Friday, December 31, 2010


As I sit here on the verge of another year, I cannot help but think of all those we've left behind. At least a couple of times this season, I've had opportunity to remember the notables from American life and culture who passed away in 2010. The thing that really struck was how familiar their faces were to me. They were not players from some another era. They were people I grew up with, people whose names and faces I've known all my life.
And now they are gone.
I've lost a lifetime this past year.
It's times like this that really hit home; times that make a person stop cheering with the clock moves past midnight, and begin to wonder who we will lose in the coming year.
Although none of us wants to admit it - we're too busy celebrating - the thing New Year's really demonstrates is our own mortality. One more new year. One less new year we will live to see.
Yet at the same time, it's also one more year nearer heaven, one more year nearer Christ, one more year nearer His kingdom.
The souls who've gone before us, who surround the rainbow throne of God's immaculate glory, do not have calenders as do we, but they do have events. And the next big one for them, the thing they have to anticipate is the rapture and all that follows. The passing years here mean something altogether different to them than to us. They know life doesn't have to end the way it does here.
Some day there will be no more looking back. It can't come quick enough.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Am I Glad That's Over!

What a year. I am exhausted just thinking about it. 2010 began with our church in some of the lowest lows we've ever known. We finished the year in the best condition yet. Who'da thunk it?
Apparently, God did.
It's not just that the Lord provided for our heavily damaged building and literally saved our church from complete physical destruction. He provided people. We did something beyond all human thought, possibility or comprehension.
We grew. We grew under the worst circumstances. We grew more than we've ever grown in a year before this year.
What caused all this? Quite frankly, I think it is because in the midst of all our troubles we revisited how we were praying, and we learned to pray much more and much better than we have before. The right prayer was not an issue of technique, but of asking the right thing in the right way, and being certain that we were living right all along. And we learned to ask what God wanted us to ask. We prayed with new boldness, new confidence, and we stopped looking at all the rabble around us. That's not much of a secret, but God heard our effectual, fervent prayer and He answered over and over and over again.
It was the worst of years, it was the best of years, and God brought us through. Unforgettable.

On Review ...

When I crossed the barrier from middle age to the Big 6-0 and Semi Senior Status, I couldn't help but begin wondering if maybe, just maybe I was beginning to approach retirement age. For a few fleeting moments my wife and I began to consider what retirement would look like. But a funny thing happened on the way to the rest home. We ran across the personification of the energizer bunny: a missionary who is ready for anything but quitting. Never mind that he's up into his eighties.
When this dear brother began to preach at our church, he detailed how the mission board had "retired" him sixteen years ago. That's sixteen years of continual travel, Bible teaching, preaching and assorted other items of ministry past his "retirement" (a dirty word).
Suddenly, I feel like a teenager.
The ministry is that odd occupation where one never really becomes good at it until his hair is white enough, or so it seems. Yes, I know Spurgeon was about eighteen when he began preaching at New Park Street Chapel, and yes, he was a roaring success from the beginning. But even Spurgeon confessed to still learning how to preach well up into the years of his ministry. And he died before age sixty. Maybe Spurgeon was just ahead of his time.
All I know is that notions of retirement have died. Not that I know how long I'm going to pastor our present church. I really don't know how it's going to work out, or how long the work will take. I would like to bring the church to clear stability and let someone else take it forward.
But then, what would I do? All I can say is that I'm definitely going to do something. Preachers have to preach, and this preacher is not about to quit just when I'm beginning to get the hang of it.
After all, I'm only sixty, and "retirement" is a dirty word.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

A Death in the Family

When our dog died last week, I experienced all the feelings of losing a member of the family - because in a very real sense, that is exactly what it was. I still can hardly believe the dog is gone. I find myself yet hearing the tinkle of her collar and looking for her automatically when I come down stairs in the morning. I buried Champ in her collar, wrapped in the pad where she lay when she died. She was the best. I will never own another dog the rest of my life.
Saying goodbye to the family dog after twelve years could not help but generate thoughts about her and bring back questions I've heard from other people who've lost pets. Now, the questions are personal and very close to home. Will we ever see our dog again? Do all dogs go to heaven? I used to answer those questions in the negative and usually I was quite certain. I have a reason now to be a bit more careful and reflective. Maybe I was wrong.
The Bible is very silent about the destiny of animal life in eternity, which, if you think about it, is rather fascinating in itself. I'm sure people in the Bible had pets and that people in the ancient world domesticated animals. I'm sure they had all the same questions when their pets died. So what's the answer?
Frankly, I don't know and I won't know until I get to heaven. The only near answer I have is the one supplied from Romans 8:21: "... the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God." If creation itself is redeemed by the death of Christ, perhaps animals go to heaven when they die. There certainly will be room enough. Any place in eternity that can hold more people than we could number can also hold more animals than we could number.
But I don't know. I can't know. I would like to see Champ again. Being reunited, being able to see her bound up to me again with that perpetual smile would be one of the sincerest delights in the sheer joy I will have of being reunited with all my loved ones. I miss them all, and I look forward to seeing them all again.
Why not the dog too?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Importance of Sticking With It

