Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Forgiving and Forgiveness

It's Sunday after church and we're going out to eat. Now being creatures of habit, there's a certain set of restaurants we'll likely go to. But on this day we decide to try a new one. Arriving at the table, I notice a couple sitting nearby (among a dozen or so others) who used to be members of New Hope that I haven't seen in a long time. Maybe a decade.

They were great members of New Hope, and friends and supporters of what we were doing as a church... until they weren't. And in one of those things that happens far, far too often, they left in a huff. The minister of music quit, so they quit. They left in a cloud of bitterness and vitriol.

It hurt.

But you forgive and focus on the blessing that they were when they were with you, and move on. No wailing and gnashing, no grumbling and blaming. It's a choice you make, and it's the only one that heals the hurt.

So there they were. I walked over and said "Hi," and mentioned in passing that I had just used the lawnmower they had purchased for the church (right before they left) just a few days ago, so they were still being a blessing to us. Then I walked back and enjoyed lunch.

I was conscious of his looking over at us as we ate, and every now and then I smiled back. They finished their meal and he walked over. He's in his upper 80's now, so feeble he walks with a cane, and after greeting everyone else, he turned to me and said, "I'm so sorry if I hurt you and the church."

He continued, taking my hand in a trembling handshake and with tears forming in the corners of his eyes he said, "Please believe me, I didn't mean to hurt you or the church. Please forgive me."

I looked into his eyes and told him he was our brother in Christ and we loved him and his wife. That I knew he would never mean to harm the church. That forgiveness was his before he had even left on that long ago Sunday.

He hadn't let go of my hand, and when he heard that, his grip grew stronger and his eyes grew bright. We hugged and he and his wife left.

You know, one of us had held onto a hurt for over ten years. It apparently had been something that was always there, like a weight that couldn't be laid down. But on a lazy Sunday afternoon, far from any church, unexpected grace showed up.

I LOVE that about our God.

“Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart.” 
― Corrie ten Boom

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

I Forgot Them All

I love this picture!

Maybe it's because I have witnessed this two times from the perspective of the man in the background, feeling the thrill of helping my sons take their first steps toward independence. They are men now, and one has experienced that same thrill.

As they learned to walk, not every one of their attempts was progress. I'm sure there were a lot of times when they sat back down, wobbled into things, or face-planted.

But here's the thing - I cannot remember a single failure. Not a ONE.

Why? Is it age? LOL, no I don't think so. I can remember a lot of moments.

So why can't I remember their failures?

Maybe it's because I've seen them walk. And run. For many years.

You may still be feeling the effects of a failure you had in your Christian faith. It may gnaw at you, rob you of your joy, or make you feel less loved by God.

Please read this carefully.

“I—yes, I alone—will blot out your sins for my own sakeand will never think of them again.: Isaiah 43:25

God doesn't remember those failures. He's the Father who rejoices to see His children living everyday. To see them draw on His strength and His love, facing life's challenges. Sure sometimes we fail, but what does God remember? That we got up and kept following His Son.

So live secure in the knowledge that God LOVES YOU and rejoices to see you living in Him.

Grace and peace,


Saturday, May 24, 2014

Memorial Day

There's no way I can know. No way for most Americans to know. But that doesn't excuse us on Memorial Day.

Every year we get a chance to grasp the incredible - to appreciate what should for us be a deeply moving and abiding revelation.

Men and women, some barely having reached adulthood, gave their lives - with all that would have held for them - laughter, joy, legacies of family, of love - for us.

I can remember talking with my father, who served in the Pacific theater in WW2, about what he saw - about what he experienced. Most of the time he wouldn't say more than just "it was rough." But when the curtain he had created between him and the horrors came down, it was as if he was seeing ghosts.

When I think back, fragments of scenes he described scare me still.

When a terrifying night where Japanese attacked in wave after wave from the darkness - screaming "Banzai" with officers waving samurai swords ended, my father looked out over a field where "Japanese were stacked like cordwood, and body parts scattered like melons - like cornstalks."

"My friend and I were in a ditch, a little dip in the ground, trying to stay alive. A shell hit right next to him. I turned to look and all that was left was his legs."

New Guinea, Saipan, Mindanao, Okinawa.

Places on a map for me.

Scars that never healed for him. Scars...that...never...healed.

And he came back. Scarred, profoundly affected - but he came back.

Memorial Day is not for him, as much as he and all those who came back deserve our respect.

