Monday, December 14, 2015

While Shepherds....

There are three messages that my parents gave to me during the sixteen years that I lived with them:

     1. I was ugly.
     2. I was unloved.
     3. I was unwanted.

My parents managed to communicate those messages to me in every area of my life. They had, and still have, a profound impact on me. Unfortunately those messages have a way of forcing themselves back into my consciousness from time to time and can still wreak havoc with my heart and mind.

I would be lying if I said that I haven't been struggling with them lately.

Some of you will remember that this year has been a very difficult one for my family and I. Family struggles, job stress, and unemployment have taken a heavy toll on us. Each passing day without a paycheck or even interest from prospective employers creates more and more stress and makes the messages from the past even harder to wrestle with and to subdue.

To be brief, I am lonely, hurting, and struggling to hold on to the belief that God loves me.

Some of you are shocked that a minister would make such an admission. Others are uncomfortable with it. But the truth is that I have spoken the truth, no matter how uncomfortable it may be. The people of God can and do struggle with despair and depression, and the sooner we can learn to talk about it honestly with each other the better.

But that's not what I want to talk about.

The gospel of Luke tells us that there were shepherds in the fields on the night of Jesus' birth. Scholars and theologians (of which I am neither) tell us that those shepherds were not at the top of anyone's social ladder. Shepherds were ceremonially unclean, unable to enter the Temple because of their association with unclean things. Shepherds were considered untrustworthy; their testimony not admitted in courts. No one wanted there daughters to marry shepherds because they were considered dishonest and immoral.

Not exactly the picture we are familiar with in our church Christmas pageants.

But the shepherds are precisely where I find my source of hope during this very difficult Christmas season. If God would dare to present the good news to a group of unworthy, unlovely, unwanted shepherds then he must believe that even someone as unworthy, unlovely and  unwanted as me is worthy of the good news as well.

I am sitting in the lobby of a McDonald's as I write this and I am surrounded by many types of people, people of whom I am sure there are some who are hurting as I am and others who would consider themselves unworthy of the love of God.

The church has sanitized the story of the Nativity. So very few of the mangers on display show the mud and straw, the dirt of a stable. I have never seen shepherds dressed in dirty robes, covered in the dirt of the  Judean hillsides and the fatigue written on their faces. Mary and Joseph are always calm and  peaceful...never showing the signs of stress and exhaustion that are the natural byproducts of the birth of a child.

When did the birth of Christ become a Sunday School lesson and not the reality of Emmanuel, God with us?

The truth is that the birth of Jesus was witnessed by shepherds who were considered to be second-class citizens. Those second-class citizens were the first bearers of that good news. Yet today it seems that the second class among us are the very ones who are passed over in the telling of the good news.

I want those of you who might read this, those who are struggling with a hard life filled with poor choices and disadvantages that the good news is for you too. You see, it was only after I discovered the good news; that Jesus Christ loved me and died for me that I was able to find the ability to overcome those messages that were planted so deeply in my psyche.

I want you to know that you're not ugly.....God sees you as His beautiful child.

You are not unloved...God loves you enough that He sent His Son to restore you.

You are not unwanted....God has prepared a place for all His children.

If God could love me....then I know He loves you.

Christmas is the ultimate expression of that love. I hope that someone will share that love with you this season.

Merry Christmas

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Life and Death in August of 1987

August 12, 1987 - Wadley Hospital, Texarkana.

Sometime during the day....

The nurse threw a set of scrubs at me and told me to put them on "quickly" and pointed me to a restroom just to my right. I remember juggling the scrubs as I moved into the room as quickly as I could. A weird mixture of fright, excitement, uncertainty and wonder filled my soul as I changed my clothes. The shoe covers were the last things that I put on and they kept catching on the bottom of my shoes. I hopped on one leg into the delivery room while struggling to put on the last cover.

An overwhelming silence stopped me in my tracks.

