Response to Adversity #21

During our second year in Bakerville, Sally Jo started a women’s Bible study. Six or seven women came…including Barb, Nancy, and Pat. Sally Jo and these three have maintained their friendship since 1968…keeping in touch through telephone calls, letters, e-mails, and a few weekend trips together. When Barb’s husband, Ward, was 50 (and I was 50) Ward suddenly died. I was the minister for the funeral. Three weeks ago Nancy died of pancreatic cancer. I was a minister for the funeral. This past Monday was the funeral for Roger, Pat’s husband. I was a minister for the funeral. Roger and I were the same age. Sally Jo and I are the only remaining couple.

Roger was 20, a concrete worker, when he married Pat who was still in high school. After a few years Roger had his own, successful, concrete business. He was big, strong – tough! The early years of Pat and Roger’s marriage were sometimes very stormy – but they were determined to make a go of it. They did for 47 years.

They had two children, Cassie and Bill. I asked Pat if she was interested in starting a nursery school in the church facility. Roger told her to go for it. Under Pat’s leadership the nursery school’s reputation and numbers grew.

Roger was not only developing a reputation as a cement contractor, but, in the small community of Bakerville, as a man who would help people in time of need. He could fix almost anything. In the winter he would plow his neighbor’s driveways, and knowing his neighbor’s schedules, would make sure they could get in and out as necessary to meet their normal schedules. Everybody knew Roger.

Pat asked Roger, who had never gone to college, what he thought about her going to college to become a teacher. Roger told Pat to go for it. Pat graduated from college and became a grade school teacher.

Roger became very sick with Legionnaire’s disease – a disease that killed many people. Slowly he recovered and then continued with his concrete business, but was not able to work as hard physically as he had before being sick. Though Roger was slowed down physically, he continued to meet needs of those in the community.

After a few years he started having a series of mini-strokes, and with each he lost physical strength. After several of these strokes, he realized he had to get out of the concrete business. This once big, tough concrete worker was no longer able to work physically. But he continued doing little things for people, including plowing their driveways and being “Uncle Roger” to the two small children who lived next door. Everyone knew that, weather permitting, he would spend several hours each daily sitting on the bench in front of Pat and Roger’s home, watching over the neighborhood.

Roger also cared for his wife, Pat. Roger did the shopping and prepared a wonderful dinner for her every evening. Sally Jo and I enjoyed one of those dinners in the home they had worked hard to make beautiful a few months ago.

The night before the 8:00AM grave side service, Sally Jo and I stayed in the home of daughter Cassie and her husband, Kevin. We listened as Cassie told many insightful stories about her dad. I asked Cassie if her dad ever complained. Her response: “never!” At the graveside, I invited the eight family members present to share their experiences with Roger. Out came stories of how Roger had cared for them…and others.

There are many ways to respond to adversity. Big, strong, tough, hard working Roger was slowly reduced to a man who had great physical limitations. He never complained, and continued to care for his wife, plowing his neighbor’s drive ways, and as he was able, cared for people with needs in the community.

Though Roger never went to church, one of his neighbors stood up at the memorial service and said “Roger was Jesus Christ to me.” What a reminder of how I should live as one of God’s redeemed.

The work will be there! #20

On a crisp Sunday afternoon during our first fall season in Bakerville, Hal called to tell us he was on his way over to take us to see the beautiful colors in the area. Hal was an older man, a dairy farmer with a rather large operation. Soon he arrived and we were on a leisurely drive, escorted by a person who knew and loved this corner of Connecticut.

Hal told us that he knew we were pushing hard to get the parsonage comfortable, to get to know the church members, to develop a basic church program – while I was in graduate school. Hal went on to remind us that there would always be work to do and if we did not stop to enjoy the fall colors, the opportunity would soon be past. Each fall he came by at least once to take us to see the scenery he enjoyed. Hal helped us learn to stop and smell the roses – to enjoy the beauty and wonder of each place we lived.

Sally Jo and I do not stop often enough to take the time to enjoy our environment. But wherever we have gone we have taken Hal’s lesson with us. For years we took a walk together every day – not much of a choice as we had a dog. This block of time together enabled us to get needed exercise, let us enjoy the world around us, and gave us the opportunity to catch each other up on the activities of the day. We no longer have a dog and some times discipline is required to go for our daily walk. We work at taking time to sit on the back porch to enjoy our view of the Catskill Mountains, to take a canoe ride when at Whitaker Lake, to take a back road rather than a thru-way, to check out a small park or an out of the way historic site. Sally Jo and I often blur the line of work-leisure as we work together here on the vegetable garden or flower beds. There are lots of pieces to keeping a marriage strong for 46 years.

Our lives get complicated when we realize that we are too busy, particularly when what we are busy with is what we really would like to be doing. Perhaps the harder it is to stop being so busy, the more important it is that we do so.

