Wednesday, April 28, 2010

My Friend John Palmer


I got word today that John Palmer died suddenly of a heart attack. John was one of those “salt of the earth” types. He lived in Independence, Kansas, his entire life and over the years he became a major player in the educational process of that small southeast Kansas town.

John was also a huge part of the local Church of the Nazarene. That’s how I met him. When I was called there as pastor in 1980, it was John and Belva and Paul and Ann who showed up at my Del City, Oklahoma, parsonage to load our furniture and move us to Independence. We had a U-Haul and John’s stock trailer and between the two we got everything loaded.  

John was married to Belva and they had two gorgeous daughters, both grown now with children of their own. Johnna and Faith were model ladies and great leaders in the youth group. They both married wonderful young men who cared for them in the way “dad” would have wanted them to. 

John was a churchman. He loved the Lord and he loved his church He supported his pastor through deep valleys or when the church was doing very well. He was a friend.  

I know that as a pastor I’m supposed to talk about how Heaven is richer today, but I’m still dealing with the fact that our community is poorer. John leaves a huge void.  

I had an older lady evangelist tell me once that “until God is through with you the devil can’t shoot straight enough to kill you.”

That helped me back 35 years ago, but somehow today it doesn’t do much for me. It just seems like John still had too many things to do and too many conversations to hold and too many lessons to pass along to others. 

Though I rarely saw John over the past 22 years, it was always a treat when I did and I’m missing him today.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Final Day at LaJunta

Yesterday was our final Sunday at LaJunta Church of the Nazarene.

I believe that God sent us to LaJunta with a sense of purpose/appointment four months ago. I’m thankful for the journey that we’ve had with them as a church family and we have wonderful memories of the days that we shared together. 

Here's a look at our final Sunday with them.

Please keep the church in your prayers as they welcome their new pastor.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Flaws And Good Intentions

When our oldest grandson was five he was part of the kid's choir in our church.

He stood on the first row of the risers singing his heart out (when he wasn’t elbowing the girl next to him). He clapped and sang and sat when he was supposed to. As I watched him I couldn’t help but reflect on the heritage that our family has in the Church of the Nazarene and the importance of the role the church has played in all our lives. You see, my grandsons are fifth generations Nazarenes. 

Pastoring a church and raising a family isn’t always easy, and to be honest, my wife was left with much of the responsibility. But we found time to create strong bonds with our children. Times as simple as the evening meal. It was an important tradition for us. From the time they were old enough to talk we would gather around the table and pray. As we ate we found many things to laugh about. Our home echoed with laughter. 

We also found ways to remind our two girls of the incredible honor of being a pastor family. They witnessed the people of the church caring for us and bringing by produce or filling our freezer with meat. They saw first hand the advantage of being able to take time away to attend a General Assembly or having their dad at church camp with them. Yes, they also saw and heard some things that disappointed them in the church but we always tried to remind them that those actions did not reflect the church, just certain people in the church.

Today our girls are grown, married and each have two boys. They are part of dynamic churches and give their mom and dad reason to be proud. But it all started when they were young, around a dinner table laughing and praying with their parents.

Now it’s exciting to see them working to teach their boys the same principles that we tried to teach them. At times we thought we had failed, but their lifestyle now shows us we did better than we imagined.

Augusten Burroughs said, “I myself am made entirely of flaws, stitched together with good intentions.” I can identify with his thought yet it’s comforting to know that our girls understood our good intentions as well as our flaws. If we’re honest with one another, a parsonage is a wonderful place to raise a family.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Small Towns And Big People

During our 38 years of ministry Jane and I have had the opportunity to serve in four different churches in four different cities. We pastored in Del City, Oklahoma ( a suburb of Oklahoma City), Independence, Kansas, Tulsa, Oklahoma and Denver, Colorado. Our first church had 74 people in attendance on our first Sunday. Our last assignment in Denver was a church that often had 2,000 on a Sunday morning.  It was a wonderful experience moving from place to place and meeting new people and trying to transition into their lives. It was always challenging, sometimes extremely frustrating and often side-splitting funny.
After stepping away from the pulpit in Denver and moving to our cabin I preached only occasionally for the first few months. This past January I was invited to become the Interim Pastor at the Church of the Nazarene in LaJunta, Colorado. Upon embarking on this temporary assignment I was immediately drawn back to our time serving in Independence. It was a strong church in a small town. Big city folks often tend to put down small towns. But let me tell you, there’s no better place to serve the church. LaJunta reminded me of all that I enjoy about smaller towns.  

When you serve as the pastor of a strong church in a small town you realize how easy it is to get the attention of a community. You also realize what it means to be part of an extended family, a community. There’s a work ethic there and a sense of responsibility that you don’t always find in larger settings. People realize that they are needed and that the church depends on them.   

