Sunday, August 23, 2020

What's Next?

 In my previous post I wrote about my upcoming retirement from pastoring Nags Head Church.  The timetable looks like that will happen sometime in the first half of 2021.


So, what's next?

I'm not ready for the rocking chair, and my goal for "retiring" now is so I am still "young enough" (I know, that's a relative term) to do some other things.  When God called me into "vocational" (and I don't like that term) ministry as a 15 year old I felt then as I do now that it was a life-long calling.  

 

So for all those who have tried to convince me not to "retire", please know I'm really not...unless God is finished with me.  But, I believe when that takes place, and I've done all I'm supposed to do in this life I'll graduate to the next.  That could take place today, couldn't it?  But, not knowing when that will be I want to prepare for hanging around a while longer to do other things.



Really I have no plans other than to be open to whatever.  There are a few things I would like to do (or at least try to do) while I'm able.  But, I'd like to hear from you - especially those of you who know me - what you think I might do in the coming years.  I'm not looking for hobbies or ways to "spend my time", like "more golf" or "more pickle ball", but ways to do ministry and/or mission.  I do plan to dust off my guitars, put some new strings on them, maybe take a lesson or two and become a rock star.  So, don't say that.


Gail and I plan to keep our permanent residence right here in Kitty Hawk near our family.  But, we're open to some short term assignments, or even long-term if we can commute.  So, feel free to comment below! 

Sunday, August 16, 2020

It's (almost) time

 I've been thinking a lot lately about retirement. Friday I got to use my Medicare card for the first time!  That fat check from Uncle Sam will appear in my checking account in about 14 months!  That time is drawing near. 


Actually, I started thinking about it about ten years ago when I hit "double nickels" in age.  It's at about that age when you realize that you've reached (or passed) the top of the hill and are starting down the other side.  If all works out as I'm hoping and praying it will, I'll preach my last sermon as Lead Pastor of Nags Head Church sometime in the Spring of 2021.  It's coming fast!


While the news of my retirement has been made known in recent weeks, our pastors and staff, along with my wife and family have known for a while.  We just kept it quiet.  And as the word got out there have been mixed reactions.  Everything from "Good for you!", and "You deserve it!" to "You're too young to retire!".  

 

I don't know that I'm deserving of it, and I hope it's "good" for me, but way back a decade ago I truly hoped to retire from my lead pastor role at NHC while I was still young enough to do some other things - other things that I hope that Lord has prepared for me.  So, how do I know the time is right?

In January I will have been the lead pastor of this one church for 30 years!  That's a long time, and in my heart I know it's time for someone new to take the reigns and lead a great church to become greater.  

 

Frankly, I'm tired.  Not so much a physical kind of tired (although I do enjoy a good nap!) or the kind of tired an  extended vacation would relieve, but anyone who has been a pastor understands the tiredness that comes with the job.  And at 65 I don't bounce back as quickly as I did at 35, 45 or even 55.

Our culture has changed drastically in the years since I started pastoral ministry in the late 1970's.  Most of those changes have not been for our spiritual good, but for our detriment.  And so much of what is going on simply frustrates me as a Bible believing, Bible teaching Christian.  Paul was so right as he described the latter days to Timothy.  Confronting those changes needs energy that I no longer have.  So, my hope is for a younger man to take the baton and lead our church to overcome the things that work against us.

 

Leading change is hard work, and we have cultivated an environment ready for change here.  The changes took place - to God be the glory for that - and a dying church came to life.  More changes will come, I'm sure as our church finds new ways to reach our world with the Gospel.  I'm excited about where the Lord is taking us online, and thankful to have gotten in on the ground floor of it.  So, I think we're poised right now for greater things ahead with new leadership.

 

Bottom line (for me, anyway) is that it's time.  While I'm sure that it will take a bit for me to get used to not preaching to eager parishioners every Sunday, I know it's time.  Maybe God is using this pandemic to prepare me!  I honestly never imagined my last year of full-time pastoral ministry would include not preaching to a live congregation for months.  

