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.

Monday, November 29, 2010

The Advent Conspiracy

Check it out and see if you and yours can't spend less, give more and truly celebrate the birth of Christ this year more than ever before.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving Day: An American Tradition

While earlier American presidents issued proclamations on occasion for days of prayer, fasting and thanksgiving, it has been an annual tradition in our country for our President to do so since Abraham Lincoln’s Thanksgiving proclamation of 1863.

I found it enlightening to read the words of these men of our past – especially in how they gave encouragement to our citizenry to worship, pray and give thanks to God. It is a great tradition that I hope will live on.

Here is a random sampling from those proclamations. I hope their words inspire you this Thanksgiving as they have me.

I do therefore invite my fellow-citizens… to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens. – A. Lincoln, 1863

I recommend that they gather in their several places of worship and devoutly give Him thanks for the prosperity wherewith He has endowed us, for seedtime and harvest, for the valor, devotion, and humanity of our armies and navies, and for all His benefits to us as individuals and as a nation; and that they humbly pray for the continuance of His divine favor, for concord and amity with other nations, and for righteousness and peace in all our ways. – W. McKinley, 1900

Let us remember that, as much has been given us, much will be expected from us, and that true homage comes from the heart as well as from the lips, and shows itself in deeds. We can best prove our thankfulness to the Almighty by the way in which on this earth and at this time each of us does his duty to his fellow-men. – T. Roosevelt, 1901

May we on that day in our churches and in our homes give humble thanks for the blessings bestowed upon us during the year past by Almighty God. - F. Roosevelt, 1932

I…do hereby proclaim …a day of national thanksgiving, and I call upon every citizen to offer thanks to God for His gracious guidance and help. Again I ask all my countrymen to appeal to the Most High, that the God of our Fathers who has blessed this land beyond all others will in His infinite mercy grant to all nations that peace which the world cannot give. I entreat them, in church, chapel and synagogue, in their homes and in the busy walks of life, every day and everywhere, to pray for peace. – H. Truman, 1950

…for the unity of spirit which has made our country strong; and for the continuing faith under His guidance that has kept us a religious people with freedom of worship for all, we should kneel in humble thanksgiving. – Pres. Eisenhower, 1953

I urge that all observe this day with reverence and with humility. Let us renew the spirit of the Pilgrims at the first Thanksgiving, lonely in an inscrutable wilderness, facing the dark unknown with a faith borne of their dedication to God… - Pres. Kennedy, 1962

…it is our desire to observe, in the custom and tradition of our forebears, a special day dedicated to giving thanks to God - a day on which to lay aside our daily tasks and cares and pay joyous homage to Him. We are impelled to raise our voices in His praise and to proclaim our heartfelt gratitude for another year… - L. Johnson, 1964

I ask all Americans to gather on that day with their families and neighbors in their homes and in their houses of worship to give thanks for the blessings Almighty God has bestowed upon us. – J. Carter, 1977

Let us pause from our many activities to give thanks to almighty God for our bountiful harvests and abundant freedoms. Let us call upon Him for continued guidance and assistance in all our endeavors. And let us ever be mindful of the faith and spiritual values that have made our Nation great and that alone can keep us great. – R. Reagan, 1986


Sunday, November 21, 2010

Love Hurts (sometimes)

This past week has been one of heartbreak for me on several points.

Anyone is is called by God to shepherd His flock are by nature of the business vulnerable. You can't help it. God trusts you with the care of His sheep and that requires loving them. And that's good. But sometimes that love brings hurt.

Sheep stray. Because they are essentially defenseless creatures they become easy prey for the wolves that continually circle the fold. And sheep die.

The last week I've seen all of it. I am so grateful for the grace that God provides to handle the tough stuff and that the Chief Shepherd's shoulders are broad enough to carry the burden.

Don't forget to pray for your pastors.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Say "Thanks" to a Veteran for his/her service

Saturday I was at our local nursing home and engaged in a conversation with Harold, a veteran of World War II. He served in the Army Air Corps, the predecessor to the US Air Force.

As we talked, because of his age and physical limitations he was somewhat slumped over in his wheel chair. But when I said, "Thank you for your service to our country", he looked up at me and replied, "Thank you".

Whenever I meet a veteran I try to say those words. Their willingness to put on the uniform of the United States is not taken lightly in my view. And just thanking them always brings a smile to their faces if not a look of surprise. Apparently they don't hear it often.

Two days loom large this week. The first is Wednesday, November 10 and the Marine Corps' Birthday - the oldest military force in our country. Semper Fi!

The second, of course, is Thursday, November 11, Veterans Day. Memorial Day in May is when we remember those who died for our country. This one is to say "Thanks" to those who served in uniform and lived to tell about it.

So express your gratitude to a Veteran this week. Make their day. Fly the flag.

And if you can, get out to a Veterans Day ceremony in your town. Take the kids. Teach them appreciation for our flag and how to stand and place their hands over their hearts as the Star Spangled Banner is sung and the Pledge of Allegiance is proudly recited.

Freedom isn't free. Thanks to all our Veterans for your service. And we pray for those in active duty service today, especially those on foreign soil.

God bless you.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Ed and Edith are on a mission

Pastor and his wife are on a week of vacation! Most in the church are glad they could get away and enjoy the time off. After all, everyone needs a break, even pastors, right? Most think so.

But while the cat's away the mice are playing. Here's an opportunity to do some underhanded, covert operations, and Ed and Edith are on it.

First off, Ed's a bit frosted that the pastor would take a vacation now. After all, there are important items on the church calendar and shouldn't the pastor be here? Committee meetings (especially the committee on committees), the choir's progressive dinner, the exterminator is coming for the annual pest inspection. It's January and he needs to be here for the start of the new year, it's May and that's just before the "summer slump", it's summer and everybody else is on vacation, it's fall and don't we have a revival scheduled soon? There's really no good time for a vacation, Pastor. Sorry. And that guest preacher who filled in for you...well, he wasn't what we are used to...

