Monday, December 12, 2011

Christmas Reflection #8

This reflection also comes from Brennan Mannings' The Relentless Tenderness of Jesus and the chapter entitled "The Shipwrecked at the Stable."

"But the shipwrecked at the stable tremble in adoration of the Christ child and quake at the inbreaking of God Almighty, because all the Santa Clauses and red-nosed reindeer, fifty-foot trees and thundering church bells put together create less pandemonium than the infant Jesus when, instead of remaining a statute in a crib, He comes alive and delivers us over to the fire that He came to light."

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Christmas Reflection #7

On a recent trip to California to attend a senior adult ministry conference, I had a chance to read Brennan Manning's (author of The Ragamuffin Gospel) book The Relentless Tenderness of Jesus.  The final chapter is entitled "The Shipwrecked at the Stable" and contains this paragraph.

"The Bethlehem mystery will ever be a scandal to aspiring disciples who seek a triumphant Savior and a prosperity Gospel.  The infant Jesus was born in unimpressive circumstances; no one can say exactly where.  His parents were of no social significance whatsoever, and His chosen welcoming committee were all turkeys, losers and dirt-poor shepherds.  But in this weakness and poverty the shipwrecked at the stable would come to know the love of God."

I love the expression Manning uses to describe those who gathered to witness and celebrate Jesus' birth--the shipwrecked at the stable.  For many whose ships have been dashed upon the rocks and shoals of stormy seas, the promised Messiah waits to bring hope, wholeness, and healing.  Love's greatest gift, heaven's stooping to earth to bless us with the birth of God's Son, is a priceless possession offered freely to all who by grace will accept His salvation.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Christmas Reflection #6

Here's the latest installment of Christmas reflections.  This one comes from this month's issue of Joyful Tidings, our senior adult newsletter.

When God chose to announce the birth of His Son in Bethlehem, He didn’t call a press conference or leak the news story to the Jerusalem Tribune. There was no social media network to employ like Facebook or Twitter, so God did the next best thing He could do. He sent a choir of angels to some shepherds who were tending their flocks on the Judean hillsides outside of the city of David. That might seem like an odd choice on His part if the purpose of the announcement was indeed to broadcast the news of the Messiah’s coming. Common sense would dictate that employing some official channel of communication would function better than revealing this momentous event to a class of society looked down upon by the general public. God’s plans rarely coincide with ours though.

As it turns out, God’s choice of the shepherds proved to be fortuitous. These nomadic wanderers would crisscross the Palestinian landscape throughout the year, moving their herds in search of green pastures and fresh water. Undoubtedly for years to come after the night that they paid a visit to a young couple in a Bethlehem stable and observed the young boy lying in a manger, they repeated the story of what they had experienced. The dazzling light from heaven, the angel’s astounding message of good news of great joy for all people, and the angelic choir singing God’s praises must have been topics of conversation with other wandering shepherds each time they camped and sat around a nighttime fire.

I think that’s the best possible explanation for the amazing response of the people to the preaching of John the Baptist when he emerged as the forerunner for Jesus’ public ministry. For almost thirty years the people had heard stories of that night’s miraculous events, and now they were eager to hear the one whose message pointed to the Messiah’s appearing. May we also like the shepherds never tire of telling the old, old story of Jesus and His love.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

An Amazing Story

I'm interrupting my series on Christmas Reflections to highlight something that really touched me today.  If you don't regularly read Jon Acuff's Stuff Christians Like, you are missing a real treat.  Today's blog post deals with the story of how God used a flute that was included in an Operation Christmas Child shoebox to touch lives in Vietnam.  It's definitely worth reading, but you might want to make sure you have a Kleenex nearby as you read it.  Here's the link.

Christmas Reflection #5

This latest installment of Christmas musings and reflections comes from last year's Joyful Tidings.

I was re-reading Matthew’s account of Jesus’ birth this week in preparation for Advent and the celebration of Christmas. A verse I had read dozens of times spoke to me in a new way. Matthew 1:19 describes Joseph’s planned response when he learns that Mary is expecting a child. He clearly knows that he isn’t the father, and the law of Moses would have allowed him to have her publicly shamed and stoned to death as an adulterer. He would have assumed of course that the child had been fathered by another man as there was no other logical, human explanation for her pregnancy. The Bible says that because Joseph was a righteous man, and not wanting to disgrace her, he decided to send her away secretly.

That statement prompted me to think about how true righteousness impacts the way we live. Far too often, the pharisaical kind of self-righteousness that so many practice leads to condemnation and harsh judgment of others who fall into sin. Joseph’s righteousness prompted him to exhibit grace toward Mary—not “ungrace,” to borrow a term from Phillip Yancey. Even as heartbroken as he must have been at the thought of her infidelity, his love for Mary prompted Joseph to show grace and protect her from both shame and death. His actions strongly suggest those that his earthly son Jesus would later take when confronted with the woman caught in the act of adultery.

The passage suggests that true righteousness isn’t displayed most clearly by the visible sins that it is willing to denounce, but by the love and grace it shows toward those who stumble and fall. The Christmas message is that God’s love and grace led Him to give His Son for a stumbling and fallen humanity—each and every one of us.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Christmas Reflection #4

Here's another Christmas reflection from a previous edition of our senior adult newsletter.  This one comes from the 2009 Joyful Tidings.

One of my favorite Christmas songs of recent years is an arrangement done by Point of Grace called “Let There be Light.” There’s a verse in it that speaks so powerfully to my heart about the mystery of the incarnation and the glorious truth that God chose to become a man in the person of Jesus Christ. The verse says,

He spoke after centuries of silence
In the midst of a still, starry night.
And Immanuel came down among us
And the Father said, “Let there be light!”

Two or three things jump out at me from this beautiful song. First, God broke His silence of approximately four hundred years since the time of the final Old Testament prophet Malachi when He sent His angels to announce the birth of His Son to some common shepherds tending their flocks on a hillside near Bethlehem. The writer of Hebrews puts it this way, “God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son.” Surely the nation of Israel was longing for a fresh word from God after four centuries of silence, and God answered their hearts’ plea with a definitive word by sending them His Son.

Secondly, the word Immanuel is highly instructive. As the angel appeared to Joseph to assure him that Mary hadn’t been unfaithful to him but rather that the baby she carried was a miraculous gift of God, he told Joseph that the baby was to be called Immanuel, meaning “God with us.” The God of the universe invaded planet Earth in the person of Jesus to reveal God to us and to redeem us from our sins.

Finally, the text of the song imaginatively records God the Father saying once again, even as He had at the dawn of creation, “Let there be light!” While perhaps those very words weren’t uttered by the angelic hosts, the message certainly was present. Writing in the prologue to his gospel in John 1:4-5, the beloved apostle penned these words, “In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.” I’m so grateful at this Christmas season as we observe the beautiful decorative lights, that God sent the true Light, His Son, into the world to show us His love.

Friday, December 02, 2011

Christmas Reflection #3

This reflection is a bit more current than the recent two.  It's something I shared with the church family in this week's newsletter.

I suspect that many of you who grew up in Baptist churches share a similar experience of not being introduced to Advent celebrations until in recent years.  I don't recall my small hometown church in Texas ever even mentioning the word during our preparation for Christmas.  We would typically prepare a Christmas cantata, the children's choir would sing, and we would often go caroling from house to house in our town, but Advent as such was unknown.

