Friday, December 25, 2009

Love the Person or Love the Relationship? Conclusion

Obviously, this mission of offering grace and accountability to the poor is very difficult to carry out. When I lived in Winters, Texas, the churches worked together. Poverty surrounded us. We formed an alliance cooperating with the community. Our policy evolved as follows: we would help anyone the first time. Strict records were kept in all churches and community leaders were on the same page.

We would ask individuals or families to allow some time to pass before the individual received help a second time. Exceptions could be made. And, if a person or family needed help a third time in a calendar year, we would agree to do so with this condition –the individual or the couple would agree to submit themselves to spiritual and financial care in order to address the root causes of the problem. Grace and accountability.

I am certainly not saying this works everywhere, but we are called to do something. To be a loving people who are thankful for what God has given them, and to want to share this blessing with others, while holding them accountable to humanity and to their heavenly Father—is to imitate Jesus.

Furthermore, to address sin, its symptoms and its consequences, is to be like God. Ministry, with all of its nuts and bolts, can often be far from glamorous. It may mean we receive little thanks from those we help. Still, should we expect anything more? After all, don't we need the challenge of Scripture, the encouragement from each other, to remind ourselves to give God thanks?

I do believe in giving God the glory, in living for him, we can make a huge difference in the place that we live. And why not dream? After all, we have hospitals today because of Christians in antiquity offering God’s hospitality to those sick and dying. That's how much their witness impacted the world. I believe the greatest impact to ministry to the poor will be done by Christians.

I want to end by pointing to a recently released movie that depicts what I am talking about. As WORLD magazine recently declared, Sean and Leigh Ann Tuohy were a couple blessed with much financial success. As faithful disciples of Jesus, they developed as a family motto, "To whom much is given, much is required."

Sean Tuohy grew up in the projects of New Orleans. He knew little. Later, he knew much. He and Leigh Ann came across a young man, who had been attending their children’s Christian school. He was homeless.

The movie THE BLIND SIDE does a fine job of showing how Sean and Leigh Ann brought Michael into their home. They loved him and offered him grace. They held him accountable to become what God had made him to be.

The movie restrains itself in terms of demonstrating the extent that the Tuohy’s faith, and their church, played in the growth of Michael Oher. Still, this movie offers us an inspiring, visual illustration in terms of loving people more than our relationships with them.

We don’t have to use people, even when something so innocent as giving money or help, to help us deal with our anxiety about God, or to help us feel better about our selves. We can truly be Christ-like in our love. We can emulate the Son of God who came to earth because He loved us more than we love ourselves.

Merry Christmas.

Five things I think I think (a tip of the hat to Peter King for this idea)

1. We are enjoying a beautiful holiday season in my sister’s home in Lake Stevens, Washington. I cannot believe the beauty of the Northwest. Every time I am up here I am in awe.

2. Hope you got what you wanted for Christmas. I am grateful to receive this trip, 6 DVDs of great ballgames from times past, and a Texas sweatshirt.

3. The news sure seems grow quieter during Christmas week. That is not a bad thing.

4. It is always good to see the staff of the Northwest Church of Christ when I am up here. I always gather new ideas from them.

5. Before we leave, we must observe the required viewings of IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE and WHITE CHRISTMAS.

Merry Christmas to All

Friday, December 18, 2009

Love the Person or Love the Relationship? Part 3

While in South Dakota last week, I came to a startling conclusion. Perhaps the most impactful decision concerning my life, both temporal and eternal, was made by my great-grandmother. She was a Cherokee Indian and she was born in 1869. Her decision to marry a man, who was not an Indian, to leave her tribe and their settlement, and travel several hundred miles away and settle in East Texas, and to adopt a culture totally different from her own, more than likely paved the way for me becoming a Christian, learning the value of hard work, receiving a college education, and living a life free of poverty.

I was provoked to arrive at this conclusion, by the culture of the Native American reservations in South Dakota. With many good intentions, perhaps motivated by guilt, the U. S. government has spent billions of dollars to provide health care and a safety net to help the poor among the Native Americans. All too often, what government policy has helped create is the perpetuation of a culture of indolence, alcoholism and despair. Were different decisions made long ago in my family tree, I could be experiencing a life like that today.

Let me reiterate, I am not a Libertarian. I am not against government assistance, whether it be for rescue, merit, or simply to give someone an opportunity to reach his or her potential.

Government service is too often skewed toward the mechanical—giving people money or aid without regard to the relationship. We, as Christians, must beware that we do not fall into the same trap. We follow a God who has blessed us by treating us in a way consistent with his love. He has offered us grace and he has offered us accountability.

We, as Christians, must have a heart for the poor. However, this cannot become a mechanical act in synch with the culture of the Industrial Revolution.

Here is the primary issue as I see it. Poverty is a spiritual problem. It is not a financial problem. To make any inroads towards solutions, we must address the problem holistically. Sin brought poverty into this world. I am not saying that anyone and everyone who is in poverty or is poor is there because of his or her sin. Indeed, their circumstances may show how truly evil poverty is. Perhaps, some find themselves in poverty because of the sin of someone else. But someone sinned. After all, poverty did not exist in the Garden of Eden.

How do you address sin? You address sin through grace and accountability. How do you address the problem of the poor? To truly make a difference with the poor, you offer grace and accountability.

You give out the grace that God has given you. You give out of love. But you do not give and give and give, in order to sustain a lifestyle that is counter to the way God has created us. You do not sustain and subsidize a lifestyle that is counter to the way a person was created. As painful as it is, if the situation demands it, love calls for you to say “no.” This is what lies behind Paul's statement to the Thessalonians in second Thessalonians 3:10, "If a man will not work, he shall not eat."

This may sound harsh and cruel, but that is our culture talking. If we are spiritually healthy, we recognize this is actually practicing the Golden Rule. Those of us who enjoy spiritual health do so because throughout our spiritual journey, people who have loved us have served us by denying us that which we wanted, but that which ultimately would have hurt us.

For example, I identify with the guy who said, “Growing up, I had a drug problem. My parents drug me to church Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday night.” Few children want to be “drug” to church. Fortunately, I and others had parents who did not offer me what I wanted, they offered me what I needed. I am so glad my parents did not enable me. They offered me love and accountability.

Others have, likewise, offered me accountability: teachers, coaches, elders…. They could have enabled me. They could have avoided the risk of making me angry or having me dissolve our relationship. I am thankful they did not.

Sometimes, God allows people to face financial difficulty and spiral downward in order to address spiritual problems. Consequently, sometimes the loving thing to do for that person is to say, “No, we are no longer going to subsidize your behavior.”

Unfortunately, sometimes innocent people are hurt when we serve as God’s instruments to find redemption and accountability. It is that way with most sins, it’s just that when it comes to finances, it is so easy to inappropriately offer money and/or help because it makes US feel better. That, however, is selfishness on our part.

When we enable, we are not practicing the agape love of God as viewed in I Cor. 13. What we are saying is, “I love our relationship more than I love you. I love our relationship more than I love you because I want what the relationship can give me, because I love MYSELF more than I love you.”

Next week, I want to conclude by offering you a true story to illustrate these principles. You may already be familiar with it.
Some people remember where they were when then they heard the news FDR died or JFK was shot. I may always remember it was the day after Thanksgiving and I was sitting in the back seat of our Suburban when my daughter, Haleigh, said, “Oh, dad, I just got a news alert on my iPhone from MSN—Tiger woods had an automobile accident.”

Never has a one-car accident, where no one got hurt, unleashed such a chain reaction. This week ABC News is reporting that Tiger’s wife, Elin, is filing for divorce. She has had enough.

Tiger Woods is worth over $1 billion. He has all the money he can ever stand. He is the greatest golfer, probably, in history. He is the Associated Press’ Athlete of the Decade.

He had a beautiful wife who, by all accounts loved and supported him. He was blessed with two, healthy lovely children. Yet, it was not enough.

Somewhere along the way, Tiger made the decision to give in to his compulsions and recklessly commit serial adultery with various women. His life is now officially a mess. Sponsors are dropping him. People are withdrawing from him. Reporter Rick Reilly said this week, “Even a porno actress, not exactly the elite of culture has begun distancing herself from Tiger. It has come to this!” You know you have hit bottom when a porno actress finds you beneath her.

People typically do what they do for one of three reasons:

1. To survive. We need certain things such as food, clothing, and shelter to live.

2. To feel good. These are things we perceive will make us feel good—
physically, mentally, emotionally, or spiritually. These are not things we need; they are what we seek after our basic needs are met. This is what Tiger Woods has been doing.

3. To offer God a sacrifice. These acts can include the will to survive, but they especially apply to what we do after we have met our basic needs. Contrary to reason number two, we have found peace with God. We know the joy of Christ and the contentment found in Him. Rather than taking a vow of poverty, we act, we buy, we love, but with our eyes focused on serving as God’s instruments, rather than seeking meaning in how we feel.

Tiger Woods is the latest to be looking for what we, as Christians, have. He can't find it. We possess it. It is peace with God. It is contentment in this life. They are trying to buy it. We have it as a free gift from God. You don't think we have a message for the people around us?

Jesus saves us for eternity, yes. But He also offers life abundant now. So watch for your friend who is in category # 2. Seek ways to let him know that life doesn’t have to be that way for him.
Five things I think I think (a tip of the hat to Peter King for this idea)
1. I’ve downloaded on my Kindle reader, TEAM OF RIVALS, Doris Kearns Goodwin’s account of President Lincoln’s relationship with his Cabinet. I’m reading it slowly, but savoring every page.

