Saturday, February 28, 2009

Pictureless But Home

I am back in Florissant now. With my usual obsession with meeting schedules, I got out the door exactly when I wanted to on Thursday morning and was in at the hospital in Nashville by 1:30 P.M. and got to hold little Daniel for the first time. He is so cute and precious, and so little. Wow, you forget how small they are when you haven't held a newborn in a long time. That's when I realized that I'd forgotten to bring my camera. Fortunately Donna had hers, but she won't be home for several days yet. Deborah is doing great. She and Pat came home with Daniel yesterday afternoon and Donna fixed a great dinner for all of us. It was a short visit but worth the effort. I left Pat and Deborah's this morning at 5:00 A.M. hoping to miss the bad weather that looked to be coming through MO. I had rain through TN and KY, and hit some sleet in IL, but once I turned north on 57, within minutes, the rain and ice stopped and I was on dry roads all the way home. I am, however, seriously tired.
So, since I don't have any pictures of our new, cute addition to our family, scroll down and click on Deborah's name on the Family & Friends Blog list. She has some great pics on her blog.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Warm and Fuzzy Feelings

Early this morning at 3:38, Daniel Howard Bills began his journey in this world. The plans were for Deborah to have a C-section on Thursday. The Doctor had said Friday, but she asked to have it on Thursday so her Dad could come to Nashville and get back to Florissant on Saturday so he could preach on Sunday. Is that a well trained preachers kid or what? Anyway, God and Daniel had their own plans. She went into labor last night (Tuesday) and he arrived, without surgery, on this 25th day of February. Donna has informed me that "He is soooo cute!" Needless to say, I can't wait to see him and see that his Mama is okay too. This is Pat and Deborah's third child - all boys, and our sixth grand child, five boys and one girl. I had fully intended to be there at the hospital for the delivery, but that's another plan that meant totally nothing. Since I'm trying to get a week of work finished by the end of today, I'm still going to wait until tomorrow morning before hitting the road to TN and, like we originally planned, return on Saturday with plenty of pictures of Daniel and everyone else. So my next blog should have a real picture of God's latest blessing to our family.

Monday, February 23, 2009

The Real First Day of the Week

One of the oddities of being a preacher is that no matter how the rest of the world numbers the days of the week, Monday is always the beginning of the week. While Sunday may be called the first day of the week by most, for us preacher-types, everything we do builds towards that day and concludes on that day, so it's always the end of the week. I love Sundays. I love being with my church family, building our love for each other, encouraging each other to grow, and just basking in the glow of praising our Father and our Savior together. I dearly love seeing people change, grow, transform, or just plain "get it," and see their relationship with God deepen - to see Jesus become real to them. That is what spiritual leadership is all about. You can't post it on an attendance board, print it in the bulletin, or quantify it for worldly success, but you can rejoice in knowing that you've made a difference. A lot is said and written about the church and it's purpose. Hey - I've said and written a lot about the church and it's purpose, and it disturbs me greatly that so many of us have completely missed why God gave it to us and what He intended it to be. Still, another "Bottom Line" principle that should be obvious to everyone is - church (i.e. church family) was intended by God to give us a glimpse of heaven. If that picture is not appealing, then it's because we've done something wrong with what He gave us, or we're just looking at it incorrectly. If you are still defined by a worship style, a doctrine, or anything other than love - an eternity of doing what you do with church probably scares the Heaven out of you.
I am so thankful for our church family. There is a spirit of love there that does transcend differences, cultural baggage, and even some doctrinal disagreements. So, as I relax on MY first day of the week, MY Sabbath day's rest, I am thankful for the past week and excited about the next, and if I don't live to see another Sunday together, it's okay because we'll have timeless togetherness in heaven.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Transformation Begins

