Monday, October 27, 2014

OF ABANDONED HOUSES AND RUINED LIVES

I happened upon an old blog post a bit ago, and although I've never recycled an old blog post before, I thought I'd do that with this one. Methinks the thoughts I had in June 2009 may still be relevant, today.

Abundance of life is missed far too often.

Two completely different ideas have collided in my brain and I want to write about them.

First, the house: this is a little duplex located at 1920 Minnesota Street, at the corner of Villa Avenue, in Indianapolis, Indiana. My maternal Grandmother and Grandfather lived in the left half of that house when it was first built. I was really young at the time, but I think it was the middle-late 1940's. My Aunt Marcella and her husband had them move to that house, as it was just two blocks South of their house, up at the corner of Villa and Pleasant Run Parkway.

It was built in the "shotgun" style, with the living room in front, the kitchen (with eating area) behind, then the bedroom and bathroom in the back.

I recall falling asleep in the living room, many times, on the floor. Grandpa Tanner had a stack of Craftsman tool catalogues and I used to love reading them, lying on the floor. There was a pot-belly stove in the living room, and a nice maroon rug on the floor, and it was a great place for a nap.

Only trouble was, every time .. without exception .. I fell asleep there, Mom would wake me up and say if I wanted to take a nap, go lie down on the bed. I always did, but never once did I ever fall asleep again after she made me move.

I guess if Mom had ever taken a nap there on the floor, she would've let me sleep.

They lived there until my Grandfather got up in the middle of the night, had a stroke on the way to the bathroom, fell and hit his head on the dresser, and never awoke from the coma that followed. Grandmother's mind "snapped", she never cried or smiled again, and began a rapid descent into total confusion. In fact, they knew something had to be done just a few weeks later when she'd get lost walking 2 blocks up the street to Aunt Marcella's house. They'd find her standing half way, not knowing which direction she was supposed to walk.

Said all that to say what a depressing sight it was in 2003 when, on a visit to Indianapolis, I drove by and took this pictures. So many nice memories, and now it's all neglected and overgrown. But when I thought about it, it occurred to me that the memories all had to do with life there. With the life now gone, the sight was most depressing.

I'd stumbled upon this picture a few hours ago, and then as I type this, the TV was showing a program about women behind bars; specifically about one young girl in prison for 3 consecutives life terms plus 25 years. That amounts to a death sentence, as a guard said; it'll just be a while before they carry her out in a box.

And then the universality of the life of Christ came crashing down on me and I knew I had to write. See .. if she'd found Jesus, and walked to the beat of His drum ... make that the beat of His heart .. she'd likely not be where she is today, expressing such hopelessness. Similarly, if she were to find Christ now, and devote the rest of her days to serving Him, where she is, she could find purpose and joy and a reason for being, despite her circumstances.

The two dozen or so men who got a degree from a seminary while in prison in Mississippi come immediately to mind.

Jesus said He came that we might have abundant life. Now, since He both designed and manufactured us, and since He is the One Who defines life, I think He knows better than anyone what abundant life is for us. And He's left the world's most complete set of instructions, for anything, just for us. On how to have that abundant life.

Wherever we are.

What was missing, at 1920 Minnesota Street, was life. What was missing, in the young lady in prison, was purpose and hope. I thank God for the indescribable gift of His Son, who can and does give us all three, wherever we are.

My hope is that my life reflects the life of Jesus .. with its purpose and its hope.

The world needs to know and, besides, I don't want my life to look like 1920 Minnesota Street.

Ever.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

It Seems To Me.

I got into a very interesting discussion on a form of Social Media a day or two ago.

I've just always wanted to say Social Media, but haven't, until now. Frankly, it wasn't that much fun.

Anyway, the point under discussion was whether there was something wrong with our being more concerned with people crossing our borders into our country ... illegally ... than we are with crossing them ourselves, to go to them in Jesus' name (ostensibly the reason). My position was that we all should be concerned about the protection of our nation, but not all will be concerned ... the exact word used was passionate  ... about going on missions. And everything was OK. Until I actually expressed that opinion.

Katy, bar the door! 

Before I attack that thought, let's talk about valuations. Let's say you're in a minor rear-ender, and the doctor tells you that you should rest in bed for a week. I know what would happen.

