Friday, November 27, 2009

List of Ten Plus Thanksgiving Photos

It was a wonderful Thanksgiving Day with all our kids (and grandkid) who live here in California.

One fun development, though, was receiving some emails from our nine-year old grandson Jace who lives in Oklahoma.  He has just acquired an email address a couple of days ago and wrote his first email to me.  We exchanged several emails through the past days, and in one of them we talked about the meaning of Thanksgiving.  I specifically asked him if he would send me a list of ten things that he is thankful for.

Here is Jace's list:
1.  Jesus dying on the cross
2.  Thanksgiving
3.  Christmas
4.  Easter
5.  life
6.  food
7.  water
8.  air
9.  shelter
10. family and friends

I wish everyone had a list like that to share with others.  I truly am blessed to have joy in this life and joy even beyond into eternal life.  My grandson has that joy too!

Here is a picture of Jace and Kylee (our grandchildren in Shawnee, Oklahoma) taken yesterday.

Crystal, Bailey (7 months), and Shawn

Evan holding Bailey

Sondra and Me

One last comment and I'm done for now.  Jace even joined my Blog "follower" list and posted his photo too.  His dad (Jason) is teaching him quite a bit about computers and such.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving Day

There are many reasons that I love about Thanksgiving Day, not the least of which is the wonderful meal as we gather together to eat.

It is early on Thanksgiving right now, and the aroma that fills our house is breathtaking.  The pumpkin pies, a pecan pie, a lemon meringue pie, a chocolate crunch dessert.  The leftover pie dough was given a dust of sugar and cinnamon, cut and rolled into little cinnamon rings for treats.  The turkey has thawed and now set into the oven to cook for hours.  The dressing and all the trimmings are to be finished and ready by one o'clock.

Add to that, the fact that Evan and Crystal and Shawn and little Bailey, will all be here for a time of celebration and food.

But this day is much more than food.  It is much more than family members present.  Yes, it is about family and food, to be sure.  But that must not be the primary consideration.  It is a day to be reminded of the goodness of our God.  We have so much to be grateful for.  In spite of our lousy finances, in spite of some tough health issues, in spite of any poor weather, in spite of some dysfunctional spite of all things considered, we are most blessed.

Here is a poem that I read recently.  It sums up our need to endure all things and carry a thankful spirit.

                                       I Now Give Thanks

For every hill I've had to climb,
For every stone that bruised my feet,
For all the blood and sweat and grime,
For blinding storms and burning heat.

     My heart sings but a grateful song,
     These were the things that made me strong!

For all the heartaches and the tears,
For all the anguish and the pain,
For gloomy days and fruitless years,
And for the hopes that lived in vain.

     I do give thanks, for now I know,
     These were the things that helped me grow!

'Tis not the softer things of life,
Which stimulate man's will to strive,
But bleak adversity and strife,
Do most to keep man's will alive.

     O'er rose-strewn paths the weaklings creep,
     But brave hearts dare to climb the steep.

I remember reading a story that illustrates our need to show a grateful heart.  The story talks about two angels who are sent to earth with baskets.  One angel has a basket in which he is to collect the petitions and requests and then return to heaven.  The other angel is to collect all the prayers of thanks and then return to heaven.  The two angels carry out their mission, come back to sit down together and discuss the results.  The angel with petitions has a basket that is full and overflowing.  The basket of the other angel is almost empty.  In fact, there was only a handful of thanksgiving prayers to show.  How sad that heaven is pounded with needs and desires and begging for God's divine intervention, but then rarely receives the joyful words of thanksgiving and gratefulness!
That may hit home to many of us.  So, let us do as the old hymn challenges us to do:  "Count your blessings, name them one by one.  Count your many blessings, see what God hath done!"
Thanks you, Jesus.  Above all, we are given eternal life through You.  We are blessed beyond measure.  What a wonderful Thanksgiving we can enjoy because of Your great love.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Humanist Movement

Thanksgiving Day is just a few days away, but Christmas is already an overwhelming focus of advertising and discussion in the media.

In light of that, I just read about the Humanist push for godless holidays.  Since the word "Christ" is in Christmas and because we celebrate the birth of Christ, I assume that this is one of the Humanist's biggest holidays to protest.

