12 Witnesses

Let these stones be a witness to what we have done here this day.

Why is it?

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Why is it that after a prolonged absence, we feel the need to explain where we’ve been to the odd half dozen or so folks who still check in from time to time?  Really, most of the traffic (I still get some, can you believe it?) comes from search engines that are funneling folks to specific articles I’ve written in years past.  A few still hit my home page, lately to find my last article from October 31, 2011.  Yes.  8 months ago.

It almost begs an explanation, though I recognize that I’ve already published several over the last couple of years.  The only thing to do is ignore it or come clean.  Never one to miss an opportunity to over share, let’s go with coming clean.

Several things have conspired to to keep me from writing.  Among them

1) Discovering an emptiness in the topics of political observation within the SBC.  Old news and no reason for further comment.

2) Busy-ness within the responsibilities of the Pastorate that kept me from managing this blog and my church responsibilities.  I was new to the pastorate in 2006 and new to my church as well.  It takes a while to become fluent with the minutiae of any job and I had plenty on my plate.  Add to that the changes that we were working through and I was tired of writing.

3) (This is the coming clean part…) I had several church members that were frequenting my blog, often misconstruing or just misunderstanding what I had written (sometimes years before) and then repeating their misconstruction/misunderstanding to others at the church.  It’s no secret that change is rarely embraced readily by all and we had all our plates could handle moving through ours.  When some were adding the misinformation coming from others claiming this blog as the source, it just wasn’t worth it.  So I quit writing to remove a source of misunderstanding.

I should add that I am not accusing everyone from my church who read my blog of misrepresenting me to garner political support within our church.  I think that was actually quite rare.  Nevertheless, any stream of misunderstanding that can be removed, should be.  I prioritized the church over this blog and I doubt anyone would second guess that decision.

So what’s changed? Several things!

I’ve had a personal spiritual growth like I’ve never experienced before.  Call it a Gospel Awakening.  I’m sure we’ll get to that in the near future.  For now, simply consider that God, in His mercy, considered it His pleasure to crush me in order to shape me in an image more like His Son.  For this, I am grateful.  Honestly, “grateful” doesn’t cover it.  Even for an aspiring writer, I have no words for how I feel about this.  I consider it worth everything.  More later.

The church has come to a place of peace.  We still have some issues and we honestly need to move forward in some areas, which means change.  Small ones, but still…  Nevertheless, Earlier this year, God wrought a situation that allowed us to finally air our heart in a loving way.  It has brought a tremendous peace on the church and we gather together without fear of dissension breaking out.  We are praying for Spiritual Awakening and have been since the Spring.  We are beginning to see the fruits of it and have enjoyed God moving among us significantly over the last couple of months.

With my life and the church in the throws of burgeoning renewal, the desire to write as presented itself once more.

And since I’m paying good money to host this blog, I thought I would be a better steward of that opportunity.

If you’d like to subscribe to an email notification, there is a box at the top right to let you do that.  Every time I write a new article, it will let you know and should give you a preview of what’s here.

Fall Block Party 2011

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“This is our gift to our community,” I said as our neighbors looked around at all that our church was offering.  The list of possibilities was long:

Free food that included hot dogs, brats, grilled corn on a stick, BBQ sandwiches, popcorn, cotton candy, lemonade, mini-muffins in ice cream cones and, to top it all off, funnel cake.

Along with the food outside, there were a row of inflatables that ranged from obstacle courses, jousting, basketball long shots and a giant slide in the shape of the shoe home in the nursery rhyme.

Inside there were games all over the gym and two more inflatables, including one that was two stories, stretching toward the roof.  All of these games paid off with candy, whether you win or lose.

And all of it was free to our guests.

A few years ago, we charged money for the food (which was much smaller) and the Fall Family Fun Festival (as it had come to be known) was a big event for us.  It became the biggest single emphasis in our church when we decided to expand the food and make it all free.  After that, the inflatables, games and everything else grew as well.

