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 when 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

Thursday, October 8, 2015

No More Cheeks to Turn: A Journey Toward Manhood

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.  By the grace of God, I learned how to "survive" on my own with the help of some other scouts. 

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

The Best Laid Plans

My youngest are on a mission trip that was well planned and prayed for. The students had prepped and studied, the travel arrangements had been made, the teams were working together well. And with great promise the much anticipated departure time had come.

The bus, coming from another state was right on time when the driver decided to stop for gas before load and departure. He was about to pull out of the gas station when the brake line broke. No problem they would just send another bus. The 9 pm departure would just be slightly delayed. The next bus arrives 2 hours later. but misses a turn and attempts to turn around and falls into a ditch. No problem,  they can have it towed out and be on their way. But when the tow truck pulled them out the oil pan was destroyed. No problem, bus number three can be sent. Finally, at 4 AM the bus arrives, the kids load up. They had been sleeping around the church like it was O'hare during a snow storm. They make it to their first stop and the doors won't close. But alas the doors close and they are on their way. 
Not a fun 24 hours, but the kids finally arrived in Texas only to find out there's a housing issue. Needless to say parents several hundred miles away are praying fervently for this trip.
The second 24 hours yielded an AC breakdown in fry-an-egg on the sidewalk temperatures. 
I don't know what is going on, but it's definately one of those prayer and patience kinds of trips. 
One of the most difficult mission trips I ever experienced was as a student minister, the facilities were much more primitive than promised and the folks we were ministering to were much more hostile than expected. A seasoned mission trip going volunteer suggested an old fashioned prayer vigil. Each of us would take a half hour through the night to pray. Each one woke the next one at the end of their vigil to pray. The Lord answered in miraculous ways. Children came to salvation, teens were discipled in life-changing ways and through it all, God was glorified.

We sometimes make the plans, but it's the Lord who orders our steps. And he causes all things to work together for good for those who Love Him and are called according to His purpose.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Loosing Your Life, You Will Save It!

Sort of counter-intuitive to our basic desire for survival and self-preservation, we are called by Jesus to give up our lives. This doesn't make a lot of sense, but not giving up our life is not an option if we want to follow the One who gave His life for us.

It reminds me of the scene in the movie Divergent when the initiates are told to jump off a building. Tris carefully perches herself on the ledge of the building and after some moments of fear, flings herself into an unknown dark hole in another roof top below.  She has an abrupt but safe landing on a giant net obscured by the shadows that catches her and saves her from death. The truth is, had she tried to save her own life by staying on top of the building, she may have been executed.

We cannot stay in the safety and comfort zone of our own life. We have to give it up for the freedom and amazing adventure of a life with Jesus. If we stay in our worldly security, we die a little each day, but if we jump, take up our cross and fall in line directly behind Jesus we truly live more and more each day.  There is only one path, it is straight and it is narrow, but it is marvelous. The path is revealed only a step at a time sometimes.

I recently preached a sermon that included some of these thoughts. You can watch it here:

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Snake Handling Baptist

Not sure what part of the ministerial job description this is, but today I was asked to remove a snake from the church property. The facilities manager, who is even less fond of snakes than I, was my wildlife relocation assistant.

I normally would have said, "no" to the request to handle a reptilian varmint, however preschoolers from our Child Development Center were in close proximity to this ovoviviparous slithery creature. The child care workers said all the kids were looking at a "new cable" in the grass next to the playground, THEN IT MOVED!

Initially, we couldn't find this "moving cable," but my calm assistant decided to lift a garbage bin. All I saw was a salamander and then the ancient fear jumped into my throat as I saw the snake near the corner of the bin in the mud. I was trying to stay calm and not arouse fear in the preschoolers while my heart pounded in my head. I walked quickly to get a bucket and then it was time for a snake round up. I laid down the bucket and pushed the snake in with a broom handle, then covered it with a towel to keep him calm like I had seen the Crocodile Hunter, Steve Irwin do on the TV.

We released him into the woods a little ways from the church, but only after we attempted to show him to some petrified secretaries who locked themselves in the office a the first mention of the word "snake" and first glimpse of the bucket that held it.  Oh and did I mention he was just an 10 inch Garter snake?

Thursday, March 12, 2015

The Whole Shebang!

The whole shebang, the whole enchilada, the whole nine yards... the whole thing.  That's what God wants of us.  He wants the whole of us. He wants ALL of you and me.

"Love the Lord your God with ALL your heart and with ALL your soul and with ALL your mind and with ALL your strength.'" Mark 12:30 (NIV)

I have tried the "you can have almost all of me" thing.  And it doesn't work.  If I hang on to one part of me that I want to keep for myself, it ends up corrupting the whole rest of my relationship with God. Jesus says, a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough. If I hold one part back, then I begin to do things like point to how "good" I am in my "good" areas.  I begin to be self righteous about my good behaviors and pretty lenient on myself on the parts in which I want be my own god. It just doesn't work.  My relationship with God becomes a percentage thing... I'm 60-40 good-bad.  It doesn't work like that.  It's all or nothing.

Like the song of Ado Annie in Oklahoma - "with me its all er nothin'... it can't be in between... it can't be now and then... no half and half romance will do.  The King of Kings and Lord or Lords deserves our all in all.  I am painfully becoming more aware each day of the parts I hold back from Him. He is redemptive of those parts, but He's not afraid to discipline me to let go of them.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

When Biblical Community Gets Even Better

What is Biblical Community? It's all the "...one another" verses being lived out together (see them below). It is the expression of Jesus command to love one another like He loves us. It's not just the Sunday morning connection of pew sitting believers,  it's more than that. It's the hanging out and praying together when the alcoholic spouse is AWOL on a binge. It's standing around a hospital bed with a family as the mother is going under the knife to remove cancer, uncertain of the outcome. It's weeping with a young mother who will never see her son again after a tragic accident.

Oh there are some times when community hangs out at the pot luck dinner to share some food and fun and maybe a devotional thought. But Biblical Community gets more real when we connect with hearts that have been ripped out by great disappointment; and when we lock eyes with eyes that are fiery red from regretful weeping about pain inflicted carelessly on loved ones; and when we have sympathy stomach pains, post-kick, because someone we love is doubled over at the shocking news of betrayal.

I like the way Joy Jordan Lake describes community in her book Why Jesus Makes Me Nervous
“Christian community, taken seriously, means suddenly you’re shouldering the tragedies, the abandonment, the grief of the people around you, just as they are shouldering yours.  Community means sharing each other’s joy and hope and healing. In a thousand ways, taking Jesus seriously makes life harder, tougher, uglier. 

And richer. Finer. Finally worth living.” 

(Kindle Location 368 from Why Jesus Makes Me Nervous by Joy Jordan Lake, Paraclete Press. Brewster, Mass)
So, enjoy the body of Christ when it's fun and full of laughter, but also embrace it when it is painful and risky to do so.  You will engage in something so much bigger than yourself... something eternal...something Good... something satisfying.

Here's a list I found of the "one another" verses. Try these in your Biblical community.

 (credit North Wake Church)