Saturday, June 25, 2016

Admirer or Disciple?


One of the people whose works and writings have profoundly affected my view of God, or of following Jesus, and who still inspire me is Clarence Jordan. Clarence was a graduate of the University of Georgia with a degree in Agriculture, then went on to Southern Seminary and earned a Masters and Doctorate. He was a farmer and a New Testament scholar. In the early 1940's Jordan and his wife found a piece of property in Sumter County near Americus Georgia and founded "Koinonia Farm", an experiment in Christian community that crossed the racial boundaries that so characterized the South of that time.

During this time Clarence approached his brother Robert Jordan, later state senator and justice of the Georgia Supreme Court, asking him to represent Koinonia Farm legally. His brother replied, “Clarence, I can’t do that. You know my political aspirations. Why, if I represented you, I might lose my job, my house, everything I’ve got.” 

“We might lose everything, too, Bob,” Clarence reminded him. 

Jordan continued, “I remember, it seems to me, that you and I joined the church the same Sunday, as boys. I expect when we came forward the preacher asked me about the same question he did you. He asked me, ‘Do you accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior?’ and I said, ‘Yes.’ What did you say?”

“I follow Jesus, Clarence, up to a point,” Robert replied.

“Could that point be…the cross?” asked Clarence pointedly.

“That’s right. I follow him to the cross, but not on the cross. I’m not getting myself crucified.”

Clarence said, “Then I don’t believe you’re a disciple. You’re an admirer of Jesus, but not a disciple of his. I think you ought to go back to the church you belong to, and tell them you’re an admirer, not a disciple.”

Ouch!

But isn't that true of more of us than we'd like to admit? We get squeezed between our professed love for Jesus and "the real world" of work, of money, of family, of status, of class, of rank, of whatever, and that old tempter starts whispering sweet nothings in our ear. And we listen, especially when we're hard pressed. Instead of setting our faces like flint, we gradually turn away from the hard path, the tough places thinking that movement away will bring the comfort and blessings we really want and believe we deserve.

29 “Yes,” Jesus replied, “and I assure you that everyone who has given up house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the Kingdom of God,30 will be repaid many times over in this life, and will have eternal life in the world to come.”
Luke 18:29-30 (NLT)

When are we going to learn that we cannot out give God? When will we realize that the way "forward" means leaving the values of this world behind? When will we follow Jesus past "that point"?

Lots of people are stuck because they use the wrong standard of measurement. Are you faithfully following Jesus? Then let no one keep you from continuing.

But if you are not... if you are primarily interested in how you benefit... if it's always about YOU.

Then go back in repentance to the church you belong to and tell them you are sorry and that you want to be a follower, not an admirer.

Monday, June 20, 2016

So, You Want To Be A Pastor...


So, You Want To Be A Pastor... 

One day as Jesus was walking along the shore beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers--Simon, also called Peter, and Andrew--fishing with a net, for they were commercial fishermen. 19Jesus called out to them, "Come, be my disciples, and I will show you how to fish for people!" 20And they left their nets at once and went with him.Matthew 4:21-23 

There are times when I have to laugh about the position God has placed me into. Here's a guy who was after the American Dream - had a great job with one of the best companies on earth, great family, new car, new house.. etc. We had just finished a year within which we had reached a level of income we had never seen before. Our friends at church were great, the church was growing, and we were a part of it. Word within the church was I was a shoo in for deacon. 

Then God went and made me a pastor. I sure didn't see that coming, but it was clear to me and to others I trusted that God was calling me to serve His church.

Which leaves me wide open for questions like why? 

If it was in pursuit of accomplishment - well I'll have you know I had already achieved great success. 

For example, were you aware that I had sold the first full page color Pepto Bismol ad in the known world? Ha! Didn't think so. Or that I had sold 23 trucks full of Folgers coffee, marking the single biggest purchase on record for that brand? No? Well, now you know. And I hope you also know that compared to a person coming to know Christ or growing deeper in ther faith, that stuff's so lame.


If you decide to go into the ministry though, I should tell you that you'll have to learn a lot more about failure than accomplishment. And instead of trusting in your skill or passion, you'll have to learn to rely on the power of the Holy Spirit even when it seems He's nowhere to be found. Trust Him.

Now there will be times when everything goes well and people will single you out as a great pastor and leader, and then there will be times when things are running the wrong way and people look to you to make something happen and wonder if you can. But you have to know in your heart that all you've done from the very beginning is to love God, love His people, and try to give both your best. Any success has come from God and if it's dry right now, then He's still at work, just in a different way. Follow Him.

You'll have to come to grips with the knowledge that there will always be people who question your motives and wisdom. It'll happen more at first, but after almost 17 years here and over 20 years as a pastor, it still happens. Love them.