I'm grateful that more and more Baptist churches are including Advent in their church calendars as we approach the Christmas season.  The emphasis upon waiting for the Lord's coming and celebrating His arrival reminds us anew and afresh of the significance of Jesus' birth and God breaking into history after almost four centuries of silence.  With the passing on the last Old Testament prophets, it must have seemed to the Israelites that the heavens had been sealed tightly, for no fresh word was received from God for four hundred years.  Surely devout Jews continued to anticipate the coming of the long-promised Messiah, but many generations passed without experiencing the fulfillment of that prophetic promise.  

When God did break that silence, it was certainly worth it, for He chose not to merely speak through another prophet but to become a man and live among us.  I love how John expresses that truth in John 1:14 when he writes that the eternal Word "tabernacled" among us.  For a period of thirty years, God pitched His tent among humanity in the person of Jesus Christ.  That's good news worth celebrating and sharing in this season.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Christmas Reflection #2

This reflection is taken from the December 2006 edition of Joyful Tidings.

As we prepare to celebrate the gift of God’s Son to the world in this Christmas season, my thoughts turn to birthday celebrations. Christmas is the celebration of the greatest gift that we have ever received, but it also marks a very special birthday—the birth of our Savior, when God’s Son assumed human flesh and entered the world in the most humble of circumstances. Rather than in a royal palace with comfortable and luxurious surroundings, God purposed that His Son would be born in a stable, with a feeding trough for animals as His crib. The birth announcement wasn’t proclaimed to the rulers or the wealthy upper classes, but the angels’ song came to some lowly shepherds tending their flocks on the Judean hillsides near Bethlehem. How characteristic of God that the poor should be the first to learn of the Messiah’s birth.

The celebration of Jesus’ birth was also in many ways a subdued affair. The shepherds hurried to Bethlehem to the stable where they found Mary and Joseph and the baby, wrapped in swaddling clothes as the angels had said. They shared with Jesus’ parents about the angels’ appearance and the words that they had heard. Then they returned to their flocks, glorifying and praising God for what they had heard and seen. They brought no gifts to the newborn child and His family, other than their own presence. Perhaps that suggests to us that the greatest gift we can offer to the Lord in this Christmas season is the gift of ourselves to Him. As senior adults, many find themselves with much more time on their hands than at any previous stage of life. That time can be well spent in serving the Lord and in demonstrating God’s love to those around us in many practical ways.

I hope in the coming year to help our senior adults focus even more on service and ministry projects in addition to our wonderful times of fellowship and inspiration. Frederick Buechner writes the following about our vocations, but I believe his words apply to ministry in retirement as well. “The kind of work God usually calls you to is the kind of work (a) that you need most to do and (b) that the world most needs you to have done ... The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” May the joy of the Lord be yours in this Christmas season as you serve Him wholeheartedly.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Christmas Reflections

I thought I might share a few Christmas reflections in the coming days, recycling some articles from previous years that I've written for our church's monthly senior adult newsletter entitled "Joyful Tidings."  That seems like a pretty fitting name for Christmas news if we think about the angels' message to the shepherds.  I haven't shared these on this blog, so hopefully they will spark some interest.  This first piece dates way back to 2005.

I was reading recently in the Word and Way a devotional thought by Rudy Pulido, a pastor in the St. Louis area, about a memorable Christmas when he received a bicycle as a gift. It stirred my memories to a Christmas long ago when I too received my first bicycle, a Schwinn. My family was living on my grandparents’ ranch in South Texas at the time, and the mailbox was located almost three miles away over a dirt road. While my granddad usually drove up to the mailbox each day in his pickup to get the day’s mail, on occasion I would volunteer to ride my bike there and bring the mail back. That was quite an adventure for a second grader.

What was your favorite or most treasured Christmas gift as a child? For many of our senior adults, your childhood years were spent in the Great Depression and undoubtedly gifts were scarce at times. Perhaps your parents wanted to give you what you were most hoping to receive at Christmas, but the funds simply weren’t there to do so.

At this season of the year we celebrate the fact that God gave us the most valuable and costly gift that any of us could ever receive—the gift of eternal life through the entrance of Jesus into this world. God sent His Son, and Jesus willingly came, knowing that it would ultimately cost Him His very life to bring us salvation and forgiveness. In the midst of giving and receiving gifts, let’s remember and say thanks to God for His indescribable gift of love, born in a humble manger.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Senior Adult Ministry Conference

I enjoyed the opportunity this past week of spending three days in Anaheim, California at a conference focusing on senior adult ministry.  I found it both inspirational and informative.  Much of the content focused on the theme of intergenerational ministry, and a related theme was the need to minister through seniors and not merely to them.  We heard some eye-opening statistics about the aging population of the U.S. and the challenges and opportunities that this reality affords to our churches.  One of the most encouraging things was the passion with which the presenters and the participants spoke of the urgent need to reach senior adults with the gospel--not assuming that this sector of the population has already been adequately evangelized.

I'm still processing and sorting through the stack of notes I took from the plenary sessions and workshops that were offered, but one thing is readily apparent--a once-size fits all approach to ministry with maturing adults simply won't cut it any longer if it ever really did.  There's far too much diversity in interests, backgrounds, and experiences in this burgeoning slice of the population as the first baby boomers reach 65 this year for a single model or approach to ministry with them to do the job.  I'm meeting tomorrow with some peers in the area to discuss a Planned Aging conference that our 4 churches will be sponsoring next June, and also to talk about some of the nuts and bolts of senior adult ministry.  We'll be joined by Frank Fain of The Baptist Home, a recognized authority in this field.  It promises to be a great meeting.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Luther's 95 Theses

While most folks associate October 31st with the celebration of Halloween, historians remember the day as the occasion on which Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses on the door of the Wittenburg Chapel in 1517, launching the Protestant Reformation.  Luther, an Augustinian monk within the Roman Catholic Church, had become disenchanted with the Church’s internal corruption.  One practice in particular prompted his revolt—the selling of indulgences.  The Catholic Church offered to sell forgiveness for sins for a price—an indulgence.  The notion that forgiveness could be purchased prompted Luther to compose the 95 Theses to debate this and other issues with the Catholic hierarchy.  It was the study of Romans that proved to be the deciding factor in Luther’s conversion to the gospel.  As he read “the just shall live by faith,” Luther discovered that his previous attempts to appease an angry and wrathful God (as he conceived Him) through his own efforts were misguided.  He was convinced that one is made right with God through faith in the finished work of Christ on the cross and not through any human works.  Luther’s break with the Catholic Church and proclamation of the gospel in Germany would be followed by other Protestant reformers—Calvin in France and later Switzerland, Zwingli in Switzerland, John Knox in Scotland, and numerous lesser known Anabaptists who took the additional step of denying the legitimacy of infant baptism and insisting on believers’ baptism.  The Anabaptists went beyond Luther in insisting on religious liberty and the separation of church and state, major emphases that their Baptist successors would also champion.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Neat Devotional Thought

I was blessed this morning by a devotional thought that Brian Abel shared in Passport's 365 daily devotional series.  Here's what he wrote in part:

"Hold hands." We felt someone grab our hands to cross the street or form a circle. This instruction from childhood presents a big challenge as we get older. It’s hard to hold hands with someone if we’ve made a fist or insist on pointing fingers. Loving our neighbors requires us to reach out. Long before Facebook encouraged us to “Like” or “Unlike,” God asked us to “Love.” The choice to “Unlove” doesn’t show up anywhere.

