Friday, March 27, 2009

Friday, March 27, 2009

It’s Friday, But Sunday’s Coming

Donald Miller, in Blue Like Jazz, tells of ministering to a university in Oregon. Each year the university shut down on a particular weekend to allow the students time to celebrate a festival in which they got drunk and high, and participated in other activities that were unseemly. He and his friends decided to advertise a confession booth on campus, but here was the catch. It was a confession booth where the Christians confessed THEIR sins to the students who came in. The spiritual leaders would say things such as, "We confess the sin of hypocrisy. We confess that we have been unconcerned about people's physical needs. We apologize for the actions of Christians who have severely mistreated people in past events such as the Crusades." And on it went. Ultimately, a number of seekers made their way in to hear these confessions. Their campus ministry attracted the interest of a number of students.

In his book Unchristian, David Kinnaman reveals that some of the major corporations in America are now intentionally advertising their imperfections. They offer their customers an unvarnished view of their products.

Last year, Wired, a magazine that discusses trends in technology, featured an article with the headline “Get Naked and… Rule the World.” The story was not about physical nudity; rather, it concerned smart companies who are growing because, among other things, they are admitting to their failures. This trend in vulnerability is called radical transparency. It is sweeping board rooms across the nation. What Business is discovering is authenticity sells. Transparency wins customers.

The book Unchristian reveals that a number of people in our culture are looking for Christians who are transparent and authentic. David Kinnaman spent a great amount of time quantifying his research. He found that the unchurched, especially those who are young, are turned off by the Christians whom they perceive to be “holier-than-thou.” These unchurched folks are not looking to haughty Christians, but they are looking to humble Christians. They are attracted to those Christians who understand that they have been redeemed by Christ and who now wish to serve a broken world in Jesus’ name.

I think Paul lists in Philippians three his worst sins. He basically confesses that, before he knew Jesus, he was arrogant, he was a legalist, and he was a terrorist. How would you like to admit that?

Paul had this luxury because of one thing—the power of the cross. Paul gave all to Jesus, including his sins. Now those sins were at Jesus’ disposal for Jesus’ use. And, boy, how Jesus could use them. Nothing provides hope to the hopeless like One who can redeem life’s worse moments. When we love people as Jesus did, and let them see us as we truly are, we have a better chance of connecting with their hearts.
No Respect for the Old Man

Last week, my wife found, packed away, a notebook containing photographs and articles describing my participation in high school sports during my senior year. Evidently, it had been stored for 30 years. I do not recall ever taking a look at it. I do not even remember who compiled it for me.

I knew the day had long gone when my two oldest daughters would have wanted to celebrate my exploits. However, I still had two young children. So, last Saturday afternoon, when I was home alone with Timothy and Annie, I decided to pull out the old scrapbook and allow them to relive with me my last year in high school.

With joy, pride, and solemnity, I convened our session in the living room. I sat on the sofa and put Timothy (age 6) on one side, and Annie (age 7) on the other. I opened up the scrapbook and began thumbing through the 8 x 10 photographs that had evidently been given to us by our hometown newspaper, The Winnsboro News.

It took four photographs for Timothy to make a comment. "Daddy, do we have to look at this?"

Me: "Yes son, this will be exciting for you. Look, here's daddy throwing a pass. [I call their attention to more photographs, beginning with number five.] Here’s daddy handing the ball off. Here’s daddy running with the ball. Here's daddy fumbling the ball [quickly I turned the page], and here's daddy scoring a touchdown."

Annie: "What is on that last page? I did not get to see it."

Me: "It was not very important, sweetheart. Look. You can see part of the crowd here. They're cheering for me."

Timothy [closing his eyes, lying down on the sofa, his face pointing the opposite direction of me]: "This is so boring!"

Me [gently lifting Timothy and attempting to call his attention to my scrapbook] : "No, this is exciting. These are the days of my youth."

Annie: "I like looking at this daddy." (I see a brand-new car in this girl's future. Hurry up and get here, age 16, so I can reward this precious child of God.)

Timothy: “Can we eat supper?"

Me: "No son, it's only 4:30. We just had a snack."

Timothy: "But I'm hungry."

Me [ignoring my rude son]: "Look. Here we are playing Hughes Springs."
Timothy [closing his eyes, lying down on the sofa, his face wanted the opposite direction of me]: "This is so BORING!"

Me [gamely attempting to ignore him]: "Here is where we were playing Terrell...”
I finally knew it was time to surrender when even Annie said, "Daddy, how much longer is this going to take?" As a parent, you have an opportunity when your children are young to enjoy them as they look at you as a hero. They want to admire you and proclaim your name is great. As of Saturday afternoon, I knew my window of opportunity had closed. However, one of the advantages of being a parent is you can always have the last laugh. In a few weeks, Timothy will be playing T-ball. I cannot wait. That first game, when he is up to bat, I am going to yell out, "This is so BORING!"
Book Review

This week I finished the book Lincoln: The Biography of a Writer. It was written by Fred Kaplan and was published last year. Kaplan served for many years as a professor of English at Queens College and at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. He is also a past winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Pulitzer Prize.