A funny thing happened to our church people this past Sunday. They showed up. All of them. At the same time. There was no special event Well, we did have a carry-in dinner, and food does have a way of bringing out even the most obstinate, backslidden Baptist. But aside from food, there were no other enticements. Things like that don't happen to often in the average church of any denomination.
When I looked out upon the congregation the two thoughts immediately occurred to me: first, that we actually have a decent number of people who attend our church. I can't recall the last time I had an opportunity to see all of them at once, so I was impressed with this revelation. Second, I was reminded of the importance of not quitting.
All churches go through slow periods and droughts. Things happen that slow down church life. People become ill, people die, people move, people fall into sin and away from the Lord. All these problems converge to discourage members and pastors alike. I can testify to the fact. Last December 12th, our church roof collapsed and much of our enthusiasm with it. We were stuck in the adult classroom for our church services while the insurance claims adjuster and various contractors sparred, estimated and debated. There was a time when we just didn't know if the building - indeed the whole ministry - could be saved.
But as the saying goes, what a difference a year makes. More to the point, what a difference the Lord makes. We had the largest regular service attendance yet this past Sunday with only one new visitor; someone who, oddly enough, came in part because he has been tracking us through this blog. If he is reading this post, this is my opportunity to tell him how much I appreciate him both as a person and for his returning to church. Christmas came early for me when he walked in.
All of this goes to prove a couple of points. For one, you never can tell what God will use to bring someone to church or to Himself. You just never know. And for another, the Scripture is proven again that in due season we will reap if we just hang in there. Don't quit. At some point, all the work will come together. Somewhere down the road, the people show up and we get to discover that all the effort was not wasted.
So here is some encouragement to anyone reading this who is ready to throw in the towel. Don't. Just hang in there because your Sunday is coming too.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Golden Buckeyes

In Ohio, "Golden Buckeyes" are not graduates of Ohio State University. For that matter, neither are they national champions - unfortunately.
"Golden Buckeyes" are Ohio's "senior citizens." Allegedly. I think the pivotal age for golden-ation is sixty. I say that because I've been informed already that I am about to receive my official "Golden Buckeye" card, the surest indication that the aging process has reached terminal velocity; and that either my home-going or the Rapture is the next major event on my calendar.
Either way, I'm in a peculiar situation. On the one hand, I could have lived a long time happily without receiving a Golden Buckeye card. Come to think of it, I have. And don't get me wrong. I don't have any problem with going to heaven and being with the Lord. It's just that I don't feel the need to hurry along the process any more than absolutely necessary. I still have lots of preaching left in me and plenty of work left to do around the church. I still have grandchildren to watch growing up, and more grandchildren to anticipate. We still have a son left to marry off, and one of my goals in life is to live long enough to reclaim the basement. My wife and I still have a world full of fun stuff to do that we've not yet gotten around to while raising our kids. In other words, I'm too young to be old.
On the other hand, there are some things about receiving the Golden Buckeye card that are, well, cool. In the first place, there are the discounts. Lots of things, especially restaurants, cost less in Ohio with the ol' Buckeye card. Certain tickets to various events cost less. Given that life isn't growing any less expensive, I confess I enjoy getting those discounts. I enjoy them enough that when I am not offered a "senior discount," I feel rather disrespected. Something like I did in high school when the term "Senior" meant rank and superiority. Like when someone would place a sign on a car that read "Contents: 1 Senior or 53 Freshmen." That kind of superiority.
So when I march into the Land of the Golden Arches, I am expecting the lines to part like Moses at the Red Sea the moment I wave my Golden Buckeye card. Then, with the honor accorded someone of my considerable age and accomplishments, I approach the counter while the cashier does obeisance and humbly declares, "Your discount, Sir!"
As you can see, each of these options is attractive, and I'm having difficulty deciding which I like best. You know what my problem is? I'm trying to find a way to be distinguished without being extinguished.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Another Year, Another Decade

Time for the annual insult. In just a few weeks I will hit the big 6-0. Every year about this time, I receive a free membership offer from AARP - the American Association of Retired Persons. The offers began as soon as I turned almost fifty.
There are lots of reasons for me to take membership in AARP as a personal affront. In the first place, I'm not retired. The way our current president is running (or ruining) the country, I may never be able to retire. So the way I see it, I am permanently disqualified from membership in anything that smacks of retirement. Second, AARP is decidedly liberal and I do not care to be associated with a liberal organization. Not content to be merely liberal, AARP has supported such outrageous radicals as Harry Belafonte, whose rants against our nation and conservative values are legendary. Further, AARP has notoriously supported "Obamacare" in spite of the fact that it seriously threatens the health and welfare of nearly every senior citizen in the country in one way or another. Do I really want to support an organization that favors trillion-dollar national debt? That's why this blog has a link to the American Seniors Association - an alternative to AARP. Check it out, especially if you know someone who needs retirement help.
But perhaps the best reason not to belong to anything "Retired" or "old" is that I'm just hitting my stride. My wife and I are not quite ready to take that ride to the rest home. Aside from the wife's hip replacement, our health is fairly good. We may be older, but we feel the same as we did thirty years ago. The church is growing, I have an growing audience for my writing, and the grandkids are only four hours away. Life is better than golden, it's good.
Next month I will join our church young people in an all-night event, and once again outlast the young ones, just to prove I can. Hey, I may even take them on in laser tag, and I can do something about that better than they can. I can shoot and hit a moving target. A lot. So put the rocker back in mothballs boys. The old man still has life.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Language of Love...?

