Tuesday, November 29, 2011


This is the column I most dreaded, the one I knew would come. On November 19, 2011, my dad went home to be with the Lord. Weeks before in this blog I noted that I could not hold on to my father. Watching him dissolve into the man he became, watching him shrivel to a hollow shell of the man he was, I realized that holding him in that condition, if somehow possible, would have been worse than cruel.
Dad is gone, but he is not lost. I understand Vance Havner's reply when his wife died and someone said to him, "I'm sorry to hear you lost your wife." Havner answered, "She's not lost. I know exactly where she is."
A friend wrote after Dad's passing and reflected upon her own loss, saying "I still can't believe I've lost Dad forever." My heart goes out to her. As I read her thoughts, I said to my self, "You are more right than you know. But my dad is not lost. I will see him again."
This is the heart and soul of all that is Christian doctrine. It is the hope that sets God's people apart from all else - this sincere and absolute conviction of the reality of heaven, the reality of hope, the assurance of eternal life.
I love my dad and I miss him. His passing is still too fresh to fully comprehend. I don't know how I will do without him, but I know one thing for certain: he is not really dead. "He who lives and believes in me shall never die," Jesus said. "Do you believe this?"
Indeed I do. I have a new reason to go to heaven now. A new reason to live for Christ (not that the first reason isn't enough), a new anticipation for what lies ahead. Jesus lives, Dad lives, and so shall I. Far beyond the next few years, we shall be reunited never to be separated again. "When we've been there ten thousand years, bright shining as the sun," we will have "no less days to sing God's praise" than when we first begun.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Old Dog, New Tricks

As the next birthday begins to appear on the horizon, I'm glad to say new ministry opportunities continue to open for me. This is very good news because the last thing I want to do is run out of things to do. Admittedly, the subject of retirement has passed the lips of the wife and my self, but the Lord has ways of saying "You've got to be kidding" to us.
To start, I've been appointed Chaplain of the Perry Township Police Department in Montgomery County, Ohio. Who would have thought such a privilege would come my way at this point in life? (For that matter, I will always wonder why the Lord didn't allow it much earlier but then His timing is always better.) My wife has declared the chaplain ministry my "new toy." I don't know about that, but the police department definitely has lots of "toys" - uh, another column. Anyway, here I am fascinated with the golden opportunity to spread the gospel to an entirely new "congregation." So much for retirement.
Then there was the state conference we attended recently. One of the speakers was at or above eighty years of age and still going strong. I nudged my wife and said, "If I'm doing that well at that age, there's no reason to think about retirement." Suddenly, sixty-one looks awfully young, barely past puberty.
Fresh opportunities and new challenges always give me a charge. Before my latest foray into new ministry, and before I listened to the spunky veteran, I had actually begun to think I might have only a few more good years left. Now I'm thinking decades, at least a couple. After that, we'll just have to wait and see.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Fading, Fading, Fading...

A World War II general is reputed to have said, "Old soldiers never die, they just fade away." My dad is fading. The old soldier, long forgotten of his medals and citations, is fading like the melting early morning fog. He is but a dim shadow of his former self, and yet the essential life force within him seems bound, restricted by the frail body he inhabits. The soul that is my father is still there, still evident, and yet one cannot help but feel he yearns to be free.
It's hard for me to grasp the enormity of this time or the loss that is about to overtake me. Soon enough, perhaps far sooner than we suspect, there will be another post to say that Dad has passed. Not died, mind you, but passed. "He that liveth and believeth in me shall never die," Jesus promised. Indeed, we do not die. We change location. We exchange one life for another.
It was Jim Elliot who said it best, as I recall: "That man is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose."
I cannot keep my Dad. I cannot keep him any more than I can keep forever any other loved one. But at the same time, I cannot lose him either. I am willing to surrender him for a time, if I must, in order to gain him for an eternity. And so it is with all those whom we love, and that is why we yearn so much that they - like our selves - will come to know Christ as Savior; that we may lose them for a season to gain them for an eternity.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

What Have We Learned?

After all the time, money and effort to put on a really good Vacation Bible School - and with really promising attendance to boot - our attendance in church and Sunday School has not been improved in the least. So what did we learn from all our hard work and experience? Here are a few lessons:

1. Our church must have a consistent means of outreach. Otherwise, we are quickly forgotten because a single effort for a brief time is too little to establish regular attendance habits.

2. We must relentlessly go after people. Anything less fails to generate prospects. We must relentlessly witness. Anything less fails to generate disciples.

3. Whether we have an afternoon or evening service doesn't really matter. Whether we have a high quality Sunday morning worship service really matters a lot.

