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.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Decisions

Sometimes making a decision is the hardest thing for me to do. Then there are times when I can make a decision quickly, easily, and without regret.

The difference between these two decision-making abilities has little to do with the magnitude of the decision. Life-changing decisions can be easy and they can are hard. Seemingly inconsequential decisions can also be easy and hard. Maybe it's more about my frame of mind or my perceived reactions and responses to the decision. I really don't know.

My wife has an easier time deciding what she doesn't want to eat that deciding what she does want to eat. For example, when we are planning a meal (at home or out) she's pretty clear that she doesn't want this or that. She's not hungry for it or it doesn't sound good or she already had that this week. On the other hand, I don't go through that progression when deciding what to eat. My lack of decision making in this regard really is that I just don't care. I don't have a preference so anything is OK. Almost anything; there are a few things that I'll never eat!

I try to read from Proverbs every day. Recently, I've read that there are decisions that people can make that seem like good decisions but end up with terrible outcomes. "There is a way that seems right to man but in the end leads to death." The Bible also teaches that the ways that I think aren't on the level with the ways God thinks. His ways are higher than mine. Those truths can put some pressure on my decision-making!

Here are some tips for those of you who sometimes have trouble with decisions like I sometimes do.

Pray. You can never overestimate the power of praying. Prayer is a lot of things and talking with God about decisions you face is one of them.

Read the Bible. The Bible is a treasure, in part, because this is a significant way that God speaks to us. I am routinely amazed that what I read in the Bible speaks directly to something I am dealing with at the time.

Ask for help from godly people. My wife and I were making a huge decision several years ago. I asked a close friend and pastor to pray with us about it. A few days later I informed him of our decision. He couldn't believe we made the decision we did. It was against how he felt God was leading. We hadn't even talked with him after asking him to pray with us about it. Instead, we jumped into what turned out to be a huge mistake. Ask for help from godly people and allow God to speak to you through them.

Ask yourself a few tough questions. Does this honor God? Does this conflict with God's mission? Does this participate in God's mission? Does this harm my family? Does this build up or enhance the local church?

What would you add to these that have helped you make good decisions?

Thursday, November 02, 2017

Vocation and Purpose

I am subbing in Bible classes today and plan to read from Isaiah 61 and Luke 4 in each class. In Isaiah 61, God tells Isaiah what his purpose is. Luke tells of Jesus in a synagogue. Jesus takes the scroll and finds the Isaiah passage and reads it. Then Jesus says that those verses are fulfilled in him. In other words, Jesus claimed for himself the purpose God gave to Isaiah.

In John's gospel, Jesus says that we are sent just like he was sent. God gave Isaiah a purpose statement; Jesus claimed it for his own; Jesus passes it along to Christians.

Everybody has dreams and goals for what they want to do in life. Vocation and purpose aren't the same things.

Vocation varies from person to person. Doctor, lawyer, mechanic, baseball player, teacher, business owner, short order cook, etc. People do a lot of different things for vocation.

Vocation is how we spend our time making money to spend on needs and wants. Hopefully, vocation also provides vacation! Through vocation we satisfy inner longings and meet needs of others.

Purpose is God-given and is constant throughout a person's life and from person to person. We all have the same purpose although we may have different vocations.

What is your purpose? That question is intriguing, mesmerizing, even haunting. We ask our children, "What do you want to do when you grow up?" When we're grown we ask ourselves, "Why am I doing this?"

Purpose! Let's look to the creator of the universe to find our purpose.

Here is what Jesus read that day in the synagogue:

The Spirit of the Lord is on me
because he has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to release the oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.
(Luke 4:18-19)

In another gospel passage, Jesus said that he came to seek and save the lost. Another time he said that he didn't come to be served but to serve. And he said he was sending his followers just as he had been sent.

The Great Commission tells us to make disciples. The Great Commandment tells us to love God and love others.

Can you see a common theme? That is your purpose. Mine, too.

Our vocations may differ. They have to, actually. We can't all be bakers or line workers. We need as many vocations as is necessary for society to thrive.

The problem occurs when we try to equate vocation with purpose. Vocation and purpose are linked but not the same.

Choose any vocation you like, then use it as a platform to live out your God-given purpose. I've experienced personally how to use vocation as a platform for purpose. Whether I've been a training manager for a call center, pastor of a church, or substitute teacher in a school, I have been able to accomplish my purpose. Choose a vocation that will help you reach people with the gospel.

Monday, October 30, 2017

A Halloween Thought

Tomorrow is Halloween. You know what that means, right? Some people will go all out to decorate and dress up. A few will get all weird. Another group will boycott the festivities.

I remember Halloween when I was a kid. We'd all pile into the back of a pickup and go down the street stopping at clusters of houses where porch lights were lit. A sweet old lady would come to the door with a tub full of candy and give each of us one or two pieces. Hard candy, chewy candy, basically just raw sugar. But no candy bars. Sometimes a popcorn ball or apple.

And we didn't complain. We didn't know Halloween was anything different. To us, Halloween was a bunch of parents taking a bunch of kids to a bunch of houses to get a bunch of candy. "Trick or treat!" and "Thank You!" were just as much a part of the night as the gum and jaw breakers. Everyone smiled. Nobody dreaded the kids coming to their door.

"Trick" was just part of the greeting but not part of the reality. Until we got older. I never saw the fun in the shenanigans. Causing people hardship so I can have fun just isn't fun. And it's no way to treat somebody.

I'd like to see kids having fun like we did. Without the risk of mean people doing mean things to them. Without the danger of collateral damage because bigger kids won't act their age.

Be safe. Be smart. Happy Halloween!

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Let Go

This morning I was making lunch to take to school. I brown bag it, as they say. Usually a sandwich, some pretzels, a granola bar, maybe some carrots. Less than half the time I remember to put in napkins.

Today I remembered! But it wasn't napkins; instead I grabbed the paper towels. And therein lies the problem…and the lesson for today.

I held the roll of paper towels in my left hand, took the loose end in my right hand and gently tugged. The grip I had on the roll with my left hand was either too loose or too tight. I haven't figured that out, yet. But when I tugged the roll came out of my left hand, hit the floor, and began to roll away.

Picture this: the floor is filled with paper towels. That's what I perceived would happen so I let go of the loose end that I held with my right hand.

Guess what happened. That's right! The roll hit the floor but didn't empty its entire contents. I picked it up, rolled up the few sheets that had spooled off, tore off the two sheets I wanted, stuffed them in my lunch bag, and went on my way.

Here's the lesson for today. When you drop the roll of paper towels, let go of the loose end you are holding.

No, really, here's the lesson. Life can quickly unravel and when it does you may (probably will) just stand there holding on to the other end of what's unraveling. Let go. How many people cling to the trouble in their lives and things just get worse? Too many. I have. You probably have, too. Let go.

Instead, cling to something that will not unravel. Hold on to something stable.

In our morning devotion yesterday, my wife and I were talking about the emptiness that is left when a loved one dies. The same sense of helplessness and hopelessness can follow losses of many kinds, not just the death of a parent. If your job is the most important thing to you then if you lose your job you can fall into despair. If a person is at the core of who you are and that person leaves or hurts you or dies then your life can unroll like the paper towels.

