Friday, December 29, 2006

Seek Or Swim!

Have you ever tried to figure out why we do such a terrible job of fighting sin? When I think back through my spiritual journey, one of the biggest puzzles for me personally, is why I was such an awful warrior for God. Please don't think I'm saying that I've arrived and that I have totally conquered sin. Far from it! I just understand it now. I understand why I did such a pitiful job of winning the sin battles and why it seemed to be the same battles over and over. The truth is, I wasn't fighting for God - I wasn't HIS warrior, I was fighting for me not him! The other night in a Bible class, I asked the question (from Psalms 101:4) "Why is it so hard for us to hate sin?" While there are loads of ways to look at it, the biggest problem is that we're fighting an unwinable battle and we know it! It's unwinable because we are fighting sin without seeking God! Anything we do, or try to do, that is not connected to and motivated by our desire to draw closer to God, is simply an act of self-righteousness.

Our primary motivation in life is receiving approval and acceptance from those we value. It starts with our parents and then broadens to include family, friends, students, co-workers, neighbors, and church people, to name a few. Since they determine our value, being "good" is defined by what we think they are looking for before they anoint us with that tag or any other spiritual appellation (i.e. faithful, dedicated, spiritual, righteous enough to serve communion or appoint as elder). So we fight sin to be good, to convince others we're good, and even to feel good about ourselves. But we fail most of the time, so we learn to cover sin up, to replace the obvious with the secret - the hide-able, the closet kind of sin. We don't do the "biggies" just the socially acceptable sins, the - you're-okay-because-you-haven't-brought-reproach-on-the-church-sins. You know, like pride, greed, anger, and selfishness - to name a few. And don't get me wrong - we have some victories! We grow out of some things - Praise the Lord! We lose the desire for some sins - finally. But most of the time we feel guilty, hypocritical, and empty. All the "good acts" and all the back pats in the world don't really make you feel fulfilled and at peace. All the approval and acceptance of all the good church people in our life doesn't do what a genuine relationship with the Father can do. He didn't call us to be approved and accepted by others! He didn't call us to be called good! He didn't tell us to fight sin! Well, yes He did tell us to do all those things - JUST NOT FIRST AND FOREMOST. What He wants and has wanted from the beginning - what He clearly tells us is the secret to all the other things - is to seek Him! Long for Him! Draw close to Him! Hunger for a relationship with Him! When that is our deepest desire, we stop being the Lone Ranger of sin fighting. Seeking Him changes our motivations, our goals, and our desires. Seeking Him means that we are working from the inside out not the outside out! Trying to be righteous without seeking a relationship with God is phony faith and shallow fellowship. Others may say we're good, but maybe it's good for nothing!

Just think about it! Where did we get the innate urge to be accepted, wanted, and desired? Is it surprising that we want what God wants? He's just waiting for us to want Him as much as He wants us! SEEKING HIM simply means that we set our hearts on knowing Him and as we know Him, we seek to please Him! Seeking is the bottom line! It's what He is looking for in the heart of every person! To seek Him is to believe in Him, and He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. Ever wonder how David, with all his sins, mistakes, and short-comings could be "a man after God's own heart?" In his heart he was seeking God! At times he got distracted and forgot who he loved the most, but when he remembered ( or was reminded), he turned to God with a passion that God wants to see in everyone of us.

It's not like we haven't known this all along. It's not a secret. It really is that simple. We've always known that relationships don't "just happen". They have to be sought, built, and cherished. That's what God wants. Quit seeking to be good. Seek to know and love God, and he'll take care of the good. No one knows "good" like He does!

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Go Chad!

