rests." Wouldn't we be hard-presssed to convince anyone that ours is a placid planet? The back-story in the Revelation tells us why. Satan, being hurled from the airy heavens hit the dirt hard so to speak. But he reorganized his forces on earth, and now, "He is filled with fury, because he knows that his time is short." God's will is done in heaven, but for the time being on earth, war is being waged against humanity. No holds barred. Extraordinarily cunning, the Deceiver makes life here just hell enough to believe that our good times are our only heaven, and our bad times are our only hell.  

So here we are until Jesus returns. Rays of hope and kindness still flicker, sure. The Spirit of God keeps Satan on a short leash. But our world will get worse. Social engineering can't fix it (but that is no excuse for any of us to be anything less than salt and light). Our eyes will release salty rivers, death will prove it respects no persons, morning after morning will bring mourning somewhere. At every level of the human experience, atrocities will batter mankind. The awful disorder we see in our world is masterfully ordered by the Prince of the power of the air. His hatred for the Prince of Peace has not waned. In particular, Satan bullies the children of the Redeemer. 

It's the truth. It's serious. It's somber. But it's not the entire story. In the meantime, just as Jesus told John the Baptist, Christ's Kingdom advances. Redemption and miracles continue. Christ in us is greater than the one who stands against us. We grieve, but not as those who have no hope. Loved ones and innocents die, just as the Christ child did. But the Risen One resurrected and death was swallowed up in victory. Christ's journey did not skirt the valley of the shadow of death, and like him we will be led right through it. On the other side our temporary bodies will dissolve, and a new one will be given. Indestructible. Incorruptible. Perfectly fitted to house our souls. In spite of the battles we may lose, in the end, the war is already won. Inexplicably, apart from faith, peace that passes all our understanding is ours to be had. God will one day vanquish the Evil One once and for all. 

He who was seated on the throne said, " I am making everything new!" Then he said, "Write this down, for these word are trustworthy and true."

So, through the new birth we celebrate with joy the birth of the Savior...

P.S. After Jesus confirmed the faith of John the Baptist he spoke these words about those who receive the Good News, and put their trust in Christ: "Yet even the least person in the Kingdom of God is greater than he [John]."


Thursday, December 12, 2013

When Hell Broke Loose In Heaven (part 1)

Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: "This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your soul too." ~ Luke 2:34-35

When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. ~ Matthew 2:16

The dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth, so that he might devour her child the moment it was born. She gave birth to a son, a male child, who will rule all the nations with an iron scepter. And her child was snatched up to God and to his throne. The woman fled into the desert to a place prepared for her by God... And there was war in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. But he was not strong enough and they lost their place in heaven. The great dragon was hurled down…he was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him…Therefore rejoice, you heavens and you who dwell in them! But woe to the earth and the sea, because the devil has gone down to you! He is filled with fury, because he knows that his time is short. ~ Revelation 12:4-12


The Great Dragon was hurled down...

Thoughts that most often come to mind when we think of the Christmas story are those of wise men and their gifts, shepherds and their flocks, bright lights and heavenly choirs, a little baby and a lowly manger, a noble man and his virgin wife. Shiny wrapped gifts, Christmas carols playing, colorful lights twinkling, sleepy looking adults, and children wide-eyed. How grateful we are for all those memories and the magic of Christmas.

Woven throughout the Bible is the equally dramatic story that doesn't carry the warmth and charm that usually comes to mind. In truth, it was intended to be the story. Luke's gospel introduces us to Simeon's prophecy about the Christ child. Simeon cradled the infant in his arms and claimed him to be the way of salvation for all mankind--Jew and Gentile, alike. He would be the Light to pierce all darkness. Messiah was the centerpiece of all God and His prophets had promised. Mary and Joseph glowed as they listened with rapt attention to the presage. Then, a shadow of sadness spread across Simeon's face. Sullen words were reluctantly forced from his mouth. "Mary and Joseph, your little one will grow to a young man who will divide all Israel. Flashing like a warning beacon, his life will expose and agitate dark hearts. Violent opposition will dog his steps." Said Simeon. The foretelling whooshed like a sword and slashed at the young mother's heart.

Matthew tells us that when Messiah was born there was inconsolable weeping and wailing as little ones--who drew their first breath around the time the baby Jesus drew his first--would die by the edge of the sword. Herod, the deranged dictator slaughtered them all to insure killing the One.

From the Isle of Patmos a religious exile, an old man so tough that sacred legend says he couldn't be boiled in oil, told the back story of the Incarnation. His name was John; the disciple whom Jesus loved. When the Son of God was born, says John, all hell broke loose in the heavens. Angelic hosts who heralded Immanuel's birth were not alone in the night skies above the manger. Hovering in the blackness, loomed a force invisible to earth-eyes. Puffed up in rebellious pride, the great dragon, with legions of celestial traitors, stood battle ready to devour the virgin and her child. But the arch angel, Michael, unsheathed his sword, and the hosts of heaven hurled down the Rebel and his minions.

But woe to the earth and the sea, because the devil has gone down to you! He is filled with fury, because he knows that his time is short. 

That explains a lot of our story...

    

Friday, December 6, 2013

You Really Can Come Back

*This is a re-posting of a blog I wrote a few years back. This Sunday, December 8, at 11 a.m., I will be speaking at Hunter Road Baptist Church, and on this passage from Luke 15. Friends, prayers would be greatly appreciated. ~ Enjoying the Adventure

Tired eyes dimmed by the years stared at the horizon. Nothing moved. Weathered brown hands came to rest just above his hips -- hands of a working man. Calloused hands that had firmly yet gently held the moral reins that guided the two boys he had raised on his own.

A few miles away a bundle of tattered rags staggered along a faint cattle path under a noonday blaze. Hot, arid winds blasted and whipped a shaggy, tangled mop of hair. Once young and innocent, a face etched deep with lines of fatigue and worry squinted at the bright sky. Olive skin, overexposed to the sun, glowed reddish brown. “Is it even possible what I am experiencing is real?” The young man mused. He bore all the markings of a beaten man.

Heat from the unrelenting orb forced the broken figure into the shadow of a ledge, but as the sun made its steady march across the sky the rock no longer provided shelter. Sweat soaked his shirt, making it cling to his back. Curly, oily locks, pasted to his forehead. Salty brine dripped into his puffy eyes causing them to sting. It was an effort to even stand. Stiffly, he raised himself to his feet.

“How much farther is it?” he wondered. His next thoughts were rehearsed lines. Even his body language was carefully choreographed. With feigned humility he bowed his head, and pitifully mumbled “Father, I have sinned against heaven…” But a subtle change began, and tears of regret began carving muddy streams down his cheeks. Genuine sorrow released a fountain. It was so different; he was no longer sorry for himself -- he had sinned against his God and his father. Just then he crested a hill and there in the valley was the homestead.