But if you have Jesus at the core of your life then you will have stability even when circumstances are unstable. If you have Jesus at the core of your life then you won't feel hopeless when relationships crumble or dreams take a bad turn or you stumble.

Why? Because Jesus never changes, he his dependable, he is a sure foundation to build your life upon. Nothing can be for you who Jesus is. So let go of the other stuff and stand firm in Jesus.

Monday, October 23, 2017

First of Many Trips

A group from our church went to Colorado Springs last week to serve alongside a family who recently moved there to plant a church. We believe God is leading us to commit to a longterm relationship that will involve supporting financially the family and the church when it is started, praying for the family and the community where they live, and going regularly to serve with them as they need us to.

This was our first trip. Our goal was to prayer-walk the area where David and Carrie hope to plant the church, encourage them and their daughter Ruthie, and help form or strengthen relationships with people in the neighborhood. We were able to do all of this.

David had us prayer-walk (and prayer-drive) through a neighborhood they feel God is leading them to live in and start the church. Our team broke into three small groups and walked the streets. We all had opportunities to greet and talk with people who live there. The streets where my group went had a small park. We talked with three families that were there. The other groups found people to talk with, too. As we drove through the larger community we prayed for schools, public safety, churches, homes, businesses, and anything else the sights and the Lord brought to mind.

We spent a lot of time with David, Carrie, and Ruthie. Hopefully, having friends from Arkansas in town was encouraging. They moved out to Colorado a couple of months ago. New town, new home, new school, new friends... We wanted to provide a little familiarity in the midst of all this newness. I remember a time when our family moved to a new city when I was in sixth grade. After four or five months, we moved back to the town we left and into the same apartment. New can be exciting but also challenging.

Our third emphasis was to help, if we could, form or strengthen relationships they already have. My wife, son, and I visited with Carrie at the school where she teaches and where Ruthie attends. We talked with administration, teachers, and coaches. Some in our group prayer-walked through the apartment complex where our friends live. They had the opportunity to talk with a few people who also live there and hopefully they will connect with the church planters.

Do you know that our church and their apartment are 954 miles apart? That's a lot of driving, bathroom stops, eating breaks, etc. But it was worth it. A lot of people make that trip just for the natural beauty and recreation it affords. That in itself would be a great trip and we did see and experience some great sights. But we went with spiritual goals also in mind and I'm glad we accomplished them.

I have challenged our church to not see the praying, giving, and going that we have already done as enough. I hope our people will catch the vision of a longterm partnership with the Fox Family and the North American Mission Board that will result in people hearing the gospel, following Jesus, and a church planted and thriving in Colorado Springs.

Monday, October 09, 2017

Hold My Hand

Yesterday my wife and I had supper at a burger joint in the local shopping area. It was good. And fun.

We had to park in front of Victoria's Secret. But we didn't have to walk in front of the store because the burger joint was on the other side of the parking area. Just my luck, as soon as I walk in front of a lingerie store somebody would take a picture, post it, and start a scandal about a pastor…

We walked across to the burger joint and Deana decided she wanted to go to Bath and Body Works before they closed. So we walked back across to Bath and Body Works, which is next to Victoria's Secret. Lucky for me that Deana didn't think about Bath and Body Works until we had crossed the parking lot and moved down a little so that when we went back to Bath and Body Works I didn't have to walk in front of Victoria's Secret and thus start a scandal.

As one might expect, Bath and Body Works was having a sale. Not just on a single item, though. You never get to buy just one thing on sale there. The sales at Bath and Body Works (I'm told) are when you buy 3 or 5 or 80 of something. The sale Deana found was on 5 of one item. They have these little bottles of perfume that you stick in a warmer that you plug into the wall like a night light. As a matter of fact, some of the little warmers have night lights on them.

So Deana bought 5 of the little bottles of stuff. She thought she had a warmer at home. Apparently she did not.

A few minutes ago she called. Her boss needs something from the Apple Store (same shopping area). She's talking about that and seamlessly says, "Can I get one of those plug in thingies?"

We love the Apple Store and Apple products. We are well stocked. We have plenty of chargers and adapters for the home and each vehicle. I can't imagine why she wants to buy another one.

"What?" I say.

"I thought I had one but I didn't find it so can I get one?"

You know those Christmas lights that look like icicles? At our house those are charger and adapter cords. That's where we keep them in December.

Come to find out, she was talking about going down to Bath and Body Works (she'll have to walk past Victoria's Secret) to get one of those plug in warmer thingies.

"Ah, OK. Go ahead and get one."

You know how you always had to hold your mother's hand when you went to a busy store at Christmas time? I was one of those kids. I'd get distracted with the toys. Next thing you know, I'd hear my name over the intercom. I should've held my mother's hand.

On the phone with Deana today my mind took a journey to the Apple Store. I'm looking around at all the cool stuff. I'm playing with stuff. I'm thinking how expensive the accessories are. All of a sudden she says, "Can I get one of those plug in thingies?"

She took my mind to the Apple Store and let go of it. Then she walked down the sidewalk to Bath and Body Works (past Victoria's Secret) to get a plug in thingy.

Ladies, the moral of the story is this: never let go of your husband's mind when you suddenly have a story shift. It's OK when you are talking with your girlfriends but not when talking to your husband.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Be a Quitter

So earlier this week I said not to be a quitter. You can read about that here. That was about not quitting things you shouldn't quit. But what about some things you should quit? Shouldn't you quit the things that you should quit? Of course! And what kind of person would you be now if you had quit then?

I am a procrastinator. As a matter of fact, when I wrote the previous post I asked you to check back for this post. I set a reminder for 9:00 this morning to write that post. The reminder popped up and I reset it to 11:00. I am writing this at 12:30. Procrastination clogs up productivity and creativity. Procrastination irritates the people at home and at work. Procrastination will likely cost you more money because you didn't act in a timely manner. It will likely cost you better grades because you didn't study like you should have. It will cost you opportunity.

I should quit procrastinating. You know the thought running through me mind right now, don't you? "I'll quit procrastinating later."

We have addictions we should quit and when we do we will have more time, money, opportunity, friends, etc. What is your addiction? Drugs? Alcohol? Sex? Laziness? Shopping? Netflix? Social media? Gambling? Video games? Feel free to speak up if I haven't mentioned your addiction.

Maybe it is easiest to illustrate what addictions cost you by looking at the person addicted to alcohol. He usually spends money he doesn't have on alcohol. That leaves little or nothing for groceries or rent or other necessities for his family. He is usually not nice to be around so his wife and kids suffer the loss of quality time with a husband and father. He may cross the line at work and lose his job. His drinking may lead to doing something illegal so now his financial problems are multiplied and his relationships at home suffer even more while he serves his time. We've all heard stories of or have a personal connection to a person injured or killed by a drunk driver. Now, like the cloud of an atomic bomb, the problems and misery spread out and engulf many people.

Your addiction may or may not follow this storyline but I know it is very similar because whatever you should quit but don't will always cost you.

Maybe you need to quit biting you nails or having a sour attitude. Maybe you need to quit procrastinating or making hasty decisions. Maybe you need to quit a bad relationship or an addiction.

