Thursday, May 16, 2013

Life Is In the Details...

It's weird sometimes the day that stretches out before us. We completely expect one thing, then something totally unexpected turns us from the ordinary to the extraordinary, or perhaps the horrifying. A day can't be predicted no matter how many ordinary days have seemed to line up endlessly.
Life is weird like that. Each day a unique finger print taking us from where we were to where we should be. They don't seem any different than the one before but the subtle nuances that seemingly unfold before our very eyes, unnoticed, turn it into a completely new and different day than the one before. We complain about the monotony of our lives but it's just bc we've forgotten how to notice the little tiny details that make our days unique and important.

I want to pay better attention to those important details. For instance, Annsley, my daughter, asked me this week had I noticed how long her hair has grown. Sadly, I hadn't. But once she pointed it out to me it was apparent that it has grown much longer. Where was I while Repunzle was growing her locks to escape from this tower of childhood? I was probably worrying about some unimportant details of life, too wrapped up in those to notice this important detail. It's a shame how we live; so focused on the big picture that we miss the real life happening around us in real time. 

This moment right now is where our focus should be. Not eyeing the distant road sprawling out before us that we may never travel in the first place. I want to live here, in this moment, and then in the next so I don't miss my daughter's hair growing longer. I don't want to miss the growing tower of marker notches creeping up my sons' bedroom door frame; inch by inch until I measure my sons not by how tall they've grown but by how far away they have moved from us. They won't always live within our reach, and that doesn't happen over night.

Thank you Father in Christ for life, and help me to enjoy it and cherish it as you have given it to me. Help me not to wish it away with all my future planning to one day long to have it back.  You keep tomorrow... help me to live with you today in each now-noticed-moment of precious, fleeting life.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Something I've Learned This Week...

It's simple, basic, elementary, really, but has been difficult for me to learn.  Here it is...

God loves me.
I was so afraid that when I stepped down as pastor last week that the earth was going to open up and swallow me down into the depths of its fire-lined belly. Well, as of yet I'm still atop the soil.  I'm sure that can change in a moment; I'm not sure how fast news travels to Heaven these days.  Before I dig any deeper a hole for myself, I must say that I was relieved to find that God's nature hasn't changed.  I don't want to disappoint God.  I love Him so very much, and to find out the truth that He loves me more than I could ever possibly love Him has been so freeing.  Not freeing in the sense that I can do whatever I want and not have the bowels of Hell open up to me, but freeing in the sense that I don't give him much credit.

He is famous for saying, "I'll never leave you or forsake you."  Did you catch that?  He said, "Never."  I see my children doing things that disappoint me all the time.  In fact, just a couple of weeks ago, I had to take my oldest son trekking across our neighborhood to apologize to a girl in his class on the bus.  He and another little boy were caught saying some inappropriate things by the bus driver and I received "the phone call."  In that moment, I wanted to spank and ground that kid until Christ Himself returned to forgive him personally.  I was very disappointed because I know my son is better than his actions.

It occurred to me, however, on the way home from a very embarrassing trip to our neighbors -- for us both, I might add -- that he, Caleb, was my son and my love for him was never in question.  Had he disappointed me?  Yes.  Had he disappointed himself?  Sure.  Was he wrong in what he did?  Absolutely.  But my love for him was unaffected.  In fact it was a bit of a wake up call that I needed to show more love and care for him.  He's growing up.  He's becoming a teenager.  He wants to fit in and be liked, and is struggling through that like we all have.  In this moment and time, he needs love from a father that doesn't ever give up on him.

I'm thankful that I keep learning this myself.  Was God disappointed in me when I stepped down?  Maybe.  Was I disappointed in myself?  Absolutely.  Was I wrong for stepping down?  Perhaps.  But the truth in all of this is that God's love for me IS NOT in question.  And I can live with that.  What I can't live with are anymore embarrassing trips through the neighborhood to have my son apologize to a child and her parents for being, well, an idiot.  But if we all live long enough, and the hole in the earth doesn't present itself, I'm sure I'll make that trip again at some point.  I'll just be making it with a child that I love dearly enough to go with them to knock on the door of our disappointments.

