Friday, December 23, 2016

Grey Days

I look out the window and see a few colors. A blue building. Tan grass. Green bushes. But mostly grey. Grey tree trunks and limbs. Grey sky. Grey asphalt. Grey decking.

What do you notice when you look around you? I think we tend to notice what is different. Grey has become a neutral color for decor. About 16 years ago I began a new job. The walls of the business were painted grey. That was a first for me, at least as much as I can remember. I don't recall having a grey office before that but everything was grey. The walls. The carpet. The cubicle walls. The desktops. Different shades of grey but all grey.

I got used to it.

I like grey or gray. I like when the leaves fall from the trees and all that is left are the grey trunks and limbs. I like a grey sky. I like a grey road stretched out before me.

The grey sort of disappears; it becomes nondescript. So others things, other colors, pop out. Like the blue building and the tan grass and the green bushes. I glance across the yard and see a brown trash can, the kind you roll to the curb on Fridays. What I see most about the trash can are the bright white letters painted on its side. It's too far away for me to read what it says but my eyes are drawn to the lettering. Because it's different. It stands out. Against a backdrop of grey asphalt.

It's not just grey. If everything was orange and one thing was another color, you would notice it and probably not be able to look away. Someone once told me that the way to see deer in the woods is to look for horizontal lines because most everything else would be vertical.

Different stands out. Ask those who began wearing what is now common in the hip hop culture why they started dressing like that. To be different. Ask a musician how he developed his style. To be different. Ask a hip pastor why he preaches or teaches like he does. To be different. To get noticed.

If different gets noticed - good or bad - why are Christian's content to blend in? When Jesus saves a person and his Spirit moves in, the person is changed. He's not what he was. He's not like the world. He's different. Over time he becomes more and more like Jesus.

Christians ought to be the people who are noticed. Not because of a boycott or a rally, even though those are sometimes needed. But noticed because our lives and our reactions to life are different.

I attended two funerals this week. One was for a person whose entire life had been a reflection of Jesus. The other was for a person whose life had been changed midstream for Jesus. They were different and people noticed.

The first flowers of spring, the first star in the night sky, the first car you pass on a lonely stretch of road, the splash of color against a grey background, the object that doesn't belong with the others (remember Sesame Street?)… These stick out because they are different.

We live in the same world as everyone else, but Christians ought to stand out. We ought to stand out because we are different. We are different because of Jesus.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

The America You'll Die In

The America you'll die in is not the America you were born in.

Is that a true statement? Has there been a 70-year span at any time in America's history that did not show dramatic change? One this is sure: change is a given.

Those who lament the current state of the union simply aren't happy with the way things are today. They prefer something they've experienced that they like better. For some Americans that is a time years ago. For other Americans that is a time weeks ago. But things change. That is a given.

Consider a person's level of patriotism or commitment to the country. And also consider a person's level of Christian commitment. The intersection of the two spheres is not the same for each person. I know people who think the two are virtually the same. They say that to be Christian is to be American and vice versa.

I also know a few people that have no intersection of the two realities. They see themselves as Americans but not Christian at all. Still others see themselves as faithful to Christ but are not committed to the country.

Most people I know are somewhere in the middle. Their patriotism and their Christian faith intersect, at least a little.

But everyone will die in an America they were not born in. Change is a given.

I think - from a Christian perspective - we ought to be focused on the Gospel mission no matter our position of patriotism. The country you love may change - it will change. But Jesus Christ will never change. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Though the country will change, Jesus will not.

Are political, social, and economic positions unimportant? Not necessarily but our position on salvation and Christlikeness is of ultimate importance.

Christians, we are to be more concerned with a person's abode after his death that the political climate of his earthly home. Read that sentence again… Not concerned only with heaven but concerned more with heaven and still concerned with this life.

Rather than an intersection of the spheres of our lives, perhaps the right way to see it is for a Christian's faith to stretch over and into all other areas of our lives.

I read an article a few years ago that pointed out the grammatical difference of saying, "I am an American Christian" and "I am a Christian American." The significance of using the word Christian as an adjective (the second example) is that it influences our position as an American. Otherwise, being an American influences our Christianity and only Christ and his word should do that.

So you are an American. Be a Christian American.

You are a parent. Be a Christian parent.

You are a business owner. Be a Christian business owner.

You are a friend. Be a Christian friend.

You are a ___________. Be a Christian ___________.

Let your faith in Christ influence and impact everything else that you are.

Monday, December 05, 2016

Substitute

I have been subbing at Riley's school for about a month. I like it. I think they like me. Riley gets embarrassed most days. And it helps with the family budget!

For the most part a substitute teacher checks attendance, reminds students of assignments, hands out and takes up tests, tries to keep the students quiet, and various other sundry tasks. I've actually taught a little English and Bible.

I hope the opportunities to teach come more often. I like subbing but teaching would be cooler.

The Bible teaches that Jesus is our substitute when it comes to judgment for sin. The penalty for sin is death but God loves us so much that he put the penalty upon his son Jesus. Jesus died on the cross 2000 years ago as the substitute for each of us so that we would not have to bear that punishment.

The ultimate death is actually eternal existence in hell without God. Jesus absorbed that punishment, too. He bore all the effect of sin in our places.

That's an awesome substitute. I'm not that good. I can do some of what the real teacher can do, but not all. As our substitute, Jesus did everything that could possibly be done. He actually did what we could not do.

Wouldn't it be surprising if the substitute teacher was better than the teacher? Yeah, not likely! But our substitute - Jesus - is way better at dealing with our sin than we are. In fact, we can do nothing about our sin. Only Jesus can address our sin problem sufficiently.

My hope as a substitute teacher is to not cause the students to spiral toward failure. Jesus makes it possible for you and me to avoid eternal death and gain eternal life.

