Tuesday, September 29, 2015

A Foretaste of the Kingdom?

It was a good day in our little neck of the Kingdom. People gathered to study the Bible, fellowship, and share life. Worship attendance was down some (I've been reading recently of a debate over which is worse for church attendance- good weather or bad?) but the Spirit was present as we offered our voices, hearts, offerings, and lives to the Living God.

As I looked over the gathered crowd I was impressed- not in the sense of pride*- but had an impression made on me by the make-up of our congregation. In our little baptist church in Cobb County, state of Georgia, in the good old "US of A" we had worshipers from Korea, Kenya, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Romania, Columbia, Puerto Rico, Jamaica, Haiti, Ghana... and Brooklyn! Yes, there is something special about this place!

Week by week a variety of voices- male and female- lead us in worship. A variety of music enhances our worship. The reading of the Bible is a priority in our worship. Our worship is aided by ancient traditions and modern accents. It is easy to take all this for granted but these are gifts to be treasured and nurtured.  

We don't make a big deal out of our diversity- it's just who we are and how we do church. Thanks be to God!

*well, maybe a little pride!

Sunday, August 30, 2015


As soon as the words came out of my mouth... something just didn't feel right.  It was the way I'd always heard it, the source to which the immortal words had always been referenced.  Still...

So this afternoon I powered-up the laptop and went to that all-knowing source of knowledge- Google-... about five hours too late!  "How do I love thee, let me count the ways..." No, not Shakespeare, but Elizabeth Barrett Browning.  Ouch!

The last time I made a mistake of this magnitude was when I credited Kenny Rodgers with "O Lord It's Hard to Be Humble."  "It was Mac Davis, not Kenny Rodgers" I was told after the service-  by a friend of mine and a fan of Mac's.

I try to get things "right" when I'm preaching. I don't want my mistakes to become distractions that keep someone's attention away from the message.

But, to counter Mac Davis, "I'm most definitely not perfect in every way." From time to time I'm going to make factual mistakes, every now and again I'll do harm to the Queen's English, and sometimes I may not find the best interpretation.

Remember, preaching is a two-way street.  Let me know what you hear, when I mess-it-up, or when I get it wrong.  Just be gentle...please.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Unspeakaboutable Prayer

Our little high school prayer group was wrapping-up the evening when my friend Clyde raised his hand. "I have an unspeakaboutable." The others of us cocked our heads with expressions ranging from "huh?" to "really, Clyde" to "what did he just say?" Catching our confusion he fumbled for a moment before saying, "you know, it's one of things I want you to pray for but I don't want to talk about."  Like maybe an "unspoken" prayer request?

I always think of Clyde when I have trouble putting words to a prayer request.  I may be excited but can't tell anyone else, yet.  My request may actually be for the need of someone else- it's just not my place to share with others.  Sometimes, it's been because my pain was to raw, my shame too deep, or my faith to small to say out loud.

If it's awkward to not be able to put words to a need and share with others, it can be distressing to not be able to put words to the request I make to God. Sometimes I'm confused, sometimes I'm angry, sometimes I'm hurting too bad, sometimes I just don't have enough faith. The fog in my head, the knot in my stomach, the fear in my heart just can't express themselves.  In those "unspeakaboutable" moments of prayer I am grateful for the promise that "...the Spirit helps us in our weakness," that when we are at a loss for words and "do not know what we ought to pray for, the Spirit himself intercedes for us..." (Romans 8:26)

Monday, July 6, 2015

Leaving a Mark

As our vans pulled-out from the Wherry Housing Community last Saturday morning I glanced around at the sleepy neighborhood and looked back through the mirror at a bus-load of tired teenagers.  It had been- by any standard of measure- a good week.

The mission trip was over- but its impact remained.  Marks were left all over the place.  There had been buildings painted, floors tiled, and undergrowth removed.  We had left our "ebenezer," a remembrance, on the wall of the assembly area.  More importantly, marks had been left on the lives of children who gave and received love in equal amounts.  They tell us they look forward to the annual visit by their friends from Towne View- I hope they remember the Jesus we shared.

