Dance

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“Never give a sword to a warrior who can’t dance.” – Old Celtic Proverb

 

I woke this morning with this old saying running through my mind. I first read it back in 1990 in Robert Bly’s book “Iron John” and then in 2006 in John Eldredge’s “The Way of the Wild Heart.”

 

For me it means never be so consumed with the battle at hand that you forget why your fighting. Jesus said “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.” -John 10:10 Life is meant to be enjoyed. And it can only be fully enjoyed, completely engaged in when our lives are tethered to The One who created life. But often those of us who are saved find ourselves not enjoying life. We are filled with anxiety, burdened with cares, overcome by the world or our own religious systems we create to keep us on the straight and narrow.

 

I’ve been  a minister of the Gospel for 20 years now. I have been in about every type of church you can imagine. What has floored me is the lack of joy I have found among the brethren. I am Baptist by practice, and Baptists usually don’t dance. It’s mostly because we have been trying to stifle young passions, and I understand that. But believe me, Jesus danced. His Jewish heritage demanded it. Dancing is an expression of joy, and wether you dance or not, you need to experience and express joy in some way.

 

I read about Jesus turning the tables over in the temple and I know He is a warrior. I read about Him at the Wedding in Cana, being derided but the Pharisees and Sadducees for being a winebibber and a glutton and I know He was a dancer. A  joyful person who laughed a lot and smiled more often than not, who probably played pranks on the disciples and told a lot of jokes. Its not that those things are missing from the Gospels, its that they are not emphasized as the Gospel writers had a job to do – deliver a message about Who Jesus is, what His doctrine is, and what He accomplished during His earthly ministry.

 

I think one of the reasons we have so little joy is we are so afraid of failing. We build fences around our lives to keep righteousness in and sin out. The problem is, when no one is looking (not even God, we reason) we start finding ways around, over or under the fences. We see a failure as irredeemable, unforgivable, un-Christian.

 

Wanna  know a secret? come close, I’ll whisper it.

 

We all fail.

 

We all have to at time come back to our Father and ask for forgiveness. The possibility of failing should not keep us from living lives of joy. The firm knowledge that when we do fail God will forgive us IF we come to Him in faith should encourage us to experience Joy. This knowledge is never a license to sin, never an excuse to  venture down the dark alleys of our minds. I met a preacher once who told me he believed in the Eternal Security of the believer, but would never preach it. I asked why. He replied that knowing your eternally secure would only encourage most Christians to keep on sinning! So the Truth is subject to the limitations we put on God’s Grace.

 

Fight your battles. You’re supposed to. We are called to be Warriors for Christ. Stand for the Truth, take the slings and arrows of the world and volley back love and grace and truth. but don’t let your fear of failing rob you of Joy.

 

And then, however your expression of Joy takes form, physically, within the heart, alone or among friends and family…

DANCE.

Changed

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I had the opportunity to attend the Graduation Ceremony for Ground Supply Services at Camp Johnson this morning. I was there to support a Marine we have been bringing out to the Center during her training. She graduated and was assigned to Camp Lejeune so we will be seeing a lot more of her.

While there I had the opportunity to talk with a Master Sergeant who helped with the paperwork to bring another Marine out last week for the first time. When I thanked him for that his eyes lit up and he told me he had to thank us. He said the change in that young Marine after just one night at our Center was amazing. A young man who was introverted, quiet and kept to himself suddenly was beaming, smiling and outgoing. the MSGT thanked me again and said he would be encouraging this Marine and others to come out to the Center.

Its amazing how much God can use very little things. A simple night out to have dinner and Bible study had a profound effect on this young man’s outlook on life.

I love it when God shows up.

 

 

Tacking

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First day in the office of the year, and nothing measurably accomplished. Of course. After taking off some time at the end of last year (last week) I hit the office this morning with great expectations. The problem? most everyone I needed to talk with today is off work. January 2 is a holiday for most. No mail service, Insurance and phone company reps are off, no one is responding to my emails.

Sigh.

Time to recalculate and spend this afternoon writing and studying.

It reminds me what my friend Ron Sears once told me. Its possible to sail against the wind if you sail at an angle to the forward wind and “zig zag” and move forward. Its not as fast as when the wind is at your back, but forward momentum is achieved. I have never sailed, but Wikipedia agrees with Ron so I am guessing he’s right.

When your plans fall through, do you get frustrated? Or do you tack against the wind and get a little further in your journey?

