Friday, May 29, 2009

Friday, May 29, 2009

Well, She’s Got a Point

Our middle daughter, Abby, does not like to play volleyball. She has got talent in volleyball and I think she could develop into a fine player. However, the last thing I want to do is put pressure on her to play.

Judy and I have offered several times to send Abby to volleyball camp this summer. While, not wanting to pressure her, we did want to encourage her. This week I told her, “Abby, you have a talent for volleyball.”

Abby’s reply, “Well, if I am so talented, why do I need to go to volleyball camp?” I laughed and conceded the logic of her position. Of course, were she to have an interest, she would allow volleyball camp to help her improve on her talent. Still, I recognize the signs of disinterest. I’ll choose my battles and concede on this one.

The Million Dollar Moment

ETCA graduation was last Saturday. As I mentioned last week, all of the faculty marched in the ceremony in their graduation gowns. I had to buy my last one; at least once a year I know I’ll use it!

I had the privilege of participating in last Saturday’s ceremony. Secondary faculty is asked to write letters to different Seniors. My senior was Collin Danforth.

I enjoyed reading his letter. The only tough part was the logistics. Deb Newman, former president of ETCA, was the main speaker. Deb, one of my favorite people, is, how should I say this? Diminutive. So the podium was hidden behind flowers, while all speakers stood on the next level of the stage, probably two feet higher than the part of the stage where the podium was located. That may work for Deb, but I felt like Abraham Lincoln. I almost needed a telescope to see my letter. Normally when I speak, I’ll pop out my right contact and leave my left in. My contacts are designed to compensate for my nearsightedness and help me see great distances—such as the distance from my eyes to the letter on the podium.

I found myself feeling terribly emotional and sentimental during the ceremony. My oldest daughter, Haleigh, will graduate in two years. Two years! It will be here so quickly. I so wanted to protest the march of time during the ceremony. It was all I could do to refrain from standing up and shouting, “Stop the insanity!” Followed, of course, by sobs and incoherent mutterings. Instead, I’ll save those for Haleigh’s actual graduation.

One bit of compensation for the weekend, though. Friday night, Judy, Haleigh, Abby, and I were going to sit down and watch “The Fugitive” together. Haleigh insisted that I sit on the couch with her saying, she will be gone in two years and that I had to sit by her. So she leaned up against me the entire movie as we watched together.

I wouldn’t trade that moment for a million dollars.


I am late following up on the book UnChristian, which I completed recently. Written by two young men on staff with the Barna Institute, David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons, it’s basic premise is that those who fall in the 16-29 age group view evangelical Christians, and by extension probably most Christians, as behaving in a distinctly unchristian manner.

The Apostle Paul wrote two statements that have impacted me greatly:

"Christ changed us from enemies into his friends and gave us the task of making others his friends also." (II Cor. 5:18 TEV)

"We have been sent to speak for Christ." (II Cor. 5:20 NCV)

Representing Christ, whether it is speaking for him or living for him, is an awesome responsibility. One we should take seriously. With that in mind, I think we do well to learn more about those who are not Christians. UnChristian helps us in this endeavor.

One of the accomplishments of the book is it quantifies some of the challenges we face as Christians. With each generation, the percentage of the generation who choose not to become Christians (in the loose sense of the word) grows. 23 % of those over the age of 61 are unchurched. 27 % of the Baby Boomers (those born between 1946-1965) are unchurched. However, 40 % of those between the ages of 16-29 are unchurched.

I found other statistics equally interesting. Of all the outsiders who are between the ages of 16 to 29, 91% thought that Christians were anti-homosexual a lot of the time, or at least some of the time. 85% thought that Christians were a lot or somewhat hypocritical.

There were many reasons for the hypocrisy viewpoint. I was shocked by a study that was done where the authors analyzed the behavior of born-again Christians and compared it with the behavior of the unchurched.

In statistical terms, much of the moral behavior of the two groups was identical. When asked to identify their activities over the past 30 days, born-again believers were just as likely to bet or gamble, to visit a pornographic website, to take something that did not belong to them, to consult a medium or psychic, to physically fight or abuse someone, to have consumed enough alcohol to be considered legally drunk, to use an illegal or non-prescription drug, to have said something to someone that was not true, to have gotten back at someone for something he or she did, and to have said mean things behind another person's back. For those between the ages of 23 to 41 who claimed to be born-again, 59% believe cohabitation is morally acceptable.

Perhaps this study reflects one reason why so many unchurched people are skeptical when it comes to Christianity. And remember, we are identified with this group. As the authors phrased it, “born-again Christians fail to display much attitudinal or behavioral evidence of transformed lives.”

The authors also analyze the world view of born-again Christians. They provided eight categories of a biblical world view. The authors write that a person with a biblical world view is one who believes:

1. Jesus Christ lived a sinless life
2. God is the all powerful and all-knowing Creator of the universe and he still rules of today
3. Salvation is a gift from God and cannot be earned
4. Satan is real
5. A Christian has a responsibility to share his faith or her faith in Christ with other people
6. The Bible is accurate in all of the principles it teaches
7. Unchanging moral truth exists
8. Such moral truth is defined by the Bible

Guess how many born-again believers between the ages of 18 to 41 believe those eight doctrines? Three out of every 100.

I have found much of UnChristian to be thought provoking. I would even say that I agree with most of the book’s findings and interpretations. I do disagree with some areas and I will highlight one.

The authors’ study found that 75 % of those unchurched between the ages of 16-29 believe that Christians are too political. I have heard this argument over the past few years from Christians as well. I have no problem with that view as long as it is held with integrity. Unfortunately, I believe that typically “being too political” is code for voting for the Republican Party.

Now, the Republican Party is no friend of mine. Neither is the Democratic Party. If you like, I can entertain you for hours with problems I find in both. However, too many folks who are making these charges are being unfair at best and hypocritical at worst.

One typical example: Christian author Brian McLaren is quoted extensively in the book lamenting the political involvement of the “Religious Right.” Brian McClaren has actively campaigned for candidates for the Democratic Party, including his heavy participation in the candidacy of Barak Obama. I think Jesus referred to this attitude as preoccupation with the speck in someone else’s eye, while ignoring the log in your own.

I see McClaren’s behavior as typical and consistent with the tone of this book. Moreover, I understand that many Christians today agree with McClaren.

I do not endorse all of Jim Wallis’ political positions, but he at least comes clean in this book. Wallis, a well-known author, preacher and activist, states, “Christians should be involved in politics. The question isn’t should we engage?” but “how?”

Wallis’ attitude is much more authentic, but he is the exception in this book. I think UnChristian would have been more genuine had the authors been more forthcoming. Inconsistency tends to irritate me.

I would not allow these exceptions to prevent you from reading the book. Just remember it is like eating the proverbial fish—plenty of meat, but pick out the bones.

Preaching in the 21st Century

Most of us have been created with five senses: hearing, seeing, smelling, tasting, and touching. Do we ignore these in preaching? In his book, The Power of Multi-Sensory Preaching and Teaching, Rick Blackwood makes that powerful case that we do not.

I believe that Blackwood makes a strong case from scripture and religious teaching that God has historically sought to reach us with his message through the senses. For example, in I John 1:1, the apostle John states, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life” (NIV). Notice he lists three senses with which the incarnation of Jesus connected: “heard”, “seen”, and “touched”.