In an article I just saw, it describes Humanism as a philosophy that says people don't need the framework of an organized religion or belief in a supernatural deity to live morally.  Humanists believe people should lead their lives in a way that benefits society at large.

That really sounds like a philosophy (using their term) that comes from the mouth of "Christ" Jesus.  Jesus said, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."  It seems as though the Humanists have stolen a part of the Bible to meet their agenda because that "benefits society at large."  I don't hear them say, "Oh, yes, we agree with Jesus on this."  No way.  There is no room for Jesus in their doctrinal stance.

And, to be truthful, they do have a doctrine of belief.  That's what makes a Humanist who he/she is.  Without that, it becomes a chaos of thoughts and motives and feelings.  There must be a core system, and that becomes doctrine.  It is what a person stands for.  However, they deny that Christians should have such a doctrinal belief system, because it does not match theirs.

I am trying to understand the word "tolerance" in our society today as well.  Most atheists and humanists that gather at conferences seem to be intolerant of the Christian faith.  They are perfectly content to tear down the faith systems of those who are believers in Jesus Christ.  We as Christians are slammed by atheists if we will not tolerate their ideology.  That seems a bit hypocritical, as they are not willing to tolerate our beliefs and convictions as we live them out daily.

The humanist movement also declares that it is perfectly acceptable for their followers to gain adherents and followers.  But they will castigate the Christians for "proselytizing" and calling converts to faith.  Again, a major hypocrisy in the humanist ideals.

Lastly, to come back around to Thanksgiving and Christmas, why do the Humanists even bother to celebrate the holidays?  Why not just ignore them?  We as Christians do not celebrate the "holy days" of other faith systems.  We are proud to take part in the worship and praise of an annual event to mark a time of remembrance concerning our spiritual heritage.  Even when the Israelites made their journeys, they took time to mark the time of such important events as were meaningful for their faith.

We come from the same stock of faith.  Therefore, we take time to celebrate because of a holy and loving God who has blessed us and who came in the flesh to save us.  Thanksgiving and Christmas are wonderful times to be reminded of who God is and what he has done.

So, to all who are not of the Christian persuasion, I would laughinly say, "Go, make up your own holiday or time of remembrance or whatever." Why do you insist on making us change ours? Get your own!

I am sad for those who do not have the same hope and joy for their eternity.  I want them to know of the love I have experienced.  I want them to know the Savior that makes life worth living.  I want them to know I love them and challenge them to search diligently for the truth that Scripture gives.

I do not sit on a holy throne with all the knowledge that is necessary for everyone.  I only have enough understanding and faith for me.  I want others to have it as well.

May you know who God is and how much he blesses you and loves you in this time of Thanksgiving season and then through the wonderful days of the Christmas season.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Ending and Beginning

This was quite a different kind of week and weekend for me.

Last Monday, my best friend Jim Murcray passed on to glory.  The whole week was taken up with being with the family and making arrangements and plans for a Saturday memorial service.  Also, during the week I met with a man in our church (Michael Dotson) whose ordination would be on Sunday.

In the last few days, I have received several cards in the mail that shared the thoughfulness and comfort from those who knew that I would be hurting inside.  And I want to thank those who did, and they know who they are.  I also received dozens of notes by email from those who gave me words of encouragement and love at this time.  Those were very touching and meaningful words from everyone, whether by personal visit or phone or card or email.  Just the touch from someone in that way is powerful and precious.

This past weekend showed me again that God's plan for the ages embraces the cycle of life.  We held a celebration service on Saturday to memorialize the end of a pastor's earthly life, and then on Sunday morning held a worship celebration of Thanksgiving leading into the Sunday afternoon celebration of an Ordination Service signaling the beginning of a minister's life of service for the sake of the gospel.

The ending of Pastor Jim Murcray's earthly ministry and then the beginning of Pastor Mike Dotson's earthly ministry.  With a worship service in between that focused on our blessings and our thankfulness to a holy God who is in charge of all.  Very powerful to see through a sense of heaven's plan, a kind of a divine order and choreography by the author of all history, even the Lord Jesus Christ who sits on his throne.

