Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Welcome to the World Caden!

Yesterday morning I was up on the roof of our new porch putting the flashing on it, and Donna was out running around taking care of some chores, and we got the call from Elizabeth and Chad that the Doctor was sending them to the hospital. It took us a couple hours to clean up and clear up what we were doing, but we managed to get both cars on the road to Nashville by 12:30 and got to the hospital by 5:30. Little Caden came into the world a little after 10:00 last night and was every bit as beautiful as is brothers and sister, and cousins. It's in the genes. What a blessing it was to be there right after his birth and see the incredible gift God gave us all. These pictures are ones I took this morning at the hospital, before I headed back to St. Louis. Donna will stay and help for a few days, and I'm so glad that she can. It's going to be quite a chore for Chad and Elizabeth to get use to having four little ones to take care of. They'll be just fine. They are both fantastic parents. And by the way, doesn't Elizabeth look beautiful in this picture? She was worried that she wasn't really made-up for pictures, but I think she looks great.

Curtis couldn't come to the hospital since he's just getting over a fever, but here is one big brother and one big sister, who couldn't be more excited about the new addition to the family. Of course, Carter and Ashlyn had to have a Krispy-Kreme doughnut first before they held Cadin.

And here's the proud and amazingly popular Nana with the new grand baby to start spoiling.

I just love little babies - especially when they are my grand children. It's kind of odd to think that just fifty-eight years ago I was that small. Oddly enough, we have the same amount of hair.

Thank you Father for this new addition to our family. He will grow up knowing You and Your Son, and that will be the most important thing he will every learn. Thank you for being so gracious to us.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Porch Pics

Okay - so every one's not interested in keeping up with the progress of the Root's new porch. I am, and I'm excited to see it finally becoming something that is ready to use. This is the view from my rocker at nearly 2:00 in the afternoon! Usually we have the back of the house closed up, covered up, and the poor AC is fighting a losing battle to keep it cool. Not only do we have a great view out back, but it's usually so peaceful and soothing. Of course, it's really nice now since Donna's cell gets better reception out back than it does in the house.
This end of the porch will eventually have a railing with a set of steps on the right side. It doesn't have to have a railing because it's under the County code of 30'', but the other side does and it will look better if the sides match. From this view you can see the full 38 x 12 size of the porch. Lots of room for everyone to sit and visit.

I took this from across the pond, obviously, and it show the new shingled roof of the porch. Can you believe that's over 15 bundles of shingles? We finished it Monday but I've still got scabs on both knees from spending so much time nailing shingles. The steps will cover the area between (from l to r) beam three and beam four. I have to have a hand rail on one side, which will be at beam four. It's fun looking out the windows and door while sitting down to dinner. Because of the slope of the back yard - from inside the yard disappears and it looks like we are on waterfront property. (Look back at the picture and notice how closed up the upper windows are compared to the ones on the porch. Yes - shade!)

This is a view not seen before. Because the deck is barely over the 30'' height, I have to put a railing across this part before the County will sign off on it. It will block a little of the view, but not much, and I'd hate to see someone slip off the edge and get hurt. There's still plenty of room for grand kids to jump off the porch, which I have no doubt will compete with "frowing wocks" in the pond.
The entire time that I spent taking these pictures, Donna was on the phone with Elizabeth, getting the scoop on how she feels an when we can expect our future porch jumper to arrive into the world. Little Caden will be number seven - and you wonder why we built such a big porch?

Thursday, September 24, 2009

A Great Church?

