Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Poor Me?

I think every Christian, at one time or another, has been challenged and scared to death by Jesus' call for the rich young ruler to sell all he had, give it to the poor, and come follow him. Surely that couldn't apply to me - right? I tried to make the point last Sunday that we are all rich - in spite of the fact we don't think we are. I believe it's because we compare ourselves to those who are richer - people WE call rich - and conclude that we would be rich if we had what they had! We don't - so we're not - we think. I guess that's comforting and somehow allows us to avoid guilt, materialism, greed, selfishness, and being stingy.
Paul's closing words to Timothy in his first letter should be comforting to us. He said, "Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor put their hope in wealth, which is uncertain." (6:17) He didn't say, "get rid of it" or "give it away" or "you're going to Hell." There were wealthy people in the church and he just wanted them to be warned that with wealth comes special challenges and temptations. Arrogance and a false sense of security! I am intrigued by the warning against arrogance. Is that pride, or is it feelings of superiority, or is it selfishness? Yes. Here are some of the signs of arrogance - just a sampling.
1. If I had more money, I would be a better giver.
2. That worship service didn't do anything for me!
3. My spouse is not meeting my needs.
4. I plan to live to a ripe old age.
5. If everybody drove their cars like I do, the world would be a better place.
6. We NEED a bigger storage unit!
7. God should have healed my loved one!
8. I'm irreplaceable!
9. I'm never home, but I'm building a better future for my family.
10.There's always tomorrow.

I'm glad I've never said any of these. Oops! There's number eleven.

Friday, March 27, 2009

2010 Vacation Plans - Join Us

We've just about finished paying for our last vacation trip, so it seemed appropriate to book the next one. We try to schedule a good-serious-get-a-way vacation every two years. We've done that the last ten years now. The Princess cruise ship in the picture above is the ship we went to Alaska on in June of 2008. We wanted to do a Mediterranean cruise in 2010, but it's a lot more expensive then most other cruises and the politics of the region kind of discourages us right now. SO, because of some really good special fares right now, we booked a fifteen day cruise on this same ship that will leave Ft. Lauderdale on January 21, 2010, go to some really neat places, but most of all take two days to go through the Panama Canal. We've always wanted to take a vacation to some place warm in the dead of winter, so a fifteen day Panama Canal cruise, with good prices, fit the bill perfectly. It ends at LA, so both beginning and ending cities are serviced by Southwest Airlines, which has great one-way fares, especially to and from St. Louis.

We'd love to have you go with us. This isn't a group cruise, so just make your own arrangements with Princess or go through a travel agent if you want. Here's how to check it out. PrincessCruises.com will get you to the web page. Click on Find & Compare Cruises, then Search Cruises. When the chart comes up, click on Panama Canal, 9-15 days, 2010 January. Our cruise is the fourth one down called Grand Panama Canal Cruise, on the Coral Princess, Jan.21, 2010. If you call Princess (at 1-800-Princess), tell them you want the advertised special prices with the free upgrades. Until April 17th, they have free upgrades of Oceanview to Balcony. Ask for any special prices. Our costs are not much higher than the 7 day Alaska Cruise last year. They need the customers!

Fifteen days away from cold winter weather! And it's only ten months away.

One Third of the Way There!

I took these pictures at last nights rehearsal. We have just finished our first month of rehearsals because by the next rehearsal - it will be April, and only nine rehearsal weeks away from the play. I am so proud of everyone. We have been working on the eight praise songs of the seventeen songs in the play. We have a long way to go, but they are doing so well and the sound is incredible. It helps that several of these praise songs are powerful, emotional, and spiritual messages that I pray the audience is touched by as much as they touch me, and I've been listening to most of them since Summer. Some of these songs are very tough musically, and the majority of our group has limited experience and training in choral singing. That's just all the more reason for me to be so proud of what they have done. In the above picture, we had several missing. It's impossible to have a group of fifty-five people and have everyone present for every rehearsal.
This is part of the soprano section having their sectional rehearsal on the last two of the praise songs we worked on last night.

The tenors and basses met in my office to have their sectional rehearsal, and again, we are missing about five guys. Doesn't every C of C preacher's office come with a key board?
And this is some of our alto group. Others are in there, to my right and left, but I couldn't get all in the picture I took from the doorway. All the sectional rehearsing paid off. We closed out the evening by singing both the songs they worked on for most of the two hour rehearsal.
It's going to be an awesome play with some spectacular music. I can't wait for June 4-7!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Wow Men?

