Blurring the Lines

In the past few days two African-American men were shot to death by Police Officers who were white. Hillary Clinton, the presidential nominee of the Democratic Party, while chided for being ‘careless’ was exonerated by the FBI and Justice Department for using a private email server and incorrectly handling sensitive information in her email accounts.

I don’t know enough of the details in the two officer involved shootings to make a judgment. I barely understand my own email account and its settings so pronouncing a verdict on Mrs. Clinton is beyond my scope of responsibility.

What I can observe is that the lines of justice seem to have been blurred in our culture. Behavior that would bring some sort of reprimand for others is called ‘careless’ and no consequences are forthcoming. Officer involved shootings have taken the lives of two men – sons, fathers, brothers, uncles – before their time. In times like these my only recourse is to cry out to God…where is justice? King David’s words, penned thousands of years ago are more relevant than ever:

But when I considered how to understand this, it was too great an effort for me and too painful Until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I understood [for I considered] their end.” (Psalm 73:16–17, AMP).

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Celebrating Unimpressive Numbers

World Changers Wrap Up.

What a week. Only 6 projects and 8 teams, around 100 people per day engaged in serving the community. Those numbers aren’t impressive. I see more significant numbers every day on Twitter and Facebook.

However, what is impressive is the impact 100 people can make. The gospel was shared 40 times and 2 individuals opened their lives to the truth of God’s gift of Himself through Jesus Christ. Again, the numbers are not impressive. What is impressive is that those 40 who heard the gospel and those two who gave their lives to Christ will have an impact that we cannot measure – both here and now and for eternity.

A number of the students attending the project made fresh commitments to more closely follow Jesus. Who can measure the impact these students will have on their family, friends, and community?

We are easily impressed with numerical statistics. But never underestimate the power of one – one life transformed could be the key to opening an entire segment of the community, multiple generations of a family, and, yes, even an entire community.

We have had bigger projects in terms of volunteers serving. We have had more gospel presentations shared. We have seen more decisions reported.

I am celebrating every gospel presentation, every response – positive and negative and the undecideds – because as God’s Word is proclaimed, He is at work transforming individuals, families, communities and eventually His world!

 

 

 

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Contentment

Here are words worth pondering:

Contentment is the inward, quiet, gracious frame of spirit, freely submitting to and taking pleasure in God’s disposal in every condition: That is the description, and in it nine distinct things have been opened up which we summarize as follows: First, that contentment is a heart-work within the soul; Secondly, it is the quieting of the heart; Thirdly, it is the frame of the spirit; Fourthly, it is a gracious frame; Fifthly, it is the free working of this gracious frame; Sixthly, there is in it a submission to God, sending the soul under God; Seventhly, there is a taking pleasure in the hand of God; Eighthly, all is traced to God’s disposal; Ninthly, in every condition, however hard it be and however long it continue.

Burroughs, Jeremiah. The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment (p. 16). . Kindle Edition.

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SEEKING THE LORD

Search for the Lord and for His strength; seek His face always.” (Psalm 105:4, HCSB)

I read these words this morning and immediately asked, How do I search and seek? As I continued in my daily reading I found the beginnings of answer:

A. Remember His past acts – see Psalm 105:5-45. All that God did in fulfilling His promise to Abraham calls to mind the fact that even in the midst of unfavorable circumstances, He is at work

B. Rehearse what we know to be true about God: See Psalm 135. As we hear God’s Word, examine it, analyze it, remember it, and think upon His Word we are reminded of His nature – He is good; He has chosen us for His own possession; He is great and able to accomplish all He pleases; He alone endures forever; and He will vindicate His people!

I long to be known as one who seeks after God, for His strength, and for His presence!

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HOMELESSNESS

In a recent piece in First Things, R. R. Reno penned some thoughts about homelessness. While homelessness has been a rather divisive issue in my community the type of homelessness Reno discusses is hugely different. He explains, “Our economic, intellectual, and political elites in America feel at home in today’s system … By contrast, ordinary people feel less and less at home” (The Public Square, First Things, June/July 2016). His insight is an attempt to explain the rise of political populists such as Donald Trump on the right and Bernie Sanders on the left.

While homelessness due to poverty, addiction, and lifestyle choices is a critical issue in rural communities as well as urban centers, the kind of homelessness Reno writes about is more and more evident in my world. Over half of the land in my county is owned and managed by the federal government (meaning there are no property taxes to assess, physical access is limited and timber harvests are rare- which has been historically Douglas County’s prime job source). Even the state government enacts policies that increase the sense of homelessness in rural regions. Portland, Salem, Eugene (which tend to be heavily Democratic) with their population clearly control the destiny of Oregon politically.

Homelessness as Reno described is taking hold in our community as people are more and more alienated by directives from the federal government on access to bathrooms; state mandates that seem intent on increasing the number of patients on the highly touted Oregon Health Plan; and decisions about the minimum wage increase that ignore the clear economic realities.

While the current political and economic circumstances create a sense of homelessness for many in my community- the sense that they no longer belong to the idea of America, that there is no longer any room for the kind of labor and family structures that built our community- there is another sense in which we who claim to follow Jesus Christ will always be homeless!

