Wednesday, December 30, 2009

forty-two years...

Someone responded to my most recent blog with the comment..."forty-two years serving a god who does not exist". What a sad commentary. I hope my blog did not solicit his response.

For the record...those forty-two years that have been punctuated with good times and bad times, typical of life. Some of the "bad times" have been the result of decisions I have made and paths I have chosen that were self-indulgent or just acts of pure rebellion against God. Other "bad times" have been the result of sin in a fallen world, and the choices of others around me that impacted me with a measure of pain and discomfort.

The "good times" in ministry have been frequent--people rescued from addiction, marriages restored, lives enriched, fulfillment discovered, relationships healed--all the result of relationships built with the God who does exist.

The existence of God does not mean "bad times" are non-existent. It does introduce us to a divine resource that equips us with His grace and mercy for life's most demanding situations.

Forty-two years and counting...what a privilege to serve God!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

unfair


As I listened to someone's story today, I thought to myself, "This is so unfair!" Armed with my "fix-it skills", I lamented the fact that there was nothing I could say or do that would make any appreciable difference. The suffering this person was describing, though seemingly undeserved and misplaced at the hands of evil men, is her life.

I am reading Randy Alcorn's voluminous work, IF GOD IS GOOD... It is a book of more questions than answers but it has challenged me to work through my own subconscious interrogation of God when I can't make sense of things. For my own survival, I decided a long time ago that He is not just sovereign--BUT good. It wasn't as if I figured that out--it was a point of affirmation of faith that I embraced because in most situations I could see God's hand at work; in the situations that I questioned, I purposely determined to defer to God's infinite wisdom.

I applauded the indomitable spirit of my visitor today--she is surviving, though barely--in the midst of heinous circumstances. The road ahead will probably be even rougher; she is anticipating that with the appropriate apprehension. I see her fragile faith searching for a resting place, and as I prayed for her, I asked God to help her face the day with new courage and strength.

It doesn't seem fair. It isn't fair. It is unfair.

I will be praying for her this week. It is what i can do.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Psalm 103


This morning I read the 103rd Psalm. A friend joined me later and I reread it to him. Later this after as I prepared my sermon for Sunday, I envisioned how it would be a fitting climax to my Christmas Sunday message about God’s matchless grace.

“The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. He will not always accuse nor will he harbor his anger forever; He does not treat us as we deserve or repay us according to our iniquities, For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His love for those who fear Him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us…” verses 8-12.

These words are like a subtle fragrance in a smoke-filled room, a beautiful melody hummed in the corridors of a crowded mall. They breathe something so foreign to the normal environs that when noticed they cannot be summarily dismissed.

I entered the haven of my office early today with a dull headache and an upset stomach that would eventually cause me to cancel my care group and to come home early. Still, when I opened my Bible to read and meditate these words settled in my soul and have carried me into the quiet reflection of an unusual evening at home (most Wednesdays I am at our care group).

As I enter my 62nd year and I face the recurrent challenges of the ministry, I am struck by the theme of this Psalm---God loves me as a father loves a son. The characteristic that most draws me into His care is the notion that “He does not treat us as we deserve or repay us according to our iniquities.” This statement of how God chooses to deal with us in the midst of our failures is a compelling component of His compassion and grace.

When I review the past year I think of unmet goals and unkept promises. It isn’t it important to list them—many have to do with the physical disciplines of exercise and diet and my ongoing struggles to treat my body as “the temple of God”. Other areas of ongoing concern include my penchant for worry, my tendency towards “workaholism”, my need to prioritize…and the list goes on. Sadly for me, many of these things were are areas of reoccurring concern, a signal that I am not growing as I should.

Still I am buoyed by God’s affirmation that His love is incomprehensively greater than we can imagine when we “fear Him” and seek to honor Him in our lives. Our heavenly Father is gracious in his forgiveness of our sins and His ongoing commitment to be “abounding in love” towards us.

Equipped with that knowledge I face a new year with an encouraged heart. I can remember my father saying to me “You can do better”, whether I was reluctantly mowing the year or begrudgingly assisting him a painting job as a teenager. Interestingly, I supported myself as a college student and young pastor through yard
work and painting, skills I honed at home growing up. All of that discipline and training was critical in my personal growth and development and my loving father administrated his care with a firm but gentle hand.

The process continues for me. A calendar change merely signal that another day has passed and we have tripped over into a new year. Nothing monumental...just more of the same…but the year changes from 2009 to 2010. And with the change, I recognize that for 44 years now I have been a follower of Christ and in September I began my 43rd year in ministry; with that there comes a growing sense of my dependence upon my heavenly Father. I am grateful that He loves me and forgives me., I am confident He will continue to discipline and direct me because of His love that is great for all who fear Him. That fear is a holy and reverential awe, and results in an ongoing astonishment that He, who knows me so well, loves me so much.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

"Everybody's Fine..."


I watched a move on my day off; it was sobering and sad. It is the story of a widowed father's pursuit of his children and their reluctance to embrace him. His wife has been the proverbial "glue" that held the family together and handled the communication. Now that she is gone, the father seeks to take on her role, after a history of heavy-handedness, high expectations and immersion in his work, all which he insists he has done for the sake of his family.




His now grown children are all going through their own struggles, none of which he has been privy to (hidden from him by his wife); upon visiting them he is perceptive enough to discover that life has been painfully hard--even though there are vestiges of success around them--and that their affirmative responses to his critical question, "Are you happy?" are a mask for their real unhappiness.




Nestled in the middle of this drama is the unfolding tragedy of the youngest son, who, before the movie is over, will die of a drug overdose. He is the son Robert Deniro--the father on display--has treated the most harshly in his attempt to motivate him to succeed as an artist and there is a moment of truth when he nearly dies from a heart attack and he confronts the shortfall of his own life. Though it is too late to make amends with his youngest son--he later discovers his son credits him for prodding him to success as an artist--he has a renewed opportunity for reconciliation with his other three children.




I fought some of those same battles as a father--working too many hours ("for them"--I would react defensively), driving my children (sometimes away) because of my perfectionism and not always being a good listener (because I was too busy talking). There were a few tears shed as I watched and did my own personal inventory.




Here's the good news. My kids are a success by anyone's standards. They survived me, and, now, though we might have differing opinions about my failures, I can be comfortable in the relationship we enjoy today. My children live on Nashville, Dallas and London, and I see them once or twice a year (not nearly enough!), but we are always in communication, and, gladly, it didn't take a heart attack to remind me of what matters most. It is the relationships in which we invest that bring the most joy, and, sometimes, sadness. When we know are chidlren are suffering, we experience a certain indescribable kind of pain. But what brings us our greatest happiness are those isolated moments when we know that "everybody's fine".


Go see the movie. Is "everybody fine" in your family?















Thursday, December 03, 2009

care groups


Our small groups at Grace are called "care groups", that in keeping with our church motto, "a church that cares". We believe that care groups provide a unique opportunity for people to connect with others in a way that is more intimate than what occurs in a large setting on Sunday mornings.


Wednesday is our care group night and we meet at different homes of those who are in our groups. A different person facilitates the discussions we have that include up to eighteen of us--if every one came. Last night we had eleven, a typical representation. Our care group also includes a time of sharing needs and praying for one another, as well as some refreshments.


At the conclusion of the evening,Beverly, my wife, suggested aloud that maybe our care group setting was what the early church was like. There we sat, huddled together, reading the Word, sharing our hearts, and praying for one another. It was an intimate and uplifting experience...and we had difficulty leaving!


Here's what I took from our care group last night...


1. Habakkuk 3 reports the thoughts of a prophet who is wrestling with God about His apparent reluctance to intervene in addressing man's sinfulness and injustice. In the end, however, he resolves, "...yet I will rejoice in the Lord. I will be joyful in God, my Savior." All of us acknowledged our need to affirm the sovereignty of God and the certainty of His promises.


