Thursday, June 26, 2008

A thought from 30,000 feet up

Journeys have a way of bringing focus to life. They concentrate our attention on the present in ways everyday living does not. Think about it. I travel almost every day of my life – to work, to the grocery store, to church - most of the time without paying particular attention to the trip. But take me out of the familiar and put me in a new place on a “journey” and I’m noticing everything. No longer can I rest on my assumptions about the world around me. Danger (or at least a missed turn) seems to lurk around every corner. I find myself fully engaged in the now.

If that journey happens to include a flight on an airplane, then that heightened sense of the now takes over my entire body. I hear every noise. I feel every shake. Now, I’m not overly afraid of flying. I usually fly somewhere once or twice a year and actually enjoy the view from thousands of feet up. I know all the statistics – I’m more likely to die in a car wreck on my morning commute (which I do without thinking) than I am in a plane crash. But statistics can’t remove the truth that overwhelms me every time I buckle my seat belt and prepare for takeoff – I am no longer in control. I am at another’s mercy. Usually, a pilot I’ve never met.

So what do I do? I pray. Usually all the way through takeoff and then again through landing, I catch myself reciting a centering prayer I learned in seminary, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.” Again and again, I silently repeat the prayer; it calms my heart. It reminds me that I am always at another’s mercy – not just on the temporary journeys of this life, but on the journey that is life. I am not in control, even when I’m sitting behind the wheel of the car on my way to work and think I am. Sitting there, thousands of feet in the air, I promise to try to remember that simple truth even when I get my feet on the ground and the familiar once again dulls my senses.

I hear the Psalmist’s benediction to the traveler . . .

The Lord watches over you –
the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night.

The Lord will keep you from all harm –
He will watch over your life;
the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.

. . . and I find peace.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Greetings from Memphis

Greetings from the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship’s Annual General Assembly in Memphis Tennessee. I’m having such a good time that I missed that Thursday ended yesterday! Sorry about that. I did want to give you an update of what all is happening at this years Assembly. Besides visiting with lots of friends, seminary professors and making new friends, I have been very impressed and challenged by the call to take the good news of Jesus Christ to the ends of the earth. I know that challenge is nothing new – Jesus himself commanded us to “Go and make disciples of all nations . . .” But it is always encouraging (and convicting) to hear from people who are doing just that.

Most startling was last night’s speaker, Lauren Bethell. Alyson and I have heard Lauren speak before. She is a gifted speaker. But her talent in the pulpit is eclipsed by her boldness in the world. She works as a human rights advocate who travels the world attempting to rescue children from sexual exploitation and slavery. Her calling takes her into some of the most frightening places in the world. Her stories are a mixture of incredible sadness mixed with the brilliant light of the hope of Christ.

Alyson and I also had the chance to have supper with two CBF missionaries who work with Kurds in Germany, Turkey, and Iraq. Their home base over the last few years has been in Germany. Over 600,000 Kurds now live in Germany. They spoke of the challenges of reaching Middle Eastern people and of the danger that still exists for missionaries working in that part of the world.

I also had time to visit with one of my seminary friends. He was a little ahead of me in school. He and his wife have spent the last five years as a CBF missionary in Indonesia. Three of their four children were born while in Indonesia. I’m constantly impressed by such folks who are willing to put their entire family solely in the hands of God’s care and follow him wherever he leads.

All of these encounters have reminded me of what one speaker said, “When the wind of the Spirit blows, it blows in one direction – out.” How true. God is at work in the world. His Spirit is blowing in the lives of people around the world as they join him in His work of redeeming the world. Where might the Spirit blow you?

Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” Matthew 28:19-20.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Blessed with poverty

If you didn’t get to go to the Costa Rica Mission Trip share time last night, I’m sorry. The youth not only impressed us with the various works they did for the church in Costa Rica, but also moved us with their bold and articulate expressions of what God was doing in them as a result of the trip. I was blessed by their testimonies as I know they were blessed by the trip. Thanks to all the adults who went as leaders, all of you who lifted them up in prayer while they were gone, and all who gave financially to make the trip a possibility.

One of the themes that surfaced in many of the youths’ testimonies was the apparent paradox of joy in poverty. Again and again the youth spoke of how joyful the people they met were despite their apparent lack of material possessions. The youths’ stories reminded me of a song by one of my favorite songwriters, Andrew Peterson. Entitled, “The Land of the Free,” it was written after he had gone on a mission trip to Bolivia. In the first couple of verses of the song he asks a little Bolivian girl named Elba:

Little Elba how’s the sun in South America?
Does it shine upon the faces of the poor?
Do they see in it the brilliance of the place that’s been prepared
And dwell upon the hope of what’s in store?

Or are they just like me?
Do they only see
an opportunity
to complain about the heat?

Little Elba, how’s the rain in South America?
Does it fall upon the rooftops of the sick?
Do they thank the Lord for coming up with such a great idea
And dream about a place beyond all this?

Or are they just like us?
Do they gripe and fuss?
About the rain and mud
When they’ve had too much

‘Cause I’m just a little jealous
Of the nothing that you have
Unfettered by the wealth of
A world that we pretend is gonna last.
They say God blessed us with plenty
I say you’re blessed with poverty
‘Cause you never stop to wonder whether
Earth is just a little better than
The Land of the Free.

