Monthly Archives: March 2011

Hugs from Heaven

“I needed clothes and you clothed me.”

“When?”

“The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” (Matthew 25)

Mary showed up on Friday to work the Clothes Closet at First Baptist El Paso with her close friend Patsy. Working the clothes closet in a downtown church is often a thankless job at best. You have to sort through piles and piles of old discarded clothes to find the treasures among the trash. The simple point of the ministry is to give warm, clean clothes for someone who is struggling to make ends meet.

The  truth is “clothes do make the man”–a new outfit helps those who struggle to feel better about themselves and gives them a ” new uniform” to put on as they go out to face the hard difficult world around them. Sadly, for those in this ministry,  it is easy for one  to feel much more like a clerk at Wal-mart than someone who is changing the world one person at a time.

One this particular morning, Mary felt more like a Wal-mart clerk and wondered in the big scheme of things that her hard work really made a difference at all.  In an email to me, Mary wrote:

I was in a desperate need of a hug from God

Little did Mary know what God was up to that morning. One great lesson from this story is how God meets us supernaturally in the routines of our lives.

Being faithful in small things opens us up to great possibilities.

Meanwhile, Sue was struggling in the “valley of the shadow of death.” Her grim assignment this morning was cleaning out the closet of her son Wade who had passed away a few months ago. Loading up his clothes to give away was a heart wrenching experience. The dark reality of Wade’s death settled on her spirit as she folded his jeans and loaded boxes of his shoes.

Isom came to First Baptist looking for help. He was in a hard place in his life and needed the basics of life provided by a caring stranger. He needed clothes to wear and he came to First Baptist looking for help. When he arrived at the church he found Mary and Patsy hard at work sorting clothes. So they began to assist him in his search among the piles. Then the Mary’s phone rang and the church secretary informed her that Sue was at the door needing help unloading some clothes.

Mary left Isom and met Sue at the door to help her bring in a load of jeans and shoes. After Sue left, Mary asked Isom “what size shoes do you wear?”  He replied, “10 1/2”–so Mary looked at shoes from the delivery just as might have expected they were “10 1/2.” With a smile Mary pointed Isom toward the pile of shoes and encouraged him to find some that would work for him.

While Isom was working his way through the shoes, Mary held up a pair of 36 x 38 jeans, and asked Isom, “what size jeans do you wear?” Isom replied “36 x 38 ma’am.” Mary smiled and shared that these jeans were just his size. It was at this point that the “hug” from heaven held Mary tight and it dawned on her that she was right in the middle of a divine appointment.

Now fast forward to Friday night at the Cold Stone Creamery. Bud and Sue are out with their friends stopping for ice cream, when I walk in with my wife. I am excited to see them, and I asked Sue–“So what did you think about what happened to Mary today?” She looked at me oddly–it was clear that she had not heard about the divine appointment in the clothes closet. I shared what had happened and tears welled up in her eyes. It had been so hard to turn loose of Wade’s clothes–but now she realized God used her to be a blessing to a young man in need. In a simple way, God reminded her that she was not alone–she experience a gentle “hug” from above.

On Friday night three relative strangers went to bed with warm hearts touched by “hugs” from heaven. Jesus held Mary and reminded her that her service was not in vain. Jesus held Sue and reminded her that she was not alone. Jesus held Isom and reminded him that He had heard his prayer and that His heavenly Father was going to take good care of him.

Never forget–we are not alone

Do you need a hug today!

 

 

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Brake Lights and the Twinkling of an Eye

Dallas: 12:08 p.m. Monday, March 21, 2011

What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.–James (James 4:14 NIV)

At 12:08 p.m. my cellphone vibrated in my pocket during a meeting–I checked and realized it was my wife calling. I slipped out of the room to answer the call but my connection fail. I suspected she was lost in Dallas since she had plans to meet my daughter Jamie at Dallas Baptist University for lunch. I tried to call her back but my call went to voice mail. A moment later Robyn called again.

When I answered I could hear the fear in her voice and the sounds of sirens in the background. She blurted out “I have been in an accident.” There was a long pause and she added, “I’m alright but the car is totaled. Can you come to me?” Immediately my mind began to race as I thought about what I just heard.

