Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Missionaries, Grandbaby, Work and The Truth Project

These past days have been eventful and interesting.

Last week, I was wondering how I was going to juggle my work schedule and fit in my church pastoral obligations.  When I was hired by the US Census Bureau office in Riverside, I assumed I would be working day shift and therefore would be available for Wednesday evening Bible study at church.  And not only that, but how I was to pursue other ministry involvement as well for things that occur during the evening hours.

Since we were planning a very special series on Wednesday nights, I approached the supervisor in my area of the office and asked to take off from work every Wednesday at 6:30 pm (giving me ample time to be at the church by 7 pm).  She got back to me several hours later and said yes.  Then, the next day the same supervisor came to me and asked me to consider something else.  They had a position open in another department that would be day shift and full time (40 hours a week), as I was only scheduled for 30 hours a week on evening shift (3-8pm) Monday-Saturday.  I did not hesistate to say yes.

The very next day I was on the day shift and working full time for these weeks coming up for the decennial census (which means it is a counting of the population every 10 years).  God made a way for me in this!

On Friday evening through Sunday afternoon, we took care of little Bailey (who is now 9 months old).  She is such a blessing and a joy to take care of.  I think if I spoil her enough, she will love me more than anyone else.....ha ha!  Anyway, it was a fun time having her overnight for 2 nights.

On Saturday night, we were thrilled to have some friends from our San Diego pastorate days over for dinner.  Burt and Suzanne Schmitz are now missionaries to Senegal, West Africa.  They previously served in Togo and adopted two babies.  Those babies, Rebekah and Joshua, are now 6 and 5 years old, respectively.  Their dark black skin is in great contrast to the pale white skin of their new-found parents.  They were such fun.  And they (the kids) treated Bailey as if she were some wonderful toy to play with.  Crawling on the floor, helping her to walk with their help, and getting to play with her toys was a sight to see.

On Sunday morning, the Schmitz family shared what God is doing in that back bush area that they are living in to plant a witness and help families find peace and fulfillment in a land of great poverty and darkness.  Afterwards, we all went to California Baptist University and shared a time of fellowship and meal together in the Dining Commons cafeteria.

Tonight during our Wednesday time at church, Darrell and Melissa Smith (from First Baptist Church in Yucaipa) came to assist in leading our church in a 13-week study called "The Truth Project."  It is an awesome teaching program that explores the worldview of believers and non-believers.  I am greatly excited about this and will share more later.  I hope you will delve into this discussion and understanding with me in the weeks to come.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Note to Dan

Welcome to a note specifically to my friend Dan, who often quotes others to make a point.  Dan, I remember Epicurus from my days in college.  In fact, I taught a Philosophy course at a community college many years ago.

Here is what I remember and what I found out about Epicurus, a Greek philosopher who lived 341-270 BC.  He said the purpose of philosophy was to attain the happy, tranquil life.  This is a life characterized by (1) peace and freedom from fear, (2) the absence of pain, and (3) by living a self-sufficient life surrounded by friends.

He said pleasure and pain are the measures of what is good and bad.  He postulated that everything that happens is through the random collision of atoms, with no purpose or plan for the universe.  He concluded that there is no afterlife.  His moral distinction then is that we define good as anything that brings us pleasure, and bad is anything that brings us pain.

Here is your quote from Epicurus:

Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able?  Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing?  Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing?  Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing?  Then why call him God?

OK, Dan, let's follow Epicurean thought and logic.  Concerning peace and freedom from fear, those are Biblical and Jewish concepts from centuries before.  Concerning the absence of pain equated with a happy life, that is rather rudimentary or childish, I'm not sure which.  Concerning a self-sufficient life surrounded by friends, that is common sense as well.  However, it assumes everyone can take care of their own matters and dealings in life.  And we know that is not the case in humanity, as there are many who cannot be self-sustaining and need help and care and love.

Does anyone really believe that pleasure is the definition of good?  If so, Hugh Hefner got it right!  If pure pleasure is the absolute truth of good, then all of mankind is free to indulge in all pleasures to find the "good."  Do you really believe that?  Everyone has a different definition of their kind of pleasure, so there is inconsistency in the good that Epicurus proposes.  In fact, your neighbor and your friends and your co-workers will disagree with you on what is good, because their thoughts are probably unique to them and their pursuits.  So, there is nothing common about the "good" of the universe if that is true.

