"Preach the gospel at all times, if necessary use words." - St. Francis of Assisi

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Resurrection Sunday

“The Lord is risen, He is risen, indeed!” (Luke 24:34)

“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Teaching them to observe all the things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20)

Sunday has dawned. The rock is rolled away. The tomb is empty. Jesus is gone. The power of God has defeated the final power – the power of death and the grave. From this day on, the world will never again be the same. A new meaning of the word faith is entering the vocabulary of the disciples and followers of Jesus….they, and those to follow for generations to come, will now believe through faith and not through sight. In a short period of time, Jesus will return to His heavenly home to be with His Father and those of us here in 2011, must now trust and believe not in having Jesus physically with us, but in our hearts through the Holy Spirit and through the evidence we have of His continued existence.
Christ is risen! I told my family today that one of my favorite Easter memories is of the community Sunrise services we had at my home church (Bouldercrest Baptist) and the Cedar Grove Methodist Minister, Reverend Martha Forrest, would begin with the bold and confident statement – “The Lord is risen, He is risen, indeed!” Her voice would ring through the sanctuary and cause me to believe once again that the Lord is now risen and alive in our lives.
Christ is risen! His last instructions will come to us in the verse above which we call The Great Commission. It is our responsibility, our obligation, our job to make sure that our neighborhoods, communities, country and world knows of Jesus. Folks, it isn’t a suggestion to us, it is a commandment. We are to go, to train up disciples (followers) of Jesus and teach them of the ways of God and how they should live.
Christ is risen! Christians all over the world are celebrating today over this fact. But, what happens tomorrow? Do we go back to our normal lives, eating leftover easter eggs and jellybeans, ham, potato salad and put the ‘nice’ clothes back into the closet? Do we continue to remember the story of Jesus and the wonders, tragedies and miracles of the past season? Or do we just put it aside for another year (or at least until Christmas when many head back to church again).
As for me, I have changed so much during my journey through the Lenten season. As I’ve said before, I never anticipated the results in my life when I began this way back on Ash Wednesday 40 days ago. The process of writing each day has opened my eyes to many changes that needed to happen and I thank God for that and for giving me the strength to do so. I’ve also received many positive comments from you, my friends, that continue to bless me more than you’ll know. You see, I don’t see myself as a particularly good writer; I just put down what’s in my mind and heart. It’s my therapy. But, if folks are touched by something I say or write, then to God goes all the Glory. He is the one who does it through me.
So, my friends, I am kinda sad for the ending of this period of journaling, but I also know it is not an end of my journey and I hope that it isn’t the end of yours. I am looking forward to the coming days and weeks with expectation and excitement to see what God continues to do in my life and in yours. Please let me know, I’d love to share in your walk! Continue to study God’s word, follow His instructions, and above all….LOVE!
Thank you all for sharing these days with me. Please remember that these are my thoughts and subject to your opinion, as they are mine. And, as I always sign off in my blog and other writings, and for today my friends, this has been the gospel according to Jimmy.

Thanks be to God!

Holy Week - Day 7 (Saturday)

“And the women who had come with Him from Galilee followed after and they observed the tomb and how His body was laid. Then they returned and prepared spices and fragrant oils. And they rested on the Sabbath according to the commandment.” (Luke 23:55-56)

Saturday. The Sabbath. A day of rest. And the whole world is holding its breath from the events of the past week. The one who claimed to be the Son of God, who taught about God and His LOVE for all people, who healed and performed miracles was dead. Jesus, the carpenter from Nazareth, the son of Mary and Joseph was dead. The one who was the advocate for children, for sinners, and the downtrodden, the one who dared to stand up to the Pharisees was dead. And by a cruel, inhumane, torturous means….crucifixion. Beaten, humiliated, spat upon, and killed. Buried.
Depending upon which ‘creed’ you might go for, during this day in the tomb Jesus either descended into Hell where he preached to the saints from the Old Testament days….or, he was simply dead. For my personal theology, I go for the second. I think that for the importance of the miracle about to take place, I need to believe that for these days, Jesus was dead. Giving the disciples and followers a chance to think upon what had happened. Was it all a mistake or a dream? A time to ponder all the teachings of Jesus during the three years they were together. A time to wonder what they had gotten themselves into. Just because Jesus was dead did not get them off the hook for being followers and associates. They were afraid of the Pharisees and religious leaders coming after them, so what did they do? They hid. Wouldn’t you? I feel pretty sure I would be behind locked doors and under my sofa. Quivering with fear.
These days also gave those who put Jesus to death a chance to (possibly) gloat a bit. A chance to catch their breath and look forward to getting “their” religion back to normal and under their control. A chance to try and forget this man and the trouble he had caused them for the past few years. A chance to just start to feel pretty smug before, well, before tomorrow morning comes.
But, most importantly to me, all the key players observed the Sabbath. Whether in grief or in joy, the Sabbath was observed. Can you imagine the silence of Jerusalem and surrounding areas on that Saturday? The quiet glances during their synagogue services. The whispers on the street. The talk around the dinner table? That feeling you have when something has gone so very wrong, but you don’t know what to do because you can’t really believe it happened? The silence and the heaviness that clouded the Holy City after the death of Jesus. The Law that commanded observance of the Sabbath was being obeyed because, well, it was the Law. Not realizing that all these Laws were about to be burst wide open and would never ever be the same. But, for today, silence. Remembering.
It’s so important for all of us to remember that Good Friday and Easter are not just dates on a calendar with a seemingly non-important Saturday in the middle. Don’t go back to business and fun as usual today after remembering the events of Thursday and Friday. Sure, Sunday is coming, but this day is a day to reflect and ponder and examine ourselves. A day of silence and rest.

Thanks be to God.

Holy Week - Day 6 (Tenebrae Friday)

“And Pilate asked Jesus, ‘Are you the King of the Jews?’ And He answered by saying, ‘You have said so.’…..but after this, Jesus answered no more questions so that even Pilate was amazed.“ (Mark 15:2, 5)

Friday has come. After the Passover meal last night, the plans unfolded for the death of Jesus. He and a few disciples went to the Garden of Gethsemane for prayer and while there, Judas brought the officials to arrest Jesus. In the early morning hours, as the disciples and other followers tried to see what was happening, Simon Peter found himself denying (even with a curse) that he had no idea who this man was that was being held. Trials began to be held during the day in front of various officials, all of which ended with Pilate turning Jesus over for death by crucifixion. He was abused, tortured and humiliated for hours, finally breathing His last breath in the mid-afternoon of Friday. Today. After Jesus’ death, Joseph of Arimathea asked for the body to be buried in his own family tomb. Joseph was a supposedly member of the elite Sanhedrin and also possibly a secret follower of Jesus. The reason is not important, but here is a leading member of the Jewish legal system burying the body of this criminal of the Jews in his own tomb.
So many of the events this day are important, but none so important as the fact that Jesus was killed in order that my sins might be forgiven by God and provide an eternal life for me. I like the definition of ‘sin’ as given in the book of James….’knowing what is right to do, and not doing it, that is sin.’ (James 4:17)
And not only was Jesus killed, but God allowed it to happen because it was part of His plan for me and for you. Again, God allowed His only Son to be killed as part of His plan. Can you imagine more LOVE? That is beyond any of our human capabilities. Plus, Jesus accepted it. He didn’t go kicking and screaming to the cross of death, He went obediently, with acceptance of His Father’s plan and of His role in that plan. Yes, as Jesus, God the Son, He could have called down legions of angels to stop this. He could have caused anything to happen so that He wouldn’t have to die. When Pilate asked Him about the claim to be King of the Jews, Jesus could have shouted out the answer, “YES!” and claimed His rightful Kingdom, but He merely turned the answer back to Pilate by answering “you are the one saying so.”
As I think about this sacrifice of our Lord today, I try to keep the squizillions of people in the past and in the future out of my thoughts. I am trying to stay focused on the fact that this act of greatest LOVE was done for me. Just me. With all my faults, failures, quirks and problems. He died for ME. And….for YOU. Do we deserve it? No way. We just need to accept it.

