Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Just Carrying Christmas Down the Street

This morning I helped with the delivery of our church's Christmas baskets to needy families in our community. Our folks are abundantly generous and our benevolence team is the best. Usually our church adopts 10-15 families with a gift for each person in the family and a turkey with all the trimmings for Christmas dinner, but this year our team chose a different approach. We adopted six large families in our community, each one in the grip of harsh circumstances, and pulled out all the stops. Our people responded with an overflowing, overwhelming Christmas for each family. So, we were all very blessed and tickled to see the surprise and appreciation as we made our deliveries.

For my part, I loaded up my Honda and headed off to find a big green house not far from our church. The woman at the door had been called and was expecting me. I carried in the first of my six loads from the car and she thought I was done. I smiled and assured her there was much more to come. Her house was old and sparsely furnished, but neat and clean. A small Christmas tree had been decorated, but no presents were under the tree. She showed me the pictures on the wall of her three boys, her nephews, who she and her husband had taken in, rescuing them from a far worse fate. And, they have a little baby of their own. She said they had spent all they had on legal bills from the custody battle. There was no money left for any kind of Christmas.

As I put the boxes of food on the dining room table, she told me how the boys had told her and her husband that they didn't really need presents or Christmas this year. They just wanted a home with them, a safe place where they could be a family. "Santa can give our presents to other kids this year." She wiped the tears from her face as she talked.

I gave her a hug before I left. "Don't ever forget, God loves you and there really are people who care right down the street. We hope you have a wonderful Christmas." In just a moment her world had changed, touched by a simple act of love - love from people she has never met, from a church she has never attended, sent by a loving God who never ceases to amaze me. I have never heard these words from a more sincere heart: "Thank you so much. Thank everyone. Merry Christmas."

Please Leave Christmas Alone

Here's a link to Garrison Keillor's Christmas column in the Baltimore Sun. Always interesting and humorous, Keillor expresses some of my thoughts and feelings about Christmas as a distinctively Christian celebration. What do you think?


Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Coming Home for Christmas

To an open house in the evening
Home shall men come.
To an older place than Eden
And a taller town than Rome.
To the end of the way of the wandering star.
To the things that cannot be and that are.
To the place where God was homeless
And all men are at home.

         - G. K. Chesterton, "The House of Christmas"

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich. - 2 Corinthians 8:9

Sunday, December 6, 2009

When God Was Down in the Dumps

Pastor and author Leith Anderson shared a powerful picture of the wonder and meaning of the Incarnation of Christ:

Several years ago I was visiting Manila and was taken, of all places, to the Manila garbage dump and saw something beyond belief. Tens of thousands of people make their homes on that dump site. They've constructed shacks out of the things other people have thrown away. And they send their children out early every morning to scavenge for food out of other people's garbage, so they can have family meals. People have been born and grown up there on the garbage dump. They have had their families, their children, their shacks, their garbage to eat, finished out their lives, and died there without ever going anywhere else, even in the city of Manila. It is an astonishing thing. 

But Americans also live on the garbage dump. They are missionaries, Christians who have chosen to leave their own country and communicate the love of Jesus Christ to people who otherwise would never hear it. That is amazing to me. People would leave what we have to go and live on a garbage dump. Amazing, but not as amazing as the journey from heaven to earth. 

The Son of God made that journey, and he knew what he was doing. He knew where he was going. He knew what the sacrifice would be. He journeyed from heaven to earth on a mission to save the human race.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

A Favorite Christmas Story

An aging Broadway actor had fallen on hard times, so desperate that the only work he could find was the role of Santa Clause at a local department store. He enjoyed the kids for the most part and took some solace in his hidden identity, certain he would never be recognized behind all the red velvet, white fur, and the false hair and beard.

Then one day, as he was working his way through a long line of children and parents, it happened. A beautiful, stately, well-dressed woman stepped forward with her grandson. As he lifted the little boy onto his lap, his grandmother smiled and the old actor's heart skipped a beat. He knew her in an instant, his former leading lady in countless performances on stage and screen. Turning away quickly, the actor felt his face flush with embarrassment as he turned toward the boy and tried to disguise his voice.

When the grandson finished with his Christmas wish list, the old actor set him down with a warm "Ho, Ho, Ho, and a Merry Christmas!" The woman reached for his gloved hand and took the list. "Just one thing to add, Santa." She turned aside, wrote some words, folded the list and handed it back. "Thank you so much, Santa. Merry Christmas."

The aged actor breathed a sigh of relief and stuffed the Christmas list inside his wide, black belt. Hours later, he finally finished his shift and as he unbuckled his heavy costume, the folded Christmas list fell on the floor. Picking it up, he unfolded the paper revealing five crisp $100 bills and these words: "Merry Christmas to the greatest actor I have ever known."

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

In Search of Our Kneeling Places, by Ann Weems

In each heart lies a Bethlehem,
an inn where we must ultimately answer
whether there is room or not.
When we are Bethlehem-bound
we experience our own advent in his.
When we are Bethlehem-bound
we can no longer look the other way
conveniently not seeing stars,
not hearing angel voices.
We can no longer excuse ourselves by busily
tending our sheep or our kingdoms.
This Advent let's go to Bethlehem
and see this thing that the Lord has
made known to us.
In the midst of shopping sprees
let's ponder in our hearts the Gift of Gifts.
Through the tinsel
let's look for the gold of the Christmas Star.
In the excitement and confusion, in the merry chaos
let's listen for the brush of angels' wings.
This Advent, let's go to Bethlehem
and find our kneeling places.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

More Than Turkey and Dressing

Well, it's time once again to pause and take stock, time to reflect on all the blessings of life and offer thanks to the God who gives so graciously and generously to His children. So here goes, my Thanksgiving list for 2009:

I am thankful for . . .
  • McDonald's large sugar-free vanilla iced coffee. I love 'em.
  • Good books to read in bed, even if it takes me six months to finish one.
  • A solitary trail heading out into the country - my special place to run, to think, to watch, to enjoy.
  • Those thoughtful little notes from special people, always sent along at just the right time to get me going again.
  • Early mornings in the office, quiet and prayerful, just me and my Boss.
  • Enjoying my favorite tunes on the road, Springsteen, the Eagles, Mellencamp, and Dylan. I must be getting old.
  • The guys in my morning prayer group. God only knows the difference you make in this world.
  • A church full of saints who know what to do in a crisis. Your practical thoughtfulness is a wonderful testimony to the love of God.
  • My Wednesday night regulars who gather every week to listen and learn and pray. You keep me in the Book.
  • Three golf buddies who are almost as lousy as me at golf, but are world class when it comes to friendship.
  • A son headed to Oxford University who is so passionate in his search for truth and in his desire to change his world.
  • A son headed to the U.S. Navy, ready to serve his country and determined to jump into manhood all at once.
  • A daughter who still lets me come along on the roller coaster ride of her high school days.
  • A wife who manages to do the work of two or three, and somehow keeps all of the plates in the air. Amazing. I'm looking forward to simpler times to come.
  • An incredible God who gets me where I need to be, who gives me words when I have none, who offers His strength for my weakness, and covers my failures with His boundless grace.
There you have it. So much to be thankful for. God is so good. What about you? Is it time for you to count your blessings?

More Than Turkey and Dressing (2007)

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

"I Am a Servant" by Larry Norman

I am a servant, I am listening for my name,
I sit here waiting, I've been looking at the game
That I've been playing, and I've been staying much the same
When you are lonely, you're the only one to blame.

I am a servant, I am waiting for the call,
I've been unfaithful, so I sit here in the hall.
How can you use me when I've never given all,
How can you choose me when you know I'd quickly fall.

So you feed my soul and you make me grow,
And you let me know you love me.
And I'm worthless now, but I've made a vow,
I will humbly bow before thee.
O please use me, I am lonely.

