Monday, July 25, 2016

As promised, here's the link to read more about my story from this morning.  Trusting God is always better than trusting ourselves!

An end of one chapter, a beginning of another

Last Wednesday, Julie, Joshua, our dog Dodger and myself loaded up and went back to Jacksonville.  We went with a mission: prepare to exit our Jacksonville home.  We've got a contract to sell it and it looks like we'll be out of it no later than Friday, August 5.  In order to make that happen, however, we had to go pack the things that meant the most to us.  Movers will come soon and they'll load it all up in a big truck and drag it to Midland.  But before they do, we were in our beloved Jacksonville home one more time.  
     It's funny how attached we get to houses.  But so much happened in that house.  We moved in there when Joshua was 9 weeks old.  He rolled for the first time on the living room floor.  His first steps were there.  His first tooth was lost there (he wouldn't let us pull it so when Julie brushed his teeth one night, it fell out and he spat it out in the sink!)  I't's where we learned to be a family in a whole new way.  It's where we came into the house for the first time and the entire place smelled like cat urine.  We pulled every stitch of carpet out before we moved anything in.  We lived on the slab for a year while we saved cash for new flooring.  It's where we wrote scripture on the slab while it was bare.  It's where we knelt to pray for the wisdom to lead Central and where we knelt to pray about coming to Midland.  
     I'll miss our place on Augusta street, but mostly I'll miss our neighbor Mrs. Betty Sheffield.  The day we moved in, she came and asked if she could mind Joshua for us while we got settled.  Thus began her journey as Joshua's surrogate grandmother.  Her love for our son is humbling.  He has two wonderful grandmothers, but they both live far away and don't get to visit nearly as much as they would like.  Miss Betty lives right next door.  AND she has a golf cart!  AND she knows where she keeps the Hershey kisses!  AND she lets Joshua have almost unlimited screen time!  For our son, when you put those pieces together, it's almost like Heaven!  Yes, it will be a sad day when we roll away from our Jacksonville home for the last time.  
     Now, however, we begin a new chapter of life and an exciting one at that!  Joshua will begin kindergarten this fall.  He's nervously excited about what that will be like.  We've got a contract on a home here - in fact, today we'll be at the house participating in the inspection.  It's a great house and we're excited about living there.  We believe firmly God has prepared it just for us, even down to some paint colors - two rooms are burnt orange!  
     I guess I thought after we'd been here this long - six months to the day today - we'd be more settled somehow.  But as I look back and look forward, I can say with confidence and clarity we're Midlanders now!  This will be our home and we'll enjoy this new chapter as much as we did the last one.  Thanks FBC and Midland community for making us feel so very much at home.  

Wednesday, March 09, 2016

Humility - the hardest character quality to keep

One of the most challenging parts of my job is also a blessing.  Constantly, people come to me to tell me what a fine message I brought or what a fine funeral I did or what a fine wedding I performed.  I'm not saying I don't like it - it's always nice to be liked.  The problem is that it's not about us.  It's tempting to believe all of the things people say.  That you're God's gift.  That people should always say such kind things and hang on every word you speak.  That your gifts extend far beyond mere mortal capacity to receive or even understand it!  Believe me - I've been there.

The reality is when we believe things like that about ourselves it leads us to the wrong conclusion.  it leads us to believe that it's about us and our calling.  As if God can't use anyone other than me.  Or us.  Or as if our gifts exempt us from our own humanity.  Don't believe it!  Satan will sell you that lie as long as you'll buy it.  

So how do you avoid it?  By making certain humility is a key part of your life.  For me, I do this by learning a new skill each year.  Generally speaking, to do so means you must swallow your own pride and ask for help.  You must be teachable and - worst of all - vulnerable to criticism. . . . especially from yourself!

I learned a lot about this back a few years ago when my friend Larry Folden invited me to learn to skurf.  For those unfamiliar with skurfing, here is video of some guys doing it ridiculously well.  To learn, I had to submit myself to doing something I hate to do - look foolish.  I had to agree to swallow my foolish pride and strike out where I'd never gone.  For 17 weeks - 13 weeks one some and a full month of the next summer - I tried unsuccessfully just to stand on the silly board!  I drank about half of Lake Jacksonville and wasted about $400 worth of Larry's boat gas!  Finally - FINALLY - on the 18th week - I stood up.  I didn't throw the rope in and I looked anything like I was supposed to - but I at least got that far.  Because I was willing to keep trying.  I was willing TO STAY HUMBLE.  

