Friday, September 07, 2012

All Good Things...

My last post was #750.  750 posts since starting this blog in 2006.  It's a good number to end with.  I mentioned several blogs back that I was considering closing out my blog so I could focus on some other writing plans.  After much deliberation and prayer, I have decided it's time to stop.  When I started this blog, I had a two-fold intent.  First, I wanted to keep family and friends updated on what was happening in our family.  All my kids had blogs, and it was a great way to keep up with them.  Secondly, I wanted to write up and throw out things that were on my heart and mind - things that were part of my spiritual journey - that might encourage and enlighten others.  I have stayed very true to both of those intents.
With so many people on Facebook, Twitter, etc. and with texting and FaceTime and such being used so heavily, I don't think as many people are checking blogs like they did five years ago.  I know my family stays so connected with those things that using a blog to inform is "ancient" now.  I still love to see the pictures of my grandkids on their mom's blog, but we send as many, if not more, with our iPhones now.  So the family "need" part just isn't as great as it was.  It helps that I am now pretty close to being technically up-to-date since I use my iPhone and iPad for nearly everything I do.
As far as the encouragement and enlightenment part, my sermons are on the church web page each week, as well as the church bulletin with my article.  I plan to do more "devotional" or teaching type articles in our bulletin each week and not as much church info stuff.  AND, Lord willing, I hope to be having my new book published sometime in the not-to-distant future, once I do some editing and find a publisher (piece of cake! NOT!).
It has been fun, though the pressure of not wanting people to check on my blog for days at a time and not find anything new caused me some stress as I tried to do 2-3 blogs each week.  I believe I did some of my best teaching and writing in some of those blogs.  I saw writing a blog as writing an article for a magazine.  When I wrote about THE church, I was talking about the church in general or universal, but some would occasionally think it was about my church family here.  It never was.  When I wrote about struggles, disappointments, or challenges to living a consistent life in Christ, it was never about people or events close to home.  I have never written an article, a blog, or a book, or preached a sermon for that matter, with someone in mind that I wanted to "get" "straighten out" or hurt in any way.  My integrity before God is far more valuable to me than to do something like that.
If you were blessed in any way by something I shared, I am thankful and praise God for that.  If you have been with me through 750 blogs over six years, thanks for sharing the journey, and for allowing me to share my heart with you through, what six years ago was new, but now is an old method of communicating.  What might we be doing five years from now?
God is good, and I give all the glory for anything good to him.

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Good Friends - Good Times!

We were blessed to have our good friends, Don and Kathy Rose, with us for the Labor Day Weekend.  We had a wonderful time doing some touring of Forrest Park and the History Museum, and eating at all our favorite places.  Above is Las Fuentes on Saturday.  Notice the multiple bowls of salsa in front of Donna.  They know us so well there that several of the waiters bring her extra bowls - and occasionally a spoon.  Don and Kathy have been special friends since 1998, when we moved to TN, and we have stayed connected over the almost eight years we've lived in Florissant.  They go on all our bi-annual vacation trips with us, and they have come up to nearly every Bible Action Musical each year.  Last year, when they came to visit us over the Labor Day weekend, I informed them that it was a non-negotiable tradition, so they had to come back this year.  They are true friends, who we can count on and they can count on us.  We laughed a lot, played a lot of cards and Fargle (called Farkle by some) and ate way too much - but boy was it good.  It was especially good to have them with us last Sunday to again meet our church family.  God is so good to bless us with wonderful friends, like many in our church family, who we long to be with and who make life such an amazing experience.  The best part is that we're all children of God and heirs of the Kingdom, and we will have all eternity to enjoy being together!
I just happened to think - I hope there's salsa in Heaven!

Friday, August 31, 2012

Young Guns?

We had a special treat this past week.  Last Sunday evening we had a devotional that was led by several of our young boys, and an even larger group of young girls led a devotional on Wednesday evening.  The two groups trained and practiced all Summer long with a couple of our teachers before sharing their talents with us.  It was fun and encouraging to see these young people lead songs, make talks, read scripture, and offer prayers.  I loved the song leaders asking people to stand every time they led a song.  The preference of every song leader!  They all did such a good job, and it was nice to see some young people doing things that many adults seem more and more reluctant to do.
The fear of stand up in front of an audience has always been at the top of a majority of people's list of fears.  One of the great benefits of these young people starting out at such an early age overcoming that fear, is that it will enrich and benefit them for the rest of their lives - if they will continue to participate in such things.  It will certainly place them in the minority of people who have such talents and capabilities.  It brought back a lot of memories for me as I remembers those first times I got up in front of a crowd.  I think it was one of the great benefits of going to a small Christian school starting in the 7th grade.  We had chapel every day, and when I saw that all my buddies weren't afraid to get up and lead a song, read a scripture, or say a prayer - I thought "I can do that," and I did - for six years.  By my Junior year in High School, I was making Chapel talks and preaching occasionally at some area churches.  Overcoming my fear of being in front of an audience (to preach) was not one of the fears I had to work through when I went off to Harding University to get my degree in Bible.
One last thought about seeing young people leading an assembly.  I remember the "old folks" talking about how much they enjoyed it when I led something at church when I was a kid, and I remember thinking "It can't be that big a deal, because I know I'm not THAT good!"  Now, as one of those "old folks,"  I know it's not about "how good" a job I did or they do now, but about seeing young people give, share, rise above their fears, and do something to glorify God.  Even if those things aren't on their mind, it's what they/we "old folks" see - and that is always encouraging to anyone who wants to know that the future looks promising.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

It's Good To Be Like God!

I can be like God!  Really!  This isn't a joke about Doctors or some kind of misguided mythology.  Not only can I be like God, the Bible tells me that is exactly what God expects from me.
Probably one of the most ignored and intimidating verses in the whole Bible is Ephesians 5:1, "Be imitators of God."  I have certainly been guilty of "observing the pass-over" on that verse - which is amazing considering how much I use the verse right before it!  I always connected 4:32 with the "Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths," (vs.29) which does seem to conclude with "Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you." Period - new chapter - new verse - new subject!  Wrong.  If the "therefore" had come before that next phrase "Be imitators of God" I wouldn't have been able to miss the connection!  BUT - the call to imitate God is part of forgiving one another the same way God forgives us!  SO - BE LIKE HIM!
What really makes it difficult to deal with is our tendency to automatically associate being like God with ego and/or being in control.  We know that is the wrong mind-set, but we've heard too many jokes and too many stories about people who THOUGHT they were a god.  And then add the other complication of assuming it means being perfect/holy like God.  No problem there- right?  Even when we understand that his grace makes us holy, we know that self-generated perfection is not an option.  So - we end up skipping over this and moving on to the stuff about husbands and wives, and the armor of God.
The beauty of this passage is that the Holy Spirit tells us how we can imitate God.  As "dearly loved children" we "live a life of love."  That life of love is living unselfishly and sacrificially for others - the way Jesus did.  It's not about perfection but about loving others!  Jesus "loved us and gave himself up for us" and that is a "fragrant offering and sacrifice to God."  The Holy Spirit not only defines imitating God, but it gives us the perfect example of what it looks like.  Jesus!  Imitating God is living a life of love for others.  God is love, and love is greater than perfection, but his love for us makes us perfect.  Remember, according to 1 Corinthians 13, love is even greater than faith and hope.
So, in spite of my sin and imperfections, I can be like God.  As I grow in love and learn to love others in an honest, giving, and sacrificial way - I am being like God.  There is no ego, or control, or need to feel superior to anyone, but rather loving others so much, like Jesus did, that I'm thrilled to be His servant and love Him by loving others the way He does.

Friday, August 24, 2012

"The making of many books..."