We have a small church building, but we put up every chair we could in the sanctuary auditorium on Saturday.  There was seating for about 212, and almost every seat was taken.  Our count was 205 for the memorial service.  It was truly a time of celebration and worship, recounting the life of a wonderful servant of Jesus.  There are no words to really express the wonder of the moment as we gathered together for a time of good-bye to such a one who was loved by so many.  Jim Murcray touched so many lives and had an impact on more than we will ever know.

During our Sunday morning service, I preached on the Biblical account of the healing of 10 lepers by Jesus.  Only one came back to thank Jesus.  My message focused on two parts.  First, what keeps us from giving thanks to God.  Second, the necessity and importance of showing and verbalizing our thanks to God.  Prior to the sermon, I led the congregation as they shared in a short time of testimonies.  What a thrill to hear and know about God's movement and blessings in the lives of those around us.

And, finally, at 1 o'clock Sunday afternoon we gathered again at the church to ordain Mike Dotson.  An ordination service is always such a high and holy time of setting aside an individual that has surrendered to the call of God to serve for a lifetime of ministry.  This day was no different.  It was a wonderful time to sense the Lord's presence and to rejoice in what God will do in the future.

I am always amazed at some who deny the power and movement of God in our world.  This past weekend just showed again the goodness and grace of the Almighty.  It is more than evident as I grow older, and I see more proof than would be ever necessary to sing God's praises and trust in him by faith for all eternity.

In the spirit of this Thanksgiving season, I must proclaim to all that I am blessed beyond measure.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Good-Bye For Now, My Friend

Yesterday, I was in the ICU room with a few family members as my good friend, Jim Murcray, breathed his last breath here on earth.  For 27 straight days, he fought valiantly.  He was a fighter, that's for sure.  And finally he won.  He is now in the very presence of a holy and loving God.  He was won the greatest victory of all, the final victory that the Lord promises to his own.

I met Jim in my first year of California Baptist College in Riverside in September of 1968.  We became fast friends, even from the beginning.  Later, we again were in school together, this time at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary in the Bay Area.  We studied together, worked secular jobs together, spent family time together.  We both did church starts at the same time, with me in Hercules and Jim in Danville.  We talked much about our ministries and dreams, feeling the same things about the ups and downs of new church planting.

Later on, we preached revival services for each other, as we pastored in various churches and cities.  We attended many conferences and conventions together, specifically Pastors Retreats once a year.  Then, after serving as a Director of Missions in northern California, he felt a calling to serve churches that were plateaued and declining, churches that really were dead or dying in terms of attendance, membership and vision.  Jim asked me to help him in consulting with churches, and we did many a road trip together.

At one point, he began working for Coronado Stone Products in Fontana, and he submitted my name for a position.  He and I worked there together until he moved on.  When he was fully involved with the Calimesa Chamber of Commerce, he started an internet radio station for them.  Included were some slots for preaching, and he and I did some radio messages to be sent out all over the world by internet.

Jim's major impact on my ministry and life was in October 2000.  Through his Vision Plus Recovery ministry to churches, we were offered the opportunity to start a new church work in the Glen Avon part of Riverside county.  On the first Sunday of January 2001, Jim was the co-founder with me in starting The Vision Plus Church.  Jim was the main force in bringing this to pass, but he was called the next month to meet with church leaders in American Samoa, using his materials and experience to help the Baptist churches there.

I always kidded Jim about leaving me "high and dry" with a brand new ministry start while he went to the South Pacific and "suffered for Jesus" on a beautiful island far away.  But, it was all in God's amazing plan, and it was an awesome blessing for us to serve together in ministry for so many years, our lives intertwined in incredible ways.

Jim was indeed a close and intimate friend.  We had no secrets.  In many ways, he was my pastor and I was his pastor.  We felt like brothers who could talk about anything, both big and small.  We had known each other for 41 years, attending weddings and funerals together, watching our kids grow up, and sharing all the challenges we had in common.  He had such a way with telling stories and jokes, he had that distinctive voice, and he always had a smile that just brought a ray of sunshine into any situation.  He had a serious side but also such a wonderful sense of humor for balance.