Attendance blew up with all that we were offering, coupled with our relationship with the community through our partnership with Skelly Elementary nearby.

And it all happens because we determined to give and not trade.  We give to Skelly Elementary, and now to Skelly Primary.  After several years, we have begun to receive trust and dependence.  When they have a need, they call us and we have the honor of helping the families of our community at our local school.

We give to the neighborhood, free food, games and a safe place for a family.  In return, we get trust, appreciation and an open door to share the Gospel.

This year our follow up will be a packet of information about our church sent to everyone that registered followed by a phone call from one of our church members making sure they got the information and welcoming any questions.

What do you do?

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A few thoughts on the busy-ness of life and our relationship with God

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I can go no further down the road of my responsibilities without stopping to spend time in prayer and meditation.  God has been faithful to me.  I must be dependent on Him.

I find that when I am not making myself depend on Him that He is making me depend on Him.  The latter is the more painful of the two that bring me to the same place.

And all things depend on Him.  He is trustworthy.  I can only live well in this life when I conform to this truth.

I waste time when I spend it on “responsibilities” to the detriment of time in prayer and meditation on God’s Word.  When the shallow consumes the eternal, there is little hope of joy or any spiritual success.

I am best able to handle everything the more I am conformed to the image of Christ.

In all things and in all ways I must pursue the image of Christ being revealed in me.

Grace: Why I am grateful for the hard Grace I’ve received

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Grace is not just the soft comfort of God loving the broken.  That is a part of Grace, but not the whole of it.  Grace is also God denying us those things that we chase that are not Him.

Grace is God pursuing us in redemption to establish that relationship with Him for which He longs and for which we were created.

But the brokenness of us is often pursuing cheap substitutes.  We crave satisfaction but are only briefly numbed by infatuation with one relationship after another, chemical distortion of drugs and alcohol, sexual exploits that mock true intimacy, money and possessions that trick us into thinking that we are valuable or important or even cared for by those around us who really just want our stuff.

But God is gracious and will, in His mercy toward us, kill that cheap thing and rip it from our clutching hands so that we will realize the shallow nature of that which we’ve worshiped.  He does it so that we will turn to Him and find what we really need.  We find what will actually satisfy and in which we will find ourselves complete.

We find Him.

I have always been moved by the love and acceptance of others.  There are many reasons why, but for now let us just say that need for approval is just the way I’m broken. It numbed me, temporarily, to the reality that I was a mess.  I felt good about myself, for a minute.

So last year I found myself in the process of having that idol crushed and torn away.  When acceptance and adoration of others is your idol, the way God kills it, at least in my case, is public contempt by others.  A year ago, I faced several public meetings where people I cared about assaulted my character, my skills and my value.

The good news is that, though some of those relationships remain wounded, others were restored and our church experienced healing, unity and peace during this year.

The best news is that in God taking from me what I should not have worshiped, He replaced it with Himself.  In that, I have found myself in the greatest time of growth and peace in my walk with Him.  I’ve never been more close to Him than I am.  I’ve never loved Him more. I’ve never been more sure of His love for me.  I’ve never needed public adulation less.

And I owe it all to the hard Grace of public ridicule.  Thank God for His Grace.

To the pure, all things are pure

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Paul writes to Titus these words concerning the distinction between those who are regenerate and those who are not:

“To the pure, everything is pure, but to those who are defiled and unbelieving nothing is pure; in fact, both their mind and conscience are defiled.  They profess to know God, but the deny Him by their works.  They are detestable, disobedient and disqualified for any good work.”   -Titus 1:15-16

Titus was commissioned to correct false teachers and to “rebuke them sharply.” (1:13)  Apparently, a part of the false teaching that was in need of correction was the constant need for ritual cleansing from those things considered “impure.”  Paul’s word here says that if the heart is impure, one finds impurity in everything.  The inherit filth of the corrupt heart drives people to perceive filth in all things and attempt to perfect (according to their warped perception) themselves and everything around them in hopes of pleasing God.  Moreover, they hold others to the same twisted ideals and teach them to conform their hearts to what can not please God.

