Thursday, December 31, 2009

Saying Goodbye to the Old....Hello to the New Year!

With just a few more hours left in the year 2009, many memories flood my mind in retrospection. In general, it has personally been a year of progress in many ways. Some years require all our efforts to simply maintain. Other years have found us regressing. But this past year has been one of moving forward in many aspects. For all of these progressions I give honor and praise to the Lord above.

My own family has been blessed abundantly. My parents have recovered from some really rough years of poor health. I marveled as I watched them enjoy Christmas with their whole family. They were opening presents, singing and having an all around nice time without the nagging pain of the past. I love my extended family. Each one of you hold a special place in my heart.

My children are growing quickly into adults. Both of them are mature beyond their years and I feel that I don't have to worry overtly about their well-being. Having a good head and heart they will be certain of a successful future as long as Jesus is at the center of all they do. I am so grateful for their health, their scholarship and their love for the Lord. I look upon them with Godly pride each time I see them.

Trish, my dear wife, is such an amazing lady. I have never known anyone who works with more devotion to the Kingdom of God. She doesn't like me to say it, but she is truly the greatest Christian I've ever known. She lives a life of service, of forgiveness and doesn't have it in her to hold a grudge. She is an amazing worship leader and will not settle for second best. Her strong leadership is an asset to our ministry. I could go on and on about her abilities of which is being an excellent cook. That is why I am always fighting the battle of the bulge. I am blessed with a strong and courageous lady at my side.

The church we pastor, New Life, is moving in a positive direction. God has brought some first class, amazing people to our church. I don't know how or why God has been so good to me. I do not deserve it. God has allowed Trish and me to minister to many married couples who struggle with various issues. Several marriages have been saved, although we wish we could be 100%. We have had some amazing people return to the church who left a few years ago. Words can't express how gratifying it has been to welcome them back, and to see them quickly find their respective places in the work of God. The church broke its all time, annual attendance record in 2009 by averaging more than 237 on Sunday. We baptized something over 50 people and saw many people saved, many Spirit baptized and many who are still in the process. We have an awesome staff that will no doubt cause us to rise to greater heights. The past year was filled with incredible events including, Trunk R Treat, Revival of Service, Youth Camp, One Night, VBS, Friend Day, Christmas Cantata, Hope events, the advent of JR. High Ministry, Girls Night Out, Men's Campout, and many other events. Each Discovery Class is filled with excellent people looking for a church to connect to that is friendly, Bible based and has a flow of the Holy Spirit. What a great church!!

My work at the funeral home has afforded me many opportunities for ministry. I cannot tell you how many funerals I have preached this year for people that I formerly did not know. There are new people in the church due to our connection in their moments of hardship. It is part of my calling to stand by folks in their hours of darkness and need. I have had dear friends who have lost children in the past year. My heart breaks for them. Only God can help them through such loss. I have personally had to say goodbye to some loved ones and friends this year. This is the course of life. Through it all God is faithful.

On a personal note, our family enjoyed some special times. Trish and I had our annual get-a-way in May and caught a lot of fish. We were able to take our kids on a week long cruise and we all enjoyed fun in the sun and sand. In the fall, I was blessed to take my first mule deer in Wyoming, a nice 3x3, that is already on the wall. I have made many new friendships. I'd never have guessed my facebook friend list would ever approach 725 people. That is humbling. How blessed I am.

I have remained busy serving as a Chaplain for our local fire department with its outstanding men and women. It is an honor to chair our local hospital board as we prepare to break ground in a year on a 40 plus million dollar hospital. As Director of Chaplaincy for the hospital, there have been many calls to stand by those who were critically ill or dying. I applaud the efforts of my fellow chaplains who serve with distinction.

Looking ahead, there is much work to do. With the work comes much opportunity. My primary focus is on our church. I believe the coming year will see more progress both within and without. It is possible that we could go to two services in the next few months. Growth requires change. We will continue to work on the challenges, pray, worship, and remain accountable to our leadership in order that God's favor may continue on our assembly. I will simply hold on to the hand of God and believe Him for the best there is.

While the world is in trouble and times appear to be waxing worse and worse, we are promised all the necessary provisions in the Word of God. The church will not fail. Building your family, your hope, your eternity on all that was bought by Jesus at the cross, is the safest thing in the universe. Let me say to my friends...I love you and thank you for all you've done to stand by me. Let me say to my enemies (if I have any), let's talk and open the Word of God together. Truth is a simple thing and it paves the way for great relationships regardless of whatever is in the past. I extend the hand of fellowship and love to all. May 2010 be a time of building on the ground that was gained in 2009. Happy New Year!!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Getting Something Back

I have such a great staff at NLT, the church I pastor. Most all of them are volunteer and they just continually pour their heart and energy into the work of God. As most churches go, there is not enough money to pay folks, but oh how I wish I could. If they are not remunerated financially, then a very important question is raised. "Why do they do what they do?"

