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Thursday, October 25, 2018

And It Wasn't Even In A Church Building

But .....

It was still the most memorable worship service of my long life. And, nearly 20 years later, it still is.

The backstory: In 1997 ... and again in 1999 ... I was part of a singing group from Living Word Church and FBC Pelham, which went to Russia and Latvia on a mission trip. We worshiped and sang, on the earlier trip, at Church Emmanuel in Pskov, Russia, and then New Life Christian Church in Bauska, Latvia. And I made friends in both, that are still online friends, to this day!

I learned much from friends in both places, and some have said to me that they learned a lot from us, too.

In any event, on the second trip, limited to the church in Pskov .. for a music conference ... I flew to Riga a week ahead of time, and spent most of the week visiting friends there in Bauska. Then, on the weekend, I rode with Aivars Berlinski (one of my yet-today friends) over to Pskov for the conference.

I stayed with my friends the Stepanov brothers ... also friends today ... in Pskov, while Aivars stayed with friends of his there.

On the last night in Pskov, we sang in the Pskov Community Center. It was an incredible time, one I will never forget. But that was not the highlight of the evening. That came at the end of the evening in the Community Center.

The worship was led by a young man by the name of Alexander "Sasha" Medvedev, one of my still-friends, and an incredible worship leader. He led from the keyboard and the service went on for several hours with him seamlessly leading worship. I was, and am still, quite impressed.

At the end of the service, Aivars came over to me and asked what I was doing after the service. I told him that my hosts had mentioned dinner at their apartment, at which Aivars seemed disappointed. I suggested he could come with me and the Stepanovs, and he said no, he didn't want to intrude. I said nonsense ... I am your elder so do as I say, and pointed out Mrs. Stepanov ... the brothers' mom ... and said go check with her. Of course it was OK, so he went with us.

I came to learn shortly that the Stepanovs had a surprise ... they'd invited Sasha Medvedev to dinner!

So, in the Stepanov apartment for dinner was The Stepanov brothers & their mom, Sasha & his musical partner Dima, Aivars Berlinski, Jeff Hairrell ... my roomie for the week (also a skilled keyboard man and classically trained singer), and me.

Who happened to have a video camera (remember .. this was 1999).

After dinner, Sasha went to his car and got his keyboard. Dima also noticed a stringless guitar hanging on the wall ... as decoration only ... took it down, rounded up some strings, and tuned it up.

We had church in the wee hours of the morning, there in that Russian apartment! And it ended up between 1:00 and 2:00 am, with 6 of us guys singing  Andre Crouch's "My Tribute".

In THREE languages!

It's in the video below. I still get chills whenever I hear that song, particularly when we do it at FBC Pelham.

At least that's where everyone else is. Me? I'm back in a Russian apartment....

Monday, October 22, 2018

My Best Trade Ever

Trading Christmas once a year for Christmas every day! Follow along ...

This afternoon I was sorting through a mountain of miscellaneous papers, brochures, pictures etc, and I happened upon a booklet of Christmas devotionals that our church ... FBC of Pelham (AL) published late in 1996. I recalled I'd contributed a devotional to it, so I found it and read it.

I thought enough of it to post it here, despite the length. With thanks to a memory that allows us to read our old writings and enjoy them, it follows, with apologies to my ghost of carpal tunnel past:


"I still remember Christmastime when I was young .After the tree was put up and decorated in mid-December, brightly-wrapped boxes began to appear underneath. The thrill of looking at those unopened boxes, I can still feel …..

"From Jeremiah 29: "For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord. Plans for your welfare and not for calamity, to give you a future and a hope ....." 

The exiles from Israel had been in Babylon for a long time. More than anything, they desired to return to Israel, their land of promise. In God’s appointed time, the Prophet of God told them that He’d not forgotten them, that He still had plans for them, and that they would indeed be returned to their beloved land.

Their thrill of anticipation must have been similar to what I felt in the Decembers of my youth.

For many years, I’ve wondered why Christmas no longer holds that thrill during those youthful Decembers After all, I AM a believer, and Christmas IS a celebration of Jesus’ birthday, so … why?

Well, I think I know, now. I’ve opened the box!

The thrill of anticipating the “return to Jerusalem” has been replaced by the thrill of the actual return! I have happily exchanged the annual thrill of celebrating a birthday, for the daily thrill of opening the box of plans God has for me. Just as He had those promises for the exiles in Babylon.

I’ve traded Christmas every year, for Christmas every day!

I love praising Jesus and I love serving Him, and I’d never, ever want to relegate that to some regular and planned schedule.

I wonder what unopened box God has for me today. Whatever it may be, I’m thrilled!"


