Friday, June 26, 2009

What do you do when a convicted sex offender comes to your church? Two and a half years ago, a young man, named Matt, visited our church. He came from a Tyler halfway house. He had been arrested for carrying child pornography across state lines on his computer. He served in the federal penitentiary in North Carolina. While he was there, he was converted to Christ. Two and a half years ago, staying in that halfway house, Matt was looking for a church home. He visited us, at Shiloh, enjoyed the way our church treated him. Knowing he needed a church home, he decided he would ask the elders if he could become a member at Shiloh Road.

There were complications. You see, Matt was listed on the Internet as a sexual offender. Matt knew the problems this would pose for a church. That is why he very graciously and unselfishly told the elders, if he created problems in any way, then he did not want to place membership.

The elders asked me to check with other churches, which had similar circumstances and see how they handled it. I did so.

I found the way they handled them was one of two. Some leaders told their church they were going to welcome this sexual offender, only to have families rise up and threaten to leave the church. The leaders would then back down and inform the sexual offender that he was not welcome.

Other leaders would welcome the sexual offender but admonish him to keep his status a secret. Thus, he was a potential time bomb, posing terrible problems in the future for the churches.

Neither one of these solutions were acceptable for Shiloh. We never found a church, who welcomed a sexual offender in a holistic, authentic, truthful, Christ-like way, so we had to prayerfully ask God to lead us and try to find a way.

The elders spent a great deal of time trying to decide what to do. Ultimately, what they decided was this, Shiloh Road needed to offer forgiveness and reconciliation, but also, discipleship and responsibility. We needed to offer a chance for redemption, but also, let Matt know we were going to hold him accountable. Gradually, a new policy took shape.

Meanwhile, we debated how best to process this with the church. We knew it was a high-risk endeavor. I never will forget the night J. B. Berry, one of our shepherds, said to the rest of the elders and to the staff, “We may lose families over this, but it is the right thing to do.”

Never was I more proud of an eldership. Finally, we conceived a strategy for communicating to the rest of our church leadership, and, ultimately, to the church, we were welcoming Matt into our midst.

We decided to do so in an assembly, where the whole focus would be on God, the saving work of Jesus, and our response to Matt. That service took place on Sunday, July 15, 2007.

During the assembly, our elders shared how they formulated their decision, items of the new policy, and relevant parameters concerning Matt’s accountability.

I began my sermon time, by playing a clip from a passage that I had preached on from the book of Luke the year before. The passage was from Luke 14 and the sermon was on the parable of the great banquet, where Jesus talks about the master sending the steward into the highways and byways to bring in people because those who had been invited to the banquet did not want to participate.

I had asked the church who the present day people were from the highways and byways. Likewise, I had told them about hearing a program on the radio from Focus On the Family, where James Dobson interviewed a former sexual offender. The sexual offender had talked about how he had become a Christian but how no church would welcome him, and so he was living his Christian life in isolation and in exile. On that day in 2006, I had asked the church the rhetorical question, “Were this man to come to Shiloh Road, would we accept him?”

After playing the clip, I arose and preached out of the same passage again. I told the church, I believed God had led a man to come to our church so that we might have the chance to live out the gospel. I told the church about Matt. I alluded to the communication made by the elders, to the new policy, to how there would be areas of the building, where Matt would not go. I told the congregation that Matt would have to earn our trust. We would hold him accountable, but we would also forgive him and offer him reconciliation and hospitality.

I concluded my sermon by doing something we always do for new members to Shiloh, albeit typically in a different part of our assembly. Normally, we have new members stand, so the church may know who they are. We usually welcome them with our cultural affirmation, which is applause.

At the end of my sermon, I asked Matt to stand and welcomed him to Shiloh. The audience not only applauded him, but they gave him a standing ovation.

After the service, the line of those waiting patiently to welcome Matt to Shiloh Road extended out into the foyer. Most poignantly, I saw a sister in Christ, who was wheelchair bound, asking her husband to wheel her to the back of the line so she too could welcome Matt into the Shiloh family.

We did not lose one individual over this decision. Still, there are complications. There are areas in the building where Matt cannot go, just like in our society there are places Matt cannot go. We have a loop, a freeway, that circles Tyler. Matt cannot drive on it because of a state law. He has to drive through other streets and neighborhoods. (Don’t get me started on the idiotic nature of some of our state laws.)

We also have to tell new members, for liability sake, about Matt. Actually, this has become a positive. Every couple of weeks, we have a conversation with potential members in a session we call, Tell Me About Shiloh. There, we recount Matt’s story and give them a DVD of the worship service. Typically, the response we receive sounds like this, “I want to be a part of a church that welcomes people in this way.”

Incidentally, the policy our elders constructed has helped us in other areas. A couple of times, we have had other former sexual offenders visit us. Each time, the elders have met with them and explained our policy. The individuals then rejected becoming a part of our church. Perhaps they had ulterior motives and the elders, in their wisdom, have protected the flock.