2. Incidentally, I have the free Kindle Reader app on my iPhone. I’ve got several books along with about 20 versions of the Bible, a Greek New Testament, and the Hebrew Bible, which I will be taking with me to Washington state—none of them of paper and ink.

3. Thanks Downtown Athletic Club. Giving the Heisman to Mark Ingram offers one more motivational tool to the Longhorns.

4. I can’t wait to show my kids A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS this weekend. My little ones will see it for the first time. We watched ELF last weekend. I always laugh out loud during that movie. Remember the basic four food groups: candy, sugar, candy corn, and syrup?

5. Next week we take what may be our last trip to Seattle to see my sister and her family. We bought our tickets in June-with what we had saved by setting aside money we would have spent on cell phones. Now, I am going have to find a credit card that offers a lot of airline miles for purchases. Of course, using credit cards is kind of like drinking. It’s not a sin in and of itself, but a lot of people get addicted.
Have a Great Weekend!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Love the Person or Love the Relationship? Part 2

I write the following as a learner. I recognize I am not where I need to be, but neither is our society.

I am distressed by what welfare has “accomplished” in this country. I do not fault the motives, but I do believe the results have been disastrous. If you're young, you need to understand that over 40 years ago, our federal government declared war on poverty. We have lost.

To summarize Tony Campolo, the Christian evangelist with a heart for the poor, welfare was supposed to be a safety net for those who fell upon hard times temporarily. Instead, it has helped create a dependency that has undermined the basic dignity of human beings.

Rather than cultivate solutions it has nurtured resentment In a large number of people, and it has humiliated and dehumanized millions. Consequently, it has encouraged lying and deceit in a number of our citizens.

People who were healthy and able to work chose not to do so but rather to cheat the system. Now, the word "welfare" has a negative connotation.

Ultimately, while it is true many people have been helped by welfare, the price has been high. I believe that the welfare system, and I include in that system our historic policy toward Native Americans, has more than anything else, almost destroyed the family structure of two of the races in this country. It threatens to destroy the others.

I am not against government. I would be a hypocrite, were I to claim so. It was state government that funded the cost for Judy and me to serve in foster care. It was state government that funded the cost for Judy and me to adopt our children. If you are a resident of the state of Texas, you helped support us—financing our foster care and adoption.

Last week, we talked about the fact that God is a giver; therefore, we are givers. God has blessed us by treating us in a way consistent with his love. He has especially blessed us through offering grace.

Equally consistent with God’s character is a ministry to the poor. Throughout, scripture, we see God maintaining a heart for the poor and calling us to do likewise. Consequently, God’s love and gratitude motivate our ministry to the poor. This means the poor in other countries; it also means the poor here at home.

We must offer grace to the poor. But grace is only one side of the coin in helping the poor. We must also share in the godly ministry of accountability. This helps the poor become who God would have them to be. It also helps us, because in holding people— including the poor—accountable, we are being like God.

Next week, I hope to continue our look at ministries of grace and accountability by fleshing out why both are biblical and in harmony with God’s character. I hope to demonstrate what it means to hold someone accountable, particularly if that someone is poor, and to inspire us to consider how God blesses someone’s life when we minister with grace AND accountability.
My Trip to Spearfish or,
How I Survived Winter in the Land of DANCES WITH WOLV

Today, I returned from my epic trip to Spearfish, South Dakota. You may not know much about Spearfish. I know that I did not until this past week. Come to find out, Spearfish is one of the top vacation spots in the United States. Located in the Black Hills of South Dakota, which remind me more of the Rocky Mountains than they do hills, Spearfish is a beautiful vacation spot.

The following are some of the local attractions, of which you may not be aware. Mount Rushmore is located near Spearfish. For all you fans of the HBO series DEADWOOD, that town was real and continues to this day. The HOMESTAKE goldmine, located in nearby Lead, was one of the largest in the world until it closed in 2002. There are ski slopes, trout fishing, game hunting, and much more. I, however, traveled to Spearfish in order to encourage a local congregation there (we help support their campus ministry) and see what I could learn from them.

I flew out of DFW airport last Friday. Of course, checking in is always a hassle. I hate taking off my shoes, and they made me take off my hiking boots. In an unrelated story, three men, two women, and a dog collapsed. I survived that ordeal.

I tell you, major airports today have everything. At DFW, I found an easy chair next to a plug where I could relax while I recharged my phone. It was free! Don't tell anybody this -- it's our secret.

They also have lots of banks in airports. I'm sure that's for the convenience of passengers. They may want to take out loans, in order to purchase a bottle of water.

I arrived at Spearfish on Friday night. The temperature was 25°. Little did I know, this would be the warmest weather I would experience.

I stayed with Jerry and LaVon Savage. This neat couple has been serving the Lord and Spearfish now for 10 years. They were wonderful hosts and I really enjoyed my stay with them.

Saturday, they took me on the scenic tour which included the spot where they filmed the final scene of DANCES WITH WOLVES. Looking up into the mountains, Jerry called out the words of the Sioux Indian to Kevin Costner, “Gimoni Tutonka!”, or something to that effect. Very moving.

Sunday, I had the opportunity to preach to 100 hardy souls who braved the 5° temperature and snowy conditions.

They were wonderful and I thoroughly enjoyed my time with them. Afterwards, we had a meal that included lots of wild game: elk, pheasant, goose, duck, and antelope. I felt guilty for not bringing some good ’ol East Texas barbecue raccoon and possum with sweet potatoes. Maybe next time.

Folks did not seem to be bothered by the cold temperatures; I really enjoyed visiting with them. Instinctively, I could tell they were more reserved on average than the typical Texan. Still, they were hospitable and friendly.

Monday morning, Jerry took me to the campus house that the church owns next door to Black Hills State University.

It was 2° and, being the romantic that I am, I could not resist volunteering to shovel snow off the sidewalk and porch. Moreover, I found the exercise warmed me up. Hah!

The church campus intern, James, showed up about this time. He had awakened at 2 AM so that he could go to work at 3 AM. He has a part-time job with a local lawn service company. His job is to go throughout the town shoveling snow off the sidewalks of businesses and private residences. He uses a shovel, not a snowblower, probably to avoid waking up the neighborhood. I immediately felt like a wimp. Someday, I hope to introduce him to Timothy. If I have that privilege, I will definitely say, "Here, my son, is a man."

That afternoon, Jerry and I made a quick foray to Deadwood, where I got to see the location where Wild Bill Hickok was murdered. It burned to the ground a few years ago, but now they have a replica building. I also got to see the chair Hickock was sitting in when the sneaky coward crept and shot him. Deadwood was a tough town in 1876. Afterwards, I felt myself instinctively looking behind—just in case. I did not want history repeating itself.

The campus ministry always has a Bible study in their campus house on Monday nights. This Monday night though the study was canceled because the students were finishing up their final projects and papers for the semester. I was so disappointed I missed the study. However, I did get to meet with a few of the guys from the study at the University the next day for lunch.

We met at Taco Bell and had a good discussion for two hours. While there, I saw Jerry go over and speak with a lady who was sitting by herself. She was a prime timer-age woman and I assumed Jerry was simply sowing seeds for the kingdom.

After a while, she got up to leave and Jerry returned to join us. Jerry said that she was actually a member of his church, who had not been able to attend Sunday because she was out-of-town. He was really cracking up, too, because he said she asked him who the college guys were -- and she was including me as a college guy. Jerry laughed and said it was probably my buzz cut and goatee that made her think that. I, however, had a new best friend.

Wednesday night, I saw this lady at a church meal. I immediately went over and hugged her, and I thanked her for considering me a college student. She pleasantly accepted my gratitude and said, "Oh yes, I see more and more students who are 60 and 70 years old studying at the university." I felt like throwing her down. My warm and fuzzy feelings suddenly evaporated.

Tuesday and Wednesday Jerry took me to other Bible studies where I got to meet some new people. I thoroughly enjoyed that and am very impressed with the way Jerry works with people. This was reinforced at the Bible study I saw him teach on Wednesday night to members of his church. He really is doing a good job in Spearfish.

The church is doing good ministry also. They have two fine elders, a wide diversity of ages in their church, including a strong youth group. I think they are poised for even more growth.

And, oh yes, the weather. Thursday morning, I had a great walk around the neighborhood. When I returned, I discovered on the morning news that the wind-chill was 30° below zero. However, it really did not feel that cold. I guess is it was because of the dry temperature. And they keep the buildings and houses warm. I think gas is cheap up there.

And, oh my, the snow was beautiful. It snowed almost everyday. It looked like a winter wonderland.

Really, the only time I had any trouble was when I went walking on a road one morning toward a pasture that held some buffalo. The wind was blowing a little bit and I had my scarf around my mouth and nose. Consequently, my breath would come out from under my scarf and hit my glasses. This would cause my classes to frost over. I had to be careful what I did at that point, because the frost would freeze and I did not want to break my lenses.

I cracked up last night when I arrived at DFW. They announced on the plane that the airport temperature was 35 degrees. I walked outside expecting to feel cold. Instead, the air felt downright balmy! Nothing like below zero temperatures to give you a little perspective.

