Tuesday, August 29, 2017

I've read somewhere that writers should always begin with an outline of some kind. An outline provides a plan and helps the reader - and the writer - follow the pathway of the story. I'm sure that advice is sound, and as I have been sitting here for the last 30 minutes feeling the urge to write, I have yet to come up with an outline. Ugh. What in the world? I need an OUTLINE. Still, no outline comes. 

For the life of me I can't produce an outline today, but I can pour out what the Lord is doing in my life. Today the Lord spoke more than most days after an especially uplifting and spiritually challenging conversation with two very special ladies from my history that God continues to use in the present His-story of my life. We only talked for forty five minutes. Some of that was spent with the normal awe and awareness that we are getting older and that are children are the ages we once were. Then, there was the customary "how is everybody doing." Add in a slice of freshly baked, still hot pound cake, and man, oh man, the afternoon had taken a turn for the better. 

The actual subject of the afternoon should be reserved for continued conversation in trustworthy circles. What has prompted me to write as I sit on this plane waiting to soar above the earth at 30,000 feet is the same question that remains pressing on my heart. How are we as God's people going to bring glory to God in 2017 America? What does He want from us? What does following Christ really look like today? Almost a year has gone by since evangelicals elected the man who was to change the face of America, and we are worse now than ever. We are nine months into a new year, and we are dealing with the same old things. 

So many people have answers, and honestly most of them are lacking. A few well spoken and spiritually minded folk seem to have a grasp on what God expects, but those messages continually get lost in the myriad of answers coming our way from experts who are full of answers to the wrong questions. How do we grow our church? How do we make our families healthy? How do we .......? Whatever the question something in me reacts to the third word. 

We. 

How do we?? Maybe it is a cop out, but something in me continues to grind with the thought that my whole life has been a struggle of escaping the "we." The truth is that we don't. God does. What if we asked, "How will God use us to glorify Him in our community?" "How will God heal our family?" "How will God use the present circumstances to reveal His majesty and splendor?" How will God? I know that He can, and that He has a plan. An outline if you will. He does not struggle with order or with mapping out the journey for us. The struggle lies within me as I try to hold onto the we while pretending the care about God. 

Slow down, Bessie. Let's be fair. It's not pretending to care about God. I really care, and I know many who do. "Pretending" is too harsh. Really we are holding on to two worlds. Trusting God and trusting man. Romans 8 says it like this: "For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit." Paul is talking about those who are focused on "how do WE fix this problem?" We like to lump the flesh into sex, drugs, and other evils of our day, but that picture poorly reflects the intent of Romans 8. Paul seems to force the issue that religious efforts will never accomplish any good in our lives. No matter how noble they may seem, even our best attempts at doing right fall short. Only the Spirit of God can accomplish His work - both in and through us. 

What if I spend so much time wondering "how" that I fail to see I'm using the wrong alphabetical structure? (Since I can't come up with an outline, I might as well talk about alphabetical structure - if that even is a real thing ....) What I a mean is what if I am spending so much time thinking about H-O-W that I am forgetting to meditate on W-H-O. (Did you catch the shift in alphabetical structure? Did you? I digress).

Do folks outside of Christ really care about my how? Didn't Jesus teach us that folks outside of Christ really need to know WHO? Experts will tell us that how affects understanding of who. I disagree. Consider that maybe Who affects the understanding of How. What the Lord seems to be telling me is that my discontentment with the way we do things in the church is more about Him leading me even deeper into intimacy with Him and is less about the things I can easily point to as markers of dissatisfaction. 

Romans 8 goes on to remind us that "the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself might be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the glory of the freedom of the children of God." I cannot help but consider that the creation is not wondering HOW. Instead the creation is focused on WHO. So much so that Paul said "we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now, and not only the creation but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, wait eagerly for the adoption of sons, the redemption of our bodies. For TO THIS HOPE WE ARE SAVED." What does the world - the dying, drowning, flood soaked world need to hear and to see in us? The world needs to know that we have hope that goes beyond levees, buildings, sermons, songs, and slogans. The world needs me to stop it. Stop trying to figure out the answer, and offer them the ANSWER. HE IS ALREADY FIGURED OUT. He demonstrated that He loves us on the cross. Long ago, the song clearly stated, "Jesus is the answer for the world today. Above Him there's no other. Jesus is the way." 


If I will lift Him up, the world will be drawn to Him. He said it was so. It has to be true. Lift him up in my work, in my family, in my travels, in my preaching, in my teaching, in my play, and in every part of my life. Lift Him up and let His Spirit do His work. He is responsible for the HOW. I just have to point people to WHO. Lord, Jesus, help be be one who points others to You, the one who makes all things new. Amen.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Why Am I Afraid To Tell You Who I Am?