That last line really grabbed me when I read it.  I read several blogs, many featuring Baptist pastors and laymen as contributors and commenters.  One of the things that frequently seems most noticeable by its absent in these discussions is the most basic command that Jesus left with His disciples of loving one another.  There are a couple of frequent commentators on these blogs that cause me to wince as soon as I see their name appear, even before reading the contents of their comments.  That's because invariably their message is one of hatred and rejection of anyone who fails to interpret the Scripture exactly as they do--the classic example of a fundamentalist mindset.  It makes me wonder how they can read the same New Testament I do and overlook or neglect Jesus' repeated emphasis on love and His statement that the world will know that we are His disciples by the way we love one another.  When rabid zeal for orthodoxy as one understands it completely blots out any demonstration of Jesus' ethic of love, something is dangerously amiss.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Mom's Eulogy

As I mentioned in my last post, I wanted to pass along the eulogy that I shared at Mom's funeral service on Saturday afternoon.  It was really a beautiful service.  Jason, our eldest, shared some reflections.  We sang a couple of favorite hymns together; I shared the eulogy; and Bro. Glenn Ward brought the message from Romans 8.  Our youngest son, Jonathan, sang a beautiful arrangement of "Give Me Jesus."  As we were wrapping up at the graveside, a few drops of rain began to fall.  Shortly thereafter, the rains really began in earnest and it rained all night and was still raining as we drove to DFW airport.  I'm sure the folks in Texas were thrilled to get a break in the drought.  Here's what I shared about Mom's life.  It's rather lengthy, but hopefully it will give some insight into her character.

We gather here this afternoon to celebrate the life of Virginia Snowden and to honor one who lived her life well in the service of God, her family, and others.  I’m very grateful to Bro. Glenn for allowing me the privilege of sharing this eulogy about Mom.  When Dad passed away in January 2004, his death was so sudden and unexpected and I was still so overwhelmed by the emotion of loss that I didn’t think I could manage to say anything at his funeral without completely losing it emotionally.  Glenn was gracious enough to allow me to write some words of tribute to Dad that he read during the service.  Mom’s homegoing wasn’t sudden or unexpected, as her health had been declining for quite some time now, so I think with the Lord’s help I’m going to be able to manage to share some thoughts about her life.

Mom was born on April 18, 1929 in Alice, Texas to Oscar L. and Eavie Blankenship White.  Alice was the nearest hospital to the farm and ranch that my grandparents owned in the small community of Clegg in Live Oak County.  Mom was the middle of three daughters born into the family.  All three girls pitched in to help with the chores around the place, including gathering eggs, milking the dairy cow, working in the garden, and even helping round up the cattle on horseback—not an easy feat in the brush and cactus-covered South Texas landscape.

After graduating from high school, Mom attended business school where she acquired additional skills as a bookkeeper.  It was about this time that she met my Dad, Robert Snowden, who was working for Southern Pacific Railroad in Beeville, TX.  Mom’s younger sister told me the other day that Mom was actually working at FBC Beeville when she met Dad.  Love blossomed between them and they were married by Bro. Lunsford, the pastor of the FBC there, who later served as the administrator of the South Texas Children’s Home. 

Dad’s work with Southern Pacific took him and Mom to many towns in Texas in their early years of marriage.  It was while they were living in Victoria that my older brother Steve and I were born.  Later moves with the railroad involved relocating to Brownsville, Halletsville, Yorktown, Wharton, and San Antonio before Dad was assigned to work in Alice in 1959.  Our family moved back to the ranch where Mom had been raised, living in a house about 100 yards down a sandy lane from my grandparents’ house. 

Mom and Dad would get us up about 6:00 each morning and breakfast would already be prepared and on the table.  They would head off to work in Alice as we caught the bus about 7:00 for the hour ride into George West where we attended school.  Those years on the ranch are filled with wonderful memories.  Our immediate family would gather around the piano that Mom would play as we sang 4-part harmony together on the great old hymns in the Broadman and later the Baptist hymnals.  Sunday morning always involved a trip into George West where we attended First Baptist Church.  Mom and Dad were both active—singing in choir and serving on various committees.  Mom would typically put a pot roast in a big, cast-iron skillet in the oven before we left for church.  Over Sunday lunch, we would always jokingly remark that we were having a good meal for a change.  The truth is that Mom was a great cook and everything she prepared was delicious and tasty, but the Sunday roast always elicited that humorous back-handed compliment. 

Mom worked for a number of different firms in those years in Alice, including the A. Y. McCallum Construction Co.  I think he actually did more land-clearing than construction, but we were really grateful that he gave us access back in those years to the best private fishing lake I’ve ever found.  Mom would occasionally accompany us on those outings, but often she let the male members of the family go fishing while she enjoyed some antique shopping with friends.  Mom loved to go antique shopping.  One of her prize purchases was an old pump organ with two pedals you alternately depressed to provide air for the bellows.  It also featured numerous knobs you could pull out as stops for the different pitches and voices.  Mom would later go to work for Lloyd & Lloyd Attorneys at Law in Alice.  Still later, she went to work for the Guaranty Title & Abstract Company, working her way up in the organization until she eventually retired as a vice-president. 

As my brother and I got closer to junior high age, Mom and Dad decided to move from the ranch into George West to allow us to participate more fully in sports and after-school activities.  Mom had carried around some house plans for many years, and in 1964 she was able to see those plans come to fruition in a new house that was built in the Streibeck addition on the north side of George West.  Mom and Dad were really proud of that house.  The relocation to George West meant that she and Dad would now have to commute 40 miles rather than 35 each way to work, but it was a sacrifice they gladly made to allow us to stay in a great school system where we had our friends.  I don’t know many parents who would have made such a commitment, but I’m so grateful that Mom and Dad were willing to do so.

After I graduated from high school, they did move to Alice to save on the wear and tear on vehicles as well as to cut down on the time spent on the road each day.  There they made a new set of friends as they joined the First Baptist Church of Alice.  They continued to serve in many capacities, including participating in missions trips to the border as well as assisting a local Hispanic mission congregation.  Mom’s involvement in WMU deepened in those years as well.  When Dad’s work transferred him once again, this time to Gregory, TX, they decided to continue living in Alice rather than moving again. 

A part of that decision was also due to Mom’s desire to help take care of her aging father.  After Little Granny (as we called her) died, Granddad needed additional care and he was moved to a care facility in Alice.  Mom would stop by before work, at lunch, and in the evening again as well to help him eat and spend time with him.  In doing so, she was carrying on a life-long pattern of caring for others.  When we lived in San Antonio, she cared for her aging Aunt Cora.  When she and Dad moved to Alice, she cared for Granddad’s sister, Aunt Clara, who still lived in her own home but needed someone to check in on her, purchase her groceries, take her to the doctor, etc.  Even after Mom moved here to Granbury, she continued to adopt “little old ladies” as she affectionately called them who needed some love and compassion extended to them.  The Scripture speaks in James 1 of pure and undefiled religion as caring for orphans and widows in their need, and Mom certainly exemplified that all of her life.

In addition to caring for widows, Mom had a special place in her heart for the fatherless.  I mentioned that she and Dad had been married by the administrator of the South Texas Children’s Home, a Baptist agency caring for orphans and those from broken homes.  Mom always took a genuine interest in the work of the home, contributing financially for its support, but also opening up our home around the holidays to host a child from the Children’s Home.

After they both retired, Mom and Dad moved here to Granbury and bought a home in DeCordoba Bend Estates.  They loved their home and Dad loved going golfing almost daily, but mostly they loved the new friendships they made here at Acton Baptist Church.  I cannot say thank you enough to you all for the warm hospitality and Christian love you extended to them as they moved here from South Texas.  With more time on their hands in retirement, they both found meaningful places of service and ministry in the life of this great church.  Mom was active in choir, WMU, missions projects and trips, and as a money counter on Monday mornings to tally the Sunday offerings.  I know that she was excited and counted it a privilege to have a part in the construction of the new sanctuary and the celebration of the church’s 150th anniversary a few years ago.

