Out Here Hope Remains

There is hope for the helpless ... Cry Out To Jesus. -- Third Day

Friday, December 31, 2004

Prayer For Asian Children

My Father who sees all, knows every hurt, and walks with every one of His children, I want to pray for the Asian children who have been left orphans because of the destructive tsunami. I just know that there are little ones wandering around who do not know what to do, how to care for themselves, and may even be victimized by evil people. I pray for you to protect them. Bless the Christians of Asia and guide them to the vulnerable children who need their help. I pray for a generation of Asian orphans to be adopted by Christian parents and raised to overcome the idol worship so common in those countries. Our hearts ache for these precious ones, and we know that your heart does as well. Please walk with them in their lonely hours and see that they are cared for. We love you and thank you for listening.

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Invitation to Solitude and Silence

INVITATION TO SOLITUDE AND SILENCE: Experiencing God's Transforming Presence A Book Review By John Dobbs Occasionally one will read a book that so directly addresses the needs of the heart, that it is almost as if someone has been peering into your mind. Ruth Haley Barton has written a book that contains, key ingredients in the Christian's walk with God. I want to say up front that some of these ingredients have been missing in my life. Perhaps that is why her book touched me profoundly. The author of Invitation to Solitude and Silence is Ruth Haley Barton. Mrs. Barton is a writer, spiritual director, and retreat speaker. She is co-founder of The Transforming Center in Warrenville, IL. The book is published by InterVarsity Press in 2004 and has 143 pages (ISBN 0-8308-2386-7). Against the backdrop of the struggle of the prophet Elijah in 1 Kings 19, Barton paints the picture of what it means to have meaningful times of silence in the presence of God. INVITATION TO SOLITUDE AND SILENCE is a guidebook for the uninitiated into the spiritual disciplines of meditation and silent contemplation. The book begins with the motives for seeking out such an experience: desperation for a deeper relationship with God. The author moves on to the reasons why we often resist such a specific time of prayer and silence. In a chapter called Dangerously Tired, Barton describes the lifestyle that many of us live ... believing it to be faithfulness. She writes, "When we are dangerously tired we feel out of control, compelled to constant activity by inner impulses that we may not be aware of.For some reason we can't quite name, we're not able to linger and relax over a cup of coffee. We can't keep from checking voicemail or e-mail 'just one more time' before we leave the office or before we go to bed at night. Or we can't stop cleaning or doing repairs and projects in order to take a walk in the evening or be quietly available to those we love....When we do have discretionary time, we indulge in escapist behaviors - such as compulsive eating, drinking, spending, watching television - because we are too tired to choose activities that are truly life-giving." (p. 59) This is a dangerous kind of tired that steals from our spiritual life, according to Barton. Other chapters deal with rest for the body, mind, and soul. Emptiness, facing ourselves, the presence of God, receiving guidance, and understanding that when we are full of the awareness of God, we are best suited to serve others. A feature of this book one would find most helpful is the PRACTICE sections of each chapter. In this section Barton gives practical instruction on how to put the teaching of the chapter into practice. I found this a great blessing. When we are growing up our parents often told us to "pay attention" but seldom told us how to do it. How often have we told Christians to "pray more" or to "develop a devotional time" but have never given them specific instructions? These sections were a blessing. This is a book I wish to read again. A close friend loaned it to me, knowing that I had recently taken a retreat alone ... in search of solving some spiritual issues in my heart. In many ways, Ruth Haley Barton must experience some of the same kinds of struggles that I experience. That is the only explanation I have for her keen insights into such personal areas of the spiritual life. I will purchase my own copy of this book and read through it slowly, perhaps practicing a chapter a week...or a month. I recommend this book particularly to those in the ministry. Christians are turning to us for spiritual guidance. Are we prepared to share with them some concepts that go beyond "pray more" or "read more Scripture"? Are we practicing these kinds of disciplines ourselves? I find I have much work to do in this area, and I'm thankful for this book and the guidance it offers. Through the expression of personal experiences, Scripture insights, startling honesty, and exceptional quotations, Ruth Haley Barton has blessed Christian readers with a path to greater awareness of God in our lives.

