Friday, July 24, 2009

I remember when I was in grade school sitting in the classroom of teachers such as Mrs. Thomasine Talbert, and going through a little catalog and ordering books. You would send off your order, and then you would wait. You never knew when the books would arrive. And one day, the books would come to your classroom.

You would receive a box on your desk, you would open it up, and inside you would find the books that you ordered. For me, the feelings I had were like those on Christmas day. I can remember thinking that I could not wait to read all the books. I still have some of those books by the way. is having their summer sale. You can find the finest books in any category, including hardcovered books and books on CD, for ridiculously low prices. Once or twice a year, I will cull through the thousands of titles and pick out a few.

Last week I e-mailed my order. Tuesday they arrived. I stayed up until one in the morning Tuesday night opening up my box and going through it. I received a couple of books on baseball, a biography focusing on Lincoln the writer, a book on spirituality and what we can find in a life of Sabbath, a couple of books on science, a couple of books on the Bible, and Alan Shepard's biography called LIGHT THIS CANDLE.

I would pick up one book and read a little bit, then I would thumb through another. My excitement surged as I thought about reading all of them. Ah, the simple pleasures of life. It was one o'clock in the morning. Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse. For me, it was like Christmas.

When Fooling Around is Good for Marriage

Did you know playing pranks on your spouse can be good for your marriage? I was reading this week from THE RESTLESS HEART: FINDING OUR SPIRITUAL HOME IN TIMES OF LONELINESS by Ronald Rolheiser, and he was talking about the role of playfulness in relationships.

To refresh your memory, Rolheiser, in his book is addressing the concept of how loneliness points toward our need for relationship with God and with each other. He addresses the alleviation of loneliness in a very holistic way. Parts of his practical suggestions include maintaining a spirit of playfulness in our closest relationships -- especially in our marriages.

Reflecting upon that, I thought about how often I have seen couples divorce and, upon further review, I noticed there was no sense of playfulness or humor in their relationship in the weeks, months, or years leading up to their divorce.

One of the things I appreciate most about my marriage is the spirit of fun and playfulness that we maintain. Judy has a wonderful sense of humor. She plays occasional practical jokes on me that are rather funny. I, on the other hand, treat her with the utmost care and respect.

I never thought I would do this...

Gushing over Florida’s Tim Tebow is sort of like enthusiastically plugging the work of a politician who is on the opposite side of the political spectrum. It is like enthusiastically endorsing the work of an atheist. While the guy stands against everything you believe, you cannot help but like the guy.

Tim Tebow, as quarterback of the University of Florida Gators, has helped lead his team to the national championship two out of the last three years. Tim Tebow is on the cover of this week’s SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, and he is the subject of an article by Austin Murphy. This article offers the most favorable depiction of Christianity I have ever read in the secular press. Murphy follows Tebow into a prison where Tebow addresses the inmates. He also interviews various people whose lives have been positively impacted by Tebow, including his head coach, Urban Meyer.

(While vacationing with his family on various cruises, Meyer reflected on Tebow spending vacation time in the Philippines ministering to children. Meyer was so convicted, he took his family to the Dominican Republic for a mission trip this summer. He reported that he and his family absolutely loved the experience.)

The article is an ode to life. Murphy takes his readers back to the time Tim Tebow's mother was pregnant with him. Doctors advised the Tebows to abort the child because of complications threatening the life of the mother. The parents refused, and Tim Tebow's dad prayed to God that God would bless him with a son who would preach. Tim's father jokes now, "Instead, he gave me a quarterback." Actually, Murphy writes, the Lord gave Mr. Tebow both.

I don't agree with all of the religious opinions of the Tebows, but I don't agree with all of the religious opinions of my wife, either. My differing religious opinions, and my differing rooting interests in football will not prevent me from rejoicing in a story that celebrates Christianity. I love the words of Murphy, "Having covered Tim for three years, I would say he's the most effective ambassador -- warrior for his faith I’ve come across in 25 years at SI."


This week, I finished reading Randy Harris’ new book GOD WORK CONFESSIONS OF A STANDUP THEOLOGIAN. I highly recommend this book. Randy uses his typical humor and stories to illustrate some heavy theological concepts. Among other issues, Randy tackles the sovereignty of God, God's will, grace, the Holy Spirit, as well as cultural issues such as postmodernism in Christianity.

