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.