Late in the spring of 2008, Matt began bringing a young woman named Samantha to our services. They had begun dating. Samantha had known heartache in her life. She entered rehab and Alcoholics Anonymous at age 15. Her life had known brokenness.

We shared the gospel with Samantha and she became a Christian. We baptized her into Christ in June of 2008. Since then, we had opportunity to fellowship with Matt and Sam and study with them in various venues; most recently, Matt and some other guys in their 20s have been studying the Bible with me in my home. Moreover, Matt and Sam, and another couple, have been working through the Song of Solomon with Judy and me on Tuesday nights.

Tomorrow, June 27, 2009, Matt and Sam will be married and I will have the privilege of performing the marriage ceremony. You can fly me to the moon, send me to the Super Bowl, vote me the Heisman Trophy, but I don’t think anything will top this in terms of offering contentment, satisfaction, and happiness.

Initially, when Matt came to us, we were thinking God had brought Matt so that we could bless him. Now we realize, Matt is the one who has blessed us.

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

1. Many years ago, a guy I knew told me of his experiences when he worked for Bob Hope. One of the things that stuck in my mind was the superstition in the entertainment world that entertainers die in threes. I don’t believe in superstition; however, it has been strange how many times I have seen three members of the entertainment world die within a short time of each other. This week, they are Ed McMahon, Farrah Fawcett, and Michael Jackson.

2. Gratitude is a powerful motivator. One advantage that entertainers have is the cultivation of gratitude from their audience. The audience, feeling that it owes a debt, will overlook a lot of strange, odd, or inappropriate behavior. I am not saying this is good or bad, but it is reality. (The same thing goes for politicians and their constituents.) I will be watching with interest over the next few years the world’s response to Michael Jackson.

3. The past couple of weeks I’ve been arising between five and six in the morning to play full-court basketball with my firstborn. This experience is making me feel like a teen-ager again. More specific, it is making me feel like I did when I began two-a-days every summer before football season—incredibly sore in certain muscle groups. The good news is that I do, evidently, have muscles.

4. My family joined my sister and her family for a day at the Canton water park this week. Having gone there the past two summers, I have totally reformulated my views on modest apparel. Lust is no longer the problem for Christian males that it once was. We live in a very unfit world. Most females wearing bikinis are suited for the category that I would be were I to wear a Speedo—crimes against humanity.

5. I’m easing my way back into the pulpit. I preach Sunday morning. Thanks to Henry Holub for preaching this Sunday night.

Have a great weekend!

Friday, June 19, 2009

Let Me Share My Dad.

This September I turn 49. I have now lived at least one third of my life. :) At this time, I, like many men, am taking stock of my life. In doing so, my thoughts naturally turn toward my father.

“Life coach” is a term being thrown around quite a bit today. The concept is built upon an individual who "coaches" another person on how to live his or her life. My dad was a life coach long before the term was used. More than making a good living, more than having fun, I think my dad wanted to be my life coach.

Through the years I have learned how unusual he was. Too many men, I have known, have had poor relationships with their fathers. Some were abandoned by their fathers. Some were separated by their fathers through divorce. Some lived with their fathers but were disconnected in their relationships. So many of these men have had difficulty living mature, adult lives -- a consequence of their relationships with their fathers.

All of the blessings that I enjoy in my life I owe to God, first. After him, my dad would be at the top of the list.

It was 30 years ago this summer I headed out to ACU. I was playing college football at the time. I actually moved out in July to work out a month before two-a-days began.

July, 1979, produced a challenging time in my life. I had dreams of somehow overcoming all obstacles in attaining football greatness. In case you have not been reading the sports pages over the last 30 years, I did not reach my goal. Still, I learned much from God. His chief instrument during those years was my father.

My leaving home placed our relationship in transition. As a teenager, my dad and I spent most Friday nights and Saturdays at our cabin near Sulphur Bluff, Texas. There, in incidental moments, my dad did a lot coaching. With me away at ACU, geography separated us. But dad kept coaching me. He did so in phone calls and mainly, in letters.

I have in my possession a file filled with letters that he wrote during the course of my undergraduate years at ACU. I have photocopied them and given copies to my sister who lives in Seattle. If a fire destroys one set, we will have the other. You carefully preserve that which you highly value.

It is not unusual for me to encounter people who knew my dad and have them tell me how much he meant to them. The latest came from someone I grew up with. Lisa Landers Monday sent me a message through Facebook and told me how much my dad had meant to her. She had worked for him and wrote me that she still thinks about the wisdom he possessed. Whenever someone recounts to me a story like this, it always makes me feel good.