Thanks be to God for His indescribable GIFT!

Holy Week - Day 5 (Maundy Thursday)

And Jesus said…”Take this and eat it because this is my body…..take this and each of you drink from it for this is my blood, which confirms the covenant between God and His people.” (Matthew 26:26-27)

On Thursday, the final actions began for Jesus’ death. The Passover meal was served by Jesus to His disciples, Judas completed his act of betrayal in leading the Pharisees and other religious leaders to the Mount of Olives so Jesus could be arrested, Jesus prayed for His Father’s will to be done and the disciples could not stay awake. This evening’s Passover meal is what we now, in the Christian church, know as Holy Communion or the Lord’s Supper. On the front of many altar tables is inscribed, “This Do In Remembrance Of Me,” which is to remind us of the last meal shared between Jesus and His group of ragtag men who would be responsible for spreading the message of God, Jesus and their LOVE for all people to future generations.
I’ve been fortunate to experience Holy Communion in many different settings. From mainline Baptist/Protestant where plates of crackers and grape juice is passed down the rows by deacons; somewhat more casual settings where a chunk of bread is passed around where folks tear off a piece and then drink from a common cup/mug/glass; and in more liturgical settings where the congregants are served by a minister or priest, you have the choice of intinction, using real wine and blessed wafers, and kneeling at the altar to receive. They are all symbolic of this last meal regardless of the method, the music played or who officiates… in jeans, in a suit or in robes.
What do we do in remembrance of Jesus? Stop for awhile on this day, Maundy Thursday, to think of this. Do we remember Jesus in our family’s daily routines? Do we remember Jesus while we are on our jobs? When the good times are happening? When the stress and heartache hits? When we are church (you may be surprised at the number of folks who honestly don’t think about Jesus while they are in church….scary, huh?)? Do we remember Jesus as we drive along the highways, in the books and magazines we read, in the movies and television shows we watch? In the language we use?
Jesus is about to give His life for me. For you. For our family, friends and neighbors. Do we stay aware of this? Do we do anything in remembrance of Him? At times like this, I feel so inadequate because I know that I do not remember Jesus in my “all things.” And I feel so sad that I have to admit this. I mean, here I sit in a nice home writing all these words each day, and I have yet to live up to my own writings. And for some reason, I feel tears welling up. However, I think this is why God led me on this Lenten journey….to make me more aware of where I am and where I should be. Looking inside myself, putting my thoughts and discoveries into words, sending them out to all of you who may read these, and hold me accountable. Because I know now that you are watching me and I appreciate it. From your comments, emails and conversations. It has been a good journey, I’ve learned much, but I also realize how far I have to go.
I have prayed for you folks every day since Ash Wednesday and will continue to long after the end of this journal in a few short days. I pray that you will remember Jesus in all you do, as I will be praying the same for me.

“Take this bread, take this cup, and remember Me. Show your Remembrance by your actions and your LOVE.”

Holy Week - Day 4

“And the disciples were indignant when they saw what had happened. ‘What a waste,’ they said. ‘This could have been sold for a high price and the money given to the poor.’ (Matthew 26:8)

On Tuesday evening/Wednesday morning of this Holy Week, Jesus experienced a gift of LOVE. He was once again staying in Bethany and you know the story of how a woman (generally believed to be Mary of Bethany) came in and broke open an alabaster jar of humongously expensive perfume and poured it on Jesus’ head and feet, then wiped them with her own hair. The disciples were absolutely flabbergasted and furious that she had wasted such an expensive item that could have been sold and helped out the poor. How sweet of them. Based on some of the past history around the disciples, I wonder how much they actually were thinking of the poor and how much they were considering their own Disciple Treasury Box. In fact, Judas, as treasurer, was one of the more vocal objectors.
Jesus answered their ranting with the calm answer that ‘…the poor will always be here, but I won’t be here much longer. This lady has come and given a gift that is preparing me for my burial…’ Again, an offering, a task, a contribution given out of pure, true, no-strings-attached LOVE.
Every church has them. Complainers. Those who find fault in what is being done….regardless. Those people who just don’t get the point of a ministry of LOVE. Such is the case above. Complaining followers of Jesus. Complaining followers of Jesus about a church staff member. Complainers can’t see the ministry opportunities because of their focus on money and themselves. It doesn’t matter what is being done to honor Jesus, they know of a better way to do it. We’ve never done things like THAT before. From my own experience in ministry, both as clergy and as a lay-worker, nothing can hinder and harm a church more than the complainers. Because, usually the complainers go hand in hand with the…..gossipers (gasp!). Oh yes, I said it.
And yeah, I’ve done my fair share of church complaining in years past, but thank goodness, I was convicted of this fault years ago, corrected this serious sin and learned to trust my church leaders to do God’s leading for the church. If they are not following God’s leading, then that is their responsibility and they will be accountable; but as a Christian, I have learned that my role is to support and encourage my leaders and not complain or gossip, especially if I have not spoken to those for whom I might have concerns.
This day, when the disciples continued to struggle with each other during the most critical week of their lives, I pray that we will all stop and think about the greater good of our ministry. Going back to earlier weeks…. examine your own heart for sin, watch your tongue and do all you can to keep yourself, your church leaders and your church from being harmed and to work together in unity to share God’s message. In LOVE.

Thanks be to God for His indescribable GIFT!

Holy Week - Day 3

“And Jesus replied, ‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: Love your neighbor as yourself. The entire Law and demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.’ “ (Matthew 22:37-40)

This is it, folks. The summation of Jesus…LOVE. Here is a reason behind His statement of ‘not coming to destroy the Law, but to fulfill it.’ During the Tuesday of His last week, Jesus spent time teaching anyone who would listen and continued to challenge the Pharisees and other religious leaders at every opportunity. He worked so hard to make them think about their Laws and the futility of strict obedience and that only through belief in Jesus and God, in the greatest sacrifice about to be made in only a few days, would they be able to enter Heaven. An eternal life of being in God’s presence in the Home being prepared. I’m sure the urgency of Jesus’ teachings wasn’t fully understood by even His disciples. He had already begun to prepare them for His death, and His resurrection, but they just had not caught on yet. They hadn’t even caught onto the whole concept of God’s Love, at least not yet.
We are taught in the Old Testament that the greatest law was to ‘love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength.’ This is the Shema, the highest Law for the Jewish people. Jesus has now added a second ‘most important’ commandment; ‘to love your neighbor as you love yourself.’
Who is your neighbor? The person living next door to you or across the street? True, but your neighbor is, literally, all those who live on the earth with you. Therefore, we should love all people as we love ourselves. As I sat on the podium at church this past Sunday and looked over the congregation, I was struck to realize (again) what a diverse church I am attending. And, how proud I am. The verse about the gospel being spread to ‘every nation, every tribe, every tongue’ came to mind as I looked at how many cultures and ethnic groups are represented in our sanctuary on any given Sunday. Well, even more importantly, all these groups are represented each day of the week through our work in the community, state, nation and world. I think that this is what Jesus is trying to teach us. If we truly love our neighbors, then they are welcomed into our churches – NOT because we are of different cultures, but welcomed BECAUSE we are all neighbors and children of God. In my thinking, the church today must welcome diversity if they are going to do God’s work. Diversity in people, in preaching, in music, in staffing, in programs and ministries, in outreach, in mission work, in all areas of the church. Again, I think this is what Jesus would want us to draw from the above verse.
On this third day of the Holiest Week, I am examining my thoughts and actions toward all those around me….my neighbors…..God’s children. I would encourage you to do the same, if you agree. Just saying….my opinion and thoughts. If I am able to do even a part of what I have been writing about these past 40 days, may this be the one I embrace the hardest. It’s too important.