I see no evidence in the Bible that Jesus was ever in a hurry. Jesus demonstrated a good work ethic, but He did not take advantage of every life-changing work opportunity. Many passages speak to the value of work, but there are also passages that tell us not to work all of the time! The 4th of the Ten Commandments speaks to the value of work and to the value of rest – which is put in the context of holiness. “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” — Exodus 20:1-17

I know this is the most difficult commandment for me to keep, but this does not invalidate its truth. Also, Sabbath observance does not preclude stopping and smelling the roses on other days. At Deerfoot we sang, “This is the day that the Lord has made, we will rejoice and be glad in it” — Psalms 118:24

Let us rejoice in each day we have:

  • To enjoy the wonder of God’s creation and to worship our Creator.
  • To enjoy our spouses, children, friends, and the new people that come into our lives.

This season of the year, this season of life, will soon be past. The work will still be there!

  • Lord, what am I doing that pleases you?
  • Lord, what am I doing that is not pleasing you –
    as is evidenced by the fact that I feel the need to work 24/7?

Integrity: problem, decision, ACTION #19

Step # 1- Identify the problem. Step # 2 – Make the necessary decision. Step # 3 – Take action.

This looks like a management process, and it is. Decisions can be tough. Some resulting actions are even tougher because most actions involve both loss and gain. Example: I decide to put 10% of all my net earnings into savings/investment. Initial loss? The ability to spend the dollars put into savings. The long term gain – freedom to do something I believe to be important at a future time.

Here is a tough one! Problem: I am an alcoholic! Decision: I must stop drinking! Action: I will never take another drink of alcohol again! The impact of this decision/action is huge! Significant Loss! Significant Gain! Involved here are breaking the habit, emotional dependency, physical dependency, social involvement – loss. The gains? We know. Because of the difficulty of this decision, Alcoholics Anonymous exits.

Here are other very difficult problems – decisions – actions. I will end my relationship with a specific person. I will eat food that is good for me. I will get aerobic exercise of 20 minutes or more 3 times per week. I will not be involved in pornography in any way. I will spend serious time with the Lord each week in Bible study, reflection and prayer. I will not gossip, covet, lust, or steal. I will love my neighbor as myself (even when I drive). The list goes on and on. Integrity requires right action.

To do what is right EVERY TIME is a huge challenge. We all fail at this challenge, but this does not change the necessity of working to do what is right every time. God gave brains to Christians and non-Christians. Mentally we can think through to what should be done. Christians and non-Christians can seek wise counsel. As Christians we have two ways for receiving additional guidance. The Bible provides teachings which are designed to guide us as to what is right, as to what is best for God’s children (II Timothy 3:16…All Scripture is…) The second way is through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, spoken of many times in the Bible. Here are two examples: “But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth.” John 16:13. “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.” James 1:5

What triggered this review of “problem, decision, and action”? In Bakerville, even when attendance was small, there was an “Official Board” of the church. This group was made up of the Chairman of the different committees and boards plus a specific number of “members at large” – active church members who were not presently Chairman of a committee.

As church attendance and vitality began to pick up, the Official Board agreed that only people who were actively involved in the life of the church should be on the Official Board. This was a very tough decision, but everyone agreed. This became a very difficult realty when we went through the list of Official Board members – and came to the name of the wife of the family that had given the largest amount of money for the rebuilding of the church. The couple continued to give regularly but they very rarely attended. We knew that “God does not show favoritism” Acts 10:34. Everyone agreed that the wife should be told of the Official Board decision. Then a degree of panic filled the room. I myself was feeling very uneasy about the situation. What if they stopped giving? Regardless of the consequences, we knew our credibility, our integrity required that the policy be carried out consistently. I agreed to go talk with the wife.

I remember driving up to their beautiful restored New England home. We sat in the living room, husband and wife together on the coach. I sat across from them…only a few feet away. When I told the reason for my visit…the wife became visibly upset. Then her husband put his hand on her knee and said “Dear, you know he is right”. The result? The husband and I developed a very high level of trust. Risk? Absolutely! Huge risk! But we did what was right, and in this case, the reward in relationship building was very significant.

To maintain personal integrity, when we believe we have made the right decision, we must act! How else can we maintain our Partnership with God?

Integrity: Teaching God’s Word #18

Eleven years before we arrived in Connecticut, the old Bakerville Church on a side road burned to the ground. A little insurance money and two families that seldom were in town apparently paid for the new building. The new church was built to look like an old New England church, inside and out: white clap board siding, granite stairs, four large white pillars, tall, clear windows with lots of small panes of glass, and the traditional bell tower steeple. The church seated about 200. The top of each white pew was trimmed with varnished wood. Each pew had a door on both ends. Up front was the kneeling bench with maroon velvet cushions in front of the white railing, the communion table, a pulpit on one side, a lectern on the other. Wonderful brass chandeliers. The powder blue walls were a perfect contrast to the white paint and varnished wood trim. Beautiful simplicity. In the balcony was the Mohler pipe organ built specifically for this church. The fellowship hall was painted white, had an arched ceiling, windows that matched those in the sanctuary, a hard wood floor, and indirect cove lighting. The yard man of the family who helped provide the church maintained the expansive lawn. I am sure when people drove by for the first time they did a double-take! Impressive!

