Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The world according to Jim

August 7 was a great day. Surrounded by family and friends Dawson and Delanie took on Christ as their Lord and Savior. A great day indeed.

They had both been talking about this for several months and we settled on August 7. We were just home from Legacy's kids camp and a weeklong mission trip to Cross and Crown in Oklahoma City. Plus we were waiting on Nanny (grandmother) to get home from a trip to England. Finally, it was the Stanglin's last Sunday at Legacy. The kids wanted Allan to be a part of this.

In one of his final acts as a minister at Legacy, Allan spent almost an hour with the kids in his office before worship began. He looked them in the eye and told them he loved them, that he was proud of them and that God loved them and was proud of them too. He told them to never look back and wonder if they had been ready or if they had been too young. He assured them that God was doing all the work - his plan and the blood of his son was saving them that day. All they had to do was come to this decision. God was handling the rest.

It was glorious and the souls of two Byrnes kids were saved - along with two other Legacy kids.

Fast forward 6 days.

We'd said our last goodbye to the Stanglins. Another emotional, tearful goodbye. I didn't want them to go. I didn't like any of it. It was one of those situations where you're asking God why this was happening and quickly realizing the answers are not there. Not yet. His timing, his plan - not mine. It stinks.

To put it lightly I was in a funk. It was Saturday night and Shanna and the kids were leaving the next morning to spend a few days with her parents. The thought of church did not appeal at all. I just wasn't in the mood. I wanted to be alone. Honestly, I wanted to get up Sunday morning and go on a nice, quiet, head-clearing bike ride.

But Shanna was supposed to help teach. She was heading out of town so I got the nod.

I showed up Sunday morning and hit the kids hall to take Shanna's role as a 'Journeyman' which I completely messed up. However no children were harmed and I've been told I'm welcome to give it another shot.

I wandered, alone, toward worship service. At least I felt alone. The fog I was in prevents me from recalling any conversations I may have had - except one.

Jim Littlejohn is one of those guys who you catch a glimpse of every now and then. He's quiet and low profile but seems to always be serving. He's behind the scenes and is probably the type of servant God really appreciates. Because much of the time God is the only one who sees what he's doing.

This has been a tough year for Jim. He's spending a lot of time caring for his wife but every once in a while you still get that glimpse of him. And he's usually on his way to do something that needs to be done.

That morning he caught me at the entrance to the sanctuary. "Aren't kids and grandkids such a blessing? Isn't it great to be able to watch them grow up? I wanted to let you know how blessed I was to be a part of your kids baptisms last week."


Jim, unintentionally, had delivered me a spiritual smackdown. A well deserved one at that.

He was blessed? This man who had been through so much uncertainty was blessed? Well, yes. Of course he was. I was too. Everyone who was there had been. Even the angels in heaven rejoiced. Had I forgot?

I won't again. As it turns out, Jim came to me to tell me he had been blessed. Little did he know that what he actually did was bless me.

Monday, August 22, 2011

What a day.

8/22 : Not your usual day.

Today I served as a pallbearer which is by no means an ordinary occurrence for me. Actually I think today was the third time but I'll admit it's not one of those things you tend to keep an accurate record of. What today's experience did was put me in an interesting situation - at least it was to me.

Now I don't want this to stir any debate or discussion because I think it could - no, I'm sure it could. I've given it some pretty heavy thought and come to the conclusion that there's not a right or wrong. Actually there's likely just rights.

For several years now I have not taken part in the 'procession' that makes it's way by the open casket at a funeral. I don't go into 'the room' during funeral visitations. The term 'viewing' seems odd to me.

But I'm obviously in the minority - at least from what I've seen at quite a few funerals now. As the pew spills out into the aisle and heads toward the front I head for the back. So far I have not had a nice funeral man grab me and point me in the 'right' direction. I also have not had anyone jump out of line with me.

And that's fine. I get it. The whole 'one last look' or 'closure' thing is understandable but it's just not for me. I have a very vivid memory of the last 'viewing' I attended and that memory is forever burned in my mind. Despite the fact I have plenty of other memories of that life that was cut very short I'm constantly taken back to the vision of a lifeless body laying in a lifeless box. And I don't like it - not at all.

That was my interesting situation for today. As a pallbearer I was led to the front row of the church prior to the entrance of the family. Avoiding that one was pretty easy.

The hard part was during the 'procession.' I couldn't bow out and head upstream like I normally would. I was a pallbearer - I had to maintain formation. But I also wanted to maintain my principle. It's important to me. I'll be perfectly honest and say that avoiding the logistics of the unpleasant view was much easier than fighting the urge to take that glimpse.