Faith When We Feel Empty

Looking back I can finally see How failures bring humility Brings me to my knees Helps me see my need for Thee ---Lead of Love by Caedmon's Call We might be tempted to think that we are only exercising faith when we feel full of God's Spirit. Do you ever feel empty - and wonder if God is ashamed of you ... or unhappy with you ... because your fire is burning low? I think maybe in those times we tend to rest in God's arms more than we do when we feel full of Him. At times when we feel so full of God we are likely full of ourselves. 2 Corinthians 12:10 says, "That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong." In your times of feeling empty and weak, find a quiet time with God, and just rest in Him. Trust Him. Tell Him. And in your emptiness you will find a renewed hunger ... a thirst ... a need that only He can fill. He promises to draw near to you ... He will. In those empty times, faith really does burn bright because when you were emptied out of yourself, He filled up your heart with His presence. Jesus emptied himself for His task on earth. I really don't know exactly what that means, but I do believe that when I am emptied of myself God can make me more fit to do His will.

Saturday, December 25, 2004

Calm After the Storm

The shopping is over. The cooking is almost done. The presents are opened. The children have no more expectations, all has been revealed. I'm sitting in my recliner blogging thanks to a new wireless internet connection (following HOURS on the phone with tech support yesterday). The tree looks rather forlorn without the brightly wrapped boxes gracing its lower branches. Outside the sky is overcast as a cold wind blows the remaining leaves from the maple tree just outside the window. I keep peering into the drizzle and sleet to see if I might detect a snowflake. We do not expect a white Christmas on the Gulf Coast ... even though today's weather is not far from it. If the temperature just went down a few degrees ... but it's on the way up. Aside from finding a new place for the gifts ... it's a calm day today ... the past week has been a rush of getting ready ... fighting the crowds and traffic ... searching out the sales ... making sure that all of the bases are covered ... and now Christmas day has come to my house. My teenage son is stretched out on the couch asleep... just where he has been ever since he was through opening presents. My granddaughter is playing with her new toys and watching her new movie. In a few moments we will eat the extravagant feast Maggy has prepared. 2005 is only a few days away. A new year when we will begin again to live the life set out before us. We will look back with a certain degree of envy at this day of calmness and celebration ... and look forward to another celebration in twelve short months, should the Lord delay his return. No doubt next year will be like every year and will bring its laughter, tears, joy, sorrow, successes, and failures ... in ways we cannot now know. There will be losses and heartaches. We will question our place in the world and our purpose in God's family. At times we will feel like outcasts in a world furiously hurling itself to hell. And as we reflect on those things, we will conclude that out here, hope remains.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Recommended Reading

Recommended For Your Holiday Reading: John Alan Turner has some outstanding Christmas thoughts posted.

Monday, December 20, 2004

The Stepford Christians

Take my heart and please be fair Handle it with loving care For I’m just a puppet on a string You can do ’most anything to me --Puppet On A String, Elvis Presley I'm a bit behind in my movie watching. I just watched the remake of THE STEPFORD WIVES. (Warning: Possible plot revelations ahead if you haven't seen it!) Everything was just too perfect in Stepford ... all of the wives dressed the same, spoke the same, had the same expressions, were enamoured of their husbands, and seemed unable to communicate beyond a set of simple expressions. There was something "too right" about all of it. In the remake, a computer chip had been implanted in all of them in order to control behavior so that they were all the same. Of course it seemed that they were operated / controlled by their husbands. The husbands weren't so perfect a lot, but all that mattered to them was their perfect wives. A male chauvanist paradise that goes awry. I might be tempted to think that we are to be a Stepford Church ... all infused in our brains with the Holy Spirit. We're being driven to become like God, and in so doing we are becoming more alike each day. But when I look at the infant church in the New Testament, I see anything but a Stepford Church. (See my previous post on the Corinthian church for examples!). What a diverse crowd the church was. And what a diverse crowd the church is. In fact, there have been many problems perpetrated upon God's Church by well-meaning Stepford Christians who thought that every Christian had to look just like every other Christian. This applies to terminology used, habits avoided, duties enjoined, and a kind of regimented Christianity that is just a little too perfect. This will never work. I would be willing to bet that when you get down to the bottom of most church troubles, someone wanted everyone else to be replica Stepford Christians in all of their understanding. Marching to the tune of different drummers, we just aren't wired up to be the same. The Apostles weren't the same. Look at any congregation revealed in the New Testament and they weren't made up of exact replicas of each other. Nor were they replicas of Jesus Christ in every way. Why does it bother us to look differently at things? Why does it irk us when one Christian feels the liberty to do something that other Christians feel is taboo? No one can be a Stepford Christian without being a self-righteous person, because he sets himself up as the standard. Before you think I'm being too hard on people, I will confess that I would like other Christians to be just like me. At times I make my understandings the basis of judgement. I make my actions the standard. And I make my thoughts about certain doctrines the orthodox view, and others who dare to break from the mold are to be rejected. At least in recognizing it, I try to fight it. No one can be a Stepford Christian if they study, think, and educate themselves on their own. Only those willing to be puppets ... spoonfed the 'approved' dogma ... can become a part of this imaginary perfect community of believers who never see any issue differently. I've met many Christians who thought that this was heaven. To me, it is more like hell. Who are you to judge someone else's servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand. Romans 14:4