I am glad I chose to visit Spearfish and the church. I am especially glad I chose to go during the winter. One warning -- blizzards do occur. People do get snowed in occasionally. Then again, that could happen to you in Spearfish in June as well. Hey, life’s a risk!

Five things I think I think (a tip of the hat to Peter King for this idea)
1. Oh, great! First, I look at trading my clunker for a car, and the government panics and cancels the program. I finally buy a cell phone, an iPhone, no less, and now AT&T is saying that iPhone customers are using their phones so much, they are going to have to start charging more. This reminds of something else, almost every time I have moved somewhere, Abilene, South America, Winters, and Tyler, the economy grew worse or even tanked. I am starting to feel like the kid in Peanuts, who has the cloud over his head everywhere.

2. Let me get this straight. ESPN’s talking heads began to make Alabama an immediate prohibitive favorite following Saturday’s games. For the following 33 days, Texas players will hear why Alabama is the superior team and will win. I have heard this before—back in December of 2005 before the Texas-USC. Write it down in four inch headlines—TEXAS WILL BEAT ALABAMA.

3. Just when I think the news cycle on the ETCA and Austin Summit volleyball teams will end, someone else tells the story. Last week, it was the CHRISTIAN CHRONICLE re-printing the DALLAS MORNING NEWS Kevin’s Sherrington’s article and running several photos:

This week, I was shocked to read multi-time National Sportswriter of the Year, Rick Reilly, refer to it in his ESPN THE MAGAZINE column:

This story has gone viral—and that is a pretty cool thing.

4. I have read with interest the assessments of the decade in various publications. FOX SPORTS shared online their list of the top ten technological sports developments of the decade. Have far we have come. The obvious innovations were on the list such as blogging and Twitter. What I did not realize was that as late as 2004, FOX was only running 6 NFL games a week in High Definition.

5. Our 1991 Suburban has now been put out to pasture. Last week, I found out the radiator needs to be replaced. I will fight no more forever. My kids want to donate the vehicle to ETCA for a fundraiser—and allow people to pay money to take a sledgehammer and beat the beast into submission. Of course, I would probably go broke because my kids would want to pay for all of the swings.

Have a Great Weekend!

Friday, December 4, 2009

Love the Person or Love the Relationship? Pt. 1

Sunday morning, we completed our overview of I Corinthians at Shiloh. I preached from I Corinthians 16. The passage reminded me of the fact that God is a giver. The Holy Spirit serves consistently, living within our bodies. The Father gave up his son, He loved us so much (John 3:16.) Of course, Jesus giving up his spirit (Matt. 27:50) only completed a life that was consumed with giving.

So Paul calls upon the church in Corinth to give, each Sunday, to help the poor. The poor concerned Paul. He once wrote that James, Peter and John made a request of him. “All they asked was that we should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do (Gal. 2:10).”

This year I have been struck by how much the Bible emphasizes helping the poor. Did you know the Bible talks more about the poor and helping the poor than it does about anything else, other than idolatry? More than salvation; more than sexual morality or immorality; more than public worship services.... We have a few thousand passages about the poor.

You see God’s love and concern for the poor in the law given to God's people. It is the background for the book of Ruth. It is an important part of the practical godly life found in Proverbs. It is essential to the prophets. It is a fundamental concern of Jesus’ ministry.
Again, it is easy to see why--giving his godly. Who among us has not been given gifts? And I don’t mean simply a toy truck for Christmas, but are we not all blessed by the sacrifices of others?

You can start with the fundamentals: we had mothers who chose to bring us into this world. Soldiers have sacrificed that we might enjoy a life of freedom.

There been other ways grace has been given to us. In my case, I remember when Judy and I made the decision to go to Argentina, I left my job in real estate, got a job roofing so I could travel weekends to fundraise. It was tough. It took a while for the funds to come in.

I had a $600 house payment, and I did not know one month where the money would come from to pay. I sweated out the first missed payment of my life. However, Steve and Marsha Ridgell, dear friends of ours, gave me a check for $600 to cover that house payment. They had two children. This was a sacrifice for them. I have never forgotten that.

What the Ridgells did was godly. It was compassion. You have had people give to you in similar ways. We remember how others have helped us. We look to them, and we look to Jesus and remember how he helped us.

This love and gratitude motivates our ministry to the poor, for those in other countries, for those in other parts of our country, and for those locally who are poor.

We have received grace; therfore, we offer grace to the poor. But grace is only one side of the coin in helping the poor. Next week, I want to share about the godly ministry of accountability.

Our Life is Just a Vapor

I was reminded of the fragility of life this week. Bill Sparkman, the father of one of my daughter’s classmates, went to sleep Wednesday night and never woke up. He leaves behind a teenage son and daughter. Bill was a gentle giant. Our daughters are taking a trip to Washington, D. C. next year; we were both scheduled to go as sponsors. Now Bill is gone.

Someday, you and I will be the ones leaving this world and loved ones behind. Please keep his family in your prayers.

Five things I think I think (a tip of the hat to Peter King for this idea)

1. Rest in peace, Riley Martin. You were a good uncle—by blood and by marriage.

2. Come on Texas. You’ve made it this far. Just take care of business this Saturday and take your shot at Alabama or Florida.

3. I had my yearly dental appointment this week. I always have it the first Wednesday in December. These appointments are arriving faster and faster.

4. Today, I leave for Spearfish, South Dakota. I am excited to visit Jerry Savage and his family as well get to know the work there, which we help support. If anyone is interested, I hope to offer Twitter updates and post photos on my Facebook page. This ought to be an adventure, and South Dakota might be one too.

5. TAPPS (Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools) announced their volleyball Academic All State Team this week. Congratulations to Audra Wade, Morgan Ashbreck, and Haleigh Edge for making the team! I am proud of you girls.

Have a Great Weekend!

Friday, November 27, 2009

What Are Little Girls Made of--Sugar and Spice and... Elephant Ears?

My daughter, Haleigh, receives the award for most Facebook hits in our family this week for this post, “So I just figured out a new way to plump up my lips.... just try my sister's method and eat a random plant.”

She was referring to Annie. Tuesday of this week, Annie was raking leaves in our yard when she saw a leaf of an Elephant Ear plant. In a tweak of Eve’s method in the garden, Annie, age seven, touched the leaf, smelled it, and then she ate. That’s when the swelling began. I was at the office, but according to family members, her lips and face got pretty big.

Judy called Poison Control, which with our children she’s probably always had on speed dial, and they said keep an eye on her, but she should be fine. She was, and she recovered. As a matter of fact, by the time I arrived home for lunch all swelling had gone down except for her lips. Frankly, they looked liked the lips of a movie star—like she had injected them with Botox. Abby had the line of the day, “I feel like I am eating lunch with one of Angelina Jolie’s children.”

What is most sad about all of this is, they should have learned from my mistakes. When I was five, Nick Pollard and I were messing around old Doctor Wheeler’s place a few miles outside of Winnsboro. Our mom’s were visiting Mrs. Wheeler for some reason, so we went exploring.

We saw a bunch of Elephant Ears plants, and thought they were wild spinach. Now, keep in mind, Popeye was THE cartoon during this era. Consequently, Nick and I began chowing down hoping to become stronger. It did not work. Instead of muscles growing, our faces ballooned. Actually, it was traumatic enough I still remember it. I don’t think we could even speak. We just kind of spit out words, slurring them like THE ELEPHANT MAN, no pun intended.

Someone, probably, Mrs. Wheeler, had the presence of mind to call Dr. Wheeler. He said, “Those boys are going to be alright. In a little while the swelling will go down.” And it did.

I have told my kids this story as a cautionary tale. Of course, one, I guess, had to discover for herself. I think I will make up a cautionary tale. “Don’t ever go out and make a million dollars and give it to your parents. It will ruin them...”

Preachers, Would You Rather Be Broadway or Hollywood?

Name a Broadway actor?

I can't either.

Movie actors are more famous.

Here's what’s interesting to me. Movie stars sacrifice their audience. They act for a camera. Yet, their work reaches more people—by the millions.

Broadway actors receive immediate feedback from their audience, yet their audience is severely limited. They impact those in the theater, who see their live performance, and that is it.

In preaching, the size of audience is typically valued highly. The larger the audience a preacher has, the more he is thought to have something to say. Like Broadway, there is something to be said for the immediate feedback a preacher receives from his audience, particularly a large one. Still, the majority of preachers will preach to smaller audiences. A few years ago, the size of the average church was 85.

Here is my word of encouragement to the vast numbers of preachers who preach to the smaller audiences. Never in human history have preachers had an opportunity to impact the masses as today. With the internet, you can impact people all over the world. Your church can post your sermon to where it can be seen and heard, or simply post an audio version. Either way, your potential audience is enormous.

Think of the movie actor who will never hear the applause in the movie theater, yet have his work impact millions. You and he have something in common. And your message can change a whole lot more lives.

25 Reasons Why This Is Most Wonderful Time of the Year

I owe some people at church an apology. Actually, my son does. I found out from his sister he was overheard the other night saying, “Yeah, Christmas! Boo Thanksgiving!” His logic was Christmas had all of the presents.