I am a servant getting ready for my part,
There's been a change, a rearrangement in my heart.
At last I'm learning, there's no returning once I start.
To live's a privelege, to love is such an art
But I need your help to start,
O please purify my heart, I am your servant.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Morning Thoughts on Prayer

"You do not have, because you do not ask God." (James 4:2)

"Prayer is the easiest and hardest of all things, the simplest and the sublimest; the weakest and the most powerful. Its results lie outside the range of human possibilities - they are limited only by the omnipotence of God. Few Christians have anything but a vague idea of the power of prayer. Fewer still have any experience of that power.

The Church seems almost wholly unaware of the power God has given her. This spiritual blank check on the infinite resources of God's wisdom and power is rarely, if ever used, and never used to the full measure of God.

Prayer is our most formidable weapon, and yet the one in which we are least skilled and the most reluctant to use."  - E. M. Bounds

Friday, October 23, 2009

An Endless Summer: A Funeral Message

All right, now I'm going to ask you to do something you have never done before at a funeral service. And I want you to do it with all the enthusiasm and energy you can muster in this moment. Everyone please stand to your feet, lock arms if you like, and sing with me, give it all you've got.

"Take me out to the ball game,
Take me out with the crowd.
Buy me some peanuts and cracker jack,
I don't care if I never get back,
And we’ll root, root, root for the home team,
If they don't win it's a shame.
For it's one, two, three strikes, you're out,
At the old ball game."

Thanks, you may be seated. Ross is smiling now. His may be the only funeral that has ever had a seventh inning stretch.

It just seems appropriate to sing that song for a guy like Ross, a man who lived and breathed baseball. No other interest or sport measured up to baseball and softball for him.

Amy told me about the time she and her dad were trying to  convince Ross to go to watch NASCAR with them. Ross put up a good fight. He said, “Why would I want to go watch those guys going round and round,  just turn left, go left, go left, go left, all day long?”

Amy said, “Well, that’s sounds like exactly what I’ve been watching you do for 20 years.” Ross lost that argument and went to the race. But baseball and softball were always his first love, his passion.

It doesn’t matter whether Ross was your teammate or your coach, he was teaching all the time, he was showing you how it’s done, he was mentoring and encouraging, he was playing the game. And somewhere between the innings and the outs, after all the hits and the homers, Ross was teaching us something else, something bigger, something far more important than the outcome of any one baseball game. Ross Dey was coaching us about life and faith and the things that matter most.

Life, like baseball, is a team sport. What you do in baseball you do together as a team. Whatever victories or championships you might win, you must win together. It’s not like tennis or golf or boxing, where one person goes it alone. Baseball is all about the team.

And what you learned from playing with Ross or playing for him applies in life just like in baseball. Life is a team sport. It’s not all about you. It’s not all about me. It’s about us, it’s about we, not me.

Ross was that kind of teammate and that kind of friend. He cared about relationships. If Ross was your friend, than you had a friend for life. Now, he might give you a hard time, or pin some crazy nickname on you, and he might tease you mercilessly, but in a pinch, you could count on Ross. He was a true friend and teammate.

And it ran even deeper with his family. Ross loved his family so much. You could tell what kind of son he was and what kind of brother. You could see his love for Amy and Jordan and Logan, so obvious, so strong. He was so proud of you.

And all of us gathered here today, want to say to you, Amy, and Jordan and Logan, and all of your family, just like we could all count on Ross, now you can count on us. The kind of friend that Ross has been to so many of us is the kind of friend we will be for you and your family. Count on it. Count on us. We are all here for you. We’ll be part of your team.

And, in baseball and in life, nobody bats a thousand. It’s the truth, isn’t it? Nobody’s perfect. No one gets a hit every time. Seems like for every homer, there’s a strike out. There were pitches we took that we should’ve hit, ground balls we booted, bad throws we made, errors we committed, in baseball and for sure, in life. The Bible says it like this, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

In life, we are all Bill Buckners. We’ve all let that easy ground ball get under our glove, go right through our legs at one time or another. Like Jose Canseco, we all been bonked on the head by fly balls we should’ve caught. Plenty of mistakes in life. No one makes every play and nobody bats a thousand. All have sinned.

And that’s where our faith comes in. That’s when we need the grace of God and the forgiveness that comes through Christ. We need a Savior who doesn’t throw us out, He welcomes us. He doesn’t eject us, He forgives us. God doesn’t kick us off the team. Instead, He adopts us as His own children.

“For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23 NIV)

“How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” (1 John 3:1a NIV)

In baseball and in life it is important to finish well. You know what I mean, don’t you? If you hit a ground ball to short, you’d better run it out, hustle down that line. Don’t you dog it. Don’t you give up on a play until the play is made.

Play to the last pitch. Stay in the game until the last strike. The game isn’t over until it’s over. It isn’t over till the “full-figured” lady sings.

Ross Dey has given us all an unforgettable example, a stirring lesson about finishing well. If attitude and determination alone could make a person well, Ross would still be with us. We watched him fight off his cancer and push it back into remission. We saw him struggle with all manner of treatments and chemo and radiation. He endured all kinds of symptoms and sickness and traveled back and forth to hospital after hospital.

Are you listening to the coach today, because he’s still teaching us? Coach Dey is saying, don’t quit. Don’t give in. Whatever you are up against, keeping fighting, keeping hustling, keep trying, and if you go down, you better go down swinging. Go down knowing full well you gave everything you had, everything you’ve got, you gave it all for your family, for your friends, for your team, for your God.

The scripture promises God’s best blessings for those who endure, those who refuse to quit, those who finish well:

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.  (2 Timothy 4:6b-8 NIV)

Ross finished well, with courage and grace, with a heart filled with love and gratitude.

Here’s a truth we may not want to learn, but it’s the reality for all of us. We don’t really know how many innings we get to play. We know that nine innings are standard in baseball, sometimes we get to play extra innings, and occasionally, the game is cut short. And in life most of us would love to have the standard nine innings and even a few extra, but we know it doesn’t always work that way. Sometimes the game is called. Some days we go home early. There are no guarantees. We don’t know how many innings we get to play in this life, and when it’s over, it’s over. When the umpire says we’re done, we’re done.

So, what does that mean for us? I think it means that every inning of every game and every hour of every day matters, really matters. Every moment, every heartbeat is a gift of God’s grace. Each golden moment of our lives is filled with wonderful potential, great opportunities to come through in the clutch, to make a difference, to sacrifice for someone you love, to drive someone home.

The scripture says, “Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord's will is.” (Ephesians 5:15-17 NIV)

And finally, our faith in Christ reminds us, there’s always next year. For the Christian, there is always eternity.  

In these months and years of Ross’s illness, I watched and listened and saw Ross’s fear deepen into a strong faith. He didn’t waste a lot of time wondering “Why me?” No whining or fit-throwing. And he didn’t get hardened and bitter about the cards he was dealt.

Ross came to grips with his own mortality and learned through his long struggle that the faith that he possessed was stronger than he realized. Ross found a peace for himself, a confidence that God would see him through and keep his promises.

But, like you might guess, the hard part for Ross was the thought of leaving his family, Amy and Jordan and Logan. He fought so hard and clung to life so tightly, not because he was afraid for himself, but because he was worried about his family and he couldn’t turn loose of his responsibility to be there for them, to care for them, to provide for them.

In our last few conversations, we talked about how he would always be a part of his boy’s lives and how he could trust God not only with his own eternity, but to care for his family, for Amy and the boys. God can be trusted even with those most precious to us, those who go on ahead and those who must stay behind.

God is faithful in life, in death, and in eternity, until at last we are together again in his glorious presence. Ross knew the truth. For the Christian, there is always next year, an eternity awaiting us.

I’m dreaming of an endless summer, a whole new season, the smell of freshly cut grass, the bright white chalk down the lines, players stretching out and loosening up, the first day of baseball in an endless eternal summer.

I remember when I was a kid we had a great big vacant lot right next to our house, and all the kids in the neighborhood would gather to play baseball on warm summer evenings. Plenty of kids, there were eight of us, four of the Roberson kids, Madoles had nine kids and I think Griefe’s had four, and a few others who always showed up. I was just about the youngest kid out there, kind of like Logan playing with the big kids.

