Putting things in perspective

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over 2000 years old when Jesus lives

The picture

The picture in this blog is an olive tree in the Garden of Gethsemene. I saw this tree about three years ago when I traveled to Israel and Jordan. It is said that this tree was 2000 years old when Jesus prayed here before his death. It looks like it! It must have many stories to tell, as it has witnessed most of recordable history. It sure makes a statement of perseverance as I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anything alive that is over 4000 years old??? I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anything, other than the Earth, that is 4000 years old. It seems that the tree has added layer after layer to the trunk to provide protection for the core hidden deep in this craggly conglomoration of wood. I believe things in nature happen for a reason as they evolve. This tree has a story of survival unsurpassed by many.

In a couple of days we will visit the Garden again, even if it is only in our imagination. We will travel with Jesus and the disciples from the Upper Room and the initiation of a new passover meal and head up the hill to the garden. We’ll get drowsy as Jesus continues to pray, and pray. We’ll feel the chill of the crowd coming with torches and their unrealistic expectations. We’ll be enraged by the betrayal of one of our own, who thinks he is doing the right thing by turning Jesus over to the authorities. As they drag Jesus off in the midst of the mob, we will hear our hearts pounding as we run through the garden looking for a place to hide. Maybe we’ll hide behind this tree.

As in most things God’s story run counter culturally to ours. The world of this tree adds scabs to heal and protect. In the Kingdom of God, being stripped to our core provides our healing. In the Kingdom of God you don’t hide your hurts under layer and layer of protection, you expose it to the Light of the World.

Good Friday has a message of healing and wholeness for us all. It’s message requires we walk through the storm not build a fortress and hide. It’s message says there is a bigger plan than might first be apparant to us, and it is God’s plan that matters to us. Yes, this tree is very impressive and it truly a marvel. But what is going to happen this Friday is bigger to us than anything that has or ever will happen in history. God will lay down His life for us – again


On the Edge


As I’ve been reading the section on Passionate Worship from the book, “Cultivating Fruitfulness,” I was drawn back to the ledge of Canyon De Chelly in Northeast Arizona. Specifically on Day Eight as the author, Bishop Robert Schnase challenges us to think about all the places we have worshiped, and what was God’s intention for calling us to worship. I was immediately taken back to a few summers ago when I was leading a group of youth and adults on a mission trip to the Navajo Reservation in Northern Arizona. We had worked all week long on a new vocational training facility in White Rock Az. So on this beautiful Sunday we took the group to Canyon De Chelly an awesome piece of God’s creative imagination. Earlier in the week my daughter Patrice had challenged the team to share their personal testimonies with one another as they worked. That challenge alone had added a deeper dimension to what was already a great time for us all. So on a Sunday morning overlooking a scene like this one in the picture, I shared my story with the group.

There was a rock wall on which we all gathered that was the only thing between us and a 1500 foot fall. I stood on that rock ledge and with my back to the beauty of the canyon and I testified to my journey with Jesus Christ. Now all these persons had heard me preach for most of twelve years. They knew my core theology that always comes through from one’s body of preaching. They knew my passion for ministry from my many years of being their pastor. They knew my leadership style and devotion to the church. What they didn’t know was “MY” story. So I testified that morning to them about how God had worked patiently with me for most all my life of awareness. I spoke to them of my three calls to ministry and how I easily denied the first two. I spoke to them of how “God got my attention,” finally through failure, not success. I spoke of the influence of my Grandmother, Ava Fortenberry in my life, and how her “totally sold out,” faith left me wanting what she had.

I was amazed at the response I got from my clan. They did and still do call back to that moment as a significant momeent in their faith journey. Really? I was just talking about my story; it is not marked with great moments or teachings. It is just my life. From that time on I have learned the tremendous power of personal testimony. I have marveled year after year when we trot out the faithful to speak at stewardship time, or special preaching series, how powerful their stories are and what effect they have on the listeners. Mayble I’m a slow learner, or maybe I’ve been just reluctant to change the nature and form of corporate worship, but I am more convinced today than ever that worship should orient itself around persnal testimony as much as it does around preaching or The Great Thanksgiving.

As I look back on the times God has really reached me in corporate worship – Passionate Worship, most of them have included heartfelt testimony. There is a hunger by all to know that God really makes a different in the lives of ordinary persons in ordinary circumstances. I encourage you as Patrice did to us on that Mission trip, do you know your story? Can you tell your story in a concise yet passionate way? Are you ready at a moments notice to tell your story?

