Saturday, November 10, 2012

The Conversation Ends

(Earlier today I shared this tribute for my dear friend and brother in Christ, Mark Archibald, at his memorial service. Mark went home to his Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ, 8 days ago.)

On a cool March Saturday years ago I struck up a conversation with another dad as we watched our sons practice soccer in the forest preserve in north Hoffman Estates. It turned out to be a conversation that would carry on for 18-1/2 years with one of the best friends I will ever have. Given that Mark, my dear friend and brother in Christ, stepped into eternity as his earthly life ended last Friday night after a 2-1/2 year battle with mantle cell lymphoma -- yes, cancer -- I cannot confirm this part of the account with him, but knowing Mark it is more likely he started the conversation.

Mark was wearing a Mizzou sweatshirt; I was wearing a Wisconsin sweatshirt. Both of us representing the alma mater. We started talking college hoops, the first of many such conversations over the years that would eventually take us on road trips to Tulsa/Oklahoma City, Dayton, Omaha, Kansas City and back to Tulsa/OKC to the 1st and 2nd round of March Madness (or the 2nd and 3rd round now that we have the First Four). That first Saturday, we had that wonderful experience of quickly realizing we were talking to a brother in Christ as we shared our first taste of the fellowship that was at the core of our relationship across those years. We regularly thanked God for the gift of the friendship and fellowship we shared. It is the closest thing I have known to what I imagine David and Jonathan had.
That first conversation was indicative of the easy, free-flowing, deep conversations we would share over the next 18-1/2 years. A more accurate description would be that it flowed like one continuous nearly two decade conversation. Regardless of how long it had been since we last met, we picked up the conversation so easily. Sadly for me -- for all of us -- the conversation has ended.

When Mark and I got together, we talked of our families. Mark was so blessed by Debbie and so proud of his sons; they always made it into the conversation and into our prayer. We talked of our work as we walked through many job challenges and changes together as we together trusted in our God to again provide for us, his children. We talked of the ministry that God and our churches entrusted to us. Mark was often a sounding board and a trusted source of counsel for me in ministry, especially these last 3 years as i have served as an elder at my home church. Mark's experience was so helpful to me. And most importantly we talked of our individual walk with the Lord as we pushed and encouraged each other to walk in a manner worthy of the calling. Mark had a real understanding that the will of God is our sanctification. I remember discussing a line from "Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing" -- "O to grace how great a debtor daily I am constrained to be." Mark reveled in that grace. He was a model of that tension every follower of Jesus should live in -- seeing our sinful flesh and how we fall short yet moving forward and changing in God's strength while shining brightly to a watching world.

We always closed our time together in prayer. Mark was a prayer warrior for me. He strengthened my hand in the Lord as Jonathan did for David as described in 1 Samuel 23:15-16:

David saw that Saul had come out to seek his life. David was in the wilderness of Ziph at Horesh. And Jonathan, Saul's son, rose and went to David at Horesh, and strengthened his hand in the Lord.

As I searched for a story to share what I knew of Mark, the March 2006 NCAA road trip to Dayton echoed for me. There are several things from that weekend I won't soon forget --literally every day wrapped in fellowship even as we ate, drank and slept basketball. One story captures so much of Mark for me.

As much as we waited to catch Mark napping in his seat in the middle of 20,000 screaming fans -- I am still not sure how he could do that -- what really struck me on all these trips was how Mark would strike up a meaningful conversation with the guys seated around him. On that March Friday up in section 300-something of the University of Dayton Arena, Mark talked with some of the Ohio State fans around us and the men from our group. As I left our seats to get something to drink, Mark was deep in one of those conversations. Not wanting to interrupt -- and also wondering how he had the interest and capacity to continue in these conversations even in that setting -- I simply asked if I could bring him back something to drink. A while after I came back to the seats, that conversation ended. I moved into the seat next to Mark and asked what they had been talking about. I was almost floored but then again not surprised by Mark's answer. He had been talking through a difficult circumstance with this man and had the opportunity to tell him of his Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. In the middle of that arena, during a trip centered on basketball, Dairy Queen, more basketball, amidst jokes of hotel reward points and napping, Mark was ministering, he was making an eternal investment in another soul. There are so many more examples from just that weekend -- let alone all the other times we shared across the prime of our lives -- of Mark ministering by listening and talking easily with me and others.

The passage that came to mind as I thought of what to share about Mark, my dear friend and brother in Christ is Philippians 2:1-4:

So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.

