Blog: Peeling Back the Fog

While going to college at Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene Texas, I became very familiar with a stretch of road on Hwy 277.  About twenty miles Southwest of Abilene the road changes from the stereotypical straight, flat, and open terrain of West Texas into a curving, undulating and tight stretch of road.  Granted the use of the term ‘mountains’ cannot be used here, but when compared to the flat terrain of the surrounding area these hills come as quite a surprise to the unsuspecting driver.  No longer will your cruise and lane assist feature in your car keep you on the road.  You actually have to grab the wheel and move your foot back and forth from the gas to the break in order to navigate through the hills of the Callahan Divide. 
 
As youth pastor back in my hometown of Sterling City, I drove this stretch of road nearly every week for three years.  Obviously, I became very familiar with the curves and undulations of this road.  One night as I entered this stretch of road, there was an unexpected guest that joined me; fog.  I have driven in fog many times, but this time was different.  The visibility was extremely limited, the lights from my vehicle were only marginally better than using nothing at all, and the curves and undulations I had become so familiar with were now hidden; but, no less real.  The curves I had learned to manage during normal conditions were now elevated to a much higher degree of risk.  The addition of the fog made me acutely aware of the challenges the road always posed. 
 
In order to portray the façade of being manly, I could tell you I just plowed into the fog with little care or worry: however, this would be a blatant lie.  I was scared.  The fog was so thick I knew I could end up off the road, in the oncoming lane or being rear-ended without even knowing it.  No matter what, I was going to face danger.  I can remember trying to recall the curves of the road that had been ingrained in my memory through repetition.  I began thinking about this stretch of road in a completely different way than normal; I couldn’t just casually navigate through the hills as usual, I needed to focus.  The fog was challenge on its own, but the fog also accentuated the danger that was always there.
 
I can’t help but think that life is similar to this situation.  Even in the best of circumstances, life always presents us with challenges and danger just like that stretch of road on Hwy 277.  For the most part, we learn to handle the common curves life has for us; however, sometimes the fog hits.  In times like these we are reminded of the unpredictability of life and how little control we really have.  Life can change just as quickly as the fog roles in and out.  Around nine months ago our family encountered a fog of life; cancer.  When my Mom was diagnosed with cancer we all experienced the shock and emotional weight that all feel when a family member is diagnosed with cancer.  It was amazing how this added emotional weight permeated all aspects of life.  The fog of cancer brings into focus how difficult navigating the road of life can be.
 
Jesus’ disciples must have experienced a powerful fog when Jesus was sealed up in that tomb.  Suddenly, their lives were torn apart.  Everything they believed to be true and gave them hope for the future was sealed up with Jesus.  How would they be able to navigate life without the one who gave them purpose and hope?  Those few days must have been so dark for the followers of Jesus.  They had to feel completely helpless.  While the disciples were still engulfed in the fog life had covered them with, something began to stir within the tomb.  As the stone was pushed aside, the radiant glory of the risen Christ began to fill the earth like the sunrays at daybreak.  Hope, love, and joy entered into the world in a new and powerful way.  The only thing that would help the disciples navigate through the fog had happened.  Their lives would not get easier, but now they had a new light to live by.
 
You will find yourself in the fog of life at some point.  Maybe you are there now.  I want to encourage you remember the truth of the resurrection.  The new life we have in Christ does not mean the fog will never come, but that when it does we have a navigator; one who peels back the fog and allows us to experience hope and joy.  The outcome in this life is not certain, but the reality of Christ’s presence is unquestionable.
 
Right now our family is celebrating the fact that my Mom’s cancer is in complete remission.  The road has not been easy and the outcome was not always certain; however, the presence of Christ was always certain.  Ultimately, we were able to find hope and joy in the midst of the fog.  And if the fog returns we know our navigator has never left us.
 
In order to make it through the fog filled hills outside of Abilene I had to slow down and rely on what I knew about that stretch of road.  I had to focus.  If you are in the fog, slow down and focus.  Focus on the one who is with you always.  The one who is there to rejoice with you and mourn with you.  No fog is too thick to blot out the power of our risen Christ. 