What a blessing to have had such a friend.  How I will miss him.  Good-bye for now, my good friend.  James Leroy Murcray Jim Jimmy (as he used to call himself, using all five names in sequence), you were the best!  I will see you on the other side.

Jim and wife Patricia at her retirement reception in May 2009.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Friendship and Family

My friend Jim Murcray is still fighting for his life.  He has been in ICU for over three weeks now, as today is Day 25.  We have been in the waiting room with family and friends every single day, with brief visits into the room to talk out loud to Jim even though he does not respond.

I just want to express how wonderful it is to receive notes of love and encouragement throughout these days.  Many people do not have a network of friends and loved ones who will verbally affirm them in times of crisis.  And that is sad.

As I have sat in the small ICU waiting room of the Kaiser Riverside hospital, I have seen dozens of individuals who have come in because of an emergency now happening in the lives of their family members.  Some are devastated and feel there is no hope.  Some are lonely and frightened.  Some are brave but unemotional.  Some are strong and hopeful.

God has given an open door for me to talk with many during these days.  How amazing it has been to be able to share love, compassion and prayer with those we have only known for a few brief moments. 

It continues to point out that humanity is hurting everywhere, while the church sits idly by.  So far, I can only recall one pastor who has come by to visit his church member in this time frame of almost a month.  Yes, there are chaplains that are there in the hospital.  But they cannot do it all.  And, may I humbly add (even as a pastor myself), there are some who do not look favorably upon a chaplain or pastor here in our secular state of California.  And, some would point out that it is the paid duty of a chaplain to have an agenda to say words of comfort to the hurting, which is not fair to the chaplains and pastors who genuinely have a heart for those in distress because of the love of Jesus.

But, the reality is that those who find themselves in crisis times of hurt and pain need someone they trust.  And, guess what?  Trust is not immediately felt with a stranger who comes in with a badge that says "Chaplain."  However, trust is built up immediately between individuals who are going through the same thing.  As we sit in the waiting room, we initiate conversation with those who come in.  We talk about the condition or reason that brought their loved ones in.  One thing leads to another, and a friendship has been established.  We have had small talk, chit chat, restaurant talk, family talk, church talk but, more importantly, talks that have depth and emotion.

We pray together, we hug together, we weep together.

I, as a pastor, cannot have that immediate rapport with some simply because I am a preacher.  They will only be drawn and find comfort in someone who is experiencing their kind of pain as well.  I thank God he has given me an open door of opportunity to give a witness of my hope and strength and love because of Jesus.

I am a missionary today.  I have been sent on mission to those in the ICU waiting room of Kaiser Riverside.

I am grateful for a host of friends and family who write and call and let me know they are part of this journey of seeing what God will do in the life of Jim Murcray.  Family and friends are so important.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Rough Day for an Update

My friend Jim Murcray is not doing well at the moment.  Today is his 21st day in ICU.  Each day presents a different challenge, both to his medical condition and our ride on an emotional roller coaster.  It is only by the grace of God that we can hang on.  It is only by proven faith and Biblical truths that we can see that God is still in control.

It seems like time is standing still in my life.  Nothing else that is going on in the world matters.  We are focused and wrapped up in the cocoon of the ICU waiting room.  Nothing else is of much consequence, as we continue to see Jim fight one more day.

My church family has been so good.  They have stepped up to take care of the day to day things that need to be done.  A pastor friend preached for me this past Sunday.  I am rarely leaving the hospital, because of how critical the situation is.  In fact, Sondra and I slept in the ICU waiting room Saturday night with several others.

I received a book in the mail yesterday.  It is from a friend and has some interesting nuggets of truth from the author.  I am anxious to read more from it.  God is the author of all truth, and my goal is to find a Scriptural verse that is the foundation for each truth in that book.  Shouldn't be too hard!

Friday, November 6, 2009

What If You Are Wrong

I recently watched a YouTube video in which Richard Dawkins was asked very politely by a young lady (who I assume is a college student) at a university, "What if you're wrong?"  Dawkins is one of the most vocal and visible atheists who goes around the country expounding his views.  He is author of the book The God Delusion.  So, I too, ask you Richard Dawkins, what if you are wrong about Jesus and the need for eternal salvation through Him?