Sunday, December 19, 2004

Rest, for Heaven's Sake!

the world keeps on turning I'm learning to see right where I am is where I have to be you can't count the pages, all ages hear the call no matter how hard we try, life gets away from us all --Clint Black Perhaps one of the hardest things for people to do today is to be still and quiet. The book I am currently reading is one of those books that leaves you wondering how the author climbed inside your brain and read all of your thoughts. That, or else there are other people like me on this old earth! In Invitation To Solitude and Silence, Ruth Haley Barton has written a book that is so needed in today's world. Maybe the need is magnified by the frenzy of the holiday shopping season. Or maybe it's just life as I have arranged it. Even while I am blogging I have my headphones on and turned up loud (Clint Black singing Desperado, if you're interested!) I believe my "still and quiet" prayer life has suffered because... *I have been overcommitted, unwilling to say "no", and an expert in ignoring the consequences of such. *I may be addicted to excitement. That sounds odd ... but that's the way Barton expresses our unending quest to fit one more thing into the schedule, have one more laugh, check e-mail one more time before bed, doing just one more task before heading home ... there's no end. No one can pray with stillness and quietness of heart if there is always in the back of our minds that one more thing I can do if I hurry. *I am afraid to be caught resting. Friday I sat outside of Starbucks in Mobile with a friend for a few hours talking about whatever floated across my mind. He's a very good friend, by the way, to put up with such an assortment of nothingness! One of our members happened to drive by and waved at us. I can't tell you how much I wanted that to look like a work meeting. Sunday at church she said, "I caught you!" Gulp! She meant nothing by it...just a friendly jibe ... but she doesn't know that I do not want to be caught resting. After all, while I was resting there was something else I could have been doing. I think it was Lindsay who had a post on her blog noting that she didn't care anymore if her friends thought she was lazy or whatever ... she could only do so much and that was it. She put it in a better way...but the idea is the same. Maybe I should HOPE to be caught resting ... and in that way perhaps I could set a new example. I took a nap this afternoon. It was a really great one. Now, though, I want to get to the office and do something. Am I trying to make up for the down time? Well, maybe it's just part of Americana. Hard work. Excellence. Five Minute Manager meets Five Minute Bible Student, who is also the Five Minute Husband and Father. God help us if our whole life is divided up into five minute segments. "Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth." Psalm 46:10 On my personal retreat a few weeks ago I spent much time talking. Talking out loud to myself (an old habit, not one I'm ashamed of!) may have been just another way of clouding the issues of life. I dont' feel badly about it, though ... for some of us ten minutes of silence might be akin to Chinese water torture. Silence ... still and quiet prayer ... is something we must grow into. Our culture has taught us that these times of meditation and stillness are a waste of time, an opportunity to get just a little bit more done. We are driven ... but where are we going? "By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work." Genesis 2:2 I think I should follow suit.

Friday, December 17, 2004

Invitation to Solitude

Today I shopped at Books A Million, ate chinese food, started a new book, and drank coffee at Starbucks. It was a good day. Oh, what did I buy at Books A Million? Glad you asked. *Epic by John Edridge *The Christian Culture Survival Guide by Matthew Paul Turner *The Coffeehouse Gospel by Matthew Paul Turner Oh, and what did I drink at Starbucks? A Grande Caramel Mochachito or something like that. Oh, and what did I start reading? Fellow blogger Steve loaned me a book called INVITATION TO SOLITUDE AND SILENCE by Ruth Haley Barton. I started reading it today and it is excellent so far. Hope you have a great Saturday! john

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Why Corinthians?