GOD WORK makes a strong case for the teaching of doctrine in churches. Harris states that, "doctrine is the rudder that steers the ship. Doctrine matters. And the kind of doctrine we accept either makes us spiritually healthy or unhealthy... we get healthier or unhealthier as a result of the things we believe."

One example of how Randy deals with major doctrinal questions is his treatment of the issues of the sovereignty of God and the will of God. Randy positions himself between the Calvinist and the Pelagian. He finesses his views with real skill comparing dealing with the will of God to playing in a card game with God as your partner. I know this sounds weird but trust me, it makes sense in the book.

I don't just encourage you to buy the book. I encourage you to read the book.

What Do you Want?

Sometimes when I am preaching, a thought will come into my mind that makes so much sense, it surprises even me. I don't know if it is the Holy Spirit at work or I'm having a good day. Either way, I will take it.

The latest example of this phenomenon occurred last Sunday night. I'd been preaching out of Jeremiah, which is not exactly the book you want to pick to win friends and influence people. A lot of times, Jeremiah can be downright depressing. I have had nice people come up to me and tell me how much they are getting out of this series. However, I am sure there are many more out there who are anxious for us to finish this.

Nevertheless, God is working on me at least through the book of Jeremiah. The other night, I was playing off a concept that Eugene Peterson writes about. Peterson says there are two groups of people to come to church. In one group, people are looking to God and to the church to find ways to fulfill themselves and make themselves happy. The other group is looking to God and the church to find ways to make God happy. The first group is seeking what they want. The second group is seeking what God wants.

Anyway, it was within this context that the question popped into my mind: "Is your greatest purpose in life this: 'I want to see that God gets what He wants.' If your priority is 'I want to see that God gets what He wants,' you can change the world."

In the sermon we went on to draw from the lessons of Jeremiah. Jeremiah was going against the cultural current, against the current of power, against the current of his local church, even against the current of God's people, because his greatest priority was pursuing what God wanted. He never saw the fruits of his labor, but God used him to pave the way for the Messiah. Jeremiah changed the world.

I think that one was the Holy Spirit, folks. Considering where we live, considering our day and age, we are swimming evermore against the current. However, if the essence of our purpose in life become's the pursuit of God's agenda, the fulfillment of God's desires, I really believe God will not waste that pursuit. Although, we may never see it, that pursuit in our culture context will be so pristine, God can use it to change the world.

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

1. I loved the Apollo 11 retrospectives this week. A lot of people don't know this, but Michael Murley, Steve and Mark Cook, and I flew to Mars and back in 1971 and 1972. Even more amazing, our rocket ship was my tree house.

2. By now you likely have heard about the surreptitious videotaping of ESPN reporter Erin Andrews in her hotel room and then releasing the videotape to the world on the Internet. With this event we have seen Man's perversion and inhumanity reach new depths. I pray the perpetrator is found. I realize there is no way for him (I am assuming) to face the consequences that he deserves; I do hope that he faces sufficient consequences to ward off copycat actions.

3. Thanks to the thousands who were going to attend our Shiloh men’s team softball game Tuesday night. Sorry about the rain out. Next week we are off; we play again in two weeks. The world awaits, breathlessly.

4. Congratulations to Mrs. Judy Edge. She has been formally offered and she has formally accepted a job teaching Reading and English at Moore Middle School.

5. One more week and our college prep is over; our eldest child returns home to begin her junior year in high school after being away for virtually the entire month of July. I think we parents have passed this first test. Someone said in the college Bible class I teach that if letting our first child go to college is difficult, wait until we say goodbye to our youngest. That is, I was warned, supposed to be the hardest child to release. I told him, "I am not worried. By the time Timothy is old enough for college, I’ll be dead of old age."

Have a great weekend!

Friday, July 17, 2009

Watching the MLB All-Star Game this week, my mind went back twenty years to the 1989 game. That night, Sam and Kathy Harrell had invited us to their home for supper and to watch the game. Judy and I had just moved to Brownwood, where Sam was an assistant football coach and Kathy was busy at home raising three boys, Zac, Graham, and Clark. Judy and I were in Brownwood for a few months because the Austin Avenue church was our sponsoring church in our mission to Argentina. Sam and Kathy were active members there.

