Monthly Archives: December 2011

Five Loaves and Eight Turkeys: A Juarez Thanksgiving Miracle

A few days ago I had lunch with my good friend James, the Juarez Gentle Giant. James started a ministry in Juarez a couple of years ago to reach out to drug and alcohol addicts. In addition, he ministers to the children who fill the streets of his poor neighborhood.

On Thanksgiving Day, an American Holiday, James decided to bring this celebration to the people of his violent neighborhood in Juarez. He slaved in the kitchen baking pies, and roasting turkeys. The men from his halfway house pitched in and produced an amazing spread of food complete with turkey, dressing, vegetables, rolls, and pie.

As the sweet aroma of this feast began to permeate the neighborhood a crowd began to form outside his modest house. When lunchtime rolled around James opened the doors and invited his friends and neighbors in to feast with him in celebration of God’s goodness. As you might expect word spread in this neighborhood where most people struggle to make ends meet and the line for food got longer and longer.

In preparation for the day James had purchased and roasted eight turkeys but it appeared he had under prepared as the line grew. People kept stepping up and filling the plates–one after another until all had been feed. When James took a head count he had feed two hundred and eighty-one (281) people with eight turkeys. You can do the math that’s roughly thirty-five (35) people per turkey! Plus just like in the feeding of the five thousand in Jesus’ day he had one zip lock bag of turkey left over.

After doing the math and thinking about my over fifty years of Thanksgiving dinners, I suspected that I had stumbled onto a miracle. Even James marveled at what had happened that afternoon in his backyard among friends. Of course some might suggest that it was simply the result of larger than normal turkeys and small portions given out that created this “miracle.” However, let me share with you the real miracle, or as Paul Harvey would say it “the rest of the story.”

James is a professional beggar to keep his ministry going. He sells key chains and candy on the streets to make ends meet. In addition, James goes door to door to churches and business leaders to ask for their financial support. He sleeps in the equivalent of a walk in closet on a cot. He hasn’t had a new set of clothes in over a year, and does not have enough money to go home for Christmas. Yes, I believe the real miracle is James–a generous follower of Jesus!

I wonder what a miraculous world we would live in if more of us were more like James who seeks to be more like Jesus. If you want to see a miracle–why not start by giving of yourself to those in need.

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Filed under Border Journal, El Paso Journal, FBC El Paso

A Conversation with a Cross Dressing Theologian

Sam showed up at the door of our church wearing a long green dress with a bright red scarf around his neck and a white knit cap on his head. He pulled behind him all his earthly possession atop a red wagon. He showed up minutes before our evening services began and was stopped by our security guard and two concerned deacons. Needless to say, cross dressers are not common at our traditional downtown church and his presence created quite an alarm. So I was summoned to speak to Sam.

Time did not allow for the kind of heart to heart conversation to make a wise assessment of the situation on my part so I asked if Sam could come back the next day to talk. He reluctantly agreed but added “I just want to sit in the back and have Christian fellowship.” As he spoke the words a tear glisten in the corner of his eye.

Right on time Sam showed up the next afternoon. I welcomed him into my inner sanctum and we began one of the most intriguing and strange conversations of my life. I asked Sam to tell me his story, which began with him being raised from the cradle roll of a large Baptist church in the heart of San Antonio to his baptism at another large Baptist church in New Mexico.

Sam openly shared about his struggle with his sexual identity and how he chose to dress and live like a women. Since Sam had had many such conversations with ministers, he quickly tried to confront the objections he expected from me, not realizing that I was simply trying to get to know him and his story. I was not so much seeking to judge him as to understand him.

At one point Sam pulled out a large unusual Bible from his large bag. I quickly realized he carried a Greek and Hebrew Bible. He turned to Matthew 19 and began to read to be directly from the Greek a passage of Scripture in which Jesus spoke on the topic of eunuchs.

Since I had studied Greek in college and seminary I was amazed at his skill in translating. He read it like most people read the English Bible. He read these words of Jesus.

11 Jesus replied, “Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given. 12 For there are eunuchs who were born that way, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others—and there are those who choose to live like eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it.”

I must confess I had never really thought of this passage in these terms, and I was impressed with his mastery of the subject. I don’t believe Jesus was actually referred to cross dressing in the text, but the issue of a eunuch being “born that way” did stir my mind and force me to stop and think.