2. Many of our group have family members who are struggling with various issues; we agreed that our family concerns are a priority as we celebrate the Christmas season. We want our joy to be theirs because of Christ. So we will pray for our families.


3. Several of our fellowship have job-related needs. With the current economy we all are experiencing varying impact from the current depression. Those of us with more can help others, even within our group, as God directs us. That, I believe, encapsulates the spirit of the season.


4. There are mundane needs in our group, such as helping someone move furniture, that we can come alongside and share in together. We are waiting for a phone call to "spring into action".


5. Our group was reminded of a single woman who needs recurrent help--some of us have assisted her before--and we are looking for creative ways to respond to a current cry for help.


After coffee cake, hot cider and a cookie--too much for my blood sugar!--we went home chilled by winter's breeze, but warmed in our hearts by the experience of our care group.







Tuesday, November 24, 2009

met needs

I worked with a family yesterday who were displaced due to crsis that threatened their safety. It was my day off but because I knew the family and was aware how critical the situation was, I plunged into it with confidence.

Why was I confident? I thought of all the people I knew who would be willing to help and a catastrophe--which it continues to be because it reflects a broken home--was diminished for the moment by the realization of how great the family of God is...

*Housing was found for the family while they awaited a longer-term solution

*A suitable rental was located, and offered "free for six months" until the family gets established

*A friend to clean the very dirty carpets was located and changed his schedule to accomodate their needed transitional timetable

*Someone donated a refrigerator to be used while they were in the apartment...and offered to deliver it

*People who don't know the family have offered to help them move

*Food from the church perishable pantry will help them get through the next few weeks

All of this happened within the space of six hours--from the time we heard the news to the signing of papers with PGE and the water company to get them settled by week's end.

My confidence is not in myself, but in a God who promises to "supply all of your needs according to His riches in glory."

And He is a God who can fix families, too. Keep praying with me.

Friday, November 20, 2009

men praying together

Eight of my good buddies joined me today at 6:30 a.m. for a time of prayer together. We welcomed a new friend today, spent time reading the Word, sharing requests, praying together and eating breakfast.

What a great way to start the day!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The pursuit of eschatological truth


For Christians eschatology (the study of "last things") remains one of the most challening areas of study. Due to its imagery and apocalyptic content, agreement about interpretation is not easily reached among scholars. As I am preaching through I Thessalonians I am confronted in chapter four with the idea of a "rapture" and the debate about whether or not it is a spearate event frorm the second coming.

Last week I preached from 4:13-18 and affirmed the pretribulational rapture position that I, as well as our church statement of faith, embrace. My reading and preparatory study was fascinating as I surveyed a wide array of opinions and comments, some of which labeled opposing views as "heretical". I would have to admit that there are some perspectives that seem far-fetched, but the honest debate about dispensationalism and the teaching of the Word regarding Israel and the church--does the church replace Israel in prophecy is a critical question--leaves room for healthy dialogue.

Without dismissing these conversations, I want to make a few observations from my study of I Thessalonians that are critical for me personally, independent of one's eschatological stance.

1. We should look forward to Christ's return, I Thessalonians 1:10.

2. Christ's return will usher us into the rpesence of our Lord Jesus; that is our hope and joy, I Thessalonians 2:19.

3. We will be with the Lord forever, I Thessalonians I Thessalonians 4:17.

4. We are to encourage one another with this hope, I Thessalonians 4:18.

As you work your way through the details of eschatology, don't get stuck along the way. Keep focused on the certainty Christ's return--regardless of the chronology of events--"for we shall see Him as He is. Everyone who has this hope in Him purifies Himself just as He is pure." I John 3:3.

The pursuit of eschatological truth should not deter us from living living holy lives; it should, in fact, make us more determined to walk even more closely with the One we long to see.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

What...me worry?


Alfred E. Neumann, a fictional person of the past, prompted those words--"What...me worry?" For me, the answer is a sad, but self-effacing, "yes!"


Someone phoned me this morning and they were worried about a set of circumstances they were facing, and they had some legitimate cause for concern. My default response--one that I believe in my heart--was to remind them of Philippians 4:6 and 7, "Do not be anxious about anything but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of Goid which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."


And we prayed together over the phone--another thing I recognize as essential in dealing with the ravages of worry--I felt a calmness and a sense of God's peace enter our conversaion together.


So, here I am, sitting in front of my computer, confessing my worry over a littany of things, admittedly, things over which I have no control. They are things which run the gamut of family issues, church challenges and personal concerns.


And I am worrying...


I just picked up my Bible, read Philippians 4:6ff for the umpteenth time, and bowed my head in prayer before God.


As I prepare for a funeral service in another fifty minutes, I am glad to report that God has brought some peace to my heart once again.


"What...me worry?"


Probably, I will again.


But for now, I am grateful for God's transcendent peace.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

sunday sundries


Every Sunday is an adventure but today was especially exciting...


*I taught the concluding class of an eight week class on "Rebuilding Bruised and Broken Relationships" (probably a subject to be taught every year...)


*I preached another message from a series taken from I Thessalonians; today's study was from 4:9-12 and was entitled, "Simple Rules for Daily Life" (turns out, they aren't that "simple"...)


*Bev and I visited a young mother and father whose first baby was born yesterday afternoon! (I held the baby...)


*We "lunched" at a Japanese restaurant with two special church families ( I skipped the sushi...)


*We visited a young man whose wife died a year ago; we came to his estate sale to get some books his wife and set aside for me...and tried to encourage him as he walks through his grief (lots of old books!)


*We visited an elderly woman who is dying from cancer; her family was gathered around her as we prayed for her imminent "home-going" (she's a believer...)


We came home tired, but rejoicing in the opportunities this Sunday provided us for sharing with the family of God.


It is like that every week...no wonder we feel blessed!






Wednesday, October 21, 2009

the dentist


I went to the dentist this morning and had my teeth cleaned. I do that twice a year, although I have to be reminded and I don't really relish the visits.


There is something about going to the dentist that conjures up sounds of drills and threats of needles for novacaine. I suppose it is not insignificant that the rate of suicide amongst dentists is one of the highest amongst professionals. No one wants to pay that much for the pain they inflict (it really isn't that bad!) and we probably only visit when we are compelled by the undulating pain of a sore tooth that won't go away.


The dental hygenist I see is friendly and "chatty". It is obviously a one-way conversation because it is difficult to do much more than make gutteral sounds when there are cleaning utensils in your mouth. Still, she makes me confortable and extricates the unwanted contaminants from my mouth (I manage to produce a certain amount of plaque each visit) with a minimal amount of discomfort.


When she is done, she polishes my teeth and hands me a plastic bag of "goodies" including dental floss, a tooth brush of my own choosing (I always chose blue, reflective of my dental mood), and other "equipment" for insuring maximum dental care.


Today I also had x-rays and a visit with my dentist friend who reaffirmed the uncompleted work he wants to do that I have been avoiding. He reminds me of the discount he is offering me, the insurance monies I have yet to utilize this year, and smiles as he pushes me towards towards the one who schedules my next appointment.


What I took from the dental visit today--in addition to my "goody bag"--was the good news that my teeth are in great shape because I have been following the daily disciplines suggested, i.e. brushing my teeth, flossing, avoiding sugary drinks, etc.


There is much about the dental visit that seems similar to some of our spiritual disciplines.

1. They are painful.

2. They are costly.

3. They take time.

4. They demand a degree of consistency.

5. They are usually done where no one else can see us.


I confess that it is not always easy to get out of bed early every day, grab my coffee, and sit down to read my Bible. Praying coherently with my wife is also a challenge some days. Journaling about my life is another daily discipline I have chosen and there are days I cannot write a word willingly.


But, when I leave my place of study and prayer, and when I have finished my journaling--no matter how hard the task may have been--I almost always feel better...and "cleaner", because of my time with the Lord.


I am smiling today. My teeth are a bit brighter, my mouth feels clean, and I got a good report from the dentist.


And my insurance paid the bill! How can you beat that!



