PastorJohnsBlog.com

A Stroll At Leisure With God

Turned a Corner … Maybe

Somehow, it feels as if I am markedly better this morning. My pain levels have decreased. I am better able to get around. I am guardedly more optimistic.

Don’t worry. I’m not going to go crazy and run a marathon or anything, but I am encouraged.

Yesterday was another one of those days where I did very little. I sat down on this couch mid-afternoon as the rain clouds were gathering—it was actually quite dark (great nap weather)—and dropped off to sleep for almost two hours. This is very unusual for me. I never sleep in the middle of day with the exception of Sunday afternoons on occasion.

Anyway, I hope to get another good day of rest under my belt and be ready to go on Sunday.

Last night, my mom and sis and I watched an excellent movie about Winston Churchill. We have seen it many times. It has been out for years. It is called “Gathering Storm.” It chronicles his life as a writer and politician prior to the start of World War II. There is a line in the movie that captured my attention this time. The actor portraying Churchill said, “2000 words and 200 bricks a day.”

The movie showed that Churchill’s estate—Chartwell—was a constant work in progress. He was always adding something or building something, hence the 200 brick comment.

But--2000 words a day. Right now, Microsoft Word tells me that I have written 251 words this morning. Humm. I’ve got a ways to go to reach 2000.

The other day, in a membership class as we were telling about ourselves and sharing prayer requests, I asked them to pray for my writing. Over the past few months, I have neglected it.

“Churchill” reminded me to get cracking, to use a British expression.

I wonder if I could put 2000 words a day on “paper” just like Churchill. It is a worthy goal, I believe. Now, I just need to figure out how to do it.

It is hard to believe that it has been over three years since my cancer diagnosis and the writing of this daily blog.

Writing has become such a part of my day that I can’t imagine not doing it. I really can’t. But this additional challenge—I like it to become the same thing.

I would appreciate your prayers in that regard. Thanks.

The passage for today reflects another one of Paul’s prayers. Just about every epistle we have in the New Testament contains a prayer for the people he serves in the churches he started.

When I think about how I pray for the congregation I serve, it shames me. This is another thing I need to get back to DAILY.

The prayer Paul prays in the last verses of chapter three of 1 Thessalonians has three parts:

"May God our Father himself and our Master Jesus clear the road to you! And may the Master pour on the love so it fills your lives and splashes over on everyone around you, just as it does from us to you. May you be infused with strength and purity, filled with confidence in the presence of God our Father when our Master Jesus arrives with all his followers" (1 Thessalonians 3:11-13 MSG).

I am quoting today from the Message Version. Love motivates Paul throughout this prayer.

Because he loves them, he wants to see them. And, he asks the Lord to pour out so much love on them that is overflows to others.

Finally, (and this is the part that is striking), he prays for their character as he looks forward to Judgment Day—the judgment of all believers. He asks the Lord to give them confidence to be ready on THAT day. Of course, the issue for Christians will NOT be eternal destiny. That is already settled. It will be rewards.

This part of the prayer convicts me. My praying is so “right now physical needs oriented.” Paul’s prayer extends to the end of time.

Lord, I pray for the church I serve. May the love we have for You and each other overflow to a lost and dying world. Let us live out that love and serve so that we may stand before you, along with all your followers, confident and fully assured on the final day.

“Change my heart, O God,
Make it ever true” (BH 2008, 529) Amen.

750 words, only 1250 to go!
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Real Livin'

Yesterday was not a good day. I felt horrible. And I don’t know why, really. I had a hard time staying awake and my head hurt and I experienced a general malaise. All I can figure is that it was another stage in the process of recovery.

I can already tell that I am better today.

I have no plans except to sit around.

Somehow, doing THAT seems to be getting easier, and I know it is because of your prayers. I appreciate them so much.

But I will say this: I have new appreciation for hernia surgeries. Oh, man. I had no idea they were this difficult to recover from. No wonder it takes weeks to get back on one’s feet.

These days of sitting around take me back to my chemo treatments where all I felt like doing was NOTHING. They are giving me a lot of time to think and pray and reflect.

I did have the opportunity to speak with Jim on the phone. He is the director of Community of Faith United—the organization that used space in our building but moved out earlier this year. He called the other day to set up appointment with me. We are going to get together soon to catch up.

At one point in the conversation, he asked, “So, how are things going at the church?” This is always a rather loaded question and it always sets up a debate in my mind, “How do I answer that question?”

I can give the short answer, “Great.” This is how I answer people when I realize they are just asking a question like, “How are you today?” It is just something you ask a pastor when you can’t think of anything else, “So, how is your church?”

But I know Jim asked because he cares, and I was right in the middle of thinking and praying, so that question was heavy on my heart. Here is how I answered.

“Well, Jim, I have a lot of concerns. It just seems as if fewer and fewer people are carrying the load these days as we seek to be viable in the community, and it doesn’t seem as if we have much impetus to reach lost folks. I am very concerned.”

A couple of days ago, as I was visiting with John, Marney, and Andrew (the folks involved with Child Evangelism Fellowship), we were discussing starting a Good News Club in an elementary school down the street from the church. This is an after-school club for boys and girls in which the gospel is shared in a fun environment. We are already involved in a Good News Club in Federal Heights. Larry and Lucinda from North Metro lead this ministry. We’ve had a couple of folks from First Southern involved, but mainly, it has been staffed with folks from North Metro.

I say all of this to say that the congregation at First Southern is at least vaguely familiar with the concept of “Good News Club.” But I think we are a long way from actually leading one.

We did talk about working with other churches in the area. This would allow congregations that are “in our boat” to be involved—a few people from one church and some from another—maybe we could get it done. And who cares what church the folks we touch go to as long as it preaches the Bible and lifts up Jesus. So, there may be a way “to skin that cat” (Marilyn does not like that expression).

I digress.

I am just burdened about the church I serve. That burden seems to intensify the longer I sit around recovering from this hernia surgery.

I know that we are not alone. In fact, I don’t know of a church that is doing great (whatever that means) these days.

So, what to do? Close the doors, tuck our tail, and run? Nope.

Have a dog and pony show each Sunday to get folks in the door? Ha. None of us can live with THAT.

I just keep coming back to what I read this morning in 1 Thessalonians. Paul was concerned about the folks in Thessalonica. That is why he sent Timothy to find out how they were doing, and when Tim returned with good news, Paul was relieved. Notice the reason:

"So we have been greatly encouraged in the midst of our troubles and suffering, dear brothers and sisters, because you have remained strong in your faith. It gives us new life to know that you are standing firm in the Lord" (1 Thessalonians 3:7, 8 NLT).

He was relieved that the brethren were “standing firm in the Lord.” This phrase takes me back to the spiritual warfare passage in Ephesians. Paul says, “After having done everything, stand.” When all the dust settles after trouble and temptation or difficulty or whatever, what is the goal here? Standing firm. This is a defensive posture. It connotes simply holding ground.

Jesus has done all the work and won the victory. We just get to hold the victory ground. When Paul saw that the church was doing this, he was encouraged. Here is how the Amplified Bible puts verse eight:

"Because now we [really] live, if you stand [firm] in the Lord" (1 Thessalonians 3:8 AMP).

I am so grateful for these verses today.

They encourage me to keep plugging along doing my job of equipping the saints in a difficult time. I think history will show that these years were some of the most difficult the church in American has ever faced.

I want to be a part of the group that is left standing when it is all said and done, just like the folks in Thessalonica, and if I see some others standing with me, THAT is real livin’.

Lord, thank you for these days of inactivity. Thank you for slowing me down to a complete stop. Help me redeem these days. Help me to honor you in this down time.

I pray for the church I serve. I pray that you would help the saints to stand firm, and having done everything, when it is all said and done and the dust settles, to stand.

“Ev’ry breath that I take, ev’ry moment I’m awake,
Lord, have Your way in me” (BH 2008, 528). Amen.
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Destined for Trouble

Sometimes, it is harder to watch someone else hurt more than it is to experience the pain yourself. This was Paul’s concern in the first verses of chapter three of 1 Thessalonians.

Before I get to that, I want to say a couple of things about yesterday. I had a good meeting with John and Marney and Andrew from Child Evangelism Fellowship. The meeting lasted a little over one hour, but by the time, it was done, so was I. I was exhausted.

One other issue I have been struggling with is my voice. It has been very raspy and muffled—two words I would use to describe it. Kind of weird, really. But the pre-op nurse warning me about it. She said, “John, the anesthesiologist will be sticking a tube down your throat during the surgery. You may experience some side-effects for a few days afterward.”

This must be what she was talking about. It feels as if someone stuck a rag down my throat. It is hard just to get the words out.

I was talking with someone about this yesterday and she said, “Yeah, I knew a person who had that tube stuck down his throat during surgery and he never recovered from it.”

Okay. Great. Not the kind of thing I wanted to hear. And I wish people would keep those types of stories to themselves. You know, the old “well I knew someone who had THAT and died” type.

Later on yesterday, I was telling my mom and sis about this, and Marilyn said, “That is bogus. Your voice is muffled because you are still weak after the surgery. When you recover your strength, it will be okay.”

You know. That makes sense. I’m going to believe that instead of worrying about how I am going to sell insurance because I can’t preach any longer.

Well, anyway, I’m glad to have three days ahead of me where I plan to do very little. I just want to be ready to preach on Sunday.

Back to the passage for today—one of the amazing things about Paul is his pastor’s heart. Even in the midst of all his troubles, he is still concerned about the church.

"Finally, when we could stand it no longer, we decided to stay alone in Athens, and we sent Timothy to visit you. He is our brother and God’s co-worker in proclaiming the Good News of Christ. We sent him to strengthen you, to encourage you in your faith, and to keep you from being shaken by the troubles you were going through. But you know that we are destined for such troubles. Even while we were with you, we warned you that troubles would soon come—and they did, as you well know. That is why, when I could bear it no longer, I sent Timothy to find out whether your faith was still strong. I was afraid that the tempter had gotten the best of you and that our work had been useless" (1 Thessalonians 3:1-5 NLT).

Did you see it? Paul was worried that the folks in Thessalonica would get discouraged in their troubles as they looked at Paul’s troubles.

The apostle basically says, “Don’t worry about us. We were destined for trouble. It is part and parcel of our lives. No biggie. But I am going to send Timothy to make sure everything is all right with all of you. I want to make sure you are still walking with Jesus and your faith is strong. We don’t want to give the tempter one inch.”

I’ve written this many times in this blog before, but our reactions to trouble will certainly reveal quicker than just about anything else where we stand with the Lord. On the positive side, I think of some of our seniors who have lost their spouses after having been married for decades. By anyone’s estimation, this is one of the most difficult things to go through.

On the television news the other night, I noticed a story about two seniors who had been married for over fifty years. One of them died and the other passed away within a day or two. When you live with someone that long, it is almost inconceivable how life can continue when he/she dies. It was an amazing story.

However, I have seen more instances of how widows and widowers flourish after the death of a spouse. This is a validation of faith. This shows that we are looking at a genuine believer in Jesus.

On the other side of the coin, tragically, I have seen folks just drop out of church and disappear, never to return. I’m thinking of a single woman and a couple who came to the church for a while. One Sunday, they were just not there. Repeated efforts to reach them failed. They just dropped out and were gone.

It makes you wonder if they were saved in the first place.

In the verses I cited above, Paul’s concern is that some would allow the enemy a foothold that causes them to turn away from the Lord, rendering Paul’s work useless.

Does this mean that they were never saved in the first place? In many instances, I believe the answer to this question is, “Yes.” But ultimately it is up to God.

It all comes back to trusting God and teaching others to do so and one more thing—showing folks by example how to let the Lord strengthen and sustain through any and all kinds of trouble.

Lord, thank you for this current health challenge. I confess that I am starting to get a bit impatient (Not even one week has passed. This is ridiculous) with this current challenge. I need your grace and strength to walk this journey however many more weeks it takes.

I continue to pray for Jim as he recovers from surgery and for Don in his cancer treatments. Help them today, Jesus.

“The greatest thing in all my life is knowing You” (BH 2008, 527). Amen.
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Satan Prevented Us

There is a rather curious statement in the passage for today. I’ll get to it in a moment.

Whether in email or in a couple of phone conversations yesterday, I found myself saying the same thing, “Whoa, this whole post-operation process is not like anything I imagined. I thought I was going to be up and about in a couple of days.” Ah, no.

I’m still experiencing pain in several places. The pain medicine seems to help for a little while, but the relief doesn’t seem to last that long.

Again, this is a call for patience. My mom and sis have to keep reminding me that I did have surgery and that I need to just take the time to recoup. At one point, as I was chomping at the bit to do something, Marilyn said, “I feared that you were going to be like this. Just take it easy.”

I am a bad patient. But I am working on it.

I have plans to go to the office today. I have an appointment with John Luck, the head of Child Evangelism Fellowship. He wants to meet with me to do an evaluation of the Good News Across America week. I really want to talk with him. He is in town for a few days.

I plan to meet with John and do a couple of things. Then, I am leaving. My goal is to do nothing the rest of the week so that I will be able to preach this coming Sunday.

One more thing: our mail gets delivered rather late in the afternoons. I received a packet from the Children’s Ministry at First Southern Baptist Church. Humm. What is it? Calla encouraged the boys and girls to make “get well” cards for me! They are hilarious. Some of them even include a Bandaid in the note itself. Dayton has a picture of a hospital bed on his card with a Bandaid floating in the air above it! Hilarious!

These are keepers, for sure! In the past, I would have just stuck them in a box, but now, my tactic is to scan them. Saves a lot of space and prevents them from having to be moved sometime down the road. My move in July is still fresh on my mind!

I may even try to post them on Facebook. I will see.

On to the passage for today—Paul is telling the folks in the church at Thessalonica about his desire and plans to visit them:

"Dear brothers and sisters, after we were separated from you for a little while (though our hearts never left you), we tried very hard to come back because of our intense longing to see you again. We wanted very much to come to you, and I, Paul, tried again and again, but Satan prevented us. After all, what gives us hope and joy, and what will be our proud reward and crown as we stand before our Lord Jesus when he returns? It is you! Yes, you are our pride and joy" (1 Thessalonians 2:17-20 NLT).

Paul says he tried to come several times, but SATAN prevented us.

As I read that, I was reminded of Paul’s vision of the “man from Macedonia” in Acts 16. On two separate occasions, Paul tried to go somewhere, and each time, the Holy Spirit “prevented” them (same language as the quote above in the NLT) and the Spirit didn’t allow it (see Acts 16:6-7).

Is this the same type of thing that Paul is talking about in 1 Thessalonians 2 or what? If so, who is the culprit—the Holy Spirit or Satan?

I guess my answer to the above question is, “Both.” God is sovereign over all our plans and courses of action. And yet, Satan is a tool in the hands of the Lord. He does nothing without God’s permission.

I believe that Paul’s statements in 1 Thessalonians had a two-fold purpose. First, he wanted the church to know that he loved them so much that he tried to come on several occasions. He tried.

Second, the comment about Satan is another way of saying, “The Lord didn’t want us to come, and he allowed Satan to stop us.”

This is one of the only references to Satan in the New Testament, and Paul does not elaborate. He doesn’t give details. He just says that Satan “prevented” him, and he goes on. I like this.

I think we as Christians give Satan too much credit and God, too little.

Father, I need to take heed of this message today. You are in charge and in control of everything and everyone and EVERY circumstance. As I sit on this couch in recovery mode, I am exactly where you want me to be.

Give me the grace to be content and not “chomp at the bit.”

I lift up Virginia and her family. I pray for Jim’s recuperation.

“It is the cry of my hear to follow
All of the days of my life” (BH 2008, 526). Amen.
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The Danger of Pedestals

I got kind of frustrated yesterday. The pain I had been experiencing seemed to lesson a bit during the day, but it came back late in the afternoon. And I knew it. I was done for the day.

This fact is dawning on me: the recovery from this type of surgery takes a while. I’ve heard that. I knew about it. But now, I am experiencing it. And it is tough pill to swallow, but as Marilyn said yesterday, “If it takes six weeks to recover, that really isn’t that much time, right?” Right.

So, what this means is that what I hoped for—going to work today—is NOT going to happen. I am focused on going in for a little while on Wednesday. We will see.

The good thing about this time of year is that things slow down at the church dramatically as school starts and some of our folks take the last vacation of the summer. I guess if I am going to miss some time, this isn’t a bad time to miss.

I guess.

It is still hard, but the last thing I want to do is to reinjure myself because I did something stupid.

These days have been extremely valuable. I have slept A LOT and during the day when I NEVER doze off. Plus, they have allowed me to spend some time praying for the church and my role in it.

First, on a broader level, George sent me an article about Gil Jones. You may not know that name. I didn’t.

He served as pastor of a mega-church in the general area of First Southern. It is near Boulder. Each Sunday, tens of thousands of folks worship there. I think it is the 41st largest church in America and now the largest in the state of Colorado, even bigger than New Life in Colorado Springs.

