Wednesday, September 20, 2017

“A Place Called Hopevale”


  1. Noun: a person who is killed because of their religious or other beliefs.
"saints, martyrs, and witnesses to the faith."

          Nestled in the midst of the Philippine Archipelago is the island of Panay. As you travel through the region of Capiz near Tapaz, you come to the mountains of Barrio Katipunan. It is in those mountains you find the site that at one time for twenty months was called “Hopevale.” You won’t find it on any maps since it was never an incorporated town and was settled by less than twenty people.
          In April of 1942, the Philippine Islands were invaded by Japan forcing McArthur to withdraw his troops to fight elsewhere. As a result, this left scores of military guerillas to try and defend the islands. In addition to the guerillas were families from the United States who were working with the Gold mines. Then there were the missionaries; men, women, and children who had left their homes in the United States to serve the Lord in the jungles of islands far away from home. After McArthur withdrew from the islands, the families moved inward to try and find safety from the enemies. Within the mountains and jungles of Panay on Saturday, April 18, 1942, the small group of 12 missionaries along with a few miners set up camp. They named the little community, Hopevale. Setting up homes were a nurse named Jennie Adams, James and Charma Covell, whose daughter would indirectly make an impact for the Lord after the war, Dorothy Dowell, Signe Erickson, Dr. Frederick Meyer and his wife Ruth, Dr. Frances Rose and his wife Gertrude, Earle and Louise Rounds and their son, Douglass.
          The people survived with the help of Filipinos who lived in and around the small town of Katipunan. Dr. Rose built a small “cathedral” on the outskirts of Hopevale among the overhanging trees he gorged a semi-circular bench seat with a towering tree at the end. He called it Cathedral Glen. It is where, in the midst of war and the fear of capture, at any moment they would take time to worship. The missionaries were Northern Baptists who were conservative in their thinking, not believing in dancing or drinking. When the miners among them would celebrate good news about the war with a little dancing and drinking of homemade fermented wine, the missionaries said nothing. These things didn’t seem to matter considering the circumstances they all found themselves. Prayer and caring for each other was what mattered, not the issues they had been taught to follow.
          Eventually, all the miners left moving to other areas except for Mark and Fern Clardy and their two sons, Johnny and Terry and a miner, Mr. King. Those who remained struggled, plagued with concerns, if captured would they be treated as civilians and sent to camps or as guerillas and executed? It was a constant fear that though ever present was pushed aside in favor of their faith in the Lord.
          On Sunday, December 19, 1943, Captain Watanabe and his troops entered the camp and rounded up the missionaries and remaining miners. That evening Captain Watanabe came to the missionaries and told them they would face executed the next day. Though no one knows exactly how the rest of the story took place, other reports say that James Covell tried to convince the Japanese otherwise. However, it was eventually turned down. The missionaries last act was to sing a hymn and pray. We don’t know what hymn they sang, but we do know that they put themselves in God’s hands as each one was taken into a nearby hut and decapitated.     
          To this day the group is known by locals as “the Hopevale Martyrs.” Their faith and courage in the Lord made an impact on those who knew them as well as some of those who had been a part of their capture. Years later one of the Japanese soldiers was on a train with a Baptist minister who was with the Japanese Baptist Union. He asked the minister if he had known a missionary named James Covell. The minister acknowledged he had and that James Covell had been one of his teachers. The man then proceeded to tell the story of what took place in the jungle. He told how appalled some of the soldiers were of what Captain Watanabe had done. He also shares how touched he was by the faith and courage of the missionaries as they prepared to die, so touched in fact that he later became a Christian.
          Sometimes, I wonder in our modern world if we have forgotten what it truly means to be followers of Christ. Have we got caught up in issues and how we do things? Do some of the things we fret over really matter in the long run when it comes to being a true follower? Does God really have great concerns over some of the things we spend so much time debating? Over the years I have seen so many churches spend hours arguing about buildings and programs. I’ve seen churches split over trivial matters. Have we forgotten what it’s all about?
          The little group in Hopevale figured dancing for joy wasn’t that big of a deal considering the circumstances that surrounded them. Drinking fermented wine was not an issue when your very life was in danger. The important thing to them was to keep their faith and trust in God in the middle of a catastrophic world. Issues like these didn’t seem to matter in the scheme of being faithful in their trust of God.
          The focus of the church is to be reaching out to bring others to Christ. The focus of the church is to share the Gospel with the world. The focus of the church is to care for each other. We need to stop occasionally and ask ourselves if the things that bother us are things over which we should be concerned. Maybe ask ourselves, do I think God cares about the  things that tend to wear me down?
          Someday we should each take time to go to the Cathedral in the Glen. We should walk out of the walls of the building, go to the woods or hills away from the hustle and bustle of the town and city and ask God to give us the eyes in our heart to see the world and church the way he wants it to be. Let’s get back to what is really important, sharing Jesus with a lost world.