Year Ends, Year Starts

 

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Its been well over two months since I have posted to this blog. I can’t give a specific reason for it. November was a month filled with physical labor, as we gutted and rebuilt our Kitchen at The Center. It took a little more than three weeks, but thankfully we were finished enough by Thanksgiving to host around 60 Marines for two Thanksgiving Dinners with the help of some friends from New Life Baptist in White Marsh, MD.
Since Thanksgiving I have been busy, but tired. Closing out the year is still not done, but some things have to wait until the clock strikes 12. I’ve been unusually tired lately so I finally found a doctor in town and got a checkup. I discovered my blood pressure was back up a bit, and medication was restarted. More importantly I found that I had a latent virus that reared its head again, all the way from my teen years, and that, not my advancing years, has been the culprit for my excessive aches, pains and general tiredness. On orders, I’ve taken the Holidays as a time to rest.
With most Marines taking extended leave and going home for the holidays we have basically shut down operations since Christmas and I have taken a long overdue rest. Patty and I did not take a vacation this year, so this week and a half at home was a substitute vacation. God is gracious in that He puts us into rest mode forcibly if we do not rest voluntarily.

Even that does not account for my failure to post to the blog though. I actually have a few blog posts sitting on my hard drive, but none have struck me as the one to publish. Writing is a creative endeavor. I have been drawing all of my conscious life. Hundreds of thousands of drawings over nearly half a century has taught me one thing, we rarely get a piece of art right on the first try. I first started writing professionally when I was a reporter and news director at several radio stations in the 1980’s and early 1990’s.  I learned to write fast, lean and accurately. The only place for creativity was in first lines, and changing the story’s structure in re-writes.
Writing sermons, blog posts, commentaries and fiction requires, I find, the creative spark. If its not there, the writing does not flow. Hence, the physical fatigue and being emotionally spent after so large a project kept me from writing anything I could reasonably post.
I have to, however, post on this last day of the year. One year ago today I was still a pastor. On January 1 of this year I became a Missionary. It has been an exciting, terrifying, challenging and surprisingly natural experience. I love my life today. And I am old enough to be smart enough to know that won’t last long. I’m enjoying it while its here, and trying to prepare myself when the next great challenge arises. As Jerry Falwell used to say, “Your are either in trouble, getting out of trouble, or getting into trouble!” Challenges, heartaches, insurmountable obstacles are all what makes life wonderful. It is in overcoming through Christ the pain in this world that our lives find meaning, purpose, joy.
I’m tired today, not so much from the virus, I have rested enough to overcome that. I am tired because I have not been active. I am looking forward to Monday when I can hit the office, write, plan, make phone calls, and schedule meetings. We have very big plans for Military Evangelism in 2017. Banquets, meetings, a new social media outreach. My prayer is to see hundreds of Christians who love our Lord and our Troops partner up with us, in prayer and offerings. We are a special group of people, we Christian Patriots. We love Jesus Christ and we love the country founded upon His principles. And because that we love especially those who fight and die to protect our freedoms.
Join us as we reach even more Marines with the Gospel this year.

Preach

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Patty and I are at the Shepherds 360 conference at Colonial Baptist Church in Cary, NC (right next to Raleigh) There are hundreds of pastors, missionaries and church ministries here. This is the first conference that Patty and I have attended where we knew no one going in. It’s strange to be a stranger, but everyone here has been welcoming and encouraging.
I’m not the best one on one, especially when I am meeting people for the first time. I am struggling with stepping out and pulling someone to our table. I hate it when those guys in the mall try to put hand cream in your palm. Do I look like the kind of man who uses hand cream? So I am trying to overcome my own reticence to being approached by or approaching strangers.
Somehow though my gift is public speaking. I understand that most folks freeze at the thought of speaking to a crowd. I’m strange that way. If twenty minutes from now I am approached and asked to speak to this crowd of over 400 pastors, I’d jump at the chance. Even if I was asked to speak on a particular subject that I wasn’t prepared for. I love that danger.
When that sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach hits, that’s when the Holy Spirit steps in and takes over, giving me words, bringing out scriptures I didn’t know I had memorized, filling me with His power to speak the Word of God with unction. A good friend of mine once told me he preaches to make a living- the pastoral care aspect of ministry is what he loves, preaching is something he is expected to do. But I live to preach, he said. I think he’s right. I preach even when I’m not in the pulpit.
Ask me what I’ve done for a living? I’ll gladly tell you all about my various careers and experiences, my brushes with fame, my past fistfights, what it’s like to wear riot gear, do a stakeout, write a book. And I’ll preach every second of it.
Ask me about Military Evangelism? I’ll preach all the wonderful things we do to reach our troops.  Ask me to preach? Dude, I’m stoked!
I was telling another missionary yesterday that I am over the “bigger is better” attitude. I don’t care if I ever become the most successful, fastest growing, best selling anything. I just want to preach. I want to speak the Word of God and let Him worry about the results, and He never does.