Anyway, the twelve-page article in a recent edition of Westword tells the story of Gil Jones’ multiple affairs with women. Of course, everything came to the surface and Jones had to resign from the church.

The article references the comparison between the two pastors of these mega-churches—Flatirons and New Life. The former pastor of New Life, Ted Haggard, had some “issues” that forced his resignation. And now, all this comes out about Gil Jones.

What is going on here?

Well, I have some thoughts (of course!) and these are generalizations. This is not every pastor of a mega church.

But I think these humongous churches tend to put their pastors on pedestals. It is a rock star kind of thing. And you know what the saying about pedestals is? “Pedestals are made to fall off from.”

I just think it is a dangerous situation to put humans in that position. I’m not justifying what either of these pastors did, but there is fault on both sides.

Plus, I have heard how things work in mega churches. The Senior Pastor can’t possibly have personal relationships with everyone in the congregation. So, his focus tends to be just on the staff. Nothing wrong with this, but I think it tends to isolate him to some degree. And this is Satan’s territory—the realm of secrecy.

Without accountability, we are all prone to getting into trouble.

I just hate to see it. My heart breaks for both of these guys. It will never be the same for either one of them.

However, both have reemerged in ministry. Go to tedhaggard.com to see what is going on with him these days. And I guess Jones is back ministering as well.

I am glad to hear it—cautiously glad. As Christians, we are in the forgiveness business. We will see what happens with these guys.

These stories are a wake up call and reminder to us all. I personally am thankful that I am a part of a community in which it is nearly impossible to be anonymous and do anything in secret. There is a lot of safety and protection in a smaller church.

Of course, small-church pastors have affairs also. The size of the church doesn’t matter. But it seems less likely to occur.

Anyway, food for thought on another day in which my activity and movement will be limited.

As I work on my sermons for the next few months, I need to remember to heed the Word of God myself, before I try to teach it to others. The example of the church in Thessalonica stands out. Notice Paul’s commendation:

"Therefore, we never stop thanking God that when you received his message from us, you didn’t think of our words as mere human ideas. You accepted what we said as the very word of God—which, of course, it is. And this word continues to work in you who believe" (1 Thessalonians 2:13 NLT).

If we can just allow the Word IN, the Holy Spirit takes it from there, producing fruit.

Father, thank you for the privilege of serving you, whether it is among many or few, whether it is a place of prominence or an avenue of service no one knows about.

We are all vulnerable to satanic attack at any time.

My heart goes out to Ted and Gil. Turn them around even as they continue to serve. Bless their spouses and families. All of this has to be hard on them.

I lift up my pastor friends.

Keep my nose clean, Lord.

“Lord, reign in me, reign in Your pow’r;
Over all my dreams, in my darkest hour,
You are the Lord of all I am” (BH 2008, 525). Amen.
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Sunday, A Day of Rest?

It is interesting how some kind of change or shift of gears in scheduling gives you a new perspective.

Yesterday, I had every intention of trying to get some work done, but it didn’t quite turn out that way!

I sat down on this couch, and I was out like a light for about an hour and a half! What a shock! I NEVER sleep in the morning after I have gotten out of bed.

My mom and sis and I had lunch. Then, I sat down in my favorite chair to watch the golf tournament on television, but the truth is, I dozed off, in and out of “consciousness” for most of the afternoon.

Wow, as I look back on yesterday, I got nothing done AT ALL, except for one thing that balances on the other side—REST.

We talked about it a lot. For most “church people,” Sunday is anything but a day of rest. In fact, it is one of the busiest days of the week, not quite as bad as it used to be.

I remember that for eighteen plus years, my Sunday routine started at 7:00 AM (it still does). For many years, we had two services in the morning. Many times, I would go out to eat with folks in the church, finishing around 2:00 PM in order to go home and crash a bit before getting back to the church by 5:00 for study classes and the service that began at 6:00.

In the early years of my pastorate, invariably, I was the last man in the building when everyone finally left. I was not out of there until 9:00 some Sundays, and I still hadn’t eaten dinner.

Well, you get the idea. Looking back on it now, I realize how crazy that lifestyle and schedule was. Insanity.

As Sunday evening services began to dwindle, we really worked hard at trying to keep “the program” afloat. We started having Bible studies in homes. That went well for a while also, but people started wearing out with that ministry as well. And I was one of them. I hosted a study at my house where I was responsible to provide a part of the refreshments for the evening (someone always brought something) and for teaching the study.

In our other groups, there was a teacher who was separate from the host.

After coordinating these home studies for a few years, I was almost of the opinion that we needed to go back to Sunday night services at the church—it was just “easier.”

When we made the decision to stop the home studies, someone asked me, “John, where do we go from here?” My reply: “I think the consensus is that Sunday night is done. I think people would rather have time to rest.”

For once, my intuition was correct.

We stopped doing any formal services on Sunday night (except for special occasions, once or twice a year) and no one complained or even commented. I’ll tell you—it has made all the difference in the world for me.

But still, even with no Sunday evening services, is Sunday a day of rest? I don’t think so.

Well, the whole concept of Sabbath has gone by the wayside in our busy American culture. As far as church people are concerned, there are so many barriers and obstacles to it.

You have the theological argument that goes something like this, “We aren’t Jews. Since the resurrection, Sunday became the day.”

Well, that is partially correct, but scripture does command us to rest. Matthew 11:28-29, Jesus promises, that when we come to Him, we shall find rest. Hebrews 4 reminds us that there is a Sabbath rest for God’s people. Amen.

Of course, both passages are stressing that rest is not just reserved for one day; it is part and parcel of the finished work of Jesus. He did everything for us. Now, all we need to do is rest.

Therefore, some would argue, there is no need to designate a day of rest.

But there is a second argument. Preachers like me fall into it. Sunday just so happens to be the best day to have meetings! I’m learning that most people are on the go from sunrise to sunset. The last thing they need tacked on to the end of a demanding day is a meeting at church! I don’t blame them.

But still there is a need for meetings on occasion, and we have found that after church on Sunday morning, especially when the church provides some sort of meal, is the ideal time for such meetings. This just helps people so that they don’t have to go home and come back. It seems to be working well,

But we are back in the boat of cramming way too much in on Sunday.

Anyway, all of THAT is background to say that, even though I missed being with my church family, I needed yesterday. I needed a day of rest. And I am sure that others would benefit as well. Humm. Something to ponder and pray about.

I wonder about Paul as I read the verses for today:

"We loved you so much that we shared with you not only God’s Good News but our own lives, too. Don’t you remember, dear brothers and sisters, how hard we worked among you? Night and day we toiled to earn a living so that we would not be a burden to any of you as we preached God’s Good News to you" (1 Thessalonians 2:8, 9 NLT).

Paul toiled day and night in his tent-making job so that he could minister. I wonder how he worked out the whole issue of Sabbath.

Again, I don’t see it as some legalistic issue. I just regard it as an essential ingredient of healthy Christianity.

Lord, thank you so much for a day of rest yesterday. I thank you for Brian and Scott and others who led in my absence.

Teach me more about Sabbath so that I can learn to rest myself and challenge others to accept the challenge.

Thank you also, Lord, for lessening the pain a “wee bit.”

“Seek ye first the kingdom of God …
And all these things shall be added unto you” (BH 2008, 524). Love that chorus. Amen.
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Hurting

Prior to writing today’s blog, I sent Brian a brief note, thanking him for preaching for me today. I really appreciate him doing so.

There is no way I could have done it today. I can barely move around.

Plus, something else is bothering me.

Apparently, during the surgery I had a couple of days ago, in order for the doctor to get to the lower intestine, they have to inflate the stomach and lift it up so that it is out of the way. To do this, they use some type of gas.

In my pre-op, the nurse warned me about this. One of the residual effects is pain in the shoulders because that gas does not stay localized in and around the stomach. It goes up further. Weird, huh? But that is what I am experiencing as well.

I’m also experiencing some strange type of congestion in my chest. I think this is because of the tube the anesthesiologist puts down your throat. I am trying to cough some of it up without undoing my surgery.

Plus some other stuff—I won’t go into detail. That’s enough. More than enough.

The bottom line is that I will need more time before I get back in the saddle. Right now, I am shooting for Wednesday of next week and if I go in, it will not be a full-tilt kind of thing. Half a day or less.

In the meantime, today, I have more studying to do and I want to get some reading in. More than one person has told me that it is good to get up and walk around a bit. I have been doing that a little. Today, I hope to do more.

This type of “stay at home Sunday for medical reasons” takes me back to the days of chemotherapy. Throughout those months, I never felt nervous. I was not anxious about someone at church saying, “John is out AGAIN? This is ridiculous. He needs to be here. I went through chemo and worked every day,” you know, the equivalent of the “I walked three miles in the snow to get to school” type statement.

Don’t you love people who relish the opportunity to “one-up” every health story out there as a way to put you down?

This is a pet peeve in ministry for me. Regardless of what I think about what someone is going through, one of the main roles of fellow believers is to affirm that person in their illness or crisis. Caring for others involves meeting them on their level, not mine.

Anyway, I have felt this level of affirmation from the church in this surgery. How valuable is that for a pastor? You cannot calculate it. It is huge.

In the second chapter of 1 Thessalonians, Paul is defending his ministry. He wants the folks to know that there was no deceit or duplicity of motive in his service among them. Instead, “for we speak as messengers approved by God to be entrusted with the Good News. Our purpose is to please God, not people. He alone examines the motives of our heart" (1 Thessalonians 2:4 NLT).

These are all very good reminders for me as I sit on this couch today. God calls us in ministry. It is His gig, not ours. Therefore, since He was the one who initiated it, our main goal should be to please Him.

Again, so much of my ministry prior to the summer of 2010 was to please others.

The Lord continues to put me in places (and the main tool is cancer and all its consequences, this hernia surgery being one) where I have to learn and focus on pleasing God.

I may be able to fool some people, but I can never fool the Lord. He sees into my heart and knows everything.

Thank you, Lord, for more lessons learned. Thank you for another day of rest and recovery.

I lift up Brian as he preaches this morning. Fill him with the Holy Spirit and power. I pray for Scott as he leads worship, also for the choir and instrumentalists and sound room guys as well as the teachers.

This is ALL your gig. Every bit of it. Every person who is there and those, like me, who aren’t.

“Lord, my life to You I bring;
May each song I have to sing
Be to You a lovely thing
In your time” (BH 2008, 522). Amen.
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A Cheap Date and Winchell's

So, we are all sitting there in the pre-op room at Lutheran hospital: my mom and sister along Rob and Judy who came by as well. It was great to see them.

We were visiting and laughing as the anesthesiologist, Dr. Lutz, came in. He was explaining what was going to happen as far as his field of expertise was concerned. It was a lot more complicated than I imagined. Plus, he was going to be in the surgery with Dr. Prabhu monitoring my situation throughout.

At one point, he said, “John, I just want to tell you about the cocktail I am giving you today.”

I replied, “Doctor, sorry, I don’t do cocktails. I am a Baptist pastor.”

Everyone in the room laughed.

But Dr. Lutz didn’t skip a bit, “Well, let’s put it this way. You are going to be a cheap date for the next few hours!” We all busted up! The line of the year so far.

Not long after this exchange, Dr. Prabhu came in. I am very impressed with her. She is a great doctor but she has the people skills as well. Her ethnicity is Indian, I believe (not native American but the nation of India). She was born in South Carolina. Marilyn found that out when she went to Google the other. Apparently, Marilyn told Rob because as was standing there, filling out form, he interjected, “Tell me about where in South Carolina you are from.”

They visited a while.

It was all very relaxed and light-hearted. I was glad because I had not been nervous up to that point. I wasn’t worry, just ready to “get the show on the road.”

One of the nurses told me that I was going to get drowsy as she started to wheel me down the hallway. My last waking memory was the opening of the doors to the operating room. Then, it was lights out.

I woke up in the recovery ward, as the nurse asked if I would like some ice chips. Then, she brought me water as they moved me to a recovery room.

Once there, a young man clad in blue asked me to go ahead and get my clothes back on. It wasn’t long before my mom and sis were allowed in. That’s when Marilyn took the picture that is on Facebook.

I was not in much pain nor was I nauseated. Good signs. They said that I had to stay there until I was able to go the bathroom. Then, they would release me.

It wasn’t long before we were sitting in the car, and that’s when I said, “You know what? I want a donut from Lamar’s.” Rob is the one to fault for this because he had mentioned that there was one fairly close the hospital.

As I mentioned Lamar’s, Marilyn did a search and found on down south nearer our home. It was rather complicated, but after stopping at a Subway for take-out lunch, we found it. Closed. Are you kidding? I still can’t get over it. It was about 12:30 at that point.

Undaunted, Marilyn said, “We are going to get you a donut if it is the last thing I do.” By that time, we were all tired and just wanted to get home, but first things first. We had passed a Winchell’s donuts just up Broadway. We all remembered it. We headed up there. They were open. Praise God!

It wasn’t long before she came back out to the car with a dozen! Love it! Included in that number were three cinnamon sprinkled donuts. Are you kidding me? My absolute all-time favorite and I had not had one in forty-five years.

One of my earliest memories of moving into the home we now live in is my dad taking me down Happy Canyon to the Happy Canyon shopping center. Winchell’s Donuts had a big store at the corner. I went in with my dad to see him buy a dozen donuts for 37 cents! That’s right—37 cents.

That is a little less than what we paid yesterday. You think?

But that first trip to Winchell’s was the beginning of my acquired taste for cinnamon donuts. And I have to tell you that the donut I ate yesterday was one of the best EVER.

Diet or not diet—I’m going to make sure none of those other donuts go to waste even if I have to freeze them!

All in all, as you can see, it was a great day.

Today, I am much more sore than I was yesterday. Getting around is more difficult. I’m glad I don’t have anything on the plate today or tomorrow. Brian is preaching for me.

Betty called me yesterday afternoon to check on me, “Are you going to be in the services Sunday?” “Probably not,” I replied. “I just want to make sure I take it easy this weekend and on into next week.”

I want to thank all of you for your prayers yesterday. Please keep them going. I want to be very cautious that I don’t pick up something that is too heavy and strain myself in any way.

But I think this is going to be more difficult as time goes on—I will be “chomping at the bit,” as the old expression goes.

Please also pray for Jim as he goes in for surgery on his injured shoulder. As it turns out, he took quite a fall the other day. I wish I could be there to have prayer with him, but I can’t.

The first chapter of 1 Thessalonians is very challenging. Paul’s commendations of the church show what is important. I’m going to quote the last two verses of the first chapter:

"For they keep talking about the wonderful welcome you gave us and how you turned away from idols to serve the living and true God. And they speak of how you are looking forward to the coming of God’s Son from heaven—Jesus, whom God raised from the dead. He is the one who has rescued us from the terrors of the coming judgment" (1 Thessalonians 1:9, 10 NLT).

A church known for the fact that they are “looking forward to the coming of God’s Son from heaven.” Imagine that? Paul does not mention that the church was known for its music or great youth program or preacher or whatever. These are things that tend to make a church “successful” in our American culture. Urgency is not high on anyone’s list, but it was for Paul.

Hey, I wonder how one could know when he or she visits a church if they congregation is looking forward to the Second Coming! Humm. Food for thought. Something to ponder.

Lord, thank you for everything about yesterday. Thank you for taking care of me in such a great way. I was a cheap date, but I am glad. Thank you for my mom and sis and Rob and Judy who were there. Thank you for the doctors. Thanks for the hospital.

Thank you for allowing me time for recovery. I want to redeem this time, not fritter it away as I look out the window wishing I could be out there and active. This is all up to you, Lord.

Ha, how about this as a timely hymn to come upon this morning?

“Lord, please show me ev’ry day
As You’re teaching me Your way
That you do just what you say
In your time” (BH 2008, 522). Amen and amen.
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Hernia Surgery Today

I’m glad this day is finally here, and we can get “this show on the road.”

My mom asked me a question and made a comment yesterday. First, the question, “Are you nervous about this surgery?” I answered, “No, not one bit, and to be honest, THAT kind of makes me nervous.” Ha. Seriously, though, I have such a peace about this whole thing, but I know that it is the prayers of God’s people.

One of my pre-op instructions was that I could drink clear liquids (water, of course, coffee, tea, or apple juice) up to four hours before my arrival time this morning—that was 3:00 AM. So, I got up at 2:45 and went into the kitchen to drink three full glasses of water and have my usual cup of hot tea. When I was done, I felt lousy.
I went back to bed and just laid there, but as the time progressed, I started to feel better and the peace returned.

Thank you all for praying for me. I really appreciate it.

