Thursday, December 28, 2006

it's that time of year again

In just another few days 2006 will be another year completed. We will flip over the calendar and it will be a "new year".

We come to the end of this year with heavy hearts. Our church has experienced the moral failure of one of its youth personnel and we are grieving its impact on our young people, our extended church family and the community as a whole. For me, as a pastor, there is great concern, as well, for how the name of Christ and His church are perceived in the midst of such failure.

I am reminded of several things that have personally taken me to task as I scrutinize my own life.

1. What are my areas of personal vulnerability?

2. What am i doing to shore up the lines of personal defense through transparency, integrity and accounability?

3. Am I continually aware of my own daily need of God's grace and mercy?

As I look to the "new year" I am aware of my penchant for making resolutions, drawing up programs of structured phsyical and spiritual disciplines...and then leaving them behind.

However, the experiences of the past year--grinding through a church building program that took longer than we thought and dealing with serious extended family crises that hurt more than I could have imagined--have taught me something new already about my dependence upon God and my need for accountability and affirmation with others.

I see the "new year" as an opportunity to keep on doing some oft he things I have learned and to invest these lessons in my relationship with ten men ho I connect with one-on-one each week.

It's that time of year again--and although my heart is filled witha mixture of sadness and joy--I am looking forward to my continuing adventure in my walk with God.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Pottery Barn chairs

We have six pottery barn chairs for sale. We list the "make" because we know some people love anything from Pottery Barn. We posted a picture of the chair and have been waiting for several days now to see if anyone can't live without our six chairs in "like new" condition...(call if interested)

"Born again" Christians. "Spirit-filled" Christians. "Evangelical" Christians. There is probably a bunch of other modifiers that are used to draw a distinctive association, I guess, with the brand of Christian in view.

It is tragic that the word "Christian" needs an adjective to embellish it or to distinguish it. The word "Christian" in and of itself should be enough. It literally means "little Christ".

But we all know that "Christian" can be used to describe anyone living in American, a person who goes to church regularly, someone who isn't pagan, a good and moral person...and the list goes on.

We need our modifiers. Otherwise, we may be talking about any old Christian, and that image is left for conjecture without the appropriate adjective.

Chairs--six of them for sale.

Not justy any old chairs. Pottery Barn chairs.

Monday, December 11, 2006


My mother was in church on the church I, pastor. I mean, she has been in church every Sunday for a hundred years, but on this Sunday she was at Grace Fellowship Church in Jackson, California. She came with my sister, Diane, which made it an even more special treat for me.

My twin brother, Dennis, pastors the church in Sotckton where my mother lives and where she faithfully attends each Sunday. My father was the founding pastor of the church, now fifty years old. Even though it has changed faces, locations--and even denominations--it is till the church begun in the frontroom of our home in 1956.

My fatrher has been gone for eighteen years but my mother has remained the steadying influence in the church so she is there every Sunday.

That is why it was such a blessing to have her with us on Sunday. She had faithfully prayed for the building of our church facility and I wanted her to see it, and to worship with us in it.

It happened on Sunday.

I was glad my mom was there.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Bad feet

My friend has two bad feet; actually, they are bad ankles, brutally damaged in a horrible automobile accident over ten years ago. Multiple infections and surgeries later she still has extreme pain to deal with daily. She can hardly take a step without being reminded of that horrible day.

It is possible to be wounded deeply emotionally as well and to be so impacted by an event of the past that every thing we do is in some way influenced by that hurt.

How does one deal with deep pain and hurt? You can't cut off your feet or have an ankle transplant. You can't erase the painful memories of hurt and abuse. How do we cope with such trauma in our lives.

Consider that the event(s) under consideration have the potential of being "life-changing". That is a potentially trite, pollyannish distinction. Except for the fact, it is often true.

My friend cannot go places she once went, cannot sleep as she once slept, cannot enjoy doing many of the things she once did. Her life has changed.

Someone I know who was traumatized by an abusive father lives every day with the emotional scar tissue of being devalued by his self-indulgent behavior. She is not the same person she once was.

Life-changing? Definitely.

But my friend with bad feet has not sstopped living and caring for others; even as I talked to her today--in the middle of accelerated pain--she was thinking about a mutual friend undergoing catastrophic surgery. She would call me tearfully minutes later to report the surgery's success, and rejoice that everything was okay.

My other friend with the heavy family trauma prayed with me over the phone a few months ago during a personal time of emotional upheaval. Her acquaintance with deep family crisis ministered to me in a unique way as she prayed from the depths of her own experience with a faith that buoyed mine.

Bad feet.


Bad memories.


But life-changing lessons passed on to others, while they still limp, and sometimes weep.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

stories of grace

Today I read the detailed written account of someone's experience in meeting God. It is a story of different turns and twists, but in the end, it is the story of one's search for Christ.

It is interesting because the writer sees his story as unique--and concerning the details and specifics, it is.

But as I read it, I realized it was not unlike my story--or for that fact, any believer's story--who has found Christ.

What we have in common, when all is said and done, is a story of God's love and grace.

It is often dramatic. It is miraculous. It is always worth retelling.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006


I received a very vitriolic letter yesterday from someone who is very angry at the church. I was singled out as being a liar and tagged with other unkind labels. Sadly, our church has invested much in this individual and these accusations are especially painful.

I shared with my staff later in the morning about the grieving process i went through, and continued in this morning. There is the unavoidable checking of ourselves when we have been accused. I tried not to be defensive and to be open to any hint of truth in the charges made against me. I chose not to share the letter with anyone else becasue unkind statements are made against other brothers and sisters which I know are not based in fact.

I reminded myself that we had done our best.

Does such a conclusion that absolves me of guilt mean that (a)I can't do better or (b)I can't learn from such hurtful situations. Of course not.

But I have learned I can't control how people react. I must be accountable to God--and I can, volitonally, be accountable to my staff brothers.

In the end, I am left to my thoughts and to my sadness.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

thanksgiving 2006

I woke up today to three grandchildren snuggling in bed with me, asking "Grandpa and Grandma, tell us stories..." What could be better than that!

Here is my thanksgiving list for today...

*Ten grandchildren and six children (and their spouses) all in good health

*Both of our mothers--age eighty-two--doing well

*A beautiful and wonderful wife (how did I manage to be so blessed?)

*A completed church buildng--after thirty months!

*A devoted assortment of reliable friends

*A place to work that I love

*A glorious hope in Christ!

Thanksgiving 2006 is a special time for me. Never have I felt a deeper sense of gratitude to God for His faithfulness, mercy and grace towards me. I am truly blessed.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

the incredible krysta

Some people impact you in ways that defy description. Krysta, a young lady I know, is one of those people.

Krsyta has been battling leukemia for the last three years and until about four months ago it appeared she was on a long-awaited path to healing. Hers is a particularly isidious brand of leukemia and the treatment itself was physically devastating for Krysta. Now, just when she has emerged from the shadow of treatment, she is facing it once again as the disease has reappeared.

It's funny but I have wrestled with my own emotions about this, and I am just a pastor and friend. It is not easy to process the "whys" of sickness and disease and the apparent incongruity of bad things impacting good people. There are no "pet" answers for we "men of the cloth". We battle as well with our own questions and search for scriptural rationale for the occurrence of things we don't understand. In the end we are left to affirm or disavow our own faith in God's fathfulness and grace.

It is an easier task to affirm my faith because of Krysta, because she has unabashedly done so. I observed Krysta during her first battle with leukemia and watched her survive a variety of potentially life-threatening situations. I saw someone emerge with a strong and quiet confidence in God.

News of the leukemia's return was a shock--literally on the heels of being told she was doing great and that her doctor visits would be reduced. I know Krysta had to process this information and decide what she would do about her own faith. And, thankfully, she has embraced it wholeheartedly.

Today we talked about the next several months, culminating in a bone marrow transplant on January 16th and a year of heavy-duty follow-up treatment. What impressed me most about Krysta once again was her quiet confidence in God and her desire to make the hospital an evironment in which she could share her faith.

No wonder I am impacted by Krysta. The validity of her faith in God is contagious for me as I struggle with the "whys" I can't answer. I am encouraged to trust the God we both serve and to be stronger because of her.

Thanks, Krysta.