We played for hours, not much equipment, a few wood bats, most of us had gloves, a few boards and an old Frisbee were our bases, but we didn’t care. Boy, did we have some fun. You know cause you played games like that, too.

And I remember, as the sun began to sink behind Mr. Sim’s house, my dad would step out on the back porch and call my name. I guess since I was the little guy, I had to come in a little early. “It’s time to come in, Drew.” “Aw, Dad, we’re still playing the game. It’s 42 to 36, and I get to bat next inning.” But, he never changed his mind. If it was Mom, I would’ve argued more, but my father was always firm but kind.

“It’s time for you to come on home, son.” “Okay, Dad. I’m comin’.” And I would put my little glove on the end of my trusty Al Kaline 28 inch Louisville Slugger, and with my bat and glove on my shoulder I’d hike it in.

“Why do I have to come in now, Dad?” He put his hand on my head and tossled my hair. “Don’t worry, son. Go wash up. You’ve got a lot more ballgames to play.”

Well, Ross, I guess it's time for you to go on home. We'll sure miss you. I know you didn't want to go just yet, but don't you worry. Your Heavenly Father says you've got a lot more ballgames to play.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Kristine's Life Lessons: A Funeral Message

It’s a strange kind of loneliness we feel this morning, a painful loneliness like some of us have never felt before. Lonely for a faithful wife and partner, lonely for a loving mother, lonely for a precious daughter and sister, lonely for Grammy. We miss our wonderful friend, Kristine, so suddenly taken from this life into the next, leaving behind painful grief and broken hearts.

Let’s not let our tears blind us to the faith we profess. As sudden and tragic as is our loss this day, we do not grieve as those who have no hope. We can find comfort in our time of loss and hope for the days ahead.

I have been asked the question several times since Saturday: “Can you tell me how she died?” This morning I must say, “No, I will tell you how she lived.”

These words of scripture seem to capture for me the life and heart of Kristine White.

1 John 4:7-12 NIV Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.

Someone said, “The true measure of a person’s life can be summed up with the answer to one question: How well have I loved?”

Let me share with you some important life lessons from Kristine White who lived well and loved much.

Life is faith.

You can find these words in Kristine’s kitchen, in her bedroom, on her Facebook page, just about everywhere. “As for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.” (Joshua 24:15)

Someone might say, “Well. It was her job to serve the Lord, she worked here.” You need to understand something. Kristine and Phillip lived out their faith before God in our fellowship for years before we asked Kristine to join our staff. She didn’t start serving the Lord because we hired her. She and Phillip had already made a commitment. As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.

And let me add a word here from our church staff here at First Baptist, Connie and Twila, Fritz and Ron, John and Cara, and myself. What a joy it has been to work alongside Kristine, what a wonderful, gifted servant of God, what a blessing she has been to us personally and in our ministry together. How we will miss her.

I’m afraid we are all going to loose a little weight now that Kristine’s not bringing in the treats, the cinnamon rolls, the bagels and cream cheese.

To begin with, for Kristine, life is faith. Whatever else we say about Kristine today, however praiseworthy and beautiful her life has been, we need to remember that she was the kind of person she was because of Christ, because of God’s work of grace in her life.

Life is family.

No one could argue that Phillip and Kristine are a matched set. I always enjoyed the way Kristine talked about Phillip and the way Phillip talks about Kristine. I can’t say that about too many couples. But the love always came through.

They have had their share of problems and challenges, but they never seem to mix up the problem and person. They never lost a grip on their love for each other. How painful it is to now be separated by death.

When Kristine married Phillip, she became a new mother to Cassel and then along came three more little girls who have each been so blessed by their mother’s love and care, and who each have inherited some of their mother’s personality and characteristics.
How heartbreaking it is to think of the girls growing up without their mom. No one can take a mother’s place. But I will say this, to Phillip and the girls: Your larger family, your extended family, your church family are going to come around you with faithful attention, with practical help, and with a warm and loving embrace, determined to be like a mother to each of you. Life is family, and so we will be a family to you.

Not only was Kristine a wonderful mother, she never stopped being a good daughter and best friend to her mother, Billie or Mama Jean, spending every Thursday together with her mom. It was a day to run around, hit the sales, have lunch, just be together.

Life is family, and not just for herself. Kristine was concerned for all of us, she cared about our families, too.

How many of you met Kristine through MOPS or Girlfriends? Kristine’s dedicated leadership was just an outward expression of her concern for your family. She cared about your families just like she cared for her own.

Life is others.

Kristine knew that people matter more than stuff. There was not a materialistic bone in her body. On the contrary she was one of the world’s great bargain hunters and a dedicated garage sale shopper. She was thrifty, because she knew that stuff is just stuff. Life is others. Life is people. Life is relationships.

That’s why Kristine was so compassionate and generous to others, so anxious to serve others. I remember when our church began mission work over at the Buckner Apartments. Phillip and Kristine were part of a team of faithful workers, cooking and serving dinner, canvassing the neighborhood, teaching the lessons and telling the stories to all the rowdy kids. I remember on most Sundays, Phillip and Kristine and the girls never went home, from early Sunday morning until late Sunday evening. They would go get some lunch and then back to church to start cooking and preparing for Buckner. And back then, Kristine was not yet serving on our staff. It wasn’t her job. It was her heart that kept her there, serving with her team for years. That’s right. Years.

Life is others. Kristine was not big on solitude, not for herself or others. She didn’t like for anyone to be lonely, forgotten, left out. She couldn’t stand to see people stuck on the outside looking in.

With Kristine, there was always room for more, more family, more friends, more kids. I remember the first summer she was leading our children’s ministry, she brought me her plan with everything she wanted to do that summer, all the field trips and parties and crafts and road trips and projects. I looked it over and you can probably guess my first words: “Are you nuts? What are you thinking?”

She smiled that big smile and said, “We can do it, sure we can. And guess what, I need you to drive the bus.” So I got to drive and get in on some of Kristine’s big summer plans.

She was always thinking let’s do more, let’s reach more, let’s care more, let’s love more, let’s go after some more. And that’s exactly what she did. Kristine taught us all to think big, to love big, to serve big. She had a big heart because God has a big heart. Life is others.

Kristine was absolutely a master of the art of friendship. She stayed in touch like nobody stays in touch. How she managed so many friendships, I have no idea. She gave her time and her listening ear. She wrote countless notes and gave so many little thoughtful gifts, not to mention the giant, world class gift baskets. She just had a wonderful way of making each person and each child feel very special.

I read some where that people and their relationships are like Legos. We only have so many connections that we can make to others, and after that we don’t have any more time or energy for deep friendships. So, probably four, six, eight really close friendships are the maximum for anybody.

Well, Kristine shoots that theory all to heck. There must 300 or 400 of us here today who all feel like we’ve lost one of our closest friends. How did she do that?

It makes me wonder if most of us, myself included, may be loving at way below our capacity. If Kristine can touch so many, maybe you and I can reach out to a few more ourselves. She makes me want to be a better friend. You, too?

Life is joy.

Kristine was just plain fun. You know how certain people can light up a room. Some people can change the atmosphere. You run into them and in a moment they can turn your whole day around. There are a rare few that can come in and with just one big smile say, “Let’s get this party started.”

I have been thinking about Kristine and pondering a deep theological question: Do you suppose there is Bunko in Heaven? Well, there is now. Even Jesus often talked about joy and laughter in Heaven, He described banquets and feasts, parties and celebrations. Talk about fitting right in. Kristine shows up, “Let’s get this party started.” Life is joy, and now eternal joy.

Life is now.

Now. This moment. Tomorrow is not promised to us, there is no guarantee. Only today is in our hands. Life is now.

One moment we are just riding along with the kids headed to a ball game, and in an instant, a second, a heartbeat, everything changes.