Friday, October 16, 2009

a wedding and a funeral


This week I have been balancing two very different events--a wedding and a funeral. The common denminator is that in both cases it involves people with whom I am intimately connected. As a result, there are alot of converging emotions to process as I prepare for both.


A wedding is a joyous event. Two people who love each other joined together for life. What a blessing!


A funeral is a joyous event. A believer and her Savior joined together for eternity. What a blessing!


I just realized that in this case--where believers are involved--these events are not that different. They are relationships built on mutual commitment to one another made to last forever.


I can celebrate both!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

wind and rain


It is a prematurely dark, cold and windy October day...welcome to fall ("hello, winter; I can see you peeking around the corner").

But I like it. I like the sound. I like the feel of the briskness. It signals the arrival of a new season. And I like the seasons.

My wife recently reminded me that in winter I cannot wait for it to be spring and in the spring I cannot wait for summer to arrive and in the summer I cannot wait for the fall and... you get the picture. It seems as if I am never satisfied.

But that is not totally true. I embrace every season when it arrives, though I like some better than the others. The crisp days of early summer and early fall are hard to beat and the red hot days of summer and blistery cold days of winter are not my favorites. But each season has its own charm and appeal, and I welcome them when they come...though I am ready for a new season when each has run its course.

There's a bit of real life in that scenario. Life certainly has its seasons--days that are crisp with excitement and anticipation and others that are hot with tension--others, cold with disappointment. But they are to be welcomed--all of them. James 1 says we are to "Consider it all joy...when you encounter various trials knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance..." When the season of testing comes we know that it brings with it something we need. The winter brings needed rain, the summer covers the earth with life-giving nurture and warmth and grows towards fall's harvest. What is produced is a good thing, just as our trials allow our endurance to be shaped and molded for the long haul.

I am buttoning uo my jacket and heading out with wind whistling at me. Rain is ready and eager to pelt my face with its cold moisture.

And I welcome it today.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Accidentally...with purpose


Someone shared with me today a call for help. He crashed his car over a precipice and turned over fifteen times before being thrown from the vehicle and watching it turn into a battered heap upon itself. With broken ribs and battered body, he made the painful climb to the road above to be rescued.

His response? God spared my life and its time for me to wake up and pay attention. His real question was, "If God did this what purpose does He then have for my life?" The theologian inside of me hurried to assure him that God does not orchestrate such things, but He does allow them. God sees the opportunity in our crisis to draw our attention to Him and to turn us away from our selfish plans and desires. Moments of such crisis may cause us to say, "All right; I'm listening!"

I prayed with this man over the phone to welcome Christ into his life and to accept His mercy and grace--and to seek God's purpose for His life. I could sense an authenticity in his desire to offer his life to God, bruised and battered though it may be because of the accident.

It was an accident...with purpose. What are you learning from the things in your life that seem to just happen, and cause you to pause and ask, "Now what was the purpose iof that?"

"You intended to harm me but God intended it for good", Genesis 50:19

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

computer crazy


We were without a computer hookup this weekend and so we both went crazy!

Not really...but it is something to see how dependent we are upon wireless communication. Alas! Even my I-Phone would not work at home due, apparently, to a systemic problem with our service provider.

Today the computer is working at home, the I-Phone is retrieving messages and, for the moment, our sanity has been restored.

What did we do before computers?

*We used the telephone....it's that thing on your desk.

*We walked to our neighbor's to deliver messages...I know, it's hot out there.

*We sent letters in our own handwriting to friends (my friends prefer computer-generated messages from me).

*We used the encyclopedia to retrieve needed information...it was good exercise just lifting the volumes.

*We got directions from a map or called and asked how to get there...instead of plugging in our GPS.

*We only had 2-3 choices of where to eat; now we weigh the options on an I-Phone application that reveals, location, prices, type of food, and ambiance!

*We actually shopped at real stores...instead of online with a "basket" to hold our heightened orders as we appropriate online discounts.

And there's a bunch of other stuff we could mention that make our computers indispensable...or not?

I survived the weekend--talked to my friends, ate good food, found my way around town and shopped for what I needed at the mall. Not a recipe for the best weekend ever, but my wife and I had a great time togetehr and we are no worse off for our computer-deprived four days.

We actually spent alot more time talking and walking.

I may be crazy but I think I feel better today.

Friday, September 04, 2009

loneliness


Sometimes being surrounded by people masks the real loneliness we feel. We may have lots of relationships, even a closely-knit family...but we can still be lonely.

We feel loneliness because we cannot share with anyone how we truly feel. Or, we are so overwhelmed by the demands of everyday life that we are unable to nurture meaningful relationships that are not couched in terms of work responsibility and family duty.

Sometimes it is just our own fault. We are never fully honest about our real feelings because it is not safe to share them, or we suspect others would be disappointed if they knew the real "me", or had a up close and personal look at our personal demons.

In the midst of such loneliness stands the shadow of One who whispers, "I will never leave you or forsake you", or, "I am with you always"--words that should bring comfort because they affirm we are never really alone. Because we cannot see God, nor often do we feel His presence, it is an exercise of faith to reach into the shadows and embrace Him.

I choose to do that today...will you?

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

administrative bugaboos


Tuesday morning is a day I both love and hate,; hence my love-hate relationship with administrative work...and Tuesdays in general.

For me Tuesdays "invite" a summary of Sunday concerns, a response to congregational communications (e-mails, notes, verbal messages, bulletin "tear-offs", etc.), a setting of weekly appointments, an agenda for weekly staff meeting (and the meeting itself) and a general pulling together of all thh things necessary to get caught up and on top of things...so that I can move ahead with the challenges of a new week. m As I conclude that work today, I will have spent about twelve hours keeping my secretary doing deep-breathing exercises(fortunately--for her--she went home three hours ago)and cooling off my computer which by day's end feels hot to the touch!

What is it I "hate" about administrative work? Sometimes it seems intensely impersonal. There are no faces in front of me and I am writing down messages and communicating with people I cannot see. Another ongoing frustration is that though my intentions are usually well- motivated, my communciation is not always well-received (why can't they "get it?"). The painful result is that there is the creation of additional communciation responsibility that is time-consuming, and sometimes, equally non-productive.

But is is not all bad! There are some things I really love about administrative work. There is the elixir (while I am doing it) that I am getting things done, and all will be better now (hah!) There is also the overwhelming sense of the importance of communication and response which affirms the value of the individual and extends the opportunity for dialogue for things that cannot simply be reduced to a program overhaul or a handshale and a promise to do better.

It's Tuesday and today, though I am tired, has been more about the "love" side of the work. The bugaboos were present, to be sure, but the administrative birthday lunch for a staff member, the prayer time with a husband seeking counsel for a critical decision and the early morning coffee with a friend who is getting married, made the day meaningful for me.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

I hate to leave him here...


I work for Hospice as a chaplain and make regular visit on our patients at the local institutions that care for the the elderly, i.e. rest homes, convalescent facilities, etc. Today I recognized one of our church members at a convalescent care facility with her father. She was reluctantly leaving him there because his wife can no longer care for him as he wrestles with memory loss and its related debilitation.


As we live longer the potential of extended life care looms on the horizon for all of us--if not for ourselves, perhaps for our parents. I have seen the physical toll of caring for a needy family member and watched as a loving mate, sibling, or child, sacrifically gave of themselves until their own health was jeopardized. I have observed, as well, the frightening terror of aggravated injury when someone who needed greater care was left on their own, and have noted the guilt it triggered for the party who had taken a rest break, or, turned their back just for a moment.


Making decisions that impact the care of elderly parents and family members is a horrifically difficult one. I have gone with families as they have transferred a member to a care facility and watched the etars flow freely as they drove away. In the majority of cases I have observed, the family's primary concern was centered around, "What is best for my loved one?"


There were tears today as the family left the premises of the care facility. I hung around for awhile and watched kind nurses direct the new patient on a tour around the facility and when I had to go he was sitting comfortably with another patient visiting and smiling.


