Monday, November 25, 2013

When Am I Thankful?

It is always easier to thank God when...
  We have enough money in the bank and the bills are all paid.
  Our kids are listening and obeying.
  We just received a raise at work or congratulations from our boss on a job well done.
  Our marriage is clicking and we are feeling close to our spouse.
  Algebra makes sense and we are cruising with a strong A.
  Our health is good and we sleep well at night.
  Our car is running fine and looking sharp.
  Our weight is under control and getting up to exercise is fun.
  The doctor gives us a clean bill of health.
  We get an unexpected influx of cash.

It takes very little work to thank God for these kinds of things.  As a matter of fact, we are much quicker to thank God in these times.  

It's not so easy to thank God when...
  We have too much month left for the money we have.
  We are unable to make house payments because of a balloon payment in our loan.
  The car won't start and the bill to fix it is over $1,000.
  Our spouse doesn't seem to listen to us and we are disagreeing.
  Our kids don't do what we ask, whine and complain about everything.
  We can't seem to fall asleep at night and have gotten just a few hours of sleep each night.
  We put on pounds because our hectic lifestyle leads us to eat too much junk food.
  The doctors says we may have a tumor.
  Our tooth cracks and we have to get it repaired.
  We lose our job because of cutbacks.
  We lose our medical insurance because of the laws passed by our government.

Yet, this is when we need to thank God the most.  James 1 reminds us to.."Count it all joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know the testing of your faith develops perseverance.  Perseverance must finish it work so you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything."  This kind of mindset turns Thanksgiving upside down.  We thank God when things aren't going the way we want them to go.  Difficult circumstances do not mean God has abandoned us.  They simply mean that God has a plan which is different and BETTER than ours.  So take time this week to thank God for the trials, pains and struggles in your life rather than the just the joys.

Monday, November 18, 2013

It's All About Giving

I am privilege to serve a church with some of the craziest followers of Christ you will ever meet.  For example, just a few minutes ago I am sitting in my office working.  Without even a knock, my office door flies open and standing there is Tom Bishop.  Tom throws an orange to me, says "It's all about giving" and then leaves.  Bam!  Just like that.  For those of you who don't know, I eat an orange every morning for breakfast, so Tom was taking care of me.  How many times have you ever been gotten by a hit-and-run orange tosser?  This was a first for me, but having crazy things happen like this as pastor of Hillcrest Baptist Church is now out of the norm.  What a great way for my week to get started.  How did your Monday start?

I took that comment from Tom as a sign from God and began to think about what he said.  "It's all about giving:".  Tom may have been referencing the sermon yesterday because I reminded the church that coming to church was not about them.  We don't come to church for what we get out of it.  We come to church to give to God and minister to each other.  The church in America has become way too self-centered.  We need to have the right music, the right technology, the right lighting, the right teaching and all the programs to meet all of our needs.  If we don't find these things at our church, we just go to the next "big thing" church.  So churches today feel the pressure to have bands, technology and ministry which will attract and keep their "clients", oops, I mean parishioners.  Too many go to church for what they get out of it rather than what they give to God and to others.  So Tom was reminding me of my own message, which is a good message for me.  Serving the Lord is not about what's in it for me, but what's in it for God's Kingdom.

I thought about things going on at Hillcrest when Tom tossed me the orange.  "It's all about giving".  I think about the way our church gives to each other.  Here's just one example:  One of our members is going through chemotherapy for cancer.  Her daughter posted a message of Facebook asking if anyone had a wheel chair she could use for her Mom.  One of the members in our church didn't even wait to see what happened.  They just brought a wheel chair with them on Sunday and gave it to the daughter.  It's all about giving.  That's just one example of the way the Hillcrest family gives to each other.  It just makes me glad to be involved in a church trying to serve the Lord and each other.  I often wonder how people without a church family make it through the difficult times in life.  If you don't have a church family, make sure to find one.  If you are only going to church but have not developed deep relationships, get involved in a small group where you can minister to others.  It's all about giving.