Note: Facts about Hopevale and story on the train are based on the story presented in The Edge of Terror by Scott Walker, Thomas Dunne Books Publisher.
For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.’ But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear. For truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.
Matthew 13:15-17

Thursday, August 24, 2017



          This past week millions of people were excited and talked about the solar eclipse that was to occur. Thousands of people spent dollars galore going to places where it was to be complete. People bought glasses to watch the event, camped out for the best spot the next day and planned solar eclipse parties. The best place to be was Carbondale, Illinois since the sun would disappear for the longest period. Then it came. It came at various times in various places, but it came. People watched with breathtaking awe as the eclipse occurred. In the end, thousands of dollars were spent to enjoy standing in the moon’s shadow for less than 3 minutes.
          Shadows have been and always will be a part of our lives. We all have one, in fact, every object on the face of the earth has one. Sometimes we call it “shade,” but after all, it’s only a shadow. Peter Pan left without his shadow at the Darling house, and Wendy hid it in her dresser. Shadows sometimes get in the way, like when we take pictures or need sunlight for something. We’ve all in our lives made shadow puppets to entertain our children or maybe just ourselves.
          There’s nothing special about a shadow. Anyone can make one at no charge. You can make it bigger or smaller. You can make it disappear when you combine it with another shadow. After all, a shadow is only the results of someone or something blocking out the light.
          But shadows have a different meaning in the Word. People would clamor to be healed by at least letting the shadow of Peter pass over them (Acts 5). David asks God to hide him in the shadow of his wings (Ps. 17, 26, 57, 63). Psalm 91 speaks of resting in the shadow of the almighty. Isaiah speaks of being covered with the shadow of God’s hand (Is. 51).  
          Then there is the passage in Colossians where Paul says that the things that are a part of our Christian life today are but a shadow of what lies ahead for us in heaven. A shadow is only an image. It has no characteristics; it’s just a blank canvas, void of emotions, feelings, and physical features other than an outline of what is real. Paul adds that it is Jesus who is the real thing.
          We should never be so caught up in watching the shadows that we forget what it is hiding. The important object is not the shadow, but what makes the shadow possible. Moses was told the Tabernacle was only a shadow, a representation of something that was greater. In the same way, we should never get so caught up in looking at how we do things that we forget why we do what we do.
          Shadows only occur when we block out the light. As excited as people were about the eclipse it could only occur if the life-giving sun disappeared, blocked by the moon. We should never forget that if we are not careful, we will live this life in the shadows. When we open our hearts and allow Jesus, the Light, to come in, we have a light that can lighten the shadows of others. Those living in the shadow of death, sin, and lost hope.
          The most glorious view of the solar eclipse was not when the sun was covered by the moon, but when as the moon moved away the brilliance of the sun pushed the shadows aside and shone brightly again. In our lives, let’s let the light of Jesus shine to those living in the shadows.
Therefore, do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.

