The Power of an Ordinary Story

July 14, 2015

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THE POWER OF AN ORDINARY STORY

Ordinary is an interesting word. It was a word once used for some of Christ’s disciples (see Acts 4:13). It usually denotes “nothing special,” “average,” “normal.” Nothing to see here, so just keep moving on.

An ordinary story? I’ll pass. Give me the extra-ordinary; the dramatic; the one filled with exciting special effects; the tearjerkers. Those move the needle. Those create blockbusters and best sellers. Ordinary is just not interesting.

Until it is.

Until ordinary reveals something else.

Those Jesus followers in Acts 4 certainly were ordinary guys without any special pedigree, but yet there was something quite different about them.

What was it?

It was noted that they “had been with Jesus.” Jesus has a way of making ordinary interesting.

I am not sure that LaVelle Travis (L.T.) Blevins would ever be considered just ordinary, but his story has ordinary beginnings. Born during the Great Depression in the small backwater Arkansas delta community of Gordneck, L.T. grew up like so many others of his era—poor but happily surrounded by a loving family.

Again like thousands of his contemporaries, L.T. answered his nation’s call and served in the U.S. Navy during both WWII and the Korean conflict. He married his sweetheart, began a family, started a successful small business and worked diligently to provide and care for them. 

On the surface—this describes an ordinary life. It was the kind lived all across America. Yes, he lost his first wife too soon. He retired early to care for her. Later he had serious health concerns of his own from which he was not expected to survive. But really that is all fairly common. It is normal. L.T. Blevins? Not much interesting to see here, so let’s just keep moving on.

But before you do, I ask you to look a little closer. There is more to this ordinary story. Remember how I stated that Jesus has a way of making the ordinary interesting? If you spend any time around L.T. Blevins it becomes obvious. He has “been with Jesus.”

Brother BHe just turned eighty-eight years old. The ever-present twinkle in his eye reveals a joyful soul shaped through the years by his relationship with Christ. He has this wonderful adventurous side that once led him to wrangle horses on the back lots of Hollywood movie westerns after WWII; ride across the country on a Harley knucklehead motorcycle; fly (and crash) without lessons or licenses in small planes; and physically build a lake house with his second wife, Kathleen, while in his seventies.  He has all kinds of extraordinary stories to share. 

But his most extraordinary stories are about being with Jesus. They are about his beloved Levy Church of Christ in North Little Rock, Arkansas; it’s beginnings; it’s growth; it’s ministry. He has been here through it all—serving as teacher, shepherd, cook, missionary, and everything in between.

Always here. Always faithful.

He reared his family here—now into their fourth generation. He carried the burden of leadership. He made personal and financial sacrifices for the Levy family. He mentored the current generation of leaders. He did not waver. He never created any drama. He is a peacemaker, a visionary and a great friend to preachers.

He has been with Jesus. Just an ordinary man in some ways, made extraordinary through faith in the Christ; just another boy from the Arkansas countryside, but one whose legacy of quiet dedication to God, family and church continues to shape and influence them.

He is a part of what has been tagged “the greatest generation.” Great—because of sacrifice, hard work and personal integrity. Once this was just considered ordinary and normal. It was simply how you were supposed to be.

It certainly does describe L.T. But that is not why this “ordinary” man is great.  Rather:

The greatest among you will be your servant. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted. – Matthew 23:11-12

The power in this story really is found in the Christ and in the good, humble man who allowed Jesus to do the extraordinary within him.

L.T. inspires me. Throughout his life he just consistently did the right thing without any big fuss. It is an ordinary story, but it is not. It is a story of quiet and consistent faith lived out through the normal variations of life, but never wavering.

I remember one summer camp session where several people shared their faith stories with the campers. All were dramatic and meaningful. One brother showed the needle marks on his arm and gave God the glory for empowering him to overcome his addiction.  It certainly was a powerful story.

But there is also the need to share the power in stories absent of all of this—a story of faith that never ventured away. That is the power I see in L.T. Blevin’s story and in his person and that is why it is so meaningful to me.

It is the kind of life I wish to live and for my children—just consistently being with Jesus everyday in a normal, ordinary, drama-free, yet incredible kind of way.

