Monday, June 27, 2011

He Began to Have Nightmares

            I spent last week on vacation. Before I left, however, I came across an article in a magazine dated 2008. It was about a Serbian abortion doctor named Stojan Adasevic.
            During Adasevic’s life, he performed over 48,000 abortions. Then one day, he renounced this practice. Why?
            Stojan had begun experiencing chronic nightmares where he saw children between the ages of four and twenty four years of age standing in a field. In every dream, he was advised that the children were “the ones you [Adasevic] killed with your abortions."
            Adasevic became a pro-life activist. He returned to his religious roots in the Orthodox branch of Christianity. He also became an outcast in his nation’s medical community.
            I think I understand why Adasevic experienced a change of heart. Sometimes, maybe most times, dreams need to be discounted. In this case, however, I think Stojan’s dreams permitted him to imaginatively see the consequences of his practice.
            I wish him many blessings in his activism—and his renewed faith.

Five Things I Think I Think (with a nod to Peter King for this idea)
1. I think the most under-appreciated variable in the challenge of public education is the self-motivation of the student.
            I read yet another lament today about the state of education in the U. S. I propose a moratorium on such talk until we address allowing children to face the consequences of their disinterest in learning.
            In Christian ministry, we say each child must cultivate a faith of his own. The same is true in public education.
            The pendulum has now swung past the line of good communal health. Until we address this reality, our society will wring its hands in angst.
2. Rest in peace, Nick Charles. You brought a little bit of home to me on CNN in Argentina.
3. News to me from the world of the weird: I came across another old article in a Christian magazine a couple of weeks ago. In it, the editor was interviewing Joe Eszterhas, Hollywood screenwriter and author. Having recently written his memoir, Eszterhas was asked about the strangest thing he experienced in Hollywood. He replied it was Marlon Brando asking every visitor at his home to provide a stool sample for his private collection. Ladies and gentlemen, when it comes to weirdness, we have a winner!
4. Is it my imagination, or is this the worst June the Rangers have experienced in a long time?
5. For anyone who refuses to believe I surrender my desires for the good of my family, consider this. Tomorrow, I am accompanying my family and my sister’s family to spend the day at Six Flags. It’s not the heat I hate, and I love the rides. It’s the lines I despise.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Let Me Share My Dad

            Every year for Father's Day, I post a letter that my father wrote me when I was in college. He was very faithful to write me during that time, and I treasure his letters today.
            My mother is my family's social butterfly. She is the one everyone has always considered to be funny. But my dad had a very good sense of humor as well. Many times this came out in his letters.
            You will get a taste of East Texas culture in the letter that follows. My dad grew up squirrel hunting in the wild woods, and he passed that love on to me.
            We always cooked the meat of the squirrels we killed, and he did not pass along to me his appreciation of that fine cuisine. Nevertheless, I have always enjoyed squirrel hunting, and I hope that you enjoy this portion of our culture.
            Daddy wrote this letter after returning home from a brief hunting trip to our property on White Oak Creek, near Saltillo, Texas. He wrote it early on Sunday morning, shortly before he taught his weekly Bible classes at my home church.
            So what follows is his letter to me when I was a sophomore at Abilene Christian University dated October 19, 1980. Unlike past letters I have printed, this one was not primarily offered for advice and encouragement; rather, it was a whimsical look at something I enjoyed and missed (squirrel hunting.) Let me share my dad with you:

