For it is by grace you have been saved...

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Reflections on 15 Years at Faith

Today marks the 15th Anniversary of my first Sunday as Pastor at Faith Southern Baptist Church. Given the fact that we've served in pastoral ministry for just less than 30 years, and have served a handful of churches and ministries in that time, it doesn't take a math genius to realize that we've been at this church for more than half our ministry lives (and three times as long as anywhere else). Also, given the fact that this fellowship is getting ready to celebrate our 20th Anniversary, it's overwhelming to me to realize that I've been the pastor here for three quarters of the church's existence. Wow!

I jokingly mentioned to someone recently that “you'd think a guy would accomplish something in 15 years.” To which they said, “You have accomplished something; they let you stay for 15 years!” The truth behind that is sad. With the average pastor staying less than five years (even in my own early history), it seems to be a remarkable thing to be in the same church for 15 years.

There is much for me to be thankful for. This church fellowship has been amazingly loving and kind and patient and supportive and generous. Not that we haven't had our bumps along the way. I wish it weren't so. I wish I could take back every mistake, every oversight, every hasty word. I wish that some who have come and gone over the years, would have come and stayed. In hindsight I know that my sermons could have been better, my priorities could have been stronger, my love and care for these people could have been displayed better.

Yet, as my Daddy used to say, “wish in one hand and spit in the other, and see which one fills up the quickest.” May not be the most theologically perfect statement, or the most tactful; but it's true. And to “wish” for things to be different, in the end, denies the goodness of our Sovereign King who ordered it to be so. But I digress.

As I was saying, there is much to be thankful for. We have seen God do some amazing things. We've seen Him provide in situations where only He could have provided. We've seen lives changed that only He could change (which is really all of us, right?). We've experienced the joys of friendship and fellowship. Though some ministries/programs have only lasted a season, we've seen blessings in them all.

One of the joys of a longer ministry tenure is seeing children become adults, get married and start having children of their own. It's mind boggling to me to know that some of these young people have never had a pastor other than me. That's humbling, and quite honestly, frightening in a sense; challenging. (Keep you up at night kind of challenging!)

We've shared joys and sorrows together. The whole “marry 'em and bury 'em” king of thing. We've seen some come to see Christ for the first time, and some go to see Christ face to face. Thankfully, we've seen so many grow in their faith, and are blessed right now to have a group of folks who genuinely hunger for the Word of God. I once told someone that I've always said I'd rather serve 30 people who genuinely love Christ and are seeking to grow in Him, than to serve 300 professlings; and I'm about to whittle it down to those 30!

Sadly, while the truth of the blessing part of that, those growing in faith, is true; the down side of that, the small number, is also truer than I'd like. Of course, we're never satisfied with “numbers.” We'd always like to see more people in our worship services, see more lives changed eternally, more...I don't know, just more. Being an introspective/melancholy kind of person, I could get a little depressed that maybe we haven't seen some more of those outwardly visibly kinds of things. I sometimes wonder if the church would prosper more with someone else as pastor. If maybe I'm “doing it wrong,” or some other self-centered, pity party kind of thought. But God rescues me from those and reminds me of His grace; that it's all about Him, all according to His plans and purposes, all for His glory.

So, I am grateful for all God has done. For all He has taught me. For the little I've been able to teach others. I'm thankful for the blessing of serving this fellowship of believers for the last 15 years; and God willing, I'm am excited about serving for the next 15, or 20, or however long God will allow it. I've said frequently, and mean with all my heart, than I am perfectly content to retire here. Not that I'm looking to do that anytime soon! Just that I have no desire to go elsewhere. No desire to leave this precious family for any other.

I could go on, but I've rambled on too much all ready. So let me just say, “Thank you.”

Thank you to the people of Faith Southern for allowing me to serve you. Please pray for me that God will enable me to do a better job of that serving. Pray that He will continue to draw me to His Word, so that Christ and His glory will remain at the center of all we do.

Thank you to my wife and children. You have given and given up more than many will ever know. Only another pastor's family can appreciate the level of commitment and sacrifice. I pray your love for Christ and His church continues to grow, in spite of me and sometimes in spite of the things you've seen in “church.”

And Thank You, Father God. For the privilege of being Your child, and the sacrifice of Christ which makes that possible. Thank You for the joy of serving You at all. And thank You for the blessing of serving this body of believers. I know I'm imperfect, and I know You know I'm imperfect; and I thank you for the grace that allows me to serve anyway. Give me grace and faith and strength to keep pressing on, to one day here those most long-for words, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”

Sunday, July 29, 2018

A Fasting Hymn

I've read about so many pastors of a few generations ago, who would regularly write hymns for their church services.  Especially if they couldn't find one that "fit" with a particular service.


