Thursday, December 16, 2010

A Shelter in the Time of Storm

One of my daughters took this picture of the bird house Melanie and I made together last year. I love it.
Psalm 91:1 "Those who live in the shelter of the Most High will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty."

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Four Tons of Canaries


Years ago, I attended a men’s convention listening to Jeff Brawner, a pastor in Southern California at the time.  He used a funny illustration that I now pass on to you. It may be dated, but still relevant. 

Once there was a man driving down the road following a large truck. At a stop light the truck driver got out and pulled out a baseball bat from behind the seat and went all around the truck banging on the sides. He jumped back in the truck and drove off. This was obviously puzzling to the man following the truck. At the next light the truck driver stopped the truck did the same thing. He jumped out of the truck, pulled out the bat and ran around the truck banging on the side, got back in and drove off. At the next light it happened again. This was too much for the man following to handle. At the gas station the truck driver pulled in and the man following had to stop and ask. “What in the world are you doing?” “Why are you beating on your truck at every stop light?” The man responded, “That’s easy, you see, I have a two ton truck and four tons of canaries. I have to keep half of them in the air at all times.”

I feel this way sometimes with church, family, commitments, job, ministry (my job), etc, etc... It sometimes seems like it's impossible to keep the canaries flying. When this happens, it's very important that we create space to get alone with God, collect our thoughts and allow God to speak to us.   

Jesus was very intentional about carving out time for his Father. It seems in scripture that the more hectic his schedule the more time he deliberately, intentionally, set aside time to pray. We, on the other hand, feel like we do not have any more time for God because life is too busy. This is a guarantee for powerless living. If we are going to successfully navigate through this rat race we are going to have to make time to spend with our Heavenly Father.

Mark 1:35 says "Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place where he prayed." Quite simply, Jesus lived a very disciplined life and he knew what he had to do to stay effective in his ministry: He had to create space for his Father.  It consistently connected him with his purpose and mission: to redeem the world through love.

Don't let the canaries weigh you down. 

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Gramaw's House - Just Stopping By

One of my favorite places in memory is on York Road, Sparks, Maryland - Gramaw’s house. I lived there for several years growing up. It was ground zero for my extended family. Every day someone stopped by to check up on Gramaw. When my family moved out of her house, we also stopped by at least once a week.

As I grew, I continued to stop by Gramaw’s. When I was able to drive, I drove by her house almost daily. Even when I did not stop in, I wanted to just see it again. It was a secure, safe, and warm place. Her house was always open (If it wasn’t, I knew where she hid the key. Of course, everyone else did too.). I would go in and she would fill me in on the rest of the family. By the time I left I knew which one of my uncles had stopped by and for how long. I knew where the other grandchildren were, and I would also catch up on the latest church news. She never talked negative about the church although she would occasionally throw in, “I don’t know what these young people are thinking nowadays.” (Boy, even writing this I can hear her voice saying it.)

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

"A Living Stream in the Desert" by Philip Yancey

Philip Yancey writes an intriguing article in Christianity Today entitled, "A Living Stream in the Desert. How the Christian faith will be a subversive - and liberating - influence in the Middle East."

In it he writes:

"Some in the U.S. judge our nation's success by such measures as gross national product, military might, and global dominance. The Kingdom of God measures such things as care for the downtrodden and love for enemies. In the final reckoning described in Matthew 25, God will judge nations by how they treat the poor, the sick, the hungry, the alien, and the prisoner. How differently would the world view my country if it associated the U.S. with the 'Jesus syndrome' rather than with weapons, wealth, and the Baywatch syndrome?"