4. Youth ministry will help youth, but it will never by itself grow the church. Witnessing and relationships are the tools that grow the church.

5. After all is said and done, we still have to figure out the most effective and consistent means to reach the public on a daily basis.

So we are not back to square one. In truth, we've never left.

Monday, July 18, 2011

The Dream Fulfilled - They Came!

"if you build it, they will come" - so goes the line from the movie "Field of Dreams." It's a great line for a movie, but it doesn't work in real life. The world is full of projects built and ignored by the general public. So what were we thinking when our church (with a grand total of four kids in Sunday School) began planning the great-granddaddy blowout of all Vacation Bible Schools?

Suppose we build it and no one comes?

Given that our church had never even tried Vacation Bible School in our history - With four kids what did you expect? - we had no idea what kind of response we would gain.

Enter the highly energized youth group from Alaska Baptist Church. This would be the Alaska Baptist Church that's not in Alaska - not that Alaska. They came down from Caledonia, Michigan (yes, that Michigan, land of "the school from up north" for all Buckeye fans.) to undertake a missions project and we were it. In four days time, they blitzed our town, a city of about 1200 homes and 6000 residents. The result? We had more kids attending Vacation Bible School than we've ever had, up to 18 on two days. They came!

But they didn't come back on Sunday.

Whoa! What do you make of that? Simply that unsaved people well practiced in not attending church are not going to suddenly see the light and change their behavior simply because the children attended four days of Bible school. We are going to have to go after them again. And again. And again. And again.

But if we go, they will come. So we have to keep going until they are finally established securely in our church. "If you build it, they will come" - if you go after them.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Father's Day

As I write this Father's Day is but a few hours away and I am ready. I've bought my dad the one thing I know he will cherish the most - a six pack of 20 ounce diet Pepsi. I've also bought a card because I know he will enjoy the hilarious photo of the dog on the front. He will chuckle through dim eyes as he strains to make out the image and try to understand what it means. The message inside is silly but that hardly matters. Dad won't understand anyway. I will write a short message inside and sign my name, but both the message and the name will mean little to him. I will sign the message with "love" but I cannot write the message I really feel. He will not understand, and it is too painful for me.
The message I really want to write - the one he cannot understand - is "I love you Dad, and I miss you."
The awful truth, the horror that I witness every day and from which I cannot escape is that my dad is passing away before my eyes. Like so many millions, like other people in my church, he is a victim of dementia and it is slowly, irresistibly robbing him of life. The disease has already taken the personality I once knew and all his power of recognition with it. Except for what feeble life force remains, my dad is all but gone.
You may know someone whose father is hindered by certain physical conditions. Perhaps you are facing an unpleasant Father's Day because your dad cannot do the things you wish, or perhaps he cannot be with you this year. That's understandable. But if your father still knows you, recognizes the sound of your voice, and can have a reasonably intelligent conversation with you, you have a treasure millions of others can no longer enjoy - even if you are miles apart.
Yes, I am grateful that I have my dad at all. Very likely, this is his last Father's Day and I will make it as pleasant for him as possible.
I hope you can do the same. Of all the gifts we can give one another, the power to know, to love and to knowingly give that love is the greatest gift of all.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Of Coaches, Politicians and Other Idols

The biggest news and greatest shock to Buckeye fans across Ohio (of which I am one) was the resignation of The Ohio State University's football coach, Jim Tressel. Coach Tressel resigned largely because of an NCAA investigation prompted by an article in Sports Illustrated magazine. The article had the effect of taking down the greatest football coach in Ohio State's history.
Ironically, Sports Illustrated ran an ad a couple of decades ago that featured a photo of Alabama coach Bear Bryant with a tag line that read "In Alabama, an atheist is someone who doesn't believe in him."
Tressel had obtained similar status among his myriad fans in Ohio. But unlike the rough and gruff Bryant, Coach Tressel was known for a very public religious orientation. He's been a member of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes for years. Coach Tressel has a reputation as an evangelical believer. For that reason, I couldn't help but react when I read of his comment to a appreciative crowd who came to express their gratitude for his years of service. Thinking about the next Michigan game, Tressel remarked, "Next November 26th, we kick Michigan's _____."
You notice I haven't finished the sentence. The coach used an expression I am not accustomed to hearing from fellow believers.
Lest you think I'm picking on the coach or being overly sensitive, Gov. Sarah Palin is another example of a very public professing believer. I know that because I've followed her rise carefully and read some of her books and various writings. Gov. Palin is a member of an evangelical Bible Church in her hometown, Wasilla, Alaska. She is accepted (or criticized) by the general public as a believer.
Knowing that, I've cringed more than a few times when the governor has written or recalled her own -how shall I say this?- "colorful" language. Recent published emails from her years as governor of Alaska document what I say.
Call me odd if you wish, but I can't help reacting in a couple of ways. First, why in the name of sense (or Scripture) does a believer damage their credibility as a believer by sinking to foul language? And yes, it is foul. Do public people not realize that everyone is watching, everyone is listening?
Second, do they not realize that some things are just not fitting for Christians whether we are public figures or not? Is the Scripture warning against "filthy communication" not plain enough?
Yes, I know I'm picking. But it is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks according to Jesus, and He should know. You think? So as I've read President Bush's own words in his autobiography, "Decision Points," I've been disappointed in him more than a few times. He is given to the occasional off color remark, and that tendency undermines his testimony greatly.
There are two huge lessons here for us all. First, our tendency to put public Christians on a pedestal is not good for them or for us. They cannot live up to it and we are sure to be disappointed as their faults become obvious to all.
The second lesson is equally simple. Small things matter. An off color remark or inappropriate action can have devastating effects on our testimony, causing people to question the validity of our character. The world is crying for consistency; for someone they can believe in. We need Christian leaders and Christian examples. But most of all we need Christians who are willing to live up to the name.

