Blessing a Stranger

I was a strangerMy emotions went into hyper-drive the moment I sat down in church on Sunday . . . and it caught me by surprise.   Intellectually I knew it was my last time to worship the Lord with the believers at Foothills Southern Baptist Church, Yuma.  But suddenly the Lord was gracious to give me a crystal clear picture of how this church has blessed me.

Foothills became the “church home” for my wife and I when we temporarily relocated to Yuma on December 6.  This House of God has been a needed place of refuge during this pause in my pastoral ministry.  We were welcomed.  We were encouraged.  We were loved.  We will be forever grateful.

But much more importantly, this church has ministered to my mother for the past 13 years.  Mom never really stood out.  She wasn’t a leader.  She just sat in the same pew each week with her dear friends, Ginger and Beverly.

Nevertheless, the Foothills family of believers ministered to her through the years.  Pastor Jim Doyle was there for her in her great times of need.  He went to the hospital and prayed for my dad when he was beset by strokes four months ago.  (That act of kindness especially meant the world to me, because I was still in Michigan and unable to come.)   On Christmas Eve day, with his own home full of out-of-town family, Pastor Jim came to pray for my mom after my dad’s death.   Every time this church ministered to my mom, they blessed me.

This is “moving” week.  We are helping my mom move back to California, where she will be blessed by once again living near her siblings.  Lynne and I are relocating to Sonoita, AZ, where God seems poised to bless us with a new place of ministry and a new church to love and lead.

I will never forget this brief time in Yuma, because the church here was blessing a stranger in their midst – me!

“I was a stranger, and you invited me in . . . . I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.”              Matthew 25:35,40

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The Two Biggest Lessons I Learned from My Dad

My father died on Christmas Eve morning, and this Saturday the family will gather in California for a “celebration of life.”  So it’s no “shocker” that I’ve been thinking a lot about my dad.  I’ve been thinking about what I learned in the 50 years that he wDad - obituary pictureas my dad. The list would be long, but here are the two biggest lessons I learned.

1.  You can ask for forgiveness without words.

I was eight-years-old when he became my dad.  The next 10 years were bad.   Terrible.  Brutal.  There was and is no excuse for what he did, even though most if not all of it happened while he was under the influence of alcohol.

I don’t remember my dad ever verbalizing the words “I was wrong, I’m sorry, and/or please forgive me.”  He was old school.  He was from “that” generation that had trouble expressing feelings or admitting wrong.

However, he communicated it over and over with his actions.  It was the Christmas gift of a microwave oven for Lynne when we had newborn twins.  It was a word of advice or his help on a home maintenance project.  So my dad did say “I was wrong, I’m sorry, please forgive me.”  It took me some years to understand what he was “saying,” but I praise God that eventually I had ears to hear it.

2.  When we forgive someone we reap the greatest benefit.

It’s really hard to be a servant of God when we harbor anger and hate for someone.  That’s the predicament I faced at age 30.  I was the Associate Pastor of a church.  I was responsible for teaching adults the Bible and helping them apply the Word to daily life.  But personally I was in a wrestling match with Matthew 5:44-45.  Jesus said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in Heaven.

God won!  I wrote a letter to my dad and put it in his Father’s Day card.  I told him that I was forgiving him.  I went on to thank him for becoming a pretty good dad, and for becoming a good husband to my mom.  I told him I loved him.

That was one of the hardest letters I’ve ever written.  I didn’t realize it at the time, but with that letter I became a new and better man as I let go of the pain, bitterness, and anger.

TO GOD BE THE GLORY!

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A Different Kind of Christmas

A Different Kind of ChristmasSeveral days ago a Facebook post by a dear friend in Ann Arbor was a video of Mark Schultz singing “Different Kind of Christmas.”  The song is incredibly fabulous, the words are powerful, and it has had me thinking . . . .  IT IS A VERY DIFFERENT KIND OF CHRISTMAS THIS YEAR FOR ME.

  1. This year there will be no presents, but an incredible presence. By mutual agreement, Lynne and I will not exchange gifts.  We’ve had the same conversation with our adult children and their wives.  However, we will be blessed with the unexpected gift of presence:  For the first time in more than 20 years I will be with my mother and my brother on Christmas day.  What an incredible gift of presence!
  1. As I celebrate the most important birth of all, I am also waiting for death. After suffering four strokes in October and a hemorrhagic stroke in November, my father is in a hospice facility, and is very near the end of his life.  In the midst of this season of celebration and great thanks, I weep.
  1. This Christmas I’m in the “pew,” not the “pulpit.” I clearly understood that God had told me “it’s time to go” when I submitted my resignation on October 11 as pastor of Crossroads Community Baptist Church (Ann Arbor, MI).  However, I was baffled by the timing.  The norm is for pastors to find their next place of ministry before resigning.  What was God doing?  God knew that the very next week my dad would be hospitalized and his final journey would begin.  In God’s perfect plan He has me here in Yuma, AZ, so that I can be obedient to His command in Exodus 20:12: “Honor your father and your mother.”  In the time between “pulpits,” God is allowing me the privilege of being here for my mom and dad in their time of great need.

Yes, it is a different kind of Christmas this year.  PRAISE GOD FROM WHOM ALL BLESSINGS FLOW!!!

 

Just in case you are interested, here is a link to the  Different Kind of Christmas  by Mark Schultz (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5PBEMfbWq_Y)

 

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Walking Like Abram

AbramThe Lord had said to Abram, “Leave your country, your people, and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you.”  So Abram left, as the Lord had told him . . . (Genesis 12:1,4a).