 

The final date has not yet been set.  But it's getting nearer.  My confidence is that God sets our seasons (Ecclesiastes 3). He is in control.  And I'm good with that.  It's time!


What will I do?  Maybe that will be the subject of another post.  But, I honestly don't yet know!



Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Kindness and Generosity: Things God Loves in Us


Did you see or hear the story of Shetara Sims, the single mother in Missouri who gave the $100 she won from a scratch off lottery ticket to the family if a police officer who had been shot in the line of duty?  It’s a genuine feel good story that I believe illustrates a few valid biblical principles.

No, that principle isn’t for us all to go out and buy lottery tickets!  I don’t believe gambling is practicing good stewardship of what we have.  But, who hasn’t dreamed of what you would do with the money if you won the lottery, especially if it was one of those mega jackpot winnings of hundreds of thousands of dollars?  I have.  And the result of my dream is that I pat myself on the back because of how I would give most of it away to further the Gospel. 

And then I say something to God like, “See God.  If you would let me win a lottery look how much ahead you would be financially”.  Then I realize how dumb that thought is. 

Anyway, this single mom had a daughter murdered in 2012, and the police supported them with daily messages, family visits and more.

“The detectives were really there for us. They were there for us more than anyone I can imagine. They did things they didn’t have to do,” Sims said. “They came to see my kids. They did a lot. They were fathers, therapists. They were everything.”

Then one day she picked up a dollar she found in a parking lot and spent it on a lottery ticket, and won $100.  Her daughter suggested that she give it to the family of the wounded cop.  She sent it anonymously to the police department to go to the family.  Being cops, they wanted to know where the $100 came from, so they did some detective work and somehow found her to thank her.

But there’s more to the story.  Then, after learning she was a struggling single mom, they started a GoFundMe for her and quickly raised $12,000 as of yesterday. 

What’s the biblical principle?  It’s not to spend your money on lottery tickets hoping God will make you rich.  He doesn’t work that way.  But there are three lessons here.

1. Be kind to those who are hurting.  The police were kind beyond the call of duty to Shetara when her daughter was killed.  Shetara was then kind to the family of the wounded officer.  Look for ways to express kindness to your neighbors and people you don’t even know.  If God blesses you with some extra, share that blessing.  Be kind, especially when you don’t have to be.

2. You will reap what you sow.  God says so.  And here is a story of someone who sowed kindness (the police) and then reaped kindness and generosity when they received that $100.  For some of us $100 is not a lot of money, and to sow it wouldn’t be a big deal.  But for a struggling single mom $100 of groceries or gas or new shoes for her girl to wear to school was a big amount.  But, she sowed it because of the kindness she had received earlier.

3. Give and it will be given to you.  Remember the story of the widow’s meager amount of flour and oil that she gave to Elijah?  Remember the widow who gave her last two pennies to the Lord?  God honors that kind of generosity.  What can you give to someone in need?  Jesus promised that generosity doesn’t go unnoticed by the Lord, and He promises to take care of your needs. 

We’re coming up on a time in our community when there are going to be some opportunities for us to give.  Working parents are scrambling now, wondering how they’re going to work and homeschool their kids, even for 5 weeks.  What can you or I do to help?  How can we be generous?

Be kind.
You’ll reap what you sow.
Give and it will be given to you.     

Monday, March 23, 2020

We're All in This Together

I was asked to write a piece for the local Outer Banks Voice.
Here it is.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Where Is God in this Crisis

Here's the link to my message this morning.  A couple questions that most of us are asking are part of what is shared. 

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Prayer in Public Schools

I'm old enough to remember praying aloud as a class in the public school setting.  It seems to me that in 1st grade Miss Ross asked students to say the blessing as we were lined up to go to the cafeteria.  Most likely it was the rote "God is good, God is great..." prayer.    And I don't remember if there was a prayer involved, but I do remember Mrs. Allen reading from a children's devotional book of some sort every morning in 5th grade.