I had helped to deliver a baby in a bathroom of a McDonald's as a senior in college and remember that scene as loud and chaotic, complete with someone calling for "hot water" and "towels, we need towels!"

The scene before me was nothing like that. The room was bright and cold. Why is it that hospitals are always cold? The mood was somber and heavy, as if a gigantic weight was pressing down on all of us. In the space of a heartbeat, or maybe less,  my eyes fell upon the reason for the mood.

Laying on a delivery bed was my wife. My wife has always been stronger than she realizes, but at that moment she looked broken and empty and deeply wounded.

Just across the room from her, on a warming table, layour baby. Johnathan Michael was born at 23 weeks....too soon for a realistic chance at life 27 years ago. Even then, if we had been a hospital better equipped for such a premature infant...but there was no time. There was no time.

I remember my wife reaching out to me, calling me. My eyes and my heart were fixed on the tiny little form on that warming table. As I watched I saw his little body spasm and then become still. The nurses would later tell me that what I saw was just a natural part of the death process. I am convinced that I saw my son die.

Later that day a very wise, compassionate nurse brought Johnathan to us. She had cleaned him and wrapped him in a little blue blanket and put a little blue cap on his head. She brought us an unofficial certificate of birth, the kind you keep in a scrapbook and a camera. She urged us to spend time with him and take pictures of him.

Those few minutes are some of the most precious moments in my life. We counted fingers and toes, caressed his hair and wept and prayed. The nurses made sure that no one disturbed us in that quiet time. Like the rest of the event of that day, time stood still.

Johnathan would be 28 years old today. God has blessed us with other children and 19 month later Johnathan was gifted with a brother in heaven who we named Timothy. I can only imagine what our homecoming in heaven will be like one day. But for now I have 6 other children to love and cherish and guide/shepherd through life.

I have not watched the Planned Parenthood videos. I don't need to watch them to know that abortion is a sickening act that has no redeeming value. I know and have known many women who have had abortions, some of them more than one, and none of them see it now as a good thing. Compounding the issue is the profit motive. It is not enough that America has the blood of over 50 million innocent lives to account for....we now have compounded the issue with blood money. We have taken the lives of the innocent to improve our bottom line.

Don't give me any of the standard "it helps medical research" reasoning. The truth is that fetal experimentation had never given us any real advances that could not be achieved in other, less barbaric ways. I have a bad heart and diabetes, I know that my own health can be directly affected by medical research, but the buying and selling of fetal body parts is far beyond the line I would draw and far below the worth and value of all human life.

It is only a short step from disposing of inconvenient children to the disposing of the inconvenient elderly and those who bring no "contribution" to society because of mental or physical incapacity. Our collective memory has forgotten the atrocities of the Nazis against the Jews and the  experimentation of the Japanese on prisoners of war.

In our selfish quest for a "better" life and for "profit" we have become as barbaric as any great villain  or fictional monster from the past. God forgive us.

God save us.

God save the children.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

The Cry of a Broken Heart

If you're one of the two regular readers of this blog then you know that I've been away for several months (I believe my last post was written on March 18). When I last posted I had shared with you that our family was working through a crisis that was almost more than we could bear. It seems that we may be finally seeing the end of that long and winding road...

But that particular road merged into a super highway of more trouble. I will do my best to summarize without any particular comment.

In March I became aware of additional issues at our church and began the process of ferreting out the truth. Difficult, unpopular decisions were made and there was a massive backlash. It became obvious to me that my position was in jeopardy.

In April I had a heart attack, my third since 2010. I spent 6 days in the hospital and had another stint placed in a small artery. I returned home on a Thursday. The situation at our church continued to deteriorate and the stress began to grow more and more severe. After being home four days I was taken back to the hospital by ambulance with an apparent heart attack. After another five days spent in two hospitals it was determined that I had not had another heart attack but had experienced what is called an arterial spasm. Additional information about the condition of my heart was uncovered during the myriad of tests and such. I came home on a Friday with instructions to rest through the weekend.