I don't know what it is. There was something pulling at me to take that look. Some sort of morbid curiosity. Fortunately I was able to resist and the pleasant memory of that wonderful man remains intact - exactly as I think it should.

I'm glad it's intact. That wasn't my friend in there. It was a tired, used shell. He was gone - he had been made new. He actually looks much better than he does in my memory. Praise be to God.

8/22 : First day of school. Facebook led me to believe it was the first day of school pretty much everywhere in the civilized world. For us it meant 4 kids on three different campuses. Seems like we were dropping off kids for and hour and a half. Wait, we were.

8/22 : Dad died 11 years ago today and he is still missed greatly. But like my friend today he's been made new. Praise be to God.

8/22 : This is the day I became 'great' uncle David. Little Hadleigh turned three today. She's the daughter of my niece Corlie and nephew in law, if there is such a thing, Heath. I don't see her nearly as much as I'd like but I still take a certain amount of pride in that title.

Like I said, what a day.

Friday, August 19, 2011

5 Stones

I guess you could call it an addiction but I think that would be a little harsh. Whatever the label I will admit that long road trips prompt me to pick up a book or two on CD. It seems to help pass the time. Give it a try next time you're heading to west Texas or the panhandle and tell me I'm wrong.

I had a one day trip last week - Houston and back. Per my criteria this trip qualifies as 'book-worthy.' Normally Cracker Barrel is my source but this time I opted for the library as I was making a stop there anyway.

The book was good and it served it's purpose. But when I went to return it I thought I'd see what else was available as these Houston runs are going to be pretty regular. There on the shelf I saw Max Lucado's "Facing Your Giants" and picked it up. I started it this morning on the way to the office which is a break from the usual routine and could indeed indicate the beginning of an addiction.

The story of David and Goliath, duh. I guess I could have made that connection. I'm only three chapters in - much of which is a recap of that famous battle. Early on it actually begins with David kneeling at the stream and picking up five stones.

Wait, five?

Of course I knew it was five. But why five? I think I was always so excited about the eventual downfall of the giant that I never gave any thought to the number of stones the recently annointed king picked up. He went out and faced Goliath "in the name of the LORD almighty" and one did the trick just fine.

So why five? I've read it's because he wanted to make sure he hit him which I will quickly dismiss. God killed Goliath, not David, so let's assume that after creating the universe in 6 days it would only take him one try to hit a nine foot tall man with a head the size of a watermelon.

Goliath had four brothers? Maybe. There may be retaliation from other Philistines? Perhaps. David was an avid rock collector? Doubtful.

I don't know. And I think this is one of many instances that is left to our speculation. Realistically in the terms of David vs. Goliath it doesn't matter, it's not the main point.

But should I take something from this seemingly small detail? Lucado has not given me his opinion of this, at least not yet. He seems more focused on us facing our giants, our Goliaths, just as David did. Charge at them confidently with your faith in God, not the sling or the stone.

Maybe the point is preparation. I'm David. Yes, literally I am David. But in a spiritual sense I'm David - a young shepherd facing a giant. Or more correctly in my case - giants. A whole army of God-mocking giants being sent my way to discourage me, derail me, destroy me.

Why five? I need five. Honestly I probably need five a day. Certainly there's been days I've needed five before lunch. Because for every giant that falls there's more coming. And they'll continue to come until Jesus returns and makes things right.

In confidence I will continually kneel at the stream to gather more stones. As I kneel I know that God stands there behind me staring down the giants. With that knowledge I will confidently face them and allow God to strike them down.

He is after all, a much better shot than me.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Is it really greener?

Delanie's third grade teacher, who was previously Dillon and Dawson's third grade teacher, and who will likely be Dakota's third grade teacher lives about 60 miles from the metroplex. It's my understanding that he and his family live somewhat of a farm/ranch life. He's got some of the typical farm-type animals.

Like cows.

One day he looked out in the pasture and saw a cow sticking its head through the fence to eat the grass on the other side. You know exactly what I mean. You've used the phrase before or at very least you've heard it. If you've ever driven anywhere where there are cows you've probably seen it.

Certainly he'd seen if before but today he tried a little experiment.

The man took the cow and led it outside the pasture and to the other side of the fence. Actually led it to the exact place where it had been eating. He put the cow - head, legs, feet and all in the very spot that it was convinced was better than where it had been. The cow, realizing the good fortune, firmly planted its feet and began eating from what had to be the most delicious patch of grass in all of Texas.

Well, not exactly.

Instead, the cow firmly planted its feet at the base of the fence, stuck its head through, and began eating from the patch of grass inside the pasture. Eating from the very spot where it stood previously.

I guess the grass truly is greener on the other side - even if you haven't experienced the grass where you are.

