Friday, September 16, 2011

I know it’s not Monday, so I guess this can’t “officially” be called “Monday Morning Musings,” but you’ll get the point.  Sunday was truly an awesome and memorable day.  Knowing that the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks would fall on Sunday, we wanted a way to commemorate this from an historical, a national, and a Biblical perspective.  There should be no question in people’s minds that this was a day that changed America in so many ways.

It will be a day forever etched in people’s minds and memories.  Many of us can remember exactly what we were doing, and where we were on that momentous day.  I personally remember it distinctly because of the overall surreal quality it carried.  My wife and I (Mona) were celebrating our 29th wedding anniversary which was 9-10-01 (you can do the math - last Sunday was our 39th)!   We were at the Bacara Resort in Santa Barbara, CA.  Generally, a high-end and expensive resort like this would be beyond our budget, but because of my friendship with their executive chef, David Reardon, he had arranged an affordable rate for our 10-day “anniversary vacation.”  After a beautiful dining experience on Monday, our anniversary night, September 10th, we awoke to the shocking and horrifying coverage, pictures, and images on the early morning of 9/11 (PST).  The surreal part was being surrounded by extremely comfortable surroundings, and trying to “enjoy” a vacation, knowing that your nation had just been attacked by enemies.  I was riveted to the news coverage not only on 9/11, but on the days that followed, and as the events unfolded.  At the hotel, they knew that I was a pastor, so I became the “unofficial” chaplain of the resort in a Prayer/Remembrance service held on the following Friday for the hotel guests and others.  I thank God for that very meaningful opportunity to present the Gospel in that situation, to be a truth-teller in times of tragedy

Our challenge for a 9/11 tribute was what kind of approach should we take.  What resonated in my mind were two things.  First, the iconic images from that day; strong and graphic, yes, but ones we should always remember.  Secondly, were the words by Pastor Jim Cymbala, “God’s Grace From Ground Zero.”  I did know that what we should commemorate was not just the actions and consequences of a group of terrorists, but rather we needed to concentrate on God’s actions throughout this debacle.

It was clear who we would be honoring: it was a time to remember the victims of that day, and their family members.  It was certainly a time to remember and pray for our nation and its needs.  The 1st Responders (who are often taken for granted) came to the forefront on that day.  It was also a time to remember our military, who since 9/11 have been thrust into action and taken up the charge of fighting two wars.  Also, along with the “who” of 9/11 we were also remembering the “what.”  In particular, the courage, the bravery, the selfless service, the duty and determination of our first responders.  All in all, there were 343 NYC firefighters, 23 NYC police officers, 37 Port Authority officers, and 3000 innocent civilians who had lost their lives on 9/11.  Trust me, 9/11 produced a plethora of stories and heroes who exemplified the behavior we’ve talked about.  The video montage we showed concluded and “froze” with the words and sentiment, “WE WILL NEVER FORGET.” 
What really topped off the tribute was the decision to also “go local.”  We wanted to find a way to honor some of Tucson’s first responders as well.  I was made aware of some specific needs that our police and firefighters have.  Specifically, policemen were doing their shift without adequate bullet proof vests, which cost about $800 each.  Our prayer was “Lord, what can we do?”
As a result we able to present the Executive Director of the Tucson Police Foundation (Rob LeMaster) a check for $1600 to buy two vests for our officers.  We also had 4 of Tucson’s fire fighters present in the tribute, and were able to present them a check for equipment and injured fire fighters.  I was impressed by the congregation’s response as they gave these men (and who they represented) a standing ovation!  It was easily the “icing on the cake” of that day! 

