Monday, November 14, 2011

Puppy Dogs

We have a new puppy in the house. Knox is a cute Wheaten Terrier, about 12 weeks old. We picked the name due to the fact that Knox is Scottish and we are a bit weird. John Knox was a famous Scottish preacher whose prayer was, Give me Scotland ere I die. Now, Knox was not supposed to be living with us, at least not yet. You see, we had a cat that was gramma's cat. A rather fat and lazy Calico, named of course, Cali. She was almost 15 when we had to lay her to rest. After the tears Donna and I came to an understanding about pets, no more for a while. Wait a couple of years and then think about another addition to the family. Addition to the family, that is exactly what a pet is to our family.

A Puppy is- A puppy is exactly that, a puppy. A puppy is not a small dog. A small dog used to be a puppy. Expect dog stuff from a puppy and you will either get mad or be disappointed. Expect puppy stuff from a puppy and you will enjoy the puppy and not be surprised when they do the bad puppy stuff. Knox is a ball to play with. Donna has bought, from thrift stores, more toys and stuffed animals for this puppy than all the other pets combined. He has a stuffed Elmo that is twice his size, he doesn't hesitate to wrestle and fight with Big Elmo. He also does the puppy stuff we don't like. He can be outside for an hour and come into the house to pee. I know what you are thinking, well you are not training him right. Well, we are, we have had at least a dozen puppies that have all graduated into dogs. We didn't flunk any of them, or ship them off to doggies disobedience school. Knox is learning and each day he is getting a little better. For now I want him to be a puppy, and beat up on Elmo. Soon he will be a dog and Elmo might go into the toy box.

A Dog is- A dog is the sum of puppy learning and training. Knox loves to go for walks with Donna. He loves to smell the leaves and root around in the dirt. That is part of his nature as a terrier. He loves to burrow under blankets and take rides in my truck. Partly because he knows that when he goes for a ride treats are waiting. When I drive through the teller window at the bank Knox jumps on mt lap and stares at the teller, he knows that a treat is coming. Knox will grow up to be a wonderful companion dog for Donna. He will not be the relaxed and peace loving dog that one would expect from a retriever. He will be rather protective and spoiled. He might learn some cute tricks, like prancing on two back legs. Donna is teaching him now. Knox will become what we influence him to become.

Expectations- Some might be offended at the relationship that I am drawing between puppies and people. So be it. But the issue of expectations fits very well. We are living in a world where expectations without understanding seems to be the norm. Let us look at the relationship expectations in many families. Have you ever met parents who expect their child to be little adults. They expect their children to talk like adults and think like they do. How many children have lost childhood because they had to live like an adult. The same is true when it comes to faith and growth in our spiritual life. People of any age, who come to faith in Christ, begin as children. We need to let them be children, we need to guide and make sure that the right nourishment is available. Many Christians begin their faith life with little guidance and nurturing. And, we are surprised when they do childish things. Many people of new-born faith face issues and problems that seem to drag them down. Without someone close by their side it is easy for them to give up on trying to live as a Christian.

Puppies are puppies and will grow up to be dogs. Children need to be children, they will become adults. New-born people of faith need to be allowed to be new-born and then grow. We must help each other along the way with expectations saturated with understanding.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Company of Heros

I grew up in the company of hero's. My father and four of his brothers served in combat zones during the second world war. There was always something mysterious about my hero's. I knew that my dad fought in the Pacific against the Imperial Japanese. But he was slow to talk about what he experienced. I do remember as a child of about ten sitting on the floor, with my brothers and sisters, asking dad about the war. He told us of a couple of instances during his time in New Guinea and the Philippines. On one occasion an enemy plane was shot down as it tried to machine gun his camp. The plane crashed less than a hundred yards from him. He also talked about helping some fellow soldiers who were suffering from severe dysentery.

What I learned later, he never told us, was, he paddled a dugout canoe for many miles to get the soldiers to an aid station. His action saved their lives. It is hard to imagine today what that scene must have been like. He received a commendation for his actions. Later I learned he suffered from cerebral malaria, which would haunt him for some time. Since I had malaria as well, I well know what he went through. More men in his division died of disease than of combat wounds. As with thousands of soldiers his feet were terribly infected with jungle rot. All of this he talked very little about.

The mark of a real hero is they always deflect attention. My father, like thousands of hero's, down played his actions and elevated those of his friends. He never wanted attention for what he did because he knew he was fortunate to have survived when thousands did not. Now, my father was not without his faults. Hero's are real men and women, prone to all of the problems and failures of mankind. He carried with him scars that would affect his adult life. All hero's have feet of clay, ask any of them. One of the iconic figures that raised the flag on the island of Iwo Jima died a broken alcoholic.