Mom fell a little over three years ago and fractured her pelvis.  That accident seemed to trigger the onset of her overall decline in health.  After a few months in a rehab facility, the family determined that she needed a little extra care and we decided to move her up to live with my family in Lee’s Summit, MO.  She joined the FBC there where I serve as associate pastor, but her declining health meant that she wasn’t able to attend but a few times before she basically became homebound.  She might have officially transferred her membership, but I can assure you she never lost her love for this wonderful congregation here.  Several close friends continued to call her—typically on Sunday afternoons to check up on her and fill her in on how things were going in the life of Acton Baptist Church and among her circle of friends here.  I want to thank you all for continuing to reach out to her in Christian love and fellowship, even after she had moved to Missouri. 

It meant so much to my family to have Mom with us these past three years.  She was as gracious as she had always been throughout her life—never making any demands on others and always demonstrating the same sweet, gentle spirit that she had consistently displayed.  Her love for family never waned.  She looked forward to Steve’s phone calls each week (often 2-3 times in the course of a week).  She relished the visits that Jason and Jen made with the oldest of the three great-grandchildren.  Last year, she accompanied me on a visit back here to Texas to see her sisters, to visit Steve, and to meet her latest great-grandchild, little Jonah, who was born on August 14th of 2010.  I’m so grateful as well that she felt up to a trip back to Texas this past summer to see her sisters once more and to visit her church family here on July 3rd.  Mom certainly loved her extended family.

I think I can safely affirm that Mom was the ideal mother.  She modeled Christ-like love and concern for others on a daily basis.  She obviously loved and respected Dad throughout the almost 54 years they were privileged to share as a couple.  I cannot ever recall seeing them even engage in an argument in all the years they were together.  They each sought to make Christ the central part of the home, and that was reflected in their relationship with each other and with us as children.

Mom’s death leaves a big void in our household.  Annetta Marie and Jonathan and I have been greatly blessed to have had the privilege and joy of sharing life with her in these recent years.  Her passing will require a lot of time to process as we grieve and mourn her physical absence from us.  But we take great consolation and comfort in knowing that she has been made whole and is enjoying the wonders of heaven today in the presence of her parents and Dad and so many others who have gone on before us.  Most of all, we take comfort in knowing that she’s been welcomed into her eternal home by the One whom she loved and lived her life for—her Savior, Jesus Christ. 

Virginia Mae White Snowden went home to be with the Lord on October the 2nd, 2011, at the Kansas City Hospice House.  Virginia was preceded in death by her parents and by her husband, Bob, in 2004.  She is survived by her two sisters: Joyce McNeill and husband Joe of Bryan, TX; Gwen Norris and husband George of George West, Texas; by her two sons: Steven R. Snowden and wife Charlotte of Granbury, TX; Gary L. Snowden and wife Annetta Marie of Lee’s Summit, MO; by five grandsons: Bryan, Jason and wife Jennifer, Joel and wife April, Joshua, and Jonathan; by four great-grandchildren: Kelsey, Andrew, Nathan, and Jonah; and by numerous nieces and nephews.  

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

A Long Blogging Drought

I haven't been on Blogger for almost a couple of months now.  I thought I'd give a quick explanation for my absence.  My mother who has lived with us since January 2009 had been experiencing poor health for quite some time.  She went into the hospital on September 1st and was there for 11 days.  The doctors determined that her digestive system had simply shut down and was no longer functioning.  She had been battling digestive problems for many months, but we didn't suspect that her system was shutting down.  She was transferred to the Kansas City Hospice House on September 12th and received outstanding, compassionate care from a wonderful staff of nurses and doctors at that facility.  I spent the last three weeks there with her, and my wife took a couple of weeks of leave from her teaching to also accompany Mom in her final days.  Our youngest son, Jonathan, also spent a great deal of time with her during these days.  Mom went home to be with the Lord this past Sunday afternoon in a very peaceful death.

I'm grateful to my church family and the staff for their prayer support, visits, cards, calls, etc., and for permitting me to share this time with my mother.  We'll be traveling to Texas this weekend for a Saturday afternoon funeral at the Acton Baptist Church near Granbury.  Mom and Dad had been members of that wonderful congregation since their retirement in the early 90s.  Dad's funeral was held there in January 2004 and he's buried a stone's throw from the widow of Davy Crockett in the Acton Cemetery.  Mom will be laid to rest beside him.

Mom was a remarkable woman, a godly Christian who faithfully served the Lord throughout her life.  It will be my privilege to share the eulogy in the service while her former pastor, Bro. Glenn Ward, brings the message.  I'm thinking about sharing that eulogy here after the services are completed.  I'd love for others to know what an outstanding mother the Lord blessed my brother and me with and what a wonderful person she was.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Reflections from the Global Leadership Summit

I've been reviewing some of my notes from the GLS that I attended last week and thought I'd share a few of the great one-liners that I heard.

These first three come from Bill Hybels whose church, Willow Creek, organizes the event each year.
“Swing hard or surrender your bat.”
“Churches are in the life transformation business.”
“Don’t go out with a whimper.”

The next comes from Corey Booker, mayor of Newark, New Jersey who sounds more like an evangelist.  I think he attributed the quote to Abraham Lincoln, but I'm not 100% sure on that. 
“Everyone is born an individual, but sadly most die as copies.”

The next four all come from a message by Steven Furtick, pastor of the Elevation Church in Charlotte, N.C.  His text was 2 Kgs. 3:9-20 about Elisha’s meeting with King Jehoshaphat. The context was a desperate need for water for the army and the cattle. Elisha’s word from the Lord was, “Make this valley full of trenches.” Steven’s paraphrase, “If you want to see the land filled with water, dig some ditches.”
His other one-liners that I noted were these:
“Just having good ideas doesn’t make you a visionary but a daydreamer.”
“If the size of your vision isn’t intimidating to you, it’s probably insulting to God.”
Speaking of our tendency to be discouraged as we compare ourselves to others, he said, “We compare our behind the scenes work with others’ highlight reels.”

The final set of these come from Erwin McManus from Mosaic Church in Los Angeles.
“The extraordinary nature that God puts in each person at birth is beaten out of us by life and most die very ordinary.”
“Our churches are full of folks who are filled with dreams that will die in them if we don't liberate them.”
“You at your best are not in the slightest way intimidating to God.”
“We must tell the human story with authenticity.”
“Whoever tells the best story shapes the culture.”

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Global Leadership Summit

I spent a very enjoyable two days at Willow Creek Association's Global Leadership Summit, attending the simulcast of it at Pleasant Valley Baptist in Liberty, MO.  It was an interesting line-up of speakers again this year.  I really wasn't disappointed by any of the speakers, but felt that a few of them really hit home runs.  Steven Furtick did a great job of preaching a message about Elisha's audacious faith.  The demeanor and spirit of Mama Maggie Gobran as she shared about her work among the least of these in Cairo's slums was riveting.  Patrick Lencioni, a last-minute pinch hitter substituting for Starbucks CEO Schultz who withdrew, was absolutely hilarious but powerful at the same time.  I also enjoyed Erwin McManus of Mosaic and his emphasis on getting back to telling the truth and communicating the gospel story in its power and simplicity.  Hybels as usual was great as he echoed a similar theme of McManus.

