Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Time passages

It's the day after Memorial Day and I just realized that I'm beginning my 22nd year here on the Outer Banks of NC. Memorial Day 1986 I moved down from Portsmouth, VA to begin a new church. My wife and kids were able to join me on July 4th.

I could go on and on about those days, but won't. Be glad. The church, Seashore Baptist Church was launched soon after and looked promising. Unfortunately I was naive about the wiles of disgruntled former church members looking for something new but bringing their old wineskins along with them, and within six months I walked away from the plant. Suffice it to say that the most vocal among the members wanted a church that looked nothing like my vision. Do the words "democracy" and "KJV" tell you anything?

(What remained of that church lingered and dwindled for another 5 years before cashing it in.)

But God brought me here for a purpose that wouldn't be realized for several years after a time of testing and maturing. Now I can't hardly imagine calling anywhere else "home". My kids have grown up here. Everywhere I turn I meet someone I know. Since 1991 I've been privileged to pastor a thriving church with vision for the future. And after growing up in a military family where moves were regular (I attended 3 high schools in 4 years), living in one community for 21 years gives me a sense of living the American dream and having put down roots.

This is still where God wants me. He continues to have a purpose here for my life.

Now, if I could only muster up the courage to try out that surf board...

Monday, May 28, 2007

"Who are those guys?" - Butch Cassidy

The picnic today was full of great food and well attended. The weather was perfect. For a while I went out on to the pitch (that's a soccer field for the uninitiated) and displayed my talents - which are nil (another soccer term).

Fred and Seth did a superb job grilling the burgers and dogs. Agnes' maple frosted pound cake was to die for. Lots of smiles and seeing the body of believers enjoying one another's company. Thanks to our Fellowship Team for putting it all together.

But the greatest thing about the picnic? There were people there I couldn't identify. That's what it's all about.

Sacrifice, freedom and fun

It's a holiday today. The "office" is closed. I could be sleeping in, but at 5:30 I was wide awake, so I'm up. It's part of growing old, I guess.

I'll be participating in a couple of Memorial Day activities later today. One is a ceremony at the Town Hall. The other is a church picnic. One has as it's purpose to remember the men and women who gave the ultimate sacrifice while protecting and preserving freedom while serving our military. The other is for fun, enjoying the federal holiday.

Our president has asked us to pause at 3PM for a "moment of silence" on this day. We'll make that happen at our picnic, using that "moment" to not be silent, but to be vocally thankful to God for the land of the free and home of the brave.

Sacrifice, freedom and fun. They're a great combination.

Without the sacrifices of so many going back over 230 years and continuing this very day in the Middle East freedom would just be a dream. But it's reality for us in the US and possibility for others in places like Iraq and Afghanistan because brave souls have been willing to lay it all down to make it happen.

And here in this country we arguably have more opportunity to have fun than anywhere else in the world. Why is that? Isn't it simply because we're free? And our freedom has allowed us the ability to make the most of life and its opportunities. The lack of oppression (I'd like to say the absence of it, but will refrain) in a free society gives us the freedom to have fun.

It's great to be a citizen of such a country. Display the flag. Sing The Star Spangled Banner with your hand over your heart. Plant a flag on the grave of one who gave. Whether today you visit cemeteries, attend solemn ceremonies or eat a burger and throw a Frisbee, remember the sacrifice. Celebrate the freedom. And relish in the fun.

Just don't take any of it for granted.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Salute to The Duke

Today is John Wayne's centennial birthday. It's hard for me to turn down a John Wayne movie on TV, no matter how many times I've seen them.

While he didn't play many men of what we would call "godly character", and he wasn't a believer in "organized religion", he did represent to the world the American male - strong, loyal and ready to defend what he stood for. Whether it was as a Marine in WWII, a cowboy or retired shootist, he was a man's man.

We miss his kind of masculinity for the most part in today's cinema.

And that he lived at The Wedge in Newport Beach, CA makes him an even greater icon.

Happy Birthday Duke.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Is the truth so hard to tell?

One of the things that we admire about the Father of our country is that he was said to be a man of utmost honesty. We know that likely the story has been embellished, but supposedly when confronted as a boy about cutting down a cherry tree he replied, “I cannot tell a lie”.

Oops. He told one.

We all can tell lies. But what concerns me is when professing believers in Jesus (and I use the word “professing” not to cast doubt on their faith, but rather on the fact that they openly admit to being Christ followers) are less than honest. I’m concerned because lately I’ve been around Christians who were, shall I say, less than honest.

What do we hope to gain by failing to tell the truth? Sometimes it’s to cover up our failures. We know we’ve done something that we’re ashamed of but can’t come clean with it. So we fabricate or make up an excuse. Shame on us. We know it’s wrong yet we still “stretch” the truth or tell a “half-truth”.

The Bible is pretty straightforward about it. It says, “So you must stop telling lies. Tell each other the truth, because we all belong to each other in the same body.” (Ephesians 4:25) What about that isn’t clear?

But it’s not that we don’t get it. It’s that we all struggle with that old nature that just refuses to die even though it’s been put to death and conquered by the new life freely given to us by Christ.

Instead of lying, let’s “speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15) to one another because we do all belong to each other. When one brother or sister deceives or distorts the truth, even twists it a bit to save face, that person has lied to himself because we belong to each other. We’re a body. It’s like slapping yourself in the face. It’s stupid. And it’s wrong.

The world needs us to be at our Christ-following best. And that means being honest. It means saying words that edify not tear down. They need that from us because it is from our lips that the ultimate truth must be told – the Gospel truth – if they have any hope of eternal life. And if we can’t tell the truth to each other, why would they trust us to tell them the truth?