Okay, I'm pretty proud of some of my surprise gifts. I remember an opal ring I secretly bought for Donna thirty-something years ago when we didn't have two nickels to rub together and we owed the in-laws an arm and a leg. I wanted it for her and she still wears it and shows it, and receives compliments regularly for it. Then there was the twenty-fifth anniversary diamond ring to add to the puny little engagement thing I bought her while we were still in college. The new one had several nice diamonds to surround the sentimental speck I gave here in '71. And how about that surprise 30th anniversary trip to Disney World for four days? If you know Donna, you know she'd take that over a diamond any day. It's her favorite place in the world! We had a wonderful four day adventure at the four kingdoms of Disney and she literally wore me out going to so many things. Of Course my favorite was the custom made necklace I had made for her that year too. A white gold replica of an old pop-top from a soda can. It has precious stones on it to represent different things, but most of all I knew she'd love telling the story to anyone who asked her about the strange meaning behind it. It had to do with how we got engaged and she has told the story hundreds of times. To quote Paul in 1 Corinthians 7:1 (NAS of course) "Nevertheless"- (it's my favorite word since it follows "It's good for a man to not touch a woman.") nevertheless, I must pronounce that my son-in-law Chad has given the ultimate gift to my daughter Elizabeth. He had all her blogs, pictures and all, made into a book as a keepsake and to honor her wonderful words of wisdom, sharing, and love. It's beautiful, and yes guys - romantic! It means he must turn in his camo at once! Not! It was a wonderfully thoughtful gift, and something that will bring joy to her, their family and friends, and anyone who sees it, for lots of years. Good job Chad! I say it a lot, though maybe not to them, but Pat, Chad, and Holly are three incredible people who have blessed our family in so many ways. The law says they are my sons and daughter in-law, but I say they're my kids, just like the three they married and I thank God every day for answering our prayers and bringing them into our lives.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

It IS a wonderful life!

There hasn't been time to add to my blog pile in the past week. We had an early Christmas in Nashville last Friday so the grand kids could have Christmas with the in-laws. It's tough sharing! It was wonderful to be with our family, minus Jonathan and Holly of course, who couldn't leave NY due to "professional demands." It's nice to be on Broadway, but "the show must go on" is not just a catchy slogan - it's a business reality. So, we missed them a lot, but our "show must go on" too, and it did. As usual, we were blessed through giving, and honored by receiving. Mostly, we saw again how much we have to be thankful for. Thanks to our Father for another chance to be together and have safe travel. Thanks to everyone for the well-thought-out-gifts. Thanks to Carter for letting us have his bed. Thanks to Chad and Elizabeth for sharing your house and making a special trip to have coffee for me. Thanks to Ashlyn for sweet kisses and smiles. Thanks to Pat and Deborah for hosting Christmas, fixing an awesome Christmas dinner, and (to Pat) for not over cooking the venison on the grill. Ummm! Thanks to Joshua and Caleb for the pocket knife and Wet-Wipes! I've needed both on many occasions. Thanks to Mamaw and Papaw for driving all the way from Searcy to share Christmas with us. Even if you left your gifts (accidently) at home, you were the best gift we could all have been given. God is good to allow us to have so many wonderful memories.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Parables and Movies

In a couple of weeks I plan to present a lesson on the Prodigal son. I love that parable! I love the picture of the father looking for his son, hoping he'll return, and looking for the opportunity to forgive him. The irony of the parable is that it's really not about the wayward son, and as much as I love the description of God as the father, he's not the focus either. The context seems to show that it was about the older brother, the one who truly didn't know his father or realize what a wonderful relationship he was missing out on - even though he stayed home. Jesus was trying to help the religious leaders realize their detachment from God. They were the older, self-righteous brother, and they needed to get past good works and move toward a deep relationship with the Father. I thought of this as I watched Lord of the Rings this past weekend. Yes, all three, mostly late evening, and even some of the special features. It's the second time since seeing them at the movies, and I'm finally starting to understand most of it, or at least get the names straight. You know what? You don't have to understand everything or even remember the names of everyone to appreciate the wonderful message of friendship. I love the growing relationship between the Fellowship of the Ring. I love the emphasis on loyalty, courage, and sacrifice. When you watch it looking for all the unselfish acts of friendship, it becomes an amazing portrait of commitment and love. I'd use some examples if I could remember the names, not to mention spell them correctly. What does this have to do with the Prodigal Son? I think the argument could be made that The Lord of the Rings is not about Frodo, the carrier of the ring, but about Sam, whose friendship and loyalty was totally unbreakable. There are several times in the movies when I find myself getting teary eyed, but when Sam tells, Mr. Frodo "I can't carry the ring, but I can carry you" and he proceeds to carry him up that mountain - well, it gives me chills just thinking about it.

