Thursday, December 6, 2012

Running the Wrong Direction

I'm a believer in the local church and the community of support, fellowship and accountability it was created by Christ to offer.  In my personal and family life the church has been a rock during times of crisis and pain.  Often, when I minister to those outside of the church in times of great stress I wonder how they will survive without a community of brothers and sisters in Christ.
But, the church cannot be what it should be in times of need if that need is kept secret or if the ones needing help, because of pride or shame pull away from the body.  Over my more than three decades of pastoring I have seen this happen.  An individual, couple or family feels overwhelmed by a crisis, and rather than run to the church for support and love, they drop out.  That grieves me, especially when the church is ready and willing to show and give the support needed and without judgment.
A friend posted this today on Facebook, and I wanted to share it with others.  It is so true.  
"When you are suffering, you may sometimes tend to withdraw, pull back, and pull away," says Anne Graham Lotz. "I do think there is a time for that, and each day you should spend time alone with the Lord. But don't forsake other people, because other people can give you comfort and encouragement and help you keep your focus. Sometimes you can get so preoccupied with the problem that it consumes you. Other people can help give you a balance." 
God wants you to be truthful with yourself and with other people. He wants to free you from the debilitating effects of withdrawing and hiding your emotions. Jesus says in the book of John that "the truth will set you free."
Jesus also said, "You don't have because you don't ask".  Paul wrote to the Galatian churches that we should "bear one another's burdens".  If there is no asking; if there instead is denial or hiding or withdrawal and the church doesn't know, it can't do the thing it was created to do.  We should never be ashamed to seek out what the church can provide, which is the grace of God.  
Run to Christ's family, not away from them.  Let them be the hands and feet of the Lord in your time of need. 

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Advent Celebrates His Coming… and His Coming


Thanksgiving "officially" kicked off the “holiday season”.    Black Friday (or was it Thursday, too?) and Cyber Monday are past and the credit card statements will soon be arriving with the bad news. 

Thanks to the retail world Thanksgiving has become the start up to the Christmas season.  Santa rides the last float of Macy’s parade, signaling his appearances at department stores everywhere.  And in every locale at least one FM station is now “your Christmas music home” for the next month.  ‘Tis the season!

Traditional Christianity refers to the weeks ahead leading up to Christmas as “Advent”.  Many churches feature advent candle lighting and lessons that are intended to prepare worshipers for the coming of Christ.  Anything that promotes Jesus and leads us to know and worship Him is a good thing.

The word “advent” is a transliterated word – turning a word from one language into another – from the Latin “adventus”, which means “coming”.  Interestingly, the Latin is a translation of the Greek word “parousia”.  Greek culture preceded the Roman, and the New Testament was originally penned in Greek.    And biblically, “parousia”, is typically used when speaking not of Christ’s incarnation at Christmas, but His second coming.

Of course, what was coming, perhaps I should say “Who” was coming was the awaited Messiah.  The Jewish people longed for the One who would arrive and inherit the throne of David, returning Israel to its ancient glory.  Christians believe that promise to Israel was realized when the angel instructed Joseph to name Mary’s son “Emmanuel”, a Hebrew name meaning “God with us”.  So, Christmas is a celebration of the arrival of the Messiah or, in the Greek, the “cristos” – again a word transliterated into English as “Christ”.

I’m a fan of Christmas.  I say, “Merry Christmas” without shame as my greeting of choice in December.  And certainly, the coming of the Christ is worthy of our remembrance, our preparation and our celebration.  In the life of Jesus and in the Christian faith, His birth in Bethlehem ranks up there with His passion and resurrection.  So let’s get ready to adore Him.

Celebrating Christmas is a time of looking back at this wonderful event that brought a multitude of angels within earshot of shepherds as they praised “God in the highest”.  It’s a remembrance of a most awesome event in the past.  But…let’s not lose sight of what’s ahead.

Many years ago my wife had a conversation with a neighbor and somehow the subject of Christ’s second coming – the “parousia” – came up.  She was pretty surprised that her friend, an avid churchgoer in a church that religiously celebrates advent, had no idea that there was such a thing as Christ’s future return.  Somehow what should be most important less of advent to the believer – what Jesus promised would happen and Paul referred to as the “blessed hope” of the saints - had been overlooked in her experience.

The truth is that Christ came.  The ongoing truth is that He will make a repeat visit.  But in His second coming He won’t be a baby in a manger, a miracle-working teacher or even a dying Savior.  His first advent was as the Lamb of God, making the way through His death and resurrection for us to know God.

His second advent, which is the advent we should really be preparing for, will be as the King of Kings.  “Thy kingdom come” we pray.  That’s all about advent, chapter 2.  Let’s be ready.  This is a great time to be prepared.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Respect Is Learned

I just read a story about a NPR reporter who sat and worked on his laptop as the National Anthem was being played/sung at a campaign rally.  It's stirred up some controversy.  Rightly so, I think.

Basic respect, not only for the flag and the nation it represents also must include respect for those citizens around you.  The simple act of standing shows respect for those who put their lives on the line and died so that flag could still be raised.  You don't have to agree with what America is or has become.  Just show some respect.

When I was a middle school student my family lived on an Army post.  (Yes, my dad is a Marine.)  I played Little League baseball, and our field was across the street from the parade field.  A parade field on a military installation is where the post's or base's central flag pole is located.  Every day, as I recall at 6PM (1800) there was a blast from the cannon beside the flag pole and a bugler began to play Retreat.  Following Retreat as the flag was ceremoniously lowered, the bugler played To the Colors. *

I heard this just about every Spring evening.  With the cannon blast we immediately stopped practicing/playing. Turning toward the flag we removed our ball caps and placed them over our hearts throughout the bugle's call.  Cars in the vicinity would come to a stop in the street and their occupants would actually get out and stand at attention, saluting if in uniform or hands over hearts if not.

That daily experience, along with our coaches (who were military men) taught me respect for our flag.  Today 45 years later, as I stood in formation with fellow firefighters saluting Old Glory during the Pledge and the singing of The Star Spangled Banner in a ceremony honoring our veterans I still felt that same respect I learned as a boy.  My chest still swells with pride and gratitude for our great country.

Who teaches our children such things today?  Apparently no one taught the reporter.  He doesn't know what he is missing.

Here's a link to the various bugle calls used by our military.  You'll get an explanation and an audio clip for each.  Some, you'll discover are familiar to most of us.  I understand that had a band been on the parade field The Star Spangled Banner would have been played in lieu of To the Colors.

Monday, November 5, 2012

I'm voting for change this time

WARNING: I'm making political statements here.  If that bothers you, don't read it.

Sometime tomorrow, God willing, I'll head over to our town hall and cast my vote for Romney and Ryan.  If you care, I'll tell you why.

1.  President Obama's administration has consistently chipped away at religious liberties over the past 4 years.  It appears that the Constitution is irrelevant under his leadership.