Last night, my mom made a comment, “I hope this is the last procedure/surgery you have to have for a while. You certainly have had more than your share the past couple of years.” You know. She is right, but as she was speaking, I remember a thought that passed through my tiny brain a few years ago, “Humm. You are a pretty healthy guy. You haven’t even been to the doctor in a while.” This was a statement I made to myself.

Weird what comes to mind, isn’t it?

Well, in retrospect, having made that statement to myself, I should have fallen on my knees right then and there to thank the Lord for my health. Instead, I think my statement was prideful.

Now, don’t hear me saying that I think God is zapping me for pride! I don’t believe that, but the truth is that we are all human; our bodies get sick or get cancer or have hernias or et cetera; and that’s just another element of a fallen world. This is inevitable, part of the human condition. Therefore, we need to trust God, not our false securities.

Or, to put it another way: "For they keep talking about the wonderful welcome you gave us and how you turned away from idols to serve the living and true God" (1 Thessalonians 1:9 NLT).

We can make an idol of our health! But there is only One living and true God. The Thessalonians made a name for themselves because of their worship! How about that?

I’m determined to do the same, from today forward—continue to turn to the living and true God.

Anyway, more lessons learned.

One more thing: it seemed that we had an unusual number of “situations” that arose yesterday. Jim fell and broke his shoulder. Pray for him. Kathy was falsely accused of child abuse at the daycare where she works. Lift her up. And Scott’s youngest daughter Rachel had to go to the hospital last night, but I just got word from Scott that she is fine. Praise God!

Well, gotta go. We have to leave in a bit. We’ve got to get to Lutheran Hospital in Lakewood by 7:00 AM.

Lord, this is all in your hands. WE are in your hands. You are the One and Only. Dr. Jesus, do your thing again today. Amen.
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The Word, Ringing Out

After a meeting yesterday with a group of guys in which we had a great talk about work on the building, Brian stayed behind for a moment.

We were discussing ways to reach people, and we commiserated about how difficult it is these days. Among the things that I appreciate about this brother is the fact that I believe he has a heart to reach people. He is a car, sitting in the driveway, ready to go. He just needs a plan and direction. I appreciate this deeply.

I guess I feel that for most Christians these days, they are cars sitting in the garage with dust all over them because they haven’t driven anywhere in years and really have no desire to do so. Getting them “started” and “out on the road” again would take a lot of work “under the hood.” If the engine doesn’t work, all the maps and plans and methods in the world are superfluous.

Humm. The Lord just gave me that analogy.

Thus, it reinforces the fact that the challenge our church (and I don’t think we are alone in this regard) faces is two-fold. First, we need to continue to pray for revival.

I wrote a note to a dear lady in our church that has a heart for revival. She is one of the few who even think about it. I felt the necessity to encourage her and ask her to keep praying.

I’m fairly confident that most people don’t pray for revival because it seems rather remote and innocuous and far removed from the immediate needs they are concerned about. I don’t know how you get people “interested” in it, let alone passionate about it. But many Christians need work “under the hood.” I am one of them!

Again, this has to be a work of God.

Second, for the few like Brian (and there are others in his category), the challenge is to discern WHAT the Lord wants us to do to reach out.

As Brian and I talked, I said, “I am growing very disillusioned with all ‘stranger’ methods and huge event approaches to reaching folks. We spend a lot of money on fliers. This seems to be wasted. Or, we spend a lot of time and effort to put together a huge event where we might get a lot of folks, but it never seems to materialize in people getting saved and baptized and added to God’s church. And I don’t want to sound selfish about this. I would be happy if they joined some other Bible-preaching church, but it never seems to work out that way.” Brian concurred.

I went on, “When people come to this church, and end up joining, it is because someone in this fellowship invited them. This is invariably true.”

I always come back to that. The best resource we have for reaching people is the folks who are in the church already.

All of this was heavily on my mind as our Youth Pastor, Jeremy, and I went out to visit the Pletcher family last night. I have encouraged visits to the families of our students. I want to take Jeremy with me because I think it will give him insight into families in our church and allow them to get to know him better.

As we were sitting in the Pletcher’s living room, something hit me, “Hey Tom, while Jeremy and I are here in your neighborhood, can we go see your friend Joe?” Tom has been bringing Joe to church on Wednesday nights the past few weeks.

Tom was very willing to accommodate my request. The three of us jumped in my truck. We turned the corner of the mobile home park where the Pletcher’s live in Federal Heights and went down another street to a house on the corner. Tom pointed to a home, “That’s where he lives.”

Of course, there was a rather large dog that barked his head off as we approached the front gate—no need for a doorbell. A man came out of the home. At first, he seemed rather suspicious of his visitors until he saw Tom. At that point, I jumped in, “Hello, Jeremy and I are here with Tom. We just wanted to come by to say hi to Joe. Is he here?” The man answered, “No, he isn’t.”

“Are you Joe’s dad?”

“Yes.”

“Well, we are from Tom’s church. I’m the pastor. Jeremy is our youth pastor. We just came by to say hi.”

“Thanks,” he said, “Joe likes the church.” He was backing away to the front door. He didn’t want to have any further conversation. We just thanked him for his time and went back to the truck.

As we got in again, I looked at Tom, “Any more friends we can meet?”

We went to a couple more houses where we didn’t find Tom’s friends but we did find parents to visit with. Everyone we visited had a big dog that didn’t seem to like the fact that we were visiting. Jeremy walked right up to these dogs and stuck his hand out. I was not quite so bold. A dog bit me a few years ago.

I don’t know … it was an interesting experience. I’m not sure I have ever done anything like that before, and of course, the mobile home park where the Pletcher’s live is a unique setting. Jeremy and I were talking about it as we left. It is a rather self-contained community.

To visit another family and ask the student to take us to his/her friends, we would be driving all over town, in all probability.

But I just wonder … what about something like this with everyone in the church? It sounds kind of crazy, but I wonder if people could just introduce me or Jeremy (in the case of youth) or Calla (with the children) to friends and family and work associates (for adults only, of course)—not that any of us are special or that we are the “hired guns”—but maybe just as a way to spark some kind of conversation.

The three of us had more contact with lost folks than I have had in a LONG time. If I had just been walking around that neighborhood with fliers, I would never have been able to meet or talk with anyone. In fact, I think we have delivered fliers in that very area for an outreach event a couple of years ago. We got no response.

The passage today helps me with all of this. Paul is encouraging the church in Thessalonica about their outreach efforts. And he uses a great metaphor:

"And now the word of the Lord is ringing out from you to people everywhere, even beyond Macedonia and Achaia, for wherever we go we find people telling us about your faith in God. We don’t need to tell them about it, for they keep talking about the wonderful welcome you gave us and how you turned away from idols to serve the living and true God" (1 Thessalonians 1:8, 9 NLT).

The Word “rang out” from them! It wasn’t just words. It was the life example of faith and hospitality and worship.

I think one of our problems is that we want evangelism to be easy. We want a flier to do our work for us. We want to put something on at the church and invite people there.

The harder work is to live out the claims of the gospel with our neighbors and friends and work associates. They see us all the time. They know whether we are genuine or not.

The folks in Thessalonica were a clear sounding bell, ringing out the gospel.

When I think of church bells, I am always reminded of the bell at Glorietta—our SBC encampment in New Mexico. It rings out with the songs of the faith and you can hear it from a long way away.

Lord, make me and make First Southern a ringing bell for the gospel—not just in words but also in lifestyle.

Thank you for Tom and his friends. I pray that Joe and Jessica and Sylvia and their families could get saved.

I think of my family and friends and circle of relationships. Use me with them as well.

“His banner over us is love,
Our sword the Word of God” (BH 2008, 521). Amen.
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With Words and With Power

"For when we brought you the Good News, it was not only with words but also with power, for the Holy Spirit gave you full assurance that what we said was true. And you know of our concern for you from the way we lived when we were with you. So you received the message with joy from the Holy Spirit in spite of the severe suffering it brought you. In this way, you imitated both us and the Lord" (1 Thessalonians 1:5, 6 NLT).

This is the goal, right? So much of the time, all we have is words, and we think that just spouting them will have some influence. Maybe, for a fleeting moment, but that’s it.

Great speeches inspire. Pep talks in the locker room may have some effect.

I read that recently, Manager Walt Weiss of the Colorado Rockies called a team meeting during a recent losing streak. Commentators on the radio were saying, “Walt doesn’t say that much, so when he speaks, it has quite an impact.” I’m sure it did, and the Rockies seemed to be playing better for a few games.

But all the talk in the world won’t help them pitch or hit better over the long haul. The Rockies are losing games just because they aren’t that great (if you hear a little disillusionment in the team, you are hearing right, but oh well).

One of the meetings I had yesterday involved Calla, our Minister to the Families of Children and a couple of other women. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss how to use a couple of rooms that have recently been re-carpeted and painted as a result of Community of Faith United moving out a few months ago. It has been a rather long process, but finally, they are ready.

But as we talked, some of the issues we are facing as a church came up. I’m not going into detail here, but as we talked about a good thing (using rooms for ministry), it felt as if ten bad things have emerged.

Sometimes, as a pastor (and I know that I am not alone in this), I feel like the proverbial Dutch boy with his finger in the dike. Plug one hole and ten more open up.

Of course, my tendency is to try to figure out some way to address the problem with words for the purpose of fixing it.

But my words have no inherent power. Words are words, coming out of someone’s mouth and floating off into space.

But Paul’s ministry among the Thessalonians seems to be radically different on two counts as the verses above indicate. First, the words that came out of Paul’s mouth were delivered IN POWER. I can only imagine what that must have been like.

From Paul’s other writings, I don’t get the idea that Paul was some sort of oratorical marvel, wowing people with his voice and use of words. In fact, I believe that if we could hear, we would be decidedly UNIMPRESSED on a human level, but on another level, the power of God was all over what he preached.

This is a goal for me. I’m praying that I would allow the Holy Spirit’s power to be unleashed through me. What would that look like? What needs to happen in my life for it to happen?

You know, I don’t have any quick and easy answers to those questions. I just want to be usable in the hands of the Master, and IF and WHEN God’s power reveals itself, it will happen as the sovereign Lord allows it to occur, not a moment earlier or later.

But I noticed something else in the passage above—the power of the Holy Spirit was also evident in the HEARING of the powerful Word that Paul preached. This church “received the message with joy from the Holy Spirit.” Wow. Again, what was that like? Maybe it was dramatic, probably not. But who knows?

I think part of my problem is (as always) my pre-conceived ideas as to what things would look like from my standpoint and that of the congregation if the power of God were unleashed.

Again, I say, “Who knows?” But I would like to be a part of a movement of God once in my ministry lifetime.

In the meantime, (and I hope this doesn’t sound defeatist because I certainly do not look at it that way), here is what I have: I have prayer. I’m going to continue to pray for revival in the church and spiritual awakening in our country.

In addition, I have the Word of God. I think I have the best chance for the power of God to operate if I stick with the Book, explaining and applying the text of scripture, and leave the results to God.

Lord, as I sit here this morning, it is hard, very hard, not to be discouraged. But thank you for allowing us to have some newly refurbished rooms to use in the building to use for your glory and for ministry.

As far as the other “stuff” is concerned, I name the issues to you … I turn them over to you.

Lord, I pray that in the communication process—it is a two-way street ALWAYS—you would empower both the preacher and the listener in the Holy Spirit.

Thank you for the reminder that this great hymn is. Turning the page and seeing the title, the truth hit me between the eyes:

“Faith is the victory!
Oh, glorious victory
That overcomes the world” (“Faith is the Victory,” BH 2008, 521). Amen. Yes, Lord. YES! I believe. Help my unbelief.
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Thankful for Pastoral Staff and Spouses

As I was driving away from Jeremy and Jessica’s on Sunday, I felt this overwhelming feeling of gratitude.

Let me back up a moment. The past several years have not been easy when it comes to staff. We just frankly had no one for a couple of years. I was the main driver of this, even though it affected me more than anyone.

After a myriad of experiences (some good; a lot, not so good), I just made the personal decision that I was not going to “settle” for anyone. We were just going to wait on God as long as it took, and the Youth Pastor position was a primo case in point. We have actually been looking for over three years!

So, after church Sunday, Jeremy, our new Youth Pastor, had invited our current and prospective youth leaders over to his house for a leadership meeting. None of them could make it. The only one who could be there was Bryan. I asked Jeremy and Jessica if I could tag along.

Jeremy and I had discussed the content of the meeting previously. He had put together a slick little handbook for leaders. I was (still am) very impressed with his vision and philosophy of ministry. It is very much in concert with mine. This is one of the reasons that I felt led to join the others on our search team who felt that he was our man.

When lunch was ready, Bryan and I grabbed our barbeque sandwiches (awesome) and headed out to a table in a shady area next to the back porch. As we sat down to eat, Jeremy handed out his little booklet and began to share with Bryan.

In a future post, I want to go into detail about some of what he shared, but not right now.

I was impressed at his passion and the way he articulated his vision for youth ministry in our church, and it wasn’t as if it was to a crowd of millionaires. It was Bryan and I, for crying out loud!

Had I been in Jeremy’s place, I might have even canceled this leadership meeting and shifted it to another time since I did not have a full contingent. But Jeremy forged ahead, and Bryan listened intently. He took it in, and commented that he was in full agreement.

While we were having this meeting, Jessica had lunch with their three children. They are awesome and active—Noah, Aliyah (not sure I am spelling her name correctly), and Hannah. I had just been over to this house a couple of nights previously. They are vocal. We played a new game together. I love their kids.

But Sunday, while we met, they ate their lunch on the porch with Jessica, quiet as church mice, and then went in the house. I was very impressed with this. Jeremy and Jessica work together well as a couple and their home is peaceful. This is the distinct impression I get as I enter it.

Well, shortly after Jeremy finished his presentation, I excused myself and slipped out, but as I was driving away, I was thanking God, not only for what I had just experienced, but also for the staff as a whole.

As I share about them, I don’t want to leave Betty out of this. She has served faithfully for well over forty years. I can’t say enough about her and will elaborate on her ministry at some point. Barb, our custodian, and Mary Ann, our treasurer, are equally as valuable and significant. These three women of God have been in the trenches for several years now. I could not make it without them.

But as I drove away, my thoughts and gratitude focused on the families God has brought our way to serve as pastoral staff. In addition to Jeremy and Jessica, there are three other families who are serving now.

Here are several of the great things about each of them. First, they lived in the area (and still do, of course) prior to joining our fellowship and coming to work on staff. I like this. They are, to use a fancy seminary word, indigenous. We did not have to “import” them from another town or state, bring them in so that they had to learn the culture. They were already here. This is a huge plus. Huge.

Second, they all have children, and as I shared with them in a staff meeting last week—they are resident experts for our church as to how we can reach young families because they are young families!

Third, not only am I impressed with the staff members themselves (in addition to Jeremy, there is Calla, our Children’s minister; Scott, our Minister of Music; and Brian, who is helping me out as an associate), but also there are the spouses. Now, up front, I don’t know Brian’s wife Giselle all that well. She travels a lot with her work. I’m looking forward to the opportunity at some point.

I’m thankful for John, Calla’s husband. He has a very busy and demanding job as a manager of a King Sooper’s grocery store. But he serves very faithfully and effectively in our audio/video booth during the services. He runs all the slide presentations we use for music and the sermon each week.

I like John. He is a great guy. I like hanging with him and look forward to getting to know him better. He is a great dad, and he and Calla work well together.

I was in their home not long ago. The whole family came over to my townhouse one morning in mid-July to help me move. They are the only family in the church who helped me move. And, please don’t take that as a knock against the church. Many volunteered to help. It just didn’t work out timing-wise, but John and Calla and Dayton and Sydney came one morning and helped me move some stuff and actually carted some of it off for me. It was HUGE.

They took one bed I wanted to get rid of over to their house. They were gracious. They did me a favor. I went with them as they took it back to their house. They actually don’t live far from my old place. But as I entered their home, I had the same feeling I had Sunday—a peaceful (they would probably laugh at that description and the next one) and quiet home. I use those terms in the biblical sense. I think you can have both of those qualities with a lot of kid noise and laughter. They are spiritual descriptions. They run deep.

So, that is John and Calla. I put Scott, his wife Darla, and their family in the same category. I have written in this blog at length about how Darla stepped up to the plate BIG TIME in the Good News Across America backyard Bible clubs we had and the particularly, the rally on Friday night. This is selfish, but it is what it is. I could not have made it without her taking the perennial bull by the horns that night and organizing that rally.

I have been in Scott and Darla’s home as well.

Now, before I go further, I need to say that I have visited and eaten meals in a lot of homes over the past twenty-four years, and so I feel that I have a bit of expertise as I make the following statements. In some instances, I feel I have been eating in the middle of Grand Central Station with kids up and down and running around and crying and complaining and arguing and fighting—all of this occurring with me sitting there. I can only imagine the bedlam when a “guest” is not there.

The frank truth of the matter is that the family dinner is almost dead in our culture. This is one of the biggest reasons for the decay of the family.