Colossians 2:16-17

Friday, June 30, 2017


          As strange as it may sound, or maybe I should say, morbid, I find cemeteries interesting places to visit. As I walk through one, I think of the lives that must have been lived by those buried beneath the six feet of soil and grass. At times I stop and pause as I read one where the dates show a life short lived and wonder why this young boy or girl passed too soon.
          I pass graves with flowers, freshly placed in vases and again by others with empty vases from years gone by without a visit. On one there is a cross leaning against the cold stone, and on another, there lay several smooth river rocks. Sometimes I pass a teddy bear or a toy, and my heart melts for the parents who must have placed it upon the grave with heavy grief.
          Most of the tombstones have dates, although a few are worn and hard to read anymore. The double headstones often have three dates, two for birth and one for death with a blank space waiting to be filled by someone’s loss yet to come. I’ve read where the dash in the date represents the life they lived, but it’s just a dash. As I stand before the granite memorial, I see nothing of the life they lived. Very few headstones tell you the story of the person it honors. They lived, and they died, and that is all I know about most of them.
          I stand before the memorial, having no idea of the color of the skin of the person buried below. I have no idea of how strong their faith may have been or if they served the Lord valiantly. In the majority of cases, I do not know if they were loved or hated or if they died with family or alone and cold. I do not know if they went to worship on a Sunday or read their Bible or if they played a sport or had a hobby. Walking through the row upon row of people who have left this earth I for the most part only see names and dates. It is a cemetery, and a cemetery is a place for dead people’s bodies.
          I was not at the majority of services held for those in the caskets buried below. I did not hear the accolades of a preacher or the family memories shared by those that loved them. I did not see the tears or hear the weeping as the families said their goodbyes. I’m sure for most there were many shed, but for me strolling through the rows of granite there are no tears, no stories, only knowledge about who they were and how they lived.
          I believe it is unfortunate that many people walk through life like it is a cemetery. They see people but never take the time to know them and their stories. They pass by them daily and know little except what they look like and their name. To those that treat the world as a cemetery, it is a dreary place.
          It’s easy for a congregation to become a cemetery if one is not careful. When “church” is simply a place to come to worship, it can become cold and empty. When people don’t take the time to know each other and care for each other a “church” can be as cold as the graveyards I walk through.
          When is the last time you have gone through the directory? Try it sometime. Go to the beginning and go through the list, look at the pictures and view the names. Now, are they only names and numbers to you or do you know their story? Do you know their struggles, hopes, dreams and ambitions?
          It’s, of course, impossible in a congregation to know everyone. However, as we go through the names and pictures we want to remember that they are not just names and dates, but part of the flock we lead, people with those struggles, hopes, dreams and ambitions. Their names are not carved in granite, and there is only one date by their name. We are walking through the rows of the living, those who have a life ahead of them. To know “the flock” is to have knowledge of them and what they are going through. The aisle’s we walk, the hallways we pace and the rooms we visit are full of the living, and the living have need of a shepherd.
          We should all take time as we walk through the painted hallways to notice the living and talk with them. We should take the time to hear their needs and encourage them when they are down. We should always let them know that we love and care for them. They are alive, and their lives are not yet over. We should never be in such a hurry that we cannot take the time to invest in the living.
          When a congregation fails to invest in the living, it runs the danger of turning a “church” into a graveyard. Graveyards, as we are reminded, are full of dead men’s bones. They are okay to visit, but you wouldn’t want to live there.
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean.”
Matthew 23:27

