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August 2012 entries

My Greatest Fear

A visit to my mother's apartment caused me to confront my greatet fear. 

My mom is in assisted living. She began to have a hard time functioning independently over a year ago. After a lot of paperwork and phone calls my wife found a place for mom to live and worked hard to find the funds to make that possible. Since moving in she has been safe and taken care of. She has people around her. There are activities that were not available to her when she lived on her own. Her medications are now carefully administered on a daily basis. All is good, but her mind is still slipping away.

My latest visit was the most difficult of all. In about 20 minutes of attempting to hold a conversation with her I may have understood 10 words. As with many Alzheimer's patients her speech has deteriorated to incoherent mumbling. It is a frustrating experience for both of us. At least her mind will not allow her to remember the attempted conversation by the time I say goodbye. The tragedy of the situation lasts longer in my mind and haunts me with my greatest fear.

My mom and I have not had the greatest of relationships. Years of living with her and my stepfather took an terrible toll on our relationship. Repeated confrontations with him confirmed in my mind where my mother's loyalty resided. She would always take his side and insist that I not cause disruptions in the home. I understand better now as an adult why she took such a stand. I was a financial liability and my stepfather was the only breadwinner. Still, I longed for my mom to defend her son against this man who had become the authority figure in our house.

Now many years after my mom and that man have been divorced, I still struggle with my feelings toward her. I have tried to be a good son even with my struggles. My brother and I have always made sure she has food, that her bills get paid, her medicine is refilled on time and that she is never without transportation to get to a doctors appointment. Now she is facing a struggle neither of us can protect her from. I have come to realize there is a greater enemy than death.

My greatest fear is uselessness. Please don't confuse this with worthlessness. Every living being has worth. But I fear that day when I am totally dependent upon others. The day when I can no longer contribute to the world around me. My mother's condition is a haunting reminder of Jesus' words,"I must work the works of Him who sent Me while it is day; the night is coming when no one can work." (John 9:4) Jesus did not make this statement as he stood before Pilate about to be executed. He said this to His disciples as He stood before a blind man. Moments later Jesus would spit on the ground and make clay that He would place on the man's eyes. After washing his eyes in a nearby pool the man would gain his sight. I think healing people delighted Jesus. He loved to bring joy and healing into people's lives. Knowing that there would be a day coming faster than He wanted to admit, He advised His disciples that there would be a day when no one can work.

What has the Spirit of God burdened your heart for? What thing have you wanted to do, but have put off for a more convenient time? Those are questions I ask as head down the backstretch of my life. My mother's condition may have been hastened by poor life choices along the way, but who hasn't made bad choices? Who of us hasn't squandered opportunities to help others? There is nothing we can do about yesterday, but we have a lot to say about the time we have left.  "So teach us to number our days, That we may gain a heart of wisdom." Psalm 90: 12         

Does God or His People Determine What Worship Looks Like?

Even before I begin, may I preface my thoughts by saying I do not intend to offer an answer to the question I am about to ask. This is mere food for thought. Similar to Sunday morning, when during the message I wondered out loud, "If Adam named all the animals, what language did he use to name them?" "Did he speak them out loud?" "Did he write them down in some unknown and forgotten language that God had taught him in the garden?" 

In a similar fashion I want to know why God seems to manifest Himself differently in different culures across the globe and in different churches across the street from one another. Let me say up front, I do not believe any single denomination has exclusive rights to God. I believe when His people are gathered in His name He will be there. I think I can even back that up with Scripture. So if God is where His people gather to worship Him, why is it that they act so differently? Why is God celebrated in some churches and feared in others? Why is a hearty amen followed by more amens in one church and greeted with sideways looks and disapproval in another?

Some of you know that I was raised in a pentecostal church. While I was never a true follower of Christ in those days, I did attend a lot of worship services. They were always loud and animated. There were often happenings that were attributed to the movement of God's Holy Spirit by the participants; or more often identified as "the Holy Ghost." I am convinced to this day that much of that was in the flesh. Many people wanted an experience with God so badly that they followed the adage, "fake it til you make it." However, there were some Godly people whom I observed that seemed to be touched by God in such a way as it appeared at least to be sincere and without human intervention. To tell all the stories I know would demand I write more than most of you would be willing to endure.

Many of my school friends attended the Baptist church just a mile or so down the street. When I went there with some of them on occassion I was struck by the stark contrast with my own religious experience. The choir was assembled in an orderly fashion and not just a gathering of volunteers from the congregation. The people sat quietly while the song was performed and politely applauded at the end of their presentation. No one stood and raised their hands in the air and shouted "hallelujah!" The preacher was obviously preaching from prepared notes and often even admitted to such. In my church that would be regarded as heresy. You were to let the Spirit speak through you as He gave utterance and the often mentioned "annointing" took over.