Back to Scott and Darla’s home, we all sat down to dinner. Scott and Darla’s children—Seth, Lydia, and Rachel—are young. Rachel is a toddler. But we had a quiet and peaceful meal together in which the children participated in the conversation. Are you kidding me? Very, very impressive.

There are those words again—peaceful and quiet. I’m sure Scott and Darla will chuckle as well.

Now, at some point, I will comment further about Brian and Giselle’s home. I will do it when I get the chance to visit in it. But one thing I need to tell you. They have taken in a foreign exchange student from South Korea. He just arrived last week. His name is Don. He was sitting in youth Sunday school this past Sunday. More news to follow, but I can bet, what I learn about this family will be along these same lines. Wanna bet?

You know something that just occurred to me. Each of these families has chosen to educate their children in different ways. Scott and now Darla both teach at a Christian school. Their kids of course go there. I believe that Brian and Giselle’s youngest daughter Gabby goes to a Christian school as well. Jeremy and Jessica have committed to home school their children. And, John and Calla’s kids go to public school. Calla works at a school in the Adams 12 district.

Very interesting, but I like it.

Anyway, this is a longer post than usual, but my heart is full of gratitude today. I echo the words of Paul in the first few verses of I Thessalonians:

"We always thank God for all of you and pray for you constantly. As we pray to our God and Father about you, we think of your faithful work, your loving deeds, and the enduring hope you have because of our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Thessalonians 1:2, 3 NLT).

There’s that spiritual “threesome” (to use a golf term) again: faith, love, and hope.

Lord, thank you for these families you have brought our way. I appreciate them and love them with a world of respect. They are gifts to your kingdom, to our church, and to me. Thank you.

One of the best things about the Christian life is the family you get to meet.

“I am his, and He is mine” (BH 2008, 520). Amen.
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The Morning the LIghts Went Out in Northglenn

Isn’t there a song—something about the lights going out in Georgia?

As I was praying with the guys yesterday—we had a great time of communion with the Lord and fellowship with one another—I concluded our prayer meeting by saying something like this, “Well, Lord, we are at your disposal in the adventure of faith.”

Again, you always need to be careful what you pray.

So, there we were yesterday. We had finished the congregational singing portion of the service. Johnathon was at the piano. He was going to sing a song, and all of sudden, there was a flicker, and then, THE LIGHTS WENT OUT.

Duane got up to investigate. I could see that he looked out the front door. I just figured it was some sort of power outage. Weird.

We did not have a storm or anything going on that might precipitate such an event. It just happened.

And somehow, I think everyone realized it. It was no big deal.

Johnathon and Scott just mutually agreed that he would sing next week. I stood up to preach, “Well, this is certainly different. But we are not going to let this stop us, right?” I got a wholehearted response.

It was kind of hard to see words on a page. I invited everyone to find Colossians 4 in his/her Bible, told them to stand up, and moved over to a window to lead the reading of scripture. We were not as vociferous as usual. It was hard to see in the relative darkness.

In retrospect as I have thought about yesterday, I realize how dependent I have become on all the gadgets we use these days. I have an Ipad that links to the PowerPoint presentation so that I can manipulate the slides I use for the message.

Each week, I use five to ten slides for various reasons. It is certainly not very fancy. My slides are rather mundane. One of the reasons for this is that I don’t want them to distract from the message. I believe the main focus ought to be the Word and not fancy graphics.

That having been said, however, I still use them and DEPEND on them.

Until yesterday, I didn’t realize how much.

But somehow, in spite of this realization that hit me as I started to preach and the fact that we were sitting in the dark, I felt energized and empowered to preach.

At one point in the sermon, I had planned to use an acrostic to help people discern what their ministry would be. Perhaps you have heard of it or seen it—S.H.A.P.E. It is a clever way (certainly not original with me) of listing factors that would help folks discern their place of service.

As I started talking about it, I knew I was going to have a problem. I talked about “S”—spiritual giftedness. “H” stands for heart—one’s passion in ministry is a crucial factor in where we need to be. “A” signifies natural abilities. This plays a role sometimes—not always. Sometimes, the Lord leads us to serve in ways that run totally counter to our natural abilities.

Then, I got to “P.” Now of course, this acronym was on a slide I had planned to show—all very neat and packaged—but I didn’t have the overhead. The notes I take in the pulpit to preach are very thorough in some ways, in other ways they are not. This was an instance where my notes where not complete. Peachy.

Anyway, for the life of me, I could not remember what “P” was. And, it was “funny,” but I knew, as I was preaching that I was coming to “P”—like a train heading down the track. So, when I got to it, I just said, “The next letter is P, and I have forgotten what it stands for. Fill in the blank yourself. The Lord obviously doesn’t want us to talk about it.” And I just went on. People laughed when I made my comment, but no big deal.

Actually, in the course of preaching the message, I alluded to prayer as vital in the whole process, and I added, “Hey, I think ‘P’ ought to be prayer. Let’s just say prayer is it.” Good enough for government work. And not just that—good enough in the leadership and direction of the Lord.

Can you guess what happened? I bet you can. Shortly after the service ended, the lights and power came back on.

Just a little moment and period of adventure on what started out as an “average” Sunday morning, a little sleepy and drowsy at that, in Northglenn.

I’ll tell you: I love the way the Lord allows things like that to happen just to spice life up a bit.

The only other time I ever remember anything remotely like that happening to me was when I was in college at Baylor. I was headed to church on a Wednesday night, and there was a massive power outage in Waco. That night, we had a candlelight prayer service at Beverly Hills Baptist Church—one of the best ever.

I love the way the Lord turns things and uses things and marshals every single thing in His sovereign will and purpose for good.

The last verses of the book of Amos reinforce this. This whole book is a message of judgment. One would think that the lights are out on Israel and out for good, but no. Not then, not ever for anyone.

"’The time will come,’ says the Lord, ‘when the grain and grapes will grow faster than they can be harvested. Then the terraced vineyards on the hills of Israel will drip with sweet wine! I will bring my exiled people of Israel back from distant lands, and they will rebuild their ruined cities and live in them again. They will plant vineyards and gardens; they will eat their crops and drink their wine. I will firmly plant them there in their own land. They will never again be uprooted from the land I have given them,’ says the Lord your God" (Amos 9:13-15 NLT).

Lord, indeed, serving you and following you is an adventure. I love it. Thanks for allowing all of us to roll with the punches. Thank you also that for you and with you—there is never a power failure. NEVER.

“My life is in You, Lord;
My strength is in You, Lord” (BH 2008, 518). Amen.

P. S. As we were still sitting in the dark at the end of the service, Duane said, “Well, the Lutheran church across the street had power.” We all cracked up.

P. P. S. “P” stands for personality. I like prayer better.
Comments

Hector, the Paletero

I could see him at the other side of the field. He was pulling his cart. He pulled it onto the field and stopped. He was just standing there, listening, and the Spirit spoke to me.

But first, I asked Thomas, from our Hispanic church, a question, “Hey brother, what do you call that man with the little cart and his popsicles?”

“Paletero,” he answered.

“I see him just about every time I come to Federal Heights in the summer,” I said.

“Well, you probably don’t see him every time. There are a bunch of these men with different companies who come out here and to other parts of town,” Thomas went on.

Humm.

Thomas and I were having this conversation on a cement sidewalk near the top of a hill where the school sits. Just up the hill, the band Norteno was leading worship. The leader of the group was playing an accordion. I could actually understand some of what he was singing—praises to Almighty God. It was awesome.

But the Spirit was still working on me. “Get over there and talk to that man.”

I walked across the field to meet the paletero. I extended my hand. Immediately, this older gentleman in broken English said, “Can you see that I am crying?”

“Yes, sir.”

“That is good music. It is being played in Mexican style but the words are very good.”

“They are all about Jesus,” I said.

He nodded his head in agreement.

“I am John. What is your name?”

“Hector,” he replied. The tears were still coming, streaming down his face.

“Hector, have you received Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior?”

“No, I don’t think so,” he answered.

“Would you like to receive Him? Right now?”

Hector never really answered my question. His expression became more distant as he looked toward that band. “That is good music,” he uttered again.

I handed him a card from Iglesia Torre Fuerte (the new name of the Hispanic church in the building with us). I went on, “Where do you live?”

“I live in Montbello. My company brings me over here to do this,” he stated as he pointed to his cart.

“Well, I must go now,” he said. And he turned from me and started pushing his cart along the fence.

I can’t get him out of my mind as I sit here today.

If there were no other reason why the Lord led us out to that field on an August Saturday night, Hector was it. I just pray that he could get saved.

I did not stay the whole time last night. But I will tell you: it was a lot of work. We had to figure out a way to get the bouncy toys to the field because the custodian did not have a key to the gate near the field itself. We had to heft those toys into the back of Reuben’s truck and he drove it down to the field. Then, I had to race off to a gasoline station down the street to fill a gas can so that we could work the generator to fill the toys. And they were not in good shape. They were dirty and smelly. But somehow, we got them to work.

What I have just described is just one aspect of the set-up process. The worship bands had a lot to do. We had a registration booth for people and we gave them a ticket for the raffle. I could go on, but I hope you get the idea. Ton of work just to get started.

I preached a little five-minute message based on Jesus’ “I am” statements in John. Sam translated for me.

Then, after an hour, he stood up to preach. His message was awesome. He preached with zeal and fervor. The gist of the message was the three appointments we all face: right now (the opportunity of the moment), death, and judgment. I could not think of a more appropriate message for the occasion. As we were standing there after his sermon, looking out on the people, I said, “Sam, excellent message, brother, but look. This is a parable of our modern world, isn’t it?” People were milling around. Kids were playing. It did not seem as if anyone was listening.

Who knows? Only God. I do know that Hector listened.

Back to Sam’s message—judgment is a reality, an appointment that we will all face. I wonder how many other folks heard that powerful warning. God continues to warn people just as he did through the mouth of Amos, the prophet:

"For I will give the command and will shake Israel along with the other nations as grain is shaken in a sieve, yet not one true kernel will be lost. But all the sinners will die by the sword— all those who say, ‘Nothing bad will happen to us’" (Amos 9:9, 10 NLT).

Oh, Lord, thank you for last night—the message that was shared through music and word. It is in your hands, Lord.

Thank you for everyone who showed from all three churches as we worked together—a beautiful sight.

I pray for Hector. Save him, Jesus. Save him.

“Trusting in my Father’s wise bestowment,
I’ve no cause for worry or for fear” (BH 2008, 517). Amen.
Comments

Beside the Altar

Before I get to the passage for today, I want to ask you to pray.

Later today—it begins at 4:30—three churches are joining together for an outreach event in Federal Heights. We are calling it the “End of Summer Event.” Our purpose is to share the gospel and prepare folks for the Good News Club that will begin at Federal Heights Elementary School sometime later this Fall—September or early October.

Here’s the plan: Jorge and Vida, from Iglesia Torre Fuerte (the Hispanic congregation that uses God’s building along with us) are leading and coordinating three worship sets that will last forty-five minutes each. He is working with some folks from First Southern in the first “set.” The songs will be in English.

After that first forty-five minute period, I will preach a short message and Brother Sam will translate.

Let me stop right here and say that I deeply appreciate Brother Sam. As of late yesterday afternoon, we did not have any other preachers except me. I called him, and he was perfectly willing to help out. He volunteered to translate my message, and he will preach in the second “set.”

Jorge and Vida invited another group to lead the second set. The band is called Nortena. Sam will preach when they conclude.

After the messages in these first two sets, we are going to offer an invitation to anyone who wants to repent and believe in Jesus. In addition, we are going to have a raffle—this is just another way to get folks’ attention.

Finally, Jorge and Vida will lead worship with folks from Torre Fuerte, and the evening will just conclude.

We also worked hard at securing some “bouncy toys” from the Associational Block Party Trailer. David and Jan graciously volunteered to drive down to Englewood to pick it up yesterday. They brought it to First Southern to park it in our lot for the night.

Bottom line: we are praying that the Lord uses us out there tonight. We just want to glorify Jesus and meet some people. Who knows what is going to happen? The adventure continues.

The passage for today is a curious one. It is a vision that the Lord gave Amos. Here are the first few verses of chapter nine:

"Then I saw a vision of the Lord standing beside the altar. He said, ‘Strike the tops of the Temple columns, so that the foundation will shake. Bring down the roof on the heads of the people below. I will kill with the sword those who survive. No one will escape! Even if they dig down to the place of the dead, I will reach down and pull them up. Even if they climb up into the heavens, I will bring them down. Even if they hide at the very top of Mount Carmel, I will search them out and capture them. Even if they hide at the bottom of the ocean, I will send the sea serpent after them to bite them. Even if their enemies drive them into exile, I will command the sword to kill them there. I am determined to bring disaster upon them and not to help them’” (Amos 9:1-4 NLT).

I can’t get this out of my mind—the Lord is standing BESIDE the altar. What is the deal with this? It seems rather ominous to me. Usually, the shekinah glory of God descends on the altar and His glory fills the inner sanctum, but that is not quite what is going on here. The Lord is “down” on a human level, and He means business.

The Lord is after his people who have turned away from Him. He is vowing to pursue them no matter where they try to hide.

Again, I continue to be amazed at how the Lord brings things together in my life.

Back to this event for today—I have felt a very powerful attack from the enemy. This event is a lot of work and time and effort and expense. I certainly have not participated in the lion’s share of ANY of that. Jorge and Vida along with Larry and Lucinda from North Metro have done most of the work—a ton of work, as a matter of fact.

But I have just been deluged with satanic messages that ring in my ear. The essence of his “whisperings” is, “What are you doing? This whole thing is a waste of time. You are not going to reach anyone.”

I just got through preaching a sermon last week on spiritual warfare, and I do believe that I said that the battlefield is prayer and evangelism—two dimensions, vertical and horizon—of our communion with God and confession to others.

Humm. “Physician, heal yourself.” I guess it is time actually to practice what I preached! You think?

But this passage in Amos is a wonderful corrective for me. The Lord is concerned for the worship of HIS people. My main concern today, therefore, is not RESULTS (as I perceive them). I just need to make sure that my heart is right and that I am available to the Lord. Beyond that, it is ALL HIM.

The same is true for everyone else. We will be out there. We will be available. We will be preaching and singing the gospel. The rest is up to Him.

Get away from me, Satan!

Lord, you are in charge of and deeply concerned about the worship of your people, so much so that you actively pursue us when we get off track. Put me on the track and keep me there today.

“Stayed upon Jehovah,
Hearts are fully blessed;
Finding, as He promised,
Perfect peace and rest” (BH 2008, 516). Amen.
Comments

A Famine of the Word

Good or bad, right or wrong—my cancer experiences have allowed me not to be too stressed now when it comes to hospitals and surgeries. I am not sure this is a good thing.

Yesterday morning, I had to go to Lutheran hospital for some pre-op stuff related to my hernia surgery a week from today.

I spent a lot of time with a nurse named Marilyn. She perked up a bit when I said, “My sister’s name is Marilyn.”

One of the purposes of the visit was to orient me to the whole process of what will happen next week. “Now, John,” she asked, “What level of pain do you think you can tolerate?” She handed me a chart. At the bottom was a zero with a happy face next to it—no pain.

At the top of the chart was a ten (I can’t remember the symbol next to it). It stood for the worst pain EVER.

Of course, I wanted to say “Zero.” But I knew that answer would not fly. So, I chose “Four.” And again, I can’t remember what that number signified, something like, “Pain that is a little uncomfortable.” I get what this is all about. They are trying to quantify something that is extremely subjective.

Marilyn went on, “We are not going to let you out of here after your surgery if your pain level is too high. We will keep you overnight if necessary.” That is good to know, but the more we talked about PAIN, the more it dawned on me, “Humm, this procedure could be painful. What do you know?” I started to get a little nervous. But oh, well. It is what it is.

I have asked Brian to preach for me next Sunday in anticipation of the fact that I won’t be in a position to preach two days after this PAINFUL surgery.

Marilyn said, “Any more questions?”

“Yes,” I answered. “How long will it take to recover?”

“Usually about a week, but the doctor will give you some lifting restrictions that will last a certain amount of time,” she went on.

I was hesitating a bit, but I just asked it, “How long will I be off the golf course?”

She laughed. “Oh, now we are getting to the real issue, huh? That is hard to say. Your doctor can answer that question.”

Not really the answer I wanted to hear, but what I suspected.

Oh, well. It is what it is. I am just glad to be near “getting the show on the road.” It is bothering me enough that it will be good to have it taken care of.

Now, to the passage for today: I distinctly remember Billy Graham referring to this passage in a sermon years ago:

"’The time is surely coming,’ says the Sovereign Lord, ‘when I will send a famine on the land— not a famine of bread or water but of hearing the words of the Lord. People will stagger from sea to sea and wander from border to border searching for the word of the Lord, but they will not find it. Beautiful girls and strong young men will grow faint in that day, thirsting for the Lord ’s word. And those who swear by the shameful idols of Samaria— who take oaths in the name of the god of Dan and make vows in the name of the god of Beersheba — they will all fall down, never to rise again’” (Amos 8:11-14 NLT).