Sunday, October 29, 2006


It is about 7 a.m.--yes, we remembered to set our clocks back--but I have been awake since 3:20 a.m. This is the time every Sunday where I try to reflect on my sermon notes and prepare mentally for the preaching/teaching of the gospel to the people God has entrusted to my care.

This is like most Sundays--thoughts of my inadequacy, concerns about the contour of the service, structural concerns (we are stil setting up in a rented building), etc. It is difficult in such a cluttered environment to think clearly about the Word I feel called to preach.

Why is that? The discipline of the mind to do what God has called is not automatic. Paul's directive to "set your mind on things above" in Colossians 3 is a clear indication that such a mindset does not happen as a matter of osmosis or robotic stimulus' rather, it is a discipline of the will and the intellect to focus on things spiritual.

And so, every Sunday, I seek to do this. I get up early, spread my sermon notes on my desk and ask God to clarify for me once again His purpose for me, His message through me. Bev and I set aside time to drink coffee and to pray. Often, I rehearse the salient points of my message and listen for her words of approval and assurance.
Sometimes she raises a questions, asks for a point of clarification and, more often than not, those are factored into my message.

Why share this with you? I think everyone of us require the same preparation for a meaningful Lord's Day. We don't just slide into Sunday at the end of a week of hurrying from one responsibility to another, and then to Sunday services because that's what we always do. Well, maybe that's what we do.

But Sundays can be so much more if we will prepare our minds for the Word and our worship of the Lord. It will take disciple, setting our mind on things above.

And it's not just for Sundays!

Thursday, October 26, 2006

the plight of the 21st century missionary

The plight of the 21st century missionary is that he struggles to raise his support. It is common practice for missionaries to come back to the States on "furlough" to rest (hah!) and renew the support needed while they are serving ina foreign country.

More often than not, missionaries visit churches which allow them (maybe) an opportunity to share their passion and needs (usually in that order). The testimony of most missionaries--and church pastors--is that attendance is generally down when a missionary's visit is announced, and that the financial response is minimal.

I suppose that phenomenon, tragic as it is, can be dismissed with the cursory, "I already give to too many things", or, "There are enough needs here for me to support", or, "How do I know what they are doing with their money", etc.

Two missionary families that I support are doing a great work in Africa. One works in Malawi at an African Bible College training young men and women to minister to their own people. The other operates a printing press in Uganda and prints Christian outreach and training materials for churches and others who evangelize and train believers.

What do these two missionary families have in common? They need more support; in fact, one may have to come home from the field if support is not raised.

Here's the kicker. The plight of the 21st century missionary is...the church. The church is more committed to spending money on itself--often, to fatten the already obese--than it is to train others to share the gospel with those spiritually starved and mal-nutritioned.

May God help us.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Cleaning a floor seems like such a mundane task. No special skills training required.


When the floor is 9,000 square feet and the surface being cleaned has been stained with two coats of acid-based stain, there are special considerations, to be sure.

The application of the water on the acid-etched concrete surface is a tricky one because water must be applied again and again (and again), until no dirty water remains. The water neutralizes the acid and sits on the surface discolored until it has been sufficently rinsed. This completed, the floor is ready to be sealed.

About twenty of us gathered at the building site today to tackle the sanctuary floor. It had already been stained and was ready for the rinsing stage described above. There was plenty of equipment--buckets, five gallon containers, "squeegies", mops, cleaning rags, a hose, extension cords, a buffing machine, etc.

What was needed was coordination--who would give directions? Who would share the necessary precautions? Who would assign tasks? Who would demonstrate the appropriate technique for using the buffer? Was there enough work to go around? Was there sufficient equipment to fill every willing hand?

A task we calculated would last all day took us four hours! Our work force included people ranging from 10 years to 80 years of age, ten men and ten women. Each one worked--did their share of the task. Some evidenced obvious experience in using a mop and a squeegie; a few of the men could control the buffer. Some of the stronger guys moved water in and out and a few of the others demonstrated profiency in wielding a hose.

In the end the task was finished, and completed well. A morning snack of donuts and drinks was followed with sandwiches, chips and cookies for those who worked and could stay.

Cleaning a floor, though a mundane task from another's point of view, was a glorious picture to me of how the church works. Everyone pitches in and does their part. Some have skills and strengths that others don't have, but the others bring their own contribution and willing spirit to serve to the completion of the total task.

The result? A beautiful sanctuary floor!

Here's the deal. In the days ahead we will have opportunity as a body of believers to work together to do some things that have eternal value, things that are more than buildings and floors.

I can't wait to see what that looks like!

Friday, October 13, 2006


For the last thirty months we have been building church home. It has taken a lot longer than we planned, cost a lot more money than we budgeted, and presented more challenges than we imagined.

But we are almost done!

We are finishing air conditioning, fire suppression, the sanctuary floor, outdoor parking...and a number of other last minute tasks. Almost!

And then we have a frantic week of cleaning to do--windows, carpeting, touch-up painting, furniture placement, etc. Almost.

And, then, we need an occupancy permit to have our first service on November 5th.

I met with a county supervisor who walked with me through the building; I had called him because we are waiting--again--on the building department, andI needed someone to "encourage" them to help us move throught this process which is almost completed.

I have runa few 10K's in my younger days and I know how it was to be almost at the finish line. there was a unique euphoria and burst of energy as the end of the race was in sight.

That's where I am to day. Euphoric.

We are almost there.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006


She has been a single mother for a long time, even when her husband lived with her. In fact, even now she allows him to have a room at the house even though he is an alcoholic, and for all intents and purposes, their marriage is over.

She is extraordinary.

Her parents were divorced when she was young, and she had little contact with her father until the final years of his life when he became terminally ill. She was with him at the hospital when he died, praying for him and sharing her faith.

She is extraordinary.

Her mother returned to her mother's home (her grandmother) to care for her as she died from Alzheimer's disease and became totally disabled and depedent in her final days. It was her granddaughter's faith that buoyed her mother's as she cared for a dying grandmother. Her mother's walk with the Lord has grown in the shadow of her daughter's.

She is extraordinary.

Her oldest son, totally dedicated to Christ, has distinguished himself in every way and is now preparing for vocational Christian service. He lives, for the moment, in the home where his mother cares for his angry and alcoholic father. He has observed her love and grace and he is becoming like her.

She is extraordinary.

Her faith is what has transformed her. I have known her since the days she babysat my youngest son as a typical teenager. What I see now is a mature woman, fully engaged with her family and church, spending her life in causes that reap eternal dividends.

I saw her today and visited with her.

She is extraordinary.

Thursday, October 05, 2006


We want to communicate, I assume, and that is why we engage in verbal and written messages with one another. Sometimes body language accomplishes what we need to say.

But what do we do when we want to communicate thoughts that are diametrically opposed to those of the receiver? We feel like we need to express ourselves but we know at the outset that it is risky, and we can even extrapolate (with a certain degree of accuracy) what the response will sound like.

When we read or listen to the response--or interpret the body language--we ask ourselves, "Why did I even bother?"

And, yet, some of us are driven to communicate. We want to "dialogue"about the things that matter to us. Obviously, we would like an agreeable and affirmative response. Often, however, the response we receive is contrary and even cantakerous. Is the process, then, of any value?

I say "yes!"

It is valuable because we have determined that sharing our feelings is more important than remaining silent to avoid confrontation. We learn to do it in a "winsome" way--non-judgmentally, kindly--and then resign ourselves to the fact the response may not what we desire but telling the truth about how we feel is worth the attempt at dialogue.

What do you think? I promise to listen.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

a cold or allergies, or...?

Is it allergies or is it a cold?

Runny nose, stuffed head, itchy throat, draining mucus (I know, it sounds horrible...and it is!), sore throat, cough, occasional headache (or sinus ache)...

Anyway, I have had one of the two--or a combination of both--for the last few weeks, coinciding with my vacation. Not the best formula for a restful time away.

I thought about what I would say when people asked, "How was your vacation?" One option included a brief recitation of all of my physical woes, my quandry in distinguishing betweena cold and/or allergies.

Another option was to simply talk about the great time I had relaxing and resting in the shadow of Palm Springs for seven days.

And that's the option I have chosen, even though the cold I have had is not easily camouflaged.

Generally it is easy to get caught up between an exercise of deciding whether or not it is one thing or another that is making us feel badly. What we sometimes miss is the obvious.

Cold or allergies...I was in Palm Springs!

It was great!

