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Thursday, November 24, 2016

Ten Thousand Blessings and Counting

Ten Thousand Blessings, and Counting

November 24, 2016


This Thanksgiving is the first one in years without family.  It's easy to think of things to be thankful for when grandchildren, and children are running around - at least that's true in my situation.  I can imagine some folks distressed about family time.  So, I began the day with an ATV ride around the farm we are staying on.  I'm thankful for the ATV, the farm we are on, the hospitality of the folks who opened it up to us and that we close on our new home in just six days.  As I drove around giving thanks, it dawned on me how often gratitude is about things, and places, and sights and...well, material sort of things.  If we are to believe Paul in 1 Timothy 4:4-5, then I imagine people are something to be thankful for.  That's easy with my wife, my family and people who are easy to like - like much of the congregations(s) I am privileged to serve.  What about EGR (Extra Grace Required) people?  Surprisingly, especially as I've aged, I'm thankful for them too.  God doesn't make junk, and most of us start to act badly because we let junk invade our hearts.  Experience has taught me that conflict with EGR people has brought about growth in me.  I think, if we allow Him, God uses such experiences to help rid us of our own junk.  So everything, everyone, is to be received with thanksgiving.  I guess the short of it is that I am thankful for jerks, i just pray others have the same attitude about me when I let junk in and the let the jerk come out.

Monday, November 7, 2016

One Thousand Blessings...and Counting - Election Day


One Thousand Blessings...and Counting

Election Day

November 7, 2016


We started a new sermon series on gratitude and thanksgiving yesterday.  A challenge was issued to begin keeping a daily gratitude journal.  We are calling them ALttitude journals - borrowing from Zig Ziglar:

"Your attitude, not your aptitude, determines your altitude."

Gratitude to one another is a very good thing, but gratitude toward God is the best of all things.  I don't think God gets enough thanks for what He does.  When we demonstrate gratitude toward God the Bible talks about running and not growing weary, rising up on wings like eagles, and Paul makes the observation that being grateful to God will provide the following, "And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."  I don't know about you, but I really like that.  It would hurt me to be more grateful, to spend five minutes a day recording my gratitude in a journal.  Besides, I felt obligated since I preached the sermon.  So, thus began the process of looking for blessings to be thankful about.  Unfortunately, I watched 60 Minutes last night.  I need to start buying cheap sermons off the web.

The segment on the Zika virus was bad enough, but CBS aired a segment on the election.  I knew that the people I know are upset about the election this year.  However, election coverage shows a lot of folks at the campaigns.  I figured maybe folks were seeing something I was missing.  Turns out that both campaigns must be busing in the same crowd to each city they visit (now THAT is an exaggeration - made for effect, meant to be funny - don't take it personally).  CBS brought in Frank Luntz and he brought in a focus group on the election.  It seems 82% of the population isn't voting FOR a candidate.  Rather, they are voting AGAINST a candidate.  And here I thought I was an oddball (probably am).  The worst part was how the folks within the focus group began to treat one another.  Luntz was visibly disturbed by what he saw.  Americans have at least a dislike for one candidate, but they despise the other.  I've already voted.  I confess that my heart is not in a good place about how I feel about one particular candidate.  I cannot even describe why I have these feelings because the description would expose who that individual's identity.  That, in itself is not an issue.  The greater issue is how this election has divided this nation.  Americans not only hate the candidate they oppose, we have begun hating those who vote for them.  What has happened?  

How do you write a praise about that?

And then it dawned upon me..there is praise in the anger.  Let me quickly add that the sun should not go down on our anger, nor should we sin in our anger.

I toyed with the notion that this is still the greatest nation in the world and that we still have free elections.  However, that seems trite, and unfortunately unbelievable to a skeptical public.  Many today believe our elections are at the very least manipulated, if not completely stolen.

No, I kept returning to the idea that the anger is a good sign.  We are angry because we remember a different time.  And if too young to possess those memories, most of us have at least heard of those bygone days.  We do remember leaders who were heroes.  Imperfect yes, but at least we had choices who were folks we could admire rather than someone resembling a grotesque character from a bad graphic novel.  We remember too, a nation unified, proud, confident and a beacon of light in a dark world.  We remember the United States as the go to place for the broken, the hopeless, the persecuted and the visionary.  We are, after all, the nation of immigrants.  We still have that memory, and others.  We are angry because we feel that the land of our fond memories has been stolen by the corrupt, the ruling class, the career politicians, the self-interest groups, the media and countless others to blame.  I believe that to be good news.  This nation began because others had the same sort of frustration and anger.  It's good news because they were smart enough to devise a system providing for a peaceable solution if ever those frustrations were again to rise.  We can vote.  More importantly, we can care once again.  Our predicament can be blamed on the others listed, but the blame also resides in ourselves.  we can care about this country like our predecessors once did.  The only reason career politicians got away with things was because so many of us stopped caring, stopped watching and kept on playing.  I'm thankful for how bad things have become because folks are angry and perhaps, just perhaps we will care enough to make a change.