Thank you God for loving me.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Why I Stepped Down as Sr. Pastor

This past Sunday (05/05/13) I stepped down as Pastor of the Alton Church in Birmingham after only eight months. It came as a shock to the congregation. Some close friends of mine knew the personal inner struggle I had with this role, and my resignation came as no surprise. However to the majority this was somewhat shocking news to be stepping down so abruptly.

The purpose of this post is to be clear as to the reasoning for my early departure from this local church.
First of all, no one "ran me off." In fact, the people of the church were completely kind, generous and gracious to our family. The church people accepted my wife and children with love and open arms and many great, lasting relationships have been forged in this short time. They accepted me as well, and most all went along with my cracked-pot ideas (my term). Naturally, there was resistance to some of the change, but these were openly discussed, debated and resolved.

Secondly, this was a personal decision.

The decision to step down was made prior to Easter, and I took the following weeks leading up to my resignation to rethink, pray and find peace before making it final. As a side note, I found it quite striking that the Pope stepped down recently as well. Benedict was the first Pope to resign the position in 600 years.  It struck me as odd as well to learn that the overseer of our denomination gave his resignation this past Monday..., the same week I resigned. I don't know if there was something in the air, but resigning seemed to be vogue.

Which leads me to my reason(s) for resigning...

Ministry, preaching the Word, praying for people, making a positive impact in peoples' lives and discipling followers of Christ are the elements that really make me tick as a minister.  The details of being in the ministry and the huge cloud of burden that follows you everywhere you go is what so discourages me.

There's an element of pastoring a congregation, as good as that congregation may be (which is the case at Alton - good people), that is completely stressing and worrisome. I found that this burden didn't cause me to pull more closely to Christ as one might imagine, but I started pulling away. Bible study, prayer, sermon prep all became a worrisome thing to me because having become fixated on what I perceived people wanting instead of focusing on what Christ desires.  I had it backwards.  People pleasing is a bitter poison that drains God's ministers and places said minister in bondage. Unfortunately, I never properly separated the man from the ministry taking anything and everything very personally.  I didn't want pastoring to change me, my temperament and approachable personality. I didn't want to become calloused and shut off from people as I've seen happen with some pastors.

I became bogged down with budgets, music, problems, programs, offenses of others, unfaithful people, people leaving to go elsewhere, murmurs, complaints, formats of service, worship styles, hospital visits, full time work, full time family (my priority after loving God), the distance we traveled from home to church, my own paranoia and plain old-downright tiredness. There seemed to be no relief in sight and I let that thought of hopelessness get the best of me.

I'm not saying this is okay or even right. I'm not justifying anything either.  I'm just saying that this all factors in to why I stepped down. I'm not even saying that I went about it the right way.  I'm sure the Pharisees will line up to privately and publicly jeer, throw stones and question my trust in God. And that's okay..., I questioned it too. Pastoring is a tough work for tough men with thick skin. I am neither tough nor thick skinned.

Finally, I am, however, grateful for the opportunity to have tried. I'm thankful for all the friends who traveled with me through my times of despair that went unnoticed on the surface. And I love God for teaching me a thing or two about who I am and, more importantly, about who He is.

I'm not stepping away from ministry per se, but I am stepping back to give God space to help me deal with my insecurities and trust issues in a toned down role at a local church in Bessemer under a great Pastor.

I love God so much. This hasn't changed. And greater than this is the fact that His love for me hasn't changed either. I'm not junk being discarded. I'm gold being refined in the fire by the Master. 

Thanks to everyone for your continued love. Any other rumor about my stepping down is just that... Rumor. Any speculation as to other reasons I stepped down is just that... Speculation. I can't stop either, and that's okay. If you hear the rumor that I can't hack it as a Pastor, well... that one may be true. :) I still love Christ and His calling and I know that He's still working on me.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

A Psalm of Relief... (Sing to the tune of "Oh, God You heard me?!")