Quit the covering up and instead “Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.” (James 5:16 NLT) That implies there must also be ready forgiveness. Let’s come clean. Then we can truly begin to reach the world with the truth.

Been thinking about Jerry Falwell

(I'm not one to delve into anything controversial. So I'll start out with this topic. I wrote it 3 days after the news of his death had some time so sink in.)

I’ve been thinking about Jerry Falwell….
May 18, 2007

I first met Jerry Falwell when I was a 16 year old high school junior. He, Doug Oldham and the Lynchburg Baptist College Chorale flew out to California at the invitation of my pastor, Ken Connolly. He and Jerry had hatched an idea. Both of them were on TV, and Jerry wanted to have a greater presence for his Old Time Gospel Hour on the West Coast. So our church was going to “merge” with Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg. Berean Baptist Church of Orange, CA was going to be “Thomas Road West”.

The concept was that Jerry would fly out every week and preach at “TRBC West” every Thursday night. He could build a West Coast support base for his TV ministry and a fledgling first-year college and our church would become better known locally. It was a far-fetched win-win idea that never really took off. That was Jerry Falwell. He was a visionary man whose ideas were often “out there”. But most of his ideas worked. His vision often became reality.

I owe a lot to Dr. Falwell. Including college and seminary, I spent seven years learning at the schools he founded. He never taught a class, to my knowledge, but nonetheless, it was his vision and drive that made that education possible. From the meager beginnings of 154 students and 4 faculty members in 1971, Liberty University now has 10,000 students on campus and is the largest evangelical university in the world. I’m one of some 15,000 pastors who got their training there. I met my wife, Gail, while we were both students at LU. He was my pastor for those four years, so I heard him preach at least 3 times a week, including chapel at school

Later, my older two children were born in Lynchburg while I was a seminary student. And don’t tell anyone, but during those seminary years Dr. Falwell even provided me employment at an organization called The Moral Majority. He’d often stop by my office and say “hi”. But don’t label me as part of that movement. I’m of the belief that the hope of this country is not getting all the Christians to be Republicans. Rather, it’s getting all the Christians to live like Jesus and share Him with others. We need a spiritual awakening, not a political one.

Gail and I won’t forget driving Jerry around Tulsa, Oklahoma when he came to speak at a missions conference at our church. He sat beside me and asked if we would take him to Oral Roberts University so he could see it for himself. As we drove through town there was a moment or two when conversation had stopped and it was silent in the car. All of a sudden he shouted loud and moved the gear shift of my car to neutral. It about scared me to death, and he was cracking up. His mischievous sense of humor was legendary.

A few years later we were invited to his home along with the other students and wives of the seminary’s graduating class. He and Mrs. Falwell showed us around the house and spent time with each of us. That next week as I received my masters degree and shook his hand at graduation, he asked me, “How’s that new baby doing?” Sarah had been born that January. How did he know?

He possessed a photographic memory. The stories that he could read a page from a book, close it and then recite it word for word were true. That remarkable ability served him well. Even though I only saw him once or twice in the last 23 years, when we did meet he called me by name and asked how my parents were doing.

It’s rare that I mention Falwell publicly or my connection to him. He has been a polarizing figure, and because he has been so badly stereotyped and caricatured by the media, I did not want to be cast in the same stereotypes. Not everything Jerry did or said would be what I would do or say. Many times I watched him on Nightline and cringe when he said something outrageous. But never did I see him on Larry King or any of the TV news shows in an interview when he didn’t find some way to share the Gospel. That was his passion – for people to know that God loved them and Jesus died to give them eternal life.

Unlike what I’ve read in the last few days by his critics, Jerry was not a bigot. There was not an ounce of hatred in him toward any man. People confused his passion for morality to be a hatred of the immoral, but that’s not so. Falwell was able to love the sinner. His vision led to the start of numerous social outreach ministries to alcoholics, drug addicts, unwed mothers, the impoverished and AIDS victims through the church he pastored. No one who knew him would call him a hate monger.

He was a generous man. Only God and the financial office at LU know how many “scholarships” he gave to young people he met whose special needs touched his heart. I wish I had received one!

And he was a very forgiving man. I was angered more than once by his seeming inability to discipline students and staff. But I think he had a clear understanding of the grace of God that had forgiven him and only wished to reflect that same grace. There are men whose families and careers have been salvaged because Jerry Falwell believed in giving them a second chance.

From a distance it was easy to see how someone almost larger than life was easily misunderstood by so many. There were times when I misjudged him. But I couldn’t see his heart. Only God could do that. And while there was rejoicing by some who despised what he stood for so fervently when the news that he had died broke, I believe that there was greater rejoicing in heaven as who knows how many – certainly they number in the multiple thousands – who heard the Gospel from one of his sermons or because at the college he founded a pastor or missionary or Christian business leader was given a biblical foundation and world view and shared Christ with them. Who knows how many rose to meet him Tuesday morning?

He leaves behind his wife of 49 years, two sons – one an attorney – the other a pastor, and a daughter who is a surgeon, as well as a bunch of grandkids. He also leaves behind 130,000 of us LU grads – “Jerry’s Kids – who didn’t always appreciate him, didn’t always agree with him, but who were nonetheless influenced by him to strive to be “champions” for Christ.

Here’s to you, Jerry. Your fight is over.

A new trick for an old dog

I've been using the computer and web/email for some time now to communicate, so that's not new to me. But blogging is. Not sure how I'll do with it (or even if anyone will read whatever I write.) But the idea of keeping a "journal" of sorts of my thoughts has caught my fascination.

Who knows how regularly I'll do something here? Not me. But when something wakes me up in the middle of the night and I can't go back to sleep, I'll try blogging.

Here goes.