How many times have I wondered what our church would be like if we were only more like 'that congregation' or 'the church I once visited?' It would have to be better because obviously they have a better grasp of worship or teaching or communion or fellowship or blah, blah, blah. Whatever.

Let me know if you attend a church where they've got it all figured out. Everything runs smoothly. Everyone gets along. Everyone always agrees. No feathers are ever ruffled. Rose petals spontaneously fall from the rafters because of all the love being passed between the brothers and sisters there.

I think we're all trying to do the best we can. The best we know how. At least I think that's what I'm called to do. And I can do it at church A just as easily and effectively as I can at church B. There's no need for me to peek through the blinds and wonder what it would be like to go to church over there where everything is done perfectly.

Because I can't honestly believe that place exists.

In Bible study a couple of months ago I remember we were talking about the differences between churches and denominations and about how much time and effort is spent debating (and sometimes arguing) and attempting to convince each other who is right.

(I do find it ironic how so often we will think other congregations have something figured out and that we should strive to be more like them. We go so far as to complain about the leadership or the staff or the programs of our church and yet we will defend to the bitter end that very same 'faulty' church if it's criticized by someone else.)

After that study I commented how funny it would be for all the different 'flavors' of Christianity to be standing before God fully confident they were the one group who actually got it all right. Only to have God wave his arm across the whole group and say "Congratulations, you were all approximately 60% correct."

To that Allan Stanglin proposed an alternate scenario. God waves his arm across the whole group and says "You were all approximately 10% correct. Fortunately grace and the blood of Christ will pick up the remaining 90%."

I'm convinced his prediction is more accurate. Maybe we can all go forward realizing none of us has it figured out. The grass is not greener at that church across the street or across town or across the country. We're all dealing with the same garbage that this world can throw at us.

But there is a place where the grass is greener. A place we all should long for - no matter where you attend. One day we'll all be led from this pasture to that place.

And we won't be sticking our heads back through the fence.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Catch me I'm falling - ok, not really.

"Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister."

We covered this a few weeks ago in Bible study and it came up again today....
on Facebook.

Someone who is loved dearly by our family posted the verse. Usually when I come across scriptural posts I just hit 'Like' in response and hope that encourages the 'poster' to continue the practice. Considering the general hodge-podge of posts it's refreshing to come across a piece of encouragement now and then.

For some reason on this one I couldn't stop at Like. Something, likely some self serving motive or desire to vent drove me to actually post something.

I think there may be some unintentional misrepresentation going on here.

The first half of this passage says don't judge. That's it. It's clear, it's concise, it's straight to the point. It's simple, but certainly not always easy. (Note to self - possible future topic)

It's the second half that, in my humble and regularly erroneous opinion, that can pose a problem:

"Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister."

Personally, I've never been accused of violating this - at least not to my face.

Now what I'm going to say may seem surprising but I have heard of situations where the point of this passage gets misrepresented. You could say it's used, or misused, in a way that could be considered self serving. Certainly I've never been guilty of this either.

Stumbling block. Grumbling block. Two very different things. Yet I think the latter sometimes gets confused with the former.

You do something that causes me to doubt my faith, to veer off the path, to fall. That's a stumbling block.

You do something based on scripture that is designed to promote spiritual growth. It's new, it's different, it's not our tradition. I don't like it. But rather than give it a chance, rather than dive into the Word, I go for the game ending trump and throw out Romans 14:13 in an effort to keep things the way I want them. That's a grumbling block.

I'm not stumbling - I'm grumbling.

Instead, I should focus on what comes just a few verses later in Romans 14:19:

"Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification."

So I need to quit grumbling. I need to put the interests of others ahead of my own. I need to think about the well being of the body rather than myself.

Thankfully it was just hypothetical.


Saturday, January 22, 2011


I'm at a loss.

For the past three weeks I've been at a loss. I'm supposed to be following a curriculum for the 9th grade class and I just can't do it. They're not ready. Honestly, I question my own readiness. More importantly I question my ability to cover the subject. No I don't question, I doubt it entirely.

The Holy Spirit.

Note I said 'supposed to be following' because I didn't. I threw it out and went to the basics. See, the lesson should have covered how we act and respond to the Holy Spirit. There are two problems this. First, they're ninth graders. They tend to respond in one word answers - if they respond at all. I teased them a few months ago and said that when I throw out something for discussion don't think that the silence bothers me. I could sit there the entire time without a word being said. I've got four kids, silence doesn't bother me. I cherish it.

That was a lie. I've outlasted many classes when no one made an attempt to participate. Eventually someone will crack and blurt something out. But this time I knew as soon as the first question went out. They were perfectly content to sit there the entire hour and not say a word. I could see it on their faces.