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Blog: God’s Light over cancer

Today started off great.  My Mom, Dad, brother, sisters, brothers in law, sister in law, and 5 granddaughters started the day looking out across a peaceful LBJ lake.  We had been looking forward to this trip for months.  I am so blessed to be part of a family that loves getting together.  There are always plenty of laughs and just an enjoyment of being together.  Things began to change midmorning when my Mom got a phone call asking her to come in to get the results of an MRI she had last week.  The thought was that she had a disk problem in her back that had been causing pain for the last couple months.  When the doctors office asked that my dad come with her we knew things weren’t good.  For the next few hours we go about our day swimming, boating and trying not to think the worst.  If you try hard enough you can nearly convince yourself everything is going to be fine even though there is that small corner in your mind that you know something is not right.  Then the words that so many have heard, and yet they feel unbelievably personal came, saying; your Mom has cancer.   Never before has a vacation changed directions so quickly.  Life is forever changed for our family because of that word, cancer.

We have very little information at this point and we don’t know what the next steps are.  What we do know is that my Mom is now facing a life threatening disease and the path to recovery will not be easy.  Our emotions are all over the map.  Anger, frustration, fear, hurt, and a forced glimmer of hope are mixed together making a melting pot of emotional instability.  We were asked by my Mom to stay at the lake and “have fun and don’t let this ruin the vacation.”  We all know that we couldn’t do any good clogging up her hospital room, so we have stayed at the lake house together, at least for one night.  (We also do not want to get reprimanded by our mother if we went against her wishes.)

As expected, we are having a challenging time of following my mom’s desire for us to have fun.  We decided to do our best and all of us piled into the boat to cruise around the lake in Kingsland.  Two interesting things happened.  First, we were listening to a children’s station on Pandora and the song “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” came on.  I bet the song just came flooding back into your head and just like 20 years ago you won’t be able to get it out for hours: you’re welcome.  I had to laugh at the simplicity of the song and its simple message.  Worry is not going to help anything.  Then, as we are speeding across the water the sun breaks through the clouds for the first time today and we see a faint rainbow.  On top of that, rain begins to fall.  There is nothing more surreal than feeling the splash of rain in your face in the bright sunshine.  

It hit me as we dodged the raindrops and squinted into the sun that we have entered into a storm of life.  I don’t know the outcome and I know that the rain will increase before it lets up.  But just as the sun burst forth through the clouds today, despite the rain, I know the presence of God will burst forth in the darkest days of this battle against cancer.  The sun was so bright today that the rain became insignificant in its light.  Whether the clouds grow darker and the storm rages in our lives the light of Christ will render the storm powerless in the end.  Know matter the ending, the darkness of life will be forced out by the light of life that comes from Christ.  It is hard to see now, but my Mom and our family are going to get to see the radiant beauty of a God whose light penetrates the darkness.  I am scared to death and yet I can’t wait to experience the marvelous light of Christ. 

We appreciate your prayers and we will share with you how God’s light will overcome this darkness.


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Blog: Another example of evil

This morning I saw another brief comment regarding the horrific shooting in Charleston, SC and the frustration that has been bubbling within me reached another level.  Forgive me if I vent a little and push the bounds of political correctness, but I write with a heavy heart in light of this act of evil.  We are not three days removed from the heinous, racist act of an individual and we are already responding in fear.  Yes, I believe fear is driving the conversation following this event.  I know there are some exceptions, but most of the comments and articles I have seen have focused on a few different topics.  First and foremost, a vast amount of attention is given to the racist individual who murdered nine innocent lives and changed the lives of hundreds forever.  Next, I have seen numerous commentaries on race relations and issues plaguing our country.  Similarly, there have been conversations discussing the role of religion in this tragedy.  Finally, the ever present and divisive role of politics has taken a front and center place.  The gun control issue has reared its head, as has the endless debate on the semantics used to discuss the issue.  In less than 24 hours after such an evil act, the political pundits from all viewpoints began to dissect the issue in order to promote their own agenda.  Despite the vast differences of opinions flying through the social media world there is one common thread; fear.  

I feel like we have to create all these different topics because we don’t want to acknowledge what really happened on Wednesday.  On Wednesday night we were reminded once again of the devastating reality of evil.  Evil is terrifying because it cannot be controlled and despite this fact, we have created a culture that believes if we try hard enough we can control anything.  In the face of such evil we quickly begin to debate how we can control this in the future.  Therefore we debate the cause of racism, how our government perpetrates racism, and many times our debate contributes to more racism.  We also start arguing about what laws or policies we need to prevent such evil acts.  I am sickened at how quickly such an evil act gets used by both sides to push anti or pro gun agendas.  Do we really think any type of new law or elimination of law will prevent such overt evil?