"What a difference a day makes. I cried out to You, at my ropes end, and You answered.  From my dark pit of gloom, You jumped in with me, cared for me and pulled me out to safe light.
I thought You were away from me, but You were there with me.  I can't believe how You have answered my prayers. I withdrew, but You pursued.  I got angry and quiet, yet You sang soothingly soft to me.  In my despair, You lifted my chin, looked me in the eyes, smiled at me, saying no words, but speaking volumes of comfort to me.
Now my soul hopes.  Now my spirit smiles.  Now my heart laughs again, and my stinging cheeks soaked from saline saturated sorrows are soothed and refreshed as though cool sunny, spring rains have rinsed them and refreshed them. 
My doubts turned to humbled confidence that You have me.  My fears are relieved as You flip on the light switch showing me that my monsters aren't real.  You sit at my bedside until I drift off to sound sleep.  You rest me.
You come along side me.  You take the load I'm carrying from off my shoulders and onto Yours.  You give me a cool drink that refreshes my parched throat of weariness.  You sit with me.  You enjoy a good movie with me as we sit worry free on my couch.  You laugh with me and take my mind from any troubles I see.  You are there for me.
My silence is turned to joyous, robust singing without care of pitch or tone because my heart is forming the notes and not my well thought out mouth.  I'm not worried at my inability to sing well... I'm just elated that now I can sing.
Ah, you refresh me!  You reclaim my soul from Hell.  You chase away my Enemy and I am safe.
You heard; You came; You loved... You conquered all."

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Thanksgiving Day Upon Mars Hill...

I was thinking this morning how quickly Thanksgiving Day has seemed to come this year.  I then began to think of all the things that I'm so thankful for.  I'm so utterly thankful for my family.  I thank God for my family.  This led my thinking to wonder what non-believers are thankful for, and how at Thanksgiving, despite ones religious or non-religious affirmations, they too will be thankful for much of the same things -- family.

Being thankful has caused me to question and wonder what it really actually means to be "thankful". The definition of thanksgiving is simply to give thanks.  To be thankful there must be one to which our gratitude is given, otherwise you don't have thanksgiving.  Pretty simple, basic and logical.  Thankful believers and non-believers alike will give thanks on this holiday.  For believers in Christ our thanks will be given to the Giver of all life.  But to non-believers, where will their thanks go?  To whom will their thanksgiving be given?

Unknowingly, they'll express thankfulness, caught up in the season of gratitude and being festively drunk on family and food, there will rise up in the non-believer a moment where their inhibitions will relent shortly and with thankful hearts their gratitude will rise up as well to the "unknown God".  He, after all, is the Giver of the objects they will be thankful for, whether spouse, parents or children, all of which have pressed upon their visages the image of the Creator.  They will be giving thanks to God because He is the originator, giver and bringer of all life.  Whether they choose to acknowledge it or not, despite the foolish lies they've, perhaps, bought into, they will be unknowingly thanking Him.

At Mars Hill, as told in the book of Acts, Paul confronts the philosophers, thinkers  and teachers of his day at that gathering place in Greece.  There they had erected a statue to honor the "unknown god" amongst all the "known" gods of their day.  Paul said that this "unknown god" they paid homage to was in actuality the revealed God of the Hebrews who had sent Christ as the sacrifice for sins so that we all might be forgiven and have new life.  This "new" teaching Paul shared with them intrigued them and they sought more teaching by him.  He stayed on there teaching and showing people the Way -- Jesus.

On Thanksgiving Day, all across our nation, thanks will be poured out from merry hearts to the "unknown God" upon the Mars Hill of our hearts.  The sad fact, however, is that without the knowing of this God -- Jesus the Messiah -- they will null any credit that should be tallied to their accounts on behalf of their thankfulness.  Professing to be wise, we become fools because we ignore the evident Giver to which we are so thankful. 

Pray that our unbelieving friends, family and countrymen will see the Christ that loves them so much, who has blessed them so abundantly with their lives and family in whom they love dearly and are thankful for on this Thanksgiving Day.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Thoughts From My Journal on What Calvin Miller May Be Doing at This Moment...

