Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Elton Trueblood quote

One of the pastors who participated in the retreat of senior adult ministers that I attended in Little Rock a few months back shared a great quote with us from Elton Trueblood.  I've found many of Trueblood's writings and statements to be helpful, but this one was really great.

Trueblood writes, "A person has made at least a start on understanding the Christian life when they plant shade trees under which they know full well they will never sit."

The same pastor at the retreat shared a devotional based on Ps. 71:17-18 (NIV) that highlights the importance of multi-generational faithfulness, encouraging us to look back, look now, look forward, and look beyond.  I think you'll easily see in these verses the invitation to view life from these four perspectives.

Here's the text of that passage:

Since my youth, God, you have taught me,
    and to this day I declare your marvelous deeds.
Even when I am old and gray,
    do not forsake me, my God,
till I declare your power to the next generation,
    your mighty acts to all who are to come.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

RIP Darrell K Royal

As a youngster growing up in the state of Texas, the University of Texas Longhorns were the standard of excellence when it came to college football.  Sure, the Aggies, Red Raiders, and the heinous Sooners from across the Red River to the north could field a pretty decent team, but the Longhorns were the iconic college team in a state renowned for its football.  I made the decision to attend UT-Austin, not based on the prowess of the Longhorns, but on an anticipated career as a lawyer and on the reputation of the UT Law School at that time as one of the finest in the nation.  Being able to attend all of the Longhorn's home games was just icing on the cake.

The years that I attended (1971-1975) were marked by some outstanding teams with some exceptional running backs.  Roosevelt Leaks wracked up some impressive numbers from 1972-1974 in UT's famed Wishbone offense, made famous by Coach Darrell K Royal.  Leaks was followed by a true legend--the Tyler Rose, a.k.a Earl Campbell.  Campbell was simply phenomenal in his ability to elude tacklers, to outrun them with surprising speed for a bigger than average-sized running back, and also for his strength that enabled him to simply run through and over would-be tacklers.  He would win the Heisman Trophy in 1977.

What prompts this nostalgic football reminiscing today is the news of the death of the legendary UT football coach, Darrell K Royal yesterday (Nov. 7th) at the age of 88.  He had been suffering from Alzheimer's for a number of years.  Royal was one of the outstanding men in his profession, respected and admired by his teams and fellow coaches alike.  Sports staff writer Kirk Bohls of the Austin American Statesman has penned a wonderful tribute to Coach Royal.  Coach Royal was a class act.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

A Great Post-Election Article

One of the MK's we knew from our time of serving in Argentina posted a link on Facebook to an outstanding article from a Denver pastor.  I've strictly avoided posting anything of a partisan political nature on my blog or Facebook page, and this piece reflects that same commitment.  It's well worth the read.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Not Where I Belong

I was reading a daily devotional this morning in which the author was writing about lament, describing it as the only appropriate response at times to so many of the harsh realities in this world--death, poverty, hunger, homelessness, injustice, etc.  In the midst of the devotional, one line jumped out at me: "The cry of pain is our deepest acknowledgment that we are not home."

That thought in turn triggered a mental association with the song by Building 429 entitled "Where I Belong."  I had a chance to hear them perform that song this past summer after a Kansas City Royals game.  I had heard it frequently before on the local Christian radio station and have always enjoyed both the music and the text.

The chorus goes, "All I know is I'm not home yet, this is not where I belong.  Take this world and give me Jesus; this is not where I belong."

The song echoes a sentiment that has been repeatedly expressed down through the centuries.  It's a central message in the book of Hebrews where the writer says of Abraham that he lived as an alien in the land of promise, dwelling in tents as he looked for the city whose architect and builder is God.  Of the others listed in the Hall of Fame (chapter 11), the writer of Hebrews adds, "And indeed if they had been thinking of that country from which they went out, they would have had opportunity to return.  But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one.  Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them."

The biblical longing for an eternal home where our true citizenship lies was the central theme of so many of the Negro spirituals, giving witness again to the fact that suffering and hardship remind us that we are not made for this world and that the God of justice and mercy will one day right all wrongs and settle all accounts.

On this day of national elections in the U.S., it's good to remember that our ultimate allegiance is not to be pledged to an American flag, but to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords who is preparing a place for us to spend eternity with Him.

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Third Places

One of the key emphases of the conference I attended last week of fellow ministers working with 50+ aged adults was the importance of evangelistic efforts and outreach directed toward this burgeoning population segment.  Approximately 10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age daily.  Given the current economic challenges, not all of these folks are opting to walk away from their jobs, but the sheer numbers of emerging boomers are staggering.  Clearly we cannot ignore the spiritual needs of these individuals. 

