From Sea to Shining Sea

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Day One of the sight seeing in Israel is in the books for our little group from Central and it couldn’t have been more perfect. We began the morning at Herod’s magnificent palace and royal grounds at Caesarea on the Sea and ended it tonight on the Sea of Galilee. I won’t bore you with very many details — mainly I just want to post a few pictures here and let people who care know that we’re all doing OK and having a great time in Israel. Plus, It’s almost 10:00 Thursday night and I’ve got to get to bed.

Most of our morning was spent walking around Herod’s masterpiece palace and theater on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea. We marveled at the architectural genius of the Roman appointed King of Judah; David Carver found a full quarter of a clay jar in the dirt behind one of the ancient storehouses, complete with half a handle and nearly a full rim; and we probably all had a little too much fun with the word “vomitorium.” After that, we took in the breathtaking views of all the Promised Land from high atop Mount Carmel. And then we finished the day climbing all over the ancient ruins of Megiddo.













The weather has been absolutely wonderful — in fact, a few of us might have gotten a little too much sun today. The food has been better and more than anybody expected. It’s a true honor to be learning so much about God’s holy land from Anton Farrah, Bill Humble’s guide for nearly 20 of his trips to Israel (Yes, Nathaniel, something very good can come out of Nazareth). And the company I’m with is a true blessing. So far, David is the front runner for the “Best Pottery Find” award and the “Most Likely to Singlehandedly Spark an International Incident” award. Ted and Elaine are both making impressive runs at the “I’ll Eat Anything on the Buffet No Matter What It Looks Like” recognition. And Steve is in the early lead for “Comeback Tourist” after throwing his back out walking down to breakfast and then climbing up and down all 183 steps into and out of Ahab’s water supply well at Megiddo this afternoon (Salon Pas gets the assist).



Hello From H-Town

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“I lift my eyes to the hills — where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.”

Good morning from Houston where our group of twenty from Central is at the front end of a long five-hour layover on our way to Israel. There’s a long line of people trying to teach David Carver how to work his camera, Dick Archer has already run into a dozen people he knows, Elaine has spotted the Cinnabon and the Pappadeaux, and, yes, we still have Gail!

“He will not let your foot slip — he who watches over you will not slumber;
indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.”

We’re stuck here until our early afternoon flight to Newark, where we’ll wait another five hours before boarding our overnight flight to Tel Aviv. Once we arrive in Israel tomorrow afternoon, it’s ten straight days of sight-seeing and once-in-a-lifetime experiences for which we’ve been planning and praying for several months.

“The Lord watches over you — the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night.”

We’re concentrating our time today on Psalm 121, one of the ascent Psalms that God’s children sang on their pilgrimages to Jerusalem. The psalm speaks of God’s promised protection and provision while his people are on their way to meet in his holy presence in his holy city. That’s us! And we’re so looking forward to it.

During our last planning meeting together last week, we talked and prayed through our expectations for this trip in the area of personal transformation. What do we think God is going to do with us and for us during this trip to Israel? How do we think we’re going to be changed? Here’s the list we prayed over that night; I would humbly ask you to pray these things for us, too:

~ a much better understanding of Scripture
~ a much closer connection to Christ Jesus
~ a renewal of our faith in God
~ a better grasp of the big picture of what God is doing in this world
~ a dramatic experience of the real presence of God
~ that God would reveal himself to us in surprising and powerful ways
~ a new level of healing for a few of our group experiencing deep grief

“The Lord will keep you from all harm — he will watch over your life;
the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.”
~Psalm 121



$357,000 and Counting

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The goal for Missions Sunday at Central today was an ambitious $275,000 to fund and expand our foreign missions efforts. But, just like last year, our merciful God blew that goal right out of the water. God opened up our hearts and our wallets this morning to the tune of more than $357,000; and the money is still trickling in this afternoon.

As far as feelings go, I’m not sure anything will be able to top what happened last year. It’s like when the Rangers beat the Yankees in 2010 to win the pennant and advance to their first ever World Series. All Rangers fans can tell you exactly where they were, who they were watching with, and how they felt when Feliz struck out A-Rod to clinch the title. It was the first time. It was unexpected. It was exhilarating. The next year when they advanced, it was great. It was wonderful. We hugged and high-fived, we bought the championship T-shirts, we talked about it every minute of every day. But it just wasn’t the same. It wasn’t as great or as unexpected. There’s only one first time.

And, honestly, I felt myself today almost taking for granted that God would provide more than our goal. When John Todd announced the total at the end of our worship assembly, the gathered Christians whooped and hollered and stood and cheered. And I enthusiastically joined them. But it wasn’t like last year. Last year, very few people were really expecting it. This year, we almost knew it was going to happen.

And I don’t know what to do with that yet.

I do know we/I should never, ever take for granted the blessings we receive from our God. Good grief, $357,000?!?!?!? That’s what churches of two-thousand members give on their Missions Sundays, not churches of 700 like us. I know that I belong to a very mission-minded, very generous, very over-the-top giving church. These people give. And I’m so honored to belong to them. I also know that they all own our foreign missions initiatives. They are committed to our goals of sending more and more of our own people out into the field; they are dedicated to our efforts to bring salvation in holistic ways, to partner with God in restoring all of an individual through medical missions, justice missions, and evangelistic missions; they are completely partnered with our missionaries and their families. They pray every night for little orphan children in Kenya, they email and send care packages to our Great Cities Missions teams, they train and take Let’s Start Talking trips to Columbia, and they buy sewing machines and bicycles for preachers in India. They can tell you everything we’re doing in foreign missions and who’s where and what’s happening when. I love that about Central.

And I’m so privileged to be their preacher.