2. President Obama's administration has pushed for the acceptance of a redefinition of marriage, something that has been in place for the entire history of mankind in every culture.

3. President Obama has signed on to legislation promoting the ongoing slaughter of the unborn in our country.

4. Something terribly wrong happened in Libya on Sept. 11, and we have been lied to about it repeatedly.  Americans deserve to know the truth.

5. I'm no better off financially than I was four years ago.  But, at least I still have a job.  Yet the numbers of unemployed Americans continues to grow and the small businesses that can provide real economic stimulus are suffering.  The economic "stimulus package" only put us farther in debt as a nation.

6. The promise of a transparent administration has never materialized.  In fact, just the opposite has happened, with executive orders bypassing our Constitutional government process.

7. I'm a capitalist, not a socialist.  Let free enterprise, not governmental agencies solve what ails our economy.

8. I wish everyone adequate health care.  But I do not believe those of who can pay for our own should also pay for those who can't or won't.  Let's find a better solution.

9. Gov. Romney is a proven business man, and has been chief executive of a state government.  He will come into this job with more experience than Pres. Obama had four years ago.  We need someone with Romney's track record to turn things around.

10. Joe Biden is one heartbeat away from the Oval Office!

Friday, October 26, 2012

Riding Out the Storms

 
I’m writing this on Friday, so I really have no idea how badly Hurricane Sandy might treat us here on the Outer Banks and East Coast.  Hopefully it will be minor, although the talking meteorology heads have dubbed it "Frankenstorm" or something. 

Storms can surprise us, can’t they?  It’s rare for a hurricane to threaten us this late in the season, although we have had some major fall storms here.  Who here can forget Halloween Storm when the barge hit the Oregon Inlet Bridge, or the Thanksgiving storm a year or two ago?

Life is like the weather.  We love the sunny, clear days.  And we dread the times when the dark, stormy clouds gather and we know a rough time is ahead.  But God must have good reason for allowing us to go through the storms. 

Jesus said they would happen.  He told us to be sure we build our lives on the solid rock so we could withstand them.  And in as vivid an illustration as I can imagine He woke from a nap as His disciples worried that a storm would sink their boat and simply told the storm to cease.

Right now in my life I feel like I’m in that boat.  And I know that in His time the storm will give way to perfect peace again.  It’s just that the rocky ride can be overwhelming, especially if we focus on the waves and the wind. 

So I encourage you to learn with me how to focus on the solid Rock and the peace that passes all understanding.  Learn to praise Him in the storm.

And I'll praise You in this storm   
And I will lift my hands
For You are who You are   
No matter where I am
And every tear I've cried   
You hold in Your hand
You never left my side  
And though my heart is torn
I will praise You in this storm. 
(Casting Crowns)

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Keeping Our Perspective

Yesterday was not a good day for our house.

I got a frantic call from Gail that water was coming out of our hot water heater and the "whole house is flooded".

Fifteen minutes later I was wading through it myself.  Gail had a broom, sweeping water out the back door.  Not quite the whole house, but 3 bedrooms, utility room, kitchen, office and living room.  All covered with water.

I ran to the local Ace Hardware and grabbed a 10 gallon Shop Vac and started immediately getting the water out.  I called a local company that deals with these kinds of things and they arrived, setting up fans and dehumidifiers.  I went down to our homeowners insurance office and opened a claim.  Our daughter and son-in-law came from work to help get things out of the house.  Everything that had been on the floors was wet.

The adjuster comes over at noon today to assess the damage.  Then the real work will likely begin and we will probably have to be out of our house for a while.

Can I say that this wasn't the best possible time for something like this to happen?

As we looked at many of our belongings, including old photos and such drying out on our deck, I could see that the emotion of it all was weighing heavily on Gail.  So I reminded her of the need to put this all into perspective.

"This is how I see it.  Yesterday I took the wedding ring off of the finger of a 50 year old husband and father who died unexpectedly and gave it to his son who handed it to his mom.  Today our daughter-in-law is in the hospital struggling with lungs that no longer want to work and facing a second lung transplant.  What's happened here is nothing in comparison.  This is stuff that can be fixed or replaced.  This is just an inconvenience.  And God knows all about it."

Perspective matters in how we deal with the curve balls life throws our way.  Keep your perspective.  Most likely "this too, shall pass".

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Just Where Does God Fit In?

That the Democratic Party's original platform excluded the mention of God, while a departure from their past, should not be a surprise to anyone who has been watching their rapid movement away from traditional American values over the past few years.  And, in this free society it is certainly within their rights to do so if they so choose.

What is telling and appalling, however, is how, once they felt pressure to mention God, they amended their platform with what appeared to everyone to be less than the required 2/3 majority support.  That the chair proclaimed the amendment passed seemed a railroad job.  The people's voice seemed to be irrelevant to the process.

But most concerning was how many opposed the amendment to include to mention God.  Is this a party that reflects the values of most Americans?  Is this a party platform God-fearing people can support?

I hope not.  But perhaps I am wrong.  Much more is at stake here than jobs and deficits. 

Which right is it? The line in the sand is drawn.

If we insist that abortion in this country is about a woman's rights over her own body and to choose, then we must first insist that the unborn have no moral or civil rights in this country. The rights of the unborn must first be negated, or at the least seen as secondary. All the "what if" scenarios must take a lesser place to this supreme right.

To insist the unborn have no rights requires a belief that life does not begin until birth. Therefore, for 9 months the unborn is not a valid human but an appendage of the woman, who is not yet a "mother" because the child has not gained person-hood, just as I am not the "father" of a skin tag that pops up on my neck.

It only follows then, that if a woman who is pregnant refers to or thinks of the fetus she carries as her "baby" ("I felt my 'baby' move/kick"; "I hope my baby is a boy/girl") she believes that within her womb is a human life preparing for entrance into the world, not simply an appendage.

Therefore, for such a woman to consider the pre-born in her own womb a "baby" but to not desire to protect the lives of other "babies" (whom she considers valid human beings) by taking a pro-abortion rights stance is illogical. And for someone who takes the position that an unborn child is a "baby" to refuse to stand up to defend that person's moral and civil right to life is unconscionable.

Life is the basic human right. Everything else is built upon that, making it vastly more important than jobs, the economy or foreign affairs. If we turn a blind eye to the foundation of life, everything else will eventually crumble. The choices before us as Americans are very clearly drawn as we approach this election. There can be no neutral ground on this issue.

(Read on if you consider yourself a Christian.)


As Christ-followers we hold to a view that life is sacred and that it begins at conception. Those views are grounded in our belief that the Bible is the Word of God. Each of us will be held accountable for our actions and our words, and that must include (as Americans) what we support at the ballot box.

If life is sacred and holy to God, it must be to us as well. Please be sure your vote has been formulated by a biblical worldview.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

When God Surprises

“It’s too loud!”

