Friday, December 28, 2007

New Year Reflections

We can all learn something from King Herod of old about how not to enter a new year.

Granted, in Matthew 2 we don't find this ruler, who was mean and cunning and who loved extravagance and great building projects, necessarily launching into a new calendar period, but we do discover that he is about to experience a profound change in his life. Little baby Jesus has been born in nearby Bethlehem and His arrival will transform everybody's existence. For centuries to come. How Herod dealt with his own personal slice of this change can illustrate for us at this season what attitudes and actions to avoid as we move into 2008.

For starters, we shouldn't take fear into the next twelve months. When this monarch got word from the visiting wise men, who had traveled a great distance in search of this child, that a new king had been born, he became anxious and afraid. Read it for yourself in verse 3. Ultimately Herod's alarm and dread, brought about by what he perceived as a threat to his sovereignty, led him to do some foolish and destructive things. We live in troubled, turbulent times. It is so easy to be apprehensive and even to panic. But Jesus is here! He is at work behind the scenes slowly unfolding His divine plan in all the events of life and history. To spend our days in fear would be to waste valuable time and show irreverent distrust in God's loving providence and maybe even take foolhardy precipitous actions to attempt to preserve our sense of security.

We also must not carry ignorance of scripture into 2008. I find it interesting that Herod, upon hearing news from the inquiring Magi about a royal child's birth in a supposedly nearby area, had to ask somebody else about what the ancient Old Testament texts said about the location of His nativity. Notice verse 4. Yes, the chief priests and scribes were well trained in the Hebrew prophecies, and there was nothing wrong with consulting those experts for advice, but why wasn't the king himself aware of what the scriptures predicted about something so momentous that was coming? God has given His Word to all of us. We should be reading it. Studying it. Memorizing it. Pastors are equipped to help quide us but each of us should be feeding ourselves and soaking up the richness of the Bible.

Let's not allow deception to be part of our trajectory in the new year, either. When Herod learned that the long-promised child was to be born in Bethlehem, he sent the increasingly eager wise men off to that little town and pledged that he would venture there himself to pay tribute to the toddler when it had been authenticated that he was residing there. The King was shrewd and crafty. He was lying! Check out verse 8. He tried to hoodwink a lot of people but his hidden, evil scheme eventually brought disastrous consequences for dozens of innocent persons. Whenever we try to connive and manipulate and twist or shade the truth, we're opening the door to potentially harmful results. And by the way, anger shouldn't journey with us into the upcoming 12 months. Herod's fury is graphically demonstrated in verses 16-18. Any bitterness or resentment left over from this year should be dealt with and eradicated now so as not to poison and cripple our lives and those of the folks close to us as the calendar turns.

And certainly don't step into 2008 without Jesus! Verse 19 tells us that this wicked King Herod finally died. Lost. Never knowing Christ and life's greatest joy and fulfilment. Alienated from God. Avoid that mistake at all cost. If you are not a Christian, receive Jesus today. If you are a believer, make it your aim to draw closer and closer to the Lord in the year fast approaching.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Something About Mary

I've always been impressed with young Mary in the Christmas story.

We Christians are definitely not supposed to worship her or channel her or try to pray to her but she is to be appreciated and respected. She is a good role model. Luke's Gospel reveals lots about her that is worth emulating.

Take her purity, for example. She came to her marriage to Joseph a virgin. Though her carrying and giving birth to God's son created suspicion and scandal on the part of those who didn't understand and couldn't believe her story of a Spirit-conceived pregnancy, we know the facts and believe the biblical record. We know that Christ's nativity was supernatural and miraculous in origin. And we are convinced that this teenager had never had sexual relations before her marriage. In our day, sexual experimentation and promiscuity is commonplace, and is proving physically, emotionally, and relationally damaging to millions of young people. Mary reminds us that it is best to stay morally clean and pure until your wedding day.

I'm fascinated, too, by this girl's sense of wonder at the mystery of God's workings. Luke 1:34-38 demonstrates that. When the announcing angel gave her a revelation that she found hard to grasp, she wasn't afraid to ask honest questions. And she did so respectfully. And when the angel's explanation was itself too incredible to fathom, she believed anyway and submitted herself to the will of God.

Sooner or later, all believers have to realize that there is much about the Lord and His dealings that we just can't figure out. He is so big. He is so great. It bothers me when I'm around Christians who act and talk like they know everything there is to know about the Almighty and spiritual things. With their charts and memorized verses and strong acquiantance with Bible facts they come across as armed to logically pontificate on all matters divine. They assume that God does everything the same way everytime. They put God in a box, perhaps unconsciously feeling that He can be controlled that way and they can be safe. Mary's experience suggests that our God is a mysterious being, far beyond the ability of our limited minds to completely understand. Certainly we should always be reaching out for more light about Him but never thinking that we've arrived and have all the truth neatly arranged and packaged and manageable. God will inevitably surprise us! Our proper response is to live on tiptoe and by faith and in submission to His leading. Having a lot of doctrine stored up in our heads or having a powerful testimony of something God did in our lives in the past doesn't necessarily make us experts in what God is up to right now.

It is true, though, that this young girl marvelously used by the Lord did benefit from having scripture stockpiled in her heart. In Luke 1:46-55, she draws upon Old Testament texts memorized to craft her own personal, straight-from-the-soul song of praise to God for His blessing in her life. That's one more thing I like about her. She read, listened to, and reflected on God's Word and it shaped her thinking and her conversation. It gave her hope for the future. A worthy goal for us in the new year about to dawn would be to spend more time in The Book, soaking up its treasures.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

' Tis The Season

Advent is all about waiting.

These weeks leading up to Christmas are designed to foster expectancy and anticipation as we look forward to the celebration of the coming of Jesus into our world. Of course we know that He has already arrived, 2000 years ago in fact, but nevertheless this is not some religious game we play each December. We need these days.

We are given the chance to slow down just a bit. To catch our breath. To reflect and meditate and self-examine and repent and prepare our hearts to welcome Christ just as John the Baptist encouraged the Jews to do centuries ago. For us, now, Advent has the dual purpose of getting us ready not only for Christmas but for our Lord's second coming, which could occur at any time.

I guess you could say that while this season closing in on December 25 is a period of waiting it is also a time of working. This stretch on the calendar is not really for inactivity but for labors of the soul that deepen and expand us and get us in position for something wonderful just up ahead.

It seems to me that our Peninsula Baptist Association is now experiencing an Advent of sorts. These are days of waiting. Of transition. Of imagining and envisioning the future that God has next for our fellowship of churches. Our beloved Director of Missions, Jim Ailor, has moved on and away to another field of ministry and so now we find ourselves pondering what the Lord has in store for us in the years approaching. It's a time to slacken the pace just for a bit, just long enough to do some serious evaluation and contemplation and decisionmaking. But it's also a time for great hope and excitement because who knows what incredibly awesome things God has for us just around the corner?

Associationally, this is a season for work, though. While we wait for and eagerly anticipate the next phase of our journey together as a loving partnership of congregations, there's stuff to be done. This is an era of unprecedented change and challenge in our world, our nation, our denomination, and even our local churches and we simply have to gear up and be ready to offer the greatest possible impact. As a body of cooperating congregations we must continue to shape up and become fitter and stronger and more and more poised to make a real difference in Kingdom pursuits.

These next several months, then, ought to be times of earnest prayer in our midst for God to clearly show us what direction we should take. This ought to be a year of dreaming, too. Of seeking a fresh vision. Of determining God's way for us to carve out our unique niche of involvement in fulfilling the Great Commission in our generation, in this time period that the Lord has given us.

More tangibly, now is a crucial point for our churches to make stronger financial commitments to the work of our association. Stepping up to the plate and providing greater resources for our shared ministry in this part of Hampton Roads will help ensure a brighter future. Will help shape that future, in fact. To put it bluntly, this is not a time to cut back!

Beyond that, this is a pivotal moment for continuing the good work of bridgebuilding among us. Our older saints and our younger people reaching out to one another. Larger churches and smaller ones joining together in ministry. BGAV and SBCV congregations realizing that Kingdom concerns should far outweigh any minor differences between us and shouldn't hinder us in the least from joyfully partnering with each other in the task of taking Christ to this needy Peninsula. The time is too short and the days too dark for Southern Baptists in this area not to unite and put their hands to the plow in a massive effort to reach people.

I'm encouraged this Advent. Any way you look at it something good is about to happen.

It's a privilege to have the chance to help out during this season. Feel free to call on me at any time. And by the way...Merry Christmas!

Monday, November 26, 2007


My good friend, fellow pastor Mark Reon, played a joke on me the other day.

Several weeks ago he had asked me to fill his pulpit in his absence since he would be away attending a wedding anniversary celebration for his parents in another state.

On the appointed date I arrived early, greeted those coming in for worship, and joined in with everyone else in the musical part of the service. When I stood to preach, I made some lighthearted, teasing comments about Mark to his congregation in my introduction. All of a sudden, I noticed that everyone had started smiling, giggling, and looking beyond me on the platform. I turned and saw Mark, walking out on stage from a side door!

It was just like The Tonight Show or Maury Povich or one of those old This Is Your Life events. Mark was smiling and talking as he stepped forward toward me. He feigned shock that somebody else was preaching in his place. Meanwhile, the audience is laughing and applauding and enjoying every minute of this surprise. Mark had gotten back in town early and had decided to come on to church, not only to hear my message but to shock me and perhaps even get me flustered. He's such a kidder! Anyway, I reached over and hugged him, and he went and sat down in a pew and I continued on with the sermon. It all made for a very warm and happy evening.