But there are other underlying reasons Ed and Edith are on a mission. Really it's about control, and Pastor has lately been showing some initiative - some would call it "leadership". New people are taking on roles in the church; new ministries are being started. For Ed and Edith it feels like they are losing their grip.

So, as the pastor and his long-suffering wife are enjoying palm trees and gentle breezes, little do they know that a storm is brewing back home. By the way, they would have never been able to afford a vacation like this had not some folks in the church provided it.

Edith, who also has been doing the pastor's taxes the last couple of years is on a campaign to tell everyone in the church that their pastor makes more salary than any other pastor in the county. Actually, he is probably the lowest paid pastor around. In fact, he never got a raise of any kind his first five years in the church. Nada. Because of that, he was forced to take on some supplemental employment as a handyman to help make ends meet. There's nothing wrong with that if that's what it takes. But even then, some in the church, like Edith, resented the fact that he wasn't at her beck and call 24/7.

And Ed? He's started a petition calling for a vote to remove the pastor! It's the American way, right? Before and after church last Sunday he approached those he thought would be on his side to sign the petition. This was something he cooked up on his own, however. The deacons didn't find out about it until one of them was called by a member questioning the petition's legitimacy.

Arriving home, refreshed from their holiday, Pastor and wife find several unsettling messages on their voice mail. "Pastor, the deacons need to meet with you ASAP. There's a petition going around..." "Pastor, is it true you are the highest paid clergyman in the county? Can our church really afford that?" Their hearts sink into the pits of their stomachs. Welcome back to the real world!

Fortunately the deacons, who wield great authority in the church, are visibly incensed at what is going on behind their backs. "We'll take care of it, Pastor." So Ed and Edith get a phone call, telling them what they are doing is out of bounds and to cease and desist with the petition and the insinuation that the church is being robbed with every paycheck Pastor receives. The salary, by the way, is voted on annually by the congregation.

Ed and Edith have a choice. Stay or leave. Shocked that they've been confronted and told what they are doing is not very Christian, they decide they are no longer welcome in their church. "There are plenty of other churches in town that would love to have us as members", they tell themselves. They've had that same conversation with themselves before.

So, the next day they show up at the church with both of their vehicles, including Ed's pick up truck. Since they both have keys to the church it doesn't matter that no one else is there to explain what they're up to. But into the nursery they go, and out with them comes a rocking chair, a changing table, a crib and the curtains (Edith prefers to call them "window treatments"). You see, two years ago, with the arrival of their first grandchild, Ed and Edith joyfully offered to refurbish the nursery. Who knew there were strings attached?

Pity the church that gets the nursery furnishings next.

Meanwhile, back at their old church, for some reason it seems as if Someone has opened up the windows and let the fresh air come in.

(Believe it or not, Ed and Edith's stories are based on real life. I couldn't make these things up! If you want to read other installments on Evangelical Ed and Edith, click on their link under "Labels" on the right side of this page.)

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Everything Rises and Falls

Watching the American political scene, especially the last 10 months has reaffirmed the maxim that "everything rises and falls on leadership" in my mind.

Leaders set the tone and the pace. They say, "Follow me", and whether it's to utopia or the blind are leading the blind, the destination and course of the journey rides on their vision or lack of it.

They also lead by example. People follow what they see more than what they hear.

I don't envy political/governmental leaders - not at the national level - not at the local level. They have to try to please everyone and that's just plain impossible. If you ever hear that I'm considering running for anything, even dog catcher, please break out the two-by-four.

But I am a leader, not by choice or by election but by calling. And I have to wonder, especially when those I lead are straying from the flock, or ignoring the warnings from the shepherd that there are predators nearby, how responsible am I for their wandering? Did I do my job? Did I stumble or fail to act because of fear?

It weighs heavy on my heart. Some days more so than others.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Tony Bennett at 84 Belts it Out

Tony is a WWII Army veteran who served in Europe, liberating concentration camps. I think he meant every word.

Where are Jackson and Sharpton? #2

President Obama says, "We don't mind the Republicans joining us. They can come for the ride, but they gotta sit in back."

Had that statement been made by a Republican about the Democrats my hunch is that the Revs would be all over it as 'racist'. I wonder what Rosa Parks would say to Mr. Obama?

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Bewitched Believers

O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you? 2This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? 3Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh? Galatians 3:1-3 KJV

(First off, this isn't a "Halloween" post. If you want to read something about the evils of trick or treating you'll have to go somewhere else. And there are a gazillion places on the web to do that.)

Often I've shared while teaching a tidbit of my personal background and church heritage. While my childhood pastors proclaimed salvation by grace there was always the sense in those churches that behind every corner lurked an evil temptation. So there was always a level of distrust when the church ventured beyond the walls of "the church". Be careful out there...if they don't dot their "i's" or cross there "t's" just like us, chances are there's something bad in the mix.

So, we couldn't participate in certain things at school or in entertainment. Square dancing in PE class required us to have a letter from our parents exempting us. Walt Disney movies (while Walt was still in charge) that were always innocent and tasteful were taboo because the price of admission went to foster the "Hollywood lifestyle" of people like Liz Taylor, etc. At least that's what I heard.

It's taken me forty-plus years to recover from legalistic leanings. Yet I have to confess, buried somewhere deep in my soul are the tendencies to revert to a self-righteous position of condemning things not really addressed in the Scriptures. I fight it regularly, and only by God's grace do I not go back. Such a thought sends chills up my spiritual spine.

One thing I've learned in my years of pastoral ministry is that certain personalities (mine included) are drawn by Phariseeism. You know - the Pharisees were the religious fundamentalists of Jesus' day who said, "We're right and everyone else (including you, Jesus) are wrong." They claimed to be the anointed keepers of the Law.