More than once that was my granddaughter’s reaction last week to the tones and sounds she was hearing for the first time in her mostly-deaf right ear.  The cochlear implant was connected and sending sound waves, and she was hearing them!

But to her they were “too loud”. 

They weren’t the first sounds she has heard.  Fortunately her other ear, with the assistance of a hearing aid has given her fairly good hearing.  So, she recognizes sound and has an ever-increasing ability to speak and growing vocabulary.  But now, through the miracles of surgery and technology she was experiencing something new and previously unknown…hearing in her right ear.

Really, they were not “loud” at all.  But when you’ve never heard anything before your first experience to a sound that breaks years of silence might be “Wow!”  She was used to nothing.  Suddenly there was sound interrupting that nothing.

“Too loud” was her way of saying, “Wow!”  

That’s often the way it is with us when we hear or learn from experience a spiritual truth from God’s Word.  Perhaps we’ve gone our whole lives assuming one thing or believing another, only to discover that God has a different take on it.  Then suddenly or gradually – it doesn’t have to take a bolt of lightning – God rocks our world with something we either didn’t know or to which we had turned off our spiritual senses.

What’s new to us might not be new at all.  And because God is the only one in this universe who does not change what might seem new or surprising to us is only due to the finite and limited extent of our own experiences.  But God’s truth is both eternally true and absolutely true.  It just might not seem that way to us at the first.

Consider that Jeremiah, the author of the book of Lamentations – expressions of disappointment or sorrow – wrote that God’s mercies are “new every morning”, and that those new mercies are evidence of His great faithfulness.  If you can’t handle “new”, you’ll have a tough time relating to God. 

Initially we might not be very receptive because it is so different – maybe even revolutionary.  It might even stun us and cause us to wonder or doubt.  But just like sound is sound, whether we can hear it or not, truth is truth.

Think about Paul’s conversion experience on the Damascus road.  His whole adult life he has sincerely believed Jesus to be a fraud and His followers to be dangerous heretics.  Then he is dismounted from his horse by a blinding light and a voice that follows identifies Himself as Jesus.
Life changes are sometimes triggered by “Wow!” moments – maybe not as dramatic as Paul’s or even Gwyneth’s.  But they may be big surprises – at least to you.  And always they result in change as we learn more about Him and His truthful ways.

Look for those “Too loud!  Wow!” moments as you hear and study God’s Word.  Then expect great changes ahead.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Culture Wars 3: WWJD?

When then candidate Obama said in an interview with Rick Warren that he believed marriage was between a man and a woman, he also said that as a Christian he believed "God's in the mix".  Indeed.  As I engage in the current culture wars dialog I often hear Jesus being quoted and set up as an example of love and tolerance.

Indeed, again.  If we're going to seek an example of how to engage culture and what to expect from that engagement, I can think of no greater than Jesus.  But as we consider Him, we need also to understand Him a bit, including His worldview and how it was established.

Jesus was a believer in the Scriptures.  At that time the "Scriptures" only included what we call today the Old Testament - often called "Moses and the prophets" in the Gospels, because Moses authored the Law (Torah or Penteteuch) and much of the remainder of the Old Testament was penned by prophets.

Speaking specifically of "the Law" Jesus said: For I assure you: Until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or one stroke of a letter will pass from the law until all things are accomplished.  (Matthew 5:18 HCSB)  Many today like to point out the aspects of the Jewish Law, meant to preserve them physically as well as spiritually, are essentially ignored today by Bible believers.  They likely don't understand the theological reasons (there is tremendous depth to Scripture as well as a "big picture") for the dietary and clothing restrictions, for example, not being adhered to by modern Christianity.  Yet, Jesus accepted that Law as "Gospel".

He even believed in the stories of Noah and the Ark and Jonah being swallowed by a fish only to emerge three days later to preach repentance to a pagan nation.  If we're going to use Jesus as our example, let's be sure we understand what shaped His words and deeds.  It was an unwavering acceptance of all of Scripture.  If we're not willing to understand that then perhaps we shouldn't be referring to Him.  

(Really, if we're going to "follow" Jesus wouldn't that mean the same acceptance of Scripture?) 

Jesus was counter-cultural.  Some would call Him radical or revolutionary.  He found great occasion to confront the religious hypocrisies of His time, and minced no words in judgment and condemnation of those who were steering the people in a direction away from truth and justice.  He even threatened them with condemnation in hell.  But then, He's Jesus, and only He has that right.

His counter-cultural stirring of the pot would cost Him everything.  Eventually those he exposed and challenged became angered to the point that they conspired against Him and succeeded in having Him executed.  Indeed, there is a price to pay for daring to warn the fish that they are swimming in the wrong direction.  

Jesus was the friend of "sinners".   The religious power-brokers - those He dared to offend - were shocked that He ate and drank and conversed with the marginalized of their society.  But He came to seek and to save them; to provide them a way to move out of their enslavement to whatever sinful addiction had them entrapped and to set them free.  He knew that the best way to accomplish that purpose was to engage them and befriend them.  They already knew they were "sinners" - they knew the Law and felt the disdain of the self-righteous.  Jesus knew they were sinners as well.  And more than anything he wanted to make a difference in their lives.

Yet, He came to bring to them a real righteousness.  One story in His life illustrates how He could bring together the seeming paradox of believing that sin condemns, yet offering grace to the sinner that expects radical change.  While I find the phrase used too often, He indeed was showing us how to "hate the sin but love the sinner".  (Not His words.)

A woman was brought before Him who was guilty of adultery -  a sexual sin involving a man to whom she was not married.  Some believe it was a set-up, especially since the man was not brought to Jesus.  Only the woman.  But that's another discussion.  The point was, she was guilty of "sin" according to the Law.  And His critics, those who would later falsely accuse Him and set Him up for crucifixion, were hoping to cause Jesus to deny the Law He so believed in.  

Jesus practiced both grace and truth.  He didn't dodge the issue.  He didn't give in, either to the self-righteous or to the guilty sinner.  To the surrounding crowd He acknowledged that the Law required this woman be stoned - put to death - for her sin.  (Within the same context of the Levitical Law were all forbidden sexual practices.)  And remember, Jesus accepted this Law as God's eternal word.  So, first He threw the ball in the court of the religious, telling them that whoever was sinless should commence the judgment by throwing the first stone.  

Not only did He silence the crowd, His requirement of self-judgment dispersed them as they unwittingly were moved to see their own sin.  Ouch.  But the story doesn't end there.  The next part is just as crucial to understanding Jesus as the first.

Turning to look at the woman He asked her a question: "Where are your accusers?"  Looking up and around, she realized through teary eyes that they were gone.  Now it was just her and Jesus.  How powerful that the only one qualified to stone her would not.  "Neither do I condemn you."  That's grace - receiving what we don't deserve.  The Law said she deserved death.  Jesus was giving her life.