Maybe you need to quit trying to run and control your own life; let Jesus lead you. His Spirit longs to do that and is ready. And very capable.

What is it that you are doing that constantly brings trouble and problems? Quit it and start doing the right thing. The right thing always includes following Jesus.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Don't Be a Quitter

What kind of person would you be now if you had quit then?

It depends, right? Quit what?

I quit baseball when I was 12 or 13 years old because I was no good at it. Actually, I was pretty good except when the ball was headed toward me. The last year I played, I struck out all but once. Rarely did I even swing. Why? Because I had been hit by pitches too many times. And I had taken a ground ball off my nose and a fly ball off by forehead. The one time I did not strike out that year was a walk and after I made it on first base I almost got picked off because I wasn't paying attention…I hadn't been there much.

If you read this blog very often you probably know that I love baseball. I know a lot about the game. I know much of the intricacies that should make me a good player or maybe a coach. But when I could have formed and honed the skills I quit. I don't have any thoughts that I could have been a pro ballplayer but I do wish I had played longer.

Quitting relinquishes opportunity.

I have a friend who quit on his marriage. He messed up and she was pretty made at him, understandably. But he couldn't see a reason to try to reconcile so he quit. Quitting relinquishes opportunity.

I've worked with people who were on the cusp of solving a major problem but just didn't finish. They were done but they weren't finished. They just couldn't make themselves try one more solution or brainstorm one more time or work late one more day. Another company finished and got the business. Quitting relinquishes opportunity.

We have no way to know what will happen next if we keep on trying. We can be certain of what will happen next if we quit.

All this applies to quitting something you really should stick with. Check back in a few days for some thoughts on sticking with something you really should quit.

Friday, September 08, 2017

62 and Sunny

At the moment, it's 62 and sunny where I am. The morning sky is beautiful as the sun makes its way to apex. The trees' leaves are still wet with dew as are the rails on the deck. The droplets of water glisten. I took the trash can to the curb this morning. The dew on the grass was cold to my bare feet.

Not everyone has the beautiful morning I have and the prospect of such a perfect day. In southeast Texas millions of people are recovering from a massive hurricane that dumped billions of gallons of water in the form of rain on them just a few days ago. They may notice a clear sky and a comfortable temperature, if that happens to be the case today, but they are focused on something else.

Millions of people living in Florida are in the path of another hurricane that threatens to bring horrible devastation to most everything in its path. They are asking themselves, Do I stay or evacuate? I have family members who are in Arkansas today trying to get home to Florida. They are asking each other, Do we stay here are try to get home?

People in the Pacific Northwest are under a cloud of dangerous smoke from wildfires. The cloud, the residue, the air quality, the threat to property are all concerns for them today.

And these are just a few of the issues people in the United States are facing today. Look at news from around the world and the different circumstances are multiplied by thousands.

It's not 62 and sunny everywhere.

And other circumstances in your life that seem to be perfect don't mean everyone else is having a perfect day. While we all live under the same general circumstances like a morning sunrise, grass that needs to be cut every week or so, death of loved ones, jobs to go to, classes to attend, etc., it's the specific circumstances that attract our attention. And the specifics can vary vastly from one person to another.

My father-in-law died this week. Billions of people didn't know him and his death made no impact on them. Lots of people know someone who knows him and expressed sympathy. Many friends feel sorrow. The family is impacted more than anyone. Even the death of a great person effects people differently. The specifics of the circumstances make the difference.

Every person you see today is experiencing many of the same things you are but they also have circumstances specific to them. That's why some people are having a great day while the person in the next cubicle is having a terrible day. How we respond to people around us is important.

We shouldn't be critical of someone struggling with something we cannot see. We shouldn't be jealous of someone whose circumstance are better than ours. We shouldn't refuse to help others or reject the help others offer.

We should love them and be kind. We should help them see how God is the rock of stability in even the most stormy times. We should praise God in our good times. We should praise God in our bad times. We should trust him always and always express his character to others.

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

He Is Mighty to Save

From time to time - not often enough - I remember what a great sinner I am. I have a pretty good memory. Actually, that's not something I can self-proclaim; I don't know what I've forgotten, right? But from time to time in images as clear and big as an IMAX movie I see what I've done. The reason this matters goes back to what I've read in the Bible. "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23). There is a target for how I live: the glory of God. Not that I could ever hit that target with my own righteous acts, but I am to live for his glory and reflecting his glory. My falling short happens too often.

Most of the time - not often enough - I remember God's grace and love that provide a way of forgiveness of my sins. This, too, is on my mind because of what I've read in the Bible: "But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8). Jesus Christ didn't just die but he died for us. What that means is more fully explained in 1 Peter 3:18, "For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God." I'm glad that each time I remember my sin I can also remember my forgiveness in Christ Jesus.

My "memory cinema" is always open. Some features are horrifying. Others are filled with suspense. Looking back, I can also see the comedy. In the real theaters I like to stay while the credits play; I don't want to miss anything. Some directors will put the outtakes after the credits. If I stay in my "memory cinema" long enough I always see that God puts an ending on the story that I might forget. The final scene is always of forgiveness and second (or third or…) chances.

I've lived long enough with glaring sins to know that my fellow humans don't always give second or third chances. My particular ministry calling is especially susceptible to this. But God does forgive. God does give another chance. Because he is with me and loves me.

He is with you, too. And he loves you, too. And he will forgive you just like he does me. And God will restore you by giving you another chance.

"The Lord your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing" (Zephaniah 3:17).

Look up! God is mighty to save! Do you hear that music? That is God rejoicing over you with singing! He's singing you a song like a parent quiets and comforts and celebrates a child.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Three Hours One Monday ... and One Friday

Today is the day. This day has had about as much press as the last Presidential election. What a stir God has created when he created the universe and put into action what would happen today in the heavens.

We will experience a total solar eclipse in our part of the world. Apparently the last one around here was in 1978. The next will be in 2024. This is the first one in the digital information age where everyone is a reporter. With cameras in hand and social media apps at our fingertips, this may break the internet.

Where I live, the eclipse won't be 100%. I think we max out at 89%. The moon will begin to nip into the sun at 11:48 this morning. The maximum eclipse will be at 1:18. It will be over at 2:47 this afternoon.

Matthew 27:45 tells us that during the crucifixion of Christ an unusual darkness fell on the earth from midday to mid-afternoon. Some say it was an eclipse like we'll have today. Some say a windstorm created such thick dust that the sky was darkened. I believe God supernaturally hid the sun because the of terrible scene of Christ taking on the sins of the world and absorbing the punishment for sin: death.

The three hours of darkness today will not be like the darkness when Jesus died. The sun is too bright for the moon to completely block its light. But we will get a sense of what it might have been like. And we certainly will be reminded of a great day in history when our sins were dealt with once and for all.

The darkness on this Monday afternoon will be pretty cool. The darkness on that Friday afternoon was part of an awesome plan of God to bring sinners into right relationship with him through the death of his son Jesus on the cross.

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

A Time to Laugh

From King Solomon's wisdom we get the third chapter of Ecclesiastes. That's where we read there is a time for everything. Today is a time to laugh.

It's the first day of school for my son. He starts his junior year of high school.