Monday of Thanksgiving week starts my favorite time of the year. For the next five or six weeks, things will be different. Here are 25 reasons why:

1. There will a different spirit in the air.
2. Enjoying more time with family.
3. Thanksgiving week promises a school break for Judy and the kids as well as two or three days off for me.
4. Thanksgiving day promises great food.
5. The Cowboys play on Thanksgiving.
6. Texas and Texas A & M always play during the Thanksgiving holidays.
7. The Fall leaves are beautiful.
8. Friends will be hosting festive parties.
9. We will experience some cold weather.
10. Our church will spend time singing and talking about how thankful we are for God.
11. Our church will spend time singing and talking about how grateful we are that Jesus came into the world as a baby.
12. Our church will have a Christmas party.
13. We enjoy days off for Christmas.
14. Christmas offers an even longer school break for Judy and the kids as well as more days off for me.
15. Yes, there are Christmas presents.
16. The pace is friendlier and slower.
17. Great movies on TV and in theaters.
18. Traditional holiday specials are on TV.
19. Bowl Games!
20. We get to enjoy New Years’ Eve celebrations.
21. We celebrate New Year’s Day.
22. More Christmas presents!
23. Our church commemorates where we have come the previous year with God’s help. ("Here we raise our Ebenezer"—see I Samuel 7:2-13a.)
24. The BCS sponsors their National Championship Game.
25. After all is said and done, we have enjoyed more family time together.

Those are a few of my favorite things. What about you?

Five things I think I think (a tip of the hat to Peter King for this idea)

1. Seth Godin had a thought provoking blog last week, which I referenced in my Sunday AM sermon. He talked about the way society typically makes decisions from the gut on major issues. Here is a link:

2. Saw the movie, THE BLIND SIDE. Good Movie.

3. Here is what I wrote last Wednesday, November 25, "Texas or A & M? With the exception of last year, A & M has been playing Texas so tough the past few years. I’m picking Texas, in a surprisingly close game that will probably cost Colt McCoy any remaining hope of winning the Heisman. That’s okay, though. He’ll gladly take the National Championship." Okay, so I was wrong about Colt McCoy.

4. The Dallas Cowboys may win the NFC East by default. I can't believe the Giants lost to Denver.

5. I don’t think TAPPS (Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools) is going to put this in the Tyler paper, but I received word last week that Haleigh made 2nd Team All State in volleyball as a Middle Blocker. Come on, TAPPS! Am I going to have to be your PR Director? Moreover, they listed her as a senior instead of a junior. Incidentally, I write this simply as a concerned citizen without any prejudice whatsoever.

Have a Great Weekend!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Will I Teach Annie?

Will I Teach Annie?

Last week, my youngest daughter, Annie, who is aged 7, crawled up into my lap. She asked me, "Daddy can you teach me Bible at school like you do the other students?" She was referring to the fact that I teach a Bible class for high school seniors at the Christian academy where she attends.

I responded, "Sweetie, I won't even have your sister, Haleigh, until next year, so it will not be until you are a senior in high school.”

Annie’s humbling response? “Daddy, will you still be alive then?”

While biblically she had a point -- none of us know when we are living our last day -- I knew that was not where she was coming from. I knew she thought I was so old, she was not placing any bets that I'll be around here 10 years from now.

Haleigh is teaching Annie how to play the piano. Think I will be listening to see if she begins to learn how to play TAPS.

Darkest Before The Dawn

I was inspired this week reading about a coach who was pushing 50 when he finally got a head coaching job. The first two years were moderately successful, but the next two were disasters. Near the end of that fourth season, his team was playing a game with a huge amount at stake. The team had experienced a seven-game losing streak, and desperately needed a win. With less than two minutes remaining in the ballgame, his field goal kicker kicked what appeared to be the game-winning field goal and put his team ahead 17 -- 16.

There was celebration but it was short-lived. A holding penalty was called on the coach's team. The ball was moved back and the field goal kicker nailed it again. Again there was celebration, and again that celebration was followed by another penalty flag. That penalty moved his team out of field-goal range. So they went for it on fourth down and appeared to make the first down. Unfortunately, the coach watched in disbelief as the linesman gave the opponent a favorable spot. The other team received the ball, and shortly thereafter the game was over.

The coach was in utter despair. The job that he sought for his entire adult life was now in jeopardy. Moreover, his team’s dumb mistakes cost them the game. There was a long plane flight home across the country. Sitting in his seat, the coach began crying. Then he began to almost sob in the darkness. The sounds grew so loud, his assistants began shielding him from the rest of the plane, talking loudly so no one would hear him.

About 3:15 in the morning, as the plane was preparing to land, the coach began coming out of his depression. He thought back to when he had been an amateur boxer in college. Once, he had been knocked flat on his back and had to struggle to get up on his knees. Bleeding and bruised, he continued the fight. This moment felt a kinship with that moment. He knew he had to regain his composure, confidence, and direction and press on. And so he did.

Sixteen months later, Bill Walsh coached his San Francisco 49ers to their first Super Bowl win. Four more followed under his leadership, two of those as head coach. Sixteen months. That was all that separated his moment of greatest despair from his moment of greatest triumph.

I read this story in Walsh's final book called THE SCORE TAKES CARE OF ITSELF, which I downloaded on my Kindle reader on my iPhone by the way. Co- written with Steve Jamison and Craig Walsh, I have found it to be substantive and inspiring thus far. Walsh was a Hall of Fame coach, who changed the concept of offensive football and his coaching tree extends further than anyone else's. But his impact transcends the game of football. Probably no one has led the way for the hiring of minorities in the NFL more than Bill Walsh.

This week, though, I was encouraged as I thought about how many times influential and successful people found triumph shortly after their greatest moments of despair. Truly, in the triumphal life, it is often darkest before the dawn.

Math Sense

Now that I have mastered quantum mechanics (ha ha), I am turning my attention to my enormous ignorance of mathematics. I use the word “ignorance” with intention. I have spent the bulk of my life ignoring mathematics, much to my chagrin.

When I was in high school, I think I took every math course offered. At the time, I was preparing for dental school—as if—and taking math was what you did. I took two years of algebra, a year of geometry, and a year of trigonometry, calculus, and elementary analysis. I can honestly tell you that I remember—drum roll please—absolutely nothing from the courses. Four years, and I remember absolutely nothing.

I take that back. I do remember one thing. I remember, deciding in those classes, if I ever taught one day, and a student asked a question, I would never answer by simply repeating what I said the first time and then move on without making sure the student had any semblance of understanding.

I found a book the other day at a book sale—a hardback book— for a quarter. It’s called BRIDGES TO INFINITY THE HUMAN SIDE OF MATHEMATICS. It was written in 1983. What caught my attention was it was written by Michael Guillen. I first got to know him on Good Morning America, as their consultant on science and technology. He communicated so well, I was shocked to discover he was also a very good scientist and mathematician, having taught as a mathematical physicist at Cornell University.

I am hoping he, at last, can open up my mental doors to the world of math. My kids, bless their hearts, I am sure are hoping so too. I am absolutely no help with their math homework.

“Dad, what’s 2 + 2?”

“I don’t know, ask your mother.”

Five things I think I think (a tip of the hat to Peter King for this idea)

1. KLTV Channel 7 did a marvelous job on the story of Morgan Ashbreck and the ETCA volleyball team. The segment is a weekly one called POWER OF PRAYER. Morgan, teammates Hannah Henderson and Jessica Mitchell, along with Coach Diane Preston, were interviewed and were very impactful. If you missed it, here is a link:

2. The apocalyptic movie, 2012, was released last week. It is based upon the concept of an ancient Mayan calendar predicting the end of the world in 2012. This was confirmed this week when Oprah announced she is ending her talk show in 2011.

3. I finished the book, THE YEAR OF LIVING BIBLICALLY, this week. Written by A. J. Jacobs—one of my favorite writers—it chronicles the events of his life as he sought to obey the Bible as literally as possible for one full year.

Jacobs has a sharp sense of humor. Recounting his search for just the right biblical translation, he tells of talking with a salesman at a huge bookstore in midtown Manhattan. The salesman shows Jacobs various translations, but being a secularist, points to the one Bible he thinks Jacobs might want. It is one of those Bibles that is designed to look like a SEVENTEEN magazine.

The salesman says, "This one's good if you're on the subway and are too embarrassed to be seen reading the Bible. Because no one will ever know it's a Bible." Jacobs reflects, "It's an odd and poignant selling point. You know you're in a secular city when it's considered more acceptable for grown men to read teen girls magazine than the Bible."

Jacobs describes his challenge of fulfilling the 10 Commandments, loving his neighbor, and most difficult of all, seeking to avoid wearing clothes made of mixed fibers. All is not humor, however. He describes in devastating detail his discovery of the death of a neighbor named Nancy. Nancy lived alone and had no family. Jacobs sense of guilt is palatable. His account of Nancy is sad and depressing because it seems so real and true to our 21st-century world.

If you are looking for a book that is fun, that will help you learn more about the Bible and about biblical times, and if you want to hear a commentary on our contemporary culture from a secular Jew, this book is for you.

4. I hope everyone has a marvelous Thanksgiving next week.

5. Happy anniversary, Mrs. E. I am looking forward to our early celebration. December 10th, we will be married for 21 years. These have been unquestionably the best years of my life, and I cannot imagine life without you.

Have a Great Weekend!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Plague of the Gnats

Plague of the Gnats

A plague of gnats struck ETCA a week or two ago. Mrs. Munoz would be teaching her second grade class when, suddenly, out of nowhere, a gnat would fly toward her face. Strange. Gnats had never been around the building before.

Next door in her first grade class room, teacher Holly Shultz would find periodic irritation from these pesky insects. Likewise, first graders were constantly swatting the gnats that had begun attacking her classroom.