Dear Mark,
            Sorry I missed your call yesterday afternoon but Quenton [a beloved family member by marriage] and I went down to the creek to do a little squirrel hunting. It was a cool cloudy day and not a leaf was stirring… and we just couldn't resist the opportunity. What we didn't count on though was that the mosquitoes liked to carry us off. When we spent four days down there a couple of weeks ago, there were very few mosquitoes, and we didn't look for any now.
            I only killed one squirrel. I probably could've killed more, but the shots kept bouncing off mosquitoes… and there was not enough punch left in them, so they were unable to kill the squirrel. They [the mosquitoes] were so big that they were able to talk. I couldn't hear anything but them talking. The mosquitoes kept coming back and telling me which way the squirrels went.
            They wanted me to be successful, though, so I would stay there and keep feeding them. I put enough OFF on me that they all got drunk, and then they really had a good time.
            Quenton’s arms [made him look] like he was a dope junkie. Well, the reason was they got their last lick in before a cold front moved in last night.
            … I have just finished my Sunday school lesson and have little time to write–[I] must get on by the house and check in before going to church. Imagine me lying [about] those little ’ol innocent mosquitoes just before going to teach a class at church.
            Mark, your mother and I decided we would just make a sizable contribution to the church instead of financing [next summer's] youth work. We are making a $10,000 contribution this morning and are including you and Lissa (my sister) on it. I made a copy of the check and am including it in this letter to you so that you can feel a part of it.
            Good luck on everything that you're doing as I am sure you have everything in the proper perspective. I have the utmost confidence in you and I feel that whatever you decide to do you will do it with the right motives and will be successful. You got what it takes “big boy.”
            We love you,

            Dad and all

            I might mention that my parents issued instructions to our church leaders that their gift was to be anonymous. My dad had sold off one of his businesses and wanted to offer a blessing to the church.
I pondered whether or not to include this portion of the letter, since daddy and mom made the offering anonymously. However, I am very proud of my parents and their generous spirit.
My father has been dead almost thirty years. Often, people reveal secrets about those long gone that are negative. I thought it would be nice to share a good secret.
            I am a blessed man, and I am grateful for my parental heritage.

Five Things I Think I Think (with a nod to Peter King for this idea)
1. Okay, I was wrong about Boston. Congratulations to the Bruins winning the Stanley Cup.  Tim Thomas, playoff MVP, is a phenomenal goalie.
2. Incidentally, I read that Thomas is a very committed Christian, who attends his Boston area church services regularly. Unusual for a professional athlete.
3. Yesterday, Mike Warner preached in our morning worship service. Mike preached for over thirty years for Shiloh, and was my predecessor. This year, he celebrates fifty years of preaching. Mike and his wife, Barbara, have been true blessings to Judy and me. They model what it means to welcome a new preacher to a congregation—and then help him survive and thrive! It would be worthwhile for a church to invite them to do a workshop on congregations and the preaching ministry (or on marriage, or on parenting for that matter.)
4. Here is a good quote from my colleague, Charles Smith, who preached on Amos last night at Shiloh: “Israel substituted an hour of worship for a week of righteous living.” His says he probably got it from John Willis years ago. Still, a good quote.
5. West Erwin, I look forward to sharing with you from Exodus this Wednesday night. Thanks for having me.