I mentioned a while back that I was trying to get back into a routine of writing so I could finish a book I have been working on for a long time.  Well, the above picture is of the hard copy I printed off so I could edit the NOW finished book.  It's sitting on my desk, all 284 pages, double-spaced, and loaded with things to rewrite, correct, and - in a few small cases delete.  I've started reading through it for the first time and have been pleasantly surprised that I haven't found a lot of thing from those first days of writing that fit into the "What was I thinking" category.  I'm also adding some discussion questions to the end of each of the seventeen chapters.  While I'm glad to have it finished, at least the core writing part, I'm not excited about the chore of looking for a publisher.  My last published book came out nine years ago.  I actually have another book that I wrote after that entitled The Quest For Gratitude, but the only publisher I sent it to hung on to it for so long and never gave me a commitment, and I just lost interest in working to get it published.  Maybe I'll re-look at it after this one is placed with a publisher.  Anyway, maybe someday, in the not-to-distant-future you may see my new book on a book store shelf somewhere.  For now it's entitled God's Tool Box, an expanded version of some lessons I presented several years ago, and with a lot more stuff to get me in trouble with the Brotherhood Police.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Thinking & Speaking

We've been looking at some selected themes in Proverbs in my Sunday morning class.  Last Sunday we began talking about the need to Think Before You Speak.  My mother use to gently remind me of the importance of that regularly.  One of the Proverbs we discussed was, "A wise man's heart guides his mouth, and his lips promote instruction.  Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones." (16:23-24)  One of life's greatest challenges is saying the right thing at the right time.  And timing is a huge part of it.  It is no accident that the very next verse is the familiar "There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death." (v.25)  While our words may not lead to a physical death, they certainly can lead to the end of a relationship.
My "after class thinking" since Sunday took me down a parallel road with that thought.  Sometimes wisdom isn't a matter of saying the right thing at the right time, but simply knowing when to keep your mouth shut.  One of the great lessons I learned from my wife's parents, my in-laws, is if your adult children don't ask for advice - don't give it.  In addition to seeking their own sense of independence, they are also seeking acceptance and affirmation.  They don't always approach life the same way you did when you were there age - so what!  They need to form their own priorities and family traditions just like we did.  Our job is to support and encourage them, and keep our opinions to ourselves unless asked.  My in-laws were the best at that, and I hope we are too.  I'd love to be asked for advice or in-put, if it's really needed, but the one thing I remember clearly about being a young married "out-law" is that need to prove I was capable and worthy, and at times that kept me from seeking guidance that I'm sure would have helped.  And through the years, after that "need to prove myself" became un-necessary, I did want to know "what they thought" about certain things.
I have seen the damage that can be done when wisdom is replaced by opinionated and judgemental thoughtlessness.  "Our way" is not the "best way" - it's just ours, and to selfishly insist on "our way" is the quickest way to have loves ones seek "the highway" and not the one that leads back home.  "Pleasant words are a honeycomb" and maybe that's why a loving, considerate, and wise family spend so much time sharing those words - on the phone, FaceTime, texting, Skyping, and - most of all - being together.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Just a though - from Whom?

It's been a long time since I mentioned it, but I believe there are four elements in our relationship with God.  We must seek him, serve him, sense him, and share him.  That'll preach!  It's not just a nice alliteration, but it's what I see in God's Word.  Seeking is the desire to connect, serving is the obedient response, sensing is the deepening relationship, and sharing is the witness we can't hold back.  Of the four, I suspect that sensing is the one we understand the least and scares us the most.
Our relationship with God is a relationship of faith.  I can't reach over and touch his arm like I can with my wife, but I need a relationship with him that is just as real as the one I have with my wife.  My relationship with God deepens the more we communicate.  That is the most important building block of any relationship.  As we talk more, my faith grows.  As my faith grows, my sense of his presence grows.  I know he is there - now - everywhere I go, and I find comfort in that, rather than feeling trapped.  The greater my sense of his presence, the great my sense of his reality.  It's not just "I believe" but "I know" when I think of him.
The more I sense his presence the more I am aware of his voice.  No, it's not some whispering in my ear or some new revelation, but it is the awareness that godly thoughts, subconscious ideas, and pangs of guilt may not all be just from my thought processes.  God can put a thought in my mind just as surely as Satan can.  Nothing has ever limited or restrained the voice of God except our own hearts.  Closing our ears is something that takes place about fifteen inches lower.  I wonder how many times I have ignored, blocked out, or openly rejected the voice of God?
The next time you get a great idea about serving, helping, lifting up, or just doing what is right - recognize that the voice you're hearing may not be your own.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Start Your Engines!

One of the things I like most about our three mile walks each morning is talking.  Sure it's great to get the exercise that comes from a brisk three mile hike early in the morning, but being able to visit while we walk makes the time go by faster and it gives us the time to communicate about things we might not make time for during the day.  This morning, we were talking about our decision to keep our two older vehicles just a little longer.  Part of our rationale comes from pure "sticker shock."  A new vehicle cost more now than the first houses we looked at buying - back in the Dark Ages of course. The other reason for our decision is simply a matter of priorities.  We'd rather spend money on other things that mean more to us than a shiny new car and the huge car payment that goes with it.  Anyway, our talk was really about all the things we may need to do to keep our cars reliable and dependable.  Especially Donna's twelve year old Saturn.  She loves it, and it still gets 35 mpg, but many of the parts in the engine are getting old and in need of replacement before they go out.  We were talking about replacing generators, alternators, and Universal belts - just to be on the safe side - especially when she wants to drive it to Nashville or Searcy.
Few things amaze me more than today's car engines.  Every time I look at my tachometer, as I'm driving on a trip, and think of all those pieces of metal moving together at 2500 to 3000 rpms, mile after mile and hour after hour, pulling thousands of pounds of vehicle, people, and stuff down the road it just seems incredible.  All those pieces and parts working together at such a high rate of speed and endurance to get me to my destination.  Wow.  It makes me think of the last sentence in that great passage from Paul about the church existing to mature people in Christ.  He said, "From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love as each part does it's work." (Eph.4:11-16)
The church is like a the motor of a car.  When each part is working properly, it gets the job done!  When leaders do their job of equipping the members, the members grow in  unity and faith, and begin to mature in Christ.  When that happens, they stop being babies deceived by men or Satan's tricks, and they all grow up into a deeper relationship with Jesus, who holds the whole thing together.
If a church family isn't growing, one of the parts is not working properly.  It's either the equippers, or the ones equipped, and if I understand what Paul is saying, it takes ALL parts working to bring about growth and love.
I guess you could blame it on running out of gas, but that's a different analogy for a different blog.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Missing Picture

This is the "contrast" picture I wanted for the last blog.  I took it last Monday with my iPad emailed it to our computer and it didn't download until yesterday (Sunday).  Go figure.  Anyway, you can see how dry the pond was before the rain last Wednesday.  The crane is standing smack in the middle on dry ground.  Praise the Lord, we got some additional rain last night.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Lessons From A Pond

What a difference a day makes!  There's a song there somewhere.  I took a picture of this same pond on Monday and there was a white crane standing in the middle of it - on dry ground.  It had really dried up much more than the pictures I posted last month.  It was down to a small pool off to the right and we expected every day to see dead fish floating on the surface - like so many other ponds in our area.  But then came the rain on Wednesday night.  When we got up yesterday morning, the pond was back to having water from shore to shore.  It's hard to tell it because of all the weeds that grew up on the dry soil of the pond.  It's nice to see it looking like it's supposed to look.  Since it's scheduled to be re-dug next year, I still think they missed a great opportunity to do it while it was mostly dry.
Being the preacher that I am, when I saw the water back over the pond it made me think of that passage in Titus that says, "He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having hope of eternal life." (3:5-7)
On Thursday morning I felt like I could hear a collective "AAAAAAH!" from all the frogs, turtles, fish, and other critters that inhabit our pond.  That's how our spirits feel when we think about the cleansing we have in Christ, and the constant refreshing of his Spirit being "poured out on us generously."
Oddly enough, our pond became another illustration to me that wasn't so refreshing.  We had suspected that it had become really shallow - especially as we watched cranes walk around in the water and it being only knee deep for them - but once it became dry, we could clearly see how shallow it was at our end of the pond.  Just a couple inches of water made it look like a deep and health pond, but in truth, it's in terrible need of dredging and re-shaping.  Wow - if that's not a lesson, I don't know lessons!  How many times in the Bible does the Holy Spirit warn us about having a surface faith?  Jesus called it having a righteousness to be seen of men.  Maybe some of us need spiritual dredging to deepen our faith, and strengthen our walk with God.  Our pond started out deep, but gradually became shallow.  That's an even scarier lesson to comprehend, but whatever the lesson, the washing of rebirth and renewal can only come through Jesus.

