Saturday, December 27, 2008

that was the week that was...

Is this how you remember Christmas?

Let's see--special worship services, kid's rehearsals, banquets, parties, gift-shopping, gift exchanges, gift returns, travel, cooking, wrapping, relatives...???

None of those things in and of themselves are bad, but the cumulative effect can be overwhelming. A purposeful and intentional management of time and a careful refocusing of attnenion on what truly matters helps...but the incessant expectations of the season are hard to ignore.

We traveled to San Luis Obispo to visit Bev's two sons and eight of our eleven grandchildren. Unfortunately, three of the four adults were sick and several of the children were fighting bad colds. I think a little viral breeze was in the air as well.

We managed to work between the two households, loved the grandchildren, carried the baby around (I think that's where I caught my cold),and generally enjoyed our quick trip. Bev's son who is a pastor is just coming out of a busy season and Bev's other son who is a small business owner is trying to manage the challenges of a diminishing economy. All in all, it was fast and fun time to be with family. We went to bed the final night both nursing sore throats and several days later Bev is still sick in bed with whatever she caught for Christmas.

We sandwiched in a long day at Stockton with my family--dinner, gift exchange, movie and a meaningful tiem of sharing together. Both my sister (broken arm) and brother (diabetes) are nursing fairly serious injuries so there was a shadow of concern that enevloped our time together.

So it is two days after Christmas. I resisted the temptation to take down the tree and box up the decorations (I did pack away the Christmas cd's which we have recyclced too many times). I want to savor the seaosn for a few more days and not get lost in "the week that was".

After all, this season represents more than a day, more than a week--it points to a pivotal day in history that potentially affects every other day and week we live.

I think I'll return to my easy chair and look at the Christmas lights one more time.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

family dysfunction

I saw a holiday movie yesterday that mirrored a family's dysfunction. Elongaged sibling rivalry, marital infidelity, parental favortism, racial slurring, gang violence, intercity economics, broken relationships, war's scarring--all of these themes, and more, were molded into a ghraphic of a family out of sync. In the end, the underlying commitment of family members to one another, and a father's love for all of his family, resonate loudly in extolling the virtues of family love triumphing over family dysfunction.

I suppose all of our families have their own nuances of what others might perceive to be veiled neuroticism. There are family favorites ("She's the one who got the most attention!"), family secrets ("My parents always yelled at each other...and later made up...it was disgusting!"), family phrases ("If I have told you once, I have told you a thousand times...", family traits ("We like our fried food salted") and even family fashions ("All the men like to go without socks"), etc.

The holidays tend to bring us all together, and if these special occasions are left unguarded, tend to expose all of our family dysfunctions in living color. So what can we do about that before Uncle Ted and his six "wild" children arirve for Christmas Eve dinner?

1. Be purposely thankful for family; though imperfect, they are the only family we have.


2. Be passively forgetful about past unresolved family issues; allow kindness and forgiveness to rule the day.

3. Be positively hopeful that the holidays will provide new opportunities for trulyenjoying your...dysfunctional family.

After all, you are part of that family.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The light of the world...?


2008 may have left many of us speechless. Faced with a hugely divisive national election, the virtual “collapse” of the stock market, the plundering of individual savings and retirement accounts, the burgeoning unemployment rates, the financial bailout of banks and automobile companies…is it any wonder we are out of breath? And what can we say that accurately reflects our sense of justifiable concern and even outrage?

In the midst of such turbulence and turmoil stands the church. That may sound a bit dramatic but I see it as significant. I think of the words of Jesus to His disciples when He informed them, “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on a stand and gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:14-16 NIV

People around us our floundering. Having placed their confidence in the stuff of this world, the foundation has literally been ripped away from under their fragile feet. The church, I believe, has an accelerated opportunity to be a voice for hope and a vehicle of help in these almost desperate times. It is a time to speak up—not a time to be speechless.

In the month of January we will be challenging you with this verse, “What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?” Matthew 16:26 NIV
Our topic, “Christianity: Finding a Faith that Works-Living a Life that Matters”, will be covered with four specific challenging messages—“Radical Faith”, “Revolutionary Mindset”, “Resurgent Living” and “Reckless Abandon”. Coupled with these will be our annual Gifts Fair on January 21st and our annual Day of Celebration on Sunday, January 25th, concluding with a potluck fellowship following our morning worship together. You won’t want to miss any of these special services…mark your calendars today!

How will we respond to the opportunities of 2009? What do we as believers have to say? What light do we have to shed in a world darkened by unmet needs and failed expectations? We can turn inward and concentrate on the immediate needs of “keeping the lights on”—not an unimportant task—or, we can “turn the lights on” and carry that light into our community, our places of work, our families, our sphere of influence. And we do that, I believe, in part when we do “good deeds” or, things that lift up Christ-- pointing men to Him—and they are led to give praise to our “Father in heaven”.

These are days to look up and reach out. These are days to speak up and shout out the message of hope in Christ. The gospel is “good news”, something not found in the front pages of our newspapers nor heard from our television pundits who share the tragic stories each week of human failure. The “good news” helps us lift our eyes away from the deceitful promises and the disappointing products of our dependence upon ourselves. It forces us to turn to the light of the truth of God’s word and a life of fulfillment we can experience in Christ, even when our world is diminished and darkened by evil.

2009 is here. What shall we say? What shall we do? Let’s stand together, like a city on a hill that cannot be hidden or ignored. Let’s carry the light of His Word and the message of transformed lives into a world that is watching…and waiting for the church to speak up and live out its faith consistently.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The grid and grit of human relatrionships


"Why can't we just all get along?"


That thought has more than once echoed in the corridors of my heart as I have sought to mediate relational problems. In my own life, I have had to take a close look at the part of me that exacerbates conflict and I have had to ask myself, "What value is there in insisting on being right in this situation?" More often than not, therein lies the fertile ground of division--my need to be right, or my "rights"!


It seems in recent weeks I have observed a proliferation of relationship issues; perhaps it is the season. Families come together and long-term issues, often ignored, are reignited. It is also a time when people are inordinately stressed--shopping, spending, special events, etc. The combination of all of these factors--and the predictable unpredictability of human emotions coupled with pride--creates a distasteful recipe for conflict.


How do we move through the grid of difficult human relationships? How do we deal with the grit of hurt feelings and unresolved conflict? There are, obviously, no magical formulas that can catapult us to the instant euphoria of peace, but there are some things we can individually determine for ourselves to "as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone", Romans 12:19.


Here is a list of questions I have formulated for myself in assessing difficult relationships, or, as Joyce Landorf identifies them in her book, relationships with "irregular people".


What can I own that belongs to me that has contributed to the the tension? What have I done to deal with the part of my responsibility I have owned?


If I have not done that, am I willing to take the first step to acknowledge my part and to ask forgiveness of the one I may have offended?


If I have dealt with my responsibility appropriately, what part of what is unresolved can I relinquish? Can I release my feelings regarding this without ownership of responsibility on the other person's part?


If I am stuck here, can I set boundaries for myself that will redefine the relationship on terms that allow for my willingness to forgive and "move on" while at the same time protect me from further hurt from someone who "just doesn't get it"?


God's grace is the defining enabler in situations where resolution seems impossible. "Be kind and compassionate one to another, forgiving each other just as in Christ God forgave you" (Ephesians 4:32). This scriptural admonition includes the "each other", and implies reciprocity or mutual participation. Take the first step by obeying God, and, then, relinquish the rest of it to God. Do not make your healing dependent upon the "adversarial" party's response, and be held hostage there.


Rid of the grit of your own anger and hostility you are now free to move through the grid of relational difficulty and to find a place of personal peace--even if that "irregular person" has not responded as you hoped.


The Christmas season can be a time when you extend a gift that may not be returned, but you will be blessed, and others potentially as well, "because of the surpassing grace God has given you. Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!" II Coriunthians 9:14.






Monday, December 01, 2008

glasses


I recently had my annual eye check--thirty months actually--and was relieved to find I had no glaucoma or signs of diabetes-related eye disease.


