Saturday, July 19, 2014

Alberto and Anna

Alberto is from Cuba, and Anna, his wife, El-Salvador. They live next door to our son, Trey, who is renting a home in south Dallas County, not far from where 408 becomes Clark Rd. and near the westernmost edge of Ducanville. He and 3 other DBU classmates have moved 'off campus' for their Senior year - entering that stage of living 'on their own,' and experiencing all it means, yard work et al, to take care of a house.

So today Belinda and I went to visit Trey, with but a few of my yard tools in hand. Arriving I could see I was in trouble - that I'd not brought quite enough. Trey's 'yard' (such as it was) was out of control.  But still... we went after it, my son and me, with what appeared to any observing as little more than a sickle, brain and brawn.

Now next door to Trey, Alberto was busy working at building a new fence around his property.  So we met and began to exchange pleasantries. 'I've lived here Diez Años,' he said proudly. And, as we talked, he began enthusiastically offering to loan us his lawn-mower, tools and share the ready conversation and camaraderie of a neighbor delighted to make our acquaintance. I learned Alberto owned his own 'rig' and worked as an independent long-haul, trucker. I learned he liked boxing, BB'Q-ing, family and the outdoors. As we talked more, I learned that - though he was proud to be from Cuba, he would not go back. That he'd never met a preacher before, that I was his first, and that he was 'surprised' to learn I liked old cars and 'beisbol,' too.

As the afternoon carried on, I watched Alberto as Alberto watched Trey and me. I watched him mix cement in a wheelbarrow and carefully clean each of his tools before putting them away. I listened and enjoyed the warm, pleasant sounds of men - his friends - joking with each other as they worked the afternoon away. I watched him as he smiled and gave his wife, Anna, a hug each and every time she came out to see how things were. I saw, with eyes of man of such privilege too, how he loved her and how she loved him; then watched, over and over, as he continued to offer Trey and me his hand, advice, and bits of encouragement along our way.

When time came for me to leave, then, one thing more happened - perhaps the most profound of my day.  Alberto bounded out his front door to offer us each a beautiful demitasse of Cuban 'café.' The coffee was strong, rich, delicious and bitter-sweet. I thanked him, of course, for both the coffee and his help - and expressed how pleased I was to enjoy his kindness - and that my son was fortunate to live next door to a man such as he. With a huge smile on his face, Alberto turned only to say, 'But we are neighbors, Amigo, - like family! In America we are supposed to be kind. For we've been given so very much. Si?'

As I looked into his eyes, I could not help but pine - and wonder, 'might I expect one such as he from the place where I live?' 'Thirty miles close, but seemingly, now, so far, far away?' I climbed into my truck waving goodbye to my new friend, and prayed so. I prayed so from me and prayed so from you, too. For America could use, always, more Alberto's.

Lord, may it begin in me.

Pastor Sam

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

When I'm 64

A few weeks back I purchased 2 tickets for the Paul McCartney concert coming to Dallas. It was scheduled for Monday, June 16 - which happened to be 18 days after my 64th birthday (thank you very much, Paul). Of course I paid more than I wanted to, but thought, ..."Oh well, I may never get to see him again, and this will be an opportunity to share a memory with my son, Trey." But then this happened - just days before McCartney was scheduled to perform I received an email from our ticket vendor saying, ... "We regret to inform you that Paul McCartney, the event you purchased tickets for in Order #_______, has been postponed." Oh my! I thought. Paul McCartney is sick. He's has a virus!!! Mmmmm? I guess this can happen when you're, let's see... 72. Arrrggghhh!

Of course, today, I saw this post with some good news - Ringo Starr (2 hours ago, via Rolling Stone magazine) reports, "Paul is getting fit and is ready to rock." And Ringo should know, I would think, as he is about to turn 74 this July 7. Which is precisely why I am holding onto my tickets for the new, rescheduled, date - Monday, October 13, and will be there 'with bells on,' as 'they' say.

Yet, alas, I am a preacher - one who knows better, or at least should. For though I am naturally hopeful regarding any tomorrow, I also know this is not where my ultimate hope rests. According to God's Word my hope is anchored in Christ - in what He has done for me on the cross by reconciling me, a sinner, to God. As the old song sings, my anchor holds and grips the solid Rock, Jesus. Even more, this same Jesus who died for my sins teaches this concerning the life we are now to live ... 'take no thought (do not be anxious) of (or, for) tomorrow, for tomorrow has enough trouble of it's own.' (Matt. 6:34) So that the last time I checked my calendar, October 13, 2014 remains a 'tomorrow' date, and certainly not something I'm to place my hope in or upon.