“What is your life?” the scripture asks us. “You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” Life is now, not tomorrow, not someday, not when I get around to it. Life is now. Live now.

So, whatever you have to say to the people in your life, say it now. Whatever you need to express, better do it now. What are you waiting for? Whatever love you feel, whatever forgiveness you need, whatever peace you seek, do it now, say it now. Life is now.

Because life is now you had better prepare now, prepare for eternity. Many of us have struggled over the unfairness of someone like Kristine being taken from us. We can’t understand why such terrible things happen in this fallen world. We struggle for answers to our painful questions.

Maybe we would do better and be wiser if we focus on what we do know. Here’s what we do know, for sure, absolutely, guaranteed, beyond all doubt, with bedrock certainty.

We are on this side of death headed to the other side of death. You, me, all of us. We are all going. Nothing we might do can change that equation, the bottom line stays the same.

The timing is beyond our control. We try to be careful, to take care of ourselves and protect ourselves and those we love as best we can, but the truth is, we can’t do much about when death comes. I know we pretend that we are in control, but I guess we really aren’t, are we? The timing is beyond our control.

And, in eternity it won’t matter much whether we lived to be 40 or 60 or 80. In the span of eternity, our lives pass by in a moment, like a single tick of the clock.

This life is preparation for the next. Kristine would want me to tell you, to share with you, to beg you. Trust Christ with your life and with your eternity.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16 NIV)

Life lessons. Have you learned the truth about life? Kristine would tell us as she tried to show us:

Life is faith.
Life is family.
Life is others.
Life is joy.
Life is now.

And, eternal life is Jesus.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Remembering Kristine

What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. - James 4:14 NIV

Our church family has been touched by tragedy in the sudden passing of Kristine White who served as our Children's Ministry Coordinator. Our grieving people have reached out to Phillip and the girls and to one another with great love and tenderness. I appreciate your thoughts and prayers as I minister to the needs of many and prepare for Kristine's service. I hope to post some of those words here soon. May God's comfort be very real to you today.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Worth Dying For

"I hear you are entering the ministry," the woman said down the long table, meaning no real harm. "Was it your idea or were you poorly advised?" And the answer that she could not have heard even if I had given it was that it was not an idea at all, neither my own nor anyone else's. It was a lump in the throat. It was an itching in the feet. It was a stirring in the blood at the sound of rain. It was a sickening of the heart at the sight of misery. It was a clamoring of ghosts. It was a name which, when I wrote it out in a dream, I knew was a name worth dying for even if I was not brave enough to do the dying myself and could not even name the name for sure. Come unto me, all ye who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you a high and driving peace. I will condemn you to death. - Frederick Buechner

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Finishing Well

However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task that the Lord Jesus has given me - the task of testifying to the gospel of God's grace. (Acts 20:24 NIV)

Volunteering at the Tour of Missouri here in Sedalia, I had a great view of the finish line. Amazing athletes to be sure, some of the greatest cyclists in the world competed right here in our little town. The winning time for the nineteen mile time trial course was 36:30, averaging well over 30 miles an hour.

There is something grand and glorious about finishing, finishing strong, finishing well. Just to finish the course, on foot, on a bike, in a boat or a car, ignites the thrill and pride of accomplishment. And it feels just as good to finish a project or a plan, to fulfill a promise or pledge, to complete the job and achieve the goal. I think of the couple that have weathered the tough trials of marriage and family life and can now celebrate 60 years together. Or the young soldier who serves his tour, fights his way through countless battles, fulfills his duty, and finally makes it home into the arms of his family. And then there's the lonely missionary far from home, isolated from support and encouragement, enduring hardship and opposition, yet faithfully gathering a handful of new believers until finally a church is born.

Whatever seems too hard, too difficult, too much, too heavy, too steep, too long for you today, don't give out, don't give in, and don't give up. Keep going. Just keep putting one foot in front of the other. Your pain will pass. Your second wind will come. And the finish line may be much closer than you imagine.

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day - and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing. (2 Timothy 4:7-8 NIV)

Sunday, September 6, 2009

If I Were a Regular Guy

I have been enjoying a little time off this Labor Day weekend. This morning Suzanne, Rebecca and I drove over to Columbia to worship with Suzanne's parents at their church, Fairview United Methodist. It was a fine service, quite a bit different than our approach, but still a good worship experience.

Perhaps only those who have served as a pastor for many years can fully appreciate how wonderful it feels just to go to church without the weight of responsibility. Don't get me wrong. I love my work, and I wouldn't trade my ministry calling for anything in the world. But sometimes it is so refreshing to lay it down for a day or two and find an anonymous place in the pew. Well, almost anonymous. My mother-in-law graciously introduced her visiting family to the congregation and myself as "our son-in-law, Dr. Drew Hill", but she didn't mention anything about me being a pastor. Maybe the folks thought I was a professor or a surgeon or a psychiatrist or a proctologist, but probably not a pastor.

Well, anyway, my Sunday off got me thinking a little bit. What if I were a regular guy? You know what I mean? What if I were a normal person? Not a professional minister, not a full-time pastor, not a paid holy man, but just an ordinary believer, an average Joe, a regular guy? It raises some interesting questions for me to ponder.

If I were a regular guy, would I still be showing up at church almost every Sunday?

If I were a regular guy, would I still consider pot luck to be gourmet dining?

If I were a regular guy, would I still keep a snazzy black suit just for marrying and burying?

If I were a regular guy, would I still pick up my Bible even when I don't need to get a sermon?

If I were a regular guy, would I still be involved in several mission projects each year?

If I were a regular guy, would I still pray for my friends in crisis even without being asked?

If I were a regular guy, would I still pay attention to people and listen to their problems?

If I were a regular guy, would I still try to encourage those who may be struggling with their faith?

And, if I were a regular guy, would I still know that I am a child of God, just as much a part of God's family, and just as important to God's plans and purposes?

You see, I really am just a regular guy, nothing extraordinary about me, pastor or not. Just one ordinary follower of Jesus, trying to live a little bit of His life in mine. You too?

Monday, August 24, 2009

Seven Stranded Castaways

I noticed a quiz on Facebook the other day that determines which character from Gilligan's Island you are most like. I loved that show. Lots of fun, in kind of a corny, pitiful way. Some more sophisticated types said that this show was a metaphor for the tragedy of the human condition. I guess I missed that altogether.

I did read a great piece in Newsweek after Bob Denver's death. It's quite a tribute to all the Gilligans of the world, along with two more childhood heroes. See what you think. You can find it here: Gilligan, Scotty, and Fife.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Welcome Home

Rembrandt's portrayal of the prodigal son's return stirs something deep in me. The humility,
the pity, the welcome. To feel the embrace of the father, to find grace and forgiveness for our failures. Is there a deeper longing in the human heart?

We call it by many different names-being saved or converted or confirmed or enlightened or accepted. What this experience really means is much more basic than you might think. It means coming home.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Quote of the Week

"Properly understood, Christianity is by no means the opiate of the people. It's more like the smelling salts."

—Timothy Keller, The Prodigal God

Monday, August 17, 2009

No Mere Mortals

"Remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would strongly be tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal."

—C. S. Lewis, in The Weight of Glory

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

My Life in a Box, Part 3

Last summer my mother gave me my box, the box of all the stuff she had collected from my childhood days. It was going to be a scrapbook, but Mom had saved way too much stuff and had way too many kids, so our scrapbooks turned into big plastic boxes. And that's okay with me. I just think it's great that she thought to tuck away all the mementos and memorabilia for me to share with my own kids.

That's me, the little guy in the red striped shirt, the youngest of eight. I think Pete took the picture. Sorry so fuzzy. It's a picture of a copy of a picture. If you would like to catch the first two installments, you can find them here.

My Life in a Box, Part 1
My Life in a Box, Part 2

Most of what Mom saved about my childhood was very positive and encouraging, even kind of cute, I guess. But I did find an exception or two in my box. I found a deficiency report that I had brought home to my parents during my 9th grade year in Windsor. Apparently, I had quite an attitude as a freshman in high school, since my math teacher checked off seven of the nine categories of bad behavior. Check it out. Seven out of nine categories. That's embarrassing.

