Faint Fumes

It was a beautiful Spring day. The sun was high in the sky and there was a warm breeze blowing just strong enough to alleviate the heat radiating from the sun. This was the first day that felt like spring after a pretty wintry winter, and since we were living by a lake all we could think about was being on the lake soaking in as much of the day as we could. So we called some family to join us for this picture perfect day trip. Little did we know this picture perfect day on the lake would be nearly ruined by what was under the surface.
Our day trip on the lake started out pretty normal. We packed up the car, headed to boat storage and prepped the boat for launch. As we were prepping the boat, Holly reminded me that the last time we had gone out there had been a faint odor of gas fumes lingering at the back of the boat. So we decided a little additional investigation was in order to insure everything was fine. What we found was that everything wasn’t fine. While topping off the gas tank, a friend who was watching the fuel gauge noticed the floor at the back of the boat was soaked. The boat had been wintered for a few months, so it hadn’t been on the water for quite some time. Being a curious kind of guy he made his way to the back of the boat and lifted the engine cover. To our surprise the gasoline that was supposed to be filling the gas tank was actually filling the bottom of the boat. We immediately stopped filling the boat with fuel and began to assess the seriousness of the situation. We had created a small lake of our own in the bottom of our boat, but this lake could have quickly turned explosive had we tried to start the engine. That’s not the kind of thing that rounds out a picture perfect day!
Fortunately we caught the problem before anyone ended up getting seriously hurt, and were able to put the boat in the hands of a qualified mechanic for repairs. The sobering thing is that had we not paid attention to the faint fumes and the subtle signs things could have ended very differently.
This incident reminds me of how things often work in our relationships. Broken relationships don’t just happen. It is not normal for a wonderful relationship between two people to turn sour overnight resulting in a bitter rivalry. Typically, things build up under the surface with nothing but subtle warnings above the surface. There is a harsh word here, a piercing look there, and if these things are brushed over then the next thing you know you’re in a lake of fire wondering how in the world you got there and what could have been done to prevent it.
Unfortunately as a pastor I see this happen far too often, but very seldom do people catch the signs and react before the fire breaks out. The fire is usually raging by the time we begin crying out for help. Instead of needing a mechanic to perform some necessary repairs that will prevent life-threatening injuries, we are in need of emergency personnel to save, salvage, and perhaps pieced things back together. Oftentimes, we’re left with a charred heap of rubble from which to salvage what we can, if anything.
Are there any faint fumes leaking and lingering in any of the relationships in your life today? Is your spouse speaking a little more harshly, kissing a little less passionately or, staying out a little later? Those could be fumes. Are your children avoiding eye contact or conversation? Those could be fumes. Do you smell any possible fumes elsewhere? If so, its time to take a look under the surface and see if you can identify and address what is going on before it turns into your own little lake of fire. Some extra attention never hurt anyone and a visit to the mechanic is a lot less expensive than dealing with a charred heap of rubble.

Wide Awake

We don’t talk much these days about the return of Christ, and when we do it is often shrouded in fear and depression concerning the end of the world. Even in churches it seems as though the fact that Jesus’ promised to return for His bride some two thousand years ago has lost its excitement for us. Our time and energy is focused on things that are very significant and God-honoring, but they are also rooted in the here and now. We want to make our world a better place and put an end to things like poverty, injustice, and a whole host of other noble pursuits. All the while we may be missing one central premise of life as a follower of Jesus Christ, a premise that guarantees to wake us from the slumber we may not even realize we have fallen into. Paul has a message for each of today that as followers of Jesus Christ our daily lives should be shaped by His imminent return.


Valuing Our Vision series #6: Empty Bleachers

message title: Empty Bleachers
message text: 1 Corinthians 12:12-26
message date: 07.25.10
Ownership matters. When I possess something as its owner I also possess the authority to determine the usage of that thing. This series will answer questions of ownership and management. It will look at the world, our lives, and our resources in light of the reality that God owns everything and therefore sets the parameters for our management of all we have and are. This final message in the series looks at our stewardship as the body of Christ. Since God’s family is made up of participants and not spectators how does that impact the way in which we manage our function within our local church?