I'm thankful for another reason.  For me - profound.  Only believers understand this.  I'm thankful because all this is just temporary drama in my mindset.  I have been disappointed with Presidents, and choices for President, for quite a few years.  I have learned to be content - no matter the circumstance.  It matters who is President.  What matters most is that no matter who is President - Jesus is still King.   

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Kenny

Kenny

August 8, 2016


I noticed something yesterday as I was packing.  I was packing the workshop and garage.  As I wa packing my third circular saw...don't be judgmental!  There was a redundancy of three computer systems on the Space Shuttle.  If triple redundancy works for NASA, it can work in a hobby workshop.  Well, as I was saying, I was packing my third circular saw and it still seemed as if there was a long way to go in packing.  It was shortly afterwards that I noticed a change in my packing method from the beginning of this adventure.

It all started with my model train room.  I was fastidious in my packing.  Trains and accessories were carefully put back in their original packaging.  You're being judgmental again.  There is nothing wrong with keeping original packaging.  Next came the guns, and yes, original packaging.  The room was quickly emptied.  Next came my office with dozens and dozens of boxes filled.  Don't jump to conclusions.  Books are best moved in the heavy boxes from the liquor store.  Do I sense a judgmental attitude again?  About 98% of the office is done and finally I moved to boxing up the garage and workshop - the biggest job of all.  I noticed that the last couple of boxes were packed with less care than when all this began.  By the end of the day, boxes were being filled haphazardly with whatever was left on the bench.  Just how human is that?  Parenting came to mind.  The first baby is invariably given a huge amount of attention and care.  First time parents are often seen in a rush, running from one potential disaster to another with the intent of keeping the baby from harm - even if it is nothing more than preventing a speck of dirt from tainting said baby.  By the time the fifth child is born, parents barely take notice that the child is making, and eating, mud pies.  Such is human nature - passion at the beginning, waning care near the end.

It is said that the most effective years for evangelism are within the first three years of accepting Christ.  Many Christians become less and less involved in church activities after their tenth birthday in Christ.  Which is interesting considering Paul's instruction that church elders should not be recent converts.  Choosing to believe Scripture over common wisdom, i wonder if there is yet another explanation.  Is this a human trait in Christianity, or is it a weakness found within US of A Christianity?  Perhaps the following can shed some enlightenment: 


Okay, so the early church needed encouragement.  This means it is a human trait to see our passions wane.  However, these verses also tell us that it is a human trait which can be overcome.

I cannot help but think of Dr. Kenny Beckman.  I've been blessed to be involved with several colleges, and one of those is Boise Bible College.  It is there that I met Kenny.  It seems almost sacrilegious to call a man 40 years my senior by his nickname, but you had to know Kenny to appreciate this.  "Dr. Beckman" would have honored Kenny and his achievements.  However, knowing him as Kenny managed to honor him in a different way.  In the picture below, Dr. Beckman is the diminutive fellow in the center with the smile larger than life.  The three men in the forefront are all former, or present presidents of Boise Bible College.  Kenny has been touching lives there since 1949.  June 23rd of this year marked his 99th birthday.  He was gathered home with his Lord this past Sunday, July 30th.  That smile was always present. 



Dr. Kenneth Beckman was passionate.  He slowed down, but never tired of doing good.  I'm confident he is reaping a crown of righteousness at this moment.  Thanks for the lesson Kenny.


Wednesday, July 6, 2016

"You Don't..."

"You Don't..."

July 6, 2016


It was the summer of  1972.  I was a 14 year-old boy living on the east coast of Florida and Jim Croce released his latest big hit, "You Don't Mess Around With Jim."  Perhaps you remember the title song.  the chorus went like this,

     "You don't tug on Superman's cape,
      You don't spit into the wind,
      You don't pull the mask off that old Lone Ranger,
      And you don't mess around with Jim."

The lyrics are set in a pool hall in New York City.  "Big Jim" Walker is the titular character - note, I did not say hero.  He's portrayed in the song as big, bad, mean and not particularly bright.  The story in song ends violently when Willie "Slim" McCoy ambushes Big Jim and slays him.  The pool hall regulars then change their advice to strangers by saying, "You don't mess around with Slim."