LaJunta is a wonderful place. The city of some 12,000 people is struggling as the economy and the move toward larger cities has caused the population to fall and some industry to leave. Yet the folks who have stayed feel a sense of pride in their town and their church that’s contagious. Our weekly trips to Lajunta in the Arkansas Valley of Colorado became something we looked forward to. In the four months we’ve been serving them we’ve made friends that we cherish, we’ve grown encouraged by the state of the church in general and we’ve learned that God can handle every  situation. 

The LaJunta church has called a new pastor and he will begin his ministry there on May 2nd. I must confess that I’m a bit sad about the transition. I trust that I’ve helped the church prepare for his arrival but I’ll miss these wonderful people. They’re BIG people…, not obese. They are people with big hearts, big spirits. They take the high road. They care about one another. They pray for each other and encourage one another. 

I realize how much they’ve done for me. In fact, they’ve done far more for me than I’ve done for them. They are a wonderful example of what Christ’s church can look like. With their new pastor they can indeed live up to the words of Joshua when he was leading the Israelites against Jericho. His recorded words to his people are these: “Shout!! For the Lord has given you the city.” 

I love small towns and BIG hearted people.

Friday, April 16, 2010


Blog. What a funny word. Does anyone know what it means? I’m sure that the four letters stand for something, I just don’t know what. On the other hand, blogging is something that I’ve been doing once a week for over 38 years. We just didn’t call it a blog in those days. You see, as a pastor - the churches I served always published either a mid-week newsletter or a Sunday bulletin that required a column by the pastor.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sat before a blank sheet of paper and tried to decide what great words of wisdom I should pen. I just assumed that if I started to write, Niagara’s of literary genius would begin to tumble forth from my fertile mind. I was wrong. I did, however, always find something that I thought would be informative or amusing.

After becoming “semi-retired” just over a year ago I thought that those days of writing a column were over.  But with the encouragement of my oldest daughter I’ve entered the world of the blog and find myself once again sitting before a blank page and trying to think of something to write that might cause anyone to even care enough to read it.

I promise you this. I’ll do my best to update this site once a week with a story or an observation that might at least be interesting and at most, illicit a giggle. I’ll share different chapters from my own faith walk, our travels, our family and the unusual work of the church. So….check back occasionally take a short ride with me.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Light In The Window

(This is my favorite Christmas story. I know. It’s not Christmas, but a dear lady at the LaJunta Church asked me to write it for her. It’s a true story, originally told by my favorite preacher, my uncle Sam Stearman). 

It was Christmas Eve day, early in the morning and the year was 1944. My father was involved in the China/Burma/India Theater of war, uncle Lloyd was in a fox hole in Germany and my uncle Sam was at the army base in El Reno, Oklahoma waiting for his orders to ship overseas. My grandparents lived in Wichita, Kansas and they knew it would be a lonely Christmas with all their boys involved in the Big War. 

Shortly after day break a communiqué  went out across that El Reno base stating that any soldier who’s home was within 150 miles of the base could have a three day pass for Christmas. Wichita is 147 miles from the base. Within the hour Sam had his duffle bag filled and stood outside the gates hoping to thumb a ride home for Christmas. He wouldn’t have been able to take public transportation if he’d had the money. The busses and trains were all filled with holiday travelers. So, there he stood, waiting. 

In a short time a family in a 1936 Chevy pulled to the side of the road and invited Sam to climb in. He did. The car was occupied by a family of four traveling north to be with extended family for Christmas. 

As they traveled, it began to snow. A perfect addition to the fact that Christmas was going to be special for Sam. Yet, in Oklahoma the snow doesn’t fall straight down making nice fluffy piles on tree limbs. No, it blows sideways. Oklahoma usually gets snow that was meant for Kansas.  

As it snowed, the old roads grew slick. The car slid occasionally and eventually ended up in the ditch where workers for the WPA helped push it back on the road.

As they continued north the snow continued to fall. The sun sat and the evening grew into night when they finally drove into the little Kansas town of Kingman, fifty miles west of Sam’s destination in Wichita. The driver pulled the car to a stop under the one street light in town and informed Sam that they were continuing west. He stepped out of the car pulling his duffle bag after him and stood, a lonely silhouette under a dim street light as show continued to fall. 
Within a matter of minutes a guy driving a poultry truck screeched to a halt and hollered to the snow dusted soldier, “Jump in. How far you goin?”  

“To Wichita.” Sam answered. And off they went with snow flakes and turkey feathers swirling around in the cab of the old truck. 

In the wee hours of the morning they finally slid into Wichita. Now the snow had stopped falling, the clouds had dissipated and the moon was beginning to shine brightly casting long shadows on the freshly fallen snow.  When they came to the corner of Illinois and Maple, the driver stopped. Sam got out of the truck, thanked his new friend and started walking down the long dirt road to his parents home, crunching through the snow. 