When I visited Mark in mid-August before Kim and I left for a 2-week vacation, I sensed that I needed to tell Mark what he meant to me. I couldn't count on another opportunity. After we prayed, I told him that he would leave a huge hole in my life. This week I have wondered how I will fill that gap. And as i prepared to share about Mark, my dear friend and brother in Christ, it occured to me that was the wrong focus. The accountability and prayer partner relationship I enjoyed with Mark was unique. Instead of looking to replace it, i choose to be grateful for it.

Praise to you my God for the fellowship and biblical friendship you gave me with Mark. I know your grace is sufficient for all here as we mourn.

Thank you, Mark, for encouraging and strengthening me and for the blessing that you were in my life.

As we wrestle this morning with grief, we can rejoice that Mark -- who had that great relational capacity and a very keen sense of his daily need for grace -- is enjoying the most important relationship, the most satisfying relationship, as he is in the presence of His Savior and Lord Jesus Christ, the source of that life-giving grace. Hallelujah!



Friday, October 19, 2012

To Paris & Back: A Tribute to My Father-in-Law

After a 4-year battle with prostate cancer, my father-in-law, Larry's earthly life came to an end this past Thursday. The sense of loss I have at his death is overshadowed by the emotion I feel for my mother-in-law as she goes on without her husband of 50+ years and for my bride, Kim, as she was there this past week as her dad faded away.

Kim and I visited her parents this summer to minister however we could and perhaps say goodbye to her dad. We talked of his assurance of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone and prayed for him and my mother-in-law. We hugged and gave each other a holy kiss. That was the last time I would see my father-in-law. He is now home in the presence of his Lord, Jesus. Hallelujah!

As his earthly life was coming to an end, I started thinking of what I would say about him, how I could honor him. This is an attempt at that. Here are several reasons I loved my father-in-law:

• He thought the best of and believed greatly in his first daughter, my wife of 27+ years now.

• He accepted me from the beginning.

• He always supported me.

• We had some special times of fellowship from him visiting my men's small group to me flying to Florida to join him and others from his church for a weekend retreat in Leesburg to talking through scripture after a worship service at our home church.

• He had the guts to order fried chicken in a restaurant on the fishing pier in Key Largo -- on more than one occasion!

Larry is home with his Lord, Jesus. Hallelujah! I know he is rejoicing and worshipping and not looking back in the least. With my dad being gone for 14+ years now -- he is with his Lord, Jesus, too -- and now my father-in-law gone, I find myself looking back ... and being thankful for having these men in my life.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Book-Ended in Worship - Colombia July 2012

The Beginning - Worship

My wife, Kim, and I had the privilege and blessing of leading a short-term missions team to Colombia last month with Revealing Hope Ministries. This trip was our second missions trip overall but our first with Revealing Hope and our first to Colombia. (I should mention that this is the second year I have served on the Revealing Hope Board of Directors). This is my attempt to evaluate the experience, to reflect on the trip, what I saw and what God is teaching me. Two of our team members – my wife, Kim, (Colombia Mission Trip 2012) and Scott Lewis (Puerto Caldas, Mansome & Ecclesiastes), a long-time accountability partner – have already written about the trip. I will do my best not to repeat what they have written and to make this personal.

Preparation

Our go team of six met three times in preparation for this trip. We worked through materials that Pete Stanke, the Executive Director of Revealing Hope, put together. We prayed together. We talked about expectations. We worked through devotionals to prepare us. The team also participated in the Revealing Hope Benefit Dinner in late May. But honestly, I struggled with preparation for this trip. The previous mission trip that Kim and I led to Braila, Romania in November 2011 through Harvest Bible Fellowship focused on small group leader training and biblical counseling training. So that team had to develop our teaching approach and the trainer and participant materials for the weekday sessions at Biserica Metanoia Braila and for a Saturday conference with several churches in Galati, Romania. Apart from the meetings, the devotionals and trying to focus on it in my quiet times with the Lord, I wasn't sure how to prepare for this trip. But a few things stuck out from the benefit dinner, our team meetings and communications:
  1. After seeing a video of the village we were going to serve in at the benefit dinner, I was even more drawn in and had an increased feeling that we had to go.
  2. Everyone on the team was struggling to feel prepared.
  3. Grace Johnson talked about and got us all praying that we would be able to quickly engage with the team at Seeds of Affection and with those they serve.
Still as the trip quickly approached, I realized I had incomplete exprectations for the mission trip to Western Colombia – about where we were going, a little bit still about what we would do, about what God had in store for me.

Travel

The team gathered at O'Hare International Airport at 5am CDT on a Tuesday to start the journey knowing we wouldn't arrive at our home for the week in Western Colombia until nearly 11pm CDT. Three flights, one long, “we have no time to grab lunch, we have to hurry or miss our plane to Bogota” speed walk through the Miami Airport and a pizza dinner from the 24-hour pizza place at the Bogota airport later, we found out that our bags hadn't made the whole trip with us. As I watched the team members react to that realization in their first hours in a new country after a long day of travel, I was greatly encouraged. “No luggage” didn't faze anyone. The team really did take a “we are here to serve” attitude with them to Colombia.