Preaching through Matthew I come to a mention of "fasting."  So, I'm preaching on fasting.  There aren't many hymns about fasting, at least that I could find.  So, I wrote one.  This is what we sang this morning.

We come with empty hands, O Lord
To lift Your Name in praise
We take our eyes off of the world
Upon Your face to gaze.

We set aside the things of life
To seek Your will and way
We need Your grace, Your guiding light
Oh help us, Lord, we pray

Our daily bread comes by Your grace
For that we praise You, Lord
Yet gladly we forego that taste
To feast upon Your Word

In Christ we have all that we need
In Him we rest secure
Upon His truth we now will feed
And our reward is sure

To You, O Lord, we give our fast
Your presence now our aim
We ask for blessings that will last
To glorify Your Name.

Monday, April 30, 2018

The Cure for Racism (or at least in our family)

I would never suggest that my wife and I are perfect parents, that our children are perfect people, or that our efforts are the perfect example.  But please read to the end before making any judgments on what I'm saying here.  Because I have to say that my children have demonstrated more than once that gospel centered living, a biblical understanding of personhood, and Christ like love is the answer for racism.

I've been hearing so much lately about how the only way we can reconcile all the racial tension is for “white” people to apologize for every wrong ever done to “black” people.  This is so flawed because it is in itself a “racist” idea.  The very concept divides us into categories.  It assumes that because I'm white, my family history is full of racists; and because someone else is black, they are the children of slaves and victims.  That's racist.

It could be that my family heritage is full of Christ centered opponents of slavery and racism.  It could be that this person is the descendant of tribal royalty only recently emigrated to this country.  Probably not.  But to automatically infer that my skin color defines my heart and the heart of my family is racist.  To demand for me to apologize for something I didn't do simply based on skin color, is in fact racist.  And it's no more helpful than asking those of darker color to have to apologize for inter-tribal atrocities done in their own history.  Furthermore, it just reinforces our differences, instead of focusing on the truth we are all just People.  

I dealt with this while living on a Sioux Reservation in North Dakota.  My response to people who brought up the past “outrages” done by one side or the other, was simply “that wasn't me, and it wasn't you.  We live in the here and now, and I love you with the love of the Lord.”  I know that sounds simplistic.  But here's where my kids come in.

Our oldest daughter was only a toddler when we moved to that Reservation.  When we moved back to Missouri several years later, she heard some folks talking about “Indians” in the days leading up to Thanksgiving.  And she came home and asked us, “Do we know any Indians?” We chuckled and started naming some of our friends from North Dakota.  And her innocent response was shock.  “They were Indians?!”  It never dawned on her that those folks were anything other than People.  Friends.  Church members.  Children of God.  People, period.

Again, we aren't perfect parents.  But we've tried to always live with a biblical attitude that says there is only one race: the human race.  And there are only two kinds of people: those who know Christ, and those who need to know Christ.  And, thankfully, our children picked up on that.

Example number two.  Fast forward almost 20 years.  Our little later-in-life-surprise is now 13 years old.  We've tried to raise him like the other, older three, with the same ideas of personhood.  And it seems to have paid off. 

We brought home the DVD of The Greatest Showman, which he hadn't seen yet.  For any others who haven't seen it, one of the main sub plots is the budding romance between two people of different skin colors.  And they are the focus of much scorn and derision by other characters in the movie.  

After the movie was over, I asked our son:  “Do you know why the relationship between Carlyle and Anne was such a big deal?  Why people were so offended and upset by it?”  And his answer was a confused, “Uh, not really?”  My heart just exploded with joy.  He is so oblivious to the very idea that people would be upset by an “inter-racial” relationship, that it blew right by him. 

When I explained that in the time this movie was set, folks were bothered by that sort of thing, he just said, “Ohh.  I didn't think of that.  Yeah, I guess that makes sense.”  Just didn't even seem like an issue for him

I know I'm probably just being a little naive here.  But if we just spent more time seeing people's hearts changed by the gospel, living lives according to biblical ideals, seeing people as people instead of doing a million other things to highlight our differences, we just might be a little better off.

In the end, I realize that we will never “end racism”, because racism is sin and we will never be free from sin in this world.  Only when Christ returns and establishes His kingdom will we finally live together in the harmony God desires.  But we can at least work toward that end.  We can look at people as people, not as a skin color.  And we can teach our children to do the same, not teach them to feel guilty for the sins of generations ago.  Instead let's help them look to the present and future with the hope of Christ.  And maybe that will bring us just a little closer to that elusive “end.” 