He's a better sub than I am.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Thankful for Kindness

Happy Thanksgiving! This is one of the days when people are a little kinder to one another. I think it's because we focus on the good instead of the bad. Of course, when the stores open and the mad rush begins the kindness goes away. So enjoy it while you can.

I remember one of the most kind deeds ever extended to me. It happened on Thanksgiving Day in 1992. I was fresh in the middle of devastating brokenness and a man named Bob Feltner seemed to sense it. He didn't just sense it, he acted in kindness toward me.

Bob owned and operated Feltner's Whatta-Burger in Russellville, Arkansas. His burger joint is on the corner across the highway from the local college. Both the restaurant and the college have grown since the time that I regularly attended both. Whatta-Burger began in November of 1967 and by the early 70s it was a regular stop for the Loyd family. I was just a kid stuffed in the back of a Ford Pinto with a bunch of other kids. This was before seatbelt laws and remember, my parents are from the drive-in movie era where you packed as many as possible into your car for one low admission. The burgers were and are great. The fries…well, they chuckle when a party of one orders a full order. It was a drive-up, place your order at the window, and stand there and wait for your order kind of place at first. Nobody complained about the wait. This was Whatta-Burger and it was worth the wait. We always ate in the car while still in the parking lot. Most everyone did.

Mr. Feltner eventually added an indoor dining room that is always as packed as the back of that Pinto. He passed away and his daughter and son-in-law run the business. I imagine he would be very proud.

So, here's my story of kindness and Thanksgiving. The Thanksgiving of 1992 was the first holiday I would spend driving back and forth from Russellville to northwest Arkansas to pick up my boys. They were 8 and 6 years old and I would have driven any distance to be with them. I drove up to get them, came home to spend time with them, and drove them back when my visitation was over.

I also worked for KCJC radio at the time. I was the sales manager and had on-air experience so when Feltner's Whatta-Burger wanted a live remote on Thanksgiving Day the job fell to me. It was their 25th Anniversary and Bob wanted to roll back the prices to 1967. He may have thought that doing this on Thanksgiving Day would keep the loss in profit to a minimum but they were as busy that day as any I've seen. He opened for just a few hours but there was a steady line of customers having Whatta-Burgers and Whatta-Cheeses for Thanksgiving Dinner.

I sat in a booth with my two boys and broadcast live on the radio every 20 minutes. Yes, I took my boys to work that day. I really didn't have an option. Plus, I wanted to spend as much time as possible with them and they seemed to like being on the radio.

You might imagine how out of place I felt. A dad trying to figure out how to spend time with his boys in the midst of a celebration of successful business. I still cry when I drive away from Jim and Caleb so you can imagine how I felt when all this was fresh. Nothing was more important to me than spending time with them since my time with them was so limited. The customers probably never noticed us or our situation because they were in and out. To them I was just the guy on the radio and my kids came to work with me.

But Bob Feltner saw something different. He saw it all and I guess he understood. The restaurant was open for just two or three hours and after he closed Bob had a big Thanksgiving celebration planned at his house for his employees, family, and friends. I barely knew Mr. Feltner. He wasn't my client, I was just doing the broadcast because it was Thanksgiving Day and the station manager who sold advertising to him wasn't available. I was on salary so I got the job instead of paying a DJ to do it. My relationship with Bob was just barely what you might call a relationship.

After he cleared the dining room of all the guests who had stopped by for sacks and sacks full of burgers and fries, he came up to me while I was putting away the equipment and invited me and my boys to have Thanksgiving Dinner with him. I'm sure he was prepared to feed dozens of people so what difference would a man and his two small sons make? But I don't think his invitation was an obligatory gesture. I think it was kindness. I think it was genuine kindness. He saw brokenness trying to be put back together and he offered to help.

If you know me very well you already know my response. I gratefully declined his offer but I never forgot his kindness. Not a Thanksgiving or a trip through Russellville on highway 7 go by that I don't remember the kindness of Bob Feltner. And I hope that someday somebody can write about the kindness of this Bob the way I've written about the kindness of that Bob.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

What Am I Thankful For?

This is Thanksgiving week. The kids are home from school. Families look forward to gathering. Retail (online and brick-and-mortar) is expectant. Parade routes are being readied. Teams are making final preparations.

The holiday of Thanksgiving is definitely an American tradition. But thankfulness belongs to God.

I wonder how many times the phrase "Give thanks to the Lord" or something like it is in the Bible? Add to that the expressions of thankfulness reaching from Genesis to Revelation. That we should be thankful to our Creator, Provider, Sustainer, and Savior seems obvious to me.

One verse about thankfulness that stands out for me is 1 Thessalonians 5:18 where Paul writes, "Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus."

Give thanks.

In all circumstances.

For this is God's will.

For you.

In Christ Jesus.

The two phrases most difficult for me to apply are "in all circumstances" and "for this is God's will." I understand giving thanks. I know it is specific to me. I'm glad thankfulness is fully accomplished in Jesus.

But in all circumstances? This morning's news included reports of a school bus crash that left several children injured and a half dozen dead. I just read online that the number of Syrian refugees has doubled in a short period of time. Lurking not too far below the surface is the real threat of ISIS and other terrorist groups. Half of the population of these United States think the world will end on January 20, 2017. The other half is hoping is doesn't end before then.

And we are to give thanks in all circumstances? Yes. Because God is on the throne. He is sovereign. He rules and reigns. And nothing…nobody…can stand against him. I've had some hard times when I couldn't think of a reason to be thankful. I'll share one particular Thanksgiving story later this week. What I've learned is that thankfulness is possible when I keep my focus on Jesus. When I take my eyes off Jesus and begin to focus on the problems and issues and trouble around me I sink into the problems and issues and trouble.

I am thankful that God gives peace and comfort even in situations of great loss. I am thankful that God provides all I need when I cannot imagine any other way of surviving. I am thankful that God loves and cares for all people. Those are not just words; they are truths. They are not just good for me to say when others go through stuff but are the anchors I need when I go through stuff.