It's for his friend, and the others who gave "their last full measure of devotion."

For us. For our country.

Think on these things.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

The Power of We

We finished tired and happy today. No, we didn't win a trophy.

But let me tell you what kind of class this is.

We fell way behind in the lap-run. Just wasn't a strength for us. On the second half though, Tyler took over and took off. He made up an enormous amount of the gap. But here's where it gets good.

Every child ran to the halfway point and joined Tyler in his race to the finish, all the while shouting encouragement. Because of that, Tyler got even faster and finished strong.

That's what people - big or small - who truly care about one another can do - they create a climate where what you thought could be accomplished is blown away and a new level of achievement takes place.

It's the power of "We."

I'm very proud of all the academic success I've seen from this class, but this morning may have just been my favorite moment all year.

Saturday, February 01, 2014

"So how big did this place get?"

It's funny how an offhand comment or question can sometimes drive me into periods of really deep thought and reflection. That's really not a neighborhood I frequent much anymore, simply because the pressure of getting this done NOW is so much a part of my life. Between church and school there's just not much down time.

The question came from a friend while we were preparing meals to be delivered to people who live in the neighborhoods around the church. I could be there because it was a "snow day" for us at school, so I could help Bunny get the cooking done and then be able to show up at church hours earlier than normal. His job on base let him be there too. The roads were icy, and most people had hunkered down at home, but that didn't mean they didn't need a hot meal. So some of the folks at New Hope turned out including this young man.

He and his family had simply showed up one Sunday and quickly became a part of our church. Their heart for Christ and willingness to serve have just endeared them to everyone at New Hope. And their precious daughter is a sense of endless fascination and joy while we watch her scamper around. It's been a great blessing to have them within our church family.

So his question was delivered while he and I were filling clam shell containers with black-eyed peas and rice. Not a probe, just a curious question. But it's made me think.

I answered him like most pastors would do - with numbers and relating them to the size of our sanctuary and number of seats. It's possible I mentioned some of the factors that have caused those numbers to shrink - but I don't think so.

At any rate we kept filling the containers with food, and another New Hope family member came in with some rolls to add to the meal. Then in a little while another brother came in to help finish up "plating" the meal and help deliver them. And once we got them all filled, we left and delivered them all - 99 meals to people who needed them, and maybe reminding of the fact that God loves them and so do we.

Today as I was taking a look at Sunday's Bible study, the conversation came back to my memory. You have to understand - I've spent over 14 years at New Hope, preaching and teaching the Word, loving and praying for the people, and doing whatever it took at the time to see us love people and reach them with the love of God. There have been times I wanted to leave out of frustration with what was happening, and a couple times I could have left, but I knew absolutely it was God's will for me to move here and though it has been tough at times, He has never released me from this call. So here I am.

Look - we've had more people. Twice as many plus some. We've had some really great folks come and serve with us, and then move away or move on for one reason or another. God bless them all. I'll be forever grateful for what they meant to God's work at New Hope, and what they meant to me personally.

You don't serve with someone, spend time in each other's homes, do funerals for their fathers, mothers, and pets; you don't stand up with their children as they pledge their lives to God and each other; you don't laugh and cry with them - without a feeling of loss when they leave. Not sure many people understand that when you have prayed for a person as their pastor - calling out to God for them by name everyday for years, you grow kind of attached. So yeah...

But you have to understand this too. A pastor does not live in the past, he runs to the future, because that's where his prayers to the timeless God he prays to - lead him. I'm always praying for another chance to see God capture the heart of a child, of a teen, of an adult. I'm always hoping to be there when God mends a broken heart or when He sets one on FIRE for souls. That's what drives me - what keeps me excited about being a pastor.

And right now I'm seeing a rekindling of that fire in the people of New Hope. We may have less people, but we have a group who love, who serve, who give, who want to see the Kingdom come and His will be done right here in a small church in a small town.

"So how big did this place get is?" a question I hope to ask the Father one day. In person.

I really expect to be blown away.

Because Scripture tells me that God can do more than we can ask or even imagine. And I believe it with all my heart.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The Cost

Well, it's almost Christmas. The traffic is thicker and our patience is thinner. We're beginning to put one eye on the calendar and the other on the checkbook make sure that one doesn't get ahead of the other. That fear can begin to start - what if we don't have enough? Don't you miss those days as children when you never gave a thought to Christmas' cost? 