I'm not exalting myself here - I'm very much still a work in progress - but humility is one character trait that I'm constantly pursing.  The thing about humility is this - you can choose it or it will choose you.  Humble yourself or someone else will do it for you.  I choose to humble myself with the knowledge nothing I do to serve the Lord is about me.  I invite you 

Saturday, March 05, 2016

Remember why you exist

Last night, Julie, Joshua and I decided it was a great night to go out to eat!  Who DOESN'T like that?  So off we go to a Mexican restaurant - a part of a chain we've enjoyed before.  We even found a front-row parking spot!  On a Friday evening!  How about that!  Sadly, that was as good as it got.

I let Julie out to go get us in line.  When Joshua and I joined her a few minutes later, she greeted me with "The hostess will be right back - and I don't like her."  My gentle and gracious wife isn't often like that.  She likes everyone!  We stood there - no joke - at least five minutes with literally no waiters or hostess in sight.  At 6:00 PM on a Friday.  I thought I was on a funny video show - "how will people react when there's no one to help them!"  Hahahahaha.

Finally, a new hostess shows up.  She's just as surly as the one before.  She leaves too.  We're at the head of the line which has grown behind us now.  The first surly one came back with the second surly one.  "We're short staff tonight so you'll have to take a booth."  For my long legs, that's a challenge, but okay.  They took us to a freshly cleaned table that was literally soaking wet.  We wiped it down so WE didn't get that wet.  A waiter passed but didn't speak.  Another couple came in and were seated.  They got waited on.  We didn't.  After 10 minutes of sitting there alone, we got up and left before we were even greeted by a wait staff.  Wow.  They think they're in the food business.  No.  I submit that they are indeed NOT in the food business.  They're in the PEOPLE business as are most of us.

Our experience there made me think of a book I encountered.  "The $6000 egg."  (  The essence of the book is the same as our experience.  Author Todd Duncan had a similar experience and reminds us we're about people!  Don't allow your organism to forget why you exist!  It happens to restaurants but it also happens to churches.  In the push and pull of life every day, we miss the opportunity to be about our mission - to serve people!  At FBC, we're definitely not in the religious business - we're in the people business.  The two are definitely not the same.

My friend Don

I'm glad to say Don Cornelius was my friend.  He blessed me with his kindness, wisdom, grace, generosity and strength more times than I can count.  For the last six years, every single time - EVERY SINGLE TIME - I saw Don, he would hug me and tell me "I love you preacher!"  He meant it with every fibert of his being!  It wasn't just words for Don.  It was a way of life.  Even with all of that, however, I'll never get over what happened in the 10 months between August 2010 and June 2011.  Let me tell you a story only Julie, Don, Carolyn and I know. . . . .

It was a Sunday morning.  Early.  Deacons meeting day.  We had been at Central right at a year, all the while seeking to sell our home in Frankston.  It wasn't that far back and forth, but we knew we were leaving a lot on the table by staying there and working in Jacksonville.  Thus, we made a decision that we would seek temporary housing while we tried to sell.  Seeking help in that department, I asked the deacons to prayerfully consider where we might find such (the market for housing in Jacksonville isn't as strong as some other markets).  Immediately after the meeting, Don was waiting for me.  "Preacher, I've got an extra lake house we're trying to sell.  We'd be delighted for you to live there."  It was a home that had belonged to family member who had passed away.  We agreed on a nominal sum - far below what it should've been, but it was all I could convince him to take.  Thus, a few weeks later, we moved into the lake house.  Don was as attentive as any landlord I've ever had.  If something was wrong, he did ALL he could to make it right.  He mowed the yard and kept the landscaping up.  He wasn't a nuisance, but he was always close at hand in a gentle and kind way.  I'm not sure who knew how little Don was allowing us to pay to live in that great house, but we did and were grateful in ways I simply can't measure.  That was great - but it only set the table for what was to come.