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Time to Reflect

I am headed to my 20 year high school reunion this weekend. Special occasions like this always put me in a reflective mood. Personally, I like to reflect. I like to evaluate the ebb, flow and patterns in my life, even though I don’t always like what I see and what God tells me I must do about it. Still, I have enjoyed reflecting during the last several weeks prompted by said reunion. See, I wasn’t living my life to honor God 20 years ago so there is a lot of ebb and flow since that time. There have been a lot of devastating patterns overturned and replaced with life-giving, God-honoring ones. I like to stop and just rejoice when I come across things like that. God doesn’t allow me to stay there long though because there are still so many patterns in my life that need to be surrendered to His Lordship. I’ve got a long way to go, but God has certainly brought me a long way too.
There is another special occasion coming up that I hope will prompt the same kind of reflective mood in all of us. It is the 50th anniversary of MorningStar Baptist Church. What a great time for each of us to prayerfully evaluate the ebb, flow, and patterns of life and ministry for this church. What a great time to rejoice in the ways in which God has revealed and replaced destructive patterns in this ministry. God won’t allow us to stay there too long though because He still has work to do. He still has life-threatening patterns to uncover and root out in us individually and collectively.
We are going to have a wonderful time of celebration August 27-29. There will be old friends and new. There will be memories made and memories remembered. There will be food (of course, we’re Baptist!), there will be music, there will be laughter and surprises. But in the midst of all of that I want to encourage every one of us to also allow this to be a time in which we intentionally, passionately, and fervently seek the Lord asking Him to reveal to us His perspective of this ministry past, present, and future. For those who do, I assure you it will be the highlight of this special occasion.

Homes and Hearts in Order

            A transformation takes place in our home in the days leading up to the arrival of guests.  I don’t know if it is a result of how my wife and I were raised or if it is a common practice among human beings, but we shift into a different mindset during this time.  We do everything we can to put our best foot forward.

            Before I get myself into all kinds of trouble on the home front let me say that the typical state of our home is not one of chaos and disarray, at least not any more so than any home which includes two little children, a dog and a messy husband.  The customary atmosphere of our home is best described as comfortably lived in.  But with the anticipation of company “lived in” just won’t do. 

Like most individuals expecting company my wife and I go into a meticulous cleaning mode, but instead of being satisfied with a spotless abode we take our preparations to a whole new level.  For example, a few years ago the week before the imminent arrival of guests we set out on a mission of reorganizing our laundry room, several closets and remodeling our guest bedroom/home office, all of which wouldn’t be a big deal if there weren’t a two day deadline looming over our heads.  Two days which were already filled with other responsibilities.  Honoring guests in our home is a strength of ours.  Realistically planning what we can fit into a short period of time is not.   

There is a tradition among the Jewish people that dates back several millennia.  At the beginning of their Passover celebration, which commemorates their deliverance from slavery in Egypt, parents hide yeast, also called leaven, throughout their home.  After hiding the leaven they send their children through the home searching for all the leaven to bring back to the parents.  This little object lesson is the inauguration of a week in which there is to be no bread cooked or eaten within the home that includes leaven.  The house is cleaned out and made ready in remembrance of the way in which God set His people apart and delivered them from the hands of oppressors.  In a loose sort of way, this tradition shares some similarities with the practice we’ve in adopted in our home of preparing for company.

The effort we expend in preparing our home for honored guests really isn’t the most important factor to welcoming them into our home.  Regardless of how beautiful and spotless our home may look if we don’t have attitudes that communicate warmth and friendliness then the house will feel cold and cruel no matter how calming the color scheme or how fresh the fragrances flowing from our Plug-Ins.  Most people don’t come to our home to see our home they come to our home because they want to spend time with us.  So the attitude or our heart is far more important than the preparation of our home.