The sense of smell was emphasized in the tabernacle of the Old Testament through the burning of incense. Indeed, the Tabernacle itself was a visual aid to teach God’s people about the holiness of God and, I think, to help point toward the Messiah.

In my fellowship, every Sunday, we have the opportunity to be reminded of the presence of God through the vehicle of taste. The Bible calls it, The Lord’s Supper. The point is that God has always engaged people through the tools of his creation: the senses. His preachers have done the same, often at His command.

God directed Jeremiah to carry the yoke of an ox, he told Ezekiel to basically build a model city complete with armies laying siege, he told Hosea to marry a hooker—okay, I do not recommend going that far. The point is preaching and teaching in a way that connects with the multiple senses is imitating an imaginative and inventive God. It is a form of WWGD—what would God do.

Want WWJD? Think about the imagination of Jesus. He referred to vines, and branches. He used wheatfields and children. He took his disciples on site to observe people giving money, and, yes, he spoke occasionally to the thousands.

I would commend Rick Blackwood’s book to you for reading. I have purchased a copy for each member of our staff, three members of our worship ministry team, and for each of our elders. Blackwood quantifies and illustrates what I have been learning for myself from scripture and experience.

Preaching with a view to incorporate the senses is biblical and it is acting like God. I think it is also our greatest hope for inspiring our congregations to love scripture. More on that next week.

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

1. Reading Jimmy Stewart: A Biography by Marc Eliot, makes me want to see the movie Vertigo again.

2. I saw where Elizabeth Adeney is about to become the oldest mother in Great Britain. She is eight months pregnant and is 66 years old. Judy, do not get any ideas.

3. From the category of “What have you done for me lately?” I saw that Lee Iacocca will no longer be paid the pension that is owed him and his life-long company car is, well, no longer “life-long.” Because Chrysler recently filed for bankruptcy, that have reneged on their agreement with Iacocca. If you are old enough to remember, once-upon-a-time, Chrysler was on the verge of ruin. Lee Iacocca become the company’s president and CEO and not only rescued Chrysler, but he turned it into a thriving company once again. My guess is that Chrysler’s message, informing Iacocca of their decision, included a word of gratitude from the board of directors for all of his years of service.

4. I want to see “Night at the Museum II” this weekend. I hope it is as funny as the first one.

5. There is not a single TV program that I watch. Is it me or them?

It’s Friday, But Sunday’s Coming

I have been a part of organizations where I was disconnected. In the sixth grade, I was a Boy Scout—for one month. The troop had already formed. Tommy Cook had invited me to join and I did. I went to three meetings and a weekend campout at Dangerfield State Park. I never really invested myself. Advancing in scouting seemed like so much—work. You earned merit badges. That’s fine if you are about helping people and making your community a better place, but I certainly was not about things like that.

After the campout, my dad picked me up at the Scout Hut. He had purchased me a horse that happened to be with foal. I left for my scout campout without a pet; I returned as the owner one horse, almost two. I retired from scouting to devote myself to my horses. You might say I wanted to spend more time with my family.

Through the years, I have developed a formula for hanging around organizations without making a commitment. Stay at the back, observe but do not participate, say little, and commit to nothing. Then when you want to disengage yourself, it is easy.

I may have stolen my formula from Satan. I have noticed through the years, this has been a technique practiced by many Christians as well. I’ve noticed in Ephesians, one of the Apostle Paul’s methods to head off Christian drop-out. Paul encourages Christians to connect:

11Christ chose some of us to be apostles, prophets, missionaries, pastors, and teachers, 12so that his people would learn to serve and his body would grow strong. 13This will continue until we are united by our faith and by our understanding of the Son of God. Then we will be mature, just as Christ is, and we will be completely like him (Eph. 4:11-14--CEV).

Paul says that God wants the church leaders to cultivate a spirit and an ability to serve so that the congregation can grow strong and mature—like Jesus. Plugging into the congregation = a growing commitment, which = becoming more like Jesus: “Then we will grow in every way and be more like Christ, the head 16of the body. Christ holds it together and makes all of its parts work perfectly, as it grows and becomes strong because of love” (Eph. 4:15b-16) [CEV].

When I lived in Winters, TX, I was preaching, working on a doctorate, and trying help raise a family. In Winters, all of the churches would pool their resources together to help the poor and the people who were hurting. The preachers and leaders from different churches worked together in the administration of this ministry.

I tried to be an “attender” to these meetings—no more. Gradually, members would talk me in to helping out. One month, it would be stuffing envelopes. Another month, it would be helping out at the food pantry. Little by little, I was becoming committed and feeling passionate about the work that we were doing. One day, I attended a meeting, and they voted me president! How did that happen?

Little by little, I had become more connected to the cause. The vision of the community became my vision. One day, the other members of the Relief Fund deemed I had “matured” to the point of being ready to serve as president.

I think Paul has a similar vision for Christians. All Christians are priests. All Christians are ministers. Whatever gift or gifts we have (see also Rom. 12:4-8 and I Cor. 12), we use them to serve the body. The byproduct of this service is an increased commitment to Christ through an increased commitment to His body—the church. Moreover, by letting us serve, the body of Christ helps us to grow to be more like Jesus.

Have a great weekend!

Friday, May 22, 2009

Friday, May 22, 2009

This weekend, we commemorate Memorial Day to remember those who died in defense of our country. This is fitting and proper. We name buildings and structures "Memorial" in honor of the dead.

Growing up in Winnsboro Texas, I attended Memorial Junior High School. I had no idea why our school was named "Memorial." I knew very little about our facilities save that our cafeteria was built in 1912, the year the Titanic sank. (My kids probably think I was present at the dedication ceremony.) I believe I was an adult when I discovered that my junior high school received its name to commemorate the deaths of those young men from Winnsboro who died in “The Great War” -- World War One.

Recently, a wonderful couple in our church named Harvey and Lucile Grant gave me the book on tape, The Century, by Peter Jennings and Todd Brewster. I have thoroughly enjoyed listening to it, so much so, that I checked out the companion TV series produced by ABC News and the History Channel.

This week, I have been watching the episode dealing with World War One. I was struck by the horror of that war. It was supposed to be the war to end all wars. I saw fresh faces of so many noble young men, who went off to fight but who never returned. So much promise, so much potential, so much hope for their futures, and all was wiped out.
Death to the young is always sad -- especially when it comes at the price of war. In an ironic and sad statement to human nature, it has become more difficult to remember the dead of the First World War because we have had so many wars since. Yet so much of our greatest poetry was written during that era to honor the dead.

I had faintly recalled hearing of the one entitled “I have a Rendezvous with Death”:

…But I've a rendezvous with Death
At midnight in some flaming town,
When Spring trips north again this year,
And I to my pledged word am true,
I shall not fail that rendezvous.
I have a Rendezvous with Death.

I did not remember that it had been written by Alan Seeger. Seeger was a Harvard graduate, who had become a writer and, as a young man, joined the French Foreign Legion in 1914, in order to fight in the great war of Europe. He had written his prescient poem in 1915. Sadly, Seeger was killed on July 4, 1916.