This morning from my journal: I was drawn to thinking of Dr. Calvin Miller, author, pastor and professor, who died this year, August 9th, 2012, at the age of 75.  His written works include The Singer Trilogy, The Celtic Path of Prayer, Life is Mostly Edges, Sermon Maker, Into the Depths and his most recent (that touched and helped me beyond any other) Letters to a Young Pastor.  This isn't a complete list of his works, but a good start.  He also has written several children's book and many poems.  Much thanks to Pastor Roger Daniel of Caffee Junction Church of God for introducing me to this great man and writer.  Though I never met him in person, he retired from Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, Alabama where I live, and he lived in Trussville just a few miles from where I now pastor.  It seems that we were destined to meet, though it never happened, but one day I'm confident, in Christ, we will.  On the day of his death, when I saw the Tweets concerning his passing... I couldn't help but cry.

Here's the entry from my journal dated Tuesday, November 20th, 2012...

For some reason I'm thinking about Calvin Miller this morning. A man I don't know except through his writings.
What a writer and thinker he was here upon this earthly realm.  What a writer and thinker he must now be on that eternal shore where he is no longer inhibited by the limits of mere human expression.  His mind has now been unlocked as the blinding scales of our humanity have been peeled away by Christ's own fingers. 
Some might think it absurd to imagine that in Heaven there is writing.  I imagine that the best writing is done there.  Here we're only given a glimpse of the writing potential that exists when no prohibition is made to the artistic expression of such a beautiful form of communication as when the mind has finally been liberated to righteousness, holiness and unhindered perception, now having an eternal vantage point.

Oh the words Calvin now has access to that express such fullness of concepts no human tongue has knowingly uttered; except, perhaps, in some form of charismatic spattering that most of the Christian world condemns as emotional ecstasy.  Those unknown languages, are at his full disposal now, and the concepts he once struggled to string together here (oh that I "struggled" as he) now flow in holy ecstasy expressing the beauty and grandeur he knows now so vibrantly.  Down here, he only could guess at the grandeur he penned in books published on dirty, used presses.  There the grandeur is now bathing him in golden warmth where his soul is satisfied, and his writings printed in angelic hues of electric light on parchment peeled from Divine Presence.

I imagine him with some holy pen (holy because everything in Heavenly is illuminated by light that emanates from God's own Son so that it can be seen and grasped by spiritual hands) feverishly writing of all the new things his eyes have been awakened to.  Perhaps one complete sentence there, though no time at all passes, has taken him here 10,000 years to scribe.

He probably shares in a writers guild with those passed away writers such as Paul, with his letters; Isaiah and Jeremiah, with their oracles; David and his son Solomon, with their poetry and praise; Moses and Esther, with their stories of Presence; Spurgeon, with sermon; Charles Wesley, with song; Tolkien and Lewis, with sheer genius.  I hope, also, that Oscar Wilde is with them having now learned the craft of grace.  He pens now not from the perception of hedonism and sensual exploitation, but from the perception of perfect Love he found on his death bed of sickness from a life wrecked with human taking and grief now redeemed by glowing, piercing beams of grace.  I think they're all, also, waiting in anticipation for their sons Lucado, Zacharias, Chan and Platt to arrive. 

I hope they'll let me sit in on such an eternally, exquisite guild one day.  Not because I'm ever to become an "accomplished" writer such as they, but because I've cried out to the Spirit in my journals of desperate weakness.  In those cries, I hope, something of those inexpressible ecstasies spilled unknowingly onto my pages in groanings that were not written in any audibly recognizable tones of intellectual purpose.

I'm not quite sure what turned my think this morning to Miller, but, for whatever reason, the thought of his writing finally being loosed in Heaven gives hope that Spirit filled writing will be loosed on Earth as well.  The writings that Calvin now engages must be wonderfully expressive and fully complete in a way his human hand never achieved.  I think of him spilling his liberated heart out in divine poetry that no human here can read, but one day, by the heavenly sea, we'll recline and read and marvel still at the works of the Spirit through Calvin Miller.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Third Great Awakening...