If you've never attending a GLS, I'd encourage you to think about doing so next August.  It's an outstanding two-day event bringing together Christian leaders as well as prominent business leaders to address the broad question of improving our leadership skills.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Wedding Vows or Miranda Rights?

Our church's administrator shares humorous cartoons and stories each week from Christianity Today.  This week's was priceless.

Weddding Vows or Miranda's Rights?

I was watching my 5-year-old granddaughter Christy play with her dolls. At one point, she "staged" a wedding, first playing the role of the bride's mother who assigned specific duties, then suddenly becoming the bride with her "teddy bear" groom.

She picked him up and said to the "minister" presiding over the wedding, "Now you can read us our rights." Without missing a beat, Christy became the minister who said, "You have the right to remain silent, anything you say may be held against you, you have the right to have an attorney present. You may kiss the bride."

—Sonja R. Ely, Dallas, Oregon. Christian Reader "Rolling Down the Aisle."

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Willow Creek Leadership Summit

I'm excited about the opportunity of attending on Thursday and Friday of this week the Annual Leadership Summit sponsored by Willow Creek.  Last year was my first year to go and I enjoyed it and was challenged by a great deal that I heard regarding leadership.  I'll be attending again this year at Pleasant Valley Baptist Church in Liberty.  They do a wonderful job of hosting events like this.  Our pastor and our minister of discipleship are also both going this year.  Should be an exciting couple of days of worship, inspiration, and information.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

A Good Week in Guatemala

I returned on July 15th from a week-long trip to Guatemala with my colleague, Verlyn Bergen.  We enjoyed the fellowship and teaching time that we shared with a group of 74 pastors and leaders at a two-day training event in Quetzaltenango.  It's the rainy season there now and the rain, coupled with the altitude in the mountains, kept the temperatures quite comfortable.  We enjoyed weather in the 60s and 70s before arriving back in the middle of an extended heat warning of several days here in Missouri.

We were able to visit several places where Verlyn is considering bringing one of two missions teams he'll be heading up to Guatemala this coming year.  On Thursday, we paid a visit to the Tabitha Ministry near the city dump in Guatemala City.  They have managed to enclose what was an open patio on the roof, affording them an additional closed-in space for an expanded number of children for whom they are caring.  The ministry currently ministers to about 85 children in this facility.

There is a need for prayer for this ministry as the owner of the building they are occupying wishes to sell it by the end of the year.  They must determine whether or not to stay and come up with funds for purchasing the building, or find other suitable accommodations.

Monday, July 04, 2011

Safely Home from Texas

Enjoyed a week of visiting with family members in Texas.  I took my mom to see her two sisters (and their husbands) who live in Bryan and George West.  We also visited with my brother and his wife in Granbury and were able to attend Sunday morning worship at Acton Baptist Church where mom still has many good friends.  I was able to visit with a couple of cousins on the trip as well, plus we made a quick trip out to the ranch where I lived for 6 years.  All in all, it was a very enjoyable trip.

I've got a couple of days to take care of some things at church and around the house before I head out again to Guatemala on Monday.  A colleague and I will be leading the latest round of leadership training conferences in Quetzaltenango.  It promises to be another great two-day event with the pastors and leaders.  This is the fifth year that we've been providing these training events.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Sermon from the 10 Commandments

Our pastor and his family headed to Houston for a few days so I had the opportunity to preach this past Sunday morning.  He began a series on the 10 Commandments the week before so I was privileged to share a message based on the second commandment about not worshiping an idol or image of the true God.  The actual title was "Don't Settle for Homemade gods."  If you have some time and are interested in hearing it, here's the link to the audio file.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Checking In

Just a quick post to say that I'm still alive, though I've been very remiss about posting an entry to this blog in quite some time.  In the interim, we've celebrated our youngest son's graduation from high school and the third son's 23rd birthday.  Had a busy time this past weekend with Lee's Summit's annual Downtown Days Festival.  Our church manned a booth downtown from which we dispensed over 1000 frozen flavor-ice popsicles, entertained children with some games and prizes, and distributed promotional literature about our church and its upcoming Vacation Bible School, scheduled for July 11-15.  Those same dates happen to coincide with my next trip to Guatemala for a leadership training conference with pastors and leaders.  In addition to our booth downtown, we also opened up our parking lot to the community for free parking and distributed free water to those who chose to park there.  With the weekend highs hovering in the mid 90s and high humidity as well, the water was a welcomed item by most.  We passed out around 600 bottles of water on Friday and Saturday.

This weekend I'll have the opportunity to preach the second in a series that our pastor began last Sunday on God's Top 10 Relationship Rules--better known as the 10 Commandments.  I'll be addressing the second of these with the title, "Don't Settle for Homemade gods." 

Our youth are gone this week to camp at Falls Creek Assembly in Oklahoma and have a one-week break after they return before they head to Joplin, MO to assist with some of the debris removal and minister through multiple choir concerts at churches in the area.  Their original plans were to go to Chicago this summer, but the Joplin tornado brought a new and pressing need to our state and a great chance to share Christ's love in some tangible ways with folks in that city.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Lightning in a Bottle

On June 10, 1752, Benjamin Franklin conducted his famous experiment of flying a kite in a thunderstorm and capturing an electrical charge in a Leyden jar. I suspect that this historical event in some way gave rise to the expression of “catching lightning in a bottle.” The phrase itself communicates the idea of the difficulty of accomplishing some elusive or hard-to-reach goal. Franklin’s life is a great illustration of one who achieved some remarkable goals, overcoming significant obstacles in the process.

Benjamin’s father, Josiah, a soap and candle maker by trade, had 17 children by two wives. Benjamin was the 15th of these and the 10th and last son. His father could only afford to send him to school for two years, so by the age of 10, Benjamin was a dropout. A voracious reader, Franklin devoured books and epitomized the self-educated man. He was apprenticed to an older brother at the age of 12 where he learned the printing business. Franklin would go on to distinguish himself in multiple arenas as a publisher, philanthropist, civic leader, and a statesman. Perhaps he is best remembered for the witty sayings published in Poor Richard’s Almanac and as a signer of both the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution.

When we face adverse circumstances and challenges in life, far more encouraging to us than the example of a self-made man like Benjamin Franklin is the strength we find to persevere through God’s Word and the support and prayers of fellow believers. The writer of Hebrews challenges us to run the race set before us with endurance, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith (Heb. 12:2). Hope fixed in Him will not leave us disappointed.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Staff Retreat

The next couple of days our ministerial staff will be participating in a retreat in Concordia, MO.  Our men's ministry has held a retreat there the last couple of years and it's a nice setting to get away and do some reflecting.  Last year's retreat, held just a few short months after our new pastor had arrived, was an extremely productive time together and I'm trusting that this one will be as well.  Easter services this morning were a real blessing with great attendance, wonderful music, and a clear biblical message from our pastor.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Homebound Lord's Supper

One of the things that I most enjoy doing in the area of senior adult ministry is helping organize and participate with teams of deacons that go out to serve the Lord's Supper to our homebound members.  The majority of these are living in institutions that provide extended care for the elderly, but several are still able to live at home.  They just aren't sufficiently mobile or strong enough to attend church services regularly as they once did.

This morning I joined an 88-year old deacon (I think the oldest of the total of 14 who participated) and we went to two different homes.  In the first one lives a couple who has been married for 70 years.  The wife told us that they'd never had a fight in their entire marriage and seemed a bit surprised at our own expressions of incredulity and surprise at that statement.  She asked us rather matter-of-factly if we had experienced fights or disagreements with our spouses, to which we both responded affirmatively.  I hope we didn't burst her bubble.  Her husband is 93 and she is soon to turn 89.  We had a wonderful visit off almost an hour, sharing conversation and prayer concerns (including a 25-year old granddaughter who is battling cancer), before we concluded by observing the Lord's Supper together.

