Friday, October 29, 2010

Mixed Bag of Pics

It's not the best picture in the world, but this is the display case in my office with my 'HERD' in it. The top two shelves have loads of little ones that are difficult to see. The biggest one on the top was from my brother-in-law Randy who carried it all the way back from his mission trip to India. It's heavy. I remember where, or from whom, most of them came from, but a few leave me clueless.
This is the view from one of my tree stands. Two weeks ago, while at another stand some thirty yards behind where I am while taking this picture, I saw a really nice ten point buck standing smack in the lower middle of this spot. He was beautiful, but I haven't seen him since.

This is just another picture from my trail camera. It was about thirty yards to the right of the last picture. Had it up for a week and got several pics of turkey, which I can't hunt in IL, and a couple of does who came by in the middle of the night. Even with trail cams, there's nothing easy about bowhunting.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Herd Effect

In the Summer of 1970, right after my graduation from High School that May, I spent the entire Summer working as one of the Recreation Directors at a Christian camp named Camp Wamava. It included eight weeks of campers of different ages, and two weeks of pre-camp set up with brother Nelson Smith, the Camp Director. It was a wonderful time, and I have loads of great memories from that Summer in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. I actually began going to Camp Wamava as a camper back in 1960 or '61, so it was fitting that my last Summer vacation before college, marriage, and ministry took over, was spent there.

Memories are truly special blessings. Even the bad ones remind us that we learned something, and that life's lessons aren't always about fun times and happy moments. That same Summer, while taking a weekend break with my good buddy Bruce, I bought a ceramic elephant at a gift shop. It was my first one. Then in July, Bruce gave me a marble elephant as a birthday present, and that really started the herd going. I don't know why I wanted to have an elephant collection. Maybe it was my Republican leanings. Can you imagine that in 1970, I was really excited about Nixon being in office. He was the first president I ever voted for. Ouch! I did say not all memories where good.

Anyway, over the next three to four decades, my herd grew. I bought some in Europe, while on campaigns and mission internships in college, and I picked up a few special ones a special places, like Disney World, and a coal carving in WV, but most of the - now large - herd is made up of gifts from people who have been special friends through the years. The whole herd has been in boxes in our basement for the last, almost six years now, and I finally got a display case for my office to place them in. In truth, I was more excited about clearing out space in my basement, but this morning, as I unpacked and unwrapped each elephant and placed it on a shelf, nearly each one triggered a special memory of a special friend and shared experiences from the last forty years. Wow! How blessed it that? Gifts from people who were thinking of me when they traveled across the country or around the world. Gifts from my Youth Group in Arkansas, from the church family in Virginia, from elders, from families, from my brothers travels in the Navy, from my wife, and a few from people who I never realized cared much about me - but they did.

And the stories I could tell about so many of those miniature pachyderms and the people who gave them to me! But, that's not why I wanted to write this. I just wanted to write a post that shared with anyone who reads it, how wonderful it is to have great memories. Memories of being loved and of those you love. I am thankful to God for each one.

Maybe it's fitting that elephants helped me remember to "never forget".

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

"It Ain't Easy!"

I agree with Rick Warren when he says that forgiveness my be the hardest part of love. We are in the middle of his "40 Days of Love," which is basically a study of 1 Cor.13. Part of what it means for love (the real kind of love that is God's love) to be patient and kind, is that it "keeps no record of wrongs." Love can not grow in an unforgiving heart. The refusal to forgive is the acceptance of bitterness, rage, and anger, which causes malice, and is not the kind of heart that Jesus lives in. (Eph.4:31-32) To seek God is to seek love because God is love, which means that forgiving those who hurt us is not an option. Our forgiveness depends on it!
With apologies to my high school English teacher, sister Smith, "It ain't easy!" Jesus never said that it was! In fact, the Cross shows us that it's usually very very hard and very painful. And to pile on to that Jesus' teaching that it be endless, limitless, and - if I understand Paul - countless, well - "IT REALLY AIN'T EASY!" How can it be endless when the hurt doesn't go away?
Forgiveness isn't about taking away hurt, it's about not letting what someone has done to you have any power over your walk with God. That is why it has nothing to do with what "they" need, want, or deserve. It's about us having a heart like Jesus.
I have always thought about Jesus' shocking reply to Peter's magnanimous willingness to forgive seven time, as being a little "over-kill" to make the point of endless forgiveness. After all, if you let some one hurt you four hundred and ninety times, and you have to forgive them four hundred and ninety times - shouldn't you have moved a long time ago?
As we studied that passage in Matthew 18 again this week, it suddenly dawned on me that it's not just about 490 trespasses that need to be forgiven, but maybe it's about the 490 times you will remember the hurt and relive the pain and disappointment in your head, and you'll have to refuse to let bitterness and anger seize your heart! You'll have to remember to forgive again - and again - and again, because forgiveness isn't about forgetting or about not hurting, though it helps with both, it's about growing in Jesus and learning to love just like he and our Father do.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Monthly Musings

