Connections

Bruce Cox and Don Ferrill are two cousins I haven’t seen in decades. In different family conversations their names come up from time to time, but since we were children gathered in a little front room around a Christmas tree in Sidney, Texas our paths seldom cross. For our adult lives, 700 to 1000 miles have separated us.

Last week I spent another 700 miles north in South Dakota with Christians I’ve known over the past 30 plus years. Janet and I were in our motorhome, the Hindenberg (it is big, grey and a probable disaster) camped in a church parking lot where I would be preaching the next morning. A friend dropped by to tell me that another camper would be joining us that night, from Texas.

He really stopped to tell me that those camping next to us would be Aggies. In a few minutes a little camper pulled up and we met Karey and Hank Hayes. We exchanged greetings and we got their unit hooked up to utilities.

Exchanging history to get to know one another, Hank mentioned he had gone to vet school at Texas A&M. I attempted to make a connection, “While I am a Longhorn fan since 1963, I do have extended family who attended A&M, a daughter in law, a number of cousins… In fact, my first cousin Bruce Cox attended vet school there. Hank’s face looked shocked. He knew a Bruce Cox. I clarified that Bruce’s dad was a dentist.  ‘In Waxahachie’, he concluded. I know another cousin of your’s, Don Ferrill. They are dear friends.

Thus began my week, connections through relationships.

My good friend, Bruce Goodwin, taught class last week and I preached for the Northern Hills church in Spearfish, SD. That presented a foundation for a number of Bible talks throughout the week between us. I crave those discussions as Bible students explore the meanings and understandings of Scripture, looking for application in our day-to-day lives. It is especially meaningful with Bruce as we have been having these talks for about 35 years.

Who we are, our values, actions, passions, and inclinations become more pronounced, and clearly manifest themselves through our relationships. It is in the context of relationships that we become real with one another. Our deepest desires, most passionate needs and even the darkest secrets are revealed, rewarded and hopefully regulated by the ones we allow closest to us.

In the context of deep relationship, Scripture teaches that we are to confess our faults, pray, forgive and grow. The Bible is set in the language of families, relationships, and connection. Finally then my brethren….  Beloved, understand this…  My brothers, these things ought not to be so…  …loved him like a brother…   ’Greetings Rabbi!’ And kissed him. ‘Friend’, Jesus asked him, ‘why have you come?’

We see so much more clearly, the impact and significance of thoughts, behaviors and actions when they are silhouetted against the backdrop of the trust, love, and expectations of those we love the most.

Brothers who cast Joseph in the pit, then Joseph’s forgiveness years later in Egypt. Jonathan’s testimony to David that one day David would be first and Jonathan would be second in the kingdom. Samuel’s running to Eli as he hears the voice in the darkness. These are all occasions when character, trust, and confidence shine through brightly.

So, in your closest relationships, what is evident about your life? Relationships form over superficial things, common work relationships, interests in sports or recreation, or having children of similar ages. But the meaning, the significance of the relationship is defined in what it says about you.

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A Good Man Has Died

Spiritual growth isn’t an instantaneous activity that can be marked on a daily chart. It happens a bit at a time, gradually, but you don’t see it each day.

Today I read where an old friend died of pancreatic cancer. Denny was not someone I was particularly close to, we had only a handful of conversations. The ones we had were at important times in my walk with Christ.

I first met him about thirty some years ago at the Tulsa Workshop. We were standing at a booth he was manning, promoting an idea he had for Image magazine. I had been toying with the idea of a magazine as well, along the same lines but not nearly as well developed as his concept. We spoke for 45 minutes, while Janet wandered off to other booths.

I was frustrated spiritually. I knew that some of the approaches that I had used with Scripture that reduced it to a rule book were failing me. Reading the Bible as a book full of rules that unlocked a hidden code had failed me. It left it lifeless and powerless, needing my intellectual energy to empower it to free me. That wasn’t going to work.

I was reading the Scriptures as letters now, one disciple writing others, telling them about the journey, offering encouragement to keep moving forward. It was refreshing to me, hopeful, personal. I described it to Denny and he shook his head knowingly.

Our conversation was a mutual exchange, one person talking about a change in vision, the other excitingly taking up where the first left off. We both knew that most of what we read didn’t reflect this vision, I wasn’t sure how it could change.

We spoke a handful of other times, seldom seeing each other. I would read his publication, sometimes agreeing, other times shaking my head. What surprised me was how when we did speak, the conversation just continued from where we left off.

Today is the first time I’ve ever thought of it. In some way those conversations were mile markers in my spiritual journey. I have other friends who have served the same purpose for me. A few, very few.