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Older

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Patty and I are in White Marsh, MD this week for the Missions Conference of our home church, New Life Baptist.  New Life sent us out 15 years ago to plant a church, and they are sending us now to the Military. Its been great week so far, catching up with old friends we haven’t seen in years, meeting other missionaries, and having the mornings and afternoons free to relax and rest.

It feels good, and it feels strange. Nearly twenty years ago Patty and I visited New Life for the first time.  We were so young, our boys were just toddlers. Twenty years later so much has changed. Yet when old friend see us, its like the years between never happened. Many have asked us this week why we didn’t bring our boys with us. I had to pull out my phone, show them pictures of two young bearded men, and explain that my sons are grown men with jobs and lives of their own. That’s why they aren’t on my prayer cards. Patty and I are the older Missionaries, without ever having been the younger Missionaries.

The young Missionary couples we are meeting this week make us nostalgic. I told one that watching him preach reminded me that once I stood in that same pulpit young, vulnerable, and with a full head of black, not silver hair. Tonight I preach, the old man of the group. There was a time when that would have been an enormous pressure, a cause for a case of nerves. Not anymore. I’ve been doing this too long. This is my home church, my friends, my pastor.

There is still the great responsibility of preaching the Gospel. Thankfully that pressure never goes away. It keeps me tight, a bit edgy, and focused. I like that. But any feelings of “maybe I’ll bomb” are long gone. I know my God is greater than I am. I know He will use my feeble attempts to preach to His Glory. And I know my friends will forgive any failures.

I love being the older Missionary. I started in the Ministry when I was 30. In 11 days I turn 50. There is an ease that comes to a man as he ages. I’ve made it through much. Experienced the Power of God firsthand. When I started out in the Ministry I sought out mentors. Older men in the ministry who were not bitter. I didn’t always take their advise, but I tried to always listen. More often than not they were right. Now I am one of those old men in the ministry. Years behind me, ready to be there for the next generation. I pray I can help them make fewer mistakes than I did.

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Changes

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I’m sitting in the breakfast room at the hotel we stayed in last night in Rehoboth Beach, DE. I have the privilege of preaching the Gospel this morning to the congregation of one of my good friends in the ministry. Last night Patty and I walked the boardwalk on the beach and got our favorite Thrashers fries, enjoying the chilly ocean breeze.

On the beach there was a wedding. But there was no bride.

Since the start of the century our culture has been going through a bellwether change. We have moved from a general adherence to Judeo-Christian ethics to an embracing of feelings as our ethical guide. The problem with feelings is that they change. and they don’t always jive with the truth. When the truth offends our feelings, we have to be grown ups, admit that we are wrong, and change to fit the truth. There is no such thing as situational or personal truth, there is only the truth. It is absolute, unchangeable and eternal.

Gods’ Word is the Truth. And it is offensive. I don’t like everything it says. But I believe it. Being a grown up means accepting reality. We have become a people who believe that if you don’t like the way things are you can change the world to fit what you like. That sounds inspirational, sounds so very right. But its very wrong. There are some things we can change.  We can change our evil habits, wrong attitudes, uninformed actions into truthful ways. But when we are intent on changing the truth of God and His Word to fit our personal world view, we are wrong, no matter how sincere we are.

I know I’m a dinosaur. A conservative, backwards, old fashioned nerd. Its ok.

I’ve found the truth, and He has made me free. Not free to do as my heart desires. That would be a train wreck. My heart is deceitful and wicked above all things, I can’t know it will lead me correctly. The freedom Christ has given me is the freedom to follow His perfect plan for my life. If you are not following His plan, you don’t know what you are missing. Rebel against having to serve Him if you want, but as Dylan said, “you gotta serve somebody.”

Don’t be offended that Christ is the only way to eternal life. Be thankful you have found that He is the Way. A recent Barna poll found half of those who call themselves Born Again Christians believe that there are multiple paths to heaven, that Jesus is not the only way. Yet He said He is the ONLY WAY (John 14:6). And if there are other ways, why did He have to die? As Paul said, if righteousness comes by the Law (Any other way than through the sacrificial death of Christ) then Christ died in vain.

Its His World. He created it, and He gets to set the rules.

I’ve found that when I submit to His rules, my ratio of happiness increases dramatically. When I fulfill the role He created for me, and act like the man He wants me to be, that elusive “fulfillment” everyone is searching for becomes second nature.

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