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.

 

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.” ]

links: this went thru my mind

Church, gratitude & thankfulness: * Gratitude & Justice;  * Cultivating Gratitude in Our Communities

* “Gratitude is perhaps the most important way we practice recognizing the “enough” all around us. If “lack” is the root of injustice, then gratitude is at root of justice. How can we hoard what isn’t ours? … And if everything we have is a gift from God, how can we not share those gifts, even with our enemies (see Matthew 5:43-45, 48)? Gratitude can help us move from dissatisfaction, fear, and narcissism to satisfaction, trust, and a deeper appreciation of the interconnectedness of all things. It frees us up to live in the present and to accept each moment and every circumstance as a gift.”

* ” … we tend to focus more on what we don’t have, what we can’t do, and where we fall short. We often define and appraise our faith communities the same way.  What is absent can obscure what is present. This happens when we focus more on needs than assets … Rather than emphasizing what’s not there, the church should focus on what is. The work of the church is, in part, to help people discern their gifts, provide opportunities for people to publicly praise God for them, and support them as they exercise those gifts—’re-gifting’ them for God’s glory.”

Christian faith, civil religion, culture, nationalism, narcissism & Thanksgiving: Appreciation Day [essential reading]

“Appreciative folks value their stuff, but never acknowledge its true source.”

Dogs & learning: How Dogs Understand What We Say

“Tell all the emotional things to the dog in his left ear … For commands that you want a dog to get clearly and precisely, tell them in right ear.”

History, humility, memory, Native Americans & remembrance: Never Forget

“A people with our history should practice humility and exercise sensitivity far beyond what comes natural for most of us.”

links: this went thru my mind

I consider all five of today’s links here to be “required reading” or “required watching.” Lots of good stuff!

Assumptions, nonviolence & violence: Does Nonviolence Work?

“We are blinded by the pervasive, long-standing assumption that violence is both ‘normal’ and ‘necessary’ to promote good and minimize evil. … Kingdom people are called to walk in obedience to the example and teaching of Jesus even when it seems to make no sense to do so. We’re called to be faithful to Jesus, not effective at protecting our lives or ridding the world of evil.

“To the world’s ‘normal’ way of thinking, Jesus’ radical posture is indeed ludicrous, impractical, unpatriotic, irresponsible, and even immoral. And it may, in the short run, look like our refusal to participate in the merry-go-round of violence allows evil to win.

“We need to remember that this is exactly how matters looked on Good Friday, when the omnipotent God suffered at the hands of evil rather than use coercive force to extinguish it. But under the reign of the sovereign God, Good Friday never has the last word.”

Christianity, discipleship, faith, holiness & the status quo: The Gospel of Mark – Antonia Fortress – Am I Leading a Rebellion? [4 min. video]

“He’s leading a rebellion, it’s called the Kingdom of God and you can’t vote that in, but everyone can be a part of it.”

Death, euthanasia, judging, physician-assisted suicide & suicide: Brittany Maynard Didn’t Commit Suicide (What We Can Learn From 9-11′s “Falling Man”)

“It seems disingenuous to force someone to choose between two ways of dying and then turn on them in judgment for picking the least painful of the two options.”

Giving thanks and gratitude: The World is Made Holy Through Thanks

“… when life is treated as a possession that can be taken from us, damaged or lost our lives become infused with fear causing us to cling, protect, hoard, defend and aggress. The antidote to this fear is gratitude, viewing life–the whole of life–not as a possession to be defended but as a gift to be shared.”

Parenting & teens: Top Ten Mistakes Christian Parents Make

“Expecting your teen to have a devotion to God that you are not cultivating within yourself. … Not expressing genuine love and like to your teen. … Outsourcing your teen’s spiritual formation. … Not prioritizing youth group/church involvement. … Holding low expectations for your teen. … Trying to be your teen’s best friend. … Permissive parenting. … Spoiling your teen. … Letting your teen’s activities take top priority for your family. … Not spending time with your teen.”

links: this went thru my mind

Choices, depression, happiness, mental health & thankfulness: What Are the Three Ways to Train Your Brain to Be Happy? [think Philippians 4.8]

“You can train your mind to be unhappy and you can train it to be happy. … Every night for the next week, set aside ten minutes before you go to sleep. Write down three things that went well today and why they went well. You may use a journal or your computer to write about the events, but it is important that you have a physical record of what you wrote. The three things need not be earthshaking in importance (“My husband picked up my favorite ice cream for dessert on the way home from work today”), but they can be important (“My sister just gave birth to a healthy baby boy”). Next to each positive event, answer the question “Why did this happen?””

