Monday, August 14, 2017

My Mixed Up Call to Foreign(er) Missions

Sitting in the largest room in all of Gatlinburg, 45 minutes from my childhood home,  with a group of Senior Adults I had brought from my church to a senior adult convention, I felt convicted that I should take a foreign mission trip.. As a matter of fact,  a well-known author had invited/challenged the whole room to have a foreign mission experience sometime in the next year. I had responded to his invitation personally and looked forward to what spiritual adventure God had in store for me. 

I waited and listened for an opportunity to go to some foreign land to serve people and tell them about the love of Jesus that had changed my life. The days became weeks, and weeks became months and still no word from God. No one I knew mentioned a trip. There were no perfectly timed mission travel brochures to Africa that came across my desk at the church.  So, I wondered if I had somehow missed God’s call. Maybe it was just the full stack of flapjacks from the pancake cabin that had given me a sugar rush or perhaps I had been hypnotised by the taffy pulling machine from the Smoky Mountain Candy Kitchen and I misinterpreted it as a call to a short term mission trip across the pond somewhere. Maybe my Sevier County prediabetic indulgence had affected my ability to clearly hear God’s Great Foreign Commission on my life.

At the time I had four children between the ages of 7 and 11, so obviously my wife was curious about this call to abandon my post as taxi daddy, bicycle fixer, homework helper and home missionary for 10 days to 2 weeks and go somewhere else to minister to someone else’s kids in need. She certainly would have been willing to accept all parental duties for those days, if I could show her any real tangible plans that God had given me about this Jesus journey to the African plain or Amazon Jungle.

So, eventually, I had actually written this calling off as my mistaken interpretation of a call to missions from a funnel cake hangover. That’s when God in His infinite sense of humor, showed me that my foreign mission experience would not involve travel more than a few miles from my home.

My son came home one day in the middle of the school year and said that a new kid had come to his school and the teacher wanted him to help tutor the new student in math and whatever other 6th grade classes they had together. My son also said he had invited him and his family to our church and the new student said he and his family would be there the next Sunday. 

As a pastor, I had heard promises to come to church before, by well-meaning potential guests I had invited to join us for worship on a Sunday morning. So, I was guardedly optimistic about this family coming. But sure enough a family of 7 showed up that next Sunday.  Their sparkling white teeth blasted out beautiful smiles from their dark Sudanese faces and their broken english with thick accents with lots of laughter expressed a joy that was infectious.  They didn’t look like anyone in my largely homogeneous suburban white church. We quickly found classes for 5 kids and two adults. We also learned they had another child on the way.

My son and the oldest boy were soon doing everything together. My son taught him American football. We would take him to practice and make sure he had cleats and equipment for the middle school football experience.  They threw the discus and “put the shot” together on the track team. After ballgames and track meets they inhaled Hardee’s thickburgers and fries and soft drinks together, but his tall thin Sudanese frame never got much thicker.

Since his family only had one car,  we frequently took him to the doctor or came pick him up when no one from his house could make it to the school. He stayed in our home often. He also frequently came to our house to eat our after-church lunch meal, which we called “Stir Fry Sunday”. It was a mix of stir fried rice and whatever leftover meats and vegetables we had chopped up from the last week’s meals with a fried egg and soy sauce added in. Most of it he enjoyed, but when shrimp was in the mix he always opted for something else. He thought is was strange that we would eat such an ugly creature on purpose.

We soon began to hear his family’s story about their escape on foot from Sudan to Egypt to avoid those who wanted to kill them. They had left family and friends in hopes of safety and a new life. We learned about how his younger brother’s twin had died from illness and how they had to watch as their uncle was murdered. They had to learn Arabic in Egypt and then English when they got to the U.S.. But this young man and his family were amazingly positive in spite of the misfortunes they had endured.

He learned how to plant a garden, drive a four wheel drive 1974 Scout, and shoot a rifle while at my dad’s farm a couple of hours away. He and his younger brother played on our church basketball team and they surprised the whole team when they clearly articulated the Gospel of Jesus Christ and encouraged everyone to accept His Salvation.  They went to church camps and mission trips and studied God’s Word in Bible study every week. .

And when this family was moving to Colorado, we offered to host the oldest boy so he could stay with his friends, his church, and complete high school here.  His family said they needed him to help raise the youngest brothers and he knew he needed to go with them, though he wanted to stay.