I started with all that introduction to come to the quote.  If that is the background of Epicurus, then we see why he says what he does.  If God allows pain, then the conclusion is that God is the author of "bad" (as pain is nearly synonymous with bad).  How absurd.

This is very basic theology in the Christian realm.  God is able to do anything and everything.  That does not mean that he is the constant "interventionist" to cure all and fix all.  By our beliefs from the Scripture and experience, God is always present as the Comforter in times of trouble to bring restoration to our soul.  In some times of trouble, he is the Way of providence and redemption that we need.  Only God, by definition, knows our every need.  Merely mortal, we do not and cannot know our real needs, only our perceived needs.  That is very basic.  Only those who disagree with that, they cannot hold on to the thought of a holy God who allows pain and suffering when he is able at any time to abolish it.

The key to this whole matter is when Epicurus states that, if God is willing and able to contain bad and evil, then where does sin come from?  Great question.  Here's the answer:

God gives free choice to mankind, in the realm of his greatness and willingness and ability.  He cannot and does not choose for us.  We have free will.  Therefore, in our disobedience we find evil and sin and wrong.  That is God's love for us to allow us to roam in sin, as he has always had a divine plan to redeem and save and rescue us.  This plan found its culmination in the death, burial and resurrection of a perfect redeemer and Savior called Jesus.  We, as individual human beings, bring about sin and evil.  God brings about wholeness and healing for eternity.

Here is an illustration from my life that parallels what God does.  I, as a parent, had the ability and willingness to keep my children from harm.  However, there was an instance years ago in which one of my kids snuck out of the house and went with friends to destroy some school property nearby.  With my ability and willingness, was it my fault that it happened?  Of course not, it was my child's decision.  I was there, afterward, to help find a redemptive course for my kid.

In a small way of comparison, that is how God cares for his world.  Ever the holy and loving Father in heaven, he calls us back to him when we falter and sin and fail.

Dan, that's an amazing love that cannot be denied, no matter what philosopher or professor or author of this world may say.  You are the one who must choose.  The choice is clear.  Either Jesus and God are truly the way and the truth and the determination of what is good, or the world gets to make up its own definition.

What will you choose this day?

Monday, January 18, 2010

Martin Luther King Day

Today is a holiday in honor of the leader of the Civil Rights movement in my lifetime.  There were many others who paved the way, but America made greater strides in the 1960s to defeat segregation and bias and inequality.  It reminds us that we are called to love others, no matter their background or social status or color or anything.  This is God's kind of love, the kind that welcomes and cares and helps everyone.  This is the kind of love that goes beyond society's standards, as it reaches into the eternal.

This past Saturday, I worked from 9am - 2pm at the Census Bureau office as scheduled.  As we get ready to gear up for the busy time of hiring and then canvassing and tallying, I will be working 3pm - 8pm six days a week.  Fortunately, they do not schedule work on Sunday for us office workers.  When the workload finally is heavy, we on the "night shift" will be working 40 hours.

On Saturday afternoon, we took care of Bailey while Shawn and Crystal used the day to clean out their garage and get some other things done.  Bailey is now 9 months old and is a joy to watch grow.

Yesterday afternoon, Sondra and I did something different.  After church, we went to the movies and saw "Sherlock Holmes."  We had heard from several how good it was.  Nope, not to me.  Maybe I was so tired from the weekend, but I napped through a part of it.  It wasn't worth the price of going.  Anyway, we had a good lunch at Market Broiler nearby and had fish and chips.  That was worth the price.

Yesterday was another blessed day at church.  God is really showing us his grace and goodness and love in all that we are doing.  There was a row of brand new visitors, about 7 in all.  One was a Baptist preacher from out of town, and he brought his sister and others who lived in the area.  I asked him how he came to visit our church and he said, "I looked up Southern Baptist churches on the internet and chose yours."  Yes, the internet and web sites can be useful.