Monday, June 13, 2011

# 1 Thing I Have Learned Each Decade: Decade # 3—Life is Hard.

            My wife is a fun woman. She has a great sense of humor. She can take it, and she can dish it out.
            Judy never tires of tweaking me about my "spending money" budget of my senior year in college. Actually, it was not the fact that I had a budget that caused her to tease me. It was the fact that my dad gave me $300 a month spending money that makes her laugh.
            She claims she did not received $300 in all of her years in college. Incidentally, today that $300 monthly stipend would be worth $672—a month.
            My counter argument was that $300 accounted for gasoline, eating out, books, and very important—golf. Hey, at least I had a budget!
            I will concede this: I had a good life. Materially, I never wanted for anything.
            All of that changed three months after I graduated from college. I was in the deep bush country of Papua New Guinea when some missionaries from Mt. Hagen traveled four and half hours by jeep, into the bush country, to find me. My mom had called, my dad had undergone an emergency stomach operation—and they sewed him back up. Cancer had eaten away most of his stomach. It was only a matter of time.
            I flew home, helped my dad die (hospice was unknown in my part of the country—then.) After that, I faced the challenge of managing my dad’s estate, of which he had legally put me in charge.
            I was very fortunate for two reasons. One, my dad, a businessman, had been very organized. Two, he had surrounded himself with good, decent, and honest people.
            Daddy’s lawyer was magnificent, daddy’s administrator—his cousin—was on top of everything, and his former business associates were all very willing to help me.
            My business training was minimal. (Daddy had tried for years to prepare me for life, but, regarding finances, I had let his teaching go in one ear and out the other.)
            I was ripe for disaster. Any one of the people Daddy had around him could have deceived me and cost my mother greatly. Fortunately, all were trustworthy and models of integrity. I have never forgotten this.
            I spent a few months at home organizing the estate so it could support my mother as well as my sister, who was fifteen at the time. (Mom kept her teaching job a few more years and then retired.)
            Serving as the executor of my dad’s estate was actually the easy part. What came next during that decade was hard.
            I had decided before I graduated to go back to school to get a Master’s degree in Bible and Communication. I did not want to sponge off my mom, so I decided to support myself and put myself through graduate school. But what to do for a living?
            Shortly after my dad’s death, I was playing golf one day with a good friend from high school, Brian Lindsey, and he suggested that since I was spending a lot of time working with my daddy’s real estate business, why not get my real estate license? That seemed a good idea, so I spent the next few months working toward that goal.
            In January of 1984, I moved back to Abilene and went into the real estate business. I worked under the tutelage of Ray Scott and his associates. I had returned to ACU to get my Masters, but I think I received my real education from the real estate business.
            When I entered into real estate, interest rates were finally dropping below 15 percent. That was good news!  A few years before, they had reached up to 18 ½ percent.
            Times were tough. Abilene was in a depression. And people of the world were not beating a path to the door of a 23-year-old real estate associate.
            To help my tuition costs and to give myself some experience, I taught one speech class a semester at ACU. Furthermore, I was very active in the campus ministry of my church, since we did not have a supported campus minister.
            Consequently, I was spending forty hours a week in real estate (to pay my bills), about ten to twenty hours a week in ministry with my church, about ten hours a week teaching (to pay for part of my tuition), and about ten hours a week taking two courses a semester. I would literally go to bed at 11:00 pm and set my alarm for 3:00 am to get up and start my day. As you might guess, this was an exhausting schedule.
            I worked in real estate for four years. I would not trade those years for anything. They paid my bills and financed the majority of my first Master’s degree. However, I would never want to repeat those years.
            In late 1987, I decided that if I was ever going to do mission work in a foreign country, I had to begin to find a team and raise support.
            To achieve this goal, I needed flexibility with my schedule. Real estate prevented this. Therefore, I made the decision to leave real estate at the end of 1987.
            I called several churches asking for support. Every one of them said, “No.” I will never forget that after this, Rick Atchley, Brad Small, Robert Oglesby and I hatched a plan to raise my support from the congregation I attended. They were on staff at my church then, and our plan was for me to ask members in our church to offer me individual support with offerings of $10 month. (That church was facing hard times because of the West Texas depression, and being funded through the church’s budget was out of the question.) The thought was I would go on staff with this support, as well as begin trying to put together a team to do foreign mission work in South America.
            We took our idea to the elders, and they turned it down. I will never forget one of the elders sitting with me on the floor outside the elders’ conference room after everyone had gone home. He was trying to cushion the blow for me.
            I was totally confused. I was trying to honor God with my life, and nothing seemed to work. I could not get from point A to point B. Finally, I began to cry like a baby. I mean, I sobbed. That poor elder, he probably thought I was having a breakdown. He gently patted me on the back and did his best to comfort me.