This was the point of the Passover object lesson.  In hiding leaven throughout the home parents were taking an external activity to illuminate an internal heart attitude.  God didn’t care as much about clean homes as He did welcoming hearts.  He was looking for, and has always been looking for, individual hearts that welcome Him as an honored guest.  The problem is far too many individuals have been ambushed by an obsession with getting the house in order at the expense of the heart.  There is a widespread belief that one can’t possibly expect God would want anything to do with us until all the vices have been cleaned out.  We’ve got to get it all together for such an honored guest.  Nothing could be farther from the truth.  The truth is none of us can possibly get it all together.  The best we can do is mess it up.  We are like my four year old washing the good china, yikes!  God doesn’t expect any of us to get the whole house straightened and just right before we invite Him over for a stay.  What He desires is a heart that is welcoming.  A heart that acknowledges the dust bunnies and dirty closets and is overwhelmingly grateful that such an honored guest would so genuinely desire we abide with Him.

Beyond My Control

            The older I get the more and more I realize there are many things in life that are beyond my control.  Yet, I find myself trying on a regular basis to control many of them.  What I have also realized is this is a phenomenon that is shared by many of my fellow human beings.

            Take time for example.  We have zero control of time – nada.  I have yet to find an individual who has mastered the ability of slowing down, speeding up, rewinding or pausing time.  Though there have been movies and books that grant characters these special abilities the last time I checked all those movies fell under the classification of fiction and fantasy.  I have yet to see one that begins with the words, “based on a true story.”  There are those who would like us to believe they are living a true story in which they have slowed or stopped time through the wonders of cosmetic surgery. In reality all they have done is effectively masked the certainty we all face that time is no respecter of persons.

            Though all have at least a subconscious knowledge of the vainness of seeking to control time we still expend amazing amounts of energy on this effort in futility.  Year after year we chase after the proverbial fountain of youth, seeking immortality.  Why?  In large part because we want to live forever, we don’t want to see time run out on us.  We want to cheat death, beat death, laugh in the face of the Grim Reaper as he stands before us totally impotent. 

Imagine for just a moment the implications if someone did actually come up with a marketable way for people to control time?  What a precious gift for the family member who never got to say goodbye or reconcile with a loved one who passed away unexpectedly.  And how beneficial would it be for someone in danger to simply pause time in order to steer clear of the danger about to ensue.  This would be a great military weapon especially when our special forces find themselves hot on the trail of known terrorists who seemingly continue to slip through their grasp.  But not all the implications are good ones.  For every good result we can cite there are a handful of bad ones as well.  This epic struggle is what good movie plots are made of, keeping powerful tools meant for good out of the hands of evil tyrants with an insatiable lust for power, destruction and control.

Regardless of what we may see played out at the local movie theater and on our home entertainment centers there always has and always will be certain things outside the realm of our ability to control and time is just one of them.  Like it or not there are aspects of this life we live in which we are the drowning victim bobbing in the middle of the ocean in need of a rescuer to throw us a line.  It doesn’t matter how hard we try or how much effort we expend because all that will ultimately result from our efforts is a tired victim bobbing in the middle of the ocean hoping and praying ever more frantically for any sign of a rescuer on the horizon.  It wouldn’t matter if you were an endurance swimmer, a lifeguard, or the person with the longest running lucky streak in history, we find ourselves on equal footing when we’re alone hundreds of miles from a shoreline.  A hope for timely help is the only thing we have.

            As I’ve aged I would like to think I have become wiser, and as I ponder these things beyond my control I realize that instead of trying to shape reality to how I think it should be I should be living within reality as it is.  If I’m bobbing in the middle of the ocean it doesn’t matter how much I believe I am living a different reality, unless a rescuer shows up I am sunk.  I can think I’m on a tropical beach basking in the noonday sun all I want but in the end all I end up with is an empty fantasy.  The good news is there is a rescuer on the horizon who throws a lifeline to all who stop trying to control and shape their own reality and send out an SOS asking for His help.  The question is will we stop thrashing around and trying to save ourselves or will be accept reality and cry out for His help?