As I looked back into the van, I thought about some other, longer lasting marks.  Mission is a two-way street. Wherry had left its mark on our lives- youth and adults- in indelible ways.  Youth discovered a taste for the joy of giving themselves for others- and they liked it! They experienced the gift of unconditional love. Through the week they encountered God in quiet places and joyful worship. They shared life in a community faith and found strength for the journey.  After all the paint is scrubbed-off and the splinters healed, even after walls and buildings inevitably collapse, the Wherry mission experience will have left its mark on these lives.  Self-giving, sacrificial, welcoming,  joyful... all good adjectives for the body of Christ!

**This type of experience isn't possible without the investment of time, energy, and resources from a missional church family.  We appreciate the financial support and food donations from the church family.  I'm grateful for the love of youth shared by Tony and Clemmie Paez, Caroline Jansen, and Faith and Jerry Jansen.  As always, the skills and heart of Chris and Katie inspire us, young and old.

To find out more about the work of Community Servants in Smyrna TN you can visit their website communityservants.org.  I encourage your prayers for John Key, Ashley Fricks, and the interns that are investing their lives in this exciting ministry.

Friday, June 19, 2015

A Psalm of Lament

How long must hatred be the legacy passed from generation to generation?

How long must innocents suffer at the hands of the wicked?

How long must a nation be wounded by the abuse of its freedoms?

How long must young people feel that violence is the only way to express their frustrations?

How long must "the other" be perceived as enemy rather than received as friend?

How long must a bright future be clouded by the shadows of the past?

How long must mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, friends and neighbors... and churches grieve the senseless deaths of loved ones?

How long must people of good will, people of faith, avoid the awkward conversations and difficult decisions that shine the light of love and advance the causes of justice and righteousness?

How long, O Lord, how long?

Tuesday, June 9, 2015


For the last couple of months I have tried to prayer-walk in our cul-de-sac and the one behind us.  It's not that hard- I pray for my neighbors as I walk the dogs!

I pray for neighbors trying to sell a home, those adjusting to an empty nest, and those struggling with aging parents- in New York and Florida.  I pray for neighbors who aren't talking to each other, for a family whose son is a marine, and for new neighbors making the adjustment to life in suburban Atlanta.  As I pray for them I ask God to meet their needs- for peace, for comfort, for discernment, for reconciliation, and for a recognition of God's grace.

I'm prayer-walking our building this week, as well.  As I walk the halls I am praying for children who are learning, discovering, growing, and experiencing God's love.  I pray for adult and youth volunteers- that they might be blessed with strength, patience, and a servant spirit. Above all, I offer prayers of thanksgiving for the opportunity to share the Good News through Vacation Bible School.

The great thing about prayer-walking is that you can do it anytime and anywhere- though I suggest you keep yours eyes open if you're driving!

Monday, June 1, 2015

Keeping Sabbath

In a break from our Jewish forebearers, most Christians observe Sunday as the sabbath, or day of rest.  In our own game of legalistic gotcha' much debate has been invested into what one could or could not do on "the day of rest."  At minimum, most would agree that it would be a day intended for worship and rest- a departure from work and responsibilities that consume our minds and bodies the rest of the week.

This past Sunday was a day of sabbath celebration for our little part of God's family.  Our worship service was a great celebration- I only hope God was as blessed by our worship as we were by His presence.  In good Towne View fashion, our worship was offered through music that spanned the gauntlet of tempo, style, and generations.  What wonderful gifts were shared from prelude to postlude.

From worship we moved to Bartow-Carver Park for our annual church picnic.  Lake Allatoona was again provided an exceptional backdrop for a beautiful afternoon.  Plenty of good food, sweet desserts, sweet tea and lemonade quenched our appetites. It was quite a sight to watch folks enjoy the rocking chairs, children on the swings and in the water, folks paddle-boarding and playing games.  I can't help but wonder, "why don't we do this more often?"  As a church, yes, such opportunities for fellowship  are priceless.  But even as families, what happened to taking time just to enjoy each other's company- no schedule, no agenda- just an unhurried afternoon of relaxation?

