Monthly Archives: November 2012

A Smile through a “Cardboard Window”

Juarez: God surprises you with joy from the most unexpected places. A few days ago I found myself holding up a wall being nailed into place on a Casa por Cristo house build. Holding things up and carrying things fell squarely in the middle of my skill set as a carpenter and builder.

Since it does not take a great deal of mental energy to hold up a wall, I began to look around at my surroundings. I found myself standing in a small neighborhood that was less than thirty minutes from my home on the Westside of El Paso yet I was in a community that looked like a “third world” country. Even the home we were building would not have running water nor indoor plumbing. It would be a simple secure two-room home what would be closer to camping than what we consider a normal standard of living.

Way too often we fail to appreciate the amazing wonders of life in the United States. Our poor would be the rich just across the river in some neighborhoods in Juarez.

However, God reminded me that Jesus nailed it when He declared: “Blessed are the poor for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.” Happiness or blessedness bubbles up in the most expected places. As I was holding up the wall I noticed I was being watched through a peephole torn in a piece of cardboard serving as the window of the neighbor’s home. At first I saw the dark brown eyes peering out. Then as she lifted her face and realized that I had spotted her I saw a big toothy smile, and finally a small hand reached out of the peephole and waved at me. I waved back, but made sure I kept one hand in place lest the wall fall down!

A simple smile and a happy wave reminded me the priceless treasure of joy. In this neighborhood that most would consider poverty I found friendly smiles radiating from the faces of the little ones. Whether it was the children who sat and watched us work in wonder or the young boys who pitched in and helped us stucco the walls of the little house.

A few years ago I found myself wandering the streets of the Magic Kingdom in Orlando trying to reconnect with my girls. As I scared the sea of faces looking for the familiar faces of my children I was stunned to see so many frowns. I saw frustrated parents arguing with the children over soveniers. I saw teenagers with arms crossed tired of waiting in line for their minute and a half of thrill on a roller coaster. I saw workers’ whose minds had checked out while they went about their mininal tasks. So much for a “Magic Kingdom”–Disney World sadly reflected the emptiness of our pursuit of happiness in all the wrong places.

In a simple yet powerful way, God taught me to smile and enjoy the simple pleasures of life because it is there that I gain a glimpse of His face in a child.

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Filed under Border Journal, El Paso Journal

The Parable of the “French Fly”

A few days ago I experienced the effects of sleep deprivation, jet lag, and a broken heart all rolled into one. I found myself aboard an American Airlines trans-Atlantic flight from Paris to Dallas. I had just tearful kissed my bride of some thirty years good-bye and was making my way back home.

During the ten-hour flight one has more than enough time to think, read, and reflect. I sat next to a young man who spoke no English and his large earphone sent the message loud and clear–“just leave alone.” In fairness I was more than willing to give him his privacy because I too found myself lost in my thoughts. About five hours into the flight I had a strange experience a fly landed on my tray table. I must admit in all countless flights I have taken over the years I have never seen an insect on a flight.

As I watched the fly move about the cabin of the jetliner, I guess fatigue got the best of me because I began to reflect upon the adventure this little creature was on. For a moment let your imagination run wild with me. Imagine what was about to happen to the “French Fly” assuming it made it to DFW safe and sound. The crazy “Frenchman” boarded the plane innocently enough not realizing that he was about to take the journey of a lifetime. As my little “French Fly” buzzed the cabin he was being propelled across the Atlantic Ocean. In less than ten hours this tiny little “Frenchman” would find himself in Texas.

Assuming our “French Fly” spoke fluent French and you imagine the shock he would experienced as he exited the plane and made his way onto the tarmac of DFW airport only to bump into a couple of Texas Cow Flies who spoke English with a deep Texas drawl. Let’s face those good ol’ “flies” would never believe his story about waking up this morning in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower!

My “French Fly” friend stirred my theological imagination when it comes to the intersection between the sovereignty of God and the free-will of the human race. Many philosophers and theologians swing back and forth between these two great theological poles. Yet my little French friend illustrated the journey of life. When one entrusts his or her life to the LORD it is very much like climbing aboard a jetliner bound for destinations unknown. Once aboard one is bound for the destination determined by the pilot. During the flight one is free to buzz about the cabin with apparent freedom yet the whole while heading for the final destination determined by the pilot. As I see it during the flight I am free to be “me” while all the time God carrying me along to my final destination.

Simply put I believe I am free and God is sovereign. Neither contradicts the other. Reality and truth reveal themselves in the tension. In the world of theology and often in life “either/or” thinking narrows the vision while “both/and” thinking broadens the horizons.