I thank God for the good friends He has given me through the years. There have been many who I know would carry me up the hill, and many I would carry or die trying. That's an awesome blessing. What more could anyone hope for in life than to have a loving family and loyal friends? It's especially wonderful when that friendship includes our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. That's a ring of fellowship that will last a lot longer than this life.

Friday, December 15, 2006

The Nativity

If you're looking for a telling of the nativity story that compares to the church children's plays you've seen, prepare yourself for a shock. This is a wonderful movie. It's powerful, accurate, and emotional without being "Hollywood". They did a marvelous job of being culturally and historically accurate and they did a great job of providing a balance between being too "stone age ancient" with the poor country folks and too glittery with Herod and his palaces. The best part of the experience for me was seeing and feeling the struggle and turmoil that Joseph and Mary went through. They were real people with real doubts and real challenges. The actors were amazingly believable. Not super-spiritual giants, but simple Jewish towns people trying to survive in a harsh world. I found it to be very emotional. Legal eagles will find stuff to pick at and continue the smug elitist grumbling that "It's the death and resurrection that counts not his birth." But, I'm not sure it didn't take as much sacrifice and submission to leave heaven and take the form of a poor carpenters son as it did to go to the cross 33 years later. You can't have the ending if there's not a beginning. The spirit and power of the story transcends the timeline problems and the traditional number of wise men. Two simple people struggling to obey God when they don't understand all that's happening is more meaningful and relevant than any movies that will ever come out of Hollywood. And this isn't a fantasy. If you're overwhelmed by how God could love us so much, this movie will truly touch you. If it's just about seeing another Christmas story, stick to the church children's play.

Thursday, December 14, 2006


This picture was taken tonight after a wild night of partying and eating too much! Well, at least we did eat too much at Longhorn's Steak House. Today is our thirty-fourth anniversary! I can't remember what the precious stone or metal is that symbolizes thirty-four. Right now I think it's Tums. And by the way, yes we were only five years old when we got married in 1972. Actually it was a cold and snowy evening, and we'd both taken two finals at Harding that day. We laughed tonight about leaving for our honeymoon with $60 and a gas credit card. Our honeymoon consisted of a two day trip from Searcy to Washington, D.C. to spend Christmas with my family. We still had a year and a half of college to finish and we'd have starved to death if my sweet in-laws hadn't let us eat with them so much. God is good. Besides, thirty-four years wasn't THAT long ago. In fact, I'm still making payments on college loans for Harding University. Some things never change. (Boy I hope that's not true!) Also, I don't think I had such a huge forehead back in '72. But how about that good looking girl-friend? She still looks awesome!

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Coffee With God?

Wouldn't you love to sit down and have coffee with God? Some might think of it as blasphemy, but I've been wondering what I'd ask God if I could have an open discussion with Him and receive some clear and immediate answers. It's not like I don't talk to Him, and it's not as if He doesn't respond - and "NO" I'm not talking about still voices in the night or writings on the wall. He answers through His Spirit who helps us understand His Word. He sends others to teach and share things with me (even if they thought it was their idea), and He gives wisdom and understand as we pray for it (remember James 1). I do know a little something about what the Bible teaches. Not enough, but enough to know He's given me enough. Still, if I could just sit and interact with Him, and ask those questions that, well, even if I know the answers, I'd love to hear Him say "You're right." It'll happen - if it's up to me, about three seconds after my travel angel drops me off in heaven. And there has to be good coffee in heaven. None of that fancy, foamy, frew-frew stuff. A mild "heavenly blend" of coffee that won't give bad breath or brown teeth. But I digress. What WOULD I ask if I could, right now, sit and have coffee with God? I'm actually thinking that I'd like to write a ficticious (dah!) telling of the event. Would it be presumptuous to say what I think He would say? Can I talk for God? I hope so. Several hundred brethren are paying me a salary to do that every week - several times throughout the week! But I mean, really making it the "voice of God," the final word, the ultimate answer! Would it be disrepectful to think of God in a three-button Henley, and maybe a "SAINTS" baseball cap, sitting at a cafe table, with me, talking about what He really wants, what we've really missed, and what He really has in store for us? What would He say? What would you ask? What are the real meaty things that it would be wonderful to hear God clarify, simplify, and explain? Every time I have an open forum Q & A the same three questions are always asked. It's always something about divorce, instrumental music, and the role of women in the church. When I think of addressing those to God over coffee I feel - shame. Shame, because I can see His sad eyes saying, "Do you really think these are the biggest problems you have?" I feel like it would sound like that "resounding gong or a clanging cymbal" He talked about in 1 Corinthians 13. These things are not unimportant, they're just not the stuff I need on the table with our coffee mugs. Why do I sense that all the questions would well up in my throat and get stuck? Maybe it's because the only question that counts is the one He will ask. He smiles, looks into my watery eyes and asks, "Do you love Me?" And my heart leaps with joy - not fear. Joy that he didn't ask me that thirty years ago - twenty, well, ten, and that He didn't ask me that back in my "I'm right, let's debate" days, and joy that He gave me so many opportunities to trust Him and draw close to Him, be healed by Him and, most of all, be His child and be His Son to others who needed to see Him. My heart leaps with joy because the answer is "YES" - I know it's "yes" and He knows it's "yes"and that's all He ever wanted from me. And the voice of God said, "Well then, pass the sugar."