One my personal favorites is a poem called "To An Athlete Dying Young.” Although, written by A. E. Housman in 1896, it gained its popularity during World War One as Europe mourned the loss of a generation of its youth:

To An Athlete Dying Young

THE time you won your town the race
We chaired you through the market-place;
Man and boy stood cheering by,
And home we brought you shoulder-high.

To-day, the road all runners come,
Shoulder-high we bring you home,
And set you at your threshold down,
Townsman of a stiller town.

Smart lad, to slip betimes away
From fields where glory does not stay,
And early though the laurel grows
It withers quicker than the rose.

Eyes the shady night has shut
Cannot see the record cut,
And silence sounds no worse than cheers
After earth has stopped the ears:

Now you will not swell the rout
Of lads that wore their honours out,
Runners whom renown outran
And the name died before the man.

So set, before its echoes fade,
The fleet foot on the sill of shade,
And hold to the low lintel up
The still-defended challenge-cup.

And round that early-laurelled head
Will flock to gaze the strengthless dead,
And find unwithered on its curls
The garland briefer than a girl's.

The most haunting poem of that era was an anonymous one. It is inscribed on a modest headstone of the grave of one of the greatest athletes of the 20th century. His name was Hobey Baker. He was a Princeton graduate. He is the only athlete ever elected to both the College Football Hall of Fame and the Hockey Hall of Fame. His hockey records lasted for decades. Today, college hockey's equivalent of the Heisman Trophy is called The Hobey Baker Award.

Baker volunteered to serve in World War I. He was one of the first to fly an airplane in war. Tragically, he crashed to his death in Toul, France. He left behind many grieving family members, friends, and fans. We do not know who the author was, but this is the poem written on Hobey Baker’s tombstone:


Extraordinary, isn’t it? Such is the power of poetry dedicated to help humanity remember those lost in The Great War. Sadly, we are forgetting their names. It is not with intention. Rather, so many have died since then, and the numbers are overwhelming. They are becoming unknown to us, just like the soldier in Arlington National Cemetery.

On November 11, 1921, an unidentified soldier who had been killed in France during World War One was buried in, what would later become, The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Later, the bodies of two other unknown soldiers would be buried there as well: one from World War II, the other from the Korean War. (A fourth soldier from the Vietnam War was buried in this tomb. Later, his remains were identified and removed to be buried according to his family's wishes.)

I have traveled to The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. It was an unforgettable experience and the memory still moves me today. I appreciate what Memorial Day and The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier represent. They represent our desire to recognize the relevance of the human being. Even if we do not know who they are, we want to declare their value.

More on this at the end of this blog.

Through Painted Deserts

Yesterday I turned in my final grades for my students at ETCA. They graduate tomorrow. The school asked all teachers to wear their graduation gowns. I spent some good coin last year buying my doctoral graduation gown. I am delighted that at least once a year, I am called to wear it.

One of the final assignments I gave my students was to read a spiritually oriented book, mark up the parts that caught their attention by placing an “A” (agree) or a “DA” (disagree) beside their highlighted passages, and then write a one to two page reflection paper over the reading.

The beneficial thing for me was to view the highlighted comments in their books. They revealed what my students found interesting. Most of the books I had read. One I had not read was Through Painted Deserts. The author was—you guessed it—Donald Miller.

Through Painted Deserts is actually one of Miller’s earlier works. After the popularity of some of his other books, namely, Blue Like Jazz, Miller finally found a publisher. Through Painted Deserts chronicles the road trip that Miller and a buddy take through the American Southwest.

I have started reading it and have found some intriguing passages. For example:

“If I do lose faith, that is if I do let go of my metaphysical explanations for the human experience, it will not be at the hands of science. I went to a Stephen Hawking lecture not long ago and wondered about why he thought we get born and why we die and what it means, but I left with nothing, save a brief mention of aliens as a possible solution to the question of origin. And I don't mean anything against Stephen Hawking, because I know he has an amazing brain and I know he has explained a lot of the physics of our universe, but I went wondering about something scientific that might counter mysterious metaphysical explanations, and I left with aliens….

"...[T]he idea of accidental propulsion was beginning to weigh heavy on my mind, both as an explanation for our existence and as a motive for philosophical suicide, a faulty rotted why holding up the meaningless how. And to put a point on it, here was the greatest physicist of our age, a man who could recite more than 75 pages of theory to his assistant from memory. A man who discovered and explained much of the physical behavior of matter at the openings of black holes, a man on par with Einstein himself, explaining that one possibility for the creation of our universe might be a cosmic seed planted billions of years ago, set in motion by an advanced species of aliens."

"It turns out the droplet of our knowledge is a bit lost in the ocean of our unknowing. So much so we are still stabbing at fairy tales. And what I really mean by this is that science itself is not capable of presenting a why. That is, in order to subscribe to a why (an objective rather than subjective why) you have to subscribe to some sort of theory God or aliens. And yet the mind needs a why, just as the body needs food.”
--Through Painted Deserts, pg. 25-6. (Blue emphasis mine)

I believe science concerns itself with the question of “how.” The Bible concerns itself with the question of “why.” Sometimes, scientists get themselves into trouble by making their theories of the origin of the world a melding that addresses the question of “why” as well as “how.” That is typically the point we as Christians feel frustration. We feel that the scientists have overstepped their boundaries.

Likewise, Christians who spend as much time addressing the question of “how” as they do the question of “why” often frustrate scientists. They feel that Christians have overstepped their boundaries.

Preaching in the 21st Century

Have many of you have ever heard of Walter Scott? Some of us are in Christ today because of Walter Scott. He lived in the 1800s and he made his mark by going around to different areas on the frontier and evangelizing. And guess how he did his work? He did not begin by getting behind a pulpit and preaching.

No, he went to the schools in the towns that he would visit, and he would talk to the children on the playground. (I guess he would get arrested today for doing this!) He would teach them to remember something using the five fingers of the human hand: thumb—faith, forefinger—repentance, middle finger—confession, fourth finger—baptism, and fifth finger—the gift of the Holy Spirit.

These kids would go home and teach their parents what they had learned. Their parents would come out and see the one who so effectively inspired, motivated, and enlightened the minds of their children. As a result, thousands of adults responded to Christ in repentance, confession, and baptism. Question: were those people better off for hearing this message, first delivered in such an untraditional way? Would it have been better for Walter Scott to have preached his message in a more traditional way, behind a pulpit, and have fewer responses to his message?

I believe that we need more Walter Scotts today. Recently, a realization struck me in a very sober way. I realized that the bulk of the Bible study supplement that many of our members were receiving was coming on Sundays alone. Moreover, it came in the form of three “lectures”: two done by me and one by their Bible class teachers. (I know we have some who go to other Bible studies; I also realize some meet in homes in small groups. However, a significant amount of people received their Bible supplement on Sundays through “lectures”.)

One of the recommendations for working with the younger generation coming from the new book, Grown Up Digital, is this: cut back on lectures. Make learning more collaborative.

That is what MIT is doing. In a recent article in the March, 2009, edition of Campus Technology, Katherine Grayson writes about the strategic approach that MIT is taking concerning their freshman introductory physics classes. Instead of placing 300 freshman in a classroom for a fifty minute lecture, they are now requiring those students to attend a small, interactive group-learning-based class.

Check out the before and after stats. In the lecture days, the student failure rate was typically ten to twelve percent. (Attendance typically dropped to less than fifty percent.) Now, the failure rate is four percent. Students are enthusiastically participating in group oriented classes that include new technology, professor input, and collaboration.

