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Sunday, October 31, 2010

Light in the Darkness

"Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in Heaven."  Matt. 5:16 (nasb)

This weekend, Penny and I accompanied Buzz Lightyear and Repunzel (aka, JeeP & Jordan) in a tour d' force of pumpkin carving, trunk-or-treat candy gathering, and tonight, you guessed it, the grande finale' of neighborhood trick or treating will top off the experience.

Last night, as we waited in line for cotton candy, JeeP asked me why some people were dressed in less than happy attire.  We talked for a bit, and it gave me the opportunity to begin explaining to my son that we are a people who celebrate life... the life that Jesus gives us.

It's surprising how quickly JeeP picked up on the difference.  It didn't seem difficult for him at all.  He ended the conversation with a simple and very understanding "hmm" and that was the end of it.

Sometimes as Christians, we run from the darkness like so many scared chickens; other times we dive into it like so much watered-down Christianity, and it doesn't seem like we are very proficient at simply being "light in the darkness."

What if we refused to celebrate death and darkness, but also refused to hide inside our homes until it's all over?  What if we refused to act like so many nightmares on our street, but went out into the world unashamed and without hiding our identity as Christians... 'children of the Light' (Ephesians 5:8)?

What if we took Jesus into the darkness?  What if we publicly celebrated life, and light, and freedom, and actually told our children the 'why' behind the 'what' when they asked us?

Tonight that's what we'll be doing.

Put away the blood, and the bones, and the scary stuff people... we are the children of God.  Now let's get out there into a world of darkness and act like it!

I'll see you along the trick or treat trail!

In the peace of Christ,

Pastor John

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Down by the River

Have you ever considered that the best pathway in life might not be the one of your own creation?

Have you stopped to wonder how in the world you got "here", when you started off heading "there"; but realizing somehow that "here" is better than "there" could have ever been?

Several months ago, Penny and I were leading devotionals on the banks of the Mississippi River for a mission team that was in town.  I led the guys, and she led the girls.  I took the fellas up to the big canon that overlooks the river bank across from St. Louis Cathedral down in the square.  We gathered 'round, took some examples and lessons from the Bible I carry in my saddle bags, and then went on down to the river's edge.  The girls weren't quite finished, so JeeP and I went for a walk up the bank to find Mommy.  About that time, Penny finished up and one of the teenagers snapped a photo of me and JeeP as we walked.

There are some basic realities about that night, and the picture kind of tells the tale.

First, the pier would have been a dangerous place for JeeP without me there.  I mean, we all know he's tough as a Texas boot... but.

Second, JeeP would have been completely lost and found himself legitimately scared if he didn't stay with Daddy.


Third, JeeP didn't really understand where we were, where we were going, or why we were doing any of it... and he didn't have to in order to safely be there, get there, and enjoy the process.

When we were up around the giant canon, JeeP entertained the fellas by climbing up my back and onto the canon platform, and then sliding down the slanted granite into my arm as I reached out to catch him while I taught the devotional (multi-tasking preacher/daddy stuff).  Some of the guys said something about it later... I think they learned more from watching him than from listening to me - go figure.  His eyes lit up at every turn of the evening like so much revelation and Walt Disney wonderment had just come upon him.

He often asked what we were doing, where we were going, and why; but in truth, my answers simply served to help him follow me down the trail.  He still needed to hold my hand as we walked.

JeeP came with me.

It was simple.  He was safe.  My strength created his bubble of security.

Today as I saw that picture, I thought of my own walk with God.  The dark places in life down by the river are scary, even though they are exhilarating when I'm on task with God.  Even in my uneasiness, I feel illogically safe.  My own humanness struggles against the Holy Spirit within me as I earnestly want to know the how, why, and where of our journey.

In the end, God always provides, protects, and succeeds.  I don't know how, and it remains difficult to simply keep walking, but He has proven His faithfulness too many times for me to stop following along with Him.

Somehow the dark, scary places become places of peace and even fun... places where I can climb on canon and slide down the granite just because He brought me there.

King David of Israel, in the 23rd Psalm, said it this way:
"Yea, though I walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, I fear no evil for Thou art with me.  Thy rod and Thy staff, they comfort me.  You prepare a table for me in the presence of my enemies; You have anointed my head with oil; my cup overflows."

The Valley of the Shadow of Death isn't that cheery of a place... unless God is there and I'm with Him.