Culture, grace & post-Christendom: Vanishing Grace

“Frankly, Christian faith is losing traction in society. It has lost traction in Europe and Canada where far fewer than half find religion a positive influence. And it will likely continue to lose traction in the US.”

Early Christianity, ingratitude, nonviolence, pacifism, perception & the state: Pacifism & Holy Ingratitude [essential reading; spot-on!]

“… the Romans considered the early Christians to be an ungrateful group of people. … Specifically, the Romans believed that Roman citizens owed a certain amount of gratitude toward the state. Romans lived in a great, prosperous and generally peaceful empire. Thus, Roman citizens owed the state gratitude. But the Christians seemed to differ. Confessing Jesus as ‘Lord of all’ and directing their gratitude toward God rather than toward the state the Christians busted up the cycles of gratitude that had kept Roman citizens bound to the state. One way that Christians expressed this holy ingratitude was in their refusal to kill for the state. This refusal struck the Romans as hugely ungrateful. Christians benefited as Roman citizens. Yet they refuse to participate in the fighting that created and maintained all those benefits. Non-violent Christians in their refusal to participate in the Roman military were non-patriotic slackers and free-riders.”

God & sovereignty: Does the “Sovereignty of God” Mean That God is Responsible for Everything That Happens?

“… some of what we encounter in life may be simple chance.”

Intimidation, involvement, lukewarmness & spiritual maturity: The Institutionalization of Lukewarmness

“What causes mediocrity in the church members? You take a stab with your best guess. Mine is cowardice. We want peace which interpreted can mean, ‘Leave me alone to serve where I want. Do not press me else I will bolt.’ Intimidation often rules.  This is why so many don’t sing. They don’t want to be heard. Others don’t serve. They don’t want to be seen. Yet, others sneak in and sneak out.  They don’t want to be in contact. Living in the kingdom is a scary, threatening, and risky walk. Institutionalization, however, has declared immunity to the timid. Following Jesus demands we take up our crosses; not sneaking about in dark alleys at night going undetected, but bravely moving about in the public square destined for ridicule and persecution.”

links: this went thru my mind

 

Appreciation, encouragement, gratitude & thankfulness: 25 People You Should Say Thank You To Today [required reading]

“Sometimes we get so caught up in our own little world that we forget to thank the people who have helped us the most.”

Church announcements, communication corporate worship, worship gatherings: Why Your Church Needs More (Often) Announcements in Worship

“Historically, the church began worship services by announcing all member-related deaths. Nothing screams ‘Let’s worship!’ like announcing Aunt Geraldine’s funeral.”

Communication, disagreement, discussion, listening, unity & words: The Art of Having Conciliatory Theological Discussions – Suggestions

“It has taken me a while to figure a few things out when it comes to discussing a disagreement with someone. Here are a few observations I have made over the last few years that set a positive tone for a healthy conversation.”

Fathers, parenting & words: When Daddy is Silent

“A daddy’s silence can be deadly. Far too many men are silent at all the wrong times.  A father’s silence can communicate volumes. The absence of his voice can leave a boy or girl feeling emotionally alone.”

Humility, knowledge, leadership, ministry, missions, others, perception & understanding: What People in Other Countries Need (And What We Think They Need) [required reading]

“… keep in mind … the principle of relative deprivation. It’s the idea of wanting something because others have it.”

Ministry & prayer: What is the Most Common Ministry Priority that a Pastor Neglects?

“… week after week, I saw the things I was supposed to be doing getting squeezed out of my schedule because there were urgent demands on my time. Above all else, the one task that seemed to get squeezed out most was prayer. … Unfortunately, prayer doesn’t demand your attention. In the midst of people wanting your time and urgent tasks to complete, spending time in prayer is easy to neglect.”