Evil is a reality in this world.  Jesus acknowledged this as he prayed for us just before he was nailed to a cross.  The sad fact is that no matter what we do there will always be evil in the world.  Racism has been and will always be a potent avenue for evil to manifest itself.  We can and should talk about ways to reduce racism in our world, but I’m not sure having these discussions 24 hours after such a heartbreaking event is the best time.   Positive headway is seldom made when emotions are so raw.

In moments like this we are reminded that we live in a world where evil is a reality.  The only answer to evil is the life changing power of Christ.  No amount of political discussions or action will ever defeat evil.  Only the power of Christ that overcame evil through the resurrection can bring peace, hope, joy and love into this world.  If we do not acknowledge that the power of Christ is the only thing that overcomes evil we will always be fearful of the evil in this world.  We will continuously try and fail to prevent evil from happening, and in the process we will be pulled farther and farther from the one who can overcome; Jesus Christ.  Jesus does not overcome by preventing evil but rather sustaining us through evil until the time comes for everything to be made new again.  

Today, as the Body of Christ, our sole focus needs to be on these families, this church, and this community as evil has inserted itself into their lives.  I believe that this very day Jesus is mourning with these families and his heart breaks to see those he loves caught up in such an evil act.  In ways that we can’t explain Jesus is extending peace and hope to those involved.  Through all the anger, frustration and hatred, God is offering His message of love and grace.  Let us take some time to mourn together before we start dissecting the act of evil.  Let us allow God to comfort so that eventually we will be drawn closer to Him rather than pushed farther away.  We need to acknowledge we don’t have the answers to such evil, but we can know the one who does.  


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Blog: The beauty of being adopted

I am going to be intentionally vague in some areas of my writing today for various reasons, but please bear with me as I share about something that has really touched my heart.  There is a young woman who is very close with our family whose heart has been burdened for children who need a home.  She has opened her home as a safe haven for foster children needing a place to be loved while family situations are corrected or changed.  The world of CPS is a world many are unaware of and, in all honesty, many would rather choose ignorance than awareness.  Why, because it is an amazingly depressing issue.  The more aware you become the more you realize the depths of the problem and that there are no good or easy answers.  The situations CPS deals with reveal the results of living in a fallen world in stark and vivid clarity.  This clarity is extremely uncomfortable.  Thankfully, God has called many like this young woman to enter into this dark and uncomfortable world and bring hope to one child at a time. 

Recently, our friend has been fostering a precious little girl, full of life and joy.  As the months passed the desire for adoption grew and the tenuous road to adoption began.  I do not envy the position of CPS.  They have to do what is best for a child while at the same time working under many laws and policies.  They have limited resources and must make life-changing decisions.  This reality makes the road to adoption tedious and time consuming.  For our friend, the moment the adoption process was set in motion an emotional battle within began.  How can you allow yourself to start thinking about the future you will have with this precious little girl when you know that at any point the process could determine a different future.  A future you believe with all your heart would not be best for the child, but knowing that future could possibly be reality.  This young woman responded to the emotional battle by loving this little girl as her own, no matter the outcome.  She did not do this on her own.  Her faith in God’s provision and presence gave her strength and support.  As God tends to do, he has used her family and friends to help sustain her through this journey.  God even provided a young man who has loved this little girl as much as any father could.  All of this love is being poured out knowing one court order could change things forever.  

Yesterday, news came that indicates the adoption will be able to occur.  Of course, we are all ecstatic at the news, but we continue to pray, knowing the process is not complete.  I have been humbled to be able to watch this process unfold.  Seeing the emotional rollercoaster this young woman and all those intimately involved go through with each piece of news is amazing.  There have been times of joy, frustration, fear and expectation, but the one constant through the whole process is the love shown for this precious little child.  The love our friend has given this child is incredible and I know that this love will never change, no matter what the courts ultimately decide.

I wonder about the emotional rollercoaster God goes through as he pours out his love on us and waits to see how we will respond.  Will we choose to remain in a dark and tumultuous world that is pulling us away from God, or will we choose to live in a world where the light pushes back the darkness and sustains us through the turbulent journey.  As Christ, God displayed his love for us in a powerful and unimaginable way.  He gave his live for us and then overcame death with life.   This love will never fade or be taken away.  No matter what decisions we make or have made, the love of God is still just as strong.  Even today he is reaching out to us, desiring that we will experience his love.  The world can be a cruel journey that pulls us away from the love of God, but that does not diminish his love. God loves us all as adopted daughters and sons.  His love for us never wavers.  Throughout our life we will experience the brokenness and discouragement of living in a world that has moved away from God.  I pray we will live life in light of God’s love for us.  Allow God’s love to fill our life and give us hope, peace, and joy in the midst of a tumultuous world. 


