Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Going Against the Flow

[Sorry, I sent this out by mistake. I meant to send it out on TELL ME A STORY. Write, and I'll give you your money back. :)]
            It is always hard to go against the crowd. Marvin Olasky told the story several years ago about an absent-minded fellow who was driving down the interstate—when his cell phone rang.
            He answered and heard his wife urgently warn him, “I just heard on the news that there's a car going the wrong way on the interstate. Please be careful!”
            Her husband replied, “It's not just one car, honey, it's hundreds of them!”
            I believe that's the way it is sometimes going against our culture. But in the case of Christians, we are going the right way (hopefully!) and the crowd is not.
            One of the things I appreciate about the prophet Elijah is he was willing to go against the crowd. May Christ's followers today do the same today.

Monday, July 25, 2011

The Immigrant

When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God” (Lev. 19:33-34.) ESV

            Respect for the law is one thing; animosity toward the immigrant is another.
            We are blessed to live in a country whose ideals reflect a respect for the immigrant. This attitude has paid dividends.
            Peter Carl Goldmark arrived in the United States in the 1930s and applied for U.S. citizenship. He also applied for a job at NBC but was turned down. Later, CBS hired him.
            At that time, CBS entertained mainly in the field of radio, as television was in its infancy. Goldmark saw the future of television and urged his bosses to put a television antenna on top of the Chrysler building. Four years later, while traveling in Canada, Goldmark screened for the first time the motion picture GONE WITH THE WIND. Enchanted by the color, he developed a method of transmitting color television signals within three months.
            World War II came along and Goldmark, working with engineers, designed devices to jam NAZI radar. After the war, Goldmark worked to develop the 33-1/3 Long Playing record, which dominated music for the next three decades–and which is still in high demand today in record collector stores.
            The 50s found Goldmark creating ingenious devices, such as the one designed to allow surgeons to observe photographs transmitted from the inside of a human stomach. However, he also took time to invent a tiny device allowing television viewers at home to replay programs without commercials–the forerunner of TiVo.
            Retiring in 1971, Goldmark’s mind continued to work. He envisioned establishing a network of 40 coast-to-coast TV channels connected by domestic satellites and cable television. These would offer a nationwide chain of movie theaters on one's home television, not to mention an avenue for providing voters an increased amount of information not offered by network television. Within the next 10 years, television owners had access to HBO and CNN.
            Peter Carl Goldmark is just one example of the immigrants who have entered the United States and permanently changed our lives and culture—for the better. The United States would not be so blessed were it not for immigrants.
            Again, I am not calling for the deliberate breaking of a nation's laws. What I am requesting is that you think about the attitude you are cultivating toward the immigrant. Perhaps that attitude should include gratitude.

Source of Peter Carl Goldmark—William Manchester, THE GLORY AND THE DREAM, page 1190-1194

Five Things I Think I Think (with a nod to Peter King for this idea)
1. Among the baseball writers, I consider Jane Leavy a favorite. Last week, I completed reading her biography of Mickey Mantle called THE LAST BOY. While I did not enjoy this book as much as I did her biography of Sandy Koufax, it was still a fascinating read.
            Leavy grew up a big fan of Mickey Mantle. Adulthood and research yielded a more complex view toward man and human being.
            I can now probably say my prayers at night--thanking God I was not born into the Mantle family. Long chronicled as a serial adulterer and debilitated alcoholic, Leavy helps the reader understand what it is like to have a husband and father (Mantle),who fits into those categories.
            Mantle created a ghastly life for his family. He was the epitome of a self-destructive athlete.
            He spoke with poignant truth at his last press conference when he beseeched the children of the land, “I'd like to say to kids out there, if you're looking for a role model, this is a role model. Don't be like me.”
            Leavy breaks new ground. She reveals that a half-sister molested Mantle when he was a boy.  Surely this sad reality contributed to an anger that later manifested itself in his womanizing.
            Thousands (maybe millions) of boys grew up desiring to live the life of Mickey Mantle. This biography allows the reader to see behind the fa├žade, which provokes the realization that one would never want to exchange lives with the subject.
2. I saw HARRY POTTER AND THE HALF BLOOD PRINCE over the weekend. I now need to see the last two movies. I hope to do that this week. I finished the last book four years ago. They were marvelous.
3. I really enjoyed speaking at the MacArthur Park church of Christ in San Antonio last year. If anybody from Mac Park is reading this blog, I am looking forward to sharing with you from Psalm 84 this Wednesday night.
4. Welcome back from vacation, Peter King. I read his blog every Monday—MONDAY MORNING QUARTERBACK. Every July, King takes four weeks off from writing. I have been reading his blog for almost ten years now. King is outstanding, writing about a host of subjects in addition to football. Here’s the link to this week’s edition: http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2011/writers/peter_king/07/24/labor/index.html
5. Speaking of Peter King, he passed along this snippet about Judge Judy (clarification: not my wife, Judy) from “Andrew Goldman's interview with Judge Judy in the June 26 New York Times Sunday magazine: Judge Judy works five days per month ... and makes $45 million a year.” Not only that, “Her 24,000-square-foot home in Connecticut contains a snoring room -- an extra room for guests who snore.”
         That’s the kind of extra information you get from Peter King’s blog!

