Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Happy new year...?

The wish for a "happy new year" seems trite, and unrealistic, doesn't it? Happiness seems such a mercurial thing--here one day, and gone tomorrow.

As I reflect upon the past year, it was not "happy". I mean, it had its moments--two new grandchildren, camping in our trailer, nights at the movies with Bev, Mexican Train with our friends, working in the yard, trips to see our kids and grandkids, etc.

But it had its no so "happy" moments--the challenge of a difficult church building program, the loss of some special friends, the painful illnesses of loved ones, the breakup of some marriages, "getting-older" problems, etc.

So the wish for a "happy new year", though well-intentioned--must be tempered with realism. I am convinced that God never promised us this kind of happiness. What God did promise us is found in these words from Romans 14:17, "For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit..."

May God grant you a joyful new year!

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

the most wonderful time of the year

The song says "It's the most wonderful time of the year..." referring to the Christmas season. I concur!

Here's why...

1. The true focus is Christ's coming to earth to bring salvation. What could be more meaningful than that?

2. The special music of the season echoes forth sentiments of hope and family. I can embrace these afresh.

3. The seasonal beauty of Christmas lights and decorations against a dark night's backdrop is stunning. I love just looking.

4. The unparalleled love of family is distinctively heart-warming. I can't wait for our special holiday gatherings.

5. Theincredible privilege of giving helps me to see the needs of those much less fortunate than I. What could be more rewarding than sharing with someone else?

It is the most wonderful time of the year!

Friday, December 16, 2005

the marketplace

A young man told me today of his work-related stress.

It was not so much the job, but environmental. He has a Christian family-- small children and a wonderful wife--and loves his church family.

But every week he drives a significant distance to work to an environment where he feels like a stranger, an alien.

He would really like to find a job where he was in full-time vocational Christian service. He has a heart for serving people, and loves being around his Christian brothers.

But the marketplace is hard. It takes discipline to stay focused on God. It is challenging to look for opportunities to share his faith. And there are days when he goes home and says, "I dropped the ball today...I missed an opportunity".

From the safe confines of my pastoral office--insulated from the rest of the world--I reminded him that his sphere of influence IS his ministry and his children ARE his first priority. A positrion of vocational Christian service may await him, but until then, he is where God has placed him, and that, with purpose.

The marketplace comes to me. I generally am in my office studying or counseling, visiting at a hospital or in a home, ministering at the church. At that level I feel I have it easier than most. There are only isolated circumstances in which i feel I am a stranger, an alien.

So the real issue in focus here for my young friend is the old "in" the world but not "of" the world enigma and how that translates into his daily life.

My prayer is that he will make the marketplace a ministry center, a place where his life touched and changed by the grace of God, indelibly impacts the lives of those around him.

And, that when he goes home to his family, he will see his ministry to them as a spiritual leader, a high calling.

He may not be able to totally escape the enironmental stress, but, hopefully, his sense of divine placement and purpose will ennoble his day.

Thursday, December 15, 2005


The Samaritan woman who met Jesus at the well was there for water--to quench her thirst, assist in her family cooking, wash the clothes-- perform the daily functions accompanied by water.

She probably wasn't expecting an offer of "living water" when she met Jesus that day.

She expected to come back--day after day--to replenish her supply, with the knowledge that such water would never truly satisfy her deepest, innermost needs.

Needs that five husbands and now, a "boy friend" had never managed to meet as well.

But Jesus made her an offer she couldn't refuse--he told her if she drank His water she would never thirst again.

I am not sure she truly understood the significance of that offer but she said, "Give me some of that to drink!"

Jesus would tell her that He was exactly whom she was looking for--"I am He!"--and she would tell others of her discovery (see John 4).

Try the "living water". It satisfies the deepest needs of your heart.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005


I have had very little success trying to find traditional Christmas carols on the radio. I was excited about the prospect of attending a special musical function as a large church which does a Christmas "spectacular" each year. At last, Christmas carols...

Alas...no Christmas carols! Lots of good contemporary Christmas songs--which I enjoyed, too--but none of the traditional Christmas music I wait each year to hear.