Darvin Edge has blessed a lot of lives, none more than mine. So if you're sitting there as one who did not have such a father, let me share with you mine. I want to share the first page of the first letter I received when I was in college. I say first page because the letter is typewritten, 5 ½ pages long, single-spaced. It is full of advice and wisdom. Before I do, let me share with you a little more of the context.

As I told you earlier, I went to college with dreams of football glory. I prepared hard for two-a-days. I was in spectacular shape. However, the morning of the first practice I was in for a shock. There were thirteen quarterbacks in our camp. Even though at that time ACU was a NAIA school, the level of competition was quite high. Some of the conference football players had gone on to play professional football, including some from ACU.

That first day reality began to sink in, and reality stank. It wasn't long before I began to see that not only was Mark Edge not number one in the coaches’ heart, he might not even be number 18 in the team’s game program. As you might imagine, I became quite discouraged. About this time, a letter arrived from my dad. The letter was dated October 7,1979. As I have mentioned, daddy wrote this on his typewriter. I have edited the punctuation a little to convey to you what he communicated to me:

Dear Mark,

The school of hard knocks sometimes ain’t no fun. I hope I can soften the blow somewhat for you but one thing is for sure, I can't eliminate the school. Life is a series of ups and downs. We are fortunate that one of your first challenges is football, something that is not very serious.

You are going to have problems that cause you concern and worry as long as you live. Look at it this way: the only way you can grow, learn and mature is by these challenges. How you handle these will determine what type of individual you are. It is how you react to them that will determine your character.

If you will see that there will be one after another as long as you live, then you will be better able to see that you will just have to settle down and not get uptight with them because as soon as you dispense with one of them, there will be yet another. So learn to relax and figure out the best way to cope or handle them and do your best.

If it is meant to be that you master whatever it is, it will happen. If not, learn from it and you will be better able to handle the next problem because it will come.

You have to learn to handle anxiety. Do not let it eat on you. You cannot change the outcome one bit by being anxious. Don't get to wanting something so badly that you are willing to get uptight to get it. I do not mean that you can't get excited about it, but I mean "do not get to desiring it so badly that you worry about it.” That is when you get to wanting it too badly. If you believe in Christian providence, then give it a chance to work.

Do not anticipate what you believe is best for you. If you do your part, the outcome will take care of itself. Keep the faith – never doubting that the results will be good for you. Take advantage of this rare opportunity to learn how to cope with pressure in something that is not all that important -- football. If you wait to learn this lesson until you get married and are in a much more serious situation, then it will be much harder on you. I wish I could take away the pains of learning from you but you must go through these by yourself. That is the only way you will learn.

Take advantage of it.

It's funny, some of the same character flaws I had back then I have today. I still am tempted to allow anxiety to eat on me. I still find myself wanting something so badly that it eats away at me.

I still have difficulty practicing the Christian discipline of changing myself by becoming more Christlike -- the only area of life I have been empowered by the Holy Spirit to control -- because I am so distracted by the illusion that I can change others, or even circumstances.

Daddy's words speak yet to me from the grave. If you stayed with me thus far, I hope those words have blessed you as well.

Happy Father’s Day.

Spiritual Formation at ACU

I had a great time at my ACU short course. Rare is the room in a building
that becomes sanctified and holy, but that is the case with the Commons Room in the ACU Bible Building. To explain, let me take you back to a time in my life four years ago.

In June, 2005, I was set to attend a class in my DMin program called Spiritual Formation. I was in a bad way. My life was dis-integrating. My mind, my body, my emotional being, and my spirit were operating on different levels.

I was extremely agitated by my stomach going into this class, so much so that I visited a doctor. The main problem was, I was always feeling extremely full, almost nauseous. Having a great-grandfather, who died of stomach cancer, and a father, who died from stomach cancer, my medical doctor, knowing my family history, excused himself and went out of the examining room.

A few minutes later, he came back and said he had made an appointment for me to get a CAT scan the following morning. A few days later, I visited him for the results. He had a big smile on his face and he told me nothing was wrong with me. I asked him, then, what my problem was; he laughed and said, “Stress.”

“Stress?” I said. “I’m not stressed.”

He laughed again. He said he received that kind of reaction from his patients all the time.

The truth was I was extremely stressed. I was in the DMin program, I was preaching full-time, I had two children, plus two foster children—it was a very difficult time in my life. I had been studying the Bible, as always, but something was missing. Consequently, my life was unraveling.

It was at that short course on spiritual formation that the pieces began coming back together. My life, my being, began to re-integrate. I learned there was a whole venue of spirituality that was biblical, that I had ignored, namely, meditation and contemplation.

All week I was taught about Christian spirituality, and it was modeled for me through strategies and practices that immediately addressed those issues. Ultimately, I began a major reorganization in my life and it made a difference. I have told churches this and I believe it—I was blessed by this class and it has added years to my life. Now, I realize the purpose of the spiritual journey is not to add physical years to a person’s life; however, at my age and with a wife and children, I do appreciate the by-product.