            In retrospect, I see the wisdom of the elders’ decision. It ended up being a blessing for me. However, I will never forget the generosity of spirit and true friendship that Rick, Robert, and Brad showed toward me.
            God honored my desire for mission work shortly thereafter by providing me with a team to go to Argentina. He also blessed me by allowing me to begin courting my future spouse. (I don’t remember when I delivered the news of my past—my dad had given me $300 a month spending money.) What next?
            In December of 1987, Brad and Allison Small had me over for supper. They said they believed God had called me to do mission work and committed $50 a month support—to begin immediately. With that pledge, I began to spend all of my time raising support.
            I called hundreds of churches. Some were kind enough to allow me to come speak and offer me a one-time contribution. That was enough for me to get by the next few months. Those were fun times. (I still remember every church that helped me, and I will always be grateful.)
            After a while, the money dried up. Our team was not to set to leave until the fall of 1989. Future support was beginning to fall into place, but that was still a year away.
            What to do?
            Enter roofing, phone book throwing, and mowing.
            Steve Ridgell (if you read last week’s blog, you know who he is) was starting up a business that incorporated these eclectic components: roofing houses damaged by West Texas hail, contracting with a company to distribute phone books to every business and residence in cities such as College Station, Midland, and Odessa, and mowing lawns in Abilene.
            The good thing about Steve was his flexibility. I could take off on a dime and visit a supporting church or travel to a mission forum. The bad news was, when I was to work, I was to work long hours—and hard.
            I remember having so many houses to roof, we would start at 6 AM and go until dark, taking an hour off for lunch. When the temperatures exceeded 100 degrees, our tennis shoes literally began melting. Every time we took a step, we could hear them squish. Moreover, I was not a gifted roofer. Consequently, I hated roofing.
            Throwing phone books was better, but it was still a job requiring long hours. We would travel to a city and stay all week. Many times, we worked from daylight until after dark. Often, we would work thirteen or fourteen hours.
            I didn’t mow that many lawns because of the roofing. Unfortunately when I did mow, I would break out into a rash because of my allergies. But you have got to make a living.
            In December 1988, Judy and I married. In May, our support kicked in and we were off to language school. It was in Mexico that Judy began thinking that life is hard, but I will let her tell that story.
            I know some of you have been through so much more than I have. Please do not hear me complaining.
            I also realize many of you learned this lesson your first decade, and there are some advantages to learning it early. It was the third decade for me—the decade of my twenties.
            Let me also make this clear. My challenge was not working hard or spending long hours working. I have always worked hard for long hours; and I still do. It was spending years working long hours doing things I had never intended doing—that was what was hard.
            I have faced challenges since, but nothing like those years. I learned that God sometimes allows us to face adversity to help us grow. Without adversity, we cannot grow.
            I am sure that if I live long enough, I will face much more difficult challenges. That is yet to be determined.
            I am so thankful I went through the decade of the eighties. Because of that decade, I can tell you this. Whenever I thought foreign mission work was tough, or things were tough in a U. S. church and someone wanted me fired, or I was staying up all night studying my Hebrew and Greek assignments for my doctorate, I also told myself, “It could be worse. I could be in real estate… or roofing!”
                       28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose (Rom. 8:28.)
Five Things I Think I Think (with a nod to Peter King for this idea)
1. I promise, this is what I wrote in my blog two weeks ago: “There is still work to do. I fear picking them [the Mavs] to beat Miami; Miami is hot, playing great ball, and has three legitimate, young superstars. However, I have a good feeling about this Mav team. I think they reverse the curse of 2006. I see them winning the championship in six games.”
2. After watching the Mavs win last night, can a Monday be any better?
3. Now, on to the Stanley Cup. I predict Vancouver defeats Boston in seven.
4. I’m halfway through the first season of 24. (I watch it while I’m on the treadmill.) My goal is to never watch another season again—too addicting.
5. Not every day you get a call from your wife saying that your daughter and her team’s physics’ project won second in the nation. I found out that eleven thousand schools were invited to participate in the nationwide competition funded by NUCOR, which I found out last week is a FORTUNE 300 company with headquarters in Charlotte, North Carolina.
            Not every school entered, but a lot did. Three teams from East Texas Christian Academy were invited to the finals in Charlotte, with one winning an honorable mention. That in itself was amazing.
            Haleigh, along with her teammates Loren Moore and Kaitlyn Gravois, won second place. Haleigh gives the lion’s (lioness?) share of the credit to Loren and Kaitlyn. In any case, I am sure this was a memory maker for all involved.
            Thanks again, Mrs. Chitty, for teaching the physics class at ETCA. I never saw this one coming. Great work.