These are our nations’ best and brightest students. If they struggle with learning and motivation in an environment dedicated exclusively to lecture, what does that say about our preaching?

God made us to possess five senses. Should our preaching address only one—hearing?
Five things I think I think (a tip of the hat to Peter King for this idea)

1. The children and I saw Star Wars Episode III last weekend. I thoroughly appreciate the way the first three episodes of Star Wars addresses the steady descent of Anakin Skywalker into evil. You see him wrestle with pride, anger, vengeance and fear. You see his descent take time. I have seen this kind of descent in real life. These episodes are good reminders of how the inner attitudes affect our outcome. We all hold the capacity to commit acts of evil—or even to become evil.

2. Is it just me, or does Fox’s Major League Baseball World Series’ theme, written by Jochen Flach, and James Blunt’s song, “You are Beautiful”, sound like the same song? Listen to both of them on YouTube. You decide.

3. I think I am going to save my money and buy a DVD recorder next month. I am too far away from being ready for the Terabyte hardrive. For this reason, the DVR or TIVO doesn’t really meet our family’s needs right now. First the Terabyte, then the DVR.

4. Is there a better TV theme song than Hawaii Five-0?

5. I love Memorial Day weekend.

It’s Friday, But Sunday’s Coming
Tommy Nelson, a few years ago, called my attention to the spectacle that I had seen when, as a boy, I visited The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery. Keep in mind, within the tomb lies the remains of a soldier from World War I. He came home to no one. No one knew who he was. No mother, father, or widow received the American Flag in his honor. He returned to no one who had known him and loved him.

For this reason, our military, our leaders, our nation, in 1921, made a major decision. They chose to honor this man, this common man, not the most gallant or heroic man, they chose to honor this common man with the highest of all honors our military can bestow.

The leaders of our nation chose to assign a sentinel at that coffin of that unknown soldier. They chose to symbolically offer him a 21-gun salute. The twenty-one gun salute is the highest honor given any military or foreign dignitary. To symbolically offer this highest honor, they ordered the Army’s very best soldiers, to march 21 steps south, and, on the 21st step, to turn and face the tomb for 21 seconds. After that, orders were to turn and march 21 steps north, and again face the tomb for 21 seconds. The sentinels were ordered to repeat this procedure over and over until relieved at a guard change.

These solders were to guard this tomb, in this way, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. They were to guard the tomb in the presence of great crowds, or at night—alone. Whether under a blazing sun, driving rains, or freezing snow, they were to perform their duty with great precision and military bearing. The only exception was to be when weather conditions, such as tornadoes, placed the sentinels in high risk of injury or death.

Do you know there has now been a sentinel on duty in front of the Tomb every minute of every day since 1937? I have been to the tombs of some of our greatest Americans. I have been to the tomb of Abraham Lincoln, I have been to the tomb of George Washington, and I have been to the tomb of John F. Kennedy. None of them had soldiers guarding their tombs. Our government reserves its highest honor for the American that no one knows.

Do you know what the inscription says on The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier? It says, “Known but to God.” It is emblematic that in our humanity, in some of our more noble moments, we demonstrate a yearning to share a connection with the common man who is like us. We want to know him and to honor him in our limited, human way.

What if God were to feel the same about us? Guess what—he does.

In our limited mortality, we can scarce approach the majesty of honor and blessings that God bestows upon those who belong to him. One of my favorite scriptures is this, “Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints” (Psalm 116:15). Throughout the ages, there have been burial locations with the bodies of God’s people whose inscriptions would say, “Known but to God.” However, knowing God and being known by Him was enough.

When you belong to God, you can rest assured that God will never forget you. There are no unknown soldiers to God. As the inscription testifies, even the unknown soldier is known to God. God knows those who belong to Him. He knows them by name. He will never let them go. And in my mind’s eye, when I see the tomb of God’s saints, I see sentries of angels guarding their tombs, even against the Devil himself! “The Archangel Michael, who went to the mat with the Devil as they fought over the body of Moses…” (Jude 9—THE MESSAGE).

Enjoy the Memorial Day holiday. Remember the dead who blessed our nation. Most importantly, if you are in Jesus, remember and enjoy the fact that you are God’s.
Have a great weekend!

Friday, May 15, 2009

Friday, May 15, 2009

Passing Along Your Music to Your Kids

Occasionally, I have the opportunity to share with my kids something that I enjoyed as a child myself. A couple of weeks ago, one of our members, Samantha Siverling, participated in a concert put on by the symphony, of which she is a member. Judy took our two youngest children to the concert. They thoroughly enjoyed it. Timothy was mesmerized.

I have a few of the Leonard Bernstein Young People's Concerts on DVD that I recorded a few years ago. I had wanted to introduce the younger children to these concerts, but was waiting for the proper time. Well, the future is now. I actually introduced them to the first concerts with the series that I checked out from our public library.

If you are not familiar with these concerts, or with Bernstein, let me elaborate. Leonard Bernstein was one of our greatest conductors and composers in the 20th century. Beginning in the late 1950s, Bernstein began holding concerts in Carnegie Hall in New York City for young people. He would use these to teach young people about music and to give them an appreciation for it.

Fast forward to my fifth grade year. During my fifth grade music class, our teacher, Mrs. Glenda Winkle, played these concerts for us on a movie projector. I was enthralled. It was in this class that I began my lifelong love for classical music and opera. I hope that now I am passing along that love to my two youngest children.

ETCA Graduation

I had my ETCA Bible class over this week for a hamburger cookout. This is my way of saying “thank you” as well as honoring them for their senior year. I have thoroughly enjoyed this class. In class, they have great attitudes, they are always on time, they are fun, they provide good discussion, and I will miss them.

After supper, I gave them the choice of several games to play or several movies to view. They chose to watch Flatliners. This proved to be a good selection. At first, only a couple were watching and the rest were kind of talking among themselves. But as the scarier scenes appeared, any talking that they did was to the entire group and it concerned the movie. By the time it was over, some exclaimed that they were going to go home and sleep in the same bed with a sibling!

The item I was most grateful for was this, during the movie, I heard them reflect upon the theological categories and spiritual themes they were seeing. They did this naturally without my prodding. They have learned this in class and I hope this proves some benefit for them as they enter into the rest of their lives.


I have a wedding to perform weekend. It is the wedding of Kevan Kirksey and Katie Scott. People asked me a lot of times what it's like to be a preacher and do weddings. I enjoy them, and I'm honored to do them.

On the other hand, when you have children, it is often difficult because weddings typically occur on the weekend. That means you have two nights that are probably lost -- Friday and Saturday nights. Moreover, just because you have weddings that week, does not mean the church does not expect to be fed on Sunday. You still must crank out the sermons. However, you know this before you become a preacher, so there is no room to complain.

The neat thing is there are times when you can make a bond with a couple that will last for life. Some of my greatest memories are of weddings and the relationships that have come out of them.

Preaching in the 21 Century

I Chron. 15:32, “men of Issachar, who understood the times and knew what Israel should do …”

I encountered an amazing quote from Seth Godin’s book, Tribes, last week:

“It’s really easy to insist that people read the manual. It’s really easy to blame the users/student/prospect/customer for not trying hard, for being too stupid to get it, or for not caring enough to pay attention. It might even be tempting to blame those in your tribe who aren’t working as hard as following as you are at leading, but none of this is helpful.