Okay, fast-forward back to June, 2009. Last week, I attended the Spiritual Formation class as an auditor. Fortunately, my spiritual life, indeed my entire life, was nowhere near the mess it was in four years ago. Still, I knew this class offered a time for maturation and fine-tuning.

Jeff Childers and David Wray blessed me again in their teaching of the class. They shared new material and new things they had learned since we had last been together. The other men in the class blessed me as well. In our final session, on Friday morning, each man shared about his spiritual journey. Each man was prayed over in groups of three.

I was the last man to share. As I revealed the details of my journey, David Wray affirmed me. Praying over me last, Jeff Childers expressed the value that he placed on our relationship. He affirmed me with wonderful compliments. He held up my needs and confessions.

I must admit, during that prayer—out of nowhere—tears began to form in my eyes. They rolled down my cheeks. I was so overcome with gratitude and emotion. I knew I had not yet attained that to which God had called. However, I knew I had climbed to a much higher ground than before.

Those moments were a wonderful culmination to a marvelous week. Yes, that room, for me, is holy ground.

Isn’ it funny? A common room, in a common building, can be transformed into holy space.

Time with Friends

The first few nights of my stay in Abilene, I stayed with Steve and Marsha Ridgell. The last couple of nights, I stayed with Tim and Carolina Archer.

Steve and Marsha have been my friends for over thirty years. I have spent many evenings in their home and this relationship has been one that I have treasured throughout the years. I don’t have many relationships that have remained constant like this.

The same can be said about my relationship with Tim Archer, who was my college roommate and, in graduate school, my roommate, yet again. Later, Tim and I were teammates in Argentina. Carolina and my wife, Judy, became close there in Argentina.

Although I am now separated from both families by 300 miles, there is still a bond. The main thing I appreciate about my relationship with Tim and Steve is not dialoguing with them about the things we hold in agreement. Rather, what I really appreciate is the relationship I have with them, as expressed in the areas of disagreement. So often, my thoughts have been sharpened by their disagreements. I think this is the mark of the deepest friendships--when you can disagree, agreeably, and never place the relationship in jeopardy.


Sunday morning I was able to attend Bible class and worship service at the congregation, where I preached for seven years. It was marvelous seeing those wonderful folks; they were so kind and patient and forgiving to me through the years, and I appreciate them for that. The reception they gave me was so marvelous.

The present pulpit minister, Jordan Hubbard, was most gracious and kind with his words. He is doing a tremendous ministry there, along with his wife and family, and I find great satisfaction in saying that. It makes his words that were complimentary, so much more meaningful to me.

At the very end of the service, Sam Nix, one of the elders, was making announcements and he had me stand up and give a report on Judy and the kids. Although he caught me totally off guard and I was somewhat discombobulated, I still appreciated the generous gesture, especially because (and I think Sam knew this would be the case) the folks were so emotional as they processed how my kids have grown. I could feel their emotional tie to my family. I found that feeling most satisfying.

I had lunch with Ken and Mary Slimp, and their daughter, Zannie, along with Tamra Groman, my old secretary. We were able to make a skype hookup with their daughter, Kelly, who is in Ireland, and their son, Guy, who is in Iraq. A great end to a great time in Winters.

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

1. I think Ronald Rolheiser is one of the great writers of the twentieth/twenty first century. His spiritual insights have changed my life. Currently, I am reading THE RESTLESS HEART for devotional guidance to begin my day.

2. I listened yet again to TRUMAN, David McCullough’s biography of our 33rd president on my Abilene trip. A marvelous book.

3. Thanks to the congregation in Rusk, where I spoke last Wednesday night. You ministered to me in your singing, and I have never had a group more ready to receive a message from God’s Word. You even laughed at my jokes. Out loud! When preaching becomes discouraging, I will think of people like you.

4. I think I am going to quit beating my head against the wall about how we in our tradition, do not commune in communion. Rather, I think I am going to focus on our strength—the Lord’s Supper, for us, is a marvelous opportunity for communal contemplation.

5. Welcome Duane and Lissa Melton, and girls! I look forward to being with you over the next two weeks.

Have a great weekend!

Friday, June 12, 2009

Friday, June 12, 2009

A Day in the Life of a Preacher

I have been at ACU all week enjoying a short course that I was auditing. It was awesome and I’ll tell you about it next week.

Now, though, I need to leave for home, so I’m posting something in response to a question a get asked occasionally—what is a typical Sunday like for you? To answer that question, let me share with you a diary I kept on a recent Sunday--May 17, 2009:

5:15 AM—My alarm goes off. I arise, get the paper, eat breakfast, read a portion of the paper, and drink a cup of coffee.

5:45 AM—I put out the dogs, brush my teeth, and get my stuff together to take to the church building.