Tomorrow is going to be hard.  I have to say goodbye to a family of believers whom I love.  It’s my final day as Senior Pastor at Crossroads Community Baptist Church, Ann Arbor, MI.

Tomorrow is going to be strange.  After the final “amen,” I don’t know where I’m going next. All that I know for sure is that God has said “it’s time to go.”

Tomorrow is when I (we) truly begin walking by faith, not by sight.  We listed our house for sale on October 16, accepted an offer on the 26th, and we close escrow on December 5.  Where do we go next?  To the land I will show you.

Our confidence is in God.  He is faithful.  “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”  (Jeremiah 29:11)

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Challenged at Catalyst

Catalyst conference 2014I had the privilege last week of being a part of the Catalyst conference in Atlanta. The speakers were fabulous, and my heart and soul were both challenged and encouraged.

Here are the 10 quotes that made me think the most . . .

1. “The church must stop expecting outsiders to act like insiders, when insiders act like outsiders.” (Andy Stanley)

2. “Comparison will consistently cloud the clarity of God’s call on your life.” (Robert Madu)

3. “Christians want to change the world, but won’t change themselves. That’s why we can’t change the world, no matter how hard we try.” (Christine Caine)

4. “We have to choose whether we listen to God or the Enemy.” (Dr. Caroline Leaf)

5. “Too many in the church are wearing a plastic smile.” (Chris Brown)

6. “To want to be someone else is an affront to the God who saved, called, and appointed you.” (Matt Chandler)

7. “Someone who won’t evangelize is someone who isn’t happy with God. We talk about what we are happy about.” (Craig Groeschel)

8. “Social media has turned us into the queen in Snow White. ‘Who is the fairest?’ ‘Is anyone else doing better?’ “ (Robert Madu)

9. “Missions is not a program. It’s who you are.” (Mark DeYmaz)

10. “Many years from now, what would you like people to line-up and thank you for?” (Andy Stanley)

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The Geese Taught Me Today

canada_goose_and_goslingsI’m in the midst of a 4-day prayer & study retreat.  This afternoon I spent an hour on the shore of Bankson Lake.  I parked myself at a picnic table to read and to gaze across the wind-rippled waters.

But, I wasn’t alone. Some 60 feet away there was a flock of Canadian Geese (a.k.a. Canada Geese or branta Canadensis) munching on the grasses that grew on the beach. As I watched them they reminded me three truths . .  .

 1.  We must protect our young.

There were two dozen geese, and perhaps a dozen goslings.  As I approached the geese scurried the goslings away.  After some time, they came back, but the geese always kept a wary eye on me.  At all the times several geese were positioned between me and the goslings.

 Excellent preschool, children, and youth ministries are vital to the local church.  These ministries come with a cost (time, energy, and money) but they are crucial and the church will die without them.  The church must be equally protective of those young in the faith.  Remember . . . “your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8).  Like the lion on the African savanna, the devil feasts on the weak and the young.

2.  We should utilize the buddy system.

Even spread out over some area of the beach, a single goose was never alone.  Always there was at least two.  The goslings . . . they were kept as a group.

As Christians, we truly need one another.  “Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves.  A cord of three strands is not quickly broken” (Ecclesiastes 4:12).

3.  We must welcome the strangers.

After some time had gone by two more geese flew in and made a beautiful water landing a few yards offshore.  All the geese stopped what they were doing and welcomed them.  There was a cacophony of honking as everyone chimed in their greetings.  While not everyone went all the way down to the water, every goose moved towards the newcomers to welcome them.

There are no orphans in the eyes of God – only family.  “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).

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Social Media and Glorifying God!

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Last night our son Josh and his family were in the path of the tornadoes that stormed through the South.  As the tornado passed over their home, Josh, Robin, and the kids (Zeke, Shep, Linc, and Elle) were hunkered-down two miles away in the basement of the church he pastors (Mt. Vernon Church in Columbus, MS).

We posted a prayer request on our church’s Facebook page.  Within the first 60 minutes of the post there were 206 people who had seen and responded to this request to pray.

Our own personal families were instantly praying, and we felt there love and concern.  Many of our dear friends and fellow-believers from Crossroads Community Baptist Church, Ann Arbor, were part of the initial response . . . and we are so blessed to experience their love and encouragement as well.

But, especially humbling to us was that the overall response showed the tapestry of our lives and ministry.  Christian brothers and sisters from the five previous churches we have served also were instantly responding and praying.   We were blessed with prayers from precious people we have known in the past as we served the Lord side-by-side in Hayward, Livermore, and Hemet, CA.  We were equally blessed by the prayers and encouragement from precious friends and fellow believers in Winslow and Phoenix, AZ.

Before the night was over, 575 people had prayed for Josh . . . and for the millions who were and are in the path of the devastating tornado outbreak.  One of the 575 was my friend Moses Bin Vero Ombati.  In September 2009, Moses and I walked together through the Kenyan countryside for 18 days, sharing the gospel, giving away New Testaments, and starting “house churches.”  What a blessing it was to know that my brother was praying for my family and others.

Prayers were answered.   Josh and his family came through the storm safely, and there was only minor damage to their house.  Their oldest son (Zeke, age 8) said this about the tornado . . . “Mom, I guess the name of our sister Emmanuelle worked…God really was with us!”  (Elle is 27 days old . . . our 7th grandchild!)

Sometimes “social media” is used for ignoble purposes.  Last night it was used for the glory of God, and we were blessed.    Thank you, and GLORY TO GOD!

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