Obviously, when we start discussing who’s more blessed, those with wealth or those without, it’s not a simple discussion. Poverty shouldn’t be romanticized. Poverty wreaks havoc upon those who must endure it. Poverty’s existence serves as a constant reminder of the fallen nature of our world. When Jesus got ready to announce his mission on the earth in Luke 4, he declared that God had anointed him to proclaim good news to the poor. That hardly seems like an endorsement of poverty. But Andrew Peterson’s questions to Elba, like those of our youth challenge us to remember that just as poverty shouldn’t be romanticized, neither should wealth be trusted. The hope of all people, both rich and poor rests in one place, the gospel of Jesus Christ. The advantage of being poor, according to both the Bible and our experiences, is that the poor tend to be quicker to recognize that truth.

“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God” Luke 6:20.
The song mentioned above is available on Andrew Peterson's album, Clear to Venus. It's a hidden track so it's not listed on the album notes. Clear to Venus and Andrew's other CDs can be purchased at Andrew's website, While I highly recommend all his CDs, Love and Thunder, is my favorite.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Buy Shoes, Save Lives

Meet one of my heros: Jeremy Courtney. Jeremy and I graduated seminary together. Lets just say that Jeremy chose the path less travelled. That path led him to Iraq where he started a business/ministry called Buy Shoes, Save Lives. Basically, Jeremy works with Kurdish families to sell high quality, hand made shoes called klash in order to improve the families' lives as well as raise money for the thousands of Iraqi children in need of heart surgeries.

Watch some of BSSL's videos below and check out their website for more information (They also sell some great T-shirts, artbooks, and bracelets if you can't afford the shoes).

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Watch what you say

First, a thank you for all the prayers, kind notes, and thoughtful words over the last week as my family grieved the loss of my grandfather. The writer of Proverbs tells us correctly that such “Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.”

While mine is probably a minority position, I have to say that there are days I feel sorry for politicians, especially those who are running for president (or who are the president!). What must it be like to have almost every word you speak recorded for posterity? How daunting must it be to know that every misspoken word will immediately become fodder for late night comedians or ammunition for tomorrow’s editorials (and then replayed endlessly on YouTube)?

As someone who has just a few of his words recorded every week, I’m well aware of this simple truth – speak long enough and you’ll say something stupid. I know I have. My personal favorite was a time when I was attempting to discuss the fact that a sexual relationship is at its best when conducted according to the will of God (ie. within marriage). I boldly declared to the congregation of FBC, Marlin, “Sex is better in the church.” I could tell by the congregation’s puzzled looks and the horror that had washed across my wife’s face that I had misspoken. I quickly assured them I was speaking about the church universal not the particular buildings and grounds of First Baptist Church. As I said, speak long enough and you’ll certainly say something you regret. I can’t imagine the challenge of trying to guard my every word.

And yet, the Bible tells us, it’s not just the politicians who should watch what they say. While our words may not be spoken to the masses, they can do major damage nonetheless. Beyond speaking embarrassing words, we can do great damage to our own reputation. Proverbs 18:7 warns that “a fool’s mouth is his undoing.” What’s worse, however, is that our words can lead to the destruction of others - we can crush the stranger, wound a neighbor, or destroy a friend. As Proverbs 11:9 laments, “With his mouth the godless destroys his neighbor.”

For most of us, such warnings from the scriptures don’t come as a surprise. We know the power of words. We have both been injured by them and used them to injure. So let us seek forgiveness, today, for the careless words we have spoken, and let us heed the advice of Proverbs 17:27 and use our “words with restraint.”

Set a guard over my mouth, O Lord; keep watch over the door of my lips - Psalms 141:3.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Eight years . . . can it be?!!

Today marks eight years of wonderful marriage for Alyson and me (Well, at least I think they have been wonderful - I won't presume upon Alyson's thoughts - but you can read them here). It really doesn't seem like eight years - I guess because we've had so much fun. I still consider Alyson my very best friend, a true gift from God. I've told many people this, and I will say it again: I am a better person for being married to Alyson. Her encouragement, her love, her care all make me better man than I would be on my own (not to mention a much cleaner one at that!).

She's a spectacular mother who is doing an amazing job with Sophie and John Curtis. Being a mother is for her a true calling - and the three of us don't thank her enough (Sophie and JC don't know to - so the fault lies with me). She constantly amazes me with her sensitivity to the needs of others. Her compassion and love for others are clear reflections of Christ's light at work in her.

So, to Alyson: Happy Anniversary. I count every day with you an immeasurable gift from God. I love you.

Remembering Granddaddy

There's a nice article in the Shreveport Times, today, about my grandfather.

His obituary can be read here.

Alyson had a very sweet post about Granddaddy and some nice pics of him with the kids a few days ago that you can see here.

It was an honor to take part in the service for my Granddaddy, yesterday. We kept it fairly brief - something he would have appreciated - and got to the eating part - something he would have appreciated even more. Granddaddy was a wonderful man - a true family man, a noted judge, an excellent (and quite resourceful mechanic), a builder of computers, a fisherman, a Sunday School teacher, a joyful eater, and much more. I'm grateful today for the legacy he has left me, and pray that God will allow me to continue in his footsteps as a man whose presence in this life was a true blessing to all who knew him.