A famine of the Word—what is that? That may be a question that is easier to answer in Amos’ day than ours. Back “in the day,” God spoke through prophets. There was no written Bible. So, it seems to me that a famine of the Word meant that the prophetic voice was silent. And indeed, this did occur in the Inter-Testamental period. At least we can say that the biblical record was silent for what was going on in those years. Does it mean that there were no prophets then? Well, I think we have to believe that, but arguments from silence are always speculative.

But for us, here in the United States of America—what would or does it mean? What was Billy Graham talking about?

I don’t know. It is hard to believe (but certainly not out of the realm of possibility) that someday all Bibles would be confiscated—something like that.

I think (and we are already seeing this) that it could mean that fewer and fewer pastors are actually preaching the Word. More sermons than ever, but less Bible.

This reminds me of a term that my pastor, Joel Gregory, coined while I was in seminary—“Star-Spangled Banner Sermons.” We sing the “Star-Spangled Banner” before Bronco or Rockies’ game, but that song has nothing to do with the game. Likewise, he argued, some preacher read a text but the sermon has nothing to do with it.

Lord, I thank you for doctors and hospitals and surgery—the technology of medicine these days is off-the-charts, but You are still and always the Big Doctor. Doctor of doctors.

As long as you allow me to live and a church allows me to serve them as pastor, I will teach and preach and encourage others to teach and preach the unadulterated truth of God’s Word and never stop. It certainly does not attract crowds. That is for sure, but I care only about pleasing the Audience of One.

“Trusting Him whate’er befall,
Trusting Jesus, that is all” (BH 2008, 515). Amen.
Comments

Results of the PET Scan and Professionalism in Ministry

A couple of topics for today …

First, I wanted to let you know the results of the PET scan. It was scary at first.

Dr. Jotte’s new assistant Laura (Kelly has retired) came in. She stated, “Well, John, we did find a spot on your PET scan.” Okay. She continued, “It is a lymph node on the left side of your neck. It has increased in size slightly and it lit up on your scan. The doctor does not think we need to do anything at this point. We will just watch it and if you start to have cancer symptoms, let us know.”

Okay.

I’m glad my mom and sister were there, because in spite of everything I have proclaimed in this blog, her words knocked me off my perch a bit. I was a little shocked.

I’ve thought about this a lot over the past few days. How does one prepare himself to hear that he has cancer AGAIN? I’m just not sure it is possible to prepare yourself for it.

Marilyn asked, “Does this mean necessarily that it is cancer?” You know—that was a very good question. I don’t think I would have thought to ask it.

Laura replied, “Oh, no. There are a lot of reasons this could have happened. Have you had a virus recently?”

I started to perk up, “Yes!”

“Well, that could be it. There are a number of things. If it were potentially cancer, we would see inflammation in other lymph nodes and there were no other indications, so that is good. But I will let the doctor himself talk to you.”

Okay.

Finally, Dr. Jotte himself came in. He looked me in the eye, “John, this is no big deal. I am not worried about this at all. If you start to get swelling or any other symptoms, let us know. But it is no big deal.”

So, again, they want to prepare you with the worst-case scenario as they share the news.

I was still a little out of sorts as we left, but my mom and sister continued to say, “John, don’t worry. Lymph nodes react to a lot of things.”

I felt better and better as the day wore on. I’ve got to have a doctor’s appointment in three months and another scan in six. That’s the scoop.

I really appreciate the people who ask because I know it means they are praying. And I believe that prayer is what helped me rebound so quickly. Thanks again.

Now, to the passage for today … a little biographical material about Amos. In the latter half of the seventh chapter, there is a story about his encounter with King Amaziah:

"Then Amaziah sent orders to Amos: ‘Get out of here, you prophet! Go on back to the land of Judah, and earn your living by prophesying there! Don’t bother us with your prophecies here in Bethel. This is the king’s sanctuary and the national place of worship!’ But Amos replied, ‘I’m not a professional prophet, and I was never trained to be one. I’m just a shepherd, and I take care of sycamore-fig trees. But the Lord called me away from my flock and told me, “Go and prophesy to my people in Israel.” Now then, listen to this message from the Lord: “You say, ‘Don’t prophesy against Israel. Stop preaching against my people.” But this is what the Lord says: “Your wife will become a prostitute in this city, and your sons and daughters will be killed. Your land will be divided up, and you yourself will die in a foreign land. And the people of Israel will certainly become captives in exile, far from their homeland”’” (Amos 7:12-17 NLT).

The king accused Amos of working for hire and peddling the Word by preaching the judgment of God. This is kind of interesting.

But it is not new.

Turn the channel on the television to any religious station and you are more than likely going to find a message or ten about “prophecy.” You will get some preacher’s neat little schema about the end of the world tied up in a neat bow.

Hey, it sells. It makes money. It allows many of these guys to pay the bills to stay on the air. And it always has.

This is what the King was accusing Amos of doing, “Earn your living back home in Judah. Don’t bother us here in the D. C. (so to speak).”

Amos’ response is significant. He asserts, “I’m not a professional.” God called him away from his profession as a shepherd and grower of sycamore trees. In other words, Amos had a job, but the Lord called him.

I’ll tell you what: there is a lot of freedom in all of that. Amos is not intimidated, even by threats from a king. He is more concerned about obedience to The King.

And Amos goes on the offensive. He does not back down one inch. He proclaims a rather pointed message to the king himself. He starts off by telling the king that his wife will be a prostitute! Humm. Are you kidding? And it goes from there. That takes guts and a vibrant trust in his ultimate boss. It isn’t pretty.

But the truth never is.

This is a good reminder for preachers, especially pastors. We get paid by churches (and believe me, we are grateful for the generosity of God’s people that allows this to occur—very grateful). However, the ministry is first and foremost NOT a job. It is a calling, and ultimately, we are responsible to God to preach what He tells us to preach.

I have been well supported and loved as a pastor where I am. But I just wonder if someday, the Lord told me to preach something that I knew would get me fired—would I do it?

Food for thought and prayer.

Lord, thank you for helping me yesterday. Again, I am grateful for Dr. Jotte and Laura and everyone at the Rocky Mountain Cancer Center. AGAIN, Lord, my life and health are in your hands.

Thank you for the call. Thank you for the truth. Thank you, O KING, that you are in charge of all kings at all times. I’m glad to give you my allegiance and service.

“Simply trusting every day,
Trusting through a stormy way” (BH 2008, 515). Amen.
Comments

Prayer Matters

That sounds rather cliché, right? It is the kind of thing we parrot at church but I wonder how many of us really believe it when it comes to certain things.

Let me see if I can explain: somehow, it seems easy for me to believe that God answers certain prayers. I’ve seen it over and over in the course of my years as pastor.

I could give a bunch of examples—hundreds of them, but the one that comes to mind is Tom’s story. Tom was a member of our fellowship not that long ago. He wanted to stop smoking but he struggled with it. One day, he just decided to do it, asked us to pray for him, and never did it again.

Not long ago, he was back in our church and stood up to testify to that effect.

Mark it down—answered prayer. A significant answer in anyone’s book.

God has answered many of the prayers I have prayed and prayers that people have prayed for me. I talked to someone the other day who told me they had been praying for my cancer, and I thanked them for doing so.

But what I am getting at is that there are some prayers I have prayed that the Lord has answered in a different way. I was going to say, “There are some prayers that the Lord has not answered.” But that is really not accurate. He has answered in a different way. This is how I prefer to say it.

There is another cliché explanation that comes to mind at this point. I’m not sure I quite agree with it. It goes something like this: “Whenever we pray, God has three answers—‘yes, no, or wait.’” That sounds good, but I think it is very inadequate for several reasons. Why do I say this?

Well, first, even if something works out like I WANT it to work out after I have prayed, does that really mean that God has answered prayer? We like to make connections like that, but really, only God knows.

I’m not arguing for “coincidence” or “luck.” I’m not saying that, but only time will tell. What happens today may not be true tomorrow. I don’t know how many times I have heard people say, “I thought God had answered prayer but as it turned out, He didn’t.” No, God answered prayer. It just wasn’t the answer I expected or wanted.

Second, if things don’t work out as I want or as I pray, does that mean that God DIDN’T answer prayer? I don’t think so.

Does this make sense?

So, I would say that God always answers every prayer we pray. We just may not ever see how He answers, but you can mark it down. He does. Yes is an answer. No is an answer. Wait is an answer. But his answers are not limited to those three “boxes.” He is bigger than that. God is so powerful that he can answer part of what I pray now, part later, or a myriad of other options. He is God! He is not limited.

But I am. I still have some things that I have prayed about where God’s answer has been different. I haven’t seen the answer. I don’t know what is going on. And I think the temptation in those instances is just to quit, to give up, and to stop praying.

As I think about requests in that category in my life, I am convicted that I have stopped. And, I am encouraged to stay at it as I read this passage in Amos I read yesterday.

God gives the prophet three vision. The first is of a terrible locust plague. Amos prays for mercy on the nation of Israel. He asks God to forgive. And the Bible says, “So the Lord relented from this plan, ‘I will not do it,’ he said” (Amos 7:3 NLT).

The Lord gives the prophet another vision. This time it is one of a devastating fire. Again the prophet prays for mercy. God responds again. Here is where the quote picks up.

"Then the Lord relented from this plan, too. ‘I will not do that either,’ said the Sovereign Lord. Then he showed me another vision. I saw the Lord standing beside a wall that had been built using a plumb line. He was using a plumb line to see if it was still straight. And the Lord said to me, ‘Amos, what do you see?’ I answered, ‘A plumb line.’ And the Lord replied, ‘I will test my people with this plumb line. I will no longer ignore all their sins. The pagan shrines of your ancestors will be ruined, and the temples of Israel will be destroyed; I will bring the dynasty of King Jeroboam to a sudden end’” (Amos 7:6-9 NLT).

In this case, the third time is the charm. In the vision of the plumb line, God vows to carry out His judgment.

But in the first two instances, Amos prayed and God “relented.” He changed His mind. Does God change His mind? Well, I do believe He does. He is not, as the Deists claim, some remote watchmaker standing on the balcony who has just set His world in motion and there is nothing anyone can do.

Prayer matters.

One of the things I pray about where God’s answer is different is for spiritual awakening in our land. I see this as the only hope we have.

The longer I pray for this (and my praying is intermittent and not consistent at all), the more difficult it is to pray because it seems that things are getting worse and worse. Less people pray. Less Christians seem to care.

But again, does this mean that God doesn’t care and that God has not answered. No.

I’m not going to allow my limited perspective to cause me to think that God has not or is not in the process of answering that prayer and thus to stop. I may not see it in my lifetime. But I believe He is answering that prayer.

Oh, God. Thank you for prayer. Thank you for allowing us to petition your throne of grace and to call out to you for mercy. You are indeed a merciful and compassionate God, and I thank you that you hear every prayer we as believers utter through Jesus, our advocate, and through the Holy Spirit who prays for us.

Have mercy on the United States of America. I pray for spiritual awakening.

Have mercy on me, today as I get the results of the PET scan and Lord, in a list of prayers I have prayed to you for years. I’m going to eschew categories and neat little boxes to put you in. You are big, big, big. Bigger than all my perspectives and explanations.

Big.

“Be still, my soul! The Lord is on thy side” (BH 2008, 514). Amen.
Comments

Faith Day

Thanks for praying for me yesterday as I had my PET scan. It seemed to go very well. I guess I am getting more and more used to them. I seemed to be able to relax more easily while taking the test. I had another good round, by the way! Ha.

Mother and Marilyn took me, waited for me, and hauled me out to eat afterwards. Last night, (and this is becoming a custom for us), we went to Red Lobster. It is fast becoming one of my favorite restaurants, but it is just another little way that my family and I celebrate another step in this cancer process. I appreciate my mom and sister so much in this regard.

Red Lobster is not cheap, but I now have three more meals to enjoy this week.

Now, as I write this, I am sure someone is going to say, “You mean, you hog all the leftovers and your mom and sis don’t get any?” Well, the short answer to that question is, “Yes.” Everyone knows I am a hog! But my mom does not have much of an appetite for any type of food these days. She always eats just a little. Marilyn and I are intentionally trying to eat less when we order at restaurants. I always eat half of everything I order and take the rest as leftovers. The truth is they are glad to let me carp their food.

I got some work done yesterday afternoon and made some phone calls.

Overall, it was a very good day.

But I want to go back to Sunday for a moment and finish telling you about the day. George and Calla encouraged me to go to Faith Day at the Rockies’ game. I had heard about these events but I had never attended. We promoted it at church. I think all in all, we had about twenty folks sign up to go.

One Sunday, as George and I were discussing it in the foyer after a service, Tom was standing there. He is one of our youth. He interjected, “I have never been to a Rockies’ game.” So, we worked it out to get him a ticket.

After the service Sunday, he was standing there, “Well, are you ready to go?” I raced to my office, changed my clothes, and grabbed my two tickets. We jumped in my truck, and I raced over to a grocery store in the area to buy a couple of sandwiches. I am always famished after the service on Sunday.

Remember, I am A HOG.

I gulped both of them down as we headed down I-25 to 20th Street. I turned left at a street right before Coors Field and found some available parking for $20.00. It is not cheap but I have learned just to take the spot when it is available. Parking is not easy at Rockies’ games.

Tom and I headed down the block and up the street to the ballpark. We both walked very briskly.

You may be asking at this point, “Why were you in such a hurry?” Well, good question. I thought the game started at 1:00! I was shocked that there weren’t more folks crowded around. Where was everyone? Well, we were WAY early.

When I finally figured this out, we slowed down and just decided to take a walk around the inside of the ballpark. We stopped at the gift shop. Tom picked out a hat. (You have to buy a hat at your first baseball game, right?) We stopped by “Guest Relations” and a lady in a purple shirt gave Tom a pin (it is actually very large) commemorating the fact that it was his first game.

Tom stuck it on his shirt immediately. As we were walking along, he said, “Thanks for bringing me, Pastor John. I honestly thought I probably would never get a chance to come to a Rockies’ game. I have heard people talk about it. They said it was very cool to come here. I always thought, ‘What is the big deal?’ Now, I know.”

I have to tell you: right there—one of the best moments I have ever had in ministry. We got to talk and spend time together as we walked around the entire circumference of that ballpark.

We strolled. We looked at everything. We eventually found our seats. Jim, Patty, Jennifer, Fernando, Bryan, and his grandparents were already there.

As the afternoon wore on, other folks from our church showed up. Little by little, the stadium filled with people. I remarked about the third inning that it was full. Not many empty seats.

It was a perfect day for baseball (aren’t they all?). The clouds rolled in. We even had a few drops of rain, but it cooled things down. It was very comfortable.

The game itself wasn’t bad either. The Rockies came from behind and won a tight game, 3-2, completing a sweep of the Pirates. Not too shabby.

But then, as most of the folks filed out, all of us migrated toward the center of the field. We found an area where all of us could sit together.

I looked around as we found our seats. There were thousands and thousands of folks still there.

In fact, someone called out my name. “John Talbert!” At first I did not recognize the man, but the second he said my name, I realized it was Alan! Alan and I were in the college group together at Calvary Baptist Church of Englewood over thirty years ago! I got to see his wife Vera. We talked a bit. We are going to get together and catch up sometime soon. I am going to post Alan and Vera’s picture on Facebook. Yesterday, Alan posted his and mine. Very cool.

In the meantime, the ground crew was feverishly setting up and stage and speakers on the field near home plate. Soon, we heard the voice of Jerry Schemmel. He is one of the radio announcers for the Rockies and is a believer.

He started interviewing Charlie Blackmon. Charlie is a young player on the Rockies. He has had his struggles over the past couple of years with injuries and inconsistent play, but, not too many months ago, the big league club called him up again, and he is doing well.

Charlie told about his baseball pilgrimage, and then Jerry asked him to share his spiritual story. It was an excellent testimony about how the Lord got a hold of him one day in a minor league game. It was off the charts.

When the testimony concluded, the David Crowder band started. I don’t listen to Christian radio all that much and don’t know any of the contemporary Christian artists, but I liked David Crowder. His songs had a good message.

About mid-way through the concert, I felt myself winding down, so Tom and I left.

All in all, though, it was a great experience.

I have to say this. Over the past few years, I have been growing in my disillusionment with the Rockies. Since the World Series in 2007, the Rockies have not been very good. Last year was a low point.

I rarely went to games, and I just have lost a lot of interest.