The next Sunday I was informed that my continued performance of my duties was unnecessary. 

I had been home two days. 

I know that many of you who will read this will not approve of my sharing this information, you will feel that I am damaging the church, my reputation, and the cause of Christ. I want to tell you something; my honesty about my situation will do more to advance the cause of Christ than all the posturing that we do to appear "Christian." The world doesn't need a sanitized version of Jesus, of the faith. The prosperity gospel and the watered down thing that passes for faith today are actually driving people away from Jesus. The world needs to see a Jesus who wept, grew weary, and who gave his life for broken, wounded people like me and every other lost person in the world.

Am I angry? At times, yes. Am I worried? I struggle not to be, and lose that struggle more than I win. Do I wish ill upon those who hurt me and my family? 

Honestly: No.

I have placed my trust in God and believe that somehow He will work all this out in a way that brings Him glory and restores my soul. These past few months have been so very hard, but I know that at sometime, if not in the here and now then in eternity, God will bring justice. My responsibility is to follow Him as faithfully as I can and submit myself to His will daily.

Does this make me a hero? No. It makes me a fellow struggler...It makes me human. A human who needs a love that heals, a love that restores, a love that overcomes. I am a person who needs Jesus.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Finding a Way Through Pain and Fatigue

I have struggled with this week's blog. I have started over at least five times and even now can't seem to get my head and my heart to align on a single train of thought. I wish I could say that  this is an isolated, one of a kind thing, but anyone who read last week's blog knows that life for me these days is less than picture perfect (as if it ever was). And so I just keep plugging on.

I learned a lot about perseverance in 1975....yes, that 1975. I had decided to participate in a bike-a-thon to help raise money for the American Heart Association. I badgered all my friend's parents to pledge an amount of  money per mile that I rode. Whenever anyone asked me how far I planned to ride I told them that I was going to ride 100 miles. Most folks would look at me as if I was crazy (I was) and say something like "right..." I certainly inspired confidence.

So the day of the bike-a-thon came and I was there at the starting line at the starting time. The weather was nice and there were a lot of kids riding that day.There were lots of people to ride with ad to talk to. We started the bike-a-thon with a lot of excitement.  It was fun.

For a while.

The crowds began to thin out about three hours into the ride. As the day went on it became harder and harder to find people to ride with. I was committed to making my 100 mile goal and had even gone so far as to calculate how quickly I needed to make my way around the 10 mile course in order to make my goal in the time allowed. With people to ride with I had no problem keeping up with my time goals. But as the number of riders dwindled it became harder and harder.

So I changed my strategy. Instead of riding with someone all the time I decided to "hunt" other riders. I would spot another rider well ahead of me on the course and would push myself to catch them within a certain distance or time. But it worked. I pedaled and pedaled and pedaled until I would catch someone or I would set myself a time limit to ride from one checkpoint to another. In short, I just kept pedaling, plugging along, committed to achieving my goal

And I'm proud to say that I did. In fact, I finished my 100 miles with more than an hour to go in the bike-a-thon. I could have ridden more, but my rear end was really sore and so I went home. As I remember, I was the only person in our local race (and maybe in the whole state of Arkansas) who rode 100 miles that day. And all because I just kept pedaling.

Perhaps that's one of the most important lessons for me in the midst of all the turmoil of late. I need to keep plugging. Somehow Christians have come to believe that life should be a wide, easy path lined with shade trees and flowers. But that's a lie and couldn't be farther from the truth. Life in this fallen world is hard enough, and when you factor in the opposition that we as believers face from a world that doesn't love us it gets even harder. But ease is not and has never been a mark of blessing or favor. Jesus said that we should expect difficulty. Paul said that he struggled with himself to be faithful. John was exiled as an old man because of his faith. So why do I think I should get a pass?

If you would allow me to be so bold...we shouldn't desire ease and comfort. They don't make us fit for anything. The writer of Hebrews likened our  faith lives to a race, calling on us to strip off the things that would slow us down with following Jesus. Faith is a marathon, not a sprint, and there are few rest stops along the way. The path is narrow, steep, and difficult, but the lessons it imparts are more valuable than any treasure.