Friday, June 23, 2017

“To Play with the Angels”
          It was around midnight when I arose from my chair the other night and started shutting the house down for the night. It is in those late night or should I say early hours of the day that memories tend to creep through our minds of things passed. On this night, I had thoughts of our son Scottie.
          Each evening as I would get ready for bed one of the last things I would do would be to go to his room to check on him and turn on his DVD of “Land Before Time”. It was one that we could play the audio without the TV turned on and it would automatically stop when finished. I would then go over to his bed, kiss him on the forehead and tell, “Good night, Scott Boy, see you in the morning.”
          We had a computer set up with a camera in his bedroom to check on him during the night without having to walk across the house. There were many nights that he would stay of late and we’d hear him laugh out loud. We figured that there were angels who came to play with him in the night hours when he couldn’t go to sleep. Whatever it was the DVD, Angels or something else he loved to laugh.
          Scottie laughed a lot. We could be watching a movie and someone would open a squeaking gate and he would cackle out loud. If a baby laughed he’d join in, sometimes laughing so hard it almost made him cry. Most of all he laughed at witches and ghosts and goblins. To him they were funny making funny noises. A cackling witch on a broom would set him off. He laughed at the shower scene in “Psycho.” He laughed at scene in “Steel Magnolias” when Shelby is in a coma and her mother is saying “Open your eyes, Shelby. Open your eyes!” He laughed at Titanic when Rose is wading through the water calling our “Jack, Jack!” He laughed at “Star Trek” when Captain Kirk called out “Scotty! Scotty!” He laughed at Yogi Bear when he heard, “Hey, Hey! Boo, Boo!”
          He was not afraid of the movies that many find scary. He was not saddened by people in a panic. He laughed when people were happy. He had a certain peace about him that was that spirit that God wants to instill within all of us. He wasn’t anxious unless he was being treated by a doctor or nurse, oh, and maybe at times when he was getting a bath!
          It made me stop and think that how he was, was the picture that Jesus was trying to give us when he told us not to worry and be anxious, but to put our cares and troubles in his hands. Scottie somehow knew that the movies were not going to harm him so he just laughed along with them. Somehow, he felt the joy of those around him, without understanding the full picture.
          In our lives we too many times find ourselves being so caught up in the events of life that we burden our hearts with anxiety and worry. We let things bother us that we shouldn’t and even fail to see the good that is happening all around us. We don’t notice the squeak of the gate, in the present, because we are too busy looking ahead at what might happen next.
          I read the story once of a man who was walking across the parking lot and found a dime as a child. He decided that there must be more money on the ground so everywhere he went he was looking for money on the ground. As he approached the later years of life he had found over $100 in loose change here and there. In his possession were 641 pennies, 195 nickels, 311 dimes, 180 quarters, 18 half dollars, 30 one dollar bills and 1 crumpled five-dollar bill. But in the end, he had missed countless sunsets and sunrises. He failed to see the rainbows that follow the storm, the butterflies that invaded the spring and the fire colored leaves of autumn. He had missed the beauties of life always looking down.
          We should each take the time to look at the good in the world. We should enjoy the peace that Jesus can give us when we turn our troubles over to him. We should laugh with the joys of others. We should learn not to be afraid of those things that really can’t hurt us. We should learn not to feel burdened.
          I miss the nighttime ritual. I miss the laughs at night. There is one thing that Scottie’s late nights have taught me. Most of all, we should all learn to play with the angels in the peace of the night.

For I am the LORD your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.
Isaiah 41:13

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

“The Window”
An anonymous story that I came across tells of two men who were seriously ill and shared a hospital room. Both men had to lie flat on their backs, except one man, the one nearer the window was allowed to sit up for one hour a day to take his medicine. This one hour would be an important one for the man who had to remain flat on his back.
For that hour the man would describe what he saw out the hospital window. He described the park across the street from the hospital and the people he would see strolling along. He would talk about the weather and the man who fed the birds every day about that time. That man came every day, rain or shine. There were children playing and young couples hand in hand ambling along the paths.
One day, it must have been a holiday, there was some special parade. The man described in detail what he saw below. The man on his back lived for this hour, the hour of the day when, though flat on his back, he could become free through the vision of the man near the window.
One morning the nurse came in to give the men their medicine and found the man near the window lying lifeless, but peaceful in his bed. It was sad, but mostly for the man on his back, since his eyes to the world had left. When he felt it was appropriate, he asked the nurse for the bed next to the window.
The nurse obliged moving the man to the other side of the room. Slowly the man began to prop himself up to get a glimpse of the park across the street and the people he had grown to love day by day as he lay on his back. As the man peered through the window glass he did not see the park, but only a brick wall. Disappointed, he rang for the nurse and asked why she thought the man had told so many stories when all he saw was a wall. “Maybe he just wanted to encourage you,” she said softly.
Encouragement is taking joy in making other people feel good about themselves. It is making others happy or at least happier by helping them think of brighter things outside their world of pain, sorrow, or depression. People need affirmation. They need someone to give them hope. They need someone to pump them up when they are down and sometimes even carry them.
It’s become popular at high school football games when it gets to the fourth quarter for the bands to play and the fans are holding up four fingers, signifying that it’s at the end and encouraging to either stay ahead or make a comeback that wins the game. The cheers of the crowd become louder; the bands play more, and teams get fired up as everyone encourages their boys to win. It’s the fourth quarter!
Many people get discouraged not only because of the situation but because they feel nobody cares. They feel they are tackling their problems alone. They struggle through life feeling lost and alone. They don’t have cheerleaders and fans who they can see cheering them on. They can only hear the voices in their head reminding them of the struggles they face.
It doesn’t take much to encourage people. It costs nothing to lift someone up who has found themselves down. Words of encouragement and embracements of love go a long way in building up an individual. Simple words, freely given can do so much to lift a person’s spirit and help them through some tough times. Every person we meet each and every day can use kind, simple words telling them they are doing a good job and that what they do is appreciated. Words of encouragement tell people, “You matter” and “You are important.”
Let us all take the time to encourage one another. Let us all build others up. Let us all let the people we meet know that we care for them. Let us all brighten the day of someone who is on their back, down and out. Let’s tell them about the park and the people we see. Let’s describe the parade passing by the window.
Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.
Galatians 6:2

