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Blogger, Christ-follower, Encourager, Friend, Husband, Dad

Monday, September 30, 2013

This Is a Big Ol' Shower!

This time a year ago Mrs. Sweetie and I were right in the middle of the major renovation at our house that came to be known as the “Sweetie Suite”.  When the tile guy came in to do the shower he said that it may not have been the biggest one he had ever done, but it ranked right up there.  If we were the kind of people who did group showers, we could have some kind of party in there.

Now, while you try to get that image out of your head, let me tell you about another big ol’ shower.  This one is a baby shower and you are invited.  No, I am not using the forum to announce that I am about to be Dr. Grandpa (though that could happen at some time).  This one is a county-wide, week-long baby shower for a ministry I believe in and am happy to support.  (Note to readers outside Wise County:  Don’t stop reading.  I still have something for you at the end.)

Wise Choices Pregnancy Resource Center (www.mywisechoices.com) is an amazing ministry doing a great job saving and changing lives in this part of the world.  There are tons of statistics that I could share, but here are some highlights:  In 2012, they served 1176 clients, presented the gospel 321 times and had 59 professions of faith at the center. Also, 83% of abortion minded women changed their minds and carried the baby to term due to their efforts. It is also important to know that they are not just pro-birth, they are pro-life.  They care about and minister to the women and men who are involved and meet each one with grace and compassion.

Sycamore Baptist Church has organized this baby shower to be conducted October 6-13.  The items to be collected are: Diapers, Baby Wipes, Wal-Mart Gift Cards, and Financial contributions.  To keep Wise Choices from having to sort through the donations during the week, several local businesses have agreed to serve as drop-off locations.  To see a list of those, please go to www.sycamoredecatur.com/babyshower.  I want to use this forum this week to ask Wise County residents to make this The Biggest Ol’ Shower You’ve Ever Seen.

Now, I know that all my readers don’t live in Wise County.  I have been blessed to work with a number of Pregnancy Resource Centers over the past twenty years. Let me encourage you to find a Pregnancy Resource Center in your area and find out what their needs are and how you can bless them.  Don’t wait for someone else to organize something. In the Azle area, you can find the Eagle Mountain Pregnancy Help Center (www.emphc.org).  I am also a supporter of the Bowie Pregnancy Resource Center (www.myprc.org).

I know this column is a departure from what I normally write, but not from my foundational believe that every life matters to God.

Let’s make this a Big Ol’ Life Matters Party!

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Ain't it Purty!

Two weeks ago, as I was preparing to leave for Vancouver, my neighbor asked me if I could bring some Vancouver weather home.  I told him I would do my best, unless they wouldn’t let me bring it through customs.

I’m sitting on my back porch this morning and the thermometer says it is 56 degrees. Not that I am taking any credit, but you could call me the neighborhood hero. You would be wrong, but you could call me that.

As I wrote last week’s column on my iPhone (I am not repeating that process this week), we were waiting for a ferry to Victoria Island.  We spent a wonderful afternoon in Butchart Gardens, one of the most intentionally beautiful places we have ever visited. Intentional beauty is not better or worse than the natural beauty we have seen in some of our travels (Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Smoky Mountains), it is just different.  I think one of the mistakes we make in life is comparing, rather than appreciating, beauty.

Beauty arrives for us through all of our senses.  We hear music, smell blossoms, see sunsets, taste some good home cooking, feel the coolness of a morning at the close of a blistering summer. And then somehow we decide that our favorite music or food or view is better than others and we crave the sensations that stimulate our senses, rather than craving fellowship with the Creator of all beauty.

Vancouver is a place of varied beauty.  Three million people live there.  One million of them were not born in Canada.  300,000 of them are post-secondary students.  Over 120 languages are spoken on the campus of the University of British Columbia.  The religious background is varied.  On a road often referred to as the “Highway to Heaven” in the suburb of Richmond, I saw a Buddhist temple, a Muslim Mosque, a Sikh Temple, a Christian Church, a Mennonite Church, and several others that I had never heard of.  Less than 6% of the population identify themselves as Christian.  The vast majority would identify themselves as having no religious heritage or preference.

That is hard for us to imagine here in the buckle of the Bible belt. We would also find it hard to imagine that, of the 80 churches in the West Coast Baptist Association of British Columbia, only 10 of them own a building.  The rest are meeting in apartment complexes, hotel banquet rooms, store fronts, basements … wherever they can find a place. 