Last Sunday we had our cast luncheon, gave out the scripts & practice CD's, and had our first read through. It was so neat to hear all the lines read by the characters in each scene, and to hear the music that we will adapt and make fit our story. It was very touching for me to hear some of the important lines that will proclaim the message of Jesus to the hundreds who will get to see the play. We have about 56 cast members and will probably have a dozen tech people involved as we get closer to the performance in June. We aren't going to ask for volunteers for all the other work, like construction, promotion, greeting, ushers, etc. until next month, but that will include dozens of members. And, of course, everyone will be part of the advertising for the play. Last year our members gave out fifteen thousand advertisement tickets and door hangers and there was another 2500 Jonah magnets too. The Lord blessed us with over two thousand attendees over the four nights, with about 400 families giving us a chance for some follow-up. Rehearsals won't start until March 4th, but everyone should be practicing their music and getting ready to hit the ground running as we begin our three months of prep.
This play has the potential of being the best we've ever done. The music is awesome, we are more experienced and know how to use our particular strengths for the best results, and - most importantly, this is a message that will clearly challenge the audience to think about the transforming power of Jesus to make us children of our wonderful Father. It will be very entertaining, BUT - the point will be clear and impossible to miss.
Hope you can make it. St.Louis is a great place to take a vacation - especially - say - around - the first week of June!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Who's In Who's Out?

How many times have you had a discussion about what is essential to salvation? It's usually dealing with baptism, though for some, it can be about music, bread before wine, or essentiality of Wednesday evening Bible classes. For TOO many, it's about "I'm right and I'm saved, and your not because you're not doing or believing what I do."
There are two questions that everyone must confront before they start drawing lines in the religious sand. First, is there such a thing as a non-essential command? Second, which violated commands cannot be covered by grace?
Aren't there some spiritual qualities that mean so much to God that they transcend doctrinal correctness? It's not that being correct or right in our interpretation of the Word is not important, but are there things that rise to the top, that God is looking for since so few who have lived over the last two thousand years have had access to all the parts of the puzzle (i.e. twenty-seven books of the NT)?
What about "seeking God"? Why is that so important from the beginning of God's Word to the end? He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek him! He draws near to anyone who is drawing near to him! How important is a passion to know God - to want a relationship with God? How pleasing is that to God? Could it be more pleasing than figuring out all the right steps and understanding all the correct conclusions?
I read Luke 10 this morning and I was touched, again, by the encounter Jesus had with the "expert in the law" that led him to tell the parable of the Good Samaritan. The guy was asking for a definition of what's essential to "inherit eternal life," and Jesus just tossed the questions right back at him. "What is written in the Law?" Since that was the guys expertise, it's a good question to ask. But then Jesus added, "How do you read it?" It wasn't just a matter of what does the Law say, but how do you interpret it. Jesus clearly understood that people see God's message differently.
The lawyer was quick. "Love the Lord your God with all your heart...Love your neighbor as yourself." Jesus affirmed that he was right, and then he declared, "Do this and you will live."
Wait just a second! What about all those other laws and regulations? Unimportant? No, just not as important as what God wants to see in our hearts. Is it an accident that what Jesus said is repeated by Paul, Peter, John, and James in other parts of the New Testament? So are all the other doctrinal issues unimportant? No, it's just that they are not as important as loving God by learning to love one another. All the right doctrines mixed with the wrong kind of heart makes every doctrine immaterial. But the right kind of heart - that loves others, loves the Father, and seeks to draw close to him - makes every doctrine supportive material not a list of laws.
It is always going to be true that "Anyone...who knows the good he ought to do and doesn't do it, sins." As we discover what we think God wants us to do, we do it, but be careful about playing God and deciding who gets grace and who doesn't.