One participant spoke about the concept of “third places” as a potential strategy for reaching these folks.  The concept of a third place was popularized by urban sociologist Ray Oldenburg in his book The Great Good Place.  Third places (or third spaces as they’re sometimes referred to) designate locations where people gather informally when not at their first place (home) or their second place (work).  In these welcoming spots where folks gather to exchange ideas, pursue a hobby or pastime, or just to relax with friends and make new acquaintances, unique opportunities are offered for the church to engage its community missionally.

The younger crowd has pretty well claimed Starbucks as its own third place domain, but emerging boomers have plenty of other options out there from which to choose.  Baseball and soccer fields where their grandchildren practice, recreational and health centers, local restaurants, bookstores, community centers, and other public venues can be places where Christians cultivate meaningful relationships with neighbors on a neutral turf.  What we cannot afford to do is to simply rely on our traditional “come and hear” approaches to evangelism and outreach. 

Where are some spots that you would consider an ideal “third place” to meet and enter into meaningful relationships with non-Christians?

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Singing with Understanding

Do you ever find yourself singing along with an old familiar hymn, or perhaps even a new praise chorus, and you suddenly realize that you're just repeating well-known words without contemplating their meaning?  It's easy enough to fall into this habit.  For those of us who've been singing these hymns for many decades, the texts are so familiar that we can easily find ourselves singing them on autopilot.  When we unconsciously slip into that mode, we forfeit the blessing of reflecting on the wonderfully rich messages these songs convey.  We also miss out on the joyful experience of praising God with our whole being.  Jesus said that we're to love the Lord our God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength.  As we actively engage our minds and consciously meditate on the texts of the hymns and choruses that we sing, our hearts more fully engage in worship.  I suspect that in part that's what Jesus referred to when He told the Samaritan woman that God seeks those who will worship Him in spirit and in truth.  The next time you sing along in a worship service, let the meaning of the texts resonate in your mind along with the beautiful melodies.  Let's joyfully sing His praises!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

An Encouraging Conference/Retreat

I just returned this evening from a three-day trip to Little Rock, AR where I met with about a dozen fellow senior adult ministers.  I only knew one of the attendees prior to the meeting, but I enjoyed some rich fellowship and sharing with these men.  It turns out that I had mutual acquaintances with a number of these guys.  One had served as a music prof for our worship minister and had been a classmate of a close missionary friend from Argentina.  Another had taken a mission trip to Argentina, serving alongside a former colleague there.  Still another was good friends of a missionary acquaintance from Mexico.  I'm amazed at times at the number of relationships and ties that exist in Baptist life when you scratch below the surface just a little bit.  

We were privileged to have Ward Tanneberg of the CASA Network as a speaker for the first day and a half.  I had attended an event sponsored by CASA in Anaheim last fall and found it to be encouraging and inspiring.  This gathering scored high in that respect as well.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Seasons of Life

The cooler temperatures of the past few weeks offer clear evidence of the changing seasons.  Fall has announced its annual arrival.  I’m grateful to live in Missouri where we experience four distinct seasons.  Granted, the length of these can vary considerably from year to year as well as the severity or mildness of each season.  Having grown up in South Texas, spring and fall were basically non-existent for us.  We transitioned from a typically mild winter to the heat of summer with just a few short days of spring-like weather.  The clearest harbinger of spring’s brief appearance was the emergence of the beautiful Texas wild flowers—blue bonnets, Indian paint brush, and buttercups being chief among them.  The fall months could be almost as hot as the summer ones, but their arrival signaled the start of high school football in the land of Friday Night Lights. 

The earth’s seasons remind us of life’s rhythms as well.  The springtime corresponds to those seasons of refreshing growth and new beginnings.  Summertime suggests those periods in which we take a break from the normal routines to explore new places on vacation or to spend time with our extended families.  Autumn can represent our maturing years as we reflect on what we’ve been able to accomplish with the Lord’s strength and help.  Winter marks the inevitable decline that we all face and our eventual departure from this earthly life to a far greater and more blessed future existence with God in heaven for those of us who know Christ as Savior.

Whatever season of life you find yourself in today, resolve to make the most of it.  Cultivate the friendships you already have and seek to make new ones.  As your health permits, seek opportunities to serve others, using the gifts and talents you’ve developed over a lifetime.  Strengthen your relationship with the Lord through daily spiritual disciplines.  Finally, enjoy and thank God for each new day He lets you experience.  We are truly blessed, aren’t we? 