God, grant us all wisdom if we ever come to the time we have to make a decision like this. May it be motivated by love and concern, and may we rest in the decision knowing we have sought to do what us best for the one we love...even if we have to leave him there.


Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The battle for a health plan that works


Our church has graciously sought to provide health care for our family. It is currently being re-evaluated as costs and coverage are an ever-changing commodity in the health care market.


The debate about health care--who gets it, how they get it, why some don't get it, who should pay for it and where all the money is going--is raging. And it is being waged across party lines witha diversity of opinion on both sides of the political aisle.


For me, the battle recently became intensely personal. I have a high $3500 deductible policy and with recent cataract surgery facing me, I was trying to be proactive (a critical word) about the cost of my procedure. I called the local surgery center and was told that if I submitted a claim for the procedure--1 hour and twenty minutes there--my insurance company would be billed $5,150; if I wanted to pay cash the cost would be $1136! With a $3500 deductible I was faced with the dilemma of not submitting my claim (so it could be counted against my deductible) and paying $3500 or shelling out $1136 for the same service as a cash-paying customer.


Here's the dilemma. With a $4000 differential between the insurance claim cost and the actual cost for the cash customer...where does that extra money go?


I am not complaining. I was able to pay the bill and my right eye sees much more clearly, having been declared "legally blind" in that eye weeks before.


What I still cannot see clearly is how it is as a well-paid professional I still cannot afford my health plan and its suggested "benefits"...?


And then I remember, there are many who make significantly less than I do, and are faced with the same gripping questions.


As Christians, we should have a deep concern for the hurting. There are many who simply cannot afford health care, even though they come from responsible, hard-working families. In a country where our health care is excellent (if you can afford it), it is a challenge for all of us to beseech our congressmen (and women) to take a hard look at the options that are being laid before us and to take off our "party" hats and pray that we can find a way to direct the trillions of dollars spent on health care so those who work hard can utilize a plan that works!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

do you remember vacation bible school?


My wife and I are huddled together today in a classroom that has been converted into a camp site. All the walls are covered with blue sky, as well as the ceiling, and a faux campfire sits in the middle of a large room. Fifteen fifth and sixth graders are seated with eager eyes waiting attentively...for me to share the story of the day!

It is a moment pregnant with all kinds of emotion for me. I have known some of these children, after thirteen years of pastoring here, since they were babies. Today I have the privilege of telling them how they can know Jesus and what an adventure it is to live for Him. For just a moment I can imagine them six-seven years from now, graduating from high school. What chocies will they make? Where will their lives be headed? Will they still be interested in spiritual things?

Ecclesiates 12:1 encourages us to "Remember now your Creator in the days of your youth..." I am not sure the kids are hearing every word I am saying--though they are listening intently--but I know this. Today they will hear the gospel, the "good news" about Jesus. they will hear it in the context of a decorated Sunday School classroom at "Son Rock Camp".

And they will hear it, however imperfectly, from me.

I am for the moment overwhelmed but hopeful that they will always remember this week of Vacation Bible School.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Learning to live with less...


The very thought of "cutting back" carries the idea of pain and discomfort. Still, it is my conclusion that it is the season for financial pruning at the Barrett home.


I am embarassed sometimes by the sheer number of shoes, shirts and pants I have neatly stored in my closet. I recently assauged some of my guilt when I discovered someone else in my church family who wore size thirteen shoes and I handed off some of my overflow to him (there are still more to give away).


I am disappointed by my whining and complaining when something I have planned goes awry and I have extra unexpected expenses or work to meet the demands of the situation. But I always find away to muster the resources to do what I have to do (because I have the resources...duh!).


Beverly and I often rehearse how God has blessed us. Our chidlren and grandchildren are all well, both of our mothers are bright and fucntional at age 85, our home is a "paradise" to us, we have vehicles that run, I have a great job, and we even have some "toys" that we enjoy (a travel trailer we could live in some day), etc.


So I Timothy 6:3-10 reminds me of a critical point--"...godliness with contentment is great gain". The secret to learning to live with less is being grateful for what we have, and content in what God has provided for us. I am still learning this. Paul writes young Timothy, "But if we have food and clothing we will becontent with that." The problem is that I am not "young" any more and I am either a slow or reluctant learner...or both.


There is an integral link between "godliness" and "contentment". To be godly is to seek after the things of God, to take seriously His Word, to be aware that He is in the process of molding us into the image of His Son. When we are in that mindset, it is much more easy to be content because when we realize the faithfulness of God in meeting our needs our "wants", I believe, are less compelling.


So I am challenging myself to learn to live with less--I don't need another pair of shoes, I can wear that shirt another year, I won't die without a morning Starbucks, I can function without a membership at the local gym (that's why I bought my treadmill in the first place), and I would rather eat at home than eat out in Amador County anyway (I live that "home cookin'").


And if I live on less, I can do more. I'll share more about that with you in my next blog. Read I Timothy 6:11-21 for the rest of the story!



Monday, July 27, 2009

reflections on a weekend


We came home Friday from fifteen days in the redwoods camped five miles from the ocean near Santa Cruz, sheltered from the high heat of Amador County, where it chose to hover between 100-107 degrees while we were gone.

It was a special time complete with delicious days with kids and grandkids, good times with great friends, and quiet moments alone taking in the grandeur of our surroundings. The end result was a reluctant departure and a relective trip home.

Punctuating our warm welcome at home was the task of unloading our trailer, washing a ton of dirty clothes and preparing for a big weekend.

*Saturday I traveled to Stockton on personal business, caring for a difficult situation that is stretching our family.

*It was also a day to tie together the loose ends of a Sunday School lesson on Samuel, and a sermon from the 146th Psalm--both tasks I welcomed.

*Sunday we returned to our church fsmily and the familiar feel of a Lord's Day in Amador County.

*I taught and preached and felt inspired by the time I had away to get refurbished and refreshed. (I had good material...God's Word!)

*A highlight was a reunion with a former teenager from a church I pastored--now a pastor's wife with three beautiful teenage daughters. They worshipped with us and joined us for lunch with other friends.

*Sunday afternoon it was a failed attempt at a nap followed by an hour on the treadmill topped with toasted cheese sandwiches and some Home and Garden television.

*This morning it was ten hours at the office of primarily administrative work and "catch up" from the two weeks away.

I am back at the computer tonight with the distant sounds of a Giant ball game taking shape and the quiet hum of a fan blowing in my face. It was 107 degrees on the thermometer in downtown Jackson on my way home but by now it has cooled down, according to my I-Phone, to 97 degrees.

It was a good weekend--not quite like being tucked away in the redwoods basking in the cool breeze of the nearby ocean. But it is home--wherewe live and where we minister each week. And I like it here!

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

what part of "nothing" don't we understand?


In John 15 Jesus tells His disciples, having talked about the relationship of branches to the vine, "Apart form me you can do nothing". I have been struck by the blatant simplicity of these words and painfully aware of my often daily disregard of them.

How much do I do in my own strength? I recently reviewed a day of my life and thought about each section of the day, each responsibility I had, each person with whom I spoke and each communciation I sent. Were these activities wrapped in prayer? Did they reflect the heart fo God? Did I act on a whim, or, did I react without prayerfully evaluating my motives? Applying such tests to the things I say and do in ministry--and in life, generally--should become a habit. If I want my actions to have some eternal significance, they need to be framed within the context of my intimate connection to Christ and my desire to manifest His fruit and character in my life in every situation.

I leave for two weeks of vacation tomorrow and I go with a heart determined to affirm my daily dependence upon God. I'll report back about how that is going on my return.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Life is so daily...


Someone has said it, so tritely, and, yet, so timely..."Life is so daily".

*Today I ate breakfast with two brothers who I love and respect and felt encouraged by them.

*Today I wrote a letter to a family member who is in a horrible place, telling them I loved them, and reminding them of God's mercy and grace.

*Today I spoke to someone whose ninety year old mother, afflicted with dementia, died. I reminded her of the frequent times I heard her mother say, "Would you bless me?" (And then we would pray together...)