I have struggled the last few years with a deep conviction that we/I have been overwhelmingly influenced by a world view of church that is not a God view of His church. The word, the concept, the functions, and the success of "church" is defined more by the world than by what God created the church to be. Time and space won't allow a detailed discuss of this in a blog, but I can't help but wonder how much our view of "The Preacher" is defined by the world rather than the Word.
I remember having several meetings with a Minister Search Committee at a Bible Belt church in Tennessee almost five years ago. The older members of the team, including the older staff members, wanted a minister with maturity, someone who could provide spiritual leadership and guidance, and show them how to be like Jesus. The younger members wanted a "Wow" man. A dynamic-knock'em-dead-in-the-pew-preacher who would attract listeners from far and wide - or so they imagined. I remember leaving our last meeting with them and mentioning to Donna "Those folks wouldn't hire Jesus. He wouldn't be dynamic enough for them."
That wasn't being defensive or judgmental on my part. It was an honest evaluation of what their view of the preacher was - which is probably true for lots of Committees, elderships, and church folk in general.
I have a friend who is a preacher. He is one of the most Christ-like brothers I have ever known. He exudes the very essence of the fruit of Spirit. He loves people and they love him. He ministers to their needs and SHOWS them what it means to be like Jesus. He is not a dynamic pulpiteer. After a long ministry with a congregation, the leadership talked with him and decided it was time for a change in preachers. Was he not enough like Jesus? Did he fail to grow love within the family? Maybe he wasn't enough of a "Wow" man.
To often the job of public speaking is a greater priority than the job of quietly being like Jesus to people who desperately need to see Him. Sometimes the job of preaching resembles American Idol more than it does the Pastoral Epistles. Maybe with our consumer-driven-church shopping-make-me-feel-good-or-else mentality about religion, it shouldn't be surprising that "Wow" men are in demand and the number of people training to be in ministry is at an all time low. After all, what do you want when it comes to church? Someone who captures your attention or someone who draws your attention to Jesus?
I'm not saying these are mutually exclusive. I happen to think I do a decent job of preaching. The question is about what's most important. A ministers most important task, hands down, no exception, far & away, is being Jesus - as best you can.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Sunday Stripping

I'm certainly not known for wearing a coat and tie, but I did have several people comment Sunday about my extra casual look. I guess it was the shirt tail hanging out, but I wear this slightly heavier shirt as a jacket more than a shirt. I wore it yesterday so I could wear a color T-shirt underneath that would allow me to get into the visuals I used for my lesson. Yesterday was the first Sunday after my voice treatment on Friday and it (my voice) was already weak and breathy. I thought some visuals would help people remember the points of my lesson and forget about the vocal problems. The above picture that Donna took is at the start of my lesson - before I stripped out of my shirt/jacket and put on my tennis shoes.
Donna got so caught up in the lesson that she forgot to take pictures of the first two visual/outfits/points that are piled on the table behind me. This is my Lifeguard look (thankfully minus the bathing suit) with my whistle and life preserver to help make the point.
The lesson was about Victory Verbs in 1 Timothy 6:11-16 where Paul called on us to Flee, Pursue, Fight, Take Hold, and Keep. I used my jogging suit to picture 1) Flee: Things to run from; and 2) Pursue: Things to Chase after. I used my Karate top to illustrate 3) Fight: Things to fight for. The Lifeguard visual was for 4) Take Hold: Things to Grab; and 5) Keep: Things to Never Let Go Of. I think the visuals helped everyone understand Paul's message and maybe accept his challenge.
Nouns are important, but it's the verbs that make things happen.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Still Just A Seeker

I wasn't like I hadn't seen her before, but what really caused me to notice her was spending every day of a long Fall chorus trip sitting together, talking, playing Hearts, and sharing oranges. When we returned back to Harding I came back with a clearly developing sense of purpose. I was going to pursue that Donna Sue Curtis girl and see if there was any possibility of a deepening relationship that could develop. I wasn't going to be easy. Her home was about eight miles out of town, as well as the church her family attended - and I had no car. Fortunately, my packing buddy, Tom Martin, was interested in getting to know Donna's sister Kathy, and while that never worked out, it did provide me with a means of transportation to her house, her church, and some much longer trips to see her any way I could. There were obstacles and some, now funny, miscommunication, but by the end of the Spring chorus trip we were engaged. All I had to do next was ask her Dad and Mom for permission to marry her.
I don't share that to take anyone down my Memory Lane but to illustrate a simple point. We've been married for nearly thirty-seven incredible years, have three beautiful children married to wonderful godly spouses, and have been blessed us with six, soon to be seven, grand children. None have that would have happened if there hadn't been a decision, way back when, to pursue a relationship.
Why do we think that a relationship with God will just happen? Why do we think that if we do enough "good things" and just"be good" enough, that one morning we will wake up and discover that "God and I are buds"? Relationships must be pursued, desired, and built. The Bible calls it seeking, and gives us all the tools we need to know God, understand His will, communicate without stopping, be with anytime, and to love with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. There are no accidental relationships - relationships that just happen - that just fall into place.
We seek and find! We draw close to Him and He draws close to us! We talk - He answers! His joy and His will is to reward anyone who pursues Him! EVERYTHING having to do with church, assembly, religion, and faith are just tools to help us develop a relationship with God, His Son, and His Spirit.
What kind of relationships would you have (i.e. friends, spouse, family) if you put as much effort into them as you have into being close to God? For anything to be more than an acquaintance, you must be a seeker.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Sack Religious Sunday