Within every church, going back to the 1st Century are personalities who either were saved out of legalism or who because of their upbringing are drawn to the idea that the stricter the rules, the holier the life. And inevitably that belief leads to tightening the turniquet around the life of the Spirit in the hearts of believers.

Paul called those in the Galatian churches who had reverted back to grace plus law "bewitched". It's as though they were under a spell. Following Paul's departure from their region, Judaizers - Jews who taught Gentiles that before you could become a Christian you had to first become a Jew by circumcision (ouch) - came into these fledgling churches, pulling out their credentials as teachers, and brought the confusion that legalism brings, especially to those of us with a bent toward that kind of thing.

Here's where I see the Judaizers today. Sure, they're in local churches. Always will be. They've always had their publications. My mom used to subscribe to one and I read it as a kid every week. But with the free soap box (that I am currently using) of the internet, they are just a Google away from anyone's computer. And from the computer their interpretations go directly where? Into our minds.

Graciously the Holy Spirit has been teaching me for 44 years that Christianity brings liberty, not bondage to standards we create that the Creator never intended. Straining at gnats and fixating on the speck in someone else's eye only breeds a negativism that stifles what matters most: loving men and women into the Kingdom of Christ.

"So, be careful little eyes what you see. Be careful little ears what you hear." That was a good lesson from my childhood. At NHC we've determined not to allow Phariseeism in any form to take a foothold among us. And that includes in me as well. Our elders are committed to that. We won't permit ourselves to major on the minors, which is the hallmark of a legalistic spirit.

So, Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage. Galatians 5:1 KJV

(You'll note that for this post I've chosen to use the Authorized Version of the Bible. Sorry, I must have been leaning that direction.)

Saturday, October 23, 2010

You find a way to do the right thing

Students in Hamilton County, TN were told by their school superintendent that a prayer over the PA system at football games would no longer be allowed, due to reaction from the minority who feel freedom of speech does not include talking to God.

So, instead of tucking their collective tails between their legs and forsaking a prayer, the students and student athletes took matters into their own hands. Quite legally.

Read about it here.

Separation of church/state in this country means that the state cannot dictate religion, ie. require anyone to pray, go to church, etc. But the Supreme Court has ruled that the public schools cannot forbid student led activities, such as prayer of this sort.

It's great to see young people not be deterred by the political correctness of anti-religious expression that seems to pervade our government.

There's more than one way to skin that cat.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Where are Jackson and Sharpton?

Juan Williams, a liberal, former Washington Post reporter and writer known for his writings on the Civil Rights movement...and dare I say, a black man... was fired by National Public Radio for having a less than politically correct opinion.

He also appears as a commentator on the FOX news network, not that that has anything to do with his firing.

I've been watching and listening all morning. I've yet to see Jesse or Al pop up blasting NPR for being unfair and calling for a Congressional investigation. (NPR is owned by the US Gov't.)

Jesse and Al, it's not like you to stay silent like this. Where are you?

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Ed and Edith are losing their pastor (again)

He's been there about 3 years now. Upon his arrival Ed and Edith were among the smiling "We're so glad you're here" congregants who shook his hand after that inaugural sermon. Those early Deacons and committee meetings (that he was required to attend but had no "vote" in any decision making) always seemed respectful of his insights and suggestions.

But, alas, the honeymoon didn't last very long.
He wasn't meeting up with Ed and Edith's expectations.

"Pastor, your sermons tend to be a bit too long." "OK. How long do you think they should be?" "Fifteen minutes should be just about right."

"Pastor, we don't think you should be taking the youth out of town to do missions projects. There are plenty of things to do right here."

"Pastor, if we do missions projects (handicap ramps; storm damage repairs) here for people we'll be taking income out of the hands of local tradesmen."

"Pastor, we think you should only use this version of the Bible when you preach."

"Pastor, don't you think the church grass is getting a bit high?"

"Pastor, you didn't ask the visitors in church to stand and introduce themselves. We like it when you do that." (Never mind that it embarrasses all of them...except maybe vacationing pastors.)

Essentially Ed and Edith and their cohorts had constructed a list of what they found lacking in their pastor.

Not surprisingly "something else" suddenly opened up for their pastor, and he announced his resignation. Ed and Edith were flabbergasted. How could he leave them? It was even said to him that if he left God would "get him".

If you ask the pastor his answer would be, "As quickly as I can". Ask his wife, by the way, what she thinks about their leaving and she just smiles.

Now they're back to square one. Once again Ed and Edith will chair and select the new pastor search committee. Smiles everyone! Smiles!

(And yes, everything above is based on a real story.)

For other posts in my Ed and Edith series click on "Evangelical Ed and Edith" under Labels on the right of this page.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Absolute Power Absolutely Corrupts

There's lots of scary stuff in this article about uncontrolled ego, unabashed materialism and unquestioned authority. Bishop Eddie Long has so many flashing yellow lights going on around him and his "ministry" that even if he wins the lawsuit against him, you have to wonder how people like this can have any credibility.

No wonder the unbelieving world thinks Christians are fools - not for our belief in a crucified, risen, returning Savior - but for blind allegiance to blind leaders. "Jesus" is not a name to be used to satisfy our own lustful passions.

And we're just getting over the wannabe book burner.

Rant over.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Smoke Signals

Not only is an extremist church in Florida threatening to burn copies of the Koran, our tax dollars are being used to burn Bibles in Afghanistan.

My thoughts are that neither will accomplish the goals of the match holders.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Grabbing Attention or Taking a Stand?

Do churches need to burn Korans in order to demonstrate their opposition to Islam?

I'm not sure I understand how having a bonfire fed by a religious book accomplishes anything good or is in any way Christ-like. Jesus didn't burn the books containing the religious traditions He found so offensive. Nor did He advocate His followers to set books on fire.