Needless to say my family’s four year Foreign Missions experience with this young man and his family was far more of an adventure than any 10-14 day mission trip I could have taken somewhere by myself. God called us to a long term friendship with a young man and his family.  He called us to share our food, our transportation, our love, and our Jesus with him and his family. God taught me that when He calls, it doesn’t always look like we think it should.

This young man is now in a Colorado college finishing up his football eligibility and making plans for the rest of his life. The thin young man with the million dollar smile is now a jacked, 6 foot 7 inch, 270 lbs. of muscle and he is in a relationship with a young lady from Colorado.

I encourage you to say, “yes” to God on any mission He invites you to be a part of.  But keep your mind and heart open to the unique ways he may use you and your family in His service.

Friday, April 21, 2017

The Power of a Kid’s Prayer Over a Papa’s Selfish Preference

As parents, my wife and I try to help our kids see the power of God revealed through prayer.  When the kids were young, we said prayers with them and tried to make a big deal of how and when God answered. At times we even wrote our family prayer requests on a large sheet of paper stuck to the refrigerator, and then, when God answered we would write down the way He answered, put the date He answered and then we would all celebrate and thank Him for His Goodness. We want our four kids to see His power and love displayed in answered prayer.
This plan to teach our kids to pray was going great when my young son decided he wanted a dog. He prayed faithfully and fervently with my wife for weeks at bedtime prayers for that dog. I, however, had just become the senior pastor of a church that had recently survived an ugly split and with four young children, my plate was pretty full.  In my selfishness I justified not getting a dog because I didn’t have a lot more time or energy to add “pet care” to my “to do” list. So, thinking that I would eliminate the possibility of adding a new canine family member, I said. “Well the only way we are getting a dog, is if God puts one in our backyard.”  I felt extra assured that would not happen because the church had just built a 4 foot high chain link fence around the parsonage backyard. My son, however, was not shaken, he knew that God answers prayer, so he redoubled his prayer efforts.
Then you know what happened?  I woke up one morning and looked out the back door and there, right in the middle of the backyard, inside the fence, was a medium sized black dog that looked like a small wolf. Of course, I did a double take and said to myself, “I don’t see a dog in my backyard,” thinking maybe that if I denied seeing said dog it would disappear. So, I hoped that maybe the dog would just go away. But my son looked out the door and said, “that is the dog I’ve been praying for!” “God sent my dog!”.  I reluctantly put some water out for the poor mutt that had obviously been on the streets for a while. My animal-loving wife could do nothing but laugh at God’s sense of humor and her pastor husband’s lack of faith in the power of his son’s prayer. My son instantly named the mutt “Scottie”, before we actually knew the dog was a female. And so, from then on she was affectionately  known as “Scottie, the girl dog.”
But God was not through answering the prayers of that little boy and humbling his daddy. After a few weeks, I asked my wife, “how much are you feeding that dog? She’s getting fat.” She said I’m not feeding that dog any extra.  So, then we looked at each other and said, “she’s pregnant!” So my God, “who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think,”(Eph.3:20) gave that little boy and his sisters 6 more mutt puppies, much to their glee.  They did recognize that 7 dogs were probably too many to keep for ourselves. So, we all agreed to share the joy of puppies with other people. Fortunately it was the Holiday Season and we were able to advertise Christmas puppies and give them all away. But my whole family knew that God had abundantly answered the fervent prayers of a little boy.

Even now, when all my kids are grown, they call home and share their prayer requests with us believing God for answers, and we thank Him for His response.  The answers aren’t always exactly what we asked for, but we still recognize that God answers, even if He says. “No” or “Not yet.”  

This is an article I'm sharing with Good News Magazine, hope you enjoy.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Waiting for Jesus

We can leave our house, forget something, turn around and come back and our dog, Sadie, will greet us as if we have been gone for three days. She wags her tail so hard her whole body wiggles. She will roll over to beg for a belly rub. She will paw at you to get even more attention. She even gives a doggy hug wrapping her paws around you. One of the words for worship in the Bible is an image of this kind of love and devotion toward someone.

I kind of feel like my dog, Sadie, when I really think about seeing Jesus either when I go to Him at my death or He comes back to save us. I eagerly await the rapture, the catching up of believers, so that I can see Him face to face. 