I also thought about the fifty-one shoe boxes that are packed and ready to be sent all over the world through Operation Christmas Child.  We have a table on which these boxes are stacked and will be delivered next Sunday.  These boxes are going to children we will never meet in this world.  But each box is a living witness to the child and his/her family who receives the shoe box.  It's all about giving.  If you haven't put together a shoe box, it isn't too late yet.  If your church is not collecting shoe boxes, you can always go on-line and find a place to deliver your shoe box.  I also thought about the 70+ boxes of pie crusts sitting on the altar at the front of the sanctuary.  Every year, our church donates these pie crust boxes to the Telegraph Center in Oakland for their Thanksgiving food distribution.  This year, I forgot to even contact the Telegraph Center until a member of the church asked me if we were collecting pie crust boxes again.  So once again, we will help needy families in our community have a memorable Thanksgiving meal.  It's all about giving. 


I John 4:10 reminds us, "This is love:not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins."  As a follower of Christ, it's all about giving because we have already received much more than we deserve.  So today, rather than waiting on someone to help you out, how about giving to someone else?  Because, it really is all about giving.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Mental Meanderings from a Mind on Vacation

In the Fall of 1978, I made one of the greatest life changing decisions of my life.  It was my senior year in high school and we were all trying to determine where we would go to college.  I had four criteria for the institute of higher learning I would attend:  #1 - It could not under ANY circumstances be Appalachian State University.  My two brothers and one cousin were already attending ASU and I had been called Ben and Clif enough for an entire life time.  I wanted my own identity apart from my brothers.  #2 - It had to be small.  I knew that if I went to a large college, I would be tempted to slack off and not invest myself into the learning process.  I needed a place where there was academic accountability.  #3 - It had to be a Christian school - I wanted to have my faith reinforced and learn about life through the eyes of a Christian worldview.  #4 - It had to be close enough to home that I could get back home easily, but far enough away that home would not be tempted to come to me.  I don't know how I found out about Wingate College because no one in my family nor anyone in my sphere of influence had ever heard of Wingate.  But it met all four of my criteria:  It was ASU, it had only 1,500 total students, it was a Southern Baptist College and it was a little more than two hours from home.  So in November, I decided to use one of my three "college tour" days to miss school and check out this place.  So I made the trek to the thriving metropolis of Wingate and drove into the main entrance.  By the time I drove one block on campus, I knew that I would be attending Wingate if I got accepted.  I fell in the love with the place.  It was all I was looking for and even more.  This was one of the smartest decisions I had ever made in my life.  It was evident that God was guiding me in this process and I was thrilled to follow Him to Wingate.  Jeremiah 29:11 says, "For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plants to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future."  Never has this been more true than in the fall of 1978.  My decision was made and before mid-December of my Senior year in high school, I had been accepted to Wingate and was making plans for my freshman year.  Most of us know what God wants us to do with our lives.  We simply get scared and step back from it, asking God for more confirmation, when we know in our soul what God wants.  Don't be afraid to step out in faith and go where God is leading you today.  Oh, by the way, I never did use those other two "college days" because I felt this would be a slap in God's face because I already knew His plans for me.