“What’s helpful is to realize that you have a choice when you communicate. You can design your products to be easy to use. You can write so your audience hears you. You can present in a place and in a way that guarantees that the people you want to listen will hear you. Most of all, you get to choose who will understand (and who won’t).”

Seth Godin – TRIBES, pages 117 – 118 (emphasis mine).

When I preach, I choose who will understand and who will not. I can focus on the deep thinkers, or those who are new in the Lord. I can focus on those who learn by hearing, those who learn by experiencing, or those who learn by seeing. If I choose to isolate my focus to only one group, I will probably eliminate my opportunity to impact the others.

I believe one of the biggest myths we face in churches is this: preaching has historically occurred with a preacher standing behind a pulpit lecturing the congregation. This is simply not true. Frankly, preaching as we know it has been a phenomenon of the past 400 years. Luther, the printing press, and Protestant Reformation have played the major role in formulating the preaching experience that most of us know today.

Biblically, preaching was much different. Typically, the preacher was out with the people who needed to hear his message. Rare were the times when the proclaimer was behind anything resembling a pulpit. For example, when Jesus spoke at the synagogue, after having read from the scroll, he was standing perhaps behind an item that resembled our pulpit. Most of the time, however, Jesus was with his disciples away from any building or pulpit.

Jesus’ manner of preaching and teaching gave him an opportunity to help his hearers learn from his message in various ways. When he wanted to address worry and anxiety, he would point to a lily in a field and ask his audience to consider with him what the lily could teach them about God and themselves.

I want to preach less like Luther and more like Jesus. My problem is that I cannot take my audience into the field to see the lily. So, to the best of my ability, I must bring the lily from the field to the people in my church.

The other day, I preached from Psalm 139, that great Psalm that celebrates God's work in our lives from birth. Before I even reached the pulpit, I had our guys in the booth show the Dove commercial I have described to you in this blog ( If you have not seen that commercial, it is a commentary on our view of beauty in this culture. It shows a normal looking woman being prepared for a photo shoot. Her photos been airbrushed to perfection, and then placed on a giant billboard.

I could have lectured the church all day on how our culture places value on the wrong things. I could have lectured the church on how God has made them like he wants them. Nothing, though, would have had the impact of that sixty-second commercial. The marketers at Dove had tens of thousands of dollars at their disposal to create what I could never afford. I was more than happy to allow them to provide that work for my opportunity.

I was gratified by the positive feedback I received, none more gratifying than from my 14-year-old daughter. She has since gone back and viewed that commercial a few more times. It encourages her because now she gets it— you cannot compete with someone who does not exist.

That Dove commercial was a lily that I was able to bring in from the field, point to, and direct the congregation as I told them to think about what the “lily” teaches us about God.

I think preaching in the 21st century should be more like preaching in the first century.

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

1. I checked out of the library this week the book Jimmy Stewart: A Biography by Marc Eliot. I did not care for the intimate details of Stewart's single years in Hollywood, but the rest of the book has been very enjoyable. I especially like the detail that Eliot delves into as he describes the various movies that Stewart made. Stewart was always one of my very favorite actors. Without question, Elliott praised him as a kind and gentle man—the kind of man that you would want to know.

2. I laughed out loud at Phil Jackson's excuse after the Lakers were defeated in game six by the Houston Rockets in their Western Conference semifinal. He reminded the press that, after all, LA has a couple of players hurt. This after having been defeated by team that has lost its two best players – Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming. Rick Adelman has got to be coach of the year.

3. I was saddened to see that GM is dropping over 1100 auto dealerships. Through the years, I've had dear friends who have owned GM dealerships and others who have worked for them. I currently own two GM vehicles, I have enjoyed driving. The proof is in the pudding – one is 19 years old, and the other one is 18 years old. (Maybe GMs problems are all my fault!)

4. I finished The Reagan Diaries this week. This is the publication of the diary Ronald Reagan kept during his two terms in the White House. In a disciplined manner, President Reagan every day wrote down his thoughts and opinions by hand. I listened to the book on CD each day while I shaved, brushed my teeth, put in my contacts and got dressed. I think the average person reading or listening to these diaries for the first time would be struck by Reagan's humor; his insights into the country, the world, his presidency, and current events (this has typically been underestimated); his opinions on people; and the sheer work load of his daily life (again, underestimated.)

5. I saw the last thirty minutes of Castaway again last night with Haleigh and Abby. I have never seen a movie that made me feel so indifferent initially and yet, in time, made me appreciate it so much. I’m sure I will watch it again. To me, the nobleness of Chuck and Kelly doing the right thing in the face of severe tragedy, a tragedy brought on by the fallen world and not as a consequence of their own sin, trumps the final scene in Casablanca.

It’s Friday, But Sunday’s Coming

A few years ago, I saw the movie produced by Oliver Stone called World Trade Center. It was Stone’s take on the events of that fateful day – September 11, 2001. He focused mainly on two families and what they suffered as their loved ones, John McLoughlin and Will Jimeno, laid buried in the rubble of the World Trade Center. Based on a true story, these men were Port Authority policemen, who courageously tried to help the victims of the terrorists’ attack. In doing so, they became victims themselves.

Normally, I am not a big Oliver Stone fan, but I was very much a fan of this movie. I think this motion picture brought honor to those who worked so hard during that tragedy.
Rick Blackwood, in his book The Power of Multi-sensory Preaching and Teaching, tells about a minister on his staff named Eric Geiger. Geiger appropriated an event from World Trade Center that brought clarity to me in describing the mission of Jesus.

The movie moment that impacted Geiger was seeing Dave Carnes onscreen. Carnes had served in the United States Marines in his younger days. He had become a successful businessman, but as he watched events unfold at the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, he realized that America was under attack. Deeply moved, Carnes said to his co-workers, “I have to go down there to help.”

Next, Carnes prepared for his mission. He went to a church building and prayed. He traveled to a barbershop and had his head shaved as it had been when he served as a Marine. He dressed himself in his old Marine uniform. He then entered into his Porsche and sped down to lower Manhattan.

Since Carnes was wearing a Marine uniform, he was allowed to go inside the rubble of the buildings. He shined his flashlight into the darkness and called out to any possible survivors. In the rubble, lay the two policemen, John McLoughlin and Will Jimeno. Crushed by the debris, the hours had passed tortuously slow for them in the darkness. Dehydrated, their lives were slowly ebbing away. There seemed little reason to hope.

With one last effort, Jimeno moved a pipe, making a sound just audible enough for Carnes to hear. Carnes called out, and Jimeno replied. Carnes searched out for Jimeno with his flashlight and spotted him—barely. Jimeno cried out to Carnes, “Please, don’t leave us! Please, don’t leave us!” Carnes, the former United States Marine, called out a dramatic and noble reply: “Sir, we are the United States Marines. You are our mission!”

God had planned for centuries to send his Son on a mission. After he came to earth, Jesus prepared himself relentlessly for his mission, including the extreme act of fasting in the desert for forty days as he battled with Satan. In Luke 19:10, Jesus reveals his mission to Zacchaeus, “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost."

