Monday, August 30, 2010

When I Grow Up

I was delighted to read an essay my eight-year-old daughter, Annie, composed the other day. Among other things she wrote: 
When I grow up I want to be a[n] african american doctor. I will fly to Africa and live there! I love Africa because I want to learn African american words!

Having lived in a foreign nation in Latin America for five years, I must say I am pleased at Annie’s enthusiasm to learn other cultures.

Also, there is something delightful I find in Annie’s innocent irony.

Five Things I Think I Think (with a nod to Peter King for this idea)

1. Two years ago, I came across a book in the public library. It was on cassette tape. It was unabridged and on sale for $2.00. It was called SEARCHING FOR THE INVISIBLE GOD, and it was by Philip Yancey. I had heard of Yancey, but I had never read any of his books.

One Wednesday evening, shortly thereafter, I was driving to Henderson for a speaking engagement, and I decided to pop a tape into my cassette player. I enjoyed the book at first. Gradually, I grew to deeply appreciate it. So much so, I began reading other works of his.

I have begun reading this book again. Wow, what a great read. He plumbs the depths, but he does not go too deep. On the other hand, he offers clear, easy to read illustrations. I love reading Yancey!

2. Found out yesterday that Jane Leavy is coming out with a new book this Fall. It will be a biography of Mickey Mantle and it will be called THE LAST BOY. If this is remotely as good as her book on Sandy Koufax, it will be one of the most influential baseball books ever written.

3. In light of our ministry to autistic children, I want to see TEMPLE GRANDIN.

4. I had a humorous (at least I thought it was humorous) reflection on turning fifty and working out with my daughters’ volleyball team last week. It involved feeling lightheaded and pondering the possibilities of fainting during my workout. However, a friend of mine collapsed yesterday after our worship service. They took him to the hospital and checked him out. He’s going to be okay, thankfully. Now, though, my little piece seems insensitive.
            Life’s reality is simple. When a twenty year old feels light-headed, he probably is light-headed. You're surprised or even shocked when something worse develops. When you’re my age and feel light-headed, you are acutely aware that you should pay attention. You never know when a major health issue could be lurking around the corner. And major health issues for people my age are not a cause for shock. Sadness, maybe, but not shock. You see it, unfortunately, occur too much.

5. Okay, Cowboys, what was that Saturday night? I’ve seen you do this before and bounce back fine during the regular season. Unfortunately, with the injuries to the offensive line, I am not sure if this will be normal.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Order in the Court

This week our family began implementing THE FAMILY RULES by Matthew A. Johnson. It is a creative way to bring discipline, order, structure, and boundaries to a family. (Why in the world would the Edges need this?!)

Our system is based upon Johnson’s book, POSITIVE PARENTING WITH A PLAN. The idea is that in clearly communicating family rules and expectations and enforcing those rules with “good habit cards,” operating in a manner that is correct and consistent (holding even parents accountable), a parent will never have to yell, stress out, cry, cajole, or make a fool of himself to bring out decent behaviors and attitudes in children.

So far, so good. Yet, even Johnson warns, look out for testing, threats, coercion, pitting parent against parent and other negative behaviors from the children. He even warns parents to watch out themselves for these behaviors.

I have enough experience with families, churches, and other systems to know what he is talking about. I have found that everyone wants order, until it creates disorder for one’s self.

Let me put it another way. There is a reason disorder, what I like to call “unholy chaos,” exists—members of the system prefer it. Oh, they may not say so, but their complicity belies that desire. This is the systems version of, “Don’t mess with me, and I won’t mess with you.”

The problem, of course, is that in any system, people having the freedom to act as they wish could easily lead to disorder. Personal boundaries are extended too wide. Personal space is violated. It’s the college apartment, where no one does the dishes, and one day a guy reaches for a plate—only to discover there is literally not a clean dish in the house. NOW, he is for discipline, or for a maid.

The moment that disorder is addressed, discomfort seeps in. “Hey, HE needs to be held accountable, not me.” My disorder being addressed signifies my need for change in behavior and attitude. That is always hard. It is easier to evade responsibility, blame the new rules, or new structure and attempt to restore the old system.

We all want to play our “get out of discipline free card.” You have enough people who feel that way and, voila! You have an unruly system.