(I shared these thoughts in the most recent edition of our monthly senior adult newsletter, The Joyful Tidings).

Monday, September 17, 2012

Thursday, September 06, 2012

Some outstanding thoughts on leadership

Our pastor shared a link this morning to a blog by Mark Batterson, a Washington, D.C. pastor, who gave a list of 17 Leadership Laws.  These are really outstanding and well worth the read.  My favorite line from the piece was this one - "Live for the applause of nail-scarred hands."

Friday, August 24, 2012

An Average Age of 98.75

Our church is blessed with some pretty amazing senior adults on the upper end of the age scale.  In the past couple of weeks I’ve had the privilege of visiting with folks who are 101, 100, 99, and 95 years old.  Each of these four still retains a sharp, clear mind and is a wonderful conversationalist.  I relished the opportunity to sit with each for a while and hear them recount stories of God’s faithfulness in their lives down through the years.  A couple of them expressed wonder and amazement that God has permitted them to live this long—far beyond the ages of their parents and siblings.  They were unanimous in their expressions of gratitude to the Lord for His continued presence and guidance in their lives.  Their testimonies and stories greatly inspire and encourage me in my own walk with the Lord as they model what it means to finish well.  May their tribe increase!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Bill Hybel's Thanksgiving Turkey

Bill Hybels (pastor of the Willow Creek megachurch in Chicago) told a humorous, tongue-in-cheek account of his exploits last year in preparing the family’s annual Thanksgiving Day turkey. He had volunteered to do so and went through elaborate steps of preparing all the details, even down to doing a trial test run 3 days earlier on a practice turkey. He elected to do something a bit unusual with the turkey and grill it outside on the gas grill. He spoke at length of the power of the grill (laughingly noting that it had sufficient power to fly a jet plane) and indicated that it was hooked directly to the house’s gas lines. The turkey turned out to be a wonderful success and everyone enjoyed the meal. Hybels graciously declined an invitation from the family to do an encore at Christmas time last year. In January, he had a fellow over doing some yard work who asked Hybels what he had grilled out the previous evening as he discovered that the gas grill was still warm. Hybels told him that he hadn’t cooked anything out the night before, nor even earlier that week. Further investigation revealed that two of the grill’s burners had been left on since the famous Thanksgiving Day turkey was prepared. Hybels said that it proved to be the most expensive turkey they had ever eaten and that he was the real turkey.

I appreciated the fact that this well-known and respected pastor could poke some fun at himself and laugh at his own misadventures. I’m convinced that most of us take ourselves far too seriously and could benefit from a good dose of humility-inducing, self-deprecating humor. Of course there will be times that our mistakes produce painful consequences that we cannot rapidly dismiss with a good round of laughter. Nevertheless, the ability to laugh at ourselves and our own ineptness is sound medicine for our souls. Trying to serve as the world’s CEO isn’t anyone’s God-given calling or assignment. He already has that title securely locked up.

Monday, August 13, 2012

The Value of Reminders

Allen Baker (our Minister of Discipleship) and I had the opportunity to attend a simulcast this past Thursday and Friday of Willow Creek’s annual Global Leadership Summit.  The summit always brings together an outstanding selection of both business and church leaders to speak about leadership principles.  There were lots of inspirational moments and some great ideas to take away from the gathering.  One noted leader said something that caught my attention.  He quoted Samuel Johnson who said that people need to be reminded more than they need to be instructed. 

Sometimes I think we subtly fall into the trap of thinking that since we’ve heard a message before from a certain passage, or we’ve studied it often in the Bible, that there’s nothing new to learn from it.  Peter wrote these words about the value of being reminded of truths that we already know: “Therefore, I will always be ready to remind you of these things, even though you already know them, and have been established in the truth which is present with you” (2 Pet. 1:12).  A more important question to ask ourselves than “Have I heard this before?” is “Am I practicing and experiencing the truth of this passage?”  James reminds us that it isn’t the hearers but the doers of the Word that are blessed.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Children's Version of the Bible in a Nutshell

I hope that you enjoy this humorous take on the Bible from a child's perspective.

In the beginning, which occurred near the start, there was nothing but God, darkness, and some gas. The Bible says, 'The Lord thy God is one, but I think He must be a lot older than that.  Anyway, God said, 'Give me a light!' and someone did. Then God made the world. He split the Adam and made Eve. Adam and Eve were naked, but they weren't embarrassed because mirrors hadn't been invented yet. Adam and Eve disobeyed God by eating one bad apple, so they were driven from the Garden of Eden .....Not sure what they were driven in though, because they didn't have cars. Adam and Eve had a son, Cain, who hated his brother as long as he was Abel.

