Monday, August 27, 2012

A Historical Bad Rap

            He literally saved millions of people from starvation. He did so twice, leading food relief efforts after World War I and World War II.
            In Finland, his work rescuing people from starvation was so noble, his last name became a verb, meaning “to help.”
            It was because of his heart for humanity, not to mention his amazing administrative ability and his unselfish devotion to serving his fellow man, that he was elected president of the United States in 1928.
            Tragically, just a few months into office, the stock market crashed (the fault of which was not his own) and the Great Depression began.
            He was audacious in attempting to address the needs of people, creating many new programs. Yet, struggling with a recalcitrant Congress, he made little headway in alleviating the Great Depression. For this reason, he was thrown out of office in the election of 1932.
            Sadly, during the Great Depression, his name took on a different connotation here in the United States than it did in Finland. It morphed into a word describing locations where poor people lived. Decades later, a popular musical, “Annie”, would casually ridicule him in their songs.
            When it comes to judging a man, society does not always get it right. Unfortunately, popular culture sometimes brands a person in an unfair way that does not reflect truth when describing a person's overall life.
            This was certainly the case with Herbert Hoover. Herbert Hoover was a compassionate man who served humanity for over 90 years. One event overshadowed him. He became identified with it, and that became his legacy.
            I think that is sad. History seems unconcerned with my sympathy.
            Strangely enough, Scripture sometimes seems unconcerned about the legacy of God’s people, but here is the catch. In the Bible, God is held as the standard. Humans are viewed as flawed beings, especially when compared with God. In the Bible, there is God—then there is everyone else.
            The Bible has no qualms about sharing personal information concerning God's community of faith. Today, were we preachers to relate similar flaws at someone’s funeral, people would gasp and consider it in bad taste.
            God’s word does not share our unease. You can check out the legacies of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Peter to name a few. You have the good, and you have the awfully ugly.
            God's word is not concerned about burnishing the reputation of the people of the Bible; rather, it is more concerned about elevating and glorifying the name of God.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Reflections on Kingdom Work

            In Kingdom work, God is the constant; we are the variable. Read the Bible, and after all is said and done, God is the Hero of the story. We have the opportunity to embrace him and jump on board with his wonderful Kingdom activity.
            I know many of you read out of the version of the Bible called “The Message.” Eugene Peterson translated that. He’s written a lot of good books about God and Scripture. In one of them, CHRIST PLAYS IN 10,000 PLACES, he wrote something that absolutely inspired my imagination.
            In John Mark’s gospel, Peter is the prominent apostle. Peter appears to have the potential to move into place alongside Jesus. Then the wheels come off of Peter’s life. Peter does not become the lead apostle; instead, Mark portrays Peter as the lead sinner.
            Peter stays out of the limelight. That spot is reserved for Jesus alone. In Mark, there is only one hero–and he is Jesus.
            The incredible thing about this is we think we know where John Mark got his material–from Peter, who mentored him. And we think a significant influence on John Mark’s gospel were the sermons he heard Peter preach.
             I am absolutely blown away by that. Peter embraced the fact that Jesus stood alone as the hero, and he had absolutely no problem with us knowing that he was a sinner. Yet, Jesus reached out to Peter; Jesus called him, and Jesus was faithful to him.
            God is such an overwhelming hero in the Bible; he easily overshadows—and overcomes—the weaknesses of the people who follow him. So we do not even have to attempt to be cardboard cutouts of saints. We can simply be ourselves.
            As a matter of fact, the more real we are with God and with each other, the more he can form us into the image of his Son. We don’t have anything to be afraid of, and we have a lot to look forward to. It is exciting to watch God work in our lives.
            As I process what is next for me in my own life, I recognize the fact that some of you changed majors in college. Some of you graduated with a degree in one field, and God steered you to another. Some of you started in one career, and God led you to another. That is the exciting thing about God… he is always working on us and through us, to carry out his story and his purpose.
            Did you know that some of our greatest discoveries and inventions have occurred as a serendipity of the original intent of the discoverer? Alexander Graham Bell invented an instrument to inform people of the arrival of telegrams. He did not realize it would become the telephone.
            An Italian explorer sailed across the Atlantic Ocean hoping to find a new route to India and enrich himself trading for spices. Christopher Columbus, instead, discovered a new world, which literally led to seismic shifts in geography, world power, and, literally, worldview.
            All of these serve as a nice symbols of the Christian’s walk with God. Whether they are true failures or unplanned directional turns, Scripture teaches us God can work through both. This truth lends an atmosphere of excitement to the Christian journey. As my former colleague, Tim Henderson, put it in one of his blogs, “It is better living to be watching for the unexpected than expecting the living to follow our plan. May you enjoy a life of watching God do more than you can explain or imagine.”


Monday, August 13, 2012

Reflections on Leaving the Pulpit

             I only thought that resigning from my job was important.
            Judy and I picked last Wednesday as the day to tell our four kids I was leaving full time preaching. We were traveling to Cleburne for a speaking engagement, and the entire family was going with me.
            I was almost two thirds of the way through my story—telling about our decision and what it involved—when we passed by my son’s elementary school, Andy Woods.
            With great excitement, Timothy interrupted me (as I was sharing from my heart) with this exclamation, “Guys! Look! Look over there!” (Pointing out the window of our Suburban toward the school.)
            My oldest daughter, Haleigh, tried to shush him, “Be quiet, Timothy, daddy’s trying to talk to us.”
            “I’m sorry,” Timothy shouted, “but look! They’re cutting down a tree! They’re cutting down a tree!”
            I had to admit that his news earned the right for him to gain the floor. There are always going to be life-altering decisions, but it is not everyday you get to see someone cut down a big tree at your school.
            I was grateful for the much needed perspective.
            Speaking of perspective, I have received some good questions since I announced yesterday that I was stepping down from Shiloh’s pulpit. So I thought it would be helpful to add some context and clarification to my thoughts expressed in my letter of resignation, which I posted on my FB page.
            First, there are many variables involved in my decision. On a more personal note, I offered the Lord my retirement from preaching last month while on a mountain in Colorado on Wilderness Expedition.
            Last Spring, as Shiloh was looking at the book of Hebrews, I wrestled with the question of whether or not Jesus was my anchor (Heb. 6.) As I focused on the Christians struggling with attacks on their faith, I could not help but think about how easy I had it Shiloh. Oh, sure, we faced problems, but so do all churches. Had preaching become an idol to me? Was I a "preacher" more than a disciple of Jesus?
            In many ways, I believe the Lord has responded to my offer to “retire” by making it clear to me that he accepts it. I am at peace with this decision.
            Granted, I don’t want to be stubborn or obstinate about preaching. If I am convinced God wants me back in the pulpit, I will answer the call.
            Second, since I announced that in the immediate future I would be doing a lot of writing, I think some people got the idea that I plan on making a career out of it. I would love to have the privilege; however, I fully recognize how unrealistic that is.
            I still have a file containing a book I completed 20 years ago, which no publishing company wanted to publish. (The meanies!)
            I have three books floating around in my head that I’ve wanted to work on for quite a while. I am going to use the time I have available to do so.
            I would love for the Lord to allow one to be published, but if not, I can store the manuscripts. I write for a lot of reasons… one being the sheer enjoyment of it.           
            Third, since our family would like to remain in Tyler and at Shiloh, I am pursuing other career fields, which would keep me here. I’ve got some ideas, and I will investigate them.
            I am excited about the present. I am so thankful that I have elders who love me and are so supportive of me during this time.  No matter what I end up doing, my prayer is that it will be pleasing to the Lord and in fitting with his mission for my life and transformation.