I went home and reflected on that delightful experience and saw a beautiful connection with Advent, the season we begin to celebrate this Sunday.

These next 4 weeks of meditation and introspection and repentance remind us that at just the right moment Jesus showed up! He simply appeared. At a time and in a manner that the world least expected, Jesus was suddenly there. And His coming has brought incredible joy and light and grace to this planet. I'm so glad that we have these 30 days before us to revel again in the celebration of Christ's nativity.

Granted, we're not waiting for His birth, though that happening is what we talk about. It has already taken place, 2000 years ago. We are in expectancy now over His return. His Second Coming. His second Advent. It could occur at any moment. We should hope that when He makes His grand entrance He finds us busy for Him! I John 2:28 challenges us to live in such a way that we will not be embarrassed or ashamed when He appears. In James 5:9 there's an even more stark picture and warning: Jesus is at the door getting ready to walk out, as a judge preparing to convene in a courtroom. The idea is that He can hear, even now, what's being said and done in our churches and homes and private lives. That may call for some straightening up and adjustments in our conduct.

So Advent is not just a portion of time on a calendar or a religious ritual. It's about looking forward to a coming. Eagerly, as Hebrews 9:28 says. Unsure of exactly when it will take place, as Matthew 24:42 suggests.

Ok, Mark, you really did surprise me and momentarily catch me off guard the other night. But I was prepared to preach and was enjoying the interaction with your good folks and so was able to quickly pick up and continue. I so long for that to be true when the King of Kings and Lord of Lords suddenly steps out on those clouds one day!

Monday, November 19, 2007

News Wire

It's hard to believe but youngest son, Wes, graduates from Carson-Newman College in Tennessee on December 14. Vicki and I are so very proud of him. His finishing there is especially meaningful to Vicki because CNC is her alma mater. Ryan got his degree from Samford University in Birmingham where I attended before transferring and so his graduation had great significance for me. So I guess you could say we're a balanced family. At least when it comes to higher education, anyway. We look forward to trekking out to the Volunteer State for Wes' commencement in a few weeks.

I'm concerned about the release of the childrens' fantasy movie The Golden Compass on December 7. It's based on the first of a trilogy of books by an atheistic Britisher who despises Christianity and the Church. Using the genres of epic and fantasy, he attempts to discredit the authority and influence of the faith. He denounces the failures and mistakes and occasional injustices of the Church over the centuries. His portrayal of God is clearly heretical, and in fact, in the final book, God is killed off. Apparently he hopes that all 3 books will make it to the silver screen, so this first film will be milder in its approach, thus hooking innocent, naive boys and girls on dangerous falsehood. We need to warn parents. We also need to pray that the movie will bomb or that its influence will be muted. Further, we need to intensify our efforts to teach the truth about God and creation and all the other key doctrines. I'm not a book burner. I'm not for censorship. I do think we have to always be alert and on guard and vigilant when it comes to destructive error, however it's packaged. Each of us needs to be a well-trained apologist.

I'm excited about Christmas! I'm one of those people who doesn't mind starting all the decorating and seasonal music early. One of the classical stations on my Sirius satellite radio system began playing great Christmas music today and I'm really enjoying it. I especially like a lot of the British carols, and stuff by John Rutter. I want to get the most out of this magical season. It wouldn't bother me one bit if gift giving wasn't a part of this holiday. I delight in all the other facets of the celebration: family, get-togethers, colors, programs and pageants, decorations, and the music...especially the music. And the coming of Jesus inspires all of this.

I'm really bothered by the censure of Oklahoma pastor Wade Burleson by his fellow trustees on the Southern Baptist International Mission Board. And right here at Lottie Moon time, too. I admire Wade for his courage, his insight and vision, his gracious spirit, and his willingness to take a stand against the narrowing of possibilities for cooperation in SBC life. I can only hope that the negative, unkind, political action taken against him will either be reversed or lead to a groundswell of support for major changes in how our convention is led and how we do our work.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Reading Tip And Other Stuff

In the helpful book Relational Masks (Intervarsity Press, 2004) Christian counselor Russell Willingham identifies 6 masks that keep us from relating freely, openly, and honestly to God and other persons. He also discusses several core beliefs that underlie and undergird these impaired emotional identities. This is a short, easy-to-read, practical work that would be beneficial to people helpers as well as individuals seeking to understand themselves better.

Watched the Democratic presidential candidates' debate from Philadelphia on MSNBC last night. I thought Hillary managed to do well against Barack Obama and John Edwards, but she hedged and bluffed her way through Tim Russert's questions about her quarantined papers from her husband's administration in the 1990's. I was most impressed with John Edwards. I do enjoy hearing Joe Biden talk, though. Some good, smart communicators in this group but I just can't swallow their philosophy.

Vicki bumped into the refrigerator last night. Got her foot x-rayed this morning...she fractured it and broke 2 toes.

Was reminded by Wade Burleson's blog that today is Reformation Day, celebrating Martin Luther's nailing of the 95 Theses to that church door in Germany so many years ago, the event that launched the Protestant Reformation. We are greatly indebted to Luther. I wonder how many people will think about that with all the Halloween hoopla going on?

And speaking of Halloween, I don't think that this day should be viewed as wholly devoted to darkness and paganism. Sometimes we Christians can get a little obsessive about that. Halloween can be a time for celebrating fun and children and can be a time for outreach projects and emphasizing light and joy. Costuming, if not sinister, can simply be an expression of a good time among friends. It should go without saying, however, that dabbling in the occult realm is forbidden...and extremely dangerous(Deuteronomy 18:10-12).

Saturday, October 13, 2007

I'm Concerned

I'm concerned...

...About what our culture's obsession with Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan and Paris
Hilton says about us.

...About conservative political commentator Ann Coulter's remark on a talk show the other
day that Jews need to become Christians so that they can be "perfected". She's actually
right, but without being able to explain it, and by saying it without much grace and
compassion, and because of her reputation for making caustic remarks, she may have
done more harm than good. Of course, on the other hand, the Apostle Paul's witness to his
fellow Jews was not always sugercoated, either.

...About the nature of current political discourse in our country. Sure wish that instead of all
the carping and attacks between Democrats and Republicans, and instead of the
30-second sound bites on the nightly news and the rushed, extemporaneous comments
during debates that we could have extended, reasoned dialogues among the candidates
over their respective philosophies. Then we voters could make much wiser, more
informed decisions.

...About where all this global warming discussion is gonna lead us. And about why some who
don't believe it's as bad as is being touted are shouted down and shut out from the

I'll be taking a few days of vacation October 14-21. I hope to return to blogging after that.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Odds And Ends

My wife, Vicki, spent 4 days in the hospital late last month with pancreatitis. She was released on September 27 and has been doing real well since then. She has been her usual radiant self and has been catching up on a lot of her work at the convalescent center where she is the activities director. Please pray for her energy level...and that she can enjoy an absence of pain. With the Crohn's and the Celiac Sprue and the backaches and occasional headaches she doesn't have an easy time of it. She and I both want to stay as fit as we can for as long as we can so that we can keep up with our wonderful 1-year old grandson, Micah!

It's hard to believe but our second son, Wes, graduates from college in about 2 months! We are so proud of him. He's been studying at Carson-Newman College in Jefferson City, TN. What's he gonna do after December 14? We don't know...and neither does he. I guess eventually he'll go to graduate school. He'd kinda like to get some traveling in at some point. Pray for him, that the Lord will draw him close to Himself and give him clear guidance about his future.

I was saddened Saturday to hear of the death of Virginia's first district congresswoman Jo Ann Davis as she succumbed to breast cancer. I had had the privilege of meeting her several years ago and inviting her to come to my church and speak briefly of her testimony. She was a strong, godly Christian with a beautiful, gracious countenance. It was good having someone of her character and convictions in Washington. She was so sincere. This lady served her region, her state, her country, and yes, her Lord, well. She'll be missed...but I rejoice that she is now in the presence of Christ.

The new book by Jerry Bridges, Respectable Sins (NavPress, 2007) is helpful. It discusses how believers should pay more attention to the subtle sins in their lives that keep them from being at their best spiritually. Our tendency is to focus on the big sins of the culture around us rather than on our own shortcomings, such as jealousy or ingratitude or discontentment. Get a copy! And check out the new Apologetics Study Bible, too. It's a terrific resource.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Pray For Vicki

My wife, Vicki, was hospitalized Monday with acute Pancreatitis.

She gets this malady occasionally. It is quite painful. She usually has to go into the hospital with it to be treated. This illness comes on top of her other chronic medical problems like Crohn's, Celiac Sprue, and back pain.

She still is as beautiful as ever, though. And she somehow manages to maintain a real passion for her job as an activities director at a nursing home.

Remember her in your prayers over the next few days.

One other personal note. She and I are still reeling with delight over the first birthday of our precious grandson, Micah, on September 21. He is a treasure!

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Mother Teresa

Mother Teresa shocked us all the other week.

Well, not personally. This tiny, compassionate Catholic nun, who ministered to the poor and the outcasts and the dying in the streets of a major city in India for decades, died 10 years ago.

But newly revealed letters that she wrote over a period of 66 years have proven to be quite unsettling. Compiled in an upcoming book, Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light(Doubleday, 2007) these letters clearly show that this godly humanitarian lived for a long, long stretch in a deep crisis of faith. She seems to doubt the existence of God and writes of not sensing the presence of the Lord in her life. She describes spiritual dryness and silence. She laments the inner darkness and loneliness of her journey. She apparently felt that God was absent. While continuing to go on in her active, merciful service for the Heavenly Father to the desperate and the despised and the despairing, she found it very difficult, if not impossible, to even pray. And she lived with this kind of internal torment for 50 years!