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

“The 51 Mile Journey”
The journey between the Pennsylvanian towns of Ephrata and Valley Forge is a distance of 51 miles. By today’s standards, this is a trip of less than an hour’s drive. For Peter Miller of Ephrata, it would take a little longer since he would walk the distance. It was a journey he didn’t have to take, and no one would blame him for not going, but as he set out on foot that day in the year 1775, it was a journey he felt compelled to take.
          The story begins much earlier when Miller was the pastor for the Reformed Church in Goshenhoppen, Germantown. Peter had begun to rebel against the ways of the Reformed Church to the point that he was relieved as minister and a man named Michael Wideman replaced Miller as the new pastor. Wideman hated Miller. History says that he would spit in his face, trip him along the road and even supposedly at one time, punched the quiet, humble man of God.
          Unlike Miller, Wideman was not a strong patriot to the colonial cause. Neither was he overly fond of the British. He ran a tavern on the side and during a time when British General Howe’s troops were bedding there, they overheard some unkindly remarks about the General. The British soldiers tried to seize him, but he was able to escape through a window. He later sent word that he’d like to speak to Howe with the intention to apologize, even offering every service against the colonies he could think of to the British. Howe accepted his request to meet, but when he found out, he had made certain unkindly remarks, threw him out of the British camp.
          Shortly after that, Wideman was arrested by some of General George Washington’s men and brought to the general. He was court-martialed, convicted of treason and his property seized. There was no one willing to stand up for the man who had attempted to betray his country.
          Peter Miller had walked the 51 miles to see his friend George Washington concerning the fate of Wideman. Miller pleaded on Wideman’s behalf. Washington was unimpressed with his friends plea, feeling that Miller was only trying to spare the life of his friend, Wideman. Contrarily, Washington found out that Wideman was not a friend, but Miller’s “worst enemy,” one who had treated him with continual disrespect. Miller, however, had asked himself what Jesus would have done in this case. As a result of wrestling with this question he had walked the 51 miles to stand up for his “worst enemy.”
          Washington was impressed with what Miller had done and pardoned Wideman. The two men who had been enemies returned on the road back to Ephrata, not as enemies, but as friends. Many believe that  Washington, moved by Peter Miller’s actions, many times in the future showed the same grace in pardoning others.
          How far would we walk to save our worst enemy? How far would we walk to show mercy and forgiveness to someone who is undeserving? I venture to say that most of the time we sit back and just see what happens and not interfere. If we looked closely how much of Peter Miller would see in ourselves?
          Reconciliation with those we have been crossways with is one of the hardest Christian qualities to achieve. Sometimes our pride steps in the way of reaching out. Other times it’s our lack of desire to take that first step to bring us back together. Sometimes instead of standing up, we may find ourselves step back and watch as “our enemy” receives what we feel is his or her due and just reward for how they treated us and others.
          People will look at us as leaders to see how we handle all types of situations. How will we handle it when someone is against us? Will we get angry? Will we ridicule them? Will we treat them with disrespect? Where will our feet lead us on this journey of reconciliation?
          A friend once made the statement several years ago, “People are watching our feet!”. In other words, they want to see where we are going, how we are living, what journey are we traveling to be like Jesus? They are watching our feet, looking for footsteps to follow.
          Maybe this one act by Peter Miller, a man who journeyed to meet Washington and free his enemy had an impact on things he said later. Washington the following year makes the following statement:
Treat them with humanity, and let them have no reason to complain of our copying the brutal example of the British Army in their treatment of our unfortunate brethren who have fallen into their hands.
— George Washington, 1776

All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.

