Friday, December 31, 2010

My Year in Review

Where does time go? The older I get, the faster it flies by, it seems. As I get ready for the New Year it's probably a good idea to do a quick review of the old. Then I can hopefully learn from it and do my part in making 2011 even better. I can't control a lot, but what I can I want to do so in a way that is wise, godly and productive.

Not that anyone else much cares, but this was a good exercise for me in my advanced stage of life!
In 2010 I...
  • Wrote 50 or so columns for the Outer Banks Sentinel.
  • Preached less than a typical year (due to my Sabbatical). Didn't preach on Easter for the first time in a long time. Covered 6 different series including expositions of Isaiah 55, Romans 5-8, and topical series on family, the church, love and Advent. Preached a series of meetings for another church and delivered a message to the annual Chowan Baptist Association.
  • Posted less on this blog.
  • Conducted 3 weddings and 2 vow renewals and a funeral.
  • Responded to 4 drownings in a two week span in August.
  • Spent 42 days in February and March driving coast (Atlantic) to coast (Gulf) to coast (Pacific) to coast (Atlantic) with Gail. We saw wonderful parts of our country and spent time with many friends, some we had not seen in over 30 years. The car traveled over 8,000 miles, got a new set of tires in California and two oil changes in Florida and Las Vegas. I took about 1000 pictures.
  • Visited Bayou La Batre, AL. Home of the Bubba Gump Shrimp Co.
  • Was in NOLA for Mardi Gras. I don't get it.
  • Watched a young Marine get his LT bars in front of the Alamo.
  • Blew my diet on Mexican food.
  • Found Arizona to be beautiful in February.
  • Went to Disneyland after a 32 year absence.
  • Was white-knuckled scared and at the same time in awe of God's creation as Gail drove us up the Pacific Coast Highway.
  • Drove through a giant redwood.
  • Stood on the Mt. Shasta Lake and Hoover dams.
  • Found the Strip at Vegas to be decadence at its worst.
  • Wondered at the natural beauty of the Grand Canyon and Red Rocks of Arizona.
  • Stood on the corner in Winslow, Arizona as a girl in a flat bed Ford slowed down.
  • Visited Hugo, Schooler Lake and lived a few hours on Tulsa time visiting family and friends from ministry in the '70's.
  • At barbecue in Arkansas with a bald headed biker preacher.
  • Watched as friends and family had victories and defeats in their lives. And realized you can't fix everything. Confronted some issues for the first time when I thought I'd seen it all.
  • Saw some folks discover life in Christ and a bunch of them take the plunge in baptism.
  • Saw some folks walk away from their church family.
  • Played with and took my granddaughters out for breakfast a bunch of times.
  • Played golf (I use "played" loosely) twice. Was given a new used set of clubs by a friend. Found out my days of 300 yard drives are over.
  • Got a great and surprisingly good report from my annual physical. Even amazed my doc.
  • Stopped playing racquetball at the Y. Too expensive. As a result I'm in need of exercise.
  • Went to France for a week to serve a couple of churches and work with them in reaching the city of Grenoble. Thanks to my friends who helped me go.
  • Discovered what "French pastry" really means.
  • Did not get in the ocean at all, except to stand in it in FL a couple times to say I did.
  • Got some of my best work done at the Morning View coffee shop in Nags Head.
  • Worked on writing two books. I'm a long way from completing either.
  • Didn't read enough.
  • Spent too much time on Facebook.
  • Shaved my goatee but kept the mustache.
  • Bought a cowboy hat in CA.
  • Pastored a most excellent church with an incredible team of fellow pastors and staff.
  • Completed my 20th Christmas season with Nags Head Church.
  • Enjoyed watching "American Pickers" and "Pawn Stars" on the History Channel.
  • Was disappointed once more by the Washington Redskins and their inept owner.
  • Started a Facebook group for my old youth group's reunion in CA this spring.
  • Had a cough I couldn't shake for two months.
  • Figured out that there's no such thing as a "fair and balanced" news network.
  • Did some substitute teaching in Dare Co. schools. My favorite is the Alternative school for some reason.
  • Learned that the information highway is the cult of the 21st century, drawing in the gullible with myths and conspiracy theories.
  • Reconnected with some "long lost cousins" and some I've never met.
  • Started on researching our family genealogy. Found out my great-great-great-great grandfather had the same name as me and participated in laying the cornerstone of the Washington Monument.
  • Watched our church learn what love is and then put it in to practice in the community.
In many ways it was a great year. In many ways it was a trying year. That's the way it is every year isn't it? But it's great to know that no matter what comes my way (or yours) God knows and He is always available and ready to walk with us through the valleys and over the peaks.