Friday, April 6, 2018

Don't Be Anxious About Your Anxiety

I can be a real mess.  I mentioned in the last post about anxiety being the prompt for the whole thing.  And I've confessed here, and to our church, on many occasions this ongoing struggle. But what really gets me is the circular pattern I can get into.

I start to feel anxious about something.  And then knowing that I am commanded in Scripture not to feel anxious, I get upset about being anxious.  And then my anxiety increases as I become more anxious, and more anxious about being anxious, and... well, you get the point.  Told you I was a mess.

As I got to thinking about this, I realized that while it is still wrong for me to be anxious, it may be even worse to be anxious about being anxious.  Because God knew I would struggle with this. That's why He has to tell me in His Word, over and over, not to fear; not to be anxious.  I don't think He would have felt the need to repeat this so many times had He not known what a real, ongoing temptation this was going to be. 

And not just for me. I'm not arrogant to think that God wrote all those things just for my particular case.  He must have known that His people in general would struggle here. 

Now, before I go any further, let's put this one little thing to rest.  I have heard, read, been told that God says “Do not fear” exactly 365 times in the Bible, one for each day of the year.  Isn't that amazing??  Of course, a few problems here:
    1) The Jewish calendar only has 354 days.  The 365 day calendar is a much more modern invention, so to say that God put that number in the Bible just for us today ignores the multitudes who came before us.  Pretty arrogant, don't you think?
    2) A survey of the Biblical text shows that combining all references to not being afraid, all commands, all variations of words, etc., doesn't total anywhere near that number.  I've done my own counting, read several others, and while we all had different numbers (based on translations, what we included, etc) the most anyone came up with was about 250.
    3) Does God really need to say it once a day to get the point across.  I've read this like it makes it a special command because of the 365.  God only needs to say it once for it to be true.

So, forget that little piece of fake trivia.  And yet, the truth is that though God doesn't need to repeat a command, this happens to be one that He does repeat.  Not 365 times, but frequently.  Which says to me that He knows this will be an issue. We need to hear it. I can't imagine Him bothering to repeat a command that folks aren't even going to struggle with.

So don't be anxious about being anxious.  God knows it's a struggle.  I'm not excusing the lack of faith and maturity that often leads to that anxiety in the first place.  After all, God does indeed command me to “be anxious for nothing.”  I need to obey that.  Not excuse it.  But I also don't need to continue to beat myself up over the struggle when obviously God knew that struggle would be real.

Instead of focusing on the fear, or on the sin of fear, put your eyes where they are supposed to be.  On Christ.  C. H. Spurgeon once said, “Great thoughts of your sin alone will drive you to despair; but great thoughts of Christ will guide you into the haven of peace.”  I'll just put an “amen” here.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Blowing the Dust Off


Sorry about that. Just trying to blow the dust off this old blog to see if anything still works. It's a bit rusty and dusty. The buttons might be sticking a little. But I think it might be salvagable.

Honestly, I don't know if I'm going to be able to really get this back up and running regularly or not. I've tried a couple times in the past. It's sad really. For several years I was able to put together some thoughts on a regular basis that were almost worthy of being read by others. And then it all just seemed to dry up.

I wrote about some of the reasons I thought this might have happened, so I won't repeat that here. To be honest, I've had in the back of my mind a desire to get this going again for some time. Time will tell how that works out.

The truth is, in my ongoing struggles against anxiety, I was up last night in prayer. Again. Being faithless. Again. And a few words came to mind as a hymn/song/prayer and I wanted to write them down. I want to remember them for myself, sing them to myself. But I also thought they might encourage someone else as well.

Hence the plan to blow the dust of this blog, simply as a means of sharing. Nothing magical. Nothing profound. Just a few thoughts on the struggle. Sometimes I need to blow the dust of my faith as well; remind myself of truths I know, but seem to forget. I pray you are daily reminded that though the struggle may be real, the victory truly is ours in Christ. Soli Deo Gloria

Great and gracious God of glory,
In my weakness I cry out.
As you write this day my story,
Give me strength to shatter doubt.
Sins o'erwhelm me,
Fears assail me;
Christ has come to conquer sin;
Come, O Lord, and heal within.

Daily battles still confront me;
Daily to the Cross I run.
Though I'm weak and often weary,
In Christ's work the battle's won.
Give Your power,
For each hour;
Give me faith to trust each day;
For Your glory, this I pray.

Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
Three-in-One, my Savior, Lord;
When I pray, I know You hear it;
You are faithful to Your word.
Help my eyes see
Christ in vict'ry,
So my life will praise Your name,
And help others do the same.