Not many days go by that I don't think about writing and wonder why I can't seem to keep the simple act of journaling going. Some call it blogging. Others rambling. I just look at the whole thing as thoughts that come to mind while sitting not the porch drinking a tall glass of ice tea. Maybe the problem is that I don't really have a porch. I try to limit ice because I can't seem to break the habit of chewing the stuff, and I'd like to keep my teeth a little while longer. I've gone to drinking water so the sugar in the sweet tea doesn't continue to deposit pockets of fat around my midsection. All of that being said, I thought of changing the name of the blog thinking that would inspire me. Then I thought of drinking coffee in the den. One who is family gave me an awesome blue, distinguished looking recliner that would be perfect. New blog name ..... From the Recliner. Nope. That's not the answer.

In light of some recent events, I have realized that the reason I write for a while and then stop has much deeper roots. Writing is cheaper than a counseling copay so I suppose I should write more often before they send me off to some "retreat" for those who need to get their thoughts in order. What did I come up with as a reason? Thanks for asking and getting me back on track. When I started the blog years ago, I would share a funny story about my family or something that happened that day and then make a spiritual application. Reading back over distant recent posts, the obvious conclusion seems to be that I've not laughed a whole lot in the recent years. Pockets when life would be light became caverns that were darker than travel would allow. A few posts here and there based on some current event or some life experience would bring me back to the familiar place. Well, here we are again. So glad you joined me here. Keep alert to those who might be walking down the street wondering what we are doing here on this slab with no porch, no rocking chair, and no iced tea. Smile real back because appearances, after all, are everything.

Or are they. Appearances can be very deceiving. Someone said, "Don't judge a book by it's cover." others have said, "Beauty is only skin deep." (Though I have to admit I like the added portion that declares, "But ugly goes straight to the bone." Plays have sets appearing like buildings and landscapes but are simply painted art on pieces of canvas held together by wood and ropes. Every hotel resembles the nicest resort when you pull them up online. Have you ever pulled up to a restaurant and thought that your GPS must be playing a dirty trick on you? "Only eat at places with local license plates in the parking lot," my good friend Travis used to say.

Appearances attached to people often have different tags. Hypocrite. Fake. Fraud. Two faced. Add a few of your own. People who pretend to be someone they are not, scared to be found out for fear of the great cost attached to reality. We all know people who are not what they seem. Some we see from a distance. Others we see around town, across the aisle at church, in the grocery store. One we all know very well, and we see the person every single day. We know him - or her - all too well. Intimately actually. We see every fault and feel every pain. We know the person so well that we even know the kind of unmentionables he wears underneath those Lucky blue jeans. Stop for a moment. Find a mirror. Walk to the mirror. Look deeply into the mirror. See the ugly mug looking back at you. That's the one. Even what I think I see in that mirror is different from reality. I have more wrinkles, more fat, more moles, more everything than I really see. Unless I look closely in a moment of hosnestly. Then I see the truth. The biggest pretender of all lives in my house, sleeps in my bed, wears my socks, and uses my toothbrush. Most people think the big P on our front door represents the initial of my last name. Instead the big P reminds me that I am the big Pretender.

I don't mean to be the Pretender. I try not to be and pray about being different; nonetheless, the reality is less real than I would like it to be. As a teenager, I read a book by John Powell. The title exposed my fear. "Why Am I Afraid To Tell You Who I Am?" The answer in the book went something like this one: "I am afraid to tell you who I am because it's the only me I've got, and you might not like me all that much." Mrs. Armstrong would tell me that should not be in quotes because the sentence really is a paraphrase, but somehow I needed to set it apart. Need to check back in my Little Brown Handbook of Grammar. The question still wields its power over me. The truth remains that I, like most, hide the deepest parts of who I am and present to you the person I want you to think I am. That statement scares me the most because it means that in those moments when I am rude, sarcastic, too matter of fact, moody, irritating ..... (you get the point) ...... I have failed to mask the trash that I am trying to hide. Trust me, I don't like hearing people say, "You definitely know when Alan is upset about something. It's written all over his face."