2 Corinthians 5:18-20 

Thursday, February 11, 2016

“How Do You Tie Your Shoes?”

“How do you tie your shoes?” That’s one of those questions that you can go through your entire adult life and never be asked, unless it’s by your child. So I’ll ask again, “How do you tie your shoes?”
          I personally interlace them once, form a loop with my left hand and using my right hand track around the left loop pulling the shoe string through the track to make a second loop, then pull on both loops to tighten. That’s the only correct way, right? Wrong of course!
          Some people do the same, but form the loop on the right side and go around. Others form two loops and then interlace them. There are those that double knot and if they have long laces and high-top shoes they sometimes take the laces all the way around the ankle and around to the front before tying.
          Of course some wear their shoes with the laces completely removed. Add to this buckles, Velcro, straps, snaps, buttons and shoes with no fasteners at all like loafers, boots and house shoes.
          The point is that each method is correct in its own way. No one method is the right or wrong way. It depends on the person, shoe and situation. In fact, the kind of shoes I wear determines my method of keeping them on my feet.
          When it comes to church life, not everyone fastens their shoes the same way. Everyone walks with a different pair, some alike or similar and some completely different.
          Not everyone likes how things are done at “church”. In worship there are different likes with the songs we choose or on the style of lesson presented. One person likes one Bible class teacher and the next person may not can sit through the class, but likes someone else. Some folks like a deep Bible study class, while others want something that just helps them get through a specific struggle in life. There are those who agree with whatever the elders say and will follow them anywhere, while others will seek more explanation before they make a move.
          Some people like an early service, others a late one. Some like a service like a worship assembly and others prefer small groups. Some like to sit in a lecture class, while others want to class with lots of discussion. Some like doing things different and always changing the way things are done and others prefer the traditional ways.
          For the vast majority of what takes place in a congregation there is no right or wrong way in the eyes of God. In fact, there are far more correct ways of doing things since most of those things that may be wrong aren’t even mentioned to begin with.
          So how do you make everyone happy? Do you try to make them all “tie their shoes” the same way? It really boils down to helping each other understand that we are all different with different likes and dislikes on how and what we do.
          Unity does not mean that everyone has to think the same way or like the same things. Unity does not mean we have the same interests and needs. Unity is understanding that everyone ties their shoes differently and as long as their shoes don’t fall off, how they are fastened doesn’t really matter.
          Being unified means to teach and lead others toward the one goal that we all have, which is bring others to Jesus. How we get there is not nearly as important as getting there. Let’s not forget we live in a lost world that needs people to lead them into a closer relationship with God.
          It’s not how we tie our shoes that matters. It’s how we walk once we have them on, fastened and are standing up.
“We continually ask God to fill you with knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that you will walk in a manner worth of the Lord.”
Colossians 1:9-10

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Years ago while in high school I was given a book by Foy L. Smith entitled "The Days of Thy Youth". In one chapter of the book he tells the story of an old gospel preacher named Theophilus Brown Larimore.