Monday, June 6, 2011

# 1 Thing I Have Learned Each Decade: Decade # 2--God Loves Me.

            I posted that statement on Facebook last week. I’m sure it drew some snickers. Many were probably thinking, “It took that long!” Let me explain.
            I knew intellectually and, I’m sure, instinctively that God loved me—probably since toddlerhood. What I mean about the second decade is that I really internalized the reality that God loves me when I was seventeen years old.
            You see, after I became a Christian, I really worked hard to honor God with my life. I began hanging out with people who were Christians and seeking to follow Jesus.
            A critical event was when a fellow by the name of H. L. Shirey moved in next door when I was ten. He was our congregation’s new preacher. He was a young guy, probably 23 or 24, and he did a lot with us kids. In essence, he became my first mentor--outside of my parents.
            Unfortunately for me, he moved away when I was about to enter the seventh grade. Shortly thereafter, I attended a church camp. Some high school boys were the spiritual leaders of that camp, and I followed their leadership.
            On the third or fourth day of camp, I went into the ping-pong room during a break in camp activities. Several of the high school leaders were there, while none of the camp counselors were present.
            With no adults around, many of those “leaders” pulled out and lit up their cigarettes, cussed, told dirty jokes—in other words, they demonstrated behavior 180 degrees different than before.
            I will never forget that moment. It was like a light bulb went off. In my immaturity, I chose at that moment to believe that all young people claiming to be Christians were hypocrites. I chose to become cynical.
            I didn’t attend a single Christian youth function until one month before my senior year in high school began. I still attended church since I was scared of what God would do to me if I did not, but those were very dark years for me. I was in a real wilderness.
            During the summer of 1978, I worked at our local Brookshire’s grocery store. My last day was the end of July. The first week of August, I planned on playing golf, relaxing, and working out for the start of “two-a-days” for football, which would begin the second week of August.
            The Sunday before my week of vacation began, our church held a youth meeting which was to last from Sunday through Wednesday. I had to go on Sunday because the meeting corresponded with our church and class activities, but that was all I planned to attend.
            Our speaker was a member’s cousin, Steve Ridgell. I listened to him teach Bible class and left thinking, “That’s the first time I listened for an entire Bible class since I can remember.”
            Next came the sermon—again I listened for the first time in memory. By the evening, I was hooked.
            On Monday night, I heard a sermon that changed my life. Steve talked about the cost of freedom. Our spiritual freedom cost the Father, the Son, and it costs us our lives.
            To illustrate how our spiritual freedom cost the Father (who allowed his son to die), Steve told a story. Although you may have heard this story—from what I understand it is a well-known and true story—let me share it with you.
            There was once a father, a widower, who lived in a community near a large river.  The father's wife had died several years before, leaving him with a son.  This son was the most important possession of the father's life; the son was practically all the father had. 
Because of this, father and son were extremely close.  Every day when the father came home from work, the son would ask the father to play.  So they would throw the baseball or football around, fish together, and simply do things that weren't important in and of themselves, but were very important to the relationship of the father and son.  Everyone in their small town knew that they loved each other as much as a father and son could love. 
                 As the little boy grew older, he naturally wanted to emulate his father, so he constantly asked his dad if he could go to work with him.  Dad kept on promising the boy that he would take him, but he never quite got around to it.  Finally, as summer arrived, dad thought to himself, "Why not?  He'll (the son) probably get a kick out of it."  So at last the father agreed to take the boy.
            Dad had an interesting job, and at times, a dangerous one. He was the operator of a drawbridge on the great river that bordered the town.
Arriving at the bridge early one morning, the father told his boy, "Son, you can play wherever you would like. But the one place I don't want you to play is around the gears of this drawbridge. There will be barges crossing underneath the drawbridge, and trains crossing over the drawbridge, all day."
"This is very difficult work, and I'm going to be busy. If you want to come up and stand by my side, that will be fine. If you want to play, that will be fine.  Just don't go near the gears.  It's dangerous."
            Of course, the boy, anxious to play, rapidly replied that he would follow his dad's orders and then ran to see what he could discover.
            There was a very good reason why the dad did not want his son near the gears of the drawbridge. Lying below the father's workstation were the previously mentioned gears. These gears weighed several tons apiece. When the drawbridge was raised, one of the gears would rise at the same moment, and as the drawbridge was lowered, that particular gear would lower as well. Obviously, to be anywhere near this mechanism would be dangerous. 
