Running to Win

I mentioned in my previous blog about our trip to Fort Worth, and that I wanted to tell you about an event we watched transpire in front of my daughter’s home. The Cowtown Marathon course runs right through her neighborhood. The residents were up early, preparing water, bananas, band aids, and even beer (for carbs) for the runners.  It is quite a festive time for the spectators who use it as a time to “party” while cheering on the runners.

What caught my attention was the transformation of individuals from the first runner to the last ones who passed this 17 mile mark of this 26.2 mile run.  The first runner ran by us with just over a five minute per mile pace. The last ones came strolling by four hours later (a 19 minute per mile pace) with an obvious “eat, drink and be merry” attitude, apparently imbibing in every treat that was offered along the route.  Appearing out of shape, improperly dressed and walking, these last ones were a stark contrast from the disciplined, serious leaders.

It reminded me of the spiritual pace of which Paul spoke in 1 Corinthians 9:24-26: Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim.

While only one may win an earthly race, every Christian can win the eternal race for we don’t compete against each other. The man of faith fights against the devil, the flesh and the world. He wins as they lose—A.W. Tozer. Our heavenly reward will be awaiting us if we run with a commitment to overcome these tempting foes!

Warren Wiersbe said: Of course, it is much easier to be a spectator than a participant—except when the event is over and they give out the prizes. Then we will wish we had gotten out of the stands and joined the team. It isn’t too late to start running.

How are you running the spiritual race? Is it with an aim for the finish line or a leisurely stroll, imbibing in all the world has to offer? Let’s make sure we are not just spectators, but participants in the most important marathon of our lives!  Let’s cheer one another on is this race!

Celebrating Al’s Birthday

I appreciated my church allowing my wife and me to take off a long weekend in February. It enabled us to go to Fort Worth for two reasons. Of course, seeing the grandchildren was tops, but the second reason was just

Anna with Al (1982)

as special to us. Several months ago we received an invitation to celebrate the 90th birthday of Al Anisowicz, who we have known for 40 years. Al and his wife, Robbie, were some of the first people we met at North Fort Worth Baptist Church while I was in seminary. We had a 10-month old daughter, who we entrusted to Robbie’s care in the nursery while we went to Sunday School. She and Al then “adopted” Anna and additionally our other two daughters, who were born during our time there, as their granddaughters. Their own grandchildren were not in Texas, so our daughters met the need they had to “love on” some babies. We have maintained that relationship over the years and they even made two trips to Iowa as Al played in senior softball tournaments into his 70’s. 

Me, Al, Anna’s daughter, Charlie and Myra

It is not a misrepresentation to say that Al and Robbie were the main reasons we joined that church. Yes, I wanted good, biblical preaching, but that was available in a number of churches that were much closer to the seminary. However, we were away from family and significant connections, and this retired couple reached out in significant ways to show the love and care of Christ. For that reason, I was compelled to give some time, travel and TLC to the man, now a widower and dealing with cancer, and reciprocate the love he showed to my family and me.

Al and Robbie remind me of some of the simple ways we as church can make an impact on the lives of people. Don’t underestimate the importance of a warm greeting, remembering a name, dropping off a meal or offering to babysit.  Simple acts of love expressed to someone at any age can have an eternal impact.

10 Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; 11 not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; 12 rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, 13 contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality. -Romans 12:10-13 (NASB)

We also took in the Cowtown Marathon, but that’s a story for another post! 

Al with daughter, Linda, and son, Mike

New Year’s Resolutions

scrabble-resolutions.jpgWell, we are more than a week into the New Year. Many have made some type of resolution, most likely regarding self-improvement. According to a 2015 Nielsen poll, health and wellness are the typical top priorities for U.S. consumers.  “Staying fit and healthy” came in at 37%, with “lose weight” coming in a close second at 32%. Enjoying life, getting fiscally fit and spending more time with family and friends rounded out the top five. While some report that only about 41% of people even make resolutions, nearly 80% of them will fail in maintaining their resolutions by the second week of February.

