Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Desert bliss

I don't remember ever caring about the desert.  My few trips were hasty ones, passing through as if the desert terrain was merely to be endured until reaching our final destination--the mountains, the ocean, etc.

A few years ago we began traveling to the Scottsdale-Phoenix area to watch the SF Giants in Spring Training.  Our third trip in four years concluded on Tuesday and I realize that the greatest "high" for me in our eleven days away was NOT the SF Giants (they lost three of the four games we watched!) nor the great restaurants we ate at (don't miss Banderas in Scottsdale), but the beauty and the majesty of the desert.

Someone once remarked to me, "You have to be really old and bored to enjoy the desert!" I qualify in at least fifty percent of that equation--and I am not bored!--but I confess I have come to love the desert.  We have hiked many miles over its terrain and just last week climbed a small but challenging mountain trail in Usery Park near Mesa, Arizona.  I was overwhelmed by its quiet beauty and astonished again by how small vibrant flowers can grow literally out of rock formations on  the dry desert floor.  The giant saguaro cacti and the prolific yellow flowers that dotted the landscape against  brown and green desert flora and fauna was exhilarating to examine and contemplate.

Some of the early mystics wandered off to the desert to think and to contemplate.  I used to wonder why they "escaped" to the desert with all of its barrenness but I have discovered that it holds the same appeal for me.  I wrote about it while there.

Pieces of bright yellow-like fresh patches on a tattered green quilt
 Peaking through the desert maze like beacons of bright light.
Stately saguaros stand like sentinels guarding the landscape
 Towering above the restless shrubbery tickled by gentle morning breezes.
Light brown quail feverishly peck at the spotty dry grass
 Searching for a morning delicacy to propel them on their daily flight.
Vibrant red flowers punctuate the yellow-graced flora
 Framing the backdrop of graceful palo verdes spreading their sinewy branches.
A grey-blue sky brushed with cloudy white streaks
 Hovering over a still spring morning anticipates the glare of hot afternoon sun.
And I, in my quiet contemplative morning solitude
 Awaiting the call of creation's sweet embrace and glory
Rest in the knowledge that the one who spoke life into desert spaces
 Delighting in my happiness and joy meets me here with His love and grace.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Once a pastor, always a pastor

I recently decided to take a break from FB because I discovered I was slowly slipping into pastoral mode every time I read of a friend's need or heard a cry for help.  I realized that though I had retired from active full-time pastoral ministry over eighteen months ago, I actually was "back in the saddle".

I have been trying to figure out why this has happened, since I left the pastoral ministry I loved willingly--mostly because I was tired.  In reading the book BEING MORTAL by Atul Gawande, a NY Times bestseller, I was reminded that what keeps us functional and productive is the desire to be/feel "significant".   Having recently "celebrated" my sixty-seventh birthday, I have been rehashing these last months and asking if I am still feeling significant.

Such a question wreaks at some levels of self-absorption and pride; at another level for me, however, I think it links me to the core value I have that my significance is found in my relationship to Jesus Christ and my pursuit of His purpose for my life.  Since I was twelve years old--and a rebel at that--I have never doubted that God called my to pastoral ministry, birthing within my heart, a love for people and a sensitivity to their needs.  Though my circumstances have changed, my heart and passion has not.

I am resolved that God's call to pastoral ministry has only changed in scope and setting for me.  God has opened numerous doors for me--teaching occasionally at a Chinese church, leading adult SS electives at our church, mentoring young pastors, coaching our growth group shepherds, "pastoring" our homeless through God's Storehouse (church program providing food for 150 families weekly), directing our pastors in Haiti through TLC, and through my weekly sessions with counseling clients--that my opportunities to shepherd are ongoing.

The daily challenge for me is to know when to say "no", and to realize that I can't fix anyone--that's God's job.  Its's my welcomed privilege to point people to Christ, and to share how He uniquely is poised to meet their needs.