6:30 AM—I leave for the church building.

6:45 AM—I preach my sermon to an empty auditorium. This is something I started doing in January. I don’t know if anyone notices any difference, but I think it has helped me minister more effectively. Each year I attempt to find ways to improve my preaching. Last year, for example, I began writing a manuscript of my sermons. I do not read them, but I allow them to help formulate my thoughts. When I preach my sermon to an empty auditorium, I imagine the people in the audience. I sometimes identify things that I had thought would work, that will not. I also have thoughts come to me that strike me as better illustrations or explanations. My goal is that when I preach the sermon in the assembly, it is not a recitation of what I have studied. Rather, I desire that it has become so internalized, I can say my words without calculation. They have been burned into my heart.

7:15 AM—I make any changes on my sermon that I wish to note, turn on my computer, check my email, check the news, make all other provisions needed for the morning, and make a pot of coffee, drinking one cup myself.

8:00 AM—I go home to shave and change into my “church clothes.”

8:35 AM—Cecil Taylor, one of our shepherds, always comes by to pray with me.

8:45 AM—I take my allergy medicine and brush my teeth. I realize this is my second time to brush this morning, but nothing is worse than a preacher with funky breath.

8:55 AM—Head over to the auditorium to get miked for the assembly. I always stay after the assemblies and visit with as many people as desire, but I try to avoid contact before the assembly with people. I am so focused that I am concerned about treating people rudely.

9: 00 AM—the church assembly

10:20 AM—I visit with folks who want to talk with me.

10:40 AM—I co-teach a class for college and young singles with Patrick Leech.

11:15 AM—I visit with people from my class and people who have stayed for Bible classes. When the crowd has thinned down and people are headed to their cars, I go to my office.

11:30 AM—I start looking over my stuff for Sunday night’s sermon and organize my office a little.

11:45 AM —I eat lunch with one of our fellowship groups in the church fellowship hall. Each week, one of our seven fellowship groups offers a meal after Bible classes. They do so for fellowship, as well as, to invite our guests to lunch. I think this is a neat way we're able to offer people hospitality.

12:15 PM—I facilitate a conversation that we call Tell Me About Shiloh. At Shiloh Road, we hold a high view of the church. We don't invite people simply to come down during an invitation song and join our church. We want people to understand our mission, our vision, our church culture, and feel that we are a good match for them. We tell folks there are plenty of good churches from which they can get to heaven, and if they find another place is a better fit, they will not hurt our feelings. On the other hand, we tell them we want them with us and we hope they will ultimately choose us. Joining me are typically two of our elders and their wives. Virtually always, our guests leave telling us that they have been blessed by our time together. And most people who attend become part of our church.

1:45 PM—I go home to spend some time with my kids.

3:30 PM —I return to the building to get ready for our 6 PM service. This day is an unusual day, in that we will be hosting a special prayer vigil for foster children, foster families, and other organizations who are engaged in foster care. John Daniel is the visionary behind this effort. Last year, he found out this week in May is National Foster Care Week. Thanks to his leadership, we offer our facilities for a special service. This day we will do it again. We spend a couple of hours putting the final touches on the assembly preparation.

5 PM —John and I welcome Haley Wielgus, who is a reporter on one of our local television affiliates, CBS channel 19. Hayley had called me during the week asking if she and a cameraman could film a portion of our assembly. I help the cameraman find potential places to shoot from while John gives Haley an interview.

5:30 PM —We begin welcoming people for our 6 PM special assembly.

6 PM—Our special service. One of our members, Matt Blake, tells what it's like to be a foster parent. Gary Miller shares with us from the perspective of Christian Homes. Interspersed in their presentations are prayers for families and various organizations engaged in foster care. A group of our children, between the ages of six through middle school, sing a few songs. My role is easy. I simply share a few scriptures and try to put a theological perspective regarding God and children. The assembly is a tremendous success.

7 PM —Some of our members have prepared a marvelous reception for our guests. I get to eat a lot of good food and visit with some neat folks.

8 PM—The evening is winding down. I go home and eat supper with the family and help the little kids get ready for bed.

9:15 PM—I spend some time with Judy and the big girls.

10 PM —Together we watch the broadcast on channel 19. You don't always know about television interviews and stories. This night, though, the story was well edited and I'm grateful for the message Channel 19 broadcasted on the TV airwaves.

10:30 PM-- I bring the dogs into the house and get ready for bed.

10:45 PM— I do a little bedside reading. This is something I have done virtually every night since I was six years old.

10:55 PM-- Lights out.

It’s Friday, But Sunday’s Coming

1Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. 2This is what the ancients were commended for (Heb. 11:1-2).

13All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. 14People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. 15If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. 16Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them (Heb. 11:13-16).

1Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. 2Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith (Heb. 12:1-2).