This earth, this current political system – with all it’s positives and even it’s negatives – is not our home. God’s people have truly never been ‘at home.’ From Abraham, who was called to leave his family and his past, through John residing on Patmos we who respond to the call to follow Jesus are never ‘at home.’ Rather, as the author of the New Testament letter to the Hebrews indicates we are at best merely passing through. When describing Abraham and Sarah the author noted:

These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.” (Hebrews 11:13–16, ESV)

May we always be ‘homeless’ until we are truly ‘at home’ in the eternal presence of God Himself!

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Dispatches from the edge…

I’ve been at the edge a few times lately. I drove Oregon Hwy 30 from Troutdale to Multnomah Falls. Lots of edges there. I’ve been pushed to the edge a few times emotionally and physically over the past couple of weeks. Perhaps the edge that bothers me most is the sense that I am living at the far edge of a network of churches in which I was raised and nurtured. Until the past couple of years I was fully committed to the Southern Baptist Convention and its programs and ministries. I led the churches I served to fully participate in the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions and the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American Missions.  I encouraged the people attending our church – and other area pastors – to take advantage of resources such as the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (erlc.com), our seminaries and their websites, and our regional network of churches.

But something has happened that has pushed me to the edge. More and more of our missional strategy is being decided for us in places far away from the Northwest by people who often ask the question- ‘do I know how far it is from my place of ministry to their offices?’ – as if I’ve never traveled out of the Northwest. Of course I know how far it is. I’ve gladly travelled quite a distance to attend conferences, meetings, conventions and other functions. For the record I live about 200 miles from the Portland, Oregon airport which is the most convenient and least expensive option for air travel.

I pastor a small (normal, according to Mark Clifton) church. Because the churches I’ve served haven’t experienced massive growth requiring multiple campuses, the hiring of additional staff, the development of innovative discipleship programs my thoughts about ministry are regarded as, well, a reflection of the inability our church has to implement the flavor of the month for maximum church growth.

The rural community I serve (and have gladly served for 25 years) is and has been economically depressed for years. The lumber industry that created our community and on which rural Oregon depended has changed drastically in the past two decades. Young families are rarely attracted to our area and are leaving in significant numbers. The cities to the north of us are attractive job centers as well as cultural and entertainment magnets (yes, I have driven nearly 200 miles one way to attend a Christian music concert because that is as close as the artists have come). For reasons I understand financially but fail to grasp spiritually most of our denominational strategy is focused on mega-cities, meaning funds and training are generally focused on those areas often to the exclusion of rural communities.

One final factor seems to have moved me closer to the edge. The current celebrated model of church growth in our region seems to be built around a college age ministry. Don’t misunderstand. I am excited to see college age kids come to know Jesus, to be renewed in their faith. However, my church is 80 miles away from a state university. We don’t have a large mother church to help with the necessary funds to support an outreach to our community college campus. We  don’t have much musical talent and so our worship team is comprised of several older adults – and one pre-teen – who love to sing, but lack training. They give their all in leading worship, but it still sounds, well, ok but not great.

So, am I asking for pity? No. OK, maybe just a little?

Don’t worry. I am not about to jump or get any closer to the edge! I have stayed here in this community believing that God has called me here and that my wife and I honor God best by being obedient. What I would ask for, however, is the following:

PRAYER

Not just ‘Dear God, help Steve,’ but prayer for a clearer and more compelling love for the community to which God has called my wife and me. Also, pray that God would move one or two young couples into our area who sense a call to serve bi-vocationally in a loving and energetic church family.

LISTEN

Being a small (i.e. normal size) church doesn’t mean we have failed or that we have missed some ‘wave’ or some ‘move of God.’ It also doesn’t mean my thoughts and ideas about ministry, discipleship, worship, and the culture are irrelevant.

LOOK AROUND

Chances are there is a pastor just like me. Maybe he serves down the street, across town, or just outside of the town or city in which you live. Take some time to get to know that pastor. Listen to his heart for the community, for the people, for the advance of the gospel. You never know what God might have in store!

 

Thanks for reading!

 

Steve

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It’s Sunday – Again!

It’s Sunday – again. Funny how Sunday’s keep showing up consistently, every seven days. This week was interesting. Dealt with an ear infection – my first since I was a toddler; World Changer pre-project site visit; a car breakdown (fixed without cost); and miscellaneous meetings; preparing for an opportunity to teach a class on Islam to 8th grade students at Winston Middle School; and the normal day to day stuff of serving as a pastor.

This Sunday six families that I know of will miss worship – three families are ministering at another church as part of the Bikers For Christ ministry; one family is struggling with illness; two families are visiting out of town family members. It’s always a little discouraging facing an even emptier auditorium. But that is the life of small churches. In larger churches several families don’t leave as much a hole in the auditorium, but it really shows in our auditorium.

Yet, there are folks who will be here, people who are hungry to hear God’s Word, people needing the encouragement of meeting together. I see the family struggling with separation; I see aging people struggling physically against failing bodies and minds; I see folks who often only have conversations with others in this building; I see couples living far away from their adult children who struggle with loneliness (wait, that’s me!); I see a few adults attend without their spouse because their spouse is an unbeliever; I see some whose adult children are far, far from God even though they live within a few miles. I often liken our rural community to Appalachia of the West because of the systemic poverty and deep seated hopelessness that pervades our families.

So today I bring a message of hope: Jesus hears, Jesus speaks; and Jesus provides. Thanks be to God who brings us the victory!

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