This revelation confuses us. We looked at her and thought that if anyone walked close to God it was her. She was a role model and a pattern of quiet, humble, consistent, devoted ministry and faith. We assumed that she surely had it all together in her relationship with the Lord. On the outside she gave every evidence of being confident and comfortable in her connection with the divine. Now we're left shaking our heads in consternation, wondering what this all means.

But we shouldn't be too surprised.

If we're honest we'll admit that all of us struggle with doubts sometime. Whether or not God exists. Whether we've really been saved or not. If our ugly sins have really been forgiven. If the Lord is actually at work on our pathway. Often we just can't sense God's presence. Occasionally we don't feel like praying or going to church or reading the Bible. And Christians are aware from time to time of emptiness and darkness on the inside.

Maybe this sobering discovery about Mother Teresa is a good thing because it will liberate us as we realize that these valleys and feelings of God-desertion are common. Way back in the 1500's, St. John of the Cross labeled experiences like this "dark nights of the soul." They can be torturous, especially to those of us brought up in traditions where Christians are supposed to always be happy and smiling and enthusiastic and conscious of bubbly, heavenly vibes on the inside. It's time we tell the truth about our pilgrimage and disclose that there are those moments when we don't feel that God is close at hand. Frankly, sometimes we think that God has abandoned us.

Just ask John the Baptist. In Matthew 11 we find this forerunner, this advance man, this messenger, this one who introduced the Messiah to the world, lanquishing in jail and beginning to wallow in some doubts about whether Jesus is really the long-awaited deliverer. I'm so glad that story is in the Bible because it suggests that even preachers and spiritual leaders wrestle with doubts and fears and loneliness. John must have pondered over why, if Jesus was the promised saviour, that he had to go through this miserable suffering in a jail cell and most likely get executed. Couldn't Jesus do something about his servant's difficulty?

John did the right thing with his inner torment, though. He was honest about it for one thing. And he sent some of his followers straight to Jesus with his sincere questions. The Lord responded that there was evidence all around if one would just look. Notice that Jesus didn't condemn John for his doubts but actually commended him to the crowds. You see, our Lord knew that there was more to John than this momentary episode of spiritual trial. He was strong on the inside and would get through this. Good words for us, huh? I John 3:20 seems to touch on this when it affirms that in those dry, dark times when it appears that we have utterly failed and that God is absent, we can find stability in the knowledge that the Lord sees the whole picture. He knows us better than we know ourselves. And God is never really absent, anyway. Sometimes He uses our sense of His desertion to create a deeper hunger and longing for Him in our hearts. Or to build in us a stronger, deeper faith that isn't constructed on emotions alone.

Turns out that Mother Teresa is an even greater inspiration and example to us than we ever realized before, then. Despite her doubts and inner struggles she kept on going. She held on even when she could not see the light. She cried out for relief and help and a desire for God's presence but continued to minister in one of the world's hardest places in deplorable cicumstances even when what she longed for was not forthcoming. Now that's faith! Genuine faith.

Is it too much to ask, then, that when we're tempted or sick or lonely or not feeling warm, fuzzy sensations in church services or can't muster up the passion to pray or wonder if God cares or is there at all that we persevere and not quit? That we stay committed even when it all seems so unreal?

It may be that the richest legacy of the small, stooped holy woman of India is just coming to light now.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Michael Vick

There are some scripture verses that I wish NFL quarterback Michael Vick had read before he got caught up in dogfighting.

The Atlanta Falcons star has now pleaded guilty to charges that he participated in this cruel, heinous activity that mercilessly abused a number of dogs. There is no excuse for his actions. This is despicable conduct. He has confessed, though, and is awaiting sentencing, and now all of us should hope that he will be rehabilatated.

If only he had been exposed to Proverbs 12:10 years ago. It says that "A righteous man regards the life of his animal." In other words, someone who knows and loves and walks with God will give evidence of that even in the way he treats creatures. He will demonstrate a sensitive, tender compassion that shows up not just in the way he responds to other people but also in the manner with which he deals with dogs, cats, birds, and horses.

God values animals. They are not created in His image like we humans are, but He still delights in them. He made them, and made such a variety of them. One of the very first assignments that the Lord gave Adam in the Garden of Eden was to give names to this vast array of creatures. The first man and his wife, Eve, were given responsibility for, and dominion over, all the birds and beasts that give color and creativity and wonder to our life on planet Earth.

Of course the first sin messed all of that up. Animals became wild and carnivorous and slipped through man's leadership grip. Now a suspiciousness and sense of fear exists between creatures and people. The animals fear being hunted or captured or abused or killed. We humans are afraid of being attacked or bitten or even devoured. Though many creatures have been tamed and domesticated and loved as pets, and despite the fact that most individuals show kindness to animals, it remains true that people and beasts view one another cautiously and warily. What a fall Genesis 3 describes for us. What a departure from God's beautiful design for our world.

What Vick and his friends did shows the extent of the disconnection and discord that is a reality in the realm of nature now. Hurting and terrorizing these creatures and using their pain for sport is a far cry from God's mandate to humanity to protect and love the animal population.

It would've been good for this athlete to have also read Isaiah 11:6-9 and Isaiah 65:25. These passages seem to speak of a future time when harmonious relationships will exist again between people and beasts. Some Bible teachers believe that these texts refer to the Millenium, when Jesus will literally reign on the earth and peace and abundance will prevail worldwide. Other scholars see these verses as referring to Heaven. There is poetic language here, to be sure, but these scripture portions appear to be dealing with something literal. They offer good news, anyway. Along with passages such as Romans 8:19-23 and Hebrews 2:5-8 they point to a coming era when the curse will be lifted and a marvelous bonding and affection will be seen once more between humans and the animal kingdom.

Now don't get me wrong. I'm not part of the animal rights crowd. Their approach is so often naive and even silly, and they ignore other biblical texts that discuss creatures from a different angle. What I'm saying is that if eventually there's going to be a restoration of a warm, beneficient tie between the beasts and us, shouldn't God's people be an advance battalion of the approaching change? Shouldn't we model for our culture now a new and better way to relate to the creatures all around us? Isn't it true that the love and compassion the Lord pours into us believers should spill over into how we treat anyone and anything He has made? And couldn't it be true, too, that if we mistreat animals, we may be prone to harm children and other persons, because after all, it's a heart issue when all is said and done?

I deplore his behaviour but I feel sorry for Michael. What he has done was so misguided. Rumors of a recent conversion to Christ, if true, are encouraging. Perhaps then the spiritual blindness caused in part by his pride and his wealth can be lifted and he can slowly, steadily begin to see and understand the truth. He can be forgiven, just as we can for our different, but nevertheless, offensive sins.

Go to the Book, Michael. Not some football playbook, but to God's Word. It will show you the path to a new life.

Meanwhile, we'll be praying for you. The Lord just might give you a future far more exciting than anything you've experienced yet.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Coming Soon

Over the next few days I hope to post blog entries on Michael Vick, Mother Teresa, beautiful wife, Vicki.

Be watching!

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Road Work

It's just not much fun these days.

Driving on Warwick Boulevard between J. Clyde Morris Boulevard and Nettles Drive here in Newport News, that is.

A massive widening project, costing millions of dollars and taking a few years to complete, is underway.

It's certainly needed. Traffic in that corridor has greatly increased over the last few decades. It sure isn't a joyous experience motoring through that construction zone right now, though. It's like an obstacle course out there. Lanes shift almost every day. Barrels and cones and signs and marking tape are everywhere. Speed limits are reduced and vehicles sometimes move at a crawl. There are huge holes and lots of dirt, dust, and mud. Businesses along that strip are inconvenienced and detours abound.

It'll be fabulous when the work is completed and a wider, more expansive roadway is in place. Moving along that stretch will eventually be so much smoother and quicker and more pleasant than in years past. But while all this construction is going on, it's a chore and a drudge to take that route.

All this has set me to thinking about the Christian experience.

Our lives are like highways that God is working on. He's trying to widen us and deepen us and add to us and make us better and richer. Luke, in chapter 3, quotes from the prophet Isaiah and describes the ministry of John the Baptist in preparing for the approach of Jesus. Road building imagery is used. Read it. Verses 4-6 picture this mammoth endeavor of straightening and widening and leveling and smoothing. The scene is reminiscent of workers in ancient times who would renovate roads in advance of an upcoming visit by a monarch. Every effort was made to insure that his journey would be a comfortable one. They wanted to please him. Well, Luke uses that metaphor to suggest that the forerunner was seeking to get people ready spiritually, in their character, for the arrival of the Messiah.

Jesus has, of course, come, but the renovation project continues. It's called sanctification. The Holy Spirit is laboring inside us to mature us and make us more like Christ. He's digging. He's stretching. He's stripping away old habits and building in new patterns and pathways. It's not always pleasant or easy. It sometimes involves loss or changes or sacrifice. Occasionally pain. Often waiting...and more waiting. But God knows what He's doing and the end result is going to be incredibly wonderful. So the barricades and warning signs and construction noises and twists and turns of divine activity in us are for our long-term good and should be bourne with patience. Slowing down isn't always a bad thing, anyway. Becoming more alert to God's work in us is so important.

I'm gonna try to remember to meditate on this stuff when I'm traveling up Warwick and get aggravated at the delays and the maze of road work that seems to be taking forever.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

One More Movie Tip

Yeah, I saw another movie the other day.

It was "Stardust", with Michelle Phieffer, Robert DeNiro, and others.