Thanks be to God for His indescribable GIFT!

Holy Week - Day 2

“Draw near to God, and God will draw near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners; purify your hearts, for your loyalty is divided between God and the world. “ (James 4:8)

After Jesus’ highly visible entrance into Jerusalem on Sunday, he eventually returned to Bethany where He spent the night again with His friends – Lazarus, Martha and Mary. On Monday, He returned to the City where He found people doing business in and around the Temple; not the normal type of business that was common for the times and area, but businesses of cheating people, unfair prices, enormous interest rates and all matter of unlawful and unethical activities. The anger that Jesus felt was immediate and was unleashed upon these people by turning over their tables, letting animals loose and driving them out of the Temple. This was the Temple of God. To the Jewish people, God actually inhabited the Temple. Their most Holy Place had been defiled. And it had been allowed to happen by the Pharisees. They gave their permission by turning their eyes in another direction and ‘ignoring’ what was happening. The Temple. God’s House.
We are told in Hebrews that our bodies (and minds) are the Temple of God. Have we allowed these Temples to become defiled and filled with wrong and inappropriate things? I struggle constantly with keeping my Temple a fit place for God to inhabit. Things I watch on television, people I have hung out with and the conversations we have had, jokes we have told. Letting my anger gain control at times….and not always the “scripturally approved” type of anger. My attitudes toward people that don’t reflect that they are also children of God. And…I’m not even going to start on the whole healthy lifestyle and exercise aspect of keeping this old, aching Temple more physically fit.
During these weeks, I have worked very hard on some of these problems….not all, not at this time….you know, little steps for little feet. I can only accomplish things if I take them step by step and rejoice in the smallest of victories. But, my Temple still has clutter and dirt in the courtyards.
Just as Jesus cleaned out the Temple on Monday of His last week, I will be making a conscious effort on this Monday…some 2,000 years later to clean out my Temple for God. Letting the Light shine into the dark corners and examining myself closely for continued ways to purify my life. I ask for your prayers in this. I get so discouraged at times because I see many Christians who seem to have such mighty clean Temples in their lives and I feel that I have so far to go. Maybe I tend to be too honest at times, but that is what God is calling me to during this Lenten season. Sometimes I think it would have been a heck of a lot easier just to give up chocolate.

Thanks be to God for his indescribable GIFT!

Holy Week - Day 1

“Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem!
See, your King comes to you, righteous and having salvation,
Gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” (Zechariah 9:9)

So, here we are. The final week. Forty days ago, I began a journey through the season of Lent for the purpose of drawing closer to Christ. To God. To myself. The trip did not take the directions I anticipated, not that I had major expectations, but I did not expect to end up leaving a job. I did not expect God to lead me to a church as a musician again. I did not expect a lot of the changes in my attitude that have occurred (all for the better). And, I did not expect to be able to cover this many days of writing and sharing with whoever may be reading these. I hope and pray that maybe something I have shared has touched your heart, made you laugh or at least made you think about your own relationship with Christ. This time next week, the final victorious entry will be written. Maybe, after that I will keep doing some writing like this for my cyber-world friends….that would depend on what you want. So, let me know.
Anyway, the prophet Zechariah told us that the King, the Messiah, the Promised One would come into Jerusalem riding on a donkey. In that day, kings always rode in some type of wheeled vehicle, but this King came in the humblest form possible….on a donkey. Jesus had spent Saturday night in Bethany with his dear friends Lazarus, Mary and Martha, as he would be spending the nights during this coming week. His disciples had been given instructions to go find the donkey and all was set for Sunday’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem. The King is finally arriving.
From Bethany, Jesus would have ridden over the Mount of Olives where He would have a fantastic view of Jerusalem and the gleaming gold of the Temple. Crossing over the Kidron Valley on the Xystus Bridge, Jesus would enter the city through the Golden Gate (Susa Gate) which leads into the city directly at the Temple. We know from the Scriptures that crowds, hundreds of people, lined the road waving the palm fronds expected for royalty and shouting out, “Hosanna! Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” Jesus was riding into Jerusalem both as a King, as royalty, as well as proclaiming his humanity and humility by riding on a donkey. No doubt, many people were honestly shouting in joy and anticipation of the coming Messiah; others merely got caught up in the excitement.
How about us? Do we talk about God-things, wear a cross around our neck, stick a fish on our bumper or talk about praying because we really mean to celebrate our Lord? Or, because it is a ‘cool’ thing to do? I see teenagers and young adults coming into the library everyday with huge crosses and rosaries around their necks, but some of them do not exhibit the behavior behind the symbols they are wearing. Am I judging them? Nope, just commenting that their behavior and/or language are not appropriate according to the Scriptures, as I understand them.
Are we coming into Holy Week crying out “Hosanna” because we believe in the one who comes in the name of the LORD….or because Easter is a cool time of year…and if we only go to church once a year, then Easter is a pretty good time. Kinda like hedging your bets, huh? But, God knows our hearts. He knows our intents. He knows whom we worship.
Don’t let your praises today turn into the jeers later in the week when the going gets tough.

Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!

Lent - Day 39

“As Jesus and his disciples approached Jerusalem, they came to the town of Bethphage on the Mount of Olives and Jesus sent two of them ahead.” (Matthew 21:1)

Time to get serious. The final week is coming, commonly known as “Holy Week.” The week that sums up the past 33 years of Jesus’ life. Why He came. Why He lived. Why He taught. And ultimately, why He died.
Jesus knew that many events must come to pass this coming week and many of them would be a result of His actions. He knew there must be a donkey for His entry into Jerusalem. He knew He would need to continue to anger the religious leaders by cleansing the Temple and teaching there. He knew where things were headed, and being the Son of God…being God himself….He could have stopped them at any point, but He didn’t.
During my career at Georgia State University, there were a number of occasions where I had to make decisions and put into action events that would make a negative impact on people, including myself. Sometimes it was a termination, other times it was a negative evaluation, at times it was a restructuring and transferring staff into positions they would not be happy with, but it all had to be done for the greater good. Plus, I had a boss telling me to do these things. However, there were times, when I could have stopped some actions by acting out of my own selfish wants, instead of what was needed to be done. I certainly do not mean to put my own experiences on the level as Jesus’ decisions during His last week, but I just am trying to get a grasp on the strength of His spirit to allow events to roll on as they did. No human I know has that strength. We are born with a spirit of self-preservation that kicks in when we are threatened and only a few people, mostly military, have an ability to make an ultimate sacrifice. Even then, it doesn’t begin to compare.
Please think about Jesus on this day before He rides into Jerusalem. The Holy City. The beginning of the end, but also a new beginning. Betrayal. Hurt. Denial. Death. Think of the absolute and pure LOVE that Jesus had for you and for me to start this week in motion. LOVE. Beyond compare. Beyond what words can express. The true LOVE of God.