Inside, as he did everyday, the old man strode to the window. Hands on his hips, he stooped and gazed out across the expanse to the elevated horizon. The boy was always the first thing on his mind. What?Off in the distance, crinkled heat waves warped a wraith-like form that weakly stumbled across the pasture. All of the father's senses were brought to bear on the faint image wobbling toward him. His heart began to race. Suddenly, his aged legs became young again and he bolted for the door!

As the young man began weaving his way down the rough, sloping terrain the entire yard below burst into activity. Fear gripped him. His still twisted thinking immediately convinced him that the workers, like an angry mob, were coming to exact revenge for all the pain the ungrateful rebel had caused their beloved master! His thoughts deceived him -- again. Running away was not an option. In a split second the prodigal came to this morbid conclusion: “I would rather be dead than live as I am. Let them do as they wish. It will be over soon.”

As the throng closed in, what he saw filled him with the greatest terror yet--his father was leading the charge! Closing his eyes, he stiffened and waited for the impact. At the last second, his only hope for mercy spontaneously poured out across his cracked lips: “Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son…” No furious collision took place. Instead, compassionate arms surrounded him. His matted head was pressed tightly against his elderly father’s chest. It had been a long time since the prodigal had heard -- or understood -- the beat of his father’s heart. Trembling, the tearful father could not stop kissing the filthy face he now held in his hands. “You were dead but are alive again!” Over and over his father tearfully repeated his own rehearsed lines.

This day had been prepared for, intensely prayed for, and dreamed of since the day the headstrong malcontent walked away. Immediately the shredded clothing that bore evidence of the strain and wear of his sin was stripped away. His nakedness was covered with a beautiful robe. Over a dirty nail the family signet was slipped on his finger. Servants knelt before the prodigal and bathed his once wayward feet, soothing the tender bruises with oil and soft leather.

The prodigal was home -- safe -- forgiven -- accepted.

Off in the distance a young calf struggled against the slick edge of a knife crossing its throat. Sweet aromas of a wood fire wafted in the air. There was laughter again! Singing echoed across the hills. Music for dancing filled the house.


Experiences

I have come that you might have life… ~ Jesus

I am grateful for the two lives God has given me: the Eternal one, and the temporal one. I love sharing them both. In reality, they are one in the same. But to make a point, let's look at it this way: it is nearly impossible to share the Eternal one without first sharing our temporal one.

To be short and sweet--with whatever it is that God has loaned us during our time on earth we can be  missional with it.

What could be more important than finding a way to bring the life we experience to the lives of others? Moments we can measure with a watch or capture with a camera are our opportunities to open doors to a moment when time will be no more. Be generous and available.
9 mm, Sig Sauer


Lao Shao's first American Thanksgiving

Lao Shao's first time on a 4-wheeler
Guns are illegal in China
The end...

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Tis the Season...

Miss Meagan is on her way back to Seattle. Our son, Josh, and the rest of our company have all returned to their home bases. Except for the Patriots/Texans game, that is serving as white noise, the house is quiet. The Pats have come out firing in the second half, but neither Sandy or I are all caught up in it. Tomorrow, Sandy returns to teaching, and I will be at my first business by seven a.m.

It doesn't seem possible that Christmas is less than a month away. As a family we decided that we would forego all traditional gift giving and combine those resources, so that all of us can gather with Justin, Erika, the Amazing Wyatt, in Boston, on the day we celebrate Christ's birth. As the years fly by, family becomes more and more important. Ours is spread out from the east coast to the west coast, but at least Sandy and I are no longer on the other side of the world. We are travel poor from the comings and goings of the last four years!

I will be speaking twice in December: once at a company Christmas party that I serve, and another time at Hunter Road Baptist Church on December 8th. I have been trying to give a lot of thought and prayer about how to best speak into the lives of those who will hear. "Tis the Season to be jolly!" But beneath the thin layer of widespread merriment many have a deep, unspoken awareness that there has got to be more...

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Twenty Five Guests

Beginning Thanksgiving Eve and through Saturday, we had around twenty five guests. Every bed in the house, the guest house, and an extra air mattress, was used for someone to dream the night away and gain weight. Some visited for a few hours, some overnight, and some for several days. Two of our three children were here--one from Seattle and one from Boston. A guest from China, Lao Shao,  experienced his first American Thanksgiving and fired every weapon I own--another first for him. Ben, a student attending UGA, but who hails from Los Angeles and also taught in China spent the night. Joshes girl, Sammy, who is a professor from Kansas is here. Sandy's mean niece, and her husband came from Florida. Many others--who now call Columbus, Georgia home--born and raised all over the United States broke bread with us. Some were from Christian traditions, and some were not. But the one thing that united all that diversity was the joy of one another's company.

Prior to everyone's arrival I had laid in a BIG stack of firewood; it's mostly a circle of gray ashes now. In spite of the unseasonably cold weather we pulled the chairs up close to the flames and told lies and stories for hours on end. Our house is surrounded by hundreds of privately owned land and during the day we cruised much of it. Deer leaped from the hardwood bottoms and up across ridges, turkeys took flight, and a lone possum did his best to get out of sight as fast as he could. At night we heard the frantic yips of a pack of coyotes, and the lonesome hoot of a barred owl.

Of course a couple of hours were dedicated to watching the Lord of the Rings. It's a tradition for us. Food? Oh my gosh! We ate non-stop! All the traditional Thanksgiving fare: turkey and the fixings, pies, cakes, turnovers, fruit dishes, breads, and more disappeared in our mouths and reappeared on our body mass index!

Over the last few days we have talked, texted, and FaceBooked with friends and family that could not come. For those we have yet to contact--we love you, and give thanks to God for all that you have brought to our lives and to our world. Be blessed!



Friday, November 29, 2013

Robert and Sara~When Less Is More

As many of you know, our good friend Robert George passed away on Veteran's Day. He was 80 years young. If you knew Robert and Sara personally, you also know that they were inseparable. Working side by side they advanced the Kingdom all over the world. They were the modern day equivalent of Priscilla and Aquilla of the New Testament book of Acts.

So many have asked how Sara is doing in the days since Robert's passing. The day before Thanksgiving I talked to her on the phone. Sandy and I have wondered and worried about how she would go forward after her Love of decades was no longer at her side.

Sara cheerfully answered the phone, and I listened as she described the outpouring of love from family and friends from across town and around the world. The most prominent thing she described was the peace of God that passes all understanding. "God has been holding me up," She exclaimed. "in ways I have never before had to avail myself to God's strength. I am not just hanging on and getting by. Instead, God is using this loss to speak into the lives of so many hurting people. Bill, the Spirit and love of God is exceeding anything I have ever before experienced. God is giving me the strength to bring comfort to so many. Never has God's presence been as powerful."

During their earthly sojourn together Robert and Sara passed through the fires on many an occasion. Each time this faithful couple faced them together and emerged with a faith that was purer, and a testimony of the power and presence of God that was clearer. Now, for a time, Sara is the lone image bearer of what was once a dynamic partnership. Yet, God has proven once again that less is more--when God is the more.

The gold is purer and Sara is reflecting an even brighter and more vivid image of the difference Christ makes.