I recently read an article by a person who works in 'palliative' care - caring for people who are sent home to die. The article lists five most common regrets by those facing life's end. The thing that struck me was that much of the things listed seemed to deal with some manner of each person feeling they'd 'missed out' on the 'nowness' of their opportunities and relationships - not spending more time with friends, family or, even, their own thoughts.

In today's culture of tight schedules, plans and anxious anticipation it's easy to miss the now. The more moments we spend anticipating, the more moments we miss. For example, Trey and I did not make the anticipated McCartney concert but we did something else on that June day - we sat together for a moment and shared McCartney tunes with one another on our own guitars. It was a good day. One we enjoyed very much. One of the tunes we shared is credited to Lennon-McCartney, with telling lyrics, which sing this:

"He's a real Nowhere Man
Sitting in his Nowhere Land
Making all his nowhere plans for nobody"

So I don't know about you, but I think I'll go out and live today as best I possibly can, by the grace and under the blessing of Almighty God. For I am certainly not a Nowhere Man. I am a Somewhere Man. Living here today by God's good grace and providence, and headed home to Him in some tomorrow yet to come - whenever that may be.  For, after all, today I am both His and...

Yours for Sixty Four!  

Pastor Sam

Monday, April 14, 2014

Monday, April 14, Garland, Texas

There were many things I thought I might do this week as I readied for Easter Sunday, but sitting in an ICU room at Baylor, Garland was not one of them. However, now that I am, looking about this room and my Mom - struggling so to live - I am reminded of many things.

Mom has lived most of her adult life here in Garland, Texas (save a family sojourn to Kansas for Dad's job, ca. 1964-72).  She and Dad bought their first home here when I was a toddler - sometime around 1952 - and each of my brothers and sisters, along with me when young, lived a substantial part of our lives in this place. Like many other Garland-ers, Mom worked for Kraft Foods. Here we attended public school, church, and frequented her ballparks and skating rinks. For a short time, Dad moved us 'up and out,' to the White Rock area of Dallas, where we attended Wilshire Baptist Church just down the street from our home. But in his heart of hearts Dad was a 'Garland man' - and so we returned for those years prior to our move to Kansas. When my family did move back to Texas, some years later and after I was grown and on my own, there was no question as to where they'd live. It was Garland!

Not far from this Hospital room is 'Duck' creek, which meanders through the heart of the town. As a boy I would play and fish in this creek for crawdads. One summer I carved a boat from a piece of wood, painted it and fashioned a 'made with a stick' mast and handkerchief sail. Then, with my boat tied to a string, I spent hours watching as it floated down the creek only to be pulled back to me time after time. The summer before we moved away my string broke, and I could not catch it because of flood waters. I stood resigned on the creek's bank and watched as 'my' boat floated away, like an old friend, wondering of Kansas and growing up.

Thinking further back, there were many Saturday's I would ride my bike north up First Street, to the town square, where with my 'Fifty cent' allowance I could watch a movie and buy a candy bar and coke. Just as good was my other option - which was riding my bike to nearby Kenwood Shopping Center and Woolworth's, where I could saddle up to the soda fountain and order a "3 Scoop" Banana Split. With this option I'd have money left over. Not a lot, but enough to leave a tip - like Dad, which made me feel good and so grown up.

In my memory Easter was always a happy day. At Easter-time I'd get a new shirt and tie - usually from Sears or J.C. Penny's, and, once in a while, I'd also get a new 'store bought' suit. My sisters always got new dresses, and we'd take a family picture all dressed up 'to the nines'.  I was careful to want my ties to look just like Dad's and my shoes to shine like his, too.  So he'd help me with both as we sat on the porch to talk while the girls finished dressing. Mom always looked so pretty. She'd wear both a hat and summer gloves - and I felt we must have been the handsomest family around - or at least at our church, so I thought.

But now, as I sit here quietly watching Mom, I am grateful for something other. I am grateful that Easter for my family was more than new clothes and a picture.  For, for us - Mom included - it was a day of worship and celebration that Jesus had come and that victory over sin and death was real. Confessedly, I didn't think much of death then. In fact, I did not really think of it at all. Death was for old people and people who were sick. Not for me! Not for my Mom, my sisters, or Dad! Not back then.

Of course so much has happened since those days gone by. Did God know I'd be sitting here today, less than 2 miles from where I once played?  The answer is, 'yes, He did!' And... He also knew that the boy of then would be both a pastor and son today. A man, now ever so grateful for this Easter, which represents much more than wonderful memories. One so grateful, today, for the cross and the truth - that because He lives so too will Mom, Dad, my family and me!

Happy Easter, indeed -

Pastor Sam

are not alone.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Remembering Mike

One of my heroes in the faith, Mike Fechner, went home to be with Jesus Wednesday night. He suffered from the physical devastation of cancer, but nothing else. His reward is now complete.

