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We Can’t See It All

I live in McLennan County. If I leave my house and travel north, I go to Hill County. If I leave my house and travel west, I go to Hill County. If I leave my house travel east, I go to Hill County. I know, that does not make sense. How can I leave McLennan County in any one of three different directions and wind up in Hill County?

It all becomes clear when you see a map. I live in the northern most corner of McLennan County. That corner is bordered on both sides by Hill County.

When you look at it on a map, it is obvious. It all becomes clear when seen from above. Life is confusing at times because we see it from the street level and we miss the big picture that can only come into view from a higher perspective. That is particularly true when we are hurting. When we look at our world through tear-filled eyes all we can see is the suffering and pain around us. At times it seems there is no way out of our troubles.

We sometimes feel like a person caught in a maze. Every turn takes us to another barrier or obstacle. If we could only float for a few minutes above the maze, we could see the layout and find the best route to our exit. God gave man some helpful and even amazing abilities. Floating, however, is not one of them. Since we cannot soar above the maze we can only see it from our current perspective within it. We have to depend on the One who sees it all from above. Some of my pastor friends are fond of referring to God as the One who “makes a way where there is no way.” When we are stuck in the maze, He can lead us through and get us out. When we can’t see the big picture, we can follow the One who sees it all.

Once when I was very young, my father was standing in a group of people talking. It seemed like they had been talking for a long time and I began to get tired. Being so young, I was very small compared to the adults who towered above me . Unless I looked up, all I could see was their shins. I recognized the dark slacks that my dad wore and I reached out and wrapped my arms around his leg. Immediately the group separated and the conversation turned to laughter. As you have already guessed, my father was not the only man who wore dark slacks and I had hugged the wrong person. My intent was sincere and my actions were appropriate, but I went the wrong direction because I could not see the situation from above. My view was limited by perspective. Our view of life is always limited by our personal perspective. We who are bound by time and space are wise when we acknowledge the inherent limitations of our own perspective and trust that there is more to our circumstances than we can currently see.

My daughter has no problem finding her way wherever she needs to go, but I doubt she has ever depended on a map to plan her route. In these days of GPS and navigation systems, maps are obsolete. All we have to do now is speak to our cars or cell phones and tell them where we want to go. We are then presented with step by step instructions that ensure we arrive at our intended destination. We may never know what direction we are traveling or what route we are taking. We need only obey the next instruction. In a similar way, God rarely shows us a map. We almost never get to see the big picture of our lives. Instead, we must trust Him with each step, much like Abram who left his home and followed God “not knowing where he was going (Hebrews 11:8 ESV).”

Hard times make our journey difficult. Pain and suffering can make it feel like we are walking in circles or stopped at a dead end. Don’t give up! You can’t see the way things are laid out for you because you don’t see it all from above. Your street-level perspective is limited. Trust the One who knows where you have been and where you are going next. Let the Good Shepherd lead you all the way through the valley. The valley is not your final destination. It is merely part of your journey. God sees the whole map from above and He knows how to lead you through.

If we could see life from a higher perspective, we might better understand Paul’s words, “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison (2 Corinthians 4:17 ESV).” From our current perspective, troubles do not seem “light” or “momentary,” but from eternity’s perspective they are light because with His help we can endure them and they are momentary because they will not last forever. From the lofty viewpoint of higher ground we could see that joy will come in the morning and our current struggles do not define our final destination.

I Won’t

imageI hope that some day when people disagree, we will be able to sit down and have sincere conversations in which we learn from one another. By listening to each other we will be able to catch a glimpse of the other’s point of view, to see things from a different perspective. Until that day comes, I want you to know there are a few things I won’t do. 

If you and I see the world differently, I won’t hate you.
If your interests differ from mine, I won’t look down on you.
If your vote cancels mine every time, I won’t attack your character.
If you have friends who don’t like me, I won’t hold that against you.
If you look or talk differently than I do, I won’t think that makes me better than you.
If you attack me I will defend myself, but I won’t intentionally hurt you in retaliation.
If you attend a church with different traditions than mine I won’t assume you’re wrong.
If you are a fellow Christian I won’t use your politics as a reason to question your faith.

As much as I want to be perfect, I won’t do that either, but I’ll do what I can to make things better until that day we can sit down and learn from one another.

Three Steps

They are just three wooden steps.

When you see them, that’s probably all you see — three pretty steps that lead to a platform. When I see them, I see memories and milestones. I see new beginnings and final farewells. When I see those steps I see my life, my family, my home. Those steps at First Baptist Church of Waco tell my story.

When I was eight years old, my father died and at his funeral they placed his casket at the foot of those steps. During the funeral I saw one of the ladies in the church smile at me. That smile has stayed in my memory all these years. In that smile she said, “You are going to be OK and this church family is going to be here for you.” She was right. I wound up being OK and they were there for me.