Pretty soon all of the early people died off, except for Methuselah, who lived to be like a million or something. One of the next important people was Noah, who was a good guy, but one of his kids was kind of a Ham. Noah built a large boat and put his family and some animals on it. He asked some other people to join him, but they said they would have to take a rain check.

After Noah came Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Jacob was more famous than his brother, Esau, because Esau sold Jacob his birthmark in exchange for some pot roast. Jacob had a son named Joseph who wore a really loud sports coat.

Another important Bible guy is Moses, whose real name was Charlton Heston. Moses led the Israel Lights out of Egypt and away from the evil Pharaoh after God sent ten plagues on Pharaoh's people. These plagues included frogs, mice, lice, bowels, and no cable. God fed the Israel Lights every day with manicotti. Then he gave them His Top Ten Commandments. These include: don't lie, cheat, smoke, dance, or covet your neighbor's stuff. Oh, yeah, I just thought of one more: Humor thy father and thy mother.

One of Moses' best helpers was Joshua who was the first Bible guy to use spies. Joshua fought the battle of Geritol and the fence fell over on the town. After Joshua came David. He got to be king by killing a giant with a slingshot. He had a son named Solomon who had about 300 wives and 500 porcupines. My teacher says he was wise, but that doesn't sound very wise to me.

After Solomon there were a bunch of major league prophets. One of these was Jonah, who was swallowed by a big whale and then barfed up on the shore. There were also some minor league prophets, but I guess we don't have to worry about them.

After the Old Testament came the New Testament. Jesus is the star of The New. He was born in Bethlehem in a barn. (I wish I had been born in a barn too, because my mom is always saying to me, 'Close the door! Were you born in a barn?' It would be nice to say, 'As a matter of fact, I was.') During His life, Jesus had many arguments with sinners like the Pharisees and the Democrats. Jesus also had twelve opossums. The worst one was Judas Asparagus. Judas was so evil that they named a terrible vegetable after him.

Jesus was a great man. He healed many leopards and even preached to some Germans on the Mount. But the Democrats and all those guys put Jesus on trial before Pontius the Pilot. Pilot didn't stick up for Jesus. He just washed his hands instead. Anyways, Jesus died for our sins, and then came back to life again. He went up to Heaven but will be back at the end of the Aluminum. His return is foretold in the book of Revolution.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

A Remarkable Pastor

I shared this on my Facebook page but wanted to put it here as well.  This picture is of Santiago Rosales, pastor of the Primera Iglesia Bautista (FBC) of San Marcos.  He's one of my heroes among the pastors I've gotten to know in the last 6 years or so of conducting leadership training conferences for pastors and leaders in western Guatemala.  This shot is of him in his carpentry workshop, displaying a bunk bed that he and his crew are finishing up.

A word about his helpers . . . .  These young boys are former street kids who lived on the streets and eked out a meager existence by shining shoes.  For the past 15 years or so, Pastor Santiago and his wife have taken in street kids, housing and feeding them initially in their own 2-bedroom parsonage behind the church.  They've had as many as 8 or 9 of these young men living with them at one time.  Pastor Santiago ensures that they attend school and then he's teaching them carpentry skills so they can earn a decent living when they finish school.  What they make and sell also helps provide for their living expenses.  Our church plus FBC Farmington, MO donated funds a few years back to build a dorm to help house these young fellows.  It was great to spend a couple of days in his church the week before last conducting medical clinics, fitting folks with reading glasses, distributing bags of food to needy families, etc.

The Value of Suffering

When we’re confronted as we so often are with the harsh realities of life and the seemingly unjust sufferings that so many are forced to endure, it’s easy at times to entertain questions about God’s justice and sovereignty in the midst of so much pain. Our minds struggle to understand and accept that a loving God would allow those who love Him to experience such profound depths of hurt.

In Into the Depths of God, Calvin Miller writes, “The trials that keep us kneeling before our lifelong assignments are never haphazard. All the sufferings that are thrust upon us can serve to bring us to maturity.” Then he makes this startling statement: “Hurt is the essential ingredient of ultimate Christ-likeness.”

Peter writes, “Do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon your for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing.” We’re not to be surprised when we suffer nor consider it odd, but to rejoice that God has counted us worthy to follow in the footsteps of Him who suffered everything for us.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Life's Unexpected Turns

I was reflecting recently on the wisdom of the following statement:  "Life is what happens to you while you are making other plans.”  Far too often that is exactly the case.  We make our own elaborate plans regarding the future and what we intend to do, and then life throws us a curve and we must adjust as best we can to the new realities that we face.