Yes, give thanks in all circumstances. Because this is God's will for you. Your circumstances may or may not be God's will. I'm not convinced that everything that happens was planned by God. I believe some of our circumstances are the product of our choices and some are just simply the result of living in a world broken by sin.

But being thankful is God's will. I please God when I align my life with his will and am obedient to his word and express my love to him and to others. Being thankful pleases God. Being thankful in all circumstances pleases God. When I am thankful to God I am showing that I believe he is my Creator, Provider, Sustainer, Savior, etc. When I am thankful to God in all circumstances I am showing that I believe he is Sovereign and good, and I am showing that I trust him no matter what the circumstances are.

Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus. Happy Thanksgiving.

Thursday, November 03, 2016

The Greatest Game

The Cubs' fanbase is widespread, nation wide. Not many teams can boast that. In part, it's because of WGN. Almost every game was cabled or dished into almost every home in America. This was at a time when you didn't have the broadcast choices we have now. The Braves benefit from a similar setup.

Many in my generation fell in love with teams we saw on the Saturday Game of the Week on NBC. For me it was the Reds.

Others chose their favorite team because of late night AM radio broadcasts and legendary voices.

Broadcasting ingrained a love for the game and a team in our lives. I miss those days. The 2016 World Series solidifies baseball as my favorite sport even though my team didn't make it. My team lost almost as many games as the Cubs won.

But if you can't enjoy what happened last night, you may just need to listen to more games on the radio.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Bold Predictions

Any day with baseball is a great day in my book. From the end of the World Series to the beginning of Spring Training is a long, long time.

We are in the midst of the League Championship Series with the World Series set to begin next week. Cleveland has a strong edge over Toronto in the American League. The Dodgers are slightly ahead of the Cubs for the National League pennant but the Cubs have been the best team in baseball all year.

Before the postseason started I picked Texas and LA to make the Series so I'll stick with LA over the Cubs. And I think Cleveland gets there, too.

The Dodgers haven't won since 1988. The Indians last won the Series in 1948. I will be OK with either team winning since my favorite team was eliminated a long, long time ago. But the Reds are building and might be a contender in a couple of years. I hope.

Here are my bold predictions. Dodgers over Cubs in 6. Indians over Blue Jays in 5. Dodgers over Indians in 6.

Now, concerning the 2016 Presidential Election, I'm not as enthusiastic. Unlike baseball where I can like the game even without particularly liking either team, I can't get too excited about this one. I don't like either candidate. I don't believe either candidate. I've hoped for a long, long time that neither would be the winner but that looks like a lost cause now.

I won't predict a winner because the American voters continue to shock me. But I will make a prediction. Whoever wins the election will move to the left of their campaign positions. For one of them you may think that's not possible. Isn't she as far left as possible. If it's possible to be further left, I think she'll make a go at it. And the other guy just doesn't come across as a conservative to me. I think I'll be disappointed no matter how it turns out.

Here's a prediction I'm sure of: Jesus is Lord and is coming again. This time he will reign in power and glory forever and ever. I can't wait!

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Pastor Appreciation 2016

Hardly a day goes by that I don't remember a few men who have impacted my life as a pastor. Certainly, during Pastor Appreciation Month I think of their influence.

Bobby Loyd was my pastor growing up. He helped me come to Jesus and start along the path of following the Lord. About 35 years have passed since I sat under his preaching regularly but I still recall some of the things he said but mostly how he said them.

Wylie Jones was the first pastor I served under. He worked a full-time job with overtime but spent as many hours visiting in the community as any pastor I know. He loved the people and was passionate about the gospel.

David McLemore was the pastor who caught me in the most broken time of my life. The church he led was full of people who loved me anyway. David was instrumental in my return to vocational ministry after running from it after my divorce.

Over the years I have made great friendships among pastors. They have taught me so much and I hope the churches I've served have felt it. Many of these men were much older than me. Some were much younger than me. Most were much wiser.

So, men, I appreciate you, love you, and thank God for you. I wish I had the money to give you all a gift card to your favorite steak house.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Tenth Grade

It's back-to-school time at our house. Riley starts 10th grade today. I remember Jim and Caleb starting high school. I remember my first day as a sophomore.

What I don't remember is having a lot of choices about classes. I took the advanced math and science; I took the first offering of Sociology; I had a typing class.

But we didn't have a Digital Imaging class. Not even an Analog Imaging class that I recall; Mr. Ingram taught the annual staff to use cameras and develop pictures in a dark room. We had one foreign language; I didn't take it.

I didn't do shop class or home economics but I did join a lot of clubs so I could get in the group picture for the annual. Kids now days don't even call it an annual; it's a year book.

I didn't have a backpack or a long list of supplies for each, separate, individual class. Seems like it was my responsibility to have pencil and paper and keep up with stuff.

And those expensive calculators? We had to show all our work. We had to know the formula. We had to draw our own graphs.

We shared lockers. We wanted to.

Having a kid in tenth grade is supposed to make you feel old but when I compare his sophomore year to mine I feel really old.

I do remember tenth grade being a great year and I hope it is for Riley and his friends, too.

Monday, May 30, 2016

What I Cannot See

A man in our church family has been very ill recently. That has required many stays in local hospitals. I've visited him several times, mostly recently at Baptist Medical Center in Little Rock.

Baptist is going through a lengthy and dramatic renovation. The most dramatic part is listening to people complain about the extra they have to walk to get into the building. It really is a mess. The main entrance is closed. The entrance all traffic is funneled through now is a good ways away. But the worst part is the path getting to the elevators once you are inside the building.

The elevators are conveniently located near the MAIN entrance…which is closed. After winding through rooms and corridors most of us never knew existed you'll find yourself standing before the familiar elevators; but you'll be complaining in dramatic fashion.