Day one, you'd stay down pretty much. Up for the usual necessities.

Day two: you'd stay in bed a while, but probably move to the couch and lie there watching TV.

Day Three: probably in the recliner as long as it didn't hurt. Maybe up in the afternoon doing some light stuff as long as it felt OK.

The rest of the week, you'd take it decreasingly easy.

Hold that thought.

Change the scenario: the rear-ender was worse than most, and the doctor tells you there's this sliver of bone up against your spinal cord, and if you get out of bed in less than 7 days, you'll never walk again! 

Chances are pretty good you'd stay in bed for 7 whole days and maybe an extra or two, just to be safe.

Why the difference? Same instructions, different outcome. Well, I'll tell you.

Second case, you'd see the value. You'd see the importance of doing what you were told.

Now, back to the Social Media "discussion". To me, the Bible is abundantly clear that (A) The church .. the ekklesia ... is a body. The Body of Christ. The flesh He wants to commandeer when He has something He wants done down here, and (B) Every member of the Body down here has been gifted specifically for the purpose that God has in mind. For the Kingdom work that God desires us to do, and (C) That message has not been effectively impressed on the minds and hearts of church members, in light of the pitiful percentage of members who actually participate in the work of the Church ... the Ekklesia. Let alone the equally pitiful percentage of church members who actually come to our Sunday School Classes and Worship Services.

In our church, Sunday School attendance approximates 25% of membership. And, as I suspect most churches are, the percentage of members actually participating in the work of the church is much lower. Pitifully so.

I don't respond well when someone tells me what my passion should be. God said, in Psalm 37:4, that HE will give me the request .. the petition .. the desire of my heart, if I will delight in Him. The things I'll desire .. the things I'll petition Him about ... the subjects of my prayers.

And I don't think God is subcontracting that job out to anybody that I've heard of. Or I think He'd have said that.

Back to the percentages. I think our doing what God has placed in our hearts ... what He's gifted us to do, is the very heart of the abundant life. And if that's the case, why do so few seem to want that?

Personally, I believe it's because, collectively, the leaders in the local church have not done a good job of leading their people to understand the value of leading an abundant life. That could be related to preaching, to teaching, to how we take members in ... as in admitting as members people who have no intention of being actively involved. I don't know. But somebody ought to be able to find out, and I think it'd be important.

Some time back, I blogged about the Jamaica Baptist Union, here. Last I heard, they have 330 member churches, led by 122 ministers, with 40,000 church members. And they have around 10,000 attend their annual meeting. I know a lot of the folks in the Red Hills Baptist Church there, and almost all of them are eager to be, and are, involved in the work of the church.

Most of them walk uphill to church. Either three of four times per week.

What's the difference here? Perhaps Proverbs 6:10-11 gives some indication, if there's a spiritual meaning to it..... "A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the arms to rest, and your poverty will come like a robber, your need like a bandit.

I hope the SBC is doing a better job overseas than it is domestically. The numbers are pretty sad. It seems to me that, before we can really focus properly on leading overseas operations, we'd want to get things in our own back yard straightened out.

It seems to me.




Monday, October 20, 2014

It's A Lot Like The Old Trick Question .....


You know the one ... "If God is all powerful, could He build something so big He couldn't move it?"

Well there are a lot of funny answers, like "yes, but it'd take forever to build". But the plain truth is: There is no such thing.

Same thing goes for everything that pertains to what God can or cannot do. Like saving what we view as the most despicable of human beings.

There has been a murder trial going on here in Shelby County which has gotten a lot of attention around here. It concerns the murder of three young men in a drug deal that eventually went bad.

REAL bad. Three murders over $40!

One reason it got so much attention here is that it happened about 2 blocks from our home, right in our subdivision. It's a twisty subdivision, though, and the house is probably less than 200 yards from our house.

If you think that's frightening to us, fear not. We're used to it. There was a quadruple murder 17 years ago, even closer to our house.

The picture up there is Mr. Jon Staggs, Jr, the suspect in the case. And, as of this afternoon, officially the murderer of those three young men.

The jury has found him guilty.

First reaction? He looks like a bad guy. Second reaction, he looks guilty.

Also, he was found guilty of multiple counts of Capital Murder, which qualifies him for a ticket to a ride on "Yellow Mama", the infamous yellow electric chair at Kilby Prison here in Alabama. My reaction to that was "More power to the guy".

