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. As I look about this room, though, and upon my Mom, struggling now to live - I am reminded of many, many things.

Mom has lived most of her adult life 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 1953, and each of my brothers and sisters, along with me when a young boy, lived a substantial part of our lives in this place. Like so many other Garland-ers, Mom worked for Kraft Foods. Here we attended public school, church, and frequented all her ball parks 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, Dad was a 'Garland man' - and so we returned for those years prior to our Kansas move. When the family did move back to Texas, 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 is 'Duck' creek. As a boy I would play and fish in it for craw dads. One summer I carved out a boat from a piece of wood, painted it and placed on it a 'made with a stick' mast, and handkerchief sail. Then, tied to a string, I spent hours floating it down the creek only to be pulled back to me time after time. The summer before we moved away the string broke and I could not catch it because of flood waters. I stood on the bank and watched as it floated away, like an old friend, wondering of Kansas and growing up.

Thinking further back, still, many Saturday's I would ride my bike north, to the town square, where with my 'Fifty cent' allowance in tow, I'd watch a movie and buy a candy bar and coke. Just as good was my other option - riding my bike to nearby Kenwood Shopping Center and Woolworth's, where I'd 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 did, which made me feel good and so grown up.

In my memory, Easter was always a happy day.  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 for my shoes to shine like his, too.  So, he'd help me with both as we'd sit on the porch and talk while the girls finished dressing. Mom always looked so pretty. She would wear both a hat and summer gloves - and I felt we must have been the handsomest of families around - or at least at our church, so I thought.

As I sit here quietly watching Mom, I am grateful for something other - I am grateful that Easter for our family was more than new clothes and a family picture.  For, for us, 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 about death then. In fact, not really 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.

Now, 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 a pastor and son today. A man, now ever so grateful for an Easter representing 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

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Twelve Years Ago

Twelve years ago today I awakened from sleep just as New York City was starting to buzz. I took my jog around the streets of East Village, as I was staying in a building within her heart. I was in the city with a handful of others from ParkwayHills, on a mission trip, and we were staying in a building less than a hundred yards from the corner of 7th and B Avenue. Tompkins Square Park was to our west, just across the street, providing respite for a diverse crowd of passer's by, homeless, druggies and the 'new young' moving back into the neighborhood.

After a shower and breakfast, I walked back outside. Seated on the steps was fellow missionary, Brenda Fish, and we engaged in small talk about the beauty of the azure, September sky. As we looked toward the south and west, a cloud of smoke was forming. I pointed to it and Brenda returned, "I just heard a boom, not more than two-minutes ago, I wonder if the smoke has anything to do with it?"

All that happened in the next hours are not for this blog, but I remember them in great detail. Our walking north to Midtown as the chaos grew worse. Frantic calls to and from family and friends in Texas.  And, finally, our decision to return to the place we were staying, below police lines, knowing that once we were there we could not leave - not till tomorrow, at least, and more than likely not for several days.

Watching TV this morning, I reflected over 'that day.' Like many of you I remembered not only where I was but how I felt. I remembered my fear and resolve, as well as conversations of Christ with those who'd not seemed interested just one day before. I remembered my sense of sadness over evil, and my encouragement in witnessing the enormous kindness of others. I remembered my sentiments regarding New York and her citizens, and how it was changed on that day forever. New York really is an American melting pot. A city holding an eternal optimism born by decades of immigrants and the hopeful moving in. Something understood only after standing in her midst with sleeves rolled up.

But this morning I had other thoughts. Thoughts beyond the present crisis with Syria, Al Qaeda, air travel security and despondency over how America has changed. I thought about the effects of time and how that event is now - unbelievably - 12 years in our past.  I thought about how the once young children of the victims are now grown up - and, as I watched these young adults reading the names of father's, brother's, Mom's and Dad's, I realized both times power and its brevity.

We live life in moments but we remember life through relationship and events. Moments change with the current of our day, capricious and fast - not respecting of feelings or desire, but relationships give our moments their meaning and a signature. 

As I drove across the US that September - through New Jersey, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Tennessee, Arkansas and home - I thought about all I had witnessed and what God had called me to do.  Driving my rented car, I looked over the American landscape - observing her beauty in houses, barns, rivers and cities.  I did not see as many people as I might have a week before - and things were eerily quiet. For though people were courteous and kind, they were subdued - thinking, no doubt, much of the same thoughts as me.

After two days of driving, I pulled my car in front our home and, stepping out, my emotions and thoughts came together as one. Across our front porch was a banner, drawn by the hands of my wife, daughter and son. It read simply, "Welcome home, Dad, we love you!" And standing on our front lawn, kissing my wife and holding our son and daughter in my arms, I was in my place. I knew who I was and what I was to do. So we went into the house and had dinner together as a family. I turned off the TV and turned my head and heart to God's Word to prepare for Sunday and my message. There I realized that my moments, like those who once were children and are today 9-11's grown-up, young adults on my TV, had come together.

I gave thanks to God that night, 12 years ago, and I did the same today.

'So teach us to number our days that we may gain a heart of wisdom.' Psalm 90:12

Amen, indeed!

Pastor Sam



Friday, August 23, 2013

Santa Barbara, California

I will likely never come here again but how I will remember this view of coastline and sea. For this perch has been my place of respite these last four days. A shelter in the cliff and a place for me to sit and wonder over the majesty of God.  But a few feet away, it was reached by a stepping path from the back of our host's home.  And though here I am near the others, I feel as if I'm in another place. The shrubs and foliage shield me from view - and protect me from wind and cold.  Yet, I can peer over their tops, joyfully nestled in my perch, as a bird would from any sanctuary high in a tree. Indeed, it has been my solace - a perfect place for these days in Santa Barbara, CA.  

So that I wondered this morning of the hands of God.  When knowing my place there - I really am in 'sanctuary.' His hands form my refuge and from His hands I have my best view. Here, I am but a step away - yet safe and secure. For from His hands I see both the beauty of God and danger of sin, while knowing - all the while - the sheer joy of His perfect peace.  (Psalm 91) 


Pastor Sam