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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Slice

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Today Patty and I decided to get a pizza for lunch. Its been a hard week preparing reports and juggling numbers and we were both well fried by noon. I called our regular pizza place, Lazzaras which is just down the street from us.

I ordered, gave my phone number and then hear this, “Mr. Mason, you have ten Loyalty dollars to spend, would you like to use them on this order?”

“What do you mean, Loyalty Dollars? I don’t have a loyalty card with you.”

“Yes you do, we keep track of your orders automatically, and award you whenever you get to a certain amount.”

“Ok,” I said, “Sure, take ten dollars off my bill!”

I went in and picked up the pizza and told the owner and the workers they were brilliant.

Why?

Because they gave a loyal customer the benefit of a loyalty program without even asking. I didn’t have to fill out a card, give an email address, pay a yearly fee, or (worst of all) carry around a card in my wallet to take advantage of the offer. The store simply kept track of my orders (they ask for your phone number whenever you call in an order, very reasonable, right?) and when I reached their awards tier, gave me store credit. That is good business. Working behind the scenes, without pomp and circumstance, without bugging the customer, without the customers knowledge, adding value and rewarding loyalty without prompting.

I think we can all – no matter our situation learn from this. If you are in business, what are you doing silently, without fanfare, to make your customers experience better, to reward faithful patronage? If you are pastoring a church or running a ministry, what are you doing in the background, unannounced, to add value to your congregations life? If your working a job, in middle management, or just starting out, what are you doing to make your boss’ life better? How about the customers you serve? What are you doing in your family without being asked or told, without even making it known, to make their lives better?

I don’t know if they were thinking this when they enacted this policy, but Lazzaras is practicing a principle that Jesus taught.

Matthew 6:1…”Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds before men, to be seen by them. Otherwise you have no reward from your Father in heaven.
2 “Therefore, when you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory from men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward.
3 “But when you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing,
4 “that your charitable deed may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly.

Doing something for your customers without them even knowing. That is simply brilliant.

When everyone else is looking for their slice of the pie, what are you doing to give someone an extra slice?

When I was a pastor, I always had something I did in the church that I told no one about. It was my private ministry between me and God. As a Missionary, I find there are many things that need done that I could budget money for, pay someone to do. But I do them because I can do a lot more than I tend to think. And so can you.

What are you quietly doing to add value, to help someone, to make a difference?

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Diligence

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He becometh poor that dealeth with a slack hand:
but the hand of the diligent maketh rich.
He that gathereth in summer is a wise son:
but he that sleepeth in harvest is a son that causeth shame.
-Proverbs 10:4,5

Most of the time, we know exactly what to do.
There are multitudes of teachings, books, sermons and more about finding God’s Will for your life. As a Pastor one of the most frequent questions I fielded was “How do I know what Gods will for _____ is?” I think that perhaps the question is not a question, but an excuse, a way to avoid the obvious.
Scripture is clear on what is right and what is wrong. What is expected and what is commanded. I find in my life that when I am conflicted, often I’m actually just disobedient. We are commanded to be generous. So give expecting nothing in return. We are commanded to work hard. So labor for your substance, and for fruit that remains.

Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin. – James 4:17

The details…do I go here, or there? Do I move or stay? They are just details. They get answered as we are obedient in the basics.

And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not. As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith. – Galatians 6:9, 10

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Heartbroken

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We were supposed to leave for Maryland Friday Morning. A trip home to see family, yes, but the purpose was to attend Dr. John Bond’s Funeral on Saturday Sept. 3.

This morning Patty and I made the decision not to leave. A Tropical Storm that may strengthen into a hurricane is making landfall in Florida later today, and the eye of the storm is scheduled to pass over Onslow and Duplin Counties Friday night. Heavy rains with localized flooding, and high winds are expected. I spent the first hours this morning on my home’s roof, nailing down and applying tar to loose shingles, getting it ready to take the first storm of the season.

Having never lived in North Carolina during storm season, we felt it would be unwise for us to leave our home and the Ministry Center during this storm. We may be needed here to manage any damage that may occur. Our hearts are broken though.

We missed the funeral of my good friend Clay Moorman in June. Now Dr. Bond’s. Two men who meant so much to both of us. But this is the life of following the call of God.

We like to think that following God means a marked decrease in pain, heartache and suffering. Sometimes that is true. But it is also true that following the call of God can be painful. We desperately want, we need the company of our friends to share memories, reminisce, and find the healing that only comes in a group setting. John Bond’s meant that much to us. But the Call of God means we have responsibilities we must attend to, even if it means forsaking family and friends.

Matthew 10:37-39… He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me. He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.

Think that’s hard of Jesus to say that? Listen to this:

Matthew 8:19-22… And a certain scribe came, and said unto him, Master, I will follow thee whithersoever thou goest. And Jesus saith unto him, The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head. And another of his disciples said unto him, Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father. But Jesus said unto him, Follow me; and let the dead bury their dead.

I know this, that funerals are not for the deceased, they are for the living. I am not dishonoring Dr. Bond’s by not attending. He above all persons understands this. He gave his all for the ministry. He took nothing for himself, but poured back out to others everything the Lord gave to him. He would tell me to batten the hatches and take care of the ship God has entrusted to me.

I am duty bound, and bound by love to follow my Lord. As Doc would say, I am in His Bonds. But my heart still aches.

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