So don't get discouraged, don't grow weary, and most of all don't give up. Brace yourself for the struggle. Look to Jesus and find your rest and hope in him.

If I can do it, you can too.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

I Will Praise You in This Storm

February started off on a great foot. Late last year I bought a car that was busy growing grass when I found it. We (my son, a good friend, and myself) spent the next three months fixing those things that kept the car from running properly and I was able to start using the car regularly the first of February. I have always wanted one of this particular brand of car, and the day I licensed the car I opened the sunroof and had a "thank you Jesus" party as I drove up and down the road.

Life was good.

Then Monday came, literally.

Our family was plunged into a deep, dark abyss. Many of you know that my wife and I lost our first two children. I do not hesitate to tell you that this crisis rivals those great losses, The rest of February was lost in a deep struggle that was all at once physical, emotional, and spiritual. All of our lives have been affected profoundly by this experience. Each of us has carried an enormous load that at times grew heavier but has not yet grown lighter.  And while we are beginning the see the light at the end of that tunnel (we hope), the journey to the final resolution is going to be a long and difficult one.

Added to the personal struggles have been some professional issues as well. I have heard the work of a pastor described as being something akin to "herding cats" or "pushing cooked spaghetti." Those amusing anecdotes carry a great deal of truth as they describe some of the unique challenges of being a pastor. Please understand, our church has been very gracious and generous towards my family during this time of crisis. But people are people and life continues for all of us, and that means that there were still misunderstandings and conflicts and decisions to be made. Like any family, the church is a work in progress, filled with differing opinions and desires and agendas. As a pastor, I'm trying to herd these cats in a unified direction while I deal with my own personal and family struggles.

Leading a church is a demanding thing, and I was not up to the task for most of the last six weeks.

All of this has left me weak and vulnerable and Satan has done his best in these past weeks to discourage me, to steal my joy. I wish I could tell you that I have weathered these storms with flying colors, that I never lost my joy or my confidence or had my faith tested...but that isn't true. There have been times in the last six weeks that I simply lost it. I have had my share of struggles and have voiced my frustrations with God more than once.

I'm not writing this from the position of someone who has emerged on the other side, but as someone who continues to struggle as we all do. Would you allow me share with you some of the things I am learning/relearning in all this?

1. God knows where I am. There have been times in the last few weeks that it seemed as if I was all alone. We made the decision not to make the public the nature of our family crisis. We told only a few trusted prayer partners and some church leaders. But for the most part no one knew/knows what was happening within our family. It was hard in those early days to not answer the texts and phone call and other questions that came. Sometimes we must walk a lonely path in human terms. But human loneliness is not spiritual aloneness. God was and is always with us. When I remember this I am better able to deal with the struggles because I know that  I am not alone and that I am not the only one who has struggled.

2. God never sleeps.  I have never slept much...but during that last few weeks I have slept even less. Some of my most intimate moments with God have come in the deepest hours of the night. I  have poured out my heart to God at 2:30am and found that he was there. When I couldn't share my heart with anyone else, when there was no one there, God was. In what little, fitful sleep that I've had He has watched over me. He has been there.

3. God cares. One of Satan's biggest lies is that God doesn't care about us. Another is that God is too busy to bother with us. If we believe either of those we will certainly succumb to despair. The truth is that God does care for each of his children. In the midst of our struggles God has proven again and again in a number of different ways throughout all of this that He cares.

4. God fights for His children. It's easy to lose sight of God in the midst of all the things that happen around us. There are some folks who think that God sits in heaven and doesn't bother himself with us. That couldn't be farther from the truth. I have a word for those who seek to advance their personal agendas at the expense of others...The Lord will fight for those who are his and you will not prevail.