Thankfully, those were very brief reactions, and were followed immediately by a flood of other things; knowledge and reminders of things more important than Mr. Staggs.

Foremost was Dr. Charles Carter's sermon yesterday about God's will that people be saved. He pointed out that nobody in Christendom back in the early days would have wanted Saul to be saved. Breathing murderous threats against believers, standing by and approving while a mob killed Stephen, and on his way to persecute another bunch of followers when God interrupted his plans.

It likely wasn't anybody else's will that Saul get saved that day, but it was God's.

Then there's David Berkowitz, the "Son of Sam" killer from New York. I've seen and heard testimonies about him, and seen some of his recent writings .. which definitely didn't come from a lost person.

God's will, interrupting things once again, in ways we'd never have expected.

Then there's Ted Bundy. Focus on the Family's Founder James Dobson interviewed him in his later days in prison, and told of his wonderful Christian testimony. You can see that interview here, starting at the 12:00 mark.

And run-of-the-mill ordinary citizen murderers aren't the only ones. Manuel Noriega, a former Head of State of Panama, had a big-time down-front conversion experience in prison. It's said that he is serving God faithfully, even though still in prison in Panama.

I believe it was Max Lucado who called this aspect of salvation "the insult of the cross". The fact that God in His unfathomable love extends the same offer of salvation to people we somehow think ought to be beyond redemption. Some folks do seem to be upset that certain people they felt were beyond hope get miraculously saved, and after having lived such detestable lives, are saved and inherit the same Heaven as servants faithful nearly all their lives.

Remember Madalyn Murray O'Hair? The famous, or infamous, atheist? In 1960, she filed suit in Baltimore, against the School Board, claiming that the schools' forcing her son William Murray, to endure mandatory prayer at school, was somehow violating his civil rights. That suit was successful and, after being affirmed by the Supreme Court, effectively ended prayer in public schools in 1963.

I don't know, but I imagine there was a lot of resentment and angst caused by, and directed toward, her son as a result of that case.

Today, he's still William Murray, but he became a Christian in 1980 and now heads an organization he founded, the "Government Is Not God Foundation". They are devoted to defending the rights of Christians in the USA. You can read about him and his foundation here. And I would note that he's genuine, too, as he was first called into the ministry while at a church pastored by a good friend of mine, Paul Burleson.

That last thing his momma would have wanted was for her son to be saved. But her wishes didn't stand a chance against God's will.

Which brings us back to the convicted murderer from my neighborhood, Mr. Jon Staggs, Jr. And my reaction to him, his picture, and his conviction. The reactions are, of course, entirely of my flesh. And I guess it's OK with me, as those reactions force me to decide that I must .. and I really want to ... have the same attitude toward him as Jesus would. Have the same view of him, as a sin-sick soul in need of redemption. In need of a Savior.

We might see him as beyond that. But I guarantee God doesn't.

A soul beyond redemption is like that object too big for God to move. It just doesn't exist. And I am glad of that.

Otherwise, I'd still be lost.

So would you.

Correction: My pastor tells me Yellow Momma has been retired in favor of lethal injections. So change that part to "an appointment with a sterile needle.....".

Friday, October 17, 2014

Respect. We Need Moore.

That guy in the picture is Dr. Russell Moore, President/CEO of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. He's a man I respect, for more than one reason.

He has all the credentials , of course, and from where I sit, he's doing a terrific job. But there's another reason.

After he'd been elected to the position, but before his inauguration, he had occasion to come and preach at a Samford Chapel Service. I learned about it, and Peg & I went to see & hear him.

After the service, I walked over to where he was, and he called me by name. That wasn't surprising, really, as I've spoken from the floor at the convention, a number of  times, and I wouldn't doubt that there are more folks that know who I am, than folks I know myself.
What gave me cause to pause was that he called me "Mr. Cleveland".

I'm not really used to that.

Same scenario at the next SBC Annual Meeting; we saw each other in the hall and spoke for a few minutes.

I called him "Dr. Moore", for the same reason I call Sheri Klouda "Dr. Klouda" when addressing her. There are some people that I simply want to know I respect their position and their accomplishments, every time I see them, and it's also my way of reminding myself of those things.

