Friday, March 13, 2015

Give Thanks

When the drenching rains come, give thanks.
For so long we wandered through dry desert wastelands.

When the sun beats down mercilessly, give thanks.
From its warmth for so long were we lost in the freezing distance of sin.

When the winter winds whip relentlessly, give thanks.
For then He draws us close to the innermost warmth of His love drawn-near.

When the day, perchance, is brightly beautiful, give thanks.
For in the goodness of life is where we tend to forget our Maker.

Give thanks on that beautiful day lest we forget God, and in the beauty become accursed.
For in our minds, when suffering escapes us, we may think,
"I have everything, and need nothing."

Monday, December 29, 2014

When Troubles Come... A Message (James 1:1-8 )

It was my turn to preach this morning at my home church Caffee Junction.  Not that it was my turn in that I'm on a preaching roster and it was my "at bat".  It was more like, Pastor is on vacation and I'm covering for him.  Big shoes to fill.

Early about 3am one morning on my Christmas vacation the post title message sort of leaped from the text that I was reading and begin to speak to my heart.  Thus, a sermon was born and I named it "When Troubles Come."

James was writing to the "12 tribes" who were scattered abroad as the NLT renders the verse.  Jews have an affinity for their homeland.  There's a sense of pride in the land that God promised to them, and in the nation they protect with the lives of their sons and daughters.  To be scattered from that homeland they loved so much, inspired James to begin his letter, "When troubles come..." (James 1:2).  Being away from this land that they loved so much -- by force  and persecution -- clearly defined itself with the word troubles.

For the believer, troubles aren't a possibility, but a guarantee.  It doesn't matter how much we confess the right phrases, or believe for blessing beyond measure.  Jesus said in John 16: 33, "In this world you will have troubles, but I give you my peace... take heart, because I have overcome the world" (paraphrase).  The problem that our word of faith friends have with what I'm is perhaps a misunderstanding of what "troubles" really are.

Most of the time when Americans think of troubles, it almost always is in reference to financial struggles.  Being so wealthy, as we are, our hearts are disembodied from our torsos and have attached their sinewy tentacles to live on some heap of gold we have so loved in this world. So when we think of troubles we immediately think of where are our hearts are located. The troubles, however, that James and Jesus are referring to are troubles that are directly related to our Christian witness and how this world hates us for it not the inconveniences so much that we face in life for loss of possessions.

So, in this context, do we really have troubles as American believers?

When have we been persecuted for our faith, or for sharing it?  Rarely, I would guess, if you're like me.  I can't say that I've been persecuted for preaching the gospel ever -- unless of course you count congregants taking up arms as I preach on to the brink of noon.  Barring those rare instances, then where's your trouble?  Where's my trouble?  Life is filled with inconveniences, of course.  Hard times, of course.  But being hated by the world for our faith? Not so fast my friend.

American society doesn't mind our tucked-away-Sunday-gatherings so as long as we keep them tucked away.  The world is our enemy, of course, because we stand for the righteousness of God, and the world... well, we formerly didn't stand for those things, did we?  As the community of believers engages our ever degrading culture in an active sense, we'll become more and more alienated from the world.  But wasn't that the point when we were saved... to come out of the world?  After so much of leaving the world with our new salvation zeal, we somehow were lulled asleep again while Delilah stroked our hair, we fell asleep and she wove it back into the fabric of society. We don't have the kind of trouble James was speaking of because, well, we're more accustomed to being like the world instead of being in it and not of it.

I almost went a different direction for my sermon this morning.  I was tinkering with an idea about how the church isn't anymore separated from the evils that surround us.  It was a piece about how entangled we are in the ills of society... and how we have lost our hatred for said ills. The message was to be titled "When God's Children Get Used to the Dark."  Maybe that will remain on the shelf until a later time.

So where's our trouble? Is our Christian witness causing us to be ipso facto hated by the world?  Or is our light so dim that it can no longer be detected in the dark? Has our light ceased to extinguish the night?  We are to be the light of the world, right? Yet we've learned to embrace the darkness because there's so much of it.  It has enveloped us and since it's difficult to beat 'em we sort of joined 'em.