There is an occasion in Acts 19 where books were burned. But the story has no resemblance to what the Gainesville, FL church plans. The Ephesians who burned their books had been converted from pagan sorcery to life in Christ. It wasn't a protest. It was for them a rejection of their own past. It was a declaration of their new-found freedom. My hunch is the folks who will be pitching Korans into a fire were never Muslims.

The ramifications of their planned book burning are far reaching. General Patraeus warns that going ahead with the burning will only serve to ignite a greater hatred for and inspire an increased effort on the part of Taliban against US servicemen serving in Afghanistan.

I truly doubt that we can fight spiritual warfare - which is what the Gainesville church claims it is doing - with book burnings. There are better ways of evangelizing the world than by alienating those who need to hear the Gospel by extremist acts.

Or could it be that this is mostly a publicity stunt? If so, it's way over the top. Have they burned any other religions' books? If not, they should be consistent and do so. Why just pick on one?

A better way to observe Sept. 11 - the date of the planned burning - might be to remember those who died and honor those who gave their lives in efforts to save lives.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Real Christianity

A few weeks ago a medical team was brutally murdered in Afghanistan by Taliban. One of those killed was the young son of a long-time friend. Below is taken from an email he sent to friends telling about the memorial service that followed.

We did things a little differently in that we had Brian's burial before the memorial service. The idea was to show that we, as followers of Christ, go from death to life. Our pastor gave a 10 minute devotional followed by my family releasing 7 white doves (pigeons actually, but who cares) as a symbol of peace and the Holy Spirit of God, and issued a statement of heartfelt forgiveness to the men who killed these 10 aid workers. I can understand just a little bit how Stephen could say, "Lord, do not hold these sins against them". They are men who are lost and have acted only on the sin nature that we all possess. Yes, they are guilty of murder and if caught, they will be dealt with. Without Christ, they are already condemned!! They were mere pawns in the hand of the Almighty to wake up thousands of sleeping Christians and challenge unbelievers as to why a young man would knowingly and willing risk his life serving the ungodly.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Playing the Blame Game

It's not my fault I'm drunk. The raisins did it.

Things will never change in our lives until we take responsibility for our lives.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Sometimes you can't do nothing #3

Locally our summer labor force includes several hundred (I guess) international students. They come from all over the planet to work in the US, enjoy what we have to offer and to learn our culture.

Unfortunately some come here to either be killed or seriously maimed on our roads. Each summer accidents involving international students occur primarily because these young adults have not learned our laws or our culture as it pertains to traffic.

In Europe (where most of these students are from) bicycles and automobiles function together in a kind of chaotic harmony. If you've been to Europe you know what I mean. There are probably more bicycles on the roads than cars. But that's not so here in the US. And in a traffic heavy resort community where the majority of drivers are not local and are unfamiliar at best with addresses and locations, adding foreign bicyclers to the mix is an often deadly recipe.

American drivers are not accustomed to sharing the road with bicyclists. Ask any American biker. They understand that riding on the shoulder can be a toxic exercise. And when the road is US 158, a "highway" with a speed limit of 50MPH and 5 lanes of traffic, the dangers are multiplied.

Our internationals haven't learned the dangers. You can see them riding bikes, going against traffic (which is illegal) on narrow shoulders or in the right lane, at at any time, 24 hours a day. Many of them walk to work and home, and will cross a dangerous highway without the aid of a crosswalk or traffic light.

Two weeks ago another young eastern European student was seriously injured and had to be flown by helicopter to the nearest trauma center, which is 80 miles away. She probably didn't know what she was doing was foolish at best and life threatening at worst. Fortunately she survived. Barely.

I'm tired of seeing and hearing of these accidents. I'm tired of responding to them as a public safety chaplain. But being tired doesn't help lessen the carnage. So I'm moved to action. Once the dust settles a bit around here (meaning we're past summer) I plan to take steps to initiate some kind of bicycle/pedestrian safety training for these young people.

Hopefully the local businesses that employ them will get on board, as well as the police departments of our towns. But we've seen enough of them die or have their lives permanently altered because their ignorance of our laws and culture. Somebody's got to get the word out to them.

it might as well be me who is part of the solution.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Sometimes you can't do nothing #2

I'm having a summer of experiences that are pushing me into new territory. My previous post introduced this thread.

Now, a second experience and how I reacted.

Early the other morning I took my wife's car to the local convenience store to gas it up for her. It was on "E" and she had a trip to take later in the AM. I pulled in beside a pump and filled her up.

On the other side of the pump was a pick up truck being filled. The driver and passengers were painters, on their way (I assumed) to a day's work. They were guys from another country/culture. While filling up, several of them had gone into the store for drinks, snacks, etc. At that time of the morning the store is pretty crowded.

I couldn't help but notice a car parked a few yards away because of the loud "conversation" taking place. I paid no attention to what was being said, but watched out of the corner of my eye. In the car were a man and woman, likely husband/wife, and he was obviously agitated. My first thought was that they were having an argument, so I was going to watch just in case it escalated beyond words.

As I replaced the nozzle and started back into the car to leave, this parked car pulled in behind me to be the next to gas up. Nothing wrong with that. But then, as soon as he came to a stop, he began to curse and swear at the painters on the other side. Apparently he thought they were taking far too long to fill up. They were, after all waiting on some inside and enjoying a bit of conversation among themselves in the mean time. I don't know what all they were saying because I'm not fluent in their native tongue.

But I am fluent in English - even in redneck profanity. I know what all those words mean, and I also know they are inappropriate in a public place. Sorry, I'm old fashioned that way. So when he began his tirade from the driver's seat of his car, blasting these men with words about their relationships to their mothers (which I doubt he really knew anything about), I reacted.