Once a pastor, always a pastor.  That's how I affirm my significance in Christ.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Update on Haiti

Several exciting things are happening in Haiti and they reflect the burgeoning needs we confront as we work there.

*Our Marriage Seminar in February brought 400 pastors and wives to consider what a godly marriage looked like.  One pastor's wife commented, "My husband came home and apologized for the way he had been treating me and promised to change."

*In February we were challenged by a small orhpanage housed in tents and have since, due to the vision of Nancy Stevens, begun to raise funds for a building where 25 of these children are currently staying under the direction of Mrs. Dorcely.

*In May we ministered to 350 pastors in Port au Prince and Les Cayes utilizing the text books our support team helped to purchase--"Basic Bible Doctrine.  This is a critical class in helping our pastors understand the fundamentals of the faith as revealed in the Word.

*In July a group of 19 from Grace Fellowship Church including nine teens will travel to Haiti to hold Vacation Bible School classes for over 1000 children; additionally, Wendy Chadwick, director of The Bridge, will spend time evaluating a program that currently matches 46 students form the school at Carrefourpoy with church families.

*In August, a seminar training teachers will be offered in Port au Prince as well as a teaching class on the book of Acts.  Doug and Nancy Stevens are spearheading this effort.

*In November Logan Carnell and I will return to finish the second half of Basic Bible Doctrine; after this, only one class remains for our students to complete--Homiletics--in May, 2015, prior to graduation.

It's a huge challenge to meet the needs of our Haitian brothers and sisters.  Our primary focus remains training pastors to lead and guide their congregations to the true help and hope we find in Christ.  For more information, contact me at

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

winning and losing and losing

I am an SF Giant's fan.  A fair weather fan, I guess.

They have lost 10 of their last 13  and most of those to lower echelon teams.  I am tired of watching them; in fact, my patience grows thin as I watch them either not pitch or not hit or both.

They started the season with a  soft whimper that crescendoed to a loud roar.  I loved watching them and applauded their better-than-expected fortunes that watched them climb to a 42-21 record, the best in the majors.  Since then, reality has set in.

And I don't want to watch any more.

I wonder as I sit and mope in my office/bedroom as they are losing badly again to a bad team, how it would be if God was a fair weather fan of mine--if He only showed up to applaud my occasional victories and disappeared at my recurrent defeats.

God is a more than fair weather fan of mine.  He is my advocate, my counselor, my Great Physician, my constant friend.

He's not like me.

Maybe I will figure it out.  Until then I'm in my office.

Friday, April 11, 2014

once a pastor, always a pastor

I have been retired from the pastoral ministry for over a year now.  It ha s been a much more difficult transition than I envisioned.  I have been engaging in some self-talk (I suppose people wonder why I am talking to myself...) and asking, "Why?"  "Isn't this what you wanted?"  "Isn't this how you felt God was directing your life path?"  The answer to both of those questions is a resounding "yes".  I would add without hesitation that not for a moment have I ever felt I made the wrong decision.

Still, it has been difficult.  And I guess, in the final analysis, after forty-six years of being a pastor, it is "painfully" true--once a pastor, always a pastor.  I think it's mostly the things I miss, like...

Preaching and teaching--I prayed, prepared and looked forward to the task of sharing the Word of God every Sunday morning and nothing gave me a greater sense of fulfillment than standing in the pulpit--fearful though the responsibility was--and proclaiming the truth of God's Word.

Staff meetings--I loved the guys (and ladies) I worked with.  We were a team and each of them contributed something special to my life.  Having just shared in a memorial service for our former pastor to senior adults, i was reminded of how many good times of fellowship and deep friendship we as a staff shared together.

Work days--I enjoyed working shoulder-to-shoulder with the men of the church.  There is something about getting your hands dirty and breaking a sweat that creates a bond with your brothers-in-Christ. We spent a lot of hours together building a facility and maintaining the grounds, and I personally enjoyed that.