Monday, July 18, 2011

What Church Should Look Like-- A Community for Finding Accountability

            I knew a guy who was involved in a fiery automobile accident many years ago. An ambulance rushed him from the interstate to the nearest hospital. An emergency room diagnosis determined that he needed to be airlifted to another hospital, which specialized in treating burn victims.
            It was at the specialty hospital the guy experienced the greatest trauma of his life—even greater than the crash itself. During the crash, the poor fellow at least went into shock. At the burn unit of the specialized hospital, he did not enjoy this luxury.
            The worst part was submitting to the scrubbing. Portions of damaged flesh, scar tissue, and even good skin were brushed away—an excruciating process that provoked him to wishes of death.
            He screamed appeals to hospital personnel to stop. They never listened. To do so was to risk was to risk infection and even death, whereby the hospital would have been derelict of duty.
            Last I heard, my acquaintance was healthy, happy, and pain free. He is grateful the hospital did not give him what he wanted, and equally grateful they gave him what was needed.
            Too many churches today are the equivalent of negligent hospitals. They welcome people burned by sin, but rather than offer the treatment the victims need for healthy spiritual lives, the spiritual health care ceases at the first cry of pain.
            While the intentions are good, they produce corrosive results. Too many Christians are becoming spiritually infected. Sometimes, this lack of spiritual care leads to spiritual death.
            Transformation into the image of Christ is a terribly difficult process. Discipleship requires accountability.
            Accountability is not a popular word these days. Some of this is understandable. Through the centuries, too many churches have abused this calling. Unfortunately, we delude ourselves if we drift too far to the opposite end of the spectrum.
            Neglect, no matter how noble the intention, is still neglect.
            A significant portion of Paul’s writing reflects healthy spiritual confrontation. We must confront.
            A significant portion of Paul’s writing reflects the importance of church discipline. This is the most difficult part of offering spiritual rehab; yet, when needed, it is essential.
            Yes, Paul channels Jesus’ belief that people are free to choose Christ or reject him. Nonetheless, it is not the responsibility of the church to subsidize the lifestyles of people who choose to reject spiritual care and live outside the boundaries of God’s call for holiness.
            Holiness leads to healing.
            It is never a good thing if the local chapter of Alcoholics Anonymous models accountability more effectively than the local church. Speaking of AA, maybe we can learn a thing or two from them.
Five Things I Think I Think (with a nod to Peter King for this idea)
1. How many times have we seen this: a seemingly stronger team unable to put a “weaker” team away. The weaker team plugs away, plugs away, plugs away… and then they win. That is what we saw yesterday when Japan defeated the U. S. in the Women’s World Cup. I am happy for Japan, and I congratulate the U. S. women. They have had a good tournament.
2. Amazingly the Texas Rangers had three shutouts in a row last week, and as of today have one eleven in a row. This is still a streaky team; they have a long way to go.
3. I finished Dick Van Dyke’s new book My Lucky Life In and Out of Show Business: A Memoir. It’s a fast read, more fun than enlightening. However, he does provide some interesting details of his battle with alcoholism and his decision to ultimately leave his wife.
            I read with sadness, this former elder in the Presbyterian Church, as he described his relationship with his live-in girlfriend of over thirty years. I write this without irony. (Last week’s blog was on “living together.”)
            I am a huge fan of the DICK VAN DYKE SHOW. I consider it the greatest TV comedy of all time—maybe TV’s greatest show. Nevertheless, Dick Van Dyke is a man of flesh and blood. Sometimes, the choices of those we appreciate disappoint us.
4. Everybody is blaming the Congress, the President, or both for our debt crisis. This is not a “they” problem. This is an “us” problem. I have experienced this before in another country. Unless we change our spiritual outlook and, consequently, our values and habits, things will become much, much worse.
5. Judy, Haleigh, Abby, and I are on hour 18 of Season 1 of “24” on NETFLIX. Abby left yesterday for two weeks at Camp Deer Run. Big question: can Haleigh wait until Abby gets back?

