Saturday, January 29, 2011

Twelve Days, Two Deaths, Two Friends Gone...

The past eleven days have been probably the hardest days of my life. Death robbed me of two friends I loved deeply. I was shocked at the news of the death of Tom Smith. Tom was the sole person who talked me into going into to ministry. Tom Smith was a confidant, a colleague, someone I could confide in and trust. He was the one phone call who I know could give me good solid advice; in life, ministry, and guidance. For me Tom was a rock. Tom was an awesome minister, friend, and servant of God. Without warning, death stole Tom for me in the middle of the night. The details surrounding his death seem to continue to haunt me like a ghost in the night as my heart was broken. My soul was diminished. The joy and enthusiasm for life had seemed to be snuffed out.

While still in shock and mourning over Tom’s death on the day after I returned home from his funeral. Death kicked me again while I was down. A phone call interrupted my normal day to reveal that my best friend from second grade David Tucker was rushed to the hospital in Memphis. As I drove to Memphis, 35 years of a friendship that was nurtured over my lifetime as my entire existence has held memories of David Tucker. He was the first kid to talk to me when I was the new kid at the school in second grade. He was the best man at our wedding, broke into to labor and delivery in a tux to hold our first born daughter. David was my encourager, always knew the right thing to say and knew me the best. He was the only person in my life that I not once ever had a disagreement with. He brought joy where ever he went. Death robbed David from us a little at a time. Out of his love for us, he suffered in silence as his body failed. I held the hand of my best friend at that intimate time when he left me for heaven. The pain, the anger, the confusion of the past twelve days has left me broken, beaten, and battered.

But what have I learned? What has these two tragedies taught me about myself? How can I go on in life without them?
The first thing I learned is life at times can suck. There is no theologically eloquence here; there are periods in our life that just suck. The routines of our daily life can become too comfortable and can be turned upside down with one phone call, one text message, or one email. Shock, pain, and confusion can hit you and knock you down without any warning. It hurts; as there is no reasoning. Death in most cases carries no noble cause or moral victory. Death of a loved one hurts, and sometimes the pain is unbearable.

I have learned that through the tears, through the memories, through my grieving, I have come to find gratitude. I was grateful to have two people in my life that I loved deeply. Friendship like the two I had is a rare commodity as we travel through life. The void that is left will never be filled but I was blessed that God placed them in my life. I recount the benefits of having two such cherished friendships.

I have learned that I am not alone. Yes, I am not alone in my pain. Yes, the twenty third Psalm that is branded in my mind from the innocence of my faith, I know God walks through this dark valley of death with me. In my pain I can feel His presence. I know this because I am still able to function. I can get out of bed, hold a conversation, and barely function. I am still able to see joy in the darkest of time although it may be masterfully hidden. My faith reinforces that God is with me but it is more tangible than that. Tom and David both were two very unique people. Both touched the lives of many not just mine. Both had children that they loved so much. As I feel the pain of death, I look around and see hundreds of more people going through the same nightmare as me. We, who have loved these two dudes, quickly hold something in common. A distant family member, I have never met quickly becomes a friend as we share our memories together. There is a comfort hidden there. Beneath our pain, we find unity, in the fact that the one that is gone impacted our lives forever. This bond grows as I read all the emails from people who are praying for me during this time.

I learned that what God has called me to do, is a gift. Who I am as Gods servant can be a gift to those hurting as I. I do not mean that what I do is a gift. I am not gifted. It is not a skill or vocation or some type of talent. No! I mean what I say, how I act, and my insight, how God works through me, and what I do in the aftermath of death is a gift, an offering to the families. When you look into the eyes of the families that share the same love for the loved one you do, how I minister is a gift to the one who died. Being able to minister to Tom and David’s family in their time of great pain, in my time of great pain, made me realize that how God uses me is a gift unwrapped by the ones who share the same pain. Even in the greatest pain I have ever experienced at one time in my life, God still used me for His good and glory. For me that is really scary.

Last but not least, I learned that in the most horrible time in my life, the most hard-hitting time in my life, with everyone surrounding me with prayer; I am one tough guy. Death can rob me of my friends but it cannot defeat me. It may beat me to a pulp but it cannot win the fight. I will hurt at their passing everyday of my life but I will learn to live with that pain. God’s grace is more powerful than the hurt I am feeling. God’s love for me brings me hope. I am reminded that heaven for me got brighter as two of my friends were called home. In the processes of writing the eulogy for David Tucker although so difficult and full of sadness, as I can’t imagine my life without him in it, I can acknowledge how having him in my life made me a better person. Without either two of these people in my life, I would not be the person, father, husband, or minster I am today. My soul aches, my heart is in pieces, and the darkness reigns over me but I know without a doubt one day I will dwell in the house of our Lord forever with my best friends Tom Smith and David Tucker.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

"Glad I'm Not that Smart."