Now: Dr. Moore could certainly call me by my first name, and it would be completely OK if he did. And I figure, at my age, I could probably call him by his first name, too. But I don't want to.

Respect ... demonstrated ... is an endangered commodity these days, and there's something so ... so .. just so right ... about showing that, in how we address each other ... when we're not everyday "buddies" ... that I have no desire to give up that little bit of that endangered commodity, Especially when addressing people of substantial accomplishment and position.

When I was an insurance broker, I had a client who operated a Child Care Center. I always addressed her as Mrs. Johnson, and she always addressed me as Mr. Cleveland. With real emphasis on the "title". Now, we got to be really good friends over the years, but there was just something so right about how we addressed each other, that I had no bit of a desire to change that. Not one bit.

If any of my friends from church, or members of my SS class read this, don't think I have any desire for anyone to address me differently from how they already do. That's not the point.

Respect is the point. Simply being respectful is Moore To The Point.


Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The "GOOD" Side of the Ebola Virus?

OK OK .. calm down ... I don't really mean that a deadly virus which is killing thousands of people really has any good or redeeming qualities. But since we're bombarded with a whole lot of information about what's going on in that aspect of life in these days, I thought an observation or two might be in order. So, since I'm not a doctor and have no answers, nor any expertise in such matters, it's naturally something I want to write about.

Hey ... lack of knowledge (read "ignorance") of things never stopped me before.

Start with the premise that we don't draw our next breath unless God ordains it. Unless He holds all things together on this "God-forsaking" planet.

  • Acts 17:28: "For in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, 'For we are also His offspring."
  • Colossians 1:15-17: "The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together."
There's more, but I think you get the picture. Our security, our comfort, or assurance of things to come ... they're all in Him.

Now, the world has done a pretty good job of telling us how to be secure, comfortable, safe, happy, beautiful, fulfilled, and all that stuff. Is it possible that many or most Christians have bought into that thinking?

Let's face facts: we're going to be dead a lot longer than we're going to be alive. Hence, it seems to me the most important thing to nail down, in this life, would be where we're going to spend etenity. And Christians, of course, have done that. We trust Jesus to take us to Heaven when we die. So .. if we trust Him with something that important, why wouldn't our trust level be equally high when it comes to lesser matters, such as life on earth? Why wouldn't we trust Him in matters like Ebola, and our personal safety & security?

You know, if God's will would be for me to contract such a dread illness as Ebola, and die a death of victory over everything the world can throw my way, that'd have to be OK with me. I mean, God's will for me, and complying with it, is the most abundant way I can think of to lead this life.

I'm not hoping for that, but as someone living with Prostate Cancer, I do know the fears the enemy can hurl my way, and the temptation it can be to let such things interfere with the realization that God is still in charge.

I hate Ebola. I hate the death and misery it brings. I hate it equally with the Houston Mayor's attempt to intimidate and/or silence preachers whose passion it is to declare God's truth and minister in His name. But both of those newsworthy items do tend to reveal who or what it is we really trust.

I would think the crucially important thing for people in either of those classes of folks ... pastors and patients ...to remember, would be keeping their eyes and their minds and their hearts intensely fixed upon the Triune Entity that is God.

The Author and the Finisher of their faith.

God, help me keep my eyes and mind and heart there, too. 

Monday, October 13, 2014

Does God "Play Favorites"?

We've all noted in the Christian world, that some folks seem more gifted than others, some folks produce or evidence more fruit in their lives, some folks seem more blessed than others, some people seem to have it more "together" than others, etc. I'm sure you can add some adjectives of your own.

The only reason I can think that I'm writing about it is that I don't know any better.

First, does God ever make choices? Sure. He chose Abraham to produce a mighty nation, and in the doing, unchose every other nation. He left them in the state He found them.

Does He ever choose some for things we'd describe as bad? Sure. Check Habakkuk, where He says "Look! I am raising up the Chaldeans (Note .. also known as the Babylonians), that bitter, impetuous nation, that marches across earth's open spaces to seize territories not its own." Habakkuk goes on to acknowledge that God had appointed them to execute judgment. And, as Habakkuk predicted, they later fell, themselves.

There's also an interesting verse in Proberbs 16. Verse 4 says "The Lord has prepared everything for His purpose - even the wicked for the day of disaster"

Romans 9:18 also tells us God says "So then, He shows mercy to those He wants to, and He hardens those He wants to harden."