This past Sunday, my Pastor preached about sanctification, the process of becoming like Christ. Holiness is a journey that all believers travel, and the honesty involved in the journey is a hard one that we can often ignore, until something triggers a road sign to force us to stop. Well, we as believers have had a huge road sign fall in our path this week. One part of me that I have never tried to hide is that what we Mississipi State Bulldogs call The School Up North has no positive thoughts in my mind. So as not to make this blog about the ills of Ole Miss, I'll just stop there. The shock that would even lead me to write the dreaded words Ole Miss is a common one this week. A vocal Christian coach has been very publicly exposed for the same sin we all commit every day. He portrayed himself to be someone he wasn't. Hang with me here for a few more lines. I don't know the coach by anything but reputation, so I can't speak to character. All I'm saying is that his situation has made me stop and think about the parts of my life I want to be different and the parts of my life that I wish others would never know. I want to be known for loving Jesus and loving His Word. I want to be known for being a faithful dad and husband and a man who works hard to be the best at his job with the integrity Christ demands. I don't want people to know that I get angry and hold on to the anger too long. Nor do I want people to know I get impatient with others. I'd rather people not know that I get tired of being around religious people sometimes. I'd like to keep secret that as a red blooded Southern man my favorite movies aren't about violence and that my favorite Saturday fall activity isn't watching a football game. Gone With The Wind and a John Grisham book will do me just fine. I'd rather these things stay hidden so I'm risking the fact that if I tell you who I really am maybe you will still like me after all. Why are Christian's afraid to tell others who we are? Could it be that because even as the press conference is still playing, other Christians are already tweeting judgement and condemnation on our souls. I'm afraid to tell you who I am because the only person you really are willing to forgive is yourself. My guilt is to be condemned while yours is to be overlooked.

The last blog I wrote months ago ended with Romans 8:1. I've been studying Romans 8 for the last several weeks. Interesting, isn't it? I don't like hypocrites. I don't like Ole Miss. I often don't like myself. I do love Jesus, and He loves me. "The law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death." Romans 8:2. He is the only one I know who is always Who he says he is. As a light hearted ending in light of recent events, consider that the bells of heaven could be cowbells and the Grove the fallen Garden of Eden. Hail State.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

No Regret

Centrifuge 1992. Southern Baptist Youth Camp. Camp Pastor. Life-changing experience. These phrases come to mind when I consider one of the most significant events of my life. Working for Centrifuge proved to be the first time I ventured out on my own. Prior to this experience, I lived in the shadow of everyone else. Everyone's expectations. Everyone's disappointments. Everyone's portrait of who I was or who I would ever be. Until that day. I saw a posting that someone for Lifeway planned to be on campus to interview for youth camp positions. Not knowing any better, I applied to be a Camp Pastor. The meeting was in a conference room at the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, and the coordinator and I met alone for me to preach to a one man audience. I will never forget the sermon. The message was from Galatians 5:1. "It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery."


The interview was a long shot. Most camp pastors had served other positions first, yet I felt the Spirit saying, "Give Me a chance to show you that so much more is out there for those who love Me." Not long after that, Lance reached out and told me I got the job!!! I couldn't believe it. Prior to this day, I had NEVER done anything my brother had not already done. For the first time, I had my own first time.


Assigned to the East Coast Traveling Team, I met lots of new people. People in New England tend to live quite differently than people in the Bible Belt. The Lord allowed me to serve under the leadership of a Camp Director who taught me more about grace than I had ever experienced. Her name was Amy Figg. I still follow her on Facebook because of the tremendous influence she had on my life. Prior to this time, I never knew the power of acceptance and the abundance of God's grace. She introduced me to Max Lucado, and that summer I experienced a freedom in preaching that I had never before known. She probably has no idea just how much the Lord used her to shape during that time.


Returning to seminary after that summer produced extreme conflict. Valence Street Baptist Church called me to be their pastor, and the rigors of school combined with the mold of ministry forced me to tuck my summer experience into a place where no one could have access to it. During that year, I had one desire. Secure a position with Lifeway's Centrifuge again. Mission accomplished when I learned that I would be placed as Camp Pastor at Carson Newman College. During that summer, I met several friends I was too dumb to keep in touch with but who I have watched from a distance over the years wondering the classic, "what if ...." Today I was reminded by a Facebook memory of that summer. One person I met during that summer wasn't a true Centrifuge staff member, but instead was part of the support staff. Through him I met the most important earthly person I will ever know, the love of my life, my bride. One day early in the summer of 1992 he wrote me a note which I taped in my Bible for the summer. The note simply read, "NO REGRET." We became friends that summer, and although circumstances have circumvented continued relationship, those two words still haunt my memory. NO REGRET.


That summer I preached with no regret, but I live with much regret. Regret that I failed to enjoy the people I worked with each day. Regret that I preached daily out of the overflow of an empty heart. Regret that I let circumstances kill this friendship that had grown to mean so much to me. Regret that lingers as a weapon in the hands of the enemy that continually reminds me that I am not good enough, not strong enough, not kind enough, and on and on and on.


One interesting thought about my regret rests in the reality that Romans 8:1 still remains one of my most quoted verses. All of the time, I'm telling those who come to me that "there is therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." "You are forgiven," I tell them, as if the verse applies to everyone except me. I can't seem to let it go. The regret lingers and eats away at my existence surrounded by seasons of relief. Failure. Forgotten. Too far gone. These words plague my dreams and suppress my abundant existence.


