Friday, December 25, 2009

Love the Person or Love the Relationship? Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Merry Christmas.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Merry Christmas to All

Friday, December 18, 2009

Love the Person or Love the Relationship? Part 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 11, 2009

Love the Person or Love the Relationship? Part 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have a Great Weekend!

Friday, December 4, 2009

Love the Person or Love the Relationship? Pt. 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our Life is Just a Vapor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have a Great Weekend!