517,200

As of today, I turn 59 years of age. I can hardly believe it.

That’s 21,550 days I have been gifted by God. The number staggers me. That’s 517,200 hours of opportunity for me to honor the one who has gifted and graced, fortified and forgiven, enlightened and invigorated, me.

(tilt)

I must pray. Join me?

My Father in heaven, who am I that you should bless me so? But bless me you have, so incredibly far beyond my feeble awareness. Words fail me. Let my life be full thanksgiving to you and growth in you. Here and now I turn to afresh to you and, even ask all the more of you in the name of your Son Jesus: grant that whatever time is allotted to me be only used in ways that most fittingly honor you. Lead me to that end, your staff and your rod steering and correcting, prodding and protecting, me. All to the praise of your name and to the blessing of all others. Amen.

 

the first 40 texts in The C45 Project

Throughout this year my Sunday morning sermons have had their roots in a church-wide effort toward the memorization of forty-five passages from across the whole of Scripture (The C45 Project).

For your ease of continued practice and review, following are all thirty-nine of the C45 texts we’ve sought to memorize thus far, plus this coming week’s text (Joshua 24.15):

▪ Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him … (Ephesians 1.3-4a NIV)

▪ Honor everyone. Love the family of believers. Have respectful fear of God. Honor the emperor. (1 Peter 2.17 CEB)

▪ … make your top priority God’s kingdom and his way of life … (Matthew 6.33a KNT)

▪ He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6.8 NASB)

▪ … imitate me, just as I imitate Christ. (1 Corinthians 11.1 NLT)

▪ … the LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for the thousandth generation, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin … (Exodus 34.6-7a NRSV)

▪ … yet by no means clearing the guilty. (Exodus 34.7a NRSV)

▪ … your Father knows what you need before you ask him. (Matthew 6.8b NIV)

▪ … offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God. This is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to this world’s pattern, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. (Romans 12.1-2a)

▪ I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14.6 CEB)

▪ My grace is enough for you; my power comes to perfection in weakness. (2 Corinthians 12.9 KNT)

▪ Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong. Do everything in love. (1 Corinthians 16.13-14 NIV)

▪ In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. … The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. (John 1.1,14a NIV)

▪ For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3.16 TNIV)

▪ Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe. (John 20.29b NRSV)

▪ … even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.” But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. (1 Peter 3.14-15a TNIV)

▪ Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience … (1 Peter 3.15b-16a TNIV)

▪ Return the joy of your salvation to me and sustain me with a willing spirit. (Psalm 51.12 CEB)

▪ The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth. He fulfills the desires of those who fear him; he hears their cry and saves them. (Psalm 145.18-19 NIV)

▪ Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. (Psalm 119.105 NRSV)

▪ God is our refuge and strength, a help always near in times of great trouble. That’s why we won’t be afraid when the world falls apart … (Psalm 46.1-2a CEB)

▪ … God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah. … Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. (Acts 2.36b,38a NIV)

▪ Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. (Ephesians 5.21 NIV)

▪ … I may have all the faith needed to move mountains — but if I have no love, I am nothing. (1 Corinthians 13.2b GNT)

▪ … the only thing that counts is faith working through love. (Galatians 5.6b NRSV)

▪ “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” (Mark 1.17 NIV)

▪ I will do whatever you ask for in my name, so that the Father can be glorified in the Son. When you ask me for anything in my name, I will do it. (John 14.13-14 CEB)

▪ I will show you what someone is like who comes to me, hears my words, and acts on them. (Luke 6.47 NRSV)

▪ Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart … (Matthew 11.28-29a NIV)

▪ The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace. (Numbers 6.24-26 NRSV)

▪ Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength. (Deuteronomy 6.4-5 NRSV)

▪ You must not take revenge nor hold a grudge against any of your people; instead, you must love your neighbor as yourself; I am the Lord. (Leviticus 19.18 CEB)

▪ So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. (Genesis 1.27 NRSV)

▪ Then the one seated on the throne said, “Look! I’m making all things new.” He also said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true. (Revelation 21.5 CEB)

▪ My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect … (James 1.2-4a NRSV)

▪ Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters. (Hebrews 13.1 NIV)

▪ … if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from everything we’ve done wrong. (1 John 1.9 CEB)

▪ … let us draw near to God with a true heart in the full assurance of faith … hold fast to the unwavering confession of hope … consider how to provoke one another to love and good works … (Hebrews 10.22,23,24 TCV)

▪ I have sent you to harvest what you didn’t work hard for; others worked hard, and you will share in their hard work. (John 4.38 CEB)

▪ … choose this day whom you will serve … but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord. (Joshua 24.15 NRSV)

 

pastor (8)

‘pastor: n. a Christian minister; a shepherd

[ This post is #8 in a 22-part series. So as to best comprehend this series, read the introduction to the opening installment (posted Mon., Oct. 2). ]

Mario & Marilyn Pineda. Mario and I were students together back in preaching school days. Mario was preaching a bit with a local congregation and would soon wind up preaching “full time” there.* I was the true newb at the time; I was yet to even preach my first sermon when Mario and I first met.