March 2011.  Our lives had just been completely inverted.  A call came from a lawyer's office about a baby needing a home.  A short time later, Julie and I learned we would be parents!  As I thought about it, however, we really needed to talk with our landlord.  He had signed on for two adults and a dog.  How about a baby?  I thought I knew, but . . . so I went to see Don and tell him our situation.  I really can't remember now - 5 years later - I was so concerned.  When I told Don what was happening, tears well in his eyes and he hugged with a hug only one father can give another.  More than a yes, Don was at least as excited (maybe even more so!) than we about Joshua's birth.  When we got home with Joshua, Don and Carolyn were some of his first visitors (I think they were the very first, but I can't remember for sure).

It wasn't long until we sold our Frankston home and bought our place on Augusta in Jacksonville.  When we did, we left Don's lake house, but definitely not the same way we found it.  We left so much richer and fuller as a family - not monetarily but definitely spiritually and emotionally.  And Don was a big part of why.

And now, Don has gone home.  Far too soon for my tastes.  I don't know why the Lord took him home so soon and there's a hole in my heart that his absence leaves.  I'm grateful, however, for the goodness the Lord showed me a my family by loaning us Don, even if only for a short while.  I'll miss his laugh, his passionate work-ethic, his good sense of humor, his generous nature, his compassion and his constant reassurance of his love for me a my family.  God speed, my friend - I'll see you later - and we love you too.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Sunday Evening reflections

For those new to the blog, this Sunday night talk is a sporadic review of random thoughts from the day.
- For the first time today, I preached all three of our morning services.  While there wasn't a difference for the 8:25 service, the 11:05 traditional service got a non-traditional order - I preached there first and then dashed across the hallway to preach in the auditorium contemporary service!  I knew the timing would be tight - We're going to work on doing this monthly.  God is so very good to give us these opportunities so let's view them as the blessing they are.
- For those who are tired of hearing about where we've been and the struggles we've endured, I say GOOD!  February was our month to cope with our past - we're not going to mention it again unless we need to.  It's time to move forward!  We've got an incredible future and that's where we're going!
- Prayers for Moses Caesar in his new adventure!  We'll miss his service and his contributions to make FBC the amazing place it is!
- Prayers for our Jamaica team!  You should see all the stuff you've donated for them to take.  Amazing generosity by an church with lots of generosity!  Thanks for being the church God delights in using!
- We had several decisions this morning!  I don't know what decisions were made or who made them yet, but we're on the right track church!
- This is a big week for our man George Koehl.  For those who haven't heard, George is scheduled for surgery on his back this Thursday in Odessa.  Please pray for a successful surgery and for George's healing.
- Awesome night with the Upwards Basketball Celebration!  More than 400 children and their families came!  It was awesome!  Mike Bliss ( brought his show and did an awesome job!  Thanks John Elliott, Nathan Wenneve  
- Prayers for the Collier family in the loss of their 22 yr old daughter Kirby.  Her services will be Thursday morning at 10:30 AM in the chapel.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

To my new FBC Family

Grace and Peace to my new FBC family!  I'm humbled to be your new pastor and I eagerly look forward to transitioning to in your fine church!  You have big shoes to fill - serving at Central has been one of the greatest blessings of my life.  They've loved us and walked with us through some wonderful, difficult and just plain weird times.  We'll never outrun the mark they left on our lives. Thanks for allowing us this time to leave well.

That said, we're humbled by your overwhelming vote to call us.  (The picture attached here is one Jim Cawthon took last week on Sunday night.)  Wow!  We were so blessed by your kindness and grace when we were there last week.  We have been so blessed by the kind notes of welcome and encouragement we've received this week.  Thanks for all of your hospitality and thanks in advance for the wonderful journey we will share.
Via email, I talked with your former pastor Dr. Jim Denison this week.  He told me "FBC is an exceptionally gracious and loving church - they'll make you feel right at home."  Based on last weekend, I'd have to agree.  When we were leaving last Sunday, our son Joshua asked "do we HAVE to go back to Jacksonville? I like it here!"  Indeed.  I was able to convince him we needed to go back if only to get our dog!  Thanks for making us feel so loved and welcomed already.  You welcomed us in a way that none of us expected but that shouldn't be surprising.  Clearly, it's who you are.