But don't miss what He said next.  “Go, and from now on do not sin anymore.”  

What didn't He say?  He did not say, "You know, I'm not an adulterer myself.  It's not how I roll.  But if that's what fulfills you, OK."  He didn't say, "Nobody's perfect (except Me), and I know this is probably not your fault that you think it's acceptable to do another woman's husband.  So, be a little more discerning about who you welcome into your bed from now on."  He certainly didn't say, "The Law is so outdated.  I say 'If you can't be with the one you love, honey, love the one you're with'".  

He didn't come to redefine sin.  He didn't come to free her to continue to sin.  He came to free her from her sin and it's consequences.  He didn't water-down her guilt.  He told her simply, "You're free.  Now live a changed life.  What you did was wrong.  Put it in your past and don't go there again."  That's truth.

Grace and truth were what Jesus came to bring.  He epitomizes the blending of the two.  If we who are His followers are to be like Him, we have to do the same.  We cannot turn a blind eye to the truth and in the name of Jesus only give grace, because grace, without being coupled with truth only becomes license to sin.  Nor can we go the other way and preach truth without extending grace.  

The Gospel requires a message of both.  Grace provides the freedom we need from sin.  Truth provides the boundaries we need as well.  They are not mutually exclusive.  They are the very essence of Jesus and how culture should be countered.

Just remember that when and if you do counter the culture, there will likely be a cost to be paid.  Not everyone respected Jesus then.  Not everyone respects Him now, mainly because they have crafted a Jesus of their own making. 

 

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Culture Wars 2: Up is Down

One thing I'm realizing is that as I attempt to discuss relevant cultural issues with those of diverse opinions is that the words I use may be the same words they use yet the meanings have changed.

I'm a baby boomer, so for me words meanings go back to at least what they were in a generation past.  Not long past, but past.  But as we saw and heard in President Clinton's term, "is" may not mean "is" anymore to some.

Apparently the same is true with terms that are being hashed out in the cultural debates in 2012.  Here's what I've noticed.  In 2012...

..."Tolerance" means agreement.  If you disagree with me you must be intolerant.  Back in the day "tolerance" meant I may not agree with you.  I may think you are dead wrong.  But I'll respect your right to disagree.

..."Disagreement" means "hate".  If you disagree with me you hate me.  I grew up believing that it was possible for friends and families to love one another yet be on opposite ends of the spectrum.  Today's mantra is "Don't hate", which simply means, don't disagree and please don't verbalize that disagreement.  I still believe it is possible to disagree on major issues politically and morally and not want to kill the person you disagree with.  In fact, I think you can and should love even those you with whom you disagree.

..."Love" means acceptance.  If you love me you'll let me.  If you love me then you'll let me do my thing, whatever it might be, and respect my right to do it, even if you think it's wrong.  Yet my parents often stopped me from making major mistakes while growing up because of their love for me.  Love in my day didn't mean you didn't confront someone.  We believed in something called "tough love" if it was necessary.  Love didn't mean "I'm OK and you're OK".

..."Judge" means disagree.  If you disagree with me you're judging me, and everyone knows Jesus even said not to do that.  If you're judging me it means you think you or your opinion is better than my own.  There was a time in this country when to "judge" meant to use common moral sense about right and wrong.  And so, we made judgments - moral evaluations based on a greater, higher authority than our own.  Some call them "absolutes".  We believed them so deeply we were willing to stand up and protest.  But absolutes have gone the way of Blockbuster Video.  Seen one of those lately?

For example, there was a time when murder was always wrong (an absolute) because life was sacred (another absolute).  But then we began to redefine and water down those absolutes so that even the criminal became acceptable.

Abortion and assisted suicide somehow became acts of love.  Selfish love, perhaps, but we determined culturally that they were no longer wrong.  To speak out against them was judgmental, intolerant and hateful.

So, it becomes increasingly difficult to debate a point when the other person in the debate is essentially speaking a different, redefined language.  Hence the feeling of frustration.  Up is down when I think it is still up.    

I guess we'll have to learn to be bi-lingual if we're ever going to make sense.  And would someone please notify Webster of the changes?

Monday, July 30, 2012

Culture Wars

This whole thing with Dan Cathey, Chic-fil-a and his statement that he believes in the biblical traditional model of marriage has convinced me that we, indeed are in a cultural war in this country.  Two sides are distinctly drawn, it seems.

What has me most concerned is not so much that there are so many who now believe in a different definition of marriage, and that anyone who disagrees with them is somehow a bigot or hater, but that so many who profess allegiance to Christian values see more conservative believers as bigoted.

I confess.  Over the years I have "softened" my understanding of many things I once felt strongly about, mostly because I recognize more and more my own limited knowledge.   At the same time I hold to a very high view of Scripture, treating it as the very Word of God.  I also have a high respect for the two centuries of orthodox faith, meaning that it would be virtually impossible to conceive that the body of faithful Christianity, including it's greatest thinkers, apologists and theologians have "gotten it wrong" all this time.

Really?  Would the Holy Spirit allow that to happen without constant generational correction?  God is patient, as He demonstrated with Israel in the Old Testament.  But God also had limits to His patience, finding ways to bring them back to Him when they strayed.  Certainly He cares no less for the Church in this era of grace.

There are those who point out that Christians indeed, "got it wrong" in this country in the past, using slavery as an example.  And they are right.  But, they did so in defiance of Scripture and by contorting it to agree with their wrong conclusions.

But marriage has been the same since Adam gave Eve her first kiss as his bride, with God officiating the ceremony.  (Yes, I'm using allegory.)  "Male and female" was the Divine design, and that was before the Mosaic writings condemning homosexuality among the Jews BC and the Pauline words AD to the Roman and Corinthian churches that homosexual behavior had no place in the life of a Christian. 

So, what has me perplexed is the seeming growing number of professing Christians - most I will admit are millennials - who see no problem with what has been regarded for two thousand years as not just wrong but really wrong.  Has the church, in an effort to win a generation by failing to teach every part of the Bible, even the hard parts (and there are many) or by dodging the counter-cultural in Scripture, turned a generation who says they love Jesus into one that thinks He's great, but His Word is irrelevant?

I've been pastor of the same church for 21 and a half years, so I've seen an entire generation come and go.  Longer than that, I've been either a pastor or a theological student (hopefully I'm still both) for the better part of four decades.  Longer than that (!) I've been a reborn Christian for close to half a century.  And all that time I've been an observer both of culture and of the church.  Often I'm a critic of both.

My observations are driving me to believe that if the church does not see we are in a war for the souls of our children and grandchildren and realize we must now stand in the gap and "fight back" by grounding the church in "sound doctrine", those generations will have no grasp of the differences, whether subtle or stark in the worldviews that are captivating them.  It will take more than creative tweeting or posting.  It will take a prophetic voice.