And that leads us to the second problem. They just flat out don't know how the Holy Spirit impacts their life. I'm not sure they could have given a basic explanation of the Holy Spirit. And here I am, the person who is supposed to correct that and I couldn't feel more inadequate.

Do I know? Maybe I have an idea but I certainly would not be considered any sort of expert on the subject. I dare say anyone could be considered an expert but to be perfectly honest I cannot recall studying it at all when I was their age (or older for that matter).

So back to the basics we went. The Trinity, where we find it and what the purpose is. Over two weeks we probably spent the entire class going over a few scriptures and some examples. And I told them it's possible, even likely that brief overview put them ahead of half the church in knowledge about the Holy Spirit.

I don't know why it's this way but it seems like we've been focusing on two out of three. Are they easier to grasp? It's almost like we can't wrap our mind fully around God but we get the concept of father, creator.

We can't understand the sacrifice of Christ but we appreciate it. We understand the significance and the necessity.

Then we look over there at the Holy Spirit and it's as if we think we'll never get it so why bother.

Maybe I'm way off base here but I feel like I'm a product of that line of thinking. Hopefully I'm the last generation that learned so much about what we should (or actually should not) be doing and not so much about what we could be doing if we just tap into the resources provided. So I'll throw myself back in to a room of 9th graders and explain to them yet again that as far as this is concerned - the teacher is also the student.

But I guess we're all students for as long as we're here.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

So this is what Jerry Lee meant...

He still thinks that he's the man
That he once used to be
Boy, you're just thirty-nine
And you're dreamin'
Acting twenty-three
("39 and Holding" - Jerry Lee Lewis)

Most likely it's true. I do think I'm the man I was at 23. The leading indicator that I am significantly older than 23 is typically my body. If for some reason sore muscles and joints don't do the trick Shanna is usually a reliable backup to remind me of this.

This week I turned 39 so to many I guess this is my last year 'under the hill.'

I however, vehemently disagree. True - I don't always act my age. Some would argue that I rarely act my age. Irrelevant.

My issue is with this whole concept of 'the hill.' Who came up with this so called 'hill?' I can't help but think this is yet another ploy by Hallmark to help generate sales. It falls right in there with St. Patrick's and April Fool's Day greeting cards.

I don't really have any friends who are coasting downhill. Quite the contrary. They continue to work, they continue to serve. They continue to live out 1 Corinthians 15:58:

Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know your labor for the Lord is not in vain. (NIV)

They're not coasting to retirement. They're not sliding toward the end of life. They're like John Bailey of Body and Soul Ministries who just came back from a trip to Cambodia where 92 were baptized. He's a little over 40 - like 30 plus years over 40.

My great Uncle Odell is another great example. Works and serves tirelessly at what will soon be 82.

The list goes on and on, literally. I could go on for days.

There's is no magical turning point - at least not in this life. There is no time where it all 'starts falling apart' or starts 'going downhill.' It's life at age 13 or 39 or 89. What you decide to do with it is what matters. Perhaps that's what really determines whether or not you feel 'over the hill.' Here's to staying on the hill. I've heard from those in the know that it will actually get steeper sometimes -even after 40. If you really think about it that sounds a lot like life now.

So I guess 40 really is just another number. We'll find out in about a year.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

It's a new year...

and it feels like we've started it with a massive punch in the gut. Two funerals last week for what you would call pillars of the Legacy Church family. Richard Dutton and Bob Roberston transitioned from this world on 12/31 and 1/1 respectively and they will be missed. In my opinion they set the dad standard. They set the man standard. As I sat in each of their services and listened to their children speak of them I couldn't help but cry. How did they do all that? They served, they taught, they called, they visited, they played - often times when in pain. They did immeasurably more than I can imagine.

And it made me want to do better. It made me think of all the times that I had the chance to make a difference to someone and didn't.

It made me think of how just a week before I'd been on the phone with Richard's son. He said a visit would be ok but it needed to be brief. I rationalized it and said I'd stop by the next week after he'd had a chance to rest. That day never came - the next morning Richard was gone.

It made me think of how I could have stopped by and see Bob, but didn't.

It made me think of the times that I had something to do before I played that game or read that book. Then by the time that 'something' was done it was bedtime.

It made me realize that no, I can't drop everything everytime. But I can certainly make sure that what's important gets done first. Somehow everything I need to do seems to get done - even when life gets in the way.

I think it would be good for me to let life get in the way a little more often. More importantly, let someone else's life get in the way a little more often.

All six of Bob's kids went on and on about what a great father and servant and friend he was. Six kids. I just need to convince four.

That started last night with a game of farkle in the middle of the living room floor.