Please know that we've been praying for the FBC family fervently for some time now.  For the last several weeks, we've prayed specifically for you by name with a church directory provided by your search committee.  I look forward to sharing fellowship, worship and life together for years to come.

So what should you expect from me?
(1) Expect me to be passionate about preaching, loving people and sharing Jesus with people!
(2) Expect me to lead with as much enthusiasm and passion as possible!
(3) Expect me to be active in the Midland community as well as FBC.  That's been my habit and I expect it will continue.  Shepherds go where people are.
(4) Expect me to make LOTS of mistakes.  My view of leadership says if I'm not making mistakes, I'm probably not trying very hard.
(5) Expect me to do my best to learn names, faces and family connections.  Help me by cueing me frequently!
(6) Expect me to make my own family a priority.  The title I love best is "husband" and "daddy".  I'll tell you now I won't always be available.  The best gift I can give FBC is theist version of myself.  I do that best by making room and time for my family.

What can you do for me and my family?
(1) You can pray for my mother's healing.  Her treatments are going well and she's back at work, but we're praying for her healing just the same.
(2) You can pray for the sale of our home. The housing market here in Jacksonville isn't quite like the one in Midland.  Pray for the right buyer and the right timing.
(3) You can pray for our transition to Midland.  We'll be moving the week of January 25th.  For a season, we'll stay at the house next door to the Sunshine House.  It's a fine place!  Don't be surprised if you see us bumping around town that week.  
(4) You can pray for our beloved Central Baptist Church family as they begin their search for God's man to lead.
(5) You can pray for the right house for us at the right time to buy in Midland.  We've looked a little and have looked online some, but that's not the same.  We'll begin a true search in earnest soon.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

To my beloved CBC family

Despite my best efforts to keep this until Sunday, the news has leaked out of the new calling on our lives.  Julie, Joshua and I are leaving.  Last Sunday, we went in view of a call as the senior pastor of First Baptist Church, Midland, TX.  With a unanimous vote, they called us and we've accepted.  After consultation with our personnel committee and deacon leadership, we've set our final Sunday here as January 24.

I want to dispel the notion that Julie and I are leaving because of any particular situation or because we're upset.  Quite the opposite.  I'm more confident now about the direction of CBC than since I came here.  No, we don't feel badly about CBC.  Nor is our choice linked to the "bigger is better" idea.  Instead, it's rooted in what I believe is the calling of the Spirit of God, just like it was when we came here.  I operate on the idea of being called TO, not called FROM.  Our departure is rooted in the firm conviction that we're not called FROM Central but rather TO FBC.

I know this is a shock to many of you and, as my family, I wanted to write this to you in hopes of helping you understand how the leadership of the Lord has brought us to this point.  If time permitted, I'd sit down with each of you to tell you this personally, but since I can't, receive this as an expression of a shepherd's heart to those he loves.

I've literally never applied for a ministry position.  They've always found me first (including CBC). For me, I feel like when that happens, the hand of God is on that portion in a tremendous way.  Such is the case here as well.  Let me tell you our story of 2015.

In February 2015, Brandon Pinson, the chairman of the search committee for FBC, called me for the first time.  (Let me pause and say that's not terribly unusual.  Throughout the course of church life, calls like this are made all the time.  In the time we've been at CBC, I've gotten several.  We even had one search committee show up at Central uninvited - a major faux paus in church-life.  I was hot!)  None of those were the right place or the right time, as made evident in our hearts and theirs.  This time, however, was different.  Furthermore, we told Brandon from the beginning that we were very happy at Central.  A great team, a great church, a great home and community - we weren't interested in moving just for the sake of change.  We agreed to prayerfully seek the Lord with no promises made from either end.

After the initial call, we waited.  And waited.  Finally, after several weeks, we presumed they had passed us by but hadn't notified us.  No big deal.  That happens too.  We're happy at CBC so we saw it as the leadership of Jesus.

In early June, however, they called back.  "Darin, we'd like to fly you and your wife out to Midland to meet with us."  After much prayer and deliberation, we agreed.  June 18th - a Thursday - we went out with one single prayer: if this is the right place and the right time, give us a clarity through the initial meeting with the committee.  If we're a good fit with them, we'll continue should they ask us to.  If not, we come home and press on with life here.  During more than 25 years of ministry, I've been through a number of interviews.  This was one of the best interactions I've ever had.  We hit it off like old friends reuniting even though we had literally never met until then.