Monday, November 25, 2013

Shouting or Ranting?

A voice said, "Shout!" I asked, "What should I shout?" "Shout that people are like the grass. Their beauty fades as quickly as the flowers in a field. The grass withers and the flowers fade beneath the breath of the LORD. And so it is with people. The grass withers and the flowers fade, but the word of our God stands forever." ~ Isaiah 40: 6-8

There is a distinct difference between shouting and ranting. A rant may contain some truth, but loses its authority because it is often undermined by irrational intensity. All heat and no light. Presenting truth in a harangue causes hearers to shut-down, rather than listen-up.

God shouts, but He doesn't rant. Neither should we.

A voice--God's voice--was urging Isaiah to shout. But the prophet's spiritual sensibilities told him his audience would not tolerate a tirade, so he asked God, "What should I shout?" That's a great question for any who profess to speak emphatically as heaven's spokesperson. Put another way, we should ask: who or what is blowing on the embers in our spirits, before we unleash a fiery gust of exclamation points in ascending decibels? Isaiah, got that settled first.

Through Isaiah, Almighty God was shaking off the dust His beloved had covered Him with.  A vicarious spokesman blew away the shifting sands upon which the Chosen had chosen to stand. Once upon a time God was the bedrock upon which they had firmly stood, and the final word on all they believed. Indeed, Isaiah shouted, but God's breath empowered the prophet's sermon. In a nutshell, God would drop a bombshell. His beloved had become focused on all-things temporal and lost sight of all-things eternal. A prophetic message would change everything. God's Word would once again be the litmus test for all things spiritual, philosophical, and practical.

Isaiah's announcement is desperately needed today. To a great extent, we are witnessing a generation that lives like tasting, touching, seeing, smelling, and hearing is the be all and end all. A world view that says, eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die. But life in the Kingdom is not just food and drink, but righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. God alone is our all in all.

A final thought…

To get perspective on Isaiah's message, open your front door or your family photo album. Truth is delivered metaphorically, but shouts loudly. Imagery of brilliant greenery turning colorless, and the young that do not remain ageless. The grass withers and the flowers fade beneath the breath of the LORD. And so it is with people...but the word of our God stands forever.





Saturday, November 23, 2013

Wise Guys

Walk with the wise and become wise; associate with fools and get in trouble...Can two walk together without agreeing on the direction? ~ Proverbs 13:20; Amos 3:3

There is always a transfer of influence from one person to the other as people spend time together. If we were do a quick inventory on our personal core values and past and present actions we would quickly see that we are impacted by our relationships. Crunching the Proverb to even fewer words, "We rub off on each other."

Amos' words remind us that we choose a direction and find companions to join us. The choice is ours: grow deeper in wisdom, or slog through the shallows--growing older, but never wiser.

Enjoying the Adventure is the mantra I write and live under. Adventure refers to the one we are called into upon salvation. For me, having a way to quickly remind myself of that conversion is of paramount importance, because I know that I am a complex concoction of curiosity, intensity, and melancholy. That being the case, seeking out wise people helps me keep reasonable guardrails on my intensity. Also, I readily confess that I can be way to quick to seize life by the throat. Along with that, life generously raises a lot of questions, but very stingily gives answers, and that stokes the embers of melancholy--that are always smoldering--into a consuming fire. I can easily contemplate myself into oblivion. Dangerous.

So I say all that, to say this. Each of us is bent and broken. None of us is self-sufficient. None of us has it all together. Not even the Redeemed. For sure, we absolutely need the wisdom of God, and when I talk of wisdom that is the wisdom to which I speak. But we also need the wisdom of the godly. This is where the hard choices must be made, so I will frame it with these rather hard words: we can give in to our dents and dings and dysfunctions and choose to join a merry, but misguided, band of fools that never speak of God or speak godly wisdom into our lives, or we can choose companioning with people that are pursuing God's agenda and have gained sanctified wisdom while doing so. The former is a fool's errand, and the other is Enjoying the Adventure...   

Friday, November 22, 2013

Mary Magdalene

Soon afterward Jesus began a tour of the nearby towns and villages, preaching and announcing the Good News about the Kingdom of God. He took his twelve disciples with him, along with some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases. Among them were Mary Magdalene from whom he had cast out seven demon. Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod's business manager; and many others who were contributing their own resources to support Jesus and his disciples. ~ Luke 8:1-3


For who knows how long, seven demons tortured Mary Magdalene's soul and manipulated her body like a hand puppet. Jesus broke their spell over Mary and sent them to the pit. From that point on Mary Magdalene never left Jesus' side. The former demoniac and alleged prostitute was one of only a handful that followed Jesus all the way the foot of the cross. She had backbone. Those who realize they have been forgiven much usually do. They love much, too.

Jesus, twelve male disciples, and many women--some cured of debilitating diseases and some freed from destructive demons, banded together. There was Joanna, whose husband, Chuza, was a member of Herod's inner circle; his business manager, no less. Imagine her and hubby's pillow-talk. Joanna, Susanna, Mary Magdalene, and others unnamed, provided the financial resources to keep the whole lot of them on the road. Try to imagine the scenes as they walked the dusty streets of hamlets and villages. Wouldn't you have loved to see such a sight?

Over and over again they witnessed the power of the Son of God's Good News message. Each of them were living, breathing testimonies that Jesus came to save all of us--not just some us, and bring us together with purified passions and purposes. Even when the only thing--but the most important thing--we share in common is that we have been forgiven.  

Thursday, November 21, 2013

In Honor of Native American Month (November)

The Native American Princess in the actual picture is stunningly beautiful

My grandfather, William Vernon Shorey, (I carry his name), was of Native American heritage. So that would mean I also carry those genes. My wife, Sandra, comes from Native American heritage also and it's obvious. All of our children, especially Josh, carry many physical features of the Indian. Me…not so much. Light skin, freckles, blue eyes and auburn (now white) hair. 

Rich Poor People

They [churches in Macedonia] are being tested by many troubles, and they are very poor. But they are also filled with abundant joy, which has overflowed in rich generosity. ~ 2 Corinthians 8:2

For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son...  ~ Jesus

Have you ever met someone who is generous but not joyful? I can't recall meeting a generous person that isn't also a joyous person. My experience is that such people do not necessarily express their joy with a big effervescent personality. Some of the generous people I know actually border on being shy Maybe you have had the opportunity to observe generous people over the long haul, and like me, would also testify that they remain generous--even though life has brought them their fair share of trouble. My mom is that kind of generous and joyful.

Each of us has probably dreamed of coming into a great fortune. Sandy and I have been driving down the highways and seen the MegaBucks and PowerBall advertisements, which have spawned conversation about what we would do with our millions. Have you done that? You know, give a few million to each sibling, parents, friends, or favorite charity. Travel the globe, build houses for people who don't have one, quit your job, buy your company and fire your boss, set up trusts funds for your kids and grandkids. The list goes on and on.