It makes all the difference in the world that I'm following even as I learn and lead.

It's kind of like a walk I took once with my son down by the river.

In the peace of Christ,

Pastor John

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The View from the Road

In my life, I have found great treasures by pausing to notice what is around me.  Every once in a while, looking up from the book I'm studying, the text being translated, the instrument being played, and wondering what's there, who's here, and what within that context that might be the beauty waiting to be noticed.

The concept of experiential learning has long captured me, and although I believe the road of life is best lived with the end in mind (so that we don't just go in circles), I've noticed that the art of appreciating the beauty along the way is so very easily abandoned.

The other day, I was coming back from Texas where I had made a quick trip to preach a funeral, when I glanced to the right and noticed beauty.  Somehow, 'round about the Whiskey Bay Pilot Chanel, there was this amazing river that cut through the swamps.  I drove atop the Atchafalaya Swamp bridge like I have so many times, wondering just how long it was going to take me to cross over today, and was suddenly reminded of how amazing the view around me was from the road.

I held out my phone and snapped a few pictures of the next great scene I saw... not as striking, but it would not have been safe to slam on the breaks just to get the shot.

In this life, the road is not the destination; but the experience happens along the pathway, and the beauty of that passage is so very easy to miss.

Sometimes joy is in the view from the Road.

In the peace of Christ... on the road,

Pastor John

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Call of a Child

This morning, I was treated to the unexpected delight of hearing my daughter read from the Bible.  As a first grader, she is required to read so many minutes per day, and this morning's selection was from I Samuel, chapter 3... God's call to the boy-to-become-prophet, Samuel.

As I drank my morning coffee and listened to the voice of my daughter, I was taken back to my own childhood, when that very same passage jumped off of the page to me, aiding in God's call on my own life toward ministry and the service of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Memories of time with the Lord by flashlight, waking all too early to pray, and read, and listen for the voice of God as I struggled to stay awake, flooded back through my heart and mind as the smell of freshly brewed coffee danced through my nostrils and my daughter led me unknowingly into the ethers of the past.

I listened as she read, "And word from the LORD was rare in those days; visions were infrequent." (v.1*) and I noticed as the she said aloud, "and the lamp of God had not yet gone out" (v.2*) as I wondered at the state of the Gospel in this all-too-modern and self-enlightened age.

I wondered if I had remained long enough in the shadow of the presence of God, as Samuel was doing... and of course, I feared that I have not.  I wondered if the lamp of the Gospel was ablaze or dimmed today.  I wondered what movement of God my children might see in their life-times, or if the voice of Heaven has had enough of our self-defining generations.

My course was set so many years ago beside the ark of the New Covenant of God, the Cross of Christ.  Though all has changed around me in so many ways, and so many times, the word of the LORD remains forever and unchanged.

The ups and downs of the life of Samuel the Prophet are recorded for history to remember and for generations to recall... what then shall be the call of God upon my children?  To love the LORD our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, as Mark so aptly records is to all of us the first and greatest commandment (Mark 12:29-30), and such is the life we are called to live... oh, that my life would render the Word of the LORD to my children, and to their children's children to the thousandth generation.  Oh that the LORD might be to them as He is and has been to their father, and even more-so, that they might know the beauty of His holiness, and the unparalleled joy of His service.  On these simple things hang my life and my hopes for them.  On these, in the end, have I set my course at His call.

Perhaps in days and years to come, Jordan will remember what she read this morning, and the voice of the LORD might call to her as to Samuel, even as He did to her father these many years past.

Perhaps she will find even deeper joy in His service than I have known.  Maybe generations will breed contentment expounded in the presence of the Almighty God.

In the Peace of Christ and for His Service,

Pastor John


Friday, October 15, 2010


A day off littered with work turns aside...

JeeP reminds me that it's play time and says, "Picture me!"

The camera phone goes to work as the camera instead of the phone.

We take a picture together and all that's so incredibly important is focused in the eye of the lens.

I take a moment to write a little story about Daddy and JeeP and then it's time to make lemonade.

It's good to be loved!


Wednesday, October 13, 2010

A Little Sweat in the Bucket of Eternity

Today I passed out my half of 500 door hangers for our church.