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Blog: He Is alive…overcoming fear

Just before Easter I shared about an experience I had at McDonald’s that led me to refocus on the simple but powerful fact that Jesus is alive.  Everything else in our lives, no matter how big or small, should be seen through the lens of knowing Jesus is alive.  This sounds great, but what does this really mean for us practically?  How does the fact that Jesus is alive make a difference in our daily lives?

Nearly fourteen years ago, my wife and I went on our honeymoon to Cozumel, Mexico.  The whole trip was a wonderful experience.  (I will now pause for those immature readers to chuckle like a middle school boys and make silly comments regarding the activities we all know take place on a honeymoon…. and we continue)  While in Cozumel we had the opportunity to go either snorkeling or scuba diving, both of which should be done at some point in your life if possible; however, there are some natural fears you will have to overcome in order to participate in these activities.  Molly and I chose to go scuba diving.  As we went through the crash course of learning how to breath underwater, I realized there was more to submersing yourself underwater for an extended period of time than I had initially considered.  I learned that I am very attached to the freedom of breathing on my own terms.  Putting a large piece of molded rubber into my mouth and plunging underneath the water revealed the extent to which I enjoy freedom in breathing.  Eventually, after what was I’m sure a very thorough 20-minute crash course, we began our descent into the ocean as experienced scuba diving veterans ready to breath and swim under the sea.

Having overcome the breathing fears, I now focused on taking in all of the sea life God has created and I must say, it was amazing.  The vivid colors of the corral, fish, and plant life cannot be fully captured by a photo.  Seeing the world under the sea with my own eyes was inspirational.  At one point in the midst of the beauty and tranquility of the sea I looked in the distance and saw a dark shadow.  Then the shadow began to move and all of the sudden the beauty and tranquility did not matter to me in the least.  I began to feel the fear rise within me, and my body responded by going into one big muscle cramp.  Everything tightened and my heart felt like it was going to stop.  I should say that I put myself between my wife and the huge sea creature, but I seem to have forgotten about anything other than the large creature in the distance.  The creature was actually a barracuda and I am fairly sure this particular barracuda was the largest in recorded human history.  These creatures are very intimidating and after the fight or flight response kicked in I know I tried to literally run away, which must have looked very interesting.  My initial response was, “get me out of this place right now, I am no longer in control.”  The reality of the environment I was in became crystal clear when confronted with fear.  I knew I was at the mercy of the sea and a great white shark sized barracuda.  Of course you know that my writing this proves nothing horrible happened and in hindsight the barracuda could not have cared less about us, he would much rather go eat Nemo.

In the earliest copies of the Gospel of Mark we have, Mark 16:8 is the last verse.  The verse reads like this: “Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb.  They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.” (NIV version)  Fear was a very powerful emotion the women and all the other followers of Jesus were experiencing in the days following the death of Jesus.  Fear was immobilizing the followers of Jesus and they did not know what to do or believe.  They found themselves in an environment where they had no control and they just wanted out.  Something had to pull them out of the clutches of fear.  Even though Mark ends abruptly, the fact that we are reading Mark today points to something happening that was powerful enough to overcome the fear the followers of Jesus were facing.  Simply put, their fears were conquered when they saw Jesus was alive!

So often we allow fear to immobilize us.  Fear of failure in our families, with our finances, and in our jobs can bring constant stress.  The fear of evil in the world and bad things happening to us can easily keep us from ever getting out of bed in the morning.  In many cases we have allowed ourselves to believe that overcoming fear requires the object of our fear to be removed.  Unfortunately, if we are honest with ourselves we know this can never really happen.  In all areas of life the possibility of things going wrong and possible very wrong exists.  There will always be reasons to be fearful and if we are waiting to act or live until all fear is removed we will never act or truly live.  In order to overcome fear we do not need the fear removed, but rather an assurance that we are not alone.

The early followers of Jesus remained fearful until they experienced the risen Christ.  The fear of being arrested or killed still existed after Jesus appeared to them, but now they knew He was with them.  Their ultimate strength did not come from one another, even though that was important.  Remember, they were hiding in fear together.  Their ultimate strength to act and get on with living came from knowing Jesus is alive.  In fact, many of those early followers of Christ would be killed or arrested; yet, they no longer allowed that possibility to deter them from living the way Christ called them to live. They knew the risen Christ was with them always, no matter the circumstance of life.