My wife speaks "pronoun." For the uninitiated and unmarried, speaking pronoun is the peculiar ability, attained by wives immediately upon the last "I do," to carry on entire conversations, alone or in the company of other wives, without specifying the identity of any person of thing they are talking about. Everything comes in pronouns. By some clairvoyant means, the other wives present seem to inherently understand the subject of the conversation without having to ask. They are equally adept at picking up and continuing the conversation in the same language. They all speak "pronoun."
Naturally, husbands are genetically indisposed to this ability. The average husband sits by wondrously clueless as his beloved carries on with numerous "he's," "she,s" and "its" to the utter bewilderment of the English language.
My wife's favorite ploy is to step into the middle of a thought she has been keeping to herself until she erupts with a statement, like "Did you see or talk to them today?"
This leaves me to wonder whom among the nine hundred, sixty-four people I've met today that I've chosen to both see and talk to.
"Uh, sure," I answer, not wanting my wife to think I've been neglectful of meeting and speaking to at least someone; and hoping for some hint or clue to know who she is talking about.
No luck. "Well, it's about time, " she answers, "You haven't talked to them in the last two days, and I saw her out in the yard yesterday."
Not only am I clueless, I am also guilty. And I don't even know who the victim is.
But this is only the beginning. My wife has mastered the art of speaking pronoun while switching subjects from one conversation to another, and almost in mid sentence. As a result, "he" and "she" may refer alternately to one of two conversations either coming or going. About the time I have "their" identity figured out, my wife will triumphantly announce, "Oh, I'm not talking about them. I've changed subjects."
Thanks for the warning.
The oddest thing about all this is that after more than thirty-four years of marriage, I find myself beginning to make sense of what my wife is saying. Scary. I think it has something to do with being familiar with our habits, interests and most common subjects for discussion.
This can produce some truly odd conversations for those who care to eavesdrop. For example, suppose the phone rings and I answer. The conversation goes something like this:
"It's her again."
"Have you seen her in the past two days? Oh, and is he up yet?"
"Yep. Talked to her this morning. He was on the loose again. And yes, he's up but he's still in the basement."
The forgoing mythical conversation is about three people in two entirely different situations. I promise, if I showed my wife the dialog, she would know who I am talking about.
What does all this mean? That two people who spend their lives together can develop a kind of unwritten, unspecified communication. They are so close, they do not need a lot of detail - like names and places - to make sense with one another. They can speak in "pronoun" and still understand one another. It comes with long marriages. It comes with intimacy. It's a sure sign they know how to communicate.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010


As my church and most of my friends know, I've been employed in a part time job for the past year as a "support staff" worker for a funeral home. I gave up that job yesterday. The combination of trying to keep up with my church duties plus caring for my family finally proved to be too much. I can't do everything. Or as I put it to one of my former fellow employees, "I can do everything poorly."
I was not quite prepared for the hasty exit I was given. No sooner had I submitted my resignation, than the general manager immediately sent through the paperwork for my release. "Well," said the surprised supervisor, "I guess you're through!"
The manager probably did me a favor whether she meant to or not. The fact is, I recognize that my church and my family need my attention much more than a part-time job does. And if the church cannot continue to grow, the part-time job is meaningless anyway.
Pastors of small churches need moments like this. When attendance is down and offerings are low, looking for a quick solution is an easy temptation to give in to. Not that I was looking for a quick answer. I had prayed much before finding and accepting the job. Still, my first and only calling is to be a pastor and preach the gospel. The way to succeed at that is not by means of working another job. I need to pay attention to the real job - the one God gave me first.
So now I'm officially disconnected from the funeral home and better off for it. There will be more time for study, for prayer, for writing, for visiting and for being a pastor. The more attention I pay to this job, the less I will need any other. What could be better than that?

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

"Just One More Thing"

Those who are following this blog know my wife is currently recovering from serious surgery. Everyone will be pleased to know my wife is making splendid progress at whipping me into shape even as she makes her way through therapy. I am becoming a first rate nurse. Not the "Nurse Cratchet" variety, mind you. More like the male "gopher" of the species, as in "Honey, could you get -?"
My wife's preferred method for husband training has evolved into a simple request that follows the same pattern with earnest repetition. It's a phrase she has learned to attach to every task and it works with amazing proficiency. Each time I return from fetching or finding, she responds with a smile and "Just one more thing ..."
And there is always "just one more thing." Nothing major, of course, and that is why she has no hesitation to add it.
Being an average guy, I tend to major on efficiency especially when climbing our staircase for yet one more item. The stairs are long - fifteen steps - and steep, much too steep for Mrs. B to try them after only two weeks out of surgery. I call it the "Staircase of Doom," and the nurse quickly killed any notion of my wife climbing it.
That means I have to make the trip, and I'm determined to climb the steps only as often as necessary. I try to assemble of list of things to pick up and bring them all at one time. Trouble is, while I've gone to the mountain, my wife is still thinking. So as soon as I return with an armload, believing the job is done, she says, "Just one more thing."
She's consistent. There will always be at least "one more thing" for everything I do. Now I know why nurses wear those clubby looking athletic shoes on the job. The shoes are good for racing after "just one more thing."
Is there an up side to this? Yes. I'm getting good exercise while running upstairs. I hope to lose a few pounds until my wife fully recovers. I should do well as long as I don't have to go for ice cream too often.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Fine Print in Marriage

"In sickness and in health..." Those are the words tucked away neatly somewhere in the middle of familiar wedding vows. They are what we might call the "fine print"; the part that does not draw much attention; the part few people notice until some time later in life.
Just such a time recently came to pass under our roof and the roof of another preacher's family for whom we've been praying. In our case, my wife underwent surgery and I've had any resemblance to a normal life put on hold while I nurse her back to health. As those of you who've been through such a time as this can attest, I've done things for my wife that defy description - at least nothing I care to describe in this blog. It is, after all, a family-friendly blog. After the upteenth episode of emptying (I shall delicately call) "the bucket," my wife declared I had gone "beyond the call of duty."
Wrong. It was exactly the call of duty. It's in the fine print. I've done much more than empty "the bucket," but I'm not going there, and no, you don't want to know. It's the fine print.
The other preacher and his wife read the fine print too. In her case, it meant watching the life slowly ebb from her husband until he went into the presence of the Lord. No one ever marries for the fine print. But it's the fine print that gets to you.
In many respects, those vows in the middle - the fine print - may be the most important of all. Those who have lived through their vows with a loved one to the end know more than anyone else that love is spelled out in the fine print. It's the point where true love shines forth; where love is not displayed in the finery of the ceremony, but shines forth in its deepest beauty.
After all, the fine print is where we live.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Life Is Just Too Busy

