Saturday, November 28, 2009

Take Off the Sunglasses!

I have always known that thankfulness was important, but about ten years ago it finally dawned on me how much it is the foundation - the secret ingredient - for everything that matters in life. As I have mentioned in past blogs, we can only rise spiritually to the level of our thankfulness. It is the anchor upon which every other spiritual quality rests. It is the root system from which all other gifts, graces, and godly character grows. It is the secret to happiness, the glue for relationships, and the antidote to fear. Thankfulness is the lens through which we see God, the reason why we talk to God, and the source of our love for God. A truly thankful spirit will see God's love and grace as the ultimate gift that overshadows any hardship, hurt, or heartache this world can throw at us. Thankfulness causes us to appreciate what we have, while we have it, and prevents us from focusing on what we don't have or what we will surely lose. It is the only thing that will allow us to face death, whether it's ours or a loved one, with a spirit of "Thank you Lord for what I've had," instead of "Why me Lord?" Every day is a precious gift to be thankful for, but it is a gift to be spent drawing closer to God. Being thankful for every day and every opportunity to know Him better, helps us see life as a short journey to our real home.
Thankfulness is something we can choose to develop. We CAN make it happen! The truth is, until we start doing that, life will remain an unsatisfying, self-centered, unhappy, and fearful trip. Choosing to be thankful is like taking your sunglasses off while in the house. Life is never dark when we walk in the light of God's goodness and grace.
Have you taken your sunglasses off yet?

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Quick Trip to TN

(From our trip to NY last month)

We went straight from last Sunday morning's assembly and drove to Nashville so we could be there for a good friend's surprise sixtieth birthday party. Because of the five and a half hour drive, we got there a little late, but that allowed us to make a "grand entrance" and truly be a surprise to our special friend Kathy Rose. Don and Kathy Rose have been wonderful friends for well over a decade now. They have gone with us on most of our "big vacation trips" and are one of the original members of the small group we were part of in Nashville for six and a half years. That group still meets every Sunday evening, and we got to see all of them again at Kathy's party and then join them for a Bible study after. It was really wonderful to see everyone. It was great to be reminded about what a blessing it is to have good friends. Our warmest memories of our nearly seven years in Nashville come from time spent with that group of brothers and sisters. We've been gone from there for almost five years now (as of 12/31/09), but we still manage to see one another a couple times each year. They all helped me surprise Donna by showing up at Disney World for our thirty-fifth anniversary - two years ago - and making it an anniversary that neither one of us will ever forget. They have also given us a special surprise gift by showing up for our musical the last couple of years.

So, if you were wondering why I haven't done a blog the last few days, that's the reason. We got to spend a day with all of our family too (everyone except Jonathan and Holly of course) on Monday, and we got back to MO yesterday at noon. If there was ever a reason to skip blogging, the best one will always be seeing family and friends.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY KATHY! Wow - I didn't realize you were THAT much older than me!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Step By Step?

When I showed this picture last month, I mentioned that I was waiting for - what I thought would be - our final inspection. No such luck! Take a close look at my steps. I was so proud of them that really couldn't wait for the inspector to see what a wonderful job my helper Steve and I did. They are nine and a half feet long with extra 2x10 bracing on the front. There is NO spring in those steps. They are put together with a ton of three inch screws and 16 penny nails. I had visions of our grand children sitting and playing on those steps, so I purposely went the second mile to make them secure. We meticulously followed the county codes for minimum heights and maximum depth for each step. It was a no brainer. Twenty-three inches high - three steps - the easiest thing to do was have two eight inch steps and one seven inch step. There was nothing in the code that said you couldn't do that! The inspector, however, immediately pointed out that there can't be one step that is one inch smaller than the others. He said it was unsafe and they would have to be redone. REDONE? He said it like it was no big deal instead of the half day major job that it would be to dismantle and rebuild! And when we redo the steps, that one "illegal" step will be five eights of an inch bigger! Five-eighths of an inch? I've gone up and down them with my eyes closed and I can't tell the difference one inch makes. And you can't argue with them or they may, all of a sudden, fine several other things that aren't up to code. I wanted to point out that nothing in the code says they have to be totally equal steps, that it really was a lot of work, and hey - it's a BACK PORCH that our grand kids will jump off of far more than go up and down the steps, but I bit my tongue and tried not to look too disappointed. I have to confess, since then, I've have wondered how badly I need a permit. I know plenty of people who finish basements and build porches with out it - but then there's that Disclosure Statement when you sell the house - I'm not going to lie, so the county would get us then. Besides, I just want to do it right! Oh well, I guess I'll redo it - one step at a time - there's a song there somewhere!
I have done a lot of thinking about this over the month since we failed our inspection. I'm thankful that God's will is a clear covenant of love and not a code to check off. I'm glad that when I miss the mark with Him, I know it immediately and don't need to plead ignorance. I'm glad that He is a Father who let's me redo things that really do need redoing. I am really thankful that He is a Father I can talk to, and not an inspector to JUST salute and obey. Most of all, I'm thankful for His grace because there have been a lot of things in my life that have failed His Holy Spirit's inspection - and I didn't have to schedule it and some ONE else paid for the permit.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Caring Is Loving!