Friday, February 13, 2009

More Than A Jog

For the last couple years I have been working out at a health club doing a forty minute hill-climb on the treadmill, followed by some abdominal exercises. I thought I was - well, not in shape, but at least not completely out of shape. Tuesday I decided to try jogging outside after not doing it for those same two years. OOOOh! I felt like a beached whale. Every step was hard, every joint and both lungs hurt, and it was very depressing to be sooo incredibly sore when I finished and even more so the next day. Forget feeling old - I felt like David, "There is but a step between me and death." I felt a little better when I remember that I'd given blood the day before at our church's Red Cross Blood Drive. It always takes me a few days to get "perky" again after that. So yesterday I ran again, and to my joy and amazement, it wasn't so bad. I ran the better part of a mile and a half (just a couple short walking stretches) and don't feel particularly sore this morning. Maybe I'll live after all - for a while. I may not be ready for a half marathon by May, but I will improve and get in better shape.
I share that, not to bore anyone with my personal workout schedule, but because it is so appropriate to a question I was asked Tuesday when a member here interviewed me for a class she was taking. It was about the effects of our culture on our traditions about death and dying. The final question was, "Is there anything about death that frightens you?" My first response was, "I'm glad you didn't ask me that several years ago."
No, there is nothing that frightens me about death. I haven't always felt that way, but God, because of his great mercy and grace, let me live long enough to learn, grow, and know him so well that my heart is at peace with whatever he wants to do with me.
This is a huge subject, but briefly, let me say why my answer was so easy and true.
1. I really believe I am saved by the precious blood of Jesus and He will save me in spite of my sin, not because of my goodness.
2. I really believe there is a heaven and He has prepared a place for me for all eternity, and I will be with God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, and all my loved ones who love Him.
3. I love life and I love my family and friends, and I'm excited about what He will do with me for whatever days He gives me - BUT - I do not want to be too attached to this world. I'm okay with letting it go.
4. There is nothing about dying that involves losing, missing, being robbed, cheated, or short-changed. It's all about victory, gaining, and receiving the ultimate blessings God has in store for me and everyone else who "diligently seeks Him."
If I had a fear of dying, wouldn't that be a red flag that something was not right in my relationship with my Father?
What would your answer be? Got any red flags in your life?

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Contentment Robbers

Wow! My last blog was my three hundredth blog. I could have written a book with that much writing. Which, by the way, is how books are written - one page at a time, and it's more about persistence than it is about the size of the book. Most people are overwhelmed with the idea of writing something as big as a book, but if you approach it one page at a time, one a day or even 4 or 5 a week, before you realize it - it's a book. I say that and I have two partial books that I've started during the last four years and one more that I finished in TN that needs to be revised and expanded, but I find it harder to find scheduled time to do it. Maybe I should be doing that instead of writing 2-3 blogs a week. Hmmm.
Before I make that decision, let me share the points I had in last Sunday's lesson. They are Contentment Robbers (see the last blog for the set-up). I think I'll just share the outline rather than try to summarize, which would probably be too long.
Introduction: Ocean Eleven depicts the perfect robbery. Why do we cheer for robbers? Ever think about the rational we use to feel good about that? What does it tell us about our ability to rationalize about right and wrong? Robbers have to objectify their victims. What if it was family? You? God? God is robbed when we ignore his love and his Son.
* Contentment robbers are not people but choices we make! I know- ouch!
1. Guilt
A. Peter went back to fishing for fish because of guilt.
B. Secret Sin destroys peace - Phil.4:4-7
C. Satan's Big Don'ts: Don't remove sin & Don't accept grace
2. Competition = life by comparison with others
A. The misery of mastery = I've got to make you lose to feel good
B. What victory means the most to you? Rom.8:37; 1 Cor.15:54-57
3. Lack of Self-Control
A. Addiction destroys self-esteem: I can't = I'm not
B. The real battle: Selfishness is self out of control
4. Purposelessness
A. Contentment is having a clear focus = purpose
B. Why Paul put godliness & contentment together, 1 Tim.6:6-10
C. Discontent comes from lack of direction or self focus
5. Being Fake = dishonest = hypocritical (Not Being Real)
A. Living the lie as way of life = creates fake contentment
B. First sin Jesus confronted = self-righteousness, Mt.5,6,7
C. We are good at faking our faith- learn early, practice often!
6. Gathering Not Giving
A. Lk 12 - Not rich toward God - "my-I-mine"
B. Things vs. People = "I will purchase my happiness!"
C. What is your plan for growing in giving?
Conclusion: What is robbing you? Choices!
* Robbing others, robs God, & robs self
* Remember the cross? Jesus loves robbers too.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