When Kellie and I were in the process of starting Crossroads Christian Church, we got a lot of unsolicited advice from friends and associates. Excited, eager and enthusiastically they would either invite us to their church or begin to instruct us on the way we should do it. They meant well. I was glad they were excited about their faith community and their ministries. I was truly glad they would share with us what was going on in their church. Anyone who has been a church planter will know that there is no cookie cutter plan, no magic program, or no miraculous strategy to have a growing church because every faith community is uniquely different.

After numerous invitations and relentless inviting, I visited a fast growing very popular congregation. I arrived and was warmly greeted. Took my seat and enjoyed several minutes of great quality praise music. During the passing of the peace one person shook my hand. More praise singing, a funny entertaining video, I began to get into that worship spirit. A good looking stylish minister came out and began to speak to us. His message was upbeat, entertaining, and seemed to move with grace and articulation. The audience held on to every word and reacted beautifully to his prompts. I was enjoying it, I must admit, just as everyone else but I realized something was missing. I could not put my finger on it but something was definitely missing. I was having a good time and then it hit me. I began to look around. The minister did not read scripture, there were no cross anywhere, no religious images I was accustomed to. As I listened closer, what the man said was morally correct, but he not once used the words; God, Christ, Jesus, or Savior. When I asked about the lack of religious images or vocabulary, a nice man instructed me that they were a “high intellectual faith community and they didn’t want to offend anyone.” I left there realizing that I must be lacking in “high intelligence” because I missed the huge attraction. Church for me is about Jesus and the cross and I cannot comprehend a worship service without such. It may not have been church in my book but it sure was popular.

Paul writes to the church on Corinth about such a division. It was a division about the meaning of the cross. One group, the Jews had one idea, and the other group the Gentile held another. Each struggled to convince the other they were right. In Paul's responce to them it reminds us that Christianity is not about how much we know. It is not about requiring a supreme knowledge of how to be a popular church but something of the heart. We must not be afraid to share the essence of our faith. To be wise is to always keep ones heart open, if your heart is closed, you cannot grow in wisdom. We gain wisdom by living our lives as disciples, followers of Christ with an open heart. When we keep an open heart we keep an open mind. It allows us to accept people the way they are, learn about their lives and experience, and gain knowledge about ourselves and Christ in the process. We begin to copy the same method in which Christ drew great crowds by keeping an open heart and open mind even when it is popular or not. Open your heart to a stranger and see what wisdom you gain about yourself. If you do then you will see how God honor such intelligence.

See ya in a church somewhere but until then take care of yourself, grow in wisdom with a open heart, and take care of yourself and one another.
Peace & Grace,

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Washington it is not about you. Nor is it about me.

Our society stands in the wake of another senseless tragedy scrambling to place blame after innocent lives have been taken at the hands of another. News media have jumped on the chance to increase the attention for their views on the pain of others. Churches and church leaders have exploited the deaths of individuals to bring about a new sense of “awareness” of the dangers of division of opinions. Law enforcement officers, whose job is to be objective and gather only the facts, have held news conference to ignite our society by merely presenting opinions and philosophies in place of facts. Political leaders have rallied around the tragedy to push their own agendas and to place blame on their opponents. The President and wife hold a moment of silence and ask for prayers for the families, even when religion is not an important facet of their lives.

Can we blame them really? When I look at the tragedies in my life, when I relive the pain, I am thankful it was not exploited by others. While it is our human nature when something happens in our lives that invokes without warning a hurricane of emotions, shock, and confusion we all search for blame. Our conscious needs a place to put what has just happened to us in order to compartmentalize our need for understanding and to begin our mode of survival. We search our conscious to see if in any way we are to blame for what has just happened to us. We begin the “what if” game that helps us get through the horrible event that has just happened to us. This is usually done in private on an individual scale but when it happens in the context of a multimedia two second sound bit world it magnifies it for a grander audience. And whenever we are presented with a grander audience, our tendency is to express more than necessary, express what is important to us, and hopefully increase the volume of our message. While this is true, it does not necessarily mean it is bad but ineffective. When we are dealing with confusion, pain, and senselessness we are not open for new ideas, reasoning, or understanding. Simply put we tend to hold tighter our preconceived values, opinions, and prejudices when tragedy knocks us down.

