Thursday, November 29, 2007

A Wonderful Christmas Story

I thoroughly enjoyed reading Mike Ruffin's story of The Advent Calendar. I highly commend it to you for your reading enjoyment as well.

Word & Way article

The Baptist General Convention of Missouri publishes a page in each edition of the Word & Way, one of two Baptist state papers in Missouri. The Word & Way is one of the five institutions being sued by the Missouri Baptist Convention. Those of us on staff with the BGCM alternate in writing articles for the BGCM page in the Word & Way and it was my time to do so again this month. I thought I'd share as a post the article that will be appearing in the upcoming edition of Word & Way.

As residents of the United States, we sometimes mistakenly assume that everyone celebrates Christmas just like we do, but that is far from reality. Allow me to briefly share some Christmas traditions in places we have lived and served as missionaries. In Costa Rica, the traditional Christmas Eve meal has to feature tamales. They’re not the long, thin style tamales that are associated with Mexican food, but large, square tamales wrapped in banana leaves. In Argentina, you could forget about going to bed early on Christmas Eve because the whole neighborhood erupted with fireworks at midnight that carried on for more than an hour usually. The stores would stock mountains of loaves of pan dulce (which translates as sweet bread). It resembled fruitcake, but despite its name, it wasn’t very sweet. In Mexico, families re-enact the journey of Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem and their search for suitable lodging once they arrived in the town. They go from house to house singing a song to request lodging. The Mexican children don’t receive their presents on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, but on Dia de los Reyes—Kings Day—which falls on Jan. 6th and commemorates the arrival of the Wise Men bearing their gifts.

One of the challenges for missionaries living south of the equator is that the Christmas season falls in the summertime and not the winter. It took us a while to get used to celebrating Christmas in 90+ degree heat, but we learned to adapt. The fact is that missionaries have to be fairly flexible individuals, for despite the best orientation and preparation one can have before traveling overseas, invariably things are never exactly like you anticipated that they would be. When one’s best laid plans are frustrated by forces beyond anyone’s control, flexibility becomes a great virtue. Just as it would be a mistake to assume that everyone celebrates Christmas as we do, so too we would be wrong to presume that everyone around the world shares the same mindset or worldview that we do as North Americans.

A great way to gain a broader perspective on the rich variety that exists in our world in terms of cultures, languages, traditions, religious beliefs, and so many other variables is to participate in a missions trip. You will not only obtain a more comprehensive understanding and appreciation of other peoples and their cultures, but you can make a difference in someone’s eternal destiny as you allow the Lord to use your giftedness to touch lives with the truths of the gospel. A wonderful place to consider going on a missions trip is the beautiful country of Guatemala. It’s relatively close to the U.S. (just a short three-hour flight from Dallas), and the people are warmly receptive and welcoming. The BGCM’s partnership with the Guatemala Baptist Convention provides us with some wonderful opportunities to minister alongside Baptists in that country to impact their nation for Christ. I hope that you’ll prayerfully consider how you and your church might plug in and become directly involved in a hands-on missions trip with our Central American partners. Please pray for Owen Taylor and me as we travel to Guatemala in January for the third in a series of leadership training events for pastors and leaders in the western region of the country. I’ll also be leading a group from our church in February to work with three Baptist churches in the town of Cantel in that same area.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Reflections on Aging

I received Billy Graham's recent newsletter (Nov. 2007) today and wrote some reflections on it for our monthly Senior Adult newsletter which I thought I'd share in the form of a post.

In a recent newsletter, Billy Graham was reflecting on his wife Ruth’s passing and his own recent health struggles. He also shared some thoughts about aging, saying that while the process is challenging, many have learned that it can be a wonderful part of life. He goes on to quote Calvin Thielman, a pastor of Graham’s family in Montreat, NC for many years prior to his death, who frequently said, “The longer you live, the more like yourself you become.” I found that statement to be rather intriguing. “The longer you live, the more like yourself you become.” I think that means that over time, the habits that we’ve adopted become established patterns in our lives. Our true selves are revealed as we grow older.

There is a popular saying that bears this out. “As the twig is bent, so is the tree inclined.” We become who we are down through the years as we repeatedly think similar thoughts and engage in the same or similar actions. The Scriptures also testify to this same truth when it comes to parenting and raising our children. “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old, he will not depart from it” (Prov. 22:6). That verse offers hope for those who have sought to raise their children to know and love the Lord and live in obedience to Him.