Croce's song makes popular street wisdom.  Of course, the song is about a bad boy and his eventual comeuppance, but it's interesting to note how the advice to not mess with Jim or Slim is reinforced, "You don't tug on Superman's cape, you don't spit into the wind, you don't pull the mask off the old Lone Ranger."  I imagine that most little boys learn the spitting lesson by about the age of ten.  However, the song is about a really bad guy, and the lesson emphasizes not messing around with Superman, nor the Lone Ranger.  Wait, I thought they were good guys.  Good guys are supposed to be approachable.  Like God - He's approachable!  Of course, I've strayed from talking about fictional heroes to a hero in reality.  It's important to remember that the personalities of fictional people often reflect real people.  God is a real person - the original person.  Real people have likes and dislikes.  Real people have boundaries, desires, pet peeves, aspirations, loves and hates.  God is a real person, and as our passage in Proverbs teaches - He hates.  In this case, six things people do.  Kind of like tugging on Superman's cape.  Seven things are an abomination.  I can't say that an abomination is kind of like pulling the mask off the Lone Ranger, but the thought does make you pause.

The Holy Spirit sings His own song of warning.  He uses strong language here - God hates six things, and seven are an abomination.  So, don't mess with Jim.  You definitely don't mess with Slim.  Don't spit into the wind.  Don't tug on Superman's cape.  Don't pull the mask off of the Lone Ranger.  And really, really don't do things God finds abominable.  After all, such wisdom is in Proverbs, that's the Bible.  You should pay a lot of attention to such things.  At this point it is important to note that our culture is turned upside down in this regard.  yesterday's FBI announcement is a great example.  The investigation into Hillary Clinton found gross wrongdoing in regards to sensitive emails.  Yet, they are not going to prosecute.  Surprise!  It might be safe to note that half the country is outraged.  It would also be safe to note that the other half is not.  I'm not surprised.  I'm 58 years-old.  I long ago gave up hope that investigations that "will get to the bottom of things" and that "people will pay" have managed to never achieve either ultimatum.  Some would say that this is like messing with Big Jim or Slim, or another Croce song, Bad, Bad Leroy Brown.  I'm different, to me it hearkens back to what one sage once penned, "all animals are created equal, some animals are more equal than others." The truth is that there is little wisdom in the wisdom of mankind.  Values, and the application of standards is as capricious as the wind.  With that lesson in mind, let's get back to Proverbs.

 If one were to walk into a proverbial pool hall and God were there (to the Pharisees - this is not a time to split hairs) I think it is a safe bet that there is no one standing behind Him who is bigger, more fearsome or more powerful.  Got it?  Good.  Now, let's imagine you decide to go over and pick a pool room fight.  Your first weapon - haughty eyes.  Oh, you never do that?  "Consider others better than yourselves." Does that happen 100% of the time in your life?  Really?!  How do you treat others in...traffic for starters?

"A lying tongue." What's your tax return look like?  That's for starters.  You be really honest - with yourself.

"Hands that shed innocent blood."  Hmmm, what was that passage?  Oh yes, the Sermon on the Mount!  If you hate someone that is the same as murdering them.  How's that rationalization going?  What's that?  Every one who disagrees with you is Hitler, and it's okay to hate Hitler.  Hmmm.

"A heart that devises wicked plans."  Well, hating someone is a starter for this one.  Have you ever fantasized about revenge on another person?

"Feet that make haste to run to evil."  Self explanatory.  Favorite sins seem to be a given if you are human.  as a matter of fact, we use that as an excuse, "I'm only human."  But consider how quickly you may hurry to rebel against God's will and compare that to how quickly you run to do His bidding.

"A false witness who breathes out lies."  Why is it that in considering sin, rebelling against God's precepts only in regards to the worst example?  For example, this clause allows a person to breathe a sigh of relief because "I have never knowingly testified falsely against another."  However, is not a "prayer" circle more of a gossip circle, and does not gossip oftentimes include the spreading of false rumors about another?  The sin generally starts with, "Did you hear?"  And ends with, "Well, people are saying."  Some "saints" treat gossip as an attribute and act as though they are the head of the gossip ministry within the church.  If we remembered that this is the last of the six things God hates.

"And one who sows discord among brothers."  Why does this seventh clause make the other six abominations?  Perhaps because the one who causes distension and seeks to divide almost always uses the other six to accomplish the seventh.  Thom Rainey states in his blog that often these individuals do not recognize this in themselves.  Still, you don't tug on Superman's cape.


Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Change

Change

June 28, 2016


As we face change.  By "we" I refer to both you and me.  Maybe you wonder what sort of change I might be talking about.  Well, right now there is a lot of change.  For me, we look to once again crossing the country and joining a new ministry.  There is lots of change there, and uncertainties as well.  For the congrgation we leave, there is lots of change.  a minister to whom they have grown accustomed.  There is also plenty of uncertainty,

"Who will we get next?"