To the south, in the cafeteria, fifty yards and a courtyard away from the first and second grade classrooms, gnats occasionally made an appearance.

On the other side of the building, administrator Brenda Craig faced an occasional battle with the kamikaze creatures. What’s going on here? ETCA never had a problem with gnats before.

Brenda took the initiative to call the exterminator. “Sorry, Ma’am,” came the reply, “our contract with you does not cover gnats.”

And so the mystery deepened. Where had the gnats come from? What had ETCA done to offend a holy God?

And then it happened. Last week, as her students worked, first grade teacher Holly Shultz was digging through a locker in her classroom when she spied a lunch box. Whose was it? She faintly recalled seeing it before. She opened up the lunch box.

Avalanche! Look out below! All hands on deck! The sky is falling! The sky is falling!

Attacking Mrs. Shultz was the greatest clouds of gnats ever seen by man. She danced, and hollered, and swatted as if she were awash in a swarm of killer bees.

Students screamed and scattered. At last, order was restored. Enough so that Mrs. Shultz was able to investigate, further, the lunchbox. In so doing, she solved the mystery. The lunchbox had been long forgotten, and then suspected lost. Inside, were just enough remains of—a banana—to allow Mrs. Shultz to deduce that said banana had been the source of attraction for all of the gnats. (My personal opinion is that the insects violating everyone’s personal space were teeny-tiny fruit flies; however, I will hopefully never be able to prove my premise.)

After presumably all items involved were destroyed, order was restored and ETCA has reestablished a sense of order. And the owner of the devious lunchbox? One Timothy Edge.

When contacted by the press, Timothy’s father issued only a one-lined statement, “At least it wasn’t his underwear in the lunchbox.”

Donald Miller

Thanks to Jeff Christian and my friends at Glenwood, I had a chance Wednesday to eat lunch with Donald Miller and approximately thirty or so preachers and community leaders. If you have read my blog, you know that Miller is one of my favorite authors. He has begun a mentoring program for boys that he hopes to partner with churches nationwide in the near future.

Miller grew up without a father, so he knows firsthand the impact that void can have on a young man. Miller reminded us that 94 % of all U. S. prisoners are males. Of these, 85% grew up without the presence of a father.

Miller is serving on a presidential task force investigating this problem. The government’s conclusion—and I know this will be music to the ears of many Tylerites—government is not the solution. The federal government believes churches can do the best job of addressing this challenge. Miller is looking for ten male mentors in every church to spend a few hours a week with targeted young men. I think Miller is on to something, and I hope Shiloh can participate in this process.

Wednesday night Miller spoke at Glenwood. I thought he did a great job. He is hilarious, yet thought provoking. He proposed that the “God-shaped hole” in the human heart is an ill-conceived idea that is not biblical. Rather, he says, even in the garden before the fall, before Eve, Adam did not have his “God-shaped hole” filled by God. Something was still missing from Adam’s life, and she was Eve. I’m not sure I agree, but I am going to think about it.

Having read Miller’s BLUE LIKE JAZZ, SEARCHING FOR GOD KNOWS WHAT, and THROUGH PAINTED DESERTS, I am looking forward to reading his latest work, A MILLION MILES IN A THOUSAND YEARS. I’ve already read the first couple of chapters. Miller made me think and he made me laugh—out loud.

Five things I think I think (a tip of the hat to Peter King for this idea)

1. I’m preaching on I Cor. 14 this Sunday morning. Although, I hope to be faithful to the text, some, including me, may leave dissatisfied. 

2. God Bless the Single Parent. Thursday I had to take a sick child home from school. Near lunchtime I got a call that Annie was running a fever and experiencing her typical response to respiratory illness. She had started coming down with the stuff that others have been suffering from—my guess it stems from the weather we have been having. Fortunately, I was able to take my things and work at home (including writing this blog.)

Today, Judy took off since Annie is not allowed to return to school until she has cleared 24 hours without a fever. I don’t see how the single parents do it. I am intellectually aware of their plight, but it is during times like these I become more emotionally attuned to their circumstances.

3. I’ve been playing with, I mean working on, my i-phone since Friday. I can’t believe I’ve made it this long without one. What a spiritual guy I was to deprive myself for so long of such a blessing! Actually, in all seriousness, it has made me so much more functional in my ministry. And I haven’t even experienced the benefits of traveling with it yet.

4. I read this week perhaps the greatest quote ever on fame. It was in, of all things, a biography of Joe Namath by Mark Kriegel. Here’s the quote, referring to the late, great, NFL quarterback, Hall of Famer Johnny Unitas, “Fame made you money. But fame was also a form of insanity. People who didn’t know you started having feelings for you. They loved you, hated you, admired you—without ever having met you.”

5. The media continues to share the story of the ETCA volleyball team and their spiritual growth during the playoffs confronting Morgan Ashbreck’s violent injury. I am told that Channel 7 will be airing a story on Sunday night on their 10 PM newscast.

As a reminder they also played volleyball, the All-District Team was announced this week. Diane Preston received the “Coach of the Year” award. Morgan Ashbreck, Audra Wade, and Haleigh Edge made first-team all-district. Ally Beth Hannah, Henderson, Jenny Munoz and Jessica Mitchell made seond-team all-district. Hannah received the Sportsmanship award. Haleigh was voted the district’s MVP. Congratulations girls.

Have a Great Weekend!

Friday, November 6, 2009

Jesus is Coming Back or—I Bought my First Cell Phone Today

Jesus is Coming Back or—I Bought my First Cell Phone Today

That’s right. As you read this, know that l have purchased my first cell phone.

My family actually owned a cell phone back in the late 90s when we lived in Brownsville. We had no long distance service on our house phone; we used our cell phone for that and as security in case of potential car emergencies. In Winters, the church owned a cell phone that I would carry around with me whenever I was working. My wife and two of my daughters currently own cell phones, which they purchased themselves, but this will be my first.

I must confess that I am very excited. I am bought an iPhone. Most of our staff at Shiloh Road have iPhone's, and I have drunk the Kool-Aid. One of our members, Brandon Deever – a great guy and very active in Kingdom ministry – is a big cog in the AT&T stores here in East Texas, so my family gave his organization some business.

We purchased one of those unlimited texting plans. Haleigh and I will have iPhone's with Internet access, Judy and Abby will have simple cell phones for texting. Timothy and Annie—well let's just say they need to be praying for the next few years before they get theirs.

I have already downloaded the Kindel App so that I can order books on my iPhone for when I travel. I will definitely need to take a class in text language. (Does anybody know where they teach one? TJC? UT Tyler?) I may even start twitting, tweeting, twittering, or whatever the heck you call it.

Who knows? This may lead to me one day purchasing a Mac computer. Last week, I was in a meeting with a group that has been dominated by PC users. You can imagine my shock when, “he who shall not be named”, pulled out a Mac laptop and begin working on it. Actually, we were all shocked. His excuse was it was for his work, but then he let loose with the bombshell that he actually had it for a year. The times, they are a changing.

Buying a cell phone is a big step for me. I'll miss the peace and quiet that comes from not having a cell phone on my person. I'll miss the savings that came from not having a family phone plan. I've been able to fly my family to Seattle every couple of years to see my sister and her family on what we saved from not having a family cell phone plan. (Sis, if you're reading this, Christmas may be the last time you’ll see us in Seattle for a while. But we’ll sure text you!) Nevertheless, the time has come.

In the meantime, you might want to start watching the clouds. The Second Coming could be at hand.

Random Acts of Kindness

Sunday morning, I am preaching on first Corinthians 13. My focus will be on how churches are loving. Of course, this passage is regularly read during weddings. However, all attributes mentioned are attributes of Jesus; hence, they should be our attributes as well. For example, Jesus is kind; therefore, we are kind.

Random acts of kindness have become popular in this country. And I am all for that. I saw on the news about a couple months ago about a coffee shop in Kansas City, maybe even a Starbucks, where each patron at the drive-thru had been paying for a coffee product for the driver behind him or her -- and the streak had been going on for several days or even for a few weeks. Laudable!

Still, it's the simple acts of kindness that can be the most moving. I remember almost a decade ago, when my family and I were living in West Texas, my daughter, Haleigh, was a first-grade student at the local elementary school in Winters.

One morning, she was late to class, carrying a bunch of stuff, and in her haste, her materials spilled and scattered everywhere. Panic stricken, she froze, and began to cry.

I was in my car in the drive-through lane observing this, and I was tempted to shift into park, leave the car running, and get out of my car to go help her pick up everything. But then, out of the building came a high school student -- and I still remember who it was – Wade Parramore. His mother taught in elementary school and he had been by her room and was now on the way to his high school, which was within walking distance.

Even though he knew he would be tardy, Wade did not hesitate. He stopped what he was doing, knelt down, picked up all of Haleigh’s stuff, and gently handed it to her. He opened the schoolhouse door and guided her in so that she could make it to class before the tardy bell rang.

That story did not make the lineup on the local TV stations’ news that night. That event was not covered by the local newspaper. Yet, isn't it funny how after all of these years, I still have not forgotten that act of kindness?


No, I did not write that. Larry McMurtry did. This was his memoir.