I think that was Jesus’ way of delivering to a small, inconspicuous man, who had resorted to crimes against humanity to deal with his pain, a special message. The message was this, “I am the Son of God. You are my mission.”

I want to encourage Shiloh Sunday morning with the knowledge, they are Jesus’ mission. I believe Jesus is saying to the young mother who feels lost and overwhelmed, “I am the Son of God. You are my mission.”

To the young man who feels lost and overwhelmed by addiction, Jesus says, “I am the Son of God. You are my mission.”

To the one who is flailing away at the bitterness of divorce, Jesus says, “I am the Son of God. You are my mission.”

To the child who feels lost because her parents are going through the pain of divorce, Jesus says, “I am the Son of God. You are my mission.”

To the parent who is losing a child, Jesus says, “I am the Son of God. You are my mission.”

Have a great weekend!

Friday, May 8, 2009

Friday, May 8, 2009


Mike Gravois loaned me a DVD Tuesday morning of this week. It was called Most, which is Czech for "Bridge." The movie only lasted 33 minutes, so I showed it to my class at ETCA. At the conclusion, they were so moved, they could not respond. I was moved too, so much so, I showed it that night to the men’s Bible study group that meets in my home. I even invited my in-laws, my wife, and one of my daughters to join us. They too were touched by this movie.

I've got to tell you, this is now one of my top 10 movies of all time. In time, it may break into my top five.

The movie is based upon a story many have heard: a father who is a widower has a young son. The father works as a drawbridge operator. He and his son enjoy a close relationship. Unfortunately, the relationship is tested when both father and son attempt to prevent a catastrophe. A passenger train mistakenly heads toward a raised drawbridge. What ensues next has been talked about in churches for 40 years. (I won’t spoil the ending.)

The item I appreciate in this movie is, it continues the story past the ending of the sermon illustration. Moreover, it fleshes out characters who are riding on the train.

I first heard this story in a sermon illustration a long time ago and it made a profound impact on my life. For years I have told the story as true because, when I was in college, I had read details about it in a bulletin article that claimed it was true. The father was identified as a man named John Griffith, who lived in West Memphis, Arkansas.

This week, I investigated the story on There, I learned the illustration was first shared in a short story by Dennis E. Hensley, which was published in the Michigan Baptist Bulletin in 1967. Hensley called his story "To Sacrifice a Son: An Allegory." As you might imagine, I was disappointed to read this. Then again, as Judy says, “Who Snopes”
I think this movie is wonderful for our unchurched friends. It is short, only 33 minutes, and it appeals to the senses. A Czech movie, Most was nominated in 2003 for the Academy award for best live action short. It was also an official selection in the 2004 Sundance Film Festival. It won numerous local film festival awards for best picture both in the United States and in Europe.

The cinematography is marvelous. The music perfectly reflects the mood. The acting is second-to-none. I must admit, I am a sucker for well-made foreign movies.

A Window into the Life of a Preaching Minister

One of the hardest facets of the preaching ministry is working with volunteers. In spite of the ideal of Christianity and of the Church, the fact is few Christians invest themselves deeply in the community of faith. I have learned through the years that inspiration trumps all other methods of motivation—including Scripture. I know most Christians do not want to hear that.
Through the years, I have found most Christians know passages of Scripture that talk about how each Christian should pursue his or her gifts and use them to minister to other believers within their local congregation. There are many reasons for this; a major one is to simply help other Christians mature in their faith. The reality, though, is that a small percentage of Christians actually do this.
Leaders can try to cajole them, threaten them, quote scripture to them, seek to scare them, and employ a host of other methods, but usually it is only inspiration and/or sparking the imagination that moves members off the pew and into service.

However, inspiration must be balanced by accountability. This is difficult. I have learned to make peace with things that lie beyond my control. I cannot make people do the right thing. The only place where I still find tension is when I work together with another congregational member in a ministry that I lead. If an individual chooses to not perform the task he or she has committed to do, and we are working together, the decision impacts the ministry in a negative way.

The difficulty for me is always this: on the one hand, I feel frustration, or even anger, that the work I'm involved in could be sabotaged. On the other hand, I do not want to do anything that could discourage another person in the faith.

Typically, I have erred on the side of patience. Recently, however, I have noted, yet again, that when I do this, not only is my work hurt, but other people’s work is hurt as well.

This reflection takes me back to my days of teaching Bible as an adjunct professor at Abilene Christian University. In January of 2001, I had the privilege of teaching a freshman Bible class at ACU. It was a large class, almost 100 students. I had taught at ACU before as a young man, fresh after receiving my bachelors degree. I was 23 years old, and had no problem relating to the students.

In contrast, in 2001, I was almost old enough to be the students’ father. I was friendly, enthusiastic, open and available, just as I was when I was 23. The problem was, I did not have the respect of the students. I found that they often talked while I was talking. I admit,I found this disconcerting. One time, I looked directly into the eyes of a student who was talking to his neighbors. He continued talk even though he saw me looking at him. I kicked him out of class.
I became very frustrated, more with myself and with the students. I felt that my personality engendered this kind of behavior. Most frustrating, I saw that their lack of respect for me hurt the weakest students in the class.

We had a sweet girl who did not have the social skills of most. Whenever one of the popular students answered a question or asked me a question, the other students would listen. Whenever this girl would make a comment, most often good comments, the class would ignore her and begin forming little clusters of discussion.

The whole experience upset me enough to where I declined to teach again for two years. I had no answer for the behavior of the students. And, I knew I did not want to experience anything like that again. In discussing my experiences with other professors, I found that in no way was this uncommon. I had the luxury of having another job, full-time, thus I did not have to teach. Moreover, the elders at the church where I was preaching at that time did not want me to make two or three trips to Abilene each week to teach.

Still, something gnawed at the pit of my stomach. I could not help but feel that I had left a job undone. Moreover, I believed that if I could construct the proper parameters in my classroom, I could teach effectively, maintain the students' respect, and help them learn about God and his Word.

Over time, I developed a syllabus that clearly communicated my expectations. I knew I would have to gain acceptance from the administration for it, and I did. Next, I had to deal with the issue of when I would teach. I proposed to the Bible Department that I would teach a three-hour night class once a week—for freshman. This would allow me to come onto the ACU campus only one day a week. My elders were happy with that arrangement. In the fall, I would teach Acts-Revelation. In the spring, my course offering would be the life and teachings of Jesus. Teaching a freshman Bible class one night a week was rare. Perhaps, it had not occurred before. Thankfully, I received permission.

When my first class met on Tuesday night, in the fall of 2003, I had 13 students. Even though this was a small group, I took no chances. I told them we would have the highest expectations. They were free to miss one class. After that, they would lose a letter grade for each class they missed. Miss one class, you could still get an –A. Miss two classes, you could still get a –B, and so on.

In terms of class conduct, I had one rule--do nothing to disrupt the class. I would be the sole evaluator of that process. Furthermore, I gave a grade for attitude and class participation. It was worth 15% -- 2 letter grades. This gave me plenty of leverage to hold the students accountable.

The first night of class, I gave the students a chance to covenant with me the grade they intended to pursue. I let them know how many classes they would have to attend and what their grades would have to be on each item in order to achieve their commitment. The next week, we would covenant together the grades they were to pursue.