Thanks in Everything

            I recently had a stark reminder of my tendency to take things for granted.  It all began when I arrived home after a day out with the family to find our homestead engulfed in a cold front.  I immediately checked the circuit breaker thinking that maybe we had tripped it, but to my chagrin everything was fine there.  It appeared as though our furnace was in need of some T.L.C. and since I am no Tim the Toolman I had to call a repairman.  So, this morning I find myself sitting in front of our fireplace writing this article as I turn myself around like a rotisserie chicken when one side gets too hot and the other side too cold. 

            This whole experience has reminded me of just how easy life has become for us.  Though my daughter and wife look on this as some sort of Little House on the Prairie adventure I know the novelty would soon wear off for them if we had to spend even half of the cold months living like this.  Yet, this is exactly how our ancestors lived just a few generations ago, and some unfortunately still do.  Everything was a struggle for them.  Heat didn’t come from the gas or electric company with automatic climate control year round at the touch of a button.  Food wasn’t purchased at a grocery store prepackaged and ready to pop in the microwave.  And the cure for common ailments wasn’t as simple as a visit to the family physician for a flu shot or an antibiotic.  Life in general was much more difficult.  The elements were harsh and life was much more about survival than embellishment. 

            Today, for most of us life is far more about embellishment.  The concerns jostling around in our minds are not about heat and food and sickness as much as they are about flat screens and french fries and fashion.  That’s a luxury many of us have because of the incredible advancements that have taken place in fields like science and technology.

            This reminder brought with it a sobering realization.  In spite of all these advancements that have contributed to the relative ease of my life I still find it very easy to grumble and complain about life and the cards I am dealt.  I can’t tell you the last time I walked through the door of my home and expressed gratitude for the electric company faithfully supplying me with energy.  Instead I get irritated when that energy goes out for a few minutes, or an afternoon, inconveniencing me and my family.  I grumble and complain not because my life is in danger but because things are no longer convenient.  Even in the midst of this reminder of the conveniences of life I am struggling with grumbling and complaining because furnaces should be made to be maintenance free and they should last forever, or at least until I have moved out and the next guy moves in.  It embarrassing how ugly our hearts are when we take an honest inventory isn’t it?!

            A wise teacher once wrote, “In everything give thanks.”  This could be written off as an absurd statement if it had been written by someone who had never experienced anything but luxury, but the individual who wrote this phrase was the same individual who spent much of his life in a state of survival, skirting death on more than one occassion.  Various accounts of his life document the meager means on which he had to survive, the rigorous travel that took a toll on his health and the physical torture and imprisonment he endured at the hands of his enemies.  It was in the midst of this lifestyle that the Apostle Paul wrote these shocking words.  A contemporary of Paul’s records this was Paul’s lifestyle not just a catchphrase.  During one particular unjustified imprisonment Paul was found singing joyful songs of gratitude.  Bound, chained, beaten and smiling – Are you kidding me?  I don’t know about you but that’s the kind of person who I just want to trip when they’re walking down the street.  There’s that ugly heart again.  I can’t help but think that maybe a change of heart and a change of outlook would do many of us a lot of good.  Maybe I do have a lot more to be thankful for and a lot less to grumble about.  So here goes.  I may be sitting here in the cold waiting for the repairman to arrive but at least I have a fireplace and it certainly has brought the family closer together, literally.  Maybe things aren’t so bad after all.  I’m not bound, I’m not beaten, but I am smiling.