Close inspection revealed a cataract forming on my right eye, but my left eye was almost 20/20. Between the two eyes and the resultant correction--one sees better at a far distance and another up close..what's with that?)--I can merge the two and see pretty well. I have about 2-3 years before the cataract has to be dealt with, and I am more than willing to wait.


I have trouble in the morning focusing. Either the sleep in my eyes has sealed them, when I have slept well, or, the morning light is almost blinding, when I have tossed and turned all night. The eyes, I am discovering, are a sensitive commodity, and they deserve my care and attention.


The new glasses are bifocals and require a downward look when I read and an upward posture when I am looking ahead. Sometimes I get confused and the resultant fogginess and stumbling make me feel like I am in the advanced stages of "senioritis". When I steady my focus--as prescribed by my vision correction--I get around fine.


I think I need new glasses for the new year. All too often my perception of things up close gets "fogged" because I look through the lens of long distance and think, "It's never going to change". On the other hand, occasionally I take a look at the long-term through my up-close lens and I mutter to myself, "This process will be too painful".


Once in awhile I get it right. I take a look at the short-term through the right lens and I can see the value in the process in which I am engaged. Occasionally, as well, I peer anxiously at the long term and realize that meaningful change does not happen overnight, and I draw a deep breath and thinking about ebjoying the ride.


Christmas is coming; I'll take a new pair of glasses!






Tuesday, November 25, 2008

thanks-living


It's a big holiday celebrated with lots of good food, family and friends. It's a great time to reconnect with loved ones and to reminisce about past times. It's a sports fan's delight--this year there are three NFL games on Thursday! It is a time when we stop for a moment, hopefully, and express our thanks to God for His goodness and faithfulness.


It is Thanksgiving! And I can't wait to join our church family in serving the needy of our community and then rush home to eat a delicious home-cooked meal (Bev is a super cook!) with my wife, four of our children and eight grandchildren!


But then--all too soon--it will be over. That food that took hours to prepare will disappear in a matter of moments! yes, there may be some leftovers to munch on the next few days, but it will be gone with alarming quickness.


And we will wait another year to celebrate..and to be thankful...?


I hope not!


The easy transition from a day to a lifestyle is to think of "Thanks-living", not "Thanks-giving". That requires the dsicipline of reminding myself that every day truly is a day to be thankful and then determining to live my life as an expression of that thanks each day.


How can I do that?


1. Begin each week with an expression of thanks for something specific in your life, i.e. family, food, clothing, work, health, etc.


2. Think of someone who is needy in any or all of those areas.


3. Do something for them that week. Pray for them, call them, visit them, give to them.


As we live out our thanks by giving to others, "Thanks-giving" and "Thanks-living" are merged together.


And this holiday becomes more than a quickly-passing day.


It becomes a way of life. Thanks-living!




Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Deference


In the realm of human relationships deference is an unpracticed virtue. In the church--an arena in which I reside--the scriptural mandate is to "in honor prefer one another", a difficult assignment for any and all of us...especially when we know we are right!


The early church addressed this when Paul urged a local congregation to find a place of agreement "in the Lord" as theyw orked together, assigning them the responsibility of helping one another as an urgent task to be fulfilled as a high priority (see Philippians 4:2,3).


I shared recently with my staff a simple acrostic taht I will identify below, as a part of the actual process of derring to one another.


D-etermine to listen

E-xpect difference.

F-lex where possible.

E-nact a plan of action.

R-econcile without delay.


Listening is critical---without preparing a response in advance which is counter-productive to hearing what the other person is saying.


Expect differences--even diagreements. Our perspective are different--and even helpful--in dissecting a decision or formulating a plan.


Be flexible in a position you take, unelss it violates a principle of conscience. Sometimes we leave little "wiggle room" for matters of taste and preference.


Be prepared to act on what you share, resisting the temptation to simply leave things unaddressed while anger and bitterness accrue.


And, finally, do it quickly. Be reconciled to one another and don't allow your differences to be divisive.


We may have to defer to one another, not at the risk of coerced compromise, but through the investment of building and presevering our relationships.

Monday, November 10, 2008

good-bye

People move on...when they leave the church I serve--often for a variety of reasons--I always have to process how I feel about that.. Whatever the case, I always feel bad...and sad.

A close friend is joining a parachurch organization and will spend most of his time in Alabama. It is a good thing he is doing, but I will miss him.

A family in our church who have served well will be moving to Southern California and relocating for work. It is difficult to see them leave because they are such a viable part of our church family.

That's the whole thing in a nutshell, I guess. We are family. And we hate to lose those we have come to love.

They will be missed, but they will, hopefully, make a similar impact in another part of the family of God. Though we will be for the moment sad here...we will be glad for their new home.

Good-bye and God bless!

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Election reflection


It has been two days since I went to bed realizing that what I suspected was, in fact, coming true. Our country is facing new direction. How do I feel about that? My first line of response Wednesday morning to my wife as we prepared for devotions was that we should take hope in the seed of truth that Obama testifies too when he identifies himself as a "born again Christian". These are his words, not mine. When I pray for him, as we are instructed to do for all of our leaders (Romans 13). I will specifically pray that those seeds will flourish to a place of discernible and demonstrable fruitfulness as He guides our country.

I have read several "dooms day" prognostications regarding Obama's presidency that I want to counter with some hopeful, yet realistic, expectations, based on Obama's promises as a candidate for change.

1. Let's see young people who came out to vote in record numbers continue to be involved on the front lines of social action, volunteering to feed the hungry, build homes for the disabled and clean up the streets of their neighborhoods, with a new interpretation of caring for the earth.

2. Let's pray the now-enabled and energized middle class will be able to keep their houses, pay off their credit cards and demonstrate fiscal responsibility--even if it means contentment with less--in a changing economy.

3. Let's hope the now more highly-taxed upper class won't lose their desire to excel and compete,as a response to being "penalized" for making too much money, and that they will keep their businesses open for profit that employ a huge sector of the American work force.

4. Let's challenge colleges to hold the line on their expenses and costs so that our taxes aren't accelerated to fulfill the pledge to make college more affordable. Let's connect college students with work programs provided by small business men who are mutually benefited. (I worked when I went to college...)

5. Let's agree that every life lost in war is a tragedy and let's pursue the best way to bring our soldiers home without undermining the bloody cost of what already has been done. Let's pursue an orderly withdrawal and an appropriate commitment to the task that remains.

6. Let's see what can be done to control the escalating costs of health care and reduce the fraud and red tape that has paralyzed the system. Rid of the potential for bureaucratic snafus and overpaid middle men, maybe more people can manage affordable health care. Let's be careful not to remove from the health care ranks those already scraping to pay for their care because now they must now underwrite those who pay nothing.

7. Let's make sure we recognize state's rights and not ask the Supreme Court to micro-manage what individual states have sought to manage at home. For example, Californians don't need someone to rule again on whether the will of the people has legal certifiable precedence in affirming traditional marriage.

8. Let's don't be lured into a false sense of security because our preoccupation with a plunging stock market and haunting recession turned our attention for a moment away from the capricious governments of Afghanistan, North Korea and Iran (and there are more), who by their own admission would terrorize this country (and the world, as needed) with the construction of nuclear weapons (like those "not" found in Iraq).

9. Let's don't allow slumping oil prices to cause us to forget the enormous profits of companies like Exon-Mobil that continue to outrage the average vehicle operator. The oil crisis is, unfortunately, what it is manipulated to be by the fickle hand of the suppliers who control its production, and the billionaires who profit from their machinations.

10. Let's dare to dream that Obama can be more than just another presidential candidate with magnetic ideas, an enormous pocketbook, and convenient campaign rhetoric. He has set the agenda. Let's see how he does, and pray that it does not cost too much.

We have been here before.

Monday, October 27, 2008

why pray?


I have been asked that question several times and the rationale for asking is based on several familiar points of conjecture...

"...if God is sovereign and has already decided what He is going to do, why should we pray?"

"...if God already knows the end from the beginning how can we possible alter His divine plan?"

"...if God is going to do "His will"--as well He can--what is the purpose of prayer?"