T. B. Larimore was riding out west in a railway passenger car when outlaws came along side and halted the train. The robbers boarded the car and began demanding that the passengers drop their possessions into a bag; watches, jewelry, gold coins, wallets and anything else that could be exchanged for money. They came to Larimore and he placed a few crumpled dollars into the mouth of the sack. The outlaw asked if that was all he had and he told him it was.
As the thieves started to leave, the preacher called out to the leader who returned to him. "Sir", he told him apologetically, "I find that I have misrepresented the truth. When you asked me if that was all I had I told you it was, but then discovered I had put a one dollar bill in my vest pocket." Larimore extended his hand with the dollar bill toward the outlaw. The leader of the bandits was taken back and didn't know what to say to this. After a few moments he told his men to give the preacher back everything they had taken from him saying, "It is good to meet and honest man."
It used to be that a man's word meant something. Deals were finalized by handshakes. If someone said they'd do something, they did it. The grocery stores had counter checks without names or numbers, you filled those in. You could go into the corner store and if the clerk was busy, you'd put your money on the counter and leave yelling across the way, "Money's on the counter." Our parents left the front door unlocked 24 hours a day. You could leave your bike on the driveway, your car unlocked or your purse in the grocery basket and when you returned it would still be there untouched. Oh, there were exceptions, but they were few and far between in small town America where I grew up.
Today, however, it's a different story. We lock our doors and we have security systems installed for extra safety. Our cars have alarms and we are told never to leave valuables in plain view. Our sales slip is checked when we leave a store, our garages are locked and handshakes are just a greeting.
People fudge on their taxes, lie on their golf score and blame someone else whenever something goes wrong. We don't trust the president, politicians, lawyers, salesmen and often even preachers. We follow someone’s promise with "When I see it, I’ll believe it." We feel fortunate when the waiter forgets to put a charge on our check or the clerk inadvertently charges us too little.
Kathy and I were at a restaurant a couple of years ago in Plano. When I looked at the ticket I noticed that she had forgotten to charge us for one entire meal. I pointed this out and could tell the waitress was stunned. The manager came by and asked if something was wrong, so I explained to him the situation. He looked at me as if to say "You're complaining because your bill is too low?" It took 10 minutes to get it corrected and the manager told me he'd never had anyone do that before.
It's sad when honesty and integrity are so rare that it surprises people when it occurs. Yes, sometimes the truth hurts. Yes, sometimes being honest gets us into trouble. Yes, it's embarrassing at times to admit our weaknesses or faults. But to be viewed as a person of integrity and character far outweighs the negatives.
I hope someday that someone will be able to say about me, "It's good to meet an honest man."
As bad as it may hurt, as tough as it is to do, it is always important that a Christian, whether a follower or a leader be a person of integrity. It is only then that the world will listen when we proclaim Christ.
I know that you are pleased with me, for my enemy does not triumph over me. Because of my integrity you uphold me and set me in your presence forever.
Psalm 41:11-12

Thursday, August 20, 2015

“Hauntings of the Past”

As I drove through my home town this past week I passed several times through a part of town that I rarely entered growing up in the 1950’s and 60’s. Plano was much smaller back then with a population of under 5000. The Central Expressway was just reaching that far north and the trip to Richardson to the south rambled a two lane highway going through a five mile stretch of countryside, while the same highway made its way northward to McKinney, another 15-20 minute sightseeing journey. The streets that I drove over this past week were lined with homes built and fixed up by Habitat for Humanity and other groups in Plano. The roads in this area in the 50’s and 60’s were dusty dirt roads, unless it rained of course, then they were muddy rut infested travel paths. The area was and is still known as the Douglass Community. Growing up we called it “Colored Town”.
When I think back of this era in my life I can still see the pictures in my mind of a life of segregation. I worked at A&P and often during my break would go to the coffee and donut shop across the street. I can still see the sign in the window on my right as I passed through the door, “No Coloreds Allowed”. It was part of life and I paid little attention to it. In the back of the department store downtown there were three doors labeled, “Men”, “Women” and “Colored”. On the wall was a chilled water fountain with the sign, “Whites Only” posted above it and off to the side a dirty white ceramic fountain labeled, “Colored”.
Open the newspaper to look for a house and you’d see “Houses for Rent”, “Houses for Sale” and “Houses Colored”. At the theater the “colored kids” sat in the balcony and entered and exited through the side door. There were schools for the “White” kids and schools for the “Colored” kids. As I can recall, I was only in their school once when our Advanced Science Class was asked to judge their science projects. We were amazed at how good the projects were done. Did we expect something different because they were different?
There were no riots, no major issues that I can remember. That’s the way it was in this small Texas town. We thought little of it and accepted all this as just a way of life.
As I look back it’s sad to know that life was like this for so many because of skin color. These pictures of the past are haunting reminders of the injustices and mistakes of days gone by. Sometimes you’d like to go back and just make a difference, change things and correct the wrongs that were done. Unfortunately, we cannot travel back in time. The past is past and cannot be changed or altered.
It’s like that in the church. As leaders there are times that we wish we could go back and maybe do things a little different, rethink a decision or handle a situation better. Leaders are not perfect, we make mistakes and as hard as it is we often have to “bite the bullet” and move on, living with a past failure here and there. The point is that we can’t change the past.
We can, however, change today and the future. We cannot live and serve the Lord in a world of regrets and feeling down about what has been done wrong yesterday. True leadership takes their failings, their faults, their past errors and learns from them, but they use this knowledge to do better today and even better tomorrow.
The Apostles failed several times in their following of Jesus, but you never read of Jesus reminding them of their faults and failures over and over. Their lack of faith, their lack of understanding and their quarreling were forgotten soon after it happened and Jesus went on to talk about the future with them. He wanted to make them better.
In the 1990’s the City of Plano spent more than 2 million dollars revitalizing the Douglass Community. They could not go back and change the past as painful as it may have been, but they could change today and the days that followed. Many people who lived in the community in the 50’s and 60’s still live there today. It’s their home, only now the homes are painted and the roads are paved.
Leaders need to think forward not backwards. We need to see what can be done, what works can be accomplished and what great services we can do for the Lord today. Leaders make mistakes and will make more mistakes, but the church lives by what we do today, this very moment, not by what has passed. As the Psalmist wrote, “This is the day which the LORD has made; Let us rejoice and be glad in it.”

