Thursday, April 02, 2015

The Cost of Freedom and Forgiveness



The Cost


So this was the cost
the price you had to pay for me
to be with me
to save me
to redeem me

You laid down here for me
Hung here for me
Died here for me

You laid down here for me
As they laughed at you
And said who’s hitting you
You laid down here for me
As they nailed you
Impaled you
You laid here as nails cut you, pierced you, ripped you
You laid down here for me

You hung here for me as they mocked you
Jew King, here’s your crown so come down and be king
You hung here for me as your breath wouldn’t come
And the blood wouldn’t stop
and nails or no nails you still are God
and could have come down
and made the pain stop and made the laughs stop
but you hung here for me

You died here for me
As you said
it is finished
And now there is nothing left,
But the horror of this place
And I want to turn away, to walk away, to run away
To just forget without regret
All the horror of this place
Of the blood on your face
And the pain of the nails and the hole in your side
But I can’t turn away cause I need to be saved

And if this is what it takes for me to know you
To be with you
to find you
if this is what it takes for you to save me
Then I can’t look away
Cause I need you to save
this soul that cries out for you,
dies for you,
reaches for you
If this is what it takes then I all I can say is
Crucify! Crucify! Crucify!
Cause I need to be saved
And I...

I can’t pay the cost

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Valentine Gifts


The year was 1973. At the beginning of the year, gas was still cheap, and you could still buy a car for less than $4,000 fully loaded. Skylab was launched, the World Trade Center and the Sears Tower opened. There were no cell phones, there was no internet - which meant that when you met someone, you did it in person. In 1973, I fell head over heels in love.

I had been recruited by my friend Ernie Tidwell to play basketball for Bethesda Baptist Church. It was a church that I had gone to when I was little, but once we moved out in the country, that ended my church activity. But I loved to play basketball, so I agreed to give up a Sunday morning a month to have a chance to play.

When I came back home from UGA, I left most of my friends behind - still at school. Ernie and I had worked together the summer before I left and reconnected once I started Macon Junior. So when he asked me to come to his girlfriend's house to hang out and play board games, I readily accepted. Once there, I can remember being in the living room when through a swinging door from the kitchen came the most beautiful girl I had (and have) ever seen. Pick up a thesaurus and dump out all the adjectives.

Then look for some verbs to describe what I felt. Stunned, stupefied, gobsmacked - I'll run out of those too quickly. I honestly went home thinking I had made a fool out of myself, trying not to be noticed looking at her eyes, her smile, or listening too intently when she laughed. I tried to act normal, but I'd never ever felt that way before.

On the way home I kept replaying the evening. And yet she was Ernie's girl, so I did my best to be a good friend to him and to her. We rode to basketball games together for the next couple of months, and continued to hang out from time to time. For them it seemed nothing had changed, but for me, everything had - and I didn't know what to do about it.

Valentine's came along though, and of course I didn't have a girlfriend. And Bunny was still Ernie's girl. But I felt like I needed to give her a gift, as a friend of course. So I bought her a Beatles poster. I almost didn't give it to her - I was afraid she'd think I was weird. (By then, she'd have already picked up on that, but teenage emotions cloud your reasoning.) With everything I had in me, I wanted her to like that poster, and wrapped in it not so discretely, me.

It was the first time in my life that I knew that if I could have anything in this life, I wanted Bunny Clinard as my love forever, and my first action in hopes that my wish might come true.

This is our 42nd February. For me, it began right there.

And to this day, I have never forgotten that feeling, and I have never stopped thanking God for giving me my heart's desire.

Happy Valentine's day, my love.

Saturday, February 07, 2015

The Daily Dare


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. :)

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Wearing Him Well




“Putting on Christ'...is not one among many jobs a Christian has to do; and it is not a sort of special exercise for the top class. It is the whole of Christianity. Christianity offers nothing else at all.” 
― C.S. LewisMere Christianity

So we know how to act.

To do the right thing, to say the right words, or not say them.

Well, most of us do.

We know that we need to "put on Christ."

Most of the time we do okay. But if we're honest, that "clothing" wears thin when the wind of criticism, the tiny cuts of aggravating people, and just the stress of living snatches us away from the place we want to live.