I'm smarter than the average bear so after a couple of trips through the temporary entrance I began parking in the parking deck. From there you enter the building via an elevated walkway into the second floor. Elevators or stairs are handy. I'm not sure it's a shorter journey but at least I CAN ENTER LIKE I'M SUPPOSED TO! No construction mess. No drama.

Last week I went to visit Jerry and was walking through the elevated walkway behind a young man and his two children. The kids looked like they may have been about 6 (boy) and 4 (girl). Maybe they were going to visit their mother and new baby sibling! They looked excited when they first entered the walkway.

Then they noticed that they were walking on air. Looking out the windows of the walkway they could see nothing except nothing all the way down to the street twenty feet below. The little boy walked near the windows a look up and down and all around.

The little girl walked right down the middle of the walkway looking at her feet.

Once we crossed the street below the walkway rests atop a one-level section of the hospital. The little boy announced, "Hey, we're walking on the roof!"

That was the best news the little girl had heard since Daddy told her about the new baby. She went straight to the edge and began looking around. A little skipping dance appeared in her gait.

She was safe now because she could see that the walkway was resting on something.

So I began to think about my life as a follower of Jesus. Sometimes I can't see or feel what is supporting me. It's like I'm suspended in midair and could fall at any moment.

Have you ever felt like that? You may feel like you are all alone or like everything is crumbling around you. You can't find anybody who cares enough to be there for you.

The Bible tells me that Jesus is always with us and will never leave us. Do you believe that? It's true and you can place all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.

It's a matter of trust. Trust is easier when you look out the window and see safety and security. But trust is still possible when you can't see what or who is holding you. But trust that Jesus is holding you.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

What If What I Believe Isn't True?

I just read an article written by a minister. He is struggling with the transgender issues; aren't we all? I appreciate his pursuit of more knowledge on the subject. We ministers know what the Bible says about God creating humans male and female. We believe that what God created was his intention and was good. But many of us (ministers) don't know much about the science revealed in creation. This guy asked questions so he could know more. You can read his article here.

I like the idea of learning more about a subject of which you have limited knowledge. The author said what he learned brings theological questions to mind. I guess so.

When we encounter subjects - related to this or not - that push against our theological beliefs, what should we do? Here are a few keys to help you if you struggle with this.

First, pray about it. God doesn't want you to be confused and he will help bring clarity to things you don't know. Another reason to pray is that it will help you as you follow the next keys - especially the last one!

Second, know that the Bible is true. There is nothing in the Bible that is false or misleading. The truths in scripture can never lead you into false beliefs. If you are wishy-washy on the inerrancy and infallibility of the Bible you will struggle more than you should with issues like the transgender debate.

Third, read the Bible. How can I hold to biblical truths if I don't know them? Listening to sermons and participating in group Bible studies are great ways to learn scripture. By themselves these cannot teach you all you need to know. God's Spirit does a lot of things for believers, and one of them is to teach us truth. As you read the Bible you will have clarity on some issues and will be confused on others. Stay with it because the Holy Spirit is teaching you; sometimes is takes a little time and repetition.

Fourth, have conversations with people who hold to Christian beliefs. Iron sharpens iron and though you may not feel very "iron-y" you can learn from others. And they'll probably learn something from you; remember, the Spirit is teaching you, too!

Fifth, have conversation with people who hold opposing beliefs. Simply talking with someone who holds a different opinion doesn't mean you agree with them. And it doesn't mean you have to argue with them. And it doesn't mean you think you may be wrong. Those conversations may be in person or electronically or through books and articles. Hearing opposing views may help you see where you can correct what you believe. It can also help solidify your faith in what you believe. Don't be afraid to talk with people you don't agree with. The purpose is not to moderate your beliefs but to correct and/or solidify them.

What would you add to this list of keys to dealing with hard issues?

Monday, May 16, 2016

That Stinks

My favorite sport is baseball. I love it all the way from T-ball to the Big Leagues. Baseball has a pretty thick rulebook and almost as many unwritten rules. For example, if a team hits back-to-back-to-back home runs and you are the next batter, you can expect to have the pitcher throw at you even if your average is .212 and you haven't hit 10 home runs in your 10-year career.

The unwritten rules came into play last night as the Blue Jays faced the Rangers. You may need a little context. In last year's Postseason, these teams met and the Blue Jays walked off with the series on a home run by Jose Bautista. After his monster swing that launched the ball into the stands, Bautista did a humongous bat flip as he watched the ball sail away to victory.

The Rangers didn't like it. I didn't either, actually. I'm a purist. I'm old fashioned. Play the game hard and right and leave the grandstanding in, well, in the grandstands.

Typically, Bautista could expect a pitch somewhere north of his shoulders on his next at bat the next night. The only trouble is that the season was over for the Rangers so they didn't have a chance to follow the unwritten rule of settling the score. This past weekend was the first time the teams squared off since "The Bat Flip." Everyone expected something but nothing happened. Nothing happened until Bautista's last at bat against the Rangers in Arlington for the weekend series.

Here comes the pitch. High and tight. He gets hit in the ribs and takes first base. The next batter flies out to left field. Then the unwritten rules come into play again. A new pitcher faces the next batter with Bautista on first. Ground ball to third for an apparent routine 5-4-3 double play. Except Bautista, running from first and irritated by being hit by the pitch, slides hard into second. He's out but he probably didn't really care. He was sending a message to the Rangers because they had sent a message to him because of "The Bat Flip." The unwritten rules are supposed to provide a way to even the score with one team feels disrespected or something. The problem is that neither team ever feels like the issue is settled.

Rangers second basemen Rougned Odor and Bautista get in each others faces. Push. Push. Then punch! Odor landed a solid right on Bautista that knocked the helmet and sunglasses right off "The Bat Flip"-er's face. Find the video if you haven't seen it. It's pretty funny.

What I found most funny (funniest…) is the was Mr. Bat Flip began to backpedal when Odor flipped his hat and glasses to the dirt. Watch the video of "The Bat Flip" and you'll notice a definite difference in the facial expression from then and last night.