Have a new year filled with joy. Happiness is temporary and fleeting. Seek something greater!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Original Christmas Gift

Before the Magi came with their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh another Gift was given - not to the Babe in the manger, but to all mankind.

"Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else? " - Romans 8:32 (NLT)

Sunday, December 19, 2010

A Christmas to Remember

The week before Christmas, 2007, Gail and I made an quick overnight stay in Durham, NC. Our two daughters, Rachel and Sarah and their husbands, Ramon and Terry made the trip with us. There we visited with Nathan, our son, and his wife Tricia. All of us wondered if this group would ever be together again for another Christmas.

You probably know Tricia's story, so I won't go into it here. But that Christmas she was perilously close to death due to the advanced stages of her cystic fibrosis and that fact that she was 5 months pregnant. Her ability to breathe was rapidly coming to an end. She would be admitted to Duke later that week and wouldn't emerge until May.

So we drove the almost 4 hours to Durham. We exchanged gifts, laughed a lot and went out to eat together. The picture is one I took of all the kids. Though they were smiling, behind the smiles was a sadness we all felt. If you've seen recent pictures of Tricia you see the immense change now that she's healthy. (She's on the right.)

God was gracious to us in miraculous ways in the months to come. Now those six have increased to 8 and a half (Rachel's got one in the oven). Best of all, we'll all be together this Christmas. And with the addition of a foster granddaughter it's even better.

I don't care if I get anything in my stocking. My heart is full and overflowing.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Jesus Loved Them...Shouldn't We? (Part 2)

So what do we do?

Most of us who have been given new life by faith in Christ know too well how easy it is to retreat into a "holy huddle" and lose total contact with those outside the faith. Picture in your mind a huddle of football players getting the next play from their quarterback. They're all faced inward.

But they don't stay that way for long. In fact, if they stay in the huddle too long the ref blows a whistle and they're penalized by losing ground. The huddle is an important time, but its purpose is to get everyone on the same page as they turn to face the other team. It's a comfortable place. Everyone in the huddle wears the same uniform. We know each other. We're a team and are comfortable together. And in the huddle we get a bit of a breather. Not a perfect illustration, but I think it makes some valid points for the church.

We need that time together when we're getting the Coach's instructions for our next steps. He's got a game plan for us individually and collectively. In a nutshell it is found at the end of Matthew's gospel. We often call it the "Great Commission", and it tells us that as we're going into the world we're to make disciples. Guess what? That requires leaving the huddle and getting into the game by engaging those who don't yet know Christ.

When I played football we all knew when it was time to leave the huddle. The quarterback, who had been given the next play from the coach, called out the play to us and the snap count that would start it. Then he repeated it just to make sure we all heard it and heard it clearly. With that accomplished he said, "Ready" and simultaneously all eleven of us clapped our hands once and said, "Break!" The huddle was broken and we assumed our positions on the line of scrimmage.

If we're going to have balance in our lives, engaging in both edification - building one another up in the church - and evangelism - taking the Good News to the world, somebody has to call "break". I guess that's one of the duties of pastors and leaders: Saying to the team, "Let's go. We know the strategy; we've had the coaching; our assignments are handed out. Let's take the Gospel to those who don't know."

Jesus didn't just hang with His disciples. Sure, He invested a lot of time and energy with them, getting them ready to carry on. But He also broke from them to spend time with a woman who was rejected by others at a well outside of town. There He told her how to drink the water that gave life everlasting. He was willing to be criticized by those in His day who never left the huddle to eat and drink with the spiritually starving. And it wasn't long before He sent them out two by two as "lambs before wolves". He knew their purpose as lambs was to leave the safety of the fold and tell others how to be in the fold.