O Sigh, Can You See

Several years ago when we lived in Texas, I was coming back from a deer hunting trip with my associate minister, Cary Branscum. It was our usual Monday-day-off hunting trip to a friend's property just outside of Hico, TX. A comment Cary made that evening as we drove back to Ft.Worth, has stuck with me over the years. He said, "We've got a deer in the back, we're listening to oldies on the radio, and eating a DQ Blizzard. It doesn't get any better than this." I always felt like that was the purest definition of contentment I've ever heard.
But is contentment really defined by the conditions around us or by the peace within us? Have you ever sat back in your favorite chair, with a great cup of coffee in hand, and looked around the house at your things and declared, "Life is good"? Or maybe contentment is a "one of these days" kind of thing. One of these days, when you have, purchase, accumulate, or obtain whatever it is you think will make life wonderful - you'll find contentment. Paul said he'd learned to be content in whatever circumstance he found himself in and he'd experienced both plenty and poverty. (Phil.4) In 1 Timothy 6, he said if we have food and clothing we should be content. Does contentment come from rejecting physical comforts? Is it only found in some kind of ascetic living? Is it about "doing without"?
The amazing thing, when you really listen to Paul's comments in context, is that contentment doesn't have anything to do with possessions or material comforts. Contentment comes from an honest relationship with God and with Jesus. Our attachment - our passion in life, is knowing Him, drawing closer to Him, and longing to be with Him in our eternal bodies. That is the secret to being joyful in spite of your surroundings rather than because of them. When he said he could do anything through "him who gives me strength" he was talking about a peace and contentment that transcends income brackets and economic conditions, whether good or bad.
The real question is: If I am content, am I content because of my physical blessings or because of my spiritual relationships? Which one can I do without - if I have to choose? When life is smooth and wonderful, how do you know if you have a real relationship with God or if you're just enjoying the good life? Being happy is not the contentment Paul is talking about.
Tomorrow, Lord willing, my lesson at Florissant will be about Contentment Robbers. Maybe I'll post the main points on Monday and share some things to think about.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Back From The Big City

We couldn't possibly be typical NY tourists because we forgot to take pictures of just about everything we did and saw. Donna took this picture of Jonathan and me on Monday morning's trip on the famous NY Metro to downtown. After this ride, we walked for hours as Jonathan showed us - pretty much all of Manhattan - by foot. It really was fun. The weather was a warm 45 with sunshine and we truly enjoyed it. The best part, of course, was just getting to spend time with Jonathan and Holly, and see where they live and how they functioned in such a huge place. We held up the hallmarks of the Root family. We ate a lot and talked late into the night - just enjoyed being together. It truly is a totally different world in the Big Apple. I told Donna that I felt more like I was in a foreign country there than when we went to Europe or Australia.

We got to see Central Park, Times Square, Broadway Theatres, and more stores and restaurants than anyone could visit in a lifetime. One of the most interesting things we got to do was tour all the backstage area of the Golden Theatre where Ave Q is. It was amazing to see all the technical and electrical stuff that was totally hidden from the audience. We had NY pizza at John's Pizzeria Tuesday evening. It's across the street from the Majestic Theatre where Phantom has been playing forever. It's incredible pizza! JD went to do his show while we went to their apartment with Holly to visit and await his return - about 10:45. It snowed all day Tuesday, but seemed to have no effect on anyone in NY. It was pretty to have coffee at the Times Square Marriott and watch the snow come down on such an iconic piece of real estate.
Holly took this picture for us out in the courtyard of the apartment complex they live in. The door to their apartment is off to the left of this picture. Once again, we forgot to get the camera out once we got upstairs. So we have no pictures of it or of Holly - or even of their two cats, Mordecai and Delilah.
We had a wonderful visit. It was just so nice to sit and talk without any interruptions or concern about schedules. I am very thankful that they are doing so well and loving what they do - and were they live. I am also very thankful that we found some inexpensive plane tickets which made the trip possible. Can't wait until we get to be together again. God is good.