What makes a great church? I still hear members, but mostly church leaders, talk about how great it would be to be a church of one or two thousand. They say it as if the size validates our success as a church family. Okay, let's say that all of a sudden we became a church of two thousand. What would that really say about us? Would it reflect on our ability to share Jesus or our ability to attract others who like our church better than others? Would it mean that we were doing everything right, like God wants, and that we have been true to our commission and purpose? Would it allow us to help people develop a deeper relationship with Jesus? Would it really glorify God or stroke our egos?
I'm all for growing in numbers as a church. Our present church family has been at a plateau for several years. I guess to some that means we've haven't been growing, but it's only a plateau if no one has been growing in Christ. It's only a plateau if it's assumed God wants us to be something different than we are now. We are a church family with over five hundred on the rolls, we have the largest number of elders of any church I've been a part of (and the other three were larger), and I'd say that we still are not guiding our members to maturity in Christ as well as we could. Would we do a better job if we had another fifteen hundred members? It's hard to see the logic in that. There is a part of me, mostly my ego, that would love to be the pulpit minister of a huge, thriving church, that everyone else envied and wanted to copy, but is that really what God called me to do and be?
We have more visitors and community contacts then we can keep up with. We have visitors who walk in to check us out every Sunday! We have a large number of members who are very serious and honest about wanting to develop a deeper relationship with Jesus. Still, someone will occasionally talk like we have failed to become a great church. It's just so hard to keeps the worlds definition of church success from driving our perspective on what we should do. We must learn to celebrate the maturity of one soul in Christ. That is the job of spiritual leaders, at least according to Paul in Ephesians 4:11-16. Our job is to build a great church, but in God's eyes, a great church is a loving, spiritually mature family that the world recognizes as followers of Jesus because of how much they love each other. not the church with the slickest program in town. Those house churches of Acts 2:42-47 were great churches. Not because they were a group of thousands when the all got together, but because they understood difference between caring relationships and community attractiveness. Just maybe - a great church is a family of disciples who are interested in seeing every member of the family draw closer to Jesus. Just maybe - if we do that with what we have, God will give us more to help grow.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

How Do I Love Thee...

I never was much of a love-letter writer. When I was in love, or thought I was, I generally never allowed myself to get very far away from the one I was focused on. The summer before Donna and I were married, I spent eleven weeks in Holland working with a couple of churches there and helping with the Campaign groups from Harding University that were there part of that time. I wrote a lot of letters that summer - probably daily or at least every other day. So, while I don't claim to be an expert in writing love letters, I do know a few things that a love letter doesn't do. A love letter is not vague, unclear, or hard to interpret. The writer doesn't try to communicate love with tricky textually ambiguous pronouncements. The love-struck doesn't hide his or her wants, needs, and intentions in puzzles that have to be pieced together over multiple letters. The seeking of a relationship is not hidden by stories, impeccable logic, or meaningless challenges of loyalty. The message is not complicated, convoluted, or concealed from all except the scholarly and legalistic. While it will aways be informative, the heart and soul of a love letter only has two points: I love you - and - don't you want to love me back?
I remember the first time I heard someone say that the New Testament was a love letter not a law book. I thought they were being too simplistic - almost heretical, but now, not only do I see it as a love letter, but a simple love letter from God, and, yes, it is heretical - to those who still see it as a twenty-seven book jigsaw puzzle filled with new laws and rules to discover and obey.
When you read the Word looking for God's message of love, you realize that He's not trying to present a series of hurdles to jump, but giving us the tools - the keys - to getting closer and closer to Him. He is clear and to the point. In fact, He only has two points! He declares His love for us, including all He has done to show that love, and He asks us to love Him back - with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength.
Forget Hallmark! No one does it better than God!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Treestand Journal

Tuesday, September 15th - From my treestand in Missouri
I was in my stand by 3:00 this afternoon. It's warm, but not too unbearable since there is a gentle breeze that feels good and makes the leaves applaud God's handiwork. There is some fall color already appearing. The hickory's are turning yellow, but it's mostly green in all directions. The floor of the woods is a brown carpet of last years leaves. I am in a white oak tree, about twenty feet up, and I have a good view of everything out to sixty yards in most directions, and clear shooting lanes out to thirty yards. There are a lot of oaks of all kinds, dropping acorns with a thump, and providing dinner for squirrels and, hopefully, deer. There is some under-growth of smaller trees under the larger canopy of hardwoods and sprinkling of evergreens. It's a great day to be in God's woods.
At 4:00, a buck suddenly appeared behind me, just as I was standing up to stretch. Their stealth for their size is simply amazing. The pretty young buck, a 4x3 in reddish velvet came right under my stand about five yards from my tree. He was legal to shoot, with four points on one side, but he wasn't what I was after. I wish Danny, who is with me but several hundred yards away, could have been in my stand and got his first buck. Still, the thrill of beating any deers incredible nose, eyes, and ears is part of what this is all about.
I am really enjoying the quiet time in the woods after a long summer. What makes this so much fun? It's seeing God's work, enjoying great fellowship, having quiet time to think and pray. All that is huge, but what really gives bowhunting it's driving element is anticipation. Hunting is all about expectations. Every minute on stand is a minute of living expectantly.
Life is supposed to be lived expectantly. We live anticipating eternity with God. Well, at least we should. It sure would change the way we look at the world we live it.