First Time @ First

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It is easy to remember the first time I entered FUMC as the senior pastor. Though it wasn’t the very first time I ever entered First Church, since I was appointed to San Angelo before. Prior to June 2011 I was always a visitor to the big church downtown. Now, by some comical plan of God, I am now the Senior Pastor of the big church downtown. Though my most recent first time came with expectations from the congregation that are specific to being the pastor, it came with the common emotions that any first time visitor has to a church. Apprehension, doubt, timidity and lack of confidence seem to be common to us all. Now you could easily argue that people shouldn’t be anxious about coming into a church for the first time, because all church people would say, “everyone is welcome at (insert the church.)” But each person comes with a past that fuels their insecurities – even well seasoned pastors.

I have to say I was glad when that first Sunday was over. For one thing all the firsts were over also, now next week most things that happen would be seconds not firsts. Ofcourse the goal is to make everyone’s first become a second. I also know that welcoming a pastor is somewhat unique to welcoming a first time visitor, but the principles of Radical Hospitality are the same. True Radical Hospitality flows out of a knowledge that God loves us. When we know that fact then we naturally should be willing to welcome others in the name of God.

I know this, I was glad to see some familiar and hospitable people that first day. It was good to see Jane Smith and Karen and Mark Clark early on that first day. It was good to be reunited with old friends Rick Mantooth and Fred Key and new friends James and Jeannie Elder. Those familiar faces made it so much easier. I am aware that many visitors come and see now familiar faces, but then it is the goal of Radical Hospitality to become a familiar face as soon as possible to these newcomers. I believe many from First Church are eager to become familiar faces to others.

Where to you see that eagerness? Who are those so routinely practice radical hospitality?

What I learned at Betty Boyd’s House

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Though I am no where close to my teenage years, amazingly I can still remember the angst and confussion of that age. I also remember that having an extended conversation with an adult was next to impossible for a teenager. However I know that it is possible because I had many meaningful discussions with Betty Boyd. She died about two weeks ago and my wife Cynthia and I both mourn her passing. She was very important in both our lives. Betty Boyd actually lived two houses down from Cynthia while are were in school. She had three children of her own who were all close to our ages. I’m know Betty didn’t have the same relationship with us that she had with her own children. She was forced to be the parent, diciplinarian and mother to them. But to us, Betty could just be a listening post or an honest commentator of the way we lived our lives.

Cynthia and I neither had real stable family lives as we trudged through teen years. I was from a divorced family where both parents grabbed me by the arm to pull me to their side. My parents were much more concerned with their lives than they could possibly be with mine. But if that was the case for me, then Cynthia’s parents were 10 times more concerned with themselves than they were with Cynthia. And then there was Betty. She was that neighbor who always had time. She lived a quiet, unassuming, diciplined life. She was satisfied with her life and wasn’t like most adults of that time, selling out for whatever was new or hip. You’d think teenagers would be drawn to adults trying to look like and be teenagers, but we weren’t. My wife and I spent hours in Betty’s modest home just talking and receiving direct and sometimes bitting advice from Betty. Looking back on that time now, I found so much grounding from this unassuming woman.

Here’s what I learned at Betty Boyd’s house.
Being comfortable in your own skin is more important than what people think of you.
Listening doesn’t require formulating a response. Sometimes you just need to listen to someone.
Joy is not found in stuff or the pursuit of stuff, but it is found in genuine relationships.
Teenagers need stability more than they need promises.
Being willing to show up is a gift all unto itself.
Saying no does not mean I don’t love you.
Telling someone their actions are wrong usually is motivated by love.
You never know where God’s grace is going to come from, even from your friend’s mother.

I didn’t get to go the Betty Boyd’s funeral, so I am taking this time to say to anyone who will listen, she was a great person and most of the world wouldn’t have noticed. They wouldn’t have noticed because they would be too busy searching for quick and easy solutions to life. Well, I can testify that often in life you find blessing in the simplest of things.

I will miss you Miss Betty, but I better for having known you!