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Worthy Living?

I can't begin to guess how long I have known about all the "ones" of unity in Christ Paul mentions in Ephesians 4.  They truly are the foundation upon which all unity can, and must, come for Christians.  However, as I was preparing for last Sunday's sermon on Eph.4:1-6, the part that really gave me pause - that made me think the most and fill me with fear, was his introductory charge.  That first verse is super-loaded with power, passion, and promise.
First he said, "As a prisoner for the Lord."  Literally, "Remember who I am and why I'm where I am! Then listen to me because I have earned your undivided attention!"  How can you not pay attention when consider who is talking?
Then he cried, "I urge you."  It is a plea, a personal scream of passion for all who read it to not treat what he is about to say lightly.  Bottom line - this is extremely important stuff to Paul!
Then, it's the bomb-shell!  He said, "live a life worthy of the calling you have received."  I've never felt worthy about anything in my life!  I'm a sinner, I deserve death, and here he is calling on me to live a worthy life!  The word "worthy" literally means "bringing  up the other beam of the scales".  It is not a call to be perfect or sinless because that's not going to happen.  It's a call for balance in our life.  It's a call for consistency.  Be the the person we profess to be.  Live the confession we made so it's not just talk.  But mostly, if we truly are the "called out" of God, it must show in how we treat one another.  The prelude to keeping unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace is "bearing with one another in love."  Love is always the secret to peace!  In fact, I think Paul is saying that our calling is reflected in our love for one another!  John said because God loved us we ought to love one another.  It is a love for love proposition, and it is the key to unity, growth, and maturing in Christ.  Living a worthy life is living a loving life.

Friday, August 03, 2012

Ten Rulers 4 Righting?

I have always loved puns, double meanings, and any kind of play on words.  My family knows that such things are the foundation of my sense of humor.  I really get a kick out of signs that can be taken different ways, like "Slow Children" or the one on I-270 that warns "Congestion Ahead" - that makes me want to take an allergy pill.  One of my favorite road signs has long been removed, but it was at the state line of every Interstate coming into Virginia.  It said, "Radar Detectors Subject to Seizure".  I always had visions of someones radar detector rattling off the windshield as they crossed the state line.  It made me laugh even if I was the only one in the car who thought it was funny.  Anyway, my buddy and co-worker, Jerry Williamson, found the following on the Internet and passed in on to me.  I love it and had to share it with my fellow bloggers, but especially my family.  From the title through every point, it's my kind of humor.  Enjoy.

How To Write Good
By:  Frank L. Visco

1.  Avoid alliteration. Always.
2.  Prepositions are not words to end sentences with.
3.  Avoid cliches like the plague.  (They're old hat.)
4.  Eschew ampersands & abbreviations, etc.
5.  One should never generalize.
6.  Comparisons are as bad as cliches.
7.  Be more or less specific.
8.  Sentence fragments?  Eliminate.
9.  Exaggeration is a billion times worse than understatement.
10. Who needs rhetorical questions?

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Teach Us To Pray!

There are some incredible prayers in the Bible.  I immediately think of some of David's prayers in Psalms.  Psalms were songs, but if a song is directed to God, how is it not a prayer?  And then there are the two "most studied" prayers in the Bible, the model prayer that Jesus gave in Matthew 6, and his passionate prayer in John 17 for his followers - both present and to come.  These teach us to focus on God, share what is on our hearts, and pray knowing he hears and answers.
Paul's prayer for the Ephesians (and us) in chapter three is one of the most personal and passionate prayers recorded in scripture.  It comes from his joy in the grace of God, and from his desire that they experience the relationship with God that he enjoys.  I think what strikes me as so significant is that it teaches me what I need to being praying for regarding people I love.  This is he question I posed in my lesson last Sunday.  "If you knew that you could pray and bring about change in someones life, what would you pray for?"  Paul, and the Holy Spirit, give us the answer.
1. Pray that Christ may dwell in their heart!  God, "out of his glorious riches" will give anyone who seeks him all the power, encouragement, and grace to have a relationship with him.  The word "dwell" is present continuous tense - meaning if we keep trusting/seeking, He continues to dwell in us.
2.  Pray that they learn to love him TOGETHER!  Being "rooted and established" is a foundation of togetherness - with those on the same journey.  He never meant for us to do it alone!  We need spiritual family!  It is the only way to "grasp" the ungraspable - know the unknowable - and filled with the limitless power of God.  The "fullness of God" is not being "like God" but maturing in our relationship with God - which is the goal of togetherness (i.e. church).
3.  Pray that they learn OUR GOD IS ABLE!  His capacity to meet our spiritual needs far exceeds anything we can ask for in prayer.  More than we can even imagine!  When we learn this, all the glory is his!  Not attention but adoration!  In his church!  In Christ Jesus!  To all generation!
And all God's people said, "YES INDEED, LORD!"
I don't know which is more humbling.  That we can ask such things of God for others, or that others can ask such things of God for us.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Reunion Time

We did a quick trip to Searcy, Arkansas last Thursday, and returned on Saturday.  It was time for the Curtis Family reunion.  We were blessed to have all our family there except for Jonathan and Holly who couldn't get there from LA.  On Thursday night, we had about 21 for dinner at Donna's mother's house and then on Friday evening we had 34 for dinner.  The picture above and below are of the singing time we had, after dinner, all crammed into the small living room.  Three of us were off in the kitchen area, joining in as best we could.  I took these two pictures with my IPhone.  It's four generations of family, starting with Donna's mom on the far left, through her four children (Donna, two sisters, and brother) and spouses, through twelve grand children and spouses (not all were there), and then most of the twenty great grand children you see scattered all over the room.  Even the youngest enjoyed the family singing.

The picture below is at the larger Curtis Family reunion on Saturday.  After having a great lunch together, it was time for group pictures.  There were pictures of each family group, cousins, and patriarchs, and then this attempt to get a picture of all the children.  It was chaos.  They had to be dragged in there from playing, and many were tired and ready for naps (it was 1:30 already), but it was fun to watch.  Kids are always cute - when there someone else's problem.
It was a great time to be with family.  A short time and hard trip, but well worth it.
Needless to say, it's the reason I didn't get to do another blog last week.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Water, Water, Every Where...