Much has been published through the years on Abraham Lincoln, especially in the last year as the world has anticipated the 200th anniversary of his birth. What makes Kaplan's book unique is that his focus is on Lincoln the writer. Kaplan, who has also written biographies on Mark Twain, Gore Vidal, Charles Dickens, and others, probes deeply into Lincoln's life and how it impacted him as a writer. Kaplan joins Lincoln with Thomas Jefferson as our finest literary presidents. I do not disagree.

My favorite section was when Kaplan describes Lincoln writing his first inaugural address. Although, Lincoln typically did most of his own writing, his soon-to-be secretary of state, William Seward, contributed a paragraph that Lincoln found meaningful. Lincoln then rewrote it in his own words, which are what we remember today. Let me share with you what Seward wrote, and then what Lincoln wrote.

Seward: "The mystic chords which proceeding from so many battlefields and so many patriot graves pass through all the hearts and all the hearths in this broad continent of ours will yet again harmonize in their ancient music when breathed upon by the guardian angel of the nation."

Now, observe how Lincoln rewrites this: "The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battle-field, and patriot grave, to every living hearth and hearth-stone, all over this broad land, will yet swell the course of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature."

Sheer genius! As Kaplan wrote, "The changes transformed the adequate to the brilliant.” I never cease to be amazed at how such a gifted man as Lincoln could live virtually his entire life without his gifts being fully recognized.
Video Review

Last week I shared with you about the book and movie The Railway Children. This week I have to recommend the movie to you. I finished showing the 2000 version to my Bible class at ETCA. It originally aired on Masterpiece Theatre on PBS.

This is a movie that will be enjoyed by your entire family. As I told you last week, when I show this movie to my college or high school classes, I always get groans when I shut it down for discussion. The kids want to see more. And why not?

The acting is the finest. The movie is clean, so your little children can watch it. The story contains adventure, tragedy, suspense, and ultimately, redemption. Your heartstrings are tugged and you leave your living room feeling satisfied.

I show this movie to my students because I think it embodies much of Luke's description of Jesus. You have a concern for the poor. You have grace demonstrated by those with great riches. If you show this movie to your children or grandchildren, I think they can find many more biblical themes to discuss.

I actually owe my middle daughter, Abby, credit for discovering this movie. She found it at the Abilene Public Library book sale a few years ago. I think she had read the book when we were homeschooling her. However, the video we purchased, once belonged to the Abilene Public Library. My point is, perhaps your local library has a copy. If not, you can purchase it online at websites such as Amazon.

Boredom Alley

Another book that I finished this week was Einstein His Life and Universe by Walter Isaacson. I was pleasantly surprised with how much I enjoyed this book. Isaacson is an excellent writer who has also written on other subjects such as Benjamin Franklin.

I am particularly indebted to this book because it revealed to me how spiritual Einstein was. I had always heard his famous God and dice quote; however, I did not know how truly spiritual the man was. He was not a Christian and many would say he was not religious. He was spiritual, though, and his spirituality played a role in much of his life and scientific pursuits.

On the last page of his biography, Isaacson provides a quote demonstrating this worldview of Einstein. "A spirit is manifest in the laws of the universe -- a spirit vastly superior to that of man, and one in the face of which, we with our modest powers, must feel humble. In this way the pursuit of science leads to a religious feeling of a special sort."

Einstein, contrary to most people, was not inspired by the supernatural. It was the order and consistency of the cosmos that inspired Einstein. Indeed, as I have written before, it was this consistency that he saw in the universe that frustrated him with quantum theory.

I never knew the degree to which Einstein strove to formulate a theory that would unify both relativity and quantum mechanics. He spent decades pursuing this goal. It was his great white whale. He died not succeeding.

Although Einstein did not believe in a God who desired to be known by people, he did see a divine design in the universe that regulated its laws and determined the way the universe worked.

I think Einstein was on to something. While I see some wholesome aspects to quantum mechanics (and I am a novice and I reserve the right to change), I agree with Einstein in seeing quantum theory as expressing an extreme view of defining reality in terms of randomness and uncertainty. Einstein remained convinced that an objective reality existed, whether or not we could observe it.

To summarize in my own words, an emphasis on random chance really bothered Einstein. Frankly, it bothers me to.

I am new at this, and I reserve the right to grow. Nevertheless, I find it fascinating that I have occasionally read that the fall of morality in the 20th century is related in some way to Einstein's theory of relativity. Einstein's theory certainly helped create the environment, which ushered in quantum theory, but I see quantum theory and quantum mechanics contributing much more to a worldview that brought us to this point today.

This is a blog and not a journal article or paper, so what I am about to say needs to be thought out more. Perhaps you can enlighten me on this.

I speculate that in the Western world from 1000 AD, more or less, through the mid-1800s, science was primarily driven by a view that God was creator, he was involved in this world, and that the world acted according to the universal laws he set. The pinnacle of this worldview was Newtonian physics. Theologically, this can be summed up with this idea – God and/or his work is here.

