Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Twas the night... Christmas Card


Twas the night before Christmas, when deep beneath our house
A drainpipe was cracking as quietly as a mouse.
The stockings were hung by the hung by the chimney with care
But pressure was building of which we were unaware.

The children were busy getting dressed for the Eve,
The events to unfold would be hard to believe.
And Kim’s in the kitchen, and Doug’s gone to church,
Both settling down and completing their work.

When from the drain in the bathroom there arose such a…
(there are some images best left to the imagination),
Kim sprang from the kitchen to see what’s causing “it.”
Away grabbing towels she flew like a flash,
As the drainpipes keep gurgling and spewing up “trash.”

Up the drainpipes “it” ran then flowed down through the floor vents
Filling the basement with other than sweet holiday scents.
A quick Google search and a few phone calls placed
Then the plumber arrived a broad grin on his face
(they charge more for Christmas Eve calls).

He wasn’t dressed in red or carrying a sack
But wrenches and snakes were his plan of attack.
When he came back at midnight to try once again
He still was maintaining his Christmas Day grin.

Five days (and three plumbers) later everything’s flowing again
And now we’re the ones sporting broad Christmas grins.
The 29th brought our postponed Christmas dinner
And everyone agreed that smoked turkey’s a winner.

Our first Christmas in ‘Bama is one we’ll remember
And we’ll look back and laugh – maybe by next December
So we know this card’s late but to our friends far and near
Merry Christmas to all and a Happy New Year!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Six Word Memoirs


Last year I posted a blog about a literary phenomena that's been around for a couple of years known as Six Word Memoirs. Several volumes of six word memoirs have been published and there are web sites devoted to sharing the stories.

Here’s the basic idea – using a minimum and a maximum of six words, tell your life’s story.  A classic example would be:

For sale: wedding dress, never worn.

The imagination can run with that one, but you get the picture – a lot can be conveyed with just six words. Here are a few other examples:

Voted most likely to succeed. Didn’t.

I’ll follow you anywhere, even Kansas

Fell seven times. Stood up eight.

Not quite what I was planning

It all changed in an instant

Dancing through life in sensible shoes

So, if you were to write your own six word story – what six words would you chose?

Sunday, October 30, 2011

For those who missed the news


Watching the comments on facebook it became quickly apparent that not everyone had heard the news of the Ferguson family’s transitions from Houston, Texas to Birmingham, Alabama and from Grace Presbyterian to Mountaintop Community Church.

The short version is that today was my last day at Grace.  Tomorrow I load up my pickup and a U-Haul trailer, drive to Birmingham and on Tuesday begin a new season of ministry.  Between now and Thanksgiving we will be back and forth a bit between Birmingham and Houston as we tackle all the logistics of a move.  

For a little more detail here's a slightly updated repost from September:



Since last spring I have been diligently and prayerfully engaged in what I can only describe as a season of intense wrestling with God as I’ve sought to discern what He is saying to me and to His church. I’ve sought the counsel of family, friends and mentors and devoted myself to hearing His voice amidst what at times seems like a cacophony of voices. The wrestling has been painful but it has brought me closer to Jesus and better able to discern His voice and call. 



Ultimately it became clear that God is calling me to a future beyond Grace Presbyterian Church and the Presbyterian Church (USA).  Today was my last day as Pastor of Grace and, after 18 years, my last day as a Pastor in the Presbyterian Church (USA). It’s a decision that comes with lots of emotions, but Kim and I are convinced that this is God’s calling and fully trust that it is part of His plan for our lives.

Although we are leaving the PC(USA) and Grace I still love and I am called to serve the church, therefore I am excited that God has called me to serve as Senior Pastor at Mountaintop Community Church in Birmingham, Alabama. 




 I am convinced that there are greater things ahead as we remain committed to His vision to introduce Jesus Christ and His love and life to the world wherever we are serving in His Kingdom.. 



Handwritten inside the cover of my Bible is this promise from Isaiah 43: 19

See I am doing a new thing.  Now it springs up.  Do you not perceive it?

I look forward to living into His new things.  To the glory of God!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Shmita


It’s my last Saturday in Houston (as a resident) and last weekend as the pastor of Grace Presbyterian Church (or any Presbyterian church).  The final message is ready for tomorrow and we are heading out in a bit for Ryan Kuykendall’s soccer game, lunch, errand running and a great evening watching the Clemson – Ga. Tech game with the Simpsons and other friends.  And thhank you Houston weather for a perfect last Saturday!

Like much of the last few weeks I am continuing to reflect on both my time at Grace and my years in the Presbyterian Church.  