Some readers have probably noticed that posts to this blog have slowed noticeably in the last month. This has been the case for two reasons. First, our modem decided to expire. We went without internet for several days except for those few occasions when I could sneak off to a Tim Horton's restaurant to use their free "wi-fi." Second, life has been flat too busy.
For a preacher with a small congregation, I am on on the go an awfully lot of the time. Like many preachers in small churches, I too am bi-vocational. That's a fancy way of saying I work two full-time jobs with part-time pay and none of the benefits. I work seven days a week. Yes, I know I'm overdoing it, but what other option is there? It's not like I could hand off some work to the associate pastor. There ain't none. I work Monday through Sunday at the church except for those days -or evenings - when I am called to work at my second job. Since I could be called on to work on almost any day of the week, I begin my church work on Mondays so as to work ahead. That way, if I am called in to work later in the week, I'm not caught short for Sunday.
Of course, working all seven days leaves me little time for reading, writing or family. I could take time off, but in most cases that means taking time away from a small church that very much needs to grow. And if I take time from the other job, our family is short of the income we need just to make ends meet. So here I sit, typing away during "a brief lull in the action," as the saying goes.
My lot as a bi-vocational pastor is terrifically common. If you happen to have a bi-vocational pastor, or know one, thank him for his double life. He will probably laugh and tell you he has everything he needs except sleep. Or he may say he will rest when he goes home to be with the Lord. Tell him you understand, but he doesn't have to be in such a hurry to go. He may still laugh, but he will appreciate your thoughtfulness.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

"Boogety, Boogety, Let's Go Racing"

Remember when this preacher was trying to visualize a race car with our church's name emblazoned on the side? Remember when I described the idea as surreal? Well sir, it's real.
Last week was Wayne's birthday. Wayne, you may recall, is a new attender at our church who just happens to race "pro 4" trucks similar to those seen in the Nascar Craftsman Series. It was Wayne who first approached the idea of "Bible Baptist Fellowship" advertised on his truck as he whizzed around Shadybowl Speedway.
Anyway, last weekend our church gathered for our first official "church night at the track" to celebrate Wayne's birthday and cheer him on. As things sometimes work out in racing, the evening did not go as planned. A carburetor problem kept him from racing. No one was more disappointed than Wayne.
"I wanted to surprise you," he said, and then revealed what he had been planning all along. Unknown to me, Wayne had the name of our church stenciled on the back quarter panels of his racing truck. And on the rear gate, the words stood out, "" Amazing.
How many churches do you know with their own racing team? How many churches care to try?
One of our church families discussed the significance of the evening as they drove home. "Wayne may not fully understand the significance of tonight," one member said, "But now he knows he has a church that cares for him and will be there to support him, even if he doesn't drive."
Exactly. And that's the way we hope to reach Wayne, his family and all the other families like his with the gospel. Someone has to care. Someone has to try. Someone has to go after a part of the culture no one else is reaching through a local church. That's what it's all about. "So reach up there, pull that belt tight one more time, and let's go racing, boys."

Monday, July 12, 2010

What Do We Do When the Roof Changes?

Sooner than we ever imagined, some day, our roof is going to change. Retirement will set in and I will no longer be the pastor. Preacher, yes - pastor, no. Retirement may also mean a change in housing. The preacher's roof will change literally. We may be downsizing to a property more in line with what age and physical abilities will allow us to maintain. As the baby boomer generation continues to age, I wouldn't be surprised to see a huge expansion in condominium construction. Condos appear to be the house of choice for the future.
Retirement also means changing churches. I'm not the first preacher to imagine that somehow I could retire quietly to the back row of my church and let some young kid take over "my" church, but honestly, I hope I have better sense. I hope I am wise and considerate enough of the next pastor to get out of his way - far out of his way - and let him do his job without fear that I'm looking over his shoulder. I've had that experience and I don't intend to inflict it or myself on someone else. I can count on two fingers the total number of pastors I know who have successfully remained with their churches in retirement.
Yes, the next man will make mistakes, just as we all have. Yes, he will make changes. He must. He is not the same person as the pastor he follows. Yes, he will take the church in a different direction. But as long as the new direction is still biblically sound, that's his business, not mine. There is only one thing I could hope for as I anticipate retirement some day - that my church lasts longer than I do. After that, my job is done.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Time For a Little Reflection

This past week, my wife and I marked a couple of significant anniversaries. We celebrated our thirty-fourth wedding anniversary with a romantic riverboat dinner cruise on the Ohio River. Today, I attended a recognition breakfast as Belinda received her certificate for five years with her employer. Occasions such as these cannot help but cause me to reflect on the life God has given us together.
Life under the preacher's roof has been anything but boring. All too often we seemed to be on the "outs" - out of a job, out of a home and out of money. But the one thing we've never been is out of love. My wife's evaluation is that we've had a good life together, and if she is satisfied with that, I am not about to disagree.
Ever so often, I meet and counsel with people who are upset, even angry with the life and circumstances God has given them. They resent the life they've had. They are angry with God and sometimes angry with me because I remind them of God just by being a preacher. When I begin to analyze their complaints, I find frequently they have had a much easier life than we have led. Certainly, they have had more material blessings than we have enjoyed.
This is not to complain on our part. Quite the opposite. We have not had much materially, but the things we have had are the things money can't buy. I've had the best wife I could have every had under any circumstances. We have reared three kids who turned out to be fine adults. They are all in church and serving the Lord. We have never had very large churches, but we've lived long enough to see that most of our ministries were successful. The church we are in now is small and still in its infancy, but we could not ask for better people.
If I lost everything tomorrow, I would still have to say it's been a good life, a successful life and a satisfying life. No one should ever need more than that.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