The context for such questions generally revolves around issues like the necessity of voting, the concern for unsaved loved one and the inevitability of suffering and death. Why pray if God has already "cast His vote?"

Several very simple reasons come to mind.

1. God commands us to pray.

2. God invites us to come to Him boldly in time of trouble to find "grace and help".

3. Jesus prayed, and set an example for us. Why would He have prayed knowing full well the Father's plan?

4. The Word of God promises results if we pray, i.e. "the fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much" (KJV).

5. Prayer acknowledges my confidence in God and affirms my dependence upon Him.

As the election nears, I will cast my vote with he confidence that I have prayerfully done what I should have done and then, I will rest in the results with the certainty that God is in control.

As I pray for unsaved loved ones, I am reminded that God loves them more than I do, and I can know He will exhaust His resources in calling them back to Himself.

And, as I counsel those going through suffering, and some facing death, I am grounded on the promises off God's word and His assurance He will stand by us, strengthen us and, in the end, save us for eternity.

That's why I begin every day with prayer and my default system in any situation is "Pray!"

Friday, October 24, 2008

how much stock do we take in the stock market?


I met with a financial advisor today. Ouch.

The monies we have placed in the stock market for retirement are about 50% of what they were three months ago. Retirement is merely a dream for me today.

As we try to salvage our remaining funds I am struck for the moment with a sense of panic. I feel sick to my stomach.

I am remembering that there are literally millions of people in our country who have lost their homes, their savings--some have lost their pensions with failing companies. Where will they turn? What will they do?

Psalm 31 closes with these words, "Be strong and take heart, all you who hope in the Lord". I am asking myself...

1. Is my hope in the Lord?

2. If it is--and I insist it is--why should I feel weak and sick?

3. Will I, then, "take heart"?

I'll let you know how well I do; at this moment I am praying that God will help me refocus my faith in Him...and not take so much stock in the stock market.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

what makes me want to vote...


These are two of my eleven grandchildren, and this picture is as fresh as this morning's e-mail.

These are two of the reasons I will vote November 4th. Actually, I am going to mail my absentee ballot in tonight.

My vote will reflect my values and my commitment to the Word of God as the final authority in matters as critical as these which face our country.

1. My vote will reflect my commitment to the sanctity of life.
2. My vote will resonate with my affirmation of traditional marriage.
3. My vote will recognize the importance of a Supreme Court that honors the Constitution.
4. My vote will reaffirm my rejection of socialism and the coerced redistribution of wealth.
5. My vote will rally the hopes of our troops who are sacrificing their lives for our country overseas.
6. My vote will reassess the perils of increased taxation on people like us.
7. My vote will render support for caring for the needs of the less fortunate by encouraging the entrepreneurial spirit of our nation's people.

I am voting because I want my grandchildren to enjoy the blessings of this country that have been preserved for me to enjoy...and I want them to keep smiling...

Thursday, October 16, 2008

the importance of my vote


As a believer I am overwhelmed with the importance of the coming election and all that it portends for our country. My concerns about issues that are rooted in the truth of God’s Word motivate me as we faithfully pray for our country. Issues of economics and national defense are the front page news items but the political debauchery and moral decay of our country are hugely responsible for the mess we are in. Political solutions and military strategy will not change what is wrong with our country.

The abandonment of our commitment to the sanctity of life impacts the issues of abortion and euthanasia so that at each end of the life cycle there are repercussions. Our treatment of individuals whether as prisoners of war, aging citizens of society, illegal aliens working in our country, or unprotected babies in the womb reflects our value of life and the choices we make to secure it.

Where I am most frightened as a pastor, father and grandfather is in our state court’s decision to overturn the voter initiative approved by 61% of Californians in 2000 that simply said, “Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California”. Four activist judges in San Francisco disregarded the people’s vote so now a constitutional amendment is in place to restore the definition of marriage as between a man and a woman in State Proposition 8.

A “no” vote on this proposition bas been characterized by ProtectMarriage.com this way. “…the sanctity of marriage will be destroyed and its powerful influence on the betterment of society will be lost. (it)…would result in the very meaning of marriage being transformed into nothing more than a contractual relationship between adults. No longer will interests of children and families even be a consideration…The marriage of a man and a woman has been at the heart of society since the beginning of time. It promotes the ideal opportunity for children to be raised by a mother and father in a family held together by the legal, communal and spiritual bonds of marriage. “

Porposition 8 protects the people’s will about preserving marriage. It is not an attack on the gay lifestyle nor does it take away any rights or benefits for domestic partners. It protects our children from being taught in public schools that same-sex marriage is the same as traditional marriage. It also protects churches from being prosecuted for teaching that homosexuality is sin, a basic biblical doctrine.

San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsome has said, “If we lose, our movement will be dealt a blow that will set us back on a whole range of issues.” He is right. The attempt to redefine marriage will have succumbed to the will of the people once again. And traditional marriage as we know it—as God’s Word defines it—will be preserved.

You may feel ambivalent about the national election. Frankly, though the issues are of infinite importance, I have had difficulty being excited about either candidate. Moral issues, however, and the future composition of the Supreme Court in addressing the content of these, is a deep concern of mine and is a determination in how I will ultimately decide my vote.

For Christians, there should be no confusion about Proposition 8—Democrat, Republican or Independent. The Bible is clear about marriage. Ephesians 5 reminds us of the unique relationship between a husband and a wife and Ephesians 6 about their relationship as parents to their children. To alter that is an assault on everything for which the Word of God stands.

And it is reason enough for everyone of us to vote on November 4th. Do it prayerfully.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

FIREPROOF


Mondays Beverly and I usually go to the movies; at least we try to. More often than not, we give it up because we cannot find anything that meets our criteria as worth watching.

But yesterday we agreed to see "Fireproof", a move about marriage. We knew the people who produced it as also produced "Facing the Giants", which we loved even though the acting was mediocre. We were not disappointed; in fact, I spent most of the time wiping tears from my eyes (I cry more the older I get) as I relived some of the pain of divorce and thought about couples I know that are in the throes of walking away from their marriages.

Actually, I was so impressed by the movie that I drove to the place where a young man works who is in the process of divorce to encourage him to see the movie.

The movie is unapologetically "Christian" and has as its basic premise that reconciliaiton is only possible through God's divine help and discovering what it means to truly love Him, so we can love our mates as we should.

It is not corny, it is not poorly-acted or produced. It has a high degree of proefessionalism and a moving message about what can happen when two people--bent on divorce--decide to "dare to love" each other.

Sadly, this movie will die a quick death. It will not be shown in many theaters and, unless the word gets out, will die for lack of support.

I am telling you "Go see the movie!", and if you know someone struggling in their marriage, take them along!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

walking


My friend, John, and I just completed a 45 minute brisk walk along the Mokelumne River, which winds its way through Amador County. I can access a walking road about one mile from our church. It always amazes me that no one is ever walking along its beautiful paths...and then I remember I only walked there a couple of times this summer myself.

Last night I returned home after a long twelve hour day and following dinner, I took an hour walk through the meandering hills of my beautiful neighborhood.. I did not encounter one other person walking and enjoying the cool evening air of a late summer evening.

I love my walks, whether with a friend like John who listens to me mumble and grumble about politics, movies we have seen and wish we hadn't and the occasional adventures of our children.

I love my walks by myself, as well, sometimes with music blaring in my ears to drown out my thoughts, and other times, quietly mulling over issues that in the frenetic pace of a much too busy life often get ignored.

Francis Chan suggests that "on the average day we live caught up in ourselves. On the average day we don't consider God very much. On the average day we forget that our life is a vapor."

A walk helps me separate the mundane and trivial from the things that really matter. Sometimes politics, movies and adventurous stories of our children are never rehearsed in an arena where they can be processed and evaluated with a caring friend. They are simply swallowed up by time and space and subconsciously comparmentalized as worth rememebering or not.

A wlak helps me focus on things I might otherwise skip over, and when alone I am forced to listen to my own breath (if I leave the MP3 player behind),a nd I am reminded then that life is but a vapor.

Here today, gone tomorrow.

I think I'll take another walk.

