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September 3, 2017 / Pastor George Fike

Before all things…

Third in the series Adam to Abraham on Genesis 1-11

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.  Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said,… Genesis 1:1-3

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. John 1:1-3

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our joy complete. 1 John 1:1-4

The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. Colossians 1:15-20

This might come as a shock to some of you, but Jesus did not make his first appearance in a feed trough in a lowly stable in tiny Bethlehem. Scripture makes abundantly clear that the Son existed before time and out of space with the Father. Jesus puts a face to the name of God. “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father.” (John 14:9) “Before Abraham was, I AM.” (John 8:58)

No matter how we try, we cannot adequately explain the mystery of the Trinity – that the singular God exists in three Persons: Father, Son, and Spirit. Our minds are too small to completely wrap around it. Much like an ant cannot fathom what a human being truly is. We see each other as entire persons, but from the ant’s perspective, he only knows me as a giant wall of flesh. He cannot fathom my beginning or end.

So it is with our view of God. We know the revealed heart of Father God, we reflect on the historical Jesus, and we sense and respond to His Spirit within us and often around us. For some reason it works without our complete understanding. Frustrating for empiricists, I know. Oh well. I’m not God. I can’t explain everything. I guess you just have to be there.

All this to say: don’t be surprised that you see Jesus pop up throughout the Bible, in Genesis as well as John. It’s not simply that he loves this planet he created along with this humongous universe that supplies its physical needs; it’s that he wants to hang out with us.

He came to that world which was His own, but those people who were His own did not welcome Him. But to every one who welcomed Him, who recognized him for Who He truly was, he gave the authority to become the children of God… John 1:11-12 (my paraphrase)

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August 29, 2017 / Pastor George Fike

Today’s socially acceptable discrimination….

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A pause from my new series – Adam to Abraham. I initially drafted this post four years ago but never posted it. I felt bitter at the time I wrote it. Now, not so much. I know my life is now, as always, in God’s hands, and He will always do what is just and fair, but also what is gracious and merciful. I need His grace and mercy far more than His justice. I updated it to be more relevant, but kept most of the language of my grief. Please accept it as an inside look at my soul. I left the ending open, so you could taste my emotion at that time. Understand I am much more hopeful today, although I do not yet see all that God might still do with me. Thanks for reading. With that, here goes…

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We recently put our cars in to our favorite mechanic for long overdue oil changes.  Putting them in one by one, we had to swap cars each day.  While my truck was in, I had to drive my son’s car.  I looked in the front seat console and found my old prayer counselor badge.  As you can see from the image, it was very faded from sun exposure and dented from when I took a bullet for a co-worker.

OK.  There was no bullet.  I don’t remember why the dent was there.  But it brought back bittersweet memories.

It has been 5 years since I was on staff as pastor in a church.  Yet, during these past years I was still engaged in many pastoral functions.  I married couples.  I buried some dear friends.  I made visits to the hospital.  I led worship at a weekly recovery group for my friend,  and I preached occasionally at a little church in southeast Bexar County.  I have had the opportunity to lead worship for the growing campus of a large church.  But primarily I have earned my living in a secular field.

Don’t get me wrong; I love my current job.  It has been challenging and purposeful, if not quite financially rewarding.  I’m still in the business of helping people, which brings me joy.

But I’d be lying if I told you I was happy as a clam.  I am still grieving the close of my professional ministry.  I don’t know if stating that means I’ve arrived at the final stage – acceptance – because I still feel anger and depression.  I enjoyed one career, well actually, my calling for 35 years, and I suppose for most people, that’s not a bad time to retire.  Yet in my industry with its typical pay scale, it’s way too early to affordably choose retirement.  Unfortunately, others chose it for me.

