Monday, November 28, 2005

The Treasure Box

I have one. I know that Jack Exum has one, too. I would assume that God has His own version. Of what? let me explain...

Yesterday was a banner day for me at worship. For some reason, at different times, seven little children came running up to hug me. I got on my knees for each one, hugged them back, and thanked them. What a wonderful gift and honor! Then one little girl with the beautiful name "Fonda Lilly" came up, shyly, bearing a picture of Snow White and the Prince that she had colored and 'signed' for me. I promised her that I would have it forever. It would be placed in my treasure box.

In that box (really a series of files) are all the drawings and colored pictures and scribbled 'notes' that children have brought me over the year. My children's work is in there, too. For example, my son recently left me a note saying he was sorry to miss me since I'd been out of town, but he had to go to work. It said he was looking forward to seeing me in the morning. Coming from a sixteen year old, I thought that was wonderful. So it went into the box.

On dark days when things seem to be falling apart I get out my treasure box and go through it. Thank you cards from churches I visited (today, I put one from the Pitman Church of Christ in New Jersey in there. Thanks, ladies!), nice personal notes from people whose parents I helped in their last days, outlines of children's hands -- kids who now have their own kids -- along with hearts drawn with great effort all around the edges. and loving cards from my wife.... all in my treasure box.

I am a man who is painfully aware of his limitations and flaws. I live in a place where clouds and cold rule most of the year... and I get depressed in the cold and dark. The treasure box helps me survive and, yes, even thrive nonetheless. I have no storehouse of treasures on earth; we prefer giving to getting and even refuse to pile up a retirement account. My retirement plan is to die. In the meantime, when I need a hint of heaven, I open the box and remember the pure hearts and sincere hugs all this represents.

I am thankful for them all.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Little Tyrants, Little Kings

How many kings are involved in your life? Here is what I mean: the bank has a call on my life. It is a king over my life because I cannot just decide not to pay the mortgage. I HAVE to go to work and I HAVE to pay that bill. There are other kings: my wife has some authority over my movements and decisions as do my aged parents and my children. My life is not my own; there are kings involved.

And then there is the problem of Jesus. Problem? Well, yes. I love thinking about Jesus. It is great that he is my savior and I revel in the fact that he actively intercedes for me. I love that "counselor" and "prince of peace" stuff and don't even get me started talking about Jesus as brother and joint-heir! Wow!

But you can't have Jesus as Savior unless he is also King. And not just another king, i.e. king of Sunday morning or King of 10% of your money. He has to be King of Kings. Want Jesus? You have to take him as King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Every other king can only rule you insofar as they, and you, are in submission to the King over all kings.

The problem is that the little kings and petty tyrants in this world will try to chip away at Christ's authority in your life. Sales will try to take your money, glossy ads will try to distract you from quiet time with the Lord, commercials will shout or tease to get your attention, and that god in the mirror is a constant pain. It will take discipline, fellowship, and worship to keep the King of Kings where he belongs -- on the throne of our hearts, minds, and every corner of our lives.

Live so that we can say "Long live the King of Kings" with our lips and with our lives.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Thanksgiving... Now Guilt-Free!

It is soooo predictable. Here comes Thanksgiving so the reporters run in front of cameras to make sure we know the latest breaking, surprising, shocking news:

1. Thanksgiving dinner has a lot of calories in it.
2. People tend not to exercise much on Thanksgiving.
3. It is possible/probable that you will gain weight.

While this is going on, the intrepid reporters will flash back and forth to other stories:

1. Soup kitchens and shots of the homeless NOT having Thanksgiving dinner.
2. Obese people pushing carts through supercenters at the crack of dawn on Friday.
3. Somebody's getting hurt on Friday in the crush of crowds.
4. Somebody is going to fight over a toy that the kid won't remember by January 15th.
5. More homeless people.
6. Politicians jumping in front of the cameras to feed 4 or 5 people before the cameras move
on and, thusly, so do they.

What are we to make of all of this? Should we feel terrible and guilty for scarfing down the odd bit of fowl, pecan confections, and sweet potato caserole (that is 54% brown sugar and nuts)?

Nope. Not a bit of it. God has blessed us and we will enjoy it and thank Him profusely. Yes, we are concerned about the hungry and we will feed them every chance we get, but He intends for us to enjoy the gifts He gives us. I would as soon feel guilty for having good weather, loving a good woman, laughing with my son, or enjoying worship at Rochester.

No way. I'm going to enjoy it all. Calories? Who cares? I figure if I eat extra pecan pie and stuffing there is an even better chance I will never spend a day in a nursing home. Eat what you like and then stroke out too soon to be shelved and forgotten by family? Cool. I can do that.

