Hurricanes and the Return of Christ

Originally posted 9-23-05

We are ready to wait out hurricane Rita in an area that is expecting lots of rain and winds of 50 to 60 mph. Not the perfect place, but out of the worst of the storm.

I got an email from a friend I haven’t heard from in a long time. He isn’t in the path of any storms but it was clear that he is upset and concerned in the face of so much unrest in the world. Katrina, Rita, terrorism, the war in Iraq, rising fuel prices — these are days of uncertainty. He wonders if this is the beginning of the end of the world.

I can’t answer that question, although I do think that storms and such are just part of living in a world where bad things happen to even good people. My best advice is to get ready and stay ready for the sure Return of Christ. We don’t know “when” but we do know that it is a “sure thing” — Jesus is coming back and the world, we know it, is going to be totally changed.

However, there is even more here. When we give our lives to Christ things are not the same afterward. First, our relationship with God is changed — we have “made peace” with our Maker. Second, we are changed. God begins a process of transforming our lives. The result of this is the possibility of our facing uncertainties with new eyes. That is where the famous “peace that passes understanding” comes in.

One more thing though — the peace of Christ is not automatic, even for Christians. We have to receive that peace. If we don’t, we are in no better shape, peace-wise than anyone else.

9/11: We remember

Originally posted 9-11-05

Some of you can talk about where you were and what you were doing on December 7, 1941 when Pear Harbor was attacked and our nation was forced into a World War. No question about it, everything changed that day — and down to this day almost 65 years later it remains true.

The same thing can be said about September 11, 2001. Everything changed that day. All of us can remember where we were and what we were doing that morning, and as a result our world has been dramatically changed. This is such a moment in history that we can talk about it in shorthand. No one talks about September 11, 2001. We simply say: “9-11.” The phrase, “World Trade Center” is filled with facts and emotions.

9-11 proved to us once again just how bad people can be. In it we see murder in one of its most freighting forms — the taking of innocent life on a mass scale as nearly 3000 lives are taken that day. The events of that day open doors of understanding that frighten us and cause us to recoil in horror.

9-11 proved to us once again the heroism of ordinary people. First responders risk, and loose, their lives, trying to rescue strangers. Passengers on an airline add another phrase to the common vocabulary: “Let’s Roll.” People around the world respond with an outpouring of anger and compassion.

9-11 proves to us once again our great need of God. People who haven’t prayed for years, who even would argue against the existence of a Supreme Being complain, “Where was God?” People who rush to provide assistance, who weep with those who weep, who give sacrificially affirm that God is right here, among us. In the face of murder we remember that we need mercy. In the face of loss and pain and weakness we seek his strength. On 9-11 all pretense that we are self-sufficient is lost. On 9-11 a realization of God’s faithful strength and help is renewed.

Today we remember 9-11. We remember the lostness of the world. We remember lives that were taken. We remember our helplessness in the face of determined evil. We also remember God’s goodness and his faithfulness through ordinary people.

These things we remember.

Not refugees and not victims — ‘displaced’ or ‘survivors’ or even just ‘Louisianan’

Originally posted 9-3-05

I read an article in the local paper in which it was mentioned that the man being interviewed twice interrupted the reporter to say, “Just call us ‘Louisianans’ — we aren’t refugees.”

Then I had a conversation with a fellow pastor and career military chaplain and he mentioned that he gave a talk today to a group of volunteers advising them that the people they are working with are “survivors” and not “victims.” Names mean something. To call someone a refugee or a victim is to strip them of dignity. To make them “survivors” has a victorious feel to it. If nothing else, they are simply people who were “displaced” by the storm.

I think this is much more than just trying to be politically correct — it is the difference between seeing people as powerless people who must be protected and cared for and seeing them as people who have gone through a lot and simply need a helping hand for awhile.

Clothes Gluttons

Originally posted 9-3-05

I started off the day thinking of how I needed to make a financial donation to a relief organization.

Then, I heard for sure that people were coming to the Astrodome, just 40 minutes from me and I wondered if our area Nazarene churches could put together packages of hygiene items for those being moved to the Astrodome.

Then I got a call that our motels had several New Orleans families in them and that there was going to be a community meeting about it.

While at the meeting I met two New Orleans families who heard about the meeting and showed up. Looking at their precious baby and being told by a lady that she was concerned about renewing a prescription she needs made it all seem very personal.

Someone had been so kind as to put out cookies for our meeting, and so far as I know they were untouched. I went and got the plate and offered it to them. A little girl was sure happy to see the cookies. And they thanked me for offering them cookies that I had nothing to do with.

In the final view, this is all personal. Each person, individually, has needs.

Then I got to thinking that is what living the Christian life is all about. I have something good to share with people, and what I have to give has cost me nothing, but cost Christ everything.

It has been a humbling afternoon.

Reverend, pastor, preacher, father?

I have always encouraged people to call me “pastor.” I don’t like “preacher” because that only describes one aspect of my ministry and because it is often used in a negative way (“don’t preach at me”).

“Pastor” better describes what I do, and almost always has a positive feeling — more akin to being a servant or shepherd.

I have never liked “Reverend” and avoid it as much as possible. However, I accept the title as one of respect and usually let it pass until I have a chance to gently move the the title over to “pastor.”