Friday, September 12, 2008

seized by the moment


At dinner this week my nephew had a seizure. He was not aware of what was happening, could not remember it when it was over, Glazed eyes and drastically-reduced awareness punctuated his brush with a small seizure but this was followed by a dramatic event at his home the next day, resulting in him being rushed to the emergency room at the local hospital. At 33 he probably has epilepsy. There have been five confirming events in the last week.

I have reflected on that "dead" face, with no emotion and reaction, and the effective verdict that during those thirty seconds my nephew essentially was not there. Though physically present, he was mentally and socially absent. He was totally untouched by everything happening around him. Seized by the moment--and whatever was happening to him physiologically--he was "absent though present".

I have wondered how many moments of life I am "absent thought present". I get so cuaght up in what i am doing that I am impervious to the world around me. Though not physically impacted, I am "seized" by the self-indulgent pursuit of what I think needs to get done in the moment.

And in those moments I miss things. More importantly, I miss people. I miss my famiy. I miss what really matters.

Thankfully, my nephew is on a regimen of medication to control his seizures to insure he has no more of those "absent though present" moments.

For me, I am determined to not be "seized by the moment" and blinded to the things that really matter around me. Seeing my nephew staring with glazed eyes into space is medicine enough for me take stock of my sometimes frenetic activity.


Tuesday, September 02, 2008

sadness


I have been overwhelmed by a deep sadness this week. A friend of mine who had been ill for awhile died, another acquaintance tragically drownded, a personal firend in ministry is struggling with a huge loss, a young couple with young children is separating, a young lady left for jail though a victim of heinous abuse, and the list goes on.

It is not as if weeks are ever without dealing with other's pain and sorrow and suffering. But this week just seemed especially hard.

What do we do when we are sad? Where do we turn? I turned to Psalm 27 and I
have reflected upon these words to replace my sadness with the confident hope I have in the Lord.

"The Lord is my light and my salvation--whom shall I fear.
The lord us the stronghold of my life--of whom shall I be afraid?
When evil men advance against me to devour my flesh,
When my foes attack me, they will stumble and fall.
Though an army besiege me, my heart will not fear;
Though war break out against me, even then will I be confident.

One thing I ask of the Lord, this what I seek:
That I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life,
To gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to seek Him in His temple.
Fopr in the day of trouble He will keep me safe in His dwelling;
He will hide me in the shelter of the tabernacle and set me high upon a rock.
Then my head will be exalted above the enemies who surround me;
At His tabernacle will I sacrifice with shouts of joy;
I will sing and make music to the Lord.

Hear my voice when I call, O Lord; be merciful to me and answer me.
My heart says of you, 'Seek His face!' Your face will I seek.
Do not hide your face from me; so not turn your servant away in anger;
You have been my helper.
Do not reject me or forsake me, O God my Savior.

Though my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will receive me.
Teach me your way, O Lord, lead me in a straight path because of my oppressors.
Do not turn me over to the desire of my foes. for false witnesses rise up against me, breathing out violence.

I am still confident of this:
I will see the land of the good enss of the Lord in the land of the living.
Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord."

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

death of a vision


Tragedy can snatch a vision from one's grasp without warning. An acquaintance of mine birthed an inner-city work that was ravaged by a horrible flood and he is just now resurfacing in a new ministry. Another personal friend who works with young people recently experienced the untimely death of a young person under his care struck by lightening. He is processing his grief and grappling with God's purpose in continuing his ministry there.

How the enemy wants to gut our vision of something grand and beautiful for God! He will do everything he can to discredit us, discourage us, divide us, destroy us. He knows that if he can get us looking at the wrong things, he can kill the vision that we have.

Staying focused on God's call and not being deterred by the concerted efforts of the enemy to change our view of things by causing us to look away from what God has called us to do is a matter of disicpline. I am reminded of Hebrews 12:2 where we are challenged "Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith, who for the joy set before Him, endured the cross, scorning its shame..."
The death of a vision comes when we cease to look at God and allow our eyes to only see what is around us, not unlike Peter, who walked on water until he took his eyes off of Jesus. He sank and would have drownded, if not for Jesus' hearing his cry, "Lord, save me!", Matthew 12:22ff.

Don't let your view of things be shaped by circumstances; instead, look at Jesus, and keep your vision clear and focused. Don't let the enemy steal what God has shown and revealed to you by obscuring it with obstacles. Hold on to it tightly and see God's plan and purpose in the middle of the storm.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Appropriate pride

"Proud" was how I felt at our most recent worship service at Grace Fellowship! I know pride is a bad thing but in this case it was, I think, appropriate.

Our youth led the service on Sunday--greeting, ushering, leading worship, acting in a skit--and our youth minister preached his first sermon. For all of us at Grace it was a day to thank God for how He has blessed our youth ministry, even though we have never had a numerically large group. We have operated with a ministry philosophy of building a core group of teens who loved the Lord and lived out their faith.

The results "on display" Sunday...

*Our worship leader began as a thirteen year old just learning to play the guitar, taught by our then youth minister (now our associate pastor). Kyle is a student at Biola University.

*Our pianist, Tessa, has grown up in our church and recently graduated from high school.

*Our man who led in prayer, Brian, is a product of our associate pastor's youth ministry and now works as a volunteer with our teens.

*Our skit team was composed of five teenagers, including our associate pastor's daughter, Morgan, who was five when she arrived at Grace.

*Our missionary spotlight was given by Beka, recently returned from four weeks in the Ukraine as a completion of a class project from Simpson Bible College.

*Our "offerng leader", Richard, found Christ a couple of years ago out of a life of drugs, and now works with our teens and is headed for Moody Bible Institute in January.

*Our speaker, Christian, is now our youth pastor, though his roots go back to earlier days when we supported him as a young missionary doctor in Guatelmala while he was in the service.

It is no wonder I am smiling...and "proud" in an appropriate way...of our kids at Grace and our ministry team who serves them faithfully!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Getting ready for the fall...




FROM THE PASTOR
“Getting Ready for the Fall”…that was going to be how I entitled this short piece for the church newsletter and then I noticed there was a possible double meaning hidden in those words. I want to be sure that I cover all bases so no one is left wondering, “What did he mean by that title?”

I just returned from a week away at the ocean, a favorite of mine for deep thinking and meditation. It was restful there, and unburdened by the cares of everyday life, I was able to find time to think about things that really matter—my ministry, my marriage and family, and my future—all things that are of critical importance. I am excited about ministry, I am committed to my wife and family, and I am trusting God with our future. That is how I would summarize all the ponderous issues that can be examined in these areas with an unavoidable measure of angst and worry. Ministry is always characterized by balancing need concerns with areas of growth; marriage and family issues always revolve around whose hurting or what can I do to help? And my future at age sixty…? Am I making the best investment of the resources I have?

“Getting ready for the fall” involves for me an inventory of what we are doing that is good and what are we doing that needs to be improved. It also begs the question, “What are we not doing that needs to get done?” Our staff will have met by the time you read this and have spent a day discussing all of these valid concerns as we seek to be good stewards of the responsibilities of leadership. We will be seeking God’s direction as we try to “fine-tune” the calendar and schedule for the balance of the year. I will be preaching from the book of I Peter beginning in September, and will be joined by Pastor Mark, in teaching the truths of this letter written to people who were going through really hard times. Some of our church families are experiencing the same so this book seems appropriate for us at this time—and for our ministry to other hurting people.

“Getting ready for the fall” for me means as well increased discipline and accountability as the weather cools and I move inside for more exercise…and, potentially, more “holiday-inspired” eating. It is also a time to guard myself against the unrealistic demands of heavy programming and heightened expectations that I tend to place on myself. What is critical here is for me to seek to please the Lord as I minister for Him.

“Getting ready for the fall” could mean something much more ominous. There is an election on the horizon that frightens me and some measures on our state ballot that are of huge importance as we seek to affirm the importance if the family and what a marriage relationship ought to look like. There are many religious political pundits who are forecasting a “fall” for our country if we make certain choices that signal an acceleration towards our own demise. “Getting ready for the fall” means for me that I will exercise my votes carefully and prayerfully and not fatalistically sit back and watch what I fear may happen, actually happen, because I chose not to vote. “Swing Vote”, an average movie, has a singularly important message in its hypothetical story—one man’s vote can make a difference. So get ready for the fall by being totally engaged in the political process. There are lots of ways to make your vote seem bigger than one.

