Monday, May 30, 2011

A Memorial Day Reminder

"The soldier, above all other men, is required to practice the greatest act of religious training--sacrifice. In battle, and in the face of danger and death, he discloses those divine attributes which his Maker gave when He created man in His own image. No physical courage and no greater strength can take the place of the divine help which alone can sustain him."

Douglas MacArthur

Friday, May 27, 2011

The Mosaic That Is New Hope

mosaic.jpg (418×275)
Workers Clean A Mosaic Marking the Oldest Church in Israel
Mosaic has several acceptable definitions, but I like this one:

"A combination of diverse elements forming a more or less coherent whole."

And I'm conflicted about whether I like the "combination of diverse elements" part better than the "more or less coherent whole" phrase. I guess since "more or less" makes me smile, I'll go with that.

There are people whose edges are sharp here at New Hope. Some who don't seem to fit anywhere. Others whose edges have been worn smooth by life's cares. Others who seem okay. But you know what?

We're all broken.

All in need of mending.

And the grace of God is our glue.

I can't think of a single person who isn't in need of grace or who New Hope would turn away. Jesus accepted us into His family, so we're going to love as He first loved us.

Monday, May 23, 2011

I Don't Know What Works, But...

From It's Like Herding Cats
Just by writing that title I've made some of you smile as you enjoy a moment of zen and merriment (can those coexist? - oh well). Lord knows I can remember when I thought I did know. Those were heady days when I thought if I just plugged into this program, or we just advertised this way, the world both believing and unbelieving would stream to our church's doors. Insert Tab "A" into Slot "B" - simple as that.

Well, there were certainly times when something was working, and there are certainly times when nothing seems to work. But cause and effect don't seem to be tied together tightly, if at all. (And yes, I know - never resign on Monday :) )

Yep, don't know WHAT works.

But I know WHO works and is working all the time.


We've been trying to follow God's call to serve the least of these in our area. That took the form for years of giving food, helping with bills, even putting people up for a night or two. Then we felt that God was calling us to do more, so we started helping with "Supper On Saturdays" which is a local food distribution each week. We haven't overwhelmed them with support, but we have had several New Hope folks serve on a regular basis. We've seen things and met people we never would have. Been privileged to pray for needs we'd have never known existed. Then we started doing it by ourselves on Wednesday night.

One of the people we deliver to both on Saturdays and on Wednesday nights called today to share a prayer request. Her cousin was deathly ill, we had been there for her - could we pray?

Yes we can.

Betty is slowed by her age and arthritis, and it takes a while for her to get to her door. So you have to be patient and listen for her feet sliding across the heart pine floors. You can't give up on Betty. She's coming, she's just slow. She likes to talk to whoever delivers her food. She loves those dogs of hers a lot too. You know, I doubt Betty will ever come to New Hope. But I honestly do not think that's why we were placed in her life.

I think it was so Betty would know that God cares enough for her that He would send someone to listen, someone that would hear and understand, someone who would join her in her fears and grief. A few fellow strugglers like us.

That's why she called.

That's why we are here.

To do the work.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Do you know these people?

Bunny asked me yesterday if I had all the devotionals I have written over the years in one file that I could send her. She was thinking about ways we could take what we are doing now - serving the needs of our community by delivering meals - and add to that a bit of a word about following Jesus and an invitation to come and follow Him with our family at New Hope. I thought it was a good idea that we'll try to get done next week. But then she asked me if I had read them lately. I said that no, I hadn't. "You ought to. You wrote differently then. More tenderly."


Take a look at the picture above again. It was May of 2001. We had been at New Hope less than two years. Taken as we were leaving after worship on SUNDAY NIGHT :), we're looking like we just experienced something pretty good. And even though I'm obviously being strangled by that tie and imprisoned by a suit, when I look at the picture, I have to smile.

That guy though, isn't here anymore.

And I'm not sure how I feel about that, frankly.

We've gone through a lot since that picture was taken. Some of it was so wonderful that it was as if God had reached out and tied a bow on it, saying "with love." Some of it was so gut-wrenching that looking back, I am still amazed at how we made it through. But then that too - that safe passage through the storm - could have been wrapped up and tied with a ribbon by the same hand and carry the same saying.

In some ways, things affect me more now than they did back then. I'm just not writing as often. I'm so busy with church, school, work etc. that the time I had for silent reflection has shrunk. And those walks I used to have around the bayou with my beloved friend Henley the Great Dane stopped when we lost him. So...

Do this for me.


I'm not a great writer. But I can write and on occasion God uses it. While the guy in that photo isn't coming back, the guy here now, who is far more aware of just how amazing grace is - who treasures every day he wakes up and sees Bunny there beside him - who thinks he actually loves his boys more today than when they were born - who counts being New Hope's pastor as joy - that guy wants to do whatever God can use as long as he has breath. Pray that I would.

Thank you

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Small Town Smiles

From It's Like Herding Cats

Bunny and I attended the Lewis School band's Spring concert last Thursday night to see some of our kids perform. All of them did great. We've attended a bunch of these over the years, and I never leave without giving thanks to God for letting us be a part of the lives of these kids and their families. And really, of the "life" of this area.

