Time to Bloom

But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 1 Corinthians 12:18 ESV

Once we were edging and weeding several hundred feet of perennial beds on a large estate, in preparation for the owner’s weekend visit. On the crew that day, we had a new employee named Waldemar. So as not to overtax him, I started Waldemar on a stretch of the bed which only needed some light weeding. After working on the other side of the house for an hour, I came back to check on my new friend and found to my dismay that he had not only pulled out every single weed, but he had also taken out all the primroses which were just beginning to pop out of the ground. “Waldemar, where are the flowers?” I asked. My poor friend stopped what he was doing and glanced back along the empty bed with a bewildered look.

“Just because they aren’t blooming yet, doesn’t mean they aren’t flowers.” I explained

Looking back, I can see that I should have spent more time training and I had forgotten how many years it took for me to learn which were the weeds and which the flowers. The church is a lot like that perennial garden. Just as in today’s verse, God has planted each of us where He designed and each of us blooms in our own season. While we are just beginning to grow, we might not look much different than the weeds. So, let’s be careful this week in how we treat others. Every part of God’s garden has something growing, and even flowers that have finished blooming still have value. Some older plants with only green leaves give a nice backdrop to the younger blossoms that are just opening. Others, even with only wilted tops, give quiet example as they simply rest, knowing that surely one day it will be Springtime again!

I hope you like today’s video that tells the story as well as includes the hymn “In the Garden” (It’s my favorite!) I was so blessed to have a new volunteer come along with me this week to visit my Thursday morning memory care friends.

The Gift of Altar Call

Therefore I urge you, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies [dedicating all of yourselves, set apart] as a living sacrifice, holy and well-pleasing to God, which is your rational (logical, intelligent) act of worship. Romans 12:1 Amplified Bible

John Brown* stood about 5’5” in his stocking feet but he was a spiritual giant in our lives while he, was our pastor. Though he had been through all the same training as other pastors in our denomination, his sermons always had the earthiness of the potato farm he had grown up on in Maine. I still remember his messages about the work of harvest and the barns filled with potatoes drying on the shelves. But of all the talents that Pastor Brown brought to the table, his gift of altar call outshone them all!

The root of why he delivered an impassioned altar call each week was rooted in his experience while he served overseas in the military as a young man. To outward appearances all was well. He had a good home a bright future and his whole life lay ahead of him. But despite what others thought, during that time, he felt lost and lonely, wondering what was the purpose of it all. He told us that his loneliness turned to despondency and depression till finally one evening he sat with a revolver in his hands wondering if it would be better to simply end things there. When he was at his lowest point, Jesus spoke to his heart, and gave him hope. Right there, John dedicated his heart and life to the Lord and to his service and made a promise that whenever he had opportunity to preach that he would always give people the opportunity to come to the Lord in prayer.

Though I myself responded a number of times to those altar calls for various struggles in my own life, I simply took his gift for granted, till, one Sunday when a visiting evangelist was preaching. I have no idea what the guest speaker preached on that day, but at the end, he gave an altar call, just as our pastor normally did but no one came forward. Now at that time our church had close to a thousand in attendance on any average Sunday morning. The organist continued playing softly for a while, and the choir sat quietly in their places, yet the altar still remained empty. A bit embarrassed, the evangelist turned and asked Pastor Brown if he could dismiss us in prayer. I had already begun wondering what was for lunch and was gathering our bibles when our diminutive pastor stepped up to the microphone, cleared his throat and began, “Now I don’t think some of you people were listening much to the sermon this morning.” Pastor Brown began. He went on to impress upon us our need for responding to the message, and before you could bat an eye there were twenty folks at the front asking for prayer. Now that’s the gift of altar call, and I am so glad that our pastor had it in spades!  He taught us that no one can tell from the outside what is hidden inside our hearts. How about you? Are you ready and willing to open your heart to the Lord today? God is listening and able to help you and I right now – but He will never drag us to the altar. He is leaving the choice to us!

* The name has been changed to preserve the privacy of his family.

Good-bye Pastor Rick and Kay

I always thank my God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. 1 Corinthians 1:4 NIV

We have known for a year since Pastor Rick first announced his coming retirement, that this day was coming, yet on receiving the official announcement, I was still overwhelmed. No, Rick and Kay have not been perfect people, nor is Saddleback a church without fault, yet the impact they have made together has been tremendous. But rather than revisit old arguments back and forth over their Purpose Driven model; today might be a day of to put that aside and be thankful for the good they have done, the sacrifices made and the many who have come to know Jesus because of them.

I remember first opening a shiny new copy of the Purpose Driven Church back in 1995-96. Its concepts were simple, challenging and gave hope for reaching our communities for Christ. Too long we had either met between four walls, with minimal positive outreach, or gathered for stadium events, which though outwardly successful, seemed to have little impact in our own local churches. Sure, there are lots of things I wish were different with our own church which seems to follow closely their model, but we are at least in some areas truly growing, baptizing new believers and trying new things every year to serve our community.

But church politics aside, let’s pause and be thankful for Rick and Kay. Let’s pray for God to continue to keep them in His hands and bless them as a family that has been through much together in the service of Jesus. More than this, let’s realize that as Rick said of their replacements, “… God has prepared and chosen them to take up the baton and run the next leg of the Saddleback marathon.” God has also prepared and chosen each of us to either be passing or taking up the baton where we live (I’m in the passing generation). I learned from the track team on which I once ran, that winning the relay race was more than just running fast. Our team won first place in the state in 1965, not just because our guys were the quickest, but because every one of them passed the baton flawlessly on to the guy running the next leg of the race. The key was that the approaching runner could not slow down even a quarter second. He had to keep up the same pace as he stretched out his arm with the baton. The receiving runner could not just stand there waiting. He had to start running beforehand and then match his pace with the one behind him till they were almost side by side, then, with a seemingly effortless move he grasped on to the baton and took off alone to run his leg of the race. So, don’t slow down, if you are the one giving it your all to pass on the gift that God has given you. Run with all that is in you- not to – but through, the finish of your lap. For you who are waiting for the baton to reach you. Don’t just stand around waiting for it to be handed to you on a silver platter. Get going! Start running your best, till you match the pace of the one who is handing on to you what God has chosen for you to receive. We are all on the same team – Team Jesus! And when we finish our course, there is a victor’s crown that waits, which we will one day cast at the feet of Jesus – who loved us and gave His life so that we could run the race!

You can read my post from a year ago here