In the second home, we visited a lady who is 96 and lives with an almost 70-year old nephew who is rarely at home.  We've been the team that has taken the Lord's Supper to her for the past few years now so she has gotten to know us fairly well.  She expressed as she often has how lonely she feels at times.  I assured her that we were in the process of reorganizing our deacons' ministry to provide a more frequent and ongoing point of contact with her for fellowship and prayer support and to attend to any needs around that house that she might have.  James' words about pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father consisting in visiting the orphans and widows in their distress (Jas. 1:27) came to mind as we conversed.

I'm grateful for a deacon body that is committed to addressing the needs of our senior adults--especially those widows living on their own.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Tabitha Ministry Video

As promised in the previous post, here's a link to the longer YouTube video that features interviews with women who've been helped by the Tabitha Ministry in the area of the Guatemala City dump.

Weekend Wrap-up

Well, it's a bit beyond the weekend it's true, but I'm just now getting around to sharing a report on Carol Bercian's visit to Missouri.  She arrived safely last Thursday evening and we headed off to Windermere for ChurchNet's Share Hope Summit on Friday and Saturday.  Carol did an outstanding as our missions banquet speaker, describing our ongoing partnership efforts in Guatemala.  She presented a wonderful challenge and those present responded with a very generous offering as well as some additional pledges.

We had a good day Sunday, visiting with the fine folks up at Wyatt Park Baptist in St. Joseph in the morning.  Afterwards we enjoyed a delicious meal at the pastor's home with several other friends and family members.  The evening service at our church was down a bit in attendance (perhaps due to being an hour earlier than normal to accommodate the benefit concert that followed).  I was a little disappointed that more of our members didn't hear Carol's presentation which focused predominantly on the Tabitha Ministry.  She is such a passionate speaker when it comes to her ministry among the children living in and near the city dump in Guatemala City, as well as with their mothers.

On Tuesday evening, Carol spoke with our church's missions committee to outline some possible future projects for teams going to western Guatemala from our church.  Earlier in the day, she spoke to a WMU group at John Knox Village.  We managed to keep her pretty busy while she was here, though she did find some time to do some shopping and sightseeing on Monday and Tuesday.

I'm providing a link for some brief video footage that I shot during our most recent visit there in February.  Brian Kaylor who handles the communication stuff for ChurchNet did some editing of it and it's been uploaded to YouTube.  You can find it here.

Carol brought a more extensive video that includes testimonies by some of the women who actually live in the dump and have been assisted by the Tabitha Ministry.  That too has been uploaded to YouTube but is still awaiting being made public.  I'll share it as well as soon as it's available.

Carol left this afternoon to return to Guatemala.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Busy Weekend Ahead

This is stacking up to be a busy (and prayerfully a blessed) weekend.  Carol Bercian, our missions partnership liaison in Guatemala and director of the Tabitha Ministry in Guatemala City, will be arriving in Kansas City tomorrow evening.  She will be the featured speaker at ChurchNet's missions banquet, a part of the larger Share Hope Summit, taking place at Windermere Baptist Conference Center on Friday evening and Saturday morning.

Following the conclusion of the Summit, we'll be driving back to Lee's Summit (about 3 hours) and will have a get-together that evening for all of those who have participated from our church on missions trips to Guatemala.  On Sunday morning, I'll be driving Carol up to St. Joseph where she will speak at Wyatt Park Baptist Church.  Wyatt Park has partnered with us on our last two trips as a church to Guatemala and their pastor, Josh Stowe, was one of the conference leaders at the training seminar in January of this year.

On Sunday evening, Carol will be speaking at our evening service (an hour earlier than usual) and afterwards there will be a benefit concert for the Tabitha Ministry that will also serve as a wrap-up to church's youth group's Disciple Now Weekend.  Three different bands will be playing and there will be an art auction as well to benefit the Tabitha Ministry.  The concert, advertised here on Facebook, has also been featured on K-Love's concert announcement listing.

It should be an exciting weekend that will hopefully be a strong promotion for ChurchNet's Guatemalan missions partnership and the Tabitha Ministry specifically.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Lee Trevino's Influence and Ours

At the height of his popularity on the PGA tour, Lee Trevino once remarked that there were two things that weren’t long for this world—dogs that chase cars, and professional golfers who miss the green with their second shots. Trevino had a knack for off-the-cuff quips that left the spectators positioned close enough to hear them chuckling in amusement. Growing up as I did in South Texas where I golfed occasionally with my dad, I noticed that Trevino’s notoriety as one of the first Mexican-Americans to achieve success on the PGA tour inspired a lot of other Hispanics to take up the sport. Golf has often been viewed as something of a rich man’s game—given the high costs of clubs and equipment, cart rentals, and green fees—not to mention the exorbitant membership dues of private clubhouses. The economics of golf also dictated that it was predominantly a white man’s sport.

Trevino played a major role in overcoming the racial barrier in golf. He had dropped out of school at 14 to work as a caddy at golf courses in Dallas in addition to shining shoes. After a four-year stint with the Marines, Trevino became a golf pro in El Paso, TX. He won the U.S. Open his second year on the tour and would eventually win 29 PGA events. “Supermex,” or “The Merry Mex” as he was known, was likeable and good-natured, inspiring many young Hispanics to take up golf.

Trevino’s life story prompts me to ask the question, “Whom are we influencing and inspiring by the way we live?” “Are our lives serving as an example to challenge others to achieve greatness?” That greatness hopefully isn’t measured by tournaments won, trophies amassed, or bank accounts enriched, but by faithful service to others in Christ’s name.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

An Excellent Blog Post

One of my favorite bloggers, Alan Cross, has written an excellent post that asks the question, "Are Southern Baptists Capable of Being Missional?"  His historical analysis of what has brought the SBC to where they are today is especially insightful. 

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Associated Baptist Press article

Vicki Brown of Word & Way interviewed me last week for an upcoming article in the paper.  She emailed me yesterday to say that Associated Baptist Press had picked up the article.  Here's a link to it.

Saturday, March 05, 2011

ChurchNet Board Meeting

One of the really positive things to come out of yesterday's ChurchNet board meeting was a very good discussion by two of our teams (Missions Mobilization, Resources and Relationships) with Roger Hatfield, executive director of Future Leadership Foundation.  FLF was founded in 2002 and has concentrated its efforts predominantly in Eastern Europe to this point.  They respond to requests from national entities in several of those countries to provide leadership training events.  Their philosophy and approach to doing so matches quite closely the approach that we have taken as an organization, so there is lots of potential for shared ministry.  I foresee that an eventual partnership between our groups will be a boost for each of us--providing synergy and helping both organizations to maximize resources. 

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Fresh Appreciation for Bible Translators

I’ve done something unique the last couple of weeks in the Wednesday night Bible study time.  I typically prepare an outline for the study each week with a summary of the major truths and insights found in the passage.  The past two weeks I’ve tried my hand at offering a paraphrase of a number of the key verses in the chapters we’ve examined.  That’s a far different exercise than engaging in translation from the original biblical languages, but it has caused me to grow in my appreciation for the work of Bible translators. 

Translators are faced with the daunting task of faithfully expressing the meaning of the ancient biblical text in a manner that communicates in our contemporary language and culture.  While many still read the King James Version of the Bible (originally translated in 1611), it’s safe to say that none of us speak 17th-century English.  Many of the words and expressions from that era would need to be translated into modern lingo for us to grasp their meaning today.