If you're not taking His instructions and then going into the world, making disciples, you'll never gain ground. In fact, you and your huddle, your group, your church, if they're doing the same and looking inward, you're losing ground. You're being penalized. We have to be actively involved in both the inward and the outward. That means I may have to put my insecurities in God's hands. I may need to find ways to spend time with those outside of my church. If you realize all your friends are just like you, something's wrong.

And here's what will happen if you stay in the huddle too long. Paul warned that in the last days women (and this can happen to men as well) will be "always learning and never able to come to a knowledge of the truth." (2 Tim. 3:7) We can be guilty of being learners but never practicing what we've learned. In my experience, those church members who tell me they just can't get enough "Bible study" also never (that's right, never) bring another person to Christ. Somehow their hunger for God became all about knowledge and never about making disciples.

In his letter to the Corinthian church Paul told them they had plenty of knowledge. Yet, they were at the same time filled with division and selfishness. "Knowledge makes people arrogant, but love builds them up." (1 Cor. 8:1) If we fill our heads with spiritual truth but never allow that truth to transform our lives into loving witnesses it only serves to fill us with spiritual pride. (Now there's an oxymoron.)

Ask yourself these questions. Then decide what you need to do.

When was the last time I shared my faith with a non-believing friend?
When was the last time I brought an unchurched friend to church with me?
Have I allowed my Christianity to distance me from those who need Christ?
Are all of my friends at church?
Who will be in heaven because I took the knowledge I learned and gave it away?
Do I jump at the chance to attend a church related conference or Bible study but don't invite my neighbors to an outreach event?

Ready? Break.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Jesus Loved Them...Shouldn't We?

  • The Samaritan woman at the well.
  • Nicodemus, the Jewish civil and religious leader
  • Andrew, a fisherman.
  • Magi who traveled from the East with gifts for a new King.
  • A Roman centurion with a deathly ill servant
  • A tax collector who went to extremes just to see Him and climbed into a tree.
  • A rabbi with a dying daughter.
  • A handicapped man whose friends had a "whatever it takes" attitude.
  • An anonymous woman with an incurable hemorrhage.
  • A rich, young ruler.
  • Many more we know about from the biographies of Jesus called "Gospels". Many, many more we don't.

What they had in common was a need, be it spiritual or physical, and they sought out Jesus. Some were actually looking for Him, with curiosity or even an inkling that He might be the promised Messiah. Most, not all, embraced Him as Savior.

Back in the 90's (or so) a term was coined to represent men and women who are like the list above: needy and wanting an answer or healing or solution. If he didn't use the term first, he at least became most famous for its use at his Willow Creek church outside of Chicago, but whether or not you or I agree with him on every point, Bill Hybels' ministry became symbolic of the term "seeker".

"Seeker" became a buzz word in some evangelical circles, and typical of evangelicals and fundamentals, whenever someone introduces something new, be it terminology or ministry strategy (which I find are never new, but usually something forgotten retrieved) we (I'm an evangelical) take sides. At our heart, it seems, we truly enjoy divisiveness ala the Corinthian church by drawing lines in the sand - and sand constantly shifts - by declaring, "I'm fer it" or "I'm agin it". Often in our quest to guard our perceived "orthodoxy" we over-analyze and miss the forest for the trees. Semantics should never divide. You say "tomaughto", I say "tomayto". It's still a tomato. "Seeker" simply means someone outside of faith in Christ who needs Him and is searching.

So here are two paradoxical axioms that I ponder. Actually the second can't truly be called an "axiom" because while it is typical, it is an aberration of what is true. But because it is so overwhelmingly the "norm" I'll treat it as such.

1. None of us who know Christ as Savior have always been believers. No one comes into this world trusting Jesus and on the road to eternal life. The Bible is clear that we are all born with a sinful nature that separates us from God and the life He possesses. Whenever I hear someone say, "I've always believed" I have to ask them, "Really?". Because that contradicts Scripture.

Since I was very little I understood there was God and His Son Jesus. I didn't doubt that as a child because people I trusted (parents, Sunday school teachers) told me so. As I heard of His love and my own inability to achieve everlasting life and His provision of grace I became a "seeker". I distinctly remember asking my mother, who at the time was very religious, but was herself an unbeliever, "How do you get to heaven?". Her answer, by the way, was typical of mainline religion - "Do your best" - and was wrong. But it wasn't until I was nearly eleven years old that I understood my personal need for faith in Him that I experienced new birth.