But that's not what generosity is really about. What is generosity then? It's about having a generous heart that is compelled to give. Most of the generous people I know don't have a lot of money, but they do a lot of heart. They still find non-monetary ways to be generous. Their disposition toward whatever possessions of time, money, or abilities they have are seen as assets to meaningfully give away. No matter their resources--abundant or meager--they find a way to give. And like them, we can be poor as church mice, and yet still be generous. They are the offspring of the Believers in Macedonia, exceeding expectations when it comes to generosity. We, too, can be poor as church mice, and yet still be know as generous.

We are entering a season of giving thanks for what we have received. But maybe it's been a lean year, and though there is always something to be thankful for, it's been a tough one. Love, respect, justice, and care have been withheld--leaving your soul with an empty stomach. Sadness is hovering around you. In the midst of such a personal famine, could it be that the best thing to do is to find a way to be generous?

Those early Believers gave out of their poverty. In return they received joy. Stop and think about it…isn't that what we all want--joy? Let's choose to be rich poor people.

    

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Native American Sketch

Even if you are a novice artist like myself, it is fascinating to start with a blank sketch pad, draw a frame, shade it, and then begin to draw the image in front of you. Along the process I took photos at different stages (as you can see I didn't load them in the right sequence).

I started the sketch by squinting my eyes and drawing in the darkest shades, which began with his right eye. As I began I tried to capture as much detail as I could at my level of competency. Next, I drew in his left eye and he came to life. After that I began to fill in his hair, then the contours of his face, and finally on to the entire picture as I saw it.

I am learning more about negative spaces, shared edges, shading, and training my eyes to see more detail each time I pick up my 2B pencil.

My Bride of thirty-six years is 1/16th Native American. 

Monday, November 18, 2013

The Rapture...

This morning our pastor spoke on the Second Coming, also known as the Rapture...

A couple of weeks ago the doe and her twin fawns that have been hanging around our house disappeared. We haven't seen them since. There have been, however, several young bucks and a couple of mature does that feed along the pond every other day. At least three times I have had them in the crosshairs of my Winchester, Model 88, .308, but have yet to squeeze the trigger. That would have been unthinkable just a couple of years ago.

I like the taste of venison, and the stealth and care of quietly picking my way through the woods before first light to climb into a tree stand and wait for nature to awaken from sleep. From the same vantage point in the evening, I love watching the changing shadows as the sun sinks behind the tree line. I have taken my fair share of deer here in Georgia, but dropping a deer while seated around our fire pit in the backyard doesn't do it for me. By observation, we have patterned the locals to the point where we know when they are going to show up and from what direction they will arrive. They are like neighborhood deer, far too unsuspecting, and every bit as predictable as the arrival of the daily mail. Even now, as I watch them through my binoculars, I noticed that for some reason they are feeling edgy. Something has raised their protective instincts to a higher level of alertness.

Later this fall I may be going out into the backwoods of Alabama to hunt. There, the deer are wary and wild. We hunt with bows, take only mature stock, are in their untamed environment, and the deer hold nearly every advantage. If I don't make that trek it doesn't matter.

Aha!!!!

Our deer headed for deep cover. You won't believe what happened just minutes later! As I sat here typing I heard a bugle sound. We are surrounded by nearly two thousand acres of privately held land and a fox hunt is underway! In fact, a couple of long legged hounds, beige in color with wheaten patches, have their nose to the ground and are zig-zagging along the banks of the pond trying to pick up a scent. Out of my view, but in Sandy's, she told me that another thirty, nearly identical hounds, came bursting out of the underbrush. As I rushed to get my camera the bugle sounded once again, and in a blink they disappeared… like they had been called out in the Biblical Rapture!

Off in the distance a man's voice shouts out calling the dogs back to him. Makes you smile does it not?

We love this place!




Saturday, November 16, 2013

Tears

I waited patiently for the LORD; and he inclined unto me, and heard my cry. He brought me up out of an horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings. And he hath put a new song in my mouth, even praise unto God: Man shall see it, and fear, and shall trust in the LORD. ~ Psalm 40:1-3

You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book. ~ Psalm 56:8

We emerge from our mother's womb and enter this world crying. We will exit this world and loved ones will file before our casket crying. In between our arrival and departure countless more tears will slide down our cheeks. Yes, there will be tears of joy, wonderfully happy and sentimental times when we will laugh until we cry. But compared to the streams evoked by sadness that will surge up from our hearts and out through our eyes they will be but a drop in the bucket.

Scripture tells us that God collects all our tears in His bottle and records each one in His book. Just as a mother knows why her little one is crying, so too, God surely distinguishes between the tears caused by the loss of a parent and the loss of a pet. Between a heart broken and a heart rejoicing. Between those caused by peeling an onion and those caused when layers of your soul have been savagely peeled back.

Stop for a moment and think about the times those salty veins of water have breached the tiny dams at the edges of your eyes and fallen onto your lap, or have left a snowfield of white tissues on your bed or kitchen table.

David has journaled a particular kind of meltdown. Of all the tears he/we shed, these speak to a most important event that binds us to God and changes our life like no other. For each of us the catalyst prompting the release of guttural groans and the unstoppable floods may be different. Describing such a moment is difficult. But at the core the reason is exactly the same: we have come to the end of ourselves. We can't "pick ourselves up by the bootstraps." A crisis of such magnitude is swallowing us alive, and neither friends nor material resources can bring relief. God alone is our hope. I am talking about crying out to God to save us at the soul level.

As painful as it is, we are never in a better place than when such a great awakening arrives. It's that God-moment when we cast all our cares and outcome on an unexplainable belief that God is listening. We know God is near. We believe God will lift us out of our horrible pit and the miry clay. We bet the house on Him.

From that moment our lives are changed. Faith is born. There will be more tears, but they will be shed as we stand on the rock-solidness and growing confidence in the One who delivered us. Our journey will be more treacherous than ever before, but though our eyes are still dimmed by tears we will never see more clearly. A new perspective will help us see that God is working in our successes and failures and through them actually establishing our goings. There will be melancholy songs, but the great Conductor will be rearranging the somber minor keys turning them into hymns of praise.

The best part…

Time will be the test and friend of this Truth. Our watching world will take notice, because theirs is a tearful sojourn too. Hurting and broken people surround us. It may take years before onlookers can translate our transformation. It may be when they walk by our casket. Unfortunately some may never come to the end of themselves. But some will…and they, too, shall trust in the LORD.

He washed my eyes with tears that I might see,
The broken heart I had was good for me;

He tore it all apart and looked inside,
He found it full of fear and foolish pride. 

He swept away the things that made me blind
And then I saw the clouds were silver lined;

And now I understand 'twas best for me. 
He washed my eyes with tears that I might see…

~ Ira Stanphil

Friday, November 15, 2013

Robert's Rules of Order

He lifted me up out of the pit of despair, out of the mud and the mire. He set my feet on solid ground and steadied me as I walked along. He has given me a new song to sing, a hymn of praise to God. Many will see what he has done and be amazed. ~ Psalm 40:1-3

Robert presenting a scholarship to 5 Chinese students on our first trip to China together
Robert and Sara lived chaotic, yet scheduled lives all at the same time.