“Getting ready for the fall” is a challenge I have already begun to embrace. I have re-examined my schedule, sorted through my priorities and am in the process of making some choices that may signal a fresh direction for my life. Why not join in the adventure?

Thursday, July 31, 2008

away from my blog

I will be taking a break from my blog from August 4-12. I am refreshing myself with the mountain breezes of Felton, California and the ocean sounds of Santa Cruz.

I will share the highlights when I return...

Monday, July 28, 2008

a grandparent's lament

A cruise with fifty-two family members on any account is a cruise to remember. We had a great time, highlighted by quality and quantity time with eight of our grandchildren, including four month old, Brady, who we have seen just a few times before.

Here are my conclusions following our family outing...
1, We live too far away from all of our grandchildren.
2. At our "ripening" age grandchildren are critically important to our life.
3. We have to make some changes in our schedule to see them more often.

The challenge is that I have a very demanding fulltime job and my eleven grandchidlren are scattered from here to Texas!

JJ, our grandson from Texas, will be joing us this week for a nine day stay. He will be nine in September so this is an adventure for him and a thrill for us to have him all to ourselves. We have all kinds of things planned, including a few days camping near Santa Cruz.

But, alas...

We will have to say good-bye until the next time we get together--it could be 3-6 months--and that is much too long.

Grandkids are a top priority in our lives and we continue to look for ways to have quality and quantity time together with--Sage, Eden, Zeke, Haaken, Kyle, Julianne, Nate, Brady, JJ, Milla and Owen.

We can't always plan on mom arranging a cruise for the whole family!

Thanks, mom!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

family reunion


For a part of this next week Beverly and I will be doing something probably unheard of, or at least highly unusual--meeting on a cruise ship with every member of her mother's family, that is 52 of us. That includes all of her mother's children, spouses, grandchildren and great grandchildren. Everyone is coming...a gift of Bev's eighty-four year old mother!

We are sailing to Cabo San Lucas and will be gone for five days and four nights and stopping only there. I can't iamgine what it will be like for us all to eat together and keep track of one another, but it should be exciting and entertaining. And it will be such a thrill for Henrietta--Bev's mom--to be surrounded by all of us who love here.

Anyway, I will be away from my blog until after July 22nd.

Wish me "happy sailing!"!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

THE REASON FOR GOD


I am a Tim Keller fan anyway. A member of our church family suscribed several years for us to his weekly sermon tapes. It was a wonderful gift and Beverly and I grew to respect Keller's unrelenting commitment to preaching the truth and communciating with intellectual New Yorkers checking out Christianity.


Keller's recently-released book, The Reason for God, is addressed to people with doubts...doubts about subjects we are often reluctant to discuss. Keller addreses them with his typical insightfulness and from a rational perspective that does not preclude faith, but encourages it. He deals with subjects such as suffering in the world, hell, the exclusivity of Christianity, and other topics that cause the juices of doubt to flow deeply...sometimes even in the veins of believers.


I like Keller because he makes me think. His "take" is usually a little different than mine might be, and I find that refreshing. His immersion in the inner city makes him a sensitive spokesman for the masses out there on the streets searching. Hopefully, in Keller's book they are challenged to look carefully at the God revealed in the Word.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

What's negotiable?


When it comes to marriage with my wife, some things are negotiable, and some are not. We can negotiate about who waters the plants on the deck, whose turn it is to wash the dishes, and, even, whether or not a new plasma television for watching sports is in the budget.


What is not negotiable is whether I brush my teeth and bathe daily...and who I make love to. Those things we have agreed are non-negotiable.


In my faith there are some things that are negotiable as well. We can debate about what the Bible says about the chronology of events in the "last days" (we could even debate about whether or not these are the "last days"). We can argue about whether or not all the gifts of the Spirit are for this day and age, or, whether or not some of them ended with the apostolic age.


But, again, some things are not negotiable...and at the top of that list is the authority of the Word of God.


We are living in times where everything is considered negotiable and everything has to be accepted in the name of tolerance. What some describe as the postmodern age of the church is often characterized by the words, "Let's talk. Let's dialogue about our faith. There is nothing that is not potentially negotiable..." It may not be couched in those words, but when hard-pressed some of today's emergent church spokesmen suggest it is arrogant to assume that any theological position we hold to is non-negotiable.


If the authority of God's Word is up for grabs, what truth is there that we can utlimately come to to test the validity of our faith?


My wife is unwilling to negotiate who I am intimate with...and I am counting on the same commitment from her. It's what keeps our trust of one another firmly in place, even during the rocky times of life.


My faith is built on an unserving commitment to the authority of God's Word...and that's what holds me steady whenever everything else seems uncertain. It's not negotiable.


Thursday, June 26, 2008

"for better, for worse..."


Marriage vows are a part of most traditional wedding ceremonies although, I am told, the contents are ever-changing to facilitate the mercurial nature of marriages today. Going in, it as if there are a list of predetermined caveats that undermine the once-honored "for better, for worse; for richer, for poorer; in sickness and in health..." In their place are the now more common, expected--if not recited words--"as long as we love each other", "until we change", "whenever it takes more effort than I am willing to make", etc.

It is tragic to me to observe the blatant disregard for commitment and the choosing of the path of least resistance as the final arbiter of whether or not two people, once in love, often now parents, decide to remain in their marriage. More often than not is the well-documented legacy of divorce that wreaks its toll upon them and succeeding generations.

I know it well. I have been divorced. As a minister, I desperately want to protect those I counsel from the pain and sorrow that awaits them--that foolishly they expect will be evaded or, at least, diminished, by leaving a troubled relationship. Little consideration is given for the selfishness and costliness of their decision and the inevitable repercussions for little children left in the wake of a breakup for "convenience and comfort", or, for just "pure" lust.

"For better, for worse..." aniticipates that in the normal marriage there may well be a little of both. The vows of commitment declare the determination to stay in the marriage because of a promised love for one another. Such vows do not leave the back door open for a quick departure (eagerly provided for by the State) but, sadly, the words seem to be only rhetoric, a traditon to be adandoned in the name of personal expedience.

It is no wonder things are not better...but worse.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Seven Things God Hates

Well, it seems big jump from the "fruit of the Spirit" for five days of VBS to "Seven Things God Hates" in our Sunday morning worship series from Proverbs. But I took that step Sunday.

There is a necessary correlation between the two. God is a God of love--we love to talk about His mercy and grace, His kindness and patience. We are drawn to the loving God and we can be enveloped in this to such an extreme, however, that some would suggest anything without this motiff should NOT be taught or preached, i.e., sermons on sin, death, hell, etc.

God is also a holy God--a righteous and a just God. He is a God who hates sin. How can we NOT talk about the things He hates--the things Proverbs 6:12-19 identifies as "detestable" to Him--with a mindset to take note of them as children who desire to please their Heavenly Father?

Here's the connective link. If we truly love God how could we choose to do the things that He hates? The list--pride, dishonesty, injustice, selfishness, rebellion, hypocrisy and divisiveness--is developed in my sermon (available on gracefellowshipamador.com). These things are contrary to the nature of a holy God, and should be uncommon to the life of a believer who truly loves Him..

I love God too much to choose to do the things He hates.

Still, I do fall short of such determination. In that context I am reminded of Paul.s words, "God commended His love towards us that while we were yet sinners (see the list above), Christ died for us".

Take the jump with me, and embrace the "fruit of the Spirit" produced in a loving relationship with God...but repent of the things God hates that can break our fellowship with Him.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Vacation Bible School


We are passed the midweek point of a spectacular week of VBS at Grace Fellowship. Yes, I am the senior pastor but I am also,along with my wife, the volunteer 3-4 grade and 5-6 grade Bible lesson teacher..what a great assignment!