"What if we can't find anyone?"

"There is danger facing us when you leave!"

"What if?"

For the congregation we journey to,

"He looks good now, but will he fit here?"

"What if I don't like him?"

"What if?"

Oh, I nearly forgot about you.  Yes, I'm referring to you, those who are not part of the groups i have mentioned thus far.  you are facing some sort of change.  If not now then sometime in the near future you will face change.  Uncertainties abound in life.  We all ask at some point, "What if?"

I think we also, all too often, put ourselves through agony worrying about the effects of change for little or no reason.  We need a reminder of thelesson taught when Jesus scolded in His sermon on the Mount by asking, "Why do you worry?" Sometimes we worry for no other reason than we don't like the lack of control change often brings.

Sometimes, we just get too big for our britches.  I find this somewhat understandable, not condoned, but understandable.  After all, we are created in the image of God, so it would seem undeeerstandable that we would demonstrate some of His traits.  But, we need to remind ourselves that exerecising those traits is often like a child imitating a parent.  Cute, if it's like a little girl attempting to put on Mom's clothes and makeup.  Tragic, if it's like a little boy grabbing Dad's unsecured handgun.  All too often we take on God-sized projects when the uncertainty of change has comeupon us.  With our limited wisdom, coupled with our predeliction for corrupting what we try to control, this is a recipe for disaster.

Paul's farewell to the Ephesian elders is a great lesson.  Talk about change!  Talk about uncertainties!  Talk about facing danger!  This scene in the 20th chapter of Acts has it all.  I am struck by Paul's calm, awed by the wisdom he shares, and humbled by the lesson.  Think about hisattitude, and compare it to your own;

"But I do not account my life of any value..."

I wonder how things would change, in God's favor, if we truly lived this as truth?  If we lived as if we were important, everyone else is more important, and god is the most important than I'm fairly confident things would tip farther in God's favor.

"...nor as precious to myself,"

Fear is a powerful thing.  If Paul had feared for himself on this journey that would eventually take him before Caesar, the rest of the New Testament story would be quite different.  The human tendency is to think of self as very precious.  The teaching and example of Christ and His disciples turns that concept upside down.

"if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus,"

Just do the job.  Just run the race.  Just the part carved out for you - by Christ, by the way.  If you are the running back, don't try to be the quarterback.  If you are the receptionist, don't try to be company president.  Just do the job set out for you by Christ the King.  By the way,that means you don't try and do His job either.  That's a bit of what I referred to earlier, created in His image, being molded in his image, we have a tendency to adopt His passion for fixing things.  He's the fixer, we're the cog in his machine.  Try and do His job, and it looks more like the little boy with his Daddy's gun - tragic consequences.  Just do the job set out for you.

"...to testify to the gospelof the grace of God."

Funny how God uses the K.I.S.S. principle with us - Keep It Simple Stupid.  The Gospel is what it is all about.  the fix for everything has already been set in place - by the Fixer Himself.  The fix is nothing else we think important.  a new world is being ushered in - in God's time.  The Kingdom is already set up, all others will pass away - in God's time.  The morality is atrocious now,will apparently get worse before it gets better.  Perfect behavior will one day come, not by laws, but by love.

Just do the job.  Love people, think about yourself less, love God the most.  Testify to the Gospel.  Be God's cog, He takes care of the rest.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Hello, Goodbye

Hello, Goodbye

June 26, 2016


This week has been an emotional roller coaster.  We started the week saying yes to a new congregation and ministry.  We ended the week bystarting to say goodbye to another.  Now we begin the long process in ministry of moving from one to the other.

We made the very emotional announcement to the congregation here at First Christian Church.  It did not help that they had planned a birthday celebration for me for after service.  There were tears, kind words and prayer.  Some were shocked, a couple were not surprised.  

We had the elders and wives over for dinner last night to break the news to them - it was hard, much harder than I thought.  We said goodbye to another congregation eleven years ago.  One would think it gets easier.  It does not, and I don't think I would much like myself if it did become easier.  Paul's farewell to the Ephesian elders comes to mind:

"And when he had said these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all. And there was much weeping on the part of all; they embraced Paul and kissed him, being sorrowful most of all because of the word he had spoken, that they would not see his face again. And they accompanied him to the ship." 
-- Acts 20:36-38

It will be several weeks before we leave.  There will be more opportunities for saying goodbye.  I'm going to miss a lot of people.  For some reason I'm thinking about the kids at LJHS and Fergus High.  I'm really going to miss them.  But for right now...