Monday, July 11, 2011

Living Together

            A trend I’m seeing more and more is living together. No, I am not talking about a trend in our society. I know it’s been going on there for a long time.
            I am not even talking about unchurched people who are visiting churches as they consider responding to the gospel. Their job is to live according to the flesh. It would be very difficult for them to live holy lives without the Holy Spirit living inside of them.
            What I am speaking of is the amount of Christians I am seeing who, although they have grown up in Christian families and attended churches, are living together.
            This is possibly connected to the fact that, for the past decade or so, more and more Christian college students, whether they attend state universities or Christian, are feeling comfortable spending the night in the residences of members of the opposite sex.
            Another offshoot of this is the old THREE’S COMPANY theme—Christian men and women from the same town or church moving to state universities and sharing a house or apartment. Usually, it is two boys and one girl—or vice versa.
            You might be shocked to hear this but—I don’t think this is a good idea. The frog is in the kettle, and the water is growing warmer.
            There are several reasons why I don’t think this is a good idea. (None of them include a “thus sayeth the Lord—thou shalt not live together.”) Let me offer three.
            First, even the world assumes that men and women will be (what the Bible calls) tempted to have sex. I use that term advisedly—recognizing the world generally does not care if people have sex before marriage.
            Should we as Christians assume otherwise? I remember when THREE’S COMPANY, now shown on TV LAND, first appeared on the ABC network. I was a junior in high school.
            Culture at the time considered it one racy comedy. Sexual innuendo was present everywhere. Part of the tension was based upon the premise that there no way one guy living with two attractive girls would NOT be having sex with at least one or both of them. Indeed, part of the gag was that the threesome lied to their neighbors and told everyone that the guy was gay.
            Again, the world still assumes that sexual sparks will fly when you have men and women living together—they just don’t care. Today, the neighbors in THREE’S COMPANY would say, “Go ahead, have sex.”
            With regard to the trend of Christian couples buying or renting a place before the wedding--and moving in together, let me share a story. One time, I was discussing this very topic with a group of older Christians who were in their seventies and eighties. They were, believe it or not, trying to get me to preach some sermons on sex and sexuality for those who were younger Christians.
            I was sharing with them the percentage of U. S. Christians who were moving in together before marriage (or spending the night together in apartments or motels) before marriage; yet, most were claiming to not be having sex.
            The older Christians roared with laughter—their laugh rooted in skepticism. They knew the human condition. They knew the pull of sexual desire. Most of all, they knew the challenges of remaining pure until marriage.
            This just in—the hardest thing on the planet is to refrain from a sexual relationship when you are engaged to marry someone. Restraint is NOT a casual decision; it is a war against ancient desires and against an evil ruler of a dark world. Without the greatest effort, a person will not be victorious.
            Ever hear of bundling? In colonial America in the mid-1700s, a young man would visit the family of the young woman he was courting. Typically, he would stay the night.
            The family would make provision for the couple to sleep together in the same bed. A “bundling” board was placed in between the boy and girl, physically separating them to ensure that nothing sexual would happen. The boy and the girl would wrap themselves in separate blankets. The couple could talk to each other—but that was all they were allowed to do.
            Strangely enough, the illegitimate birthrate shot up dramatically. It was not reduced until a great wave of spiritual revival hit the United States in the late 1700s.