Fear keeps us from living life to the fullest and Jesus came so we could have life abundantly.  If I would have refused to use an uncomfortable and probably very unsanitary breathing apparatus, I would not have experienced the beauty and tranquility of a world I never truly knew existed until I saw it with my own eyes.  Step out into a new world today.  A world in which the same fears exist, but they are viewed from a position of victory rather than anxiety.  At times, fear will seize us, but know that you are not alone, press forward with the strength that only comes from the risen Christ.  Jesus is Alive!


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Blog: Missing the Point

I had an unexpected and powerful experience today in an unexpected place.  I think you may need a little background to better grasp this experience, so please bear with me.  For many pastors and church staff this week feels a whole lot like the opening sentence to the classic book “A Tale of Two Cities.” To be honest this is a book everyone was probably supposed to read and many will claim to have read every page.  I however, doubt I ever read the whole thing, but I can throw out the first line to make myself look smarter. “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” is a line that rings true this week.  I love Easter week and yet I am usually overwhelmed by everything this week is not really about.

This morning I decided to leave the house to go to a quiet and serene location in order to finish or start, depending on how you look at it, preparing for our Good Friday and Easter services.  The library is normally my first choice, but because of a horrible mistake I woke up too early and the library does not open until 10.  Apparently, in my mind the next most logical place for a quiet and serene preparation place is McDonalds (they do have free wi-fi).  As I stand in line to order a healthy and delicious McGriddle meal I begin to take in my surroundings and realize my decision-making paradigm for finding a quiet and serene preparation location needs to be altered dramatically. First, there were very few open places to sit and even fewer that look to have been cleaned due to the excessive number of people ordering the healthy and delicious breakfast value meals.  Secondly, I realize there is a constant conversation going on between the very busy workers as they are trying their best to keep up with the ever-growing number of people being drawn to sweet taste of the McGriddle like a swarm of moths to a bonfire.  Thankfully, by the time I order, a table has come open.  I sprint toward the table in order to claim my little island in the midst of the sea of chaos that is McDonalds.

After enjoying the wonderful McGriddle, I decided to begin/finish my preparation, but before I could even start, my mind started to go through a mental checklist of everything that needed to be done this week.  Between preparing for family coming in to town and trying to remember everything that needs to be done for our two services, my mind had plenty of places to wander.   Just about the time I am reeling my mind back to where it needs to be, a voice reminiscent of a blow horn bellows through the restaurant, “number 321 please… NUMBER 321 PLEASE!”  I said a quick prayer asking the owner of number 321 to please show up at the counter as fast as humanly possible.  Finally, I began to focus on my preparation.

I must confess to you that there are times preparing for services and sermons can become somewhat mechanical and routine.  This is not to say the Holy Spirit is not involved, but there are times when doing your job feels like doing a job.  A hectic week and sitting in the chaotic atmosphere of McDonalds is not the most conducive atmosphere for sermon preparation.  As I was reading, thinking and hashing out an order of service I watched a worship video I have seen many times.  The final words on the video were, “He is Alive!”  That’s it, nothing unusually profound or revolutionary.  All of the sudden, in the middle of McDonald’s mind you, my eyes start to tear up.  I am fairly sure in the midst of the order calling, cleaning, devouring of McGriddles and general chaos, that not many would notice a grown man balling by himself in the corner; however, I did my best to compose myself.  The emotion continued to build and all I could think about was that He is Alive.

On Palm Sunday, I preached about how so many people missed the point of who Jesus was and what he did as he entered Jerusalem.  I cautioned us all about how easy it is for us to miss the point as well.  There in the middle of McDonalds I realized I had been missing the point.  The point is that He is Alive!  The preparation of a service remembering Jesus’ death on Good Friday is pointless unless, He is Alive.  Preparing for Easter and celebrating the resurrection is pointless unless, He is as Alive and active today as he was on that first Easter morning.  In the midst of the chaos of our lives the fact that He is Alive brings purpose, joy, and peace.  Do I still need to finish many of the tasks that were swirling in my mind, yes, but those tasks are put into perspective when they fall under the realization that He is Alive.  

Don’t allow yourself to get overwhelmed by the unending list of tasks in your life or so involved in participating in the events of Easter that you forget He is Alive!  Who would have thought in the middle of a hectic week while sitting in the chaos of McDonalds I would find the perfect spot of peace and serenity.  All because, He is Alive!


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