Sometimes there will be people who come but are at cross purposes with what the church is and hopes to be and that you still have to love them, but you don't have to let them have their way. In fact, you can't - because you're the pastor, and the good pastor lays down his life for the sheep. You'll pray for them, talk with them, and try to make them understand God's call on your church. Not the one across town or across the oceans. The church you serve. Stay true to that call. Follow the Holy Spirit's direction. 

Some people will leave, and you have to wish God's best for them, even if you believe they are leaving just that. Even if you've stood up for them to others. Even if you've given them your time. And then you have to believe that it is all part of God's plan and keep praying, keep loving, and keep preaching the Word. Does it hurt? Oh yes. Sometimes it rips your heart and that of your family. When you've prayed literally hours for someone and been there during some of the events of their life, it's tough. Guess it should be. If you don't care for people, don't you dare become a pastor.

There are stresses and strains in your life that no one will see. We've had to make use of the church food pantry too many times. Racing the Gulf Power cut off guy home gets old. We got really good and pinching pennies, but after over 20 years as a pastor I've never equalled what I made the year before I became one. When you get to the church on Christmas Eve, check the mailbox and find that your check has bounced, it takes a deep faith to stick that slip in your pocket and go lift people's eyes to the cross. My wife and my family have paid a price for my answering the call. It can destroy a marriage - it can ruin a life - several lives. I was blessed with a wife who has been more and done more for the churches I have served than anyone will ever know. And my sons - well I hope they saw that their Dad did his best. If money matters a lot to you, this is the wrong career field.

I have fewer years ahead than I have behind me, and I'm bivocational now instead of full time. But there's never a day that I'm not praying, not studying/ reading in some way to be a better pastor, a better communicator. I'm always looking for ways to see New Hope grow. We've tried some that did great, and some that didn't. But you have to keep trying to connect people to God and to people. It can be frustrating to have to build the consensus and gather the volunteers to get something done. But it's worth it, and there are many times that if you'll listen, some of the best ideas you will ever hear come from them.

One day I'll no longer be the pastor of a church. I'll still be God's servant, but I'll be serving in a different role. I don't know when that will be, but I know when it comes I'll be praying every day for my pastor, and seeking to do whatever I can to help him as he works for God.

Pastor - It's a hard, hard job. It's a thankless one from the world's point of view. But keep following Him. Keep loving His people.

For the knowledge that you served Jesus... now that makes it all worthwhile.


Wednesday, June 01, 2016

Every Day - devotional for June 1


There are a lot of people who can work hard for a while, care for a while, love for a while, give of themselves for a while. They leave behind them a legacy of inconsistency and frayed or broken relationships with people and with God. 

In their jobs, they can’t be counted on. 

As parents, they raise kids who never know what the boundaries are. 

As husbands or wives, they tend to make everything about them – the “me” trumps the “we” that makes marriage work.

What’s the answer?

24 Then Jesus went to work on his disciples. "Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You're not in the driver's seat; I am. Don't run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I'll show you how. 
25 Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to finding yourself, your true self.  Matt 16 (MSG)


The secret to a life that leaves a lasting legacy is in those verses. 

Let Jesus lead.

Embrace life’s hardships. 

Follow Jesus every day. 

EVERY DAY. 

Do it and find peace.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

To Live By Faith



With desperate and hungry people camped all over the church lawn, Jesus turns, then and now, to his followers and speaks what is either a cruel joke or lavish divine humor: "They need not go away; you give them something to eat" (M.t 14:16). The disciples, fully aware that their own resources are not up to the magnitude of the need (Mt 14:17) nonetheless trust that the jest is a divine one and obey Jesus.  Thomas G. Long
Jesus' words "You give them something to eat," are a "divine jest." They are a daily dare. He's saying "I dare you to take me at my word. And see what happens. "
A few years ago, a few New Hope folks began helping out with the "Supper on Saturday" meal distribution. It's a wonderful program that brings together people from the local Methodist mega-church as well as others from other churches in trying to meet the needs of the poor among us all. After that experience, we reasoned that if some were taking 6 meals for two people, then perhaps the need was greater than just on Saturday. We were already cooking meals for anyone who came on Wednesday night, so what's a little more?
You see the picture of the shelves above? That's our pantry for the meals. It looked pretty low when that picture was taken, and it's been lower. But for 4 years, we have cooked, packed, and delivered anywhere from eighty to one-hundred twenty meals every Wednesday night. We've never missed a Wednesday, regardless of weather or holidays.
It's been part of the "daily dare" that is the walk of faith at New Hope.
During the last six years, our church has weathered severe financial hardship, coming out of debt, and dealing with the lack of resources in a way that turned a challenge into a "see what happens" chance to truly see what God can do with our faith. Our treasurer and I on many occasions have shared a private laugh over what our bank balance was, what our obligations were, and how somehow, someway, God always, always, always got us through. One week I shared that we had $1.21 in the bank during a Wednesday night prayer meeting, and my beloved church family burst out in applause. "Look what God did tonight with $1.21" one man said. "We delivered 120 meals" for less than what you could find in the couch cushions."
Now we've done what we could. I've returned to bivocational status, working as a teacher to cut overhead. We're notoriously frugal as a church when it comes to spending on things. But I believe we are notoriously generous when it comes to spending on helping people - wherever they may be. And right now I sense God beginning to move us to do more.
Friend, we're just normal people. There are a lot of ways we could improve. But I don't think we can improve on the call of Jesus to come along and see what He can do with folks who don't have much, but are willing to see what He can do with it.
Shameless plug: If you want to be a part of a church that hasn't forgotten why we're here, and tries very hard to do as much as we can, for as many as we can - come join us at New Hope.  Oh and bring some green beans - we could use them for this week's meal. :)