We hit it off well with the Harrells. Sam and I began playing tennis most weekdays at dawn, which was good exercise and competition.

We left for Argentina and sometime while we were gone, Sam got a head coaching job and began enjoying success as a head football coach. Through the years I have had occasional contact with Sam. One time, I ran into him at the ACU Lectureship. He was there to interview candidates to be a youth intern at his church. That impressed me. You don’t often see head football coaches, who are that involved in their congregation. Sam was so involved that I called him one time to get his opinion on a young man at my congregation in Winters, whom we were looking to hire as a youth minister.

Judy and I have enjoyed watching Sam’s professional success. His Ennis teams won state championships in football. His sons have done well. If you are a Tech fan, you know Graham Harrell as the greatest quarterback in that school’s history. If you are a UT fan, you know Graham Harrell as something else. Last year, I read in the New York Times an interview their writer had conducted with Sam. I was pleased to see the admiration this writer clearly had for Sam.

Four years ago, Sam was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Not wanting to worry their sons, Sam and Kathy kept the diagnosis to themselves. Recently, they decided the disease had progressed to the point that they should tell their family, the school board, and the other coaches. You may have heard about this on the news. Our local Tyler paper ran an AP version of the story last Sunday.

Sam is handling this a lot better than I would. He is not looking for sympathy; he is certainly looking for a cure. I would appreciate it if you would pray for Sam—and for a cure.

Emotional Intelligence

A few weeks ago, I finished reading the book EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE by Daniel Goleman. In it, he tells a remarkable story that illustrates the role that emotional control can play in defusing a potentially catastrophic situation.

Back in the 1950s, Terri Dobson was one of the first Americans to study aikido in Japan. One day he was riding on a Tokyo commuter train, when a worker of the Japanese blue-collar class boarded. This worker was huge, belligerent, and very drunk.

Staggering around, he began to terrorize the passengers. He screamed obscenities; he saw a mother holding a baby and took a swing at her. She careened into the laps of an elderly couple. At this point, everyone stampeded to the other end of the car.

That did not stop the drunk. He took a swing at a pole in the middle of the car. Not satisfied, he tried to tear the poll out of its socket.

Now, here was Terry Dobson watching all of this. He was working out each day for eight hours in aikido, so he was in peak condition physically. However, his training emphasized that aikido is about reconciliation. So while he felt compelled to intervene, in order to protect the people on the subway, he also felt concerned that to do so would violate the ethics of aikido.

Terry chose to stand and demonstrate a deliberate presence. At this, the drunk screamed, "A ha! A foreigner! You need a lesson in Japanese manners!" With that, the drunk gathered himself, ready to attack Terry.

Suddenly, there was a loud shout of joy, totally incongruous with the context. "Hey!"

It was an enthusiastic shout, as if someone had found an old friend. The shocked drunk turned around and saw a tiny Japanese man sitting in his seat in a kimono. The old man was probably in his 70s. He offered a bright smile and beckoned to the man to come over with a wave.

The drunk cursed and shouted, "Why should I talk with you?"

Unperturbed, the old man asked, “What have you been drinking?"

"I have been drinking sake, and it's none of your business," the drunk answered.

"Oh, that's wonderful, absolutely wonderful," the old man replied in a warm tone. "I love sake, too. Every night, me and my wife—she's 76, you know— we warm up a little bottle of sake, take it out into the garden, and we sit on an old wooden bench..." Then the old man started talking about the persimmon tree in his backyard, about his beautiful garden, and about how much he enjoyed his backyard and the sake during the evening.

Listening, the drunk’s face began to soften just a little. His fists unclenched. "Yeah, I love persimmons, too…," he said, with his voice trailing off.

"Yes, and I'm sure you have a wonderful wife as well," the old man stated enthusiastically.

The laborer sobbed, "No, my wife died....” Then he began sharing with the old man about how he has lost his wife, his job, and how he was now humiliated.

