Monthly Archives: June 2012

“Because I live…”–Jesus

Over the past several weeks I have found myself as a pastor walking in “the valley of the shadow of death” quite often with people I know and love. Traveling through this valley can often weigh heavy on the heart and soul. Even though as a follower of the Risen Lord Jesus I know that death no longer has its sting, I still find myself grasping for hope in the midst of my own personal sorrow.

 As Jesus prepared His disciples for His sudden and unexpected departure, He pulled back the curtain and sought to reveal to them images and truths about life and death that only the faithful come to know. On one such occasion Jesus proclaimed to His closest friends: “Because I live, you also will live…” (John 14:19 NIV).

 Jesus instilled hope and courage in the hearts of his followers by revealing to them in no uncertain terms that His life abides in us…His life is our life both here and forevermore. As Paul declared, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain!” (Philippians 1:21 NIV).

 In recent days as I had stood by the graveside of those who hold a very special place in my life, I have come to terms that death robs me of temporal fellowship with my loved ones, but not of the family reunion in glory that will last forever. Just over the horizon awaits a glorious Day when Jesus returns and all will be made right. On that glorious Day, death will be silenced and song of life will ring victorious over all creation.

 On a dark night last week, I believe the LORD gave me a glimpse of the wonder of eternal life. For a moment the LORD pulled back the curtain and allowed me to have a sense of the incredible mystery of life after death—His life abiding in us.

 As I stood post by the bedside of Dr. Chris Powers in the last moments of his life on this side of eternity I was simply talking to him about our friendship and the times we had shared. In appreciation for his influence in my life, I tried in my simple way to prepare him for the journey he was about to take.

 During Chris’ medical career he had delivered hundreds of precious little baby boys and girls. Into his strong caring hands these little ones had emerged from the warmth and darkness of the womb into a whole new world full of sights and sounds. These strong hands placed these infants into the loving arms of their mothers and fathers. It occurred to me in that instant Chris too was on a similar journey. As he slipped out of this life, he was about to be “born” into a whole new reality—born into eternal life, or as Paul put it “To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.”

 With a new found joy, I said, “Chris, can you imagine what is about to happen to you. You are about to be born into a whole new world full of breathtaking colors and embraced by love.” Then it occurred to me that it would be “nail-scarred hands” that would welcome him into glory—the loving, strong hands of our LORD Jesus. So I said, “Chris, don’t be afraid the nail-scarred hands of Jesus will catch you and welcome you home!” Can you imagine what that moment will be like? Safe and secure in the hands of Jesus….yes, we will live forever!

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Two Years in El Paso

This weekend Robyn, Madison, and I complete two years serving alongside the great people of the First Baptist Church of El Paso. This historic church family has kept the light of the gospel shining brightly in the heart of the largest border city for one hundred and thirty years. It has been one of the highest honors in my life to be the pastor of this church.

 I can still vividly remember receiving God’s call to come to El Paso. Early on a spring morning in Canyon, Texas I found myself reading from the words of Moses in the book of Deuteronomy. As I read the following words burned into my soul. As Moses commissioned Joshua to claim the Promise Land that had eluded the people of God for a generation he said:

 “Be strong and courageous, for you must go with this people into the land that the Lord swore to their forefathers to give them…….Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.” Deuteronomy 31:7-8 NIV

 The words “be strong and courageous…do not be afraid…do not be discouraged” kept echoing in my heart and soul. This calling to go and lead the people of First Baptist Church into its next great adventure captured my imagination and stirred my soul.

 I had a sense deep in my spirit that God had invited me to be part of something much bigger than myself. He had invited me to join Him in His work of bringing hope and help to the people of Paso Del Norte (“Pass of the North”). I believe God has every intention of showing up in great power in this “Borderplex” being torn apart by senseless violence in Juarez and its spillover effects into neighboring El Paso.

Now I look back over two years of this adventure and I am so thankful God entrusted this calling to me. These two years have been some of the most exhilarating and challenging of my life. To be frank, I still don’t know what I am doing, but with God’s grace and power at work all around me, few people around me realize I am stumbling along in the darkness by faith or at least they don’t tell me!

 As I reflect back today I thank God for the team of leaders He surrounded me with upon my arrival. Bob Nickell, Jim Cleaveland, Dan McGlasson, Martha Jackson, Kara Jones, Ricky Gum, and Juan Ortiz have been an incredible blessing to me. Gayle Sawyer, Ardis King, Lynda Morgan, Leslie Bustillos, Maria de Luna, and Lynn Heller have made me look good by their work behind the scenes.

 The deacons have been nothing but supportive and empowering to me in my following of God’s vision for our church. The volunteers in all the many ministries have been outstanding. Our recent success has been nothing more than a total team effort. I am deeply humbled to serve with some of finest servants of the Lord in the world.

 One of the most significant milestones in the last two years has been the calling of Edgardo Martinez and Erick Jimenez to be on our team as Hispanic evangelism interns. This creative ministry inspired by the generous gift of Ruth Deerman has changed the face of the congregation.

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278 Words: A Reflection on Memorial Day

NOTE: This week three young soldiers from Fort Bliss have laid down their lives for our nation and for the freedom and the security of the Afghan people. We must remember their ultimate sacrifice and pray for their families and comrades in arms.

This past week summer officially began with the observance of Memorial Day. For many Americans this three-day weekend revolves around the Indy 500, cookouts, family gatherings, quick road trips, or eighteen holes chasing a little white ball.

 Sadly, even though the soldiers of our land currently stand in harm’s way on a foreign field, most Americans live as if we are not at war. However, for those of us blessed to be friends and neighbors of the soldiers of Fort Bliss we know all too well of the bravery and sacrifice of the men and women of our armed forces.

 Within days after the end of the bloody War Between the States, leaders in our land called on our nation to stop and remember our fallen heroes. General John Logan in May 1868 ordered that flowers be put on the graves in Arlington National Cemetery in loving memory of those who had paid the ultimate sacrifice for freedom.

 One of the most moving speeches in American history came from the lips of President Abraham Lincoln as he stood over the graves of a generation of fallen heroes in Gettysburg. In just “278” words, Lincoln captured the meaning and purpose of their deaths and called our nation to be accountable before God for their sacrifice.

 In Lincoln’s mind when these men gave their “last full measure of devotion” their actions opened the way for this nation to pursue a greater cause. War must always be the last resort. The high price of war must not be wasted.

 In his closing remarks, Lincoln boldly concluded:

 “It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—“

 As a people we dare not squander the blood and sacrifice of so many through the decades—whether the deaths were on the beaches of Normandy or Okinawa, or in the jungles of Vietnam, the sands of Iraq, or the steep mountain sides of Afghanistan.

 These men and women fought and died for an ideal or an idea of freedom planted in the hearts of men and women by their Creator. As followers of the Peace of Peace, we know that the hope for our world rests in the advance of the gospel of Jesus Christ. His cross and sacrifice inspire us to live with abandonment for the sake of others.

 If we allow the light of the gospel to go dim on our watch we would have squandered the opportunity of a lifetime.

 Jesus said, “Greater love has no man than this that he lay down his life for his friends.”

 We are surrounded by such men and women, and I pray as followers of Jesus that we will make the most of every opportunity we have to do good in word and deed by pointing people to the hope of the world—JESUS!

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