I love November and December mainly because they cover Thanksgiving and Christmas, which for me means only one thing - family time. I love April and May too, with their comfortable warm days that seem so incredible after a long cold winter. And those spring flowers, and the re-greening of trees, and the return of birds singing, and all the things that just give you a sense of renewal, rebirth, and freshness.
That being said, nothing in my book compares to October. September toyed with nice weather, but October brings it. The cool mornings, the burst of color in the trees, and the comfortable evenings that make watching the sun set worth all the work of building a porch on the back of my house. Okay, so you're ahead of me, yes it's the start of bow hunting too! But it's the sitting in a tree stand in October that is so special. Everything is alive and moving, and every time you come back, new colors appear and new views materialize where leaves used to be.
There has always been something very special about being in the woods in October. I mean special in the sense of feeling close to God. It's a time and place for thinking, mulling over things, solving problems, reflecting on life, ministry, and family, and - most of all - just talking with God. I think I understand why Jesus would often climb a mountain or a hill, to spend some quiet time with the Father. I have so many memories of wonderful days in the woods of Northern Virginia, Texas, Tennessee, and now, Illinois and Missouri. Memories of sorting things out, planning next steps, addressing short-comings, and refocusing on what really matters. Those times have been a very important part of my spiritual journey, and I am deeply thankful for them all.
I don't know how many more times God will let me enjoy these October excursions. I've already had more than I deserve. So, if I don't get many more, it's really okay, because for some reason, I can't help but think that it's always October in Heaven.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Lighting Fires or Being Lights?

Since "I heard it through the grapevine" (Welch's, of course) that my last blog caused a few of my members to wonder if I was talking about our church family, let me clear that up quickly with a "NO". It was a generic observation about churches as I have been letting my brain chew on the topic of Church Growth over the last several weeks. I have been especially troubled lately with how far from the Word of God our perceptions and assumptions about church growth have come. I can't help but wonder what Jesus would say. He was far more concerned about the one lone sheep who wondered "away from the fold" that He was with the ninety-nine still there or the nine thousand who could be there.
After a couple centuries of evangelical traditions, followed by the post-war mushrooming science of church growth, it's normal and expected that we will focus on "getting people excited and involved" and "providing the church with a clear vision of who we are and where we are going" (as if Jesus wasn't absolutely clear) Church leaders are forced to meet in long sessions to hammer out "how can we light a fire under this church and attract our community to our services." Yes, for most of my ministry career, I've seen it as my job to create ideas, programs, and ministries, and to offer up "brands" and "slogans" that will ignite the imagination of members, build a sense of excitement, and challenge everyone on to greater works. Some have been good and some haven't. None have ever been sustainable for more than a few years.
Here's where my heart aches. " so amazing so divine, demand my soul, my life, my all." Can you even sing that and not feel the tug of truth in that song? If it's true and if we are honest when we sing it, why do we have to spent even thirty seconds discussing how to get church people excited?
Paul said, "The love of Christ compels us," and John said, "We love him because he first loved us". Paul's argument against Christians being cavalier about sin was that grace was so amazing, "how can we who have died to sin continue to live in it?"
I guess the question is, why isn't Jesus enough? Why isn't grace enough? I mean, enough to fire us up to give and do all the "one another" things the Spirit called on us to do when we get together? Enough to make us excited about Him and His family? Enough to cause us to witness for Him when He gives us the opportunity throughout each day?
I know, every one's not "mature in Christ" and many folks need neat ideas, new opportunities, and organized excitement. But still - one of these days - Jesus needs to be enough.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Sweeping Judgements?