My family was not wealthy by any means, but neither were we poor. Like many, we lived from week to week, knew our banker or loan officer well, and while we never lacked, we never prospered. Yet every Christmas that I can remember came and went leaving me filled with the belief that I had been blessed. If I wanted a "Johnny 7 One Man Army Gun" badly enough, it seemed to find its way to the tree. If a "Model Motoring by Aurora" racetrack caught my fancy, well, apparently Santa knew that too. 

Even though I knew from my trips to the stores that such things had prices, I never concerned myself with the cost. 

Yet there was a cost - a sacrifice for my parents - every year. As I grew older, I'd catch snippets of conversations about the bills, and their struggle to pay them. "What are we going to do?", I'd hear my Mother say with worry and fear coloring her voice. "I don't know, but they are going to have Christmas," replied my Father, somewhat more hopefully, but still unsure. And off they'd go to the Western Auto, or to Sears, or to somewhere else they could buy toys and pay on time. 

Gradually I realized that my Christmas gifts cost them dearly. In time, in energy, in stress. My mother would cut corners - patch jeans, save pennies. My father would work overtime even after his regular swing shift. So somehow, every year there'd come Christmas. It came with a cost. 

It always has. 

That's why we have communion on Christmas Eve. To remember the cost.

My prayer is that as we celebrate the birth of Christ tomorrow, we remember that He came to pay the price for our sins.

Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 07, 2013

Whenever You Hold A Child

Christmas time always causes me to rummage around in my closet of memories. If you're like me, you've got stuff in there.

For me, back there past the 3rd grade report card I'm still grousing over from one December past, or the memory of the time the heat pump went out when I was 2200 miles away from a freezing Macon, GA, are memories upon memories of Christmases.

Some examples?

One Christmas when I was a child, I received a toy helicopter with a broken windshield. A note affixed read "sorry, dropped off the sleigh. - Santa". I come by my sense of humor genetically, obviously.

Another found Bunny and me walking away from a guitar store, not buying, but selling my guitar to pay for Christmas for the boys. We had smiles on our faces, thinking about how they were going to enjoy the toys. No regrets, only memories of their joy.

Really, most of my memories of Christmas revolve around children. I get excited every year to see the little ones as they begin to anticipate the day's coming. When I read the Christmas story, I remember what it's like to hold a newborn son. Joy floods your soul as you cradle this new life - full of promise, bathed in love, fresh from the arms of God. This time last year we were joyously but anxiously awaiting the birth of Aiden Brann Wilson, our grandson.

So when I read Zachariah's "song" and see this, it touches me.

And you, my child, "Prophet of the Highest,"
will go ahead of the Master to prepare his ways,
77Present the offer of salvation to his people,
the forgiveness of their sins.
78Through the heartfelt mercies of our God,
God's Sunrise will break in upon us,
79Shining on those in the darkness,
those sitting in the shadow of death,
Then showing us the way, one foot at a time,
down the path of peace. Luke 1:77-79

When I visualize this scene, I see a man holding his son. Maybe John was sleeping - you like them to get in that routine early. Or maybe he was looking up at his daddy, fist in his mouth, or with arms outstretched. I can see those dimples on the backs of his hands, and his little bitty toes. A baby, held tight in the arms of love.

Zachariah, unlike most anyone else, had a clear understanding from God directly about what the result of his son's life would be. That passage is God's announcement of just what the life of John the Baptist would mean.

But remember, Zach and Liz couldn't just kick back and not do the work of being John's parents - just the opposite. God's plan for John's life required Zachariah and Elizabeth to do what they only could do, and that is to "train up a child in the way he should go..." Before John could show anyone else the "path of peace", he had to be taught the "way".

Friends, when you hold a child, you are holding God's investment into the future of this world. You are holding one of His masterpieces of creation. Snug within your arms lies the continuation of God's purpose and plan.

That child you hold may be someone like John, who will show many people the way.
That child you hold may be someone like Mary, whose life will be used to change the world forever.

Your part in that isn't just to hold them, but to mold them into people who grow up to live for Jesus. Whenever you do, you are touching generations yet to come with His love.

So this Christmas, why not take time each night to read the Christmas Scriptures? Talk with your kids about God's love for the world expressed through Jesus. Let them pretend they are shepherds, wise men, Joseph and Mary. Let them enter into the wonder and experiences that surround Christ's birth.

Make their memories of Christmas include Jesus.

And give them a hug for Bunny and me.

Adam and Shonda, bring us Aiden please. :)