Verse 6 of James 1 encourages believers to NOT WAVER.  Don't be double minded he says.  He goes on to say that a double minded person shouldn't expect to receive anything from God.  Maybe we should then ponder why God's voice seems so distant and why His hand seems so far removed from our lives.  Just a suggestion.

Let's not waver.  Let's stand firm in Him because when these troubles come -- persecutions for our witness -- James said we will grow, and these troubles will be an opportunity for great joy.  What great joy you ask?  They joy of loving and being so close to our savior that we count it joy to join Him in his persecution.  That's a closeness to the savior that only comes through testing, growth and faith.  It's a deep knowing of the Savior that goes beyond just a casual acquaintance to Christ. When we can have that depth, then we'll have Great Joy.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

So What's in the Drop Box?

Did you know that in our world today there exists a small wooden drop box?  It's an ordinary drop box only large enough to receive the packages for which it was designed.  It has a wooden lid, with a handle attached to a small depository. The box is affixed to the side of a building allowing access to the contents placed within the box from the inside of this building.  A person can walk up to this drop box, pull open the wooden lid, and then place their package gently within the box, and walk away unnoticed.

The packages placed inside the box come in small assorted sizes.  Their weight ranges from tiny 5 or 6lbs packages to heftier packages weighing 8, 9 or 10lbs.

"What is the value of the package," you ask?
That's a great question!  To the person dropping off the package, they are seemingly worthless.  To the person picking them up, they're priceless.

"And where is the package being sent?"
Another great question!  To the person dropping off the package they... well,... they don't really care.  To the person picking up the package, their destinations are endless, and filled now with hope.

"So what's in the drop box," you ask?
First, let me mention where this drop box is located.  It's located in Seoul, South Korea.  It's a real box, and it was handmade and placed on the side of a building by a precious, precious man.  The creator of this drop box made it for the express purposes of the unwanted, worthless packages that are placed in the box year round.

You see, there's a problem in Seoul, South Korea.  For whatever reason (and I use the word "reason" very losely here), women are abandoning their babies on the streets.  When they become pregnant, and don't want to take care of this precious new born, she goes out in the dark of night, lays her tiny 6 to 10lbs package on the street, and simply walks away.

Seeing this tragedy, Korean Pastor, Lee Jong-rak, decided to build a wooden drop box. He, by proxy, then created an orphanage.  Now, mothers who wish to give up their child, won't just leave them on the streets without any other option, but can come and place the tiny package into the wooden drop box, and the Pastor and his caregivers will care for this precious baby boy, or girl, as their own.  They don't simply just get these children off the street, but will lavish extravagant love on these seemingly unwanted, undesired precious babies.  Pastor Lee says he made a promise to God that he will love these children and care for them like his own.  He knows this wooden box isn't the best solution, but he decided he couldn't stand by preaching the gospel of love and hope in Jesus and allow this to continue without doing something himself.


So today, in our world, their exists a box.  A drop box; a baby box.  Where babies are placed into the box, and abandoned by those who have been created with an intimate instinct to love, nourish and care for this most precious of creations.  They disregard this internal instinct and walk off into the night.

We live in a broken, sad world.  I don't care any longer to live in such a sad world as this.  I want to live in a world, an eternal world, where no babies are abandoned, and no wooden drop boxes exist.  It pains me to see, and be among the ranks, of professing Christians, who claim to be followers of Christ, who have more passion, concern and priority for this messed up, tangled, broken, messy world than for the new world into which they were newly born when they believed.  It's the epitome of sadness.

I think what we have to examine closely is, are we really born into that new existence, that new world, or are we following empty orphan-ignoring-false-religion?  I know that sounds heavy handed, and if most of us saw a baby abandoned on the streets we too would pick this baby up and do our best to care for the child, or get him or her to someone who would.  But everyday we allow those around us who don't know Christ to continue on living in their lost states without leading them to the Father.  In a sense, we choose to leave orphans on the streets, in our families and at our work places because we refuse to go into all the world and make disciples.  It just costs us too much.  We Christians do love, however, to attend our services (or not), sing our songs (or not), listen to the message (or not), and then go home to live our "real" lives.  Our fun lives.  Our orphan-ignoring lives.  We all do it.  Me included... the chief among baby abandoners.