Lent - Day 38

“And Jesus said, ‘Let the children come to me and don’t stop them. For the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to those who are like these children.’ ” (Matthew 19:14)

One of my favorite evenings at the library is when I work in the children’s room. I’ve enjoyed working with kid’s since I was just out of college and working part-time in a church kindergarten program and full-time in the church recreation ministry. Not being a parent, it’s fun and enjoyable to me because I can play with them, spoil them and then send them home with their parents. It’s neat to get on their level and have a good conversation about stuff and nonsense, but to also draw them into a more serious conversation, too. To treat them as people and not just little weebles or something. But, there is something endearing about looking up and just seeing a head of hair and eyes peeping over the counter at you, and asking where the latest “Fancy Nancy” or “Junie B. Jones” books are.
As Jesus began His journey toward Jerusalem for the Passover, he spent this weekend teaching and telling parables to everyone he encountered. At one point, a group of parents brought their children for a blessing, and, being kids, they were probably laughing and playing, so the disciples tried to stop them from getting too close to Jesus. When He saw this, he scolded His disciples with the quote used in the scripture for today. What did Jesus mean about Heaven belonging to childlike people?
Children are so believing…that’s part of their charm. They’ll believe almost anything you tell them. Believe it with all their hearts. I’ve been guilty in years past of the old “mixing butter and salt makes heat” story, and kids (and teenagers and adults) will usually just fall for the story….until the finale’. Jesus is making the point that unless you can come to Him and believe with the same strength and purity of a child, then you have not fully caught on to the whole salvation point. We have to believe totally, with all our hearts, soul, mind and strength. Let it permeate your whole being. Let it consume you. Fully trusting. Fully believing. Just like a kid and not like the typical cynical “show me” adults of the world.
Are you trusting like a child? Or do you hold a wee bit of ‘yourself’ in reserve in case it gets too hard? As I approach Jesus’ approach to Jerusalem and His triumphant entry on Sunday, I pray that I can have that simple faith-belief like a child.

Thanks be to God for his indescribable GIFT!

Lent - Day 37

Once upon a time there was a young boy, a junior in high school, who felt a call of God on his life. At the time, he was sitting in a circle with a group of friends from church on the top of a mountain in northeast Alabama where they had enjoyed a day of worship, sharing and fellowship. At first, he didn’t quite understand the feelings or the changes it would cause in coming years, but the boy simply said, “Sure, God.”
As years passed, and the boy grew to be a man, he tried to be what he thought God wanted for him. He entered the ministry, served in local churches and (possibly, hopefully) made a difference in the lives of a few people. Along the way, he seemed to continually be just short of the calling on his life. Just not quite there. Just beyond the grasp of his hand. “Something seems to be a little out of kilter, Lord,” he would cry and pray. “I’m serving you, trying to do Your Work, but something is just not right.”
For many years, the man was active in his church, serving as a Deacon, a Sunday School Teacher, a musician, a student chaperone and so many other areas….however, just when “things” began to settle into a comfortable place, the unsettled feelings would come. Anxiety. Searching. Wanting, feeling, needing something more.
And then one day the man realized that the answers had been right under his nose all the time. God gave him gifts. Music. Piano. Keyboards. Guitar. Leading worship. And, no pride intended, but the ability to do these well. Also, a gift for writing and expressing to others the simple truths that God loves them and has plans for our lives. That God is there in the tiny details of our life, just as in the big and major events. However, once again, other influences came into his life and clouded over these simple gifts that the man needed….needed so desperately… to use for his ministry. The love of service through music, and through writing, became harmed because they were not being used for God’s Glory, but for man’s….and for the man, himself.
During the past 36 days, I (yeah, you knew I was talking ‘bout me, didn’t you?) have rediscovered so many things about myself, my walk and my ministry for God. I’ve made changes in my life to get back to what I need to be doing. And today, for the first time in a long time, I can honestly say I am happy and full of God’s joy. I am content in my spirit and my soul. In a way, I’ve come full circle back to that young 17 year old boy who just wanted to serve God and simply answered the call….”Sure, God.” That’s what I’ve said again these past weeks, and then simply stepped back and watched God work. And He Did! Just jumped out at me and said, “Surprise! I’ve been here waiting for you all this time!” For the first time, in a long time, I’m where I need to be, with the people I need to be with, doing what I need to do. And God gets all the glory and the thanks.
That’s where my Lenten journey has led me. And, to be honest, I didn’t expect it. But, wow! God is amazing. Where are you in your journey?

Thanks be to God!

Lent - Day 36

“The Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control….” (Galatians 5:22-23)

How do non-believers view us? Upon what do they base their opinions of Christians? Do they see the fruit of love, joy, peace, etc.? I find it rather important that when Paul wrote this letter, he mentioned this list as fruit produced…not fruits produced….in that all these as a whole are characteristics of the fruit/attributes we as Christian should show. We can’t pick and choose from the list. And God doesn’t pick and choose which ones we get….we get all….or none.
During this season of self-examination, I am looking at this list and seeing how I stand. I think I’m pretty good on the kindness and goodness, for example, but on the patience and self-control…not so much. What am I withholding from God so that I can’t enjoy the full benefits of what He has promised to me? I’m faithful to my friends and family…but am I always faithful to God? I would tend to think so, but I know that I tend to worry about things and try to offer my suggestions to God about how to deal with certain people and situations, so I’m not being so faithful in those times.
Turning things over to God and letting go of my own manipulations is probably one of my bigger faults. Oh sure, I’ll pray for God’s Will to be done in various situations, but do I really let it go and leave it with Him? Again….not so much at times. As my Plain ancestors have written in journals and Bibles,
“We must learn to let God’s Will be our primary motive. We say we trust God, so, then our word binds us to trust Him to handle our problems. Don’t turn to our own devices and those of other men. God’s way is always best.”
How simple. How assuring. How I wish I could always do that. I’m working on it and I hope you will, also. Pray for your trusting in our sovereign God who can, and will, handle all things…..but, in His Time!

Thanks be to God for his indescribable GIFT!

Lent - Day 36

“The Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control….” (Galatians 5:22-23)

How do non-believers view us? Upon what do they base their opinions of Christians? Do they see the fruit of love, joy, peace, etc.? I find it rather important that when Paul wrote this letter, he mentioned this list as fruit produced…not fruits produced….in that all these as a whole are characteristics of the fruit/attributes we as Christian should show. We can’t pick and choose from the list. And God doesn’t pick and choose which ones we get….we get all….or none.
During this season of self-examination, I am looking at this list and seeing how I stand. I think I’m pretty good on the kindness and goodness, for example, but on the patience and self-control…not so much. What am I withholding from God so that I can’t enjoy the full benefits of what He has promised to me? I’m faithful to my friends and family…but am I always faithful to God? I would tend to think so, but I know that I tend to worry about things and try to offer my suggestions to God about how to deal with certain people and situations, so I’m not being so faithful in those times.
Turning things over to God and letting go of my own manipulations is probably one of my bigger faults. Oh sure, I’ll pray for God’s Will to be done in various situations, but do I really let it go and leave it with Him? Again….not so much at times. As my Plain ancestors have written in journals and Bibles,
“We must learn to let God’s Will be our primary motive. We say we trust God, so, then our word binds us to trust Him to handle our problems. Don’t turn to our own devices and those of other men. God’s way is always best.”
How simple. How assuring. How I wish I could always do that. I’m working on it and I hope you will, also. Pray for your trusting in our sovereign God who can, and will, handle all things…..but, in His Time!

Thanks be to God for his indescribable GIFT!

Lent - Day 35

“But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” (Luke 6:27-28)

Do you have a close circle of friends? You know the ones that you can laugh with, cry with, argue with and who know you better than almost anyone else? These are the folks you can just be yourself around and they just sorta understand your craziness? People that you spend a lot of time with and learn and grow with? Have you ever had one of those close friends turn on you?
Jesus had a group that he traveled with, lived with and shared his life. We know them as his disciples. This was the closest group of men imaginable. Even though there were many more people who followed Jesus from village to village, this small group of men were those whom He spent time, day and night, explaining the ways of God and training them to carry the message of God’s love into the world.
Jesus, being God in a human form, knew that one of this close-knit group would one day soon turn against Him and sell him out to the religious leaders. This is the one who would begin the process leading to the death of Jesus. As you read the Bible, do you get any idea that Judas was treated any differently that the others? That Jesus let His knowledge of this traitorous man affect His ministry? Did He ever ask Judas to leave the group? No, you can’t find anything along those lines. Jesus knew this man would turn against Him, yet He loved and treated Judas just like anyone else. This was the height of what we are being told in the scripture about loving your enemies, blessing those who try to do you harm.
Can I do this? Heck, no….or at least not easily. Can you? During these last days of this Lenten season, my goal is to work on becoming more loving toward those who have done me wrong. Those who have hurt me, either intentionally or unintentionally. Those who just don’t like me.
I hope you will think about how you treat those who come against you. Not dwelling on what they did to you, but what you can do for them….not to them. This is the way Jesus wants us to live…and I can promise you (from experience), it has made my life more stress free when I can do this.

