Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Please Make A Difference

I do not know when a quote has so impacted my life especially now that I have moved into my 60's.  I have begun to see the rest of my life through these words. They are worthy of your meditation and I think you will be seeing this a great deal.  Nelson Henderson said, The true meaning of life is to plant trees under whose shade you do not expect to sit.  That really points out that to live a life that is meaningful and worthwhile you have to do for others rather than for yourself. Inside my Bible I have taped another quote, this time by Henry Drummond.  He said, You will find, as you look back upon your life, that the moments that stand out are the moments when you have done things for others. I encourage you to think on this point and make it a matter of prayer.  Simply ask God to make clear to you what this should look like in your life.  God will give your mind a good nudge and it will be up to you to obey and begin to make a difference for others.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Memorial Day 1971 & 2012

Well it is Monday evening and the holiday weekend is coming to a close.  I want to take a few moments and reflect on what for me was a simple but incredibly fulfilling holiday.  But first,  what about 1971?

Memorial Day 1971 was the first time Vicki and I ever were alone together.  I'd certainly had my eye on her but I finally got her to meet me at the end of her road and off we drove to nearby Fellows Lake.  As you might expect, I talked and she listened (that has changed).  I even expressed that we might one day get married which I don't think impressed her but by the time our couple of hours together ended I was convinced she would be my bride.  She was and is awesome!  So Memorial Day is always special for us as it was our beginning 41 years ago and it only took to September to seal the deal and make her my "first lady."

I cannot say that I normally conclude holiday weekends feeling relaxed.   This year was really good.  It all started by taking Friday off from church work and working at home.  I worked outside in the sun for seven hours and it was exhausting.  It was exactly what I needed to just clear my system.  Our daughter, Jennifer, is with us for awhile so the three of us went out to dinner that evening.  So happens we had perfect meals!

Saturday was a day to relax.  After getting a few things done we went to the beach for I'd say three hours.   It was great to do nothing and it was a beautiful day.  Of course we got to come home to the pool and some more doing nothing.  I won't cover every detail because you are wanting me to hurry up, I know.

Sunday was a great day at church.  It was Pentecost Sunday and I so enjoyed preaching about the Holy Spirit and leading the service.  I was happy all service long and enjoyed sharing with the people all the things going on in the church with our projects and especially the potential for a big project in Haiti.  It is easy to say that God showed up at our service!  I had heard that morning from my pastor-translator in Haiti and we'll be meeting here in FL soon to plan the building projects and the pastor's conference for next year.  I had contacted my dear pastor friend in VA and he did not delay in saying yes to being part of the pastor's conference.  Pastor Larry and I will be blazing new territory for sure and it is going to be so exciting.  I love being a pastor and I so appreciate the opportunities God has given me in these later years to do the neatest things for Him.  Other contacts came as the day went on letting me know that we would be able to accomplish some important things in the coming week.  God's people were already answering the call.

Then today was the slow day we needed.  I did a little planting, lots of swimming from time to time and just talking as a family.  I am blessed.  This evening I put ribs on the grill and we added some great corn on the cob.  As we ate we had some Bob Marley in the background - we had that island feel right here in FL.

Tomorrow morning is coming and I am pumped to be going back to work. At times I get tired.  At times I get discouraged because you know not everyone gets as excited about all this as I do.  But God always knows what we need and He knew I needed this no frills holiday weekend.  For me life really started Memorial Day 1971 and I'm glad to report that it is still going fine Memorial Day 2012.  Have you seen the hand of God and his kindness in the little things this weekend?  Have you counted "your" blessings?  Don't let tomorrow come without doing so tonight.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Commitment or Surrender

I cannot remember where I recently read this point nor how it was exactly worded.  However, the point as I do remember is was that here in the America we work with Christians in terms of "commitment" while the rest of the world deals with it in terms of "surrender."

Commitment has to do with involvement, making a promise, pledging to, or an obligation.  Boy that last one really says it all.  We fail to gain a better response in the church because we are clearly asking people to obligate themselves.  It is not that we asking people to do the wrong things it is simply that our approach is wrong, especially in terms of the Biblical record.

God really isn't looking for your commitment.  Instead he is looking for you to "surrender" your all to him.  To surrender is to yield, to give up to, to relinquish.  That is so much more than making a promise.  Commitment is about what you will do but surrender is about who you will yield your life to.  Big difference.

Surrender is best seen in what the New Testament says about submission.  Jesus set that example.  In Luke 26 Jesus say, I want your will not mine (v39) and your will be done (v42).  This is far beyond trying to keep a promise or obligation.  It is not his doing but about a total submission to the will of another.

James 4:7-10 gives us more insight.  So humble yourselves before God...... draw close to God.... wash your hands... purify your hearts...let there be tears for the wrong things you have done.  Let there be sorrow and deep grief... when you bow down before God and admit your dependence on him, he will lift you up and give you honor.