Sometimes, God calls us to follow him and behave in a way that is pleasing to him, but to no one else. We understand what God is about, we understand what God wants, but we do not necessarily see the impact of that. Others may not see the impact either. God sees it. God appreciates it. But we are not receiving encouragement from anyone else. So we operate by faith. And, the writer of Hebrews says, the ancients were commended for living lives that reflected the certainty of what they did not see.

He gives us some examples:

Noah was not hailed by his town as a great visionary. They thought he was a nut. And so, when no one could see the future, Noah built an ark and saved his family.

According to verses 13 to 16 of Hebrews chapter eleven, people like Abraham, Isaac and Jacob did not get much encouragement. They lived as aliens and strangers. They didn't see much here in this world. By faith they saw something ahead that would be better. They lived for that.

Moses, according to Josephus, was in line to become Pharaoh. But he gave the throne up to follow God and to lead a group of people who did not always give him encouragement. It was tough, yet Moses was faithful.

The scripture says he chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a short time… because he was looking ahead to his reward. By faith he left Egypt and he persevered because he saw Him who is invisible.

Finally, in Hebrews Chapter twelve, the author tells us this: we do have some who are watching. We do have some who are encouraging us. It is the great cloud of witnesses. While there is certainly symbolism present, I also believe that the witnesses are real. I do believe Moses is watching and encouraging us, and Isaac, and Jacob, and Abraham.

So, be of good cheer. God and spiritual beings see your good work, even if no one else does.

Let me tell you about someone who could not see his audience. Lyman was born in upstate New York in 1856.[1] He was one of the many wandering Americans of his generation. The late 1880s found him in Aberdeen, South Dakota, first opening a department store and then working on a newspaper. A few years later, he popped up in Chicago; he eventually settled in California.
Along the way, Lyman failed in the axle grease business, managed an opera house and a baseball team. He was a traveling salesman and a buyer for a department store, before becoming the editor of The Store Window for the National Association of Window Trimmers.

In his younger days, Lyman had hoped to write a great novel that would win him fame. However, nearing forty, he surrendered his dreams for greatness. He pursued other tasks that seemed to lead him in the opposite direction. He spent more time with his children. For, as he wrote his sister, “... aside from my evident inability to do anything [great], I have learned to regard fame as a will-o'-the-wisp, which, when caught, is not worth the possession; but to please a child is a sweet and lovely thing that warms one's heart and brings its own reward."

Lyman took to inventing stories for his children, which they enjoyed immensely. So much so, they began to invite their friends who likewise reveled in Lyman’s tales. With the children’s encouragement, Lyman decided to put his stories in a book so that perhaps other children might enjoy them.

The title came to him in an inspired moment in his own living room during one of his sessions with the kids. He had been telling them about a special place—a magical land. The children kept pressing him for the name, “What is the land called?”

Unsure, Lyman’s eyes scanned the room for ideas. Finally, they rested on his file cabinets. One bore the letters A-N, the other, O-Z. “Oz,” he said. “The name of the land is Oz.” And so it was, in 1900, Lyman published his book for children titling it, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

Where would the world be without the Wizard of Oz? That book has blessed our planet for over 100 years. Millions of children and adults have enjoyed Lyman Frank Baum's stories through the avenues of books, movies, plays, and musicals. In moments of service to children, L. Frank Baum was laying the groundwork for blessings unseen. Even though Baum enjoyed success in his lifetime, he died not knowing the benefits that future generations would receive from his efforts.

Oftentimes, a person feels unsuccessful because he or she did not meet predetermined expectations for success. However, those who receive the fruits of the labor view this individual with respect, awe, gratitude and even affection.

Christians profit from a reality that no one else enjoys. Christians have the Word of God to tell them what pleases God. And, because of Hebrews 11-12, Christians can know they have an audience who appreciates their efforts, even if no other human beings do.

Play to your unseen audience; they see you. To do so is true faith, and you will be blessed for it. And who knows what future unseen audience in this world will someday be blessed as well?

[1] This “rest of the story” is taken from notes I scribbled from an entry in Civilization –The Library of Congress Magazine, Feb/March 2000. I copied this down in my dentist office that year and have, unfortunately, lost all other data. It is synthesized with a story found in my children’s Childcraft.

Have a great weekend!

Friday, June 5, 2009

A phrase never good to utter—
“I would have made that catch thirty years ago.”

Some of our guys who are in their 20s have started a church softball team. They invited/allowed me to play on the team. Our first game is not until June 15; however, we have already had a couple of practices.

I must confess, I began this endeavor with some trepidation. I have not played softball since 1998. So, I did not know what to expect. Nonetheless, it has not been so bad trying to get the hang of it again. I have been pleasantly surprised.