Blessed be the name of the LORD!

Lent - Day 34

“For you yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night. Therefore let us not sleep, as others do, but let us watch and be sober.” (1 Thessalonians 5:2,6)

As we enter into the last weeks of Lent and with the observance of Holy Week coming a few days, I find myself thinking about what Jesus was doing. We know the activities of that last week before His death, but all we know from the scriptures is that Jesus continued teaching, healing and telling others of God’s Love for them. Knowing what faced Him in a couple weeks did not deter Him from the work He was sent here to do and we’ll see that this mission continued up until His final breath on the cross.
I feel fairly certain that a crucifixion does not lie in my future, but death certainly does. The manner of such, I do not know. It waits for all of us. Could be today. Could be tomorrow. Could be years from now. All we do know is that we are not promised another hour or a day, but that we will die in God’s time.
If you are a Christian, have Jesus in your heart, then you’ve got no worries about the whole ‘after death’ thing. You know that you’ll be in a heaven surrounded by not only God, Jesus and all the angelic beings, but all those who have gone before us. Forever. Eternity. Praising God. Singing. If you are not a Christian, then you can also be assured of an eternity of torment and agony. Separation from God. Separation from Love. Darkness. Emptiness.
If Jesus felt the urgency in His last weeks of earthly life to continue reaching out to as many people as He could go to, why do we not have the same urgency to reach our communities and world about their fate? Why do we not have the same urgency to share what we know with those we come in contact with that don’t know God and His love? Jesus faced death, we only face the possibility of rejection and, perhaps, ridicule. So, we stay quiet and just give some money so that others will go and tell. However, I don’t think the Great Commission in Matthew 28:19-20 gave a select group to commission to go while others stayed home to give money. Jesus told us all “Go, YOU, into all the world…” into the world, your communities, your homes and neighborhoods, and tell others.
I am beginning to feel this urgency. Are you? Can we do any less than to tell? I haven’t said this before, but it certainly is my hope….if anyone who reads these thoughts and ramblings have any questions or concerns, please contact me by return email or Facebook message. I’m praying for all of you today.

Soli Deo Gloria!

Lent - Day 32 and 33

“I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God, than to dwell in the tents of wickedness.” (Psalm 84:10)

I’m home now from a few days in the mountains with much to ponder. One is that I can get out of my comfort bubble fairly easily….after a week with (basically) no cell phone service, random internet access (basically none), no television it was very hard for me to relax to not have all my regular comforts. Then, as we headed down the mountain, when my phone beeped the signal that I had service once again, the sigh of relief from my mouth probably affected the tides of the Atlantic coast. Then, when stopped to buy gas for the trip home, for some reason the auto-stop on the gas pump didn’t work, so the right leg of my jeans, shoe and sock became drenched with gasoline pouring from my overflowing tank. Definitely not a way to get my day off to a good stop.
After a few miles of driving in a closed car, the gas odor was overwhelming, so at our lunch stop, I went into the men’s room, took my sock and shoe off, dunked them in the sink to soak; then doing a high kick to make the Rockettes proud, I got my right leg into the other sink to begin soaking my jeans with water. Of course, about this time, another patron entered the men’s room, took a look and turned around for a quick exit. After soaking and splashing, I managed to drag my leg down, grabbed my soggy Adidas and sock, and sloshed back to our table.
One other thing I discovered about myself this weekend is that God has really worked with me in recent years to get rid of my (once) quite large ego. Now, it’s still a work in progress, but I am coming along with God’s help. I no longer see the ego-driven Minister and then lay leader that I once was. I know now that my way isn’t necessarily the best way. I know that physical materials, money and programs are not necessary to bring folks to Christ. The unsaved are not fooled by the grand trappings of a gorgeous building, they just want to feel welcomed and that they have a place to belong. The people searching for God will form their first opinions by how they are greeted at the door to the church, not the expensive furniture, floral arrangements and highly organized services. They just want someone to speak to them, to feel a part of the service or of a class, and to have someone share Jesus with them. They want to see and feel at home, not like a visitor to a museum or wealthy house where they could never feel comfortable. In my humble opinion, that is the ego of the church.
Like the verse for today says, for me…now…as I continue to grow and learn in Christ…I would rather open the doors of the church to the community, welcome them in and share Jesus with them one on one, than to have the biggest and most impressive house of worship in the land. Because then I wonder what we are worshipping? Not who.
Maybe we all should try to be the doorkeeper for God, literally or figuratively. Be the welcoming Christian to them, make them feel at home with you, open the door to Jesus and meet them where they are. On their level, not the level you want them to see.

Blessed be the name of the LORD!

Lent - Day 31

“For He makes small the drops of water; they pour down as rain according to the vapor above.” (Job 36:27)

This little verse in the middle of the book of Job has quite an interesting take on God and His attention to details. It tells us that He makes the drops of water small and they pour down as rain from the vapor above the earth. Suppose for a moment, that God didn’t think about making the drops small, but just let one big ole wad of water leaving the clouds and smacking to earth and all the inhabitants. But, no, He created the small drops of rain….probably so that we would survive a Spring rainstorm. And like other verses such as the one about “caring for the birds and the flowers and knowing all the hairs on our head,” shows that God is in the details. He is in all nature. He is a planner. He thought ahead to me …. and you …. and what we will need.

It’s a foggy day up here on top of the world in north Georgia. Well, it’s more likely that the cloud level is low and at ground level, it’s probably sunny and clear. However, the view from the deck this morning is severely limited. Doesn’t matter to me. I can have my coffee and bagel out there and just listen to the silence as well as I can sit out there in the bright sun. But, the amazing thing is the silence. No birds chirping, no rushing of land creatures in the leaves, nothing except a few muffled sounds from people hiking on a nearby trail. I guess it’s a day of rest for them, too. As far as I know, the world is at peace and so am I.

Basically, I’m a beach guy. Love walking alongside the ocean, hearing the surf, the breeze, the gulls, the slight sting of a pink face and back, a good seafood and steak platter, basically all things beach. I haven’t been in a number of years and am feeling the pull back to the water. Not that I don’t love coming to the mountains; their majestic peaks rising to the sky, the views from above, the cool mornings and evenings are great, too.

For my current journey, I definitely needed to get away from the routine. To think. To pray. To enjoy good friends. To rediscover myself. To realize that maybe I had not drifted as far as I thought. It just takes getting away to make you realize that, sometimes. I have needed to simplify my life, have worked on that for the past several months and am being successful. The biggest part of this process is to realize that God is in the details. He is in charge of everything in my life when I allow Him to be. Looking back, He has kept the drops of difficult times small enough to be manageable instead of one huge big ole’ honking calumph landing on my head. And He gave me family and friends to help.

Look for God in the small things…not just the big things. Remember He really does care for you.

Thanks be to God for His indescribable GIFT!