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

break time

Bev and I will be gone September 22-October 2. It is a time we look forward to, getting away from our work and enjoying one another exclusively.

Break times are essential in life. I know for Bev and me these times can be more discretionary than for others and that helps us stay resilient in our work. Our church family looks out for our well-being and this is one of the privileges of their watchful care.

Sometimes we must take a break so we won't break--the pressures of life can be potentially overwhelming and we all need time to step away from our normal routine to be refreshed and encouraged.

I have learned, as well, that a break time is not a break from God. In fact, this is a time for us to draw close to Him, to reflect upon His Word, and to literally rest in the hope of His promises.

I will let you know how it went when we return as I take a break from my blogsite as well.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

9-11, five years later

The events of 9-11, now five years ago, have dominated the news and television media for the last few weeks. The human interest stories of courage and heroism are inspiring. The tragedy of lives lost and families torn apart are painful reminders of what happens when terror strikes.

We all can remember where we were and what we were doing on that fateful day. 9-11 is Bev's birthday so I got up early and wrote a "happy birthday" message in toothpaste on our bathroom mirror so she could it when she got ready for the day. I heard her laughing in the bathroom as I watched the early morning news and in moment we would both be sitting solemnly before the television screen in our bedroom, mesmerized by the pictures of devastation we saw.

There was a particularly poignant mement when Bev would break the silence by wondering frantically aloud about her son, Chad, who often traveled in his business to that area. We would later learn that a meeting he was to attend near the Twin towers had been cancelled for that morning.

I remember preaching a sermon on that Sunday that followed about how we cope with our fears and finding a highly-responsive audience grappling with its own heightened sense of mortality and anxiety. Almost everyone knew someone who was in one way or another touched by this tragedy.

Here's the deal for me. Are we different because of 9-11? Some people--though few--don't fly any more. All of us who air travel walk through more intensive machine screening and related delays when we take a trip. Now we have to leave our drinking water and hair gel behind, given the nature of terrorism's machinations.

But in the end, we are not all that different. Did 9-11 make us a more godly nation. I don't think so. Did 9-11 result in a long-term solid increase in church attendance? I know for a fact it did not. Are husbands and wives suddenly more attentive to one another knowing that the unforeseen events of the day could forever change their lives? No; in fact, I am seeing an escalation of family hostility and unresolved marital crises.

So, what it it about us that seems resistent to the terror and catastrophes of life? We have an almost "unhealthy" resiliency that allows us to forget the events of the past that could/should forever shape and mold us. I am certain that those who were immediately impacted by 9-11 carry forever the scars of that fateful day. But it almost seems as if it does not happen to us personally, we can segue to the next week or month without any long-term changes.

The catastrophic moments of life that I have experienced--divorce, loss of my father, battles with depression--have forever shaped me and, hopefully, for the better. I have said to God, "Help me not to go through anything as painful as this and not learn something that will make me a better person".

But all of my learning does not have to be from personal tragedy. I think I can learn from the tragedy of others. When I remember 9-11 I contemplate the shortness of life, the insecurity of the world, the importance of not leaving relationships unresolved, etc.

I think I am different because of 9-11. It is my wife's birthday so that day will always be meaningful. But now when I thinkof 9-11 I think of what we experienced together as a nation and what I, personally, hopefully, learned.

Sunday, September 10, 2006


As we move through our study of the Gospel of John, I have found meaningful help for the daily challenges of my life, which have accelerated in recent months. I am not proud of my wanderings into doubt and disillusionment but they are only momentary detours. I seem to always find my way back--thank God--to my unshakeable faith in God.

John 12:1-19 begins with the story of Mary's anointing of Jesus and then proceeds to His triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Her sacrifical offering of pure nard--a very costly perfume--is the expression of her love offering and devotion to Christ. In the succeeding verses we see the crowds welcoming Jesus shouting, "Hosanna", or "Save us now!" They are honoring Him with their palm branches and emotional accolades based on their expectation that He will be their poltical deliverer. Thus, they welcome Him as a triumphant king returning from battle.

Sadly, their "hosannas" will turn into "Crucify Him!" when the realization hits that an earthly kingdom is not what He is about. Their offering is a conditional one.

I want my daily offering to Jesus to be sacrificial and unconditional. Paul's admonition is Romans 12:1 is that in view of God's mercy and grace towards us it only makes good sense for us to offer ourselves as a "living sacrifice" unto Him (Barrett Paraphrase).

So for me, in the midst of some bad times and discouraging circumstances, I don't want to withdraw from God, or hold Him hostage for unmet expectations.

I choose to offer my life to Him again--without reservation--because I am confident He is here, present with me, and that He is more than enough for any challenge I will face today, and tomorrow.

Friday, September 08, 2006

processing grief

A young friend from out of town called this week to talk about how he was handling the untimely death of his father. A mother and I shared together about the frightening news of the possible relapse of her daughter and the troubling forecast of days to come.

Personally, I have been dealing with the unsettling news of a potentially-life threatening decision someone has made who I care deeply about.

How do we grieve? How do we process the information of life that breaks our hearts, touching the very emotional center of our being? How do we "get on with our lives" when the people we love are hurting?

I have wrestled with this through most of my ministrial years, getting "up close and personal" with people going through a divorce, facing death, responding to a drug-addicted son or daughter, etc. There is often nothing to say--no real comfort to offer--because the truth is that these are most often siutaitons that are out of our control. The choices that are being made--we can't alter. The dissolution of a relationship--we can't fix for someone else. The doctor's pronouncemnet--we can't wave a magic wand and make it go away.

What we do is grieve. And grieve we must.

The comfort of God is what sustains me. The words of II Corinthians 1:3ff have been my help. "...the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles..." His comfort enables us to persevere in the hurtful situations of life...even as we grieve.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

home, sweet home

I love seeing my family in Dallas. I love playing with my grandchildren. I love getting away from the regular routine.

But there is no place like home!

I came home yesterday to a pile of mail, a lawn to mow, a suitcase of dirty clothes to unpack, 536 e-mails, some disappointing news, and a cluttered desk with all kinds of exciting challenges.

But I love my bed. I love my neighborhood. I just love being at home.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006 we come

We leave for Dallas in the morning to visit children and grandchildren, something I look forward to since we get to do it just twice a year.

Three of our grandchildren--JJ, Camilla and Owen--live in the Dallas area. Milla said to me on the telephone tonight, "Grandpa, will you buy me some ice cream?"

That's enough to get me packing!

Tuesday, August 22, 2006


One of our on site workers called me today and said he needed me to come and deliver a message to some Latin Amercian workers who are doing some tape and texturing work for us. None of them here today speak any English.

I am the resident Spanish "linguist" on the premises since I took three years of Spanish...forty years ago!

I went a delivered a very short message "Neccesitamos esto para veinte minutos." That was supposed to mean "We need this (piece of equipment) for twenty minutes." They smiled and agreed by getting off the equipment so we could use it. Mission accomplished!

For communication to take place it must be in a language we can both understand--sender and receiver alike. How do we communicate spiritual truths to those who don't understand the language of the Word or who can't relate to the theological terms we use?

Missionaries spend alot of time in countries where they don't know the language pairing up with local residents so they can establish relationships and learn the language that will enable them to effectively communicate the gospel.

I have tried to speak to our workers on site with a smile and a "Thank you" or "Good job!" However, if I want to share with them the truth about Jesus it will take more than that. Relationship gives me the opportunity to be heard, and then the use of language they truly can understand will provide the words that conveywhat I want them to know about Christ.

Learn a little Spanish...?

More importantly, build a relationship.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

A visit with Virginia

Virginia does not go to my church. She is related to someone I know and I have had a personal relationship with her for over thirty years, though mostly from a distance. She has had her own church and her own pastors, but she has always been my friend.

I heard from her family Sunday that she is dying and so I called to see if I could come and visit with her. Beverly joined me as we went to see her yesterday.

She was downstairs laying in her bed in front of a window box planted with the caladiums that she had nursed with her own hands. They were a beautiful backdrop to her fragile body diminished by a five year battle with various infections that have now weakened her. She probably has just days to live.

But who would know?

She smiled as she greeted us with a somewhat raspy voice. I leaned over and gave her a kiss, and she welcomed Beverly, who she has only known a short while.