A popular children's cartoon's theme song says there are "a hundred and four days of summer vacation." Not anymore. This year the summer break for high school students at Baptist Prep was 75 days. As much as kids moan about the school year being too long and the summer being too short, Riley has been ready to go back to school for a few weeks.

That makes me laugh. But I completely understand. I was the same way. Summertime was isolation time. Away from friends. Away from routines. We usually took a vacation trip somewhere but that was over way too soon and then it was back to the house. Just me and my sister. And we didn't get along too well back then.

I am a really good card shuffler. My mother-in-law thinks I have a Vegas background. All I'll say is that I didn't learn that in church! Actually, I learned that during those long summers. That makes me laugh.

I spent a day earlier this week driving to all the schools that kids from our church attend. I took a selfie in front of each school sign. And I prayed for the school. I prayed for students, families, administration, faculty, and staff. I prayed that believers would influence their schools. I prayed God will be glorified in each school.

I laugh because schools (even Christian schools) are not places students expect to experience a movement of God. Honestly, I don't know many students who EXPECT God to move in their schools. But I believe he will. And I laugh. Not a gotcha kind of laugh but a joyful expression of knowing God is up to something.

I extend my prayers for the schools I visited to the schools your family is involved in. May God do something great and may our response be to laugh because of the joy that will bring.

Friday, July 28, 2017

What Does a Pedicure Have to Do with a Desire for God?

I'd told myself I would eat healthy food while on a recent trip out of town. That commitment didn't last very long. I didn't eat sweets or eat too much at mealtime (sorta) but I didn't eat a salad or much that would be part of a salad.

Why is it so easy to say one thing then do another? Does that happen to you? It does. I know it. It's a universal problem and you aren't exempt from it.

If I began to tell you all the times I've resolved to do something better only to neglect the resolution almost before the words drift away into the clouds… I guess my head is in the clouds for thinking I could really do it.

Here's what I know about desires, temptations, and the struggles we all face.

Everyone has desires. We all want something. Sometimes the desires are selfish; sometimes they are noble. Desires can reveal a need for something good. Or desires can reveal the sinful nature within all of us. I think we all have both kinds of desires: those that reveal a need for something good and those that reveal our sinful nature.

Nothing is further from God's desire for you than for you to follow the bad desires of your heart. Yes, the Bible says to "delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart," but the key is delighting in the Lord. Only when we delight in the Lord are we assured of gaining the desires of our hearts. Why? Because our desires are of the good variety when we delight in the Lord.

Satan would love to help you fall for the bad desires. He would rejoice to see you take the bait of temptation to follow a path that leads to harm and destruction. If the angels in heaven rejoice when a person is saved then the demons of hell must be ecstatic when a person falls into sin through temptations aimed at fleshly desires.

Desire is real. So is temptation. The struggle is real. Even Paul (who wrote much of the New Testament) said he struggled wanting to do one thing but doing another. What can you do?

Delight yourself in the Lord. But what does that mean? Think about an experience that so pleased or fulfilled you that you could hardly stand it. Has your wife ever tried to convince you to get a pedicure? She explains how relaxing and rejuvenating it is. As she talks more about it she begins to melt into the chair just like she does when she is getting the pedi. Although I don't want anyone playing with my feet, that seems to be the ultimate in satisfying activities. To delight yourself in the Lord means to be completely satisfied with him and by him. You need nothing else.

Do you delight in the Lord? Do you delight in the Lord like that? When the Lord so pleases and fulfills and excites you that you can hardly stand it, he will give you the desires of your heart because your desires will be centered around him.

The next time you commit to something - which is an expression of your desires - remember to first delight in the Lord. Your desires (and commitments to them) may change; that's OK! The desires that come from delighting in the Lord will be better anyway.

photo cred: godswordimages.com

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Mount Magazine

I left the house about 9:00 this morning with a long list of things to do. Drove almost 300 miles getting them done. Enjoyed the whole day. I need more days like this.
After the business part of the day was over, I went to Mount Magazine. I was already in that neck of the woods anyway. In Paris the temperature was 97 (on my truck readout). It was 91 at Cove Lake and 84 at the lodge on top. Mount Magazine is the tallest mountain in Arkansas at 2,753 feet.
My parents are both from Paris so we spent some time at the lake and on the mountain when I was a kid but it's been YEARS and YEARS since I've been up there. I'll have to take Deana and Riley.
I remember riding (literally) on my uncle Dwight as he floated in the lake. I learned to ski on Cove Lake. My cousin and I (I had little to do with it) pretty much sank my uncle's boat one day. Those are just a few of the great memories I have of this place.
Memories can be wonderful things. And memories can be horrible things. I decided today that I will cherish the wonderful memories and unhook myself from the horrible ones. By nature I tend to do just the opposite. The long drive down the back roads from Mount Magazine to Little Rock gave me plenty of time to talk to God about this. Let me share how that conversation went in case you also need to cherish some memories and unhook from others.
I thanked God for the good memories. I asked him for more things to make new memories of. Do you realize just how good God is? He wants to fill your life with the stuff the makes great memories. If you are like me you have a hard time seeing the good. It's not that there isn't a lot of good; it's just that the bad is so much easier to see. Today I asked God to help me recognize the good things he does for me that make the great memories like I experienced today.
Then I confessed my sin that was tied to the horrible memories and I repented. To confess means to agree with God that whatever it is is a sin. God already knows what I've done so I'm not telling him anything new. But I am agreeing with what he already knows. To repent is to turn away from the sinful thing and turn toward Jesus and his plan for that part of your life. The neat thing is that God will help you once you agree with him about the sin and turn from it toward Jesus' plan. How awesome is that!
There were a couple of things that I'm not sure I had ever honestly confessed and repented of. I'm glad God got my attention today so I could do that. Now I'm ready to unhook from all of that. Like a train engine pulling too many cars overloaded with cargo, I've been dragging stuff around for a long, long time. Sometimes you just have to unhook from the excessive and unnecessary stuff. Some have said you just need to put down all that excess baggage you've been carrying around. I won't forget the lessons I learned through those times but I won't let them drag me down anymore.
That frees us up for so much more than we've been experiencing. Does that sound good to you? Do you have some things in your past that you haven't gotten past? I did, too. I'll pray that you can know the freedom that only God can give.
If you want to see what Mount Magazine and Cove Lake looked like today, check out my photos in this Facebook album.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Working on a Hot Day

Yesterday and today have been hot and humid where I live. I watched the weather last night and the reporter warned about working outside between the hours of 10:00 A.M. and 5:00 P.M. It was too late; I had already spent almost 4 hours mowing the lawn. I have the tan lines to prove it! I should post a picture. That would definitely break the internet.

But I'll use better judgement, otherwise you wouldn't be able to continue reading my wonderful posts!

The reporter was right. It's too hot to be outside for very long, especially if you are working. I have friends who have no choice because their jobs demand it. Their weariness by the end of the week is understandable. My weariness at the end of a few hours mowing the lawn is probably due to laziness.

So with all the wisdom gained from last night's news, what did I do today? I worked outside right after lunch. That's between 10:00 and 5:00, right? What was I thinking? But I didn't have to be out very long. Still my shirt is soaked and my mouth is dry.