The challenge for me after all this was transitioning into the preaching ministry.  The difficulty was that the intensity level of the Tribute was so high; it was hard to switch gears into preaching.  My Title, “TEN YEARS AFTER” wasn’t about the guitarist Alvin Lee, and the rock group of the name (!!).  It was a sermon on where we are spiritually as a nation 10 years after 9/11.  Knowing we might have “peaked” too soon because of our Tribute, I told the assembly my goal was to do all this in 20 minutes!  After the congregational chuckle (they know me!?)  I read from (Lk.12:54 - 13:1-5).  I won’t go over all the details, but one of the original inspirations was NYC’s mayor, Michael Bloomberg’s decision that the 9/11 memorial would be without pastors or prayers?!  Of course, there was room for Presidents and politicians, but not room for prayer, or even firefighters?  To remember 9/11, but exclude any kind of faith narrative is, first, extremely arrogant (not healthy for any nation to leave God out); but it also presents to the world and to our children an inaccurate and incomplete account of history related to this momentous event.  The penetrating question Jesus asked from our text is “why do you not know how to interpret the present time.”  I was trying Biblically to interpret things ten years after.

The heart of my message dealt with the contradictory climate we see today.  From prayers and packed churches on the weekend following 9/11 to 10 years after at our present time, Christianity has been largely dismissed from much of the public discourse.  The mentality is that it’s almost best to leave religion out of the agenda, specifically Christianity.  At the 9/11 prayer vigil at Washington’s National Cathedral they had a Rabbi, a Buddhist nun, an incarnate Lama, a Hindu priest, the president of the Islamic Society of North America, and a Muslim musician...but they DID NOT INCLUDE ANY REPRESENTATIVE OF EVANGELICAL CHRISTIANITY!  This is symptomatic of a wider dismissal today.  Those who hate Christmas, we’ve called Grinches.  Well, we need to discuss those who are vehemently opposed to God today, they are theophobes.!  We look at the tragedy of how far we’ve pushed Jesus out of our government, schools, and the public discourse and...our personal lives.  So, tolerance is considered the supreme virtue today, unless you happen to be an Evangelical Christian.  In this climate, they are fair game.  We’ve bent over backwards not to offend any Muslims, but Christians are an easy and acceptable target.  You can be sure as the 2012 Presidential race heats up that this will increase.  Today, one of the greatest vices that a candidate can have seems to be having a Christian world view that actually matters to their thinking.  Governor Rick Perry was accused by a Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank of being a theocrat because he holds to traditional Christian beliefs and values.  Mr. Milbank needs to do his research: there’s a big difference between theology and a theocrat.  The danger is that in our politically correct system gone amok, it can affect and produce beleaguered Christians.  Others who water-down their theology and their message to make sure no one leaves offended.

Finally, ten years after, one thing that is clear is that people are looking for The Hope Package: who has and can deliver one of our deepest longings for HOPE.  I believe that the Gospel of Jesus Christ offers the best “HOPE PACKAGE” for people’s hearts and minds, wherever and whenever.  In the end, the only way to save America is by saving Americans!  One of the common threads in many of the grace stories that I read was the references to having an unprecedented opportunity to share the Good News of Jesus Christ to others!  It is not a coincidence that after Jesus warned His followers (Jn. 15:18-20) of the world’s hostility, the focus He left us in (Jn.15:26, 27) was of a loving, steadfast, Spirit-filled witness.  This is the hope and passion that is needed ten years after!  If a handful of terrorists could cause such incredible devastation, what could we see God do through an army of devoted Christ-followers in these last days?!

Oh, by the way, 20 minutes.  Well, not quite.  This is what someone texted me after the service.

Proof I can do it!

As I've said earlier, Sunday was truly an awesome and memorable day. Here are some other pictures.

Prayer for one of our young men entering military service.
Pastor Harold Warner narrating our tribute portion of the service. 
Sharon reads poem "The Shock Heard Round The World."
Many moved by the song "America the Beautiful"

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Have you ever had the experience of someone telling you something that is true, and you know it.....but you really don’t want to hear it, or like hearing it at that time?  You can even sort of resent the truth or the fact that someone is actually bringing this to your attention?  I know I have been there, and I am guessing that many of you have as well.