God is not looking for us to just keep an obligation but for us to fully humble ourselves not before our own self but God himself. There is a "attitude" about surrender and submission.  God is looking for an attitude that is focused not our ourselves but on our dependence on him.

I don't see much of this in church today.  Here is the US it is more about us and not much about our yielding everything to God.  We are satisfied by token commitment when God is looking for us to totally yield self.  The words of this old hymn describes what we've been considering.  Think it over.  Are you fully surrendering or are you trying to fulfill your sense of obligation?

All to Jesus, I surrender;
All to Him I freely give;
I will ever love and trust Him
In His presence daily live.

I surrender all, I surrender all,
All to Thee, my bless'd Savior,
I surrender all.

All to Jesus I surrender;
Humbly at His feet I bow,
Worldly pleasures all forsaken;
Take me, Jesus, take me now.

Saturday, May 26, 2012


I do not read tons of books even though I enjoy reading.  For me I have some gems that I get the most from by reading them several times.  It seems each reading finds something pertinent to the moment.  Like this, "we forget we are human."  So I've been thinking about that.

It seems we spend a lot of time in some unreal place.  Sometimes we are filled with ourselves and our accomplishments, thinking more of ourselves than we should.  Then there are those periods when we wish we did not exist.  We see everything as a failure.  We flow back and forth between the two.  As Christians and especially as those in ministry we think that we should be living on the ''more than" and "better than side" all the time.  Note that it is what we "think" and it is our thinking that is off base.  We have a mental idea of what being a Christian should make us and a mental idea of what those beyond us expect.

There are several truths along the way that I can look back on.  Life is an ebb and flow between success and failure.  Life is always changing - its never simply one or the other.  Life is most often taking steps forward and then some steps back before we take a few more steps forward.  We are not God now are we?  Not even close.  We cannot enjoy just success and on the other hand not everything in our life is a failure.

This brings up another aspect of our life, the word failure.  Failure or being "less than" is difficult and humiliating to say the least but again we are driven by what we "think" failure means.  Is it really failure after all?  At some point in life we begin to look back and realize that we learned so much when we were the most human and plagued by our mistakes.  Does that  make them less painful or less regrettable?  It is constantly painful to realize that  you make poor choices that you will carry with you all your life.  You can't wash it away because it is always there in your memories.  

The Bible articulates the reality that "without me you can do nothing" and "I can do all things through Christ".  Both are aspects of the reality of who we are - we can and we cannot.  We are human.  So don't think more of yourself than you should.  Remember this mainly reveals itself as thinking we are better than or above others.  And don't collapse under the negative stuff, instead "chill" for a moment.  

God is still speaking.  Are you still listening?  God is still the potter.  Do you still realize that you are the clay in his hands?  God is at work in your life on both the good days and the bad.  Don't forget that you are a human being and you are and will be to the very end a work in process.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Importance of Touch

Think about these verses and the ministry of Jesus.
Mark 10:13 parents brought their children to Jesus so he could touch them and bless them...
Luke 4:40 no matter what their diseases were, the touch of his hand healed every one...

Jesus demonstrated the power of touch from little children to the critically ill.  I think we need to remember his model and not lose its importance in our own lives.  It is a problem issue in our society today because there are those few who have used touch in inappropriate ways resulting in the suspicion of everyone.  So we all have to be very careful and even guarded about physical contact with others.  We understand and agree with the need for caution but it is also important to not go to an extreme.  For example, I've had school teachers of little children tell me they cannot even help a child put on their coat to go outside (up north of course).  In trying to prevent one problem we at times create new ones.

I believe all people long for and need to be touched.  For children, being able to hold your hand or receive a hug calms and relieves fear.  Anyone who is romantically involved (at any age) knows how mystical and critical touch is in their relationship.  It conveys so many messages and produces so many responses.

Any number of issues moving into adulthood go back to issues of touch.  I well remember one wonderful young lady who told me her father had never touched her, given her a hug or held her in his arms.  He felt he was being a "real man" but he left his daughter with a hole in her life that was now open to being filled in less than the best ways.

When you work with the elderly you quickly learn how much it means to them to have someone provide them with the dignity that comes from a touch.  It makes them feel that they truly exist and have value.  Touch is a way in which we do not ignore the other person.  I've found that is something they begin to truly look forward to again and again.

Actually, this is one of the great values of owning a pet.  For me that is a good dog who will rest for hours in your lap, lick your face when you come home from the office and without expressing any qualifying opinions make you feel special beyond words.  On top of that pets love to be touched themselves.  Have you ever heard a pet say, don't touch me? (laugh here)

I think I've shared enough to make the point that we should understand the value of touch and make a concerted effort to appropriately minister touch to others.  A strong handshake, a arm around a shoulder, an embrace?  Each case is different but every time it sends a message.  Make sure that you are sending out a message to others that you care and that they are important in your life.  Done correctly I believe it is what Jesus would do and also have us do.