Have I told you about the time I worked in a warehouse? An older fellow worked there, too. He was retired from IBM so he should have been smarter than to do what I'm about to tell you he did.

We would unload trucks and put orders together. One particularly hot summer day when break time came along, he pulled up a box and sat down. Then he reached in his shirt pocket and pulled out a cigarette. And lit it! It was hot enough to burn down the gates of you-know-where and he lit a cigarette! And chased it with a cup of coffee.

He wasn't the kind of guy to drink iced coffee. Hot, black, strong. He would often offer me "a slice of coffee" with a grin on his face. It was thick. So he's drinking coffee and smoking a cigarette.

I love coffee. I drink a lot of coffee. But never outside on a hot day. Never in a steamy warehouse on a hot summer day.

Another person once told me that the most refreshing drink for him during a break from hauling hay was…wait for it…coffee.

I don't get it. I want iced tea or gatorade or plain old water.

I guess coffee has water in it.

When your life is dry and parched and barren, don't forget the refreshment of God's Word and God's people. The Bible and believers can help you through some tough times. I just got off the phone with a Christian friend who helped me think through some things. Yesterday I was texting encouragement to a Christian friend.

God has given us the Bible and other believers to help us through whatever we're facing today.


clipart from tinyclipart.com
photo from lovethispic.com

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Books, Books, and More Books

Pastors have libraries. Academics have libraries. Pastors who are also academics (or vice versa) have libraries.

I agree that there is just something about a book. To hold it, touch it, smell it... My iPad holds more books than my bookshelves do but it doesn't feel the same. It doesn't smell the same. Honestly, it's not as impressive to look at, either.

But my iPad is more functional. I'm not the kind of guy that dog-ears a lot of pages or has sticky notes hanging out of my books so I find the functions of the electronic books better. You can see all the notes and highlights in one place and then click to go to that page in the book. For the most part, ebooks are cheaper. And I can pack up my library and move it easily. In fact, I do that almost every day. Yesterday I had my entire ebook library with me at a coffee shop. Today my library is in my living room. Tomorrow it could be at the church.

But real books (as opposed to ebooks) have advantages. The entire concept of a "page turner" is awkward with an ebook but is exactly what your favorite book is. The inside front cover of your book is a great place for a personal note from the person who gave it to you. You can loan your book to someone - I hope you get it back! Or you can just pass it on to someone else and not care about getting it back.

After moving into a new home several years ago, Deana and I had an open house. A friend stood at the bookshelves gazing at our collection. He said, "You can learn a lot about a person by looking at their library." After everyone left I removed some books from the shelves.

After moving to a new church several years ago a member stopped by the office and noticed a particular book. She took offense even when I told her it was a Bible study showing how the book and movie were not biblical. It wasn't the book but a book about the book. She thought I shouldn't even have that.

So your books reveal a lot about you. I have spent most of the last decade reading about what is known as the incarnational/missional movement. I'll not explain that now but it's a call to be the church like the first century believers were the church. I have many, many books on the subject. Real books and ebooks.

I spent three days recently shelving books for a new pastor in town. He has over 4,000 books in his library. (I do, too, but most of mine are on my iPad and don't take very long to shelve.) I noticed that he had only a few of the books on the incarnational/missional movement. That's not a big deal, really. It just shows a different perspective or focus in ministry.

He spent years at a seminary teaching preachers about preaching. (I also spent years at a seminary but I was learning how preachers are to preach!) He has dozens of books (probably hundreds) but I only have maybe a dozen. It's all about perspective and focus.

I say all of that to get to the point of asking you to look at your library. Maybe you are a paper-page-only kind of reader. Or you may only have ebooks. Or you can be somewhere in between with a mix. But take a look. You'll see a pattern that gives away some of your preferences.

Novels. Biographies. Poetry. Classics. Science fiction. History. Romance. Suspense. And on and on.

My library is deep but narrow. I have a lot of books but not books about a lot of subjects. I should branch out. Maybe you should, too. As I branch out into new genres I want to make sure I'm not filling my mind with stuff that contradicts the Word of God. I should be able to find books that don't hack away at my foundation of faith. I should steer clear of books that ignore biblical principles of how we are to live.

That may sound easier than it really is. I guess we who are Christians owe a great deal of thanks to authors and publishers who bring us books we would be glad to put on our bookshelves. Or in our iPads.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Another Resolution?

I've had interesting conversations lately regarding racial reconciliation. Of course, the Southern Baptist Convention had the Annual Meeting this week in Phoenix. I was not able to attend but watched some of the sessions online and read articles, blogs, and social media posts about some of what was going on there.

The big news-making item was the passage (after at first ignoring) a resolution condemning the alt-right racist movement. I think the resolution was good. I would have voted for it. In fact, I said "Aye" when President Gaines called for those in favor to affirm the resolution. My vote didn't count, of course. Only registered messengers in attendance can vote. But I stand in favor of the resolution.

Every year at the annual meeting Southern Baptists affirm a handful of resolutions. These are statements of agreement of those who are messengers to that meeting. The polity of Southern Baptists calls for churches to be autonomous; we have no higher earthly entity than the local church. All the denominational structures are to support the church to carry out the mission of God on earth. Other denominations do have a hierarchy to which churches must answer; we think the biblical pattern puts the church at the top of the hierarchy. An upside down pyramid, as one friend calls it.

So the resolutions are representative of the feelings of the people who attend the meetings to represent their churches. The resolutions serve no authoritative functions. They do, however, direct our attention to issues many of us think are important for this hour.

You should be aware that the Southern Baptist Convention - about 50,000 congregations throughout the U.S. - was started in 1845 so that southern churches could have a voice in leadership. Northern churches had refused to allow those supportive of slavery to hold such positions. Thus, the SBC was born in that shadow. We have come a long way since, but most of the progress is recent. Resolutions and substantive actions in the last 20 years have shown the progress in both word and deed.

But there are plenty of words and deeds still today that show room for progress exists.

Racism is not a one-way street. Nor is it a two-way street. Have you ever seen video of a busy intersection in Thailand or the Philippines or Guatemala City? Or any of hundreds of cities around the world? Imagine standing in the intersection with hundreds of cars each minute buzzing you from all directions. That's what racism seems like to me.

But somebody needs to stand in the chaos and give direction. More than one somebody; several somebodies. Somebodies that represent all sides. Somebodies that care to see improvement for all, not just for those like them.

I don't pretend that Southern Baptists are the sole leaders in this but I do think many of us want to help lead the way.

Another resolution? Yes. And maybe more. Those who think we don't need a resolution might not be able to see the depth of the issue. At the heart of this resolution was the importance of the gospel.

I really don't know how any evangelical Christian can have a problem with that.

Click here for the text of resolutions.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Enthusiastic

Deana and I have been using the Bible app in our morning devotional time. We like it because it keeps us moving along. Some devotionals have video segments along with the readings. Lately, we've been going through a series of week-long devotionals by Craig Groeschel called the Stay Positive series. We just finished "I'm Enthusiastic." Yes, I know…it's Tuesday and these are supposed to be a week long. Actually, they are 4 days so we start a new week the day after finishing the previous week. And sometimes we get behind. Anyway, it's Tuesday and we just finished a week's devotional. That's not the point!

photo cred: iconicontent.com
The point is what I learned this week (or so). The word enthusiasm comes from two Greek words that mean "in God." What do you think of when you think about enthusiasm? Maybe a perky person. Maybe an excited person. Maybe a person who is really into what they are doing. At the root of the idea of enthusiasm is the concept that when we are "in Christ" we should have the best outlook, the best attitude, the best relationships.