Are any of you living exactly as you had envisioned you would be many years ago when you set out on the adventure of life after finishing school?  I suspect that not many of us are.  Coping with unexpected changes in life demands a certain degree of flexibility on our part, but whether we like to admit it or not, as we age we generally grow more resistant to change.  We prefer the comfort of familiar routines, places, and people.  That isn’t a bad thing either, but we’re not always permitted to enjoy our preferences in those areas.  It’s nice to know that at the end of the day that there is always one friend on whom we can always depend.  Hebrews 13:8 tells us that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.  His love, mercy, and grace are new every morning. As certain as the sun rises, Jesus’ presence will be there to guide us.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Recalculating Conference

The "Recalculating: GPS for Active Adults" conference this past Saturday at Holmeswood Baptist Church went extremely well.  We had about 100 participants from four area Baptist churches (Grace Point, 2nd Baptist Liberty, Holmeswood, and First Baptist Lee's Summit) take part in the workshops.  I was able to attend two of the sessions in time slots in which I wasn't offering my own workshop on "Missions and Ministry Opportunities for Active Adults."  They were both very informative and interesting.  Holmeswood did an outstanding job of hosting the event and their folks proved to be extremely friendly and helpful in directing visitors to the various venues for the workshops.  We enjoyed a tasty catered Italian lunch and then some participated in some optional conferences and individual consultations while the group from our church loaded up the bus with items that had been donated for the ministry of Forest Avenue Homeless Shelter.  We headed to the shelter and received a tour of the facilities and a brief history of the ministry from pastor Ken Smith.  It was the first time for several of our members to visit Forest Avenue and I think it was an eye-opening experience for them to witness what the church has done to reach out to the needy in its community.  Ken Satterfield of Word and Way followed us in his car and snapped a few pictures in the process.  I'll try and provide a link to any article that appears in Word and Way in the coming weeks about the conference and the visit to Forest Avenue.

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Recalculating: GPS for Active Adults

The title of this post is the name of an upcoming conference scheduled for June 9th at Holmeswood Baptist Church.  Here's a link to some further information found on Holmeswood's home page (that's kind of alliterative, isn't it?).  Four different Kansas City-area Baptist churches have been planning for this event for many months now and it's shaping up to be a great conference.  The Baptist Home has also taken a key leadership role in conceiving and designing the conference with outstanding contributions from Frank Fain who heads up their educational ministry and is a specialist on aging.  This conference however isn't focused primarily on traditional "seniors" but rather on emerging boomers.  The goal is to help many of us who are in that category to be better equipped as we move toward retirement years, deal with aging parents, seek to stay abreast of the latest advances in technology, etc.  There is an outstanding line-up of conferences that will be offered that day with something of interest for everyone.  

Baptists can't meet without eating of course, so we've also planned a catered Italian lunch into the program at a nominal cost of $5 for those who pre-register before May 31st.  Folks who fail to pre-register can still do so at the door and enjoy the meal at a cost of $7.50.  Following lunch, there will be an opportunity to attend some optional Q&A sessions with experts in the fields of financial planning, Social Security and Medicare issues, and caregiving.  Those who are interested can also pay a visit to the Forest Avenue Homeless Shelter in Kansas City that will be receiving donated items from conference participants.  Here's a list of some items that the shelter needs and that attendees are encouraged to bring with them that day.  We're also exploring the possibilities of some future missions projects that these churches can do jointly with Forest Avenue.

I'm grateful to my colleagues who have labored faithfully for several months in organizing this event.  It promises to be an outstanding experience for all who attend.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

UMKC Conservatory Choir

The UMKC Conservatory Choir performed last night at 2nd Presbyterian Church in Kansas City.  One of my favorite numbers was the spiritual, "My Soul's Been Anchored in the Lord."  Click on the link below to hear and watch them.

Monday, April 16, 2012

ChurchNet's annual meeting

I had the enjoyable experience on Friday and Saturday of traveling to St. Louis to participate in ChurchNet's annual meeting, held at Fee Fee Baptist Church.  Fee Fee has the distinction of being the oldest Protestant church west of the Mississippi River, having originally been founded in 1807.  We didn't have huge crowds present but the sessions were all great, beginning with the missions banquet on Friday evening.  Three members of a team from Parkade Baptist Church in Columbia, MO and my colleague, Verlyn Bergen, shared about their recent experiences of traveling to Quetzaltenango, Guatemala to conduct dental clinics and a variety of other outreach efforts with two different congregations.  They also had a chance to visit the Tabitha Ministry in Guatemala City.