And we all know what happened to the prophets.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

God uses every experience

 
When I was working in construction 25 years ago I wasn’t happy about it.  God had called me to preach and lead in the church, but for a season He had me banging (and bending) nails.  I confess I didn’t do so with the most submissive of attitudes toward the Lord, often asking “Why?” and whining.

But if we understand that our lives are under the lordship of a sovereign God who uses every experience as a tool to mold and shape us, then we can handle the disappointments life brings with grace.  Before those 4 years I call my “wilderness journey” I knew nothing about construction and had no skills with hammer or saw.

It now makes perfect sense to me why God took me down that path for a while.  In 1991 and 1999 I was able to use those skills to remodel and add on to my own house.  A few years ago I got to go to Canada and help build cabins for a Christian conference outreach to native Americans with our missionaries Don and Mary DeHart.  I’ve even applied some of that knowledge and skill to projects around NHC over the years.

Once again God is letting me dust off my tool belt to do some mission work.  Now banging nails is a joy as I see the seeds planted and watered in the hearts of those needing Christ.


We’re talking about seasons and times of life today.  God uses them all for our good and the good of the good of others, even if we don’t at first see it. 

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Diversity in the Southern Baptist Convention



I just watched online as the Southern Baptist Convention - the denomination with which my church affiliates - voted by a cheering acclamation a black man to be our denominational president for the first time.  Frankly, I was moved to tears, seeing the unanimity and joy of those assembled, and then watching a clearly humbled Fred Luter come to the podium and simply say, "To God be the glory for the things He has done."

Southern Baptists didn't have a good or righteous start when in 1845 they separated themselves from the Baptists to the North over the issue of slavery.  Clearly their reasons for establishing a new Baptist group was not based on anything espoused in Scripture, but was solely motivated by cultural economics and secular politics.  That is unfortunate, since Christians are first and foremost citizens of the Kingdom of God before they owe allegiance to any state or flag of man's making.

As those generations died off, and the American Civil Rights movement (led most prominently by a black Baptist pastor from Atlanta) began to right racial wrongs held over from the previous era of blindness, Baptists in the South slowly began to change from the past sins of their fathers.  In the late '90's at a Southern Baptist Convention (at which I was in attendance), the group put forth a resolution expressing repentance from the sin of racial prejudice.

Today, that change took a very large step toward turning words into action.  As I looked via the camera at the crowd on their feet and applauding with "Hallelujahs" and "Amens" I was looking at a very white crowd.  But, that's mostly who makes up Southern Baptist Churches.

This will not mean now that every Baptist church will suddenly become racially diverse.  Churches tend to reflect the communities in which they are located, and not all communities (ours for example) is very integrated.  Yet our church is racially diverse at a higher percentage than our town.  My guess (and hope) is that is because we value everyone regardless of their color and refuse to allow race to be any kind of issue here.

I also know that churches tend to be comprised of people who are "alike".  First-time guests to a church are more prone to return when they look about and see others who look like them, whether it be age, race, tattoos or whatever other cultural identification.  So, there will always be Southern Baptist churches that will be predominantly white, black, Asian, Hispanic, etc.  Always...not because others are not welcome, but because people want to worship where they are comfortable.  Like it or not, that's a fact of life.

At the same time I'm not ignorant of the fact that within our own Baptist association of 65 churches in our region there are some - maybe many - all white churches that either through practice or unwritten rule would not accept believers of other colors into their congregations.   Perhaps today's election will spark a change.

Such churches should now consider whether they want to remain within the SBC fold.  Sure, the president of our denomination has no power or authority over any church.  We all know that.  Baptists are autonomous.  But why belong to a denomination whose president would not be welcome as a member in your church?  How great a hypocrisy!

My hope is that those churches within our denomination who are today shaking their heads and will continue tosecretly or quietly ostracize other races from their membership would do the honest thing and pull out of the Convention so that the remainder of us can be unhindered by their testimony and move forward to reach all people to discover life in Christ.

We used to sing it when I was a child.  "Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in His sight".  It is good to see it begin to be lived out in word and in deed.

Monday, June 11, 2012

65Roses4PattySue Trust Fund

In 2005 my wife Gail along with Tricia's parents Don and Agnes created a trust fund designed to assist Tricia with the collateral expenses that would come with her CF treatment and eventual transplant.  At that time we sent out letters to family and friends, inviting them to give if they chose to do so.  

The result was extremely helpful as Nathan and Tricia spent 9 months living near Duke University before and after the transplant. 

However, as her health improved, and trips to Duke became less frequent, the trust fund lost its steam.  Now, with her status very much changed, and already this year multiple trips to Duke, including the current hospitalization for rejection, we have reinvigorated the fund.  Below is a letter that appears on a Facebook group for donors.  

If you are not in that group and would like to be able to donate via PayPal, I've added a button at the top left of this blog site for your convenience. 

If the idea of donating is offensive to you, we are sorry.  Please refrain from negative comments.

Dear Friends of 65Roses4PattySue,

Amazing as it sounds, this past April 2 marked the 4th anniversary of the night Tricia was wheeled into an all night surgery that would give her a life-saving “new” pair of lungs. If you’ve followed either Nathan’s or Tricia’s blogs or their Facebook posts, you know how that while Tricia’s much healthier than pre-transplant, her overall health has been and will always be a roller coaster ride. But, who would have thought that she would again be able to play softball, sing in the choir and most of all mother her Gwyneth Rose?

Another milestone just passed as well. Tricia turned 30 on May 13. So, the Lawrensons, Kirschners and all who love her have much for which to be thankful.

When crises settle down, as Tricia’s did after the surgery and the subsequent battle with lymphoma, we tend to relax and even forget that she will always be a post-transplant and cystic fibrosis patient at Duke Medical Center. When we began the 65 Roses Trust Fund nearly four years ago it was during that time of crisis. The response from so many made it possible for Nathan and Tricia to stay in Durham during her pregnancy leading up to Gwyneth’s miraculous birth and then on through the transplant, recovery and cancer treatments.

Once again we’re appealing to Tricia’s friends to re-invigorate the trust fund. In March, as you may know, Tricia was diagnosed with acute and chronic rejection after a long bout with RSV and pneumonia. This new struggle is just as threatening to a transplant survivor as cancer, and very costly. Though they have a very good insurance policy, Tricia will always require costly medications to battle rejection and her Cystic Fibrosis. While the disease will not attack her new lungs, it continues to attack her pancreas and digestive system.

She also must frequently return to Duke for checkups and tests to ensure all is still well. And all this means travel, gas, meals and other expenses above and beyond what their insurance will cover. Already this year they have driven the 200 miles to Duke multiple times, and the trips will surely continue. For example, tests results from a trip on May 14 require a return trip on May 21 for anti-rejection medication. Just the cost of gas for these trips this year has already cost them hundreds of dollars.