Scroll down and take another look at the pictures of our pond out back that I posted last Saturday.  That was four days ago, and it's a lot worse.  There is something disconcerting about looking out our living room window and seeing clear physical signs of drought.  Usually, when we've heard about such things in the past and even when it was happening around us, I found myself thinking, "Oh, those poor farmers."  But, I was in my temperature controlled house, my fridge was full, and it never caused me to lose a minute of sleep.  But that drying up pond...it's a constant metaphor to me...of a soul that is drying up - the sadness and danger of being in a spiritual drought.
I was spiritually watered and excited last week, long before we went to a spiritual retreat that added to both my spiritual sustenance and my spiritual excitement - but I've been dry before.  It's just like the present drought.  One day without rain is no big deal!  One week is common!  But then it became weeks and then months and...and...survival became the issue.  Satan rarely slaps us upside the head and demands that we obey him.  He's subtle, deceptive, and gradual.  He's interested in the war not the battles.
Jesus is living water!  People don't start out planning to be in a spiritual drought, they just gradually disconnect from the Water Fountain.  The amazing thing is that we can "do church" and still never take a drink!  We can "party hearty with the holy ones" and never quench the real thirst in our throat - that thirst for closeness with Jesus.  We just stop reading his Word, stop thinking about him and what he would do, and we stop communicating with the only One who has a pitcher of water in his hand.  We spend our time in dry places and never hydrate head of time - or after.  We weaken, lose interest, feel burdened by opportunities, and we forget how good it tasted to drink deeply from the only water that not only gives life but is life.
Got a drinking problem?  Don't let it become a drought.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

As the DEAR pant for Water!

We have had so many pictures of our beautiful pond out back over the years that I thought I should show a couple of pictures of what it looks like now in the middle of our drought.  We got back from being gone to a retreat this past week (thus no blogs) and were saddened to see how much worse it has gotten.  In the picture below, which is straight out our back door, that water area between the two dry spots in only about eight feet wide.  Our Home Owners Association has been saving money (and raising dues) to have the pond re-dug and remade completely.  What you see is twenty-five years of silt and soil filling it up.  It is really just a holding pond and is supposed to be several feet deeper than what it is now.  I thing the plan is to do that next year, but it sure would make sense to dredge it now when it is so shallow and mostly dry.  The sad part is that we have no rain in the forecast and triple digit temps for the next week.
By the way, we had a wonderful time at the retreat!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Grail of Grace

My vote for the least understood teaching in the Bible is grace.  There are several really good reasons why I believe that, but the bottom line reason is that when grace is understood, it changes people.  It's ironic that the concept we've heard about the longest is also the one that will bring about the greatest change in our life - if we "get it".  We learn a cute Bible school definition of grace, accept the fact that it is the reason we are saved, and tend to file it away with all the other religious terms that we save for conversation with those who understand the secret language of Christianity.  At any point in my four and a half decade walk with God, if you had asked me if I understood grace, I would have proudly answered, "Of course," but - of course - I didn't.  I don't now.  I know more now, but to say I completely understand the depth of God's grace would be a huge overstatement of the truth.
Lately I've been thinking a lot about, and studying, what the Bible says about grace.  I am planning to do some writing about grace, and I feel strangely unprepared.  Oh, I've got plenty to say, I am just woefully aware of how much I don't know.  My seeking to know God better, and to understand his grace, reminds me of one of my favorite movies.  It is my favorite Indiana Jones movie, The Quest for the Holy Grail.  I love the interaction between Indy and his dad.  The climax of the story is when they finally find the entrance to where the Grail is kept, but they must first master three deadly challenges/puzzles/tests before they can go into the room with the Grail.  Everyone fails the tests - except Indy, who has some serious close calls, and he finally reaches the goal.  The problem is that the Grail is hidden in the midst of a score of other Grails and cups, and he must pick the right one.  If you haven't seen it - he does and the bad guy picks the wrong one.
Seeking to understand grace is like Indy's journey to find the Grail.  There are tests, challenges, and "leaps of faith," but each new discover seems to just widen the possibilities and avenues for further seeking.  That shouldn't surprise me.  After all, seek grace is seeking God.  Grace is love - God is love - so God is grace!  I think that is why grace is so difficult to grasp.  It's not a definition, or a Greek word to translate.  Nothing we know or have experienced can fully enlighten us as to what it really is.  It certainly isn't just "unmerited favor" or " a gift we don't deserve".  It is God!  It is what he is, does, thinks, and gives.  It is how and why unholy people can be united with a holy God.
So yes - it is the Holy Grail we are looking for.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Lessons Learned

We had the first of four Sunday evenings at the building summer series this past Sunday.  We've done this for several years now.  It sure makes for a longer day for me, but it always brings back great memories of some special Sunday evening assemblies from the past.  The singing is always good and fun - we actually use those things called song books, and I keep it laid-back and pretty non-traditional.  I enjoy sharing some thoughts in a more personal, and somewhat challenging, way then I would on Sunday morning.  Our theme is "Lessons I've Learned Lately," and I've asked some other guys to kick it off each night with a short sharing of something in their life that fits that theme.  Steve Holloway did an awesome job sharing how he has learned lately the importance of priorities.  I gave a brief overview of some of the life-changing lessons that God put on my heart through the years - as a way of introducing one of three major lessons I plan to share in this series.
So, for those who are interested - a little FYI high points from what I shared:
Some of the things that have been part of my spiritual/preaching journey - in chronological order from earliest years to the present (again - just some):
1. Preaching is about the message not me (Fear of looking and/or sounding like an idiot)
2. It's more important to be honest and transparent than to fear being wrong!  I lived in fear of being asked questions I was supposed to have the answers to but not knowing the answers.
3. The joy of seeking, learning, and discovery!  I love revealing or making things understandable!
4. Worship is my life not a day, place, or event on Sunday.  I discovered that in college (early '70s) but I couldn't defend it or prove it for several years (i.e. 3 books written).
5. It's okay, if fact necessary, to ask "How come?" or "Who says?"  Prove it to yourself!
6. I must not only preach Jesus to others, I must be Jesus to others!  True about all spiritual leaders.
7. If I am going to truly be like Jesus, I must develop the compassion and humility of Jesus.  (Early to mid '90s and scary to the bone)
8. (Late '90s) We can rise no higher spiritually than our level of thankfulness.  It is the key to all spiritual grow and to developing a true prayer life.
9. The biblical preeminence of seeking God!  It is what God wants to see in the heart of everyone!
10.  First of the BIG THREE I'm sharing this summer - and it is an extension of seeking:  A relationship with God is more important than being right!  God takes care of the "being right" (i.e. righteousness) when we have a relationship with him, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit.  Consider the personal confession of David in Psalm 23 and Paul's in Acts 17:24-28.  We must be able to describe our relationship with God the same way.  The real life-changing part of this is coming to understand that it really is possible and not just theory.  A relationship with God is (and happens) the same as any relationship.
There are four parts of any relationship: 1) Desire: want it; 2) Sharing:  communicate, talk, pray - remember the words of "My God and I"?; 3) Presence: time together enough to develop a sense of his presence (he is also present when his people are present - see 1 Jn.3:16-24); and Effort:  relationships must be built, worked on, fed, fostered, for love to grow.
Has this one hit you yet?

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Alaska Again!


Since 1998, we have had a priority of taking one really good vacation every two years.  So far, they have all been cruises mostly with Princess Cruises, and, while hard to save for and/or pay off, we've loved every one of them and have absolutely no regrets about any of them.  Our winter vacation this past January/February was wonderful, memorable, and, hopefully, repeatable.  BUT, we can't wait another two years.  Even while we are still paying off that last one, we have booked a new cruise for next July 29th (2013) for Alaska - AGAIN.  It's the only one we've repeated, and now we plan on doing it a third time.  We love the TOTAL get-a-way of a cruise, and the total package deal of a cruise, but mostly, we love sharing it with friends.  As we have said to hundreds of people on hundreds of occasions, if you only do one cruise in your life - do Alaska.  AND we have been on some really awesome cruises.
Next year's trip is a ten day cruise out of San Francisco rather than the usual northbound or southbound trip from Anchorage to or from Vancouver.  The airfare should be less, since it's round trip to the same city, and it is a city I have always wanted to visit, so we will stay there a couple days at the end of our cruise.  Four of the ten days are at sea, but up there the scenery is incredible 24/7, and it's a great time to be with our friends who are with us.  It stops at Juneau, Skagway, Ketchikan, and Victoria, BC, which I can't wait to see, and it spends a day touring Glacier Bay National Park - INCREDIBLE!
Alaska is one of the most reasonable cruises, cost-wise, and the most spectacular in terms of scenery.  The ship is always fun.  Amazing food, entertainment, and lots of activities to do with friends.  Did I mention the food?  Oh yeah!  Anyway, if you are interested in going with us - there are six of us so far - just get in touch with me and I'll give you our travel agents name and number.  You can look it up on Princess.com and go into their Alaska  cruises, 2013, July 29th, 10 day cruise.  It's voyage number A320.  Our cruise last winter was on the Grand Princess and it's a really wonderful ship.  We've also got pictures from two previous Alaska cruises we'd love to show you if you want to see what it's like.
Love to have you come with us, and yes family, this means we'll be driving our two old vehicles for a little while longer.  It's all about priorities - and fun with friends.