Larry McMurtry is a prolific and award winning author, who grew up in Archer City, TX. His books include THE LAST PICTURE SHOW, TERMS OF ENDEARMENT, and LONESOME DOVE, which I absolutely loved. (The mini-series was equally good-the best western I’ve ever seen.) McMurtry still owns an un-airconditioned ranch house in Archer City, TX (which is near Wichita Falls) and spends a lot of time there owning and operating several used bookstores.

I once took Haleigh and Abby’s photo with him when they were little girls. He had been inside one of the stores unpacking some books. Judy and the girls had dropped me off while they went shopping. I was browsing and could not help eavesdropping as some doctoral student peppered McMurtry with questions. He had made a pilgrimage to Archer City to discover the deepest meanings of LONESOME DOVE. McMurtry clearly did not maintain the romantic view of the novel that the student sustained. McMurtry said he wrote it, and that was it—
on to the next project.

I knew that the famous author was tired of dealing with LONESOME DOVE and did not have the sentimental connection that we readers and viewers did. He wanted to focus on unpacking books. The sooner that starry-eyed literature student left him alone, the better. Finally, the student left. Half an hour later, Haleigh and Abby came in to get me.

I debated, briefly in my own mind whether or not I should do this, but I decided to go to the car and get my camera. How many opportunities would I have to take my girls’ photo with arguably the Southwest’s greatest author over the second half of the twentieth century.

I approached Mr. McMurtry, camera in hand, and asked if I could take his photo with my girls. He could not have been nicer. He dropped what he was doing, put his arms around the girls, and smiled as I took two or three shots—just to make sure I got one. He talked with us for a couple of minutes before, wanting to be sensitive to his time, I thanked him and we departed. I’ve still got those photos, I need to scan them.

I read WALTER BENJAMIN again last week. He wrote it about ten years ago. It is excellent. He describes his life, his parents’ life settling in Archer City, and he throws in little tidbits about his life as an author.

He also describes in some detail his love for books and his journey as a book scout. You might guess that I enjoyed that section.

(By the way, the Doctors’ Wives of Tyler had a benefit book sale yesterday. I found 32 gems for a quarter a piece. Hardbacks! I could not believe it, but I digress.)

McMurtry ended his memoir writing about one of the great lessons he learned concerning the fleeting nature of fame and prestige. He was lecturing [one] day at a small college in Uvalde, TX, and during a short break in a daylong effort, while back at his motel for a nap, his agent called and told him he had won the Pulitzer Prize for his novel, LONESOME DOVE.

He writes, “My agent determined to communicate to me the majesty [of winning the Pulitzer.] When I finally got him off the line, my next call was from the motel office: a reporter and a photographer from the local paper were there to get a brief interview and take my picture.”

“The night before, when I drove into Uvalde, the manager of the Holiday Inn where I was staying had written on its marquee: ‘Welcome, Larry McMurtry, Author of Terms of Endearment.’ That had never happened to me before...

“But time waits for no author, not in Uvalde, anyway. As I walked up to meet the press I glanced at the marquee and saw it had already been changed. Now it read: ‘Lunch Special, Catfish: $3.95.’ Even as [my agent] was telling me how great he had made me, my moment had passed. It was a good lesson to be remembered. The Pulitzer Prize was well and good, but there was lunch to think of, and catfish at $3.95 was a bargain not to be scorned. The locals were already flocking to it, and as soon as the needs of the press had been satisfied, I went in and did the same.”

Mr. McMurtry was nice enough to remind me in that passage that even if we gain prestige, we cannot maintain prestige forever. And it is pointless to look to prestige as a source of happiness.

Five things I think I think (a tip of the hat to Peter King for this idea)

1. My prayers go out to the folks at Killeen. Two terrible shootings in 20 years.

2. A couple of weeks ago, I blogged about our ETCA volleyball team and their travails during the playoffs. There is a marvelous article about Morgan Ashbreck, ETCA and Austin Summit in today’s (Friday’s) Dallas Morning News. Columnist Kevin Sherrington talks about Morgan's injury in their volleyball playoff game, her faith response, and the faith response of her teammates and the people of Summit. It is neat to see young lights shine in this world. Here is a link:

If you are interested, the paper edition has a couple of photographs of Morgan while she is injured. I appreciate Morgan’s willingness to share those because they do provide context for the story. I wrote previously in my blog that I have witnessed in my life people who were more badly hurt in sporting contests. However, Morgan’s was easily the worse thing I have ever SEEN at an athletic event. Through it all, she was incredibly courageous.

I have Morgan in Bible class and, of course, she said nothing about the DMN interview—in class or in private. I mentioned this to her mother who told me Morgan is afraid people will tire of hearing about her. When Kevin Sherrington interviewed her, Morgan repeated told him, “This is not about me…. I did nothing but get hurt, so I'm not even the one here that it should be about.” She emailed the Dallas Morning News, again, a photo of ETCA’s team so that the paper will display it with the article.

Morgan is being typically modest. She further demonstrated this in the letter she wrote to Austin Summit. It is beautiful; it makes clicking the link or buying the paper worth it. In it, Morgan really does point toward—God, her coach, her teammates, the people at Summit Christian Academy, and others. We are blessed that they have proven worthy.

3. Great job Randy and Alex York! I am still receiving tremendous feedback on the painting they did during my sermon Sunday morning. I felt confident that they would minister to the visual learners; what surprised me though is how many adults commented they were moved to tears.

4. Can’t wait to hear the BLUE LIKE JAZZ man himself, Donald Miller, Wednesday night at Glenwood. I’ve got to teach my class, then I’ll head over. Hope I can find a place to stand.

5. I may be the only one on the planet who finds this interesting. Youtube has a great archive of interviews with notable people from televisions past. Caught some of the interview with the late Curt Gowdy. Fascinating to hear him relive his life—full of anecdotes. Another favorite is Jim McKay, and there are many more. To find them, go to the Youtube search and type something like this: “Curt Gowdy - Archive Interview Part 1.” This is a marvelous project.

Have a Great Weekend!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Class Reunions

Class Reunions
“Are you going to your class reunion?” I am amazed how many times I ask that question and the response is, “No.”

I love my class reunions. Last Saturday morning and afternoon, the 1979 class of good ’ol Winnsboro High School celebrated at the Oaklea Mansion, across the street from the, now restored, Rock Gym.

A number of fellow classmates have spent the past few months tracking down folks, taking care of logistics, and putting in the time necessary to make an event like this happen. (Michael Murley and Lesa Monday, I’ve got to give you a big shout-out for all of your hard work especially.)

I had a great time. It was a perfect day, so we spent all our time outside under the tall, old trees. I arrived about 10:45 A. M., later than I had intended, but it was for a good cause. (My son had lost his glasses, a rare occurrence—usually only twice a week.)

We have had a reunion, I think, every five years. I made all of them but the 1989 reunion, which was held a couple of months after Judy and I moved to Argentina. If there was a reunion in1994 reunion, I missed it too. (We were still living in Argentina.)

The only thing I do not like about our class reunions is, even though we never have a 100 % turnout, there are always enough people present to create an obstacle for me. I want to visit, at least a little bit, with each person there. In fulfilling this desire, I always find myself, as I drive away from my reunion, feeling wistful. There was not enough time to sit down and visit with each person to make me feel satisfied.

Just one year, I would love to leave my reunion feeling like I caught up with every last person. Were I able to say to each classmate:

* Tell me about your dreams—did you realize them?
* Tell me about your disappointments.
* Tell me about your victories.
* Tell me about your failures.
* Tell me what you would tell your 18 year old self if you could go back in time.
* Tell me how you have changed after all of these years.
* Tell me what you have learned in life.
* Tell me, do you still have dreams?

I know, though, what you probably know as well. I instinctively feel, as I drive away, that which takes me days to process and identify. Reunions are not constructed to withstand the weight of our desires. Reunions are brief events designed to offer opportunities for brief exchanges to renew acquaintances.

What I would love to experience at a reunion cannot be experienced at a reunion. It can only be experienced in relationships, and relationships take time. What I want is to take the emotional byproduct of what was typically a twelve year relationship, and compress it into a reunion lasting but a few hours.

Alas, there is not enough time; there never is.

I think these realities lay at the root of my emotions as I nostalgically drove away Saturday afternoon. Somewhere along the drive, I became emotionally grounded once more. I celebrated these all-too-brief encounters with my classmates. I treasured what I was able to experience:

* a leisurely late morning and early afternoon visit with old friends
* hearing words of affirmation
* seeing a classmate for the first time since graduation night
* catching up with the reunion regulars, which never gets old
* hearing for the first time in thirty years a reading of our life plans after graduation (as published in our hometown newspaper the week of our graduation)
* receiving important news about the lives of classmates
* hearing words of encouragement
* observing the spiritual growth of classmates

For the privilege of that experience, how can I but leave content?
Mr. Talbert and Coach Campbell
As I wrote, I had a marvelous time Saturday. In the afternoon, some of us walked across the street to the Rock Gym (built in 1939) and enjoyed some moments with other WHS graduates at the all school reunion. At 2:30, a few of us traveled to Winnsboro’s old baseball field, Walker Park, for a marker dedication and to honor Winnsboro’s old semi-pro baseball team—the Oilers. Our high school principal, Carl Talbert, was a star centerfielder on that team.
I can’t believe he never told us about that! It's always funny how easy it is to forget that these people who helped form and shape you were young once and had a life without you.