Why me? We have 120 children participating and about another 50-plus teen and adult helpers in refreshments, crafts, music, administration, drama, teaching, recreation, assisting...you name it. I just wanted to connect with the children of our church this week. Every morning about 8:30 a.m. I show up to greet them by name, hug them,and generally let them know I love them--from the innocent two year olds to the "sophisticated" sixth graders. And I get lots of love back in return.

Two sessions of twenty-five minutes each Bev and I teach about the fruit of the Spirit--love, joy, peace, patience and kindness. As we have looked into the eager faces of the 50 plus children in our two classes, I have had an emotional moment or two thinking about the families they represent--their path to Grace Fellowship--and their role apparent as future participants in the body of Christ. What an opportunity to impress them with the truth of God's Word.

Each day the children come together to sing and are dismissed to classes that include music, recreation, crafts, Bible story time and Bible application. The opening session features a dramatic presentation by some high school teens, and every other environment--grade specific--includes age appropriate crafts (the older boys arte constructing bird houses!), interactive games, the Bible lesson and application time and a culminating session where everyone comes together to reconnect before heading home about 12:30 p.m. It is a long but worthwhile morning.

It is 5 p.m. and I am tired. Three days down, two more to go!

But I am energized by the realization that I am investing in the lives of young children who will, hopefully, look back some day and remember this as a special week.

It has been for me!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Father's Day


I have been reflecting upon my father's life the last few days. June 10th would have been his 86th birthday and the twentieth anniversary of his untimely death is later this year. The shadow of his life gives me pause to remember him today.

Dad was extraordinary in many ways. People who know me--and who knew him--tell me he was one of the kindest, most loving persons they knew. Though he was a large man, he was gentle and soft-spoken, and no one ever feared a temper tantrum or a vile word from him.

He was brilliant, though he camouflaged it well. He knew words in the dictionary I had never heard and he could remember pieces of history and other trivia that amazed us and made us laugh. He could read quickly and still recall details from what he had read. He had an incredible sense of discernment about people and their motives and was not easily deceived.

Dad was a motivator, even though he did not realize it. He used His presence and passion well, encouraging kids the world would have abandoned to go to college and to prepare themselves for service. At one time over one hundred teenagers had left the small church he pastored in Stockton, California, to travel cross-country to a small Bible college in Iowa to ask God how they could spend their lives serving Him. And now they are literally scattered aorund the world in churches, on the mission field...in various places of influence for the kingdom of God.

My twin brother is a minister. My oldest sister has spent most of her vocational life teaching in Christian schools. My younger sister is married to a pastor-chaplain, and now, for forty-one years I have been a pastor as well. All four of us live in the shadow of dad's love and influence.

On this Father's Day I want to honor my dad by seeking to live with a similar mindest to humbly serve God and to motivate others to do the same. In that way I can extend his legacy to me.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Grinnin' with the grandkids

I have eleven grandchildren and in the last ten days I have spent quality time with seven of them--five days with the three in Texas, and four days with four of the eight from San Luis Obispo. What a treat! I have learned a few lessons along the way...

1. Grandchildren make me happy. I can't count the times I stopped myself and thought, "Why am I smiling like this?" (Sadly, that is not typical of my commom facial presentation.)

2. Grandchildren make me tired. I hiked, swam, carried, hoisted on my shoulders, wrestled, ran, chased, hosed...these are all high-level action words that seemed to be "eternal", with the "tired" part only to be discovered at the end of the day when sleep was instant!

3. Grandchildren make me proud! I watched my son, daughter-in-law, daughter, son-in-law, step daughter-in-law--carefully. They are all better parenta than I was and I am intensely proud of how they are raising their children with a good mix of love and discipline, freedom and boundaries.

4. Grandchildren make me concerned. I wonder aloud what kind of world they will live in. What values will be the norm? What role will their faith play in their lives when they get older? And,of course, I am curious about which of them I will see graduate from college, get married, and find their place of service in a needy world.

5. Grandchildren make me hopeful. I see in all eleven of mine with brightness and unlimited potential (a totally unbiased perspective). I see that being fashioned against a backdrop of intentional and careful nurturing by godly parents. I already see in some of them sensitivity, kindness and concern for others...and that gives me hope.

The last batch of grandkids just left and headed home. We probably won't be seeing them for a couple of months--and the three out in Texas even longer (although one is coming here for eight days...I can't wait!)


Any way, I just looked in the mirror...and I am still grinnin'!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Fasting

The medicinal value of fasting has long been touted. Giving the body a "rest" under certain medical guidelines has, apparently, some impressive benefits.

In the realm of Christian faith, there is a tradition of fasting for spiritual purposes from its Old Testament roots in the Day of Atonement, to its inclusion as a concomitant to prayer, especially in times of repentance before God and appealing for mercy, all the way to its mention in the New Testament as a part of Jesus' experience in the desert when He was tempted by Satan. He later addresses the attitude in fasting and encourages its observation as a private thing, judged only by God.

I have fasted several times and discovered its benefit for me to be a purposeful focusing of my attention on God. When the physical needs of hunger are being set aside to cultivate a spiritual appetite for God it can be a valuable experience. I have found it helpful when doing a spiritual inventory of my life or when addressing a specific unmet need.

We are calling our church family next week to a time of prayer and fasting together. I am excited to think about what happens when we corporately pray together and seek Him to meet our needs. The phrase in Matthew 17:21, "some things come only by prayer and fasting", missing from the earliest manuscripts, nonetheless motivates me to earnestly come to God in prayer, and to puruse the most intimate kind of communication with Him, emptied of my physical urges.
I hope others will be joining me.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

digging deep


We are probably like many churches that are experiencing the pressures of an unstable financial economy. In our county construction-related businesses impact a lot of our workers, as well as people associated with the real estate business. They have all been hit hard by the current housing market and building crisis.

Our church has a budget that grew about 10% this year, even with anticipated budget cutbacks and "tightening our belt" in every responsible way that we could. The bottom line is we are still not meeting our budget projections, and are being forced to cut our ministry expenditures accordingly. And this is painful, because our church continues to grow.

Church attendance grows at a faster rate usually than giving; at least that is our experience here. It takes time for people to get assimilated into the body and to say, "This is our church home; let's help take care of it." Giving is a matter of the heart and increased giving is the result of people saying "yes" to God when He tugs at their wallets. Because it is a spiritual matter, it cannot be produced
from "guilting" people to give or "brow-beating" them from the pulpit.

So what do we do while we wait for people to get into the life of the body, or, as we wait for them to mature in Christ and begin to understand what stewardship of their resources is all about?

We dig deeper.

We do all we can--and the sacrifical "more" God may direct--and we don't worry about what others are/are not doing. We simply obey God and do what He asks of us.

"Digging deeper" helps us discover we have more than we thought, that we have resources to be developed, that we can uncover more of our own time, talent and treasure if we just keep digging.

We'll get through this time because God's work continues and God continues to bless us at Grace Fellowship. We are digging deeper so we can celebrate the growth that we are experiencing together as God gives the increase.

I think I will grab my shovel and do some more digging...

Friday, May 02, 2008

pain and suffering


I am an observer of pain and suffering, and a recent participant, as well.

What I see in the lives of those with whom I sit in hospital rooms, counsel in my office, comfort at the rest home, encourage over the phone or via e-mail--whatever the venue--is a deepening need for the community of faith.

During my recent bout with kidney stones I was encouraged by cards, phone calls, e-mails, and the assurance of prayers. People offered their "sure-fire" antidotes as well, but the real blessing was that of my church family's connectedness to me during the three week ordeal.

The patient facing surgery, or battling cancer; the couple trying to hold their marriage together; the wife of an alzheimer's patient struggling with his disesse; the family weathering the storm of a son's addiciton; a new convert seeking to live out his new-found faith; a seasoned worker without a job. What do these all have in common? A need for the community of faith to come alongside them--not necessarily with words of theological reason and a formula for immediate resolution...but with simple love and concern.

I can do that...and so can you.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

"Well, I woke up this mornin'..."


The lyrics of a WE FIVE song from the sixties begin with the words, "Well, I woke up this mornin', you were on my mind..." My story this week is a little different. When I woke up Monday morning, I felt something familiar...famiiar in the sense I remembered the feeling from several years ago. Sharp pains were pulsating through my lower back-kidney area and it took me just a few moments to realize, "I have a kidney stone!"