I'm not going to crowd the stores on Friday but if you are, have fun! Brag about your bargains and your parking lot battles. Go back and eat more leftovers.

But thank God for His provision. He is good even when there is no food on the table. But when He gives you food -- don't let the devil steal your joy. And don't let the smarmy TV reporters do that, either.

Friday, November 18, 2005

The Devil, You Say!

I believe in a real being with its own personality and program and whom we know as the Devil (among other names). I take the C.S. Lewis position that the two greatest mistakes we can make are to think that he doesn't exist, or that he DOES exist and that he is behind everything. We seem to be swinging away from a period in our history where we never discussed his work in the present age, on a personal level, to one where we blame him for everything.

Here's a clue: sometimes your roof leaks because it is twenty years old, not because the devil broke it. Sometimes your marriage breaks because you work too many hours away and are a real jerk when you get home, not because the devil jumped in and did something. Sometimes we don't need the devil's help to screw things up royally.

Know your enemy -- but take responsibility for the way you deal with life, including the warfare aspect of life.

Have cancer? I'm truly sorry. I thought I did once but it turned out to be a benign tumor and a couple of operations later I am as fine as I need to be. Was your cancer caused by the devil? I don't know. I do not doubt that the devil can create illness or direct the weather. He seemed to be able to do that, within limits, in Scripture and there is nothing to indicate that in his present, wounded, position he cannot maintain that level of malevolent interaction here. Yet, I believe that most of us get cancer because we live in a broken universe. I believe that we have tornadoes and hurricanes because we no longer live in a garden paradise but on a planet broken by sin and its consequences (including the Flood).

And if you break it, you buy it. All of it. Including the leftover pain of a slowly shredding genetic code that decreases in quality the further we are from the Garden.

We are to put to death the evil desires in our hearts and put to death the fleshly impulses that drive us to follow our lusts... and we are to flee the devil. Nowhere are we given permission to shrug and say "The devil made me do it." Nor are we asked to shake in fear at Satan's presence. Fear is not an option. We are children of the King of Kings. We bear some responsibility for putting this world right (remember

A closing illustration: Flip Wilson made the catchphrase "The devil made me do it" popular. For him it was a fun phrase, but not one he accepted as theological truth. When his wife got tired of being married, she left him with the kids. He immediately quit show business so he could stay home and raise them full time. He did so honorably and very, very well. Later, he contracted cancer and died... never once complaining about it, acting helpless or fearful. He knew the devil would do what the devil would do. It was up to Flip to be honorable, good, and strong regardless of the situation in which he found himself.

Don't tell me what the devil is doing in your life. Tell me what you -- a child of the King -- are doing.

Live by faith. Walk on.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Invisible Children

Go to and watch the trailer. Then order the DVD. For $20 they'll send you two of them. Watch the hour or so movie and it will change your life, if you have a heart and are paying attention. The Rochester Church has is dedicating one Wednesday night to it and many of our small groups are gathering with their neighbors to watch it. What is it?

A few young men, indistinguishable from the average sloucher or slacker you might shrug past in the mall, decided to go to Africa and film what they found there. They stumbled into the middle of child soldiers, abductions, extreme poverty, displacement, and horror upon horror. He found the Acholi people of southern Sudan who fled into Northern Uganda to escape the genocide there only to be set upon by a weird cult called the Lord's Resistance Army (look it up on Wikipedia).

For 17 years this has been going on and governments are doing nothing. So these kids are doing something. They are, first, getting peoples' attention and prayers. Second, they are dreaming big; funding a huge safe village for the children who are fleeing the terror of their lives. They are doing it one DVD at a time, one T shirt at a time, and one remembrance bracelet at a time.

Do this for me for Christmas: no presents, no cards... just watch the video, gather friends and watch it again. Sell cookies to your fellow workers or students and get them to watch it. Gather members of your congregation and watch it. Write your senators and congressman and tell them to watch it.

Care about these children. They are the most beautiful children in the world and they need you. ...... now.......

Saturday, November 12, 2005


I've just returned from my long series of travels. I'm done for a couple of months (thank God!). I appreciate the prayers you've said for me and the kind emails you've sent. It means a lot. When the road gets long and this old body gets worn down there is nothing like getting your kind words of encouragement and love. Full disclosure: there was one snarling email, but that guy/gal sends one from time to time, always anonymously. I'd love to meet with them and find out whatever I've done to harm them (I'll assume it's my fault) but until they grow a backbone and sign their emails I'll just have to keep praying for them and asking God not to judge them as harshly as they judge me.