I believe our giving today reflected our gratitude and joy in God’s amazing grace. I believe our generosity was motivated by our genuine love and concern for all of God’s people all over the world. And I believe I should never, ever take that for granted.

It’s been a really beautiful Sunday. Praise God from whom all blessings flow!




Missions Sunday

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This Sunday is Missions Sunday here at Central. The goal is $275,000 to fund and expand our current and brand new foreign missions efforts for the sake of the world. Unlikely? Maybe. Improbable? Perhaps.

Good! That means it’s definitely going to happen!

If we’ve learned anything in our study of Jonah this month, it’s that our God’s strength is seen in our weakness. His power is revealed in our inadequacy. He does his greatest work when the odds are stacked against him.

Last year, our ambitious goal of $250,000 was blown out of the water when the Lord provided more than $353,000 on Missions Sunday. The same thing is going to happen this time. I’m assuming, if you’re part of the Central church, you want to be in on it.

As a church family we’ve studied and preached, fasted and prayed about it. We’ve done the math. We’ve read brochures and pamphlets, purchased cookies and bracelets, held garage sales, and given up gourmet coffee and golf. We’ve heard from Tony Morrow, Seth Bouchelle, Junior and Patricia Lira, Neely Borger, and Bret McCasland. We’ve seen a lot of pictures, watched a few videos, and learned a new song. We’ve been inspired by our missionaries and challenged by our elders.

Now it’s time to give.

I’m anticipating a wonderful morning together as we express and practice our commitment to spreading the good news and as our God reveals his glory to us in surprising and powerful ways. May our hearts be opened to God’s call, may our lives be transformed by his Spirit, and may Christ Jesus be eternally praised.




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“Forty more days and Nineveh will be overturned!” ~Jonah 3:4

You’ve gotta have a sense of humor to read Jonah. There’s so much hyperbole and exaggeration, sarcasm and irony, embedded in almost every paragraph, I think you’ll miss the main points of the tale if you don’t break out into a huge smile and maybe even a giggle or two as you read it. It’s funny that Jonah’s message is that God is going to “overturn” Nineveh. Because that’s exactly what God does. He turns Nineveh completely upside down.

The people proclaim a fast before the king does. Declarations like that usually begin at the top and work their way down. But this one starts in the streets and then reaches the palace.

The king leaves his throne and takes off his royal robes. The throne is empty, it’s wide open now for the Lord to reign in Nineveh. The king is sitting in dust with the least of the common people. This is definitely an overturned king! And his proclamation demands that everyone call urgently on the God of Israel. These mighty Assyrians are now just like the sailors in the first part of the story — crying out to YHWH for their very lives.

In just two short verses, Nineveh has been overturned — not destroyed, but turned upside down in every way possible. It’s a supernatural event. Nobody saw this coming. It goes far beyond what anybody could perceive as normal. Come on, even the goats and cows are fasting and wearing sackcloth!

God does this in order to save the city. He turns it upside down in order to save it. And he’ll do the same for you. Or for your family. Or for your church. Or your town.

Our God will go to whatever lengths are necessary, he’ll do whatever it takes, he will not give up on saving his people. Even when we resist, he keeps on pursuing. Even when we rebel, he keeps on forgiving. Even when we run away, he keeps chasing. He used a violent storm and the weak witness of a runaway prophet to save the pagan sailors. He created and commanded the giant fish to rescue his rebellious servant. And he put five Hebrew words into the hearts of a wicked people and turned an entire nation upside down.

And he’s tracking you, too. He’s chasing you. You know it. You feel it.

What’s God doing right now to get your attention? How’s he working in your life to draw you to him? Is he sending the storms? Is he putting people in your path? Is he piercing your heart with an unforgettable phrase or a particularly haunting verse of Scripture? Is it just a feeling, maybe, that you can’t shake? Is it a person who cares deeply for you and hurts with God’s own compassion for you? How is God getting to you? You may as well start thinking about it, because he’s not going to stop.




God Will Not Be Stopped

Ezekiel, Foreign Missions, Jonah, Luke, Salvation No Comments »

“I will search for the lost and bring back the strays.” ~Ezekiel 34:16

Our God will go to whatever lengths are necessary, he’ll do whatever it takes, he will not ever give up on saving his people. Even when we resist, he keeps pursuing. Even when we rebel, he keeps forgiving. Even when we run away, he keeps chasing.

“Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? Does she not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it?” ~Luke 15:4, 8

Our merciful Father used the power of a violent storm and the weak witness of a runaway prophet to save the pagan sailors in Jonah 1. He created and commanded the great fish to rescue his rebellious servant in Jonah 2. And in Jonah 3, our faithful God put five Hebrew words into the hearts of a wicked people and turned an entire nation upside down for him.

“‘I take no pleasure in the death of anyone,’ declares the Sovereign Lord. ‘Repent and live!’” ~Ezekiel 18:32

Our God is on a mission to save the world and he wants us to participate. Either way — whether we join him in that mission or not — our God will not be stopped. He’ll find the young professional in that tiny house in Bogota, Columbia; and he’ll send a group from Amarillo, Texas all the way down there to do it. He’ll save the impoverished orphan girls in Kenya; and he’ll use a bunch of ladies in a sewing room at Central to make it happen. God will save ten thousand people in India; and he’ll use a broken preacher on a TV show to do it. God will rescue the dying and lost in Brazil and Guatemala & Ukraine; and he’ll use your garage sale earnings and your Starbucks money to accomplish it. Our God is on the trail to save and he will not be stopped.

He’s tracking you, too. He’s chasing you. You feel it. You know it. He’s on to you and he won’t let go. Our God is that relentless hound of heaven that C. S. Lewis writes about.

May we adopt that same mindset. May we see the world as our Father sees the world. And may we allow nothing — absolutely nothing! — to get in our way of seeking and saving the lost.