We had a great time in our worship hour.  I preached on Saul and his conversion on the road to Damascus.  Saul who later took the name Paul, was an outspoken and violent crusader against the Christians and the "Jesus movement" of his time.  But God, in his patience and amazing love, reached down and confronted Saul.  Saul understood his need for Jesus and was gloriously saved, becoming one of the most influential followers of Christ in his lifetime.

In my sermon, I ended with an illustration of what God does when he redeems and saves us.  I reminded the church that, before they came to Jesus, they had a lot of "baggage."  This emotional baggage includes, but is not limited to, things like unforgiveness, fear, jealousy, indifference, revenge, envy, compromise, judgmental attitudes.

That "old baggage" is replaced by God with "new luggage."  This new stuff includes, but is not limited to, the wonderful things called love, joy, hope, faith, purpose, patience, forgiveness and persistence.

In this journey of life, we are bound (like Saul) for somewhere.  With God, we are bound for glory, that place called eternal life in heaven with him.  On this road to glory, we will and must pass through places that are not easy.  We will go through Painful Valley, the Bridges of Doubt, the Enemy Cliffs, the Scaredy-Cat Caverns, the Barrier Mountains, the Lonely Desert, Confusion Canyon, Calamity Gulch and Desperation Hills.

Sometimes I get too excited about the things God shows us.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Where Was God?

A friend wrote a blog the other day.  In my opinion, he continues to make the claim that he is a secular humanist, an atheist, a person who does not want to believe in the God of the Bible.  I think that deep down he wants to believe, but his head won't let him follow his heart of faith.  In any event, he wrote the following in the aftermath of the earthquake in Haiti:

Where was God?  It is events such as the earthquake in Haiti that reconfirm in my mind that there is no God looking out for us in this universe.  Where was God when the earthquake struck Haiti killing thousands? Was it his day off? What sort of God would answer your minor request, while ignoring the tragedy taking place in Haiti?  No. Things like that just happen, as you would expect in a universe without a God. If there were a God, He would have most likely intervened. At least a Good God would have. Wouldn't you, if you had the ability of a God?

Here is my response.

"Where was God?"  Such a shallow question for such a deep discussion.  In Psalm 14:1, we find these words:  Only fools say in their hearts, “There is no God.”  They are corrupt, and their actions are evil; not one of them does good!

Yes, my God is a loving and holy God.  But make no mistake about this.  It was not and it is not his intent to prevent tragedy and corruption and violence and pain.  That is a utopian thought, brought about by philosophical minds that do not and/or will not accept God's sovereignty.  The Bible tells us there will be wars and pestilence and disease and scourge upon the earth.  So, the question has a false premise to start with.

It is not, "Where was God?"  The question that begs to be asked is, "How is our world responding to the God of the universe, the God of all creation which he made perfect?"  From the Scriptures, we find that man sinned, and from that we find evil and destruction and pain and earthly disasters have become part of our mortal existence.  That is not God's doing, it is the result of man's fall.

So, God was still on his throne.  God was and is still in charge.  God was and will continue to allow the fruits of man's disobedience to be seen even in earthly manifestations of earthquakes, floods, typhoons and fire.  God is not absent.  Far from it.  He was there in the towers on 9/11 in New York.  He was there in the hurricane disaster of Katrina.  He was there in every natural and man-caused disaster that has ever happened.  He comes to be seen as the Great Comforter in those times.  Without those times, we would never know his great love and compassion and grace and glory.

This is almost the oldest question that we are faced with:  "Why do bad things happen to good people?"  Why doesn't God fix everything?

First, God is not the cause of calamity.  He is the cure for calamity.

Second, God is not the "divine magician" nor a Santa Claus to make everything a Pollyana existence.  God is the strength for us to bear all things that are difficult.

Third, God is not the absent Creator and Sustainer.  He is omnipresent and ever present as we see his hand at work for the purpose of righteousness and redemption.

I have openly challenged anyone who is not a Christian believer to give me their foundation of the word "good."  When one talks about a "good" God, what basis does that person have for the word "good."  Good is a moral term, and where does morality come from?  Surely not from one or more individuals, for there is too much conflict and disagreement among mankind.  The basis for our definition of good must come from something greater than ourselves.  The one who defined and is the author of good was God, as any other source is contrived by man.