It makes me wonder not only about my country, but my life.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

The Splendor Of Christmas

A Tribute to my friend Dr. Mark Smith

On Monday I attended the funeral of my friend and fellow pastor, Dr. Mark Smith. He and his wife Robin planted a church in Warrenton, Virginia exactly five years ago. At the time when Mark was dreaming and thinking about church planting, he was working in a district position working with Assembly of God churches as the senior administrator to Dr. Robert Rhoden. I happened to also be working in the same office as the district church planting director.
Because of my position and relationship with Mark, he came to me early to discuss the possibilities of planting a new church. What I remember is what Mark said over and over: “I’ve got to get in the game. I’ve got to get in the game.” He was like a first string quarterback pacing on the sidelines just waiting for an opportunity to play. He didn’t just feel like he wanted to do it – he was compelled.
Mark always followed the rules, and one of the first steps to church planting was to go through an assessment to determine if you have all of the gifts and abilities necessary to be a church planter. Mark assessed average, which is not real encouraging. Although Mark was extremely gifted, intelligent and diligent, there were some obvious growth areas. Understanding this did not deter him at all. Mark was compelled and determined to overcome them – and he did.
Fortunately, Mark knew how to develop a team, organize them and put them to work. He gathered around him people that made up for his weaknesses. He also had another church that partnered with him, Manassas Assembly of God, which sent core leadership and a group of almost one hundred people. It was obvious that God’s favor was upon him and the new church called The Bridge. The church grew much faster than expected. It was above and beyond what anyone imagined, except Mark - his faith was in God.
Mark loved God. He loved his family. And he loved The Bridge. As mentioned at his funeral, wherever you started a conversation with Mark, it always came back to The Bridge.
Mark was only fifty-two when he suffered a massive stroke that took his life. This young church has lost its pastor, leader and friend. He was well loved and his influence on the community and the Kingdom of God will be remembered for generations.
Mark died doing what he absolutely loved: growing the Kingdom of God. He served the Lord with all his heart, mind and strength. Now he is enjoying his eternal reward.
We will miss you Mark.


Monday, November 01, 2010

Missionary to Morgantown

Our Trinity missions team just returned from wild and wonderful West Virginia. We served alongside pastor Johnny and Maria Whitehair - missionaries and pastors. One morning, Johnny was driving our team leader, Craig Bell, and me to different job sites. As we would leave one place he would say, "Hey, do we have just ten more minutes?" Of course we had no choice, we were stuck in a truck with him. He then would take us to another house that needed repair, or show us another ministry that needed laborers. The need is so great and the laborers are so few.

One morning, Craig and I found ourselves in the truck again and heard the familiar question. We answer, "Sure, why not? But please, just ten minutes. We have things to do..."

Johnny then took us to West Virginia University, home to 29,000 college students. He took us to a place on the campus which overlooks Westover, a small town across the river from Morgantown. From that vantage point you can see clearly the school we were working on which will one day be a church. "We need a cross on that school so the students can see it. And when they do, they will be reminded that there is a God and there is always hope."

Pastor Johnny reminds me of another that looked out over a city and was moved with compassion. The scripture tells us that Jesus was moved to the point of pain when he looked out over Jerusalem and saw the people as lost and hurting. He then called the disciples to pray for laborers in the ripened harvest field.

Johnny has caught the heart of Jesus for his community. He reaches out to everyone in need. He feeds the hungry, gives rides to those going to work, gives away hundreds of bikes to kids, preaches and teaches, ect, etc.. His vision goes way beyond his ability and provision. But isn't that just like God? If Johnny could do it on his own, then he wouldn't need God.

We are praying with you Pastor Johnny - "Lord, send forth laborers into this harvest field."

For pictures of our trip, visit www.trinitymissions.smugmug.com

Serving Together,
Keith

Monday, October 25, 2010

25 Year Reunion

Last week Esther and I attended our 25th reunion of Valley Forge Christian College. We connected with people we haven't seen since then and reminisced of days gone by. It was a wonderful time with people that changed our lives so many years ago.

Listening to the journeys of each life was fascinating. God's grace, mercy and goodness was evident in each life. Each of us at one time or another went through some kind of crucible: a time where we needed God's sustaining grace to hold us. And guess what... He was found faithful! He wrote His story on each of our hearts.