Friday, May 20, 2011

The End is Coming ...Again

In 1987, I received an unsolicited book in the mail entitled "88 Reasons Why the Rapture Will Be in 1988" by an unknown preacher named Edgar Whisenart. A year later, I received a second book from Whisenart telling me Jesus would appear in 1989. Between 1989 and the present, we've all endured the Hale-Bopp comet, the Branch Davidians, and a host of other crackpots. Even venerable Jack Van Impe has gotten into the act with the suggestion that the world may end on December 21, 2012 (according to Baptist Bulletin magazine). Maybe he's read one too many Mayan calendars. The latest fool to trot out a date is an until-now unknown named Harold Camping who says the world ends tomorrow. So if you're a little late reading this, you may or may not be in trouble.
The very real problem I have with all these charlatans is that they make the serious message of the Bible trivial and the butt of every joke. You hear them everywhere: "I'm not paying my bills until Sunday." Charles Krauthhammer said "There's an upside to everything. You can eat red meat."
The truth is that the world is going to end some time sooner than later. Christians know it. God certainly know it. The world should know it, but they won't.

Someone has made a joke of it.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Time For a Course Correction

I lose my focus at times, and when I do, God is faithful to remind me and bring me back into line. Frankly, I've been off course for a while and it's time for correction. I've spent way too much time concerned about how the church is growing and what to do about it. I've concentrated too much on how my wife and I are going to afford life when she finally retires. I've spent way too much time thinking about how things are going to work out.
Doesn't everybody? Perhaps none of the items I've just described surprise anyone. Perhaps others will read these words with the thought "That's what I've been doing. What's wrong with planning for the future?"
Nothing is wrong with planning for the future. The question is whose plans we are following.
The thing I've known, forgotten, and needed to be reminded again is that God is in charge of all plans. It's not my place to be concerned with how things work out. It's my place to follow the Lord first and let Him tell me how He is going to work it out.
But God is not going to tell me everything at once. He will tell me enough for today, and I must take care of today. The most important matter before me is not how life will work out. The most important matter is my relationship with God. "The Lord knows you have need of these things."
May God help me to trust Him first, seek Him first, and let Him tell me where I can follow Him. It's not my plans that matter. It's His.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

A Hard Expensive Lesson

Our epic adventure with the "new people" is over. After an extensive investigation, we learned the recent "converts" had more to be concerned about than "baggage." They are professional thieves.
People of this kind make a living off the generosity of churches. We had taken them in with the intent of truly helping them and seeing their lives turned around. For their part, they intended to take the church for every penny they could get, and frankly, they succeeded fairly well. The combined total in cash, food and merchandise exceeded $1000.00 within one month.
The scam operates the same all over. A couple arrives in town and either shows up at church or calls. Either way, a plea is made for money for a variety of excuses: The car broke down. We're trying to get home to see our dying mother/father/sister/brother. We are out of gas. We are out of food. We need a motel room. We had a fire. etc., etc.
If the couple is successful, they may convince enough churches to have a different church making contributions each week. Once the couple is found out, they simply move to another town and start over.
In the case of the particular couple in our church, they simply became too greedy too quickly and that raised enough suspicion to begin an investigation. Greed is always their undoing. They never know when enough is enough.
This has been a touch and expensive experience for our church, but we simply have to learn when to say "no." This is a fair warning to all churches. Be very careful about how you help people. Have a plan in place for those times when people come calling for a handout. Trust me, they will. Have a plan and follow it faithfully. Don't jeopardize your church by unwise sympathy and careless procedures. Don't give money to strangers no matter how real they may seem to be. Confine your help to your own people, those who belong to your church those who faithfully attend, and those you know personally. In the long run, you'll be glad you did.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Salvation is Messy, Part Deux