I happened to really enjoy it. It's a fantasy and a fairy tale and a love story all rolled into one. Beautiful scenery. Neat special effects. The narrative moves along with interesting twists and turns.

I won't go all into the plot. Just go see it. It's a refreshing, entertaining escape.

It's hard to resist the opportunity to draw out the "lessons" that I picked up as I viewed it. Let me simply say that I observed that most of the characters were on a quest of some kind. The wicked witch Lamia was seeking eternal youth and beauty. The sons of a recently deceased king were vying to succeed him, doing whatever it took to attain power. Captain Shakespeare, who commanded a pirate air ship, sought to hold on to a position of respect among his men despite his conflicted lifestyle. Our hero, young Tristan, was trying to win the heart of a girl and thus was looking for love. All of them desperately wanted to connect to a falling star who turned out to be a lovely maiden. Some of these persons end up being destroyed by their anxious hunt, while others find what they were looking for and more.

It occurs to me that all of us are on a quest. Sometimes we're looking for the wrong thing. Sometimes we're looking for the right thing, but in the wrong places. Others have stopped dreaming and searching, and so are simply existing, biding their time until death shows up.

Whether we realize it or not, what we're really seeking is Jesus. Augustine said a long time ago that "our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee." When we find and embrace Christ, the scattered pieces of our lives begin to come together. Life starts making sense, even if it's not any easier. We sense fulfilment. Verses like John 10:10 and John 14:6 and Matthew 11:28-30 and Proverbs 3:5-6 seem to address that.

To be sure, after we meet Jesus there'll still be quests. He'll send us out on adventures and hunts and exploits. In fact, I think He'll do that with us in eternity, too. Other galaxies and universes, maybe? But the difference for Christ-followers, both now and then, is that we'll have settled, satisfied hearts at the core. And we'll not need to search for power or fame. We'll not have to bother with frantically pursuing love because we've found that in Him. There'll be no reason to grasp for unending youthfulness and energy and attractiveness since we're gonna possess that one day even if it is slowly dissipating now. If you have Jesus, you have everything! Both body and soul will ultimately be complete in Him.

Now our quests are for other people to introduce to our Saviour. Now our hunts are for ever more godly character as we wind and work our way through trials and troubles. These days we seek to know Him better as we wander about His Word. Sometimes we go out on dashing mountaintop experiences with the Lord while at other times we move slowly and painfully through valleys alongside Him.

Okay, so "Stardust" is just a movie. Relax, get some popcorn, and sit back and let the intriguing story and dazzling images refresh you. But rejoice inwardly at the prospect that for ages and ages to come there'll be wonders and jaunts and journeys for us all under the protecting guidance of our awesome God. And, oh, by the way, Jesus is the "bright morning star" who came to earth once upon a time, literally, to transform our lives.

And He is infinitely more beautiful than the fair Yvaine!

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Happy Birthday

Today Wes celebrates his 23rd birthday.

I well remember that hot summer morning at Martha Jefferson Hospital in Charlottesville, VA when I sat just inches behind my wife as she lay on the surgical table awaiting the caesarian delivery of our second son. Shortly before 9am he was born...and I almost fainted after having witnessed the procedure! The nurses had to temporarily take care of me before they could resume their ministrations to my wife and my newborn. I have to say, though, that it's a pretty amazing experience watching your child come into the world.

Wes brought incredible joy into our family. God gave us a great gift when He loaned him to us.

It's hard to believe that in a few short months he'll be graduating from college. What a wonderful young man he has become. I see so many traits and characteristics in him that I wish I possessed. He's always been so relaxed and at ease and comfortable with who he is. He seemingly lives without fear or any anxiety. He's a risktaker and is always willing to try new things. He makes friends so easily, and is intensely loyal to those friends. A terrific athlete, he has excelled in soccer, basketball, baseball, and tennis...and yet has sought ever to be a team player, allowing others to shine. He loves to travel and often says "I wanna go everywhere." He doesn't appear to be worried about death, and frankly, has such a spirit of adventure that he'd go to just about any place either to serve or explore.

In family discussions we can count on Wes to keep us laughing or seriously thinking. Many times I've been prompted to see things in a whole new light after conversing with him. And after 23 years he's still bubbly and bouncy and just plain fun to be around. He's independant and likes to think for himself, too.

Wes, your Mom and I love you so very much. We are more proud of you than we can express. Thanks for making our world a better place.

We have no idea what God has in store for your life. He created you, though, and has a purpose for you. Seek that, first seek Him and love Him and walk with Him and He'll show you that purpose. Commit yourself fully to Him. Don't ever forget Proverbs 3:5-6. And no, Wes, I don't expect you to become a preacher, that is unless the Lord should call you to that. If He wants you in social work or law or teaching or coaching or whatever, you go His way. It's there that you'll find perfect fulfilment. Let God lead you to your future wife, too. I have this feeling that you're gonna make a tremendous husband one day...and a terrific dad, too.

These days I miss seeing you out on the basketball court making those awesome lay-ups or beautiful 3-pointers to the delight of cheering fans in your old high school. Or watching as you kick those goals out on the soccer field as the crowd roars with joy. Now you're in a much bigger arena and court--the field of life. Keep doing your best now. Maintain the zest and the initiative and the energy and the passion. Do what's right, even when those on the sidelines don't understand or like your convictions and decisions and actions. Stay honest. Fair. Truthful. Open. Kind. Pure. Curious.

And never, ever forget that watching you with beaming pride and a tear in his eye way, way up in the stands is a white-haired man who thinks you're tops. Me.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Reading Tip

For a good, practical study on the providence of God, get the new book by internationally known Christian apologist and speaker Ravi Zacharias. It's called The Grand Weaver(Zondervan, 2007). It discusses how "God shapes us through the events of our lives". He uses stories and illustrations and Scripture to make his case that what happens in us and to us is not accidental or solely of our own efforts but is part of a "meticulous and purposeful design in which all the elements are intertwined with breathtaking precision". This work will inform, inspire, and refresh you!

If Statues Could Speak

Some folks are unhappy with the large new statue erected on the grounds of our local university.

It is a likeness of Captain Christopher Newport, after whom that school and our city were named. He commanded that first English expedition to Virginia in 1606-07 and subsequently made several other journeys from England to our shores when the colony was young.

It bothers some of our citizens that this monument portrays the captain as virile and robust, with both arms fully in place, when history clearly documents that he lost his right arm in a tough fight with 2 Mexican treasure ships at the beginning of his career as a privateer. What riles a lot of people is the inaccuracy of it. Others are probably offended by what they perceive as an attempt to hide a handicap, to tidy up the image of someone who, in his natural state, is at less than his best. Thus, a slap in the face to anyone who is physically challenged in some way.

I’m not taking sides in this controversy. I like the impressive look of this iron representation as I drive by it on a daily basis. At the same time, I suppose that those who are disappointed at this production do have some valid arguments.

This whole business has gotten me to think, though, about life and faith. There’s a powerful metaphor here. Some lessons emerge.

For starters, we are indeed strange creatures.

Sometimes we actually like to see someone else fall or stumble or get hurt. It might be a celebrity or a high-profile person or just a next-door neighbor. We inwardly smile at their misfortune or mistake because we’re envious of them. Or because it makes us feel better about ourselves. Proverbs 24: 17-18 issues a pretty sobering warning about that kind of attitude.
At other times we tend to put well-known personalities or ordinary acquaintances on a pedestal, thinking they could do no wrong. Assuming that they’ve got all the answers and have found the secret to success. Believing that they don’t grapple with the problems we face. That’s a fantasy, though, that sets us up for disappointment or disillusionment. Nobody is perfect or free from heartache. The occasional, surreal glimpse of a tow truck pulling a disabled ambulance pictures that for us.

None of us will make it through our earthly pilgrimage without getting wounded. In various ways we’ll get beat up and tossed around and torn by the myriad stresses and struggles that come with being human. In both body and soul we’ll be hurt and scarred and perhaps even disfigured. We’ll lose stuff along the way that meant a lot to us. I’m curious if mariner Newport thought his best days were over when he lost that arm.

Our pain and our losses and our battle injuries become part of our story, our biography. They are just as significant and as formative as the happy, whole, positive portrait we usually try to present to those around us in the hope that they will think that we have it all together. We don’t like defeats. We don’t enjoy vulnerability. But our weakness and failures and illnesses and deprivations are some of the tools that God uses to shape us and make us richer, stronger individuals. He sometimes applies trials and afflictions to work bad things out of us and at other times to develop good qualities into us. That’s why Paul was able to say in 2 Corinthians 12 that he would boast of the weaknesses in his life because they demonstrated that God was active in his experience.

One day, in Heaven, our wounds and handicaps and sicknesses and sorrows will be gone. We’ll possess wonderful new resurrection bodies with unimaginable abilities and powers. We’ll look so good! And we’ll feel so good, too, with energy that never dissipates.

I just wonder if even there, though, traces of our scars and blows might not be evident. Jesus, in his glorified body, still possessed the nail prints (John 20). The hymn-writer speaks of “those wounds yet visible above, in beauty glorified”. It may be that tracks of our troubles will still be dimly seen in our changed physiques as trophies of God’s grace and as reminders that it was our adversities that really molded our godly character. Perhaps there, for the first time, we’ll realize that we all wrestled with something. In the same boat after all.

Stand tall in your wholeness, Captain Newport. You show us our future. We’d be just as proud of you, though, if your right limb was missing.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Movie Tip

Saw a good film the other night.

It's one of those limited release flicks so it's not showing everywhere. It's worth seeing, though.