Last Sunday I introduced our plans to have a new kind of class as part of our Adult Sunday morning Bible class program. We're calling them Caring Classes because; 1) they come from our need to be driven by our Purpose and our Steps (Connecting, Caring, & Committing), and 2) because "Caring" for one another describes the goal of the class. There will just be two pilot classes to begin with, so that those who feel that they benefit more from the traditional 45 minute lecture class can still attend one of those if they want to. The Caring Classes will focus on building spiritual relationships, growing in love for one another, and meeting the needs of one another. I'm sure there are a few who don't want that, just like there have been many who clearly don't want the traditional approach to Bible classes, and they show it by not attending. I don't really know if this will impact that or not, but frankly, that is beside the point. How did we ever let things get to the point where we have to convince brethren that learning to love one another is more important than gathering more biblical information. That same Bible that we love to think we know so well, tells us that "knowledge puffs up, but love builds up." The Lord of that Bible is the One who declared that the world would know we belong to Him, "if we love one another." It seems to me that Satan got a lot of mileage out of convincing us that learning is more important than loving. Where is the track record of success? Where are the signs of spiritual growth as we continue to do what we've always done? Why is fellowship and relationship building, which was the purpose of the New Testament get-togethers, demeaned as "socializing" and extra-curricular activities for churches?
What a wild idea to suggest that we could use a one hour Sunday morning time slot for something that builds deeper spiritual relationships instead of letting that same hour define our time spent in God's Word. Could loving others cause some people to spent more time studying God's Word on their own, or with some close friends - outside of the "formal Sunday morning Bible Class"? What might happen if we actually cared about one another's hurts, struggles, concerns, and victories enough to talk, pray, and share with one another?
It seems to me that we not only need Caring Bible classes, but Caring assemblies, Caring small groups, Caring ministries, Caring special events, and so on. Caring is loving. We are only like God to the extent that we learn how to love. Doesn't that sound like why He put the church here in the first place?

Monday, November 16, 2009

Monday, Monday...

It's Monday morning, my day off, and the deer are probably at the peak of rut, which means that huge bucks are running around the woods wild-eyed and careless (like another species we all know), but, it's pouring down rain. I know, if I was like the dedicated hunters who do the hunting shows on TV, I'd be out there hunting with my rain suit, boots, tree stand umbrella, and the other expensive gear I own. It's not that I'm a weather wimp. It's more a matter of coming to grips with my REAL level of love for chasing the ever elusive big bucks. I enjoy bow hunting for whitetail deer, but mostly I just enjoy quiet time in the woods. I love watching God's creation happening in front of my eyes. It's a hoot to see any animals doing their thing in the woods and know they don't know I'm there. Squirrels are so funny to watch. There is nothing like seeing the look on the face of a squirrel when they coming running down the branch of the tree you're in and they come to a screeching hault two feet away as they notice the huge camouflaged blob in their tree. You can almost here their little brains saying, "What in the world are you doing in my tree!"
My point is, yes - I love hunting, but I do have limits on what I am willing to put up with to do it. After thirty-plus years of doing it, I know when it's fun and when it's not. I've hunted plenty of times in the pouring rain - I did that once last month, and I've hunting in the snow, the hard winds, and the bitter cold. Actually, of all the bad weather scenarios that one could hunt in, you actually have a better chance of seeing some good deer when it's raining than in any other. They move around all day when it's raining because they feel safer in it and it's not so comfortable to sleep a long time in a wet bed. Still, my personal rule is, "Why do it if it stops being fun?" I'm not so driven to get a deer that I'm willing to pay the price of being miserable. Call me crazy, undedicated, or just too practical, or whatever you want. I'm old enough and secure enough in my thinking to not have to prove myself to anyone as "The Great White Hunter." It's something I do for me, because I like it, and because it's not a competitive sport or a symbol of manhood - at least for me.
You know what's nice? Looking out of the window at the back of our house and seeing our beautiful and dry porch, and watching the rain pelting the pond and - well - having no place in particular that I have to be. God is good!
And yet, it might be nice to be in my tree stand this afternoon...

Friday, November 13, 2009

Four Hundred Blogs!