Less than a year later, it was at those steps that I publicly professed my faith in Jesus Christ. I shook the pastor’s hand while the church who had loved me into that moment sang “The Savior is Waiting.” Not long after that I was baptized just a few feet from the top of those steps.

Growing up I sang, played instruments, did puppet shows, read scripture, prayed, and played all around those steps. Those steps were holy ground where God formed my faith and transformed my life.

In a hallowed position at the top of those stairs there stands a pulpit. While I was growing up that pulpit contained a plaque which was strategically placed so the preacher could clearly see it. I guess most people didn’t even know it was there, but in my memory it still sits there reminding the preacher of the glorious task to which he has been called. Each time the preacher entered the pulpit he would be charged with the words of John 12:21, “Sir, we would see Jesus.” To this day when I see those steps I hear the voices of my childhood pastors echoing in my mind and heart.

It was at those steps that I responded to God’s call into ministry, and it was there that I preached my first sermon. It was at those steps that I was licensed to the ministry.

During my Baylor days I participated in the college choir and we stood around those steps when we sang. In that choir I met the love of my life who eventually became my wife.

Many years later my mother died and we said “goodbye” to her at the foot of those steps as she lay in the same spot my father had lain 45 years earlier. Once again the church family ministered to us and reminded us that they were there for us and we would be OK.

In January of this year I stood at the foot of those steps with my daughter and gave her hand in marriage. I then climbed those steps and performed her wedding. As I pronounced the happy couple “man and wife” I fought back tears of joy. Later I realized that part of the emotion of that day was due to the fact that I got to share those steps with her. For the rest of her life those steps will mark a major milestone in her life as they mark so many milestones for me.

I’ve been at those steps many times. Sad times and joyful times alike have found me there. I have come to that sacred place to celebrate and to mourn, to learn and to teach, to proclaim and to hear. I have worshipped and wept, laughed and loved, called on God and been called by Him at those steps. I have stood there with overwhelming gratitude and I have knelt there in desperate humility.

They are just three wooden steps. When you see them, that’s probably all you see — three pretty steps that lead to a platform. When I see them I see my life, my family, my home.

Those steps tell my story.


Teacher, Don’t Stop Now!

Beautiful young student

Teachers, thank you!  You play one of the most valuable roles in our society. Sure, your paycheck probably does not reflect that, and your students and their parents will not always recognize it, but make no mistake, we need you! Teaching is a noble profession that enables people to connect in such powerful ways that lives are changed, discoveries are made, understanding is shared, and society as a whole is strengthened. In the words of St. John Chrysostom (347-407 AD), “What greater work is there than training the mind and forming the habits of the young?” We cannot over-estimate the value of a good teacher.

As another school year begins, I want to encourage my educator friends with three challenges.

1. Never Stop Teaching

What you do is so important, that you must never stop doing it! There are two reasons why you must never stop teaching.

First, people need to be taught.

All around you there are people who can benefit from your knowledge, wisdom, and experience. We need you to teach, because without people to guide us, we are lost. Teaching is not just an exercise that takes place in a classroom for 10 months every year. It is pouring what you have into the lives of those who need you to share it with them. That happens all the time, in all kinds of places, in every-day life.

James S. Hewett once published a story about a teacher who was assigned to visit children in a large city hospital. Routinely, she would call the regular teacher of a sick child to find out what the child needed to study while he or she was in the hospital. On one such call, the teacher learned that one of her young patients needed to learn about nouns and adverbs. When she went to the little boy’s room, she realized it was in the burn unit. No one had told her about the severity of the boy’s burns or the amount of pain he was in. She entered his room and introduced herself as the hospital teacher, explaining to him, “Your teacher asked me to help you with nouns and adverbs.” The next morning a nurse in the burn unit stopped the hospital teacher and asked her, “What did you say to that little boy?” Before the teacher could finish her concerned apologies, the nurse said, “You don’t understand. We’ve been very worried about him, but ever since you were here yesterday, his whole attitude has changed. He’s fighting back, responding to treatment. It’s almost as though he decided to live.” The boy later explained that he had indeed given up hope until he saw the teacher. With joyful tears in his eyes, he explained it this way, “They wouldn’t send a teacher to work on nouns and adverbs with a dying boy, would they?”

Education provides hope. People need to be taught.

Second, you need to teach.

Never stop teaching, because you need to teach. You are not a teacher because you have a certification, or because you get a paycheck, or even because a bell rings and students file into your classroom. You are a teacher because that’s who you are. God gave you the gifts, abilities, and opportunities to teach others. You teach because you are a teacher. You need to teach.

2. Never Stop Learning

My first challenge to educators is never stop teaching. The second one is just as important — never stop learning!