My only option is to look and deal with the facts. The common ground we all can agree upon and begin my journey from there. A disturbed angry ill person shot and killed six innocent individuals of diverse ages and backgrounds, and 14 more were injured at a public event. The person who caused this catastrophe brought about immeasurable pain to many families, a community, and a whole nation. It is not about one political party or the other, a defeated Vice Presidential candidate’s remarks, talk show hosts, one sheriff’s biases, or sadly enough one crucially injured public servant. It’s not about strengthening our base, or rallying our cause, even if we are a political organization or a church. It is about many different people lives. The focus is about real individual’s lives which were uprooted and will never be the same and were permanently altered from that moment on. I can not imagine the guilt the family of the shooter must feel, I can not imagine the pain of the family members who tried to prevent their loved one from getting shot but were unsuccessful. I can live with the fact that I will never know the sincerity or what is in the heart of the President and his family, other elected leaders, or others who have an audience. I am saddened as I have seen this same tragedy played out before in High Schools, on college campuses, in workplaces, and even on an army base. I have come to realize that understanding, blame or reasoning may never be part of totality of the events. So I turn for me to the one place I find comfort. I turn to God not for understanding or where I should place blame but for healing. I pray for comfort to the family of Christina Taylor Green who was born on September 11, 2001, when we where faced with another senseless tragedy. As she was called the child of hope, I pray her family may find hope in the time ahead. I pray for the family of U.S. District Court judge, John M Roll, his wife, Maureen; three sons; and five grandchildren. I pray for the brother and fiancĂ© of Gabe Zimmerman. I pray for the family of Phyllis Schneck, her three children, seven grandchildren and one great-grandchild. I honor, respect and pray for Dorwin Stoddard as he died as he tried to protect his wife, Mavy, when the shooting started. Mavy Stoddard was shot in the leg three times. I pray for Dorothy Morris a retired homemaker and secretary who died in the shooting; her husband, George, a retired airline pilot, was hospitalized. I also pray for healing for all those who are recovering from life altering injuries both physical and mental. I also pray for the family of the one solely responsible for this tragedy. I can never imagine if my child was responsible for such a horrible senseless act. I can not imagine the guilt and pain they must feel so I lift them up as well. I turn to my Creator for not for understanding or a platform to move my agenda ahead but for healing. For those families involved and the society in which I live, I lift up my prayers of hope that we never have to experience this again.

Monday, January 10, 2011

"What Are We Looking For?"

I am wondering if you have ever experienced the same strange phenomenon I have. You walk to the refrigerator, open the door, and stare endless into the selection of food items. Your mind and time seem to come to a complete stop. Food items you know that are in there because you put them in there are the object of your undivided attention. Nothing really is being processed through your conscious you just freeze looking confused. Sometimes this occurs when I am famished. Hungry, I need to eat, I want to eat, but I can’t seem to make up my mind. Other times this occurs when I’m not hungry, I just felt this strange urge to the refrigerator and hope a desire hits me. Again out of habit, I find myself with the door open, the light and cold air blowing in my face, looking like a zombie staring at food products. When I seem to be locked in time, someone will ask the question to bring me back to reality, “What are you looking for?”

When we open up the door of our lives, of our relationships, of our spiritual connectedness do we ask ourselves, “What are we looking for?” or do we wait for others to ask us, "what are we looking for?"
"What are you looking for?" Jesus asks the two disciples in the first chapter of the gospel of John. Now, "What are you looking for?" is a fairly strange question when you think about it. The logical question would be, "What do you want?" Maybe this isn't a story about what people want. The word for staying and for remaining in Greek is the same word-meno-and it's used in this story five times in very quick succession. Twice John says the Spirit came to Jesus and remained. The two disciples asked, "Where are you staying?" They go and see "where he was staying and they stayed with him that day."
Remain. Remain. Stay. Stay. Stay.
Could this story be telling us something the disciples don't know yet themselves? What people are looking for is not information, answers to questions such as "Who is Jesus?" or "Is this the one?" Or "Am I right about this church business?" Not even the answer to the question of why stories of meeting this man have captured the human heart for generations.
What we are all looking for without even knowing it is a place to stay, a place to remain always. Jesus is that place, a person who is himself a home, a place to belong, and a whole way of life. Jesus knows that what the disciples really want is a place to belong. Whatever he sees on the faces of these two men panting in front of him after running down the street, whatever he sees, what he says to them is just right and wonderfully inviting: "Come and see." They do go with him. They end up staying, and his story becomes their way of life. Maybe to find what we are looking for we need to some movement. We need movement in our attitudes, our prejudices, and our preconceived attitudes about people or outcomes. We might need to get our heads out of the refrigerator, close the door, and witness what God is doing around us. When we witness God’s activity, the moment we share what God has done in our lives with others, we become part of God’s story. Being part of Christ’s story may just be what we are looking for, and what satisfies our hunger.
See ya in church but until then take care of yourself and one another.