It is so contrary to the Gospel.

The Good News is that if Grace has cleansed our hearts, nothing can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus. (Rom. 8:35-39)  Which is not to say that we don’t struggle with sin or even that we shouldn’t war against it in our lives, but it is to say that contact with that which would once have made people ceremonially unclean can no longer do so.

Once covered by Grace, it is impossible to offend God by the touching of a dead thing.  Once covered by Grace, it is impossible to offend God by being imperfect by anyone’s standards, including His.

Sadly, even within the body of Christ, I have often been confronted by the hearts of those who perceive impurity in everything.  Everything that is not perfect in their own perceptions, and nothing ever is, is unclean and ungodly, rejected by the Lord and certain to bring condemnation and ruination. They see the spending of money this way as “wrong” or the counting of people in that way as “wrong.”  They become bitter and in their bitterness, they become hurtful.

While I wouldn’t say that such a person is not a Christian (they may or may not be), I would say that their heart has surely not comprehended the fullness of the Gospel of Grace.

Grace covers the imperfections of our lives. Grace not only gets us to eternity, but Grace also gets us through the day.  When we are confronted with either the willful rebellion of our hearts or the inadvertent shortcomings of a fallen mind, Grace covers all.

And when we are covered by Grace, when our hearts are satisfied in the free gift of God’s unmerited favor, it is not just easy, but it is also natural, to extend grace to others around us.

The heart that wallows in the Grace of God takes no offense in the rebellion or imperfection of those around.  When the service of a waiter is slow and lethargic, Grace manifests itself in a generous tip, rather than the stinginess of heart that counts wrongs against another.  When you are verbally attacked by another parent at the game because their child didn’t play the position or time they expected, Grace listens patiently and realizes that the person spewing venom is in need of something much deeper than they have.

The extension of Grace to them in that moment will likely be the rare exception in their life and will surely be the clearest picture of the Gospel that they will see that day. Month. Year? Lifetime?

To the pure, all things are pure.

A reputation means… ?

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When working last week in the DFW Metroplex with Mission Arlington, I had the unexpected opportunity to observe the reputation of MA among the larger Metroplex community.

Before I tell the story of my observation, I should tell you that the leaders of MA went out of their way to coach volunteers on the handling of their reputation.  Matt Hart, one of the leaders, frequently helped us to understand the attitude with which we should engage the world around us when we performed our assigned task.  At one point, our group was asked to execute a “Free Garage Sale” at an apartment complex that was known for its residents not having many possessions – or even any furniture at all.  Matt coached us that our instinct may be to regulate how much anyone takes, trying to ensure that there may be some equity in the taking or even that some may be hoarding for reasons that we might suspect to be vaguely inappropriate.  Matt encouraged us to be generous.  No matter what anyone took, we should help them carry it to their homes and bless them on the way.

As MA would be continuing to work with these people long after we were gone, they were hoping for the reputation left by all of us to be one of gracious concern for the community, no matter who they were.

Seeing that their reputation was so carefully cultivated (and I mean that in the most positive way), it should not have surprised me, then, to find it working in our favor not long after we arrived.

On our trip down, I noticed the engine sounding as though there were a leak in the exhaust system.  By the time we got to Dallas, the leak had become problematic – meaning that the exhaust had come completely apart just after it left the engine which caused the van to run very rough under acceleration.  It sounded like a redneck pickup, and as a recent owner of a pickup, I say that with all due respect. ;)

I talked the situation over with Matt, and he handed me off to a mechanic not far from the MA facility.  This is where my observation of the MA reputation began.  The mechanic said that he did not deal with exhaust issues much, but would look into it.  He later would tell me that the exhaust was indeed in two parts and that he wouldn’t be the man for the job, but he had noticed the low mileage on the van and called a local dealer to see if the problem might be under warranty.  They thought it could be, but would have to see it before they could commit.  When I offered the first mechanic some money for diagnosing the problem, he wouldn’t take any.