As Esther and I made our way through old hallways, we were also reminded of God's direction in our lives and His guidance. We were young, immature and insecure, but God chose us anyway. For the four years we attended VFCC, God changed us. We learned that confidence is not found within ourselves, but in God. We also learned what it meant to live in community. The good and the bad are quickly exposed when you live in close proximity for an extended amount of time. Furthermore, we learned what it meant to pray, study God's Word, and communicate it to others. Those years were the beginning of a devotional time with God where I learned to hear His voice. That voice continues to guide us.

Thank you friends for sharing your stories with us. More than that, thank you for sharing four great years together. Two of my daughters are now walking hallways of different schools - growing in God and friendships. I pray that they experience God in even greater ways than we did.

Serving the King,
Keith

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Memories of Dropped Passes Fade Slowly

Max Lucado writes in his book, "Fearless", about Noble Doss, a football player for Texas from 1939 to 1941. He is best known for the "Impossible Catch" that upset undefeated Texas A&M in 1940. He also set a Texas career interception record with 17. But what he remembers the most about his football was a ball he dropped against Baylor in 1941 that possibly cost Texas a trip to the Rose Bowl. In an ABC interview, you can still see his pain as he remembers how he let his team down. You can see that interview at Tribute to Noble Doss. Lucado concludes with, "Memories of dropped passes fade slowly."

The story of Fred Snodgrass is a similar one. Snodgrass hit a career high .321 in 1910, his first full season with the Giants. In 1911-1913, he played in three consecutive World Series, but the Giants lost all three. In the second, the 1912 Series, Snodgrass committed one of the most famous errors in baseball history. In the 10th inning of the deciding game, Snodgrass, who was among the National League's best outfielders, dropped a routine fly ball that put the tying run on second base. He proceeded to make a spectacular game-saving catch on the next play, but the Sox went on to score two runs in the inning to win the series. The error became known as "Snodgrass's Muff" and also the "$30,000 Muff." His error remained with him to the end. When he died on April 5, 1974, his obituary in the New York Times was headlined "Fred Snodgrass, 86, Dead; Ball Player Muffed 1912 Fly" (source Wikipedia).

In sports, there are so many stories that could be told about dropped passes and muffs, and who doesn't enjoy watching sports bloopers or American's Funniest Videos?


People fall down and we laugh.


But dropped passes go beyond funny bloopers and falling down. We drop them personally, professionally, relationally, and spiritually. If you haven’t failed, you haven’t lived. Success involves risk and with risk comes moments of failure. If not dealt with, we will live our lives in regret. If we are going to live in success, we must learn to deal with our failings, which can haunt us for our entire lives.


I am amazed at how many people mess up every new day with the regrets of yesterday. This is one of the best weapons Satan uses to keeping us from our future potential. For most of us, he doesn't even need to work very hard.

Along with the thoughts from a previous blog, "The Unforgiving Minute," let me offer a two more suggestions for overcoming failure. The first one is the best - No matter what we do, Jesus is still our friend. Just like Jesus reinstating Peter along the sea after Peter denied knowing him, Jesus reaches out to us and restores us with mercy and grace.


If you haven't seen the movie, "The Boy in the Striped Pajamas," I highly recommend it. It is the story of an eight year old, Bruno, who is the son of an SS Commanding officer in charge of a prison camp. Bruno befriends another youth, strangely dressed in striped pajamas, named Shmuel who lives behind an electrified fence. One day Shmuel is brought to the house to clean the glasses of the officer's household. Bruno offers Shmuel some tasty treats. As Shmuel is devouring this gift, a soldier comes in and accuses him of stealing. When Shmuel says that he received the food from Bruno, his new friend, Bruno is afraid and denies ever seeing Shmuel before. It is a scene of fear and rejection.


For days, Bruno comes back to the prison fence to look for Shmuel, and one day he sees him again. This time Shmuel looks different. His face is swollen and his eye is back and blue from being beaten. Bruno repents and seeks friendship again. Slowly, Shmuel looks up and extends his hand through the fence and Bruno is forgiven.