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Could You Use Some Parenting Help?

January 6, 2015

Parenting conferenceI will be the first to admit, that yes I can! I am an older dad with two young daughters (12 and 9) who are both strong-willed and quick to share opinions. Occasionally this all comes together in a perfect storm–if you get my drift! And I confess to not always handling those storms in the right way. So certainly I can always use some more information on how to parent better.

This is what the Central Arkansas Parenting Conference held at the Levy Church of Christ in North Little Rock, Arkansas on January 23-24 is all about–sharing information to encourage better parenting. My wife and my go-to people when we need parenting advice are Christian counselors, Dr. Alan and Sherry Pogue. Fortunately for me, Alan is a shepherd at my church and both he and Sherry have helped us on numerous occasions with solid counsel and wisdom from their experience and education. They are keynoting this conference and will bring that wisdom and experience with them. If it were just them alone this would be a must-attend event, but there is much more.

Over the weekend several presenters will lead break-out sessions covering a wide range of parenting topics.  Among some of the topics covered:

  • Blended families
  • Parenting daughters, sons, preschoolers, middle schoolers and teens
  • Adjusting to becoming an empty nester
  • How to effectively discipline
  • Balancing busy schedules
  • Fostering and/or adopting
  • Being a new parent
  • Children and technology
  • Public, private and home schooling
  • Living with ADD/ADHD children
  • Helping children develop a positive self-esteem
  • Teaching kids about money
  • Building faith in children at home
  • Dealing with children in a grow-up-too-fast culture
  • Teaching kids about mission work

If you are anywhere near Central Arkansas, I urge you to strongly consider attending this special weekend event. You can look over the entire schedule and register at capc.eventbrite.com or you can register at a congregation of the churches of Christ in the Little Rock/North Little Rock area.

 

 


Come to Church! Five Compelling Reasons Why

January 21, 2014

coming to churchOne of the my earliest sermons was entitled, “Forsake Not the Assembly.” It was based upon the “go-to” verse on this topic–Hebrews 10:25. Since then, I have spent a considerable amount of energy trying to urge; convince; beg; encourage; and challenge folks to grasp the eternal significance of gathering weekly with the church.

I will give it another shot. Here are five compelling reasons why you should worship with the church every Sunday.

  1. Church is a big deal to God. How big? Christ started and endorsed the church–Matthew 16:18; His sacrifice purchased the church and made it whole–Acts 20:28; Ephesians 5:25-27. He married it. The church is the bride of Christ–Revelation 19:7-9; 21:2,9. The idea that we can have Christ without the church is unthinkable to God. From heaven’s perspective there is no “take it or leave it” option when it comes to the church. God is all in on the church. Jesus gave all to the church.
  2. Worship matters. What goes on in church is also a big deal. When we gather with the Spirit of God in our midst, events of eternal importance occur. Communion takes us to the cross and beyond. It anchors our gathering with reflection, thanksgiving, and anticipation. Our singing is designed to encourage, teach, and build up each other. Our prayers are like sweet incense to God. Biblical teaching expands our understanding of God and his will for us. The sweet fellowship we enjoy strengthens and refreshes. None of this is accidental. It is thoroughly God-designed–just for us. Why deny ourselves this incredible blessing?
  3. Church is a redemptive community. It is usually at this point in this discussion when all the church warts are pointed out. Yes, it is true. The church is made up of all sorts of less-than-perfect people. Folks in the church do dumb things and often fail to model Christ consistently. It is also a fact that our exercise of worship can occasionally seem repetitive and less-than-inspirational. We are after all, human. But we are not what makes the church such a compelling place. It is Christ and his redemptive work within us. The apostle Paul recalled the sorry former state of some who made up the Corinthian church. But that was before Jesus. He tells them, “Since then, you’ve been cleaned up and given a frest start by Jesus, our Master, our Messiah and by God present in us, the Spirit” (1 Corinthians 6:11 MSG). This is the church–full of a bunch of sinners given another chance by Jesus. The church celebrates; reflects; and embodies his redemptive work. When we can focus on that–on him; our attitude about church and our experience in church will likely change.
  4. We need you. You have a place in this redemptive community. God has arranged it (1 Corinthians 12:18). You belong. You fit. We need your giftedness; your heart (especially if it is broken); your presence. Your background does not matter. Without you here, we are not complete. Please do not ever believe otherwise–we need you.
  5. God loves you. Ultimately this is what it is all about. Earlier, I referenced Ephesians 5:25-27. It is a beautiful text on many different levels: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.” The church is about the love of God working in you to bring about transformation; to bring about God’s eternal will for you to enjoy a relationship with him forever.