I’m glad everyone is alarmed about Penn State football

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The news is full of stories about the child abuse scandal at Penn State. Everyone is outraged and rightfully call for answers as to how these things could happen. ESPN, Fox Sports and all the major news organizations have led their broadcast with this story. They all seem to say the same thing. They are alarmed this could happen, and can’t believe that the University is more concerned with its football program than the tragedy of these victims. Though they say the story is not about football, but the story they tell is dominated by football. They are interested in this story because a legendary football coach is being taken down by his lack of action. Students riot in front of Joe Paterno’s home, and the story is still what is this going to do to Paterno’s legacy or Penn States football program. As almost an aside. at the end they say, and oh yah those “poor victims.” Where is our moral outrage about chidren’s sexual abuse period!!! Shouldn’t we be screaming in the streets about these statistics?
Among the over 141,000 children served by Children’s Advocacy Centers around the country from January through June 2011, some startling statistics include:
53,932 children were ages 0 to 6 years
51,196 children were ages 7 to 12 years
36,131 children were ages 13 to 18 years
95,120 children reported sexual abuse
25,414 children reported physical abuse
88,312 children participated in forensic interviewing at a Children’s Advocacy Center

Let’s be honest, I wouldn’t be writing the blog and the news wouldn’t be camped out at Penn State, if this didn’t effect football. I ask myself where is my outrage for these chidren every single day? Is 300,000 abuse cases tolerable but boy if it gets to 300,001/year then I’m going to start screaming about this then. The Lord said, where your treasure is so there is your heart. I guess the daily outrage for us Christian Americans is we’ve had enough of the government taking our money and we’re not going to take it anymore!! People are camping out and showing their outrage about Wall streets greed and the governments mis-use of our money. I guest that says something about our treasure in America. When did money replace our children as our treasure? Jesus also said, “woe to those who are a stumbling block to these little one’s.” God have mercy on us!! Our outrage is centered in keeping more of our money, while more and more Americans have slipped below the poverty level than ever before. We scream “No new taxes,” but we are on the edge of saying to our elderly fend for yourself the money you paid for medicair and medicaid is not going to be available to you now because it causes us dis-comfort. 60,000 children are abused monthly but God forbid Penn State’s football program gets a black eye. Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy.

61 goes into 11 for a long time

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I’ve just completed a week as the dean of a 5th/6th grade children’s camp at Mt. Wesley. While I was there I ran across a number of my colleagus who were at the retreat center for a continuing education event. Almost each time I told my colleagues why I was also at Mt. Wesley eyes rolled and a number said, “you still doing children’s camp at your age?” It’s true I am 61 and I felt it as a trudged up and down the hills in Kerrville. And it is also true that most of the 60’ish aged clergy I know are not involved with chldren’s ministry these days. I’ve often felt that any age over about 25 is too old to relate to pre-teens. However, I must say I get this age and from what I can tell they get me.

We had a small camp this year, 25 campers; it is late in the Summer with school about to begin in two weeks. I seem to always question my involvement when the numbers are small like this. Is this a good use of my time? The Conference’s money or my church’s good will? I was reminded by a couple of my staff today that this small group gave us a unique opportunity to do some really effective ministry with a great counselor to student ratio. I was great fun! Driving home today I wondered will I do this again? How many more years do I have (at my age). Can I muster up the energy needed to hang with 11 year olds from 7am to 11pm for a week?

All these questions really shrink in comparison to the good that happens when loving adults devote their time to model the Gospel to the young. It was really a good camp and the children were engaged from minute one until their parents drug their suitcases to the cars. And they get it, as much as an 11 year old can get it, they get it. Their minds are open and their spirits are eager to be challenged by the gospel. But more important than adding more knowledge to these eager minds, it is the fact that they stand in so much need for the healing of the gospel at their age.

Each year as I trudge up the mountain one more time to explain that the Mt. Wesley tradition is to carry a rock from the bottom of the hill to place it at the top of the hill on the Bolivian Cross. It is done to symbolize laying our burdens down at the cross. And you may think the burdens of the 11 year olds are small like their age, but without giving away confidence I will tell you they have large burdens for their age. I am always brought to tears by the litany of pain, suffering and abuse these children have already experienced. I leave each camp thinking, how can I do more to alleviate their suffering. And then it is their sweet sincerity and willingness to trust that keeps me coming back. So I guess 61 can go back for 11 a few more times, because I’m convinced we made a difference in some lives this week. I had re-affirmed to me that our children are lacking trustworthy-loving adult interaction these days. So I guess I’ve got at least one more trip to Mt.Wesley in me.

Do what God?

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I’m not one to hear from God a More

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