It’s a picture of Jesus and us. Although we let him down and turn our backs to him through times of failure, he still extends his hand to us in order to restore the relationship.


Secondly, don’t let your failure determine your destiny. You have to keep the big picture in mind. Abraham Lincoln, Lucille Ball, and Michael Jordan are all success stories that first began with failure. For a great video on this, go to http://www.bluefishtv.com and search for “Famous Failures.” Or better yet, read the Bible, which is full of great leaders who failed and were used mightily by God.


In a recent fortune cookie I read, "He who never makes a mistake never did anything that's worthy." In that case, I have done many worthy things.


Other quotes on failure:


There are two kinds of failures: those who thought and never did, and those who did and never thought. - Laurence J. Peter


Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm. – Winston Churchill


I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work. - Thomas Alva Edison


So... Failing is inevitable in life. It’s what you do afterward that counts.


Enjoy the Journey,

Keith


_______

For other thoughts on failure, go to The Unforgiving Minute

For more quotes on failure, well, just use Google search :)


Monday, August 23, 2010

All Things Considered

Romans 8:28, "And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them" (NLT).
This is one of the most favored passages in Christendom. It’s one of those verses that people can throw out the reference and we can quote it without effort; kind of like John 3:16, or Psalms 23, or Jeremiah 29:11. You need no compassion to use it – just reference it and you have done your Christian comforting for the day. We have used it so much that we have inoculated people against its deep meaning and purpose. It has become like so many other Christian clich├ęs, thrown in the face of those suffering. Misquoted, misused and misunderstood, this verse can bring more pain and confusion to the hurting and suffering rather than relief and solace. 
My first confrontation with this kind of cruelty inflicted on the hurting came from my own lips. It came as I was saying goodbye to the president of my Bible College after he was asked to step down. I had just completed my first year and I was now well equipped to minister to anyone at any time. When you are in Bible College, you know everything, or at least you think you do. As I walked up to the president, I offered my hand and quoted this powerful verse. He looked at me, shook my hand, completed the verse for me, smiled and offered his hand to the next person. It baffled me that he did not put his arms around me and say, “Wow, I never thought of that! This has changed my life. Thank you for that reminder! I’ll run right home and tell my wife and kids.” 
It’s easy to quote Romans 8:28 when you are the one offering it. But it is another when the bottom falls out and the trials of life seem to be swallowing us up so that we seem to lose control. Yes, we still believe in God, but we may begin to question whether He is really in control. We know he is in control over creation, but in suffering, we begin to think He might be limited and fallible.
Despite the misuse, overuse or abuse, this verse offers does offer us a new perspective on pain. Paul was not, and neither can we, use this verse to dismiss suffering, pain, or tragedy. In fact, the verse is placed in the context of suffering. The scriptures assure us that Jesus Himself was touched with the feelings of our infirmities. We may want to only talk about joy and happiness and wealth, but if we don’t deal with suffering, we will never be equipped to talk about peace. 
We may not be able to understand it all, but followers of Christ see things with different understanding than those without Christ. Followers of Christ, during difficult seasons, do not let it go by without turning to scripture. It becomes a lifeline for hope and peace. When life’s trials cause some to wonder if God even exists, and others to wonder whether He is in control, the Christian may be assured that God is there, and He is in charge of bringing about His purpose for His glory and our good. 
Our misunderstanding comes when we isolate each incident and judge it as being “good” or “bad”. 
When this happens, it creates a careless and cruel God, randomly doling out curses or blessings. God does not bring about all things, but he is working in all things. 
“All things” include the bitter and sweet.
“All things” includes those things that are painfully unpleasant. We may even think they are unbearable. 
“All things” includes even our past hurts, failures and mistakes. 
“All things” means there is nothing which falls outside of God’s control and which works contrary to our good. Not one thing falls outside of God’s control. 
It is a comfort for me to know that nothing is ever wasted in my life. God is working – right now. 
Putting all the pieces together. 
When you look back on your past, or even your present situation, rest assured that God did not bring those things on you, but can use those things to paint a beautiful masterpiece that tells his story in your life. You do not have to look upon past tragedies as crippling. You may not know every thing happened the way it did, but you can trust an all powerful and loving God to use for the benefit of His glory and purpose.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Hallowed Ground