Of course, all this rest and relaxation wouldn't have been possible without somebody putting in some hard work.  I am grateful for Jonnia and our music ministry for leading us in worship and to Dave Stewart and the rec team for making arrangements for the picnic.  And, I'm grateful to our promise-keeping God for once again making God's precence known when we gather in His name.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Prayers for a Wedding

It was a beautiful, sun-kissed Saturday afternoon as family and friends gathered for Thomas and Allie's wedding. The unseen Guest, was also among us so minister/dad offered these prayers.

An invocation:

God, we are gathered today in celebration of your love.  Father God, it was as an expression of your love that you created this world and gave us the gift of life itself.  As God the Son you offered your life to redeem our lives- as an expression of your love.  As further expression of your love, you are present with us now, sustaining us as God the Spirit.  We thank you for the love of family that brings us into this world, nurturing and guiding us.  We thank you for the love of friends who stand with us, encouraging us and challenging us.  And today we give you thanks for the love of a man and woman that calls them to commit themselves to one another as husband and wife.  May you be honored in this time of worship and in the new life that begins today.  Through Christ our Lord, amen.

And a blessing:

God, we thank you for Thomas and Allie and pray your blessings on their marriage.  May you be their light in the dark days, their strength in the hard days, their hope in the lean days, and their love for all their days. And now, "may the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ."  Amen.  

Monday, April 27, 2015

How can I help?

I am a news junkie.  I like being informed but sometimes all that information can be overwhelming.  Consider the earthquake in Nepal.

I can't fathom the deaths of almost 4,000 people.

I can't get my mind around the extent of devastation.

I can't grasp the fear of people staying outdoors for fear of their homes collapsing.

I'm not sure that I can sing "This Is My Father's World" today.

So what can I do? How can I help?

I can start by praying.  I am praying for comfort for those who have lost loved ones.  I am praying for peace for those overwhelmed by the extent of their losses.  I am praying for wisdom for those in positions of leadership.  I am praying for courage for rescue workers and medical personnel.  I am praying for compassion and strength for those who will be the presence and body of Christ in the midst of such devastation.

I can't go but I can put "feet" to my prayers by giving.  We can give through our church by designation "earthquake/disaster relief" on our check or on-line giving.  These funds will be forwarded to Baptist World Aid, the emergency relief agency of the Baptist World Alliance.  You can give directly to this organization by going online to www.bwanet.org/give.

Monday, April 20, 2015

They are the hope

Yesterday was a great day of worship and celebration.  The highlight for me was Amber Conti's sharing about her recent school-sponsored mission trip to Guatemala.

Here are the take-aways for me:

  • The camp director told the student group that the camp facility was a sanctuary that provided hope to the children of the area- but that, more importantly, "they are the hope."  These children- impoverished and malnourished- in their eyes he sees hope for their community, their country, their church. Children are the gift of hope- not just for the future- but for today!  
  • Amber went to give and ended-up being surprised by how much received.  She received the gifts of friendship, acceptance, and spiritual encouragement.  Maybe all of our mission efforts will be better served if we go- across town, across the country, across the world- as willing to receive as we are ready to give.
  • Guatemala would not have been possible without opportunities to give and grow through Vacation Bible School, the poverty simulation, or working with Community Servants at Camp Wherry. I am grateful for Chris and for the commitment of our church to provide opportunities for growth and service that plant seeds in the lives of our youth that will bear fruit far into the future.   
It was a good day to be in the house of the Lord.

(If you missed it- you can hear Amber's testimony on the "media" tab at towneview.org)

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Easter 2015

Flowers bloom, birds sing,
The very voice of nature rings-
He is risen!

Monday, March 23, 2015

The Best Gifts

In October of 1993 the Pastor Search Committee of Towne View Baptist Church traveled to Rome to hear me preach at Garden Lakes Baptist Church. A member of the committee sat behind a young mother  who wrestled with her rambunctious four-year old through the first half of the service before hauling him out to the narthex. At lunch the committee member realized that the Mom was Priscilla and the child in question was Thomas.