It probably didn't occur to the painters to go ahead and move their truck from the pump while waiting on the rest of their party to come out from the store. For them, this was a time to socialize. They didn't know that we Americans are always in a hurry. (Maybe we should consider practicing "siesta"). So to the irate middle-aged man in his red, white and blue ball cap, these immigrants were being inconsiderate of his time.

But I can't help think maybe there was more bothering him than their lingering at the pump.

At any rate, I don't tolerate public profanity. It's a sickness in our society. So my reaction was quick. In a flash I was literally in his face as he still sat behind the wheel. I told him that if he didn't cease and desist I would call the police. And I would have.

He reacted in somewhat a state of shock (maybe that I would come to the defense of these foreigners) and hastily started to explain why he was so mad. I cut him off and said something to the effect that no one deserves to be talked to in that language and if he continued (as I reached for my cell phone) I would call the cops. And he and I are from the same generation, too, in case you might think he was a kid.

I guess he didn't need the gas because he backed away and drove off.

To me this was a cultural injustice taking place. Sure, they likely don't appreciate our American way of thinking because we're moving so fast. And sure, he probably never thought that in their country/culture they weren't doing anything wrong. But his verbal abuse was unnecessary and crass.

Sometimes I think you have to take a stand and do something.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Sometimes you can't do nothing

Lately I've been impressed by a few experiences about injustices and oppression based on cultural differences. I think I'll share them in a series of posts. Long posts tend to get passed by.

In France our American team of Christians (16 of us including a 3 yr. old) traveled from our initial stop in Paris to Grenoble via train. The trains are super fast and a comfortable means of transportation. And they are public transportation.

We were briefed by our host before the trip across the pond that among other things, the French consider Americans to be loud and boisterous. It's a perception based on cultural differences. We are loud. We like to laugh out loud and have fun.

So here we are on this coach with maybe twenty other passengers on an afternoon train ride that took something like 3 hours. Our team is just that, a team that enjoys being together. We were reminded (by yours truly) that we should be respective of a different culture. And for most of the trip we did our best to gag our Americanisms.

But you can't expect 16 friends to spend 3 hours on a train and act like strangers, not engaging in talk and fun. So we talked and laughed. A very non-French thing to do.

Most of the others on the train were keeping to themselves. My guess was they were either napping or reading or just looking out the window at the beautiful villages and countryside that zipped by.

Then the cultures clashed. A passenger in the rear of the coach stood up and in English said (so that we all could hear) something like, "Less noise, please!". Oops!

A hush came over our group. Busted! We did our best to keep it down. Not because we understood or even agreed, but because we didn't want to offend. Yet we felt like fish out of water.

I thought some of these thoughts...
It is public transportation. Who made him the decibel meter maid? Get your sleep somewhere else, Francois. Last I heard France was still a free country. Get a life!

In the US, on a bus or train I might have even expressed those thoughts. But this was a different culture and we were guests. So when in France, do as the French do. At least try. And we did.

I need to also say that by far our experiences in France were positive ones and the French we worked with and met on our trip were the greatest hosts and hostesses. Never did they make us feel unwanted or uncomfortable at all. So this isn't a criticism of the French or their culture.

But what I learned from that experience is that if we don't understand or adapt to another culture when we are within it we'll either create or be the recipients of criticism. And if we as citizens of the "host" country don't recognize that guests might bring their own nuances with them and give them some slack we can quickly allow prejudices to determine our ability to treat them with respect.

The minor incident on the train ride helped me mentally prepare for a couple of incidents here at home that I would engage soon.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Finding the good in internet social networking

I've been blogging now for a little over 3 years, and have been on Facebook less than that. Experiences are teaching me and refining my use of both, and hopefully in a better way. These means of sharing info can do great harm. But I don't want to talk about that. I want to illustrate one way they do great good.

Yesterday I was pleasantly surprised when a "long lost cousin" popped up on one of my daughters' FB pages. Actually she is a cousin once removed (I think that's the correct lingo). She's really my dad's cousin, but she's younger than me by 8 years.

Anyway, I haven't seen or had any contact with her since Gail and I visited my great-uncle and great-aunt in 1978 where we all lived in close proximity on the West Coast. Gail and I only lived there for about 15 months, so when we moved to the center of the US, we lost touch with them.

Do to various family dynamics this cousin and her sister really didn't know any of their other Lawrenson family than the little contact they had with our family in the 70's and early 80's. They grew up and moved themselves, starting their own families.

Over the years I've asked Dad about them. But years ago he lost touch and just knew they had moved to another state. Both of her parents died back in the 90's.

Then yesterday there is this reply to a photo of my family, "I'm crying right now! You are family! I have pictures of us in CA with my parents...and sister...! How are you? Please, please contact me!"

After a couple of messages and replies we talked on the phone for about 30 minutes.

Later she posted this: "Today I am blessed beyond belief. I have made contact with treasured family from my beloved Dad's side! The Lawrenson legacy continues! Rick, I love you, Cousin!"

But how exciting was all that? The irony is that she and her sister live in a city that Gail and I visited on our Road Trip earlier in the year. If we had only known!

As I get older I have found that re-connecting with dormant relationships of friends and family is important to me. As one of my long lost friends noted, there is some redeeming value in these newfangled means of communication. I'm glad that I'm not too old to appreciate that.

Like anything else in this world, the internet can be used for good or bad. I'm going to focus on making my part good.

Just don't ask me to become a farmer or whatever.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Return of the Purple Lady

Years ago when visiting, then living in the Portsmouth, VA area I used to wonder about the legendary "Purple Lady" and those telephone poles along US 17 that were painted purple up to about 6 feet off the ground. Why? Who is this person?

Now 24 years after moving away from there I learned the answers.