So we are again asking you to consider helping financially as you are able. And we promise to send annual reminders for those inclined to partner with Tricia. If you are unable, we certainly understand. But we also know that any gift makes a difference.

Because this is a trust fund gifts are unfortunately not tax deductible. Whether you can make a one-time gift or perhaps give on a regular basis, all monies given are dispersed by fund trustees and only for expenses related to Tricia’s continued medical care.

Gifts can be sent to 137 Sir Chandler Dr., Kill Devil Hills, NC 27948. Please make checks out to “65 Roses 4 Patty Sue”. Funds received are disbursed by trustees (her parents and in-laws) according to actual costs relating to treatment of Tricia’s disease not covered by insurance.

We will be looking into alternative payment options such as PayPal as well.

Thank you and God bless you.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Back at Duke...a familiar place

Many of you who follow this blog do so because you first followed my son Nathan's blog and story of Tricia's battle with Cystic Fibrosis, the birth of her daughter and Tricia's transplant.

Tricia was admitted back into Duke Medical Center today for treatment for acute rejection.  Essentially what that means is that her body is attacking her lungs, and their function is being terribly weakened.

Your prayers for her are always welcome.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

What you post says much about who you are

The story is told about the great 19th century English preacher Charles Spurgeon. Mr. Spurgeon was the greatest-known preacher in the world in his generation. His church in London packed in as many as 12,000 each Sunday. His sermons were published and distributed world-wide and read by the hundreds of thousands. He was comparable to Billy Graham of the past generation. The only Brit possibly more famous in his day was Queen Victoria. Possibly.

If you were to read Spurgeon's biography (as I have) or his sermons or devotionals you would know how greatly this man loved the Lord Jesus. His many years of life following his conversion as a teenager were devoted to proclaiming the Gospel and winning men and women to Christ. As much as any modern man, Spurgeon was consumed with knowing Christ and sharing Him with others.

But, Spurgeon was not perfect. Like all of us, he had chinks in his armor. One of which was his passion for a fine cigar!

One day as he was walking through a London neighborhood he passed by a tobacco shop. To his utter dismay the shop owner had posted (I use that word intentionally) a sign on the window advertising a certain brand of cigar with the tagline, "The cigar Spurgeon smokes".

It was at that moment a tranformation took place in his heart and life, for he never again smoked a cigar. "I will not allow that I be known for my cigar preference. Rather Spurgeon's name should only be tied with that of Christ". (My paraphrase.) Is smoking a cigar sinful? Maybe not. But Spurgeon would not let his freedom in Christ to do so become a stumblingblock to someone needing salvation.

Do we realize that our posts on Facebook reveal something of our character and of our relationship with the Lord? I find it disarming when believers display photos of themselves or make comments that lend to a public persona that may not portray the living Christ within. What you are doing in the picture or saying in a comment may not be "sinful". But can it be a stumblingblock, causing a non-believer to doubt your relationship with a holy God?

Let's be discreet. People are watching and listening. Facebook can be a tremendous tool for advancing the Gospel. It can also be a tremendous tool for turning people away from the life-changing salvation Jesus offers if only by a comment or ill-advised photo.

And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him. - Colossians 3:17
Amen.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Roller Coaster Emotions

We are created by God to be emotional beings.  It is normal to have times of sadness and ecstatic joy.  According to Solomon in Ecclesiastes those emotions come in seasons, as God gives us balance.  Emotional health welcomes both the highs and the lows, but never stays on one level or the other.  We need both and everything in between.

This week, for example, my life has and will include..
...A great Sunday!
...Two back to back DOA calls in the post-midnight hours of Monday morning.
...A great game of golf with friends (a golf game gives you every emotion).
...Seeing my grandchildren smile this morning.
...A funeral on Thursday.  (Oh, I had a funeral last Saturday, too.)
...A wedding on Saturday.

It's just Wednesday morning, so only God knows where my roller coaster car will go next.  So, I must have a heart focused on the only Constant in my life, Jesus Christ.  As my Shepherd He can be trusted to lead me through the darkest valleys and to the greenest pastures.  Knowing that keeps me from questioning Him about the track of my life. 

How great it is to know He won't leave me hanging emotionally, but keeps life moving moving through it's seasons. 
 

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

What happened?

With each passing day I find myself increasingly perplexed about what happened to the country of my birth.

It is rapidly disappearing from sight.

I am no longer perplexed however, as to why biblical prophetic literature mentions world powers in Europe and Asia, but the United States is absent.  That used to puzzle me.  It no longer does.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The Aftermath of the Vote

My home state of North Carolina voted by a significant majority to preserve the traditional definition of marriage that has been accepted by mankind since God put Adam and Eve together.  Carolina is in the Bible belt, and while it is not by any means a "Christian" state, it still clings to long held beliefs.

What will happen next will be those who voted against the amendment will angrily fire shots at those who believe marriage is defined by the Almighty as "one man and one woman", calling them "ignorant", "bigots" and "hate-mongers".  This is an issue that has drawn deep lines because it is a reflection of belief.  And, by the democratic structure that makes America great, one belief was affirmed while the other rejected.  Likewise, some who savor the victory will use it to throw barbs at their opposition.

Sad is that those who see marriage as being broader than man and woman see hatred in the votes of those who disagree.  It's been made into an anti-gay mandate, mostly by the extreme left, as though those who voted "for" are Nazis, out to exterminate an entire people.  I personally know of no one wanting to exterminate anyone.

Reality is that those in same-sex relationships a generation ago chose to stay "in the closet" because they were viewed culturally as deviant.  Now, they are now increasingly main-stream, largely due to a very calculated effort to make acceptable what had been seen as unacceptable in most circles.  Reality is that homosexuality has taken great strides in being viewed as a "minority" deserving of the same rights and status of those in our society with skin colors of red, black and brown.  In that effort they have succeeded for the most part.

Someone has said that what is tolerated by one generation will be embraced by the next.  Those in favor of treating those with homosexual behavior as a minority, including the "civil right" to marry only need to be patient.  The vote in North Carolina, while it may have slowed the snowball's momentum, it will not stop it without a nationwide change in worldview.   And while that is a possibility, it is not likely.  Pandora's box has already been opened.

Those in my generation often wonder, "How did it come to this?".  I believe the answer is that we now live in a post-Christian America that holds no truths to be absolute.  "Faith of our fathers" has no relevance to the Millennial generation.  Therefore, it matters not that society since the beginnings of mankind  has consistently held to a man/woman view of marriage.  Nothing is sacred because God has either been reconstructed to our own making or relegated to being something previous generations needed as a crutch and who is unnecessary today.  Everything is up for grabs.