Our conversation was of heaven and hope. Was she fearful? No. Was she anxious to go? Yes. Why? This is what she has lived for. And now it is simply time to go.

We talked about her funeral and the part I would have and I reminded her of the legacy and testimony that she was leaving to friends and family members even in the days she has left until God calls her home.

And then we joind hands together and prayed. I kissed her good-bye, knowing I may not see her again...but promised I would see her again in heaven, by God's grace.

I will not soon forget my visit with Virginia.

Friday, August 11, 2006

The World Trade Center

I sneaked away this week and went to see the movie, "The World Trade Center". I was impressed by the poignant true story of two Port Authority policemen who were pulled from the rubble (2 out of 20) and lived to relate their harrowing story.

Apart from an apparition of Jesus that appeared to one of the men, there is, amazingly, no mention of God, faith, death, eternal life--all topics I would expect in a near-death experience. This is not to subtract from the character of these men, whose life and character are revealed to us through carefully-orchestrated flashbacks and crisis-generated dialogue. They have survived in spite of long-term injuries and their families, apparently, remain in tact.

I have been studying in John 11 in the passage where Jesus declares "I am the resurrection and the life" and then proceeds to demonstrate that by raising Lazarus from the dead. The context affirms that if we believe in Jesus though we may die, we will live eternally, and that challenges the fear and mystery of death, unaddressed and unanswered in the movie I saw. 2700 people died on 9-11 and our nation was pushed to the brink of disaster, but I am not sure, having flirted with death, that we yet have come to grips with our mortality.

The World Trade Center tragedy reminds me that we have no promise of tomorrow, that death "stalks" every man, and Jesus shouts into the darkness, "I am the resurrection and the life!"

Tuesday, August 08, 2006


"What have I dread, what have I to fear
Leaning on the everlasting arms.
I have blessed peace
With my Lord so near
Leaning on the everlasting arms."
I have been living with some dread today. There is something I have to do--I know it is the right thing--but I am nervous and even fearful. I was thinking about it as my stomach churned and asking myself, "What are you afraid of?" (espcially if you are doing the right thing).
I guess it is the fear of the unknown--uncertain of the circumstances, the anticipated response, the endless possibilities of scenarios.
And then I remembered this old song we sang when I was younger and never worried about anything. I loved this song because on the chorus, where we sang "Leaning", the aftertime was "Leaning on Jesus, leaning on Jesus..." and we did that with as much bass sound as adolescent voices could muster.
I am much older now, but the words of that song are my encouragement as I head for my moment earlier dreaded. I go in His strength, leaning on Him.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

mortgage calls and hang ups...

Every evening about this time I get several calls asking me if I would like to refinance my house. Generally, these calls occur about the time Bev and I are trying to eat dinner, or, just relax, and I find it difficult to be civil when we are asked, and asked, and asked...and, sometimes, I confess, I just hang up!

Not very courteous and Christlike, Pastor Dale.

Tonight I was asking God for something that I ask Him for day after day. I caught myself and wondered just for a moment. "Does He ever tire of my asking?" "Is He inconvenienced because He is caught in the middle of doing something else?" "Would He prefer just not to be bothered?"

Well, we have no human model like this except God who invites us to come to Him for grace and mercy in time of trouble.

Here I am again, Lord.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

unconditional love

One of the unique messages of the gospel is God's unconditional love for us. The idea that aGod who knows us best loves us most is confounding at best.

When we have experienced that love it is potentially a life-changing experience--certainly in our relationship with God and practically in our relationship with others.

Can we love one another with unconditional love?

Yes. I know.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006


I just received a picture of three of my grandchildren in yesterday's email. I cried when the pictures came--I see my grandchildren in Texas 2-3 times a year--and I realized how much I love them. And I cried, I think, because I realize what kind of world that they are entering...innocent as they seem now.

Innocence passes quickly. Reality sets in soon enough...the reality of sin, suffering and sadness. When I look at their faces I am fearful for what awaits them.

Innocence is long gone for me. I know my sin, I know my weaknesses. I understand my selfish motives and my wounded pride. I reflect on what I have learned, often because of bad decisions, and, more often because of inisisting on my own flawed way.

I am not innocent.

But I am forgiven. I am as a little child to God, anxious to grow up into a mature believer.

That glorious prospect is available to everyone--including my grandchildren--when that veil of innocence has been lifted.

I hope I am around to validate that in their lives some day.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006


Why is it so hard to do the right thing?

When we have a strong sense of purpose and what we think is a good plan--and the perceived approval of God--it is disheartening when things don't go well. We may question whether or not we "heard" God right to begin with, or, whether we have done something to incur His disfavor.

Both of those questions could have a basis in reality, but often, disruption of our plans and more often, our timetable, occurs when all things are okay, and God is simply allowing us to be tested and stretched. Can I trust Him when it feels as if everything is in disarray?

I asked myself that question this morning when I was processing a number of things that are being thrown at me by the enemy--the one whose stated purpose is to "steal, kill and destroy" all that is good in our lives (John 10:10).

I know we are doing the right thing. I know God has spoken His purpose and plan to us clearly.

I know the enemy is not happy about it.

I am trusting God to complete what He has begun.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

make every effort

Ephesians 4:1-3 talks about the cultivbation of interpersonal relationships and the kind of behavior that is geared towards the maintenance of peace. Verse three implores us "as much as is within you live at peace with one another."

In recent weeks that admonition has been tested within me. As I work alongside people I love and value it is a sometimes frightening discovery to find out we don't always agree. Usually it is methodological issues but they present an opportunity for divsiveness unless these scriptural verses are kept in focus.

I am grateful that the instruction of the Word when applied actually works. If we come to disagreement and we operate in n attitude of gentleness and love, our chances of reaching agreement are incredibly enhanced.

I experienced that this week and it has reaffirmed my confidence in the process of living the Word...and experiencing peace.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

rested and recharged

I have been back in the office for a day and a half tomorrow and I have already forgotten what it was like to be at Lake Tahoe, surrounded by towering pine trees and right across the street from the lake with all of its dazzling blue. It is back to the real world.

Surrounded now by towering piles of work on my desk and dazzling challenges from all directions...

But I like my world. It is the world to which God has called me. I live in a wonderful quiet rural town, in a beasutiful home nestled on the top of a hill overlooking the city of Sutter Creek. I have a wonderful job at a terrific church where the people I serve treat me better than I deserve. I am married to a beautiful woman, and have a "quiver full" of children and grandchildren. My health is good and I have the joy of investing my life in ministry.

It doesn't get any better than that.

Some days I wonder.

But today, after what will be a 14 hour work day (which included sweeping out after sheet rockers at our new church building site), I feel exhilarated by the prospects of what God is going to do in the days ahead.

When I get tired, I'll find another lake--or, I will simply remember the faithfulness of God--who always dazzles me when I stop to consider Him!

Friday, June 30, 2006


Bev and I leave tomorrow morning for Lake Tahoe. It is a getaway encouraged by our caring Board of Elders. We will be gone about ten days and we are leaving at a critical time. I spoke of it to my daughter, Jennifer, yesterday and she merely remarked, "When have you ever gone anywhere that it wasn't a critical time at church?"

Point taken.

There are a bunch of issues, I guess, that come into play when I leave at "critical times".

1. How will they survive without me? (Not really...but my hesitation makes it seem like that)

2. Will the right decisions be made (there are some vital ones to be implemented)? I know they will because we have a seasoned group of elders and deacons who are seeking God's direction.

3. Can I really relax when so much is going on for which I feel responsible? The key here is to acknowledge "I am not responsible". This is God's church, His building program. he can be trusted.

So we are getting away--no television, no church work--only our bikes, lots of good books--and our 18' travel trailer that will be our haven by the side of Lake Tahoe.

It's getaway time. I am ready.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006


Dennis is my twin brother and, he like me, is a pastor. I went to visit him yesterday. He lives about sixty miles from me and I wanted to see him because I missed him. He just returned with a group from his church from a work trip in Arizona where he fell on a rock climb, injuring four of his ribs. He was home, recovering--taking it "easy"--preparing for VBS, making sandwiches, planning for the care of a widow who had sprained her ankle, preparing for a dramatic part as a last minute fill-in for someone who couldn't make it, getting ready to set up for the evening acitvities. That's what pastors in smaller churches do.