Reflections usually prompt a blog post so here’s another:

In the Old Testament there was a pattern established that every seventh year would be a year of release – in Hebrew it was known as the Shmita.  The specific requirements for the Shmita are found mostly in the books of Exodus, Leviticus and Deuteronomy (with brief mentions in Jeremiah and Nehemiah).  The basic idea is to cancel debts and loans and give the land an opportunity to rest.  The rest requirement is why the Shmita is sometimes referred to as the Sabbatical Year.  The commands are very clear, work hard and harvest for six years and then set aside the seventh as the Shmita.

In August I completed six years as the Senior Pastor of Grace. It has been six years of hard work, heart work and an abundant harvest of love of joy. Over the last six years:

We weathered storms, Katrina, Rita, Ike and the stock market of 2008.  Through those storms we grew closer and we grew stronger.

We introduced new words to our vocabulary:  Project 180, Grace Quarterly, Kingdom Assignments, The Backyard, Women in the Word, Kid’s Christmas Musical and Prime Time.

We renovated the courtyard and the Grace School classrooms.   We purchased a bus, recovered from hurricane damage and made improvements and repairs to roofs, mechanical, lighting and audio visual systems.

Along the way there have been the continued ministries of weddings, baptisms, memorial services, retreats, classes and mission trips all around the nation and the world (for me that’s included Hungary, Romania, Ecuador, Kenya and Mongolia).

We fully embraced Jesus’ command to love the Lord our God and to love our neighbors as we actively pursued a vision to introduce our neighbors to Jesus Christ.  Our neighbors took notice and we even made the front page of the Chronicle on Christmas Day!

We took risks and learned lessons and discovered again and again God’s faithfulness.  It really has been an amazing six years of God’s Grace.

Again, the seventh year – the Shmita – is the year of release.  In the surprising ways that God works it turns out this is a year God is releasing me to follow Him to new places that He has prepared for us to continue His Kingdom work.  I am excited about the possibilities that await us in Birmingham, Alabama as Kim and I join Mountaintop Community Church in the work of turning fans into players.

I am also convinced that this will be a year of release for Grace Presbyterian Church.   During the Shmita any fruit or crop that grew was considered to be hefker, common property, and was shared with everyone.  My hope and prayer is that in this coming year of release we may all discover even greater freedom to share the fruit of God’s kingdom with our neighbors as we introduce them to Jesus in Houston, in Birmingham and all around the world.




Thursday, October 27, 2011

For All the Joy

A little over six years ago – in the weeks following Hurricane Katrina -  I began a weekly email at Grace.  At first the intent was simply to help coordinate our relief efforts but over the years it became another place to share thoughts and heart.  Earlier today we sent my last weekly email to the Grace family – which I’ve reposted below:

How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of our God because of you?

May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you. May He strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all His holy ones.    
1 Thessalonians 3: 9, 12 & 12

Dear Friends,

I started and restarted and edited and reedited this email more times than you can imagine. It is difficult to find the words to express the profound gratitude that Kim and I feel as we reflect on our years at Grace. As I often do when I can't find the words to say, I've turned to Scripture and Paul's words to the church in Thessalonica capture much of what is in our hearts.

Our partnership with you in the gospel has above more than anything else been a source of great joy. Together we have loved the Lord our God with heart, soul, mind and strength. Together we have loved our neighbors as we love ourselves. And together we have discovered the power of Christ's love to bind us all together in perfect unity as the family of God.

Those bonds of love are too strong to break and are knit together in countless memories of moments that we will always treasure in our hearts.

We love you, we will continue to pray for you and we will always be grateful for the privilege God entrusted to us to allow me to serve as your pastor. We simply can't thank God enough for all the joy we have because of you.

I close most services with the benediction that my home church pastor used. Each time I do it is a reminder of where I've come from, where I am going and most importantly, Who is going with me. I will close with that benediction one last time this Sunday morning (and remember there's just one service at 10:00 a.m. in the Sanctuary). But since so many of you have asked for a copy of the benediction I will also use it to close this final email.

May the Living Lord Jesus Christ go with you
May He go above you to watch over you
Behind you to encourage you,
Beside you to befriend you
Within you to give you peace and
Before you to show you His way
Now and forevermore
Amen

To the glory of God!


Doug Ferguson
Senior Pastor

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Ambassadors for Christ


Today I had lunch with one of the Grace elders and trustee Fred Blake. Over the past few years Fred and I have made somewhat regular trips for lunch out at the Brookwood Community.  If you don’t know about Brookwood stop reading right now and check out this link:  The Brookwood Community.

Okay now that you have the picture let me tell you about today.  Whenever Fred and I go to Brookwood we have lunch with Wilson, a Brookwood citizen whose grandmother founded the place and whose mom now heads the ministry.  We will meet Wilson and his dad Neal in the café and it is always an entertaining and uplifting lunch.

Today was a little sad because Wilson had learned that I am “retiring” to Alabama and he was very concerned about who is going to preach and more importantly make the announcements at Grace.

After lunch as we were saying goodbye Neal prompted Wilson to go ahead and ask me a question (actually a request) that obviously they had been discussing.  Wilson very loudly and boldly asked me if he could be “promoted” and become an Ambassador of Grace to Brookwood.

I told him that since Fred was an elder and I’m the pastor we could do that right now!  Fred and I laid hands on Wilson and prayed that God would use him as an Ambassador for Christ and of Grace Presbyterian Church to the Brookwood Community (tonight the Grace Session made that “official” with a resolution).

When we finished I reminded Wilson that Fred would be checking up on him and that it was his responsibility to share the love and the good news of Jesus Christ with everyone at Brookwood.  Wilson said he would and then asked me if he could now preach on Christmas Eve!  (I encouraged him to let the pastors preach but perhaps he could hold a candle).

I hardly needed to give Wilson that reminder.  Each and every day he and the other citizens of Brookwood, as well as the staff that serve there, are shining stars for Jesus Christ.  Their lives and the love are reflections of His life and love as they share with one another generously and even sacrificially.

God gave me a precious gift today as Wilson humbly bowed his head and allowed Fred and I to lay our hands on his shoulders and pray that God would use him as His ambassador.  What a great reminder of the humility with which we should accept God’s call upon all of us to serve as Ambassadors for Christ. 

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Do Not Be Anxious

In the New Testament letter to the church in Philippi we find this encouragement:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.
Philippians 4: 6

Over the years I have found this to be one of the most challenging and frustrating verses in the Bible.  I have a tendency to be anxious about everything; big things and small things.  I started to make a list of all the things I’m anxious about and it got too long for this email! As I watch and listen to people around me it seems as if I’m not alone in my anxiety.  We are an anxious people living in an anxious world.

I know that my anxious worrying is useless.  Jesus once asked: 
Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?  (Matthew 6: 27)  In case you missed it the answer is “no!” But worry does more than waste time.  What I am discovering is that anxiety is exhausting and takes a toll on me mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually.  I love the way Charles Spurgeon puts it:

Anxiety does not empty tomorrow of its sorrows, but only empties today of its strength.

So how do people, like me (and maybe you), who have a tendency to be anxious about everything learn how to not be anxious about anything?   I’m convinced (and daily discovering) that the closer I walk with Jesus the less anxious I become.  The further I am from Him the more my anxiety grows.  So when I am feeling anxious the first question I ask myself is:  Have I drifted away from Jesus?

The words of Psalm 139 help draw me back to Him:

Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.

Psalm 139: 23

The anxiety producing challenges you may find yourself facing this week don’t have to empty you of your strength.  Ask God to test your anxious thoughts and then with thanksgiving – because He’s a big enough God to handle your challenges – present those anxious thoughts to Him.  Then, just maybe and with enough practice, you can begin to live free of worry and not anxious about anything.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Lessons Learned

On Saturday I shared with some of Grace leadership that as part of my processing this summer I spent time reading through the journals I’ve kept over the years.  When I was a freshman architectural student I was required to carry a sketch journal around with me at all times and the habit has stuck for 30+ years.  Anyone who has ever been in a meeting with me has likely noticed that I am constantly doodling or note-taking and mostly processing my thoughts.

Back in March I posted two blog entries with a collection of some of the wisdom and insights that found their way into my journal notes over the years.  As I am preparing for a new season of ministry I’ve been re-reading journals and thought I’d also repost a few of the collected thoughts:

  • People are more interested in what you are learning than in what you know.
  • Clay experiences the greatest joy when it doesn’t attempt to be the potter…
  • Its better to have a light in the tunnel than a light at the end of the tunnel…
  • We serve a God who comforts the disturbed and disturbs the comfortable…
  • The questions you ask will determine the ministry you do…
  • If there are no tears in the writer there will be no tears in the reader…
  • Janis Joplin was right - “freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose…”
  • We are defined by our cure – not our disease…
  • Failures aren’t fatal – they’re directional…
  • If we keep doing what we’ve always done then we will get what we’ve always got…(or at least we won’t get what we want)
  • The only thing I contribute to my redemption is my sin…
  • God is attracted to weakness and humility…
  • Inefficient structures may be necessary for effective ministry…
  • Success is best measured by the stories we tell, the people we honor and the language we use…
  • Abounding in God’s work can distract me from abiding in God’s love…
  • Parthenogenesis never leads to progress…
  • Its best to quit being clever and look people in the eyes and tell the truth…
  • If you hang in longer than your friends think you should – you give God more room to work…
  • We all live just one day at a time – but often we are living the wrong day…
  • What we call normalcy might just be massive denial and illusion…
  • A jewel needs the proper setting for light to show its brilliance…
  • You come to recognize someone’s voice through familiarity…
  • If you are bored with your devotional life there’s a good chance that Jesus is even more bored than you are…
  • Give up certainty and be satisfied with clarity…
  • Sin happens…
  • If we can’t be holy we can at least be weird…
  • No one is meant to be a cloud without rain…
  • The first task of leadership is to define reality, the second to say thank you and in between to be a servant…
  • Jesus invites rather than dictates… 
  • Only God can make it rain...
  • We are simul justus et peccata…
  • It is the revelation of God that forms us… 
  •  Joy is one of the most powerful connections to the nature and presence of God…
  • Don’t move any faster than you can on your knees…
  • It’s all good!
  • The power of prayer is in the One who hears, not the one who prays…
  • If you want more people to eat carrots, then change the color of the carrots…
  • Leadership is a role and not a title….
  • Don’t try to describe the ocean if you’ve never seen it….
  • Purity of heart is to will one thing…
  • We were created to swim in the deep end….
  • What you do thunders so loudly I can hardly hear what you are saying…
  • We judge ourselves on our intentions – We judge others on their actions…
  • Once upon a time is now…
  • Sometimes it’s hard to find the pixie dust…
  • Always bump the lamp…
  • The task is to clean the room – the purpose is to make you happy….
  • Leadership begins in the mirror….
  • Prayer is the common language of the Jesus community…
  • Only through prayer can the prosperity of a church be increased or even maintain…
  • Pigs get fat, hogs get slaughtered…
  • You are only as deep as the last person you served….
  • Jesus does not call the world to go to church, He calls the church to go to world…
  • Life begins when your youngest child’s pet dies….
  • Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up…
  • A story is not a story until you tell someone….
  • Episcobaptispresbgatonalist….
  • The opposite of poverty is enough…
  • Talent is cheaper than table salt – what separates the talented individual from the successful one is hard work…
  • Captain Kirk wasn’t the smartest guy on the Enterprise…
  • When you are screwing up and no one says anything, it means they’ve given up…
  • Brick walls are opportunities to discover how badly we want something…
  • If you wait long enough people will surprise and impress you…
  • The first penguin takes the biggest risk…
  • If you put people in open systems they will want to contribute and contribute well…
  • Don’t let what’s wrong with you keep you from worshipping what’s right with God…
  • We are exactly where we've been led...

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

A New Thing

There’s been a lot going on in my life – enough to change the title of this blog – and as a result I haven’t posted a blog in over a month.  At the conclusion of last Tuesday evening’s Session meeting one of our elders asked me, “What are you hearing from God?“  I wasn’t ready to answer and “not so artfully” tried to dodge his question with my response.  But here’s a version of the “answer” that I began to share yesterday.



For the last six months I have been diligently and prayerfully engaged in what I can only describe as a season of intense wrestling with God as I’ve sought to discern what He is saying to me and to His church. I’ve sought the counsel of family, friends and mentors and devoted myself to hearing His voice amidst what at times seems like a cacophony of voices. The wrestling has been painful but it has brought me closer to Jesus and better able to discern His voice and call. 



Ultimately it became clear that God is calling me to a future beyond Grace Presbyterian Church and the Presbyterian Church (USA). So yesterday I resigned from my position as Pastor of Grace and, after 18 years, set aside my ordination in the PC (USA). It’s a decision that comes with lots of emotions, but I am convinced that this is God’s calling and fully trust that it is part of His plan for me. I still love and I am called to serve the church, therefore I’ve accepted an invitation as Senior Pastor of a non-denominational church in Birmingham, Alabama. 





The last six years at Grace have been among the most significant in my life. The friendship, faithfulness, support and encouragement that so many have so generously offered have been blessings that are impossible to describe. Together we have laughed and cried, faced hurricanes and weathered countless other “storms.” I am grateful for the privilege of serving as the pastor of Grace. I love this church and I am thankful for every experience we shared. 



I leave confident that God has blessed Grace with an amazingly gifted staff and extraordinary elders and deacons and I know that their wisdom and faithfulness will provide exceptional leadership in the days ahead.



In moments when we are not sure of all that is ahead we place our confidence in God’s promises. He will continue the good work that He has begun in Grace and in me. I am convinced that there are greater things ahead as we remain committed to His vision to introduce Jesus Christ and His love and life to the world wherever we are serving in His Kingdom.. 



Handwritten inside the cover of my Bible is this promise from Isaiah 43: 19

See I am doing a new thing.  Now it springs up.  Do you not perceive it?

I look forward to living into His new things.  To the glory of God!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Downgrade


Earlier this week my brother-in-law shared with me excerpts from the book Ashamed of the Gospel by John MacArthur.  MacArthur addressed a series of articles published in 1887 by Charles Spurgeon in his monthly magazine, The Sword and the Trowel.  The articles, published under the title The Downgrade, suggested that the church was “going down hill at breakneck speed” and as the down hill plunge continued the evangelicals sought compromise to maintain  peace and unity.

It is almost uncanny how relevant what Spurgeon wrote in 1887 is to the church in 2011.  So without any additional commentary (for those who find this sort of thing as fascinating as I do) here’s a bit (actually a lot) of what Spurgeon (and his close friend Robert Shindler) had to say to the church then and today:

The downward slide usually began slowly, almost imperceptibly. [D]enominations often "got on the down-grade" when they abandoned Calvinism (which emphasizes God's sovereignty in salvation) in favor of Arminianism (which makes human will the decisive factor). Other groups embraced Arianism (which denies the full deity of Christ). Still others simply became enamored with scholarship and worldly wisdom; consequently they lost their zeal for truth.

The Presbyterians were the first to get on the down line. They took the route of worldly wisdom: They paid more attention to classical attainments and other branches of learning. . . . It [was therefore] an easy step in the wrong direction to pay increased attention to academical attainments in their ministers, and less to spiritual qualifications; and to set a higher value on scholarship and oratory, than on evangelical zeal and ability to rightly divide the word of truth.

As is usual with people on an incline, some who got on "the down grade" went further than they intended, showing that it is easier to get on than to get off, and that where there is no brake it is very difficult to stop. Those who turned from Calvinism may not have dreamed of denying the proper deity of the Son of God, renouncing faith in his atoning death and justifying righteousness, and denouncing the doctrine of human depravity, the need of Divine renewal, and the necessity for the Holy Spirit's gracious work, in order that men might become new creatures; but, dreaming or not dreaming, this result became a reality.

These men deepened their own condemnation, and promoted the everlasting ruin of many of their followers by their hypocrisy and deceit; professing to be the ambassadors of Christ, and the heralds of his glorious gospel, their aim was to ignore his claims, deny him his rights, lower his character, rend the glorious vesture of his salvation, and trample his crown in the dust.

 Many of those who remained true to the faith were nevertheless reluctant to fight for what they believed in. Evangelical preaching was often cold and lifeless, and even those who held to sound doctrine were careless about where they drew the line in their associations with others: "Those who were really orthodox in their sentiments were too often lax and unfaithful as to the introduction of heretical ministers into their pulpits, either as assistants or occasional preachers. In this way the Arian and Socinian heresies were introduced into the Presbyterian congregations…

The first step astray is a want of adequate faith in the divine inspiration of the sacred Scriptures. All the while a man bows to the authority of God's Word, he will not entertain any sentiment contrary to its teaching. "To the law and to the testimony," is his appeal concerning every doctrine. He esteems that holy Book, concerning all things, to be right, and therefore he hates every false way. But let a man question, or entertain low views of the inspiration and authority of the Bible, and he is without chart to guide him, and without anchor to hold him.

 Our solemn conviction is that things are much worse in many churches than they seem to be, and are rapidly tending downward. Read those newspapers which represent the Broad School of Dissent, and ask yourself, How much farther could they go? What doctrine remains to be abandoned? What other truth to be the object of contempt? A new religion has been initiated, which is no more Christianity than chalk is cheese; and this religion, being destitute of moral honesty, palms itself off as the old faith with slight improvements, and on this plea usurps pulpits which were erected for gospel preaching.

It now becomes a serious question how far those who abide by the faith once delivered to the saints should fraternize with those who have turned aside to another gospel. Christian love has its claims, and divisions are to be shunned as grievous evils; but how far are we justified in being in confederacy with those who are departing from the truth? It is a difficult question to answer so as to keep the balance of the duties. For the present it behooves believers to be cautious, lest they lend their support and countenance to the betrayers of the Lord. It is one thing to overleap all boundaries of denominational restriction for the truth's sake: this we hope all godly men will do more and more. It is quite another policy which would urge us to subordinate the maintenance of truth to denominational prosperity and unity. Numbers of easy-minded people wink at error so long as it is committed by a clever man and a good-natured brother, who has so many fine points about him. Let each believer judge for himself; but, for our part, we have put on a few fresh bolts to our door, and we have given orders to keep the chain up; for, under colour of begging the friendship of the servant, there are those about who aim at robbing the Master.

We fear it is hopeless ever to form a society which can keep out men base enough to profess one thing and believe another; but it might be possible to make an informal alliance among all who hold the Christianity of their fathers. Little as they might be able to do, they could at least protest, and as far as possible free themselves of that complicity which will be involved in a conspiracy of silence.

The house is being robbed, its very walls are being digged down, but the good people who are in bed are too fond of the warmth, and too much afraid of getting broken heads, to go downstairs and meet the burglars; they are even half vexed that a certain noisy fellow will spring his rattle, or cry, 'Thieves!'

The divergence is every day becoming more manifest. A chasm is opening between the men who believe their Bibles and the men who are prepared for an advance upon Scripture. Inspiration and speculation cannot long abide in peace. Compromise there can be none. We cannot hold the inspiration of the Word, and yet reject it; we cannot believe in the atonement and deny it; we cannot hold the doctrine of the fall and yet talk of the evolution of spiritual life from human nature; we cannot recognise the punishment of the impenitent and yet indulge the "larger hope." One way or the other we must go. Decision is the virtue of the hour. Neither when we have chosen our way can we keep company with those who go the other way.

Let those who will keep the narrow way keep it, and suffer for their choice; but to hope to follow the broad road at the same time is an absurdity. What communion hath Christ with Belial?

Thus far we come, and pause. Let us, as many as are of one mind, wait upon the Lord to know what Israel ought to do. With steadfast faith let us take our places; not in anger, not in the spirit of suspicion or division, but in watchfulness and resolve. Let us not pretend to a fellowship which we do not feel, nor hide convictions which are burning in our hearts. The times are perilous, and the responsibility of every individual believer is a burden which he must bear, or prove a traitor. What each man's place and course should be the Lord will make clear unto him.

What action is to be taken we leave to those who can see more plainly than we do what Israel ought to do. One thing is clear to us: we cannot be expected to meet in any Union which comprehends those whose teaching is upon fundamental points exactly the reverse of that which we hold dear. . . . To us it appears that there are many things upon which compromise is possible, but there are others in which it would be an act of treason to pretend to fellowship. With deep regret we abstain from assembling with those whom we dearly love and heartily respect, since it would involve us in a confederacy with those with whom we can have no communion in the Lord.

During the past month many have put to us the anxious question, 'What shall we do?' To these we have had no answer to give except that each one must act for himself after seeking direction of the Lord. In our own case we intimated our course of action in last month's paper. We retire at once and distinctly from the Baptist Union.

Whether others do so or not, I have felt the power of the text, 'Come out from among them, and be ye separate," and have quitted both Union and Association once for all. . . This is forced upon me, not only by my convictions, but also by the experience of the utter uselessness of attempting to deal with the evil except by personally coming out from it.

Nothing has ever more largely promoted the union of the true than the break with the false.



Monday, August 8, 2011

The Graciousness of Uncertainity


"Faith never knows where it is being led, but it loves and knows the One who is leading."  Oswald Chambers

 My very favorite Oswald Chambers’ reflection is his April 29th devotion in My Utmost for His Highest.  It felt good to read today and so I thought I’d post it as well.  Under the title The Graciousness of Uncertainity, Chambers writes:

"It doth not yet appear what we shall be." 1 John 3:2

Naturally, we are inclined to be so mathematical and calculating that we look upon uncertainty as a bad thing. We imagine that we have to reach some end, but that is not the nature of spiritual life. The nature of spiritual life is that we are certain in our uncertainty, consequently we do not make our nests anywhere. Common sense says - "Well, supposing I were in that condition . . ." We cannot suppose ourselves in any condition we have never been in. Certainty is the mark of the common-sense life: gracious uncertainty is the mark of the spiritual life. To be certain of God means that we are uncertain in all our ways, we do not know what a day may bring forth. This is generally said with a sigh of sadness, it should be rather an expression of breathless expectation. We are uncertain of the next step, but we are certain of God. Immediately we abandon to God, and do the duty that lies nearest, He packs our life with surprises all the time. When we become advocates of a creed, something dies; we do not believe God, we only believe our belief about Him. Jesus said, "Except ye become as little children." Spiritual life is the life of a child. We are not uncertain of God, but uncertain of what He is going to do next. If we are only certain in our beliefs, we get dignified and severe and have the ban of finality about our views; but when we are rightly related to God, life is full of spontaneous, joyful uncertainty and expectancy.

"Believe also in Me," said Jesus, not - "Believe certain things about Me." Leave the whole thing to Him, it is gloriously uncertain how He will come in, but He will come. Remain loyal to Him.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Blood, Thunder and Lacunae

Last night our daughter Jennifer (the History major at USC) recommended a great book by Hampton Sides, Blood and Thunder (Blood and Thunder is also the title of a sports magazine devoted to coverage of contemporary women's roller derby – but this blog is about the book). Through the complex life of Kit Carson Blood and Thunder tells the story of the decimation of the Navajo nation.  It’s a great read and (thanks to iPad and continued jetlag) I made it through the first few chapters last night. 

I loved this description of one of the characteristics of the Navajo nation:

 Navajos hated to complete anything – whether it was a basket, a blanket, a song, or a story.  They never wanted their artifacts to be too perfect, or too close-ended, for a definitive ending cramped the spirit of the creator and sapped the life from the art.  So they left little gaps and imperfections, deliberate lacunae that kept things alive for another day.

Even today Navajo blankets often have a faint imperfection designed to let the creation breathe – a thin line that originates from the center and extends all the way to the edge, sometimes with a single thread dangling from its border, tellingly, the Navajos call the intentional flaw the “spirit outlet.”

Most of the imperfections in my life are unintentional but the gaps and dangling threads always provide an outlet where God is at work.  I'm learning that its good news that our stories are incomplete.  Our stories are written in both intentional and unintentional lacunae.  And often it’s in the ways that God fills those gaps that we find life.  Instead of worrying about my incompleteness and imperfections I am grateful for the outlets they provide to experience God’s grace.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Promise Keeper


 Two weeks ago I was traveling across the steppes of Mongolia with N.E.T. Vet missionaries.  And as I posted yesterday, I’m still working on getting back on Houston time and continuing to process the experience.

Christianity was first introduced to Mongolians just 20 years ago.  Think about that for a moment.  Everyone you meet is a first generation Christian.  It was as close to the first-century church as I’ve ever experienced and at times I felt as if we were traveling through the book of Acts.

Two weeks ago today we were invited to a couple of “barbeques” in local gers (think sheepskin igloo).  “Barbeque” usually consists of various parts of a variety of animals boiled in a pot.  The first was delicious.  The second unfortunately had too many parts that I recalled from high school biology classes on the digestive system.  It was the only meal along the way that I politely declined (others I politely “tasted”).

Following the second barbeque we all crowed into our van for a prayer service and the most pressing topic was a drought the region has been enduring (just like here Texas).   We prayed that God would move the way He did when Elijah prayed for rain and then we drove back across the steppe to our own ger for the night.

The next morning we awoke to the sound of raindrops on the ger!  The joy of the 7 of us sleeping inside was contagious and beautiful.  We prayed and then celebrated when God answered.  I was reminded that we don’t stop and do that nearly enough in our busy, scheduled and practical lives.  It continued to rain off and on the next fews days and late one afternoon we were blessed by an amazing complete double rainbow.  Our leader, Tsendee, said it quietly, simply and best:  God keeps His promises.

I’ve needed that reminder today.  As sometimes happens a “barrel of pastoral care concerns” overturned and I’ve found myself in conversations with individuals and families whose lives have been turned upside down.  As I’ve sat and listened and prayed with them I’ve been listening for the sound of raindrops, trusting that God does indeed keep His promises.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Mongolia - for all the joy!

I am one week back from my trip to Mongolia and still trying to find the right time zone and still processing an amazing journey.  I returned with both my head and heart filled with wonder at what God is doing.

In the coming days I’m going to attempt to post a few reflections on the trip (try in part because I’ve been such a reluctant blogger of late). 

Perhaps the most lasting impression (beside the taste of airagfermented mare’s milk) was the beautiful hearts of the V.E.T. NET staff.  I was humbled as I watched them care for some of the least of God’s children and inspirited by how boldly and naturally they shared the gospel.

On our last night in the countryside I chose a section from 1 Thessalonians as a final devotion together and as I return home this has become my prayer for our Mongolians ministry partners:

How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of our God because of you?  Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you again and supply what is lacking in your faith.

Now may our God and Father Himself and our Lord Jesus clear the way for us to come to you. May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you.  May He strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all His holy ones.

My journey to Mongolia was a witness to God answering that prayer as His love increases and overflows to touch hearts – even mine!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Advice

Last night a friend invited a group of men to j a dinner to celebrate his son’s 13th birthday.  Each of us was encouraged to share our experiences, wisdom and advice with his son as he continues the journey into manhood.  It was a fantastic evening and I suspect that those of us who received the invitation were blessed as much (if not more) than my friend and his son.

Here’s the advice and wisdom I shared with him – some of which comes from my dad to me.

1. Never buy cheap shoes.  Dad’s theory was that you spend a lot of your day on your feet so you want good shoes.

2. Never buy a cheap mattress.  Dad continued that you spent the rest of your day in bed so you want a good night’s sleep.

I added the following to Dad’s wisdom.

3. Whenever you get a chance to travel – travel.  We live in an amazing world and we should take every opportunity to go out and see it.   It doesn’t matter if you are sleeping on the floor or on a train – travel.  

4. Take more risks.  Study after study and life after life confirm that our deepest regrets are always the risks we didn’t take.  Ask out someone way out of your league.  Apply for a job way over your head.  Try out for a team you have no hope of making.  Run for an office you can’t win.  You never know what might happen.  The girl way out of my league said “yes” and “I do!”

5. Don’t wait.  Back in 1981 we traveled to the Orange Bowl to watch Clemson play Nebraska for the National Championship.  We were broke – so we slept of the floor at a hotel room provided for the band and I have no idea how we ate (I think by crashing tailgaters).  If we had waited until we could afford it to attend a National Championship Game for Clemson – we would still be waiting (though I have hope hopes based on our last couple of recruiting classes)!

6. Live generously.  More and more I am discovering that wealthy people don’t become generous.  Generous people become wealthy.  Start living generously with whatever you have now.

7. Make loving God and loving our neighbors more than just a phrase.  A life built on love is the only kind of life worth living and Jesus meant it when He promised that when we get loving God and loving our neighbors right everything else falls into place.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Tigger or Eeyore?

If you know Winnie the Pooh then you likely know the difference between Eeyore and Tigger.  Eeyore is pessimistic, depressed, and deflated. He has no self confidence and doesn’t think he does anything right. Tigger is energetic, joyful, enthusiastic, and positive.  For Tigger everyday is a new adventure filled with promise, potential, possibility and fun!

Eeyore’s favorite book of the Bible is Lamentations:

People have heard my groaning, 
   
but there is no one to comfort me.
Lamentations 1: 21

Tigger loves passages like those in Psalm 66:

Shout for joy to God, all the earth! 
 
Sing the glory of His name; 
   
make His praise glorious.

Come and see what God has done, 
   
His awesome deeds for mankind!
Psalm 66: 1, 2 and 5

What’s your approach to life?  Tigger or Eeyore?

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Something Beautiful


We are just about an hour away from Day Two of Prime Time.  The theme is Boom:  Hearing God’s Voice in a Big Way and in the midst of teaching this week I’ve been trying to do just that and listen to what God may be saying to me.

Our virtue is Obedience and our theme verse is James 1: 22.  We don’t want to be just hearers – we want to be obedient doers of God’s Word. 

This afternoon I attempted to grab a quick energy nap before a high-energy evening.  I put on Needtobreathe to help me relax and as I listened God spoke through their song Something Beautiful especially in these lines:

Hey now, this is my desire
Consume me like a fire, 'cause I just want something beautiful
To touch me, I know that I'm in reach
'Cause I am down on my knees.
I'm waiting for something beautiful
Oh, something beautiful

Last night I was given lost of glimpses of something beautiful as I watched generations laugh and love and learn together.  So my prayer tonight is to let that beauty consume me like a fire and touch my heart.

We are on with the Prime Time version of Boom Boom (and yes I was in the recording studio this afternoon doing my best Doug I Am drop the beat now…_).  A bit nervous about the wake up video (and I know Hezekiah is not a book in the Old Testament….) so better head downstairs.

Here are the entire lyrics to Something Beautiful.  If you haven’t discovered Needtobreathe…. You need to….

In your ocean, I'm ankle deep
I feel the waves crashin' on my feet
It's like I know where I need to be
But I can't figure out, yeah I can't figure out

Just how much air I will need to breathe
When your tide rushes over me
There's only one way to figure out
Will you let me drown, will you let me drown?

Hey now, this is my desire
Consume me like a fire, 'cause I just want something beautiful
To touch me, I know that I'm in reach
'Cause I am down on my knees.
I'm waiting for something beautiful
Oh, something beautiful

And the water is rising quick
And for years I was scared of it
We can't be sure when it will subside
So I won't leave your side, no I can't leave your side.

Hey now, this is my desire
Consume me like a fire, 'cause I just want something beautiful
To touch me, I know that I'm in reach
'Cause I am down on my knees.
I'm waiting for something beautiful
Oh, something beautiful

In a daydream, I couldn't live like this.
I wouldn't stop until I found something beautiful.
When I wake up, I know I will have
No, I still won't have what I need.
Something Beautiful

Hey now this is my desire
Consume me like a fire, 'cause I just want something beautiful
To touch me, I know that I'm in reach
Cause I am down on my knees
I'm waiting for something beautiful
Oh, something beautiful