The old man tenderly invited the drunk to sit down beside him and tell him all about it. The drunk did, lying down on the seat and putting his head in the man's lap.

Goleman writes that this was an example of sheer emotional brilliance. A terrible, and a potentially catastrophic, situation was defused. A wise man calmly governed his emotions. Consequently, he governed what happened in his surroundings.

I obviously do not know that old man. I wish I did. For he modeled for me how we, as Christians, should live in a chaotic world. We Christians, who have the Holy Spirit living within us, should be under emotional control in all situations.

We have the peace of God; therefore, no circumstance should overwhelm us. What an opportunity we have to bless the world, bringing peace to every situation.

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

1. I actually finished the aforementioned EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE a few weeks ago. This is not a Christian book. Goleman writes from the perspective of social science. Still, the book is a helpful read. Although the copy I read was written in 1995, it is still highly relevant. (There is a tenth anniversary edition available now.)

From my perspective, emotions are involved in virtually every human interaction. It is the most underrated reality of human behavior. It is myth to think of ourselves as primarily rational creatures. As a matter of fact, the more rational a person claims to be, the more I have found him or her driven by a deep reservoir of emotion.

Goleman analytically and anecdotally explains his understanding of our emotional being. He also offers strategies for sound emotional development. Read carefully, this is not scriptural or religious. However, if you invest the time, I think you will find a profitable return.

2. Per Brenda Craig’s request, the mighty Shiloh Road 20s (with a few exceptions) softball team, winner of last Monday night’s doubleheader, will next play this coming TUESDAY night, at 9:15, at Lindsey Park # 3.

3. Thanks to the good folks at Van for wonderful time Wednesday night. The last time I spoke there was 1995, but I remember it well. Thank you, Mike Gravois, for setting this up.

4. We have VBS coming up the week after next. If all goes well, John Hill, from Greenville, Texas, will help me kick it off on Sunday morning, July 26. John is an aspiring potter. He is bringing his equipment to help me illustrate Jeremiah 18. When God tells Jeremiah to go to the potter, he is going to tell us to go as well.

5. I saw where Sonia Sotomayor stated that PERRY MASON served as a childhood inspiration for her. I don’t desire for any of my kids to serve on the Supreme Court; however, this might be an old series that my older kids and I will have to check out. Might be fun to watch.
Have a great weekend!

Thursday, July 9, 2009

“Our nature is such that we have within ourselves an unquenchable thirst for God." These are words from Ronald Rolheiser in his book, THE RESTLESS HEART. This book has been a great read for me in my devotional time. Scripture, especially the Psalms, often talk about our thirst for God. Unfortunately, I think we are often like a Rolls-Royce or Porsche with gas tanks filled with sand. Our engines are thirsty for fuel, but we have filled them with destructive things. Consequently, rather than running smoothly, we are breaking down.

Rolheiser writes that popular music typically reflects the soul of the audience. In my day, we often heard loud guitars and booming drums reflecting the confusion, torment, pain, and loneliness of our generation. Rob Bell says that the rap music today is the ghetto form of lament, akin to the laments of Lamentations or the Psalms.

We yearn for a deep, close relationship with God, and with others. We yearn for union with God, and with others. And, no matter how much of that we experience in this life, we intuitively sense there is still something out there that is deeper-- and we may never fully experienced it in this lifetime.

A hundred years ago, people typically had to work from before daylight until after dark, if they were lucky, six days a week. And this, was simply to survive. They had less time and energy to spare to pursue fulfillment. The curse of the 40 hour work week is the luxury of time it offers for reflection upon what is lacking.

Society has never been more fragmented. People today long for privacy; upon attainment, their loneliness is accentuated.

Our culture has encouraged people to assuage the pain of loneliness through sexual encounters. Unfortunately, this typically strips away their humanity. Instead of removing the loneliness, it leads people farther into it.

Ultimately, what I hear Rolheiser say is while loneliness will never be eliminated in this world, its power can be harnessed. Like a powerful horse that can destroy its rider, the dangerous energy of loneliness can be channeled into a healthy process. Loneliness can lead us to God and, as a byproduct, help us find contentment and wholeness. Loneliness can fine-tune us to be properly sensitive to the needs of others.