Henry H. Haskins has said, “The man who is too old to learn was probably always too old to learn.” Learning and living are directly linked. When we stop really learning, we stop really living. There is always something new to learn. Your primary subject or area of expertise is always changing and you can never learn it all. Beyond that, you want to learn new hobbies, stretch yourself to see new perspectives, and push yourself to discover new ideas. Will Durant is a philosopher who once pointed out, “Sixty years ago I knew everything; now I know nothing. Education is a progressive discovery of our own ignorance.”

Meaningful teaching that has a lasting impact on the learners is much more than handing off information. It goes well beyond the explanation of principles or the completion of a curriculum. The best teaching takes place when the students receive from the overflow of what the teacher is learning. You want to offer your students the opportunity to drink from a flowing fountain rather than try to force them to drink from a stagnant pool.

Never stop teaching, never stop learning, and —

3. Never Stop

Even when life is hard, don’t give in, don’t give up. Don’t sit and quit! Keep living. Keep pushing. Like they used to say in the ’70s, keep on keeping on! Robert Orben advises, “If you’re ever tempted to give up, think of Brahms who took seven long years to compose his famous Lullaby. He kept falling asleep at the piano.”

Exercise three things every day: your body, your mind, and your will. It is that kind of exercise regimen that will keep you going.

When life is easy, run toward your next destination. When life is hard, keep walking in the right direction. When life seems impossible, take one more step. Even if one step is all you have left, never stop!

On The Brink Of Glory

Most of her life has been an uphill climb, and today she stands atop a great precipice, on the brink of glory.

Lenora Crowder was born into a family of modest means, yet she spent most of her life educating, guiding, and investing in others. As a young lady she cared for her husband through a terminal illness and at age 37 she was a widow with 4 children. Rearing them alone was certainly a daunting task, but she faced that challenge the same way she faced every challenge — with strength and dignity.

She was incredibly strong, always courageous, and fiercely independent. It was those traits that enabled her to continue her climb over great obstacles and through terrific challenges, all the way to peak. The trail ends there, so her journey must end there as well. Ironically, it is those same traits of strength, courage, and independence that make her linger there. She continues to fight her battle; to make her own way; even though there is no more ground to be gained.

For most of this week she has remained at the end of that trail. The next step for her will be the one that carries her off that precipice and into a new reality. She stands on the brink of glory. She blazed her own trail and finished her journey with dignity. Now, those who know her best and love her most are ready to celebrate with her as she takes that final step — that leap of faith.

Today she stands at the brink of glory. Tomorrow she will stand in the midst of it. May tomorrow come quickly.


Thanks Coach

I called him “Coach” although that wasn’t his name. I’m really not sure why I called him that because he wasn’t a coach. He was an English teacher – my English teacher. I have to admit he was a little odd at times, but he taught me something that has stayed with me my whole life.

Like most teenagers I had a hard time figuring out what was right and wrong, whom I should consider as friends, what I was going to do with my life, etc. Coach just kept telling me, “To thine own self be true.” He could fit that into short 30-second interactions or long 30-minute conversations. He taught me some English that year, but more than anything else he taught me how to live my life in a way that would allow me to find freedom and confidence. “To thine own self be true.”

Please don’t judge me too harshly when I tell you that it took me a few years to realize that he was actually quoting Shakespeare. (Hamlet, Act 1, Scene 3). This year marks 30 years since I graduated from high school, and to this day I often hear Coach telling me, “Crowder, to thine own self be true.”

When I am wise enough to heed The Bard’s advice, I find freedom, confidence, and strength. Even when things are difficult I can look myself in the mirror without shame and then begin my day with courage.

Thanks Coach!

Where Was God?

I remember where I was when terrorists attacked on Sept. 11, 2001. If you’re old enough, I bet you remember where you were too. But, where was God?

Where was God when the towers fell? Where was God when the people were trapped in an inferno? Where was God when the first responders and other heroes suffered and died? Where was God when the plane crashed in the field in Pennsylvania? Where was God when the wall of the Pentagon exploded in flames?

You want to know where He was? He was in my living room while I was watching those events unfold on TV. He was wherever you were that morning when you heard the news. He was in those towers, and on the streets below. He was in those planes and those offices. And His heart was breaking right along with ours.

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil because You are with me.” Psalm 23:4

One of These Days

The mind of man cannot fully comprehend Him.

The heart of man cannot fully contain Him.

The soul of man cannot fully know Him

The strength of man cannot fully serve Him.

But it will not always be so.

One of these days, I will be set free from this body that restrains and restricts. The blinders of this world will fall from my eyes and I will see Him as He is. Someday I will understand. Someday I will see. Someday I will know.

Until that day, I will not stop learning. I will not stop searching. I will not stop asking. I will not stop seeking. I will not stop trusting.