Late Saturday afternoon, after our reunion, I had a chance to visit my old eighth grade history and reading teacher, as well as high school tennis coach, Tom Campbell. Coach Campbell made a big impact on my teaching and preaching. (Evidently, he didn’t make a big enough impact on my tennis—I lost at regionals.) He is in poor health and in a rehab center, so I definitely wanted to stop by and see him.

I intended only a brief visit, but ended up staying an hour or two. It was one of those things where we picked up where we left off thirty years ago. Every time I tried to leave, we would start talking about some other subject and get going again. It was really neat to see Coach Campbell and communicate to him what a difference he had made in my life.
Some Thoughts on Happiness
Last summer, I preached on the book of Jeremiah. This fall, on Sunday nights, I’ve been preaching on the Beatitudes. Both have me thinking a lot about happiness.

The yearning for happiness goes back to the Garden. We instinctively understand we lost something there, and we did. We instinctively know there was something better, and there will be something better. Presently, we don't fully possess it.

Yet, even in the Garden, even when Adam and Eve had everything they needed to be happy, more than they needed to be happy, they wanted more. So they ate the fruit.

Intellectually, we know it is impossible to be happy all of the time. You get the perfect wife—she dies. You lose a child. A best friend moves away. However, we so often live driven by the thought that happiness lies around the corner. And if we squeeze a little tighter, if we lift a little more weight, if we run a little faster, if we try a little harder, we will capture it. The truth is, as has been written, happiness in this life evades us like a butterfly escaping the grasp of chasing child.

Our realistic aim should not be happiness in this life. Our aim should be the joy of Jesus, the contentment of Christ.
Will Current Kids be the Death of Civilization?
“These kids will be the death of civilization.”

A lot of folks are scared of kids. They are scared of technology. As newspapers and magazines die, a major fear is that kids are becoming so stimulated by TV and computers, they will lose the desire to read. Hence we will revert back to an illiterate culture.

Our youth minister, Tim Henderson, and I were visiting about this the other day. We considered some of the following possibilities.

Perhaps kids are reading more today than ever before. With internet access to news sites such as those of TIME and MICROSOFT, not to mention the access to news concerning science, politics, art, and global affairs via the GOOGLE reader and other internet resources, kids are reading more widely than we did. Moreover, we have found young people to be aware of breaking news faster than we were.

Kids are writing more than we did. Between journals and blogs, Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, and text messaging, kids today are literally writing more words in their spare time than my generation did.

I crack up thinking about this: approximately 150 years ago, the telegraph was invented. This was followed by the telephone, radio and television.

Now, kids can use Skype and literally talk face-to-face, all over the world, for pennies. With cell phones, they can have unlimited phone conversations with friends in their network. And what do they do? They write text messages to each other. They are reverting back to the days of the telegraph!

150 years ago, one friend excitedly telegraphed another, “ARRIVE TOMORROW”, and he did, by train. Today, with all of our technology available, one kid excitedly telegraphs (texts) another, “ARRIVE TOMORROW.” And he does. (Oh, well, at least our phone lines remain open.) Even though texting is concise and colloquial, it is still writing.

Here’s a mind-bender. What if the kids of today are becoming literate? What if, because of technology, they become more adapt at reading, contemplating ideas, and expressing their thoughts through writing? We could be headed that way.
Five things I think I think (a tip of the hat to Peter King for this idea)
1. I thought Red Dreher’s column in the DALLAS MORNING NEWS, “When Science Meets Pop Culture”, to be one of the more even-handed treatments of science and religion. Here is the link if you are interested.

2. Phillies vs. Yankees. I pick the Phillies.

3. I have noticed God has pulled out his paintbrush again. The leaves on the trees are beautiful.

4. Finished showing my high school Bible class the THE TRUMAN SHOW this week. No movie in my memory demonstrates the “winsome” work of Satan, and the destructive work of Satan, than this one. I’m sure that was not Peter Weir’s conscience intention, but the subconscious and spiritual aspects of his being reflected this reality in his creative work. An amazing effort—probably in my Top 10 movie list for impact.

5. Randy and Alex York, I am really looking forward to you using your artistic gifts this Sunday morning during our sermon time. God bless you.
Have a Great Weekend!

Friday, October 23, 2009

More Than a Game

More Than a Game
“Sometimes there are things more important than a game.” That was the first sentence from the TYLER MORNING TELEGRAPH’S account from Tuesday night’s ETCA volleyball game. Some of you have been keeping up with the team and asking me about how they are doing. For those of you who have not, full disclosure: my oldest daughter, Haleigh, is a high school junior and plays on the team. They have had a great season going 10-0 in district and 23-2 in the regular season. Those 23 wins included wins over public schools; the two losses were to larger public school programs.

Entering the playoffs this week we had high expectations. Tuesday night we were all brought back to reality in our match with Cedar Park Summit Christian Academy out of Austin.

The night began on an exciting note. The game was at ETCA’s new gym and it was packed. Fans have driven in from Austin, and many supporters came from Tyler, including friends from outside ETCA.

The atmosphere was electric and the match reflected it. ETCA won the first 25-20. Summit, behind their outstanding six-foot-one junior, Nells Meighan, came back and won the second game 25-22. The third game was tied 18-18. Both teams were playing well and with great intensity, but the intensity betrayed all on the fight for the nineteenth point.

Morgan Ashbreck, ETCA’s outstanding setter, dove for a ball headed out of bounds and hit her head on the court. What followed appeared to be the worst injury that I have ever seen in sports, either live or on TV. Although I did look at my watch, I did not officially keep track of time. I’m guessing that over thirty minutes before Morgan was finally transported into the ambulance.

As you might imagine, our volleyball team was emotionally devastated by what happened to their friend and teammate. The crowd was stunned and quiet. I found out later that while was outside the building at the ambulance, the crowd was led in public prayer by ETCA administrator, Mike Gravois.

Somewhere during this time, the ETCA girls decided they must go to the hospital and support Morgan. They understood it would mean a forfeit, but with the threat that Morgan’s injury could be critical or even life-threatening, she became their priority.

During this time, the administration and fans of Summit made a decision reflecting incredible grace. Having driven four or five hours to Tyler, and having fought so hard for victory, they were certainly entitled to victory by forfeit. However, they chose postponement. If the ETCA girls chose to resume play, the match would pick up at 19-18 in the third game.

Amazingly, at approximately 12:30 AM on Wednesday morning, Morgan Ashbreck walked out of ETMC under her own power. She had suffered a concussion. She needed a couple of staples on a nasty cut, and she would need a lot of sleep and rest, but a CAT Scan revealed that she was ultimately going to be okay.

Two days ago, our girls voted to travel to Summit’s school gym and play. They knew that the odds were stacked against them. Losing Morgan was like a basketball team losing an outstanding point guard. She was an excellent leader and she was amazing at setting up her teammates for “kill” shots.

I’m still learning when it comes to volleyball. I had no idea how disorienting it is for a team to change setters in the playoffs. They had learned to know, with precision, where each individual would be in any given moment. When there was an exception, they had learned how to communicate with each other under duress in order to execute the save or organize for a counter-attack. Because of these challenges, the girls could have conceded the loss and save themselves a long trip.

However, they chose a different course. They chose to offer God their very best. They chose to honor Morgan, their coach, Summit, and each other by competing. Yesterday (Thursday), at 5:30, the ETCA girls lost the third game, and then they lost the fourth. But they played their best. They played with effort; they played with joy. They competed. They left everything on the court.

Cedar Park Summit Christian Academy won a well-deserved victory. They could have taken the easy way out, but they chose otherwise. They honored God by their effort and by their spirit.

During the season, I began to feel that ETCA had a very special volleyball team and would travel deep into the TAPPS playoffs. I still think they have a special team; it’s just that outcome I was not expecting demonstrated this fact to me. I believe TYLER MORNING TELEGRAPH’s reporter, Travis Yoesting was right, “Sometimes there are things more important than a game.”
Five things I think I think (a tip of the hat to Peter King for this idea)
1. Speaking of events you do not expect, what a terrible year for OU quarterback Sam Bradford. I am so sorry he had to get hurt. Still, I think his testimony (see last week’s blog) is even stronger today that it was one week ago.

2. BALLOON BOY—a hoax? I am stunned. Surely not in today’s world!

3. My middle daughter, Abby, did me a favor last Saturday night. She asked me to take her and a friend to BARNES AND NOBLE for a couple of hours of coffee drinking (decaf for her and her friend) and browsing. Immediately, she and her friend abandoned me to do their own thing, and I had a great time checking out the new books. Next time Judy and the kids abandon me for a few hours, I think I’m heading over B & N.

4. Saw TENDER MERCIES last week for the first time in a quarter century. I appreciate it a lot more now than I did in college. And I was reminded, yet, again of what an exceptional actor Robert Duvall is. He did his own singing in TENDER MERCIES—no wonder he won the Oscar. After seeing him play a consigliore in the GODFATHER, a cowboy in LONESOME DOVE, a Pentecostal preacher in THE APOSTLE, and a washed-up country singer in TENDER MERCIES, and, yes, Will Ferrell’s father in KICKING AND SCREAMING, has there ever been a better actor in America than Robert Duvall?

5. I am looking forward to seeing you tomorrow at our reunion fellow classmates of WHS 1979.
Have a Great Weekend!

Friday, October 16, 2009

Happy Anniversary Timothy and Annie

Happy Anniversary Timothy and Annie

Wednesday our family observed a very important anniversary. This weekend, we will celebrate with stories and fun.