In the mid-1800s, science began taking a turn in the opposite direction. Certainly Charles Darwin was a major player in this effort. Suddenly, God appeared less involved in the creation. Indeed, some grabbed a toehold in Western culture by propagating the view, God did not exist and the world, as we know it, arrived by random chance. In the early 20th century, this view was emphasized even more with the arrival of quantum physics-- a scientific discipline that found random chance intrinsic in the very core of its teaching. Theologically, this view can be summed up with this question – Where is God?

One thing I would like to do some day is spend some time in study on the history of civilization. I would like to investigate whether or not there is a correlation to moral behavior and a culture’s perceived proximity to God. For I do believe there is a correlation over the past thousand years between public morality and the view of scientists regarding God's presence. The greater the immanence of God—the more order and morality of a culture. The more distant the presence of God—the more chaos, morally speaking, within the culture.

I believe that quantum theory was one of many factors that contributed to the decade of the sixties. It was not the only factor, but it helped lay the foundational groundwork within the intelligentsia to allow a decade like the sixties to occur.

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

1. I saw the first trailer this week for the new movie Where the Wild Things Are. It comes out this fall, I believe. Looks good. The thing I am most proud of is the song playing in the background. It was a cover of the alternative rock band, Arcade Fire’s, “Wake Up.” I latched onto this song two years ago and played it for family and friends. My oldest girls looked at me like I had two heads. If this song sticks to the trailer, it's going to be cool to be ahead of the teenage curve.

2. If the University of Kentucky fires their Mens’ basketball coach, Billy Gillespie, after only two years, then they are going to get what they deserve. Gillespie grew up in a small town in Texas—Graford. He has a tremendous coaching record turning around programs at both UTEP and Texas A&M. To give him only two years at Kentucky is insane.

3. Last week's Time magazine had a review of Dambisa Moyo’s new book Dead Aid. I think it would be an interesting read. Moyo is a Zambian-born, Harvard and Oxford educated economist who says that -- Bono aside -- the $1 trillion that the U. S. has poured into Africa has not helped. All of this aid has played into the hands of the corrupt governments. Best quote -- "The notion that aid can alleviate systematic poverty... is a myth." Moyo argues that smaller loans to more individuals, particularly those who are creating small businesses, ultimately do more good.

4. Sunday night I begin a study of the book of Philemon. I think it will be interesting. Will the people who are in my audience find it to be so?

5. I still miss Johnny Cash.

Have a great weekend!

Friday, March 20, 2009

Mark's Remarks for Friday, March 20, 2009

It’s Friday, But Sunday’s Coming

More than a hundred years ago, railways ruled the United States and Europe. They were a source of Fortune, power, and romance. Children would lie awake at night and listen for the whistle of a train. When they would hear it, they would imagine that train carrying them away.

As one wrote:

I hear the train a comin'
It's rolling round the bend
And I ain't seen the sunshine since I don't know when,
But I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die…

Oh, wait, sorry about that. Wrong song. Anyway, in 1906, a book was written for children called The Railway Children. Masterpiece Theater produced a movie based on this book several years ago. I've shown it to Bible classes that I have taught at ACU and ETCA through the years. I am always gratified for the response to this motion picture made for children.
It tells about three children of London and their mother who move to a country house in Yorkshire after their father is taken away by mysterious men. The family is now poor. The mother, as was common in that time, refuses to inform the children the circumstances surrounding their father's disappearance. For reasons beyond them, they have become poor.

Near their old rundown house, lies a railroad track. The children are fascinated by the railroad and the trains that pass by each day. One day, they decide to wave to the people on the train with the childish wish that their love will be taken to their father. But would anyone wave back?

We are vulnerable when we are in need. Even the apostles find themselves in need. That was the case with the apostle Paul who was imprisoned in Rome. During this time, people were careful not to visit someone in prison. The fear was that they would be identified with the prisoner and perhaps be suspected of committing similar crimes. It is easy to assume no one from Rome visited Paul during his imprisonment. Yet, he was in need of help.

Fortunately, Paul says there were two, who laid down their lives as examples of Jesus. They, too, considered the needs of others above their own. Timothy and Epaphroditus gave of themselves to meet Paul’s need--even to the point of risking their lives.

Our problem today is ignoring the way we can live like Jesus. It is easy to think that, if need be, we will offer our lives, but how many of us will ever be called to make that sacrifice?

Actually, our problem is we refuse to risk our lives. Most of us are willing to risk our DEATHS, what is hard is risking our lives. We don't want to get involved with other people. We don't want to serve other people. We don't want to invest in people. And we underestimate the impact that we can make when we are willing to risk our lives in these ways.

Remember the Railway children? These innocent children went to the tracks to wave at the passengers on the train. One child, a girl, said, "Let's wave and share our love. Maybe they'll take it to father.”

The children waved and waved to the passengers on the train. But the passengers refused to wave back. The children were deeply disappointed. However, as the train was pulling away, one passenger in the last car smiled enthusiastically and waved back. The children smiled and began again enthusiastically waving at their new friend. Then the music swelled and everyone felt good.