The Corinthian letters are full of information, history, specific teachings ... but I'm still moved to ask, "why Corinthians"? "To the church of God at Corinth," no less. How is God even recognizing this group of spiritual hoodlums? They are divisive, immoral, unconcerned about evangelism, unconcerned about each other, abusing the gifts given to them, doubting the resurrection, and generally a church that no one reading this would attend. A church of screwups and crackheads. The church of God at Corinth???? Was Paul mistaken??? Good grief, people today are leaving churches because someone clapped along with a song or because some of our best singers are using a microphone! What would they do at Corinth? Would they turn into a tasmanian devil and whirl around until they had knocked off every wig, flung every false tooth, whipped every communion tray through the air, and toppled the pulpit? You would think so. People leave churches too easily these days. It's all bluster and hoo-hah, if you ask me. I know there comes a time to leave, and I won't judge everyone who's ever left a church ... but I've seen too much of the kind that's just based in self-righteousness. So many have bought into the LIE that has been sold to us: if I disagree with someone then I cannot worship with them in the same building. Just what Scripture did we find that one in? The truth is we have ALWAYS worshiped in the same building alongside those with whom we disagree - whether we knew it or not! What's missing from Corinthians? A plea from Paul to the few faithful ones to get out of that church and go start a "faithful" one! It's not there. Yes, they needed to get their act together and he was strong with them ... but he didn't tell any of them to leave. The truth is that for all of our grand formalism and pomp, we are the Corinthians. We may not know ... and we may choose not to know...what's happening in each other's lives ... but if the Apostle, endowed with the Spirit's discernment, were to walk down our aisle, I propose that he would write no less a letter to us! I think that's why we have Corinthians. Not to catalog a series of admonitions on a set of topics, but to show that even as crummy as we can get at times, we are still God's. And it is not an encouragement to apathy, but a demand that sinners receive the grace of God with humility. And...an instruction to get real.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Each New Day

I really do not know why the change of a year should be such a landmark. On a Friday night in December 2004 we will go to bed and wake up on a Saturday in January 2005. We've gone to bed lots of Friday nights and awakened (sure enough) on a Saturday morning. I'm sure some of us have gone to bed on Friday nights and not awakend until Sunday afternoon, but that's a subject for another post! But we will nail down that day and say to ourselves that it's a new year. This year will be different, we may say to ourselves. Maybe it will be a better year, or a worse year. Mostly it will be what we make of it and how we view it. New Year's Resolutions are mostly DOA. But real life changes can be affected over time, with God's help. As long as there is a new year, there is hope. When it looks like the church is about to squat down and die, along comes a new year and we can look up a bit and think to ourselves that perhaps this is our year. When we have let several personal problems get the best of us, we can observe the change of calendar and realize that the slate is clean. When it seeks as if we've just been running in circles, a 2004 becomes a 2005 and suddenly there are some new possibilities. Out here, hope remains. Embrace it! Truly each new day is a message from God that says, "Do your best. If it's not too good, we'll start again tomorrow."

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

The Safety of Busyness

I have noticed this week that I have retreated from my retreat, into the safety of busyness. Someone clever turned a phrase and made a good point: Don't Just Do Something, Stand There. Good one. I'm much better at doing something, and that is what I have done this week. Why does busyness feel so safe? Why did a time of solitude and quietness feel so threatening? Contemplating myself, my life, my ministry, my roles as husband and father and friend - they all have potential to cause me some pain. It's a good kind of hurt if it moves me to seek to be led in areas I often avoid. It's much easier and more fulfilling (in a self-centered way) to just stay busy, get the job done, pay attention to the details ... if there's time you can pray or read. I like the title to Bill Hybel's little book, Too Busy Not To Pray. I've owned that book for a long time, but have managed to be too busy to read it. It's a risky thing on the heart (and in the life) to try to be aware of where we are, where we're going, what lies we have believed that have led us down wrong paths. It's so much easier to just stay busy and never look into the dark corners. But that's where the healing of Jesus is needed in our lives. We may perceive busyness as safety ... but actually, it is the most dangerous path of all. It is blinded to its own ignorance, and proud in its progress. I need to stop living as if I were about to be given a pop quiz on my life, and instead just walk with my Shepherd.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