Robyn shared that she on Central Expressway near downtown Dallas just before the Haskell exit. My meeting was just minutes from her location, so I grabbed a friend and we raced to the scene. As we neared the scene the traffic was backed up on both sides of the freeway. The police had closed the accident side for emergency vehicles, and the other side was slowed by onlookers. Our view was limited, but as we neared the scene I saw one car penned against the concrete barrier by a rock truck and a flood of flashing lights.

As we crossed the bridge to get to the scene, I caught a glimpse of Robyn standing alone by the retaining wall near the remains of our minivan that had given its life to protect my bride. I must admit it was one of the most beautiful sights in my life–seeing her standing there.

When we came to the entrance ramp to get down to her the police had it blocked, so I got out to inform the police officer that my wife was in the accident. He had a grave look on his face when he asked, “Have you spoken to your wife?” “Yes” I replied, “she called me and she is alright.” He signed and said, “I am thankful several have been taken away by ambulance.” At this point I realized what a gift I had received.

When I reached the scene, I quickly gave Robyn and hug and held her tight as I accessed the damage all around me. It was like standing the eye of a hurricane that had swirled all around me. There were damaged cars everywhere, and lost looks on the faces of the drivers who survived the storm relatively unhurt.

Robyn shared that she was driving down the freeway when the traffic began to slow. She hit her brakes and looked in the rear view mirror and saw the rock truck bearing down on her. She looked to either side for a way of escape, but both lanes were full, so she pumped her brakes hoping to get his attention. Apparent she got his attention but too late. He was pulling too much mass to stop and smashed into her from the rear–the rear window of the minivan exploded on the impact and glass pelted her driver’s seat.

The force of the collision threw Robyn’s van forward but thankfully no one was close enough for her to impact. At this point the truck driver pulled to the left and clipped a car which spun past Robyn out of control. From this point forward it was all a blur, but when the smoke cleared she looked around to see a car trapped against the wall by the rock truck. Two smashed up cars down the freeway twisted and facing the wrong way in traffic, and her van limping toward the shoulder.

In the matter of less than five seconds, the lives of everyone in the accident were impacted. I realize now, that if you change one of the details of this accident just slightly and I could have been left alone in Dallas–Robyn could have been gone in the twinkling of an eye.

To be frank in the moment I was not nearly as afraid as I am now. In the moment there was  too much happening–there was too much to process. Now I realize what a gift I hold in my hand.

James was right, our lives are just a “mist.” There standing on Central Expressway, I was reminded how precious life really is–and I held Robyn just a little tighter.

Postscript: Robyn has a fracture of her left elbow and a sore neck. She also has a family that is thrilled to have her home.

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Praying for Our Neighbors: A Flat World

Thomas Friedman wrote of how our world has become “flat.”  Without doubt our lives are becoming increasingly inter-connected and inter-dependent. The suffering in Libya screams out at you every time you put gas in your car–we share this tiny planet. In the coming weeks the earthquake and tsunami in Japan will rock our world through delays in the deliver of the technologies we have come to depend upon while a cloud of radioactive matter circles the globe.

Some are predicting the end of the world on May 21, 2011. In light of recent events I suspect their may be more believers that you might imagine.

This is not the first time nor the last time our tiny little planet will be thrown into turmoil. We would be wise to look to the heavens for help and hope during days like these. Listen to the Psalmist who wrote:

Psalm 99

1 The LORD reigns,
let the nations tremble;
he sits enthroned between the cherubim,
let the earth shake.
2 Great is the LORD in Zion;
he is exalted over all the nations.
3 Let them praise your great and awesome name—
he is holy.

4 The King is mighty, he loves justice—
you have established equity;
in Jacob you have done
what is just and right.
5 Exalt the LORD our God
and worship at his footstool;
he is holy.

6 Moses and Aaron were among his priests,
Samuel was among those who called on his name;
they called on the LORD
and he answered them.
7 He spoke to them from the pillar of cloud;
they kept his statutes and the decrees he gave them.

8 LORD our God,
you answered them;
you were to Israel a forgiving God,
though you punished their misdeeds.[a]
9 Exalt the LORD our God
and worship at his holy mountain,
for the LORD our God is holy.

Don’t miss the point of the Psalmist: “they called on the LORD and he answered them.” This is a time for the people of God to pray to the LORD for help. To pray for the people of Japan. To pray for the people of Libya. To pray for each other, but most importantly to look to the LORD for help–for our help comes from the LORD the maker of heaven and earth!

