Monday, July 28, 2014

A Tribute to My Wife

Joyce with guide,
Connie, before disappearing
 into the Montana
Rockies for 8 days
I miss my wife. I missed her terribly. Her 5:30am flight out of Augusta was canceled.  We both teared up thinking her dream trip was doomed.  We will never book a flight out of Augusta again! 
Fortunately and after prayer, she was rebooked and confirmed out of Atlanta for her trip.  I took her to the Atlanta airport to go on her Montana Rocky Mountain wilderness adventure on Friday, July 25. She arrived in Missoula, Montana that night.  One of the guides picked her up Saturday morning from the Marriott, and they drove to the trail head that begins the Bob Marshall Wilderness. They saddled their horses and along with three pack mules and five staff personnel, her group set off for the adventure she has longed for.
She'll return August 5th. That's 11 long days. I say long days without her. It's the longest we've ever been apart in our thirty years of marriage. I thought I'd be OK. I encouraged her to go. "Fulfill your dream.  Seize the moment while you've still got your health. I'll be all right."
She deserved a break. She works hard. She's a Proverbs 31 wife. I don't deserve her. Out of God's overflowing grace and mercy, He brought us together.  For some reason unfathomable to me, she said, "Yes," when I popped the question. I was a broke, broken preacher. My life had collapsed. I was selling cars and serving a small rural church near Augusta, Georgia, when we met. She was a nurse.  Good job.  Good benefits. She owned a home and a car. I owned nothing. She said, "Yes."  Even after thirty years, I still can't believe it.
I have to confess. After all, they say confession is good for the soul. I have to confess I take her for granted sometimes. I just assume she'll always be there for me.  I don't show my gratitude and love like I should. You see, not only does she work as a nurse, but she runs the household too. I try and pitch in, but she does the lion's share or should I say the lioness' share of work around here which allows me to write, study, minister to my church, and teach part time at a small Christian school.
Bob Marshall Wilderness
Chinese Wall. Joyce will be
camping on the summit
Joyce wanted to get away. And what a place to get away to. She wanted to feel the creation and majesty of God speaking through the mountains, gurgling in the clear mountain streams, and whispering through the forest trees. She wanted to count the stars. Hear the silence before drifting off to sleep snug in her sleeping bag. She wanted to eat cakes on the griddle beside the morning campfire. And, she's finally doing it. Or should I say "being it."  For such an experience is not doing but being, renewing, and worshipping.  I imagine it's as close to heaven as a person can get.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

A Message from the Birds

Sitting here this morning in my screened in man cave, I watch the cardinals, tufted titmouse, hummingbirds, and house finches busy themselves at the bird feeders. The mocking bird who built her nest in a bush next to the garage sits on top of the feeder singing away. Sweet songs rise in chorus from all of them as God summons the first light of morning. It's an ethereal experience.

The happy birds are fed from a harvest they did not sow. They build their nests from materials they did not purchase. The momma birds lay their eggs, and together they raise their chicks from the bushes around our house that they did not plant. The Heavenly Father provides for them.

It's a beautiful picture of God's providential care for me through the years.

This morning's scene caused my mind to drift back to a moment 38 years ago. I was 35, and in seminary just a semester from graduating. I had a wife and was responsible for them. I worked the graveyard shift as a psychiatric technician at a hospital in downtown New Orleans. I caught the bus each night and morning to make it to my 8 o'clock class where I fought to stay awake. I could barely pay the bills and wondered how I could enroll in my last semester.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Religious Freedom and Politics

Religion and politics mix well in American freedom. They don’t mix in an autocratic government.

During the American Revolution, the Congregational and Presbyterian pastors made patriots out of their members to the point of taking up arms against the Loyalists, the British army, and the oppressive rule of British King, George III. The Separatist and Regular Baptists also took up the call toward the end of the War. Their persuasive message proclaimed that God was on their side and that their cause was just.

It helped fuel the preacher’s patriotic fire when many of them were arrested and jailed for preaching without a license from the government church, the Church of England. Rev. Lewis Craig and his brother, Elijah, unlicensed Baptist preachers were jailed in Virginia for preaching without a license. Rev. Daniel Marshall was arrested in Augusta. Only Church of England pastors were permitted to preach. All others had to have a license. The rebel preachers believed that they had their authority to speak from God, and that was all the authority they needed. 

Rev. Elijah Craig whose famous Kentucky bourbon is still made and sold today, would later collaborate with James Madison on constitutional guarantees for religious freedom before moving his family to Kentucky.

Two Charleston activists preachers, Presbyterian William Tennant III, and Baptist Oliver Hart, were sent to the South Carolina back country by the provincial congress in 1775 to convince wavering citizens and pastors to join the Revolution. Hart and Tennant were the most influential pastors in the Low Country and were absolutely opposed to autocratic rule.

Their efforts to persuade many in the Back Country to convert to the Patriot cause met with strong resistance by prominent pastors like Baptist Philip Mulkey who was an avowed Loyalist. However, the Charleston pastors were able to persuade many to sign a pledge of fidelity to the patriot cause in spite of heckling and opposition from the Loyalists.

The Congregational Church in Midway, Georgia, and the parish that contained the church was a hotbed for Revolution giving us Dr. Lyman Hall, and Button Gwinnett, signers of the Declaration of Independence from Georgia. Nathan Brownson was a member of the church and served in the Continental Congress from 1776 to 1778. Midway Church was burned to the ground by the British in the Revolutionary War in retaliation because the church mixed religion with politics.  