If the minister of a church is the kind of people person a minister should be, then there is probably no one who has as good a perspective on the spiritual health of that church family as he has. Yes, there are always exceptions to any general statement like that, but no one, again assuming we're talking about an effective minister, mixes with more members, more age groups, and has more interaction across all segments of the congregation. The average member, including the shepherds, have a circle of church friends that they do most all their "church stuff" with and no one circle of church people has a complete or accurate perspective on the whole congregation. Unfortunately, many members, again including shepherds, don't realize how often they make sweeping judgements about the entire church family based on what their small circle seems to think and feel. If their circle has several disgruntled members who complain about things and seem to be constantly "bent out of shape" about something, many shepherds have concluded that "we have some serious problems" or "we've got to do something or a lot of people are going to leave." That leader's perspective is slanted, incomplete, and does not speak to the feelings of the vast majority of members.
Any of us can fall into the trap of assuming that if my few contacts are unhappy everyone is unhappy. Leaping from the specific to the general in a church family is very egocentric, paranoid driven, and unwise. It's probably one the single most important arguments for having multiple shepherds, who can compare notes, offer alternate view points, and slow down the rush to judgement. It's also a good time to ask the minister what he thinks.
I can't tell you how many times I've been in a leadership meeting and found myself wondering, "Are these guys going to the same church I'm going to?" Elders hear from complainers. They tend to get bombed with negativism, and sometimes that is overpowering. As the minister, I see those who are excited and those who are growing and doing things that encourage others - like me. I don't sit in one section and see the same group of people week after week.
The challenge is to slow down, observe, pray a lot, and truly try to objectively analyze the problem - if there really is one. I think every church and it's leaders needs to remember two simple things before making sweeping judgements about the spiritual condition of their church family. First, as mentioned, remember our circle of input is extremely small and often a grossly inaccurate way to measure the whole. And the second is, in most church families, we don't know how wonderful our church family really is because we have nothing to compare it to. Satan loves to take a loving family of God's people and sow just a few seeds of doubt, complacency, and pessimism. He loves to create problems where there are none.
God' wants us to "grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ," and that's not the same as the world's standards for church growth. It's also not about fabricating some activity that creates a sense of excitement that we incorrectly label as "growth." Events and ministries are just tools. We live between the events, because the goal is not excitement, but as Paul said, "Be devoted to one another in brotherly love." (Rom.12:10) That's what FAMILY does.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Tired of talking about love?

I really try not to re-preach my Sunday sermon the next week as a blog, but sometimes there are some truly crucial concepts that stick in my mind and I just can't drop them and move on to the next lesson so easily. This past Sunday I posed the question, "Is is possible to be a loving church and not be an obedient church?" Depending on how you define love, the answer may be either yes or no for you. If you use the world's definition for love, and tend to think of love as the warm, fuzzy, and subjectively emotional feeling that makes ladies dream and gives men nightmares, you've seen loads of love that wasn't supported by loving actions. On the other hand, when you understand that agape, God's love, is choosing to love the way God loves, you understand that nothing of any true value to God actually happens without love. If it's real love - God's love - it's impossible to not be driven to please him.
There is no such thing as "just being a loving church" and not being a committed church. Maybe the problem is that we don't understand what it really means to love our Father with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love others as we love ourselves.
* Do we mistake friendliness for love?
* Do we mistake peace for love?
* Do we mistake talk about love for really being in love?
I have actually heard church leaders moan about "Too much emphasis on love and not enough on ministry, outreach, and giving!" Where do we think these things come from? REAL LOVE LEADS TO COMMITMENT! To demand commitment without building love is why churches can't get members to volunteer, witness, and increase their contribution!
We need MORE LOVE, but it must be THE RIGHT KIND OF LOVE. Here are the reminders I pointed out Sunday - they are but a few on the complete list.
1. Love is the ONLY command of God that is number one! Mk.12:29-31; 1 Tim.1:5
2. Love is the ONLY thing that gives value to every spiritual act! I Cor.13:1-3
3. Love is the ONLY answer for fear! 1 Jn.4:18
4. Love is the ONLY way to know God & live in God! 1 Jn.4:7-8; 11-12
5. Love is the ONLY thing that covers a multitude of sins! 1 Pet.4:8
6. Love always builds up! 1 Cor.8:1; Eph.4:15-16; Heb.10:24
7. Love motivates us! 2 Cor.5:14; 1 Jn.4:19
8. Love is the ONE thing that Jesus said identified us as his disciples! Jn.13:35
9. Love is why Jesus was crucified! Jn.3:16; Rom.5:8
A. Nothing of value happens without love
B. Nothing is Christ-like without love
C. There is no commitment without love
D. Without commitment ALL the ONE ANOTHER stuff doesn't happen! (I have 24 one another passages on my list) With love/commitment - WHAT DOES HAPPEN? All of it!

