Archive for December, 2014

God Breathed

Wednesday, December 31st, 2014

GodBreathedToday as I celebrate 25 years in the ministry I want to share something I have discovered about faith. In 1993 when I left my original church job to join with my wife and four others in launching our first church plant, we were imagining a “different kind of church”. The night we committed we claimed Jesus’ promise in Luke 17:6   (NLT) If you had faith even as small as a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘May you be uprooted and thrown into the sea,’ and it would obey you! We all took home a mustard seed taped to a card that night as a constant reminder of what God was going to do through us. That evening was a surreal experience for us because we knew that, despite what others had said, our God-breathed dream would surely come to pass. It not only came true but it far exceeded our wildest expectations.

As history would later prove, we were far from perfect but every person at that table had an incredible God-centered faith. For many years we saw miracle after miracle take place. We lost count of the number of  folks who came to know Jesus as Lord and Savior, simply because six regular people were obedient to God’s call and dared to dream a very big dream. Faith always begins by magnifying your imagination. With God big dreams come true.

Sadly, like many other successful churches, years later the church split. Some folks decided to start another church and chose me to be the pastor. One of the things that has haunted me, was that the new church never caught fire like the first. Oh it is successful; God has blessed us in many ways. We have a wonderful church but it has never been quite like the first. I came up with many theories like: Not the same team; times have changed; I am older; more churches of our type to choose from, etc. I’m sure those were a part of it. But during my Thanksgiving retreat at the Abbey of Gethsemani, God revealed the real difference. Actually it is as obvious as my nose on my face. The first church was itself a miracle. It was raised up by God himself. God breathed always trumps man-breathed. Miracles only come to pass when we completely surrender our will to His.

Something to Think About

 

 

 

A Brand New Coat

Friday, December 19th, 2014

A few years back I took this picture Christmas Day as I lay on a creek bank, with a full stomach, looking up into a cloudless blue sky, thinking about Christmases past.  In my prone position, staring up at the huge oaks and poplars lining the bank, I was taken by the stark beauty of the bare limbs as they reached up to their Source of life. Those branches could be a metaphor of my life and the countless times I reached up to God petitioning Him to intervene on my behalf or for loved ones in times of urgent need. It has been my experience that it is only when we strip ourselves naked of pride and self-sufficiency that we truly surrender ourselves to our Creator. It is only then that we wholly depend on our Source of life and His unfailing provision for us.

Looking at those limbs, I realized that while they were all similar, none were just alike.  For the hour so that I spent there listening to the babbling waters, I imagined those limbs as reflections  of  particular times in my life when I did not just pray, but times I begged God to help in periods of utter powerlessness. Here is a sampling of some limbs that I identified — my dad’s fight with lung cancer, the night my brother was shot and critically wounded, the time in my early business career when I made a really big mistake, the day my nephew drowned, the days in Cathy’s pregnancy with Michael when we feared that there were problems, the false scare that a close friend had MS, three newborn baby boys of dear friends born with heart problems, my 45 year struggle with my past, the loss of a church I helped to build and the part I played in that sad story, the time I took Michael to the emergency room with a kidney stone and the many times I prayed for the sick and hurting in our churches.

The powerful truth of the naked tree is that the Source of the tree’s life will surely clothe those branches with a new blanket of leaves in the spring. The nakedness will last only for a short season.  Likewise, our times of utter powerlessness over life’s events are never permanent, but for a season only. In time God always clothes us in a coat of new hope.  The sun always rises and God always loves without fail. That is why Jesus came. Merry Christmas!

Christmas Memories

Sunday, December 14th, 2014

I just drove by a Christmas tree lot on Highway 100. For some reason my mind flashed back to my childhood. I recalled our cedar Christmas trees with “bubble lights”. I remember just watching our tree for hours. I also remember my dad constantly worrying about the tree catching fire and burning the house down. He worried way too much about stuff like that.

My mom used to make the best fruit cake I have ever eaten and I’ve eaten a lot. I’m not sure why they were so good. I know she always put bourbon in them and then wrapped them in bourbon soaked cheesecloth for weeks until Christmas Eve. Each day until Christmas she would put another shot of Jim Beam on the soaking cloths.  I don’t like bourbon but I sure loved those cakes.  They were pampered. I think I love fruit cake from seeing my mom’s love and hard work as the main ingredients.