With the exception of the moon, the lane was dark. Not a light on in any house….except...down at the end of the road where his parents lived Sam saw one of those old fashioned red cellophane wreaths hanging in the window with one little four watt bulb burning brightly in it’s center. He was amused. Grandpa was “frugal.” What would cause him to leave a light on? 

He approached the house, climbed up on the old wooden porch and stomped the snow from his combat boots and rattled the screen door. There was a stirring in the house and then the door opened and my grandfather looked out into the night to see his son standing, smiling from ear to ear. Grandpa swung open the screen door and welcomed his boy with a warm hug. By now, grandma was awake and they moved to the kitchen where coffee was put on and a few Christmas snacks were produced on little plates. They gathered around the table on, what was now, early Christmas morning. They laughed together and enjoyed the unexpected gift of being able to be together in such an unexpected way. 

In time, Sam remembered the small light in the cellophane wreath and he asked grandpa, “Dad, I noticed the little light in the window. Why did you leave that light on? You know DeWayne was in China and Lloyd was in Germany and that I was going to be shipping out. You knew that none of us would be home for Christmas. Why did you leave the light burning?” 
My grandfather answered in a way that was so simple, yet so profound. He simply said, “Oh….I don’t know Sammy. I guess I left it on…..just in case.” 

2000 years ago, God hung a light in Eternity’s Window….Just In Case there would be a boy lost in the storm. Just in case there would be a girl away from home and seeking her way.  

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whosoever believeth in His should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Sermon for LaJunta Church of the Nazarene, Colorado - Sunday, April 11

I had just arrived back at our cabin last Sunday afternoon when I found a note on my facebook from friend Jim Garlow of Skyline Wesleyan Church describing the earthquake that rocked southern California that afternoon. He described running out of the house into the backyard and watching as his house literally moved and water started splashing out of the pool.

One reporter, describing such a quake said: “when the noise and shaking reached their peak, the spectators fell silent.” Such stories carry the spirit and fear of a narrative recorded in Joshua 6.

Now, turn with me to Joshua chapter 6:

Joshua 6:1-5 (NIV)
1 Now Jericho was tightly shut up because of the Israelites. No one went out and no one came in. 2 Then the LORD said to Joshua, "See, I have delivered Jericho into your hands, along with its king and its fighting men. 3 March around the city once with all the armed men. Do this for six days. 4 Have seven priests carry trumpets of rams' horns in front of the ark. On the seventh day, march around the city seven times, with the priests blowing the trumpets. 5 When you hear them sound a long blast on the trumpets, have all the people give a loud shout; then the wall of the city will collapse and the people will go up, every man straight in."
Joshua 6:12-16 (NIV)
12 Joshua got up early the next morning and the priests took up the ark of the LORD. 13 The seven priests carrying the seven trumpets went forward, marching before the ark of the LORD and blowing the trumpets. The armed men went ahead of them and the rear guard followed the ark of the LORD, while the trumpets kept sounding. 14 So on the second day they marched around the city once and returned to the camp. They did this for six days. 15 On the seventh day, they got up at daybreak and marched around the city seven times in the same manner, except that on that day they circled the city seven times. 16 The seventh time around, when the priests sounded the trumpet blast, Joshua commanded the people, "Shout! For the LORD has given you the city! 
These verses contain one of the stories we learned quickly as children. Not only in verse, but in song. “Joshua fit the battle of Jericho and the walls came tumblin’ down.”
There is a bit of romance in our minds as we hear the story over and over. We listen to the words and in our minds we are marching with Joshua. We are on his side in this epic confrontation….for we are on God’s side. We delight at seeing our hero with a much smaller army capture the Canannite city without a blade bring drawn...until after the walls collapsed.

We marvel at the simplicity of the instructions given by God and the willingness of Joshua and his people to carry them out.

And in our day, we’re almost surprised as we see such a vivid portrayal of obedience and cooperation between the clergy (priests) and the laymen. Each group did its assigned job. And this brought about the completion of their objective.  THE TOOK THE CITY.

It’s fun to read the story and let our imaginations paint Technicolor—widescreen—stereo images of what took place.

A rag tag group of refugees cross the Jordan River and immediately they are faced with an enormous obstacle. The City of Jericho. Strong, powerful, imposing.

A fortress with wide walls, tall and strong. Populated with people who not only were good at war, but they seemed to like it.
And our group swarms over the river, waits on a hilltop for spies to Jericho to return and then they plan their assault.
Ah yes! But they were not mapping out strategy alone. Joshua had been spending time with God.  Do you ever wonder where God gets these plans?  “March around the city.” He said, Seven priests, with seven trumpets made from rams horns were followed by the sacred ark of God (a chest containing the 10 commandments, Aarons rod and a container of manna) the armed guard marched ahead of the priests and the rear guard….they followed the ark.