Saturday, October 09, 2010

More Trail Camera Fun

I placed my new trail camera on the same tree as my hunting stand, which is on the edge of a cut corn field where it's been for four years now. I put it in on opening day, Oct.1 and I checked it yesterday, Oct.8, before hunting that evening. There were over four hundred pictures on it. About half of them had noting on them. It was either the wind blowing vegetation and setting off the camera, or some critter (bird or ground animal) zooming across before the picture can snap. You can see the date and time of the picture on the lower right corner below the picture. I liked this picture because the doe is so still. She looks like a one legged 3D target, but she's very real. The following series of pictures are just part of the pics recording two bucks sparing. It's really neat. I've been blessed to watch it in person a few times, but most people never get to see it. Enjoy.

This was more of a playful pushing contest. The big boys, during the rut, actually get very vicious and deadly. There have been plenty of nice bucks found dead with antlers locked together. Below, there were lots of pics of the local raccoon, who left a couple of very personal mementos on my stand.

With mama standing guard, this yearling was very intrigued by the little box on the tree.

While there were several pictures of about 4 or 5 bucks, this big boy had several pictures, but this was the most complete and still. He's a nice ten point, probably three and a half year old buck. There are a couple of really nice buck scrapes about fifty yards to the left of this picture that he probably made. When you hear us hunters moaning about the really mature bucks being nocturnal, we're not just making excuses. Look at the time in the lower right corner. Hopefully that will change in just a few weeks as he gets a lot more serious about looking for some girl friends.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Once Upon A Time...

Fred and Mary were quiet folks. On Sunday mornings at church, they were as happy and friendly as anyone, but they never really took a lot of initiative to go up to members or visitors and just talk and visit. They were a little more laid back, and generally only responded to members who came up to them. Like I said, they were quiet folks - I guess you'd say shy, introverted, and meek.
After a quiet Sunday dinner at home, Fred and Mary just quietly got to work, doing things they did nearly every day of the week. Mary fixed a meal to take over to an elderly couple who had visited their church, but, because of poor health, hadn't been back in a long time. Fred and Mary knew they were both in poor shape, so they have been taking food over there two or three times a week. Fred cut their grass for them, and put their trash cans out front for the Monday morning pick up, and he always came back on Monday evening to check on them and return their trash cans to the back porch.
Fred and Mary left the elderly couple's house and drove to the Elder Care Center, to visit with the many folks, all of whom they knew by first name. They went straight to the central TV room where most of the folks spent the afternoon, and they just talked with each one and got them smiling and laughing, and did dozens of little things for many that the Care Center workers just didn't have time to do. At one point, Fred and Mary, sat with half a dozen folks and sang some of their favorite hymns for them. It was soft, but sweet, and the folks were all so appreciative of the attention Fred and Mary gave. They hated to see them go, but it was getting dark, and Fred and Mary always spent Sunday evening teaching Bible class for the small children in the inner city church about 45 minutes from their suburban neighborhood. They always got home late on Sunday night and fell asleep exhausted from all their labors of love.
After the evening service at their church that night, the elders had a meeting. After dealing with several budget concerns and figuring out how to keep some disgruntled members from leaving, they began to talk about the spiritual needs of members. They were deeply concerned about the seemingly weak faith of several families. They spent the rest of their meeting discussing how they could get Fred and Mary more involved in "church work" and thus, help them become "more faithful members of the Lord's church."
Be careful when you judge members as complacent and inactive. You may be judging their walk with God only by church generated ministries and involvement opportunities - but that's not all there is. Church is a tool to use not a standard to judge by. God is the only one who doesn't miss a thing. Leave the judging to Him.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Is It Even Mostly Most Important?