So in August of 1979, I loaded up my AMC Gremlin and headed for Wingate.  The only person I knew was my room mate, who I had met earlier that Summer.  I was starting out fresh and new in a place where I knew no one and had very little support.  As I turned down highway 601 from I-85, I began to wonder what in the world was I doing.  But Wingate was all I had hoped for and even more.  I met people right and left.  Everyone was friendly and welcoming with friendships easy to make.  Nicknames like Smitty, Pud, Hank, King Lear, JW and M & M came to symbolize a  depth of friendship with each other.  This past weekend, I spent some time with many of those wonderful friends.  After 34 years since our freshman year, I was struck by the nature that Wingate had instilled in us.  Wingate made a huge impact on my life, but not because it wasn't ASU, nor its size, nor its Christian commitment and not even its distance from home.  It had an impact on my life because of the people.  These friends cared about me and I was blessed to have so many people involved in my life.  At the Homecoming breakfast, the first person I saw that I knew was Mark Horne.  He was from the huge metropolis of Spindale and we struck up a friendship immediately our freshman year.  When Mark saw me, we did not hug, we embraced.  It was the hug and two friends who had shared common experiences and were thrilled to be reconnecting.  It was like that all day long.  The capper was gathering with classmates for dinner.  I was struck by the conversation:  It wasn't a conversation of comparatives (Seeing if you had done better in life than someone else) and it wasn't a conversation of insignificant things and it wasn't a conversation of competition.  It was the conversation of friends reconnecting and deeply concerned with what was happening in each other's lives.  There was comfort as we shared our struggles and celebration as we shared our successes.  Everyone was genuinely happy for what was happening in each other's live and grateful to have these conversations.  I just soaked in these wonderful and beautiful people who had made such a difference in my life.  We looked back with fondness on our years and Wingate and we were simply friends.  Back in our college days, it didn't matter that Harriet Suber led the nation in rebounding for women's basketball or that Dianna Monroe led the nation in scoring.  We were just friends, but even more than that.  I look back now and thank God for these pals.  And even though we haven't seen each other in thirty years, Wingate cultivated this idea of building pals so that we could pick up a friendship after such a long time.  I found out that many of my Wingate friends read my Facebook posts and even this blog and would pray for me.  I was humbled to hear them ask questions about my family which showed they were paying attention to what had happened in my life.  It reminded me of Jonathan's love and friendship for David when he said, "Go in peace for  we have sown friendship with each other in the name of the Lord" in I Samuel 20:42.  Let me encourage you to cultivate true friendships with people who will be committed to your well-being and you will commit to theirs!

I wanted to share two more events from Homecoming and hope they will encourage you.  The first was an encounter that I had with one of my classmates, Steve Lear.  He came late to breakfast so I didn't get to sit with him but ran into him walking around the campus.  His 18 year old daughter had been killed in a single car accident.  I knew it had been devastating, but I wanted to talk with him about it.  Steve began to share with me all he had been through dealing with this tragedy.  but it was not a heavy heart, but a heart at peace.  He misses his daughter but has turned this pain over to the Lord.  God has brought healing and peace into his life.  I cannot imagine losing either of my sons, but Steve lost his beautiful daughter.  He shared about the accident, the funeral and how God has utilized his church family and close friends to find peace in this tragedy.  I was struck by the depth of his character and the way he had allowed God to work in his life through this accident.  We both agreed that if it weren't for the love of God and His church family, life would be overbearing.  Hebrews 10:25 says, "Let us not give up meeting together as some are in the habit, but let us encourage one another."  Take the lesson from Steve Lear and immerse yourself in your church.  Not just showing up and taking advantage of ministries, but finding a place to serve and serving with passion.  One day, you will be grateful you have made such a commitment.
The other event that struck me had nothing to do with reminiscing or my classmates.  It had to do with the homecoming king and queen.  At halftime of the football game, they announced the king and queen.  What struck me the most was that the king was not a strapping football stud, but a very average looking student.  I have never met him and am just going on my observations.  He seems like a very nice young man who has the respect of his classmates.  When they announced the queen, I was thrilled to see that it was a young woman who had some developmental struggles because of her height and the use of a brace to walk.  The stands with the students erupted in cheers when this young lady's name was called.  I was so proud to be an alumni of a college in which the students would honor someone by the content of her character, not the way she looked.  The king and queen did not fit the typical mold, but showed the heart of an institution and the students who attend that institution.  It was a confirmation of the correct choice I made thirty five years ago when I chose to make Wingate College my institute of higher learning.
Now I know there are more popular and much bigger colleges than Wingate.  Most of you reading this blog will have to google Wingate (Which is no longer Wingate College but Wingate University) to even have any details about this school.  But this small college in the sandhills of North Carolina had a massive impact on my life.  The friends I made while in my four years there are more than friends, they are pals.  I am thankful that God in His providence saw fit to lead me to a place that would be so immensely important in my life.  To my 1983 classmates, I want you to know how much I love you and thank God for the impact you have had on my life.  My heart is still brightened by spending time with you last weekend and the embraces you shared continue to make my days better.  Though I may be a continent away, I thank God that we can keep up with each other through technology and I look forward to growing closer to you over the coming years.  Thanks for changing my life!!