*Today I prayed with a man who did not even remember who I was, but, who when I prayed became quiet, and when I left him, was signing a hymn to the Lord.

*Today I studied God's Word and finished a sermon for Sunday that challenged me tow alk more closely with god.

*Today I picked squash from our our church victory garden for some needy families.

*Today I shared with some children from a broken family who don't want to hurt either of their parents, and are struggling with allegiances.


*Today
I had my eyes checked and met someone whose marriage I performed several years ago and now, two children later, shared her lfie with me.

*Today I listened to a phone message from soneone asking me if there was anything more they could do for me, having voluntarily already done more than I could repay.

*Today I thanked God for today...and the daily opportunities there are to serve Him!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

grandparent's lament


Well, cousin's camp has come and gone...and I am tired and relieved...and missing them already!

It was truly a great week as we battled the elements--some tricky weather--and a family tragedy (just prior to our leaving). Stillw e were confident God wanted us to go!

So, loaded down with our luggage (above and behind us), squeezed into a nine passenger Yukon (thanks to son, Tim) and with valuable cargo--Sage, Kyle, Eden, JJ, Zeke, Julianne, and Nate-- we headed off for Lake Tahoe.

The trip there was punctuated with stops for windy road induced-nausea, nature's relief, and stretching legs. Pizza was the evening meal fare and orientation.

Monday-Thursday were full days with breakfast, morning walk with grandpa (while grandma had quiet time), Bible lesson and singing (remember the camp song?), memory verses, crafts, lunch, afternoon activity--we explored Fallen Leaf Lake and swam in the icy waters of Sand Harbor--and evening meal, videos, games--even a Talennt Show. "Lights out" was at 9 (when they actualy went to sleep remains a mystery) and there were sounds of life every morning as early as 5 a.m.

We also had a camp store and they used tickets which they earned through cleaning their area, helping one another, memorizing scripture, behaving well, serving willingly, etc. Grandma and I spent several months selecting gifts that would motivate their participation (does it sound like bribery...or extrinsic motivation?)

We headed home Firday morning singing the camp song, reflecting on special memories and remembering some of the lessons we had learned.

Our house looked oawfully good when we headed up Cakifornia Drive but within a few hours it was mostly quiet. We took an afternoon nap.

When we awakened, it was even more quiet.

And today, we miss them even more.

That's a grandparent's lament!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

cousin's camp


In a few days Beverly and I will take seven of our eleven grandchidlren--ages 5-12) to our timeshare in Lake Tahoe and "spoil" them!

We want to invest in our grandchildren some unforgettable memories. They all have super Christian parents and come from great supportive environments. Still, we hope we have something to add to their lives that will affirm what they probably have already been taught and learned.

Our theme is EXPLORATION EXPPEDITION, and we will be exploring our Creator through His Word, His creation through field trips and hiking challenges and our own creativity through craft projects each day. I have written a camp song and I thought I'd share the words below (to the tune of "I may never march in the infantry...")
"I'm an Explorer for Truth"

First verse:
I'm excited to see bugs and wildflowers
Waterfalls and mountnain towers
Sunshine and morning showers,
I've discovered God in His creative powers,
I'm an explorer for truth.

Chorus
I'm an explorer for truth
I'm an explorer for truth.
I will search God's Word as I start the day
Walk in His perfect way,
Choose what I do and say,
I will share my heart as I come to pray,
I'm an explorer for truth.

Second verse:
I'm enjoying searching God's holy Word
Looking for things I've heard
Having my heart assured.
I've discovered believing God is not absurd,
I'm an explorer for truth.

I'll give you an updated account of our adventure when I return in a week...

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

bits and pieces

I have missed blogging for a few weeks due to a couple of events of some importance to me--enough that I will draw attention to them here.

I attended a pastors' conference at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, Illinois and was encouraged and uplifted after four days of listening and learning.

As a listener, I focused on taking in the Word and benefitting from the wisdom of others. As a learner, I owned a spirit of teachability and am seeking now to apply some of things I heard.

I participated at a men's retreat in the foothills of Northern California with about 35 guys from our church this weekend. I was not the leader so I got to be a participant and a "pray-er".

As a participant, I sat with the men and sang with them, worshipped with them, competed with them, ate with them, laughed and cried with them, and slept with them. As a "pray-er", I had the privilege of sitting with a few of them one-on-one and sharing with them the hope of God's Word and the help of the Holy Spirit.

I later returned to a church burglary, a volatile situation where someone reported a church incident to the local police, a death, and a reports of declining church income.

I reluctantly had to put on my pastor's "hat" and go to work, but the bits and pieces of ecnouragement and enrichment I found at the conference and retreat have kept me focused on God's goodness and inexhaustible resources.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

My "estate"


I have been doing that paper work that has to be done when you are caring for a will and your “estate”…whatever that means! It means I have to collect addresses, social security numbers, and make all kinds of phone calls to retrieve information I can’t find. At any rate, I am almost done and I am exhausted. If I worked a few more hours at this I could just die and let my will take effect and my estate could be distributed—such as it is—to my wife. When she observes how small it is, she may die as well, and then the remaining tiny pieces can be divided equally among our six children.

What a process…and for what purpose? It is all predicated on the presumption we will leave something behind of worth when we die and to keep the State from absorbing it we need to write down who gets to fight over it…or not, assuming a clearly-written will identifies the appropriate beneficiaries and delineates what part of the “estate” is theirs.

Having pastored for forty plus years and having performed over five hundred funerals and memorial services, I can testify to some pretty hideous fights I have observed when the final “amen!” was read and the coffin set in the ground. The struggle for “who gets what” begins and the sequential chapters of the story often continue to unravel in living color in the months and years that follow.

And this is all about stuff…

So how does one prepare for this seemingly inevitable conflict? What can be done to stave off the battles?

1. Commit to a life of poverty; then there is nothing to fight over, or…

2. Spend what you have earned and celebrate the fruits of your labor so that the estate is enjoyed by those who worked hard to earn it, or…

3. Think about what you really want to leave behind. “Invest” in a legacy with lasting dividends.

Jesus said, “…store up for yourselves treasures in heaven where moth and rust to not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:20,21)

Here are some simple things that represent some real treasures with a good return on your investment!


T-ime; spend time with those you love.

R-espect; treat everyone you meet with the proper respect.

E-ncouragement; look for ways to encourage those who need an uplifting word

A-ction; demonstrate what you truly believe by acting upon its principles

S-ervice; offer your life in service to others instead of waiting to be served

U-nity; seek to find ways to unite people who are alienated form each other.

R-est; be creative in rejuvenating yourself and others by learning to relax and rest.

E-njoyment; learn to be content and help others to enjoy what God has given them.

I am getting older, so I am thinking about my “estate”. What I really want to focus on is (a) where I am investing my "treasure"?, and, (b) am I leaving a legacy that reflects my heart?

Thursday, May 07, 2009

did you pray today?


Today I attended a breakfast for The Nationaal Day of prayer at a local church. There was a good attendance from various churches in the community--I guess we do all believe in prayer--and the aroma of good food and fellowship.

Following a Hospice meeting where we spent some time determining how to make more effective reports to ensure the continued funding of Medicare for Hospice care (a program favored by the current administration) we render in Amador County, I sat down at my computer to read a maelstrom of letters decrying the President's refusal to host a National Day of Prayer breakfast...with a number of other caveats added on reflecting the particular political mindset of those expressing their concerns.

At the end of sorting through all of this, I asked myself a few questions?

1. Does the President's sanctioning of a prayer breakfast enhance the value of prayer?

2. Is it significant that it takes a breakfast or a prescribed national event to get us as local churches to join together in prayer?

3. Is a "National Day of Prayer" enough? Will I be satisfied that we did this at least once this year?

4. Will it take a greater national calamity--if there is indeed one greater than what we are currently facing--to be a catalyst for more days of prayer?