“a must read” series #2: chapter one: a heart two sizes too small

message title:  Chapter 1: A Heart Two Sizes too Small

message text: Revelation 2:1-7

message date: 03.14.10

These days it seems that everyone has a strategy, opinion, plan, or formula for how the church should look and operate.  However, only one voice really matters, the voice of the one who gave His life for the church, Jesus Christ.  The book of Revelation contains 7 letters to 7 churches in which God tells us what His church should look like in order to reflect His image.  He shares what to avoid and what to embrace as we reveal the image or our glorious Groom, Jesus Christ.   Jesus words to the church of Ephesus include encouragement and correction.  The bottom line is that if we abandon love then our right practice and right beliefs become mechanical and merciless.


chapter one a heart two sizes too small outline 2

Nip and Tuck

            The wonders of modern medicine never cease to amaze, neither does the depth of human vanity.  The combination of the two has turned into a booming business in which anything we want nipped, tucked, tweaked, or enhanced is medically possible.  It is literally possible with the right amount of money or the right insurance to transform oneself into someone else.  Gone are the days of merely dressing like a favorite celebrity, now one can actually have someone else’s nose or cheeks or even their whole face.  Nothing is sacred in the universe of plastic surgery, whatever identity we desire to portray on the outside can come true. 

            Few of us would argue there have been many good things that have resulted from cosmetic surgery.  Every now and then stories emerge of individuals whose lives have been riddled with ridicule and abuse because of physical appearance who are set free from their prison by the masterful hand of a surgeon.  And yet moderation does not appear to be the soup du jour when it comes to cosmetics.

            The world of cosmetic surgery is really kind of like a parable for the rest of our lives.  We live among a people who have mastered the art of portraying one thing on the outside while being something entirely different on the inside.  Walk into any retail establishment and pass by an acquaintance and the likely dialogue that ensues will reflect something of the following.  “Hi so and so, how are things going?”  “Just fine, and you.”  “Oh, just fine.”  All the while we slap on a smile and a happy voice to finish off the masquerade.  ‘Good’ and ‘fine’ are words that are vanilla enough that we can get away with saying them regardless of how things are really going. 

            I’m not advocating that every person we pass in the grocery store who says ‘hello’ should receive a dump truck load of our troubles or that we even need to provide full disclosure of our life and times to every person we call ‘friend.’  But is that really the issue at hand?  There are those who struggle more with knowing when to hold their tongue and not verbally vomit all over those around them but I would dare say that is not the diagnosis for most of us.  Most of us are master cosmetic surgeons who have skillfully crafted an external shell that reveals to the outside world exactly what we want them to see in order to subtly manipulate their perception of who we want them to think we are.  Is that a mouthful or what?  The bottom line is we want everyone to think we have got it all together when in reality there is not one of us on the planet who can concede that claim to fame.  It’s almost humorous when you think about the fact that deep down inside we know that no one really has it all together and yet we still find ourselves regularly stepping into our super suit in hopes that our secret identity will be protected and our façade will hold up for just one more day, for everyone including ourselves.

            The moral is that in the end we end up, in the words of the musical artists Casting Crowns “Happy plastic people…with walls around our weakness and smiles to hide our pain,” and the cruel joke is on us because everyone will see right through our veneer in the end.  Maybe we’re not as good at cosmetic surgery as we originally believed.  Even if we do happen to be masters of disguise and end up fooling everyone around us we still end up the most pitied of all, stuck in a prison of our own making whose walls get thicker and thicker with each passing day of successful deception to the point that even we can no longer discern fantasy from reality.  Maybe it’s time we start concerning ourselves more with the real us and the nipping, tucking, tweaking and enhancing of the heart and quit expending such massive amounts of effort on a false front that will sag with age and leave us nothing more than a plastic replica of someone or something else who is nothing more than a plastic replica of someone or something else, who is nothing more than a plastic replica of someone or something else, who is…I think you get the point.

50 forward series #8: vine

message title: vine

message text: John 15:1-17

message date: 02.28.10

In this 50th year of ministry for MorningStar Baptist Church we are celebrating the fact that Jesus Christ has been our all-sufficient source and solidifying this reality for the years to come.  Jesus makes 7 sufficiency statements in the book of John. This final sufficiency statement made by Jesus is reassurance to His followers that fruitful living results from mutual abiding – Jesus Christ in us, us in Jesus Christ.


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