Dennis pastors the church begun by my father fifty years ago. Some of the grandchildren of people my father pastored are now his parisioners. Dennis does what my father did best--ministers grace and love to his people.

I am proud of him, and my father would be, too!

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Friday, June 23, 2006


It was tragic to know that my friend died this week, a very young man. It was more tragic to know that he had reached the abyss of despair and that he took his own life. Just one day before his death I asked a mutual friend how he was doing and he responded, "Not well." The next day he was gone.

He was not a part of our chuch family at Grace but I do believe he was a part of the family of God. Several years ago I was present at his father's funeral where he told how he led his father to Christ before his death. I have known him over the last thirty years and have seen the changes that came into his life following his salvation.

He had some problems with which he grappled most of his days, even as a believer. In recent weeks they had risen up to grab him again by the jugular vein, sapping his spiritual life of hope and vitality, and shutting his mind to the truth of God's grace and mercy.

I read Ephesians 1:3-14 today, and I will read these words at his memorial service. I am buoyed by the words, "For He chose us in Him before the creation of the world...He predestined us to be adopted as His sons through Jesus the praise of His glorious grace which He has freely given us in the One He loves. In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God's grace that he has lavished on us...Having believed you were marked in Him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God's possession--to the praise of His glory."

I believe my friend was God's possession...and is now in His presence. It is the certainty of God's grace and mercy that remind me it is so.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Cousin's Camp

We have five of our ten grandchildren here for five days and we are calling it "Cousin's Camp", not original with us. I have taken a week of vacation to assist my wife in this venture and after one day I understand why it takes two of us!

Which is not to say that the kids aren't terrific--they are--but we are a combined 118 years and they are a combined 31 years...get the picture?

On Father's Day I spoke about Paul's admonition to his spiritual son, Timothy in I Timothy 6:10,11, where he tells him to flee from the love of money, to pruse godly character, to fight the good fight of (the) faith and to take hold of (the) eternal life.

This week we get to invest a little of our faith in our grandchildren--already products of wonderful Christian homes. We can affirm what they have already been taught, and punctuate it with a grandparents' touch!

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Elusive peace

A woman I know has been told by the doctors that she may have cancer and several tests are in place to ascertain whether or not it is so. The follow-up questions about how to treat it if it is cancer have been answered with a stoic, "There is no treatment". The result for her, of course, is a heightened sense of apprehension as she awaits the verdict.

She sent me these words when I wrote her a note having met with her for prayer and charting now her progress in dealing with worry. Someone had written these words to her.

Release...the regrets from yesterday
Refuse...the fear of tomorrow
Receive, instead...the peace of today
I checked with her yesterday and the tests were inconclusive and now there is another two week waiting period to see if the dreaded cancer is indeed there.
I found this woman calm and relaxed and grateful, receiving the peace of today.
"Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer ansd petition with thanksgiving present your requests to God. And the peace of God,which trascends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus."
Philippians 4:6,7

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

nine years and counting

On Thursday Beverly and I will have been married nine years. It is an accomplishment in the sense that she has endured my slow learning curve, and yet, continues to love me.

Our introduction to one another is a miracle story in itself. Every time Bev tells it to one our friends I smile and, sometimes, even cry. It is a the story of God's grace and faithfulness to us both on the heels of marital disappointment and dissolution.

I am thankful for the new life we have together. We love our six children and ten grandchildren, and we are adjusting to the fact they all have their own lives and are, for all intents and purposes, far away from us. Our visits are not nearly often enough but each one reminds us of the legacy of our former lives now melded together into the present.

Thanks, Bev, for the last nine years.

I am counting on many more!

Thursday, June 01, 2006


A recent sermon by John Piper linked anxiety to the sin of unbelief. His argument from scripture was compelling, unfortunately for me.

I have such difficulty trusting in the moment. I can rehearse and recite God's qualities and track record of faithfulness, but in the situation I can find myself harried and frenzied in a way that is inconsistent with the expression of my faith.

I have a fellow brother who shares the same propensity for worry. When I observe him, it is so easy for me to critique how he is responding...and then I remember he is much like me.

And then I ask, what kind fo example am I to him, my friend?

I have another friend who is the eptiome of calmness, in almost any situation. He was a helicopter pilot in Viet Nam, so he has been in places where that calmness was an absolute necessity. I like hanging around him because I keep hoping his mindset will rub off on me.

Here's to John Piper who reminded me that my anxiety reflects upon my relationship with God and my willingness to truly trust Him and believe His Word.

I am anxious about how soon I will stop worrying...

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

"Neither do I condemn you..."

The woman caught in adultery, as recorded in John8:1-11, was literally, caught in the act. Mosaic law required that the two witnesses who brought charges would have been simultaneous eye-witnesses to the incident and it is clear she is guilty as she is brought before Jesus.

There is some discussion about the canonicity of this story, and some biblical translations omit it because it is absent from the earliest manuscripts; however, it finds its way into scripture and its truth are certainly commensurate with all Jesus taught. Whether it is original to the gospel of John or was written by another writer inspired by God--perhaps Luke--seems inconsequential in view of its clear message.

The adulteress should have been stoned to death--she and her lover, who is strangely missing from the story--a corroboration of the Pharisees preoccupation with entrapping Jesus, as opposed to arbitrating the law.

But Jesus shows compassion for her, and turns to accusers with the indicting invitation, "he is who is without sin, let him cast the first sone". Soon enough, the woman is left alone with Jesus, while her accusers slip away, impacted by Jesus' writing in the dirt (probably something about their's...)

It is this moment--Jesus and the adulteress alone--that is a moment common to every believer, a moment when we stand alone with Jesus exposed in our sin. It is a moment of recognized guilt, anticipated condemnation, and undeserved and unexpected exoneration.

"I don't condemn you", Jesus says.

Freed of such condemnation (Romans 8:1), I am enabled today to walk in a new life of freedom, made possible through Jesus' words, the expression of His sacrifical work on the cross where He paid the price and took the punishment for my sins.

I am a sinner. I am guilty. He took my guiilt and condemnation on Himself so I might be free.
And He says to me again today, "Go and sin no more".

Friday, May 26, 2006

a messianic complex

I can remember when I graduated from college and headed for the inner city area of Los Angeles County, armed with my Bible, four years of college and an over-abundant amount of confidence that I could change the world.

I spent seven years there and what I struggled to learn was that I could not save the world. I hardly could take good care of myself. I had a misplaced "messianic complex" that resulted in borderline "burnout" after trying to be too many things to too many people.

I am completing my thirty-ninth year in the ministry and I find lingering remnants of that messianic complex--fooling myself into believing that I can fix everything.

The bottom line is that I can fix nothing. I can maneuver things into a better position sometimes, and I can even manage to say some helpful things, but if change for the better occurs, I have learned it is not about me but what God chooses to do in spite of me.

I am in the middle of my seventh building program, the ultimate construction challenge I have faced in my life. I find myself foolishly thinking I can maneuver and manage the changes that I remember in moments of spiritual sobriety are only things God can bring about.

It's about time I figured out that messianic complex, don't you think...?!?

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Americal Idol

I watch American Idol every Tuesday night if I am home. I have been trying to figure out what it is that makes me want to.

I am not crazy about most of the music and am not particularly drawn to most of the participants. I am uncertain that there is any redeeming value in the program itself.

Still...I watch.

I have decided that I watch because I am curious. Curious about what it is we like, what it is we want, what it is we idolize.

When the winner was announced last night--Taylor Hicks--his selection was greeted with a coronation-like applause. He was apparently overwhelmed by the moment of adulation and was transparent about his emotions--at times screaming, dancing and pumping his fist into the air.

He is the new American Idol.

He seems passionate about his music, though his voice is sometimes raspy and sharply-pitched in his singing. He loves to dance, and punctuates most of his musical numbers with unchoreographed movements and occasional gyrations.

He is affable enough, and even humble. He appears to just love to sing.

I guess that is why we love him (I didn't vote) and that is why he is now our choice as an Amereican Idol.

I am not sure how I feel about that...but I will probably be watching again next year.

I guess I am just another one of the American Idle

Wednesday, May 24, 2006


four days at avila beach and I feel like a new man.

but I have to come back to the real world.

what is there about the foaming angry ocean that is so cleansing? what is it about ocean waves crashing against the ragged rock shorelines that is so peaceful? why is it that I find myself transported to calm and rest in the midst of its fury and restless power?

i know. it feels to me like God is there, in the midst of it all.

in my real world I need to make the same the midst of anger, screaming emotions, and power surges.