In Christ, the best we will find in this world is still less than what we will find in the world to come. However, a life in Christ will find meaning, and in Christ, each moment will matter.

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

1. I’m normally not a big reader of fiction, but a friend loaned me the book, IF I NEVER GET BACK by Darryl Brock. Written twenty years ago, it tells the story of a divorced father and newspaperman, who is transported back in time to the year 1869.

Events occur in such a way that he is invited to join the famous Cincinnati Red Stockings baseball team on their nationwide tour. The Stockings were an actual team who went undefeated that year and became a national sensation.

Brock weaves historical figures from that team, as well as others such as Samuel Clemens (whom we know as Mark Twain) in a story that, at times, is profane or graphic. (Don’t loan this out to a junior high kid.) Brock was a teacher of history and English when he wrote this novel. If you like imaginative works, or if you like fiction with historical detail, you will enjoy this book.

I, like many, enjoy fiction that addresses time travel. I’m sure there are lots of reasons why. I was reminded of one in reading this novel. We yearn to relate to all human beings, not just those who live in our present. We humans are bound by time; we yearn to dwell in timelessness.

2. I am a sucker for good baseball books. Every summer, I pull out my copy of SANDY KOUFAX A LEFTY’S LEGACY, by Jane Leavy, and listen to it again. I bought an unabridged copy on audio cassette four years ago for something like a couple of bucks. This is one of the great baseball biographies. It is short, yet offers a fascinating portrayal of Sandy Koufax and what it meant to be a Jewish icon in 20th-century America. She includes plenty of the cultural details of the times that makes her work even more interesting. A great read -- this has become a yearly summer ritual.

3. Okay, I admit it. I'm starting to get excited about the new Harry Potter movie, HARRY POTTER AND THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE, coming out on July 15.

4. I found on Amazon six Jimmy Stewart movies on DVD for $24. One of them was one of my favorites from childhood—“The FBI Story.” I watched it with Judy and Abby this week for the third time. I still remember the first time -- the night school let out when I was in second grade. Steve Bird and I stayed up late and watched it on WFAA channel 8 late movies. Great every time I see it.

5. Remember the days when you did not know the number one song of the week in the U. S. until Casey Kasem told you on AMERICAN TOP FORTY? This weekend, Casey Kasem retires. The AMERICAN TOP FORTY era ended long ago, but I will miss the man who represented that era.

Have a great weekend!

Friday, July 3, 2009

Child Musings

There is little sand left in the hourglass that symbolizes our oldest child’s time at home. This month, we experience a dress rehearsal of life when she departs for college. Haleigh left today (Friday) for Wilderness Trek; she'll return for a ACU Volleyball Camp in Abilene the second week in July, followed by a two-week session at Camp Deer Run. This fall, Haleigh begins her junior year of high school. It won’t be long.

For those of you who are friends on Facebook with my middle daughter, Abby, yes, I did see the list she posted for the Top 10 Things she wants to do before she dies. The good news was the number one thing she listed was become a Christian. The bad news was the number two item she listed: get a tattoo. On the bright side, I guess number two could have been much worse. However, I must confess both to fit her to a tee.

My son Timothy has given me a new line to use on my wife. One night this week, I was lying down in bed with Timothy and Annie watching a ballgame. Judy had been at the store and, returning home, she came back to tell the children “Goodnight.” Upon her entrance, Timothy squealed, “My favorite woman!” Sorry son, I'm going to co-opt that line. I'm also going to play hardball. Behind your back, I'm going to remind Judy, "A son is a son until he takes a wife."

June—A Refreshing Month
In some ways, June assumed the personality of a sabbatical. I spent a week auditing a spiritual formation short course. Shortly thereafter, Mr. and Mrs. Duane Melton and children arrived for a two-week stay. I preached a couple of Sundays and worked several days in office, but a day off here and a vacation day there, plus a couple of Sundays off, and I entered July rested.

Most of my life I have enjoyed summer. The exceptions were my years in real estate and roofing. Both of those professions are marked with long, hot days in the summer. You sweat a lot in both as well. In real estate, it is because of spending so much time outside in a suit. In roofing, you don't dress as nicely, but the temperature can get up to 120° on a roof.