Speaking of backbones -- and I'm going someplace with this -- the last congregation I spoke at was at Barboursville, West Virginia. They are a lovely group with an attendance around 100 on a good day. Their minister is a fellow about my age named Dave Gladwell and I love that guy. He is a symbol to me of the backbone of the faith. You see, although Rochester is the largest church in the north by some measure, we are not the cradle of faith for the majority of the church. Most of the church exists in small gatherings of less than a hundred, sometimes in old and worn down buildings. They don't have the money for PowerPoint or worship ministers. They don't have huge outreach programs to their communities for the simple fact that they don't have the people or money to man them. Their bulletin boards are full of notices of area meetings, women's Bible class announcements, and perhaps a board with red, white and blue bunting dedicated to "our soldiers."

I grew up on the mission field and couldn't wait to get away from small churches. I didn't want to be stuck in one again... but that's not something I'm bragging about. I didn't understand then what I see clearly now: the small churches that make up the vast majority of our congregations are truly the greenhouse of the faith. The faithful men who preach in them don't have a large staff to help them. They check the baptistry heater, make sure the furnace is on or off, write and print the bulletin, visit the sick, check on the widows and shut-ins. They do all this on a tiny salary with few or no benefits. There will be no advancement, no fame for them. They will not be the sought after speakers for the big events in our brotherhood.

And there are no better men in the brotherhood than these faithful men.

I confess that I often feel guilty when I see the fame and accolades that accrue to me because of a modicum of speaking ability and the grace of God. I am not the backbone of the faith. I do my job as faithfully as I know how -- and without apology -- but I am not better, more spiritual, or more stedfast than the men who preach at these tiny churches. I am rewarded far more than them down here, but I believe they will receive the greater reward in heaven.

I hereby promise, in front of you, my friends, that I will remember these men in prayer, encourage them at every opportunity, and look for any chance to honor them in private and in public. In addition, I want to honor the youth ministers who labor hard with a handful of teens, sometimes part time, with little or no pay and miniscule support. God bless them all. They may never lead at Winterfest or Pepperdine, but they are the ground troops, the grunts, the pointy end of the sharp stick of God. May those of us with position and better pay acknowledge their greater sacrifice and faithfulness.

Monday, November 07, 2005

God Bless The Teens

Yes, I've seen the papers. I know about the terrible things teens are up to... but I love them. For reasons that I've never understood, they love me, too. I do between 12 and 20 youth rallies a year and keep waiting for the day when they suddenly realize I'm a fossil and send me off the field of play. So far, so good.

So why do I love them and why am I an optimist when it comes to them? Here are a few reasons:

1. They know how to pray. When I was a kid we prayed British Commando prayers -- get in, do your business, get out, no hanging about. Then there were the prayers the old guys prayed. We had those memorized by third grade. Barely audible groans would go up when one or two of their names were called to lead in prayer. Long, formulaic, and dry. Our lips would move along with them; we'd heard them so many times. But today? When I hear teens pray my heart swells. They pray much more passionately than I ever did. They have a relationship with God that gives them purpose and comfort; you can hear it in their voice. Every time I hear them pray, I thank God.

2. They invite Jesus into their lives. We went to church and went home, but these kids are different. They read Christian books, discuss them, trade them, and anxiously wait for the next one by their favorite authors. They have iPods and CD racks full of Christian music and never tire of talking about the songs and the artists. They wear Christian T-shirts and join Christian clubs at school. I look back on how isolated we felt when I was a teen and how we were almost embarassed to admit that we were church people... and I thank God that He raised up this generation to show us the joy in Christ we somehow missed.

3. They are ministers. At rally after rally I find teens who have been on mission trips to Africa, Europe, Mexico, Central America -- some of them many times. When I go down to one of our food or clothing distribution centers I find teens enthusiastically helping out. They sit with the needy, love them, hug them, and make friends with them. No classism or racism. Just Christianity in action. Ask them to host a dinner for the seniors and they jump on it with alacrity. Very impressive.

4. They like church and love to worship. You always get slouchers and slackers, of course, but I see a steady growth of teens sitting up front, taking notes, following along in the Bible, and coming up to thank the speakers afterwards. Very classy and heartwarming. Our teens have taught us how to sing again. Us old guys can teach them some of the old majestic songs, but they teach us the songs that rejoice in relationship and in salvation. Good stuff.

5. They are building a better church. Many of the arguments that filled our days, times and pulpits aren't interesting enough to get more than a shrug from the teens. They are all about worship, relationship, scripture, fellowship, and friendship in the Name of Christ. I think I should be jealous that they and their children will have a better church than I had... but I'd not. I'm just so, so happy for them.

Thank God for teens. They are truly a gift to us all.