However, after Sunday, somehow, my attitude is different. I can’t imagine that there is any other major league baseball team that has “Faith Days.” (In fact, this year, the Rockies have sponsored two of them!) I hope I am wrong about that, but whatever. I am impressed that the Rockies would promote this kind of thing. It was very impressive.

Calla’s husband John told me that when the Rockies first started Faith Day, only a couple of hundred people would stay. Now, it has grown to involve thousands. Good deal. Just more folks to hear the gospel and get encouraged—like Tom and me and the folks from First Southern and other churches.

Well, I wanted to share that story. I think I will stop there. I read an interesting passage in Amos today, but I will talk about it tomorrow.

Lord, thank you for Sunday and for yesterday—an awesome and very encouraging couple of days. Thank you for letting me live them. Amen.
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PET Scan Today

Yesterday, at the close of the service, I said, “I have debated this for some reason. I don’t know why. I guess I was just hesitant to share it, but I wanted all of you to know that I have a PET scan tomorrow and I need you to pray for me. I should not be hesitant to ask you to pray for me. It has been three years since I was diagnosed and I wouldn’t be standing here without the prayers of God’s people, without your prayers. I need them just as much now as I did three years or thirteen years ago.”

I am gaining a little more insight into why Dr. Jotte keeps telling me that my cancer is going to come back. First, it could come back. Again, I am ready for that, if the Lord allows it. Day by day.

Second, I can see how this cancer “thing” becomes such a drag after a while. I had to put three reminders on my computer calendar to remind myself about this morning because I was afraid I would forget.

Here I am going along—I feel great, better than ever (and I give God the glory for this) and all of a sudden, it hits me, “I’ve got to go in for a PET scan.” Huh.

And after a bit, I can see someone saying, “Look, I don’t want to do these stupid tests any longer. I think I will punt, and just go on with my life.”

Now, as much of a hassle as these things are, I would NEVER do that, and here is another thing, I would have a bigger problem if I even THOUGHT about it. My mom and sis would hit me in the head with one of my golf clubs. They would never allow it.

But what I am saying is: I can see how this might happen with some folks.

Plus, the thing is: the longer this goes, the less I want to talk about it or think about it. I just want to be done with it, even though I know I won’t for the rest of my life.

Anyway, I’m getting this test and I’m glad to do it, but I will be even more glad when it is done and the results come in.

A couple more things about the end of the service yesterday. Myrtle wanted to thank the congregation for their prayers. She is one of our seniors. And she has Parkinson’s disease. She has had a rough go in recent days and weeks. Please join all the rest of us in praying for her.

I like Myrtle and enjoy my times of fellowship with her whenever they occur.

A couple of years ago, she was one of the few seniors in our church who approved of Community of Faith United when the moved in our building. She stepped up to the plate almost immediately as a volunteer.

Each Wednesday, on my way to work, I would swing by her house and pick her up. Her family could not bring her (this was unusual because her family is awesome and does a lot for her).

Anyway, on the way to church, we had a lot of opportunities to visit and get to know one another. I count her as a close friend.

In addition yesterday, two of our seniors—Bill and Helen—stood up. They had asked that I announce their engagement! Both of them have experienced the death of their spouses in recent years. A lot of people knew about this in advance, but the rest of the church didn’t. There was a general expression of joy and gladness that arose when I made the announcement. I love those kinds of responses!

Everyone, including me, is glad for them. I think they will make a wonderful couple. I will be performing the wedding in September.

The one sad part of this is that they will be going to another church. Bill had found a church where his family was attending with him, and so Helen will be going to that same congregation. She is our church pianist, and we will miss her, not just because of that. Just because she is such an outstanding example of someone who loves Jesus and loves people and loves to laugh. I will miss seeing her as often. I miss Bill too for that matter.

Well, there is more to share about yesterday. I will leave that for another day.

The passage in Amos that caught my eye this morning is a rather curious one. In fact, I felt the need to read it in several different translations on my Ipad. I’m still not sure that I get what is going on, but here it is:

"God, the Master, has sworn, and solemnly stands by his Word. The God-of-the-Angel-Armies speaks: ‘I hate the arrogance of Jacob. I have nothing but contempt for his forts. I’m about to hand over the city and everyone in it.’ Ten men are in a house, all dead. A relative comes and gets the bodies to prepare them for a decent burial. He discovers a survivor huddled in a closet and asks, ‘Are there any more?’ The answer: ‘Not a soul. But hush! God must not be mentioned in this desecrated place’” (Amos 6:8-10 MSG).

I do think that sometimes, we are very flippant in our relationship with the Lord. When we witness His awesome judgment (and someday, all of us will), I think we will just fall our face in worship and silence—nothing to say. This lone survivor in one home where the judgment of God has fallen is in the same boat. The place where he lives is desecrated. He is afraid to get in more trouble.

Lord, I am a recipient of your mercy. Thank you so much. Thanks for the prayers. Thanks for the friendships, like the one I have with Myrtle. Thanks for the good things you allow us to be a part of like Bill and Helen’s engagement. Bless this couple, Lord.

Father, use me to lead people to your Son. Use me at the cancer center today. And take care of this test, Lord, as you have all the others. I’m still in your hands.

“He will keep to the end,
He’s your dearest friend,
Place your hand in the nail-scarred hand” (BH 2008, 513). Amen.
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The Lap of Luxury

What did “luxury” look like in Amos’ day? The verses I read this morning give an apt description:

"How terrible for you who sprawl on ivory beds and lounge on your couches, eating the meat of tender lambs from the flock and of choice calves fattened in the stall. You sing trivial songs to the sound of the harp and fancy yourselves to be great musicians like David. You drink wine by the bowlful and perfume yourselves with fragrant lotions. You care nothing about the ruin of your nation. Therefore, you will be the first to be led away as captives. Suddenly, all your parties will end" (Amos 6:4-7 NLT).

This may be a little too much information (TMI) but yesterday, I was in a store buying some underwear and when I was paying, the clerk said, “How are your fragrances?” Huh? My fragrances?

I didn’t quite know how to answer the question. I am quite sure that I have never been asked that question in that way before. People, like my mom and sis, have made comments about my “fragrance,” but the comments have never been positive! Ha. I used to leave my tennis shoes and socks all over the place. Get the picture? Enough said.

I would imagine that fragrances in Amos’ day were the purview of the extremely rich and as you notice above, the reference is linked to drinking wine out of bowls.

I would comment that an opulent lifestyle in and of itself is not sinful. However, the challenge becomes, when you have stuff, not to let “stuff” have you.

This was Jesus’ concern in the parable of the soils in Matthew 13. Remember Jesus’ explanation of the seed that falls among thorns. “All too quickly the message is crowded out by the worries of this life and the lure of wealth, so no fruit is produced” (Matthew 13:22, NLT).

This is no doubt what happened to folks in Amos’ day—just too much stuff and too many parties—no room for God.

That’s what I worry about in our nation and in the church, particularly here in Colorado.

Each Sunday, especially in the summer, when I get on the highway to go to the church, the sheer number of folks on the road shocks me. What are all these people doing at 6:45 on Sunday morning? Well, they have bikes strapped to the top of their cars or they are pulling a boat or they are racing off to a gun show or a myriad of other possibilities. Just name it. It is going on, and it is happening on Sunday.

Church? Are you kidding? No one wants to go to church. Why?

I thought it was interesting yesterday. I called a pastor in Englewood who is responsible for the Block Party Trailer our Association makes available for special events. We need it for our “End of Summer Outreach” in Federal Heights next Saturday. More about this later.

Anyway, the message said something like, “This is Pastor Steve. Please pay close attention to this message because the times for our services have changed. On Sunday, we have Bible study at 9:00 AM. Our worship service is Thursday night at 6:30. Our food bank is open from 10:45 to 11:45 on Sunday morning…” It went on, but I could not get past that message.

Are you kidding me? No worship on Sunday, but they have their service on Thursday night? Did I hear that right?

The more I think about it, the more I like it.

Now, for those of you who are members of First Southern and are reading the blog this morning, don’t worry quite yet! I don’t see us eliminating our Sunday morning service any time soon. However, I have often wondered and prayed about another service sometime during the week and Thursday makes a lot of sense.

I can cite all the examples of people going to the mountains or the lake or the golf course or whatever on Sunday morning and condemn it, but the other way to approach it is to seek to reach those folks in a way and time that might appeal to them. I hate the word “appeal,” especially as it pertains to lost folks, but I hope you catch my drift.

Something has to give somewhere because I think we are headed in the same direction as Israel. Eventually, the nation went away, and there was nothing left.

I don’t think an enemy will let you take your golf clubs or boat and trailer when they carry you away.

Lord, it is so hard as I read these references to judgment. It seems so remote and distant on this quiet Sunday morning. Certainly, this will never happen to our beloved United States of America, will it?

But getting anyone even remotely concerned about this possibility is the bane of the church.

“Have you failed in your plan of your storm-tossed life?
Place your hand in the nail-scarred hand” (BH 2008, 513). Amen.
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Social Justice

I am going to cite the verses that captured my attention right off the bat this morning:

"I hate all your show and pretense— the hypocrisy of your religious festivals and solemn assemblies. I will not accept your burnt offerings and grain offerings. I won’t even notice all your choice peace offerings. Away with your noisy hymns of praise! I will not listen to the music of your harps. Instead, I want to see a mighty flood of justice, an endless river of righteous living" (Amos 5:21-24 NLT).

These prophetic exhortations are echoed in a lot of places. Three come to mind: Micah 6:8, Hosea 6:6, and the first chapter of Isaiah.

The common theme of the verses is social justice.

In other words, God says, “I am sick and tired of all your religious practices; what I want from you is to treat people right, to live right.”

In short, the Lord cares about how we live “outside of church.”

But back to that word “justice.” What does that mean for the American church of today?

I remember a few years ago. There was a young lady in our church who was adamant in her opposition to abortion. We were talking about it in my office one day. She asked if I could organize a bunch of folks to go to an abortion clinic and protest.

I prayed about it and somehow did not feel led to do this. When I informed her of my decision, I could tell that she was very disappointed, “Well, Pastor, I am going. I just want to ask, ‘What has happened to the church militant? This is a war. Where is the church?’” I think that is how she phrased it.

I have never forgotten what she said.

I believe that, FOR HER, she meant going out in the community to take an active stand against abortion. Maybe on a broader level—it could mean taking a stand in our culture for those who are getting the short end of the stick somehow, those that need advocates because they don’t have a voice.

Certainly, the unborn fall in this category.

But going back to my response to that young woman, I still have a check in my spirit about protesting at abortion clinics. I just don’t think THAT is our job. Or, let me be more specific. I still do not feel led to lead our church to be organized in THAT type of activity.

However, I do not have a problem with folks who do it, as long as they do not have the ENDS JUSTIFY THE MEANS mentality. I don’t think it is right for Christians to be involved in murdering abortion doctors. And I have heard the rationale for this under the “we are in a war” justification. I don’t buy it.

Anyway, all of this is well and good, I suppose, but the question that is pressed home to my mind and heart is, “What ARE we doing?”

This whole issue is like evangelism. I can always find reasons or excuses NOT to do it, but what AM I doing?

This sounds crazy and it is just a thought, but it actually came out of my mouth a few weeks ago as I was visiting with a sister in Christ who serves at Community of Faith United (we were talking about something), and I said, “Well, I am tempted to run for political office because I am so concerned about …” And I named some things.

I don’t know why I said that, and certainly, sitting here right now, I DON’T believe the Lord is leading me in that direction, but there has got to be something I can do and something our church can do, without diverting us from our main job.

I still remember what Richard Jackson said. Years ago, he served as pastor of North Phoenix Baptist Church in Arizona. We would always attend North Phoenix when we went to that area on Spring Break. It was (and still is) a mega-church. We loved going there. Jackson was an evangelist. Every Sunday, dozens of folks came forward during the invitation to profess Christ AND during the service, it always took ten or fifteen minutes to baptize a bunch of people.

My mom and I got the sermon tapes from North Phoenix for years.

In one sermon, Jackson said, “If we don’t feed the poor, there are organizations in town who will do it. If we don’t provide homes for the homeless, there are organizations who will do it. (He went on to list a few other things). BUT, if we don’t share Jesus, no one else will do it.” (Parentheses mine).

I still agree with this wholeheartedly. Our best way to do what Hosea, Micah, Amos, and Isaiah preached is to share Jesus and lead people to faith in Christ. This is our main job, and we can’t neglect it. FOR ANY REASON.

However, I come back to the fact that the Spirit seems to be prodding me to pray that there must be something else.

Lord, what has happened to the church militant? We hear about “stuff” on the news all the time and bemoan how far away from God our nation is going. But what specifically are we doing about?

First, Lord, give me an opportunity to share you with someone today. Give me boldness.

Second, thank you for COFU. I lift them up today. I thank you for their work in the community, but the fact that they are there does not absolve the church and me of my responsibility.

I do ask the senseless, needless, savage killing of the unborn would stop in this country.

“Only believe, only believe;
All things are possible, only believe” (BH 2008, 512). Amen.
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A Rarity

Yesterday, I was able to get all our part-time paid and unpaid staff together for a meeting. It has been a long time since I have conducted a staff meeting. Why?

Well, there are several reasons. First, all our staff (with the exception of Betty) is part-time right now. Thus, they all work and meeting during the day is almost impossible.

But, we were able to meet yesterday because Scott was on vacation (I appreciate the fact that he came in during his vacation. Thanks, Scott) and school has not started yet. Calla works for the Adams 12 school district and Scott is a teacher at a private Christian school. Jeremy’s job at the VA is flexible enough that he can take some time for a meeting on occasion, but I don’t want to take advantage of it too often.

Brian was also there. He and his family joined our fellowship recently. He is retired military and prosecuting attorney from Wyoming. He is helping me out also (a huge blessing—are you kidding me?). But he is busy as well with his family and taking on a foreign-exchange student who is moving in soon.

The last thing I want to do is load these folks down with a lot of extra meetings.

Second, I’m not as keen on staff meetings as I have been in years past. The reason is that, in some former situations, I don’t think people have taken them as seriously as I would have preferred. One staff person (he was full-time) was perennially late. I kept addressing this situation with him, but it never changed.

Others did not follow-through with things that I asked them to do. I could list some other things …

By the way, this type of thing is not unusual among pastoral staffs in churches like the one I serve. I think most people would be shocked. I know they are when staff members leave or get fired. Many people have no idea what goes on behind the scenes. They just get mad and leave the church when something happens with a staff person.

This is obviously kind of a sore spot with me. The most difficult stuff I have ever gone through over the past twenty-four years has to do with staff. I honestly don’t know how many more “staff issues” I have left in me.

But back to staff meeting—I took them very seriously, not just as times to hand out assignments, but as times for mutual support and encouragement. Sometimes, we even went on staff retreats where we spent time in fellowship.

On one occasion, one of our staff people was in a bad mood. He barely said two words to anyone for the whole weekend. To this day, I have no idea what was going on, but it put a damper on the whole thing. He basically sabotaged it. When I confronted him, he got mad and defensive. I repeat: to this day, I have no idea what was going on.

Right or wrong, good or bad, this has soured me on meetings.

I still value communication, however, but I just choose to talk to folks one-on-one and meet sparingly, only when it is necessary. I think yesterday was one of those times.

We had a good meeting, discussed some vital issues. It lasted almost two hours. I thanked everyone who left, everyone except Jeremy. He stayed behind so we could talk about some things—good stuff.

I was encouraged. And I am thankful for each one of those folks. At the end of the meeting, we shared some prayer requests. I told them that I count it a privilege to pray for each of them, and they can count on it.

I just have to thank the Lord for this week. My time in Salt Lake was very refreshing. Most of the time, when I come back from vacation, I have to deal with a crisis or fifteen. Not this time. Instead, I had the encouragement of this meeting. Thank you, Lord.

Thank you for the life you give us in Jesus. This is what the Lord promised for the Israelites who had turned away from Him in Amos’ day.

"Now this is what the Lord says to the family of Israel: ‘Come back to me and live! Don’t worship at the pagan altars at Bethel; don’t go to the shrines at Gilgal or Beersheba. For the people of Gilgal will be dragged off into exile, and the people of Bethel will be reduced to nothing. Come back to the Lord and live! Otherwise, he will roar through Israel like a fire, devouring you completely. Your gods in Bethel won’t be able to quench the flames" (Amos 5:4-6 NLT).

Twice, the Lord exhorts his wayward people: come back to me and live. When we worship anything but the Lord, we aren’t really living. Only in the worship of the One True God is life, not just for individuals, but also for the nation.

One of our chief idols was “revived” last night—the NFL preseason began. Hey, I’m right up there as a fan. I was glued to the TV last night along with just about everyone in this town. Hard to believe that we will be worshiping at the Bronco Shrine through February and the Super Bowl. Again, I’m right in the middle of it as well. Kind of makes me stop and think.