Life is best lived when we follow our passions. True, her's was a bit out there. But she brought a lot of people smiles and enjoyment by doing what she loved. How about you? Are you doing what you love and loving what you're doing?

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Talk is cheap

Saturday morning I was having breakfast at the counter of my #1 breakfast place. This time of year Saturday mornings are slammed at local restaurants with vacationers on their way home grabbing one last meal before hitting the road. I was alone and there was one seat at the counter; so I gladly took it.

At the seats to my right were a mom and her teenage son, having some "mother-son time" as she put it. But she added, "The conversation was all her". What mom of a teenage boy doesn't relate to that?

I had a poster about our July 4 Block Party, which invites the commmunity to use our church parking lot for the fireworks show across the sound. Along with free parking we had free hot dogs, inflatable games for the kids, slushees and live music. She saw the poster and asked about it.

They were, she said, scheduled to leave for home on Sunday morning, but might just stay for the fireworks. "Which church is this?", she asked. "Nags Head Church, right next to Jockey's Ridge." "What kind of church is it?", and I told her our affiliation. "That's what we are, too. Maybe we'll come to church in the morning."

They didn't show - at least I didn't see them - but that's not a big deal. They were on vacation and headed home. I really didn't expect to see them.

But before church on Sundays I often get breakfast there. My waitress asked me, "Do you remember that woman who sat beside you yesterday? She wanted to pay with an American Express card, which posed a problem since we don't honor American Express and said she'd be back later with cash."

Bet you know what she said next.

I said that if I saw her at church (which I seriously doubted) I would remind her to stop by the restaurant. (These people are my friends). "How much was her tab?" It was over $35. For breakfast?!

"Well, she had a couple of mixed drinks, too."

Anybody can say, "I'm a Christ-follower". But following Christ is not about saying the words. Jesus warned that many would look at Him on judgment day and say, "Lord, Lord", but His response will be, "I don't know you."

Faith is more accurately expressed in our actions, which include integrity and honest character; not in empty words meant to try and impress somebody.

I wasn't impressed. Nor was I surprised that she said she belonged to a similar flavored church as mine, because talk is cheap.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

One Nation Under God

Thanks to the brave and Christian men who risked all by signing their names to the Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776. They had no problem acknowledging the Creator's integral and ongoing role in human affairs.

Happy Birthday, USA!

Friday, June 25, 2010

The Forgotten War

Sixty years ago today the North Korean army invaded South Korea, launching the Korean War, a war that never ended.

Helicopters and jets were introduced into warfare.

Thanks to all the brave men and women who donned our nation's uniform in Korea in the effort to preserve democracy and halt the advance of communism in that small part of the world. Today South Korea is a thriving free country while North Korea remains a dark place.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Le Fete de la Musique - NHC Band plays on the streets of Grenoble

Monday night was the annual Festival of Music in Grenoble, France. I was there with our church band, which was invited by two Grenoble Churches, Le CEP and the International Church of Grenoble, to be part of the festival.

Imagine every street corner and many spaces in between occupied by bands and musicians, all playing for whoever will stop and listen and all for simply the love of music. Downtown Grenoble was full of thousands of festival goers. Our band had an extra motivation - that of sharing the message of Christ through their songs.

For me as a pastor it was one of the highlights of my years of ministry to see a team from our little church in NC being able to do something so special. The crowds gathered to hear this American band (we may have been the only such in the city) and to find with surprise that the band was not only very good, but sang about Jesus Christ in ways that implied they knew Him.

Enjoy the montage, prepared by our friend in Grenoble, Matt Glock.

Monday, June 21, 2010

People Are People

Today I wrap up 6 days in France. Much of the time has been spent interacting with the people here. Some of those interactions have been while walking the streets of Paris and Grenoble. Others have been in church events.

What I've discovered here is that some of my presuppositions about them have been colored by others' judgments. Now that I've met many and seen them up close and personal I have come to the simple conclusion that people in France are much the same as people anywhere else I've been, including in my own back yard.

I will say this for them: their food rocks. My favorite new French word is "patiserrie".

(Too bad their football team has had such issues. I'm told they are an embarrassment to the people they represent.)

Friday, June 18, 2010

Happy Anniversary Gail!

We haven't changed a bit over 33 years!

Monday, June 14, 2010

"...under God..."

On this date (which also coincides with Flag Day) in 1954 President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed a bill putting that phrase into the Pledge of Allegiance here in the US after the words "one nation" and before "indivisible".

I wonder how long it will remain there?

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

When the Going Gets Tough...

As long as I’m not uncomfortable.
As long as I’m not inconvenienced.
As long as I don't have to confront anyone.
As long as I don’t get hurt.
As long as I am not pressured.
As long as things are to my satisfaction.
As long as I’m not asked to give.

“Demas has deserted me.” Among the most haunting words to me are these from the Apostle Paul.

Three times in Paul’s letters he mentions his fellow missionary companion Demas. Two of the three times it is clear that Demas is a committed teammate, taking risks and taking Christ to the Gentile world; establishing churches where the religious are hostile to this new way.

Being a Christian in the first century Roman Empire wasn’t without opposition. Believers in the Jewish Messiah were truly counter-cultural and revolutionary – not in political ways, but in discovering life in Christ often meant a life unknown by the world. The Messiah’s call was to abandon all and to take up a cross; to put your hands to the plow and only look ahead. It was a call to self-denial and servant hood. It meant becoming a citizen of another world while living in this one.

While in his final days in a Roman prison Paul penned those words. “Demas has deserted me”. Can you feel the pain in his heart? When he most needed friends and encouragement – someone to assure him that the missional movement he started would continue – one that he had hoped would stay faithful and loyal had dropped out.

Demas, it seems, couldn’t stand the heat so he got out of the kitchen. As he weighed his options he chose the comfort and convenience of casual Christianity. The idea of perhaps winding up like his mentor was a test he would not pass. Imprisonment and execution by a Roman sword took commitment to a level he was not ready to seek.