In a sense, that’s the challenge we all face as Christians.  We’re to take the unchanging truths of Scripture and contextualize them in a world that is becoming increasingly biblically illiterate.  To a world that deems the message as archaic and mythical, we have the privilege and responsibility of communicating the Bible’s relevance in a clear and penetrating fashion.  A transformed life goes a long way toward underscoring the legitimacy of the message and the messenger.  Let’s live the truth daily.

ChurchNet Meeting tomorrow

Looking forward tomorrow to our quarterly board meeting of ChurchNet (formerly known as the Baptist General Convention of Missouri).  I'll have the opportunity of giving an update on the recent trips to Guatemala.  In addition, Roger Hatfield of the Future Leadership Foundation will be meeting with us to consider and explore some ministry partnership opportunities in Latin America.  FLF has a long history of providing leadership training events in Eastern Europe, but they're looking to expand and/or re-focus on our southern neighbors.  It should be a great meeting as we prayerfully seek direction about possible collaboration between our two organizations.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Guatemala Wrap-up

We made it safely to Antigua late yesterday afternoon after stopping to visit Lake Atitlan and taking a boat ride there. We got settled in to our hotel and then went exploring a bit in the evening, enjoying a typical Guatemalan restaurant just off of the central plaza.

Today we'll explore some more of the city before returning to Guatemala City after lunch to visit the Tabitha ministry. After that, it's winding down a bit this evening and getting ready for an early departure tomorrow.

It's been a wonderfully blessed week. I don't think I ever commented on the final day's activity after the trip up to the mountains to distribute food on Tuesday. On Wednesday, we split up into 4 or 5 teams (can't remember which right now) and were joined by Mary Wood [former children's minister at our church now serving as a volunteer in Guatemala with her husband Joe] as we delivered bags of food to needy folks in the neighborhood of the church. Several decisions for Christ were made among those who received the food. That afternoon, we went to an institute with young people between the ages of 12-18. We again split up into multiple teams to share the gospel with the students. I translated for Jeff who did an outstanding job of presenting his testimony and the gospel. Again, many indicated by their responses that they had accepted Christ.

That evening, we met at the church for a farewell gathering and were blessed by their words of appreciation and some souvenirs that they gave us to remember them by.  The youth did a skit in which they recounted the areas in which our team had ministered there during the week.  Lots of hugs and tears as we said farewells to some folks we had learned to love in the space of a few days.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Tuesday in Guatemala

Tuesday was an exciting day for the team.  After spending some additional time on Monday weighing more rice and beans in 5 lb. bags and packing those up along with sugar, flour, and powdered milk, we headed out Tuesday morning for a village named Tierra Colorada on the side of a mountain southwest of Quetzaltenango.  We had been forewarned that we might have to hike a good bit of the way as the road was steep and winding.  Fortunately, the van was able to make it all the way to the top.  We were grateful as we probably climbed between 800 and 1000 feet higher than the 7500 feet altitude or so that Quetzaltenango is situated at.  Our first activity there was speaking to the kids in a community school.  There were very well-behaved and paid close attention to the Bible stories and the presentation of the gospel. 

After concluding the presentations in each class, we were invited for a typical lunch (chicken and rice) with some tamales as well at the home of the president of the parents' association.  It was a few hundred yards down the mountainside to the home and the hike back up after lunch was breathtaking--literally.  We were all pretty winded from the thin air by the time we got back up to the school. 

There, we waited as the mothers of the children gathered to receive the bags of food that had been taken up the mountain in a truck (which gratefully also successfully climbed all the way to the village).  Jeff Arnold, our youth minister shared a testimony followed by a testimony from Martha Wakely.  Martha is bilingual so I didn't have to translate for her.  Then Josh Stowe, pastor of Wyatt Park Baptist, shared the gospel utilizing the story of Jesus' encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well.  Afterwards, the pastor of the Judah Baptist Church (our host church for the week) shared an invitation and several of the women responded.

We learned afterwards when we visited a neighboring church a few miles from this village that earlier evangelical groups that had attempted to share the gospel in Tierra Colorada had been run out of the village with stones.  The principal of the school is a believer and is trying to share the love of Christ with the families who attend there.  She was present on Sunday morning for the worship service at the Judah Baptist Church and returned on Wednesday night for the farewell service to express thanks for the inroads that the gifts of the food bags had made in the community.

We wrapped up Tuesday evening with the final night of leadership training at the Judah Church with representatives from three different churches present. I don't think anyone stayed up too late that evening after we got back to the hotel and had dinner.  It was an exhausting but fulfilling day.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Guatemala Reports

I failed to do any further posting about out recent Guatemala trip while there, though I did manage to send a few brief email updates to the church during the course of the week.  I thought that I'd post those in the next couple of days to give some insight into some of the things we did.

Here's a report I sent on Monday the 14th:

We've had another good day with a few changes of plans. We were going to distribute bags of food in the area of the church this morning but did a quick change of plans when we learned that the school we were planning on visiting on Wednesday was going to have teacher training sessions that day rather than classes. We went and had a great time with about 400 kids (I think) in all. Afterwards, it was lunch time at church, followed by VBS, packing more bags of food for the families tomorrow, and then training tonight.

It turns out that we're delivering almost 200 bags of food at one time rather than individually tomorrow. I had been wondering how we were going to manage time-wise to deliver that many bags. It's a village in the mountains where we're going. Carol has warned us we'll probably have to hike the last part of the way up there. The other warning she gave us was that there are no bathroom facilities there and we're going to be there for a good part of the day. We'll be speaking in a smaller school there in the morning with about 250 kids, and then after a lunch of sandwiches that the church is preparing, we'll be sharing testimonies and a message with about 200 Mayan families who live there. Then we'll deliver the food. Because there are so many families, the food (beans and rice at least) were purchased in bulk (100 lb. bags), so we've spent a good deal of time with the help of church members weighing and packaging the food for delivery.

Also got to see Pastor Santiago from San Marcos today. He's the fellow who has taken in so many homeless kids and is teaching them carpentry skills and helping them with an education. He has a new young man with him named Sergio who's 18 whose parents were killed. He has never attended school in his life until now.

Had a good visit this morning with the leaders of the local pastors' association to assure them that Carol's departure from the convention and Roger's return to Nicaragua wouldn't curtail the BGCM's partnership with this area but that we would be working directly with the association rather than the convention.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

A Busy Day

We had a good first day of ministry on the missions trip to Guatemala.  One of the most interesting things about the worship service this morning was having the music and praise time led by a group from the Guatemalan National Police.  They had a drummer, guitarist, keyboard player, and several singers.  When one hears so much about the corruption in the police departments across Latin America, it was very refreshing to see this group lead an impassioned time of worship.  I had the chance to preach to the adults afterwards while other team members taught Sunday School classes for the children.

After lunch which the church provided for us, we weighed and packaged black beans and rice which had been purchased in bulk (100 lb. bags), as well as cooking oil, sugar, and powdered milk.  After doing this with lots of help from the church members, we played a little stick-ball with some of the kids before beginning VBS with about 40 kids in all.  When we finished VBS, we packed 60 backpacks with school supplies that our church members had donated for the children of the church.  We had some extra supplies which we'll be taking to a public school later in the week.