It's "Away From Her'', starring Julie Christie and Olympia Dukakis. The story is of a gently aging husband and wife who discover that Alzheimer's is slowly showing up and invading their relatively happy space. A decision is reluctantly made to place the wife in an elder care facility, and the plot winds around all the pain and loss and sadness that this generates, as well as the stretching of the human spirit.

What you have here is a slow-paced, reflective look at the whole business of aging and wrapping up and finishing a lifetime. How do you best do that? How do you conclude years of joys and tears and memories? How do you say goodbye to someone you've spent a life with?

It seems to me that babyboomers ought to be going in droves to view this film. Professionals involved in nursing home work or retirement center jobs should see it, too. Ministers would benefit as well. It offers a keen look at the inner dynamics of individuals who come down to the final years of the lifespan and have to make sobering choices and experience hefty changes.

The hour and a half spent at the cinema for this celluloid narrative might make us a little more sensitive as caregivers. It might move us to spend our youthful days better. It would certainly remind us that when we approach the end, what will matter probably more than anything else is the quality of the relationships we've had and nurtured. Strenghtening our marriages now will help us avoid a lot of guilt and regret later, too.

Staying committed to our partner all the way to life's conclusion is a beautiful ideal depicted in this movie. A love that sticks by and takes care of the spouse even when that one is no longer at his or her best is the highest demonstration of genuine agape.

Find this motion picture. Purchase a ticket. Buy some popcorn. Sit back and be prepared to think...and feel. You may shed a tear or you may not. It's a gripping crash course for all of us, though, in what's just ahead. We may as well step out of our denial. We're gonna get old, if we live long enough. And we're gonna die.

Regrettably, this good film doesn't point to a hope beyond this life's curtain going down. Sure, there is something heroic and romantic about having lived out one's days fully and well, even if nothingness is on the other side of the last breath. But how pointless and meaningless and empty and without hope or joy is a life, however long, that ends up being just a blip when compared to the immensity and neverendingness of eternity. Praise the Lord for the assurance that we Christians have of living forever! And what an absolutely incredible life it's going to be. While I applaud so much in this movie, I ached to see portrayed before me two more representative samples on the screen who had seemingly bought into our culture's thinking that this life is all there is and you better grab for all the gusto you can right now. How tragic.

Thank you, Jesus, for your resurrection that guarantees mine!

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

If I Had A Hammer...

My oldest son, Ryan, gave me a most unusual Father's Day gift.

To some dads, this present would not have been odd at all. For me, though, it seemed a little strange.

I looked inside the gift bag and noticed something wrapped up down at the bottom. I surmised quickly that it was probably a necktie, or maybe a book. Imagine my surprise when I reached in, unrolled the paper, and discovered a hammer!

For me?

Anybody who knows yours truly is aware that I'm no handyman. I hardly know one tool from another. Never built anything. Avoid nails and pliers and screwdrivers like the plague. Would just as soon call in and pay outside help to hang a picture on the wall. Absolutely zero carpentry skills.

Why was I getting a hammer, albeit a nice, new one?

I remembered that Ryan, 26, and Christie were moving into their new home that very weekend. Was this a subtle hint, a request for assistance with all that had to be done as their residence changed? Surely not. My son knows all too well my limitations in the manual labor department.

Then I read the card.

He thanked me for the "construction" I had done in his life as he grew up. He expressed the hope that I would do some similar work with his son, Micah, my new grandson. The tool was a symbolic gift. A metaphor. A picture. The hammer was a token of gratitude for spiritual building in the past and a challenge for the future.

I understand what he meant but I feel so unworthy of the compliment. Sometimes all I see are my failures as a father. Believe me, there were many. Nevertheless, this simple gift was a powerful encouragement to me and spoke louder than words.

All of us have some building to do. Not just with literal bricks and mortar and paint and lumber. Not just in adding on a room or a deck, or in refurbishing a den. Spiritually, we should constantly be cooperating with the Master architect-contractor-owner of our lives as He works to expand and enlarge and decorate our souls. It's an ongoing process. Check 2 Peter 1:5-9 on that. You and I are works in progress.

At the same time, we're to be building up other people. That's to happen in the fellowship of the church as we encourage and confront and teach and admonish and pray for one another. That takes place, too, in the family as we nurture and correct and discipline and love our spouses and our children and our grandkids. We add on whole new rooms in each other's spirits. We deepen the capacities of one another for rich, vibrant living.

So, yes, to do all that we must have, among other things, hammers for the soul. You notice that these particular tools have 2 parts, enabling 2 different functions. With one side, you press nails in. We all need truth and grace and love and direction placed in us. Sometimes(ouch!) that hurts. At other times we hardly feel it. With the alternate side, nails can be pulled out. There is stuff in our lives that ought to come out. And we all make mistakes. This side of the hammer affords us the chance to make a correction, to start over. To have a fresh beginning.

Perhaps all of us would benefit from giving and receiving these symbolic, metaphorical gifts occasionally. Not all the time, please. Usually we need those neckties or books or new shoes or shirts or CD's. But from time to time, "picture" gifts could serve useful purposes.

They could illustrate for us, in ways that words never could, just what we mean to someone else or what they mean to us. They could, with specificity, describe character traits or personality styles or ministry skills that we didn't know we possessed. They might serve as fresh motivators to get us actively engaged in people's lives so as to be a blessing, since something about us was noticed and observed, something that made a difference.

Imagine getting, or giving, a pencil sharpener that communicates that lives are shaped and sharpened by interaction with someone. Made better(Proverbs 27:17). Visualize the gift of a pillow, that offers the message that one feels comfortable around another. Somehow relaxed. Or that worries and fears can be brought to one and peace can be found. How about a pack of seeds? They suggest that a person is sowing kindness or good deeds or a worthy example. A vase of flowers illustrates that an individual brightens up a room, or adds color to life, or brings fragrance to a friendship. A world globe reminds us that we're to have a mission heart for the planet. A simple but beautiful rock provides an opportunity for one person to reveal to another that they find stability and quiet strength in the relationship. A can of spinach may be a way of telling a friend that they seem to have a knack for bringing to a conversation or a discussion or even a disagreement what is needed even if it's not easy going down.

You get the idea.

Thank you so much for my gift, Ryan. I will treasure it. I mean that. I really want to live up to the sentiment you sought to convey when you gave it.

Monday, July 9, 2007

It happened 45 years ago this week.

I went away to camp for the first time.

I was 10 years old and had never been away from home, separated from my parents, for an extended period. Our Minister of Music at church awarded some of us in childrens' choir the opportunity and privilege to go to Childrens' Music Week at our denominational state assembly grounds, Eagle Eyrie, in Lynchburg, VA for 6 days.

I didn't want to go.

Call it late separation anxiety or whatever you like. I didn't want to leave the familiar surroundings of home and family. In all my fears and forebodings I probably begged my mom and dad not to make me go. I was actually afraid as I recall.

I am so very thankful all these many years later that my parents did not give in to my pleadings. They insisted that I go. They packed my suitcase and sent me off with the other kids.

New friends were acquired. There was fresh scenery. Beautiful mountains. Different foods. Great music to learn and present. My horizons were expanded and I was stretched as I had to do some things for myself that my folks normally did for me. I was impacted by new ideas and impressions and the change in pace and locale.

I sometimes wonder what my life would have been like if I had just stayed home that week. I think being away profoundly affected me. From then on, I wanted to go on all church trips. The travel bug really bit me. Since that July camp decades ago I have been lots of places and my heart's desire is to see as much of the world as I can. It was like whole vistas opened up for me back then. Maybe that's why these days I'm such a big proponent of, and cheerleader for, kids going to camps and on retreats and off on mission trips.

Even as adults, though, there's a part of us, down deep inside, that prefers to remain where we are. We struggle with change. We seek out the comfortable, the secure. It's easier that way. It's more predictable. More manageable. But we have to resist that impulse. We gotta keep moving and growing and reaching and learning and exploring. If we don't we'll get stale and stuck in a rut. We'll have less and less fresh water to offer other people. We'll become stagnant and boring. It's imperative that we move out of our comfort zones. Read a book. Learn a new skill or develop another hobby. Take a trip. Volunteer for some ministry or engage in a venue of community service. Visit art and history museums. Brainstorm lots of options when problem-solving.

Sometimes I reflect on whether my response to the approach of death eventually will be like my deal with going to camp those long years ago.

Will I dread it? Will I put up all those old resistances? Will I cling, white-knuckled and tenaciously, to this life when the summons comes to journey to the world beyond? I don't know. I just don't know. The fears and apprehensions may surface again because the next life is, still, so unknown to us. And we like it here. We're settled. We feel safe. It's all so natural. We shudder at the thought of breathing our last breath here and going somewhere to stay that we've never been before.

There is comfort, however, as I ponder all this. I have a savior, Jesus Christ, who has already taken that trip and come back to tell about it. He died and then rose from the grave. His saving work on the cross and through an empty tomb assures me as His child that everything will be okay when I come down to my final days.

And I have a heavenly Father who, like my earthly mom and dad in 1962, will not yield to my fright but will lovingly and firmly encourage me to launch out on the journey of a lifetime. He'll say, "Come on. Take my hand. You can't begin to dream or imagine what's in store for you out there. So much to see and hear and taste and explore and feel. So many worlds. So many sunrises. And absolutely nothing to be afraid of, ever. Come. It's just a step." Talk about the ultimate adventure! Wow.