We are hurting for real hero's today. There have been some remarkable stories in the recent times of real hero's. Not sport stars that are paid millions to show off their talents. Not actors and actresses that live rich and lavish lives because people plunk down money to watch them. They are not hero's. They may be idols in a world that seems screwed up, but hero's, no. A few stories of our men and women who are protecting our liberties today are trickling out into the public. Hero's, men and women who put aside fear and even logic, to do what their spirit tells them is the right thing to do.

There are real hero's around us. Remember they will never tell you how brave they were, how they overcame fear and did the remarkable.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Demise or Dream- Dilemma of the Small Congregation

Over the past few years I have the opportunity and blessing to work with a few small churches that were struggling in their ministry direction. It is indeed a privileged because the folks in these congregations are dedicated and committed to the message of Christ. One of the biggest issues they face is what I call, Fuzzy Future, their direction seems unclear and with little focus. They know that they need to be the Body of Christ to their world and the world around them. At times, they just don't know how to accomplish, The Great Commission. Over a period of an eight to twelve hour seminar style gathering the people are able to begin understanding how God has impressed upon them certain values. The values we keep close to our heart are the source of great passion. From these values springs forth a prayer filled vision that empowers the congregation to live out the commission from Christ.

Values- All people have a set of values. What they determine in their mind and soul to be important and a priority in living. Values are as varied as the people that hold them. A few are common and universal, Loving relationships, Children, Health, Nutrition, Safety etc. Others might be music, education, fellowship, and specific cultural or demographic values.  The important thing for congregations is to come to an understanding of mutual values.

Understanding mutual values is the first step in congregational focus. People need to come together and talk about and define their values. This first step may take as little as an hour, or more. It is amazing to watch this process as people can become very passionate as they talk about what pulls at their heart. Values are written out on large sheets of paper or marker board. The next step is to prioritize the stated values. There may be a few values written down or dozens. These values need to be prioritized down to four or five. These four or five values will be the driver behind the most passion and commitment from the group. The group needs to be in agreement that the values are of the highest priority. Prayer and communication will be the elements that enable these to come together.

Vision- This portion of the gathering is of the utmost importance. Worship and prayer need to preceded and proceed this portion. The gathering needs to pray over and ponder the vision that God will lay upon their hearts in light of the values they have expressed. This "Visioning" process will take time. It may be best if a time of rest and more prayer takes place prior to expression and understanding of God's Vision for the congregation. This is a time of openness and vulnerability and the freedom for all to express themselves must not be hindered. Remember this is asking people to reveal their heart and desire for their church as they believe God is showing them.The process of expressing and writing down the vision needs time.

Prayer and worship will be used by God to bring His people together. Remember it is His church and He wants His people to accomplish His will depending upon His power. The vision that is born through this process will be unique to the congregation. It will be their passion for ministry and purpose that will empower them into the future.

The priority of the Vision Statement is utmost. This statement will be used to guide the congregation in the focus of ministry. Resources such as financial, building use, time and talent will be focused on the ministry of the vision. This will bring great freedom to the people as they have agreed to the new priorities in ministry.

Mission- The mission of the church has been given to us by Jesus Christ himself. He told His followers that their life focus would be the spreading of the gospel. Matthew 28:18 begins, The Great Commission. The mandate to the church is plain and straightforward. Take the message of the death, resurrection and ascension of Christ to the known world. Bring new believers into the fellowship and empower their growth into Christ likeness.

Many churches are in a state of confusion because they think their mission changes or is open to any or all sorts of interpretation. Any mission that wanders from the heart of Christ is not the churches. It may be noble and good for people or society but it is not the mission of the church nor is it the true mission of the people of God. The spread of the gospel brings life to people. The people that the gospel changes become participants in the message. They reach out and touch others and the church is alive.

I am not stating that all outreach ministries within the local church should stop. Not in the least. What must be clear is the preaching of the transforming power and love of God as shown in the life, death and resurrection of Christ, must be first and foremost. Ministries of feeding the hungry, helping the disadvantaged, and the myriad of other social causes must be kept in place.

The small church can be a vibrant and living power as she knows her values, has a passion filled vision and is sold out to living out, The Great Commission.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Chapters in Life

My life, up to the present, seems to be divided into chapters. I suppose that this may be true for people everywhere. Some chapters were written for me. Some chapters were written in connection and some were written in concert. Since expressing my faith in the transforming power of God through His Son, Jesus Christ, my life chapters should have His hand impressed upon them. Looking back over the pages I have made some observations about the book that is me.

Conception- My book began without my consent or knowledge. My dad, a world war two veteran, was the father of seven children. My mother, a ravishing beauty, snagged my dad shortly after the war. I am the fourth of five boys and the fifth of seven children. Birth order people would have fun with this family. I didn't ask for brothers or sisters as they did not ask for me. I was born into a mixture of personalities, environment and family culture, all of which, again, I did not choose. So, for the first years of my life I was the product of  care and nurturing. I didn't make many decisions on my own. I didn't pick out my clothes or decide what I was going to eat for breakfast, lunch or supper. I suppose this chapter took up the first five to seven years of my life.

