Sunday, January 21, 2018

Things Change

Today I announced to my church family that I have accepted a staff position with another church. That is harder to do that it seems. I have served Cross Road Baptist Church for eleven years. That is 20% of my life, more than half of my married life with Deana, and almost two-thirds of Riley's life. This is the longest job I've ever had. The next closest is six years.

God works in mysterious ways. That means I don't always understand why God does what he does. And I believe this is the work of God in my life, the life of CRBC, and the life of the church I'll soon serve. But I don't really understand it.

God is good all the time. That means that even if I don't understand (even if I don't like) what God is doing, it is good. God can do nothing else. Goodness is his nature so everything he does is good.

My time here is filled with great memories. We've seen many people give their lives to follow Jesus and have baptized them. Those are precious memories. We have travelled the globe engaging in God's work. I have fond memories of those who have gone with me and those who supported us in prayer and resources. We have mobilized to serve our community and almost every member has been a hands-on participant. I won't forget those people and mission moments.

I've worked alongside and prayed with some wonderful Christians. They have helped me mature as a Christian and as a pastor. Whether it was a challenge or a victory, we did it together. I'm glad the Lord works like that.

I've been their pastor as they welcomed babies into the world, married their children, reached milestones, and mourned the loss of loved ones. I've celebrated and mourned with them. Some of the best people I have known are part of the CRBC family.

There is a lot I don't know but this I do know: Following Jesus with others who follow Jesus is worthwhile.

Thank you, CRBC, for letting me be part of your lives. Thank you, Lord, for calling me here and keeping me here for these eleven years.

Monday, January 08, 2018

What Happened?

It must have been the late '80s because I was working for a company traveling from town to town selling industrial safety products to different types of businesses. Highway 80 is a quite road I was on between Waldron and Danville in western Arkansas. There wasn't much going on this late afternoon. Hardly any traffic competing for my space on the road. And hardly any thoughts competed for my brain's attention. I was zoned out headed home.

Then all of a sudden…out of nowhere…I thought my car was about to vibrate off the road. Could it be the Second Coming? Could it be an earthquake? Could it be a nuclear attack? No. It was an airplane.

Not far from where I was toodling along on Highway 80 is the Fort Smith airport which serves as the training facility for the Arkansas Air National Guard 188th Wing. I've read that in 1988 the 188th acquired the F-16. My guess is that a pilot was out with the new ride having a little fun. I might have done the same thing! He spots a lone vehicle on a secluded roadway, drops down to treetop height, and punches it right over my head.

My immediate thought was, "Oh no!" A second later, "What was that." Another second later I looked up in time to see the jet disappear. An hour later my heart rate returned to normal.

The only other experience I've had with something like that was several years ago on the weekend of the air show at the Little Rock Air Force Base in Jacksonville. Deana, Riley, and I were about 15 miles away from the base, it was an cloudy day, and we were headed to get some lunch. Just toodling along with hardly any traffic around us.

Then the clouds opened up and a black disc swooped down, then right back up. For just a moment we saw what could only be explained as a flying saucer from outer space carrying aliens to attack us and carry us off into an alternate universe. That was the only plausible explanation.

The next day's newspaper carried a story about the new stealth bomber making an appearance at the air show. The pictures in the paper looked a lot like the spaceship we had seen the day before.

Oh.

Add to these two events the time the army helicopter landed in our backyard and you have the three times I've had weird things happen to me involving the United States military. Each time I asked myself, "What happened?"

Many more times in my life have I asked that question when something goes wrong or I'm hit by something unexpected. I just don't understand. Maybe you feel that way, too. A divorce. Losing a child. Getting fired. An expensive repair. Blown up friendships. Repossession. Foreclosure. The diagnosis.

"What happened?" Most often the answer is, "I don't know." But in every situation you can add to that, "But God does."

Have you come to the point where you can trust that if God knows that is good enough? You'd like to know but you don't have to know?

Here are a couple of verses from the Bible that help me when I'm wondering what happened.

For the eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him (2 Chronicles 16:9).

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28).

The promise of these verses is that God acts in the lives of those who love him to help them when they aren't sure what happened.

Friday, December 22, 2017

'Twas Three Days Before Christmas

Way down deep, I'm a kid. My favorite memories of Christmas revolve around times spent at my grandparents' house in Paris, Arkansas. I never remember not having a sister and two cousins. Carri, Steve, Teri, and I were the first four of ten grandchildren. Steve and I are just eight months apart in age. If I had lived in Paris we would have grown up more like brothers than cousins.

The Christmas tree with the frosted tips to look like snow. The jillions of colored lights on the tree. Andy Williams singing in the background. My favorite Christmas song was "Ding-a-ling the Christmas Bell" by Lynn Anderson. I bought it on iTunes a couple of years ago. The kitchen counter was always loaded with food. The kitchen table was where the men would eat and later play dominoes.