God is there.

Friday, May 12, 2006


Setbacks are exactly what the compound word indicates, a moving back from a previous position. Circumstances that "achieve" that end, are called "setbacks".

Our building project has had its share of "setbacks", the most recent being the burgeoning costs at project's end and the shortened cash flow we have to address them.

I wrote the members of our board today and shared the information, ending with these words, "God will provide!"

I know He will...He always has.

We are moving ahead.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006


Bob and Sharon Hallissy are friends of mine from earlier days in the ministry. When I pastored in Duncanville, Texas, they were connected with Wycliffe Summer Institute of Linguistics, located nearby, and began attending our church. They and their five month old son, David (now 19), became a regular part of our church fellowship.

I have several distinctive memories of Bob, Sharon and David.

1. David, at his father's request, jumped blind-folded into his arms as a part of my sermon illustration on faith. Fortunately, his father caught him!

2. Bob and Sharon invited our family to their home for a meal and upon questoning, revealed Bob had left a large job at Hewlett Packard in computers (and all the related benefits) for the "struggling" and challenging life of a missionary (my choice of words).

3. Bob was brilliant (from my point of view) and could have written his own ticket in a burgeoning world of software fortunes but had chosen to opt to assist in the work of Bible translation.

4. Bob and Sharon ministered to me in a time when I was literally devastated by a family crisis and encouraged me to remain in ministry. I will never forget their love and reassurance when I needed it most. They were the loving arms of Jesus to me.

Well, after twenty years of friendship, separated by nine years of mutual relocation in new areas of service, I visited the Hallissys in England a few years ago and caught up on our friendship. The culmination was just this weekend when they came to share at Grace and stayed in our home for two days.

They continue to use their gifts and skills to develop tools for utilizing non-Roman script alphabets in translation and Bob helps to develop the software while Sharon faithfully serves as a secretary. Twenty years later their faces continue to reflect the same excitement in serving the Lord and their desire to return to England to resume their work is compelling.

People like Bob and Sharon are the real heroes in Christian service, spending their lives behind the scenes in places far from home so that others might come to know Jesus, and become part of the family of God.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Day of Prayer

I just returned from our county's second annual prayer breakfast, held on the National Day of Prayer and supported by the local churches of the community.

Those in attendance represented about ten churches in our community. About 75 were there for breakfast including about 15 pastors and staff members. There was a challenging speaker and a significant time of prayer addressed towards specific needs of our country. I was glad I was there, surrounded by "two tables" of our church family.

The disappointment for me was that this was all we could muster from our county for the one day a year we meet together to pray--the most important thing we can do together and the most powerful thing we can do for our nation.

II Chronicles 7:14 is probably the most recited verse calling believers to prayer, beginning with these words, "IF MY PEOPLE..."

The promises of that verse--that God would heal our land--must not be inviting or powerful enough for God's people. If we believed they were true, prayer would be our first priority and prayer breakfasts and days of prayer would be more frequent and better attended.

What do you think?

Thursday, April 27, 2006


It is hard to help two parties estranged from each other come to a place of agreement and potential reconciliation. This week I have been involved in that pursuit through the counseling of hurting marriages, the correction of business misunderstandings, and the clarification of working relationships.

I wish I could report "success". I can only hope and pray that God brings healing and restoration in these relationships characterized by broken trust and deep personal hurt.

Jesus is the GREAT mediator. He brings men and women separated from God back into fellowship with Him through His death. It is a costly process with incredible benefits. All we have to do is avail ourselves of His provision for us.

Meidation in the secular world is costly as well. People must be willing to pay theprice of humbling themselves, acknowledging their own failures and taking time to truly listen to the offenses cited by the other party--husband, wife, parent, employer, fellow worker, neighbor, church member, etc.

Sometimes it is not a matter of "right and wrong" but a matter of "give and take". In any case, stepping back for a more honest look, or, for a less defensive posture, may help to mediate the crisis you are facing.

The Word of God encourages us by exhorting us to "make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification..." Romans 14:19. It may cost us something, but the potential benefits will make the sacrifice worth the effort!

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

my vegetable garden

Bev and I have agreed to garden special areas of our yard--she does the front and I do the back. Bev' s area is beautiful--color-coordinated flowers, contoured lawn and carefully-landscaped beds. The back is all on a slope and much more wild. But I love it!

I have added areas each year of flowers, shrubs and, now, fourteen trees. My original small plot has grown into a massive area of some burgeoning responsibility. My time is limited but when I have a moment I love to get on my hands and knees and pull weeds, redistribute dirt, repair my watering system, and plant new things. I often catch myself smiling when I am doing it, and wondering "why?" I guess it is because I love being in those moments.

This year, in anticipation of Counsin's Camp (we get the grandchildren together and plan a thematic week of activities--"Growing God's Way", this year), I planted a vegetable garden area, complete with peppers, carrots, beans, tomatoes, artichokes and squash. I know...what a combination! It should give the grandkids an object lesson of how things grow when planted, fertilized and watered.

As I was weeding the area, turning the soil over, raking it smooth...and then planting...I found myself smiling once again.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Easter reflections

Easter is a big church weekend...probably, the biggest of the year. It usually makes me tired. It is complete with Good Friday service and communion, Sunrise service, Easter Brunch and Easter worship, at Grace Fellowship. This year we had only one combined worship service (other than Sunrise service) and rented the high school fine arts building because our facilities are already too small. This added the load of setting up and taking down--all of that in the middle of a day-long rainstorm.

With all of the extended work and preparation, it is easy to go through the accelerated activity of this significant weekend for every believer--and miss the whole point!

I didn't do that this year.

From Friday morning as Beverly and I had our morning devotions I sought to focus on Jesus' death and commented on it throughout the day in every contact I had. By the time Good Frfday service rolled around, I was primed for worship and communion and left exhilarated.

Saturday was a day of preparing my mind for Sunday's services. I prayed we wouldn't have rain--God had other designs--and looked forward to the unparalleled privilege of declaring the good news of the gospel on Resurrection Sunday.

We awakened to torrential rains Sunday morning (I was up at 4:00 a.m.) and a meager crowd for our indoors sunrise service (I don't think I saw the sun all morning).

I arrived at the worship site early--someone had an emergency trip to the hospital from the setup crew--so I arrived to fill in. Unfortunately, 150 chairs were missing and we scrambled to find additional seating to accommodate the crowd we expected. I confess to a few moments of frustration and despair that the devil seemed intent on ruining a potentially wonderful day.

It poured rain all morning but all the volunteer cooks showed up with their egg quiches and fruit bowls and pastries intact, and everyone else showed up with their appetites and Easter Sunday smiles. It made for a great time of fellowship.

When the service began, every seat was filled (thank God for the extra chairs we found) and the opening song resonated with excitement in the acoustically-live gymlike setting. A progam of wonderful music, drama and congregational singing was a fitting agenda for a worship experience focused on Christ's resurrection. I truly worshipped.

And then it was my turn to stand and proclaim the good news of the gospel from Romans 5:1-11 with special attention to the incredble truth--"God demonstrated His love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us!"-- and people responded that morning to the invitation to embrace that truth in repentance and new life!

It was truly a happy Easter on a big church weekend. But I will remember it with thanksgiving for its breathing new life into mine, at a time I needed to be spirituall refreshed.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

san francisco

I just spent a day and two nights in San Francisco with my wife. While there we visited my son, Greg, who is working in the city and preparing to get ready for his pre-med training. It wa mostly cold and wet but a brief interlude of sunshine and spotty blue sky entertained us Monday afternoon.

And then we awakened to torrential rain...and returned home to the "safety" of Amador County, where it was raining, too.

Trips to San Francisco are good for me. I like San Francisco I like its cultural diversity, its congested downtown, its variety of eating fares, its street commerce, its night life and lights, its beautiful parks and neighboring ocean shorelines.

I like coming home to Amador County. I like its quietness, its meandering streams and velvety green hillsides, its antique towns and unplanned streets, its friendly people and slow pace.

Amador County is home.

San Francisco is the rest of the world.