I remember going to midnight mass at the Catholic Cathedral on West End each year as a child.   One particular Christmas Eve service stands out. I must have been in about the fourth grade when Mr. Hoffman, the choirmaster, gave me a silver dollar not to sing. I’m serious. Now you know why I’m so screwed up!

Except for one Christmas several years back, all my Christmas memories are good. That one time I was consumed with feeling sorry for myself, which is always counterproductive. This year has been the best of our lives. No matter where you might be in your life, remember that you are not beyond God’s love, mercy and grace. Especially remember that nothing is impossible with God. He is still a miracle working Big G God.  Make this a special Christmas. Forgive somebody and find somebody to love. There are lots of folks who need both. Merry Christmas!

 

Why?

Tuesday, December 9th, 2014

The other morning I was in line at McDonald’s watching people and wondering what was taking so long. I noticed a woman over in the next line step up to the counter; she kind of flipped her hand out in front of her face. For some reason her action caught my attention. Immediately, the woman at the register handed the customer a paper and a pen. She wrote on the paper and handed it, along with a five dollar bill, back to the cashier; not a word was spoken.

I stood there wondering what it would be like not to be able to speak. Then I ordered a large drink and a yogurt parfait and as usual told the cashier to have a great day. From my booth I watched as the woman walked across the parking lot to her car. I felt sad; I’m not sure if my sadness was a result of seeing the woman who couldn’t speak or if I was sad because I take my very blessed life for granted.

Sunday I spent part of the afternoon with a wonderful church family as they gathered around a dying wife and mother. As we prayed and reflected on Barbara her eldest son said, through a curtain of tears, that he did not understand why bad things happen to good people. A question of the ages and one without an answer. Why can I speak, often entirely too much, and the woman at McDonald’s can’t utter a single word? Why will she never be able to say “I love you” to her child? Why did the son’s mom, a godly woman of amazing faith, die way too young? As I grow older I discover many more questions that I can’t seem to answer. However, I find that watching people often leads to life-clarifying experiences. Lord, why me and not those two women?

Focus

Monday, December 1st, 2014

It is Thanksgiving morning.  I’m alone in a huge, yet simple church at the Abbey of Gethsemani Monastery near Bardstown, Kentucky. The forty or so Trappist monks who live here have just concluded “Terce” —– the 7:30 am chanting of the Psalms. They chant the Psalms, pray and sing hymns seven times a day beginning with “Vigils” at 3:15 am. I’ve been coming here since I was eighteen; it is my favorite place on earth. I realize that to spend four days in silence without communication with the outside world probably would not turn many people’s cranks.  But for me there is nothing like it for connecting with God. Initially, on my first visit with my senior class in 1964, I thought that the Trappist rule of silence was way over the line. As I rethought that sentiment I realized that the unequaled awareness of God’s closeness that I experience here is in direct proportion to the contemplative atmosphere of the monastery.

Of course I know that God is no more here than He is when I’m in Nashville going about my routine business. Omnipresence is one of God’s attributes. So why does He seem so close, vivid and personal here? In a word it is “focus”. It is easy to focus on God when your mind is not juggling a zillion other bits of data from the outside world. I expect that may be why Jesus told his disciples to pray in their rooms with the doors closed instead of on the street corners.

One final thought; as I was contemplating the mystery all of this, I began to theorize that perhaps I had finally achieved perfection in the midst of my brief stay here. I mean I pretty much went through the list; there was no gossip, no jealousy, no anger, no bitterness, no resentment, no lust, no pride, no retaliation, no lying, no manipulation, no selfishness, etc. Then the strangest thing happened!  Right in the midst of thinking about how good I was, out of the blue, I recalled the person I had seen at breakfast and on whom I had immediately passed judgment based solely on appearance.

Do you remember when you were a kid and you untied a balloon and it kind of fluttered and flew and deflated and fell limp on the floor?  I stand amazed at the discoveries I’ve made about myself in this place down through the years.

Something to Think About