So he dropped out. He went “home”. “Sorry Paul, but I can’t deal with this.”

Haunting words, but, to me they're also helpful.

I know that I have never been put to the test like this. Not really. Sure, there have been times when I’ve had to make what seemed at the time to be a hard choice regarding my commitment to Christ. And I like to convince myself that dropping out is not an option. When I look at Demas I have to think, “But for the grace of God, there go I”. Demas is my anti-hero; someone I don’t want to follow.

They're helpful to me also because as a leader in a Christian community I’ve experienced some level – surely not what Paul experienced – of watching the formerly committed and faithful drop out. And I’ve heard all the “reasons”. And I try to remind myself that it’s not me they’re abandoning. It’s Christ. It’s His family (which you cannot separate from Him). It’s their calling that is deserted.

As I read the Bible and “hear” the words of Christ, Peter, Paul, James and John I know that this journey of faith has potholes and places where there are no shoulders along the road. It can be both treacherous and at the same time daring. Most of all it is a life that doesn’t allow a neutral gear. You’re either growing into His image or you are falling away; with Him or against Him. And we don’t like that.

I’m sure Paul made some effort to convince Demas not to quit. My feeling is that Paul pulled no punches with peers like Demas. He may have felt a twinge of failure as Demas shook his head and walked away. But if it happened to Paul it can, will and does happen to all in the Lord’s service. That gives me some consolation.

But it doesn’t erase completely the pain and puzzlement.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Deadly but legal combinations

Just before 2 AM I stood in the rain looking at a 20 something young man's lifeless body lying face down in puddle of water. It was obvious that he had suffered a stabbing in his abdomen.

Across the street is a well-known local watering hole. Last night they sponsored a wet t-shirt contest.

Young men. Alcohol. Young girls willing to make public spectacles of their bodies. Tempers. Mix them together and the result is too often toxic.

One life ended early in the morning hours. Another life will be spent behind bars.

We all make choices every day. Sometimes they can be our last.

What guides you to make choices that are healthy and sane? For me it is a relationship I began with Jesus Christ many years ago.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Memorial Day: More than just a day off

Because of my role as chaplain with the NHFD I participate every year in the town's Memorial Day ceremony. Typically the event draws about 50 people. That's all. And the vast majority of them are my parents' ages. Seldom are there any young people or children.

We're missing an opportunity here.

Our freedoms and the freedoms of so many other countries were obtained by men and women who wore the uniform of this country and paid the supreme sacrifice. And Memorial Day is set aside to remember them and express our gratitude.

I realize that there are many other things to do on Monday. And most of them are more fun. But already I know that my own generation has allowed the purpose of the holiday to be about cook outs and the beach. That has been magnified in my children's generation, and I fear that my grandchildren's generation will have no sense of how our freedom was won and preserved.

So, why not take some time Monday to take your children to a Memorial Day ceremony or observance. Several are proudly done throughout Dare, at cemeteries and monuments, either led by veterans' groups or town officials. Your kids will sing the National Anthem, pledge allegiance to the flag, perhaps hear taps played on a bugle or Amazing Grace on bagpipes. They'll see proud veterans - true American heroes - assemble to remember fallen comrades.

Let's teach our children the meaning of sacrifice for freedom. Let's show them what that magnet on the backs of our cars that says "Support our Troops" means.

If they can understand what it means to give your life for others then explaining the Gospel to them will be easier. Isn't that what Jesus did?

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Zac Smith's Story

Here's a powerful testimony to the grace of a good God when there is nothing else humanly to be done.

Zac is the brother of our friend, Stacey. I hope you'll watch him tell his story. He died Sunday.

The Story of Zac Smith from NewSpring Media on Vimeo.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Love Letters

A few days ago I pulled a couple of boxes down from our attic, looking for some pictures of old times with old friends. I found a few and was glad to see them. But even better was finding a stack of letters written 33 years ago.

The six months prior to our wedding Gail lived in Portsmouth, VA, her home town and I lived in Lynchburg, VA with my parents while wrapping up my last semester of college. She had finished her college work the previous semester and moved home to work; teaching in an elementary school and to making all the preparations for our wedding.

During those six months we wrote each other almost daily. It was in the dark ages before computers and email and when long distance phone calls were not cheap. Writing letters was still the most cost effective form of communication. It's pretty much a lost art now. First class postage was just 13 cents.

I had forgotten about all the letters. So the last couple of evenings I spent opening the envelopes back up and reading them again for the first time since 1977. It's amazing the details that get lost in the dust of time.

When you're married as long as we have been you should be more in love than ever before. I think we are. (She doesn't know that I've been sitting across the room from her while she works on her laptop, mostly just admiring her.) Certainly our love has matured with the years and through the experiences we've had, good and bad.

But I have to admit reading those old letters and reliving the magic of young love has brought more than one smile to my face. And the fact that she still loves me makes me continue to hold her in wonder; even more so now than then, I think.

Now, if I can muster the courage to open up and read the letters I wrote to her. She thought they were wonderful, and she told me so. But I'm afraid I probably sounded pretty goofy.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Happy Mother's Day!

May your children rise up and call you "blessed" today and every day.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Spring and neighbors

One of the great thing about Spring is that after hibernating all winter you come out and spend time in your yard planting stuff, etc. At least I have been doing a lot of that these past few weeks.

While pretending to be a landscaper I've found that I get lots of opportunities to talk with my neighbors, whom I don't see much of in the colder months. Sometimes they ask me questions about what I'm doing as though I must know a lot about taking care of the yard. I play along.