Almost Show Time!

I'm ready to announce for anyone who is interested or who needs to plan their entire 2007 calendar. The 2007 flourishing musical is done! I finished writing it last week and all the music is chosen and being rewritten by me, yea verily this day. Anyone who attended "Fiddling On the Ark" or who saw the DVD version will know that this is a huge event at flourishing and we had a full house every night! The best part was the 300 plus families that we were able to follow up with and place on our mailing list. I fully expect this next year's production to be even bigger, more entertaining, and reach far more people. After all, we had nearly a couple thousand people see it live and probably ten times that now have seen the DVD. I'm planning to add at least one more nights performance and maybe have members attend the dress rehearsal so they can help with greeting, parking, ushering, and such the four nights of the play. So, here it is: The Lord of the Parables: The Trilogy! Right now we have 23 songs planned, but that may change, plus or minus one or two, depending on need. The stories will be The Good Samaritan (in Broadway musical style), The Ten Maidens (using oldies R&R songs), and The Prodigal Son (primarily praise songs). It will be a mixture of instrumental and acappella songs. I could tell you more, but I haven't even told the flourishing family yet, so I better wait until we kick off the prep work next month. So, if you want to see it live, mark down June 7, 8, 9, &10. No reservations or tickets required, but I predict a real challenge in seating all who want to come. Last June we filled up our seating each night, as mentioned, but what I didn't mention was that it was ALL WORD OF MOUTH! We did very little advertising and the post response was awesome. We'll add a couple hundred chairs and extra night and see what happens. Can't wait! Can you picture the five foolish maidens as The Supremes and the wise maidens as The Andrews Sisters? I can - aint it scary?

Friday, December 08, 2006

A Healthy Discussion

We had another discussion at yesterday's preachers meeting about healthy churches. I like it! I am so excited to see us finally shift our focus in church growth from numbers to spiritual health. At a time when there's more church-hopping and style seeking than real relationship building, how can anyone define "church success" by large, medium, or small, as if they were talking about pizzas instead of living bodies of believers. Most church folks still pick congregations like they were shopping for curtains or, and maybe more appropriately, the newest DVD. Church is all about "what I like," "what I need," or "what really makes going to church enjoyable." If we happen, by the shear number of times attending, to get close to someone and develop a good friendship, well - that's just icing on the cake. Thus church success is defined by how many we attract and hold, and church health is defined by how many people are in an uproar about something. As much as I love church health over church growth, I am still troubled why how quickly we equate health with happiness. We joke about troublemakers, brainstorm about including the left-out, and worry about how the next change is going to be received by Pre-War, Post-War, Baby Boomer, Gen Xers, Me Gen, Old Folks, Power Hungry, the New Members, the still Dead, the Wild Ones, etc., etc., so forth and so on! Wait a second! Spiritual health is not about numbers, or labels, or being mega or mini, or being free from conflict. Symptoms? Maybe! Spiritual health is faithfulness! Faithfulness, the kind that is not about image management, is a relationship with Jesus! There is no relationship with Jesus without a deep prayer life, because it is a relationship based on faith and prayer is the single most important act of faith in our life. So what is church health? Jesus! He's not a topic or a course of study - He's Lord, Master, sovereign, friend, and imitating Him is the goal of every child of God. Church health is a body of believers totally focused on HIM! It's a praying church! A compassionate church! A group of givers not receivers, which makes assembly style and ministry organization insignificant supports! Of course, if health is all about Jesus, then love will be what defines any congregation as belonging to Him. The next time I'm asked, "What is a healthy church," whether it's a preachers meeting or group of children, my answer will be: Any group of believers that Jesus would point to and say, "They're mine!" The question is not what we think, but what does He think! Here's to your health!