In Luke 15 Jesus tells three stories to illustrate the storyline of salvation. In the first two stories he tells of a shepherd looking for a lost sheep and a woman searching for a lost coin. His basic simple point: “God is looking for the lost.” God is the key actor in the drama of salvation. God is sovereign. In the third and final story, Jesus tells of a lost son who comes to his senses and returns home to the arms of his who waited and waited on the porch for his repentance. His basic simple point: “Salvation comes to those who chose to come home in humble repentance.” Repentant sinner is the key actor in salvation. Did Jesus’ confuse his illustrations? Or did Jesus pull back the curtain and reveal the “tension” of revealed truth? I believe the latter.

Years ago I climbed aboard a jetliner headed for parts unknown. Most of my days I think my choices are making all the difference about where I am going to end up, but deep inside I know there is a hand at work within me and all around me that guides me home. This truth calms my storms and grants me peace.

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Petraeus Affair: Hard Lessons for Leaders

The public fall of General David Petraeus sent shock waves through the nation, especially the military community. Petraeus represent for all Americans what was good and right about “citizen soldiers” of the United States. From all accounts he talked the talk and walked the walk. Then suddenly his reputation came crashing down around his feet. A lifetime of service and sacrifice for a grateful nation tarnish by incredible poor judgment.

Just days ago, Newsweek ran an article praising the general for his leadership and example. His principles of humble leadership called the readers to a higher standard. His first and foremost principle of leadership stated:

“Lead by example from the front of the formation. Take your performance personally—if you are proud to be average, so too will be your troops.”

Can you imagine how much these words–though true to the core–must haunt General Petraeus as he wrestles with the aftermath of violating his own core beliefs. I fear all of us who live in the public light and on the stage know all too well the struggles of living up to the standards and virtues we lay on the shoulders of others. Years ago during my doctoral studies I participated in a seminar on “The Private Life of a Public Person.” We dug deep into the motivations and actions of those who live in the spotlight while President Clinton lived out the scandal and shame of his moral failures in the White House.

The writer of Proverbs centuries before noted in military terms the dangers of having a lack of self-control. He wrote:

“Like a city whose walls are broken down is a man who lacks self-control.” Proverbs 25:28 NIV

Discipline and self-control protect us from ourselves. The sinful nature stirs deep within the heart and only a fool would believe he or she cannot fall. The old Puritan John Owen warned: “Be killing sin or it will be killing you.” For years this quote hung above a study desk as a constant reminder that my enemy within and without plays for keeps.

Pray for General Petraeus and his family. His fall need not be the final word on his life and career, nor does it negate all the good he has accomplished with his life, but his fall warns us all to guard our hearts with all vigilence lest we too fall.

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Filed under Devotion, Leadership, World Events

Obama Days Ahead

The voters of the United States have spoken and the will of our LORD has been accomplished President Obama will lead our land four more years. At a glance it is clear our nation continues to be highly divided about the future. In addition, the face of American and its values are changing. Some would argue for worse while others would argue the transitions are for the good of the land.

Regardless of which side of the arguement you fall on, we now know who will be our president for the next chapter of our journey. As as citizen of both the United States and the Kingdom of God, I pledge my prayerful support to our president. Even though on a number of key issues I do not agree with his policies and values, I believe him to be a man who geniunely wants what is best for our land. He has inherited challenges that would make the strongest among us cringe and the wisest among us scratch their heads with construnation. He desperately needs our prayers more than our critique and criticisim.

Pray for wisdom and moral courage. Pray for his selection of his cabinet and advisors. Pray for his relationships with international leaders who shape the course of the human race. Pray for his relationships with the key leaders in Congress that must find a way to work for “win/win” soluations for a brighter future for our children and grandchildren. Most importantly, pray for his relationship with God. On more than one occasion Obama has spoken of his Christian faith I believe we need to build on his confession and pray that in trying days ahead that he like Solomon will plead for wisdom that can only come from above and stir within.