When I started this blog, 3 or 4 years ago now, my biggest fear was that I'd lose interest and just let it die. It's hard to believe that this is my four hundredth blog. Wow! And every time I start wondering if anyone sees it, I hear from someone at church, on the phone, or from thousands of miles away about how much they enjoy reading my blog. I have no idea how many people check it. I've been tempted to put a counter on it, but after this long I'd always wonder how many have clicked on it in the past. I don't need to know. I enjoy doing this, most of the time, if for nothing else than knowing that my family checks it and gets to hear about what is going on in our life here in St. Louis, and what's going on in my radical brain. I try to do a mixture of both kinds of blogs. So, to celebrate my blog #400, I thought I throw out what I think is an interesting question - at least for all the other preacher-types who check my blog.
What are preachers paranoid about? Here are some of my ideas.
* Repeating an incredible joke or illustration to an audience that just yawns!
* Unzipped pants
* Spiting on the front row
* Having the totally wrong scripture in your notes
* Getting into a compound-complex sentence and forgetting the subject-verb relationship
* Questions about "the end of time"
* Being totally wrong about historical facts in an illustration
* Having an elder (s) who is control freak
* Members who think they could do a better job of preaching than you
* Everyone expecting you to remember their name
* Weird casseroles at members dinner parties!
* Quiet, standoffish people who expect attention
* Communion presiders who want to be preachers
* Saying "Crap" when you meant to say "Trap" (Been there...)
* Being defined by an office rather than a ministry
* Slipping in the baptistery (counts as two)
* Forgetting the word "subject" while trying to offer the invitation
* Questions about circumcision (w/o Power Point)
* Personally thinking of my lesson as "just another sermon"
* Quenching the Holy Spirit!
* Thinking I really know what that means!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Great Unknown

Last Sunday I spoke about our "Ultimate Journey" of life being meaningless if we aren't excited about the destination. I am finishing up a study of 1 & 2 Timothy, and my text was from Paul's classic farewell passage in 4:6-8, "...the time has come for my departure". A couple of years ago I said in a lesson that if we were really looking forward to going to heaven, when a brother or sister in Christ pasted away we'd be saying "You lucky dog!" rather than feeling cheated by loss. I used another familiar refrain Sunday to make a similar point. On all our long family trips when the kids where little, we heard what every family hears, "Are we there yet?" Today, with so many children watching movies on DVD screens in there vehicles, it's probably not heard as much. They may even want you to slow down so they can finish the movie before you arrive.
What makes any journey worthwhile, no matter how long and trying it may be, is the anticipation of arrival at the desired destination. Yet, when it comes to heaven, we don't hear many of us saying, with excitement and anticipation - in principle - "Are we there yet?" Are we having a difficult time letting go of this world? Have we forgotten that we are aliens and strangers in a foreign land? Is our faith and trust in God still a little weak?
I'm sure there is some form of "yes" to every one of those questions, but did you ever stop to consider how little we really know about our final destination? Sure, we have an "it's something like this" description from John in Revelation, and Jesus promised us a room/place - not a mansion, and we all understand that God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and God's people from all ages past, present, and future will be there, but there is still SO MUCH THAT WE JUST DON'T KNOW! It's not like looking forward to a Disney World trip, or going on a cruise to the Panama Canal like we plan to do in January, or even like a long awaited trip to see loved ones. What will we look like, how will we feel, what can and can't we do, what will it look like, how can there be no time, how much will we remember, will there really be no sadness if we still have our memories, how can there be room for so many, assuming there will be so many, and - well - there's just a lot of unanswered questions. So we are talking about the unknown, and even though we totally trust in God and have no worries about how wonderful heaven will's still just a little hard to get excited about letting go of THIS and finding out about THAT!
Did you ever stop to consider that there may be a very good reason why God didn't give us more information about heaven? Not only is it beyond our comprehension, but maybe - just maybe - if we really knew HOW INCREDIBLE HEAVEN IS, we'd want to go there too much - and forget that we've got a job to do here first! God gave us everything that "pertains to life and godliness" and all we need to be "thoroughly equipped for every good work" so evidently, more info about heaven is not needed or necessary for us to "grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ."
Besides, don't you just love a good surprise?