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.
Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead,
I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
Philippians 3:12-14

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Baseball’s Hottest Game

Probably the hottest game in professional baseball was a game between the Boston Beaneaters and Baltimore Orioles on May 15, 1894 in Boston. The fireworks started in the third inning when Tommy “Foghorn” Tucker slid safely into third base. At that point John McGraw of the Orioles kicked Tucker in the face and a brawl broke out, both on the field and in the stands. The umpire finally got things settled down and Tucker contemplated how he was going to get back at McGraw for his injured jaw.
          That was never to happen. With the Orioles set to bat, the Beaneaters right fielder, James “Foxy” Bannon, spotted a fire under the right field bleachers. As everyone watched he ran over to stamp it out. Everyone thought it would be put out soon and were more interested in how Tucker would avenge the third base incident and the now loud mouthed Orioles.
          Then a gust of wind came up causing Bannon to abandon his efforts. The fire spread quickly sending the bleacher spectators tumbling onto the field to get relief from the heat. The fire spread to the outfield fence and then to the main grandstands. The players ran to the locker rooms to attempt to salvage their belongings. Firefighters were called in, but soon the South Ends Ground ballpark was destroyed causing $80,000 in damage. Firefighters came from 20 miles away to fight a 9 alarm fire that spread to 12 acres, burning 200 homes and causing $300,000 in damage. The fire was determined to be caused by a carelessly tossed cigarette.
          As the firefighters rushed to the scene and hooked up the hose there was no water from the hydrant. The city had installed the hydrant, but the team owners to save money had failed to pay the $15 to have the water turned on.  The failure to pay $15 had done nearly a half million dollars in damage.
          Sometimes it’s that way in churches as well. A lot of time and effort is spent on the big things, the big events, the major efforts and the things that we see from the outside. There are times that the little things are forgotten or not given as much importance and it the scheme of things are just as important as the big even though they are not seen. What seems of little importance can often be of great magnitude down the way.
          An example is when I recently sat through a missions meeting working on a contract for some new missionaries. The congregation knows they are going and will be supported. They know they are going there to save souls. That’s the big thing. But the team had to look at a lot of “what if” or “little things” that had no impact now but could be greater down the line. What if there was unrest in the area? What if one of them became deathly sick or died. What if a family member passed away? What did it take to get settled? What would it take to bring them back? The team did a good job addressing these. They paid the “$15” to provide for the future.
          There are these little things in every part of the church work. They may not seem that important at the time, but somewhere along the way they may be necessary. No one likes policies, but you have to have them “just in case”. No one wants to worry about the little details, but without them a project can be successful or fail. Details test our patience and stamina.
          People will look to us as leaders to see how we handle the little things. Are we prepared when that time comes to face a crisis or handle a tough situation? People will follow leadership that pays attention to the little things, because they can trust them to be there for them in every situation. When they see a leader serve communion, when they watch a leader teach a children’s class, when they notice a leader serving on the pizza line or wiping tables or helping someone who is sick or praying with someone in private it’s then that they know that leaders cares for them. It’s the little things that are done that form the bonds between leaders and those who follow.
          A mere $15 in 1894 would have save hundreds of homes. It was a little thing, but like that small amount would have made a great difference in many lives, it can remind us that it’s the little things that make the life of the church grow in love and unity.
Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord.

Colossians 3:23