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Houston Baptist University: A Matter of “Trust”

On March 10, 2011, the board of trustees of Houston Baptist University voted to allow up to one-third of their trustees to be “active members of non-Baptist Christian churches.” This action was taken by the board after the messengers of the Baptist General Convention of Texas rejected this proposal at the 2010 Annual meeting in McAllen.

For some this action sends up a huge red flag that HBU has put both feet on the slippery slope and in time will be lost to the Baptist family and possibly to the Christian family. I personally disagree strongly.

Clearly this action by the board of trustees is a very serious matter, and either very courageous or fool hearty. I personally believe it was a very courageous act. One of the interesting twists of serving on a board of an institution is that your primary loyalty must be to the institution one serves rather than another governing body like the BGCT. I suspect it was out of this sense of duty and obligation that the board voted as they did.

It appears the trustees at HBU believed it was in the vital best interest of the school to broaden the scope of its board. HBU is distinctly a “Baptist” university, but its student body is only one-third Baptist. I suspect this trend has been in place for more than a decade. The Christian world in Texas has dramatically changed as local churches under younger leadership have moved away from the “labels” of mainline denominations. However, I suspect there are some students at HBU who are members of Baptist churches but don’t know it because their home churches dropped the name “Baptist” years ago.

In this rapidly transitioning environment, I believe it is wise for HBU to broaden the reach of its board. It will give us as Baptists the opportunity to network beyond our tight family circles and to expand our influence within the Kingdom of God. We must remember we are members of one Kingdom–under one King.

Personally, I believe the “Baptist” recipe as Dr. Bill Pinson likes to refer to our unique Baptist distinctives are key principles for the future of the Kingdom. Our commitment to soul competency, religious liberty, and separation of church and state are key principles for the world we live in today. I believe these principles have the potential to be “contagious” and to spill out of our Baptist schools and to influence what the Kingdom of God looks like for the generations to come.

It is critical that our Baptist universities to train a generation of young leaders who understand what it means to be a Christ-follower in a very flat world of pluralism. We must embrace our future with faith to claim the mountain not fear of the slippery slope.

Granted in American history we have seen great religious institutions like Harvard and Yale wander from their moorings, but this is a new day with new challenges. We need not fear strong Christian leaders from other denominations, we would be wise to partner with them. On the mission field, missionaries of all backgrounds work together in great cooperation because Christ binds them together beyond their differences. We would be wise to take on such a mentality in Texas.

At the end of the day, I would encourage us to trust the trustees of HBU. These men and women have prayerfully made a bold courageous decision, and I pray God will bless them as they seek to move HBU into the future.

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“Shaken”

In recent weeks our world shook under the weight of revolutionary actions and natural disasters. In times like these people seek to make sense of events that confuse and stagger the wisest among us. From the comfort of their living room couch most Americans watch in relative safety unspeakable violence and suffering.

In one news cycle our attention turned from a brutal evil dictator fighting for survival in Libya to the footage of the tsunami that washed away much of the northern coast of Japan. As these events unfold before our eyes our hearts seek to make sense of it all.

The question that haunts us as we try to go to sleep at night is “why”! The governor of Toyko Shintaro Ishihara told reporters that the natural disaster striking at the heart of Japan was “punishment from heaven” in response to the greed of the Japanese. Often in times like these God is often identified as the likely culprit. If greed calls down judgment from heaven then America needs to watch out.

On an occasion much like today, a group of seekers cornered Jesus with probing questions about the suffering around them at the hands of their Roman oppressors, and a natural disaster caused by a falling tower. Listen closely to Jesus’ response.

Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way?  I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.  Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem?  I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.” Luke 13:2-5 NIV

As you probe Jesus’ answer some very strong messages come out. Jesus points out that suffering often is not because the victims are worse sinners than others. In other words, it is not the direct result of their sin, but don’t miss His emphasis when he says, “but unless you repent–you too will all perish.” Jesus challenges the seekers to stop trying to explain the events around them, but rather to get their hearts and lives right with God now. Jesus called for repentance–which means to “change your mind” or “reverse your course” or “turn your life around.”

We would be wise to heed His warning.  Is your heart right with God? Are you ready to stand before the Lord at a moment’s notice? Sadly, we have learned recently how quickly life can change. Listen to Jesus and start seeing the world around you through His eyes before it is too late.

 

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A Reality Check for Bloggers

On Friday, the “Armstrong and Getty” radio show from San Francisco received an email from one of their listeners named Charles. With keen insight, Charles explained the world of blogging as follows:

Never before have so many people with so little to say–said so much to so few!