5. God loves me. Some of you know of my childhood. The hardest struggle of my life has been accepting the fact that God loves me. The past few weeks have resurrected that old struggle. Satan has used these many struggles to whisper that God must not love me because if He did I wouldn't have such issues. That's a lie. The love of God doesn't mean that there won't be struggles, in fact the exact opposite, because God loves us we can expect Satan to do his best to cause us to struggle and doubt. As long as we live in this fallen world we can expect struggle. The presence of struggle is not evidence of the lack of God's love, but His work of deliverance is the greatest proof of his love for us.

There are so many other lessons that I am learning, but I think that this is enough for now. I ask that you continue to pray for my family and our church. May God be glorified in both.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Forget Sticks and Stones...Names DO Hurt.

He looked down his nose at me and with a voice dripping with disdain said "I guess we know who the LIBERAL is in this room."

That was my freshman year in college. At the time there was probably no greater assault you could make on someone's character, at least at the Baptist college I attended, than to be called a liberal. The truly sad part in all this is that there were students who separated themselves from me over the accusation. The net result of that student's words were a freshman year that was miserable.

I have another friend from my college days who is about as far removed from me politically, religiously, doctrinally as one could be.  His Facebook page is filled with articles and links that spell out his positions on every subject imaginable. He regularly posts articles that are critical of fundamentalists, or "fundies" as he and many of his friends label those on the other end of the spectrum. The problem is, I'm what he would call a "fundie." I believe in historic, orthodox Christianity, the inerrancy of the Bible, and both the sanctity of life and the traditional view of marriage. In short, according to him and many of his other friends, I am the cause of all that is wrong in the world.

Labels. We decry them at all times but seem ok with slapping them on those with whom we disagree. Liberal, fundamentalist, neo-con, progressive...they are all labels, and they are convenient ways to characterize, categorize and marginalize those who we use them against. Yes, I used the word against, and I meant my usage of it. We use labels as weapons. That's what the first man I mentioned in today's blog meant. And it was effective.

A label means that I don't have to get to know you or give any real thought to your opinions or positions. I can lump you with all the others with whom I might have a disagreement with. The religious leaders of Jesus' day had a broad label for anyone who was a Jew but not one of them: "sinners." That one label identified everyone who wasn't a part of their particular group. The "sinners" were the great unwashed, the unworthy, the less than blessed.

I guess, depending on your particular point of view you'd have to include liberals and fundies in this group. Sigh...I just can't win.

But there is one label that I proudly wear:


The term means "little Christ" and was originally used as a derogatory term against those first followers of Jesus in Antioch (see Acts 11:26). Throughout the years it has become a label, as if there was something inherently evil about being a follower of Jesus. I will admit that much of the bad reputation that Christians has been earned, but even the criticism points us to a greater understanding of the term. If the word had no inherent power to it then our critics would have no reason to slander us so with it. But our critics are correct, we seldom live up to the title.

Perhaps the greatest compliment that any of us could receive is mirrored in the words of a New Yorker to a member of a mission team I was a part of a few years ago; "You're not like the other Christians I know. You seem like a real Christian." I hope that my life would genuinely reflect Jesus. That's one of the reasons that I'm here on the planet (see Matt. 5:16).

Let me close this with a challenge to all of us. Ditch the labels. It's hard to understand someone else when you can't get past how someone else has defined them. Let's start listening and discussing our differences with each other. Perhaps we'll discover that "those guys" aren't so bad after all.

And while we're abandoning the destructive labels that we throw around so easily let's start asking God to give us the strength to live up to the one label that really does count: Christian.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The Bitterest Pill

Disappointment. We are all far more familiar with it than we'd like to be and very few of us would ever argue that good has come to us from our disappointments. We have allowed ourselves to believe that our lives and the worlds we live in should be places of never ending bliss, free from disappointment or discomfort.

Baloney...that way of thinking is nothing but baloney.