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

"It's Beginning To Look A lot Like Christmas"

See - we really did put our tree up. Okay, so it was several days after I said we were going to put it up, but at least it was in the same week. We still didn't get the outside lights up. I'm not sure when the ice on the house will melt enough to allow us to attach all the lights. Maybe we'll just bask in the glow of our neighbors extensive light show. It's just a few feet across the street and if we open our blinds up, it almost looks like their lights are in our yard. Alright! That'll work - at least until we get some warmer temperatures. Anyway - the tree is up - though bare of wrapped gifts, and the stocking are hung on the window with care. It's safer than the fireplace! I'm sure it will just be a matter of time before all the "things" tucked away in all the closets up stairs get wrapped and placed under the tree. Maybe there will be one with my name on it!????

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Snowed In But Power On!

It was so wonderful to wake up this morning in a warm house. Nearly all the houses in Florissant and surrounding areas are without power and the temps are in the teens. They're talking about 4 to 5 days before all the power will be restored. We lost our power for eight days back in July, but it's a lot easier to relax and stay cool in July than to get warm in bitter temperatures. These pictures make it look like a light snow, but under that four inches of snow is about two inches of ice and its the ice that is bringing down power lines, even while they are still repairing the first lines that came down. We also lost power at the church building and had some serious damage in the office area - the new office area - from water leaking through the roof. What makes is even more weird is that on Wednesday it was in the upper 60's and had been for most of the week prior to that. Of course, the toughest part is that it's too cold and the roads are too nasty - to go hunting! Just kidding! Sort of! Actually I'm so sore from shoveling snow and scraping the layer of ice off the driveway that I can hardly move. Hmmm - didn't use to do that to me.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Unconditional Love?

It seems to me that many people confuse the love of God and the holiness of God. God is love - period! End of point! And nothing can separate us from that love whether we are believers or non-believers. But God is holy too! Holiness cannot coexist with unholiness or it's not really holy! Are you with me? It's the love of God that provided a way for unholy "us" to have a relationship with a holy "Him"! While love is unconditional, to enjoy the benefits of His love we must meet the requirements of His holiness. Fortunately that is what grace does. His grace declares us holy because of what Jesus did in the cross. That is why He had to die there and why God had no alternative. Grace is the free gift of God, but it certainly is not unconditional. It requires faith; it requires walking in the light; and it requires a seeking heart (because that is what God rewards - Heb.11:6)

Now isn't that impressive theology? I'm not trying to impress, but I am trying to be emphatic. One of the most overlooked "conditions" in all of the Bible, and one of the most difficult spiritual qualities to consistently develop is forgiveness. Jesus said it first, "For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins." (Matthew 6:14-15) That's one of the toughest "ifs" we will ever face in our life. How can you forgive someone who hurts you so deeply? Jesus did it - at the cross! How can you forgive someone who hurts someone you dearly love? God did it - at the cross. Doesn't that show us that it's not easy? Doesn't that show us that forgiveness doesn't mean freedom from pain and suffering? What it does mean is that forgiveness is something we must do to be like Him. It's not an option. There are no "scriptural exceptions" no "innocent parties". There is no way to just move on and ignore it. Jesus said do it or lose it!

The most difficult thing I've ever done is forgive people who've hurt me. It's harder than struggling with greed, pride, and lust. I think the reason for that is because it's truly just between me and God. Especially when forgiveness wasn't asked for or sought by those who did the hurting. Real faith is when we do what Jesus would do and it's clearly not for anyone else! And I can see how He used those "forgiving times" to mold my heart in ways that never would have happened without that spiritual challenge. It's easy to receive forgiveness. It's somewhat harder to accept it at times (because of our tendency to embrace guilt). The hardest, and every bit as essential, is giving it. When we do - well, that's when we truly understand the Cross.