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.


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...