Friday, January 28, 2011

Happy Birthday, Sarah!

May your special day be one of joy and celebration for the life God has given you.

I hope Terry springs for an expensive dinner.


Wednesday, January 26, 2011

This tape will self-destruct...

A pastor friend of mine asked this question on Facebook:
"Ever have to block the new feed/status updates from someone you care about because you can no longer stomach their denials of their own self-destructive tendencies and the applause it receives from others affirming them in their self destruction?"
I can't say I have blocked anyone for that reason yet, but there have been times I thought I would have to do so. But it's not just a FB phenomenon.

And it's one of the hardest things I have to witness. So many think that whatever makes them "happy" must be the right thing to do, even if they know it's wrong. You know, the logic of the old song that said, "If loving you is wrong I don't want to be right".

And because they won't listen, even though you try, they continue on their self-destructive path. You know where they're headed, but because they feel good at the moment there's no desire to turn around.

All you can do is shake your head and move on, I guess. Hopefully one day they'll get it.

Mission impossible?

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

A Lack of Understanding

I'm told that I have a quick mind - a quick wit, able to come up with replies on the spot. That can be a blessing, but it can also be a curse.

On more than one occasion I've made a snap judgment about someone or some group that resulted in me having "egg on my face"...looking and sounding stupid because my judgment was wrong. And the reason it was wrong? I hadn't taken the time to at least make an attempt to understand.

Some things, frankly, are beyond my comprehension. For example, when someone in the government starts talking billions and trillions of dollars, I really can't grasp that. I'm a tens and twenties kind of guy. Or when another church or organization takes on a ministry or outreach with goals of reaching millions or hundreds of thousands of people, I have a hard time processing that. I'm in a small church in a county of 30,000 people.

I suppose when others step out of my box it becomes easy for me to quickly dismiss them as misguided, illogical or heretical. And I can say that partly because I've been judged in those terms by others who don't understand me or the purposes of the ministry I lead. I should be the last to condemn what I don't understand.

According to the Bible Solomon was the wisest man who ever lived. The reason for his wisdom was that when he was asked by God what he wanted most as king of a great nation Solomon's request was not for riches or power or fame. Instead he asked for "understanding". Give me an understanding heart so that I can govern your people well and know the difference between right and wrong. - 1 Kings 3:9 (NLT)

Solomon knew he would face questions and decisions that would otherwise overwhelm him. He didn't want to misjudge others. Many of the Proverbs he later penned tell about the priority we should have in our lives for gaining understanding and wisdom.

Even for those of us who might not be the sharpest knives in the drawer, God's Word gives us wisdom and understanding beyond our abilities. Your word is a doorway that lets in light, and it helps gullible people understand. - Psalm 139:130 (GWT)

The opposite of having understanding and wisdom, of course, is ignorance and foolishness. I want to be neither ignorant or a fool. But there are many opportunities in life that could and would make me both.

So, what I'm learning to do is to seek understanding first. And then, even if I can't wrap my mind (which is finite at best) around something that seems out of the ordinary (of my experience) yet is being espoused by someone whose reputation I trust, I'll withhold judgment.

I wish you would keep silent. For you, that would be wisdom.
- Job 13:5 (GWT)

Sometimes the wisest response is either a delayed response or no response at all.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Resisting a Temptation

I've enjoyed banter on Facebook for a couple years and on this blog for even longer. And anyone who knows me well knows I enjoy a good debate. Had I not been called by God to the pastorate I likely would have gone into law.

There are some things worth my time and energy defending. Those are the things that matter for eternity, like matters of faith and things like family, justice, integrity, honor and morality. Because those are part of my "job description" I can't be silent about them. As I recently told one who challenged me for calling a news item "gossip", "It is my business" to challenge malicious words.

Where I'm going to resist the temptation in a public forum such as this or FB is expressing my political views. While I hold them tightly and believe my political positions most sensible, I also realize that not everyone agrees with me - even friends. Add to that the fact that political diatribe has become more and more slanderous and full of hatred, I choose to bow out.

So, I'm zipping my lips when someone posts about what they think about political figures or the actions of elected officials. It's not that I don't have an opinion. I do. And, in private, I may share that opinion if you ask. And most certainly I'll express that opinion at the ballot box. But I don't want my opinion about temporal things to become an off button to someone who needs to hear from me things that are eternal.

Like Paul, I want to say, "This one thing I do...". And unless God changes my direction and moves me into politics (please, shoot me first, Lord) I'll refrain. If politics ventures over "the wall" into matters about which God has called me to address, I'll say so. (See my previous post for an example).

So, what's your calling?

Saturday, January 22, 2011

How "Pro-Life" Are You?

(This is a re-post, originally posted in 2008 shortly after the birth of my granddaughter. She was at 24 weeks gestation and greatly compromised the life of her mother. The picture is of her on the day of her birth - a 1 lb. 6 oz. 24 week "fetus" outside the womb.)