Interestingly among the top ten resolutions, there is nothing overtly spiritual about them. As the Apostle Paul addressed his son in the faith, Timothy, he encouraged, “On the other hand, discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness; for bodily discipline is only of little profit, but godliness is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come” (1 Timothy 4:7-8, LB). If you are one who makes resolutions, do you focus only on the present life value of a resolution or do you think of the eternal life consequences, too. If you’re goal is to live a healthy and long life, what will be the eternal payoff for living longer here? Will you be spending that life building heavenly treasure or earthly treasure that will burn up? If your focus is on financial goals, are they focused on your own security or to benefit others and investing in ministries that will help people grow in their pursuit of God, as well?

It is easy to be temporal in our goals and resolutions. However, I was reminded of the long view as I reread a devotional passage last week. Over the years, I have used W Glyn Evans’ book, Daily with the King, as a daily prompt to prayer with my wife. The January 5th devotion was especially appropriate as one sets the course for his year, his life, and his eternal life, for that matter. Here are the points of his writings for that day (with the exception of the last two, scriptures are my addition).

I will, by God’s grace and power, keep the center of my life adjusted strictly to God’s will, and let God keep the periphery any way He desires. (Matthew 6:33)

I will seek holiness (which results in wholeness), without which no man can seek the Lord, at all times. Wholeness is God-centeredness, the “one thing needful,” the “one thing I desire and seek after,” the “one thing I do.” (1 Peter 1:14-16)

I will not pray for peace, power, success, or fruit, for they are by-products of a relationship, not its conditions. They are God’s responsibility, not mine. (John 15:5)

Neither will I seek promotion, honors, recognition, or acclaim, for they also are by-products and therefore outside my sphere. Nor will I resent others to whom God gives these tokens, but I will praise God that His will has been done in them. (1 Corinthians 3:5-9)

I will no longer strive ambitiously for ends, for God’s purpose is process, not destiny. I never hope to arrive but rather to continue with God in an eternal adventure, the result of which is a continual knowing of Him who is the”end” God seeks for me. (Matthew 25:23, Galatians 4:9, Philippians 3:4-11)

I will accept the fact that the self-life is not only displeasing to God; it is His enemy. When self reigns, I am at war with God, and that leads to frustration, anxiety, and misery. I will therefore crucify the self-life and be at peace with God. (1 Peter 2:11-12)

I will realize that when all is said and done, I owe my daily overcoming to this one, solid fact: “Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20). Therefore, I can say honestly, “Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:57)

May God prosper you in your commitments this year, giving you perseverance to follow-through with the physical, intellectual, emotional, relational, financial and, most importantly, spiritual disciplines that will payoff in eternally rewarding ways.

Points to Ponder:

  • What steps do you need to take to center your life on God’s will?
  • Do you agree that peace, power, success and fruit are by-products of a relationship with God and not things for which to pray?
  • Are you seeking for “ends” or satisfied with being in the “process” of continually knowing God?
  • Where is self reigning in your life rather that God ruling?

Responding to Racist Picture Originating from My Town.

Note: This is a copy of an email I sent to my church family following the viral picture of five Creston High School football players posing in a racially offensive manner.

Crest Baptist Church family and friends,

You have to have been totally disconnected from media and public engagement to not have heard about the picture that has circulated on local and international social, print and broadcast media of five Creston High School students with replicas of KKK hoods, a burning cross, Confederate flag and rifle. It is a shocking and embarrassing image, knowing that it originated in Creston. These are young men who serve as role models and representatives of their school and our community. The school has initiated disciplinary action against these young men and my prayer is that any further action (if necessary) will be appropriate and yet, understanding and merciful.

I spoke very pointedly to the church in the wake of the Charleston protests a few weeks ago  and our response to racism (go to 5:34 for that relevant portion: Our Witness in a Hostile World (1 Peter 3:8-17)

Regarding the minors who posed for this photo, I would surmise that they had no idea of how inflammatory their action would be. Regarding the families of these young men that I know, they are upstanding community leaders, who do not espouse and encourage racism in their children. If any of us were to be honest with ourselves and others, we would admit that adolescence was a time of trying out new thoughts and activities that previously were off-limits due to the nature of parental oversight. Even as a kid growing up in a Christian home, I failed in ways that were not in keeping with my training and out of bounds with my upbringing as I navigated the path of adolescence in the 60s-70s. Some of my actions are embarrassing to think about today. I would hate to be trying to navigate the teen years in today’s culture. All of this is to say…yes, what was done was wrong, but we need to exercise love and mercy, knowing that many of us did stupid things, and “he who is without sin, cast the first stone.”