Later that evening we were blessed with some great music by the Missouri Baptist University Chorale and a bell choir from MBU as well.  John Upton, president of the Baptist World Alliance, brought an outstanding message on the theme of this year's gathering: "Share Hope: The Journey Continues." 

Saturday morning we attended to some brief business before moving to a time of breakout sessions.  I had the privilege of facilitating a couple of sessions on Cowboy Churches.  Those leading the session were Tommy Goode, pastor of the I-70 Cowboy Church in Sweet Springs, MO and Steve Reed, a friend who has been engaged in cowboy church ministry for a number of years in Guatemala and more recently in the adjoining countries of Honduras and El Salvador as well.  When Steve isn't leading teams to Central America, he's engaged in planting churches in the Kansas City metro area.  He also leads a ministry in the jungle areas of Guatemala among the Kekchi.  He jokes that he's still playing cowboys and Indians.  Both Tommy and Steve did a great job of sharing stories and strategies about their ministries among cowboys.

It was great to get to fellowship with many friends engaged in ministry across Missouri this past weekend.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Stones Surrounding Avebury

While visiting Stonehenge, we learned of a lesser known archaeological site in a nearby village called Avebury.  The stones that completely surround this village are placed inside a moat and a fairly tall embankment that also circles the town.  The stones come from the same area as those found at Stonehenge and from the same period.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Humorous sign

This sign at Bath was hilarious.  It's a quote from the first-century Roman historian Seneca.
I have this image of a guy doing a cannonball into the Roman baths.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Europe Photos

KJV 1611 edition in church where Shakespeare is buried
Church in Stratford-on-Avon where Shakespeare is buried
St. Anne's College at Oxford where Josh studies
Family standing by the river in Oxford where Josh rows competitively

Back in the Saddle

That title is a figurative one of course.  My family and I just spent an enjoyable 9 days abroad in England and Ireland, visiting our third son who is studying at Oxford this semester.  We thoroughly enjoyed the trip--relishing in the lengthy history of so many places.  There's nothing quite like a trip to Europe to put things in a bit of historical perspective.  While the earliest English settlers arrived in Jamestown, VA a little over 400 years ago, and the U.S. is not even 250 years old yet, we visited churches that have been standing for between 800 and 1000 years.  

We enjoyed visiting several sites in England including Oxford, Stratford-on-Avon where we took in the Shakespearean houses, ancient Bath, Stonehenge, and a lesser known but larger stone circle at Avesbury.  We also toured Windsor Castle with all of its pomp and circumstance.

In Ireland, we journeyed southward to Cork where we climbed the Blarney Castle and kissed the Blarney stone to gain the gift of eloquence (we'll see how that works), enjoyed the scenery of the beautiful countryside, took in a concert of classical and Gaelic music in Galway, and enjoyed a couple of days in Dublin including attending the St. Patrick's Day parade in which the Notre Dame and Mizzou bands were marching.  

We arrived safely home with all of our luggage last night and will undoubtedly be coping with a bit of jet lag today after getting up at 5:00 a.m. yesterday in London.  All in all, it was a wonderful trip.

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Struggling with the Devil or Struggling with God

I read a great article this morning on Ethics Daily by Chuck Queen that shares the story of a young man who goes to live for the summer in a monastery in the mountains of Greece.  There's a famous old monk there named Father Makarios and Nikos, the young man, engages the monk in the following conversation:

One day, Nikos asked Father Makarios, "Do you still wrestle with the devil?"

Father Makarios said, "No. I used to wrestle with the devil all the time. But now I have grown old and tired, and the devil has grown old and tired with me. So I leave him alone and he leaves me alone."

Nikos asked, "Then life is easy now?"

Father Makarios responded, "Oh, no. Life is much harder now. For now I wrestle with God."

Nikos exclaimed, "You wrestle with God and hope to win?"

"No," said Father Makarios, "I wrestle with God and hope to lose."

There's a real sense in which this struggle with God is one in which we all participate, hopefully with the same desire to lose.  The yielding of our lives completely to His will and greater purpose for us is something we battle daily to achieve.  That anguished struggle is echoed by the Apostle Paul in Romans 7 with his confession that the good he wants to do he finds himself not doing, and the evil that he wishes to avoid he finds himself committing.  The only hope for victory in this arena lies in the daily surrender of our will, our desires, our time, our energy, and our actions to the control of the indwelling Holy Spirit.  When we do so, we can say together with Paul, "But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place" (2 Cor. 2:14).