Still, I have noticed a few things that have changed. Last Sunday, we were taking batting practice and the defenders out in the field would take whatever position they wanted. I moved around quite a bit, including spending some time in the outfield. I've always enjoyed the outfield.
It was a hot Sunday afternoon and somebody sent a screeching line drive over my head. I gave it a halfhearted effort and let it go.

Then I had a flashback. My mind traveled back to the summer of 1979. I had just graduated from high school. Some of the guys from church and I went out to the softball field and played softball. And, I can remember the joy I felt as I tried to go after every ball in the field, the more impossible to catch, the better. Let me tell you, I made some GREAT catches that day.

I no longer have that motivation. Thus, as I let the ball go over my head, with minimum effort to catch it, I uttered the remark, "I would've made that catch 30 years ago." One our twenty-somethings replied, "The woman who gave birth to me was 10 years old 30 years ago." Smart Aleck! I won't be surprised if I show up to our first ballgame and find a rocking chair with my name on it.

You Might Sing That

Let it never be said that we don't have worship services on Sundays that are not inspirational. I overheard my youngest daughter singing last Sunday afternoon one of the songs that she heard during the public assembly. She sang this refrain, "I exhaust thee.” I think she meant to sing, "I exalt thee." However, I think it is possible that what she was singing would at times be descriptive.


I got to see Frost Nixon at last. While I cannot recommend the movie since it is rated R for occasional, really bad, words (which were words these men involved definitely spoke in real life), I can say I’ve found it very interesting. It was definitely an embellishment as these types of movies typically are. Anytime you compress into two hours an ongoing drama, you are bound to have a synthesis not totally reflective of the truth. Moreover, you will often find composite characters. Still, I found this movie much better than many.

The worst I have ever seen, when it comes to historical accuracy, is the movie Inherit the Wind—all three versions. Inherit the Wind is a thinly disguised retelling of the story of the Scopes Monkey Trial, which took place in Dayton, Tennessee in 1925. The screenwriters of Frost /Nixon are like biblical writers full of the Holy Spirit compared to those who wrote Inherit the Wind. (Incidentally, Summer for the Gods by Edward Larson is the best resource I have ever found on the Scopes Monkey Trial. It won the Pulitzer Prize for History in 1998.)

As for Frost/Nixon, I found David Frost’s own account of this—I Gave Them a Sword—to even be interesting. While the movie seems more in line with Frost’s version of the story, as Hollywood goes, I thought the movie was pretty even-handed in its telling.

Preaching in the 21st Century

When I am preaching, the current of church culture drags me along the channel of only one of our five senses. Guess which one it is? The sense of hearing. There is a problem with this, however. It is an open secret not everybody learns best by hearing. Some people are visual learners (sense of sight), while others are primarily experiential learners (any or all of the five senses.) As we discussed last week, in Scripture, God demonstrated that He knew this fact better than any human.

This week, I want to focus on a different tact. I want to demonstrate how God demonstrates his understanding of learning styles just in the way he encouraged His biblical writers to write scripture. A quick glance of Scripture reveals a remarkable variety of literature styles.

Take the book of Exodus. You start out with a story in chapter one, or what some call narrative. In chapter six, you have factual information with the census. For us, that may seem boring; however, to the Jew, it was an important source of data. The writer in chapter 15 shares with us a song. In chapter 20 and following, you have laws and legal issues, which is a distinct style of writing. Now, I have just shared four styles of literature with you, and that’s just from the book of Exodus.

Consider the book of Psalms. You find there beautiful and challenging poetry. Look at the book of Proverbs. There you have, well, proverbs. Move over to Jeremiah. You have prophetic preaching, you have oracles, and you have narrative.

What about the New Testament? First, you’ve got the Gospels. Even within them, you will find portions of poetry, riddles and parables. You have letters such as those of the Apostle Paul. Maybe the most famous style of biblical writing is called apocalyptic.

In both the Old Testament and new, you will find a genre of literature that emphasis symbols. This style is found in portions of books such as Ezekiel, Daniel, the gospels, and Acts. It is especially found in a book of the New Testament. As a matter of fact, the Spanish name for this book is a derivative of the word “apocalyptic.” The book is called—Revelation.

Note the diversity of literature styles. Why did God inspire these? Because he knows that humanity is diverse. I love narrative. As a book, Psalms is not nearly so appealing to me. Others love the Psalms. We’re different!

I have been sensing for years that we should not appeal to only one learning style in our preaching. Moreover, I shared with you one who shares in my views, Rick Blackwood, who wrote the book, THE POWER OF MULTI-SENSORY PREACHING AND TEACHING. One point he emphasizes in his book is multisensory preaching and teaching is our best hope to cultivate a love for scripture in the younger generations. I completely agree. The key to preaching in the twenty-first century is not to jettison scripture. Rather, we must present God’s Word in a way that is best understood by more people. People are not rejecting Scripture; people are rejecting lectures.