It's different here in military communities.

Not everyone is military. But so many area that even events as simple and as American as a school band concert give you glimpses of what life is like for those who protect us, and those in their families who give so much behind the scenes. There's no way we can possibly thank them enough.

There was a dad with a camera at the concert. He, his wife and two little girls were sitting on the front row. He was fit and his haircut said he was probably Army or Marines. His wife was also young and seemed happy. Dark hair falling in ringlets and a wide smile made the littlest girl a concert in her own right as God was singing "look what I've given!" The dad was working hard trying to get a picture of his beginning band student. Crouching on the floor so low as he did, I wondered if he had used the same skills earlier in Afghanistan or elsewhere.

The flutes did a special Disney piece that the band director said one of his students came up with. He made a a point of recognizing her, saying that her family was getting ready to move to Kentucky. Immediately I thought "Ft. Campbell?" because several of the Explosive Ordinance guys we have known went there after graduation.

I go to these concerts, or any of the school events really, and come away knowing how blessed I am to be a pastor and to be part of this great experiment in freedom called America. Small town smiles are awesome.

And now, I share videos Bunny took at the concert. Enjoy!

The beginning band

The symphonic band

Monday, May 16, 2011

Monday Matters

Had a kind of tough day yesterday. Since I'm a pastor, you should interpret that to mean that Church didn't go well. Wasn't for lack of effort on the part of any of our leaders. We were here, prepped and ready to go. And I had a sermon I was excited about because I believed it had real potential to help people move closer to God and farther away from their fears. Music went well - we have put more time and effort into that lately than ever (by we I mean Bunny, the band, and the vocalists who practice hard).

But for whatever and a variety of reasons, turn out was low. God sent us some visitors or it would have been even lower. Thanks, Father.

Now I'm going to write something I don't want you to misunderstand. So I'll preface it by saying that I know that the Holy Spirit was here and the size of the crowd didn't affect that. And that since I've been doing this for quite a while now, having preached to crowds of hundreds and in one memorable Sunday evening - to just TWO, numbers are just numbers and I'm going to give it everything I have every time I get the opportunity believing that God will use it and whoever and however many are here deserve everything I have to give. They got it.

Now back to what matters. When you aren't here in church, whether here is New Hope, the Crystal Cathedral, Mosaic LA, FBC whatever and wherever... it hurts the cause of Christ. I am not going legalistic on you. Just stating the fact that your attendance matters a great deal - more than you know. That person you would have been sitting by needed a listening ear and yours wasn't present. Your voice would have made a difference too during the singing. Yes, even your voice. That kid you always speak to never got his weekly dose of encouragement. The little old lady you compliment left without one. You were missed.

When you aren't here, we are less than we ought to be.

Priorities. Priorities.

If you only knew.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Thank A Teacher Month

There were several moments I remember from my educational pursuits. A third grade teacher who read to us, my fourth grade teacher's kindness to an odd little boy with severe allergies, meeting a new friend in Junior High during desegregation, flunking out of college for lack of effort, going back as an adult husband and father and making straight A's. I've already written about Dr. Catherine Futral so I need to testify to the power of a math teacher to dispel fear, uncertainty, and doubt.

Hazel Struby wasn't a full time professor at Mercer University. She was what they called "adjunct faculty", which I'm sure to the administration meant "not a tenured educator", but in my experience then and many times since to me has meant "knows what they are talking about and loves to teach it." Kind of a play on the old "those that can't..." rip on the teaching profession - Hazel Struby (and many others like her I have known) both could DO and could TEACH thank you very much.

She had taught in the public schools, and in a local private school, but now and then taught at Mercer, helping people solve the riddle of Math. Well friends, Math to me was more of a primal fear than a riddle, because in my last encounters with it, both of which happened in my immature youth... Math had whipped my butt. I had become, after a very promising start all through elementary and junior high school, Math's whipping boy. I was that team the Harlem Globetrotters played every week. Looked good on paper - filled with former college stars - but somehow managed to lose every single stinking time. Geometry - F, Trig - F, College Trig - F. I gave up on Math, but here I was in college trying to get a Business degree to help my family prosper and make my wife and my Mother proud.

"I can't do Math" I said.

Hazel heard all that from me and laughed out loud. Not just an "I'm amused" laugh, but an "you are the funniest thing I have ever seen" laugh.

She told me I was looking at Math the wrong way. "Math is a puzzle begging to be solved. It lays clues all over the place, never acts in any way other than the way it always has. Math is like those crooks on the Darwin awards. You can whip it with half your brain tied behind your back - if you are willing to work. I guarantee it."

I was.

I don't remember the tipping point, but somewhere that first term I "got it."

Hazel helped me banish the fear and I never looked back - except like today - in thanks.

Saturday, May 07, 2011

Mother's Day Reflection

On July 15th, 1920, on the wrong side of the tracks down on Roff Avenue near "Mr Willingham's Textile Mill", a little girl was born to Henry and Bertie Bowden. Her parents were millworkers who had moved from the farm to the city in search of a better life. Each had lost a spouse to death before they met each other, and the family was a blend of Fosters and Bowdens.