I met up with a friend and church member, hung a new banner outside to advertise our weekend full-o-fun (rummage sale/block party/worship service/Saints game and Potluck lunch), and learned just how hot the New Orleans Fall can get when you're stretching your legs past 250 doors (my half).

We met several folks along the way... most of them glad to meet us... gave the neighborhood dogs something to bark at, and blanketed our little community with fliers that help them stay "in the know."

What good does it do?  Well, one elderly lady responded by saying, "Oh, dat's nice, thank you!" (I love getting responses from the elderly... they are typically the boiled down response pattern of the entire culture around you) but the simple answer is that I'm not sure what the final effect will be.  I do know, however, that if you show someone the cross enough times, they are bound to eventually ask why you keep showing it to them.  I am convinced that if you invite someone to receive kindness enough times, they are bound to eventually wonder why you would care.  I am persuaded that if you sweat into the bucket of investment enough times by walking from the church office to the door of someone's home, they might just wonder if they shouldn't see what Jesus might have to offer them... and that's why we do it, isn't it?

Today, we put a few drops of sweat into the investment bucket of eternity.  I wonder how the investment will return.

It's simple, it's clear, it's the Gospel going out... and that's what we were sent to do.

In the peace of Christ,

Pastor John

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Gateway...

What is the gateway of entrance into Christianity, the church, the legit title of Christian?

Is there even such a thing as a gateway, or is that just some American myth?

Can I be a part of the church and also be a Buddhist, an Atheist, a Hindu practitioner?

Shouldn't the church embrace everyone, no-matter what they believe?  Isn't that what Jesus did?!

We live in a culture today where people love to use that last one with little regard for what Jesus actually did.  Jesus' words seem to get popped out of context like popcorn from the popper, each kernel somehow presented as independent of the others.  Jesus is somehow presented as One who never walked through time, as His words are wrapped into the convenient pre-texts of preachers, teachers, and generations who might much rather redefine and package the Biblical Jesus in pleasing tones rather than embrace and follow Him in Biblical obedience.  A generation shouts that it has to feel right to be right, and forgets that's just not in the Bible... that's just simply not Christianity.  So how in the world are we supposed to figure out what really happened?!

Several years ago, I stumbled on an all-too-simple answer to that question.  ACTUALLY READ THE BIBLE.

I was raised in a time when the brand of Christianity you wore meant a lot more than it seems to today.  My brand was very conservative, and it shot me out of the gun and into manhood as a man who just wanted to follow what the Bible says.  But today seems not so simple.

Is the Body of Christ (remember that's what the Apostle Paul called the church) made up of anyone who wonders through the door and looks like they might stay for two Sundays?  Is it made up of everyone who is at least thinking about loving this man, Jesus?  Is it made up of folks who are "on their own personal journey" no-matter if that journey has taken them to the cross, to confession, repentance, and actually serving Jesus with their lives yet or not?

These are at least a few of the great movements which seem to be selling books these days, but as I read the Bible, I have to encounter the simple answer to each of these which is, "no."

That seems kind of harsh, I realize, but over the years I've found that most people would prefer straight answers to questions which effect their eternal soul.

Now don't get me wrong, I'm one of the original "throw the doors open" guys.  I want every kind of person to come into contact with the church and around the church... around the Body of Jesus Christ; but when does someone go from being with, or around, to being a part of that body?

Over years of pastoring and reaching out specifically to non-Christians who often want an answer to just such a question, I've discovered three foundational components in the Bible which are always present in one way or another at the point of a person's being "SAVED"... and that is the point at which the church has both Biblically and historically embraced new people as a part of it, rather than a satellite around it.

First, admit the Truth about God:
that Jesus Christ is the only Son of the One True God, that He died to pay the price for our sins, and rose again on the third day. (Romans 10:9-11)

Second, admit my personal sin to God seeking His forgiveness:
"If we confess/admit our sin, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sin and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." (I John 1:9, ref.*)

Third, quit doing life my way and serve Jesus Christ (you may have heard it called, Repentance):
"come, follow me" were three of Jesus' consistent words of leadership to potential new followers.  Luke 9:23

On these three hinge-pins rests the gate of eternity... for they are the points of embrace at which a man, woman, or child can freely engage the grace of Jesus' cross and the power of His resurrection.  It is at this turning point, that we have come to God, God's way.  We have laid down our own efforts to throw ourselves completely at His mercy and grace.  It is at this point that we are no longer our own, but belong to the body of Christ, His church.