Now this is written by a huger.  We raised our family that way and were raised in a church environment that was that way.  I've lived this out throughout my ministry.  It's been a way of life but now as I get older I've come to realize how much I need and value touch personally.  It's not just something I give out but something I need to receive.  When its not there I realize it and miss it.

I close with the words of a little church chorus:  He touched me, oh He touched me, and oh the joy that floods my soul.  Something happened and now I know He touched me and made me whole.

Monday, May 14, 2012

"Pastoral Chameleon"

Someone close to me once called me a "chameleon" and they were not referring to me as a lizard.  That individual didn't use the term as an endearing reference but looking back on it I am pleased to take on that extra title.  I am proud of the fact that over the years I've been able to function in a variety of settings and with diverse groups of people.  My ministry has extended from Pentecostals & Charismatics to Mainline Protestant congregations and a number of other shades between. I've preached in blue jeans, suits and vestments.

Paul in 1 Corinthians 9:22 (CEB) says I have become all things to all people, so I could save some by all possible means.  The (NLT) which is a favorite version for me says I try to find common ground with everyone...

Following that mindset I found that in the diversity of faith expressions, all have value.  Each has some piece of truth and we all serve one and the same God.  This journey of exposure has helped clarify my personal theology which is always in process.  I'm always seeing something new or from a different perspective and tweaking my understanding.  I believe that in someway I picked this approach up from my father.  Dad passed away just two years ago and I've thought much about his approach to ministry since that time.  Dad always ministered well to all people which is why he so loved working with Hospice.  He could walk into any room and be comfortable with the faith expression of others.  I've been able to go further with that simply because we are living in more open times but it was not easy to find the freedom to get there in my earlier years.

I fear for those who only see "black & white" and feel that there is only "one" truth.  Of course, they are sure that they know what that truth is and they know that anyone who disagrees is simply wrong.  Me?  I pretty sure that I'm just not that smart.

I never have felt that by exposure something bad was going to rub off on me.  For me, my God has always been bigger than that.  So I guess I am the "chameleon pastor."  God is still speaking, I'm still trying to listen and I continue to learn from others.  Bottom line, not having everything all tightly wrapped up in one clear package has released me to enjoy a real sense of peace.    Thanks be to God!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

The Political Season Is Here

Here is the article I wrote for my May newsletter!  Hope it speaks to you.
The political season is heating up and I have some thoughts I’d like you to consider.  My main point is that we are a diverse congregation and we will not all agree.  Does that surprise you?  Let’s start with theology.  We all know that while we hold some things in common we do not all believe the same things.  In fact, that is something we celebrate in “Congregational” churches.  We do not ask people to sign on to a certain set of beliefs but instead we encourage them to come to their own faith convictions by thinking for themselves.  So if we can agree that we do not all have to hold the same beliefs it would seem logical that we should also be able to respect the fact that we will have differing views on politics and on social issues. There are many solid reasons that we leave our political views inside our parked cars when we come to church, but none is more important than our respect for diversity and individual thought.
Consider these important facts that I think given our political climate it is easy to forget.  God is not the God only of America.  The creator of the universe is the God of all nations and all peoples.  The Bible clearly teaches that he is no respecter of persons.  That is, God plays no favorites.  God goes not love our country more than other countries.  God also does not favor one political party over the other.  He has no favorites and takes no sides in our political games any more than he the takes sides in a outcome of a football game or how I play golf on a given day. Regardless of our bluster and insistence that God favors what we favor, he keeps loving us all equally.  It really is our own human smallness that falls into the trap of trying to claim God for our team or cause.
As Christians it is vital that we respect and defend diversity.  So hold your positions without having to belittle or put down the other side.  Extend respect and dignity to those who feel the exact opposite of how you feel.  The positive thing about democracy is the expectation that there will be diverse opinions. Only totalitarian states operate where only one opinion is acceptable.  To protect democracy we must work to maintain civility and show respect for diversity.
Over the many years of my ministry I have worked hard to defend the separation of church and state, especially during an election cycle. Here at TAECC you can expect that you will not hear any political sermons and I will be doing my best to keep my political opinions to myself (most certainly in the pulpit.)  I won’t be forwarding you any emails that demean one side or the other and I hope you will refrain from sending me any as well.  To be totally honest they truly offend me because those who send them assume that we all hold the same views.  From time to time you will hear me pray for our President and other leaders regardless of their party because the Bible clearly teaches us to do so.
We are all blessed beyond words to have been born in this country.  I’m proud to be an American but even more I am thankful to be a Christian.  Christianity is my primary allegiance and Christianity has no political parties and no national borders.  I’m part of the world wide family of the living God and we are truly a diverse family.  Thanks be to God!