Without getting into the whole Calvinism thing ... learned scholars haven't resolved it in centuries, so I'm not likely to do it, either ... let's talk about believers who have been adopted into God's Family. Folks who can call God "ABBA" ... the vocative case of the word "Father". (The vocative case is the case one uses for a name which describes the person being addressed, so only God's children can call Him "Abba"). Why do we see such differences in the church?

I can think of a couple of reasons. Most likely there are others.

First is the fact that God has gifted everyone for the Kingdom work that God has in mind for that person. He does not force us to use them, however, and people have a myriad of reasons for their failure to exercise their giftedness in the Kingdom work. I think that's generally owing to ignorance about Spiritual gifts ... meaning only a lack of knowledge about them ... coupled with a general lack of expressed expectations on the part of most churches today.

I know I've taught courses about Spiritual gifts many times, and generally the response is underwhelming. I cannot explain that, other than folks' inherent feelings that they are not (A) worthy, or (B) able, to be used by God.

We can think that, at times, when we misunderstand giftedness and how the Body of Christ works together. We think the teacher is somehow more gifted than the lady that baby-sits infants in the nursery. In that case, what's missed is that, without a capable trusted person in the nursery to do that, mom & dad aren't going to be in Sunday School or Worship Service.

Isn't that a bit like asking the pilot which wing is more important in the aircraft?

The only thing that makes any sense to me is that every gift God has given is equally important in the Kingdom, and it's only our inability to see that which hinders our eagerness to do what we see as "lesser things". If we could see eternity, as God does, we'd see that every exercise of our giftedness bring something equally glorious, somewhere, sometime, somehow.

Hey .. we're all unworthy of anything God wants to uses us for. He tells us in Luke 17 that our attitude should be that we're unworthy servants, and only doing our duty. But He promises to bring the increase (so He should also get the credit) when we do.

If you don't know what you have been gifted to do, in the Body of Christ, find out! Doing that is the only way I know to experience truly abundant life.Which is, after all, one of the two things I'm aware, that Jesus saidHe came to earth to bring us.

And ... in case you doubt your giftedness to serve, check 1 Corinthians 12: 11, and unless you're not included in "each one", then you're in. And He promises in verse 7 to produce that which is beneficial. 

So ... do you wanna count?

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Back Doors, Spinning Wheels, and Undisciplined Members

This one may be short. But it's potentially very important.

Laymen (remember I was raised in the era of the genderneutral use of "-man" and "-men" so take that into consideration please....), you need to see if your pastor has read this book. If not, buy it and give him a copy.

Make him promise to read it. Then read it yourself.

If he takes the info to heart, he's going to need all the support he can get.

The book is a magnificent display of things which make "high assimilation churches" the way they are. In many SBC churches, they may take in 50 new members in a year, yet their attendance might increase by 15 or 20. Or none. That doesn't happen in what Thom Rainer refers to as "High Assimilation Churches". Their increase is as much, or more, than their new member count.

The book explains why that is.

I know our church baptized about 50 people last year, and I believe that was rather typical. Yet our attendance did not increase. At all. In fact, we're down perhaps 20% in attendance over the past 14 years.

Not to tell too much of the tale ahead of time, but Sunday School and New Member Classes are essential, crucial, critical parts of making your church more than a revolving door for church members, or a gatheringplace for non-attenders who want nothing more than their name on a roll somewhere.

Wow. How much misleading can THAT do in a year or two?

Curiously, high-assimilation churches did not see "Discpleship Training" as an important part of the assimilation process.

Hmmm......

Simple dumb "why-didn't-I-think-of-that" thought: Maybe the reason we see so little church discipline, today, is that so few churches tell members what is expected of them, when they join. I mean how can you discipline someone for not doing what you didn't tell them they should do?

We've got a massive oversupply of "pie in the sky by and by" sort of phrases and words in the SBC. What we need is more of what us old Hoosiers referred to as "puttin' the corn down where the hogs kin git at it...".

Dr. Rainer's book does just that, and will reward those who read it, if they're concerned about open back doors, spinning wheels, and undisciplined members.

And are ready and willing to do something about it.

Oh. Yes. Dr. Rainer wrote this book in 1999!

Go figure.