How can a person "join" the church?  Simply put, come to Jesus on His terms; follow Him together with others who have done the same in a local gathering of believers.

Should someone still go to church if they're not willing to come to Jesus on His terms?  Absolutely!  He's the only way to eternal life.  If you're just not willing to give your life to Him now, at least stick around His church and give yourself the best chance possible of understanding and embracing the God who would save you!

Is there a gateway... yes.  Jesus said it this way, "I am the door; if anyone enters through Me, he will be saved, and go in and out and find pasture." (John 10:9, ref.*)

After following Jesus for some 34 years, I can simply tell you that the "pasture-land" is worth far more than the cost of admission!

May you embrace His grace and find His peace!

Pastor John

*ref.: NASB

Thursday, October 7, 2010

It Ain't 'Mojo'!

Early this morning, I opened the church building for prayer.

I've been doing this since shortly after coming into the pastorate here, and come rain or shine, I think we've only missed one Thursday.

In a day of debate over church buildings vs. abandoning church buildings, there is something innately right about using the building we have to offer a place of prayer and meditation at least once a week beyond Sunday mornings.  Today illustrated the why.

A little bit after everyone else had left from the normal 6 AM to 7 AM prayer hour, I heard the outside church door open from my office.  After a moment or two, I stepped out into the worship center to see who had come in, and discovered a man who had come quietly into that room.  We talked for a moment, and I found that he had simply come to seek God and pray in the place of worship for our church.

While I know that there is no 'magic mojo' in the beams and rafters, there is something to seeking God individually in the place where the body of Christ has just been gathered to worship God corporately.  We mark the encounters in our relationship with God in various ways, not the least of which is by location.  Even as the children of Israel used to build monuments and altars to God along the pathway of His provision, so should stand the building of the church, the altar of prayer, and the banners of faith along the pathway of His grace and provision in our modern lives.  The pulpit, the lectern, or the music stand, as each church 'seasons to taste,' calls to memory the proclamation of that grace and direction of Christ.  The table of Christian communion calls to memory the sacrifice of Christ just celebrated.  The cross illuminated calls to remembrance the mission of Christ for our lives today.

To me, these are occurrences which merit a little less sleep for the pastor... one hour less rest for leaders...  bearers of keys... keepers of communion and the like as we offer the opportunities of familiar points of connection with the Almighty God.

Today, a few of us found a center-point for communing with God.  One man, in particular, found a point of solace much needed.  It is worth considering that perhaps we should take every opportunity available to us to extend the grace and encouragement of Christ to one another, as well as to the world around us.

Lord willing, in the weeks and months to come, I'll be opening up the church early on Thursday mornings for prayer.  Now you know some of the why behind the what.

May the Lord bless you and keep you!

Pastor John

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The Life...

Afternoon studying at City Park... $0
Reading the Holy Word beneath an ancient Oak Tree... $0
Diving into the minds of the Patriarchs... $0
Communion with Herr Von Clausewitz... $0
Playing improv Hymn Jazz on the Great Lawn... $0

Revitalizing my soul... PRICELESS!

The beauty of the life in Christ is more costly than imaginable, more pressing than comprehension might allow, and more fulfilling than this human mind could fathom.

It is the life I am given so much as I can muster to engage, and so much more than I had ever hoped to know in the service of Christ Who saves me!

In the peace of Christ,

Pastor John

Monday, October 4, 2010

To Dream and to Live...

In dreaming we might forget to be;
In being we might forget to dream.
Oh to be and to dream and to live in grace!

How magnificent and tall, the seed of life might grow within the fields of such a life as that!  How brazen and soft, the visage of the life truly lived, breathed, dreamt, and lived anew!  How beautiful a life which serves its purpose, its Master, its true end without reservation.

Who knows the dreams which might find flight in the realm of grace and freedom?!

May the musings of the mind find the soil of reality.

In the peace of Christ,

Pastor John

Sunday, October 3, 2010

What is Your Mission?

It's a question every company, organization, club, and virtually every casual group of friends has to answer these days... "What is our mission?"

We live in a day when we have lost the simplicity of our purpose, clouded the clarity of forgiveness, and made ambiguous the message of our own salvation.

The grace of Christ saves that which is eternal... the life for the life that is to come.  That is our mission.

It's far more simple than we have translated it to be.