Lent - Day 30

“For the Lord is good, His lovingkindness is everlasting and His faithfulness to all generations.” (Psalm 100:5)

I’m spending a few days up in the north Georgia mountains with some good friends, just to get away from schools, jobs, traffic, bright lights and the confusion of the everyday world. We’re in a cabin perched high on top of a mountain with a 360-degree view of God’s creation. From our deck, you can see a lake shimmering through the trees, hear and see birds all around that are different from the ones at home and watch the squirrels and chipmunks playing in the leaves and undergrowth. It’s a good thing.
The one thing that has been a source of discontent is that there is no cell service here. Not even one bar. Not a single G (as in 3G or 4G in sight). We’re incommunicado since there are no telephones in the cabin and, certainly, no wireless signals for email or web-surfing. It’s been years since I haven’t been able to pick up my Blackberry and call anywhere I wanted, whenever I wanted, send an email, check on facebook, all those things that I’m realizing make up my day. During the night, I did hear a beep from my phone over on the dresser and almost broke a leg scrambling out of bed to see if a signal had been found. Surprising, a momentary signal must have gotten through because several emails and text messages had uploaded, but this morning…back to nothing except a sporadic beep or click indicating a brief moment of connection. Can’t trust it. Can’t depend on it.
As I was falling asleep last night, one of the last songs I remember playing on my iPod was a contemporary ballad version of “Great is Thy Faithfulness.” I realized that it is a wonderful thing that God is the epitome of faithfulness. His presence is with me, everywhere, everyday, no interruptions in service and no problems in connecting (except on my end). I think that at this point in my Lenten journey, I needed to realize that. A lot of changes have occurred in the last 30 days. And. For. This. Time. I needed to be reminded that God is always faithful to His promises to me. When Lent ends and I finish up with this trip, I want these changes to be permanent. I want to stay receptive to God and his workings in my life as I have become.
You have held me accountable….not necessarily by words, but by the fact that I am writing every day. And some of you have commented if I have said or done things opposite of what I have written….for example, during a fierce game of “Mexican Train” (dominoes) last night, I got a bit carried away with my verbal use. Of course, it was close to 1 a.m., and I’m not at my best after 10 p.m., but, one of my friends reminded me of a previous day’s journal. I apologized to them, felt terribly guilty, apologized to the Lord and now apologize to you. Oh, I don’t mean I let loose a string of profanity, that’s not it…just made a few inappropriate comments for a Christian (in my thoughts).
So for today, know that God is faithful to you. Always. Forever. He is always on your side.

Blessed be the name of the LORD!

Lent - Day 29

”Oh, may all who come behind us find us faithful, may the fire of our devotion light their way
May the footprints that we leave, lead them to believe,
and the lives we live inspire them to obey.
Oh, may all who come behind us find us faithful.”(Steve Green)

I found a box today full of old pictures from church friends and family. This was the church where I grew up as a young boy, left for a season, then returned after college to serve in many capacities. Most importantly, I served as a Christian. I grew as a Christian. I grew as a musician. I grew as a man of God. For the next 30 years, this was my home, both spiritually and physically. Since 1965, whenever I have the occasion to drive by there, I still feel the same joy and pride and say in my heart, “Hey, that’s my church!”
It has never been a huge church in numbers, but is the largest church imaginable in their heart for a community, for each other and for world missions. There is a special bond that has bonded us together; those who remain and those who are now elsewhere. Age has never mattered, all generations gathered under the roof and on the property to worship and fellowship.
Looking through all these pictures, and posting several on Facebook, has caused a lot of laughter and a continued relationship for so many of us. We’ve traveled on mission trips to New York, Washington, DC and St. Simons Island. We’ve participated in sports, nursing home and prison ministry, choirs, dramas, Vacation Bible Schools and so much more. This church was a true neighborhood church for so many years, and even when a number have moved from the ‘hood, this church still believes in the community surrounding and does what needs to be done to minister there.
I can’t begin to count the number of people who came to be called to the mission field, various ministries and other areas of Christian service. And so are now spread out in churches in the southern crescent of Atlanta in their own churches…spreading the Word. Serving God.
In looking at some of my leadership in these pictures; student work, choirs, mission trips and the building of an activities building, I can only hope that the generation that I helped to raise find me faithful to God’s work. I hope they find me faithful to the church and to God’s people. I feel very strongly that nothing I have said or done has deterred them from God’s way for their lives.
I am so richly blessed by this church and these people. I don’t know many people outside of this fellowship who can still, 40 years later in my case, enjoy each other’s company, laugh together, cry together and be a part of each other’s lives. If you don’t have this, I am sorry and urge you to work toward this. Find the church where you are not only blessed, but can also be a blessing to others. Pray that those you lead will find you faithful and that your legacy is one of God.
My heart will always belong to Bouldercrest Baptist Church. A beautiful building, a beautiful landscape, and a beautiful people.

Blessed be the name of the LORD!

Lent - Day 28

“Little is much when God is in it, labor not for wealth or fame;
There’s a crown and you can win it, if you go in Jesus’ name.” (Gospel song – Brock/Suffield)

I’m borrowing today’s thoughts from my book (“Being God’s,” J. Cochran, XLibris Publishing, 2007). It seems to still be relevant to my journey during this season.

Do you ever wonder what good you are possibly doing for the Kingdom of God? After all, your day is full of work, school, car pools, soccer, baseball, church, homework, taking care of children or aging parents, trying to have some type of social life, etc. So, then you fall into bed at the end of the day and (hopefully) at least say a prayer and read a scripture at some point, but, you are dead tired and wonder what difference you have made in someone's life for God today?

My dog, Murphy, taught me the other day that even a little bit done can make a difference. My grass is brown. Brown all over. Dead looking brown. A field of dead hay would look as good as my front yard. Crayola doesn't even make a crayon color with this same ugly shade of brown. Get the point? When I was walking Murphy one afternoon I noticed that there were all these little holes about an inch or so in diameter all over the front yard. While I wondered what in the world (or what alien being) inhabited my yard, I happened to notice Murphy walking across the yard to do what, well, to do what dogs do when they are outside. At least what they do after they sniff every available leaf, cigarette butt, wet paper and dead bug.

Anyway, I noticed that his feet were making these little holes as he walked across the barren dead yard. If you know me much at all, you know how even a shiny object can fascinate me for hours, so I started to look down into these holes to see what was in there. You know what I saw? I saw more dead grass. But, deeper down in there I saw little blades of green new life. The grass was growing!! It was just covered up with old stuff and Murphy was uncovering it! Over the next day or two, I noticed that where all these little Murphy footprints were, that the new grass was growing quicker and higher than anywhere else in the yard. Of course, it looks rather strange now to have all these little pockets of green in the midst of the brown, but they are there. They just had a little help from my terrier.

Now, where I'm going with this? Murphy was just going about his normal daily routine, doing what dogs do. His feet are little and hardly make a dent, but it was enough to open up a small space to let the sunlight in and start new growth.

We are the same way. If we go about our daily lives, doing what we normally do at work, school, home, wherever we are, AND if we do it as we live Christ's example here on earth...we make that little dent in someone's life, let some of God's light in and allow new life to begin to grow. We don't have to teach Sunday School, sing in the choir, lead a missions group, or any other church "things" to do the Kingdom work. We just have to live, as Christ wants us to live, meet people where they are, and make that little dent in their lives.

Thanks be to God for His indescribable GIFT!