Trusting that "too late" never crosses the Lord's mind, I am forced to ask myself how might the Lord use me today to advance His Kingdom. Not my purpose or my design, but completely His own purposeful, grace-filled plan. How do I grab tightly to the grace I met for the very first time in the summer of 1991?


Hearing the latest new reports conflicts me as a follower of Christ. I'm encouraged by some actions I have heard about where life takes a center stage. All lives matter, and the unborn must be protected. I'm less encouraged by Facebook posts where fellow Christians compare our new President to our Savior. More than anything my prayer remains that the Lord uses the next four years to awaken the church to His grace and mercy. Micah 6:8 screams to us that the Lord requires us to "love mercy, do justly, and walk humbly with our God." Living with no regret demands that we pursue all three: mercy, justice, and humility. This time in history clamors for the church to exist with NO REGRET!


Please do not misunderstand. The positions of Christ followers today are important. Life and the protection of those lives must be a priority. Time presented me with the truth that physical circumstances point to spiritual reality. Assuming the solidarity of that statement, the undisputed reality that life matters propels me to understanding that in addition to physical life, spiritual lives matter, as well. Biblical evidence would even suggest that physical life, while of utmost importance, draws us to the reality that Christ ultimately died for our spiritual lives. He looked past the physical failures to the promise of spiritual perfection.


All of these thoughts force me to ask serious questions about my role in the body of Christ. Since lives matter, the Spirit of God has opened my heart to some lives that often go ignored, and I wonder if you would commit to see them this Sunday as you engage in whatever worship experience you are part of this week. All around you, lives in crisis incubate on the verge of spiritual abortion as the body of Christ in large part ignores them as legitimate lives. Somewhere near you sits a young man who daily experiences (or as a child experienced) abuse by a family member. Fear keeps him from saying anything. Fear of being exposed and fear that the blame lies with him. Maybe he is a homosexual after all, and he has invited what happened to him. He is afraid. Somewhere near you as you praise God as the Good, Good Father, a young lady silently cries about the father she wishes she had. He is at home, but his is unengaged, and she is searching for a male figure in her life who will bring her significance. A father, a mother, a grandparent who has lost touch with family members and doesn't know how to reclaim them. A husband fearful of losing his wife or a wife aware of her husband's distance. A pastor caught in the grips of sin or a Sunday School teacher afraid that others may find out what she hides deep down inside. A victim of sex trafficking, a slave to pornography. THESE LIVES MATTER. All lives matter. "The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance" (ESV).


Wishing that all should come to repentance. ALL. Those damaged by abuse. Those caught in the religious performance trap. Democrats. Republicans. Presidents, past and present. Pastors and deacons. Moms and dads. ALL LIVES MATTER TO HIM. The time has come for me to open my eyes to the reality that my experience isn't about me but instead is about the chance to see others the way God sees them. Others who live in my town. Others who get a paycheck with me. Others who sit near me in worship each week. People in need of a Savior who loves them just as they are and who died for all while we were all still sinners. Of all the regrets I must avoid, I refuse to live any longer regretting letting anyone feel unloved and unwanted. The time has come to let God's word flood the hard layer of protection that lines my inner being. From this day forward I will stand for the Truth and refuse to hide behind religious jargon. Twenty five years in the making, it is time to proclaim that Jesus has called you and me to live with NO REGRET.

Friday, January 20, 2017

It's All Coming Back To Me Now

Sometimes the Lord speaks softly. Other times He speaks loudly. Sometimes His voice projects through the harshness of our world, and sometimes He calls through the gentleness of a morning rain. Recently, God revealed Himself in a way that was most unexpected. Two worlds once connected rejoined for a moment with a reminder that even the most tragic situations hold glimpses of hope for tomorrow.

Growing up in small town Mississippi packaged extreme experiences into a lifetime. Church life revolved around Sunday School, children's choir, Bible drills, VBS, worship services, and an occasional hymn sing. School life invited opportunity for high grades, awards, school plays, PE, band, and other normal, predictable routines. Broad friendships that rejected deeper engagement dotted the landscape of my adolescence and teenage years. The complexities of life circled around these two silos of my life. Church and school. Outside of these two worlds, any identity I might have had faded into imagination.

Cloudy memories of growing up often skew perspective, yet occasionally something triggers part of my brain to pull history from the portals where they have been locked away. This past weekend the Holy Spirit pulled such a trigger when my oldest son texted me a name and asked if the name rang a bell to me. Imagine my surprise when I learned that the Lord placed him alongside a young man leading sixth grade boys in a DiscipleNow with a tie to my past. The short story is that the other young man's mother grew up in the same small church where I grew up and then once she married she moved across the street from my grandmother. My grandmother actually kept the young boy occasionally when he was a baby.