Chaotic, in that most Americans work toward retirement to get out of the grind and coast through their golden years. Not them--they did more after "retirement" than most people would do in a lifetime. They immersed themselves into the lives and needs of others.

Robert was also an incredibly organized and disciplined person. All over the world--literally, there are upstart ventures that were built on the business plans Robert helped young entrepreneurs formulate. On top of that, God only knows how much money Sara and he raised to help Asian students get into American Universities. On at least four different continents he navigated the bureaucracy and red tape necessary to help others launch new enterprises. All those efforts were but a pipeline to funnel into countless home Bible studies Chinese seeking to learn more about Jesus. I had the privilege of leading a good number of those groups and saw Chinese saved and baptized. To the person, they have all gone on to share the gospel and advance the Kingdom.

Sara George and Sandy and me in China
What sustained Robert and Sara?

There is only one explanation that could account for such sustained and robust selflessness. I can tell you what it was without question. Robert and Sara shared an intimate relationship with God. I do not know the circumstances that caused them to call upon God, but I can assure you that they came to the place any and all who seek redemption must find themselves. That is without God--no matter how good things appeared--without God they were in a pit of despair, and mired in mud. When they called, God answered. From that point on they continued to bring their lives before God. They considered anything but a life fully devoted to Christ to be living in the pits. Not everything they touched turned to gold. In their history there were some staggering set-backs. Times when they were knocked face down. But in turning to God, He picked them up and steadied and refreshed them for each new adventure. Robert and Sara shared an effervescent enthusiasm that was a hymn of praise to a watching world. Many saw it, wanted it, and put their trust in the Lord.

When seeking Robert's advice and wisdom, I would tell him I needed Robert's Rules of Order. In my last one-on-one conversation with Robert I was trying to figure out how to hit the curve ball God had pitched Sandy and me. Robert listened, and then asked me, "Bill, what do you want?" My eyes welled up, and I remember how I wanted to hug his eighty year old neck and tell him, "I want to be like you!" Meaning: humble, solid, purposeful, and fully committed to helping people find their way to God.

I didn't hug him. I wish I had.

The last audible words spoken by my orderly friend were to the gentleman who rushed to his aide as Robert Franklin George lay on the concrete outside the Columbus Post Office were, "Call my wife, Sara." And then he gave the kind gentleman her phone number. Moments later Robert was in God's presence. His mission accomplished, his itinerary complete. Heaven rejoiced.







Sunday, November 10, 2013

Good Walls Aren't Bad.

Tobiah the Ammonite, who was at his side, said, What they are building--if even a fox climbed up on it, he would break down their wall of stones!" Nehemiah 4:3


The fox is a beautiful creature. But as a neophyte artist (who has yet to master the 2B pencil), I have found they are difficult to capture in graphite. This is my attempt to sketch a photo without the benefit of blending shades of brown, black, red, and gray.

Also, I began to recall how frequently the fox is referenced in Scripture; almost never in flattering terms as metaphor or a simile…which led me to Nehemiah's walls.



In New England, where I grew up, property lines that divided farmlands were often rock walls. Wandering around in the woods, there have been many times when I have come across them. Long after the old homesteads have turned to dust, and the pastures that once supported crops and livestock that supported a husband and wife and a brood of children had returned to forest, traces of rock walls remained. There is something beautiful and peaceful about them, even when they are no longer functional and tightly fitted together. Sitting with a book on an old lichen covered stonewall, that for decades has survived the brutal bullying of heaving frosts each spring, is an experience I wish upon everyone. Or, you can just sit with your thoughts and imagine what life was like back in the good old days.

Nehemiah looked upon the outer walls that had once protected those who lived within them. No pleasant thoughts came to his mind. The city's ancient walls were a tangled mess. Hewn timbers that once framed the gates were scorched and charred. He was looking upon the judgment of God. Israel, a rebellious people, had long before torn down the spiritual walls God had given them through Moses and the prophets. The debris field he maneuvered around was metaphor of the results. Sowing to the wind, they reaped a whirlwind. Nehemiah felt an emotional storm of grief whip up in his soul. Then, fresh and gentle winds of hope.

Nehemiah remembered that God has also promised that following judgment He still held out the invitation to rebuild the spiritual walls that had once made them his wonderfully peculiar people. If they would, he would gather them from the four corners of the known world to live and worship together, and by Divine intervention bring about physical and spiritual restoration.

We, as God's New Covenant people, have always have been a paradox like our fore bearers. Without thinking, we proudly tear down good, spiritual walls God established to bless and protect us. For sure, there are racial, segregational, denominational, and a long list of other walls that need to come down, but too often we erect new ones without the blueprints of the Divine Architect. Such walls have proven time and again that they are incapable of supporting even the nimble pacing of a foxes feet. Let alone curb the fall-out of our fallen nature. Century after century has proven that godless walls cannot keep enemies at bay, keep the precious protected, or bring about justice, yet we labor on in vain.

Part of the sojourn of every generation of Christ-followers is the prophetic call to rebuild the walls God gave us. Not fully explainable, but nonetheless true, The Trinity will always roll up their sleeves and join that project. It's a struggle to get it right, but it's worth humbling ourselves and asking God, "What are the walls we need to rebuild?"

Not all walls are bad…


Friday, November 8, 2013

The Offensive Billy Graham

For God so love the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. John 3:16

Our society strives to avoid any possibility of offending anyone--except God. Billy Graham

Before we can see the cross as something done for us, we need to see the cross as something done by us. John R. W. Stott



I just watched Billy Graham's final message--twice. His family is saying it is probably the last time we will hear from the ninety-five year old evangelist. I was caught off guard from the moment the camera pulled him into frame. The sight of his aged visage caused my eyes to blur with tears. There he sat, his white hair swept back, his deep set blue eyes fading, but still striking. As he made his points his gesturing hands trembled slightly. When he spoke his voice no longer rang with that perfect pitch and pleasant drawl that garnered the attention of saints and sinners alike for decades. Presidents and kings, rich and poor, young and old, powerful and weak gave Billy their ear. Tens of thousands came to Christ through his crusades.

Both of my sons, even as little boys, found him compelling. He was an impassioned and polished communicator, but never came across as slick, pretentious, or manipulating. All these years later his message remains as clear and true as the blast of a trumpet--all these years later he continues to use Biblical words and phrases of days gone by: hell, death, lust, pride, sin, repentance, confession, and other such confrontational words. With humility and authority, yet without apology, he declared that our country is in a spiritual, economical, and physical downward spiral. We need a Savior, because we are sinners. We have offended God. God is our only hope. God loves us. God offers forgiveness. God is merciful. Jesus died for our sins. Jesus is the only way. We must turn to Jesus. We can--and need to--be saved. God longs to deliver us. Billy was wonderfully offensive, because the message of the Cross is offensive.