On the Ground

After a quick night of sleep trying to adjust to a new country, the courtyard house we were staying in, a new bed and the temperature, we had some breakfast and were in the van headed out to Puerto Caldas and Seeds of Affection for the first time. Within a few minutes of arriving and being introduced to Jose and Pilar, the whole team was quickly at work preparing food for the lunch that would be served to many in the community. If you know me, first of all, stop laughing. Actually my lack of experience in the kitchen, being in a new place and having the language barrier was a good environment for me to be in that first day. There would be no level of comfort. It was simply a feeling of “I am here to serve in the name of Jesus.” And our whole team had the same approach. We were quickly working alongside the team at Seeds of Affection – an answer to that team prayer.

That first day in the midst of the lunch rush as hundreds were fed from the small building that Seeds of Affection operates from in Puerto Caldas, Pili (as her friends know her) asked me through a translator what I thought. I told Pili I was amazed at how many people were served, at the amount of activity in the space and perhaps even more so by the number and ages of those who served. Several of the girls immediately started serving and obviously were integral to what happens in the feeding program at Seeds of Affection.

One of the toughest parts of the trip for me to handle came up the second afternoon in Puerto Caldas. Jose and Pili had arranged for the team to go into several homes in the community to pray. The team drove up the road, split into smaller teams of 3-4 including a translator and went into homes. In two of the homes – in fairly similar, extremely meager circumstances – I saw the contrast between hope and despair. In the first home, the young mother had a smile on her face and the light of Jesus Christ shining in her eyes even as a tear slowly moved down from her left eye as she told us how we could pray for her and her family. In that second home we encountered a situation I was not prepared for. To avoid embarrassing anyone or any risk of coming across as condescending, I will not share the details here. The young mother in this home cried as we walked in, as she told us how we could pray for her and throughout our time of prayer. If she knew Jesus, the light and hope of our Savior was not yet shining brightly in her. I was greatly challenged to pray and really call out to God when I wanted to cry and just hug that family. But God knew that, which was a reassuring comfort right there as our team wrestled to minister to the young woman and her daughters through prayer in that moment.

This brings up a theme for me from the trip. It was an emotionally overwhelming trip for me in many ways. I am still dealing with it. I don't write that for anyone to feel for me or anything like that. Rather, I share it to acknowledge that there is more processing to do. And I don't want this to end with “processing.” I choose not to let it end there. There is follow-up action required. Why else would God have put Kim and me in the position to lead this team and this trip?


We are Made to Worship 

I want to highlight something that God once again reinforced for me on this trip. And while it didn't surprise me at all it did encourage me. We are made to worship the Almighty. And the faith of a believer is indeed built up and built up quickly in the house of God with the people of God regardless of location or language. After our second day of serving with Seeds of Affection and an afternoon of praying with families in Puerto Caldas, the team went back to Cartago for a short time of rest and clean-up before Thursday night worship at Iglesia Casa de Paz. While I searched for the final touches on the message God would have me share with the church, I needed to get vertical and get to some God-exalting worship in the van on the drive over to the church. When our driver couldn't find a cord for the auxiliary/MP3 player to the van's stereo that meant listening to and worshiping along to songs using just the speaker on my Droid. No matter, Kim and I were quickly singing to our God in worship along with a pre-release copy of the new Live Worship from Vertical Church, which was recorded in February at the new Chicago campus of our home church, Harvest Bible Chapel. There was no prompting, no “let's do this.” We both longed to worship and to be fully prepared to enter in to worship of our great God in our first corporate worship service in Latin America. And within minutes of entering the worship center, I was drawn into God-exalting, man-humbling worship – i.e., right where I should be – with our brothers and sisters in Cartago – even in a language I don't yet understand well.

The Chicas

Saturday afternoon brought a time of ministry that is still impacting me. I cannot shake it. My wife described it well. I encourage you to read about it in her trip summary  (Colombia Mission Trip 2012). I won't soon forget those hours with the Chicas en Marcha (i.e., Girls on the March). I want to help those teenage girls have hope, help them to stand strong in the Lord, help them to make it, to become godly young women. That is one of the main drivers that have me asking...

Now What?

I don't yet know what all to do with my experience on this trip. I don't yet know all that Kim and I should do to help the people, especially the children and youth, of Puerto Caldas. I don't yet know what Revealing Hope Ministries can do and should do to partner effectively with Seeds of Affection. Here is what I have decided:
  • I am compelled to pray, plan, act.
  • We have to help and help soon to show our friends there that we are with them.
  • I will not allow myself to turn my eyes and heart away from what I saw.