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Missed Opportunity

Look into the absolute center of the above picture and imagine a very respectable buck standing broadside. That is what I was looking at from my treestand at 7:40 this morning. I had been a little down about this seasons hunting because I've seen so few deer in either state I've been hunting in - IL & MO. This morning I went to my MO spot. It was comfortably cool and eerily quiet. I heard the buck coming long before I saw him. This is what I've practiced for, waited all year for, and put in lots of hours to achieve. The dream opportunity of the season! Unfortunately, things didn't go as I'd hoped. I don't even want to tell what happened, but suffice it to say, it was incredibly disappointing.
As I was returning home and reflecting on the morning hunt, (remember it is called hunting not killing) I thought about the connection between opportunities and blessings. In many ways they are synonyms. Opportunities are blessings and blessings are opportunities. But have you ever thought about fact that they are still blessings and opportunities even if we miss it or mess it up? In fact, I'm sure we've missed more than we've caught, because we've all had blessings and opportunities that we never even knew were there. The amazing thing is that we continue to receive blessings even though we miss some or are not grateful for the ones we got. Opportunities are the same way. If we miss an opportunity, there will be others. Even if the missed opportunity was one we desperately wanted to not miss, there will be others. I especially think about all the opportunities God gave me to learn certain things, and most of the time it took many many opportunities before I got it.
I guess the lesson is to remember that God will take care of us and he will provide us with everything we need to do the important things in life. He promised that. As far as all the other things that we "want" to do, sometimes you get multiple opportunities and sometimes you don't, but each one is a blessing even if we blow the chance. Our job is to persevere, learn, and do better the next time.
I'm ready for a picture of something besides just trees.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

"99 Bodies of Brethren on the Wall"

At our monthly preachers meeting this morning, the brother who was leading the discussion asked us to do two things. First he asked us to list in order of priority the ten things we need to do to be successful in ministry, and they he asked us to do the same with ten things we needed to do to be effective in ministry. He was making a good point for us to think about. There is a difference between a successful ministry and an effective ministry. The truly big question, however, is how and from where we define success and effectiveness. I am totally convinced that most church leaders define both more from worldly standards than from God's plans. My #1 on both lists was "Helping people have a deeper relationship with Jesus." There is nothing more important and there is no better qualifier of success than someone drawing closer to Jesus. Sometimes it's introducing someone to Jesus, and helping them begin their spiritual journey with Him, and sometimes it's helping a brother or sister in Christ love Him more, know Him better, or become just a little more like Him. That involves caring about people, loving them, and helping them use the tools God has given us so that we can deepen our relationship with Him. Our focus on "numbers = success" comes from the world. Jesus talked about numbers, but He emphasized the need of the one over the ninety and nine. The world would say that what counts most is the ninety-nine up on the attendance display board. To Jesus, success and effectiveness was measured by finding that one who wandered away and bringing it back into the fold. Maybe if we start doing that with the one hundred God has given us, He might blesses us with one thousand to guide and shepherd.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

I Want Patience - NOW!

I won't be wearing an "I Love New York" T-shirt any time soon. I enjoyed NY, but I'd be lying if I said I loved it. I loved seeing our son and daughter-in-law, I enjoyed seeing some sights that are historical treasures of our country, and I loved spending some time with our good friends Don and Kathy. So-if they come out with an "I Enjoy New York" T-shirt, I might wear one. I'm not into crowds, dodging people on the sidewalks, standing like sardines in lines for everything, and I'd have a very difficult time getting use to the Kamikaze traffic and constant noise. I heard more car horns in our first day in NY than I've heard in St. Louis over the last five years. Lots more!
I don't share that to bash NY. Remember, I enjoyed it. I share it because there are few things that symbolize impatience more than honking a car horn. Car horns lost their practical usage a few decades ago, but we'd feel cheated if we didn't have one in any car we purchased. They are tools of frustration to let someone know we don't like what they did, or that they need to hurry up! That is where the phrase "A New York Minute" came from. That is defined as the time between when the traffic light changes and the car behind you honks it's horn. It's also known as "a split second".
While I feel like I have grown considerably in my journey to be a more patient person, I still find it to be a daily struggle. Whether it's my computer that moves at a snail's pace or trying to fast forward through commercials when it's not a recorded program, I am reminded regularly, I have a long way to go. Now, if I could just hurry up and get there. Oh wait, isn't that being impatient about being patient?
I have to add to my list of confessions that I've never spent much time considering the last phrase of 2 Timothy 4:2. I've always zeroed in on Paul's charge to "Preach the word" and the challenge to be ready to "correct, rebuke, and encourage." Any good Bible major memorized this verse right after memorizing Acts 2:38. It's the "Preacher's Verse"! But what about that last phrase "...with great patience and careful instruction"? That sounds like good advice to parents or to some school teacher, but not something for any "go-getter-church-building-success-driven" young preacher! Ouch - or older preacher.
Yet, think about it - preaching the "word" - as Paul is presenting it, is preaching Jesus Christ and Him crucified! It's not preaching about opinions, petty preferences, and personal exegesis that leads to Pharisaical patterns to bind. It's presenting Jesus! And if I am presenting Jesus I must be like Jesus! We preachers love the call to correct, rebuke, and encourage, but we must do that under the umbrella of Jesus and His love. Hence, "great patience and careful instruction"! They are the tools that Jesus would use to do the job He called on us to do.
Aren't you glad He doesn't honk a car horn every time we forget that?