Ouch! The truth hurts and stings when it hits close to home.

From another perspective Scott Adams observes:

“I think the pleasure of completed work is what makes blogging so popular. You have to believe most bloggers have few if any actual readers. The writers are in it for other reasons. Blogging is like work, but without coworkers thwarting you at every turn. All you get is the pleasure of a completed task.” (Scott Adams)

One of my favorite authors Malcolm Gladwell made this observation:

“Without the New York Times, there is no blog community. They’d have nothing to blog about.” (Malcolm Gladwell)

Since my wife Robyn is a daily reader of the Times, I would have to agree with his sentiments.

Personally I would have loved to read a blog written by the Apostle Paul. Could you imagine how he would have bright light to the world wide web? In this discussion I suspect he might have said:

For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. Romans 12:3 NIV

Today I am going to let Jesus have the final word on the subject.

The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks. Luke 6:45 NIV

Next time I wonder about the condition of my heart–I might do well to read my blog and take a good long look at my heart on display for the world to see.

 

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“Walking Home”

Last week our church hosted Dr. Ganyor Yancey, Baylor professor of Social Work. Dr. Yancey spoke to our church out of her wealth of knowledge about how to transform communities by transforming lives. Her expertise is born out of scholarly pursuit tempered by over thirty years of practical hands on ministry on the hard streets of Philadelphia, the city of brotherly love and broken hearts.

During the week, I was particularly moved by her stories. As she shared her life experiences she parted the veil that hides true significant ministry from the “parts” so many of us play on the stage of “church work.” One afternoon, Dr. Yancey was dialoging with a team of leaders of an after school program in the heart of El Paso. At one point in the conversation she shared,

“You have to walk your children home if you are going to really understand them.”

Then she recounted the following story.

Dr. Yancey shared about a couple of little boys who were terrorizing her after school program in Philadelphia. Finally the boys had stepped over the line, and she was going to have to ban them from the program for the sake of the other children and workers. So she decided to walk the boys home to let their mother know they were not welcomed to return. So she began her long walk home with the boys.

As they neared the house one of the boys looked up at her and said, “The house will be dark when we get home–my mom keeps the shades drawn all day.” Dr. Yancey nodded and said, “That is alright–don’t worry.” A few more steps down the path, the little boy looked up and said, “My mom will probably be in bed when we get home–my mom is sick.” Again, Dr. Yancey assured the boy it was going to be alright. Then when they turned the corner leading to the house, the little boy whispered, “Dr. Yancey, my mother is dying.” Now Dr. Yancey was stunned. Once again she reassured the little boy, but wondered what she was walking into on the walk home.

When they arrived at the house, just as the little boy had promised, the blinds were drawn and the house was dark. As they entered the dark living room, Dr. Yancey made out the dark figure of the mother lying on the couch. Indeed she was sick. Dr. Yancey made her way to the couch and greeted their mother with kind words, and pulled up a chair next to the couch to talk as the boys hovered around her. The mother of the little boys opened her heart to Dr. Yancey by sharing her plight and fears as the little boys listened intently. Dr. Yancey comforted the mother and assured her that she would be there for her and her little boys no matter what happened–even when the worse came.

The transformation was sudden and remarkable. The two little boys that had terrorized the program were model citizens. Their hearts had been changed by the realization that Dr. Yancey loved their mother–and she loved them enough to walk home with them. She closed the story by observing, “You will never really understand the children until you walk home with them and see the world they live in.”  Sadly, too many children just simply survive their homes.

As I have reflected on this story, I now realize why it is so important for us to know each other–knowing leads to understanding–understanding leads to loving. In many ways the life and ministry of Jesus was his version of walking us home. He walked our streets. He touched our wounds. We broke his heart.

In the lonely world we live in, let me encourage you to walk someone home this week–this simple little journey may make all the difference in the world for your companion on the journey–and who knows it may change your heart too.

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Confession: The Privilege of Going Second

Recently I was listening to Mark Laaser on a Covenant Eyes podcast. During the course of the broadcast, the host said the following:

“Confession offers others the privilege of going second”

This statement really resonated with me as a pastor and spiritual leader. Far too many of us live in the shadows of shame and secrecy. The enemy isolates us with the threat of rejection, yet healing and wholeness come to us when we walk in the light.