I'm still opening boxes every day ... and still thrilled to do so!

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Good And Precious.

The guy over there is Jason Dill, a long-time friend; also a member of the First Baptist Church of Pelham's Faith Family. And, nearly 20 years ago, a member of a Young-Married Sunday School Class I was privileged to teach.

Jason died this past Tuesday ... die is the word God used to describe it ... so that's the one I prefer.

See Psalm 116:15 and Hebrews 9:27 for details.

His funeral was held today at FBC Pelham. And a celebration it was! Two things about it were outstanding to me. One was that, after our former Pastor, Mike Shaw, spoke his own tribute to Jason, Natalie ... Jason's widow ... gave a captivating eulogy of her own. And the joy of the Lord was all over it.

Then, our Pastor Daven Watkins gave what is best described s a sermon. And it revolved around Romans 8:28 ... "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." And I think that those Followers of Jesus who were in attendance could really feel the truth of that statement.

We would all do well to view everything with an eye on Psalm 116:15 ... which tells us that the death of His saints is precious to Him. And my personal goal is to view everything through as much of God's eyes as I as I can appropriate .... namely: "What does God think of this?"

I think God smiled at what's happened over the last 6 days. As in: From Jason's first attack early last week, through the celebration at  2867 Pelham Parkway early this afternoon. It may take a lot of years to see all the good that will come of all this. But you cannot get any more certain than this:

God said it. 

Wednesday, September 05, 2018

A Bigger Problem Than We Think....

There's so much attention being paid to evangelism these days that I think we're missing a big point.

For one thing, why would we want to get more people into our churches to become faux disciples who won't even talk of their faith except in church? Wouldn't we be better off making real disciples of the millions God already sent us, to make disciples? And if God sent them to us, for us to make disciples, why would He send us more if we haven't done the job with the ones He already sent us?

That's one thing that seems ... in my sight ... to have been conspicuously absent from all the discussions so far. Namely:

What is God up to, with what's been happening in and to the SBC?

Could it be that He has noted the production of millions of Christians who don't know enough about our faith to initiate a discussion about our faith, with someone else we don't believe to be a Christian? And could it be that He is now cleaning up the bride for that Wedding Ceremony-to-end-all-wedding-ceremonies?

I think that's the case.

I've taken to asking a couple of questions, of people. One is asking them to describe how they met their spouse. Folks are perfectly willing to do so, even though they don't tell me everything they recall ... what color shoes, etc ... they had on at the time. The other question is to describe their homes. Again, perfectly willing to do that, even though they may not know everything there is to know.

When challenged about his faith, by the Sadducees, Peter said "... we cannot help speak of what we have seen and heard". And that seems to be what's missing among SBC churches ... people simply willing to speak of what they have seen and heard.

Some folks out there, such as Bart Barber on Facebook, have begun asking why the current condition ... a reluctance to initiate a "gospel conversation" ... is prevalent today amongst SBC churches.

A lot of things make sense ... reluctance to start such a conversation for fear we don't know enough ... misunderstanding of what it means to give a witness ... the thought, with all the "plans" we teach ... that there's more we should know, etc ... if we simply assume that truth of what, IMHO has brought the SBC to the recently-mentioned, but long-true conditions is behind what's happening now:

The failure to make disciples

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Good Enough To.... give away.

Those are a couple of side tables that my Mom and Dad had, when they lived in their Condo in Florida. They may have accompanied them in the 2 prior homes in Florida and maybe even in Pennsylvania before their retirement.

Although they were well taken-care of for all those years, they were approaching a half century old. Hence, time to refurbish.

Trouble is, we don't really have a place for them any more, primarily owing to our getting some new furniture over the past few years. Nonetheless, I forged ahead and started a round of sanding and spraying on new paint.

Now, the tops were Formica, so we had to get some special primer so the new paint would adhere to the tops. God bless Peg ... who has turned into a real computer/internet whiz ... she found us some at one of the big stores that carry enough stuff to plan, build, finish, and tear down your house. Which is where we bought it.

The job was fraught with all sort of little wrinkles, but one day I'd finished the tops with a brownish-gray hammered finish,  and the sides with the gloss black. Peg pointed out a couple of drips and runs on the sides, and I responded nobody would really ever see them, and besides, I didn't even know where we would put them. She said that others would as we would probably not keep them.

Seems our granddaughter had seen them when they were in our ground floor apartment, and mentioned if we ever got rid of them, she'd like to have one ... for her office at church.

She's as Assistant to our Youth Minister there. And it seems someone else had expressed an interest in perhaps taking one of them.

Well now. They were going to someone else, and now ... suddenly ... I am more concerned how well finished they are.