Knowing your neighbors has become a lost art in our culture. Maybe it's time to revive it.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Retrieving the First Amendment

Kerry Dougherty's editorial in today's Virginian-Pilot truly rings the Liberty Bell. I hope you'll take a couple minutes and read it. (They're a bit slow at the Pilot today with their links. As soon as they have it up I'll post it here. Or you can try to find it yourself at

Often I'm asked (because of the "controversy") if I pray in Jesus' name when my prayers are in a public setting such as town functions. Frequently I am asked to pray for ceremonies and now commissioners' meetings because of my dual roles as a local church pastor and as a chaplain with our fire department.

My answer is simple: "Praying in Jesus' name is the only way I know how to pray. Anything else would be something less than prayer." Thankfully we have a Constitution that not only protects us from government dictation of what we can or can't believe, but also guarantees us freedom of speech.

Even when that speech is to God.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Language and Law

Watching the news early this morning (a 6:30 phone call will wake you up) I was struck by several stories that indicate the direction our cultural world is spinning.

Goldman Sachs big wigs listened to Senate interrogators repeatedly use a word that has become a standard verbal staple these days. The Senators were reading emails from the Wall Street firm that seemed to incriminate GS in shady and less than honest stock dealing practices. If you were watching the hearings live on CSPAN you probably heard it sans beep.

As I recall its usage "in my day" it referred to fecal material, and was at times used as an angry expletive. But you didn't dare say it in front of adults (even though you knew most of them used it frequently) or in public settings. The word (like several others) was deemed too offensive. Monday, while subbing in a high school, I heard it flowing liberally in the halls and classrooms. Apparently it is no longer offensive to the American ear.

Recently I've gone on notice on Facebook that I won't tolerate my friends dropping the f-bomb on the online social network. Their posts appear on my page, and frankly, I don't want to read it. Call me old-school, but it still offends me. If you want to be my FB friend (and I'm glad to have you on my list), keep it clean. BTW, the only offenders thus far have been teenagers. That's a whole 'nuther post.

I remember clearly when the word "retarded" was commonly used in adolescent conversation. If something was considered dumb, out of the norm or senseless it was called "retarded". It was another word that made the older generation cringe because of its offense to some very special people in our world. In a round-about way it made fun of people who deserved much better than to be lumped with all things undesirable.

That word seemed to diminish in recent years - at least in my hearing, indicating maybe we have become a more sensitive nation. But this week I've seen it peek its head back up a couple of times. Once was by a Facebook teen friend - which indicates it is on a comeback as a trendy term. The other was in this morning's paper and used by a NFL player. Again, atheletes set the trends, even in our language. (I'm so tired of the phrase "It is what it is" that I first began to hear in post-game interviews ten years ago.)

Heck, we don't even know what "is" means anymore. Remember? And that leads me to my next pondering this morning.

In addressing the issue of illegal immigration, a fire being stoked by the state of Arizona's hard line, our current president, Mr. Obama, said (in a speech yesterday) words to this effect: "We'll let [illegals already in this country] go to the back of the [immigration] line and legally gain citizenship. Then we can go back to being a nation of laws."

Wait a second. I'm no Constitutional lawyer, but aren't we already a "nation of laws"? We don't have to "go back" to what we are. Seems to me we just need to enforce (the job of the executive branch of our government) the laws we have on the books. It sounds like our president is calling for a suspension of law. I'm all for immigration. I'm here because of immigration, for Pete's sake. I'm also about secure borders. And the purpose of the law is to protect if nothing else.

But to do that we have to go back to the subject of language. What part of "illegal" do we not understand? (To cover up our bias against law we tend to change terminology. Hence, "illegal" is changed to "undocumented". Oops. They just forgot to pick up their papers as they slipped across the border under the cover of darkness.)

And just as I'm no lawyer, I'm not an economist either. But I wonder...if there were no illegal aliens in this country where our current unemployment rate would be? I suspect it would be much lower if only those in this country legally, who have the "right" to work, competed for jobs.

Just thinking out loud. I hope my words didn't offend.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Sunday Flashback

Some of what's brewing in my head this Sunday night...

I attended a worship service at a local church of another brand to hear an old friend preach. What I heard and witnessed helped me understand the differences between us. It's just too bad that the 2,000 years of Christianity haven't kept Christ-followers on the same page.

The early service at the other church allowed me to worship with NHC at our second gathering. There's no place like home. Pastor Steve Wise told his story today and how a faithful witness shared Christ with him during "the dark ages" of his early adult life, changing him forever. Great message. Great worship.

How blessed Gail and I are to be grandparents! Today we celebrated Evaine's first birthday. These two little girls have no idea how loved they are by all their family.

I've had to drop a second teenage Facebook friend. These are kids professing Christ, yet who are somehow not building Christ-like values into their communication skills. It makes me realize how important my upcoming series on FAMILY needs to be in the lives of parents and their chlidren. Biblical values are hard to find these days in the homes of Americans. I wonder if parents have just given up, or if they're totally naive as to the influences their kids face each day.

This is my last week of Sabbatical. I'm well-rested and stress free! But there are still a lot of things I had hoped to accomplish that will have to wait for another time. I'll be back in the saddle next Sunday.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Makes You Wonder Why

The leading news story tonight is about a police chief killed in a single car accident. His pick up truck blew a tire, he lost control and was ejected from the vehicle. He was not wearing a seat belt.

Last June, in the same town, the mayor was killed in a traffic accident. He was a career firefighter. He was not wearing a seat belt.

The news is both sad and perplexing. Wearing a seat belt is the law in their state. Surely both knew that. In fact, the chief was sworn to enforce the law. The firefighter has no doubt seen way too many traffic fatalities not to know that wearing them saves lives. His department has a policy that when riding fire apparatus the truck doesn't roll until everyone has their seat belt buckled.

Would the seat belts have saved their lives. I guess we'll never know.

Makes you wonder why we do the very things we know are wrong and don't do the things we know are right, doesn't it? But we do.