But, as it is written,

“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined — 
what God has prepared for those who love him.”  1 Corinthians 2:9 (ESV)

Don’t Cut My Throat

I know it doesn’t sound very pastoral, but I have to admit I really don’t like seeing this guy. Every time I get anywhere close to him, he takes my money. It’s gotten to where my blood pressure goes up when I see him coming. I saw him a few days ago and he had a whole list of things he expected me to do. He told me that if he didn’t see the results he wanted he was going to have someone get a knife and cut my throat!


Yes, that’s a true story!

Every fact in the story is technically true. But as you have already guessed, there is more to the story. The details are correct, but I did not give you an accurate context.

I saw my doctor a few days ago. When I go to his office I have to pay $25.00 because that is the copay for my insurance. When I go to a doctor’s office, I usually have what is informally called “white coat syndrome”. That just means my blood pressure goes up a little because those places make me a little nervous. I had an appointment with my doctor because I had a sore throat. He told me to take some antibiotics for 10 days. Based on where the pain was centered, and some other symptoms, he said the worst case scenario might be a thyroglossal duct cyst. If the antibiotics don’t clear up my problem I will have to have a CTScan. If it confirms the need, he will refer me to a specialist who will do surgery on my throat to remove the gland.

It’s all about the context!

When people want to persuade you politically, they often give you information that is technically true, but out of context. Every time someone tells you what their opponent believes, or what they “heard” from an unnamed source, you should assume you are not getting the full story. Most political posts on social media use this kind of manipulation.  It has become the norm in most political conversations. Regardless of how “normal” it is, that kind of behavior should not be taken lightly. It is not clever, it’s dishonest. It is not smart, it’s disrespectful. I refuse to accept the ridiculous idea that “it’s just politics” or “it’s nothing personal.” Manipulating others is harmful and hurtful. It is harmful to the truth and it hurts the people who are being misrepresented as well those who are being manipulated.

I hope you won’t fall for social media posts or news reports that include facts but take those facts out of context or twist them to represent something short of the whole truth. Don’t listen to people who do that. Don’t read their posts and don’t let them influence you. You deserve to be informed by people who are trustworthy. Trustworthy people are honest, and honesty includes facts that are true and are presented in an accurate context. When you get your advice and political insight from honest, wise people, that advice is invaluable.

Proverbs 20:15 reads, “There is gold and abundance of costly stones, but the lips of knowledge are a precious jewel.”

When Small Groups Get It


Today I knew for sure that my small group “gets it.” We have been together for quite a while now. Members have come and gone and we have worked through many different studies, but today I was reassured that the members of our small group have figured out the essence of the small group experience.

A few days ago Rick sent a group text asking us to pray for his wife as she took a very important test that could affect the future of her career. (Rick is not his real name, and yes, I did get permission to share this story outside of the group.) Today He sent another group text just to let us know that she had passed her test and they appreciated our prayers. Immediately, we all began to text our congratulations and words of support. As I looked at those text messages I was overjoyed as I realized these people are sharing life together. That’s what small groups are all about.

I hear you saying, “John, it was just a couple of text messages about a test! That’s not that big a deal.” Well, that’s kind of my point. It’s not the earth shattering revelations or the mind blowing discoveries from studying together that make the group so powerful. It’s the day in and day out sharing of life. It’s the celebrations over passed tests or a kid’s touchdown last Friday. It’s the empathy over family problems or frustrations on the job. It’s about rejoicing together and mourning together and living in harmony (see Romans 12:16).

It doesn’t really matter what you call them, “Small Groups,” “Life Groups,” “Cell Groups,” “Home Groups,” etc. Whatever label you apply to them their goal is the same, and it’s simple. Small groups provide a way for people to connect and then share life together. It’s not about the curriculum, or the series, or the food, or the setting. It’s about the people.

The fact is, if you are a person you need people.

You need a connection with others that goes deeper and means more than a kind word and a handshake during the greeting time on Sunday morning (see Acts 2:46).

As a matter of fact, I would argue that we are “doing church” best when we are in small groups. Sunday morning worship is important. It’s vital to the life of the church and the faith of the believer, but it is in small groups that we are best able to be the church. In small groups we live life together and encourage each other to fulfill our gifted roles in the body of Christ (see Hebrews 10:24-25). Andy Stanley is the well-known pastor of a large church. Comparing the way the congregations meets on Sundays and how they meet in small groups, he recently said in a podcast, “We are famous for our rows, but the strength of our churches is what happens in circles.” In rows we can worship together and learn together, but in circles we can love one another, take care of each other, encourage one another, and carry out all of the other “one another” commands in scripture!

Small groups are not complicated. They are just groups of 8-14 people who get to know each other, take care of each others, learn and grow together. It’s just a few people sharing life together. We get it now. How about you?