Hello Crossville, Goodbye Lewistown

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Appalled

Appalled

June 20, 2016


I was preaching in a Tennessee congregation while traveling from Raliegh to Nashville on Sunday, June 12, 2016.  One of the congregants shared about the Orlando shooting that morning.  Having eschewed television news last year, and long had the practice of avoiding anything beyond the study of Scripture on Sunday mornings, the announcement was a surprise to me.  Perhaps the greatest surprise was that I was not shocked by the news.  I guess it is possible that the acts of terrorism, even on domestic soil, have become too common.

It did not take long for practically everyone to opine, for the attention hounds to stand in front of a camera, seek having a microphone thrust in their face, or for those embracing the electronic age - to resort to social media.  Ironically, just as I am doing now.  However, I did want to be different.  I wanted to wait until the dust had cleared somewhat.  Too often what is reported by the news outlets is little different from the gossip shared in the downtown bookstore or coffee shop - a basis in fact, but the final product is mor lie than truth.  As usual,this time was no different than the countless times before, practically everyone did not fail to disappoint in being a disappointment.  The tragedy became the opportunity for soapboxes to be mounted, for pet causes to be trumpeted, for pet peeves to be attacked, for arms to be raised and the fist shaker to announce that if they were in control - things would be different.  We should ban peoples, ban guns, ban manufacturers, control, control, control....  I am a student of history, and as a pastor/counselor, a student of the human psyche.  i find naught evidence that we can prevent such things.  For millennia, mankind has been very creative in the destruction of others.  I doubt any number of restrictions will prevent the root cause of such events - hatred.  For that is the predilection of the human heart, to hate those different from us.

In our society hatred has been raised to an art form.  Omar Mateen, but then he is pretty much hated as well.  Christians are hated, but then, so are Muslims.  Guns and gun owners are hated, but then so are those who try to limit, or prevent that right in others.  Watch the new show BrainDead and they do a very good job of making fun of the fact that the Democratic Party hates the Republican Party, but then the Republican Party hates the Democratic Party.  ISIS (ISIL/IS) manages to hate everyone, but then Westboro Baptist Church manages to do the same.  I have been careful to construct the last several lines because they who know better than everyone else, are careful to measure words, because they hate those who are not politically correct.  I could go on and on with examples.  why?  Because mankind is pretty well practiced in hatred.  The real issue at hand is what happened in Orlando that horrible Sunday.

Though I was not shocked about the nature of the tragedy, I was appalled.  The violence was appalling.  The loss of life was appalling.  The hatred was appalling.  The response by nearly everyone else was appalling.  That includes you, Mr. President.  For those reading, if this offends you, then I should add that the Presidential candidates - all - were appalling as well.  I wonder at how my Savior would have responded.  The man who did not stop the violence around Him - though He has the power to cease all violence, and who surrendered to violence upon His own body would have handled things much differently I suppose.  Someone recently pointed out that He told His disciples to sell their cloak and buy a sword at the Last Supper.  Yes, but a few minutes later, when asked if the two swords they had were enough, He responded yes.  yet later, when Peter cut off the ear of Malchus in the Garden, Jesus admonished that those who live by the sword would die by the sword.  He then healed Malchus' ear.  I imagine Jesus' behavior would be the same in Orlando.  Swords and guns are not the issue, hatred is the problem.  Has been...will be, that is, until He returns.  Jesus responded to hatred with love.  One of the many, many ways He demonstrated love was to apprehend their stories and to touch them where they were in life.  The woman at the well is one example, Zaccheus another, and the woman caught in adultery yet another.  so, my supposition is that Jesus would have healed, maybe raised someone back to life, but definitely He would have intersected with some life stories among those in Orlando.  If He responded to Zaccheus in the way He did, I wonder what He would say to the family member of one who died in the nightclub Pulse on a violent Sunday?  Perhaps the family member's last words to their deceased son or daughter had been said in anger and had cast them from the family.  I wonder how the parent, sibling or friend would feel?  I wonder how Jesus would respond?  Might He tell a parable?  Why does the Prodigal Son come to mind?  What about those who survived?  What about those who condemn?  Why does the scene of the woman caught in adultery come to mind?  I wonder who would be asked what Jesus asked of her accusers?  What about His admonition to the woman dragged naked before Him?  Who of us needs the same admonition?  How many tears have been shed over Orlando?  How many tears are still to be shed...not just for Orlando, but until the End of Days?

There is a solution for Orlando.  There has been one for 2,000 years. The solution is a man, but not just any man.  He did not come to change behavior, but to transform the heart.  Change the heart and behavior changes.