James put it this way:

16 Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. James 5:16 NIV

He was writing in the context of suffering and healing, but I believe the principle of confession to one another is a powerful reality. Confession is not admitting that you got caught but rather agreeing with God that you have sinned and need help.

Confession in relationships begins to tear away at the walls of isolation between us. Years ago, I was in a pastor’s group and felt compelled to admit to my trusted friends some of my private and personal struggles. I must admit I was scared to death to be that open and vulnerable but I follow my heart and opened up. After I made my confession there was a  long tense pause in the conversation as I prepared myself for the worse. Then one of my friends let out a big sigh and said, “David, I thought I was the only one who struggled.” Then one by one my friends acknowledged their hurts and struggles. Suddenly this group of pastors was transformed from men playing their “part” to men who were truly there to help each other. (To be frank, over the course of the next few week we lost a few of our number because they were uncomfortable with how messy grace can be–but this circle was a place of healing and hope for me.)

In recent days I have seen the dark effects of living in the shadows for those in places of spiritual leadership around me. I pray that each of us could find a trusted friend we could be “real” with and truly share our hearts. I pray that I can be that kind of safe place for a struggling friend.

I am not advocate you jump up in church and bare your soul to the whole congregation or even your whole Bible study group. However, I am suggesting that there are safe places and people out there that can help you walk in the light–where you will find wholeness and healing.

So don’t be afraid to go first–you are not alone. We are in this together.

 

 

 

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Westboro Baptist Church: Supreme Court vs. Supreme Judge

There are few days when I am ashamed to be labeled “Baptist” but this week it was embarrassing to bear the name. The Supreme Court ruled that the vile, hateful speech of Westboro Baptist Church was protected by the First Amendment.

Justice Roberts wrote:

“Speech is powerful,” Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote for the majority. “It can stir people to action, move them to tears of both joy and sorrow, and — as it did here — inflict great pain.”

But under the First Amendment, he went on, “we cannot react to that pain by punishing the speaker.” Instead, the national commitment to free speech, he said, requires protection of “even hurtful speech on public issues to ensure that we do not stifle public debate.”

If you don’t know the story of the “church”, these are the people who protest at the funerals of fallen American soldiers with hurtful signs celebrating the deaths of some of our finest sons and daughters. Granted as a Baptist we believe deeply in freedom of religion and in soul competence, but we also believe in the sovereignty of a holy God who watches over us all.

The Supreme Court may allow these actions based on its reading of the constitution, but Jesus declares these hurtful actions to be out of bounds, and terribly wrong. Jesus declared that his followers were to “love our enemies, and bless those who cursed us.” He declared his followers should “love their neighbor as themselves.” Even the most pointed Old Testament prophet never spew the kind of venom these deceived men and women spread.

As followers of Jesus we must stand up against this kind of hate speech in the name of the Jesus. I am not critical of the Supreme Court and its ruling. I accept this is part of the freedom in our land, but I would remind the members of Westboro Baptist Church that they will one stand before our Risen Lord to give an account, and I fear it will be a dreadful day for them unless they change soon.

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Oops! Rick Perry says Juarez is ‘in America’

This week Governor Rick Perry of Texas made the mistake of declaring that Juarez is the “most dangerous city in America.” Needless to say, the governor has taken his share of good ribbing because of his lack of geography knowledge. Clearly our governor knows better but in fairness he may be closer to right than you may want to believe.

In his book “Border People”, Oscar Martinez notes that when a river divides two nations from each other it will divide families into citizens of two countries. As a citizen of El Paso, I fully understand that the heart of my city beats with the heart of Juarez–or better in these days “breaks” with the heart of Juarez.

The violence that riddles the streets of Juarez spills over into El Paso in a number of ways. It spills over through the grief and sorrow of the families that are touched on both sides of the river. It spills over with the hundreds of thousands of people who have moved into El Paso seeking safety and sanctuary. It spills over through the economic impact of the decline of the infrastructure of Juarez and its spill over into El Paso.

From the window of my study I can see the streets of Juarez. We are “one” people divided into two nations and two cities. As Governor of Texas, Rick Perry has had to come to grips with this reality. His comment may be fodder for daily talk shows, but I hope that he keeps this perspective. We must come to grips with the reality that neither a river, a fence nor a line on a map can separate our lives from each other.

I am reminded of the words of Cain when he was confronted by the Lord about the plight of his brother.

“Am I my brother’s keeper?”

I hope we all know the answer is YES.

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