Seems like most of us go through a rebellious phase as teenagers, some sooner, some later, some wilder than others, pushing the envelope, sowing our wild oats, whatever you want to call it. I guess I did my part, too.

My math teacher would probably be stunned to know that I am not writing this from Leavenworth or San Quentin. And he would never believe that I finished college, let alone a masters and a doctorate.

So, why did Mom hang on to that stupid deficiency slip? Nothing cute about that, just kind of a poke in the chest that says, "Hey, remember what an annoying, cocky kid you were? Thought you never would grow up."

No, that's not like Mom, to be harping on my past failures. And I know she never gave up on me or her high expectations for all of her children. Perhaps she had a different agenda in mind, a long-term plan to give me a healthy dose of humility and a little more understanding with my own children when they would stretch the limits of my patience. I think she knew I would need it.

So, on an evening long ago when she would rather have wrung my teenage neck, instead my mom tucked away this future reminder for me to find just when I would need it. And I'll bet she was smiling when she did it.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

What Was I Thinking?

One evening last week Suzanne and I were enjoying a cookout and picnic over at Liberty Park with several other ministers and their families. We were laughing about all the funny things that we had seen through the years. Suzanne could not resist bringing up once again my donut shop wedding. I think she loves to hear me tell a good story on myself, one where I lost just about every scrap of dignity. We had a big laugh all over again. I wrote about it a year or so ago. Here it is again for those who might have missed it.

The Donut Shop Wedding, Part 1: The Phone Call

The Donut Shop Wedding, Part 2: The Appointment
The Donut Shop Wedding, Part 3: The Ceremony
The Donut Shop Wedding, Part 4: The Epilogue

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Today Is Judgment Day

"We are all of us judged every day. We are judged by the face that looks back at us from the bathroom mirror. We are judged by the faces of the people we love and by the faces and lives of our children and by our dreams. Each day finds us at the junction of many roads, and we are judged as much by the roads we have not taken as by the roads we have.

"The New Testament proclaims that at some unforeseeable time in the future God will ring down the final curtain on history, and there will come a Day on which all our days and all the judgments upon us and all our judgments upon each other will themselves be judged. The judge will be Christ. In other words, the one who judges us most finally will be the one who loves us most fully." - Frederick Buechner

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Taking My Temperature

It's a warm afternoon in Sedalia and the thermometer in my car says it's 90 degrees. But two or three times a day, I drive by the bank where the sign tells a different story. At Third National, it has been 72 degrees for the last six or seven weeks. That's right, day or night, even on the few real scorchers we have endured, always 72 degrees.

I have pondered this problem from different perspectives. Is this a case of wishful thinking? Think positive, cool thoughts and maybe it will happen. Ignore the heat and maybe it will go away. Or, is this some kind of teaser? "In our beautiful lobby it is always 72 pleasant degrees, so come on in where it's nice and comfortable." Or, could this be a timely lesson on consistency, sort of like the mailman? "Rain, sleet, or snow . . . scorching heat or high humidity, we just keep going and keep cool, 72 degrees." Or, maybe, just maybe, the stupid sign is broken.

I tried to make a joke about it to the teller in the drive through. Apparently, I was not the first guy to mention the 72 degrees, maybe not in the first thousand people who pointed out the problem. My teller had lost her sense of humor about the sign several weeks before. Can't say I blame her.

What do you think? Maybe there is a helpful lesson here for us, something about life and faith. Someone suggested that many Christians today suffer from a form of spiritual malaria, going back and forth from fever to chills, red hot for God one day and cold as ice the next, up and down, hot and cold, with no consistent, steady commitment to keep them healthy and on track. Maybe the best thing we can do is seek to follow Christ, strong and steady, no matter our circumstances, with little or with much, in calm or in crisis, whether suffering or celebrating, just following Jesus no matter what each new day brings to us.

Spirit of God, set my heart upon you and set my thermostat to 72 degrees, no matter how hot it gets or how the wind blows.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Two of a Kind

It struck me the other day as I reflected upon our mission adventure in Arlington, Texas. I am so impressed with two remarkable women. One, an amazingly energetic senior adult and the other, a young college student. These two women, Tillie and Kristen, have much in common. Both women are possessed of great, God-given dreams for the future. And, both are passionately driven to do whatever it takes, putting in long hours to see their hopes realized. Tillie and Kristen have similar hearts as well, with deep, sincere compassion for all kinds of people, never patronizing or judging, but consistently reaching out with the love of Christ. Neither of these wonderful women can imagine doing anything with their lives other than serving God by serving others.

Then, it occurred to me that Tillie and Kristen are really just two different stages of the same person. Kristen is a young Tillie just getting started with God's call reverberating in her soul. And Tillie is a more mature Kristen having invested her gifts and her years in fruitful Kingdom work.

Two of a kind. Isn't it just like the Lord to bring these two faithful women together for a summer to serve side by side?

Monday, July 6, 2009

We're Headin' to Texas

This week I'm headin' to Texas with a team of thirteen men to work at Mission Arlington. If you are not familiar with this amazing ministry, check it out at www.missionarlington.org. Tillie Burgin, founder and director of Mission Arlington, leads a remarkable army of dedicated staff and eager volunteers. I'm looking forward to a warm and wonderful week. We always come home exhausted and thoroughly inspired, ready to get to work in our own community. God bless Tillie Burgin and all the good people who serve by her side.

I appreciate your prayers as we travel and serve together.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Will the Real Patriots Please Stand Up?

The nation is divided, half patriots and half traitors, and no man can tell which from which. - Mark Twain

We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty. When the loyal opposition dies, I think the soul of America dies with it. - Edward R. Murrow

"My country, right or wrong" is a thing no patriot would ever think of saying except in a desperate case. It is like saying "My mother, drunk or sober." - G. K. Chesterton

In the United States, doing good has come to be, like patriotism, a favorite device of persons with something to sell. - H. L. Mencken

When a whole nation is roaring Patriotism at the top of its voice, I am fain to explore the cleanness of its hands and the purity of its heart. - Ralph Waldo Emerson

There are two visions of America. One precedes our founding fathers and finds its roots in the harshness of our puritan past. It is very suspicious of freedom, uncomfortable with diversity, hostile to science, unfriendly to reason, contemptuous of personal autonomy. It sees America as a religious nation. It views patriotism as allegiance to God. It secretly adores coercion and conformity. Despite our constitution, despite the legacy of the Enlightenment, it appeals to millions of Americans and threatens our freedom.

The other vision finds its roots in the spirit of our founding revolution and in the leaders of this nation who embraced the age of reason. It loves freedom, encourages diversity, embraces science and affirms the dignity and rights of every individual. It sees America as a moral nation, neither completely religious nor completely secular. It defines patriotism as love of country and of the people who make it strong. It defends all citizens against unjust coercion and irrational conformity.

This second vision is our vision. It is the vision of a free society. We must be bold enough to proclaim it and strong enough to defend it against all its enemies. - Rabbi Sherwin Wine

Monday, June 29, 2009

What Were You Thinking, Governor?

What causes men in power and position to succumb to moral failure? And why is it so often infidelity that brings them down from the heights of power? South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford is just the latest in a long line of bold-faced denials, lame confessions, and shattered spouses. And it's not just the politicians. How many high profile preachers have fallen in the same pitiful manner?

Some say the answer is pride, plain and simple, the kind of arrogance that decides the rules no longer apply. Others suggest it is the adrenalin rush of the risk that drives some men to the brink of self-destruction. Who knows what goes on in their heads, consciously or subconsciously, that leads to this pattern of behavior?

And here is the kicker that always kills me. Despite the ruin of relationships and the public disgrace and humiliation, most of these men still cling to power, ignoring the outcry for their resignation or removal. Renewed commitment to marriage and fatherhood gets trumped by ego and ambition. They just can't turn lose of the power, and our warped "look the other way" culture soon moves on to the next big story and past indiscretions are forgotten - forgotten by everyone except the wives and children who struggle with the painful emotional aftermath. What a sad and pitiful pattern we have seen repeated again and again.

What do you think? Why do you think these things happen? And what does it say about our culture?

Friday, June 19, 2009

Rough Night for My Royals

Just my luck. I had the best seat in the stadium for the worst game of the year. I hadn't made it to a Royals game this season, but my friend, Steve, came through with some primo free tickets from work. So last night, four of us, golfing buddies from Hacker's Anonymous, headed up to KC for barbeque and a ballgame. The seats were super, second row, right behind the visitor's dugout. I've never sat so near the action or been able to hear some of the player's conversations. That was really cool.

The game stunk big time. I wasn't too proud of my boys in blue. It was ugly. An error on the very first play of the game should have been a clue. One of our relievers gave up a home run on the first pitch he threw, not exactly what the manager had in mind, I'm sure. Final score: 12 - 5, Diamondbacks. That's right, the Diamondbacks. Go figure.

Laughing on the way home, we decided it is far better to see a good game from a bad seat, than to sit through an excruciating disaster up close and personal. I'm thinking there is a life lesson in there somewhere. You can sort it out.

One more thought. Even a lousy game can be more than tolerable, even pleasant, if you face it with good friends. Thanks, guys. It was fun anyway.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

My Kids or My Car?

Last month I added two teenage drivers to our auto insurance. The cost was roughly equivalent to funding the war in Iraq. Our son had waited to get his license until the same week his little sister got hers. Don't ask me why. I know I should be grateful he didn't get it sooner, and now I really am glad. We have one car for the two of them to share until Jake heads off into the navy. When necessary they have both borrowed my old Honda Accord.

In the first two months both kids have banged up my Honda. Jake tore the front bumper loose backing out of a steep driveway and later he backed into a telephone pole. Rebecca wiped out our brick and concrete mail box.

So, this evening I was laying in the street under the front end of my car , trying to tie up the loose bumper until I can get it to the body shop on Monday. My friend, Mike, came walking by and stopped to say hello. I didn't recognize him up-side-down, but I knew him when he asked what I was doing. I gave him my list of complaints about my kids and the damage to my car. Mike said, "Oh well, anybody hurt?" "No, nobody hurt," I replied. He continued, "Yeah, that's the call you don't want to get, isn't it? Everything else will fix. Everything else can be replaced, but not your kids."
Mike headed on up the street and I just laid there a minute thinking about his words, convicted of my shallow and confused values. I do love my old Honda. It's a peach and I plan on driving it as long as it survives the current season of demolition driving. But, though I own my Honda, my kids own me. I can't bear the thought of my sons or daughter being put at risk, let alone injured or worse. My love for them comes from the deepest core of my being. They own me and I can't help it.

So, thanks, Mike, for a good word and a needed reminder. Don't get too wrapped up in the things you own. Just treasure those who own you, and hold them close.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Where Does Jesus Stand On the Use of Torture?

Of all the ridiculous pronouncements of misguided people claiming to speak for all real, Bible-believing Christians, none is more offensive to me than the statements of Christian leaders such as James Dobson in support of the use of torture in the interrogation of suspects in the war on terror. We ministers decry the loss of moral absolutes in our culture and condemn the amoral situational ethics that pervade our society. But when push comes to shove, we play the hypocrite. If torture works and gets us the information we need, than we're all for it. What kind of theological gymnastics allows any thinking person to confuse the ethics of Christ with such barbarism, whether sanctioned by the state or not? Gee, if waterboarding doesn't work anymore, maybe we could crucify a few. That would do it.

God, forgive us, your confused and worldly people.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

A Second Summer of Sam

Just a word to those of you who have followed our son, Sam, on his past adventures in our nation's capitol. Well, he's gone back for more. Sam has been invited to spend a second summer with the good people of First Baptist Church of Washington, DC. We couldn't be more pleased and proud. So, Sam is writing again with all kinds of thoughts, reflections, and experiences on his blog, Musings of a Young Traveler. Feel free to check it out.

Monday, May 25, 2009

"They Have Become Our Sons As Well"

On this Memorial Day we remember all those who laid down their lives for their country. A few years ago I visited the World War I battlefield in Gallipoli, Turkey, where thousands of troops from Australia and New Zealand lost their lives. A large stone marker records the profound and moving words of the Turkish president at the dedication of the ANZAC cemetery. (Click on the picture to read the words.) May all of our soldiers who lie in fields far from their native land be so honored and remembered.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Birdies and Boys

Well, there will be no more basketball in my drive way for awhile. Two little birds (I think they are robins) have found a home on the backside of my backboard. When I got out of my car this evening, they were chirping away, waiting on their Mom to show up with something good to eat. Welcome to the neighborhood, my little friends.

Interesting timing, too, since we have a boy who is just about ready to leave our nest and go into the U.S. Navy and an older son headed back to Washington D.C. for the summer. It is just about time for birdies and boys to learn how to fly. Exciting days ahead.

Monday, May 18, 2009

A Blessing for the Beginning

Congratulations to all the graduates, especially our son, Jake. Here are some words of blessing from an old Bob Dylan song called "Forever Young." Dylan's words echo my hopes and dreams for Jake and all those just beginning the journey:

May God bless and keep you always,
May your wishes all come true,
May you always do for others
And let others do for you.
May you build a ladder to the stars
And climb on every rung,
May you stay forever young. . . .

May you grow up to be righteous,
May you grow up to be true,
May you always know the truth
And see the lights surrounding you.
May you always be courageous,
Stand upright and be strong,
May you stay forever young. . . .

May your hands always be busy,
May your feet always be swift,
May you have a strong foundation
When the winds of changes shift.
May your heart always be joyful,
May your song always be sung,
May you stay forever young,
Forever young, forever young,
May you stay forever young.

Monday, May 11, 2009

A Magical Moment on Mother's Day

It was one of those rare, unplanned moments. If we had tried to stage this little bit of drama, it would probably have flopped.

Like just about every other church in the country, we had a special time of honoring all the mothers present during our worship services on Mother's Day. Kristine, our children's minister, asked all the mothers to stand, and then enlisted all the young children to help present each mother with a long stem carnation. The kids grabbed a few flowers and scurried all over the sanctuary bringing big smiles to every woman's face.

But wouldn't you know it, we came up one carnation short. Little Ali, three years old, needed one more carnation to give to her own mother, Candi. Someone suggested sharing a flower, but Ali was not going to be denied. She hurried back to the altar, but found no more kids and no more carnations. That's when her eyes spotted the large, beautiful bouquet of roses on the communion table. Everyone in the sanctuary knew what little Ali was thinking. In a heartbeat she was up the steps and up on her tiptoes reaching up for the big red rose in the center. There was no time to react. Everyone held their breath, afraid that the whole thing might fall over on her. But Ali was just barely tall enough to reach that one special rose which slipped out into her eager hand. She turned around with a huge smile and ran down the aisle into her mother's arms holding up her red rose with a hug and a kiss.

It was Mother's Day, all right. A day at least one mother will never forget.

And I knew the rest of the story that others did not. I had brought that big bouquet of roses to the church from a cemetery the day before. I had conducted the funeral of a wonderful mother named Joyce who died after a long battle with ALS, Lou Gehrig's disease. I had shared the words of tribute and love from her daughter and two sons, and what a wonderful testimony it was. So, when little Ali plucked that big red rose from Joyce's funeral bouquet, I have to believe that somewhere in Glory, Joyce smiled a big smile, too.

Thank God for all good and godly mothers, those present and those absent.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Kingdom Come

Here are a few insightful thoughts from Frederick Buechner on what has to be considered Jesus' favorite subject - the Kingdom of God.