            Joseph ran from sexual temptation in Genesis 39. That is probably good advice for all Christians.
            Today’s popular culture is wired with the assumption that couples live together and have sex before marriage. Whenever they see a man and a woman living together, they assume they are having sex. This leads me a to a second reason for not living together before marriage—our Christian witness.
            Christians are part of the universal church of God. The church is called to be a holy community. The church is called to be above reproach. What that means is that Christians understand that sacrifice is expected in order to rise above the level of innuendo. This is critical, strategically, for the mission of the church. 
            No problem. Christians understand Jesus called them to carry a cross and to crucify self (see Luke 9:23.)
            The Kingdom of God is not growing in the U. S. That is no secret. One reason is that Christians too often do not live up to the standard of their message.
            The world has no problem with a couple having sex before marriage, but the world does have a problem with two Christians having sex before marriage -- that is, if the two Christians hope to witness about the life-changing good news of Jesus.
            Paul writes in I Thess. 5:22,  "Avoid every kind of evil." Paul's advice is good in two ways. The world doesn't mind dabbling in evil, but they don't want Christians to do so. Why give them the appearance? Moreover, as mentioned, living together does not avoid impurity; it opens up the possibility of impurity.
            This may be hitting closer to the heart of the challenge churches face.  Bottom line: many Christians make it a low priority to bring people into the Kingdom. For a lot of Christians, following Jesus is a means to an end, and usually that end spells the pursuit of fulfillment for the Christian. The thought of carrying a cross for the Kingdom, placing the needs of others before self, or seeking to carry out Jesus’ will before one’s own—is idealistic at best, and repugnant at worst.
            Author and preacher Tullian Tchividjian, paraphrasing John Calvin, said, “The human heart is an idol-making factory.” I think he is on to something. We in the Kingdom of God must surrender idol worship and truly live out our call to discipleship.
            A third reason for the sexes not living together before marriage, and here I am again speaking of couples dating, is this—their children. I have lived long enough to see a few generations having to tell their kids—“Don’t do things like I did them. Learn from my mistakes.”
            I have to do this myself. It is not fun to advise my kids, "Learn from my mistakes…", even if it is as impersonal and universal as explaining the time I got stopped on Main Street in high school for speeding. I cannot imagine what it would it would be like to explain that Judy and I lived together before marriage.
            I can testify to this--it is nice to be able to look my kids in the eye and tell them that Judy and I waited until we were married to experience God's greatest gift to a couple.
            Let’s pretend you can live with a person you are dating, or to whom you are engaged, and not engage in sex. (I could not do it—I know of less than five who have even claimed they could.) Do you think you can bottle that self-discipline and sell it to your kids?
            God has gifted you with imagination. Imagine yourself facing your beautiful daughter, as she tells you she wants to live with some guy—only in purity, of course. If she asks, “Did you ever live with dad (or mom) before marriage…” do you want to answer, “Yes”?
            James Dobson used to say, “Life is loaded.” What he meant is that all of us—but especially younger people—can make decisions that can blow up on us.
            There is no question in my mind that someday our descendants will live in a society that values purity before marriage. A culture will be destroyed by its own weight if it does not.
            The question for us today in the church is, will we lead by example? Or will the culture have to take us where we should have been all along?
Five Things I Think I Think (with a nod to Peter King for this idea)