There is much trouble now and it seems to be increasing. There are many reminders of what eternity without Jesus would be like...evil, no love, no rescue from trouble or torment, hatred, godlessness, horrible friendlessness... It makes me want to be very sure of my salvation.  My sins take me away from the love of God forever, but Jesus paid the price for my sins so I can live forever with Him.

Jesus, who loves us has a place prepared for those of us who love Him and eagerly wait for his return...

“so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.” Hebrews 9:28 ESV

Saturday, November 21, 2015

The Only Thing That Counts,,,

In these confusing and tumultuous times, it's hard to know what is most important. There are debates about refugees, sexual orientation, terrorists, ISIS, Isreal, end times events... the list is endless. People also debate what the church needs to be doing. What it needs to be saying. Should it engage? Should it be silent? 
At the end of the day, the evaluation that really matters is still the same... 

As Paul adressed the Galatian church about one of the debates of his time. He reminded them what is most important in our lives. There are two questions we will all have to answer at the end of this life... What did you do with Jesus Christ and what did you do with His Love?  

Paul under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit says, “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.”
Galatians 5:6 NIV

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Manhood Journey: Beginnings: A Bus Ride to a Canadian Canoe Trip with My Scout Troop

This was it; this was the grand acknowledgement of the first steps of manhood for our scout troop! This was much like the acknowledgement of a Jewish boy becoming a man granted by a Bar Mitzvah or a young African tribesman killing his first lion. This was a pilgrimage to the Canadian boundary waters for a canoe trip.  It marked the end of my 8th grade year. I was 12.

My Dad, though he was unable to go, invested heavily in my preparation…he had coached me and bought me my own paddle. And we had marked it with black electrical tape to identify it like the war paint on the spear of a young Indian brave preparing for his first battle. Dad gave me his favorite fishing rod and some of his favorite spinner baits and advised me on just how to use them. He took me on a local lake to give me additional canoe practice.

The day of departure finally arrived and “little Bill” as I was called by a coach at school showed up with sleeping bag, fishing gear, new paddle and all the clothes and gear I needed to canoe for 5 days in the boundary waters. There were no roads or ranger stations anywhere close. No phones. “No safety nets,” just a bus full of teenage boys and a few adult leaders out on remote lakes. We were excited but a little apprehensive that we would be  staying in groups of 3 and each group was in a different campsite on a different island every night. We would be making a large 25 mile loop through lakes and portages. We would pack everything in with our canoes: food, tents, supplies… set up camp every night and paddle and hike every day. We would cook the fish we caught over a fire and eat it. We did have other food in case the fishing was slow.  What I did not know was the first manhood challenge I would face was not in the wilderness lakes of the U.S. Canadian border, but on the bus ride there. 

This hopeful little boy could hardly carry his pack to the bus. Spindly little legs with knobby knees wobbled with the weight of all the gear. After a word of goodbye to the parents we hopped on the bus for the longest ride any of us had ever taken…  From Knoxville, Tennessee to Ely, Minnesota. We jumped on and selected our seats, but “little Bill” was kind of hyper. He could be annoying sometimes, but for the most part fun and fun loving. Little Bill was standing in the seat and walked up and down the aisles for several hours.

We stopped for dinner and we all returned with soft drinks and snacks. I finally calmed down a bit. I was so small I could lie down in the overhead luggage rack. So, I decided this would be a good place to get quiet and rest.  This was another bigger boy’s opportunity to do what he did best…be the bully… This boy was called Bud by his friends.  He was always the life of the party, but at someone else’s expense. And it was too easy this time.  He saw his prey in the luggage rack.  He bit off a little piece of napkin and loaded his blowgun otherwise known as a McDonald’s straw. McDonald’s straws were the best because they were stiffer and longer than those from other restaurants, so the spit filled paper projectile would exit the barrel at a stinging velocity. Bud took aim and BAM, it hit my face and stuck there. I frowned and wiped it off as his “buddies” laughed.  He saw that he was winning attention and more laughs so he continued, grinning at me with an insolent smirk each time he bit off a piece of napkin to reload. I asked him to stop, but he was in the zone. He wasn’t stopping. 