Just think back over the last several discussions you've had with Christian, or even the ones you just happen to overhear. If you're a church leader, add to that all the things all the other leaders have passed on to you lately about the "concerns" that members have. Now, blend them all together and come up with a concoction that summarizes what seems to be the most important one thing in the church today.
Many people, and this certainly doesn't include everyone, seem to still be driven by the extremely selfish and worldly goal of "keep me happy and comfortable," which translates in church-speak as "I want an uplifting and inspirational worship." It's selfish because it's all about what "I want" and what "makes me feel good." It's worldly, because it's the product of centuries of formalizing traditions, elevating the assembly, and changing a giving event into a receiving experience.
I have been saying that for a lot of years now. My wife might even say, "A little too often". For the folks who have had to hear it multiple times, that may be true. I am just astounded that we continue to major in minors and so completely miss the point of why God put the church in place. But then I think about how much and how long he has been saying what he wants, and how much and how often his people have ignored or forgotten it.
A teacher of the law came up to Jesus right after he had dealt with trick questions, one from the Pharisees and one from the Sadducees, and asked, "Of all the commandments, which is the most important?" Your first inclination is to assume it's another trick question, but evidently it was an honest seeker, wanting confirmation of what he understood.
You know what Jesus said: "THE MOST IMPORTANT ONE is this..." and he quotes God's original command from Deuteronomy 6, that we should, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself. THERE IS NO COMMANDMENT GREATER THAN THESE." (Mark 12:28-31)
God said it first and it was repeated by Moses, Jesus, Paul, James, Peter, and John, just to name a few, and the people of God continually seem to lose track of what the SINGLE MOST IMPORTANT THING TO GOD IS! Love him and love one another, which is how we learn to love him!
The teacher of the law, in Mark 12, got it. He not only praised Jesus for his answer, but pointed out that it was "more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices." These were the most important "acts of worship" to every Jewish worshipper. That makes me want to ask, "What things have we allowed to become more important than God's MOST IMPORTANT ONE THING? Again, has the tool become more important than the purpose? When do we start evaluating "church growth" by what God wants rather than by what the world says it is?

Saturday, October 02, 2010

No Elk, But Lots of Coffee

This is for family and anyone who visits the Root house in the future.
It may not look like it, but this is an elk processing, or at least the cost of an elk processing. Since I didn't get an elk in Colorado last week, I decided to use the money I'd set aside to pay for the processing to purchase a Keurig Gourmet Coffee Maker. This is the Platinum version with a sixty once water reservoir. I really enjoyed seeing and using Pat and Deborah's Keurig when we were in Dallas last month, and decided I wanted to get one. Yes, it's not the most economical way to make a cup of coffee, but it's cool and it's quick and it's got lots of choices. Of course, being a plain-Jane kind of coffee drinker, with no tendency to experiment, you can clearly understand that this was something we thought family and friends might enjoy when they visited. There are literally hundreds of kinds and favors of coffee, tea, hot chocolate, and fancy Starbucks-type drinks, but I also like the fact that it has an attachment that you can use (purchased separately of course) that allows you to use your own coffee if you want, and not one of the little pre-made packets that are made for it. You can set this one for five different sizes of cups, and I've already got ours programmed to come on early, about 5:30 AM, and turn off again about 9 AM. When it's on and ready, you have steaming, freely brewed coffee in less than one minute. Okay, it's fun to play with. I'm anxious to try the hot chocolate. It will be nice to have the week of Thanksgiving when all our family are here, and I'm not the only coffee drinker in the house. I'm not going to be using all those wild and fancy kinds of coffee, so somebody has to try'em.