Mike was a man who lived his faith large. He was visionary, inspiring, and one of the most genuinely passionate men concerning the gospel and those in need than any person I knew. He was the founder of H.I.S. Bridgebuilders - a ministry of the gospel of Jesus with the added blessing of hope, help, and on-going love to those in need and at greatest risk.  I will miss Mike, but smile knowing that Heaven is one 'Saint' sweeter today. He is with Jesus.  What more might he want.

The first time I met Mike was on a visit with Molly Breitenfeld, who took me to his Bridge Builders Headquarters so that I might see what this ministry was all about. Through this union, Molly led our youth ministry to partner with Mike and Bridgebuilders and its work in South Dallas. There I met this one time businessman called by God to make a difference in a ministry that did not seem to so readily resonate with what one thinks of for a person of his background, talents and gifts. To this end, Mike inspired me - reminding me that when God calls us to do something He also enables us with the tools and wherewithal to get it done. Yes, Mike was the perfect person to brdge the wealth of north Dallas with the needs of its south.  From that short meeting a mutual friendship and respect was born - not one of frequent contact but one of partnership - a partnership in the gospel that makes one a life-long brother. A common, glorious bond connecting us with an ageless line of others who have also known and followed the tug of God upon their heart and said, 'yes, send me.'

The last time I saw Mike was as he was sitting next to me at a meeting on DBU campus this past winter. We were serving together on a steering committee team to fill tables and seek support for the university while honoring Gil Strickland at a coming banquet. I mentioned to Mike that I had an idea for a church revitalization project in near East Dallas. I said, 'Mike, this area and work are right up your alley.' 'I'd love to show it to you.' 'Let's get some lunch!' he said, and so, our schedules were set - but... that lunch was never to be, as Mike's health worsened and we had to cancel.

With the passing of someone like Mike it's easy to wonder who will take their place. I used to worry over this, feeling as if I had to do something personally in order to insure this happened. But no longer. For I see God doing the same thing as he did in Mike's life in the lives of people every single day. I see Him calling out the called.  Speaking to hearts, planting dreams, and casting forth vision of what it is He wants to do as he inspires a new generation to, by faith, live life large.

Mike said, yes. He lived large and saw God change many lives - including his own. Will you?  

For a beautiful look at Mike and the victory he found, even in the midst of this last earthly battle, check this out.

Pastor Sam

Monday, December 9, 2013

The Deep Freeze of 2013 - and how I survived, and learned!

Inclement weather in North Texas is not unusual, but I can recall few times, if any, that caused greater havoc or disruption than this 'Deep Freeze of 2013.'

In February 1989, the year we started the church, the few families who had come together to begin ParkwayHills were also caught in a similar 'Ice Day' Sunday - but with this dilemma - we couldn't find a church to attend (during this period of our 'organizing' we were visiting area churches each Sunday to formulate our ideas and make ourselves ready).  Anyway, the weather was horrible but we still wanted to meet. As a remedy we opted for the local Pancake House, one near Beltline and the Tollway. There we enjoyed our 'together' time over hearty breakfast and with our rowdy kids in tow, tolerating them and organizing what we were about to do - start a new church.

On Saturday I was watching football wanting so desperately not to deal with the issue of 'should we cancel church?'  Of course that was not to be.  So, while my team, the OSU Cowboys were 'blowing it' - and the rest of our churches 'team', the Baylor Bears, were taking it to the house (and deservedly so), I was on the phone. From a safety standpoint the decision was easy. I knew the roads were not safe to drive upon, and I was concerned over the condition of our church parking lot and walkways, as well as the power issues we'd been experiencing in the neighborhood. Indeed, ONCOR did report a power outage along our stretch of the Tollway from 3:30 Sunday afternoon into the early evening.  Still, I confess to having to fight temptation to say, 'all may come who want or will, for I'll be here, and we can pray and worship together."

Now at 2:45 am on Friday, our daughter, who is 32 weeks pregnant, lost power in her home in North Dallas. She and husband, Matt just purchased their first house, one built in 1956, and, suffice it to say, power line issues and conditions of Dallas compared with our newer areas of Plano and Frisco are quite challenging.  And that's putting it politely.

As Friday afternoon passed, Taylor and Matt were still without power - and freezing. Ours was back on (down from 5:00a to 3:00p), and so we insisted they come to Plano and wait out their repair in the warmth and safety of our house. At approximately 4:45 they arrived.  Taylor, Matt and their two dogs - Stigler and Norman. Has anyone seen Christmas Vacation? (Just kidding) And from there, well... you get the picture.