Here are a few verses that help us see why.

Romans 6:11
In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.

Romans 8:1
Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

Romans 8:38-39
For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Do you see how being "in Christ" should give us all the enthusiasm we need?

Are you bored with your job? Focus on being in Christ.

Are you tired of living and don't see a way things can be better? Focus on being in Christ.

Have relationships been a topic you'd rather not talk about? Focus on being in Christ.

In Psalms we read, "Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart." Jesus said in Matthew 6 that we are to seek first his kingdom and his righteousness and then all the concerns of this world will be worked out and provided. In other words, when we focus on being "in Christ" we can be hopeful, fulfilled. Enthusiastic.

Try this and see if your spirit is lifted:
  • Read a little bit of the Bible each day.
  • Thank God for the blessings you are aware of.
  • Ask God for help with something you are facing.
  • Take time to notice God's hand at work in creation and in your circumstances.
  • Spend time with an enthusiastic Christian.
Oh, you can get the Bible app here: www.bible.com/app

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Just an Inch

I'm listening to the Arkansas Razorbacks play Mississippi State in the SEC Baseball Tournament. A Razorback just hit the ball to deep to right field. The State right fielder races to the wall, leaps, and catches the ball robbing the Hogs of a home run. The radio announcer hesitated making the call because the ball was above the fence. If the right fielder missed the ball it's a home run. If he caught it it's an out. After several seconds the player shows everyone he caught the ball.

Phil Elson, the Razorback's radio announcer, made a great, enthusiastic call. I've always like Elson for that. He was the voice of the Arkansas Travelers minor baseball team in North Little Rock for years before moving to Fayetteville. He said, "Poole [the right field] is 6'4". If he had been 6'3" that ball would have been a home run."

It's that close. So many athletic contests are games of inches. How many football coaches have been second guessed after not making a first down on fourth and inches? The instant replay recently instituted in Major League Baseball has show runners to be out or safe by just a matter of inches. Basketball players sometimes look like they've drained a 3 only to have the referee notice the shooter's toe was on the line. An inch cost the team a point.

Sometimes an inch separates a team from their goal. So close but they miss the championship. Even a builder knows how important an inch is. Ask the guy who had to tear out a wall because is was just an inch out of square. So close.

I don't know the exact physical locations of heaven and hell. Heaven is the eternal abode of those who follow Jesus. Hell is where those who do not will spend eternity. Heaven is perfect. Hell is awful. Heaven is the apex of desire. Hell is the pits.

Such a great difference between heaven and hell but the real difference is much closer. The difference between heaven and hell is the choice an individual makes regarding following Jesus. What choice have you made? It's your choice: follow Jesus or not. People don't usually choose hell but that's the only option if you choose to not follow Jesus.

Here's the choice I made almost 45 years ago. I realized I was a sinner when I heard the truth of the gospel and that is a problem. I understood that Jesus died on the cross, absorbing the punishment and paying the penalty for my sins. I believed Jesus is the Son of God and what he did on the cross is the only remedy for my sin problem. I confessed Jesus as Savior and Lord and committed to live my life following him and for his glory.

Because of that I am confident that heaven is my eternity. You can know that, too. Will you choose Jesus? Let me know if you'd like to talk about this. Heaven is close than you may think.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Nancy & Jim

People come into our lives at what seems a random order. What seems random is part of God's plan. He uses each person for a purpose. In fact, you may be the person that God is using for a purpose for someone else. The hard part is noticing what each person is doing in your life.

I attended two funerals today. The first one was for Nancy Phillips. I met Nancy at Second Baptist Church in Russellville in 1993. I never knew her very well. She was always at church. She was well respected in the church and community. I knew her husband because Joe was the county judge.

Nancy's main contribution to my life was through her daughter, Linda. Linda is a Christian counselor. She's good at both. I wandered into Second Baptist Church after a divorce and I didn't know if life was worth hanging around for. The church was about to start a small group Bible study called "Making Peace with Your Past." Linda was the facilitator. I had no idea what the class was about but I knew my past was making me miserable so I showed up for the first session. That class, that church, and Linda changed my life. I'm sure that I'm here today because of those days.

I sure am glad I met Nancy Phillips. I'm also glad I met Jim Meister.

Jim's funeral was at Geyer Springs First Baptist Church this afternoon. His grandchildren are friends of my son so Jim's son and daughter-in-law are our friends. I met Jim last summer when he was in the hospital and our friends were out of state.

I walked into Jim's hospital room not knowing anything about him and not much about his situation. He was dealing with complications from a hip surgery. He was clearly in pain when I met him.

Instead of complaining about the pain and excusing himself from the visit, Jim welcomed me and struck up a conversation as if we'd been friends forever. Jim's a member of a church that is much larger than mine. In fact, he taught a Sunday School class that was larger than my church.

But Jim didn't want to talk about himself - except for his grandkids. He wanted to talk about my church. He kept talking until the pain was too much. Then he asked for pain meds. After the nurse brought him something he kept talking with me until he drifted off to sleep. I said goodbye although he never heard me, and I left. I was so encouraged and I expected to encourage him. That's just the kind of guy he was.

So God moves people into our lives for a purpose. Receive that blessing! And be the blessing to those people into whose lives God moves you.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Under Surveillance

As you may remember, several months ago I captured video of a military helicopter landing in our yard. A man got out and the helicopter left. I later learned this was a drug sting. By the way, I was not the object of the operation.

Yesterday a military helicopter flew around just above the treetops. My guess is that someone in the area is under surveillance. This reminds me that someone is always watching.

At Christmas-time the shopping malls are extra busy. The police set up a video monitoring system to keep watch over the parking lot looking for thieves.

At Back-to-School time the police will set up the little trailer carrying a radar gun and MPH display.

Recent global news reminds us that our email or phone conversations may be monitored.

Even the customer service line you call from time to time says the call may be monitored for quality and training purposes.

Someone is always watching. Do you think your smart phone or smart TV can really record video of what you are doing?

Bigger than all of these watchdogs is the fact that the God of Heaven and Earth and All Things is aware of everything you do. Some people actually consider His ability to know all things as a "watchdog" kind of thing. That's not his motive.

It's not that God is watching to see what you do wrong. He's watching to see when you need help. And he's always ready to help with the best help you can get. More help, better help than you can ask or imagine.

Because he loves you.

I'm not sure if the guy in the helicopter loves the guys growing dope. But I am sure that God loves you. He has a plan for your life that includes everything that is best for you.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

The Way Things Are Supposed to Be

Riley's truck is a work in progress. We've done a lot to it. We have a lot to do.

I'm not really a handyman so I am in way over my head. One of the first projects we tackled was to fix the driver's side door handle. It's not as easy as the youtube video makes it look. We had to clean out enough space in the garage to park it inside because of rain storms headed our way. Altogether it took several trips to the parts store, dozens of views of the videos, and most of a week to get everything apart, fixed, and put back together. But it works and I don't care if I never get to do that again.