For the first eleven years after this church was built the minister was a man who did not believe the Bible was God’s word, that Jesus Christ was God’s Son, or that there was life after death. He did believe church people should not dance, smoke, drink, or work on Sunday – but they should tithe. This was not “Good News” – just the reminder that the people should be doing good. The result: 219 members with an average attendance of 8!

If a church does not bring the Good News of Jesus Christ to a community, what does it bring? It is not hard to bring real food to starving people…if the people were there to eat the food. After a few Sundays it became apparent that if people would not come to the church, we would have to go to the people. I began the disciplined work of touching base with each membership family. These were not “spiritual” visits, but just getting to meet the people. George was surprised when I showed up in his milking barn at 5:30 AM. Hal was surprised when I offered to help bale his hay. The Philips/Jones clan was surprised when I arrived as they gathered late Saturday afternoon to enjoy fresh baked goods. A young family was very surprised when I showed up on Sunday afternoon to help them build their house. When a new family moved into town it was easy to stop by and introduce myself as the pastor of “the only church in town” – town consisting of a gas station, a car body shop, and a blinking light.

Three days each week I headed off to grad school – about 30 minutes away. A wonderful time to think and pray.

Very slowly people were beginning to return to the church. And each Sunday morning the simple truths of God’s Word were taught, including John 3:16 and II Timothy 3:16 – “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” These people had not rejected the gospel…they had just given up on the church. The church was like a Deerfoot candle light service: a small light brought into darkness was noticed! There was no great flood of people, just a slow trickle.

To help the people integrate the truths of God’s word into their lives, after the morning service we would set up a table with doughnuts, coffee, tea, plus Kool Ade for the few children who came. I would invite the people to sit around the table for a few minutes to talk about the sermon. The people would look at me, smile, and nod.

Until one Sunday. Then it was that John Steeves, a young man perhaps 20, slammed his hand down on the table and said ”Preacher, I am sorry, but I just cannot agree with what you said this morning!!!!!!” And I responded with “Good – neither can I!” I admitted that I had purposely preached a sermon full of things the Bible did not teach to try and get some response. It worked! Now there were grins…and things began to change. The Bible became the authority for the church, not the minister. My challenge, and your challenge, is to teach the truths of God’s Word as clearly and accurately as we can. This is true when we are a camp counselor, a parent, a Sunday school teacher, or talking with a friend. God will hold us accountable! Even when we do our best, questions will be raised in the minds of those who are listening.

Within the church came the slow realization: Jesus Loves Me! Sunday mornings were a time of worship, of teaching, of encouragement, of guidance, and of celebration. We were the people of God!

Integrity: Tell The Truth! #17

Writing In Partnership With God has reminded me of the importance of being a person of Integrity!!!

Everything I write is first read by my wife of 46 years, Sally Jo. She knows most of the details of my life better than I do. Everything I write is being read by at least one of our children. Almost every week I receive an e-mail from one or more people who were part of the experience I have just written about. And the reality is that everything that I write or even think is also known by God.

The good part of this is…I must be who I am. If not, I will not be respected by my family, other people, or God.

Living In Partnership With God requires me to a person of Integrity. I work at being a person of integrity!

But in reality I am a person of imperfect integrity. My pride can become more important than my integrity.

“The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” Jeremiah 17:9

Being a person of integrity requires admitting before God and the people involved my failure to be such a person. This is why I must confess and repent of my sins to God and to the people with whom I have not been “real”. Part of this process is to turn from what I have been doing – to change – to become more like Jesus Christ.

As I admit my failures, people are inclined to forgive me. God will forgive me! “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” I John 1:9

My challenge to be a person of Integrity will never stop! God knows my heart! Some of you do too!

Jesus Christ invited men to become as family to Him. These men were His disciples, and they knew the public Jesus and the private Jesus. They heard what Jesus said – and how He lived out His very own words. Not surprisingly, Jesus was seen to be a person of Integrity.

Our challenge is to represent Jesus Christ to the people around us. Christianity = Christ-like. “If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:” Philippians 2: 1, 2, 5.

Last week I mentioned the young organist, Chris Philips. Chris said in an e-mail “other than my parents, you were the most formative person in my life”. How did this happen? In many ways Chris became like family to us. Chris knew who we were in our home, in his home, and at church. He heard what I said from the pulpit and could check the validity of my application of God’s word against what he was observing, what he was experiencing.

Today, Chris, like me, lives as a person of imperfect integrity. The authenticity of his heart has been recognized by those in the congregation that he serves as pastor…and by God who has richly blessed, guided, provided for his ministry.

I want to live In Partnership With God…and being a person of integrity is a part of His program!