The Trouble With Helping People

Have you ever noticed that sometimes people just don't know when they're being helped? We have some people in our church who are badly in need of employment, as is the common denominator in a lot of churches these days. Naturally, people have turned to the pastor for whatever help, recommendations or connections I could offer. Of course, I am glad to do whatever I can.
But there is one situation that is frustrating because my attempts to help seem to be getting no where. Several people in church have located numerous job offers for one particular brother, but his every effort to apply appear to be fruitless. His computer always malfunctions with every application. Significantly, none of the available jobs are exactly what the man has in mind for a career. Could that be a factor in his job-hunting difficulty? I don't know. He is sincere, and seems to be depending on the Lord for leading him to a job. Still, none of the jobs around match with what this brother senses as his "calling."
He reminds me of a story my daughter told me recently:
A man was stranded in his home in the midst of a flood. Eventually, a rescue boat arrived, and the captain called out, "Get on the boat and we will take you to safety!"
"No, thanks," the man replied, "God will take care of me."
A second boat arrived some time later with the same offer of help, and the man replied again: "No thanks, the Lord will take care of me."
The flood grew worse. The man went from the first floor to the second. Finally, he went to the roof. A helicopter arrived on the scene.
"Climb on the ladder," the pilot called, "and I will take you to safety."
"No thanks," the man replied again, "The Lord will take care of me."
After the helicopter left, the house was swamped and the man drowned. When he arrived at heaven's door, he said to the Lord, "I don't understand. I thought you would take care of me."
The Lord replied, "I sent you two boats and a helicopter. What more did you want?"

Friday, May 21, 2010

Racing Part II

Apparently I struck a nerve. I've had more positive response to my last post than anything else I've written in this blog. Most pastors were enthusiastic, even offering their own ideas. One reply to this column suggested "You could have tract night at the track." Almost everyone agreed that we could reach a part of our culture that most churches miss entirely, and that we should "go for it."
But the best response of all came from the guy who attends our church - the one who actually drives the race car. He approached me a few days ago after the morning service to say, "I want to order ten caps." Those would be the caps with the "cross" logo and emblazoned with "Bible Baptist Fellowship Racing."
"Ten caps?" I asked, "What do you want with ten?" I checked and he had only one head.
"I want to hand them out at the race track," he said.
Get this. Here is a new attender to our church, a race car driver, and as far as I know, an unsaved man who is willing to advertise our church at his own expense. At the race track, no less. At eleven dollars a piece, he intends to spend more money on "racing" caps for our church than some people give to missions in a year. As the saying goes, "It doesn't get any better than this."
Actually, it could. I am praying the man receives Christ as his Savior. Our favorite driver needs to realize that the race he really needs to win is the race of life. Perhaps while the man is passing out the hats, he will get the message. Let's all pray that he does.

Monday, May 3, 2010

"Bible Baptist Fellowship Racing"

This has to go down in the category of being all things to all people. One of our new church attenders drives race cars as a hobby - "pro 4's" to be exact. ("Pro 4" is a category of modified small stock cars.) A few Sundays ago, Wayne mused with me about the idea of our church actually placing either an advertisement or a sponsor's decal on his car. We tried to imagine a car emblazoned with the words "Bible Baptist Fellowship" whizzing around the oval track at Shady Bowl Speedway. "Odd" doesn't begin to describe the image that comes to mind, not that many of our men are too disturbed at the thought. We have some serious racing fans in our midst. (Our church fellowships with the G. A. R. B. C. In our case, the letters could just as well stand for "Grand Army of Redneck Baptists.")
Wayne has gone so far as to bring race schedules to church so we will know when he is driving. He followed that by telling his fellow drivers that his own cheering section was coming to support him at the races.
"You have to go this Saturday, " my wife told me, "He's expecting you."
Does this qualify as visitation?
Our church already has t-shirts and hats that read "Bible Baptist Fellowship, Brookville, Ohio." How would it look, I wondered, if we modified our embroidered hats to read "Bible Baptist Fellowship Racing?" Wierd, funny and maybe -just maybe - effective. I have to admit the idea is so funny and so different that the guys in our church will probably like it. Besides, if Wayne has his own fan club all decked out in our gear, he will be as committed to us as we are to him.
The things I do to get people into church.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Kids' Names and a Cat Named "Freezer Burn"

"Did I ever tell you about my cat, "Freezer Burn?' my church member asked as he entered my office.
"You have a cat named 'Freezer Burn?' " I tried to ask without sounding as ridiculous as the question obviously sounded.
"We lost the cat one day," the proud owner beamed. "We couldn't find him at all until we went into the garage and heard this faint "meow" coming from the refrigerator. When we opened the freezer door, there he sat, nearly frozen. His hair was stiff and he had this odd streak up his back. So when I took him to the vet, and the vet asked 'What's the cat's name?' I said 'Freezer Burn.' And the name stuck."
This particular church member has a knack for hanging strange names on people and things, so don't let him near your children.
Speaking of children, my wife and I worked hard to give our offspring absolutely normal names. This came as a result of my having to live with a name no one could pronounce or spell in spite of the fact that it is all of one syllable. (After a lifetime of "Lard," "Lord," "Leared" and "Lurid," I threatened to disown our daughter is she named any of her children after me. She did anyway, and the middle child shares my middle name.)
So when our one son came along, I opted for a safe and manly name: Andrew, which means "manly" and that was about as manly as I could get. Andrew is one of my favorite disciples because you always find him talking to people about the Lord and bringing them to Jesus.
Andrew it was until he came home one day with his name spelled D-r-u. I could have lived with "Drew"as a shortened form of "Andrew," but no, "It's D-r-u" he said. One of his friends had spelled it that way. One of his friends who couldn't spell.
What possesses children at any age to mangle a perfectly good name? Andrew (It's still "Andrew" under our roof) has a friend named Steven, another good biblical name. So naturally he calls himself "Spaz" to the utter consternation of his father.
Sure, there are people in the world with names like "Moon Unit" for example. But the parents are responsible for that. And there was a baby I heard about who was named something that sounded like "Pahja May" but is spelled P-a-j-a-m-a. ("From the Sears Roebuck Catalog" said the mother.)
So if you're one of those preacher's kids who is tired of your Bible name and yearning for a change, you might think again. You could have ended up like "Freezer Burn." Or I could just send over my church member to make suggestions. He also has a dog named Happy Killer.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Why Can't I Believe Now?