Lord, thank you for this week. Thanks for the meeting yesterday and the four folks in my office. Thank you for each of them. Bless them. Encourage them. Take care of their families. Help them to stay connected to Jesus. Help me to lead by example in that regard.

“When He shall come with trumpet sound,
Oh, may I then in Him be found” (BH 2008, 511). Amen.
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Visitation Last Night

After leading a Bible study on Wednesday night for adults from last September to June, I thought it would be a good idea to shift gears for the summer. It would give everyone a break and allow some opportunity for ministry.

Over the years, I’ve seen how easy it is for programs in churches to become institutionalized. I guess what I mean by that is people tend to continue to do them long after they become ineffective. Even good things like prayer and Bible study fit in this category.

I’m not saying that churches should stop prayer and Bible study. I’m advocating for different methods from time to time.

Well, anyway, I had hope that we might get more people involved if we shifted gears. Unfortunately, the opposite has occurred.

So, last night, as far as our adult ministry is concerned, we had four people participating: Jim, his wife Patti, Betty, and I.

Betty and Patti went to visit some folks at a local nursing home late yesterday afternoon. They chose this time because it seemed to be an opportune moment to visit before the folks went to dinner. Visiting after dinner in nursing homes is not usually a good idea because that is when many of the residents go to bed.

Jim and I met a little later to do two things. I wanted to follow-up on a couple of families that were involved in Good News Across America. One lady, Jamie, who brought her kids one day to the group that met at the Studio School said that she was looking for a church home. She and her family live a few blocks up from the church, off the corner of 117
th Avenue and Washington.

We didn’t call. We just went.

This is a debate I have with myself every time I go: do you call ahead and try to make an appointment or just go and show up unannounced? I’m going to list the pros and cons of each approach briefly.

First—the “call to make an appointment” approach. I believe it is the most considerate way to go. It saves gas and time. However, most folks you call (if you can reach them) will tell you they are busy.

Second—the “just show up” approach. It shows less consideration and takes more time and gasoline. However, I tend to get to see relatively more people. Plus, I need to tell you that, when I use this approach, I ended having brief visits with folks at their front door. It is a brief contact that I hope opens the door to other ministry down the road.

Well, anyway, can you tell which approach I tend to favor?

Jim and I chose option B last night. Jamie was not home. We went to visit Antionette and her family. She also brought some kids to the Studio School for a couple of days. She said her husband was a pastor of a home church. I went to see if I could meet him last night. No one was home.

We tried to visit another lady and her daughter. Not home. That is three strikeouts. In baseball, that means the half inning is over, but prior to trying to visit the lady and her daughter, we did manage to talk with someone.

I had a dear couple on my mind and heart. They were two of the kindest, most genuine believers I had ever met. They joined our fellowship several months ago, were fairly regular in attendance, but all of a sudden, they stopped coming. Betty and I as well as others (I am sure) kept trying to call, but we never reached them. (Well, maybe Betty did once).

Anyway, the husband came to the door. As the visit extended a bit, he actually came out and stood with Jim and me on the front porch. He shared that they had been going through a tough time. I don’t want to go into detail at this point, but my heart went out to him. We tried to encourage him and told him we would pray. Then, we said goodbye and walked off. We were there about five minutes.

So, what about all of that? Well, I don’t know. Jim and I were available to God. We went. We did make contact with one person. How do you evaluate all of that? I don’t know.

Sitting here this morning, I don’t really have the impetus to evaluate it. I just believe we did what the Lord wanted.

Back to my comments about “institutionalized” ministry—I think visitation fits that mold a bit, but still, I think it is necessary at times.

I guess. I don’t know …

When I get in this mode as I am today, I appreciate God’s Word more than ever, mainly because it gets my focus off me and my thoughts about “how things went” and gets them in the right place—on the Lord.

I doubt Amos was very “successful” in his visitation efforts, either. Plus, he had a very unpopular message. These two verses sum it up:
"Therefore, I will bring upon you all the disasters I have announced. Prepare to meet your God in judgment, you people of Israel! For the Lord is the one who shaped the mountains, stirs up the winds, and reveals his thoughts to mankind. He turns the light of dawn into darkness and treads on the heights of the earth. The Lord God of Heaven’s Armies is his name!" (Amos 4:12, 13 NLT)

Did you catch that awesome list of descriptions about who God is? He shapes the mountains. He stirs up the winds. He reveals himself to humans. He turns light into darkness. And the last one: he treads on the heights of the earth. Wow. That one really impacts me. He is a GREAT BIG GOD.

Lord, you are the only One who can do everything in this list. No human can. I certainly can’t. I believe. Help my unbelief.

“On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand” (BH 2008, 511). Amen.
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Still

Well, dropping back down here in Denver was quite an adjustment yesterday. I think this is a sign that I had a good vacation.

One of the things that I struggle with is being away and yet thinking about “stuff” at the church while I am gone, and it makes me think, “I might as well be sitting in my office at church right now.”

But not the past few days.

So, I am grateful to the Lord.

I want to take a second and go back to Sunday morning at Alta Canyon Baptist Church. I have talked about Sunday school that morning.

I now want to share a word or two about Andy Jr.’s sermon. He preached from the fourth chapter of Zechariah. The most “famous” verse in this passage is, “Then he said to me, ‘This is what the Lord says to Zerubbabel: It is not by force nor by strength, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies’” (Zechariah 4:6, NLT).

Prior to this verse, the Lord gives the prophet of a lampstand with a bowl of oil on top, seven lamps around it with wicks, and two olive trees nearby.

Andy made the point that this vision shows the necessity of a vital connection with the Lord. He said that it is similar to Jesus’ teaching of the vine and the branches in John 15.

As I was sitting there, I felt the Lord prodding me, “John, for you and the church, reaching people and getting things turned around will not occur because of a clever program or glitzy ministry. It will happen only as you stay vitally connected to the bowl of oil and the vine.

I have to be honest at this point. I talked with Andy and Andy about this at length on the trip. Here is the question that just overwhelms me after the week of Good News Across America: how on earth does anyone reach lost people these days?

I thought the week was great. The opportunities to share the gospel. People heard it. The group from CEF did an excellent job. No problems there, but it just seems that in all our efforts, we do not see any folks added to the church.

And it brings me back to my contention that the best way to do this is through existing relationships, IF we would network those relationships and IF we would actually verbalize the gospel. But this doesn’t seem to happen all that much.

As I sat there in the church Sunday, I was overwhelmed with the enormity of the task that Alta Canyon Baptist Church faces—right in the middle of Mormon country. I can’t imagine how hard it is.

I didn’t really see much evidence of Mormonism (of course, you see plenty of Mormon “churches” with their “ice pick” steeples all over the place) on my trip until yesterday morning at the airport. In the terminal, I saw dozens and dozens of black-suited young men with nametags and dressed up young women with nametags getting ready to head out on some sort of mission.

I don’t know how it works in the Mormon church, but I was once again impressed with how zealous they are and eager to get the message out—the false message.

How does a little church in Salt Lake City do that? How does a little church in a pagan setting like Denver do it?

There is only one way—the power of God.

I tell you. I am more impressed than ever that prayer is a key and revival is our only hope. Otherwise, we can’t possibly face this overwhelming challenge in our own strength. We face the same things that the people of Israel did as they tried to rebuild the temple in the post-exilic era. The rest of chapter four of Zechariah bears this out. Read it.

I like the fact that Andy preached from the Old Testament. He went to a book that is often neglected (like all the other minor prophets), but what a powerful message.

Therefore, the key does not lie with having favorable circumstances in order for us to do our job. The folks in Salt Lake have it just as tough as we do.

The key is in God’s people getting right with Him so that He can work through us. This is God’s heart and it comes out in Amos 4. The Lord lists several calamities. I’m only going to quote two verses in this list. Here they are:

"’I sent plagues on you like the plagues I sent on Egypt long ago. I killed your young men in war and led all your horses away. The stench of death filled the air! But still you would not return to me,’ says the Lord. ‘I destroyed some of your cities, as I destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah. Those of you who survived were like charred sticks pulled from a fire. But still you would not return to me,’ says the Lord" (Amos 4:10, 11 NLT).

Did you notice the refrain? The Lord sent all these disasters. His purpose in all of it was that His people would return to Him, but STILL, they did not.

I wonder how bad it is going to have to get for all of us to return to the Lord.

Father, again, thank you for the trip you allowed me to take. It felt as if I was truly “away” for a few days. Thanks again for the Hornbakers.

Thanks for Andy’s timely sermon. Thanks for allowing me to be in Salt Lake City, Utah to hear it.

Back to the hymnal. I missed it. “Jesus, You’re my firm foundation, I know I can stand secure” (BH 2008, 510). Amen.
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GREAT Time

Time is getting away from me this morning a bit. I’ve got to get moving to get to the airport, but I’m just sitting here thinking about the GREAT time I have had on this trip.

I think it has been the laughter and companionship component, especially evident on the golf course.

Andy Sr. told about a guy in a church he served. He said, “He was one of the greatest guys I ever met, with just one little issue. When we played golf, he fudged on his score. He would have a bad hole and then, when taking his ball out of the hole, say, ‘3.’ That wasn’t his score or anything close to it.”

So, yesterday, on a couple of occasions, when concluding a hole, Andy said, “3.” It just cracked me up.

Likewise, Andy Jr. is hilarious. He doesn’t get to play golf very much, but he did very well. (All the Hornbakers are good athletes.) When he hit a good shot, he struck “a pose.” Hilarious.

When we finished the front nine, Andy and Andy went back home, but Ron and I continued. One of the great things about this trip was the opportunity to spend some time with Ron. He is in the golf business and has a hundred stories about folks he has met and trips he has made. He has a rather understated and dry sense of humor.

I don’t know … just hanging out with those guys and laughing a lot did me a WORLD of good.

As I was leaving Andy’s house last night, it was hard not to get emotional. I thanked them for the honor of getting to spend time with the whole family. They made me feel very comfortable as if I were family.

You have the guys on one hand and then you have the women in the family on the other. JoAnne seemed to be feeling a little better yesterday. She asked a lot of questions about my mom, one of them being, “Does anyone visit with your mom from the church?” I said, “Well, no, not really. The church is a long way from her house and …” My voice tailed off.

If the Hornbakers were still in Denver, they would visit her. JoAnne and Andy went on to talk about the folks they minister to in nursing homes and the visits they make. For them, this type of thing has nothing to do with a paycheck or a position on staff in a church. It is a lifestyle, and this weekend, I learned how much a part of that lifestyle that JoAnne is.

Two of Andy’s daughters (Karen and Sharon) along with Sharon’s daughter (Paris) were a big part of this weekend, but they just served. They are behind-the-scenes type people, but when they get a chance to get involved in the conversation, they are just as funny as the males in the family.

I think about this family, especially the women, as I read these words in Amos 4:

"Listen to me, you fat cows living in Samaria, you women who oppress the poor and crush the needy, and who are always calling to your husbands, ‘Bring us another drink!’ The Sovereign Lord has sworn this by his holiness: ‘The time will come when you will be led away with hooks in your noses. Every last one of you will be dragged away like a fish on a hook! You will be led out through the ruins of the wall; you will be thrown from your fortresses,’ says the Lord" (Amos 4:1-3 NLT).

My mom has said this quite frequently: when the women in a culture turn away from God, the nation is cooked. “The fat cows of Samaria” are a case in point.

The kind of women I have been around the past few days are few and far between in our world.

Back to golf—as we were finishing the front nine yesterday morning, we found a guy who was on the grounds crew of Old Mill Golf Course. Andy Jr. asked him to take our picture. I have posted it on Facebook. Take a look. It is emblematic of my time here.

Father, thank you so much for the time I got to spend with the Hornbakers. Please strengthen JoAnne and help her to feel better. Bless this family—every person in it. Thank you so much for them.

Help me today as I go home and re-enter the “real world”—a ton of stuff to do today. Amen.
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Alta Canyon Baptist Church

This post is not going to be very long today. Andy, Andy, Ron, and I have an EARLY tee time—real early.

But if I don’t get everything said that I need to—I will finish in the next couple of days. Tomorrow promises to be a short one as well because my flight is early, but not quite as early as today.

Anyway, I enjoyed my time at Alta Canyon Baptist Church. The building is rather small and has the dubious distinction of having the parking lot at the back of the church. So, you enter a driveway at the left of the building and exit on a driveway at the right. This means that driving by, you have no idea of who is there.

A few weeks ago, John, Calla’s husband, encouraged me to challenge our church in this regard. He took a picture of our front parking lot just about the time that the service was going to start. There was literally one car in that lot! I was shocked. All the “regulars” tend more and more to park in back. It is just more convenient to get in the building from the back door. I get it.

However, I wonder what folks who are driving by or who are visiting think. “Does anyone go to this church?” John was SO RIGHT. Since then, I notice more folks parking in the front lot.

But Alta Canyon does have this option.

As I entered, I got to visit with Pastor Tim a bit. He asked how I was feeling these days and said that he and the church had been praying for me.

I still can’t believe how many people and churches prayed for me in my cancer stuff. I know I won’t know the full number until I get to heaven. I believe heaven will reveal how every single prayer uttered by every Christian who has ever lived—like pieces of a giant jigsaw puzzle—will all come together in this huge tapestry of glory surrounding the resurrected Son of God. It will just add to marvel.

I’m already seeing that I will not get to tell you about Andy Jr.’s message, but I will.

Anyway, back to the progression of events. The one adult Sunday school class meets in the foyer of this very small church building. Andy Sr. was sitting in a chair. He had “saved” a seat next to him. Andy Jr. and I sat down.

As the class started, something hit me. I can’t remember the last time I attended a Sunday school class. I realized how much I missed it.

Back home, I made a point several years ago of stepping in the men’s class in our church. The guys always made me feel welcome—kind of a weird thing to say, I know—but I appreciated it so much. They just kept right on going, even as I stood up to leave to get ready for the service.

Andy had told me that he thought that Dan—the teacher of the class yesterday—was one of the best he had EVER seen. That is quite a statement, given the number of years Andy has been served in churches all over the place.

Dan’s topic was eschatology, always a bailiwick. His text was Matthew 24, but his lesson spanned multiple passages he asked us to read as he continued to reference Jesus’ words in the Gospel.

It was obvious that Dan had prepared. At one point, he pulled out a piece of paper and stuck it on the wall. (Remember, this was not a classroom. It was the church foyer). It was the picture of a baby. He reminded us that Jesus likened the final days to birth pangs and the descriptions of famine, war, and death were only the beginning of what was going to happen in the tribulation.

At one point, he pulled out a sack of flour and five twenty dollar bills and laid them on the chair next to him, explaining, “In the final days, Jesus is telling us that a staple such as this flour will cost one day’s wage. How much is that? Well, of course it varies, but let’s just say ‘$100.00.’ How would that impact your life and family budget?”

I love object lessons and visible, tangible demonstrations. I use them all the time in sermons.

He challenged us not to worry about time frames and dates, but to be alert and ready and active in serving Jesus as times get harder and harder and harder before Jesus comes back.

It was powerful, and when we finished, I thanked Dan. I said, “Brother, you did an excellent job, and I wholeheartedly agree with you. I just believe that the Bible teaches that things are going to get harder and harder before Jesus comes back. All the stuff about rapture and various views of the millennium are nice armchair discussions but he emphasized the right things.

He did an excellent job.

The words of Amos the prophet to the people of his day, I believe, are a precursor to the final judgment of God. Dan gave the context of Jesus’ words in Matthew 24. He told the disciples that not one stone of the temple would be intact someday.

Think about your house and mine and every building in every city on the planet—in a heap of rubble.

"’Listen and bring witness against Jacob’s family’— this is God’s Word, God -of-the-Angel-Armies! ‘Note well! The day I make Israel pay for its sins, pay for the sin-altars of worship at Bethel, The horned altars will all be dehorned and scattered around. I’ll tear down the winter palace, smash the summer palace—all your fancy buildings. The luxury homes will be demolished, all those pretentious houses.’ God ’s Decree" (Amos 3:13-15 MSG).

Thank you, Lord, for using brother Dan. Thank you for the message you led him to teach yesterday. Thank you for faithful Sunday school teachers in small churches across the country and for the way you use them. Thank you for letting me be in that class yesterday. Come, Lord Jesus. Oh, that it were today! Amen.
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A Sugar Blast

Last night, Andy Sr. and I looked at each other. He said, “If you will, I will.” I replied, “Sure. No problem.” So both of us did it. And now, I am paying the price, BIG TIME. I hope Andy is doing better than I am.

Let me back up a bit.

Yesterday, Andy Jr. and I jumped in my rental car and we drove up the mountain to Park City. As we arrived, we noticed that something was going on. It was an Arts Festival. Apparently, they have this event each year on the main street of town. It is rather long—probably twenty to thirty blocks. As we arrived, we noticed white tents in the middle of the street as far as you could see.

Humm. Okay. We found a parking space on a nearby street and wondered over to Main.