Anyway, the unwritten rules - aren't rules supposed to regulate play? - seem to have disrupted good baseball.

One, Bautista was out of line, in my opinion, with the demonstrative bat flip.

Two, the Rangers probably should not have beaned Bautista seven months after "The Bat Flip."

Third, Bautista should not have slid into second quite like he did. It looks like he's more interested in retribution that breaking up a double play.

Fourth, Odor should have been the mature one and smiled as he walked off the field. Double play, inning over.

Fifth, 50 players, two coaching staffs, and 40,000 fans should have let it end without the melee.

Sixth, Bautista should thank Beltre for pulling him out of harms way.

Sixth, play hard and play right. Anything else stinks.

Monday, May 02, 2016

Study Hall

At this moment I am sitting in the coffee shop at Immanuel Baptist Church while Riley reads his daily dose of Great Expectations. We are waiting for Deana to get off work (she works here).

Riley needs his study time. He doesn't use it much but he needs it. Actually, he's doing pretty good but just a little extra effort can make a big difference. His school released news today that eight students qualified for a special scholarship that would pay up to $10,000 per year for four years. That would be nice to get! Very few baseball players get full scholarships so academics can play a big role in paying for college.

So we are in study hall.

Think about what just a little extra effort would do in your relationship with Jesus. I'm not talking about trying harder to earn your salvation; salvation is a gift that is free to you because Jesus paid the price for it by dying for your sins. I'm talking about the closeness that most Christians have experienced and would like to return to.

Remember when you had the closest walk with the Lord. You felt his presence and power all the time. You understood themes in the Bible and knew what God wanted you to do. You enjoyed going to church and couldn't wait to gather with others who believe. Then something happened and it's not that way anymore.

That "something" may be different for each one of us but at the core it's the same thing…sin. Anything that gets between you and Jesus is sin. Maybe you started a new relationship and you can't help but spend all your time with her. You think about every moment you're not with her. Or the stress at work ramped up and you are constantly thinking about that. Or the children have entered a new stage of life that has turned your home upside down. Or an addiction that hasn't been a problem has come back into your life. Or it could be a jillion other things.

Jesus told some Christians two thousand years ago that they had lost their first love. I think the first love is loving God as a first priority and loving God with great passion. Maybe the extra effort you need to exert is making God your priority and loving him with great passion. The Bible says, "You shall have no other gods before me" and "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength."

I've found that the harder I try to do this the harder it is to actually do it. I mean it's not about my effort except for me to give up control of my life and allowing God's Spirit to lead me. I've never actually seen this happen but think about a fighter pilot who is in a situation where he needs to eject from the cockpit. If he stays put he's in trouble. He has to get out. Something has to change. But all he can do is pull the lever or push the button. After that, the systems take over and he's safely ejected away from the danger.

There's not much you can do to draw closer to the Lord except give up the selfishness and the control and whatever other sins are between you and him. When the pilot hits the eject button he's still in the bad place but not for long. When you surrender control, stop the sin, and turn to the Lord, at that moment you are still in a bad place but it's about to get better.

Study hall isn't that easy. I wish it was. And I don't mean to make it sound like I think repentance (stopping the sin and turning to God) is easy, but there's nothing else to do. I use words like surrender or yield because it shows that I am giving up control and allowing God to take over.

Rather than working harder we actually need to work less. But that's hard work.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Awkward

I've reached an age where I need monthly injections. There's not much that makes me chuckle on the inside more than the small talk that accompanies a shot down there. At least we don't make eye contact during the procedure.

What's the most awkward moment you've endured? It's easier (and more fun) to endure someone else's awkward moment than your own, isn't it!

I get into a lot of embarrassing moments. I was maybe 5 years old and we were Christmas shopping. I was standing in line at the checkout with my mother but lost track of her. The stuff they put by the checkout lanes is just too interesting for a 5 year old to ignore.

I looked away from the goodies and at my eye level saw a hand holding a pretty cool toy. Without realizing that this person was not my mother I blurted out, "I didn't know you were getting me that!" I may have even grabbed it to get a closer look!

That was certainly an awkward moment for such a little boy before I even knew what awkward was.

You know that kid that has a growing spurt and looks really awkward? That's not me. I always put on the weight before the height. But those kids who do grow quickly provide a few laughs along the way. Like the giraffes at the zoo. Or the moose I saw in Alaska.

Each person has something about them that is a little awkward. It may be in his looks or her social graces. I've even had people laugh at my accent. Me! Can you believe that?

God is the creator of all things and each person you see today is a creation of his. When God created the world he looked at everything he had created and said it was good. Although sin has entered the world and "good" may not be our description of some of the things we see, everybody has something good within them.

The good within is not because of anything we've done and we cannot hope that our good will offset our sin. But the good within is because of our creator who created us in his image. The good within is the image of God. And while it is somehow hidden by our fallen sinful nature, God is at work to redeem each of us.

You don't have to be known for the scars sin leaves in your life. You can be known as a child of God who is overcoming the impact of sin because the creator is redeeming you and his image within you.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Late Bloomer

I'm looking out the living room window into the backyard. The grass is green and has already been cut once. All of the bushes sport bright green leaves. Of course, the evergreens are green. The Bradford Pears have bloomed and the petals have blown across the yard and stuck on the windshield of our vehicles. The hardwoods are last to the Spring party.

One of my best friends through school was a late bloomer physically. Let's just say that his 18th year was a good one. He went from being about my size (5'8" since 8th grade) to towering over me. When a person blooms isn't nearly as important as who they are after they bloom. Same with the trees; in a month nobody will remember what they looked like today.

Spiritually, we might be late bloomers, too. I was saved when I was 8 years old. I have no doubt that it was a genuine conversion experience. My teenage years were typical but during the Summer after graduation I knew God was calling me to Christian ministry and I began to chart my path in that direction. I would say I was a late bloomer because God probably was calling me to ministry for years before I surrendered.