By the time I entered seminary I was tired of being alone, but there didn't seem to be any hope of change. Four hundred miles from home and away from almost everyone I knew, what chance was there that I was going to meet the girl of my dreams? One day when I was feeling especially lonely, the thought came to mind that if I didn't know who or where my future wife was, God certainly knew. So I decided right there to pray for her, that God in His providence would take care of her and some day guide her to me in His own time. The result of my prayer was a greater sense of peace and confidence that God would meet my need. Little did I realize that I was standing literally over my wife while I was praying. She lived in the apartment beneath me. We still laugh about the way God was bringing us so close to one another. We celebrate our thirty-fourth anniversary this year.
Looking back on that experience, I'm struck by how much God enabled me to rely on Him in faith. I had complete confidence that I would be married some day and that God was certain to bring my lovely wife into my life. No question about it. Now, however, I am faced with a new challenge, and I am a bit mystified at myself.
These days, my need is not for a wife but for growth in our fledgling church plant. We have a solid core, but we need serious growth in order for our new church to survive and thrive. We pray for growth and work toward that goal constantly. But as I pray and listen to myself, I've noticed something and it troubles me. I pray, but I don't seem to believe as easily that God will provide new church members as much as He could provide a wife.
What's the problem? If I could believe that God would send me a wife, why can't I believe now?
The answer is a lesson about unbelief. When I prayed about my future wife, I was willing to accept God's Word and His promises so completely that I would not allow myself to entertain doubt. There was never a "What if this doesn't work?" in my mind. Why? Because I knew two things: 1. That the situation was totally out of my control, and 2. that I had done all I could do about it. But when I prayed about our church the circumstances were quite different. As pastor, I still felt like there was something I could do, or rather that I had not done, so that I was not really trusting in God.
I've had to come back to the basics and realize afresh that our church is still God's work, not mine, and He is perfectly capable of taking care of it. The real issue is not His ability -much less His faithfulness - but my obedience and complete reliance on Him. If the church is His, He knows where the members are, now and in the future. If I have been completely obedient to Him, I have no reason to doubt that He will hear and answer our prayer and bless His church. I should be able to trust Him to take care of those people where ever they are, and to guide them to us in His own time. Someday I will learn about our church what I learned about meeting my wife: that I did all that worrying for nothing. When I found it so hard to believe, God was still faithful.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Life Goes On, Regardless

This past week, I learned that one of our young adults in church is about to become engaged. His sister is already engaged and preparing for her wedding later this summer. Two young people from one family preparing for marriage at the same time. I said I was thrilled for them and I am. Sort of.
I can't help feeling a bit wistful as I watch two outstanding young people prepare to move on with their lives. Sure, it's exciting and I am happy to know they've met the right people for their lives. No doubt, God answered prayer and that's a wonderful thing. But I also know that quality people are hard to replace - really, really hard - and these two are going to be missed profoundly.
As happy as I am to see them moving on, I can't help feeling sad that they are indeed moving on. But that's life, and life is always moving. No matter what we do, we can't keep things the way they are. Life is going to move on regardless of how much we try to hold it in place. Kids grow up, get married and move on. Church members come and go. People age. Grand kids have the audacity to arrive and then grow up before you know it. (I've discovered to my chagrin that our grandchildren have found a way to grow up faster than our own kids.)
The simple, stark truth that life is going to go on means there is no such thing as reaching a point where we can just "put it on cruise,"certainly not in church. The surest way to kill a church is to do nothing. It will grow up, grow old, die and disappear all on its own. We who inhabit the pulpit on Sunday morning do not have the luxury of waiting until tomorrow to build the church. The problem is not, as some people think, that tomorrow never comes. The truth is that tomorrow comes too often, too soon and too quickly.
I do not want to reach the end of my ministry and wish I had my tomorrows back.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Faith and Obamacare