5. If I chose not to go to a National prayer event like the one today, did I think to pray at home today for my country?

And what about tomorrow...and any and every day...?

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

an unsung hero


I recently did a memorial service for an elderly man who had been away from our church family for several years. He had moved to a care facility as he battled dementia and other physical challenges.


My memories of Jim were that he was very interested in the "end times" and frequently asked me questions about the book of Revelation and other eschatological sections of scripture. He also had a concern about the general moral degradation that was afflicting our country.

After Jim died I met his wife to prepare for his service, Iwas astounded to find out a number of things that deepened my love and admiration for Jim.

*He was an orphan, later adopted after living in numerous foster homes.
*He was a veteran of WW II and had gfought at the Battle of the Bulge and Normandy...he was one of those guys depicted on SAVING PRIVATE RYAN, who bravely stormed the beach there under heavy enemy fire.
*He was discharged from the service due to an injury, but late re-enlisted!
*He was a taxi cab driver whose acts of kindness as a Good Samaritan were written up several times in local newspapers.
*He helped build one of our area churches.

I thought to myself, "You just never know..." When we paid homage to Jim I thought of him in a different way than I had remembered him before--an unsung hero. He never had much notoriety, and though he received several awards for distinguished military service, those exploits were unknown to most of us.

We are the beneficiaries of the sacrifices of men like Jim.

And I "sing" my thanks for him today.

Friday, May 01, 2009

coma in coloma


Afte church last sunday Bev and I, under threat of unruly weather, left for nearby Coloma (an hour's drive), an area rich in the lustre of the history of the discovery of gold. My mind was swirling with a mixture of messages from parisioners needing help or direction and a list of last minute tasks I needed to complete. When I took off with my wife and our travel trailer one hour later my heart was pounding and my mind was racing.

Finally--an hour later-- we arrived at Coloma, specifically Coloma Resort, nestled along the south fork of the American River. In a campground large enough to accommodate groups of 500 plus, there were a handful of RVs and ours, and the quiet serenity of a mostly blue sky, gentle breezes and a melodic river to serenade us.

We unpacked and survived a few challenges with the trailer, mostly the result of my novice status as an RV officiando and my general mechanical ineptness. We were finally situated about 4 p.m. and relaxed in the comfortable confines of our "home away from home".

What happens when I get away like this is that for periods of time I am comatose--literally unaffected by anything around me, and generally impervious to any possible disruptions. I "tune out", having left my computer at home, and, in this case, cannot even operate my omnipresent I-Phone--a huge relief for my wife.

So it is three glorious days of doing little productive but investing in walking and talking with Bev, reading, journaling, sitting in solitude, reflecting and praying...and sleeping.

On the eve of our departure--we will leave in the morning--I feel rejuvenated and revitalized once again. I have emerged from my "coma", and am ready to return to reality and all of its glorious sounds and challenges.

All possible because of my coma in Coloma...

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

stridency


Last week when the California representative for the Miss America contest suggested that her idea of marriage was that it was a union between a man and a woman, the gay judge who asked the question proceeded to publicly denounce her with expletives not fit for reproduction here. Most agree it cost her winning the title.

Stridency.

When Proposition 8 "overturned" the redefinition of marriage to reflect the majority of Californian's belief that it is indeed a union between a man and a woman, those who fianncially supported the measure had their businessed disrupted and their lives threatened.

Stridency.
At the Oscar Awards this year Sean Penn, the actor, made it clear that those who were opposed to gay marriage were ignorant, intolerant and unfit to be true Americans.

Stridency.
Webster defines stridency as "charcterized by a harsh, insistent and discordant sound; commanding attention by a loud or obtrusive quality."

It seems incredulous that the call of those for tolerance and "civil rights" is so intolerant and uncivil. The stridency of their sound bites is so vitriolic and acrimonious that it reveals a deep hatred and antimony towards those who oppose them.

As I consider such anger and hostility I recognize within myself my own emotional mindset against such stridency and have to lobby my feelings so I do not fall prey to the same behavior I deplore.

I feel the same stridency about what I believe--in this case, what the majority have affirmed (although that pales in comparison to the authority of God's Word)--but I wish to respond with love and kindness to those who would rail against us. It is God's Word that tells us "A gentle answer turns away wrath but a harsh word stirs up anger", Proverbs 15:1.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Where have all the people gone...?


Standing room only on Resurrection Sunday!

A few empty seats, undoubtedly, next Sunday.

Ever wonder "WHY?"

Someone remarked to me that last week was the "CEO" crowd--Christmas, Easter Only. I smiled to myself and thanked God that they were there, even if only for that Sunday.

There is something compelling about the Easter season. I think we are beyond the pageantry of "dressing up" in a depression-like economy. I think the allurement of Easter baskets and bunnies is not what awakens people to the idea of being in church on Resurrection Sunday.

It just seems like the right thing to do.

Well--idealistic and hopeful as I am--methinks there is still a semblance of faith in Christ that is linked to our heritage and it triggers a response--even though perfunctory at first glance--to the message of His death and resurrection. People are drawn to church for that one Sunday--or two. They do it with their children and their extended families, and they do it with intention, planning a special dinner or activity as a part of the celebration.

Families get together, families come to church and, hopefully, they hear the gospel...one more time.

For one such family last Sunday was that kind of weekend. The result? One of the family members gave their heart to Christ and the entire family is rejoicing!

I guess that answers the question "WHY?"

Here's some important information. We will be open again this Sunday--and every Sunday--with the same good music and the same great message of hope. Hope you'll join us!

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

"In Jesus' name..."


I recently prayed at a public event where I closed my prayer with the words, "In Jesus' name." Later I was informed that this was offensive and inappropriate.

I have thought about that comment with some bewilderment. I was asked to pray. That in itself would have been an affront, I suppose, to an athiest or an agnostic present in the crowd. What kind of prayer with any substance could be formulated to not be offensive to someone?

I relected on the scenario of the prayer of Rick Warren at the President's Inauguration, which had to be augmented by another prayer and more politically liberal "pray-er" because of Warren's alleged evangelicalism. I later had someone question me about the content of Warren's prayer and his reference to a Muslim "deity".

as a minister annd a Hospice chaplain I am called into many situations where people want me to pray; in fact, they expect me to pray. Recently, I gathered outside a home where a young policeman had died. Family and friends of the family where gathered outside the home as theya waited the removal of the body. As the hearse drove off, I invited this very mixed group of people to join me in prayer. There were tears and sobs, but we prayed. And when it was done, I was hugged by a contingent of people from every walk of life and thanked for my prayer.

And I think I closed it by saying, "In Jesus' name..."

Monday, March 30, 2009

"Here come Peter Cottontail..."


He has arrived at Target, Walmart, and Longs Drug Store here in Amador County with a bounce of color and candy. Easter eggs, chocolate bunnies and designer baskets are everywhere you look and somewhere--lurking in the shadows--Peter Cottontail, Inc. is smiling!

So how do we get that whole thing tangled up with the Easter season we are preparing to celebrate? It seems like such a disjointed stretch from decorated "Easter eggs" and new spring dresses to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Yet, that is why we come to this time of year with such anticipation and hope.

If this season is just about baby bunnies in a basket and eggs hidden in the high grass (not too carefully lest they be missed), then why is it that more people go to church on Easter Sunday than any other day of the year? And why is it that the cross and empty tomb are visual reminders of what lies beneath the superficial trappings of the season?

At Grace Fellowship we are endeavoring to put the season in proper focus with this four part series of messages (available at gracefellowshipamador.org).

Sunday, March 29
"The Life of Christ: Where Love and Truth Intersect"

Sunday, April 5
"The Cross: Where Life and Death Collide"

Friday, April 10
"The Last Supper" Where the New Supercedes the Old"

Sunday, April 12
"The Empty Tomb: Where Death is Swallowed up in Victory"

It is possible--in fact, highly probable--that there will be lots of new dresses and even some Easter candy at Grace Fellowship, but what we really will be focused on is presenting the truth about Christ's death and resurrection...which is why, I believe (with a hopeful heart), most people come to church this time of the year.