That is a great question and the answer will be the focus of this blog. There must be some reason people give themselves to the Kingdom of God in such amazing ways. At the end of the day there is some level of fulfillment inside us that says, "The efforts I gave are worth it." Following are some things I think which enlarge our capacity for this kind of fulfillment and work.

1. We are fulfilled because we a doing what Christ has called us to do. Over and over the Word of God speaks about the Kingdom being propelled by work. There's no bait and switch here. Work is the very thing that runs most folks away from the Kingdom. Americans are by and in large, lazy. We want push button, self-served, easy-greasy things that require little or nothing of us. In God's church, Jesus spoke of working to get things done. He often spoke in parables of the laborer, the farmer, the reaper, the fisherman, the merchant, etc. When a Christian catches hold of the idea that God is pleased when he/she has their sleeves rolled up in the work of God, there is a measure of fulfillment there. To know the approval of God as we work is one of the things that causes people to work long and hard at things few people will ever acknowledge on earth. Yet, we know and believe that the slightest deed done on behalf of God's church will be eternally rewarded when we get to the end of our road! I personally believe that much of the delinquency in our society is due to mis-spent energy. When we take the energy God gave us to work for Him and spend it totally on is no wonder folks are unhappy.

2. We are fulfilled because what we are doing makes a difference for others either directly or indirectly. It is impossible to place value on the life changes wrought by the efforts of Christian workers. How do you measure the value of giving a child Biblical values they will never get at home? How can we measure the importance of having a fellow believer to lean on, a ministry to participate in. When workers see that their efforts have made a difference, they are usually paid in full. From the front door to every ministry in the church, workers feel rewarded when lives are changed. Also, indirectly, the children of parents who are busy in the church learn to place a high priority on the things of God. One day you can say like Paul, "I have no greater joy than to know that my children walk in truth." Part of that reward comes from paying your dues with work in the church. Even as I am writing this blog my wife and kids are working downstairs to put away Christmas decorations. I am a rich man.

3. We are fulfilled because we maintain a connection between the past and the future with our efforts. Every generation gives way to the next. Like the baton in a runners hand, the values of the past have to be handed to the next generation. As we work, we maintain that key connection which is gives meaning to the past, and hope to the future.

Let me encourage you to become fully involved in some ministry of the church. You will find there is no more rewarding work on earth, regardless of whether there is a paycheck or not. God bless you this day.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Open Your Eyes and Shut Your Mouth...we'll all be better off

People, in the broadest sense, are largely gullible, susceptible, and often given to being skeptical...about the wrong things. Now, lest you think I have a totally skewed view of humanity, realize that I've been working in the 'people' business all of my life. Most of my duties as a pastor include encouraging those who feel like, "the world is against them...and everything is going down the tubes" when it is not, or reprimanding those who think "they don't need anybody to tell them how to run their part of the world" when they are sorely in need of accountability, and lending strength to those who "don't know why all the bad things happen to them". While there are some amazing people, there is some bad in the very best of us and that bad often surfaces through the mouth...our words.

I have found that most trouble in the world as well as in the church, happens because of what people first think and then say. There are those however, who fail to engage the first part of that equation at all. Nonetheless, it is our words that give the most problem. It is truly amazing how large a matter a little fire kindleth. When somebody begins to talk, it starts conversation, rumor, and the gullible part of the mind begins to assume the worst, and get into panic mode. You soon see the eyes get big and the "OH MY GOODNESS!" "YOU DON'T SAY!" "ARE YOU KIDDING ME?" I get tickled just thinking about it. Stuff that don't amount to a small hill of beans gets magnified in the mouth until the proverbial anthill becomes Mount Everest.

While men have more than their share of inherent problems such as lust, ego, etc, this struggle with the mouth is often more of a struggle for women. It is proven scientifically, that women are more verbal than men. This in and of itself sets them up for this error. That is not to say that men do not succumb to the errors of talk, gossip, etc. They certainly do, but females are more communicative and as such, are by statistical averages, more given to this error. They want to talk. When women get together, they don't punch each other on the arm...don't wrestle, don't drink beer and talk about Sunday's football game. No! They talk about life, kids, etc. The trap is set. The more fantastic the news or, gossip, the more time the 'floor' is given to the one with the juiciest news! It is quite easy for that scenario to turn into less than the absolute truth. The intentions of the innocent may be skewed tremendously. It happens everyday! Perhaps this is the backdrop for 2 Timothy 3:6, "For of this sort (those who are promoting falsehood) are they which creep into houses, and lead captive silly women laden with sins, led away with divers lusts." The silliness is their willingness to listen to and believe that which is false. This does not men all women are silly. But the sins of the mouth proliferate in an environment where truth is secondary to power, a vendetta, or a 'need' to tell the latest.