On the other hand, you get enough people who are sick of not having any clean dishes, and then you have hope of restoring order.  Even better, if the leaders of the system are enthusiastic about “getting caught” so that they will be discipline by the group, group morale increases.

I can’t tell you the mileage I received by getting caught the other night at the dinner table and having to pick a “good habit” card. (“Daddy got caught!”) I think Judy and I have already proven we will allow ourselves to be held accountable. Now, can we be disciplined enough to hold our children accountable? Will we invest the time necessary? Time will tell.

Five Things I Think I Think (with a nod to Peter King for this idea)

1. I finished a fascinating book last week—THE INVENTION OF AIR by Steven Johnson. It is a biography, more or less, of Joseph Priestly, telling of his scientific work in the 18th century in electricity and chemistry, with a special telling of his role in the discovery of oxygen. However, the British Priestly played an influential part in the American Revolution, and beyond, because of his work as a theological and political thinker. He forged unique relationships with Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and John Adams—relationships that impacted the thought processes of the three Americans.
            To me, the most fascinating line in the entire book was this, “Clearly one lesson is that Priestley—and his kindred spirits in London, Birmingham, Quincy, and Monticello—refused to compartmentalize science, faith, and politics. They saw those three systems not as separate intellectual fiefdoms, but rather as a continuum, or a connected web” (p. 211.)
            Hasn’t much of the complaint we have heard over the past two decades that of the need to segregate science, religion, and politics?

2. Should I be getting nervous over the lack of scoring by the Dallas Cowboy offense in the preseason? 

3. I started a new series on the book of JUDE last night for our Sunday night group. I think we got off to a good start. I hope preaching JUDE proves not to be a mistake.

4. Cliff Lee is definitely in a slump. When will he get out? I think soon.

5. Andy Woods’ new school looks good. 

Monday, August 16, 2010

Be Careful What You Wish For

John Wooden was the greatest American coach of the twentieth century. One reason, so many organizations voted him this honor, was because his UCLA teams won ten national championships. With this in mind, of all of the things John Wooden ever wrote, two paragraphs stand out to me as the most intriguing. The following quote is not a misprint:

Many times I have suggested to interested observers that if I ever met a magical genie who could grant me two wishes, I knew what they would be. First, for those many coaches whom I respect and have warm feelings toward I would wish each one a national championship.

For those few coaches for whom I have less-than-warm feelings, my wish would be that they win many national championships. However, in truth, I’m not sure I would wish that on anybody. [Italics mine.]

Why would John Wooden write this? Because his life became practically unbearable after winning so many championships, and by “practically” I mean just that—life was no longer practical under the structure of so much “success.” As the amount of championships Wooden’s teams won increased, so too did the amount of attention Wooden received. Questions from reporters and fans, crowds forming around him, requests for his time—all of the demands reached a disproportionate level in his life.

As Wooden wrote in his book, WOODEN ON LEADERSHIP, “I felt more and more that crowds were closing in and enveloping me. I seemed to be constantly surrounded. This great frenzy of activity and attention was more than unwelcome; it was unnatural.”

Finally, Wooden concluded that his life had become irrevocably out of balance. “Balance is crucial in everything we do…. The body has to be in balance; the mind has to be in balance; emotions must be in balance. Balance is important everywhere and in everything we do.”

“Unfortunately, over the last years of my coaching at UCLA things had gotten out of balance. Perhaps my subconscious mind figured out that the only way to regain the balance I required personally and professionally was to leave the game I love.”

And he did. He announced his retirement, and two days later, UCLA won its final national championship for John Wooden.

Man was not created to be a rock star. At some point, what we call success is really a disaster in the making, not unlike a hurricane forming off of a coast.

We see people experience what Wooden describes all of the time; we just don’t recognize it. Moreover, we lock in on the aberrant behavior that people typically demonstrate in a sad attempt to cope.

I think these pressures are what often lie behind the star, who overdoses on drugs, and even takes his or her own life. I believe Wooden is describing some of the background behind Tiger Woods’ self-destructive behavior. The proverbial “cry for help” really is that. Life has hurled itself out of balance. The “successful” person desperately searches for a means to bring it back into stability.