We made a quick trip back to the hotel to refresh for a half hour or so before returning to the church for leadership training.  Our children's minister led a session for children's workers while our youth minister did likewise for youth workers.  Josh Stowe, pastor from Wyatt Park in St. Joseph, led a session for the adults which I translated.  After that it was back to the hotel for a rather late spaghetti dinner.  I think everyone is pretty exhausted after a busy day on the heels of a long travel day yesterday.  Hopefully we'll catch up on some sleep tonight.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Arrived Safely in Quetzaltenango

After a long day of travel (awakened at 4:00 a.m.), we arrived this evening about 9:00 in Quetzaltenango.  Tomorrow morning we will worship with the Judah Baptist Church in the morning, have VBS for their kids in the afternoon, and host a leadership training event in the evening for the area churches here.  I'd give a longer update, but my body is saying it's time to go to sleep.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Guatemala Beckons Again

It seems like I just returned from Guatemala (which I did last month) and now I'm off again this Saturday.  This will be our church's fourth missions trip to the western part of the country.  Our previous trips took us to Cantel, San Marcos and Tejutla, and Totonicapan.  This time we'll be working with the Judah Baptist Church (no h on it in Spanish however) in Quetzaltenango.  That's the same city where we host the leadership training conferences each six months so we'll be staying in the same hotel we do for those trips--the Bella Luna (beautiful moon). 

We had seven from our church slated to go, but one of our ladies wound up in the hospital today with a collapsed lung and won't be able to travel with us.  Two of our number are traveling down early tomorrow (Wednesday) to spend a couple of days training the workers at the Tabitha Ministry near the city dump in Guatemala City.  They will join us at the airport when we fly in on Saturday to make the trip out west to Quetzaltenango.  We're slated to speak in a few public schools, to lead a VBS at the Judah Baptist Church, to spend a day doing outreach and providing fund for hungry families at a mission of the church in the mountains, and to offer leadership training classes for the local Baptist churches in Quetzaltenango in the evenings. 

We'll be joined by Josh Stowe, pastor of Wyatt Park Baptist in St. Joseph, MO and his wife as well as a third member of their church who is bilingual and will help with the translation duties.  It's always a wonderful blessing to be able to spend a week in Guatemala serving alongside some wonderul folks.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Reflections concerning Groundhog Day

As a youngster, I used to receive a good deal of razzing from my fellow classmates about being born on Groundhog Day, February 2nd. That, of course, was long before Bill Murray starred in the movie about a TV weatherman covering the annual forecast of the famous groundhog, Punxsutawney Phil in Pennsylvania. The weather forecaster becomes mysteriously mired in a cycle in which his life activities are repeated identically each day. Murray’s character ingeniously devises some elaborate schemes to exploit the situation, since he knows exactly what to expect at every minute of the day from the time his alarm clock first sounds in the morning.

Perhaps for some people, such an absolute sense of utter predictability would symbolize comfort. Knowing exactly what was going to transpire every day might seem to offer reassurance and stability. I strongly suspect though that for most of us the invariable sameness of each new day would rapidly become maddeningly frustrating. It would also undercut any sense of excitement and anticipation about the new adventures that each day holds, given that none of us has a crystal ball that accurately predicts the future.

I’m grateful that God allows us the privilege of awakening each day to a clean slate of opportunities and possibilities to love Him and to love others. Rather than living in some kind of a rigidly controlled environment, He affords us the chance to fully experience life with all of its complexities and risks. That being the case, we really do have to learn to walk by faith and not by sight, trusting God for the strength and wisdom to live each day to its fullest.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Guatemala update

We arrived back in Guatemala City this evening after a couple of really good days of leadership training conferences in Quetzaltenango.  We had 72 pastors and leaders in attendance, including some for the first time.  Josh Stowe and Ann Pittman did a great job leading in the workshops and I was able to take a break from my normal translation duties as a result of Steve Mines accompanying us and handling those responsibilities.  Steve's folks were our big brothers who welcomed us to Argentina in 1988 as we arrived there as new missionaries.  It's been good to catch up with him in these days.

It's been cool here with temperatures in the middle 30s in Quetzaltenango at night, but that's a lot better than the weather I left in Missouri with several inches of snow on the ground and chill factors of -20.  We'll visit the Tabitha Ministry tomorrow morning before doing some sightseeing in Antigua later in the day.  After that, it's an early morning departure on Friday as we head back to the States.

As always, the conference participants were extremely gracious and affirming of our presence and contributions in making the training event a reality.  We were also able to visit the Judah Baptist Church there in Quetzaltenango where our church will be sending a missions team next month.

I was also able to visit with Mary and Joe Wood who are volunteering in Guatemala for a year.  Mary was our church's children's minister a few years ago before becoming the minister of education at another church in the Kansas City area.  It was wonderful to spend some time with them today.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Pastor's Daily Devotions

Shortly after Dr. Blake McKinney began his ministry with us as our senior pastor a year ago, he began publishing a series of daily devotions that can be received via email.  They have consistently been outstanding in terms of their quality and focus.  They are brief, to the point, and always extremely practical.  I'm not sure why I have waited until this point to mention them, but I'd encourage anyone who is looking for a challenging and encouraging word from the Lord each day to subscribe to Blake's devotions.

Here's a link if you're interested in signing up for the free email devotions.

Monday, January 03, 2011

The KJV and Change

(I shared the following reflections in our church's newsletter this week).

With the arrival of 2011, we will find ourselves celebrating the 400th anniversary of the printing of the King James Version of the Bible. Shortly after his ascension to England’s throne, James I convened the Hampton Court Conference in January 1604 that called for a new translation of the Bible. Seven years later, the forty-seven biblical scholars assigned to the task had finished their work and the new version had been printed by Robert Barker.

I suspect that many of you grew up reading and studying the King James Version. It really wasn’t until the 1960s and 1970s that other English versions began to appear that would eventually dethrone the KJV as the most widely sold and read of all Bibles. Most of us heard the KJV preached from on Sunday mornings and studied it in Sunday School. It was the version from which we memorized our favorite verses. Many still love the old English language of the KJV and continue to use it today. For others, the KJV language sounds foreign to their ears and is a hurdle to understanding the meaning of the biblical text.

The lesson I take from this is that the only constant in life (including our Christian experience) is change. Many opposed the appearance of new English translations and branded them as heretical. There are still some fundamentalist churches today who insist on the use of the KJV in their services. Most of us have moved on to other Bible translations that help us to better understand God’s message for our lives. We’ve been blessed by the labor of biblical scholars working with more accurate Hebrew and Greek manuscripts. As we begin a new church year with new worship schedules and a host of new Bible Fellowship classes, I pray that we’ll do so with excitement and enthusiasm, realizing that while change can be unsettling for a while, great good and benefit can come from these new experiences.

Sunday, January 02, 2011

New Sunday Schedule

I mentioned in my previous post that today we would be launching a new Sunday morning schedule with three different worship formats.  I'm delighted to say that despite pretty frigid temperatures here in the Kansas City area this morning (about 14 degrees I think earlier) and the fact that we're still kind of in an extended holiday weekend mode, we had a great response to the three different services.  We had around 120 in the 8:00 a.m. traditional service, over 500 in the blended service at 9:30, and 180 or so in the contemporary service at 11:00.  I was also very pleased with a turnout of 24 in the new Sunday School class that I began teaching this morning during the 9:30 hour. I haven't heard the reports yet from the other new classes that were started, but it was encouraging overall to see a good response to these new initiatives. 

This week I've got to catch up on some stuff in the office after being on vacation, especially with regard to our Free Community Garage Sale that we'll be hosting on January 15th.  We've been doing a monthly "First Serve" community service project since June or so of this past year and the "free garage sale" will be our kickoff event for 2011.