Lent - Day 27

“Count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience.” (James 1:2-3)

The first thought in my mind was “Dear God, why have you led me to this place?!” This question came after a brief moment when I realized I was lying in a part-time buffalo field, covered with buffalo poop (and that of various other animals), muddy and a scraped body from being dragged across said field by a 300-pound Dutchess County, NY fireman. No, this wasn’t a bad dream or drug-induced hallucination; it was a part of being on the glamorous mission field. I had led a group of teenagers and adults to the hamlet of Stormville, NY for a week of cooperation with the Stormville Baptist Church in doing day camps, community outreach and construction. We thought (should have thought twice) about challenging the local fire department to a ‘fun’ game of Pillow Polo to bring the entire small town together for games and a cookout as a ministry of the church.
Now, Pillow Polo sounds like a fun little game in the game catalog, but in reality is a game from the depths of hell. It is played like polo (minus the horses… or buffalo), with the sticks wrapped on the end with a nerf substance. These sticks are used to whack a ball down the field into a soccer-type goal. Yeah, fun. Except that the nerf-like substance wasn’t like real nerf, it was just a step softer than PVC pipe in a bright color. Plus, when turned loose into the hands of children, teenagers and adults, the overwhelming desire to whack someone upside the head becomes too strong to resist.
So, on the fateful evening of the ‘mission challenge,’ the huge, burly, donut-full, yankee, fireman tromped onto the field and proceeded to destroy us by whatever means necessary. Of course, telling them were a nice little church from a very southern Georgia, probably didn’t help our case at all. The official town field and gathering place was part of the buffalo range which gave the ‘pride of New York’ all the more incentive for chaos. So, when you are lying face down in a pile of buffalo droppings, it’s difficult to remember your objective is to share Jesus.
Do you ever get dragged through the mess as part of your daily life? Do you ever get mired down in the gunk of the world, so that you forget that we are to be the Light? We are to make a difference? I am supposed to be joyful in all things and give thanks? For the buffalo mess, Yankee firemen, and “all in fun” humiliation in front of our mission field?
All in all, we had a fun evening and the church began to make an impact on the small town. I wasn’t the only one smothered and covered, but we were able to laugh about it (at least after we got showers and clean clothes). But, I did learn that how we manage ourselves when undergoing trials and tribulations make a big difference in our witness. When you find yourself in a difficult time where your patience is being tried, just remember that you could be a nice younger student pastor covered with buffalo poop.

Blessed be the name of the LORD!

Lent - Day 25 and 26

“This is my Father’s world, and to my listening ears
All nature sings, and round me rings the music of the spheres.
This is my Father’s world: I rest me in the thought of rocks and trees,
Of skies and seas; His hand the wonders wrought.” Hymn (Babcock/Sheppard)

Isn’t the Spring a beautiful time of year? From where I sit, I can see the trees beginning to green, the perennials beginning to come out of the ground, the spring birds are migrating back and coming to the feeders (even the hummingbirds have made a couple brief appearances), the wisteria and dogwoods along Camp Creek highlight the running water with bright colors and the sky is just that pretty shade of blue that makes you feel glad to be outdoors.
A time of renewal, a time of life, a time of new beginnings. I’ve already spent some time lately in dividing and replanting various plants, moving a few things around at the edge of the woods, pruning and trimming shrubs and raking out old pine straw to put in new. Then, we’d go around and clear little spots in the straw for the new hostas, iris’ and other ‘things with shoots’ to have plenty of space to grow up into the sun.
Easter is the day we celebrate the resurrection of Christ from the tomb of death. Even the Son of God had to die for a period of time and leave the world in darkness and without hope. It was the winter of the world. However, on the third day after his death and burial, Christ arose from the grave. From death. From the darkness. And he came back to our world to prove, once and for all, that God was supreme and that His power could defeat even the final struggle. Death.
As you see the colors and new plants of Spring beginning to show their faces, as you see the trees fill out with bright leaves and the birds beginning to come back to feed, just remember the new beginning that Christ gave us. Created for us. Out of Love. And He did it for me. And you. And everyone who has ever been and who will ever be. Out of Love. Love.

Blessed be the name of the LORD!

Lent - Day 24

”Go into the whole world; teaching, training, baptizing others in My Name….”
(Matthew 28:19)

When I was just a wee little boy, nursery age, my mom went home one Sunday and left me at church. My dad was not very active in church at that time and sometimes he just kept me at home while my mom went and other weeks I’d go to church with her. That particular week, Mom thought I was home, so she just headed there. Once she got home, she and my Dad exchanged greetings, she changed clothes and began to fix lunch. Somewhere in the process, I believe, she asked if I was taking a nap and how I was. My dad just replied, “I don’t know. He went to church with you.” Needless to say, lunch was left half prepared while the big old 1950’s Chevy with fins went flying down the road and found me and the nursery worker toddling around the church grounds picking up flowers and rocks and sticks. The wonderful nursery worker, Mrs. Ivey, told Mom that she knew someone would be back eventually and she wasn’t worried.
I think that day must have imprinted something on my mind that makes me feel compelled to be involved with all things church related. From music programs to mission activities to students to recreation to discipleship classes to choir tours, retreats and mission trips to just hanging out around the buildings….I’ve always loved to just be around God’s people and being in His house.
God’s people are where we find the most joy in good times and the most support in times of difficulty. This is where we feel the strength of prayers being offered up for us and for a place we can share in the strong bond that only God can knit. I cannot imagine how people who do not have God in their lives can survive in this world without the support of God’s people. How can they know the richness of life that can be theirs without the presence of the Spirit of God in their hearts. The comfort. The peace. The joy.
But, how active are we in sharing with those outside the fellowship? You may be reading this and not have a relationship with God, or did at one time and turned away for some reason. I know the arguments…”the church is full of hypocrites.” “I don’t like all the no’s that Christianity has.” “I went to church a few times and nobody spoke to me.” And on and on…and they are valid reasons. But, I’ll address those in another day. But, for now, just know that God does love you and does have a plan for your life. Regardless. He loves you regardless of whether you love Him or not. He loves you regardless of what you say about Him. He loves you.
So, for today, church…do what you have to do in your heart so that you enjoy God’s people and being in God’s house. That way you’ll be ready to share with those around you about their own need for God.

Thanks be to God for His undescribable GIFT!

Lent - Day 23

”Let us search and examine our ways, and turn back to the Lord.” (Lamentations 3:40)

The main purpose of my yearly observance of the Lenten season is the verse for today. In all honesty, and despite my best attempts, my spiritual life becomes a bit muddled and smudgy over a year’s time. Will you be honest enough to admit that, too? It would sure help me to know that some of you that I look at and see a life of holiness and spirituality all the time also falter along the way. At least occasionally. Once in awhile? I am not meaning that neither you nor I turn away from God and begin living a depraved life, but that sometimes we just aren’t quite in sync with God the way we want to be. Or should be. Or need to be.
As I’ve mentioned before, when I worked for a local newspaper, there were quite a few times where I would find myself at events, meetings, etc. where I would start to think, “What in the world am I doing here with these people?” “I don’t belong here.” “What does God think about all this?” The process of gathering and reporting news can quite easily jade oneself into feeling that all politicians are corrupt and self-serving – not true! That most non-profits are mishandling funds – not true! That people are just out for themselves and will throw you under the bus if given half a chance – sometimes true (but not always)! I’d find myself accepting the behavior, language, habits, conversations, jokes, and so on of the people I was around. This, my friends, was a dangerous thing for me. It was affecting my thoughts, my attitudes, my witness, my spiritual walk, all of me. And, after a season, I began to notice the change less and less.
During the season of Lent, is where I have always focused on getting myself back in line with my God. Jehovah. Father. I try to honestly examine areas of my life and attempt to purge the unclean elements and purify what remains. During this particular season, I have made major unexpected changes, but God’s timing is always right….even when it seems odd to me. And I’m coming Home – meaning back to a place where God and I can connect easily. A place where I can laugh all the way from my toes and feel pure joy. Joy that comes from God. A place where I can relax, exhale and feel…well, feel good. Home.
Now, I challenge you to begin to examine your ways. Are there places, people and attitudes that you need to leave behind so that you can come Home? Are there unhealthy relationships that you should turn from as they can strongly affect your healthy relationship with God? I can promise you one thing. It’s not easy to do, but if you go with God’s strength and determination, you can make the changes and begin to refocus your life. To breathe freely again. To feel the joy again. Kick your shoes off and just relax again?
Isn’t it time for you to come Home?

Blessed be the name of the LORD!