I believe in the sanctity of human life, primarily because I believe life is sacred and God is all about giving and protecting life. But sometimes such beliefs contradict conventional wisdom.

Years ago I heard that abortion might be permissable in the cases of rape and to protect the life of the mother. OK. That sounded reasonable to me. But some would argue, "Come on. How often does a pregancy put the life of the mother at risk?"

It's easy to proclaim yourself to believe in something that never touches you; that you never experience up front and personal. And it's easy to work into positions compromises based on "logic". Until it dares you face to face.

When my son and daughter in law discovered they were expecting the day before she was to being prelimnary physical therapy in preparation for a double lung transplant they had to make a choice. Clearly such a pregnancy would compromise the window of opportunity for a transplant as well as her fragile health. Plainly put, carrying a baby to term would likely not happen, and the chances of her surviving such a pregnancy were slim.

So they were counseled by the medical community which cares for her to abort. The greatest medical minds said the risk is too high. Being pregnant now is the worst possible scenario. And from a human and scientific perspective they were right.

But they were wrong. So my son and daughter-in-law said "No" to the scientific rationale. Their reasoning? God is the Creator of life. They made a choice to be willing to risk her life, believing that God in His sovereignty had all this in His plan for them.

It defies logic. But sometimes that's exactly what faith does: stares finite human reasoning in the face and says "You're wrong because God is always right".

Convictions don't come without a price. But obedience never comes without reward. This story hasn't yet come to it's conclusion, althhough it's getting there rapidly. But regardless of the outcome, it's what God thinks and reveals that counts.

So for me, being "pro-life" has moved from being a political stance or even a theological tenet. It's become experience, and that makes it as real as real can get.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Protecting Nesting Areas for birds and reptiles, but not Children

Here on the Outer Banks our government is going overboard saving the nesting areas of a bird. Yet Jesus said God cares far more for humanity than for birds. So shouldn't we go overboard to protect unborn human life?

Listen to this freshman Congressman. (Good choice, Oklahomans.)

Monday, January 17, 2011

A "Reap what you sow" Story

Over a year ago I misplaced a money clip. I don't like keeping paper money in my wallet, so I had a clip where I kept folded bills in my pocket. Somehow I lost it. I thought it was in the house somewhere, but could never found it. There was some money, I couldn't remember how much in it, but eventually I bought another clip and moved on with life.

Friday I was coming out of Wal-Mart and just before I got to my truck I looked down. There was a picture of a young girl staring up at me from outside of a wallet on the parking lot. "Uh oh. Somebody's going to have a bad day", I thought. I picked it up and carried it to my truck.

Inside the wallet must have been a half-dozen credit cards, a drivers license, military ID, Medicare card... Lots of stuff no one wants to lose. I keep a phone book in my truck and was able to match the last name and address with a listing in the white pages. The number dialed, I had to leave a message with my name and phone # and a brief message: "I found your wallet and would like to return it to you."

A few minutes after arriving at home my phone rang, and we set up a location between us to meet. Her husband was glad to get the wallet back, and I felt good about the fact that they got it back intact.

The weather lately has left my truck pretty filthy, so on Saturday I took it to the local car wash for a cleaning inside and out. After it had been vacuumed, windows cleaned, dash dusted and washed and dried, I got back in and started to leave the parking lot in my shiny clean truck.

There on the passenger seat were a few things they found underneath my seat as they vacuumed. One of them was my long-lost money clip, cash intact.

God's watching, and He loves to reward.

"You will always harvest what you plant." - Galatians 6:7

Sunday, January 16, 2011

What's Luck Got to Do, Got to Do With It?

(You have to hum that title to the tune of Tina Turner's 1984 hit song "What's Love Got to Do With It?")

I hear Christians say and communicate to others a phrase that perplexes me: "Good luck."

If God is sovereign is there really any such thing as luck, whether good or bad? Isn't believing in luck believing in chance, which implies an uninvolved God, if there's a God at all?

And if we don't believe in luck, why do we say it? Shouldn't we be pointing people to a God who is more than an icon? Aren't there better ways to say, "I wish you [well]"?

Just wondering. (I know what I believe about this, btw.)