However, I don’t think Jesus is speaking literally in Matthew 23. In that passage he not only mentions “Father” but also says the same thing about “rabbi” and “teacher.” I find it interesting that any church that has “Biblical” grounds for not calling their minister “Father,” or “Reverend” almost always has several people who are named “Teacher.” Apparently, they are kind of selective in what terms to take literally and which ones to take figuratively.

From the context of Matthew 23, Jesus is talking about having a love of titles and position. Jesus says that instead of seeking such things we are to be called “servants.” “The greatest among you will be your servant.”

Clearly, the Apostle Paul didn’t take Jesus’ words literally. He wrote to the church at Corinth: I am not writing this to shame you, but to warn you, as my dear children. Even though you have ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel. (I Cor. 4:14-15 )

Note that Paul gives himself the title “Father” in this Scripture.

So…I don’t like the title “Reverend” but prefer “Pastor” — not because I think Jesus was forbidding the title, but because he was encouraging his followers to seek servant status in their relationships with others.

Who is God?

God is “I am.” He has always existed and always will exist. He is the Creator of all things – if it exists he made it. He is Almighty God – if it can be done, he can do it. He knows all there is to be known and he sees all there is to see.

God is love. He loves all of his Creation. He seeks a relationship with every person. He is transformational, never leaving lives as he finds them. He is good and his desires for humanity are pure.

God is patient. He is single minded in his purposes, but at the same time he is patient – sometimes working across generations to accomplish those purposes. His purpose is to redeem humankind. Because of that, we was willing to make the ultimate sacrifice to bring about that possibility.

God is holy. He is untouched by sin, separate from humanity, and filled with glory. In his holiness he desires that we be a holy people. Still, even the most holy person can only be said to have been “made holy.” Only God IS holy.

All of this we know about God because he has revealed himself to us. We know nothing about him except what he has told us about himself. In and of ourselves, he is unknowable.

Funeral for a baby that didn’t make it to birth

I just finished doing a funeral for a baby that was lost about 4 months to birth. He weighed about 9 oz. Those who held him all commented that he was a beautiful, tiny, human being. Such a tiny casket — just a bit larger than a shoe box.

My grave side service took me into new territory.

I read the O.T. scriptures that speak of how God “knew me in the womb.”

I then talked about the funeral I did for the same family last year. It was for the patriarch of their family. A good man who was over 100 years of age. I remarked that there couldn’t be two more opposite situations.

Then I began to talk to them about the grace of God.

First, I described “transformational grace.” That was very clear in the previous funeral. The man had lived for God longer than any of us had been alive and God had done many wonderful things in his life.

Then, I described “prevenient grace.” I told them that this is “the grace that goes before.” Normally, we talk about prevenient grace in terms of enabling human beings to be able to respond to God — the Almighty at work in lives even before we ever think of him.

In this case, though, we see prevenient grace in its most simple form. The scriptures I read told of God’s knowledge of the unborn child before that child can ever recognize God or respond to him. I remarked that this life resembled a sheet of paper, totally blank except for three letters in the middle of the sheet — “G O D.”

It is because of prevenient grace that we believe that child is now in the care of God.

Finally, I talked to them about how God’s prevenient grace was at work in their lives too, but that they had to respond to that grace by allowing God to transform their lives — that without our cooperation, God cannot do anything to change us.

I came away from that little grave side service with a strong sense of having been helped by God to minister in a difficult situation. I have just written these things in an effort to “decompress” a bit. Thanks for reading.

Preaching on Second Blessing Holiness

Sermon mode: ON
I have been preaching a series of messages on the “Deeper Life.” It is a careful approach to our cardinal doctrine of entire sanctification.

The thing that comes to mind is how powerfully this message resonates in the lives of people. There is such a hungering for God — a longing for a deeper relationship with him.

Also, I have had such a strong sense of being “carried along” by the Holy Spirit as I preach along these lines. Numerous people have remarked on this anointing. I think the Lord is pleased with this theme.

Over the years I have envisioned the Nazarenes in town being known as such positive things as being the “praying church” or the “loving church” or the “caring church.” I certainly want all these things — but once again I have been reminded that, before all else, we are a holiness church. Without this distinctive we find ourselves just blending into the religious background.

All my life I have heard it said that the Church of the Nazarene was raised up to preach second blessing holiness. Today, at 33 years of ministry and counting, I am more convinced of that than ever.

We need to preach it carefully, correctly, and faithfully!
Sermon mode: OFF

Thanks for reading!

Humor of Abraham Lincoln

I love this letter from Abraham Lincoln:

One day . . . I got into a fit of musing in my room and stood resting my elbows on the bureau. Looking into the glass, it struck me what an ugly man I was. The fact grew on me and I made up my mind that I must be the ugliest man in the world. It so maddened me that I resolved, should I ever see an uglier, I would shoot him on sight. Not long after this, Andy [naming a lawyer present] came to town and the first time I saw him I said to myself: ‘There’s the man.’ I went home, took down my gun, and prowled around the streets waiting for him. He soon came along. ‘Halt, Andy,’ said I, pointing the gun at him, ‘say your prayers, for I am going to shoot you.’ ‘Why, Mr. Lincoln, what’s the matter? What have I done?’ ‘Well, I made an oath that if I ever saw an uglier man than I am, I’d shoot him on the spot. You are uglier, surely; so make ready to die.’ ‘Mr. Lincoln, do you really think that I am uglier than you?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Well, Mr. Lincoln,’ said Andy deliberately and looking me squarely in the face, ‘if I am any uglier, fire away.’

There are several other funny letters from famous people at: