Monday, December 10, 2018

I'm My Own Grandpa!

Maybe you've heard the song, sung by, to name just a few, Ray Stevens, Willie Nelson, and Guy Lombardo. It has been performed on television by some of the greats, including Hee Haw's Grandpa Jones and the all-Muppet Gogalala Jubilee Jugband. Originally written in 1947 by Dwight Latham and Moe Jaffe, it was inspired by a book of Mark Twain's anecdotes.

And it might just be a true story.


Throughout the 1800's, U.S. newspapers published stories about men who claimed to be their own grandfather. The names, cities, and dates never matched up, but they all contained the same sequence of events, as set forth in the song's lyrics:

It's many, many years ago
When I was twenty-three
I was married to a widow
Who was pretty as can be
This widow had a grown-up daughter
Whose hair was red
My father fell in love with her
And soon these two were wed

Ultimately, through a series of births and complicated marriages, the narrator became his own step-grandfather.

Can we all agree? True or not, that is one messed-up family!

But, maybe no more so than Jesus' own family.

The New Testament begins with, of all things, a genealogy. As I recently read:

"For most Christians who read the Bible casually or devotionally, Matthew's genealogy - the very first chapter of the New Testament - is one of the dullest passages in all of Scripture."

While for years I (like most of you, I'm sure) have just skimmed through it to get to the "good stuff," over the last month, I have discovered that the first seventeen verses of Matthew are the "good stuff!"

My teaching this coming Sunday (12/16/18) is on this genealogy, but for the next couple weeks, I also want to write a blog post about what I believe are the two main lessons that this genealogy has to teach us:

1. God uses all kinds of people.
2. God keeps every one of His promises.

God uses all kinds of people. Nowhere in Scripture is this more evident than in Matthew's genealogy of Jesus. I mean, just look who is included in Jesus' family tree:
  • Abraham... yes, he is called the "Father of Faith," but his wife Sarai was taken away not once, but twice into different kings' harems because Abraham lied to them that his wife was his sister (sounds like the song, doesn't it?) so that they wouldn't kill him on account of her beauty. (Genesis 12:10-20; 20:1-18) He was also that kind of man.
  • Isaac... ditto. (Genesis 26:6-11)
  • Jacob... like father and grandfather, another liar and a deceiver, a dirty rotten scoundrel! (Genesis 25:29-34; 27:1-41)
  • Judah... you know, Matthew could have just said "Judah, the father of Perez, and Perez the father of Hezron," but instead, he wrote, "Judah, the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar," explicitly pointing out the incestuous relationship between Judah and his daughter-in-law. (Genesis 38:1-30)
  • Rahab... she was not just non-Jewish and a woman, which would have made her appearance in any genealogy improbable, much less the Messiah's, but she was also a prostitute. (Joshua 2:1-21)
  • David... finally - somebody good and honorable. A man after God's own heart... but that's not what Matthew singles out. Instead, he turns the spotlight on David's affair with Bathsheba. "David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah." Uriah was one of David's mighty men. (2 Samuel 23:8-39) He was a man who risked his life for David repeatedly, but one day, David saw Uriah's wife bathing... and he wanted her for his own. So, he had Uriah killed and took her to be his wife. (2 Samuel 11:1-27)
Messed-up stories that Matthew intentionally highlights to let us know us know that God chose to bring the Messiah through messed-up people. It was deliberate. Matthew could have "skirted around" the sordid details, but he didn't. Rather than hide the embarrassing, God does the very opposite. 

Or, as Rodney Reeves wrote:

"Matthew didn't offer a sanitized account of Jesus' pedigree. He relates the story of Israel's hope, the royal line of David, warts and all."

In addition, Matthew's list includes women. It includes Gentiles. The very ones who, according to the Law, would have been excluded from entering into God's presence not just because of what they did but also because of who they were, are now included. In God's family, there is no wrong sex, race, or color.

When it comes to the genealogy of Jesus, God invited liars, prostitutes and adulterers. Those involved in heinous sins like incest and murder, Jesus welcomed them into His family. He doesn't excuse them, but He does include them. He owns them. He is not ashamed of them.

And He is not ashamed of us either.

So now Jesus and the ones he makes holy have the same Father. That is why Jesus is not ashamed to call them his brothers and sisters. (Hebrews 2:11 NLT)

God uses all kinds of people... which means, God uses even me.

To be honest, that's a lot harder for me to believe than even someone being their own grandpa.

But this one I know is true.

And I learned it from Jesus' genealogy.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

I Love Pumpkin!

Almost everyone who knows me, knows this. Pumpkin spice flavor, pumpkin pie flavor... out of a gourd, out of a can... it matters not to me. I just love pumpkin. In fact, I have said in the past (admittedly rather crassly), "If dog-doo tasted like pumpkin, I'd eat it!" Thankfully, no one has taken me up on this yet.

Over the last couple months, I have consumed a plethora of pumpkin-flavored products... coffee creamer (almost daily), donuts, butter, soup, cereal, pancakes, almonds, granola, vegetable chips, ice cream, gelato, frozen Greek yogurt, pound cake, M&M's, sugar wafers, cream cheese roll, and kringle (if you're not familiar with this "ambrosia," check out the link... but be forewarned: I will not be held responsible for any future Trader Joe's road trips).

And of course, last week was the ultimate pumpkin-lovers holiday - Thanksgiving - featuring the greatest dessert known to man (at least this one), pumpkin pie.

Have I mentioned that I love pumpkin?

It is obvious that people know that I love pumpkin as well. Throughout this glorious time of year, I have received assorted gifts of pumpkin-flavored goodies (including the aforementioned kringle) from those who are willing to fuel my obsession.

So, my question to myself recently has been, "Do people know that I love Jesus as much as they know that I love pumpkin?"

No, really. Do they?

And not just because I'm a preacher, which means that I'm "supposed to," right? Do people really know?

John Bloom wrote, "God made us to wear our love on our sleeves." To be honest, my love for pumpkin has probably visibly stained my cuffs. How about my love for Jesus?

Confession time: Way too many times in my life, my faith has basically been academic. From a child, I've known all the right answers to the questions of, "Who is Jesus?" and "Why did He come to Earth?"

"He is God's one-and-only Son, Who came to die on the cross to save us from our sins."

Completely true, but also completely and utterly academic.

The times in my life, however, when that faith has actually made a difference, both in who I am and how I have interacted with my world, is when I have experienced Jesus in a fresh way... not just as a topic to be studied, but as a real Person.

That's why I am so excited about 2019 and our goal, "To know Jesus better than we know ourselves." I personally want that. I really do. I am praying that you feel the same.

Over the next year, our church families (GCC and RCC) are going on a journey through the Gospel of Matthew to allow God to make that a reality in our lives. There will be multiple opportunities and resources to help each of us know more about Who Jesus is, but none greater than the Story itself.

And that is where some of us will struggle.

I was recently reading "The First Days of Jesus" by Andreas J. Kostenberger and Alexander E. Stewart, when the following statement jumped off the page:

"People say that familiarity breeds contempt, but when it comes to Bible reading, I've found that familiarity is more likely to produce laziness. I tend to skim when I already know the story."

Most of us already know the Story, but that doesn't mean that we already know everything God wants to teach us through the Story.

So, read the Story. Read it quickly, read it slowly, read it daily, read it weekly... just read it.

Really read it.

Together, as we engage in Matthew's gospel over the coming year, may we slow down, take our time, and allow God, through its pages, to re-introduce us to His Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ.

I promise you: It will be worth your time. And it will be so much better than anything pumpkin.

By the way, I don't think that there is such thing as pumpkin spice Doritos, but if there were, I'd give 'em a try... because I love pumpkin.

But I love Jesus more.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

All Good Things...

As Loverboy sang 33 years ago, "It's over! It's over! It's over!"

My nine-week sabbatical ended yesterday and so this morning I made my way to the church office for the first official time since early June. It was almost like a "first day on the job" feeling with the mixed emotions of both excitement and anxiousness. However, soon after the day began, the staff and I had a great time sharing over doughnuts (which always seem to make any situation better) about our summer from both point of views, and we all agreed that it went by very fast!

From my perspective, that was certainly true. To those who told me I'd get bored - you know, that just didn't happen. Did I accomplish everything that I had hoped to? Not even close. I've still got lots of organizing to do (and throwing away, gasp!) of personal and professional papers and digital files, as well as some unfinished house projects and unread books.

But did I accomplish what I needed to? Or what God wanted me to? I really believe I did. At least I hope I did. Since I had never experienced this kind of break before, I really didn't know what to expect or think. I just know that I now feel less burdened by some things that used to overwhelm me, and more determined about others that I used to look right past.

I don't really want to steal my "thunder" from this coming Sunday as I plan to share about some lessons learned throughout the summer, but here's a quick snapshot of the last nine weeks by the numbers:
  • 8,000 miles traveled with family and friends (8,019.4 to be exact, or at least as exact as I can get)
  • 192 geocaches found (including the Original Stash Plaque, my first finds in British Columbia, Ontario, Washington, Oregon, and Michigan, and a whopping 80 finds on a single day with the 2McTwins as we completed the HI - Be Happy! Geo Art)
  • 150 / 4 Psalms / Gospels read
  • 21 varieties of hot dogs stomached from Sonic's "Dog Days of Summer"
  • 14 verses in John 14 memorized (and I thought I could do all 91 in John 14-16 - ha! I will continue to add to this each week...)
  • 11 church families worshiped with on Sunday mornings, including 7 local
  • 10 trips to Lowe's Hardware (it was at least 10, or enough for them to call and offer me a business credit card!)
  • days in a car, train, ferry, and on an island with my family during our memorable vacation to Mackinac Island / Ontario Canada
  • books read (but I would probably only recommend 4)
  • days in Seattle/Bellingham with my friend Scott for sightseeing and phenomenal training on Logos Bible Software 
  • 3 weddings performed, including my first 6 AM nuptials and first ceremony in which my son was the pianist
  • ?? numerous hours spent with my wife and son watching British TV, playing games, and just hanging out!
  • grateful heart for the opportunity given to me by our church family, leadership, and staff! The words seem small on the screen, but they are very large in my heart. Thank you.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Three Tiny Books with Mega Messages

I love to read. I really do. I just don't do it much anymore. I don't know if that's because I don't make the time, I'm a slow reader and thus it takes more time than I have (or am willing to commit), or I simply can not find books that hold my waning attention, but I read very few complete books anymore. Oh sure, I read lots of "parts" and "sections" - my bookcase is full of those - but no so many that I've spent time with from cover to cover.

That's why me reading three books this past week is huge! Yeah, I know - for some of you that's just a good day, but not for me. And who's counting how short the books were (102, 122 and 126 pages respectively) - these were three powerful books that made me think about stuff that really matters! If I don't read another book during my break, these three have given me quite enough to dwell on and try to live out in both my life and ministry. Rather than do any kind of review, here are just a few quotes and thoughts from each book that I personally believe are worth remembering:

Autopsy of a Deceased Church: 12 Ways to Keep Yours Alive (Thom Rainer)
  • "As many as 100,000 churches in America are showing signs of decline toward death."
  • "It is rare for a long-term church member to see erosion in his or her church. Growth may come rapidly, but decline is usually slow... the members have no sense of urgency to change."
  • The nine major chapter titles speak to many of the causes: 1) The Past is the Hero, 2) The Church Refused to Look Like the Community, 3) The Budget Moved Inwardly, 4) The Great Commission Becomes the Great Omission, 5) The Preference-Driven Church, 6) Pastoral Tenure Decreases, 7) The Church Rarely Prayed Together, 8) The Church Had No Clear Purpose, and 9) The Church Obsessed Over the Facilities.
  • Rainer's estimates of existing American churches are that 10% are healthy, 40% are showing symptoms of sickness, 40% are very sick, and 10% are dying.
  • (BTW, this was the July assignment for my Fusion small group. I rarely finish the month's assigned reading but instead "skip" to my section - just being honest - but this month I am so ahead!)
  • RCC's elders have long-discussed having a tool to create conversations with potential church elders. I think this might be it. I read the book in a single sitting (but I'm not going to tell you how long that was) but was taken in very early when Rinne said, "Though elders are typically godly and well-intentioned, they are often confused about what being an elder entails."
  • "Almost all of the New Testament authors address elders. There are more than a dozen texts. It became clear to me that Christlike elders are not an optional church feature; they are central to God's plan for shepherding his churches."
  • Again, the major chapter titles speak to the characteristics of elders (both paid and unpaid): 1) Smell Like Sheep (engage in relationships with individuals), 2) Serve Up the Word, 3) Track Down the Strays, 4) Lead Without Lording, 5) Shepherd Together, 6) Model Maturity, and 7) Plead For the Flock.
  • While I don't personally have the title, I took the following as a personal challenge: "Your congregation needs to see not only a godly elder, but a growing elder."
  • "When we are crazy busy, we put our souls at risk."
  • "For most of us, it isn't heresy or rank apostasy that will derail our profession of faith. It's all the worries of life."
  • "The disorder of daily life is a product of disorder in the innermost places of the heart," including the many manifestations of pride - people-pleasing, pats on the back, performance evaluation, possession, proving myself, pity, poor planning, power, perfectionism, position, prestige, and posting (social media).
  • "Taming busyness is not as simple as saying no to everything and refusing to please anyone. Real life applications get tricky..."
  • "We get worked up and crazy busy in all the wrong ways because we are more concerned about looking good than doing good."
  • "It's okay to be busy at times. You can't love and serve others without giving of your time."
  • "[Jesus] did not try to do it all. And yet, he did everything God asked him to do... He was busy, but never in a way that made him frantic, anxious, irritable, proud, envious, or distracted by lesser things... He was not driven by the needs of others... He was not driven by the approval of others... Ultimately, Jesus was driven by the Spirit."
  • "We don't expect to be able to buy anything we want, because we know there is a limit to our money. But somehow we live as if time knew no bounds, when in fact time is much more limited than money."
  • There is no such thing as multitasking - "We can do two things at once [only] when one does not require mental effort." (Interestingly enough, we watched a BrainGames episode last night that verified this.)
  • "We don't realize we have to work hard just to rest."
  • "What if pastoring a congregation is supposed to be challenging?"
  • "If God expected us to do nothing but sit cross-legged on the floor and journal, the Bible could have been much smaller. Mary's example is not a summons to the contemplative life in a cloister. But it's a pretty strong reminder that we had better keep first things first."
Pick one, or read all three... but if they deal with any areas of your life where God wants to speak, get ready to be challenged!

Friday, July 11, 2014

The Power of 32

32 is really quite an impressive number. In mathematics, since 24 + 42 (or  xy + yx) = 32, it is what's called a Leyland number. In science, in degrees Fahrenheit, it's the freezing point of water at sea level. In music, it is the number of completed, numbered piano sonatas by Ludwig van Beethoven. And in sports, it's the jersey number worn by so many greats - Sandy Koufax, Jim Brown, and Dr. J, just to name a few. 32 is the number of teeth in an adult human (including wisdom teeth), the average number of pages in a comic book, and, in case you were wondering, the code for international direct dial to Belgium.

32 is also the number of days remaining in my summer well as the number of days since my sabbatical began. So, I'm halfway. Halfway finished... halfway just getting started. Half empty... half full. For once in my life (and hopefully it becomes a new POV), I'm going to go with the "half full" on this one, you know, Philippians 3:13 and all.

And yet, I don't want to rush past "what's behind" because I feel like the first 32 days were phenomenal! Granted, my plan was to not really have a plan, so while the number of items on a checklist might be minimal, the "intangibles" are numerous. Here's just a quick list:

Family (1st half):
  • Spent the majority of my evenings with Kerri and Wyatt
  • Helped out more around the house
  • Visited Lowe's more than ever before in my life because I...
  • Started and finished the project of extending my backyard fence and laying a patio

Personal (1st half):
  • Read through the Gospels
  • Read three other books (but none that I would recommend)
  • Had a Dr.'s appointment with my lowest recorded blood pressure in months
  • Received invaluable training from Morris Proctor on Logos Bible Software
  • Found 20 geocaches while traveling to the NC mountains and the Pacific Northwest and Canada and spending some time with good friends
  • Was generally a more pleasant person to be around (or so I'm told), being more relaxed with much more energy
  • Worshiped with six separate church families (three local), each being a very different but blessed time
  • Began a personal challenge to eat one of every hot dog featured on Sonic's "Dog Days of Summer" menu (21 different varieties - of course, I started with the Peanut Butter Bacon Dog)
I began this post with a "Ministry" column, but I believe that if God grows me personally, that will automatically reflect a difference in how I serve Him in ministry.

As I move into the "half full" weeks ahead, I hope you will pray that my plans are not just mine, but God's plans as well. I plan to...

Family (2nd half):
  • Invest as much time as possible with Kerri and Wyatt, doing whatever it is they want to do
  • Spend an afternoon with my grandmother
  • Continue to help out more around the house
  • Enjoy a unique vacation with my family on Mackinac Island

Personal (2nd half):
  • Read through the Psalms
  • Read other books, including 30 WordsChurch Elders, Crazy Busy, and Pursued 
  • Memorize John 14-16
  • Spend two separate days at St. Francis Springs Prayer Center
  • Worship with at least four more different church families
  • Do more geocaching, including a possible trip to the NC coast
  • Exercise daily (please see last item under "Personal" above for explanation)
  • Allow this unique time of rest to reflect in my attitude towards those around me and myself
Oh yeah, there's still plenty left in the sabbatical glass! As I've said all along, the next few weeks have the potential for the most good in both my ministry and me. May God make it so!

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Go West (not so) Young Man!

When I first starting planning a sabbatical, I initially thought about traveling to the Four Corners section (where AZ, UT, CO & NM meet) for hiking and geocaching. However, as the plans began to progress, I found an opportunity to travel to northern WA for some much-need training on Logos Bible Software. Although Week 3 was a busy one (one of my two main travel weeks of the summer), it basically boiled down to three things - geocaching, sight-seeing, and Logos (four if you count cross-country travel round trip). Here's some of what Week 3 was about:

Geocaching: After arriving in Seattle late Sunday night, I drove south until midnight so that I would be within 75 minutes of Portland on Monday morning. Waking up early, I began driving south on what some refer to as the geocaching pilgrimage - to the site of the very first geocache. Although it's no longer there, there is a plaque commemorating the event and some nearby caches to find. Not only was I able to visit the "original stash plaque," but Tuesday was the day when I got to cache in Fremont, WA (northern suburb of Seattle) and visit Geocaching Headquarters! Finally, to add to my first caches in OR and WA, I crossed the border to White Rock, British Columbia for my first Canadian cache.

Sightseeing: This was a trip I did with my best friend, Scott Patterson. While he didn't travel to Portland with me on Monday, we planned to meet up later that day. On the way to meet Scott, I did my first non-geocaching sightseeing - Voodoo Doughnuts. Later that day we toured the Space Needle and went to the Red Sox-Mariners game. It's not often you get to see a team bat around in a game, but the Mariners did it twice - in the 4th and in the 7th. CF James Jones led off both innings and made the final out in both innings as well, going 1-4 in the two innings with a double to lead off the 7th. While in Seattle we also spent some time downtown at Pike Place Market and the original Starbucks.
Logos Bible Software: I have had this software on my computer for years (actually, since 2003 - thankfully as well, I wouldn't be able to afford it now!) and have even done a little training with it, but what I learned on Wednesday through Friday should prove to be invaluable when it comes to both personal study and sermon preparation! This program is amazing! We also got to take the tour of Logos' offices as well.

Coming home was a LONG day. I left the hotel in Seattle Saturday at 5 AM and landed in Charlotte at 10 PM. While I had planned to drive home to Reidsville, the spirit was willing but the flesh was definitely weak. I stopped just north of Charlotte (didn't get that far, did I?) and worshiped on Sunday at Lake Forest Church. I originally visited the campus a couple months ago for the Sticky Teams Conference and was curious what Sunday was like. It was what I imagined - great worship with a very laid-back atmosphere (complete with full coffee bar). I really liked how a child read the story of Noah from the Children's Bible to introduce the teaching.

All in all, it was a busy, fun, and productive week... but I'm glad to be back home. This week I'm praying for our student ministry MOVE trip, for the RCC family and their known needs, for our staff and elders and their leadership, and for God to be at work in each of our lives!

Sunday, June 29, 2014

(So You Know) What I Did This Summer - Week 2

Note: This was written on 6/22/14 but never published...

As I'm sitting in the Minneapolis/St. Paul airport, I'm thinking back over what I accomplished during Week 2:
  • I read 1, 2, and 3 John multiple times. In 1 John, I focused on the three aspects of change in a Christian life: 1) how we think theologically, know/believe, 2) how we act morally, love, and 3) how we relate socially, fellowship.
  • I finished reading The Jesus Chronicles: John's Story. While some may like this book, I was very disappointed. To me it seemed that many times it was nothing more than John's gospel and the book of Revelation being recopied word for word rather than a historical fiction novel helping me understand the culture and time period better. In fact, I had planned to read all four gospels but will stop with John's for now.
  • I am still reading Jack Bauer's Having a Bad Day and rewatching 24, Season 1 (which coincides with the book's chapters), although I only read one chapter / watched one episode this week.
  • I am also currently reading The Machine about the greatest baseball team of all time, the 1975 Cincinnati Reds! This book was recommended by my nephew and has not disappointed yet!
  • I continued to work on the backyard patio, leveling the ground and laying the pavers. A huge thanks to David, Daniel and Dustin who helped out two straight hot days! However, before I can call it "finished," because of the unlevel ground, I'm going to need to go back and recompact the soil to avoid erosion.
  • Finally, after ten days, I went geocaching! The 2McTwins and I drove past Asheville on Wednesday night so we could get an early start on Thursday. While we did not get to many that we had planned for, we drove several hundred miles and saw some of God's most beautiful creations, including The Devil's Courthouse and Chimney Rock. Total geocache count - one traditional, four virtual, two webcam, and five new NC counties cached!
  • Today I worshipped at The Cove. On the way down to Mooresville, I listened to over an hour of Third Day, so my ears were ringing, my eyes were wet, and my throat was hoarse before I ever got there, so I was ready! Worship was powerful, the teaching on the Lord's Prayer left me with some things to think about (including "A strong discipline of prayer will give you a strong passion for prayer"), and the outdoor baptisms were awesome! Bonus - there was a female drummer (something I can't remember ever seeing during worship)!
  • I'm not sure I got a single nap in this week.
  • I did continue to pray for the RCC staff and family daily!
  • And I avoided wearing khakis all week (even to worship today).
However, I did miss being a part of VBS and working the kitchen with Kerri, Wyatt, and others. I'm so thankful that our Body has such a great opportunity to reach out to our community's youth in such a big way!

Two weeks gone, seven to go - I'm not bored, yet, but I am missing the RCC family! More to come...