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

"INCONCEIVABLE!"


Don't you hate it when you say the wrong thing, but you totally thought you were saying the right thing?  I used Wesley, from our family's favorite movie The Princess Bride, to illustrate one of the few ways that bringing someone back to life is not portrayed in movies as something weird or Zombie-like.  I love the scene with Miracle Max and all the wonderful quotable lines that are in it.  Yet, in the midst of telling the story, I called him "Mad Max."  I didn't even realize that I did it.  I'm sure it sent all those dedicated cult members of the I-Love-The-Princess-Bride-Club into a momentary shock.  Dropping visions of Mel Gibson into the heart of this classic story is traumatic on any level.  It was a slip of the tongue - a mental glitch - an I Knew That moment.  I think I've had a couple of those over the last nearly 40 years of preaching.  Oh well, "Have fun storming the castle!"
Okay smartie, without using your iPhone or iPad to cheat, what was the name of Miracle Max's wife?

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Rambling Routines

One of the interesting transitions in my life has been going from being part of a family group who made fun of the family patriarch, to being the partriarch who is made fun of.  Donna's dad was highly loved and respected, but that just made teasing him or making fun of his peculiarities that much more fun.  We knew he saw it as a display of love.  All his children and their spouses, still have wonderful warm memories of Dean and the things we made fun of that really made us love him even more.
The last several years (can you say decade) - since all our adult kids have gotten married - it has been interesting to hear all of them (especially spouses) make fun of my "unique" way of doing things.  It started with pointing out and laughing at the different emphasis I put on some words or syllables with the vocal tone going up rather than staying flat.  It's hard to explain because I don't hear it or know what they are talking about.  I feel certain they would be more than happy to demonstrate an example for you.  I have a feeling it's from my northern roots/Roots in some way or another.
They know, and of course make fun of, my love of routines.  Yes, I plead guilty, and can only say, "wait until you have another 20 or 30 years, and then tell me how you feel about routines."  In all fairness, I am more than willing to shake up my routines if the cause is worthwhile (i.e. vacations, family visiting, bowhunting, etc.)  I like it when things go as expected.  It's comforting and it's peaceful.  What's wrong with that?  I've said it before, but the reason I like routines - only in some areas of my life - is because there are things I don't want to waste time making decisions about.  I don't need multiple choices of what kind of coffee to fix first thing in the morning, I don't need to spend time mulling around what's next on my schedule, and I don't need to spent time trying to think of a new restaurant to go to when I know what I like and what I want.  There's another reason, closely related to that,  for why I like some routines in my life - I simply have things I'd rather concentrate on, think about, fugure out, or solve some problems.  I like thinking time.  I thrive on being creative.  I love exploring new ideas.  I truly enjoy coming up with a new way to approach God's will and understanding his Word.  Routines give me the time I need to keep moving - doing what needs to be done, but still allow me to have important things churning in my head.
I was actually thinking about all this as I went through my morning clean-up-and-get-ready-to-go-to-the-office routine today.  I had two thoughts that jumped into my head at nearly the same time.  First, "aren't routines nice?"  The second thought was something like this, "I sure hope my communication with God, my study of his Word, and my ministry for him never becomes a routine!"
There ya go.  The Good, the Bad, and - the ugly is - I can see the day approaching when a nap just may have to be part of my daily routine.  I can hear the jokes already.
And by the way, unlike my quiet, reserved, and sainly father-in-law - all my kids know I can and will dish it out as good as I take it.  Some things don't always stay the same.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

A Harp With No Strings?

Sometimes it's important to harp on something!  In years past, my loving wife used to gently warn me that I was speaking about worship being our life rather than one hour on Sunday - too much.  I reached that doctrinal conclusion while in college in the early seventies, preached it as a series in the mid-eighties, and wrote my first book about it then, but couldn't get it published until '91.  Two church of Christ affiliated publishers were very interested - at first - but then decided it was too controversial to risk publishing it.  So Spilt Grape Juice was published by a Christian Church publishing company, who also published three other books of mine.  Anyway, I can't stop preaching about something that for me, and many others, was and is so life changing -  life freeing, and life directing.  Worship is a life given to Jesus!  The Christian assembly was only meant to be a spiritual "pep rally" to help us grow in love for one another and for him.  It is not, and never was meant to be, how we define ourselves as followers of Christ.
Now, having harped on that again, my lesson this past Sunday on Ephesians 1:14-23 reinforced my strong belief that the modern church has (often) missed the simple primary purpose for existing.  As I have pointed out over and over - yes harping - the church has only one purpose and that is maturing member in Christ (Eph.4:11-13).  That simplicity gets lost in "doing church" they way we have traditionally been taught.  Paul's compliments to his brethren in Ephesians 1, I believe, not only points this out, but he tells us the "how" and "why" of what Christian togetherness is all about.  The reason he is so thankful and prayerful for them - the reason for his deep affection for them - is spelled out in two simple statements of purpose:  1) "your faith in the Lord Jesus" and 2) "your love for all the saints."  That is what church is all about.  We are in the faith and love building business!  Paul, like John does in his first epistle, connects our seeking after a deeper relationship with God with our growing in love for one another.  Makes perfect sense!  God is love!  We only know God to the extent we know love!  God gave us a spiritual family to learn how to love!  It's what church does - our should do!
A growing faith and love will cause us all to want to serve, give, and witness to others.  We expect the later but have no idea if we're doing the former.  I think it's logical to assume that if we don't see service, giving, and witnessing, it's probably a good indication of a need to rethink what we do to build faith and love.  I don't say that to complain or point fingers and anyone but me.  It reminds me that I must be about the business of guiding people - one at a time - into a deeper walk with God.  So, I guess I'll be doing a lot more harping - at least to myself if no one else.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Kind Memories

As I was doing my morning walking yesterday, I was thinking about the awesome power of a kind word.  We've all been impacted by little comments of encouragement from people throughout our life, and we probably aren't aware of how life changing some of them have been.  To the person giving it, it was probably just a short moment of thoughtfulness - doing something they do many times a day - and they moved on not thinking much about it at all.  Yet for the receiver, it was, like the Spirit tells us, "A word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver." (Pr.25:11)  We just had a beautiful and valuable work of art placed in our lap.
I may have mentioned the comment a while back from one of our young adults.  She made a point to wait around after the Sunday morning assembly, and after most of the crowd had passed by me, she wanted to share a special blessing with me.  She said, "I know we, our age group, don't usually tell you, but I wanted you to know that I have really appreciated the lessons you've been presenting.  They have helped me and made me think."  She was right, and she was awfully sweet and considerate.  It's always special to hear from a segment of the church family I don't often hear from.  She really did "make my day" that Sunday.
When I was much younger, preaching just outside of Washington, D.C. in Fairfax, Virginia, we had a very mobile and transient membership, primarily due to so many members being military.  The Fairfax family was an unusual family in that everyone came from somewhere else - there were no roots (except for us) - and it was a highly educated group.  During that time an Air Force officer in the church family, who has been and old friend now for a long time, said something to me that uplifted me then, and has stuck with me for three decades now.   He probably doesn't even remember saying it.  Johnnie said, "You are the first preacher I've heard who justifies his salary by the quality of your lessons."  It still makes me say "Wow" today, but it was especially encouraging to me as a young "whipper-snapper".
Then there was the introduction that one of our elders gave about me as we were having a special service with lots of visitors.  I don't remember what the occasion was that required an elder to introduce me, but Scott Chambers made a statement about me that I'll never forget.  He said, "Mike is not as young as he looks or as old as he sounds."  Wow - again!  I remember thinking hard about that and it took a while for me to fully "get" what he was saying.  It was a huge compliment - after all- and not a joke.
These just reminded me to look for ways and opportunities to give a kind word of encouragement to others.  We may never know how we can touch a life with just a few thoughtful words.
Now - I'm ready for someone to say, "Mike's not as old as he looks, or as young as he sounds."  Funny how time changes things.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

It's All About Him!