Neither was I wearing a ring on my left hand yet, but I would be in the near future. While on the other hand, Mario was already a married man. He and his sweet bride, Marilyn, were quite a pair; a marvelous young Christian couple. They both strove to be Christ-like, each in their own ways, and together. Their care and consideration for each other was deep, easy, natural, and flourishing. Their great love for each other lit up the room whenever they walked in together.

And believe me: I, and others, took frequent and joyful note of that.

I don’t know if Mario or Marilyn ever knew it at the time, but they were often the topic of conversation among instructors and fellow students.

“Isn’t it great the way Marilyn did ____ for him?” “Did you see the way Mario took care of ____ for her?” “Just look at the way those two look at each other, will ya’?” “They just seem to want to give each other the best they have all the time!” Etc.

Such were common comments by all whenever Mario and Marilyn would depart a larger group’s company. They made us all determined to be better people and for those who, like myself, were unmarried at the time, well, they gave us a sterling example.

Mario and Marilyn, you two silently taught, pastored, shepherded, and instructed no small number of people in some of the ways of true thoughtfulness and tenderness, consideration and service, for our mates. It was easy to see Christ at the center of your marriage and the Spirit’s fruit in your lives then, and I know such must be all the more the case today.

Though I’m sure I’m exceedingly far from anything like a great husband, there is no doubt in my mind that I am a better partner for my mate due to the model Mario and Marilyn set before me over and over. I’m very thankful for that.

Father God, in the name of Jesus, I thank you for good men who love their wives, and by so doing, show that way clearly to others. Thank you for the shepherding your servants, Mario and Marilyn, silently gave me in this regard. Lavish your riches on them forever, I pray. Amen.

[ * To this day, Mario & Marilyn still minister with the Prairie Hill Church of Christ, located just south of Duncan, OK. ]

pastor (7)

pastor: n. a Christian minister; a shepherd

[ This post is #7 in a 22-part series. To understand this series best, first read the intro to the opening installment (posted Mon., Oct. 2). ]

Clayton Waller. In mentioning Clayton here, I’m perhaps going a bit afield from my original parameters for this series in that he was technically not, as we say, a “located preacher” when I got to know him. But, he had recently returned to the U.S. from years of missionary labors in what was then northeastern Rhodesia (now known as Zimbabwe) – and, sadly, had been deeply hurt in the experience. And of all places, he and his sweet wife, Ina, had put down roots in my home church in Duncan, OK. When the Westside School of Bible & Preaching came to be, Clayton was tapped to become one of its instructors. It was in his class on Romans that I, now a student in that school, first met him.

And what a meeting it was! Highly skilled in the Bible’s original languages (especially Hebrew) and with a keen sense of “the big picture” of Scripture and how it all tied together, Clayton obviously viewed Christian faith through a very different set of lenses than any other preacher I had met before. While most seemed to typically saturate their messages with verses strung together from all over the New Testament (“going everywhere preaching the gospel” – LOL) and spoke a great deal of what we’re to be about doing today, Clayton invariably focused on a single passage, drilled deep, and focused primarily on how what God did and is doing affects us, and so, only then, what we do.

He didn’t “skin the denominations” when he spoke of churches or preachers outside of our specific heritage, either. In fact, he was content to quote whoever and give credit for whatever true good was done in the name of Christ by anyone. “Truth is truth no matter who says it and good is good no matter who does it.” Further, whenever he spoke he frequently used two words it seemed I only rarely heard from the lips of others (with the exceptions of Robert Gregg and Stanley Sayers): “grace” and “mercy.” And the Holy Spirit – oh, to Clayton, the Spirit was alive and well and working today, directly, and not only indirectly.

But, perhaps most startling of all to me was what I will call his “openness.” While some others clearly started with the expectation that we can know and explain even matters of very fine detail in seemingly all things faith-related and that such is our God-given responsibility and task – that is, that we can, and must, answer nearly all the faith-questions that can be conceived of and asked – Clayton quite deliberately swam against that stream. While others dwelt on ascertaining certainty, Clayton was clearly content to often live with mystery. He seemed to have a whole pallet of colors with which to paint, while most others appeared to have only black and white at hand. Consequently, he was a constant contrast to much of what I heard throughout the rest of the week, be it in school, sermons, Bible classes, or reading that had been assigned or suggested to me.

This was, to me, to say the least, curious and amazing, new and shocking. And, terrible to say, were ways that some others even actively urged me to reject and strongly resist.

How I wish I could tell you otherwise, but it is simply the truth: it would be several years before I began to embrace my Clayton’s perspective. At the time I knew him, I listened to him, but I rejected his perspective. (sigh) But, in time, that would change. And it was Clayton Waller who first challenged me to do so.