Leaving a position without another one ahead, I applied wherever and whenever I heard of a position that might be a good fit.  I was not what they were looking for.  Once you are out of a position, it is very difficult to find another comparable one.  Typically, a pastor is coveted and courted away from his current ministry.  Like the spies into Canaan, a search committee goes secretly to hear him preach and then decide whether to further pursue him based on what they’ve heard and seen.  These things don’t happen in a megachurch where only an elite few get to go onto the stage.  Other pastors are relegated to a place on a shelf where they are utilized like tools from a toolkit.  The presentational abilities churches typically look for in pastors or worship leaders slowly atrophy from lack of use.  One day you wake up, and your ‘use by’ date has passed.  You are discarded as irrelevant, a relic from another time, and a new fresh face is placed upon the shelf where you used to sit waiting for the call that never came.  You were a plate of stroganoff;  they picked away and ate the mushrooms, but allowed the beef and noodles to be tossed in the rubbish.  You surrendered perhaps your last best decade of service to sit the bench when you could have played on another team.  And now, a decade early, your number will never again be called.  You’ve been placed on waivers in a league that values only youth.

       Now I know what age discrimination feels like.

I’m used to seeing it at a sideways glance:  the opinions of the older segment of our church’s population being ignored in favor of the younger, cooler set.  The tithes from their retirement are greatly appreciated in order to acquire the latest technology to attract the younger “in” crowd, but please just deposit your offering and pick up your earplugs.  After all, “you’ve been here so long, you’re certainly not going anywhere else.”  A far cry from the Lord’s command:

“Stand up in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly and revere your God. I am the Lord.” Leviticus 19:32 (NIV)

Now I see it full on, personally.  Like my fading, dented prayer counselor’s badge, I have been set aside.  No one considers me without looking at a calendar and calculating how many years I could possibly have left.  Rather than enjoying the height of my career, I’m looking down a steep hill.  Perhaps I should just “celebrate” my early retirement.  Dr. Wayne Dyer said “Don’t die with your music still inside you.”  But when you’ve been kicked off the stage, you run that risk.  Here’s hoping I can find another stage to welcome my song. A word of caution to the younger generation: If you’ve been told to plan an exit strategy if you’re in your fifties, you better look around and go somewhere else by your forties, or you might not make it to retirement!

Here is where I should throw in some hopeful statements, about how “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” and “With men, it’s impossible, but all things are possible with God.”  I’m sure I’ll gravitate back to those hopeful statements, but for today, I thought I would go with my gut.  Something I honestly feel:

No one remembers the former generations,
    and even those yet to come
will not be remembered
    by those who follow them.

Ecclesiastes 1:11

August 3, 2017 / Pastor George Fike

Builder

2nd in the series From Adam to Abraham

In the beginning, GOD…

cause-and-effect: noting a relationship between actions or events such that one or more are the result of the other or others. – (n.d.). Dictionary.com Unabridged. Retrieved August 3, 2017 from Dictionary.com website 

We observe that nothing discovered in our universe is without a cause. To quote Billy Preston: “Nothing from Nothing leaves Nothing.” For the longest time, people thought the universe was eternal. In the 20th century, scientists began theorizing that our observable universe began from an infinitely small dot (meaning nothing). A writing from the first century BC had already stated this:

By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible. – Hebrews 11:3

Since there was nothing to construct the cosmos, the Big Bang must have had a Big Banger; one who was apart from this dimension yet could affect it.

So meet my friend, God.

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. – Genesis 1:1

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. – John 1:1-3 (more on this Word later)

“Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?
    Tell me, if you understand.
Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know!
    Who stretched a measuring line across it?
On what were its footings set,
    or who laid its cornerstone—
while the morning stars sang together
    and all the angels shouted for joy?

“Who shut up the sea behind doors
    when it burst forth from the womb,
when I made the clouds its garment
    and wrapped it in thick darkness,
when I fixed limits for it
    and set its doors and bars in place,
when I said, ‘This far you may come and no farther;
    here is where your proud waves halt’? – Job 38:4-11

“For My hand made all these things, Thus all these things came into being,” declares the LORD. – Isaiah 66:2

“Worthy are You, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and because of Your will they existed, and were created.” – Revelation 4:11

For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. – Romans 1:20

God has done amazing work! And not just a “mush” god created from our own experience and preference, but the God of the Bible. Listen to the testimony of astrophysicist Dr. Hugh Ross regarding this discovery:

I found the Bible noticeably different. It was simple, direct, and specific. I was amazed at the quantity of historical and scientific (i.e., testable) material it included and at the detail of this material. The first page of the Bible caught my attention. Not only did its author correctly describe the major events in the creation of life on earth, but he placed those events in the scientifically correct order and properly identified the earth’s initial conditions.