Trouble is two fold. One is....the platform for the juicy stuff is a place of power. Power often corrupts by its very nature. So it is easy to embellish, or make something a bit more exciting. You know you can make the most innocuous story plumb amazing if you tweak it a bit. Second is...the tale grows taller on down the line. The rumor mill is known for the manufacture of lies. Remember this, "Believe half of what you see and none of what you hear!"

For instance, perhaps you saw a fellow stop beside the road to help a lady change a flat tire at dusk. When rehearsing the story, especially if there is ill intent, one could leave out the 'flat tire' portion and make it a juicy story. "You would not believe what I saw last night!!!" This of course is a great beginning. Everyone gets wide-eyed and scoots up close for the tale. "I saw so and so together last night talking!" Now you've got em. "Not only that, but they were alone....and in the dark!" Can't you hear the 'caring' gasps of the girls bidding the teller to continue?

From there...the tale can just go crazy. In ten minutes the news has spread to at least 25 telephones via text, email. Before the day is over you'd be amazed how terrible the poor guy who stopped with pure motives to simply help change a flat tire, now looks to many people. This is how damaging the mouth can be. The book of James says the tongue has the power of life or death.

There are many other examples. One can taint a story....or twist one's intentions....or use slight to change what one meant...and create a panic. Before you know it, the spark produced by the tongue, rages as a forest fire in the tinder of the mind!! Damage, destruction, horrible ramifications are the results. Leaders are undermined as being selfish, suspicious, slanderous or worse. In these cases there are no fair trials. A fair trial allows both sides to speak their peace. But when you hear one side that's really revved up and juicy, fairness falls by the wayside.

More than once have I heard of people who work together in a factory and get to bashing their spouses daily at the break room table. Soon, the women are suspicious of their husbands and the husbands of their wives. Next, the opposite sex becomes little more than trash and then divorce happen and soon then an epidemic. This is not fiction...I know it happens. I have counseled more than one who have lost their marriage or almost have... and it all starts with what is said.

In conclusion, verify everything before you repeat it. Do not assume someone's motive. Do not speak information that might cast any shadow on the truth or what was intended. The Ten Commandments have a command that we 'Shall not bear false witness!" If we will practice this, truth will live and the damaging falsehoods will wither away.

(Lest I am mis-interpreted...I believe in the important role ladies fill in the church, in government, in management, in church, in ministry etc. I am simply saying this particular temptation is greater for them, just like lust of the eye is greater for a man.)

Sunday, December 13, 2009

So....this is the Holidays?

Looking in the mirror I see blurry, bloodshot eyes over puffy dark circles. I've gained a few pounds munching on the ever-present goodies that sit on every coffee table, break room bar, and hospitality area in town. The red in my necktie reminds me it is almost Christmas.

The month of December, in theory, is to be this mystical, fun, totally exhilarating season where one is to live a fairy tale-like existence. When the shroud of childhood mist burns away, one is likely to be sorely disappointed at the reality of the 'real' holiday season. Discovering there is "really no Santa Claus" is minor compared to discovering that the holidays can be one of the most stressful seasons of the year. Here is why.

If you work off a January fiscal year, then you are working hard to get 'year end' items, reports etc wrapped up. Then there are budgets for the coming year. There are financial stresses. This is the jolly time to be spending money on presents. Too many times we spend money we don't have and wind up putting more and more pressure on ourselves. Then there is the general constitution of everyone else. They are stressed too....and thus the barometer of 'stressure' in the general public accelerates. People honk more...yell themselves w one finger.....and carry the desperate look of being under the gun. It's the holidays people!!

The calendar is a major factor too. Everyone wants to have a party so we can 'appear' happy. We fill the little squares with dates, banquets, parties, meals, meetings, and times of 'joyous' celebration. "Oh come all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant...." While folks fill the banquet hall....and fill their bellies....and fill their shopping carts.....and fill their maximum credit line....they are often more than willing, during all their filling, to leave their seats at church empty. The offering plate looks as meager as Cratchet's penny bank and some have little time for the things that really matter.