Friday, April 07, 2006

The wisdom of elders

On Wednesday I met for prayer with 5-6 special people from our church family. Dick and Joyce were a part of that group and I realized how blessed I am to have them in our church family. In their seventies--but looking and acting much younger--they are a vital part of our ministry team at Grace and Dick is our oldest elder and I welcome his words of wisdom.

Yesterday I ate lunch with someone about twenty years older than me. Jim is a veteran Christian and and metal building contractor andI found myself hanging on his words of advice and counsel offered in the flow of a normal conversation. His gentle spirit was a comfort to me.

Today I purposely sat with our minister of senior citizens. He does much more than that but this is his primary area of service. He was a pastor for more than fifty years and I have the utmost respect and regard for him as a fellow pastor and a friend. Ward helps put things into perspective for me. His steadiness and grace are a remidner to me about how to appropriately respond to the challenges of ministry each day. He is a living example to me of what I desire my life to look like.

I was thinking that over the years God has led into my life men older than me--wise and mature veterans of the faith--who have supported me, prayed for me, and kept me going when I felt like quitting. Thank God for the wisdom of elders in my life.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006


Jesus' introduction of Himself as the "bread of life" in John 6:35 is significant to me. The promise that to partake of Him is to never hunger again is especially intriguing.

Barretts love to eat; in fact, we live to eat. Our conversations historically have been about the new restaurant most recently visited, the quantity (and occasionally, quality) of food served, etc.

In recent years that has changed for me due to health concerns and my determination to keep my weight under control. I relished the Adkins diet for over a year because it allowed me to do what most diets don't--eat! I think I have discovered that eating is my therapy for stress and boredom, and to some extent, it is how I subconsicously reward myself. Anyway, I am learning to "eat to live", not live to eat".

My eating is symptomatic, I know, of deeper concerns, and my quest to be satisfied. In earlier days my motivation to be happy and content was tied up with getting more stuff, having others' approval, and living from one fun-filled occasion to another, even though those events were infrequent. Subsequently, I suffered through periods of deep depression because I was ultimately not satisfied by any of these things.

I am learning that only Jesus satisfies the deepest longings of my heart. He is the "bread of life" and when I feed on Him--meditate on his Word, live to please Him, spend my life for others--I am content in the truest sense of the word.

My diet has changed as I have grown older and, hopefully wiser. I eat less and focus on other places of interest than the local restaurants.

And I allow myself to be satisfied daily by the "bread of life".

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Will it ever stop raining?

Yes, I know we need the rain.

But when will it ever stop!?!

I suppose most of us have wrestled with this intrusion on spring. We are waiting for the arrival of the beautiful northern California sunshine, the advent of multi-colored wildflowers and the aroma of spring in the air.

On a personal level, I want the rain to stop so our contractor can begin his work on our turn lane, something required for occupancy of our new facilities.

I want the rain to stop so I can weed my garden and begin the therapy of working in my yard and enjoying the beauty of God's creative work coupled with my limited gardening skills.

I want the rain to stop so I can move from the treadmill in my cold garage to the outdoor walking and exercise that I welcome this time of the year.

I want the rain to stop because the sunshine has a positive effect on my "fragile" psyche. I just feel better and more alive when there is blue sky and an un-obscured sun.

Sound like a whiner, don't I.

What I do realize is that when life is raining downs its recurrent challnges--the "rain falls on the just and the unjust"--I am generally wishing it would stop. ..stop so I can get on with life as I imagine it.

But I realize that the rain is good for me. Trials and tests make me lean more upon God, stretch my faith to examine His divine resources and not to selfishly indulge my finite and small reserves.

So I guess I will quit whining and thank God for the rain. The hills are greener, the sun appears occasionally-enough to give me hope for spring--and the building moves ahead, on a timetable that God knows about.

Even as I am writing, the rain has stopped...for the moment.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006


I have had several moments in the last few weeks where I was tearful...not a comfortable place for most men. I was thinking about some recent contexts in which I had felt such deep emotion that I could not hide my tears...
*the shared pain of someone I love
*the firsthand observation of unparalleled disaster
*the recognition of personal failure
*a sad movie chronicling life's heartache
*an experience of worship contemplating God's grace to me
As I recall the specific details of each of these experiences I remember the sense of cleansing and relief I felt when my tears were spent, even though I was embarassed at my public display of emotions.
I am learning as I get older that it is okay for me to cry. Even though I have secretly felt for me it was a sign of weakness--and obviously it cannot accompany the daily responsibilities of pastoral ministry (many of which make me want to cry)--I am becoming more comfortable with the idea of being authentic about my true feelings.
John 11:35 observes Jesus at Lazarus' house with the shortest verse of scripture, "Jesus wept". This reminds me that Jesus had a very human side to Him and when we are told by the writer of the book of Hebrews that He is "moved by our infirmities", I am encouraged that tears need not be shunned or stifled.
I shed some tears when I preached on Sunday. I was embarassed. But it was how I really felt about what I was sharing.
It is Wednesday...and I am okay about it.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Little is Much...

"Little is much when God is in it..." are the familiar words of a song I heard as a child growing up (yes, it is an old song) but its message resonates within my heart after a week spent in New Orleans.

Mike Stromberg, Terry Throssel, Bob Swett, Steve Thomas, Bob Temple and Dan Simpson joined me for seven days on a work trip to Desire Street, the location of Sean and Emily Rorden's storm-battered home. For the last seven months as Desire Sreet Academy has relocated in Florida and Emily has continued her studies in Baton Rouge, Sean and Emily have spent most of the time separated from each other--and they are still newlyweds!--and away from the home they had lived in for only two months when Hurricane Katrina struck with a vengeance. Rain, winds and a faucet turned on by an errant tile from neighbor's roof, innundated their home with water and the resultant damage made the house unliveable.

Armed with tools, our work team arrived on Sunday evening, settled in at a hostel in downtown New Orleans and prepared for the job of ordering materials, redoing drwyall, taping and texturing the walls, painting the entire house, repairing the roof, restoring electrical fixtures, replacing all the door mouldings, installing new doors, "replacing" the kitchen sink and appliances, repairing some sub-floor, and generally preparing the house for Sean and Emily's happy re-entry on Friday evening, where they spent the night awaiting the arrival of carpet and flooring over the weekend.

Sean and Emily live in the upper ninth ward, a poverty-stricken area of the city hit hard by the hurricance, though not as dramatically as the lower ninth ward. Desire Street Academy, where Sean works as a teacher and coach, was devastaed by the flood and is currently undergoing rennovation and repair by numerous workt eams who have come to render aid. The academy is a beacon light in an impoverished area offering school, church, a medical clinic, sports programming and a variety of other resources in the name of Jesus. CURE is a group of 15-16 local churches that have banded together to suppport and enable this ministry. Due to the hurricane's devastation--the lower ninth ward looks like a war zone--the ministry has relocated to Flordia where it is housing and educating 80-90 boys from the academy.

Though a new location is planned in Baton Rouge in 2006-2007, the prayer is that Desire Street Academy will once again shed its light in this community as the plans for New Orleans continue to be hammered out. Decisions about viability, insurance and liability will be carefully evaluated as a final decision is made.

Until then, we can be praying for the staff and teachers of Desire Street and for God's direction for the ministry ahead. We can pray, too, for renewed strength and a sharpened vision about how their incarnational ministry can continue in this area so desparate for God's presence and power.

Sean and Emily's small house is a lighthouse as well in an area of broken-down houses and broken-up families. The return to their home will allow children once again to knock at their door and to find the love and attention they crave, all given in the name of Jesus.

I am basically unskilled when it comes to building things. For a week, however, I did what I could with the "little" I had to offer, and watched it--with six of my brothers--turn into something much larger...into literally a potential ministry center. I can't be there physically--Sean and Emily can--but I, along with the gracious members of our church family and all of our work team--helped make that happen. It is a week I will never forget!

"Little is much when God is in it..."

Thursday, March 09, 2006


On Sunday morning seven men--including me--leave for a work trip in New Orleans. Our church has a vested interest in a young lady from our congregation and her husband, Sean and Emily Rorden. Sean works at Desire Street Academy, a school for needy young men in New Orleans, now ravaged by the flood. The school has relocated for the time being in Florida, and Emily continues her training as a registered nurse in Baton Rouge.

Sean and Emily's house was also damaged by Hurricane Katrina and our crew is going in to make repairs to make the house once again livable. Needless to say, we are all excited about this trip and the opportunity to help a young couple in ministry whom we love very much.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

The Grace of Giving

On Sunday I spoke on the subject of giving, using the passage from II Corinthians 8:1-9 as my reference.