After the U. S. House of Representatives passed the President's health care bill Sunday night, my wife and I had a serious conversation about our future. Certain facts were clear and indisputable. We are growing older and approaching retirement age. Her employment is our only source of health insurance. My pastor's salary is not enough to pay for the health insurance required by the government under the new health bill. Given those circumstances, my wife observed, "I won't be able to retire." She's right. If she retires, we won't have insurance. If either one of us retire, we won't have enough income to live on. Social Security is flat busted broke. If we depend on the government to provide health care, it won't happen because:
(a.) Obamacare takes 500 billion dollars from Medicare in order to finance the new government-run health care. That deficit is shifted to the individual states - a burden they cannot possibly afford. Older citizens are going to have to do with less so that younger citizens can be covered.
(b.) Obamacare is noticeably geared toward younger people. They have a tax-paying future. My wife and I don't. We simply won't be a good investment of the government's time and money. The older we grow, the more we will be a liability to the system.
Add to this the fact that businesses - especially small ones - are going to be forced to hire more and more part-time workers as a way of coping with the outrageous expense of providing health insurance for full-time employees. That's sure to impact congregations, particularly small churches like our own.
So we are facing a future with less and less health care as we grow older combined with less income and ever-shrinking Social Security. What are we to do?
For starters we could trust the Lord. "God knows we have this situation," my wife said. "He always has." Yes, and there's no expiration date on the promise "Seek first the kingdom of God and all these things will be added to you." There is also another observation in the Psalms: "I have been young and now am old; yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his children begging bread."
I couldn't help thinking of one of my favorite people, George Muller of Bristol, England. It was Muller who founded orphanages, built schools, financed missionaries and pastored a church all by prayer and without a cent to his name. Penniless and yet he received from God everything he needed as if he owned every bank in Europe. Muller never claimed to have the gift of faith, but he did acknowledge using the faith he had better than most people.
There is a lesson here for us. Our health care and retirement - once the envy of the world - may be history as we know it. But God isn't. He is still good to His word, and His word tells us we can trust Him to provide when all human programs have utterly failed. I don't know what is going to become of our country, our health care or our lives as Belinda and I face retirement - if it ever comes. I just know that when we get to that point, God will be there. What a comfort.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Racism, Balance and the Current Administration

I met a very nice gentleman recently who, as it turned out, is quite liberal in his politics. He is a thunderously worshipful supporter of President Obama and the present administration. When I gave a more conservative point of view to him in writing, some people interpreted my remarks as an expression of racism and that is more than a little inaccurate. There aren't many preachers who can put "ordained in and pastored a black church" on their resume'. But I can. Many years later when our family served as home missionaries in Louisiana, we were the minority in a neighborhood that resembled the "rainbow coalition" on steroids. Our kids had no idea what the word "racism" meant. We never taught the meaning of the subject because we didn't need to. It would have been as useless as discussing various brands of poison. Why bring it up? It was no accident that our older daughter requested that two very dear friends - "Americans of African descent" - sing at her wedding.
So when someone takes my differences in politics as a latent form of racism I have reason to be upset. I do not have a problem with the President being an African-American. I do not have a problem with the President being an Anglo-African-American for that matter. I do have a problem with the President being the kind of political person he is regardless of his race.
But I do think the President's race is an issue and here's how. Barack Obama is a reflection of the particular liberal ideology in which he was educated and to which he has exposed himself over the years. How do I know? I had the same education a la Wright State University. It was there that I learned "black liberation" theories of history. That doctrine teaches a twisted form of racially cynical attitude combined with a superiority complex such as one finds in the rantings of Louis Farrenkahn or Jeremiah Wright. If the President buys into thinking of that kind, he will come across to the average American - of any race - as condescending, entitled, and not really one of us. An attitude like that will drive people away because we elected a president - we did not anoint a king. And the last thing we want in the White House is an insufferable snob. What this country needs is exactly what the Scripture demands of a leader: "to do justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with thy God."

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The Difference Between Church and Facebook

I am rapidly becoming a Facebook junkie and I've discovered I have a lot of company. Pastors are popping up all over Facebook. It has become an alternative outlet for ministry, not to mention a great way to advertise books, cd's and - Duh! - blogs. What a natural and fun way to keep up with all kinds of people, especially celebrities we would not otherwise be able to meet, much less talk to.
People seem more inclined to talk with one another on Facebook than any other medium I've witnessed thus far. They are more open about themselves, more willing to reveal details and certainly more willing to talk to total strangers - not always a good thing.
From a pastor's point of view, this quality of openness on Facebook has had a fascinating consequence. I find that people are more willing to be themselves before the whole world on Facebook than they are willing to be before a handful of people in church. I suppose this quality has always been with us. Church is the one place where we really want to put out the best impression for general consumption. We tend to conduct ourselves according to what we think people expect of us. So when someone asks, "How do you do?" we wouldn't really tell him how we are doing, and we don't really expect someone to tell us. It's all a formality, you understand. Not that we are purposefully trying to be deceptive; we are just putting out our public selves for all to see, the same public self that most often goes on display at work or in class.
Facebook is another matter. For some reason, people take off the mask when they sit down to the keyboard. I've learned a lot more about people from watching them on Facebook than I ever learned about them in church. I learn their real likes and dislikes, their tastes in music, clothes, politics and the world in general. I learn their language - the kind they would not dare use in church. I learn who their real friends are, and who they are not; who they love, and who wishes they had someone to love, or to love them.
What fascinates me the most is that people who wouldn't tell a soul these things in church don't mind telling the whole world on the internet. Now, everybody knows. The pastor knows. God knows - not that He needed Facebook, anyway.
All this raises a question in my mind: Why would anyone be one way in the privacy of church and another way before the whole blooming world on Facebook? And as long as we're not keeping secrets, what's the point of behaving one way in church (where only a few people can read us) and another way on the internet, where everybody can see us?
Maybe the answer is just too obvious. After all, if the life I'm living on Facebook is not one I can live in church, why am I living it on Facebook in the first place? Maybe the answer is that I already know this. And maybe, just maybe, I know better but I don't want those people in church to find out. Maybe I can keep my "public" life propped up in church while my real life goes on in the rest of the world. And maybe the people in church won't find out. Maybe they don't read Facebook. Just maybe.

Monday, February 1, 2010

What's a Day Off?