The Beatles were before my time, but I think it is fascinating to trace the arc of the world’s most successful rock band. In 1966, they chose to discontinue touring. Crowds had become too wild. Life had become too chaotic. Therefore, the Beatles decided to accelerate their drug use (abuse), produce studio albums, and travel to India to study with the Maharishi.

None of those actions were enough. Finally, the band disbanded.

I take from all of this a warning. In a culture that accentuates “success,” there is a level of “success” that is too far. Cross that line, and you cross the threshold marking off the restraints that help keep life in check.

I believe these realties lay behind God’s decision to sabotage the Tower of Babel. (“The LORD said, "If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them.”)

After pondering these issues and many more, the writer of Ecclesiastes offered some sage advice, “11:13 Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.”

In our culture, we see illustration, after illustration, after illustration, detailing for us the price of too much success. Maybe the writer of Ecclesiastes is right—maybe we should redefine what life’s great need is, and what life’s great success is.

Five Things I Think I Think (with a nod to Peter King for this idea)

1. Timothy Edge has a new hobby. He has given up magic for chess. He has really gotten into chess. At last, I found what motivates him to read. He reads a chess book that teaches checkmate moves while he plays his older sisters in chess matches. Hey, whatever it takes. As for magic, I guess his last trick was his best one. He has made his magic tricks disappear from the Edge household.

2. Buzz has already begun on Edmund Morris’ final volume of his biography of Theodore Roosevelt. It will be called COLONEL ROOSEVELT and is set to release late November early December. If it is anything like the first two volumes, it will be a marvelous work. Coupling Morris, the writer, with a subject so compelling as Theodore Roosevelt, and you’ve got a categorical nightmare. Is it great literature or history? I think both. By the way, if Random House would like for me to do an in-depth review, all they need to do is send me an advanced copy. I’ll gladly take care of the rest.

3. I had a great time at the North Street church of Christ in Nacogdoches, Texas yesterday. Every August, they bring in a different preacher and his wife each weekend of the month. They put the couple up in the Fredonia Hotel (built in 1955 and restored, it is a neat place to stay.) Sunday morning, the preacher teachers a combined Bible class and preaches. It is sort of like a weekly lectureship for August.
            The church has a marvelous campus ministry to Stephen F. Austin University. Their campus presence is known as the “Yellow House” and has been a present for a few decades now.
            I’ve known Dr. Michael Harbour, their preacher, since 1995, when we both lived in the valley of Texas. He has a marvelous mind, as well as, other assorted skills, and I think is the ideal fit for that ministry context.
            I have some old friends that attend there and it was so good to see them. Parents of some of our Shiloh folks attend North Street also; I was grateful to get to know them.
            Thank you North Street.

4. Three out of five against Boston and New York—not a bad homestand Texas Rangers. And over 235,000 fans attended the homestand. I can remember when 235,000 fans represented a little less than a third of the season’s attendance.

5. School starts this week at ETCA. I knew summer would be over in a hurry!

Monday, August 9, 2010

Their Pain was Our Gain

Her mother died of tuberculosis when she was 21 months old. Her father could not bear his grief, and basically abandoned his child, giving custody to his wife’s parents.

Neglected in childhood, she lived in many ways like an orphan. Much of the time she was alone and lonely.

Growing up, she decided to be a writer. She was ambitious. She became quite good, but the results fell far short of her ambitions.

At last, drawing from the well of her childhood memories, Lucy Maud Montgomery crafted a story of an orphan girl named Anne. For a century now, ANNE OF GREEN GABLES has been a beloved classic, consumed by children and adults alike all over the world.

(After World War II, the series became a bestseller in Japan, where so many of the children were orphaned during the war. When they reached adulthood, many made a pilgrimage to Prince Edward Island in Canada, home of the fictional Anne.)

The abuse Lucy Maud Montgomery experienced led to blessings for us.

A young boy grew up with a face disfigured by disease. It repulsed schoolmates so, they bullied him relentlessly. He would grow up to write fiction—helping Christians to imagine and see the spiritual warfare that takes place in our world.

He would also write a memoir of his childhood called THE WOUNDED SPIRIT, which has ministered to thousands of children and adults, who have suffered abuse. The abuse Frank Peretti experienced led to blessings for us.

A young boy received a crippling injury, which relegated him to become a thing in his culture. He ceased to matter. And then, the king said, “Come, live as my son, eat at my table.” And so, Mephibosheth joined the household of David and lived as a child of the king. The abuse Mephibosheth experienced led to blessings for us.