So much of giving is construed as a money issue--yet it is much more than that. Verses 8 and 9 tells us that for our sakes Jesus, who was rich, became poor--the Incarnation reveals this--and because of that, we who are poor, are allowed to become rich in Christ through His provision on the cross. The enormity of Christ's self-emptying (see Philippians 2) in coming to earth as a man, and the volitional laying down of His life for us that we might live, is the basis of our understanding of grace.

Here's what I see in this passage that recites the experience of the Macedonians who gave sacrifically to the needs of others--that our experiences of grace in Christ are what motivate our expressions of grace to others. The Corinthians, who excel in other gifts, are exhorted by Paul to "excel in the grace of giving" as well.

The Macedonians begged for the "privilege" to give in spite of their own "severe trial" and gave with "overflowing joy", and their extreme povery welled up in rich generosity."

Jesus modeled this "grace of giving" on the cross, and the Macedonians imitated this mindset in their own giving. We, as the Corinthians are, are challenged to do the same.

As we shared Communion Sunday and reflected upon Christ's work, our congregation had an opportunity to consider the experience of grace we have in our relationship with Christ, and, then, to offer ourselves to God and to others in the expression of the grace of giving.

Friday, February 24, 2006

still a dad

When your children grow up and leave home, they don't...really.

I say that with a deep sense of satisfaction.

I have enjoyed having my son, Greg, live with us the last seven weeks. He is getting ready for another move in his life--this time to San Francisco. His transition included getting settled in an apartment and finding work--all goals that he accomplished. It was fun for me to help him move his things into an apartment in downtown San Francisco, huffing and puffing up the hills from the garage to his upstairs room. I simply felt proud to still be his dad!

I have really enjoyed having my daughter, Jennifer, and her two children--Milla and Owen--with us for about ten days. Jennifer lives in Texas so I don't get to see her very often but this has been a wonderful time of just "loving on" her and our incredible grandchildren! It is also a time that we have had to sit and talk and talk about the changes that are an inevitable part of all of our lives. I am glad, however, that some things remain constant. I am still her dad!

Thursday, February 16, 2006


I just had a funeral for a fellow I never knew.

It was wonderful to hear all the nice things said about him by his son, his nephew, distant cousins, fellow workers, neighbors and friends. Seldom have I heard such consistently kind words said about anyone.

Chuck served in the Air Force and so at the end of the service a military guard presented the flag to his wife while a distant bugler played "Taps".

"Taps" was a song played in the Civil War that signalled the end of the day. There is alot of debate about who wrote it--most assume a fellow named Butterfield--but no argument about its place as a haunting, yet comforting sound, at day's end.

As I listened to the twenty-four notes of "Taps", I thought about the end of my day--and the end of my days--and the kinds of things people might say about me.

I hope I fare as well as Chuck.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006


I really never get too excited about flying. I prefer it if Bev (my wife) goes with me, but this last week I traveled by myself to care for some family business.

What is worst about flying for me is the cramped space. 6'3" people were not consulted in the designing of an aircraft. I have discovered some favorite places to sit--near an exit is one (first class is another, but I can't afford that)--which allow me to stretch out my "old" knees.

On an airplane you are often seated in close proximity to someone else. Some are talkers; others are sleepers. Some are friendly; others are sullen and non-communicative. Some are small and others are not, and space can be a huge concern!

And then there is the issue of food. It is hard to be sustained by a small bag of peanuts and a soft drink ona three hour flight, but such is the meal plan for many airlines order to cut the costs ( though it still seems pretty expensive to me, considering the "benefits").

Well, my last flight, I enjoyed an exit seat, sat by four people who talked to someone else most of the way, and had a free ticket, courtesy of a friend. The food was the usual...but I like peanuts, lucky for me.

So what does this have to do with anything?

I read a book on the way home that challenged me to examine my attitute as a leader. It suggested that how I processed things would influence people around me. It is easy for me to be anxious and negative about things I imagine, including air travel. It turns out that all those worries and concerns were misplaced.

As I sat with my staff this morning I did so with a positive attitutude, challenging them in the midst of a difficult time for our church and its building program. I thought alot about what I would say to them upon my return. I think we all felt better after our meeting.

Maybe I need to travel more often...?

Thursday, February 02, 2006

chicken fried steak

Last night I did a "no no". I ate chicken fried steak.

It was really good. It was served at a local restuarant where atmosphere and ambiance are an afterthought but good, unhealthy comfort food is a high priority.

I ate with my son--we both ordered the same thing (he can afford to eat chicken fried steak; I can't!)--and I enjoyed every fattening cholestorol-laden bite of cream gravy, baked potato and corn that went along with it.

I reveled in the moments I completely ignored my diet, forgot about my diabetes, and "chowed down".

Today I feel somewhat differently about the experience. I am trying to process the residual guilt and work past the gnawing ache in my stomach from greasy food. I know better, but sometimes I just can't resist...chicken fried steak.

I was thinking about the other "achilles heel" areas of my life--areas that are troublesome, but for one reason or another, I reserve the right to indulge from time-to-time. They are--some of them--far more threatening and forboding to my spiritual health than chicken fried steak is to my physical well-being.

But once in awhile, when I am feeling careless and selfish, I will allow myself the momentary irresponsible pursuit and "enjoyment" of something that is not good for me--something that is potentially devasating to my spiritual well-being--and pay the price of guilt later. I always decide it wasn't worth it!

"Lord, when tempted to indulge my cravings for the things that are not good for me--the things that separate me from you--help me to learn to say 'no' because I realize the momentary "comfort" does not compare to the inevitable ache in my stomach."

Chicken fried steak...I can't afford the luxury!

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

It went well...

The church business meeting is history...and it went well.

Thank you, Lord.

Thursday, January 26, 2006


"Church business"??? Those two words linked together can conjure up all kinds of mental images, undoubtedly impacted by past experiences or even secondhand information from someone else.

I am guessing no one perks up with excitement when the topic is introduced. There is probably a collective sigh signalling discomfort or an arched eyebrow of apprehension.

Even at Grace, the church I pastor, we all have our memories and reservations. There have been occasions where an open forum provided an unwelcomed opportunity for a staff member's reimbursement package to be ridiculed based on perceived productivity. We have grimaced as volunteer bookkpeepers were literally "raked over the coals" for incorrect entries. Many have come to approach these meetings with a sense of dread because there always seems to be an accentuation of the negative and the promotion of personal agenda concerns, overshadowing the attempts at open disclosure, congregational participation, and happy anticipation of a new year of increased ministry opportunity.

It has taken a long time--at least, much longer than we expected--to get our new facilities completed. As we near the exciting conclusion of the task we can't help but wonder about the few who suspect alterior motives, profligate spending and other assorted innuendos of incompetency. Will we speak the truth in love?

Church business meetings should be characterized by Christian principles of conduct--believing the best, in honor preferring another, edifying the body, applauding accountability, determining to walk in faith and responsible stewardship of resources, etc. At Grace we have no reason to suspect or expect anything less.

Church business is not a necessary evil. It is an incredible opportunity to demonstrate Christian principles at work, even when people have a different point of view and disagree. It should be a model for others to see of Christian brothers and sisters agreeing together to put the needs of the body above personal preferences.

We get to see how well that works on Sunday. Let's be praying together as we look back at a year of blessing and forward to a year of opportunity.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

The building

We are now in our eighteenth month of construction of our 26,000 square foot facilities. It seems much longer than that, and 2-3 months of coordinated construction remain. It will be a race to Easter Sunday...on a wounded horse, I suspect.

Sometimes I avoid talking about...the building.

But as we round the final turn I am thinking about all of the lessons I have learned in route to the finish line.

1. God and I have much different time tables.

2. I am constantly surprised about God meets specific needs.

3. There are some wonderful people who have gone beyond the "call of duty" in making the building happen. They are the real heroes, and, often, unseen.

4. Adversity creates unity; at least for those who are making the daily decisions we have learned the value of working together.

5. I have had to defer to others, to much wiser men than me, in some key decisions--a gratifying experience.

There are other lessons I could mention--and more to learn, I am confident. The building has been a building experience for me personally. I can almost think of it and smile.

The building...