There’s a back story to all of this that gives context to what I’m saying.  I am the Chef de Jour in my house.  I’ve have always liked to cook, especially when there are others who truly enjoy the end result and compliment the chef!  So what started off as a hobby has now evolved into a full time job (i.e. menu preparation, some grocery shopping etc.).  If I don’t plan and cook, then we probably wouldn’t eat (I am not suggesting this for every marriage by the way).  On the other hand, my wife who is not wild about cooking, really does like to clean and has no problem cleaning up the mess I make in the kitchen, and does it gladly.  One of the lessons in cooking and food preparation that I’ve learned is that there is no substitute for good product.  Sometimes, it ends up being a bit more expensive, but the end result is generally a “home run.”  All of this has been taken to a new level in the last two months, post-surgery, where part of the wound care healing regimen has to do with diet, eating well and getting proper nutrients that will help with both God’s and the body’s healing process.  So, in order to accommodate this I had stocked the outside freezer in my garage with a number of different food “treasures.” 

Then, last Friday.  I had come home from some doctor’s appointments, and Mona was going to run out and do some errands.  She came in and told me that the freezer door had not closed properly, that there had been some kind of obstruction.  And now, the Tucson summer heat in an enclosed garage had caused all the food to defrost.  The food was not bad, it was still cool, but definitely defrosted.  You can’t really re-freeze food that has been thawed.   My first reaction to seeing this was a deep, “Oh, no! You’ve got to be kidding!”  Unless I was prepared to enter a food-eating contest, all of this food (and the money to buy it) had been lost.  As a bit of a “foodie” this was a mini-disaster in my mind.  Beautiful Scottish salmon, thawed.  Mexican raballo (snook or white fish), thawed.  Pork shoulder which makes delicious green chile, thawed.  A nice roasting chicken, thawed.

Things were wet and dripping and messy in the freezer, and I knew that I had to immediately respond and do something.  So I initiated a “culinary yard sale” on the spot.  The food was still good, but it had to be eaten either Friday, Saturday, or Sunday.  I started calling people and neighbors.  Freddy Gonzalez was there, so I told him to take what he wanted.  My neighbor, Bobby, had just started a diet, so I called his wife to come pick up some nice grouper.  Another neighbor, Kelly, her husband likes to cook, so I called her and she came over and took some product.  Leonard’s kids came over and they took the pork shoulder, which I heard ended up in some delightful red chile.  Then I called Wesley and Hannah, who had recently been married, and asked them, “do you want to eat well over the weekend?”  If so, then get over here quick!  Since she’s from Cape Cod, I gave them a box of Maryland Crab Cakes and other things.  I’d be lying if I told you that all of this was fun for me.  There was a part of me still saying, “Oh, no” as I gave over away what was now a depleted freezer.  It was in the midst of all of this that my wife, Mona, uttered words I didn’t really want to hear at the time, “We can bless others!”  It was true, it resonated in my spirit as true, but my emotions hadn’t yet come into line with my mind or my will, so I wasn’t overly excited hearing it, although I did sort of nod in agreement. 

One of the reasons that I love the Bible, that I read, study, meditate and hide it in my heart, is because it is a means of bringing men into an intimate and satisfying knowledge of the true and living God.  It is not just a book of religious platitudes, it also provides us with a road map for victorious living, in every situation of life. 
One of the truths to all of this is that what we go through, what happens to us, what we receive and become, is not just for our benefit alone, but for the BLESSING OF OTHERS!  Listen to God’s promise to Abraham, the “father of the faith” where He said to him, “I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great; and YOU SHALL BE A BLESSING.”  (Gen.12:2) Christians talk a lot about the “blessing of Abraham” and generally in a financial setting.  But the full promise and working of God in Abraham’s life, and in our lives is always to flow out to others.  “You shall BE a blessing.”  He works in us, so that He can work through us, in order to flow to others.  This is what real maturity and Christian living is all about.

As you study the Scriptures you discover that this is a profound reality.  Consider with me briefly a number of settings.

  1. Financial prosperity.  (2Cor.8:13-15)NLT Of course, I don't mean your giving should make life easy for others and hard for yourselves. I only mean that there should be some equality. Right now you have plenty and can help those who are in need. Later, they will have plenty and can share with you when you need it. In this way, things will be equal.  As the Scriptures say, "Those who gathered a lot had nothing left over, and those who gathered only a little had enough."   The principle of mutual and timely blessing is clearly seen.  There are times of plenty where we can be a blessing to others, and there are times of need where we find ourselves on the receiving end of things.