I guess tiny newborns know something of this. They struggle through the birth canal and cry as they enter this loud, bright, cold, big place even as those who eagerly await their arrival smile with delight. After they've been here a little while and gotten their bearings, if they somehow could remember their former existence in that cramped, dark, humdrum, albeit warm and cozy atmosphere known as mother's womb, would they want to go back to it? Would they trade the exhilirating colors and shapes and sounds and trees and beaches and giraffes and symphonies and pizzas of this new place for their previous residence? I seriously doubt it. Life here becomes a fascinating trek.

It will be the same for us when we embark for Heaven. Tough to let go of the here and now, but incredibly awesome when we get on that side.

Thanks, Mama and Daddy, for not relenting in July, 1962, but insisting that I go to Eagle Eyrie. You probably never knew that you were altering my life direction for the good.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

In The Zone

There'll be a Twilight Zone marathon on TV this week.

Twice a year, at July 4th and New Year's, the Sci-Fi channel shows back-to-back episodes of this old classic series for a couple of days.

I'm always hooked. I become a couch potato. I sit there and watch these reruns, hour after hour.

What's the attraction?

Well, I like that antiquated black-and-white feel every now and then. I sorta enjoy Rod Serling's cigarette smoke-laced introductions to each story. I delight in seeing how some of today's popular actors looked back then, when they were just getting started. These tales of time travel and UFO's and life on other planets fascinate me. They make me think. They get my imagination cranked up into high gear.

The sets were spartan and cheap, and the plots fanciful and outlandish, but I'm always not only entertained but intellectually stimulated by this TV drama from decades ago.

Maybe what it is that resonates with me is that the themes touch on some of the deepest questions and longings of the human heart. The narratives track some of the great aspirations and dreams of the spirit. Watching these episodes as a Christian adds to the thrill factor, because I realize that there will one day be a fulfilment of some of these hopes and yearnings that are portrayed on the screen.

One day we will have the privilege of living forever without dying. One day we will be perennially young, in both body and spirit. We will possess a constant future-orientation. I think the Bible implies that we'll have the challenging, exhilirating opportunity to visit and perhaps develop and rule over other worlds to the glory of God. The age-old quest for peace will finally be satisfied. Maybe we'll even have the chance to go back in time occasionally, to study history and to have God show us why things happened as they did. Wow!

Ecclesiastes 3:11 reminds us that God has put eternity in our hearts. We were created for more than just a few short years here. We were made for much more than simply gratifying our physical selves. God fashioned us for Himself, to live for age after age after age in ever-deepening awareness and learning and growth and experiences. We will travel and create and worship and love and work throughout the eons to come because of the reconciling ministry of Jesus(Colossians 1:15-20). Regrettably, unbelievers only have now, but Christ-followers have an awesome destiny ahead.

Okay. Sofa reserved, snacks ready, remote close at hand, all family rights to TV programming ceded over to me. I'm gonna love this marathon! What I really love is the certainty that one day the twilight will break into full, glorious morning.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Were The Moderates Partly Right?

Now there's a question to ponder.

Wait. Don't throw that tomato.

I am a committed inerrantist. The conservative resurgence in the Southern Baptist Convention has had my full support.

At the same time I have many, many wonderful moderate friends. I love them deeply and dearly as brothers and sisters in Christ and enjoy great fellowship with them. At age 55, no one is going to tell me who I can associate with along life's journey. Many of these "moderates" are really as conservative theologically as I am, but just may not use the same words. Lots of them probably have even more passion about sharing Christ than I possess.

The 1980's and 90's were years of tremendous upheaval in our convention. Clearly, changes had to be made to get us back to a more Biblically-grounded, evangelistic-hearted, mission-focused stance. Yet many good and decent people were hurt.

Lots of moderates were labeled and libeled and had their reputations besmirched and saw their careers damaged. Of course it cuts both ways. Conservatives were ridiculed and maligned, too. A deep divide resulted. I've been convinced for some time that a mighty move of God and an awesome revival could sweep this nation if these 2 sides would come together, even now,in a posture of humble contrition. Maybe there would never again be much affiliation organizationally but there could be apology and confession and repentance and reconciliation relationally. What a message that would send to a watching world. What a demonstration of the spirit of Christ. Seems like John 13:35 touches on this.

When all the denominational conflict broke out almost 30 years ago, and it soon became evident that the conservative viewpoint would prevail, the moderates made some predictions.

I don't know if these days they are sitting back saying "we told you so" or not. And it's certainly by no means confirmed that their warning prophecies have come true. I hope that they will not.

There is a feeling in the air, though, however vague, that something's just not quite as it should be. Were the moderates good prognosticators those many years ago? Is it wrong to even ask that question? We better ask it.

Were they partly right about the long-term future of our convention? And is there time to forestall their gloomy assessment from way back then? It may be that we'll unwittingly lend unnecessary credibility to their dire forecasts unless some course corrections are made.

They said, for example, that the controversy that erupted in 1979 was not really about scripture and inerrancy but about politics and control. The suggestion was that all the flap over the terms inspiration, infallibility, and inerrancy was simply a smokescreen for those seeking to wrest dominance in the denominational power structure.

I didn't believe that then, and I don't believe it now. We had to take a strong, definitive stand on the authority of God's Word. The teaching in our schools, which would affect the future crops of preachers in our pulpits, was leaning too far toward the liberal and would eventually, if left unchecked, render our churches lifeless. Something had to be done to change our institutions. Church historians will probably debate for decades on whether what was done and how it was accomplished was the best approach, but nevertheless sincere men acted to rescue a denomination from slowly sinking into the abyss of theological mediocrity and cold, powerless congregations.

But 30 years later, look around. The battle over the Bible was won. Our seminaries are in terrific shape. But we've got to honestly face something. There has been, for some time, the perception out there that a small group has been making most of the decisions. That power is concentrated in the hands of a few who expect to be just blindly trusted to know and do what's best. That everything is cut and dried. That criticisms or complaints are not welcome. Hence, for instance, that discussion time on the convention floor should be kept to the barest minimum. Trustee appointments must go only to those who toe the most rigid of lines. You gotta ask--in a house now full of conservatives, what are we so afraid of? The tapping of Frank Page for the presidency in 2006 and his reelection this year do offer encouragement that perhaps there's going to be an opening up of the process. The vote on the BFM motion gives hope, too.

They said back then that this whole conflict was just a preachers' fight. They insisted that laypeople were not interested in all this fussin' and feudin' over doctrine but wanted to get on with kingdom business and missions, and we pastors were holding things up. We were wasting valuable time, it was thought. We were told that folks in the pews couldn't care less about all the bickering but just wanted peace and harmony and, especially, results in world outreach.

Guess what? Turns out, 30 years later, that the ones tending to dominate in convention leadership are preachers. Usually of the megachurch variety. More often than not, it's preachers standing at the floor microphones at the annual session. Each June, pastors still preach and holler and shout, somehow fearful that liberalism is "comin' back", and preachers debate each other on the finer points of theological discourse while laypeople sit out there wondering why, with all this heat and bluster, we're baptizing less people and not sending out enough missionaries. Average folks in the pews must wonder what all the fuss is about and why we can't seem to get on with the mission.

Can anyone remember the last time a layperson was president of the SBC? It just might be refreshing and transformative if we elected some strong, wise, godly laypeople to our highest offices for a few cycles. Persons with fresh, creative, out-of-the-box, marketplace, non-ministerial thinking. Back home, in our pulpits, we preach that all in the body are equal and of great value(1 Corinthians 12) and have gifts to celebrate and share, not just the pastors. We could act like we really believe that by giving more of our layfolks major leadership posts. We preachers could learn some things from them if we'd release our grip on the top slots.

They said that we would ultimately turn inward and end up fighting each other. Ouch.

Okay. Maybe there is a sociological principle at work here. Group dynamics studies tell us that when an organization feels like it has won over its major threats, it tends to take it easy and starts looking at inside stuff and ends up getting picky and irritable. Bubbles of conflict develop. With no external "enemies" to deal with, energy starts getting used up in internal squabbles. Anyone else noticed what's been happening in the SBC the last few years?

At first it was the liberals. Sure, something had to be done there. But then it was the moderates. Next it was the Calvinists. Now it's the Charismatics. Who are we going to slug it out with next? What group among us will next be made to feel that it is no longer needed or wanted? Who will be left after awhile? Probably just someone to turn off the lights.

This protracted navel-gazing and infighting is going to distract us and divert our momentum, and just might do us in as a cooperating body. All the suspicion and the "with us or with them" mentality, that we deplore so much in our individual congregations, could cripple us. Our internal struggles could so weaken us that we lose our stature and significance on the stage of Kingdom advance and world evangelization. You know it's true--a church can experience one split and survive, but when it keeps going through ruptures and fractures, it's in real jeopardy. Could that happen as well in our larger body? You bet. God doesn't absolutely have to have the Southern Baptist Convention, you realize.

They also said that we would probably become more and more narrow. Hmm.

The vibes I sense nowadays lead me to think that we are devolving from a bold, positive, conservative, evangelical, cooperative position to a kind of rigidity, almost an exclusive, narrow fundamentalism. Regrettably, we're often known more for what we are against than what we are for in this world.

Seems like it's not enough anymore to believe in Biblical inerrancy and the virgin birth and the deity of Christ and substitutionary atonement and the bodily resurrection of Jesus and the second coming of our Lord. Now everybody also has to think just alike on secondary and tertiary doctrines. Same view on the Millenium. Same perspective on spiritual gifts. There's no room for compromise or warm, collegial dialogue or agreeing to work together as loving partners on the main thing despite minor differences in theology or methodology. The impression is given that we all must walk in lock step, even though a lot of kneecaps and ankles and heels are sore and aching. Ties and connections with like-minded evangelical groups, zealous about reaching the nations for Jesus in these last days, are minimized or even severed just at the very time when we most need to be linked in high energy, frontline ministry to impact the world.