Finally, I told the students on the first night of class that if they had any desire whatsoever to pursue another course, to by all means feel empowered to leave. This was the time to make that decision. I assured them we had the rest of our lives to be friends, but for the next four months what I would insist upon was their respect.

What I found was I had the freedom to be myself and to never have to worry about becoming angry or frustrated with a student. The students would choose their behavior, I would simply give them the grade upon which we had previously agreed.

I think the students were pleased as well. Ultimately, I had an enormous amount of students receive A’s and B’s. So much so, I became concerned that the administration would feel that I was being too easy on the students. (This was not the case.) Moreover, I averaged less than one student a semester failing a class.

Typically, a few students would drop out of my class after the first night. Still, as word spread, the class grew each semester. The next semester I had around 30 students. By the time I left Abilene, I was having 60 to 70 students each semester. I found, particularly gratifying, the fact that a number of students came from different cultures, many through the years were unchurched, and a number of the students were athletes.

Ultimately, in my pursuit of maintaining the respect of my students, I found I did not sacrifice their affection. To this day, I use a brand of cologne I had not heard of until a group students gave it to me as a “last-day gift.” My children and I enjoy the Three Stooges videotapes and DVDs that my students gave me because they knew that I liked the Three Stooges. I was first introduced to Donald Miller by a student who gave me the book, Blue Like Jazz.

I have written this novel about my experience in the classroom to say that I have reached a point in my church ministry where I have frankly said, “Enough." With the full blessing of our staff and our elders, I have decided that anytime I engage in relationship with someone involved in my ministry, I will have in writing a covenant of understanding. Before we begin, the individual (or individuals) will understand clearly my expectations for them in the work that we will do together.

They will understand that I will hold them accountable. And I will understand that if they do not demonstrate in their behavior and commitment honor to the kingdom, they will, in effect, be removing themselves from that ministry. We will still be friends, I will hold no malice in my heart, and I will still want them to be a part of this church. In this avenue of our journey, however, they will no longer walk with me.

I suspect I will discover more people than I ever dreamed who will assist me in creating very valuable ministries-- for the kingdom.

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

1. Haleigh and I watched A Few Good Men last night. Probably the third or fourth time I have seen it. It had been long enough though that I thoroughly enjoyed it yet again. You had your, for that time, stereotypical Bible belt, Southern, bigoted Christian whose faith was the source of many problems on a Marine base. There were other aspects that I did not agree with as well. And, the final scene is probably considered over-the-top by some. Still, it was great fun.

2. I am a sucker for LBJ. My dad didn’t like him, but I find him immensely entertaining. I listened yet agai to the audio version of Taking Charge. During his presidency, Lyndon Johnson secretly taped all of his telephone and oval office conversations. Now, years later, you eavesdrop on history as LBJ talks with Jacqueline Kennedy, J. Edgar Hoover, RFK and many more. Johnson comes across as a character worthy of Shakespeare. He is both earthy and eloquent, at once dynamic and tragic. No matter how many times I listen, I find myself fascinated.

3. I finished the book UnChristian. I will probably say more about it next week. I definitely found it thought provoking as the authors’ from the Barna group shared the thoughts of those who are between the ages of 16-29. Through extensive research, the writers quantified the perceptions of this age group (Mosaics and Young Busters.) Basically, their perceptions can be summed up in the word “unchristian.” Those who fall between the ages of 16-29 perceive us to fall woefully short of the ideals that we espouse. I shared some of this information with my church last Sunday night, and I will offer more this week.

4. I haven’t watched American Idol in weeks. I am rooting for Danny Gokey though. Maybe I can see the last episode.

5. I suspect by this time next week members of the Dallas Mavericks will be embarking on their summer vacations. I must confess that they surpassed my expectations for the season. Granted, those expectations were low.

It’s Friday, But Sunday’s Coming

Sunday morning I am beginning a new series that I'm calling "You Are…." I want to look at some of the positive aspects of our existence and the ways God has blessed us. I hope to offer encouragement to our members. The first passage that I will look at will be for Mother's Day Sunday, and it will be from Psalm 139.

I still get a kick out of this passage. I have a note in my files, from a sermon that Rick Atchley preached almost thirty years ago, where I wrote down several points from this passage. Through the years, I have adapted them for my own use. I will use those this Sunday, distilling them into four points.

Psalm 139 excites me because it tells me that God knows me (verses 1-6). Today, so many know me by my Social Security number, my username, or my password. God knows me by name. I am “Mark” to him. This fact gives me great comfort.

Second, I know that I am not alone (7-12.) I hated being alone growing up. I still don't like it when my family is gone. However, the older I get, the more I realize the value in having times when no other human is around me. The reason is, God is there. And, if I capitalize on the opportunities, I can grow closer to my God. Therefore, I need never be lonely.

Third, Psalm 139 excites me because it tells me God made me how he wants me (13-15.) I know this sounds simplistic, and if you’ve got the time, I will be more than happy to debate it, but I feel God is big enough to handle that statement. I'm beginning my sermon Sunday morning with the Dove commercial I told you about last week. (Here is the link: It is a commentary on our view of beauty in this culture. God knit all of us in our mother's womb. We should find peace in that truth.

Finally, God has a purpose for me (16.) God knits me for a reason and it wasn't the fulfillment of my ego. He has a greater objective for my life. And I have the exciting opportunity to seek it.
Life's pretty neat when viewed from God's perspective.

Have a great weekend!

Friday, May 1, 2009

Friday, May 1, 2009

One Unholy Bible Study

I meet with a group of guys in their 20s on Tuesday nights at my house. We have a good time of laughing and talking, but we also have a serious time of Bible study in the book of First Timothy. Last Tuesday night, unbeknownst to me, my wife, Judy, was reading to my son in the living room. It was late and she was getting him ready for bed. They were so quiet, we could not hear them. Oh how they could hear us, though.

We took longer than we normally take to begin our study that night. We were joking and cutting up. One of us described some object -- I did not even remember this part of the conversation -- as "stupid." That was the crowning blow for Timothy. He looked up at Judy and said, "I cannot believe they are talking like that. They said a bad word (‘stupid.’) I thought this was a holy Bible study!"

Sorry, son. We will work hard on being more “holier” next week.

Forrest Gump

I saw Forrest Gump for the first time in over a decade this week. I watched it with my wife and two oldest girls. We saw a more sanitized version from network TV that I recorded years ago. Still, the movie offered many examples of the wages of sin and the resulting brokenness.

I had forgotten about the funny moments. I did remember about the historical serendipity's as well as the moments of sadness.

I was struck by the fact that Forrest was truly a man without guile. What a kind soul and what a faithful servant he was. Also, he was one who was not materialistic. He inherited great wealth, which he did not squander on his own consumption but rather used it to bless the lives of others.

Most of all, Forrest truly understood what it was to love someone (Jenny) unconditionally and relentlessly. This relationship brought him little personal happiness, but that was not his driving force. And in the end, in spite of the fact that Jenny brought him few moments of joy, she died leaving Forrest feeling great satisfaction for offering a love well lived.

The Smothers Brothers

I know a number of you who read this blog have no idea who the Smothers Brothers are. They are two brothers who are now in their seventies. Back in the late 1960s, they had a hit TV variety show. It was only for three years, before CBS finally canceled it. The reason CBS canceled it was because of the controversial nature of the show. The Smothers Brothers were constantly challenging the network censors with their political satire and commentary.