So we go on with our traditions. Snow men, plastic Santa's and reindeer, colored lights and ....and what? More unhappiness, more crime, more poverty, more pretending, more emptiness, more sadness, more drinking to stop the pain, more denial. We shoot our guns as strains of silent night waft in the background. Blood runs the same color as Santa's suit. And who cares? This is the holidays!!

Don't you wish we could just really have time to slow down and enjoy being together without the hype? What if the holidays meant you could go no where, and had to stay at home with your family to share stories and express the love we have for one another. When God came to this earth, He came to a simple stable to bring a simple message. God loves you and that is all we really need.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

A Tiger Attack

Tiger Woods, golf's legendary player has now formally proven his humanity. He is sinful! His sin was open and witnessed publicly before all. He evidently was involved in an extra-marital affair. So let's say it here....this is sad, sinful, shameful and we all wish it had never happened.

While many gasp and hold their 'sanctified' hand across their mouths, let me rise to defend Tiger. Oh, don't confuse what I just wrote. I do not defend his sin. Sin....all sin will be judged! God has not changed his mind about how much He hates sin, and primarily because it brings separation between a Holy God and a sinful man. He has further promised to pour out His wrath upon all sin. Either it was poured out on vicariously upon Christ when we ask forgiveness....or it will be poured out on the individual who rejects forgiveness and salvation, eternally.

So here now is for Tiger's defense. Why the Tiger attack? We, and the media especially, act as if he is the first person to ever make mistakes. They act as if being a high profile, public figure prevents mistakes and makes one somehow above failure. While we act that way, we all know it is not true. We all fail!

Oh yes we do! WE ALL FAIL!! If this keyboard had a way to emphasize it bigger I would! You, my dear reader...have failed. "All have sinned and come short..." If you put your own life under the microscope, you won't have to travel back many days in your calendar where you thought negative thoughts, looked at something unholy, gossiped, thought about quitting, had a judgmental attitude, felt 'deserving' of something, complained, lusted, coveted, cheated, or felt overly religious for not having cursed when someone pulled out in front of you. If one of these didn't hit you then you probably just sinned because of pride, a sin which God adamantly hates.

Since we are sinners, who gave us the right to jump in the forest of humanity and attack a tiger, or any other of God's creatures? Oh but we do! We attack and judge and condemn and cluck our tongues as if we are a total stranger to sin. It appalls me at how the media flocks like flies to a rotting carcass, when a leader fails. The love it....swill it down....roll in it like a dog does a maggot infested possom skin alongside the road. Yet, the ones behind the tablets, computer screens and television cameras are just as sinful as the tiger they attack.

It is my prayer that Tiger will have more friends to help him up than enemies to pull him down. I believe that one day we will all need, as the song says, '...somebody to lean on!' We'd have a lot better world if we only rejected the people who rejected help...the 100th time. "Oh that's bizarre!" you might say. Well consider that Jesus asked us to practice forgiveness 490 times per day for the same person. (70 x 7) Now that is awesome and it is what will save the world from sin.

In conclusion, I am defending Tiger....the man, the son, the father, the husband, the icon, the individual Christ died for. I do not defend his sin. I only want him to be free from the cannibals that at this point are more dangerous to him than the sin itself. For these kinds of people can push you over the edge and prevent the redemption and restoration that Jesus so willing gave up His precious life to give us.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Jim Brown and broken records

I settled in to watch a Monday Night Football game last night. I always enjoy watching football. By this time in the season it's pretty much the same thing....a few superstars doing their thing and commentators building hype with their play by play analysis.

Toward the end of the game some running back (I honestly don't remember his name) broke Jim Brown's all time rushing yardage. When they announced the broken record, the camera panned to the sky box where a lonely man, the real Jim Brown, was sitting alone, wrapped in a coat and holding a cane. His face was expressionless and empty and it seemed the emphasis of the moment was unintentionally more about a broken man than a broken record.

All records are made to be broken. That is the nature of the business. You can only be king for a day. Many thought Jim Brown's records would never be broken, but alas they are already shattered and a new king has been crowned.

When I see people put so much effort into things that will pass away it concerns me. Most of the things we work so hard to accomplish in this life will not last. One day we will look at all of it through the lens of Jim Brown as he sat alone in the frigid sky box. Someone will come along and do it bigger and better than you are today.

So, does that mean we stop completely? The answer is no...we should continue on, but do not get too caught up in the temporary things of life. They are fleeting and will become meaningless in the big picture. May God help us to remain focused on the most important facets of our life....upon those things which will last in eternity. Don't stress over the record book!