He illustrates, for us, what we can expect. No matter what has occurred in our lives that is crippling to us, God, the King, comes and says, “Live as my son. Live as my daughter. I am inviting you to my table. Not just today, but forever.”

And forever means a realm where someday, there will be no tears and no pain.

No tears and no pain—forever!

In light of your future with God, imagine allowing God to take the story of someone’s sins against you, and take your experiences from those awful events, and using that story to bless others. Imagine what it would be like to deed God ownership of that story. The abuse you experienced will lead to blessings for us.

Five Things I Think I Think (with a nod to Peter King for this idea)

1. Peter King had a touching story last week in his blog. He noted that twelve year veteran, Sean Morey, recently announced his retirement from the Seattle Seahawks, due to post-concussion-syndrome. A man of integrity, he worked out a plan to return the signing bonus he received in March from Seattle.

Morey was a dedicated player, who loved the game. This retirement came hard. What I found touching, though, was the response his coach, Pete Carroll, gave him. Carroll has been receiving a lot of bad publicity lately, but in an era when so many head coaches look at their players as widgets, Carroll responded to Morey in a decidedly human way.

The moment he told his coach, had to be a wrenching one for Monet. This was it. It was over. When he had finished, Pete Carroll said, in effect, “Let’s play catch.”

And they did.

I have never heard of this happening, yet, it touches me to think of Pete Carroll, as busy as he is, taking this vanquished warrior out on the practice field and doing what boys do in childhood—play catch.

2. Emmitt Smith’s words to Darrell Johnson brought tears to my eyes Saturday night. Moreover, I am amazed he was able to remember all of those names without a note. Even with my family members, I would have had to have said, “I would like to thank my wife [read from speech], Judy, my daughter [read from speech], Haleigh…” Incredible.

I think that since Emmitt Smith’s contract was not renewed by ESPN, he has dedicated himself to becoming an excellent communicator. And you know what, he has. He could now have a marvelous career as a motivational speaker. Moreover, last night I saw Al Michaels interview him on NBC, and I noticed he looked at Al and then the camera—back and forth—and he was very smooth. Emmitt is a goal setter. He has his heart set on excellence in communication. I think he will succeed.

3. Parental pride—I haven’t mentioned this for a couple of weeks, but I want to now. Congrats to Haleigh Edge for winning Best Camper for fifth session at Camp Deer Run. She loves Deer Run and this is her final year to be eligible to be a camper. The athletic accolades are nice, but I think I like this one best of all.

4. I am grateful for the last two Sunday mornings at Shiloh. It is amazing how two people, sharing what God has done for them, can make such a difference.

5. I am really looking forward to joining the good folks at the North Street church of Christ in Nacogdoches, Texas this Sunday.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Joy in Marriage

My wife, Judy, like all good Shiloh members, always checks out the sermon titles for the upcoming Sunday sermons. A couple of Sundays ago, I was preaching on the subject of “Joy in Marriage.”

The Wednesday before, Judy, our two smaller children, and I were driving to a city, where I was to speak at a church that night. We were going to check into the hotel first, and I had the address and a general idea of where to go, but I wanted to be sure there were no snafus. It was important that we arrive in a timely manner, so as not to be late to my preaching engagement.

I was driving, and I asked Judy to take my iPhone and look for directions. She took the phone and commenced her search.

At first, I encouraged her to use our AT&T Navigator service. She could not find the App. So, I told her to let me use the phone for just a second. With a quick glance and the use of my thumb, I could locate the App and she could type in the directions, but Judy did not want to do that. She did not want to break the law, or even the spirit of the law, and risk us experiencing an accident.

After another wait, I suggested she try searching on Google directions. She agreed, but again had a number of issues to contend with, and she was trapped in a cell phone labyrinth. I renewed my offer to give a quick glance at the phone. Again, she turned down my suggestion.

Confessionally speaking, by now, I was beginning to battle my flesh. This is a character flaw of mine. I’ve got to calm down. I was battling my emotions. I knew deep down I was being hypocritical. After all, how many times have I asked my co-workers for tech support?