"Well, I woke up this mornin'..." and every morning this week with that stone on my mind and in my body, screaming for attention. A kidney stone is an unwelcome intruder. The most signficant think I heard someone say to me about the relative pain of having one was a woman who had had both babies and stones, and concluded that having the stones was worse! I can't compare so I will have to take her word for it.

This week has been an interesting adventure for me, and for my sweet wife, who has nursed me through it. Because the pain was intermittent in the beginning, I sandwiched in time at the office, led my staff meeting and shared lunch, did some disciplings-a few breaks when the stone wasn't screaming "Let me out of here!" In the other more painful moments I cancelled appointments, left my care group early, and abandoned plans to see my grandchildren--the most difficult decision of all. I made the call not to teach and preach tomorrow morning a few hours ago, because I was worried about unnecessarily punctuating my messages with gutteral sounds.

I am now on a regular regimen of vicodin--I know, I hate drugs!--and am drinking copious amounts of water. I have found relief in our jacuzzi tub (the world's greatest invention), and, believe it or not, walking--pacing thoough the house or walking on my treadmill. The concomitant nausea from the drugs has been my occasional companion but the pain is--for the moment--under control.

Yesterday's x-rays revealed that this was more than a bad dream. The technician pointed out what looked like a VERY LARGE stone to me and told me to keep my meds nearby over the weekend since my next doctor's visit is Monday.

When you wake up any morning it is difficult to imagine what lays in wait for you. In just a short period of time I have been transported from the mmagical island of Kauai and a week of sun and fun to a week of sad and bad. I am not complaining. Both menus are inevitably a part of life. When I woke up Monday I looked forward to a week of doing God's work, and spending time with my family. God had other plans.

No, I don't think He implanted a kidney stone to spoil my day. But He allowed me to have some time to really think about pain and how people I minister to deal with it every day. I tell people I will pray for them--and I do--but I feel more passionate today about praying with ferver for those who are hurting. Not surprisngly, the best words I have heard this week from those who have called me are, "I am praying for you."

I am not sure how this will all end up--I am praying for the "skip surgery" option. I do know this. When I wake up in the mornin', I will thank God for His constancy in my life...whether whispering His peace to me in Kauai, or, affirming His love to me in the jacuzzi tub in the middle of the night.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Miraculous deliverance from Kauai...


That sounds like an oxymoron, doesn't it? If you have ever been to the island of Kauai--and you are like me--you probably never wanted to leave! The lush green mountains, the crystal blue ocean, the rolling chartruese meadows sandwiched in between--all of this, enveloped by the intermittent cooling misty rain and sunshine--has a magnetic effect that whispers, "Stay,stay,stay...".

We flew to Kauai for a weekw ith our friends on the ill-fated ATA Airllines. of course, we did not know that when we left. We arrived in Lihue safely,s ettled in to our beautiful surrounding on The Point at Poipu...and received the dreaded phone call the second day.

"Hi, Dale. I have some bad news. ATA declared bankruptcy and closed up shop and your ticket home is invalid. Sadly, it appears there are no tickets available for at least two weeks and the cost is nearly $1000 a piece!"

My faithful travel agent, Donna, assured me that things would change as the airlines sorted through the mess and she would keep me posted on her discoveries. She proved to be a valuable asset in getting us home on time for a relatively minimal additional cost.

We had some nervous days wondering if we would have to stay an extra week and began researching our options, evaluating additional costs, envisioning a work scenario that would allow me to study and prepare for the work I needed to do if we had to stay.

Strangely, none of this really effected our time in Kauai. As much as I am prone to worry I affirmed (a) Donna was working as hard as she could to help us (b) the situation was really out of my control (c) if we had to stay we would some how manage...in Kauai. Where the extra funds would come from was the only thing I worried about, and, hopefully, we would have enough to cover the surplus.

God wonderously supplied another carrier to get us home--on time--with only a little additonal cost. We found that information out about the half-way point so we were able to breathe deeply, and settle back for a delightful week of rest and relaxation.

And that is the story of our "miraculous deliverance from Kauai..."

Friday, March 28, 2008

away...

For the next 10-12 days I will be away.

"Away" is a good place, wherever it may be. Sometimes we simply need a break away from the usual place.

I will tell you what "away" waa slike on my return...

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Resurrection Sunday


A highlight day of the church calendar approaches this weekend. It is the day we celebrate Christ's resurrection from the dead, following the ghastly events of the Passion week culminating in the osbervance of His death on Good Friday.


I Corinthians 15 is the biblical source for understanding the significance of the resurrection and the key verse for me is verse 19 where Paul observes, "If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men."


The daily Chrfistian life with all of its challenges is worthwhile because of the sustaining presence and power of Christ. Andrae Crouch wrote many years ago, "If heaven were never promised to me, it would still be worth serving the Lord..." I often agreed with that verse until I revisited this scripture which says that if our hope in Christ is restricted to this life, we are are "to be pitied", or as the KJV suggests, we are "most miserable".


I found some further scripture that corroborated that thought, ""So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but what is unseen. For what is seen is temproal and what is unseen is eternal", II Corinthians 4:18.


What is in focus in this scriptural context is the fact that many of us experience a variety of challenging cricumstances this side of glory. We are "outwardly wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. Our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all".


So Resurrection Sunday shouts hope to us! Sometimes we are not certain--if hard-pressed to respond--that the daily grind is sufficient motivation for serving Christ. We find our solace in the long-term objective of being freed from these mortal bodies and and transformed for the eternal reward thata waits us. That is why Paul would write at the end of his life, "Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day--and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for His appearing", II Timothy 4:8.


Resurrection Sunday approaches, and with it the reminder for those struggling with the daily "stuff" of life, God has something better in mind.


"Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross...Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinful men so that youw ill not grow weary and lose heart", Hebrews 12:2.3.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Homeschooling


Alot of families at Grace Fellowship Church--over half of them, in fact--homeschool their children. More often than not their children are way ahead of their public school counterparts in the educational process. There is verifiable data statewide that confirms that.


"Parents do not have a constituitonal right to home school their children." Not every parent should/can homeschool their children. Some parents would willingly acknowledge that their own formal education leaves something to be desired as well as their patience quotient being inadequate for the teaching process. Others would have to admit, "I do not have the time or energy for this task". Undoubtedly, there are some parents who are not so honest about their weaknesses and have abused the homeschooling situation by not being diligent about the requirements and daily disciplines.


The family at the heart of the recent ruling by judges in Los Angeles County concerned one family who has a twenty year history of litigation in the juvenile courts regarding the care of their children. Sucha ruling should not have been used to punish an entire class of people who are committed to the regimen of effective homeschooling.


The Home School Legal DefenseAssociation in California has filed a contesting brief in this case, and the California State Governor has issued his own deprecation of this irrational order that potentially affects nearly 200,000 school-age children in California--the only state with such a prohibition.


What seems to be at the heart of such a ruling is the restriction of freedom and the imposition of regulations on parents seeking to provide the best education they can for their chidlren. Given the decidedly-secular propensities of the public school system and the high cost of private schooling, the option of homeschooling has become more inviting for concerned parents.


As a grandparent--my children all raised (private school "survivors")--I am concerned for my eleven grandchildren, some in public school, some in private school. At the very least I trust their parents to decide what are the best options for their children, and then to pursue them with the freedom to assess and access all the options available to them.


Should they decide to homeschool, I would support their decision and freedom to do so!



Wednesday, March 05, 2008

sunshine


The last few days have been pristine in amador County. A little cold, and a little windy...but crystal blue sky, "greening" hills and the first bursts of spring color.


And a whole lot of sunshine!


Yesterday several of our staff members took our lunches outside and sat underneath the comforting warmth of the eaely afternoon sun.


Last night, just before the sun slipped away for its evening "rest", I stood on my deck and breathed in deeply the diminishing rays of the sun as it vanished behind a mountain on the western horizon.