The little girl grew to adulthood in that shotgun house, becoming the first of her family to get a high school diploma. During those years, she saw a sister die in a fire, a brother killed when his car stalled on the railroad tracks that ran parallel to the road. When she was 12, her father was hit by a car and died the next day. Hurt came often to Roff Avenue. The family grew tight - they had to. Somehow the widow "Bertie" raised all their kids and another couple of girls besides. Lodie was the big sister now, and she went to school and worked in the mill too. Whatever it took to help, she did.

She met a young man who lived in the same mill village, and just as World War Two began, they married. He was sent away, and in a year or so, she enlisted herself. They saw each other once during the War, in Manila.

After the war, they had both changed. Everything had.

They divorced, and then love found them again, and they remarried.

One day they got the news she was pregnant with twins. Nine months later they got the news the babies wouldn't survive. Yet when the twins were born, (my older brothers Michael and Mitchell) due to complications from my Mother carrying them too long, they both died within a week of their birth.

Devastated doesn't begin to describe what my parents experienced.

My mother is in heaven now, but while she lived she very seldom ever talked about it. Oh, she might mention "the twins", but briefly, and quickly move on. It was a deep, lasting hurt that never really went away.

So many people never recover from such a wound. Marriages, even whole lives, just wither and die.

But not when you find the will to start over.

My Mother told me she found that will in Jesus Christ. The picture at the beginning of this post shows the back inside cover of a Bible she carried during her service as a WAC during WW2. In it, she identified with Jesus as Lord and Savior. I never knew there was a time when she didn't follow Jesus.

One day we were talking, and I brought up the loss of my brothers. She reached over and opened up her Bible and read me this.

10 Don't be afraid, for I am with you. Do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you. I will help you. I will uphold you with my victorious right hand. Isaiah 41:10 (NLT)

She told me she took God at His Word and started over.

I cannot imagine how much courage it took for her to do that. But whatever amount it took, her God supplied it.But a couple who had seen so much pain and held so much heartache, just wouldn't give up hope. One year later, I was born - the young woman was my Mother - Lodie Marie Bowden Wilson.

No other person had more influence on who I became than she did. Not one day in the years we shared on this earth did I not wake up knowing that my Mother loved me deeply.

When you are the recipient of love, like a Mother's love, most of the time you are blind to it. Days come and go, sacrifices are made for you. Some you might realize but poorly comprehend. Others you miss completely. When your children come along, understanding does too, and then when the giver passes away, the gifts are made visible in the loss of the one who gave them.

I cannot give her anything now. All I can do is give to others as I have been given to. When I was reading Philippians the other day, I came across this. Those of you who read it, do as I have done today and think about your life, and what someone years after you are gone will write about it in review. Will it be God-honoring? Will it be praiseworthy? What will be your legacy? Will you have pointed your family to Jesus? Can you write as Paul does here?

Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you. Philippians 4:9 NIV

Is your life worthy of being emulated? Are you living the life you'd want everyone to? If not, make the courageous choice and change direction. Follow Jesus.

Friday, May 06, 2011

Teacher Appreciation

It's "Teacher Appreciation" time in the US, which doesn't seem to be getting near the publicity here that "cut the teacher's pay 3%, increase the class sizes, and take away any job security they had" did. (Yes, that's sarcasm - thank my English teachers for that.) It's been a tough few months for all those who have devoted their lives to helping others learn and grow.

And yet, they went right on teaching.

They crafted lessons, sometimes having to make several changes to better reach children who struggle with learning disabilities, physical issues, or a lack of English.
They created and gave tests, or "assessments" as they are called now, because their purpose is to help determine what each child knows now, so that the teacher can change his/her instruction for better results later.
They graded hundreds of papers. I was grading spelling last week and after a while I wasn't sure myself how to spell some of the words. The teacher in the class laughed and handed me the list of words saying "that happens to all of us."

They kept trying to do one of the hardest jobs there is - relentlessly seeking to improve what they do in order to help others learn.

Teachers take what society sends them. Today's kids come from everywhere on the globe. When I subbed at Choctaw last month, I had students from Russia, Indonesia, Colombia, and Mexico as well as those who were born here. Most of those they teach are children of divorce. Some are homeless. Some come to school hungry, sleepy, sick. Some have parents that are extremely interested and supportive. Others do not.  And yet the teacher takes them as they are and tries their best every day to help them learn. I've been amazed to learn just how much each teacher I have worked with knows about their students and their home lives.

Teachers care.

Our church is blessed to have two public school teachers as part of our family of faith. (as well as several people headed in that direction :) ) Amy Anderson and Diane Weech are true servants and followers of Christ who are living out their calling every day in our public schools. They are deserving of praise for what they do. And they serve through New Hope as well, each contributing through their church family their talents and time.

So THANK YOU's go out to Diane and Amy as well as to all the other teachers who help see boys and girls grow up to be good citizens and lifelong learners.

And yes, if you can read this, thank a teacher.