Those were only the beginning of my days of confusion. I have since attended Presbyterian, Assemblies of God,  Methodist, independent Baptists, and Southern Baptist churches across the country and the world. I have watched as Christ followers have sat stoicly in hard wooden pews and listened to music and the Word without so much as nod of the head. I have been in churches where I was invited to dance with the congregation as they worshipped for nearly two hours. I have been where there were words of prophetic utterance allowed and churches where they were shut down by the pastor as not being from God. I have been moved to tears during a time of quiet reverence and by periods of exuberant praise. I have wept at a praise song played by a band and cried at the words of the old hymn "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross."

So this is my question; or more correctly my questions. Are  the ways people worship different because they have been taught to worship differently by their predecessors? Or does God desire different sorts of praise and worship and collect that praise from different places and different people? Are people attracted to the church because of the style of worship? Or do people experience the presence of God in different ways and thus God reveals Himself in different ways accordingly? Besides Christ's fundamental requirements of "in Spirit and in truth", are there right and wrong ways of worship? Are the codes of reverence and celebration mutually exclusive? Does God desire one more than the other? Do you side with Michal or David when you read of the king dancing almost bare before the ark of the Lord? ( 2 Samuel 6:12 - 16) I have not begun to exhaust the many ways you might ask this question, but I think by now you get my point.

So as I stated at the beginning, I am not going to offer an answer to these questions. I assume each of us would answer differently based upon our own preferences and experiences, but I'm not sure that would be fair. One of the things that separate the body of Christ is our own prejudice. We fear what we do not know or cannot control. We label people "holy rollers" of "the frozen chosen" because they are not like us. Who knows if we were to accept each other for who we are, that we would be stronger because of it.  Just think out loud and out of the box.                

Egyptian Christians Go to the Streets with Their Faith

While followers of Christ in the US are debating whether they should vote for a Mormon for president, believers in other parts of the world are facing greater problems. Case in point; the Copts (Egyptian Christians) are dealing with a radical change in government. According to Christianity Today, the largest Arabic speaking church in the world is in Cairo, Egypt. The 6,000 member Kasr El Dobara is undergoing a radical transformation in the way it does church.

Just a few doors down the street rioters have clashed with police. Where they once ran  a coffee house to meet citizens of their city, they now run a 24/7 field hospital for the wounded. They have had members kidnapped. One member was killed along the road to the airport. The magazine states that the only Christian newspaper in the country reports that Christian families are being asked to leave their towns and villages in order to preserve the peace.

One would imagine that the Coptic church in Egypt would begin to move underground to avoid further persecution. One would be wrong. A whole new group of Christian movements have sprung up since the violence began. Many of the Christians in Egypt were former Muslims. One such convert is quoted as saying, "We could be the first to be killed. We are the rust in Islam that is corroding the walls. We are the threat." The strategy of many new Christian groups is to engage the society with the common goal of making their country better for all. They are introducing sound Christian principles of love for your neighbor and caring for the down and out. Rather than causing the Coptic Christians of Egypt to cower in fear, the recent violence has caused them to be more bold in their witness. Amazingly, rather than fighting one another, there have been instances of Christians protecting Muslims during their prayers and the Muslims doing the same for the Christians.

Here is the truth that emerges from Egypy in my opinion. We American believers have come to expect too much from our government and not enough from our God. We act as if the validity and potency of our faith is dependent upon who rules in Washington rather than in heaven. The early church probably existed in one of the most hostile environments in the history of Christianity. Yet, they also witnessed the mighty and miraculous movements of God more than any other. Sure we should be a voice in our government. I think it would be sinful to stand by and watch our society fall into further depravity and remain silent. But to only voice our concerns and vote for candidates that support our values would be to charge hell with a water pistol. Our intention is good but the outcome would be disastrous! We would neglect the greater power that is ours as we "lean not on our own understanding, but in all your ways acknowledge Him."

I am encouraging our people to get out into the community and give a cup of cold water in Christ's name. I'm goiong to challenge Dallas Bay to do mission work in our city for 30 days during October. That way we will show that our work is not dependent upon the outcome of the November election. Our calling is higher. Our authority has been given to us by the Ancient of Days. Our success cannot be measured by electoral votes. We are only temporary citizens of this planet. Ultimately we will live in a "city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God." Hebrews 11:10               

My Office Looks Like the Kingdom of God

I've got a minute to spare. Something that is becoming rare these days. So I thought I would begin to arrange my thoughts as to how to redecorate my office. I've been in this office as long as any in my 22 year history at Dallas Bay Baptist. I get bored with my surroundings if it remains the same for too long. Some people see sameness as security. I see it as a source of insanity. I don't even like to drive to the office the same way two days in a row. Changing routes also discourages snipers.