To the skeptics; to the burned out; to the suspicious; to the bruised; to the turned-off; to the struggling; to the disappointed; to the disillusioned; to those who no longer believe; to those who doubt; to the tired: to the former faithful; to anyone who has given up on or never were interested: give church a chance. Come and worship with us Sunday. It will be far from a perfect experience. But that is why we are here. We need redemption. We need Jesus. And yes, we need you.


Five Reasons Why It Is Easy to Bash the Church

January 15, 2014
  1. It is easier to criticize than to praise. It requires much less effort to point out what is wrong, than to celebrate what is right. A church may be engaged in all kinds of encouraging, life-changing ministry, but it is the flaws that seem to get most of the focus. And there are flaws and always will be. Which means…
  2. The church is an easy target. Yep, we have hypocrites, liars, the immoral, the insensitve, the intolerant, and the self-righteous. Often we seem out-of-touch and archaic. Name it (and the critics do) because we got it. Never mind that we also have the faithful, the loving, the pure, the servant-hearted: you know, folks trying to model Jesus. Forget the fact that by its very nature the church welcomes all of the above to enter into a transformative relationship with Christ. Ignore the reality that we are and will contiune to be (until Christ returns) a work in progress– never claiming perfection. Our mistakes just make too big a target for many to see beyond.
  3. Misery sells. Good news creates much less buzz than bad. The media has grasped this for decades. Church bashing simply has broader appeal than church praising. It has become a cottage industry.
  4. Everyone is an expert. Just ask and you will discover that almost everyone has an opinion (usually a strong one) about the church. These opinons usually contain criticism complete with a “how to fix it” plan. Very few experts see themselves as part of the problem, however.
  5. It is self-serving. For many church bashing serves to create justification for their own choices. “The church is bad therefore I will not support it” or “The church is bad and I need to change it” or “The church is bad therefore I will oppose it”- is the idea. Obviously, this is not true about criticism across the board, Also, it must be acknowleged that some have suffered genuially terrible experiences in churches, which has created difficult personal spiritual struggles. But for many criticizing the church simply serves their own purposes.

There is a difference, of course, between healthy criticsim which seeks to instruct and improve. I see the apostle Paul engaged in this kind of criticism as he dealt with the first century churches. He pointed out their flaws; their sins, but always with the goal of correcting them in the most productive way in Jesus. He never engaged in bashing. His was redemptive criticism. Some, who survey the church today and offer a critique do so in the same spirit and for the same purpose. We need that. It is healthy.

What we do not need is the type of critcism reflective in my five reasons. It is counterproductive and damaging.


Watch Out for Falling Bricks!

March 25, 2013

The church is falling; the church is falling! Run! Don’t get hit by the bricks crashing down from the old sanctuary! Hurry, run quickly to the new, hip church in town and don’t look back! If you do you will turn into a pillar of yellowed paper made from the pages of old KJV pew Bibles!

Maybe it is because I am getting older. Maybe it is because it all starts to sound the same after a while.  But I have had enough of being told about how my church is irrelevant, uncool, too old school, and ready for the scrapheap.

The volume of material out there that exists to remind me how totally un-with-it my church is seems limitless.

I suspect that you know what I am talking about.

Common among the do-or-die directives is how we must change our worship; change our name; change our leadership; change our image; change our culture; change our language. We must become missional; we must be emergent; we must become cool.

Bricks are falling all around us and we do not even realize it! Wake up church before it is too late!