Mind you, this was all in the early to mid 1960's when most American families still attended church or synagogue of some sort. It was a different cultural landscape.

Then, in that same decade the SCOTUS handed down decisions prohibiting school sponsored prayers.  School employees could not require prayers during the school day or during extra-curricular school sanctioned activities.  As a result conservative/fundamentalist Christians cried out that prayer had been banned from the public schools.  But, had it?

It was not unusual for a school principal or a superintendent to hand down regulations regarding prayer at school, taking the law into their own hands and forbidding all prayer, even student led/initiated prayers from the school campus.  But clearly, that was not the intent of the law.   "The Supreme Court ruled in 1962 that public schools cannot sponsor an official prayer or coerce students into praying. But students generally can pray at any time, as long as it’s not disruptive." *

Still, hosts of football teams huddled together to say "The Lord's Prayer" before a game.  But coaches (school employees) found engaging with their students were told to cease and desist by school administrators fearing protests from the ACLU and other liberal watchdog organizations.

All these prohibitions added to the Law only led to conservatives crying "foul" and looking for candidates in the judiciary as well as legislatures and executive branches who would pledge to "return" prayer to the schools.  But, had prayer been banned and was bringing government sanctioned prayer into the classrooms and locker rooms really what was wanted?

 First, it is impossible to ban prayer from anywhere.  Prayer is utterance to God, and if our God is all everything certainly He can hear a prayer spoken only from the heart, can He not?  No one has to pray aloud or from a kneeling position to get God's attention.

Second, the SCOTUS has consistently allowed for "student led prayers" at school functions.  Even though they may be minors, they still have certain constitutionally  guaranteed rights, two of which are freedom of speech and religious liberty.

Recently, White House Domestic Policy Council Director Joe Grogan cited the 2018 case of students at Honey Grove Middle School in Texas who gathered in the school lunchroom to pray for a former classmate hurt in a car accident, only to be warned by their principal not to do it again. When they prayed the next day, the principal moved them behind a curtain.  That was an infringement of their rights.  The principal was wrong if they were simply praying.  After all, 90% of the other students in the lunchroom were also involved in some sort of conversation.  And if you've been in a middle school cafeteria in recent years, you know that much of that conversational language is less than wholesome.

Third, if we truly want school sanctioned prayer (as we had prior to the early 1960's) then we shouldn't object when someone of another religion leads in that prayer.  We very well may be exposing our students to a spiritual pluralism that is unwanted. If a Muslim teacher or student is selected to say the daily prayer as school announcements are being read in home room, do not protest.

You can't have it both ways. "We want prayers, but we only want our prayers" doesn't work.  It isn't 1962 anymore, and in case you haven't noticed, not only do most families not attend church, many who are religiously fervent are not Christian. 

What do we do?  What do we say? 

My suggestion is that we teach our children to pray.  Teach them at home.  Teach them at church.  And let them know anytime, anywhere our God is ready to hear their prayers, on the way to school, in between classes, in the cafeteria, before and while they compete in athletics.  But teach them that not everyone believes like we do, so don't try and force others to pray with your or even to hear you pray.  If another needs your prayers, let him/her know you're praying for him/her.  Don't interrupt a class to pray aloud.  (But you might want to pray silently as the teacher hands you that test!)

If, as some have for the past 50 years, continuing to crusade for a constitutional amendment to "return prayers to schools", we had better be ready for an outcome we don't like.  Most of us would do better to encourage our students to pray often at school, even with their friends in a voluntary, spontaneous moment than be coerced by the state to pray who knows what.

I'm glad to see a President who wishes to protect our rights to pray.  I would not wish to see anything mandating prayer in the public schools.


* Trump issues new rule ensuring prayer in schools is protected. 
  The Washington Times, January 16, 2020