(The actor playing this character was Richard Attenborough, the same actor who played Santa Claus in the 1994 version of Miracle on 34th Street. How can you not love Santa Claus waving at you!)

No one on the train wanted to risk investment in relationship, save for the bearded man. He was actually a member of the Board of Directors of a major railroad. He was busy, he was wealthy, and he was kind. He was willing to share grace and invest in people.

I won't spoil the rest of the movie for you. But if we understand Paul, we understand this. Our decision about whether or not to help people, whether or not to forgive people, whether or not to serve people, needs not be made in moments of crisis or opportunity. That decision was made when we chose to give our lives to Jesus.
Zip Lines for Jesus

Our church had a family camp out last weekend. It was located at the Woodman of the World encampment near Quitman. We had a great time. During the afternoon, I and some other guys helped out with providing safety so that the teenagers could ride the zip line. The camp had a neat zip line that ran a 100 yards or so. On one end, it was attached to a telephone pole. On the other end, it was attached to a climbing wall that was approximately 40 feet high.

The teenagers kept on encouraging those of us who are adults to ride. Pretty soon everyone in the camp was surrounding this location, cheering each other on, teasing each other, and just simply having a good time.

I really wanted to ride the zip line. Finally I got my chance. I put on a harness, allowed the camp worker who dedicated himself to zip line fun and safety to clip a protective rope to me, and began to climb the tower on a ladder. I used to not be afraid of heights, but I've got to confess, the higher up I climbed, the more I had to tell myself, "Breathe deeply, look at what you're grabbing, and stay calm."

Finally, I reached the top of the tower, and I began to look out. Intellectually, I knew I was only 40 feet off the ground. Emotionally, I felt like I was on top of the Eiffel Tower.

Then, Chris Green, one of our members who was on top of the tower helping everyone go out on the zip line, clipped a rope that was attached to the tower to my harness. He then told me to swing out away from the tower, over the ground, and then allow gravity to bring me back onto the tower.

I stood there with my mouth open. Evidently this made an impact upon him because he asked, "Would you like for me to show you how to do it?" I nodded my head up and down. Chris then modeled for me how you swing out over the ground and then swing back onto the tower.

Frankly, this was the scariest part for me of the whole experience. I took geometry in high school, and I never knew it's stuck. But it did. The reason I know is that I immediately realized that the tower was the highest point I would reach that day. If my rope should break on that swing, I would fall from the highest point to the ground. I would do it back buster like nobody's business. At least with the zip line, for every foot that you ride away from the tower, you’re also correspondingly coming a foot closer to the ground. In this case, in my mind, Chris was asking me to take my life into my own hands.

That is when my mind started talking to me. "Don't you jump you fool!"

And then, when I did jump, my mind said, "You fool! I told you not to jump!"

My mind was involuntarily talking to me like it had been baptized into Mr. T.

Nevertheless, I did jump out over the land, and after three feet, the rope took me back to the tower. Chris looked at me and said, "Would you like to jump again?"

I had to practice self-control in order to not channel my answer through Mr. T. – “No, fool!” Instead, I offered him a hearty “no thanks”, and got ready to jump out on the zip line.

Unfortunately, Chris had the nerve to ask, "Would you like to run before you leap off the tower? It will help you go faster."

Great, of all the people who could have been on the tower, I had to get the guy who thinks he is a Navy seal. I rejected the chance to run and leap, and instead chose the method that now brings me some shame. I sat down on my fanny, and after much deliberation, repentance for having made such a stupid choice, and prayer, I meekly pushed off and allowed God, gravity, and goat hair to take me where I needed to go.

Actually, once I realized that I was not going to fall to my death, I had a good time. It was exhilarating. Fortunately, my momma raised me to be a mannered man. I instinctively grasped that surely there were dozens of others who wanted to ride the zip line. How could I possibly deny them that possibility? I announced my retirement for the day.
Death of a Newspaper

I saw this week where another major newspaper shut down operations. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer ceased publishing newspapers in order to provide Web service only. This was only a couple weeks after Denver's Rocky Mountain News published its final edition.

I realize change is inevitable. I am grateful that over a hundred years ago, the blacksmith union did not sabotage the construction of automobiles in order to protect their field of labor. Still, I do feel sad that something I have always enjoyed doing, getting up in the morning and reading the newspaper, will be a thing of the past in not too many years.

Disclaimer: the only newspaper that I subscribe to is the Dallas Morning News. I only receive the Wednesday and Sunday newspapers. The rest of my newspaper reading is online, where I can select my reading from almost any newspaper service on the planet.
Boredom Alley

I finally saw the documentary by Ben Stein called Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed. You may recall that Ben Stein is famous for playing the dry teacher on “The Wonder Years” and was the host on cable’s “Win Ben Stein’s Money.”

If you still have not seen the movie, Expelled is Ben Stein's effort to challenge the scientific establishment with regard to the establishment’s view of the origin of the world. More specifically, he questions the scientific community’s identification with Darwin's theory of natural selection.