1. Casey Anthony—found innocent! Look out, Casey. They can still take away your Heisman Trophy.
2. Rangers on a seven game winning streak. May July be a month of separation.
3. Congratulations Doug Page on your new preaching job at Kaufman. And thank you for introducing me to the “HootSuite” app. Never has simultaneous tweeting and Facebook posting been easier.
4. Last week, I completed the new history of ESPN entitled THOSE GUYS HAVE ALL THE FUN. Although it is over 700 pages, it is a fast read—and a fascinating one. Part of the charm is the participants basically tell the story through their interviews. The authors (compilers) are the same guys who wrote (compiled) LIVE FROM NEW YORK, which was a history of SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE.
5. Jaycee Dugard, you are one amazing human being. May God bless your future.

Monday, July 4, 2011

God Stalkers

            Ever read reports about stalkers? These are guys who become so enamored with someone, they will write incessant letters to the object of their attention, hang out on the perimeter of the house of the person they are stalking, and basically narrow their life’s focus exclusively to one individual.
            The problem with that kind of close attention and behavior is not necessarily the attention and behavior; the problem is the person they are focusing upon is not built to receive that kind of attention.
            That's why a person receiving this kind of intense consideration will obtain a court order seeking legal protection. It is a dangerous situation.
            Some people are self-stalkers. By that I mean they are totally focused upon themselves. From the time they get up until the time they go to bed, they are thinking about themselves and viewing everything that occurs through a personal prism.
            All worry is self-stalking. When a person worries, he is totally obsessed with a problem and how the problem will affect him or someone he loves. Over and over again, in his mind, he plays and replays scenarios. He mentally brainstorms, looking for solutions. In essence, he is praying to himself.
            This kind of behavior and focus is appropriate with the right kind of being. Unfortunately, a human being is not built for this. He will break down with this kind of focus.
            Lets move to a communal level. Ever heard of Elvis Presley? He was nicknamed “The King.” In the fifties and early sixties, thousands-no, millions-around the world so focused their lives on Elvis Presley that they combed their hair like him, walked liked him, tried to sing like him, and even snarled their lips like him.
            This idolization took a toll on Presley. He died at age 42. Still, our culture embraces the idea of venerating pop stars. It’s for good reason FOX named their TV series AMERICAN IDOL.
            We smile and understand the thousands of girls who desire to be princesses. They gather their cues all the way from Disney princesses to Princess Kate. They comb their hair like them, they dress like them, and they focus on them totally.
            They will spend their money to read issues of magazines trying to discover every detail possible about their princess–so DEVOTED they are to them.
            All of this behavior is spiritually oriented. Even the behavior of the stalker, strangely enough, would be appropriate, if it were directed toward God.
            Think about it: what if a person always hung out where God was, he journaled his thoughts to God, he continually talked to God, and became totally focused upon God?
            The other day, I was wrestling with a sermon on “glorifying God,” and it occurred to me part of my struggle was the way we redundantly use the word “glory.” I had discussed with sympathetic friends how I felt I needed to redefine the concept of worshipping-adoring-glorifying God. Then it occurred to me. I shouldn’t have to do this. We should naturally do so. It should be instinctive.
            Then it struck me. The instincts are there; however, from childhood, we typically channel those instincts in a direction pointed toward people—or ourselves.
            David channeled those instincts toward God; David was a God-stalker. Just listen to Psalm 63:

 1 You, God, are my God, earnestly I seek you; 
I thirst for you, my whole being longs for you, 
in a dry and parched land where there is no water.
 2 I have seen you in the sanctuary and beheld your power and your glory. 
3 Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you. 
4 I will praise you as long as I live, 
and in your name I will lift up my hands. 
5 I will be fully satisfied as with the richest of foods; 
with singing lips my mouth will praise you.
 6 On my bed I remember you; I think of you through the watches of the night. 
7 Because you are my help, I sing in the shadow of your wings. 
8 I cling to you; your right hand upholds me.
 9 Those who want to kill me will be destroyed; they will go down to the depths of the earth. 
10 They will be given over to the sword and become food for jackals.
 11 But the king will rejoice in God; all who swear by God will glory in him, while the mouths of liars will be silenced.

            We were wired to focus on God. Our DNA contains the code to glorify God. Let’s channel our instincts away from everything but, and focus exclusively upon, God.

Five Things I Think I Think (with a nod to Peter King for this idea)
1. I absolutely loved MEGAMIND. My younger kids, Judy, and I saw it on DVD this week. I would love to be able to write books for kids that would communicate well with adults—like MEGAMIND does as a movie. Part of the reason I enjoyed the movie is Will Ferrell’s ability to make me “crack up.” The guy is a genius.
2. I survived SIX FLAGS last week. I stand by what I wrote. The rides were great. I hate long lines.
3. Finished LINDBERGH, by A. Scott Berg, last week. It is a very good book, written in great detail, about the life of Charles Lindbergh.
4. If you have never seen THE SPIRIT OF ST. LOUIS, watch it with your kids. A little dramatic at times, but it does a great job demonstrating the skill and courage involved in the Lindbergh’s flight over the Atlantic.
5. Happy 235th Birthday, United States!