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Frank Viola interviews Scot McKnight

I wanted to call your attention today to a couple of great blogs to which I subscribe, as I find each of the authors provide some great insights into the Scriptures as well as interacting with modern evangelical thought.  Frank Viola's interview with Scot McKnight allows McKnight to respond to some questions that have arisen about his book, The King Jesus Gospel.  I hope you'll click on the link above to read the interview.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Annie Dillard quote

I’ve been seriously pondering something I read last week and referenced in the previous post.  The imagery of the quote has been bouncing around in my head for several days.  It’s from a book by Annie Dillard entitled, Teaching a Stone to Talk.  She asks the penetrating question about our worship, “Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke?”  In other words, do we approach worship with a ho-hum attitude and no expectation of God actually showing up?  Her response is that if we really took seriously what we say we believe, we should all be wearing crash helmets—and ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares and lash us to the pews. 

I’m not advocating chaos and disorder, for Paul writes in 1 Cor. 14:40 that all should be done properly and in an orderly manner.  And yet, I can’t help wondering what a difference it would make if we entered into worship in a spirit of expectancy, anticipating that God would meet us in all of His power and majesty.  Psalm 22:3 says that God inhabits or is enthroned upon the praises of His people.  As we praise Him in spirit and in truth, we can anticipate His power and presence to be displayed among us.  May it be so this and every week as we gather to worship Him!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Worship at Gate A-3

Let me encourage you to read this piece from Bill Wilson about an experience of worship he had at an airport as a family gathered to receive the body of their military son who died in Afghanistan.  You might want to make sure you have a Kleenex or handkerchief at hand.

I was reading along in the article, still caught up in reflecting on the quote from Annie Dillard about churches needing to pass out crash helmets at the door and install seat belts in the pews if we were really serious about what we say we believe regarding worship, when Wilson shifted his focus to his experience of worship at Gate A-3 in the Charlotte airport.  I wasn't quite prepared for the emotional impact of reading about what he witnessed, but I'm grateful that he shared these thoughts.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

A Symphony Performed by Misfits

The title of this blog post comes from a blog by Ian Ebright on the Red Letter Christians blog.  The final paragraph of that post reads as follows:

"The body of Christ is not intended to be a singular noise hummed by perfect people, but rather a full symphony performed by misfits, and that’s going to include some subtle tones that take a little extra effort to hear, and some sour notes that are initially uncomfortable. But God is speaking, also through people and in ways that we may not prefer."

You've probably heard the old adage that describes the church as a hospital for the broken and ill.  I really like the imagery suggested by Ebright of a symphony performed by misfits, and the notion that we must make special efforts to ensure that everyone's voice (or musical notes in this context) is heard.  Sour notes may be sounded, but that's preferable to excluding some from playing in the orchestra.  The body of Christ is rich in its diversity, and is enriched spiritually when all of its members join in the song.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Some Guidelines for this Election Season

The following are some thoughts I shared in the latest edition of our monthly senior adult newsletter.

Well, just in case you’ve been totally isolated from a television in recent weeks, I thought I’d clue you in that we’re in the midst of an election year.  It seems it’s possible lately to watch a lively debate among presidential hopefuls at least a couple of times a week if one is so inclined.  And that’s before the GOP has even selected its party’s candidate and the real political fireworks begin.  It seems we’re in for a long season of negative attack ads and impassioned rhetoric.

So where does all of this leave us as followers of Christ?  At the risk of being shot at by both sides, let me offer a few guidelines and suggestions. 

1.      Be informed.  That doesn’t mean you have to watch every single minute of political coverage, but learn about the candidates and their platforms in order to vote intelligently.
2.      Vote your conscience.  As much as possible, let your vote reflect support for the individual you feel best embodies sound principles and character.
3.      Recognize that there are no perfect people—including (or maybe especially) politicians.
4.      Acknowledge that God isn’t the exclusive possession or supporter of either major party.  This one may be the trickiest and most difficult, as we tend to assume that God is on our side.
5.      Recognize that other sincere Christians can differ with your political persuasion without being heretics or insane.  This is a logical corollary of the previous guideline.
6.      Leave your penchant for political debate at home when you come to church.  We gather to worship the God of all creation—not a political messiah. 
7.      Pray earnestly for all those elected to serve in the political arena.  That’s a biblical command.