So I began to look at my surroundings as others may see it if they were to walk in for the first time. No one would assume it was arranged by a designer. It is eclectic at best. It is more appropriately a mess. I just set things around that mean something to me, whether they compliment each other or not.  So looking to the left of my desk there hangs a Harley Davidson Motorcycles sign. Underneath that on a file cabinet is a clay pot modeled after the dead sea scroll jars found at Qumran and purchased at a Israeli museum. Then above the jar  is a page from the Geneva Bible of 1560 framed behind protective glass. Next to it is a turkey fan mounted with the date I shot it and the beard underneath. One stock car model with the number 24 and a Formula 1/24 scale replica sit above a credenza behind me. There is a glass eagle under a protective glass given to me by the church honoring 20 years of service. Next to the eagle is a solid olive wood bust of Jesus that was given to me while in Jerusalem.  Then on my desk there is a collectible lighthouse next to Garfield and Odie salt and pepper shakers. (Pictured above)

Looking at all this you may get a glimpse into the weird and crazy place called my world. And I don't imagine that I'm that much different than you. You may not have the same clutter surrounding your workspace, but I'll bet it is almost as diverse. And that's the point I have been taking the long way around to get to. It is dangerous to put people in a category. I am reluctant to generalize anymore. Not everyone with a tattoo is a biker. I thought that once until a member of my family got one. Nose rings don't necessarily mean youthful rebellion. I saw a grandmother with a nose ring at a flea market recently. I had Crosby, Stills and Nash playing in my office one day when a member poked their head in my door. "What are you listening to?" they asked. "Teach Your Children Well" I responded. They looked a little flustered at my answer. They left without saying much more. I guess I should have a mirror or something above my door so I can see unsuspecting members approaching. If I have advanced notice I can change my music to Jeremy Camp or a Gregorian chant or something more appropriate for a man of the cloth. God is an amazing creative genius. Sometimes He puts creative and weird minds in the most normal vessels. I am fascinated with His willingness to surprise us with His diversity.

Looking out at the congregation on Sunday morning is almost as diverse as my office. There I see single moms, grandfathers with their grandkids beside them, men in suits (not many) and men in golf shirts, husbands and wives who have been married 60 years and others barely a month. I love it. God's kingdom is so diverse and beautiful. Some raise their hands during worship. Others weep. Some say amen or "that's right" during the message; others nod their approval and others just nod off. It's all good. Some rush for the door during the invitation. Some linger long and pray. Others stay around and talk in the hallway. The Kingdom of God is a multi-racial, multi-economic, diversely educated and graciously forgiven gathering of misfits...and as a person who loves diversity...I love everyone one of them.              

Long Lines at Chick-fil-A

My wife has been in Memphis for the last few days with our son and daughter-in-law. They have had a few complications with the pregnancy so Marilyn, mom-in-law and RN, stayed with them until an important doctor's appointment. Thankfully, things are still doing ok. PTL

 But that's not why I'm writing. She called as she was leaving to tell me traffic was backed up on a main parkway outside of Memphis. She was letting me know that she would be delayed because of that traffic jam. Here's the kicker, it wasn't road construction or an accident. It was Chick-fil-A. The backup was 40 - 50 cars deep down two lanes before turning into the chicken chain.

Then our local Chick-fil-A told us to be there 2 hours early tonight to pick up the food for our choir. It's happening all around the country. Chick-fil-A's are being inundated with thankful customers. Thankful that people who are normally shy about speaking out about their convictions are finding an opportunity to express themselves in a tangible way.

No other subject has solicited so many responses to "Out of the Box" as last weeks views concerning Dan Cathy and his public comments about supporting a Biblical view of marriage. I was encouraged by thoughtful comments for and against his stance. That's what's great about this country. Being a follower of Christ is a personal decision. Choosing not to follow is a personal decision as well. Promoting Biblical faith and speaking against it are both protected by our constitution. Some may be but no one I know who is patronizing Chick-fil-A today is doing so because they oppose gay marriage. Most of them do, but the reason for their visit is to support Dan Cathy and his right to free speech. Those who support the right to gay marriage are due their right to free speech as well. They have called for a boycott of Chick-fil-A. I support their right to do so.

One person commented on this page last week that they were going to get their chicken nuggets from MacDonalds. That's awesome. Please spend your money with those who support your views. I think the lines at Chick-fil-A speak for themselves. A lot of Americans, including myself, support the right to speak out on behalf of marriage between a man and a woman.