Upon arriving at the dealer, I told him what was going on, that we were down from Tulsa working with Mission Arlington and needed to get the van back into action as soon as possible.  I then asked him to check if we were under warranty.  It turns out that, while we were well under on mileage, the time on our warranty had run out.  The dealer service rep then gave me directions to a muffler shop that would do a good job.  When was the last time a dealer rep helped you find his competition?  It’s never happened for me.

I took the directions to the muffler shop and told him our story thus far, including our need for the van in use with our Mission Arlington responsibilities.  He walked over to the van, listened, looked and then said, “No problem.”  He was going to fix it while I waited, but we were due at our ministry spot, so I left the van with him.

When we pulled up to the ministry responsibility less than an hour later, he called and gave me the run down:  Someone in Tulsa had tried to steal our catalytic converter, but had not gotten all the way through cutting the pipe.  Under pressure of driving, the pipe ruptured the rest of the way and was in two pieces.  He had welded it together and was charging us $20, a bare minimum for time and labor.

Each of these men was encouraging and deferential.  All of them wished us well in our efforts with Mission Arlington.

Later in the week, we went to a local Cici’s Pizza for the buffet.  It was the only time we went out for supper during the week.  When they found out that we were from MA, they knocked the price of the buffet and a drink down to a flat $5 from the $8 and change range that it normally was.  It saved us about $50.  They told us how happy they were to help us as we helped their community.

Proverbs 22:1 says: “A good name is to be chosen over great wealth; favor is better than silver and gold.”

Matthew 5:16 says: “In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”

As I reflect on my unexpected observation of the reputation for helping the community that Mission Arlington has earned over the last 25 years, I am torn.

On the one hand I am astounded and inspired by how powerful that reputation is among so many in the Metroplex and how it elicits aid from people, some of whom were not a part of the Kingdom of God.

On the other hand, I am grieved by how non-existent that reputation is around the world where other parts of the people of God gather to worship and work.  Especially those in the part of the world where I live, work and worship.

Making a difference among the impoverished

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A few thoughts:

This is not about immigration, but poverty.  Immigration is just an example of one thing we do poorly and say we are making a difference.

World poverty will be eradicated when the individual economies that are producing the radically poor are stabilized and access to opportunity is given to all.

Some of this is beyond our control.  Politics, both local and global, are not always accessible to us beyond grass roots engagement.

The improvement in economic conditions can work in America and around the world. We should do our best to affect both arenas, according to the doors open to us.

One thing left out of this video is the role of Education in economic development:  it’s vital.

For the church, specifically, the better educated and more economically stable/advantaged, the higher the receptivity to the Gospel.  It’s vital.

The question left to us is whether or not we have the responsibility to develop the economies of the poor around us locally and globally.  My answer is yes.  To the best of our ability.

The Camel in the Christmas Musical

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A lot of churches will host Christmas events this time of year.  Skelly Drive (where I pastor) used to have a Living Nativity that was somewhat groundbreaking in its day and is still remembered fondly by everyone that I’ve ever met that either put it on or attended.

Invariably, these productions, be they musicals or whatever, will begin to journey into the untested waters of live animal participants.  Usually, this works well until they bring in the camel.

Camels are some of the most ill tempered animals you can ever be around.  I saw one in a musical with a muzzle on to keep him from biting passersby.  They stomp on you, lay down when you want them to stand, stand when you want them to lay down and are generally naughty in every way they think will aggravate you.

And they spit.  Nasty stinky spit that you might be able to use as masonry compound in a pinch.

Not to mention that they smell horrible.  You can’t bathe these guys often, it’s winter and the water is cold.  But even if you can, they’ll be curling the nose hairs of your attendees within a few hours.  It’s just their nature.

And pray they don’t pass gas during your event, especially if you are insane enough to bring them indoors.  They can have your whole cast on the ground before the first wave hits the audience.