Baptists have been in the forefront historically of the fight to ensure separation of church and state, and we do well to remember that as the political fever rises this year.  Let’s keep our focus on lifting up the Lord and exalting Him rather than the political party of our choice.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Another Great Conference in Guatemala

I had the opportunity this past week to travel once again to Quetzaltenango, Guatemala for another round of leadership training conferences with pastors and leaders in that western region of the country.  My colleague, Verlyn Bergen, and I each led 2 sessions (with me translating for Verlyn in his two), and then we combined for a question and answer time in the final session.  We usually have a lot of dialogue and give and take in these conferences, but this was the first time we deliberately planned into the schedule one entire session for responding to questions and addressing concerns that the leaders raised.

For clarification, we spent a few minutes in the initial session asking them to suggest themes or issues that they wanted us to cover in that final session, so we had at least a few waking hours to think about those concerns before covering them in our final session together. 

Altogether, we had 75 pastors and leaders from 27 different churches and missions represented.  That's about the same total number of participants as usual, but a larger number of congregations present.  As always, the fellowship and camaraderie shared was wonderful.  Many of these men and women have attended every conference for the past 6 years or so.  It's great as well to see new leaders emerging who are attending these conferences.  They are eager learners, hanging on every word and soaking up the content like sponges.  Verlyn talked about 8 characteristics of healthy churches and teaching for results, while I led two sessions talking about the missional church--seeking to define it somewhat and describing the practices of missional churches.  I borrowed heavily from a great book by Milfred Minatrea entitled Shaped by God's Heart: The Passion and Practices of Missional Churches.  It's a great resource from Leadership Network that identifies 9 practices of growing missional churches based on research of a number of churches in the U.S.

We returned home on Friday afternoon, fairly exhausted from the travel schedule, but very content with the conference and the opportunity as well to visit the Tabitha Ministry again in Guatemala City that I've spoken of in previous posts.  They are having to vacate the building they currently occupy by the end of February, but it looks like they will be able to secure a house just a short distance away to continue the ministry of providing 2 meals and early childhood education to around 90 children.  In addition, some 50 women who are mainly the mothers of these youngsters are meeting weekly for Bible study. 

All in all, it was another blessed and productive week in Guatemala.  I appreciate the prayers of those who lifted us up to the Lord as we went. 

Friday, January 06, 2012

Seeking Him

I really enjoyed and was challenged by an excerpt from Max Lucado's book, One Incredible Savior: Celebrating the Majesty of the Manger, that showed up in my email inbox this morning as a part of his Upwords weekly devotional.

Here's the excerpt from the book that he shared:

God rewards those who seek him. Not those who seek doctrine or religion or systems or creeds. Many settle for these lesser passions, but the reward goes to those who settle for nothing less than Jesus himself.

I read a couple of blogs where fellow Baptists of many different stripes engage in a lot of heated (often without too much light being shed) discussion about doctrinal systems.  The age-old Calvinism vs. Arminianism debate is one among many others that frequently generates dozens of passionate responses.  It would be surprising and amazing perhaps to see what kind of positive Kingdom impact would be accomplished if just a small percentage of the zeal that's displayed in those debates were channeled instead into pursuing a love relationship with our Savior.  Something to think about as the first week of the new year draws to a close.

Monday, January 02, 2012

Fleeting Time

It scarcely seems possible that another year has come and gone, but here we are in 2012.  While each year we live contains the same 365 days (with the exception of leap year), our perception as we age is that each new year passes more quickly than those that preceded it.  I once heard a mathematical explanation for that which made sense to me.  As a youngster of let’s say 6 years old, the current year represents one-sixth of our lifetime.  As a senior adult of 80, that same year represents just one-eightieth of our life.  So while the number of days and the time span is identical for each, the year seems to have passed more quickly for the older adult since it’s a smaller fraction of his life.

What should we do with the fleeting years that remain for us here on earth?  I like the advice that Moses gives us in Psalm 90:12 where he expresses this prayer to God, “So teach us to number our days that we may present to Thee a heart of wisdom.”  A wise heart is a gift that we can give back to God.  We can and should continue to grow in the knowledge of God each new year that He allows us to live.  Godly wisdom comes from spending time with God in the Scriptures and allowing Him to speak to us both through the Word and in prayer.

Another verse that comes to mind is Eph. 5:17 that encourages us to redeem the time, because the days are evil.  While we cannot literally buy back time that has elapsed, we can utilize the remaining time we have to love God, love people, and make disciples as our church’s mission statement reads.  That’s a worthy goal for 2012 for each of us.