But some people... it just FITS them.

One of the folks God's graced Bunny and me with makes me want to be more like Christ every time I watch him bless people with his genuine goodness, his heart for others and his devotion to his Lord. While others walk around the most menial tasks thinking someone will get that, he quietly heads that way. When a most demanding person causes others to cringe, he quiets that storm with his grace expressed - placing himself in service to him in such a humble way it's shocking to watch.

Shocking in a most convicting way.

He'll never preach a sermon.

But he lives one every day.

Thanks, Ray.

You wear Him well.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Christmas - Weakly



While rereading the accounts of Christmas again, it occurred to me - God's powerful act of Incarnation couldn't have come to a more unlikely group of people. His mighty actions and revealed plans to change everything elicited a very weak response from those who received the news.

Zachariah doubted God and couldn't even believe when an angel showed up.

Joseph searched for another way to explain what Mary had told him.

Even Mary, a model of faith, asked "How can this be...?"

Each and every one of them had a moment or moments when the situation they were presented with was just too much to believe.

Have you ever been there?

I sure have.

There have been times where, despite years of trying to live a live of faith and devotion to Jesus, something will happen and I'll silently ask the question "How can this be...?" Or really, how in the world am I going to make it through this?

To that question, God answers - "wait."

Uh, not really helpful - see we have this situation here and I need to get it fixed. And to that you say - "wait?"

I realized when I typed it that "wait" is not a word we would ever associate with Christmas, unless we add the obligatory "I can't.." as a prefix.

And yet, waiting is exactly what God required of each of the people involved in Christmas.

Zachariah and Elizabeth had prayed for a son all their married lives.

Joseph and Mary agreed in their betrothal to wait a year before consummating their marriage.

Even after the angel's announcements to them, there was the usual nine month wait for the babies that were promised to appear.

How long have you been waiting for your Christmas miracle to come? I'm not talking about that long promised pony or motorcycle.

I'm thinking of that moment when the faith you have...

...expands to fill your whole life.  When this verse becomes reality... to you.

What is faith? It is the confident assurance that what we hope for is going to happen. It is the evidence of things we cannot yet see. Heb 11:1 (NLT)

You know what?

I'm encouraged that Zachariah wouldn't take an angel's word for it. And in a way I'm grateful for Joseph's worries and Mary's concerns.

Because I am no weaker than they were, when they failed to grasp Christmas.

But then it's not about us, in our weakness.

It's about God, and His unfailing love. Remember what Gabriel said? "For nothing is impossible with God."

We can have the faith they had when we, like Mary, say to God, "let it be to me exactly as you wish. I trust you."

May we all be given the grace to do just that.

Grace and peace,

David

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Thanksgiving 2014


One year ago, Bunny was holding a much smaller Aiden. He's grown so big. Missing him and Adam and Shonda this Thanksgiving, but thankful to be headed over to share Thanksgiving meal with Sean and Chelsea in a little while.

When I get to Thanksgiving, I always think of those years as a little kid in Macon Georgia. We'd all pile in the car and head over to my Aunt Geneva's house, just up from the cotton mill on Roff Avenue. All of my cousins would be there too, and so we'd get every opportunity to get into trouble.

There was Uncle Ben's bomb shelter, conveniently located under the house, to explore. Maybe we could sneak into the forbidden space of the living room and slide on the polished wood floors in our socks! There were the train tracks to put a penny on, and the post office a block away to visit and see the scary faces of the most wanted. And just down the street was my Uncle Will's store, where barefoot little boys could convince their uncle that his cookies needed to be tested for freshness.

Good times. No, great times.

Oh there were amazing meals. Collard Greens, pecan pies (no one cooks pecan pies like people with pecan trees in their backyard), my Aunt Geneva's best in the world corn bread, turkey and dressing, and every cake known to mankind. For a kid whose parents both worked, and our normal meal would be a 30 minute wonder - it was a staggeringly impressive feast - every year.

And yes, there was football - inside and outside. We'd play outside until lunch, then take some time to properly recover from said lunch by watching the Bears and the Lions or later the Cowboys and whoever they were beating on TV.