At the risk of sounding like a curmudgeon and out of date, I ask the question: If we listened to one hundred sermons in one hundred churches today would we hear such a message?





I Am Grateful

Even in death there is beauty
It seems like it has been ages since I have sat down to write a post. I am glad that I miss it when I don't. In the past week there has been a good trip to Maine to see my mom and connect with friends and family that live at the eastern tip of the United States. Schedule adjustments are a big part of all of our lives.

Americans on their native soil, and thousands expatriated around the globe will celebrate Thanksgiving this month. If you are on FaceBook you probably are seeing meme after meme posted focusing on taking time to count our blessings. As we look around at our world and at the circle of friends and acquaintances that make up our day to day, we know that along with the good there is the disruption of the unexpected, and the disappointments that living under the sun brings: physical illnesses; loss of loved ones; difficult job environments; strained relationships, and for Believers--times when God seems quiet and distant. To paraphrase C. S. Lewis, "If we are not comfortable in this world, could it be that we were never meant to live in the world as it is?" Undoubtably, it is the case that, the great thinker was certainly in line with the theme of God's message throughout the Scripture.

Fall, in our fallen world, still reflects vestiges of beauty
Yet, we also have the privilege and imperative to continue to cultivate our fallen garden of Eden, and to  point out the goodness of God. We not only observe, but we also respond and engage to make it a better place for people whose lives brush the edges of ours. We are called, with reason, to be thankful sojourners. Amid so much that is broken and twisted we have eyes to see, ears to hear, and voices to continually pronounce--the goodness of God in the land of the living.



Friday, November 1, 2013

Maine Man

Along with mom, my sisters, and one of my brothers and his wife, we got together for lunch. Mom's eye is looking much improved. We are grateful! She is a trooper. Her grandsons--along with one of their friends--are on their way here and we will gather once again before the weekend is done.

Fickle Maine weather is upon us. Yesterday's weather was clear skies and 24 degrees. Today, winds whipped the leaves off the trees, stacked up white caps on the river, and sent the mercury up to 63 degrees! The sun slipped behind the horizon by five o'clock, and days will continue grow shorter until December 21. Then long nights will give-way to more and more daylight as we move toward the birth of Spring.

Tomorrow morning, the boys (ages 30, 31, 32) and I will grab a hearty breakfast at the 95er and then do some good old fashioned work cutting and splitting fire wood and clearing brush. I'm thinking I will take a supervisory role. 

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Short trip


This trip to Maine was unplanned. Originally, Mom was coming to Georgia for Thanksgiving, but a couple months back she took a terrible fall that resulted in two brain bleeds and a detached lens in her right eye. Mom just had a second surgery on her eye, and may require one more. For the time being we are having a good visit and, as always, her spirit is great. She is one tough gal! Justin and Josh will arrive on Friday--icing on the cake.

I always enjoy the drive along Route 2 from Old Town to Greenbush that runs parallel to the Penobscot  River. From time to time the trees thin out or a field spreads out toward its banks and I can look for something out of the ordinary unfolding on the river. This drive was no disappointment. On a small sandbar an eagle was hunkered down with a fish in its talons. Violent jerks of its beak it stripped away pieces of flesh. I slowed down to a crawl and watched.

Fading hues of orange, yellow, and red have replaced the lush green corridor that just weeks ago walled the gravel road that leads to the cabin, and then transformed into a brilliant palette of vibrant Fall colors that explode across New England each autumn. They disappear as quickly as Fourth of July fireworks.

Our cabin has no insulation or electricity, so this time of year whatever the temperature is outside it's gonna be the same inside the spartan dwelling; it was 24 degrees! Needless to say, the first business at hand was getting a nest of kindling into the wood stove and a nice hot fire going! For the next couple of hours I fed it with small, fast burning wood and hovered over it trying to get warm. The particular aroma of burning wood, glowing embers, and the crackling and popping sounds of a fire never grows old. 

Monday, October 28, 2013

Hide-and-Seek

Oh, what joy for those whose disobedience is forgiven, whose sin is put out of sight! Yes, what joy for those whose record the LORD has cleared of guilt, whose lives are lived in complete honesty! When I refused to confess my sin, my body wasted away, and I groaned all day long. Day and night your hand of discipline was heavy on me. My strength evaporated like water in the summer heat. Finally, I confessed all my sins to you and stopped trying to hide my guilt. I said to myself, "I will confess my rebellion to the LORD." And you forgave me! All my guilt is gone. Psalm 32:1-5

Often when we are feeling guilty it is because we are. If we try to stuff that awareness down beneath the sensitive edges of our holy conscience it only increases our spiritual blindness, and creates a callous on our righteous souls that allows us to expand our boundaries of unacceptable bad behavior. We convince ourselves it is acceptable. If we refuse to take ownership of our sin, and we are a child of God, He will lean on us day and night. Heavier and heavier. God never sleeps and is quite weighty.

What do we do with guilt?

The best thing we can do with our sense of guilt is to take it immediately to God. That was something, by his own confession, David did not do. Choosing to hide it, his once stout spirit evaporated, cracked, and dried-up like a dusty river bottom under a desert sun.

Never play hide-and-seek. But if we are not sure what it is that's wrong, David gives us a clue as to where to begin the search. We must ask ourselves, "What are we trying to hide?" Rest assured, nothing brought to God will remain hidden, and we can clearly and concisely confess our sin.

There is another aspect to confession that is equally important--accept God's forgiveness and clearing away of our guilt. Live in the new found transparency, the light-hearted freedom of forgiveness, and boldly declare, "All my guilt is gone."  

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Wicked Good

Beth, Miss Meagan, and Anna

Like I said, I am over-Chicked!

Miss Meagan's,  best friend, Andrea, tied the knot. Meg was a bride's maid. Sandy and I traveled to the venue in north GA. to attend the ceremony. It was a clear and beautiful day, even though the temps were a little cooler than usual, for the open-air wedding. Meg and Andrea roomed together and attended the same university. All of us have spent a lot of hours together during their college days and after. For years Meg has drawn really cute line drawings that have shown up as doodles, celebrated friendships, or decorated book covers. She drew one for the bride and groom that was about 3'x5' and mounted outside the reception area. I enclosed a picture.

Before the wedding, Sandy and I drove up to Helen, GA. The architecture of there is Bavarian style, and the entire city, tucked away in the mountains, is touristy-themed likewise. We were pressed for time, but got in a little walking, ate lunch at a street side diner, and picked up some apple fritters from Hofer's to have with our breakfast coffee! They were wicked good!

My girls looked beautiful all dressed up for Kirk and Andrea's big day! I was over-Chicked! 

Friday, October 25, 2013

Grateful

My Über-woodsmen friends, Brent and Glen, cleared trees at the cabin last winter

As soon as there's enough light my chainsaw will be whining. I just came in from outside and staring up at a sky full of stars. Cool air has finally arrived, and I am looking forward to opening up one of the tree lines toward the west, and stacking some wood for the fire pit. Hot dogs, s'mores, and marshmallows will soon be on the menu.