Why do they bother?  Because there are so many who live in that beautiful place who need to know the Author of beauty.  It is the same reason that we have churches here.  When we only recognize beauty, but not its Source, we are much the poorer for it.  And in that poverty, we focus on preferences and comparisons.  My life, your life, every life matters to God.  He created beautiful things.  He created the whole concept of beauty.

Ain’t it purty!

Monday, September 23, 2013

The Great Adventure

(Note: This is last week's blog that I failed to upload while I was limiting my data roaming usage)

Well, this is a new one.
I'm typing this week's blog on my iPhone sitting in my car waiting in line for a ferry to take us across to Victoria Island in British Columbia.
We've already had one adventure today as my GPS phone app sent us on a circuitous route through various Vancouver suburbs to get to the ferry terminal. After 45 minutes of driving, we found ourselves about a mile from our hotel. Where we started. 45 minutes earlier. But, as I kept telling Mrs Sweetie, "It's all good."
And it is. Really. We are in a beautiful part of the world. We are together. And for the next 52 hours or so we can do whatever tickles our fancy. And when that 52 hours is up, we will join a group that will spend two days traveling around the Vancouver area being inspired and challenged by what God is doing through new church starts in the West Coast Baptist Association. Not a bad way to spend a week in September.
A few years back, Christian singer/songwriter Steven Curtis Chapman released a CD with the title song "The Great Adventure."  Some of the lyrics:
"Saddle up your horses; we've got a trail to blaze through the wild blue yonder of God's amazing grace. Let's follow our Leader into the glorious unknown. This is life like no other. This is the great adventure."
Another few lines: "Come on! Get ready for the ride of your life. We're gonna leave long-faced religion in a cloud of dust behind."
That was a catchy, uptempo song with a message that connected with a lot of folks. I was one of them. In fact, it connected enough with me that I just quoted all those words from memory. As most people who know me will tell you, I am always up for an adventure.
But the whole "life is an adventure thing" can be frustrating at times. We prefer that our adventures be mapped out, organized, and "agenda-ized". We want to plan our work and work our plan.  After all, that's what effective people do, right?
Of course that's right. Planning is good and living with intentionality is always more effective than living haphazardly. But sometimes life happens unexpectedly and you have to decide how you are going to respond. Are you going to be "long-faced" and move ahead out of a sense of duty or are you going to charge ahead with a sense of anticipation? Will you see unexpected curves in the road as a sign that God is messing with your carefully laid plans or  you see them as evidence that God wants you to join Him on a grand adventure?
We all deal with enough long faces in religion, politics, and life in general. I choose not to add to it.

Let's saddle up!

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Can These Bones Live Again?

As I write today, I am sitting in my car under a huge shade tree in the gravel parking lot of a century-plus-old country church down a county road.  I showed up unannounced to worship with them this morning and found no one here. I spent a few minutes walking around the little church building and the cemetery beside it where loved ones have been laid to rest for what seems to be close to two hundred years.  I suspect that many of the funeral services have taken place in this little church house. I suspect that many of the folks buried here were faithful members of this congregation at some time in generations past.

As I walked, I spent some time praying and recognizing that I am praying to the same God to which so many of these faithful saints prayed during their earthly journeys.  It is quiet and peaceful ... and without signs of life.

I am not saying that this little church has died.  I don't know whether that is true or not. Every congregation, just like every human body has a life cycle. The only thing that keeps a congregation going beyond its current generation is a constant influx of new life and vitality. For this church to have survived for this long, that influx happened in previous generations.

A passage of scripture came to mind for me this morning during my prayer time here.  "The hand of the Lord was on me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. He asked me, 'Son of man, can these bones live?' I said, 'Sovereign Lord, you alone know.'." (Ezekiel 37:1-3)

Only God knows the answer to some questions. I don't know if this little church building will ever be filled again with joyful worshipers who are learning and growing together.  I don't know if these "bones" will live again.

But I do know this: a church is not a building. A church is a congregation of individuals gathered for the purpose of becoming more like Jesus and extending His mission to the world.  Buildings deteriorate and decay and sometimes pass out of use. Sometimes there are even "activities" going on inside those buildings, but if those gathered have forgotten their purpose of becoming more like Jesus and extending His mission, then the "bones" are no more alive than those of this empty one.

Our lives matter to God.  Our buildings matter to us.  Our buildings are tools to be used in equipping us for ministry.  Our lives are where ministry happens. Our buildings may touch us with feelings of nostalgia. God wants to touch our lives with a sense of destiny.

Can you feel Him in your bones?