I must admit that it was quite intriguing. I had hesitated to see it because I had read and heard that Stein's documentary was the conservative equivalent of a Roger Moore documentary. Moore, of course, is known for his "over the top" technique in the filming of propaganda to advance his liberal causes.

I do not think that Expelled was as sensationalistic as Moore's movies. However, Stein at times was clearly trying to push emotional buttons by inserting scenes from various film clips such as gags from The Three Stooges, while academics discuss their support of Darwin’s theory.

Stein clearly is trying to make the point that Political Correctness has hampered debate. For this reason, he spends much time interviewing scientists who have been “expelled” from their institutions or universities because of perceived belief in Intelligent Design.

Bias alert! I must confess, it was very difficult for me not to have my emotions stirred by this movie. As a Jew, Stein does not buy into the Christian view of Jesus or the cross, so that gives him some credibility against the charge that Intelligent Design is an exclusive tool of Christians.

Furthermore, Stein spends much time on the relationship between Adolf Hitler and the Natzis and the offspring Darwinian’s doctrine—eugenics. Eugenics is a branch of science that maintains human beings should take care so as not to allow flawed members of the human species to breed. This view ultimately led to the destruction of millions of Jews, people who were mentally retarded, Homosexuals, gypsies and others. As a Jew, Stein must have felt chills as he visited the remnants of Natzi concentration camps.

Here’s where Stein might have proven more unbiased. There are many, many scientists who believe in God, believe that evolution came from a personal God of creation, and who believe that Intelligent Design is terribly flawed. You may ask, how can that be?

Francis Collins makes a clear case for his belief in his book The Language of God. An entire chapter is devoted to his argument. To summarize briefly:

Collins believes that Intelligent Design’s foundation is built upon the need to defend God against the materialistic worldview of proponents of Darwin’s theory of evolution. It was conceived by Philip Johnson, a Christian lawyer and a professor of law at the University of California as a means of answering the atheists’ arguments against God. Nevertheless, Intelligent Design, while presented as a scientific theory, was not developed in the tradition of science.

Collins, furthermore, states ID (Intelligent Design) tries to place God into the role of designer because evolution cannot explain all complexities of nature. Therefore, an intelligent designer must have stepped into play.

The problem according to Collins is that science is learning more and explaining more about the complex features of organisms. He warns that many Christians who place their hopes on ID will find their faith challenged as the theory crumbles.

Prejudice alert!

I am certainly a pilgrim when it comes to science and faith. I am on a journey of learning. Yet, I see why many Christians and Jews and other people experience frustration when it comes to Darwin and evolution. Many of us perceive that a number of atheist have freedom to inject their godless worldview, and the consequences of that godless worldview, into the marketplace of ideas without censure. They are marketing religion and/or philosophy in the name of science.

We see the shell that is human existence when there is no God. How can life truly be experienced if all there is the material? Where is the meaning? No wonder groups like Nazis torture people as less than human. No wonder children destroy other children in schools.

Science has allowed an intersection to occur with the “religion” of atheism. Many of us who believe in God desire to see that intersection for us as well.
Five things I think I think (a tip of the hat to Peter King for this idea)

1. I think writing a weekly blog is like writing another sermon. I enjoy it immensely and feel great satisfaction, but it is also hard work.
2. In 1984, I built a house paying 13 1/2 percent interest on my loan. Yesterday, I locked-in a new interest rate to refinance our current home. The rate was 4.625%. Amazing.

3. I confess that I really like BeyoncĂ©’s song “Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It)”.

4. My computer got a virus last week. I am thankful that I did not lose any information. I got it fixed and it works better than ever now.

5. No place looks more beautiful than Tyler in March. God himself has surely painted the flowers.
Have a great weekend!

Friday, March 13, 2009

It’s Friday (Almost Saturday), But Sunday’s Coming

Last weekend, I had the opportunity to take my lovely bride out for the evening. One of the things that we got to do was to watch the movie Fireproof. I think we were the last ones standing who had not seen the movie.

I agree that it was a good movie. What I especially liked was the way you had someone live out Philippians 2:1-8. Just like Paul admonished, this person put someone else's needs above his own. You had a husband who made the decision to serve his wife before he served himself.

There was debate on whether or not this was an act of love. It may not have started out that way, but the attitude definitely evolved to one that was loving. I believe that this is a great example, yet again, of how love is more of an act of the will, than a sentiment, emotion, or feeling. According to Paul, it is almost a ruthless determination to behave like Jesus.

I confessed to my church last Sunday that I have an addiction. It is very similar to addictions to alcohol, drugs, work, or whatever other addiction you can think of.

Frankly, the realization came to me last Sunday morning before the assembly. I began to think about how many people I have tried to help battle addictions. At some point, everyone hears a voice that compels them to continue in the addiction, even those who ultimately overcome. They may be receiving data encouraging them to cease with the addiction, but they blindly interpret it as a green light to go on. It is so frustrating when you watch this from the outside.