The truth is that disappointment is a part of everyday of our lives. None of us is immune from it and the sooner we face that truth and learn how to profit from our disappointments the better. Life is full of pain and all of us experience loss more than we know victory. May I suggest that there is far more benefit from failure, loss, and disappointment than in victory, ease, and comfort.

In my life I have experienced a great deal of success in a number of areas. I have known what it was to win overwhelmingly as well as scratching out a win at the last minute. I celebrate my victories and remember them accordingly. Yet none of my victories gave me the knowledge or the understanding to become better equipped at handling life. Winning is a temporary high that does little to mold us in the way of genuine success. I have often told my kids in their lives that they will be remembered more for their reaction to disappointment than for their success. I believe that we have overvalued winning. Success is more dependent on character and discipline than on winning.

So how do we handle disappointment? I cannot speak with great authority because I still struggle with it myself. I want to win every time I step on the playing field or power up the video game with my kids. I still get upset when the backgammon app on my phone beats me at a game, much less a match. That is perhaps the first step, realizing that dealing with disappointment is a process, and it's a step that must be repeated over and over again. What I mean by that is that we come to see our disappointments in the overall arc of our lives. We tend to live in the moment and fail to see that life is not individual experiences but the sum total of all that we are and experience. Life itself is a process, a progression that will not be completed in this lifetime. As Christians we need to understand that we are being made into the image of Christ and that process takes time. In fact, it takes a lifetime.

Secondly, we need to get over ourselves. Most of us have a grossly overrated opinion of ourselves. We believe that God cannot get along without us, that the world hinges on our very presence. Hubris (pride) is a powerful motivator and an equally powerful force that directs our reactions to situations. I don't mean to burst your bubble, but God can and will do just fine without you (and me). God blesses us by allowing us to be a part of His work. He doesn't need us, regardless of what we think. Pride is a dangerous attitude when it comes to dealing with others and handling our disappointments.

Thirdly, and certainly not less importantly, we need to examine our motives. I have a habit of keeping cartoons that I find to be funny or thought-provoking, and in a file in my desk I have a cartoon of a man about to sing in church. The caption is the man saying "I don't really care for the words of this song, but I really sound good singing it." Obviously his motives should be questioned. Disappointment often springs from misguided motives. "Why am I doing what I'm doing? is a question that we all ask frequently. When our motive is to advance our image or to influence others to our way of thinking we open ourselves to disappointment. The apostle Paul wrote to the Colossians that everything we do should be done as if it were for the Lord (Col. 3:23). Please note that I am not saying that we should not be trying to convince others of the truth or of our strong convictions. The question is why we are doing a particular thing. Are we simply trying to draw attention, approval, or applause to ourselves? Often times prideful, "all about me" people will cloak themselves in "good" motives while trying to obscure their real motives. Such attempts always lead to disappointment.

Perhaps we would all be better served by remembering that God is in control of all things and that they will unfold in the manner that he has ordained. We are blessed to partner with Him, but we are not essential or indispensable to His work. I believe that when we submit ourselves to His authority and commit ourselves to His glory we'll learn that there is no such thing as disappointment. His ways are beyond ours, and the sooner we realize and submit ourselves to that way of thinking the better and easier we will understand and respond to disappointment.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Settling for Poor Substitutes

Last week it was revealed that the 2010 book "The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven" was a work of fiction. The young man whose "story" the book purports to tell made a public announcement that the book was a work of fiction. What should have been a minor story with a short shelf life has become a story with "legs" (a longer shelf life than expected) and with a reach that may include LifeWay, the Southern Baptist Convention's publishing operation.

It seems that both the publisher of the book (Tyndale House) and LifeWay were made aware of the controversial nature of the story itself some time ago (in the case of Tyndale, a couple of years) and yet chose to do nothing. As with stories of this nature, the truth is sadly hard to discover and we may never really know who knew what about this story. It is a sad thing that Christian men and Christian companies appear to be evading honest disclosure about this matter. (Here's a link to the story:

Stories such as this were once the nearly exclusive domain of small publishing houses and those who could afford to self-publish. But Christian media of all kinds has become BIG business. The movie version of the book "Heaven is for Real" made almost $92 MILLION DOLLARS (source; IMDB)  and Rick Warren's "The Purpose Driven Life" sold over 30 MILLION COPIES (source:  The Christian Post). Yes, Christian media has become big business, but that's not necessarily good news.