Lent - Day 22

“And we know that God causes all things to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose for them.” (Romans 8:28)

I make no claim to be a biblical scholar. When in seminary, I suffered through various Old and New Testament classes, Exegesis, Apologetics, Paul’s life and so on and so on. Possibly one of the more popular, most-quoted verses is above and many people use it daily as they claim this promise. When I choose a new Bible translation, this is one of the verses I always look at to see how it is worded. That is one reason I prefer to not use the NIV Bible. The word together is not in there. Doesn’t change the meaning of the scriptural thought, it’s just a personal thing. I just like to have that word together in there. God takes all the little things, stirs them up together and they come out for our good….in His plan for us.
I had quite a number of things planned to do today, but one little blinking light (and dinging bell) on my dashboard changed all that. The “Service Engine Soon” light came on last night and, paranoid as I am, had to go get that checked out today. For all I knew, I already had a lingering electrical fire just waiting to burst forth under the front seat. That visit to the car place lasted longer than I had wanted; a wreck on Hwy 20/81 heading into McDonough had the road closed, so me and half the population of Henry County were wiggling through little back roads to get around; when I finally got home there were some other things that had come up that I needed to deal with, so the day finally came to an end with nothing done that I had planned. But, when I looked back over the day, I realized that I had gotten to spend some quality time with my thoughts, with God and…well, with just me. That type of day happens far too rarely. So, it was a good day. I am rested.
All things worked together. My tendency has always been to schedule my days away and if any disruption comes to my plans, I get snarky and out of sorts. I forget that God has His plans for me, has His timing and may need to catch my attention. I pray for more time with just me and God, I get it. I pray for more time to give for others, some meeting or plan changes so that I do have the time. I just need to look at it as God working it all out for me together with everything else going on in my life. He knows my life, my mind, my attitudes and, most importantly, my heart.
Think about the disruptions you have each day that may throw you out of sync. Maybe God is trying to get your attention for some reason. Maybe He is working out your schedules so that He can be a part. Maybe you need to look at the bigger picture and see how it is working together.

All Glory and Majesty be unto the name of the LORD!

Lent - Day 21

”Don’t let anyone think less of you because you are young. Be an example to all believers in what you teach, in the way you live, in your love, your faith, and in your purity.”
(1 Timothy 4:12)

For almost all my adult life I have been involved with Student Ministry. It has been one of those things that could be called a passion. A love. A calling. I’ve been a Minister of Students full-time in a church, but also gladly worked as a volunteer leader. There are those who would say I enjoy student work because my emotional age is somewhere in my mid-teens, but my poor injury-ravaged body knows differently. After so many student retreats where I’d tumble from a ropes course and from mission trips where I’d hammer my hand into a pulp, and Disciple-now weekends where I ended up tied to outdoor playgrounds with duct tape across my mouth. My doctor just shakes his head and mumbles something about “age-appropriate behavior. Unfortunately, this same zeal often landed me on “probation” and on “double secret probation” numerous times because of my love for pranks.
Looking back on these years, so many students ended up teaching me far more than I could have ever taught them. I may be sharing some of them during these next days because their impact was (and is) so important to me as I continue to grow.
One student who continues to teach me much is Lauren S. Knowing her for the past 12 – 13 years, I’ve seen Lauren grow from a quite rambunctious, independent-minded girl to a (still) rambunctious, independent-minded collegiate young lady with a heart for God and people. Out of the many stories that I could tell of Lauren’s impact, one in particular stands out in my mind. This is when Lauren was in high school. Our student choir had taken on a project to go help clean up one of Atlanta’s most crime-ridden, poverty stricken, inner-city public housing developments – Bowen Homes. This was part of Hands on Atlanta, but also to begin training our students for an upcoming choir mission trip where they would be doing ministry in inner-city projects, food banks and homeless shelters in Louisville, Kentucky.
The students piled off the bus and vans, we adults were handing out brooms, bags, gloves, shovels, and other outdoor cleaning tools and warning them to watch for loose needles and other drug paraphernalia that was lying all over the area. Lauren was in my group and we headed to an outdoor basketball court where a car had recently been torched and the concrete was covered with broken glass and other “interesting” matter. As we cleaned, we noticed curtains and blinds being pulled back in the apartments as residents began to watch us at work. In a few minutes, Lauren came up and asked if she could get a couple other students, go around to apartments to round up some children and play with them in the open areas. She even said they’d tell Bible stories to them. Naturally, I told her this was fine and a great idea and off she went. It wasn’t 15 minutes later when we heard screams of laughter and we looked up the hill and saw Lauren and a few other of our students surrounded by these children from the projects…different from them in every imaginable way – ethnically, financially, background, etc. The only common thing was that God loved them all. After playing all the games of kickball, tag, Red Rover and others, Lauren finally gathered all the children together under a tree to tell them of Jesus. And she did. And they listened.
Did I think of the children when we were out there cleaning? Nope. All I was doing is strictly what we were there to do. The things on the approved schedule for the day. Lauren and her friends saw the need and went to meet it. That’s why I love student work….their vision. Their lack of shyness to share the Gospel. Their ability to see the need and take it on, regardless. Regardless.
There’ll be more stories of my students in coming days, but for this week, think about Lauren. The high school girl who saw beyond color and material things and did what she knew best. Shared Jesus and, at the same time, taught a group of adult leaders a thing or two about one-on-one true evangelism. Don’t count our teenagers out, just because they are teenagers. They are the future of our churches and of our faith. And they can teach us a thing or two if we just pay attention. That’s my goal for today. Open my eyes, Lord.

Blessed be the name of the LORD!

Lent - Day 20

“Therefore, since we have such a great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us lay aside everything that weighs us down, and the sin that holds us captive, and let us run with endurance the race that is before us.” (Hebrews 12:1)

In my home office, one wall is completely covered with pictures of my family and ancestors going back for (at least) five generations. I have a picture of my (4) great-grandfather whose father came to New Jersey from France in the late 1700s. This is the line where my middle name of DeHart came from. I also have pictures and documents of my Jakob Price and Hans Herr side that lived from Lancaster County, PA where my Mennonite and Brethren side derived. That line goes back to the 1500’s in Germany. As far as the Cochran and Anderson side, their pictures are on my wall and several binders of documentation about all branches of my family sit on the table beneath these pictures.
I am proud of my ancestry and of the heritage from which I come. There are several rascals and scandals in my tree, but also, many men and women of faith, courage and determination. I look so forward to getting to heaven where I can finally meet these people who made their marks on much of this country in their lives and continue to today through the current generations.
When I spend time in that room writing, watching television, reading or snoozing, it is impossible to avoid their eyes. After many years of research, I know their stories and their lives; they are as real to me as if they were in the next room. Over the past several years, it has been a privilege to travel to New Jersey, Indiana, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and see the progression of their moves and so many of their houses and towns are still standing. Even the Herr house in Pennsylvania which was built in the 1600’s by Christiann Herr is still there and I’ve been able to visit inside it and walk the grounds.
These are the people to whom I feel much accountability. I feel them watching as I study and write. They see me when I get frustrated at writer’s block and I can sense them spurring me on to use a gift God has given me.
Ancestors aside, other living people are watching us every day. They know we are Christians and are forming an opinion about Christianity solely from us. When we lose our temper at the office. When we make fun of someone at school. As we drive like a maniac on the highways (especially if you have one of those fish symbols on your car….and, that’s why I don’t). As I learned in Sunday School as a small boy, “I am the best Christian that someone knows.” That can keep you humble!
Not only are your co-workers, neighbors, school mates, even strangers watching you, but that cloud of witnesses spoken of also includes all the great people of faith who have gone on before. Abraham. Moses. Jacob. Joseph. David. JESUS. Are they pleased with how I go through my daily life? You with your daily life? That’s for me to continue working on these next days. And, hopefully, to give you thoughts about the same. As the song goes, “do others see Jesus in you?”

Blessed be the name of the LORD!