Thursday PS. About two hours later, a huge buck came within twenty-three yards of me, just munching acorns like he was starved to death. He had my knees shaking, my heart pounding, and my breathing barely under control. That's what anticipation does to you. Unfortunately, he never gave me a clear shot, so I didn't try to take one. He trotted off, and, after a short bout of depression, the anticipation started all over again. I just knew he'd return on Wednesday. He didn't. I big momma doe finally came by and got a whiff of where I'd walked in, and she stormed off snorting to all the deer in Missouri to stay away! I know there's another lesson there, somewhere, like persistence, or patience, or maybe don't hunt when it's so hot you leave sweat all over the woods.

Monday, September 14, 2009

A Dollar for Your Thoughts?

These are some of the pictures Donna took during my lesson yesterday on God's Tool of Grace. We skipped our usual greeting time after the first song, and during the first point of my lesson, which was "Grace helps us understand God", I had our communion servers come down front and I asked them to show everyone what was in their baskets. Thus the above hands full of one dollar bills. They passed their baskets around and I asked everyone to take one dollar out. The serving time allowed me to share a few jokes and to poke fun at a couple members. Once everyone had one dollar, I then told them that I wanted them to give it to someone. I even took a couple moments to ask those who were unemployed to raise their hands, and then anyone who was going on a mission effort or had a ministry that needed money. They could keep the dollar, give it to someone in need, or just give it to a friend or whatever they wanted.
It was interesting to watch the mixture of usual Sunday morning greetings and hugs, and everyone walking around with money in their hands.
Everyone seemed to have fun with it. A few made it too hard of a task. Some even brought their dollar and laid it in a pile on the stage - giving it back to God. I didn't think about our guests, but I do wonder what they did or what they experienced.
Some people were clearly helped by the gifts from others.
Once everyone sat back down, we did a little survey to see who did what. I asked how many gave their dollar to someone who needed it? Lots of hands. How many gave their money to a friend? A good number of hands. How many just stuck theirs in their pocket? One kid raise his hand. Brave soul!
Then I asked, "How many of you gave your dollar to someone you totally don't like? How many of you gave it to someone you consider an enemy?" There were no hands, and it was awfully quiet.
That is when I made the lesson about grace. God didn't give his only Son to us because we were so lovable. Jesus died for us while we were sinners, ungodly, and enemies - according to Romans 5. We think we understand God's grace, but in reality we barely know what it is!
Hopefully it was a lesson that will help us all think a little more deeply about God's grace. If so, it was well worth the baskets of dollar bills.
Tuesday & Wednesday - gone huntin'! First time ever to hunt opening day of Missouri's archery season.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Good Old Days?

I have never been one of those "give me the good old days" kind of people. At least once a week we receive an email that takes you back through those Baby Boomer years of the fifties and early sixties and reminds us of some really great memories of five cent Cokes and watching the Lone Ranger on a tiny black and white TV. I enjoy those, but I truly don't agree with the usual attached comments about "better times," "happier days," and "wish we could go back." I would take 2009 over any year I've experiences since my birth in 1951. 2009 is the best year in all of history and it's the best of all times to be living.
Part of that opinion comes from the fact that I also remember how not-so-good much of those "good old days" were. Give me AC over window fans any day and my 42 inch HD TV makes our old 200 pound, 15 inch black and white look like something from the Stone Age. I could go on with comparisons until the Great Blog Timer shuts me down, but the real reason I treasure 2009, and in particular, September 10th, is because it's the day my Father has given to me. It's an incredible gift that must not be wasted on nostalgia or obsessive planning for the future. If He gives me tomorrow, it's another day to praise Him and draw closer to Him. If this is it, the last day I spend on planet Earth, then I get to praise Him and draw closer to Him for eternity. It's a win - win proposition - all made possible by the grace of God.
Having said all that, I do wish we, as a nation, could return to the days of respect for our President, civility in our disagreements, and wanting national good over party politics. I know that there were plenty of exceptions to the rule "back then," like McCarthy or the always scandalous politicians who were caught being immoral in a country that cared about things like that. It just seems to me that we are becoming more and more unkind, polarized, derogatory, distrustful, and even hateful, just to name a few. I was appalled by how people ridiculed, demeaned, and were malicious towards President Bush. I even heard Christians talking about him as if their disagreement with his policies somehow justified being un-Christ-like. I was very disturbed and disappointed with many people in our country during all that. It's clearly not just a malady that affects one political party, because we are hearing even more hateful and extremist language from those unhappy with our new President than we did with Bush. This isn't about comparing, it's about common courtesy, civility, and respectfulness. I didn't agree with everything President Bush did, and I don't agree with everything that President Obama is doing, but that does not mean that I need to be ugly, fear driven, or destructive to my country's image in the world.
No - I don't want the "good old days," but I wouldn't mind a little bit of the good old ways.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