Twenty-one years later and Thomas is  a Marine and preparing to get married in May.  Our church family was gracious in planning a shower for Thomas and Allie but unfortunately the Marines planned for Thomas to be in Yuma, Arizona.  Allie read the following letter from Thomas:

Growing up at Towne View was something I took for granted for a long time, but, the more I have been away, the more I have come to appreciate it and the people that make it such a special place.  I can't thank you enough enough for your thoughts and prayers as I have been away more and more lately and especially wish I could be there with you today to thank you for your support of Allie and me and for making her feel a part of the Towne View family.

So many of you have been such wonderful models of how Christ-centered marriages and families can survive and thrive in a world where that is becoming less and less common and that example will always be the best gift you guys could give us.

Thanks, once again, for everything and I look forward to seeing you soon.

Thanks for indulging a proud Papa and a proud Pastor.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Blessed Be the Saints

St. Patrick is gaining a lot of attention this week. March 17 is designated as "St. Patrick's Day", which interestingly, commemorates  not the date of his birth, but rather his death. I'm not so sure how Patrick would feel about the excesses of some of the celebrations over this past weekend!

In many Christian traditions a "saint" is someone who has lived a life "worthy of emulation." In other words, someone who has a set an example worth following. Patrick seemed to have set such an example for the faithful of Ireland through his commitment to evangelism and service- growing out of his calling through a vision to "come and walk among us."

"Sainthood" may seem a a bit foreign for those of us anchored in a more protestant/free-church/baptist tradition.  This understanding is that all believers are saints, "holy ones." We may be more comfortable calling one another "brother" and "sister" but the Bible calls us "saints" (i.e. Romans 8:27,Ephesians 6:8, and Revelation 19:8).

Its is a good thing to acknowledge and celebrate the lives of those who help us see more clearly what it means to follow Jesus- even as they "walk among us."  So this week I am celebrating the lives of some saints... a grandparent, a Sunday School teacher, some youth group leaders, and a college professor... and asking God to help me live into the examples they provided.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

We All Want What We Ain't Got

It was shaping-up to be one of "those" rides home.  Traffic was even more challenging than ever- there's something about a soft rain that brings out the crazies. Music- that's what this commute needs- a little music!

I didn't last long on the "christian" station.  I didn't think their jokes were nearly as funny as they did.

I turned to the oldies station- and quickly moved-on when I recognized the song as one of my favorites in high school... on the oldies station!

I tried talk radio for a coupe of minutes... I didn't like what they were saying and, more importantly, didn't like how it was being said.

Come on country music- help me out here! I tuned-in just in time to catch Jake Owen's lament:

We all want what we ain't got, out favorite doors are always locked.
On a higher hill with a taller top, we all want what we ain't got.
We ain't happy where we are, there's greener grass in the neighbor's yard.
A bigger house and a faster car, we ain't happy where we are.

Maybe this should be in the hymnal- an ode to contentment!  Contentment, a thoroughly biblical approach to life that we don't hear much about these days.  Owen's song is set in the context of lost love- I guess the hound dog was still in the bed of the pick-up parked under the pine tree.  Too often we find ourselves unhappy with who we are, what we're doing, what we have... and if we're not careful we can lose it all while looking for something "higher," "taller," "greener," "bigger," or "faster."

Contentment begins with gratitude.  We can start by simply giving thanks to "the Giver of every good and perfect gift." A daily dose of gratitude can calm our restless minds, bring peace to our troubled hearts, and contentment to our abundantly blessed souls.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Putting Christmas Away

Christmas is an exciting time of the year.  There's something about the transformation of space that makes the season a "whole life" experience.

By now most of us have started packing away the ornaments, wreaths, and collectibles that make it "Christmas" in our homes. Multiple trips up to the attic, down to the basement, or off to the dump have removed any evidence of the holiday.  Soon it will look as if Christmas never happened.

Yet, the message of Christmas is that in Christ, God is "with us."  That is a presence and promise that never goes away.

Maybe we should keep one ornament on a shelf to remind us of the beauty of the season.  Or set aside an angel to remind us of the message of the season. Or, maybe a small manger to remind us that though we have put Christmas away, it is always "with us."