For what it is worth, a few weeks ago, I wrote a memo to myself on Blackwood’s book. I have copied and pasted it here in its entirety:

Memo to Self on:

1. Book has a high view of the Word of God.

2. We cannot escape the fact that a major source of our evangelism is the assembly.

3. God made us with five senses.

4. The “lecture” style of preaching as typical is recent: only the past 400 years. came with the Protestant Reformation and the printing press.

5. God consistently moved his men to address the different learning styles of the people.

6. Goal of preaching in the congregation is to equip Christians to mature in Jesus, not to preach the “perfect” sermon.

Boredom Alley

I cannot help but wonder what role quantum mechanics has played in postmodernism. Here is one reason why. Diarmuid O’Murchu, in his book Quantum Theology, writes about “Schrödinger's Cat.” I must confess to you, I had not even heard of it until recently when Patrick Leech sent me a reference to it. I have since seen several mentions of it in various writings.

Here is the story. Erwin Schrödinger took a cat into his laboratory. He built a box that was opaque. He installed a mechanism that was structured in such a way it had a 50-50 chance of releasing poisonous gas. He then placed a live cat inside the box and closed the door. Hence, the cat had a 50-50 chance of surviving.

After closing the box’s door, Schrödinger activated his device. Something occurred, and he did not know what it was. Either the cat had breathed the poisonous gas and died, or the poisonous gas had not been activated and the cat was still alive. However, since the box was opaque, Schrödinger did not know whether or not the cat was alive or dead.

Here is where things changed. According to classical science, Schrödinger would have opened the box and noted the results. However, Schrödinger leaves the door closed. Now, he wonders whether or not the cat is dead. In other words, there is no outcome until the measurement is made.

According to a number of quantum theorists, this experiment demonstrated one’s observation determined outcome. That is to say, whether the experiment caused the cat to be alive or dead was dependent upon one's observation. (This was called the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum theory).

You are probably thinking, if I have not already lost you, “The deed is done! Open the box and see what happened!” I would agree. And, in all fairness, I need to state that many scientists did not find Schrödinger’s experiment beneficial. Stephen Hawking famously said, “Every time I hear about Schrödinger’s cat, I want to reach for my gun." Moreover, even some scientists who believe in quantum mechanics do not find Schrödinger’s experiment helpful. However, a number of scientists did and still do.

I side with those scientists who did not consider the experiment helpful. While I reserve the right to grow, my personal opinion is, this was another important event that paved the way to the postmodern view that reality is in the eye of the beholder. “If I believe it, it is true.”

“Schrödinger’s cat” further inserted faith and/or philosophy into a scientific discipline (physics); moreover, it moved this discipline further away from its regimented adherence to recording data. Turn on the History Channel today and you will hear what you will likely consider to be outlandish claims by quantum physicists--claims such as the existence of alternative universes and alternative realities. “Schrödinger’s cat” assisted in creating the environment that made this view of reality possible.

On to ACU

This Saturday, I leave for Abilene. Next week I am auditing a short course in the DMiN program at ACU. The course is called Spiritual Formation. I took it four years ago and it absolutely changed my life. I thought it was time for a tune-up, so I am experiencing it again and looking forward to it very much.

Sunday morning, I'm hoping to visit my old haunts in Winters, Texas, especially the congregation where I formerly preached. I love those people there and have the deepest appreciation for their ministry to that community.

However, it is always hard to leave my family. It is something I don't enjoy. I prefer my leaving though, to my family leaving me to travel. At least when I travel, I am so much out of my element, the concentration required to meet the demands of travel succeed in distracting me somewhat from the pain of being away from my family. If I am home alone, I am in my element. All cues point toward routine, but with my family away, the routine is destroyed.

I return Friday week. It will be good to see my family again. Shortly thereafter, I have something else to look forward to--my sister and her family will visit us from Washington state.

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

1. Haleigh, Abby and I saw Night at the Museum II last Friday night. Not as good as the first, but not bad.

2. I’ve got to watch this TV program, Mythbusters, that I keep hearing about.

3. Saw Vertigo this week with Judy and the two oldest. Third time Judy and I have seen it. Loved it every time. The girls enjoyed it too. It is funny how it was overlooked for so many years and now considered one of the greatest movies of all time.

4. Sorry to see that David Carradine hung himself this week. I still think of him in that old TV series Kung Fu. That was part of my inspiration to study martial arts in Argentina. No, I am not kidding, I really did.

5. It was neat to have H. L. Shirey kick off our Wednesday night speaking series here at Shiloh this week. H. L. baptized me and was the first person to work with me on preaching and being a leader in the congregation. He is now ministering in R.A.A.W.—Reclaiming Addicted and Abused Women. He is has asked me to serve on his board and I am honored to comply. H. L. did a great job in his “sermon.” He had his audience spellbound.

Have a great weekend!