In the Waiting – Worship

We talked in the first go team meeting back in May about missions being driven by worship. We would go because we worship Jesus. We were going so that others would worship Jesus. That continues to be the driver as I wrestle to process the trip, the experience and what is to follow. Even those yet-to-be answered questions spur me to worship our Lord Jesus. He has all this in His hands. None of this is too hard for Him. Once again, He is bigger than my view of Him. You think I would be getting used to that.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Buzzword: Busy

"Busy week." How many times each week do you hear that? How many times does that response come from a Christian brother or sister. I declare "busy" as the latest buzz-word. Not buzz-word as in those consultant-speak words that seem kind of cool and new when you first hear them, then lame when you start hearing them from seemingly everyone and then make you feel lame when you find yourself using it. No, what I mean here is buzz-word as in a game show buzzer meaning "wrong answer."


I don't even want to argue with you or anyone else about whether you or they are truly busy. As a close friend of mine says, "Do you really want to compare calendars?" Rather let me suggest that we all need to open our eyes and ears to this default "busy" answer. I mean, what is it?


Is it a badge of honor? Is it an expectation? Is it somehow a sin to not be able to answer "busy" when asked how I or how my week is going/was? You know, I am just after all being a good steward of my time.


No, I argue that this "busy" response falls into one of the following categories:
  • Sin - Take it from someone who knows this. Often our jam-packed calendars are a reflection of the sinful choices we make whether it is not slowing down for time with God or not prioritizing our first ministry with our spouse and family at home.
  • Rationalization - For some reason -- could it be that sin is deceitful -- being busy or saying I am busy seems to be an acceptable reason for sin. After all, if I am busy, well then clearly my quiet times with God have been abbreviated and I should have some allowance for emotional sins (e.g., anger, harshness). Problem is, I cannot find that in God's word.
  • Consequence - See "Sin" above. You scheduled it or allowed it to be scheduled. Or you procrastinated on that work project or ministry commitment.
  • Circumstance or Trial - If you are follower of Jesus Christ, you should not be surprised when you face a trial. Rather you are to count it all joy, to understand that God allows or brings these trials in the lives of His followers to test our faith and to sanctify us.
Here is the deal. Being busy does not equate to being a good steward of your time. Being busy does not buy me any sin rationalization. Paul wrote in his letter to the church at Ephesus that we need to be careful how we walk, because the days -- the passing of time, the turning of pages on the calendar, the click to another week in my Outlook calendar without accomplishing anything for the Kingdom -- are evil. 

Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. (Ephesians 5:15-17)

Our "busy" lifestyles are all the more reason to prioritize the things of God, the spiritual disciplines, your daily quiet time in God's Word and your work for Christ, His church and His kingdom. So the next time you start to answer a question with how busy you are or have been, I hope you hear the imaginary buzzer going off in your head. Buzzzzz!!!!! Incorrect or unimportant answer. Don't be satisfied with being "busy." Make the best use of the time.

Monday, January 2, 2012

The Wise Men's Christmas

In this third post about the various responses to the birth of Jesus, I turn to the wise men from the east who traveled for days to see this king who was to be born in Bethlehem. We find the account of their response in Matthew 2:1-12. From those verses, we know the wise men responded in the following ways to Jesus' birth:
  1. Sought Him
    • "Where is he who has been born king of the Jews?" (Matthew 2:2a)
  2. Went to worship Him
    • "For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him." (Matthew 2:2b)
  3. Rejoiced as they were led to Him
    • When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. (Matthew 2:10)
    • Now that is a lot of joy! And they had yet to meet Jesus. But they had great anticipation as they went to see this King.
  4. Fell down before Him
    • And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down (Matthew 2:11a)
    • Think about it. These wise men encounter Jesus as a baby and humble themselves by falling befor Him.
  5. Worship Him
    • And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. (Matthew 2:11a)
    • Did they sing to Him? Did they worship with proclamation? We don't know what form their worship took. But apparently it went beyond falling to their knees.
  6. Opened their treasures
    • Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. (Matthew 2:12a)
    • They brought what they had to Jesus.
  7. Offered gifts to Him
    • Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. (Matthew 2:12b)
    • What they brought to Jesus they brought as an offering. They gave freely of what they had.
The wise men's encounter with Jesus in Bethlehem was short, but they gave us a model of how we are to respond to Jesus as Savior. Your encounter with Jesus can start anytime. Today would be a great day for that start. And once you know Jesus as Savior, your encounter, your relationship with Him will be eternal.


How will you respond to the Savior? Will you respond today?