I'm exhausted. I've been dragged from pillar to post while trying to help some new converts in our church. Life would have been lots easier if they had been customized into the Christian subculture already. Nope, these people are as green as they come - no church background whatever.
And baggage? Can you say "fly the friendly skies?"Every day is a new revelation, a continual soap opera of recurring problems from a seedy past. Earlier this month, I wrote "Salvation is messy," and the Lord added His exclamation point.
The intriguing and unknown factor is when "enough" is going to be enough. That is, when are these people going to be capable of standing on their own feet without the pastor (or another church member) coming to rescue them from yet another unforeseen predicament? The answer may only be known in hindsight. Like the experience of rearing our own children, we may not come to an exact point where we can say our job is done - ever.
But as a government official reminded me just a week ago, this experience, and the responsibility that comes with it, is all part of the job. When we ask the Lord for new people in church and souls being saved, He is under no obligation to provide them all shiny and new. New converts are new on the inside but the exterior can remain quite rough.
So what's the preacher to do in cases like this? Do a lot of praying, and then do the best you can. Remember the Lord is keeping watch, and your labor is not in vain.
It only looks that way.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Salvation is Messy

Two people were saved today following our services. I say that with the understanding that only God really knows their hearts and I am making a statement by faith. Their professions seemed genuine enough and quite emphatic. We'll see. After thirty-five years in the ministry, I've been fooled more often than not. There's not a preacher under the sun that doesn't want every profession of faith in Christ to bear real and lasting fruit. I've come to the point that I almost hold my breath to see what will be the outcome of each profession.
But there is another element with these people in particular. They come will baggage. Tons of it. I find myself always having to undo some emergency, some unforeseen problem their past has dumped on us.
Why is it we always seem to find the really messy sinners? Why can't we convert all the nice "clean" sinners? Why do people always seem to come with baggage? The truth is, we all come with baggage. No one is really clean.
Salvation is messy. Sometimes it's more messy than usual because that's the kind of public we are dealing with these days. We who inhabit the pulpit have to be prepared and committed to getting our hands dirty with the kind of people who need salvation most - the profoundly lost.
Sure, it's a messy proposition. But then again, only the profoundly lost are likely to become the profoundly saved. And when you get right down to it, it is the really bad cases who are our greatest trophies of grace, the ones we really wouldn't regret if we could because they represent our greatest victories.
We really don't need "neat" conversions. We need God's people who are willing to get a little messy. Winning the lost is hard work. Changing lives and habits from a sordid past to a life of grace requires hefty amounts of time, patience and money. And the only way to do it is to jump in.
It's time to get our hands a little dirty.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

America Turns

I've read tonight about a children's play performed in Missoula, Montana in which the children sang about beheading Sarah Palin, and noting "no one would miss her."
There are turning points in a nation: historical moments when you know life can never go back to being the same. The assassination of Abraham Lincoln was such a moment. So too was Pearl Harbor and the dropping of the atomic bomb. Without question, so was the attack on the World Trade Center. Events of this kind are so large they cannot be ignored. Everyone agrees that life changed on those days.
But other events are not so obvious. It's hard to miss something the size of the atomic bomb, but other events are quite small - and yet their effect is every bit as large.
I suppose hardly anyone will notice a children's play in Montana. I hear Missoula is a lovely place and the mountains are breathtaking. But Missoula is so remote, it could go on forever and most of America would never notice. That's unfortunate because America needs to notice.
The play I read about, thanks to a post from Greta Van Susteren, is something we all should take note of. America has taken another turn and it's not for the better.
In the long and not terribly proud history of American politics, there are lots of examples of politicians saying and doing all sorts of sordid things about their opponents. But I can't recall any time when American children were taught and cheered to sing about beheading a former governor. The real problem is that the people doing the teaching and singing are not politicians who are used to saying and doing just about anything during a campaign and then forgetting all about it the day after. This is the general public.
When the general public begins to teach its children to kill Christians, we have turned a new corner. And let's not fool ourselves. The most irritating thing about Sarah Palin to her enemies is not that she is a Republican, or that she is a conservative. She is a Christian.
That's why this new low in America's relentless march toward the depths of depravity is so significant. The public's attitude toward one prominent Christian is sure to work its way toward the rest of us. "The servant is not greater than his Master." The principle still holds.
Can anyone doubt that we are rapidly coming to the end of life as we know it? Can anyone doubt that the Lord's appearing is right around the bend?