Lately I've been reflecting on how growing up a Pharisee shaped the course of my life. Learning all of the rules forged a direction that left me longing for a relationship that could only be filled by Christ. Never forget the sovereignty of God in our lives. In the middle of a mess, King Jesus shed His blood to redeem what many labeled a hopeless heap of splintered lives.

The church I remembered a few moments ago ignited with a major split that fed the gossip circles for years to come. Several families joined together on the north side of town to form a body of Christ that became the central part of my spiritual existence. For a season, the church enjoyed a freshness that many had forgotten could exist. Over time, humanity won out, and the small church became even smaller, to the point that now the body barely exists. As the mirror reminds me of my history, the Spirit also reminds me how He is at work when we don't even realize it. In the early days of this new church a group of families connected in ways I had not previously known. One family seemed to be the common bond between the others, and many Sunday nights we would gather at their home after church. As children we were close enough in age to find suitable interactions, but we were far enough separated that outside of church we didn't spend much time together. From a distance, though, I always knew that these peers and I had something unexplainable in common. I'd like to say we all shared a love for the Lord, a heart for missions, or a zeal for the Word of God. Instead, what we shared was actually a community of love and support unparalleled by others I knew. This community produced future generations actively engaged in service and ministry to the Lord - to the third and possibly even the forth generation.

Hearing from Daniel that he had "randomly" been paired with the son of one from this former community pushed me to recognize that while growing up Pharisee had its ill effects, God's word did not fail. Those raised in Truth and Love thrive in the Kingdom of God over the long haul. In that small church we didn't have a lot of money or a lot of entertainment. Our Sunday School room was just four walls, paneling, and metal chairs. We didn't have a concert every Sunday morning before the preaching, and we didn't have a website or a blog. We just had Jesus, His word, and families that made sure we were in community with each other. Would you believe that almost all of the members of that small youth group are actively engaged in ministry in the church somewhere to this day and that our children are choosing to love the Lord as well? How in the world did that happen in the middle of a most dysfunctional place? Only one way. Not the music, not the trips, not the ritual, nor the competition. Nothing but the blood of Jesus. Only His blood holds broken hearts and lives together over time and creates newness from empty vessels. I'm praying for such a community in our new adventure. A community that perhaps only learns the value when our grandchildren find themselves serving together in unexpected places.

"... not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near." Hebrews 10:25

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Second Chances .... Are They Real?

Second chances .... are they real? The obvious answer screams from the pages of scripture. Look no further than 2 Corinthians 5:17 to remember that "... if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come." (ESV) God's extraordinary demonstration of grace through Christ's death, burial, and resurrection displays the truth of second chances. Never forget 1 John 1:9, where the disciple teaches that "if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."


The question dominating my mind tonight goes back to my childhood days and has been with me through the teenage, early adult, and adult years. In scripture we see a host of examples where Jesus brought those spiritually dead to life;  however, the deeper question remains. What about second chances for those who are already believers?


As a young child, I struggled with forgiveness. Anger and guilt over some childhood experiences plagued me in ways that I still have trouble verbalizing. I read the Bible every night and journaled notebooks full of confessions and cries for help. More Sundays than I would like to admit found me walking down the aisle of our small church rededicating my life to Christ and promising to be a better person, never to sin again. The nine years invested in Bible Drills afforded me hundreds of verses committed to memory, but the more verses I learned, the more condemnation I felt. Several years ago a friend and I were driving through an orange grove, and I admitted that of all of the verses I committed to memory, few of those verses had to do with grace. Most proclaimed law, judgment, and rebuke. From before sixth grade until my freshman year in college, I walked through the baptismal waters three times, hoping to wash away the accusations of  my repeated failures. During those years, I met Jesus. I sincerely confessed my sin and repented of my sinful condition. I committed my entire life to him, yet the prison I was in kept me chained in a dark place that seemed inescapable.


College proved to be a memory that I wish could be undone. Depression and defeat dogged every step. Insecurity destroyed any relationship that came my way, and I successfully graduated from college with few, if any, long term friendships. My next stop was seminary, but even that journey began as a reaction to a painful experience. Efforts to get away from college life propelled me into graduate school, where once again, I tried to soothe my pain with education and theological learning. Friendships from seminary? I made three. Two roommates and a fellow lifeguard. I call them friends, though an outsider would find my role in the relationships lacking.


Three ministry positions, secular employment, and three more ministry positions forced me to deal with many of the failures in my life and the effect that the failures had on my present and the effect they would have on my future if I didn't face them head on. Decisions made in the past persisted in killing my future, but somehow the decisions made in the past clung to decisions made by others in my past on my behalf. The blame game became ineffective, and over time I found myself calling out to my Father asking for relief and mercy that only He could give. Somewhere in those moments the Spirit of God reminded me of another young Christ follower who made a monumental error in judgment. His life testifies to the truth that the gospel is for those coming to Christ and for those already in Christ.


