Sunday, November 26, 2006

I GOT YER "BEAUTIFUL" RIGHT HERE, PAL.


Let me introduce you to a good friend of mine. Her name is Keri-Ann, and she lives in Red Hills, just outside Kingston, Jamaica. Her friendship proves a couple of points, to me, which might benefit you as well.

In the summer of 1992, our church sponsored a mission trip to the Red Hills Baptist Church, to help on construction of a building, and put on Vacation Bible Schools for them. I "superintended" a VBS at a nearby sister church, Cypress Hall, and my older son Brian worked on the construction.

Our trip coincided with Revival Services at their church, and the first evening we were there was quite a celebration of praise and worship. The congregation worship leader invited us to sing and shake hands and meet people and we walked around singing praises and shaking hands. I decided I'd clap other people's hands, and absolutely had a blast doing that. When the singing stopped, I was clapping hands with a little 10-year-old girl so I just sat down by her. When the pastor read scripture, I had someone hand me my bible and I opened it; the little girl next to me didn't have a bible, so I put my bible on my knee and scooted her over next to me so she could read it too. When we sang a hymn, she got a hymnal and opened to the page and put it in my lap and we sang together.

After the service, I was standing on the side steps of the church as a car went down the hill to the street (there were only 2 cars among the congregation, there). The car stopped halfway, and Keri-Ann jumped out, ran up the hill, up the steps, hugged me, ran back down and got back in the car, and they left.

My sweetheart Peg was my first episode of love-at-first-sight. Keri-Ann was the second.

We've been back 10 times since then. Also, with the advent of the internet, we've kept up via email and online chats. To make a long story short, she has grown up into a fine young professional lady, a High School Math Teacher, a youth leader in the Red Hills Church, and just a dear friend. I love her as though she were my own grandkid.

I asked her, once, how it was that she was such dear friends with this old white guy from Alabama. She said "Because you always love and accept me".

I don't know if all people react the same way to love and acceptance, but I suspect most do. And isn't that how it should be with all our acquaintances?

Love, and acceptance?

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

THANKSGIVING, REALLY? WHAT FOR?

If you're reading this, you already know something you can be thankful for, this thanksgiving day. Several, in fact.

You can see (I don't do braille here).
You can read.
You have computer access, maybe even your own computer.
You're reading it in English and not German, Japanese, or Russian (I don't do any of them, either).
You didn't die of starvation or dehydration yesterday.
You weren't aborted.
Your parents had you.
Chances are good you're saved, too, and have a home in Heaven. And if that's the case, you have a fullness of life that's available for you to live, here, if you choose to do so.
And you're probably thankful for the stuff God blessed you with as you labored you hope He's ordained you to (that's sort of how I've viewed my job).
You live where you do, when you do.
You have friends.

Those are all good things to be thankful for. But something else brought it into really sharp focus a few years ago, for me. It helps to understand this if you have low self-esteem, by the way. Check out this thought:

Do you know anyone who is smarter than you are, who has less than you do?
Do you know anyone who is a better person than you, who has less than you do?
Do you know anyone who works harder than you do, who has less than you do?
Do you know anyone who has had more unearned troubles than you have ... illness, etc?

Regardless of how much or little you have, how much or little you're blessed, you know you're more blessed than a lot of other folks you know. Maybe than MOST other folks you know. SURELY more than the VAST majority of the world's population.

This prompted the question in my heart: why me? Oh, we ask that question quickly enough when something bad happens to us, but seldom when something GOOD happens.

Ask yourself God why you have anything to be thankful for, this Thanksgiving. Chances are God will tell you it's because He loves you.

That's why you are blessed, and why you can even GIVE thanks.

And why you should.

Be blessed, and thanks for being here.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

WHEN YOU'RE THIS GOOD, YOU LEAVE MARKS


What you're looking at, and what I desperately wish I had sitting in front of me as I type this, is a cup of Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee.

The scene was last Saturday morning, the 18th, on the terrace of the Sandhurst Hotel in Kingston, Jamaica. Neal & Debbie Blackwelder and Peg & I had gone there to take part in the dedication ceremony of the Red Hills Baptist Church's new Red Hills Community Service and Outreach Centre. They'd been working on building the facility continuously, as God has given them the means, since 1992. We had our first mission trip there that year and laid some block for them. Our last trip (of five total) was about 4 years ago if memory serves me correctly.

The Sandhurst serves breakfast on the terrace, overlooking the pool, and their French Toast is killer-good. I normally have Calaloo, a sort of fried greens dish, or liver; they took 30 minutes to fix, so we had French Toast.

And coffee. Somehow that doesn't look right. One should always refer to their coffee as Coffee. They make it in a kettle and it is very very strong but without a hint of bitterness. It is simply delicious. And I've had coffee in a number of countries and some famous restaurants that were as proud of their coffee as the SBC seems to be of their numbers. Nothing else, anywhere else, even comes close.

Not even in the same league. (Note to Kevin Bussey: Eat your heart out).

After we'd emptied the second pot, I took my napkin and wiped out the cup. All the liquid was gone, and the bottom picture is what came out of the cup and onto my napkin.