Peter Cottontail may have arrived in your house or at your favorite shopping center. But the best is yet to come!

Monday, March 23, 2009

Jonah's dilemma


Jonah's dilemma was not being swallowed by a "great fish", although that was traumatic enough. His real problem is revealed in the "forgotten" chapter of Jonah's story, chapter 4. Here Jonah, having delivered the message to Nineveh that they were going to be destroyed, and then, seeing God postpone judgment because of their repentant hearts. faces a crisis. It is such a catastrophe for him that he says, "I would rather die than live..."

What brought Jonah to such a state? Rescued from a fish's belly, utlimately obedient to a task that resulted in the salvation of a "great city" (even though they were Israel's enemies), Jonah now sulked, and literally, despaired--at which point God asked--not once, but twice, "What right do you have to be angry?" or, "What good reason do you have for your anger?"

Though Jonah ignored the question the first time, and moved outside the city to wait and see what God would do, God provided an object lesson via a vine that He grew grew and destroyed in front of Jonah's eyes. Jonah becomes angry...again...when the shade-providing vine was destroyed and he was subjected to a hot east wind that nearly caused him to have a sunstroke. When God asked a second time "Do you have a good reason for your anger?", Jonah answered, "yes".

What we discover here is that the God Jonah wanted to believe in--the God he acknowledged was merciful, compassionate, slow to anger, abounding in love--has had compassion on his mortal enemies, and has relented in the judgment He promised to Nineveh. Jonah confessed that this was the reason He did not want to go to Nineveh in the first place. When there is a gap between the God we want to to define, and the God that actually is, a crisis can emerge, and it did for Jonah. Jonah wanted God to exercise judgment on Nineveh--they surely deserved it--and when He acted in mercy instead, Jonah was irate. He would rather have died than live with a God like this.

God answered Jonah in the creation and destruction of the vine, acknowledging Jonah's concern for a vine he neither grew or tended, and then reminded him that He, as Creator, had 120,000 ignorant Ninevites who He cared for that He had chosen to spare. "Should I not have pity on Nineveh?", He asked.

What was God saying to Jonah? (1) I am sovereign. (2)I am righteous and just. (3) I am compassionate and forgiving. (4) I will give mercy to whom I choose to give mercy. (5)I have chosen to forgive Nineveh...just as I forgave you when you attempted to turn your back on me and flee to Tarshish.

It is interesting to me that Jonah was willing for God to disburse grace to him--but not to Nineveh--and when God acted in a way inconsistent with Jonah's expectation, all of a sudden his confidence in God was shattered.

God is bigger than the box we put Him in. God's ways are always consistent with His character. He sometimes move swiftly in the execution of judgment and other times, He waits patiently and lovingly, "not willing that any should perish." Can we accept God's mercy and and grace, and at the same time, remember He is a God who is holy and just. He alone has the divine prerogative to act as He does in addressing man's sin. Jonah's dilemma can be ours, and short-circuit our ability to trust God. Or, we can say, "I have no good reason to be angry with a God who is faithful to His character in all that He does". That is my choice today.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Is there help anywhere?


More layoffs in Amador County...Ace Hardware closed their store in Pine Grove this week, and adds to the burgeoning list of failed businesses and unemployed.

Where do we look for help? Banks are not making loans (unless you have perfect credit); houses, though available in large number, are not easily financed (unless you have perfect credit). And where do you look for work? Construction has ground to a halt and I heard recently that a local business had over 300 applications for an opening. Our growing number of homeless are living under the bridge because our options for low cost housing (now a five year waiting list?) are diminished and our Homeless Shelter is full.

Where do we look for help?

The Food Bank reports a record number of people soliciting assistance for food (more than they can adequately provide) and a local thrift store's business is thriving as a growing number of people look for discounted clothing and household articles.

Where do we look for help?

I believe the government is NOT the place to look. They are too busy anyway bailing out banks, automobile corporations and mortgage companies to have much less for the commom man---guys like you and me.

Ronald Reagan championed the cause of volunteerism and private contributions to legitimate need. George W. Bush talked about help for faith-based operations that would consider the plight of the poor. And apart from his verbalized commitment to government spending as the cure-all for social need, I have heard whispers of President Obama's call for individual involvement in and contribution to the plight of hurting Americans.

We have been asking the same question at the church I pastor; where do we look for help?

The easy answer is, "We look to God", and I would suggest there is an element of fundamental truth that is inescapable in the discovery of divine assistance. The Psalmist writes, "No king is saved by the size of his army; no warrior escapes by his great strength. A horse is a vain hope for deliverance; despite all its great strength it cannot save...we wait in hope for the Lord", Psalm 33:16-20.

I am not an advocate of spiritual welfare. It is not a scriptural truth, either, that "God helps those who help themselves", because there are some who cannot help themselves, and at some point in life--some sooner than others--we all need help from others.

AT our church I have been challenging our people with the concept of "overflow ministry"--the idea that the difference between what we need and what we have is surplus, or, "overflow". I have challenged our church family top share with others out of their "overflow". Here are some things we are doing and preparing to do.

*Gift Card Sunday--before Christmas we collected over $1500 of gift cards from our people that are handed out as needs for groceries and gasoline arise

*Resource Handbook--we have developed a handbook that identifieds resources from within our church family that are available to people for free, or at a reduced cost

*"Body Life" board--a bulletin board where people can identify "Things I have", along with "Things I need", to pair resources with needs.

*"Victory" Garden--development of church property for raising of food for needy families (ground to be plowed)

*Perishable Pantry--a supplement to the provision of the Food Bank (which we support financially) for needy families in supplying milk, meat, etc. (in development)

*Grace Job Corps--a support group for those out of work needing encouragement, refinement of skills in writing resumes, brain-storming about work opportunities, etc. (still in process)

These are just a few ideas that we have implemented, or, are seeking to develop to answer the question, "Is there help anywhere?"

Just imagine what would happen if we all pondered the same question, and used our "overflow" in a creative way to meet the needs of hurting people?

Thursday, March 05, 2009

can you find rest in a trailer?


Yes.

Bev and I spent six days hunkered down--mostly in the rain--in a little campground called Uvas Pines, nestled between Gilroy and Morgan Hill. The verdant green fueled by the recent rain, as well as the whispy white clouds parading across an occasional blue sky, provided a textured backdrop for a respite from work and responsibility.

What I noticed msot about a campground largely inhabited by long-term residents, was an almost eerie quiet. The birds chirping racously in the morning were not interrupted by the noise of traffic, people racing to work, or sirens glaring in the background. The monotonous silence was a welcome invitation to simply sit and reflect together upon God's goodness to us.

Our trailer is an inexpensive way of escaping the din and demand of life. It is a safe haven where we are able to connect with the one who "makes me to lie down in green pastures...leads besides quiet waters; He restores my soul", Psalm 23:2

You can find rest in a trailer...can't wait until we go again!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

restless...or resting?


restless.

I am like that most of the time. Admittedly, as I have gotten older the restlessness is more about waking up too early. In the past--and even now--it is the drivenness of my nature that ahs caused me unrest, as well as my proclivity to worry about things.

David's comments in verse 3 of the 62nd Psalm are third person, but, I believe, reflect David's own questioning restless heart.
"How long will you assault a man? Would all of you throw him down--this leaning wall, this tottering fence..."

Often we feel like we are teetering on the brink of inevitable collapse. The temptation is to increase the activity to fix whatever is bugging us, hoping that will bring rest. Someone observed that many of us are like a chicken running around with its head cut off--lots of activity but in the throes of death.

So where dow e find rest from all of it...the pressure, the worries and anxieties, the "assault" of the enemy that David alludes to his cry to God?

The 62nd Psalm, interestingly, bookends David's cry for help in verse 3 with similar promsies of help and "rest in God".