I was amazed when I sat down to write this, just how much of the little details of events that happened 40 years ago I did remember. The cars they drove, the year my cousin came home from the Army in uniform, the colors and fall chill - all come leaping back to my memory. But you know, what I remember most is the laughter. When my Mother's family got together, there was always laughter. That didn't mean that life for them was wonderful - this was the mill village, and like most families, they had troubles. Money troubles, alcohol troubles, kid troubles, and health troubles.

But when they were together, something incredible happened - none of those seemed so large. When I think about it now, I'm convinced that happened because when they came together, they were conscious of just how much they loved each other, and just how powerful that love could be, and was. They really did bear one another's burdens -and not just on Thanksgiving.

And when they prayed, it wasn't the 20 second version of grace, it was the recitation of what God had done in the past year for them, how grateful they were for His grace, and how thankful they were that God put them together as a family. Now I look back and see what I couldn't have then. They didn't take anything for granted - they built their lives on that gratitude and love for one another. It wasn't "lucky" that they were together, it was God's grace. And in that grace they dealt with adversity and with blessings.

I always came away impressed that if I was a part of that family, I would never lack for love. No matter what I grew up to be, no matter what I was to make of my life, I could always come back home and run right into the arms of love. Several pairs of them. :) I guess that's why, this time of year, I always want to go back to those times when all my family is together. When I can look around and know that everyone there loves one another no matter what life may bring.

We love, because He first loved us. And out of that love, we live lives that testify to the grace we have received. We grow our family by opening our arms to those outside and setting another place at the table. Just as no one ever was a stranger on Thanksgiving at the Bowden family's meal, no one should ever be turned away. That's what I think a church should be. One big family. I thank God for the family like that we're a part of called New Hope.

Happy Thanksgiving and may God's richest blessings be yours.


Grace and peace,

David


Saturday, November 15, 2014

"Just like you said."


I'm a man who believes in grace and mercy - and who draws strength from those deep wells more often than most realize. As a pastor of a smaller church family that's seen its share of challenges, staying focused on Jesus' love has meant that when the storms come I know they come with needed rain and that they will not last forever. God loves me and works everything together for my good - even if it doesn't feel like "good" at the time. And that same beacon keeps me straight at school too.

Every year as a teacher is different. Obviously there are new children and new parents to know and relate to. Less obvious to the outside world are the changes in what you teach and how you teach. Let's just say we are in a time of extremely rapid change that's affecting everyone.

Teaching relies on a lot of skills, but really good teaching has that and more - good teachers have a character that lets them sway with the wind but stay rooted in their confident belief that if they do the right things every day, children will come through their classroom and leave as better students and better people. Like my work as a pastor though, that belief is tested by the times when you can't see the change happen, or when you look out and see people headed the wrong way despite everything you invested and prayed for.

So you learn to pray for rays of sunlight in the dark days - for glimpses of God's mercy and grace. You say things to Him like "If I could just see one thing go right today..."

In the avalanche of prayers that reach His ears, I'm sure that seems trivial. But absent confidence, teaching becomes something of a roller coaster ride depending on immediate success to keep you going. But this time of year, 12 weeks in, immediacy isn't always there.

Our awards ceremony comes for the first nine weeks and I have only one student who qualifies. Most classes have 6 or more. Four of my kids missed it by one point, but they missed it. I'm trying to shake the feeling that somehow I failed.

So I'm sitting in the audience after my turn, watching the 4th graders troop across the stage and applauding when they do, but harder when my kids from last year do. About halfway through,I notice a kid who had the teacher next door to me last year made it. He struggled last year for a lot of reasons out of his control, and a couple of times his teacher had asked me to talk to him. I tried to let him know that it wouldn't always be that hard, and the best thing he could do was do his best at the things he could control. Then I had him look directly at me when I told him that I believed he could and should be an honors student.

And now he was. That was cool to see, but then it happened.

As the 4th graders filed past me, returning to their seats, the boy stopped in front of me and said, "I did it Mr. Wilson. Just like you said I could."

I replied, "Just like I knew you could. Great job!"

A sense of warmth and love filled my soul. I needed that. I had prayed for that.

Thank you God. You were there for me, just like You said.