I remember the gas wall heater we'd back up to then turn around when our backsides were too warm. And I remember the "cold room." Heat never reached there, not even when central heat and air was installed years later. Even the closed in back porch where the kids always ate was not as cold as the "cold room." I'm not sure why, but I always think of the "cold room" when I hear John Denver's "Grandma's Feather Bed." When my grandmother passed away a few years ago, it was in that room that we spent hours looking through boxes and albums of family pictures.

At the heart of our family's Christmas celebration was the true meaning of Christmas. We didn't read the Christmas story but many of us were coming from a church service. I knew I was loved and love like that has just one source. I've grown up to realize the importance of letting the people you love know you love them. The Christmas gatherings for my side of the family were last weekend. The whole, big, extended family still gets together on Christmas Eve but I haven't been able to attend that in a while. I haven't seen my big kids on Christmas Day in many years. But the day we get together isn't as important as letting them know you love them.

And I do. It is a rare occasion that I speak to my big kids or my parents and not tell them I love them. Christmas is part of a grand love story that tells us that God loves us and gave his Son to die for our sins. Easter is part of the same story. And the story never ends because God's love for us never ends. I want my love for my family to never end. Memories help. I see my cousins mostly at funerals these days - like the one earlier this month for my uncle. He was the one who would put on a Santa Claus outfit and walk by the living room window on Christmas Eve. (I think it was Ricky! Maybe it was…)

Was Jesus born on December 25? Does it matter? What matters is that Jesus - the eternal Son of God - entered our world as a human to make a way for sinners like you and me to reunite with our loving creator. That changes this life and eternity. So I will celebrate and pass along the greatest love story ever told.

I still love a Christmas tree decorated with colored lights. Blinking. Because when you sit in the dark living room the lights on the tree will all blink off at the same time once or twice a night. Keep your yuppie white lights; take me back to an old farmhouse with wood floors, a wall heater, a cold room, presents under the tree, food in the kitchen, a domino game, and family.

Friday, December 08, 2017

God's Already Here Doing Things We Can't Imagine

Have you ever heard someone say, "I really need God to show up"? Sometimes that is in the form of a prayer request. It's important to believe that the presence of God is essential in our lives. But does he need to show up?

Churchy people sometimes say, "God really showed up and showed out today." Really? God isn't already here? Maybe they don't mean what they say but what they say.

The Bible tells us that God is omnipresent - he is everywhere. Psalm 139 says that if I go to the highest peak in the mountains, God is there; if I go to the lowest valley under the ocean, God is there; if I fly through space, God is there. Where can I go that God is not already there?

Where you are today…God is there. Where you will be tomorrow…God is already there. He'll be there when you get there. The problems that tomorrow will hold are no surprise to God…he's already there. Can you find a bit of peace and comfort in that? Even in the turmoil that accompanies your trek through this life, God is there and he knows and he is in control.

Christmas reminds us that God is with us. That's what the name Immanuel means. Prophets and angels said Jesus would be Immanuel - God with us. When Jesus was about to return to heaven he told his followers that when he leaves the Holy Spirit will come. For all who believe and follow Jesus, the Holy Spirit is not only present in this world but present within us.

What about God showing out? Again, I think it is important to believe God does amazing things. In fact, according to the Bible, everything God does is "showing out" because his ways are higher than our ways. Not only is he omnipresent, he is also omnipotent! He has all power! Amazing power! He can part the waters of the Red Sea. He can turn water in pots into wine. He can raise the dead. He can take on human flesh and become a man.

Paul says God does things that are our ability to imagine. We can't even accurately ask for what he can do. From our perspective, everything he does blows our minds. If not, we aren't really paying attention!

For where you are now and what you need from God, he is present and powerful. Christmas reminds me that God is omnipresent and omnipotent. That's what I really need…all year long.

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

The Gospel, Sin, and Shame

I've just started reading The Imperfect Disciple by Jared C. Wilson. He spoke at a seminar I attended recently and we all got a copy. Jared writes with a style that makes me feel like we are sitting around the table drinking coffee and eating pie.

Here's what he wrote that I want to share with you. "Jesus found it imminently agreeable to air out people's shame that he might cover it for them. You cannot vanquish what you cannot expose."

Take a second and read that again. The difference between the way Jesus deals with sin and shame is so different from the way most of us deal with sin and shame. We want to deny we've sinned and hide the shame that accompanies sin. We want to keep our image pristine. Never let them see you sweat.

But the truth is that sin has already made an ugly mark on our lives. Each of us is marked and marred. Many of us put make-up on to cover the shame. We may hide behind a false front hoping nobody notices. We've learned to be proud, so the shame is embarrassing. I know, I've been there. At any given moment you could look at me and you'd be looking at a person marred by sin and shame.