While they marched, the trumpets were sounding. But the people were to remain silent. You do not detect fear or concern on the part of the people. Because they had a promise from God delivered by Joshua “…the Lord has given you the city.”

For six days they circled the city once a day. What a sight. Trumpets blasting, carrying a chest or a trunk around the city.
But the 7th day they got up at day break and marched around the city 7 times. And the 7th time around, when the priests sounded the trumpet blast Joshua raised his voice to convey instructions to the people….and to remind them of God’s promise.

“SHOUT! For the Lord has given you the city.”

It was a loud shout, a battle cry calculated to instill fear in the enemy.  The people shouted…the walls collapsed…and almost any words used to describe an earthquake would pale into insignificance when compared to the destruction and loss at Jericho.

The city was in shambles, the citizens were in panic and Joshua’s army stormed the walls and took the city.

I have been intrigued by Joshua’s command in verse 16 to “Shout! For the Lord has given you the city.”

I’ve decided that it is an OT way of declaring a NT truth. “We are more than conquerors.”

Joshua told them before the walls ever fell that it was a victory already won. Look closely at his command and I think you might see that he was instructing his people to lift….


The LOUD voices are usually those who say it can’t be done. We are inundated with pessimists. Folks who look on the dark side, at the glass half empty, and see battles lost.

Ah, but God has given you the city…we are more than conquerors.

We have, for too long, been willing to listen to those who are long in the face…the downcast, the pessimist. But I want to tell you something from an “outsiders” point of view. “God has given you the city.”  What a promise.  How that applies to you and your church. This city is yours for the taking. After serving as your interim pastor since the middle of January I’m totally convinced that few churches…anywhere…any size…have ore opportunity than this church.
Folks, you’ve got so much:
·       An excellent young pastor coming.
·       Finances
·       A city that’s large enough to offer a great harvest, and is just waiting for someone to lift the banner and declare war on the enemy and love for folks.
·       Incredible membership of people willing to work. I’ve been so impressed that you haven’t needed a pastor to carry on.
·       Lovely facilities.
·       You have the respect of the community and so many intangibles that money can’t buy.

This city can become a bastion of faith in Almighty God. And they can look to the faithfulness of this fellowship and other churches in town who took God at His word.

Listen, the lost aren’t looking to the church for GOOD ADVICE, they’re looking for GOOD NEWS. And you have that news. You’ve got nothing to be ashamed of or to hang your head about. You’re doing so much better than you think you are.

SHOUT!  A shout of praise, not pessimism, for God has given you the city.

But not only is it a shout of praise, it is also….


At this point in time, Joshua and the boys weren’t looking back to past exploits, and they could have…NO, they were staring a new challenge dead in the face….Jericho. and this challenge was bigger, meaner, tougher more imposing than anything they had faced.
Folks, the only value yesterday may hve had was to give them courage and confidence in a God of infinite variety…who never let them down.

The Christian life is a process. It is a journey. Something we are working on and something we are having worked out in us day after day.

During these days of “retirement” I have been brought back to a verse that has been an anchor for me across the years. Isaiah 43:18 says, “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! you not perceive it?”

These words  are God’s voice to His people. He didn’t want them to never again embrace fond memories of former glory. NO, the verse is indicating something far more positive than that. When it says, “I am doing a new thing,” those words actually mean, “What I am doing in you and for you and through you will make the former things pale in comparison.

Folks, that’s true of this church. Every pastor who has filled it’s pulpit over the past (how many years) has helped set the course of the church to accomplish new things for God that the former pastor couldn’t or wouldn’t have accomplished. They all had a purpose.

I believe that God is doing a new thing in you and this church and together we can “SHOUT! For God has given you the city.”

“We ARE more than conquerors.”

Finally, it’s….

But this power God has for us is not there so that you will be enabled to do great signs and wonders and all kinds of fabulous, amazing spectacular things so that people will say, “Wow! That’s power!”

John the Baptist performed no recorded miracles yet Jesus called him the greatest man born of woman.

No, this power is amazingly down to earth. We are STRENGTHENED with all power according to His glorious might so that we might have ENDURANCE AND PATIENCE. You can’t get more practical than that.

The power of God is made available to people in great measure in order that they might live purposefully and powerfully down here in the normal circumstances of life

ENDURANCE means God’s power enables me to respond properly to my external circumstances.
Endurance means you’ve got the strength to finis the race and win the prize.
The church is an interesting ORGANIZM. There is often an ebb and flow to church growth and when we find we’re in the “ebb” we can easily panic and wonder if it’s going to be alright.

But listen. God is with YOU. He wants you to win at life and as a church. In fact, He’s done everything in His power to make it happen: “For God so loved the world….”

“SHOUT! For God has given you the city.”

“We are more than conquerors.”