Yup ... when the coffee's that good, it leaves marks that'll be there until something takes them away.

Believers are supposed to be like that, you know. When we're living for our Savior, we should be leaving marks. Oh, we're not supposed to try to do that; when you try to "make your mark", that's exactly what it'll look like. And that leaves nothing behind, other than maybe a bad taste. But when the Holy Ghost is working through us, those who come behind us will know Jesus has been there. And if we want Him to work through us, we're going to have to drink our fill, and then ask Him to escort us on in, to where His work is.

Despite the trip to end all trips to get there last Thursday (Have YOU ever missed THREE FLIGHTS in ONE AIRPORT in ONE DAY?), we wouldn't take anything for the experience. And the great thrill of it was seeing the marks that God had left, through us, in that place.

I hope the flavor of our presence for my beloved Jamaicans at Red Hills was as sweet as the taste they've left with me. There aren't enough napkins in all the world to clean that out of my soul.


Wednesday, November 15, 2006

TIME TO HEAD FOR THE HILLS


Red Hills, that is. That's a little church in the hills just outside Kingston, Jamaica.

We first went there in 1992 on a mission trip from FBC Pelham. They were starting an Education and Community Service Building, and needed help. At the time, there was an SBC missionary in Jamaica and he recommended we go help them.

We did, taking about 40 people to put on VBS Bible Clubs at Red Hills, and at Cypress Hall Baptist, a "mission" of Red Hills. We've been back 4 times since on other mission trips, and another 4 times on vacations. We have a lot of friends there.

A few months ago, Pastor Calvin Matthews asked if I could come down for the dedication of their new building, now complete. He asked if others might want to come along and so 4 of us regulars are headed that way shortly. He also asked if I could bring greetings from FBC Pelham, and I agreed. I think I know what I'll tell them, in addition to expressing our love for them and our honor at being there.

One thing is that there's never been a day when they were able to complete the building, right up until the day God enabled it. When FBC Pelham needed a new building, we drew the plans, talked to the bank, and then called the contractor. Red Hills had to depend on the Lord to provide the funds before they could complete it, and it took 14 years. Truly, unless the Lord builds a house, the laborers work in vain who build it. Their work was not in vain.

Another thing is that God does not dwell in buildings made by hand. If they want the Holy Spirit to use the building, they're going to have to fill up and take Him on in there. I have no doubt that they will.

Last, Paul told the Hebrews that they were to prompt one another to love and good works, assembling together in the process. They're going to have a tough time prompting each other to more than they've already prompted in some of us from FBC. That, alone, will be a tough act to follow.

Look around this coming Sunday. Trust me .. if you only knew, you'd wish you were where I'm going to be.

Lord willing.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

HE SAW, AND HE CARED

It's not my practice to cover up one of my new posts with another the next day, but I think God just showed me something. And I want to get it down before I forget it.

For some time, I've been pondering an analogy. Namely ... Scene #1 ... if a doctor told you, in response to some occurrence, that you needed to rest in bed for a week, that's where you'd start. For a day or maybe two.

The third day, you'd feel pretty good and would probably go to the table for lunch, and then to the couch in the living room. Next day, you'd probably go there in the morning and then the recliner after lunch. By day five, you'd be up and around and "taking it easy". As long as it didn't hurt, you'd be ok.

So change the premise ... Scene #2 .... . let's say the doctor tells you that there's this sliver of bone in your back that it's this close to your spinal column and if you MOVE in the next week, you'll probably never walk again. He says there won't be any pain involved. In fact, half of you won't feel anything, ever again, if you get out of bed.

What would you do, then? Why, you'd stay right there and not move a muscle.

Why? Same event .. . same instructions. Why the difference?

The part I've recognized in scene #2 is that, in that event, you'd see the value. When you see the value of something, you're motivated to do it. When you don't see it, you usually don't.

What God showed me today is the other half of the equation. Namely, in scene #2, you care about the outcome.

For me, this is a call to action, lots of different actions, for two groups of people. First, you and me. Believers. If we're not striving after holiness in our life, which of those is missing? Do we not see the value of that, or do we simply not care about the results?

Pastors: if folks in your congregation are there half the time, not tithing, not involved, what's missing? Do they not see the value of seeking first the Kingdom of God, and His righteousness? Or do they simply not care about it?

Whether you're just a believer, or a pastor (or teacher, worker, etc), I'd think you'd want to know. I look at the church in Acts and think "What did they have that I don't have?" It's obvious there's something, and I want whatever they had.

Pastors: please look this over and think on those things. Perhaps there's some food for thought, and maybe some sermon fodder.

The kicker is we all say WWJD (What Would Jesus Do). It rolls off our tongues, and it's a thought with a lot of merit. But unless Jesus was some sort of robot, He had reasons for the self-sacrifice so evident in His life. Maybe that's what God showed me today... Jesus knew the value of what He was sent to do, and He cared supremely about you and me .... that we could have an abundant and an eternal life.

He saw. And He cared.

He still does.

Do I? Do you?