I shutter to think about how many times I read the first fourteen verses of Ephesians 1 before I noticed how much and how often Paul says "in him" or "in Christ."  It's not an accident.  All that we are and hope to be in our relationship with God comes through Jesus.  That's both ways!  What God wants, in terms of a relationship with us, and what we seek in a relationship with him - happens in Jesus!  There is a very impressive and comprehensive list of what Jesus does for us in those short verses.  Ephesians is "all about Jesus" and the difference he makes in us.  This is the statement I had in my outline Sunday:  "The whole letter is about what we have in him, should do in him, think in him, change in him, strive for because of him, and how we should treat one another because of him."
I have been troubled and convicted for several years now as I have come to understand the total focus his church is to have on Him.  We have one job as a church, and that is to mature people in Christ (Eph.4:11-16).  When that happens, the "effects", which we tend to emphasis first, will begin to take place.  Expecting immature members to give, serve, witness, and commit huge chunks of time to ministries when they don't have a passion for Christ will always lead to disappointment.  The traditional practice of defining "faithfulness" by attendance and involvement, doesn't cut it any more.  Guilt and threats don't work.  God wants his people to be together to encourage, equip, and edify each other as a tool to help us draw closer to Jesus.  Our preaching and teaching must be Christ-centered.  Our fellowship and service together must focus on being Christ-like and not just building cohesion.  Our witnessing must come from thankful hearts that are overwhelmed by what we have "in him," and a desire to share that with anyone God gives us the opportunity to interact with.
I guess what concerns me the most is that my brief contribution to helping every member mature in Christ is so - so - well, brief.  A thirty minute lesson is a cup of water poured over a dry lawn.  Even adding a 45 minute Bible class doesn't take it out of the realm of "brief."  It takes relationships, small groups, spiritual friends, mentoring shepherds, and opportunities to grow in knowledge, prayer, service to others, and witnessing.  Maturing in Christ can't happen as a hobby, or even A SECTION of a busy life.  It's about "seeking" not limiting, scaling back, and reducing.
I have to remind myself daily that we are in the "opportunity" business as a church.  All the church can do is give members lots of opportunities to grow in many different ways.  The Bottom Line is that we each will give account of ourselves to God as individuals not as a church.  My relationship with God is up to me.  My devotion, service, and "living sacrifice" is up to me.  The church is a support system - a tool to help, not the judge, jury, and prison guard of those who refuse the help.  Our job - my job - is to "preach Christ and him crucified" and help everyone to remember that ALL spiritual blessings are "in him."

Thursday, June 14, 2012

The Deep Dozen

I have always been blessed with having lots of very gracious members who are so good about mentioning how much my lessons have helped them in some way.  It is always so encouraging to hear comments that not only talk in generalities, but specifically mention something that truly touched them and helped them in their walk with God.  This has been especially true with this last series about Living A Life That Counts.  Each week I had  several people comment about how they were helped and enlightened by something I shared.  I was especially encouraged to have some young adults even make a positive comment. They're a tough crowd to please, but one I try hard to include.  I have mentioned to several people about how challenging the series has been, and how thankful I've been to have six decades of experience/life to draw from as I put each lesson's principle together.  If I had done this series ten years ago, it would have been a lot different - not wrong - just different.  I really like knowing that they have been so helpful to so many.  If copies of the CDs and the sermon outlines being grabbed is an indicator of how well they have been received, then it has been a really good series.  But, as always, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  I am praying and thinking about using these lessons as the foundation of a book on that subject.  Just thinking right now.
For those who care or who may have missed some of them, the following is a list of the twelve principles of living a life that counts.
1.  Life is about loving and being loved
2.  It's about serving rather than being served
3.  It's about learning and teaching
4.  It's about desiring the right treasure
5.  It's being a steward not a stealer
6.  It's seeking integrity over popularity
7.  It's seeking joy not just happiness
8.  It's thankfulness not expectations
9.  It's living by the Golden Rule not being ruled by gold
10. It's seeking souls over success
11. It's choosing trust over worry
12. It's choosing not to judge (specks vs. planks)

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

"I did not come to judge you!"

I have said on many occasions that there are two subjects you can teach or preach on that will always generate guilt to any sensitive listener.  They are giving and evangelism.  No matter how much of either one we do, we still feel like we should do more.  That, of course, doesn't apply to those of us with the innate ability to deflect, ignore, and rationalize.  After closing out my series of lesson last Sunday on Living a Life That Counts, I would add one more instant guilt producer to the list - judging others.  We all do it and we've all had it done to us, yet we keep on doing it regardless of the fact that we have been so grossly wrong in our judgments of others and they have been equally wrong about us.  Jesus challenged his followers to be non-judgmental but rather live by the "Golden Rule" when we find ourselves tempted to do it.  His classic comparison in Matthew 7:1-5 about pointing out the specks in the eyes of others when we have planks in our own eyes, is not only a great sarcastic hyperbole, but a incredible memory tool.  None of us will ever forget it - though we may temporarily ignore it.
So, principle #12 is, "A life that counts is a life that chooses to not judge others."  My lesson was again simple and direct.
1. Judging:  Some things to consider!
   A. There is a fine line between evaluating and judging.
     1. Evaluating is making a quick conclusion from life experiences, but we must recognize  they are surface, shallow, and often wrong.
     2. Judging is forming an opinion and choosing to be critical and condemning. (Jn.7:24)
   B. "Fruit inspection" is not a license to judge!  (Mt.7:15-20)
   C. Judging comes from and leads to assumptions not the truth!
2. Judging:  Some things to avoid!
   A. Comparison: the source of most judging (James 4:11-12)
   B. The need to feel superior = source of racism, bullies, poor self-esteem, etc.
   C. Self-righteousness = comparison w/o spiritual integrity (Lk.18:9-14)
        "Being right does not mean being better!
   D. Judging is letting others control your peace & contentment!
3. Judging:  Some things to try!
   A. Try only comparing yourself to Jesus!  (James 1:22-27
   B. Try giving grace! Eph.4:29; Rom.14:1-4&12-13; Lk.6:37-38
   C. Try to grow a fearless faith rather than a fearful faith!  It's you & God not what others think!
Conclusion:  Since we misjudge so much, how much have we misjudged the love of God?  How wrong have we been in how we see and understand Him?  What about our judgments of Jesus?  After all, some Pharisees called him a "drunk" and a "glutton".

Saturday, June 09, 2012

Bible Action Cheerleaders

Between catching up and cleaning up after the play this week, and trying to get done the usual weekly things that must get done, AND having a house full of family - well, there hasn't been much time to do a blog.  So I thought I'd just share this picture of all eight of our grand children as they took a moment to pose for a picture after one of the shows last week.  I have to say, of the hundreds and hundreds of people who come to see our play, no one looks forward to it more or enjoys it more than they do - especially the older ones who have been at all of them.  They are all such sweetties, and it's been fun having them here.