Sam then took me to the classic statement in Deuteronomy 22, and read these words of Moses straight from the Hebrew text:

 5 A woman must not wear men’s clothing, nor a man wear women’s clothing, for the LORD your God detests anyone who does this.

At this point we had a length discussion about the differences between the Hebrew words for man, and how the one chosen by Moses spoke of a strong mighty warrior type man and that a weaker man did not meet this description therefore he did not fall under this law. Again his reasoning was a stretch for me,but I was impressed at the work he put into the subject.

The heart breaking part of the conversation for me was knowing that I was going to have to deliver the bad news. Even though I realized how much he needed to be loved and accepted, I knew my church was not ready for this kind of adventure in grace and redemption yet. We were growing and learning about how to open our lives to all kinds of people, but Sam dressed as a woman was a bit too far of a stretch for us. Besides he confessed that a number of years ago he had been asked to leave our church due to his disrupting behavior.

I asked him to meet us halfway. I invited him to worship with us, but asked him to please dress like a man during his time with us so we could build a relationship with him. However, Sam protested that he had to dress like a woman. Sadly no middle ground could be found.

As I walked Sam to the door, I thank him for the time we shared and his understanding. He was kind and gracious. I suspect our paths will cross again in the days to come. I hope so. In this complicated broken world we live in relationships are very complex. I must confess I struggle with what love and grace look like on the streets of El Paso.

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David Hardage: The Right Leader for the BGCT

Merry Christmas Texas Baptists! I am so thankful that I can break my silence and highly recommend to my Baptist family David Hardage. I first met David in Milwaukee Wisconsin of all places. I was serving as pastor of the Northwest Baptist Church and David brought a mission team from First Baptist Church Sulfur Springs to work with us. From that day until now I have counted David as a trusted friend.

If you look up Texas Baptist in the dictionary a picture of David Hardage would appear. His father was a Texas Baptist preacher and most of his ministry David followed in his dad’s footsteps. David has been the pastor of churches large and small alike. He is the kind of guy pastors enjoy being around because he always makes you feel significant and important. He listens. He wants his office door to be open to all the pastors of Texas.

From my perspective God has uniquely prepared David for this assignment. His years as a pastor taught him firsthand the challenges faced by our local churches. He served the BGCT as chair of the State Missions Commission and the Mission Funding committee. So he knows unclose and person the opportunities and challenges faced in these vital areas of our work together. In addition, his service as a Director of Missions has prepared him to lead pastors. Leading pastors and leading a church are not the same thing, and David has a gift for inspiring confidence and earning trust. His days working in development for Truett Seminary and Baylor University has given David keen insight into the opportunities and challenges faced by our institutions. His strong relationship with Baylor will be a real asset as the BGCT and Baylor seek to form a strong partnership for the future, but I believe David will also lead a move to strengthen our partnership with all our institutions. It is vital that our churches and institution move in concert in our efforts to reach Texas with the gospel of Jesus Christ.

As a husband and father David is above reproach. As a man of God he is a very spiritual man who daily allows the word of God to speak into his soul and shape his character. As a friend he is trustworthy and keeps his promises. One of his habits is the writing of personal handwritten notes to those he is praying for. This simple act of kindness and thoughtfulness speaks volumes about his heart and character.

I believe David will bring meaningful change to the BGCT. He will strengthen what we do well. He will help us make hard decisions about what we may need to adjust or end. He will surround himself with leaders who lead with integrity and with a heart for Texas. He will protect us from making foolish mistakes. He will challenge us to keep first things first—“Winning Texas to Christ.” He loves the church and believes the BGCT headquarters are in the local churches not in Dallas.

As you can tell I am all in. Right after David accepted our invitation to be presented to the Executive Board for affirmation. I told him you can count on me. I pray you will join me in welcoming David to this post of leadership. Christmas came a little early this year for Texas Baptists and for this I am so thankful.

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First Time Visitor: Awkward at Best

A couple of weeks ago, I had a Sunday off in Dallas and I was staying with my oldest daughter Kalie. When Sunday morning rolled around it was time to go to church, but Kalie had not joined a church yet so we went to visit a church she was considering to join.

It’s been a very long time since I visited a church that I did not at least know the pastor or some of the people. So even though I am a “professional” church attender, I must admit I was just a bit nervous. (On a personal note, I am naturally an introvert, so entering these kinds of situations often create a bit of anxiety.)

We found a parking place and made our way to what was clearly the main entrance into the sanctuary. We were warmly greeted at the door, and handed a well designed bulletin with timely information about the church and its ministries.