Now we all know that one of the great temptations for failure in a pastor is to put 'being with the church' over 'family'. Through the years Belinda and I have talked about this a lot - working to keep things in balance.  And, thanks mainly to her and the good grace of God, I have resisted this temptation for the most part, and grateful now to be blessed with children and a wife that do not resent the church in any way. Still, here I was in 2013 finding myself with a classic lesson on correctly balancing family and ministry right under my nose. My daughter, son in law, and grand-baby to-be were in my house. On Sunday morning! And yet, I found myself pining for the church.

As the household awakened and we gathered in the kitchen to share a meal, I looked over at my Belinda who'd prepared for us a feast. She was beaming in her usual, joyful way. I looked across at my son-in-law and was grateful for his temperament and steady consistent ways and means of expression. Then, I looked at Taylor, and she said, "dad, I can't believe you canceled church today."  I smiled and said, 'yeah, I think that this is a first in 25 years." No one said a thing. Then, we bowed our heads and joined hands for me to pray - 'LORD, I thank you for my family, for Taylor, for Matt and for Trey safe at school - for Baby Butler about to be born, and for Belinda - the love of my life - and this opportunity you have given me to be with them today. In that moment, my Sunday worship was begun.  A worship that has continued into today.

Yes, God knows the things we 'need' even before we pray for them (cf. Matt. 6:32) and His spirit intercedes on our behalf with 'groanings too deep for words.' (Rom. 8:28)

And THAT'S how I survived the Deep Freeze of 2013.

With love,

Pastor Sam

Monday, November 4, 2013

Where Faith and Passion Meet

Over the years I have met many inspiring people.  One such is Taylor Field, the founder and pastor-leader of Graffiti Church and mission in New York City, NY. This past weekend Taylor and his wife Susan were in Plano for a night and I was privileged to spend time learning more about their exciting work and ministry. Taylor is bright, gracious and easy to be with. He is a prolific writer and excellent communicator. A pastor who could have graced any pulpit in our land, he has chosen, instead, a path less glamorous by ministering to those at the fringe.

As our meeting was ending, Taylor offered time for questions and I asked how his particular call to ministry had come. "What moved you, Taylor? How did you sense a calling to minister in New York's Lower East Side?" Without hesitation he replied - 'it came to me at the intersection of faith and passion. My faith in Christ and my passion for what I like to do - which, for me, was when I could meet someone's most basic need.' 'Anytime I found myself doing that,' he continued, 'I would realize my greatest joy - and that was the easiest, most natural place for me to share the gospel.'  

Now I have thought about that phrase for most of this day - 'where faith and passion meet' - by turning those words over and over in my head. I like both their meaning and sound. Faith I know about - it is my confession in Christ.  But passion, well, I confess this is more difficult to know. Of course when passion is absent I know that -  and when it is present I know that too.  But... to know it everyday and at all times ... well, that's another story altogether.

Have you been to this intersection?  Not just today, but ever?  I have. When I drive onto the parking lot of this church, I am there. When I stand before a couple at a wedding, or pray with a family about to bury a loved one, or ask folks to stand with me in the honor of reading God's Word, I am there. When I serve the LORD's supper at communion, or counsel a young minister as he is stepping out in faith, I am there. For me, serving as a pastor is the intersection where my faith in Christ - my witness and confession of His gospel - and my passions, gifts and desires meet. It is a place like no other, for it is that place where the very best of my service unto God is found.

Taylor reminded me of this, last night - and God is reminding me of it, again, today.

So take your own inventory.  Do you know Christ as your Savior? If so, where is it that you find yourself most comfortable, most joyful in sharing this news?  Think of it right now. In your mind, go there!  For this is the place where your faith and passion meet! And this is the place where your best, unto Him, will be found.


Pastor Sam

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

At Sixty Three (and 5 mos.) - but who's counting

Today I performed a funeral and witnessed the turning of life - yet one more time.  So that I feel I must write, at least something, before I reach that age so famously opined by Paul, as in McCartney, (64).

With a song he asked a question. For me - today - there is simply a list. A list of things that...

I never thought I'd be...

1. This young when I got this old
2. Someone who'd misplace his reading glasses this much

When I got this old, I never thought I'd still...

3. Have ambition
4. Deal with anxiety
5. Be tempted with greed

When I got this old, I never thought I'd want...

6. More time
7. More money
8. More leisure

When I got this old, I never thought I'd need...

9.   More time
10. More money
11. More leisure

Yet, now that I am "this old," I realize...

12. How blessed I am to know and live the grace of God. To deal with both my age and lost glasses by His grace. To enjoy my time, His money and some leisure (as/when it comes)  - by His grace. And to discover all I will ever need in facing today and forever - by His grace!!!!

Indeed, e'en at 63!    

Pastor Sam