I spent some time on hallowed ground this past weekend at a men's retreat I was speaking at. It’s a place where God has and still is speaking to people. Sitting not a quarter of a mile from the Potomac River is this place called the Potomac District Camp and Retreat Center. It is one of the campgrounds owned by Assemblies of God churches.

Established seventy-five years ago, this campground was a place for churches to come together for “revival” services, youth, kids and family camps. As a young boy, my family and I traveled to this camp every summer. It was usually extremely hot in the summer and eastern humidity did not give you a break, unless you call violent thunderstorms a break. The air conditioning consisted of metal walls around the tabernacle, which were lifted up during services and closed when it rained. Small cabins with no bathrooms were the hotels for guests. The doors creaked loudly when you opened them and slammed behind you as they shut. You always knew when someone entered or exited their summer residence.

There was no pool at the time, no gym to work out in, no video game room - just one building with a ping-pong table for entertainment. I could go on, but I think you get the picture.

It may not have been a premiere vacation spot, but there is one thing that drew hundreds of people there every year to this place: it was a place where people met with God.

People who did not have a relationship with God met Jesus there. Children, youth, and adults were filled with the Spirit of God and many were called to be in occupational ministry. Missionaries were called to other countries on that property as they spent time at an old wooden altar behind the tabernacle. If you needed prayer, encouragement, or a conversation about life, there were retired pastors and missionaries living there who would take you in their home, give you a glass of tea or lemonade, and make you feel like you were the most important part of their day (in many ways, you were).

As an adult, I became a pastor in West Virginia, which was only fifteen minutes from these hallowed grounds. Every year I would reserve one of the hotel rooms for a couple of days just to get away, pray and listen to God’s voice. I would walk the well-worn paths and ask God questions: “What are you doing in my life?” “What is your dream for your church?” “What areas of my life are you wanting to change?” It was during these occasions where God brought clarity and direction. On other occasions I would stop by and walk the grounds. Trust me, there was not much to look at, but there was a lot to listen to.

My daughter was healed on those grounds. It’s a long story, but she, like many others discovered that God hears and answers prayer.

Yes, those grounds hold a special place in my life. It’s a place of remembrance, a cornerstone of faith for me.

We should all have places where we look back and say, “God met me.”

Thursday, May 06, 2010

2010 Prayer for the National Day of Prayer by Franklin Graham

I appreciate so much this prayer by Franklin Graham for the National Day of Prayer, 2010:
Lord, We are thankful for the abundant blessings You have bestowed on America. Our forefathers looked to You as Protector, Provider, and the Promise of hope. But we have wandered far from that firm foundation. May we repent for turning our backs on Your faithfulness.

We pray that this great nation will be restored by Your forgiveness. From bondage, You grant freedom. Through Your own sacrifice, You offer salvation. From the state of despair, You offer peace. From the bounties of Heaven, You have blessed – not because of our goodness – but by Your grace. You have given us freedom to worship You in spirit and in truth as Your holy Word instructs. May our lives honor You in word and deed. May our nation acknowledge that all good things come from the Father above.

President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed that our nation should set apart a day for national prayer to confess our sins and transgressions in sorrow, “yet with assured hope that genuine repentance will lead to mercy and pardon… announced in the Holy Scriptures and proven by all history, that those nations only are blessed whose God is the Lord.”

“We have vainly imagined in the deceitfulness of our own hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own… we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God who made us! It behooves us then… to confess our national sins and to pray for clemency and forgiveness.”