Conscious- At some time during the conception period I began making some decisions. There is a mixture in the flow of one chapter into another as personality an identity develop. Somewhere in the mix of early years I remember very clearly telling an older brother, Tim, that he was going to hell because he killed my frog. That deeply held experience might have been reinforced by the bar of soap my teeth scraped as my mother held my mouth open. This chapter in my life is one of experimentation. Learning what things I liked and what I didn't like. Again a strange mixture. Some things I liked my dad didn't care for and had a rather abrupt way of telling me. I learned I liked playing baseball and football with my friends and did not like playing them in any organized way. I learned a bit of passive-resistance during this chapter. You see, sports were a big thing in our house. My dad, prior to WWII, tried out for the Toledo Mudhens. Baseball was king and it was expected that we would play. I played, but stunk. I was especially stinky when i played on the team my dad coached. I was learning that I could make decisions and that each decision would have consequences. This chapter in my life would color the pages of all that followed.

Concentration- This chapter or chapters brought great challenges and rewards as well as confusion and pain. It seemed as though great awakenings were filling this part of my book. The desire to obtain certain goals were pretty strong driving forces. Getting my drivers license meant freedom and supposed adulthood. Finding ways to obtain alcohol brought challenges and elation, headaches and vomiting. The first girl that stole my heart had me doing some really dumb things, like taking a bath in Canoe Aftershave, not a full bath, just an ounce or so. I was so gaga over this girl, only to have her turn me down for a dumb hillbilly that could play guitar and sing country. She still wanted to be my friend.

These chapters or phases also brought pain and confusion. My mother suffered from epilepsy all her life and I began to understand how severe this impacted all of us as a family. Some near tragic events haunted me for a long time. Confusion came as I understood that she would live a very healthy and vibrant life as long as she took her medication and stayed away from alcohol as much as possible. So, when seizures led to her knocking out teeth and falling into a fire confusion followed me. At the age of fifteen the death of my brother brought great pain and even deeper confusion. It was at this point that my concept of God was warped. I believed that God had favorite people and if you were on the good list good followed. With family trauma and pain I knew that we could not be on the good list. God had a club that he used for people that were not on the good list. The club yielded pain, heartache, confusion, fractures in functioning and assorted other ills.

Cooperation- As a young adult I fell head over heels in love. Along with capturing my heart my new love helped God capture my soul. As a young adult I had to examine the claims of Christ and His power in transforming human character. I knew I needed God's grace and love, nobody needed to beat it into my head. I knew full well the confusion and lostness of my spirit. So, at a given point in time, I agreed with God about my condition and the ability of Christ to radically change my life. I came to the point of knowing that I trusted Christ to have paid the penalty for my sin and by His resurrection to bestow upon me a new life and character. I was going to live my life in cooperation with God. As my knowledge of, and relationship with, Him grew, so also did my desire to serve Him in whatever way He desired. His path led me and Donna to serve in active full time ministry. After our ordination we served God and people in three congregations before moving to Zambia. I felt confident in His provide-ance for my family and served with joy and passion. The time in Zambia would prove to be the highest and lowest points in my life. The highest was in God's timing of Ana coming into me and my families life. The lowest point came in the attack and ensuing trauma forced upon Donna and the girls.

Convalescence- After Zambia a series of serious health issues came upon us. With the already damaged and bruised spirits we were living with the health issues forced me to make a drastic decision. I decided that it would be best for the family to resign from our ministry and try to find some peace and healing. A friend provided the place. We put enough money down to buy a small orchard and farm house. I named it Genesis Farm, our place of new beginnings. The new surroundings brought a sense of peace and starting over. But, that would last only so long. God never intended for us to sit on the sidelines of life and watch. Over a period of time new ministry opportunities came our way and we moved forward into the spiritual battlefield. I found writing to be a great healing balm for the wounds I carried. You see, I doubted God and even came to the place of doubting His concern and involvement in the affairs of mankind. I was thinking again, that He carried a big stick and I was not in His favor. Through writing I was able to understand a little more about the purposes of God. His grace empowered me to see and understand His character in ways I never thought of before. I began to thank God for the experiences of Zambia and the crushing I experienced.

Congruity- Hypocrisy is alive and well in my life. The things I find so easy to criticise in others are the boils that are just under the surface of my life. How easy it is to talk about spiritual truth, to preach of the goodness of God and make allowances for my self. Excuses are a dime a dozen when it comes to covering over my own inconsistencies. I earnestly desire to have the final chapters in my book to ones of congruity. To have my words and actions line up, to leave behind the excuses and rationalizations. To grow into the person God always intended for me to be. I have no idea how many chapters are still to be written, or how long each chapter might be. I do know that I want my life to match my words.