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Four Great Shows

 Another awesome musical is history.  We had four great show and four great audiences.  Again, we were probably around the two thousand in the total attendance mark.  I was very proud of the dedication and execution of every cast and crew member as they pulled it off night after night.  Above is the opening number "Sit Down You're Rockin' the Boat."
 Leonard and Robin did an amazing job of being Ahab and Jezebel and their "Priests" kept everyone laughing with their back-up movements.
 Elijah has the evil queen and her attendants working on him.
 This is all the senior angels with Elijah and the widow.
 The crew did a beautiful job of pulling off true "Baal Devotion."
We had to give a light-hearts "exit" to the prophets of Baal as they were being led off after Elijah's great victory on Mt. Carmel.  450 were taken away to be killed, but I thought it was a little too much for the kids in the audience - so they got the "Na Na Na Na" song.  Notice the surprice "Wilson" on the Baal/Ball.
The big finish was - well BIG.  We are very thankful for all those who attended and that every performance went so well.  As the song we sang says, "God has smiled on me"!

Saturday, June 02, 2012

Some Time With Family

While waiting in line for the tram at Grant's Farm, I took this iPhone picture of our youngest grandson Andrew.  What a happy baby for having two ear infections.  It was pretty cool, but not too bad until we got on the tram and the breeze was blowing pretty good.  Can you say, "BURRRRRR?"
The elephants totally captivated Daniel, so Nana had to help him get one last look at them.
This was all of us taking pictures of Caleb, who was a volunteer for one of the shows we went to.  All, except his mom whose head is hiding just the other side of Donna.  Deborah has a "thing" about mice and rats and she just couldn't bring herself to watch what was happening.
It was a race of rats between two teams.  One was the two boys, Caleb being the far one with the rat on his shoulder, and a team of girls to the right just off the picture.  Caleb's team won, but I'm not sure how much his mom saw of it.
The always impressive bald eagle.  It sure is nice having an easy to use camera/phone close at all times.  It's going to take some time to get use to it and remember I have it.  It was a great morning to be out at Grant's Farm with family.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

2012 Dress Rehearsal

Last night's dress rehearsal was great.  We had a really really small crowd, so it was truly hard to judge audience response to things, but all the actors, songs, and tech stuff was super.  I can't wait to hear how a good audience responds to the lines, jokes, and songs.  Above, is right after we had our cast picture taken and we stayed in place to do a couple of warm-up songs.
The first BIG number as the senior angels welcome the "Newbies" to their angel class.
The Priests of Baal explaining why they're just "a product of their environment".
One of the songs with six of the eight senior angels and half the newbie class.
The Big closing song.  Hope you get a chance to come up and see one of the performances over the next four nights.  I am really thankful and happy with how well it has come together.  This is really the smallest cast we've had since our first musical seven years ago, but everyone does an awesome job.  "Break-a-leg!"

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Life Principle #11

One of the great ironies of sitcoms is the simple fact that they rely on disastrous relationships.  "I Love Lucy" was an excellent example of that point.  While I enjoyed it and did my share of laughing at Lucy and her all antics, I found myself mentally shouting, "Just tell Ricky the truth!"  Every episode was based on lies and deception, and in the real world, no relationship could survive the distrust that would generate.
Principle # 11 is "A LIFE THAT COUNTS IS A LIFE THAT VALUES TRUST."  Trust is a beautiful word, concept, and principle.  It is the heart of who we are and who we love!  Those we don't trust, or who don't trust us, are not in our circle of people we keep close.  It's not hard to illustrate trust in the stories of the Bible.  We see trust in God when Abraham was told by God to leave his home, when Noah was told to build an ark, when Joseph was told to wait, when Moses was told to go back to Egypt, and when Elijah was told to confront the King and the Prophets of Baal - just to name a few.  We also see it in the apostles as Jesus called them to leave home, families, and jobs, and when he had them feed the multitude, cast nets on the other side of their boat, gather a coin from a fish, and when he sent them out with his limited commission and the Great Commission - again, to just name a few.
There are three ways to think about trust:
1.  Trust is a character quality!
    A. We are born trusting parents:
    B. We learn the importance of trustworthiness = true, loyal, dependable, honest, & responsible.
    C. Trust is what keeps us consistent and authentic (1 Cor.4:1-2)
2.  Trust is a relationship essential!
    A. All relationships start, grow, and are built on trust.  "It is a fragile crystal of life's relationships."
    B. Once damaged or broken they are hard to restore!  Only God sees hearts.  (i.e. David)
    C. Family, friends, church families, leadership, fellow workers, and God, all required trust.
3.  Trust is faith!
    A. The difference between intellectual belief and a relationship is trust.
    B. Abraham & Isaac show us that faith is a journey of trust!
    C. Jesus call on us to trust him - John 14:1-6   Trust is depending on God! (Prov.3:5)
Conclusion:  Shadrach, Meshach, & Abednego in Dan.3 show trust in God, even if he decided not to rescue them from the fiery furnace!  Ps.56:3-4 &11 "In God I will trust; I will not be afraid.  What can man do to me?"

Friday, May 25, 2012

Writer's Block?

We love our church family, and we thank God every night for bringing us to Florissant.  It is a very special - loving church family, that has qualities we've experienced with other church families, but none that has had the same high level of unity, tolerance, and unabashed love that is common to this family.  We are in the middle of our eighth year here, which is hard to believe - time truly does seems to keep flying by faster and faster, but our love for all of our family here just keeps growing.  The one thing that I have never been able to develop here, like I've had everywhere else we've been, is a scheduled time to write.  I'm not talking about the weekly writing that is part of my ministry - bulletin articles, lessons, letters, emails, and even blogs, but the time I want to set aside to work on books that I feel God gifted me to write.
You see, to work on a book, you need a good solid uninterrupted couple hours.  That's hard to find with all the daily and weekly things that full up my time.  It takes that long because you must back-read what you've already written to get into the flow of thought you had when you last stopped.  If the writing times are close enough together, that's not as important - since you remember better, but it still needs to be long enough that you don't have to stop in the middle of a great flow of thought.  Most of the time, in the past, I was able to fit in a couple hours twice a week.  I have done a little of that, but it has really been difficult to do consistently.  I have a book I have been working on about God's Tool Box for about four years now, but I've had lulls in my writing that have spanned months at a time.  I'm about two-thirds of the way done, but it's so old that I know I have tons of things to rewrite - which isn't all bad.
How can I work this out?  This is my 720th blog.  That means prior to this blog, I have written 719 articles.  Yes, some are just personal pictures, and some have been short thoughts to share or that I've passed on from someone else, but the majority have been articles.  That's about two books worth of writing.  It's not a totally good comparison to make, since most of my blogs take 30 to 45 minutes to write and construct (some less some more).  I'm just wondering if I'd do more Book writing if I wasn't doing the blog writing.  I don't know - I'm just thinking out loud - I mean out blog.  I'm just sharing with you so you won't be too surprised if - sometime after the play is over - I decide to bring my blog adventure to a close.
I would appreciate any insights and prayers that anyone can give as I consider how I can best serve and glorify God with whatever gifts he has blessed me with.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Added Time To Ponder