If everything comes together, we will have some of our family here at the farm for Thanksgiving. For Christmas, all of our children, our daughter-in-law, Erika, and the Amazing Wyatt will make the trek to the southeast from both ends of the country.

Sandy and I are grateful beyond words to have this beautiful spot here in Cataula, GA. to call home. The quaint little guest house is ready to host our kin to celebrate Thanksgiving, and the birth of Christ. Our pond will yield a string of largemouth bass, and miles of undulating woods trails are just waiting to be hiked. Double ovens will be cooking up fabulous meals, and the grill is on stand-by.

Halloween is a few days away, but we live so far back off the beaten path that little goblins, witches, and hobos won't be ringing our doorbell.

Hunting season is open, and we haven't seen hide nor hair of a deer that have been hanging around the edges of our yard. We miss nature's company. Tomorrow, we will be attending the wedding in north Georgia of one of Meagan's best friends. Miss Meg is a brides maid, so we will see her in just a few hours. Can't wait to hug my baby girl. The high temperature up that way will get half way between fifty and sixty. Gorgeous. I am told about one hundred thousand Georgians will also converge on the area to see the foliage. Through-hikers are finishing the last leg of their north-to-south journey across the Appalachian Trail. 

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Where God Finds Pleasure

His pleasure is not in the strength of the horse, nor his delight in the legs of a man; the LORD delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love. ~ Psalm 146: 10-11


Cowboy, rolling on the ground laughing at my story!

We trotted through planted pines, loped along old woods roads, and galloped across fields enjoying the warm sunshine and the crisp air of an idyllic winter morning in Pine Mountain, Georgia. Rays of sunlight highlighted the muscular physique of the mount that carried me effortlessly along the fence line that led back to the barn. I was feeling comfortable in the saddle and in perfect rhythm with the rocking chair motion of the smooth stride of my Tennessee Walker. After all, it was only my second time straddling a horse. I was feeling pretty good about my skill in this new adventure.

Did you know horses sometimes take off like they are shot from a canon as they get closer to the barn?

I didn't.

Well, my horse lurched forward, then squatted backwards, and uncoiling like a jack-in-the-box, she literally launched me from the middle of her back. I sailed over her front in an ungraceful arc, landing square on my back. Slowly, I rolled over on all fours, hunched up like a cat walking a tight-wire, trying to get my wind back. In a couple of minutes I got my legs under me, and stood up. I brushed off the dirt and grass. The embarrassment I was covered with still clung to me.

In that moment I found no pleasure in the strength of a horse!

Was God not pleased with my horse? Actually, in that scenario, I think God found great pleasure in the strength of the horse! I believe our Creator has a sense of humor, and to go further, knew what was about to happen--Heaven would enjoy a little comedy relief. No worries, it would not be a Humpty Dumpty ending. In my imagination, God gathers a few of the saints around, and says, "Want to see something funny? Watch this."

Amid oohs and aahs and laughter, some saint giggles, "That had to hurt!"

The Psalmist is reminding us that God's greatest pleasure isn't found in the natural physical strength of those things He created--not horses and not people. Instead, His greatest pleasure is found where He finds the supernatural strength of faith. Nothing is more pleasing to God than a man, woman, boy, or girl who holds to the hope--that no matter what happens, they are in the Providential care of a God who unfailingly loves them.
  

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Mantras and Memes

Do not put your trust in princes, in mortal men, who cannot save. When their spirit departs, they return to the ground; on that very day their plans come to nothing. ~ Psalm 146 (I encourage you to read this short Psalm in its entirety)


Written after the Babylonian Captivity that enslaved them for nearly six decades, God's people are now back in Jerusalem. A host of social problems plagued their society: political oppression, hunger, human rights violations, sickness, alien immigration, fatherlessness, and wicked people that preyed on the powerless and broken. Leaders, who were supposed lead God's people to follow them--as they followed God, instead slickly promoted themselves to godhood and blazed a trail into spiritual oblivion. The clueless and equally godless followed. It did not end well. Never does. Never will.

Sound familiar?

Let's get this straight, the messenger is not advocating that God's people trust no one, and conversely spout the pious mantra, we trust only God. That's not the way it works. That won't work.

Then what is he saying? Approaching the problem from the back door, he reminds them that they must come to grips with the heart of the problem. It the problem that leads to all others--if they didn't want God's help, they wouldn't get it. They are free to follow whom they chose.

But as mortals their attempts to solve problems--as immortal as the soul God gave them--were destined to fail. Spiritual problems are only solved with spiritual solutions. His charge was crystal clear--people of faith must turn back to God. Their mantra must be God-centered: Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD his God, the maker of heaven and earth. The way out is to humbly confess to God that we are in a mess of our own making, we need His help, and He is our only hope.

The Psalmist humbly implied to those who looked to him, "You can't trust me, nor human solutions, to bring deliverance. Let us seek God's deliverance." Sadly, that's a mantra we are unlikely to hear from world leaders, or a new meme posted on Facebook. Instead, we will continue to look for mortal gods to solve the problems only The Immortal God can.



Monday, October 21, 2013

This Needs Not Happen

One generation will commend your works to another; they will tell of your mighty acts. They will speak of the glorious splendor of your majesty...They will tell of the power of your awesome works...
~ Psalm 145



My father has been with the Lord for several years now. He left all of us with many memories, and a legacy of kindness, faithfulness, hard work, and humility. I have an old black and white photo of my dad from his boyhood. It intrigues me. Standing on the rocks in the middle of a stream somewhere in Maine is my dad. Something is rolled up in his little boy hands. Maybe a ball cap? The sleeves of his white shirt are turned up at the elbow. He is wearing a necktie. A necktie? The first time I saw it the question immediately came to mind: Why was dad wearing a necktie? Was this an afternoon picnic after church? Where is this place? Who took the picture? I have wished a thousand times I knew where that spot is, so that I could know a little more about his childhood, and stand where he once stood--maybe as much as seventy five years ago. But I don't know the backstory, or where he was, because he never told me, and there are no living witnesses to that summer afternoon decades ago. Dad told me a lot of things during his sojourn. Important things. He and mom made sure that me and all my siblings knew the greatest story ever told, the Gospel. But the context around the picture is one he didn't tell me before he left, so I will never know it here on earth.

Each of us is leaving behind memories that are pictures and impressions in the minds of those we share life with. I, too, will also leave behind my story, Enjoying the Adventure. It is important to me that those within my sphere of influence know what my life was about. When I am gone there will be times when loved ones will reflect on: what I held dear; why I went to China; why I committed my life to advancing God's Kingdom; what made me tick, and a host of of other things. As paradoxical as my life is, I hope my legacy of successes and failures are unquestionably linked to God's glorious splendor, majesty, and awesome work. The collusion of God working with man will always be an enigma.