  2. Work.  We just had our Labor Day weekend.  There is tremendous value in a good’s day work!  This is why our current unemployment crisis is so difficult, especially for men.  But, the Bible enlarges upon this, and says there’s more than you and I having gainful employment.  Paul wrote to the Ephesians where he said, “Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.  (Eph.4:28) The blessing of honest work is that it enables us to be a blessing to others!  I can still remember the joy and deep satisfaction I had when I got my first job after becoming a Christian, and was able to pay my tithes.  I was blessed, but first and foremost, I could honor God with my finances and with the fruit of my labor.  I was learning that money was “me in spendable form!”

  3. Trials, hardships & difficulties.  This really speaks to the times in life where the going gets rough, and the way gets hard.  “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” (2Cor.1:3,4) Paul is extolling the faithfulness of God to give us strength and courage in times of adversity.  Then he tells us that one of the reasons is “so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction.”  This is not some glib or superficial response, but this is a deep and experiential, “I know what you’re going through.”  One of the reasons for the things that we go through, especially the trying seasons of life, is that we have experienced grace that we can extend to others in similar circumstances.  The beauty of a healthy church congregation is that there are faithful saints there who have gone through incredibly tough times, and have experienced the “many-colored graces” of God, which becomes instrumental in helping others in their time of need.

  4. A life of ministry.  (2Corinthians 1-6) is the richest exposition of a ministering life, of “able ministers” that you will find in all the Bible.  Paul touches one of the keystone promises and realities of this kind of living, “All of this is for your benefit. And as God's grace reaches more and more people, there will be great thanksgiving, and God will receive more and more glory.” (2Cor.4:15) Look at the kind of chain reaction that he describes.  First, our life is lived not just for ourselves, but for others, for their benefit.  This grace reaches them and ministers to more and more people.  The end result is that God receives more and more glory!
So, when my wife told me Friday, “We can bless others,” she was echoing a truth that the Bible teaches us over and over again, and one that she herself has learned and embodies.  And you know what, it wasn't long before I came around too!  My “mini-disaster” was turned into other people’s blessing and full bellies!  It helped when I asked one of the brothers how he liked things and he sent me a text, “Pastor, did I eat that food?  Honestly, I did not know food that good existed!”  So the message I want you to hear in all of this, and one that I am still learning, is that I want my life (and yours) to be as much of a blessing as it can possibly be.  My prayer is not just, “Lord, bless my life” which He abundantly has.  It is also, “Lord, make me a blessing here, and in whatever place or situation you send me.” 
I will also be accepting spare change to replenish a now empty freezer!  LOL.  Just kidding!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Report by guest blogger - Bill Cox

My son David and I had the privilege of going to minister for Pastor Paris Dominguez and his wife Josie in Takh Mao, Cambodia in early August of this year .We also preached for Pastor Sasha Ofitserov and his wife Lyuba in Phnom Penh. We had a wonderful time and saw people respond to the preaching as well as a number of people healed in the services.

As part of our trip we made the mandatory visit to the memorial at the Killing Fields and the Genocide Museum at the former Khmer Rouge prison called Tuol Sleng. It was a very chilling place as it accurately portrayed the terrible devastation that was wrought in the country by the communists only 35 years ago. The Khmer Rough launched what they called "Day Zero" for the new Cambodia of their mad design. Now the last of their leaders is on trial and what we sensed in the country is instead the early days of a powerful move of God to bring rebirth and revival to that nation.
The Dominguezs are doing a wonderful job of building a fruitful work that will be established for the long term. They have a number of young men in the church who are being discipled and trained as future leaders. Pastor Dominguez has a very good strategy for training these men and others whom the Lord will bring to the church. During my time in Cambodia, I gained a renewed appreciation for what a price that missionaries pay, but also the wonderful grace and dominion that God places upon their lives. Only Eternity will reveal to us, the powerful impact that our brethren have had as they planted their lives in foreign fields.