What's Happening in Blog-Land

Here's a rundown of what's happening out there...in case you have missed something great! MIKE COPE has a great post from Thursday (scroll down a bit) on mistakes made in the pulpit. Read the comments...there's some howlers in there! JOHN ALAN TURNER wonders why we were programmed by guilt to do evangelism as teens, but now no one is talking evangelism with our young people. BRANDON SCOTT THOMAS tackles his Fear Factor. GREG expresses himself on the band Nickelback. JASON reflects on the cross. LINDSAY gets some unexpected help. JAKE reflects on the musical ability of the Beasties. GREG TAYLOR provokes us on ethics. MASON McCLAIN'S mystery deepens as the new pastor discovers the old pastor's journal, and a killer's confession at True Hope. Enjoy!

Friday, December 10, 2004

Like When You Lock Your Keys In the Car...

You know how it feels when you lock your keys in the car? There's that sinking feeling ... you already know...but then there's denial ... I can't be that dumb. I have my keys in my pocket...check the other pocket ... on the ground? In my bag? Then you dare to look over the edge of the door into the front seat and there gleaming in the sunlight are the keys to your mobility. So close, but so far. An embarassing call to pop-a-lock and 50 bucks later you vow to never do that again. That's how I felt when I said "goodbye" and removed myself as an administrator of the blog. I took a big gulp and a deep sigh. I was supposed to feel good about it ... having let go of one of many components of my day ... freedom to do more ministry ... or take time for my family or myself. But here I am with a big Gulf Coast Bible Camp mug full of hot chocolate and marshmellows (extra, please) ... blogging. Steve has graciously offered me the blog back ... and I will be going solo here. I hope Steve, Joel, or the other guys will get their own blogs up and running ... they have a lot to share. So, like an uncomfortable itchy rash ... or Like a bad penny... or Like a rainbow following the thunderstorm... or Like a sticky marshmellow moustache after the perfect cup of hot chocolate... I'm back. Would you go get my friends who said goodbye and tell them? Thanks. And May God Bless Us One and All.

Well, Maybe Not.

More later.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

A Gentle Goodbye

Anyone who knows me knows how much I enjoy this blog. It began amid theological discussions between myself and Joel in the church office. We thought at the time that those things could be interesting to talk about on a blog (old hat / new hat) ... but it really didn't turn out that way. He's been through a lot in the ensuing months and so have I. When things were not developing as we had thought, I invited some other youth ministers to join up with us. Steve has done a great job of posting on a semi-regular basis. Kirt posted a few times. Jeff posted once. And I posted a lot. Next week I will spend several days in virtual isolation (except for some visits by a few friends from time to time). I will have no television, no internet, not even a computer. I will contemplate my life in Christ, my role as a minister to His people, a father and husband, and whatever other roles I may play. I will certainly be thinking about my purpose and seeking to escape the many demands for my time so that I can prioritize the important things. I have an e-life. I love conversing via e-mail, chat rooms, blogs, and e-mail groups. I belong to several groups now ... read several blogs ... enjoy them all. But the truth is that I do not believe that I am allowing God to work in my life as I would like ... and so I will whittle my e-life down a bit to allow more creativity sans keyboard. I do still intend to write, share, and interact ... but I will do it in only a few places. This blog will not be one of those places. I talked with Steve today and I will leave it in his capable hands. If you are interested in my thoughts, articles, etc. ... then they will be funneled through a Yahoo Group that is called "John's Journal". I know a Yahoo Group just isn't as cool as a blog ... but I've never been cool anyway. The address for "John's Journal" is: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/jjournal/ I would love for you to join us there. You can get mail via daily digest, individual mails, or just read it on the web. Thanks to those who read and commented on my writings. I hope you'll come and look for them at John's Journal...and comment there. If not ... I wish you well in blogdom! Steve, have fun with Out Here Hope Remains. It's your baby. Do with it what you will. I will certainly be peeking in the door from time to time! I invite you to post your weekly article at John's Journal. It's good. Love to Steve, Joel, Kirt, Jeff, and those who read and commented such as John Allen, Chris, Trisha, and Lindsay (did I miss anyone? ... you too!). I hope I'm not seeing the last of you! So this is my gentle goodbye ... albeit a bit of a reluctant goodbye.