Today we tackled the lock on the back glass panel. The truck is a GMC Yukon with a fold down tailgate and a fold up glass. The glass wouldn't lock and Riley is always carrying around a bag full of baseball gear I'd rather not replace and a set of speakers (that we can't get to work!) that don't even belong to him. So we needed to get the lock fixed.

I poked and prodded. We could hear the motor trying but nothing moved. So I removed two screws from the panel covering the inside of the tailgate. That just gave me enough of a view to coax me into removing the other dozen screws and taking the panel out of the way. That wasn't bad at all but the whole time I'm wondering if this will go back on easily. Riley told me later he was wondering the same thing!

Now with the panel removed it became clear we needed to removed a metal plate covering the lock mechanism. I tried to talk myself out of it but my son was watching and I couldn't turn back now. I'm no good at just looking at a bolt head and judging the right size wrench to use so it took several random choices before I got it right. In case you ever have to remove the plate covering the lock mechanism on the tailgate of a 1996 GMC Yukon, you will need a 10mm socket or wrench. If you already knew that, I don't care!

And a vacuum cleaner. You'll need a vacuum cleaner. All the foam backing inside the plastic cover was no longer stuck to the cover but was either dust or in small strips/pieces. It was greasy. What a mess! So you'll also need some of that orange hand cleaner, too. We have some left from the time we changed spark plugs and wires.

Don't tell Riley, but I'm not sure what I did to fix the lock but he's really impressed. He said, "Wow, I'm gonna tell Forrest tomorrow that you fixed it!" Forrest is the guy at church who can fix anything. He's usually the guy we have to call to bail us out when we have reached the end of our wits and ability. It's happened more than once. We also call Jon. He's the guy who told me that I'd just have to work as quickly as possible - that was when I had removed the fuel filter and gasoline was pouring out like a fire hydrant.

So I'm not sure what I did to fix the lock but I could tell that this one part needed to move when Riley pushed the unlock button on the key fob but it didn't. I could see that a spring didn't look like I thought it should so I wiggled it around to the other side of a thingy. I helped the moving parts move.

Then we tested the lock and it worked. I'm a genius in my son's eyes.

Really, all I did was notice a few things that didn't seem to be the way they were supposed to be. And I helped them get how they were supposed to be. I could have been completely wrong in my assessment of how things are supposed to be, but I was right this time.

My role as pastor of a family of Christians is much the same way. I look at stuff going on in our lives and compare that to how things are supposed to be. Then I do what I can to help them get how they are supposed to be. The Word of God is my guide - not a youtube video or a self-help book or my personal opinion - so I am confident in His directions. Someone is stuck and I help them get free. Something is in the wrong place and I help show the right place. And so on.

I'm better at that than I am at fixing stuff on Riley's truck but I still sometimes wonder if everything will go back together the way it should. I've learned that God's grace is sufficient for that.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Tornadoe and Potatoe

I'm subbing in 7th grade English today. In the second class a couple of kids are kidding a girl about how she spelled "tornado." She added an "e" at the end. She said she spelled it like it sounds. I've heard people say it as if it had "uh" at the end. But, alas, there's just one way to spell "tornado."

I asked them if they knew who Dan Quayle was. They didn't. So I explained that he was the Vice President under George H. W. Bush. I'm not sure they knew who he was, either.

Then I told them about the time Vice President Quayle was doing a photo op in a classroom of elementary students. He was helping them prepare for a spelling bee or test or something. The teacher gave him a stack of notecards. He called out a word and the students spelled them. One notecard had "potatoe" on it. That's right. It was spelled incorrectly on the notecard prepared by and handed to him by the teacher. Mr. Quayle should have caught the mistake but, either because of nerves or ignorance, he corrected the student who had spelled the word correctly.

Of course, the media misrepresented this and made Quayle out to be a buffoon. The media does what the media does and they do it very well. Gone are the days of an unbiased media. Perhaps those days never existed, it's just something to say to lament the sorry state of affairs these days.

And, of course, I took plenty of opportunities in class today to add an extra "e" to as many words as possible.

(By the way, it's hard to write a post including the words "tornadoe" and "potatoe" spelled with the extra "e" because autocorrect automatically corrects them.)

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Second Day of Spring

Today is March 21 and it is the second day of Spring. Yesterday there was a lot of hype on the weather broadcasts and in social media. Not so much today. And today is just as pretty a Spring day as yesterday was. The second day just doesn't get the respect it deserves.

Even in the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament, Thursday got more hype than Friday even though Friday was still first round action.

Heaven won't be that way, I don't think. There will be no second day let down. The beloved hymn says, "When we've been there 10,000 years, bright shining as the sun, we've no less days to sing God's praise than when we've first begun." Day 3,650,000 will be just as good as Day 1.

It's my personal opinion that heaven won't have 3,650,000 days. Not even 2. There will be no sun because the Lamb is the light in heaven. I see that as just one eternal day. I wrote a song about that years ago. Here are the lyrics.


The Bible speaks of heaven as the hope of all the saved,
Secured as our destination by the life that Jesus gave.
To get there just one thing you must do, to get there just one way:
Believe in Jesus then make preparation to live in an eternal day.

Heaven's a place of rare beauty, that's one thing we know.
We'll stand with our loved ones around King Jesus and praise him while ages shall roll and roll and roll.
And then we'll sing for a million years, shout for a million years, sing for a million more, shout for a million more;
That's the just the beginning of an eternal day spent in the presence of God.

Remember how Enoch walked so close to God that he was not?
God must have had something so special in store that Enoch missed life's last stop.
And I believe John must have seen it, too, as down through the clouds that city came - 
A city not built by hands of men! It's our home for an eternal day!

Heaven's a place of rare beauty, that's one thing we know.
We'll stand with our loved ones around King Jesus and praise him while ages shall roll and roll and roll.
And then we'll sing for a million years, shout for a million years, sing for a million more, shout for a million more;
That's the just the beginning of an eternal day spent in the presence of God.


Here's a link if you'd like to hear the recording by Jubilee (Carri Corbitt, Donny Joe Martin, and me) from a long time ago.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Be Faithful and See What He Will Do

Our Bible study Sunday night was from Malachi 3. That's right, "Will a man rob God?" I've been preaching a series of sermons on Sunday mornings called Letting Go. Let Go of your Fear. Let Go of Your Past. Let Go of Your Own Plans. Let Go of Your Defeats. I thought about a sermon called Let Go of Your Money but I thought I'd let Malachi handle the heavy lifting.

First, let me put out there that I believe God gives each person/family all he/they need to tithe, live, and be generous. Failure to do any of those three is a sign of shoddy stewardship. And I believe that what God provides is exactly what you need, maybe not what you want but what you need.

6 "I the Lord do not change. So you, O descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed. 7 Ever since the time of your forefathers you have turned away from my decrees and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you," says the Lord Almighty. 
"But you ask, 'How are we to return?' 
8 "Will a man rob God? Yet you rob me. 
"But you ask, 'How do we rob you?' 
"In tithes and offerings. 9 You are under a curse—the whole nation of you—because you are robbing me. 10 Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this," says the Lord Almighty, "and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it. 11 I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not cast their fruit," says the Lord Almighty. 12 "Then all the nations will call you blessed, for yours will be a delightful land," says the Lord Almighty.