Typically, though, I have found summer to be a time for recharging batteries. Everyone moves slower in the summer. School is out, so that means I'm not teaching. I have taught Bible classes for either college freshman or high school seniors for almost the past 10 years. I enjoy it immensely, but I never take the allotted two days off per week during the fall and spring. I need a full day for my teaching duties, which means six days of work and one day of Sabbath during the school year. I guess this is my salute to the 10 Commandments.

As I mentioned, my sister and her family visited for a couple of weeks. They stayed one week with my mom and one week with my family. I always enjoy being with them. We have a lot of fun activities and also some significant downtime. I am fortunate to enjoy the company of all of my brothers in law. I have heard horror stories about those not as fortunate, and I shudder to think about what their lives must be like when they spend time with those with whom they are not close. Lissa’s husband, Duane, is very easy-going, fun, and has an optimistic, can-do spirit. We like the same types of movies and saw some good ones over the past couple of weeks.

The cousins got along well with our children. Even though Haleigh is almost 16, she still enjoys spending time with her cousins, the oldest of whom is 11. When she was the youngest, she experienced the same type of love and attention from her older cousins. It is neat to see this kindness experienced and then passed on.

Living so far away, my sister has not seen certain members of our extended family for years. Our cousin, Monty Edge, and his new bride Catherine, visited us over the weekend along with our aunt, Wanda Edge, our cousin, Teresa, and her husband, Gary. They had not seen Lissa in almost 20 years. Catherine had never met Lissa. As you might imagine, we had a wonderful time visiting with them, telling stories, reliving old memories, and getting to know Catherine and hearing stories of her experiences growing up in the state of New York.

We have been saving money the past couple of years to fly to Seattle during the Christmas holiday break and visit Lissa’s family there. If anybody sees a big-ticket opportunity, by all means e-mail us.
Five things I think I think (a tip of the hat to Peter King for this idea)

1. I finished two books recently that I would recommend. First, Grover Cleveland, written by Henry F. Graff. This is part of The American Presidents Series initially edited by the late Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. If you desire to read about the U. S. presidents but do not have time to read the longer biographies, this series provides a helpful alternative. They are shorter but are still well written.
Cleveland was an interesting president for several reasons. He has been the only president to serve two terms, but not consecutively. As a younger man, he was elected sheriff in his New York county and, during his terms, personally served as hangman for a few criminals.
During his first term, at age 49, Cleveland married the 21 year-old daughter of his deceased law partner. This would probably be considered illegal today, but in 1886 the public looked at it more like “train up a child in the way she should go, and when she grows old she will never depart from you.” Actually, by all accounts, the marriage was a happy one.
Cleveland is generally considered in the second tier of great presidents. Books from this series can be found on-line at or at other stores. I found my unabridged audio copy for $3 at a Half-Priced bookstore.

2. Another book I have recently finished is The Preacher and the Presidents. Written by Time magazine's Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy, this book seeks to tell the story of how evangelist Billy Graham has known every president from Harry Truman through George W. Bush. Indeed, some presidents Graham knew intimately, literally serving as their religious pastor.
Since the subject matter of the book relates to preaching and presidential history, two of my favorite subjects, I naturally found the book captivating. You may not find it as interesting as I do, but it was a best seller on the New York Times bestseller list confirming that a number of people at least wanted to own a copy. This was another audio book I found on sale at Half-Price books.

3. I saw that McDonalds introduced a new $4 Hamburger. “Welcome to McDonalds Let Me Take Your Order…” is taking on a new meaning, as they will be selling burgers made from Angus beef—for $4.00. Either things are not as bad as we are hearing in our economy, or we, as a society, are still driven by our desire to consume and not by saving money.

4. Thanks to all of you who, in the comments section of my blog or in personal e-mails, expressed kind thoughts the past week about Matt and Samantha’s story. They were wed last Saturday afternoon. Except for the one officiating the ceremony, I personally thought the wedding was beautiful.