"My soul finds rest in God alone; my salvation comes from Him. He alone is my rock and my salvation; He is my fortress, I will never be shalen" (verses 1,2)

"Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from Him. He alone is my rock and my salvation; He is my fortress, I will not be shaken. My salvation and my honor depend on God; He is my mighty rock, my refuge. Trust in Him at all times, O people; pour out your hearts to Him, for God is our refuge", verses 5-8.

Here are a few things for us to lay our heads on...

1. God alone is the true source of rest.
2. Such rest is to be sought in Him...and found.
3. Our security in Him helps us to "never be shaken".
4. He is our hope.
5. God is the one who will defend my honor.

Why would I then, not trust in Him and, at the very least, pour out my heart to Him? True rest is all about my relaitonship to God, and utilizing the resources He uniquely provides.

restless.

But learning to find "rest in God".

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Hospice


I am doing some work with Hospice of Amador County as a spiritual counselor-chaplain. Today was my first opportunity to sit at a table with Hospice employees and volunteers and to be educated about how expansive their services are.

I have always been impressed with the hospice workers I have encountered over the years I have been in ministry. Their care and commitment in making someone comfortable as they approach the end of their life is noteworthy as well as the personal interest they take in the network of family members and close friends. For many of them, I sense, it is a special "calling", although they might characterize it differently.

It is a "high calling", from my perspective, because the message communicated through quality hospice care from my point of view as an observer is that one's quality of life should be preserved and protected as long as it is humanly possible. The dignity of life is emphasized and the value of each person--in spite of age and mental facility--is ennobled.

I look forward to providing the kind of spiritual care that our faith in God provides as we face death and eternity. That is the ultimate care we can provide for our loved ones. I'll keep you posted on what I learn along the way.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Information and Inspiration



At a recent staff meeting we discussed the relationship between information and inspiration. The observation was made that a lot of information is disbursed at Grace but transporting it from the head and the heart to the hands and the feet requires inspiration.

As I have reflected on that discussion, several questions came to my mind—not original, or even creative—but indigenous to this topic.

1. Is there a disconnect between information and action and is inspiration an appropriate catalyst?

2. Are there observable ways to determine whether information and inspiration are being linked together? If so, what are they?

3. Whose responsibility is it to inspire? We probably agree the teacher has the responsibility if imparting the truth and information of God’s Word. If we presume the teacher participates in inspiring us, what is the difference between facilitation and manipulation?

It may seem that these questions are philosophical at best, but in the world of reality and ministry the focal point comes down to this—if the teaching of the Word of God is taking place, why is it that believers seem so reluctant to respond in affirming action?

Let’s look at the questions for a minute. In the first case, the disconnect between receiving information and having it translate into observable action when it is required would seem to have an emotional component.
Philippians 2:13 reminds us “…it is God who works in you to will and to act according to His good purpose”. So at the very core is God who is impacting our desires and our ultimate choices to act in a way that reflects His purpose for us. So, perhaps the question is, how does God move and motivate us? The presumption may be that it is sensory, or that God touches our eyes, our ears, our hearts, but that surely He moves us.

The second question revolves around the principle of cause and effect. If God is at work inspiring us through all the means available to Him, can we observe the effects of that? Should our faith in Him be demonstrable? James 2:17 says that “…faith by itself if it is not accompanied by action is dead.” James goes on to expand this by saying, “…I will show you my faith by what I do...”, 2:18. If we are responding in faith to the Word of God which is impacting us and motivating us to follow after God, it will be observable in how we live out our lives.

The final question asks the question that was predominant in our staff discussion. Do we have a role and part at the inspirational level, or, is that work God’s alone? For example, if we are being given the information about giving and stewardship, should not the truth of God’s Word alone compel us to give? Or, is there another component of that disbursement process that includes our motivational skills?

Some of us might do that more naturally. Our personality and natural charisma might spill over into our presentation of information—surely into our proclamation of the truth. But the critical issue is whether we then become facilitators or manipulators. Someone recently observed that we brought them to a certain place at Grace but they were waiting for us to take them further. Is that my role, or, is that the role of the Holy Spirit? Do I present the truth of God’s Word and let it perform according to Hebrews 4:12, “For the Word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” Or, does the Word of God flourish when it is accompanied by passion?

My concern is that we wait to be emotionally stirred and prodded before we act, and that we, as staff members, feel compelled to motivate through guilt or shame or emotional manipulation to achieve the results we desire. We cannot go there. We can, however, facilitate others arriving at the place God intends by sharing passionately about the impact of His truth upon our lives and demonstrating it, then, in how we live.

Paul said it this way to the church at Thessalonica. “You are witnesses and so is God of how holy, righteous and blameless we were among you who believed…when you received the Word of God which you heard from us you accepted it, not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the Word of God which is at work in you who believe.” I Thessalonians 2:10-13.

Preach it with passion! Proclaim it without caution! Live it (by God’s grace) without compromise! The results are up to God, who works in us. The ultimate response is ours. Informed and Inspired by the truth, will we choose to act…to obey?

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Y2K...plus 10


The Y2K crowd proved to be wrong. They were harbingers of doom and posited their conclusions based on a combination of calendar tweaking, biblical "prophecy", conspiracy thinking and political uncertainty. All of these may have had some relative merit for consideration on their own but combining them together wreaked havoc in the mindset of some. So they stored food and water, bought extra flashilights and matches, and waited for the end.

Some close friends of mine were seriously concerned about what the new millennium would usher in, and it turns out, in my opinion, they were not that far off. Almost ten years later we seem closer to that place of Armageddon-like drama than ever before.

Interestingly, this kind of thinking seems totally out of sync with the dawning of a new age as heralded in Obama's ascent to power and an almost messianic Inaugurational tone. This is not to suggest that I think Obama is the proverbial antichrist, as some of my friends have suggested; nor does it mean that I think the new administration is ready to push us over the precarious edge of political change into national oblivion. I do believe, however, we are at the cynosure of perilous times and the whispers of global "warning" and financial holocaust should not be ignored.

In our own county the empty new and used car lots, the unoccupied commercial space, the frigthening stories of the unemployed and under-employed, the acceleration of local crime, the burgeoning number of homeless and bankrupt--all of these things are testimony to the fact, the times, "they are a changin'".


I pastor a local church and every Sunday there are new stories about lost jobs, new requests for prayer for more work, questions about ways to save a home, gripping stories of large amounts of money lost in the stock market, families wondering about escalating medical costs and a general inescapable sense of the financial cloud hanging over us.

The newspaper is a compilation of horror stories strecthing from the bloody fight for land in the Middle East, to the perilous countryside of Afghanistan, to the lurking re-emergence of Russia on the world scene, to the fragile "peace" of Iraq, and the list goes on. We cannot escape the images of the disgraced governor of Illinois protesting his innocence, Tom Daschle's recent exposure as a tax evader, Barry Bond's voice on tape contradicting what he has always protested, and State authorities defying our own governor's directives to cut spending. The voices and faces of failure are all around us.

What are we to do? Do we find solace in the potlical assurances that we will be okay because in America we have always found a way out...of the Great Depression, World War II and double-digit inflation?

Or, do we seek comfort from the knowledge that (1) We are a nation of plenty (2) We are a people of initiative and resource (3) We have always worked best together in crisis, whether in the hideous aftermath of 9-11 tyragedy or the humanitarian challenge of Hurricane Katrina's devastation.

On Sunday I will be speaking about the "body of Christ", a New Testament metaphor for the bond that exists between fellow believers and the care and concern we assume for one another. I have been challenging our congregation to the idea of "overflow" ministry--the concept of utilizing the difference between what we need and what we have--a surplus for most of us--to meet the needs of others.

On a larger scale in our community we should be actively looking for creative ways to help one another. In the Y2K days I heard stories of people identifying places they agreed to live in together to wait out the doom they anticipated.

It is almost ten years later--and the future is a lot more bleak in the eyes of this observer--and we need to be drawn together for the purpose of taking advantage of the opportunities before us--to rely on the strength of our faith in a sovereign God, and the good will of His people to work together.