I kept reminding myself, if this happened when we were dating, my attitude would be one of tenderness, compassion, and I would even probably find it cute. (Then, of course, I remembered that this could not have occurred when we were dating, unless it was the telegraph Judy was trying to use. I guess I could've said, “You need to press “dot” then “dash”…)

Unfortunately, we were not dating, and my sinful flesh was wanting to scream out, “What is the matter with you, woman! It's an iPhone for crying out loud! This is supposed to be user-friendly! Why can't you get it! And, if you cannot get to it, the least you could do is pass me the phone!”

(Of course, when I am asking for help, my attitude is, “Don’t be condescending to me!” When someone else is asking me for help, my attitude is, “Why can’t you get this?”)

She knew I wanted to scream out, but I was suppressing it. She heard my words, “Honeybunch, sugar-pie”, but she knew I was forcing it. My redeemed mind was trying to encourage my emotional body to pretend that I was dating again. She heard me taking the deep breaths, trying to calm down.

Let me tell you, though, my wife is sharp. Taking everything in, Judy, looked up with a smile on her face, and, with an arched eyebrow of understanding, and she said, “Joy in marriage.”

My wife knows me cold! With one remark, one phrase, three words, she deftly parried my emotional state and, with humor, addressed my sinful, evil nature. I was properly chastened.

This episode reminds me of Prov. 27:17, “Just as iron sharpens iron, friends sharpen the minds of each other.”
I know Judy has got my best interests at heart. She wants to help me put off “evil Mark” and put on Jesus. At times, this process can even be painful, but it is worth it.

Now, to those of you who believe you are stuck with a bad mate, let me say this. I don’t believe there is a spouse, who can prove so challenging that you cannot grow to be like Jesus. As a matter of fact, so often in Scripture, it is the adverse relationships that cultivate the deeper relationship with Jesus.

Allow me to pull a verse out of context—Ecc. 4:9, “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work.” I realize that is talking about work; however, if it applies to work, I would certainly expect it to apply to marriage. What a marvelous privilege it is to travel through life with one you love more than anyone else on the planet, and one who loves you above all others.
Joy in marriage, indeed!

Five Things I Think I Think (with a nod to Peter King for this idea)

1. Thank you, Mike Wells, for sharing your story yesterday in our Sunday morning assembly. Before I left the auditorium, I knew your words had impacted people’s lives.

2. I cannot wait until this Sunday morning. We are going to be talking about finding joy in God’s healing. One from our Shiloh family has written, for us, how God has brought her through the most brutal of travails. Understanding the sensitivity of our setting, and the place she is with her family, I will be reading her words to the assembly. Her story of God’s healing will, I believe, give some people hope, who never thought they would experience it.

3. I always wondered what would happen to a civilization that denies the existence of God or of gods. Especially what it would do about death. I may have found an answer. I see yesteryear’s views of South African statesman, Jan Smuts, gaining traction today. Some folks, who are attempting to unify theology and quantum physics, are relegating what was formerly labeled “dead” to what they call the junk heap of failed, mechanical, classical science. Instead of dying, everything recreates itself to become part, yet again, of the greater whole of the universe. Other implications: a stone is not a lifeless object; it is, rather, a compaction of energy. Interesting—those rejecting God could still not escape the spiritual. 
4. I got to go with a group from our church, Tuesday night, to see Cliff Lee pitch for the Texas Rangers against the Oakland Athletics. He pitched nine innings, threw 13 strikeouts, and had nary a walk. The only negative was he did not get the win. Ian Kinsler did not cover second on a steal attempt and the catcher’s throw traveled into center field, thus allowing the A’s to score an unearned run. Nelson Cruz won it in the tenth with a walk off home run. These are fun times to be a Ranger fan.

5. Our six-year-old PC has a virus. We have been preparing for this day. Consequently, we have ordered an iMac from the Apple Education Store. (As an educator, Judy receives a discount.)
            I am happy, especially, for our older girls. Too many times, the past couple of years, they had to wait on the computer when doing their homework. It was as if there was a hamster turning a wheel to power our PC’s internet search engine and software—and he was tired! In all fairness, I am sure there were a number of factors involved including how many items we had on the computer. Still, it WAS old.
            One nice byproduct, we get a free iPod touch with this order. This will serve as a nice Christmas gift for our two youngest, Timothy and Annie. Please don’t tell them!