Today I acknowledge a debt to a friend, a fellow traveler on a journey toward Jesus. Denny Boultinghouse, I miss you and look forward to our chats in the new heavens and the new earth.

 

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When Truth Runs Amok

All he wanted to be, his focus was right

So he worked at it daily, with all his might.

Correction of error, refinement, realignment

These, the tools that shaped the assignment

 

But along the way he lost sight of the goal

All of the benefits buried deep in a hole.

Helpful, insightful, at times a bit bold

The shift of his focus too quickly was old.

I know where you are wrong, amiss in your life.

From stranger to neighbor and even his wife.

The advice wasn’t asked for, often unwanted

But his efforts at “right” were not to be daunted.

 

If you just did it my way, the way I have learned.

I am sure that your success will easily be earned.

No asking, without thinking his counsel was given.

He never once noticed his friendships were driven

 

Far from him it seems, as right is from wrong.

He drove off the others, his words were too strong.

Not that he didn’t try, to set things aright

He pressed forth his case, by day and by night.

 

The more he possessed it, the worse it became

To those all around him, was assigned all the blame.

Amid the shattered dreams, hope all askew,

The lessons appeared, he noticed too few.

 

Being right is a good thing, but a personal task.

Imposing on others, especially unasked

Breaches all of the boundaries, of your space and mine.

It severs the value, truth loses each time.

 

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To Post or Not to Post?

James tells me, Be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger. For the anger of a man does not achieve the righteousness of God. Implicit in his statement is the concept that followers of God are motivated by achieving the righteousness of God. I find that a worthy goal.

How then, do I allow my daily walk to reflect that value? What things must I abandon, modify, or implement to accomplish this goal?

Perhaps we can find a hint of the answer by returning to the verse? Quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger… This, given the impulsive nature of our culture, might prove more of a challenge.

Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook are all popular methods of “instant” communication. We can all post or repost whatever catchy little phrase or meme’ that says exactly what we believe. Perhaps the shock value of the photo will tug at the hearts of others exactly as it has tugged at our own hearts. Maybe untold thousands will abandon long held beliefs and positions because of this pitiful little puppy, or an unborn baby, or picture of the latest school shooting. After all, it made me look.

Unfortunately, these don’t draw the reflective attention of those who disagree with the position. For most who hold an opposing view, it tends to cause them to dismiss, discount, or disregard the “repost”. Our friends who hold the same position might repost the statement. You won’t find someone who views the world differently stating, “I’m reposting this because I’ve never considered this in this light.”

What does it matter, what we post or don’t post? Perhaps nothing at all. But, perhaps it matters a lot. Maybe it caters to our impulsive nature, so that we say things without regard to how it might seem to others. Perhaps the posts that express our frustration with the “police” or the “police haters”, or the “gun advocate” or the “gun opponent”, or whatever other issue we want to speak about… perhaps it arises from our fears and biases.

If I don’t take the moment to reflect, “Will this achieve the righteousness of God?” I may be speaking too rashly. I might be correct in my position, but closing the doors for meaningful conversations.

Before the next Twitter post, ask yourself, “Will this come across in such a way as to draw together or to push apart?” If it incites strong emotion in you, reflect on how it might be seen by those who disagree. After all, the goal is not to take a side, the goal is to be like God.

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Do Good, Keep Doing Good

I like to help people. I like to help those who are struggling with their walk in the Christ. I like to help those who are entangled in sin. I like to help those who are trapped by what they see as normal and need to be exposed to other ways of doing things. Helping others has become a natural form of interaction for me.

Jesus is described as one who went about doing good, healing those who were oppressed by the devil. That is a pretty good pattern to follow. I may not be able to heal physical illness, but if I can do good and thwart the devil a bit, I will have made an impact.

I’d like to think that somewhere, off in a spiritual realm, that the devil and his minions are having a conversation from time to time about how I, working alongside and at the direction of Jesus, am a real irritation to them. If I am going to vex someone, I’d like to think it could be the devil.

Doing good is fundamental to the Christian walk. Paul reminds us not to grow weary in doing good in Galatians 6 and 2 Thessalonians 3. If we are going to put our backs into something, let it be in doing good.

Romans 2:7 reminds us that by patiently doing good, we become recipients of eternal life. While in Titus 3, he gives what could well be the challenge for each of us. “Let our people also learn to continue doing good works to meet urgent needs, that they might not be unproductive.”

It might help us to take the focus off of our task being “going to heaven”, and shift toward bringing the kingdom of God into the lives of those around us. Effective kingdom living is not sitting back talking about platitudes and attitudes, it is being in the trenches of life with those who struggle and bringing good to them.