Help us to pray earnestly for our president and leaders who govern, that they will humble themselves and seek Your guidance so that everything we do will shine the light of Your glory in a darkened world. May our prayers as a people and a nation be heard and blessed for such a time as this. We make this plea in faith, believing in the mighty name of Jesus our Lord.
Amen

(source: http://nationaldayofprayer.org/coordinators/updates)

Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Unforgiving Minute

I just finished reading The Unforgiving Minute, by Craig Mullaney. It is a story a young man’s story of going through West Point and becoming an officer in the Army. The first half of the book is a “coming-of-age” story about his life and training, which certainly gave me a greater sense of appreciation for our soldiers and what they go through. While serving in Afghanistan, his infantry platoon was caught in a deadly firefight with a-Qaeda fighters and one of the soldiers in his unit was killed. This is the “unforgiving minute.” Captain Mullaney fights with his own demons and feelings concerning the battle and struggles to relieve himself from the guilt of loosing one of his men. The book is riveting and connecting.

When I finished the book, I could not help but wonder how all of us have “unforgiving minutes” in our lives. We make mistakes; we misjudge; and sometimes people get hurt. We cannot seem to let go of that moment – it plays over and over like a broken record (for those who remember what they were). And those moments seem to be replayed at the most defeating times. Sometimes they are replayed when all is well, but you can’t help but think that you are going to mess things up again. Sometimes they are replayed when you are in similar situations and they create a defeatist mindset. Other times they are rehearsed when you make other mistakes and you begin to think of yourself as a looser and a fake. Satan uses these moments as a weapon against you. Since he is a liar, he twists those moments in your mind and hinders all your spiritual growth.

The great news for all of us is that Jesus is the Great Redeemer. He not only forgives, he renews our mind so that we can live again without fearing the haunting past. Although we can never relive the past and change the consequences, we can live in the hope of a forgiving God. Here are a couple of thoughts that keep me sane during these unforgiving memories:

1. There is only one savior and I am not Him. We are all fallen and need his forgiveness.
2. Satan is a liar. Defeating thoughts will come and go, but don’t allow Satan to expand them beyond the reality.
3. Godly people bring the voice of God. Processing defeating thoughts with people who are close to Christ brings hope and correction.
4. God wants to change me. He wants to me to learn from my mistakes and grow in Him.
5. The Word works! In moments of defeatist thinking, the Bible reminds me that I am not so different from the people in the Bible: same struggles, same temptations, same thoughts and same mistakes; and throughout history God has worked to redeem them – and me! What a great God I serve!

With a Grateful Heart,
Keith

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Never Lost!

During one of our prayer meetings recently, I asked people to write on one side of a 3X5 card a time in their life when they cried out to God. On the other side, they were to write how God answered. The response was incredible. So many people wrote about a time when they were desperate for God and how he responded to their plea for help. As we read these out loud during the next prayer meeting, it led us to a wonderful time of praise. The one that caught my attention the most was one I did not read out loud. I kept it on my desk because it causes me to stop and consider how God keeps us through the storms of life. On the front, the note said, "My Prayer: I've prayed for the strength to live again after my fiance's death." On the back it read, "God's Answer: I don't know - but I'm still here, and life comes one day at a time." What an honest and open response. It's a three point message:

1. I don't know. There are times we don't know. We don't know the right answers to give and we don't know how we are going to make it. Like the Psalmist saying, "How long oh Lord will you hide your face from me?" We don't know what God is up to.

2. But I'm still here. Erwin McManus, in his book, "Unstoppable Force" describes a time when he was talking to a friend who was going through a time of restoration and renewal. When talking about his future he said, "I don't know the path, so I'm choosing the environment." McManus concludes, "More times than we care to admit, we simply don't know what the next step is. But if our hearts are bound to the heart of God, we are never lost." What a thought!

3. And life comes one day at a time. That's all we can do, take one step at a time. Living our life as a Christian means that we walk with him daily. We can't predict the future and we can't live in the past, so we must live life today - living in his presence, experiencing his love and enjoying his company.

I don't know who wrote this note, but I am grateful she did.

Ephesians 3:20,21 "Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. (NIV)