To be sure, I am well aware of all of the stats reported from various sources that do clearly indicate a decline in church membership and an increasing lack of interest in organized religion in an American culture that no longer values churches as it once did.  I am well acquainted with the challenges all of this creates within a local church setting.

I also know about newer growing churches—megachurches that have that cool factor; with hip preachers and multiple campuses. Praise God for them! I rejoice that they exist and are effective in their outreach. Jesus is being preached and glorified through them to a vast amount of people

But we cannot all be them. What about all the churches who are not located in major metropolitan areas? What about the majority of us who worship, serve, raise our kids, marry and bury folks in the old, definitely unhip churches that remain all over the land? Should we just go ahead and shut our doors?

Lost in all of the heavy weight of the negative numbers and glorification of the latest church-of-what-is-happening-now is the value of the old church house on the corner—existing to serve its community and members. They may not be full of the most desired demographic. They may not have their curriculum based on the latest best-seller by the hottest Christian writer. They may still sing some songs from the 20th (or even- heaven help us- from the 19th century).  They may not project everything on multiple screens; they probably will not have a praise team; And yes, they probably have a brick or two that could use some fresh mortar (and some within their leadership who could use a fresh idea).

But they are still God’s people. They are still his church. They are still striving to make a difference. They are still of much value in the kingdom of God.

Years ago while in college one of my professors took our class on a field trip to a small country church next to a cemetery. The church building itself was unattractive, cramped, and in some disrepair. Our professor triumphantly proclaimed that the cemetery was more alive than that old, pitiful, tiny church- and predicted their quick demise.  I became and remain acquainted with this church. It not only still exists, but in the years since our visit has blessed hundreds of people in the name of Jesus. It remains small and totally uncool, but definitely alive and valuable to its community.

From a biblical perspective I get the idea that Jesus views his church quite differently than us. I think he is more interested in finding faith when he comes (Luke 18:8) than finding flash.

Please do not misunderstand. Because there is flash does not mean the absence of faith. I stand in awe at what is being done in big ways by big churches for Christ. I celebrate their celebrity- again because Jesus is preached and numerous lives are changed.

But the absence of flash does not also mean the absence of faith. I also celebrate all of the smaller churches and the smaller ways they are expanding God’s kingdom. They too continue to preach Christ and change lives.

They may not be all that hip, but they are all His.

That counts for all kinds of something- falling bricks and all.

 

 

 


Everything Has Changed

February 7, 2013

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I try to keep current on the ongoing dialogue about what is ailing our churches. There is one clear consensus flowing out of this discussion: Besides a few bright lights scattered across the nation most churches are getting smaller and older.

The fact is (which should surprise few)—the church is losing the younger generation. The disconnect between the church and the emerging generations only seems to be growing.

Tons of stats by research groups bear witness. The eye test on any given Sunday in any given church support the stats.

And we really do not have a grasp on what to do about it.

  • Some argue that our worship needs to include more bells and whistles.  We need more screens; better music; less preaching; and more pizazz.
  • Others think an emphasis on social ministry is the best approach. Studies are often cited to demonstrate how this appeals to the younger demographic.
  • Still others believe that the move toward the above and away from traditional approaches to church and worship have helped create the disconnect and the solution is to move back toward orthodoxy.

When someone finally figures it out—clue me in, please.  I honestly do not know, but somehow I feel that it is a little more complex than all of that.

What I do know is that in my lifetime of ministry—everything has changed.

Recently with my kids (ages 12 and 7) I watched a couple of episodes of the old sitcom, The Cosby Show.  That show is a 1980s vintage and I marveled at its outlook and content.  Cutting edge then was dealing with teens having sex and drinking too much at a party.

Compare that with issues that confront our youngest now—sexting; gender/sexual orientation questions; legalized marijuana; internet pornography; the redefinition of family; the ubiquitous social media; the idolized celebrity culture; the lack of jobs for college graduates in their fields and the failing promise of the American dream.  (You can make your own list.)

Do we really believe that reviving up our worship will address any of this?

In truth, we all know the answer.

It is Jesus.

So, our challenge is for the church to become Jesus to our younger generations.

If we can figure out what that looks like, maybe everything will change again.