In the Psalm above, David spoke of how important it is to pass on the greatest of all stories--the mighty acts of God. Reading what David says, I realize that any family, no matter how far their Christian heritage stretches back, is only one generation from the scarlet thread of redemption being broken, and the spiritual bloodline ending. For this to happen, all that needs to happen is to not tell them what happened. How important it is that we live with an awareness of what God has done in our lives, and not miss opportunities to declare those deeds to the next generation. 

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Wild Mustangs

Have you given the horse its strength or clothed its neck with a flowing mane? Did you give it the ability to leap like a locust? It paws the earth and rejoices in its strength when it charges out to battle. It laughs at fear and is unafraid... ~ God's response to Job


I have always loved horses, and through the generosity of my friend Cary have the pleasure of riding from time to time. I am a cowboy wannabe, with spurs, chaps, riding boots, and a Stetson. Now, I am taking an art class on drawing, and just posted my first drawing--a wild mustang.

As the old saying goes, "There's nothing better for the inside of a man than the outside of a horse." Once I am in the saddle, the boy in me is fully alive. Leaning over the edge of the saddle, I pretend I am  tracking a deer or an outlaw. Ducking under a low-hanging branches, or short gallops through a meadow in the woods is exhilarating. As I bob in the saddle through dappled sunlight, I admit it--my imagination runs wild, I keep a keen eye out for places a real cowboy could have been ambushed and lost his scalp.

A few years ago Sandy, Meagan, and I went to Montana. While there, our friend David Roberts guided us sixty miles out into the desert in search of wild mustangs. As we drove along a dirt road our eyes scanned the horizon, peering through rising heat waves as far as we could see. We passed some mustangs that were corralled, but wanted to see the magnificent creatures in their natural habitat, unbridled, and running free.

The odometer continued to spin and plumes of dust billowed-up around the Subaru as we traveled further and further into barren, hilly, desert-like terrain. Finally, about a half mile off the twisting gravel line we followed, stood a small herd of five mustangs gathered at the base of some foothills. David, pulled the vehicle off to the side, and we began to slowly make our way toward them. As the gap between us closed, I expected them to bolt away, manes and tails streaming behind them and across their spines. They didn't. Slowly we inched in their direction, ever checking the ground beneath our feet for a coiled rattler, scorpions, and knee-high thorny briers that grabbed at our bare legs. Lizards skittered and jackrabbits disappeared in a few prodigious bounds. The mustangs held their ground.

For us it was a God-moment. Soon we had front row seats on the desert floor no more than fifteen feet away from the beautiful creatures. Our hearts pounded inside our chests. They were majestic and breathtaking. Among them was their leader and guarantee of a progeny; a jet black stallion! Each of the mares was unique. Nervously they twitched, and we could see the gorgeous muscles of their magnificently sculpted bodies. Streams of sunlight reflected off their backs revealing hues of buckskin, red, gray, blue, and mousy browns. Ever on guard, the big stallion rolled his black eyes toward us, stomped and snorted in our direction, making sure we knew who was boss. Old scars and fresh slashes ran in different directions along his neck and rump. He had been battle tested. Obviously, many an interloper had been turned away from his harem.



Friday, October 18, 2013

Hard Time

The godly may trip seven times, but they will get up again. But one disaster is enough to overthrow the wicked  ~ Proverbs 24:16

Take a good look at that Scripture and listen to its voice. Here is what it is saying, "You are godly, you will get back up again. You are godly, not even seven disasters will overthrow you."

Sandy and our oldest son, Justin.
That's not "positive" thinking. It's Biblical thinking! God in us, or godliness, is always going to take us in one direction when we fall down; up. That is true, not because I fully understand it, but because God repeatedly says it. Elsewhere the Apostle Paul said it this way: But thank God! He has made us his captives and continues to lead us along in Christ's triumphal procession...Christ has begun a good work in you and he will see it through to completion. Christ's message not only captured us, but it also captivates us and carries us to the finish line. He is leading the procession, and though we may get knocked down, we will not be knocked out. We must be quick to repent, but notice that the Proverb still refers to the fallen as the godly.

I say this because of its powerful truth. More and more, I have come to find that when godly people fail we re-categorize or re-tag ourselves with a name that puts us in some sort of a spiritual purgatory--not quite godly and not quite ungodly. If we do so, we will live out of that false identity. From that point on we will never fully rise out of the ashes of our failures to our full stature in Christ. Wrong thinking swaps our captivation with the Emancipator--to a Prison Warden. Rather than being led up and away from our failings by our Deliverer, we live in a spiritual halfway house, and surrender our complete freedom to the jailer. We stagger along with just enough belief that the Emancipator has commuted our sentence to do hard time, but we resign our self to a hard time. For those emancipated by the gospel, our truest identity is godly. It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Let's not swap it for a prison number.





Thursday, October 17, 2013

All In/All Out

Bring me out of prison so I can thank you. The godly will crowd around me, for you are good to me. ~ Psalm 142: 7


There are different kinds of prisons, but at least once a week I spend time talking with men who are currently in prison, or transitioning out of Federal and State Prisons. Through conversation, these men take me into their world. We talk about how they landed in prison, how long they have been incarcerated. As trust is gained, so, too, is permission to go deeper into their story.

Earlier this week Sandy and I were talking about Psalm 142, and looking at it from different perspectives and applications. And don't you know, later that same day God arranged an opportunity for me to talk to a man who has been behind bars for fifteen years, and to another young man who was a former gang-banger, a prisoner of a different kind--locked up within the walls of a destructive lifestyle.

During both conversations, it seemed that God was giving me the green light to drill beneath the surface and get more of their story. Both hold the hope of ending well. Why? Because godly people are reaching out to them.

My friend will soon finish his sentence behind literal barriers and bars. Outside, Believers--the godly crowd around him, have stayed in touch with him and his family and are helping him put a plan together to live in a world with no visible walls. My felon friend is obviously a bright guy, his relationship with God is remarkable and seems as genuine as any I know. When the time is right, and with his permission, I will write his story. Just know this--I love the guy, his testimony is compelling, and I pray for him daily.

The second guy goes by the name "Whop." Short for Whopper.

"I was a really big baby when I was born, so my grandma called me Whopper, like in Burger King." He explained.

Whop writes, produces, and performs rap music that carries themes of deliverance he has found in Christ. Whop is All In with Christ, and All Out of the gang-banger life. My favorite song he has written tells of his journey and is titled "Crossed Over." I play it regularly. Ironically, he isn't allowed to sing the new song God has given him in his church (like I said, there are different kinds of prisons and chains). It doesn't bother him. He said his church family loves him in other ways--the godly crowd around him, helping him grow in Christ. He loves them. Venues continue to open for Whop to share the redemption story, and he keeps singing of his Redeemer. Recently, Whop sang at the funeral of one of his friends he used to gang-bang with--a young man shot to death in a drive-by shooting. He had a hard time singing, and with a touch of embarrassment, said he cried through most of it. Hundreds were at the funeral. Many of them from Whop's old gang. After the service, out in the parking lot, Whop shared the gospel with a group of five from the "Hood."