Every child of God was first a "seeker" in some fashion. But there is also a most confounding pattern I've noticed in my 40 plus years as a believer.

2. We tend to forget who we were and lose our passion for those who are seeking. Here's how it works. We don't plan it this way and never really see it coming. But in the vast majority of Christians this is how life plays out unless we allow God to help us see the world through His eyes. Here's the scenario.

Our seeking results in finding. Whether you see it as you found Him or He found you isn't the issue here. From your perspective, you found Him and received His gift of eternal life. From His perspective He "found" you. Jesus is the ultimate "seeker". And the changes begin in your life. You connect with a local church and God brings a whole new family and group of friends into your life. You hunger to know Him and love it whenever you discover new treasure in His word. You find a place of ministry in the church, serving His family. Life is better than ever...and it's supposed to be.

Your excitement over your new life is uncontainable and you want all of your family and friends to discover what you've found. So you invite them to church. You talk to them about your faith. Some go with you. Some even believe. And those who do become part of your inner circle of friends now that they, too, share this faith.

But as time goes by - maybe a year or two - you gradually begin to lose contact with those old non-believing friends. You don't hang out with them as much, if at all because your Christian friends and family not only get your priority, they get your everything. It's been a long time since you talked with a non-believer about Jesus. You can't remember the last time you invited someone who is unchurched to church with you. Even when the church has bridging events for the community, you don't invite anyone to come. Rather than talk to someone who needs Him, you retreat into a "holy huddle" of other believers and talk to them about Him, whether that be a Sunday school class, a Bible study or a small group. And within the safety of that family you convince yourself you are content.

Suddenly you look around your life and you've lost contact with the world Jesus came to save. As you've grown older in the faith you've also grown distant from the "seekers" and from being a "seeker" like Jesus.

What's happened? In my next post I'll talk about the need in our lives for balance. Real Christian maturity, like Jesus, must be balanced with a passion for growing in the faith and going out to reach the yet faithless.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Few Remain on this Dec. 7

Remember Pearl Harbor.

Precious few who survived the attack by the Imperial Japanese military on the United States are still with us. If you know one, please make the call or the visit to say "Thank you."

The "Greatest Generation", after enduring the Great Depression rose to stand tall and protect our freedoms and those of Europe and Asia. It was a history changing day. One that will, as President Roosevelt said on that Sunday morning in 1941, "A day that will live in infamy".

Monday, December 6, 2010

Resisting Gullibility

We are such a gullible people. Who is "We"? I don't know...I guess a great many of the people I know.

I am the recipient of frequent email "forwards" warning of this and that, even though after my email signature I've included the line "No forwards, please. Please." And I've learned, after accepting some on face value (since I know the person who sent it to me has thoroughly checked it out) that it must be valid, to do my own checking before either buying in to it or God help me, passing it on. And I confess, I've learned the hard way, with egg on my face.

So, you won't find me jumping on popular bandwagons that seem to flourish these days, especially on Facebook. If I don't know the source, I don't pass it on.

The hot thing on Facebook the past few days has been to change your profile picture to a cartoon character in an effort to bring awareness to child abuse. I declined, not because I don't think child abuse is a scourge on our society, but because I just don't join in on those FB things. I don't have a farm either. Now, if I had been asked to donate to a credible organization that combats child abuse, and to replace my picture with a cartoon if I did, that would have been more appealing to me.

But then this morning I get this message, posted by a FB friend that starts with the word "WARNING". That's a sure tip-off that whatever follows has no factual basis. The warning was that the group behind the cartoon pictures is really a pedophile organization! (It's been on the news!) My response, "And you know this to be factual because...?"

With the proliferation of information out there, pumped in to a kazillion computers and easily accessible with a quick search on your favorite engine, anyone can find anything on the internet. Anything. Doesn't matter if there's any factual truth to it or not. In today's information age, including the media as well as the internet the soil is fertile for every conspiracy theory imaginable.