Let me address two sides of prejudice from my own family’s perspective. Most would say, “Pastor Chuck is not prejudiced.” Indeed, my daughter is married to an African-American, and I love my son-in-law and my two bi-racial grandchildren (and the one in heaven waiting to see Papa). However, because I grew up in the “dirty South,” I am amazed at how the observation of a black/white couple can resurrect feelings of prejudice and demeaning stereotypes. CRAZY! I did not have a family that taught me to be prejudice, but I grew up in a culture that was highly prejudicial. Some of that is still in me and raises its ugly head occasionally. I have to deal with that and confess that to God.

Secondly, those who have not been engaged in meaningful relationships with people from other cultures have no sensitivity to how it is to live as a Black, Asian, Hispanic, etc., in our culture. My son-in-law looks in the mirror everyday with the realization that he is a black man living in a white culture. I don’t think about my whiteness, but those of color feel racism explicitly and implicitly every day. My son-in-law is on staff at a private Texas university and working on his PhD. He is well-respected by his colleagues and is a sought after conference speaker. However, because of his minority status, it is not uncommon for white people on campus to ask if he is a student athlete. Now, a white man might think that is a great way to be identified. But, to my son-in-law it speaks of a system in which the first assumption is that the only reason a black man would be on such a elite campus is for his ability to perform before an audience of sports-crazed white people.

I write this first to say, keep your conversations loving and understanding. Don’t judge or condemn. Take the position of a peacemaker and not a flame thrower. Secondly, be in prayer! Pray for these young men (even if you don’t know their names). Pray for their emotional well-being as people take sides for and against them. Pray for their families to exercise continued wisdom and guidance. Pray for the school and community to know how to handle the topic of racism in our midst. Pray for yourself, knowing that even as much as we would deny it, there may be some resident prejudice that influences our interaction with those different than ourselves. Pray for our church, that we will be a beacon for racial harmony.

I love you, Crest family!

 

Martin Luther King Day – 2017

I’m linking my daughter’s thoughts about Martin Luther King Day-2017. It’s worth the read (see link below).

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My middle daughter and a school friend at our home in Memphis, TN -1987

God made this abundance of colors and sounds and differences and guess what, scripture says we were made in his image. ALL OF US. Made in his image. Made to reflect his glory.

May we continue to strive for racial harmony and equality in our time, so that the next generation doesn’t experience the divisions of fear, hatred and oppression that the ignorance of prejudice perpetuates. And may those of us who are servants of the Great Reconciler (Colossians 1:19-23) and Prince of Peace especially champion the the cause of racial reconciliation.

Click here for Anna’s blog: On Martin Luther King Day

It’s Not that Time of Year Without… Remembering Dennis

As Advent begins tomorrow, I was setting up my personal crèche to use as an object lesson with the children during the worship service. Starting out with only the animals and an empty manger, I plan to add figurines each week until the Christ child is added on Christmas morning.

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As I unpacked the nativity set, I thought of Dennis. He was a youth in my first church, who gave us the nativity set nearly 30 years ago. I think of him every Christmas as I break the crèche out of the box.

Dennis had experienced a hard life by the time he came to our church at the invitation of classmates. Both of his parents had died, and he was being raised by an older sister. Short, ruddy, quiet but quick witted, Dennis quickly endeared himself to us.  After a summer youth trip to Branson in which he stabbed another youth in the leg (the truth dennisof how that happened never came out), we had a “come to Jesus talk” and he actually did come to Jesus, that is.

Along with the other youth, Dennis spent a lot of time in our home. He was included in a number of our celebrations, with him supplying the giant cookie from the Great American Cookies store where he worked in the mall. One Christmas he gave us the Fontanini nativity set and he added other figurines over the next few years.dennis-2

I moved to another church staff position in Memphis and then to Iowa, and we lost touch. I tried tracking him down through the internet and eventually found a newspaper article, touting his success in producing organic vegetables and selling them at farmers markets in Memphis. I actually emailed the business he operated, but never heard from him.