Please note that I have never read "The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven." and will not. What concerns me is the rapidity with which the Christian community in North America is abandoning the Bible and orthodoxy for those things that appeal to a fanciful interpretation of what the Christian faith is all about. I have been a Christian since 1971 and have seen (sadly) a re imagining of Christianity over the last 40 plus years. I remember when guitars and lifted hands were looked on with suspicion. We sang that new song "Pass It On" around campfires as a youth group and listened to music groups that actually used drums in their music! (Scandalous, I know) But through all that we were taught that the Bible was the standard for belief and behavior. We did not worship the Bible, but we reverenced it as the word of God and any time that our opinions collided with the Bible  it was the Bible that won the day.

I don't make any apologies for my stand on the centrality of the Bible for the Christian's life and faith. In fact, I blame the church for much of what the faith has become. When the church became more concerned with flashy services, big crowds and competing with the culture as opposed to countering it we slowly but surely began to drift from our moorings. Please understand that I am not condemning large ministries or new things or modern technology in themselves. I believe that we should use all the tools at our disposal to share the Gospel with those around us. The problem comes when the tools become more important than our message. The Bible was and is and always will be the Word of God and the standard for belief and behavior. We don't have to like it....that's just the way God made it, and everything we do, every tool we use should be held up next to the Bible to ensure that we are in line with its message.

Closely aligned with the over emphasis on tools is our desire to make the gospel "easier." In our desire to when folks for Christ we have created a gospel that lacks a clear call to sacrifice and commitment. Jesus said that we must be willing to deny ourselves and carry a cross (Luke 9:23). That's not easy and it's not popular in a culture that values individual freedom and comfort as much as ours does. There are those who have watered down that dynamic call to a matter of simple mental assent, an easy believing that really makes no demands on us at all. Those will be the people who stand before the Lord and wonder why God doesn't know them (Matt. 7).

It seems to me that in the midst of all the Christian books and cd's, movies, clothing and everything else that we have lost the centrality of the hard things that Jesus calls us to do. Being born again is hard and it requires hard things of all who would follow Jesus. Is it possible that in our rush to be bigger and more successful and relevant that we have substituted genuine wisdom for a poor substitute that only serves to tantalize our imaginations and not point us to a true faith in the one and only living God?

I fear for a church in which popular, relevant, and trendy are more sought after than truth, justice and love for one another and  for God. God desires our reverential awe (the Bible calls that fear) and transformed lives. I don't think that he's that interested in unbiblical tales of trips to heaven, no matter how many copies they sell.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Celebrating Love

"But Ruth said, 'Do not urge me to leave you or turn back from following you; for where you go, I will go, and where you lodge, I will lodge. Your people will be my people, and your God, my God.

Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. Thus may the Lord do to me, and worse, if anything but death parts you and me." Ruth 1:16-17

Thirty years ago today I stood at the front of the First Baptist Church of Fouke, AR and watched in wonder as my soon-to-be wife walked down the aisle. It was and remains the most breathtaking sight I have ever seen. That day culminated an almost four year courtship that, as I discovered, surprised almost none of our friends.

The years in between have been filled with struggle, tears, laughter, silliness and all the other emotions and experiences that make life what it is. We have walked through life and death together and I can honestly say that there is no one I would rather walk the paths of life with. My love for Lyndra is exceeded only by my love for Jesus.

The scripture that I have posted at the beginning of this blog is from the book of Ruth. They are the words of Ruth to her mother-in-law Naomi.  Life had been harsh to Naomi and her daughters in law and Naomi decided to journey to her homeland for the rest of her days. Naomi urged her daughters-in-law to go to their homes because there was no hope for them with her. One of them left, but Ruth stayed and her words of love and commitment to Naomi have lived through time as an example of what true love is about.