And this m0rning, when I rountinely went to get my morning paper from the front yard, I stopped for a moment, looked up into the sky above and whispered an invigorated "Thank you, Jesus" to the heavens.


What is it about the sun and sunshine? Psalm 84:11 tells us "For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows favor and honor; no good thing does He withhold from those whose walk is blameless."


As to the future, Jesus says, "...the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father...", Matthew 13:43.


No wonder I love the sun!

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

#11


Brady Valen Theule arrived yesterday evening at about 6 p.m.,--all 8 lbs 3 oz. 20 plus inches of him. Blue eyes and blonde hair...he's a keeper! Chad and Julie, our son and daughter-in-law, are the proud parents and Kyle, Julianne and Nate are the siblings who will be fighting over/with him in the days ahead!

For Beverly and me, it is grandchild #11! And we are the "proudest of the proud" of all of our grandchildren--Sage, Eden, Zeke, Haaken, Kyle, Julianne, Nate, JJ, Milla, Owen...and now, Brady!

I am already wondering when I will get to see him and hold him. Grandma Bev will be heading to San Luis Obispo next week to take her turn at providing care and support for Julie. I will be here...working...appropriately jealous...and waiting for my turn.

Eleven grandchildren is an overwhelming number to me, in terms of the future. Thankfully, all of these grandchildren are being nurtured by godly parents so they are getting a foundation that will hold them steady for the challenges that lay ahead, and prepare them for life.

As a grandpa, I am always wondering what our investment as grandparents might be. We see our grandchildren sporadically throughout the year--three are in Texas!--but our communication is more frequent as we check on school, sports, birthdays, etc.

Every morning Beverly and I pray for each grandchild by name, asking for God's protection and provision for them as their still young lives are being shaped and formed.

That number just increased by one...#11.

Brady, we prayed for you this morning!

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

prayer time


In just a few minutes about 6-10 of us will gather in my office for prayer--we meet Wednesdays at noon. I always look forward to this time as we pray for the needs of our church family and community.


Our church is medium-sized; about 650-750 call Grace Fellowship "home" and on an average Sunday about 400 attend. We participate well in most things but we struggle with corporate prayer settings.


We are busy and a rural community so travel distance no doubt enters into the mix of reasons few come to pray. We have lots of older folks who have slowed the pace of their lives and a growing number of young families where children and work are factors in traveling to a corporate prayer site.


But it really makes no difference what the day, hour, occasion for prayer--we seldom come with the same interest that accompanies our scheduled potlucks, church worship services, and other special events. Smallest crowds always characterize our prayer meetings.


I want to be careful to draw too many unfair judgmental conclusions about all of this. In my forty years of ministry I remember accelerated interest in prayer following the 9-11 tragedy, the anticipation of the Y2K "crisis and events similar that reflected a state of fear and anxiousness about the future. Then getting a crowd to pray was much easier.


Prayer time is not about numbers, I admit. But I would love the day we scheduled a prayer meeting and had to get extra chairs.


Until then, I need to be faithful in prayer, and in calling our church to times of corporate prayer. The results are not for me to measure.




Tuesday, February 12, 2008

"I press on..."


We recently arrived at 3:12-16 in our study of Philippians, an incredibly important piece of scripture for me.


And for all of us.


At least for those of us who are continuing on in our journey to truly know Christ--in His power and in His suffering. Paul says some things here that are non-negotiable to me as I examine my own progress.


1. I have not arrived, nor will I, at my final destination until God calls me home. To assume any stance or posture of satisfaction and/or complacency is to battle the potentially lethal enemy of spiritual arrogance.


2. I have not already "been made perfect". Not that this should be a newsflash to anyone who knows me. I am not yet wholly mature, sanctified, completed, done. This divine work, thankfully, is ongoing.

3. I need a singular purpose--"this one thing I do"--to keep myself moving forward. The "goal" of spiritual maturity and the ultimate "prize" of eternal life are supreme motivators in the race I am running.

4. I cannot move forward if I am buckled over by past failures or basking in past accomplishments. Those have to be forgotten and cast aside. God has forgiven and forgotten the sins of my past. And my accomplishments are of no value in assessing the status of my relationship today with Him.


5. I reach ahead into the future with every disciplined fiber of my being committed to the task of finishing the race well, enabled and sustained by God's strength.


The wonderful picture of what God has done keeps me going. He has "taken hold" of me. He has "called me heavenward in Christ". I am daily grateful for God's pursuit of me and His plan and preparations for me to spend eternity with him. That makes the race worth finishing!


A friend of mine decided today to discontinue any kind of treatment for the cancer recently diagnosed, choosing instead some quality final days. Another friend, much older, has stopped eating and declared, "I am ready to go home". Both of these have run the race well and are ready for the "prize" awaiting them.


As for me, "I press on...". I am sometimes discouraged by my failures, and wonder why God even puts up with me. At other times I feel so overwhelmed by what God has called me to do, that I feel like stepping aisde and handing the baton to someone else.


But more often than not, I am buoyed by the picture of an athlete "straining" towards the finish line. singularly focused on the "prize", and I say to myself ,"I press on!"

Friday, February 08, 2008

an uncertain process...choosing a president

I mailed in my absentee ballot a few weeks early in antiicpation of the California primary. I worked through a myriad of depressing emotions, including (a) are there any good choices? (b) is this one a viable candidate? (c) what difference does it make...?

Here's my real problem. I take this whole process all too seriously. I read the newspapers, watch the television debates, sort through the internet "pundits" and try to see if I can make an informed decision.

I also pray alot about this. I encourage my friends to pray and sound the alarm of concern as loudlyas I can, and as often as they will let me, for my church, my family and my friends.

How much power a president has is really a subject for discussion. Some would argue that he current edition has usurped his powers (closer examination would reveal that as a presidential malady)...and the very fact that he can, makes his position one of considerable influence and power.

He is also monitored by a zealous congress and a watchdog Supreme Court. He is subject to the capriciousness of a predisposed press and the scrutiny of a deeply-divided American public. His popularity--should he ever enjoy it--is illusory and temporary at best.

The selection of a president--even if we get the one we want--signals nothing of certain change. The whims of the governing process are so financed and forged by lobbying interests that predicting the course of action under any elected offical is not worth betting the house on.

Here's where I am left...not fatalistically or even with a sense of determined resignation. Romans 13:1 simply states, "...FOR THERE IS NO AUTHORITY EXCEPT THAT WHICH GOD HAS ESTABLISHED."

God's soveriegn role in this while process is the only thing of which i am certain. He will not be surprised if Obama, Clinton or McCain shows up in the White House. He will not panic that we have elected an African American, a woman or a war hero.

We can be certain that He will be prepared to continue unfolding his divine plan for a lost world..and so we can rest in that confidence, whatever the process or political party in power.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

How much do I want to know Christ?


The words of Paul inPhilippians 3:10,11 got my attention last week. "I want to know the power of His resurrection, the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like Him in His death, somehow to attain to the resurrection of the dead".


At a cursory glance, as a believer, it would seem almost blasphemous to say anything less than "I want to know Christ" but Paul takes it to a whole new dimension employing the practical and personal elements of knowing something--practical in the sense of experiencing what we say we know and putting it into practice, and personal, in the sense of deeply connecting with someone and knowing them intimately.


Paul further defines what he means by suggesting that to know Christ means we know the power of His resurrection, something decribed in Ephesians 1 as the "same power that raised Jesus from the dead". It i easy to stand in line and await the infusion of that power into our lives as believers, defined in II Peter 1 as "divine power that gives us everything we need for life and goldiness..." This is what God promsies a believer who is walking with Him.


Signing up for the second part of the "knowing Christ" program may be more tenuous and make us pause to reconsider--"the fellowship of sharing in His suffering". The apostles counted it a privilge to suffer for Christ and Paul suggests in II Corinthians that God's strength operates at peak efficiency when we sense our weakness. The promise, "My grace is sufficient for you", can take us through the veil of suffering and brings us to spiritua growth and maturity on the other side.


Knowing Christ is a combination of the power and the pain we experience in our daily walk with Christ. If we want to participate in the fullness of Christ, we can only do so when we willingly submit to both. I do want to know Christ.