Today, my thoughts about this youth, who by now would be about 50, caused me to do a Facebook search again, and I found him. However, I quickly discovered the posts were not by him but about him. Shortly, I reached a post that expressed sorrow for his sudden death on February 15, 2012. The news was like a punch in the gut. I quickly messaged another of the “youth” from that church, who coincidentally just “friended” me on Facebook. He shared that Dennis had a heart attack and died…and “sorry, thought someone told you.”  I know that I could not have prevented his death by staying in touch, but I wish that Dennis had known how I remembered his kindness every time I’ve unpacked the nativity set he gave us so long ago.

nativity-setTomorrow is the first Sunday of Advent. We will be lighting the Hope candle, as it represents the hope the people of God had for the long awaited Messiah. Foreshadowed through the curse of the serpent in Genesis 3, promised in the Abrahamic covenant (Genesis 15), and prophesied in many other Old Testament passages (Micah 5:2-3, Numbers 24:17, Isaiah 9:6), God’s people were hopeful. They longed for good news to the afflicted, comfort for the brokenhearted, the proclamation of liberty to the captives, and freedom for the imprisoned (Isaiah 61:1). And they were certain that God would fulfill His promises as He had time and time, again.

With every Advent season and every communion we are reminded of the hope that we have in Christ Jesus. The Messiah came to fulfill all that God had promised and there are still promises to be fulfilled. As a lamb led to slaughter, who did not protest (Isaiah 53:7), Jesus willingly took upon Himself my sin and suffered my death, enabling me to have eternal life with Him. He continues to give hope to all who know Him as He is coming again to receive us unto Himself. And for that, I am eternally grateful for the light of hope shines upon me.

And so, it’s not that time of the year without remembering Dennis. But knowing that Dennis and I had that “come to Jesus” talk gives me the hope that I will see him again one day…the very HOPE that causes us to celebrate the first Sunday of Advent tomorrow.

We are Weeping

My daughter, Anna, writes in light of the recent police-involved shootings in Louisiana and Minnesota and the ambush of police in Dallas last night. This violence strikes a particular grief and concern to our family’s heart since we have a black son-in-law and family and friends in law enforcement. Believers, pray for the peace and love of God to overcome this evil through our attitudes, words and actions. Here are her thoughts:

 

Cousins at play

“Did you hear?” my friend asked yesterday morning, “Yes, not another one.” I said helping my kids out of my car. Both shaking our heads, both weary. I grew up in Memphis in …

Source: We are Weeping

How we win. How we fight. — Anna Spindler Writes

My daughter, Anna, is a WordPress blogger, too. Her focus is on writing, and I HAVE TO share her latest post. I am always proud of her insightful take on life and in the midst of this most recent tragedy – the Pulse shooting – she rightfully warns that we should fight the “evil,” not each other. She observes: “The real enemy is EVIL. But evil likes it when we fight…when we forget about him and focus on each other. We’re like a dysfunctional family fighting at a funeral.”

By the way, her blog is worth following…you may not agree with her but you will be challenged! (shameless parent plug).

 

This week has been heavy, friends. It started with my NPR app sending me horrifying texts in the middle of the night Sunday and grew as the death toll rose and our sense of safety was again rocked. It continued with immediate culture wars. Fingers pointing. Angry words. Emotions preyed upon for political gains (all […]

via How we win. How we fight. — Anna Spindler Writes

Weekly Photo Challenge: Twinkle

IMGP1083As we celebrate Advent, our church’s 12-foot Christmas tree stands on the platform beside the Cross. The tree that celebrates the birth of the Christ-child, its twinkling lights representing the Light of the World, is in stark contrast to the representation of the instrument of death upon which the Savior surrendered His life in the work of salvation.

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IMGP1084While not going into the explicit details of the Gospel writers, Matthew and Luke, the Apostle Paul, nevertheless, speaks of the humble birth of Jesus Christ, His selfless life, His sacrificial death and His ascension on high:

Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.  Philippians 2:5-11 (NASB)

Speaking of the glory of eternity, the Apostle John recorded his revelation from God – a preview of the Second Advent and beyond. The glory of eternity will be such that there will be no night and the light of God’s presence will be the only illumination that will be needed for believers.