And there's the danger. Without the wisdom of God we are prey to all of it. And in the Christian community, of which I am a part, when you couple gullibility with conspiracy built upon shoddy biblical exegesis and interpretation the result is always negative. It is a shame that those who have free access to that wisdom can be the most gullible.

I remember the old Sunday school song from my distant past. "Be careful little eyes what you see; ears what you hear; mouths what you say". Before jumping on the bandwagon, stop and ask, "Really?"

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Join the Advent Conspiracy

Go to Advent Conspiracy to learn more how you can get involved and change your Christmas forever.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Our Newfound Annual American Tradition: Ban Christmas

Every year now, around the first of December we begin hearing of American governments, mostly local, working hard to please "progressives" and "civil libertarians" by ensuring the word "Christmas" and anything related to it is removed from any public venue. Hence, public schools have banned traditional carols, trees are now given the adjective "holiday", manger scenes are prohibited. In NYC there's a battle over billboards. The athiests telling passersby that "You know it's (Christmas) a myth" vs. the Catholic league - "This season celebrate Jesus as the reason".

This story is current on the news and comes from Philadelphia, which ironically is the location of our freedoms' birthplace as Americans. Those freedoms include the right to worship as we please, to be free from governmental interference with our religious choices, and the right to free speech. Yet in Philly it seems the word "Christmas" must come down from a German village scene. It seems the thought is that Christmas is exclusive to Christians (who would ever have thought that?!) and the village should be inclusive.

Why is it that Christmas is so offensive? After all, most of what is disguised as Christmas these days really is not. Of course, the answer is that the foundation of the holiday is a celebration of the birth of Christ. And there is the dig for those wanting to keep any mention of Christmas out of public space. The offense is bringing Christ into the matter.

Some Christians are so outraged they want to mount a crusade. Personally, I feel it is sad to watch our own freedoms so rapidly eroding in a country that feels it necessary to attempt to bring freedom to other countries. While we're fighting for others we're losing the battle at home.

But as a Christ-follower the attacks against religious freedom when Christ is mentioned are no surprise. Jesus told His disciples to expect rejection because of Him. Peter, who heard those words later wrote to the 1st Century believers, "but for the unbelieving, the stone [Christ] that the builders rejected—this One has become the cornerstone, and a stone that causes men to stumble, and a rock that trips them up. They stumble by disobeying the message; they were destined for this." (1 Peter 2:7-8 HCSB)

As Americans citizens we may be seeing our rights eroded, but as Christians and citizens of the Kingdom of God we have no such rights. What is happening is part of God's plan for redeeming this world, whether we understand or like it or not.

So, what do we do? Do we surrender "Christmas" to those bent on stamping out any mention of Christ? Well, do we really believe that any government or kingdom can keep Christ out of our hearts and lives? Of course not. Witness what is happening in China, an atheistic communist regime with no freedom of religion. Yet, perhaps the greatest growth of Christianity in the world is taking place behind the "bamboo curtain". How do they deal with Christmas?

The greatest thing we can do is to teach our children about Christ and about faith and live it before them. They may live to see an America where religious freedoms have been totally removed, and they need a strong foundation of faith should that come to pass. Let's hope and pray it does not. But it may.

We can share Christ with our neighbors and friends. Explain to them in conversations that may begin with a simple "Merry Christmas" why Christ is at the heart of your celebration. When the cashier at the store wishes you a PC "Happy Holiday", smile and return their greeting with "And a Merry Christmas to you." Invite your unchurched friends to your church's Christmas concert or Christmas Eve services. There is no greater opportunity to talk about Jesus than the Christmas season.

And while we still have the freedom to speak up, do so in a Christ-like way. Too often in this country it is a vocally loud minority who pressures our officials to bow to their wishes. Vote for those who oppose such nonsense as neutralizing Christmas into a generic holiday. Be a good citizen. But keep in mind, you are also a citizen of another kingdom, and that citizenship is more precious than being a citizen of any nation on this planet.

Now, go out and have a Merry Christmas. May your celebration this year be the best ever, and may the gift of God be passed on by you who believe to your children and your friends. Let's redeem the time. Our purpose on earth is to spread the Good News, not to attack those who don't get it.