Without Christ the world is abandoned and orphaned, and lying helplessly on busy streets with names like Addiction St., Success St., Fun St., Don't Bother Me St., or my personal favorite street: I'm A Good Person St.


We fail, or at least I do, to recognize that there's a broken, hurting, dead world all around us that we've been saved for the purposes of bringing hope, love... and wooden drop boxes to.  Not just worldly, I-feel-good-about-myself kind of love that celebrities enjoy and makes us do good deeds at Christmas time.  I'm talking about a wooden-drop-box-making kind of love that says give me your discarded packages and I'll love them as my own sons and daughters no matter the cost.  That's the real transformational, selfless love that Christ came to put within us.  He said we would be known to be His true disciples by our love for one another, and for the widows and for the orphans, and for all those who need His grace.  Just like we ourselves did too.  Love, in the world, is broken when it's not supplied by Christ.

So the question to ask now: "Is that kind of love within us?"  Where in this world can we build our wooden boxes to help save the discarded?  Will we get to heaven and brag to God and show Him how big our houses are?  Or how new our cars are?  Or how cool we are? Or how smart we are?  Or how fit we are?  Or how much we attended church? No, I think those things will look somewhat silly sitting next to the martyrs' crowns that will be handed out by nail pierced hands to those who loved  Him selflessly.

I want to build eternal crowns of wooden drop boxes.  Not for my glory, but for the precious glory of Christ -- the carpenter of my wooden drop box when I too was abandoned and orphaned by my sins separated from my Father, the eternal Father.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Disguised Christ - Outreach Camp 2014

There are times in life that you are privileged to do one thing or another, and once the privileged time is over you're sad to see it gone, yet thankful that you were able to be a part of it.  Being Camp Pastor for Outreach Camp was an awesome experience for Pamela and I.  We spent most of the week, day and night, with a group of eight to twelve year olds who can't usually afford to go to a  week long camp.  Some of them come with only the clothes on their backs.  Some of them come bearing their parents', or grandparents', shame that they've placed on them on a daily basis.

Being ridiculed by those who are supposed to love them, it's rare they see adults who dote on them the love Christ has for them.  They stand amazed that these "cool" adults would take time out for them, and make them laugh, pray for them and give them encouraging words all week long.  We take so much for granted sometimes.  I have it so well, and my kids have it so well.  It was such a stark contrast to see kids that people don't love selflessly.

There's a whole population of children out there in the world who don't have that same safe refuge that most of us grew up with, knowing those who are in charge of us had our backs.  Some of these kids have to create their own safe places.  Places of hard living where no other person is going to intimidate them. Places where that little child is going to be harder, tougher and meaner than his or her surroundings.  It's a tough thing to see a ten year old with a hard heart because they've grown up in harsh environments.

There was a morning, where after breakfast the deans of the camp told every camper, in fun, that they couldn't leave the mess hall until they smiled at the Camp Pastor with their biggest, cheesiest grins.  Pamela  and I sat at the end table and smiled big goofy smiles at the campers as they were leaving to go to devotion time.  We had our biggest cheesiest grins we could muster at such an early morning.  Each one that went by flashing their best snaggle-toothed grins, I complimented each of them on how beautiful their smiles were.  There were several though, of these tough-skinned kids that weren't going to smile if the world's security depended upon it.  I chased one little girl out of the mess hall teasing her that she was going to smile at me whether she liked it or not!  She liked the attention, because as we walked out and I'm smiling so big my face was cramping, a grin began to creep across her stone-walled face.  Her eyes lit up, and for the rest of the week that little girl couldn't help but smile at me when I saw her.