Since it was a holiday weekend and we were a bit early there was ample seating and we slipped in a row toward the back, and began to make small talk while we waited for the service to start. During these few moments we felt at ease, and no one went out of their way to speak to us, but to be frank I was o.k. with that.

The service began with an upbeat song and I enjoyed the music, and then a young minister made a few opening comments, and then asked the congregation to stand and to greet each other. It was at this point I felt really uncomfortable. The first hand shakes were innocent and easy enough, we simply turned around and shook hands with those behind us. Then it got really awkward. There we stood surrounded by people laughing, hugging, shaking hands and smiling, but we knew no one to celebrate seeing again.

I cannot speak for my daughters, but I felt really alone and apart. Even though the greeting time was relatively brief, I must admit it felt like it went on and on. The longer it went the more alone and outside I felt.

This was a really hard lesson for a pastor. Here I was in the midst of a Baptist church and I felt alone and outside and I am an insider. I am a devoted follower of Jesus. At that moment my mind raced to the countless seekers that I had encountered over the years in sanctuaries where I was the leader. How did they feel? Did our attempts to make them feel welcome actually backfire and only increased their sense of isolation and separateness?

I enjoyed the rest of the service. The music was uplifting. The sermon was challenging and inspiring. I was so glad I had come.

After the service was over we were on our own again. My daughter wanted to get some concern tickets. In the announcements we were sent to the “welcome center” but to be frank it was hard to find. As we navigated the church no one spoke to us even though I know we looked a bit lost.

In fairness to this fine church, they did not do anything wrong. In fact, I could see the intentionality of what they were trying to do. However, the lesson I learned is awkward solitude that many bring into the house of God.

When I returned to El Paso I returned a better pastor and leader because I was reminded of the feelings and emotions of those who darken the doors of my church for the first time. I hope and pray God will surround them with smiles, warm hand shakes, and people with the grace of hospitality. A first time visit will always be awkward and adventurous, but I hope this venture will lead to a lasting relationship with God and His people.

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The Bitter Sweet Taste of Death

Just days before Thanksgiving Robyn and I received we knew would come one day but truly did not expect on this day. Robyn was home loading the car for our Thanksgiving pilgrimage to Tyler to see her mom when her brother called me at work. I could tell by the sound of his voice the news was not good news. In simple terms he shared with me that Robyn’s mother had gone to be with the Lord in her sleep.

Stunned and saddened would be good words to describe my initial thoughts, then immediately my mind raced to how in the world was I going to tell Robyn, especially as she was loading the car to go home to see her mother for the holidays. Even though I had been a pastor for nearly three decades I was not prepared to utter the words that would break Robyn’s heart.

The ride home seemed to take longer than normal. My mind was racing. I went through scenario and scenario of how I was going to break the sad news. When I arrived home, Robyn and Madison were frantically packing the car and excited.

I told Robyn I need to speak to her and her eyes got real big and she stepped back knowing instinctively that I was the bearer of bad news. With terror in her eyes she asked about the girls…Kalie, Lorin and Jamie. I assured her the girls were fine, and then said lets go inside and talk. She could not wait so I shared with her that her mom had died. At first she could not believe her ears then as tears welled up she asked how. I explained all I knew, but my words seems so inadequate.

Robyn’s mom Kathy Crane was 87 years old. The last four years of her life had been good but lonely in an assisted living home. Four years ago we buried Robyn’s dad, and with him much of her mother’s life. The last few months her health had declined to where she was practically bed fast, and limited to a wheelchair was not the kind of life anyone would long for especially someone who loved to square dance and travel.

A few days later we had made our trip to Tyler and I stood over Kathy’s grave in Payne Springs. We had a small graveside service for Robyn’s mom since most of her friends were in the welcome party in heaven. We celebrated a life well lived full of the twists and turns of life.

“I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; 26 and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”–Jesus (John 11:25 NIV)

Death is far from a friend but death in the hands of our Lord loses its sting. As much as we are going to miss her, we are deeply thankful her journey is over and she is home. As we gather for Christmas in a few days, we will gather with an empty space in our hearts, but we will celebrate the fact that Kathy will be spending her first Christmas in heaven!

Over the last few days, the taste of death has been bitter sweet on my tongue. My heart longs for the loss but celebrates the hope found only in Jesus. Christmas will shine brighter in many ways because I am so thankful Jesus is Immanuel –“God with us.”

 

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