So, a little advice to you Christmas event planners out there.  If the donkey, the cow and the occasional goose have worked out all right so far, stick with them.  There really is no need to “up the ante” here.

Just because there are camels in the Middle East, doesn’t mean you have to have one in your church to make your event “authentic.”

But if you are stubborn and won’t heed my advice, pray this doesn’t happen to you:

I didn’t even notice it the first couple of times I watched it, but did you observe there was some poor woman, serving God the best way she knew how, coaxed up on top of the camel?

You see her bare feet and then, moments later, her head pops up.  She looks a little disconcerted, don’t you think?

To someone considering the ministry…

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I’ve had a few people I’ve known consider going into the ministry at one point in time or another.  A few things to consider as you discern your path.

  • Obviously, be convinced God is leading you to this.  I’ve known people in ministry that God never called there, but they thought it would make a good career.  Aside from the bumps and bruises that you might avoid not being where you should be, you will actually be in the way of God’s work, since you will be attempting what you are doing on your own.
  • If you are able to lay out a plan for higher education, get an undergraduate degree in something other than theology, ministry, Christian education, etc.  You can get your theological training in Seminary afterward and then you will be very broad in your knowledge and abilities.  It might come in handy one day when you are called to a mission filed, bi-vocational ministry or even if you are fired from your church.  Hey, it happens.  A lot.
  • Tend to your personal spiritual growth.  Education is important, but it is no substitute for a deep walk with God.  Leadership of the Holy Spirit means more than your IQ ever will.
  • Develop organizational skills.  You have to be organized to lead.
  • Develop personal relationship skills.  You have to love people to lead.
  • Develop thick skin.  You will be critiqued (fairly and unfairly) when you lead.
  • Be the example.  You can’t ask others to do what you aren’t doing in giving, service, passion, discipleship, positive talk or friendship.
  • Don’t let your failures get to you.  You will make mistakes and you will not be the shining example you want to be.  Confess and do better.  This is called growth.
  • Don’t let people hold you or your family to unreasonable standards of perfection.  They aren’t the Judge. (But don’t take that whole, “Only God can judge me” thing as a license to be an idiot.)

Other thoughts?

Tulsa’s Christmas… er… Holiday Parade

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The city of Tulsa has had a “Christmas Parade” downtown for about 70 years, put on privately.  Originally it was moved to downtown to attract business, or so I’ve been told.

Last year, the organizers changed the name to the “Holiday Parade” to be more inclusive.  I don’t remember a flap about it then, but we have one now. The publicity seemed to have taken off when Oklahoma Senator Jim Inhofe declined to participate as a form of protest over the name change. Since then, the situation has been mentioned by Conan O’Brian, John Stewart and Bill O’Reilly.  And by a few locals who have felt compelled to address the issue.

Earlier this week, the City Council approved the parade permit amidst a torrent of discussion.  The Tulsa World carries the story here.  You might also be interested in some of the other articles, including letters to the editor concerning the situation.

While I am obviously a Christian and not a participant in anything else the organizers are trying to include… my primary concern is with the behavior of people who have reacted negatively toward the move.

More specifically, I don’t think people calling themselves Christians should sin in defense of, well, of anything, much less the defense of a parade’s name.

If you don’t agree with the parade organizers, then you are free to say so.  If you don’t want to participate, then you are free to do something else with your time.

What you are not free to do is incriminate the Name of Christ by doing what He would not.  Be careful with your words.  People are listening.  Jesus said it is not what goes into a man’s mouth that defiles him, but what comes out.

Example:  I have a friend, a Christian, who works in a local business participating in the parade.  After the City Council meeting where the debate and subsequent permit approval vote was held, a woman attempting to represent Christ called the business where my friend works and berated him over this issue for ten minutes.  When he got off the phone, his coworkers told him that it was because of that kind of stuff that they didn’t want anything to do with being a Christian.

Bottom line:  Take every stand you feel you should, but do so in a way that Christ would, or have you to do so.

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