Saturday, January 31, 2015

In A Nutshell...

A story is recounted of an interview with the late Flannery O'Connor. O'Connor was asked to explain "in a nutshell" the meaning of one of her short stories. With a bit of agitation in her voice she responded, "If I could put its meaning into a nutshell, I would not have needed to write a story."

As I wrote in the blog prior to this one, I will be speaking for the last time at First Baptist Church, Phenix City, where I have been interim for the last six months. During the time allotted we will look at our back trail and review "in a nutshell" the journey we took together.

We spent most of our time in the first thirteen chapters of the Book of Acts. Luke, the human author of  Acts, began this way: The former account I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and to teach…" From my view of the deck that introduction speaks to three critical acknowledgements Christ-followers need to be fully aware of and committed to:

1. Christ's work didn't end when he ascended, and He expected his Church to continue what he started.

2. Christ modeled what he wanted His Church to continue, and showed that in His relationship to the twelve.

3. Christ taught his apostles what he wanted His Church to know, and then commissioned them to teach the same things to His future Church.

The breadth and depth of God's Word is as immense as its Author--what I say, or all the volumes penned by centuries of believers say, will not exhaust it. It won't fit into a nutshell. But at its center is the redemptive mission of His Son. Any person's journey into the loving, healing, restoring, saving heart of God must begin there. From that encounter with the gospel, we then join God in what He has been doing all along. And just like those disciples for whom Christ first modeled what it means to "follow him," we will at times stumble along in tottering baby steps. And like those whom Jesus first taught, and the Spirit continued to teach, we won't immediately "get it." Like them, the grace of God will sustain us, and the love of God will cover our multitude of failure. In spite of our up and down journey, in the end, we will glorify Him. But we must never get away from the high calling of continuing what Jesus started, living the way he commanded, and teaching the message he entrusted.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Last Sunday...

I will speak for the last time at First Baptist Church, Phenix City, Alabama on February 1. For the last six months I have been serving this body of believers as interim while a search committee has been about its task of finding a successor to their former pastor who passed away after a thirty year tenure. For the time being, their mission is complete and FBPC has called a pastor. During my time there we witnessed the God-breathed promise that the apostle Paul gave to ancient believers in Corinth that--until Christ returns--remains relevant: one plants, another waters, but God gives the increase. I believe we saw fifteen people profess faith in Christ and follow the Lord in Believer's baptism during this season. Along with that there have been many redemptive conversations with the good people there. I know that God's Spirit formed a lasting bond between us.

Over the years I have had the privilege of delivering God's Word to many congregations--in the northeast and northwest of the United States, and many States in between. God's Providence has allowed me to do the same in Canada and Mexico. In South America, Asia, the Bahamas, and northern Europe I have had the immense privilege to open the Scriptures and expound its central message--Jesus Christ--and can testify to the life-changing power of the gospel.

On February 8, I will be speaking at Emmanuel Baptist Church, here in Cataula. Back in the day--from where I live at The Shire--it would have been about ten long-tosses of a baseball. With the passing of each day, each month, and each year my sense of gratitude toward God intensifies. I know my story. I realize that apart from the gracious intervention of God's love, mercy, and patience my life could have taken a very different course...

Friday, January 23, 2015

American Sniper

This is a test to see how many times "American Sniper" is searched.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Surely, God Would Not Require Me to __________________.

I finished the abridged version of Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy. While reading it I found myself stopping frequently to sift through Bonhoeffer's theological quandaries and the ethical barbs in his brilliant mind. The young pastor grappled with--rather than trifled with--the unique time and circumstances in which he was called to live out his faith in Christ. It was personally agonizing to follow his story and try to stand in his shoes as he wrestled with the moral/ethical dilemma that plagued him. In the end, Bonhoeffer believed that all means of bloodlessly removing Hitler were exhausted. Only one option remained. Bonhoeffer became part of an assassination plot to kill Hitler. The attempt failed, and Bonhoeffer and many of his co-conspirators were hanged. In their final confessions none of them feared they had acted in disobedience to God. On the contrary, they believed they had taken the high road.

Bonhoeffer's ethical conclusions regarding Hitler are discussed to this day. But I saw a man who followed his spiritual reasoning as far as he could, and then he acted upon those conclusions. He believed to do less was to do less than required. I couldn't disagree.

For many years--and to this day--I have believed that the greatest enemy of our faith is our own determination to avoid the quandaries of trust and obedience to God. In Bonhoeffer's case his context was unusual. Extreme. But his courageous faith led him to explore and respond to the unspeakable atrocities of Nazism. He knew that his response had to be out of the truest sense of who and what he was--a follower of Christ.

Not for a minute am I advocating that in our country we are presently living in such a context as Bonhoeffer. Yet, a continuous bombardment from saints and sinners alike shout for us to opt for the softest life possible, rather than respond to the moral/ethical quandaries and dilemmas in full surrender to Christ. An endless loop of voices would convince us that: Surely, God would not require me to _____________ [fill in the blank].

If this continues history may very well repeat itself.


Sunday, January 11, 2015

Books And Art...

For Christmas I received several books--the kind that you actually get the pleasant privilege of turning the pages with your fingers. Any book I read is highlighted, and I don't use a book mark--I dog-ear the last page I read. When I come across a word I don't know I look it up (Mrs. Bankston, my high school English teacher, would be proud of me on several levels--not the least of which that I became an avid adult reader and learner). Please do not hold her responsible for my poor grammar and punctuation. I'm a really late bloomer. Progressing through each text or novel, by looking at the thickness of the pages left to read, that are on the right as it is open in my hands, I get enjoyment at seeing just how far in someone's thoughts or story I have traveled. I read the whole book, and usually track down the footnotes and check to see what books they read that lead to the book they have written. I have scores of ebooks (I am in the middle of 5 of them). Ebooks are great to have at my disposal when for some reason or other I am waiting for someone or something--which is quite often. I just finished one of those Christmas gift books, Bonhoeffer. Now I am reading Silence, by Shusaku Endo. After that I will read American Sniper, an autobiography by Chris Kyle.