Scholars tell us that John Mark came from a prominent family known for following Christ. His exposure to Jesus and the disciples introduced him to the gospel early in life.  Tracing his family tree brings us to a cousin named Barnabas who introduced him to Paul. John Mark joined Paul and Barnabas on the first missionary journey, and at some point, he decided to go home. Scripture doesn't tell us why he went home, though many have speculated about the reason. Perhaps the Spirit of God left the reason a mystery so that we could make the generalization that no matter what the reason, no change of course forces devastation in our lives. What we do about the change of course matters immensely. At some point, John Mark decided to return to his mission. Paul refused to give him a second chance, but Barnabas saw grace and mercy in his life. Barnabas extended this grace and mercy to John Mark in a way that brought him back to Kingdom advancement. The Spirit graced us with the writing of John Mark in a gospel message and reminded us in one of Paul's letters that John Mark reentered active service for Christ with reckless abandon. Many sermons have been preached about Paul giving John Mark a second chance. What would happen if John Mark were preaching the sermon? Would he talk about Paul's influence and the second chance God offered through Paul? Most likely, he would not. Instead, John Mark would most likely preach boldly about the second chance God offered through Barnabas. Reconciliation with Paul likely mattered a great deal. Barnabas, however, never gave up on him. Barnabas never quit, never doubted, and never held John Mark's past against him.


Family members often won't let you forget. Friends and certainly enemies want you to remember your past forever. A few - maybe less than a handful - will pour out grace and mercy in your life. The Spirit provides some - maybe only one or two - who will serve as reminders of deeply embedded truths that every day pushes us to a second chance. Stop listening to those who thrive on your slavery to the past and instead listen to the Spirit through God's word and those who know well the One who wrote it. We can all begin again. Today. Now. Seize your moment this moment in time.


"There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." Romans 8:1, ESV.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Election

Election. This word has created all kinds of trouble for me. I suppose it's not really the word that has created trouble, but the meaning behind the word. Or not the meaning, but the usage. That's what a seminary professor of mine taught us. Words have usages, they don't have meaning. My kids remind me of this adage occasionally as they use words that mean nothing similar to what I know them to mean. For example, "That is lit ....." Most people would assume that if something is lit, a flame burns brightly nearby or that someone needs to call the firetruck. In the words of one politician who would become president, "WRONG!" I'm not really sure what "lit" means, so maybe you can ask someone much younger than you are to explain it. Ignore the eye rolls and the snickers, and just accept the fact that you - like me - are old.


Back to the subject at hand. Election. The first time the word created turmoil for me I was attempting to make a spiritual connection with deacons at the Baptist Church where the Lord placed me to pastor. I didn't use the word. I didn't really even consider the word. Actually, even the possibility of the word creates an ocean of conflict in some people's lives. This particular occasion was a study of the church by a well known Baptist leader. Only a handful of deacons participated, but apparently their wives were participating from a distance, and word got out that we were using material from said Southern Baptist leader who some had written articles about his theology without consulting him personally about said theology. Immediately accusations of Calvinism and false theology began to cascade throughout the small group of men. Notably, the men didn't even know what Calvinism was. They were trusting their wives for their biblical knowledge. You'll find that command in 2 Hezekiah chapter nowhere. Even though we never addressed the issue of predestination or reformed theology, these ladies took this cause as their banner. Actually, I think they just didn't like me and decided they would use this issue to rid the church of the cancer called Alan Permenter. Who would have thunk it??????? Many people would have thunk it actually. I've alienated more than I would like to remember. Anyway, their campaign failed, and I served the church for several more months, much to the chagrin of others who were living in this West Tennessee version of Peyton Place.


The second time the word election caused me a problem was most recently during the presidential race that we as Americans endured. Somehow I could not figure out how Christians could justify the actions of either candidate. On one hand, Christians supported a candidate based on her differences from her opponent. Interestingly enough, other Christians supported the opponent for the same reason. Elect a president because he are she opposes the views of the other candidates. An interesting approach, that is.


From time to time, I have been accused of not being able to keep my opinion to myself. Those of you who know me most likely had to sit down and take up drinking with that statement. You never would have known, right??? The first accusation came as a youngster when a family member told me that one day my mouth would get me into trouble. The most recent was just the other day when another family member said, in supposed sarcasm, "Well, I don't have to make a big deal about everything." I may have been born in Mississippi, but I wasn't born in the Delta. I get it already!!