Finally, where is God in the disaster of Haiti?  He is in the hands and hearts of those Christians who are the first responders to every disaster that happens?  Where are the atheists giving of themselves to love a child just orphaned, a man who just lost his wife and children and home, or to a woman who is injured beyond belief?  The Christians are there.  God is there, working through them and around them and beyond them.  We as Christian believers will not back down.  Our God is triumphant and real and holy and loving and walking with us every moment.  Dare to be a believer whose God is the Lord!

Tell me what you think.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Warm Weather

The weather yesterday in the Los Angeles area was in the 80s.  It has been quite pleasant around here in the past days.  When we left Oklahoma, it was 26 degrees with snow all over the place.  We made sure to stay inside with the heater and fireplace going at Jason's house while in Shawnee.

Tonight and tomorrow, we are to have sprinkles and showers.  We need the rain, so I am looking forward to it.  If I want snow, I only need to drive about an hour up to Big Bear and enjoy it for a while and then come home.

Last Wednesday, I gave a devotional at the Coronado Stone manufacturing plant.  This coming Thursday, I will again go out there and share a short message from the Bible.  It is rewarding to stand next to those who are working hard in a tough environment, as they take their break time to come and listen and receive the Scriptural lesson for the day.  What a joy for me, every time.

Last Saturday was a day of preparation and errands.  Sunday was an exceptional day of worship.  It just seemed to be one of those days in which the presence of God was felt by all.  I preached on having a New Year's resolution, but having one with a plan.  The plan is to be useful for the sake of the Kingdom and to be purposeful in touching at least one person's life this year in a significant way.  A young Chinese lady in the church gave a testimony of her recent trip to China to lead a group of Communist officials on a tour of the U.K.  She was able to share about God in a very unique way, as she would talk about history and architecture throughout the days of sightseeing.  She would talk about the churches, the crosses, the history of Christianity being born in the Orient (Jerusalem and the Middle Eastern area).  They were amazed at her understanding and knowledge.

On Sunday night, Sondra and I met with a couple from another church about 30 miles away.  They have been involved in presenting the series titled "The Truth Project."  We made plans for them to come next month and share this 13-week series about the worldview that we as Christians need to teach, as it is the foundation of our beliefs and theology.

Yesterday (Monday), I went in to work for the Census Bureau for the first full day of employment after my training last week.  I worked from 3 pm to 8 pm, as I have been assigned with a few others to work the evening shift.  It is calm and quiet, so we can get a lot done without interruptions.  My job is to do data entry on the computer, doing input of applicant's information and payroll hours and then doing some needed filing.

Last night after work, Sondra and I went to the 24 Hour Fitness to work out.  I had not been since before Thanksgiving.  And it showed, as I stepped on to the scales to weigh.  I have a big job ahead of me, to lose some serious weight.  I also went this morning with my brother Roger, meeting him there at 7 am to work out again.

So, I must go now, take a shower and eat my oatmeal and wheat toast.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Week of Training

I just finished my first week of working with the U.S. Census Bureau.  Several weeks ago, I took tests with my application to work the 2010 Census and did quite well.  While on my trip to Oklahoma and back, I received a call asking me if I was still interested in working with the Census.

I said yes, and so I was given the dates and times of training.  So, this past Tuesday through Friday, I went to the U.S. Census office in Riverside for 8 hours of training each day.  I will be working in the main office of Riverside county, doing computer input for applicants, new hires and then payroll.

I just found out that those who trained in my section will be working the evening shift.  Next week I work from 3 pm to 8 pm, Monday through Saturday.  When things pick up, my shift will be 11:30 am to 8 pm.  The major time for canvassing and house interviews is March, April and May.

I am fully familiar with doing computer input as I have worked in payroll at Bechtel, as well as Human Resources and Purchasing at Coronado Stone.  It is just a matter of getting familiar with the little ways that the government does it, specifically how the Census bureau wants it done.

Actually, it was kind of fun.  Got to meet a lot of different people doing something for lower pay than usual.  But this economy has forced many who are highly qualified to search for any work right now.