Make no mistake, doing good, doing the right thing in the face of evil does not result in smiles and being patted on the back. Resisting evil and instilling good, results in rebellion in others, rejection by some, and avoidance with others. You will be misunderstood, misrepresented, and underappreciated. Scheming, slander and jeering might all be things that you face. Your motives will be questioned, you will be labeled as gullible, misguided and naive.

Do good anyway. It is the high calling of God, and if you stick to it, some will begin to see that you look like Jesus

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Us or Them?

So, how can I keep silence in the face of injustice, or turn a blind eye to the abuse of others?

Now before you think I am going to post one of the memes that you’ve seen in Facebook of little children separated from parents, or not separated from parents. Or a meme that wraps itself in a mantle of righteousness espousing one political agenda over another, you are going to be disappointed – if that is your expectation.

There is enough corruption in the camps of any political camp that I will not align myself with any, as well as some well documented truths that cause me to momentarily gasp, just  to see a bit of hope.

I so love people on both sides of every issue that I want to support their movement toward a loving God rather than question their sense, integrity, and loyalty by blindly lumping them into disposable categories and pushing them aside.

My question is some pondering for myself. What is it in me that allows me to keep silence in the face of injustice? I grew up in the 1960s-70s, used language of bigotry, and acted as though the circumstances of the inner city blacks in Detroit was the result of their own choices. After all, they chose to live in marginal areas of town. They dressed differently, drove different vehicles, ate different foods and were all about “Soul” this and “Soul” that.

We, on the other hand, were not like them. We left areas when they began to become run down, moving further into the suburbs. We preferred to shop in our own area of town, eat in our own restaurants, and enjoy our own entertainment. We just did normal things, typical things, things like everyone else who were like us.

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Secret Money

One of the faith building things that happens in my life takes place when we put out an appeal for a particular project. They don’t necessarily happen every week, but usually I have the experience monthly.

Someone will come up to me quietly and say, “I can help with that.” Sometimes some cash is pressed into my hand, other times perhaps a check. I’ve had people contact me over Facebook, who have listened to me mention something in a sermon, then send money to help. I’ve had others bring items, household goods, and clothing, whatever is needed. Once in a while I will get the question, “How’s your freezer space?” Someone has some beef that they want used for Monday lunches, or families in need in the community.

I make sure that the shepherds know of the generosity, often at the request of the benefactor, anonymously. I made it a policy many decades ago to never handle cash without accountability to leadership. But what I’ve noticed, what I’ve been blessed to notice, is how often people are incredibly generous without any desire for others to know about it. Sometimes it might only be 20$, but sometimes it has been thousands of dollars.

Get it done. Let me help. Can you get this to that situation? I want to be a part of that. Those are common expressions. I walk away humbled and offering praise to God for such hearts.

Because I am at times a “point person,” these experiences come about. Tom and I have often shared stories of people in different situations who have used us to funnel funds to accomplish things that glorify God, ease suffering, create opportunity, and lift burdens.

I’ve been surprised by some who have been very cautious over the years. Jaded by televangelists who expect followers to buy them jet planes, they slowly become some of the most generous in trying to help local efforts. This happens when they see the results of the generosity of others. Those are acts of faith planting seeds of faith.

You might not see as many of these things, but I want you to know about it. I want you to understand that “without letting the left hand know what the right hand is doing,” people of faith do incredible things. From widow’s mite to a banker’s millions, people of faith have a heart of generosity.

Today, we will do a very “routine” Sunday assembly. Singing, praying, teaching, the Lord’s Supper, and an offering.  The offering might seem like “paying dues,” but it is far more than that. It is a discipline to instill generosity in us, so that faith might grow in others.

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How Do I Deepen my Relationship?

When Janet and I first met, she was about to turn 16 and I was approaching 18; we lived across Denver from each other. I was spending lots of time in a school of preaching while she was a junior in high school. We didn’t have the chance to see each other more than 2-3 times per week, often at church.

To begin to develop our relationship, much to the chagrin of her parents, we spoke on the phone. We could talk endlessly. The conversations were about the most menial things, the point was… we were talking. I wrote some letters, cards, that kind of thing. We just wanted to communicate. If we had been a generation with cell phones, we would have been constantly texting.

She was restricted on dating, so we didn’t go out much. I was restricted on income, so we didn’t go to fancy places. The point was, time together. Driving in the mountains, movies, fast food meals, and youth events, we made the most of every opportunity together. We created the time because we wanted a deeper relationship.

I’ve been studying how to help other disciples deepen their relationship with God. I use a number of “spiritual disciplines”: prayer, meditation, solitude, journaling, and study. I find them helpful. I interject others from time to time, but these five are my primary things. So how do I communicate these to others?