Last Sunday morning, I realized that I did the same thing with my addiction. My addiction is to -- my self. So often I act in a way that is self centered and neglectful or even harmful to others. I even, at times, receive input telling me my behavior is hurtful. However, my mind is so distorted, I interpret those "voices" as telling me to continue in my addiction.

Paul’s words out of the THE MESSAGE have special meaning. “Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don't be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand” (Phil. 2:3-4). He goes on to say this is precisely what Jesus did.

All of this is counterintuitive. I do believe I , and anyone like me, who is addicted to self, can break out of this addiction with God's power. It will not be easy. It is precisely at the point that we are breaking free we will hear the loudest “voices” telling us to stay as we are.

The extent of joy that we will experience in our lives will be in direct proportion to our willingness to break free from the addiction to self.
“Honey, I’m headed out to the bar.”

"Honey, I'm going down to the local bar and meeting up with some friends." This is a phrase that a lot of wives don’t want to hear. Another phrase they don't want to hear is this, "Honey, I'm going down to the local Gentleman's Club." For my wife, the dreaded words are these, "Honey, there's a book sale today. I think I'll go and see what they have."

I love book sales. That's how I have stocked the majority of my library. One example. I have Anchor Bible Commentaries (the Rolls Royce of biblical commentaries that often cost in excess of $50 apiece new), in hardback, that I have purchased for a quarter apiece.

I have been doing this now for almost 30 years. Before that, I had a number of books that either I bought for myself or my parents bought for me while I was growing up. I still have most of those.

The problem is, I am running out of space. Before I took this job here in Tyler, I asked if the office that I would inhabit could be fitted with more bookshelves. I am grateful that the answer was “yes.” Now, there is no more room in my office. We do have room for bookshelves in our home. Strangely enough, Judy thinks our money should go to the purchase of a vehicle instead of bookshelves.

Some of you may be thinking that this sounds vaguely familiar and that I wrote about this two weeks ago. However, what I wrote about then was my collection of VIDEOTAPES. This is different. Books cannot be downloaded into DVDs.

Which brings me to the Kindle. Have you heard about the Kindle? Amazon is selling it. It is a reading device that has the width of a magazine and weighs about half a pound. If you hear of a book you want to buy, all you have to do is download it onto your Kindle. It takes about 60 seconds. It is supposed to hold over 1500 books. These books cost less than your typical hardback. If the legal difficulties can be worked out, I anticipate that for a higher fee, one will be able to download a read-aloud feature for any book in the future.

I can tell that I am getting old. I used to be innovative electronically. I started recording videotapes on my dad's VCR back in 1980. Now, I just can't pull the trigger and buy a Kindle. Then again, I guess I'm always willing to the innovative when it is someone else's money, like my dad's!

I guess I'll wait awhile. But if you buy one, let me know what you think.
Spring Break and Movies

This week has been spring break week in Tyler. Our oldest daughter, Haleigh, has been participating in a mission trip to St. Louis. But I have taken this opportunity to watch a couple of movies with our next oldest daughter, Abby. Both were recommended to us for her to see by some older women at our church.

The first was the movie, Changeling. This was the one with Angelina Jolie, where she plays Christine Collins. Christine Collins was a mother in the 20s, who lived in Los Angeles. Her son disappeared. She alerted police but they were not helpful in the search. Come to find out, the Los Angeles police department was a very corrupt organization in the 20s. With the help of a Presbyterian minister, played by John Malkovich, Christine Collins seeks to alert the public and the city government of the truth.

This movie is based on a true story. I cannot say that I enjoyed the movie. This is not a movie to enjoy. However, it was an enthralling movie that drew us in. There were times that I felt very angry over the extent that human beings can act in an evil way, and I felt that way about the LA Police Department, not to mention the perpetrators of the kidnapping.

It was interesting seeing Malkovich play a good guy, since I have so often seen him play bad guys. It was also interesting to see both Collins and the preacher portrayed as noble people, yet not glorified in an over-the-top way as heroes.

I found this story so compelling, that I had to do some research on my own about the real-life story. With the Internet, there is much out there that you can read about concerning this event.

A second movie that I saw with Abby was the movie, Taken. Are you seeing a theme here? I think the women were trying to drive into my daughter’s head this thought, "Be careful. Be very, very careful." I had wanted to see this movie, but I was willing to wait until it came out on DVD. Judy however thought that it was a good idea to take Abby to the theater to see it.

In this movie, Liam Neeson portrays a retired CIA agent who has a daughter. She was kidnapped while spending a summer in Europe. I imagine that you have seen the commercial for this movie. Neeson becomes a CIA version of Indiana Jones, as he pursues the bad guys.

Spoiler alert! If you do not want further details of this movie revealed, skip the rest of this topic and go on to the next section.

At first, I have to admit I enjoyed watching Neeson inflict the wrath of God on the bad guys. However, I thought he went too far when he SHOT the wife of one of his old acquaintances, who happened to have worked in the French government's version of the CIA. Now, I know the guy was French. And, I know that the injury was more or less a flesh wound. Still, did he have to shoot at the wife? That seemed to bother me.