But Jesus wants no part of hiding our sin. He wants no part of covering up our shame.

Jesus died for your sins to vanquish them from your life. Jesus offers forgiveness and restoration so you can be free from the shame. But Jared Wilson points out that you cannot vanquish what you cannot expose. Keep you sin and shame hidden. Don't let anyone know. Convince yourself that it's not that bad. Do that and you'll forever miss the love and joy and peace and freedom Jesus wants you to know.

Or confess you sins to Jesus. He will forgive you. Admit your shame and Jesus will restore you. The gospel is the good news that Jesus died to make right what is wrong in your life.

Wilson also wrote that we turn the gospel into law when we take the good news and turn it into practical, self-help advice. The gospel is not "3 Steps to a Better Life," the gospel is that Jesus died to make right what is wrong in your life. The only steps you must take are to follow in his.

I encourage you to pick up a copy of The Imperfect Disciple by Jared C. Wilson. I'm sure it's available at Christian bookstores and online retailers. Or you could've attended the seminar I did and got yours for free, too!

Monday, November 27, 2017

God Directs Our Paths

I'm looking for a job. The church I serve has to cut back the budget and that includes salaries. I've been bivocational before so this is not too big a shift for me.

I used to think that the goal of every pastor should be to get a church that can fully support him financially. But the truth is that most churches are small and therefore cannot fully support a pastor and/or staff. This brings to life a biblical reality for both the pastor and the church that gets hidden in our modern concept of the church.

Many churches - mine included, according to a seminary students research - rely on the pastor and staff to do the ministry. And pastors should be involved in the ministry of the church. But one man, in the case of a smaller membership church, cannot do all the ministry that ought to be done.

The Bible shows us a church where all the Christians are involved in ministry. In fact, this is necessary for the church to be what it is to be. Paul illustrates this by comparing the church to a human body. Each part of the body is important and has its own functions. The whole body suffers when one part of the body suffers.

So the church needs all the believers doing what they are designed and gifted to do in order for the church to function properly. What typically happens is that when one believer does not do his part somebody picks up the slack. But that person isn't necessarily designed and gifted for that task. So although the task gets done it gets done with less effectiveness - perhaps efficient but not effective. And the body of Christ suffers for it.

Churches need to see that each person has equal responsibility for the ministry. The pastor and staff are to lead and equip. And they are to do their part of the ministry but not all of it. Having a bivocational pastor often positions the church to have a broader participation in ministry.

From my personal experience, not having a job away from the church has sheltered me from many people who need a Christian's ministry. Let me say that more accurately: I let myself become sheltered from people outside the church. Not every pastor does this but I did.

At the last job I had outside the church I had opportunities everyday to shares God's love and the gospel with people who did not attend church. They were all around me. Sometimes they even sought me out for spiritual help. Honestly, very few - almost none - come to the church office looking for spiritual guidance.

It's been easy to become isolated. That's not good.

So working outside the church will help me overcome the tendency toward isolation. And that's good. The substitute teaching I am doing now is a great way to be around people who really need to know God's love and hear the gospel.

But the opportunity to make what I need to make is not there, so I'm looking for a job. This will be good for everyone: the church, me, my family, and people outside the church. I believe this is God's direction for his glory and my good.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

I'm Thankful

I am thankful to God for…

  • Salvation through Jesus Christ (the first Thursday of August 1972)
  • The Bible, God's Word to me/us
  • My family - I have the best wife, sons, and daughters-in-law
  • Cross Road Baptist Church
  • The ministry opportunities and extra income through substitute teaching at Baptist Prep
  • Friends who nudge me toward Christ-likeness
  • Prayer that helps me focus on what is really important
  • A nice, safe home in which to live
  • Reliable transportation for my family
  • Songs that lift my soul
  • The opportunities to play catch with Riley
  • The call to ministry (the last Thursday of June 1982)
  • Peace that passes understanding in the midst of great life-storms (the last Thursday of May 1992)
  • Jubilee Quartet (George Latham, Jack Hearrell, Johnny McCoy, Ricky Pruitt, Donnie Martin, Carri Corbitt, Ben Wiles)
  • Second chances
  • Technology that allows me to reconnect with friends I would otherwise seldom or never be in touch with
  • The view of the world through my Canon 70D
  • The piano lessons I took in elementary school
  • My journey to missional via NOBTS and Dave McClung
  • "An active mind and a keen imagination" (so said the fortune cookie)
  • Christians at all places on the planet who are faithful to the Great Commission

That is a good start for my list. What are you thankful for? More importantly, is your thankfulness directed toward God? He is the source of all things and provides for us and blesses us beyond imagination.