I know for many dark clouds hover over the horizon, and for some “the sky is falling.” But let me remind you of the words that came off the lips of Daniel who found himself an exile in a foreign land under the rule of a ruthless leader. Daniel prayed:

“Praise be to the name of God for ever and ever;
wisdom and power are his.
 He changes times and seasons;
he sets up kings and deposes them.
He gives wisdom to the wise
and knowledge to the discerning.
 He reveals deep and hidden things;
he knows what lies in darkness,
and light dwells with him. Daniel 2:20-22 NIV

If you could peer into the throne room of the LORD you would not find our LORD wringing his hands in dismay wondering what in the world He is going to do about this mess. You would not see sweat on his brow as He struggles with what to do. No, you would see God confidently at work among the nations to bring about His ulitmate purposes and prayers. God heard our prayers. God is answering. We may not fully understand His ways, but we should never doubt His heart and His hands. We rest securely in His nail-scarred hands today and everyday.

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“Bonjour!”

Bonjour! Just hours ago I returned from spending a week in Paris—”the city of lights” with my wife Robyn, who is studying French and Linguistics at the Sorbonne for this fall semester. In her quest for her master’s de-gree from UTEP, Robyn has taken advantage of a once in a lifetime opportunity to study in the oldest university in Paris. Needless to say her quest has created quite an adventure for the two of us.
One of the things I love the most about my wife is the abandonment by which she lives. From her earliest days she has always dreamed big dreams and, even more importantly, pursued them. I learned from her to live “a life without regrets.” I fear far too many of us miss out on so much of the adventure God has for us by playing it safe or living in a rut.
In fact, without doubt this spirit of adventure had a great deal to do with our moving to El Paso a little over two years ago. When God presented us with the opportunity to come and serve with you in the largest border community in the world, we could not in good conscience pass up this once in a lifetime dream.

As you might expect, being the father of four beautiful young women I have sat through my share of “chick flicks.” Those many hours lost in twists and turns of romantic comedies have not been wasted. I have mined a handful of gems. One of my favorite quotes comes from the movie “Hitch” star-ring Will Smith. I love this quote:

“Life is not the amount of breaths you take; it’s the moments that take your

breath away.”

I believe the scriptwriter nailed it. Far too many of the children of God settle when the world awaits at the finger tips.

C.S. Lewis put it this way:

“If we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desire not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, we are like ignorant children who want to continue making mud pies in a slum because we cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a vacation at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

The Apostle Paul I believe spoke to this reality when he wrote to the believers who lived in the most powerful city in the world, Rome saying:

Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. 2 Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renew-ing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:1-2 NIV)

When good, pleasing and perfect awaits you, why settle for anything less? I be-lieve God created us to live with the same abandonment by which Jesus lived. El Paso offers the perfect place to live this way. At every turn one can see ways to get your hands dirty, investing your life in an opportunity of significance. Don’t waste a moment of your life—make the most of every opportunity by living a life without regrets.

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BGCT Chooses the Right Team for Tomorrow

When news reached me in Paris, France that Jeff Johnson, Bryon Stephenson, and Kathy Hillman had been elected officers for the Baptist General Convention of Texas I was thrilled. I cannot imagine three people who better represent the best of who Texas Baptists are and will become in the years ahead.

Jeff Johnson has paid his dues and  will do an amazing job bolding leading the convention into the future. If you study his resume you see he has experience at every level of Baptist life from BSM director, professor, executive board director, and pastor. During his days in Del Rio Jeff amazed me with his passion to engage the culture and to reach agressively across the river into Mexico often at personal peril and cost. Even thought Jeff is an “Aggie” he has a good head on his shoulders. He reads widely, thinks deeply, listens and learns, but most importantly he puts his passion and ideas into action. I can see Jeff being a huge asset to David Hardage during the days ahead.

Bryon is an amazing leader and his church has one of the best choirs in Texas. It must be mandatory for him to bring them to San Antonio. I had the honor of being in his church and I witness his amazing blend of humble bold leadership among his people. He is the real deal. Recently I spent time with him in New Orleans at the SBC Convention. He is a quick learner, and is passionate about advancing the cause of Christ as a Texas Baptist. He will push Jeff to be at his best and will help us keep our eye on the ball.

Kathy Hillman has deep roots in Texas Baptist life. I had the honor of serving under her leadership when she chaired the Committee on Convention Business (COCB). Kathy loves the BGCT. She represents what is best about the heritage and history of the WMU. Kathy will speak up and has the courage to lead. She has deep convictions. This summer I discovered that Kathy and her family have deep roots in the pioneer spirit of Texas Baptist as we met under the stars at the Paisano Cowboy Camp in far West Texas to sing the old Cowboy songs of years gone by.

Even though as Marv Knox noted it was a “quiet” convention in Corpus Christi, don’t for one minute think that quiet means nothing of significance happened. Texas Baptists chose three leaders ready and willing to help us embrace our future with courage and boldness.

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