A smile is such a simple thing, but when given to a child who has lived a pretty hard life it becomes priceless.  It becomes a bridge from your happy world into theirs.  Many such bridges were engineered and constructed this week at Outreach Camp.  Many of these children would come to us after our nightly worship services and would want us to pray for them.  One little boy came straight up to me and asked me if I would pray for him to be "bold and courageous for Jesus."  The kid was about eight years old.  I prayed for him, not sure of the world he would return to once the smoke and mirrors of our happy little camp seemed to him to be a desert mirage.  After praying for him, when he walked away, I prayed too that Jesus would help me to also be bold and courageous and not live this life for myself, but for Christ and for pouring out His love to those who need it most.

All the staff prayed that this week of Outreach Camp would change these children, change their destiny.  But I have a sneaking suspicion that the destinies changed might not just be those of the children, but ours. Mine.

One little girl that we prayed with, her name was Destiny.  I told her that she had a beautiful name, and that Jesus loved little girls named Destiny because that's what He likes to give them... a great, big destiny.  My mind wondered what her life will be like in ten years as a  young lady.  Will her destiny be swallowed up by the life and poverty she's surrounded by?  Or is there someway, somehow that the Christ she met this week disguised in camp staff clothes, tennis shoes, and devotionals be seed enough for the Holy Spirit to change her stars, so-to-speak?  I believe so.  I believe that the love of Christ is the most powerful seed that can be planted in young fertile hearts.  I believe that the apostle Paul was correct when he said, "Love conquers all."  I believe that God is bigger than all of our problems and bigger than all of our fears.  I believe that God is bigger than any mountain that these little kids will ever face.  I believe that God is faithful to His word and to the work that His servants perform.  I believe the disguised Christ will continue to show up in these kids' lives from now on because He loves them more than I ever could imagine.  Kind of like the way He loves me.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The Leading Tracks

The tracks that lead us home, or away, some place
we've never been or seen,
or perhaps we have,
where my heart can finally rest in place.
Passing back through this place, perhaps,
only if it be my lot.

To travel where my heart is no more weary,
is to travel home
on these leading tracks,
all the way back to where my heart calls home.
Back to the place where leading tracks
lead me there to your heart's home.

Monday, June 23, 2014

New Orleans Mission Trip Day: 6

Day 6 seemed to be the hardest, or at least bitter sweet.  It was sweet because, for me, the promise of seeing my three children that we left behind at home pushed me onward to be at home.  It was bitter because we would be leaving the wonderful children, director, staff and the people, sights and smells of New Orleans that had become, in a weird temporary way, home.

Our day was not very busy.  We had completed most of the tasks we'd been assigned to do already in the week thanks to the hard work of the teens Pamela, Aaron and I were over.  They were troopers!  We knew we'd be leaving First Pilgrim after lunch, but this lunch was going to be particularly special.  Cedric, the maintenance director, had been a chef for 21 years in the French Quarter and around New Orleans.  He explained to us that after Katrina he found so many other talents and gifts that he didn't know he had.  He found himself fixing, repairing and doing all types of maintenance work that he had never done before.  Necessity breeds invention.  Luckily for our crew, however, one of his gifts was cooking.  Cedric fixed for us a special lunch of homemade jambalaya, some of the best fried chicken I've ever eaten, with all the fixings.  It was out of this world great!  We were so thankful for his hospitality!

After lunch, we gathered our things, did some final cleaning and said goodbye to our new found friends of First Pilgrim Summer Day Camp.  Having half a day still left before us we wanted to make the most out of our mission, so we headed back down to the French Quarter.  We wanted to give out the Gospel to as many people as we could, so we decided that we'd spend another couple of hours walking the streets and trying to hand out the Gospel.  This was a whole different experience than handing out the Gospel in the ninth ward.  There everyone was uncannily receptive to what we had to give them, even receiving hugs and thank yous from the various people we were able to reach.  In the French Quarter, though, we were met with tons of "le resistance".  We had more rejection than we had success.  Mainly the streets were full of tourists like ourselves.  Most were there to party, and we found ourselves in the middle of Pride Week.  I will have to say, however, that the locals were easy to pick out from the tourist and they were very warm and receptive to us from my experience.  I could walk up to any local and ask them if I could give them something to read and they'd say, "Sure you can," and then have a conversation with them.