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Read This



Do just the opposite of what the world calls you to do. Dive deep into a community of people who call themselves a church. Expose your best and worst sides to them. Experience their worst and their best. Love them anyway as they love you. Don't go looking for the "best" this or that. Don't go seeking to have your "needs" met. Find an imperfect place filled with imperfect people and spend the rest of your life trying to meet their needs and the needs of the souls God puts into your path.

And if you're in one of those places right now...

treasure it.

Thank God for it.

You may very well find a place that requires far less of you and presents you with that just right music, just right messages, and just right people to share it with.

But in doing so you are walking away from the HEART of what it means to be a Christian. All those passages like "the last will be first" or "take up your cross daily."

It shouldn't be easy.

It should cost you something of your comfortable life.

Resist.

Dive deep.

----------------------

This post is dedicated to the most real, most raw experience of "church" I have ever known, my beloved New Hope Baptist Church in Valparaiso. You guys are heroes to me and an inspiration every moment you come to mind.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

The hardest kind of love

Our friends Larry and JoAnn have a dog that is nearing the point of death as I write this and it's tearing them up. His furry friend has been a part of their lives for many years and today he's not responding to them or interested in food or water. Death seems near.

Those of us who are loved by dogs go into each new relationship knowing that we almost certainly will not only have the joy of receiving the love of a new friend, but that we will also have the deep sorrow of our parting. For this very reason, many people choose to never have another dog - the bitter pain of losing one is just too much to bear.

Choosing to be there as they pass, whether naturally or with a vet's help, is one of the most gut-wrenching things I've ever experienced. One of our dogs was tragically taken from us in a freak accident, but the very last movement she made was to wag her tag one last time as I reached her fallen form.

With another furry friend, Bunny and Sean eased her passage by talking to her and petting her, though their tears were falling, until she left.

And Sean and I were there when our big friend Henley the Great Dane was eased into the next life to spare him the agony of the bone cancer that had riddled his leg. With the possibility of his next step causing an agonizing fracture, we laid on the floor by him as the drugs did their work. I have never loved a dog as much as Henley, and we only had him for 7 years.

Freddie the mini schnauzer has been with JoAnn and Larry for more than 15.

So if you read this, pray for those who love enough to walk the last mile with their friends.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Considering the cost

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Many years ago, there was a ridiculously young couple who had their first child. He was a healthy boy, and he was named David Adam. I was working a pretty dead end, high effort low reward job, and Bunny was doing the same. We were doing our best to provide for our family, but we thought it took everything both of us could earn to make it. So we looked for someone who could keep Adam, and after looking, talking to people, and choosing a woman who was a stay home mom herself, Bunny went back to work.

It wasn't very long until the day that Bunny picked up our baby boy on the way home from work and our treasure had a scratch on him that he couldn't have made. His nanny's explanation wasn't one at all. That night, we looked at our income, then we looked at our son, and Bunny went to work the next day and quit.

The cost was so high that we couldn't pay it.

A few years later, I still wasn't getting anywhere at that dead end job. I was always interested in electronics so I started an electronic technician course. Four days a week I would leave work and go directly to my class and get home after 10:30. About half way through the course, Adam started asking where daddy was all the time. I quit.

The cost was so high, that we couldn't pay it.

On this night sixteen years ago, Bunny, Sean and I spent our first night in Valparaiso. It was also the first night we were ever apart as a family, since our oldest son Adam decided to stay in Macon, and we decided not to force him to come. Out of all the decisions we have ever made, it is this one that carries with it the deepest regrets.

There are many moments, many events that we have been through since we have been here that I remember through my grin as I remember them. And there have been times when we've been wounded that we work to not remember, believing that the salve of grace and forgiveness would heal. And it has, though there remain the faint outline of scars.

We'll bear that cost..

Looking back, we have literally chosen to forgo what the world would call a comfortable life again and again because for Bunny and me, to not do so would have been to turn our backs on the things that matter most to us - our God and our family.

And we would do it again, considering the cost.