A lady stopped us. “Good morning, gentlemen. That will be $10.00 a piece please.”

Let me see here. Before I proceed something tells me I need to be a little more vague on details at this point. Let me just say that both of us were flabbergasted that we had to pay ten dollars just to walk up and down a public sidewalk. As a result, we didn’t pay!

As the morning progressed, we got stopped a couple of times. Each time, we gave the same answer: we aren’t here for the festival. We are just walking around.

In retrospect, as I look back on it, we probably should have paid, but at the time, we both thought it was ridiculous.

We met Ron and his family at a restaurant for lunch and as we were eating, another Hornbaker brother showed up! Andy Sr. and JoAnn had twins—Stan and Steve. They were quite a bit younger than the other five siblings. I just remember them as little kids thirty years ago. But Stan walked into the restaurant. Wow. Grown up, good-looking young man with black hair (unlike his two brothers who are redheads). He now lives in San Francisco. It was great catching up on thirty years.

After lunch, Andy Jr. and I headed out again to wander up and down the main street. We went into some of the stores along the street and looked at a few of the tents where artists displayed their wares. This is why I started to think that I needed to pay my ten dollars, but I never did. Neither did Andy.

Later on that day, when we met for dinner again at Andy and JoAnn’s house, I saw Andy Jr. and I said, “Hey Andy, you won’t believe it. I got a call from someone in Park City who had traced the license on my rental car. He has identified both of us and because we refused to pay, they are calling us into court.” I didn’t get through all that before I started to laugh.

Andy said, “You had me going for a second.” I think I actually did. We just had a big laugh over our lawless behavior. I don’t know what that says about us.

Well, here is where I am going with my story. We had another great meal last night. The previous evening, we had no official dessert, even though Ron and Susan had brought some off-the-charts candy from Canada. I ate about 58 pieces. So, I HAD DESSERT.

Well, last night, as we had finished, Susan brought out a cake with a couple of candles on top. Apparently, it was Grace’s birthday. She is Ron and Susan’s youngest daughter. She was celebrating her eleventh birthday. We gathered around the table and sang Happy Birthday, and Susan starting cutting the cake. That’s when Andy and I made our mutual agreement.

It was a phenomenal cake—actually ice cream with chocolate in the center and a ton of frosting. I had a rather large piece and enjoyed it … for a while. I could sense it was coming and it hit me like a ton of bricks—a gargantuan headache. I could barely drive back to my hotel last night.

I struggled most of the night with it, and at 4:00 AM, got up, got dressed, drove to a grocery store, bought some aspirin, and headed to Denny’s for breakfast. Just now, I am starting to get some relief.

Okay, so what is the lesson here? Well, I think that might be the last piece of birthday cake I ever eat in my life! I might eat a couple of bites in the future (I should have done that last night, my agreement with Andy notwithstanding), but that is way I learn—extreme pain or pay a lot of money.

I guess on one hand it should be an encouragement to know that my body has adjusted enough to less sugar that having a huge sugar blast would affect me that way.

All in all, though, the day was very enjoyable and I look forward to going to Alta Canyon Baptist Church this morning. Andy Sr. invited me to Sunday school. I’m probably going to go, and then Andy Jr. is preaching this morning. Alta Canyon is a huge supporter of his ministry.

I always miss it when I don’t preach, and I miss my own pulpit, but honestly, I’m glad I am not preaching this morning. I’m thankful to be on the receiving end.

And on the right side when it comes to the judgment of God. This is a striking statement from Amos. "God ’s Message: ‘In the same way that a shepherd trying to save a lamb from a lion Manages to recover just a pair of legs or the scrap of an ear, So will little be saved of the Israelites who live in Samaria— A couple of old chairs at most, the broken leg of a table’" (Amos 3:12 MSG).

When the Lord takes a nation down, there isn’t much left. Nothing much at all.

Lord, thank you for yesterday—another day of vacation—and the lessons learned. Next time, I will pay the ten bucks and won’t eat the birthday cake.

Take care of the services at First Southern. Give Chuck grace as he preaches today. Help Scott and Jeremy as they take the lead in other parts of the service today. Help Andy as he preaches here. Amen.
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The 2nd Annual Andy Hornbaker (Memorial) Golf Tournament

I put “memorial” in parentheses because someone suggested that title to Andy. He didn’t go for it! Ha.

Alta Canyon Baptist Church—the church where Andy and JoAnn attend here in Salt Lake City—put the tournament on. I got to meet Pastor Tim and his wife Cynda. There were a lot of pastors from the community as well. In my group, Ron (Andy’s son) and I played with two pastors, James and Jim.

Jim was originally from Missouri, but thirty years ago, the Lord called him to serve churches in this “pioneer” area, and he has been here for over thirty years. He retired a couple of years ago, but he continues to reside in the Salt Lake area now “because it is home.”

James serves First Baptist Church. He was born and raised in Salt Lake City.

It was great getting to visit with those guys and have fun in the process.

Yesterday was a crisp and clear morning, the kind of summer day I live for.

At about 7:30, all of us started to gather. The first tee time was 7:46. Tim and Cynda went off in the first group along with two other guys. Ron, Jim, James, and I were in the second group. Andy and Andy Jr. were in the last group. This was a nine-hole stroke play tournament. We played the back nine of Murray Parkway.

On one hole, there was a prize for the person who hit the longest drive. On another par-three hole, there was a prize for the person who hit it closest to the pin.

This is typical for most tournaments of this type I have played in. There is a little clipboard with lined paper on it. It has a stake on the end of the clipboard that goes into the ground. The person who thinks he hit the longest drive (or shortest putt, as the case may be) just writes his name on the paper and sticks the clipboard in the ground where his ball ends up. Any individuals in groups that come along behind pick up the clipboard, move it, and sign it if they hit it further or closer.

My group finished in about two hours. When we were done, Ron said, “Let’s go back and heckle my dad and brother.” I was all for that. So, we just turned our electric golf cart around and retraced our steps until we found Andy and Andy. But immediately, we could tell that they were not in a very good mood.

Turns out that the two guys they were playing with probably had never played golf before.

Now, before I go further, I want to give some explanation at this point lest anyone accuse me of snobbery. (Heaven forbid!) Like any other sport, golf is a game that has rules and etiquette. There are certain things you need to know before you can play. Otherwise, you hold up the group you play with AND those behind you.

This is the issue. You can be a bad player, but if you move along and keep pace, no problem.

However, if you don’t, you make an already long game (a typical round of golf lasts four hours; nine holes is two hours) even longer and that is NO FUN for anyone.

Anyway, the two guys Andy and Andy played with had no clue. And, as a result, they were WAY behind everyone else as the last group. They finally finished somewhere around noon—NINE HOLES in 4 hours!

When they finished, Tim conducted an “awards” ceremony. He gave out prizes to the longest drive, shortest putt, lowest aggregate score (based on handicap), and highest aggregate score (again, based on handicap). The prizes were not fancy. Andy won four very long “over the hill” tees!

Just because I know someone might ask, I did win in one category: lowest net score. I won a “Live Lucky” baseball cap.

We finished up and visited a while longer (there were a bunch of preachers there, remember) and most of the guys left.

Andy Jr. looked at Ron and me, “Do you guys want to play the front nine?” Is the Pope from Argentina? Andy, Ron, and I played nine more. We walked. And I really enjoyed myself.

Later on, we all met for dinner at Andy’s house. The whole family was there. We had a great time laughing and visiting. I am really honored that the Hornbakers have allowed me to be a part of their family gatherings.

Back to the tournament, as we were riding along in the cart, the subject of Ron’s mom JoAnn came up. I asked how she was feeling. (She has been under the weather the past few days, but last night, she was better). Ron said, “My mom is really something. Up to just a couple of years ago, she worked at a convalescent home, and she worked long, hard hours. Once I asked her, ‘Mom, why do you do it? You don’t have to work and this job wears you out. Why don’t you just quit?”

Ron went on, “She looked at me with a quizzical expression as if to say, ‘Why are you asking me this question?’ And she answered, ‘Well, someone has to love these people.’” Her response impacted her son.

And me.

Here is the wife of a pastor. She has been involved in ministry for decades. A lot of people in her position fall in the category of the Israelites to whom Amos preached. Here is a scathing indictment:

"’My people have forgotten how to do right,’ says the Lord. ‘Their fortresses are filled with wealth taken by theft and violence. Therefore,’ says the Sovereign Lord, ‘an enemy is coming! He will surround them and shatter their defenses. Then he will plunder all their fortresses’” (Amos 3:10, 11 NLT).

Forgotten how to do right? How do you forget to do right? I tell you: you get so wounded and hardened that it doesn’t even enter your mind. And I think pastors and their families and others in vocational ministry are in the most danger of this happening. It is a defense mechanism. Doing right means that Satan puts a target on your back and other believers take shots as well. And so, to avoid all that pain and agony, you don’t do right. Sounds simple.

Not JoAnn. She still chooses to love folks no one loves just because someone needs to do it.

Have mercy on me, Lord. My heart is so hard and calloused. Jog my memory. Break the hard case and let me love as you do. Amen.
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"This is the choice you are making …"

I thought I was in for it when I sat down in my seat on the plane yesterday. I know that I am not qualified in ANY WAY to talk about this, but I’m going to do it anyway (a lack of qualification has not stopped me from weighing in before, right?).

Before I get to that, I want to make a couple of general comments. I had a great trip yesterday. Thanks for the prayers. It has been several years since I have visited Salt Lake. Uncle Bill, Aunt Ann, and my cousins Kathy, John, and Janet grew up here. I have forgotten what a beautiful place this is, Surrounded by mountains, the town is rather hilly, especially the Cottonwood Heights area where Andy and JoAnn live.

Andy Jr. is here. I got to see Sharon and Karen. JoAnn has not been feeling well. Please pray for her.

Shortly after I arrived at Andy’s house and after visiting with JoAnn and Karen, Andy, Andy, and I jumped in a van. We grabbed some lunch and then headed to the golf course where we met Andy’s other oldest son, Ronnie. It was great to see him as well. It had been about ten years. It is great visiting with him because he is in the golf business and has traveled extensively in his work. He even had an opportunity to play golf with Tiger Woods.

I’m not really much of a Tiger fan these days, but still … if I had the opportunity, I wouldn’t turn it down.

After the round, we went back to Andy’s house where I jumped in my car and headed to the hotel. I never would have found it if Sharon had not led me to it. She lives in this immediate area.

Later on, we went out to eat. It was Andy, Andy, Sharon, Ronnie, his wife Susan, and their two children.

In each of these times yesterday, I laughed A LOT. How valuable is THAT?

Today is the tournament at the same course we played yesterday—a nine-hole event that should be a lot of fun. There are two categories of players in this church tourney: the pros and the “oh-no’s.” Ha. Isn’t that great? For some reason, I am in the “pro” category???

Whatever. I’m just glad to be here, and I will just have fun. My main purpose for being here is not golf, anyway. It is fellowship, and I am certainly having a good helping of that. So, it should be another great day.

Back to yesterday and the plane—what I am talking about is a kid who was crying.

Okay, so here is my two-cents worth: why on earth do young couples with very small children or babies take them on an airplane? I know that people need to travel for various reasons—family issues or emergencies. I get that. And this is a free country. But why subject a small child to an airplane for a vacation? Take an auto, for crying out loud (no pun intended).

Why try to travel on an airplane with a small child? From the child’s standpoint, there is so much that happens that is scary and uncertain.

But here is another question: why is it that I always (I mean always) sit very near a small child who is crying and screaming at the top of his/her lungs? Why?

This was the case yesterday. And I thought I was in for it. This little boy was miserable and crying and would not be consoled.

I get so frustrated with parents in this situation. I know they can’t put a pillow over their child’s face, but I wish I could! In Christian love, of course.

Again, I repeat. I thought I was in for it. It went on and on and seemed to be getting worse and the plane had not moved. We were still sitting on the tarmac. Great.

But then, a miracle occurred. Parenting stepped in. I was listening to the mom as she addressed her young child and called his name, “Ferdinand (I can’t remember it exactly), right now, you have a choice to make. If you stop crying, I’m going to let you play your game and stand up on the seat before the plane takes off. If you continue to cry, then you will just sit in your sit and not be able to do anything.”

Now, the boy struggled with this. He was whiney for a bit and cried a little bit more. So, the mom continued, “Son, I just want you to know the choice you are making. If you don’t stop crying, you will just sit in this chair with nothing to do for the rest of this flight.”

And … guess what? Ferdinand stopped crying and it was peaceful and quiet (at least around me; there other children on the flight that got “fussy” at times, but no big deal).

A miracle. Thank you Jesus. I know the world does not exist for my comfort and pleasure, but …

As I was pondering all of this, I realized that this is exactly how the Lord parents us.

Maybe the reason that fussy babies irritate me so much is that I am exactly like them, but even more pathetic. I am a fifty-five year old fussy baby! And the Lord gives me choices as well. I can continue to fuss or …

We do have choices but our relationship with the Lord means that we are more responsible for those choices. We know Jesus. We have experienced His love and parenting skills in our lives. This is what God is saying through the prophet Amos. Catch this verse from the New Living Translation:

"From among all the families on the earth, I have been intimate with you alone. That is why I must punish you for all your sins” (Amos 3:2 NLT).

We can choose our actions or reactions but we can’t choose our consequences.

Lord, thank you for allowing me to take this trip and to hang out with the Hornbaker family in this beautiful place. Thank you so much, Jesus.

Thank you for those parents on that plane and for the teaching they did with their child. Awesome.

Thank you for the way you parent me, Daddy. Amen.
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God Weighted Down

Hey, just a note. I am leaving today for Salt Lake City. I’m going there to spend some time with Andy Hornbaker and his family. Many of his kids are going to be there, some of whom I haven’t seen in years.

Of course, we are going to play some golf even though Andy and Andy Jr. don’t do it all that much. Andy’s other oldest son Ronnie does play golf however and is in the golf business.

On Friday, Andy’s church is having a golf tournament. They named the tournament after Andy. But I was telling Betty and Mary Ann yesterday that someone wanted to call it, “The Andy Hornbaker Memorial Tournament,” but Andy nixed that idea, “A little premature,” he quipped.

We may get to play another time or two. Who knows? It would be fine if we did and okay if we didn’t. I’m not going there to play golf. I’m going for the fellowship.

Years ago, when I used to go the Southern Baptist Convention just about every year, one of the main things I enjoyed was getting to hang out with Andy and Andy. For many years, Andy Sr. was on the Executive Committee. Thus, he “had” to go, but this gave all of us an excuse to hang out.

I haven’t gone to a convention in years. The main reason was financial. I just couldn’t see the church paying $1,500 for me to go when we were struggling financially. The other reason I wasn’t all that keen on going is that Andy and Andy would not be there. Neither one of them has gone for years either.

From what I have heard about our convention, it appears that the three of us are not the only ones who have made that decision in recent years, but that is another story.

Anyway, I’m looking forward to a few days away, and I know I am going to laugh a lot.

At first, I debated whether or not to take my computer, but somehow, I realized that writing now is just a part of my day. I know I would miss it desperately if I didn’t do it. I just can’t leave this gadget home, so it, along with my Ipad is going with me.

A few comments about the passage for today before I have to go: Amos uses graphic language to describe God’s heartbreak over the sin of His people. Notice the final sentence of this quote:

"’It was I who brought you up from the land of Egypt, And I led you in the wilderness forty years That you might take possession of the land of the Amorite. Then I raised up some of your sons to be prophets And some of your young men to be Nazirites. Is this not so, O sons of Israel?’ declares the Lord. ‘But you made the Nazirites drink wine, And you commanded the prophets saying, “You shall not prophesy!” Behold, I am weighted down beneath you as a wagon is weighted down when filled with sheaves’" (Amos 2:10-13 NASB).

God weighted (not weighed) down. Interesting language. I’m curious as to why the editors of the NASB used that term. But there is a difference between weighted and weighed, even if the nuance of terms is ever so slight.

Here’s how I would explain it (and certainly, I am not linguistic expert). “Weighed down” tends to be a term that describes how we as humans feel at times because of stuff we are dealing with. Certainly, however, God is never weighed down. In fact, He invites us to bring our burdens to Him.

If all the burdens in all the world could be given to the Lord, even then, He would not EVER be weighed down.

But in the context of this statement in Amos—the sins of the people (mainly the fact that they forgot all the Lord did for them)—WEIGHTED Him down.

I don’t think we have any idea how much our sin offends the Lord.

Father, thank you for everything you have done for me. Thanks for all the relationships you have allowed me to enjoy all these years because of Jesus. Thank you for the Hornbaker family and the blessing they are. Thanks for allowing me to take this trip. Help me to be a blessing to them as they have been to me. Get me there and get me home safely and take care of my mom, sis, and the church while I am gone. You take care of all when I am HERE—no difference. Amen.
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