Recently, I checked out from the public library the third season of The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour on DVD. As I began watching the episodes, I asked myself a question. My daddy quit watching Bonanza to start watching this? Why? Bonanza was a wholesome family TV series, and my kids still enjoy it today. Meanwhile, the Smothers Brothers episodes were written by a bunch of young guys like Steve Martin and Rob Reiner-- people whom no one had ever heard of. And the material for that time was very much cutting-edge.

Finally, it dawned on me. The Smothers Brothers could not stand the policies of President Lyndon Johnson. Neither could my dad. I guess this was a clear case of "the enemy of my enemy is my friend."

I have been reading the book Unchristian in preparation for a small, two-part series that I am going to be doing for my church on Sunday nights. We are going to analyze our culture, and the book Unchristian has helped give me some insight into the minds of the Mosaics (born between 1984 and 2002) and the Busters (born between 1965 and 1983.)

It is written for religiously conservative churches, particularly evangelical churches. One of the conclusions that they draw is this: conservative politics, particularly the politics of the Republican Party, are turning off the Mosaics and late Busters. Any churches associated with those politics have a reduced chance of converting these unchurched young people.

I have found their assessment spot-on. I also think that the reverse can be true as well. Any church leaning to the political left has very little chance of converting an unchurched conservative.

The writers of Unchristian are not saying that Christians should not have political views. They are saying that Christians should be very careful about the forum in which those views are communicated. Politics, just like religion, arouses great passion. People can react in ways that one would never imagine. Just like I would never dream that my daddy would drop Bonanza for the Smothers Brothers.

A Moving Funeral

Last week, I attended a very moving funeral service, and one of the most unusual ones. The father of one of our members, whose name is Tony Fears, passed away suddenly. Tony, in a short time, wrote a powerful eulogy that may have been the best I have ever heard. It was profound, eloquent, moving, and deeply spiritual. Tony chose not to read it, but had Mike Warner, my predecessor at Shiloh, read it. I want to share with you a small portion of this eulogy. Listen as Tony describes one of the most dramatic moments a child can experience. In this case, the child was Tony's dad as a young boy:

When dad was about 5 or 6 years old, he was living in a boarding house, near downtown Tyler. He recalled how he loved to sit and dangle his feet off the front porch and watch the trains go by on the tracks, literally, just a few feet away.

One day, he was sitting there waiting for the approaching train to go by and as the train went by, a boxcar passed with a man inside… waving at him. He excitedly waved back. It was not until the boxcar was a little ways past; that he realized the man who had waived at him was his father. Unknown to him at the time, his father was leaving. Leaving for good.

He would no longer see his dad, but for only a few brief times for the rest of his life. His father had left him and his mom. He would now be raised by his mother and his beloved Aunt Mirt. His father had abandoned him and it affected him for the rest of his life. But it affected him in a very interesting way.

Tony’s dad could have been embittered for life by the experience. He could have become extraordinarily angry. He could have become a criminal. I have seen it happen before. Tony's dad chose not to do that. Instead he used his experience and the sensitivity that he gained to minister to young men, especially those who had, for whatever reason, lost their fathers.

What an example of breaking the chain! What an example of taking the bad things from our lives and using them to bless others.

Thank you Tony, and thank you Mr. Fears.

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

1. Charles Smith shared with me a marvelous commercial from Dove that he actually found on Seth Godin’s (I always want to say “Rogin”) blog. It is so powerful that I think I will use it to open my sermon on Mother's Day. Here is the link:

2. I saw that Rick Warren was named by Time magazine as the world's most influential pastor. I think he was named so last year as well.

3. It looks like the Dallas Cowboys had an average draft unless: 1) Roy Williams turns out to have a monster year, and 2), the Cowboys draft picks are exceptional special teams players. If special teams are just as important as offense and defense, and these rookies are exceptional in special teams like I have been reading, this draft will be considered an exceptional draft.

4. Am I the only one who can not wait for June to get here? I am ready for summer.

5. For those of you who care, I am down to the last nine videotapes that I own in terms of turning them into DVDs. I have made and catalogued over 700 DVDs containing: family footage over the past 60 years, movies, documentaries, sports, TV episodes, and assorted historical and news specials from the past 50 years. I expect a call any day now from the Smithsonian Institution asking for the rights to the DVDs once I have “kicked the bucket.” This should prove no problem. I am sure Judy would be more than happy to get them off her hands. The nice thing though is that rather than having dozens of videotapes stored under couches, in closets, under beds and in bookcases, I now have the DVDs stored in nine beautiful cases on one bookshelf.

Now, for those of you worried about the vacuum that would likely exist once I complete this endeavor, have no fear. Next up -- I tackle the children’s videotapes containing movies and TV shows that they have recorded through the years.

It’s Friday, But Sunday’s Coming

I was looking with my ETCA students at the story of Jesus and Lazarus out of John chapter eleven this week. I was struck yet again and at what a powerful story this is. Lazarus is struck ill and his sisters, Martha and Mary, send word to Jesus. Yet Jesus tarries and refuses to come to them for two days.

Finally, he arrives but it is too late-- Lazarus is dead. Everyone who knew Lazarus was experiencing tremendous pain. Even Jesus felt it. When the text says that Jesus "wept”, it does not mean he had a couple of tears flowing down his cheeks. Rather, it represented the sob, the animal-like sound rising from the chest of a person experiencing deep grief.

Jesus, however, wanted to go to the tomb. And even though Mary and Martha were concerned about the smell, Jesus ordered the men to open the tomb. Jesus cried out to Lazarus and Lazarus came forth.

A time of great rejoicing! Lazarus became a celebrity. He had been dead, but he had been brought back to life.

(He was not, however, resurrected. Remember, this was the resuscitation of Lazarus, not the resurrection of Lazarus. Lazarus would die again. I became amused imagining Lazarus, a couple of days after being raised from the dead, sitting around a campfire with his friends still celebrating. Then one of his friends remarks, "Hey, Lazarus, do you dread dying again?" For the first time, Lazarus realizes he's going to have to die again. Talk about the ultimate downer!)

For 2000 years, Christians have been encouraged by this story. That encouragement came at the expense of someone else's pain. When he first received word that Lazarus was sick, Jesus already knew that Lazarus would die and would rise again. He also knew that God would be glorified through this. Mary, Martha, Lazarus, the disciples, and all the rest had no idea what was about to take place. All they knew was their pain.

Could it be God is working today in our lives, through our pain, to give Himself glory and to bless others? And, were we to know that, would that be satisfying to us? Have you and I reached that place where we are willing to experience pain in order to allow God to use it for the sake of the kingdom?

In my life I have observed this correlation. The more one views God's participation in daily life, the more peace one experiences in the pain that life inevitably brings. The more bitterness, anger, or disillusionment that one experiences in the pain that life inevitably brings, the less one views God's participation in daily life.

Let me let you in on a secret. I think God is involved in our lives every day. Even if it is simply letting us go, to walk on our own, like little children, with Him standing behind us, arms open to protect us from catastrophe, like a loving parent. Any pain we experience, he feels. Yet He will not allow those feelings to blackmail Him from working out good for the kingdom.

Can we trust Him in that work?

Have a great weekend!