One of the many wonderful things about being part of the Lord's family is all the different kinds of victories He gives us. As you see in my last blog, there is the victory that overcomes sin, death, and all the sufferings of this world. Well, this past Sunday, we had another kind of victory. It was the victory over fear, hard times, economic worry, and the temptation to keep rather than give. We called it Sack Religious Sunday and asked members to bring sacks of food that we are gathering to help the North City congregation with their inner city work with children. We pray for this work and helped them in many different ways as they began, and now we just want to support them as they keep kids off the street, teach them, love them, and yes, feed them.
It was so exciting to see folks bring their food offering down to the front of the auditorium and hand it to one of our shepherds. We certainly don't want to be encouraging anyone to do anything good, just to be seen of men, but on this special occasion, we got to share our giving publicly and just stir one another up to share the good things God has given all of us. I especially loved seeing the young people bringing their bags down the aisle.

This is a picture I took from the back right after I got things started. Jerry kept us all singing as everyone came down all three aisles with their gifts.

This is what half of it looked like when we finished. We are either applauding or singing a spirited song of praise. The only problem was they forgot to leave me any room to move up there when I got up to do my lesson. No problem, it was a wonderful reason to stand in one place for a while.
North City gets the food. We got the blessing.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Catch Her If You Can!

An amazing thing happened yesterday, just before noon. Our sister Susie Calkin ran into the arms of Jesus on two strong, healthy legs. The wheel chair that she'd spent so much time in over the last several years and the hospital bed she lived in the last couple of weeks, where left behind as relics of an old life. Along with her worn body, with its weaknesses, ills, and limitations, she left behind everything that had physically slowed her down. Now, her body is as bright, cheerful, and full of life as her spirit has always been. I can only imagine how much she's enjoying walking around heaven right now. Did I say walk? Run! She's playing tag with children, fixing snacks for angels, and singing with the best chorus there is.
Yes, she will be missed. Missed by a family that loved her and has lived their lives planning on a great reunion in heaven. So for them, this is only a temporary separation. She will be missed by scores of little children who loved her smiles, her songs, her lessons, and her goodies that she and her sister Stephanie always brought to everything they did. She will be missed by a church family who loved her, prayed for her, and desperately wanted to see her healed, but who have to let go and let God have her for now. There's an empty space in our hearts, on our praise team, in our Children's Ministry, and in our play rehearsals. In fact, I feel confident that one of the first things Susie said to Jesus was "You've got to see the play we're doing at your church in June!"
He will. So will Susie.
Thank you Father for another beautiful light that shined in our life and will never be forgotten.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Complicated Is Overrated

I often wonder if God looks at us and shakes his head in disgust as we take his simple message and complicate it, codify it, elevate the minuscule, divide over the need to unify, and turn liberty into law. Right now I'm looking at Paul's warning to Timothy to be careful of those who do "not agree to the sound instructions of our Lord Jesus Christ and to godly teaching."(1 Timothy 6:3) Was this a warning about those who don't agree with certain complicated formulas, steps, doctrines, or interpretive conclusions? We just know that he was talking about those who don't agree with us, or at least our conclusions, but is that really what he's saying? The comparison is with Jesus and what he taught, not whether someone buys into the practices, patterns, and puzzle pieces that we have determined are "sound instructions." I wonder what the first Christians would have said if you asked them what "sound instructions" or as other translations put it, "sound doctrine" consisted of? Would it be a list of doctrines gleaned from multiple sources, or would they say what Jesus did to that young lawyer, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself."
Could it really be that simple? Why not?
Several of us preacher-types where having a discussion about the Kingdom of God. Most members have no idea what a source of controversy there has been through the years as different scholars and theologians have defined THE Kingdom in various ways. It's amazing how complicated so many have made this. Here's my simple definition. The Kingdom of God is the spiritual realm of God - period. Our job is to be in it and aware of it. He'll take care of all the "coming" and "going" of his Kingdom.
I'm not into complicated things. I don't think God is either.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Finally, Some Pictures