I encourage you to read his testimony and browse his website at Reasons to Believe.

This is the God I have come to know by entering a relationship with His Son, Jesus Christ.  He is the Word I referred to above. I will explain more about their identities and relationship in my next post.

While I am sure skeptics do not want to acknowledge the existence of an unseen Entity who can only be known by faith, I am equally sure they cannot skirt around the issue that naturalistic explanations cannot account for the existence of this well-designed universe. I’d love for you to meet the Author of this story we are in! (BTW: He can tell you how the story ends!)

July 17, 2017 / Pastor George Fike

Beginning

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This is my first post in a new series on Genesis 1-11 – Adam to Abraham. I promised this series far too long ago, so here I go, seeing if I can make up for lost time.

The Hebrew word above, B‘reishit, begins the Greatest Story Ever Told. Just as English speakers know the first book of the Bible as Genesis, the Hebrew Scriptures (the Torah) uses the very first word in the book as its title: Beginning. Not to be pedantic, but this one word is all I will deal with in this post. Because it is a very big word.

Unlike most sacred texts of antiquity, Genesis begins with a unique concept that has been borne out as confirmed truth in these latter times: that the universe we live in had an actual beginning. As late as the 1980’s, the popular notion was that the universe was eternal: past, present, and future.  Carl Sagan wrote in Cosmos in 1980:

“The size and age of the Cosmos are beyond ordinary human understanding. Lost somewhere between immensity and eternity is our tiny planetary home…”

Scientific thought began to change in 1990 with the low-orbit launch of the Hubble Space Telescope.  Once in place, by accident, the images of the universe Hubble sent home revealed that the universe was indeed expanding away from a starting point. Since then there have been multiple confirmations of the Big Bang Theory – that everything in our universe sprang from an infinitely small dot.

By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.  Hebrews 11:3

Measurements also confirm that the advancement is slowing and the universe is cooling. So just as it had a beginning, it will also have an end. Someone outside the realm of our time and space created a finite cosmos in order to court us into a relationship with Himself and one another. Time is limited. But a timeless, spaceless world is being prepared for those who use their time to acknowledge the transcendent but knowable God.

​I read of a man who stood to speak
at the funeral of a friend.
He referred to the dates on the tombstone
from the beginning…to the end.

He noted that first came the date of birth
and spoke the following date with tears,
but he said what mattered most of all
was the dash between those years.

For that dash represents all the time
that they spent alive on earth.
And now only those who loved them
know what that little line is worth.

For it matters not, how much we own,
the cars…the house…the cash.
What matters is how we live and love
and how we spend our dash.

Linda Ellis ©1996
(Please click HERE to read the entire poem)


June 26, 2017 / Pastor George Fike

do you kiss your momma with that mouth?

My dad would say, “Aw, foot!” or “Well, shoot!” My pejoratives of choice are “Well, crap!” or “Dangit!” Every now and then “Dadgummit!” I learned to swear watching Jed Clampett on the Beverly Hillbillies.

We all say empty things from time to time. Well, truthfully, sometimes the words are not empty: they intend to insult, hurt, or defame another.  But I’m really addressing those words that have become part of our everyday vernacular that we would never have uttered even 10 years ago. When did we, as God’s people, dumb down His holiness?

At the 2003 Grammy Awards, Bono won best song from a movie for “The Hands That Built America” from Gangs of New York. As he took to the microphone for his thank-you speech, he uttered “This is really, really, f-ing brilliant!” As Bono is a Christian, it marked a departure from a standard of speech that we were accustomed to.  Many were offended. But many of us were confused. Dropping f-bombs has never been condemned as the unforgivable sin, but it didn’t seem appropriate.  Perhaps it’s because holiness of speech is the subject of a great many Bible passages:

Matthew 15:10-11, 17-19a Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen and understand. What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them. Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what defile a person…”

Matthew 12:35-37A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him. But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.