Patriot preachers like Baptist Tidance Lane, and his seven sons, and many others whose religion motivated them to fight, soundly defeated the Loyalists at the Battle of King’s Mountain, North Carolina, on October 7, 1780. Thomas Jefferson called this victory "The turn of the tide of success."

America has a long legacy of religion mixing with politics that began with the Revolution. Our freedom of religion legacy extends to today as Hobby Lobby made a case and won that the government cannot violate what a closed corporation or family owned business believes is morally right based on their religious beliefs.  

Baptist preacher, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., captured the spirit of mixing religion with politics causing him to be arrested and jailed in Birmingham, Alabama like the activists preachers of the American Revolution. He wrote, “One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws… I would agree with St. Augustine that "an unjust law is no law at all." …To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law.” The African-American church led by Dr. King mixed religion and politics in the Civil Rights movement until the government changed its unjust laws.

Religion gives moral direction to government by asking the question, “What does the Lord require of you?”

And then, religion answers that question loudly and clearly. “The Lord requires of you to act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8).

Religion must mix with politics to have any chance that government is and will be fair, just, and merciful to its citizens. Our religious freedom guarantees it. Our heritage and history proves it.

Click the link for Lee Greenwood's, "God Bless the USA."  Or click the arrow to play.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Sorrow and Joy

Who hasn't experienced sorrow?  It is the knife that pierces our soul with the blood of tears flowing like waterfalls from out wounded emotions.

I have seen the strongest men weep. I have wept with them in their despair. I have cried in funeral sermons I've preached. And, I have wept from the painful losses I've experienced. Who hasn't experienced sorrow?

Sorrows like sea billows roll over us. Sadness and grief overwhelm us. We become as helpless as a baby. Everything secure is shattered into a thousand pieces.

There was a time in my life when I lost everything. I lost my job, my career as a full time pastor, and my family. I cried and couldn't turn off the tears. My mind said, "Stop!"  It my emotional pain from he injury and loss I suffered wouldn't listen to my rational voice. I couldn't sleep even though my body was tired. When I was able to sleep, I slept in fits and starts awaking and hoping that it was time to get up. Sometimes, I'd just get up anyway and pace the floor.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Loneliness or Solitude

One of my favorite songs is "One Is the Loneliest Number" by Three Dog Night. It was released in 1969 and climbed to number 4 on the charts.
Lonely and alone is not a pleasant place.  God created us to be relational.  "It is not good for man to live alone" (Genesis 2:18).
It's no fun eating alone at a restaurant.  A night at the movie is better shared with a friend or a spouse. Sitting in a church pew all alone leaves an empty, incomplete feeling. One is the loneliest number.
Throw in our built-in God given need for companionship with the unhealthy addiction of co-dependency and a feeling of desperation can drive the lonesome heart into depression. The co-dependent will be and do anything to have a companion. Irrational thoughts take control because of the false sense that I am nobody until somebody loves me.
Loneliness plays with the mind.  Thoughts like, "There must be something wrong with me.  Why can't I keep a relationship?  A friendship?  It has to be me!" Thoughts like these play like a bad tune over and over in our mind.  
Feelings of worthlessness crowd out the truth.  The truth is that I can be complete within myself.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Conflict or Peace

We are relational beings because God is relational and created us in His image. Without the peace only Christ gives us, relationships are broken. The relationship of my emotions, mind, and spirit is broken instead of in unity. Relationships with others are corrupted, and the relationship with God is distant or non-existent. Where there is no peace, conflict rages within us and without us.

Only Christ gives calming peace, and He gives peace through His love relationship with us.

Our Trinitarian God is relational. Father, Son, and Spirit. Three persons. One God in perfect unity and harmony.

In turn, God created us to be relational with Him and with others. In a relationship, we are connected to one another through common interests, goals, and desires. We are connected to one another emotionally, mentally, and in a spiritual way too. And, I am connected within myself emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. 

Friday, June 6, 2014

Deaf and Blind or Hear and See?

What we can see, feel, hear, taste, and smell binds us to this world. Imagination allows our mind to form mental images or concepts of what is not actually present to the senses. But, the product of  our mental creation is  often a baseless or fanciful one. Revelation is to make known that which is unknown by our five senses. 
The unknown is revealed only by the person who knows. In the unknown world of the spirit, God, who knows all, has chosen to make Himself known to us who do not know. The fullest, most complete revelation of God came through the Son. If we want to know the character of God and who He is, look at Jesus. Jesus said, " If you really know me, you will know my Father as well (John 14:7). 
Know means an intimate relationship like between a husband and wife in conjugal relationship. In that relationship, two become one. And so it is between a believer and the Spirit of Christ. Two become one with the Spirit of Christ inside a believer. The Apostle Paul notes, "I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me (Galatians 2:20). And in Colossians 1:27, "God has chosen to make known the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory."  
So, how do we know what God has made known through Christ. We know by faith. We believe. And where does faith come from?  What makes faith possible?  The Scripture says, "Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God" (Romans 10:17). 
Revelation on God's part and faith on our part is the transaction that transports us into the world of the unseen. God reveals. I believe. Then, I am able to see into the unseen world. I cross the threshold for what I can perceive with my five senses into what I can see, feel, and hear through the Spirit. This is not a figment of my imagination, but rather, it is truth. In fact, the unseen world of the Spirit is actually the real world. That's where my focus needs to be. "We fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal" (2 Corinthians 4:18).