The great hope we have is that God never ceases to actively work in our lives by His Spirit and through His mercy and grace to conform us to the image of His Son. We’re a work in progress that won’t be finished until God calls us home to be with Him or Christ returns. I was amused by Billy Graham’s remarks about the epitaph on Ruth’s tombstone. She had seen a highway sign years before that caught her attention and requested that its message be inscribed on her grave marker. The marker stone for her tomb bears these words: “End of construction. Thank you for your patience.” Indeed, thank the Lord that He is patient with us as He molds and shapes us into the likeness of Christ.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Miscellaneous musings

I officiated another funeral this past Saturday morning for another church member. This has happened far too frequently of late in our membership. This man's case was particularly hard in that he had been in the hospital the previous week with heart problems; they did a heart catheterization and placed a stent to help with the blockage in one of his arteries. All was progressing well and he had been given his official discharge papers from the hospital. He had called his son to come and take him home and was dressed and waiting in a chair when he slumped over. The doctors could not resuscitate him. They said that a clot had formed and lodged in the stent.

On a brighter note, this past Sunday our church hosted Pastor Euticauls from Nairobi, Kenya. He is a local pastor there and the head of the Kids' Heart Africa project that our church is financially sponsoring to assist children in one of the poorest slum areas of the city to obtain an education, receive at least one good meal per day, and to hear about the love of Christ. He preached a great message, emphasizing the change that takes place when we meet Jesus. He took his text from Luke 24 and the Lord's encounter with the 2 unnamed disciples enroute to Emmaus.

I watched my youngest son perform in his high school musical production of "Little Shop of Horrors" on Friday and again yesterday afternoon. I skipped the Saturday evening performance in order to babysit my two grandchildren while my oldest son and his wife went to see the performance. Grandkids are one of God's greatest inventions.

Plans are progressing for two more trips to Guatemala early next year. I'll be heading back in January for another round of pastoral leadership training classes and a meeting of the Guatemalan Baptist Convention leaders hosted by WorldconneX. Then it's back down there the following month to work with three churches in the town of Cantel, doing a VBS, and providing leadership training for their children's workers. Our minister of children is helping to organize the workshops while I'll be helping with logistics, translation, etc.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Words of Wisdom from an Episcopalian Priest

Thanks to my colleague Brian Kaylor for linking to this outstanding article from an Episcopalian priest. His words constitute a strong rebuke to those whose focus is on denominational politics and infighting rather than meeting the needs of those who come to church on a spiritual quest for God.

Here's my favorite quote from the article: "Teach people to pray. Not to fight about prayer, but to sit, stand, kneel, bicycle or skydive in the presence of God."
Here's another great one: "Teach people to study the Bible. Not to take sides in the stale posturing of biblical partisans, but to read ancient words and to build bridges to modern life, and then to be transformed by a God who has never lived in a box."

I hope you'll click on the above link and read the entire article. It's well worth it.

Monday, November 05, 2007

A Lesson from George Foreman

Most of us probably know George Foreman best as the good-natured spokesman for the popular electric grill that bears his name. Foreman was born in Marshall, Texas in 1949 and was a high school dropout. He joined LBJ’s Job Corps program and along the way discovered a talent for boxing. Foreman won the gold medal at the Olympic Games in Mexico City in 1968. Five years later, with a professional record of 37 wins and no losses, he knocked out “Smokin’ Joe Frazier” for the heavyweight title. Foreman lost his title the following year to Muhammad Ali in the famous “Rumble in the Jungle” fight in Zaire, Africa. Foreman retired from boxing three years later and became a minister. A decade later, his millions from prize fights gone, he staged a comeback, becoming the oldest heavyweight champion ever when he won back his title on Nov. 5, 1994 at the age of 45.

Foreman’s tenacity in reclaiming a title far past the normal age of a boxer deserves recognition. While some might question his sanity, no one can question his heart. Some Christians as they grow older are content to rest on their laurels and leave the work of ministry to folks younger than themselves. My prayer is that the Lord would give us a passion for serving others and a willing spirit to engage in meeting the needs of others for as long as He sees fit for us to live. “Nobody grows old by living a number of years. People grow old from lack of purpose. Years wrinkle the skin. Lack of purpose wrinkles the soul” (Author unknown). Let’s resolve to live as people with a purpose.