Indulge me. Honest questions: why do we all have to think alike on every single thing in order to cooperate together in God's work? And why are we bashing some people in our midst, denigrating them as rebels and whiners, who dare to speak up when they see something amiss and see us heading too far in a rightward drift when we well remember what it was like to be so labeled and misunderstood a few decades ago when we spoke up and warned of a leftward drift?

Finally, they said that sooner or later a lot of young people would leave. The prediction was that the rigidity would force many of the brightest and best in the next generation to depart. I don't know about you, but I sometimes hear the doors slamming shut and sometimes just quietly closing. A lot of sincere, dedicated younger pastors are tired of not having much of a voice. Some are fed up with a snail's pace bureaucracy. Many of those guys who are theologically sound and intellectually robust are weary(just when we need their passion and zest) from internecine battles over minor doctrinal points. There are younger men and women on fire with eagerness to try bold, new, innovative missiological strategies to reach a rapidly changing culture that's passing us by but they feel rejected when they speak up. It looks like an awful lot of these younger persons that we reared in our SBC churches and nurtured and helped to hear God's call are now moving on to other venues.

I praise the Lord for the concern and vision of Drs. Jimmy Draper and Morris Chapman a few years ago as they saw the rushing freight train-like challenge of this possible impending draining of a vast reservior of potential. More needs to be done to stem the tide of a large exit of younger disciples who are looking for more effective ways to do ministry in these climactic times than are currently offered in our present denominational structure. Many of these young people are far more willing to sacrifice than we ever were. They just want to do it in cutting edge ways that will impact the culture they know all too well.

So...were the moderates partly right? With hindsight, was their insight a bit of foresight?

You decide.

I love our great old convention so very much. Always have. I want to see us not just survive, but thrive.

Put down that tomato. Let's think and pray. With some adjustments, our best days as Baptists could be just ahead.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Parable Of The Croaking Frogs

Found this old, familiar, been-around-the-block story in a church newsletter. Enjoy, reflect, pass on...

A farmer came to town and asked the owner of a restaurant if he could use a million frog legs. The proprietor asked where he could find so many frogs.

"I've got a pond at home just full of them", the farmer replied. "They drive me crazy night and day."

After they made an agreement for several hundred frogs, the farmer went back home. He came back a week later with 2 scrawny frogs and a foolish look on his face. "I guess I was wrong," he stammered. "There were just two frogs in the pond, but they sure were making a lot of noise!"

The next time you hear a lot of noise about how bad things are at church, just remember: it may be nothing more than a couple of chronic complainers who have little to do but grouch and croak!

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Disappearing Act

I'm intrigued by how Jesus would sometimes disappear right in the middle of ministry occasions.

There were moments when everything seemed to be going well and suddenly He was gone. Or there were episodes where He got in trouble and just vanished.

You see it in Mark 1:35, where He pulled away from everyone to go pray and commune with the Heavenly Father. It shows up in Luke 4:29-30 when, in Nazareth, He is rejected by some hometown synagogue worshippers who angrily take Him outside of town to throw Him off a cliff. He escapes. That same kind of thing happens in John 7:30 and 8:59 and 10:39.

Another example of this phenomenon can be found in John 5:13 where Jesus slips through a crowd and is gone just after miraculously healing a man at the Pool of Bethesda in Jerusalem. That case is really interesting. We wonder why our Lord would just take off like that after doing such a good deed, and a supernatural one at that. Some Bible teachers believe that He removed Himself so as not to get tangled up in a wave of compliments and commendations. Others feel that He quietly left the scene to keep from getting enmeshed in a barrage of criticisms and complaints from the Jewish leaders upset over His daring to heal somebody on the Sabbath. Both of those possibilities may be true. The ego of Jesus wasn't dependant on accolades and pats on the back and recognitions for its strength. Nor did He find it necessary to subject His energy and dreams and vision to verbal poundings from irritable, negative individuals.

All of this has got me thinking. Are there times when we ought to disappear for awhile? Certainly.

Like Jesus, we need to carve out time to get away from the stress and busyness of everyday life for prayer and reflection and breathing room, for example. Periods of silence and solitude and intercession can do wonders in our lives. And surely when we are in jeopardy, in our case spiritually, from temptation, we should flee.

We can learn, too, from our Lord not to let ourselves get trapped in the twin perils of accepting excessive praise or being victimized by ugly faultfinders. Don't get me wrong. We all need words of encouragement. We can all benefit from occasional constructive criticism. But to stand around and wait for our fix of flattering remarks and kudos, or to allow ourselves to be held hostage in our spirits by someone's venomous words can harm us in terms of motivation and drive.

By the way, one day we will really be able to disappear, and reappear, at will, like Jesus could in His resurrection body(Luke 24:31, John 20:19). Our changed bodies will be like His, with supernatural capabilities, free to move about at the speed of thought. What an awesome future will be ours!

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

By Life Or By Death

It's very liberating to realize that even in the hardships and frustrations of old age and approaching death, a believer can still bring honor to Christ.

I was reminded of that one Sunday evening toward the end of my sermon.

While I was preaching from John 17:1 on glorifying God, the Spirit prompted me to call attention to John 21:18-19 as an additional reference. In that passage, the resurrected Jesus is restoring Peter and challenging him to resume a ministry that now will be even more important. But the Lord makes a sobering prediction: "When you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted, but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go." Jesus is painting a word picture here of the type of death that Peter would eventually die. A death, by the way, that would end up bringing glory to God.

Let's be clear. This disciple did ultimately die a very unpleasant, painful death that perfectly fulfilled this verbally visual prophecy of Jesus. Tradition says that Peter died by crucifixion. To be exact, he was crucified upside down out of respect for his Lord. After 30 years of apostolic ministry, he died a martyr's death.

Probably few if any of us will be called on to end our earthly journey like that. But the Lord showed me something. I don't think it's stretching this gripping saying of Jesus if we take it as a metaphorical application for our own lives as God's children.

When we're young, we feed and dress ourselves. We're independent. We make our own decisions and get up and go when and where we like. If we live long enough, however, we get old and the probability is strong that we'll not think as clearly. We'll become more dependant on others, even for the very necessities of life. Pain will increase. We'll be restricted and limited. Finally death will show up. We have no idea what form our exit will take.

This word of Jesus assures the Christian, though, that somehow even in the midst of dementia, nursing homes, arthritis, or wheelchairs, we can still bring glory to Christ. Until we breathe our last, there is the potential for our experiences to honor Him. I don't know how. That's His business.

I just want to be sure that my life now is pleasing to Him. He'll take care of His plan for me when my mind is no longer sharp and my body can no longer do what it once did. I'm in mighty good company on this, since Paul expressed the same sentiment in Philippians 1:20.

Monday, June 18, 2007

I'm Proud Of You, Ryan

I'm quite proud of my oldest son today.

For 2 reasons.

First, he celebrated his very first Fathers' Day Sunday. Little Micah is almost 9 months old now, and Ryan, at age 26, has been a terrific Dad. It's been a thrill watching him step into that role and fill it with ease and delight. He's gonna be a nurturing father and my grandson is surely going to know that he's loved and cared for and protected. Ryan is a dutiful husband to Christie and helps her so much. They are soulmates...and a tremendous team. You can't avoid seeing the obvious deep affection they have for each other. It's in their eyes. Micah is more blessed than he can realize now.

But I also rejoice this day because over the weekend the three of them moved into their new home. They've been in the process of buying it for months, and finally sold their last residence recently.The new house is a beautiful place with a great front porch, lots of room, a big garage, and a huge yard. It's somewhat secluded, too. Many trees. Micah will have loads of fun growing up there!

Part of the reason for my pride over this today is that it confirms again for me that Ryan is a young man with initiative. He's always demonstrated that. He's disciplined and focused. He has vision and goals. Pardon me for saying it, but I believe he's gonna go places one day! I love him deeply. He's a hard worker, and I'm sure that he and Christie will have that new house looking like a palace! I'm equally certain that they'll use their new dwelling as a place of hospitality and ministry. That's their pattern already.

Keep dreaming big dreams, son. And keep your eyes on Jesus. There's no limit to what God might do with you!

Friday, June 15, 2007

Ruth Graham

I am saddened today by the news of the death of Ruth Graham, the wife of evangelist Billy Graham.

I'm certainly happy for her in that she is now released from all the physical agony and pain of the last several years, and is in the presence of Jesus and her loved ones gone before. But I can't help grieving over the void created by the loss of this faithful Christian servant.

Those who know me are aware of my deep and longstanding love and admiration for Dr. Graham. I've watched his televised crusades since I was a little kid. I've actually attended 6 or 7 of those events, and believe me, they were all thrilling. On two occasions I had the privilege of shaking his hand, and would delight even now if I had the opportunity, just for 30 minutes, to sit with him and convey what his life and ministry have meant to me. I've read his books. I always sorta wanted to be like him when I was a younger preacher. A lot of you have heard my wife's infamous "honeymoon story" that connects with Dr. Graham in that while we were in the first few days of our wedding trip, I took time out one night in the motel room to watch an hour of the 1975 Albuquerque crusade on television, much to her consternation! This evangelist's voice, personality, message, passion, and love for God and people have greatly impacted me for decades. I have tremendous respect and affection for him.

And that has always extended to his wife.