It has been interesting to have some extra days to reflect on this coming Sunday's lesson since I wrote my first draft last week.  We had a great assembly time last Sunday led by our graduating Seniors, and my speaking duties were taken by a couple of our young men who did an excellent job.  I always do my lesson on Wednesday - as I did last week before it was confirmed that I wouldn't be preaching - and that has given me a full week to just reflect on my Living A Life That Counts principle #11.  I may not make any significant changes - just because of the fact that there is only so much material that can be shared in the allotted time, but - I have broadened the scope of my thoughts and prayers regarding this week's topic.
I have some strong and deeply emotional feelings about this topic.  Those who've known me for several years, have heard me say that my greatest hurts in life have come from people I loved who have violated the trust I placed in them.  When you choose to build a relationship with someone, whether it's marriage, friendship, or just partners in a project or mission, it is only as strong as the trust you have in one another.  There is nothing like the pain of betrayal, dishonesty, violated confidences, unfaithfulness, and deception.  It shatters trust, crushes hearts, and destroys relationships.  Thankfully, mistakes, omissions, momentary thoughtlessness, and unintended failures can be overcome, forgiven, and even strengthen a relationship.  When a personal trust is purposely broken, however, it's like a broken vase, sometimes the pieces can be put back together, but it's never the same.
It comes down to one word that we (I) don't usually connect with trust.  RISK!  That is the heart of trust.  What we don't know, and can't know, about a potential relationship is covered by trust, and what we do know reinforces that trust, but the bottom line is - every relationship is choosing to take a risk.  God said it long before the philosophers and poets did, but it's better to take the risk and enjoy the best part of being alive, than it is to never risk being hurt and living without the joy and fulfillment of great relationships.  If we let a broken trust control us, we end up living a broken life.  God will never break a trust, and the closer we get to Him, the easier it is to risk trusting in those he placed in our life.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Family Info

This is for family who will be coming to visit us in a couple of weeks to see this year's Musical - and to see us of course.  Just wanted to show off the changes (finally) to the back porch we all love to sit on and visit when they are here.  I've been wanting to finish off the ceiling for the last two years since I finished the porch, but I sort off liked the look of the wood and the rafters.  I wanted to put these pine tongue & groove boards on it, but they were expensive two years ago - so...I waited until their price doubled before doing it now.  I wanted natural wood.  Siding would have been a third the cost, but not as pretty.  Hopefully, with some good help, it will be done in the next few days - at least the ceiling part.  I still need to pressure clean the deck and put new sealant on it.  There will also be two fan/light fixtures in the ceiling - and some trim - and some vents - and some fascia - and some...wait, maybe it won't be done in two weeks.
For the last several years, our cherry tree has become fully ripe during the week of the play, so the birds have had a feast since we didn't have time to do very much picking.  Click on the picture and enlarge it and you'll see how full and nearly ripe it is already.  I'm sure that is due to all the early warm weather we've had this year.  Looks like it will be ready within the next few days.  There are already some ripe cherries on it.  They will probably be all gone by the time all the family get here in two weeks.  Sorry grand kids - no fruit pickin' this year, but maybe Nana will have a cherry cobbler or pie!  Now we're talking!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Life Principle #10

Living a life that counts means valuing souls over success (Principle #10).  I like the statement, "Sometimes we know the value of everything and the importance of nothing."  It's not difficult to look around and see that we often label "things" as priceless, but don't think of character, integrity, faith, family, and friends as even more priceless.  The premise is simple: Our most precious and valuable possession is our soul. (And that is an emphatic PERIOD!)  It's a struggle for all of us to remember that and live our lives like we truly believe it, but that is why God calls what we are on a journey, a walk, and a growing process.
Jesus cared about souls and he was very clear about it:
1. Matthew 10:26-28  He gives them value!
2. Matthew 16:24-27  He gives them priority!
3. Matthew 11:28-30  He gives them rest and reward!
How should we care about souls?  Three simple points:
1. We must first care about our soul!
    A. It is our connection to God!
         * How we love him - Deut.6:5
         * How we seek him - Psalm 42:1-2
         * How we praise him - Psalm 103:1-5
    B. It begins w/ loving ourselves as he commanded
    C. It means learning to love soul food = Bread of Life
2. We must care about the souls of our loved ones!
    A. Nothing in their life is more important!
    B. Make it clear that you care about their souls! (More than anything else they do!)
    C. You will never regret putting souls first!
3.  We must care about the souls of ALL who are lost!
    A. Problem? We're not sure anyone will be lost!  Satan sold us his world view of God!  Cheap grace!
          * 2 Thess.1:7-8 pretty clear
    B. What does God want us to do?
          (1) Use his tools: leaders, church, Word, etc
          (2) Grow, mature, & fall in love with Jesus
          (3) Witness, share, & care about their souls
    C. 1 Peter 3:15-16  attitude & actions count!
         Philemon 6  "share your faith...have a full understanding...of Christ"
Conclusion:  Most Doctor visits are preventative care = catch it early & live longer.  Sounds like grace - catch it and live longer!  Someone has to pitch it before it can be caught!

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Happy Mother's Day

Happy Mother's Day
To all the Mom's, Grand Moms, Step-Mom's, adopted Mom's, and Mentor Mom's - I hope this is a special day for you.  To the Mom of our three kids, Mother-in-law to our other three kids, and Grand Mom of our eight grand-kids; while to them you are Super Mom or Super Nana, to me you're still the brightest light in my life second only to the One in whose light I try to walk.  I love you and I'm sorry you're still feeling sick on Mother's Day.


Thursday, May 10, 2012

Need Stability?

My brother sent me this picture with the caption "Indisputable proof that a good woman can add stability to your life."  I'm just passing on the message and intentionally choosing to not make any further comments - though - the proverbial "Thousand Words" would be easy to use with this picture.  It would be fun to experiment with other potential captions.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Living By The Golden Rule

Principle #9:  Living a life that counts means living by the "Golden Rule".   Of course, like many tags given to biblical things (i.e. The Five Acts of Worship, The Great Commission, The Seven Deadly Sins, etc.) Jesus' call to "do unto others as you would have them do to you" wasn't called The Golden Rule until centuries later.  In fact, forms of the exact principle are seen thoughout antiquity in nearly every culture, religion, and philosophy before the first century.  I especially love Matthew's account because there Jesus said, "So in everything" prior to making the statement, and then he ended it with "for this sums up the Law and the Prophets."  Wow - talk about a preeminant principle of pleasing God?  This is it!  Of course, it is simply an extention of God's foundational call to "Love your neighbor as yourself." (Lev.19:18)  This is one of the few things that Paul adamently declares transcends the removal and death of the Old Law.  It's still the foundation of what God wants for all his people - even in the new covenant. (Gal.5:13-15)
There is probably no principle from God's Word that is better known than this one, so it was a little bit of a challenge to figure out how to talk about it in a new way.  As usual, for me, simplicity won out.  Here is the outline of the body of the lesson:
1. To live by the Golden Rule is choosing to live controlled!
   A. Jesus called us to live a radically different life of non-retaliation (Mt.5:38-48)
   B. "Eye for an eye" living is letting others define us and our character.
   C. In Christ, we choose the "new life" = Christ-like  (Col.3:5-14)
2. To live by the Golden Rule is to live considerately!
   A. Unselfish thinking is what we do!  (Phil.2:1-4)
   B. Are you a considerate person?  In your car?  With your cell & texting? Etc.
   C. Being thoughtful is:   How do they think & feel?  What do they need? How can I help?
3. To live by the Golden Rule is to live like Christ!
   A. Remember Jesus & the Lawyer w/ questions?  Luke 10:25-37  (Go & do likewise)
   B. The epistles are primarily relational not doctrinal!  How brethren should treat each other.
   C. The Spirit of Christ is found in how we treat others not just in what we DON'T do! (Phil.2:5)
Conclusion:  Sydney Carton in A Tale of Two Cities takes the place of Charles Darnay, who is to be executed.  "It is a far, far better thing that I do than I've ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I shall go to than I've ever known."  Jesus called that the "greater love" and he knows.  He is THE GOLDEN RULE personified!