A Tool or a Club!

I closed out my lesson Sunday on God's Tool of Baptism, by addressing the fact that some folks would be very uncomfortable with calling baptism a tool. Connotatively, it may mean to some that baptism is WAY TOO optional if it's called a tool. Frankly, I thought, prayed, and meditated a long time before I added baptism to my list of God's Tools just for that very reason. Not that I was so worried about the attacks from others, but I was a little uncomfortable with it myself. But the more I chewed on it the more I became convinced that a tool is exactly what God gave us. Like communion, God used something physical to symbolize something spiritual, and not because He wanted to give us some ceremonial or sacramental activity to perform, but to help us focus on matters of faith. He provided us with a physical connection to something spiritual because we needed it. So with communion, He picked items that were on every table every time anyone got together and used it as a tool to help us think of Jesus and His body - the church. It never was meant to be a religious ritual. With baptism, thanks to the word being transliterated rather than translated, we now have twenty centuries of a "named" religious act, when it was originally a description of beginning again, cleansing, and total commitment. He again used something that was a part of life and religion, and turned it into something that would help us know when our spiritual birth began, when we connected with God's love and Jesus' sacrifice, and how completely we are immersed in Him. We needed it! It helps us! It's not about the performance of some mysterious rite.
So, does the word tool sound too soft - too optional? Not if it's the tool that works. We get way too hung up on discovering "essentials" and then throwing down the gauntlet to fight and die on our spiritual correctness. Here are three questions I asked Sunday for the benefit of those who fear I'm watering down baptism (pun intended).
1. Which tool from God is non-essential? Here's my list: Prayer, the Holy Spirit, leaders, trials, the Word, witnessing, the church, communion, love, giving, singing, encouraging, baptism, & grace. Which one or ones is/are okay to leave off, ignore, abuse, or reject?
2. Which tool or tools do you use perfectly? Have you misunderstood or forgotten to use some of these at times in your life? Like now? Are you okay with that? I mean - being wrong and in error? Aren't you glad that God's more interested in your direction than He is your perfection?
3. Which tool is not impacted by God's grace? Review your answers to #1 & #2.
When God said He has given us "all things that pertain to life and godliness," He was saying that He gave us all the tools we needed to seek, find, and build a relationship with Him.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Got Dead Grass?

The other day I found myself reflecting on this rectangle of dead grass in our backyard where the big stack of 2x6 decking used to be neatly stacked. It just struck me as significant that even with the brand new porch coming along and nearly done, the scar of the past still remains. Yes, it will be restored to normal with time, but it reminds me of the simple lesson that change and newness - like forgiveness and redemption - still come with scars from the past that don't disappear right away. They hang around and remind us of our hurt, our mistakes, our dark moments, and our sad times. They may be wiped from our souls, but they're still in the picture album of our life.
For some people, the grass never returns. They can't or won't move on, and the scar becomes a burden to growth, a barrier to peace, and a break in their walk with God. I have often mentioned to people I'm about to baptize or pray for that the hardest part of God's forgiveness is not His ability or willingness to forgive, but our ability and willingness to accept it. We let the dead grass - the scars - dominate our spirit and keep us from "forgetting what lies behind" and "press on to what lies ahead." Sometimes self-pity becomes a friend we enjoy, because while God can take away the reason for pity, only we can take away the self part. We enjoy "self" way too much.
I am very good at enjoying and accepting God's forgiveness - especially when it comes to past sins and mistakes. I revel in it! It amazes me and motivates me to live for Him! But - I still find myself occasionally, for short periods, reflecting back on hurts and feeling sorry for myself. After a few moments of that, I wake up, whack my forehead, and get angry with myself for letting Satan stick his big ugly foot in the door of my life. I know it's him because God doesn't want me in that place. So I say a quick prayer and just start thinking about all the things that He has done for me. It's SO much bigger and better than the dead grass of the past.
Like good friends and a nice porch out back? Some day, by the grace of God, I'll be a finished work.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Eating On Me