Another thing that bothered me was the lack of explanation of just how it was that Liam Neeson could fly back home to the United States from France. I mean, the guy has just wreaked more havoc on France than anyone since Adolf Hitler. I'm thinking, the French government is never going to allow him to leave. I'm wondering if they may revert back to death by guillotine. Instead, one minute he's killing the bodyguards of some Middle Eastern prince, the next minute he's walking through LAX! I'm supposing that this prince's country is going to war over this.
Hey, wait, maybe this is laying the groundwork for a sequel….
My daughter informed me that the mountain we climbed last summer is actually called “French Mountain,” instead of Mount France. Well, excuuuse me. Management regrets its error.
Five things I think I think (a tip of the hat to Peter King for this idea)

1. I like the way American Idol gives respect to its Christian participants.

2. The “Special Features” on Fireproof, Facing the Giants, and Flywheel are even more inspiring than the movies. Members of Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Georgia, the church that has produced these movies, have embodied their teachings more than characters in their movies.
3. Derek Russell, a friend who is studying to be a medical doctor at UT Galveston, emailed me Monday and told me about a book someone recommended to him. It’s called The Eighth Day, Why Christianity and Science Need to Dialog to Make Sense of the Creation. I ordered it and it arrived yesterday. I think it looks good; I want to read it soon.
4. Too many players turning pro early has removed the aura of March Madness.
5. Felix Jones’ good health is essential for the Cowboys.

Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Mark's Remarks for Friday, March 6, 2009

It's Friday, But Sunday's Coming

I was happy for Tony Dungy when he retired last month as the coach of the NFL's Indianapolis Colts. I felt sad for football fans. Dungy was a great coach. However, he is also committed to serving Jesus as best he can and I know he retired because he feels that is his best means of serving God.
Tony Dungy's brother-in-law has a great story, which illustrates the details of how one can live like Jesus. It was September, 1996, and Tony Dungy was preparing to coach in his first game as a head coach in the National Football League. Dungy invited his brother-in-law to come share in the experience with him. Tampa Bay was playing Seattle. Dungy, at that time, was the new coach of the Buccaneers and they were staying in a hotel the night before the ballgame.
As the head coach, Dungy occupied a suite so he could hold meetings with his staff in the living room. Dungy and his brother-in-law got settled in Saturday afternoon, and then went to meet with the team for chapel and supper.
After supper, Dungy headed back to the room while his brother-in-law hung out with the players, watching ballgames and eating their evening snack. (A snack for an NFL player constituted a full-size meal for the normal human being.)

Finally, Tony Dungy's brother-in-law went upstairs to his room to go to bed. When he opened the door, everything inside the suite was dark. So, very quietly, he felt around for the pullout bed in the living room, climbed in... and Tony Dungy was already there, asleep!

The brother-in-law was aghast. Dungy woke up, and the brother-in-law insisted that he go sleep in the bed in the suite's bedroom. Dungy refused. "You're my guest; you take it," he said. After all, he had invited him.

The brother-in-law could not believe this. "You're kidding, right? You're the head coach of the Buccaneers with a game tomorrow, and I'm the relative eating free food and staying in a free room -- you take it!" But Dungy refused to leave. Finally the brother-in-law gave up and got on the floor to sleep. Dungy did not take the bait. He went back to sleep on the couch. Finally, Tony Dungy's brother-in-law, seeing the bed was going to remained unoccupied, arose, went into the bedroom, climbed into bed, and went to sleep.

This week, I'm preaching on Philippians 2:1-8. I thought about how Tony Dungy, in a human way, illustrates a facet of Christ's example in that great chapter. Dungy, with all the rights and privileges of a head coach, surrendered those and freely offered them to one who was undeserving. He chose to serve and experience a consequence of that service. That is a small reminder of Jesus, and all the rights and privileges of God, but instead, he lowered himself to serve us. He left his experience of heaven, to come into our world and relate to us.

I am a huge fan of The Dick Van Dyke Show. (I have every episode--on video tape.) I have introduced this show to my kids, and they're big fans now. The show has now appeared on network TV or syndication for almost fifty years.

If you are a fan of The Dick Van Dyke Show, you are naturally a fan of Dick Van Dyke. For the past forty five years, millions of children around the world have become his fans because of the movie Mary Poppins. In that movie, he played the character of "Bert the Chimney Sweep."

This week I saw one of those episodes of A & E Biography. It was on Dick Van Dyke. The producers of the episode interviewed a whole bunch of people. One was a daughter of Dick Van Dyke. She was talking about her dad's years in retirement. She had been wondering if he would fade from the public's memory.

One day a few years ago, she was visiting her dad and they went walking together at a park. They sat down on a park bench and just started talking. Up walks this little girl, and she's staring at Dick Van Dyke. Keep in mind, this was about 40 years after Mary Poppins had been made. Yet, this girl clearly recognizes him. She sits down on the bench, snuggles up next to him, and she began singing, "Let's go fly a kite..."

Dick Van Dyke joined right in. They sung the whole song together. For the daughter, it was a beautiful moment of confirmation.