Ecclesiastes 5:2 Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God. God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few.

Colossians 4:5-6 Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.

James 3:6-10 The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell. All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be.

Sometimes we use less than savory words to emphasize a depth of feeling.  But the words we use have literal meanings that usually pertain to base activity, body parts, bodily wastes, or sexual activity. Why would we use them to emphasize our good feelings? But they have become automatic, a sign that we live in a base culture.

Isaiah 6:5“Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”

I suppose some would argue their use of foul language testifies as to their real-ness in front of their lost friends.  I say it diminishes the “real-ness” of their life-changing Lord in front of their lost friends.

I memorized a verse a long time ago that I think should be the aspiration of every believer.  It is a summary of God’s blessing on Samuel’s mouth from the time of his childhood.

1 Samuel 3:19The Lord was with Samuel as he grew up, and he let none of Samuel’s words fall to the ground.

This is my longing.  That my speech would be effective for the Lord.

James 3 follows up the admonition about the tongue in the following passage about wisdom:

James 3:13-18 Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.

But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.

What comes out of our mouths is the seed we sow.  What are you planting by the words you use?

July 22, 2016 / Pastor George Fike

When I’m Sixty-Four…

Hi, Everybody! I want to talk to you today about the aging of a pastor. I thought I’d set up this post with a little ditty from my youth.  Take a listen to kind of a fun men’s chorus cover of the Beatles’ “When I’m Sixty-Four.”

 

Now aren’t you glad you tuned in?

I began my ministry career in September 1976 as the weekend worship leader at Beacon Hill Baptist Church in San Antonio while attempting to finish my music ed degree at Texas State University.  The next summer, June 1977, I became student minister and later additionally worship leader at Dellview Baptist Church in the same city. Over the course of the next 35 years, I served as a vocational minister at several churches in Texas, with a pause to finish my divinity degree at seminary in 1989, then becoming a senior pastor in two churches in Illinois, before moving back to San Antonio in 2004 where I served as associate pastor in a local church until being retired in 2012.

Just so you know, retirement was not my idea.  I have thought about my exit from ministry for a while now. I spoke with one of my former leaders once to try to get closure; the reasons I was given were inconsistent with my history.  The only answer that really makes sense is that I let my hair turn grey in a church culture that celebrates youth.

I have applied for quite a few open positions.  Most of the time my applications have gone in the pile of “we’re moving in a different direction.” Some confirmation came recently when a young man asked his church if they might consider me for their vacant position.  The first question to him:

“So how old is he?”

“He just turned 61.”

“Well, that’s not what we’re looking for.”

Mind you, I appreciate that for the first time I heard an honest answer.

So then… what does one do out in the pasture?

What I have always done – pastor.  My congregation is now behind a paint desk at a home improvement store. My pay is well below what I made as vocational minister, but I’m having the time of my life as I lead and care for my team, help my store and company succeed. (Incidentally, we are one of the most profitable paint departments in the city, thank you very much.) I also have the joy of leading worship at one of the campuses of Oak Hills Church every few weeks. I have enjoyed nurturing relationships with my neighbors. And many of the people I have ministered to in the past still seek out my ministry in various forms. And despite my lack of retirement income, I’m having the time of my life. I feel useful to God. There is an energy that comes from that.  I still have 24 years to catch up to my new favorite hero from the Bible – the man named Caleb. Here is his story:

Numbers 14: 6Then the people of Judah came to Joshua at Gilgal. And Caleb the son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite said to him, “You know what the Lord said to Moses the man of God in Kadesh-barnea concerning you and me. 7 I was forty years old when Moses the servant of the Lord sent me from Kadesh-barnea to spy out the land, and I brought him word again as it was in my heart. 8 But my brothers who went up with me made the heart of the people melt; yet I wholly followed the Lord my God. 9 And Moses swore on that day, saying, ‘Surely the land on which your foot has trodden shall be an inheritance for you and your children forever, because you have wholly followed the Lord my God.’ 10 And now, behold, the Lord has kept me alive, just as he said, these forty-five years since the time that the Lord spoke this word to Moses, while Israel walked in the wilderness. And now, behold, I am this day eighty-five years old. 11 I am still as strong today as I was in the day that Moses sent me; my strength now is as my strength was then, for war and for going and coming. 12 So now give me this hill country of which the Lord spoke on that day, for you heard on that day how the Anakim were there, with great fortified cities. It may be that the Lord will be with me, and I shall drive them out just as the Lord said.”