There will no longer be any curse; and the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and His bond-servants will serve Him; they will see His face, and His name will be on their foreheads. And there will no longer be any night; and they will not have need of the light of a lamp nor the light of the sun, because the Lord God will illumine them; and they will reign forever and ever. Revelation 22:3-5 (NASB)

Thus, every twinkle of a Christmas light serves as a reminder of not only the first Advent but of the one yet to come.

Check out more examples of “twinkle” HERE.

The Church “Stand and Greet” Time

members_6997cnIn my church tradition (Southern Baptist Convention), the welcome time has always been incorporated into the worship service. It varies from church to church, but it is typically a time when members and guests stand and offer and hand-shake and a word of welcome.

In a recent post, Thom Rainer, a denominational leader, reported the results of an informal Twitter poll of first-time church guests and what factors made them decide not to return. Surprisingly, the “stand and greet” time was the number one reason. He found:

1. Many guests are introverts. “I would rather have a root canal than be subjected to a stand and greet time.”

2. Some guests perceive the members are not sincere during the time of greeting. “In most of the churches it should be called a stand and fake it time. The members weren’t friendly at all except for ninety seconds.”

3. Many guests don’t like the lack of hygiene that takes place during this time. “Look, I’m not a germaphobe, but that guy wiped his nose right before he shook my hand.”

4. Many times the members only greet other members. “I went to one church where no one spoke to me the entire time of greeting. I could tell they were speaking to people they already knew.”

5. Both members and guests at some churches perceive the entire exercise as awkward. “Nowhere except churches do we have times that are so awkward and artificial. If members are going to be friendly, they would be friendly at other times as well. They’re not.”

6. In some churches, the people in the congregation are told to say something silly to one another. “So the pastor told us to tell someone near us that they are good looking. I couldn’t find anyone who fit that description, so I left and didn’t go back.”

7. Not only do some guests dread the stand and greet time, so do some members. “I visited the church and went through the ritual of standing and greeting, but many of the members looked just as uncomfortable as I was. We were all doing a required activity that none of us liked.”

Rainer admits that there were strong feelings on both sides of the question about the practice’s helpfulness in reaching guests. He summed it up by saying churches must considering its place in their local context.

I decided to do my own informal poll on Facebook and found a similar mix of responses. From germaphobes to introverts, a few tried to avoid it. It saddened me to hear from one that said it was partly the reason she stopped coming to church. Curiously, those who most vehemently objected to the exercise came from outside our region of the country. Those associated with our church who are not members left comments like:

I like to meet and greet and sure it can be a little intimidating at first but it helps you to get out there and get to know those around you. Otherwise we’d all be caught in our own little shells.

I like it! When your new to the church, people notice and make you feel welcome.

My thoughts:

  1. The church is all about creating healthy relationships – with God and others. When people see a church that has genuine care and concern for others, it is appealing. I have had multiple conversations with people who were considering coming to our church and I’ve stepped them through the “what to expect” list. When I mention the greeting time, they’ve not been put off and have even mentioned that their own church was so cold that no one spoke to them AT ALL! I would much rather err on the side of a friendly greeting time.
  2. We must be considerate of those who are uncomfortable and not expect everyone to fit our mold. We have several in our body who don’t like hugs. I respect that and don’t force myself on them.
  3. I shake hands with more people than anyone else on Sunday…I am germ conscious and have probably gotten a few colds through this practice. But, we encourage “fist bumps” in flu season and keep a large jug of sanitizer at the welcome center.
  4. A forced and contrived greeting time (except on Easter – “He has risen…He has risen, indeed”) has never been our practice. I object to being told to repeat something and insincere greetings are obvious.
  5. It saddens me to hear that people would not come because of the “howdy-do” time. However, as one respondent related, it may be the most affirming moment some have during their week. As Christians, we are called to move beyond our own wants and needs and consider the needs of others (Philippians 2:4 – Everyone should look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.). A widow in my last church said the thing she missed most after the death of her husband was no longer having hugs. We made sure she got those hugs after hearing that. Even if you don’t like the “stand and greet” time, someone around you may need that greeting, hand shake, hug, fist bump…think about what someone else may need in the moment.

I believe churches must always evaluate their methods of conveying the love of God in their context. In rural Iowa, despite some who are uncomfortable with the practice, it still seems to work.