If we only had eyes to see and ears to hear and wits to understand, we would know that the Kingdom of God in the sense of holiness, goodness, beauty is as close as breathing and is crying out to be born both within ourselves and within the world; we would know that the Kingdom of God is what we all of us hunger for above all other things even when we don't know its name or realize that it's what we're starving to death for.

The Kingdom of God is where our best dreams come from and our truest prayers. We glimpse it at those moments when we find ourselves being better than we are and wiser than we know. We catch sight of it when at some moment of crisis a strength seems to come to us that is greater than our own strength. The Kingdom of God is where we belong. It is home, and whether we realize it or not, I think we are all of us homesick for it.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

"Deo Fisus Labora"

Friday evening I was sitting in historic Gano Chapel on the campus of my alma mater, waiting for the honors convocation to begin. The evening sun gave a golden glow to the old stained glass. I noticed once again the college's Latin motto on the seal, "Deo Fisus Labora," or, "Trusting God, Work." I remember Dr. Kingsley explaining those words to us in a freshman orientation more than thirty years ago. I thought I knew what he was talking about on that distant Fall morning, but now I know better, much better.

"Trusting God, Work." Not a bad approach to life, is it? Work hard, doing everything you can do, and trust God for the rest. Live and labor as if everything depended on you. Love and laugh as if everything depended on God. It's life as a partnership, for we are "laborers together with God."

And so sitting in the chapel as a parent now rather than a student, I hope my son and his fellow students take note. The words on the window light the way.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Seven Stanzas of Easter

Make no mistake: if He rose at all
it was as His body;
if the cells' dissolution did not reverse, the molecules
reknit, the amino acids rekindle,
the Church will fall.

It was not as the flowers,
each soft Spring recurrent;
it was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled
eyes of the eleven apostles;
it was as His Flesh: ours.

The same hinged thumbs and toes,
the same valved heart
that — pierced — died, withered, paused, and then
regathered out of enduring Might
new strength to enclose.

Let us not mock God with metaphor,
analogy, sidestepping transcendence;
making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the
faded credulity of earlier ages:
let us walk through the door.

The stone is rolled back, not papier-mache,
not a stone in a story,
but the vast rock of materiality that in the slow
grinding of time will eclipse for each of us
the wide light of day.

And if we will have an angel at the tomb,
make it a real angel,
weighty with Max Planck's quanta, vivid with hair,
opaque in the dawn light, robed in real linen
spun on a definite loom.

Let us not seek to make it less monstrous,
for our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,
lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour, we are
embarrassed by the miracle,
and crushed by remonstrance.

--John Updike (1932- )

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Me and Amos

There is just something about a guy's first car, that first sweet taste of freedom. Mine was a 1970 Dodge Polara just like the one in the picture above, except mine was ten years older with 102,000 miles on it. What a ride! I named my car Amos Sherman Hill - Amos because I like Bible names, and Sherman because it was a tank. It was huge, just two doors, but they were about six feet long. I could lay down in the trunk and not touch either side.

I drove that old car another 90,000 miles. Off to college with all my stuff and back home every few weeks with a load of dirty laundry. Back and forth all summer long to the grocery warehouse where I worked to pay for college. And on the weekends Amos and I would head north from the campus to the little country church where folks first called me "pastor." I have lots of memories of hauling kids to camps and retreats, a youth trip to Colorado Springs, and summer weekends at the lake. Still our journeys continued.

I vacuumed him out and hosed him off before I picked up Suzanne for our first date. And Amos was absolutely spotless, waxed by hand and shining like a dime, complete with new seat covers, on our wedding day.

My dad, also a pastor, was concerned before we got married that Suz might not be aware of the financial realities of a minister's life. "Does she know that you are never going to make a lot of money? Does she understand that you are never going to live in the biggest house or drive the biggest car?" I had to take exception to that. "Dad, I already drive the biggest car."

That first car is like a long lost friend, but we'll never be together again. I loved ol' Amos. I wish I had him still. Have you got a story to tell, that first car, that first set of keys? Let's hear it.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Today Is the Day

I started my day as I often do with a few lines from Frederick Buechner. Perhaps you need his words as much as I did.

"You are seeing everything for the last time, and everything you see is gilded with goodbyes. . . . For the last time you are hearing this house come alive because you who are part of its life have come alive. All the unkept promises if they are ever to be kept have to be kept today. All the unspoken words if you do not speak them today will never be spoken. The people, the ones you love and the ones who bore you to death, all the life you have in you to live with them, if you do not live it with them today will never be lived.

It is the first day because it has never been before and the last day because it will never be again. Be alive if you can all through this day, today of your life. What's to be done? What's to be done?

Follow your feet. Put on the coffee. Start the orange juice, the bacon, the toast. Then go wake up the children and your wife. Think about the work of your hands. . . . Live in the needs of the day."

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Live Like You Were Dying

Suzanne and I have been hosting a Bible study on the theme, "Live Like You Were Dying," and, yes, the outline of the study is based on the best-selling song by the same name. We have a wonderful group of friends, old and new, seventeen of us each Sunday evening at our house. We've been discussing some tough, real life issues as we try to speak sweeter, love deeper, give forgiveness, and embrace eternity.

What would you do if you received that phone call from the doctor? What if you really had just 30 days to live? What do you suppose you would change? What relationships in your life would need extra time and attention? My hunch is that our priorities and values might change pretty dramatically. Life just looks and feels different when you can suddenly see the end of the road.

The main point of our Bible study is this: To live like you were dying is the best approach to life even without that phone call, even without that bad prognosis. It is a liberating, fulfilling, and joyful way of life, maybe what God had in mind for us all along.

This weekend our group is going to wrap up this study by just getting to together to watch the movie, "The Bucket List." Here's the song and the movie together in a great video. I hope you enjoy it. And I hope it doesn't take bad news to teach us all how to live.

Monday, March 23, 2009

On Fitness and Faith

"For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come." - 1 Timothy 4:8 NIV

I just sat down after doing another heavy duty home workout. For Christmas my wife gave me a home fitness program called P90X. (I try not to think about what might have happened to me if I had given her a fitness program for Christmas or birthday.) Anyway, I am on day 51 of the 90 day program and I am feeling better, more fit than I have in years.

But, I am not naive. I know that my tired, 49 year old body is never going to look like the really annoying guy who leads these workouts on the DVD. And I'm okay with that. As long as I can be healthy and active, I will feel very blessed.

Check out any gym or fitness center. So many people faithfully and passionately devoted to physical fitness and appearance. I don't blame them a bit. But I can't help but wish more people were just as dedicated to their spiritual growth and development. How would you rate your spiritual health compared to your physical fitness? How much effort do we make each day to get our faith pumped and ripped? How much spiritual cardio do we do to make our heart more like God's?

You and I are much more than the flesh and bones that we carry around each day. And long after these beautiful bodies have become food for worms, our real self will linger into eternity. Better take the long view. Better get in shape for the life to come.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Life Lessons on the Road to the Final Four

I just finished the awesome and important task of filling in my brackets for the NCAA tournament. My son and I always bet a $1 McDonald's double cheeseburger on our picks, but he never pays up.

It's time to separate the winners and the losers, who's hot and who's not, the big talkers and the money players. We'll see who steps up and who falls flat, who comes through in the clutch and who chokes under pressure. And when the smoke clears, we will see who is still standing, the true champion among all the wannabes and pretenders.

Lots of life lessons are there on display at the Big Dance. A few that stand out to me are:
  • Tons of press coverage won't score you any points and a big reputation won't get you rebounds. You still have to play the game.
  • A good team will usually beat a great player.
  • On a given night, anybody can beat anybody.
  • No matter how well you prepare, there are some things you just cannot control.
  • The most valuable player may be someone you have never heard of, who has never played in the spotlight before.
  • Believing in yourself makes all the difference in the world.
Can you think of others? Sports is in many ways a modern parable about life. I think that's why we watch. What about you?

(By the way, Mizzou defeats Pitt to win it all. Remember, you saw it here first.)