            Time passed.  About a quarter to twelve, a barge passed underneath the drawbridge.
            In the distance, the father could hear the whistle of a train rapidly approaching. For this reason, the father was about to lower the bridge when he saw a horrible sight. Directly below him was his son trapped under one of the gears of the drawbridge.
The son's ball had rolled down an incline into the section of the mechanism that housed the gears. Without thinking, the boy had rushed under the raised gear to retrieve his ball. Somehow, his shirt had been caught in one of the machines. It would have been just as well if the boy's shirt had been caught in a vice grip, so powerful was the pull that the child could not even take his shirt off.
            Slowly, as the catastrophe enveloped him, it dawned upon the father that he was going to have to make a tragic decision. He could rush to his son and save him, but in doing so, he would be leaving all the passengers on the train to perish in a calamity; or the father could lower the drawbridge and save the people on the train, but in doing so, he would be allowing his only son to die. 
            Rapidly, the father made his decision. Lowering the bridge...he watched his son crushed to death by the gear...and if it was the end to a grotesque dream...the father, with tears in his eyes, looked towards the train. The people were laughing and singing and traveling merrily on their way. They had known nothing about the supreme sacrifice that the father had made.
            Prompted by Steve’s illustration of God’s love, I began to wonder how many times God had looked upon me with tears in His eyes as I went about laughing and singing merrily on my way, totally unmoved by the sacrifice that He made for me. 
            That night, I turned my life back toward God; I irrevocably began heading in another direction—one that would ultimately take me to do mission work in foreign countries and a ministry of preaching.
            I know some hate the story of the father and son. Others cannot understand it.
I can remember telling it in graduate school and some in my class responding with horror, “So God is like a father who kills his kid to save people on a train?”
Nevertheless, I note this story resonates with a secular audience. A foreign film won several prestigious film awards depicting this story. The translated title is MOST. (Here is one link on YouTube if you are interested in seeing an abridged version:
This is testimony that humans instinctively yearn for the gospel story to be true. We want a Father and Son to love us that much.
My life changed forever when my gut realized what my brain already knew: God loves me.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life (John 3:16.) KJV
Five Things I Think I Think (with a nod to Peter King for this idea)
1. Mavs come back from fifteen behind with seven minutes left in game 2. Reverse the curse!
2. Mavs lose the all-important game three. They're doomed!
3. I can remember growing up hearing preachers preach against women wearing bikinis. They said they were designed and worn to make men think sexual thoughts. I even heard a couple of preachers ask, “Have you ever seen a fat lady wear a bikini?”
         The implied answer was, “No, of course not?”
         Well, Friday I viewed a sight that destroyed that premise. I saw a pregnant woman in a bikini. She was several months along. As a matter of fact, she may be having her baby right this moment—delivered at full term.
         I can tell you this baby was not the first. I am sure the munchkins with her were hers because of the family dynamics. I can also tell you how old she was because I counted the rings of cellulite on her legs. Of course, the spots where the tattoos were located—and stretched—were hard to count.
         All of this to say—maybe modesty has its benefits.
         If you disagree, I will be forced to use nuclear weapons: empowering all men, middle-aged and up, to wear Speedos to the swimming pool—if they so desire.
         I would like to think most would have enough self-respect not to do so. I’m realistic enough to believe enough would vainly wear them to change national opinion on acceptable male and female swimwear forever!
4. One of life’s neat moments occurred for me the other night. I watched one of my top five movies, FIELD OF DREAMS, with my son, Timothy. He loved it. What was neat was Haleigh watched the movie with us as well, even though she was busy packing for a mission trip to South Dakota. This was her second or third time to see it. Judy, Abby and Annie were out and returned during the finale. They stopped what they were doing to watch it.
5. I never thought I would mention a family member in the same sentence with the word “physics,” unless the reference had to do with us breaking one of its (physics) laws. Nevertheless, Haleigh’s three-girl team, working on a project for their physics’ class, won a spot at the National Nucor Strength of Steel Challenge in Charlotte, N.C. Eight spots were available, and three teams from ETCA won. Each team won a prize of $1500.
            Cayse Chitty is their teacher. Evidently, she must be very good!             Organizers are flying each participant and one parent to event. Being a godly man, I am deferring to my wife, Judy, to go.            
            Congratulations, teams. (If you want to read the newspaper article, here is the link):