Long ago Judy and I desired to adopt. In preparation for our marriage, we discussed our mutual desire to make adoption happen.

We had both remembered hearing criticism from those who were pro-choice and did not respect the pro-life position. Their criticism was, "Where are all of the pro-life people when it comes to adopting the babies of those that they wanted to live?" We thought they had a valid criticism.

During our years in Argentina, we thought we would have our chance. I was studying the Bible with a young man who was a pre-med student at the national university located in our city of Cordoba. We forged a friendship, enough of one to where he felt free to share his sister’s dilemma. She was in high school and was pregnant. She was seriously contemplating having an abortion.

Although Judy and I were not as close to this young lady, her mother, or her grandmother, (the father was long gone), we did have a good relationship with them. As a matter of fact, our relationship was good enough that we began a discussion laying the groundwork for Judy and me to adopt the child upon birth. As things worked out, doctors determined that the young woman was not pregnant.

Later, Judy and I had our two natural-born children, Haleigh and Abby. They, of course, brought us great joy, but we still waited on God to see if he would bring opportunity for us to adopt.

A few years ago, we moved to West Texas near Abilene Christian University where I was preaching, working on a doctorate, and serving as an adjunct professor of Bible at ACU. One day, Judy was in Sears with our two girls. Out of the blue, a man came up to Judy and said, "Have you thought about adopting?" Judy considered that rather strange because, indeed, she had recently begun thinking again about adoption. However, no doors were opening for adoption.

At that time, Judy was working as a housewife and homeschooling our girls. Since the adoption angle was not working out, Judy began to feel called to become a foster parent. We prayed about this decision and discussed it a lot. We finally decided to began training with Child Protective Services to become certified to serve as foster parents and to see where God would lead us.

We spent several Saturdays in the summer of 2003 in training to receive a certification. It was hard work. I remember one Friday night we had one of those all-night cancer-walk fund raisers to participate in, followed by CPS classes the next day. That was a tough day. We completed our training and, finally, in February of 2004, we had the opportunity to receive a three-year-old girl as our foster child.

Foster care proved challenging. Intellectually, we knew how hard it would be. Emotionally, we were nowhere near prepared.

This little girl came out of a small town in central Texas. She had been taken by CPS out of a tough environment.

We had a dog, and this foster child told us that she had had a dog where she had lived. We asked her what happened to her dog. She said that he had run away with the pig.

We thought that was strange. I had images in my mind of a dog and a pig walking down the middle of the street together off into the sunset. And then later this little girl saw a police officer in our town, and she pointed at him and called him a pig. And we realized—her mother called policemen pigs. It was not an animal who had come to take her dog the way, it was a police officer.

When I remember those times, I recall I was discovering things about myself that I did not like. I thought I was an “outstanding” Christian man by this time, but I clearly was not.

Our foster child carried with her a lot of anger. Looking back, I understand why. At that time, though, this anger was taking a toll on all of us.
One time, our foster child got mad at our oldest daughter, Haleigh, and spit in her face. This for me was the crowning blow. I felt so angry. I'm afraid my demeanor and my tone of voice betrayed me. I looked at her and I said with great intensity, "Do you think I am as stupid as I look?" And she looked up at me with her big brown eyes, so desperate to give the right answer. She humbly said, "Yes."

Our family cared for this girl for several months. Her story actually had a happy ending. Her mother matured somewhat and was able to take this girl back into her custody. My understanding is today they're doing quite well living in another state near family.

Following this experience, Judy and I and our two daughters were just exhausted. However, after two or three months, Judy and I both felt that we were ready again to care for a child from CPS. Shortly after deciding we were emotionally ready to begin again in foster care, CPS called us.

On Wednesday, October 13, 2004, Judy answered the phone in our home. CPS was calling to say they had two small children they needed to place in a home. One was a two-year-old girl; the other was a one-year-old boy.
The CPS case worker was frank; she stated they wanted to place these children in a home where the family was committed to adopting them. These children had come out of a very difficult situation in central Texas. They had the same mother, but different fathers. The fathers were unknown.
CPS had taken custody of the children and placed them with a foster family that ultimately could not handle the stress of foster care. CPS wanted to place these children for the last time—any more moves could be detrimental to the children’s emotional health.

Judy told the case worker she needed to talk it over with me, but we would certainly consider it. The case worker said that would be fine. She also said we should not get our hopes up; there were five couples in line ahead of us to receive the children.

Judy and I discussed the challenge. We talked it over with our two girls. We prayed. Ultimately, we all agreed that this was something we wanted to do.

That was Wednesday. The next morning, Thursday, I called CPS and told them that we were certainly committed to doing so and, unless it was destructive to our family structure, we would be more than happy to adopt both children. The lady I spoke with said fine and that she would get back with me.

In life, things often move slowly. Judy and I both figured that a few days would pass before we would receive the children. That is why I was shocked an hour or two later when CPS called me back and said that that be bringing the children by that afternoon.

Thursday, Judy and the girls spent all day in Abilene for a homeschooling co-op in which they participated. I was to be the welcoming committee for the new kids.

I have got to tell you, Timothy and Annie love for me to tell the story of their arrival. Timothy arrived wearing shorts, a shirt, shoes, and a diaper. And that one diaper was the last diaper. That was it. CPS had no diapers. CPS had no car seats for us. I was marooned on a desert island with a one-year-old boy and one diaper. To get relief and go to the store, I would have to break the law.

Fortunately, about an hour later, Judy called from Abilene. She told me she was going to Walmart. I replied, "The kids are here."

Judy said, "The kids are here. What kids?" It had never occurred to her CPS would work so quickly. She thought I meant some kids from the youth group at church.

Instead, I said, "Judy, the kids are here—the kids from CPS!"

“Oh! Oh, my. What are their names?”

“Alvin and Juanita.”

(Timothy’s name is Alvin Timothy. Annie’s name is Juanita Leeanne. When we received them, they were being called Alvin and Nita. Last year, Christian Homes of Tyler asked us to tell our story. Judy included a portion that Timothy and Annie loved—Judy’s confusion over their names. When Judy heard me tell her that the children were named “Alvin” and “Juanita,” she assumed the kids were Hispanic, perhaps children of illegal aliens. We had seen some families that had been broken up because of immigration laws. We lived in an area where approximately 45 % of the population was Hispanic. After living in Latin America and Brownsville so many years, Judy and I were perfectly happy to adopt Hispanic children. When she arrived at the house later that afternoon, she saw two children who looked liked the children of immigrants—immigrants from Sweden. A reporter from the Tyler Morning Telegraph was at the banquet. The next day in the paper, he wrote that Mark and Judy Edge shared their inspirational testimony of how they adopted two children of Swedish immigrants!)

Meanwhile, back to that long afternoon. I managed to entertain the children and miraculously Timothy did not have an accident. Judy finally arrived home with diapers and car seats and other things that we would need.

We cared for Annie and Timothy for almost two years in foster care. Finally, in May of 2006, our adoption was finalized. That was also the month that we move to Tyler.

Along the way we have had many trials. However, today, I could not even imagine our lives without those two little ones. Yes, there are challenges, with all four of our children, but we have been so blessed.

Colt McCoy and Sam Bradford

I think we think we are living through the glory years when it comes to athletes proclaiming their faith—and then living it. The latest example are the videos from the organization I AM SECOND of Colt McCoy and Sam Bradford expressing their faith.
You have probably seen on FACEBOOK the composite video of the two that many have posted. I have linked you here

with the longer, individual versions of each. Like the Tim Tebow example, these videos offer honest and inspirational testimony.

In the future, I hope we do not look upon these years as the golden age of athletic examples. Instead, I hope we view these athletes as links in the chain to a future of ever-growing Christian influence.

With Friends Like These, Who Needs Enemies?

I love history. I am fascinated by politics. I believe today’s politics is tomorrow’s history.
That is why I am fascinated by what I have been observing lately. Several of President Obama’s comedian friends are starting to make fun of his accomplishments in his first year in office. Some are even using his Nobel Peace Prize win as fodder for jokes.

This reminds me of when President Clinton was embroiled in his Monica Lewinsky scandal. Hollywood, which had been very pro-Clinton, skewered Clinton with at least two movies—PRIMARY COLORS and WAG THE DOG.

I believe that every person, consciously or unconsciously, decides who he wants for friends, and who is willing to concede to becoming enemies. A life in politics takes this reality to a new level. There is no way you can accomplish much in politics unless you are willing to surrender all desires to be loved or liked—by anyone. I think that is why Harry Truman famously said, “In Washington, if you want a friend, get a dog.”

Five things I think I think (a tip of the hat to Peter King for this idea)

1. I hope the “balloon boy” gets well. What a crazy case.

2. If you have a hole in your schedule Tuesday afternoon, feel free to come root for the ETCA Panthers at the new ETCA gym. The girls play their round one playoff game at home at 5:30. A loud gym would be nice.

3. Great job, Sunday morning, Travis Gilbreath. I have heard much positive feedback on your cantilever/cross and the way it illustrated the point of I Corinthians 5-6. Thanks for taking the time to build it.

4. Happy 99th Birthday this week to the greatest coach of all time—John Wooden.

5. October is Cancer Awareness Month, so I want to offer a special shout out to two men battling cancer. I’m praying for you, Lynn Anderson and Charles Siburt. I want you well.

Have a Great Weekend!