 In all seriousness, I would ask you to pray for me about that issue, because I don't want that weakness to characterize my life. Even I noticed that during the presidential race, occasions surfaced where I found myself unable to keep quiet. I tried, but some of the Facebook posts were too much. The constant posts by those who found it necessary to excuse the moral indiscretions of certain candidates got the best of me, and at one point, I remember saying that Christians needed to grow up and be willing to admit that they were voting against their conscience in order to keep someone else from being elected. If you are going to do it, then you should own it. Call it what it is, and stop trying to fool everyone else into seeing in your actions some spirituality that doesn't exist. One believer even went so far as to say that God was incapable of working through one particular candidate. Incapable!!!!! My God????? Not on your life. He parted the Red Sea, brought the dead to life, and rose from the grave Himself? Nothing is impossible for Our God!!! I digress.


The impetus for this post rests in the all too common practice to use words to divide and destroy. Labels prove dangerous in the hands of those who occupy pews most every Sunday morning (unless some sporting activity gets in the way of worshipping the Creator of the Universe and the Savior of our lives.) A seminary professor denied a project because he was afraid of the word sanctification. He preferred spiritual formation. I searched the scripture (Greek and Hebrew) and didn't find "spiritual formation," but I did find "sanctification." The only conclusion I could draw burst forth in my heart over the new few months. It wasn't the word "sanctification" that scared the seminary professor.  The fear rested in exposure to the Word of God. He had been so spiritually formed, that he ignored the truth of God's word. Check out John 5:39-40. Jesus called him out before he was even born.


Paul told Timothy not to involve himself in foolish arguments and words that create division. Go on and read all of 2 Timothy. It's worth the effort. Words divide because we choose to let them do so. Christians need a good argument. I learned this fact growing up Baptist. We argued about money, about music, about the Holy Spirit, about church times, about everything under the sun. As I have gotten older and dumber, I  have realized that I was actually trained to argue for argument sake. Don't get me wrong. It is completely my fault that I accepted the challenge. I'm just saying that in the church I was trained to listen for what was wrong so I could fight against it. How foolish!!!!


When we first lived in Ocala, a spiritual man chastised me and told me to return to the church we were considering leaving. He boldly spoke truth and told me that I was looking for something to be wrong instead of filling my role in the body. We returned to that body of Christ, and over the next year God did an amazing work and formed friendships that still stand today. What pastor tells someone to go back to the church from whence they came? Duane Hoffman is such a man. His concern did not rest in his kingdom, but in God's Kingdom and the advancement of His Kingdom in a way that held tightly to the integrity of the body of Christ. We are having trouble connecting with a church now that we have returned to Ocala. I wonder if Springfield, Missouri, is too far of a commute? Probably so, but the remnant of his leadership still remains in Ocala so there is hope in finding one life community for fellowship and spiritual discipline!!!


What might happen in our lives if we started listening for the pain of society and started applying the mercy of God to those pains? Instead of fighting and posting nonsense, what would happen if we started finding opportunity to position Christ as the healer and redeemer of lost humanity? What if one day went by that we didn't have anything to argue about? I'm not so sure that our Southern Baptist Convention isn't on the path toward division over words. Accusations and political persuasions. The division would break my heart for no mission effort has ever proven as powerful as the Cooperative Program, but the reality is that the mission effort works because of the first word, not the second. If we can't be cooperative, we are just a program, and programs have always and will always create debate clubs and social organizations thriving on the demise of another.


I'm guilty, yet I also feel like I'm dying. Dying to the Pharisee I have grown into and am being recreated into who God has called me to be. Pastor who God has called me to pastor. Those are the words the Father spoke three and a half years ago. Family and a few friends willing to reject the rhetoric and join the journey to leave a legacy of life in the Kingdom of God. Maybe you have a few yourself. Find them, grab hold of them, and run with reckless abandon toward the WORD who brings offense. The WORD who has meaning and not usage. The WORD who became FLESH. John 1. HIS NAME IS JESUS.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Tale As Old As Time

The first occurrence struck the weekend before Thanksgiving. We spent the night at my mom's house in West Point after a full Mississippi State Maroon Memories Weekend. David grew weary and needed a bath so Karen and I agreed that the time for said bath had arrived. David protested slightly, but eventually ended up as an active participant in bath time. This experience will not soon be forgotten for, you see, during this particular visit to Mississippi, David forgot his soap. Now for most ordinary children, forgetting your soap ranks low on the crisis list. For David, however, soap holds a high position. David hates a bath, but he likes to smell good. He showers himself with body spray so as to smell like "a man." Recently, he discovered deodorant and loves to exclaim how his pits smell like daisies. I'm not so sure I would describe them as daisies, but he has planted there so daisies it will be. Back to the soap..... David forgot his soap so of course he could not take a bath. Shiver me timbers, my mother had soap!!!! Who would have thought that a grandmother would actually have soap in the bathtub?!?