I have been digging out my old Christmas cd's and playing them over and over again. As I write, the strains of "O Little Town of Bethlehem" serenade me from a cd entitled "Peaceful Christmas".

I love all of the Christmas music, but am lobbying for hearing the traditional Christmas carols!

A traditional "Merry Christmas!" to you...

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

The plight of "Tookie" Williams

The real tragedy for "Tookie" is that his death really resolves nothing.

One of the relatives of his murdered victims has said, "It will bring closure to it.."

The protesting placard reads, "Practice what U preach...Thou shalt not kill".

"Tookie" was found guilty of four murders during his time as a member of the Cripps' gang that he formed, a gang known for its violence and brutality. In his later years of incarceration he co-wrote several children's books against gangs, and sought to spread his anti-gang message.

Governor Schwarzenegger noted in his denial of clemency, "Williams protests that he had no reason to apologize for these murders because he did not commit them...without an apology for these senseless and brutal killings there can be no redemption."

What, then, are we left with?
the loss of four innocent lives
the suffering and anger of the victims' families
the death of a murderer
the justice of our criminal system

Is anything learned? Is anything if value salvaged by an act of capital punishment?

I will let others debate the issue although I believe that capital punishment is NOT the State's decision, but a decision by the criminal to "do his thing" and "take his chances", whatever the motivating circumstances.

The court has said he is guilty. The law insists he must die.

And so he did.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Ken Riffe

Ken was my father's friend. My dad would be 83 years old if he were still alive (he died seventeen years ago) and Ken was 86. He died Monday.

Ken was one of the kindest men I have known. He was a man whoa lways smiled, and never complained. He was the janitor at the church and school, and more recently, my brother's "right arm" man is doing the mundane chores that are part of maintaining a church facility.

Ken found out he had terminal cancer about a month ago. He ended up having surgery and being bed-ridden because of the cancer lodging in his spine. He was in alot of pain in his final days.

I got to see him a few days before Thanksgiving. I realized how valuable people like Ken are to a pastor. They are the supportive ones behind the scenes who do the "little things" that make our job easier. Ken was that to both my dad and now my brother.

Ken was my friend, too, and I what I will remember was our embrace before I left him and his smile as we left the room. I will miss him.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

old cars

We have a 1995 Volkswagon Jetta that is a car my wife desired for a long time. It belonged to her son and she always told him, "When you get ready to get rid of it, I want it."" That exciting date arrived several months ago.

Now Chad reminded us it was an older car even though he took great care of it (and warned us that we probably didn't want to buy it). It looks "brand new", BUT it has had a series of repairs and necessary improvements since we got it.
New tires, New belts, New hoses, New radio,
New mats, New door trim
The latest news is that something is wrong with the axle and so it is at the mechanic's once again.
We have been asking the question, "How much more do we want to put into it?" but we always remember we don't have a car payment and once this is done, there isn't that much left that can go wrong...We hope.
I was thinking that when God got ahold me I was pretty run down and "messed up" even though I probably looked deceptively "okay" on the outside. I am certain that God has wondered aloud sometime since He purchased me, "How much more do I want to invest in him?" I don't want to seem silly or frivilous, but it is pretty amazing that God is still committed to me.
I think I will keep the Jetta. As the owner I remain committed to its upkeep and maintenance. It will probably need brakes and something else down the road but I am in for the long run...
So is God's committment to me.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005


I suppose there is always a moment when I am with my children and grandchildren that I think, "I do NOT want to go back to the real world...it's more fun here with them!" It is inwardly "tearful" for me when I say "good-bye" because I am never certain how long it will be before we get to see each other again.

It was fun to listen to six year old JJ read second grade books, and to wrestle with Milla while she giggled uncontrollably. And it was wonderful to hold none month-old Owen for the second time and to see those big eyes acknowledge me as another admirer...and to hope they won't grow up too much more before my next vsiit.

I loved being with my children--Jeff, Jen and Greg--and Jeanette and TJ, who I love like my own kids. They pampered me and spoiled me for four days...and I felt proud, because when I look at them, I see something good...something good in spite of me.

But I have returned...to a full desk, a busy church, and, most of all, to the woman I love. I miss my Texas family already, but I have returned to the place I belong.