I have to wonder if I am always mindful that what I do in the Kingdom work is not for me. And it's not for the folks I am teaching or ministering to ... it's being done for Jesus. After all, the absolute best work anybody ever did, anywhere, any time, was done at Calvary ... by Him ... and for us.

Shouldn't our work for Him be our very best? After all, His was, for us, 2000 years ago.

Monday, July 09, 2018

How Many ..

.. nails are there in your house? How many shingle tabs on your roof? How many cubic feet of insulation in your attic?

I'd guess you don't know. I don't know those things about my house, either, and I likely know more about my home than most folks do about theirs. And it's OK  that I don't.

There is such a plethora of witnessing "plans" floating around ..... so many books have been written inviting you to read them .. so you can witness without fear ... that folks may be under the impression that there's something else they need to know before they can witness properly. And that thought is simply wrong. The thought that there is anything to fear in witnessing for Jesus.

The one part of your salvation experience that no one can argue with is what actually happened to you. Joseph Garlington, IMHO, spoke well when he said "A man with an experience is never at the mercy of a man with an argument." As long as it passes the test of Scripture ... hey, we don't always get it right, you know ... then you know what God has done in your life! 

In my case, I know what happened when I was 11. When my dad reminded me of what I had learned in VBS ... that if you believe in Jesus, you go to Heaven when you die ... and I care not how many atheists line up to tell me otherwise, it would not change one bit of what happened to me then.

Or the miraculous things God has done in my life, since then.

When we're talking about witnessing about our faith, in church or Sunday School, I'll frequently ask folks to describe their homes. We'll usually hear about square feet, bedrooms and baths, siding, garages, all the usual things. After that, I'll ask about nails, shingles, furnace BTU's, feet of piping in the plumbing system .... stuff like that. Folks normally say they don't know ... my usual response is that I don't know that stuff about my house either, and it doesn't bother me that I don't.

My big point comes last: that I would never let what I don't know keep me from telling what I do know! Just like they didn't let what they didn't know about their houses  keep them from telling us what they did know.

Why would we let that happen, with reference to telling others about our faith, when what we do know  ... what has happened in our own lives ... is the part others cannot really dispute!

Especially when the things we do in the Kingdom work are the only things we will still have, when we get to Heaven?

Monday, June 25, 2018

Earthly Awards ...

... can have unintended consequences.

The picture shows a Ribbon I won in 1952, when I was an Eighth Grader. Spelling and Arithmetic were about the only things I was good at. And I was really good for my age.

I recall a morning in Kindergarten, when the teacher had to leave the room for a few minutes. She asked me to lead the other children in counting from One to One Hundred, since she knew my parents had already taught me that. So I did, and I recall it was the first time I ever felt good about myself.

We lived in Thornton Fractional Township, and as an Eighth Grader, I entered the Township Spelldown. T.F.T. was a very populated area, so there were hundreds of kids in the Spelling Bee.

And I won!

They gave me the ribbon at the conclusion of the Bee, and I took it home. But the principal asked me if I would bring it to school the next day, so I did.

They had an Assembly in the early afternoon, and in it, the Principal formally presented me with the ribbon in the picture. So I felt pretty good about me, again.

When I got back to the classroom, I gave the ribbon to the teacher to keep in his desk. As I was returning to my seat, a Girl named Audrey said something sarcastic, like "Awww ... you're giving you precious ribbon to the teacher so it will be safe, huh?" Walking back to my desk, I mouthed "Nyah Nyah Nyah" at her.

Only trouble was that she thought I was really hurling some pejoratives at her, and the next thing I knew, she was along side my desk. And she slapped me roundly in the face!

Well, my Dad always told me to never hit a lady, but if a woman ever hit me, she wasn't no lady.... So, instinctively, I backhanded her across her face. She was so shocked that she stumbled back, hit the empty desk across from me, and fell head over heels into the next aisle.

On the plus side, if she'd gone out for the High School Gymnastics Team in 1952, she'd have had a head start on Backflips..... But on the minus side, 5 minutes after being formally presented with the big ribbon over there, we were both sent to the Principal's office. My first time ever, since I was really a model student.

After calling the dichotomy of my situation ... getting an award and then getting sent to The Principal's Office ... he sent us back to class. With the admonition for me not to slug any more girls.

It occurred to me that this was all a pretty good lesson to learn. So if you're a poor lost soul like me, whom Jesus drew to Himself and saved your soul, don't let anything the world awards you change or replace that realization. We may be referred to as priests and saints in Scripture, but we didn't win that award ... Jesus did. He's just graciously sharing it with us.

Thank God....