After convincing David that Granny had soap, he finally trudged his way to the tub. He climbed into the tub. He settled into the warm bath water and swirled his arms around in the complexity of enjoyment that a young nine year old experiences when he realizes that his biggest dread holds a feeling of exhilaration. Then, it happened. David looked around and proclaimed, "Granny doesn't have any soap." Needless to say, a large, brand new bar of soap rested strategically on his right hand side. The resting place was the place I remembered. The white ceramic holder that had help the soap for forty seven years continued to fill its role as the sole provider of cleanliness to those who would enter into the world of bathdom. After explaining that the curved bar on his right heralded as soap, David reached up and took the bar in his hand. He examined the bar carefully as Luke Skywalker examined his light saber for the very first time. Here we were, me the Yoda and David the young Jedi learning how to use the strange object in his hand for the ultimate good of all mankind who would face him in the hours to come. Bar soap. An amazing adventure into a world never known and yet to be discovered. The awe and the mystery of such a small object that would be used to change the experience of so many snugglers soon to come. Methodically and cautiously he brought the bar to the rag. He began to rub the two together as suds began to form. The suds became larger suds, and soon David was placing the rag underneath the sacred pits and into other unmentionable crevices. The water muddied, and the mind began to comprehend what was happening. The dirt of today became the waste of the water soon to be washed down the drain of disposal. A new day dawned as bar soap became a reality. Brilliant. Extraordinary. Penetrating. Like a light saber in the hands of a Jedi bar soap became the weapon to erase the painful stench of the day and ushered in a new hope of cleanliness, unexpected, yet welcomed by all.


The second occurrence came shortly after the first. Recently moving back to Florida brought many memories. Elementary school, new friends, Big Sun Soccer, dance teams, and Awana all rushed back to the consciousness of our family. Then, of course, rising from the ashes of our memory was the most magical place on earth. Disney World. Needless to say, our family loves the Disney experience. Disney serves as the one outing we all enjoy together - except for one problem. Recently someone in our family mentioned Belle. Immediately you must have begun singing "Tale as old as time ......." Belle, the beauty for the beast. The classic portrait of the grace of God in our lives and the magical reality of one who sees beyond the physical into the depth of one's being. In this moment, when one of our tribe mentioned "Belle," David asked, "Who is Belle?"


All of the agony of broken dreams and hurtful ministry came to the surface as we realized that in our journey David had lost the innocence of knowing the magical characters of Disney. As a baby, we took the youngster with friends to Disney World. He went to the Magic Kingdom and experienced the characters in all of their fullness, but somehow he had forgotten. Caroline was the first to notice and to proclaim that something must be done. With the passion of Mulan conquering a new world, she began to map out our quest to reintroduce David to the world of Disney. Over the last two weeks, the Permenter family immersed into the Disney experience, and a crisis fell dormant as your youngest held on tightly to the mystical experience of entering the gates of Walt Disney World.


Whew. Bar soap and Disney. Imagine what we almost lost!! Considering the ramifications of recent events prompted me to invest time in more eternal questions. What else might we have lost in our struggle to stay above water over the last few years?  Deuteronomy is filled with instructions for parents to teach our children diligently the ways of God. We are literally called to lead our children to love the Lord. The environments we create for them either place them in the center of the love of Christ or the love of the world. What are we doing to create an atmosphere for David to love the Lord with all his heart, soul, mind, and strength? Daniel and Caroline are much older now. When we lived in Ocala before we made sure they connected with others who were also being trained to love Jesus. David lost that experience when we moved to Tennessee, but now we have the opportunity to recapture the movement of the Spirit of God in his life. Daniel and Caroline certainly bear responsibility to model Christlikeness for him, but ultimately the responsibility rests clearly on our shoulders as parents. The church we settle into, the friends we engage with, the ministries we choose will all impact his life for eternity. More than bar soap and knowing Belle, we have a responsibility to raise David in the ways of God in the only path that God has ordained. David has chosen to follow Christ, and we must guide him to choose to submit himself entirely to Christ's will. May we be found faithful.


Recently the world has been reminded of the legacy that a person leaves behind. Carrie Fisher's death highlights that she impacted generations as a princess in generational movies. Even more than Princess Leia we have the responsibility to impact generations for the Kingdom with a force that is greater than Lucasfilm could ever dream up. We are called to pass on a love of Jesus Christ to those He gave us for that very purpose. Some things never change no matter how society advances. The Lord is the same, yesterday, today and forever. The old should not be thrown out, but instead the old should be treasured as the greatest story ever told. Jesus lived, He died, and He lives again!!! He lives in us, and He longs to live in all of humanity!!! Tale as old as time .... the gospel story. Let eternity live on. May we raise up generations that embrace the future while holding to the past. "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life."