This thin, wiry lady has been a model of grace and inner beauty. The daughter of missionaries, she grew up overseas. She met Billy Graham at Wheaton College and married this man who would ultimately be perhaps the greatest preacher in history. She wrote several books. Her greatest contribution to the Kingdom, though, may have been in her willingness to stay at home in the North Carolina mountains and love and rear the couple's 5 children, freeing the renowned evangelist to travel the world for extended periods proclaiming the Gospel. How incredibly lonely it must have been for her at times. How difficult it must have been to raise all those kids, with all the normal issues and problems of childhood and adolescence, all by herself. Yet she faithfully stood behind her man, praying for him and keeping up the home in his absence.

She could be feisty. She was firm. I always felt that she exuded calm and composure and warmth and graciousness. She loved the Bible, her family, and her Lord. Her convictions were strong. Her patience surely was immense.

We can learn some lessons from Ruth Graham.

Her life's trajectory reminds us that even God's greatest servants suffer. Her fall from a tree in 1974 led to the painful, crippling osteoarthritis that eventually drove her to a wheelchair and finally to the bed. We wonder once again about fairness and all that, but the reality is that no one escapes hardship and adversity, and some end up hurting more, seemingly, than others. Those who've labored for the Master come in for their share of difficulty and testing and loss, too. Sometimes it's physical. Sometimes it's emotional. It might be relational or professional. Think of any significant godly Bible character and see if you don't find some heartache or suffering in his or her biography. Mrs. Graham sacrificed a lot for the sake of the Gospel and yet still went through immense trial in her final years. It just happens. All in God's providence, but it happens.

Certainly her journey highlights the beauty and value of marriage. Hers was destined to be a little different than the normal marital pattern, but then is there really such a thing as a normal marriage? Every couple's is unique. She expressed her abiding love by devoted service. When all is said and done, that is the pathway for any marriage to not just survive, but thrive. It goes without saying that her relationship with her husband should be a model for those of us in younger generations of faithfulness, loyalty, stick-to-itiveness, teamwork, sacrifice, and reliance on prayer. Not quitting when it gets tough. Not checking out if there's not warm, fuzzy feelings every single minute.

Mrs. Graham's willingness to serve behind the scenes says something vital to us, too. There is an exciting, glamorous, exhilirating side to the work of mass evangelism. The travel. The media attention. The energy of the crowds. She probably experienced that only rarely. Evidently she saw her role as homemaker, as protector and nurturer of her brood, as effective prayer warrior. She accepted the assignment and carried it out admirably. When rewards are given out in Heaven for ministry that prospered, her arms will be just as full as Billy's. I Samuel 30:24 comes to mind here. So does the example of Philip in Acts 8, who was just as willing to go out into the desert to witness to one man privately as he was to preach publically before great crowds with amazing, attention-grabbing results. Too many in Christian work nowadays crave the spotlight and the cameras and the recognitions and the praise. Too few seem ready to do the menial or the backstage jobs. Lots want to be on the platform and get the pats-on-the-back. Not enough want to do nursery duty or cut the grass or clean up after a church supper since they may not be seen. Ruth lovingly, humbly, unobtrusively kept her family together, and her quiet efforts paid rich dividends in that all 5 of her children, in adulthood, have had ministries of their own.

Our older saints, our Christian soldiers of the previous generation, are slipping away now, going on home. Dr. Falwell on May 15, now Ruth Graham. Many others, too, most lesser-known. They did their work and now they are leaving the stage. What a standard they set for us, not only in what they accomplished but in how they lived. I dread it, but I know the day is going to come, and perhaps soon, when Dr. Graham himself is gonna pass from the scene. Who is going to step up to the plate and keep the work advancing? Who will take their places? Our mandate, our mission remains the same and will stay in force until Jesus comes even though the workers and the soldiers periodically change. Are we ready to fill in the gaps and vacancies created as some go to their rest? What will later history say about us, in our moment of contribution? Will it be able to say of us, as was said of King David, that we "served our generation"(Acts 13:36) before exiting for our rest?

Thank you, Ruth Graham. Frail little lady of 87 who did her best and gave her all.

Surely you've already heard Jesus say, "Well done, thou good and faithful servant."

It'll be an honor to meet you, one day, over there.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Funeral Thoughts

One morning this week I conducted a memorial service for a gentleman I'd never met.

Occasionally a funeral home will call and ask me to officiate at a service for an individual who didn't have a relationship with a church or a minister. I suppose most pastors get requests like that from time to time.

I always have mixed feelings about speaking at one of these farewells for someone I didn't even know. First off, it's hard to come up with stuff to say when you have little or no information about the deceased. I always like to share personal traits and tidbits and stories and reminiscences at a funeral, to make it more warm and intimate and special. If I wasn't acquainted with the departed one, that's a lot tougher assignment. Not to mention that it's a little scary to think that I might accidently say something that everybody sitting out there knows wasn't true about that person. Or I could unintentionally step on some relational landmine.

On the other hand, presiding over a service for an individual who apparently wasn't a churchgoer gives me an incredible opportunity. I have the chance to share the glorious Gospel with a family as well as lots of their friends who normally are not exposed to presentations of the life-changing good news of Jesus. Precious seed can be sown. A fresh vision can be offered. Hope can be disseminated. The clear plan of salvation can be simply and delicately and respectfully mentioned. I guess it's this privilege and open door that keeps me accepting these requests. It's ministry. That's what I'm called to do. Maybe I can't accept every invitation but it's a joy to step briefly into the lives of people I've never had the pleasure of knowing before and extending help and comfort and grace and truth. God arranges, in His sovereignty, those encounters that offer platforms to communicate the message to folks who never darken the door of a church on Sundays but who do attend funerals for their loved ones.

I gotta tell you, though, that one of the saddest experiences to come out of these types of events for me is when I ask a family to give me some good material to share in the service and they can't think of much if anything to tell me. Sure, they can provide me with dates and jobs and places lived, basic biographical info, but what about memories? Are there no warm stories? You can't remember what you loved most about this person? You can't tell me 3 or 4 things you learned from this individual? What motivated or brought delight or shaped this now departed one?

I tell you, I've had that happen more than once. On one occasion, I sat with a whole family around a table and not one person could remember anything concrete or positive to provide me with some substance and traction for my eulogy. There was just silence, and a lot of blank stares. Maybe that says something about the quality of the life of the deceased individual. Maybe it's an indictment on the paucity of depth in the family relationship. At any rate, it's very sad. Oh, to have lived a life where every close survivor has a thousand beautiful things to say, and the problem then for the minister becomes what has to be left out of his remarks in the interest of time! I certainly long to live in such a way that I've beneficially contributed and made a difference. I yearn to live in such a way that I plant seeds all around me that will bear fruit long after I'm gone. My earnest desire is to create happy mental snapshots in the minds and hearts of my family and friends that will warm them and cheer them after my departure. When I offer my officiating services to a family that suddenly needs a "reverend" and I sense that they don't possess that rich storehouse of happy memories of their husband or spouse or child I'm moved all the more to strengthen and deepen the ties with the folks in my life that are most important.

When the funeral director calls and needs a favor, most of the time I'm gonna say yes. And not just because I want to stay on his good side! Perhaps it's because, as Ecclesiastes 7:2 teaches, you can sometimes learn a whole lot more in the "house of mourning" than you can anywhere else!

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Days Of Our Lives

I know you didn't ask. But just in case you might be interested, allow me to tell you about my best and worst days each week.

What got me thinking about this was something that occurred the other afternoon. Vicki and I were in the grocery store together. I was pushing the shopping cart while she was eagerly and happily and animatedly pulling items off the shelves to purchase. I guess I was listless and somewhat spacey. Finally it got to her, and in the checkout line she asked, "What is the matter?" She thought she had done something to offend me. I blurted out, "It's Saturday. I hate Saturdays. It's my worst day of the week."

I've noticed the feeling for years. Even decades.

I get up on Saturday mornings in a good mood, ready to delight in a day of diversion. But by that afternoon, and as evening approaches, a cloud descends. I'm not kidding. A mild wave of blue and sometimes black rolls in and over me. I don't know whether it's anxiety or depression, but it's dark and real and almost palpable. I get uptight. Fidgety. Restless. Sometimes a heavy sense of loneliness envelopes me. Occasionally there is even the sensation of emptiness. It's all very uncomfortable.

I've tried to figure out where it comes from, what precipitates it. I can't nail it down.

Is it simply a practical response to anticipation of the next day, and my concern over all the details of leading and preaching for which I'll be responsible? That could certainly be part of it. I take my ministry very seriously, and always want to be at my best. Or, is it something emotional, deep in my psyche, that I don't even consciously know about or understand? Maybe some baggage from my past, way back in a childhood that was actually quite happy. Some leftover strands of unpleasant feelings about some forgotten painful event. It's possible. I've wondered, too, if it might be a spiritual attack from the Enemy. After all, he knows that on the following morning I'll be opening up the scriptures and proclaiming Christ, who is the ultimate victor over the devil's evil empire. Surely our foe hates to hear about his defeat and enjoys intimidating those who announce it. He has lots of tools to harry and harass God's servants. Is this what's happening? Could be.

All I know is that I wake up on Sundays and the gloomy vibes are gone and I'm excited about the day and look forward to preachin' and greetin' and lovin' on folks where the church gathers.

My best day? My favorite part of the week? This will surprise you. It's Monday. That's the day most other people hate, but I love it. I thrill at getting back into the routine, the groove, the activity. Sunday afternoons and evenings I unwind and slow down and relax with good books or great music or dinner with friends or a nap. But when Monday morning hits I'm pumped and energized and eager to get into life.

So...pray for me on Saturday nights. Ask the Father to lift the fog. And share my unbounded joy as each new work week begins on Mondays and God gives us a fresh start at sowing seed and spreading light.