The Ofitserov's church is located in a wonderful harvest field, a factory district near Phnom Penh airport. Many young Cambodians move from the countryside to work in the clothing factories in the area. Every day, hundreds of them pass by the church and are curious what's going on. We saw several of them come into our services and respond to the gospel. I couldn't help but think of Jesus' admonition to His disciples to "lift up your eyes for the fields are white to harvest". I was very impressed on my trip, as well as hearing reports from China, that it is Asia's hour for a great outpouring of the Spirit of God before Christ returns.
In the Wednesday night service we preached in the Takh Mao church , God gave me a word for Pastor and sister Dominguez from Isaiah 43:4-6: "Since thou wast precious in my sight, thou hast been honorable and I have loved thee, therefore will I give men for thee and people for thy life. Fear not for I am with thee. I will bring thy seed from the east and gather thee from the west. I will say to the north, give up and to the south Keep not back; bring my sons from far, and my daughters from the ends of the earth." This is obviously being seen in the Takh Mao church but it is also true of the Dominguez's impact in other parts of Cambodia and Asia.

On a trip to Saigon , they met a young man named Ty Son who was very open to the gospel. He is from the central highlands of Viet Nam where there is a move of God among the indigenous Montagnards. He is interested in coming to Cambodia to be discipled. They also met a Vietnamese girl named Cao who is very open. At the end of our trip , we went to Saigon. The Dominguezs went with us on Friday and Saturday and introduced us to Ty Son and Cao. They also helped us rent a hotel meeting room for a Sunday service. Ty Son came and brought 3 friends; Cao also brought a friend. For good measure, a Ukrainian man and another Vietnamese girl walked in off the street. I preached a simple message on the new birth, gave an altar call and everyone responded! We had a coffee fellowship after and got contact information for Pastor Dominguez. The wonderful thing was everyone in attendance spoke English. Despite the communist government in Viet Nam, there is a great openness among the people, particularly the young. Like I said earlier, I believe that it's Asia's hour!

The powerful thing for me personally about the service in Viet Nam was it fell 42 years almost to the day from the day I got on a plane at Ton Son Nhut airbase after a year in the war; disillusioned, strung out on drugs, lost without hope. If you would have told me in 1978 when I limped into the Door in Tucson that one day I would preach in Saigon, I would said you were crazy. Thank God for his second chapters!

Going back to Viet Nam was a revelation for me in a couple of ways. While the media caricatures of Viet Nam veterans as forever "Still in Saigon" are no doubt overblown; still war is a profound experience for anyone. A famous journalist during the war named Michael Herr stated "Instead of happy childhoods, we had Viet Nam." This might be likewise overstated, but I know for me, even a generation later, the war has always held a fascination. Part of this is because events in the war were very instrumental in my later conversion to Christ. Without the profound philosophical questions the war drove me to, maybe being saved would have been less likely. Part of my fascination no doubt stemmed from the fact that war is such an out of the ordinary experience that you never quite forget it. It's here that one of the revelations I had comes into play. We went to the Cu Chi battlefield which was exactly the area my infantry unit operated in. As we drove from Saigon to the battlefield, the terrain looked familiar, but it held no terrors; there were no ghosts in the hedgerows. The revelation I had was how powerfully I have been transformed by the power of God. His grace and His blood have transformed me not just on the outside, but to the depths of my being. It motivates me that no life is too far gone that the mercy of God can't transform it!

The other thing I realized as I interacted with people in Saigon is how universal life is and human need. That culture which once seemed so alien to me as a young man from my western New York factory town was so different now as an older man and a mature believer. Whether speaking to the young people who attended our service or older men such as a Vietnamese street evangelist we met who has endured much persecution; we saw the longing God has placed in all of our hearts for significance. As Solomon wrote Ecclesiastes, God has put eternity in our hearts. Jesus' commandment to "Go into all the world and make disciples of all nations" seems much more doable when you rub shoulders with the harvest field. A phrase that came to me during the trip was the term "outside the wire". In war, it refers to the fearful territory outside the safety of the fire base. I was thinking how we can adopt that posture as Christians here in America and the West. We can view the foreign fields, particularly in the Third World as a hostile place when in reality these are places of tremendous opportunity for the gospel.