Monday, January 3, 2011

"The Things You Quickly Forget"

 By the time you read this a new year is underway. 2010 is behind us, some of us have made new resolutions for the year ahead, and for the next several months I will still be writing 2010 whenever I put down the date. Coming off the high of the celebration of Christmas, we are filled with mixed emotions as we look at the year past while eyeing the possibilities of the year ahead. Many times while we move from season to season living our life at a hectic pace, we often miss the incredible accomplishments God has provided for us as a faith community as we lived out our vision and mission. As I look back on the last year, I have had the opportunity to be apart of some of God's greatest achievements. Listed is not about what I can do as a minister, but the awesome opportunity I have to get a front row seat to God's transformation. It is not about on person, one's career, or what I can get done but about the power of God. I have experienced many personal area's of growth, spent time in prayer, and tried to address the broken piece of me. Through it all I have experienced joy and pain, frustration and contentment, betrayal and love. I have realized life is not what I can accomplish but what God allows me to witness and be apart of is what truly matter the most. Here are a few things God has done at First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) Centralia were I serve.
In 2010 we:
• Restructured our governing system to encourage ministry. Our new system places more emphasis on individuals and less on the administrated task of the church as an organization. This created Ministry Teams which empowers all members of FCC to take the initiative to get involve, create, and explore new ways to connect people to the love of Jesus Christ.
• We sent one of our own youth, Abby Henegar, to represent us in Honduras on a mission trip as she ministered in the name of Jesus Christ and First Christian Church.
• We created and implemented the Elder Shepherding program which allows the Elders to minister in a more concise, personal, and effective way. Each Elder can spend more time and attention to those they serve creating deeper meaningful relationships.
• We have provided 12 free Friendship Meals at Calumet Christian Church. Volunteers have feed and formed relationships with those in our community who are hungry physically and spiritually.
• We made Centralia Group Workcamp a reality. We hosted 408 people from all over the nation and three countries, which provided free home repair for 56 Centralia residents. The relationships that were formed, the hope that was instilled, and the love of God that was displayed in one week has changed our community forever.
• We provided over 500 pillows as a symbol of gratitude, blessing and remembrance to those who participated in Centralia Group Workcamp.
• We provided Christmas gifts for children and special needs adults. Through your generosity we provided hope, love, grace, and joy to those in our community who would go without.
• Through two massive food drives as well as contributions throughout the year, we have feed countless number of families in connection with the Food Bank.
• We created Fusion Worship an unprecedented accomplishment in any church. When churches routinely divide so they can offer two separate styles of worship, FCC consciously, prayerfully, and faithfully came together in unity. It was not about preference in worship styles but the different generations compromising, being flexible and unselfish for the greater good of the gospel and the future.
• As the vision grew, we created Kidz Zone. A place where younger children can grow in their faith during worship with an age appropriate ministry. A place they can feel loved and welcomed, and begin their relationship with Christ.
These are just a few accomplishments of 2010 we did as we lived out our vision of connecting people to the love of Jesus Christ. This does NOT account for the thousand of quiet individual ways in which you prayed, cared for, and reached out to others in the anonymity of you living out your faith. God has done some amazing awesome things through our faith community in the last year. We have been blessed to be ever growing, changing, and responding to God’s call in all we are and all we do. However, 2011 is upon us. I am thankful for what we have accomplished as Christ’s church but God’s has even more for us in the year to come. We all need to resolve to continue to give God our best, continue to grow in our relationship with Christ and one another, and open our selves to God’s possibilities as each of us are a blessing to others.
I hope to see you soon but until then take care of yourself and one another.