13 Then Joshua blessed him, and he gave Hebron to Caleb the son of Jephunneh for an inheritance. 14 Therefore Hebron became the inheritance of Caleb the son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite to this day, because he wholly followed the Lord, the God of Israel.

I look forward to what God can accomplish through me in the next 24-plus years!

  • “I can do ALL things (at any age) through Christ who strengthens me!” (Phil 4:13)
  • “The LORD is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me?” (Ps. 118:6)  
  • They will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green…” (Ps 92:14) 
  • Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you.” (Is 46:4)

And you know, speaking of the guys who first sang “When I’m Sixty-Four,” what are they doing, now that they’re WELL PAST 64?

January 3, 2016 / Pastor George Fike

A New Year

GVcruiseJanuary 1, 2016

“Sometimes people say something empty in an effort to be encouraging.” (Verneda Fike)

Sometimes the hardest thing to say is the easiest thing to say: “I don’t know what to say.”  Sometimes we feel compelled to give answers when we don’t have them.

 

  • It can be pride; our rep was built on having the answers.
  • It can be fear; if I don’t answer, I’m letting someone down.
  • It can be ignorance; I know what I know, but I don’t know what I don’t know.

Last year was tough for me. My older brother, Bill, passed away from pancreatic cancer in Bill and George2September. He was the firstborn of us six children. He was only a year older than me. And his passing was incredibly swift.  Looking back on photos from earlier in the year, I can now see his illness was in progress.  But we just thought he was tired, maybe the chronic health issues we seniors deal with post-middle age. But the undiagnosed cancer was already terrorizing his body, unseen beneath the surface.

We visited Bill in the hospital one weekend.  He looked terrible, but we had hope that the doctors would find a suitable treatment to reduce his pain and set him on the course to renewed health.  Of course, the ‘c’ word was ever present, haunting our minds. Our hopefulness endeavored to push it aside, but it lingered like a mugger hiding behind our mental trees.

By Monday, the worst was confirmed – inoperable, untreatable stage 4 pancreatic cancer.  My wife, Verneda, and I planned to return the following weekend, but we postponed it because they would be moving Bill back to the house for hospice care, and we did not want to be in the way.  We awoke Saturday morning with a text from Bill’s wife, Doris, that we (the siblings) should come soon if we wanted to see him.  Verneda and I immediately dressed and left for Houston.  About an hour away, we got the text letting us know Bill had passed. Tears.

We arrived at his home in Pearland.  The coroner had not arrived for the body yet. After greeting Doris and their three sons, Doris asked, “Do you want to see him?” I certainly did. So Verneda walked with me into the master bedroom where my brother lay in the dimly lit room. I saw his face, at rest with no sign of the pain that had gripped him for months. And uncontrollable sobs escaped my soul.  My wife gripped my hand harder and rubbed my back gently, as she said:

“You OK?”

Which being translated:

“I’m here.”

Over the next weeks our family would hear a variety of statements common to the grieving experience:

“He’s in a better place.”                                      (Of course.  But I’m not.)

“I guess God just needed him more.”               (Seriously? The All-Sufficient God?)

“God causes all things to work together…”    (Sermon received. All good now. Thanks.)

All of these statements have to be translated into the simple language of comfort that my wife spoke; it has a very limited, but adequate vocabulary:

“I’m here.”

All you need to say to a grieving loved one is:

“I’m so sorry.  I don’t know what to say,”

We hear that as:

“I’m here.”

It’s the language of Jesus:

“And lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

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