I'm exhausted. I've arrived home at 8:15 p.m. after a day full of meetings and errands; shuttling my parents to various places, doing their shopping and watching after my dementia-laden dad. Of the dozen or so things I had on my "to do" list, I accomplished most, but not all. I'm just too tired. And today was my day off.
Many pastors have "days off" just like mine. We only work "one day a week," or so we're told. We should be fresh. We don't punch a time card. We have lots of time for an errand or two. Or three. Or a dozen.
Preachers have so much free time, so the legend goes, that they must be instructed in the proper use of it - some people think. I had a deacon once who interrupted my study time, smack in the middle of it, to - get this- instruct me on how to use my time in the study. To facilitate his "lesson" he brought along a dozen pages of photocopied sermons from John Gill on how Gill used his time. Oh yes, I'm sure Gill had the same kind of routine pastors have these days: the phone ringing, the computer developing a glitch, and deacons arriving to waste their time. Well, maybe he had the deacons.
The truth is that the average pastor spends so much time being the pastor and doing pastoral things that he has a hard time finding time to do family things. The average pastor spends about sixty hours a week on the job. That's sixty hours on top of whatever other job he may have if he happens to be bi-vocational. There is a never ending urge to do something else, and there is always something else to do.
There was actually a time when I had a day off. I used to take off Mondays back when I had a church large enough to afford me taking one day a week to tend to my family. That was before we were missionaries, before we were church planters, and before the deacon arrived to complain that I wasn't spending more time in the study.
No, I wasn't. And neither do most pastors. They have to get out of the study because "study" is only a part of the job. Staying in the seclusion of the pastor's office is the surest way to kill the church. There aren't enough prospects in the pastor's study; not enough lost people to witness to, not enough to invite to church; not enough people to pastor.
So the pastor may be out of the study, but he is never out of the job, not even on his "day off." That's why I'm typing out this post on my laptop at home. My wife urged me to buy it so I wouldn't have to travel back to office to work on all the things that have to be done. I'm still tired and now it's 10:15 p.m. on my day off. I still have not finished editing the article I am writing for Regular Baptist Press. It will have to wait until tomorrow along with work on the Sunday morning message that I meant to start today. The job never ends.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

"See Me Now or See Me Later"

I have a part-time job as a support worker in a funeral home. Don't laugh. It's a good job for a pastor. As a matter of fact, I work with several pastors, men who, like me are looking for a way to save for future retirement. So I carry two sets of business cards, one for my church and another for the funeral home, and that has created some interesting (if odd) situations.
A few days ago, I was lurking about in the neighborhood, looking for an opportunity to invite someone to church, when I stopped in to see a friend in a local business. Larry is a sign maker in our town, a very good one who is responsible for creating our church sign and logo. I've been after Larry for the past three years to come to church without any success whatsoever. In spite of that, we have maintained a very good and relaxed friendship. I'd love to see Larry come to Christ.
When I showed up at his business door, I was surprised to see him busy at his desk. He noticed me and immediately waved to have me come in.
As I sat across from Larry at his desk, my mind raced for a way to invite him to church once more. Then, I thought of my business cards. "I have something to show you," I said as I placed two cards, one of each, on the desk. "Here are my business cards," I explained as Larry leaned forward for a better view. "One is for my church. The other is for the funeral home. You can see me now, or see me later."
The startled expression on Larry's face was priceless. He sat back for a moment to collect his thoughts, and replied, "I promise you, I will visit your church within two weeks. I can't come next Sunday - I'm already tied up - but I will be there the next Sunday. I promise."

Believe me, this is an approach I'm going to use again!

Then Larry gave back my business card for the funeral home. "I'll keep your church card," he said, "You can have this one." He seemed relieved just to have the funeral home card out of his hand. Imagine that. I don't know how many customers I will pick up for the funeral home, but if I can use their cards to motivate more people to church, I'll use them all the time with the same explanation: "You can see me now, or see me later."

Sunday, January 17, 2010

So Why Are We Here?

Every church has to have a reason for its own existence. Yes, the Great Commission is the reason in terms of sharing the gospel and reaching the lost. But in a practical sense, church members need to understand why their particular church should exist. Many churches, especially small ones, struggle with this issue. They need a reason for being, and being there just for the sake of the denominational name is not enough. As a result, many small churches cannot and do not survive.
Our own church has had to come to terms with this question now that our roof has caved in. Things were tough enough without the roof falling. We've had all the aches, pains and struggles associated with planting and growing a church. What's more, there are always larger churches where it's easier, more convenient and a lot more attractive for people to attend. How could we ever hope to compete? This has caused some necessary and very useful soul searching. Like every other small church in the world, we have to find a way to meet the spiritual and practical needs of the public we are trying to reach. We need to find our place and establish our identity. When we do that, we will fill our niche. And we will grow.

Friday, January 8, 2010

What Do You Do When the Roof Falls?

Our roof fell in. Seriously. About three weeks ago, some of our people came to the church for the usual youth ministry when they discovered water dripping, running and pouring into our auditorium. Investigation revealed that two forty-eight foot rafters had snapped and caved under the weight of ice and water on our roof. For reasons known only to the Lord, water failed to run off our formerly flat, slightly angled roof and began to form a pond about twenty-five feet across and about two or more feet deep. When all that water froze, the roof could not stand up to the pressure. So it gave way, puncturing the upstairs ceiling and forever changing our majestic old building.

So what do we do now? Frankly, we don't know. We have insurance and we've had emergency repairs to keep the water out and the building up. But from this point going forward, again only the Lord knows. We have to make a lot of decisions with (hopefully) an understanding insurance company. But we are a small church - a recent church plant -and our resources are quite limited.

If you are interested in helping, knowing more about us, or praying for us I would like to hear from you. The first thing we have to do under the preacher's roof is to figure out a way to keep the roof up.

We will let you know how things develop.