I've known men and women who have felt God's call on their lives to be involved in vocational ministry from very early ages. And they were obedient to serve and have for decades. That's not my story but I like theirs.

And I've known men and women who have felt God's call later in life. Some left successful careers to start a new career of ministry. That's not my story, either, but I like theirs.

I'm not just talking about vocational ministry. Doesn't it seem like the church has portrayed ministry as vocational only? Recently, we've done better at emphasizing the calling of every Christian into ministry. Christians who accept the mission of God as theirs too take the Good News home with them and to work with them and to school with them and to their times and places of play with them.

The transforming power of the Gospel does this to anyone who yields to God's will: any Christian - every Christian - can be an effective witness of the saving grace of Jesus Christ.

That you may not have accepted that central role in your walk of faith doesn't have to define the rest of your life. Start now. Bloom now. To borrow a phrase from Vance Havner, let him be "the Lord of what's left" of your life.

It seems like in the few minutes I've been writing this post that the trees outside the window are a little greener. Once blooming starts you can't stop it. Imagine who will be eternally impacted if you agree with God and his mission and bloom today.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Carnival Mirrors

Deana and I have been reading a book on parenting teenagers. It was a gift from a friend. She must have met our son. Really, she gave the book to several of her son's friends' moms. She must have met all of the boys!

The book is Age of Opportunity by Paul David Tripp. We are nearing the end of the book after a slow, thoughtful pace. Hopefully, we've learned something that will help us help Riley. Throughout the book the author reminds us that our teenage son is really no different from us and that what we expect of him must also be expected of ourselves.

Even with all the heavy-handed brow-beating, we've continued to read.

The chapter we are reading now gives us strategies for implementing the goals discussed in earlier chapters. In applying Psalm 36:1-4 to parenting, the author said teenagers (and parents, too) tend to flatter themselves too much. They think they are smarter than they are, more mature than they are, more capable than they are. Then he said this.

When they look at themselves, they don't use the perfect mirror of the Word of God, but the carnival mirrors of peer opinion, personal evaluation, and cultural norm. In those mirrors you do see yourself, but what you see is distorted, so that your legs look fat and stubby or your neck looks three feet long.

God's Word says you are fearfully and wonderfully made. The carnival mirrors say you aren't worth anything.

God's Word says he has a plan for your life. The carnival mirrors say you'll never amount to anything.

God's Word says purpose and meaning are found in relationship with Jesus Christ. The carnival mirrors say you better chase what everyone else is chasing.

As we read today I could clearly see these truths in my son, other people, and even in my wife. And it dawned on me that I am just the same when I don't focus on the Lord. That's the key for each of us: focus on the Lord, use his Word as the mirror by which we view ourselves, and seek to point to his glory rather than seek our own.

A carnival-mirror-mentality causes one person in the office to arrogantly command the others. A carnival-mirror-mentality causes one family member to be short and harsh toward the others. A carnival-mirror-mentality causes one Christian to be judgmental toward the others. A carnival-mirror-mentality causes a Christian to simply overlook the lost.

A God's-Word-mentality causes me to love the Lord with all my heart, mind, soul, and strength, and to love others as myself.

Wednesday, March 09, 2016

Smile

The football team had been practicing on a hot Arkansas August afternoon. It was the second practice that day. I had worked in between practices. Most of us wanted to sit on the cool concrete walkway in the shade and drink from the water hose. We dreaded when Coach would call us back to the practice field.

The practice field was the elementary school playground. It was three blocks from the field house. It was mostly a dust bowl. But it was better than the lot right across from the field house. We had a nickname for that place. The Sticker Bowl. Coach didn't care about the stickers. We still ran our drills on the ground. Linemen could hardly put their hands down in the pre-snap position without landing on the stickers. It would have been comical if it had not been painful.

So that day during the break Coach starts to get on us about being so down and blue and sad. "Come on, guys, smile!" It didn't work. We were tired. It would take more than that to make us smile. Maybe if our girlfriends drove by…then we might smile. If there was some reason to call off practice early…then we might smile.

"Do you know how many muscles it takes to frown?" "Forty-seven," I said quickly.

Sometimes my wit is tempered with wisdom. Sometimes it's not.

"That's right!" he said. I have no idea how many muscles it takes to frown. He probably doesn't either. Maybe his wit was a tad sharper than mine. Then he said it only took X number of muscles to smile. Frowning took more effort than smiling, he said.

Who knows? I don't but I learned an important lesson that day. A couple actually.

One is, don't try to outsmart the coach. As I've aged and especially as I've had teenagers I've learned that age is an advantage in many aspects.

The other lesson I learned is that attitude trumps almost anything. If you have a good attitude about even a mundane task you will be much happier. And the task won't seem so bad.

I guess we've discovered that there are too many germs in a water hose so we can't drink from them anymore. We especially can't pass it around to forty other guys. But when I'm out mowing on a hot summer day I'll slip over to the water hose and take a drink. And I almost always think of that day of practice on the elementary school playground.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

That's a Good Choice

I just sat down at the coffee shop to get in some reading, 'riting, and 'rithmetic. Wait! I don't have to do that anymore! So just some reading and writing.

I ordered an oatmeal-raisin cookie and a small cup of brewed coffee. "Oh, that's a good choice! Those go so good together." The barista is probably trained to say something like that no matter what I order. But it made me feel good about my order.

"That will be $4.22, please."

I looked at my app and I had $4.34 on it. Turns out I did have to do some math. Let's see…$4.22 is greater than or less than $4.34?

Somebody needs to give me a gift card!

I wonder how often a person who makes a decision in our churches gets the kind of enthusiastic encouragement I got at the coffee shop today. Or do we just shake their hands, hug their necks, and let them drift along.

I bought a truck six weeks ago. It's not new. It's not exactly what I was looking for except for the price. But John made me feel like I had just made a great decision. So there has been no buyer's remorse.