Billy Graham just released an open letter to America expressing his heartache over our moral decline.  In it he says this:
Some years ago, my wife, Ruth, was reading the draft of a book I was writing. When she finished a section describing the terrible downward spiral of our nation’s moral standards and the idolatry of worshiping false gods such as technology and sex, she startled me by exclaiming, “If God doesn’t punish America, He’ll have to apologize to Sodom and Gomorrah.”

She was probably thinking of a passage in Ezekiel where God tells why He brought those cities to ruin. “Now this was the sin of ... Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. They were haughty and did detestable things before me. Therefore I did away with them as you have seen” (Ezekiel 16:49–50, NIV).

I wonder what Ruth would think of America if she were alive today. In the years since she made that remark, millions of babies have been aborted and our nation seems largely unconcerned. Self-centered indulgence, pride, and a lack of shame over sin are now emblems of the American lifestyle
Dr. Graham goes on to say,
Yet the farther we get from God, the more the world spirals out of control.

My heart aches for America and its deceived people. The wonderful news is that our Lord is a God of mercy, and He responds to repentance. In Jonah’s day, Nineveh was the lone world superpower—wealthy, unconcerned, and self-centered. When the Prophet Jonah finally traveled to Nineveh and proclaimed God’s warning, people heard and repented.

I believe the same thing can happen once again, this time in our nation.
 The saddest aspect of this letter is found in his statement, "The wonderful news is that our Lord is a God of mercy, and He responds to repentance." You may wonder how can this be the saddest portion of the letter?  Doesn't it seem that this is the portion of our greatest hope?

It is so terribly sad to me because the American people WILL NOT repent, and God has seen this.  We are so wealthy and unconcerned that, like Sodom and Gomorrah, we won't repent either and God will have to act justly against us bringing us to a  place of nothingness.  It will be His greatest act of mercy in actuality because left in our present state there can be no salvation without repentance.  He will cause us to see Him and to turn from our wickedness and this will be our ultimate salvation.

Joel C. Rosenberg's book "Implosion" documents the declining morality of America.  Our society is riddled daily with scandal after scandal, and violence after violence.  They keep coming in greater and greater proportions; one larger and more sickly grandiose than the scandal previous.  Most of our practiced and accepted immorality is no longer on our radar as being reprehensible.  It has become the accepted. It has, sadly, become the American way.

The fact that America won't repent, however doesn't mean that you can't.  It is entirely possible and needed that you and I repent, walk holy and upright before our Lord despite the status quo of our nation.  In every judgment that God has been forced to extend, He has always reserved for Himself a people who are carrying on His way and purpose and who have His heart.

In the instance of Noah, he preserved all who would heed His call to repentance as Noah built the ark of salvation from the impending judgment.  This resulted in only Noah's family being rescued while the world mocked him.  When Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed for the reasons listed above, he rescued Lot's family only from the flames, despite the promise that if Abraham could find just 10 righteous men the cities would be preserved.  In Jeremiah's day, he promised to rebuild Israel after 70 years of captivity in Babylon all the while Jeremiah contended with lying prophets who said, "this judgment can't happen to us."  The same will be for us.  Neither will we change our lifestyles to repent and turn to the Lord.  We are secure in our comforts, sinfulness and unconcern.

Even though America will be judged severely to bring us to a place where we'll return to God, He will preserve His people.  Our hearts need to be inclined to Him now.  Our spirits must be prepared for that which is to come, whenever it is to come and however it is to come.  We can't quite know the when and where, but the Lord's Spirit is speaking and stressing to those that will hear Him that judgment is inevitable and will come.  Call out on the Lord and we will be saved!

The Third Great Awakening that both Billy Graham and Joel Rosenberg are calling for will happen, but sadly, it seems, it won't come until after we've been humbled.  If we'll now humble ourselves, and judge ourselves, He won't have to do it when He pours out His justice on the rest of a rebellious, godless nation. We can be the preserved people, if we'll turn to Him now and repent of our ways and call on His Name, Jesus.

Don't be ashamed of the gospel and let's preach it wherever there is an ear to hear.  To God be all glory. May He help us all now and in the times to come.