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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Frazzled

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Its late Friday afternoon. Fellowship dinner and Bible Study start in a little over an hour. I’ve been in the office since 7:00 this morning. The Annual board Meeting is Monday and Patty and I are heading north tomorrow. We are presenting the ministry at my friend Gary Hayden’s church, Mid Way Baptist in Lewes, DE on Sunday morning.

My day so far? Recording the Podcast. Mixing, editing and uploading the same. A dozen phone calls. Shopping trip to restock the fridge at the Center. Packing Ministry materials for the trip. Gathering paperwork that accumulated after the Board meeting paperwork was finished. Creating an original digital painting for a sermon Powerpoint. Work on a new ministry video. Finishing touches to Sunday Morning’s sermon. And a futile attempt to clean my office.

I am ready for bed. But there is a dinner to cook (Ribeye night for the Marines!) and a Bible Study to hold, and I’ll have to pack when I get home around 10:00 tonight. We leave at 4:00 am.

Frazzled? Yep. But I wouldn’t live my life any other way. Work is good for the soul. Accomplishing things gives us a sense of purpose and value. Tomorrow I will enjoy a day in Ocean City, MD with the love of my life. That’s enough to keep me going.

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Tradition

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Matthew 15:1-9…Then came to Jesus scribes and Pharisees, which were of Jerusalem, saying, Why do thy disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? for they wash not their hands when they eat bread. But he answered and said unto them, Why do ye also transgress the commandment of God by your tradition? For God commanded, saying, Honour thy father and mother: and, He that curseth father or mother, let him die the death. But ye say, Whosoever shall say to his father or his mother, It is a gift, by whatsoever thou mightest be profited by me; And honour not his father or his mother, he shall be free. Thus have ye made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition. Ye hypocrites, well did Esaias prophesy of you, saying, This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me. But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.

It’s really easy to mistake preferences for doctrine, tradition for Biblical mandates. We all fall into it, wether we are conservative or progressive Christians. We go to church every week, same time, same place, same seats. We basically sing the same two dozen songs. We follow the same order of service. Our internal alarms start wailing whenever something different happens. Danger! Something new! Something different! And if it doesn’t fit our particular STYLE, we can fall into the same trap the Pharisees did. Condemn what we don’t understand, failing to hear the wooing, failing to see the moving of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus challenged the Status Quo. I would dare say He would be ridiculed in many of our churches today. He would be loud, abrasive, confrontational, and full of laughter and joy in a way some would think inappropriate. Why do I say that? I read the Gospels. And I try to read them for what they say, not what I want them to say.

The Pharisees condemned Jesus’ disciples for not holding to a TRADITION. We can do the same when we condemn or ridicule another because their style doesn’t match ours. Maybe you wear a suit and tie to church. Maybe you wear bluejeans and a t-shirt. Maybe your church has a piano. Maybe it has a full orchestra. Maybe its a four piece rock band with Drums, Bass, Synthesizer and Electric Guitar. Perhaps your church doesn’t use the same translation mine does. All of these are TRADITIONS. Remember, the Progressive has traditions just like the conservative, they are usually just younger traditions. Romans 14 calls out both the Conservative (vegetarian) and the Progressive (Meat eater). The carnivore is not supposed to make fun of the veggie and the veggie is not supposed to condemn the meat eater.

Romans 14:1-4…Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations. For one believeth that he may eat all things: another, who is weak, eateth herbs. Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth: for God hath received him. Who art thou that judgest another man’s servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand.

Jesus is telling us in Matthew 15 that we need to get back to matters of the heart, and quit focusing so much on the outside. Over the last few months several mega church pastors have had to resign their posts. Some from conservative churches, some from progressive churches. In each case it was due to private sin. For these men, who need our prayers, the pressure of being”on” all the time got to be just too much. And they were “on” in many cases because traditions, old and new, created unrealistic expectations of them, just like the traditions of the Pharisees. When a man cannot live up to outside expectations, he is dangerously close to a hard fall.

It doesn’t matter what our tradition is, if it becomes more important than what Jesus said (Or worse, is used as a cloak to hide private sin) then its time to kill the sacred cow and return to a focus on individual accountability, individual spirituality, individual responsibility. And quit pointing fingers at others, but point our own fingers at our own hearts.

Don’t honor God with your lips if your heart is far from Him. That is the surest path to Pharisaism.

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