Absolutism says, "This is truth.  It does not change".  Our culture has shifted away from the absolutes of earlier generations of Americans to the absolute truth that nothing is absolute.  Therefore, anything goes.  Tolerance now means "no boundaries".  Formerly tolerance meant "I don't agree with you, but you have a right to freely practice or believe what you do as long as you don't try and force it upon me".  Now, if a segment of society...even a majority... seeks to maintain historically accepted absolutes they are viewed as intolerant. 

At stake is the very foundation of our culture, a foundation constructed by our Founding Fathers.  Imperfect men, they still held to the absolute that the Creator ordained certain things to be right and true, and that we as mere men have no right to usurp His almighty authority as the One who created us in His image and dismantle either the absolutes or the foundation.  That they held to such absolutes is undeniably evident in their writings, including the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.  Historic Christianity and it's Judeo roots of Law and justice were accepted by all three branches of our founders' government.

That foundation has been eroded gradually over the past several generations like a slow but growing tide eats away a beach.  At first, it is so small that it is not noticed.  Then when it is discovered it is dissed as non-consequential.  However, when the houses begin falling into the surf it is virtually too late to make the attempt to rebuild.  Witness the fall of the mighty Roman Empire. 

There are those who spew hate on both sides of this vote's coin.  Even those who claim to be on God's side can be the most vitriolic.  And in that ugliness, the message that should be conveyed is lost in a muddled mess.  Those who genuinely base their opposition to a redefinition to the sanctity of marriage on an absolute belief should be anything but hatemongers.  Hopefully we voted for the amendment, not because we hate anyone, but because we truly believe that if marriage is tampered with, not only will our culture lose its moorings, but the doors will be opened to a host of other redefinitions that will prove detrimental in the long run to our future.

I wonder how much hatred would be displayed by the "for" voters had the vote gone the other way.  What would Jesus do in that scenario?  I suspect in either scenario He would show love and grace.

Let those who choose to hate not be those who name the name of Christ.  Rather, let those who follow His teachings and accept the Scriptures as the Word of God build bridges that demonstrate love to everyone.  Let us pray that the power of the Gospel to change men and women will be evidenced in the changes in our own hearts first, and then in the hearts of our friends and neighbors, regardless of their views.  May the God who created law, morality, sexuality and government, be revered as still worthy of acceptance by all.  Without Him we truly are adrift in a sea without an anchor or compass.




Thursday, April 19, 2012

Monday, April 16, 2012

God and Country in Jesus' Words

Then the Pharisees went and plotted how to trap Him by what He said. They sent their disciples to Him, with the Herodians. ‘Teacher,’ they said, ‘we know that You are truthful and teach truthfully the way of God. You defer to no one, for You don’t show partiality. Tell us, therefore, what You think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not?’”


Trying to trick Him, the self-appointed arbiters of righteousness in His day broached the issue of the relationship between civil government and the sacred. In 1st Century Palestine, the government was that of a foreign power. While there was a fairly high degree at the time of freedom of religion, the Jews resented being part of a Gentile empire, which, as any government does, taxed them for whatever provisions Rome supplied.


But no culture/state wants to be ruled by others. Every nation desires autonomy. In Judea was a rebel faction called zealots who sought the overthrow of Roman occupation by violent means. They hoped to convince Jesus, who was quickly gaining the following of the masses, to not only join them, but also be their “Messiah” and lead them to conquer Rome. He wasn’t so persuaded because overthrowing a political regime was not His mission.


His enemies then sought to use politics as a way to trip Him up and present Him as urging the people to refuse to pay taxes. Now there’s a way to win the approval of the people! But it wasn’t to win the favor of the citizenry that they posed this question to Him. It was to run back to the Roman authorities and charge Jesus with being a revolutionary and have them end His life and with it, His growing movement.


Jesus saw through their scheme. But perceiving their malice, Jesus said, ‘Why are you testing Me, hypocrites? Show Me the coin used for the tax.’ So they brought Him a denarius (a Roman coin). ‘Whose image and inscription is this?’ He asked them. Caesar’s,’ they said to Him. Then He said to them, ‘Therefore, give back to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.’”


Not only did Jesus recognize the place of civil, human government to look over the affairs of mankind, He also gave support to the ability of government to impose taxation. Note that when the opportunity arose He did not condemn either Rome or taxes. We know from another story in the Gospels that Jesus was a taxpayer Himself.


At the same time Jesus clearly drew a line. Founding Father Thomas Jefferson, in a letter, called it a “wall of separation”. The framers of our Constitution also recognized Jesus’ “line” in the Bill of Rights’ 1st Amendment. Some areas are clearly the domain of the government, especially protecting our freedoms and rights. But others belong to a higher power – the Creator. He is the author of morals, faith, ethics and what we call “personal conscience”.


Jesus’ made it so simple. Give to Caesar (the civil authorities) those things that belong to “him”. Give to God those areas of life that belong to Him. It is when we mix the two or allow one to take over the other that we move away from Christ’s words of wisdom.


The message seems simple. Let the government rule over that which God has given it. After all, government is God’s idea. But don’t allow the government to rule matters of faith and the morals and institutions over which He alone should have control.


And giving back to God the things that are His can be far more difficult a choice than filling out a 1040 and mailing a check.


This article is taken from The Outer Banks Sentinel, April 18, 2012

Rick Lawrenson is the Lead Pastor of Nags Head Church.

Copyright 2012 Rick Lawrenson

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Where to start?

There's much on my mind that I want to write about...the disintegration of religious freedom in our country, burnout among pastors, March Madness, O Brother, Where Art Thou...

I just can't figure out where to start.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Decades of Life

After spending some time this morning with my daughter and her children, I thought about where I was when my own were little. That led me to think about the decades of my life - how you really never know where or what you'll be ten years from now.

When I was ten I was a 5th grade student at Clyde A. Erwin Elementary School in Jacksonville, NC. Baseball was my first love. It was while I was ten that my dad left us for thirteen months, going to a violent place in Southeast Asia. I rode a bike and got the newest fad of transportation that year...a skateboard. Mom and dad owned a modest little home in a rural development called Half Moon Heights.

I turned twenty while serving an internship in Ft. Myers, FL. A few weeks later I started my junior year of college in Lynchburg, VA. After 3 years of not playing baseball I tried a comeback, but in just three years the skills had become too rusty. Huge disappointment. But in a couple months I would meet a girl while working for J. C. Penney who would partner with me for life. today. Huge break! My ride was a '65 VW bug that was a piece of junk. Still lived with the folks.

At 30 I was serving in my third church, a youth and music pastor, since graduating college eight years earlier. My seminary degree's ink was still wet, and our family now included a four year old son and a seven month old daughter. We rented a house in the same neighborhood where my wife grew up. The next five years would prove to be the hardest of my life.

By age 40 I had been pastor of Nags Head Baptist Church for four years. Our family now included a teenager and two young daughters. I was coaching baseball and softball with my kids and totally engrossed in my job. Three days after turning 40 I got my first pair of bifocals. We were driving our first brand new car, a mini-van that would last us for the next eleven years. The church provided us with a comfortable home in Kitty Hawk, a home we would later purchase.