These are some pictures that Donna took last week. Little Daniel is, of course, a week older now, and, Praise the Lord, bigger and healthier. What a beautiful baby, but then, everyone one of our grand kids have been beautiful babies and that's not just grand parent prejudice coming through.
One of the amazing things about looking at babies that are so new is how they seem to change who they look like from one picture, or one expression, or even one day to the next. One moment Daniel looks so much like a Bills and then the next like a Root. There's no doubting who he belongs to.

And we are just as thankful that Daniel's Mom is doing well. She we able to have a natural delivery instead of the scheduled C-Section, and I'm sure that helps with Deborah recovering quicker. I am thankful that both Mom and baby are doing well, and I'm thankful that Nana was able to spend the better part of two weeks down there helping.
So, as I look at my '09 calendar, I find myself wondering - who's next? My Christmas list is getting longer and longer.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Reward: Dead or Alive

Every Wednesday morning at 5:30 - yes, that's A.M. - several of us have been attending a men's class called The Quest For Authentic Manhood, which is part of the Men's Fraternity series. It is excellent. I would love to see every man attend this class, but especially all our younger men, whether single or married. It is the best material that I have seen for helping men truly see what God intend for real men to be. It's wonderfully balanced, pointedly relevant, and - as far as defining real manhood and giving direction - it's beautifully biblical. I decided to attend primarily to support it more than to gain some new insights, but I have been pleasantly surprised with a lot of ideas, concepts, and challenges that have made the sleep depriving effort worthwhile. Still, for me, a lot of it involves things that in my life I confronted and concluded a long time ago. I have taught and preached most of what it covers. I'm not struggling with being an authentic man. With help and grace, I got it many years ago.
Yesterday though, the DVD speaker ended his part of the lesson by pointing out that making the right choices about manhood has many rewards - in this life as well as the life to come. He's my age, so the things he pointed out were very applicable to me. I hadn't thought of many of my blessings as rewards, but they are. When I look at my loving wife, who respects and admires me, I see a reward for decided to be a spiritual leader and committed husband. When I look at our adult children and see their faith and dedication to God, their godly spouses and their strong marriages, I see a reward for not just choosing to be a loving parent but for putting God first and being the example they needed to see. And what can I say about seeing beautiful grandchildren being born into families that will love them, guide them, and bring them up to love God? Reward? You bet! These are not rewards that I deserve or earned, but rewards that God promised to give to those who figure out who to seek first. These rewards are not guarantees about the future, but they are part of God's law of sowing and reaping.
I guess what I'm saying is that you'll never regret deciding to be the kind of man or woman God called you to be. The rewards aren't just after you die.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Focus, Fish, & Family

Yesterday I took this picture of our pond buddy, Denny Crane. I've taken several of him/her, which is probably really a relative of the one we named, but yesterday I was just struck by what an incredible hunter this bird was. Maybe my lesson from Sunday morning on Being Responsible was still in my head, but I've never seen such dedication, patience, and control in any animal as I have this lone sentinel of the pond. You hear about the hunting ability of lions, and tigers, and bears - oh my, but this guy will spend all day - if not disturbed by people - waiting for a chance to snag a tiny fish. He wades into the water, even with ice on the top in spots, then stands motionless for long periods waiting for a fish to swim by. Even then, I've watched him strike and miss more times than connect. I don't know if it's obtaining food for it's family or just trying to survive, but it's ability to keep a controlled focus on it's task is remarkable.
Like I said, Sunday's lesson was on a difficult passage, 1 Timothy 5, with all the instructions from Paul about taking care of family, providing for widows in need, and not supporting those who should be taken care of by their families or themselves. The most familiar passage is the charge that anyone who doesn't provide for their own family is worse than someone who was an unbeliever. Wow. Is being a responsible family member important to God? Obviously, and what is even more amazing in this passage is that Paul applies the principle equally to both our physical and spiritual family. There is an incredible merging of the two in his message.
Being responsible is not a popular subject in the world today. A world of "It's not my problem," "I'm a victim of my environment," and "Whatever!" Maybe we could learn a lesson from a bird.