5. I don’t know if you heard of the tragedy in Bolivia this week. Our former sponsoring church is supporting a work in Bolivia whose youth group was headed to a retreat. There was a terrible crash. Three young women were killed and others were critically injured. Please be praying for these folks. The following is a link to the blog that is being posted concerning events as they unfold:

Grace Hurts
This section did not make the cut for my Sunday morning sermon. Not because it is bad, I am sure it is quite excellent! :) Rather, it did not seem to flow with the rest of the sermon. I am preaching out of Titus Chapter 2 about Paul's admonitions, through Titus, to the old and young men of the churches in Crete.

TV commercials today make us want to think that “male problems” are those that call for solutions from Viagra. When Paul talks about male problems, he's talking about challenges of the spiritual dimension—issues such as self-control, dignity, and integrity. Basically, he is saying, yet again, our living should match our saved state.

The motivation for Paul’s solutions to male problems is rooted in the concept of grace:

11For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. 12It teaches us to say "No" to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, 13while we wait for the blessed hope—the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, 14who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good (Titus 2:11-14.)

Philip Yancey, in his book What’s so Amazing about Grace writes about an insight shared by the Christian counselor, David Seamonds. Seamonds has written that the majority of emotional problems among Christians is due to their failure to allow themselves to accept, on an emotional level, the good news of God’s grace.
They understand intellectually that God has offered them unconditional love, grace and forgiveness; however, that data is not connected to the emotional part of their being. Consequently, these Christians cannot find within themselves the capacity to offer unconditional love, grace, and forgiveness to other people. Their emotional lives are stunted; their spiritual lives are diminishing.

I think Seamonds is on to something. I am not sure all of the factors that are involved, but I have a theory as to factor.

I was sitting in a Bible class a few weeks ago in Winters, Texas. The class was led by someone who moved there after I had left three years ago. I had met him once and could not even remember his name, but his class is a good example of how anyone can take the Word of God and bless you life.

In this Bible class, the teacher was talking about grace. He was talking about our tendency as human beings for legalism. We typically want rules in our relationships with others.

As the conversation was developing, a light went off in my head. Evidently, it went off in the head of another participant, because he articulated what I was thinking.

With rules, you are protected in dealing with other people. When I was teaching at ACU, I tried to carefully craft a syllabus that explicitly communicated my expectations for the students and the consequences for not fulfilling my expectations.

I did this for many reasons, one of which was that I realized I did not have time to deal with 50 to a 100 students on an individual basis. Communicating clearly with a syllabus was the best way I could construct guidelines, which would make the decisions in most situations for me. This meant there would be less chance I would feel hurt for letting a student down or feel guilty about a student who was disgruntled with me.

I don't apologize for this. Teaching a class in an academic institution is a task. The student’s academic record is a product. A school or university must, to some degree, be task oriented.

The same is not true in the life of the Church (or family for that matter.) We are much more oriented toward relationships. Nevertheless, sometimes, maybe most times, we do not deploy grace in our relationships because we feel rules, regulations, and legalism protects us from being hurt. And it does.

Grace hurts. (Love hurts too; just ask Nazareth.) We tend to shy away from doing that which hurts us.

What makes us different from God is His abandonment of self when it comes to self-protection. God does not allow fear of being hurt to prevent him from offering us grace.

Now, you may be asking what this has to do with Titus chapter two. Simply this. This same aversion to risking grace causes us to limit ourselves from behaving like Christ. Self-preservation becomes a habit. Rather than selling out and becoming like Jesus, demonstrating his qualities, we too often just cannot let go. We don’t want to get hurt. (Especially we men!)

Here is the irony. In seeking to avoid the pain of grace and gracious lives, we “booby-trap” our lives. We engage in behavior that often generates more hurt than we would have experienced surrendering to Jesus.

When I was a boy, I had bad allergies—worse than now. Shots offered relief. I hated shots. Shots hurt. Unfortunately, without shots I had to carry with me a box of Kleenexes and/or handkerchiefs wherever I went. Not only was this embarrassing, I felt miserable. Finally, my mother convinced me to accept the temporary pain of the shot for the gain of a more enjoyable life.

Following Jesus is the same way. There is pain in denying self. Sometimes it is self-inflicted, sometimes it is inflicted upon us by others. However, a life lived like Jesus is more in line with the way we were created to live. Living like we were created to live is infinitely more enjoyable.

Have a great weekend!