At the half-century mark we enjoyed the stability of being in the same position and even living in the same home for 15 years. Life is good! Our kids are finding their own ways in life. Our son is happily married. I've had some health concerns, but have fortunately resolved them with diet. Gail's dad passed away a few years ago and her mom and my parents are dealing with the issues that come with aging. The next years would bring the joys of weddings, grandchildren and the greatest trials of our faith.

Now I'm past the midway mark of my 6th decade. The seasons have flown by! I'm watching my children go through the same stages of life through which I've been. Hopefully the faith and values they've learned through life will carry them through their decades to come.

Looking back I can see how God works all things together for good to those who love Him. Solomon wrote that, "To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven", and went through those times and seasons of life. Most important is that we discover that purpose and see our lives as being given to us to glorify our Creator in every season.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Are you ready?

The phone rang at 10:24PM.

I looked up at Gail and she said, "It's kind of late for a phone call", knowing that when the phone rings that late in a pastor's house it isn't going to be a lunch invitation. She was right.

"He's been taken to the hospital and his wife has asked that you be there." The prognosis was not good.

We were simply acquaintances, although his wife and mother-in-law are family of close friends. In fact, he was my son's Little League coach 22 years ago. I had only seen him a couple of times at the most in those two-plus decades. But I was asked to come right away, and being a believer in Divine appointments, I put on my shoes, brushed my teeth, and headed down the road.

While I'm no physician, I've been around the block a time or two in the hospital and ER in my pastoral experience. As I stood just inside the curtain that separated the room from the doctors and nurses station, it only took a second to know this would likely be my last chance to see him.

He was conscious and alert, and through the mask that covered most of his face, giving him oxygen as he labored for every breath I could see his eyes widen as he saw me. I took it as a sign that he was glad to have me there. At least three medical professionals were tending to him, working on needles, bags and such. So I stayed near the foot of the bed and gave a simple wave.

This was not a good time to try and get close enough to talk, so I left for the waiting room.

My third trip back to see him found him hooked up to everything imaginable. Only one nurse was there, punching things into a computer. So I walked up to the side of his bed, took his hand and said what needed to be said. His wife stood beside me.

"I'm not going to tell you what you don't already know. You don't have a lot of time left on this earth." He was looking directly into my eyes as he continued to struggle for each shallow breath. A slight nod told me he knew it, too. "I need to ask you...are you ready? Do you know Jesus is your Savior?"

The next nod wasn't so slight. It was deliberate.

"Knowing that will give you the peace you'll need through this night, and it will bring great peace to your family."

I prayed with him that God would help him through the night; that he might get some rest; that the Lord would bring comfort and strength to his family.

He was transported by helicopter to a hospital 80 miles away where he could be in an ICU. Today, after his wife, children, mother and sister said theirs goodbyes, he was taken off the ventilator and in a few minutes slipped into eternity.

He was ready.

Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, those who listen to my message and believe in God who sent me have eternal life. They will never be condemned for their sins, but they have already passed from death into life."

One day all of us will have a similar experience. Perhaps it will be dragged out for days or weeks. Perhaps it will happen in an instant and be totally unexpected. But we will all face our mortality.

Ready or not.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Monday, January 16, 2012

Debates

Without commenting on my personal leanings, I find these debates to be too many and too annoying. So, I don't watch.

Maybe if they talked vision and solutions instead of wasting time taking each other apart I could tolerate them.

Besides, the guy with the most dinero in his war chest wins the nomination anyway, right?

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Great Customer Service!

Today I had an appointment with the Apple store. My Mac book needed a minor repair and Gail's power adapter needed a replacement. It was my first visit to Apple since purchasing the laptop a year and a half ago, which is good since it is 75 miles away!

Some observations, then some thoughts about CS in my chosen field.
  • An appointment is required. This can be done online, so it's very easy. They tell you what's available and you choose the time that is most convenient for you. You can also let them know the nature of the visit so they can be prepared.
  • Upon entering the store I noticed it was very busy, but the employee to customer ratio was very high...maybe 1:2. Almost immediately upon entering a friendly, outgoing Apple associate (I don't know what they call their employees) asked me if she could help me. I didn't have to go looking for her. She noticed me, even though she was already engaged with someone else. I did not see one blue-shirted employee not serving a customer.
  • On her Ipad she found my appointment. I was almost 30 minutes early and they were "running on time", which meant it might take that long before I would be seen by someone from the "Genius Bar". Their lingo for tech support. So she offered to let the know (via the Ipad) that I was there, and to give them a description of me ("handsome, graying with stunning blue eyes", I'm sure) and when a "genius" was available he would find me. No standing in line. I was free to roam about the store. I declined to hang around because I had one other item to take care of in the mall, but would return in plenty of time.
  • Ten minutes before my appointment I approached the "Genius Bar" where a young man was finishing up for an earlier customer. Seeing me, he immediately asked how he could help me. He found my appointment on his Ipad and said he would be right with me...which he was.
  • In short order I was walking out of the store. As I left, the young lady I originally met saw me and told me she had let them know I was back. That meant she remembered I had come in earlier. I said, "Thanks! I've been taken care of and am on my way out."

This is not the kindest thing to say, but I've visited churches who don't have a clue about Customer Service. I'm not talking about church members who expect others to serve and wait on them...they certainly don't get it. But in my travels I've had the unfortunate experiences of being a guest and being ignored.


Church leaders perhaps should venture out more and find out how others either accomplish or utterly fail when it comes to welcoming guests. To some people there is nothing more frightening than to wander into a strange building, where perhaps you know not a soul. Making that even more uncomfortable is when, not a soul offers to get to know you.


One church my wife and I visited had multiple buildings with no signage. So we picked one, found out it was the children's ministry building and asked where we belonged. Another church, known for its pastor's excellent teaching, was as cold as ice. The only greeting or acknowledgment we received was from the guy handing us a bulletin at the door. Still at another we arrived a bit early. The doors were all solid wood and closed. The windows were all stained glass so we could see nothing inside. Again, no signage or evidence where the main entrance might be. For all we knew the door we were about to open led to the pulpit. And no one was posted there.


I get the impression that some churches either don't really expect anyone new to try them out. And for good reason.


My belief is that the church, the family of God, the body of Christ is commissioned to share Good News that much of the world, including my community, has not yet heard. And if guests show up (and we should encourage the church to invite and bring their unchurched friends) we should act like we're both ready for them and expecting them. It should be our desire for their first time (and subsequent visits) to be the most welcoming experience ever.


After all, our Savior said, "Whosoever will may come". If they show up, apparently it's for a great reason. Let's let them know we're glad, for eternity's sake, that they did. Let's let them be glad as well. If we do, there's a great chance they'll be back.