So do the people who make decisions about their relationship with Jesus and following him feel buyer's remorse? They shouldn't because those are decisions that are the best in the world. Nothing can top that!

But if we don't help them along in their journey of following Jesus then problems can set it. If we do little or nothing to help them they may decide to just quit the church or quit Jesus.

Do you have an arm around a new believer helping them walk with Jesus? What are you doing to help them? You should realize that helping a new believer may be one of the greatest things you can do today.

Monday, February 01, 2016

Be Encouraged

I guy I know bought a new, nice truck. A big truck. It doesn't have an alarm and he would like to have one for this new, nice, big truck. He posted a picture the other day of the truck with two big, mean-looking dogs tied to it. That's his alarm until he can get one installed.

Figuring out how to do something in a new or different way is a good trait to have. Sometimes bailing wire, duct tape, and WD-40 aren't the fix your situation needs.

Serving a church is like that, sort of.

We have a tendency to do things like we've always done them. And if something goes wrong the fix is the same old fix. More of the same stuff that often brought you to your current situation.

Even the "new" fixes are often just duct tape with a new design. It looks new, different. But it accomplishes nothing different.

Then there are those folks that take a big swing at it. Like the baseball player that isn't hitting well so he just swings harder. Or kicks his leg higher. Or waggles his bat more. Or revamps the whole swing. Church leaders like to do that, too.

Paul wrote a letter to Timothy. Two of them, in fact. The aging apostle was preparing his young protege for ministry on his own. In 2 Timothy 4:2-5 Paul gives this advice that was good then and is still good today. The warning applies today, too.

Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage - with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.

No matter what, preach the Word. When the people respond, preach the Word. When the people don't, preach the Word. When ministry is noticeably effective, preach the Word. When you can't tell, preach the Word. When the message is welcomed, preach the Word. When the message is rejected, preach the Word.

I don't have answers to all the questions a church leader may have. But I do know this: preaching the Word is always right.

So be encouraged, Pastor! Even when you don't know what to do you can be sure that faithfully preaching the Word will help.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Time and Time

Just a thought running through my head after preaching Sunday about time and hearing a sermon about time yesterday.

The New Testament has a couple of Greek words that are often translated "time." One is chronos - as in chronology. This is the word for minutes, hours, etc. It's the word used in "What time is it?"

The other is kairos. It means a special moment, an opportunity, a. It's the word used in "We live in an interesting time."

My question is this: Does every chronos have a kairos? Does every second afford an opportunity. Does every minute have a moment?

Paul uses the phrase "make the most of every opportunity" twice in his letters. Once in Ephesians and once in Colossians. The word there is kairos so opportunity is a good translation.

If God is sovereign - and he is - and if God has a master plan - and he does - then doesn't every chronos have a kairos?

Each day has 86,400 seconds. We all get the same. Nobody gets more than you. What we do with our time is of ultimate importance is we believe every chronos has a kairos - and I do.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Some Important Questions


Our Bible study last night at Cross Road was in the twelfth chapter of the New Testament book of Hebrews. (I started to say Hebrews 12 but given that Donald Trump stumbled over familiar-to-Christian biblical recitations I thought I should just spell it out; but is that really how you spell 12th? Spell check says so.) The previous chapter documents many Old Testament saints' faithfulness. None of them were perfect and that's not what made them perfect. Their faith led to obedience which led to the commendation.

They weren't perfect nor was their faithfulness perfect. But they were listed in the Faith Hall of Fame anyway. That encourages me.

Then as you read chapter twelve you'll find an emphasis on endurance. Why? Because the life of faithfulness is not easy. It's like a race (as Paul says in a letter to Christians in Philippi) and you must prepare for it. We have to keep our focus on Jesus because so many things can keep us from living faithfully.

I asked our study group last night what might keep us from living faithfully. Their answers included pride, selfishness, and a bunch of other attitudes. So we can focus on the temptations and pressures around us or we can focus on Jesus. I wonder which is best?

To stay focused on Jesus we need to spend time in prayer each day. We need to read and study the Bible regularly. We need to share our lives with others who are also trying to live faithfully. We need to avoid clear pitfalls full of temptation; like the media we access or people we hang out with. And we need to share with others that we follow Jesus as our Savior and Lord. Some of those people we need to share with will probably be some of the same people who have gone along with us falling for temptation. So it's all the more important to keep our eyes focused on Jesus.

All the Old Testament saints listed form a "great cloud of witnesses" so I can know what it means to be faithful. They are joined by New Testament saints and even faithful saints who have lived (and died) over the last 20 centuries.

Even some of my heroes of the faith - men and women who have made a direct impact on my Christian walk - are part of that crowd.

Are you aware that you have a responsibility to be in that crowd for others? You should have people ahead of you in this Christian race that you look to and you should have people behind you that look to you for help and encouragement.

Paul told believers in Corinth to follow his example as he followed Christ. And he told Timothy to pass along to others what Paul had taught him.

This great cloud of witnesses is made up of people who have gone before us to whom we look for help and encouragement, and people journeying with us that we team with to carry out faithful living, and people coming behind us who look to us for help and encouragement.

Are you focused on Jesus so you can be found faithful? Do you have mentors that help and encourage you? Are you partnered with other believers in a local church? Who are you mentoring so they can also live faithfully?

I think these are some of the most important questions we can consider today.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

An Honest Word

We like to play our cards close to the vest. Keep our emotions in check. Don't let the others see you sweat. Fake it until you make it.

Side note: I can't stand that last one. I heard it in a previous job from a person who was in leadership.

These statements indicating our nature to not disclose everything is true of many of us. But then there are the folks on the other side who have absolutely no poker face at all. They are a "what you see is what you get" person. You immediately can tell what they are thinking and they quickly tell you, too.