I am still processing the things God did in my heart and life through the trip. It renewed my appreciation for the wonderful, world impacting fellowship we're part of. Pray for God to continue to pour out his Spirit in Southeast Asia. The best is yet to come!

THE RACE (a poem by D.H. Groberg)
"Even if godly people fall down seven times, they always get back up" (Proverbs 24:16).
"Quit! Give up! You're beaten!" They shout at me and plead,
"There's just too much against you now. This time you can't succeed!"
And as I start to hang my head in front of failure's face,
my downward fall is broken by the memory of a race.
And hope refills my weakened will as I recall that scene.
For just the thought of that short race rejuvenates my being.
A children's race - young boys, young men - how I remember well.
Excitement, sure! But also fear; it wasn't hard to tell.
They all lined up so full of hope; each thought to win the race.
Or tie for first, or if not that, at least take second place.
And fathers watched from off the side, each cheering for his son.
And each boy hoped to show his dad that he would be the one.
The whistle blew and off they went! Young hearts and hope afire.
To win and be the hero there was each young boy's desire.
And one boy in particular whose dad was in the crowd,
was running near the lead and thought, "My dad will be so proud!"
But as they speeded down the field across a shallow dip,
the little boy who thought to win lost his step and slipped.
Trying hard to catch himself his hands flew out to brace,
and mid the laughter of the crowd he fell flat on his face.
So down he fell, and within him hope; he couldn't win it now.
Embarrassed, sad, he only wished to disappear somehow.
But as he fell his dad stood up and showed his anxious face.
Which to the boy so clearly said: "Get up and win the race!"
He quickly rose, no damage done; behind a bit, that's all
and ran with all his mind and might to make up for his fall.
So anxious to restore himself, to catch up and to win,
his mind went faster than his legs; he slipped and fell again!
He wished then he had quit before with only one disgrace.
"I'm hopeless as a runner now; I shouldn't try to race."
But in the laughing crowd he searched and found his father's face.
That steady look which said again: "Get up and win the race!"
So up he jumped to try again, ten yards behind the last.
"If I'm to gain those yards," he thought, "I've got to move real fast!"
Exerting everything he had he gained eight or ten,
but trying so hard to catch the lead he slipped and fell again!
Defeat! He lay there silently, a tear dropped from his eye.
"There's no sense running anymore; three strikes: I'm out! Why try?"
The will to rise had disappeared, all hope had fled away;
so far behind, so error prone; a loser all the way.
"I've lost, so what's the use," he thought. "I'll live with my disgrace."
But then he thought about his dad who soon he'd have to face.
"Get up," an echo sounded low, "Get up and take your place.
You were not meant for failure here. Get up and win the race.
With borrowed will, get up," it said, "you haven't lost at all.
For winning is no more than this: To rise each time you fall."
So up he rose to run once more, and with a new commit
he resolved that win or lose, at least he wouldn't quit.
So far behind the others now, the most he'd ever been,
still he gave it all he had and ran so as to win.
Three times he'd fallen, stumbling; three times he rose again;
to far behind to hope to win, he still ran to the end.
They cheered the winning runner as he crossed the line first place.
Head high, and proud and happy; no falling, no disgrace.
But when the fallen youngster crossed the line in last place,
the crowd gave him the greater cheer for finishing the race.
And even though he came in last with head bowed low, unproud.
You would have thought he'd won the race to listen to that crowd.
And to his dad he sadly said, "I didn't do so well."
"To me, you won," his father said. "You rose each time you fell."
And now when things seem dark and hard and difficult to face,
the memory of that little boy helps me in my own race.
For all of life is like that race, with ups and downs and all.
And all you have to do to win is rise each time you fall.
"Quit! Give up! You're beaten!" They still shout in my face.
But another voice within me says: "GET UP AND WIN THE RACE!"

Poem by D.H. Groberg and thanks to Bill Conrad for sending it to me.

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