Some are getting to know that I am a pastor too.  That will be interesting for the days ahead.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

First Blog of 2010

It is a new year.  Last year is now a memory.  We will make new memories in these next 12 months.

Sondra and I got back from our whirlwind trip to Oklahoma this past Sunday evening.  Patty Murcray was in Tennessee for Christmas with her son Teddy, and she would be flying in to OKC on Tuesday evening in preparation for us to meet her with the rest of her household goods and her car.

Here is a short summary of the past several days in our lives.

Sunday, December 27.  Went to church and preached.  Got a Ford F-150 pickup truck from Coronado Stone, then over to U-Haul to get a 6x12 enclosed trailer hitched up, then over to the Murcray's house in Beaumont (close to Riverside) to load up.  Also got Patty's PT Cruiser to bring back.  Went home to sleep.

Monday, December 28.  Left town about 12 noon, after getting several errands finished before the trip.  Drove the southern route (Interstate 10) to try to avoid storms and difficult weather.  Tried to drive without stopping, but was forced to stop in Van Horn, Texas (near El Paso) due to a snow blizzard.

Tuesday, December 29.  Slept from 6 am to 11 am in a hotel room.  Got back on the road and drove all day.  Then drove all night, stopping to rest every couple of hours.

Wednesday, December 30.  Stopped at a rest area about midnight near the Texas/Oklahoma border to sleep briefly.  Arrived in Shawnee at son Jason's house at 6 am.  Rested for an hour, then drove over to Midwest City (near Oklahoma City) to meet Patty at her new house there.  Helpers there unloaded it quickly, and we went to lunch with Patty.  Then back to visit with Jason, Shelly and grandkids (Jace and Kylee).  Slept and began to catch up on family time that evening.

Thursday, December 31.  Went to see mom at her house early that morning.  Then to Cracker Barrel for "brunch" with Sondra and Jason's family.  Then back to Jason's to sleep some more.  That evening we went over to Bill and Marti's for a little family get-together for New Year's Eve.  Mom and Noel came over and we sat around, passing out and receiving Christmas gifts that were saved until we arrived there.  Went back to Jason's around 8 pm.  Sondra then made homemade doughnuts while Jason, Jace and I played a board game called Acquire.  When the doughnuts were ready, we ate and snacked while waiting for midnight.  We watched the fireworks that were displayed over the Firelake Casino across the highway from Jason's house when the New Year arrived!

Friday, January 1.  Spent time with Jason's family in the morning.  Left Shawnee about noon to drive to Big Spring, Texas, where our brother David is.  There is a federal correctional center there.  We arrived about 9 pm and checked into the La Quinta hotel where Bill and Marti, Noel and mom had rooms as well.

Saturday, January 2.  Went to the prison early.  Got in around 9 am.  Met and talked and had a wonderful visit with David.  I only stayed an hour (while the others stayed), wanting to get back on the road for home and the long drive ahead.  We drove as far as Tucson that day, then stopped at a Comfort Inn after eating at the local Waffle House.

Sunday, January 3.  Drove all day and arrived home about 5:30 pm.  Had received a call that a lady who had helped start our church nine years ago had come back for a visit in town.  I talked to her while driving and we set up a time to meet that night for dinner.  At 7 pm we met with Betsy Walker and others at an Outback restaurant nearby.  There is more to this story but I must be brief right now.  More later.

Monday, January 4.  Took the trailer back to U-Haul, took the truck back to Coronado and then picked up my Sebring at a friend's house near the church.  Went home, played with grand-daughter Bailey and slept some more.

Today is Tuesday, January 5, 2010.  I will go in at 8:30 am this morning for four days of training for a new job.  While on my "road trip," I was called and given word that I have been hired by the Census Bureau.  Today, I start and I am excited.  Most of my ministry has been bi-vocational and I am content with that.  It has kept me in touch with real people in real life to do real ministry in informal settings, all while pastoring a church and doing ministry in the formal church setting also.

Again, Happy New Year to you.  Hope you had some good memories to end the 2009 year.  Let's make some good memories for this new year 2010.