First, I am not sure that the “what” is quite that important. To decide between journaling (one’s record of gratitude, confession, submission and sacrifice) or prayer is not that important. All of the disciplines are pointed or directed toward God. The key is the focus, the intentionality, the purpose of being with God. Perhaps it is like distinguishing between the superiority of Instagram or Snapchat to communicate a message?

Second, to grow in a relationship with God requires communication and reflecting on God. It is something that must be a priority for us. So, there must be an allocation of time. For Janet, it is her travel time back and forth to work. She has that uninterrupted 2 hours per day. I use my morning meditation period; time I don’t answer the phone, deal with email, or have distractions around.

Third, evaluate from time to time. Is it becoming drudgery? Yes, at times, training yourself to be more spiritual is tiring. But we must press through. A shift in how you interact with God can often be helpful. Spend a day jotting notes of gratitude for his provision, for example.

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Sometimes a Man’s Gotta Do What a Man’s Gotta Do

Today, I trimmed my beard. I am not sure why today instead of yesterday, but today was the day. I looked in the mirror and thought, “That is too long, it needs a trim.”

I looked in the same mirror yesterday, but did not feel the compulsion. Do you suppose my beard grew enough overnight that suddenly it reached this point of no return? I don’t think so.

I remember looking in the mirror after a shower when I washed my hair and beard and seeing ringlets in my beard, but that was earlier in the week and didn’t prompt my looking for the trimmer. We trimmed trees from the fence and yard, hauling off a few trailers of limbs, hot dirty work, but I never thought, “Thin the beard.”

There is a point, a tipping point, when we decide enough is enough and are prompted to act. It is that moment of introspection, a gaze into the reflection of ourselves when we determine to see something different in the future.

Spiritually we are like that as well. We move along, perfunctory prayer life; meals… bedtime… with an occasional emergency prayer, but nothing deep and meaningful, no true interaction at the feet of God. One day, looking at the reflection of the man in the mirror, we say… “Not enough.” We reset, refocus, and repent before God.

Our time with meditation is no different. The same can be said of our reflection on God’s word, or his creation.

But why “Today?” Do we look that much more spiritually haggard? Are we that different than the day before?

Scripture addresses this to the people of God repetitively. Today, while it is still called today… Now is the time to act. The Hebrew writer’s point was that sin was deceitful, its impact is a hardened heart.

Resets are amazing things. The turn arounds that offer us refreshing and rekindling of the spirit can breathe new life into old bones. Prayers become new. Determination becomes solidified. Hope springs anew.

How do we reset? By gazing at that reflection in the mirror and truly seeing ourselves. Not harshly critical, but as our own best friend. “Buddy, you can do better than this.”  Then acting to assist in the change.

Today, if you harden not your hearts….

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Graduations and Milestones

As many are acknowledging milestones in their lives at this time of the year, I’ve been reflecting on some of them.

There are those who are experiencing milestones in their educational progression. Some are experiencing a first transition as kindergarten ends and they announce that they are ready to step off into the next 12 years of schooling. They can recite their letters, count to 100 or beyond and color in the lines. All things that are groundwork for the next great endeavor.

Others are completing high school, looking back with a nostalgic eye at friendships made, team work skills refined and a focus toward the future beginning to narrow. College, trade school, the work force – each begin to become weightier words as reality bears down.

For some, college ends with letters like AA, BA, MA, PhD being formed on diplomas that will decorate office walls after the tassels turn and the celebrations fade.

Not all milestones are academic, but still reflect determination and commitment. Some are forming families, acknowledging before friends and families a determination to join together to face life’s journey. Acknowledgment of history together, anticipation of pleasures and excitement that lay ahead, “I do’s” are exchanged, embraces are photographed and licenses are signed as another milestone is reached.

Sometimes the milestones are anniversaries, of birthdays, weddings, retirements, or deaths. Each in its own way becomes a marker on life’s journey.

Spiritually we see these markers in perhaps a different manner. A first prayer being formed at bedtime or a meal. Faith acknowledged as new birth is begun. An embracing of ancient traditions of communion, both with God and his people across time and in one’s immediate surroundings.

In all the acknowledgements of milestones, at least two components exist. The first is reflective in nature, while one stands at this point, behind them are individual after individual who shared the journey and offered support. The second is anticipatory, peering into a future, unsure of what lies ahead but longing to embrace it. A bit of fear mitigated by life experiences that have laid the groundwork for success.

Standing on the foundation of the past, leaning into the anticipation of the future, lives change. Not just the graduating class, the couple or new Christian, but the lives of all of those who have contributed their part to the journey.

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