I have also started more intense art classes--about 18 hours worth. I hope to become better with the medium of watercolor. We will work on portraits and still life. When these lessons are finished, I hope to take more art classes at Columbus State Continuing Education. Those lessons will be for the sole study of doing portraits.

In the midst of that I continue to work with Corporate Chaplains, Columbus Regional Hospital, and will soon conclude an interim with a church in Alabama. People are the most precious and complex of all God's creation. I read because of a wonderful desire to do so, and sit quietly with an author. I love art, because it helps me see a world that is so easy to miss if you don't know how to look...

I Can't Get No Satisfaction

This morning the church where I have been the interim had a potential candidate speaking, so Sandy and I attended Calvary Baptist in Columbus, GA. with some friends. I will return to FBPC for a only few more Sundays if they choose to call the candidate.

Many of you are familiar with the book and movie Blackhawk Down. The pastor at Calvary Baptist, Jeff Struecker, was heavily involved in that battle in Mogadishu, and was decorated for heroism. There was no sign of self-importance as he walked to the pulpit to the Rolling Stones song, I can't get no satisfaction and introduced his current series Chasing Idols: What are you living for? Fortunately, Calvary has an early service that begins at 8:30 a.m., so I am hopeful to hear more. I will have time to attend Calvary and then cross the river into Alabama to speak at FBPC.

Along with quotes from Thomas Aquinas, John Piper, C.S. Lewis, and others, it was a quote from C.S. Lewis that closed the message: We as people are too easily pleased. If we are chasing the temporal--what this world alone can offer--we will discover:

Pleasure doesn't satisfy the soul

Pleasure doesn't last forever

Pleasure distracts from the eternal

Struecker's challenge for the week was for each listener to ask themselves: Am I too easily pleased?

A good question... 

Saturday, January 10, 2015

It's Only A Game...

The Patriots beat the Ravens tonight. But long before the game ended, I once again came to the conclusion that it is nothing more than a game of sport. Indeed, I want the Pats to run the table and grab the brass ring as Superbowl Champions, but real life reminds me that it's nothing more than entertainment. To a great degree we vacate our minds for a few hours from the harsh reality that life between the sunrise and sunset sometimes brings us.

Today, I met with a lady who prematurely lost her little one that she had been carrying; her first. Needless to say, she was distraught. In the last two weeks I have stood at the bedside of six persons that passed through the shadowlands. One of them was a suicide. I am grateful for the distraction of sports, but I realize that, in the end, it's just a game. Nothing of any real consequence is at stake. The gladiators of the gridiron are a weak metaphor to the reality of life. Their careers are short lived, well heralded, exorbitantly paid, but much longer than the life of the little one who exited its mother's womb long before it was sturdy enough to survive.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

It's Cold Here In The Shire!


Whether the weather be fine,
Or whether the weather be not,
Whether the weather be cold,
Or whether the weather be hot,
We'll weather the weather
Whatever the weather,
Whether we like it or not!

Author: Unknown

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

My Precarius Life.

The following post is an edited post from 2006. 

"You meant. My precarious Life." You might be thinking. No, I did not intend to spell precarious in the title of this post. Precarius is the word I intended. I read recently that the word prayer comes from the Latin root precarius, a linguistic cousin to precarious--A word that we associate with uncertainty. 

For sure, there is an uncertainty that goes with prayer. Often times, it is uncertainty itself that causes us to call out to the invisible God in faith.  As we do so, we are not sure of the outcome, but we are sure of the God we pray to, so we pray as Jesus taught us: Thy will be done.

When I think of the word precarious I also think of danger. I have heard it said, "Be careful what you pray for!"  But what I have learned is that it's my lack of prayer that is dangerous. The question is whether I will live a precarious or precarius life.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Speaking of God...

The grasslands of the desert overflow; the hills are clothed with gladness. The meadows are covered with flocks and the valleys are mantled with grain; they shout for joy and sing. Psalm 65:12-13

They shout for joy and sing… On the twentieth anniversary of Mt. St. Helen's eruption I hiked for miles along rocky trails that gradually led me to higher elevation. Along the way, I stopped on plateaus of granite and gazed on my back trail. At several points, even all those years later, the landscape was still barren and desolate. Two decades earlier, super heated gasses from the volcanic explosion scoured the mountainside down to bedrock. Here and there were gray weathered stumps of old growth trees. There was nearly a total absence of color. Nothing remained except bleached stumps with jagged edges. Coming to the highest point of my trek I looked off into the distance. Streams and riverbeds that had been throttled and choked by millions of cubic feet of ash, shattered stone, and lava had found new routes. Thin ribbons of green seemed to escort them along. Contrasted to the desolate mountain beneath my feet, off in the distance, were thousands of acres of lush green fields that spilled down from the crowns and shoulders of lower mountains and flowed like an emperor's robe over the slopes. A restoration project was underway by the local foresters and life was returning. So vivid were the colors against the deathly drab of the surrounding destruction, that those fields and immature tree growth seemed to shout out joy and sing.

Tonight, when I read those verses, the memories came back. I understand what the Psalmist felt. I remember how the physical gift of sight was transcended and crossed into the spiritual depths of my soul. Deep inside me those vistas spoke of the presence of God.