We all felt very foolish being out there peddling our fliers, but Aaron Griffin -- our worship leader back home -- was the man.  He was the first to admit what we were all feeling, but he said, "I don't care, I'm pushing through this feeling and giving them the Good News."  I think that was the spark we all needed, and an awesome reminder that Peter said we "are a peculiar people" (1 Peter 2:9).  We're not supposed to fit in to the culture around us because we're no longer living for our selves nor our own purposes.  We belong to a new city not built with human hands.  It also reminded me that it was God's choosing and His will that mankind wouldn't know Him through human wisdom, but that He would use the foolishness of preaching to save those who believe (1 Corinthians 1:21).

After much foolishness, we planned a stop at Cafe du Monde to fill ourselves with beignets and cafe au lait before leaving this smelly city I now love.  We then  returned back to our base church for evening service and then a late night 5 hour car ride home.  We arrived around 4am to our familiar surroundings of Birmingham/Tuscaloosa, Alabama, crawled into bed and dreamed of jazz music, Jesus and jambalaya.

As a side note, that morning when I awoke, I lumbered into the bathroom ready to take my first warm shower in six-plus days.  I stared at the knob in the shower for quite some time before twisting it to the cold position instead of warm, and began washing in the chilly, breath-taking waters of home not yet ready to make the trek back to normal living. In a certain sense, I hope I never do.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

New Orleans Mission Trip Day: 5

After our half day of fun, food and finding our way around New Orleans, it was back to work and serving.

Our team was back at First Pilgrim in the upper ninth ward. We were the envy of all the mission teams because on this day we got to accompany the children and teachers to the New Orleans Zoo. Yes, we were really suffering for the cause of Christ. After cleaning the kitchen from their breakfast, we busied ourselves with making badges for all the children to help identify their group if they were lost. The budget constraints on what First Pilgrim was able to do was noticed in the making of the badges. We salvaged the plastic place card holders and pins from previous trips and made new ones for those badges who hadn't survived the previous First Pilgrim campers. Mrs. Juluke, the camp director, talked to us about the limited funds and how they made the most of what they had and that God made up the difference. First Pilgrim was able to do the summer camp, feeding the kids two meals a day, plus pay a small salary to the teachers, helpers and maintenance staff. Pamela and I were amazed that all this was provided for $65/child for the entire summer!

After lunch we cleaned the kitchen again, and then began boarding the buses to head to the zoo. Our team was pretty excited. Pamela and I had volunteered to watch one kid who had been misbehaving. His name was Alton. Mrs. Juluke was not going to allow him to go on the trip unless a family member attended with him. Hearing the news, he hanged his head. He knew it wasn't likely that he would be able to go with that particular requirement. Having a Messiah complex, I threw myself on the grenade and stepped up volunteering to Mrs. Juluke to watch after Alton. The wise, old sage tilted her head down, peered over her thin rimmed glasses, drew a sly smile across her face and said in a tone that surmised the failure of the future well in advance, "Alright by me."

In addition to Alton, we inherited eight other similar "problem children" that otherwise would not have been able to attend.  We loaded the buses and with glee headed to our envied mission field. After arriving, filing through the front gate, and checking in we were on our own. It was like herding cats! Those boys were climbing every fence, running in every direction, screaming, crying, fighting each other, and complaining about every aspect of what were doing. They wanted to go see this animal, or that animal, then while seeing said animal they complained that they weren't seeing another animal. At one point I noticed all the animals lining up to watch us! Our crew counted down the minutes to 2:30 when we'd be loading the buses again. I can't honestly remember if the New Orleans Zoo actually contained any animals! But thankfully we lost no one, and Alton and all the misfit toys got to enjoy the zoo.

Never had I been so eager to get back on a bus in all my life, but truthfully though they were rowdy, we had the time of our life with those children. They were great fun!

The heat of the New Orleans Zoo never made a cold shower and nap seem so great. We had a fun, exhausting Thursday on mission. Never would I have imagined our mission trip taking such turns as wrangling a bunch of boys through the zoo that needed some time and attention from someone who loved them. We were thankful to Christ for the time spent with these wonderful little guys.