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Art of Controlled Frustration

In a couple weeks I will have been a pastor in the same church for 20 years. After that long you think you have...
  • Seen it all. Been there, done that. You haven't. The next surprise is just around the bend.
  • Learned how to deal with what you see. You haven't.
  • Overcome your major weaknesses. I don't think you ever will. Not totally.
  • Said everything that needs saying. Nope. It has to be continually repeated and then there's no guarantee it sticks.
  • Stopped making the same mistakes. Some, yes. Some, no.
  • Earned enough trust that the hurting and troubled will rush to you for help when in need. No. It seems so many want to take it to the limit before saying "Help".
  • Made the vision clear and plain enough that everybody gets it. Not if you're church is growing. And face it, some are never going to get it.
  • Mastered the tough talks. Never.
  • Become used to the "Pastor, I hate to bother you with this" conversations. But, no, your stomach still knows how to tie itself in knots.
  • Accepted that no matter how you say it, someone is going to misunderstand, take it personally or take it the wrong way. But you just shake your head a lot in disbelief.
  • Stopped expecting every believer to be totally and completely and passionately committed to Christ and his church. Yet, you still have that hope that this Sunday it will happen for them.
  • Figured out that whether your sermon is topical, textual or expository, someone's going to think it was the greatest of all time and someone else thinks they aren't getting fed. When will they learn to pick up the fork and knife on their own?
  • Discovered the key to finding the balance in your sermons so that the new believers who are on a roll continue and the old believers who have stagnated have been stirred up. That's tricky.
God's people are sheep needing a shepherd. And if that's your calling, you can expect a lifetime of the above. Unless you just get tired of it and give up. But that's hard to do when you know you've been promised you can do all things through Christ who strengthens you.

But still, pastoring, if anything, is the art of controlled frustration. Best thing to do is give the control over to the Chief Shepherd. Otherwise you'll physically and emotionally wear out.

"And that's all I have to say about that." - Forrest Gump, Wise Man

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Happy Birthday, Gwyneth!

How can it be that you entered our world three years ago today? And look at you now!
Have a magical day and enjoy being a princess.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Days that change our lives

Our entire lives can be changed by a single event or by a series of events, and in only a moment, a day or days. I know that the first days of January were life-changing for me (and a lot of other people). And now, each year at this time my mind goes back to those days in 2008 when I saw miracles happen.

At least I call them miracles. Anyway, they were life-changing. And I'm so glad I blogged about them.

So I'm going back in the archives and reading what I wrote just to remind me of God's power and love. You're welcome to join me.

Click here to begin. Scroll down to the first week's posts.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Communicating Vision

"I don't have a vision for my church and don't know how to get one."

Sad words spoken to me by a pastor friend a few months ago. The church he leads has been in decline for over a decade. He's the third in a string of pastors during that time. The latest news I have heard is pretty bleak.

As my church's "Lead Pastor" part of my responsibility is to not only get God's vision for our church, but to communicate it to our leaders and to the congregation. It's that pastoral role Paul wrote to Timothy about, saying, "Exhort...". Exhortation is really a form of encouragement, and that's what clear, God-given vision does for a church: it inspires and encourages. It's the idea God communicated to the prophet Habakkuk.

A recent request for questions from my church about how and why we do some of the things we do revealed to me something that I needed to hear: Vision leaks. Many of the questions indicated the askers didn't understand the "Why"s of our church. And if the "Why"s aren't in a firm grasp by the flock neither will be the "How"s.

That gave me clear direction as to the initial series of this new year. I usually spend the month of January doing some vision-casting and encouragement, challenging the church to take on the new year with a renewed commitment to Christ, His Word and His family. But it has been a while since I went through our Vision Statement* point by point with clarity.

Our church has many young believers. Leaders of a growing church can sometimes forget that unless doctrine and values are frequently addressed those who are new to the faith can't understand. And those who are older and have been around awhile tend to forget.

So the first 6 weeks of the New Year will cover our church's vision. We began Sunday, January 2. The question cards were a wake-up call to me, and I'm excited not only to hear the "reveille", but also to urge the "troops" to "charge" and because Jesus' vision for the church is clear, to never hear "retreat".

*To read our church's Vision Statement go to our web site, click on the "About" tab and then "Core Values".

Saturday, January 1, 2011

An Unforgettable New Years Day (from 2008)

(I originally posted this on New Years Day 2008 after a long day. Little did we know then how miraculously God would answer our prayers. But we did believe. This is my third year to repost it.)

Usually I'm doing as little as possible on January 1; trying to avoid taking down Christmas decorations while channel surfing between bowl games. Not today.

Today, along with 3 of our church's pastors, my wife, another pastor's wife, our youngest daughter and her husband, my daughter-in-law's parents, my sister and a friend, we visited our very ill daughter-in-law at Duke University Hospital.

It's a 4 hour ride for us to get there. Yesterday she requested our elders (synonymous with pastors in our church) come to anoint her with oil, lay hands on her and pray (see James 5 in the New Testament). Word got out via the net and word of mouth and who knows how many joined us in prayer between noon and 1PM.

Tricia has posted some prayer needs on Nathan's blog site. If you want to meet some incredibly courageous young people, give it a read.

And here's my granddaughter's latest photo. She's 24 weeks in the oven and weighing about 1 lb 4oz. And she's got her mom's nose.