All my life there had been a teacher or leader to step in to protect “little Bill” and I had gotten pretty good at self-preservation by working the bully protection angle from authority figures.   But we were in the back of the bus and the leaders were all up in the front.  So, as I waited for a deliverer, a rescuer, none came. And it became clear that Bud wasn’t going to stop even after the laughter had subsided.  He was now just antagonizing me, spit wad after spit wad. I had learned in Sunday School to turn the other cheek, but I didn’t have any cheeks left to turn.   So, the next time he looked down to grab his napkin, I sprang from the luggage rack like a kamikaze flying squirrel right on top of his head. I had landed a good shot, but I hadn’t really thought through my next move. I just knew I didn’t want to be his victim the whole trip. So, Bud, outweighing me by a good 40 pounds quickly threw me off his head and into the seat… and just as he had raised his hand to throw a punch, the Troop Leader grabbed his arm and stopped him. He separated us and we both calmed down.

Apparently the counter attack was enough to change this bully’s perception of me as the easy target. The rest of the trip and other trips after, Bud left me alone, for the most part. He even tried, in his own way to make me an ally.

The trip was awesome. We all camped, canoed, fished, cooked and had a great time. We had earned our stripes; we had earned our single feather as recognition of the first steps toward manhood. And I had learned that sometimes, regardless of your size, you have to resist a bully when you are disrespected.

Looking back now, I am sure there were other more peaceful ways to deal with this aggression, but as a pre-teen, it was the only solution I could come up with, but it seemed to work. A man's deepest desire is for respect and this had earned me just a bit from a young man who had little respect for anyone.  It was a life-changing trip in spite of this bit of adolescent tomfoolery. It was sort of a defining moment for me as a young man and fortunately was one of very few physical confrontations this undersized young man had to face.  I learned how to "survive" on my own and with some other scouts.  

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Becoming a Christ Follower

Believe that God loves you
John 3:16 (NIV)  "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life."

Believe that you are a sinner who needs God
Romans 3:23 (NIV)  "for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,"

Believe that God's Son, Jesus paid the price for your sin
Romans 5:8 (NIV)  But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Believe that God's gift to you is eternal life in Jesus Christ
Romans 6:23 (NIV) For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Believe and Confess that Jesus has authority over everything, including everything in your life
Romans 10:9-10 (NIV) That if you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.

Believe that you have been saved from sin and death and the punishment of hell. 
Romans 10:13 (NIV)  "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved."

Believe and Follow Jesus everyday
Luke 9:23 (NIV) Then he(Jesus) said to them all: "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.

If you have questions about following Jesus, feel free to contact me.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Prayer of Confession

Lord, I am upset when You are disregarded and disrespected publicly like when the Ten Commandments are taken from public places, yet I violate them with my life choices...

You say, have no other gods before me, yet in my pride and selfishness, I exalt things, people and myself to god-ish status. Forgive me.

You say, don't make an idol, yet I am an idolater with a small screen, a big screen and an even bigger screen in the name of entertainment and I often serve money rather than You.  Father, Forgive.

You say, don't misuse Your Name, yet I watch and listen to programming that takes Your Name in vain condoning its abuse and I flippantly say Your Name in very inappropriate ways. I am sorry Lord , forgive me.

You say, remember the Sabbath and keep it Holy, yet I don't always set aside a day of rest, recreation and reflection with You. God forgive me.

You say, honor your father and mother, and in my lifetime I have dishonored them way too many times in too many ways. I regret my selfish arrogance, forgive me.

You say, you shall not murder, but I have condoned the sacrifice to Molech for personal and societal gain and I have spoken and wished ill on others in my anger, which Your Son says is the same thing.  Forgive.

You say, you shall not commit adultery, yet I have seen things that can only lead to impure thoughts and Your Son says that's all it takes, Father forgive.

You say, you shall not steal, yet I have taken what is not mine and I have forced others into slave labor stealing their livelihood so I can have nice things at a cheap cost.  Father forgive.

You say, don't give false testimony, yet I lie like there is nothing wrong with it for my own gain, image and convenience. Forgive me.

You say, you shall not covet your neighbors' stuff, yet I covet and envy and desire. Father forgive.

God you are right and I am wrong.  I have sinned against You, others, and myself in these and so many other ways. I am so grateful for your Grace and Mercy in saving me from my sin through the death, burial, and resurrection of Your Son, Jesus Christ. Thank you for saving me from the kingdom of darkness. I am helpless to save myself from these sins.  I cannot ever act right, behave right, or be right unless it is in Christ Jesus.

So, before I speak out against those who disrespect You and distain Your ways and disregard Your Truth, I confess my sins against You. Father thank You for forgiving me.