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Your Best Bet

(This post is an excerpt from Robert Fulghum's "All I Really Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten." Whenever I lack inspiration, I turn to one of the masters.)

If you ask my next-door neighbor what he does for a living, he will tell you that he is a professional gambler involved in organized crime. In truth, he is an insurance agent. He has a healthy disrespect for his business, and extends that skeptical mode into his philosophy of life. "We're all gamblers," says he, "everyone of us. And life is a continual crapshoot and poker game and horse race." Then he adds, "And I love the game!"

He's a great believer in hedging his bets, however, protecting himself by betting both ways when the odds are close. Philosophically this gets best expressed in these sayings mounted on his office wall:
  • Always trust your fellow man. And always cut the cards.
  • Always trust God. And always build your house on high ground.
  • Always love thy neighbor. And always pick a good neighborhood to live in.
  • The race is not always to the swift, not the battle to the strong, but you better bet that way.
  • Place your bet somewhere between turning-the-other-cheek and enough-is-enough-already.
  • Place your bet somewhere between haste-makes-waste and he-who-hesitates-is-lost.
  • About winning: It isn't important. What really counts is how you play the game.
  • About losing: It isn't important. What really counts is how you play the game.
  • About playing the game: Play to win!
Does he really believe that? Does he live by it? I don't know. But I play poker with him. And I bought my insurance from him. I like his kind of odds.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Bringing Your Life to Life

This morning I came across a few remarkable lines describing one man's startling discovery:
In the spring of 1953, I had left my job at Lawrenceville to be a full-time writer in New York, and it was that fall, with my third novel failing to come to life for me, that in some sense my life itself started to come to life for me - the possibility, at least, of a life in Christ, with Christ, and, on some fine day conceivably, even a life for Christ, if I could ever find out what such a life involved, could find somewhere in myself courage enough, faith enough, craziness and grace enough, to undertake the living of it. - Frederick Buechner

What would it take to bring your life to life?
Isn't that the question we are all asking in our quiet, reflective moments? What would it take for us to truly enjoy life and not just endure it? How can we satisfy our deepest longings, fill up our gaping emptiness, and find the delicious joy that others have found?

A thousand theories have been offered, tried, and found sorely lacking, failing to deliver as advertised. As far as I know, only one has proved valid and true. Jesus said, "I have come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly." (John 10:10 KJV) Or, to state it more clearly, "My purpose is to give life in all its fullness." (NLT)

A little girl was asked, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" She smiled and replied, "Alive." Me too. May you and I find courage enough, faith enough, craziness and grace enough, to let Christ bring life to life.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Milk Bone Underwear

I think it was Norm Peterson on Cheers who once described his day like this: "It's a dog eat dog world, Woody, and I'm wearing Milk Bone underwear." Anybody been chewing on you this week? Have you been the target of criticism? I know it's no fun, but here are a few thoughts from some wise guys to help you put it in perspective:

“You can't let praise or criticism get to you. It's a weakness to get caught up in either one.” - John Wooden

“Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfills the same function as pain in the human body. It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things.” - Winston Churchill

“To bear defeat with dignity, to accept criticism with poise, to receive honors with humility -- these are marks of maturity and graciousness.” - William Arthur Ward

“I know quite certainly that I myself have no special talent; curiosity, obsession and dogged endurance, combined with self-criticism, have brought me to my ideas.” - Albert Einstein

Monday, February 16, 2009

Our Last Best Hope

As Vice President, George H. W. Bush represented the United States at the funeral of former Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev. Bush was deeply moved by a silent protest carried out by Brezhnev's widow. She stood motionless by the coffin until seconds before it was closed. Then, just as the soldiers touched the lid, Brezhnev's wife performed an act of great courage and hope, a gesture that must surely rank as one of the most profound acts of civil disobedience ever committed: she reached down and made the sign of the cross on her husband's chest.

There, in the citadel of secular, atheistic power, the wife of the man who had run it all hoped that her husband was wrong. She hoped that there was another life, and that the life was best represented by Jesus who died on the cross, and that the same Jesus might yet have mercy on her husband." (Gary Thomas, "Wise Christians Clip Obituaries," Christianity Today)

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Happy Birthday, Mr. Lincoln

"Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man's character, give him power." - Abraham Lincoln

I have been marking the 200th anniversary of Lincoln's birth by reading Doris Kearns Goodwin's fine book, "Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln." What an interesting read and a wonderful window into the character and savvy of our 16th president. It is also a fascinating study on the nature of leadership. Since I do most of my leisure reading at bedtime, I have been losing some serious sleep, just listening to Lincoln and wondering how history might read today, had this remarkable man not lived and served as he did.

Another thought has crossed my mind this week. What does a person have to contribute to life in this world in order to be remembered and honored 200 years later? What makes one life worthy of celebration after two centuries? What do you think? Liberate the oppressed? Lead in a crisis? Save a nation? Speak noble and profound words? Die a martyr's death for a worthy cause? Certainly it is no small thing to be so honored.

And, just to put it all in perspective, what about two millenia, what about being honored and remembered and followed two thousand years later? That takes more than noble ideals and wise words, more than setting people free, even more than dying a sacrificial death. You pretty much have to walk out of your own tomb. Yep. That would do it, wouldn't it?

Friday, January 30, 2009

Winners or Losers?

It is Super Bowl weekend once again and we all hope the game will be at least as interesting as the commercials. It's great to see Kurt Warner back in the big game after all he has been through. I think the Steelers are a much better team, but I'm cheering for the Cardinals all the way.

Thinking about winners and losers reminds me of a game I played as a kid. I remember the game vividly, but I'm still not sure whether we won or lost. I was a freshman in a small high school playing on the junior varsity. That should tell you something, since we only had 24 players on the whole football team and none of the starters could play JV. So, I was one of the 13 boys on the bus to go play a JV game against Clinton, a larger rival school. I think they dressed about 35 boys for the game.

As you can imagine, with only 13 players, we all got plenty of playing time. I was in on everything except the kickoff team, and we only did that once, to start the game. As you might anticipate, things did not go well for us. I remember coach yelling a lot, I remember looking at the scoreboard wishing it would wind down faster, and I remember a couple of times when a play was over, lying on my back looking up at the blue sky and thinking what a nice day it was. At halftime the score was 35-0, and we huddled in the visitor's (the girl's) locker room, pretty dazed and discouraged.

Coach stuck his head in the door and gave us this brief and direct halftime speech: "Excuse me, girls, but if you play like that the second half, you're going to get beat 70 to nothing." Then he was gone. We just sat there mulling that over. 70 to nothing. That didn't sound good. Not good at all. One of our sophomores, a lightweight linebacker named Barrett, finally lit the fire. "Wait a minute! Nobody beats us 70 to nothing! C'mon, you #!#!#!#!, let's get out there and kill those !#!#!#!#! Let's go!"

We came charging back out on the field pounding on each other, banging our helmets together like a bunch of crazed animals. I'm sure Coach was impressed with the difference a little humiliation could make in his pitiful team. And we played our hearts out that second half. We really did play as hard and as well as we could.

And when the final whistle blew and the game was over, we all looked at that scoreboard and cheered as loud as we could. The final score: 43-0. That's right. Nobody beats us 70 to nothing! We were slapping and fiving like we had just won the conference championship. It was a rowdy locker room and noisy bus ride home that night. I'm guessing that in hindsight, our coach probably wished he had aimed a little higher with his team's expectations. He didn't seem to celebrate with the same enthusiasm we had.

So, were we winners or losers? 43-0 indicates a pretty clear answer, but it still felt great. It still felt great to get up and fight back, to stand up and give it our best shot, just to keep playing and hustling and hitting until it was done. We were all pretty proud of the beating we took, at least that second half. I've been on the winning side of some games I can't even remember. But standing up to the big guys, taking your lumps and giving it your best shot - that always stays with us, doesn't it?

Have you got a Goliath on your schedule, a big bully in your own backyard? Listen to coach and don't go down without a fight.