My wife has lived these words. The past thirty years have tested us and tried us, but God has sustained us and grown our love for each other in ways neither of us could have ever imagined. I am truly blessed to have Lyndra by my side.

But the words of Ruth are more than the words of one friend to another, they are a reflection of the love of God for us. God has committed himself to us in the same way. He has promised to never leave us or forsake us...He has adopted us as His children...and He will not permit death to separate us from him. Paul wrote to the Romans these powerful words: "Nothing shall separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus" (Romans 8:39).

There is much, much more that I could write on this subject, but it's my anniversary and I'm going to go and celebrate with my wife.

Have a blessed day.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Starting Over

I was an excellent student in grade only poor subject was handwriting, which anyone who ever receives a hand-written note from me will certainly understand. I regularly made straight "A's" and loved school. That excellence continued in junior high, in spite of home struggles.

High school was another story. To say that I got off to a rocky start would be an understatement. In fact, I barely passed two subjects during my sophomore year. I could probably blame a couple of mismatched teachers or even more honestly a terrible home situation, but the truth is that I am the only one to blame for the difficulty that I had in that first year in high school. But I was able to recover and actually graduated with honors as well as being in the top ten percent of my class and selected as one of the outstanding seniors of my class.

And then came college.

The best way that I can describe my college experience is to say that I didn't let college interfere with my education. I applied myself to those subjects that I was interested in and generally blew off those subjects and professors that I didn't care for. As with my first year of high school I could cast blame on others, but the truth is that my poor academic performance is no ones fault but my own. In fact, as I approached graduation (yes, they actually let me graduate) I made the decision not to attend graduate school because I knew that I was not ready for that experience on any level.

In fact, it took me sixteen years to finally begin graduate school. So much changed in me over that period of time. I married and my wife and I had six children. We were pregnant with children number seven the day we moved onto campus, and child number eight came along during the midway point of our time in graduate school. I worked three jobs to provide for my family during those years. If you would allow me to be proud for a moment. I graduated with the highest grade point of my entire academic career, with only a handful of grades that were less than an "A."

And I can take virtually none of the credit for it.

You may be wondering why I am bothering to bore you with this information....What does this have to do with you or the price of tea in China?

Very simply, this: While my academic career was built upon foundations laid from grade school on, the success or failure of those endeavors had a limited impact on my success or failure at the next level. You would not have guessed during my sophomore year in high school that I would have gone on to college, much less graduate school. And you certainly would never have guessed during my college years that I would ever even attempt to go to graduate school, much less be successful. My academic past was not truly indicative of my academic future. A fact for which I am extremely grateful.

Too many of us are bound by the past. We can give you an up to the minute rundown of every mistake we've ever made, every failure, every person we've ever offended or let down. We don't believe that we deserve anything good that might come our way.

But that's not true.

God loves us with an all consuming, never ending, passionate love that desires to pour out every blessing on us that He can. Lamentations 3:22-23 tells us that He makes His mercies new everyday. You see, God blesses us not because we deserve it, but because He wants to.

Think on that for a minute....God wants to bless you.

Every day God gives to us new mercies, not recycled, not slightly used, not lovingly worn mercies. He makes His mercies brand new! When He gives them to us they are brand new...never used...never before seen. They are the newest, freshest expressions of His love for us. My worth is not found in my academic success but in the value that God gives to me. He values me enough that He sent His Son to die for me and to give me a brand new set of mercies every day.

High School was a new start for me, so was college...and to be honest, I didn't do as well as I could have. It wasn't until graduate school that I began to grow into the man that I am still becoming. I am grateful for those new starts and what they taught me along the way.

God gives us a new start through His Son and then gives us new mercies every day. Not because we've earned them or deserve them, but because of who He is.

I hope that you'll remember that frequently during 2015.

God bless you.