Yet, as I envision that scene, I think about that girl. You see, to her, Bert the chimney sweep leaves the celluloid world and comes down into her world. She enjoys fellowship with him, and he blesses her with his greatness and presence.

That is exactly what Jesus did for us. He left his exalted place in heaven, came down into our world, fellowshiped with us, and he blessed us with his greatness.

How can we help but respond to Him.


I was a late bloomer. When I was a freshman in high school, I was six feet one and weighed in at a booming 125 pounds. Winnsboro had no gangs, but if they had, I would not have been in danger. All I would have had to do is turn sideways. The gang members would have never seen me.

From junior high years through my single years, after I had graduated from college, I had to wash my face with Clearasil soap just to have any hope of controlling my pimples.
I did not like being among the last ones to mature. I prayed that God would change this. He did. He made me the first guy of his generation to lose his hair.

I was 28 before I married. I was 33 before I had my first child. I recently experienced a graduation in May of 2008. (Judy has informed me it was my last.)
I say all of this because one of the blessings of Facebook is that it has put me in contact with many my friends from high school. I cannot help but notice how much farther along they are in terms of life experiences.
I remember at my 25th year reunion, five years ago, one of my classmates told me that he would probably retire by the time we would meet again for our 30th. He began working full-time for the State immediately following our high school graduation, skipping college. I plan on retiring too-- in about 30 years when I can afford it! Let this be a lesson to all young people. Nothing says "frivolous" like going to college.
Some of my classmates have grandchildren that are five and six years old. My two youngest children are five and six years old.

Every year, our church's youth group goes on a wilderness trek. Among other things, they spend a week together climbing a mountain in Colorado. Last year, I accompanied my oldest daughter on Wilderness Trek and, together, we climbed Mt. France. My goal is to climb a mountain with each one of my children before they graduate from high school. Lord willing, our youngest child, Timothy, will graduate from high school in 2020. I am confident that I will climb the mountain with him -- using a walker.
As a matter of fact, I have a photograph of what I think I will look like on that momentous day in 2020, when I come down that mountain:

Every time I am tempted to think that I am getting too old for this, my children will say something or do something to brighten my day, and I am reminded of how truly blessed I am. Just the other night this occurred. The whole family was together coming back from somebody's house, and the kids were singing. Our youngest child, Timothy, began singing that old black spiritual, "Swing Low Sweet Chariot." That was when we discovered that he had not fully learned the words because what he sang was, "Sweet and Low Sweet Chariot..." Judy and I use Sweet and Low quite a bit, but we've never thought about this application for the product.

When Timothy sang this, we all burst out laughing. All except for him, of course he thought he was giving us a lovely rendition. I may be lagging behind yet again, but I wouldn't trade places with anybody in the world.

Interesting websites

A while back, Tim Henderson told me about a blog that he was having RSS'd to him each day. It was by a fellow named Seth Godin. (I always get Seth Godin's name mixed up with Seth Rogen. They are two different people.)

I began looking at some of his posts and have since become a fan myself. (You can find his blog at Although the main audience is business people, entrepreneurs, and marketers, there is still much to apply to other areas of life. For example, I find what Godin has to say about leadership to be informative.

Godin's most recent book is called Tribes. Tribes is a collection of short essays and posts taken from Godin's blog that especially address the subject of leadership. Godin theorizes that every person can have a tribe. Tribes are simply groups of people who follow their leader. The important thing is not the size of your tribe, it is to be a leader with integrity, who is faithful to his or her vision. The leader is unafraid of failure and success, which is an appealing quality in today's world.

Another book that Godin wrote a few years ago is called Unleashing the Idea Virus. In this book, Godin anticipated the free marketing power becoming available in the Internet age. Although the book is dated, it is not out of date.

I would enocourage you to take a look at anything Seth Godin publishes.

It's in the Genes
May I indulge a little in parental pride? We received word this week, our oldest daughter, Haleigh, made Second-Team All-State in basketball. This is for the private schools in Texas. Haleigh is a sophomore and, quite frankly, this caught us by surprise.
I personally think credit should go where credit is due. Haleigh got her athletic talent from --her mother. But, thanks also to Haleigh's teammates and wonderful coach, Diann Preston.

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

1. I cannot believe the access that Facebook offers. It is a really cool way of keeping up with people that have blessed you during the course of a lifetime.

2. For the past ten years, Hollywood has produced more family-friendly entertainment than they did the previous 30. Two or three years ago, five movies came out at virtually the same time including Finding Neverland, The Incredibles, and The Polar Express. We literally did not have enough time or money to see all the good movies available. I can live with the freedom of speech that creates clearly labeled garbage, as long as it also encourages quality entertainment.

3. I want to see Frost/Nixon.

4. In all my years of high school, college, graduate school, and my doctoral program, I can't recall a single mention of quantum mechanics, quantum physics, or quantum theory. I think, and I'm not being sarcastic or funny here, this was a BIG mistake.

5. Cutting Terrell Owens was essential for the Cowboys.

Have a great weekend!