As you read the text of Malachi 3:6-12, you should notice that God expects people to be faithful in stewardship and he has no problem testing him in the matter. The word "test" is not a word that means to determine what a person knows or doesn't know, which is usually a negative thought, but to prove the validity of something, which is usually a positive. God is saying, "Be faithful and you have proof that I am who I say I am and will do what I say I will do."

Those who are faithful stewards will see the truth that God blesses those who are faithful, provides for them, and gives them a good reputation in the community.

Certainly, we want God to bless us. Be faithful and see what he will do!

And we want God to provide for us. Be faithful and see what he will do!

Did you notice the third promise? God will give the faithful and good reputation…"all the nations will call you blessed, for yours will be a delightful land." That was a promise to God's called people of the Old Testament, Israel. A good way to relate that to today is to realize that faithfulness of Christians - the Church - will result in blessings, provision, and a good reputation. Remember, God's called people (Israel in the past, the Church today) have always been tasked with carrying the blessing of the Good News.

If you have tried sharing your faith recently you may have noticed a negative reception to your effort. Have you wondered why? Could having a good reputation in the community help? I think so. I think that Christians who are faithful to what the Lord says will have a reputation in the community that will open paths for sharing the gospel.

For the sake of the lost around you will you consider being faithful? Not just in stewardship but in all things?

Friday, February 24, 2017

Why I Read the Bible

I've been subbing in a Bible class this week. They have daily work that is turned in today. As they scurry to finish, one student asks for help with one of the questions: what is the most important verse in Ephesians?

That's a great question! Not knowing whether or not the teacher had provided a correct response in lecture or notes, I offered a few suggestions.

Ephesians 1:3-4
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.

Ephesians 2:8-9
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.

Ephesians 3:20-21
Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

Ephesians 4:7
But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.

Ephesians 5:1-2
Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

Ephesians 6:13
Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.

But how do you choose? Even this list leaves out some really good stuff! That's what is so good about reading the Bible: each time you read it you'll learn something. The Bible is refreshing, challenging, exciting, and new.

I challenge you to read the Bible. Read Ephesians and let me know what your favorite verse is.

FYI - the teacher's notes say 3:20-21.

Friday, February 17, 2017

A Shepherd

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul. (Psalm 23:1-3a)

Do you ever wear down? I watched a student writing his assignment with a pencil that was barely two inches long. I'm sure at on point the pencil was new and full length. But with use it wore down.

The lead wore down from being rubbed against the paper. The wood wore down from being cut away by a sharpener.

At times the pencil was sharp even as it was wearing down.

Once the process started, the inevitable end was that it would wear down. Wouldn't it be cool if the pencil could be restored to its original form instead of wasting away?

Technology can provide material that might last longer. Other writing utensils have been created. But the standard pencil will wear down.

I feel like the standard pencil. The rub of ministry is a grind although it is also invigorating. The sharpening of education, friendships, retreats, and quiet times help my usefulness and slow the wearing down. But the wearing is still happening.

That's why Psalm 23 is so special. Jesus cares for us as a shepherd cares for his sheep.

When I look to him for all I need I find that what he provides is all I want. When I follow him he gives me rest. When I obey him he refreshes me.

And, most importantly, when I realize who I am - one of the Shepherd's sheep - he restores my soul. It's my soul that recovers more slowly than my body. It's my soul that remains tired even though my body is back up to speed. It's my soul that is still hungry and thirsty after my body is fed and watered.

In the New Testament Jesus said, "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled" (from the Beatitudes in Matthew 5).

If we connect the Psalm with the Beatitude I think we learn the key to overcoming the grind of living, the reality of emptiness, and the hurt of brokenness: our Shepherd takes care of us when we follow him.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

My Best

Why do people choose to as little as possible?

In a college English class the final exam was an essay. We were to bring paper and pen. That was all. On the last day of class prior to the final one student asked, "What is the minimum number of pages that the essay must be?"

The professor said he had no minimum because his minimum would become our maximum. From his years of experience, he knew student would do as little as possible.

The 7th and 8th grade writing classes I have subbed in the last three days had assignments of writing summaries. They were given an article with maybe 200 words. Their summaries were supposed to be no more than 80 words. Other rules applied, like including the relevant points.

As I told one class, "Yes, 10 is less than 80 but I don't think you can give an adequate summary in 10 words." They wanted to do as little as possible.

I even gave them the chance to expand their summaries if their work was a little light. Only one student (out of 6) chose to look again at his work. The others just wanted to play on the Chromebooks provided by the school. So I didn't let them. Those who put out little effort on the assignment could not use the class for a study hall or recess.

They wanted to do as little as possible. Now I'm not the teacher and I don't grade the papers but I'm pretty sure she won't be very impressed with some of the work.

But I can't just talk about students. I'm the same way sometimes. Some days the time I spend reading and studying the Bible is pitiful. And sometimes my prayers don't hit the 80-word mark, either.

I don't think God keeps a word count but I do believe he cares about the effort we put into spending time with him. I think he wants to hear you voice your praise, your concerns, your needs.

I don't think God keeps a stop watch on your study habits but I do believe an Olympic swimmer might be able to hold his breath longer than most of us spend reading the Bible. I think God wants to spend more time with us than we give him.

Did I read my Bible today? Yes.

Did I pray today? Yes.

But did I give God a minimum effort or did I give him my best?

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

Beat of a Different Drummer

I thought that line about following the beat of a different drummer would be a good class motto for the Dardanelle High School Class of '82. It's not our motto. I'd have to look in the yearbook to find out what the motto is.

I think about that because I'm sitting in the teachers' workroom at school. The band room is next door. They are practicing and I can hear (and feel) the beat of the drum.

Have you ever felt the drums as the marching band goes by in a parade? That's what I remember most about the Christmas parades when I was a kid. That and Santa Claus making his appearance on top of the firetruck.

Even when you can't see the drummer you can hear the drum. Sometimes you can feel it.

Every day I'm reminded of how the culture I live in does not line up with my worldview. I try to see everything through the lens of God's Word and I try to live my life by the principles taught there. It's not an easy task but when I am able to do it I notice a clear difference.

Something needs to guide me along the path of godly living as the path winds through the world I live in because I'll stray without that help. I need a cadence to keep me in step. I need the reminder of a sound from somewhere else.

God gives the guidance. His Spirit whispers to my spirit about what I should do and decisions I should make. I'm never left alone. He is always with me. That's the promise of Scripture.

Along with the Holy Spirit, I have friends who are also believers who help me. The Proverbs tell us that one man sharpens another like iron on iron. We (believers) need each other. The Christian life is not meant to be lived in solitude but in community.

So I look forward to gathering with my church family. I cherish times of fellowship and Bible study with Christian friends. Don't you?

The nudging by the Holy Spirit and the reminders from believing friends are that drumbeat that helps me keep in line and in step. I believe God sends believers into the world to make a difference through relationships with all people. Lots of voices bombard you each day with attractive offers that will pull you away from the Lord. But there is a drummer tapping a cadence. Can you hear Him?