Crisis visitation and counseling--I was drawn to the "fellowship of suffering", recognizing that deep attachments are formed in the valley of suffering and even death.  It was in those times of coming alongside those in need with the comfort and counsel of the Word that I felt the presence of God most real.

Worship and music--I loved our music and every Sunday morning Beverly and I came early for a sneak preview of the music for the morning.  It was always a special time for both of us and we were doubly-blessed, because we heard it several times.  There was a comfort zone with out worship leader and our worship teams that I miss.

Yes, there are some things I don't miss--I am glad I am not in charge, that I don't have to make key decisions, that I can go home at night and be truly done with my work, and that my phone rings less.

But I miss the pastoral ministry that gave me such joy for so many years.

Before anyone feels sorry for me, let me assure you that we attend a great church pastored by my stepson.  He's even let me preach, and recently, I concluded a ten part series on "Commitment: The VOW Factor in Marriage" for an adult SS elective.  I am doing referral pastoral counseling for the church pastors and enjoying a Growth Group in which we participate.  I have had some mentoring opportunities as well, so we remain committed to ministry.

And sometimes, even for a moment, I still feel like a pastor.

Thursday, March 20, 2014


I awakened today to an unexplained sense of uneasiness.  Where did it come from?  Why did it assault me in the early uncomplicated hours of the morning?  Why did it leave me feeling nauseous and almost, for a moment, panicky?

It is several hours later and a sense of calm has come over me.  I have been reflective in between counseling appointments and have made several observations about my morning demeanor.

1.  I am uneasy because I am worried.  I am worried about things over which I have zero control.  How foolish is that?

2.  I am uneasy because I have two close friends in critical physical condition and
 I am fearful for them.  Both are believers and both are at peace with God.  What is this "third party" fearfulness?

3.  I am uneasy because I am stuck with how to deal with some issues of personal discipline that are haunting me.  Why did I eat so many late night snacks...again?  What about my blood sugar numbers do I need to remember when I am careless?

4.  I am uneasy because I don't like some emotional hurts I am still harboring.  It pains me to see me unable--unwilling--to release hurt and disappointment to the Lord when generally I have done this more easily.  What's the point in not releasing these?  How am I helped by continuing to rehearse them?

5.  I am uneasy because my car is all of a sudden costing me a significant amount of money. More today after already spending big bucks this week.  I have the money, so why am I groaning after eight years of owning this car and never before having to spend any money except for basic maintenance?

I can figure this all out in my head, but my flesh clamors for my emotional engagement in these areas, no matter how counter-productive it may be.

I bowed my head this morning and prayed.  "God, you know my needs, you know me.  You know my heart is to trust you even when my flesh lags behind.  I give my uneasiness to you and ask for your peace this moment.  Thank you, Lord."

I am ready for another counseling appointment.  They may have issues of uneasiness to process as well.  I know the answer...

Thursday, March 06, 2014

Missions and me

We attended our first missionary conference at our new church home this last week.  The emphasis was on understanding the Islamic faith and identifying effective ways for sharing our faith.  We enjoyed the opportunities we had to listen to stories from faithful missionaries to Muslims around the world.

For the first time in a long time I was not the pastor in charge of promoting the conference; I was a participant, a layman, a listener.  It was a new place for me to be in many ways.  The challenge as a pastor was to try to figure out how the message of missions could be translated to lay people in such a  way that they would be more than spectators.  I never felt that we accomplished that as well as I would have liked.

What I remembered today was this--a burden for the lost is something God places in our hearts.  John tells us that as believers it is impossible to see our brother in need and NOT respond...IF the love of  Christ dwells within us.  See I John 3:16,17.  Although the context  is physical needs, it is impossible to not make the connection to spiritual needs.  

Missions conferences can help us visualize the plight of people around the world in a dramatic way--but only a life indwelt by the Holy Spirit can respond with Christ-like love for the plight of those who desperately need Him.

Such love motivates action.  My question from the conference--"What am I doing to fulfill God's commission to help carry the gospel to the world?"

I am thinking about it; what about you?