Have you ever had a verse of scripture just "eat at you"? It seems to happen a lot to me lately, and it's usually verses that I've observed "the passover" with as I read it in the past. Now I see them, and sometimes they cause me to wonder about how much I've missed through the years. The passage that is munching on me this week is a little sentence stuck between Paul's declaration that Jesus "died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves, but for him who died for them and was raised again," and his call for us to be ambassadors of Christ, sharing the message of reconciliation. Here it is - holy indigestion - "So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view." (2 Cor.5:16) Ouch! You mean to tell me Paul that because of what Jesus did for me I no longer see people like I used to? Without exception? You mean I don't see people as ungodly heathens, who cheat, steal, abuse others, worship money, and drive their cars like maniacs? How else can I look at them? They're not part of US? They are...they are...people in need of reconciliation with God! They are people who need to experience Jesus through me! They are...me...before Jesus. If I am anything good, godly, or growing, it's by the grace of God. My "new creation" in Christ should move me to see others as He did - souls in need of a relationship with the Father.
"Ain't no Tums gonna help ya with that one!"

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Truth Tantrums?

Anyone who is around me very long will hear me say, regularly, "According to Jesus, the quality that clearly identifies us as His disciples is love." That's the TRUTH - just in case you were about to scream, "But what about the truth?" We come from a heritage that exalts knowledge and defines faithfulness by study time. Have you ever heard of someone being appointed elder who didn't come to the Sunday and Wednesday Bible Class? Of course not - even if they were ministering to those beaten and left by the roadside - it's about education, study, and discerning the truth. After all, the truth sets you free, it sanctifies, and it's one of the qualities Paul challenged us to "think on these things." I'll let you provide the scripture references.
We often forget the most important #1 definition of truth in God's dictionary. Jesus is the truth. But Jesus is also love. To know Jesus means that He defines truth and love. From a spiritual perspective, truth is not just knowledge and education, it's understanding and embodying the character of Jesus, and He, like Our Father, is love.
Many of us don't get it! We study the Bible, go to Bible classes, and listen to Bible sermons, and we think the goal is gaining knowledge about what is the correct way to worship, the right way to obey, and the true way to interpret scripture. Once the formulas have been figured out and doctrines securely concluded, we feel comfortable and secure in the knowledge that everyone else in the religious world is in error and would be so much happier, not to mention saved, if they could only "figure it all out like we have."
Smugness, arrogance, exclusiveness, judging, and gracelessness become okay, and our inconsistencies are ignored. We can assemble together, sing about love, hear about Jesus, study about grace, and then shake our fist at someone who pulls out in front of us as we rush to lunch. We know our Bible, but think nothing about being rude, demanding, and stingy to the stressed out waitress who serves us - right after hearing a powerful sermon on being servants. And if someone dares to disagree or change something in the assembly that we've always done, it's okay to be angry, unkind, mean, gossipy, and divisive. Many don't see the irony of being un-Christ-like about Christ centered things we do together.
We need to remember Paul's warning to the Corinthians, "Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. The man who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he ought to know. But the man who loves God is known by God."
If what we learn about Jesus and God is not making us more loving, we are learning for the wrong reasons. If our study and church attendance is not helping us become more like Jesus, we're doing the wrong stuff at church. If thinking that reaching all the correct conclusions about Biblical doctrines is more important than treating others in a Christ-like manner, we are wrong, in error, and doctrinally in diapers. Remember what becomes absolutely NOTHING without love in the great love chapter? Spiritual gifts, knowledge, faith, giving, and the ultimate sacrifice, are all worthless without love.
So, when is it okay to be un-Christ-like? That truly is a rhetorical question, but let me share this final thought. It's okay to be un-Christ-like when you have to endure something worse than what He endured for you.