Father God, thank you for my brother, Clayton Waller. Thank you for sparing and carrying him and Ina through their ordeal in Rhodesia. Thank you for his ceaseless attempts to fit my eyes, and the eyes of many, with a new set of glasses. Thank you for your grace and mercy, for being patient with me, and for giving me time and temper to come to accept them. Thank you for Clayton’s shepherding of my mind with his staff and rod. Thank you for using Clayton to crack open my then rapidly closing mind and giving me an expanded – and still expanding – vision of you and your work. Thank you for teaching me, through him, that how I go about thinking is just as important as what I think. May it be Christ who is glorified in it all, and through whom you hear my prayer. Amen.

pastor (6)

pastor: n. a Christian minister; a shepherd
(This post is #6 in a 22-part series. To fully appreciate this series, first read the first installment’s introduction (posted Mon., Oct. 2).
 
Steve Bracken. At the start, I thought what Steve exemplified and shepherded me in most was sincere love and joy in the Lord. To me, his unquestionably genuine (key words!), quick, irrepressible smile was ample evidence enough of the presence and fruit of God’s Spirit at work within him.
 
However, that quickly evolved into a perception of Steve as an embodiment of the essence and true end of the gospel itself – peace – for if Steve was anything at all, it was peace and striving to be a peacemaker. Knowing Steve was like watching Romans 12.18 walking and talking; if tattoos had been “cool” back then, then that text is what should have been tattooed around his neck. Love, joy, and peace – ever wrapped in robes of gentleness and kindness – that’s what Steve was all about in big and obvious ways.
 
And yet, those things aren’t what Steve modeled for me, and pastored me in, best. To understand, you’d have to understand the time and place in which I came to know him. Suffice it to say that it was in many ways an appalling and galling time in our church family. Tumultuous times had bubbled to the surface, the atmosphere was ever-tense, and passive-aggressive ways were frequently in full-display, so much so that even I, a still infant Christian, could detect such with ease. Whispering, gossip, outrageous speculations, insinuations, and slights filled the air.
 
I will tell you what I have never told anyone until now: though those were some of the most joyful and vigorous times of growth for me in the Lord, they were also some of the most disheartening and depressing times for me ever in the life of a church family.
 
But, without ever directly mentioning the subject or the word (at least that I can recall), it was Steve Bracken who ministered one extremely strong and vital word to me through it all and in every moment.
 
Courage.
 
Courage under fire. Courage while caught in a crossfire. Courage when reputed pillars of faith caved around him and mimicked cowardly critics. Courage when seemingly everything around shouted discouragement. Courage to be a blessing and give words of blessing even as the air was filled with curses. Daily. Courage to take it, take it all, and take it with a smile.” Courage to keep going and to do so sowing seeds of peace while a multitude shouted for war. Courage to forgive … again and again and again.
 
Wow. Talk about guts for God! Talk about what it means to be a man, a true man of God!*
 
Just … wow.
 
I have one deep regret regarding, Steve: I never told me any of what I have told you here.
 
Oh, Father God, forgive me of this sin. Thank you so much for my bold and beautiful brother, Steve Bracken! Increase his tribe and count me among it. In the name of our Prince of Peace, I pray. Amen.
 
[ Two notes: * My bride and I elected Steve to officiate our wedding ceremony and I could not have been more pleased to have had such a smiling, courageous hero and champion of peace to do so. It made the moment all the more beautiful to me. * Steve died on Valentine’s Day 2015. His remains are buried in Seagoville, TX. And though I’ve never visited his grave, I’m told that engraved on his gravestone are the most of fitting words: “Keep smiling.” ]

pastor (5)

pastor: n. a Christian minister; a shepherd
(#5 in a 22-part series)

First, to grasp what’s going on in this series, read the introduction to the first post in this series (Mon., Oct. 2).

This installment is a bit different from those preceding in that today I’m especially thankful for those whom I have immediately followed, in terms of time. That is, wherever I have been, I know I’m profoundly indebted to those who preceded me. Some of them I knew/know personally, and some, even very well (e.g. – David Bryan, Duard Givens, Kirk Givens, Jim Hance, Leon Sharp, and Jerry Sullins).

And, of course, if we extend things back in time, most I did not know personally, if even at all.

They all did some very good, often challenging, work and I realize I have been privileged by our Father to have entered into their shepherding of souls, pastoring of people, and labors of brotherly love.

But, more on some of these in particular, God willing, in coming installments this month. And, in a broader sense, in my sermon this coming Sunday morning with MoSt Church. 😉

Father God, great is everything you do and great is your grace to work your good through us your weak, earthly vessels. Thank you for these men, and their mates, that I sense you have led me, by your providence, to follow. In the name of your Son, I ask that as you used them as you pleased in their place and time, use me and mine here and now to accomplish your will among your people and beyond. To your glory. Amen.