After the interview, we came home and waited.  And waited.  Finally, we presumed they'd moved on without us but hadn't notified us.  Until late August, right about the time school started.  They called back and said, "Darin, we'd like to bring you back out for a second talk."  It took a few weeks for us to get our schedules to combine well, but we did indeed go on Oct 1.  This time, however, was different.  The first time we went in June was to talk about who were are.  This time, it was about what we do.  Again, our conversation went famously.

When we came home this time, the courtship changed course - now, both we and they were taking this much more seriously.  Their search committee came to Jacksonville over a pair of weekends in late October.  While the pace of progress was slow, there were additional questions from both ends, there were background checks and reference calls which  filled the last couple of months.  More calls and more questions.  I've never been so thoroughly vetted for any position.

Then, just in the last few weeks of 2015, after literally months of seeking the Lord and getting to know one another, the committee invited us to come in view of a call.  It was among the more difficult choices of my entire life.  Not because we don't feel confident in going to Midland but because of our great love for our Central family and Jacksonville in general.  This has been a home to us in ways we'd never have imagined, especially after Joshua's birth.  You've loved us and welcomed us, treated with grace, compassion and kindness and walked with us through all manner of ups and downs.  And yet, if I feel as strongly as I do about being called to Midland, however, and I refuse then I'm no good to CBC.  Thus, I'm faced with the same choice I've presented to you many, many times - You can't go with God and stay where you are.

Thus, we go.  With the joy of the Lord and the confidence of His call, we go.  Without much knowledge of West Texas, we go.  I've been to Midland only three times - once about 20 years ago, and the two trips this year.  While I was born in El Paso (my father was based at Fort Bliss), I left west Texas when I was 6 mths old and have never lived west of Ft. Worth since then.  I used to think of Weatherford as west Texas.  And yet, here we go.  

So what would I ask of you, my CBC family?
(1) Your prayers first of all.  This is unchartered waters for us.  We've never undertaken a transition quite like this one.  We've got to sell our home.  We've got to find a new home.  We've got to gather our things.  We've got lots of new names and places to learn.  We've got to get Joshua enrolled at his new school.  We need you to hold the rope on this end.  Please pray for us, even if you're mad at us right now.
(2) Your encouragement.  I'd be honored to be SENT to FBC by you as someone you're commissioning for that purpose.  I know you're disappointed and rightly so.  I don't blame you.  I've been where you are as well.  It's because we believe we're called and sent to this position.
(3) Your continued love and friendship.  It will be some time before we come to love FBC the way we've come to love Central.  We'll need to call home from time to time.  It would mean so much to know we can.
(4) Your continued passion for Christ and His kingdom.  You have a great staff and they'll pick up as if I'm still there.  Your personnel committee is already working to make the transition as seamless as possible.  Your deacons are awesome and will lead and love you as always.  Keep loving one another and sharing His good news with Jacksonville.  Keep making the name of Christ famous in Jacksonville, Cherokee County and east Texas.  And know we're doing our best to the same from our new post.
You know what they say about living here - Once and Indian, always an indian.  Indeed, that's true for us.  May God's peace and grace guide each of us until we arrive home in His presence.
Your shepherd,

Wednesday, January 06, 2016

A Reading plan to get through the New Testament in a month

Reading Plan

1. Matthew 1-10
2. Matthew 11-20
3. Mattthew 21-Mark 2
4. Mark 3-12
5. Mark 13-Luke 6
6. Luke 7-16
7. Luke 17-John 2
8. John 3-12
9. John 13-Acts 2
10. Acts 3-12
11. Acts 13-22
12. Acts 23-Romans 4
13. Romans 5-14
14. Romans 15-1 Cor 8
15. 1 Cor 9-2 Cor 3
16. 2 Cor 4-13
17, Galatians and Ephesians
18. Philippians and Colossians
19. 1 Thess and 2 Thess.
20. 1, 2 Timothy and Titus
21. Philemon – Hebrews 9
22. Hebrews 10-James
23. 1 and 2 Peter
24. 1-2 John
25. 3 John – Jude
26. Revelation 1-10
27. Revelation 11-22