I was interested in Dawkin's response.

He never answered the question.  He deflected the question to make the questioner feel that she was a Christian simply because of the culture she grew up in.  That is Dawkins' first fallacy.  Christianity is a major influence for religious beliefs in America, to be sure, but being an American does not make a person follow Christianity.

In this same vein of thinking, he would equate Arabs always being Muslim, Asians being Buddhists, East Indians are Hindus, and so forth.  That takes away any free thinking of individuals in any society, if you agree with that line of thought.  I disagree, as I have traveled the world and have seen throngs who do not follow the religion of others in their society.

Dawkins also posed the question back to the questioner:  "And what if you're wrong?"  But because of the format of the forum, she was not given a chance to answer.  He wanted his question to hang in the air, to make it seem authoritative and unanswerable.  That does not work, as it shows a lack of willingness to hear a response that could potentially deflate his answers.

You see, the atheist has no answer that is satisfactory to one who looks at the question with honesty.  Dawkins answer left the impression of:  "So what if I'm wrong, because what if you're wrong too?"  It implies that it is okay to be wrong.  But that leaves out any consequences of being wrong.  What are the consequences of being wrong?  Look at the following, with that in mind.

If the atheist is right and there is no God, then he dies and loses nothing.
If the atheist is wrong about God and Jesus, then he dies and loses all in the eternity to come.

If the Christian is wrong and dies, he loses nothing.
If the Christian is right and dies, he loses nothing and gains everything that God has promised.

Do you see the difference?  The atheist can never win, but can only lose.  The Christian can never lose, but only stands to win.

In philosophical and theological terms, this is the greatest gamble for every human.  What does your faith system risk?  In secular terms, the atheist has a 50-50 chance of losing nothing.  The Christian has a zero percent chance of losing at all.  What kind of gamble are you willing to take in terms of eternity?  My mind is set, I have given Jesus my all and trust Him with my eternity.

The atheist will rarely admit that there is a chance that they are wrong.  They cannot answer the consequences of being wrong.  Atheism is philosophical, Christianity is experiential.  There is no comparison between the two.

This is nothing new.  The greatest of philosophers in ages past came up with this logic and belief analysis.  So, I will plant my life with the great saints of old.  Doubters and scoffers have come and gone, but God's Word stands the test.  God can fight his own battles, and he doesn't need my little mind to try and convince anyone.

I challenge anyone to prove to me there is no God.  Convince me.  Show me there is a better way to peace and joy and satisfaction in life without a belief in God.  Show me another way to live that calms the heart and gives final hope for eternity, other than living for Jesus.  Show me!  I challenge you.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Justice and Mercy

I just received a phone call from my brother David.  It was not the news we wanted to hear.  The federal parole board has denied his request for early release despite his record of time served and good behavior.  He will continue to reside in the federal facility in Big Spring, Texas, until June 5, 2010 (next year).

David sounded a little down, as one can expect.  But he was not surprised.  It seems that some decisions about situations are made up ahead of time, before anyone is brought forward for important conversation and discussion.  Some interpret rules and regulations as items set in stone, rather than fair guidelines that can be given some latitude and discretion.  The tone of the meeting was one of legal justice, not one of bringing about a way of reclaiming and rehabilitating a life for transition back into society based on 7 years of good time in incarceration.

Anyway, that was that.

It reminds me that God does not work that way.  There are certainties, that's for sure.  God has given his command to obey and serve according to his ways, including the Ten Commandments and such.  But, when we fail, when we make errors, when we sin, when we miss the mark of perfection.....that's when God's grace is sufficient and amazing.  We come to the Lord on his terms, and he is willing to forgive and make a way of reconciliation and redemption.  Justice is tempered with mercy.

That's awesome!

Note To Dan

This is a note to my friend Dan.  Yes, I would love to read that book.  If you can send it, my address is:

Galen Greenwalt
1569 N. Lilac Avenue
Rialto, CA  92376

For all of you other readers of this blog, you can use the above address to send money.  Ha!