I tend to be the first person. Not trying to hide anything just trying to display confidence. In my days as a trainer for a call center I told my classes, "If you say anything confidently enough, people will believe you." I followed that with, "Now, you have to tell the truth. Tell the truth confidently!"

Confidence is a good trait for a leader even when the future is uncertain. Honesty is a good trait, too. The Bible says that Jesus is the truth and that truth will set you free. So as a believer I am free and that breeds confidence. I'm confident in Jesus, the truth.

I wish life was that easy…just be faithful based on the confidence we have in Jesus. And it can be but times come along when you sort of know what to do but are not sure how to proceed. What do you do?

I have friends who say we just live by faith without any regard for planning and just let God handle the details. I also have friends who say walking by faith does not negate personal responsibility to care for yourself and your family. I think they are both right, but it's hard to find balance.

Today is one of those days when I know I've heard from God but circumstances loom large. Like Peter, I want to get out of the boat. Like Peter, I'm prone to watch the waves instead of the Master of the sea.

So do I want to experience Jesus holding my hand during uncertainties or do I want to watch from my seat in the boat?

How does faith grow? By being faithful. Exercise what faith you have and your faith will be stronger. Exercise that faith and it will be stronger still. As I trust God I can trust him more.

And let me be clear, acting in faith or having a believing faith does not presume God will do what I want. Faith is putting my desires aside and longing for what God wants.

I've been a Christian for more than 43 years and I'm still working on this.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Missed

The Minnesota Vikings and the Seattle Seahawks played a NFL Wildcard game yesterday. The weather was…interesting. Sunny skies with sub-zero temperatures. The game was more interesting. The over/under for total score was 20. With just a few seconds left on the clock, Minnesota had a chance to push the score over and also win the game with a 27 yard field goal. The kicker missed the game-winning field goal, Seattle ran out the clock, gamblers who picked under were ecstatic.

Have you ever done something that brought on a disaster? Well, to some people it was a disaster. To others it secured victory. Some booed you and others cheered.

At the time I thought, "This was the only 27 yard field goal the kicker has ever missed in his NFL career." With a recent rule change, extra points are now longer than that. I looked up his stats and for field goals 29 yards and shorter, he has missed one. It was Sunday's potential game winner.

It would be easy and natural to focus on the negatives. Missed short field goal. Laces out! End of season.

Or we could focus on the positives. Three field goals and nine points in the game. All of Minnesota's points. For the season, he was 34 of 39 and for his four-year career he is 121 of 142. That's an 85% success rate. But it isn't all the made field goals or the 21 missed in his career or the 5 misses this season that are the focus. It's the one miss Sunday.

You probably don't like it when people focus on your negatives. I don't. But people do it. We even do it to ourselves. And often the result is an attitude that we can't do anything good. We feel like losers because we lost once.

The Bible says you are created in God's image. God knew you before you were born and has a plan for your life. God has plans for you to thrive. Your sins don't have to disrupt all this because Jesus died for your sins and God offers you salvation from the destructive result of sin.

Sure, you can live your life with little or no hope, with little or no purpose. Or you can live as God intended with great hope and purpose. Even in the wake of failure.

Thursday, January 07, 2016

Memories

A friend having a birthday quipped that he's old enough to forget what he's doing at the moment but he can remember the past very well. I understand how that works! I can walk down the hall - which takes all of 5 seconds - and forget what I'm going for.

I remember getting hit in the face and in the head by baseballs. I remember being so proud to draw a walk instead of striking out that I was almost picked off first base. (I didn't get there much.) I remember both times I got whippings in school. I remember some of the great decisions I've made. I remember all the bad ones.

As I turn the page on the calendar each day I am often face to face with a memory. Friends and family surround my mind's eye when I see a date on the calendar. I am grateful for that even though not all the memories are good ones.

I use to say this: I am where I am because of where I've been. I am today a composite of all those memories, even the ones I forgot. How I view the world and react to situations have developed over time. Just like my shirt size is a result of what I eat, my life today is a result of my having lived.

The world we live in is broken by sin. Each one of us is a sinner. What the world needs and what we need is redemption and restoration. The Bible promises that a day will come when all of creation will be redeemed or restored to the perfection of God's original work. The Bible also says that I am already being restored by the transforming work of God's Spirit in my life.

It's the same for everyone who believes in Jesus Christ for salvation from sin. We are being changed. Although my memories of my mistakes are some of my most vivid ones, I'm not who I was. Those mistakes do warp my life but Jesus makes it right. I'm not perfect - you can find plenty of witnesses to that fact! - but I'm being perfected. And like the Apostle Paul I will press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me (Philippians 3:12).

If you see me wandering around Walmart would you please speak to me and remind me how to get home?

Monday, January 04, 2016

Writing Project

So it's 2016 and I've decided to do something big and out of the ordinary (for me). Throughout the year I will write and write and write. If you read this blog regularly you know that I am sporadic with my postings. Not only in the thoughts I write about but the frequency.

This writing project will require and broad range of topics. I'll have to research and think and plot and plan. And I'll have to write more frequently, as much as three days a week.

You'll probably never see the finished product. It won't be published and placed in a library. It won't become an e-book. But a few people will see it, hopefully read it, and be encouraged by it. Don't ask for a copy. When I'm finished I will give it away. I won't have a copy, not even a file on a thumb drive.

I topped the hill several years ago. I'm headed down the slope of life. Don't think I'm morbid and hinting at a diagnosis, that's not the case. It's just that I'm past the halfway mark of the average lifespan of males in the US. Mostly likely, I am past the 2/3 mark, too.

Since life is but a vapor anyway - here today and gone tomorrow - what's left of my life is really short. None of us are promised another day so that could make the rest of my life really, really short. Even our tomorrows may be clouded by dementia so life could get really, really, really short. That makes me think about heritage and legacy. What can I pass along that will last longer than my life on earth? What can I do to impact the lives of those I love and the ones they love?

So I'm writing.

After I publish this post I have to look for my keys.